When I started at RTB House, a global marketing technology company based in Poland, I was the first member of its U.S. team. Being the U.S. leader for a global organization has been challenging, interesting work. As I’ve built out the U.S. presence over the past four yours, the company has grown from around 250 employees to more than 700, and the U.S. division has had a successful launch, grown to more than 40 employees and hired an entire leadership team.
This wasn’t an easy process, as adapting a business to a new locale is always challenging — maybe even more so when dealing with the specificities of the U.S. market.
I’ve had to learn and grow as a leader more rapidly than I ever previously experienced, and I’d like to share some of the lessons I’ve learned during this process. In doing so, I hope that other business leaders will be able to avoid some of the pitfalls that come with building a large team to enter a new market. When you’re walking on unpaved roads, there tend to be a lot of potholes.
1. Carefully consider how to fit each new hire into your organizational structure.
When you’re responsible for hiring a new division, meeting people and understanding their skillsets is critical — but it’s only half of the puzzle. The other half is your specific organizational matrix. What will each team be driving? How will the teams be linked? What are the challenges of your specific market, and where will the business be a year (or five) from now? The better you can answer these questions, the better equipped you will be to hire effectively.
Early on, I was hiring for an account manager role, and I conducted an interview with a smart candidate who had recently taken some technical boot camps. After running them through the AM interview process, we realized that, while this person would be great at running accounts, they’d be even better on the technical team. So, we invited them into the final interview round for the technical role, and they got it and have been amazing.
This is why it’s so important to thoroughly understand how your different teams work, the responsibilities of each role and how to guide the interview process.
2. Prioritize, but stay agile.
The unfortunate reality of owning a large business segment is that some teams have to be prioritized over others, with both budgets and resources. To effectively create a division that exists for the long term, you have to balance capital while also treating your people fairly and equitably. The best way I’ve found to both prioritize teams and treat employees fairly is to plan as best as possible, but be flexible with how those plans play out.
For example, you might make a one-year plan and have to change it dramatically four months in. But this will almost always be better than learning your forecast is inaccurate and not changing anything. When you know you need to change your plans, organizational structure, teams or anything else, do it as fast as possible.
3. Treat employees equally without managing them uniformly.
When you’re responsible for the success of a new group, people leadership is a huge part of steering the ship. You have to treat your employees equally. What that doesn’t mean, however, is treating every employee in the same way. Personally, I believe in open-door leadership. By understanding how a specific employee learns the best, what they want to achieve personally and professionally, their motivators and their preferred communication style, you get incredible insight into their priorities. By aligning work with employees’ priorities, you set your team up for success.
People, obviously, vary hugely in all of these aspects. No two employees will have the same professional priorities and learning styles, and it’s on you to give people multiple ways to learn and communicate so as to account for this variety.
One way I’ve found to improve employee learning is to bucket different teams by learning styles. By giving your employees a multitude of channels in which they can learn and communicate, you account for the wide variety of human behavior and better ensure no one is left behind.
4. Don’t rush into new hires.
When creating a new team from scratch, it can be tempting to hire fast and then rehire if the new employees don’t work out. This is especially true if there is pressure to quickly ramp up your team. But for some roles, hiring quickly can actually slow down your team.
If you hire someone who ends up not working out onto a new team that’s just starting, you’ll likely damage the morale of the team — on top of simply taking longer to solve the problem. The team will struggle to pick up the slack while their teammate underperforms, and this may cause stress among other team members. Further, it can take a significant amount of time to get to the stage where you have to let someone go, thus slowing down the team for a potential three to six months. It’s simply more efficient to get this right the first time.
The best way to ensure you’re getting it right the first time, of course, is to spend more time on candidates during the hiring process. With difficult roles, a bigger pipeline and more rigorous recruitment process will help ensure you’re getting the right talent to push your team forward.
Creating my company’s U.S. division has been a lot of work with a lot of bumps on the road. And despite Covid-19, we’ve been able to retain a high growth rate, one of the aspects I find most satisfying in my work. Building something from scratch can be intimidating, but it’s all the more rewarding when you look back and see what you’ve created.