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Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad 2023 is here, but 2022 was (for many) very difficult.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad 2023 is here, but 2022 was (for many) very difficult.
Many were laid off. Many suffered the post covid cold or flu. Some tragically lost loved ones. And I think many are excited to leave 2022 in the rearview and focus on what is ahead.
And while it’s healthy and fun to be optimistic about the future, it’s also healthy to be responsible and pragmatic about what’s to come.
As markets shift and reward profitability, companies' knee-jerk reaction is to cut costs and do “more with less.” You are seeing companies take the approach of massive layoffs, significant spending reduction, and forcing those who were lucky enough to keep their job to stay later and work harder.
That thinking alone is irresponsible, and it’s certainly not the antidote to the incredibly complex market that we are living in.
That being said, let’s celebrate in advance, because there IS an antidote, and it’s called “doing more with more.”
Some of the all-time great companies of the last 100 years were born during difficult economic times. Microsoft in 1975 during the oil embargo. EA in 1982 during the worst recession since the great depression. Airbnb, Slack, WhatsApp, and Square were all just before the 2009 crash.
What do those companies have in common?
All of them did more with more.
And, it’s not just the companies I mentioned above. I’ve seen this work countless times, including for my own company, Drivably (a venture-backed auto tech company I founded in 2018). In March 2020, Drivably was facing bankruptcy. 18 months later, we were acquired by a public company. How? We did more with more.
But what is doing “more with more”?
When people hear the quote “doing more with less,” they automatically associate it with headcount, budgets, etc.; typically, the advice is to “cut.” Let me be clear; I am not saying that it is all wrong.
However, there are other levers that can be even more impactful than headcount & money.
Here are the 5 things that all great companies do MORE of during challenging economic times.
- More Focus
- More Action
- More Saying “No”
- More High-Leverage Resources
- More Customer Obsession
Let’s break these down.
#1 - MORE FOCUS
Some people prefer a slow pace. They prefer a lack of focus. Their default is to be a passenger, to wait to be told. Those are NOT the people you want in this market.
Frank Slootman, the all-world CEO of Snowflake and ServiceNow, wrote in his famous LinkedIn post and now book Amp It Up that “no strategy is better than its execution.”
“When you become a strong executor, you will automatically become a better strategist because the right strategic questions will surface.”
His point is not about doing more, working harder, or going faster. It’s about more focus. Increasing focus in a company is the #1 lever to increasing the quality of the work product, and speed.
A 2014 survey by Salary.com found that 89% of workers admitted to wasting time at work every day. Of these people, 61% claim to waste between 30 minutes to an hour a day. While this may not seem like much, it can add up to 5 hours a week or 260 hours a year - per employee.
#2 - MORE ACTION
More action doesn’t just mean “more time, more energy, and more effort.”
It means “more of the RIGHT types of action.”
When I worked for HireVue as the Head of Global Renewals, one of our core principles was to "Act Like an Owner." When everyone treats their role like it’s their own business within the broader company, and the CEO/Executive team enables them to operate in this manner, magic occurs.
There is an infamous 1999 Harvard white paper called “who’s got the monkey.” This white paper gives the analogy of a problem or task being a monkey on someone’s back. It’s key that it’s always clear who owns the monkey. Otherwise, the monkey will starve and die. The white paper talks about the 5 degrees of initiative in an organization.
- Wait until told (lowest initiative)
- Ask what to do
- Recommend, then take the resulting action
- Act, but advise at once
- Act, then return and report (highest initiative)
Companies need to create a culture where 3, 4, and 5 are encouraged. Where action, even when it results in a degree of failure, is praised and rewarded.
#3 - MORE SAYING “NO”
A study of meetings in America found that approximately 11 million meetings occur in the U.S every day. Professionals who frequent such weekly meetings admitted to daydreaming (91%), missing meetings (95%), bringing other work to the meeting (73%), and even falling asleep (39%)
When things are good, companies tend to waste a lot of time.
Generally, most of the time wasted is in pointless meetings. Over 70% of organization meeting attendees have no business being there. 20-person meetings should be 6 people, 10-person meetings should be 3 people, 6 person meetings should be 2 people. You could argue that all meetings should be 3 people or fewer.
In fact, just last week, Shopify announced that it will be eliminating 75,000 hours of scheduled meetings that involved more than 2 people, and mandate that meetings are held to 2 people or fewer, and only if they are absolutely necessary.
A lot more would be done by enabling your people to say “no” when they can’t add tremendous value to a meeting.
#4 - MORE HIGH-LEVERAGE RESOURCES
High leverage can mean many things.
At Drivably, we constantly asked ourselves the question, “is the thing we are trying to solve worthy of a full-time employee, or is there a high-leverage resource we can engage to do it faster, better, and/or cheaper”?
Many times we would find that we could engage with an advisor, consultant, outside firm, or coach to help us solve our greatest problems the fastest, especially when it was crunch time (i.e., we were running out of money).
One of the more common questions I get from CEOs is...
“Why do I need a coach?”
My answer typically always starts with some version of “the same reason why Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, and Serena Williams need a coach.”
A coach will allow you to see blind spots in your game, sharpen existing strengths, and hold you accountable to reaching new heights. Every great CEO I know has a coach. I had a CEO coach. It’s my belief is that all CEOs should have a coach.
One of the greatest college basketball coaches in history, John Wooden, said: “it’s the little details that are vital. Little things make big things happen”. Great coaches focus on the details.
#5 - MORE CUSTOMER OBSESSION
Customers are the lifeblood of any business.
Now more than ever, companies are being tasked with cutting costs. The #1 way to prevent rampant churn in your organization is to be your customer's favorite vendor. Their favorite technology. Their favorite solution. Their favorite rep.
But how do you become their favorite?
You do this by keeping the customer central to every decision you make as a company. Not only will they stay, but they will pay more to companies that have better customer support and love.
When I was a young professional working at my first startup, my father gifted me a book that was signed by the author Jack Mitchell called “Hug your customer.”
Jack says in this book that “only delighted customers are genuinely loyal.” He talks about the literal and metaphoric benefits of hugging when he says, “In some instances, we physically hug the customers - but we mainly metaphorically hug them by showering them with attention in a way that every business ought to but doesn’t”
Let’s be real about the market we are facing in 2023.
And let's be intentional about how we will manage and lead our teams and businesses through it.
Cutting costs and expecting everyone who is still on board to magically produce the same result is nearly the same definition of insanity. It’s just not real.
Focus on what you can control, and doing a LOT more of it will manifest as the only way to win in 2023.
My weekly challenge to you: share how you're going to do "more with more" in 2023 on a LinkedIn post and tag me in the post. I'd love to hear about what you're going to do, and I'll give you feedback!
Are you a startup founder or CEO that needs help facing the challenges of 2023?
In addition to my newsletter, I also coach early-stage startup founders & CEOs. If you'd like to work together, please set up a 15-minute chemistry call with me here (spots are limited).