Recently I had a phone catch-up with one of my bosses from the very early days of my career. This person managed me in my first role in London, and is now based in Sydney running his own business. I consider him a mentor, as he was a big support for me as I made the adjustment to living and working in a new city and adapted to new ways of working within what was then an unfamiliar management consulting environment in the City of London (the financial district).
It's always interesting to speak with him, as he knows my way of working and also has good insights into my personality, strengths and areas for improvement (and there are plenty, none of us are perfect). As my career progressed in London we'd catch up regularly to update on work life, and sometimes those conversations would move to discussing examples of things we didn't consider to be best practice in business.
One of the themes we addressed on one of our catch up calls recently was the importance of getting the basics right. We'd both recently had a negative experience in our interactions with new contacts, which seemed to stem from them having a lack of awareness of core business best practice (on these particular occasions these included punctuality and respect for others' time).
The start-up ecosystem is brimming with a wonderful mix of early-adopters, aspiring game-changers, innovative idea-makers and dreamers seeking entrepreneurial success, and due to the cutting edge technologies can sometimes attract a relatively early-stage, and sometimes inexperienced workforce. We suspected these particular individuals hadn't had a good example of business best practice set for them.
Having inexperienced employees certainly isn't a bad thing, as what's important for start-ups in the early stage is quite different to what matters as they grow. As companies scale, the downside of having a workforce predominantly comprised of people who have come straight from study to start-up, or who've never worked in a professional business environment before can be that these employees don't deliver the standards commonly expected by external parties (potentially compromising business relationships and growth), and in some cases don't have anyone around them who can teach them what these standards actually are (resulting in a vicious cycle of sub-par performance).
Inexperienced team members can become increasingly challenging to manage - particularly in cases where their managers themselves lack work experience and an understanding of business basics. Managers can easily find themselves in one of the following situations:
An inexperienced people manager themselves, they are now responsible for managing the outputs of a very inexperienced workforce and aren't sure how to approach this management piece, nor have they any understanding of what short and long term success should look like for these individuals from a core business best practice perspective
A highly experienced people manager who is now responsible for leading and developing a team of very inexperienced workers who aren't aligned in their thinking on what best practice looks like in business and who needs to dedicate the time to bringing them along on this journey with them
An experienced manager who is responsible for not only leading and developing an inexperienced workforce, but also for hiring and retaining an experienced workforce at the same time (with these people often having vastly different expectations to the inexperienced folk they are now working alongside), and needs to dedicate time to both groups to bring them onto the same page
In an ideal world a company needs at least one experienced people manager who knows how to instil business best practice and develop inexperienced team members, but also knows how to identify, attract and retain experienced ones - and leverage their knowledge and skills to help grow others across the business. This person also needs to be equipped with the skills to hire the right people to start with in order to successfully execute this strategy.
Sian Havard is Founder at Milkshake Group, a Brisbane, Australia based consultancy which partners with startups wanting world-class talent strategies. Find her at www.milkshakegroup.com.