Episode 22: The Big Three And The Power Of Alignment, With Brett Gilliland
Brett Gilliland is Founder and CEO of Elite Entrepreneurs, a company that specializes in giving $1M+ business owners the knowledge, processes, and tools to grow to $10M and beyond. Brett is an expert in organization development, leadership, and strategy and spent 10 years helping Infusionsoft grow from $7M in revenue to over $100M. Brett was involved in the foundational work of Purpose, Values, and Mission at Infusionsoft and facilitated the strategic planning process for many years.
One of Brett’s favorite professional accomplishments is co-creating Infusionsoft’s Elite Forum along with Clate Mask and building the Elite business inside of Infusionsoft. As the leader of the Elite business, Brett has helped hundreds of struggling seven-figure business owners overcome their biggest challenges and achieve new levels of success. He also played a central role in the development of Infusionsoft’s Leadership Model and was serving as the VP of Leadership Development when the decision was made to spin the Elite business out of Infusionsoft. As the new owner of Elite Entrepreneurs, Brett can’t think of anything else he’d rather be doing professionally. When Brett isn’t busy helping $1M+ businesses succeed, he is a family man who enjoys spending time with his beautiful wife, Sharon, and their 8 children.
What the podcast will teach you
- Why it is important to focus your daily activities toward your long term goals for your company, and why aligning everyone to the company’s Vision is key
- Why getting your team organized and aligned early is important to avoid deeper problems as you progress toward $10 million in revenue
- Brett explains the Big 3 concept as the three most essential responsibilities of a given role within your company
- Why the Big 3 are daily operational tasks and responsibilities that are vital to the continued success and operation of the business
- How to measure the Big 3 through results-based and activity-based metrics, and why each role’s measurements should vary
- Why you should set your own Big 3 for the quarter, then set your team members’ Big 3 based on what will further your own progress
- Why the Big 3 cascades down throughout the company, and why the Big 3 can help align everyone to your goals for the business
- Why it is important to pick clear, easily tracked numbers to set as your measurement, and why weekly self-reporting creates accountability and ownership
- How using the Big 3 approach to organizing work and giving ownership with accountability can help you both in the short term with which day-to-day tasks to focus on, but also in the long term as it helps you achieve your goals
The Big Three And The Power Of Alignment, With Brett Gilliland
I’m excited about this episode. This is one of my opportunities to share something that’s been going on for me lately that would be helpful for all of you. I’m going to talk about a concept called the Big Three. To set this up properly, it’s not about a tool or an approach that I will share called Big Three. It’s about something bigger that all of us have to deal with as business owners, especially in that seven-figure range, as we get to where we have more and more team members. We’ve got to learn part art, part science of setting a vision and aligning people to clarity. That’s the trick. We need to take targeted, coordinated action to achieve a common goal.
Most of us are pretty good about setting goals for ourselves and having objectives or goals for the company. Some of us aren’t as good. In fact, the natural laws of business are pulling against us. We’re not as good at getting clear for everyone on the team as to where exactly we’re going and how we’re going to get there.
Any of you who have read me in the past know that I have a lot of passion and energy around setting the vision and getting clear on purpose, values, mission, and our mission strategies. That’s all of the strategic progress sides of the business. It’s the long-term focus where we’re enabling the future to get to some bigger thing.
Meanwhile, the day-to-day life of running the business has to keep happening. That whirlwind is raging constantly. Every day, we got to go in. The old Dunkin Donuts commercials, I remember, “Time to make the donuts.” If any of you are old enough to remember that, this donut maker would get up, the alarm will go off really early in the morning, and he’d sit up, “It’s time to make the donuts.” This is a never-ending thing. Every single day, early in the morning, get up, get into the office or the store, and make the donuts.
All of us have some version of that where we have to keep the lights on in our business. The current goals matter the most, at least when it comes to cashflow and making sure that our customers are being served well. All the day-to-day things we manage are just screaming at us every day. Most of the time, I’m talking about how we get out of the whirlwind and focus on the long-term.
