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Bang A Gong

By Uncle Saul

Marc Bolan, lead singer of T. Rex, was a modestly talented glam rocker from the early 1970’s without much to say. Even so, when he sang “Bang a Gong, Get It On”, he hit upon a key entrepreneurial principle without even realizing it; words for entrepreneurs on The Fringe to live by.

For What The Bell Tolls

One of the most important things that you can do at your adVenture is to communicate and celebrate your company’s small wins. You will face innumerable trials and tribulations along the way. To keep yourself and your team motivated, create a culture of celebration in which you and your team recognize and herald small wins. If you do not force you and your team to pause and recognize such accomplishments, you are forfeiting valuable opportunities to add fuel to your team’s morale tank.

Just because a deal is small in absolute terms, does not mean it is insignificant. During your adVenture’s early stages, closing any deal, large or small, will generate tremendous excitement. Each deal represents something significant, whether it is incremental revenue, greater propagation of your company’s technology or simply enhanced market validation. As your company matures, even though the size of the deals will grow commensurately, the relative impact of each deal will decrease and thus the relative excitement generated by each deal will also decrease.

At one of my software venture’s early stages, I recall salespeople running down the hall high-fiving each other while yelling “booyah” over a $10,000 deal. Later, when the company’s revenues had grown significantly, no one even blinked, let alone ran screaming down the hall, after closing a $100,000 deal. Thus, take advantage of the excitement derived from closing small deals while such deals still matter.

At the same software venture, we installed a large iron bell in our small, galley kitchen (the kitchen was comprised of a small, stainless steel sink, a filthy microwave, an ancient espresso machine, and a dorm size refrigerator that had a broken door handle). The rules surrounding The Bell were simple. Anyone could ring it at any time. However, if you rang it without merit, you had to bring in breakfast for the rest of the company.

After you rang The Bell, you sent an email to the entire company explaining the momentous occasion heralded by The Bell. Even as the company grew and we occupied various wings of a sizable building, The Bell remained an effective way to rally the troops. It was fun to watch everyone’s reaction when The Bell was rung. People would rush to read their email in order to learn about the company’s latest accomplishment.

The Bell was not my idea. In fact, when we initially implemented the program, I was concerned that it might be viewed by the employees as a cheesy, rah – rah management tool. These concerns turned out to be entirely unfounded. Over several years, The Bell created a genuine feeling of community, shared purpose and proved to be an effective means of communicating and celebrating the company’s victories, both large and small.

Spread the Booyah

Forget a formal newsletter. Such trite tactics are for Big Dumb Companies (“BDC’s”) that can afford to spend their resources on such non-ROI generating activities. Instead, there are a number of more economical and effective ways for you to spread the booyah at your adVenture.

Employee Awards
Recognize employees who otherwise do not get noticed. Everyone hears about the salesperson who lands a big deal, or the business development person who closes a large partnership. However, what about all the other people who flawlessly do their jobs, day in and day out, with little to no recognition? It may not be easy to celebrate certain jobs, but the motivational impact derived from such recognition justifies the effort on your part to give such unheralded positions a healthy dose of public recognition.

As an adjunct to The Bell, we purchased a small, portable bell, and created the Bell Ringer Award as a way to recognize the efforts and accomplishments of the company’s behind-the-scenes workers. The winner of the Bell Ringer Award would proudly display the bell on her desk, and no one else was allowed to ring it. The small bell served as ongoing public recognition of the employee’s efforts.

Get Off Your Ass – There is no substitute for walking around early in the morning or late at night and popping into people’s offices / cubicles. They will appreciate your acknowledgment of their early / late hours. Such encounters are also conducive to casual, unhurried conversations, as the phones will be largely silent and the email traffic will be slowed to a moderate torrent.

By simply asking, “What are you working on?” you can open up a window into that person’s world that might enlighten you regarding the real status of an important company initiative. As you do these walkarounds, be sensitive to avoid undercutting the authority of your VPs. Do not give the employees new directives or otherwise question the directions given to them by their boss(es). If you feel that they are being misdirected, address the issue with the employee’s supervisor not with the employee directly. If this is unclear to you, you may be well served to read Founderitis – A Ten Step Recovery Program

Unexpected “Thank You’s” - There are a variety of inexpensive, yet effective ways to let your employees know that their above and beyond efforts are appreciated. Make it personal. Talk to their spouse or significant other and determine something that they want, but are not willing to buy for themselves. These small, thoughtful gifts will go much further than a verbal “Atta boy”, or even a less thoughtful gift certificate.

Even Keel - Never let your team forget the old sports slogan: “You are not as good when you are winning as you think you are, and you are not as bad when you are losing as you think you are”. Remind the team of this fact with each new high as well as each new low.

