You’ve bought the Micro-battles System and opened the box. You’re impressed by the awesome packaging and pull out one of those quick-setup infographic pages. This is our best shot at what that might look like. We’ve linked it heavily to other blog posts and videos, and we hope you find it useful. We’ve set it up as a 10-point checklist for the first 100 days, but you could also call it “How I Get Started with Micro-battles without Blowing Up My Company.” Let’s jump right into the 10 steps.
Step 1: Align on the ambition to become a scale insurgent
Put simply, don’t even think about launching micro-battles unless your entire leadership team is aligned on the urgent need to become a scale insurgent. To build that alignment, you should do the following.
- Circulate the Founder’s Mentality video and book. If you can ignore the fat face, the video has proven to be quite effective at creating interest in the Founder’s Mentality.
- Take the Founder’s Mentality diagnostic survey. We have a very detailed version that we use in workshops. The goal is to agree on your point of departure and the ambition to be a scale insurgent.
- Understand the six building blocks and how micro-battles serve as the “how” when moving toward scale insurgency.
- Hold a facilitated leadership-team session to discuss the need for change. Use this discussion to forge alignment around what needs to be done and an explicit commitment to make the change happen.
Step 2: Rediscover your “insurgency on a hand”
While we would encourage you to consider acting on all of the six building blocks, start with codifying your insurgency on a hand. This exercise reconfirms your company’s insurgent mission and its spikey capabilities—that is, the routines and behaviors that help you deliver that mission to your customers. It is a step you can’t skip because it is critical to identifying and prioritizing each wave of micro-battles. In most cases, aligning on this is enough for a fast start. But some leadership teams have yet to draw a full-potential roadmap, and they need to work on this before discussing wave I (see step 10, “rinse and repeat”).
Step 3: Identify your franchise players, and map them against your top 100
A central benefit of micro-battles is to reconnect senior leaders with the franchise players in your company. Franchise players are the individuals who directly deliver your company’s insurgent mission to your customers. As a group, they represent both intimacy and scale. So yes, they include the frontline players who deliver the benefits of intimacy to your customers. But they also include the functional leaders who are delivering the benefits of scale to the same customers. You need to identify these roles in the company and understand how they map to your roster of top 100 high-potential candidates. In each wave of micro-battles, you need to work hard to find leadership roles for your high-potential franchise stars. Of course, not all of your stars are franchise players, and over time, you will want to move more of them into franchise player roles. But we’ll leave that discussion for another day.
Step 4: Define the Lead-Learn team, and establish its commitment to behavioral change
We assumed in the first three steps that the leaders are the company’s executive committee. But now you need to decide who is on your Lead-Learn team—that is, who will be in charge of running the portfolio of micro-battles, maintaining the learning center and holding the four-week Lead-Learn sessions. For some companies, this will remain the full executive team, but others find they would rather use a subset of that team and maybe even add a few stars not currently on the executive committee—for instance, the heads of the largest markets or product lines, or leading thinkers/influencers who might not have a big managerial job but would be brave disruptors. Once you’ve assembled this team, the very first discussion should be about how team members themselves must undergo profound behavioral change. A good starting point is to circulate our two blog posts on “the story of Freddie,” which outline the leadership challenges faced by the Lead-Learn team and the Win-Scale team.
Step 5: Define your wave I battles
Once aligned, the Lead-Learn team should turn to launching the wave I micro-battles. This requires key decisions about which battles to launch and who should lead them. These things are closely intertwined, since priorities hinge on both the strategic significance of the battle and who is available to lead it. Below are some strategies to think about.
Pick three battles. We recommend extreme pragmatism when choosing the first three battles.
- First, you want micro-battles that are big enough to have a real material impact if you scale them across the organization. They should attack specific metrics that directly measure how you are performing against your insurgent mission and full-potential agenda.
- Second—and this is in conflict with the first—you want battles that are winnable. Wave I is all about building momentum for micro-battles, so winning is key.
