Fast growth is tough

Fast growth is tough. It’s uneven. Disproportionate growth in some areas, puts strain on others which then need to catch up. It brings lots of challenges and frustrations but you’re also excited about what comes next.

I could be talking about teenagers…  but I’m talking about my experience of being part of dxw’s growth. This week marks my 2 year anniversary here and during that time we’ve grown from 25 people to nearly 60. 

The fact I’m talking about it is a spoiler that everything is  going ok. But I want to share some of the things I’ve learned along the way.

dxw digital’s office in Hoxton Square

One overriding principle – trust in your company values

Growth introduces new people and new behaviours and starts conversations about new ways of working. All of which are fundamental to a healthy team. If you’ve hired lots of smart, enthusiastic people then it’s likely that there’ll be lots of pretty wide-ranging ideas about what you should be doing.

You can’t act on all of them. It’s important to use your company values as your anchor and refer everything back to them.

Put yourself out there – even if you don’t know where there is!

2 years ago, dxw was predominantly a white, middle class and male-driven organisation. To build services real people use, we needed real people to help us build them. We knew we needed a much more diverse team.

At the time, our recruitment just wasn’t reaching the right people. We had to take some bold actions and step out of our comfort zone into forums and networks we didn’t really know much about. 

We sponsored events and stood in the corner looking utterly lost. We attended recruitment fairs and stood in the shadow of ASOS and Tesco.  We started advertising in new places, only to be met with a wall of silence!

It was sobering and expensive at times, but we did have some success attracting people to our mission who wouldn’t have known about us before. Crucially, we started to learn and gather momentum.

Although there’s still plenty more to do – we’ve just launched our Returners’ Programme, for example – we’re now pretty proud of our increasing diversity. For the first time, we have roughly the same number of women and men working with us (we’ve almost trebled the number of women at dxw since 2016).

People over process – mix up your approach and iterate it

The easy thing to do when you’re faced with a daunting recruitment plan is to double down on process. Get the cogs lined up and crank the wheel.

While it’s important to get your processes working quickly and smoothly, it’s a mistake to focus just on that. The diverse range of skills and experiences we’re looking for has meant we’ve needed to iterate our approach to give all candidates the best possible opportunity to show their talent.

We’ve tried a number of approaches, for example, for our work simulation activity (the last stage), sometimes giving candidates advance notice of the task, and at other times, a mere 15 minutes if that’s a better fit to the vacancy.

We always offer an informal lunch with some of the team after the worksim. That suits some people, and helps them get to know us better, but not everyone feels comfortable with that so it’s entirely optional.

Above all, we always think about how to put people most at ease. Basically, put people over process wherever you can.

Culture is great… but things need to change

This is tough one. Long before I joined 2 years ago, dxw had a reputation for openness with a “great culture” (see exhibit A: the dxw playbook) centred around our values.  But whilst many of our organisational behaviours have remained, some haven’t aged that well as the company has tripled in size.

We’ve put a lot of emphasis on building an inclusive culture, and leaders need to constantly reaffirm and nurture that, particularly when change is continuous.

The trickiest thing has been creating an environment and the space for people to feel comfortable to challenge something that’s the “norm”, and not necessarily broken but needs refreshing. That’s even harder when the people who are the best gauge of these things are often the ones who have just joined us.

In our delivery projects we don’t settle for “just ok”, nor do we accept excuses of “that’s how we’ve always done it” from clients. So we don’t accept this of ourselves. Each Friday is a ‘dxw Friday’ where everyone works together on the things they want to fix. We also have an annual retreat and regular company-wide retros where everyone owns the agenda and actions. But we need to keep reviewing these approaches all the time.

As we continue to grow, I want us to get better at fostering an environment where new joiners not only ‘get’ our culture, but feel they can contribute to it straight away.

Can you help?

I couldn’t sign-off without a plug. We’re still recruiting! If you’d like to join us and help us keep doing things better, please get in touch. Our current vacancies are on our website and we welcome general approaches too.

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