When I became CEO of Greenleaf Book Group in 2014, I had the same mix of feelings that comes along with any new opportunity: "I'm so excited for this new challenge!" with a dash of "Ok, how do I not screw this up?"

Having moved around within the company multiple times in the 10 years leading up to the CEO role, I was not unfamiliar with these thoughts. But unlike the roles I had assumed prior to CEO, the CEO position did not come with someone telling me, "Do this, do that, and you'll be successful."

For the first three months in the role, I felt this nagging discomfort that something was missing, strategically. We had our core values in place.  Mission statement and brand audit done. Annual financial goals were clear. All of these things were finished, checked off a list and filed away...and that was the problem.

There was nothing in place to connect them to the day-to-day operations, nothing to help the teams prioritize, align, and work best together. I knew this had been an issue internally in the past but I had not been able to put my finger on what was off. After much thought, I realized the gap was between our goals and the specific direction that I was (or was not) giving the team.

To connect our goals with our operations, I outlined four vision principles that capture my priorities as a leader. This was not easy. I needed language that would be clear to the whole team, and my initial attempt was admittedly riddled with jargon and corporate speak.

My brand strategy team stepped in and helped me translate an epic leadership brain dump into four main principles:​

1.  Create Constant Growth

This covers many things but the key measurements are the size and quality of our list of authors plus revenue and EBITDA.

2.  Redefine What it Means to Be a Publisher

This principle speaks to innovation, and specifically helping to solve our authors' challenges in new ways.

3.  Become the Top Publishing Choice for Thought Leaders

Reputation drives this principle. We want to attract the best authors through our strong reputation for quality and service.

4.  Be the Best

This is our people principle. It started as "Work With the Best" and evolved into "Be the Best" as that felt more empowering. Professional development, hiring/recruiting, and culture initiatives fall here.

Finding the right words for these principles felt like clearing a fog! With these principles and their supporting measurements in place, I set up meetings with each department to share the intent and purpose of these four points.

I then asked them to take ownership of applying these principles within their own teams, reporting back to me each quarter with a presentation from each department (with the presentation to include their whole teams, not just managers). 

It was important to let the department managers drive the initiatives supporting each principle to a) gain their buy-in, b) acknowledge and take advantage of the fact that their specific departmental know-how is generally deeper than mine, and c) to demonstrate trust in them as leaders.

At the start of the year, we map out four quarters worth of goals supporting each principle. At the end of each quarter, we review our progress, adjust deliverable dates where needed, discuss any failures, and high-five on our successes.

Each year, I think about whether the principles need to change. So far, I have held on to the same four principles - but as the needs of the business change, so will these principles.

If you have your own equivalent of operating principles to drive performance, please share in the comments so we can all learn from your approach!

Published on: May 12, 2016