In this episode, I’m really going to talk about when you have some longer-term objectives like annual goals for the company, financial goals, like revenue, profit, or a certain key customer metric. Some company health metrics where you have specific targets for the year, how do we take those longer-term goals and turn them into focus now? That’s what I want to talk about.
The tool that I’ll share is this one that we call the Big Three. The issue at hand is how do I get alignment to the most important goals in my company? How do I make sure that everybody on the team knows exactly where the focus should be and how his or her role aligns with that? How his or her role contributes to our successfully completing the goals for the quarter or the year? You pick the timeframe, but it’s further out than the here and now, but it should shape what the here and now focus is.
The reason I got excited about sharing this topic is because I’ve literally spent hours partnering with four different business owners. All of whom have very successful businesses. By the way, while this show is dedicated to serving seven-figure business owners, the vast majority of you reading are either working hard to get to seven figures or are likely in that $1 million to $3 million range. All four of the business owners that I’m thinking about where I spent hours helping them work through this are all doing $5 million to $10 million or more.
They’re a little bit larger because this problem gets bigger as your company grows. If you can learn how to organize the work and align the team in a way that everybody has this clarity and accountability to that clarity, then it will serve you well from here on out in your business growth journey.
We all know there’s a ton of potential for wasted motion in our business. Even if you can see with crystal clarity, “I know exactly where we’re going as a business this year, and I’ve said the words to my team.” Somehow, that set the vision or alignment meeting, whatever you want to call it, leaving that meeting begins the first seconds of people going off course. In human nature, the tendency is to drift away from true north, from the guiding star that is our purpose or the specific objective that is our mission.
When we’re all together and talking about it, it seems to be clear. As soon as that huddle breaks or that meeting is over, the clarity starts to fade almost immediately. Why is that? It’s because people go back to their version or their portion of the whirlwind. The chaos of your business is raging all the time. You bring them together for a few moments of clarity, and then they jump back into that. Unless you do what I’m going to teach you, there’s no way of helping them stay laser-focused on exactly what they need to do for the team to win together.
Otherwise, the demands of phone calls, emails, Slack messages, texts, and all the rest, even their own lives, everything bombard your team members, and they get pulled away. They start to drift away from what needs to get our focus. They focus on the thing that’s screaming loudest or the fire that’s biggest. That’s probably enough setup.
The Big Three
Let’s talk about this concept of the Big Three. I want you to picture in your mind for a moment or two that the entire business is resting on your back. You might say, “No problem. It’s always that way.” That’s the norm. You feel it almost constantly. The minute I became a business owner, I felt that ownership and that weight on my shoulders. As the company grows, that weight continues to grow.
The problem that we’re talking about grows necessarily where you have more people. You may still have one set of common objectives or company goals for the quarter or the year, but now you have eight people who have a role in making sure that that will happen. You may have 15, 20, or 50. As that number compounds, this issue becomes more and more important. How do we take targeted, coordinated action to achieve our goals? That’s what we’re talking about.
You have this gigantic backpack or maybe a huge piece of luggage of some sort with straps on it, and the whole business is in that bag, and it’s on your shoulders. All of us have learned that when we hire someone, we get to take a piece of that weight off our shoulders and give it to somebody else. However, without the clarity and alignment you need to provide as a leader, you only partially gave it to them or you lent it to them. When it comes right back to you, they don’t know exactly how to take that ownership if they don’t have the accountability that goes with it.
I want to introduce this concept of the Big Three, which I believe is the answer to this problem that we’ve been discussing. What are the big three? Whether you call it Big Three, Top Three, OKRs, which stands for Objectives And Key Results, or KRAs, which stands for Key Results And Activities. There are lots of terminologies out there for what this is. The Big Three, when we talk about it at Elite Entrepreneurs, are the three most important responsibilities of a given role.
In other words, if you were to boil down that job to the three most essential things that that person holding that role should focus on, those would be the Big Three. For them to be effective, each of the Big Three must answer three questions. It’s a coincidence that there are three questions. The questions are what is expected of the role? How will it be measured? How does it align with company goals?
