Siren Song of Startups!!!
I came home and was presently surprised to find my friend Sia home. She decided to come down and surprise her friends. Sia and I did our college together in London and I was more than elated to be spending my weekend with her. The conversations and some fine Zinfandel started flowing. I was quite surprised or if I may use the word ‘zapped’ to find she quit her job that she was so happy with and to a great extent proud of. “Startups are volatile that way and there’s nothing permanent about them in most cases”, she replied. I couldn’t understand if there was some sort of bitter acceptance or was she deliberately being wooden in her expressions. See there’s a thing when you’re happy with the pay but then you do not have job satisfaction and vice versa but in her case I knew she was comfortable with both factors -compensation as well as her job role. That’s the impression she gave at least. So I probed further and she got talking and there were some key lessons I learnt about Startups and what they offer. Everyone knows about the positives and the brilliance associated with Startups. More opportunites, rapid learning, brilliant team mates, self sustainability — there are many many career defining and factual reasons to heed a startup. However, let’s glance at the other side of the coin.
- Work is important but so is living. Startups are very demanding and there are multiple hats that you wear while working in a startup. During the initial days of your work, you might have to invest a lot of working hours and make many personal sacrifices. Unlike MNCs, there is no ‘honeymoon’ period in Startups as the employees are expected to learn the ropes of the trade at the earliest. However, once you pass that stage, remind your colleagues, your bosses and specially yourself that you do have a life and people you care about who you call friends and family and maintain a good work-life balance.
- Task and Time management .It is indeed very unfortunate that in India long working hours correspond to high productivity. That is a myth and employers who believe in that mantra — well your bubble needs to burst ASAP. A successful employee is one who can manage his/her work within the working hours and avoid stretching until and unless there is a crisis or a dire necessity. Internet browsing, Facebook, Youtube are wonderful ways of stretching the working hours and if I may add using company’s wi-fi. Presenteeism — one of the biggest evils that exists at workplace, thanks to the rigid and outdated mindset of the employers. Clearly communicate to your colleagues if you do not prefer being contacted for professional purposes during your personal or private time. Additionally employers/managers should also respect the leisure and private time of their employees. If nothing works, remember your phone has a ‘DND’ or a ‘silent’ option.
- Respect . Now this is something which BOTH the employer and the employee should pay heed to. As an Employer, respect the fact that your employee has chosen to come onboard and help you realise your passion; respect the fact that the employee has chosen a startup over an MNC or a more reputed brand; respect the long working hours they invest and the uncountable personal sacrifices they make; respect the golden adage ‘To err is human’ hence do not holler when they make mistakes instead help them do better; respect their personal space and their world outside office and above all respect everyone at workplace — be it the office assistant to your best advisor. As an Employee, try understanding that the CEO/management has put a lot at stake to make this idea work. Hence respect his/her risk taking ability; respect the sacrifices made so that your salaries come on time; respect the reality that a lot more can be learnt in a startup setting and most importantly respect your colleagues.
- Inspire rather than influence. :)
- The good, the bad and the FUGLY. Of course this isn’t just limited to startups but there is a high probability of coming across people who make a lot of noise- be it about their work or why your task is taking longer than the ETA(s) mentioned. Fret not! They have been specifically appointed to make the lives of the ones who actually work a living hell! Best option is to simply ignore such characters and continue working hard as the results will do the talking. If the problem persists, challenge their deliverables or productivity in a 1:1 session or a team meeting but be subtle about it.
- Family > work. Skipping your child’s parent teacher meet or fancy dress competition or sport’s day; cancelling your parents’ doctor appointment due to your unavailability; missing your spouse’s birthday celebrations; postponing that family vacation again and again — is it worth it? NO. The sole reason why anyone works hard is for family but there is no point reaching the zenith and not having anyone share your happiness and/or success with. Of course sometimes, sacrifices have to be made but nobody is indispensable in an organisation. No matter what, the show always goes on.
- Keep learning. A brilliant positive about startups is that the learning graph can go super high. One learns the ropes of the trade quick and there is ample scope for on the job training. When the workload is comfortable and manageable make sure to keep the learning graph consistent.
- Do not let your employees be collateral damage. Many a times the leaders lack vision which results in mismanagement. As a result, many irrational decisions end up being taken. Because of the incompetency and the lack of vision, it is the employees who take the hit and could end up being collateral damage. A degree in being conniving and/or shrewd could at times, however, be beneficial.
- Let your actions do the talking. Unlike an MNC, a startup may not have a formal performance management or a performance evaluation team. Hence, the higher authorities might not have much data to rely on during hike or performance feedback time. To avoid that, make sure you document your work and keep your manager informed about the same. While some effortlessly tom-tom about their achievements and can magnify their deliverables, the shy ones could document their work to avoid shocks during appraisal.
- A needle in a haystack. An ideal situation is a brilliant concept converted to an opportunity by fantastic visionaries with an A team. Cut to reality. However, there will be a small population of a pool of talent comprising of subject matter experts in their areas of expertise. From product to team management they would effortlessly ace it and working under/with them would be a pure delight. Idea is to try leaning as much from them and be professionally well acquainted.
- Sorry, not sorry! Management might come up with a ridiculous road map w.r.t work. A,b,c features for next update; xyz campaign for marketing; 123 hiring requirements and so on. You on the other hand agree to disagree. How do you survive the dilemma? Simple! You’re left with three options — adopt a divergent approach and see things from their perspective, try rationalising with them or say an outright NO.
No matter how engrossing a conversation may be, hunger pangs always have an upper hand. I knew Sia was fatigued and needed a good night’s sleep so I asked her two quick questions :
- Describe your journey at work. She smiled and replied “Amazing”.
- So what is a Startup all about? She had a wide grin. “Well I can’t really comment on that as there is a long way to go, but I’ll quote someone who expresses my current sentiments…”