2019 Started Yesterday

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By Jennifer Welsh, Founder of CultureOps

“If You Fail To Plan, You Are Planning To Fail” Benjamin Franklin

2019 is a just three months away. Halloween candy is on sale, and it’s time to book holiday travel. Seriously, don’t wait. Time flies, in the startup landscape especially.

The average startup is juggling competing priorities and sprinting toward deadlines with limited means. They’re functioning in reactionary mode most of the time, pouring unplanned resources into the fires du jour. Imminent problems are underestimated until they reach code red, then time and money are dumped into emergencies, and the cycle continues.

This is basically whack-a-mole, a game that induces stress by design. There’s no opportunity for strategic planning, and you have little control over results. Do you want to play whack-a-mole, or do you want to play chess?

Reactionary Business Operations Burn People Out and Waste Money

Most startups operating in a reactionary mindset aren’t aware of the gravity of the situation until it’s too late. When you’re drowning, it’s hard to pause and assess how you got into that situation in the first place and plan future preventative measures. You’re drowning, and that ship has sailed.

When businesses operate reactively on a regular basis, they create environments filled with stress and anxiety, which translates directly to customer experience and employee attrition. Remember, s#!+ rolls downhill, always. Free lunch and flexible vacations are meaningless when employees don’t feel stability in the company. And trust me, they’re picking up what you’re putting down. While most of us join startups knowing high pressure and regular pivoting is par for the course, a lot of common startup stress is avoidable with thoughtful planning. In other words, it doesn’t have to be this hard.

The very planning that can prevent said stress rarely happens because startups are typically managed by people figuring things out for the first time. Everyone feels pressure to act like they know what they’re doing; most of it is a facade. And like anything else, the most valuable lessons come from making mistakes. I started CultureOps to share my startup wisdom, so early-stage companies can avoid the mistakes I’ve already learned from.

Sure, there are unknown variables when operating a startup. But there are also plenty of things you can expect and control. Planning ahead reduces unnecessary stress and saves valuable energy for the true surprises.

Process Is Key To Winning

In an article called The Neuroscience of Proactive vs. Hyper-Reactive Thinking, psychology professor Alexander Olsen explains that “creating structure and routine in your life frees up cognitive control resources that can instead be more effectively used for dealing with those things that can't be planned for.”

It’s a no-brainer to apply this thinking to operational design for startups, to prepare for the inevitable blind turns. My mission is to help startups implement as much process into their business activities as possible, to conserve resources and energy for the unexpected.

6 Ways To Get Ahead In 2019 Right Now

  1. Define Your Top Priorities For 2019

Determining your biggest priorities for next year is no small task. This requires time, attention, and cooperation across your leadership team. Make the investment now, because time won’t wait for your busy schedule. The more time you have to plan, the better results you’ll see. So let’s dive in!

Your top priorities shouldn’t be a wishlist of everything you hope to accomplish next year, but rather two or three major goals that will move the needle. These are major projects that every department and team will support throughout the year. Be sure to Ensure Your Leadership Team Is Aligned On These Goals before you get started.

2. Introduce SMART goals

One of the worst afflictions startups suffer with is poor internal communication. It’s common that one hand has no idea what the other is doing, and a lot goes haywire under those circumstances. After you’ve ensured executive alignment on your top priorities, every department and team should be synchronized to support those priorities. My favorite way to organize efforts across an organization is to introduce SMART goals.

SMART goals are specific, measurable, achievable, results-focused, and time-bound. They should be simple and clearly define what the company is going to do. This is a simple and effective way to divide huge targets into micro-goals and milestones.

With your top 2019 priorities in mind, design company SMART goals (per month or quarter) that support your annual priorities. And once the company SMART goals are defined, then each leader in your organization can create departmental SMART goals that directly support the company goals. This process can cascade down to specific teams and even individuals to set measurable priorities for everyone across the company. This is a great way to ensure your team is aligned and all rowing in the same direction.

