What’s In A Fitbit

Since receiving a Fitbit Charge 2 for my birthday, I’ve been wearing it every day for a month now, and I’m fascinated with what I’ve learned. The Charge Two tracks heart rate, sleep patterns, number of steps taken, estimates the number of calories burned each day, and so much more. The device even reminds me to take time to breathe and focus on my mental health. Turns out, I am in pretty good shape – my Cardio Fitness Score is ‘Good’ given a score of 39, and when I make it to 39.6 I’ll graduate to ‘Very Good’. All in all, I make an effort to maintain my physical fitness by going to the gym 4 to 5 times a week, running and lifting weights.

However, now that I have all this data about my health, I feel compelled to make good use of it. For example, if I lose 14.2 lbs. and increase my cardio by 20%, I would achieve a score of ‘Excellent’ for Cardio fitness. I am currently training for the Rock ‘n’ Roll half marathon in March, so there is a good chance that I’ll meet my goals. The point however, is that data and feedback loops give you the information you need to make better decisions and the necessary improvement toward your goals.

Over the last month, I’ve been working with the finance and project leadership teams to create a standard package of reports to share out to the entire company. The reporting package (not unlike a Fitbit) will provide each of you a monthly summary of Utilization, Billability, and Chargeability as well as summarizing by team and division the operating and performance metrics. We will be extending this to an account base view as well, so we can see revenue, profitability and the overall employee satisfaction of the Tahzoo delivery team.

With this new feedback loop will come individual goals and opportunities for improvement. We are fortunate to have tremendous market opportunity… but we need to be better stewards of our business and ensure that we are profitable and growing at the same time. For some of you this will be an adjustment, as I will be expecting everyone to make their targets, and more importantly, to show improvement in efficiency over time. Traditionally we haven’t run Tahzoo by the numbers, but this is the road ahead for us. If we want to be a world-class Customer Experience Management agency, we’ll have to operate in a world class manner.

I am excited about this new level of awareness – not only on a personal level, but also for our business. I’ve written extensively about how we need to bring more rigor and quantitative thinking into our business; this reporting is the beginning of building this operational strength into the company. Over the next three weeks we will be rolling out the expectations and reporting package within the US business, and to the rest of the company in the following month. We have created a framework for each of you to meet with your manager to align on goals and expectations. As we roll this out, I’ll be looking for feedback from you through the Voice of the Culture survey.

Looking forward to starting 2017 with clear goals and expectations for all of us.

Thanks,
Brad

Happy New Year

I am excited for the new year… I am still in a California state of mind so please enjoy the analogy. When there is a storm in the Pacific, it generates a swell – the waves begin to get larger over the duration of the storm and then gradually subside to normal levels. When you’d go down to the beach and see big waves breaking, you’d tell you buddies that the waves are “pumping”.

All the energy of the storm creates wind momentum and eventually, waves; let’s call them waves of opportunity. We have invested energy and enthusiasm into our business development over the past year, but more importantly our current customers. Let’s call this a storm of activity over the last year. We’ve clarified our message, built deeper relationships and expanded our service portfolio; our wave is getting bigger. Let me go so far as to say that the waves of opportunity for Tahzoo are “PUMPING”!!!

It’s going to be a big big year for Tahzoo. So, when the waves get really big you’ll have to paddle harder to get out past the break, but the ride is soooo much better. However, you must make sure you don’t get “caught inside”, meaning that you’ve surfed too far in, or the white wash of the waves have caught you and you can’t get past the break. In Tahzoo terms, not only do we have to keep up with the opportunity, we need to get ahead of it… better planning, better resourcing and better hiring. Otherwise, the white wash from the waves will collapse us onto the beach; this is called “being in the soup”, usually with catastrophic results. We are going to have to work really hard this year, mostly because of all the momentum we’ve generated in the market.

When you’re surfing, believe it or not – it’s easier to learn new things on bigger waves. Essentially, you have a little more time to practice or try new a new trick. We have the momentum to build our service offering and grow within our accounts… We are going to see our experience design business become a leading growth engine for the company. It’s going to be an “EPIC” year!

