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.

Doing Right by the Client

I keep coming back to this one idea: if we are to be a truly global consulting company supporting the best brands in their customer experience journey, we need to provide a level of service and quality that is unequaled in the industry. The Tahzoo experience should be a fair exchange of value delivered in a frictionless manner. 

I recognize that for Tahzoo (and most companies), we will fall short of our ideals from time to time. We will fail to meet expectations or provide a deliverable that just isn’t up to the Tahzoo standard. The Delivery Lead will have the primary accountability to resolve any issues to the client’s satisfaction. Having made that clear, it’s everyone’s responsibility to delight and exceed client expectations. 

Service recovery … It’s how you handle problems, issues or concerns that matter. Most reputations for great customer service are built on how the company recovers or addresses a misstep or failure in execution. Companies like Nordstrom and Zappos are well known for how they empower their staff to fix issues. Even at Microsoft (not often considered a customer-focused organization) had “Make it Right Funds,” which was a reserve budget for remediating software implementation challenges.

Internal and external relationships
To be great at anything, it takes hard work over an extended period of time. One of the Tahzoo core values is that we hire Smart and Happy people. Every consulting company should and can be measured as a collection of internal and external relationships (this is one reason why we survey all of you so often, ask that you rate your week and your experience with your peers). I often say that you could easily make a determination about the long-term financial success of our company based on this measurement. It’s easier to build great relationships with happy people, teams work better when we they are happy and I would much rather spend my time talking with someone who had a smile in their voice than the alternative.    

I remember one misstep at one of our Clients. The customer’s expectation and our deliverable did not match up. These things happen from time to time, but what I really appreciated about how our team responded was that they engaged the customer. There was no recrimination or blaming of the client for not understanding, just an earnest effort to seek to understand the concern, express our apologies for not meeting their expectations and a commitment to resolve the issue to the client’s satisfaction. I was proud of how the team handled this today and I reminded them that the goal isn’t to avoid having problems it’s to make sure that when we do, we go above and beyond to make the client happy.   

Keep all of this in mind when hiring and collaborating and when you’re taking care of clients. It always pays to go the extra mile to make a difference for a client. You are empowered to do the right thing by our customers. 

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

growingabiz

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.

Tahzoo’s Customer Experience 

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I was listening to an old interview with Steve Jobs today, he was discussing the process of product development and how he’s learned over the years to start with the customer experience in mind rather than the technology. I was again struck by his passion to deliver a phenomenal experience to his customers. I have been focused the last couple years on making sure that Tahzoo had the capability to help our clients deliver a great experience, but, candidly, I haven’t spent enough time crafting the experience I’d like for our clients.
 
When I founded the company I established the company values as part of a strategy to ensure that we had the right people. In the early days when I was acting as the account manager, I labored over the quality of our work and ensuring that we provided the best possible deliverables, I figured setting a good example would carry the day. As we began to grow we focused on hiring smart and happy people as core tenant of our customer experience strategy. More recently we created the Delivery Lead role as the keeper of the customer experience.
 
While these are important in setting the foundation for our company they are not nearly as explicit as we need to be around our customer experience. I was talking with one of our clients who had recently hired McKinsey to conduct a strategy workshop and while the workshop was in process they filmed the white boarding exercise and interaction between the teams. The video was streamed live to a group of graphic artists who produced a slide deck that represented the meeting inputs outputs and decisions. At the conclusion of the meeting the McKinsey team handed the client a freshly printed and readymade deck. Our client was blown away by the experience and we talked in detail about how Tahzoo could make similar improvements in our customers’ experience to set us apart from the field.

Just another example of how you never know where the next inspiration might come from or the surprising ways that the customer experience can be continually improved. Like Steve Jobs said, start there and you’re going to do alright.

Contributing

In a healthy company everyone knows how they contribute to the mission and success of the company. I had many different jobs while I worked at Nordstrom, at one point in time I was a phone switchboard operator, I managed all the incoming and outgoing phone calls for the store. At another point I worked in security, keeping everyone safe and catching shoplifters. While these jobs didn’t contribute directly to selling clothing they were an important part of creating an optimal customer experience. We have a lot of different practice areas and capabilities within Tahzoo to assist our clients. The work that everyone does is important.
 
I recently had a conversation with a developer who wasn’t entirely sure how his work, contributed to the overall mission of Tahzoo. It’s not that he didn’t understand his work or the need to implement a content management system, but how does that fit into the big picture of Tahzoo. As we were talking I asked him to consider a few questions… we talked through his answers and it became clear to me that I should spend more time making sure each of my team members understand how you can contribute to make Tahzoo a great company.

