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Top 5 Tips for Leading a Studio Through Hypergrowth

HelloFresh's Carrie Crow Joins Episode 10 of The Creative Operations Podcast.

Screenshot 2022-10-04 at 11.26.06 AM
Head of Community at Creative Force
Head of Community at Creative Force

We'd all agree that working in the studio of a rapidly growing company sounds great in most regards-job security, for instance. But with your company's ascent comes challenges to your studio. How must your teams adapt as demand increases in a seemingly never-ending way?

To talk through this, host Daniel Jester brought in Carrie Crow of HelloFresh. If anyone knows about directing a studio through a company's rapid rise, it's Carrie. The industry veteran has been with HelloFresh for several years and many seasons of drastic growth, including acquisitions of Every Plate and Factor. In the midst of this growth, Carrie has led the opening of HelloFresh's Industry City studio.

Want to hear Daniel's full chat with Carrie? Stream the episode from the website or wherever awesome podcasts are hosted. But for a few quick pointers on managing hypergrowth, read on.

Acknowledge the Need to Evolve

When Carrie first started working with HelloFresh, the studio was, by her admission, more rigid-"This person shoots innovation, this person shoots recipe," she says. But as HelloFresh grew, the studio, which handles everything from recipe shots to billboards, moved toward nimble, diverse talent and an agile shared service model between studios in Brooklyn, Boulder, and Industry City.

"What we built, in the beginning, isn't what we ended up needing," Carrie explains. "Part of managing this type of growth is understanding that it's OK to get it wrong. You need to know quickly if you've got it wrong, but it's OK to get it wrong."

Part of managing this type of growth is understanding that it's OK to get it wrong. You need to know quickly if you've gotten it wrong, but it's OK to get it wrong.

Anticipate Needs and Expand Capabilities

During seasons of rapid growth, responding to unprecedented requests in real-time can have you feeling constantly behind. That's why Carrie makes a point of learning to meet new challenges before needs present themselves.

"It's increasing capacity and the skill set of the team, and making the work for ourselves before we get briefed to do it," Carrie says. "We continue to build our own capabilities before they're asked of us."

This mindset calls for taking inventory of which shoots your team is equipped to handle, and which ones will require new resources or techniques. "Could that be outdoor grilling? Could that be an environmental lifestyle?" Carrie asks. "Does everyone know how to shoot a billboard if they needed to? Medium format? Can we shoot at 9 a.m. and create that lighting look at noon? At nighttime?"

With this anticipation mindset at work, Carrie collaborates with one of HelloFresh's Brooklyn studio photographers and one of its lead designers to create an "innovation lane" of future possibilities. "Our cooks brief in, our stylists brief in, our ops brief in, anyone in the creative team can brief in," Carrie says. "And we keep this hot list of ideas we want to shoot."

Coach to Meet Upcoming Needs and Develop Careers

When taking stock of your team's capabilities, part of your process involves assessing the potential range on an individual level and determining who is trained to do what.

On a flex day or at a time when a shoot wraps early, HelloFresh's team looks at their "innovation lane" of anticipated needs. The aforementioned photographer in the Brooklyn studio, Emily Dryden, then provides coaching and direction for the given anticipated assignment, bettering the team's agility while also furthering individuals' skills.

"She has portfolios for her team and regularly looks at them with the team," Carrie explains. "Where are their holes? Where are their gaps? And this is as much for the individuals to make sure that this is a worthwhile dynamic experience in their careers."

Shuffle for the Sake of Contingency and Sanity

Instead of having the same core people provide the same services on every project, mix up which teams are working on which sets. This will increase the chances that someone can move into a role last second if the team is missing a key member-a dynamic that's important in any studio but especially one that works with styled food. "You cannot be screwing around when the ice cream is on set," Carrie says.

To minimize the likelihood of a melted scoop, have people prepared to work with different teams on set. "Always rotate. Always," Carrie says. "It's so dangerous to not. I think that's the one thing we learned with the contingency planning and risk mitigation of this whole year-never, never keep things static."

It's tempting to keep everyone in a static role, Daniel admits. "It can feel like the right thing to do, because, if you get a team that really clicks well together, you're like, 'I don't want to break that up,'" he says. But he knows it's better for the interpersonal dynamic to give people more combinations of team members.

That's the one thing we learned with the contingency planning and risk mitigation of this whole year - never, never keep things static.

Tend to People, Not Just Process

Speaking of interpersonal dynamics, it's good to note that leading a studio through hypergrowth requires not only refining processes but also supporting team members. Make sure your people have outlets (ideally multiple, including a peer resource) to describe their pain points and work through solutions.

At HelloFresh, this emphasis comes through when Carries calls upon Nancy from the company's Boulder studio. With a chef's background, Nancy is accustomed to managing teams and gauging issues during hectic times, so she works as Carrie's investigator, interviewing team members, soliciting their feedback about leading problems, and synthesizing their concerns in correspondence with Carrie.

"She's heard everything," Carrie says. "And she somehow manages to get everyone to reveal their darkest concerns about a thing, and then we move towards a solution together."

Creating space for conversation will help your team feel like growth is navigable and your culture is stable, even as situations shift and solutions evolve.

Want more details on directing a photo studio through rapid growth? For the full chat, including what HelloFresh's studio has in common with New York state politics, and which potential guests Daniel and Carrie insist should join the pod, listen to all of Episode 10. Find it on the website, Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and Amazon Music.