September 10, 2019
November 25, 2021

Talking Talent: Sailing Through Your Scaling

Andre Jank

The fourth edition of our Talking Talent event series took place at solarisBank’s Headquarter office. The theme — Sailing through Your Scaling: Navigating Growth as a Startup Captain — was thoroughly debated as we aimed to discuss the undergoing changes in leadership style as startups progressively scale. The stage was taken by three inspiring people-leaders from top scale-ups of Berlin, who came together to share insights and their experience in finding a smooth transition in management along with key observations and implications for the overall company.

The importance of the topic attracted entrepreneurs from different companies, who also are experiencing this transition. Along with the vibrant growth in Berlin’s tech scene, rarely we are given a chance to sit down and put things in perspective. At times, it’s important to open up and share our obstacles in order to truly evaluate the alternatives and choose the right leadership style from that point on. This is what Talking Talent is all about — we aim to educate, discuss, and debate with you on topics in scaling startups through talks, panels, and workshops.

We started with sketch-noting — a visual form of taking notes. Benjamin Felis is a full-time Graphic Recorder & Illustrator. He led a 15-minute workshop with all attendees and let them draw their first story and gave the basics of making successful sketch-notes.

Swenja, Office Manager & Research Analyst at ACELR8, sketch-noted the whole event, creating a great summary of it:

Then it was time for the speakers and Maria Rische, Head of People & Organisation at solarisBank, who started the debate by outlining the top measures taken within the company while witnessing solarisBank’s growth from 70 to 250 people in a bit over two years. Joining the company at an early stage where things weren’t yet in place, she was able to shape and develop her own approach, maintaining a healthy growth rate throughout the entire organisation.

Using an agile mentality from the first days on, solarisBank focuses on engaging people to grow out their ultimate capabilities and develop their careers within the company. For this, the company has opted for having Agile coaches which are extremely important in reassuring the values and culture of the organisation. The company shoots to boost individual growth with internal measures, including constant checkups, feedback sessions, growth budget, and learning framework. From her words,

'The best KPIs are worth nothing if you do not have the people behind you to fulfil them' — Maria Rische

As a tech company with a banking license, Maria explored the challenges in dealing with a duo-mentality environment — from one side, an innovative, agile, tech mentality, from the other, the more business banking mindset that has essentially more rules and structures in place. In the end, it is important to find a sweet balance between flying high and diving deep. At early stages, when the company is still small, you can go deep into details in every topic but should avoid micro-management. Once the company scales, you are involved in topics on a higher level and need to trust your team.

Following up, Erika Enberg, Director of People & Culture at Blacklane, showed that the road is never that smooth in the early days of a startup and therefore, maybe sailing” isn’t the right analogy — Steering through your scaling and making the right turns along the road, sounds more accurate. Erika was decisive in her analysis of setting boundaries. It is an extremely important step to shift from having hands everywhere in the business at early-stage to following a specific role as the company scales. Here the discussion went towards accepting and trusting your teammates and delegating tasks which previously were entitled to one person. Her analogy with a Formula 1 pit-stop, showed that everyone’s job is important and it’s our responsibility to trust each other’s capabilities. For this, communication and feedback are essential for organisational alignment and the focus on reaching the common goal.

Erika is also using the help of a Leadership coach to further develop her knowledge in the area. For future leaders, she advises to read loads of books, go to meetups to learn and connect and invite people in the industry for a coffee to pick their brain. By proactively being out there and learning from everyone and everything around you, you build up a strong knowledge base that lasts throughout your career.

The last speaker was Kim Fitzpatrick, Head of People & Culture at Vivy. Coming from a recruitment background, Kim emphasised the importance of finding a connection with people within the organisation while scaling. Her insights on finding self-awareness leaned on the principle that leaders need to be in touch with themselves first in order to be able to connect with others and from there, inspire internal growth. Being authentic and vulnerable, communicating with others and living the actual culture will empower a healthier leader and consequent team. Only through self-awareness can we connect with others and directly empower people. Kim chooses meditation and self-reflection as her tools and recommends us all to be more authentic.

At last, we got all speakers on stage for a small panel discussion. They shared their favourite interview questions while interviewing leaders:

  • Maria: Do you tend to fly high or dive deep? Checking autonomy levels for leaders. Answers are interesting and would show rather the manager is more hands-on, kind of micro-managing, or more inspiring and trusting and would allow people to grow and develop in the role. More philosophical questions: What changed in leadership for the last 10 years?;
  • Kim: Many facets of leadership. How have you dealt with different situations? How do you motivate your mom employees and Berghain fans?;
  • Erika: What do you like about leadership? Are they passionate about it? How do you make decisions? How do you involve your team? How do you deal when the team disagrees on decisions you’ve made?.

The audience added a few of their favourite ones while interviewing leaders:

  • What motivates you to go to work in the morning?;
  • How do you solve a certain conflict?;
  • What have you learnt about yourself this week or the last week?;
  • How would your last team describe you? How would your current boss describe you? How would your partner describe you? — by Georgia, ACELR8’s Executive Talent Partner.

The second question was on what piece of advice would you give to an earlier version of you or young leaders? Make whatever role you have in the company, yours. Be patient, don’t judge too much on first impressions and be aware of your own biases, and don’t forget about feedback,  trust the people you work with and ask them regularly for input. All three agreed that it is important to be yourself and learn to balance things throughout the way and understand where you can add the most value. So make sure to believe in yourself! Be you! And know that everyone is winging it!

Finally, a big part of the job of a people-leader is to keep their employees healthy. If your company grows and you are a leader leading managers, then the managers can support to create a healthy environment. You can try to quantify this with happiness surveys or research in the talks you have with your employees. But in the end, it comes down to your own responsibility by setting personal boundaries and knowing how much you can take and becoming self-aware.

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