In his 19 years of entrepreneurial and advisory experience, Amit Khanna, founder of 7 startup Advisory, has strung together a unique set of perspectives. In 2003, he started an IT outsourcing business, fueled by youthful determination and naivety, he expanded internationally. Unaware of the risks, he was constantly battling fires. Later, he identified what a better path forward would have been. With the right mentorship, this could have been discovered sooner.
From this experience, he has the first thought of launching 7 startup Advisory - advisory and fundraising consulting for early stage startups - to help founders realize their ambitions and find the right path forward.
At 7 startup Advisory, they accelerate, strategically advise, and help startups grow. They’ve helped many startups successfully adopt the OKR framework, and have seen first-hand the common pitfalls for scaling startups. In this exclusive interview, Amit unpacks what that entails.
‘When startups jump from a small team of under 10 to over 50, the team often loses focus and clarity,’ says Amit, the pathway to true company alignment, is through structured goals and transparency.
A scale up is most vulnerable during its period of the fastest growth, before there are solid systems in place to facilitate change, Amit explains. The first complexity common to high-growth startups is the speed required to hire, is often faster than they can onboard people, and the second, is the number and experience of managers is larger, than whom they readily have access to.
New hires are unclear on what they should be doing or how their tasks contribute to the company’s objectives. The effect of this lack of clarity can feel astronomical, while hiring is a daily occurrence.
Early team members move up the ranks, whilst the urgency for managers is strong. As an individual contributor, they knew what they needed to work on, but suddenly they must think big picture and be able to succinctly and effectively prioritise work for a team.
If the founding team is not careful, startup culture can be lost to bureaucracy, effort duplication and a lack
Build in alignment early
The OKR Framework is a survival and growth tool that gets the whole team driving on the same highway. The goal is to align every department, team and individual to understand the impact of projects on the company’s bottom line. For a high-growth startup, where chaos is at the centre, achieving alignment should be a top priority.
The key challenge for high-growth startups is creating company-wide transparency, whilst avoiding information overload, Amit says - alignment is crucial, but transparency is the key ingredient.
At the forefront of the leadership team, should be transparency across the organization - clear roles, responsibilities, reporting lines, but more importantly, goals. Bringing clarity and structure to the company, and team goals, should be default for startups that are scaling quickly. When done right, OKRs a direction to build out a product, prove the market, or gain revenue. OKRs are the shared language for execution, keeping staff aligned vertically and horizontally.
Key ingredients to fostering alignment with your OKR system
#1 Key results must be quantifiable
Measurement is essential to be able to visualize progress, identify action areas and know when you’ve been successful.
#2 Single source for of truth
OKRs need to be kept top of mind with transparency across the company, where possible. Providing a single place where employees can go to see progress on the current OKRs is imperative to success.
#3 OKRs are a regular conversation
To keep the focus on outcomes, OKRs should be part of our day-to-day conversations with the team. The tasks, projects and actions an individual works on, should be creating value for the company and this should be reflected in your OKRs. Building in time to frequently plan work to progress OKRs, reflect and plan for future, is essential.
#4 Decouple OKRs from performance reviews
They are a tool for motivating and aligning people to work together. They increase transparency, accountability and empowerment. By linking OKRs with a bonus scheme or performance analysis, adverse effects can build (eg. someone only taking short term bets to increase the key results, and disregarding long term gain). Keeping them as separate systems will allow for greater collaboration and big picture thinking.