Educator and computer pioneer Alan Kay once said: “The best way to predict the future is to invent it.”
If you work for a growing company, be it a start-up or a scale-up, you know that trying to “invent” the future is not a matter of waiting for flashes of inspiration and eureka moments – it requires proactivity planning , excellent execution and great alignment. You will also know that these ingredients are not easy to come by. By far not.
That’s why I swear by a simple, unique framework that will help me and my team at HubSpot prepare for the future. This is known as the “business rhythm” and involves visualizing the key events, milestones and activities planned for the course of the fiscal year and ensuring that each team is fully familiar with the plan – or rhythm – for the months ahead .
As a member of the HubSpot Revenue Operations Team, understanding the “rhythm of the business” is critical to our success. The main goal of our team is to remove frictional losses for our customer-facing teams and to help them pass this smooth experience on to customers.
The RevOps model makes us successful because it breaks down silos between operational experts, unites them as a central team, and enables them to work collaboratively on the systems and processes that drive a company.
As a result, duplicate work is sorted out, repeatable tasks are automated and time is spent on proactively improving the customer experience rather than reacting hectically to system malfunctions.
Because the RevOps model aligns teams with the customer, the Rhythm of the Business framework aligns the entire company with the most important events in the fiscal year – the moments when oversized impact is possible and execution is everything.
Taken together, RevOps and “Rhythm of the Business” are more than the sum of their parts; a combination of mindset and method that enables it to grow continuously to delight customers, even as their internal operating model becomes more complex.
How I became a Rhythm of the Business believer
It was during my time at Amazon that I embraced the “rhythm of business” for the first time. I’ve gotten into the habit of recording important milestones throughout the year, noting in my calendar the “fire drills” that took place during the year and marking them in color.
Annual kick-offs were marked in blue, major customer events in orange. I used a printed wall calendar that I know is “old school” but it allowed me to visualize the entire year in a nanosecond.
Later in my time at Amazon, when I was responsible for planning, strategy and enablement, I looked at the calendar from last year and found that some events went well for my team while others should have been given more time to prepare. In short, I realized we had to plan better for the next 12 months.
When it was time to design our calendar for the coming year, I was able to use the findings from the past 12 months and give a well-founded structure to what would otherwise have been essentially just guesses.
Structuring my team’s year in this way not only allowed us to start earlier than most teams, but also gained the time to develop and refine our hypotheses, test them, and design a defensible data-driven strategy for the future.
This in turn enabled us to make better investments, get higher returns on those investments, and then be able to make bigger investments in the future. The process took the form of a flywheel that fed on its own momentum.
When I came to HubSpot in 2018, I brought the “rhythm of the business” approach with me. Although the company had grown well, it was about to enter a new phase of scaling and we had the opportunity to improve our operating model by stepping back from the whiteboard and taking into account the ebb and flow of the year.
This enabled us to start planning in good time and be prepared for important milestones in the course of the year.
3 ways “Rhythm of the Business” is helping HubSpot to scale better
At HubSpot we have an annual planning cycle, and we recently discovered that there were some areas of misalignment between teams. That created internal friction, and where there is internal friction, it never takes too long for that friction to seep into the customer experience.
For example, our development team and product team were sometimes at an advanced stage in their annual planning before other teams fully defined what they needed from them.
At best, this type of interruption can lead to wasted time in meetings attempting to reevaluate plans, and at worst, it can lead to ineffective, disjointed strategic execution – a thought common to most of the operations experts I know know, would keep you awake at night.
We turned to the Rhythm of the Business model to eradicate this misalignment and implemented it in three simple steps that are easy to replicate for growing businesses of all sizes.
1. Assign the milestones.
The first thing my team at HubSpot did when it took on the “rhythm of business” was to note on our physical calendar when other teams were doing their annual planning and when their key milestones were due.
From those dates we worked backwards to set deadlines for the results we were delivering for other teams’ key milestones, and after we finished the calendar we digitally distributed the calendar across the company.
This enabled us to coordinate our activities and priorities with those of other teams and thus have a tight strategy for the coming year.
2. Look long-term.
As important as it is to have mapped out the rhythm for the coming year, it is just as important to plan for the long term.
At HubSpot, we recently put in place a three to five year plan that is critical from a systems perspective – it allows us to develop a consistent, coherent, and clear business strategy. It also gives us the ability to make sure we are investing in the right systems at the right time.
Without that forethought, each team would likely have its own agenda and strategy, which would result in different departments pointing in different directions, broken investments, and possibly a clunky, jumbled tech stack – something that is deeply detrimental to the customer experience.
3. Be a theme gamer.
Once the key milestones are set for the year, it is helpful to group them according to specific themes or seasons. This makes it easier for the teams to mentally organize their work and to remain focused on the overarching business purpose of their activity at any time of the year.
Here’s an example of how we at HubSpot group milestones by topic:
Q1: Kickoff season
We start the year, set goals and ensure that people clearly understand their goals and feel motivated by them.
Q2: Think big season
We’re pulling out of business, exploring great opportunities, and planning for the long term. We look at what is working well, think about the future that is not yet illuminated, and we evaluate the external factors that could affect our business.
It’s one of my favorite times of the year because we take into account the trends that could be emerging in three to five years. And this way of thinking helps the company to inform in the third quarter.
Q3: compass season
We plan for the next year and identify the big games we want to make and the opportunities we will miss.
These decisions are made with the insights from the “think big” season of the second quarter, which are fresh in our minds and help us to make short-term decisions that will make us successful in the long term.
Q4: planning season
You close the year, finalize the goals, objectives, investments and disposals for the following years … and take some time to recharge your batteries!
Alignment over strategy
The Rhythm of the Business framework has enabled HubSpot’s Revenue Operations team to ensure that all teams are aligned not only with our priorities for the year ahead, but also with our vision for the future.
This, in turn, enables us to effectively create processes, build systems, and organize data for our customer-facing teams to set up to successfully deliver a smooth experience to our customers.
As our Chief Customer Officer Yamini Rangan often says, “Alignment eats strategy for breakfast.” This has become a mantra for us RevOps professionals at HubSpot as we ride to the rhythm of the year.
After all, a strategy is only as good as its execution, and execution depends entirely on direction, especially in a scaling company.
To get started with the “rhythm of the business” in your company, first look back in your calendar – whether printed, digital or memory-based – and note when important milestones occurred in the course of the past year.
Then, for each milestone, determine when you started planning and assess whether your team’s preparation was appropriate or whether it would benefit from more time, information, or assistance in the next year.
Once you have this simple plan in place, you can give your team a clear overview of the rhythm of your business for the next year. And so you can not only prepare for the future, but also invent it.
If you want to visualize the future with the “Rhythm of Business” model, see if Your company has a rhythm or how are you? create a rhythm of the business model. I also recommend a book we use at HubSpot. “Play to win“which helped us ensure that we are all using similar nomenclatures and frameworks.
Ultimately, the specific nomenclature or the framework does not matter. It is important that everyone is on the same page and using it – this speeds up communication, decision-making and results.