Company culture is the most undervalued strategy but significant dependency for success in developing a growth centric company. Technical talent and strategic focus are important to the success but skills and strategy can only take a company so far. A company must culturally reward growth.
When I meet with companies for growth advice, I like to ask the following questions and listen to what a company says and doesn’t say.
What do you value?
Most companies say that they value growth. As Paul Graham says, “Startups = growth”. Growth is a tale-tell sign to spectators that what you are making is wanted. Growth shows signs of market opportunity and product-market fit.
How do you decide what to work on?
Typically: A mix of emotion, personal bias, and company lore.
Product planning is often driven by ego and lore rather than focusing on “mvp” driven development and predicting outcomes of iterations. Metrics should be known and adopted before any work gets started. The “why” needs to be set and smaller teams should figure out “how” and “what”.
What do you focus on?
Typically: “Product, marketing, infrastructure, data, customer service….”
Most companies focus on everything but growth. This outcome is caused by the fact that companies typically overcomplicate growth. Executives don’t believe that growth can be as simple as focusing on the registration page (as Andy Johns says, “growth is not sexy”). Companies tend to add unnecessary complexity to their product and strategy as they grow believing it contributes to their success.
How do you solve problems?
Typically: “The Founder tells the company and panic ensues.”
When there is a separation in vision between the top to the bottom of a company, problem solving, from bug fixes to product challenges, is driven by the top and creates a culture without personal responsibility. In this scenario, the bottom does not feel empowered to take action.
How do you hold people accountable?
Typically: “How the founder or executive feels about the person.”
One of the most undervalued drivers for growth is evaluating employee performance. How an employee performs is where culture and strategy meet. How leadership reacts to employee performance is a signal on what it values. Every good leader knows that the team is always watching and judging consciously and subconsciously.
How do you know if you are successful?
Typically: “Another round of funding or press.”
Companies often look to others to confirm their success. Funding rounds and press are easier ways to validate your work than looking at metrics. For evidence on how the press usually never has the whole story, take your neighborhood VC out for drinks and ask about their portfolio. You will be surprised to hear the difference between what is said in to the press and what is said in the board room.
Don’t by into the Silicon Valley false sense of security. The public square would like to make all of us believe that every other company other than our own is doing great. The press always reads as if “Everyone is doing awesome!”
If you find any of these growth inhibiting norms in your company, clean house and reset your company. Here are some resources that can help you build a good growth minded culture.