5 Systems That Have Helped Me and Can Help Other Startup Execs Discipline Their Business



If academics are rearing to jump on a reference to Foucault’s “Discipline and Punish”, then now’s not a good time.


We know the market has moved out of its earlier discipline and punish model to a better (and less panoptic) model of management. Hence, in this post no harm was done, nor any punishment given to any theoretical business beings (except, well, some business practices).


Disciplining Businesses


Once the startup has reached into the “fun stage”, where customers start placing orders, executives face the herculean task of keeping their business under control. Since the business has gained a momentum of its own, and continues to run on the intake provided by the customers, it can start to move into unprecedented territories.


Unless the executives are able to leash it, chances of controlling the growing entity can dramatically grow thin.

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From my experience, 5-systems have proved beneficial in overcoming disciplining problems. I believe, they will prove helpful for other executives in the same boat. These five systems include:

  1. Balanced Scorecards
  2. Strategy Maps
  3. Strategic Job Families
  4. Top Grading
  5. Business Rhythms


Let’s see each in brief.


Balanced Scorecards (BSC)


The worst thing that executives often do is to hang their strategic plan as portraits, watching them every once a while during the quarter. It is crucial that executives establish a framework for placing all important KPIs into the right perspective and then measuring them accordingly.


The Balanced Score Board (BSB) transforms your strategic plan into an order churning machine for managers and employees on a daily basis.


Its power is often underestimated by considering it as merely a measurement system, but I’ve found it to be a complete management system capable of providing feedback for both internal business processes as well as external outcomes. It will allow you to continuously improve strategic performances and results.


The BSB forces us to view the organization from four perspectives (Financial, Customer, Business Processes, and Learning & Growth), and hence develop metrics, methods of collecting relevant data, and analyzing each perspective to figure how value is being created for the organization.


This is then communicated using Strategy Mapping (next).


Further Resources


Gain basic insights into the use of the Balanced Scoreboard, read “Using the Balanced Scorecard as a Strategic Management System” (Robert S. Kaplan and David P. Norton).


For a more fundamental understanding of the Balanced Scoreboard read Robert S. Kaplan’s original work “Conceptual Foundations of the Balanced Scoreboard” published in HBR (2010).


Strategy Maps


It is crucial to communicate the strategy of the organization, focus its efforts, and choose appropriate measures to report to an organization’s progress in implementing a strategy.


This is where Strategy Maps come in. They are a simple diagram that explicitly shows the cause-and-effect relationship between the four BSC objectives (Processes, Financial, Customer, and Growth & Learning). With this diagram, you can easily and thoroughly document the primary strategic goals being pursued by an organization or a management team.


They have allowed me to easily communicate strategies for the prime question “How we are to create long-term value for the shareholder?”


With a Strategy Map, the creation of shareholder value (the result in most cases) is exhaustively linked to organization’s core capabilities, innovation, organizational design, human resources, IT, connected learning, and processes, customer, and quality management. This graphic communication of the strategy among executives allows one to align resources for the successful implementation of strategy.


Further Resources


You can look up some examples of Strategy Mapping here.


Strategic Job Families


It’s never enough to populate the company with outstanding employees. Executives must use them effectively though good organizational design. This is where Strategic Job Families has arrived as a greater device for addressing workforce management.


Imagine being able to direct the organization’s strategy by knowing which positions will have the most direct impact on the execution of your strategy.


This would require making tough decisions quickly, e.g. releasing employees who don’t rise to the challenge. By creating strategic job families, executives are able to identify he positions which may be Entry level but prove essential to the strategic development of the organization. Examples include entry level positions such as book keepers etc.


A good method of doing this is to analyze organizational strategy, develop a list of selection criteria, and then ranking and scoring each position.


Further Resources


You can brush up on the technique from Peter Reilly’s paper published by Institute of Employment Studies.




“The fundamental driver of shareholder value is the talent of everyone in the organization on whom you rely to implement your business strategies.” — Such is the recurrent Wisdom of Executives.


All of us realize that our strategies will become a wasteland if we are not able to hire and retain high performers for our organization. As an executive, we are tasked with developing a team of A players for every position in your organization. This is where topgrading comes in.


Topgrading, in simple terms, is the practice of first collecting, and then empowering, the highest quality workforce. This is done by proactively seeking out and employing the most talented people available — while redeploying employees showing lesser ability or performance.


Topgrading allows this by ensuring that talent acquisition and management processes are solely focused on identifying, hiring, promoting, and then retaining top people. It also allows you to easily coach and empower the right people in the strategic positions.


I’ve found it to be the best device for promoting the right people, in the most strategic positions. And from experience, I’ve seen that organizations that topgrade are able to drive improvements or changes in core strategic value drivers including time to market, quality, innovation, productivity, customer service, etc. These organizations continued to show growth and success because they have the most competent employees in all job families.


Further Resources


Read the original piece describing the practice in a thorough problem-solution oriented manner here.


Business Rhythms


Predictability is the essence of sustainable business activity. As an executive, it is strategically essential that you are able to keep all aspects of the organization predictable, and hence achieve a unique business rhythm.


