Am I doing a good job?
One of the major challenges with an early-stage startup, I have found, is the setting of targets. There are any number of ways to manage the targets once set like OKRs or the Four Disciplines, but if you’re not sure how successful something might be or how long something might take, you can put a target in place, but it becomes meaningless if it doesn’t have some form of data or experience behind it.
A few years ago I had a conversation with one of the sales guys in the company I was working at. We were discussing the performance of one of his colleagues who he was vigorously defending. He was able to list any number of factors which he claimed were nothing to do with the individual concerned. The conversation ended when I asked him how I could tell the difference between a good salesman and a bad one since there would always be external factors which could be blamed. He has yet to get back to me.
In my startup this has been a constant discussion. All of us understand the logic of having targets but we can’t seem to get past the setting conversation. However, the real danger of operating without targets is that you end up in a world of ‘best efforts’ — on the basis that there’s no expectations, then anything becomes good enough. If ‘we’re all busy’ or ‘we’re all working hard’, it seems almost churlish to tell someone their efforts are not good enough, and even harder when there’s no objective data behind the mental yardstick used to judge that statement.
Building SaaS products is a fascinating process because there are so many metrics and yardsticks provided by the market. Investors are very clear about the SaaS metrics which they deem to be important but also the targets which a company should be aiming for, and where those numbers would place a company relative to their SaaS peers.
For me personally, I find this situation difficult because it’s important to me not just to do a good job, but to do things ‘right’. It’s not enough that my colleagues appreciate the deck I’ve written if its late or it doesn’t achieve a sale, for instance. The ‘best efforts’ become even worse, because we start to measure what we can and not what we should. We fall into the classic ‘vanity metrics’ trap which is compounded by a lack of targets — the very essence of vanity.
There is no list of things to do that I can offer, but there is a discipline. I think every team needs to push itself to at least setting targets. It may be that they are meaningless, but I do believe that the exercise of doing so, and then a review of the targets themselves as well as the process of setting them, should mean that you get better over time.