Managing start-up transition

Caroline Mboijana, Managing Director, The Leadership Team (U). 

What you need to know:

  • Your situation is interesting, but rest assured it’s not new. Your question is quite broad, so allow me to answer it in two parts.

I have recently joined a start-up company in manufacturing. The business has been operating in a project-phased approach over the last one and half years, and as we close the second year, the wish is to move away from the project setup into the entire operation. The expected transition is likely to take almost six months. I’ve noticed that the business has been working with casual labourers, and some staff have had annual contracts. I have been tasked to think through how we must manage the transition without disrupting the business. The numbers are significant, and I’m not sure where to start with this process. How do I manage this? Steven

Hello Steven, if you have read my columns in the past, I have always said manufacturing provides the most dynamic and exciting challenges for people, and the beauty of this is it allows you to be innovative and creative in developing solutions. Your situation is interesting, but rest assured it’s not new. Your question is quite broad, so allow me to answer it in two parts.

I suspect that in the initial years, the workers on the plant were brought in to help with the teams that were in charge of the highly technical aspects of plant which  required sophisticated skills and abilities. I suspect the casual and short-term contract staff may not be highly educated and qualified. Yet, they have contributed considerably to where the business is now. Along the way, they have probably acquired skills and knowledge and, through on-the-job learning, have become good employers, which you should be careful not to lose as you slowly work at formalising your staffing structure. 

In addressing your issue, you must first do some data analysis and research. It’s best for you, first of all, to have a clear picture of where your workforce is placed. It is vital that all roles have job descriptions and that work processes that define how work is conducted are clearly articulated. It is easy to change these dynamically in the project phase as the systems are being set up and will change over time. If your job descriptions and work process are now defined, we also need to check that the structure is set up to help the business transition. This is equally important. While the structure tells who reports where and what the departments are in the business,  the critical aspect of the structure is that it defines how the different processes within the business are linked and work together. See it as the flow of the business.

Once the above is done, you can start mapping out what each person does, what role they are in, and their qualifications, etc. You then will need to speak with your leadership team, EXCO or SMT, and have a frank discussion of appreciating which functions are core to the business and which provide services to the business. They say all departments are critical,  and they are, but some are more critical than others. If your business is regulated, you will want to research what the regulations say about qualifications/ skills, etc, so that you are in line. Please also ensure you have researched best practices in whichever sector the business is based. 

While every business is unique, there are underlying benchmarks in roles that are cross-cutting in the industry. This will come in at some point if you are audited and your records are verified for compliance. There are cases where academic qualification is a must, for example, in the Engineering or Finance  or Quality Control departments- this speaks to the integrity of the business.

I can assure you that the work mentioned above will take time; however, once you’ve spent time doing this, you will have a better understanding of the current position of your staffing, and critically, it will inform how you manage the transition moving forward. Please always keep focused on the business’s strategic intent; it’s easy to get lost in the details and miss the bigger picture. 
Next week, I’ll walk you through what happens next.

Caroline Mboijana,
Managing Director, The Leadership Team (U)  [email protected]