Jul 312009

Return Path Makes The List of "Best Places to Work" in Colorado

Return Path Makes The List of “Best Places to Work” in Colorado

Long-time readers of this blog no doubt understand my central philosophy when it comes to management.   I believe that people come first.  When employees are happy they make our clients happy.  Happy clients happily pay for our services, which tends to make our investors happy.  When you start with the people, everyone wins.

At Return Path we invest a lot in our people.  And we invest a lot in Team People – what we call “Human Resources” – to support those people. 

So what a great honor to see all that hard work and investment pay off in the form of a “Best Places to Work” honor!  The Society for Human Resources Management named us one of its “Best Places to Work in Colorado” at an awards banquet last Friday.  You can read more about how we won this award on the Return Path blog.

Of course a CEO can set the agenda and make certain decisions to support a great work environment.  But it is the 150 people who come to Return Path every day who make it the amazing place that it is.  I could not be more thankful for each and every one of them – their passion, dedication, teamwork and kindness all come together to create a company that I would want to work for even if I wasn’t the CEO.

Jul 282009

Book Short: Worth Buying Free

Book Short:  Worth Buying Free

The cynic in me wanted to start this book review of  Free: The Future of a Radical Price, by Chris Anderson, by complaining that I had to pay for the book.  But it ended up being good enough that I won’t do that (plus, the author said there are free digital versions available — though the Kindle edition still costs money).  At any rate, a bunch of reviews I read about the book panned it when compared to Anderson’s prior book, The Long Tail (post, link to book).

I won’t get into the details of the book, though you’ll get an idea from the paragraph below, but Anderson has a few gems worth quoting:

  • Any topic that can divide critics into two opposite camps — “totally wrong” and “so obvious” — has got to be a good one
  • Free makes Paid more profitable
  • Younger players have more time than money…older players have more money than time
  • Doing things we like without pay often makes us happier than the work we do for a salary
  • It’s true that each generation takes for granted some things their parents valued, but that doesn’t mean that generation values everything less

While Free is s probably not quite as good as The Long Tail, it does a good job of organizing and classifying and explaining the power of different economic models that involve a free component, and I found it very thought provoking about our own business at Return Path.

We already do a couple forms of Free — we practice the “third party” model, by giving things away to ISPs but selling them to mailers; and we practice Freemium by providing Senderscore.org and Feedback Loops for free in order to attract paying customers to our testing and monitoring application and whitelist.  But could we do others?  Maybe.  They may not be revolutionary, but they’re smart marketing.

As some of the reviewers write, the book isn’t the be-all-end-all of marketing, it overreaches at times, and it is more applicable to some businesses than others, but Free was definitely worth paying for.

Filed under: Books, Business, Email


Jul 232009

A David Allen nightmare

Originally uploaded by heif

A David Allen nightmare

The comments on Flickr are almost as funny as the picture, but for those of you who can’t see the detail, I believe this is Esther Dyson peering over an inbox that has almost 4.3 billion emails in it.

Filed under: Current Affairs, Email


Jul 222009

Book Short: A Twofer

Book Short:  A Twofer

My friend Andrew Winston, who is one of the nation’s gurus in corporate sustainability, just published his second book, this one from Harvard Business Press — Green Recovery:  Get Lean, Get Smart, and Emerge from the Downturn on Top.  It builds on the cases and successes he had with his first book, Green to Gold (post, link to book), which came out a couple years ago and has become the standard for how businesses embrace sustainability and use it to their financial and strategic competitive advantage rather than thinking of it as a burden or a cost center.

Green Recovery is a shorter read (my kind of business book), and it hits a few key themes:

  • Going green not only shouldn’t wait for better economic times, it’s a key way out of this mess

  • Businesses have relied on layoffs to cut costs for far too long — it’s time to get lean on stuff, not people
  • This is about survival for many businesses:  Detroit died because it missed the green wave of environmental interest and rising energy prices
  • And the overarching theme…Green doesn’t raise costs, it lowers them – it’s a source of profit and innovation

The book reminds me a lot of my post Living With Less, For Good, which I wrote at the beginning of the financial market freefall last fall, talking about how we as a company were figuring out how to cut back without cutting people (something we’ve managed to do).  Although I wasn’t talking about green initiatives specifically, the point of getting leaner on “stuff” really resonates with me.

