As a non-owner manager for a start-up, you have the opportunity to build a successful enterprise by effectively leading a division or business unit. But you are faced with challenges such as:
- being in the middle of the hierarchy,
- reporting to at least one other manager,
- being expected to deliver short term success
- while planning for long term competitive advantage
There are five critical interdependent skills that managers of start-ups or intrapreneurial ventures can master to boost their chances of success. After a strategy for the venture or business unit has been realized you need to work towards & build on the following:
Talent Identification & Recruitment
The heads of departments at Ephlux were picked because of their core functional expertise and proactive behavior in terms of targeting their interests. My chief designer doesn’t sit on his hands and consider trying something new, he does it. My corporate manager doesn’t create long cases on the value of T&D, she engages the entire company to take part. My CMO took the lead community engagement activities in our emerging market presence without being prompted. In a start-up you need self starters, and while many giants have thrived on supervisory oriented executives, having the assets of non-involvement all-results mindsets in your senior leadership is the difference between being a market leader and a follower or worse, a duplicator. If you’ve been tasked to manage a start-up, start by on-boarding someone who can set budgets and track costs, so you can focus on the bigger picture like building the team.
Money and personal are often scarce, so you have to balance them across your businesses functions such as sales, engineering and production. Only then can those functions carry out your strategy. Do not question the judgments and plans of your functional leads, you hired them for a reason. Instead try to emulate James Caan and politely request more data on what they are doing. Tone is key. You need to make this request without the air or tone of a disapproving manager. You also need to adapt a methodology such as lean start-up methodology, so as to ascertain the sales and product development efforts that go hand in hand for proof of concept.
Internal & External Data Generation
You need information & controls to know if your resources are generating value. Have your team gather data on:
- the revenue / cost ratio
- the product quality
- detailed buyer profiles, behaviors and segments
- comparisons in productivity of functional units
- how your business stacks up against competitors
- comparisons of actual performance against budgeted
Crafting Responsive Incentives
Design incentives that go beyond variable performance based compensation. Consider non-monetary rewards, such as like flexible work schedules or skills development opportunities tailored to individual or team needs. At Ephlux we have a standard for all new hires: in my view they are all high performers. We believe that they have already proven themselves. Its not so much as “giving the benefit of the doubt” as it is “I believe in you, now its your terms to keep that going” so new hires are given the freedom to work as they please with minimal (and in some cases non existent) supervision. At our off-shore offices in emerging markets, its a refreshing change and differentiation in talent retention is seldom practiced in that part of the world. Stand apart and fulfill the basic needs of your employees. Focus on the Maslow’s hierarchy of ascertain which of the stated values resonate the most with your team.
Developing Long Lasting Structures
This goes beyond the job descriptions of individual workers, it also encompasses who the team members report to up & down the chain of command. Are your businesses functions being defined by:
- product line (enterprise, CX or applications),
- geography (APAC, EMEA),
- customer segment (start-ups, SME/SMB, MNC, LMT, IMT)
Take the time to sit with your various internal and external stakeholders to reach finite conclusions to all these points and craft the strategy your company requires for long term and structured success. Its a “nice to have” to divide business functions as all of the above, but creates a disjointed big picture strategy and accountability framework. Have one definition and stick to it. Test out various approaches with each new product cycle and perfect the approach through trial and error. Its a start-up, so don’t be afraid to make mistakes, keep your eyes focused on the horizon and eyes peeled for the island. Its out there.