Manage Systems, Lead People

What’s the most disastrous thing that can happen to a startup?


Especially when you have a small team, any change in that team ripples through the dynamic of the entire company. Psychologist Bruce Tuckman coined the four stages of team development: forming, storming, norming, and performing. When a team member leaves, the fifth stage is called mourning or adjourning, because you essentially have to begin an entire new process with the new group dynamic, which will be somewhat different.

That’s why Robert Maynard developed a team building strategy that includes paying the complete health benefits of every key employee and paying above market in salaries. Those decisions take away the two important reasons employees leave.

A third is conflict between work and family, so Robert has also created corporate cultures that take family into account.

This hasn’t been an easy lesson to learn. But it allows him to attract and retain top quality talent. At his most recent startup, SurchX, he began operations while the company was still in stealth mode with a family event at a Paradise Valley resort. To the assembled group of friends and investors he said,

“I am deeply humbled and privileged to be leading this amazing
team. When I look around at this group, I sometimes have to pinch myself to make sure I’m not dreaming. Think about it: a start-up whose leadership boasts 7 exits, 4 IPO’s, more than $10 Billion (with a B) in wealth creation, $20B in sales, thousands of employees…all from the founding idea in each circumstance. That is a ridiculously overqualified leadership team all assembled to do one thing….win. With and for you.
Some of the people on this team have been working with me since
1995. Others since the late 90’s. While there are new faces and
personalities, we are gelling as an elite team that just gets stuff
done…sometimes very hard stuff. Sometimes stuff that others say
can’t be done. That is the nature of an elite team.

Everyone on the team is a veteran of multiple startups. No one will be a conventional manager, because in Maynard’s words, “you manage systems, you lead people.”

In exchange for a work environment that honors the expertise every team member brings to the table, Robert asks them to bring hard work and presence to the company. By presence, he means thoughtfulness. SurchX was founded on some core values, including values, family, balance, integrity, and performance. Part of the company’s code of values says “Do what you should, not what you can.”

Setting the stage in the run up to the launch, he invited Sandy Cowen to speak about resilience. Sandy, a veteran Arizona ad executive and holistic healer, has conquered a rash of chronic and life-threatening illnesses, like rheumatoid arthritis, leukemia, hyperthyroidism and psoriasis that began more than 35-years ago. They taught her the power of faith and attitude.

There are parallels between being an early team member of a startup and being someone with a “life-threatening” illness. Sandy learned that words like “chronic” and “life-threatening” were just words, and not facts. Like a startup founder, she gets stuff done that others say can’t be done.