Having had time
Mature organizations have had a long time to develop roles and responsibilities. Startups haven’t had the same amount of time to develop roles and responsibilities. People tend to “wear many hats”. And, wearing many hats has its place in the early days as the group tries to get the business off the ground. At some point, the startup needs to begin its transformation toward a sustainable business. A large part of that transformation is focusing roles and responsibilities and growing and developing expertise with a more narrow focus.
Shifting the people
This is a transition for people. Its a change. And where people were able to derive their value from contributing in many areas, they now feel threatened by needing to focus, by having to give up one or more of the hats they were wearing.
Couple this loss with the desire to be a star, to stand out by making an extraordinarily wide contribution, to derive their value from their contribution and you have a recipe for conflict and lack of action. Lack of action comes about directly because of wearing too many hats for too long and having too much to do. Things move forward very slowly. And, worse than moving too slowly is when things get missed and errors or mistakes get made. Conflict arises when roles overlap due to the desire to contribute in many areas.
I’ve seen this in the past in my own experience in the 4 start-ups I worked in. This can be seen from the top of the organization to the last manager hired. I believe developing focus from a place of being over-involved, wearing too many hats, contributing in too many areas, is one of the hardest transitions that people will make in their careers - only transition to first-time manager is harder.
3 Things that will help
There are 3 things that will help the transition that you and your organization need to make.
First, don’t be shy to create a organizational chart that has some teeth. Formalize the organization. A CEO once told me a story where she and her co-founder wanted to be co-CEOs. The Accelerator they were working with said “no”. There can be only one CEO and that is where the buck stops. So, now, the co-founders had a more structured relationship and there was only one leader at the top - the organization benefited from the clarity and focus at the top.
Second, create a shared understanding of the processes that make you money, from client acquisition to completion of “sale”, to long term support. Bring clarity to the hand-offs between the boxes (functions) on the organization chart. Focus on making the hand-offs error and drama free - imagine a Olympic running relay team and the practice that goes into the hand-off after each leg of the race!
Third, refine your roles and responsibilities after you’ve understood and documented your processes. Be absolutely clear. Write short focused role accountabilities. Created finely targeted deliverables. Specify the measurements that deliver success; measure them; talk about them; deliver against them.
Focus, clarify and succeed
Wearing too many hats for too long is not a story of being a superhero. It’s a potential story about how the end came about too soon. Focus and develop clarity. Take off some hats and stick around for the long haul!.