Wednesday, October 17, 2012

What Founders Say, Continued

As I've written before, the most interesting and practically-applicable class I have this semester is called "Entrepreneurship & Innovation."  I take pretty detailed notes during class, and I particularly try to hone in on the common themes that I hear from startup founders.

The one that I wrote about previously concerns founders' agreements, and the one I want to quickly write about now is related to personnel. 

The relevant Lesson Learned basically boils down to this:   "You cannot 'fix' problem personnel who do not perform, do not fit with your organizational goals, organizational culture, etc.  Your ego may tell you otherwise:  it may say you're a great leader, a great motivator, a great coach, etc. and you can turn things around...but you can't.  Once you've finally exhausted all your other options and decided to fire someone, you're never going to look back and regret it.  In fact, your only regret may be that you didn't do it sooner."  

When I heard it the first couple times, I thought maybe someone was just trying to project their own unique experiences into something broader, but after hearing it nearly a dozen times, I'm listening extra closely when the subject arises.  For a cash-strapped startup built around a 'service' (as opposed to physical hardware) your personnel are likely your biggest cost.  Unlike a major public or private bureaucracy, you simply can't afford to keep 'dead weight' around breathing your air and burning your investors' cash.

If you take this advice to heart (as I do), it means that your hiring decisions are among the most critical.  And because resumes and interviews don't always tell the story, that's a whale of a challenge...and the subject of several future entries.

But back to the major lesson:  My own life experience informs a pretty similar opinion to what all these founders keep saying.  Generally speaking, a person who's happy at [insert name of place or organization] would be happy somewhere else.  Conversely, someone who is miserable at [insert name of place or organization] would be just as miserable elsewhere.

Two days ago, in fact, I caught up with a Division Officer at one of my old Navy commands.  I asked her about two sailors who used to report to me, and she basically summed up how they were performing -- high points along with the warts.  Guess what?  Nothing had really changed.  Time had moved forward, a new Officer was in charge...and you could keep changing those variables but getting similar results.

I don't think I'm any different.  My personality, work habits, traits, and foibles would be pretty much the same if you dropped me just about anywhere.  I bet yours would, too.  

No comments: