Every CEO has that moment of clarity when he or she knows, without any inkling of doubt, exactly what needs to be accomplished to meet the corporate mission.
It can come after a brainstorming session with colleagues or at an odd moment, watching a baseball game or playing golf. It may pop into your head while driving to work. My moment of clarity came during a casual conversation with an overseas employee standing by an elevator. Thirty seconds later, NetSuite's entire trajectory was altered, although I hadn't realized to what extent.
At the time, our leadership team had come to realize that rapid growth was no longer on the horizon, but actually upon us. At a company meeting, we were talking about the pressing need to quickly ramp up hiring for the first quarter in the following year. It dawned on us (with a combination of both awe and some horror) that we would have to hire more employees over the next three months than we had during the entire preceding 12 months.
After some lengthy discussion on how we could accomplish such an ambitious goal, I walked out of the boardroom to the elevators. Standing there was one of our engineering heads from Eastern Europe who had also stepped out. He was looking at growing his operation from maybe 20 people to 200 over the course of the next year.
I asked him, "How are you going to achieve this?" I was expecting some variation of, "I'm going to try hard, but it's difficult to hire people and build up so quickly."
What I got instead was simple and concise: "We must."
In retrospect, it was funny because he was looking at me like I was an idiot. As he saw it, we gave him a task, explained why it was essential to complete it and that was that.
From that point on, "we must" became our slogan, the flag we waved, our battle cry almost, as we navigated our rapid growth. We need to localize NetSuite in ten new languages over the next 12 months? Can we do it? We must! You say we should scale up our marketing endeavors by 20% to meet our sales target next quarter? Is that possible? It has to be, because we must!
"We must" morphed into a more formal management initiative in which we defined three to five goals that were critical to accomplish within a specific period of time. The company was growing so quickly that we knew there were a lot of things that we would like to do, but what were the actions that were absolutely essential that year? Those essential actions became our corporate "we must(s)" and, if nothing else was accomplished, we always ensured those items would be checked off as complete.
Then we started to apply our "we must" philosophy throughout NetSuite. The top executives began identifying their corporate musts and that spread throughout the entire company. The "musts" were different for the various groups, of course, but the underlying point was always the same: What do we absolutely have to accomplish this year, this quarter, this month? Can we do it? We must.
"We must" has been an astoundingly effective motivation and management tactic. Every corporate goal we have ever escalated into the category of "we must" has received the prioritization required to make it happen. There are logical reasons for those achievements, of course. Assigning a specific goal or goals for employees is, after all, Management 101. There is also something about the actual words "we must" that doesn't allow for any misinterpretation. We are not telling our employees, "This is what we want to achieve." We are telling them, "This is what we must achieve."
People are hardwired to respond to language on a visceral level when it is simple and direct. We also are conditioned to work as a team, for the good of the group-it is not "you must," but "we must." Ever since we married these two concepts in one simple phrase, our "we must" philosophy has continually helped set the stage for NetSuite's ongoing success. As we look to the future, you can be sure of the first two words for all near-term and long-term NetSuite goals: "We must."