How to turn your great ideas into actual results
A operating framework for planning and execution
Most investors and entrepreneurs agree that the key ingredients in startup growth successes are luck, timing and execution. But for every high profile unicorn lucky to pick the right market at the right time and seemingly get carried on a wave to a blockbuster IPO, there are hundreds of others who inch their way to the promised land by grinding and executing.
Execution is hard because there are always more ideas than there are resources to execute them, especially when growth is slow. I’ve yet to meet a company that has a problem ideating but I’ve met plenty that have problems turning those ideas into results.
The problems typically show up in 3 ways:
Prioritization—when teams debate ideas without a common framework for evaluating them. Priorities end up being based on ad-hoc data and qualitative inputs and lack cohesion, which leads to confusion and conflict.
Planning—when normally siloed teams realize they need each other to deliver on priorities but lack a framework around which to align. Planning turns into horse-trading, which leads to customer needs taking a back seat to politics and commitments that aren’t held.
Managing variance—when goals aren’t hit and the reasons aren’t clear, opinions trump data, leading to knee-jerk strategic shifts and organizational chaos.
Having faced these problems several times as an exec, I developed an operating framework to align a company around a growth strategy and translate it into execution. It combines the structure of product development process, which I learned early in my career as a PM with the transparent accountability of sales, which I learned after I became a CEO.
The framework is made up of 8 components:
Strategy. What is our approach to growth?
Metrics. How do we measure our strategy?
Initiatives. What are the things we could do to move the metrics?
Priorities. What order are we going to do the initiatives in?
Resources. Who is doing the work and how long will it take?
Goals. What result do we expect from executing each initiative?
Actuals. How do our results compare to our goals?
Variance. How do we explain the difference between our goals and actuals?
Putting the framework into action spans 5 steps:
Turning Strategy into Metrics
Turning Metrics into Initiatives
Turning Initiatives into Priorities
Turing Priorities into Plans and Goals
Tracking Goals vs Actuals and Managing Variance
Let’s use the example of a B2B business to illustrate the framework in action
1. Turning Strategy into Metrics
Goal: identify the key components of your growth strategy and the metric you’ll use to measure each component.
Key Activities: choose components and growth metrics that can be combined into a growth model, which is an equation that leads to your growth outcome (in this case Monthly New ARR). If you can’t combine your metrics into an equation, your growth strategy is disjointed and you need to rethink it.
Here’s how that looks in practice:
Before continuing to the next step, make sure you can measure each metric and establish the current baseline. Create an initial tops-down goal for each metric so that you can get an idea of the compound impact of hitting all the goals. But remember that the tops-down goal is not the final goal!
2. Turning Metrics into Initiatives
Goal: identify all the initiatives you could potentially pursue to advance the growth strategy and to line them up with their relevant growth metric. This ensures that ideas are surfaced early and filters out ideas that are not aligned with the growth strategy.
Key Activities: conduct a brainstorming session where everyone writes down their ideas for growth initiatives on post-it notes, puts them on the wall (or a Mural board) under the relevant growth metric and then votes on them.
Here’s how that looks in practice: