Since I took over a team at Philips I have struggled to bring together my own start-up leadership & coaching style with the corporate environment. I recently caught up with a number of entrepreneurs and start-up founders to find out more. Between them, the following three themes emerged.
Lesson 1: Crafting your mission (and communicating it relentlessly)
Although mission statements have grown in prevalence over recent years, you may be surprised with how many young leaders ignore the importance of it. Everything else in the company needs to be built on a compelling and motivating mission set by the leader of that team. Usually, this is a symptom of overcomplicating it. Your mission simply communicates your purpose and direction to stakeholders which include yourself, staff, customers and the general public. It can then be used as a reference for decision making throughout your journey as a young leader or start-up founder.
A mission statement should feel natural and authentic. It should also be clear and concise. This allows it to be more easily integrated into your daily operations, while making it easier to be taken up by new members of your team. As a young leader, it will be your job to relentlessly communicate the mission and inspire others to embody it themselves.
Klaartje Vreken believes that your mission is a critical base for team culture, and that the two of them interact in support of each other throughout the business lifecycle. The benefit of this approach becomes evident when using mission as a guiding tool for recruitment.
Lesson 2: Building a high-performance culture
Now that you have defined your mission, you develop a deeper understanding of what actions need to be taken in order to fulfil it. One of the key factors that determine success of a young manager is their ability to build and maintain a high-performance team culture.
Here’s what a few start-up CEOs and entrepreneurs say about high-performance teams:
Amir Piltan, Co-Founder of CashRocket, says one of the vital ingredients of a high-performance team is trust. This includes building a personal connection with team members by doing things together outside of work, bonding with one another and creating a sense of support. Team members should feel comfortable expressing their ideas and opinions without worrying about ridicule or backlash. This creates an environment where diversity of perspective can flourish.
Culture impacts your ability to communicate effectively with clients and other stakeholders and it influences your team’s ability to innovate. As your team grows, you will learn that culture becomes greater than any single person, including yourself. Jay Habib, a serial founder and CEO, reminded me of the role early employees have in shaping the culture, which illustrates the importance of taking time to hire the right people.
Although it may be tempting to fill positions once the need arises, recruiting just one person that doesn’t align with the culture could have a detrimental impact on the entire team. Alice Taylor, Founder of MakieLab, sees this as a major factor influencing team cohesion and their ability to move forward together with the mission.
Lesson 3: Having a clear, measurable definition of success for everyone
Jay Habib, serial founder and CEO, says that a good young manager builds credibility by reaching their own goals, clearly defining responsibilities and KPIs for their team members, reviewing them regularly, and ensuring everybody’s responsibilities and KPIs are aligned with a common goal. A common goal should incorporate what success looks like for each individual, the team, as well as your customers.
Defining, measuring and reviewing KPIs over time is vital in ensuring that team members and the team at large are continually moving toward your mission.
Asbjorn Jorgensen (Entrepreneur and Co-Founder of The Cloakroom and Maxwell) goes one step further, reminding us that young managers also need to give clear guidance: there’s no point defining success without empowering your team to achieve it. This includes regular communication about progress through metrics such as sales targets, as well as more qualitative measures such as growth through learning. Although it’s beneficial to set aside time for communication, it can also be practiced on the job in real-time. In order to be kept focused and accountable, Jorgensen is an advocate of working with an executive coach.
You may have noticed that these three lessons are unavoidably intertwined with one another. For instance, there is no point crafting your mission if you are then to hire the wrong people for your team. There’s no point hiring the right people and then failing to clearly define what success means to them and the team. There’s no point defining success unless it is aligned with a unifying mission relevant to the business’ needs. Your challenge as a young leader is to combine all three lessons in your work and continually revisit them – and I am happy to support you on this process through my coaching.