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.

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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.

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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.

I Can Feel the Momentum

When I was buying clothing at Nordstrom, we used to have to figure out the right level of inventory for each product by size. So let’s take a men’s V-neck undershirt, size large. If on average, you sell 42 units a week and they are resupplied once a week what is the right inventory level? (Before you answer it’s a trick question).

Turns out that the rate of sale is important but only half the equation, the standard deviation in your rate of sale is equally important. For those of you who are really into math we can discuss the various methods of calculating a standard deviation. The idea here is the that there is volatility and efficiencies that are part of creating an ideal solution. You have to know that some weeks you’ll sell 42 units, some weeks 62 and some weeks 30. If you price your product right, margin minus the cost of inventory.

In a simplified way, the right answer for the right amount of inventory is the average rate of sale plus one standard deviation.

If you’re still reading this DOB then great, let me explain why you should care… We are hiring!!! We have a bow wave of work rolling through the company and we’ve been working hard on make sure we hire the right number of people. The reason I bring this up is that we need your help finding great people for Tahzoo. Referrals are the best candidates for our company, if you think they are “Smart and Happy” then half the interview process is completed. Please be on the lookout for a series of job postings over the next couple of weeks.

I have been emphasizing the need to hire and promote from within Tahzoo. If you see a posting that you’re a good fit for, please through your hat in the ring. I’d like to see our company and our culture be one that is fostered from within.

Tahzoo is doing great, we are blessed with so much opportunity within our accounts in Europe, UK and the US… I can feel the momentum!

More than ever we need to expand the ambition of our ideas, the breadth of our service offerings, the geographies we are targeting and the number of great people we work with everyday.

Optimism… Nature or Nurture

Some people say I am optimistic, others say I’m too optimistic. I am certain the second group says this only because they don’t want me to get my hopes up and then be disappointed. Either way I am optimistic by nature, but what does that really mean?

I am currently reading The Effective Executive by Peter Drucker. It is an annual rite for me. Mostly, it is a great reminder of all the things I need to do better. In his book, there is a turn of phrase that goes … “A knowledge worker’s growth is directly related to how much they challenge themselves,” which led me to recall a story I often tell that, if I don’t go to work every day a little bit scared, I’m not pushing myself enough. I guarantee you that I go to work every day with butterflies in my stomach.

I came across a quote from Mahatma Gandhi: “Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will.” As with optimism, I have been told that I have a strong will. Some people say that I am stubborn. Either way, when I am on a path it’s hard to get me to take another one and I often tell my team we just need to “will it happen”.

I learned the good habit of confronting the hard stuff head-on while working at Microsoft. My mentor Jason had an uncanny talent for rooting out the fear that keeps you stuck. Over the years, I have internalized those lessons and come to understand that real problems never get better with time. You must do something about them. So, I challenge myself every day to confront the things that worry me the most.

The answer to the questions is that I stay optimistic because I have some habits that I’ve learned over the years and they keep me going. I know what I want. I’m willing to take on big challenges. I am committed to a path. And I confront the obstacles in my way.

That brings me back full circle to my original question: Do these habits make me an optimist, or am I overly optimistic? The answer to the question is, simply, that I am an optimist. With such good habits, I have no other choice.

My challenge for you, then, is to ask yourself: What’s preventing you from being optimistic?

The answer just might be: It’s time for some new habits.

Why Tahzoo

I spent the week driving across the United States visiting BBQ restaurants and meeting people. I am always fascinated to hear the stories about how the restaurant was started and to feel the passion of the pit master. One thing strikes me about BBQ, nobody gets into the business for the money, maybe the fame but usually because it’s a family tradition. Inevitably, we have a discussion about recipes and techniques for making the best BBQ, there is a life time of debate to enjoy. But that conversation is about the How and I am most fascinated about the Why.

I was visiting the Richmond office last week, and Ari Ugwu who is a long time Tahzoo employee, one of the first 20 in the company, made a comment about how much he appreciates that we are spending more time talking about the Why instead of the How (full credit to Ari for pointing this out..thank you).

