Many entrepreneurs start out giving little thought to how they will grow their embryonic software or hardware business in the long run. They are totally focused on designing and releasing the first product or making that first sale. This focus is usually a very positive thing in a new company. Grandiose plans of startups have a way of getting derailed by the harsh realities of trying to survive. Staff Development is far down the list of priorities if it even makes the list.
Other more organized and contemplative entrepreneurial types have a master plan all laid out. This includes detailed steps on how they are going to grow their company all the way to the happy exit they have planned. This approach can be of great benefit as well, even though things won’t go exactly as planned. But it’s great to have an initial road map that you can adjust as conditions change.
Staff Development is a Tech Startup Achilles Heel
There is ONE thing that many younger organizations (and some more mature ones!) don’t do so well, however. That is in planning the ongoing development of their staff. Don’t misunderstand. There are a lot of development opportunities for employees of newer and smaller companies. But this development often just “happens”. There is generally little thought that goes into it. A job needs to be done, and a particular body is more available than any other to do it. The fit may not be ideal, and the amount of training given is minimal. But the person is thrown in to sink or swim. Because like the old saying goes, “necessity is the mother of invention”. This is “staff development” at its most basic level. It needs to happen and it often works out surprisingly well. Given the haphazard way in which this “personnel development” assignment often occurs in startups, at least.
But is this optimal? Even within the constraints of a hard-charging, early-stage mobile software, SaaS, or hardware company? Most of the time you can improve on this with a bit of foresight and a strategic pause. This planning will increase the odds of successfully stretching your current staff into areas where expertise or experience is lacking. Below are five simple steps that may help increase your success rate in growing the capabilities of your staff:
Consider Psychographic Profiles Of Candidates In Your Hiring Choices
Like most things that are done in company development, if you hire the right people, things are likely to turn out better. This is true no matter WHAT curves the realities of business throw your way. So try to think ahead when hiring that next employee to fill that open clerical or other entry-level role.
What other activities may need to be done in the near future? In what areas could this new employee be grown? Are you hiring the most flexible candidate? The type that will be most comfortable when you try to “stretch” them into an unfamiliar role? Will they “freak out” at being asked to perform a new and challenging activity? Or will they embrace it as an attractive career growth opportunity? Use these questions to try and think ahead. If you do, the answer to your next lack-of-personnel crises might be right down the hall. Staff development is much easier if you hire right up front.
Plan Ahead As Much As Possible
As mentioned above, it’s really useful to try to think ahead to what functions will need staffing in the next 3, 6, or 9 months–or 2 years. This type of strategic thinking is difficult for many early-stage managers. These folks are rightfully totally focused on getting through the end of the month or quarter. Unfortunately, this mentality often leads to hiring the person that will save a few nickels in initial salary. O one who has the most experience for the immediate position. Therefore “hitting the ground running” with the least amount of training. But try to factor in the medium and long-term needs of your business into your hiring decisions. If you do, you might hire candidates with a different profile. One who may add much more to the growth of the business over the long term.
Train At Least A Little–Don’t Just Throw Them To The Wolves
Startups have a tendency to “throw people in the pool and see if they’ll float”. Many times managers will ask an employee to get started on an unfamiliar task and just do the best they can in the short term. It’s often a crisis situation. The manager intends to come back and train them when things settle down a bit.
Unfortunately, in early-stage companies, the situation often NEVER settles down. As a result, you risk ending up with an employee that fails. One that feels abandoned and neglected, or develops bad habits that become hard to break. In a startup, it’s hard to find the time or resources to provide even basic training. For most people, this training is an important factor in ultimately achieving success. So TRY to find the time to give the person in a new role some basic training. No matter how little free time seems to be available.
Supplement And Train Using Consultants As Mentors
One great way to provide training, mentoring, and other staff development support to employees in new roles is to get some outside help. Many smaller companies don’t believe that they can afford consultants. That’s because their price tags for providing expertise, experience, and short-term work appear to be much higher than permanent employees’ cost. But that is often “penny wise and pound foolish”. Most jobs that need doing also need to be done right for a company to be successful.
If there isn’t the expertise or senior management bandwidth available to train, mentor and support the employee in the new role, the job may not be done the way the manager intended. That ends up costing the company, although these costs may be “hidden”. And that cost can be far more than the amount that outside help would. In these instances, an outside consultant is actually a very cost-effective way to prevent costly early mistakes. As well as helping put the employee solidly on a track to long-term success in their new role.
Allow Room For Errors in Staff Development
The margin for error is usually slim in early-stage companies. The effect is a large amount of high pressure to “get things right the first time”. But it’s unrealistic to think that someone new to a job, with minimal experience and support, will do everything perfectly the first time. Startup company managers need to factor this into their expectations and plan for results to be a bit uneven at first. It’s especially important that the demeanor of the manager makes the employee feel comfortable to take make a few mistakes. You want to enable staff to take educated risks in the company’s best interests, without feeling like any missteps could cost them their career.
It’s true that early-stage tech companies can’t afford to engage in the same type of organizational planning and staff development that occurs in most giant corporations. However, that is somewhat offset by the vast “hands-on” opportunities for development that are found in these fast-changing, non-bureaucratic environments. Early-stage tech companies are well served if they force themselves to engage in just a fraction of the staff development and formal training done in larger corporations. What’s your view on this? Post a comment and let us know what you think about organizational development in early-stage companies.
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