Ways to Improve Communication

“I urge you to please notice when you’re happy … and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is – Kurt Vonnegut 

Stop, Collaborate, and Listen.  

We chose happiness, we chose a positive frame of mind, we chose to see the best in one another… we have a choice. Sometimes those choices are hard. As intended or as perceived … it’s a central question in all human interactions. Which is the dominant frame of reference for you? When we perceive that a colleague has communicated or done something that is negative, do you react with vengeance or do you ask them what did you mean by that? Or why did you do that? 

How many times have you spoken with a colleague and they took what you said all wrong, not as you intended but quite the opposite? Think about that for a second, you made a well-intentioned comment, but the other person’s frame of reference caused them to hear your comment very differently… Happened to you before? It’s the basis of a lot of human conflict and comedy. Watching two people speaking past each other is the basis for many great dramas and comedy skits… “Who’s on first?” 
 
I have a few tips to share about how to improve the quality of your communication and hopefully reduce the number of times you find yourself in an unintended miscommunication.  
 
1. Assume the best in your colleagues, we are a company full of smart and happy people. If you start with this frame of reference the likelihood of miscommunication declines dramatically. 

2. “Seek first to understand before seeking to be understood” – Steven Covey. Ask why and listen, really listen to what your colleague intended to communicate. Often, conversations are really two people waiting for each other to finish so they can make their point. That’s not listening and rarely leads to resolution.  
 
3. Emails don’t convey tone very well. If you receive an email from one of your colleagues that triggers you, remember that it’s probably better to pick up the phone and apply tips 1 and 2. Sorting out miscommunications over email or worse yet exchanging hostile emails almost never has a good outcome.  
 
4. My mom always used to say if you respect someone, it means that you frequently re-look at your underlying assumptions about that person. For example, a colleague could be working hard to reply to emails quickly or be more attentive in meetings but because your underlying assumption is that they are always late, you won’t recognize they are working hard on making a change. Your frame of reference about your colleague is the lens that you’ll use to interpret their communication, make sure you’re up to date.   

5. A quote from Ruth Bader Ginsburg – “it helps sometimes to be a little deaf”. When being interviewed about her long and successful marriage, she said, “On the day I was married, my mother-in-law, took me aside and said she wanted to tell me what was the secret of a happy marriage.” Not every slight needs to be prosecuted or understood, oftentimes it’s better to let things slide and just choose to hear the best in what your colleague said to you.  
 
Remember all communication is a choice. A choice about what you communicate and a choice about how you interpret the communication. Choose happiness and to see the best in each other.  
 
 
Let’s go be great! 
Brad 

Great Customer Service

“If you could only sense how important you are to the lives of those you meet; how important you can be to the people you may never even dream of. There is something of yourself that you leave at every meeting with another person.” – Fred Rogers 

Great customer service starts internally…  

I see it. We are well on our way to a great finish to 2019 and a great start to 2020. As with any opportunity, it can be squandered. I have been emphasizing the priorities of the business.  
 
The number one item is “Great Customer Service”, no dropped balls, no last-minute cancellation of meetings, no unreturned emails. Check up on how your client relationship is doing. Make sure that you’re putting in that extra effort to delight your clients. Deliver great work.  
 
You’ve all heard this from me at various times, however, I thought that I should remind everyone that great customer service applies internally as well as externally. If you can’t keep your promises to your coworkers, then it’s foolish to think that you’ll deliver your promises to your clients. See, you can’t be one way with clients and then another way with your coworkers. We are all creatures of habit. Which means each of us to follow patterns of behavior that are relatively consistent. So, if you receive feedback from your peers about your service, your conduct, or the quality of your work, it’s most certainly the experience that our clients have of you.  
 
I’ve always said, “how you are perceived internally is also how you are perceived externally”. So, remember that great customer service works in both directions, take good care of your client relationships, and your Tahzoo relationships too. We hire smart and happy people for a reason…The strength of our company is built on quality relationships and that starts with treating one another with great service.     
 