At the end of the day, Andrew proves that steering your company to go green — no matter what industry you’re in — is a twofer:  you can increase the strength of the business and simultaneously do your part to clean up the environment.  That’s definitely the “change we can believe in” mentality applied quite pragmatically!

Filed under: Books, Business, Leadership

Jul 162009

Self-Discipline: Broken Windows Applied to You

Self-Discipline:  Broken Windows Applied to You

Just as my last post about New Shoes was touching a bit of a nerve around, as one friend put it, "mental housecleaning," my colleague Angela pointed me to a great post on a blog I've never seen before ("advice at the intersection of work and life" — I just subscribed), called How to Have More Self-Discipline.  Man, is that article targeted at me, especially about working out. 

I think the author is right — more discipline around the edges does impact happiness.  But it also impacts productivity.  Not just because working out gives you more energy.  Because having your act together in small ways makes you feel like you have your act together in all ways.  As the author notes (without this specific analogy), it's a little like the "broken windows" theory of policing.  You crack down on graffiti and broken windows, you stop more violent crime, in part because the same people commit small and large crimes, in part because you create a more orderly society in visible, if sometimes a bit small and symbolic, ways.

I agree that the best example in the "non work" world is fitness.  But what about the "work world"?  What's relevant around self-discipline for professionals?  Consider these examples:

- A clean inbox at the end of the day.  Yes, it's the David Allen theory of workplace productivity which I espouse, but it does actually work.  A clean mind is free to think, dream, solve problems.  The quickest path to keeping it clean is not having a pile of little things to deal with in front of it, taking up space

- Showing up on time.  It may sound dumb, but people who are chronically late to meetings are constantly behind.  The day is spent rushing around, cutting conversations short — in other words, unhappy and not as productive.  The discipline of ending meetings on time with enough buffer to travel or even just prepare for the next meeting so you can start it on time (and not waste the time of the other people in the meeting) is important.  Have too many meetings that you can't be at all of them on time?  Say no to some — or make them shorter to force efficiency.  There's nothing wrong with a 10-minute meeting

- Dressing for success.  We live in a casual world, especially in our industry.  I admit, once in a while I wear jeans or a Hawaiian shirt to work — even shorts if it's a particularly hot and humid day.  (And even in New York, not just in Boulder.)  But no matter what you wear, you can make sure you look neat and professional, not sloppy.  Skip the ripped jeans or faded/frayed/rock concert t-shirt.  Tuck in the shirt if it's that kind of shirt, and wear a belt.  The discipline of "dressing up" carries productivity a long way.  Want to really test this out at the edges?  Try wearing a suit or tie one day to work.  You feel different, and you sound different

- Doing your expenses.  Honestly, I've never seen an area where more smart and conscientious people fall apart than producing a simple expense report.  Come up with a system for it — do one every week, every trip on the plane home, every time you have an expense — and just take the 5 minutes and finish it off.  Sure, expenses are a pain, but they only really become a pain and a millstone around your brain when you let them sit for months because you "don't have time" to fill them out, then you get accounting all pissed off at you, and the project's size, complexity, and distance from the actual event all mount

- Follow rules of grammar and punctuation.  Writing, whether for external or internal consumption, is still writing.  I'm not sure when everyone became ee cummings and decided that it's ok to forget the basic rules of English grammar and punctuation.  Make sure your emails and even your IMs, at least when they're for business, follow the rules.  You look smarter when you do.  Maybe — maybe — with Twitter or SMS you can excuse some of this and go with abbreviations.  But I wouldn't normally consider a lot of those formal business communications

I could go on and on, but I think you get the idea.  A little self-discipline goes a long way at work (and in life)!

