Oct 262012

Exciting News for Return Path

Exciting News for Return Path

If you’ll indulge me in a quick moment of company self-promotion, we are so excited at Return Path to announce that we have been included in Fortune Magazine’s annual list of the Best Places to Work — we are ranked #11 in the Medium Size Company category!  Our official blog post/press release are here.

This is really exciting and a testament to all 360+ of our talented team members at the company.  When we talk about one of our core values as being Job 1 — a shared responsibility for championing and extending our unique culture as a competitive advantage — this is one of those examples of where the theory becomes reality!

Of the many things I may have had in mind for the Return Path of the future on December 6, 1999, winning what is probably the most prestigious “employer of choice” award in the world certainly wasn’t one of them, but it was wonderful to receive the acknowledgment.  Congratulations to the whole team here on this great achievement!

Filed under: Culture, Return Path


Oct 252012

Think Global, Act Local

Think Global, Act Local

At Return Path, we have always had a commitment to community service and helping make the world around us a better place.  We ratcheted that up a lot in the last year, which is why we added the following statement in as one of our 14 Core Values:

Think Global, Act Local.  We commit our time and energy to support our local communities.  

We feel strongly that companies can and should make the world a better place in several different ways.  Certainly, many companies’ core businesses do that — just look at all the breakthroughs in medicine and social services over the years brought to market by private enterprises, including my friend Raj Vinnakota, who I blogged about here years ago. 

But many companies, including Return Path, aren’t inherently “save the world” in nature, and those companies can still make a difference in the world in a few ways:

  1.  Allow employees to take a limited amount of paid time off for community service work
  2. Organize projects in the local community for their employees to help out/work at
  3. Provide matching gift programs so employees’ donations are enhanced by the company
  4. Donate money or services to charitable organizations they believe in

As a relatively small company, we have had to pick our battles here.  When we were smaller, we had a policy for #1 above that allowed employees 5 days per year of paid time off for community service work in addition to vacation.  We organized projects here and there for employees, including various walks and races and drives, and multiple Habitat for Humanity projects, including one that our employees blogged extensively about after Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans (see Tom Bartel’s final blog post of 7 here.  We never had a specific policy around matching donations, but we were always quick to support one-off employee requests.  And we did have comprehensive program for #4 above to donate cash and in-kind services to one particular charitable organization that fought Multiple Sclerosis, which was inspired by a long-time employee who was diagnosed with MS. 

Over the years, our approach has evolved around service.  When we moved to an Open Vacation policy a few years back, we effectively eliminated the Community Service time off benefit since people can just go do that now under the umbrella time-off policy.  We do still organize some projects for employees from time-to-time, but those are done on an office-by-office basis.  The biggest change in our approach was to stop doing company-run projects, stop responding to one-off requests from employees, and stop supporting a single organization.  We felt that those things, while good, were diffusing the impact that we could potentially have.

So this year we launched something called the Dream Fund.  Once each quarter, we invite self-forming teams of employees to submit applications for a $10,000 grant to help make some corner of their community a better place.  There are some loose guidelines around the use of funds (e.g., they can’t be a straight donation, they have to include some hands-on work), and we have a panel select each quarter’s winner.  So far, we have had two projects run very successfully: 

  • Sistas Against Cancer which supports the Avan Walk for Breast Cancer.
  • Tennyson Center for Children. This charity supports kids suffering from abuse, neglect, emotional crises and other traumatic experiences will get the help they need while finding healing and HOPE in a safe and caring environment

There’s no right way to do community service as a company.  Bu t we feel strongly that part of our “mission” (an overused word if there ever was one) was to have an impact on the world around us – not just on our customers and fellow employees, but by using our time and money to help those who need it most in the many communities where we operate around the world.

Oct 182012

Book Short: the Garage Workbench of the Future

Book Short:  the Garage Workbench of the Future

Makers:  The New Industrial Revolution, by Wired Magazine’s Chris Anderson, author of The Long Tail (review, buy) and Free (review, buy) is just as mind expanding as his prior two books were at the time they were published. I had the pleasure of talking with Chris for a few minutes after he finished his keynote address at DMA2012 in Las Vegas this week, and I was inspired to read the book, which I did on the flight home.

 The short of it is that Anderson paints a very vivid picture of the future world where the Long Tail not only applies to digital goods but to physical goods as well. The seeds of this future world are well planted already in 3D printing, which I have been increasingly hearing about and will most likely be experimenting with come the holiday season (family – please take note!).

As someone who, like Anderson, tinkered with various forms of building as a kid in Shop at school and in the garage with my dad, it’s fascinating to think about a world where you can dream a physical product up, or download a design of it, or 3D scan it and modify it, and press a “make” button like you press a “print” button today on your computer, and have the product show up in your living room within minutes for almost nothing. This will change the world when the technology matures and gets cheaper and more ubiquitous. And this book is the blueprint for that change.

