Drinking from the Firehose: Communication as your company grows

Here at Jana, we are growing fast. In 2016, we added ~20 new positions and moved into a new office to accommodate the growth. When you have just a handful of people, it’s easy to make sure everyone knows what they need to know. Cc-ing the entire company is normal. Making decisions in the hallway is fast and effective. However, when you start approaching 100…

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At a startup, it’s easy to think that managing information won’t be a problem for a long, long time. Thinking about communication processes is for big corporations! In real life, however, communication required grows much faster than the number of people, because the number of discussions per person grows as well as the number of people as your business gets more complex. You can end up with lots of meetings, huge meetings that are unproductive, key people getting left out of decisions, and a general sense of needing to know everything all the time. All of these things are bad.

One way we’ve started to handle this at Jana is to move from a pull system to a push system. Previously, it was expected that people would read the appropriate slack channels and talk with the right people often enough to be well apprised of what was going on. With more and more information out there, however, people can feel crunched under the workload of constantly consuming knowledge. We’ve increasingly switched to the “push” system, where the people who are putting information out there have the responsibility to push it to the right people. This has helped us reduce frenetic checking of slack and email.

Another way to improve is to drop the expectation that everyone knows everything. As a company grows, it’s normal for people to not know every nitty gritty detail of what is going on elsewhere in the company. The important thing is to make sure the right people who do know the nitty gritty details are looped in when a decision or change is being considered. Again, it’s the responsibility of the people making the decision to loop in the correct parties.

Finally, it’s important to have distinct owners – people who are in charge of certain elements or results – to avoid requiring massive buy-in when decisions get made. Making sure smart decisions are made comes down to hiring smart and capable people, not asking for a 90 person sign-off on each tiny decision. Otherwise, it’s impossible to grow while staying agile.

It’s easy to think that information management is something to deal with later, or something that’s not for startups. That’s a huge mistake. Bad management of company information can lead to lots of unproductive time, and more importantly, unhappy and stressed colleagues. So, think about information management early! That way, your startup can grow from small and agile to large and agile while keeping everyone informed and happy.



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