In my previous article I described some lessons learned on failures that I made in building my Global IT Staffing company Bridge. I have few more important lessons that are more on the entrepreneurial side than on the offshore management side but I believe they are helpful in building any international cooperation. The failure I described in my last month’s article:
Another failure (although I see this as a very positive experience overall as written above) was that I moved from the Netherlands too quickly. I had set up Bridge in 2006 and in 2008 I thought I had it all figured out for our Dutch office. We had two well performing sales guys and two project managers, we had been growing steadily for three years and we had just started our Indian office. So I appointed somebody as ‘director’ for Bridge Holland and left for India with my family. My plan was to build and grow our Indian company and then move on. But I had just landed in India when trouble started. First of all, recession started, which didn’t help us. We hired the wrong project manager (he was doing other stuff than what we paid him for to say the least), lost a big account, drove one of our account managers mad along the way (which resulted in his departure few months later) and started losing more clients in the spring of 2009 because of the financial crisis. So one year later, back I was in Holland. And it took me quite some time to rebuild what was destroyed. But ok, I had a great time in India!
I learned quite some lessons from this experience:
1. Don’t promote your best sales guy to sales manager
My company was growing steadily in the first few years and all seemed to flourish. I had a sales guy who was good at selling and brought us new clients. He was also social and everybody liked him. So I thought he’d lead the team we already had and would grow the company. It didn’t work out. I learned that in the future if somebody is good at selling, I will let him do that more and more instead of changing his responsibilities. Managing people is not the same as selling.
2. A company is nothing without the right people in the right seats
This point is related to the previous one: by changing the roles in the team, everything can change. We had a strong team that performed very well. The company was growing. So I assumed that the company would simply continue to grow because it was in the veins of the company. But that didn’t work out. I moved people around and the team dynamics changed, which resulted in our best sales guy resigning, a junior sales guy not performing at all and the project manager not managing projects but doing other things. Now I focus completely on getting the right people in the right seats and I know that only if all is in place, the company can grow. I learned the same thing in India, where it took me quite some time but once I had the right managers in place, the company started flourishing.
3. You need clear priorities and a meeting rhythm
I believed that I could focus all my attention on our Indian office and that’s what I did. And by doing that, I stopped putting the energy into my Dutch company as I had done the years before. I see this like growing flowers now: when you stop watering, they die. If you put in energy and water, they grow.
The challenge in my particular environment is that I have one company with several offices, which are in turn actually individual companies. So all of them need attention. But how to achieve this? For me, after my above experience, I learned that I needed more intense communication with all my people in all offices plus a structure to align strategy and priorities. We implementedthe Rockefeller habits from Verne Harnish. We invested substantial time in creating a one page strategic plan and started a rhythm of yearly, quarterly, weekly and daily meetings. All supported by google docs and communication through Skype. Since then, things started turning around because we were in daily contact whereas before we’d sometimes not speak to each other for weeks. Everybody knows what we’re going to achieve in the quarter and each person has an individual plan that we can keep each other accountable for.