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Scale your purpose, not your head count

For the last century, society has gone scaling mad - from Henry Ford scaling productivity with his moving assembly line, to modern tech giants scaling at an almost incomprehensible level. Is bigger always better? Is more always preferable? 

For Fabien Bonavia, Senior Director, Legal and Transaction Management at OakNorth Bank, scaling is less about increasing head count and more about injecting a team with fresh perspectives and diverse ideas.

Bonavia posits the first step to scaling should always be to understand why you're scaling and to treat this process as methodically and intentionally as you would any other in the business. There's plenty of evidence of companies stunting their growth by scaling with reckless abandon. 

“The first step is to identify your purpose," says Bonavia. "What is it you want to achieve? You may need to bring more people on board, so you can scale the operation by building sustainable elements around that one purpose, but it’s not just about head count."

Using the example of Bonavia's team at OakNorth Bank, they have a purpose to build around. “The mandate for us as a business and as a legal team was very clear: execute the business, build the book, and delight the customer.” 

Having a clear purpose enables Bonavia to better direct the scaling lens as opposed to the less precise "I need four people by the end of June". The process can start with the question "What are the right tools, either in terms of processes or people to solve this problem?" 

While there is no one-size fits all method, Bonavia looks to scale with diversity and soft skills in mind. Technical skills can often be caught up whereas fostering the right culture and environment is a more challenging task.

He says a cognitively diverse team will bring a plethora of differing opinions, ideas and answers to problems faced by a company. “The biggest challenge for any organization is to hire people who will challenge. They will challenge management and maybe even challenge clients' proposed solutions.” 

Bonavia believes such individuals typify the “right kind of people” as opposed to those he refers to as "compulsive contrarians", those who are critical of all processes without buying into any ideas. 

Scaling is clearly a process which can benefit from technology, whether that means to help bring order to a process or to sift through candidates more efficiently. “Technology is the backbone of that and, broadly speaking, to date there hasn't been enough space within the legal industry for technology. It's something of a missed opportunity.” 

He stresses that technology should not exist within a bubble, that it should be used in conjunction with intuition. “Listen to your own people and listen to your intuition as well. That’s important. If it doesn’t feel right, don’t keep doing it. Stop."

As with all facets of work and life, communication is key. “A working relationship, much like any other relationship, falls flat on its face if there's no communication and that rule applies when you are scaling a function" says Bonavia. 

Scaling can be a challenging and delicate process and without clear and effective purpose and communication, key information can be missed and individuals left in the lurch. It doesn't take much for things to go awry, resulting in time and resources being wasted, which are all outcomes best avoided.

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