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 the 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.

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 Monte 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.

What Is in a Number… 522?

In the United States there are 6.4 million new businesses started each year. A small business is defined as an enterprise with less than 500 employees, with the total number of small business in the US at any one time is around 28 million. Only 50% of new businesses survive more than 5 years and less than a third more than 10 years.

Tahzoo is 6 years old this month and for the third year in a row we are on the Inc. 5000 list! This year we are 522, a really impressive accomplishment when you consider our success against the odds. We have been very fortunate and now we need to be good stewards of our success and continue to build on the foundation that we’ve created.

Our mission is to establish and grow relationships with global customers. As we bring the various service offering to our clients, Staffing, Marketing Consulting and Technology implementations etc.; it’s all in service of toward their digital transformation. Enabling our clients to deliver the best service and the best experience to their customers. As an added bonus, all along the way, our clients get to experience in practice what we preach… that working with Tahzoo means that a bunch of Smart and Happy people will help you be successful.

Thank you everyone, let’s remember why we are here and take a moment to appreciate what we’ve accomplished.

Congratulations, Team Tahzoo!!!

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.