Let’s go be great! 
Brad 

4 Big Priorities

“One truth I have discovered for sure: When you believe that all things are possible and you are willing to work hard to accomplish your goals, you can achieve the next ‘impossible’ dream. No dream is too high!” 
– Buzz Aldrin 

We have a lot of work going on within the company these days and I wanted to share my four core priorities. I met with the leadership team early this week to discuss these, but it is imperative that the entire company participate in achieving our goals.  
 
•  Great Customer Service – no dropped balls, no phone calls left unreturned, no emails unanswered. We are always either building up or tearing down our client relationships. 
 
•  Perfect Quality Work – Every deliverable needs to be reviewed for excellence before it goes to a customer. We systematically review all the work, so we KNOW the quality is there. We have lots of new people in the company, each of you is an avenging angel and teacher of perfect work.  
 
•  Focus on Profitability – Eliminate unnecessary expenses, be mindful of T&E spending (we are closely reviewing expense reports), ensure everyone has billable work, hire accurately, and don’t give away hours by spreading resources across a project. Maximize our margins. 
 
•  Resolve Differences Quickly – Get real with one another, don’t leave things unsaid, agree on priorities, and come to me or your manager to adjudicate or resolve issues. Make decisions quickly quickly quickly! 
 
We should grow north of 60% this year. The only way to achieve that is to maintain our quality and satisfy our clients’ expectations to improve the way we work. We need more sustainable and foundational ways of working, better systems and processes. Remember that we are not a large company, each of you plays an important role in our overall success, each of you should be making a difference and contributing to the improvement of the company. I am looking forward to all of your business case submissions!  
 
Let’s go be great! 
Brad 

Help, I need somebody!

“Help, I need somebody!”  

There are lots of books about holding people accountable, oftentimes these books focus on the clarity of the responsibilities, measurement, or structuring conversations that cut through the excuses. Yes, these are all important things to focus on. What I don’t like about many of these books is that accountability is more often a byproduct of great teamwork. 
 
*No one who is committed wants to let their teammates down.* 
 
So, let’s assume that you work with Smart and Happy people who are committed… but for some reason, they are struggling in their job. What should you do to help them? Here are a few things I’ve learned in my career that have helped me bridge the gaps in my teams: 

  1. I always try to put myself in the other person’s shoes. What is going on for them, what is their workload, what is the work that needs to get done and how does it fit with their skill set?  
  1. Is the issue a repeating problem or a pattern or is it a one off?  
  • If it’s a repeating pattern then is the issue systemic, a problem with the way the company is organized, or is it a deficiency in that person’s abilities?  
  • If it’s one-off, is there something going on in the person’s life that we all need to take into consideration? Are they sick, going through a personally hard time, etc.? 
  1. Are they open to having a discussion with me about the concern or do I need to involve someone else (maybe someone in leadership) to address the concern?  

 
I seek first to understand before I make any judgments. It’s easy to blame people and it’s easy to assign reasons for why they are not meeting expectations, but that is laziness and shows a lack of respect. 
 
My mom always used to say that if you respect someone, you’re actively examining your beliefs about that person and re-looking your underlying assumptions.  
 
Once I’ve taken the time to understand, then I take a hard look in the mirror and ask myself am I contributing to or causing the problem?  
 
Then teamwork should kick in… What can I do to help? Does this person need encouragement? Do they need additional resources? Do they have a personal issue that needs attention? Or in very few cases does this person need a corrective talk? 
 
If it’s something that is just really difficult for someone (we all have stuff we suck at (responding to email for me)) then how can we change the system to help that person be more successful? Anytime someone on your team is not performing or meeting expectations… it’s almost never an individual problem; it’s a way of working, a way of resourcing, or a way of supporting someone’s problem.  
 
Don’t be quick to anger, quick to blame, or worse yet- stand around and watch someone fail. We win together and we lose together. 
 
Be the kind of co-worker that makes everyone around you better. It’s why we have Kudos in the desk of Brad, our better selves should be expressed in the quality of our teamwork.  
 
