Your ambiguity about the direction forward is harming your staff and their ability to do the best work possible. Too many leaders, especially at times of volatility like recently, have given up on the task of creating a coherent narrative. Without such a narrative that pulls the team together and aims their efforts toward a specific goal, no real progress can be made.
You cannot lay people off and speak of imminent growth. Not only are those mixed messages plainly confusing but speaking of both together makes you come off as aloof. What is the team supposed to do? How can you make plans that accommodate both a belt-tightening mentality and an abundant future filled with success and growth? How can they hire new people two months after laying off their friends? Are they supposed to staff positions with Schroedinger’s cats?
Product-led growth and a high-touch enterprise-aimed salesforce together? Virtually all startup CEOs seem to enjoy talking about “doing PLG” right now while not putting their money where their mouth is and structuring sales and marketing to accommodate such a strategy. That results in wasteful structures and contrasting work. Salespeople tend to care about features that don’t lend themselves to PLG. The hybrid approach results in a mongrel product.
Don’t speak of empowerment while maintaining a top-down culture. Again, finding an executive who speaks against empowerment, autonomy, and agency is very hard. However, many are merely cargo-culting the external rituals without adhering to the essence. What good is touting OKRs when they are, in fact, prescriptive and contextless? Why go through the trouble of setting up “squads” if they are only empowered in name but remain feature factories? You know outsourcing usually means less collaboration and cooperation. Still, you create a product engineering organization that is acting like an outsource boutique that happens to be situated in the same office.
Trying to embark on a new product direction while also trying to sell the company? One cannot be surprised that the team doesn’t seem committed and engaged when discussing the pivot when leadership signals such a lack of belief. As hard as it might seem, the company has to choose a path forward. A startup mentality cannot thrive in an environment that’s the exact opposite.
These examples are all based on actual companies I’ve seen recently. Your people pick up on these incongruences. They might not be able to put it into words, but the attempt to straddle multiple conflicting roadmaps creates a dissonance that drowns out the soundscape. If you want to manage risks and have a contingency, admit it and ensure that it does not mean you are trying to remain in a strategic superposition. All that does is confuse people. I’m guessing you’re not using string theory to manage your sprints.
Sometimes, I can hold the mirror to the executives and help them course-correct. Other times, the damage is done, and they have lost the organization’s trust. Fixing that takes time. You can avoid it in the first place or strike on the right path right now with some help. Leaders pick a direction and follow it. That’s how you capitalize on your technology (which happens to be the title of my upcoming book!)
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