What’s the key to a successful tech business? In today’s environment of constant change and unpredictability, there are many key points to focus on when building — and growing — your business. You know that you need a clear strategy, but how do you know when to adapt?
Today, we’ll speak with team-building expert Shane Sale on the importance of embracing change as a leader, the benefits of an in-house development team, and how to create a more inclusive environment.
The more adaptable you are, the more leadership qualities you’ll possess
Thanks so much for speaking with us, Shane. You have over 20 years of experience building technical teams and designing successful products. We are excited to hear your insights on Fintech start-ups, scaling a business, and what makes a great tech team.
You co-founded Stack and grew the company to a turnover of 10 million, working with many major brands. What advice would you give to entrepreneurs who want to increase their turnover?
The real hard work is at the beginning of the start-up, spending a lot of hours ensuring you have a good social presence. You have to join different social communities and meet up groups to widen your audience and you have to do your research to ensure your market focus is relevant. With these ingredients, your marketing strategy will fall in line and then you can create a brand. Increasing turnover then becomes possible as you have a market presence. I spent most of my time involved in selling, researching, gaining referrals and using social platforms to offer advice and post blogs on a few SME topics.
The beginning is definitely a challenging time. What about the other stages? Scaling a Fintech start-up can be tricky, as the process changes with each stage of development. How can C-level managers balance planning and adaptation as their companies grow?
When others see you embracing change, it will inspire them to do the same.
To be a successful C-level executive, they must have a solid grasp of the organization as a whole, how it operates, and where it’s going. This means paying attention to everything from hiring to analytics and the data science of the organization. They even need to keep an eye on trends in digital transformation such as new technologies and software the organization may need to invest in to ensure growth.
The more adaptable you are, the more leadership qualities you’ll possess. This can include focus, motivation and an open-minded outlook. When others see you embracing change, it will inspire them to do the same. Being adaptable will also help you earn the respect of your co-workers. The better you’re able to manage change, the better you’ll be able to lead your company at large.
For planning, focus on identifying hypotheses, holding monthly roundtables, and keeping organizational bureaucracy to a minimum. When spread throughout the organization, these practices enable teams to rapidly respond even in the face of ongoing uncertainty.
Balancing planning and adaptation can only be possible if you create focus points in your diary every single week where you can reflect and take a holistic overview of the company priorities, as well as address items which did not go according to plan for that week.
Thank you for reminding us of the importance of reflection. That’s something that can easily get forgotten in the day-to-day hustle. Now let’s talk about teams. Building a successful Fintech team requires many components. Some Fintech companies prefer to outsource application development, while others choose to build in-house development teams. Which approach would you recommend?
Outsourcing comes at a cost and can be less reliable. You also find you are chasing rather than creating.
In-house application development is always my preference. It allows you to control the IP and move at your own pace. Plus, your team becomes more engaged in the product and the company direction and can offer solutions and ideas to help the company move forward. Outsourcing comes at a cost and can be less reliable. You also find you are chasing rather than creating.
Here are some other issues that can arise when you outsource your development team and how to mitigate them:
Communication issues may arise due to time-zone differences, cultural differences, and language barriers. Setting up channels of communication with the outsourced team is crucial for ensuring project success. Mutual respect and understanding of cultural differences are key to a successful partnership with an outsourced partner.
The language barrier might be the most problematic to overcome — when your requirements are misunderstood, it can take time and money to fix the misunderstanding. That’s why you should always look for software development companies that have developers and project managers who can communicate in your language and understand it well.
Loss of control
Delegating the process of application development can be a double-edged sword. Even though outsourcing requires you to invest less time into app development, you lose control of how and when tasks are carried out. The company you go with may not have the same standards as yours. Their team dynamics might be different — that doesn’t mean the team does bad work, but you might feel like the project isn’t going how you’d want it to. That’s fine as long as the deliverables are good. Stay vigilant for any dips in code quality or unimplemented tasks during two-week demo presentations.
Your company is only as strong and knowledgeable as the people you work with. That’s why it’s so important to be selective in who you trust your business, data, and customers’ private information with. Always try to sign an NDA. Only work with outsourcing companies that adhere to IP rights.
That’s great advice, Shane. Since we’re on the subject, a lot of your experience is in talent acquisition and team building. In your opinion, what are three key components of an effective technical team?
