We spoke with Vanessa Giannos, the CEO of The HR Experts International to discuss where start-ups fail, and how culture can be more important than strategy.
Vanessa, can you tell us a little about your professional journey prior to founding The HR Experts International?
I have 25 years’ global experience as a senior HR, Change and OD Expert. I am also a qualified Master Behavioural, Leadership and Executive Coach of 20+ years. I have a Post Graduate Degree, a Masters Degree in HR/OD and Change, and have worked in Australia, Asia, US, and in London.
In 2006, I was a founding executive of a start-up with a group of amazing colleagues. This gave me the opportunity to shape an organisation from scratch, taking a holistic, integrated approach. We created an amazing customer-centric organisation, that scaled rapidly and had NPS scores consistently in the high 80s.
What has been the company’s biggest hurdle and how did you overcome it?
The biggest hurdle for any business owner is the number of roles you have to know, and the volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity (VUCA) environment. You need to have a broad understanding of every component of the business, such as digital marketing, technology, SEO etc.
I have slowly learnt enough. This helps me be a better consultant to SMEs, but importantly, also helps me to be able to outsource with confidence.
What is your leadership style?
According to our ‘360 leadership’ profile tools and my co-workers, my leadership style is ‘creative’.
In a nutshell, it indicates that I have a high level of leadership effectiveness, balance ‘relating’ and ‘task’ aspects of leadership. Integrity is important. I like to think I am courageous and authentic. I’m an influencer and a good communicator.
But I can be self-critical and exceedingly driven, which sometimes leads me to have a lack of work-life balance. I find it challenging to fully integrate a ‘work-life balance’ with my vision and plans, combined with my high energy levels and inspiration.
What makes The HR Experts International different from its competitors?
We provide a holistic and integrated approach to enable clients to grow, scale and transform in a VUCA environment. Our approach is unique in that we have a no-fluff, straight-talking, highly strategic and commercial approach, combined with sophisticated project leadership, backed by high-quality training and coaching programs.
SME’s often don’t have access to the level of expertise we offer in terms of strategic HR and business consulting. We make it affordable. All our HR consultants are highly commercially focused and experts in this space. We work with global SME’s and can work onsite for clients overseas as required. This is especially potent for ambitious start-ups.
In addition, we also are deeply passionate about the current leadership crisis. Our mission is to help 5000 leaders become more effective, more agile, more authentic, more adaptive and more creative, to meet the VUCA business environment, such as the COVID crisis.
What do you think is the biggest mistake start-ups make?
Having worked with many startups, there are two mistakes I’d like to highlight.
More often than not, the team that built the business do not have the style, motivation, and/or competencies to successfully scale the business. Start-ups require graft, whereas scaling requires bedding down processes and developing a strong base from which you can leverage scale.
Choosing the wrong co-founders. As a business and executive coach, I have dealt with many start-ups where co-founder relationships have gone sour. My learnings are to ensure that co-founders can utilise their different styles and strengths while evolving together as a cohesive unit. This means regularly working on their relationship and business and, in particular, to stay connected on vision, strategy and roadmap.
How do you create/what are the foundations of a winning team culture/dynamic?
For me, that comes down to a truly holistic and integrative approach. It is critical to have the most appropriate business and people strategy for the vision and culture you want to create. This means building the aspects of the business around guiding principles and articulating the aspects of culture and values and the customer journey/experience. This means ensuring that is embedded in everything, from the structure, to leadership, talent fit, processes and systems.
What are three key pieces of advice you would give to aspiring entrepreneurs/founders?
Articulate a compelling vision, guiding principle, cultural aspects and values, and a first step. This means ensuring it can be understood by anybody and the behavioural aspects are embedded into the business strategy and culture. It is much easier to design with the end in mind. Remember: structure determines effectiveness and performance.
Having worked in a pre-startup and seeing the power of a strong people strategy, I wholeheartedly believe a strong integrated people strategy is a key to success.
Get leadership coaching. We have a global leadership crisis. Most entrepreneurs and founders want to create something amazing. Having a Leadership coach who is commercially talented and understands people aspects deeply will skyrocket your business and the talent that you can attract and keep. It also is the best thing you can do to develop your company’s culture! In case you haven’t heard, culture eats strategy for breakfast.
Vital Addition presents this ‘Meet a CEO’ series.
Vital Addition is a fast-growing Australian tax and accounting company providing fresh, honest, and reliable accounting, financial, and tax advice. CEO Lachlan Grant believes in ‘strength in numbers’, empowering SMEs to make business decisions with confidence, and face the challenges associated with growth with informed optimism.