Instrument your way to happiness - Mark MacLeod

November 16, 2022 - Mark MacLeod

Instrument your way to happiness

Much has been written about the stress founders experience in starting and growing a company. Many of us, not just founders, live in a state of ‘fight or flight’. Always on edge. This is particularly so for founders trying to achieve greatness and taking on all kinds of capital and risk in the process.

In the early stages, the main worry is whether your company will survive. Will you build something that the market wants? Will you be able to attract and keep great talent? Will you be able to raise capital?

The worries don’t stop once you are post product-market fit though. In a conversation with a CEO yesterday he told me that he is ‘nervous to be happy’ about the performance of the business.

This is all too common. Even when things are going well, we still worry about whether this is sustainable or just temporary luck. After all, the startup journey is never a straight line up and to the right. The next bump is right around the corner.

Happiness = instrumentation

When CEOs want to talk about performance variances with me I always bring it back to working the problem or system. If revenue is below forecast, let’s look at our sales & marketing funnels to find the root cause of the variance. Which parts are not performing as expected?

Regardless of whether you are at, above or below your expectations, it is through having and deeply understanding the systems in your business that you can find happiness as a CEO.

Your business is a collection of people operating various systems. Goto market involves some mix of marketing, sales and customer success funnels and playbooks. R & D uses a methodology (agile scrum for example) and has things like burn-down charts for you to know if the roadmap is on track. HR has a system for sourcing new talent and evaluating current talent.

The key with these systems is instrumentation. You and your leadership team need to deeply understand the systems in your business. You need to document them and from that documented understanding, identify all the metrics, leading indicators, etc that help the leadership team confirm that the systems are performing as expected and that, as a result, we should expect to hit our targets.

It’s that simple.

If your business is currently performing well, there is no need to be paranoid that it’s about to fall apart. Now, I am not saying that you get complacent and drop the ball. Just saying, look at and work your system.

If you look underneath the hood and see that the current performance is deliberate. You’re not just getting lucky. Your teams are just working the system and can continue doing so (i.e. the system can keep scaling), then you’re good to go.

Just as a pilot has every aspect of the flight instrumented, so too should you as you (hopefully) take your business to great heights.

Questions to consider:

Do I find myself always worrying about the business? Even when things are going well?

What toll is that taking on me? On my performance?

Which parts of the business cause me the most stress and worry? Why?

Do I have the right leaders in place?

Have those leaders documented and instrumented a repeatable playbook for their functions?

If not, which aspects of those functions have documentation and instrumentation gaps?

How we close those gaps?

What type of reporting do I need so that I can have complete comfort that all the systems in the business are running as expected?

Photo by Stephen Dawson on Unsplash

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