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To Scale Up Your Business, Keep the Feedback Loops Wide Open.

Reid Hoffman’s podcast, Masters of Scale, takes a deep dive into one of the great overlooked questions that every change maker has to answer: “What’s your plan for success?”

If your startup has just kicked into high gear, or if your company has decided it’s time to implement your big idea, you need to know what all of Reid’s guests have learned: that solving the engineering problem at the heart of your business isn’t enough. You also also need to solve the very human problem of harnessing the contributions of the wider circle of people you’ll need to succeed.

No matter your industry or business model, success is sure to mean one thing: working with more people than you have now. Without a plan for that, you’re in for a rough road ahead.

In the case of Sheryl Sandberg, who was Reid’s most recent guest, scaling up meant growing Google’s engineering department from twelve people to four thousand.

She had to make decisions at the up-front and on the fly that would have huge ramifications for the shape of the business, far beyond anybody’s ability to predict. When you’re building a business for a market that doesn’t exist yet, there’s just no way to know who you’ll need or how you should operate in the future.

In the episode Sheryl told two stories that struck me.

When she decided to stop interviewing every new engineering hire personally, Sheryl said her decision was greeted with applause from her team. Her ego was momentarily bruised, but she realized needing to giver her input had actually become a bottleneck, and she was happy to step aside.

In another instance, she found that an off-handed remark she’d made about not allowing PowerPoint in her own meetings had resulted in PowerPoint being banned from the company entirely. In both cases, her response was spot on. “It’s on me,” she said, for not creating a workplace where people felt safe enough to ask questions or challenge what they felt was a bad decision.

I feel the same way, which is why I am so big on the idea of feedback. In an organism, feedback is what allows the nervous system’s response to a changing environment. In an organization, it’s what allows for adaptation in response to change. For a team, it creates trust and speeds action. My favorite question with my teams: Tell me one thing I don’t want to hear. And usually I don’t, but I must.

While healthy nerve cells don’t hesitate to send signals back to the brain, people can hesitate to relay crucial information to the leaders of their companies.

And that’s where it’s on leaders to make it safe for feedback, always.

Be sure to check out Reid’s podcast for more amazing stories like Sheryl’s.

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