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 actually in control of situations…but that we think we are: When the illusion of control collides with the reality of influence, it highlights the fable the entire illusion is based on…You’re responsible for what you do, but you don’t have authority and control over the outcome. We can hide from that, or we can embrace it. Moving onto the much longer HBR article, the key thesis there is that certainty shapes our behavior, as the more certain we are of a belief (whether it’s correct or incorrect), the more it influences us: In short, certainty is the catalyst that turns attitudes into action, […]


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 […]


October 8, 2015

The Problem with Titles

The Problem with Titles This will no doubt be a controversial post, and it’s more of a rant than I usually write. I’ll also admit up front that I always try to present solutions alongside problems…but this is one problem that doesn’t have an obvious and practical solution.  I hate titles. My old boss from years ago at MovieFone used to say that nothing good could come from either Titles or Org Charts – both were “the gift that keeps on giving…and not in a good way.” I hate titles because they are impossible to get right and frequently cause […]


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 […]


August 19, 2015

ReturnShip Program, Part III

I’ve written a couple times this past year about our ReturnShip program, which is a 4-month paid internship program designed for women who have been out of the workforce for more than 3 year to re-enter and  build credible and relevant experience, and to expand the talent pool for our organization.  I wrote about the initial concept when we launched v2 of the program, and then again when v2 concluded with the hiring of four of the six participants. I’m immensely proud of our organization for inventing the program (Andy Sautins, our CTO, gets credit) and for managing it so […]


May 14, 2015

Give the Gift of a 360 to Your Board of Directors

Give the Gift of a 360 to Your Board of Directors I recently ran our biennial Board 360, and I thought it would be interesting to share the details.  Attached are a few pages from, my book, Startup CEO:  A Field Guide to Scaling Up Your Business  which describe the process as well as share the survey I developed, which I adapted from one that the legendary Bill Campbell uses at larger public companies like Intuit. If you’ve read this blog a lot over the years, you know that we are big on 360s for staff at all levels at Return Path , […]


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 […]


January 8, 2015

How to Ask For a Raise

How to Ask For a Raise I’m guessing this topic will get some good play, both internally at Return Path and externally.  It’s an important topic for many reasons, although one of the best ones I can think of is that most people aren’t comfortable asking for raises (especially women and more introverted people, according to lots of research as well as Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In). My whole point in writing this is to make compensation part of normal conversations between a manager and a team member.  This requires the manager making it comfortable (without negative stigma), and the employee […]


October 23, 2014

Does size matter?

Does size matter? It is the age-old question — are you a more important person at your company if you have more people reporting into you?  Most people, unfortunately, say yes. I’m going to assume the origins of this are political and military. The kingdom with more subjects takes over the smaller kingdom. The general has more stars on his lapel than the colonel. And it may be true for some of those same reasons in more traditional companies. If you have a large team or department, you have control over more of the business and potentially more of the opportunities. […]


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 […]