Union mentality and lean startups can’t co-exist

With the Detroit big 3 going under (for a very good reason – lack of flexibility), much has been said about unions and their impact on industries. I don’t care to have a discussion on this blog about the benefits and disadvantages of the unions. They are irrelevant in most of the stratup world. But, I do want to talk about specialization and how it has no place in a lean early stage startups.

If you are leading a startup that needs to get lean to survive, one of the first things I would look at is your human capital. The first people to be replaced or eliminated are the highly-specialized employees who are not willing to broaden their area of expertise. As I mentioned in one of my previous posts, everyone in the organization must be the face for the company, know company services and products, and know how to sell them.

It does not matter if you are a head of operations or CEO, admin assistant or head of sales, lab tech or CTO, you must be willing to answer phones, go to meet clients, network, attent tradeshows… and clean up after yourselves. If you are not willing to get your hands into every area the company needs you to, you have no place in a lean startup.

I saw a lot of super-specialization in technology companies back in the last tech bubble. The companies that survived were the ones that did not settle with the W2 mentality and invested in training all of their staff to be multi-functional. In one of the companies I worked for, neither CEO nor the President had any problem helping to answer the phones if we were getting slammed, or cleaning up after group lunch. Not that is what I call good leadership.

This brings me to my final thought on this subject. This change needs to happen from the top of the organization. A CEO should be the first person to do the “dirty” jobs. If he/she picked a smart crew, then people will be volunteering to help.

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