Three main components come to mind:
Hire a diverse team: hire candidates with the ability to do the job and the right attributes to succeed
Team unity: build a squad of “bar raisers.” This means applicants who want to create great products, are customer-focused, and can work with a multi-country team
Build for the future: Hire talent who you can grow with and who can grow themselves – this will create consistency and stability for the future
What are some common weaknesses you see within tech teams and how can managers avoid them?
Avoid hiring people based on just skills — for me, the right attributes are a far better measure of someone’s ability.
Make sure everyone is on the same page. If you do not have a methodology, a common strategy which everyone agrees to, and works to then you can get disconnected or rogue employees.
Additionally, creating an inclusive culture and DNA of the team is what will make the team successful. Avoid hiring people based on just skills — for me, the right attributes are a far better measure of someone’s ability.
When you identify the weaknesses of your team, you can implement measures that require your team to work as a cohesive unit. You can do this in many ways, from having members participate in team-building exercises to establishing shared goals for the team to work towards.
Practical elements, such as a digital task list or a deadline calendar, can help to break down these goals. This may improve the dynamic of your team by building trust and communication. Study your team’s interactions to find an improvement strategy that is tailored to your colleagues.
I’d like to circle back to what you said about creating an inclusive environment. You have written and posted a lot about the importance of diversity and inclusion in tech teams. If you had to choose three key strategies companies could use to make their hiring processes more inclusive, what would they be?
A well-intentioned hiring manager can still subconsciously favor a candidate who looks and sounds like them.
Start with a job profile
Most hiring managers know what professional background an ideal candidate should have when they set out to fill an open position. However, hiring is a long process and other factors can end up clouding their judgment as time goes on.
This problem isn’t easy to overcome but creating a comprehensive job profile to consult throughout the hiring process is a good start. Write down the tasks and responsibilities the future hire will take on. Then determine exactly what skills and experience they’ll need to have to be successful. Share this document with everyone involved in the hiring process so the entire team is always on the same page.
Whenever there is a critical decision to be made, consult the job profile.
Evaluate every candidate equally
Even if your company succeeds in attracting a diverse pool of candidates, it can all be undone with a poor interview process. A well-intentioned hiring manager can still subconsciously favor a candidate who looks and sounds like them. And the interview stage is often when this occurs since there is so much focus on the person rather than what they can do.
The key is to bring structure to your interview process by ensuring every interviewer evaluates candidates based on their professional qualifications. Here are some ways to form an interview process that values job fit over everything else:
Assemble a diverse hiring team
Involving multiple people in the interview process brings different opinions to your candidate evaluations. Instead of one person choosing who they like best, a hiring team composed of different people can garner a discussion about who is most suited for the job.
Most companies do this to some extent. Candidates will meet with the hiring manager and the people who work under them. But the problem with this approach is team members are inclined to agree with their boss.
Consider going a step further and involving people from outside of the future hire’s immediate team. Ask someone from a different department and the leadership team to also participate and consider how candidates align with organizational values.
Ensure each member of the hiring team forms an opinion on their own, then get everyone together to share their thoughts.
Have a consistent interview process
Unconventional interview questions rarely offer any insight into a person’s abilities and just muddy the waters when it comes time to select the best candidate.
It’s important that every candidate is evaluated exactly the same way when interviewed. Even more than preventing biases from occurring, it ensures you select the best person for the job.
First and foremost, interviewers should ask each candidate the same questions so answers can be compared post-interview. It’s also important that the questions focus on the candidate’s professional background and how they would approach the job if hired. Unconventional interview questions rarely offer any insight into a person’s abilities and just muddy the waters when it comes time to select the best candidate.
It’s also a good idea to provide each interviewer with a short questionnaire to complete after meeting with candidates. Using the job profile you created at the start of the hiring process, list the skills, qualities, and experience required for the role and ask hiring team members to assess candidates in each area. When everyone gets together post-interview, they should talk through their responses and share how they arrived at their opinion.
Thanks so much again, Shane. You’ve given us a great mini-guide to improving hiring practices as well as some key insights on business strategy and adapting as your business grows. I’m sure that our readers will find this advice helpful. We wish you all the best in your business ventures for the new year!