 
Let’s go be great! 
Brad 

Consulting 101

“You’re alive, that means you have infinite potential. You can do anything, make anything, dream anything. If you can change the world, the world will change. Potential.” – Neil Gaiman 

Consulting 101 

Over the past several weeks we have all been hustling to close and deliver new work. I cannot tell you how proud I am of all of the energy being put into our new client, Zimmer Biomet as well as our other clients. Each of you is delivering world-class work product for our clients and I am so excited about this next wave of Tahzoo. 
 
As we onboard these clients and begin working together I thought it was a good time to refresh everyone on our standards for consulting. Let’s call it consulting 101.

Here are the main overarching themes: 

  • Perception is Reality: Be on time for meetings. You never get a second chance… This is a basic fundamental.  
  • We are Tahzoo, you are Tahzoo: You are representing all of us. It doesn’t matter the request, we all chip in and have each other’s backs. 
  • The Client’s Success is Tahzoo’s Success: Ask yourself “What can I do to make our client more successful?” 
  • Listen Before you Act: Don’t talk about solutions yet, first define the problem we need to solve. 
  • Understand the Problem: Go on the client journey together. 
  • Understand the Solution: Understand where the client is coming from, have an open mind.  
  • Take Action: Talk is cheap- do something! 
  • Follow Through: Your word is your promise. 
  • Results = Success: Show the difference you are making! 
  • Rinse and Repeat: The more we do this work, the better we will be. 
  • Everybody is a Client Manager: Build Relationships- listen for opportunity, make the most of our team. 

We have to hold ourselves to high standards. There is no such thing as an undisciplined, yet a successful team. 
 
I am proud of all of you- we’re moving in the right direction, just keep going! 

 
Let’s go be great! 
Brad 

The Johnny Tsunami of Tahzoo

“Treat objections as requests for further information.” – Brian Tracy 

I had to get the windows in my home cleaned yesterday. There was a nice young gentleman who came over, he was polite and quiet. He proceeded to clean all of the windows inside and out over the course of a few hours. My house has a lot of windows, many of them floor to ceiling and some as high as two stories. There is not a lot of sunlight in Seattle, so the big windows help a lot in the wintertime.  
 
When it came time to settle the bill, he politely asked me if we’d ever had the roof cleaned as he had noticed a little moss growing in a few places. I said no. He lit up with enthusiasm – this mild-mannered, quiet guy practically erupted with energy. You would have thought that I’d given him the chance to jump on a stage and perform a guitar solo with his favorite band. He had been patiently waiting for this conversation. 
 
He immediately launched into how Johnny Tsunami had perfected a technique for keeping the moss off the roof permanently. Their approach was non-toxic, environmentally safe, and less expensive than the traditional solutions. He goes on to explain that just power washing the moss leaves the spores alive and the moss eventually grows back; with the Johnny Tsunami solution, they treat the house every other month in about half the time and at half the cost. 
 
I was in awe… as a sales guy, I love being sold, even if I’m not going to buy. I marveled at his technique. He had his pitch down, suggestive selling by pointing out a problem, positioning their unique solution, why the traditional approach was flawed, and then trying to close the deal with the Johnny Tsunami value proposition. One thing to point out here is that he was excited that I said no, not yes because he knew that was his opportunity to capture my interest. Most people think sales is about getting to the YESES but it’s really about responding to the NOS.    
 
As I pondered his pitch and asked a few questions, he then took the opportunity to tell me about the company, Johnny Tsunami. How the owner Johnny started the company, how they picked the name, and how much he enjoyed working there. While I believe that he really enjoyed working for the company, it was also part of the pitch. He’d done good work but wanted to affirm that working with the company would be as great an experience for me as it had been for him. At this point in time, I was really impressed with the whole process. This guy who was a technical resource had delivered a pitch that was in a phase “pitch-perfect”. 
 
