Mar 012012

Book Short (and great concept): Moments of Truth

Book Short (and great concept): Moments of Truth

TouchPoints:  Creating Powerdul Leadership Connections in the Smallest of Moments, by Douglas Conant, former CEO of Campbell’s Soup Corporation, and Mette Norgaard (book, kindle), is a very good nugget of an idea wrapped in lots of other good, though only loosely connected management advice around self awareness and communication — something I’m increasingly finding in business books these days.

It’s a very short book. I read it on the Kindle, so I don’t know how many pages it is or the size of the font, but it was only 2900 kindles (or whatever you call a unit on the device) and only took a few Metro North train rides to finish.  It’s probably worth a read just to get your head around the core concept a bit more, though it’s far from a great business book.

I won’t spend a lot of time on the book itself, but the concept echoes something I’ve been referring to a while here at Return Path as “Moments of Truth.”  Moments of Truth are very short interactions between you and an employee that are high impact and, once you get the hang of them, low effort.  At least, they’re low effort relative to long form meetings.

Here are a few thoughts about Moments of Truth:

  • They are critical opportunities to get things both very right and very wrong with an employee
  • They are more powerful than meets the eye – both for what they are and because they get amplified as employees mention them to other employees
  • They can come to you (people popping into your office and the like), you can seek them out (management by walking around), and you can institutionalize them (for example, one of the things I do is call every employee on their Return Path anniversary to congratulate them on the milestone)
  • They are no different than any other kind of interaction you have, just a lot shorter and therefore can be more intense (and numerous)
  • Their use cases are as broad as any management interaction — coaching, positive or negative feedback, input, support, etc.

What can you as a manager or leader do to perfect your handling of Moments of Truth?

First, learn how to spot them when they come to you, and think about a typical employee’s day/week/month/year to think about when you can find opportunities to seek them out.  Their first day on the job.  When they get a promotion.  When they get a great performance review, or new stock options.  Maybe when they get a poor performance review or denied a promotion they were seeking.

Second, learn to appreciate them and leave space for them.  If you have zero free minutes in every single day, you not only won’t have time to create or seek out Moments of Truth, you’ll be rushed or blow them off when they come to you.

Finally, like everything else, you have to develop a formula for handling them and then practice that formula.  The book does talk about a formula of “head, heart, hand” (e.g., being logical, authentic, and competent) that’s not bad.  Although I’d never thought about it systematically before writing this post, I have a few different kinds of Moments of Truth, and each one has its own rhythm to it, and its own regular ending.

But regardless of how you handle them, once you think about your day through this lens, you’ll start seeing them all over the place.  Recognize their power, and dive in!

May 222014

The 90-Day Reverse Review

The 90-Day Reverse Review

Like a lot of companies, Return Path does a 90-day review on all new employees to make sure they’re performing well, on track, and a good fit.  Sometimes those reviews are one-way from the manager, sometimes they are 360s.

But we have also done something for years now called the 90-Day Reverse Review, which is equally valuable.  Around the same 90-day mark, and unrelated to the regular review process, every new employee gets 30 minutes with a member of the Executive Committee (my direct reports, or me if the person is reporting to someone on my team) where the employee has a chance to give US feedback on how WE are doing.

These meetings are meant to be pretty informal, though the exec running the meeting takes notes and circulates them afterwards.  We have a series of questions we typically ask, and we send them out ahead of time so the employee can prepare.  They are things like:

-Was this a good career move?  Are you happy you’re here?

-How was your onboarding experience?

-How do you explain your job to people outside the company?

-What is the company’s mission, and how does your role contribute to it?

-How do you like your manager?  Your team?

-Do you feel connected to the company?  How is the company’s information flow?

-What has been your proudest moment/accomplishment so far?

-What do you like best about the company?

-If you could wave a wand and change something here, what would it be?

We do these for a few reasons:

-At the 90-day mark, new employees know enough about the company to give good input, and they are still fresh enough to see the company through the lens of other places they’ve worked

-These are a great opportunity for executives to have a “Moment of Truth” with new employees

-They give employees a chance to productively reflect on their time so far and potentially learn something or make some course correction coming out of it

-We always learn things, large or small, that are helpful for us as a management team, whether something needs to be modified with our Onboarding program, or whether we have a problem with a manager or a team or a process, or whether there’s something great we can steal from an employee’s past experiences

This is a great part of our Operating System at Return Path!

Sep 062012

The Best Place to Work, Part 7: Create a Thankful Atmosphere

The Best Place to Work, Part 7: Create a Thankful Atmosphere

My final installment of this long series on Creating the best place to work (no hierarchy intended by the order) is about Creating a thankful atmosphere.

What does creating a thankful atmosphere get you?  It gets you great work, in the form of people doing their all to get the job done.  We humans – all of us, absolutely including CEOs – appreciate being recognized when they do good work.  Honestly, I love what I do and would do it without any feedback, but nothing resonates with me more than a moment of thanks from someone on my exec team or my Board.  Why should anyone else in the organization be any different?

