Startups can be wasteful. The scrappy mentality that makes them great can also create a culture of inefficiency. By removing waste from the beginning, startups can leverage their opportunities and keep from spinning their wheels.
Here are 4 tips to make startup operations more efficient — saving the company valuable time and money.
#1 Prioritize attention — Avoid interrupting others and remember your wheelhouse
Startups generally begin with high costs and limited revenue, so getting the business to turn a profit is of utmost importance. To do this, employees must perfect the product or service, bring it to market, and scale up. The ability for each worker to focus on their individual task is thus the most valuable and limited resource startups have. Time is money, but even more so for a startup who has not yet passed the break-even point.
Paradoxically, startups value hiring team-players and diverse skill sets — the Swiss Army Knife of employees — those willing and able to jump in whenever needed. But sometimes this turns into the organizational-equivalent of a kindergarten soccer game. The whole pack bunches up around one ball, wasting energy and prohibiting movement. While being a helpful colleague, remember where you are irreplaceable. Ask which mission-critical tasks fall directly in your wheelhouse. Continually return your focus to moving the needle on those task.
Adopt a mantra of “Protect our own (attention) and preserve others’.” Don’t fall into the trap of believing that culture is built through constant connection (interruption). Communicate across the organization that attention is more valuable than a false sense of urgency.
Productivity, innovation, and growth are driven by focused attention, and obstructed by almost everything else.
#2 Use templates — Avoid reinventing the wheel
Israeli Navy Colonel turned growth consultant, Ronen Koehler, said the biggest distraction to young companies is that they often feel the need to create everything from scratch. On a submarine, everything is structured and precise: systems, routines, commands, and responses. Relegating certain things to habit frees people to make important decisions and save their cognitive assets for the unknown.
Apply Koehler’s wisdom by leveraging templates for everything from the job hiring process to bios and presentations. Don’t create interview questions from scratch; search online for prompts that will help you evaluate candidates in specific roles. There are infinite resources for employee handbooks, best practices in HR, even structuring proposals.
There are also tools to guide your strategic programming. Use this Entrepreneur’s Operating System to get you started. Grab what is out there and repurpose it for your company’s goals and values. Save templates centrally and reuse them. Eliminate work by answering future needs with the past solution to similar requests.
#3 Another meeting that should’ve been a Loom video — Avoid the meetings glut
Elon Musk has received criticism for his leaked email regarding meetings, but it largely echoes what experts in workplace-culture and focus have always said. Excessive meetings, regular meetings, and large meetings are all enemies to productivity.
Stringent rules for meetings are critical. Meetings should not be your startup’s primary mechanism for sharing updates, monitoring progress, getting work done, or making decisions. Don’t base your influence on your ego or being “in the room.” Most people (and their time) are too important to be at the table. Base influence on results.
One reason unnecessary meetings occur is because there are no defined or alternative ways to provide visibility and information. Pick the correct tech tools for your organization, commit to them, and use them.
Notion, Clickup, and Monday.com are great dashboards to track progress of projects. Loom videos are a great tool for asynchronous sharing — record your face and screen to give an announcement or to update someone on their own time instead of calling a meeting. Bonus efficiency: the video can be replayed as needed for clarification.
Create a non-urgent channel for those with whom you frequently communicate. An audio message on Whatsapp could be the channel for a shared agenda, or an idea that doesn’t need a quick reply.
When meetings are necessary, make sure they’re as productive as possible. See more tips for better meetings in the Focuswise Meeting Guide.
#4 Who’s in charge? — Avoid these decision-making bottlenecks
Bottleneck: Everyone thinks they should be in on every decision
There are typically fewer employees at startups than at well-established companies. This leanness is efficient for overhead, but causes everyone to wear multiple hats. However, not everyone should wear every hat.
Startups need some fill-the-gap employees who can jump into any acute need. But it causes significant waste if every role continually shifts, and everyone makes every decision. Utilize these free Roles and Responsibilities templates from Focuswise to clarify organizational structure, and generously utilize freelance or contract employees for short term jobs when needed.
For decisions that require buy-in, avoid the trap of insinuating that everyone’s opinion matters equally on every decision. It’s a myth that people only feel valued if their voice is incorporated. Solicit input from the broader group through a Google Forms survey instead of inviting them to the meeting. Then let the decision-makers meet and decide. The live discussion should only include the project lead (the one who is responsible), the decision-maker (the one who is accountable), and topic expert(s) (the ones who are consulted); they alone make the final decision.
Bottleneck: Everyone comes to you for every decision
Leaders often forget they are not infinite. Their attention given to one thing comes at the cost of their attention elsewhere. Strategy is deciding what to say “no” to, and what decisions you are not going to participate in.
Startups come with energy, excitement, and an opportunity for game-changing future financial earnings. But without intention, they risk operating in a way that ensures they will never scale. By putting these resource-saving practices in place, you’ll accelerate quicker and progress to a more profitable stage.