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How to build the most effective growth operating system

Setting well defined rituals will help you work more efficiently, communicate effectively, and actually drive growth forward.

👋 Hey there, Drew here!

Welcome to TheProductLed’s guest post edition where I asked someone I enjoy learning from to write something they're passionate about.

While I was the first IC growth hire at Netlify, Nino Medina was hired as my manager to lead and scale the growth team.

Nino has taught me some of the most valuable skills that are hard to teach on your own - from working with senior leadership teams (managing up) to working cross-functionally in a high-growth environment. Nino has a treasure chest of ideas and tactics that rarely seem to fail 😜. But most importantly, I learned from his ability to create growth operating rituals that ensure growth teams are successful.

Years later, we are still colleagues, and he is an amazing mentor. To this day, Nino and I still chat once a quarter (or more) to check-in. I am humbled to call him a friend. Nino has written a killer newsletter post on operating rituals for us.

Enjoy! 👇️ 

I’m Nino, and I’m a growth and demand gen advisor who’s worked with companies like Google, Slack, Netlify, and Linktree. Early in my career, I was obsessed with finding silver bullets - that one killer growth tactic that could drive a step change in growth, bringing fame and fortune along with it.

As my career progressed, I learned that the most effective growth leaders focused less on tactics and more on systems and processes. One of the keys to their success was establishing a growth operating system, powered by well-defined rituals that create a flywheel of strategic thinking, insights, and high-velocity decision-making to drive growth forward.

There is no shortage of inspiration for growth tactics. Whether it’s social media, blogs, podcasts, or ChatGPT, your next idea to unlock growth is just a few keystrokes away. However, what’s less talked about is how to take those ideas and bring them to life!

The question I’m attempting to answer is this: how do world-class growth operators run their teams effectively?

Put simply: A growth operating system.

What is a growth operating system?

A growth operating system is a collection of rituals designed to help growth teams identify, execute, measure, and optimize growth strategies effectively. Most rituals at companies are composed of a stream of meetings, designed to keep folks across an organization informed and aligned. This sounds logical in theory, but what typically happens is these meetings devolve into an inefficient use of time. Have you ever heard these questions during meetings:

  1. Was that meeting necessary?

  2. Shouldn’t Person X be in this meeting?

  3. Is everyone actually on the same page?

  4. Did we make a clear decision?

  5. What’s next?

…then you know exactly what I mean!

An effective growth operating system is anchored on a series of rituals based on the following principles:

  • Make decisions, faster

  • Move progress forward

  • Uncover learnings and insights

  • Understand the health of the business

  • Communicate the strategy (and refining it when necessary)

Successful growth rituals to experiment with

There aren’t any silver bullets here that will suddenly solve all of your operational inefficiencies. These are simply the common denominators that I’ve seen work well across high-functioning growth teams that I’ve owned or been a part of.

🛣️ Planning and Roadmapping

Frequency: Quarterly

Attendees: Executive leadership, with involvement from functional leads (including the head of growth of course)

Planning is one of the few rituals that should happen quarterly, and that’s by design. Planning should serve as a forcing function for leadership to take a step back and look at the bigger picture, free from the distractions of day-to-day operations. This is critical in helping refine and ultimately communicate the company-wide strategy that can be translated to the team level.

One important note: I’ve never seen a planning cycle completed before the start of a quarter and I’ve realized that it's not the end of the world. That said, here’s an outline of how to execute a quarterly planning cycle:

  • By week two of the quarter, executive leadership should define the strategic focus areas and specific goals for the quarter.

  • If relevant to your business, sales often have their sales kickoff early in the process to map out their plan to hit the goal.

  • Product and engineering should then update their priorities and roadmap to the rest of the org.

  • Growth teams can then take this information and develop a backlog of ideas to drive the business forward, prioritized by impact, confidence, and effort (more on this in the next section).

