The attractiveness of startups as a career option continues to be strong for fresh graduates and experienced professionals too. In the many conversations I have had with startup job aspirants, the common thread that binds them is their aversion to large, rumbling, bureaucratic organisation structures that corporations have come to signify. Individually, their stated motivations to join a startup range from : You can have impact with what you do
Learn a lot, and learn it quickly
Merit/talent counts most
Will be close to the decision making
You work with your peers, not with different generations
All of the above enable startups to be agile competitors and disruptive market movers. They create a positive culture, harnessing the energies of the team and enabling success.
Freedom – the double-edged sword
A deeper enquiry reveals a buried driver that forms the bedrock of all the above motivations – freedom. A startup signifies freedom to most job aspirants and, I think, the above list actually is
Freedom, which enhances your impact
Freedom to learn as you go
Freedom to apply your talents
Freedom to approach all
Freedom to work in your way
So, how does the founder/leadership leverage this deep desire of talent, productively, with a win-win for all. How do we fulfill this drive for freedom and yet scale operations, meet business goals, collaborate and draw on synergies from all around to build a winning company?
Freedom in the corporate context
The dictionary defines 'freedom' as “the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants.” Freedom is good – people flourish with it. Does that mean the company will flourish too? Not necessarily, because if freedom creates chaos and confusion it's probably not good for the company. Take the example of road traffic in India – everyone exercises their freedom while driving and we have traffic snarls all the way. If we followed traffic rules more stringently, our roads will have definitely have a smoother flow of traffic. On the road, freedom is not good – following rules, i.e., the process is best.
So let's get back to the workplace. At the workplace, if each team member understands 'freedom' to be “do what I want, when I want”, the company is not likely to grow far. On the other hand, if the team understands, freedom to be “free of mundane, repetitive, tasks” the answer emerges –that processes give you more freedom. Yes 'Process', seen to be an antithesis of 'Freedom' is actually what gives you more freedom. A strong process culture means more time for thinking/improvements and less time on repetitive tasks.
Each job, even at the CEO level, has elements that are administrative, repetitive, transaction based – right for process management. If the time spent on these activities is reduced, we generate bandwidth to invest on other impact areas. The quality of your work will improve, the company will also benefit.
Call to action
So freedom and process – are they contradictory? On the face of it – yes. Dig a little deeper and you will see that they can be complementary - processes give you more freedom. If the talent we on-board into our company see freedom and process as supporting acts, the journey to scaling up and growing is sorted.
In your company, bring alive freedom, as the opportunity to do meaningful work, create impact, and have a free rein to contribute. And processes as means to release time to invest in these efforts. Help team members understand this dependency of freedom and process culture right from day 1 – with posters, stories, induction, practices. Don't miss any opportunity to underline this complementary relationship in your everyday interactions too.
Weave into your philosophy and culture the theme that processes multiply our ability to exercise freedom
Reward behaviours that create organisational bandwidth by process deployment
Individual goal sheets to include 'X hours of new bandwidth created by process deployment'.
Startups stumble when there is too much freedom. Bright talent values freedom. Take your startup to its full potential, create a freedom-centred process culture. Use processes, gain freedom to invest time and energies on contributing more, learning more.