In 2007, I became MD of LinkedIn Europe and the company’s first employee outside of the US.
For the next four years, I was one of the leaders who crafted and executed the hypergrowth strategy that helped LinkedIn expand into five countries, hire 200+ new team members in Europe, and sustain over 150% YOY growth.
My time at LinkedIn, and my recent work coaching hypergrowth leaders, has given me tremendous insight into the new world of rapid growth. In this article series, I share the key hypergrowth lessons I’ve learned from my own experience, from my team and from 15 hypergrowth CEOs, some of whom I’ve drawn lessons from here.
In parts 1 and 2, I looked at the nature of hypergrowth, and how it can break the systems that propelled the business in the first place.
Today, let’s look at the impact of hypergrowth on the team and how hiring for hypergrowth requires a unique set of processes.
When hypergrowth hits, everything is magnified. Little bumps in the road take on the look and feel of crises, and things around you are constantly breaking.
One of the biggest challenges during this time is building a strong team — a hurdle that requires you to step up as an operator, leader and coach.
During our first hypergrowth year, LinkedIn Europe needed to expand from 13 to 70 people.
Our day jobs were already overwhelming, and there was a temptation to hire just about anyone to relieve the immediate pressure. That raised two hypergrowth concerns: how do you keep your core culture strong and ensure that only the best talent joins? Follow these six team-building strategies.
1. Make hiring your #1 priority
As a leader, you need to spend at least 50% of your time hiring and forming your team.
Hiring is your new #1 priority; none of your aspirations or plans can be realized otherwise. Your hiring objective should always be to bring in talent at the scale your growth demands.
When you’re growing this fast, there aren’t enough hours in the day to go through the hiring process you used in pre-hypergrowth.
You’ll need to develop a new onboarding process that enables new hires to make a positive impact quickly. As you’re developing this process, remember the power of attitude. Hire for it and make it your focus when coaching your team.
The basic math of hypergrowth brings inevitable strains to any organisation. Before you know it, your team will need to double, or even triple, to meet your business’ new demand.
When you are growing your team 100% YOY, half your people will have been with the company less than one year. When this happens, the new person can become the veteran within months.
As a result, your culture can quickly shift in an unexpected direction.
And hiring for hypergrowth is hard work.
If you hire 100 people, that’s 400 interviews, 1,200 phone screenings and 12,000 resumes to review.
Along the way, you will make mistakes that require you to move people out of the company. But if you’re not making these mistakes, either you’re keeping the wrong people or passing over the right ones.
Learn from hiring mistakes and improve your process.
2. Create a hiring team
At LinkedIn, our answer to a broken onboarding process was to create a hiring team populated by our best employees.
The team took on this responsibility above and beyond the day job, which earned the respect of our entire staff.
These employees also received extra training, were typically promoted first and were recognized for their significance to the company. Suddenly, recruiting went from being a burden to an aspiration.
But the real magic came when we implemented a feedback loop, an idea we credited to hypergrowth leader Casper Zublin.
After tracking the progress of the new hire through probation, the hiring team decided whether the person should become an official employee.
To do this, the team needed to step up, enhance the interviewing and recruiting process, and accept a high level of accountability. The closed loop accelerated the learning curve rapidly.
3. Set expectations and inspire
To some team members, hypergrowth will be the most rewarding journey of their lives. To others, it will be totally overwhelming.
Not everyone is cut out for scaling mountains. As the leader, it’s your job to set expectations and inspire employees to step up.
At LinkedIn, we were honest about the tough journey ahead. We balanced the hard truth with an inspirational narrative that communicated the “why us, why now” to new hires.
Though we had a vision of the company’s transformation, we also realized that the primary question on our team’s mind was, “What’s in it for me?”
By looking at the world through our employees’ eyes, our leaders were able to gain insight into where team members were now and where they could go in our company.
We framed the “now” as a fundamental stepping stone in their careers.
Our leaders also solidified the company-employee bond with a social contract that held both parties accountable for transforming.
By helping our employees envision their future, we created a bond that inspired them to step up in the inevitable tough times.
But no matter how you slice it, hypergrowth will seem foreign, even impossible, to most of your team. You must show them that it is possible, and frame the present as a stepping stone.
As a leader, encourage your team to leverage hypergrowth to step up into new roles. Use a social contract to create a clear vision for the future and a mutual tie between organization and team.
4. Promote the right people at the right time
As your team grows, roles will change dramatically.
As the dynamic evolves, you will have to balance expectations and ego. This process takes many forms.
At LinkedIn, one key issue was helping employees understand their career path. Many veterans, for instance, saw management as the next “step up”, as it meant more money and a much more powerful job title.
We had to help them understand that a move to management would also require them to step up by sorting through uncertainty, guiding people to clarity, communicating clearly, and acting decisively in tough, unfamiliar situations.
Other times, the issue involved team expansion. We would often have an employee start out as the sole person performing a role, only to have an entire team executing this responsibility a short year later.
Suddenly, that team member is no longer the “go-to” person, and has to answer to a new employee hired as team lead. Many veterans expected to be promoted because they were the first team member and had trained their peers.
When the promotion did not happen, they could be heartbroken, mistaking this for failure.
For both situations, the solution was to engage in a conversation that was direct and clear with care and compassion.
By being a proactive leader, you can help team members transition into new roles, and ultimately strengthen the relationship with everyone involved.
5. Help your team uncover their potential
Another common hypergrowth scenario is that team members demand a role they are not ready for.
Here, you should ask: “If you were interviewing to join the company now and we offered you the role in question, would you take it?”
If the answer is “yes,” it is the ego talking. Help your team understand that the dream and reality of management are two different things.
Don’t back away from tough conversations, either.
When your team members struggle to adapt, focus on their behaviors. Evaluate the career trajectory they envision and help them see that working with experienced peers will help develop their skills.
Through it all, remember that the coaching process isn’t about diminishing dreams. You must also help your team cultivate the qualities needed to step up. One of the most rewarding aspects of hiring for hypergrowth is helping people see beyond where they are to a greater potential they never saw in themselves.
Hiring for hypergrowth is a whirlwind, and as your company grows, your processes will need to keep pace.
By establishing an effective hiring process, setting a clear vision and coaching your team to discover their potential, you can foster a team culture that helps your company continue delivering hypergrowth results.