Pioneers & Settlers: You'll Need 'Em Both

When a small business has established a profitable business model and is in growth mode, effective management often comes down to systematically moving to clear each new bottleneck as it is encountered. And one of the most recurring bottlenecks that needs to be cleared is the addition of new staff members.

Below, I’ll cover what that probably means for your business based upon stage of development.

Startup Phase: lead with Pioneers

When you’re just getting going in business, you absolutely need talented team players to succeed and help your business grow – just like at any other stage of development. But unlike during later development stages, it is essential that team members be pioneers at heart!

Likewise, you yourself must be a pioneer or your probably won’t make it to the level your business needs to reach to succeed long term!

You’ll know a pioneer by the following traits, both in yourself and others: 

  • Natural risk taker
  • Very strong “owner” vs. employee orientation and mentality
  • Highly self-motivated
  • Operates well independently
  • Comfortable making decisions, even when facing ambiguity
  • Tolerant of unpredictability – including re: the timing and amount of their paycheck

Look for Davey Crocket types who “play well with others” during this stage. And, as with all stages of development, avoid or release those who have entitlement or rigid 9-5 mentalities.


Growth Phase: balance pioneers & settlers

Continuing with the pioneer theme, once your advance party has cleared a pathway through the forest, ASAP you need to get systems and structures in place to run your new “settlement” known as your business. However, team additions at this stage will often be less pioneer and more settler by nature, or at least balanced.

First, you typically need to add people who do your actual service well (e.g. plumbers, electricians, mechanics, crewmen, etc.). Then, you need supervisory personnel to run your work crews and office staff to administer your business. And you need people who can effectively promote your business and run the business part of your business.

During this phase, you need to hire people or contract out work to those who have specialization or training in the essential functions of your business, commonly including these key areas:

  • Administrative Support
  • Estimating/Sales
  • Crew Team Management
  • Bookkeeping/Accounting/Financial Management

Again, fewer of these hires will be pioneer types. And because of this, you, as leader, will need to effectively manage and balance the inevitable clash of preferences and styles between the “pioneers” and “settlers” on your team.

Both types are needed as you grow. Both bring essentials that your business cannot succeed without having. Your job is to treat both types accordingly and motivate your team to follow your lead in doing so!

If you can do so, your business is likely to succeed, continue growing, and eventually reach the final phase of development – maturity.

Mature Phase: Specialized settlers

The less pioneer you have in your blood, the more you’ll like maturity. And vice versa. This is the stage where all the early risk and hard work really pays off and things becomes more settled.  But progress comes in more incremental (and less exciting to pioneers) improvements.

It is also the stage where your team members will need to be less generalists (as they must be early on) and more specialists with a high degree of training and skill in their focus area. Everyone’s job becomes about doing their function as best as it can be done… and relying on everyone else in your business to do likewise in their roles.

At maturity, your business may have numerous divisions and some or all of the following full time positions: 

  • Office Manager/Scheduler
  • In-House Sales Manager or Support
  • Mid-Level Managers (both of crews and office staff)
  • Financial Manager
  • IT Manager
  • HR Manager
  • Legal

In each of these stages, you need people who do their jobs well, and work well with others. High on your vision and goals. Low on ego, territorialism and entitlement.

Also, and in closing, at some stage in development you may find yourself misfit for some of the roles you are filling for your business. Pride and control often causes us owners to resist the “pings” that tell us to find someone else to take over these roles… but know this: the more you “obey” these pings, the more successful your business stands to become and the further it will grow!

So, if success and growth are important to you, I encourage you to take or retake our business model test here to identify the next or best place where you need to replace yourself in a role… for the betterment of your business! 

If you get people with the character traits noted above to replace yourself in those areas, you and all in your business will be glad you did!

Long live small business! Long live small business owners!

Jim Smith, Founder, PERFORMIDABLE, LLC