March 17, 2020
Several years ago, I blogged about the training program we created for entry-level employees at Return Path, including an embedded presentation that we used to use (which I hope still works on the blog after all these years).
My brother Michael, who is an experienced manager and leader in the digital marketing space, recently sent me this email that I thought I’d share along the same lines to colleagues who are new to the working world. Enjoy!
I signed up to give advice on LinkedIn, and had someone just starting her first job reach out to me asking for general advice. I came up with the attached, and thought it might make for a good blog post on Only Once. If you decide not to publish it, I’m totally cool with that, but thought I would share it. After all, you’re only a brand new employee once too 🙂
1) Listen as much as possible. One of my mentors was fond of reminding me, “God gave you two ears and one mouth!” You should listen at least twice as much as you talk. Get to know your environment and the people around you. Take notes. Observe as much as possible. Learn how others are able to provide value to the organization. Start to anticipate little things that need to be done, and then do them before your manager asks you to. Then bit by bit, use your creativity to start to develop bigger hypotheses about how you can provide even greater value.
2) “In business, the best story wins.” That’s another quote from a former manager of mine that I have found to be universally true. People in business respond to many things: numbers, bullet points, graphs and visualizations. But they respond to all of those things better when they are wrapped in stories. A great book you can read about storytelling is not about business at all. It’s called “Story” by Robert McKee, and it’s about screenwriting. Despite its apparent lack of applicability, I assure you it will help you think about characters, goals, antagonists, drama, obstacles, and structure — all the elements that go into a good story. When you can present your hypotheses in the context of a story, about your business, your customers, what you want to achieve, how you will do it, and why it matters, you will build consensus and show leadership. Another great book you can read here, again, not about business at all, is “Sapiens” by Yuval Noah Harari. It really opened my eyes about how so much of human history and behavior is really just based on stories.
3) Be lean. There is another book you should read, called “The Lean Startup”, by Eric Ries. This one is actually about business :). As you think about your hypotheses, think of them in the context of how you can get to market quickly and inexpensively. How you can easily perform experiments that will test your hypotheses. Some of your experiments will not achieve your desired result, but it’s not a failure if you can learn something that helps you pivot towards success. Learnings enable you to adjust and refine your hypotheses as you try to find more value for your organization.
4) “Objections are requirements” and a corollary “ask questions, don’t make statements.” These two gems are from that first mentor in item number one. Even if you can tell great stories, and even if you can devise and execute lean experiments that achieve business results or provide validated learnings, sometimes “haters gonna hate.” There will always be inhibitors to your bold ideas, with reasons not to proceed with your experiments. Inertia is part of human nature. But don’t fear! When an inhibitor comes along, the first thing you do is start to ask questions. “Why do you object to x?” “Oh,” they’ll say, “because of y and z.” Then ask another question “So if we can resolve y and z, then can we proceed with x?” Rather than repeating yourself and making more statements, by asking questions you’ve just turned their objections into requirements. That inhibitor no longer has their reasons not to proceed with your bold idea. You’ve turned them from antagonists into allies. This kind of creative problem solving is critical to getting your experiments into market, and building consensus and showing your leadership without alienating anyone.
5) Ok I know I said four, but this one is optional (albeit important). Have fun! Do not take yourself or your role too seriously. Show your personality. Be yourself. That sort of general approach to work and life will draw people to you. They will be relaxed and comfortable around you. They will look forward to meetings with you. You will be successful if you are a good listener, a creative thinker with bold ideas, a fantastic storyteller, an agile experiment developer, and a leader who can build consensus and drive value. But if you are all those things, and you’re fun to be around? Then you will be unstoppable.
Thank you, Michael, for the contribution!