High-Level Thoughts

A good overview on how to be a better CEO or manager. Some slower parts and it feels hastily written, but there are useful takeaways.

Summary Notes

Chapter 1: Getting Started

This is explained clearly and thoroughly in Disciplined Entrepreneurship by Bill Aulet. I won’t repeat or even summarize what he wrote. If you haven’t yet launched or achieved more than $1 million of revenue, go read Bill’s book first.

Chapter 2: The Team

Find a partner, someone who has complementary skills to yours. Share the emotional burden with them. That will ease the load significantly. Give up a large percentage of the company. It’s worth it.

No matter what you say to them, when someone joins a ten-plus-person company, they expect stability.

Once your team grows large enough to not be able to sit next to one another in one room (i.e., more than twenty in one space or even one remote worker), then suddenly information sharing by osmosis disappears. Now you will need a formal management system to succeed. And that requires overhead (usually one full day per week…for everyone!).

Startups don’t usually fail because they grow too late. They usually fail because they grow too early (i.e., before they have achieved product-market fit).

Chapter 3: Getting Things Done

If the action takes less than two minutes to complete, do it immediately. If not, then write down what the required action is, and place it on one of the following lists:

  • Next Actions: These are the next tasks on your priority list separated into areas of context.
  • Waiting For: This is the list of things that you have asked others to do and are waiting for them to complete.
  • Someday/Maybe: This is the list of things that you one day want to do but don’t need to get done now.
  • Agenda: Inefficient leaders waste a lot of time reaching out about or responding to one-off issues in real time. A much more efficient method is to batch your issues and discuss them all at once.

When you think of something that you want to discuss with someone whom you meet with regularly, write it down on your Agenda list. Then, when you meet with that person, check your Agenda list and review everything accumulated there.

Projects: This list is for projects that have more than one next action that can only be done one after the other (serially). Write out all the next actions required to get to completion. Then simply add them chronologically to your Next Actions list as the previous action is completed.

Goals: This list is not part of Allen’s Getting Things Done (GTD) system, but I use it and find it very helpful. Later in the book, I recommend that you create your ten-year company vision and quarterly objectives and key results (OKRs), as well as department, team, and individual quarterly OKRs. I keep a copy of this vision and these OKRs on the Goals list. I refer to it regularly to flesh out my Next Actions list.

If you check your email incessantly, multiple times an hour, you are wasting hours of productivity. Instead, batch your time and clean out your entire inbox at those times. I recommend checking your inbox only twice a day (once in the morning, once in the afternoon).

If the email takes less than two minutes to address, do it immediately.

If it takes more than two minutes, write down a next action for it (according to the steps in chapter 3), and then place the email in its correct location (Next Actions, Waiting For, Someday/Maybe, or Reference).

Chapter 5: Top Goal

Schedule two hours each day (i.e., put an event in your calendar) to work on your top goal only. And do this every single workday. Period.

Chapter 6: On Time and Present

Therefore, I recommend that you plan to arrive to an outside meeting fifteen minutes before it is scheduled to begin. For a meeting in your office, wrap up your current project or previous meeting five to ten minutes before the scheduled time for the next meeting.

Chapter 7: When You Say It Twice, Write It Down

To vastly improve the quality of the communication and reduce the amount of time that you spend communicating the information, write it down.

If it is something that all members of the team should know and remember, put it in a company-wide wiki (see chapter 19). If it is truly seminal to the organization, post it on a wall for all to see.

Every time you see a question answered on Slack, for example, prompt the questioner to document the response in your company wiki.”

Chapter 8: Gratitude and Appreciation

So how do we take advantage of this knowledge to generate a good feeling in ourselves? We ask the right question: “What is good about this situation?” “What is good about this team member?” “What is good about my company?” “What is good about my life?” Or we simply fill in the overarching statement “I am grateful for ________.” Be as specific as possible: names of people, actions they did, and so on.

When you catch yourself feeling grateful about someone or something that they have done, let them know. When you hear something nice said about someone, let them know.

In a First Round Review article titled “How to Become Insanely Well-Connected,” Chris Fralic of First Round Capital says that he reserves one hour each week for follow-ups and outreach, most of which include appreciations. I recommend that you do the same.

Chapter 9: Energy Audit

Your goal should be to spend most of your time (75–80 percent) doing things that energize you. If you do, magic will occur.

Go through each workday hour by hour and ask yourself, “Did that activity give me energy or drain my energy?” Highlight in green those that gave you energy, and highlight in red those that drained your energy. There are no neutrals; every hour must be marked one color or the other.

