January 5, 2017

5 Steps to Create a Growth Culture in your Tech Startup

While many technology start ups embody the characteristics of lean or ‘black box thinking’ in their R&D strategies, how many are creating growth cultures that learn from success and mistakes in equal measure, seeking constant improvements and marginal gains across their organisation?

This was the challenge laid down by Matthew Syed to Notion Capital’s portfolio of enterprise tech founders.

Matthew is the author of Black Box Thinking, a new approach to high performance, in essence a means of finding an edge in a complex and fast-changing world, was the keynote speaker at the recent Notion Capital Founder’s Retreat.

Whether developing a new product, honing a core skill or just trying to get a critical decision right, Black Box Thinkers aren’t afraid to face up to mistakes. In fact, Black Box Thinkers see failure as the very best way to learn. Rather than denying their mistakes, blaming others, or attempting to spin their way out of trouble, these institutions and individuals interrogate errors as part of their future strategy for success. Matthew Syed.

So how should tech companies set about creating a growth culture?

Talent alone is not enough

Much is made of talent in tech, but “Talent is not enough” says Matthew. “High quality practice, attitude and cutting edge culture underpin peak performance.”

Peak performance for venture funded tech companies (and their investors) is predicated not just on hiring exceptional people, but on “purposeful practice” in an environment that challenges every assumption over a five to ten year period.

High performance is based on a deeply engraved culture of seeking and trying to understand the unknown. Bostjan Bregar, CEO at 4thOffice

What sets the very best companies apart is not just the fundamental capabilities of their business, the quality of their product, the size of their market or their ability to execute, on their fundamental ability to learn from success failure and to use those learnings to constantly improve.

Challenge every assumption

Something from nothing, a leap into the unknown, but…

This is a difficult balance to strike. Leaders need to have confidence in their execution but humility in their evaluation when asking, “just how good are we”?   

I need to accept the fact that everything I believe to be true could be wrong. Abe Smith, CEO at Dealflo

  • How valuable is our product?
  • How painful is the problem we solve?
  • How well do we execute across all parts of the business – from hiring talent to acquiring customers?
  • How big is our market?
  • Could we grow faster and more efficiently? How?
  • How can we increase underlying profitability?

These are just a few of the areas companies need to assess on an ongoing basis – for many years in order the outcomes they seek.

There needs to be a fundamental shift in mindset to even get near to peak performance. Justin Fitzpatrick, Co-Founder & COO/CFO at DueDil

The quality of the intuition is critical to prioritising change, says Matthew. Leaders need to constantly challenge the quality of the data they are gathering, the decisions they are making and the priorities they are setting.  

Hire with mindset in mind

Competencies and capabilities when hiring are not enough, what matters more hiring people who embody the growth mindset:-

  • People who believe their capabilities are constantly changing and improving;
  • People who are open to learning;
  • People who look for constant improvements and marginal gains.

To craft a culture that thrives on learning you need to avoid people with fixed mindsets. Try not to hire them in the first place, and if you do, go after them. Fast.

The very opposite of a blame culture

Blame cultures are the antithesis of open learning and growth, set out instead to create a positive culture:

  • Encourage people to speak up without fear of retribution;
  • Subordinate demonstrations of intelligence to learning from mistakes; and
  • Learn to appreciate the constructive disagreement that underpins progress.

Dream big dreams, but get stuff done

Lastly balance the need to learn, and the permission to fail with an overarching requirement to “get stuff done”.

Our companies all have limited time to fulfill their potential so mistakes will happen. Don’t just forgive the mistakes – embrace them! Learn from them and execute ever faster and better. Chris Tottman. Notion Capital.

Posted by Stephen Millard, Chief Platform Officer at Notion Capital.

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