Simon Sinek wrote a great book called “Start with Why”. On these road trips I get time to think and maybe more importantly I get extended periods of time to contemplate an issue and consider all of the possibilities. I’ve spent a lot of time on this trip asking myself… Why?

Tahzoo exists to improve the customer experience, that is our Why. That experience is delivered by how we help our clients take care of their customers and in the way in which we treat our clients. Not unlike the BBQ enthusiasts I met this week, I developed my passion at an early age but rather than being handed down through my family, I was taught by working with the Nordstrom family. It is an ideal that has driven me for my entire adult life… That is my Why.

You are part of the Why… You are Tahzoo. Every day in big ways and small ways you make the company great. It’s important that you know your why. You are part of something that aspires to change the world. Your contribution is unique and you have every opportunity to be a part of the Why. I am so proud to be a part of this great company, to visit each of the offices and feel the passion from each of you. On the best days and the worst days, remember why you are here.

Inspiring Innovation

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.

Marketplace of Ideas

I write this as I am preparing to visit The Netherlands next week for Innovation Day. It’s both timely to look at 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.

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, motion pictures and many more. 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 new 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.

Believe in your ideas

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 Albert 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.

Growing a Business

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As a young manager at Nordstrom, I was speaking with John Nordstrom one day and he was complimenting me on the great service my department was giving. I was pleased to be receiving the compliment, however I was curious about how he could know that when he’d only spent a limited time on the sales floor with me. So I asked him “how do you know we are giving good service?” He said “happy and well served customers spend more money. When I looked at your numbers, the increases in your sales are a result of good service.” At that time, my department was one of the fastest growing in the company. He was right in that we had a great team, giving great service and it showed in our numbers.
 
One of the core values of the company is that if we care about our employees and care about our customer, we’ll have a company worth caring about.
 
When I think about caring for clients, I think about how they are trusting us with their goals, their work and ultimately their credibility. This is a precious gift and we need to treat that with the honor and respect it deserves. Understanding and exceeding a client’s expectations is the hallmark of good consulting. When we disappoint a client, it’s rarely a blatant violation of their trust, more often it is what I call benign neglect. An apathy or an unwillingness to understand the client at the right level of detail or the unwillingness to do the little extra. At Nordstrom, if I saw someone walk past a messy table and pretend not to notice, I knew that person needed coaching about the importance of doing all the little extras that made up a great experience for our customers.
 
So what are the little extras in our business? First, it starts with building a relationship with your client. Most of my clients, I consider friends. Some better than others, but I build relationships based on trust and exceeding expectations. My goal is always to become a trusted advisor to my clients. Whenever I am asked about secret to building trust, I tell people that trust is a function of consistency over time. When client can depend on you to consistently meet their needs, they will trust you… If you consistently exceed their expectations, you’ll become a “trusted advisor”.  Back to the little extras, prompt return of phone calls or emails. Hand written thank you notes. Being on time and prepared for meetings. Ensuring that your work is client ready or pitch perfect. Ensuring that your team is informed so they can be effective working with your client. There are many ways in which each of us can do the little extras and build trusted relationships.

.Building trust with customers
 
We also employ something we call the employee thermometer with customer centricity and customer satisfaction surveys to understand how we are doing as a company and what needs to be fixed in order to make us a great service organization. These tools are critical to ensure that we have the insights we need to make the right investments in the business.
 
Based on the employee and customer feedback, we are instituting a new role in the company called the Delivery Lead. The Delivery Lead is the single point of accountability within Tahzoo to ensure the quality of our work. In short, the person responsible for making sure we are exceeding client expectations. A DL operates at an account level, overseeing, working on and guiding multiple work streams. It is and will continue to be one of the more important roles within our company as we build our digital transformation business. When we consistently deliver great work for our clients they will trust us with more work.
 
