Are You A Leader Of A Tech Company? Oh Boy, Do You Have Issues
I coach leadership teams of growing companies on how to implement the tools of EOS, the Entrepreneurial Operating System® (what some people call "Traction", based on the book Traction: Get a Grip on Your Business). In my travels, I get to help leadership teams across many industries - from service to law to manufacturing to tech. Each industry is unique, and each claims to have the hardest job of getting and retaining good people. But amongst them, I've always felt one of the most challenging industries to find and keep great people has to be within tech-driven companies. But like an elephant in the room, everyone knows it's there but chooses to ignore it. I received some valuable proof that the tech industry is hard, from a recent Harvard Business Review article by Joseph Grenny and David Maxfield: Leaders Need Different Skills to Thrive in Tech.
Having run a tech-driven company myself, and having several clients in this space now, the HBR article is a fascinating piece about the specific challenges of being a leader in a high-growth tech company - and what to do about that particular elephant in the room.
Why do tech companies have it so rough?
Let me count just a few of the ways (and since I can only count to five, this is a good thing).
- A tenure of a few years is a lifetime (break out the gold pocket watch for grandpa!).
- Grandpa is authority, and that "management authority" is less revered in a culture of tech geek gods.
- Because the very nature of technology is that it is always changing (hellooo "bleeding edge technology!"), there is constant pressure to create the new idea, make the new breakthrough - and that pressure means that there is never a 'finished' product - you are always on tight deadlines and short product cycles. Imagine grandpa always asking "if you can come in on Saturday, that would be great".
- Because it's often a flat organizational structure, tech employees may have overlapping and shared accountabilities that can create confusion and competition. In addition, one's priorities, projects and assignments are constantly shifting.
- And because the grass is always greener elsewhere (and other companies are always looking for talent to mow their lawns), the competition for your staff is every increasing. And oh, by the way, their best friend who used to work 'here' now works 'there' and they're just going to lunch. Surely they aren't just talking about the latest iPhone.
The Big AHA (not the band from the 80's. That would be a-ha)
In two words: we're ostriches.
Grenny and Maxfield write: "Our research shows that the long-term health of tech organizations—or any social system, for that matter—is a function of the average lag time between identifying and discussing problems. The longer chronic organizational challenges go unaddressed, the more they feed cynicism, powerlessness and disengagement—three of the most insidious social toxins."
So what can a leader do about it? Have a meeting!
Before you launch the device you are reading into the nearest window: yes, an actual meeting can solve part of your issues. Heavens, it's true. Put down the laptop, you don't want to hurt anyone. The research finds:
"Create a culture where anyone can speak up and share his or her concerns when it’s in the interest of the mission. Truth is power, and dialogue is the antidote to elephants in the room. If you can’t talk about a problem, you can’t solve it.
...The norm across tech needs to be that people can bring up concerns when they have them—even when the concerns involve sensitive, risky and potentially volatile topics. This norm not only creates a robust, elephant-free organization, but one that quickly surfaces the best ideas, allowing companies to better innovate and execute."
In the EOS world, the solution is called a "Level 10" meeting. What's a Level 10 Meeting™?
It's a 90 minute weekly meeting, held amongst the company leadership team. While 25 minutes are reporting, a full 60 minutes of every meeting is spent on truly solving the top 1-3 issues: issues that probably have crept up time and again, month over month, for years! Imagine if you put your heads around even two root issues - and solved them - every week. If I'm doing the math right (remember, I can only count to five), you'd be solving over 100 real company issues a year. How much better and healthier would your company be today if you had 100 fewer issues?
How do these teams get to solve 100 real issues? They "I.D.S." the problem. IDS™ stands for Identify, Discuss and Solve. If you've ever been involved with a not-for-profit board, you know there's a heavy emphasis on the "D" and very little on the "S". And while there is time spent on the discussion phase, the great news about IDS™ is that once you understand how it works, and follow it, you'll actually get a lot of "S" done.
The kids can try this at home, too
It doesn't have to be just the company's big-boy leadership teams that hold these meetings. Leadership on every level of the company should hold these meetings - from finance to sales to operations (yes, even the design and development departments). Mid and lower level teams that do hold regular Level 10 meetings get invaluable grass roots and real time team input - input that can be identified, discussed, and solved.
The other key to this meeting thing
Grenny and Maxfield also note that besides having the meetings, anyone can and should hold anyone accountable—for both product and cultural expectations—regardless of role or position.
They state that many issues will relate to accountability. Specifically, they say "building a culture of accountability—one where people hold their managers, their peers, their customers and their direct reports accountable for the commitments they make... are better positioned to address challenges."
Wouldn't it be great if your team talked through and solved issues, and held each other accountable to getting them done? It's not only possible, it's happening in companies like yours. If it's not happening yet in your business, talk with me about how EOS might help.