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Three ways we use bonds to scale products better and faster: Part 1

Over the course of the next few weeks, we’ll share the three options a leader has when scaling a product, as well as the crucial role that bonding plays in this process more constructive and seamless, what to be aware of (or scared of!) and how to make each of these options work for you.

The challenge

All good product managers will know that scaling a product is not only a technology challenge, but a people challenge, a culture challenge, and a customer challenge.

With increasing volume and complexity of tasks comes a wildly increased risk that something will go wrong. The budget can run over, deadlines are often missed, the scope explodes until you don’t even remember what you started with…..and then, your team starts to get frustrated. They were excited about getting this thing out into the world, but instead, it looks like that might never happen.

Maybe this situation isn’t familiar to you, but it’s definitely familiar to us. Luckily, we’ve already made every mistake possible so that you don’t have to.

Before we start:

If you’re a hyper-busy founder or product owner reading this now and you’re thinking “I don’t have time for….” then repeat after us:

Spending time upfront will not only save you time in the long run, but actually help you accrue velocity in the process of scaling.

By not actively and thoughtfully investing in preparation now, you are wasting time and energy later. This applies to everyone, always.

The tricky thing is, your job as a leader is to prioritise where you spend your time, and that can be really tough.

We’re here to help. This is our comprehensive guide to scaling by leveraging what we think is everyone’s least hyped, least utilised tool: bonds.

So, what is a bond? It’s the thing that keeps other things together. Relationships, companies, friendships, heck, the whole world is connected by bonds! Whether it’s a social bond, a cultural bond, or a political bond or an economic one.

Bonding allows businesses and organisations to go beyond customer and client loyalty into relationships based on trust, co-operation, and delight. A bonded customer, client or hire is one that enjoys a quiet confidence that the brands they engage with have his or her best interests at heart, more akin to a happy 30-year marriage than a fleeting fling.

We’re better together, and bonds are the thing that connect us. That’s why at Modulr, our focus is on creating bonds that last. Let’s dive in and explore how we can use bonds between your team, your clients and your customers to ensure your product scales in a sustainable way.

three people sitting at a table working and laughing
© Brooke Cagle — Source: Unsplash

Part one: Hiring at scale using bonds

Hiring new team members like developers, designers, product managers or data analysts might seem easy if you have the budget. You have a need for increased capacity on one team, so naturally you should hire the right people to fill that need, right?

Yes… sort of. But the process of finding the right person can be time consuming, expensive, and sometimes doesn’t pay off the way you’d hoped.

So how do you forge bonds with a rapidly scaling team in a way that supports your existing employees and creates long-term commitment? Here are four areas (outlined below) that you can optimise in order to create bonds in the hiring process:

  1. Hiring
  2. Onboarding
  3. Culture
  4. Ways of working

1.Hiring

Questions you should ask yourself before even writing a job description should include:

  • How senior does this person really need to be? Will they need to hit the ground running, or could they learn on the job? Is there someone on your current team that might be able to answer questions for them and guide them, or will they be working fast and alone?
  • Exactly which skills do they need? When I ask for “advanced InVision” in my job description, do I really mean that? Is it more important that they learn fast, or have great self-awareness so that when they hit an obstacle they ask questions instead of blundering ahead?
  • ...This should include interpersonal skills. Will they be dealing with clients or customers? Will they be coaching juniors? Will they be helping to set priorities, or make decisions? If they need to tell someone (a client, a team member, you) that they disagree, how do they do that?
  • And finally, do I know the value of insatiable passion and curiosity? These qualities in a person mean that your new hire will probably progress at exponential speed. Learning to recognise someone that genuinely loves what they do and desperately wants to learn more is a superpower. It will help you to hire and retain the best talent. Be aware of that moment when you see a twinkle in your candidate’s eye!

2. Onboarding

Before you’ve made your new hire/s, you must have a plan for onboarding, even if it’s a loose one. Without this, you’ll lose traction, engagement and velocity within weeks, guaranteed.

There are plenty of extremely detailed lists online around this topic, so if you need to deep dive and have the time, you’ll find loads of resources there.