If we’re looking for clarity and alignment, hopefully, you heard some of that and these questions. What’s expected? How will it be measured? How does it align with company goals? That’s what you’re looking for in the Big Three. If you think about it, when you carved off a piece of that huge weight on your shoulders, you decided to create a role and hire somebody to fill that role. In essence, you were breaking off a piece of work and handing it over to somebody who you felt was very capable of owning that work. That’s why we hire people.The three main responsibilities of a business leader are to set the vision, build the team to go make that happen, and secure enough fuel for growth. Click To Tweet
It’s like, “Here’s a piece of work. I’m breaking it off, taking it off my shoulders, and gifting ownership to you in exchange for payroll every two weeks.” You give value in the form of payroll every two weeks. That person in that role gives value back to you in the form of measurable objectives, results, or activities that they’re going to perform on an ongoing basis. That’s the body of work that you broke off of your weight off your shoulders and gave to someone else.
We want Big Three to create confidence in people. When they’re clear about where we’re going together as a team or as a company towards a common goal, and they’re clear about their specific role and what they own to achieve that goal, you get a ton of confidence. They know exactly what they’re supposed to be doing, how success is measured, and how it aligns with where we’re all going together.
This isn’t rocket science. The trick is that most of us don’t do this work. They’re all capable human beings. They might even be superstar talents. Everybody is off trying to figure that out on their own instead of having a mechanism like the Big Three to align all of this work to the common objective. I want to emphasize one point. If you’ve ever heard me talk in any of my show or on some partner call or webinar, I’m a big proponent of setting a vision of getting clear about where we’re going together.
I call that mission strategy. All of the strategic longer-term thinking and focus, I’m huge about that. Most of the time, I’m not talking about the operational excellence of running the business day to day. This is an exception. The Big Three conversation is the day-to-day work. It’s what we do to keep the lights on, get and serve customers, and make sure we have enough cash in the bank.
It’s all of the day-to-day, week-to-week, even month-to-month work that we have to do to run this business. That’s where Big Three lies. It is not mission, strategies, annual priorities, or quarterly priorities. Those are all longer-term focuses. You have to have an eye towards the future in that strategic progress. What we’re talking about is operational excellence. We must execute and achieve our goals. That’s a distinction there. I hope that is a little bit helpful for you.
The CEO’s Big Three
Tell me more about this Big Three. Let’s use an example for a CEO. If you’ve ever heard me talk about the role of a CEO or a business owner, if you don’t consider yourself a CEO, that’s fine. For the leader of a business, there are three main responsibilities, set the vision, build the team to go make that happen, and secure enough fuel for growth.
Sometimes, we’ve talked about that as, “Don’t run out of money.” I don’t like that because that’s a little too defensive in its stance. We need to get more on the balls of our feet, not on the heels. I don’t want you to think about not running out of money. I want you to think like an investor. As a business owner, how would you invest now to get the best return later? Set the vision, build the team to achieve it, and don’t run out of money or secure fuel for growth.
If your Big Three were aligned to those, you might have a Big Three this quarter around helping everybody inside and outside of the company understand the direction we’re going over the next year. That might be a set-the-vision-oriented focus for you this quarter around building the team. You might have some key hires or development work that you have to do.
Of course, we all know the very easy to measure things in the secure enough fuel for growth. Those would be things like the sales or the revenue number, a profit number, a key ratio for your business like the ratio between the cost to acquire a customer and the implied lifetime value of that customer. If you’re in any subscription business, you know that’s a key measure.
Most of the time, business owners focus all of their current Big Three energy around that financial or operational piece and sometimes forget some of the build-the-team and set-the-vision work. That’s okay. We are going to focus mostly on the operational piece. Let’s take revenue as an example. If you’re the CEO or the business owner, you say, “My number one focus this quarter needs to be that revenue or that growth number. If we don’t achieve that, all of the rest of our goals aren’t going to work out.”
