At Accelerate Okanagan, our entrepreneurial programs are designed to build strong companies and resilient entrepreneurs. We help business owners validate their market, accelerate their growth, and scale sustainably with the support of our Executives-in-Residence team. We do this through one-on-one business coaching, peer-to-peer engagements, access to resources, and entrepreneurial training with industry experts.
We recently caught up with one of our EiRs, Sandra Oldfield, to find out more about what makes her uniquely qualified and hear the lessons she’s learned along the way.
During my time building Tinhorn Creek Vineyards, I learned a lot of great lessons—in particular, I learned a lot about growth. I also learned how not to grow a business. In 2017, I started consulting and mentoring because those lessons help people grow strategically instead of chasing shiny things that distract from the areas of the business they should be building
Building Your Team
Hire for the role, not the person. I used to hire people by trying to sell them on how great my company was. I would bring in people who were great without actually having a job for them. I’d put them somewhere in the company and saddle them with a ton of work and, eventually, they’d leave. After receiving some mentorship myself, I realized that I needed to decide what the company needed, set up a clear job description and hire someone who does that job best.
People leave jobs because they get hired to do one thing and then get asked to do 12 other things. Typically, this is because the company is confused about why they’re hiring this person and what value they want them to bring. Even if you’re a team that wears a lot of hats, you need to define what each of those hats is and why an employee should care about them. Once someone is hired and gaining proficiencies in their role, you can expand their responsibilities and explore their skillset.
“Sandra’s experience scaling teams and companies made her the perfect fit for working with businesses in any industry, not just viticulture.”
Being a Leader
Being a leader is about how you can help the people that you’ve hired do their job better, not how you can manage them better. A lot of the businesses I work with have similar issues when it comes to managing people. Most people tend to think that anything to do with your employees is not a skill set you can learn. They think everyone is different so you can just wing it and it’s not possible to put business-wide systems in place for them. But you can and you must.
Leadership is also about empathy. You need to see issues from other people’s points of view. Some people resonate with empathy and others don’t. For me, it’s critical to leadership. You need to be able to put yourself in their situation so that you can find a solution that is agreeable to each party.
Re-evaluating the Organization
Re-evaluate the structure of your business at every opportunity. Anytime someone left the business, I would look at the organizational structure and ask if it still made sense. Did that position need to be there? Should that position actually be two jobs? You need to be open to restructuring the organization based on the direction you’re growing and the feedback you receive from current and exiting employees.
Putting systems in place for managing your people gives your team clarity, treats them respectfully and without favouritism. Once those are in place, you can tailor how you engage with them individually.
I like opportunities where I can work with companies for 6 months to a year or longer as we do on Accelerate Okanagan’s RevUP program. You can put things in place and, as issues come up, review that system and leverage it to solve those problems. It lets you work in an iterative process and form those mental pathways to make that process a natural part of the business.
“Sandra’s deep knowledge around all things wine-related and connections in the community have been instrumental in helping us innovate and grow.”
Having a strong team can create enough space around leaders for them to stand back and see what needs to happen strategically to improve the business. Whether you’re in Vancouver or Oliver—it doesn’t matter how small the town is—you can be innovative anywhere. As the CEO, I was able to spend time working on the business instead of in the business. If I was the one working on the bottling line, Tinhorn wouldn’t have been able to innovate where we did. You need to trust your employees and let them do their job properly so you can take the company to the next level.
A Life-changing Opportunity
When entrepreneurs are coachable, believe in mentorship and come to you for guidance, you will make lasting improvements. It doesn’t matter what we’re engaging in or what business type it is as long as the companies understand that they don’t know everything and that they need help. That little bit of vulnerability goes a long way to creating a successful engagement. Those are the people that do the work and value the experience we’re bringing to the table. They recognize that working with mentors can be a life-changing opportunity that determines the future of their company.