“I have real work to do! Why are we wasting time with our core values and core purpose? How is that ever going to help us grow to $xM this year?” executives of mid-sized companies sometimes complain to me. And yet: in business like in physics, the seemingly logical path is not the fastest.
The seemingly rational approach is deceiving
This 7-second video demonstrates this very well: the curve of fastest descent between two points is not a straight line, but is a curve: the “brachistochrone curve” (“Shortest time” in Ancient Greek). To make this extremely clear: the brachistochrone curve is longer AND YET is faster than the straight line. Its properties, as demonstrated by Newtown, Bernoulli, Leibniz, and L’Hôpital, make this curve the best friend of roller coasters and skate park designers.
The exact same property applies to business: the fastest way to grow your company is not a straight line.
A number of initiatives may look like time-wasting distractions, but they actually enable you to pick up speed much quicker, and help you cross the finish line faster – and grow your business faster and with less pain. Which initiatives can accelerate your business growth? This is the topic of this article.
I understand the concern of these executives though: the first steps are frustrating and disconcerting, as illustrated in the first milliseconds of the video, when the brachistochrone curve moves not only slower than the straight line, but also in the wrong direction. It takes courage and faith to invest in the brachistochrone curve, while the seemingly rational thing to do would be to hop on the straight line.
12 questions to accelerate your business growth
Many business owners work in their business and get caught up in the day-to-day operations, instead of working on their business to create a more effective and efficient system.
Working in your business is the straight line: it looks like the logical thing to do on a day-to-day basis and it leads to slow growth. Working on your business is the brachistochrone curve: it looks illogical at first sight, but it actually is the best way to grow faster and with less pain.
The following 12 questions encapsulate your own brachistochrone curve. Keep in mind: misalignment is the silent killer of growth. Answer these questions with your leadership team and ensure that you are all on the same page:
Define your Core
1. Why does your company exist? Your Core Purpose is your North Star that keeps you on the right track – and helps you avoid costly strategic distractions. It is your fundamental reason for being – the answer to the question” “Why do we exist?” Your Core Purpose makes it straightforward to decide which shiny, tempting strategic opportunities not to pursue.
2. How aligned are your team members with your Core Values? Your Core Values anchor your company culture: they are a handful of non-negotiable behaviors that you want everybody in your company to live by. Formalizing them helps you check the cultural match of new potential employees, give feedback to existing employees, and gradually steer your company culture in the right direction – which will increase employee engagement and business growth.
3. Who is your Core Customer? The fastest way to grow your business is by adding customers that look very much like your best clients. Most companies don’t know their core customer and why they buy. Spending some time listing the key characteristics of your Core Customer and identifying your true inside advantage can turbo-charge your growth.
Set your vision and strategy
4. Which mountain do you want to climb (long-term goal)? What do you want to achieve in 5, 10, or 15 years? Imagine that you are surrounded by mountains and you can choose to climb any one of them – but you can only pick one: the one that best represents long-term success for you and your team. What does the summit of that mountain look like to you?
5. How will you reach your altitude camp (strategy)? You may not know how to reach the mountain top right now, but you can develop a good plan to get to your altitude camp – your 3-year goals. You also know that, once you get to your altitude camp, you will have a clearer view of how to get to the top of your mountain. What are your 3-year goals, and which 4-6 strategic initiatives do you need to put in place in the next 3 years in order to reach your altitude camp?
6. What is most important right now (short-term priorities)? Considering our goals and strategy, what are the top 2-3 key priorities that you need to focus on this quarter?
Set the right systems in place and put the right people on the right seats
7. What would your company look like if everyone was fully accountable? Accountability is not so much about people’s personalities as it is about a system that combines:
- Clear company-wide quarterly priorities.
- Weekly measure of the progress of each priority.
- Metronome-like meeting rhythm, where each meeting has a specific purpose and is productive.
8. Which processes, if systematized, would make the biggest impact on your business growth? Systematizing processes reduces your reliance on specific individuals and ensures that you can scale your business more rapidly.
9. Who does what on your team?
- Identify each of your team members’ native genius. How can you help them amplify their strengths? Which responsibilities can you give them to better benefit from their strengths?
- Identify which results you expect from each of your leaders – ie not their function (e.g. “I do marketing”) but what you want them to deliver (e.g. “I generate quality leads”).
- Define 1 or 2 KPIs to measure their results.
10. Would you enthusiastically rehire everyone on your team? How would you rate each of your team members in terms of productivity and fit with your Core Values (and with your company culture)? If there is a mismatch:
- What would an outside CEO do in your stead? Who would receive which feedback, who would change role so the company can better benefit from their unique strengths, and who would be let go?
- Where did it go wrong? In the hiring process, in the onboarding process, in the coaching process, or in the talent evaluation process?
