Category: Startedup Culture

Maturing from a StartUp to a StartedUp culture

The content for this discussion is several pages long so I will release it in posts as a series.
Introduction

A couple of weeks ago I had interesting discussions with a software lab focused on mobile tech out in the Boston, MA area. Ideas were exchanged, we spoke about different issues that impact teams, growth, product, process and discussed different ways they could be solved.

After the dialogue, reflecting back on the content and looking for a root cause or pattern I realized that this wasn’t the first time I had discussed or worked on solving these type of issues; growing pains, single threads, lack of process, maturation are just some of the terms used to describe the root cause and in most cases its all of them as they mean the same thing and to me that is “growing startup culture”

A startup company or start-up from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Startup_company

A startup company or startup is a company, a partnership or temporary organization designed to search for a repeatable and scalable business model.[1] These companies, generally newly created, are in a phase of development and research for markets. The term became popular internationally during the dot-com bubble when a great number of dot-com companies were founded.Lately, the term startup has been associated mostly with technological ventures designed for high-growth. Paul Graham, founder of one of the top startup accelerators in the world, defines a startup as: “A startup is a company designed to grow fast. Being newly founded does not in itself make a company a startup. Nor is it necessary for a startup to work on technology, or take venture funding, or have some sort of “exit.” The only essential thing is growth. Everything else we associate with startups follows from growth.”

And from the same source, a startup culture

Startups utilize a casual attitude in some respects to promote efficiency in the workplace, which is needed to get their business off of the ground. In a 1960 study, Douglas McGregor stressed that punishments and rewards for uniformity in the workplace is not necessary, as some people are born with the motivation to work without incentives.[11] This removal of stressors allows the workers and researchers to focus less on the work environment around them, and more at the task at hand, giving them the potential to achieve something great for their company.

This culture has evolved to include larger companies today aiming at acquiring the bright minds driving startups. Google, amongst other companies, has made strides to make purchased startups and their workers feel right at home in their offices, even letting them bring their dogs to work.[12]The main goal behind all changes to the culture of the startup workplace, or a company hiring workers from a startup to do similar work, is to make the people feel as comfortable as possible so they can have the best performance in the office.

This is what most of us understand startups to be; but I would argue that startup cultures do not only apply to a new or young company (a startup) or that the culture is inherited through acquiring a startup; applying the culture and model that exist in a typical startup one can “build startup culture”.

If startup culture is a “must have” then how can there be any issues with that culture? To clarify, in my opinion startup culture is great, they build great teams, focus on product, have a great culture and are fun to be in – and I respect and thrive in them; you start running into issues once the startup has started-up and you need to scale three core P’s: people, product and process. For me, the key is using teamwork and relying on your peers to figure out how to scale all three at the same time while everyone is busy with their other workload.

The next post will outline some of the end-products of startup-culture that should be addressed/changed in order for the startup to mature as it goes from being a startup to started-up culture

Building a dynamic onboarding program for Martians

Chances are that you have been through some form of schooling (high school, college, maybe some random instructional education) and have hopefully figured out that everyone learns differently.

For me, learning and passing my classes meant that I showed up to all classes, took no notes – just listened and the day or so before a test or final, skim through the text books (if i had purchased them) and then just showing up for the tests. Once I figured out how to do that very well, my last 3-4 semesters for my Bachelors, Comp Sc were filled with A’s and my Masters, Software Eng was a solid 4.0.

Was  it a piece of cake? Nope, but I surely made it seem like it was.

So whats the secret? or whats the relationship to that with onboarding? or well what is onboarding?

From Wikipedia

Onboarding, also known as organizational socialization, refers to the mechanism through which new employees acquire the necessary knowledge, skills, and behaviors to become effective organizational members and insiders.[1] Tactics used in this process include formal meetings, lectures, videos, printed materials, or computer-based orientations to introduce newcomers to their new jobs and organizations. Research has demonstrated that these socialization techniques lead to positive outcomes for new employees such as higher job satisfaction, better job performance, greater organizational commitment, and reduction in stress and intent to quit.[2][3][4] These outcomes are particularly important to an organization looking to retain a competitive advantage in an increasingly mobile and globalized workforce. In the United States, for example, up to 25% of workers are organizational newcomers engaged in an onboarding process

Some organizations have great onboarding programs; some don’t. There are going to be cases where you inherit a team that has single-threaded subject matter experts and as a manager you may be expected to distribute that knowledge and grow the team – with no process or onboarding program in place. Yes, you have to create it, so where do you start?

