“A plan that’s too dependent on any one person is too fragile.”
Pairs of people working together make a project or situation more robust. We knew this, and yet somehow we forgot.
It was an easy mistake to make—under pressures, we sacrificed robustness for expediency. So despite all our hard work, our fragile plan fell apart. It’s a simple lesson, but it bears repeating.
Sales Under Pressure
In 2015, Atomic’s sales team consisted of me and Shawn Crowely. Together, we were entertaining roughly 400 leads a year.
As you might imagine, this put a tremendous amount of pressure on us. In addition to the sheer volume of work, we bore the responsibility of delivering work to the Atomic team. We also had to undergo the emotional toll of helping clients process their challenges—often including their most important and high-stress problems.
Frankly, we were drowning, and we needed help quickly.
An Accidentally Fragile Plan
We decided to add a talented long-term developer to our team. He had the skills and qualities to be successful—product experience, creative, curious, and personable. We reduced his client work to 50% of his time so that he could spend 50% of his time helping with sales.
Learning how to effectively sell custom software services doesn’t happen quickly, and it requires more work to onboard the help than simply doing it yourself in the short-term. However, in the long-term, you build more muscle and are able to effectively spread the work. We’d selected correctly with this individual. He was starting to find some nice successes around the 3-month mark. This allowed Shawn and I to back down our sales hours a bit and focus on other areas of the company. The addition was a huge success!
It was too good to be true. 3 months later, our new sales team member was given an offer to become the CTO of another company. It was an offer that he couldn’t refuse. He was a solid fit for the new job, and it was a good growth opportunity for him. As his manager, I was happy and excited for him. However, I was also incredibly disappointed that our 3 months of pain on-boarding a new sales team member was lost. We needed to start over again.
“Expect [people] to change their minds and disappear.”
After feeling sorry for ourselves for about a week, Shawn and I realized that we were to blame for the situation we were in. We had accidentally created a fragile plan. We should’ve built a robust plan. Derek Sivers’ “Fragile Plan vs Robust Plan” does a wonderful job describing why this matters.
This lesson caused us to reflect on the robustness of our operations. Losing our sales team member didn’t sink us because we still had two effective sellers – e.g. a team. However, it didn’t allow Shawn and I to create true leverage for ourselves. Hiring and training the next individual still required our help. We had lost the opportunity to train the next individual with someone else that we already trained.
Moving forward, we’ve decided to grow sales and office leadership in pairs. Pairs aren’t always as efficient, but they produce more sustainable results.
Pairs are a robust plan. Losing half of the pair doesn’t require you to start over. The remaining part of the pair can hire or promote and train another team member without your help.
Building pairs into our plans creates better leverage.