Recently I sync’d up the CEO of a portfolio company who is now operating a business with over 75 employees and generating $10M in revenue per year. He wanted to talk about challenges creating alignment across the company. Through that discussion he came to realize that their forums for communication, information sharing and accountability were breaking under the weight of employee growth.
It’s important to recognize when your company hits a new step-function of “communications complexity” and evolve your forums for information sharing. Obviously how you align a team that fits in the same room is going to be very different than when you grow specialized teams, add more leaders, remote offices open, etc.
Coincidentally Brad Feld just wrote a post titled “16–49–81”, a numeric reference to the growth in keeping everyone on the same page at Foundry.
“When we were just four partners, our communication matrix was 16. We added three new partners and it became 49. We recently added a General Counsel to our team and consciously included our CFO in the communication matrix, so now it’s 81.”
I surmise this form of “squared growth” is also indicative of the communication complexity founders start to feel after adding the first few team members then new executives and more and more with a whole organization of VPs, middle management and other leaders.
For the CEO, creating alignment through wider “rank and file” engagement can also be an effective technique to remain grounded, avoid operating in a bubble and as a Harvard Business Review report states “help them model and communicate organizational values throughout the workforce. The top 100 [leaders] are often the driving force for execution in the organization, and direct contact with the CEO can help align and motivate them.”
The HBR article goes on to highlight the importance of defining a strategy, that is the very foundation to build alignment.
“The CEO’s single most powerful lever is ensuring that every unit — and the company as a whole — has a clear, well-defined strategy. Strategy creates alignment among the many decisions within a business and across the organization. By spending time on strategy, a CEO provides direction for the company, helps make its value proposition explicit, and defines how it will compete in the marketplace and differentiate itself from rivals. Strategy also provides clarity on what the company will not do. A compelling strategy — if well understood throughout the organization — is motivating and energizing. And without clarity on strategy, the CEO will be drawn into too many tactical decisions.”
For myself, I still remember a moment during my first startup experience at ATG, when I encountered a visceral transition where I could no longer understand everything happening across the company. I had to get comfortable with incomplete information and placing trust in others that we were aligned, moving in the same direction. Later, at Brightcove when we reached close to 100 employees we instituted quarterly cross-functional meetings where we could get key leaders talking to each other — to focus less on the day to day urgency and better align on important challenges.
Each organization needs to find it’s own rhythm and medium that is most effective for their unique circumstance, but be mindful that how you communicate, bring people together, and create alignment will continually evolve as your company grows.