Are you generally proud of what you have accomplished at the end of the workday? Have you ever written down what you do every day?
This is important to ponder because an organization is a sum of the actions that its employees take, and I have been thinking a lot about what makes a company successful. Clearly, early on a company lives and dies by the decisions the founders make and the priorities they set. Small teams have lots of energy, but a limited resource base to source that energy from. There is no one to pick up the slack and every decision has a significant opportunity cost. There is no parallel processing.
So, I judge every day in a binary way — did we incrementally add to the value of the company or didn’t we? (Now, it is unusual at an early-stage company to negatively impact value, because most people do not care about the company yet, but it is possible, and should also be scrutinized.) I feel accomplished when we step forward and eager for the next day when we do not. I think this simple gut check makes life easier for a founder and keeps teams focused on what matters. Keep putting your nose into the wind and driving forward.
You might argue that there are different levels of value creation, and that is absolutely true. Getting a beta registration is different than closing a sale. But I suggest that it does not matter, because teams that consistently make decisions, act, and create incremental value win. Creating the habit of generating positive momentum is what matters, and the successes themselves become more valuable over time as the company grows.
Building a culture that craves small team wins differentiates market leaders from those who are satisfied to follow along. And this mindset should start early and be driven by a company’s leaders. So, what can you do every day to drive wins and power the company to long-term sustainable growth?
Every leader has a certain approach. The following are five things I try to do on a daily basis. Think of them as imperatives to meet the goal of creating daily value. I readily admit that I often fail to deliver on these promises, but nonetheless, they guide me.
1. Complete at least one meaningful task
That sounds simple, right? Just complete one thing that makes a difference. I am not talking about sending another email or making a sales call. I am talking about completing a blog post, helping a customer solve a problem, meeting with a channel partner, closing the books for the quarter, defining the next product release. You get the idea. I keep a list of the bigger tasks that I need to do and try to check at least one off every day.
2. Be conscious of ideas
Ideas are fleeting. We all have lots of good ones and bad ones, but we often do not stop to consider our thoughts. Ideas often come from pondering a new situation or problem. When I have a new idea, I ponder it and throw it around (if you ever see me looking up towards the sky, that is what I am doing.) If it passes my counter-arguments, I write it down and want to discuss it. Rather than fearing it for being fresh and unproven, I love its potential.
3. Discuss a new idea with one person
I am guessing that 80 percent of the meetings and discussions that I had over the last few years were useless. So, I seek fewer meetings. I try to pour my energy into the new ideas because I know the other tasks will get done. I think about number two above and take that idea and roll it past someone else. And I try to listen carefully when someone else is talking about her new idea. I remind myself to assume it can be done, and focus first on would it be useful and would it create a small win? If the answer is yes, then I try to figure out how it can be done.
4. Have a point of view
I typically have a point of view because otherwise, it is hard to vet new ideas and even harder to prioritize tasks. I typically think I am right too and some might celebrate that as confidence and others might consider it arrogance. Sometimes my points of view are too strong and keep me from being great at number three, so I try to listen first and ignore my judgmental internal voice. Whatever you do, have conviction, and bring your own perspective to the business. Great leaders have a vision. Do not start every conversation by asking the other person what she thinks.
5. Respect everyone
It’s very easy to treat people with respect if you set your mind to it — even if they are knuckleheads. There generally is something that you can find to admire about every person and it is possible to focus on that. However, I never confuse like and respect. It is true, there are nasties in the office. But, they deserve to be treated with respect and heard out. Because every so often, it is the crazy guy who has the best new ideas.