Following also is my latest MediaPost column…
Confronting Friction & Risk Head-On
What keeps promising start-ups from turning into great companies? What keeps them from flopping after a series of otherwise early successes?
Having just returned from a company strategy offsite, I’ve been thinking a lot about those questions. Of course, all companies are different, and there’s no universal formula for success. All we know is that most start-ups fail. However, there’s one characteristic I’ve seen present in the companies that made it; and lacking in the promising companies and managers that didn’t. It’s the instinct and conviction to confront friction and risk head-on. It’s to do so with urgency, persistence, precise diagnosis, resolution and flawless execution.
Let’s break this down.
1. Persistence. To be in a start-up often is to go day to day with live-or-die stakes. When you’re on a mission and fighting relentlessly to achieve it, it’s imperative to deal with any friction and risk at all times. You can’t let preoccupation overwhelm or distract you, but you can’t let your guard down, either. You must be sensitive to friction and risk and confront it constantly. Persistence is critical, and you’re most vulnerable when it fades.
2. Urgency. You can’t procrastinate. You can’t sweep it under the rug. You can’t be timid and paranoid about rocking the boat. Failure to confront friction and risk with urgency lets minor problems fester into big ones. It sacrifices time, money and other scarce resources by delaying the allocation of energy to solutions and goals. It ultimately slows your progress and benefits your competition.
3. Precise Diagnosis. No problem can be solved if you can’t diagnose it. What is the essence of identified friction and risk? Can you see past the symptoms and noise and really understand the core business issue? What is it? How is it impacting mission progress? How severe is it? Which way is it trending and what’s the momentum? How do you prioritize versus other friction and risk?
4. Resolution. After a thorough analysis, you must develop effective resolution. But this is not trivial. It often takes imagination, courage and sacrifice to develop and resource the best course of action. The best resolution may cause short-term hardship, or make you unpopular. It likely involves tough decisions with close, trusted colleagues with a deep stake in the status quo. But in the end you’ll be stronger and another level up.
5. Flawless Execution. The best resolution is worthless if it’s not executed. Similar to the development of resolution, it takes courage and sacrifice to execute flawlessly. It also takes speed, thoroughness and fine-tuning. It requires careful management to transform resolution into permanent best practice and norm.
Again, confronting friction and risk is hard, but it’s healthy and reinforces momentum, advances progress and furthers an early business’ chances of success. It’s what separates winners from losers and mediocrity.
Oh, but not everyone works for a start-up. So how is this relevant? While the principles of friction and risk confrontation are perhaps most sensitive in unproven, early-stage companies, they’re still huge factors in the ongoing success of mature companies.
Confronting friction and risk is surely vital to your own individual success, as well.