Why Your Team Should Be Accountable to Each Other -- Not Just to You

February 27, 2020

If you haven’t already read the first four posts in this series on “Scaling Your Startup…Through Your Best Nature,” check ‘em out now. They start here.

As a recap, I shared a framework for thinking about the best and worst in our own natures -- the Primitive Mind (or ego) and the Higher Mind (or spirit) -- and why managing this duality is critical for scaling your business through the three stages of a startup journey. Then I covered three examples of how our ego can get in the way of us achieving Product-Market Fit, and how our Higher Mind can come to the rescue.

In today’s post, we’ll move on to stage two of the startup journey: the search for what I like to call “Go-to-Market Strategy - Market Fit." That might sound jumbled, but the phrasing is intentionally analogous to the term Product-Market Fit. Recall that in this second stage, we want to create a set of go-to-market motions that are catered to the market. We’re looking to create the playbook for how to deliver and monetize value in a predictable way.

Specifically, we want to create the qualification criteria, the elevator pitch, the website messaging, the slide deck, the demo, the pricing, the onboarding process, the customer milestones, the definition of value, the renewal process, and everything else that goes into creating a customer journey from the start to renewal and beyond. 

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In this post, I’ll cover an example of how channeling our higher nature can help us build the right go-to-market playbook in stage two of the startup journey.

Example #1: How We View Our Own Leadership

As you might expect, we think about our own leadership differently when our ego is involved.

The Primitive Mind: “I’ll hire the best people, and they will be accountable to me.”

The Higher Mind: “I’ll promote an ecosystem that functions well organically.”

The first statement is solipsistic, with the CEO as the reference point. The second statement is other-oriented, expressing an intention to downplay the CEO as a required driver of the organization’s success. I’m not promoting statement #2 in order to eliminate narcissism for its own sake (which in the world of ethics would be a fine goal), but instead because the Higher Mindset enables the company to scale. The less the CEO is required for growth, the better. 

Like much of the more traditional business world, the first statement uses the military as a reference point. It assumes a strict hierarchy, vertical reporting structure, and managers who issue orders and expect follow-through from their direct reports. In organizations like this, people are accountable to their managers but not to each other.

Today, great companies look very different. A great company emulates a symphony orchestra: each function plays its own instrument, but all functions refer to the same sheet music, and the conductor is there not to dictate notes but rather to tweak the symphony to achieve the strongest possible harmony. This kind of company is a complex system, not a simplistic pyramid. 

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Why is the symphony model the right one for scaling a business today?

First, many millennials refuse to work in the old military model, so you won't be able to hire and retain enough people to scale. Their perceptions of authority are different. A lot has been written about this, so I won't belabor the point.

Second, the symphony model is more effective in the long-term than the military model. Dictatorial orders may work better in crisis, but we can't treat the long journey of building our company as one big crisis. (We could go down the rabbit hole of political science explanations for why dictatorship doesn't tend to last, but I'll leave that to the PhDs!)

Third, the symphony model is a prerequisite for survival as a CEO -- because in some ways, being a CEO is harder than it's ever been before. There are higher expectations from investors, higher expectations from employees, and more data that you have to synthesize to make good decisions. If you're micromanaging your people, you'll burn out or fail. You personally won't scale this way.

Fourth, scaling a subscription business in particular requires us to foster a self-sustaining ecosystem within the company. The old world -- where Marketing would hand off to Sales, Sales would hand off to Professional Services, and Services would hand off to Support – might have made sense in the context of a business model involving perpetual licenses sold upfront. But in the subscription economy, where revenue needs to be earned continuously, all functions need to work together across the lifecycle. This requires a new framework for accountability.

In a symphony model, functional leaders are clear on the goals they have to deliver for each other. Customer Success has to help clients achieve outcomes, so that Marketing can build client testimonials and Sales can introduce their prospects to references. Product Management must build the product so that clients can achieve their outcomes intuitively, with as little help from Customer Success as possible, and communicate roadmap decisions proactively so that Sales can pitch the vision. Sales needs to keep CS in the loop when they're working on a cross-sell opportunity.

These are just a few examples of interdependencies that must be defined when we’re creating our go-to-market playbook. In that playbook, we should define the roles, goals, data, and processes that enable the symphony to work well in the context of our market.

Imagine what it would be like to lead an organization where everyone is accountable to each other! As leaders, wouldn’t we rather make ourselves replaceable, so that we can spend more time on new strategic initiatives and then go home at a reasonable hour? So much of scaling a company is about scaling our own time as leaders.

Bottom line: Build a go-to-market playbook that reinforces a symphony model, to help you scale your company...and yourself.

In the next post in this series, we’ll discuss how to make sure you have the right executives on board. If you think you’ll “outgrow” your execs over time, think again!