As of just a couple weeks ago, I’ve been at this for 10 years. A decade.
That’s how long I’ve been making money and building businesses online. (And it makes me feel realllly old)
I was never cut out for the cubicle/office/whatever. Even in my early teens, I’d walk around with Reminiscences of a Stock Operator, reading it over and over, dreaming of being a day trader.
I did that for a while about 15 years ago. I don’t recommend it. Read: I sucked.
After failing at day and swing trading, I had quashed the idea of ever building a business or making a living on my own terms. So I took a weird Twilight Zone style turn into the extraordinary by engaging in the exact opposite of entrepreneurship (if there ever was one): the military. Specifically as an 11-bang-bang (that’s 11B aka Infantry for you civilian types 🙂 ) in the National Guard.
I had convinced myself that I’d suck at making a buck on my own terms wasn’t in the card. So hey, why not do the most non-entrepreneurshipy (that is likely not a word and I’m ok with that) thing ever: serve good ole Uncle Sam.
That didn’t last long.
Four years later I was out, itching to carve my own path again
If you’re reading this, you know full well: that’s the hardest path.
Entrepreneurs – be they newbies who just entered the game, or veterans with multiple offices, teams, and equity – have this funny habit of choosing the path of most resistance.
Why? Because at the end of that path is…freedom/money/success/fame/notoriety/whatever drives you to do your thing.
As someone who has been at this for a decade, and who just this month got started by running ads on AdWords to a really ugly Blog and who turned $50 adwords credit into $98 revenue on day one…I’ve learned a thing or two…
…and I’m going to share a big one with you today.
Like most real, lasting lessons, it all starts with a failure. In my case, one I let linger for more than a year without resolution.
As the saying goes, though…I was blind; now I can see. I hope you have a moment of clarity as well here.
Accountability is Everything
I’ve realized recently that over the years, I have been just plain horrible at holding team members accountable. I’ve accepted subpar work and incomplete projects from overpaid employees. I’ve been taken advantage of and manipulated. I had allowed corners to be cut and bent in the name of friendship & family. And I had allowed behavior to take hold which resulted in subpar results, decreased production, missed deadlines, and more.
And all along, I’ve feared holding team members accountable because I conflated leadership with being liked.
Most of us have been on or will be on a path that leads us to, well, lead. That is, from managing a couple assistants, to overseeing a small team, to being (and acting like) a proper CEO in an enterprise.
Most of us though, wind up being glorified managers.
As Peter Drucker has said:
“Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.”
Most of are cogs in our own machine. We’re in the trenches along with our team, grinding away, trying to build something bigger, better, faster, stronger (cue up daft punk?). We do things right all day long. (Or at least we try.)
And most stumble when it come to the biggest hurdle they in doing the right things…accountability.
Your Biggest Problem: You’re not holding your team accountable.
The vast majority of the entrepreneurs I’ve met grow into this, they don’t start here.
They start as a lone one man or woman shop, do things right for a while, and then they go through a period where they’re working alongside team members completing tasks.
But they’re still just doing things right. They’re not doing the right things.
They’re not moving towards a common goal – a clear vision. And when you break this down piecemeal…it becomes oh so easy to understand, visualize, and implement.
Enabling your team to understand the clear vision enables you to deliver clear expectations on where the company needs to go – whether it’s in 90 days, or 9 years.
And delivering clear expectations allow you to align your key metrics with that grand vision.
Setting and tracking key metrics allows you to easily and objectively identify when someone is missing the mark…
…which allows you to hold them accountable with corrective action, or if necessary, disconnecting that working relationship and allowing that team member to find a better fit in another role or letting them go.
You see, entrepreneurs have this funny habit of not really communicating the grand vision. Sometimes it’s a function of not even understanding the grand vision ourselves. Sometimes it’s a matter of understanding it but not communicating it clearly.
Whatever the case, team members working with your business will never buy in if the vision is unclear. And the trickle down effect of team members being able to understand, with clarity, where your company is going, what metrics they’re responsible for, and how they can meet the standard.
And you’ll be stuck in a situation where you are very much managing a company you should be leading.
