Read this post today via Hacker News, about the power (and need) for writing and documentation in distributed orgs. Thoughtful post, and a good reminder for us at work.
And, happily, it reminded me of the Non-Conformist Oath, too.
Read this post today via Hacker News, about the power (and need) for writing and documentation in distributed orgs. Thoughtful post, and a good reminder for us at work.
And, happily, it reminded me of the Non-Conformist Oath, too.
I just completed a project for a client that included a review of their digital marketing capabilities. Our job was to support the leadership team in developing a roadmap to improve a couple key marketing capabilities so they could go from “good” to “great” over the next couple years. It’s work every marketing leader should do.
As I met with leaders inside the org and as I tapped other folks I know outside the org for input, i realized the classic consultants dilemma: the roadmap is only the map. You might have the best plan in the world, but you need good drivers to reach the destination.
After we wrapped up the project, I knew the real work would come down to leadership: Decision making, maintaining prioritization, supporting the team, advising “up” and “around” all while delivering the “good manager” behaviors. Luckily, the folks we worked with were skilled, experienced leaders who were committed to their team and building the teams’ skills, first. (It was inspiring to hear them talk about growing the team’s abilities while rebuilding the capabilities). They are pros. They know how to do the job of leading a team inside a complex org.
But, i think leading the team is only half the battle. They also have to manage themselves.
I wish our work would have addressed need all leaders have today to build (or rebuild) their own personal leadership skills. Like any leaders of change, they’re going to need the “traditional” competencies a good manager/director/vp needs – Develop a vision, communicate the vision, create strategies, guide the team, build a plan, deliver results, etc – but they’re also going to need to be high performing at some personal leadership (or personal management) skills to maintain effectiveness. How do you fight politics? How do you recognize when someone else’s skills are getting in your way? How do you sustain the energy and effort to make real change happen?
Every leader today needs to build their own capacity to drive change and sustain their teams, otherwise the org and the work will suck the energy out of them.
What are the critical personal leadership capabilities a Director or VP needs to have today, to keep moving forward and not get crushed by change? What’s in your “stack” for leading yourself? Are you working on:
I’m working on understanding my own “capabilities” stack as a leader/manager/individual. It’s definitely one of those “the more you know the less you know” situations. So, i’m trying to connect with more leaders to see how they are, in effect, managing themselves. I’m not looking for “hacks” or shortcuts, but i am looking for the ways these leaders are building a practice around their own development.
Ultimately, i wonder if I need my own Capability Maturity Model and my own roadmap, to get me from “current state” to my desired “future state”. Who do i hire to help me with that?
Beyond these skills, it’s also clear that every leader needs to have, for themselves, some assets to help them in their work. It’s the sort of obvious stuff – A clear vision for themselves, a trusted set of advisors, tools to help them learn and develop their skills, a sense of their own history, an actual plan to grow and develop – but that’s for another post.
Staying Optimistic At Work When Everything is Hard
We’re now seven months into the slog of this pandemic. Those of us who can work — and can work from home — are probably feeling fortunate that, despite the hassle of zoom and video calls, we’re able to keep the train mostly on the tracks.
But, I’m sensing that, for a lot of us, the routine is starting to feel a little bit empty. Like the movie Ground Hog day, but without Bill Murray. Maybe our moods are getting a little jagged, and the humor is getting a little dark. And, maybe that future we’re building towards is getting a little cloudier. We’re trying to do good work, meaningfully, to create something better and, if we’re lucky, more useful. This rock won’t push itself up that hill, you know.
But, it’s getting harder. Trying to do it from the basement or home office is going to get lonely, if it hasn’t already. After a while, it’s all going to feel like most days are our worst days, when work is bullshit and we can’t really see the point of it. (Or, maybe the work really is bullshit, pandemic or not; that’s another post)
It doesn’t help that the virtual world we’re working in is overcooked and populated by a lot of empty wannabes. Those of us who pretty much live and work online are pepper sprayed with positivity and hustle-secrets by bros hawking their classes and private communities. I read too many click-baity headlines and I get worried for those under-employed journalism kids getting crappy hourly wages to crank them out, seeking just a bit of a career toehold so they can get off their parents’ payroll. There’s too much glossy snark and manufactured “I’m living my truth” first person stuff from stay at home moms and dads who dream of becoming the next Tim Ferriss or Glennon Doyle, the edge cases who actually did it, who jumped off the “real job” grind. I’m avoiding Youtube because it seems like every video is over-dosed with ads featuring some guy pitching me their course that will teach me how to sell my course, so I don’t have to work for the man anymore.
