The world’s most deadly fluff is: “I would definitely buy that.” It just sounds so concrete. As a founder, you desperately want to believe it’s money in the bank. But folks are wildly optimistic about what they would do in the future. They’re always more positive, excited, and willing to pay in the imagined future than they are once it arrives.”
― Rob Fitzpatrick, The Mom Test.
When you say you work in an online business that just achieved a product-market fit and is rapidly scaling; the picture that often gets painted to the listener is that of you and everyone in your company running around in unicycles while juggling three bottles of champagne and twirling hula hoops lit on fire at the same time. Though that may qualify as a very entertaining clown circus show, It’s far from the reality of a few people who have taken a career plunge to create something of value and ar“e desperately finding ways to change the way the world currently works. The outside perception is primarily due to the misconception that a startup means chaos and they succeed because the CEO comes and announces “HULKs SMASH!” at 9 am, and everyone in the company turns into big green angry monsters that go on a frantic work-frenzy fueled rampage to get shit done.
BEAN BAGS, FREE BEERS, WORK FROM HOME AND CASUAL ATTIRE. HOW IS THAT NOT CHAOS?
Trust me, the only cool thing about beers is finding enough time to have one, and casual attire is just a polite way of saying no one cares about your sexiness today.
To answer the final question, NO, in contrast, a fast-paced growth demands the exact opposite and brings with it an extreme set of limitations which lead to very costly mistakes if crossed. To address a few, it starts with how you have zero room for errors, an ever-changing product, an obligation to provide a valuable and working solution within a minimal time, battling a constant fear of uncertainty about doing the right thing and the list goes on. To tackle all these, you need to be in a state of meditative focus that outmatches Buddha with the efficiency of a sous chef in a crowded restaurant.
Talking about things going wrong in a startup, I am sure most of us are aware of the most popular answers like no market need, lousy hiring, no fundraising, running out of cash and so forth. However, what about the most crucial factor which is STAGNATION of GROWTH?
“Growth is not just a concern of sales and marketing, but of product, engineering, and support too. It is this organization-wide commitment to growth that ultimately sets these companies apart.”
― Sean Ellis, Startup Growth Engines.
Any entrepreneur knows that a business that stopped growing in revenue and customer numbers is setting itself up for a slow-demise. Especially in a startup which is purely a numbers game. This specific problem plagues even a startup that has successfully conquered the early stage problems of a great starting team, product market fit and initial customer acquisition, which are huge barriers by themselves.
The only thing standing between a million dollar and a 100 million dollar revenue is focused and systemic growth. However, that comes at a cost, and that cost is instilling every employee with the value in the clarity of vision and goal alignment. It is about letting each of them know how their every contribution fits into the overall big picture and keeping them on the same page at all times. Many companies that have the potential for explosive growth are unable to do so because of not giving all their employees a clear sight of the overall problem the business is trying to solve. The result?
They will solve it in a way that they know best.
I JUST CROSSED A MILLION DOLLAR REVENUE WITH A 10 MEMBER TEAM AND WE HAVE BEEN DOING JUST FINE!
This clarity is more natural with a team that fits comfortably around a moderately sized round table as everyone gets to discuss and plan his or her work following the overall company objective. However, having a team of more than that is an entirely different ball-game, especially when you’re expanding your organization to accommodate new sales force, implementing HR processes for the first time, hiring new coders to work on the latest feature requests, and so on. Here is where a billion things to do seems very much like a billion things that may go wrong.
As a leader of a growing startup, this is not a very good place to be. At this juncture, you are better off focusing on goal-oriented clarity that contributes to slow and steady growth. However, to achieve that clarity, focus and goal setting become the key. These goals cannot be something like what you start at the 1st January of every year, because an underutilized gym membership is not the only thing at stake.
“It’s better to be at the bottom of the ladder you want to climb than at the top of the one you don’t.” - Stephen Kellogg
They have to be SMART. Please feel free to skip through if you are already familiar with the acronym.
Specific – Grow my company as a goal is a tad too generic. To become focused you have to specialize. Which problem in the company do you want to solve to make it grow? Let’s presume it’s improving your customer engagement. Your goal translates to improving the company’s ability to retain a customer over a long period.
Measurable – To be able to measure progress, you should tie your goals to a quantifiable metric. If it is something like “improved brand awareness” that cannot be accurately measured, you can still tie it to a measurable activity such as “Number of positive conversions from the latest ad campaign.” In any case being data-centric is the key.
Attainable – Shooting for the stars may not always land you on the moon. Instead, you ensure the goals you set can certainly take you at least half way to the moon and charter the next course of action after that.
Relevant – This directly correlates to an observable and measurable impact that the achievement of your goal is going to have on your business. The goals that pertain to the most significant priority of the company at a given time take precedence over others that may not be so pertinent.
Timed – Always set deadlines. Deadlines are not only an intrinsic motivator that keeps you aware of your progress but also acts as an extrinsic motivator for every collaborator to match your pace and reach the final objective.
“The purpose of a team is not goal attainment but goal alignment.”
— Tom DeMarco
However, setting goals doesn’t mean that everything goes according to plan, you should also track them as close to real-time for timely updates on progress and course correction.
As a leader of a growing workforce, you need to strive for organizational alignment, that systemically nurtures a work environment which slowly changes your business from chaos fueled growth to an organized and goal oriented growth machine. To address this challenge is why Andy Grove of Intel conceptualized the framework of goal setting called Objectives and Key Results or OKRs. It is a time-tested framework that has been and is still used in Google, LinkedIn, Microsoft, Uber, and the likes. OKRs are one of the primary fuel behind the growth of Google. Here you may have a very valid reservation of how you are not technically Google or the rest of them and the harsh truth is, you may never be. However, you very well can strive towards becoming something better, and maybe if you’re lucky, get featured in a similar blog post in the years to come.
We at Upshotly are on a mission to solve this excruciating, everyday problem. We are very excited to make an impact in your organization with our solution and to learn more about OKRs or aligning organizational goals please stay tuned for more updates!