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Company Culture

Size Doesn’t Matter. Why Strategy is Always the Same.

By: Tallwave

Over the past year I have sat in on annual strategy sessions with executive teams at tech companies ranging from pre-revenue startups to $500M – some publicly traded, others privately held. I discovered, size doesn’t matter. The strategic issues faced by these organizations are the same.

As I left my most recent strategy session this reality hit me hard. To be honest, I was part relieved and part terrified.

Experience Doesn't Matter as Much as You Think

I felt relieved, because I’ve frequently seen leaders hide behind lack of experience as a reason they can’t solve a problem. But really, the core of the problem is the same at any sized organization, and it’s not length of time in a role or actual career experience that matters. It’s experience in solving the core problem that matters.

I often hear, “I’ve never worked in a company of this size, at this pace of growth, so how do we solve this?” This thinking doesn’t set anyone up for success. In fact, it decreases the brain space we have to truly solve the problem. Leaders must be able to zoom out, focus on purpose of the company, and gather the best brains in the organization in one room to solve the problem. This approach would enable tech companies to iterate and solve problems much faster.

What terrifies me is, all to often, I’ve seen executive teams overcomplicate the problem and the solution. And it seems to all stem from a lack of clarity around what their true purpose is for being in business. They get sidetracked by the symptoms instead of hunkering down and focusing on root cause analysis. They counterfeit the need for speed instead of spending time to diagnose and then prescribe a solution to the underlying cause.

The Real Challenge

What are the most consistent challenges among tech businesses ranging from pre-revenue to $500M?

  1. Preserving the core and stimulating progress. Jim Collins articulates this best in his “preserve the core and stimulate progress” example. Executives must define and preserve what we know to be true to our existence as a company and at the same time stimulate progress around our business concept, products and services.
  2. Defining and giving power to purpose. A number of organizations fall into one of two traps: Either their purpose isn’t clearly defined or it’s clear, but the executive team doesn’t know how to leverage it in decision making. As an example, the purpose behind Southwest Airlines is to connect people to what’s important in their lives through friendly, reliable, and low-cost air travel. It’s evident this purpose directs all of the airline’s decisions from offering free snacks, free checked bags and consistent process in their operational decisions. When companies don’t take the time to define and operate to their core purpose, disciplined decision making can’t exist, and the result is often progress stimulated in unproductive ways.
  3. Balancing speed and purpose. Innovation and speed is required. In the tech sector, things move at a lightning-fast pace. When an executive team is clear on their core purpose and how they stimulate progress, innovation and speed become a byproduct. Innovation and speed to market should never superseded core purpose. This is where many executive teams start to operate in fear, which ultimately leads to bad decision making. When executives operate with speed absent of purpose, they also ignore their front line. As leaders, we can’t ignore the inputs from the people learning directly from our client base.

Define, Preserve, Operate Your Purpose

Businesses must define, preserve and operate to their core purpose. Regardless of the size or number of years in business, a company that hinges around a core purpose drives stronger and faster towards success.

Written by Tallwave

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