The relentless hustle and commercialism of this new workplace is toxic and transactional like the old one, just in a different way. It just reinforces the fear among us working alone, at home, that we’re not only in the wrong job, but that we’re not trying hard enough.
So how do we stay grounded? How do we see the meaning in the work, the satisfaction in the routine?
On my best days, I remind myself, in the words of the philosopher, that I am putting myself to the fullest possible use, which is all I think that any conscious entity can ever hope to do.
Remember how Phil Connors escaped the bleakness of those Feb 2 day-loops? Hint: It wasn’t just waking up next to Andie McDowelI.
On my good days, I can wake up and see pretty clearly what we’re trying to do at Fahren:
• There’s a leader out there, trying to make something important happen at their job.
• It doesn’t matter too much what it is, but they’re probably trying to put some technology to better use.
• They might be trying to bring something new into the world.
• They know there’s a better way to work, some techniques they can use to do something smarter.
• They want to keep growing and getting better. As workers, as leaders. As humans. They might be using their job to enact some real improvements in how they think, how they act and how they perform.
• They want help. They’re open to getting some ideas and support from a team that has gone through it before.
• Maybe they just want to hire an outside firm so they can work with likeminded people, so they don’t get stuck being a lifer in the old way.
• We can help. We can help that person solve their problem, to learn something new, to get a job done.
• We can help them make their own transformation, while they are changing the work they do.
Our chosen work is to help people develop and grow while they accomplish something important using the best, leading edge techniques and tools. That’s not a mission statement, or a slogan. It’s a reminder, a commitment.
Maybe that’s too optimistic? Perhaps a little naive? Well, that’s the choice I’m making. It’s how I want to view the world we’re working in now and I’ll keep doing it, even after the pandemic is over. I want my business to be successful, but I can’t keep working on it if cash is the only thing that drops to the bottom line.
We’re all swimming in tech. Technology is the water. But, when we click off zoom and look out the window, we have each other, good and bad, on the other side.
We work with people. We’re working for them, and in their own way, they’re working through us.
I don’t want to be stuck in a loop of emails and Zoom. This choice is my way out.
We’re a couple years into our “startup” journey with Fahren and, oh man, am I learning a lot about how NOT to manage my schedule. But, I think there might be a better way.
While I’m proud of what we’ve been able to do in our short time, I’m one of those guys that can’t stop thinking about how to do more and do it better. As the CEO/Founder, it’s my responsibility to make sure we’re on track and driving this whole thing forward. It’s humbling to say it, but “clock management”- my time management skills (or lack thereof) – might be one of the things that is creating drag for us. If we want to accelerate, I have to be better at GSD.
My whole career has been an attempt to excel in what Paul Graham calls the “manager schedule”. Its been a schedule designed around 1-2 hour meetings, lot’s of variety throughout the day, and, a blend between quick decisions and deep consideration. Successful managers and directors and VPs were the busy ones, stacked up in meeting. A day full of meetings typically indicated more busy-ness and, by the power of the transitive property, more busy-ness meant “success”. In other words, a typical workday in corporate America is mixed bag of start/stop, high and low pressure, inefficiency. In those days, I had to come into work at 5 AM to get my “deep work” done in the quiet hours before the meetings started. It was a weird schedule, but, I was pretty good at that.
The team at GoKart Labs (RIP) were super talented makers, some of the best, most creative folks I’ve ever worked with. There, I learned the importance of the “Maker” schedule, where the focus was on the deep work that resulted in smart, clever solutions to gnarly problems, whether it was technical, creative or product strategy. I understood (and still do) the problem of context switching, and the lost creative momentum and productivity that happens when you are on the hook to make something great, but your day is broken up into 1 hour meetings. Back then, because I was a manager at the time, that was sort of a theoretical problem. Now the shit is real to me.
At Fahren, we’re building the business and, as the CEO/Founder, I’m a both a manager and builder, too. I’m a maker of things: Proposals, strategies, concepts, blog posts, etc. I’m supposed to be both a doer while I work “on” the business (i.e. figure out our healthcare plan options, pick some software for X), a doer while I work “in” the business (e.g. work on client engagements) and a maker (of ideas, posts, industry analysis etc). I’ve been trying to do all of it on a “Managers” schedule and it’s not working especially well. I have to make some changes, fast.
