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初创公司应取消头衔

Jeff Bussgang 2011年07月19日

头衔对成熟的公司才有意义,对初创公司却未必如此。

    创业企业处于初创期时,应该如何创造新的方式来打造这些尚在襁褓中的公司,这一问题已经成了最近的一个热门话题,我称之为“企业开拓”。改造董事会会议【相关阅读:为何董事会会议不是个好东西(Why Board Meetings Suck)】也是一种企业开拓的方式,它已经吸引了如史蒂夫•布兰克和布拉德•菲尔德等顶级思想者的注意。

    我想为“企业开拓”问题再贡献一条良策:取消头衔。

    在商学院念书的时候,我学到了很多关于头衔和等级制度的东西,也学习了组织结构的重要性。从商学院毕业后,我加盟了我的第一家初创公司,公司的名字叫“开放市场”(Open Market),目前已成为电子商务领域的领军者。我发现这家公司的创始人的经营理念与我在商学院学到的东西有很大的冲突:他宣布在创业的头几年里,大家都是没有头衔的。如果出于某些外部原因,需要公司为你安一个头衔,那不妨自己给自己杜撰一个。但是我们要避免在公司内部使用这些头衔。换句话说,公司里没有什么“副总裁”和“主管”,也没有其他类似的上下级称呼。

    为什么要这样做?这是因为一家初创公司的流动性很强,角色总是在不断变化,员工们的职责也在不断演变,公司的报告结构也具有很大的流动性。而头衔显然就会带来摩擦,在初创公司中,最需要避免的事情就是摩擦。如果不使用头衔的话,就可以避免初期的员工被固定在他们的角色上,同时能够避免报告结构和职责范围形成定式。这一点非常重要,因为在初创公司里,所有事情在头一两年里都变动得非常快。

    比如在我的第一家公司里,我先前的一位老板后来变成了我的同级,后来又变成了由他向我汇报工作。不到两年时间,公司员工的人数由0人猛增到200人。不到三年,我们的营收入从0猛增到6,000万美元。公司成立刚刚两年,我们就挂牌上市了。我们实在增长得太快了,根本没有时间慢斯理条地坐下来安排头衔,设立僵硬的等级制度。我在那家公司里干了五年,先后主管了许多个部门,如产品管理部、营销部、业务开发部、专业服务部等,每个部门的流动性都很强。等到公司上市前后,我们已经通过这种方式成熟了起来,开始设置更加稳定的组织结构,当然这时候我们也开始设置正式的头衔。不过在一开始的创业年头里,“不设虚衔”的方式使我们的企业变得更加灵活。

    因此,当后来我创立了Upromise投资公司的时候,我也采取了相同的政策。我们的办公室采取了开放的结构,也有一些职能团队,但是组织结构的流动性很强。我们也获得了快速的增长。我们公司的创业团队里有一名年轻的成员,在创业的头一年里,她的工作职责变动了四次。第一年过去之后,我们的组织结构变得更加稳定了,我招聘了一些高级主管,他们就是我的直接下属,职责就是向核心管理团队汇报工作,这时我才开始派发头衔(如技术总监、营销总监、财务总监等)。由于使用了这种头衔政策,早些时候公司里也曾出现过一些摩擦和不快(比如一个年轻的MBA毕业生总是在外头自称是公司的副总,但事实上他在公司里显然只扮演了一个小卒的角色,他的职能也很快掉到了底层)。通常说来,在创业阶段,还不能确定应该把哪个员工放在什么位子上,也不确定什么样的组织结构才能确保最佳的执行力。但是不需要设置头衔,也可以明确员工的角色和业务流程。

    到目前为止,我还没有办法把这个政策系统地实施到我们所投资的初创公司身上。不过无论何时有新企业创立起来,我都会优先向创立者建议这个政策。不要让你的创业团队和早期员工太执著于头衔和等级制度。相反,在创业的早期阶段,它们是你要尽量避免的东西。

    本文作者Jeffrey Bussgang是风投机构飞桥资本合伙公司(Flybridge Capital Partners)的一般合伙人。你可以在Twitter@bussgang上成为他的粉丝。

    译者:朴成奎

    There has been a recent dialog around a theme I'll call "hacking the corporation" - creating novel approaches to building young companies, particularly when they are in their formative start-up stage. One of them, reinventing board meetings (or, "Why Board Meetings Suck"), has gotten some attention from leading thinkers like Steve Blank and Brad Feld.

    I'd like to submit another item to add to the "hacking the corporation" punch-list: Eliminating titles.

    At business school, I learned all about titles and hierarchies and the importance of organizational structure. When I joined my first start-up after graduation, e-commerce leader Open Market, I found the operating philosophy of the founder jarring: He declared no one would have titles in the first few years. If you needed a title for external reasons, our founder told us, we should feel free to make one up. But we would avoid using labels internally. In other words, there would be no "vice president" or "director" or other such hierarchical denominations.

    Why? Because a start-up is so fluid, roles changes, responsibilities evolve and reporting structures move around fluidly. Titles represent friction, pure and simple, and the one thing you want to reduce in a start-up is friction. By avoiding titles, you avoid early employees getting fixated on their role, who they report to, and what their scope of responsibility is - all things that rapidly change in a company's first year or two.

    For example, one of my first bosses in the company later became a peer, and then later still reported to me. Our headcount went from 0 to 200 in two years. Our revenue grew from 0 to $60m in 3 years. We went public only two years after the company was founded. We were moving way too fast to get slowed down by titles and rigid hierarchies. Over the course of my five-year tenure, I ran a range of departments -- product management, marketing, business development, professional services -- all amidst a very fluid environment. Around the time that we went public, we matured in such a way that we began to settle into a more stable organizational structure and, yes, had formal titles. But during those formative first few years, avoiding titles provided a more nimble organization.

    So when I co-founded Upromise, I instituted a similar policy. We had an open office structure and functional teams, but a fluid organizational environment and rapid growth. One of our young team members changed jobs four times in her first year. Only after the first year, as we settled into a more stable organizational structure and I recruited senior executives who were more obviously going to serve as my direct reports on the executive team did I begin to give out titles (CTO, CMO, CFO, etc.). With the title policy, there was some early tension and discomfort (one young MBA kept referring to himself as a VP externally, although he was clearly playing an individual contributor role and was soon layered). Often, when you are running your start-up experiments, you are not even sure of the right profile for employees or organization structure for optimal execution. But you can establish role and process clarity without having to depend on titles.

    I haven't been able to institute this systematically in our portfolio, but whenever young start-ups are formed, it's one of the first things I counsel the founder. Don't let your founding team and early hires get too attached to titles and hieararchy. In fact, in that formative first year, see if you can avoid them altogether.

    Jeffrey Bussgang is general partner at venture capital firm Flybridge Capital Partners. You can follow him on Twitter @bussgang

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