Is execution starting to slow down ?

Founders rarely start companies because they want to manage people or scale teams. In fact, many founders have never managed people and don’t really want to do so. At the same time, most founders do want to be the CEO for as long as possible; because the company is their baby, and they want to control its destiny.

In the early days, founders often are able to manage by sheer force of will. And until 50 employees, or so, the founders often know every one by name and people can walk across the floor, and resolve issues. Once you cross 50 people, cracks start to appear, and by the time companies have ~ 100 employees, many founders find that things are slowing down, there seems to be more brownian motion, and politics is starting to creep in.

Well its probably time to change the wheels on the car while you are driving at 100 mph. Its time to establish some basic management and communication processes, including:

  1. Weekly CEO emails to the entire company. These are critical in re-iterating the priorities, articulating progress on the top level goals, and sharing what top of mind for the CEO. I am a huge fan of Gokul’s blogpost on this topic. Do check it out.
  2. Weekly or fortnightly All Hands. These are critical to celebrate progress, reinforce cultural norms, energize the team and to give people a chance to ask questions.
  3. Weekly 1–1s and weekly staff meetings. Many CEOs hate 1–1s and find staff meetings a waste of time. “The meetings are repetitive, all the execs do is whine..” are frequent complaints I hear from CEOs. I think 1–1s are critical to driving accountability and identifying areas where a CEO needs to help an executive be successful. As an operating executive, I always found the 3Ps (Progress, Priorities, Problems) framework very useful in structuring my 1–1s. Every week, I would ask my direct reports to send me their 3Ps in advance, and that would force them to think about how they want to utilize our time together and would give me a chance to think about what message I wanted to reinforce in the 1–1. 
    In addition, I would encourage my direct reports to share their 3Ps with each other in advance of the weekly staff meeting so that every one else had context walking into the meeting. Staff meetings are about getting your direct reports to work as a team, and to ensure that all of them develop a holistic view of the business. Staff meetings can also short cut decision cycles for cross functional issues. I used to structure my staff meetings to start with quick functional updates (2-3 mins each), quick review of the overall business KPIs, and then we would identify 1–2 issues to problem solve as a group. We would make it a point to identify action items and send them out via email and then track them via the 3Ps.
  4. Regular skip level 1–1s. CEOs should do 2–3 skip level meetings every week. Talk to some of the top performers, to a few new employees, and to some of the old timers. Mostly use these meetings to listen to whats on their mind, to reinforce the organizational priorities and to describe your vision. And don’t over-structure these meetings. You will learn a lot from what people ramble on about.
  5. Articulating how decisions are made. As companies start to scale and especially as they add “managers of managers”, its really critical for a CEO to articulate who makes what decision. In particular, they need to be clear about what decisions they want to make vs. what decisions they are willing to delegate. And there is no right answer here. For example, its completely OK for a CEO to have a dictatorial style and to want to make even minor product related decisions. What’s not OK is to say that you are delegating and then to swoop in at the last minute and over-rule the team every single time; that creates a lot of frustration and over time resentment.

If you are thinking, OMG! this is so boring and repetitive; well that’s the job! And if you are thinking, where will I find the time to do all these things, then perhaps you need to hire an executive or two to help. But that’s the topic for another blog post…