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3. Determine SMART Goals Ownership & Required Resources

Each SMART goal should have a single owner who’s accountable for results. With company goals in mind, determine who will drive each initiative, and what resources they’ll require to deliver results.  

It’s important to evaluate goal owners and requirements months in advance, because you may need resources that require more time and effort than you expect. Here are some considerations:  

  • New equipment or software - In this case, you’ll need plenty of lead time to evaluate your options, budget accordingly, receive deliveries, and implement new products or systems.

  • New employees - If new hires will be required to support goals, allow time to create job descriptions, budget for the role(s), manage the recruiting process, and train new people.

  • New vendors - If you’ll require new vendor support for company goals, ensure you allow plenty of time to source qualified partnerships, compare pricing and deliverables, and negotiate agreements.

  • Internal restructuring - When a current employee assumes ownership of a company goal, you may need to delegate some of their existing work to others, to make room for the new priority. This can create great opportunities for career development and promotions, but don’t underestimate the time required to design new structures and processes. Make sure you consult with your HR team throughout these types of changes, and don’t let them hear about it at the last minute.

4. Connect Your Culture To Your SMART Goals

Company events, meetings, communications, and internal processes should be designed to support your SMART goals. Explore ways to tie regular activities to these big priorities.

Maybe company events focus on celebrating SMART goal milestones or learnings. Or perhaps all-hands meetings include a review of how each team is pacing to their goals. You could even host workshops or trainings that help employees achieve their goals. You can get super creative and do things that deliver a great ROI, so don’t miss easy opportunities to connect all the dots, keeping company goals at the center of everything you do.

5. Build your 2019 Culture Road Map

I’m a super fan of planning and organization. Moving fast without an itinerary gives me hives because it’s a recipe for regret. In the average startup, there’s a huge opportunity to be smarter with resources by simply planning ahead, instead of operating off the cuff.

With so many fast-moving parts in a young company, it’s important to ensure events of all kinds are designed to support the broad mission and synchronized appropriately with other things happening in the organization.

I created a navigation tool called the Culture Road Map to help startups organize employee experience programs and identify the best ways to invest in their unique company cultures. This tool guides planning and decisions throughout the year by focusing on company mission, values, and budget. It provides a simple framework to evaluate the what, why, when, and how employee experience programs will be executed.

CultureOps specializes in building this tool for young companies. But if you’d like to build your own Culture Road Map, check out my online course, How To Build Your Culture Roadmap, where I teach you how to apply your mission and values to your operations and budget. This is perfect prerequisite to planning your employee experience budget.  

6. Start Building Your Budget  

The average startup doesn’t formalize an operating budget for far too long. One thing at a time, I get it. But operating outside of a structured budget is an expensive mistake you should avoid at all cost.

It’s especially important to formalize your Employee Experience budget early on because it’s a sensitive part of your day-to-day operations. Most startups are spending money on meals, snacks, coffee, happy hours, furniture, parties, and a slew of other things that all add up to one thing: employee expectations.

When a small startup has a handful of employees, it seems innocuous to spend money on ergonomic chairs and organic snacks. The team is small, everyone is like family, and the office manager (operating without a formal budget) just wants to make everyone happy. So she satisfies special requests, and before you know it you have six different kinds of milk in the fridge. People complain when you’re out of turkey jerky and almond butter. How could they…? Because you inadvertently set expectations.

If you’re planning to grow your team significantly, that kind of business management doesn’t scale. And it’s hard and messy to pull back the reins once you realize you can’t keep up with the Kardashians as you hire more people. Pulling back on perks upsets employees, they feel a bait and switch, and so on. If you’ve already fallen into that rabbit hole, all is not lost, but a course correction is in order, sooner than later.

Chop, Chop!

You have three months to strategize for next year. That’s twelve more Fridays and six more paychecks.  If you follow the advice I’ve shared here, I guarantee your organization will enjoy the transformative results. It’s time to get cracking now, so don’t delay.

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