Let’s go be great!
Brad

Across the Country

I spent the week on the road and saw most of the country. David Sterenberg and I drove from Washington DC to Phoenix about 2000 miles in three days. We were on a southern route through Tennessee, Arkansas, Texas, New Mexico and then to Arizona. Needless to stay there were several BBQ stops. Our first night we stayed in Memphis TN, we ate at Central BBQ; it was serviceable, but not great BBQ. We were really hoping for something great in Tennessee – but alas, it’s hard to find good BBQ. In Texas, we had a great meal with some fellow Tahzooligans at Sammy’s BBQ… Great food and great company!!! On our last day, we ate at Stateline BBQ, famous for their beef ribs. I had eaten there 15 years ago and was happy to visit again. The ribs were great and we enjoyed the ambiance. At the Stateline, you park in Texas but eat in New Mexico… either way great food.

For those of you who don’t know, David was a professional race car driver. He drove for several teams including Porsche and Mazda. I’ll let him tell you his racing stories when you have a chance to visit with him. Needless to say, we pushed our car to the limits, especially through Texas and New Mexico, nothing quite like long straight desert roads to let the car fly. I won’t say exactly how fast we went, but it was faster than I’ve ever traveled before. In case you’re wondering… no speeding tickets of any kind. It was a fun trip.

I spent the day with a potential client today. It was our second meeting and I am excited about the possibilities of working with such an esteemed company. We’ve been invited back to present our thoughts and ideas for improving their customer experience. The company is hitting its stride with all the new opportunity in front of us. Our messaging, creative and critical thinking around improving the customer experience is resonating with world-class brands.

Let’s go be great!
Brad

Innovation

As our Innovation Day (Innovatiedag Herfst 2016) events draw to a close this week, I’m proud to see the strong spirit of innovation clearly evident in our Tahzoo family. I’d like to thank the attendees, presenters, planners and all of the hackathon participants who contributed to this successful event.

This is a perfect time to revisit a note from a while back, which serves as a good reminder about the value of innovation. It focuses on three of my favorite innovators and the lessons we might draw from their experiences that can inform our thinking about our own innovative spirit. You see, I believe that innovation is not a matter of fleeting inspiration, but rather a skill that can be learned, practiced and, most importantly, improved over time. Like taking up a musical instrument, all that is needed to innovate is the right attitude and the receptivity to change ourselves.

For any new company to succeed there has to be innovation—often a lot of it. Apple. Amazon. Uber. Facebook. The examples are easy to come by. The message is pretty simple: to stand out, you have to do things differently than those who went before.

That’s why we talk a lot about innovation here at Tahzoo. We are not in the game of operational efficiency, or of trimming expenses to preserve a razor-thin margins of profit, nor of selling volumes upon volumes of widgets. We are in the marketplace of ideas. Our clients turn to us for our ability to think differently than the herd of consultants out there. We must, therefore, place the highest value on innovation to assure that we always stand head and shoulders above the competition.

The first lesson of innovation is effort. In this, there can be no greater role model than Thomas Edison. The man held at least 1,093 patents when he died—including as you know the incandescent light bulb, the phonograph, and motion pictures. Think about that for a moment. He “held” 1,093 patents, but there were surely numerous ideas the at didn’t pan out. He certainly knew more than his share of failure through all that. This is a lesson in believing in an idea so strongly that one is willing to soldier on in pursuit of the dream, never relenting, never giving up.

Speaking of dreaming, that brings me to another of my favorite inventors, Nikola Tesla, who, it was said, often dreamed of his inventions before he set to inventing them. Tesla bragged of his ability to perform realistic “dream experiments,” while fully awake.

This is a lesson in vision. Innovation often requires one to be able to imagine an ideal state or a solution to a particularly vexing problem in order to make that vision a reality. Interestingly enough, Tesla was such a good dreamer that many of his most interesting and ambitious ideas never came to fruition during his life because they were too ahead of their time. He imagined television and cellphones long before they ever became everyday things. He also dreamed of a way to power electrical devices without wires that is still a largely unrealized ideal today. So, take it from Tesla, if you’re going to dream, dream big!

