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Winning is easy if you get everyone to finish
If you want to scale and succeed inside a startup you have to learn to finish. If you want your startup to succeed, you need to create a culture where everyone crosses the finish line on each task they touch.
In March of 2000 I got this message from one of the founders of AND 1.
Focus. Focus. Focus. Each task to completion. Nothing is more important than what you are currently working on.
I had been there for 3 years. We were growing like crazy and I had gone from intern to Creative Director for Footwear. More importantly, I had moved from a contributor to a critical path member of the team with significant individual responsibility for a meaningful piece of our business.
As an individual contributor with shared responsibilities for projects and deliverables, I had been very effective by getting lots of things 80–90% done. Often my manager/the person who was ultimately responsible would take my work to the finish line as part of the editing and iterating process.
As I work with startups these days, I see this approach to management a lot. Lots gets done. But, individual team members have not actually finished anything. They have moved lots of things forward and are a very effective member of the team, but the mindset does not scale.
Eventually they get to own a project or a product or larger piece of the business. They are likely managing a team or an external vendor but are solely responsible for the final delivery for the first time. The company is forced to say, “Welcome to the critical path, time to change your approach.”
When you are critical path, you can’t mail anything in or afford to finish something 80%. You will fail if you do not finish things and you are better off to take 1 thing to 100% completion than to take 9 things 80–90% there. Now, if you don’t finish it, it does not get done.
As a manager/leader in a startup, don’t let the smart, young people you hire get away with presenting options in meetings. Make them present a point of view. Celebrate when they are right and teach when they are wrong. Do not accept work to review or give feedback unless they believe it is ready to go to the customer — to be out in the market. Only when they believe it is ready, when they believe it is 100% done, should you engage and help make it even better.
If you do this, everyone will focus and take each task to completion. Nothing will be more important than what the company is currently focused on and you will win.