Chapter 11: Financial Health

Therefore, as soon as your company’s equity begins to have significant value, start to sell secondary shares until you have sold $10–100 million.

David F. Swensen is the chief investment officer for the Yale University Endowment. He is considered the grandfather of portfolio management. He wrote a book specifically for the individual investor titled Unconventional Success: A Fundamental Approach to Personal Investment.

Chapter 12: Decision-Making

You create buy-in when you make people feel that they are part of the decision and that their input contributes to the final outcome. The more influence they feel they have on the outcome, the more they’ll be invested in the final result.

If you’re using Method 2 or 3 and want the most effective and efficient decision-making process, require that anyone who wants to discuss an issue write it up, along with the desired solution, ahead of time.

Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon, requires that anyone who wants to bring up an issue or proposal must write up the item fully before the decision meeting (with someone else writing up a counterproposal if necessary). The meeting is then spent reading the write-ups. Once the decision-making team has read them all, a decision is made.

If consensus is not reached, the pre-appointed decision maker makes the call. If there are still open questions, then the decision maker assigns one or more people to research and, of course, write the needed follow-up. At the end of the next meeting, the decision is made.

Reserve the first fifteen minutes of the meeting for all participants to write out their updates and issues. Then use another ten minutes of the meeting for all participants to read one another’s updates and issues. Then discuss and decide. Use this method for two to three meetings, then…

Require that all participants write their updates and issues before the meeting. Do not allow people to bring up an issue that they have not already written up. Use the first ten minutes of the meeting for all participants to read one another’s updates and issues. Use this method for one to two meetings, then…

Require that all participants write their updates and issues by a certain time before the meeting (e.g., 6:00 p.m. the day before). Require that all participants read and comment on one another’s updates and issues before the meeting. People prove that they have read the documents by having their comments in the documents themselves. Do not allow people to make comments in the meeting if they haven’t already commented in the documents themselves.

“Apparently at Amazon they require the most junior people to speak and ask questions first. [This] also becomes a great way to show off junior talent, give more senior folks a chance to observe and give feedback, etc.”

a tool developed by Bain & Company to make fully informed decisions with buy-in when a team has become too large to easily get all the needed voices in one room, or consensus cannot be reached within five minutes of discussion.

It is called RAPID. Here are the steps to this process:

  • Someone identifies an issue or decision that needs to be made. They prepare a write-up with the following details: The issue The proposed solution The list of people needed to make and implement the decision:
  • R (Recommend): The one who first proposed the issue and solution
  • A (Agree): Those people whose input must be incorporated in the decision
  • P (Perform): Those people who will have to enact any decision and therefore should be heard
  • I (Input): Senior people within the company whose departments and processes will be affected by the decision and therefore should be heard
  • D (Decide): The one who will make the decision
  • If a decision is irreversible, it should be made by the CEO. If a decision is reversible, it should be made by someone other than the CEO.
  • The R then reaches out to all the As, Ps, and Is to solicit their input. Once their input is received, the document is ready to be reviewed by the D.
  • The R schedules a decision meeting and invites the D, As, Is, and Ps. If the issue is urgent, the R schedules this decision meeting as soon as it needs to be. If the issue is not urgent, the R can use the next team meeting as the decision meeting. (This is much more efficient and should be done whenever the issue is not urgent.)
  • At the decision meeting, the D reads through the document. If the D has any questions, the D asks them. If the D’s questions can be fully answered in five minutes, the D decides. If the questions cannot be answered in five minutes, the D asks for another round of written responses on the document to answer the D’s questions. At the next team meeting, the D reviews these responses and decides.
  • Once the D decides, the D writes up the decision (or asks the R to do so) along with all the next actions (each with a DRI and due date). The D then publishes this decision to the company.
  • Each time there is a decision to be made, rate it as irreversible or reversible. If it’s reversible, allow one of your reports to be the D (the decision maker in the RAPID process).

Chapter 13: Impeccable Agreements

impeccable agreements. These are (a) precisely defined and (b) fully agreed to (which almost always means written) by all relevant people.

Chapter 14: Transparency

Share all relevant information with your team, both positive and negative.

There are only two pieces of information most companies choose not to share openly: (1) individuals’ compensation and (2) individuals’ performance reviews

Chapter 16: Issue Identification and Conflict Resolution

There are two excellent ways that I know of to encourage people to identify the key issues in the company that need to be solved.

