Don’t Play Hurt

I heard a great line from a CEO recently: “I don’t want to play hurt.”

I loved that line.

In my world, some companies beat their Q416 numbers. Others made their Q416 numbers. Some missed their Q416 numbers. That’s life. Any VC who says otherwise (e.g. “All my companies are killing it”) is either full of shit or doesn’t have very many investments. It’s especially true by Q4 when a budget was finalized in Q1 since Q4 is by far the hardest quarter to forecast / predict.

We are now 67% of the way through Q117. Plans for 2017 are either locked or getting finalized. These plans get reset based on the 2016 data, especially trends and progress (or lack thereof) from the second half of 2016. A year ago seems a very, very long time ago.

Let’s assume you missed Q416. I don’t care what the reason was for the miss. Your entire team is bringing that thinking into the budget process. “We need more resources to grow faster.” Or “There’s no way we can grow that fast.” Or “We made some expectations about what was going to have in Q4 around Christmas that didn’t come true.”

At a high level, these are rational reactions. But they don’t really help in thinking about 2017 or the budget process because they don’t get to the root cause. Using the Five Whys or some other process is key. Figure out what happened as your starting point. If you’ve already built and approved your plan without doing this, go ahead and stress test your plan by doing this now. Use the root cause analysis to lower your costs and increase your revenue so that you beat your plan. Ask yourself why what happened, happened. Keep asking why to the answers until you feel like you’ve gotten to the root cause.

Let’s assume 2016 resulted in some layoffs in the second half of the year. You were on a growth trajectory that wasn’t working, or you had invested in some products you decided to shut down. Or in 2015 you had raised a bunch of money, hired a lot of people, and assumed it was all going to just work out according to the spreadsheet model you used to build headcount and revenue expectations based on the headcount. And then it didn’t.

It’s now 2017. You’ve made real cuts and now have a core team that is sized correctly for your current business. The process sucked, but it’s more than a quarter behind you. The dust has settled and people are heads down working. You had a more sanguine budget process this year, with solid revenue growth but much lower head count growth.

Don’t play hurt. Get back on the metaphorical field. As CEO, put the Q4 miss or the Q3 layoffs behind you. Pick your head up and realize that you have a real business, but you hit a giant air pocket last year. That is normal — it happens all the time on the way to building a great business. Any CEO who denies that (as in “Yup — everything was awesome all the time — there were never any issues in our success”) as as full of shit as the VC who says something like “Every one of my companies is doing great.”

I encourage those VCs (and entrepreneurs) to read my post Something New Is Fucked Up In My World Every Day and reflect on their actual reality.

The struggle can be extremely painful, especially in the moment. But, if you are a great CEO (or manager), keep focusing on what you need to do to fix the immediate problem while continuing to play your long term game. And, most importantly, don’t deny reality in any way whatsoever.

And … Don’t play hurt.


Originally published at Feld Thoughts.