How to successfully succeed a founder

Taking the reins from an entrepreneurial founder is a challenging task, but here's how to do it well.

by Paul Turton
Last Updated: 01 Jun 2018

As startups grow, their ambitions grow with them. But with investors to impress and a wealth of new responsibilities resting on their shoulders, entrepreneurs can often find that they need additional support.

For many founders, making the decision to step back from the business they nurtured is a difficult, but ultimately, rewarding one. A new leadership team can take high-growth startups to the next stage of profitability and help them thrive, but as newly appointed CEO how can you navigate the challenges of taking over the reins?

Keep the fire burning

Becoming ingrained within a startup’s mission, purpose and values should be the first task of any new CEO. It was the passion and ethos that the business was founded with that helped it flourish, so working with the senior team to keep these flames burning is central to long-term success and scalability.

Refocusing a company’s energy and culture is a delicate balance. New CEOs need to gently shift focus towards deliverable targets, while still maintaining the passion and motivation. By building in new processes and controls which sit beneath the surface, but don’t drastically alter anyone’s responsibilities, you can create a new sense of structure without demotivating your workforce.

It’s also important to empower your team and encourage them to continue to experiment with creative approaches to existing challenges - even if they don’t work out. Inspire this sense of start-up's sense of innovation by regularly showcasing successful new ideas and making sure that employees know that mistakes aren’t necessarily failures.

Recognise the differences

It’s important not to try to be the founder. Emulate their passion, but remember that you have been brought in to steer the company through a new phase of its journey.

With the appointment of a new leadership team comes an opportunity to draw from the voices of other talented and inspirational figures within the company. As a new CEO, you will discover far more about a business by listening to voices at all levels and harnessing their collective energy, than you will by simply being the loudest voice in the room.

Knowing how your workforce works is also important to ensure that you make the right changes. So make sure to speak to employees about what they love about their role and how they connect with the company’s values.

Communicate, communicate, communicate

For many startups, phases of ‘testing’ and ‘learning’ help guide the strategy, and the longer companies spend learning, the more informed decisions they make. However, one place new leaders can occasionally slip up is when they’re not communicating these learnings to the whole company.

Whether these plans are shared at whole company events, or dispersed by respective team leaders, it’s important that every single employee is always aware of the company’s new direction, plans and ambitions, so they can share and celebrate in its future success.

Bosses who make sure they communicate with their new team, empower inspiring voices within the organisation and refocus on new deliverables have the opportunity to guide the company towards new exciting opportunities for growth.

Succession is a challenge, but if done well, one that gives CEOs the chance to guide an exciting startup into the scaleup phase, make their own mark and become as impactful as the founder themself.

Paul Turton took over as managing director of Pact Coffee in 2017.

Image credit:  vectorfusionart/Shutterstock

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