February 9, 2017

Book Short: Why Wait?

A Sense of Urgency, by John Kotter, is a solid book – not his best, but worth a read and happily short, as most business books should be.  I originally was going to hold off on writing this post until I had more time, but the subject matter alone made me think that was a mistake and that I should write it while it’s fresh in my mind.  <g> The three tools to fight complacency are the organizing framework for the book — bring the outside in, behave with urgency every day, and turn crises into opportunities — are all good thoughts, and good reminders of basic management principles.  But there were a couple other themes worth calling out even more. First up, the notion that there is a vicious cycle at play in that urgency begets success which creates complacency which then requires but does not beget urgency.  The theme is really that success can drive arrogance, stability, and scale that requires inward focus — not that success itself is bad, just that it requires an extra level of vigilance to make sure it doesn’t lead to complacency.  I’ve seen this cycle at different times over the years in lots of organizations, […]


January 12, 2017

Reboot – Back to Basics

As I mentioned in last week’s post, I’m rebooting my work self this year, and this quarter in particular.  One of the things I am doing is getting back to basics on a few fronts. Over the holiday break, as I was contemplating a reboot, I emailed a handful of people with whom I’ve worked closely over the years, but for the most part people with whom I no longer work day in day out, to ask them a few questions.  The questions were fairly backward looking: 1.       When I was at my best, what were my personal habits or routines […]


October 20, 2016

You, Too, Can Take Six Weeks Off

You, Too, Can Take Six Weeks Off Note:  I have been really quite on OnlyOnce for a few months, I realize.  It’s been a busy stretch at work and at home.  I keep a steady backlog of blog topics to write about, and finally today I’ve grabbed a couple minutes on a flight to knock one out.  We’ll see if this starts me back on a more steady diet of blogging – I miss it! I’ve written in the past about our sabbatical policy at Return Path, from what it is (here) to how much I enjoyed my own (here), […]


April 7, 2016

Managing Up

(The following post was written by one of Return Path’s long-time senior managers, Chris Borgia, who runs one of our data science teams and has run other support organizations in the past, both at Return Path and at AOL.  I don’t usually run guest posts, but I loved the topic with Chris suggested it, and it’s a topic that I’d only have a limited perspective on!) Managing Up in a Growing, Global Workplace For many years, I thought “managing up” was a cheap way of getting ahead. I thought someone who managed up was skilled at deceiving their boss into […]


January 28, 2016

Ideas Matter Less Than Execution Which Matters Less Than Timing Which Matters Less Than Luck

Well, that’s a mouthful.  Let me break it down. Ideas Matter Less Than Execution Execution Matters Less Than Timing Timing Matters Less Than Luck There’s a persistent myth about entrepreneurs as heroes – the people with the brilliant ideas and Eureka moments that bring companies to life and create success.  I’ve never believed in that myth, or at least not in its universality, as I’ve always valued both ideation and execution in terms of business building.  But as I was thinking about that construct more the other day, it occurred to me that there’s actually a hierarchy of the two, […]


January 7, 2016

The Illusion and (Mis)uses of Certainty

September’s Harvard Business Review had a really thought-provoking article for me called How Certainty Transforms Persuasion.  Seth Godin wrote a blog post around the same time called The Illusion of Control.  The two together make for an interesting think about using information to shape behavior as leaders.  I’ve often been accused of delivering too many mixed messages to the company at all-hands meetings, so I enjoyed the think, though not in the way I expected to. Let’s start with Seth’s thesis, which is easier to get through.  Essentially he says that nothing is certain, at best we can influence events, we’re never […]


November 12, 2015

You Have To Be All In, Until You’re Not

One of the things I’ve learned over the years is that as the organization scales, you have to be all-in, until you’re not.  What the heck does that mean? It means that, other than confiding your indecision to a very small number of trusted advisors on a given issue, indecision is poison to the people around you and to the organization in general.  So even if you’re thinking of doing something new or different or making a tough call on something, you generally need to project confidence until you’ve made the call. One example of this is around a decision […]


September 17, 2015

The Playbook

As Return Path gets older, we are having more and more alums go on to be successful senior executives at other companies – some in our space, some not.  It’s a great thing, and something I’m really proud of.  I was wondering the other day if there’s effectively some kind of “RP Playbook” that these people have taken with them.  Here’s what I learned from asking five of them. People-related practices are all prominent as part of the Playbook, not surprising for a People First company.  Our Peer Recognition program, which is almost as old as the company and has […]


August 27, 2015

The Joy of Coaching

I was the head coach of my two older kids’ little league team this past spring.  The whole thing was a little bit of an accident – I vaguely volunteered for something and ended up in charge.  The commitment was a little daunting, but I was ok with it since the season was only a couple months long, it was both Casey and Wilson, and both kids, especially Wilson, are really into baseball.  Other than helping out a bit here and there, I’d never coached a sports team before. What started off as an unclear assignment ended up as one […]


April 29, 2015

ReturnShip Program, Part II

Today marks the graduation for the six women who participated in our inaugural ReturnShip program, which I wrote about here and which was written up at least twice, in Harvard Business Review and in the San Francisco Chronicle. The ReturnShip was a 14-week paid internship program designed for women who have been out of the workforce for more than 1 year to re-enter and  build credible and relevant experience, and to feed our funnel of prospective employees. While there are still a couple things in the air, my guess is that at least three, and as many as five, of […]


September 25, 2014

PTJD

Post Traumatic Job Disorder. As we have been scaling up Return Path, we have been increasingly hiring senior people in from the outside. We believe in promoting from within and do it all the time, but sometimes you need an experienced leader who has operated at or ahead of the scale you’re at.  Someone with deep functional expertise and a “been there, done that” playbook. When you get a hire like this right, it’s amazing how much that kind of person gets done, how quickly. One of the pitfalls of those hires, though, is cultural fit. Many of the larger […]