Lisa Foster

This month we had a chance to sit down with Lisa Foster, executive coach and founder of 1 Bag At A Time Inc. We talked about managing and leading employees during a high-growth phase of a business including:

Read the full interview below (7min read):

Scott, AceUp: In a high-growth phase business, how do you manage and lead a large, and ever-expanding, employee base?

Lisa Foster: The first thing is to make sure you're very clear about your company’s guiding principles and vision. Who are you as a company? What are you doing as a company? If you’re not clear on that, you’re not going to be able to stay on track and keep everyone moving in one direction.

Scott: What does that look like, defining your principles?

Lisa: You want to have a purpose. What or who do you serve?  It can’t be just making money. Making money is a result of solving a problem and serving your customers. Your purpose is what you really need to be focused on. If there's too much focus on the money it will get in the way of solving the problem or serving the needs of your customer, of really building a great company.

"Who are you as a company? What are you doing as a company?"

Your employees need to know very clearly what you do, what your purpose is, who you serve, what problem you solve. But they also need to know what you don't do, when to say no. In a high growth company there's going to be a lot of opportunities, but some of those opportunities are not leading down the road you want. Making sure that's really clear is important when communicating to each employee what their purpose and their role is.

Scott: How do you get that purpose, and everything behind it, out to all of your employees when you may have a constant stream of new people coming on board?

Lisa: The more you talk about what you're doing the better off you are. When you get tired of saying it, that’s when they're beginning to hear you.

aceup coffee shop meeting smallThere's got to be information about what each individual person is doing in the on-boarding, but it has to go beyond that. I have a lot of people who will come to me and say, “I don't know why my employee isn’t doing what they're supposed to be doing, it's in their job description.”  It has to go beyond that, when you're beginning to work with new people, work with them very closely at the start, continue reminding them what they're supposed to be doing, pushing them.

Scott: In those first conversations, what can you do to get employees engaged right from the start?

"Ask your employees to do something significant"

Lisa: Ask your employees to do something significant. If you've got an employee who's just there to process orders or manage email, something routine like that, they're going to get bored very quickly.

There's this misconception that happy employees have an easy workload and this is actually not true. People whose workload is too easy are bored and that’s a cause of high turnover. If you ask somebody to do something significant, impactful, people stay longer and work harder, even though it's more stressful.

Scott: With all these new employees who may be learning new job responsibilities, how do you set them on the right course and have them stay on track?

Lisa: Especially in a high growth situation when it’s fast and furious you need to have employees who are going to think on their feet and make good decisions, who understand what they need to do.

"A leader's job when things are going well is to just remove the obstacles and let good people do their work"

New situations come up every single day. Someone may ask you to do something that is way outside your wheelhouse and you've got to have an employee that can say “I'm sorry, I can't do that.” And that's tough. You want to say yes to everybody but sometimes they need to say no, and you need to have employees who can make those decisions on the ground.

Scott: How does a manager empower employees to feel that ownership over their decisions, especially when the company is rapidly changing and it may not always be clear what the right decision is?

Lisa: A leader's job when things are going well is to just remove the obstacles and let good people do their work. But if things aren't going well, you have to make sure an employee is comfortable owning up to a mistake.

In a high-growth situation everybody's learning every day and mistakes will happen, it’s what you do afterwards that’s important. I think that kind of ethic comes from the top when a CEO walks in and says “I just blew a major account. Here's what I did wrong, and I'm just sharing this with you guys. I need your support. I'm having a bad week, but I just want to let you know we're still on track to get our numbers. I made the wrong call and this is what I learned from it.”  Holding up that kind of ethic from the top, that's where the trust comes from.Ace-Up Employee Engagement Leadership Pipeline

If somebody makes a mistake but learns something and then does it really well the next time that's a win. Yes, you paid for the mistake, but look what you got, you got a better employee.

Scott: So a leader needs to be transparent both with wins and losses, successes and failures.

Lisa: You want to model that learning, they need to be up there and say “I missed on this one, but I learned something and I'm going to be better next time.” But this takes a lot of courage, it’s tough being transparent like that. It's hard to stand up in front of a bunch of people that you’re responsible for and be vulnerable and say you made a mistake.

It's a hugely powerful moment though. It's humanizing. People will reach their heart out to you and you get people emotionally connected with you. I understand the pressure to want to be perfect and to want to be the best but the humility and vulnerability is just a really powerful thing.

"Spend time with your employees. That investment is going to get you your best ROI"

Scott: Yeah, it's hard, most leaders have gotten to where they are by succeeding and feel that success is what continues to keep them there. You're really asking a leader to do the opposite, they can’t only show their wins.

Lisa: Success is built on mistakes used as a learning experience. That’s an easier way to package it, but the humanizing of your leader is a good thing and will win you more hearts and minds than that image of perfection that we would like to have.

Scott: What do you think about the ethos of “move fast and break stuff”?

Lisa: I have I have a hard time with this and partly because of the “Break Stuff.” It sounds intentional, “Break Stuff,” I think 'move fast and okay things might get broken and we'll fix them' sounds better to me.

I know it doesn't sound as sexy as move fast and break stuff but some of the stuff you break you can't put back together. We're seeing that with some of these companies. I don't think we all want to be that kind of company where we look back and say we broke something we wish we didn't, so I think you have to be really careful about what you're breaking.

Scott: Do you have one piece of advice for leaders in a high-growth company thinking about how they manage their people during that phase?

Lisa: Spend time with your employees. That investment is going to get you your best ROI, making sure your employees know what they need to do and that you’re there to empower them.


Lisa FosterLisa Foster is an Executive Coach specializing in leadership development, emotional intelligence, communications and the founder of 1 Bag at a Time Inc. Trained to identify skill gaps and build on people’s strengths to create more success, she coaches clients looking for more influence, control, and advancement in their careers within large and small organizations. She also develops plans for individual talent development and corporation talent management using evidence-based tools that have proven to increase success.