We all want to be an instant hit. But many companies have been damaged by too much success too quickly. Only a healthy company can adapt to rapid change and remain unscathed.
There are many recommended leadership practices that can help you build a healthy company. In my own experience growing a young company fast I’ve tried them all. Here’s a look at strategies that passed the test.
Hire only the best people
Your first 5 to 10 hires are the most critical. Make sure they’re all outstanding in their fields. Immediately establish mutual trust in the follow-through on tasks you delegate. It takes great discipline, and time, to hold out for the right team members. But your business success hinges on this factor.
Look at 100 resumes and conduct 10 interviews for every person you hire, especially early in your company’s growth curve. As you grow, maintain this discipline. Mediocre new hires will only distress your strongest people. It’s much easier to avoid lazy and crazy than to deal with it a year later. Think of the effort as an investment in creating a superior workforce that has the best and longest-lasting payoff.
Prioritize and systematize delegation
Use this 3-step method to create a dynamic workflow system that will infuse the whole company. Every morning, update a list of everything you personally must get done.
Place an “A” next to everything you need to get done today.
Place a “B” next to everything you need to accomplish in the next two weeks.
Place a “C” next to everything else.
Rank “A” items starting from A1 and work them top-down today.
Rank “B” items starting from B1 and the top of these items become tomorrow’s “A” list.
Delegate everything on the “C” list.
Ask your team members to create their own lists based on the same system.
Repeating this system throughout the company creates tactical and strategic awareness of what’s important. It also forces everyone to work on the most important tasks first. Ultimately, it creates a culture of delegation. This in turn identifies personnel needs under the pressures of growth, and creates a culture of upward mobility, as people seek to understand and take on more tasks from the person above them.
Consider strategic scale
What are you doing on a daily basis that will not scale? Add some zeroes to each area of the operation. Does the process break if it’s 10x, 100x, 5,000x bigger? Figure out early how to change the trajectory of critical operations that will fail at scale. This analysis exposes inefficient and/or manual tasks that could be automated, made more efficient, or ideally, eliminated.
Turn email into a task
Work on email for a defined period twice a day, just like it was a meeting. Don’t let your inbox change your priorities – remember, you already set priorities in your “A” list. People will learn your response time to email. If it’s critical, they’ll find or call you (make sure to leave this option open).
Manage by walking around
If you’re in a physical workplace, being visible and engaging with your team outside of formal meetings will build trust. Walk around and get in the middle of some things. Ask questions and have employees show you what they’re working on. Ask what they need and how you can help them.
If you employ remote workers, schedule regular calls on an individual basis. People will start jotting down notes to ask you or mention in the next call. The key is two-way communication. You want to know what’s going on in your company – the same as everyone else.
Build a dedicated team
Take each employee (or as many as you can depending on company size) to lunch, individually, from the janitor to the VP. You will learn more about your people in 60 minutes at lunch than in any other way. You don’t have to talk shop – ask about their lives, family, hobbies, career ambitions. Do they read? Do they ride a bike? Are they vegetarian?
During lunch, mix in some tough, work-related questions to get real, off-the-record responses. And be ready to hear the answers. It can take two, three or four lunches to cultivate openness, but eventually you can create sufficient trust by asking a few leading questions:
If you had a magic wand, what is the one thing you would change or improve in the company?
What do you need to do your job better?
If money and resources were unlimited, what should we (as a company) be doing or working on?
Avoid the group think that comes from hanging out exclusively with your management team. As a leader, you have to be accessible to all of your people. Explain in genuine, personal terms, why you care about your employees and the product or service your company delivers. After all, your success and the company’s success is a direct result of the employees and their work.
Actually care about your team
Your team is made of humans with hopes, fears, and plans, just like you. You may be worried about making payroll, while they may be worried about their mortgage or their kid’s college fund. However, these concerns have the same emotions attached to them.
Identify the goals you’re both working towards and explain how yours is to build a successful company as you juggle all the moving parts. Understand, and tell your people, that you need their help to fulfill your goals, and that you’re grateful for their help. Thank your team often for what they do for you. And be sincere. If you don’t feel this sincerely, mark it “A1” on your list until you do.
The bottom line
It takes a rock-solid system to keep a company healthy under great stress. But even without the strain, it makes sense to build a healthy company from the very beginning. This way you’ll be ready for anything the future brings you.
Jason Worley is a technology innovator with more than 25 years in the tech industry. He is currently the CEO of Asset Drone, which provides cutting-edge drone surveying, mapping and inspection services. Prior to founding Asset Drone with his partners, Jason was the Chief Information Officer at a major healthcare system, where he helped grow the business in various C-level roles over his 14-year tenure. Jason was a key player to help grow the company from one location to more than 120, from a few dozen employees to more than 5,000. Connect with @assetdrone on Twitter.