And suddenly, we hear more & more news of startups – but for all the wrong reasons!
First it was the food ordering startup TinyOwl, that garnered much attention because of laying off 100 employees. That was followed by the news that one of the co-founders of the startup, spent two days being held hostage inside the company’s Pune office by employees who were laid off earlier that week! Then came the leaked internal email from Zomato’s founder Deepinder Goyal—reportedly talking about the company’s missed sales projections.
What is happening? One way is to brush this aside saying, “Every company has its problems”. But are there some lessons here for the Indian startup ecosystem – which has so far been in the news only for multi-billion dollar valuations of a handful of companies, and the multi-million dollar funding rounds they have done?
Sometimes when you drive too fast, you tend to miss the reality of what is happening around you. Building on from the email that Deepinder sent his employees, let us list down a few of the expectations & voices he sees around himself:
- I am just a number in a spreadsheet
- I feel insecure
- I am constantly worried about being fired for my performance
- I feel unappreciated – I don’t trust my managers
- How do I give feedback? If I have doubts whom do I ask? Is it ok to ask questions?
- There is a gap between my expectations and reality
- I have not been trained – I am not learning!
While the CEO of Zomato has answered all the questions eloquently, unfortunately it is not logic or eloquence that moves people to action. There are a few old fashioned tools & values that I think would do a much better job of handling the above situation.
1) Taking the entire team along
“People don’t care how much you know, till they know how much you care”. So said Theodore Roosevelt. There is an important lesson in that. Someone who is saying that he feels like a number in the spreadsheet obviously does not feel cared about – neither by his management or his team. He does not see the big picture that the CEO is alluding to when he says Pixels add up to become a BIG picture (much like our Pixel Challenge!). We have seen this many a times. A grand vision unfurled by a leader towards becoming say a 20 billion dollar company by FY 2020….. and often the guy on the frontline is wondering, how many seroes in a billion? The questions for startups to ponder is hence: While we are moving at a break-neck speed, are we leaving a chunk of our team behind?
2) Over communicating
We often talk about this in our team building workshops – that, “There is nothing called over communication”. When you hear people asking things like, “How do I give feedback”, “Is it ok to do that?”, and a mail from the CEO clarifying it – it tells you that communication channels in the organization are perhaps clogged. Repeated and clear communication through multiple means, emails, formal & informal team catch-ups, company social media channels & team offsites – are what the best companies do to ensure that the life blood of communication flows smoothly within their organizations. The questions for startups to ponder is hence: As we expand and get new members in – how do we get them on the same page as the rest of the team quickly?
3) Showing intent towards building trust organizationally
A group of people all travelling in the same direction, in one bus – don’t make a team. Just as in every human relationship, trust does not happen automatically. So when someone says, “I don’t trust my manager”, it is not a surprise. Yes some people are more naturally trusted than others. But should an organization leave that to chance – or should it put a concerted effort and thought in helping leaders and managers build trust within their teams? The questions for startups to ponder is hence: What are we doing proactively to build an organizational culture of – trusting in one another?
4) Investing in training
When I read what the CEO had to say about it, it reminded me of an anecdote: Of a man driving a car – who told his friend: I am so busy driving that I can’t find time to stop and fill petrol. The reality my friend is that, it will catch up with you sooner or later. Comparing the motivation of the early startup team to the motivation of the teams that come in later is a big mistake startup founders make. What brings a person now to Zomato is perhaps not the same drive that brought in the early few – was it? Also, investing on training employees sends another subtle message: You are important for us. The questions for startups to ponder is hence: Are you spending enough time, resources and effort on developing your people?
5) Hiring for value fit
It is perhaps a much discussed topic – and despite the overwhelming evidence that points in the direction of adopting it, few companies are actively doing it – preferring to side with skill, knowledge & experience levels instead.
Perhaps because of the break-neck speed of hiring – driven in large parts due to investor pressure, hiring for value-fit seems like a luxury that startups can ill afford. Vijay Anand, CEO and Founder of The Startup Centre, says, “Unfortunately, the minute most investors put money into a startup, they insist on increasing two spends: one is to go hire like mad; and second is to increase marketing spend. Sadly both are bad kinds of spend, the kind that keeps you craving for more rounds of funding, than focusing on building a sustainable business.”
Perhaps someone needs to point founders towards this data: In a four year study of 150+ firms, carried out by John Kotter of Harvard Business School and his colleague John Heskett, in firms with a strong culture based on shared values:
- Revenue grew 4 times faster
- Rate of job creation 7 times higher
- Stock price grew 12 times faster
- Profit performance was 750% higher
The questions for startups to ponder is hence: What is your plans to create a shared culture amongst your existing team? Is your hiring aligned to your core values?
Do you need some help in talking this through? Look us up – we have worked with a cross-section of companies across industries engaged in similar journeys. We would love to catch up for a chat and partner in your journey too!