If you want your company to be the next big thing, pay as much attention to how your company operates as you do to the shiny product you provide to the world.
In the not-too-distant past I embarked on a series of job interviews for a range of telemedicine and med tech companies. I was in search of the next big career challenge, and the search took me to organizations ranging from 7 employees to over 1000. Through all of these conversations I have come to one cornerstone conclusion. Only those organizations that have mature internal processes will succeed no matter how great their product is.
Once, I participated in a round of interviews for a VP-level position with a well-known telemedicine organization. They had raised a very large amount of venture capital and had a significant number of customers. On the surface they seemed extremely successful, even dominant in the market. However, a series of interviews gradually pulled back the curtain and taught me an important lesson.
During my first interview, a senior VP covered the basics about my experience and outlined the rest of the interview process, how it would go and who I would speak to. I noted that he made sure he explained that they had great internal processes. My next interviewer was a gentleman who would be in the direct work path for this role. He spoke of defined processes but also mentioned that there was room for improvement. I began to get curious when he stated that at times upper management had a “just get it done” attitude when it came to implementations or issue resolution. He also stated that while they did have defined code maintenance windows they also deployed code when needed outside those windows.
In the fourth interview we got down to the heart of the matter. This interviewer was the last person to perform a function similar to the one I would have assumed. Now I really start to see how things were running. I heard all all about issues and lack of attention to process and a need for someone to come in and uphold standards and define processes. While they had standardized documents they were not always completed accurately or utilized in the same manner. While they had processes they weren’t always followed because not everyone knew them or situations arose where it was more expeditious to “just get it done”.
What I learned through the process – and which is a lesson not unique to this company – was that senior management often believes that theirs is a mature, process-driven company, but when everything is laid bare, there’s a starkly different reality. This problem is all too common. I have worked for and with a number of smaller companies in the mHealth and telemedicine world and many of them have this issue.
At the root of this problem is that policies and procedures are often created by senior management members themselves when they were still junior members of the staff. Now they have been promoted and they assume that what they left behind is sufficient for their company’s growth and that it is actually being followed. The reality is that these seemingly clear policies can quickly get lost as companies grow. Addressing that gap is of critical importance.
Why? Because to survive and thrive, your organization needs to have the capability to handle both simple and complex projects and issues with dexterity and ease. What happens when you sign that marquee partnership that puts your organization on the map and in the news and you fail to execute the implementation properly? What happens when you have code management issues that cost time and money for both you and your customer? It could cause irreparable harm and that billion dollar valuation is out the window. Instead of going IPO you are acquired down the line because the damage was too great to overcome.
Having worked in a mature Fortune 50 organization that was constantly looking for ways to improve processes and procedures I can tell you that the basics – the foundation of any organization – are the things that smaller companies tend to overlook. I have worked for a start-up that saw the value in 100% compliance with process and procedure, almost to a fault. They actually fired employees for failing to follow the proper process or procedure. Why go that far? Because in the healthcare world you cannot afford to make a mistake with someone’s PHI or risk failing quality or HIPAA audits. It can be the difference between survival and the death of your organization. If you don’t believe me look at Theranos. In our regulatory environment the least of your worries is making a customer mad because of a code implementation mistake. You could wind up in jail or have your company shut down if you fail basic process and procedure adherence.
If you want to be the next billion dollar telemedicine darling – or just take your organization to the next level – you should start working on your process and procedures now. As you grow and add staff and experience turnover you have the opportunity to implement and ingrain these very important characteristics as a seed with your team. Use your next round of funding to hire the right resources to make the engine run smoothly. Your investors, customers and your valuation will appreciate it.