In Startups, Alignment is Natural

This was the observation of a colleague, when we were recently discussing alignment. “Yes, of course,” was the best response I had at the time. But later, as I reflected on it, I realized this was a significant insight. And that there’s quite a bit to be learned from it.
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I’ve had the good fortune to be part of two quite successful startups, from early in their life cycle, through periods of explosive growth. I spent nearly 20 years with the first one, experiencing the changes that occur as a startup matures. In the second, I saw many of the same patterns unfold, but at an even faster rate, over five years.
My experience in both these businesses, and in many others I have encountered as a consultant, reinforces that “alignment” often happens “naturally” in a startup environment. Why?
It all starts with the singular, passionate focus of the entrepreneurial leader:
  • The leader has a “big idea” of how they’re going to “rock the world”, service customers, and/or build a business. This becomes the very clear Purpose of the new venture.
  • The leader has a talent for describing their vision, and finding others who share their values and excitement, to join the team. This creates a team with aligned Passion.
  • The team invests energy into a Product they will deliver to customers, that aligns with their Purpose and Passion (a service is often the Product, in this context).
  • Limited human and financial resources drive a maniacal focus on the things that matter most. This clear set of Priorities makes it relatively easy for the team to make decisions and plan actions that are in alignment with the big picture.
  • The team develops lean and agile Plans for getting the work done, advancing the Product, and delighting their customers, with the available resources.
  • As the team grows, a commitment to “do more with less”, leads to a naturally lean set of aligned Processes and Practices to enable scale while maintaining the culture.
  • A lean, Performance-driven culture pushes the team to set goals, measure, “fail fast” and adapt as necessary to drive success.
These are the eight “P’s” that I believe are necessary elements to achieve (and maintain) alignment across an organization. Alignment of:
  • Purpose
  • Passion
  • Products
  • Priorities
  • Plans
  • Processes
  • Practices
  • Performance
Many (most?) startups just have this stuff in their DNA, by necessity, and as a by-product of how they are birthed by entrepreneurial leaders. In subsequent posts, I’ll explore how we can replicate this within larger and more mature organizations… and how we can help startup cultures keep this natural alignment as they grow.
Discussion Questions:
How does this relate to your own experience with startups, or mature organizations? And how do we maintain alignment, as an organization matures?
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