How to optimize your organization for growth and impact

Ryan Van EchoChief Operating OfficerPosted November 10, 2021

“Great things are not done by impulse, but by a series of small things brought together” -Vincent van Gogh

Want to create success? Find a way to enable your entire company to constantly create small wins each day. But how do you do this? I’ve recently been asking myself that question as we near the 5th anniversary of Agility Partners and building out our intelligent automation business Impower.ai.

Here’s what has worked for us so far:

1. Develop a Vision

If you don't know where you're going, any road will get you there.” – Lewis Carroll

You have to know where you want to go and then build a plan to get there. For us, this started with reading Traction by Geno Wickman; I cannot recommend this book enough to any business owner or team that wants to create lasting value. Traction outlines an operating system for your business, and through the chapters, you develop a ten-year vision, core values, focus, differentiators, and a 3-year roadmap to move you along your journey.

This vision roadmap has been indispensable to us as we’ve grown. We update it once a year and then work to build our annual plan to move us 10% down the path towards our ultimate goal each year.

2. Make a 1-year Plan

“A vision, without a plan, is just a hallucination” – Will Rodgers

The second step in the V/TO, or vision/traction organizer, is the 1-year plan. We create one of these annually towards the end of the year, outlining core numbers (revenue, GP, NI), headcount, and 5-7 major goals that must be accomplished. We also create our annual budget, which is a huge piece of the puzzle, as you must know how much money you have to invest, and where you’re going to make those investments.

From this one-year plan, we then break it down each quarter into rocks (goals) that are distributed amongst the leadership team. Each of our leaders adds their department goals that get us ¼ of the way to our annual goal, and then each team member is given rocks from those.

This ensures every single person in the company has quarterly goals aligned with our companies’, from the quarterly targets up to the 10-year vision.

3. Hire Great People and Trust Them

“You win with people!” – Woody Hayes

Having a plan is great, but if you don’t have anyone to help you execute it, you’ll get nowhere. It took us a while to get good at this, but over time and under the guidance of Deborah Andrews, we’ve developed a great process/strategy for hiring new people and turning them loose in our organization. It’s certainly not easy, but here are a few steps that will help:

  • Hire based on who you are; make sure people align with your core values and the role.

  • Have a clear accountability chart for who does what, who each person reports to, who makes decisions, and how information flows.

  • Don’t micromanage; allow people to make decisions within the systems you’ve built.

  • Have quarterly reviews, giving feedback on goals and values – this review must go both ways, with each member reviewing each other.

By doing this, you hire great people that will work well within your culture, and you show them exactly where they fit and what they’re expected to do. The last piece is to build a top-notch onboarding program that everyone goes through and develops 30, 60, and 90-day checkpoints with expected outcomes at each step of the way.

4. Track your Progress

All models are wrong, but some are useful” – George E.P. Box

Once you’ve got everyone working well, how do you know if things are going according to plan? You need to develop systems to frequently report back on progress. For us, we use weekly leadership and department meetings where each team reports on their scorecard (a list of key metrics with targets, so it’s immediately visible if we’re above or below target), reports on goals, and solves key issues.

We’ve noticed that requiring each team member to give a brief update on all their rocks each week to the entire team helps hold everyone accountable and keeps everything on track.

I would also highly recommend that you hold a monthly budget vs. actuals meetings. This ensures budgets are maintained and can alert you of areas to focus on.

Lastly, it’s crucial that you also develop easy feedback loops for customers. This must be more than just Google reviews; it should be a series of calls, emails, and surveys that go out on a cadence that allows you to continuously track sentiment and can serve as an early warning sign of bigger issues to come.

5. Be Ready to Adjust

“When you come to a fork in the road, take it!” – Yogi Berra

If you do all the above, you’ll have a strong organization, but it will be incredibly brittle. What happens when things don’t go according to plan? Do you lose a client? Does the economy turn? An investment doesn’t pay off? Or things just plain aren’t working – you’re getting things done, but it isn’t moving the needle.

For this, you need to learn to be flexible. This is more of an art than a science because you don’t want to be the type of company that always has a different flavor of the month and is constantly trying something new. You need to stick to your quarterly plan and the team should hold each other accountable for what was supposed to get done, but sometimes the world throws you a curveball.

If something does need to be swapped out, that’s fine. When these situations arise, we discuss them in our weekly leadership meetings, ensure everyone is on the same page with the new direction we’re taking, decide what will now not happen instead of the new initiative, and lastly (and most importantly), be sure to communicate this to the entire team.

To facilitate this, we have a bi-weekly all-staff meeting which allows us to update the entire company on progress towards our plan, highlight big news and showcase great work that people have done, and message anything like the above to everyone.

6. Have Fun and Get to Work!

“If you really look closely, most overnight successes took a long time.” – Steve Jobs

At AP, our final core value is to have fun! It will be a lot of work along the way, but if you enjoy the ride and follow the above steps, the possibilities are limitless.

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Ryan Van Echo Ryan is the COO at Agility Partners. He runs our business with a "find a way to win" mentality and loves to create solutions that allow our team to thrive.