We love lists. I'm convinced that etched on some ancient cave wall there exits a bulleted list of the Ten Things Every Cro-Magnon Must Do To Succeed; okay, it may be just three things, but none-the-less our love affair with lists runs long and deep.
Although there's no list of items you can check off that will guarantee the success of your business, I can offer a list which guarantees that your entrepreneurial journey will be epic.
Whatever path your business takes, however successful it is, wherever it leads you financially, this much is certain, you've put your heart and soul into building it and you deserve to look at it as an epic journey that will have a profound and positive impact on you, the people you work with, and your customers--and, yes, there's a list for that, here it is:
- Set Goals that Challenge People - Peter Drucker once told me that the best way to motivate, grow, and retain people is to challenge them. The right people--the kind you want on your team--are the ones who will rise to the challenge. Apple cofounder Steve Wozniak shared with me that Steve Jobs would sometimes just pop into a team meeting at Apple long enough to tell folks that they could do better at whatever it was they were doing. When Jobs told you that you could do better you believed it!
- Hold Yourself and Others Accountable - This goes beyond just taking responsibility. In my Inc 500 company each team member would sign up yearly for very specific tasks and strategies on which they would report weekly to the entire organization. We never let ourselves forget what we were each accountable for and how we were making (or not making) progress towards it. Trust me, it's pretty tough to hide in front of the entire company.
- Do 360 Evals - Nothing is harder than developing an honest perception of how others perceive you. The tool I've always relied on is the 360 evaluation; these are anonymous assessments by an individual's peers, direct reports, and leaders. The purpose of the 360 is to see yourself through the eyes of those you work with. It's not always pretty but it's always true.
- Create a Users Groups - Here's a shocker; your customers know more about your products than you do! I'm amazed at how few companies run an annual customer symposium. I've heard all sorts of excuses: not enough customers, too expensive, can't take the time away from their business. The list is a long one, but here's the thing, if you don't co-create with your customers then both you and your customers end up being held hostage by the past.
- Educate--We are all naturally wired to do two things; learn and share. But you can't be a learning organization if you're not also a teaching organization. You can accomplish both by creating an internal series of home-grown courses that encourage your associates to share what they know with each other.
- Include Families - You ask a great deal of yourself and your associates. Their families foot part of that bill. Involve them in what's going on. Invite them to participate. Nothing is more absurd than companies who hold social functions during off hours and do not allow spouses or significant others to participate. And please don't say you can't afford it; there is no greater investment you can make in your people, especially in a small business, than acknowledging their families.
- Allow Failure - You read that right. As a leader you have to define the scope and purpose of acceptable failures. Most leaders fear that this encourages failure. Guess what? It does! But failure is part of innovation. Not defining its boundaries sends out the message that no failure is acceptable. That's great as long as you have no expectations for a culture of innovation.
- Create a Story - As your organization grows the story of what inspired you, how you've grown, your successes, your great innovations, and all those things that shaped your culture need to be told and retold. Don't just rely on word of mouth and the rumor mill to do this. Write it down, create a video, post customer letters and emails on your walls, make the story part of the orientation process. Telling your story sends a signal that you take pride in your organization and allows others to be part of that story.
- Mentor--Amazingly less than 50% of all companies I've worked with have a formal mentoring program. And less than 10% use reverse mentoring--where younger associates act as mentors to senior staff and execs in order to teach them about new technologies and behaviors. Mentoring is one of the most powerful tools to reduce ramp-up time, reinforce culture, and enable strategy. The excuse people use is that they just don't have the time. Right, because culture and strategy aren't really that important to begin with, are they?
- Celebrate - Above all celebrate your achievements. From the very first year I ran my company I would throw an annual holiday party. In the first year my partners thought it was crazy to spend money on a party; we barely had two nickels to rub together and we only had three employees--ourselves. But we gathered up everyone we could find to join us. Why? Because it reinforced that what we were doing really was a big deal. Since that first party 25 years ago I've only missed one year. Although I sold the company more than 10 years ago I still throw that annual party. Celebrations are the waypoints that remind us all of how far we've come and how epic our journey has been.