From a team building perspective, start-ups go through different phases in their early years. In the beginning, it is mostly all about the core team. Then comes a stage when the core team must expand its sphere of influence to a larger group of people who come to join in the journey. Next, the start-up survives and moves on to become an established entity – it is in this phase that we have to look at teaming as an abiding way of the organization. No longer is it about just a few people or for that matter a group. This is what I wrote about in the last blog and we carry the discussion onto this week as I show case the learning from Arjun Erry and Mohinish.
Arjun Erry brought out some very interesting aspects of second-stage teaming. According to him, it is critical that we recognize “core” competence of the core-team. Find the gaps and fill them by hiring outstanding people. We have all heard about the idea of core competence and of course we know about core teams. But do core teams truly know their core competence? Do they feel emotionally secure to admit what they are not so good at? And what about timing? What happens when a core team takes longer than necessary to recognize its own gaps, initiates action, brings in supplementary talent and then assimilates the newcomer to eventually get the wheel of the chariot added? Well, if not sensed at the right time that you have a missing wheel, before you have even strated, the race is declared over!
Arjun Erry was looking at issues related to acquiring key talent that completes the team. In doing so, he underlined the importance of always going the extra mile to hire the “A” players. It is tough selling, but often the most critical first step in giving booster power to the rocket. Why “A” players? “Because”, “A”s hire “A”s, then the “B”s come. What do the “B”s do? They go and hire the “C”s. Before you know you have diluted the genetic pool of the organization and that can well mean the difference between a high performance company and just another start-up.
Arjun recommends that entrepreneurs take professional help in the hiring process. Not all founding team have the capability to talent scout. Some times you are so busy that you do not have the capacity to broad base your search. There are outstanding people who are often looking for the excitements of a start-up but belong to another industry! It is a good idea to choose a like-minded search organization and enlist their support just as you would go and sell your vision to an advertising agency or a PR firm to get their mindshare for the long run.
But handing over your specifications for a key hire to the agency is not enough. Arjun says, you must keep your involvement in the hiring process high. It is a top-management imperative. It is not something that can be outsourced and forgotten about or handled by HR. At each stage of talent induction and assimilation, the start-up team must deeply interact with the set of people who come on board – they must treat them as if they are semi-founders. When you build that mindset as against treating them as “employees”, you get ownership and not just bodies that are “work-for-hire”.
Three people do not build a corporation; they build a 10-people team. That team in turn goes on to build another team of ten. So, spend significant time on the strategic vision with all the senior hires. Pay attention to the on-boarding process – it begins well before the person actually comes on board. Do not wait until the joining date. From the time you have made up your mind on the right person, keep engaged and involved with exchange of ideas, information and advice until he or she actually comes on board. This is obviously within the boundaries of business sense – you do not want to take risks in matters of intellectual property either way – make sure you are not compromising yours nor are you contaminating someone else’s. After all, the person is still not part of your organization and until someone has been “badged in”, there are limits to how far you can go.
Finally, the start-up gets into stage 3 of its orbit. It is no longer a rag-tag army – or a bunch of toddlers. Now the organization has people, customers, multiple branches, systems and processes. Probably the organization is three years old!
It is time now to shed some and gain some. Taking on from Arjun, Mohinish recommends that the original team now must shift from an overwhelmingly inward focus, to an external one.
This is the time to pay attention to building a strong middle-management; it is time to focus on the robustness of operations.
Original teams rely strongly on innovation, finding solutions on the fly, trying out things never tried before and using the inventive capacity all the time.
Now, innovation alone would not do, you must build domain capability as well. Imagine you are a company that started in the wireless area. Now you have to say what you do in wireless for automotive sector, wireless in medical sector or wireless for entertainment application development! The kind of teaming required in the early stage and what you need now to build bodies of expertise are going to be very different.
Going forward, this is also the time that you have to be choosy about the kind of culture you want to take with you. All that worked before, is not going to work going forward.
In the beginning, every one pitches in. That is what built energy, camaraderie and the romantic concept of the garage! Things now must get systematic; people cannot just be doing heroic stuff all the time. People must build respect for groups and not just individuals. Quite often, as the transition happens, the original group feels disenchanted – people miss their childhood, so to speak, and cling on. Childhood days may be beautiful but imagine remaining growth-stunted!
Teams must collectively move on; in the process they must shed some old behavior and adopt new best practices.
While presenting the case to migrate from “everyone pitches in here” to the “things get done here” state, Mohinish talked about what he calls the “Suri Effect”.
In one of Mohinish’s earlier start-up, there was the unmistakable joy-de-vibre that even had the neighbor excited. This Mr. Suri loved the smell of the start-up and would frequently pitch in – there was no way you could unload a cart or move furniture without Mr. Suri being involved. It led them to call it the “Suri Effect”.
But a time must come when the teenage stuff must be left behind.
“Build a culture that builds scale”, is Mohinish’s advice. Apart from cultures that build scale, Mohinish spoke about Vision.
Give and state the Vision – again and again. Many organizations tire out or think articulating the Vision is a “state once, live forever” idea. It is not.
It is a long journey and people want to hear about the Vision, they want to know why we are in it together? They need to hear it every now and then. Newcomers and the old alike. But why Vision?
Because two kinds of organizational decisions must always flow out of the Vision – people decisions and strategy decisions. Vision must drive each time you have to “make a call” in matters of people and strategy.
While focusing on building the team for the next phase of your company’s life, look for hunger, common emotional glue and commitment.
Finally, every organization needs to see different “leadership facets” over the years. In the third stage that Mohinish talked about, three facets of leadership behavior become critical. This is the stage in which the leader herself becomes the example of what it means to work for this organization. Two, her emotional resilience is what goes on to build trust in the organization and three, it is the leader who helps to instill and clarify what subsequently becomes “our way of doing things” – starting from how people run meetings to how every organization may have a unique way to resolve conflicts.
So much for today, learning from Mohit, Arjun and Mohinish! Next week, let us shift gears from discussing start-ups to what goes into building great character. For that, I will take all of you to the National Institute of Technology at Trichy to meet a very unusual person.
Until then, Go Kiss the World!