We just completed our first structured performance review in my role as RecruitLoop CEO.

Our chairman ran the process, after interviewing all our team members. He also asked me to complete a self assessment.

I crave feedback. My instinct is to always look for areas to improve in whatever I’m doing. Where some people find feedback threatening, I’m more concerned by its absence.

The process was incredibly invaluable. I’ve decided to open-source parts of it to show how we ran it. And to be completely transparent about the areas I’m developing (with a shout out to Rand Fishkin).

Our review process had 3 parts:

  • CEO self assessment
  • Chairman interviews with team
  • Chairman provides synthesised (and anonymised) feedback and key themes.

Here I can share my self assessment, along with a short summary of some of the themes shared with me today.

Self Assessment

Garry asked me to provide thoughts on:

  • Achievements
  • Disappointments
  • Leadership
  • Effectiveness
  • Professionalism
  • Strengths / weaknesses
  • Skill sets
  • Communication
  • Team working / development

I sent him the note below.

***

Over the past few months I’ve been consciously focusing on becoming a more effective ‘startup CEO’. This is a transition in mindset, from the operational focus I’d developed as part of a small team of 3. I think I have a long way to go.

This is only partly by circumstance: in a team of 3-4 everyone needs to get shit done. This hasn’t changed dramatically, but as we add team members I need to step up. The transition is also partly deliberate, as I’ve felt a need (and been encouraged) to think bigger, faster, longer-term, more aggressively about what we’re doing with RecruitLoop.

As I work on becoming a better startup CEO, I’m focused on 3 requirements of the job:

1. Setting and communicating the vision and direction
2. Building a team of the right people, working together to execute
3. Making sure we have the funds and resources to do it.

I’ll start with a few comments against these points, before expanding on your suggested areas.

1. Setting and communicating the vision.

People very quickly ‘get’ what we’re doing with RecruitLoop. They’ve felt the pain and understand the problem we solve. The ah-ha moment comes quickly for most. But we’ve sometimes struggled to effectively communicate a singular, high level vision.

Strengths

In an operational sense, I think I’ve done a reasonable job of communicating the short-term focus. Our communication rhythm of weekly All Hands, monthly updates seems to work well.

Areas for improvement

Internally, I had feedback from the team last year to focus more on communicating the longer-term direction. What are the priorities over the next 3 and 12 months? How does that give context for what everyone is working on? What are the goals and targets we need to hit? The ‘Q1 Gameplan’ was a first crack at providing this context. I think it’s worked well to focus everyone, while giving a clear sense of overall focus.

This year, I’ve also proposed a monthly ‘waterside chat’ with the team (not fireside chat), to share updates/feedback/decisions following board meetings.

I can still do a much better job of:

  • Communicating (and developing) the longer term vision
  • Setting (and sticking to) goals and targets
  • Sharing operational milestones/metrics (especially on the financial side)

Feedback: ‘I’m being too hard on myself here. Operational execution was one of the biggest strengths shared by the team.

Externally, I’d like to develop a clearer, more succinct message of our vision and purpose. And be a more active voice in sharing it widely.

2. Building the team, and working together to execute.

This is the area I’m most proud of so far. I think we have the foundation for an incredibly strong and experienced team (all more experienced than me!).

Strengths

I think we’ve done a great job of attracting genuinely talented people to join (and believe in) RecruitLoop. We’ve also got real diversity of backgrounds, skillsets and opinions. We have the beginnings of a very people-focused culture, that I think will help attract other great talent. I’m excited about developing this further.

Areas for improvement

I’m learning to delegate. Part of this is having complete trust in the ability of other people to execute. But a big part is being able to let go of things I’ve been across since day 1. I can definitely do a better job of spending my time/efforts on the ‘right stuff’ as CEO, and figuring out what operational tasks can (and should) be done by others.

We’re a distributed team, with very different backgrounds. I’m still trying to figure out how to create/encourage an environment where we can easily work together, without unnecessary friction. And where we can all have fun.

3. Making sure we have funds and resources to do it.

Fundraising. It’s something I’ve spent a lot (perhaps too much) time thinking about over the past 2.5yrs. But with not enough to show for it. We’ve always run lean; perhaps too lean. It’s only in the last few months I’ve really felt like we had enough breathing space to be dangerous. The progress we’ve made since hiring, and moving more aggressively after our seed round, has shown me how critical this is.