The first: Have each person imagine that they are the CEO and ask themselves the question, “What are the most important issues (maximum three) for me to solve in the next ninety days?

Just as people’s fullest thoughts about someone can be drawn out by sourcing anger, fear, sadness, joy, and excitement, so too can someone’s thoughts about the company. At every quarterly off-site meeting that I facilitate for team bonding, we do the following exercise:

  • I ask all team members to open a document that only they have access to and write down their thoughts about the company when they source their joy, excitement, sadness, anger, and fear.
  • For their thoughts of anger and fear, each person writes: Fact. This is what a video camera captured. There is no judgment or opinion here, only physical actions that have occurred that no one would dispute. Keep this short. Story. These are all the thoughts, opinions, and judgments that you have on the facts above. Proposed solution. These should be very specific action items with DRIs and due dates.
  • While they are doing that, I create a document with those headings and give access to all.
  • Then I ask everyone to copy and paste their writings (with no attribution) under the correct heading in the group document.
  • We all read the document. The writings of joy and excitement make us all feel inspired and renew our feeling of group success. The writings of sadness allow us to feel bonded over shared loss. The issues and solutions posed in anger and fear give us an issues roadmap to be unpacked and resolved one by one in the weekly leadership meetings over the course of the upcoming quarter.

Books:

  • Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life.
  • Never Split the Difference: Negotiating as If Your Life Depended on It.

Chapter 18: Company Culture

There are various ways to build and shape company culture, and the main ones that I tend to focus on are through values, fun, celebration, hours of operation, meals, cross-team communication, and politics minimization.

One misconception CEOs sometimes have is thinking they get to choose the values. By the time you have thirty or so employees, your company has a set of values whether you like it or not. It’s now your job to codify what’s already there. While it is possible to change a value, it will take a lot of work.

The following examples are some of Clearbit’s values. They combine a short, pithy statement (easily rememberable) with a longer description for clarity. 

  • Care (Give a shit). Empathize with customers. Take the time to understand their frustrations, needs, and desires.
  • Craft (Master it). Own your craft. Never stop learning and improving.
  • Team (Work together). Teamwork makes the dream work. Fill gaps. There’s no such thing as “it’s not my job.”
  • Truth (Say it). Be up front and candid. Say it like it is. Hold yourself and others accountable.
  • Initiative (Be resourceful). Don’t wait for permission. Figure it out—or figure out who can.
  • Fun (Have it). Don’t take yourself too seriously—life is short.

Your litmus test is whether your team members are hanging out with you and one another outside of work. If yes, you are likely creating good culture. If not, increase your efforts to practice conscious leadership (chapter 15) and keep working to create buy-in for your values.

Politics are created when someone successfully lobbies the CEO or their manager for some kind of benefit. Others see this, so they in turn lobby. They then gain benefit, and the virus spreads quickly throughout the organization, all the while directing company energy away from customer problem-solving.

But if you give a raise based on this conversation, then the whole company will learn that the way to get a raise is to simply ask you for it.

The only way to prevent politics is to never allow lobbying to be successful, and the only way to do this is to have a written policy about as many situations as possible, particularly around compensation, raises, and promotions. Apply this policy to all team members, all the time.

The most successful method I know of is called grade level planning (GLP)—at least, that’s what Tesla calls it (another common term is “Levels and Ladders”). It calls for a very detailed definition of every position in the company and every seniority level, along with specific compensation metrics for each position and level. This is then shared throughout the company. Team members can then clearly see what they need to do to receive the next compensation and title level. Managers must not deviate from this written schema.

The compromise is somewhere in the middle. I recommend starting to think about GLP at twenty-five to fifty employees, and then implementing as soon as is practical after that.

Chapter 19: Company Folder System and Wiki

After creating a wiki, the question then becomes, “What should we document?” And here is the painful answer: “Everything.”

Here’s an easy way to do this: Whenever you find yourself doing something twice, write down exactly what it is that you did. If you’ve done something twice, you’re likely to need to do it again, and someone else may need to do it too.

Require that all members of the team also follow this practice to share their knowledge.

  • Create a spreadsheet to track all processes.
  • Ask each department head to:
  • List the processes in their department.
  • Assign a writer and due date to each process.
  • Each writer links their process write-up to the spreadsheet so that you can verify that all have been created.

We now require that all managers use the existing Bolt processes for at least three months before making any changes.

