Nostalgia kills | Practical tips for leaders

Nothing is more responsible for the good old days than a bad memory – Franklin Pierce Adams

We’ve all read about how culture eats strategy for lunch. The internet is jam-packed with a million blog posts on the superficialities of culture. Its time for some inside baseball with some actual actionable things to watch out for and prevent.

It is absolutely true that the culture of the company dictates how it can adapt to change and eventually succeed. Culture is hugely important, however along the journey from a small company to a midsize company to a large public company, the culture will change. At all these stages, different parts of the company will have different cultures and norms. In fact sometimes within the same team, you will have differences based on where the teams are located and their size.

One thing I’d like to focus on in this post is nostalgia. Nostalgia rears its head typically at every major inflection point of the company’s growth. When you become a successful startup achieve product-market fit, folks will harken back to the struggle of the seed days. When you become a mid-size company and start scaling in all areas, folks will reminisce about how quickly things could be done in the “early days”. When you become a bigger public company, folks will reminisce again about the “good old days” of fewer processes etc.

Fight this feeling, hard, Nostalgia kills. The days ahead are always better than the past. The past literally sucked!

So how do you counter nostalgia? Nostalgia is just the symptom, there are always some underlying causes for it to come up that have nothing to do with nostalgia. As the company grows and scales all roles in the company tend to become more specific and specialist. Some folks scale well into this, some don’t. Some folks can adapt themselves into larger roles and some are not able to. In my experience the nostalgic’s primary concern is the loss of power/control, in the old days I had power, I feel like I don’t have it now – so the old days were great!

As a leader, you have to unpack the real cause of nostalgia and keep reminding people with examples of how the past sucked. Remember the days when we didn’t have any customers, that sucked! Remember the days when we didn’t have a well-oiled recruitment process, that sucked! Remember the days when we pushed code out and had no idea if it would break the site, that sucked! In every company, there are tonnes of examples, remember your examples and remind people of them. At a strategic level, tackle the role narrowing and specialization head on. This is part of growing up as a company, so prepare for it. For example, when you are in the seed stage, assume success and start planning ahead on how you want the roles to look like post-product-market fit. Start designing and writing down the roles and specializations you need for the next stage early on. Discuss with your current team and get their input in shaping this future, so when the time comes they completely understand how the progression of roles and responsibilities looks like for them. This greatly reduces the fear and anxiety that comes with the perceived loss of control and alleviates the nostalgia.

Finally, the buck stops with you, It is your job as a leader to keep moving the organization forward and remind folks that the future is always better than the past and as a team/organization, you have to adapt.

Always move forward.

Leave a Reply