Gratitude

As our colleagues in the US prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving, I’ve been reflecting upon the impact of gratitude in our day to day lives – both personally and professionally.

Our HR team has a long-standing practice of sharing their ‘weekly gratitudes’ at the end of each week via email. This simple, yet profound gesture encourages a focus upon not only what is going well, but in how challenges became opportunities and struggles became successes. This sharing of stories often provides encouragement to others.

Gratitude is powerful when made part of a regular personal practice, and even more so when we share those observations with colleagues, friends and family. I am grateful for each of you, and for the invaluable opportunities we have to do great things together here at Tahzoo.

Have a great week as you enjoy time with family and friends, reflecting and celebrating.

Conflict Resolution

I’ve been thinking about conflict the past couple of weeks. I thought it would be a good idea to share my perspective and some thoughts around the inevitable conflict that arises when humans work together and how to manage it from my perspective.

I wrote out the company values in an effort to provide some guide posts around how we should decide things, standards that can be applied to specific situations to facilitate quicker outcomes. For example, caring for our customers or our employees is our first value, then simply any decision which puts that value at risk is off the mark. The first step in resolving conflict is to apply our values to the situation and make a determination.

A habit I learned a long time ago, which I borrowed from Stephen Covey is seek first to understand and then to be understood. Most conflict arises when two sides are advocating their perspective but not listening to one another. This does mean you won’t disagree with each other but at least you’ll be able to acknowledge the things that you agree upon so you can focus on the differences. While I was at Nordstrom, I managed a lot of customer complaints, more often than not people just want to be heard, their issue to be understood and then real meaningful resolution can begin.

No matter how mad I might be… that email I wanted to send in the heated moment never, I mean never is the right thing to do after I’ve had time to think it through. My drafts folder is full of emails that I wrote and never sent. There is something cathartic about writing out your thoughts and feeling but better to have never pushed the send button. Additionally, I’ve found that email is about the worst medium for resolving issue possible, only text messages might be worse… so don’t do it. Pick up the phone and call someone, talk it through and exchange energy and ideas. Emailing is a cowardly way to conduct a disagreement.

What are you fighting for? When I get mad I have another habit which kicks in, I ask myself why and I mad? Who and what am I fighting for? It’s tough especially in the heat of the moment, but when I recognize that my issue is about me or how I feel or how I think things should be… I am usually off base. My best energy is spend furthering the big ideas and focusing on the desired outcome. If we agree on the high level goal or objective the we can have a discussion about how to best achieve our goal rather than argue about a way of working.

Quantitative decision making, reviewing the numbers and the measurable outcomes is a great way to remove emotional discourse. As I’ve mentioned in the past one of the downsides of qualitative decision making is that it lends itself to a gut feeling which isn’t easily shared. When you want to change the system or a way of working look for some numbers facts or figures that you can use to justify the work and level of effort required for change.

My last piece of advice on this subject is to remind everyone that by and large people are well intentioned. They may have a different approach or see the world differently than you but they are working hard, just like you. When I assume that someone is well intentioned then it’s hard to not treat them like valued colleague or friend. My mom used to tell a story about the word “respect”, if you respect someone then you’d “re-look” at them. You’d make sure that your underlying assumptions about them were still valid and if they’d had changed, you would change your perspective too. It’s all too easy to see someone as categorically one way or part of one group when really they are just like you and trying hard in some cases desperately to make things better. We are part of groups but we are individuals. We share a common vision and a common goal… So next time you feel conflict brewing, take a moment of pause and remember you are all on the same team.

Persistence

I’ve just finished a wonderful book called Smarter Faster Better by Charles Duhigg. He spends most of the book articulating how to be more efficient and effective in your life. The book details the psychology and cognitive science around motivation and achievement. Many of the techniques and mental models that are described are habits that I’ve unwittingly cultivated over the years.

As a young salesman I learned that success in sales was primarily a function of persistence. Dedicating oneself to a big goal and then breaking down the individual steps required to achieve that goal and not giving up no matter how hard things get. Some people say that you’re limited by the size of your dreams, my belief is that is only partially true, you also have to have the ability to commit to a path and stick with it.

We recently achieved some great results because we set a big goal but then broke down the steps into manageable and achievable sub tasks on a daily and weekly basis. As I’ve learned from my colleague Tom in the Agile development process, if you can’t describe how you’re going to accomplish your task within a week or two of work then you’re likely guessing at what needs to be done or how long it will take.

We’ve had some great results in a short period of time, which I chalk up to persistence and consistency in our approach. The Desk of Brad, which I write weekly for our team, is another example of persistence. I encourage each of you to set an aggressive big goal and then break it down into digestible parts… If it works for you let me know how you’re doing and how I can help.

