Never Stop Thinking Like A Startup
6 Tips for Keeping a Startup Mentality As Your Company Grows
The idea that a large company should “think like a startup” is nothing new, but how do you maintain a start-up mentality as your company grows?
There are many differences between startups and larger companies but the biggest (operationally) is the speed at which they make key decisions.
Start-ups tend to move fast and rapidly iterate toward objectives.
Bigger companies need more mid-to-upper managers to split the workload, but this can lead to a bureaucratic system where team members feel like they have to get approval from many different managers before they act.
So how do you grow without losing the speed and efficiency of a startup?
Build a Team You Trust
Hiring is one facet of business growth where you can’t afford to fail.
Dig into each candidate’s experience to determine their comfort with working autonomously and making decisions. Team members paralyzed by the fear of getting things wrong will slow your company down.
At every level, the ideal candidate will be someone who shows initiative and a desire to get their hands dirty. During the interview, consider asking about a time the applicant failed and what the outcome of that failure was. Weed out the people who don’t yet understand that mistakes are an opportunity to grow and learn.
Give Them Their Freedom
If you’ve hired the right people, you should feel comfortable letting them work autonomously and make their own decisions.
This goes for team members at every level of the company. Managers should be encouraged to make decisions appropriate to their level without seeking approval just like the staff they manage.
To make this work, educate your team on what kinds of decisions they should make themselves and which ones they should get sign off on. Some decisions require approval from higher-ups so make sure your employees know the difference.
Teach Them to Reason
While you aim to hire team members you can ultimately trust, you can still provide training on what you consider to be the ideal decision-making process and what you consider big vs. small failures.
Just because team members have autonomy and encouragement to make decisions doesn’t mean your team members should feel comfortable flying by the seat of their pants. When they make decisions, they should know that you expect them to use data to support it – and to be able to provide that data to backup their decision if asked.
When failures happen, they should be able to report it without fear of discipline – unless, of course, it’s a major failure that warrants action. Make sure your employees at every level understand the difference.
Help Managers Avoid Micromanaging
Managers often feel responsible for their department and this can incentivize them to micromanage. As their superior, you should keep an eye out for this behavior and step in whenever necessary.
Remind your managers that the company needs engaged employees who feel trusted to make good decisions in order to stay nimble and successful. Mistakes and missteps are part of that culture. A manager’s energy should be focused on making sure they have a happy, productive, and efficient team, and small mistakes are a part of the learning process.
Talk About Failures
Within your company, conversation around failures shouldn’t be taboo. When discussed with a startup mindset of, “We made a mistake but how quickly did we recover, what did we learn, and how will we use that lesson to improve?”, the fear gets taken out of failure automatically.
Every decision, experiment, and test is an opportunity to learn something new. With that attitude, there’s no reason to be afraid to fail – it’s how we discover new things and grow.
In software, the need to get a new product or feature set built out quickly often arises (see our post about Rapid Prototyping) in order to understand its market validity before embarking on a six-to-seven figure product development journey.
Rapid prototyping, in essence, brings a “fail-fast” and iterate-to-success mentality. This is a perfect scenario where team members should feel empowered to make decisions on their own, with the understanding that design decisions should be educated, data-driven, and follow best practices.
Following a Rapid Prototyping style with ideas and decisions is a great way to promote failure at your company, as what we’re really talking about is promoting a “fail-fast” mentality that allows for quick production and minimizes the damage of each inevitable failure.
Remind Employees of Meeting Cost
When your team members need help making a decision, they may attempt to schedule meetings with every person who is related to the issue in any way. This is often not cost-effective since any employee in the meeting without an active role in the decision-making process will waste valuable time just sitting there.
Meetings with 10-15 team members regarding relatively minor decisions often inspire thoughts like, “Wow, our decision around what colors the website should be has become an expensive one.”
Educate employees on the value of time by reminding them of the cost to the company any time its employees are pulled away from their work and discourage unnecessary attendance. Lead by example here – keep your own meetings small and decline meeting invitations where you trust others to make the decision without you.
Bring It Home
When team members understand which decisions they should or shouldn’t seek help around, your company will move faster towards its objectives. At startups, following this practice isn’t a choice: it’s just the way things are.
When team members don’t make any decisions on their own, we wind up with a dreaded paralysis-by-analysis situation. Not only are the design-by-committee meetings expensive but there is also a delay in productivity while waiting to get everyone’s calendars aligned to have the meeting.
Next time you find that a project, or some portion of it, has stalled because a decision is waiting on you or other key executives, ask yourself, “Is this an opportunity to empower my team to make a decision without me?”
If so, be willing to accept that there’s always the chance of failure, whether it was done your way or not, but understand that it will help your company act like a startup regardless of its size by allowing you to move quickly.
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