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Working in a startup: managing change from the bottom up (really)

Coming from a consulting background, change management is one of the key services rendered to big corporations. The offering starts with implementing change, controlling it and then helping people adapt to change.

Continuing the trend of cold hard truths, this has nothing to do with the consultant’s approach to managing change, but it is mostly focused on the day to day issues that you have to deal with

Note: by writing this article, it does not mean that I have successfully managed to change the organization that I am working in, it just means that I have tried and failed successfully. Learned a bunch of lessons though, that I will try to share with you. In other words, here are my failures:

making sense

https://xkcd.com/1172/

Changing is definitely not easy, but it has to make sense. If it doesn’t, no matter how much someone wants it, it’s not going to happen. There are organization shifts on a daily basis, so if what you are trying to change in the company, makes no sense whatsoever because the organization has outgrown it, accept it and move on.

Say the reporting part — while management loves their reports delivered to their emails, we are using collaborative tools that can generate reports of their own. Stop asking for the bite, when you have access to the full steak, knife and fork!

a fish rots from the head down

There is not much you can do if you have absolutely no direction. Changing anything in the organization, from something simple (like properly utilizing the random channel in slack) to flexible working hours requires help from above. If the mighty management is not part of the process, it’s a rotted approach.

A while back I tried to introduce an informal call with the team, to discuss ideas and brainstorm solutions. The logic was that parts of the team that usually do not contribute to the brainstorming sessions, to express their opinions. This would be great, at least in my view, to have people come together, complain and joke before they leave for the weekend.

But so I thought! These meetings can be of no value if the management is not part of the process or they do not listen. Say one of my developers, whilst very technically capable, was having difficulties expressing themselves and was basically put down by management — not intentionally! The moment that happened, this change trial failed miserably. Now the canceled appointment still haunts me on my calendar every other week.

Communicate or die

Startup’s, specifically tech-related startups have the tendency to have more developers than any other type of team members. The latter tend to be a special breed, who have their own way of handling communication between peers and whose code is always better and code reviews are always superior.

Now, this is not an unknown issue, and more often than not is usually solved by hierarchy, but remember when I said that they are a special breed? Hierarchy on already very proud and technically capable rockstars makes them unhappy and in turn, increases turnover. For a better understanding, put in layman terms, boy bands or girl bands of the 90’s also went through this high turnover rate.

This is a delicate situation, where team members refuse to communicate which makes the startup suffer, people hating their job and most of all, everyone completely unproductive.

How to solve it? Educate them to communicate in their own language through best practices and standardized approaches. Now I am not saying that you just shove a methodology down their throats, but focus on how that methodology works with communication. Unfortunately, there are a lot of grey areas and schools of thought so this is going to be a tough battle.

Also, the team needs a tech lead. Someone who has leader traits, but at the same time takes on the responsibility. I also found that introducing somewhat of a standardized code review approach kinda helps.

Don’t reinvent the wheel, Copy-Paste a Culture

For a startup to actually get anything done, it needs a company culture. In an organization where the standardization of processes and duties is still not yet 100% settled, you need motivated people. In other words, you need a culture.

Now, this is exactly the discussion that we have when we decide to go for a predefined open source library or do it from scratch by ourselves. There are things to be taken into account, but please, don’t be creative, look around and figure out what others are doing. Take that, and start shaping it in the people around you, your possibilities and your location.

All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy

You will be able to get the most out of people if they actually want to be there. I do not even need to make that point, do I? “The job” has shifted, from the 9–5 to something a bit more flexible and fun, so you have to take that to account. Kid’s nowadays need their ping-pong, a fridge full of drinks, their xbox time, their bean bags etc etc. It does not really matter for me, but if it makes this generation happier, they get it…

tl;dr

  1. Can’t do anything if you wanna be a dummy and just prove you point
  2. Can’t do anything if top management doesnt want to
  3. Can’t do anything if people do not even talk to each other
  4. Can’t do anything if you wanna reinvent the company-culture-wheel
  5. Can’t do anything if you are not enjoying yourself

I do stuff, especially digital stuff. Currently leading a great team to revolutionize payment streams. Do you need more? Go to gjermani.com

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