5 TOOLS FOR CONTINUOUS IMPROVEMENT
The Golden State Warriors’ Stephen Curry won his second consecutive MVP
award, and for the first time in history, the vote was unanimous. He’s made it
to the top of his profession, but what makes “Chef Curry” so remarkable is that he continues to push his limits by constantly finding new ways to improve. Case in point: he beat the single-season 3-point record in 2012-13, then beat it again in 2014-15, and this season he shattered his own record by nearly 40%! “Once you get to a certain level, all that hard work that you put in resets itself,” says Curry. “You have to reestablish yourself. Just because you got to that certain level doesn’t mean you made it. You have to work even harder to be successful.”
While at Alpine Investors our jump shot is certainly a far cry from being as good as Curry’s, we use our hometown hero’s success as inspiration as we work hard to raise our own game. At Alpine, one of our six core values is continuous improvement. Like Curry, we strive to begin each day better than the last, and have institutionalized a number of practices in our business that allow us to constantly learn and improve – as an organization and as individuals. Here are some of the tools we use to drive continuous improvement throughout our organization.
1. KEEPERS & IMPROVERS – Keepers and Improvers are a construct that we use to provide feedback to our teammates in the spirit of helping each other grow. The idea is simple: formally during performance reviews, and informally after key meetings or interactions, we deliver quick, 360 feedback to one another on 3 positives, or “keepers,” and 3 areas of improvement. This exercise is an effective way to give feedback, as it is given and received in real-time, and focuses the conversation on specific events and actions, instead of a judgment of another’s personal attributes. The feedback coming out of a keepers and improvers session drives a good conversation around development areas that can be put into the professional’s personal development plan.
2. PERSONAL DEVELOPMENT PLAN – Many members of the team at Alpine keep an individual personal development plan. While no two plans are the same, each begins with a vivid description of lofty longer-range goals and aspirations, and then works backwards to map out specific annual and quarterly objectives that drive towards that long-term vision. By keeping our personal vision and development plan on a single, easily accessible one-page tool, we each have an actionable roadmap to achieve our professional goals, one that evolves and gets refined as we grow.
3. PORTFOLIO DAY – Several times per year, we hold a “portfolio day.” The goal is to practice radical candor openly as a team by comparing our original deal thesis with what has actually transpired. In doing so, we’re able to learn from our bright spots and our setbacks, and confront the often inconvenient truths about the areas where our thesis was off-track without blame. This is a very important practice to continuously improve our ability to make good investment decisions. I don’t know that anyone ever becomes great without reflecting and confronting the bare truth in this way.
4. REGULAR “OFI” PROJECTS – Since 2009, we have completed over 60 continuous improvement projects, which we call “OFIs” (opportunities for improvement). Each quarter, as part of our quarterly rhythm, we select the most significant bottlenecks or improvement opportunities in our business – those which we don’t know how to solve or address yet – and assemble a cross-functional team to dig in, and develop a solution and implementation plan during the quarter. The habit of focusing dedicated time each quarter working on our business, as opposed to just in our business, allows us to measurably improve our business each quarter. Most of our portfolio companies are in the practice of doing quarterly OFI projects, too!
5. RENEWALS – Being in the rhythm of holding regular, quarterly “renewals” has been a cornerstone of our success at Alpine. In addition to providing space to remove ourselves from the day-to-day activity to work on our business, these quarterly 1 – 3 day offsites allow us to spend time together as a full team, to strengthen relationships, and to celebrate individual and collective successes in what can otherwise be an anti-climactic business. At Alpine we have four “renewals” each year. The first is a 3-day, all-firm offsite in Napa or Santa Cruz in August. During that renewal, we refresh our 5-year and 1-year objectives. We discuss key strategic questions that are critical to our organization’s success; past examples of which include our add-on strategy, and our PeopleFirst strategy. Each of the following three quarterly renewals are two-day events in San Francisco. Instead of making these “update” meetings, we focus on the prior quarter, and determine our quarterly priorities and OFI projects for the upcoming quarter. The time invested in renewals is among the highest returning time of any activity we undertake at Alpine.
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