Our service offering at Tahzoo is quite broad, consistent with any of the large consultancies. When Forrester did a review of Tahzoo and our competitors they suggested that our biggest competition was Accenture Digital and that our service offering most closely matched their approach. They highlighted that we need to take a stronger position in the market around thought leadership; it was especially important that we took a stand on the issues of the day and how customer experience was going to evolve, essentially leading our clients and the market with a future vision. Secondly, they thought that we were wholly lacking in evidence to support the impact of our work on behalf of our clients. They acknowledge our great work but emphasized that we need concrete metrics around our business impact to share with them, the market, and prospective clients. The theme of needing to be business results-driven is consistently echoing around Tahzoo’s market positioning. 
 
I began thinking about how the Johnny Tsunami experience can be translated into our Tahzoo world. Last week I convened a sales working group of about a dozen people from across the company. We had the first meeting yesterday and I had the opportunity to share the Johnny Tsunami story. We need to make it easy for everyone to tell our story and be able to consultatively explain how we can help our clients. The team is broken into five groups; The Tahzoo Pitch team, The Tahzoo Customer Evidence team, The Client Management and Success team, The Marketing and Campaign team, and the Success Measurement and KPI team. We will be meeting every two weeks with the company-wide deliverables being produced by each team over the course of the project. We are expecting this effort to last approximately 2 quarters with the goal of harmonizing our sales efforts and increasing our win rate. 
 
What can you do in the meantime? I want each of you to pick an area of the business that is not your specialty and begin to learn how that works. Ask someone you know for deliverables and get yourself educated. We will formalize this process eventually, but in the short term make an effort and get smart about what other people are doing. There is no substitute for curiosity and conversation with your peers. Re-read the Desk of Brad from January where I outlined our solutions, and spend time thinking about how what you’re doing could be more closely tied to our core value proposition: “We help our clients deliver personalized experiences that drive improved business results”. My last ask is once you’ve taken the time to understand one of our solutions, spend a few minutes trying to explain it to a friend or a colleague. Can you pitch Tahzoo as well as the Johnny Tsunami window washer? 
 
Let’s go be great! 
Brad 

Collaboration

I appreciated the opportunity to speak with all of you yesterday. I received a fair amount of feedback from many of you and I will continue to do these calls on a more regular basis. Let me reiterate that as we work our way through the transformational process, I want your feedback, either directly or through the weekly Voice of the Culture survey. 
 
As I mentioned in our discussion, we need to center our client relationships on business outcomes as the guiding principles of our value proposition. Understanding and contributing to meeting those objectives is the primary job responsibility of everyone at Tahzoo.
 
In my prior Desk of Brad, I asked each of you to go and read through our current thought leadership papers and review our Tahzoo Design Showcase – if you have not done so please take the time to complete this. It’s important that everyone understands our point of view and our solutions so that you can share with your clients, help us innovate and bring the best solutions to market. 
 
I think Chris Hibbard said it best, we define business requirements, which become functional requirements, which become technology solutions, and then optimize the solution for continuous improvement. When you examine most of our solutions they are patterns of customer engagement that should be measurable, optimized with data, and improved over time. Grounding ourselves in these patterns will improve the quality of our solutions and the value to our clients. As I mentioned on the call, the methodologies that we apply to our client’s solutions should also be applied to Tahzoo. If we can utilize this thinking and create a continuous improvement mindset, we will steadily improve the company. 
 
The last point to touch on is ambiguity. I read an article today from Brown University on how the tolerance of ambiguity improves collaboration. It’s an interesting read, and poignant, given the amount of cross-functional projects within the company. Take some time to reflect on how you might approach collaboration differently. 
 
I mentioned some organizational realignment as we embark on this new phase. While I’ll be publishing an updated organization chart next week, this is not the North Star for solving problems at Tahzoo. The organizational chart is designed to provide clarity around areas of responsibility but not to be the end all be all of the decision-making within Tahzoo. We will always be a matrixed organization; there are times when your obligations are to the account team that you work on, or to a project that supports the company or helping your colleagues when they need additional support. An organizational chart will not provide all the guidance required to navigate these obligations. Look to the Tahzoo values, use good judgment, focus on collaboration, and remember that taking the initiative to solve problems is never a bad thing. 
 
