As a young venture grows, its founders will probably need to delegate many of the tasks that they used to perform. To get employees to perform those tasks competently and diligently, the founders may need to establish mechanisms to monitor employees and standard operating procedures and policies. Consider an extreme example. Fields Cookies shop exactly how to make cookies and operate the business. The software analyzes data such as local weather conditions and the day of the week to generate hourly instructions about such matters as which cookies to bake, when to offer free samples, and when to reorder chocolate chips.
Telling employees how to do their jobs, however, can stifle initiativepanies that require frontline employees to act quickly and resourcefully might decide to focus more on outcomes than on behavior, using control systems that set performance targets for employees, compare results against objectives, and provide appropriate incentives.
In a small-scale start-up, everyone does a little bit of everything, but as a business grows and tries to achieve economies of scale and scope, employees must be assigned clearly defined roles and grouped into appropriate organizational units. An all-purpose workshop employee, for example, might become a machine tool operator, who is part of a manufacturing unit. Specialized activities need to be integrated by, for example, creating the position of a general manager, who coordinates the manufacturing and marketing functions, or through systems that are designed to measure and reward employees for cross-functional cooperation. Poor integrative mechanisms are why geographic expansion, vertical integration, broadening of product lines, and other strategies to achieve economies of scale and scope often fail.
Mobilizing funds for growth.
Cash-strapped businesses that are trying to grow need good systems to forecast and monitor the availability of funds. Outside sources of capital such as banks often refuse to advance funds to companies with weak controls and organizational infrastructure.
Creating a track record.
If entrepreneurs hope to build a company that they can sell, they must start preparing early. Public markets and potential acquirers like to see an extended history of well-kept financial records and controls to reassure them of the soundness of the business.
A venture’s growth rate provides an important clue to whether the entrepreneur has invested too much or too little in the company’s structure and systems. If performance is sluggish-if, for example, growth lags behind expectations and new products are late-excessive rules and controls may be stifling employees. If, in contrast, the business is growing rapidly and gaining share, inadequate reporting mechanisms and controls are a more likely concern. When a new venture is growing at a fast pace, entrepreneurs must simultaneously give new employees considerable responsibility and monitor their finances very closelypanies like Blockbuster Video cope by giving frontline employees all the operating autonomy they can handle while maintaining tight, centralized financial controls.
An evolving organization’s culture also has a profound influence on how well it can execute its strategy. Culture determines the personalities and temperaments of the workforce; lone wolves are unlikely to want to work in a consensual organization, whereas shy introverts may avoid rowdy outfits. Culture fills in the gaps that an organization’s written rules do not anticipate. Culture determines the degree to which individual employees and organizational units compete and cooperate, and how they treat customers. More than any other factor, culture determines whether an organization can cope with the crises and discontinuities of growth.
Unlike organizational structures and systems, which entrepreneurs often copy from other companies, culture must be custom-built. As many software makers have found, for instance, a laid-back organization can’t compete well against Microsoft. The rambunctiousness of a start-up trading operation may scare away the conservative clients the venture wants to attract. A culture that fits a company’s strategy, however, can lead to spectacular performance. Physician Sales & Service (PSS), a medical-products distribution company, has grown from $13 million in sales in 1987 to nearly $500 million in 1995, from five branches in Florida to 56 branches covering every state in the continental United States, and from 120 employees to 1,800. Like other rapidly growing companies, PSS has tight financial controls. But, venture capitalist Thomas Dickerson says, “PSS would be just another efficiently managed distribution company if it didn’t have a corporate culture that is obsessed with meeting customers’ needs and maintaining a meritocracy. PSS employees are motivated by the culture to provide unmatched customer service.”