Steve Bland recently wrote this interesting post on why he thinks traditional board meetings are a waste of time. He proposed an novel hypothesis of “The Boardroom as Bits,” whereby founders/CEOs spend 1 hour per week providing updated information to their board members and advisors via a blog. He argued that this communication method would:
- Provide a structure for entrepreneurs to regularly check their progress and re-visit their plans.
- Provide more regular, asynchronous updates to board members and advisors — as opposed to just once every 6 weeks.
- Facilitate real-time coaching.
- Enable coaching despite long-distance separation between the company and its advisors.
Steve backed up his hypothesis with promising results from an experimentation at Stanford.
Why Not the Entire Company?
I went for a run along the Delaware River after reading Steve’s post and I started thinking about whether this idea could be useful for an entire startup company, not just the executive team and board.
I recognize that one of the main issues with board meetings is that they’re only scheduled every 6 weeks; they’re not real-time. In a company this shouldn’t be the case: the employees show up to the office and interact with each other daily. But hear me out…
At my first company, we frequently struggled with three issues:
- We had more good ideas than we had time to pursue. We didn’t have a good system for capturing new ideas, vetting them, and then executing on the best ones. This created some frustration amongst our creative employees, since good ideas were frequently neglected.
- We subjected ourselves to time-wasting debates and endless pontification. People didn’t take (or have) the time to really think through their positions. As a result, old debates were frequently rehashed.
- We lacked materials for on-boarding new employees and orienting them on past projects. Megabytes of documentation were buried on the company server and weren’t written in a readily-accessible manner. “Training” typically consisted of throwing new employees into projects and expecting them to teach themselves to swim. This approach wasted countless manhours…but we had no good alternative.
At one point, we tried establishing a company wiki…but it lasted only a few months. It was yet another IT item to support, required “curation” to keep it organized, and didn’t integrate well with our other communication channels, like email.
So…here’s the idea: Establish an internal, private, employee-only blog. Everyone can make posts and add comments. A blogging engine like the one I use (WordPress) would automatically email new posts to all employees and simplify organization of the posts.
Whenever someone has a new idea for a project they can’t implement by themselves or within a small group, they’re expected to spend 1 hours writing it up as a short blog post. The blog engine makes it incredibly easy to add photos and other media to illustrate the problem. Once it’s posted, the idea is automatically distributed to all employees. This allows — for example — the CEO and engineers to be exposed to the issues the guys in production are struggling with and their solutions without every employee having to speak with every single other employee every day. Unlike emails, the posts don’t get buried in the daily deluge.
A blog would allow people to post comments to engage in discussion and flesh out the idea (contribute to cost estimates, explain how the idea would affect their work, etc.). The original author can update the original post based on this feedback. Negative “sniping” comments are easily deleted, but fact-based critical analyses are available for everyone to see. It’s also clear who originally came up with an idea so that credit can be given where credit is due. The blog posts turn frustration among the “troops” into ideas…and reduces whining…as people record and distribute their ideas. Meetings are no longer derailed by tangential discussions, since people can park new ideas on the blog to develop and discuss later. Management can occasionally parse through the blogged ideas and pick the top ones to implement.
Downwards and Lateral Communication
The management team can also post occasional company-wide updates or use it to record policies and procedures. Engineering project teams can document their design ideas on the blog and brainstorm pros and cons. It becomes a record of what ideas were considered and becomes a training tool. New (and existing) employees can review the posts so that they can learn from past design efforts…regardless of whether the originator still works at the company.
Writing is Good for Your Health…If Done in Moderation
In this post I wrote about the tricky balance required in a startup between staying lean and implementing new processes to keep a growing company efficient. I always erred towards too much process and my co-founder always erred on the side of being too lean. The problem with this blog idea is that it could become a huge time sink, with people spending more time polishing their posts and debating via the comments section than actually getting work done.
That said, I’ve found writing as an excellent way to explore, organize, and develop my ideas, even though it does take time. The more I do it, however, the less time it takes. I’ve especially appreciated the ease of sharing and discussing ideas with others via a blog. I’m curious whether these benefits could be applied to an entire organization and whether they’d outweigh the negatives. I’m interested to hear your thoughts. Is this the right 21st-century communication tool to apply to a startup?