How to achieve a balanced team while executing the company’s vision
Startup culture has altered the concept of the C-suite and impacted hiring practices for companies in their early stages. Inspired by the ever-expanding C-suites and the hierarchical structure of large enterprises, these small companies are enticing candidates, as well as investors, with lofty titles that may not accurately describe the function of the role. The focus on hiring C-suite leaders without the appropriate support staff is throwing off the balance of day-to-day production.
When Do You Need an Executive?
Startups willingly create and fill C-suite positions, but does this drive operational success? The answer is probably no, if there is not a corresponding plan to provide support staff for the executives to manage. If the executive is in charge of strategy and cross-sectional collaboration, who is implementing the tactics? This kind of top-heavy staffing often leads to high turnover because the individual is expecting to be supported in the same way they have been in their previous executive-level roles. They may not possess the skills to achieve tactical implementation. Other times, the executive member possesses tactical skills and is tasked with production, so the strategy and cross-department coordination are neglected. Giving C-suite titles to senior-level tactical positions often results in overpaid production that rarely manifests the company’s goals and strategic initiatives.
Be Strategic with Human Capital
For smaller or newer companies, we advocate a more balanced approach that begins with a very detail-oriented strategy, even if outside resources are used in the planning stages. Human capital can be optimized with lean teams: experienced production-level employees to implement and maintain operational assignments while a senior manager coordinates with executives and other departments. Consultants and contractors are great for strategic planning and specialized projects that may not warrant a full time salary. The result is money saved on executive salaries while ensuring that the work moves forward.
Establish and Document Foundational Processes
As the company develops, it’s important to modify methods to fit real-world conditions, and those adjustments may not make it into a documented SOP (Standard Operating Procedure). Having a workflow strategy in place allows the executives to align the processes with the tactical knowledge of the employees that execute the day-to-day tasks. An unfortunate, but very common, scenario is for a new technical specialist to sit down on their first day with an outdated SOP and no one to rely on except a C-suite level manager who has no background in their specific a role. Developing a workflow strategy complete with a schedule for regular SOP review and updates will prevent outdated documentation. Aligning this review with workflow strategy evaluations can also help ensure the quality and timeliness of updates.
A Lean Team with Clear Goals May Not Need a C-Suite Presence
Executives are expensive, which is why these positions are at the highest level possible in an organization. Ambition typically entices c-suite employees away from their companies with the promise of more money and autonomy. It is not uncommon to see a C-suite executive’s salary deplete the department’s budget, eliminating funding for support staff. An executive presence does not guarantee results, especially for departments that have production-heavy responsibilities. A lean team with clear directives from company leadership can be highly effective in most scenarios.
Leadership and Operations are both Essential
The small roles matter. If everyone is focused on the big picture, and no one is covering the details, the vision will never be executed. An experienced and focused leadership team is essential. Still, companies should also prioritize establishing procedures and filling lower-level positions because the day-to-day activities of those employees are what drive operations and ultimately support revenue.
Ensure that foundational work moves forward with a lean department that consists of one highly qualified, senior-level manager and the necessary support team for implementation. This team can establish procedures for baseline performance and report on outcomes to the executives. When the company is mature enough, operating efficiently and revenue-positive, then the next phase of strategic planning can decide if the C-suite needs to expand.
As the CEO and lead consultant for Gladiator Consulting, Kristine helps small, medium, and new businesses ensure their business development and marketing strategies align to drive them towards their business objectives. She has more than 13 years of experience working with businesses in a diverse mix of industries including software, cybersecurity, professional services, and architecture/engineering. She holds an Executive MBA from the UT Austin McCombs School of Business, with a special focus on Marketing.