Is your Startup Slowing Down too Much?

 

One of the biggest frustrations founders ask me about is: “Everything is slowing down! The more people I hire, the less seems to get done."

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Why is that? Founders tell me things like:

  • “No matter how much I specify, there is still no single sign on after I have asked for it for months already.

  • “We have all these new employees coming onboard, and there is no on-boarding for them!

  • “I do not want to look at the product road map, because they are probably still working on the BlackBerry version going to the AppStore!”

On the sales side it is probably worse. You have just closed that Series-B round, setting huge expectations to investors, and Sales is missing their target already.

  • “We’re working on that big corporate partnership! But they're … still signing...

  • “And anyway it is the holiday, so people are not taking as many meetings as usual.

  • “And, oh by the way, can we look at those leads we got from Marketing because they were really bad they really need to up their game!

  • “And anyway, we will make it all up in Q4 because this business is very seasonal.

On the Process side, there is a lot of effort—but is something working?

  • Half the managers are behind on their performance evaluations.

  • When customer success escalates things to the tech team, they seem to be not following up.

  • And that next quarterly off-site for your team, should really have taken place last quarter, should it not?

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What is the root cause here?

Well, every company is different but often I find it is too many competing priorities.

Too many ideas get converted into action items, and before you know it, people are just feeling overwhelmed.

A very simple solution is to reduce the number of competing priorities everyone works on.

  1. One lever for that is to focus only on company priorities, not functional priorities. The reason is that as a company grows and gains more market share, the value-added comes more from how the functions work together, rather than from work done within one particular function. That is why I say, only focus on company-wide priorities, things that the company really needs to get done to get to that next level and to get closer to their coveted goal of product-market-dominance. We also want to time-box these goals into a fixed timeline of one quarter, so that we can evaluate all the goals together,  and set new goals all at the same time.

  2. I also want the company to cut the list off at just five company priorities and I've learned this from no one better than Warren Buffet. Warren Buffet has taken a lot of executives through the same exercise:

    • “List all your priorities for your company or for your life. Sort them and then draw a thick fat line under number 5.

    • “The ones above the line are the ones that really give you the potential of reaching greatness

  • “The ones below the line are your biggest enemies, they are those that will keep you from reaching greatness. The more you spend time on priority 6 through 30, 40, 50, or however many you had, the less you will be able to achieve greatness in the top five priorities in your company, in your life.

And that's why I suggest every company has no more than 5 quarterly priorities.

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Third, have each priority be owned by one owner only. And this one owner should not be the CEO. Because if a priority is owned by just the CEO, It is really owned by no one.

  • The job of the CEO is not to deliver value within the company. The job of the CEO is to make sure that others deliver value within the company.

  • That is why I suggest that every executive other than the CEO, in the executive team, owns one of the priorities.

  • If you have more than five then rotate from quarter to quarter, but make sure all executives can competently own a priority even if it stretches across functions.

So to summarize, if you are feeling everything is slowing down that the more you hire, the less gets done, investigate if you're not having people focus on too many priorities. A very good solution can be to reduce the competing priorities that people face.

  1. By focusing only on company priorities; the things that get done across functions, not within functions.

  2. Define maximum five priorities

  3. Have each priority be owned by one owner each, that is not the CEO.

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Roland SiebelinkComment