So your once little startup is beginning to grow, but it’s starting to show some cracks. It’s getting to the point where you need someone besides you to manage the books. It’s getting to the point where you need to find more people because you are bursting at the seams. What do you do to keep that once small operation exciting, your staff enthusiastic, and your work environment fun?
1. Leadership – The tone of the organization always starts with the Founder/CEO. There is no doubt that Steve Jobs set the tone and focus for Apple and inspired his employees to follow his leadership.
It’s great to have a dynamic leader who can provide a buzz in the company with new announcements on milestones achieved and challenges overcome, but how do you do that on a regular basis?
A dynamic leader also guides the development of the startup culture in the company by hiring the right people from the start and nurturing them so as the startup grows you can hire from within.
These people will have your vision and understand what it took for you all to get there.
2. Collaboration– Startups develop from a driven Founder and some core employees. As it grows, people are organically formed into teams. To keep the startup roots alive, keep the teams small but able to be nimble in decisions. Give your teams autonomy in their work and foster an informative collaboration among them, so they can share the common goal of the startup. Provide an environment where competition between teams is friendly and is synergistic to the good of the organization. Teams should always feel that they could work together on projects without feeling the need to protect the specific interests of the team.
3. Hiring– People are key. Your people must understand your vision, and what the client’s goals are from their perspective. It’s all about bringing on good people who understand your vision.
I was in the LUSH Cosmetics Vancouver warehouse the other day and was shocked and amazed to see the buzz. I’ve been in many warehouses, but this one had a strong sense of community – everyone was on the same page and having fun. I seriously could not understand the camaraderie I was observing as everyone had a job to do, was engaged in their work yet were helping others do their jobs as needed.
I mentioned this to the warehouse manager, and he laughed, telling me that I wasn’t the first to comment on the excitement. He said that when they hire new employees, they try to get like-minded individuals who they think will fit into their culture. I commented on the median age of 24, and he said he likes to hire friends of friends and that 40% of the warehouse team of 50 played in different rock bands in the community, a very interesting show of work/life balance.
The employees have a passion for their hand-made cosmetic products and feel they are giving the gift of health to their customers. It’s very empowering. They have a strong bonus structure, work with charities and have perks including promoting a healthy and sustainable lifestyle with subsidized transit passes and a corporate gym membership. The HR team had created a great place to work and it was obvious.
Make sure your new hires fit the culture of your business.
4. Feedback – Be so open and transparent that it becomes painful. Continue to ask and people will give you constructive feedback that will give you a heads-up of impending issues and problems. Bill Gates once said that learning from his mistakes made Microsoft what it is today. Encourage both employees and customers to give you feedback, whether it is good or bad.
I was talking to a CEO who told me he rewards employees with incentive awards for the best innovation in service delivery and customer service. This has worked so well that he went from a monthly award to a weekly one, and has expanded to providing incentives to customers for similar feedback. Clearly, he knows feedback and quick reaction to customer needs is good for his bottom line.
5. Be Open to Change – Gather your team together and collaborate on the ‘next step’. Let them in on the big picture so as change begins they will embrace it rather than feel left out of the loop. Change is inevitable, whether it is a well thought out pivot or a shift in focus. Change needs to be handled from a position of ‘we’re all in the same boat, so row’ with everyone on board.
6. Community – As you grow, consider that each department you create will develop its own culture over time. As your departments get bigger, it’s unlikely that they will continue to share information with other departments, but it doesn’t have to be that way. I was in a large 200-person office the other day where they have breakout rooms centrally located in the sprawling office area. People have to go through several departments to get to the meeting rooms, so they connect, even if nothing more than a hello, to other staffers. Their communal lunchroom is also a strong focus for people to gather from different departments. After all, a lot of friendships come from the workplace.
Spirit building events and ‘educational’ days are important to create a feeling of unity and ‘for the common goal’ atmosphere you need for a successful startup. Getting to know your fellow employees makes a larger corporation feel a bit closer and smaller.
As your ‘little’ startup moves out of its growing pains into a robust organization, things will change as a matter of course. Systems will be needed, protocols developed, operational plans will be created, and a management system will try to keep all the bits working on a bigger scale. Culture can be scaled, but it requires everyone to work at it to keep it fresh and vibrant. At the end of the day, you want your growing business to have the vision you had when you started with your four buddies in the ‘garage’. Keep your finger on the pulse without being a micromanager and understand that keeping that startup vision and enthusiasm is not hard but does take effort., and