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Little Things (#178)

A few months back, I received an e-mail newsletter from a local law firm about an upcoming workshop. Normally, a simple e-mail blast like this would not raise my blood pressure, but I had unsubscribed from this same e-mail several times by this point. The last time I’d received their newsletter I even e-mailed the sender and politely asked to be removed from the list.

But here it was again.

After some deep breathing and recognition that it was a First World frustration, I decided to spend a few minutes investigating why the unsubscribe was not working.

The first thing I discovered was that the e-mail address displayed in the “This e-mail was sent to X” section was not mine. I then noticed that the newsletter was actually being forwarded from one person in the law firm to another.

After piecing it all together, I realized that someone in the law firm’s marketing division was creating the e-mail through a newsletter system, then forwarding it to someone who was then sending it out to a group of people using BCC – all from an e-mail to which they were not responding. Because everyone was getting the same copy, this process made the unsubscribe function useless.

Upon my discovery, I reached out to one of the managing partners of the firm whom I knew and shared my feedback. To his credit, he was very apologetic and said he would dig into the issue. He did and the e-mails have since stopped.

Although this was a frustrating process, it highlighted some important lessons:

1.It’s become a common practice in business today to run processes on autopilot or rely on automation without reexamining the steps involved, checking the work or thinking about the impact on the end user. The focus tends to be on volume, not quality. The problem with this is that first impressions matter—a lot.

Had I been looking to hire a law firm, I very likely would have been discouraged from working with this particular one due to their lack of communication and attention to detail, despite the fact that they were offering a free benefit. The same is true for salespeople who send the same automated template e-mail five times as an initial outreach. Or the woman who reached out to me a few weeks ago about having a well-known guest on my “podcast about X.” High volume rarely makes up for poor quality.

2. Across an organization, excellence is a holistic commitment to quality. Two of my favorite stories about excellence relate to making copies and fixing a boiler.  Inherent in the principle of excellence is improvement. Being an excellent horse and buggy repair shop in 2019 cannot really be considered excellence.  If there is something you have been doing for a while without any change, it might be time to reexamine that process, whether it still works, is relevant or could be done better.

At Acceleration Partners, we frequently talk about how we have an open source operating system of best practices that we want employees to follow. At the same time, employees are expected to look for “bugs” in the system and, more importantly, identify ways we can upgrade “the code.” If our operating system doesn’t change over time, we can’t excel. Excellence is both a top-down and bottom-up framework. When you do the little things right, you’re more likely to get the big things right.

3. Finally, ask for feedback. Feedback is critical to improvement. It’s a gift to receive, even when it’s tough to hear. If you react defensively when being given feedback, people will naturally hold back the next time which will prevent you from learning about your blind spots.

Quote of The Week

“Excellence is doing ordinary things extraordinarily well.”

 

-John W. Gardner

 

 

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Going Dark (#166)

As a professional services firm, prospective clients often ask members of our team to provide detailed proposals, estimates and supporting materials as part of their evaluation process. While there’s no guarantee we will get the work, fulfilling these requests takes time, energy and resources, something that most prospects value and appreciate. However, over the past few years, I’ve noticed a rise in professional “ghosting.”

Ghosting has become part of the dating nomenclature. Apparently, it’s the practice of ending a personal relationship with someone by abruptly – and without explanation—withdrawing from all communication with them. People with avoidant personality types seem to think this approach is faultless. But in reality, it’s just rude and disrespectful.

The fact that ghosting seems to be on the rise within professional interactions is disappointing. As mentioned above, we have seen our fair share of prospective clients suddenly stop all communication after we submit proposal information to them. Ironically, but maybe not coincidently, it is often been the ones who asked us to do the most work on the shortest notice who don’t have the decency to follow-up or reply.

I have also read a number of articles about the growing practice of ghosting in recruiting, whereby candidates who take the time to come in for an in-person interview never hear from the company again. Not only is this tremendously unprofessional, it may be psychologically damaging as it leaves the candidate to wonder if they did something wrong or offensive rather than it being because the hiring team just decided to go in a different direction.

