Transforming a Start-up into a Business: 5 Lessons Learned to Create a United and Productive…

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Like any new business, Leverage was not immune to the challenges and adversities that most start-ups face.

As many of you may know, Leverage was founded in 2015 by Ari Meisel and Nick Sonnenberg. Leverage soon created a name for itself in the world of outsourcing as a premier service. With a team of 150+ virtual assistants, the company was growing at a rate of about 5–10% each month…

But things quickly changed in October of 2017, when Ari unexpectedly decided to leave the company. Nick had virtually no notice — a mere 5 minutes to prepare for what was about to happen.

The biggest initial challenge was dealing with the division of roles and responsibilities between the two founders. Ari was the face of Leverage, working closely with clients, managing the team and company marketing. Nick, on the other hand, was the driver behind operations and technology.

He had, historically, been completely behind-the-scenes. Many clients and team members didn’t even know who Nick was, and this was a big problem.

Very quickly, as Nick took over the daily operations of the company, he uncovered some core issues that had been largely swept under the rug. Ironically, Leverage — a so-called “productivity company” — was actually running extremely inefficiently. Premature scaling is a big issue for new start-ups, and Leverage had unfortunately fallen into this familiar trap, which masked the core, fundamental issues the company had.

“How can you call yourself an entrepreneur if you’ve never been tested? I feel like I’ve finally earned it. It was too easy before, there was no test” — Nick Sonnenberg

This extreme event was almost a blessing in disguise for the company. It forced the internal Leverage team to ask themselves the question:

Who are we and what direction do we want to go?

Over the course of the next several months, the team completely re-evaluated and re-structured how the company operated, working towards fixing those core issues. It allowed Leverage to “grow-up” as a company and become stronger than ever.

“Every challenge, every adversity, contains within it the seeds of opportunity and growth” — Roy Bennett

Nick was keen to on restructuring Leverage to be a non-hierarchical, self-managing organization. He took bits and pieces from the books Traction by Gino Wickman, The 12-Week Year by Brian Moran and Michael Lennington, Tony Robbins’ RPM Method, and Scrum Methodology for software development.

Through this process, there were 5 key lessons learned for creating a more united and productive organization:

  1. Creating a Company Vision
  2. Clear Roles & Responsibilities
  3. Process Documentation
  4. Establishing Quarterly Goals
  5. Implementing Structured Meetings

Creating a Company Vision

How can you expect your team to rally around you and give their time and attention to something they don’t actually understand?

A company vision needs to be established among the company’s key stakeholders and shared with the rest of the team — so everyone is on the same page, culturally speaking. A company vision has two parts:

  • A Mission Statement
  • A Set of Core Values

The mission statement is clear and concise. It defines the organization by explaining: what the company is, why it exists, and the company’s function, market, and competitive advantage.

A company’s core values serve as a compass for the organization. They are the basic elements of how an organization approaches their work and represents how team members interact with clients and each other.

Clear Roles and Responsibilities

Who is responsible for what? If no one knows, a lot of time can be wasted trying to figure this out — which is ultimately company time. As a decentralized, remote company, Nick wanted to avoid hierarchy — which hard to eliminate completely, opting instead for an organized, self-managing team.

Establishing clear roles and responsibilities empowers a team. It defines who are you are, where you are going, and what you want to achieve. This ultimately creates a more united front of team members holding themselves accountable for their work and being transparent during the process. Creating an organization chart is one way to share the roles and responsibilities for key members to the rest of the team.

Process Documentation

As morbid as it sounds, what would happen if you were hit by a bus tomorrow? Would your team know how to fill your shoes so the company can continue? Defining systems and procedures is key.

Some companies have manuals, Leverage uses Process Street. Process Street is the checklist of all checklists — it’s a simple, free and powerful way to manage your team’s recurring checklists and procedures so that anyone can step in to any role at a moments notice.

Establishing Quarterly Goals

Establishing quarterly goals or “rocks” for a company is key for continued growth, and goes hand-in-hand with defining roles and responsibilities.

Rocks are realistic and achievable objectives that departments and team members use as a guideline when prioritizing how they spend their time. Creating metrics for the rocks adds a layer of accountability, ensuring that team members are staying on track.

Leverage does this in a unique way. Every task related to company operations is created as a separate card in Trello, with three elements:

  • A Person: the one person accountable for that task is assigned as the “Member” of that card.
  • A Point: for the estimated time (in hours) it should take to complete that task. (We use Scrum for Trello.)
  • A Label: that corresponds to a quarterly rock.

And the cards are organized by the following lists:

  • Weekly Repeating: tasks that occur on a weekly basis.
  • Next Week: important, one-off tasks that need to be done in the following weeks.
  • Doing This Week: one-off tasks that need to be completed this week.
  • Done: completed tasks.
  • Backlog: a place to “brain dump” ideas and tasks that don’t have a short-term deadline.

Reaching quarterly goals is a team effort, and defining and organizing tasks in such a transparent way allows for individual time management and self-organizing as well as eliminating micro-managing.

“Weekly sprints” are one way for a team member and their leader to determine how time is spent. Depending on the team member’s weekly workable hours, the points between the “weekly repeating” tasks and “doing this week” tasks will total to their hours of work. For example, if a team member is committed to 40 hours a week and their weekly repeating tasks totals to 25 hours, there is 10 hours left to dedicate to other one-off tasks that can be drawn from the “Next Week” or “Backlog” lists.

Implementing Structured Meetings

Meetings cost the company money and should be used for more than just putting out fires as issues arise. Meetings are discussions with set time frames and agendas that include the most productive team members who need to be included in the discussion. Leverage established weekly meetings for certain teams as well as one-on-one meetings between a leader and team member to discuss tasks, metrics and the up-coming week’s work, where tasks are moved from either “Next week” or “Backlog” into “Doing This Week.”

Meeting structure will typically include:

  • A 5 minute or less segway
  • Previous week’s tasks: what was completed, what is still ongoing, and why.
  • Scorecard discussion: to discuss the key metrics the team member is accountable for.
  • Rock review: a review of the weekly progress towards achieving quarterly goals.
  • Core of Meeting: to identify, discuss and solve any issues and plan the upcoming weekly sprint.
  • Conclusion: with a meeting rating.

When meetings are data driven, there is clear information to support how decisions are made and identify areas to improve — always keeping the quarterly rocks top-of-mind.

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