Aug 142014

How to Manage Your Career

I gave a presentation to a few hundred Return Path employees in January at an all-hands conference we did called “How to Manager Your Career.”

The presentation has three sections — The Three Phases of a Career, How to Get Promoted, and How to Wow Your Manager.

While it’s not as good without the voiceover and interactivity, I thought I’d post it here…see the presentation on Slideshare.

As I said to my audience, if there’s one thing to take away from the topic, it’s this:

Managing your career is up to one, and only one person – you. 

It doesn’t matter how great a corporate culture you have, or how supportive your manager is.  You’re the only person who cares 100% of the time about your career, and you’re the only person with a longitudinal view of what you love, what you’re great at, where you’ve been, and where you want to go.

Jul 172014

The Gift of Feedback, Part IV

The Gift of Feedback, Part IV

I wrote a few weeks ago about my live 360 – the first time I’ve ever been in the room for my own review discussion.  I now have a development plan drafted coming out of the session, and having cycled it through the contributors to the review, I’m ready to go with it.  As I did in 2008, 2009, and 2011, I’m posting it here publicly.  This time around, there are three development items:

  1. Continue to spend enough time in-market.  In particular, look for opportunities to spend more time with direct clients.  There was a lot of discussion about this at my review.  One director suggested I should spend at least 20% of my time in-market, thinking I was spending less than that.  We track my time to the minute each quarter, and I spend roughly 1/3 of my time in-market.  The problem is the definition of in-market.  We have a lot of large partners (ESPs, ISPs, etc.) with whom I spend a lot of time at senior levels.  Where I spend very little time is with direct clients, either as prospects or as existing clients.  Even though, given our ASP, there isn’t as much leverage in any individual client relationship, I will work harder to engage with both our sales team and a couple of larger accounts to more deeply understand our individual client experience.
  2. Strengthen the Executive Committee as a team as well as using the EC as the primary platform for driving accountability throughout the organization.  On the surface, this sounds like “duh,” isn’t that the CEO’s job in the first place?  But there are some important tactical items underneath this, especially given that we’ve changed over half of our executive team in the last 12 months.  I need to keep my foot on the accelerator in a few specific ways:  using our new goals and metrics process and our system of record (7Geese) rigorously with each team member every week or two; being more authoritative about the goals that end up in the system in the first place to make sure my top priorities for the organization are being met; finishing our new team development plan, which will have an emphasis on organizational accountability; and finding the next opportiunity for our EC to go through a management training program as a team.
  3. Help stakeholders connect with the inherent complexity of the business.  This is an interesting one.  It started out as “make the business less complex,” until I realized that much of the competitive advantage and inherent value from our business comes fom the fact that we’ve built a series of overlapping, complex, data machines that drive unique insights for clients.  So reducing complexity may not make sense.  But helping everyone in and around the business connect with, and understand the complexity, is key.  To execute this item, there are specifics for each major stakeholder.  For the Board, I am going to experiment with a radically simpler format of our Board Book.  For Investors, Customers, and Partners, we are hard at work revising our corporate positioning and messaging.  Internally, there are few things to work on — speaking at more team/department meetings, looking for other opportunities to streamline the organization, and contemplating a single theme or priority for 2015 instead of our usual 3-5 major priorities.

Again, I want to thank everyone who participated in my 360 this year – my board, my team, a few “lucky” skip-levels, and my coach Marc Maltz.  The feedback was rich, the experience of observing the conversation was very powerful, and I hope you like where the development plan came out!

Apr 242014

Breaking New Ground on Transparency

Breaking New Ground on Transparency

I’ve written a lot over time about our Live 360 process for senior leaders in the business.  (This post is a good one, and it links to a couple earlier ones that are good, as well.)  We take a lot of pride in feedback and in transparency at Return Path, and after 15 years, even for an innovative business, it’s unusual that we do something big for the first time around people.  But we did today.

This image is of something never seen before at our company.  It’s my own handwritten notes about my own Live 360.