Invest in individual and team leadership skills
11. What are your blind spots as a leader, and how do you develop your leadership skills?
12. How do you build a cohesive leadership team grounded in vulnerability-based trust, that puts disagreements openly on the table, without passive aggressiveness – and where leaders hold each other accountable, even when it feels uncomfortable, so that you as the CEO don’t have to be the traffic controller – and so that you can work on your business, and grow your company faster and with less pain?
I used to be a skeptic, just like the executives I mentioned above. I tried to grow a business without answering all these “time-wasting” questions. It worked, but it cost a lot of sweat, energy, and stress. When I finally changed my approach and started answering these questions, I felt the magical power of the brachistochrone curve: we grew faster, the team was happier, and my stress level reduced significantly.
I fell in love with the process to such an extent that several years ago I decided to focus on just that: I help my clients build their brachistochrone curve, so they can grow their business much faster and with less pain. After all this time, it still amazes me how a little bit of time invested by a leadership team can transform and accelerate their business growth.
Contact me (Xavier@AmbroseGrowth.com) to discuss how we can accelerate YOUR business growth.
I work with growth-minded CEOs who are frustrated by the way their business is growing. Often they spend their days fighting fires – typically a sign that their company has outgrown their management approach – and don’t have conversations as a leadership team to identify and prioritize their growth roadblocks. In short, they feel stuck. I know the feeling: I have been in their shoes when I was running a business that we turned around from sales decline to double-digit business growth.
As a business coach my passion is to help leadership teams define their actionable business growth strategy, create a culture of accountability and effective strategy execution, and become better leaders – so they can grow faster and with less pain.
If you too want to grow faster and with less pain, contact me now: Xavier@AmbroseGrowth.com.
“My company has lots of potential, but I just feel my employees are not engaged. If I don’t push, nothing seems to happen. I’m working night and day and we’re still missing 40% of our targets. I once dreamed of being a firefighter, I guess that dream has come true. All I do is put out fires, I have no time to focus on my business.”
Sound familiar? CEOs and leadership teams can change this picture, it’s all about accountability. Creating a fierce culture of accountability starts with the CEO and leadership team.
Why is accountability important?
Accountability is about owning a problem. You want employees to behave as if they own the piece of business that they are running. When you are accountable for a specific result, you will do whatever it takes to achieve it – and you would like your team to perform this way as well.
Carlos Brito, the CEO of brewing company AB Inbev, summarizes his views on accountability in these words: “We always compare that to a rental car: you drive a rental car in a different way than your own car. With a rental car someone else will live with the consequences of your driving. With your car, you know that it will be yours the next days, months, and years, and you know that you will be living with the consequences of your driving. Employees who behave like owners are here for the long term, and they will live with the consequences of their decisions – good or bad – and that builds a great company.”
Why am I having accountability issues?
Accountability issues are very common among growing companies. When you founded your company, you were personally accountable for everything. As your company grew you started delegating the responsibilities for some results – e.g. production, customer service, or sales. However, you may not have created the communication channels required to hold your teams accountable. Why would you? You didn’t need any of this yourself, and yet you grew your business successfully. Why would these smart managers need anything different?
For one, your employees are not you. If they were, they would not be working for you: they would start their own business. Second, your company is now more complex than we you started: it has more people involved, and all these people now need to be on the same page. Third, when you started your company with a few employees, you could be on top of each of them and had short communication lines: you knew what everybody was doing, all the time. Now that your company has more employees it is impossible for you to manage them the same way: this would soak up all your time. This is exactly why you need to put a system in place that will achieve what you want (ie create accountability), without you spending all your time on it.
1. Lead by example
Like many aspects related to company culture, accountability starts with you and your leadership team. In order to create a culture of accountability you have to model the behaviors that you want to see in your organization. When it comes to accountability the rule is simple: when you make a commitment as a leader, you have to keep it. If you don’t, why should anyone else be interested in doing so? You can’t complain that employees miss their deadlines if you are occasionally late as well. As a CEO “all eyes and ears within your business are focused on you. What you say and what you do are invisibly and constantly observed, scrutinized and evaluated as your managers and employees are looking for clues as to how they should behave,” explains Mark Green.
Leading by example is not only about you sticking to your commitments, but also about your expectations from your team – and your behavior when your managers don’t meet your expectations. If your team members notice that there are no consequences for missing targets, why would they try their best? Similarly, if you tolerate one of your team members to produce poor results, why would other team members feel pressured to produce quality? When you hold your team to a higher standards, you are sending a strong signal across the organization.
2. Have the right people on the right seat
Without the right people on the right seat, nothing of what you can do will significantly increase accountability. The key question is: would you enthusiastically rehire everybody on your team? I advise my clients to assess employees on two dimensions; performance and adherence to company values. You will find more information on how to use this tool in this article.