You’d say, “Number one responsibility is revenue.” That’s a result-based measure. That’s good for you but it may not be the right measure for the frontline sales rep. When you measure that person, maybe you want to measure more of the activities like the number of dials that person makes in a day. The amount of talk time they have, the number of proposals that have been sent out, or the number of referrals they have asked for from current customers. There are sets of activities that you would look at a sales rep to perform that, if done the right way, should result in the sales you’re looking for.
Your Big Three might say, “X number of revenue this quarter or X percent growth from last year’s revenue.” As that cascades down, it might look more like activities for your frontline or salesperson. It’s the ways to measure. I gave a couple of examples. To measure the Big Three, you have results-based measurements like sales, a customer satisfaction rating, or customer retention. All of these outcomes are lagging measures. There are results to measure and then there are activities to measure.
I gave an activity example when I said talk time, the number of calls or dials that a salesperson makes, or maybe a number of blog posts that are created by somebody on your marketing team. There are activities and then results. You just have to decide what clearly defines success for the role. There’s also an important element here where you want to make sure that you calibrate these measurements correctly.
In other words, this isn’t the case where we’re saying, “We’re going to shoot for the stars and then settle for the moon.” It’s more like, “We need to help people feel clear about what meets expectations.” We want to set the bar for these Big Three that meets expectations. We want to be clear about what exceeds expectations and what does not meet expectations. If the expectation is 10 sales, then you need to be clear, is it 11 sales or 12 sales that exceed the expectation? Is it 8 sales that don’t meet the expectation or 9?
You want to calibrate this right to where anybody in the role receiving the pay for that role should consistently deliver this expectation back to you in return. That’s only fair. You part ways with value every pay period in the form of payroll. They create value and exchange every pay period in the form of these activities or results they own as part of their role. That’s the way I want you to think about the Big Three.
Not All Big Three Are Created Equal
Another point I want to make about these Big Three is that not all Big Three are created equal. In other words, just because there are three of them, it does not mean that each of them is equally weighted. It’s not 33.333% for every 1 of these 3. It might be weighted like this, the most important focus for you in the role for this quarter is whatever the measure is and then that is weighted at, let’s say, 80%. It is hugely important. That’s 80%, and the number 2 is only 15%. Number 3 is 5%.
That would be an extreme example, but I’m trying to paint a picture for you. You get to place emphasis on the number one thing they should be delivering every single pay period and to what extent by these waitings. Maybe it’s 50% on number 1, 30% on number 2, and 20% on number 3. Whatever the relative importance is, you are shaping where their focus and energy go.
If you’ve done this, you, as the leader, will have your Big Three for the quarter. That might be revenue, profit, cashflow, or some project-oriented thing around setting the vision or building the team. It should tie back to the three areas where you need to place your focus as the leader of the business to achieve the company’s goals for the quarter.You need to place your focus as the leader of the business this quarter in order to achieve the company's goals. Click To Tweet
Those are your three. For every single 1 of those 3, you’re going to ask the same question to each of the people who reports to you. This is a cascading exercise. If you have revenue as your number one, let’s say you have a marketing person, you’re going to go to your marketing person and ask yourself the question, “What do I need from that role for me to hit my revenue number? That’s my number one in the Big Three, and it’s worth 50% of the waiting. It’s hugely important. There’s something I need from the marketing role in order to achieve that.”
The obvious answer might be, “We need leads, new prospects, or new opportunities from that marketing role.” In order for you to hit your number one, you’re going to put the number one Big Three on the marketing role of a number of new prospects. Maybe it’s the number of visitors to the website, or the conversion rate of opportunities going over to the sales team. If you’re sending quality leads over there, they close at a higher rate.
There’s a combination of things that it might be, but you get three measures and you get to place their focus on those three most important things. Does that mean they don’t do anything else during the quarter or pay period than those three things that you’re measuring? No. We all know the reality of running a business. We have lots of responsibilities. I don’t know who coined the phrase but we’ve all heard it. We wear many hats.
We’re all trying to juggle the demands of day-to-day work, and that’s precisely why we need to focus on the three most important measures for the role. When they must choose between two activities or where to invest time, energy, or dollars, they need to invest it in the things that matter most in that role. It will support you in achieving your goals, which usually are the same as the goals of the company or very closely aligned.
