Hi, you’re probably here because you are new at Spiff, you are considering an offer from Spiff, or you are interested in Spiff’s culture. This post follows an earlier post called Intro to Spiff Culture. You may want to read that first for background.
At Spiff, we don’t have Core Values. We don’t require or expect you to share our values. Each person’s core values may be different. Instead, we expect you to share our Definition of Victory. And we expect you to be a Leader in helping us achieve that Definition of Victory.
As a reminder, this is our Definition of Victory.
We believe that people are happiest when they are motivated. Spiff drives motivation through effective, real-time, data-driven commission software.
We’re building a future where:
- Many more people receive incentive compensation
- Incentives are immediate (including payouts)
- Machine learning optimizes incentives, behaviors, and plans
- Money isn’t the only incentive
- Setting up incentives is easier than running payroll
- We pioneer low-code financial automation
- Every complex financial process is automatable
Internally, we are looking to build world-class leaders in every position and achieve something we call Escape Velocity. The idea of Escape Velocity is so important to us that we have an entire culture document dedicated to it (please read “Spiff’s Super Secret Plan to Achieve Escape Velocity” here).
The rest of this post talks about what we mean when we ask you to be a leader here at Spiff.
What Is Leadership?
“One way to remember who you are is to remember who your heroes are.” –Steve Jobs
We don’t presume to know everything about leadership. In many ways, we are more interested in learning what leadership means to you. It’s a deep enough concept that we can always learn more about it.
We use this working definition of leadership at Spiff:
Leaders create rapid, deep, and widespread achievement of a bold, shared purpose.
One way to think about leadership is to remember your heroes. We’ll bet those heroes created a rapid, deep, and/or widespread achievement of a bold shared purpose. Often one of those is sufficient to be a leader.
Not every leader creates rapid achievement of their purpose. Some leaders are like artists who aren’t fully appreciated until after they die.
Not every leader creates deep achievement. Steve Jobs is an amazing leader in certain ways. He ushered in the era of smartphones. But you could say that his impact isn’t as deeply positive for humanity as the impact of Martin Luther King, Jr. had.
Some of the greatest leaders don’t create widespread achievement. I think of the impact my Mom has had on me. It’s enormous. But she didn’t spend her life trying to impact millions of people. She mainly focused on our family.
Great leaders drive toward a bold shared purpose. Steve Jobs “thought differently” about humans and computing. MLK, Jr. Jim created massive progress in the quest for racial equality. My Mom worked to create a family bonded by love with a desire to do good.
We recognize that creating amazing commission software may not ignite your passion as much as some other great purposes.
I’m super passionate about what we are building. I love building amazing software that creates a new category. But I love business in general. And I love going on a long-odds startup adventure with people I admire. We don’t necessarily need passion, but we do need leaders.
So if you are joining Spiff, get ready to amp up your leadership game. We’re going to help you, but we are also going to push you.
Personal, Team, and Market Leadership
Yes, leadership is for every person at Spiff in any role, no matter how “big” or “small” that role may be. Your leadership in your sphere of responsibility is just as important as mine is as the CEO of Spiff.
Lots of companies focus on excellence. At Spiff, we talk about leadership.
We believe personal leadership will inevitably lead to market leadership. People first win personal victories, which lead to team victories, and finally to “battlefield” victories.
So at Spiff, we often talk about leadership at three levels: personal, team, and market.
Spiff Leadership Framework: Think Like a CEO
We believe in the unlimited potential of every Spiffer. That’s why we invest heavily in leadership training for every person at Spiff.
I use the same framework to think about leadership for our team members that I use to evaluate my own leadership as the CEO of Spiff. Every person at Spiff is a CEO. It’s just a question of the scope of their responsibility. My scope includes the entire company, but yours may just be you or a smaller team. Regardless you are the Chief Executive over your scope of responsibility.
Here’s the framework I use to evaluate my performance as a CEO. We encourage you to use it as well.
Thinking like a CEO involves four steps:
- Establish a clear Definition of Victory for yourself and your team. A Definition of Victory is a mission statement coupled with a really clear sense of what it will look and feel like to achieve a specific goal. How can you help establish a clear mission, vision, and definition of victory for your role?
- Build your team and culture. Nobody is ever truly alone in any great effort, even if you don’t manage anybody. Find advisors, mentors, co-workers who can help you. Enlist the support of family and friends, etc. Then build a culture for yourself and others who work with you.
- Secure the resources your team will need to succeed. Do you need some technology? Make a case to the CFO and get it purchased. Do you need more people on the team? Ditto. Do you need training, coaching, process, etc? Find it and get it.
