Feb 072013

Articulating the Problem is the First Step Toward Solving It

Articulating the Problem is the First Step Toward Solving It

A while back, we were having some specific challenges at Return Path that were *really* hard to diagnose.  It was like peeling the proverbial onion.  Every time we thought we had the answer to what was going on, we realized all we had was another symptom, not a root cause.  We’re a pretty analytical bunch, so we kept looking for more and more data to give us answers.  And we kept coming up with, well, not all that much, besides a lot of hand-wringing.

It wasn’t until I went into a bit of a cave (e.g., took half a day’s quiet time to myself) and started writing things down for myself that I started to get some clarity around the problem and potential solutions.  I literally opened up a blank Word document and started writing, and writing, and writing.  At first, the thoughts were random.  Then they started taking on some organization.  Eventually, I moved from descriptions of the problem to patterns, to reasons, to thoughts about solutions. 

But what really put me on a track to solutions (as opposed to just understanding the problem better) was starting to *talk* through the problems and potential solutions.  It didn’t take more than a couple conversations with trusted colleagues/advisors before I realized how dumb half of my thoughts were, both about the problems and the solutions, which helped narrow down and consolidate my options considerably.

Even better than solving the problems, or at least a driver of being able to solve them, is feeling more in control of a tough situation.  That’s probably the best thing I’ve learned over the years about the value of articulating problems and solutions.  For a leader, there is no worse feeling than being out of control…and no better feeling than the opposite.  Some level of control or confidence is required to get through tough times.

I suppose this post is not all that different from any 12-step program.  First, admit you have a problem.  Then you can go on to solve it.  But the point I am trying to make is more than that – it’s not just admitting you have a problem.  It’s actually diving in deep to the potential causes of the problem, and writing them down and (better) speaking them out loud a few times, that puts you on the road to solving those problems.

Filed under: Business, Return Path

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Jan 242013

How to Wow Your Manager

How to Wow Your Manager

Last week, I talked about how to Wow your employees.  Now I am going to discuss the converse of that – How to Wow your Manager.  Why Wow your manager?  Even if you are senior leader in an organization, the Wow factor is still important.

What impact does a Wow have?  It sends the signal that you are on top of things.  Symbolism is important.  It also advances the cause further and faster.  Why do you want to foster Wow moments with your team?  High performing teams have a lot of Wow going on.  If all members of a team see Wow regularly, they are all inspired to do more sooner, better.

Here are my top 10 examples on how to WOW your manager, along with the intended impact:

  1. Show up for every check-in with the full agenda – send it a day or more ahead (Give your manager time and space to prepare)
  2.  When you are asking your manager to communicate something (an email to the team, a reference letter, etc.), draft it for him or her (Editing is much easier than creating)
  3.  Do a start-stop-continue analysis once a year on all of your key activities (Make yourself as efficient and effective as possible – that’s your responsibility as much as your manager’s)
  4.  Own your own development plan and check in on it at least quarterly (Those who own their own career paths progress more quickly down them)
  5. Read a relevant business book and ask your manager to discuss insights with you (Staying current with best practices in your field – books, articles, blog posts, videos, mentors, lectures –  is key in a learning organization)
  6.  Dress for success – even casual can be neat and “client ready” (Your presence has an impact on those around you.  There’s no reason anyone should ever have to comment on your clothes, your hair, or any aspect of your personal hygiene)
  7. Respond to every email where you are on the TO line within a day, even if it’s to say you will respond longer form later (At Return Path,  you have to be in the jet stream of communications. Otherwise, you find yourself in the exhaust of the jet stream)
  8. End every meaningful interaction by asking for informal feedback on how you’re doing and what else you can be doing (Again, part of being in a learning organization…and taking more tasks on is always a sign that you are ready for more responsibility)
  9. Do something that’s not required but that you feel is a best practice (This shows you’re on top of your game.  One example:  I send the Board a summary, the details, and the YoY trending of all of my expenses every year.  I don’t have to, but enough CEOs out there have high profile expense problems that I decided it’s a good practice.  They all LOVE it)
  10.  (If you have staff reporting into you) Show up for every check-in with  your manager with a list of all staff issues and highlights (You need to bubble things up, both good and bad, so your manager is on top of his or her overall team and (a) is never surprised by events, (b) knows how best to handle skip-level communications, and (c) can think more broadly about resource deployment across the organization)

 

Filed under: Culture, Leadership, Management

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Nov 202012

Not Just About Us

Not Just About Us

When we updated our values this year, we felt there were a couple critical business elements missing from this otherwise “how” series of statements.  One thing missing was our clients and users!  So we added this value to our list:

Not Just About Us:  We know we’re successful when our clients are successful and our users are happy.

This may be one of the most straightforward statements of all our values, so this will be a short post.  We serve lots of constituencies at Return Path.  And we always talk about how we’re a “People First” organization and what that means.  I suppose that inherently means we are a “Client Second” organization, though I’m not sure we’d ever come out and say that.  We do believe that by being People First, we will ultimately do the best job for our customers. 

 That said, we aren’t in business just to build a great company or to have an impact on our community.  Or even our shareholders.  We are also in it for our customers.  Whether we are producing a product for mailers, for ESPs, for ISPs, for security companies, for agencies, or for end users, we can’t forget that as an important element of our success every day.

Sep 192012

Email Intelligence and the new Return Path

Welcome to the new Return Path.

For a tech company to grow and thrive in the 21st century it must be in a state of constant adaptation. We have been the global market leaders in email deliverability since my co-founder George Bilbrey coined that term back in 2002. In fact, back in 2008 we announced a major corporate reorganization, divesting ourselves of some legacy businesses in order to focus on deliverability as our core business.  