I will be working with all of the functional areas over the next week to define the goals for the next two quarters, and once those are solidified I will publish that in the Desk of Brad. Thanks for the hard work – I am excited about what we are going to be accomplishing over the next couple of quarters. 
 
Thanks, 
Brad 

Research

Hi Everyone, 
 
Our all-hands call is scheduled for next Thursday – I’m looking forward to speaking with all of you. John Kottcamp has created a SharePoint folder with all of the thought leadership the company has produced over the last few months. In addition to the whitepapers, I hope you took a moment to review the Tahzoo Studios Creative Showcase.
 
One of the things I enjoy most about Tahzoo is the diversity of intellect within the company. We have many different mental models – engineering, creative, administrative, and analytical to name a few – this brings me great joy. I get to talk with all of you and see the world from a slightly different perspective. If we respect one another and bring our collective talents to our clients’ business problems, there isn’t anything we can’t accomplish. 

About 10 years ago, I started following the research of the Santa Fe Institute. The following is an excerpt from the mission statement of the institute: 
 
Searching for Order in the Complexity of Evolving Worlds 
 
Our researchers endeavor to understand and unify the underlying, shared patterns in complex physical, biological, social, cultural, technological, and even possible astrobiological worlds. Our global research network of scholars spans borders, departments, and disciplines, unifying curious minds steeped in rigorous logical, mathematical, and computational reasoning. As we reveal the unseen mechanisms and processes that shape these evolving worlds, we seek to use this understanding to promote the well-being of humankind and of life on earth. 

 
One of the things that struck me when I started following their research is the importance of multidisciplinary research. For those of you who don’t know, multidisciplinary research is the combination of disciplines to solve various problems. As I began thinking about creating Tahzoo and what I wanted our company to be, it was clear to me that “making millions of people, a little happier every day” was going to require a combination of expertise and talent. As I’ve said many times we are agents of change. To help our clients change, we need to bring it all together for them so that we can deliver the best experience possible for each customer.   
 
I always have and always will see Tahzoo as a company of talented but different people who work together to make a difference. We have made a lot of progress over the last eight years, but we need to continue to evolve. During our all-hands call, I am going to outline the Tahzoo transformation to a fully integrated customer experience agency.   
 
Let’s go be great! 
Brad 

Running Meetings

Hi All, 
 
This is a follow-on to my DOB a couple of weeks ago about improving the efficiency of our company, so we can have more time to focus on our customers and our partners. 
 
Let’s talk about running our meetings… I have a few observations before I provide the framework. We need to add more structure to our meeting process. I see that there are too many meetings that don’t have an agenda, or we invite people who aren’t really necessary to the outcomes of the decision-making process. 
 
In a meeting, you’re reviewing data, work product, and sharing perspectives so decisions can be made, and actions assigned. If you can’t fit your meeting into that framework, then I seriously question the reason for the meeting in the first place. Reviewing a report is not a good reason for a meeting or a substitute for an agenda. 
 
When scheduling a meeting to answer the following questions – 
  

  1. What decisions need to be made?  
    • This should be clearly stated at the top of the meeting agenda 
    • If you cannot clearly answer this question, then you should reconsider if the meeting is necessary 
  1. What are the different perspectives that need to be heard or considered? 
    • Who needs to be involved or which parts of Tahzoo need to be included? 
    • What are the topics that need to be discussed and confirmed? 
  1. What data is required to make an informed and data-driven decision? 
    • Do you have the data and reports necessary to make a data-driven decision? 
    • Reviewing a report is not a substitute for a meeting agenda, the reports should be read ahead of time so that we can ask the important questions that arise from the data 

In addition to the framework that I outlined above, the following recommendations were provided to the Microsoft field sales force as part of our project: 
 
Meetings 
 
Prepare for a meeting that you have organized by performing the following actions: 

  • Before sending the invitation, formulate a meeting plan and ensure that you are only inviting those individuals who can help achieve the meeting’s objectives. 
  • Provide an agenda at least one day before the scheduled meeting with a copy of the invitation, ensure that invitees are aware of the purpose and desired outcome of the meeting, and outline the role of each invitee. 
  • If there is prerequisite reading or work, send the materials in advance to ensure that invitees have context and include a note in the Subject line indicating “pre-reading/pre-work required.” 

