Work Hard, Play Hard by Prioritizing

Habit #7: Sharpen the Saw 
Most of us spend too much time on what is urgent and not enough time on what is important.” -Steven Covey, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People 

Ever notice how much work you can get done the week before you go on vacation? Isn’t it just a matter of focus and prioritization? I am reminded of the Stephen Covey exercise (pay no attention to the 90’s attire and cinematography) in which you have a number of large rocks and small rocks that need to be squeezed into a large glass jar. If you put the small rocks in first, you can never make room for the large rocks. If you put the large rocks in first, then there is plenty of room for the small rocks to fit in and around the large rocks. Another way to think of this is that there are activities that are urgent and activities that are important, always remember that the important is more important than the urgent.  
 
I had a great week because I focused on the importance and then afterward made time for the urgent. I am heading out on vacation for a little while and I am feeling good about where the company is and where we are headed. 
 
So, let’s keep up the good work, focus on taking care of our customers and hiring smart and happy people. I’ll be doing one of my cross-country BBQ drives, this year with an added twist, I am in search of the country’s best Tiki bar. If you have any suggestions for either BBQ or Tiki bars, send them my way! I will also be BBQ searching in Texas sometime soon, I’m looking at you Chris W, Jen D, and Shawn W.  
 
I’ll continue to send this email every Friday and be on the lookout for updates on Wonderingbuddha.com and www.letsgobegreat.com   

Looking forward to recharging my batteries but that’s always countered by how much I miss working with each of you every day.  
 
Let’s go be great! 
Brad 

Alignment towards Excellence…

“If you are going to achieve excellence in big things, you develop the habit in little matters. Excellence is not an exception, it is a prevailing attitude.” -Colin Powell 

Hi Everyone, 
  
I want to thank everyone who submitted ideas for the T-Shirt contest. The winner has been selected and is now at the t-shirt print shop… super exciting! It was a tough one, thanks for all the cool ideas! I wish I could pick more than one!  
  
Now let’s talk about the Tahzoo business case submission. So far, we only have one entry… I know everyone is super busy, but we can’t be so busy that we don’t have time to improve the company. Like I always say, “you can’t be too busy drowning that you don’t have time to grab the life preserver”. I know that each of you can think of a few things to improve the company. Review the priorities that I articulated last week and build a business case to make a difference.  
 

In case you’ve missed it, I’m giving the winner $1,000 cash money. As Gabi likes to say… “C.R.E.A.M. cash rules everything around me!”.  
  
So now, a little about excellence; I tried a new restaurant a couple of days ago. It’s a new spot in DC, it was buzzing and looked fun. It made me think about our business and the anticipation that our clients have when they begin working with us.  
  
Imagine you walk into a busy restaurant where everyone is having a good time and is enjoying their dinner. Your anticipation is peaked, you’re excited about this fantastic meal and you imagine the spirited conversation and fun at the table. That is the feeling our customers have when they start an engagement with Tahzoo. They are excited, their expectations are high, and they are looking forward to solving problems that they’ve been struggling with for some time.  
  
We need to be disciplined and focused as we serve our clients. When it’s busy like this it’s easy to get distracted, tired, and push off things that matter, but you can’t! Our clients are looking forward to a great experience working with each and every one of you. You matter, your attitude matters, your attention to details matter, and most importantly your client’s experience matters. We are in the long-term client relationship business; we’re hired to solve hard problems and that is super exciting.  
  
Our clients are looking for a perfect experience. Everything needs to be perfect, not just good, but perfect. In the list of priorities that I outlined last week, the second was the quality of our work. We need a peer review process and a level of consistency that rivals a Michelin Star Restaurant service. We are a premium brand with the client’s expectations to match.  
  
We will discuss this in more detail at the company meeting in a couple of weeks. Looking forward to spending time with all of you!  
  
Let’s go be great! 
Brad 

Why before What

“Happiness lies in the joy of achievement and the thrill of creative effort.” 
-Franklin D. Roosevelt 

I’ve been talking with my daughter about a charity that she wants to start. She’ll be calling it boxes of hope, which is essentially boxes full of items that would benefit children in need. Toys, treats, and books. She is 11 years old and I was a bit surprised and delighted by her ambition. You know I am a proud father, like everyone. She has asked me for help about how to get an organization started and for some lessons learned.  
 
