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The COO role is key to achieving company vision as he or she is at the center of making sure that staff and operations are aligned. However, can you still maintain alignment if your COO is working fully remote? Our guest today is Florence Bout, the Head of Operations of Leverage, a NY-based company that helps entrepreneurs and small businesses scale by providing on-demand resources to complement in-house teams with their marketing, business operations, and administrative functions. Today, she shares how she stays on top of emerging technologies, manage communication channels, and build rapport with the rest of her team while working fully remote.
Florence Bout is the COO of Leverage, a New York-based company that helps entrepreneurs and small businesses scale by providing on-demand resources to complement in-house teams with their marketing, business operations and administrative functions. In her role, Florence is responsible for operational performance of Leverage with the main focus to support the internal departments and through these departments, the success of their clients. In her day-to-day, she works with each of the departments to achieve the company vision through the development of the company processes, tools, and systems allowing Leverage to operate productivity, profitably and set itself up for growth. She has a track record of problem-solving and streamlining processes to improve business performance.
Florence comes from a diverse background, having studied engineering at Imperial College London and consolidated her degree in multi-nationals before fulfilling a passion for furniture design and starting a furniture company, ultimately applying all of her engineering and startup knowledge at Leverage. Florence’s CEO and I are friends. We’re both members of the Genius Network together. That’s Nick Sonnenberg. Florence, welcome to the Second in Command podcast.
Thank you so much. It’s lovely to be here.
Tell us a little bit about how you and Nick connected or how you got involved with Leverage and then how you’ve transitioned and grown in your career with them.
That’s a bit of a funny story. I was living in Italy and I was doing a startup and as part of that, I wanted to learn Italian. I went to Italian school and I sit next to Nick’s high school prom date. We got chatting, talking about networking, things that you can’t foresee. We got chatting and she said, “My friend, Nick, is starting up in New York. Maybe this would be something up your alley.” At that time, I was trying to work on my own business, but I was like, “This sounds cool. They have an interesting concept.” Having just started up my own company, I went through the whole journey of entrepreneurship thing, the success as an eventual thing. I want to help other people do this, help the clients do this as well, so they can learn from my experience and that I can contribute to that. As we got talking, I distinguished myself. I didn’t start as a preparation manager. I distinguished myself especially in business operations. I got promoted first, to business operations. I kept on talking and engaging with them and eventually made it to COO.
The company has gone through some pretty big growth in the time that you’ve been there. How many total employees do you have, full-time and freelancers?
We’ve had different shifting priorities. At some point, we had 270 freelancers, but we’re trying to consolidate that and have more full-time people. We’re at a team of about 70, still freelancers but more on a full-time basis with a few partnerships as well on the side.
Are you putting systems in place for companies or are they outsourcing to you? Is it a little bit of both?
I work mostly on internal, but I do take on a couple of client projects as well.
When Leverage is working with customers, tell us a little bit more about Leverage so we understand how the model works and what kind of work you might do for clients.
We’re on demand. They come to us. Let’s say, we’re on a podcast. They say, “I want to start a podcast.” We’re like, “We could definitely help you with that.” We’ve got our marketing team. Within the marketing team is the media team. For example, IT is our head of media. They would come to end marketing. They would come to him and he starts saying, “Let’s look at all the systems and the tools. Where do you want to host it? How are you recording it? Do you want a summary? Do you want show notes? What are the images?” We’d organized that whole aspect. We’d made sure that we got the design or the template images needed, that we had the whole process for what you wanted written up or if you wanted a transcript or not. We would figure out with you where we wanted to publish that podcast, whether if it’s going to iTunes or SoundCloud. Whether we’re using its transcript and summary to go to medium and write a blog based on it, whether it’s going to a website, and of course, the social media aspect around that. We do from start to finish depending on the client’s needs, of course. That’s an example of the podcast, but we could talk any other process, more on the business operation side, marketing strategy.
What’s your typical client? Who do you look for as a client? How would you describe them to us?
They’re usually entrepreneurs with small businesses and they’re probably looking to scale. They have a small team behind them. We would complement their in-house team. We do work with startups or solopreneurs as well because those are the people that need us, since they’re a one-man show or a one-woman show. Typically, our client avatar would be the small businesses that are starting to look to scale.
Give us an example then of an operational project that you’ve worked on with companies.