360 notes

It’s never been seen before, because no one has ever been physically present for his or her own review before.  In previous reviews, my Board, my exec team, and a few skip-levels gather in a room for 90 minutes with a facilitator to discuss my performance and behaviors.  Then the facilitator would go away and write up notes, and discuss them with me, then I’d produce a development plan.

Today, we decided to experiment with having me sit in my own review to add to the transparency and directness of the feedback.  My only role was to listen, ask (non-judgmental) clarifying questions, and take notes.  I left the room at the end in case someone wanted to say something without me hearing it directly, but although the conversation about the business continued, it didn’t sound like there was anything material about me that surfaced.

It was a little awkward at first, and it was interesting that some people addressed me directly while others spoke of me in the third person.  But once we got past that, the experience was incredibly powerful for me.  The first part — the “what do you appreciate about Matt” part — was humbling and embarrassing and gratifying all at the same time.

The meat of the review, though — the “how can we coach Matt on areas where he needs development” — was amazing.  I got great insights into a couple of major areas of work that I need to do, and that we need to do as a business.  I’m guessing I would have gotten them out of reading a summary of the review conversation, but hearing the texture of the conversation was much, much richer than reading a sanitized version of it on paper.  As always with reviews, there was the odd comment or two that annoyed me, but I felt like I handled them well without any defensive body language or facial expressions.

I will, as I’ve always done, post my development plan to my blog after I formulate it over the course of the next few weeks.  But for now, I just want to thank my Board and team for their awesomely constructive feedback and for helping us usher in a new era of increased transparency here.

Mar 062014

Open Vacation

At Return Path, we’ve had an “open vacation” policy for years, meaning that we don’t regulate the amount of time off people take, and we don’t accrue for it or pay out “unused” vacation if someone leaves the company.  I get asked about this all the time, so I thought I’d post our policy here and also answer a couple follow-up questions I usually get about it.

First, here’s the language of our policy:

Paid Time Off

You’re encouraged to take as much time off as you can while maintaining high performance and achieving your goals. We don’t count the hours you work, so why should we count the hours you don’t? (Unless you’re a non-exempt employee, and only then because we have to!) Take what you need, when you can, and make sure to arrange coverage with your team. If you haven’t had a vacation in a while, you can expect to get a friendly nudge from your manager to get away from the office!

Use your Paid Time Off (PTO) for planned vacations, days off for appointments, religious, or personal holidays that are not offered in your country, community service days, or if you need an unanticipated, last-minute day off to care for a sick child or family member. Statutory or legally protected leaves of absence, such as medical leave, maternity/parental leave, family medical leave or unpaid leave, are governed by separate regulations that will not be affected by our PTO policy. See the Regional section for a list of statutory leaves of absence in your country.

Paid Time Off scheduling is subject to approval by your manager, who has sole discretion to approve or deny requests under this policy. Requests of greater than two consecutive weeks or more than two weeks in one three-month period require approval of your Executive Committee member.

The first question I always get is, “Wow – does that really work?  What issues have you had with it?  My response:

No issues with it at all, other than it’s a little weird to apply internationally, where we have 50 people across 7 countries, since most of those countries have significantly more generous vacation policies/customs than the US.  But we generally make it work.

The second question I get is whether people abuse it or not:

In all the years we’ve done it, we only ever had one person attempt to abuse the policy, one time.  People do still have to ask their managers if it’s ok to take time off, and they do still have to get their jobs done.

Finally, people ask me for general advice on implementing this kind of policy:

Continue to track days off and generate reports for managers every quarter so they at least know whether their people are taking not enough or too much – generally people will take not enough, and you will need to encourage them to take more.  Also, our managers were *really* worried about launching this, so we had to do some hand-holding along the way. 

