GOALS & ACCOUNTABILITY
A startup opens vast opportunities for you to do amazing, constructive things with your abilities.
“Wahoo! At last, I’m free! Now I can leave this meaningless job in this boring corporation to join an exciting startup and show what I’m really able to do, something with meaning and purpose.”
A person finds joy when fresh personal goals stimulate that individual to do wonder-filled work.
That’s the passion that triggers people to head out the door and into a startup. It’s the reason they put their heart into it, their talent, their time.
I think the driving force is a soul-deep need for fulfillment that, for many individuals, is blocked when working in a large organization where people experience what a veteran of startups calls “the lethargy of no personal impact.” You could spend a lifetime waiting for one chance to do something important.
The contrast with a startup is vivid. In a fresh business, you’ll be given a chance to do exciting, risky things that are challenging. When you achieve them, you’ll feel thrilled and fulfilled. You and your startup friends will celebrate, and you’ll be rewarded in ways that the big company could not.
In startup land, the individual is supreme, free, and encouraged to take risks and be amazingly creative. In giant corporations and big government, a handful of elite people at the top take the glory and money. They exercise tight control over individuals. They reap the rewards (of the hard work and sacrifices of many others). By contrast, in a startup, individuals are celebrated and rewarded, and the fresh business thus succeeds. It’s no wonder that so many people have the urge to do a startup.
Goals & Passion
A buddy of mine, with decades of experience guiding startup people, says:
“Goals create passion. Goal setting and the energy of pursuit are the very foundation of the human being. The startup is an ideal setting for personal goal formation and feeling the fulfillment of those goals.”
That applies to anyone, from a person wanting to finally lead a business, or a stifled manager eager to prove worthy of a vice president title, or a talented techie determined to create an amazing new product, or a person confident of having come up with an idea for a world-changing gadget.
Why Startup Goals
Why should a startup set goals when so much changes so fast in a new enterprise? Won’t goals stifle creativity, block amazing thinking?
I think the answer is simple: Because startups are constantly changing wildly, goals enable employees to know what to focus on. People then are freed to strive to achieve them. With goals set, your employees have a clear picture of the company’s plan for success. Instead of wandering around, wondering what should be done next, each person is commissioned with a set of goals and freed to be creative.
People like to achieve goals. It’s fulfilling. Startup goals motivate, keep each person eager to come to work each day. Risks are reduced. Attaining the impossible becomes more believable.
Furthermore, goals enable the group of individuals to work together, supporting one another, in spite of so much changing, riding the roller coaster of the new enterprise. Your employees will travel on the same path as you, progressing with few wasted efforts. The opposite, operating without goals, is not creative, it’s chaos.
Goals enable unity. Feeling a sense of unity is essential to people working in a new business. Startup staffers need to feel that they are part of a company on a mission, working hard to reach challenging milestones. They desire a sense of belonging to a group of achievers.
Wild and fast-changing, I’ve found startups managed by first-timers are typically operating without goals and with no one held accountable for results. Soon employees find their fledgling enterprise is struggling, perhaps in serious trouble. Serial entrepreneurs know that can be avoided by applying a few simple techniques for setting goals and creating an accountability system.
The Big Bold Goal and Accountability
A good place to start building your accountability system is to set a significant goal for everyone to strive to achieve.
I’ve seen successful founders start each year by setting a fresh single “Big, Bold Goal” for the new enterprise. That is something that, if achieved, will vastly improve the company. It gives a target for everyone in the company to focus on.
The aim is to get everyone focused on the same, singular goal – and then help them pick individual goals as their part of achieving the big goal. Otherwise, employees are like a sports team whose players are going in different directions.
Simultaneously those leaders establish a process for holding individuals accountable for doing what they say they will do, what they’ll deliver that will help the company achieve the big, bold goal.
I’ve seen the power of setting the big, bold goal in many startups. Here is a fine example of an online security startup that used a big goal to overcome a troubled time and go on to IPO.
Todd McKinnon, CEO, and co-founder of Okta, the leader in online security was facing dismal sales two years after starting the company.
“It was a rough time. The hype had faced away from the glamor of raising money. We hadn’t been around long enough to have momentum. At an all-hands meeting, I had various ways to spin it. I couldn’t say it’s not all that bad.”
Instead, he set a big, bold goal. “It’s not going well,” he told them. “The jury is out on our success. So, let’s throw out the old revenue plan and just try to get 50 customers.”
Given the opportunity to attain a tough but realistic goal on their own, staffers responded well. Within six months, they hit their number “and revenue came with that,” McKinnon said. This proved a turning point in Okta’s history and set it on the positive path to IPO.
Results & Accountability
Startup people have to deliver results.
