Q&A: Graze reveals how to preserve an entrepreneurial mindset
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Louise Patterson, Chief People Officer at graze joined HRD Connect to discuss how to preserve an entrepreneurial mindset within a company experiencing dramatic growth.
How do you preserve an entrepreneurial mindset as your company grows?
I think largely by paying attention to what made it entrepreneurial in the first place and staying true to the spirit of this. Whilst no organisation should be constrained by its history, you have to accept that there are some practical implications of having more people, more channels and more markets, a bigger brand and assets that you can’t afford to take the same risks on. I think there is some magic dust in the start-up phase. The trick is to nurture and protect that as you grow.
For example, in the start-up phase, companies aren’t afraid of experimenting, failing, learning and iterating as they go. I think if we ever lost that we would lose the creativity that comes with it.
How can companies balance the structure, process and efficiency required to manage at scale, with the agility, innovation and creativity that will successfully promote entrepreneurial spirit and sustained growth?
I think you have to face head-on the fact that more planning is required as you get bigger, however in my mind there’s good structure and process and there’s bad structure and process. The good stuff helps make things simpler, clearer, easier and quicker to do your job. But if you have any process or structures that does the opposite, then you have to sound the alarm bells.
I am very conscious of the slippery slope to losing your agility, creativity and starting to behave like a big corporate. Most of the big corporates are desperately trying to become more agile and behave like start-ups! What I found at graze is that people are really good at sensing for themselves what a good or bad structure and process is straight away. So, listening and responding to feedback within the organisation really helps.
The company was started by 7 friends who quit their jobs to make graze boxes and grew quickly from there – what challenges did HR face due to fast employee growth?
Inevitably, high growth means that your people numbers tend to grow faster than the building blocks that are there to support them. So, I think you do have to work very hard to make sure you keep on top of systems and policies. The other challenge, which is a definitely one for us in the scale-up phase that we are in now, is choosing where and how to invest ahead of the growth. You clearly have to try and balance your revenue growth aspirations with your short-term cost base and therefore think about which are the really critical capabilities and where you can take a variable approach to your cost.
Graze launched in every US state at once, how did you manage this from a people perspective?
We launched online first in the US which is a really efficient means of market entry. In the last few months we’ve also launched in the US retail which is a very complex market so we have had to invest ahead of the growth.
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What challenges have you faced in following graze’s “meritocracy of reason”. How have they been overcome?
We encourage everyone at graze to be the real them and to have a point of view, so we deliberately hire smart people with opinions.
There’s no status quo to protect here. We want the very best ideas to come as quickly as possible, everyone accepts that they’ll be challenged on their thinking so you need to be robust and you need to have your argument backed up by the data.
However, I think the sense of community and togetherness in the business helps the differences of opinion be seen as a genuine positive, it means doing our best work as opposed to seeing it as a threat or a challenge.
How does graze utilise technology in HR to ensure it stands out as a workplace?
We don’t have a fancy HR IS system, we just have an off-the-shelf package that fits our current size and complexity.
For us, technology advances in people is less about your HR Information System and more about making sure that the work you do and how you work is enabled appropriately. At graze, things like digital collaboration tools and communication channels make life a lot easier .
Louise Patterson will be further discussing Building and Sustaining an Entrepreneurial Culture at the HRD Summit 2018 in Birmingham.