The results of this policy for us have generally been great.  People take about the same amount of true vacation they used to take, maybe a little more.  They definitely take more half-days and quarter-days where they probably still get a full day worth of work done, without worrying about counting the hours.  Best of all, there’s a strong signal sent and received with this kind of policy that we trust our team members to do what they need to do in order to live their lives AND get their jobs done.

Feb 132014

HR/People Lessons from Netflix

It feels as if almost everyone in our industry has read the famous Netflix culture deck on Slideshare, and with over 5mm views, that may not be too far off.  If you haven’t looked at it before, and if you care about your organization’s culture and how productive and happy employees are the best kind of employees, then take the time to flip through it.

As part of a benchmarking exercise we did on employers with unique and best HR/People practices a few years ago, a few of us did either site visits or at least live interviews with leaders at four companies, all of whom are pretty well known for progressive People practices that are also in-line with our company’s culture:  Morningstar, Gore, Nucor, and Netflix.  As part of this, we met in person with Patty McCord, Netflix’s long-time head of People.  It was a really informative meeting.

Now Patty has written a longform article in Harvard Business Review that shares a lot of what we learned from her in her office that day. It’s absolutely worth a read.  Netflix does have a pretty distinct culture and gets positive but mixed reviews on Glassdoor, so as with everything, I’m not advocating adopting everything they do lock, stock, and barrel.  But I can guarantee that some of the lessons that Patty shares are valuable no matter what your company is like.

Jan 072014

Startup CEO: The Online Course

As most of you know by now, I wrote a book that was published last fall called Startup CEO:  A Field Guide to Scaling Up Your Business.  I’m excited to announce that, starting on January 20th, the book has now been turned into Kauffman Fellows Academy (KFA) online course called Startup CEO.  Similarly, Brad Feld and Jason Mendelson’s highly successful Venture Deals is also going to launch as Venture Deals KFA online course on February 24th. Both will be offered initially on the NovoEd platform.

The parties involved in getting it off the ground (besides me) were the team at Kauffman Fellows Academy and NovoEd.  Clint Korver, a serial entrepreneur and Stanford adjunct professor, spearheaded the project, and between filming the course and now, he switched jobs from KFA to be the COO at NovoEd, so he has been on all sides of this.   NovoEd is a very unique online educational platform that gives students the ability internationally to work together in teams and collaborate on assignments and peer review one another’s work.  So far over 1,300 people have signed up for Startup CEO from countries as far-flung as the China, Brasil, Iran, the U.K., Australia and, of course, Silicon valley..  This is an exciting extension of the book for me to watch unfold.

The class itself is a very unique format, a bit of “the entrepreneur’s studio” model.  For each chapter of the book (there are 48), I filmed a 5-10 minute Q&A with Clint in front of a live audience of a dozen startup CEOs in New York.  This was a serious production – much more than I expected – with a three-person former CNN production team of Kevin Rockwell, Chuck Afflerbach, and led by former Emmy Award winning CNN Correspondent Rusty Dornin.  Preparing for the class this way was fun and gave me a good opportunity to further crystallize the main point or theme of each chapter.  Having a live audience was super helpful to see what worked and what didn’t work.

Jan 022014

Sabbaticals

I’ve written a few times over the years about our Sabbatical policy at Return Path, including this post and this post about my experience as CEO when one of my direct reports was on his sabbatical, and this post about my own sabbatical.

People ask me this all the time, so I thought I’d write the policy out here.  This is the language in our employee handbook about them:

You have big dreams. We know. This is your chance to cross something off your life list. Whether it’s climbing Mt. Everest, learning Russian or taking your kids across the country in a Winnebago, we believe in rewarding longevity at Return Path and know that a good long break will leave you refreshed and energized!  As such, you are eligible for a sabbatical after your first seven (7) years of employment; then again after every five (5) years incremental employment. The sabbatical provides you with up to six (6) weeks of consecutive time off provided you have that time off approved by your manager at least two months prior to the start of your sabbatical.