Do you invest time in meetings? create videos? printed materials? who will read all that? who will do the work if your team is off training new hires? is that really a good use of their time? or a real-world question “Do you have bandwidth?”. The answer is No.

So, why not use what you, or I learnt during schooling? when we ourselves were learning? how did you learn? How could you create an onboarding program from nothing? and how could you be sure it would work? You really do not want to invest time in something that is  not going to work so it needs to be agile enough to change on a whim.

Okay – enough of the red flags, here is what I did. Ill try to make this as generic as possible.

I inherited a team of martians, and the problem is that they only speak a special language, called martia. Turns out that its a very ancient language and that no one really speaks martia nor is it taught in college. The small group of martians have been speaking it for 15 years and they as a team are great at it, theres just a few of them. It also turns out that there are all these documents that come in that need to be checked for grammar and spelling, and corrections – in many cases the martians really have to research and see what the intent of the document was because in some cases they have to re-write the document correctly – it can definitely be time consuming and this is the only team that can do this.

This team of martians is also aging, some have retired, others were move to other planets so I have to hire more martians – but, there are none around. So I hire a martian from a different universe and tell it that it needs to learn martia and I will help it learn this language; the language it speaks, we dont care for it. Here is the process that gets put in place

1. Every day the new hire will sit with a senior martian for 2-3 sessions and learn stuff

2. The sessions will be 30 minutes long and after every session there will be a break, during which the new hire will document all that was covered

3. During the next session, the senior martial will review notes, as a refresh to where they left off, and continue the information offload

4. Steps 2 and 3, repeat for a week or so; after which the new hire will then attempt to work the documents

5. as the new hire works the documents, it will have questions, it will document them

6. the new hire will setup additional sessions with the sr martian to get clarification and answers

So – you say this is just common sense and normal stuff.. how are we reducing the dependency on the sr martian who is already busy? here is the answer:

A couple of months go by and another new hire is brought on

1. The new hire sets up sessions with the x-new hire, i.e. the junior martian.

2. the new hire reads all the documentation created by the junior martian

3. several sessions take place where the junior martian and new hire go over content

4. a session every now and then takes place where the sr martian comes in to listen in, and see how the training is going

5. if the sr martian adds anything, its documented in the growing on-boarding document

6. the new hire then also attempts to work documents and goes to the junior martian for assistance – and if needed, they both go to the Sr. martian.

So, its somewhat like train-the-trainer you say…. yes, it is., except, the trainer role gets passed down to the newest hire. if you keep hiring, you start building a 2-tier training team, where the junior martians, through teamwork, will try to come to a conclusion, and then will be empowered to go to the senior martians for confirmation. This helps build teamwork, confidence and helps them acquire the necessary knowledge, skills, and behaviors to become effective organizational members and insiders.

Sooner or later, your team of martians will grow and the martia language, once so uncommon, will become common and the perception that its the monster in the closet that only the select few can understand, soon goes away.

Leadership: Mini-Motivators of Motivation

In my journey through leadership , I learn a lot through experiences and observations… here is one observation:

We all work for different things and we are all entitled to our personal (or not) reasons for what motivates us. Motivation is probably the single most powerful thing that keeps an employee (willingly) at a company.

Motivation comprises of many things; I will not pretend to be the expert on motivation (or leadership) but for me and maybe for you (and possibly the general public), I think it breaks down into three mini-motivators.

  • Market: Product/Space you work on/in, the day-to-day things you do
  • Money: How much you get paid to do what you do
  • Manager/Management: Your belief, trust and/or respect for the person or people who is/are your leader(s).

To ensure that people are motivated, all leaders should focus and be challenged to ensure that all three mini-motivators are attended to as in an ideal job, one would have a good mix of all three.

So the question is: What happens when you start taking things away? or what if you had to focus on just one to grow your team? In my opinion (and many others as well), “Manager/Management” is the silver bullet.

People work for great managers/management teams and will continue to work for them even if the pay is low or the job is boring; however, if you take away the great manager/management team and give the person a great market opportunity and/or over compensate, eventually, the individual(s) will leave for other opportunities where they feel they will also get the “manager/management” balance.

There have been quite a few times when I have heard the phrase “People don’t leave companies, they leave managers” and slowly, it has started to make sense.

Leaders must focus on motivation and be managers that are looked up to; if you have leaders who are not respected and looked up to, or “followed; you have a motivation problem and (good) people will leave.

The super hero characters we play

I feel that similar to the characters in the movie x-men, we all play different characters at work and have different attributes/powers. I however like to think that there are just 4 main characters….

