Rethinking Your Business: Why What Got You Here Won’t Get You There

Rethinking Your Business: Why What Got You Here Won’t Get You There

Investor and entrepreneur Peter Thiel wrote Zero to One about innovation and bringing something new to the world. In this phase of a company, the team and people behind the product require a certain way of thinking.

You’ll feel the spirit of it in the scrappy startup mentality. Successful startups go from zero to one and grow past it into a business.

Going from one to one hundred — and from one hundred to one hundred million — requires a different way of thinking.

Gone are the days that anyone could tap an entire department on the shoulder and ask for a quick status update. Now, each department has many people and different projects, thoughts, and priorities.

Even Facebook changed its motto from “Move fast and break things,” to a much less catchy but more practical, “Move fast with stable infra.”

Whether you’re a leader, manager, planner, associate, or coordinator, the question is: How do you rethink your business?

Address Your Communications Challenges

It starts with little symptoms.

Maybe a customer ticket that went way too long without getting noticed. Maybe teams duplicating work efforts. Or, maybe a major project that key stakeholders weren’t brought in on.

These are all symptoms of a lack of communications. And it’s natural … unless your company has focused on a knowledge transfer infrastructure from the jump.

Sometimes, it takes a customer support emergency to really compel teams into action. “You never let a serious crisis go to waste,” says Mayor of Chicago Rahm Emanuel. Ideally.

Of course, you don’t have to wait for trouble to brew.

Start with an honest memo to the company. Call out the communications problem as you see it, and what you plan to do about it. Here are two examples to help guide you — one from Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and a second from Airbnb founder Brian Chesky.

Rally your team together and see who’s interested in helping disseminate information to the rest of your company. And tell them about your plans — which we’ll dive into in the next section.

Once your team sees the challenge, you need to create a process that can get information out across functions.

Create Bridge Teams to Transfer Knowledge

It’s not that your teams didn’t transfer knowledge before, going from zero to one. The process was informal. And going from one to a hundred, water cooler talk and lunch breaks simply aren’t enough in order to keep the information flowing properly.

“Without formal check-ins and processes, the company is left to chaos,” says Shopify Plus Learning and Development Coordinator Jessica Powell.

“Chaos is manageable on a small scale, but incredibly inefficient at a larger scale. People need communications infrastructure to help them do each of their jobs more effectively.”

You need to create a process for knowledge transfer and have people responsible for keeping information moving.

The late Intel co-founder and CEO Andy Grove wrote, “A manager’s output = the output of his organization + the output of the neighboring organizations under his influence.” If you’re a manager, your personal success is directly tied with the team’s success.

In a business with a dozen KPIs and exponentially more projects to manage, it’s easy to forget this. Yet as Ben Horowitz writes:

“So, Ms. Manager, you know more about our product’s viral loop than anyone in the company? That’s worth exactly nothing unless you can effectively transfer that knowledge to the rest of the organization. That’s what being a manager is about. It’s not about how smart you are or how well you know your business; it’s about how that translates to the team’s performance and output.”

Enhancing the team’s performance and output is the role of bridge teams — as organizations naturally grow into cross-functional teams, managers’ main goals should be to spread knowledge and set teams and individual contributors up for success.

Every company, of any size, has at least one bridge team. That’s the leadership team. They make tough decisions together and disseminate information with each other. And yet, leadership focuses on a very high impact, strategic, set of problems.

The rest of the company needs bridge teams in order to keep each other moving forward and make sure they’re not replicating efforts.

Depending on your company’s size, this doesn’t have to be a fully-dedicated team yet — maybe it’s just a person from each team meeting once every two weeks and creating an internal newsletter. Make sure that it’s clear who’s on the bridge team — and that the rest of the company knows who specifically they can go to when they have questions.

Build Knowledge Transfer into the Onboarding Processes for New Employees

As you start ingraining knowledge transfer into the fabric of the company, you also need to make sure new employees understand its importance as well.

For example, new employees could participate in existing meetings, or conduct informational meetings, with people from different functions.

Imagine if someone who got hired for customer support sat in on a sales, marketing, or product-development meeting. If your company has already implemented a bridge group, you can have your new employees sit in on those meetings as well.

Informational interviews from new employees are particularly useful. Veteran employees may not feel it necessary to share feedback with other existing employees but are keen to share opinions and thoughts with new employees. This can be a way to solicit and encourage feedback for the rest of the organization and teams as well.

Set Constant Health Checks

Not only should your bridge teams manage information dissemination, they should also gauge how the company’s information flow is moving. As new situations and scenarios come up — teams get bigger, and KPIs, missions, and roles change — they must gauge whether the knowledge transfer is enough to keep the company is moving as a single unit, or if the company’s needs have grown beyond the current process.

As a team grows, naturally, knowledge transfer execution and processes evolve as well. Maybe your bridge team will decide that it’s time the company hired, or transferred, someone full-time to manage knowledge transfer and learning.

Similarly, perhaps it’s time to introduce new processes for knowledge transfer, and discovery, within teams as well. One-on-ones can be good for a deeper set of insights and a way to learn about less apparent, but equally important, problems and solutions.

As Grove writes in High Output Management:

“It turns out that the one-on-one is not only a fundamental element in the manager/employee relationship, but perhaps the best source for organizational knowledge that a manager can get. In my experience, managers who don’t have one-on-ones understand very little about what’s happening in their organizations.”

Final Thoughts

It’s important to get these fundamentals right early on as you grow. The later you implement these four actionable processes, the harder it will be to get team to understand why and to accept that as part of the culture.

And before you execute, explain why it’s important and find the people best positioned to support you in this mission.

About the Author

Herbert Lui is the creative director of Wonder Shuttle. He was a staff writer for Lifehacker, and his writing has appeared in The Globe and Mail, the New York Observer, and Fast Company.