Is there one thing that you have learned that stands out the most? How did you learn it?
Great question, Bonnie.
I can’t whittle it down to ‘the most important thing’, but hopefully, these insights can shed some light on what I’ve learned. (However, if I were to find a common theme, it would be effective communication is the cornerstone for building a successful company - and relationships in general.)
1. Vision and Leadership is imperative for successThe job of the CEO is to lead a fleet of ships. His/ her job is to hire the best possible people to captain each of these ships, to point to ships in the right direction, and to give the ships the resources to get to where they need to go. For this to work, the CEO must have a clearly defined vision, must be able to communicate this vision and delegate responsibilities to the respective team members, and must provide the support and resources necessary to *get it done*.
A startup can go wrong at any point in this lifecycle. A CEO who does not have a well-defined vision or who cannot communicate this vision to his/her team can confuse employees and cause distrust in the workplace. I consulted for a startup where the CEO seemed to not have any direction or set business strategy. None of the employees felt comfortable in their positions - they weren’t sure of what the end goal was and what role they were supposed to play to get there. No one felt secure in their roles, and everyone was frozen in inaction - except for those who left.
2. Company culture is everythingCulture can be defined as the identity and personality of an organization, and it consists of the shared thoughts, assumptions, behaviors and values of the employees and stakeholders. To quote from Trinet, ‘an organization’s culture may be one of its strongest assets or it can be its biggest liability’.
I didn’t realize just how important company culture was until I worked for a company with a toxic culture. Much of this had to do with the lack of transparency within the organization, and a mixture of both weak and authoritarian leadership. Many of the employees distrusted middle management and felt completely disconnected from upper management. There was a definitive ‘us vs. them’ mentality. Every week, we would have farewell happy hours - employees were leaving in droves.
Tangentially, hiring for cultural fit is just as important as hiring for skills and abilities. This brings me to my next point:
3. The right employees are priceless and hire ‘A’ players
Especially in small organizations, where each and every employee will have a significant impact on the bottom line, hiring the right people will make all the difference in the success of the business; hiring the wrong people can be to the detriment of the business.
In my opinion, ‘A team players’ will exemplify the company’s culture and consistently perform above and beyond the scope of their positions, will be able to self-manage and inspire others to greatness, and will have an insatiable curiosity to learn and desire to better themselves. Investor Jon Soberg said it best, ‘Good enough is the enemy of great’.
If at all possible, don’t settle for ‘good enough’. Instead, find and retain ‘A players’ - they are worth it.
4. Communication is key
In each of the previous examples - from defining vision and strategy to having a transparent culture, and from articulating hiring needs to expressing employee appreciation, effective communication was necessary to perform each given function.
In both work and relationships, being able to effectively communicate is critical to success.