- Third, you want to pick micro-battles that will address well-known sources of organizational dysfunction. Your people are frustrated with you and happy to show you what’s making their lives difficult. Pick one of these issues, and use wave I to solve it. That will let your people know you’re serious.
With our strategy hats on, we want to reiterate that your micro-battle portfolio needs to align fully with your full-potential agenda. We are assuming that it is the subject of deep work going on in the background and parallel to the deep work you’re doing to get more of your stars in franchise player roles (more about this in step 10).
Pick team leaders and Lead-Learn sponsors. Once you’ve picked the battles, you need to pick team leaders (the franchise players who deliver the benefits of intimacy and scale for that specific battle). This will be iterative—you might have three perfect micro-battles but no great leaders available to lead them. So move down your list and look for a better fit. We want these wave I battles to be winnable, but we also want stars to lead them so that they can influence others as they seek to scale their results across the organization.
You will have ideas for additional support people, and you should suggest them. For example, it often makes sense to populate teams with what we call “pull forwards”—that is, potential wave II leaders who can learn how micro-battles work under the leadership of your wave I stars. But understand that you’ve empowered the team leaders to pick their final team and confirm those choices with you at the first Lead-Learn session. You will also need to pick the Lead-Learn sponsor for each battle. This is someone on the Lead-Learn team whose role is to grease the wheels for that particular micro-battle team before and after each four-week Lead-Learn session. He or she is there to support and learn, not to lead.
Create a micro-battle mission for each battle. The micro-battle mission is a critical document that will be constantly updated throughout the life of each micro-battle. It contains the latest hypothesis of each corner of the Win-Scale model.
- Strategic initiative: What strategic initiative are we attacking with this battle? You need to tie each battle to your full-potential strategy, and the mission should explicitly remind everyone of this link.
- Prototype: What is the “first failure point” for this initiative, and what is the prototype we must immediately test so that we can fail fast, adapt and reintroduce a new prototype until we have something that works for our customers?
- Repeatable model: What is the repeatable model we’re trying to create, and how do we intend to scale it across the organization once we have a winning prototype?
- Behaviors: What behavior changes will be required to make the scale-up successful?
Offer team leaders the deal. This begins with getting your leaders excited about the mission but ends with a rather specific discussion of the deal—or what’s in it for them. This is not trivial. Very likely, most of your stars have “special project scars” or know someone else who does. They remember being pulled from their bosses (who championed and protected them every day) and being asked to lead some big initiative reporting to the executive committee. Then they found that there wasn’t a lot of commitment to the initiative and the big project failed. Black mark on their record.
Smart team leaders will demand clarity on the benefits that accrue to them for leading and winning this micro-battle. They’ll also want to know how you plan to mitigate the downside risk (especially the risk of the executive committee losing its nerve midstream and abandoning the whole enterprise). We can’t really tackle this issue with a blog post, but there are common characteristics of the right deal.
- The CEO and the executive committee sponsor offer their personal commitment. They take accountability for the leader’s career and personal development during the life of the micro-battle.
- You offer the potential for something akin to an uncapped bonus for outstanding success. You want to set out the metrics of success, and you want to tie bonuses to those metrics. Legendary success should bring legendary rewards to the team, and their success should become a viral story spread around the firm. There are three caveats to this.
- You can’t discourage the brave recommendation to stop the micro-battle. So there must be clarity on what happens if you recommend a halt or pivot to another solution.
- There needs to be a long-term component to rewards, and it should be vested in building a sustainable insurgency business.
- You have to make sure the rewards are proportional to the rewards earned by those who are hitting it out of the park in the day-to-day business. This assumes that the heroes who deliver daily business success can also get legendary rewards for legendary performance.
- You make it clear that success in one battle will lead to another role on another battle or a clear role in the day-to-day business. It is right and proper that your people ask, “What next?”
