So many of us roll our eyes or shudder when we talk about the operational side of a business. The customer, the product or services, the sales all have much more sizzle than operations.
Without a plan for operational success though, you will find it difficult to scale or scaling will have more problems than it needs!
In the mad, mad early days of a startup, decisions are made quickly, there is a real sense of urgency and purpose and because most people were there at the start, you don’t need to explain or contextualise anything. No one has the time to document anything because documenting it means valuable time away from building the product or service or selling it. Things are done on the smell of an oily rag, or from month-to-month.
All of this is cool, normal, and a little exciting for anyone in on the ground floor.
When I talk about operational success, I am talking about three main areas:
- Onboarding a new team member
- Deciding what goes ahead and what gets carparked
- Process, process, process
As new employees are onboarded, often in quick batches as funding comes through or strategies need to be delivered, it is normal to run them through the onboarding process that worked before – desk, chair, computer login, quick chat, and GO!
Onboarding really sets the tone for a new employee, ‘this is how we do things around here’.
- Paperwork – the most un-sexy side of the business
- Make sure they have this before they start – bank account details, super forms, contact forms etc
Map out an induction – first day, first week, first month and first quarter
- Who do they need to meet immediately and who in the first week? Schedule these meetings rather than leave it to pot luck.
- What meetings do they need to attend?
- Systems framework
- What systems do they need access to immediately and in the first month?
- If they need training, lock this in so they won’t need to stress about what they don’t yet know.
- Who is who
- Everyone normally runs a walk-the-floor introduction so new-starters ‘meet’ their colleagues. But let’s be honest, they might only retain half of the team’s names. Either have a seating plan they can refer to, or have people’s names displayed where they sit
- Encourage your existing team to stop by to shoot the breeze with a new starter so the connect with people outside their name and title.
- Arrange a team lunch or morning tea so people can casually chat with new starters
- Set expectations
- What do you want from them in the first week, fortnight and month. This will help the clarify their priorities and the information they need to deliver upon these expectations
DECIDING WHAT GOES AHEAD
Often in startups, product and service features are defined and expanded upon in response to a customer need, and it is normally immediate. Any foundation employees will be able to triage these requests without a lot of direction.
As new employees join the team and momentum-mass is reached for your customer base, it will become important to define what goes ahead and what gets car parked for either more information, more definition or another time.
Foundation employees will be trained to react and execute when a new customer request comes through. They need to be supported with a system/process/matrix/decision-making tree that guides them. This is also great for new hires so they understand the direction of the innovation.
For sales teams, developers and founders this can often be quite hard – feeling like the customer may not come on board if you can’t produce exactly what they need.
Sense check this – if one customer determines the future viability of your product or service, what you have isn’t scalable, it is a bespoke offering, delivered to spec.
Sit down with your team to map the vision for the product or service.
Map out the ideal customer.
Map out process/matrix/decision-making tree that helps identify what makes it through the gate. It doesn’t have be a complex system of approvals. You are still looking to be agile and innovative. Your team should be able to ask themselves, or each other, a series of questions to provide the justification for why they are progressing – with a feature or a client or a sale.
You might identify the number of hours under which no further approval is sought e.g. if it takes 1 day to deliver this change, go for it. More than that, it might need another level of approval.
With this decision-making tree you ensure the team can move ahead efficiently, on the right things.
PROCESS, PROCESS, PROCESS
This is unglamorous and simple. A little like a potato gem.
Map and document the things you do. Build a wiki or an intranet so people can something out for themselves without needing a conversation.
Map it and document it.
Your sales process.
Your onboarding process.
Your values and expectations.
Your marketing strategy.
Your HR processes. Your WH&S processes. And yes, you need both. Now. You don’t want to be making them up in an emergency.
Investing time now in these operational items will allow you to scale more easily and make a bigger difference, which is why you got into business in the first place.