I just finished reading Steve Blank’s Four Steps to the Epiphany, an essential book for anyone working at a startup. I wish I had read it as soon as I joined my company a year and a half ago. Venture Hacks offers a good intro to the concepts here.
The last 27 pages were the most valuable to me (pp 179-205 in the hard copy). This includes three sections:
- Review Management and Build a Mission-Centric Organization
- Transition the Customer Development Team into Functional Deptartments
- Build Fast-response Departments
The message throughout this segment is the importance of maintaining agility and lightweight management during the company’s early growth stage.
I’ve struggled with this over the past three months while onboarding two new members of my team. For well over a year I was operating independently, and I’m trying to find a management balance that ensures our team gets its shit done but also allows for free-thinking and creativity by our really talented employees.
This is exactly what Blank covers in the final section of the book. There are two primary principles:
1) Both the company and smaller teams should have a clearly written mission statement:
…it tells the employees why they come to work, what they need to do, and how they will know when they’re sucessful.
2) Employees are encouraged and expected to make decisions and take initiative independent of senior management:
Success in a startup is all about searching, finding, and exploiting ephemeral opportunities. This is possible only when all employees, not just the founders, take the initiative. To do so employees must accept that taking initiative and acting on their own authority is part of their implicit employment contract. Simply showing up and doing the job is characteristic of work in a process-centric organization but anathema to a mission-centric one.
I’m excited to get to work on a mission statement and promote this work style in the coming weeks. Figuring out how to effectively manage my team has been a huge weight on my shoulders for the past three months, and it’s a relief to be taking positive action.