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, since 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 make it.
Other more organized and contemplative entrepreneurial types have a master plan all laid out, including the steps on how they are going to grow their company all the way to the happy exit they have planned down to the last detail. This approach can be of great benefit as well; even though things won’t go exactly as planned, it’s great to have an initial road map that you can adjust as conditions change.
One thing that many younger organizations (and some more mature ones!) don’t do so well, however, 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 little thought that goes into it. A job needs to be done–and a particular body is more available than any other. The fit may not be ideal–and the amount of training given 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.
But is this optimal, even within the constraints of a hard-charging mobile software, SaaS or hardware company? Most of the time, with a bit of foresight and a strategic pause, you can increase the odds of successfully stretching your current staff into areas where expertise or experience are lacking. Below are five simple steps that may greatly 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–no matter WHAT curves the realities of business throws your way. So try to think ahead when hiring that next entry-level 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? Try to think ahead and the answer to your next lack-of-personnel crises might be right down the hall. Staff development is much easier if you hire right.
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, who are 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, or has the most experience for the immediate position–therefore “hitting the ground running” with the least amount of training. But if you factor the medium and long term needs of your business into your hiring decisions, you might hire candidates with a different profile–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 and the manager intends to come back and train them when things settle down a bit. Unfortunately, in early stage companies the situation usually NEVER settles down. As a result, you risk ending up with an employee that fails, feels abandoned and neglected, or develops bad habits that become hard to break. While it’s hard to find the time or resources to provide training, for most people it’s an important factor in ultimately achieving success. So make it a priority to give the person in a new role some basic training, no matter what 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, because their price tags for providing expertise, experience and short term work appears 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–costing the company–although these costs may be “hidden”– 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 putting 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, with a effect being 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 to 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 and 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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