Promoters: This is entrepreneurial-ism at its finest. These types of characters need no reason to introduce change that improves the lives of others around them. They simply walk in, look for something they can help improve and go at it. They promote change, new ways of thinking and mentor by example and strive to do exceed their own expectations. There is no fear of accountability or making a decision, be it right or wrong, they will act regardless of being asked or not. They are also overly positive and negativity does not demotivate them in any way.

Workers: These are your dependable characters; you want something done? They will get it done for you and not let you down. They will invest hours, sweat and blood to deliver what you ask of them; however they still need a little nudge from someone else; someone like a promoter. They are accountable to the tasks that are assigned to deliver on by someone else. In many cases they go over and beyond just to make sure they have met the expectation by a 100%. These characters have a positive energy most of the time; negativity gets them and their motivation down.

Watchers: These are characters that walk around, see what’s going on and assist when asked. They prefer to keep their necks low, blend in with the decor, and wait around for the next check. They would prefer do the minimum to meet what is expected of them. These characters have a neutral personality, neither negative nor positive, but will tend to appear more positive than neutral.

Negators: These are the toxic characters that not only are negative but will attempt to derail the promoters, be in the way of the workers and try to solicit the watchers to join the negators in their quest to make no progress. It wasn’t their idea, so it must be wrong; these characters fear change, do not want to be accountable nor do they want any new expectations set. If it was up to them, they would crawl under a rock and stay there forever. When they do come with a good idea, they cannot deliver as it requires them to actually do the work, be accountable and deliver; it is at this point they look for the workers to push their workload onto to get the task(s) done.

We should all strive to be Promoters that reward, mentor and recognize the workers, making them fellow promoters; motivating the watchers to become workers and pushing aside the negators if they cannot be changed. This may be a lot of work for an individual, but a piece of cake for a superhero………and thus; we should all let out our super hero identities.

Making Changes: Change Cycle

To stay ahead (or on top) of the game, we must recognize that change is good and that we must be continuously improving the way we work. While reading a book “90 days” I realized that I had been through these stages multiple times, fortunately walking away successful. It also made me realize how close I was to a possible failure in some of the changes I had made and because of this realization; the Change Cycle will always be on the back of my mind when I attempt to drive Change.

I took the concept that was in the book and modified the terms as it was easier for me to relate the “change cycle” to something I already knew, the “process cycle”.

Here is what I do and have to say about process:

Good process should be well tailored to the organization that intends to benefit from it. Process is much easier to implement when its implemented in stages based on a feedback loop; When improving or introducing process, a big concern is usually how fast and how much? Well, too much too early generally results in resistance to change and too little too late results in process loss.

So what should be done?

A rapid agile approach should be taken when implementing process. Process is implemented and/or improved when the lack of process has been identified. Once an idea of what process needs to be implemented has been formed, the cycle starts with

  • Introducing the process as a pilot, if the pilot is successful
  • It should then be verified that it’s repeatable. If the pilot is successful and repeatable
  • It should be formally defined and shared among the team as the formal process.
  • The process should now be managed and measured to obtain metrics to figure out how successful it is, its ROI, etc. These metrics should then be used to
  • Optimize and continuously improve the process.

The concepts of the “process cycle” for introducing a process are very close to the concepts of a “change cycle” for introducing a change.

In a change cycle, you:

  • Introduce a change and if the introduction of the change seems successful you then
  • Maintain the success to obtain stability. Once stability has been insured you
  • Optimize and introduce other changes as needed; this is your optimal success cycle.
  • Should the change not be maintainable, you will need to
  • Adapt the change to make it maintainable; this is the adapting cycle.
  • If you cannot adapt your change to be maintainable, you might have to
  • Change direction and counter the change; this is the Counter cycle.
  • If the change cannot be countered and be made maintainable, you will end up with a failed change. You can also end up with failure if your introduced change is not successful. A change can easily be unsuccessful if it’s too large; rubs people the wrong way, inappropriate, incorrect, etc.

Sometimes we start in this cycle at a completely different stage, for example we may realize that we have inherited a change put in place by someone else (different team, a VP, etc.) and we now need to act and adapt their request, or counter the change, making it successful. The 90 days book does a good job of giving a more general view of the change cycle; for me, the stage comparison of the two cycles makes sense.

The change cycle for making changes is just a small piece of the puzzle. How you go about obtaining buy in from your team, peers, and higher ups is another big part of the puzzle that will either result in success or failure. That will be a topic for another day.