In the last post in my series about running remote-first companies, I wrote about onboarding remote engineers and setting them up for success. It is paramount that new talent gets off to the right start if you want your organization to scale effectively.
After you onboard someone and get them integrated into your team, your ability to manage for high-performance becomes the next make-or-break challenge. Whether your company has one remote team or multiple teams focused on various initiatives, effective remote team management in your business is essential to achieving long term success. In the next two posts, I’ll explain to manage remote teams and how you can take my tactics and apply them to your company.
But first, what are the characteristics of a high-performance remote team?
“In simple terms, high-performance teams know what their goals are, and they consistently meet or exceed them.”
The statement may sound incredibly simple — and it is. But managers that consistently deliver day over day, year over year, especially when your company may have many teams working on an array of objectives, isn’t an accident. In my experience, the highest performing teams have managers that tend to take a very structured approach towards working with their people.
My approach – communicate goals, create a quarterly roadmap, and develop trackable monthly OKRs
At Turing, for example, we make sure that we communicate our goals clearly to the teams. Everyone aligns on what’s important. The strategy for achieving those goals is also communicated and understood by everybody. Progress is tracked with periodic check-ins and course corrections when we determine something is off-track.
We have a quarterly product roadmap. The product roadmap forms the basis for planning what we want to ship for every quarter, the major technical features, major product releases that we want to do in, say, vetting, matching, and post-match. Then we build this product roadmap by quarter. That’s an excellent forcing function for our quarterly boundaryless product events, where we show off the major tentpole features and product improvements that we shipped that quarter. Upon completion, we move on to the next quarter. Holding the events gives us a nice operational cadence.
The workflow for the process looks like this:
– Determine Quarterly Goals – We derive this from the company’s annual operating plan
– Create a quarterly roadmap with 1-3 key priorities for that quarter
– Develop monthly OKRs
– Communicate all the above company-wide
– Schedule Check-points
– Course correct in weekly OKR reviews, if check-points reveal something is off-track
– Ship continuously and announce publicly in quarterly product event
A word about OKRs
After we have a roadmap for what we want to accomplish in a quarter, we break that down into monthly OKRs, so every month, we have clear goals on what we want to achieve with each product. An OKR is a structured, time-bound, specific goal. Every OKR has a clear definition of done, so it’s obvious if we hit the goal or not.
Let’s say the objective is to grow our customer base. The key results might be, “Get 70 leads from the startup segment and get 30 leads from the enterprise segment.” We’re looking for measurable and specific that tracks whether we’re making progress towards that goal.
We set monthly OKRs. Our executive team then takes those OKRs and communicates them within their part of the organization. Then, every week I work with our executive team to track how we are doing relative to those goals in every function at Turing.
For us, tracking means evaluating performance against OKRs in sourcing, vetting, matching, post-match, sales, customer success, etc. So we can track week on week how we’re doing relative to our objectives. And suppose we detect that some goal is at risk of not being met. In that case, this lets us quickly figure out solutions to get back on track. To get back on track we either deploy more resources to solve that problem, or try a different strategy, or, in sporadic cases — we redefine the goals. Maybe we were off, and we incorrectly estimated what was achievable in that month and redoing that.
One element of being able to complete the goal is coming up with a clear goal in the first place — for the company, and a strategy to achieve it. Then, there’s another element that breaks down the pursuit of that goal into monthly or quarterly milestones, so you’re continually calibrating in terms of where you are relative to those objectives. You will want weekly check-ins with your team to troubleshoot anything that might be blocking the successful attainment of that goal.
If it’s not written down, it doesn’t exist
At Turing, one thing that helps is making sure that everything is written down. Certainly, this sounds obvious — but all of this must be written down so it can be unambiguously interpreted and shared company-wide. Often, writing forces clarity of thought and simplicity of communication since you can go back and refine what you wrote. We share the product roadmap deck that company-wide.
Our OKRs are on a spreadsheet we share across the entire company. We make sure all the primary metrics in the company are visible to everyone.
Every month, we create a PNP deck (Progress, Next scaling bottleneck, and Priorities) that I and the executive team share company-wide.
