Avoid hellish bureaucracy

No matter what framework you uphold to justify your decisions, stakeholders will typically acknowledge the logic of it, but in practice ignore it.

The Great Silence, Brad Dunn on Product Coalition

It is so easy to be lean and mean when you’re small and go heavy and lazy when you get bigger. In one of lifes great mysteries otherwise capable people transform from being efficient and getting things done to being caught up in infights and bureaucracy with limited progress to show for it.

I have often wondered why this is so? Why is it that even agile entrepreneurial organizations have a tendency to become stuck, as they grow bigger? Is there some kind of inflection point for startups in which, when they reach a certain size, the fundamentals of the culture just change, and you go from focusing on customers and solving their pains to being stuck in a world of your own organizational pain? I am tempted to say yes.

Maybe this has something to do with the stakes getting bigger or the stakeholder map expanding. When people invest their time and money in helping you out, complexity grows. Relationships need to be forged, managed and balanced. Especially the balancing part takes time and skill, and getting those things right take away time, ressources and focus from what you were doing before that essentially brought you into the position, where you could take more people and money on.

It’s probably impossible to think of a threshold for when this transformation happens, and it’s equally impossible to come up with a ‘one size fits all’ fix to it. But I do think there is one general piece of advice for to startups worrying about becoming too complacent and bogged down in bureaucracy:

Keep hold of the people in your team, who are die-hard executers. Provide them with the freedom to operate and do what they do best. Grant them the flexibility to devise their own ways of scaling their efficiency, and resist the temptation to step into their way.

You need to have someone on board to provide direction and guidance for where your startup should go on it’s growth journey. In essence that’s a job for you in the founder team. Don’t fall into the trap of starting to overthink processes and stay clear of the idea that frameworks are the silverbullet to solve anything. They’re often not.

Bad ass execution have a tendency to move things forward. So keep traveling down that road.

(Photo by the blowup on Unsplash)

BMaaS

Have you ever thought about how many different SaaS tools for business there are, who help you get things, you have decided on doing, done, but how few (great) tools there are at helping you reach the right operational decision about what to do?

As a former business manager with a deep passion for getting involved and being operational on this and that I have often wondered. Especially since I have first hand experienced how the decision making process in corporations is inherently flawed.

Many of the decisions being made are not necessarily based on the facts or the access to the best data. They are based on habit, hearsay, politics and whatever else somewhat murky pretext. And the results show;

Poor decisions leading to sub-par initiatives and less than optimal outcomes.

It’s a huge problem for many large organizations but also one it’s hard to talk about and address efficiently, as any kind of fact finding and urge to try and improve the status quo will undoubtedly uncover all the hidden flaws of how decisions are actually being made.

In software development the problem has to a large extend already been fixed by agile development methodologies and processes. Here widely adopted and accepted frameworks already exist, and there is a plethora of software platforms and tools that help facilitate smooth and efficient development processes – examples such as Jira and Asana comes to mind.

Of course it would be possible to take some of these platforms and adopt them for ‘operational business development’ rather than software development, and many already do that. But why the need to settle?

In my mind a very valid question to ask is this: Why shouldn’t operations – the day-to-day job of execution to make a business work with customers, suppliers, employees and other stakeholders – have the benefit of the same kind of lean mean software orchestration, as software development already has?

Of course it should.

We could call it ‘business management software’ and define it almost as a kind of OS for operations or an exoskeleton for operators enabling the organization to get even more out of employees, who are already doing a great job.

Solving the operations efficiency challenge centered around transparent, data backed decision processes based on context could prove to be an unlock of immense value for corporations large and small. And thus also an opportunity worth pursuing for entrepreneurs looking to deliver real tangible value for business users – and operator-savvy investors understanding the inherent opportunity in this space.

(Photo by Adeolu Eletu on Unsplash)

Getting partnerships right

Partnerships in business can be extremely rewarding. But making them actually work can also be super, super tough.