This isn’t an unexplored dilemma. These days, we’re all dealing with it to some extent. But, it’s one thing when your clock management skills get in your own way, and another when your lack of skills is holding back the rest of your team. Managing the balance between the two types of work is, I believe, a critical skill that any “ready” leader needs to hone. So, I’m going to try a couple adjustments.
I’m going to try this for the 3rd quarter of 2020 and see how it goes. I’ll make adjustments at the end of September. If you’ve cracked the code on this balance, please let me know how you did it. I’m all ears.
Kevin Bauer is, in some ways, a modern marketing unicorn. He’s got deep e-commerce experience, deep data & analytics experience, and general management/P&L experience. Plus, he’s got intrapreneurial experience, starting up new corporate ventures internationally. And now, he’s getting his entrepreneurial merit badge as the founder of Kessel Digital. It’s safe to say he’s been around the block in more countries that most of us.
Because of the breadth and depth of Kevin’s experience, I was curious about some of his most formative experiences. You know that saying, “No business plan survives first contact with the customer”? Well, Kevin lived it as key part of a team launching a European subsidiary.
“We were the huge dominant company in the US and so sure all we’re going to do is you know right click copy and paste”. Of course, there were surprises and hurdles and, as you might imagine, things didn’t go exactly according to plan. Most importantly, one of the key consumer behaviors that drove the business in the US didn’t exist in Europe. The team had to start over after trying for months to get established.
The key leadership lesson: You have to support a team through the various stages of frustration (even when you’re feeling it too!), and support them through the pivots. All without decreasing the level of effort or intensity.
Pivots are hard in any situation, but especially when the urgency for results is mixed with the real pressures of a business closure if those results aren’t met. Leaders like Kevin have to make a tough ask of their team members who might be battling fear: “I need you to embrace that fear”.
Kevin’s insight: If you’re the leader, and you’re asking your team to embrace their fear, you have your own special obligation: Radical Transparency. “I had to be radically transparent about the plans, and how we were going to achieve it. And who was going to have to do what and what the risk was. ”
This sounds pretty straightforward, but there’s a critical piece woven through the commitment to radical transparency. You better have a really good plan. “If you’re radically transparent but you have no plan and if you’re not organized in your communication… Yeah, then it’s…we’re all just running off the cliff.”
As Kevin and I wrapped our conversation, I was looking at the concept of transparency differently than I had. Transparency is obviously a clarifier. But it’s really the way to be the most respectful to the people you’re working with and to keep the focus on the action plan, not the anxiety your team might be feeling. It’s a key tool to keeping the energy and effort up through the pivots.
Craig Pladson is a marketer and leader I’ve been following for years. I met him after he heckled me (in a good natured way!) at a MiMA talk years ago and we’ve been in an ongoing discussion about brands, digital, marketing and business ever since. The conversations spanned times when we worked together, times when I needed advice, and most recently when i was trying to get smarter about what’s coming next for brands.
He’s on a new adventure now, building his own consulting practice based on his experience at Digital River, Colle McVoy, General Mills, GoKart Labs, and Ovative.
While we talked at length about brands and what’s going to happen to marketing over the next couple years, I really enjoyed hearing him talk about his growth as a leader. I asked him about the experiences where he learned the most, the ones that created the environment for accelerated development. I was expecting it would have been his first job out of school (as part of the Digital River mafia), but it was his most recent role that generated the most discussion. It became clear that one of the drivers to accepting the role was specifically because it would stretch him, an opportunity to, as he said, “put myself in a position where I was intensely learning. I thrive in that type of environment… it keeps me dusted off and pushes me to take a modern approach in how I solve marketing problems.”
The role was in a fast-growth, high performing organization staffed by great talent. Smart people moving at digital speed. So, how do you lead a team, keep them moving fast, when you’re learning, too? How does a leader strike the balance between fast and frantic, especially when the leader is learning alongside the team? Craig reminded me that a good leader has to make sure “there’s clarity and a forecasted roadmap of where we’re going and why” but that leader must also support a team that’s learning through the inevitable adjustments and pivots. By getting work into market, the team can watch and adjust based on the results, knowing “feedback will start to direct you in a way that continues to lessen the subjectivity of it. “
I’m someone that takes pride in my ability to stay curious and open to new ideas, but I was inspired by Craig’s intentional, focused effort to create the hard situations where experience transforms into insight. He made it hard on purpose! I’m generally kind of lazy, but when I consider my own history, I know Craig’s instinct is right: Good stuff inevitably comes out of those “crucible” moments, where pressure, curiosity, opportunity and experience get blended and good ideas come out as a result. If we want to keep open, keep growing, we have to seek out and embrace those hard moments, the ones that test us, but put us in a position to learn.
