Change Management Startups

Applying Agile Performance Management in a High-Growth Startup

I created this project while working as GTM Country Manager for a fintech startup in the UK in 2016, as part of a McKinsey Agility Hackathon.

Insight: People perform better when the manager spends time with them to set individual objectives as part of the bigger picture.

I observed this insight after running a test project with two new joiners in the TransferGo team. Given the nature and stage of the business, there was no structure or process to translate high level business objectives like corridor activation rate or number of distinct buyers to the level of individual contribution.

I worked with Robert and Elena to create these individual goals, keeping the context and the company / corridor objectives in mind. I’ll explain how this evolved in the context.

Thank you: McKinsey Agility Hackathon 2016 Group No.2 – Performance Management and to my colleagues at the time, Robert Popescu & Elena Grapa


The Agility Hackathon start date is in sync with one of TransferGo’s fastest growing months and throughout the length of I on-boarded two new members in our Romanian corridor team.

TransferGo is a 3 and a half year old startup at its 3rd round of funding, having grown from pre-seeds to one of the largest seeds in the industry. The company focuses on international digital transfers, mainly from UK to Eastern Europe, targeting markets like Romania, Poland, Lithuania and Latvia. We are currently offer local in local out money transfers from the European Union to up to 42 countries.

Over 100,000 people have already saved millions worth of commissions versus banks and other traditional money transfers providers and we are proud to have contributed to the recent changes in the margins that Western Union or Moneygram use for their Romanian, Polish or Lithuanian customers.

Thanks to the latest 2.5 million USD investment, our headcount has increased significantly but the core structure remains relatively flat. We work in clusters around ethnic corridors – Romania and Poland – and with a core team responsible for all other parts of the business.

Agile Marketing Management

As a Country Manager, my role is to increase new distinct buyers, activation rates, money flow, revenue and overall branding and marketing indicators. While at first it was a one man game, the volume of work and the scope of the responsibilities has grown and I added two team members, one Customer Engagement Specialist (Robert) and one Community Manager (Elena).

Not only did I create the job descriptions and responsibilities for them from scratch but I also had to make sure that they had some sort of measurable outcome of their work. We also had to build the performance management system from the ground up, as there was no previous history of any similar roles.

Agile allowed us to move quicker and be more strategic in our approach to design and plan for the new roles. The marketing team had experimented with the Agile methodology, having switched from two week sprints to one month ones to dropping them altogether and focus on daily stand-ups and weekly catch-ups. While this method is extremely agile, it can be very confusing if you are a new hire and it is expected of you to generate daily priorities and weekly objectives that contribute somehow to the overall corridor results – new distinct buyers, activation rates, money flow, revenue and overall branding and marketing indicators. So how did we transfer the overall objectives to individually digestible pieces?

The Hackathon Pilot Project

We had difficulties in finding the sweet spot for both positions in terms of initial objectives, as we had no reference point in the business, so we decided to estimate what would be an ideal outcome – how many people they were supposed to bring in through customer calls or through our referral program, then start working and review along the way over each cycle – weekly and monthly.

Screen Shot 2016-04-22 at 14.08.10.png

Design, Work, Learn – a mix of Scrum with Lean Methodology.

Customer Engagement Specialist

For Robert, our Customer Engagement Specialist, we had to review the objectives and reshape them to reflect the reality of our database – number of UK based phone numbers, age of each lead and the likeliness that they would pick up and convert. This resulted in creating a system that initially focused on monthly objectives, which was less motivating and resulted in high variance in call numbers. After a month, we switched to metrics he can fully own (like number of call attempts per day and win rates) and call numbers instantly became more consistent, with conversions rising. Robert also became more engaged, more proactive, thanks to our weekly catch-ups where we looked for solutions and celebrate small wins.

Community manager

The second part of the pilot project meant I was to start weekly sessions with the Community manager as well. However, the goal setting and management process here is less precise due to the nature of the job, but we gradually formalized metrics to measure growth – registrations, activations and meetings with our referring customers. This meant that Elena knew how she was performing every day against the weekly and monthly targets but also towards the commitments that had indirect impact on the referral program growth.

Implications & Outcomes

I found that individual accountability is critical to the overall success of the group, in my case – Romanian language migrants corridor, as it gives team members the ability to plan and act on their own, reduce dependency on the manager and increase personal effectiveness.

Even if the goals are not realistic at first, it’s important to set fluid objectives where each new hire can operate, otherwise they will feel lost. You, as a manager, should make sure that the team revisits objectives and that they reflect the market reality and the capacity of the employees, so as not to demotivate them due to the objectives being too low or too high.

Remember to celebrate small wins, it helps with team member morale and contributes to proactive ness, autonomy and personal effectiveness.

Going forward, for me the challenge will be to scale and adapt this successful experiment for further hires and train future managers to use the same principles that worked in my case – the Agile On-boarding Playbook.


I’m looking to evolve the model, so please send me your thoughts about:

  • How this on-boarding process works for other managers, other companies, other cultures and other stages of the business
  • What’s missing and what can be improved in the current model
  • How this scales to larger teams without adding more management overhead

I’ll take comments & direct notes!

Photo by Daria Nepriakhina on Unsplash

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