If you have been practicing ghosting in any part of your life, it’s time to stop. Here’s why:

  • Ghosting is disrespectful; disrespect creates ill will and distrust that is often irreparable. It also provides fodder for others to say negative things about you or your company via a public forum.
  • It’s a small world out there. You never know when your ghosting may come back to haunt you. We’ve even had people apply for a job at our company and forget that they ghosted us in some way years before.  Similarly, candidates who have been ghosted are highly unlikely to say good things about you or your organization out in the marketplace or on review sites. And they will never be a customer.
  • Being avoidant and indifferent in your communication is a bad look. It conveys cowardice and disregard.

Adam Grant recently wrote a great article on why he believes ignoring someone’s email is an act of incivility and how none of us are really “too busy” to respond.

If you care about someone or have used their time, have the courtesy to get back to them, even if it’s uncomfortable because the response isn’t positive. I’ve always found that people can handle the truth when it’s given respectfully.

The point is, be excellent in everything you do, even in how you learn to turn people down or say no. Taking this a step further, I’d suggest you actually go out of your way to respond to anyone who reaches out to you.

Years ago, I made the decision to try and respond to anyone who writes a personal note to me, even though my response is often a polite “no” to most requests for my time. Simply taking the time to reply and show respect for their time reflects my personal brand and our company’s values. Often, the person is both thankful and surprised to hear from me, meaning that I have exceeded their expectations.

If you ask for or use someone’s time or energy, respond back to them. Don’t burn your bridges by ghosting.

 

Quote of The Week

“How we do everything is how we anything.”

 

Attributed to Martha Beck

 

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Truth to Power (#162)

Olivia Bland, a recent university graduate, made it to the final round of Web Applications UK’s interview process: a sit-down with the company’s CEO, Craig Dean. When she met with him, Bland was surprised when Dean began scrolling through her Spotify account and mocking her music tastes. The situation grew even more bizarre when he started asking her a lot of personal questions (“are your parents still together?”) and then tearing apart the information she had submitted in her application.

According to Bland, towards the end of the interview, Dean asked her how she thought it went. He then proceeded to answer his own question by saying, “I’ll tell you how it went” and pointed out all her flaws in the interview.

She writes that the entire two-hour process, which nearly brought her to tears, was comparable to “being forced to sit in a room with a vindictive ex-partner.”

Perhaps the most amazing part of the story is that she was offered the job.

Appalled by the experience and treatment she received, Bland decided to decline the company’s offer—and do so publicly on Twitter. The email she penned to the company after the interview and posted in a tweet has since been shared over 41,000 times.

Company leaders should take note. From Yelp, TripAdvisor and Glassdoor to Medium, Twitter and Facebook, today’s technology and social media engagement has made it make it easier for people to hold businesses and individuals accountable for their practices and behavior.

Before these online platforms existed, people like Ms. Bland had little recourse or power to combat the behavior of an overly-aggressive company CEO or business leader. Now, they can do so publicly—and there are real repercussions for these actions, especially for smaller businesses. A few bad reviews are all it takes to drive prospective employees and customers elsewhere.

Of course, review fraud is certainly a reality. Twitter mobs have become more common, as have presumptions of guilt until someone can prove their innocence online. That said, more often than not, when there is smoke there’s likely to be a fire, even a small one.

What I find fascinating about Ms. Bland’s experience and the many others that are shared online is that holding people accountable via a public forum seems to have more impact than if the obligation is left to internal stakeholders.

Shortly after Bland’s tweet went viral, the company’s board of directors issued a statement that it had conducted an internal investigation and found that “no bullying or intimidation occurred.” I find this conclusion lacking– for a few reasons.

First, from what Ms. Bland has reported, it does not appear that the board reached out to or spoke with her about her experience before drawing their conclusions. Second, based on how quickly the board issued its response, their “investigation” seems to have been conducted in haste. And third, a scan of Web Application UK’s Glassdoor page describes almost identical behavior by their CEO from others who interviewed with the company.

I am sure some inquisitive reporter will be digging into the company’s board and its objectivity. Absolute power has a way of corrupting, as demonstrated by recent downfalls of several prominent CEOs.

Here’s a good rule of thumb that someone very wise once shared with me: If your actions, behaviors or decisions were posted publicly on the cover of the Sunday paper, how would you feel about it? Would you feel comfortable defending what was written, even if it was true?

