Case Study: How Unicorn Labs Can Transform Your Startup

Unicorn Labs is a data-driven leadership development agency specializing in transforming managers into Unicorn Leaders.

Research shows that when team performance grows, employee output and revenue grows with it.

Unicorn Labs believes that the fastest and most effective way to improve team performance is by training the managers who lead them.

In this article I will discuss how my team and I at Unicorn Labs helped Growcer reach peak team performance through establishing a culture of psychological safety, improving the emotional intelligence of managers throughout the company, and training managers in improved team development processes.

Why was Growcer Struggling?

Growcer is a startup offering hydroponic container farms that enable portable year-round growing in all climates.

Their CEO, Corey Ellis, and COO, Alida Burke, approached Unicorn Labs in 2019 to educate their management on how to lead their expanding team through change and improve team dynamics.

Before working with Unicorn Labs, Growcer suffered growing pains, similar to other startups who find fast success.

The four main pain point areas identified with Growcer were:

1. Rapid Business Growth

The management team at Growcer was not equipped to lead the team through change.

COO Alida Burke told Unicorn Labs, "With the success and growth of our business came the expansion of our team. But with team expansion came a shift in team dynamics we weren't ready for.

Many of our managers were new or inexperienced. Their lack of leadership skills prevented them from effectively delegating and managing various people effectively. "

This is not an uncommon challenge not only for rapidly growing start-ups but start-ups that haven’t had the opportunity to create their own in-house training and development programs.

Rapid growth, smaller teams, or even an influx of new employees can make it extremely difficult for the company to manage these pivots themselves and rally the overall team and organization behind one training philosophy especially if none have been developed yet.

2. Low Leadership Competencies

Most managers advanced from executors to managers as the business grew and didn't have the experience or tools to lead.

Managing the new responsibilities of the new role is challenging for any new manager.

Navigating the new role with no strategy, low leadership competencies, learning on the fly, and having several direct reports to now manage as well can leave managers feeling  frustrated, burnt out, and slow down the organizational’s overall productivity and associated costs.

3. Disengaged Employees

Managers were bottlenecks, and employees didn't feel empowered to lead in their positions.

Due to a lack of feedback culture, employees didn't feel they had space to speak up, which caused resentment to build on the team.

Through Gallup’s research, it’s been seen that 85% of employees are unengaged at work.

The costs of this range from a lack of productivity, immense burden on talent resources, and ultimately can lead to higher turnover rates if left unaddressed.

4. Conflict Management 

The management team did not understand conflict management principles nor foundational communication intricacies.

Dominant personalities were suppressing collaboration and causing tension on the team.

A lack of awareness and understanding of communication styles can leave team members unable to understand one another and actively collaborate on solutions.

Further more communication issues can often be symptomatic to deeper root issues like a lack of psychological safety and empowerment between the team members.

Together, these main issues can create the perfect storm for any quickly growing start-up to hinder yet alone maintain their growth and ambitions for long term success.

Guided by the Unicorn Labs principles, Growcer's management team rebuilt their workplace culture, got employee buy-in, and learned how to become more inclusive leaders who empower people of all backgrounds and personalities on their team.

The improved management skills, capacities, and systems had a compounding effect on elevating the leadership capacity of the Growcer team across all levels of the organization.

Training with Unicorn Labs helped managers at Growcer improve their emotional intelligence, create a culture of psychological safety, and improve their developmental processes. Keep reading to learn how. 👇

How did Unicorn Labs help?

Unicorn Labs helped Growcer identify and overcome leadership gaps that would've taken them a lot of trial and error to solve independently.

According to CEO Corey Ellis, Unicorn Labs aligned Growcer's team culture in a way where everyone on the team felt empowered to make decisions and develop in their roles.

Corey said, "The Unicorn Leadership Model educated our managers on conflict management and communication, and aligned our team on management processes that legitimized our business internally."

Knowing that Growcer lacked an environment of feedback Unicorn Labs worked to help the team establish a culture of psychological safety.

Psychological safety is defined as an individual's perception of the consequences of taking risks and being vulnerable in front of their teammates. In other words, it's the belief that you won't be punished when you mess up.

Psychological safety is the foundation of a high-performing team. It creates trust and connection among team members.

As soon as I was able to help Growcer establish it on their team, their internal relationships dramatically improved.

Moreover, establishing psychological safety is the foundation necessary that helps unlock all subsequent leves of Unicorn Leadership and address their respective symptoms along the way.

Without this foundation, addressing any issues regarding to empowerment, commmunication and conflict management will be futile or remain superficial.

"The Unicorn Leadership Model educated our managers on conflict management and communication, and aligned our team on management processes that legitimized our business internally."

A part of creating psychological safety also meant helping managers understand how to foster it on their teams.

This meant one-on-one coaching with Growcer's managers to help them improve their emotional intelligence.

By improving their emotional intelligence, managers could effectively cater their leadership style to different personalities on their team to provide team members with the support and motivation they need to perform their best.

This ability helped understand and align team members as well as guide them to work better together and communicate more efficiently including how to productively engage in conflict.

Beyond their emotional intelligence, we also trained Growcer's management team on development processes to help them coach their team members.

Since working with Unicorn Labs, Growcer has doubled their team's size and retained all employees involved in the conflict that caused them to seek help in the first place.

Growcer's engagement rate increased in all of the measured categories from 2019 to 2020.

All employees were required to take an employee engagement survey before Growcer's managers started the program and then again one year to measure its impact see Figure 1.

Figure 1. Measuring the Transformation

Career Development Work Engagement Compensation Relationship with Management Benefits Work Environment
Growcer Averages 2020 3.9 3.96 3.65 3.97 3.95 4.06
Growcer Averages 2019 3.62 3.92 3.01 3.78 3.37 3.92
Industry Benchmarks 3.65 3.95 3.37 3.9 3.69 4.03

Both Burke and Ellis agree, "The Unicorn Leadership Model gave us a system and strategy for training managers.

Unicorn Labs allowed us to give our managers the tools they needed to become effective leaders who guide employees in their career development journey."

Now, Growcer has management systems and processes in place to train future managers and provide ongoing support to their team.

Growcer's managers continue to do one-on-one leadership training with Fahd today.

Moreover, Growcer has also recieved the frameworks on how to continuously better themselves in their leadership development by having a greater awareness of which symptoms to look out for and how they can be addressed by understanding the root cause of the 6 Levels of the Unicorn Leadership Philosophy.

"The Unicorn Leadership Model gave us a system and strategy for training managers. Unicorn Labs allowed us to give our managers the tools they needed to become effective leaders who guide employees in their career development journey."

If your startup is like Growcer and struggles with managers who don't know how to lead through change as your business has grown, or if you want to create a high-performing organizational culture, check out the Unicorn Labs 12-week management training program.

Alternatively we invite you to book a discovery call with one of your agents to help you identify wheter your unique challeneges can be met with our programming.

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