As I’ve written before, I work with a number of startup companies. As part of my consulting practice as well as throughout my career, I also have worked with some very large organizations too. What struck me the other day as I was listening to a discussion between a founder and some other folks on the team was that the hardest part of being a startup isn’t necessarily finding the resources to keep the venture afloat until it reaches sustained profitability. It’s actually having to make a lot of decisions without a lot of certainty. Let me explain.
When I became a manager at the ripe old age of 23 many years ago, I worked under a guy who gave me some input but also let me figure things out for myself. I was working with a net in case I fell off the wire. When I reached a point where I really wasn’t certain about the “right” call, I consulted him. He, in turn, had bosses with whom he could consult if he wasn’t certain either. Over time my decision-making skills became better and my areas of expertise broadened, although there were still times when I ran for the help that was usually available to me. By the time I was managing managers I could make decisions fairly rapidly and I generally only hesitated when I thought the decision would involve corporate politics affecting more than just my department.
Most founders don’t have that luxury. Oh sure – the smart ones have a board of advisors that they consult regularly and that can help with the big decisions. But if you’ve ever managed you know that your day involves a lot of little decisions too. Should I let employee A take a vacation with a big project looming? Why is employee B struggling with an assignment? What is the best was to help employee C learn something? Even things like what font works in the newsletter or how big should a headline be in an ad often require the boss to decide. Those aren’t things that you ask your advisors and yet those decisions are the ones that take away your focus on the main business of the venture: customers, revenue, expenses, and profits.
There isn’t an easy answer here. Yes, hire people like me (or even better: hire me!) to provide the kind of on-going sounding board that one gets in a big organization until such time as your feet are on solid ground across many areas. When you do, be sure that the consultant you hire sees your world through your eyes and understands your point of view but also adds a broader perspective. I never try to make decisions for my clients but instead I try to guide them to a sound one themselves so they can understand the process, the factors involved, and all their options. If they’re heading down the wrong path I speak up. We often find a better path together and get through the hardest part as a team. You?