This is not about giving everyone a nod in all-hands by doing shout-outs.  That’s not sustainable as the company grows.  And not everyone does great work every week or month!  And it’s not about remembering to thank people in staff meetings, either, although that’s never bad and easier to contain and equalize.

It is about informal, regular pats on the back.  To some extent inspired by the great Ken Blanchard book Whale Done, and as I’ve written about before here, it’s about enabling the organization to be thankful, and optimizing your own thankfulness.

Years ago we created a peer award system on our company Intranet/Wiki at Return Path.  We enable Peer Recognition through this.  As of late, with about 350 employees, we probably have 30-40 of these every week.  They typically carry a $25 gift card award, although most employees tell me that they don’t care about the gift card as much as the public recognition.  Anyone can nominate anyone for one of the following awards, which are unique to us and relevant to our culture:

  • EE (Everyday Excellence) -is designed for us to recognize those who demonstrate excellence and pride in their daily work.
  • ABCD (Above and Beyond the Call of Duty) -is designed for us to recognize the outstanding work of our colleagues who go Above and Beyond their duties and exemplify exactly what Return Path is about
  • WOOT (Working Out Of Title) -is designed for us to recognize those who offer assistance that is not part of their job responsibilities.
  • OTB (On The Business)-is about pulling ourselves out of day-to-day tasks and ensuring we are continually aligned with the long-term, strategic direction of the business.  We make sure we’re not just optimizing our current tasks and processes but that we’re also thinking about whether or not we should even be doing those things.  We stop to think outside of the “box” and about the interrelationship between what we are doing and everything else in the organization.  In doing so, we connect the leaves, the branches, the trunk, the roots and soil of the tree to the hundreds of other trees in the forest.  We step back to look at the big picture
  • TLAO ( Think Like An Owner)-means that every one of us holds a piece of the Company’s future and is empowered to use good judgment and act on behalf of Return Path.  In our day-to-day jobs we take personal responsibility for our products, services and interactions.  We spend like it’s our own money and we think ahead.  We are trusted to handle situations like we own the business because we are smart people who do the right thing.  We notice the things happening around us that aren’t in our day-to-day and take action as needed even if we’re not directly responsible
  • Blue Light Special  is designed for us to recognize anyone who comes up with a clever way to save the company money)
  • Coy Joy Award is in memory of Jen Coy who was positive, optimistic and able to persevere through the most difficult of circumstances.  This award is designed to recognize individuals who exemplify the RP values and spread joy through the workplace.  This can be by going above and beyond to welcome new employees, by showing a high degree of care and consideration for another person at RP, by being a positive and uplifting influence, and/or making another person laugh-out-loud.
  • Human Firewall is awarded if you catch a colleague taking extra care around security or privacy in some way, maybe a suggestion in a meeting, a feature in a product, a suggestion around policy or practice in the office.

In the early days, we read these out each week at All-Hands meetings.  Today at our scale, we announce these awards each week on the Wiki and via email.  And I and other leaders of the business regularly read the awards list to see who is doing what good work and needs to be separately thanked on top of the peer award.

Beyond institutionalizing thanks…in terms of you as an individual person, there are lots of ways to give thanks that are meaningful.  Some are about maximizing Moments of Truth.  Another thing I do from time to time is write handwritten thank you notes to people and mail them to their homes, not to work.  But there are lots of ways to spend the time and mental energy to appreciate individuals in your company in ways that are genuine and will be noticed and appreciated.  To some extent, this paragraph (maybe this whole post) could be labeled “It’s the little things.”

That’s it for this series…again, the final roundup for the full series of Creating the Best Place to Work is here and individual posts are here:

  1. Surround yourself with the best and brightest
  2. Create an environment of trust
  3. Manage yourself very, very well
  4. Be the consummate host
  5. Be the ultimate enabler
  6. Let people be people
  7. Create a thankful atmosphere

Anyone have any other techniques I should write about for Creating the Best Place to Work?

May 032012

Skip-Level Meetings

I was talking to a CEO the other day who believed it was “wrong” (literally, his word) to meet directly 1:1 with people in the organization who did not report to him.  I’ve heard from other CEOs in the past that they’re casual or informal or sporadic about this practice, but I’ve never heard someone articulate before that they actively stayed away from it.  The CEO in question’s feeling was that these meetings, which I call Skip-Level Meetings, disempowers managers.

I couldn’t disagree more.  I have found Skip-Level Meetings to be an indispensable part of my management and leadership routine and have done them for years.  If your culture is set up such that you as CEO can’t interact directly and regularly with people in your organization other than the 5-8 people who report to you, you are missing out on great opportunities to learn from and have an impact on those around you.

