Most founders did not grow up thinking about company operations, nor do they have the skills or the interest in becoming an effective operator. In fact, any aspect of company rigor is often eschewed as “too boring” and “too corporate” and/or as a barrier to continued growth or innovation.
If this feels familiar, you might be underestimating how disciplined focus in some areas can free up mindshare in others. A little bit of company rigor leads to less time putting out fires and more time on product development, growth and innovation.
What is company rigor?
In order to achieve product-market fit, early-stage companies usually overinvest in their product and engineering functions and underinvest in other parts of the company. This “lumpy” organizational structure typically mirrors the strengths of the founders. It also builds up a certain amount of organizational debt. While effective in early-stage growth, initial underinvestment in other parts of the company pose risks as the company scales. At this pivotal point in the company’s growth, it is incumbent upon the founder to layer in more financial and operational rigor in order to achieve more sustainable growth.
If not you, who?
Building a company on solid foundations requires recognition from the founder that a strong infrastructure does not compromise the company’s ability to innovate. Although the founder needs to be supportive of this view, they do not need to be an expert in operations and/or the running of the core business. They just need to make sure it happens.
A positive example of a founder embracing company rigor is Marc Benioff of Salesforce. The Salesforce management process (known as V2MOM) was implemented early in the company’s lifecycle and is still used today in the vastly scaled enterprise to guide roles, goals, and projects for every employee. Processes are embedded at every level and have been adapted for each phase of growth.
Conversely, a company like Twitter could be seen as falling victim to its shaky foundations because company rigor was not in place prior to the social media giant going public. The holes being picked in its offering prior to the deal closing with Elon Musk are signs that there were gaps in operational rigor before its 2013 IPO.
Making it happen
Some signs that your company could benefit from a bit more discipline and structure are the following:
• Rework. You have five people in the company solving the same issue and none of them are talking to each other.
• Everything is a fire drill. Even when you fix it, you have to fix the same issue two months later.
• You are having trouble retaining talent,and your engineers are telling you the work is getting boring and they just want to work on cool things.
• The culture feels as if it is starting to unravel,and people are arguing about how fast and nimble you “used to be.”
• Your corporate functions are order takers and are not yet seen as strategic partners to growing the business.
The most important thing to realize is that you can do this. Instilling some rigor sets the company up for long-term success. Reaching this point also means your company needs to pivot in order to have a solid foundation to continue to grow. As the leader, you just need to embrace this next phase of the journey.