Step 6: Train wave 1 micro-battle teams
Once the teams for wave I are in place, it is important to train them in how to effectively run the Win-Scale model. This is a process we’ve covered in the Micro-battles System overview blog post. It involves helping the team understand how to confirm the micro-battle mission and to define resource requirements. But then you leave them to run their daily and weekly Win-Scale sessions. The Lead-Learn sponsor should focus on helping the team keep the right balance between winning and scaling.
Step 7: Train the Lead-Learn team
While your three micro-battle teams are working toward their first Lead-Learn session, you have four weeks to train your Lead-Learn team on the skills required to run those meetings. See the overview and the Freddie story blogs for a deeper look at what’s required.
Step 8: Prepare the learning center
The learning center is where all the Lead-Learn sessions take place and is basically the nerve center of the micro-battle portfolio. We call it that because it is set up to collect and evaluate all that you’re learning from your micro-battles. A separate learning center blog post offers a suggestion for what that room should look like.
Step 9: Hold the first Lead-Learn session, and debrief all teams on lessons learned
After the teams have been in motion for four weeks, you want to run your first Lead-Learn session and invest a lot of time debriefing teams on what worked well (and badly) so that you can improve over the next cycle. In the overview and the Freddie story, we’ve provided a lot of detail on what these sessions should try to accomplish.
The next step is to stabilize your wave I battles, which means ironing out all the kinks in how your teams are working. Remember, at this stage, micro-battles are still in early test mode, and you’re still running the rest of the business as usual. We typically recommend that you let all wave I teams get through three full cycles before you launch the next wave. But during these cycles, you should be working on identifying the next set of six battles that will make up wave II.
This is what we referred to in step 5 as the “deep work going on in the background.” We saved this for last because we believe it is important to just get going on the first three micro-battles without a lot of overthinking on the rest. But after the first wave is safely launched, it is important to dig in on planning for the next wave. Here’s what needs to happen.
- As with wave I, it all starts with your full-potential roadmap. We are assuming you have absolute clarity on your core business and what will be required to realize the full potential of that business. This includes clarity on a path to leadership economics. From the full-potential roadmap, you should have a waterfall chart that shows clearly the major elements of value that will move you from your current point of departure to your desired point of arrival (see Figure 1).
- Each subsequent wave of micro-battles must link clearly to your spikey capabilities or the major sources of value identified by your full-potential roadmap. Micro-battles aren’t little things; they are directly tied to the strategic initiatives that are most critical to creating value in your company. A word on what we mean by full potential: The best CEOs have a full-potential mindset—that is, they share an ambition to maximize the value of their companies and have a clear multiyear agenda that pulls all the levers of change to achieve this ambition. The best micro-battles directly support this agenda.
- Now that you have your strategic foundation, the next step is to workshop like crazy to create the long list of potential micro-battles. The micro-battle workshop is a key design element of our work. Typically, we invite all members of the Lead-Learn team and all leaders of the wave I micro-battles to participate. The idea is to devote equal amounts of time to brainstorming at the Lead-Learn level and picking up the phone to talk to your frontline teams. There’s a top-down process of brainstorming from big initiative to potential micro-battle. But there’s also a whole bottom-up exercise focusing on what we call orphaned experiments.
- What you discover very quickly is that there are a lot of these orphaned experiments happening all over your company. The good news is that they are usually very clever experiments led by your best people working on behalf of your best customers. The bad news is that the team leading them has spent almost no time thinking about how to scale the lessons coming from these experiments, so they are having very little impact. The goal of the micro-battle workshop is to develop a long list of these experiments and figure out which link to the full-potential agenda and which could be best scaled across the organization. This is absolutely critical as you are working to rediscover the lost voices of the front line and customers.
Starting to think about the next 200 days
That’s it for the first 100 days. The links we’ve provided offer much more detail. But you might be asking yourself as you read the list, “Where is communications?” There is a lot of implicit communication in the first-100-days plan. The Lead-Learn cycle, the launching of micro-battles, setting up the learning center—all these actions communicate a new way of working and are critical for the success of the program. But as of yet, there is no formal communications initiative to the wider organization because you want to set an example by changing behaviors first. So communications falls into our next-200-days checklist. What follows is a preview, but be warned: We’ll be writing a lot more about this in the coming weeks.