 Since then Return Path has grown tremendously thanks to that focus, but we have grown to the point where it’s time for us to redefine ourselves once again.  Now we’re launching a new chapter in the company’s history to meet evolving needs in our marketplace. We’re establishing ourselves as the global market leaders in email intelligence. Read on and I’ll explain what that means and why it’s important.

What Return Path Released Today

We launched three new products today to improve inbox placement rate (the new Inbox Monitor,  now including subscriber-level data), identify phishing attacks (Email Brand Monitor), and make it easier to understand subscriber engagement and benchmark your program against your competition (Inbox Insight, a groundbreaking new solution). We’ve also released an important research study conducted by David Daniels at The Relevancy Group.

The report’s findings parallel what we’ve been hearing more and more recently. Email marketers are struggling with two core problems that complicate their decision making: They have access to so much data, they can’t possibly analyze it fast enough or thoroughly enough to benefit from it; and too often they don’t have access to the data they really need.

Meanwhile they face new challenges in addition to the ones email marketers have been battling for years. It’s still hard to get to the inbox, and even to monitor how much mail isn’t getting there. It’s still hard to protect brands and their customers from phishing and spoofing, and even to see when mail streams are under attack. And it’s still hard to see engagement measurements, even as they become more important to marketing performance.

Email Intelligence is the Answer

Our solution to these problems is Email Intelligence. Email intelligence is the combination of data from across the email ecosystem, analytics that make it accessible and manageable, and insight that makes it actionable. Marketers need all of these to understand their email performance beyond deliverability. They need it to benchmark themselves against competitors, to gain a complete understanding of their subscribers’ experience, and to accurately track and report the full impact of their email programs.  In fact, we have redefined our company’s mission statement to align with our shift from being the global leader in Email Deliverability to being the global leader in Email Intelligence:

We analyze email data and build solutions that generate insights for senders, mailbox providers, and users to ensure that inboxes contain only messages that users want

The products we are launching today, in combination with the rest of our Email Intelligence Solution for Marketers that’s been serving clients for a decade, will help meet these market needs, but we continue to look ahead to find solutions to bigger problems. I see our evolution into an Email Intelligence company as an opportunity to change the entire ecosystem, to make email better, more welcome, more effective, and more secure.

David’s researchoffers a unique view of marketers’ place in the ecosystem, where they want to get to, how much progress they’ve made, and how big a lead the top competitors have opened up against the rest. (It can also give you a sense of where your efforts stack up vs. the rest of the industry.) There are definitely some surprises, but for me the biggest takeaway was no surprise at all: The factors that separate the leaders are essentially the core components of what we define as Email Intelligence.

Sep 132012

How Do You Eat an Elephant?

How Do You Eat an Elephant?

Credit to my colleague Chuck Drake for this one…but How Do You Eat an Elephant?  One Bite at a Time.  The David Allen school of time management (post, book)  talks about breaking your projects down into “Next Actions” so they don’t become overwhelming and can easily move forward one step at a time.

I think the same is true of organizational projects – perhaps even more so.  Any time we find ourselves swirling around a big initiative at Return Path, we are at our best when we ask ourselves some questions along these lines:

  • How can we be scrappier about this?
  • It it ok to be messy here…or at least not perfect?
  • What is the next milestone?
  • What else needs to be done until we learn the likely outcome?

We had a great example of this recently around rolling out a new product to our sales and service team.  The team is now pretty large – over 100 globally.  It was a daunting task to try to get all those people trained up at once.  The answer?  We took a bite out of the elephant.  We picked a couple of sales reps and a couple of account managers and started by training them on the new product.  Now we can figure out how to institutionalize learnings from the limited roll-out and figure out the next step from there.  Much easier than what otherwise would have been a pretty high-stakes project without enough learnings behind it, even though it will take a little longer and be a little messier.

Jan 102012

Articulating the Problem is the First Step Toward Solving It

A while back, we were having some specific challenges at Return Path that were *really* hard to diagnose.  It was like peeling the proverbial onion.  Every time we thought we had the answer to what was going on, we realized all we had was another symptom, not a root cause.  We’re a pretty analytical bunch, so we kept looking for more and more data to give us answers.  And we kept coming up with, well, not all that much, besides a lot of hand-wringing.

It wasn’t until I went into a bit of a cave (e.g., took half a day’s quiet time to myself) and started writing things down for myself that I started to get some clarity around the problem and potential solutions.  I literally opened up a blank Word document and started writing, and writing, and writing.  At first, the thoughts were random.  Then they started taking on some organization.  Eventually, I moved from descriptions of the problem to patterns, to reasons, to thoughts about solutions. 

But what really put me on a track to solutions (as opposed to just understanding the problem better) was starting to *talk* through the problems and potential solutions.  It didn’t take more than a couple conversations with trusted colleagues/advisors before I realized how dumb half of my thoughts were, both about the problems and the solutions, which helped narrow down and consolidate my options considerably.

Even better than solving the problems, or at least a driver of being able to solve them, is feeling more in control of a tough situation.  That’s probably the best thing I’ve learned over the years about the value of articulating problems and solutions.  For a leader, there is no worse feeling than being out of control…and no better feeling than the opposite.  Some level of control or confidence is required to get through tough times.

I suppose this post is not all that different from any 12-step program.  First, admit you have a problem.  Then you can go on to solve it.  But the point I am trying to make is more than that – it’s not just admitting you have a problem.  It’s actually diving in deep to the potential causes of the problem, and writing them down and (better) speaking them out loud a few times, that puts you on the road to solving those problems.

Filed under: Return Path, Strategy

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