When I think of Thomas Edison ruling out 9,999 ways to get a light bulb to work before arriving at the ten-thousandth one that did, I am reminded of the expression that genius is one percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration.
The same concept applies to business strategy — the idea of what a company should do to achieve rapid growth is the one percent. It’s the 99 percent — dubbed strategy execution — that determines whether you achieve your ambitious growth goals.
In my 2019 book, Scaling Your Startup, I wrote about Seven Scaling Levers — such as Building Growth Trajectories, Sustaining Culture, and Redefining Job Functions.
Until February 9, when I interviewed Mahesh Rajasekharan, CEO of Rockford, Illinois-based Cleo Communications, a supply chain software as a service provider that counts Walmart and Amazon among its customers, I had not seen such a comprehensive example of another key scaling lever. His approach, called “Holding People Accountable,” is so good I’ve added it to my list.
Here are eight processes that you must lead to get results based on Cleo’s approach.
1. Set goals and define strategy.
Leaders must decide, say, how fast they want the company to grow and choose the strategies required to reach those goals.
In the fourth quarter, Cleo conducts a strategic planning process in which it articulates its five-year corporate strategy, sets one year goals, and plans for hiring the people it will need to implement the strategy and meet its annual goals.
The benefit of this approach is that enables the company to think about where it wants to be in the long term, while making annual investments which can be adjusted in response to changes in its competitive environment.
2. Align functional and corporate goals.
Different departments of your company — such as product development or sales — should set goals that — if achieved — will contribute to achieving corporate goals.
Cleo sets goals for each department annually and quarterly. Its departments team up to set goals to ensure that they line up with corporate aims. While sales and operations set annual goals, product development teams operate with a three year product vision, within which they follow annual product development roadmaps.
This approach holds department accountable for their own goals and for corporate objectives.
3. Tie individual goals with departmental ones.
To make each employee accountable, Cleo encourages every individual to take responsibility for up to three departmental goals.
Leaders should monitor individuals’ progress monthly to keep the organization focused on key priorities.
4. Check departmental progress monthly
Leaders should review how well departments are meeting their goals each month.
Cleo asks departments to present their plan on a single page — linking their department objectives to the company’s goals. These meetings celebrate successes, identify where departments are falling short and describes actions departments will take to get back on track.
5. Review quarterly progress and take needed remedial action.
Since public companies present their results to investors each quarter, it is useful to prepare people accordingly.
Cleo does this through quarterly business previews which highlights progress — celebrating where goals have been exceeded and committing to clear action plans to reverse course where the team is falling behind.
6. Assess sales pipeline each week.
Most companies depend heavily on its salespeoples’ ability to keep a steady pipeline for turning prospects into buyers.
Cleo views each sales person as CEO of their sales territory To that end the company reviews each region’s sales pipelines and deals every week to make sure that quotas will be achieved.
7. Improve processes and capture opportunities.
At the other end of the spectrum, it’s crucial that companies think about longer term forces that could change demand for the company’s products.
To that end, Cleo conducts mind mapping sessions — a form of brainstorming — in which people consider key trends such as the rise in e-commerce during the pandemic. Cleo sets up cross-functional teams that identify key opportunities and risks and prepares action plans to seize opportunities or improve processes.
8. Constantly upgrade talent.
Finally, you should always be evaluating whether your team has the best talent and if not, take action to upgrade it.
Cleo conducts talent reviews in which it reviews how people are performing and seeks ways to “grow, hire, and upgrade talent [so it can become] the leader in ecosystem integration.”
Follow these eight processes and you can boost your odds of being a leader in your industry.