|Published on 2022-02-14 by John Collins.|
One of the fundamental challenges that faces any startup is this: how to scale up to a larger organization, while retaining what makes them great?
As a leader, you need to nurture that growth, while ensuring that you retain the essence of the company that caused it to be successful in the first place, as scaling up is a consequence of success.
Let's look at the different areas that you need to keep an eye on, starting with culture.
If there are three people in a startup team, it has an established culture. When a fourth person joins, that culture will change. Now try adding 400, or 4000.
The fact is, your culture will change and that is okay, in fact its welcomed when new people bring new ideas into your company, especially innovations. It only becomes a problem if the culture alters radically, for example if people in the larger team are no longer aligned with the founding principals of the company.
As a leader, especially as a founding leader, you can influence the culture far greater than new hires. Using that clout, you need to guide people towards the cultural norms you have in mind, for example by writing down the core principals of your company and sharing them with new hires to review.
Have a creed, live by it, and expect others in your company to do the same.
Small companies move fast, while large companies move slow. Is this common perception always true? It doesn't have to be, and it is your job to ensure that heavy processes and approval gates don't slow down your team, therefore killing one of the main benefits you had at the beginning, namely agility, as you scale.
On a personal level, I hate siloes in a company. The "us versus them" culture that results from siloed teams will act as a major break on your scaling ability, due to the communication bottlenecks and political in-fighting. Periodically remind your company, ALL of them, that there is ultimately only one team which is the company itself, and we succeed or fail together.
When a company becomes large and successful, perhaps even dominant in their market, they can lose their incentive to innovate. This is a very dangerous moment in the life cycle of a company, as a company that stops innovating will eventually be overtaken by the competition.
As a leader, you must ensure that people are given enough time and space to innovate. Make innovation a core objective, put discussion forums for innovation in place, add KPIs to track it, and assume that a lot of that research your team does will lead to dead ends (this is normal).
Especially in the technology field, you cannot afford to neglect innovation.
People join a company for different reasons, and many will have a weak understanding of the product vision even after joining. To fix this, make sure everyone receives product training as part of their on-boarding experience. In a product-lead organization, everyone should be able to describe, in plain terms, what the product is solving and for whom, and they should be completely aligned in how they describe it.
Just like product vision alignment, brand alignment should also be instilled during on-boarding. The meaning of the name of the company, the name of the products, the design decisions behind the product logos, the market they operate in, the competition, etc. should all be common knowledge for the entire team, regardless of the role of the team member (they don't have to be in Marketing).
A 30-minute presentation, with 6-8 slides, should be enough to get all new team members aligned around the brand during on-boarding training.
Leadership owns this list. If a person is picked at random from the company, and they cannot explain in plain terms:
If the person is vague on those topics, then that person is not aligned with the culture, in fact they could be working for any company! That would be a failure of leadership.
You cannot control culture, especially as the company scales, but you must apply significant effort to influence it in the direction you want, before it's too late.