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!

Mar 082012

People Should Come with an Instruction Manual

People Should Come with an Instruction Manual

Almost any time we humans buy or rent a big-ticket item, the item comes with an instruction manual.  Why are people any different?

No one is perfect.  We all have faults and issues.  We all have personal and professional development plans.  And most of those things are LONG-TERM and surface in one form or another in every single performance review or 360 we receive over the years.  So shouldn’t we, when we enter into a long-term personal or professional employment relationship, just present our development plans as instruction manuals on how to best work with, live with, manage, us?

The traditional interview process, and even reference check questions around weaknesses tend to be focused on the wrong things, and asked in the wrong ways.  They usually lead to lame answers like “my greatest weakness is that I work too hard and care too much,” or “No comment.”

The traditional onboarding process also doesn’t get into this.  It’s much more about orientation — here’s a pile of stuff you need to know to be successful here — as opposed to true onboarding — here’s how we’re going to get you ramped up, productive, integrated, and successful working here.

It’s quite disarming to insist that a candidate, or even a new employee, write out their instruction manual, but I can’t recommend it highly enough as part of one or both of the above two processes.  Since everyone at Return Path has a 360/Development Plan, I ask candidates in final interviews what theirs looks like in that context (so it’s clear that I’m not trying to pull a gotcha on them).  Failure to give an intellectually honest answer is a HUGE RED FLAG that this person either lacks self-confidence or self-awareness.  And in the onboarding process, I literally make new employees write out a development plan in the format we use and present it to the rest of my staff, while the rest of my staff shares their plans with the new employee.

As I’ve written in the past, hiring  new senior people into an organization is a little like doing an organ transplant.  Sometimes you just have to wait a while to see if the body rejects the organ or not.  As we get better at asking this “where’s your instruction manual?” question in the interview process, we are mitigating this risk considerably.  I’m sure there’s a whole parallel track on this same topic about personal relationships as opposed to professional ones, but I’ll leave that to someone else to write up!

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