That said, there is an art to doing these meetings right, in ways that don’t disempower people or encourage chaos.  Some of these themes will echo other things I’ve written in recent posts like Moments of Truth and Scaling Me.  My five rules for doing Skip-Level Meetings are:

  1. Make them predictable.  Have them on a regular schedule, whatever that is.  The schedule doesn’t have to be uniform across all these meetings.  I have some Skip-Levels that I do monthly, some quarterly, some once a year, some “whenever I am in town.”
  2. Use a consistent format.  I always have a few questions I ask people in these meetings – things about their key initiatives, their people, their roadblocks, what I can do to help, what their POV is about the company direction and performance, how they are feeling about their role and growth.  I also expect that people will come with questions or topics for me.  If I have more meaty ad hoc topics, I’ll let the person know ahead of time.
  3. Vary the location.  When I have regular Skip-Levels with a given person, I try to do the occasional one over a meal or drink to make it a little more social.  For remote check-ins, I now always do Skype or Videophone.
  4. Do groups.  Sometimes group skip-levels are fun and really enlightening, either with a full team, or with a cross-section of skip-levels from other teams.  Watching people relate to each other gives you a really different view into team dynamics.
  5. Close the loop.  I almost always check-in with the person’s manager BEFORE AND AFTER a Skip-Level.  Before, I ask what the issues are, if there is anything I should push on or ask.  After, I report back on the meeting, especially if there are things the person and I discussed that are out of scope for the person’s job or goals, so there are no surprises.

 I’m sure there are other things I do as well, but I can’t imagine running the company without this practice.  Doing it often and well EMPOWERS people in the company…I’d argue that managers who feel disempowered by it aren’t managers you necessarily want in your business unless you really run a command-and-control shop.

Jan 122011

5 Ways to Spot Trends That Will Make You (and Your Business) More Successful

5 Ways to Spot Trends That Will Make You (and Your Business) More Successful

I’ve recently started writing a column for The Magill Report, the new venture by Ken Magill, previously of Direct magazine and even more previously DMNews. Ken has been covering email for a long time and is one of the smartest journalists I know in this space. My column, which I share with my colleagues Jack Sinclair and George Bilbrey, covers how to approach the business of email marketing, thoughts on the future of email and other digital technologies, and more general articles on company-building in the online industry – all from the perspective of an entrepreneur. Below is a re-post of this week’s version, which I think my OnlyOnce readers will enjoy.

Last week I published my annual “Unpredictions” for 2011. This tradition grew out of the fact that I hate doing predictions and my marketing team loves them. So we compromise by predicting what won’t happen.

But the truth is that the annual prediction ritual – while trite – is really just trend-spotting. And trend-spotting is an important skill for entrepreneurs. Fortunately it’s a skill that can be acquired, at least it can with enough deliberate practice (another skill I talk about here).

Here are five habits you should consider cultivating if being a better trend spotter is in your career roadmap.

Read voraciously. I read about 50 books every year.  About half of them are business books, and I also mix in a bit of fiction, humor, American history, architecture and urban planning, and evolutionary biology.  I keep up with more than 50 blogs and I read all the trade publications that cover email.  I also read the Wall Street Journal and The Economist regularly.  What you read is a little less important than just reading a lot, and diversely.

Use social media (wisely). Julia Child once said that the key to success in life was having great parents. My advice to you is quite a bit simpler:  make friends with smart people. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and others have given us a window into the world unlike any other. Status updates, tweets, and – maybe most important of all – links shared by your network of friends and colleagues gives you a sense of what people are talking about, thinking about and working on. And you can’t just lurk.  You actually have to be “in” to get something “out.”

Follow the money. Pay attention to where money gets invested and spent. This includes keeping an eye on venture capital, private equity, and the public markets, as well as where clients (mostly IT and marketing departments) are spending their dollars and what kinds of people they are hiring. Money flows toward ideas that people think will succeed. A pattern of investments in particular areas will give you clues to what might be the big ideas over the next five to 10 years.

Get out of the office: I think it’s hugely important for anyone in business, and especially entrepreneurs, to spend time in the world to get fresh perspectives. I’m not sure who coined the phrase, but our head of product management, Mike Mills, frequently refers to the NIHITO principle – Nothing Interesting Happens in the Office.  Now that’s not entirely true – running a company means needing to spend a huge amount of time with people and on people issues, but last year I traveled nearly 160,000 miles around the world meeting with prospect, clients, partners and industry luminaries. You don’t have to be a road warrior to get this one right – you can attend events in your local area, develop a local network of people you can meet with regularly – but you do have to get out there.

Take a break. While you need information to understand trends, you can quickly get overloaded with too much data.  Trend spotting is, in many ways, about pattern recognition. And that is often easier to do when your mind is relaxed.  Ever notice that you have moments of true epiphany in the shower or while running? Give yourself time every week to unplug and let your mind recharge. As Steven Covey says, “sharpen that saw”!

css.php