Lastly, innovation requires perspective. No one but Einstein himself is our role model here. He conceived of his mind-boggling “Theory of Relativity,” while working as a humble patent clerk reviewing closed-loop train switching patterns. Einstein’s breakthrough was in his ability to apply learning from one field to another—of shifting perspective. It’s interesting to me that the lessons of perspective that Einstein imparts are in some ways a distillation of Relativity itself, which held that our perception of time is relative to the speed of light. That is: perception changes as perspective changes.

So, there you have it: innovation in a nutshell. It takes effort. It takes vision. And, it takes perspective. If we all apply these lessons to as many aspects of our personal and our professional lives, we cannot help but develop innovative ways to see and do great things.

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.

Shared Stories

I am looking forward to visiting the Netherlands next week, it’s been almost 2 months since I was last there and I am missing my home away from home. I came back from vacation with a strong sense of optimism about the business and most importantly how fortunate I am to work with such great people every day.

We all have stories to tell… Tal and Jen have been leading a project to capture our stories and then build a visual representation of the company’s history. Tal has interviewed many of you with many more to go. Please be on the lookout for an invite to share some stories.
One of the best decisions we ever made was the naming the company. I am sure most of you have heard the story of how we came up with the name, so I’ll spare you the repetition.

A company name should have a ring to it, an emotional connection that strikes the zeitgeist. We won a large project with our first client, which of course included a lot of meetings. Shortly after the project started we were having our Monday morning stand up call. Janet, the executive sponsor of the project, started out the call by telling us how much she loved the name of the company, so much so, that she announced she had purchased a dog over the weekend and decided to name him Tahzoo. What a proud moment that was for all of us on the call!

We are looking for these kinds of stories about your history with the company. Funny anecdotes, pivotal moments and even the dramatic. Please send us your stories… if you’d rather send me an email that would be great or feel free to touch base with Tal (talh@tahzoo.com) and schedule an interview.

A shared history is the foundation of great relationships. The more we know and understand one another the better. We will continue to work on this project through the fall with a big presentation before the years’ end.

Just remember that while there is a company named Tahzoo, somewhere out there is a little black terrier named Tahzoo too.

Process and Procedure Is No Substitute for a Great Relationship

I thought I’d share with you some of the pictures from my holiday in Washington state this week. Like most Americans, it’s a working vacation but none the less it’s been an enjoyable and thoughtful time. I have a sense of renewal and focused determination coming back from holiday. One of the best things about being away for a few days is the opportunity to think about the big things. I’ve been reading a biography of President Roosevelt who led the US through the great depression and World War II. What has been remarkable to me was how much of his life’s work boiled down to key moments, decisions and most importantly how his temperament guided the arc of his life.

Brad Summer Pic

I know that you’re expecting a paragraph on my insight or plan for the company or what I think are the big decisions that need to be made. We’ll get to that another day. I would like to tell you, I am grateful to work every day with a bunch of smart and happy people. Of course we have lots of work to do, plenty of big decisions to make but the future of the company is in the strength and quality of the relationships that we build at Tahzoo. They will carry us forward today and in the future.

One of the first events I attended at the Delft office included two nice women who were handing out written compliments to all of the guests. One of them spoke with me for a few minutes and then wrote out my compliment, even from a stranger I was touched. So imagine a working world where we took the time to say thank you more and share what we appreciate about one another? Imagine what that would do for our relationships. So if you’re on holiday or just coming back, take a moment to share some compliments and your appreciation… make someone’s day… it really does make a difference.

brad-summer-1

I am grateful to have such brilliant and talented people that I get to work with each day, thank you all for everything you do to make Tahzoo something so remarkable.

brad-summer-3

Measurement

How should I measure you? I have been working on how we make decisions at Tahzoo. I have spent the last couple of months observing the criteria around decision making at all levels in the company. It’s been and insightful and profound experience. I would like to share some of my insight with you and then ask that you share in the voice of the culture survey your thoughts on how I should measure your performance.

