I recently got to chat with Harry Stebbings on the 20 Minute VC Podcast, covering a range of topics including:

  • How what it takes to be a great CEO has changed over the last 30 years
  • Whether “management upscaling is the most important role a CEO can do
  • How “the old school CEO approach is upside down and backward?”
  • What the fundamentals are to ensure your executive team are aligned and working in tandem
  • Why transparency across the organization is fundamental to both efficiency and culture?
  • Why cloud companies have to be customer-centric like never before

If you’d like to check out the full episode, that can be downloaded here. I also wanted to share a few key highlights from my conversation with Harry in the following Q&A four-part blog series. If you haven’t already gotten a chance to read my first post, you can find that here.

Harry:  Chris Caren at Turnitin once said that, “Management upscaling is the most important role of a CEO.”

Rob, how do you assemble phenomenal teams and get the best candidates in highly‑competitive markets?

Rob:  Let’s start with the management processes. You have to create a framework as to how you’re going to work together, how you’re going to communicate, and the dedication to the mission and the objectives.

I like to use the analogy of crew. It’s interesting that in crew, if all of the oarsmen put their oars in the water at the exact same time and pull exactly the same way, you go straight and you can effectively beat the competition.

If only one of those crew members puts in his oar before or after, you start to veer to the left, to the right. You’re not moving forward and you’ll probably lose the race.

I think it’s really important to ensure everybody is understanding the mission, the value that we’re going to provide for the customer, and then how we’re going to work jointly together to be the best organization on the planet to deliver success for those particular customers.

You want to get great talent that understands the inspiration that you have in trying to achieve what you’re doing. Then you’ve got to put that framework in so that everybody understands it and it is moving forward jointly as a team.

Harry: How do you determine whether someone’s really not scaling with the organization? Maybe their oars aren’t being put in at the same time and are slightly lacking?

Rob: This is one area where I will go back to old school. I really believe in management by objectives. After you come through with your mission, your strategy, and you determine ruthlessly what your priorities are, then you have to set both short‑term, midterm, and long‑term objectives.

Stephen Covey would say that, “Start with the end in mind.” Start with your longer-term objectives. What are your three or five‑year goals? Then you have to draw it back to, “So what are we doing this quarter?”

The objectives have to be specific, measurable, and transparent. At Sage Intacct, all objectives for everybody in the organization are public to all of the people within the group they operate in. This way everybody understands who is trying to achieve what, and where are all the interdependencies.

It starts to create harmony in the organization as opposed to silos. Back to the oarsmen, you can go very rapidly forward.

If someone is not getting their objective done, that’s when the team can go on in ‑‑ or the managers ‑‑ and say, “What’s holding you back?”

I think 99.5 percent of the people come to work to do a great job. If they’re not achieving their objectives, usually there’s something broken down somewhere else.

Management then - and/or the team that they’re working with - needs to come forward and identify what we need to do and how we need to alter the plans to get that individual or that element of the team performing to what was expected.

In many organizations, if you are not achieving your objectives the others say, “Oh boy, Rob was a bad hire. He really did a great interview, and he really pulled the wool over our eyes. He’s not as good as we expected.”

It is very rare that someone intentionally misrepresented their skills and experiences. The organization should be putting the focus back on why are we not able to achieve our objectives and what is the root cause, and attack the processes, not attack the people. This is an element of creating a great culture.

If people know that you trust them, that you believe in them, and you rally to help them when they aren’t achieving their objectives, their mentality shifts. That gives confidence to employees walking in the door every day going, “Boy, I love coming to work, and their effectiveness is always better than in a culture where there is fear or people are attacked.”

Check out part three of this series next week!