When a company launches, everyone wears many hats. The CEO may make sales calls and develop products and the CFO may handle HR and order office supplies. The marketing, sales and product teams may all be one and the same. Everyone feels responsible for customer service. As startup teams tend to work in close proximity, it's likely that the big picture is well understood.
As a company scales and the number of employees grows, their roles tend to become more specialized. Senior executives begin delegating aspects of the day-to-day operations so they can focus on the future, seek investors and grow the team. This is an important inflection point for the organization. It is at this point that a conscious effort must be made to keep team members connected to one another and the role each plays in bringing the big picture to life. Without that sense of connection and alignment, customers, stakeholders, and even employees may start to experience the company pulling in different directions.
That’s exactly the point at which I met one executive team. Outwardly, they were the model of success: in just two years, they’d gone from a start-up to a highly profitable global business. However, people inside the company were beginning to notice functional silos forming. Team meetings felt more like a competition for resources than a conversation about what was the best for the company. Customers often had very different experiences depending on the department with which they spoke.
What I discovered in talking to team members was that they lacked a common vision. The company’s growth had surpassed their goals and they were now at a crossroads, with different opinions on which path they should take. That dissonance was playing itself out in the organization, being felt in systems and initiatives that felt disconnected or at odds with one another. They simply needed to pause and realign on a vision for the future. From there, we spent time connecting the dots for the organization by linking the company’s efforts around goals, metrics, the financial model and capability mapping to the achievement of that vision.
Keeping a growing organization aligned is no easy feat. It takes communication, commitment, and consistency. Here are three things you should do to connect the dots within your company:
1. Create a compelling vision.
Everyone in the organization must have a clear understanding both of the organization’s goals and how their performance supports those goals. What competitive space does your organization want to own? What market forces could impact the achievement of your goals? What are your customers’ and stakeholders’ needs? What is your business strategy for meeting those needs? Paint a compelling picture of the future and the strategies for achieving that picture.
2. Optimize the structure.
Everyone needs to know how work gets done in your organization. What is the organizational design? Who needs to be involved in decision making? What are the team’s roles and responsibilities? How is progress tracked and reported? Each detail of your structure communicates something about the organization’s priorities. What messages are you sending?
3. Inspire your talent.
Clearly you want to attract and retain the best people, but what does “best” look like for your organization? What skills are needed now and in the future? What culture will support the organization’s strategy? What values, behaviors, and reinforcement are needed to sustain that culture? Your people are what bring the strategy and structure to life. With the right people in place, your organization can move mountains; without them, it’s all just words on paper.
In times of rapid growth, when there are so many pressing items on an organization’s to-do list, leaders often feel they can’t take the time to communicate the big picture. But alignment on the big-picture is what enables the organization’s performance. As the leader of a growing company, taking the time to connect the dots for your organization is among the most important work you can do.