Week 8 in the Fie_Labs Agri-Incubation Programme was focused on helping the participating startups build agile teams under visionary leadership in order to steer their businesses to sustainable growth. Having covered the fundamentals of starting a business in previous sessions, we now zoomed in on the people who make it all happen.
The goal of this session was to explore the tenets of team building and leadership at the startups stage, understand the staffing requirements of the business and dive into goal setting and performance appraisal of all the team members. At the end of the session, the founders went back to develop their formal organizational structures; accompanied with a clear performance tracker for all roles.
To kick off the session, the founders were taken through the importance of having a clear vision for their startups before starting to build a team. This helps everyone to be aligned on what the north star is and focus their energies in achieving the same. The founders also learnt the essence of having a very precise mission for their startups; which simply explains what the startups does to achieve its vision. The startup mission also defines the company culture and core values; that dictate how the team interacts with each other and with other stakeholders including customers, suppliers, investors, regulators among others.
Once the vision, mission, company culture and core values are defined, the next step is to build a team to execute on the startup’s mandate. Having a very large team so early can quickly destabilize liquidity of the business; while on the other hand, not having the right employees for specific roles could easily lead to your startup crashing. Striking a balance between the two is the wisdom that each founder needs to have. To achieve the right balance, founders should start by developing an operational framework for their business by conducting an in-depth value chain analysis.
The operational framework is a simple tool that looks at three main segments of the business: the inputs, production and output segments. The inputs side deals with all the activities and resources needed before the startups can start its core activities of production or services delivery. The production segment focuses on all the activities and resources needed to execute on its core objectives of production or service delivery. Finally, the output segment focuses on all customer facing interactions and support after the goods have been produced or service delivered. By listing all the activities in these segments, you are able to analyze the kind of skillsets needed at each stage in your value chain; then determine if you already have them internally or you need to get them externally.
With a clear operational framework in place, you then need to develop standard operating procedures (SOPs) to establish clear guidelines on how work flows within your startup from the input to the output segment. Writing down the SOPs is a critical element that helps in maintaining order when running operations; and provides a quick reference when in doubt of what needs to be done. The SOPs also form part of staff training internally and are an objective yardstick for an impartial performance appraisal. More on the SOPs were covered in week 5 under Business Operations Streamlining.
Now that the organizational structure is already designed with all the operational procedures documented, the next steps involve development of annual plans; while assigning individuals specific deliverables that they shall be accountable for. The allocation of deliverables should be aligned with the roles for each individual with clear reporting structures. Where activities are delegated, the ultimate responsibility still lies with the individual who was assigned the deliverable. It is important to develop a performance tracker that can be filled in easily and one that has dashboards with summaries that can be reviewed in meetings very fast at a glance. Automating these performance trackers should be the ultimate goal; but initially excel tools serve the purpose perfectly well.
The icing on the cake for session 8 was a discussion on communication. Communication is the foundation for any relationship and it is even more important in the business world. The founders were encouraged to create a culture of open and constant communication with all stakeholders both internally and externally in order to ensure that the all parties involved are pulling towards the same direction. In the event of miscommunication, leadership should take charge to relay the correct information and offer apologies where necessary. How the startup presents itself to the outside world through branding is also a form of communication; and this should be done diligently and consistency maintained, in order to build the desired brand image and reputation.