Transitioning from startup to growth phase – don’t be afraid of process

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.

Published by Ed Sim

founder boldstart ventures, over 20 years experience seeding and leading first rounds in enterprise startups, @boldstartvc, googlization of IT, SaaS 3.0, security, smart data; cherish family time + enjoy lacrosse + hockey

7 comments on “Transitioning from startup to growth phase – don’t be afraid of process”

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  2. I love your post. Weekly meetings are a necessary evil as a company begins to grow and scale. I’ve found in a series of startups in which I’ve had the great fortune to participate, that meetings, unless carefully orchestrated, can quickly spin out of control into meeting hell. Having each participant report at each meeting in a simple and clear manner – the best I’ve experienced is Green (good), Yellow (caution) or Red (stop!) indicators against expectations of execution from prior meetings. This ensures that the meeting is not just show and tell, that everyone is going to be held accountable, and that meetings are meant to be effective group communication devices not a place to show up and throw up.

  3. I too agree with your weekly meeting concept, but I think having ‘stand up’ meetings is the best format with one person assigned to maintain a ‘minutes area’ for such meetings on the corporate ‘wiki’ or team-area. Personally, I like to keep a running minutes log (in reader’s digest format) with an issues/resolution area. When an issue is no longer considered to be an issue and there’s no need to bla bla bla the reason for that, the issue text is ‘struck through’. This lets everyone know that ‘yes, we discussed it and no, it isn’t an issue any longer.’ Ditto for suggested mitigations.

    I also believe that at the end of these ‘stand up’ meetings the final step should be to reiterate the high-level goals and get verbal agreement to those goals. Nothing wrong with a little rah rah, huh, and it reinforces the concept that not only as a management team, but as individual participants, everyone is accountable for the success: of the projects including deadlines, of the company and for meeting the expectations of the customers. (Personally I also think that is wise to have goals to ‘meet expectations’, and foolhardy to have goals to ‘exceed expectations’, because ‘exceeding’ something is a very gray area, but this is your blog so maybe you can think about that and come back with your opinion in the form of a new article.)

    Standup meeting: Everyone stands up… amazing how fast participants learn to communicate effectively yet succinctly when they have to keep standing. ;->

  4. Great post thank you. Does anyone have a generic template re the weekly management meeting? I am looking at creating one that refers to the topline goals of the company, then specific ones for each BU? thoughts?

  5. Did you manage to find a generic template re the weekly management meeting? If so could you post online/provide a link?

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