The Salesperson’s Big Three
Let’s move to the salesperson. If the marketing person’s number one Big Three is the number of prospects, and I’m not leaving that generic. There’s a specific, measurable thing. We might say, “It needs to be 10 or 100 new prospects every week.” Whatever the right number is for your business, maybe that’s the number one for the marketing person.
The number one Big Three for the sales leader or the salesperson might be the exact number that you have as your number one, “I’ve got to have this much revenue each week in order to achieve the monthly, the quarterly, and the annual goals of the company.” Sometimes, when you cascade these measures, they can cascade to be the same measurement.
If your number one is measured in terms of revenue dollars, you could put that same measure on a sales leader and they would be responsible. You could see how the marketing leaders, number 1 of 3 around prospect or lead generation, are perfectly aligned to deliver the revenue Big Three for the sales leader and yourself.
I’m trying to give examples. I wish we were having a live face-to-face conversation, but these Big Three cascade. When that is complete or you cascade these Big Three throughout the company, what you’ve done is you’ve aligned all of the work, focus, and energy into the three most important things for every role in the company that is aligned to delivering your goals as the leader. They’re usually very closely aligned, if not exactly the same as the company goals for the period.
Hopefully, you find that helpful. I want to share a couple more thoughts about this. It’s hard to help you understand the full possibilities with a couple of examples on an episode like this. I want to emphasize to you that there is so much flexibility in creating these Big Three. There is not a one size fits all approach or a prescription that every marketing leader should have a number of leads generated as their number one.
That may sound very reasonable. Of course, it makes sense, it’s logical, but that might not be it. If your number one focus for the quarter is around brand awareness, as the leader of the business, you’ve got to get more brand awareness out in the market. You might be looking to your marketing leader to help with that. Maybe that’s not lead generation. That might be in the number of blog posts, the number of social posts, or the number of followers on your social platforms.
There are so many ways this can go but it starts with clarity for you. What do you need to be focused on this quarter to lead the company where it needs to go? You can then cascade that clarity to the next level or the next layer of team members who are working to help you achieve that. If they happen to be leaders of other people, if you have a leadership team, their Big Three will dictate how to create the Big Three for the next level of team members.
It just cascades down so that all of the work in the company is aligned to achieving the outcomes. There’s so much flexibility in the types of measures. You can use averages or a rolling-twelve-month view. I highly recommend that you don’t pick numbers that are hard to measure in your company. Sometimes you think, “I have the perfect measurement, but our systems are not capable of getting that measurement and reporting it on a regular basis.”
I don’t care about the sophistication of your measuring capabilities. I care about you and your team member, and total clarity between the leader and the team member on what’s expected, how it will be measured, and how it aligns with company goals. If you can’t measure it perfectly now, then you measure it in a way that you can give an indication of how well that’s going week in and week out.
I strongly recommend that you have the team members self-report. In other words, I’m not trying to create extra work for you where every week, you’ve got to create a bunch of reports to see how everybody is doing. You set the clarity with that person. Every week, they report back to you how it’s going with their ownership. There’s the accountability piece built in as well.
Clarity And Alignment
I want to wrap up with a few more comments. Once you have the Big Three in place, every role in the company has perfect clarity on what’s expected, how it will be measured, and how it aligns with company goals. If you’ve done it right by cascading these measures or the creation of the Big Three, then every role will be aligned to something above it.
If you think about a traditional hierarchical org structure, an organization chart, or you’ve created one for your business, not necessarily if you haven’t, but if you think about what that looks like, there’s a leader at the top, and then there might be 3 or 4 people reporting to that leader. There might be 4 or 5 people reporting to each of those leaders. It cascades out, and it gets bigger as it goes.
When you get this right, everybody in the team and company will be pulling in the same direction. You will have way less wasted motion, less confusion, and you’ll have a lot more confidence in your team. Every week when they go home, they get to tell their spouse, significant other, or loved ones, “I know exactly what’s expected of me, and I’m killing it. Here’s the bar. This meets expectations, and I’m consistently hitting it.”
