Executing the WhirlWind Way


“Imagine if all members of your team could independently and confidently wing it in their roles in a way that you knew would be consistent with the company culture and objectives.” This quote on page 176 of “Scaling up: How a Few Companies Make it…and the Rest Don’t” by Verne Harnish is at the heart of the Execution section and was literally music to my ears.

In the book, the analogy Harnish uses is the synchronicity of jazz, with its mix of improvisation and rhythm. It brought to mind my favorite Jazz band, The Robert Glasper Experiment and how they defy all genre norms while bringing a fresh brilliant spin to their compositions. When we identify specific tasks and habits to  set the stage for flawless execution, we free Techies to improvise and “riff” through their workday, minimizing the need to check in for direction. My goal is to use these principles to free up 80% of our leadership team’s time, and to shift their attention from day-to-day management to pursuing new clients and markets.

Do a Reality Check: The section opened with the “Rockefeller Habits Checklist” which painstakingly covers different functional areas of an organization. The checklist gave us a taste of what the full scale Team Assessment kit will provide. We are exploring the option of assessing our Executive Team to see how healthy and aligned we are by December of this year.

Keep the main thing the main thing:” Harnish quotes the late Stephen Covey in opening the section.  The number 1 priority for us, is to literally determine what our most important and measurable priority (Critical Number) within a 90 day to one-year focus would be. This would be the main goal that will anchor all of our execution planning and activities.

Collect Solid Data: One main execution activity related to the Critical Number is Data. After all, there’s no way to ascertain any measurable achievement without solid data. We are going to start with a really quick and easy survey to our clients, employees and shareholders, asking three simple questions:

  • What should we start doing?
  • What should we stop doing?
  • What should we keep doing?

The most important part of the survey will be a feedback loop, where we will update the employee on whether we implemented their suggestion or not (and why not).

Facilitate Ongoing Communication: When meetings are centered on the key Critical Numbers and routinely scheduled with a purposeful agenda, they “bring focus, alignment, provide an opportunity to solve problems more quickly and ultimately save time.”

One of my goals is to work closely with my Executive Assistant and finalize my  2018 calendar before the next year begins.  We also plan to reassess the purpose of all our recurring meetings and  group our weekly meetings together (so that all 1:1’s are scheduled on the same day, for example). And as part of bringing our techies together, we discussed implementing a peer coaching system at WhirlWind.

The path is laid for us to take on our Big Hairy Audacious Goal (BHAG) one priority at a time, one celebration at a time, one meeting at a time, one challenge at a time, and ultimately one single step at a time. Or to put it in Jazz terms, we will perfect one musical note at a time, one composition at a time, and empower our techies to improvise and play in concerted harmony.


What excites and motivates you about our direction? Do you have any insights to share? We would love to hear your thoughts!


Strategy: Behind the WhirlWind Momentum


“This [game] is chess, it ain’t checkers!” The classic quote from the movie Training Day came to mind when I was reading the section on Strategy in “Scaling up: How a Few Companies Make it…and the Rest Don’t” by Verne. It was by far my favorite part of the book.

Sometimes people tend to think running a business is as straightforward as checkers. You make move X, Y, and  it leads you directly to your expected outcome Z. In business this usually translates to the simplistic logic of, “If I produce more, I will increase my revenue.” This is only partially true. In my experience, running a business mirrors the complexity of chess. Sometimes, you have to step back and think three or more moves ahead. Sometimes, it’s counter intuitive, you must sacrifice a pawn for the queen down the road. Sometimes, you have to reverse engineer your moves and it may not make any sense to a lay observer. And most of the times, you have to reevaluate your strategy, as chess is a dynamic game and unexpected moves from your opponent could result in unforeseen obstacles.

The section on Strategy spoke directly to me as a leader, and I was heartened that we have intuitively adopted some of the ideas Verne introduces. The flip side of that is I am enjoying the challenge to work with the other concepts we haven’t yet  defined. I’m particularly excited for the chance to step back and reassess, redefine, and articulate our overall strategy.

As in all the sections, Verne provides specific tools and a framework for our discussions. In Strategy, he speaks to the athlete in me by discussing the importance of “core” strength. A company’s version of lower back and oblique muscles and a six pack of abs is its:

  • Core Values
  • Core Purpose
  • Core Competencies

Core Values

Although we have defined core values, I found myself looking forward to creating a space where we can explore our original core values again and test whether the same ones will stick or new ones will emerge.

One key takeaway from the book is that core values define the company’s culture, and provide a final “should/shouldn’t” test for all the behaviors and decisions by everyone in the firm. Core values also express a company’s personality. Our company is relatively young and fast growing, so this is an opportune time to step back and discern our core values.

Core Purpose

The core purpose, according to Verne, expresses the “heart” of a company and answers the “Why?” A powerful purpose tends to revolve around a single word or idea (e.g., Happiness = Disney, and  Innovation = 3M).

I have some ideas around our core purpose revolving around how we do technology differently to positively affect people’s lives, whether it is our employees, clients and shareholders, and being a remote/Distributed first culture that allows us to work in atypical and agile ways.

One thing that burns me up as a CEO, is when I find us doing something just to be typical. This process has me reflecting on how we can infuse the word different in everything we do and making it concrete. I look forward to applying the 3 “Why?” questions, to our purpose to drill down into our core purpose.

Core Competencies

According to Verne, a core competency has 3 attributes:

  • It is not easy for competitors to imitate
  • It can be reused widely for many products and markets
  • It can contribute to the benefits the end customer experiences and the value of the product or services to customers

What’s important about defining and articulating our strategy lies in understanding what we don’t do and in this way coming to a mature space where we may decide we don’t want to pursue a certain client or line of business because that’s not in line with our strategy.

Verne makes a note in the book that if defining the strategy were an easy process, every company would have a killer strategy. This process is actually harder for CEOs who think they have all the answers, since it is necessarily a messy and creative process. This really spoke to me, and I realized that much of my journey so far has been intuitive and I am willing to trust this process.  

He then goes through a specific framework, by far my favorite tool, called the 7 strata of strategy to help the strategic thinking team to create and maintain a competition-crushing, differentiated approach to a specific market.

It will be hard work to wrestle with these questions and articulate our own vision summary, as these are atypical questions for growing businesses to face. More importantly, this work can not be done behind closed doors by a handful of executives. It will require a sustained engagement with you: our frontline employees, our clients, and our managers. The payoff will be huge as we all get on the same page and create an unstoppable momentum with the WhirlWind we create. And like a good game of chess, we may not have all the answers at the beginning of the game, or even the middle. This is going to be one of those drawn out, long term games and we are “in it to win it”.


You will be hearing more from us, and in the meantime, we want to hear your thoughts on strategy, core values, purpose and growth.