Everybody knows what progress the company makes, the company’s big priorities, and our next scaling bottleneck. What bottleneck do we have to solve to get to the next level? The PNP is so clearly written down that it has the nice effect of focusing everyone’s energy in the right direction.
Too often, in startups where there’s no clear communication, there’s a lack of focus and dissipation of energy. There are many smart people, but but without clear direction and focus –they’ll all pull in different directions.
If your team is pulling in differing direction you don’t apply sufficient critical mass to the most significant challenges. There’s a ton of advantage that comes from focusing energy on those key leverage points.
Instill a “challenge-accepted” culture
It’s important to instill a culture in your teams of not running away from challenges. Too often, companies can get into the spiral of wanting to look good for their investors, so they only talk about what’s working well, and what things they can brag about. At Turing, we do the opposite. We figure out the biggest blocker for speed for each month -we identify what that is, put it front and center, share it company-wide internally and attack it.
Our practice makes sure that the problem is receiving the right amount of mental energy and intellectual cycles from everyone on the team. We hold ourselves accountable for solving that problem because we have to.
Then, in our monthly post-mortem, we share how we did against that next scaling bottleneck. We also share this information with our investors and we share the information internally.
We have seen that completing the post-mortem has the advantage that the entire company moves, almost like one organism, in pursuit of the goals — and they are ready to the next hill to climb.
In the end, it comes down to having a clear plan, communicating that plan, and then having the right checkpoints in place to track whether you are making progress towards your objectives.
How company strategy leads to high performing teams
One thing I’m working on right now is creating a strategy document for the company. I plan to share that document with the entire company. Way too often, companies don’t articulate something like a strategy document. When you’re small, strategy documentation matters less — but as your company gets bigger, these things matter to get everyone aligned.
Strategy vs. Goals
A strategy is very different from a goal. Your strategy cannot be “get to 200 active FTEs,” for example. That’s not a strategy; that’s a goal.
Your strategy is the insight you have about the problem that shapes your approach to achieving the goal. Goals refer to “where do we need to go?” Strategy shapes the question, “How are we going to get there?” It’s helpful to understand the difference between goals and strategy in more detail.
To give you an analogy, let’s say you are building a sports car. The goal might be to make the car go zero to 60 in under three seconds. Now, that’s a goal, but the strategy to get there needs to have steps applied. 1. Make the engine more powerful — my doing this and this and this. 2. Make the car lighter by using (these) different materials. 3. Make the car more aerodynamic by doing — this and this.”
Eliminate some strategies that you find are not feasible. Maybe making the engine faster is not feasible under the cost or weight constraints you have, so you’ll take that part out. And we tell everybody, “hey, we’re going to go from zero to 60 in under three seconds. The way we are going to make this car go that fast is by using lighter materials and improving the aerodynamic profile.”
So, your strategy is about aiming people’s energy in the right direction to get to the goal. For my company, similarly, I’m writing the strategy document to help us align on what we need to do to win and reach our goal. What is it going to take, and what do we focus on? And what are some ways in which — if we perform these tasks — we will achieve compounding benefits over time? It’s going to get harder and harder for competitors to catch us if we invest in these strategic areas.
To run a high-performance organization and a high-performance team, it’s important to communicate the goal, the strategy to get to the goal, and the meaningful checkpoints to track how you’re performing relative to your goals. Remember that you need to be continually revisiting whether this is the right strategy. Sometimes market conditions will change, or you learn something new about the market that you didn’t know before — and you have to quickly pivot and adapt.
For a deeper dive into this area, particularly related to understanding what you should measure to know if you’re on track, I highly recommend High Output Management by Andrew Grove, the former CEO and Chairman of Intel.
Wrap Up Part I
In this installment you have learned about high-performance teams’ characteristics, why it’s crucial to establish and communicate goals, and how to use check-points to confirm that you’re on track quarter-over-quarter.
You have learned how creating a culture of running towards challenges is critical to developing high-performance teams. Finally, you have learned the key distinction between goals and strategy.
In the second installment, we’ll look at the two types of decisions and who should make them. We’ll dig into my thoughts about having and maintaining a culture of feedback. Finally, I’ll give you my blueprint for building a high-performance organization with high-performance teams. Please stay tuned.
Image Credit: waldemar-brandt; unsplash
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