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6 Steps to Steer Your Startup to Success

Business.com / Last Modified: July 5, 2018
Image credit: dotshock/Shutterstock

Here are the six best steps companies and leaders can take to ensure their business achieves success.

Most startups fail. Not just most – the overwhelming majority.

Rather than worrying about why so many startups fail, it's far more productive to focus on those that make it and why they succeeded. Through trial and error, a great deal of learning in the trenches, and luck, we developed a unique leadership culture based on six principles that truly drive results and will steer your startup on the road to success. 

1. Creative effectiveness

Creative effectiveness can be cultivated by always challenging yourself. With each task, ask yourself (and your team): "How can I perform this more effectively going forward?" Don't accept things at face value – instead, push your team to find a solution. Even if the solution isn't clear (it usually isn't) be bold and set a challenging timeline.

This tends to produce creative solutions far faster than anticipated. Help your team by structuring the problem, facilitating a positive discussion and bringing resources across the organization to the task at hand. Make sure to communicate the underlying spirit of the task with your team. Only then will they have the right framework for thinking critically and finding the perfect creative, effective solution. 

2. Over-the-top professionalism

Startups are nimble, energetic and fun. But this shouldn't negate a startup's ability to also be rigorously professional.

The effective leader shows meticulous attention to detail by summarizing meetings, sending follow-up emails and setting an agenda. They arrive at events on time, double-check spelling, and organize a calendar of high-value meetings.

Adhering to such a culture is especially difficult in the startup ecosystem where the immense time pressure and workload provide a ready excuse for cutting supposedly unimportant corners. But in our experience, strong managers with details in mind make more efficient use of their time and demonstrate professionalism to customers and internal teams alike. 

3. Structure, structure, structure

Startups swim in the realm of uncertainty and often ride the waves of chaos. The ability to create structure in such unstructured situations is at the core of managerial success. You won't always have the answers, but it's your responsibility to create order, communicate effectively with internal and external stakeholders, and set the framework in which people can operate at their best.

For some people, this is an innate talent. However, even managers who are intrinsically weaker with structuring can develop these skills by staying focused on creating a "method in the madness" and always getting feedback from their own managers. 

4. Kaizen

One of the strongest principles of management that leads to market leadership is Kaizen, or continuous improvement.

This principle is vast and could take up an entire article, but here are some practical tools that can put you on the Kaizen path:

  • Ask for lots of feedback, and be open to learning from it.
  • Improvement is a proactive effort. Focus on finding ways to improve your areas of weakness. Structure your progress with explicit key performance indicators and commit by talking about them with other people.
  • Get a mentor! Someone who has been around the block can help you on your path to success.
  • Arrange Retro sessions for your teams so they can look back and understand how to improve as well. 

5. Thinking ahead

It's easy to get sucked into tactics and execution exclusively in the here and now. But thinking ahead is just as vital. Are we focusing on the right things? What resources will we need six months from now? Are there additional projects we should start working on?

While each company should have an operating system and rhythm to allow for that, the best managers have their own personal clock that helps them understand when they need to raise their heads above the water, look over the horizon for safe shores and think ahead. Personally, I look to the 80/20 rule (80 percent of your productivity comes from just 20 percent of your work) but have adopted a corollary version to the effect that "You are 100 percent committed to your product if you devote 80 percent of your time to your main activity. The remaining 20 percent is your strategic reserve set for long-term planning."

6. Being an on-the-ground-leader (Genchi Genbutsu)

Coming from the Israeli Ministry of Defense, I am a firm believer in being an on-the-ground leader. If your people need you for a nuts-and-bolts task, the ideal managers make themselves available.

Genchi Genbutsu has so many benefits: It helps you get a first-hand understanding of the reality in the trenches. It also allows you to solve problems for your people on the spot, instead of wasting time on iterations. Last but not least, it allows you to actually motivate your personnel by seeing what it is like to be in their shoes. 

Try these six management principles, and I believe they will bring you closer to your goals. But one may ask: "Where does a manager find time to adhere to all these principles?" As the old joke goes: "If you’re complaining that there are only 24 hours in a day, start an hour earlier."

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