Dear Dawn... Worried Employee - The Answer
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Dear Dawn… Worried Employee – The Answer

Dear Dawn… Worried Employee – The Answer

Gulf Business’ leadership expert, Dawn Metcalfe, answers the second question in the series.

Gulf Business

After a week of discussion and comments, the Gulf Business agony aunt Dawn Metcalfe gives her expert opinion on the second question in the series.

The query last week was:

How do we prevent ourselves from being victims of our own success?

Dear Dawn,

My boss is an entrepreneur through and through, which has been wonderful for the seed and growth of the business, but as we grow, we’re lacking structure.

We’re still performing strongly, but as teams are added to and we add resources to deal with the extra work, some things are falling through the cracks and we’re missing opportunities.

It very much feels like a house of cards at the moment – How do we prevent ourselves from being victims of our own success?


Worried Employee

And here is Dawn’s expert opinion:

Dear Worried Employee,

I first want to echo the comments from other readers and congratulate you on your concern: your boss is a lucky man to have someone like you on the team.

You don’t give any details about the business, as “Questions” mentions in the comments, and so the advice is, therefore, going to be somewhat generic but this is a classic dilemma of all new and growing companies – how do you maintain the entrepreneurial spirit, which will drive growth, without wrapping yourselves up in organisational bureaucracy that can slow you down and ensure that you miss opportunities for an entirely new set of reasons?

I am guessing that the new start-up culture was what first attracted you to the business to being with i.e. a place where you had access to the most senior level and could get your voice heard. This is exciting but, of course, risky. Now the task is to put in place structure whilst avoiding the tortuous decision making and dullness that can come with that. It is likely that your entrepreneurial boss will resist this “straight jacket” of structure and your job is to help him see how they will help rather than hinder him in achieving his original goal in setting up the business. Have you shared your concerns with him and offered to help him move the company forward?
Having a real “mission” will help to do this. When everyone in the organization really understands why it is there they will be able to make the right decisions, at every level, without having to force the decision up to the highest level. A great example of this is Nordstrom’s in the US where every employee understands that the most important thing is the customer and so feels confident to make decisions that would, at another organization, get them fired!
That mission will most likely be defined by the boss but others should be involved as well and this means spending time to get their opinions and to clearly articulate the culture of the organization so that the mission is achievable.

Culture is one of those things that we talk about a lot and, in my opinion, is made more complicated than it needs to be. The definition I’ve found most useful in working with companies is Deal and Kennedys’ “the way we do things around here” or, in other words, how people behave. As a small start-up this was easy to maintain as the most senior people could spend time hiring and had clear visibility of how everyone acted. As you grow it is important to make this explicit, to hire for the attitudes that underlie the behaviours you want, to reward those who show them and punish those who don’t.

A large organization must, as Nick mentions below, spend time and energy in hearing the voices of its people and sending messages to them. It is remarkable how often employees don’t really understand the “mission” of their company and it important to communicate this again and again in many different ways.

Scaling up is risky and hard but if it’s seen as a change project and approached as such the payoff can be significant and speedy too. Good luck!



The next professional query for week three is now live and open for comment and debate. Follow the link here to participate.

Send your questions for Dawn anonymously to [email protected] and see them answered here next time.

Dawn Metcalfe is the managing director of Performance Development Services (PDS). Find out more at


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