In my previous blog “Company Success Factors”, I stated that the most fundamental pillar of a successful organization is its company culture. But culture isn’t something that can be established overnight. Over time, culture becomes embedded into the nuances of daily operations, communications and if the leadership team is persistent it will work its way into the DNA of its employees. This includes day to day interactions with stakeholders, from the smiling receptionist greeting you as you enter the office, through to the tone of the CEO’s quarterly report shared with shareholders, customers and/or suppliers.
Typically defined by the CEO and management team, culture begins with a set of shared beliefs and values. These values will then manifest as the “company mantras”. At a high-level, these mantras guide the path for day to day operations and cover a wide range of topics including: how decisions are being made in the company, how to treat employees and customers, how information is being disseminated internally and externally, and what kind of freedom employees have in decision making on behalf of the company.
Transparency and inclusion are what help a company’s culture to thrive. By openly conveying, and adhering to, your company mantras, not only will you attract employees, partners and customers that are aligned with your values and vision; you will also create consistency in how your stakeholders interact with one another.
In our current company, MindBridge.ai, our mantras are recorded on our website as well as posted on the boardroom wall for all to see.
The MindBridge Mantras:
- Do good – make a difference
- Each individual is the CEO of their domain
- Ask for forgiveness not permission
- Encourage/mentor everyone – not criticize
- Empowered to take action – be solution oriented / problem solver
- Agree and commit; disagree and commit
- No micro management – eyes on, hands off
- Focus on measurable KPI/results
- Total transparency across the company
- Delight our customers – take a long term view on growth and achieving goals
Corporate governance is another important component of building a strong foundation for a successful company. Unfortunately, it is also one of the most overlooked and all too often it is implemented as an afterthought, usually when an external force intervenes, such as venture capital financing. In rare cases, a round of financing led by Angels, friends and family creates the impetus needed to follow structured corporate governance.
From an operational perspective, there are a few basic guidelines that any company can follow to ensure the daily functions of the company stay on track. These include weekly management meetings with each of the functional groups in the company and one weekly corporate management meeting that involves all direct reports to the CEO. In addition to the management meetings, I would highly recommend holding a recurring “all hands on deck” meeting. Aim for once every two weeks – don’t stretch it any further than once per month. The most important element is in maintaining the cadence of these meetings. Without them your management team will struggle to gather the insights they need to run the daily operations in an efficient fashion and ensure all employees understand what is required of them.
In addition to the short-term day-to-day/monthly insights needed to operate the company, the management team also needs the foresight to understand and plan for the long-term operational viability of the company.
This prudent planning typically requires an even deeper layer of corporate governance, with the formation of a formal board of directors. Forming a formal board will have it’s own set of legal implications as board members will have fiduciary obligations to act for the best interest of the company and for the benefit of all shareholders. Don’t make the mistake of making this selection hastily. It is critical when selecting your board members, or a venture capital firm that will typically hold a board seat, that the same care and attention is paid as when you were hiring your first employees. Your board must share the same common values of the company. From an organizational perspective, the CEO sits on the board and reports to the Chairman of the Board. Collectively the board provides the foresights to the company and approves the strategic direction of the company. The board generally meets once every three months, unless, there are extenuating circumstances that necessitate more frequent meetings.
It is important that the board meetings are transparent and that its decision process is evidence based, timely, well defined and easy to follow before any decisions are made. It is paramount that all decisions of the board are made void of having a personal stake in the outcome of the decision and any conflict of interest must be declared prior to making the decision.
Following the boards direction, the CEO must be held responsible for the outcome of the decisions for the benefit of the stakeholders of the company. Prior to every board meeting, the CEO must provide a regular “Management Discussion and Analysis” (MDA) report that details the performance of the company and its operations for the three-month period prior to the board meeting.
The management, “all hands” and board provide the opportunity for the company mantras to come to life within the organization. By creating an environment of inclusion, transparency and accountability, and having the rigor of management meetings combined with a formal corporate governance structure, a company’s potential to reach its goals and be successful significantly increases.