🧠 Growth Brainstorm

Frequency: Quarterly

Attendees: The entire growth team, including managers and individual contributors (ICs) responsible for driving your key growth metrics across acquisition, onboarding, activation, retention, and monetization

Growth brainstorms are vital for connecting strategy to actionable initiatives that will actually impact the business and move the ball forward. There are an infinite number of ways to do this, and here’s just one template I use:

  • Using a real or virtual whiteboard, outline the strategic goals for the business and then outline the key pillars of your growth model (i.e. acquisition, activation, etc).

  • Have each member of the growth team contribute ideas across each area.

  • Vote on each of these ideas for discussion, surfacing which of them resonates most with the team.

  • The growth lead then prioritizes these, using both real-time feedback from the session and a framework such as ICE (impact, confidence, and effort).

  • Develop the team-level strategic plan and roadmap for the rest of the quarter.

📊 Business Review

Frequency: Weekly

Attendees: Heads of core functions (most commonly product, engineering, sales, and marketing) and business operations/analytics to report on metrics

The goal of the business review is to drive alignment across leadership by providing a shared view on the health of the business, which initiatives are critical in impacting the business, and what areas of the business require immediate attention. This ultimately should result in teams moving more quickly as priorities are clarified. This ritual should aim to:

  • Review business performance against top-level goals (run by biz-ops and/or the head of analytics bi-weekly)

  • Red/yellow/green health check of core initiatives that drive against these metrics

  • Discuss any strategic shifts/priority areas

🚀 Growth Standup

Frequency: Weekly

Attendees: Entire growth team

The weekly growth standup is designed to keep momentum moving and make sure the team is on track to deliver results. It reinforces many of the key areas of an effective ritual, from understanding the health of the business at the individual contributor level to moving the ball forward by removing blockers, to sharing insights that may unlock a breakthrough. Growth standups should aim to:

  • Review key performance indicators (KPIs)

  • Discuss red/yellow/green status on key initiatives

  • Identify blockers

  • Share insights and learnings

  • Communicate key information from executive leadership, particularly when there are shifts in strategy and focus.

🖥️ Demo Days

Frequency: Monthly

Attendees: Everyone at the company

Demo days are an open forum to informally share learnings and show off work in progress to your colleagues. These are a great way to drive visibility and inspire and energize folks as they see progress being made. The format is simple:

  • One-hour informal session

  • No prep is necessary and encouraged

  • Anything could be shared, whether it’s a new feature in the Figma design stage, the latest growth experiment result, or a new tool being implemented, all are welcome!

  • A week before, create a signup list to set the agenda

  • If the meeting ends before the hour, encourage folks to share, even if it results in an uncomfortably long silence

🙌 Customer Feedback Forum

Frequency: Monthly

Attendees: Everyone at the company

This meeting is designed to “get everyone outside the building” so to speak. Particularly for growth folks, it’s easy to get caught up in the world of spreadsheets, statsig results, etc., and forget that fundamentally, companies exist to solve problems for real human beings. While typically spearheaded by research teams, growth leaders can and should be able to conduct these. Practically speaking, these take on the form of

  • Sharing user research and survey results

  • Live customer interview sessions

  • Support ticket analysis

While rituals look good on paper, I’ve come into many of my own pitfalls when trying to implement rituals. I think it’s valuable to share a few of these experiences and learnings.

Common pitfalls when integrating new rituals

1. Not clearly defining and communicating rituals

In a previous role, I recognized early that creating proper rituals would help develop the cross-functional growth organization that I intended to build. I collaborated with peers to come up with a solid operating system, but I quickly sprung into action without clearly communicating the plan across the organization. This of course led to confusion, redundancy, and lack of buy-in.

My learnings:

  • Create a document similar in format to the previous section that highlights the purpose, frequency, and attendees of a given ritual.

  • Socialize this document across leadership and individual contributors in the initial implementation phase and as updates are made.

  • Solicit feedback on whether the rituals are valuable and adjust as necessary.

