Monday, February 17, 2014

The top learning miss-steps that start-ups make. Part 4

Living and working as a Learning Pro out in Northern California I see and hear about a lot of training that is not serving an organization in the way it should.

So I've put together a list of the most common miss steps and mistakes I've seen and some thoughts on how these can be course corrected.

The first posting on this was about how Founders think that their systems are more obvious and intuitive than they may be.

The second was about cramming too much content into a course.

The third was about moving content online without understanding the difference of the delivery channel.

Here is the fourth, and there may be more to come.......

Failing to cross-train and allowing Silos to flourish.

Startups don't normally carry much in the way of spare capacity in terms of the people in the organization. The first few hires are usually engineers selected to achieve key things, building key pieces of functionality in the product. Next hires will start to fill out the people in areas like sales, finance. and professional services. Then maybe product management, customer support and marketing make the next wave. Usually just a single individual in each area at first. Within engineering your people become specialists in their part of the system.  As you grow each of these people gets to the point of maximum capacity and you add someone new, usually because you need someone to work on the next project.

Everyone is working heads down full out to get their work done. No one really knows the details of what the person two cubes over is really working on and as for that other department, well who has the time to find out? You might have a quarterly or even possibly a monthly 'all-hands' meeting but all that can ever be hoped to achieve in those is to give everyone a big picture of what the company is doing. 

This works, up to a point.

It falls down for two reasons.

The Talent War

In the Bay Area there is a cutthroat war going on for certain types of talent. Talk to any recruiter and they will tell you that finding the right people to allow for the growth that is expected is one of their biggest headaches. The investment in finding new people and getting them up to speed is a huge overhead. So when you do get someone in place and working on those critical projects the last thing you want to think about is that someone might poach them. After all isn't your company the best one out there? Don't you have great meals and regular fun times together? And of course everyone is just waiting for those stock grants to make them millionaires. 

But remember those incentives that you OK'ed for your recruiter to use to get your people to pull their friends and coworkers from former companies into your team? Other companies use them too.

So in the tightly knit community that is the Bay Area tech world you will have someone leave. 

And when that two weeks notice lands on your desk it's going to be very tough to start cross training someone else to pick up on that crucial work that was being done. 

Silos prevent cross functional cooperation.

When people on a team don't know what their colleagues on other teams do what happens when the inevitable requests for help or input come in? 

Without the bigger picture it's impossible for them to accurately evaluate them against all the other things on their desk. 

Two problems that share the same cause, but should be addressed in different ways.

  • Peer reviews of work within teams is one of the best ways to not only produce better quality outputs by trapping and eliminating errors early, but they also mean that when your key person is on vacation or hands in their notice then there is someone else who won't be starting from scratch. 

  • A well planned and executed orientation can give new (and existing) employees some vision into what each team does for an organization. 
  • Regular communication on the projects that are being worked on give context to the request for help on those projects.

The knowledge in a startup's employees heads are it's most valuable asset.  A few well thought out actions can leverage those assets.

Happy Learning

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