The Neue Industry
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The Neue Industry

The Founder Fix #2: Growth & Leadership

From growing pains to a plan for growth: Empowering people with a Leadership Acceleration Program.

The Valispace Leadership team:

Here’s something no one really talks about when it comes to startups: Scaling can be scary.

At least that’s what I realized as we entered our fifth year as a company. It became acutely clear to us that growth would now depend on having structure that’s built by, and around, the right people. After learning from the success of other founders, we wanted to invest in our people now to ensure we were ready to scale.

Each member of Valispace’s Leadership Team — Marco as CEO, myself as CPO and Nelson as CTO — would soon be in charge of 20+ team members. We asked ourselves: What does this mean for the evolution of our leadership roles? How can we ensure that we are helping our people grow into impactful roles, and do they feel autonomous enough to make more decisions on their own?

With all this in mind, Marco reached out to Tobi at Join Capital, who reassured us that it’s best practice for startup leadership teams to address growing pains head on, as they emerge. He connected us to Join’s Organizational Development Coach, Jennifer, who guided us to several realizations: We needed to delegate more, empower more and weave autonomy into the fabric of our team.

The Valispace team in Lisbon

Redefining roles

At that point, our two primary goals were clear. In order to go from startup to scaleup, we needed:

  1. Leadership alignment. From communication frameworks to project prioritization, we needed to make sure our leadership team was aligned and connected — especially with the rise of remote work.
  2. People-first culture. If we wanted our team to be more empowered, autonomous and confident, we would have to decentralize decision-making (to make it driven by individual teams).

In summer 2020, we took action with Jennifer to produce the Valispace Growth Framework — a five-pillar manifesto that was based on alignment, proactivity, team orientation, feedback and autonomy. From this framework we built our most actionable tool yet: a learning initiative that we could launch immediately: The Leadership Acceleration Program (LAP).

An 8-week internal course, the LAP consists of coaching and workshops for our future leaders. It provides them with targeted content so they can learn how to balance listening, guiding and direction with different teams and individuals. The LAP brings our Growth Framework values to life with five specific modules:

  • Growth Mindset
  • Communicating Priorities
  • Resilience to Pressure
  • Feedback Culture
  • Onboarding and Coaching

The LAP has helped us empower and align our future leaders, as we’ve gone from a values-driven company, to a company that is structured according to its values. We feel more prepared for growth — with all its associated challenges — simply because the framework for personal empowerment is in place. We’re always learning, growing and evolving ourselves — and now there’s room for that in the evolution of our company.

From startup to scaleup

For me as a founder, addressing our growth posed a personal challenge. I needed to switch from being more of a doer to being more of a coach. In the end, after we delegated more, our leadership team came to appreciate the new types of interactions we’d have with people who approached us for help. Instead of doing their work for them, we could offer our perspectives.

We’ll never be over growing pains, and neither will any company that’s expanding. But we are proud of how and when we prepared ourselves to meet the demands of scaling up. We’re happy to have put frameworks in place to coach people for their new leadership roles. It’s easier than ever for us to watch ideas be brought to life by the talented people we are fortunate to work with.

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