This can be spread over 4 different areas:

  1. Vision — A preferable future that is consistently tested over time in face of new perspectives, and evolves. The clearer it is, and more connected it is with individual team members, the more rhythmic it becomes for them to work towards it.
  2. Achievements — By strategically defining milestones and goals, and consistently achieving them, you create a sense of purpose, identity, dignity, and confidence. This is only possible by creating a simultaneous rhythm between defining, tracking, measuring, and adjusting your goals.
  3. Meetings — A boon to productivity if they are not rhythmic in their recurrence, focus, engagement, and the decision orientedness.
  4. Growth and Learning — Unless you are able to coach, empower, and aid employees in re-inventing themselves and continuously upping their capacities, you fail to create a rhythm for learning and hence growth. Learning corporations are the future, or haven’t you heard it yet?



Balanced Scorecards, Strategy Maps, Strategic Job Families, Top Grading, and Business Rhythms have been the weapons of choice for me to handle and discipline businesses over the years. If you have been employing others, feel free to share!

Back in the startup game…shhh mode

I love being parts of great teams starting and building businesses. For the last 2 years I helped launch Brand.com and its news media platform. That company is doing great and solves major problems for publishers and marketers alike. We built a great management team who have great technology and a proven business model and it is in great hands. So it is time for me to move on to a new passion.

Brand.com was about reaching people all around the world with content. It was focused on the premise that the way brands communicate and the way reporters source stories was not taking advantage of the internet, network effect and new business models.

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Another long-term passion is globalizing commerce. Within many markets, ecommerce has revolutionized how consumers gain knowledge, make decisions and purchase goods and services. But, on a global scale, ecommerce has become a complex patchwork of inconsistent solutions that limits the collaborative and scale benefits of the internet. My new company Cloud Commerce is dedicated to addressing that need.

I will publish more when I can but what is great is the fun and excitement of starting with a blank slate and I am happy to have another chance to do that.

The Rise of Digital Natives

Brand.com has a great team that includes Boomers, Gen X and Millennials and it is great to see how they all mesh together and complement each other. I have been very interested in ‘Generation Z’ and it was highlighted last week when one of my kids told me that her favorite band is Nirvana.

My oldest was the first place I heard about Instragram when I asked her several years ago why she had not asked me to let her get a Facebook account. She told me that she wasn’t interested in Facebook and introduced me to Instagram well before the big buyout. Since then I have really looked to my kids to understand digital culture.

So when Nirvana came up I was interested to learn more. Curt Cobain dies when I was 2 years out of undergrad. The interesting story here is not nostalgia or even a band from your youth coming around as a hip, retro experience. What is interesting is a generation who never knew a time when all the world’s information was online and when you could sample all the world’s content largely for free. Of all those limitless choices does this mean her choosing Nirvana makes her a new type of consumer? I think it does. Where I use the tools she doesn’t know anything else and that gives her and her generation a different vantage point to view information and decision making.

Michael Zammuto on the best and worst in automotive branding

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, October 10, 2013—

Most consumers know full well that some auto brands are more reliable, better-designed, or simply more attractive than others—and according to Michael Zammuto, the realities of auto branding are rich with implications for the car industry. To illustrate his point, Michael Zammuto highlights a recent report from 24/7 Wall Street, which comments on the fact that some auto brands are simply more appealing than others—and that the more appealing the brand, the more money consumers are willing to part with. Zammuto has issued a new statement to the press, weighing in on the report.

According to 24/7 Wall Street, “consumers know what matters,” when it comes to vehicle brands, “and vote with their wallets. A more appealing car commands a higher price, sells more quickly and develops customers who are loyal to the brand. Cars with low score tend to do worse in these areas.”

The article goes on to cite evidence from a recent J.D Power survey, which seeks to evaluate consumer opinions of various auto brands on the basis of design, performance, features, style, and comfort. The measures add up to provide the car’s score for the Automotive Performance, Execution, and Layout (APEAL) report for 2013.

“The important point that this article makes is that these scores are not just matters of vanity, and they are not some meaningless marketing drivel,” Michael Zammuto explains. “The cars that enjoy the best public perception, in these categories, sell for much higher prices. Cars that are ranked lower do not sell nearly as well. The perception of a brand directly impacts bottom-line sales figures.”

“Many of the car brands with lower APEAL are struggling in the U.S. auto market,” the article confirms. “Nationally, sales are up by 7.5 [percent] this year, compared to the same period in 2012. Of the 10 brands with the lowest APEAL scores, eight grew at a slower rate or had
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declining sales.”

According to the report, the cars with the worst brand APEAL include Smart, Mitsubishi, Subaru, Jeep, and Mazda. The runners up for this dubious distinction include GMC, Chrysler, Fiat, Scion, and Toyota. “This last one is surely experiencing residual effects from its fairly recent product recalls,” offers Zammuto.

Zammuto then turns his attention to the question of what these companies can do to improve their public image. “First and foremost, these auto makers need to understand that the public consensus is very much against them, and that they are faced with some serious reputational woes that demand total brand overhauls,” he says. “These companies need to develop brand identities that speak to quality, trustworthiness, and style, and then inundate consumers with this new brand message.”

The best approach, Zammuto says, would be for these auto brands to enlist the services of a professional reputation management company. “Our company, Brand.com, is really in the business of building brands,” he says. “We have the tools and the strategies that can bring new brand equity to auto brands like these.”

Michael Zammuto is the president of Brand.com, and a leading figure in online reputation defense.


Michael Zammuto is the President and COO of Brand.com, and as such he is one of the most public advocates for the online reputation management industry. An award-winning technology entrepreneur, Zammuto has successfully launched and led numerous thriving online startups. His previous career experience includes work with ChaCha and Ontario Systems, among other companies.

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