If you have been invited to a meeting and these actions have not been completed, you have my explicit permission… don’t go! 
 
Follow these guidelines when conducting the meeting: 

  • Begin and end the meeting on time. 
  • Follow an agenda and keep a list of any items that stray from the core purpose of the meeting. 
  • Clearly articulate decisions, action items, and the next steps at the close of the meeting. 
  • Designate one person to document the meeting and provide a summary of the meeting. After the meeting, send a meeting summary to share the decisions, action items, and next steps with those who attended the meeting as well as with those individuals that did not attend, but should be involved in, or aware of, the meeting outcome. 

  
Scheduling Meetings 
 
When sending conference call meeting requests: 

  •  Include the conference phone number and passcode in the “Location” line. 
  • Attach links to reference materials — prerequisite reading, agendas, etc. — in the body of the request. 

If using Live Meeting: 

  • Include appropriate links so attendees can download the client if necessary. 
  • Include the link and authorization for attendees to join the session. 
  • Determine if you want to record and archive the session so that others who could not attend can review the actual meeting at a later time. 
  • Provide an alternative source for the file content if an attendee cannot gain access to the Live Meeting session. 

  
The guidelines are common-sense recommendations for running efficient meetings. Our time – your time – is too valuable to be spent not being action-oriented. I realize this will take a little more time and effort to be disciplined about our meeting process, but it will have huge payoffs for each of you. If you’re on the scheduling side take the time to be prepared, and if you’re on the invitee side make sure you’re an active participant. This is another important part of making sure we are becoming more and more data-driven in our decision-making process. 
 
Let’s go be great,
Brad 

Email Etiquette

While I was at Microsoft, I participated on a committee chaired by Kevin Johnson (who at the time was leading Worldwide Sales, Marketing, and Services). As most of you know, Kevin Johnson is now the CEO of Starbucks. Our committee worked for several months to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of Microsoft’s account teams. The principal goal was to return time back to the field sales force so that we could spend more time with our customers and partners.

At the time, on average, only 1/3 of the field’s time was being spent with customers and partners – the remainder was internally focused. Over the course of the project, we examined communication habits, meeting structure, the resource request process, and the systems and tools that supported the account teams. We came out with a broad list of recommendations to produce an end-to-end approach to increasing the time available to spend with customers and partners.

We need to continually improve our communication habits – This week I wanted to share the recommendations we made for improving email efficiency. Next week I’ll share the recommendations for meeting structure and etiquette.

Guidelines for E-mail at Tahzoo:
• Keep the message simple, clear, and concise.
• When sending an e-mail, only include those involved in the discussion or decision and include them on the “To” line (not the “Cc” line).
• Use the “To” line if you are assigning an action to the recipient.
• Use the “Cc” line if no action is required from the recipient (equivalent to the “Subject” line designation “FYI-Reference”).
• Use the appropriate e-mail subject line designation when sending an e-mail to increase recipient efficiency in processing e-mail, set expectations, and establish consistency across e-mail messages.
• Ensure that action items are clearly identified by using bold or colored type.
• When replying to e-mail, only reply to those involved in the discussion or decision.
• Limit the use of “Reply to All” to those individuals who need to act upon, implement, or be informed about the discussion or decision.
• When forwarding e-mail, revise the “Subject” line by using appropriate subject line designations.
• When forwarding a long thread, use the appropriate subject line designation and include an executive summary.

Per my DOB from last week, just a quick update… No follow up from Uber. Not that I expected one, but thought I’d just mention it.

Let’s go be great,
Brad