  1. Do you understand the vision we have for our clients?
  2. What do you do every single day to contribute to the Tahzoo client experience?
  3. How is are you advancing the mission of the company?
  4. How are you innovating in your work to improve the experience?
  5. How do you identify new opportunities for Tahzoo to help your client?

I think if we all ask ourselves these questions on a regular basis, our company—and any company that does the same, for that matter—will succeed.

On Commitment

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Commitment is a powerful word. I have been reflecting on that word a bit recently. When I started Tahzoo I had a dream that we could build a company that would change the way that companies engage with their customers. I have been and will be committed to that dream until we have accomplished our mission.

I’m reminded of my time at Nordstrom, when I first started with the company. It was during the holiday season and we were very busy. An older gentleman I didn’t know joined us behind the counter to help ease the burden and make our customers’ experience better. As it turned out, it was John Nordstrom who helped me gift wrap packages for the afternoon. What an impression that made on me—not only of their commitment to great customer service, but his willingness to go beyond his desk job to actually roll up his sleeves and get behind the counter to help. His action was very powerful. And I was clearly impressionable, as I still recall this moment for the positive impact it has had on me.

The internet, while creating many efficiencies, has also removed much of the human touch. The digital age has depersonalized an important part of the human condition. Meanwhile, commerce—how we spend our money—is a very social part of the human experience … our cities are built around market squares, we create friendships at our regular cafés and we recommend to our friends and family experiences and products that we enjoy. We’ve resurrected a part of the human connection through social media, communicating with one another our likes, dislikes and preferences, however this hasn’t solved the problem of feeling disintermediated from the brands we enjoy.

The vast majority of companies provide a one-size-fits-all digital experience that requires you the end user to find the bit of information you care about … to me the internet feels a lot like shopping in a store without anyone to help you find what you want and then if you’re lucky enough to find something, you have to go through a self-checkout process. We can do better, we can teach our customers how to do better and we can make the world a little bit better.

A great company must do two things well … care about its customers and employees … and be dedicated to changing the way that information is shared and how business is done.

Not too long ago Tahzoo was just a small team, only 10 people, however we were committed to an idea and to one another … that if we cared about our employees and cared about our customers we’d be a company worth caring about. While at times this may seem trite, it was and is the fuel that propels Tahzoo. You see, businesses can be started for many reasons—to make money, to exploit a market opportunity, to arbitrage labor markets—or they can be built to do something meaningful. In our case, my first act at Tahzoo was creating our values, even before I decided what we would do as a company. I thought if I was going to start a company it should mean something, stand for something and do something that makes a difference.

With all that said, I want to change our little part of the world. I want to help our clients figure out how to do a better job of taking care of their customers. It’s really just that simple. They should hire Tahzoo because they believe we can help them. And, we should help them. We should understand the trust they have bestowed upon us and act accordingly.

Three Ways to Bring Out Innovation in Employees

threeways

I’ve been thinking a lot about the importance of maintaining Tahzoo’s unique culture through this expansion and the integration of Tahzoo Europe. This has led me to take a step back and look at what makes Tahzoo special, and it’s clear that our employees truly are our greatest assets. The ‘Zoo team is comprised of happy, smart, interesting people who are inspired by change and are driven to constantly improve and innovate.

As a CEO, or as a team leader, how can you foster a culture of innovation especially among a growing, global team? I’ve worked at a wide variety of organizations and in several different roles – from retail to sales – before founding Tahzoo (you can learn more about that transition in my Fast Company article here). Along the way, I’ve seen various tactics for driving innovation and I have worked hard to build a positive culture at Tahzoo. Here are three tips you can follow to drive innovation in your organization:

  1. Encourage creativity. At the most pioneering companies, a culture of creativity is an integral part of the corporate DNA. We hire employees based on their character first, and we follow the mantra of “shoes optional” from the top down. This helps encourage a culture where creativity and innovation are valued.
  2. Solicit feedback. It’s also important to ensure that all employees feel that their opinion is valued – you never know where the next great idea will come from! We support this inclusive culture through a weekly survey that employees at all levels complete – offering their constructive and honest feedback on what’s working, and what’s not.
  3. Make time for innovation. In today’s business world, there are distractions in every direction, all the time—from alerts on mobile phones, to constant meetings and invitations to touch base. I recently wrote an article for Entrepreneur magazine where I discussed a tactic that has been particularly valuable in driving innovation at Tahzoo: one hyper-focused meeting per week. Each week, I hold a two-hour meeting with the global senior team to talk through ideas mapped back to our higher-level goals. This helps eliminate distractions and creates a space for innovative thinking – vastly increasing alignment, productivity and motivation across our global team.

By following these three tips, you can help instill and maintain a culture of innovation. I’m looking forward to continued innovation from our stellar – and growing – Tahzoo team!