Thinking startup as a core business strategy
Startups face a wide range of challenges. They are all potential with little already developed and in place, as to supporting infrastructure or vetted systems or processes. Some startups succeed and even thrive, becoming market leaders but many simply struggle along or fail outright. Nevertheless, startups and the lessons of startups offer real value to any company and regardless of its size, complexity or tenure in the marketplace.
• Startups have limited resources and need to make as effective use of them as possible if they are to succeed. Larger businesses and organizations can run on momentum and for a great many operational areas, and that means inefficiency and loss of flexibility in the face of change and the need for change.
• Startup team members have to individually wear a lot of hats, and they have to communicate with each other and both quickly and effectively. More established businesses and organizations can and often do build silo walls that limit or even block real communications, and the people in them can drift into specialization patterns that no longer support the organization as a whole.
• Closely related to that, startups usually have fairly flat tables of organization, and this means decisions can be made more quickly, and results of those decisions can be reality-checked without filters or blinders. You quickly see what does and does not work in a startup, where even large scale inefficiencies can go unexamined in a highly silo-structured business.
• A smaller and more agile startup generally finds it much easier to identify where goals and priorities within the organization are drifting out of synch.
I recently meet with the various members of the executive team of a more established organization, coming in as a new consultant who has just starting working with them. As I usually do I said early in these conversations something to the effect of “I know that I have been meeting with a lot of people here, but let’s assume I don’t know anything about your organization. Tell me about it from your perspective. That will help me avoid making faulty assumptions and it will help me fill gaps in my understanding.”
Everyone played along and told me about their organization from the beginning and I found myself listening to some very different stories at to what that organization was and what its overall goals and priorities were. I add that this organization is in the process of going through a significant evolutionary shift, but I note here that they look to be doing so without having their key leadership on the same page and for some very important issues. True, it can also be argued that these people were all advocating the directions they saw their organization as needing to move in as it completes this period of change and reorganization, but I was still hearing a very mixed message and even for core mission.
Startups, by definition, are always going through profound and ongoing change; birth is always a time of profound change. And if they succeed that is in significant part because their smaller teams can and do strive to keep their overall goals and priorities in line and consistent. That means their various founders are not in effect competing with each other at the expense of their organization as a whole.
I am painting an idealistic and for many startups, unrealistic image as to how they work. Even the most successful startups have learning curves that include picking themselves up after making mistakes. I pose these bullet points though, as representing good startup practices. Startups that systematically fail to follow this general approach do not in general survive. If, for example, personal ego on the part of a startup’s founders is predominant with the divisiveness and disconnects that can bring, that startup will simply fold and its members move on to other things. Good startup approaches and perspectives offer real value in creating a sustaining, lean and agile approach to business and to how it is achieved. Good startup practices make for more responsive and competitive organizations.
• If you are the CEO of an organization or a member of the executive team and you are in a position to influence and shape your business as a whole, strive to instill a startup mentality throughout the organization as part of your core values and culture.
• If you are responsible for managing and leading a unit within a larger organization, strive to run your unit there as if it were a startup and both in keeping lean and agile, and in being more effectively responsive to your clients, both in-house and external. Be a center of excellence within your larger organization and a role model as to how to do it right.
• Think startup as a core strategy and operationalize accordingly.