How to find the right rhythm for scaling up
Every business has its own rhythm. Whether it’s meetings, goals, budgetary cycles or communication frequency – all can be influenced and controlled for optimal efficiency. Like the conductor of the finest orchestra, as CEO you can listen critically, tune, adjust tempo and control dynamics to create a perfect performance. Your aim? To manage the energy of your business in a positive and productive way.
To do this requires sustained effort and consistent application – everyone needs to feel the beat and stay in time. If you’re looking to scale-up, getting the right rhythm in place from the start is vital.
Quarterly not annual
I’ve said this before – I don’t think annual rhythms work. A quarterly cycle is much more effective, both in terms of performance development and goal setting. Take annual appraisals (my pet hate!) If you’re thinking of introducing them, don’t! Get rid of them if they already exist in your company. They’re useless.
Why? Because an annual horizon is too far away. Who can remember what they’ve done over a whole year? What’s the point of telling someone that they’ve underachieved for 12 months? This is a massive waste of precious time that could have been spent on fixing the issue. If you’re a manager, you should give daily feedback to your team.
The same goes for annual budgeting. Too often I’ve witnessed finance staff inventing arbitrary numbers out of thin air. If budgets are measured annually, there’s little scope for adjustment. Worse, if staff know after 6 months that they’re on course to hit their annual target, they’ll take their foot off the gas. (You know who you are!) Far better to create meaningful ratios or percentages that are measured on a quarterly cycle. When I was MD at Peer 1, we took this approach. For example, our customer experience team were given a budget of 5% of revenue. As we knew likely revenue for the next quarter, this team could make definite plans based on realistic figures.
Time and again, I’ve seen how a 90-day rhythm can build alignment in a business. Staff feel most engaged when they know what’s expected of them. If it’s made super clear to them, they’ll know that what they’ve done has made a difference and been meaningful. It’s far easier to see the link between what you do today and a quarterly theme as you can see and make sense of a nearer horizon. Think weekly check-ins on the Blue Peter totaliser rather than playing for a year and finding out the score months after the game finished.
Fine-tune your meeting rhythms
It’s important to decide an optimal rhythm for meetings and then embed this into the organisation until it becomes second nature. Make sure your leadership team sets the standard and leads by example. You want your meeting rhythm to feel as natural as cleaning your teeth every day. Just like your mum drummed it into you, you need to drum it into your staff that this is how it is.
Quarterly kickoffs are a good place to start when your 90-day theme is clearly communicated and linked to the longer-term vision. Every member of staff should be given three or four stretch objectives and key results linked to the 90-day theme. They should then discuss these in a ‘daily huddle’, talking through what they did yesterday, what they did today, what are the ‘blockers’ or alerts for the team to look out for etc.
I’ve found staff often push back on the daily huddle. They say they don’t have time, or it doesn’t add any value. I say, if it doesn’t add value, you’re not doing it right! It shouldn’t last more than 15 minutes, you should huddle standing up and you should start with some good news. All your staff need to realise that if they take 15 minutes out of their day, every day, they will get back so much more from the clarity of overcoming hurdles and agreeing on priorities. They will feel more connected to the business and the people in it. Communication should be done face-to-face, in-person and daily (and not via email).
Weekly one-to-ones with managers gives staff the opportunity to look at whether they’ve made progress during the last week (51 weeks earlier than in some firms I have worked in!)
Celebrate – regularly!
Most importantly, at the end of every 90-day cycle, make sure you celebrate. This will give all your employees a sense of positive achievement and the feeling that what they’ve done has made a difference.
At every company I’ve run, we’ve had a celebration rhythm of an ‘all-hands’ meeting every month. Total transparency was important – we shared financial information and asked each of the managers to say three positive things. They were briefed to catch people doing the right thing and call this out, awarding bottles of champagne to members of staff from other teams who’d been particularly helpful. This behaviour always linked back to one of our core values. We also asked employees to share the praise they’d written about teammates for the employee of the month award. Doing this in person, in public has much more impact.
The monthly ‘all-hands’ was combined with a weekly email from the CEO, again putting a positive spin on what had happened that week and what was being planned for the following week. By using a regular, ‘carrot not stick’ rhythm, we modelled the sort of behaviour we wanted to see in the organisation and taught staff to understand what was expected of them and where the social currency was to be earned.
Encourage your staff to adopt their own personal rhythm for effective working. I’m a big fan of time-blocking – planning out your day in advance and dedicating specific hours to accomplish specific tasks. For some roles such as account management, it’s important to introduce a regular rhythm around email, only checking it at certain times (ideally not before noon). This will mean they’re not constantly at everyone’s beck and call.
Then there’s the Pomodoro Technique – another great rhythm where staff work in regular, intensely focused bursts for 25 minutes and then give themselves a short break. I’ve seen first-hand how productive this can be. At Peer 1, we designed our office space around this idea, encouraging staff to take a complete mental break at regular intervals. They could shoot some pool, play a video game or simply make a coffee.
Practice makes perfect
As with anything in life, to optimise the rhythm of your business is going to take deliberate practice by everyone in the company before it becomes second nature. I’m a keen runner. Like everything I do, it’s my aim to get better at running with the same level of effort. Reading about running technique tells me that long-distance runners typically have a cadence of 180 steps per minute. They achieve this through subtle changes to their stride length, foot placement and body position. By regularly practising and fine-tuning my technique, I’ve increased the distance I can cover in the same amount of time and I feel less exhausted!
In the same way, you need to make sure that everyone in your company understands why working rhythms are important. Success will depend on total buy-in. The whole company needs to practice their working rhythms together otherwise inertia and negativity easily set in. Jim Collins uses the imagery of a flywheel. I love that. In his book, ‘Good to Great’ he says that no matter how dramatic the end result, good-to-great transformations never happen in one fell swoop. Rather, the process resembles relentlessly pushing a giant, heavy flywheel until it eventually builds momentum to spin on its own. As a leader, you need to spin the flywheel at the start. You have to go in every day and put the effort in. Then eventually, one day, you’ll go in and find it’s spinning without you – you’ve got to a point where your rhythm is embedded. It’s become normal.
Your aim is to run a business with a higher cadence. Just like long-distance running, you want to hit that magic 180 steps per minute. Think about what you’re not going to do as well as what you are. Identify ways to get more out of what you already have. Try to reduce any organisational drag that might be preventing this. Make a plan and work at it every day.
If you’re deliberate from the outset, you can create new rhythms that will make a massive difference to the day-to-day functioning of your business. Introduce them as early as you can and they’ll keep the momentum going as you start to grow. They’ll also optimise business efficiency, working like compound interest for your company that ensures an unparalleled growth trajectory.
Written by business growth coach Dom Monkhouse. Find out more about his work here.