There was recently a great blog post by Mark Suster (a serial entrepreneur and VC with GRP Partners), in which a friend of his put together a list about what young employees should know, particularly when starting at an early-stage company. I think this advice is useful not only for young employees but people moving (or considering moving) from a larger corporation into the start-up world. I also found it useful as a leader to bring young team members along more effectively.
Suster’s friend’s advice
You will not get constructive feedback unless you request it. Although executives in start-ups have great intentions and truly care about their employees, they usually do not spend much time giving employees constructive criticism. When juggling all of their immediate priorities, employee feedback and counseling usually gets pushed to the bottom of the list. Often if there is an issue, rather than dealing with the employee they will just resolve the situation themselves. If you want to grow professionally, you need to reach out to your boss (and other members of the management team) and find out what you can be doing better.
You will probably not have a real mentor. Again, most people in a start-up have so many competing priorities that they cannot take the time to step back and mentor you. Even if you are assigned a mentor, usually they will not have time to do much besides take you to lunch. You need to target someone at the company who could help you grow and then encourage them to mentor you. If this proves impossible, you need to assemble (at least in your head) several people you can go to with professional questions.
Your manager will not communicate clear expectations. Again, leaders in start-ups have trouble finding the time to develop and then convey clear expectations. Instead they will often give you specific tasks without clearly explaining the goals or what is success in completing those tasks. As Suster’s friend points out, the easiest way to beat expectations is for you and your boss to agree them two-ways and check on progress periodically. Seek out constructive criticism even when it hurts. It is often harder for a manager to give you constructive feedback then to just let a situation continue (or you may even find yourself looking for a new position and not knowing why). You need to ask repeatedly what you can and should be doing better.
Show up early. This was an interesting piece of advice and when I started thinking about it I realized how true it is. Regardless of how hard you work or how late you stay, many executives and your colleagues will make judgments about your work ethic based on when you arrive. If everyone sees you coming in after them, it will have a negative impact. Even if the company has flexible hours and management says they do not care when you show up, they do.
Be humble. This advice is probably the one that is most important to me. Mark Zuckerberg can be arrogant. Michael Jordan can be arrogant. I don’t think either of them read this blog, so understand there are many smart people at your company, many with great experience and you can always be better. Acting arrogant does not make your colleagues think you are smarter or more adept at your job; it makes them avoid you.
Relevance for executives
When I first read Suster’s post, I realized I wanted to pass on this advice for young employees. While writing this post, however, I realized this also is great insight for executives to make their team more effective. Look at each of the above bullet points and see how you can help your employees overcome these issues. Take the time to set clear goals, make sure you give constructive criticism when warranted and assign a mentor to new hires. You will not only help your employees, but also make everyone more productive.