In the very early stages when there are few people in the organization, only a few projects are running at any point in time. The founder typically knows how such projects connect with and reinforce each other to produce an output that’s more than the sum of its parts.
As an extreme example of this, consider the organization when it is just one person: the founder. This person has the luxury of high bandwidth communication between different concepts sitting in his/her brain. The product manager, the marketer, the developer, the designer – all are sitting in the same brain of the founder, and hence alignment of their actions is a natural outcome. Whenever there’s an impulse in one part of the brain (like launching a new feature), another part of the brain immediately pitches in to prevent it from getting misaligned (like wondering – how will this feature sell?).
As an organization grows, founders typically get frustrated and overwhelmed by their inability to manage and control various projects that different people are undertaking. Individually, these projects are often well conceptualized and executed. However, taken together, many of these projects fail to reinforce each other. What the product team launches, the sales team is unable to sell. When the marketing team needs budgets for a new campaign, the finance team is busy with their audit.
If all the projects undertaken in the organization are not in sync with each other, the organization doesn’t move ahead. What’s needed for an organization is a brain that detects inconsistencies in projects and acts immediately to align different proposals so that the outputs from most projects reinforce each other.
Such an organization’s brain is the founder/CEO of the company. Just like when a foggy brain causes an individual to slow down, foggy and inconsistent directions coming from the founder/CEO cause the organization to slow down.
This is why the number one job of the founder/CEO is to consistently and repeatedly communicate clarity to everyone in the organization. For doing that, it’s important to have clarity in the first place. A founder/CEO cannot give clarity to teams if she herself doesn’t have it.
Such clarity has to be as precise as possible. Imagine a new marketing person joins the team and you, the founder/CEO, tell him that he needs to increase signups on the website. There are so many different ways of increasing signups. What if the marketer increases signups that are of no use to the sales team? What if the marketer demands a budget for this that you can’t afford?
So, to get the job done in the right manner, first you, the founder/CEO, need to know all these constraints. Typically, hiring a new person in the team should only happen when the expectation from the role is crystal clear.
If you have the clarity, then it’s your job to sit down and communicate all such context and then monitor to ensure people have understood the context as you intended it to be. It’s not micromanagement. It’s micro-communication to ensure you’re not assuming something and the other person assuming something else.
Yes, this requires a lot of effort on the part of the founder/CEO and may make her wonder how she’s going to get anything else done in the organization but the alternative is the opportunity cost of doing wrong projects in the organization and spending more effort later in correcting all the damage.
Remember: the most important job that founders/CEOs have is to keep aligning their teams all the time. For the rest of the jobs, they should hire people who can do the job better than them.
This essay is part of my book on mental models for startup founders.
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