So, I said to her “you have to start with the why, before you worry about the what”. I explained to her that the first act of our company before we had a name and a clear business plan, was to write down our company values. It was important to me to define what the values of the company would be as a basis for why we existed rather than the other way around. As a reminder the company values are; 
 
•    If you care about your employees and you care about your clients, 
       you’ll have a company worth caring about  
 
•    We hire for character before we hire for capability  
 
•    We believe in the market place of ideas  
 
•    We hire interesting people who are interested in change  
 
•    We look for Smart and Happy people  
 
They are the guideposts, the ambition of the company. The decision to focus Tahzoo on customer experience management and subsequently to recognize that we could make millions of people a little happier every day was the natural evolution of the business.  
 
Start with the “why before you worry about the what”, applies to much more than the formation of a company or a charity. Think about the work you do for our clients … ask yourself why, why are we doing this work? We have a bunch of new projects kicking off. Has each team sat down and come to a conclusion about the why for each project? I am quite certain that project plans, schedules, and resourcing are all in full swing, but those are the what or how we are going to accomplish something, not the why.  
 
Take some time as a team and discuss the why … write it down and make sure that everyone on your team understands the why. It is the NorthStar for all of our client engagements.  
 
 
Let’s go be great! 
 
Brad 

The Power of Saying “No”

“Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and to give thanks continuously. And because all things have contributed to your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude.”  ― Ralph Waldo Emerson 

From a two page BMW ad spread in Automobile Magazine: 
 
“The ability to say no to compromise is a rare thing these days. Many companies would like to be able to say it, but so few have the autonomy to actually do it. As an independent company, BMW can say no. No, we will not compromise our ideas. No, we will not do it the way everyone else does it. No, we will not factor designs down to the lowest common denominator. No, we will not sell out to a parent company who will meddle in our affairs and ask us to subject our cars to mass-market vanilla-ism. “
“Because we can say no to compromise we can say yes to other things — such as building our vehicles with 50/50 weight distribution for superior handling and control, despite the fact that it costs more to build them that way. It’s thousands of little things like this that separate BMW from other car companies. By maintaining our autonomy and ability to say no, we can make sure great ideas live on to become the ultimate driving machines.” 

The power of NO. This was a controversial ad at the time. There was a lot of commentary by the pundits about the boldness of this approach. Great ads, connect with the zeitgeist,
and speak a truth to us that resonates within the popular culture. There is and has been a trend toward individualism across our culture and this hit the make because it gave us a reason.    
 
When I think about Tahzoo, where we’ve been and where we’re headed, I thought this Ad was spot on for us. We get to say NO so we can focus on the quality of our work. Over the past two years, we’ve eliminated many poorly performing accounts, passed on work that wasn’t in our sweet spot, and focused back on winning and keeping fortune 500 accounts. The best part of competing with the big firms is that we get to stake our claim, extol our value proposition, and position ourselves to do the best work.  
 
I am thrilled about our pipeline. We have some amazing opportunities, that if we execute properly, will be groundbreaking work for Tahzoo. I know many of you have been working hard writing position papers and proposals, Thank You. 
 
We’ll continue to sell and grow, we are shooting for 50% growth this year. However, we’ll use the power of NO, to make sure we have only the best clients, the ones that are as committed as we are to innovative work.  
 
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 

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 

What Bothers You?

What bothers you…? When I first started at Microsoft, I took over for a guy named Chris. He was very effective and efficient in his work. In an environment where everyone had too much to do and was always running from one thing to the next, Chris had a calm about him. At the end of the year right before the review cycle, there was an endless string of kudos that he would share highlighting the accomplishments of his team and himself. I was often amazed at how much he got done even though he didn’t seem to work as hard as everyone else.

I asked Chris what his secret was. He said plainly, that every time he had a fire drill he took the time to write down what happened and then he created a system to make sure he never had to deal with that fire drill again. For example, back in those days, there were a lot of data requests from Redmond about PC shipments in our territories, or licenses sales by software resellers. Chris created a list from IDC, Gartner and several other analysts about PC shipments in his territory, when the request came through he already had the data – responding was a snap.

In the classic book The Effective Executive by Peter Drucker, (if you’d like a copy, let me know), Drucker points out that the role of the executive is to identify issues and create solutions that eliminate or mitigate those issues permanently. He goes on to say that there are very few new problems, most are a repeat of an unaddressed issue. An “effective executive” designs solutions to these problems so that the organization can manage them efficiently. It’s a simple concept – what is an example of a problem that you deal with on a consistent basis? Design a solution so that it’s never a fire drill for you again.

At Nordstrom, for example, the return policy was an organizational solution to resolve most any customer satisfaction issue – we’d just give the customer their money back. It’s a pretty simple solution to a huge number of problems… think about how much goodwill that earned the company, but also consider how much time and energy it saved the employees so they could take care of more customers. Have you ever been waiting in line while someone was making a return and been frustrated because it was taking too long? The cashier had to call the manager over, get approval, fill out a form, all the while you just want to pay for your things and leave.

