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Startup CEO: Creating Your Company's Operating System



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I realized early on that one of the best

things I could do for the organization

in terms of running it and trying to

bring some clarity to the chaos of a

startup was creating something that I

call the company's operating system I've

heard of lots of other descriptions for

this a lot of companies call it

operating rhythms but I think of it as

the place where hardware meets the

software so that the software can run

appropriately on the hardware otherwise

known as the people in the business can

run properly on the business itself our

operating system or operating rhythms

are a predictable set of meetings

communication pieces leadership groups

decision-making predictable system of

those things so that people in the

business know what they can expect what

format it's coming in and when so that

there aren't a lot of surprises let me

give you some examples of how this works

at return-path

we usually do some kind of big meeting

even if it's a virtual meeting to kick

the year off you need to be able to

translate the vision into work steps for

a broad group of people and be able to

monitor and communicate progress against

that plan once we set out our annual

plan where do we want to be twelve

months from now we break it down into a

few areas and then spend a lot of time

on communication to the company up front

and over the course of the year we

always try to have the year start with a

theme or a rallying cry maybe it's a

couple different things but what are the

big things that the company is going to

try to advance over the course of this

year then we break that down into a

series of specific initiatives what are

the big building blocks of that theme

that can start to translate into the

work steps of individuals in the

organization next we try to come up with

our milestones and critical metrics

associated with each one of those

initiatives or building blocks and then

finally we produce some kind of

reporting or scorecard that lets

everyone in the organization know about

the progress against those metrics over

the course of the year and then any

communication that we do as a company

over the course of the year always comes

back to that same theme the objectives

and the metrics and milestones so that

we can track our progress as a company

and so that people along the way can

make decisions about how they're

spending their own time and how they're

spending the company's money in service

of the goal

once a quarter we are

able to pull up and assess how the

business is doing and we do this in a

whole series of meetings and

communications that happen roughly the

same way every single quarter my staff

tends to do its quarterly off-site a

couple weeks before the end of the

quarter where we look at how this

quarters performance is going and do

some planning for the quarter ahead as

soon as the quarter is over we produce

all of our financial reporting and

organize all of our materials and

thoughts about how the business is doing

into a book of materials for our board

of directors we then have a board

meeting where the management team sits

with the board and talks about the

performance of the business we then

share that board book with the entire

organization so everyone in the company

has that same window of insight into how

things are going what's working and

what's not working as the management

team and the board we then follow that

up with executive roundtables so that

every employee in the business has an

opportunity to sit with a senior person

in the business to hear from them about

how things are going in the business and

ask questions and have sort of anything

that's in their head aired or asked

there's a lot more to it than that but

that's an example of a bunch of elements

of our operating system that bring that

note of predictability and communication

to the whole company