What I learned from my expansion phase: Simon Ursell of Tyler Grange

At a glance

  • Consider building systems and processes now that will work for a much larger company. Review how to improve tech and reduce admin and meetings.
  • Establish your culture and be proud of it, hiring employees and taking on clients that are a good fit. That includes working with people who inspire you to do things differently.
  • Embrace sustainability from the start to ensure you’re able to assert your credentials to investors, enjoy innovation opportunities and hire the best talent.
  • Good leadership requires compassion and empathy.

Simon Ursell is Managing Director of environmental consultancy Tyler Grange and has led the firm for 13 years. He has grown it from a start-up to a company of nearly 100 people, with six offices across the UK. Here are five lessons he learnt during his business expansion.

Plan for scale

If you want to be bigger, planning to be bigger from the beginning is vital. Invest in your business to make it scale – build systems, techniques and processes that will work for a much larger business. I wish I’d done more of this in the early years. If you plan big, it will be self-fulfilling.

One way we did this was integrating duplicate systems into one. We purchased Salesforce to overhaul our administration – we previously had project files stored in accounts and in Microsoft. Now it’s all in Salesforce.

We also declared war on administration to reduce the time our fee earners spend on it. We call it ‘Project Zero Admin’, and have made major strides towards this through automation, removing timesheets and reducing clicks.

We cut unnecessary meetings and meeting durations – another big time-saver. For example, board meetings are down from two or three hours to 30 to 45 minutes. We only discuss points submitted in advance so everyone can be well informed.

We also hold better meetings, such as project priming and review meetings – a massive efficiency driver.

Culture is crucial to scale

Invest in your culture. We wasted lots of great opportunities with both clients and employees who were skilled but had different values to ours. We lost much time trying to help them become comfortable with our culture.

As we’ve matured – and become much more defined about who we are and how we operate – we’re more defensive of that culture, and it’s made our business much more successful.

Our business started growing after we planned for scale and started recruiting people who would fit and add to our culture and values. This has enabled us to concentrate on what’s important to us, our clients and the planet.

Get out of your bubble

We’ve become a four-day-week B-Corporation and have done many other things that break convention. We haven’t been afraid to speak to other organisations, of all sizes and in all sectors, who share our passion to do things differently.

Find exciting people from other walks of life who inspire you. Tyler Grange is committed to bringing such amazing people in to help make the business and employees as resilient and versatile as possible. They support and equip us with the skills and mindsets to achieve our potential, individually and as a business.

We work with international sports coaches, ex-Army generals, Special Forces leaders, pilots and big-tech leaders. They run workshops covering areas such as resilience, team performance, leadership and creativity.

For example, Kevin Beck, who used to fly Tornados for the RAF, worked with Tyler Grange on developing our in-house Fatigue App in preparation for our four-day-week pilot. This showed fatigue reducing and happiness increasing – as was the aim. And international rugby-union coach Russell Earnshaw helped develop our innovative mentoring programme.

We also have an in-house psychologist, and resilience and mindfulness coaches. 
All these people have inspired us to try different things. It’s a fun way to grow.

Invest in ESG from the start

Sustainability is one of the biggest issues for scaling businesses, affecting all aspects from rising energy costs to how customers, employees and other partners see and value the organisation.

Also, governments and investors are increasingly focused on environmental, social and governance (ESG) performance. So, embracing sustainability is a must if you want your customers and stakeholders to engage. If you don’t have plans to deal with issues such as climate change, you’re unlikely to benefit from investment, for example.

Integrating sustainability also creates opportunities for innovation and helps attract and retain more talented employees with high satisfaction levels. But if you don’t embed it into your business from the start, it becomes increasingly difficult and costly to do, as you will be playing catch-up.

As part of our preparation, Tyler Grange became a member of the Better Business Network, which promotes a cleaner, greener, fairer future for all. Plus, we became a B-Corp, and we support the Better Business Act.

Lead with compassion

Poor leadership is a fast killer of small businesses. Good leadership requires compassion and empathy. Compassionate leaders steer from the head and the heart. They understand staff are people before employees, and that people have needs. They also treat their employees the way they would like to be treated and develop a work environment where staff feel valued and safe.

To do this, set clear expectations and clear consequences – positively, with promotions and bonuses, for example, but also when performance and productivity fall short.

Many leaders are compassionate but don’t lead, and avoid difficult conversations. Others are great at hard conversations but struggle to show empathy and understanding. You need to be adept at both to thrive as your business expands.

Where the opinions of third parties are offered, these may not necessarily reflect those of St. James’s Place.

SJP Approved 05/09/2023

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