- Drive growth. Be the Chief Bottleneck Remover in your role. Identify the primary limitations for growth and remove them.
Leaders Change the Game
We use the phrase “game-changer” so often it’s become cliche. But have you ever really thought about what it means?
We use a few clips from the movie Moneyball to drive it home here at Spiff.
Watch these two clips:
Billy Beane, GM of the Oakland A’s, set out to reinvent the game of basketball using statistics. After making it deep into the playoffs, the Minnesota Twins beat them in the AL West finals. A commentator says that nobody can reinvent the game of baseball.
After Beane blows off some steam, Beane’s stat genius assistant named Peter Brand (played Jonah Hill) asks to show Billy a video clip:
He tells Billy that although it may not feel like it, Billy has changed the game.
The type of statistical analysis Billy and Peter pioneered has now become commonplace in baseball. They did change the game. It reminds me of the quote by Arthur C. Clarke: ‘New ideas pass through three periods: 1) It can’t be done. 2) It probably can be done, but it’s not worth doing. 3) I knew it was a good idea all along!”
Leaders frequently change the games in which they compete. Think about what the 1996 US National Women’s Soccer Team did for women’s soccer and soccer in the US generally. Think about what Michael Jordan did for basketball.
We talk about four levels of “game changers” at Spiff:
- Level 1 Game Changers–Change Our Understanding of the Rules of the Game
- Level 2 Game Changers–Change Our Understanding of Peak Performance
- Level 3 Game Changers–Change Our Understanding of What It Means to Win
- Level 4 Game Changers–Change Our Understanding of the Goal of the Game
Level 1 Game Changers Change Our Understanding of the Rules of the Game
Consider the Fosbury flop. Prior to the 1968 Olympics, almost all high jumpers went straight at the bar, throwing one leg and their head over at the same time. When Dick Fosbury came along with his backward, head-first, facing-the-sky technique, Time magazine referred to it as “preposterous.” Even Fosbury’s own coach told the magazine, “I wouldn’t advise anybody else to try it.” That was right before Fosbury won gold and set an Olympic record. Four years later, most of the competitors used the Fosbury flop. It took researchers years to figure out the physics of why the flop worked so well.
Level 2 Game Changers Change Our Understanding of Peak Performance
The more inspiring “game changers” don’t change the rules, but they play the game at a level that we didn’t know was possible: Abby Wambach, Michael Jordan, Serena Williams.
Level 3 Game Changers Change Our Understanding of What It Means to Win
Some have the ability to change our understanding of what it means to win.
Level 4 Game Changers Change Our Understanding of the Goal of the Game
The most inspiring “game changers” change our understanding of the goal of the game. The purpose. Inspiring generations to strive for excellence, helping kids with limited financial resources dream big, showing women athletes that they are just as inspiring or more than men. The “why?”
Leaders Boldly Declare Truth
Leaders also boldly declare the truth. We think Kim Scott nailed this best of all in her book Radical Candor.
The best leaders care personally and challenge directly. At Spiff, you’ll often hear us give and receive candid feedback to each other. When you receive challenging feedback, we challenge you to say or at least think, “thank you for caring about me enough to be honest.” If you say that and force yourself to feel it, defensiveness will fade away, and true learning will occur.
Achieving Fission: Leaders Create Other Leaders
The best leaders don’t horde talent and knowledge to themselves. They freely give it. They build other leaders. We use a nerdy analogy to talk about this. Great leaders achieve fission in their organizations where they are so influential that they create 2-3 or more leaders who each create 2-3 more, etc. This kind of chain reaction is the most powerful force in the universe.
As you think about becoming a leader, we hope these Spiff tips will help you:
- Leaders create rapid, deep, and/or widespread achievement of our bold shared purpose
- Personal leadership leads to team leadership which leads to market leadership
- Everybody can be a leader by thinking like a CEO in their role
- Leaders change the game
- Leaders boldly declare the truth
- Leaders create other leaders
Netflix has pointed out that many cultures are hypocritical. Hypocritical cultures claim to foster one kind of culture, but they promote people who are very different. Or they let people go who are actually good examples of their ostensible culture. A true reflection of culture is found by looking at who is rewarded , promoted, and let go.
At Spiff, we will reward you, promote you, or let you go based on your personal and team leadership — your ability to help us create and rapidly achieve our bold company purpose. That’s it.
So really, we can sum up our Leadership Mandate in one simple phrase: Be a Leader.