They don’t have to wonder when they go home what their standing is because they know how they’re measured. It doesn’t mean they don’t do anything more than these three key things. It means to evaluate or assess whether or not they are consistently delivering the value that you created that role for in the first place.When leaders must choose between two activities or where to invest time, energy, and dollars, they need to invest it in the things that matter most in that role, which will support them in achieving their goals. Click To Tweet
They know exactly what’s expected, how it would be measured, and how it aligns with company goals. Every time you’d make that payroll run and write that big check every two weeks, you know with certainty whether or not you’re getting the value in exchange. It’s because you’ve created the clarity that everybody needs.
Weekly self-reporting. I encourage you to have one-on-one conversations with your team members about how they’re doing with their Big Three. They self-report to you and then you can talk about it. I like a 30-minute one-on-one. I call it one-on-one, a catch-up, chat, or whatever you want to call it. It’s a weekly conversation about them being accountable for their ownership.
You gifted them ownership when you carved out work, took it off your back, and you gave it to them and said, “I now crown you as king or queen of this dominion or this work. I need you to own this and own it with excellence. I’m willing to pay for it every pay period.” When you get that clarity, now they get to come back to you every week and say, “Here’s how it’s going. Here’s where I need some help and where I have some bumps in the road.”
They can tell you how well they’re knocking it out of the park, and you can both feel great about it. Because you’ve designed all of this cascading aligning work, you know with confidence that everybody is pulling in the same direction. We’re going to wrap up with this question. If every single one of your team members or every employee knew exactly what was expected, how it would be measured, and how it aligns with your company goals, what would that do for you as the business owner? How would it improve your life? Think about that for a second.
No longer would you have to be the constant orchestrator of the work, meaning you don’t have to point frantically to everybody and say, “Now go here. Now we do this. Now do that.” You’ve set it up in a way that they’re focused on the very things and on the work that, when all done, aggregates to you achieving your responsibilities as a leader, which are to deliver the company goals.
It’s a big task. You have to do it. If you want to lead a larger team, you have to get good at aligning the company to shared goals. It’s different from the vision setting. We have to be great leaders in the long term and be good at aligning work to deliver short-term results. You get to balance the short-term and long-term.
Big Three is an idea of organizing the work, gifting ownership to somebody with the clarity of, “Here’s what’s expected, how it’s measured, and how it aligns with company goals.” That will enable you to deliver operational excellence day in and day out and week in and week out that your company must deliver in order to get and serve the customers you need to grow your business. Simultaneously, you’ve got to keep an eye on the long-term and some of the strategic progress things that I addressed in other episodes.
I hope you’ve enjoyed thinking about how your life would be much better if you didn’t have to run around and make sure that everybody’s work was focused on the right things. When you can get very clear on the number 1, 2, and 3 priorities as a company, which would be your Big Three, and how that cascades to every team member, you’re on your way to having a lot of power. You’re on your way to having a lot of alignment in your company instead of a lot of wasted effort.
Even if people have good intentions, you’re like, “Everybody is working hard.” If they’re not pulling together and they’re not clear on what needs to happen, you are wasting time, energy, and money. What I’ve shared with you will allow you to achieve big goals if you give people ownership and then have weekly follow-up conversations to hold them accountable.
I hope you find that helpful. If you have any follow-up questions, you can go to our website, GrowWithElite.com. We have ways for you to reach out to us through that website. One of those ways is Info@GrowWithElite.com. If you want to send me an email, you’re welcome to do that. That email is Brett@GrowWithElite.com.
It was fun talking with you about how to align your company to achieve your big goals for 2020. I hope you’ll take the concept of the Big Three and put it to work. I hope you’ll recognize the growth in your business but also the sanity in your personal life as other people own important work and pull in the same direction.
Coordinated targeted action to achieve big goals is the key. Keep reading. Please rate, review our show, and share it with others. Let us know how we’re doing in those various forums where you can give feedback. We’d love to have you keep reading. Good luck in implementing the Big Three, and keep growing your business.
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