Chapter 21: Areas of Responsibility (AORs)

Create a document that lists all of the company’s functions and, for each, the directly responsible individual. This is the AOR list. It serves as a routing layer for any questions and ensures that no functions fall through the cracks. Make sure everybody in the company knows how to access the list, and update it as new functions arise or as responsibilities shift.

Chapter 22: No Single Point of Failure

To create a team with no single points of failure, do two things:

  1. Write down all processes. As soon as you or your team members find yourselves doing something for the second time (see chapters 7 and 19), you should write down the steps of that process exactly. Place these written processes in a company-wide wiki.
  2. Cross-train a second person for each role. Map each function in the company (from the AORs) to a backup person. Have the backup person co-work with the primary until the backup knows how to perform the role. (Of course, having all the processes already written down will vastly improve this training process. So have your team write down all the processes first.)

Chapter 23: Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)

Key performance indicators (KPIs) allow you to do this. KPIs are the one or two significant metrics for each major function that show the entire team in an instant how the company is doing and where the issues are.

Determine the company’s five or six most significant KPIs, then track them religiously and make them available for the entire company to easily see on a daily basis. Post the metrics on a TV screen in a central place in the office, using a tool such as Geckoboard.

As we learned from Andy Grove, former Intel CEO and author of the book High Output Management, it is also important to define and track counter-metrics to provide necessary context, because metrics are sometimes optimized to a fault.

Chapter 25: Accountability, Coaching, and Transparency

For an organization to work well, three things must occur at every level of the organization and be apparent at every meeting: 

  • Accountability
  • Coaching
  • Transparency

Accountability is declaring a destination (vision, OKRs, KPIs); the action steps to get there (actions); and whether those actions steps were taken (and eventually the destination achieved).

Coaching is declaring the current health of the entity (individual, team, department, company), both the good and the not good; and with the not good, what the issue is in detail and a proposed solution. (This is where reports can make requests for help from their manager.)

Transparency is declaring (to a person’s manager, peers, and reports) feedback to people on what they are doing, using the following framework: Like: “These are the specific actions that I like that you are doing.”

Wish that: “These are the specific actions that I wish you would do differently.”

The compromise is to schedule days when no meetings are allowed. The schedule that works best for a five-day workweek is as follows: 

  • One day of internal meetings
  • One day of external meetings (e.g., interviewing candidates)
  • Three days of no meetings

First, your hire and close rate for candidates who are interviewed in person should be very high (approximately 75 percent); otherwise, you are losing incredible amounts of time by doing all-day in-person interviews with many candidates whom you don’t want to hire or who don’t want to work for you.

Chapter 26: Meetings

When creating the schedule for the day of internal meetings, I recommend the following order: 

  •  One-on-one meetings
  • Leadership team meeting
  • CEO open office hour
  • All-hands meeting
  • Company-wide social event

If someone needs to attend a meeting in order to be informed about what occurs in that meeting, then you have not yet created a transparent system. Each meeting should have clear notes of all updates given and all decisions made (other than those around an individual’s compensation or performance improvement). Those notes should be freely published to the company so that everyone can know what happened in a meeting without actually attending.

The CEO open office hour (which I highly recommend) can be scheduled anytime in the day. Each manager should set aside one hour each week for an open office hour, during which anyone can come introduce an issue.

To create the ten-year company vision, imagine it is ten years from now. You are the dominant company in the industry. Ask yourself: 

  • What industry do you dominate?
  • Who is your customer? (This should be a real live human being, not a corporate entity.)
  • What pain are you solving for the customer?
  • What is unique about your solution that causes the customer to choose you over the competition?
  • What asset (human or physical) do you control that makes it difficult for any competitor to copy your solution?
  • In other words, what is your moat?

There are many ways to define your company’s values. A simple one is to complete the following sentence: “The rest of you in the company can make all of the decisions from now on, as long as you…” This is appropriate when the company is small and values are entirely aspirational.

Another way is to acknowledge the culture that you already have. To do this, each leadership team member should pick one person in the company who is not on the leadership team and exhibits a value that they wish would be a universal behavior. Name the person and the behavior. Then select three to five such examples. This method is best used when the company already has a sizable team and existing culture.

Chapter 27: Feedback

Here is a template for providing good feedback, adapted from the book Nonviolent Communication by Marshall B. Rosenberg.