Strengths

We have raised ~$800K total, just over a long period of time. I didn’t source every investor personally, but did close them.

Areas to improve

Everything related to my pitch. The content, story and hustle. I think this will get easier with experience, but I know it needs work.
Separately, a better focus and communication of our vision / direction will help excite investors about what we’re doing.

On the points you suggested, I’ve tried to focus on areas I think I can improve.

Achievements

The biggest achievement for me is related to the quality of our team.

Disappointments

At a high level, I’m disappointed by not being further along, with better traction, after 3 years of hard work. I’ve personally made mistakes of moving too slowly, thinking incrementally, and getting stuck in operations. While we’ve had awesome growth recently, I’m often frustrated but the time it’s taken to ‘figure out’ our model, and the relative lack of progress versus many other startups.

Feedback: Garry could see where this is coming from, but didn’t share the same frustration. On the flip side, we’ve achieved a lot in a short time compared to many novel ideas.

Leadership

I think my operational leadership has been ok. I could have a more disciplined focus on targets and metrics. A big area for improvement is leadership in the higher level, strategic stuff.

Effectiveness

My effectiveness is ultimately determined by how effective we are as a team. If we don’t execute, it’s on me. I don’t do a great job of managing individual performance. My preference is to work with great people, setup an environment for them to succeed, and trust they are performing. This could look like a hands-off management approach. But as we grow, I know I need a better focus on managing to targets.

Personally, I’ll be more effective by maintaining focus on ‘CEO level’ things, and then trusting/delegating to others.

Professionalism

I’ve become more comfortable in a style of ‘casual professionalism’. It took some time to shake off the consultant / suit mentality. Compared to some startups, we’re pretty formal / professional. But compared to others we’re very relaxed. I’m just doing whist comes naturally now – definitely open to feedback here!

Feedback: Sometimes I can be too professional internally. My takeaway: ‘chill the f*ck out’

Skill sets

A few things I enjoy, that I think I’m good at:

  • Team culture.  I’ve found a passion here, in trying to make people happy and successful.
  • Product.  I’ve come to really love product development and management. Working at the interface between users, problem, and solution. I think I’ve found a strength in interpreting needs from recruiters/clients, and communicating them to Denis to find good product solutions. I really enjoy thinking of new features / directions, sketching them out, and working to make them reality.
  • Marketing.  Inbound marketing, blogging, PR, branding. I enjoy this stuff and think I have a good sense for it.

One major area I’m less good at:

  • Sales.  ‘Selling’ doesn’t come naturally to me. I’ve worked on a ‘consultative selling’ approach, that has won some big accounts. But I don’t have the raw instinct and hustle of (eg) Paul. I think we balance each other out, but I’m conscious the CEO needs to be the best salesperson. And as we grow a sales function, it’s something to work on.

Communication

I could be more direct in some communication with the team. For example around expectations and performance.

***

Summary feedback

I won’t share every piece of detailed feedback, but a summary of the biggest themes.

Main strengths related to:

  • Breadth of coverage and input across all parts of the business.
  • Operational leadership: keeping the team focused and working together.
  • Execution: Getting things done. 24/7 mentality.
  • Strong active listening, respecting intelligence, experience and energy in others.

As I keep growing into the role, I’m focused on a few big things:

  • Keeping our (culturally and geographically) diverse team working together effectively and happily
  • Delegation: stepping back as we grow, letting others handle the day to day.
  • Learning to deal with frustration in a more productive way
  • Not burning out. This was a surprising concern shared by a few people. I didn’t see it as a huge risk personally. But am becoming more aware of how that perception can impact work culture.

Being a first-time startup CEO is often fun, but always hard. You literally learn on the job, leaning on a mix of instinct, prior experience, and mentors / other folk. It’s a journey and I have a long way to go.

This process was super helpful in focusing my biggest areas for improvement. While at the same time reinforcing some positive behaviours and habits.

Does a structured review sound too formal for your startup? I’d argue otherwise. But start by asking for feedback. You’ll be amazed by what people will share if they believe you’re genuine. And by how valuable the input can be if you’re open to it.