Are You Leading Your Company to Greatness?

A good friend of mine describes an interesting incident in one of his startups. As his company grew rapidly and added employees, it became necessary to provide structure. His efforts first brought turmoil, then created a defining moment in company history.

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The First Organization Chart

 
My friend drew up an “org chart” to help employees understand the structure, their roles & responsibilities, and to avoid duplication of effort that was becoming common. The company was maturing, growing out of the no-holds-barred-startup phase into a company that needed organizational structure.

 
His org chart was the first in the company’s short history.

He introduced the organizational structure at a team meeting and had general buy-in that the org chart describing the company structure represented pretty much what was already in place.

The real issue
was focus,
and the team
had lost it

Within a few days, however, dissension and chaos contaminated the organization. In-fighting and positioning were rampant as the team focused on the paper and the real and perceived implications of a documented structure. What had been an energetic, cohesive team became just the opposite.

The tension was palpable.

Explosion

ExplosionPolitics and alliances became a priority. Did blank boxes mean someone would be hired “ahead” of an existing employee?  Employees were saying things like “Why does Don now report officially to Mary? Aren’t they just part of a short-term solution team?“; “Will raises and opportunities be limited by the org chart?“; “I need you to attend this meeting because you work for me…” and Blah Blah Blah.

 
My friend announced another all-company meeting.

A New Organization Chart

The second meeting was a pivotal moment in the company’s life.

Instead of addressing each concern over the organization and trying to mollify expectations and smooth over hurt feelings, my friend wisely knew that such short-term fixes would only fuel the fires.  The real issue was focus, and the team had lost it. As CEO, he had to restore it.

The second team meeting was held before the week was over, and employees were given a new org chart:

 

The message was clear: Every job in the company must be customer focused at all times. The meeting lasted all of 5 minutes.

My friend knew
short-term fixes
would only
fuel the fires

Employees got the message and refocused their collective energy on their #1 priority. The first org chart did become the structure that enabled the company to continue growth. My friend simply placed “Customer” at the top of the org chart. There continued to be some low level strain as the organization and individuals adjusted over time, but there was no question who every employee reported to at the top.

My friend handled the situation exceptionally well by setting the standard above the pettiness and placing the entire organization's emphasis on the customer.

There was no question after his short presentation that the customers would be the only focus of the growing organization. After all, his purpose as CEO was and is to lead the organization to greatness.

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What's Your Experience?


Have you had similar experiences where employees lost focus on the real priorities or where a leader made a decision above the fray?  I’d love to hear about it!

Rick Coplin

 

 

 

 

 

Nuclear Explosion Photo Credit: Maxwell Hamilton

 


 

I work alongside emerging companies on business formation, commercialization strategies, and capital planning. My passion is to find, support, mentor, coach, incubate, & fund start-ups engaged in innovative technology businesses.

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  • Glad you enjoyed the story. It was an interesting phenomena. Not sure if I did more harm than good. For a start up just trying to make it. I’m pretty sure it was the right way to go. However, as we grew and needed to scale, success became more about “the machine” and less about great individual effort. I’m sure my tactics hurt our ability to grow once the business took on significant venture capital. Regardless, I hope to get the opportunity to test my theories again. I’d love to hear any opinions on the topic.

    • Rick Coplin

      Thanks for commenting Greg! I am certain your “customer first” approach enabled the company to survive and thrive to the point of being able to attract and take on VC investment. Without your leadership, that would not have happened.