I’m no longer sure of what week we’re in of the “Quarantine Times” era but it feels like we’ve been at this for a looong time. As I’ve been talking with people for work and for life, I’m sensing a rising sense of fatigue inside all the energy that carried us through the first part of this time. It’s not anger, it’s not outright frustration, but it feels like we are (or at least I am) stuck in the mud. Seth Levine is right to call it the Week Six Slump.
This is going to be a time in our lives when we look back with a strange brew of emotions and questions, but right now, in this particular week, I’m in a funk of sorts. I realize how good my family has got it, relatively speaking and i am aware of the privilege that affords me the opportunity to keep working in these times, from home. Work at Fahren is going better than we expected during quarantine. My sons are holding up really well, despite very significant impacts in their schooling and social lives. My family is safe. There are (probably temporary) signs of a comeback in the stock market. Folks want to get on with it, but I’m feeling, well, blah. Funky, not in a good way. Blue.
Here’s my plan to get out of it:
I know we’ll all get through this and we’ll get over this hump. But, in the meantime, you might get a call or an email from me asking for a chat or to let me bounce an idea off you.
This is probably the most useful work-related podcast I’ve listened to (and I’ve listened to hundreds of hours of podcasts). This is highly relevant for you if:
The key insight is really kind of obvious, but comes across clearly here: We’re not actually rationale beings, that what we’re experiencing may be driven more by what we *feel* vs what is actually happening. Our own brains make up stories about what’s happening and why and these stories – the narratives we fit our experiences into so they make sense to us – get in the way of true clarity about what’s really occurring and how we interpret the experience.
Jeff Hunter (of Talentism) is a guy that’s been talking to, hiring and coaching top leaders for years. He’s got deep experience making hard choices and he, in a way, unloads a lot of it in this talk. I’m specifically interested in his experiences at Bridgewater, Ray Dalio’s investment firm.
Hunter makes a persuasive case that we should embrace the confusion we feel when things get don’t go as planned and we should see confusion as a sign that we’re in a position to learn. We should be examining the gap between what we expected to happen vs what actually happened and seek to understand our assumptions and our knowledge gaps.
Finally, this whole podcast is worth it for three things:
Background: Shane Parish has been inspiring me via his Farnham Street platform where he focuses on tools that help you make decisions, better. I love the mission, and for years he’s been providing a ton of great resources for leaders. His curiosity is on display in every interview and he might be the perfect guy for this interview.
We’re building Fahren to be a leadership solutions company. We want to become a key partner for organizations that are differentiating themselves by investing in and – yes – innovating in the ways they deploy their leadership talent.
One of the planks of our business plan is to focus on Interim roles in key leadership positions: Director/VP of Marketing, Product Leadership, Analytics, and User Experience.
We think “Interim Leader of X” is a tool that most organizations haven’t fully embraced yet. We’re advocates for the idea of using interim roles as a way to test & learn with your talent. You’re already using a test & learn approach in your marketing, your technology, and your product development efforts, why not approach your leadership team with the same model?
When most organizations are faced with an opening, they move quickly to refill the same seat with a standard leadership profile. It’s the “business as usual” approach, because everyone is busy and there are plans to deliver, right? So, they default to standard roles, generic job descriptions, templated profiles.
But, we believe most organizations are missing an opportunity to evolve either the “seat” (i.e. the role that’s being played in the organization) or the player profile (i.e. the mix of skills/experience/potential that the person brings to the seat). Most organizations would benefit a lot from taking the time to ask themselves: Is this still the right “seat”? And, do we still want to fill it with the same kind of player?
Why the rethink? Without a doubt, the business context will have changed in the months or years since the seat was designed. We believe organizations need to be as responsive, fluid and adaptive as their products these days, so it’s wise to rethink aspects of the role:
And, at the same time, it’s wise to rethink the player profile:
As the pace of business accelerates, we’re seeing a lot of organizations embrace an agile (and Agile), iterative, test/learn approach to driving better results. We’re seeing it marketing, in product development, in technology teams, etc. But, we’re not yet seeing it on the talent side.
