Insight June 26, 2023 Colin Gillespie

Building Your Team for Growth in a Time of Uncertainty

Uncertainty puts you in an emotional state; you’re forced to reckon with the fact that you simply don’t know how the future is going to turn out. In organizational settings, this feeling can be pervasive and manifests itself in caution around decision-making. The result: companies try to hedge their bets and give themselves options to navigate and adapt to rapidly changing circumstances.

The natural predisposition could be to pull back, decrease your scope of activity, and wait for better times to come around when you can start to push forward again. But that doesn’t have to be the case. Research from McKinsey suggests that 50% of all revenue during the next 5 years is expected to come from new businesses, products, and services – typically from those built and accelerated during uncertain times.

What if you joined those pioneers and used these moments of uncertainty to invest in growth drivers that could let your organization emerge on the other side stronger than ever before?

What if you could use these moments to set up your team for success as soon as the fog clears?

Navigating our Current Uncertainty

Before we dive into what those potential growth drivers might look like, it’s worth examining some of the key factors underlying our current period of uncertainty. These factors affect different companies in different ways, but it’s worth understanding all of them to get a grasp on what the business landscape looks like overall.

Starting with the positive, unemployment is currently at 3.7%, a near low for the past 50 years. This is a remarkable position to be in when you consider the impact of the pandemic and the global recession that we’ve all been through in recent years. Combine this with the general feeling in the market that the Federal Reserve won’t raise rates any further, and you have a strong foundation to start rebounding from. Further, certain industry verticals like Edtech can capitalize on the need for education innovation – creating opportunities for companies that put their best foot forward.

Now if we look at headwinds, there is uncertainty in the US about federal and state budgets because of recent delays in setting those budgets and in the time it took to confirm the debt ceiling increase. Inflation remains a concern for most countries, and the last 12 months also seem to have been characterized by large-scale layoffs in the technology industry at large.

All these factors come together to produce an uncanny mixed message state where the market is not quite sure where it will go in the near future. For those companies in Education and Technology, this is a time to assess how things are going and then start to take steps to put themselves into a position to succeed moving forward.

How Do You Build Your Team for Growth in Times of Uncertainty?

Here at The Renaissance Network, we’ve worked with our clients to traverse changing market conditions and build teams that can not only survive uncertainty but thrive in it. And our approach comes down to following some key principles that underlie long-term team building. Here are those principles:

Prepare and Adhere to an Annual Hiring Plan

Your hiring plan is not something that should be pulled out only when there is a problem, but rather considered a blueprint that supports the strategic moves you are making in a given year. An annual hiring plan aims to set out the short-term and medium-term hiring goals that align with your commercial objectives. Thoughtfully adhering to this plan through times of uncertainty helps to remove emotion from the equation and gives you a more stable foundation to work from.

Implement an Incremental Growth Hiring Plan

Building on the point above, it’s also important to consider where the incremental growth in your business can come from. What additional roles might allow you to double down on what’s working and squeeze out more value across the organization? Given positive indicators and milestones achieved, what are the roles that you would then pursue? Thinking like this is powerful because it helps to put the focus on proactive action that you can take to guide the business forward.

Try to prioritize those roles that will lead to repeatable growth, such as those that allow you to enter new markets, expand your market share, and so on. For inspirational role examples, check out this past article here.

Remain Agile and Be Prepared to Change Roles Where Needed

It might seem like the two points above are calling for a specific plan that isn’t deviated from, but that is definitely not the case. Sometimes your hiring strategy might involve changing existing roles to better suit the growth opportunities you’re seeing – and that’s something you should lean into when necessary. Organizations should be dynamic, and by being open to role shifting, you can be more agile and adaptable to market conditions.

Don’t become paralyzed. We mentioned this above, but it’s worth reiterating the fact that in times of uncertainty, our natural reaction is often to freeze in place, for fear of making an irreversible decision that plays out to our detriment. It can feel safer to stick to what we’ve always done until things clear up a bit – but that is an illusion.

Strong leadership is needed in times of uncertainty, and you can’t afford to let the conditions cloud your judgment. Thoughtfully continue to execute your business plan. Be resolute and robust, and you’ll find that you can gain a competitive advantage while also taking your fate into your own hands.

Perfect Your Hiring Process

This is a good time to re-evaluate your hiring process and look for places where you might be able to improve how you’re doing things. Map out each stage of your workflow as precisely as you can and interact with your team to find out where any potential issues are and where you might be able to make some optimizations. Remember that in order to attract top talent in uncertain economic conditions, you need to deliver a superior hiring experience that signals your credibility and commitment to achieving your objectives. Any work done here is going to pay off in the years to come, so take the opportunity to tighten things up and give your company a better chance of attracting, recruiting, and retaining the best people possible.

Invest in Strengthening Your Brand to Attract Better Candidates

Before potential candidates even enter your hiring process, they will make a judgment on you based on the brand you portray in the marketplace. Times of uncertainty offer a unique opportunity to revisit your brand positioning and messaging and perhaps to invest in strengthening it so that you can attract higher-quality candidates. Once again, this will take some upfront work, but you’ll reap the benefits for a long time to come.

Hire for a Resilient Mindset

Perhaps the most important character trait that you want in your staff during times of uncertainty is a resilient mindset. These are the people who are going to stay calm under pressure, see obstacles as opportunities, and remain steadfast in their pursuit of the company’s goals. By hiring people with this mindset, you put yourself in the best possible position to navigate through uncertainty and come out stronger on the other side.

It’s not really something that can be taught but is rather a trait that shines through in those people who are willing to tackle challenges head-on and not give up regardless of changing conditions.

Change Your Organizational Structure to Prepare for Growth

Sometimes your organizational structure might become a bottleneck all on its own if it hasn’t been keeping in tune with what is happening in the industry and what you’ve been offering as a company. We’ve written before about optimizing for the right sales structure, and how that can impact performance. Now might be the time to examine your organization across all functions, and see if there are ways to shift your structure to prepare for growth in the future. This might mean expanding under-resourced teams, reimagining reporting lines to allow for smoother communication, or even restructuring divisions that aren’t profitable.

Maintain Candidate Relationships

You should always have a pipeline of candidates that you’re interacting with so that when an opportunity comes up, you can move quickly and decisively. In times of uncertainty, focus on these established relationships and evaluate where those people might be able to add value – as it might become the perfect time to bring them on board. Try to strengthen these connections genuinely, and you’ll be prepared when you need to fill a vacancy or rebuild a team.

Invest in the Right Recruiting Tools

Technology is a critical enabler for growth; it’s important to invest in the right recruiting tools for your company and its unique circumstances. Do your research and identify where specialized software can make a difference in your hiring process; for example, an up-to-date applicant tracking system (ATS) can revolutionize how you operate, freeing up time and resources to focus on the more difficult hiring decisions that determine your success.

If you can implement these principles in your organization, you can build a team that can thrive in times of uncertainty and help you achieve your commercial goals, while your competitors are sitting and waiting for clarity to arrive. With the right level of resilience, mental fortitude, strategic execution, and leadership – you can make it through anything the world throws at you.

The Renaissance Network

If you’re looking for assistance along this organizational journey, be sure to reach out to The Renaissance Network. Since 1996, we have been working in the Education and Technology space and can become a vital partner for attracting, recruiting, and retaining the top talent that can make a difference for your organization. Get in touch today, and let’s see how we can help.

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Colin Homer Gillespie is a strategic and purpose-driven GM with significant global experience and a record of product innovation and business transformation.

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