As your organisation grows, the types of challenges you face will change. When your business is at the 10 to 15-person mark your systems, process and structure are taking shape. You have the right people in the right places and things are moving along nicely. Beyond that – when you’re at 25 to 30 people - you start to experience issues with strength in depth, decision making and delegation – an issue Marcus Evans believes is resolved by having a strong senior management in place.
Why is senior management so important when you grow? Surely it’s no different to when you were smaller?
When you are at around 15 people you are lean and agile. You have a reasonable amount of flexibility in the company and most people are able to do a very good job. The big challenge you have is from around 25 people upwards. You find leaks in the organisation’s decision-making process, often provided by the people who, in the very early days, were amazing at what they did. This is because you tend not to have strength in depth at these levels, so naturally there are fewer people able to make genuine business decisions.
How do you address that? It’s hardly an overnight job is it?
You need a senior management team of people you can trust. You need a team that's got clear boundaries about how much power they have but also their own responsibility - what they can take charge of when you're around and when you’re not around. You need people who can make decisions on the ground so that if you're out at a client meeting they know what the priorities are and the most important decisions for the business.
So it’s a case of making a time investment and a financial investment?
You have to have a decent profit margin already coming in to the business if you're going to recruit additional people to do senior management roles -because otherwise what tends to happen is you end up with an inflated budget and you can't afford. Then you compromise on it, and then you end up with people who need too much guidance and aren't what you're looking for, or they're middle managers. You could also end up with people who take too much initiative, meaning they’re making decisions that they really shouldn't be, landing you in trouble.
So, getting the balance right at that level is an important consideration, isn’t it?
It is. You have to consider the existing culture, how you plan to transition that culture but also retain the company’s identity. You also have to balance experience, ideas and seniority. At Nutbourne we have a pretty good mix.
Our senior management has a representation of the length of time served at Nutbourne, that's Paul Grogan (Solutions Architect), me, Patrick Burgess (Co-founder) and Ross Jones. You've got the technical discipline, which is, at the moment, Patrick and Ade Ajayi because they used to run an infrastructure team and to a degree Alex and certainly Paul. So the balance of new, long-serving, technical and non-technical is healthy.
How much license do you give your senior management?
We meet to discuss everything from personnel, departmental structure, to business ethos, our vision and to how we move forward as a company. By empowering those guys within the meeting we empower them weekly and daily within the office. Because they know what's going on, if they need to make business decisions they're able to.
It’s critical that you are 100% clear where that line is drawn, and usually it's around commercial decisions, it's around NDAs, it's around business affecting things. Or high-level HR stuff, all of that stuff gets escalated.
To what extent is this the next iteration of the company?
This (process) is still very much a developmental zeitgeist, because we've got a couple of people who have only been on the steering committee for a few weeks. We're trying to work out how it looks long-term. Luckily we have an archetype which we're working on, which is the previous steering committee, and that allows them to know how it should operate, albeit at a larger level.
Overall, we've got good strength and depth across the business, with of all the various skills that you need to run an organisation. I just make sure that we have a firm business direction, know what we're doing and that we're moving forward to the next level.