As an early stage investor and board member of several companies, I am fortunate to get the opportunity to work with some great entrepreneurs and also pattern match and observe trends, both good and bad, in early stage companies. I am not here to throw platitudes at you but simply to share an observation of the differences between some of the better run companies and the ones that have less than stellar execution. In one portfolio company, we had some of the standard issues of coordinating product management with engineering and balancing sales requirements with engineering priorities. Having a company operate solely in departmental silos is like having each body part with a different brain-sure it is your body but it is also hard to move fluidly if each body part is moving in a different direction. As I spent time with management, I quickly recognized that there was no real communication of company goals and awareness of what each department’s priorities were. This is a standard problem I have seen time and time again as companies transition from startup and initial product development to company growth and expansion. There is no panacea for turning things around overnight, but I can assure you that layering the proper amount of structure and organization is an important element in improving cross-functional communication.
What makes a startup team great early on in terms of getting product out the door and rapidly refining and honing the product from live market feedback can also lead to issues down the road if companies and employees are managed on a similar basis. What is easy to roll out in a 5 person company gets harder to manage in a 25 person and even harder in a 50 person company. Take the test – ask your key executives what the 3 key company goals are for the month? Are they the same or not? How will they help contribute in each of their functions to delivering on the 3 key company goals? If they are not on the same page and you have trouble getting them together, you may want to continue reading for some thoughts on how to improve communication and accountability.
Here are some simple steps you can take to create a more fluid organization. First, institute a weekly management meeting. Yes, like you, I have an allergic reaction to the word meeting, but believe it or not, simple processes can help tremendously. It is a great way for the CEO to get input but also guide the team to focus on the same company goals for the month or quarter. Secondly, have key team members provide a weekly dashboard report and list of key goals to accomplish for the following week. At every weekly management meeting, have each team member discuss progress against his/her team’s goals and what they will be working on for the following week. How does each of the departmental goals contribute to helping the company meet its goals? Once again, this all may seem simplistic and a giant waste of time versus managing the next product release, but you will be amazed at the number of companies I meet that have not gotten to this point and consequently seem to have different ideas of what the business is and how to get there. In addition, having weekly management meetings and clear weekly goals with simple yes/no criteria goes a long way towards creating an action-oriented culture of getting results. If a VP doesn’t deliver consistently, all of the other executives know and they also know it is time to make a change. No one wants to be the manager that is known to overpromise and not deliver. There is also a real difference between a manager having weekly individual meetings with their CEO vs. openly discussing theirr priorities and completed tasks with their peers. With respect to cross functional communication, rather than complaining about engineering, for example, sales and marketing can now understand engineering priorities and what it may take to adjust and rearrange some of them to meet the revenue targets for the quarter. Trust me, there are many more factors to a company’s success and failure, but please don’t make an allergic reaction to scheduled meetings and a simple lack of organization your cause for execution problems.