The Culture of Experience

The culture of customer experience is upon us… although very nascent, while there have been a few companies grounded in customer service over the last 20 years they are outliers and not the norm. Most large companies are organized to serve themselves while providing a service or product to the market. Typically, one part of the organization is dedicated to the customer in the context of sales or marketing.

In the customer experience economy, the entire organization needs to be designed to serve customers and deliver a shareable experience. It must be understood throughout the organization the real value of a consumer spending their money and time interacting with a brand. I used to say that all companies are becoming publishers whether they wanted to or not, because the competition and the way that all purchasing has become considered sales cycle was going to force the issue. However, I think that we are now seeing with the proliferation of connections between people and the speed of communication through technology that all companies are now experience providers.

For many years the experience, the interaction, was managed by a division within a Fortune 500 company who looked at the in store or in branch or in restaurant experience and created something that was visually appealing, memorable, pleasant and efficient. The design, well executed, helped consumers know where to stand in line, where to get help or look for specific products. It was staffed with friendly people who could naturally fill in the missing details or connections but most importantly provide a personalized experience or build a personal rapport with the consumer. They made the intuitively inefficient and efficient experience; if the design wasn’t quite right the personal connection filled the gaps.

As technology has replaced many of these branches, stores and human touch points, in part because it’s more cost effective, in part because the speed of the transaction or the convenience for the consumer held sway. Large companies have inarticulately made an effort to increase the number of touch points or tackle the gaps in service as a series of technology and marketing projects. As with all transformations, a serialized and interstitial set of projects never provide the harmony and richness of the experience a consumer demands. Often times when I hear large companies speak about their digital transformation or customer experience projects they feel like how a symphony would be written by series of committees each focused on the instrument they play.

It is the whole experience, in all its dimensions that need to be addressed. For a large company this is an almost achievable amount of organizational alignment required in a short period of time. Most companies have been built over decades and the organizational division, operating principals and culture cannot be rewired overnight. As with most disruption triggered by technology, the initial innovation is obtuse but with great promise. So while the value is well understood, the adoption model follows standard distribution curve, the early adopters take a leap of faith and when the point of leverage to value is understood the majority steps in. In some cases, the adoption curve can be accelerated when “killer” applications can be applied.

In the case of digital transformation, the killer application is personalization. Delivering experience in context, that is relevant and personalized is the key to moving an organization forward. In the case of customer experience and within the experience economy, the accelerant is the ability of large organization to deliver personalized or in contextualized experiences. While it may take a decade or more for a Fortune 500 company to reorganize, we can deliver value today through a more personalized experience.

As expected the organizational changes that will take time to work their way through a company that spent decades building for and organizing around 20th century models can recognize immediate value by through technology recreating the front line staff that helped clients find what they needed, answered questions and most importantly build a sense of intimacy between a consumer and brand.

Decision-Making Theory

As you know I’ve been writing from time to time on how to improve our decision making processes within Tahzoo. We are good qualitative decision makers and I’d like to see us add some quantitative competency to our process. One technique is using probabilistic modeling to improve prediction. In a business setting we need to make best decision based on an expected outcome, however; more often than not there are several possible outcomes that need to be considered.

One of the challenges of qualitative thinking, thinking from the gut, is that we are often told to trust our gut and the weighting is done at an emotional level. We evaluate the outcome we feel strongest about and often the one that we’re most hopeful will happen and then decide on a course of action. This is a great strategy for matters of the heart or in situations where the information is extremely limited.

At Tahzoo, we are often faced with multiple possible outcomes, for example, how long will it take us to fill a critical role in the business, and how does that impact projects and revenue? Is the multiple-year lease for the new office we are about to sign going to be large enough to support the number of people we expect to hire based on our growth projections?

With each of these questions you need to make an estimate of the likelihood or probability of something so you can plan for the next steps. What do you do when there are multiple possibilities, how do you chose a path? Over the years I’ve developed a technique in which I try to consider all of the possible outcomes. I spend my idle thinking time thinking about people’s motivations, or alignment of interests, I gather data when possible, I ask people what they think will happen and why. Then lastly and probably most importantly I try to remember situations that are similar and my prediction was wrong and why.

After I’ve had time to think the issue through, (sometimes I wish I had more time but that is the way it goes at Tahzoo) I pick what I think are the three most likely outcomes. So for the sake of example, let’s take the lease situation… after much consideration, I believe our compound growth will require us to hire 100, 150 or 300 people over the next 7 years. When I weigh these possibilities to do my best to give them a percentage likelihood of happening base on all the available information.

