E134 | People, Culture & Leadership with Anouk Agussol
Scaling Your Startup with Anouk Agussol
Anouk Agussol is the founder and CEO at Unleashed, a far-from-your-average consultancy that supports high-growth startups and scaleups to scale through all things People, Culture and Leadership.
Since founding Unleashed in 2017, Anouk and the Unleashed team of 10 have worked with over 80 high-growth startups, scale-ups, VCs and accelerators across a huge variety of sectors, ranging from 10 to 1000 people (but under 150 is their core), in UK and Europe. In 2021, they’re also heading to the East Coast US.
Their mission is to gear up businesses for speedy, sustainable and successful scaling (they love alliteration) and to create fulfilling work lives to boot.
Companies come to Unleashed for numerous reasons:
- To set a strong culture for the business to grow.
“They come to us preemptively and say, ‘we’re looking to hire 100 people in the next year, we know we’re going to encounter some people problems. We don’t know what they are, can you help us mitigate those?’”
- To deal with performance problems.
“Other companies will come to us and say, ‘Oh, we’ve got some performance problems, we’ve got some connection problems. We can’t hire the right people. We can’t get the right talent. What are we doing wrong? Can you come and help us?’’
The problem most startups have, says Anouk, is the people who were there from the beginning are the ones who get promoted, regardless of their ability to help the company grow. They’re not necessarily the best people for the job and, says Anouk, they don’t always have the skills, which can be detrimental.
Helping businesses scale
So how does Unleashed help businesses scale? What formula do they have for uncovering problems? What frameworks do they put in place?
The first thing is they do discovery. Anouk doesn’t believe in ‘best practice’, i.e. taking a framework from a different company and applying it to another company. Instead, they do a deep dive discovery, an ‘MOT’, so to speak.
“We lift the bonnet and have a look at the engine, and what are their current people and cultural practices? How they’re doing things now. Are those things the most important things? Whether they’re good or not good. Whether they’re scalable.”
Typically, businesses who need to hire Unleashed don’t have scalable practices, because they haven’t needed them. And that’s OK, says Anouk.
They then do an engagement survey to understand what’s happening with the people, how they feel about what’s happening. Then they run an alignment session with the leadership team to see how they see things going, what they want things to look like in 12 months time.
“And we get the leadership team aligned on that, because otherwise, it’s never going to work.”
Off the back of this information, they put together a roadmap.
“The idea is that that roadmap is prioritised based on each company’s individual needs, and from the data that we found. And then we work with them to deliver it.”
This is where Unleashed differ from other consultancies. They don’t just deliver the report, they work alongside them, helping them put things in place. Think of them as your partner, not a service provider.
Career progression ladder
A lot of clients are asking them to create a progression framework for employees to climb.
“Sometimes businesses will come to us asking for one thing because they think it’s what they want, or think it’s what’s going to solve their problems. And it’s really not. And then we’ll go back to the beginning.”
And actually, the thing they really need to do, is make sure that everyone in a role knows what is expected of them.
Forget about what you need in the future, says Anouk, focus on what you need now, and start building skills to help you get there. In startups, you don’t know what’s just round the corner, so there’s no point trying to plan career progression ladders, when everyone is all over the shop and you need generalists.
“What managers need to learn to do is to have those conversations and say, ‘hey, let’s chat about where you were at last year. What have you learned?’”
Or they need to ask people:
“What do you love doing? What are your strengths? What are you really good at? You could have someone that’s working as a front end engineer, for example, finding themselves within a couple of years being a product marketer, if that’s what they’re interested in, because there are links to their skills, and it’s just adding bits more and more often.”
If we as leaders, says Anouk, can become better at telling our own story of where we’ve been, what we’ve done, what our wins were, the difficulties we’ve overcome, why we started the company, and start to look forward to where the company is going and how we want to get there, what milestones we want to hit, it makes it easier for the team to follow, because there’s a clear vision of where you’ve come from and where you want to go. And employees can anticipate change.
“The answer is very simple – how as a team are we going to work through this? You’re already setting people up for change. And therefore, if people know that things are going to change, and it’s okay, if it no longer suits [them], then it really makes those conversations when they happen far easier, because people are already expecting difficult moments ahead.”
And we as leaders need to make it clear from the off that it’s OK for people to leave.
“But I think that’s very difficult for founders to do, because a lot of founders take someone leaving quite personally.”
Communication is key
Communication is normally the sticking point in a lot of companies. Your message has to be carried through the whole company, all the time, says Anouk. You need to communicate your purpose so that people can align with what you’re trying to achieve and understand it too.
“And that message, you might feel as a leader that you’re over-communicating it, but it can never be over-communicated. And like it’s just reiterate, reiterate and reiterate so that people are really clear.”
From onboarding new people remotely, to ensuring your message is projected throughout the company, you need to keep reiterating it until people start to parody you, says Anouk. Then you know you say it enough.
How to hire for great
“It is really hard to know until someone actually starts, how good they’re going to be. What good looks like is really dependent on the company. And that’s what needs to be identified before we even start hiring. I call it the three A’s.”
- Action – being what you do, what you achieve.
- Ability – the skills and the knowledge that you have.
- Attitude – your values, your behaviours, what motivates you.
“So those three for me in equal measure, if you have it as a Venn diagram, that the best performers are those that are in the centre there.”
Keeping culture going when you’re all working remotely, says Anouk, is tough.
“One of the things that we found and lots of businesses are finding this is that you learn a lot, organically when you’re in office, about how things are done. Because you see other people doing it. When the screens are off, or when you’re behind a screen, and you’re not talking to anyone, you can’t see those things anymore, that’s all gone.”
So Anouk and her team set aside every Friday to learn together. It’s a full day of learning and culture-based things.
“So Fridays are all about learning. And that’s made a huge difference to us. And for those businesses that we work with that have really focused on how do we increase learning now that that’s kind of gone organically, and it’s made a huge impact.”
Anouk is co-hosting “There’s this thing at work” on Clubhouse every Thursday at 5pm. It’s a Q&A for leaders of startups and scaleups to ask any questions about any challenges that they may have when it comes to people and culture.