But back to the John Nordstrom story, survey results notwithstanding … how will I know if you’re building trusted relationships and do the little extras to make a client feel appreciated? I’ll see it reflected in the numbers.

A Mighty Big Country

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I am on holiday this week driving from Seattle, Washington to Washington DC with my family. This is an annual trip for me and some of my best thinking and reflection occurs during these holidays. In addition to the family trip every year, I’ll occasionally do a solo cross country trip to really get away and think (and stop at some of my favorite BBQ joints along the way).

It was on a solo trip a little over 5 years ago that I found the courage to start Tahzoo. I was listening to an audio book called The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch, his book was born out of a lecture he gave in September 2007 entitled, “Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams.”

For those of you who don’t know the book, Randy was asked to give a lecture and share his wisdom and perspective a month after receiving a terminal cancer diagnosis. It is a heartwarming, albeit deeply emotional book given his circumstances. The main point of the book and his lecture, is that your dreams and aspirations matter and that setting yourself on a course of achieving those dreams is the cornerstone of a life well lived. As you achieve your dreams you can then focus on enabling the dreams of others. His book had a profound impact on me and has changed the way I live my life. Among them is that I wanted my work to be a source of meaning for me, not necessarily a place that provides me a sense of self-esteem but a place where I can serve a purpose greater then myself.

A big part of the process for me taking inventory of my dreams and what I’d like to be a part of … only after that, did I begin framing out what we’d do and how we’d do it …Tahzoo is culmination of several dreams for me. 

I believe in great customer service. I can think of very few things as satisfying than taking great care of a customer. I often tell people that waiting tables was one of my favorite jobs because I got to create a wonderful evening for my customers. We remember the experiences we’ve had far more than the stuff we’ve bought. The web has made the world more efficient, but mostly at the expense of the experience- let’s change that! I wanted to a build a company that I could take pride in the way that it impacted the lives of others. In our case it’s that we should help our clients deliver an experience that makes their customers happy. We can be responsible for creating millions of pleasant moments everyday… that possibility makes me happy.

I believe that in order for Tahzoo to be a great company we need to take great care of one another. I have been fascinated with how people work together since I was a boy. I have been fortunate to be on several great teams in both sports and in business, I have found this experience so compelling, so profound, that I’ve spent most of my adult life seeking to be a part of or helping to create great teams. Every great team that I have been part of has had one common thread… a high degree of trust and commitment to one another. I see pockets of this at Tahzoo but not nearly enough to feel like we’ve got it figured out. The irony is that a great company is a byproduct of the people… not the actual company. I need your help and your commitment to making your team a great team.

I want Tahzoo to be a platform for all of us to learn and change. We have the opportunity to solve really interesting problems, explore different aspects of our thinking and ideas, all while helping our clients be successful. One of the things that appealed to me was the idea that if we worked on leading edge problems, we could get paid for doing cool stuff. The interesting challenge I am working on is how do we create a company that encourages people with different backgrounds, disciplines and perspectives to work together collaboratively on behalf of a customer? See it’s so much easier to hire a bunch of likeminded people and ask them to work together, however; the best companies, leading 21st century companies are the ones that bring many perspectives together… the best results and decisions are made by teams that work all sides of an issue. That’s an example of how I see Tahzoo as an opportunity for me to explore how to do something better. What is the idea that you’re working on? How are you seeing your time at Tahzoo as an opportunity to explore and deliver a big idea?

In any event, I thought I should share with you how I got here, how we got here. I decided these dreams of mine were too important to just think about or to hope that one day they’d come true. I set out on a course of action to make them happen. I am not done yet and there are more dreams to be shared and pursued. I hope in some way this inspires you to participate in my dreams and I hope that Tahzoo is a place that can enable your dreams. It can be as simple as just being a great place to go to work every day or inventing the next generation of human to computer interfaces … either way it’s up to you. Tahzoo has a remarkable future in large part because of all of you. I am so proud to be a part of this company.