Founders of Startups are facing some unique challenges in running their unorthodox enterprises. One of the prominent challenges faced by several young entrepreneurs in their companies is the task of balancing creativity and control.
Entrepreneurial people (read employees) love creativity. They like to work for managers who fuel their passion to do things differently. These are folks who cannot work for ‘Do it my way’ type of bosses. So, as soon as they find that the system is stifling their creative urge, they switch the job.
Now let’s look at this from the founders’ perspective. As someone who has invested his or her career, wealth and aspirations into a risky venture, a founder would like to have an effective system of control on day to day operations of her business. Without control it becomes difficult to align actions with goals. Monitoring daily sales volumes, numbers of hits on the website or average revenue per user are some simple examples of managerial control.
The idea of control here is ‘keeping track of things’. Today’s companies cannot afford to use traditional control mechanisms of ‘exercising authority and command to get things done’. Hence, the critical question is how to propel people to be innovative and still control their performance for achieving the pre-defined standards? Although there is no one right answer to this question, few diagnostic measures can help entrepreneurs handle this complexity effectively.
In my opinion, there are three important points to remember if you are running a startup which is operating in a hyper competitive VUCA environment.
Firstly an essential element of ensuring balance between creativity and control is face-to-face communication. Often a situation or policy gets stereotyped as ‘rules’ when it lacks personal touch of people at the top. One easy and useful way of clearing the air around the issue is to talk to people about the thought processes which went into designing the so-called rule.
Travel Policy, Leaves, Incentives, Perks etc. have boundary conditions. But with one-to-one discussion the level of understanding goes up. Few people may not like to speak-up or deliberate in a formal or semi-formal set-ups of meetings and hence personal face-to-face ideation is much more helpful.
Secondly, the methods of measuring performance have to undergo a massive change. Entrepreneurs should be mindful of the fact that people in their team might have carried the baggage of traditional systems from their previous employers.
Large established corporations need different forms of control as compared to a newly started early stage novel business. Too much emphasis on financial metrics can lead to disturbing mismatch of actual versus expected outcomes. Your expectations from people must be in sync with the dynamics of business environment.
And finally, startups you must encourage rapid learning and growth of your people. High performers will continue to support you in times of difficulties, financial or otherwise, when they get a feeling of belongingness in your venture.
Keep the processes simple and allow people to suggest changes from time to time. They should feel like talking to you about modifications to existing forms of procedures. Remember, startups have tremendous edge over established businesses due to their ability to keep systems agile. The best analogy one can apply here is that of small kids who relish a sport more than adults because of the physical flexibility they enjoy while playing.
This sounds easier said than done. But no matter what business you operate in, you will face this challenge of maintaining a fine balance between letting loose and being watchful. The sooner you learn this art, the better it gets.