The two last projects I did. One was with a legal team and one was a boutique hedge fund. With the legal team, it was using a tool called Process Street and it’s documenting all their processes. This is going to the client avatar and setting them up for success and setting them up for growth. We wanted to make sure that they can hire more people and they would all be following the same process, or if someone went on vacation that, that transition could happen seamlessly. That was more in terms of business operations and documenting the processes. Spending a lot of time talking through what happens at this date, what happens at that stage, who’s responsible, when is it due by, what is the deliverable, and documenting that whole process. That was for the legal team.
For the boutique hedge fund, it was a lot more behind the scenes. They’re back office. They have a 20 to 30 person team. What happens in hiring process? What happens when they want to go to conferences? The last request is as simple as organizing team travel because there were so many conferences and people requesting time to go travel and budget management of that. We wanted to streamline that, have like a funnel, and develop that funnel a lot with automation so that all the right people were being informed and all the information was going to the right place or something as simple as a travel request.
You spend a lot of time working with the client, understanding their business or their processes and then what you were saying with the legal team, and helping to organize it in Process Street. You’re doing what? Maybe some of their operations people can’t do or don’t know the unique ability for and then does that start setting them up for scale? Is that right?
Exactly or maybe that they don’t have the in-house operations person available or they’re not knowledgeable. Part of this would be training because if we are going to set them up for scale, they need to be able to do the day-to-day management once we’ve done the bulk of it. It will be usually training up their in-house persons so they could do the small tweaks later on. I used a personal example, but I don’t want to limit that to me. We have a whole team that does that as well.
When you’re working with a client, how do you get the vision of what they want on a project? You’re working with them remotely, aren’t you? You’re not on-site with many of your clients.
It’s all remote, which is wonderful. It’s a lot of calls. I always start, and that’s the same for the business operations and the marketing strategy people, with, “Let’s get on call,” and listening to their needs or catering to their needs. It all has to support what they want. I can’t impress too much my opinion on things. I definitely have my opinion and they can make suggestions, but at the end of the day, the process has to work for them. They have to buy-in to it because they have to use it at the end of the day. If they don’t have that buy-in, then they won’t use it and that would be a shame.
You’re covering the vision of the project that you’re working on, on a project-by-project basis that you use at Leverage. Is it similar to how you get the vision of what Nick wants to build for Leverage and understanding as the overall company? Is there a tie in there at all?
Potentially, yes. That helps set the structure. It would be more on the department level. We then go into the department, like with the legal team and the hedge fund. It was like, “Let’s talk to the team lead.” I do need that vision. With the hedge fund, we have all these departments who takes the priority and so that set up with the CEO. They’re like, “This is the priority.” The same thing with Nick. I have all my internal departments. When you have to choose between a client success request and an HR request, then that company visually comes into it and then we go, “That’s what the exec calls are about every Monday. Let’s determine the priorities and support that vision.”
Tell us about the vision that you have for Leverage. Where are you taking the company over the next few years, and how do you get aligned with Nick’s vision? Most entrepreneurs have this vision swirling around in their head of where they want to take the company. How do you get on the same page with him and then how do you get him on the same page with your operational plan to make it happen?
There is a lot of communication. Where are we going to take Leverage? We bootstrapped our way to this point. I launched our dashboard. We’re transitioning all the clients off the old system and onto the new system. We’ve got a time frame of wanting to do that so we don’t have to meet in two systems. The first vision would be to do that. It’s almost becoming a SaaS product because we want to have a great platform which facilitates the service. We have a Version 2 coming out that will support the services much better. Everything comes back to the development on what can support both of those.
You mentioned a lot of communication. Talk to me about the communication protocol, how you and Nick work with each other. Are there regular meetings? Do you work over Slack or Asana? Do you do a lot of face-to-face or over Zoom? Are you in the same office as him or are you remote as well?
We’re completely remote. It was very funny seeing them for the first time. I only saw them for the first time after a year of working together. You have all this additional information suddenly when you meet in person. We spent so much time on conference calls before that. We’re very heavy in Slack. We do use Asana for project management. That’s more setting up the goals and the week-to-week tasks between the course. We have definitely a weekly call to check in on all the weekly tasks and be like, “What were the targets for this week on next side or my side? Where do we get to with that? If not completed, why?” Ad hoc project calls. Half my day-to-day would be coming from what I call more the maintenance of making sure that everyone has the right information, the right knowledge system processes to do their job effectively and efficiently, and the other half would be project. There will be more structured project course, for example, this transition from the old platform to the new platform. That would be a project that we treat separately. It’s all day long in Slack.
