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Tips to effectively scale and manage startups

A newly minted CEO friend of mine recently asked me how to run
effective meetings, organize staff communication, communicated
effectively to employees, etc.,etc.  Much is written on this topic from
larger, more established firms, but, startups pose some difficult and
different challenges.  Because startups are small and are growing
quickly (hopefully);  the CEO is constantly reinventing the
organization.  But, this doesn’t mean that the business needs to be
chaotic.  Here are some tips that might be helpful:

Operating meetings
In this section, I attached a grid that
I created for myself over the years.  The startup executive will want
to keep an active set of regular checkpoints (I like to call them
"operating drumbeats") throughout the organization that ensure that the
business is marching to his/her key objectives.  Regular checkpoints on
strategic direction, weekly staff meetings, and 1:1s with your direct
reports are an ideal way to structure this.   Here is a sample guideline:Download sample_business_planning_process.pdf

There are some things that could be tweaked based on the business.
Evaluate your own business and constantly scrutinize your method of
information flow.  Always be willing to cut a meeting if it is
unnecessary.  Your goal at a startup is to be a fast mover;  that is
your edge that your larger competitors do not have.

Another important tool that you will want to develop is an
internal scorecard.  The internal scorecard should basically bleed out
of your unified objectives, goals, strategies, and tactics.  The
scorecard is basically a functional KPI (Key Performance Indicators)
list.  This way from the Board down to the average employee, everyone
is aligned.  I typically share this scorecard with all of the
managers and then have a very general goal for all of the employees to
focus on  (revenue, profitably, market share).  Example, would be "hit EBITDA positive by July," "exceed 2 billion impressions", etc. I am assuming that
the entity has already gone thru a strategic planning process.  If not,
then that will be a posting for another day.

Format for staff meetings
I like to constantly ask my
team(s) what are the key issues that we should cover for each staff meeting.  Typically you will get a mix of both tactical or strategic
issues. Each startups tactics tend to run the show which is just fine.
It is ‘fine’ because focusing on launching your first product is the
difference between having a business (or not).  Get a sense from the
team on what key issues are out there.  But, please do make it a point
to layer in more and more strategic discussion over time.  My typical
staff meetings start out with (btw, usually an hour and a half every
Tues…I have always hated Monday staff meetings):

1. Housekeeping (things that are tactical but require
cross-functional input)…things like office space planning, HR, morale
event planning, etc.  No more than 15 mins.

2. General discussion (70% tactical for early stage, 90% strategic
for later stage companies) <you can interject your own points as
well as ask for them from your directs;  I always had a review of the
scorecard and financials as part of this section."  At least an hour.

3. Next steps

  • Write things down & collect action items;  get someone to
    take notes and send them out < 24 hours after the meeting; make sure
    that action items are tracked and reviewed in the meeting.  At Mpire, I
    take the notes and everyone gets a copy of the notes within minutes.
  • Write down topics that you didn’t get to – collect anything that was a parking lot (aka something that you couldn’t get to). 
  • Don’t talk a lot in your staff meetings.  Play traffic cop.
    Meeting style is ideally empowering with you make the decision on an
    item or making time decisions in the meeting.  Remember, this meeting
    is for you as a team to weekly track the business.  It is not all about
    you.  You are a team.

btw, you should send out an email no earlier than 24 hours before the meeting on a call for agenda items.

Communication
Another important tenet to running an
effective organization is communication.  Communication is very key
especially as you get bigger.  I tone down the centralized
communication as organizations grow (toned down meaning instead of a
weekly CEO email, it turned into a monthly).  Basically, the rule of
thumb for me  was < 100 employees:

  • CEO weekly emails (highlighting the company value, key initiatives, and goals)
  • Managing by walking around – have your directs give you updates
    on key things going on with the staff; stop in and talk to a star or
    someone that is having issues.  Eat lunch with your employees.  You can
    use this for your directs, too.
  • Regular townhalls – great time is Friday afternoon;  open up
    beers and give the employees time to listen to you but more importantly
    listen to them.  This keeps everyone together and synched up on what is
    happening at the company.
  • Email communication – I tend to think about my week as being
    direction setting and people management.  So, send less email and make
    bigger decisions.  At the same time hire the right people and give them
    the right care.  You’ll know how much is enough.

Communication for > 100 employees
I would basically do everything above except move to monthly emails and more formal
townhalls
(with audio conferencing, webex, etc).  It also depends on how
distributed you get, too.  In addition, I added a weekly 1:1 style
update from my key direct emails updates.  So, you would get the
following:

  • Business performance v. key metrics (best for multi business
    lines but you can also have things like % spec complete,
    etc…basically your directs are reporting on the kpis that they own).
  • Updates on key initiatives (in other words, these are your
    strategies…everyone should only have no more than 5 within the entire
    organization;  everyone will have their own sub-strategies to achieve
    the global strategy).
  • Key competitive issues
  • Escalations – these are for you; but, everyone can see them.
    Watch these closely…they also end up being discussed in your staff
    meeting (aka stratcom).

This was very helpful when needing to communicating at different
levels (especially Boards, investors, etc).  In addition, your direct reports will be able to better understand what is happening in other areas of the business. I had some managers that used this format to structure their
own team staff meetings, too.  It is glorious when your organziation is
fully aligned and constantly reviewing their job performance to the
organizationas key objectives.  That is a beautiful place.

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