“Killer Startups: How To Maintain Innovation From The Get-Go” is a guest post by Andrew C. Marshall
Creating a healthy business is like building a healthy person. Both the brain and the body require nourishment, rest at certain intervals, and the thoughtful respect of those involved in growth. Doing the right things from the start can reduce the need for repair, and reduce the cost of repairs when needed.
Innovation is key from the start. Every business needs something to set them apart from the rest. Previously this might have been called a competitive advantage but in today’s world that advantage might easily fall prey to the fast-follower or copycat. An entrepreneurial venture tends to be creative by nature, being driven by a small team of problem-solvers and go-getters. The next step is maintaining that carefully crafted spirit in order to maintain your edge.
New hires are key – be clear about the criteria you are using to assess and select among the candidates for joining your team. Ask yourself: What kinds of knowledge, skills, capability or experience is your team lacking? What are the gaps in your team’s performance? Who can bring complementary skills or capabilities to the current team members? A bad hire can cause great damage to an entrepreneur’s efforts.
Only when you understand where there is room for improvement can you begin to define what a beneficial new team member might look like. Once you have identified what you are missing, don’t necessarily seek people in your areas of expertise. Consider people in adjacent fields, or in complementary fields. Other things to look for include people who demonstrate intellectual curiosity. These kinds of people are willing to risk being a beginner, and this is an essential mindset when working in a startup.
But what happens when your team seems to be running low on inspiration? A principle I like to follow in this case is entitled GOOD behavior: “Get Out Of Dodge.” One of the things that can lock a team into a cycle of low imagination is not recharging, refreshing, or recalibrating by mixing things up. Get the whole team out of their work environment. Take a field trip. Visit a museum. Visit a factory. See something that no one on the team has seen before. Talk to experts in other fields. Whatever you do, do it with GOOD behavior!
A change of location could be enough to set brains in motion again. Another thing to do is take time to breathe. Demanding ingenuity can be useless; pressure and stress with no clear target won’t yield positive outcomes. This will only create frustration and anxiety. Consider carving out time to simply engage socially. Traditionally, businesses demanded: “Don’t just stand there! Do something!” In my opinion, the better bet is: “Don’t just do something. Stand there!” When you take action, act wisely.
There are three areas of advice that I can impart to keep a company inspired. Try these out with your employees:
A mission statement can often be a great place to start. A common purpose is a key ingredient to success, and the statement should be unifying for employees. It represents who you are. One of the problems with mission statements is they tend to be an afterthought for many organizations; actually, they are one of the many things needed alongside email setup, and developing new business. Consider them a key success factor. Beware: while mission statements are important in the beginning, a clear vision is required too, they represent what you will become – so be clear about common goals and values.
Written and agreed-upon goals are important with startups. Figure out the larger, over-arching goals. It could be a yearlong goal, an output that is needed by the end of the quarter, or anything across any other time span. Once you’ve decided on one, figure out how you are going to get there together, “one step at a time.” This promotes teamwork, builds relationships between employees, boosts company morale, and gives the company a point to work towards. Beware: while goals are important to guide the day-to-day work, don’t give in to initiative overload. Be smart about prioritization.
Catalysts & Nourishers
In their book, “The Progress Principle: Using Small Wins to Ignite Joy, Engagement, and Creativity at Work,” Harvard Professors Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer bring forth the idea of “catalysts and nourishers.” In their research, Amabile and Kramer focused on these two progress-enabling forces:
- Catalysts are events directly facilitating project work, such as clear goals (not to mention the measurement of their attainment in short increments) and autonomy.
- Nourishers are people whose exchanges uplift workers, including encouragement and demonstrations of respect and collegiality.
These two forces drive resourcefulness and initiative to help organizations thrive. They let your workers know not only that you have a plan, but that you appreciate what they’re doing to help attain those aspirations. This creates a company of engaged workers who want to progress the company, rather than just have to.
Innovation is a whole body and mind experience; you have to feed both. Keep the physical spaces in which you work filled with things that challenge your thinking – keep them close at hand. Create spaces where people can converge to work together, but also keep spaces where people can quietly reflect, too. Innovation is a living thing, and nurturing it will keep it alive and thriving.