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The early days of a company and the significance of your contribution


Note: A slightly different version of this article first appeared at a NASSCOM blog

More than 7.7 million results will display if you google today for “early days of the company.” Add to it the results for related phrases like “formative days,” “startup days,” and variants. The number is huge and it demonstrates the significance of “those” days. “Those” days are challenging. They are fun. More importantly, they play a shaping role. What you do “back then” determines what your company might become. Here are just three of several factors that can play such a future-impacting role …

Corporate credo
Take Johnson & Johnson’s credo, which is considered the world’s most powerful statement of business purpose. It declares the order of priority: Customers first, shareholders last. It was crafted in 1943, but continues to determine how the company is run. Four decades after it was first written, when seven people died of poisoning due to tampered Tylenol capsules, JnJ’s same-old credo helped CEO James Burke take an exemplary moral stance by recalling Tylenol across the US. While the company’s sales and market share temporarily nose-dived, JnJ later became one of the largest companies in the world.

Competitive differentiation
An example is the competitive differentiation I created at a company that is 80,000-person strong today. Back in the mid-late 90s, when it described itself as a “promising venture,” I introduced a professional user interface practice. Back then, North American customers were looking for this practice in their Indian vendors, but did not find. So, my employer was instantly differentiated versus the India-centric software players.

While a professional user interface practice may not have existed in India back then, it was thriving in the developed World. If so, how would you sustain the differentiation? Well, I did it through innovation — by advancing the practice to a business process centric approach.

Corporate culture
Whatever it is — be it innovation culture, employee-friendly culture, or sales oriented culture — the culture that is instilled during the formative days is likely to stay on. Take the culture that Robert Noyce instilled at Intel. He basically created a “factory of creativity.” Noyce encouraged an environment where people lived for their work and became absorbed in their company. In fact, this pattern of “work as a way of life” soon became the signature image of Silicon Valley.

Ask yourself
If you are an employee, in what ways are you contributing during your employer’s early days?

If you are the founder or CEO, in what ways are you recognizing and rewarding employees who contribute to your company’s critical early days?

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