Working for a startup company can be one of the best career experiences a person can have. Startup companies are focused, quick to change, progressive and innovative. In many instances, they experience rapid growth and become a large company, then face the challenge of maintaining that startup culture that made them successful. It is critical that a startup company retains its cultural core to ensure successful growth.
Here are four tips to help keep a startup culture in a growing company:
Think Big and Learn How to Communicate Big Picture Ideas
As an organization grows, it is crucial to analyze ideas as if the company were larger than it currently is. Consider a multi-unit retail company as an example. The company may only have a few locations, but developing and analyzing ideas and processes as if it had 21 units can help ensure scalability for the future. Thinking big allows processes and procedures to evolve as the company grows.
However, without strong communication, big thinking won’t lead to action. When an organization is small, it’s easy to communicate among employees and execute growth plans quickly. As the company grows, communication becomes even more critical to ensure success. Leaders must be able to communicate their ideas effectively to the larger company. In other words, developing a bigger picture strategic vision and communicating that growth vision is key not only in the development of ideas, but also in their execution.
Beat the Peter Principle
Developing and keeping individuals who start with the company is another challenge an organization must face as it grows. A startup team includes people with many talents and skills, such as passion, vision and an entrepreneurial spirit, that are vital to the beginnings of a successful company. However, as the company grows and these individuals take on more and more responsibilities, the startup may fall prey to the Peter Principle. This principle, formulated by Laurence Peter, is a concept whereby candidates for a particular position are identified based on their current performance, rather than their aptitude for the role for which they’ve been selected. That is, these founders within a startup, who’ve been promoted over and over again based on performance, will suddenly find themselves in roles they’re not equipped to handle. Therefore, it is essential that these veteran associates identify, learn and develop the skills that will allow them to grow with the company.
One way to beat the Peter Principle is to offer professional development opportunities like training and additional education. Another effective resource is a mentor. In today’s business culture, many seasoned professionals want to help others as a way of giving back, and are happy to serve as mentors to younger professionals. Finding a mentor is often as simple as joining and actively participating in local industry and networking groups.
Don’t Create an Ivory Tower Culture
During the startup years of a company, many of the founding associates have hands-on roles in day-to-day operations. As the organization grows, those individuals often shift their attention away from the day-to-day to other, more strategic areas.
It is essential not to lose touch with field-level employees and those who are engaged with clients or customers. In fact, all ideas should incorporate a field perspective because those who work closest with clients or customers have the best insight into whether or not initiatives can be successfully executed. To gain a field perspective, choose individuals who will give honest feedback and assure them there will be no repercussions for their honesty.
Here is an example: A manager asked an employee what she thought of the company’s sales campaign. She answered, “That was the stupidest idea I ever heard.” She immediately recognized that the manager asking had developed the idea and apologized. Instead of getting angry, the manager said, “That is exactly the kind of feedback this company needs.”
Avoid the “That’s not how we used to do it” Syndrome
A startup company is agile, progressive and innovative. However, as it grows and changes, many of the veteran leaders might struggle with the “that’s not how we used to do it” point of view. This can lead to complacency and hinder a company’s growth.
To avoid this scenario, it is essential to involve the founders in all decisions that affect them. They undoubtedly understand that a large company cannot operate like a small one; many of the systems, processes and procedures require change. The successful transition from a startup to a larger company lies in the hands of the veteran associates. Therefore, it is critical that they feel as though they’re a part of the process necessary to run a large company. Current leaders must work with those veterans and ask important questions: What do you think? Will this work? How can we make it better? If the response continues to be “that’s not how we used to do it,” it is possible these individuals can’t make the leap from startup to large company.
All companies, from startups to organizations with thousands of employees, need to continually embrace change, especially at the leadership level. If veterans are not willing to change, the company runs the risk of becoming stagnant and complacent, potentially going out of business.
Jonathan Herskovitz is the founder of Modus Management, offering practical, hands-on experience in empowering, coaching, mentoring and developing all levels of leadership. From strategic development, operational execution, improving efficiencies, hiring strategies, and real estate site selection to culture and analytics, Modus provides leaders with the skills and knowledge needed to build positive and productive businesses focusing on top-line revenue and bottom-line performance. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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