In a company's earliest days, a founder wears all of the hats. Need to mock up your future product? You're suddenly a designer. Adding your first employees to payroll? You're learning HR. Signing your first customer? Time to hone your marketing and sales skills. No two days are alike, and the only certainty is that there will be new challenge to contend with. To be successful, you have to be constantly ready to face change.
I recently interviewed two founders for Inc.'s Founders Project podcast, and both said the exact same thing: being a CEO means you have a new job every two months. But according toThe First 90 Days, by Michael D. Watkins, it takes a full three months to get up to speed on a new job - so how can CEOs possibly keep up?
It's not just business leaders that experience a roller coaster of change in their day jobs. Modern companies like Airtable, which doubled its headcount last year, are growing faster than ever before. With growth comes change, and when your company's priorities change regularly -- at a minimum, from quarter-to-quarter -- your skillset has to change to meet new demands.
Here are a few of my favorite tips for staying nimble:
Identify Your Knowledge Gaps
This one is simple: never stop learning. Ideally, you've chosen to build a company in a sector you're passionate about. When that's the case, I always find that learning doesn't feel like work. As you think about your company's future, identify the skills you will need to lead the charge forward, and work to fill gaps in your knowledge.
For example, maybe one of your company's most critical projects is dependent on your tech team. Are there skills you can learn to better understand the ins and outs of the project? Doing so can make you a better partner to your tech leadership, and enable you to provide guidance where needed.
You can also empower your employees to be more adaptive by encouraging them to fill gaps in their knowledge and by investing in learning and development resources. Perhaps one of your marketers sees a need for a data analyst, and signs up for an online SQL coding course. Or maybe a generalist startup hire expresses interest in people ops, and you enable them to train for a new job title.
Whatever opportunity you spot, do your homework. Sign up for all relevant newsletters, read every article and book you can get your hands on, find respected industry leaders to follow on Twitter and LinkedIn, and attend events to make connections and encounter new ideas.
I love David Epstein's book, Range. He argues that generalists are often more successful over the course of their careers. So don't stay in one lane.
Range is important for everyone, but it's critical for entrepreneurs. As you scale, you will need to pinch hit across your company. The wider your range, the deeper the insights you'll be able to offer when you turn your focus to a new area of the business. Plus, you'll be better-positioned to hire best-in-class leaders on your executive team, because you'll know from experience what to look for.
You should encourage your employees to develop range as well. One of the best ways to do this is by fostering collaborative projects that bring disparate teams together. That gives employees a firsthand look at other roles. I can think of so many examples of employees doing this at my company, LearnVest, and in the process learning that they are ready to try something new.
Make Time for Deep Work
It's no question that technology perpetuates constant change. Often, the rise of automation is talked about as a threat to jobs. According to McKinsey, at least 60 percent of occupations can now be at least partially automated. But that's not neccesarily a bad thing: As occupations evolve quickly, automation can free up time to do different kinds of work.
In a typical workday, it's hard to make space for what Cal Newport calls "Deep Work," the ability to focus and spend time working through your most strategic cognitive challenges. It's all too easy to do mindless tasks we can cross off our to-do lists without stepping back and dedicating large portions of time to thinking.
As an entrepreneur, there are countless ways you can use technology and automation to your advantage. That could be anything from trying an automatic scheduling tool like Calendly to using Almanac's guides and templates to streamline repetitive work.
Ask Those Who Have Been There
If you're trying to get ahead of what's next, there's no better way than to find someone who has already experienced the next chapter firsthand. Leading a seed-stage company is very different from leading a Series B stage company. Ask your existing network for introductions to people who are one step ahead of you. Build a relationship and ask them for advice. Start with, "What do you wish you knew when you were in my position?" Then take it from there.