KEEPING MY EMPLOYEES FOCUSED
I run Fahrenheit 212, an innovation consultancy firm that helps Fortune 100 companies build products and bring them to market. We’re unique in that our clients pay us based on specific milestones of success. This business structure leads to greater opportunities, as we’re paid not for time on task but on outcomes. But because we only take a fraction of our overall fees upfront, this strategy also puts two-thirds of our potential revenue at risk.
This means that if our employees don’t maintain a razor-sharp focus, our company could fail. So I’ve implemented a performance scoring system called the “100-day plan” that forces my staff to hold themselves accountable for their actions.
Our five-year goal is to build a $40 million practice, and we’re well on our way. The company has more than doubled in size in the last twelve months — success I attribute to the plan, and the discipline it instills in each employee.
Origins of the Plan
The plan is based on theories set out in a book called Peak Performance: Business Lessons from the World’s Top Sports, which was co-written by Kevin Roberts — my boss at my previous job with the marketing company Saatchi and Saatchi. The book focuses on common themes of leadership among the world’s best sports teams, and aims to provide lessons that managers can apply to organizations as a whole. One of the key elements is the idea of “scoring” a company’s departments on how well they meet certain markers of performance.
Fahrenheit 212 was a subsidiary branch of Saatchi and Saatchi until I led a buy-out in 2006 to establish it as an independent company. At that point, I decided to take the lessons of Kevin’s book to the next level and develop scorecards for individual employees based on specific milestones. It took a long time to remove subjectivity from the process, but I’ve fine-tuned it over the years to the point where it works quite well.
Now, employees have clearly defined milestones of success, and are focused on hitting them every 100 days without fail. The process quickly weeds out those who aren’t up to the task, and incentivizes employees to score highly. Our bonus program is directly linked to 100-day plan performance. Those with the highest scores receive bonus payments for their hard work. As a result, our team members spend every day actively working towards important goals for our company. Our productivity has gone through the roof.
How it works
Every 100 days, we sit down together as a group to discuss the company and go over what we plan to achieve in the next 100 days. We develop a list of goals for the company’s future, looking across all our internal projects and client assignments. One goal might be to create a new content section for our website; another could be to invest in a new technique for representing a product idea for a corporate client. At the end of the session, we have a page or two of overall goals that will help advance the company and our relationships with our clients.
Next, each employee has three or four days to write down what he or she is going to independently contribute towards achieving the goals on the master list. You come up with six or seven goals, such as “write new copy for About Us section” for a content manager, or “create product prototype for A-list client” for a designer. I’m not interested in learning how you plan to do it, just that you’ll do it.
After 100 days, we hold our next meeting to draft a new master list of goals, but before we do that, everyone goes through their list from the last 100 days. We look at how well we followed through on our old plans, and discuss what didn’t work and why.
The employees all score themselves based on how well they lived up to the standards they’d set for themselves. I have a group of extraordinarily clever people here, and we expect them to get at least a “5″ every time. They receive financial incentives to score above that marker. A score of “7″ means they nailed the job. Then my partner and I sit down with everyone and agree on their scores from the previous period, and assess and lock in their plan for the next 100 days.
You don’t want to score less than five, though. It’s an unspoken rule here that if you go through three periods scoring below five, you’re gone. I’ve only had to fire two people for that. The other employees who didn’t meet the standard decided to leave on their own.
Everyone is accountable
As the company’s leader, I don’t need to worry about anything beyond the 100-day plan. There’s no need for me to micro-manage or keep track of employee’s day-to-day actions. There is some management here, but it’s focused around individual client projects, rather than the company as a whole. Under the 100-day plan, employees have a lot of freedom. They set their own tasks and hold themselves accountable for their own performances.
It’s the most transformational thing you can imagine: You write your own destiny. You are accountable for building something that’s important to the company. And we’re open to letting our employees take some risks — after all, you can never be more than 100 days wrong.
As told to Kathryn Hawkins