Filed under: Entrepreneurship

Jul 132009

New Shoes

New Shoes

This isn't really a post about new shoes, I promise.  Remember, I live in the world of pattern matching and analogies.  But I did go running yesterday morning — my first run in a new pair of running shoes.  I usually get new running shoes every 3-6 months, depending on how much mileage I'm logging.  And I find the same thing every time:  I may not realize I'm uncomfortable running in the old shoes, but the minute I put the new ones on, I realize just how far the old ones had deteriorated and just how much better life is in the new ones.  Same model shoe – just a fresh pair.  And I run faster, stronger, and happier.

How much of your professional life works the same way?  I often find that small tweaks to renew and refresh existing processes, relationships, thought patterns, and work product make an enormous difference in the energy I bring to work, and in the quality of the work I do.  Last week, for example, I had two such events.

First, I went through and overhauled what I call my "operating system," which is really my fancy, David Allen-style to-do list.  I changed some categories and formatting, cleaned out some dead items, rethought some items, added some new ones.  And voila – I went from semi-ignoring the system to running my priorities by it once again.  And I've had my most productive week in a long time.

Second, I completely re-thought the dynamics of my relationship with someone on the team.  They had grown stale.  Check-in meetings weren't interesting or productive any more, just perfunctory.  Together we sat down and crafted a new way of working together, a new list of topics we were going to tackle together that added more value to the organization.  It was like a breath of fresh air.

We can't completely reinvent ourselves every time we need a career pick-me-up.  But we can remember that every few months, it's time to put on a fresh pair of running shoes and put some spring back in our steps.

Jul 092009

Opening Night

Opening Night

My brother Michael, internet marketer by day and a writer by night, had his first play produced last night off-Broadway at the Manhattan Repertory Theater’s SummerFest.  The play is a romantic comedy called Fallout, and it’s my favorite thing he’s written of about 8-10 works I’ve read over the years, both screen and stage plays. 

This is the first time I’ve ever had a bit of a “behind the scenes” look at an Opening Night, and it was fun to be a part of it.  When I think about entrepreneurial pursuits in business, I’m not sure this even compares.  For Michael, it seemed to be the equivalent of a company’s founding, a product launch, and an IPO — all rolled into one.  It was more intense than any individual thing I’ve seen in business over the years. 

And it came out great.  The play was a big success with the audience (and not just among those of us whose last name is Blumberg).  Michael, the director Robin, and the incredibly talented cast did a great job, so much so that the theater company is extending the run to one extra night, this Sunday at 7 p.m., since the three initial nights are sold out.  Anyone interested, the number to call for tickets is 646-329-6588.

Filed under: Current Affairs, New York

Jul 072009

Book Short: Bringing it on Home

Book Short:  Bringing it on Home

Silos, Politics and Turf Wars: A Leadership Fable About Destroying the Barriers That Turn Colleagues Into Competitors wasn’t Patrick Lencion’s best book, but it wasn’t bad, either.  I think all six of his books are well worth a read (list at the bottom of the post).  And in fact, they really belong in two categories.

The Three Signs of a Miserable Job (post, link), The Five Temptations of a CEO (post, link), and The Four Obsessions of an Extraordinary Executive (post, link) are all related around the topic of management.

Death by Meeting (post, link), The Five Dysfunctions of a Team (post, link), and Silos, Politics and Turf Wars, on the other hand, are all related around the topic of leading a team and healthy team dynamics.  This latest book, which is the last of his six books for me, rounds out this topic nicely, in a fun “novel” format as is the case with his other books.

The book hammers home the theme of an executive team needing to first be a team and then second be a collection of group heads as a means of breaking down barriers that exist inside organizations.  It also lays out a framework for creating high-level alignment inside a team.  The framework may or may not be perfect — we are using a different one at Return Path (the Balanced Scorecard) that accomplishes most of the same things — but for those companies who don’t have one, it’s as good as any.

The most compelling point in the book, though is the point that teams often make the most progress, change the most, and do their best work when their backs are up against a wall.  And the point Lencioni makes here is — “why wait for a crisis?”

At any rate, another good, quick book, and absolutely worth reading along with the others, particularly along with the other two closely related ones.  I’m definitely sorry to be done with the series.  We may try the “field guide” companion to The Five Dysfunctions and see how the practical exercises work out.

The full series roundup is:

Filed under: Books, Business, Leadership