Firm First: The Shift from Loyalty to Performance

The CEO and their inner circle, those individuals who directly influence the company’s decisions, must put the firm first in order to create a performance based culture and break through to the second stage of growth.


Author Bo Burlingham makes a brilliant point in his book, Small Giants, concerning a decision all founders must make as soon as possible after launching their business. Founders must decide whether their company will become a regional, collegially managed venture (Small Giant), or it will scale. Burlingham uses data and case studies to describe how certain companies can choose to become “great” without getting big. Bo states that entrepreneurs can create highly profitable, immensely popular companies without scaling their model.

A Small Giant CEO can also allow the members of the leadership team to remain at the decision making table based on their loyalty to his ideas and to him.

Many emerging growth companies, however, must scale if they are to achieve the entrepreneur’s aspirations and build the economic model the company requires. For those companies the primary ticket to the inner circle, that handful of individuals who directly impact strategic decisions, must boil down to one criterion. The CEO and leadership team must shift in the second stage of growth from a culture based on loyalty to one based on performance. At that point the CEO and Inner Circle must put the firm first, above loyalty.

“Accountable people achieve results others only dream of…” Steve Keller, The ONE Thing

Team accountability is rare; but it is attainable. A simple Scoreboard that includes priorities, assigned action points with deadlines, and metrics will provide the catalyst for team interaction. Offering the team an opportunity to vote on the priorities and action points can also fuel accountability. As I stated in a previous post, we’ve documented that 92% of CEOs believe their teams agree with and can clearly communicate their strategy; while 2% of leadership teams can list the same priorities. Team accountability is rare because most second stage CEOs aren’t accustomed to creating a performance based culture, and don’t realize the degree of their team’s misalignment.




Companies entering No Man’s Land must transition from a culture based on loyalty to a performance based culture. Team accountability is a critical component of that transition.

Actions to help your inner circle to develop team accountability:

1. Allow the team to vote on on the company priorities and actions prior to the next team meeting. Send a request to the inner circle team members via email to vote on the company’s priorities, actions or both.

The 3 possible questions for priority voting are:

  • Is this at top 5 priority?
  • Is this clear enough to guide action?
  • Are we doing the right things and achieving the right results?

A possible question for action point voting:

  • Are we doing the right things to achieve the right results?

Voting results are valuable for:

  • The initial Scoreboard Strategy Workshop discussion
  • A re-calibration or affirmation of the team’s perspective after several prioritieshave been changed, or multiple action points have been added
  • A monthly ritual as part of the meeting strategy meeting rhythm

2. Text reminders to the team about the upcoming meeting

3. Send a copy of the Scoreboard to the team members with comments about the previous meeting.

4. Contact specific team members to either encourage or provide tips on how to collaborate with other team members and possibly clear the path to complete their action points

5. Report on your interactions with team members at the next Scoreboard meeting

6. Have someone on the team create a “visual” for all employees to see that shows the PRIMARY Goal and Priorities that the leadership team is pursuing. Include a visual benchmark for the company’s “X to Y by when” objective and the current progress toward that goal. Here are a few samples of visuals:

  • Trend lines (“from X to Y by ___”)
  • Speedometer
  • Bar Chart
  • Andon (green to red)
  • Personalized (use names and their numbers)

The Secret Ingredient to Accountability and Execution

There is a secret ingredient to successful team accountability and execution. It’s an essential element that must exist, combined with the 7 steps identified above, to develop an Execution Habit. It’s BELIEF.



The Inner Circle can’t just be people that work together; they must be a unified team in order to be accountable to one another and execute effectively. Your inner circle members sit at your board room table not only because they perform; they’re there because they believe. They must believe in the “why” of your product or service, and they must believe in each other. If they are not currently rowing in the same direction on strategy, and as I’ve stated in previous posts almost all teams aren’t in sync, then creating an Execution Habit with team accountability will help them get on the same page to get the right things done. They will learn how to participate in the execution process together. They will build confidence over time so that eventually they’ll help pave the path for each other to accomplish the PRIMARY Goal.

Economy Heroes 60 Day Strategy Sprint

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