We see “interim” roles as being the way organizations can take a test & learn approach to their organizational efforts. An interim role that last 6-12 months gives organizations a chance to explore how key roles can evolve and how teams can work differently. The cycle looks similar to a market-test:
At Fahren, we expect to see more and more organizations using Interim roles as a way to test and learn their way to a more effective leadership mix. We’re setting up our business to help our partners get there via:
Every entrepreneur who starts their own venture better have a clear idea of why they’re doing it. With a clear “why”, it will be easier to navigate when the inevitable obstacles pile up. If for no other reason than to get my own thoughts straight, here goes:
I’m a small business guy by birth – I grew up the son of a second generation entrepreneur. My grandfather took a huge risk in 1916 and started a car business. He never made it to college, but i benefitted because he had the right combination of courage, vision, perseverance and a super supportive wife. He sent his two boys (my dad and uncle) to college, gave a ton back to his church and community, and sold the boys a successful business. They managed it well and grew it so that their combined 11 kids could go to college and grad school. I can’t count how many of their employees sent their own kids to college, or bought their first homes or a cottage on a lake or were able to retire because they were paid well by dad’s small business. It’s in the hundreds. So, i’m a believer in main street. I think the world needs more successful small businesses. We probably have enough Facebooks, Googles, and Twitters.
I want to build a great culture – I was having coffee with Amol Dixit, the brains behind Hot Indian Foods and he told me that his goal wasn’t to get into the restaurant business. His goal was to build a great company and a great brand, first. The restaurant business was just the fastest way in. When he wakes up in the morning, he’s thinking about how to keep the business growing so the people that work there can get where they’re trying to go, professionally. I hope that, in my small way, the little company i create can be a place where others can get their start on a new career or at least a new phase in their career.
Create More, Consume Less – I try, everyday, to focus on creating. Whether it’s words on a page, music, or even a dumb sketch, it’s critical to me to put something good out into the world to balance out all the consumption i’m doing. Business is the medium where i think i can be the most creative (should have practiced my guitar more) and this is a time where creativity in business will be rewarded. I hope when i’m done working someday, i’ll be able to look back and feel proud of what we all created together at my little company.
Put it into Practice – I’ve been blessed to have worked with some amazing leaders. Whether it was learning how to manage through rapid change at Ameriprise, or learning how to build excellent brands at General Mills, or how to build an amazing professional services business like Ciceron or GoKart, i’ve been around inspirational folks my whole career. I owe it to those leaders to try to do something special. I want to see if i can put it into practice.
It’s time – I started out as a small business guy, but then found my way – through luck and being in the right place at the right time with the right knowledge – into corporate America. My whole rationale for going corporate was to learn enough to sell some digital marketing into big companies. My longterm plan was to go start my own business; i just needed a little corporate experience first. As i look ahead and make my plan for the next 10 years, this is the best way to get where i want to end up.
We’re starting a company that will make it easier for companies to find the talent they need to innovate and change. It’s a professional services business, but not an agency. We’re going to have a pool of talented consultants who can provide interim leadership and support for your most strategic digital initiatives. They’ll have experience at the senior levels inside big corporations and agencies and could step into your VP and Director level roles. I’ll save the particulars for another post, but the general reasons for this business are going to be pretty familiar:
More on that later…
But, beyond the financial and business rationale, there’s a deeper reason. The transformational change that most companies are pursuing will come about through hard work and courageous leadership. That change will be driven by technology, but it will ultimately be a cultural change, where the company vision, mission, values, incentives, ways of work, tools, leadership behaviors, communications and customer experience will all be challenged.
It’s going to come down to great leadership. It’s going to take vision, courage, resilience and persistence. And – we think – partners that work like we do.
The Middle is Where the Change Gets Real – This kind of change will have to be supported at the “top of the house”, the C-Level folks. And, the execution has to happen everywhere, from the entry level folks on up. But, the leaders in the middle – the Directors, the VP’s – are where the real change happens. Or, I should say, where the change gets real. Those people are in the tough spot of trying to influence up (to the C-Level), across (to their peers) and around, to their teams, their vendors, their functional partners. They’ve got to bend and dismantle the old ways of working to create the space for the new ways.
While we will probably be hired by “senior management”, we think we can make the most impact by helping to lead from the middle. So, we are building this organization to to help at the Director and VP level, the ones who have to make the change actually happen. The ones taking the risks to innovate where their peers are playing the game, the ones who are trying to create something new or pioneer new techniques instead of following the path laid out by their boss.
This might be one of the best times in American history to start a new business. It’s also the best time for existing business reinvent themselves. And, it’s an amazingly interesting time to be a business leader. If we work our plan and this business evolves the way we want it to, we’ll be doing our little part to help those great companies – and the leaders inside – reinvest in their futures and reinvent themselves.