So in this example I put hiring 75 new people at a 45% likelihood, I put at 150 new hires at 70%, and 300 people at 15%. I take the high end range for hiring at 300 and multiple that against the average of my estimates in this case 43.3% which means that probabilistically speaking we will most likely need to hire 129 people over the next 7 years. Then I compare this to my gut and make the best decision possible.

Now there are a number of other techniques that I use, but I thought this one would be good to start with. So next time you have a decision that includes predicting the future or several possible outcomes try this method and let me know what you think.

For those of you who in enjoy math, send me a note and let’s get into probabilistic modeling, it is the future of our programming strategies for personalization. I am also a big fan of Monty Carlo simulations and Bayesian decision making theory and computation.

Client Partner and Delivery Lead

I am asked from time to time to better define the role of Client Partner and the Delivery Lead. As part of a project kick off, I spent a few moments outlining the basic working relationship in an effort to ensure a successful engagement. The following is an excerpt from the letter that I wrote to the team…

Not unlike a pilot and a co-pilot, (the client partner and the delivery lead) they are responsible to fly the plane. It’s hard to imagine any circumstances in which they are not locked at the hip working through strategies and solutions to ensure the best possible experience for our client. As a team they need to ensure that we have the right people on the job, that we are delivering a level of quality that makes us all proud to be a part of Tahzoo, and thirdly that we are building our business within the account. While the division of labor between the two may change based on the client and individual expertise, the entire company needs to be operating in support of the pilot and the co-pilot. It is their plane; their account they are accountable no exceptions. There is no delivery view and sales view of the world that is acceptable to me. Tahzoo is not a hierarchical company… we are all here to serve the client or serve people who are serving the client. If you are in a position of leadership or expertise or administration you are at Tahzoo to give the team what they think they need to be successful.

The first deliverable from this team should be a vision statement/document that details what success looks like for this account. Keep in mind that we are a CX agency – our view should include the entirety of our client’s customer experience. We need a north star so that everyone who works on this account knows what we are aiming for and what are the major success milestones. I would expect this deliverable to be a page or so and a must read for everyone involved.

We’re in the Relationship Business

When I think about the skills required to execute our mission, not only does it include a high level of expertise in the areas of marketing and thought leadership, it also means that we are excellent at building and maintain great relationships with our clients.

If you were asked what does Tahzoo do? Would your answer be; we build great relationships with our customer so we can help them change? Or would it be something like we do digital marketing? Or we’re a customer experience agency?

We are in the relationship business. It just so happens that the primary value add of Tahzoo is we work on customer experience problems. Here are my thoughts on developing a great relationship with your client.

You care for your clients –
Caring is not defined by how you feel, but by how you act. I’d go on to say that it’s a commitment. A commitment to your client’s success, to treat them with respect and to care enough to do your best work on their behalf. If you truly care about your client, you are obligated to find a higher purpose in your relationship with them.

You’re a servant –
You put the client before yourself, before the company and before profit. With a servant’s heart you assist your client in any way necessary to ensure their success. Zig Ziglar, a famous sales trainer used to say “you get what you want by helping others get what they want”.

You’re honest –
Honesty requires courage. Good consultants have opinions and in a respectful way they share their perspective and experience. If the primary goal is to ensure the clients success, then they need to hear from you what you really think. The better the communication, the stronger the relationship; build the trust and have the confidence to engage your customer in the marketplace of ideas.

You make friends –
I make friends with my clients. Many of my clients from my Microsoft days are still friends. Your work is important but a friendship creates a basis for trust. We are a company full of smart and happy people… share your happiness, be friendly and get to know your client.

You’re patient –
The work we do is hard… we are agents of change. Our clients built tremendously successful business over a long period of time and although technology and consumer expectations are changing rapidly, they need time to catch up. Be patient, take the time to explain things and don’t be afraid to stick with your client while they work through the internal challenges of managing change.

You’re loyal –
Trust is a function of consistency over time. The client needs to know that you’ll be with them through and through.

You check in regularly –
If you have a great relationship with your client, then you’re be continuously checking in to ensure that you share a common vision of success. Working together, building together, failing and succeeding together (all while pursuing a common definition of success) is what great relationships are made of.

You have fun –
Find the joy in your work and share it. Enthusiasm is infectious and sometimes your client will need your energy. All great relationships have an element of fun. Smile, laugh and find reasons to celebrate.

