No, I’m not talking about you. In a startup, you’re a king who has mighty generals to lead your employee army. One probably handles client relations, another handles operations and one might be heading product development. In a growing startup, the roles & job profiles of the core team faces constant change. As a leader, it is your job to ensure smooth transition for everyone, as they ease into a new expanded mindset. There is high probability of complacency seeping in and that’s when you nip it at the bud.
Making the Context Clear
When you grow from a core team of 1 (10 employees) to a core team of 3 (25 employees) and so on, the responsibilities change drastically. The manager you hired when you had a team of 15 will need to be a lot more organized and efficient to hire a team of 30. There is a chance of a smooth transition not taking place, and the manager gets stuck at a certain level. Since he is loyal yet complacent, we need to show him the way.
Complacency is Natural
In his book The War of Art, Steven Pressfield has aptly described the emotions that allow us to slack, underperform, fail and be complacent. Terming the foe as ‘Resistance’, he writes how it is a ruthless enemy force within and ‘execution’ instead of ‘rationalization’ helps us vanquish it.
Complacency is natural, because we feel good about ourselves on achieving something, and we stop improving our skills. It sets in, since we do not realize when to move on to bigger things. It might be due to absence of ambition, generalized ambition (“I want AC cabin with laptop but don’t know how to get there…”), taking current success for granted or being over confident of one’s abilities.
As Seth Godin mentioned in his recent article, we generally reward folks who cross the finish line first. There is a chance that these winners will stop focusing on being better, but will only focus on being first among the competitors- not caring about the quality of the output. We need to start rewarding the Red Lantern winners too; those rockstars have learnt that there is no room for complacency.
Axe for Your Complacent Generals?
It is not a pretty picture for a growing startup. Complacent Generals can be somewhat lazy, slightly arrogant perhaps, comfortable with slight mistakes (in spite of you pointing out that they’re not okay) and over confident about the quality of the output that they’re responsible for. Yet the lack of initiative shows through. Since you’re growing, you need them to be at the forefront. There is glory in it for them, but they cannot see it. It is your job to communicate it across.
No axe unless you want a rebellion on your bloody hands. Since we understand that complacency is natural to a human being (and in this case, Generals who have shed blood for you, and still will), it needs a shift in perspective. It needs patience, frank conversations, dialogue where you build a new path for them and ask them to lead the way. No axe for loyal men, no axe for men who have the potential to see sense and lead your armies to new lands again.
What Dialogue to Revive the Fire Within?
The tendency of a General who senses you approaching the sensitive topic is to first duck the charges and justify/rationalize. As a result, it doesn’t help when you’re blunt and upfront. Also, it is counterproductive if the General is directly blamed. He is a proud man. He is a General for a reason.
- Start with discussing the work, the pre-transition stage and nature of things. Reflect on the problems that were tackled, processes that were improved and the fruitful results.
- Move on to the changing nature of job responsibility, projects that are capable of being delegated, projects that require to be initiated, changing priorities of the growing business and his role in the bigger picture.
- Elaborate the new projects, the urgent tasks and top priorities. Attack his current shortcomings – disguised with a smile, firm gaze and a swift nod.
- Clearly communicate what is expected of him as a leader and a mentor to his new young team. Give examples and talk about the company culture, the required dedication and necessity of crafting an operations cycle. Stress on why he needs to hand hold his team, while handling his strategic responsibilities.
Guiding the Distracted Without Obstructing Them
It is easier to divert a stream of water by slowly changing the angle in which it is flowing. It is difficult to do so by blocking its path, or introducing sharp turns. Reintroduce your Generals to the shared dream, to promised growth, the prosperity beyond and a clear non ambiguous way to get there. It is a rewarding experience to see the light in their eyes shining again.
Axe for the Impertinent
In an unfortunate scenario where your General refuses to see sense, give him the axe. Make it very clear why you’re asking him to leave. Letting him stay is unhealthy for your startup, for you as a leader and for your team’s morale.
Be the King that You Are
The real reason for the transformation is you, the King. Who doesn’t love a boss who is back on the field, with rolled up sleeves and a mad gleam in his eyes? The very fact that you’re talking of the dreams again, with a well articulated strategy towards growth, is enough to drive life back into your army. Lead from the front, it will ease up transition and your Generals will find it easier to step into new shoes with vigor.
Long live the King.
Sushrut Munje – Founder & MD at Hammer & Mop, a premium cleaning services company based in Mumbai (India). In love with efficiency and animals. Writes a non-commercial editorial series for StartupCentral on customer service insights.
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