You will be requested to sign an Agreement before your sabbatical: if you do not return to work after your sabbatical or if you leave employment within twelve (12) months of returning to work, you will be required to reimburse all amounts received while on sabbatical.  If a holiday occurs on any of of the days of absence, you will not receive holiday pay in addition to your sabbatical pay.  During your sabbatical, your benefits will continue and you will be responsible for making payments for the employee portion of insurance costs if applicable. The period you are on leave will be counted as employment for the purposes of determining your applicable level of benefits.  If you are eligible and have not taken your sabbatical and your employment with Return Path ends (for any reason), you will not be paid out for sabbatical time not taken.

I also wrote an email recently to someone internally that is worth reprinting here, which is How to Prepare for Your Sabbatical, which is aimed at both the person taking the sabbatical, and the person’s manager:

As the employee:

-          Prepare your team

  • Make sure their goals and metrics for your time out are super clear
  • Make sure they know who to go to for what
  • Set their expectations of management coverage (see below). 
  • Remember that your manager has a day job so you should look to see how your team members can take over some of the responsibilities.
  • Give them stretch goals while you’re out

-          Prepare your individual contributor work

  • Hand off all loose ends with extra details. 
  • Make introductions via email if your manager/team member  is going to have to work with external parties
  • Can be to your team, to your manager, to someone else

-          Prepare your manager

  • Brief your manager thoroughly on everything going on with your team, its work, your individual contributor work
  • Good topics to cover with your manager:Discuss specifics of team and 1:1 check-ins and agree on a plan for coverage.
    • What are the big initiatives that you’ll need coverage on
    • Which team members would you like the manager to spend a little extra time with?  Are there any work you would like the manager to help a particular EE with?

-          Prepare yourself

  • Plan any personal travel early so you get good rates!
  • Figure out how to keep your work and personal communications separate – your email (autoresponder, routing, disabling from your smartphone), your voicemail if you use Google Voice or Simulscribe, etc.
  • Block out two full days immediately when you return to catch up on email and catch up with your manager and team

As the manager:

-          Prepare your team

  • Make sure the rest of your team knows your time will be compromised while you’re covering
  • Figure out what kind of coverage you need (either internal or external) while you’re covering

-          Rearrange your calendar/travel

  • Add new team meetings or 1:1s as it makes sense.  You don’t have to do exactly what your employee did, but some portions of it will make sense to pick up
  • If your employee works in another office with members of his/her team, you might want to plan some travel there to cover in person
  • It’s ok to cut back on some other things a bit while you’re covering – just remember to undo everything when the employee’s sabbatical is over

-          While you’re in charge

  • Surprise your employee with how much you were able to keep things running in his/her absence!
  • Learn as much as you can by doing bits and pieces of his/her job.  This is a great opportunity of the employee to get some value from a fresh perspective.

-          Prepare for your employee’s return

  • Keep a running tab of everything that goes on at the company, critical industry news (if appropriate), and with your employee’s function or team and prepare a well-organized briefing document so your employee can hit the ground running when he/she returns
  • Block out an hour or two each of the employee’s first two days back to review your briefing document

 

My main takeaway from this post?  I am overdue my second sabbatical, and it’s time to start thinking about that!

Oct 172013

Lean In, Part II

Lean In, Part II

My post about Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In a couple months ago created some great dialog internally at Return Path.  It also yielded a personal email from Sheryl the day after it went up encouraging me to continue “talking about it,” as the book says, especially as a male leader.  Along those lines, since I wrote that initial post, we’ve had a few things happen here that are relevant to comment on, so here goes.

We partnered  with the National Center for Women & IT to provide training to our entire organization on unconscious bias.  We had almost 90% of the organization attend an interactive 90 minute training session to explore how these biases work and how to discuss these issues with others.   The goals were to identify what unconscious bias is and how it affects the workplace, identify ways to address these barriers and foster innovation, and provide practice tools for reducing unconscious biases.   While the topic of unconscious bias in the workplace isn’t only about gender, that’s one major vector of discussion.  We had great feedback from across the organization that people value this type of dialog and training.  It’s now going to be incorporated into our onboarding program for new employees.

