28 May 2006

Organizations (both for profit and not-for-profit) are started by a unique breed of individuals who often are driven by passion to solve a need or promote a cause. The characteristics of successful entrepreneurs are often antagonistic to the needs of a scalable organization.

Founders are passionate, driven, smart, opinionated, and capable. They often hold unique knowledge of the particular solution they are developing. Often founders find it more expeditious to “do” rather than “teach.” As such this centralized knowledge source can become a strangle-hold on a growing organization. Founders often seek out people to join the organization who believe in them or their cause and often maintain “blind faith” in the decisions of the founder. Early hires are usually people who can execute on the direction of the founder rather than managers who are empowered to make their own decisions.

The growth of a founder-based organization may plateau when the centralized control structure expands beyond its founder-capable sphere of control. While some founders are able to grow a company with several hundred staff without relinquishing control, more often the organization begins to suffer from his or her micromanagement.

There are several documented high-profile success stories of founder entrepreneurs who have shot past this phase of business expansion, typically by understanding their own limitations and taking action to expand the central authority through good hiring or through a personal metamorphosis. However these are the unique cases. More often it is an outside influence (from investors or stake holders) that forces this confrontation.

Bridging this phase of the business is not easy. If not handled correctly it can be the downfall of a potentially great organization. The effective process of changing leadership – what I call founder transition – is not well documented. While it is critical for an organization, most transitions are handled with gut reactions by financial people who are not necessarily skilled or experienced with this process and often do not set appropriate expectations or develop an effective structure. This blog is intended to create a conversation that will enable organizations to gain from the experiences of founders, investors, and hired-in CEOs who have succeeded and failed in this critical transition.

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