Over the last several weeks, we have been sharing some concepts for leaders to better understand as they consider making a career transition from a large multi-national company to building the next chapter of their career in a smaller, early-stage business.
Leaders who have built an effective set of skills while working for a large company are needed in the early-stage to help bring innovations forward in the market. The risk of all of us being “Amazoned” in the not-too-distant future is real. Being on the forward edge of innovation in the early-stage is one way to stay ahead of the threat of becoming extinct as marketplaces become more efficient in serving customers.
The focus for today’s topic is on the importance of developing and executing an operating plan. Leaders in the early-stage are accountable to a much greater degree for a fully interdependent operating plan than their peers in large companies. Leaders in large companies tend to be responsible for example the commercial growth of a product/product line, but not necessarily the ongoing development of the product for other applications or specific improvements. Even division leaders in most large companies have responsibility for a narrow swim lane compared to leaders in the early-stage.
Even though these differences exist, the fundamental skills and discipline of building a solid operating plan is where leaders from the large companies can clearly add value in early-stage companies. There may be a few more swim lanes added to the plan, but the principles of setting clearly defined goals, establishing timelines, risk assessments, etc. are all well within the skills and experience of most senior leaders from large companies.
From an operating plan development standpoint, most leaders coming from a large company to the early-stage are often surprised at what may seem like a little bit of chaos that seems to take place. It seems quite glamorous to outsiders envisioning 3–5 people sitting around a table making plans, super quick decisions and running a company. However, there are plenty of examples that reveal how this quick, sometimes undisciplined process, can lead to wasted resources, chasing one great idea after another, and not making methodical progress towards important milestones. Large company leaders can often instill a level of rigor and discipline in the operating plan development process that drives greater focus and achievement for early-stage companies.
When it comes to executing the operating plan, leaders transitioning from large companies often get a reality check of how much hands on in the process they actually become. Most large company leaders have teams who do much of the blocking and tackling work — determining vendor qualifications, running an RFP process, building communication tools (e.g., making the slides and writing the memo), coordinating meetings, making initial proposals, etc. Nothing gets done in the early-stage unless leaders do some, most, or maybe even all of the work. Efficient execution at this stage means time and money, both of which are in great need in early-stage companies.
Looking across both operating plan development and execution, the striking difference between the experience of large company leaders compared to early-stage leaders is in the clear measure of value creation that is built in an operating plan. Each milestone/deliverable is specifically tied to the value creation of the company. A milestone or key deliverable is not set just to meet some category on an annual performance grid or developmental goal. Milestones in the early-stage are driving value for the company, encouraging investors to commit more capital, etc.
Strong leadership is needed in the early-stage marketplace and leaders from large companies have the skills and experience to create great value at the forward edge of innovation. As we look to build and strengthen our leadership over a long-term career journey, the early-stage market provides a wonderful environment for leaders to learn, grow, and bring world-leading innovation to the market.
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Also, for those leaders in healthcare, the opportunity to be at the forefront of creating and scaling life-changing innovation resides in the early stage. This sector needs strong leaders like yourself to drive innovation in the years to come. I wanted to share a link to a program specifically for leaders in healthcare who are looking for insights into building the next chapter of their career in the early-stage. I was asked to contribute to this program based on my experience of leaving a large healthcare company and building my career in the early-stage. Please take a look at the link below.