Second, as I committed to in my original post, we ran a thorough gender-based comp study.  As I suspected, we don’t have a real issue with men being paid more than women for doing the same job, or with men and women being promoted at different rates.    That’s the good news.  However, the study and the conversations that we had around it yielded two other interesting conclusions.  One is that that we have fewer women in senior positions than men, though not too far off our overall male:female ratio of 60:40.  On our Board, we have no women.  On our Executive Committee, we have 1 of 10 (more on this below).  On our Operating Committee, we have 8 of 25.  Of all Managers at the company, we have 32 of 88.  So women skew to more junior roles.

The other is that while we do a good job on compensation equity for the same position, it takes a lot of deliberate back and forth to get to that place.  In other words, if all we did was rely on people’s starting salaries, their performance review data, and our standard raise percentages, we would have some level of gender-based inequality.  Digging deeper into this, it’s all about the starting point.  Since we have far more junior/entry level women than men, the compensation curve for women ends up needing to be steeper than that of men in order to level things out.  So we get to the right place, but it takes work and unconventional thinking.

Finally, I had an enlightening process of recruiting two new senior executives to join the business in the past couple of months.   I knew I wanted to try and diversify my executive team, which was 25% female, so I made a deliberate effort to focus on hiring senior women into both positions.  I intended to hire the best candidate, and knew I’d only see male candidates unless I intentionally sourced female candidates.  For both positions, sourcing with an emphasis on women was VERY DIFFICULT, as the candidate pools are very lopsided in favor of men for all the reasons Sheryl noted in her book.  But in both cases, great female candidates made it through as finalists, and the first candidate to whom I offered each job was female – both superbly qualified.  In both cases, for different reasons I can’t go into here, the candidates didn’t end up making it across the finish line.  And then in both cases, when we opened up the search for a second round, the rest of the candidate pool was male, and I ended up hiring men into both roles.  Now my resulting exec team is even more heavily male, which was the opposite of my intention.  It’s very frustrating, and it leaves us with more work to do on the women-in-leadership topic, for sure.

So…some positives and some challenges the last few months on this topic at Return Path.  I’ll post more as relevant things develop or occur.  We are going to be doing some real thinking, and probably some program development, around this important topic.

Sep 192013

The Boomerang Club, or How to Quit Your Job, Part II

The Boomerang Club, or How to Quit Your Job, Part II

My post last week on How to Quit Your Job has generated about two dozen comments as well as a really lengthy thread on Y Combinator’s Hacker News.  My various replies to comments are worth summarizing here – this is a reprint of my comment on Hacker News:

First, my post was not intended to be general advice to employees of all companies on how to handle a situation where they’re starting to look for jobs.  Of course, many environments would not respond well to that approach.  My point was just that that’s how we encourage employees to handle the situation at Return Path, and we have created a safe environment to do so.  By the way, it doesn’t happen here 100% of the time either, by any stretch of the imagination.  But I wish it did.  When it happens, it’s better for everyone — the company as well as the employee, who either (a) ends up staying because we resolve some issue we weren’t aware of, or (b) has a less stressful and more graceful transition out.

Second, the way we run our business is around a bit of a social contract — that is to say, a two-way street.  And just as we ask employees to start a dialog with us when they are thinking of leaving, we absolutely, 100% of the time, are open and transparent with employees when they are in danger of being fired (other than the occasional urgent “for cause” situation).  We give people ample opportunity to correct performance and even fit issues.  In terms of someone’s question below about lay-offs, we fortunately haven’t had to do those since 2001, but if I recall, even then, we were extremely transparent about our financial position and that we might need to cut jobs in 30 days.

But I wanted to take this post to emphasize a related, second point.  If it’s a given that you are going to quit your job, then HOW you quit your job becomes super important.  And this is general advice, not something specific to Return Path.  Even if you’re unhappy – even if you feel totally wronged or burned in some way – there is never a good reason to burn bridges on the way out the door.  In fact, the opposite is what I would consider best practice:  make the transition as easy as possible for your company.