Once you have the right people on your team you need to clarify their area of accountability. This is less obvious than it looks. The key question is: Who is accountable for each of the key functions in your company? As Mark Green explains “the exercise often reveals that there isn’t a single individual accountable for each function. When more than one person is “accountable”, nobody is accountable. It is easy to make assumptions that things will get done, but when there is not a designated person to account for a particular result, chances are, it is not going to happen. In this kind of environment, it is also easy to point fingers – Bob thought Mary would handle it, and vice versa. Other times, you’ll discover that a particular role hasn’t been filled by anyone at all; it is just implied that it will somehow be handled. Spoiler alert: it doesn’t!”
3. Clarify priorities
“The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing,” wrote best-selling author Stephen Covey. “Individuals or organizations with too many priorities have no priorities and risk spinning their wheels and accomplishing nothing of significance,” says Verne Harnish in his book “Scaling Up.” Focus on a small number of priorities that will have the biggest impact on your goals, make sure that everyone on your leadership team is aligned on them – and communicate them broadly.
When employees understand where your organization is going and which role they play in it, they work less selfishly and they tend to make better business decisions on behalf of the company – simply because they can see the impact of their decisions and how they impact overall results.
4. Define clear action plans and metrics
Once you have identified who on the leadership team is accountable for each function and what your top priorities are, the next step is for each of your leaders to answer Mark Green’s key question: “What are the 3 most important results the company expects you deliver in exchange for paying your salary – and how should these results be measured? This step determines the results and metrics for each of your leadership functions. As we all know, you can’t manage what you don’t measure. If you want to increase the speed and quality of a particular service you offer, you should establish specific metrics to gauge those factors and identify metrics and targets for them. You may determine if you reach or surpass a target for three months in a row, you have achieved that objective.” Pick specific metrics, make sure that your leadership team is on the same page and that everybody aims for the clearly defined results – so that the rest of your organization can follow your lead.
Similarly, once you have defined top quarterly priorities, the question becomes: what do you and your team need to do in each of the next 13 weeks in order to achieve priorities? There are only 13 weeks in a quarter – if you do NOT view your quarter as a 13-week race, you will lose weeks and time which you will NOT get back. A weekly plan clarifies what can be expected every week, in order to meet expectations at the end of the quarter. It also makes it much easier for your leadership team to hold people accountable to their own 13-week plan.
5. Establish a metronome-like meeting rhythm
Just as a metronome calls time and sets tempo in a musical performance, so do a small set of consistently executed meetings to hold you and your team accountable, and keep everyone on the same page. The essential regular meetings are:
- Daily huddles (no more than 10 to 15 minutes) to evaluate progress on the very short-term priorities and identify any blocking issues.
- Weekly huddles (no more than 90 minutes) to review the status of the 13-week plan and course-correct if needed.
- Monthly and quarterly meetings to review progress on the priorities, take corrective actions when needed, and identify new priorities for the upcoming quarter.
I often notice that the most impactful meetings to drive accountability are the daily and weekly huddles: they create peer pressure and hence take the heat off your shoulders as the leader. They also improve communication: You won’t need to have the same water-cooler conversation three of four times, as is the case when you rely on chance hallway meetings for communication. And finally they enable collective intelligence to solve problems.
In the end, how much difference do these tools make on accountability? Pretty big, as this example from another Gravitas Impact business coach, Glen Dall, demonstrates in Mark Green’s book “Creating a Culture of Accountability”: “I worked with the CEO of a multi-location dental practice. The CEO had started with one practice that they grew very successfully – and then began expanding. At one point employee turnover rates increased to 200%. The leadership team would plan and set goals, but frequently failed to achieve them. The growth rate was declining. The CEO felt over-extended, frustrated and stressed.”
With the leadership team Glen Dall leveraged these tools to have the right people on the right seat, set priorities and targets, as well as establish a proven system to follow up on them. The result? “After our first 6 months of working together, the CEO told me, “You should be proud of how far you’ve brought the team. I feel that we have accomplished more in the past 6 months than we were able in the last 7 years.” That is the power of accountability.”
As a business growth coach, I work with founders of mid-market companies who are frustrated because their business is not growing the way they want; my passion is to help them identify and remove the growth roadblocks they have been hitting so they can grow faster and with less pain. Often their roadblocks include a lack of accountability: they have no system in place to regularly follow up on their team’s many commitments, or their teams don’t have clear priorities and metrics. I would like to learn about your growth roadblocks; contact me to discuss at Xavier@AmbroseGrowth.com.
What about you? How accountable is your team? How has Covid impacted accountability? Over the past couple of years, how many quarters has your company reached and missed their targets? What were the consequences of hitting targets, and what were the consequences of missing them? Do you have clear metrics and regular meetings in place to follow up on each of your priorities?
Let me know your thoughts in the comments section.