Fuel for Thought

Solar System or Silos? Your Company May Need Both

September 29, 2015

by Joe Thompson - Also by this author

"Accelerate (XLR8)" by John Kotter.
"Accelerate (XLR8)" by John Kotter.

In his book, “Accelerate (XLR8),” business expert John Kotter likens the structure of start-up companies to a solar system or a molecule. The elevator pitch is “the entrepreneur is at the center and staff members revolve around that leader in a network.”

Employees in this network often don’t have detailed job descriptions. They communicate easily. The company has a focus, but may not have set-in-stone business plans.

Compare that model with the traditional top-down hierarchy of established businesses, Kotter explains, and you’ll see why start-ups can make quick decisions and pursue new ideas with agility.

The network at a start-up might hum along, until the company begins to grow and evolve (as it must) from a small, fast-moving solar system into a larger company where employees have set roles and delineated responsibilities.

Where does your company land on this continuum?

At ROUSH CleanTech, as we celebrate our fifth year in business, we look back on exponential growth — from six employees in 2010 to 90 this year — and see how we’ve morphed from a start-up within an established company to a structure that’s more traditional. It took tremendous leadership to shift gears and be governed by process and controls, but we knew that to keep running like a start-up would be deadly. The result is a process-driven approach that generates capable, reliable, and robust product — reinforcing our brand promise of excellence.

Kotter argues that companies can have the best of both these structures at once. “In successful organizations,” he writes, “even as the managerial structure and processes begin to grow, the original entrepreneurial system does not go away. The energy around initiatives, the leadership from empowered people, the flexibility of working across groups—they all remain intact. The two systems coexist in a dual operating arrangement that is totally organic.”

So here’s your fuel for thought: What does the structure of your company look like? Does that structure suit the size and mission of your company?

If you’re moving from start-up to a more top-down structure, make the transition gently, but be specific and certain about the final required operating destination. Without process and controls, the promises of your brand and product cannot be kept.

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Author Bio

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Joe Thompson

President, ROUSH CleanTech

Joe Thompson has served as president of ROUSH CleanTech since the company’s inception in 2010. Under Thompson’s leadership, the company has won numerous quality control and environmental awards.

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