Successful startups undergo significant changes as they approach an IPO. Lately, ever increasing late stage funding rounds have put management teams under even more pressure to grow even faster. However, these expectations often overwhelm the capabilities of the founders and their teams. While the preferred startup narrative is one of a rocket like ascent, the road to success is filled with many bumps.
The Coach is an almost mythical authority in Silicon Valley when it comes to dealing with those situations. Bill Campbell was on the boards of both Loudcloud/Opsware, and Netscape and is frequently mentioned in Ben Horowitz’s book The Hard Thing About Hard Things. He is a self professed operator and has been a CEO at Claris/Apple, Go, and Intuit. He has been a long serving board member at Apple, and Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers has brought him in to advise the CEOs of Google, Zynga, Twitter on how to improve company operations.
There is no substitute for working with the Coach. While there is no particular methodology, there are four valuable lenses he has repeatedly and successfully applied, and which form a logical combination - staff alignment, business plan, team meetings, and operating reviews. Here are some of his insights as told by others.
The Staff Alignment
It was Bill Campbell’s idea to gather a few key Googlers together and hammer out a set of the young company’s corporate values.
Rather than simply focusing on whether a manager has achieved his financial goals - which can lead to short-term thinking - Campbell gives equal weight to four areas. The first is traditional: performing against expectations. But then he looks at management skills, working with peers, and innovating. If you aren't good at all those things, you aren't good.
I push hard on innovation and best practices. In the absence of true innovation, there’s no excuse for not knowing where the best practices are. And a lot of best practices can come as tweaks that will make a practice more innovative. I give high grades to anybody who knows exactly what’s going on in the industry and can adapt to this quickly.
The Business Plan
Campbell next initiated a strategic planning process for [Intuit]. Intuit’s VMOVA (vision, mission, operating values) effort had set the cornerstone for strategic planning by identifying the company’s values and missions. Campbell built on these to codify and energize strategic operational thinking.
In the middle of each quarter, Campbell held an off site at which each manager submitted a business plan with numerical goals and reviews performance against these goals. Business leaders presented quarter-to-date results and objectives for the next quarter; at each meeting leaders had six weeks’ performance data for the current quarter and six weeks to plan for the next one. Each manager could change key variables - staffing, expenses, direct-marketing spending, tech support, and so on - before the quarter began. ...Over a period of time, Campbell’s meetings generated a perpetual quarterly plan.
The Team Meetings
My contention today is that that if a months is 20 working days, you’ve got to spend a day doing nothing but reviewing projects. A whole day, with the whole management team, so that we can clean up those projects, clean out the ones that aren’t going to be good, and take the bodies that are recovered and put them on the projects that look like they have the best prospects.
These management planning offsites [...] unified the company. ...Campbell valued the social as much as the strategic elements of the meetings because he knew that stronger relationships would improve teamwork and business results. After a few quarters, he had a management team working effectively together, both formally and informally.
The key skill is not in convincing people of your point of view with rational arguments, but, when circumstances require, in build a feeling of consensus in the face of uncertainty or adversity. Bill’s strength was his ability of select a straight course through the swirling darkness, then create a deep emotional reserves in his team that drives them to victory, even when defeat seems inevitable. he metered out sufficient time for open discussion, then closed debate with a fatherly decision that all were expected to accept as their own, in the service of the greater good.
One of Bill’s first acts as CEO was to establish a kind of corporate rhythm, a weekly sequence of meetings by which the company shared information and made decisions. This organizational pulse started on Monday morning at nine-thirty with ‘estaff’ - a meeting of the executive staff, where large issues and strategic initiatives were discussed - and ended on Friday at four-thirty with the ‘comm’ meeting, where the entire company gathered to communicate new, make announcements and give demos and awards. estaff started as late as nine-thirty because Bill, who usually arrived at the office around six, liked to spend the early morning talking to the East Coast, before people there went to lunch, and meeting privately with any employee who had a problem that couldn’t be solved through normal channels. Following the comm meeting was a ‘beer bust’, with drinks and munchies, a Silicon Valley tradition that Bill had followed since his Apple days.
The Operating Reviews
He instituted monthly operations reviews, in which senior managers provided updates so that Campbell could help set goals and track revenues and expenses. Cook welcomed the discipline in these monthly reviews, which harkened back to the quantitative analysis and metrics he’d introduced to marketing.
I care about the ones that care a lot about operating values, that care about durability and lasting value. I’m not interested in ‘quick in and out’.