At every startup, the highs are higher and the lows are lower. Balance cheering on your team with modulating their highs and lows. If you do too much cheerleading, without ever sharing issues of concern, you will lose credibility. You do not need to be the company wet blanket; simply guard against becoming perceived as a sloganeering Pollyanna.

Company Meetings That Matter

The bigger your adVenture becomes, the harder it will be to pull off an effective company meeting. When your company is small, you can verbally announce an impromptu company meeting by simply walking around or by sending everyone a short email. At this stage of your company’s life, everyone shares a similar frame of reference, which results in company meetings that are highly efficient and require little planning.

However, as your adVenture team, more planning is involved and the messaging becomes increasingly more complex. As the diversity and size of your team expands, it becomes continually more difficult to craft a message that is applicable to everyone – not too intimate, and yet not too impersonal. However, with each new employee, the need to establish and communicate common goals, reinforce the company’s culture and recognize individual accomplishments becomes even more important.

You must continually gauge how often you should have company meetings and the degree of confidential data you should share with your team. Err on the side of meeting too often; over sharing is always preferred to under sharing .

Remember that the company meetings are not for your benefit. You and the Core Team know everything of relevance related to the company. It is your responsibility to determine which items are relevant and will serve to coalesce the company.

As shown in the chart below, at some point, your organization will be large enough that

company meetings can be held less frequently without a detrimental impact on culture, communication of common goals or loss of a forum for public recognition, as other, more formal methods of communication can be utilized more efficiently (e.g., newsletters, departmental meetings, etc.).

Create meeting agendas based on honesty and substance - A long rah-rah fest is boring and ultimately not very motivational. One way to ensure that your team is completely engaged in the adVenture’s pursuit of success is to share with them the good, the bad and the ugly. Clearly, such information must be appropriately filtered. In addition, bad news must be accompanied by the strategy that you will deploy to overcome whatever adversity you are facing. However, do not feel compelled to make every company meeting a feel-good session, especially if there is not a lot to feel good about.

Use a recurring visual to track your progress – Select a visual way to represent your adVenture’s progress. Fundraisers often use a thermometer to track the amount of money raised. A visual that is updated at each company meeting is a great way to rally the troops around a common goal. At one of my ventures, we used a virtual piece of cloth in which each stitch represented 1,000 customers. Our goal was to reach 1 million customers, represented by the completion of the virtual cloth. Reviewing the virtual cloth at every meeting was a quick and effective way to update everyone regarding the status of this important goal.

Encourage middle-managers to present – Focus on a specific department with each company meeting and give the designated department an opportunity to explain their role to the rest of the company. Do not allow the Departmental VP to make the presentation. Give the limelight to someone who normally would not have a chance to publicly speak. This is also a good chance for each department to solicit input regarding any procedural or process oriented issues that should be changed in order to enhance their performance.

Introduce newly hired employees – Everyone hired since the last company meeting should be introduced and acknowledged so that everyone can associate a face with each name. This serves two purposes. Not only does it make new hires feel welcomed and acknowledged, it also communicates your adVenture’s forward progress and growth to the rest of the employees. An expanding organization is an exciting place to be.

Campfire Meetings – Consider pulling together a cross-section of your organization, between 15 – 20 people at a time and figuratively sit around a campfire, listening to their feedback. One way to structure this type of meeting is to ask the group what the term “Open Waters” means to them. Suggest that the company has been doing well by staying in the protection of the harbor, but now it is time to depart from its comfort zone and enter “Open Waters”.

Open Waters, or a similarly open-ended metaphor, will give your employees a forum to express their concerns and help avoid finger pointing that often accompanies a more traditional “tell me what we are doing wrong” conversation. If feasible, attempt to include a large majority of your employees in such discussions by periodically hosting multiple campfire meetings over an extended period of time.

To maximize the impact of such informal meetings, provide feedback regarding the actions initiated by the employees’ input. Not only will you gain valuable insights that might otherwise not be uncovered in a larger group setting, but timely reaction to the issues raised at such intimate meetings will demonstrate that even as your organization grows, every employee’s voice is still heard. Consider reviewing Listen – Do You Want To Know a Secret? tips and tricks you can deploy to make such interactions more impactful.
To paraphrase another glam rocker, Mott the Hopple, “All you young dudes, carry the news.” Celebrate the little wins as validation of your adVenture’s progress and success. Inch by inch it’s a synch, but yard by yard it’s hard. Thus, accomplish tasks by the inch and celebrate them by the yard. As noted in The Fringe entry, it is the journey that matters most. If you properly block and tackle, the destination will take care of itself. Along the way, do not hesitate to bang a gong and get it on. The journey will be a lot more fun and the victories that much sweeter.

Topics: Corporate Culture |