Geoff Ryan, chief people officer, SkipTheDishes Restaurant Services Inc.
When talented hockey players have a shot at the professional leagues, good coaches will steer them into more specific, strategic on-ice positions and practices that best leverage their talents and strengthen the overall team. So, too, with startup businesses as they grow.
Early employees at Amazon, which got its start in 1994 in the garage of Jeff Bezos’s house in Bellevue, Wash., had a broad range of responsibilities and functions. Over time, as the startup grew into the tech giant we know today, those jobs splintered into specialized roles in a range of areas within the changing business.
Transitioning from a startup culture into a grown-up organization isn’t easy. Typically, the team at a startup knows what work has to be done and they divide it up with an “all hands on deck” approach. It’s not always obvious which person should execute a specific task at any given moment, to whom they should report, or what teams need to be involved – and that’s assuming the organization has been divided into teams.
Making a transition to a more formal business approach can seem daunting. With a small team, it makes sense to lean on each other and share responsibilities. But when a business is ready to become a more mature organization, leaders and employees will forge a clearer and more efficient path to success if they are able to define people’s responsibilities and ease out duplication along the way. Those who navigate the change well typically follow a number of steps on the road to maturity.
Understand the business flows
At the outset, most startups do not have a good sense of their business flows – the processes and procedures that leaders and employees follow in the natural course of business, or the ways in which they can be made more effective and productive. In startup mode, business can be very reactive, and getting new customers is often about going out and knocking on doors. But as a business matures, it gets a better sense of its business flows, creating targets and customer segments, and developing a much more structured approach to its marketing and sales efforts.
Develop work into groupings
As it scales up, a startup needs to group its activities and identify the buckets of work that can be set up as functional business areas, such as finance, sales, and operations. When I arrived at SkipTheDishes, the collective knew what work had to be done, but the functions of different teams were not always clear cut.
As a business grows, its people work to define the organizational structure, finding out what different departments are responsible for and where overlaps exists between different teams. Sometimes, in the earlier stages of a business, an overlap between teams is warranted.
Clearly define people’s roles
Overlapping employee roles and responsibilities can make sense in the early days of a business.
A startup might not want to eliminate those overlaps when its employees do not have clearly defined roles – what if the ball gets dropped on a tight deadline? When a company leverages new technology, for example, there needs to be an overlap between teams and strong communication between all groups involved in order to ensure that the new products meet the teams’ needs and that implementation is successful.
Over time, as new employees enter the mix and the business grows, those overlaps can sow confusion. If two or three people are assigned to the same task, it might not get completed. A healthy startup in transition will start to define and differentiate between roles on different teams in the business – human resources, finance, sales, operations, or technology.
Undertake detailed process mapping
Once teams are in groups with clearly defined individual roles, it’s important for a company to gain a better understanding of its processes. Process mapping drives efficiency and consistency throughout an organization. At this stage, employees and leaders might consider whether their customer acquisition methodology is executed in the most efficient way, for example, and in a way that meets the company’s long-term goals. They typically identify new objectives and processes in the course of the exercise. For example, it’s not uncommon for a startup’s human resources to sit within the finance organization because in startups, the focus of HR is primarily on payroll and determining how to meet it. As a startup grows, so do the responsibilities of HR well beyond payroll.
Develop internal support structures and systems
As a company grows, it needs to develop more advanced employee systems, finance systems and data analytics systems to dig more deeply into its business performance. When I arrived at SkipTheDishes, the structure was there but we needed to develop more formal organizational support structures for our people and ways to transfer our data into systems in a more consistent and accurate way. Developing more sophisticated systems from which to glean insights facilitates accelerated growth, focus, and enables you to maximize value out of your core assets.
Evolving the business
A company doesn’t have to abandon its startup mindset before it arrives at this step. Many organizations worry that incorporating structure and processes into their businesses will inhibit innovation and flexibility. The truer challenge is to get the entire organization comfortable with adopting a more formal approach to doing business.
It’s important for managers and employees to shape emerging process and policy while maintaining the freedom to innovate and create. As an organization, we’re always looking for new opportunities to take our technology and apply it in different ways, never losing focus on what could be.
Businesses in startup mode have two crucial priorities: acquiring customers and expanding into new markets. That focus is essential before a startup is even able to consider making the transition into a more mature company.
Many leaders and employees don’t think of the implications of scaling up when they are in the trenches of startup mode, and the growing pains that accompany those changes can feel very uncomfortable. That’s fine: Discomfort is a natural rite of passage. The lucky businesses are the ones that make it to a place of having growing pains and needing to figure out how to successfully manage them.
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