Evolving from founder to leader, with the ability to scale the company beyond a handful of employees, is one of the great challenges of building your company.
At the start, it’s just you and your co-founder, scrawling ideas on napkins and knocking down anything that gets in your way as you bring your idea to life. And then, before you know it, you’re awash in employee management challenges, difficult performance reviews, and communication breakdowns.
This happens faster than you would expect. Somewhere between 15 and 25 employees, a disconnect between you and your newest hires will develop and grow. Once everyone in your company can’t fit around one long table, communication will start to break down if you don’t have a plan.
As soon as you aren’t directly managing every employee, and meeting with them 1:1 on a regular basis, you are relying on someone else to transmit your mission, vision, and values to your company’s employees.
I know you would prefer to be focused on building your product. Or out with clients trying to deliver the revenue growth your company desperately needs. But founders can’t avoid the task of ensuring the effective communication of your mission, vision and values, and the measures of success, to others on your team. Because once you’ve done that, you’re putting the future success of your company into someone else’s hands.
Build for scale early and thoughtfully
If your goal is to build a $100 million company, you may as well accept the fact that your company is going to be hiring a lot of employees as you grow. Think about your desired org structure from the start, just as you’re thinking about the evolution of your ground-breaking product or service. Think about the key functions, departments, and teams you’ll need to execute that vision and prioritize hiring the best possible leadership for each of those teams. Those leaders are going to be the bridge between your vision and the larger organization that you are building.
Hire for the ability to execute, but also be intentional about hiring for the kind of company culture you want to create.
Far too often early-stage companies grow haphazardly, hiring in a frenzy as problems arise rather than with a thoughtful plan as to how to scale. Remember that it takes time to make good hires at any level within the organization. Plan accordingly.
Set clear goals for success
While you likely have a long term definition of what success looks like, the reality is that your company is on a journey of 18-36 month long sprints between critical milestones. Whether that’s finding product-market fit, scaling to your first $10 million of revenue, or getting to cash flow positive, you need to be able to effectively communicate these goals to your company. Everyone in your organization has to have the same understanding as to how you are defining success, and your leadership team has to connect their team’s goals to these broader company goals.
Your employees want to know that their work matters. They need to be able to connect their effort to the company’s success, and the only way they can do that is if you mark the goalposts and ensure everyone is running down the field in the same direction.
As you reach some of your goals, celebrate the successes and call out the wins. If your company is falling short, own it, talk about it, and adjust goals and tactics until you’re back on track. Don’t let the year drift by with everyone being very busy, but no one sure if they are all headed in the right direction.
That uncertainty creates tension and communication will start to break down.
Communicate your vision and goals…often.
You have to be willing to articulate your goals early and often to your team. Don’t just rely on others to get your message out. You have to regularly talk about the company’s mission, your measures of short and long term success, and the kind of culture you’re trying to build. All of your employees have to hear this from you directly, and regularly so that any disconnects between you and your team are quickly surfaced and dealt with.
Think of it as marketers think about brand advertising. You have to communicate the same message over and over again to really make it stick.
If you think you can review your company’s mission and goals once a year, and then hope that the various members of your leadership will effectively reinforce them, you’re going to start to see disconnects develop like a bad game of telephone.
You must own the communication of your company’s vision and goals.