While we may look back on this book in 5 or 10 years, and say “DUH,” which is what many people would say now about The Long Tail or Free, for right now, this gets a WOW.

Oct 112012

Return Path Core Values, Part III

Return Path Core Values, Part III

Last year, I wrote a series of 13 posts documenting and illustrating Return Path’s core values.  This year, we just went through a comprehensive all-company process of updating our values.  We didn’t change our values – you can’t do that! – but we did revise the way we present our values to ourselves and the world.  It had been four years since we wrote the original values up, and the business has evolved in many ways.  Quite frankly, the process of writing up all these blog posts for OnlyOnce last year was what led me to think it was time for a bit of a refresh.

The result of the process was that we combined a few values statements, change the wording of a few others, added a few new ones, and organized and labeled them better.  We may not have a catchy acronym like Rand Fishkin’s TAGFEE, but these are now much easier for us to articulate internally.  So now we have 14 values statements, but they don’t exactly map to the prior ones one for one.  The new presentation and statements are:

People First

  • Job 1:  We are responsible for championing and extending our unique culture as a competitive advantage.
  • People Power:  We trust and believe in our people as the foundation of success with our clients and shareholders.
  • Think Like an Owner:  We are a community of A Players who are all owners in the business.  We provide freedom and flexibility in exchange for consistently high performance.
  • Seriously Fun:  We are serious about our job and lighthearted about our day.  We are obsessively kind to and respectful of each other, and appreciate each other’s quirks.

Do the Right Thing 

  • No Secrets:  We are transparent and direct so that people know where the company stands and where they stand, so that they can make great decisions.
  • Spirit of the Law:  We do the right thing, even if it means going beyond what’s written on paper.
  • Raise the Bar:  We lead our industry to set standards that inboxes should only contain messages that are relevant, trusted, and safe.
  • Think Global, Act Local:  We commit our time and energy to support our local communities.

Succeed Together

  • Results-Focused:  We focus on building a great business and a great company in an open, accessible environment.
  • Aim High and Be Bold:  We learn from others, then we write our own rules to be a pioneer in our industry and create a model workplace.  We take risks and challenge complacency, mediocrity, and decisions that don’t make sense.
  • Two Ears, One Mouth:  We ask, listen, learn, and collect data.  We engage in constructive debate to reach conclusions and move forward together.
  • Collaboration is King:   We solve problems together and help each other out along the way. We keep our commitments and communicate diligently when we can’t.
  • Learning Loops: We are a learning organization.  We aren’t embarrassed by our mistakes – we communicate and learn from them so we can grow in our jobs.
  • Not Just About Us:  We know we’re successful when our clients are successful and our users are happy.

For the 4 values which are “new,” I will write a post each, just as I did the old ones and run them over the next couple months.  RPers, I will go back and combine/revise my prior posts for us to use internally, but I won’t bother editing old blog posts.


Oct 042012

Scaling Horizontally

Scaling Horizontally

Other CEOs ask me from time to time how we develop people at Return Path, how we scale our organization, how we make sure that we aren’t just hiring in new senior people as we grow larger.  And there are good answers to those questions – some of which I’ve written about before, some of which I’ll do in the future.

But one thing that occurred to me in a conversation with another CEO recently was that, equally important to the task of helping people scale by promoting them whenever possible is the task of recognizing when that can’t work, and figuring out another solution to retain and grow those people.  A couple other things I’ve written on this specific topic recently include:

The Peter Principle Applied to Management, which focuses on keeping people as individual contributors when they’re not able to move vertically into a management role within their function or department, and

You Can’t Teach a Cat How to Bark, But you Might be able to Teach it How to Walk on its Hind Legs, which talks about understanding people’s limitations.

Another important point to make here, though, is thinking about how to help employees scale horizontally instead of vertically (e.g., to more senior/management roles within their existing function or department).  Horizontally scaling is allowing employees to continue to grow and develop, and overtime, become more senior and more valuable to the organization, by moving into different roles on different teams.

We’ve had instances over the years of engineering managers becoming product managers; account managers becoming product managers; product managers becoming sales leaders; client operations people moving into marketing; account managers moving into sales; I could go on and on. We’ve even had executives switch departments or add completely new functions to their portfolio.

Moves like this don’t always work. You do have to make sure people have the aptitude for their new role. But when moves like this do work, they’re fantastic. You give people new challenges, keep them fresh and energized, bring new perspective to teams, and retain talent and knowledge.  And when you let someone scale horizontally, make sure to celebrate the move publicly so others know that kind of thing can be available… and be sure to reward the person for their knowledge and performance to date, even if they’re moving laterally within your org chart.