Leading any endeavor is much more complex than we expect. Part of the personal growth of a successful company leader is learning to create an organization that can sustain its culture and manage its growth. This ongoing process has three requirements: establishing an ownership culture, documenting jobs thoroughly, with clear responsibilities and authority, and hiring the people who best fit those jobs.
Build an ownership culture. No one addresses this subject better than Bob Blonchek and Marty O’Neill in their book, Act Like an Owner. In the book, they recount their experiences in founding, growing and selling two very successful technology companies by establishing and sustaining an ownership culture. This is a rock-solid way to build a company that is scalable so that you don’t lose everything you have accomplished. Many founders worry that growth means you cannot carry forward what made your company a success. Blonchek and O’Neill show that it can be done.
Hire the best. This means hiring people who not only match the job well, but also who are the best people, period. Sometimes companies (and sports teams) hire the best people whether they have the exact opening for them or not. There is an excellent book on this subject called Topgrading: How Leading Companies Win by Hiring, Coaching and Keeping the Best People by Bradford Smart, Ph.D.
Nurture your people. Give them the opportunities and tools to succeed in their jobs. This includes properly handling errors they make as opportunities for learning and improvement. Nurturing also entails teaching them how their job is linked to others in the entire value chain that meets customer expectations and creates customer satisfaction. In his book Good to Great, Jim Collins describes one of the critical skills of great companies as hiring the right people and putting them in the right jobs, doing the right things. This is another form of nurturing — building a company that has people working to their strengths.
Empower your employees. Human beings generally prefer to have some control over their circumstances. Empowered employees have this measure of control, supported by the authority they have to make decisions and the responsibility they have to generate the outcomes needed from their work.
Measure outcomes. Humans also like to know how they are doing. Measurement not only promotes work being done correctly, it allows everyone to know how they are doing. The more frequent the measurement, the greater the awareness. Measurements can be very powerful when they help everyone understand how they contribute to the success of others with whom their jobs are linked.
Teach the business. Facilitate company-wide learning of how the business really works. In his landmark book, The Great Game of Business, Springfield ReManufacturing Corporation CEO Jack Stack talks about the crucial importance of teaching his employees how the business really worked, including the ability to understand detailed financial information. He has since built a completely new company that educates business owners on how to accomplish open-book management in their companies.
Share information, successes and bumps in the road. Connect compensation with the success of the company. The more employees understand how what they do is directly connected to the performance of the company, the better. But not every year is a great year. So there must be regular communication on how the company is doing. How often you communicate company results will determine how realistic employees’ expectations will be of the success share they get.
Document your way to goals. The idea of having an internal Wiki has been raised in this space a number of times, and here it is again. Start with the customer expectations that the company is going to meet, according to expectations your company has created or the ones that customers have communicated to you.
Next, align the goals of the company with those expectations. Then create teams of people who actually do the work with each area of the business that has to collaborate to consistently meet each expectation.
Finally, document all the processes and procedures that make it happen. House the documentation in an internal online Wiki available to all. Have all new employees read the Wiki on their first day and then get debriefed the next day by their supervisor and peers. Authorize every employee to offer suggestions to improve those processes. Implement the best suggestions to keep continuous improvement alive.