But what if you’re already there? What if you’re not holding your team accountable? What if you suspect – but aren’t sure of – team members not delivering on their major metrics? What if you know you’re missing goals and benchmarks, but aren’t sure to what degree?
Determine Your Company’s Metrics
Let’s assume for the moment that you know the vision and you’ve communicated it decent enough. Your team understands from a high level what the company looks like in 5 years: where it’s sold, what the team size looks like, where revenue is, what the marketplace position is like…
Let’s also assume that you’ve identified that you suck at accountability and there are few, if any, metrics you’re tracking in the business. You, alongside your team, have the vision at hand, but you’re missing strategic goals.
You solve this by identifying one core metric in each of the major areas of your business.
For us, in the e-commerce world, that’s:
- For example, ensuring you’re maintaining a specific ACOS on Amazon or Cost Per Sale/Conversion on Facebook, or acquiring X number of followers/likes weekly, or reaching out to Y influencers or bloggers for outreach and promotional opportunities.
- Product & Catalog Management
- For example, assigning “points” to each stage of the product research, sourcing, private labeling, and shipment process and ensuring you’re moving the next product forward by achieving a pre-determined number of points. Or it can even be as simple as breaking out each stage and putting them on one or two week sprints, ensuring at the end of each sprint you’ve completed that stage’s goal.
- Customer Service
- For example, tracking time to resolution for a customer’s problem, or conversions to reviews for those customers who engage personally with your support staff.
- Operations & Finance
- An obvious one here is tracking profit. I’m a big fan of the Profit First methodology which requires, in part, that you take right off the top a specific profit percentage that is pre-determined. Tracking this and ensuring you’re hitting this mark monthly/quarterly is a quick and easy way to ensure your Brand is doing well. Likewise, tracking month over month or quarter over quarter growth are also viable metrics.
And you need a North Star Metric – a single, unifying metric that ensures you’re moving towards the grand vision. This may be quite different in your business depending on your vision, but something like “bottles sold” for a supplement company, or “lives impacted” for a fitness company focused on getting people healthier, or “smiles” for a toy company. The possibilities here are endless but at the core it inherently measures the company’s success from all perspectives.
Here is where you get to actually hold your team accountable effectively.
You’ve laid out the core metrics, which are most often aligned with the above core areas of your business and there’s an individual or team assigned to each.
On a weekly basis, get on a team call and go over those core metrics. Track the number of followers you have on social media. Log exactly where you are in the product/catalog management and expansion process. Know precisely how many customer issues you resolved and how quickly they were resolved. Know exactly where you are on net. Set benchmarks for each, quantify them on a weekly basis on team calls, and log them.
Here’s where holding the team accountable gets simple…you’re either hitting those pre-set benchmarks or you’re not.
If you’re not hitting those key metrics, and you know the benchmarks aren’t absurdly out of reach, you have an underperforming team member that requires corrective training or action.
If they’re failing to deliver on product pipeline, retrain, see what’s holding them up, and if they fail to meet the standard, it’s not a boss or manager letting them go…
…it’s their delivery and results not aligning with the company vision.
It’s an entirely different lens through which you view holding the team accountable and for measuring results.
And it’s one that, most importantly, disconnects you from the difficulty in working with those your friendly with, even family, and allows for a completely objective measurement to use in evaluating your team.
Hold Yourself Accountable
Here’s the thing…I totally understood the above for years. I understood that the key components of a business needed to be tracked and that they needed to be placed in the hands of a section/department manager, and that I as CEO would need to hold the team accountable.
I dropped the ball on that and for a longer time than I’d care to admit sat by as core team members didn’t lead their team, failed to deliver on projects, engaged in inappropriate behavior, and acted as a negative force within the team.
All because I didn’t hold MYSELF accountable in holding them accountable. I cut my own corners, I ignored inefficiencies, and I looked past failures.
The solution, all along, was tracking core metrics and objectively measuring your team – friend, family member or otherwise – and holding them accountable to their results.
I’m going to challenge you to hold yourself accountable in objectively measuring the success of your team and company. Determine the metrics, track them, ensure you’re working towards strategic goals…and if there’s a bump along the way, take corrective action. Don’t let it linger.