Jul 262012

The Best Place to Work, Part 1: Surround yourself with the best and brightest

First in my series of posts around creating the best place to work  is to Surround yourself with the best and brightest.  This one is simple.  Build the best team you can possibly build…as you need it.

As a founder, you may be the best person at doing everything in your company, especially if you are a technical founder.  But as my long-time Board member at Return Path Greg Sands always says, when the organism grows, cells start to specialize.  Eventually, you need a liver and a brain.  Just like companies need a head of sales and a CFO (not to imply that Anita likes the occasional cocktail or that Jack likes math – turns out both like both).

How does this come into play as a CEO?

-Don’t be afraid to hire people better than you at their specialty – older, wiser, more experienced, more expensive

– Check references carefully – don’t get suckered in by resume or rolodex – some successful big company people don’t actually know how to do work or build a business, so you have to dig and find back-channel references

– Don’t overhire before you’re ready, but especially as a start-up, better to hire 3 months before you need the position, not 6 months too late

-Remember that you are the CEO.  Even if you hire very experienced people in specific roles, you have the best global view of everything going on in the company.  And you need to pay attention to people on your team and actively manage them, even experts who are older or wiser than you are

Surrounding yourself with the best and brightest can be daunting and even threatening to some CEOs.  But you have to do it to grow your business.  And you have to keep doing it as you keep growing your business (and your staff has to do the same!).

Oct 112011

Productive Eavesdropping

Productive Eavesdropping

We’re in the midst of some pretty extensive renovations of our offices in New York at the moment.  For better or for worse, we’re doing this work without moving out.  We’ve basically crammed everyone into the back half of the office right now while the contractors are working on the front half.  When that’s done, we’ll all move into the newly-refinished front so they can do the same in the back.

One of the interesting side effects of this project is that I’m sharing my office with Anita Absey, our head of sales.  It’s the first time I’ve shared an office in quite a while, at least since the first year of the company’s life when we all sat in one big room together.  So the two of us are getting in a lot more time together than we usually do.  As much as we try to block out the sound coming from across the room, I’m sure there’s been plenty of inadvertent eavesdropping in both directions.

For my part, I’ve enjoyed it.  I have much more of a window into what Anita works on than I usually get.  I’m more in the flow of what’s happening with the sales organization.  I’m seeing what a strong manager she is, and I’ve picked up at least a couple of tips from her around her leadership style.  And we’ve had a lot of quick back-and-forth between things.  When we sat down to have our weekly check-in last week, it was half its normal length since we had already covered much of the topics in the daily flow of conversation.

I wonder if there’s a way to accomplish the same thing with others on my team…or with everyone on my team…without rearranging the office!

As for Anita, well, I suspect I’ll hear from her as to whether or not the arrangement is working for her shortly after I press “publish” on this post!

Sep 222011

Who Are Your CPO and COO?

Who Are Your CPO and COO?

Every senior management team needs a CPO and a COO.  No, I’m not talking about Privacy and Operations.  I’m talking about Paranoia and Optimism.  On my leadership team at Return Path, many of us are Paranoid and many of us are Optimistic, and many of us can play both roles.  But I’m fortunate to have two business partners who are the Chiefs – George Bilbrey is our Chief Paranoia Officer, and Anita Absey is our Chief Optimism Officer.  Those monikers fit their respective roles (product and sales) as well as their personalities.

My view is simple – both traits are critical to have around the management table, and they’re best when they’re in some kind of equilibrium.  Optimism keeps you running forward in a straight line.  The belief that you can successfully execute on your plan, with a spring in your step and a smile on your face, is very motivating.  Paranoia keeps you looking around corners.  It may also keep you awake at night, but it’s the driving force for seeing potential threats to the business that aren’t necessarily obvious and keeping you on your toes.  I wrote about the benefits and limits of paranoia (with an extreme example) years ago here.

Too much of either trait would be a disaster for a team’s psyche.  But both are critical points of view that need a loud voice in any management discussion.  It’s a little bit like making sure your management team knows its actual and target location along the Fear/Greed Continuum.