Launch wave II. You now launch wave II, repeating steps 5 and 6 above for the next group of leaders.
Develop a communications plan. The key to wave I is more walk and less talk, but once you’ve got 9 or 10 micro-battles going on, folks will be noticing that things are different, and you’ll need to start worrying about broader communications. Consider the following few questions.
- How can we fit the cadence of micro-battles into our annual leadership meeting cycle? We assume you have a top 100, top 250 or top 1,000 company meeting at which you reward heroes, align on strategy, celebrate successes and so on. These meetings are tremendous opportunities to discuss wave I progress and ideas for waves II and III. Once you’ve achieved a steady state, these meetings are great opportunities for your franchise players to take the lead, talking through the lessons of the past several battles.
- How can we make the micro-battle program a great thing not only for our front line but also for our functional teams? We are very clear that micro-battles are led by the teams that deliver the insurgent mission through intimacy and scale. This means your frontline folks are critical, but so, too, are your functional teams who are working tirelessly to deliver the benefits of scale to customers. You need to think about how you can use your communications strategy to broadcast the role of the functions in these battles. You also want to broadcast how customer focused your global functions have become.
- How do we bring our partners into our micro-battles? It is very likely that in the first 100 days, you’ve realized how much your partners need to change to operate within the four-week Lead-Learn cycles. Examples might be channel partners who are now asked to help test your latest prototypes, or advertising partners who suddenly need a new way to prototype promotions. How do you communicate with them about your journey and help them celebrate their successes with you?
Rinse and repeat through three more cycles, while identifying wave III battles. You now have nine battles up and running, and you’re repeating step 9 above for another three cycles while working hard to identify wave III (another 12 battles).
Launch wave III battles. With the launch of wave III, you will have roughly 20 battles up and running, which is our recommendation for a steady state. There is a big presumption here that your Lead-Learn team has done the deep work of making sure these 20 micro-battles are the critical ones you need to fight on the way to full potential.
Rinse and repeat through three more cycles, while identifying wave IV and other initiatives. You should now have your early wave I battles moving into rapid scale mode. The Lead-Learn team has by now also solved the specific 10 times on important issues that run across the micro-battle portfolio, so it might be time to launch horizontal initiatives to address common problems faced by all micro-battle teams. From this point forward, we are also assuming that the Lead-Learn team members have become masters of learning and are using micro-battles to inform the full transformational agenda of the company.
Begin zero-basing everything else to give space to a full micro-battle agenda. You will now find that micro-battles have crowded out the rest of the executive committee agenda. Most of your key functions will have reoriented their time, talent and energy to support these initiatives. You’ll spend most of your time as a leadership team directly with your franchise players supporting their battles. Everyone will feel overwhelmed by the importance and complexity of running the micro-battle portfolio.
It is now time to zero-base your executive committee agenda. As micro-battles suck the oxygen from everything else, you’ll need a team aligned around streamlining the rest. You should have been working hard to simplify things from the very first micro-battle, as so much of the Lead-Learn team’s work focuses on removing the obstacles that hold back franchise players from executing fast. But now is the time to look at the full agenda holistically, using a big knife to slash out a lot of what you do.
What you will notice as these waves wash across the organization is that your people will naturally start to think about the need to redesign your company’s operating model, its legacy processes, its incentive systems and so on. Encourage this, and don’t allow the old structures to get in the way of the new ways of working. Align them as soon as possible. Depending on the outcomes and experiences of your first three waves, the nature, speed and scope of these changes will vary, but they will naturally gain momentum as the organization learns from experience and the positive outcomes accumulate.
We hope this will convince you that if the first 100 days are fun, the next 200 days are equally thrilling.