Your CEO is very focused on systems, processes, automation and the software side of the business, correct?
How do you support that drive but also rein him back in a little bit, to avoid the perfection trap so that you can launch with that whole minimum viable product idea?
It’s more the other way around. I’m like, “I don’t know. Is it ready?” He will be like, “Let’s get an 80%. Let’s work on 80/20 rule,” which is what I’ve learned from him because he was like, “The dashboard. Let’s go and check.” I’m like, “What about this? What about that?” He’s like, “No, it’s good enough. It’s MVP. It’s 80%. We’ve got the developers. We’re going to work on it and we’ll get the feedback.”
That’s huge growth for him then because when I spoke with him, he wasn’t quite there yet. He was still driving for everything to be perfect and that was something we talked about.
In that regard in the high-level vision. There are other times of course that he does become a perfectionist and then it’s about saying, “Nick, I’ve got this. It’s fine.”
All entrepreneurs are crazy. I’m crazy. Everybody in the Genius Network is pretty much borderline crazy. Nick is certainly in our category as well, although he’s one of the smarter ones. How do you rein in the craziness and the big shiny object syndrome that CEOs have? He comes back from a Genius Network event and I’m sure he’s got twelve new awesome things that have to be put in place this week that will only take two minutes each, that don’t. How do you deal with that? How do you systemize all that?
It is about prioritization because it is very inspirational. There are all these tools and like, “I want Leverage to be better.” I want from a personal point of view to be learning and to be better and so he comes with all these great ideas and you do exactly as you say, “We’ll implement them because there is something to all of them.” There is only so much that we could do and spend resources on at any point in time. It goes back to the vision and the rock. Sometimes, I will push back or a lot of times I’ll push back. We’re like, “Let’s write in Asana. Let’s document it.” There, we have a backlog list. “Let’s add it to the backlog,” and then every week, we review what the priorities are. We do the reviews twice. We do them on a weekly basis and a quarterly basis. They’re all supposed to support the vision. First, it’s like, “Let’s all put it in backlog and then let’s talk about it.” I found after every Genius Network meeting, my backlog list becomes so much bigger.
You nailed the core system which is, “Let’s keep track of it in Asana or somewhere. Let’s put it in the backlog.” I call it green lighting, yellow lighting and red lighting projects. Green is, “Let’s start it.” Yellow light is, “We’re going to do it but not yet.” Red is, “It’s been killed off,” like we’re not doing it. Have you ever had to kill an idea? Where the CEO is passionate about something and you firmly believe, that it’s a no, and how do you approach that?
We were looking at using Confluence as our knowledge management system. We ended up killing that idea because you need to go back and figure out what is the purpose and who are the users. Confluence is a great tool but our team is going to be using it. They’re in Slack. They’re in the dashboard. Do we need to introduce something else that they need to log into to find information? No matter how powerful it is, especially since we’re working with contractors, we’re not working with employees. There’s a little bit of a different mindset to that. We did a review and we took Confluence out of the equation like we want a new management system and how are we going to approach this. We listed all the success criteria that we needed for the team and one of them was that we need to have good integration with the one tool, they’re always in, Slack. We tested all these software and we came to the solution of using Ask Spoke for this because they have one of the best Slack integrations and they have an AI bot.
You went to the end solution he was looking for but not necessarily his solution, but you solved the problem he was trying to fix anyway.
It’s taking a step back and saying, “What is the problem?” He’s told me exactly the same. We were looking at the hiring system and I’m like, “Are you wanting me to test the software or do you want me to fix the hiring process or review the planning process?” It’s that discussion and he’s like, “It’s the same thing.” I’m like, “No.”
