Founder and CEO, hotel motor.
With significant growth comes growing pains for start-ups. So how do you maintain morale when expansion is happening at a rapid pace?
Finding the answer to this question has been our reality over the past year as our business has tripled. It wasn’t easy, and of course we made mistakes. But we have developed new processes that have allowed us to grow while trying not to lose the soul of our company, the DNA that makes us unique.
To maintain a positive and productive organizational culture and health, we are entrenched in our approach that cultivates radical candor and the will to win. We began to break down communication silos and reduce the toxic behaviors that inevitably creep in. Of course, there will always be ups and downs in our company’s journey, but recognizing that success is a team effort, we will continually challenge ourselves to be better.
Here’s what we’ve learned from successfully nurturing our culture in an environment of accelerated growth.
1. Figure out who you want to be as a business and own it fearlessly
No matter how the talent market evolves, the fastest way to fail is to try to be everything to everyone. Not everyone will be suitable for your business and vice versa. And while much of what drives the organization starts with leadership, having the right people on your team – people who fit in naturally and are energized by an authentic culture – is a real differentiator. This means you need to be clear about talent decisions. Everyone rowing in the same direction is essential.
With our rapid growth, we have focused on finding people who are excited about who we are and where we are going. These are traits that people with very diverse experiences and different backgrounds can all possess to help us unlock our full potential, such as the will to win, the desire to make an impact, and the desire to be part of something. something bigger than yourself. We understand that high-growth startups aren’t for everyone. And that’s OK.
An inclusive and high-performing culture is about putting your best efforts and seeing differences as strengths. In a high growth environment, people can experience moments of burnout. Some things can fail or slip through the cracks. During these times, our employees ask for help because we have created an environment where they are encouraged to do so. But more importantly, they feel empowered to do so.
And we understand that balance is also key to success. Just as top athletes need rest, we encourage our team to decompress and recharge.
2. Stay honest with radical candor
Radical candor is essential to how we run our business. Not everyone is immediately comfortable with radical frankness. It’s a muscle you need to exercise regularly before it feels good. It requires a commitment from everyone, from leaders to entry-level employees, to the undisguised truth and a willingness to work hard and improve.
Radical candor requires radical transparency: “I’m honest, you’re honest, and we say what we really mean and what we think is helpful.” It’s never about hurting someone’s feelings; in fact, it is the opposite. It’s enough to care about each other as colleagues to be transparent so everyone on the team can have the clarity they need to fix blind spots and grow.
To date, no employee has ever told me that they wish I hadn’t shared honest feedback and the opportunity to improve. The reaction is often: “Thank you, I hadn’t realized that.” In fact, a team member recently told me, “I wrote down what you said and taped it to my wall as a daily reminder.”
On the other hand, the management team must also be open to receiving the same honest feedback. This is not a top-down management style; it is an organization-wide commitment. Otherwise, it doesn’t work.
As founder and CEO, I appreciated the radical candor about my own performance. It helped me correct some of my own blind spots, leaving the company in a better place than if things hadn’t been said. I am so grateful for these people.
In recent years, we have seen a strong desire, especially among new managers, to measure their success by their likeability. Sure, it’s nice to be liked, but what employees really want are opportunities for development, promotion and impact. By not giving honest, direct feedback or challenging people to do their best, managers can unwittingly create a culture of underperformance where people end up quitting or being fired for performance. And that benefits no one.
3. Ideas are cheap
In a startup with a large addressable market where it seems like the opportunities are endless, prospects will come from everywhere – advisors, board, customers, your new people. Remember: on the surface, ideas are easy and execution is what counts.
It’s always tempting to chase the next shiny object or opportunity. And a lot of ideas are great. But to keep your team from being overstretched, you need to prioritize and make tough decisions to pursue only a few things and be really good for them. Being in the travel business, we have been under a lot of pressure to explore other segments, such as flights, cars, etc. But we remain focused on business accommodation; this focus allows us to excel and there is more than enough for us to accomplish in this space first.
The journey of a fast-growing startup is both exhilarating and challenging. There were times when we guessed what we were doing. We weren’t afraid to admit our mistakes and pivot in another direction. As a leader, you must master doubt through honesty and forward movement.
Stay true to the values that you believe will most benefit your company and your employees, give and receive honest feedback, and stay focused on your mission. If you can master these three things, it will help the rest fall into place.
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