Document your job really well, including specifics of all open projects.  Work with your manager and teammates to hand off all responsibilities.  Be frank and constructive in your exit interview.  Make the extra effort to leave things in good working order.

We have a long history of hiring back former employees here.  We proudly call it The Boomerang Club, and there have been a dozen or so members over the years.  We try to make it easy to come back if you leave.  First, we celebrate the return of a former employee pretty widely, and we obviously modify our usual extensive interview process.  If you come back in less than a year, we pretend that you never left in terms of giving you credit for continuous service.  If your gap is more than a year, we don’t give you credit for the time you were gone, but we do give you full credit for the time you’d been here before you left.

But you can’t really be a member of The Boomerang Club if you leave your job in the wrong way.  HOW you do that says a lot about you, and everyone at your company will take note and remember it.

Sep 132013

How to Quit Your Job

How to Quit Your Job

I sent an email out to ALL at Return Path a few years ago with that as the subject line.  A couple people suggested it would make a good blog post in and of itself.  So here’s the full text of it:

ALL –

This may be one of the weirdest emails you’ll see me (or any CEO write)…but it’s an important message that I want to make sure everyone hears consistently.  If nothing else, the subject line will probably generate a high open rate.  :-)

First off, I hope no one here wants to leave Return Path.  I am realistic enough to know that’s not possible, but as you know, employee engagement, retention, and growth & development are incredibly important to us.

But alas, there will be times when for whatever reason, some of you may decide it’s time to move on.  I have always maintained that there’s more than a Right Way and a Wrong Way to leave a job.  For me, there’s a Return Path Way.

I suppose the Right Way is the standard out there in the world of two weeks’ notice and an orderly documentation and transition of responsibilities.  The Wrong Way is anything less.

So what’s the Return Path Way?

It starts with open dialog.  If you are contemplating looking around for something else, you should let someone know at the thinking stage.  Ideally that would be your manager, but if you’re not comfortable starting the conversation there, find someone else — your department head, someone in HR, me.  Let someone who is in a position to do something about it know that you’re considering other options and why.  The worst thing that will happen is that the company isn’t able to come up with a solution to whatever issues you have.  I PROMISE you that no one here in any management position will ever think less of you or treat you differently or serve up any kind of retribution for this kind of conversation.

After the open dialog and any next steps that come out of it, if you are still convinced that leaving is the right thing for you, tell your manager and whoever you spoke to at the beginning of your search process, not at the end of it.  That hopefully gives the company enough lead time to find a replacement and provide for enough overlap between you and the new hire so that you can train your replacement and hand things off.

Why do we feel so strongly about this?

We invest heavily in our people.  I know we’re not perfect — no company is — but we do our best to take good care with everyone who works here.  Hopefully you know that.  And hiring great people is difficult, as you also know.  Losing a well trained employee is VERY PAINFUL for the company.  It slows our momentum and causes at least a minor level of chaos in the system.  And as shareholders or future shareholders (even if you leave – you can exercise your vested stock options), I’d hope that’s something none of you want to do.

I realize the Return Path Way that I am outlining here is unconventional (and potentially uncomfortable).  But Return Path is an unconventional place to work in a lot of ways.

As I said up front, I hope none of you wants to leave…but if you do, please take this request and advice to heart.

Thank you!

-Matt

Now…I sent this out when the company was a lot smaller, when losing a single employee was losing a real percentage of our workforce!  But I stand by every word in the email, even at a larger size.  This kind of dialog is, as I note in the email, both unconventional and uncomfortable.  But just as one of my management mantras here is “no one should ever be surprised to be fired,” another is “we should never be surprised when someone resigns.”  Ultimately, it’s up to each individual manager to set the right tone with his or her team, and also be in tune enough with each of his or her team members, to foster this.

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