You’ve got it figured out and this is the one that most entrepreneurs maybe miss on is, we were very quick starts and we go from problem to solution, but we miss the opportunity to look for other solutions. Often some of the very easy low-hanging fruit solutions that don’t even cost us money or take time, but in the absence of that, we want to start it and go to fixing the next problem. I spoke with a COO that I’m coaching from Thailand. His CEO is a YPO member over there and I know his CEO quite well. We were talking about how the second-in-command needs to be able to bring the bad news and confront the brutal facts with the CEO. If no one else is telling the truth or if no one else is telling them what’s happening, you need to be the person that tells them what maybe they don’t want to hear or don’t see but need to hear. Does that make sense? It’s like, “The emperor has no clothes.” I’m not going to lead you, but how do you do that with Nick where maybe something is going wrong in the company and he needs to hear it but probably doesn’t want to? It often can even feel like we’re putting our own jobs at risk.
I don’t know if I had the right approach, but I end up talking straight facts. There was a little bit of a sandwich, I liked to be constructive if they say that you have to be constructive.
I called that the crap sandwich.
It ends on a positive. Sometimes, I do try that. It’s like, “You’re great at this, but let’s have a reality check here,” and then end with a positive. I have tried that and sometimes it’s like, “These are the numbers.” From an operational point of view, we always want to go back to the metrics and the numbers and say, “This is what the numbers are showing us, so where do we go from here?”
They’re starving for this information from us and they need us to tell them what’s going on. Often, the rest of the team, especially as a company scales and gets over 100 to 250 employees, when politics starts to creep in. They start being surrounded by a bunch of people who will say yes but won’t tell them what needs to be said and they’re starving for us to tell them what needs to be said.
It has to be delivered in the right way and the right message and you want to stay constructive, hence the sandwich. I’d love to find another analogy because this sandwich has been around for a lot.
One of them is, straight talk, that radical candor but also doing it in private, never doing it in front of their Board of Advisors, never doing it in front of the rest of the management team. Almost like mommy and daddy having a discussion aside, if not, in front of the kids. It’s the same approach. Talk to me a little bit about how engineering has helped shape your role as a second-in-command and how you’ve leveraged some of the skills from engineering.
It’s a great foundation. I come from a Chemical Engineering background. They make you look at the whole system. Of course, that would be an engineering term. It would be all about pressures, temperatures, chemical compositions and stuff like that, but it’s more of what you take out of it. You look at the whole system, the whole machine. You review what every bit of the machine is doing and then you debottleneck. I’ve seen a company and being operations manager is exactly the same thing. Measuring different places in the organization, what’s happening, having overview of everything and then figuring out what needs to change, what’s not performing, and what do we need to debottleneck and improve. That’s one of the most valuable things I took away from my engineering, that approach.
Is that the way that you approach business and using that approach all the time?
Yeah, because everything is deconstructed and then put back together. Even the software example that I was giving you before with the Confluence and the Ask Spoke, it’s like, “How do we break this problem down into manageable components and what do we need to do? Let’s put it all back together.”
Tell me about the people side of the business. Is Leverage entirely remote or are there any offices anywhere with your 70 plus employees?
There are no offices. We doubled and we have an office right at the beginning. No one was going to it, so we shut it back down. We have a few people in Nashville. We’re wondering whether it’s not worth getting a co-working office on an ad hoc basis so we can meet up with certain people of the team. That’d be nice and the best combination to both.
There’s a company called Acceleration Partners that I used to coach, Bob Glazer and his second-in-command who is also in the COO Alliance. They have around 120 employees full-time that are all remote plus freelancers and they’ve started opening some hubs, wherein a few cities they’re starting to get ten-plus freelancers. They’re opening up these little hub offices that people are going to and they’re more of shared workspace, but people want to go and hang out once in a while versus sitting in coffee shops all the time.
I’d love to do that with Leverage down the line once we build the team to that component. Of course, I’m one of our talking Europeans that you can hear from our accents. Most of the team is American and then most of our clients are Northern American based. We have quite a few European people that come over to Europe and it’d be lovely to have a big table work for a while. I’m ever so happy when one of the team comes over and we got to work and have lunch.
You mentioned Slack and Asana as a couple of technology tools that you use internally. What other technology tools does Leverage rely on to communicate and work remotely and stay connected?
We also mentioned Process Street. We did start off bootstrapping with Trello. There are a lot of pros of Trello. We changed our project management from Trello to Asana to give it a bit more structure. They both have their pros and their cons, and you love both for different purposes. On the development side, we use more of the development products like GitHub and ZenHub to manage the dashboard side of the things. On the client’s success side of things, we use Intercom for a lot of our client communication that also integrates into our dashboard. A lot of the client chat would happen through Intercom. On marketing, we’ve moved to ConvertKit as a newsletter platform.