One of my favorite books is The Fifth Discipline by Peter Senge, it is a great read on human systems and how our bias and behavior effect the outcome of organizations. Senge, who teaches at MIT, defined a field of work called systems thinking. If you aspire to run a large organization, it would be the first book that I would suggest you read. One of the points he makes is that the greater the distance between a decision and a result, the higher the likelihood that the outcome will be understood in a present day context rather than as a result of the decision.

As humans we all have a belief system that is the underpinning of our perception of an organization. “We are high growth company” or “our business development is weak”. These narratives guide our interpretation of events. So when we lose that big deal do you say… “They wouldn’t have been a good client for us” or “see I told you so, our marketing is terrible”?

When it comes to decision making and understanding the impact of our decisions, these inherit biases influence our ability to correctly evaluate if the result is a byproduct of our decision or circumstance. We tend to interpret events based on our belief system and then look for facts that support our perspective.

An easy example is when a CEO cuts sales and marketing expenses to meet financial targets and then two quarters later when the number of leads drops precipitously, his conclusion is that the global market is slowing rather than understand his decision to cut expenses is behind the decrease in demand.

When I make decisions I have a process that I use around the idea of unintended consequences. I have never made a decision in which I wasn’t certain about the outcome I wanted to achieve. So even if the plan is risky the outcome is clear… however as it turns out for all the effort spent on the understand of the goal, the unintended consequences are the most problematic to deal with. I have written a number of compensation plans many of which, if they never encounter human beings or the real world they would have been brilliant. Salespeople will do what is in their economic best interest even if that doesn’t align with the organizational goals. KPIs always need to include a metric toward the collective success or individual achievement will trump all. I’ve learned the hard way that deciding for any outcome is easy, thinking through and planning for the unintended outcome is hard.

This brings me to my next subject (although related) Qualitative and Quantitative decision making. Qualitative decision making is the subjective view of the circumstance and Quantitative decision is the objective view of the circumstance. Think literature and math… With a qualitative bias, one examines the current circumstance and makes a decision based on the immediate evidence and facts that are available. With a quantitative bias, one reviews the available and historical data and make the decision accordingly. The short hand for this is that a qualitative bias gives you agility and quantitative bias gives you certainty.

Tahzoo US operates on qualitative model and Tahzoo EU operates on a quantitative model, that’s not to say there are not elements of both but there are numerous examples of how these biases govern expectations and decision making. Every organization has a set of explicit and implicit rules, that guide behavior and provide a framework for how to work together. At the heart of our integration challenges are these differences in decision making and expectation. Consider the fact that in Tahzoo US, cultural fit is more important than an org chart or that in Tahzoo EU KPIs have been rolled out while in the US they have not.

It’s interesting, right? One part of the organization says view the world and achievement in the context of today’s immediate need and the other in terms of the assigned KPIs. If you think through the range of complaints regarding our integration efforts, would this conceptual difference explain the many of the problems?

One of the reasons that I was excited about the mergers of our companies was the possibility of bring both models together. I grew up (Nordstrom and Microsoft) in a very quantitatively led process. However, in the world of Customer Experience management, the numbers don’t always rule… sometimes the zeitgeist and agility are the imperative. So when I started building Tahzoo I eschewed numbers and reports, in favor of innovation and flexibility. We have two ambitions – figuring out how to help Fortune 500 companies improve their customer experience and to build a global CX agency. This means that we need to be good at both kinds of decision making and probably most importantly to know when to use which method for decision making… or at least be consciously aware of our biases.

Over the next quarter, I am going to focus on strengthening our quantitative decision making. I am working with my team to determine a baseline set of reports that are created and distributed throughout the company. One of the most important measurements is the individual metric; how do we measure and how to you understand your contribution to the success of the organization? If you could only have one measurement what would it be?

So the exercise for you; examine and as best as possible be aware of your biases. Next begin to conceive of metrics that you could use to measure your contribution to the company. Make sure you consider qualitative and quantitative assessments. Then think about the timeframe of the measurement and the expected outcome. After that, if we structure a compensation model around that metric, what could be some of the unintended consequences?

This is both an exercise in critical thinking and I am also hoping to catch a few brilliant ideas about how to define and measure success at an individual level within Tahzoo. I’ll look forward to reading your commentary in the voice of the culture.