The Problem With Company Manifestos
CEOs, don't write a manifesto. Instead, talk with your employees and build the company culture together.
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I have personally experienced growth in smaller companies where going past five or six employees was a challenge. Again at 12, and again at 20, and again at 50. I imagine that there are certain saturation points where the mechanics of a company are not right for a certain number of people to work together.
The Challenges of Growth
If you did not start the company with clear and straightforward processes, then you will probably need them at some point. Processes and tools are things that take time to put in place, and some of them are costly.
For example, early stage companies just simply allow everyone to use whatever file storage system they want. Some people prefer Dropbox, others Google Drive, others OneDrive. Although that may work for some time, by the time you create your "free" third account you will have to manage three passwords and three ways of storing documents and making changes. Add in your customers' preferences, and you will soon spend most of your time managing systems rather than working on deliverables.
As a CEO, it is your job to play the role of Security Officer, Standards Officer, and Process and Project Manager, among a few other roles. It is about making decisions that may seem strict or like "big company processes," but if you back it up with clear and straightforward logic, your team will agree and help you put them in place.
In fact, at ClicData, most of the ideas come from the team when they find new tools or concepts that can simplify, or can make us more agile or more efficient. All it takes is the willingness and direction from you, the CEO, to make it law.
In addition to processes and tools, the team spirit (camaraderie, fun, effort, and so on) is the one thing that suffers as you grow. As a small team, you are all working towards building something "impossible" or "difficult." You are the new kid on the block proving yourself. Most of the times you are wondering if you can actually pull it off with very little, and the entire team sees that spirit and grabs on to it and makes it their own. The "spirit" is transmitted by doing what they see you — the CEO — doing, not by spoken words.
It is also true that during the early stages of a company there is a chance you hire like-minded individuals. Although that was far from the truth in my case, I do have to admit that there were certain qualities (hard-working, intelligent, logical, honest, and creative) that I looked for in all new hires. But we did not have the same tastes in many activities, and we were definitely not in the same cultural or age bracket ;) (I am a Portuguese-born Canadian that works in France, 13 years older than the average employee age at ClicData.)
It was while thinking about these challenges and worrying about what I need to do today to be ready for the next step, that I started to look for answers among other similar companies and teams. And what I found was a great affinity for.... manifestos.
What Are Manifestos?
Personally, I think manifestos are the desire of a CEO or a management team to verbalize the feeling they had when they were creating the company. That period of limitless energy and thrill of creating something new and exciting, of going head-to-head with the competition by building something new and amazing. It is their desire that everyone in the company — regardless of who hired them or where they are located — can embody the same inspiration and feeling that the founders and early joiners had during their late-night, caffeine-induced, full-productivity work sessions. It is also my opinion that these manifestos are totally and utterly meaningless. Here is why:
- If you could put down in simple words what it took to build your company to what it is today, then you are not unique and anyone could do the same simply by following the same "manifesto."
- What you put down on this manifesto is your personal view or at least the filtered view of the few (typically founders), not the many. What drove that one part-time person to be part of your company and put the tremendous effort into that they did, may be totally different that what drove YOU as a CEO.
- What was right then may not be right now. What was applicable when there were five people can't be the same thing as when there are 50. Putting things down on paper as "rules of behavior" is useful as Newton's Laws of Motion. They are valid within very narrow and specific conditions, and they will be overridden as time goes by and as your business changes.
- Are you sure everyone understands what your manifestos mean? Remember "Don't be evil" by Google? Is it enough to not be evil? Can you be mean? Or do bad things that are not considered evil? Later changing the motto to "Do the right thing" still implies a clear understanding of what the "right thing" is.
- Ultimately, manifestos read like a bunch of inspirational posters that mean nothing and everything at the same time, but ultimately you focus on the pretty photo and wonder who was the first person to actually say that quote.
Ultimately, manifestos are management's lazy way of mass-inspiring employees and customers — and more often than not, are simply marketing gimmicks.
How to Create an Amazing Company Without Manifestos
Human beings are not all equal. We also do not follow rules one year at a time, or quarterly. We are humans; our DNA is as varied as the people in our department, company, or countries. Pigeonholing and categorizing traits, philosophies, and behaviors into processes, manifestos, and rules is useless — so you need to do something that is a lot harder and requires a lot more work.
- It requires you taking the time and talking every day to your employees. If you have too many then you need to empower and have someone like you do the same with their team or location. If you have hired someone to take charge of a team or a location then that means they have their own values to contribute. They may not be the same values as yours, but if they are at that position, it must be because you trust them. As such, you should not be afraid of whatever values they bring to their team.
- It requires you taking the time to ensure that those who you do not talk to directly are getting the right directives from their managers. You can call this "Big Brother" or micro-managing or whatever you want, but in the end, it is your company and you need to make sure the values are those you agree with — even if different than yours. Think of it as learning from your direct team. The way they handle their own team more often than not is a representation of your own behavior with them in the first place. It is a way to ensure you are inspiring them the right way.
- Don't write things down and send emails or company memos. Speak! Talk to them in company meetings or in team meetings. Ask for feedback on the spot and build the "company culture" together, instead of forcing one way. Don't send questionnaires about rating the company culture from 1 to 5, or how do they feel about the "team spirit" from Poor to Excellent. You are being lazy. Find out for yourself and talk to people.
- Talk to your customers and partners! How do they see your company from the outside? IBM are filled with blue suits. Google are all data scientists. Microsoft are all geeks. These are superficial observations, but that is how people see those companies for a reason. Their culture influenced this bias, although it is incorrect most of the time. Your customers will be honest, as they are paying you, so they are free to tell you exactly how they perceive you.
- Admit that your company has changed and morphed into something greater than what you wanted or thought. A company is a collection of people working and building something together, so it is only natural that it no longer represents a limited set of views of the founders and managers. It can be guided and directed through conversation, learning, and listening, but it can't be radically modified into something that it isn't.
So there you have it — hard work from your part to go meet and talk to people and make them comfortable and empower them to be better than they are at whatever they do. That's the only manifesto you should have — and this should be what you need to make everyone aware of, by doing rather than emailing.
So You Still Want Some Manifestos?
So you still want to have some inspiration for your next rule book? Well, "Don't Be Evil" and use Google to search for the most inspirational manifestos. Or just use this link: 10 Insanely Awesome Inspirational Manifestos. Instead of spending your time making up manifestos, however, I strongly advise you to spend it with your employees. Take them for coffee; travel with them; meet them at their desk; call them to find out how they are doing and coach them; give them a path of growth so that they can learn from you in whatever way you can teach them. Make sure they are happy at their job on a per-person basis, not in a mass communication way. And most importantly: lead by example, not by manifestos. Good luck on your adventure, and Happy Dashboarding.
Published at DZone with permission of Telmo Silva, DZone MVB. See the original article here.
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