This “Sunday paper test” is worth careful consideration. Would you ever want your Sunday morning paper to describe your interviewing process – involving your CEO, no less – as “humiliating,” “bizarre,” “brutal” or “demeaning?”

If not, think about what you or your organization’s leadership should do differently to ensure you’re proud to back up what’s said about you – online or offline.

 

Quote of The Week

“To be accountable means that we are willing to be responsible to another person for our behavior and it implies a level of submission to another’s opinions and viewpoints.”

 

Wayde Goodall

 

 

 

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Closing Time (#150)

Let’s face it, it’s pretty easy to be a great leader and kind to others when things are going well.  When sales are doubling or your company has raised millions of dollars, being positive, doing the right thing and keeping the troops motivated doesn’t take a lot of skill or effort.

It’s when adversity hits that you see people’s true colors and how they perform under pressure. How they act when their backs are up against the wall and there are no good options is often the truest reflection of a person’s character.

For me, this is the real test of leadership. I have lost respect for many leaders in my career after seeing them turn from Jekyll to Hyde after even a little pressure was applied.

One of the greatest leaders of our generation is Danny Meyer, the founder and CEO of Union Square Hospitality Group. USHP owns and operates such restaurants as Gramercy Tavern, Blue Smoke and Union Square Cafe. Meyer is also the founder of Shake Shack.

Known for his team-based, customer-centric approach, Meyer builds successful businesses because he truly cares about his employees. The training required even to wait tables at his restaurants is unprecedented.  He’s also pioneered a guiding principal called “Enlightened Hospitality,” an approach that prioritizes employees first and foremost so they can deliver an amazing experience for guests.

Back in 2006, Meyer published his first book, Setting the Table. On the very first page he wrote, “So far, I haven’t had the experience of closing any of [my restaurants], and I pray I never will.”

Four years later, he made the difficult decision to close his first restaurant, Tabla, as it was unprofitable.

In an industry where this news would usually be communicated to suppliers and employees on a padlocked door when they showed up to work or for a delivery, Meyer chose to take a different path.

He provided three months’ notice, early and transparent communication to all stakeholders, and career support for his employees. Years later, many of those people have successful careers within his company and beyond.

And he’s about to do it again, having announced earlier this year that the North End Grill will close at the end of 2018. He transparently communicated the restaurant’s closing a good nine months before its official close date, giving his employees and stakeholders time to adjust. He also committed to helping each of his employees transfer to a new job.

In discussing the decision in a powerful LinkedIn post, Meyer wrote:

“When reality dictates closing, we have a choice: to do so in secrecy and shame, or instead, with dignity, integrity, and pride. Uplifting outcomes (some of which can take time to reveal themselves) usually ensue from taking the latter path: your team grows tighter and stronger from weathering adversity. It’s actually a painful, but incredible learning experience. You build trust with guests, suppliers, investors and all stakeholders by upholding your values during difficult times. And you benefit from the introspection needed to reflect upon and learn from what went wrong. It’s a lesson every entrepreneur can practice with failures big and small”

How you deal with adversity is ultimately the greatest test of your character and leadership; it’s clear that Danny Meyer is both a stand-up human and leader. Rather than being a barrier to his success, his generosity and care for his people is the reason for it.

 

Quote of The Week

“Transparency, honesty, kindness, good stewardship, even humor, work in businesses at all times.”

John Gerzema

 

 

 

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Art of Brevity (#148)

Last week was the deadline to turn in the draft of my next book, Outperform, which will be released next Fall and features the principles of capacity building in Friday Forward.

Before submitting it, I was asked to cut about 1/3 of the content to get it to the targeted length. A key tip from my editor was to eliminate parts that were not as valuable for the reader. I thought this was going to be a much harder process but discovered that it forced me to make points more succinctly, which made it better. I worked harder so the reader won’t have to.

I then thought about how often this dynamic comes up in our communication. We struggle to get to the point, either because we haven’t taken the time to be clear or maybe or we don’t want to be clear.

Years ago, when I was directly managing affiliate programs, I would reach out to someone I suspected of engaging in fraudulent activity for an explanation of their tactics. They would often respond with a long, vague e-mail filled with marketing jargon. I would then ask for a simple screen shot of their methods and get no reply.