  • Ask for permission. Give the receiver a little heads-up of what’s coming. It can be enough to say, “I have something to communicate to you. Is now a good time?”
  • State the trigger behavior or event (fact). Try to be factual (“When you are late to meetings…”) as opposed to interpretative (“When you disrespect me…”).
  • State how that trigger behavior makes you feel in terms of anger, sadness, and fear (feeling). This is perhaps the hardest part for many founders to do. Talking about your feelings might not be something you are used to, so it might be challenging at first. However, doing so is crucial for the other person to truly understand where you are coming from and to take your feedback to heart.
  • State the thoughts, opinions, and judgments (story) you have around this situation.
  • Make a request of what you would like to see. Try to frame it as positive action (“Do x”) rather than a negative (“Don’t do y”).
  • Ask if the person accepts the feedback and the request. If yes, hold them accountable to doing it.

Chapter 29: Recruiting

The goal of the Who recruiting process is to hire only A players. These are the right superstars who can do the job you need done while fitting in with the culture of your company. The Who methodology involves creating a scorecard and specific processes for sourcing, selecting, and selling candidates to join your company.

Referrals from your personal and professional networks are by far the most effective. Use this process for sourcing such referrals: Create a list of the ten most talented people you know. Commit to speaking to at least one of them each week for the next ten weeks, asking them, “Who are the three most talented people you know?” Continue to build your list and continue to talk with at least one person per week. Document everything in your company’s applicant tracking system (ATS).

Write a checklist of all the information a team member would need to be fully effective. Write all this information down, and make a video of it. Share this checklist, the written and video information, and the ninety-day roadmap with each new team member as early as you can, even before they start.

On their first day at the office, have them come in two hours after the normal start of the workday so that plenty of people are there to greet the new team member. Assign each new team member a buddy with whom they’ll check in each day for fifteen minutes for the first two weeks. These fifteen minutes are for the new team member to ask questions that arise and for the buddy to ensure that the new team member is actually going through the checklist.

The expedient thing to do is to let the person go immediately. However, if you do not have written documentation of why you are firing someone, they can initiate a wrongful termination lawsuit against the company. These lawsuits are rarely successful, but they are distracting to respond to.

If you want to minimize the chance of one of these lawsuits occurring, then create written documentation. A secondary benefit of this documentation is that there is a small chance that the person will begin to perform. Here are the steps:

  • Create a written performance improvement plan (PIP) that states objective milestones and dates over a seven-, thirty-, sixty-, and ninety-day period.
  • Meet weekly to check progress against the written milestones.
  • At thirty days, if the team member hasn’t hit one of the milestones, then you let them go.
  • At sixty days, the same. And at ninety days, the same.

Chapter 30: Sales and Marketing

Most executives think that the way to grow revenue is by adding salespeople. However, most often the main obstacle to growth is not growing the team but generating more leads. Only once you can predict your lead generation can you achieve predictable revenue. Only once you achieve predictable revenue can you achieve true scale.

Generating leads and closing deals are distinct functions that must be split. Generating leads is a game of breadth: it requires emailing and talking to a lot of different leads to filter out the nonqualified ones as fast as possible. Closing deals is a game of depth: it requires building deep relationships and understanding with the qualified leads in order to close the deal.

Senior salespeople are expensive, so their time is best spent focusing on the most high-value activity: closing deals. If your salespeople are also generating leads, they are wasting valuable time and getting unnecessarily stressed by having to fulfill different functions in parallel.

Here is the ideal structure of a sales team:

  • Qualifiers (a.k.a. sales development reps): These people are focused on generating qualified leads and handing these off to the closers. Qualifiers are usually compensated with a base plus a bonus for each qualified lead they generate. They are split into two groups:
  • Outbound reps: These are focused on proactively reaching out to leads and qualifying them. The most common channels used are email outreach and LinkedIn mining.
  • Inbound reps: These are focused on qualifying inbound leads that reach out to you by signing up to your site, signing up to your newsletter, or calling you directly.
  • Closers (a.k.a. account executives, or AEs): These people are focused on closing the qualified leads generated for them by the qualifiers. Closers are compensated with a base plus a commission.
  • Farmers (a.k.a. customer success): These people are focused on tending to existing customers, ensuring that these customers renew, and getting these customers to increase their spending. Farmers are compensated with a base plus a flat quarterly bonus based on retention rate or with a base plus a commission based on account growth.

Books:

  • Disciplined Entrepreneurship: 24 Steps to a Successful Startup Bill Aulet

The 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership: A New Paradigm for Sustainable Success Jim Dethmer, Diana Chapman, and Kaley Warner Klemp 10 hours

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