Situation: A tech company has grown to twenty people. The CEO is concerned that if they grow much beyond this their culture will start to change. The principal question is whether team leadership structure will remain tight and focused, while teams will continue to be flexible and have fun. How do you manage culture as you grow?
Advice from the CEOs:
Other companies have grown to twice this size and continue to increase their number of employees.
One uses component owners as leads, with people under them. Leads are more technical than managers and aren’t expected to be superb managers.
They grow middle managers organically instead of hiring from outside.
If an individual’s plate is full, give them the ability to delegate work to an up and comer.
Active communication has number limits.
The optimal functioning group is 7-12; higher functioning teams are even smaller with 7-8 members.
Create flexible teams that maintain communication pathways and culture.
Consider using reconfigurable space.
When one company grew from 25 to 60, they noticed that at 30 people it became difficult to track people; they needed to develop systems and internal management tools.
Much more attention was needed on sales forecasting and expense elasticity. The solution was to study peaks and valleys and built a model that could function within historic peak /valley limits.
How do you maintain the contractor pool?
Keep a list and actively communicate with them about current and anticipated needs.
One company’s rule: consultants are 100% billable – functionally they are only able to realize 98%, but the rule keeps this number high.
Use contractor pools to supplement project tasks. If your primary differentiating focus is on successfully closing projects, focus contractors on ramping new projects.
Hire people who embody you and your culture. Hire in your own image.
Situation: A CEO knows that his employees have been working hard and have been productive all year. Now that we’re coming to the end of the summer, he’s concerned that in the past he has seen an energy drop every August. What can be done to increase the voltage? How do you counteract the Dog Days of August?
Advice from the CEOs:
Anoint a “Champion of Fun.”
The Champion of Fun should be an employee – not management.
This may be a team of two people who focus on different things – one for small, day to day activities, and one for big events, like a Habitat for Humanity day.
Provide a budget for the Champion. Allow discretion to create excitement around the office or workplace. This includes posters announcing events and other ways to make the most out of each event or activity planned.
If out of office activities are anticipated, encourage employees to involve family members if they wish. Maybe a picnic and softball game at a local park, or an early evening of go-kart racing.
Create a sense that your employees have some control over their environment. This adds energy.
Circulate an Office Depot catalogue and give each employee a budget that they can spend to dress up their space.
It’s amazing how much a small investment like this can rejuvenate people and the overall atmosphere.
Bring in lunch as a surprise a couple of times during the month. Take some extra time and let people enjoy each other’s company. This is for deepening personal connections, not for lunchtime business discussions.
Situation: A CEO wants to schedule an off-site planning meeting with her top staff. She has heard about the potential efficacy of off-site meetings and is intrigued by the idea of taking her staff away from the office for a day or two to concentrate on planning. She is curious about typical agendas, time frames, objectives and who should be involved in the meetings. How do you plan an off-site meeting?
Advice from the CEOs:
Set the objective of the meeting in advance. Tell everyone involved the objective so that they are thinking about this prior to the meeting.
The staff involved depends on the objective of the meeting. Select participants to fit the need.
Include a team building event. One purpose of off-sites is to help the team or teams get to know each other better and improve collaboration.
Have an agenda for the meeting and meet without interruptions. Have participants notify key customers or contacts in advance, schedule back-up contacts if necessary, and don’t allow interruptions.
Hold the meeting during work hours. Options: one day, local for easy travel and return home; or two days, nice setting, dinner the first day, and late afternoon return home the second day.
Do you need a facilitator? This depends on the goal and organizer’s comfort with the topic of focus.
A speaker or educational component pertinent to the meeting goal.
Breakout and group discussions to think through important issues.
A team-building event.
Some fun – dinner or an evening activity that allows individuals to talk in a relaxed setting.
Examples of effective events:
Broad agenda – What can we do better?
All-hands meeting – prompts contribution by all.
Opportunity for CEO to communicate the company vision and involve employees in the planning process for the coming year or period.
Interview with Charles Bellavia, CEO, ElectraDrive
Situation: High tech entrepreneurs frequently see venture capital funding as a quick route to enabling their ventures. However VC funding is highly variable by tech sector and company cash needs, and few companies are ever funded. Do you need to rely on VC funding and what are the alternatives?
Advice from Charles Bellavia:
The first question to ask is what you want from VCs. In the past they brought both contacts and funding. Now, generally, they just bring funding. So ask three questions.
Can you fund the company out of your own pocket?
Far more companies are funded by founders, friends and families than by VCs. However self-funding demands conditions.
Cofounders should have alternate income sources so that they can operate without salaries for periods of time.
Watch the life stages of start-up cofounders. Avoid joining a start-up when your kids need your attention, especially during their teen years. Can you forgo regular income if you are paying for college? If an annual 2-week summer vacation is important, don’t join a start-up.
What is the minimum funding needed for the company?
What funding do you need just to prove your technology and generate cash?
Focus is key. People will suggest variations. You have to know your path and whether variations will help or distract.
Stay with your core idea and think in terms of product generations. Build fitting variations into future plans if they will delay initial launch.
How do you keep project workers motivated?
Plan for turnover. Know who is key to the project, and where you need back-ups.
Start-up life is all consuming. When the picture on the wall is crooked, everyone jumps to straighten it out.
Have fun and make it fun. This needn’t be expensive, like parking lot pot-luck barbeques with a CD deck and music.
Be generous with simple, low cost recognition. Acknowledge employees for who they are and where they came from. This is especially important when you have diverse employees and builds camaraderie. One company has pot luck lunches and employees are asked to bring their national dish; the food is wonderful and helps employees to appreciate one another.