If you have these 3 character traits, you’re the perfect fit for a startup!
Thinking out of the box or being punctual is for regular jobs; at a startup, you need attributes that set you apart from other employees.
During the course of my journey from an entrepreneur to an employee, again to an entrepreneur, back to an employee and finally back again to my roots (being an entrepreneur), I have had the opportunity to work with as many as 14 organisations closely.
From global leaders in their category (non-alcoholic beverages, consumer health etc.) to startups trying to gain market share in a heavily competitive landscape; from traditional companies carrying the burden of legacy systems worried about being disrupted by SMAC (Social Media, Mobile, Analytics and Cloud) to agile, well-funded startups with a lot of gusto in their approach - it was a peek into almost the entire gamut of organisation cultures.
More importantly, I was privy to the working style of some of the most amazing people in the corporate and entrepreneurial world. Irrespective of their domain, I noticed three traits which were common to all of them and set them apart. These aren’t clichéd qualities of punctuality or thinking out of the box, but practical and inherent to these accomplished rock stars!
1) Understanding/uncovering the core before execution
I worked as consultant to a CEO and was attending a sales meeting with the top sales team present, which included the country sales head, regional sales head etc. We presented the current scenario and moved on to discussing next year’s targets. Most members listened intently, asked a few generic questions mostly to mark their presence, noted their targets and left. It was a no-brainer meeting to say the least. However, a regional sales head caught up with me after the meeting and asked “How do you think I can achieve that growth?” I happily parroted the usual pitch we had prepared for everyone in the room, but he was insistent and asked again, “Now that the marketing pitch is over, tell me exactly how I should go about achieving my numbers.” I was unnerved. Over the course of the following two weeks, we discussed and analysed his regional data and finally narrowed down on key campaigns that should be run and evaluated. Later, it came to light that in that country, underachieving sales targets was the norm and this gentleman was the only person to have not only achieved targets but to have outperformed that year!
In another incident, I was delegating to a colleague of mine while working on an analytics project. I had the big picture in mind and was allocating a piece of the puzzle to him with my expectations of the output. He promptly asked, “Why am I doing this?” To be honest, I thought this was an existential question and was all set to don my philosophical hat when he interrupted and asked again, “What’s the end objective? Let’s discuss that once.” I sheepishly realised what he meant. We discussed the entire project - the client’s expectations, my interpretation of them, how I had broken down the problem into smaller modules, and how each team member would steer the smaller modules. During this discussion, he presented several insightful ideas and at the end of it, we were both completely aligned on our execution strategy. Needless to say, it was one of the best projects and I imbibed this management practice of aligning my team with the bigger picture. Interestingly, this colleague had no analytics experience and was solely hired for his ability to recite the entire Harry Potter series back and forth!
Both individuals went beyond the initial level of delegation and strove to uncover the basics - how and why. They took it upon themselves to understand well how their roles fit in the overall strategy and only then moved forward. In startups, confusion and chaos reigns, so there is always the need for people who can infuse clarity and structure, shoulder the responsibility and drive with a singular focus toward the aligned objective. If anyone possesses this characteristic, work is a breeze, far more enjoyable and efficient. It’s a dire need in the stressful startup environment.
2) Getting s@#t done!
Every single time you discuss a problem with your manager or peer and explain why things can’t be done, while they may empathise and try solving the problem with you, but from within (and trust me on this) they are screaming – Just get it done! Everyone already has their share of problems and no one wants added trouble. Drop the bickering, leave no stone unturned, try every possible trick in the book, go beyond the book if needed but GET WORK DONE. Period.
During an onsite analytics project, I was leading a team of five analysts. We were facing a tricky technical problem that had stalled our work for two days and had no answer in sight. While I was trying to figure a workaround with the client, one of the analysts shared a masked question with 10 friends who, in turn, in a sheer quest to find the solution, posted it on an online portal. In a few hours we had the solution. Now, it might appear a simple approach anyone could have taken, but the fact remains that only one person thought of doing it!
In a startup environment, more often than not answers to a problem are unknown, mostly because these are the problems no one has tried to solve in the first place. The organisation works like a machine and if even one cog stops, the entire system comes to a halt. Startups crave people who can get work done come what may. All go-getters, put your hands up in the air!
3) Being Genuinely Independent
Though mentioned last, in my humble opinion, this is the most important characteristic of a rock star. After college, out in the big bad world, we soon realise that whatever we have known/studied has little or no relevance to what we end up doing and we start unlearning and learning by observing our surroundings and peers. Organisation cultures differ and what an individual develops during his initial stints tends to stick for a lifetime. But then there are rock stars - they aren’t influenced by their surroundings, they live in their own world, and get things done the way they believe is best suited. Their unique and genuine personalities are reflected in their work and in most cases they become influencers, no matter what level they work at.
For startups, it’s vital to develop a free culture that fosters innovation and productivity, as everyone is too busy executing. The people who come on board determine the culture of the startup and hence it becomes important that they are not prisoners of beliefs, are free and open to discuss ideas, and are not threatened by anything - least of all, peers/juniors who are smarter than them. After all, in a startup even the youngest team members can come up with an idea that disrupts the entire industry!
Startups do look for people with specific skills, technical, analytical, or with specific industry work experience, but above all they are looking for people with the aforementioned three qualities. Because if one has them, there is no way anything is unachievable for him/her.
Are you all set to join a startup then?
(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)