To this day, I remain wary of people who can’t get to the point quickly. It’s not that they are up to no good (as in the example above), it’s just a poor first impression and weakens the message.

A great framework for communicating clearly and succinctly is to focus on three core elements: What, Why and How, in that order.

  1. What do you want from someone; what do you want to share?
  2. Why does/should it matter to the recipient?
  3. How can they help or benefit by what you are telling them?

While some believe that starting with the “why” is important, it’s critical to first establish the “what” to capture your audiences’ attention in the first few seconds.

The why comes into play after that. Yet, interestingly, so many fail to address it. For example:

People regularly reach out to me to offer their company’s services to our clients. They establish the “what” (sell their stuff to our clients) and even the “how” (they want me to introduce them to our clients), but they fail to address the “why” of how doing this would benefit me or our company.

They are focused on their own agenda, not on creating value for others. And this is why they often don’t get a reply from me.

Take time to get your message clear before sharing it – and don’t mistake length or volume for quality. Sometimes the most effective messages are the briefest (e.g. “Just do it”).

And there you have it. The shortest Friday Forward of 2018 using the What, Why, How framework.

 

Quote of The Week

“If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter.”

Mark Twain

 

 

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Respectful Disagreement (#141)

In the Pulitzer Prize-winning biographical book, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, author and American historian, Doris Kearns Goodwin, tells the story of President Lincoln’s decision to fill his cabinet with political adversaries, namely the men who ran against him in the contentious 1860 election.

Lincoln’s explanation for this decision was that the country needed the strongest, most capable men to lead it; collectively, these men could offer that. From Lincoln’s perspective, just because they had been bitter rivals during the election didn’t justify depriving the country of their talents and leadership.

His determination was both unprecedented and reflective of Lincoln’s own advanced leadership and high-degree of self-confidence.

Fast forward to 2018 and this approach to policy-building and leading a nation could not be more divergent.

Sadly, many political “leaders” and populists have embraced an autocratic, “with me or against me” approach, demanding blind support. They surround themselves with “yes men” and “yes women” who tell them what they want to hear and reinforce their existing positions and beliefs.

Interestingly, today’s most successful and admired business leaders do just the opposite.

They are more approachable than any other time in history, recognizing the growing ineffectiveness of the command-and-control leadership style. They are far more transparent than their predecessors were, typically operate in an open-book style, and welcome feedback and criticism provided by their employees, clients, peers and partners.  And the very best understand how to harness those insights to stay ahead and create new solutions and products.

In other words, they want to get it right, not always be right.

Ray Dalio, legendary investor, founder of Bridgewater Associates and author of the one of the most invaluable leadership books, Principles, writes about the importance of building a team that is comfortable with conflict and challenging each other. He also addresses the danger of confirmation bias born from surrounding ourselves with people who tell us what we want to hear.

Dalio believes that “the greatest tragedy of mankind comes from the inability of people to have thoughtful disagreement to find out what’s true.”

One of his principles for life and business is called “believability-weighted decision making.” This approach seeks to get all ideas on the table, but at the same time, give more weight to people who have demonstrated repeated knowledge or authority on a subject at hand.

Like Lincoln, the best leaders triangulate their view with believable people who are willing to disagree and challenge their closely-held assumptions and beliefs. They do this because they want to significantly raise the probability of the best outcome or decision.

The late senator, John McCain, personified this principle in both his personal, professional and political life. Some could argue that he channeled Lincoln posthumously by asking three of his political adversaries – George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Joe Biden—to deliver a eulogy at his funeral.

Bush and Obama both defeated McCain in his two attempts to be president; Joe Biden was a long-time political adversary of McCain’s in the Senate and also one of his closest friends.

If you are building a team anywhere in your life or business, ask yourself, “Am I looking to surround myself with the ‘most capable’ men and women? Or am I looking for an echo chamber?”

The answer to these two questions could ultimately determine your legacy.

 

Quote of the Week

“Exemplary leaders reward dissent. They encourage it. They understand that, whatever momentary discomfort they experience as a result of being told they might be wrong, it is more than offset by the fact that the information will help them make better decisions.”

Warren Bennis

 

 

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