The three things every scale-up Chief People Officer needs to know – an event with Elevayte

OCT 11, 2022

Last month, we were delighted to host an event for CPeOs and Heads of People in partnership with Elevayte.

In this post, Elevayte’s Chief Commercial Officer, Kusia Pell, who moderated our panel discussion, gives us a run down of her key take aways from the event. 

Kusia Pell & Chantal Cantle

As September drew to a close, 40 Chief People Officers gathered at Balderton HQ to discuss how to empower a truly high-performing scale-up leadership team. By their very nature, scale-ups move fast. Creating and sustaining a leadership team that can be agile, proactive, and keep up with the pace is not an easy task.

To get into this juicy topic we were joined by:

  • Paula Quazi, the co-founder of Smol from the Balderton portfolio who brought her invaluable founder perspective
  • JooBee Yeow, Chief People Officer at Infogrid, who is THE person to speak to you if you’re looking to move your company from 50 people to 1000 people. As such, she was a goldmine of practical info. Her blog should be a must-read for every scaleup Chief People Officer
  • Balderton’s Head of People, Chantal Cantle, brought the double whammy of the VC point of view, as well as the view from across the portfolio
  • Elevayte’s co-founder, Phil Bolton, who brought his diverse lens to the topics having coached scaleup leaders for 15 years

Paula Quazi from Smol, JooBee Yeow from Infogrid, and Elevayte’s co-founder Phil Bolton

The panel covered a lot of ground, but here are the top three things for CPeOs and Heads of Talent to take away from the discussion:

1. Proactive People Strategy is the way to go

There are obvious inflexion points of growth (e.g the leap from 50 people to 100 people) and predictable shifts for your leadership team. Be proactive and get ahead of these conversations. Some leaders who were fantastic in the start-up phase may not be right for the next evolution of the business, and that’s okay. Similarly, as Phil shared, some of your people may surprise you and just need the right kind of development to take that strategic step up. Start these conversations early. Get your top team on board with their own development plan and raise awareness of any gaps that the team might have for the future. As JooBee put it, "the goal is to have a #nosurprises approach."

2. Hold out for the very best

When you’re moving fast, filling a role is tempting because it needed doing yesterday. Have the courage and the conviction to say no, and to push for the best person – even if you haven’t found them yet. In scale-ups, you need to believe in the ‘why’ and the mission of the business – this is what gets you through the inevitable tough times. You also need leaders who can adapt to achieve the big hairy audacious goals that scale-ups set. When you’re scaling at pace, there simply isn’t time for leaders who are not going to roll their sleeves up and jump right in. Paula kindly shared some (blunt) advice she’d be given, which is that, "it’s better to have a hole in the team than an ****hole!" Yes, the current talent market is competitive, but you owe it to your business and your people to get the right leaders in the right seat. They are the ones who are going to turn the vision into a reality.

3. Have the conversation you’ve been avoiding (and keep having it)

Every scale-up talks a good game when it comes to creating a culture of continuous feedback. Very few succeed in putting this into practice. Chantal’s advice to the room was that you need to ‘rip the plaster off’ and have those courageous conversations. Scale-ups can’t innovate, grow, or move forward if no one is learning from mistakes. Leadership teams need to invest time in building trust, both within the leadership team itself and with their direct reports. Trust is essential in creating the safe space that leaders need to open up, share and learn. So ask that colleague if they are okay (really okay), and start to create an environment where everyone can develop.

Of course, coming away from events like these with helpful, actionable things to do is always important. However, for many in the room, this was their first in-person event in a long time. Moreover, the corporate world is awash with events for HR leaders – none of which speak to the unique experience of scale-ups. So, the overall learning was also a need for more places for people leaders to connect and network with peers.

If you want to hear more about the event or how CPeOs and Talent leads can help empower high-performing leadership teams, please contact Chantal at Balderton or Kusia at Elevayte.

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