I’ll be sending out a survey to the company next week. I want each of you to identify one personal fire drill you could eliminate by being prepared, and one repeating corporate problem for which you’d like to see a solution. During your monthly one on one with your manager, discuss a consistent problem or fire drill, and work out a solution. From the list of corporate issues, I am going to pick out a handful of issues, and then we’ll convene working groups to resolve those concerns permanently. We don’t have to build Rome in a day or fix issues overnight, but we can make a difference every day with some good habits.

Let’s go be great!
Brad

Look For New Opportunities

We all love serendipity… Ever have a conversation with someone only to find out you have something in common? These common bonds are often the basis of romance, great friendships, and important business relationships. If you have a strong relationship with your client, they are always excited to hear that you can support them in other ways. The serendipity happens because you’re communicating and asking questions.

Our best chance for business is within our existing accounts. Assuming that the habits discussed in the prior two ‘Desk of Brad’ notes are well executed, new opportunities will naturally flow your way. At Tahzoo we do a lot of different things, we have many disciplines within the company and learnings from virtually all of our accounts, both current and past. It’s imperative that each of us understand the full range of service offerings within Studios and Labs. More importantly, you need to know how the business objectives of your clients are tied to our service offerings. As I’ve been spending more time with you in the field, it’s obvious to me that there is a lot of training and knowledge transfer required for us to be successful.

There are three critical dimensions to finding new opportunities: Know your customer’s business, know their success or reward metrics, and know Tahzoo products and services.

New opportunities start with knowing your customer’s business. BCG isn’t in the business of consulting – that’s only part of it. They are in the business of recruiting and relationships. McDonald’s doesn’t just sell hamburgers; they are one of the largest real estate holders in the world. How can Tahzoo services and products be leveraged to create growth and profitability?

The second view of a customer’s business is the demand side business model. How do they generate customers and business? Do they have a direct field sales force? Are they channel driven with distributors? Are they marketing and e-commerce driven? This is important to understand and discuss as we are either enabling the business model, encouraging or preventing disruption, or adding new models to the existing business. Our solutions are either helping them grow faster or create efficiencies, with above the line impact or below the line impact. Either way, every person on the team needs to know how to build a business case for the solution against the business model.

Answers to these questions are something that I expect everyone in Tahzoo to be able to answer regarding their clients. The questions are a great basis for starting conversations and enabling a more meaningful exchange of information. I’m encouraging each of you to talk with your clients, and if you’re not client-facing that often, then discuss these issues in the daily stand up. We are “Driven by Big Ideas” – we need the best and most thoughtful solutions we can conceive for our clients.

So, let’s go learn about our clients’ business, ask some insightful questions, and see if there are other ways that we can help them.

Thanks,
Brad

Making Millions of People Happy Every Day

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’” – Fred Rogers 

Dear Team Tahzoo – 
 
Over the last couple of months, there have been a number of incidences that have weighed heavily on my heart. The bombing of innocent people in Manchester, the public hatred expressed in Charlottesville, and most recently the devastation of Hurricane Harvey. Worse yet, that isn’t even a complete list of recent tragedies. It has been overwhelming for me and I’ve been told by people I am the most optimistic person they know. For those of you at Tahzoo who have been personally affected by these events, please know that we are here to support you in any way that we can. If you need anything just reach out to me directly. 
 
At the All-Hands Meeting, I spoke about the fact that we have the opportunity to make millions of people happy every day. That is a remarkable thing and something we shouldn’t take lightly. Our work is improving the customer experience for people. Done properly, we can make little differences every day for a lot of people. The purpose of our company extends well beyond any one of us individually and towards a higher purpose. There is some comfort in this when I think about how crazy the world is these days, but that’s not enough. 
 
We will be heading into the holiday season shortly, a time when we think about charitable giving. I won’t go so far as to say there is a chill in the air, but it’s coming soon. If we want to make the world a better place, then we need to do something about it; take action, invest ourselves and our talents. I’d like each office to spend some time and pick a cause – preferably a charitable one – to invest in. If you work remotely, associate yourself with an office of your choosing. Have a few meetings and calls and pick something that your office can support for the next year. Let’s invest in making the world a better place. 
 
I’ll reach out to the leadership in each of the offices and publish the causes in the next month. From time to time I’d like to feature the activities and impact that you’re creating in the Desk of Brad. I look forward to hearing the stories and sharing the results over the next year. 
 
Let’s go be great! 
Brad 

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.