2. Failure to translate outputs from rituals into buy-in from leadership

Imagine you’ve taken the initiative to arrange travel for your team to meet in person, getting the creative juices flowing, spending hours brainstorming great ideas, and feeling confident about how the team will make an impact going forward. Then imagine that most of the ideas go nowhere as you fail to communicate these ideas effectively to leadership. I’ve made this mistake more than I’m willing to admit, and the impact is costly: it can result in bottoms-up feedback 1) not being considered or 2) being brought in too late in the planning cycle, creating a sense of disconnect from leadership and individual contributors.

My learnings:

  • Translate outputs into some form of a strategic narrative (Amazon style 6 pagers are a common execution here) for ease of communication.

  • Over-communicate strategy, whether it's at planning sessions, 1:1’s, leadership off-sites, etc. There’s no such thing as being too repetitive.

  • Rituals are useful for closing communication gaps, but building trust happens at every interaction, whether it’s executive leadership, peers, or individual contributors alike. Always keep your strategic talking points in mind in these moments!

3. Reading the news, not the weather

I’ve led business review meetings in the past, and I repeatedly found myself over-indexing on reporting what’s happened rather than what should/needs to happen to drive the metrics forward. Over time, this eroded confidence in my leadership, which made getting resources to enable the team much more challenging going forward.

My learnings:

  • Delegate properly. In this case, this means that reporting should be owned by an objective third party (e.g. analytics and/or business operations) to 1) free up your time to focus on the next steps and 2) avoid bias in getting to the ground truth.

  • Send out a pre-read with the latest data and quick commentary so discussions can be moving the ball forward (and less on context setting).

  • Over-emphasize the key initiatives that will actually drive growth forward, and consistently update the team on the status of those initiatives.

4. Over-indexing on outcomes rather than learnings

In one specific scenario, the growth team observed that the paid conversion rate was declining for several weeks. My immediate reaction was to spring into action in the form of tactics (e.g. run conversion rate optimization experiments, send out more upgrade emails and in-app messages, etc.) to show progress rather than take a moment of pause to understand the underlying causes.

In this case, the simple action to reach out directly to customers to get their feedback proved the most effective.

My learnings:

  • Emphasize learnings across your comms to instill cultural values.

  • Lead all initiatives and experiments with a hypothesis to help drive a learning-focused outcome.

  • Avoid executing an experiment and not following up; the follow-up here is the practical method in which you take learnings and iterate on them to drive growth forward.

5. Not adapting quickly enough when rituals needed tweaking

I’ve gone through countless iterations of a weekly growth standup ritual, and I’ve made plenty of mistakes along the way. I’ve both under-emphasized and over-indexed on metrics. I’ve gone down deep rabbit holes that proved mostly useless to a room full of people, and I’ve run a standup where we itemized every single task on the roadmap, taking up 90% of the time and not getting to the most critical agenda items. This led to a slow-moving growth team over-focused on reporting vs tactical execution.

My learnings:

  • Get feedback early and often.

  • Adjust to the needs of the team as the business changes.

  • Sidebar conversations (call out in a meeting to save a discussion for later) before going down deep rabbit holes.

  • Prioritize updates based on impact.

  • Focus on shipping fast with quality

Wrapping up

  • Creating an effective growth operating system is based on a set of well-defined ritual meetings:

    • Planning and roadmapping

    • Growth brainstorm

    • Business review

    • Growth standup

    • Demo days

    • Customer feedback forum

  • Get started by asking yourself: what are my current rituals, and which ones are not the best use of my time?

  • Remember, the perfect system doesn’t exist. Rather, it's about identifying which areas you’re over-indexing/under-indexing on and adapting your operating cadence accordingly.

Create a ritual. Be consistent. Scale your growth.

Thanks for reading!

Thank you, Nino!

For more from Nino, be sure to connect with him on LinkedIn.

See you in the next edition of TheProductLed’s monthly guest newsletter.

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