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4 Principles for Managing Your Startup’s “Sources of Truth”

jonathan engle

Jonathan Engle

Read Time: 3 minutes

Every business has sources of truth. It’s your company’s heartbeat, common reference point, and agreed upon narrative of your business. You have to find answers to your questions in the business somewhere. By default, your sources of truth will grow like a hydra’s unlimited heads. If you don’t set a “source of truth” culture for your business, then answers will take long to find. This slows down your ability to work internally, partner externally, and make decisions across the board. It also makes you look bad when you “just don’t know” something that you definitely should know.

These are broad principles, but they apply even more so to startups. If you plan on raising money, you have to know your sources of truth like the back of your hand. The entire due diligence process with a prospective investor is simply compiling these resources into one place for their reference and decision making.

Your sources of truth should follow the following basic principles: Simplicity, Accessibility, Accuracy, Sustainability

Simplicity

The less sources to reference, the better. If you can answer any company questions from one dashboard, one folder, or even one document with links to multiple sources, you’re doing great. This is called your Single Source of Truth (SSOT). Sometimes, though, the business is changing too quickly to create this kind of elegance. At the very least, there should be clarity of how someone answers a question when it comes up. The more steps you introduce to getting an answer, you create organizational inertia that will slow everything down.

Accessibility

Everyone should have appropriate access to the information they need. In a startup, default to the highest accessibility possible. Your organizational structure should be flat and transparent. You’re setting yourself up for a bad future culture as you grow if you are hierarchical from the beginning. You won’t be able to pursue opportunities as quickly. For example, how hard is it to access your brand guide? If sales has to ping marketing to send it to them so that their slides are using your brand’s colors, you just wasted marketing’s time.

Accuracy

No matter how you organize your sources of truth, they have to be accurate. Accuracy means everyone in your business is telling the same story. The more disparate your sources of truth are, the more different everyone will see your business. This creates inconsistency and embarrassment. 

Sustainability

Your sources of truth need to be easy-ish to maintain. They’ll change and evolve over time. You will pass through different stages of growth. Your source of truth management will evolve with your growth. The better you maintain these systems over time, the less of a problem it will compound into. New hires will quickly be empowered with organizational information. Teams will collaborate effectively. You’ll spend less dollars and get more output.

Imagine an orchestra with multiple conductors. It’s pure chaos and painful to be in. A simple, accessible, accurate source of truth culture in your business will create harmony. Dissonance comes from being out of time and out of tune. Out of time means everyone’s moving at a different rhythm. Out of tune means people can’t even play their part right. Don’t allow multiple conductors to lead your business. Assign all the job titles you want, but it’s your source of truth management that defines your work as a team.

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