In Sickness And In Good Health, Transparency Is Essential For Startups
Early stage companies may not be able to offer all the perks of an Asana or Adobe or the job security of a Google or Facebook, however they can provide their employees with greater transparency.
In a lengthy blog post released on June 16, Buffer's CEO Joel Gascoigne announced not only that the company is laying-off 11% of its team but all the reasons (and mistakes) why. As Gascoigne writes:
Optimism has seen us through a lot of mistakes at Buffer, like the countless new features and products we spent months building only to realize we need to scrap them...But after a certain point in a company, the mistakes we make don't just affect the product features. They affect people's lives. And no amount of optimism could prepare Buffer for last Monday, when we had to tell 10 talented teammates that their journey with us was over.
It's the result of the biggest mistake I've made in my career so far. Even worse, this wasn't the result of a market change--it was entirely self-inflicted.
I had poor judgment and took the wrong actions in many different areas. Especially at this time, I want to try to live our value of transparency and share everything about the big mistakes we've made, the tough changes we've decided upon as a result, and where we go from here.
It is painful to admit to making mistakes but to make that admission so openly, publically? With all the airing of all this internal decision-making, I have to wonder if radical public transparency will help or hinder Buffer's ability to hire (and raise money) going forward. Buffer is after all, a private company, and how they choose to do their business is not the public's business, unless you decide to make blogging about it a core company value.
But Buffer is not alone (though it may be one of the most highly visible startups) in adopting transparency as the right way to conduct its business. Jebbit (a Boston-based, venture-backed marketing technology company that has created a post-click marketing platform used by brands such as Volkswagen, Reebok and Dell), has embraced operational transparency to ensure a culture of internal collaboration. Launched out of Boston College as undergraduates, Jebbit's founders and senior management wanted to create an overall culture of transparency from the get-go, believing that transparency would help the company hire and grow. Thus far, their transparency strategy has worked.
The ultimate end goal was for Jebbit was for all employees, executives and even the startup's investors to have a real-time view of individual, departmental and company performance. "For example, providing sales and marketing with the same real-time numbers is a key aspect of getting the departments to work together," said Nicholas Lemieux, Jebbit's director of marketing. "We don't want a 'typical' enterprise software environment where sales and marketing continually play the 'blame game [when sales targets or KPIs aren't reached].'"
Implementing a transparency solution of real-time and actionable information was relatively straightforward for Jebbit: Lemieux sought a series of dashboards, starting with a sales and marketing dashboard, integrating dozens of different sources of information. Rather than wasting precious time and limited startup resources on building custom dashboards, Lemieux assessed external options (the company ultimately chose Klipfolio). The Jebbit dashboards integrate data from dozens of SaaS solutions (Salesforce, HubSpot, Google Analytics, Ring Central, DocuSign, and multiple other products) plus it's own API, allowing the teams to see customer use data in real-time. "Our investors and board members also love seeing the high-level data, instead of just getting periodic updates" Lemieux notes. Select data is shared via desktop (allowing Jebbit's executive team and investors to monitor and react to the company's overall performance) and individually (every employee has access to his or her own performance tracking metrics). Additionally, Jebbit built a "Wall of Knowledge" using six monitors in the company's office to broadcast operational data in real-time.
Real-time data has also proven to be a customer retention tool as it helps Jebbit resolve many customer problems before they occur.
To inject transparency into your company's operations, Jebbit offers up the following practical suggestions:
- Get leadership alignment on becoming transparent and the degree of transparency you are comfortable with, as well as whom you will be transparent with (that is, are you on the Buffer end of the transparency spectrum or somewhere on the more internally focused end).
- Define the KPIs you are going to track and monitor (and how the information will be communicated i.e. via wall mounted TVs, browser, smart phones etc.).
- Establish thresholds for those KPIs and the actions you will take if KPIs are not tracking as you've anticipated.