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Lessons of a CEO #4 :Sit down next to me

By Alex, Last updated: 2023-01-18 (originally published on 2016-10-18)

Sit down next to me

I’m very much like many (in fact most) startup CEOs in one key way. I’ve never been a CEO before and I haven’t been to CEO school [I refuse to google this as I’m sure such a place has now been invented and is mass-producing startup CEOs in suit jackets and jeans].

I did study management, though, as an undergraduate but that was back in 1995 before dot-coms had even bust the first time around and Adam Smith had not considered a world of millennials and their disruption. Back then, “HR” was a new word and even the concept that humans could be a resource of a business worth cultivating was viewed by most of us as faddish.

Fast forward twenty years and a quick search for the term “HR is dead” brings back a few hundred thousand results, with most contributors pointing to the shift to ever more people-centric titles “Chief Talent Officer” (my CTO is worried about the abbreviation..) and “Chief People Officer”.

Why do companies go to such lengths to constantly reinvent a business function that at one time we just knew as Personnel?  Well apart from the obvious, that it brings to mind working for a city council or being summoned to see a 1970’s school headmaster, it’s fundamentally because almost any successful business, and certainly all boostrapped small fast-growing businesses, has figured out that the team is kinda the most important asset you have.

And while you’re off patenting your IP, trademarking your logo and polishing your investor deck, turning a group of smart people into a team of awesome business builders is not quite so easy to map out.

So that’s gotta be the number one job of the CEO I figured – right?

Well yes (go on admit it you thought I would say no and then move to some sales-related, growth at all cost diatribe). Helping your team mates to be awesome, is of course your new number one job, since it directly translates into the success of the company. Making the team great is in the ‘best interests of the company’ for those of you interested enough to be reminded of your legal obligations as a director of a business. So you kind of have to do this…

But hang on, didn’t you post somewhere saying that I should spend all my day looking for sales tools to make my startup grow at hyperspeed? Yes, yes you should. And here comes lesson number 1 of being a CEO:

You have to do quite a few things at the same time, because EVERYTHING IS IMPORTANT.   Share on Twitter Tweet this

So what did I do when I realised my job was kinda hard and everything was a priority?

I asked for help, of course.

I asked it from my business nearest and dearest (whom I see more often than my actual nearest – see my post on the importance of family in all of this). We came up with a way of solving a number of problems at once on a regular basis, that I think is a very usable framework for any of you setting up your team and business goals.


At Zegal we call it S.I.T. The entire founding team of Zegal (nine of us!) have a S.I.T. meeting once a week (so you’ll never be able to get hold of any of us before 11am on a Monday). We have our phones turned off for anywhere between 90 minutes to 2 hours. Yes, two hours! That’s 120 minutes and we are never late (because being late to meetings is massively disrespectful to our team mates – I will for sure post on this at some future time!).

What could we possibly want to spend up to two hours a week talking about? Well the clue I’m sure you’ve worked out, is in the title.

Each of us looks at our area of focus – whether it’s tech, operations, sales, marketing, you name it – we divide our worlds up into the help we need from our team to Survive, Improve and Transform what we do.

This gives us the forcing mechanism we each need to set our problems and goals according to three horizons – the hyper short-term, and medium- and longer-term goals.

We need this forcing device, for two reasons:

  1. Startups run at a breakneck speed internally, and
  2. We challenge ourselves to achieve things in weeks that the old world of business did in years.

This accelerated learning and development cycle may cause short-sightedness in people – we don’t take the time out to reflect on our longer-term ambitions (and to review how things have performed over the medium-term), try and do everything at once, and are constantly in fire-fighting mode. That is not good for your team. It is a catastrophe in the making for your startup.

What do you have on your CEO Survive list? Let me know below – I look forward to the conversation.

Daniel Walker


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