A little bit about your growth and as a company. To go through the growth that you’ve gone through and also a bit of a pivot on the model, you scaled up to around 250 freelancers. You’re back to around 70 full-time. You’ve pivoted on a little bit of the model. How did you turn the company and get everyone aligned? That must have been difficult.
A lot of communication is in Slack. We are very much in Slack and not so much email. We try and be an email-free company which we’ve nearly succeeded. It’s a lot around Slack and a lot of calls. We do have once a month with the whole team. We have department calls. Of course, we have all the one-on-ones as well, especially with me and the other departments. Sometimes with the account managers, for example, or parts of the marketing team, they can go straight to them. Within the team, it comes down to communication on Slack. There are Slack announcements. We’ve made a channel for announcements because people were feeling that there was too much chatter in Slack and they were missing the announcements. We were listening.
We did a survey of how the team members are feeling about the communication and about the knowledge management as part of answering this knowledge management being remote, of course. It’s very easy for them to get up and speak about the changes. We also had a day to digest a PDF that gets sent out every two weeks that summarizes all the key things from each department. Whether it’s new clients or highlighting a team member or if it’s a big change or the latest on the dashboard. That keeps them aligned. There’s a note from Nick as the CEO so that keeps as a reminder with where his thoughts are, he shares that on the monthly huddle.
I love that you’re using Slack and using all that over-communication as well. Jim Collins in Good to Great, it was said that it’s only when your employees have started to make fun of you that you know that your ideas are starting to stick. That’s because you’ve told them so many times that they’re starting to tease you about it.
I don’t think you have to say it seven times or repeat it seven times. Maybe I’ll have to wait for it. They haven’t started making fun of me yet, so I have to repeat myself more.
It’s like our parents. Once we start teasing our parents for the way they’re talking to us, then we know that the ideas have stuck in. What did you struggle with yourself in your role as COO and then over the transition period? Were there a couple of key points that you as a company were struggling with that you had to figure out and learn? Can you share those with us at all?
Is there anything specific?
I’m just curious. Were there people issues you struggled with that you had to figure out and solve? Was it operational things? Did you have to get rid of clients? You did do a fairly big pivot. I’m curious how you made that transition and what we can learn from it.
Probably all of the above that were operational. It was making some tough decisions. There would be some great team members that we had to let go because we wanted to shift more in the full-time. That’s never a good conversation or a conversation that we want to have. A lot of people were working with Leverage in addition to another job. We’re trying to phase that out, but it’s not that their performance was not great, it’s just that we want them more dedicated, we want to safely change our model and that’s a hard conversation to have. That was within the team. Of course, we’re all working remote. It takes a while to build up rapport. It’s not like you can go to the coffee machine and build up a rapport at the coffee machine. You have to take that time and calls to do that. One of our Slack channels is called The Water Cooler, for exactly that. It’s supposed to be the banter.
How do you build that rapport in that banter and that camaraderie, which is some of the foundational parts with trust as well? How do you build that with the teams when you are remote like that?
A lot of talking in Slack and taking that five minutes at the beginning of meetings. It means that call starts with five minutes of, “What did you do over the weekend?” It’s so easy with all these issues to jump right in. It’s like, “Let’s take a step away and let’s connect with each other.” It’s the same thing with all the teams. We make sure that we start with, “What’s going on in your life because I’m not seeing you. We’re not walking into the office together. We’re not having lunch together. We’re not walking out.” We did want to try and go to lunch, but then you’re eating on camera.
That part is hard. Tell us about your growth. You came into the company. You didn’t come in as the second-in-command originally or did you?
No, I didn’t. I grew. There was a lot of talking to Nick when we were still on Trello and we had these pitfalls of Trello. It’s like, “Do we need a new dashboard? How are we going to manage this? How can we automate this? What about metrics? What are we tracking? What do we want to be tracking?” Some of those early conversations are because the bootstrapping model was only being implemented. We’ve started tracking a lot of things because we have our own dashboard. We have access to those metrics much more than when we were on Trello. It’s communicating and communicating ideas and vision and being aligned in where we wanted the company to go.
How about your skillset? What did you have to focus on the most and your skills to grow as a leader?
