Finance & Operations

The CEO Checklist: 6 Questions to Set Your Priorities

May 9, 2013

As a startup CEO you’ve got more than a few things vying for your attention. What should you be focusing on to drive the biggest impact? Use this checklist to set your priorities and ensure your company is on the right path to extraordinary.

On any given day, an expansion-stage CEO might have a dozen (or more) things on his or her plate. Analyzing critical metrics. Reviewing cash flow. Leading management team meetings. The list can go on and on.
And those are just the day-to-day, short-term activities — never mind all of the long-term planning and goal-setting that a CEO must always be thinking about.
It can be a hectic (and sometimes lonely) existence, and deciding which things to focus on can be challenging. Is customer service and retention more important than board or senior management performance? What about ensuring sales and marketing alignment? Where should that rank on the to-do list?
Truthfully, all of those things are important to expansion-stage success, and it’s critical that CEOs develop a process for continuously evaluating them throughout the year.
One great way to do that is to put the following six questions on a checklist and answer them periodically, particularly as you launch important initiatives or approach the end of quarters or fiscal years.

A CEO Checklist for Evaluating Performance and Setting Priorities

Checklist box1. Is Your Mission and Vision on Target?

Every year, as part of your management team’s planning process, you should revisit your company’s mission and vision to validate that they still align with the company’s current state.
In some cases, you might find that your mission statement still aligns with your aspirations, but that you need to refine your vision based on what is happening in your market or company.
Ultimately, your mission should be the fundamental purpose of your organization (a brief description of why it exists) and your vision should encapsulate where you want your company to be in three to four years. If either one is no longer relevant, don’t hesitate to make changes to them.
For more on this topic, check out our eBook, What Really Matters: A Guide to Defining and Realizing Your Company’s Aspirations.

Checklist box2. Is Your Board Still Relevant?

It is absolutely critical for CEOs of expansion-stage companies with boards of directors to, at least annually, sit down and ask these questions about each of their board members:

  • Is he or she still adding value?
  • Is he or she still relevant to your current mission and vision?
  • Would a different board member with a different profile or skill set add more value?
  • Does the board need to be expanded to add a profile or skill set that is currently lacking?

This can be a difficult process for many CEOs and founders because they’ve often developed personal relationships with existing board members who have helped get their companies to where they are today. But if a board member is no longer relevant or adding value, you must take action. A board position is not a lifetime appointment and changes are sometimes necessary as a company evolves.
For more advice on how to get the most out of your board, see our eBook Building a High-Impact Board of Directors: A Guide for Expansion-Stage CEOs.

Checklist box3. Does Your Management Team Have the Right Skills and Capabilities?

Similar to the last point, evaluating current — and future — management team needs and goals is a very important recurring task.
By nature, expansion-stage technology companies’ needs constantly evolve as they scale. As such, the management team that helped found the business may or may not have the skills and capabilities necessary to take the company to where it hopes to go.
The best CEOs implement strategies that allow them to continuously develop the skills of existing management team members, work with the board to identify the management team roles the company will need as it scales, and upgrade the management team if certain members aren’t pulling their weight.

Checklist box4. Should You Consider Raising Prices?

Many CEOs are afraid to consider this question for fear of what a price hike would do to their relationship with existing customers or their competitive positioning with prospective customers. And I can’t blame them.
Raising prices isn’t always a good idea, but there are circumstances in which it is warranted. For instance, as entrepreneur-turned-VC David Skok writes in this post, creating a scalable pricing model can be a particularly powerful revenue growth tool for SaaS businesses.
However, for expansion-stage CEOs focused on growth, scalable pricing plans and price hikes must be given serious thought, not implemented on a whim. If it makes sense for your business, be sure to create a strategy for executing it and revisit that strategy every year as part of the planning process.
For more advice on pricing your product as your company scales, read our Ultimate SaaS Pricing Guide.

Checklist box5. Are You Keeping the Customers You Have?

Customer retention is one of the best indicators of a company’s short and long-term viability, particularly in the SaaS world. So, continuously asking this question should seem like a no-brainer.
That said, how should you be monitoring customer retention and what should you be doing to improve it? In a great post for VentureBeat, ZenDesk COO Zack Urlocker says there are a handful of common sense activities that CEOs should be constantly reinforcing if they want to keep their customers, including:

  • Responding at the speed of the Internet
  • Apologizing appropriately
  • Encouraging corporate transparency
  • Stopping problems before they start

CEOs may not see themselves as agents of customer service or satisfaction, but the opposite is actually true. Ultimately, the CEO sets the tone for his or her organization and it’s up to that person to monitor customer issues and act swiftly before they turn into full-blown conflagrations.

Checklist box6. Are You Measuring Innovation?

As respected product management expert Marty Cagan writes in this post, truly enduring companies grow revenues by successfully introducing new offerings that generate new revenue streams. And they fuel that machine by fostering a persistent culture of innovation.
It’s the CEO’s job to establish that culture by monitoring and measuring innovation. According to Cagan, that means tracking the percentage of revenue that comes from products and services introduced in the past three years. If any less than 50 percent of your revenue is coming from products developed during that time span, you might have an innovation problem. And if that’s the case, it is the CEO’s responsibility to do something about it — and quickly.

One Final Note

This list is by no means comprehensive, and I realize that CEOs deal with numerous other issues on a daily, monthly, quarterly, and yearly basis.
But by tracking the six things above, you can develop a checklist that, at the very least, helps you monitor the health and direction of your business. And doing that can help organize and influence every other issue that inevitably finds its way to your desk.
For more insights into what it takes to develop a truly exceptional business and become a better leader, you may also enjoy my blog series, “10 Entrepreneur Leadership Lessons from My 25-Year Software Career.” I’d also love to hear your feedback:

Are there any items you would add to this checklist? Which one do you think is most important?

Venture Partner

<strong>George Roberts</strong> is a Venture Partner at OpenView. He enjoys partnering with companies and helping them achieve their goals through strategy, focus and operational execution. From 1990 to 2003, George spent 13 years at Oracle Corporation, most recently having served as Executive Vice President of North American Sales. While at Oracle, George was responsible for over $1 billion in revenue and more than 2,000 employees, reporting directly to the company’s CEO and Chairman, Larry Ellison.