While many seem to think that the brunt of the work is in finding and negotiating with the right partner, the truth of the matter is that the real, tedious work begins afterwards.

When focus is on getting the partnership to work.

Herein lies three epic struggles.

The least – although many would consider it the biggest – is to actually be able to realize the potential of the partnership. If you have done your homework and your due diligence properly, you will know that you can make this happen, because all the ingredients and components you need to get the job done is there.

Which brings me to the two other struggles that will determine whether the above mentioned potential succeeds or not:

Internal and external stakeholders.

To start off with the internal, one thing you have to realize before you even start thinking about partnering is what your own internal stakeholders mean by ‘partnerships’ and ‘partners’. Because that may not be a given in any way.

Some will say they think of win-win relationships, where you give something and get something else in return, and it’s a healthy back and forth that will draw on each partners core strengths and ability to contribute. Those are the good ones.

But some will also disclose that what they think of when they think of a ‘partner’ is ‘someone who contributes, so I can win’.

Those are the troublesome ones.

Why?

Because they won’t necessarily commit to contribute what is needed from your own end in order to make the partnership a success. Worst case for you they will leave you hanging out to dry in front of the partner – and solely put the blame for the ensuing failure on you

So making sure all internal stakeholders have the same positive understanding of what it means to partner and commits to seeing it through is absolutely key.

That leaves the struggles with your external stakeholders.

What you will often find here are the exact same issues as with your internal stakeholders – why would it be any different on the other side of the table?

Because in addition to the already known and typical issues, you will also have the challenge of making sure the alliance is healthy and well, so to say.

This can be no small task. Because it works as in most romantic relationships; while the romantic feelings are on an all time high and everything is rosy, when you’re dating, the rosiness fades and the daily grind sets in once you have committed and tied the not.

This is when it becomes about making the partnership operational and durable. It will be stress tested time and time again, and just as rows occur in a marriage – sometimes with greater frequency – there will be tons of times where things will get rocky, people will want to leave and just abandon everything.

Here it is your job to keep the perspective and get everybody aligned again. And again. And again.

For the greater good that brought you together in the first place.

There is no substitute for it. It is essentially what makes every sort of partnership – personal as well as professional – work.

Now, why bother thinking about all of this stuff?

Because it is super essential when you talk about the idea of partnering and basing your strategy on partnerships that you’re fully and realistically aware of what it entails.

If not you’re going to end up in the statistics of partnerships that fails, and your only consolation will be that it’s the typical outcome of what otherwise started as a grand initiative.

Instead of getting to that place you should ensure that you have what it takes to get partnerships right;

Make sure your internal stakeholders are aligned and signed on to the approach and what it demands – yes, DEMANDS – from them. Make them sign a piece of paper, if you have to. Just get it done.

On the external front be honest and transparent. Always and from the very start. To stay in the marriage analogy get the divorce papers in order before you sign up. Tell them all the ways things are going to end up bad and make sure they understand it. And then ask them to commit.

Only when you have these things in place, should you progress with pursuing all the true benefits and value that can be unlocked through a great, mutually committed and enduring partnership.

And they can be B.I.G.

But only then.

(Photo: Pixabay.com)

The negative value proposition

Is creating value as a startup with something new always inherently positive for everybody concerned?

Maybe not.

What if part of the value creation you offer is to help take away the uncomfortable pain of someone having to confront someone else with a problem, the first one really just want to be rid off? Is that a positive for everyone concerned?

Case in point:

If a healthtech startup as part of it’s value proposition offers doctors the ability to spend less time with patients, is that a net positive for all? Why it may help drive down cost for the health sector as such, wouldn’t it be a loss of value instead to a lot of the patients affected by being less able to actually meet an expert?

I am not saying here that it’s wrong, and you shouldn’t try to deliver that kind of value. I am just suggesting that what you may offer as a positive value to one set of stakeholders might be seen as the opposite to another. And you need to be aware of that and own up to the fact that that is what you (also) do.

Especially so if you’re dealing with vulnerable people.

(Photo: Pixabay.com)