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Ahh, the life of a serial entrepreneur! Timing is such that I just started a new company with a couple of business partners, and with this comes a lot of interesting things to write about.
One topic that is top of mind for us is leadership. We are trying, first, to ensure that the three of us are on the same page about what the future of our business looks like. Second, we want to agree on the path we need to collectively blaze to reach success.
Before I explain how we're going to accomplish this, I want to make sure you understand that getting on the same page is not about always being in lockstep on every detail or every direction the company takes. Whether your business partner is someone you've known for many years or someone you haven’t worked with before, chances are good that he or she sees the future differently than you do. That's true for personal aspirations, for product envisioning, target markets and even company culture. Put three people in a room within days of launching a business and watch the disagreements emerge. This is not a bad thing -- without any diversity of opinion in that room, there wouldn’t be anyone to challenge the status quo.
Still, it is important that you and your business partners share a common vision -- so how do you get there? The best tool that I have ever deployed is a leadership survey. The one I use has around 20 questions covering several different areas; the areas tend to change from startup to startup, but it is always an eye-opening experience for all involved. In fact, on one occasion the leadership survey results led me to decide to leave a business very early on -- more on that later.
Your leadership survey questions should cover areas of the business that you feel require absolute solidarity in order for the new venture to be successful. Have all of the founders and executive leaders suggest questions as well. Gather all the questions and have each founder/partner write down answers before the meeting. Pick a time to meet after hours, or at least at a place away from other members of the organization. It is important you make sure no one else is around as discussions can get heated when there are differences. And it's important to have this session as early in the startup lifecycle as possible in order to work through these differences.
The Leadership Survey
Here are some suggested areas to cover.
- What does your company sell (product) or provide (services)?
- Who are your primary customers? Secondary? Future?
- Where will you sell your services geographically (local, national, global)?
- How will you launch the product/service to market?
- How many customers do you want to have in 12 months? In 24 months?
- What is your target revenue in 12 months? In 24 months?
- Who are we? (i.e. How do you want others to describe your company?)
- How many employees do you see having in 12 months? In24 months?
- Are dogs and/or cats allowed in the office?
- What is the dress code?
- Do you see the company going on outings or having regular events like Beer Friday’s?
- Are there social, relaxation or gaming outlets in the office? (e.g., Ping-Pong tables, gaming consoles, a break room where employees feel comfortable socializing)
- What is your favorite color? (Yes, I am being serious.)
- What is your measurement of success for the company? (e.g., Do you see the company being sold in three years, or do you want your children to take over one day?)
- Describe your personality in one word.
- What do you see as your primary role and value-add to the company? What is your secondary role and value-add to the company?
- What do you see as your title?
Let everyone have their say
I always leave the two questions about role and title to the very end. In some ways, these are the most important answers to discuss at this stage. Having them at the end really makes you think about the answers you provided and what you've heard from your business partners as you go through the survey together. As you listen and learn about more about your partners, the meaning of these last two responses will change. (By the way, I always put my job title as "Janitor.")
Take as long as you need to get through all the questions and let everyone have their say. The intent of this exercise is to get everything out on the table. Everyone must agree to be honest, transparent and nonjudgmental. The questions are meant to draw out information to better connect the leadership team. Including survey questions about hobbies and favorite leisure time activities can forge more personal connections. Even the question regarding favorite color may provide insight into the personality of each of the leaders.
The end result of the leadership survey will be a much stronger leadership team with a common goal, or -- brace yourself -- the end of the startup. It happens. The company I left early on ultimately failed because the leaders did not agree on the mission of the company -- something the leadership survey made clear. But don't you want to know early rather than later that there are fundamental differences that will inevitably get in the way of success? Good luck.
About the author:
When he's not starting new businesses, Bryan Barringer is an independent enterprise mobility consultant and speaker, specializing in mobility, user adoption, UX/UI design, customer acquisition, product design/management and strategy and business development. Most recently at FedEx, he was in charge of evaluating mobile solutions for operations and sales professionals and leading FedEx Services' Office of Mobility and Collaboration.
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