It was probably the interpersonal skills. I use the example of, she’s one of my favorite colleagues now, Brittany. In the beginning, I was moving out of a world that she was moving into. It’s like what the balance is with everything, like how much to suggest versus how much to stay, “No, this is the way we’re going to do it.” You want to empower people, you want to empower their ideas. I read an article that is not the right word to use, the word empower, which you want them to own. Basically, you want them to own their space but then having transitioned or having experienced that, you have things and knowledge that you want to share and so finding that balance between what’s right for the company but also letting them develop their own vision.
I keep thinking of growing our teams. It’s same as growing our children that you can’t do everything for your kids. You need them to learn, but if you’re frying an egg, you can show them the best way to fry the egg. You can’t let them spend a week trying to figure the thing out on their own. There often is some experience and wisdom that you can pass on that saves everybody a lot of time and angst.
You might be excluding yourself from some wonderful omelets that you would never envision making. It’s that call of when to do what and with who and a track record of vision and seeing what you end up with. Some things that you’re like, “No, it’s a straight egg,” and other times, it’s okay to see what omelet you would come up with.
A question around your growth again. What are you doing to work on your growth? One of the things that we started is the COO Alliance. We started the only network of its kind in the world for second-in-command, like the Genius Network but only for COOs, no entrepreneurs are allowed. That was a place that the COOs would be able to work on their skills. I’m curious what you’re doing to work on your skills as a leader that will help you grow and help the company grow.
I don’t have that office communication or all those office networks or even in a co-working space. I joined at Professional Women’s Network locally based in Amsterdam. Through that, I had some coaching and some full coaching which I’m appreciating. I have a wonderful coach and she’s helped me a lot. One of the things I’m wanting to work more is how to be an effective project manager. That goes back to your eggs versus omelets. Whether it’s talking with my colleague or whether it’s project management, how much bandwidth do you give people? She’s helping me coaching with that and we’ve started a book club. We’re actually reading Disruptors.
That is the peer group that you need as well, to be able to get into that group and then continue to work on our skills. Ray Kroc was the guy who’s credited with growing McDonald’s. He said, “When you’re green, you’re growing. When you’re ripe, you’re rotting.” All of us as leaders need to continue to grow, especially now probably more than ever, with how much technology is changing the way that businesses are run and how fast businesses are changing, that if we don’t adapt, we die.
I’m talking about the interpersonal skills and the project management aspect. I have that huge list of backlogs of tools to test and we want to stay relevant. It’s very important to stay competitive and relevant. It’s on my backlog list to be better at that and to stay more up-to-date with all the new technology that is coming out there and see how we can improve Leverage and the personal growth of mine that I need to tap more into that and stay on top of all the emerging technologies.
How are you testing the technologies? How are you deciding which ones are the right ones?
Testings that we have a beautiful process, of course. It depends on how interested we are. Is this like interested because we want to know or interested because we want to implement? Two different strategies. If it’s just to be in the know-how and not thinking about implementing but we want to know, then it would go into looking at software, setting up an account. Going and maybe talking to customer service, doing a demo and seeing what their use cases are and figuring out what the best use cases are, the pros, the cons and how it would fit in for us. If we wanted to test it the same thing but don’t know on a different level it needs, then you have to tie it back to what are you trying to achieve. Is it going to fulfill the requirements? What are other requirements? What are the nice-to-haves? How does it compare to the nice-to-haves? For each software, we started writing the criteria. What does it need to have and what are the nice-to-haves?
That’s a key way to approach it. I don’t think many people do that. They start with, “I need a contact manager. I’ll use Salesforce.” I’m like, “Why are you going for that level of overkill when you need something to manage 50 people and who you’re talking to every month or 500 people.” I stumbled across a site that you guys might find interesting called Capterra. It’s an online listing of all the different software platforms and packages by category. If you’re looking for, let’s say a recruiting software, it lists all the recruiting software and then it shows the comparisons between them all. It’s like, “Here are all the features or functionality and pricing.” It shows the ratings that they all get from their users and it’s pretty cool. It’s almost like for me, a bit of a fast-forward to, “What are the top three that I’ll look at?” Instead of having to do all my own research that’s already done.
Part of that is reading reviews and reading how they compared to each other. It rings a bell, but I’m going to double-check to make sure that’s the same one I’m thinking.