Accountability is the measure of results.
When all the results are collected, that’s the outcome for the entire company. Thus, the entire company holds each person responsible for the results of individual goals. Thus, the importance of The Big Goal for the company.
New enterprises are fragile. Individuals must deliver what they agreed to. If not, the fledgling business will weaken and, if this failure pattern continues, is likely to go out of existence. Each individual must achieve the goals for which they are accountable because the company’s life depends on that.
Big Goal Big Risk
But the risk of achieving the Big Goal is high and thus individual startup goals are very difficult to achieve.
In a startup, I’ve seen that significant creativity is required to accomplish the necessary goals. That’s missing in big organizations. People content to be working in giant corporations and government jobs have personalities who prefer working on mundane assignments, not striving to achieve the daring goals set by startup leaders. Big organization people look forward to Fridays. Startup people are eager for Mondays.
Startup people do not cringe when facing daunting goals. They respond with delight at working to deliver significant goals. That’s how their new enterprise thrives. They consider badges of honor to be betting everything on accomplishing impossible goals. At last, they have a place to demonstrate what they can do.
When the accountability system finally measures the outcome of all the hard work, the entire startup organization cheers, for both the goals achieved and those that were not. It’s expected that a lot of the tough goals will not have been achieved. Yet failure while taking high risk is considered an honor. Startup-minded people thrive on achieving something no one thought could be done. Thus, goals and accountability open the doors to individuals eager to be highly creative. That’s central to what makes startups into great companies, ones that can become Disneys.
“Around here, however, we don’t look backward for very long. We keep moving forward, opening up new doors, and doing new things. Because we’re curious. And curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.”– Walt E. Disney
Accountability System Construction
I’ve often seen a founder excitedly declare a big goal, but not put into operation an accountability system.
Then I had to watch in dismay as individuals began to fall behind in achieving their goals. Soon the big goal was just words on a computer screen. No one felt accountable for contributing to a singular goal that would greatly improve the startup. Amazing, but true, I’ve watched it in action, painfully.
To build your accountability system, I suggest you do what serial entrepreneurs do: Start construction by using some simple tools. Get the system up and running, thereafter improving it day by day.
- I’ve found serial entrepreneurs use the following elements to build accountability systems:
- It Starts At The Top: If the leadership in a company doesn’t hold themselves accountable for their own actions, their team members won’t either.
- Trust & Transparency: Trust is achieved by making goals known to those with a need to know; and being honest, including admission of failure.
- Consequences: There have to be consequences for what the individual signed up to do and what was delivered.
- Buy-in: Work with your staffers to identify and declare their goals so it is theirs, not yours.
- Realistic: Challenging people to do amazing things is expected but not climbing Mount Everest in tennis shoes.
- Simple: Keep your accountability system away from pages of details that tempt you to micro-manage.
- Measurable: Pick just a couple of ways to measure the results; try including in one sentence one numerical metric and one qualitative statement. As the book by venture capital veteran John Doer says, you are advised to “Measure What Matters”.
- Evaluation: Take time to discuss with your people what they are wondering – how well are they doing and what can they modify to do better.
- Communicate: Keep everyone informed about how the pieces (goals) are coming together, or not.
- Everyone: The big goal is about a group striving to do something difficult with each striving to reach their personal, challenging goal. They’ll expect to be told how the progress is going, how the big picture is shaping up, week by week.
- Prepare: Start crafting next year’s big goal well in advance.
- Expect to make adjustments to your accountability system as your company grows. Below is a helpful list of tools that I’ve seen many founders use that made their adjustments effective. These are for startups that are growing, “scaling” as the current term labels it. I’ve selected some experienced by serial entrepreneur David Cummings:
As the startup grows from a small group of co-founders to the first early employees and beyond, organizational accountability needs to scale as well. Co-founders, talking so frequently and being self-starters, are often mind-meld on a daily basis and don’t need as much structure. Only, that doesn’t scale.
Here are a few ideas for getting your startup accountability system up and running in your startup:
- Simplified One Page Strategic Plan– Get everyone on the same page. Keep it simple and current.
- Google Sheet the Key Performance Indicators (KPI) Dashboard– Make the metrics transparent and open.
- Daily Check-ins– Spend 10 minutes aligning the team daily.
- Weekly Tactical Meetings– Review the strategic plan weekly.
- Quarterly Check-ins– Run the performance review quarterly.
Accountability in a startup takes work. Make it a system with the right rhythm, data, and priorities.
BOTTOM LINE: You’ll have many opportunities to shine in your startup. And to manage people who want to shine. Success for all comes with smart use of goals and accountability. Startup veterans spend time getting it right. You can too.
I wish you The Best on your Adventure!