But if you’re time-poor or don’t have an HR or office management team to help you, our bare minimum is below:

  • Have the new employee’s computer, phone, and software setup and ready to go. If necessary, set aside time to walk them through internal systems.
  • Teach them about your culture. Ideally, this conversation starts happening during the interview phase.
  • Does the product team know there is a new employee? This might seem obvious, but a team should always know when a new member is joining well before their first day.
  • Introduce them to the team! Some of the best teams we’ve worked with have started by seeing a “Welcome” email in our inbox, followed by friendly replies.
  • Finally, and most importantly: facilitate introductions and connections between people that will be key for them. Your aim here is to build high quality relationships between the people that need each other so that inefficiencies can be avoided down the line.

Your teams must feel bonded with one another, especially during a time when many teams are working remotely.

A worst-case scenario is someone sitting at home, having a question but not knowing who to ask, or being afraid to.

3. Culture

A company’s culture does not happen by accident, and nor does it scale easily.

Think about it like a dinner party: if you have the same 6 people for dinner every weekend you have a fairly comfortable routine. You can be lax about formality and if someone forgets to bring an extra bottle of wine, it’s no big deal.

So what happens when, next weekend, you invite 60 people? Suddenly, your methods for dealing with the 6 routine visitors no longer work. You need more space, you need more food—and you also need much more planning to make things go smoothly.

Culture must be intentional and just like in onboarding, great care must be taken to make sure newcomers fit in. Here are questions to ask yourself:

  • What is our culture, anyway? Once you start scaling, your culture can no longer be a series of inside jokes or an intangible je ne sais quoi (“I know it when I see it!”) — it must be clearly defined. What type of work environment do you want to create and own?
  • What values should all of your employees share? What do you, as a company, stand for (and what do you not stand for, which is equally important)? Define these and make them non-negotiable. How are you communicating these values to new hires? And how are they witnessing them in action first-hand?
  • How do people find out about these values? And how are they upheld? Expectations for adhering to these values should be clearly communicated and everyone—including the founders, the original employees and even the company’s external partners and promotional messaging — should be held accountable for them. Values aren’t just buzzwords written in a mission statement. They should be lived and upheld by everyone your company associates with. Yeah, it’s that serious.
  • What about the originals? Don’t leave your early employees out of this discussion. People support what they help create. Plus, they know your company’s inner workings better than anyone. Their buy-in to a scalable culture is essential to it’s successful rollout.

4. Ways of working

Scaling a team means revisiting your ways of working (or making them implicit if they are not already). This is also culture in action: for example, you can’t claim to be a diverse and accessible company if your ways of working don’t support this.

That group text with your original team? That won’t scale. Instead, it’s time to establish a communication protocol.

How many times have you searched for one message from a teammate on Slack, Whatsapp, email, Asana and text (only to find it on a sticky note in Miro)?

  • Decide as a group which platform is for project related communication (and always have one for non-project related communication).
  • Define the etiquette and format for this communication, and even the expectations of timeliness. Is it expected for someone to reply after hours? If these boundaries are not explicit, some people may believe their response is expected, even if no-one ever gave them that impression.
  • Give everyone permission and guidance to gently correct one another until the protocols are natural. It will take some adjustment time but will be so much easier in the end.

Within ways of working comes the most crucial focus point of scaling a company: alignment. It’s harder to get a large group of people on board to the same idea, and with 100 people receiving the same message it’s entirely possible to have 100 different interpretations of what’s been said.

With a larger organization also comes less visibility into the work being done — often a struggle for founders and leadership as they experience a feeling of loss of control.

By creating proper alignment at the beginning, we can ensure the expected outcome and eliminate any ambiguity in direction. Bonus: it also creates more autonomous teams and individuals as they can work without interference to reach their goals, knowing they’re headed in the right direction.

That’s the end of part one of our scaling with bonds series! Next week we’re covering how to get the most out of your client/agency relationships in order to scale faster and better. We hope you found part one helpful, and that we see you here next week!

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