Somebody in the COO Alliance mentioned it to me and then I’ve been sharing it with everybody now. It seems like a strong review and it reviews all the top software platforms in all the categories. Tell us about meetings. You mentioned that you have some strong leadership team meetings. Walk us through that on how you manage your meetings and what kind of meetings you have. I’m interested because I wrote a book called Meetings Suck, trying to teach people how to unsuck their meetings. I’m curious as to what you guys have done that’s working well for you.
We went through a bit of an overhaul where we wanted to structure our meetings more even from the point of view of, “Let’s start and finish on time,” because actually, we’re in the startup, promote environment. That is sometimes a little bit challenging and we keep each other to it. For Christmas, Nick got us all the book Traction. We’re using that. We have meeting agenda and that’s the same structure week-to-week. It starts with the five minutes of building rapport and then we go into, “Let’s look at the scorecard. How are we tracking against all the metrics that we want to check out and stay on top of? Let’s have a look at the rocks.” The rocks are the quarterly goal. We’ll see how we’re aligned with our quarterly ambitions and, “Are we on track? If not, why not?” and “What do we need to do to stay on track of that?” That’d be a few minutes and then headlines.
We look at, “Are there any team member headlines that we need to know about? Client headlines that can be both positive and negative?” When a client gave us an amazing review, then you want to know that. If we have a big unhappy client, then we want to know that as well. Same with the team, if someone did a great job or there are performance issues, then we need to know about that. We spend a few minutes talking about that. Nick added a summary to add the one thing we did to contribute to profit us. That’s been very on point, especially in the beginning, you’re like, “What did I do?” It keeps you very relevant to what the priority needs to be.
It starts to get all the employees to think a little bit more as an owner does. If we don’t bring it up, then no one ever is going to focus on it. If we bring it up, at least it stays top-of-mind as much as employee engagement and customer engagement, profit does as well.
We get into the core component which is IDS, Issues, Discussions and Solutions. A lot of what we raise in the rocks would be pushed down to ideas to allow for a bigger discussion. It’s also throughout the week and we add meeting agenda items. We’re like, “We’ll save this for the meeting. We want to talk about it.” It’s probably better screen-to-screen rather than huge Slack conversations. We discuss it and at the end, we do the cascading of messages of what are all the actions and who needs to know.
That’s the critical part as well. We need meetings so that we can have the screen-to-screen discussions or face-to-face discussions and work through stuff instead of going back and forth on Slack or emails which doesn’t solve anything. It causes a lot of miscommunication and frustration and drags on forever. If we move our ideas or questions at the weekly meeting or one-on-ones or standups, whatever the meeting format is going to be, we can usually get stuff done a lot quicker.
You have all the right people in the room because in Slack, you don’t know who that person is that hasn’t commented. Is that because they don’t have an opinion or is that because they’re happy with the message? In a meeting, you know that they’ve been listening. We do the same. I use the exact meeting as an example, but all that interdepartmental ones take the same shape. We add to the meeting notes like, “I’ll save this. We’ll talk through it.” It’s so much more efficient sometimes.
I’d love your group in Amsterdam to all read the book, Meetings Suck, when you get a chance. It’s a great value. It’s the one business book that every employee at every company should be reading as well in my mind. Give us a wrapping point. If you were the 21-year-old Florence who was starting off in her career, what leadership lesson do you know to be true that you wish you’d known earlier on?
I was going to say that you have your heart and you have your head. Sometimes, you always go with the heart in the end, but it takes the head some convincing to get there. I was going to say that, but I’m trying to see if it applies to leadership as well.
If you go with your heart on all the decisions, that goes around people, it goes around operations, it goes around communication, it goes around the time management. Absolutely, it works.
I was going to say but then you get into the tough decision between like, “What about the guidelines and the processes? Do you always go over the motion?”
It is a bit of guided discussion. I’ve always said that, for me, it’s outcome over process. Even though I believe in having processes in place, in SOPs, in having these checklists that we follow, I’ll break any of those if I see that diamond in the rough and I can grab it quickly. That’s the heart kicking in where you know you have to trust that and go with it.
I’m happy that works.
Florence Bout, the Head of Operations and Second-In-Command for Leverage. Thanks, so much for sharing with us on the Second in Command podcast. I appreciate it.
Thank you so much.