By many accounts, we are living in the golden age of startups. A multitude of factors, including access to productivity tools and software, books and social media have made it easier than ever before to take a dream and run with it. The one thing that has not changed, though, is the image in the popular imagination of a startup CEO as a lone warrior in a Herculean struggle to beat the odds through sheer grit and ingenuity.
Not every lesson in how to make a startup run more smoothly can be picked up from a book, and that’s where performance coaches come in. They can help startup CEOs to shape the narrative of their business and focus on the things only they can do. This article expands on just how vital a performance coach can be to a startup.
Startups are shaped by CEOs & helped by outside counsel
While it is indisputable that startups are defined by their leaders and shaped by them, strategic outside counsel has often helped the best CEO’s take their companies from good to exceptional, once-in-a-lifetime, success stories. The work of Bill Campbell, legendary coach to Steve Jobs, Larry Page, Jeff Bezos, and many others, is just one, albeit preeminent, example of that.
What does a good performance coach bring to the table?
What is it that a performance coach brings to the table, that helps make the all-important difference? It is analogous to what coaches do for elite tennis players, in the sense that top players do not need someone to tell them how to swing a racket, but the marginal gains that they can get from key external insights sometimes make all the difference in high-pressure situations.
Broadly speaking, a performance coach can make an impact on these key parameters for a startup CEO, ranging from the practical to the profound:
Good coaches have been there before, so they bring a wealth of experience to fall back on. When in hard negotiations with customers, vendors or even potential investors, sometimes the tunnel-vision of a CEO precludes the existence of other options. A particular thorny agreement issue that has led to a stalemate with a critical customer? The best coaches can assess the situation taking the long-term view, and help you calibrate how you respond – maybe you give some ground on pricing, but get a lot more in branding and visibility. A good coach expands the horizons of the possible.
Performance coaches can shape the narrative of a company
A critical part of a startup CEO’s job is shaping the narrative of the company and communicating it effectively to all stakeholders – employees, customers, and investors. Many CEO’s come with limited experience in a particular domain ( technology, product, marketing or sales) and their narratives are subsequently prone to biases.
In a scenario that plays out often, a technology-oriented CEO might be driven to focus inordinately on the engineering excellence of a product, while ignoring to focus on customers’ needs.
A coach can help shape a narrative that is holistic and takes a broader view of the market, customer needs, and prevailing trends. The best ones, also help communicate it internally and externally, molding the core message appropriately according to the audience.
Performance coaches help CEOs transition to strategic thinking
A startup CEO by definition needs to be in the trenches, fighting fires daily, especially early on. The focus is on making the short-term decisions that make sure the lights can stay on the next day, without worrying too much about the future. This is essential early in the life of a startup, but as a startup grows, the CEO has to make the transition to longer-term strategic thinking and prioritization.
This is often difficult, as it needs an entirely new set of skills to be developed, without the time to do so. One of the critical roles a performance coach fulfills is in helping a CEO with this transition, making sure they are able to align their objectives with the company’s strategic goals.
Performance coaches help CEOs set the critical objectives
A startup is in crisis most days, and the CEO often wears multiple hats – product manager, recruiter, marketing head and more. This day-in-day-out experience can become overwhelming, with the consequence that prioritization of objectives and tracking progress against strategic goals often suffers. This ultimately leads to a negative domino effect across the organization.
A performance coach helps the CEO set the most critical objectives relevant to long term strategy, and define key metrics to track. Through regular discussion and feedback, they also make sure that the CEO sticks to a chosen plan, come hell or high water. Over time, they help the CEO drive a culture of effective performance management throughout the organization.
When raising a child, a phrase often used is ‘it takes a village’. The essence of it is that a broader support system is needed to help raise a child. The same holds for startup CEOs, and a critical part of a healthy support system around them (beyond supportive family and friends) includes a performance coach they can rely on.
Author bio: Samawat Shakil is Marketing Specialist at GroSum, a performance management software system that helps build a goal-oriented & continuous feedback based work culture. She frequently interviews HR thought leaders and reports on topics ranging from performance management to employee engagement.