Digital Innovation

I spoke this week at the Digital Innovation Summit in Utrecht. It was a wonderful event with over 100 attendees, including customers, prospects and partners. My speech focused on the experience economy and how the quality and shareability of an experience is a hallmark of good marketing. In the experience economy it’s not about how much you have but how good you have it!

There are many examples of companies like Uber and AirBNB that are not only delivering exceptional technology enabled solutions, they are also leveraging underutilized assets in innovative ways. My charge to the marketers in the audience was that they need to focus on individualized experiences and brand interactions that can be easily shared.

On my blog www.letsgobegreat.com there is a short paper that I wrote if you’re interested in having a more detailed overview of my hypothesis. I continue to focus on more public speaking engagements, building our social network and providing more thought leadership around the experience economy and digital marketing. We are building the marketing engine across the company with a particular emphasis on partner outreach and geographically authentic experiences.

Thanks to Jen Adamski-Torres for getting up at the crack of dawn to live tweet some sketches that linked to my speech. Check them out on Twitter if you are interested.

Feedback

Giving people feedback is one of the most important things we can do in our lives.

One of my favorite books is called The Last Lecture, written by Randy Pausch. For those of you who don’t know the story, after receiving a terminal cancer diagnosis, Randy gives a lecture to his class which is a summary of his life lessons.

I want to share a quote from the book on the importance of feedback. The set up for the quote is that Randy had a very difficult coach and was recounting a conversation he had with an assistant coach…

“Coach Graham rode you pretty hard, didn’t he?” he said. I could barely muster a “yeah.” That’s a good thing,” the assistant told me. When you’re screwing up and nobody says anything to you anymore, it means they’ve given up on you.”

Shortly after I founded the company we started the voice of the culture survey. It was and is an import way to give feedback to me and others within the company. We publish the positive comments every week in the desk of Brad, so that peer recognition remains a pillar of our culture. I review the feedback every week as part of my standard routine.

Internally we also have the thrive review process, monthly one on ones with your manager, Kudos alias and the soon to be rolled out delivery lead feedback system. Externally, for customers and partners we have the customer satisfaction survey, however most customers vote with their wallet and either the business is growing or declining.

If you care about your customer and you care about your employees, you’ll have a company worth caring about. As the first value of our company, this is the definition of success for me. If we do those two things well, the rest will take care of itself. I designed and implemented the feedback loops so I could understand how well we were doing toward our most important goal.

My feedback to you is that not enough people are participating in the voice of the culture survey. If you care about Tahzoo and you want to make the company a better place, then you’ll take the time to give feedback. Consistent and constructive feedback is one of the most important aspects of your job. The only way Tahzoo will be great is if each of us participates in making it great… so next time I say to ‘let’s go be great’, let me and your teammates know what we need to do to get there.

Selling Tahzoo

Imagine you’re talking with a potential Client of Tahzoo’s and they ask you what does Tahzoo do? You could say we are a customer experience agency that helps our clients deliver personalized customer experiences at scale… then comes the awkward pause from the Client during which they decide to either say “that’s cool” or admit they have no idea about what Tahzoo does and then proceed to ask you more questions.

Or you could say to the Client… “We help our clients build deeper relationships with their customers. For example, for one of our clients we increased traffic to their site by 50%, with the visitors spending almost 38 thousand hours on high value content since we launched their new website”.

“We create happy customers and measure the results for our clients in lots of ways, number of pages being viewed per visit, increase in conversion rates and less time being spent on the home page… for all of our clients we help them achieve meaningful results for their business”.

Our Client is now excited about what we can do for them. A conversation ensues about their business goals… all the while we are sharing examples of results that we’ve delivered for similar clients. The dialogue is a give and take around their goals and our work. The Client becomes more confident we can help them and we talk openly about working together.

We don’t talk about practice areas, geographical distribution or the commercials and rates. We talk about solving business problems and as such our capabilities are implied by example. As we discuss their goals we begin to shape an approach for working together, during this phase of our conversation I am looking for objections and concerns that may prevent us from getting a deal done. I ask a lot of questions about the decision making process within the company and I am acutely aware of our clients’ body language and truthfulness.

I seek to resolve any objections or obstacles right then and there… better to get the hard stuff out of the way early then to spend a bunch of time on a deal that can’t or won’t get done… Everyone is happy and now we have a new multiyear multi million dollar account.

This is how I sell Tahzoo… by reference and by asking questions. There is an old saying that goes people don’t care about how much you know until they know how much you care. The great thing about questions is they create interaction… there is another old saying that goes being interested in someone makes you interesting… and finally to quote my grandfather, “there is a reason God gave you two ears and one mouth”. Great consultants like great sales people take the time to know their clients and they use questions to create energy and change.