3 Lessons I've Learned After 5 Years Leading a Public Company Simplicity equates to clarity, and in the corporate world, clarity is key to producing results.

By David Roberts

Key Takeaways

  • In business, setting high aspirations is essential.
  • But without reliable and repeatable systems, these aspirations may only be dreams.
  • Leaders need to establish repeatable models to ensure their goals are achievable.
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One of the most important needs for a startup or founder-led company growing rapidly and going public is establishing a strong foundation built on scalable and repeatable systems. As the CEO of Verra Mobility, I've learned several valuable lessons in the five years since we've become a public company.

I want to share three important lessons with aspiring leaders to help them focus on nurturing the right people, encouraging simplicity and building strong systems within your organization that consistently deliver continued growth.

1. Simple over complex

There's a natural gravitational pull in organizations to make things harder than they ought to be. When faced with a new problem, the human brain naturally thinks of anything similar that caused issues in the past. These worries drive people to layer on 'solutions' that address edge cases but really slow things down for most customers. It's missing the forest for the trees. As Occam's Razor points out, the simplest answer is usually best.

While unique situations may require custom solutions, leaders should prioritize key objectives and avoid getting bogged down in the minutiae of 'what-ifs.' Simplicity equates to clarity, and in the corporate world, clarity is key to producing results. Leaders need to simplify processes, communications and decision-making to secure the best results without distractions slowing things down.

Related: Here's Why You Should Embrace Simplicity as a Strategy (and 3 Ways to Do It)

2. People over numbers

Working shoulder to shoulder with your CFO and other top executives makes getting lost in the financial metrics easy — especially early in your tenure. It's essential to ensure that revenue stays above expenses, but great people are the true drivers of success — not a 5% drop in staffing costs or a 3% increase in prices.

Great people that you invest in will do more to move the numbers than numbers will do to motivate people. Top performers can be 400% more productive than average employees, according to a study. So don't think of people as 'averages' - instead, recognize, train, nurture and support high performers for their results and also for the great example they'll set in the workplace.

As I reminded my leadership team at our most recent town hall event, "Good numbers are the result of having great people; good numbers do not actually produce great people."

Related: Why Leading with an Others First Mentality is the Path to Effective Leadership

3. Systems over goals

Building systems is always more critical than setting goals for leaders. To be frank, I struggled with this one early in my career. Goal-setting was ingrained in me at an early age by my father, who was an entrepreneur and businessman associated with the earliest time-management systems in the 1980s. He was such a "goal guy" that on Thanksgiving dinner, instead of name cards, we had cards to list our top five goals for the year. Our table wasn't saying 'thanks for the turkey,' it was 'our turkey should be 10% bigger next year.' Obviously, I'm joking about the metrics, but not the "goal-first" approach.

The challenge with goals is that they're an essential motivational objective, but goals alone don't create success - they don't tell you how to get to your objective. You need a system that creates repeatable success. That's what separates winners from losers.

I personally like to recommend James Clear's "Atomic Habits" to help inspire my leaders and others on the importance of building systems versus just goal-setting. Clear writes, "The purpose of setting goals is to win the game. The purpose of building systems is to continue playing the game… it is your commitment to the process that will determine your progress."

Clear writes that companies don't rise to their goals — they sink to the level of their systems. If you're an entrepreneur, your goal might be to build a multi-million-dollar business. Your system is how you test product ideas, hire employees and run marketing campaigns.

In business, setting high aspirations is essential, but without reliable and repeatable systems that will support these goals, these aspirations may only become unattainable dreams. Leaders need to establish repeatable models, akin to a scaffolding of reality, to ensure their goals are achievable.

Over the past five years, I've found these lessons to be really important for me and have had a major impact on our continued growth at Verra Mobility. By prioritizing people, embracing simplicity, and focusing on systems, leaders can navigate the complexities of the corporate world and achieve remarkable success.

Leadership is not about numbers – it's about the people, the simplicity of approach, and the systems that drive results.

David Roberts

Entrepreneur Leadership Network® Contributor

CEO of Verra Mobility

David Roberts has served as Verra Mobility’s President and Chief Executive Officer since May 2018. He came to Verra Mobility in August 2014 as Chief Operating Officer bringing extensive management experience to the company.

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