Stolen Stuff for You to Steal

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The Fundamentals:

Most of the good things I’ve stolen fit nicely into 3 buckets:

  • I am probably wrong in some important aspect of my current potential solution
  • Therefore it is helpful to think of everything as a prototype…and start simple
  • Which, if I am doing it right, will help me learn quickly and iterate
  • The data and insights from engagement with my prototype is the best way I have to rapidly learn, so I need to design specifically for data and insight gathering
  • Phase 2: People are hard; can I please go back to working on interesting problems?
  • Phase 3: Collaborating with exceptional colleagues is the best part of work and the opportunity to lead people is the most rewarding and valuable element of my ongoing personal self-improvement journey.

The Tools:

Ok, if you are still with me, here are some specific tools which seem to me to make each of the Fundamentals described above easier / better:

Fixated on Problems / Flexible on Solutions

SCQA: To specifically define and align on the problem you are attempting to solve and how you intend to go about doing so, I have found Barbara Minto’s Pyramid Principle to be an invaluable resource. Specifically, her Situation, Complication, Question, Answer (“SCQA”) framework. Tactical tip: I find that it is very helpful to have one and only one “Question” per instance of this framework… if you are tempted to have more than one question, you are likely working on more than one problem and you should create one instance of this framework for each.

Visitors x Conversion Rate x Order Value = Revenue

While seemingly simple, I find that taking the time to write this out explicitly is game changing in my ability to rapidly iterate toward an impactful solution.

  • I know a lot more about what data / insights I need to gather to guide my iterative work toward a solution. In the above example, I need frequent, reliable access to data on visitors, conversion rate, and order value.
  • My colleagues and I now have a clear shared language to use to discuss the hypothesis we are testing. For example, I hypothesize that our best path to increasing revenue is to improve our conversion rate — in order to do so we are going to try ___, ____, and ____.
  • When picking a factor in the equation to optimize, I can also easily identify the other factors I need to watch to see the secondary impact my potential solution creates. I refer to the other factors I am watching as “quality” measures. For example, using the equation above, if we are optimizing for growth in Visitors, I want to keep an eye on Conversion Rate as a quality measure on the new Visitors I am attracting.
  • Enables honest reflection on how the thing went vs. what I expected and consideration of why it might have done better or worse.
  • It’s fun. Get your team to do it, have a contest.
  1. Where/how do people who have the identified characteristics of these most passionate potential customers self aggregate (hang out together) already (even in relatively small numbers)? Bonus points if I can identify places where the folks I am looking for self aggregate at the exclusion of folks who do not have the characteristics I am looking for.

Resource Allocation

Better than last time, worse than next time: Resource allocation / planning processes are sometimes not the most fun. I’ve found that simply saying aloud (and meaning it) that your goal is that your current planning process is “better than last time, worse than next time” can be like casting a magic spell. Resource allocation processes are prototypes too and it is helpful to remind yourself and your colleagues of that reality and give yourselves some grace accordingly.

  • How can we, through maniacal focus, consistently strive to crank it up to 11 on these elements?

Company Building is a Human Endeavor

Allocate time for meeting people: In the resource allocation I do of my own personal time, I find it helpful to carve out a specific window on my calendar dedicated to first conversations with people I have not previously met. I’m an introvert, I don’t naturally gravitate toward meeting new people… in fact doing so makes me uncomfortable. However, I recognize that my personal and professional network is my most valuable asset and investing in building relationships is always worth the time allocation and potential emotional discomfort. To hold my focus on investing here, I reserve 30–60 minutes on my calendar each week for first conversations… and let the calendar hold taunt me until I fill it.

“Who specifically will want to quit their job to come work with you when they find out that you are joining us?”

Any outstanding leader with significant leadership experience should have at least a few former colleagues who would jump at the chance to work with them again. Those former colleagues know way more about the person I am interviewing than I will ever be able to discern from my other questions and the quality of those colleagues and their enthusiasm for my candidate will speak volumes.

  1. Avoid the temptation to impress up, instead lift up peers and directs: It is human nature to want to impress your new boss… but as a new leader, your new boss is likely the last person you need to impress. Your new boss just hired you, is a believer in you, and is highly invested in your success. In contrast, it is not uncommon for at least some of your new peers and direct reports to have doubts, concerns, or competitive thoughts (why them and not me). While your new boss is thinking of the leverage and experience you will bring to the team and the ways you will make her more effective at her job, your new peers and directs may feel like you have made their aspirations for advancement more complicated. These folks often did not make the decision to hire you, may not have been directly involved in the hiring process, and even if they were, they likely spent far less time with you than your new boss. So, I’ve found that it is critically important for new leaders to focus for the first few months on lifting up the work of their peers and directs — helping each of them as individuals and as a team accomplish their goals more easily and/or effectively.
  • If at the end of the day you own everything, the solution space you are exploring is limited to what is in your head… and the implementation will therefore always be as imperfect as your ability to communicate what is in your head. Ownership increases the breadth and quality of your potential solution space exponentially.
  1. Strive to be inquisitive or a teacher. When I am doing this well, I successfully resist the temptation to tell my teammates what I would specifically do to solve a problem they own — instead I get curious and ask them questions about how they are thinking through the problem, and, where helpful, teach them a framework or structure I might use to think about the potential solution space.
  2. Help your team move from asking for permission to communicating intention. If you have to ask for permission to do something, do you really own that thing? Nope. For me, this is a helpful check on if I’ve enabled real ownership. However, distribution of ownership does not mean that keeping your colleagues informed about what you are doing is no longer critical — as such, I think it is helpful to intentionally replace asking for permission with communicating intention — this provides your colleagues an opportunity to share helpful feedback before something is underway, but keeps ownership of the problem with the intended owner.
  1. Did you work smart and hard on that stuff?
  2. Did you deliver the expected results?
  1. Expectation setting — Many people have worked in larger company environments where bonuses are paid at / near / or above target almost all of the time. This results in an expectation that if a bonus plan exists, they can count on receiving the target payout. When that is the case, either the bonus is now a more confusing version of base compensation (rather than have a bonus plan, just increase base comp) or it creates major disappointment and frustration if the bonus does not end up paying out at 100% or more of target.
  • Make them simple and memorable — ensuring that each objective fits nicely on one line on a slide using 24 point font (or larger) tends to to be a good check for me to make sure they are simple enough
  • Repeat them again and again… and again and again. Then do so again. Every chance you have / in every venue — company meetings, but also team meetings, 1:1s, casual conversations, new hire orientation, etc…
  1. a discussion guide
  • The expectation is that everyone reads, processes and prepares questions based on the pre-read ahead of time (in some cases it may make sense to carve out some time at the beginning of the scheduled meeting for everyone to consume the pre-read if they have not had time to do so)
  • No time is spent in the meeting walking through the pre-read. You can dedicate time to discussing the questions prompted by the pre-read, but do not walk through the pre-read… this defeats the purpose
  • Meeting time is dedicated to the agenda outlined by the discussion guide

Written by

NOW: @ home, a lot. dad. some boards. THEN: President @ Guild Education, co-founder @ Craftsy (NBC), HomeAdvisor, eBay, Bain & Co, Berkeley, Michigan, Detroit.

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