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With This Much "Help," You'll Never Get Anything Done

Sometimes, your people need to hurry up and wait.

The Three Musketeers had it half right. 

“All for one and one for all” is a great strategy for assuring collaboration, teamwork and loyalty, but it can be a very dangerous approach in a start-up. It can lead to chaos, with a whole lot of people trying to “help out” who end up being a hindrance, instead of simply minding their own business.

Even if your business is short-handed and resource-constrained, you’re not going to be well-served by people piling on to assist in areas where they don’t have the skills, background or judgment to add value.  You can’t have your finance guy writing marketing copy, even in his alleged spare time. You can’t have your IT people trying to design your next product or service, unless perhaps you’re in the IT business.  Even then, you want your IT people making sure that your servers and cloud connections don’t blow up, rather than suggesting new color schemes for your website.

As the boss, you’ve got to politely tell these eager beavers to butt out-;without leaving them with the feeling that they’ve been unappreciated, ignored or dismissed.

Don’t just do something, stand there

The people and companies that succeed are those that focus their energy and resources. They stick to their knitting. Your company and your people need to have the same discipline. It’s not about what you say “yes” to--it’s about the many things that you have the guts to say “no” to, even though they are terribly tempting.

This is all part of the process of “getting real.” It starts by admitting that democracy is not necessarily a virtue in all meetings; that not every idea is a good one or worth the group’s time; and that not everyone in the business is good at every part of the business, or should be.

At the same time, you need to make sure you don’t confuse bad ideas with bad intentions. And you need to remember that people can be terribly sincere and still have really stupid ideas.

The basic nature of any start-up is a “let’s get it done” attitude, which is great. When things take longer than they should, there’s a clear bias toward action--sometimes any action. Unfortunately, that encourages people who don’t know what they’re doing to roll up their sleeves and give themselves permission to try to do “something.” But just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should.

In these cases, “doing something” isn’t necessarily better than doing nothing and waiting until the right people can get around to doing it the right way. It’s hard for any entrepreneur to tell his people to hurry up and wait at the same time, but that’s the right message. Stick to your knitting and mind your own part of the business.

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Last updated: Feb 5, 2013

HOWARD TULLMAN | Columnist

Howard Tullman is the CEO of 1871 in Chicago where, at the moment, 260 digital startups are building their businesses every day. He is also the general managing partner of G2T3V, LLC and Chicago High Tech Investors – both early-stage venture funds; a member of Mayor Emanuel’s ChicagoNEXT Innovation Council; and Governor Quinn’s Illinois Innovation Council. He is an adviser to many technology businesses and an adjunct professor at the Kellogg Graduate School of Management. @tullman

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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