When your startup is just getting off the ground, leading large numbers of people isn’t at the forefront of your mind—survival is. You just want to keep the lights on, put food on the table, and grow your idea into something great. However, as that newfound product or service you developed gains traction, so too does the growth of your company, which means you can’t be the same leader you were yesterday. The leaders who don’t adapt to change typically fall, along with their companies. Just ask Encyclopedia Britannica, Sears, Blockbuster, Kodak, or myriad other companies that fell from grace.
Making the mental pivot from small-time to big-time is an evolutionary process. The mental shift doesn’t just happen once and then you forget about it, "high five," spike the mic, and walk away. Rather, growth is constant and if you’re not looking for the next opportunity to scale your business, you should be, because your competitors are.
Companies go through growth stages; lifecycles of peaks and valleys that cause it to ebb and flow with the current of the competitive landscape, which means the leader’s mindset needs to flow with it. If you aspire to grow your company, here are four things to remember when bridging the gap from small to large scale:
1. Put the brakes on telling.
As a startup leader you’re typically telling others what to do, not in a dictatorial-rule sort of way but because you have a clear vision of what success looks like in your head. You have a small team and it’s easier and faster to tell them what to do. Such is no longer the case as your company grows. As you evolve into the role of an organizational leader, you must shift from dictating (ok, maybe it’s called directing) to guiding and coaching others so they come to new discoveries on their own. If you don’t, if you continue holding people’s hands, then they’ll never grow up to be big kids.
The best way to build trust is to extend it, which means reining back from doing everything yourself and instead letting others figure things out for themselves and trusting that they will. Of course, the challenge of doing so is a two-headed coin, with immediate gratification on one side and a lack of human capital investment on the other.
Sure, you can get in the weeds and solve the problem yourself, but you can't do that every time. If you do, your company will never maximize its potential.
3. Flatten the silos.
Don’t let the stovepipe effect form. As companies grow they tend to segment their sales, marketing, finance, and other business units into silos where each has its own focus and nobody collaborates with each other, a classic case of adults not wanting to share their toys. Don’t let this happen. Aim to build consistency in communication by sharing your vision, goals, strategies, and updates with the entire company. This way, you also eliminate individual interpretation because everybody hears the news from the horse’s mouth.
4. Create consistent feedback loops.
One of my major pet peeves in working with teams (aside from laziness, the word “agility,” and slow drivers) is the frequency of feedback given to each member, which is typically annual, or even worse, biannual. If a behavioral correction can wait six months, then it’s not that big of a deal. Likewise, if a short-term win needs to be celebrated, don’t wait until the Christmas party to do it. Nobody will remember it by then, anyway, because they’ll all be hammered (which is synonymous with intoxicated, in case you are wondering).
Taking your startup to the next level requires a shift in mindset from focusing on the short-term to the long-term. It doesn’t happen overnight. Set a date for what you want to achieve and then outline small goals every day to help you get there -- and follow it religiously.