“Be fast, be first, but never be alone. Nothing can replace the value of teamwork.” ― Farshad Asl
I wanted to say thank you for all the feedback and thoughtfulness I received from many of you regarding last week’s Desk of Brad. Indeed, we are at the threshold of some very interesting times. Keep the ideas flowing and continue to reach out to me with your thoughts and suggestions. I also appreciated the book recommendations I received… thank you!
When I was contemplating starting Tahzoo, the first thing I did was write out a list of values that I wanted to build a company around. This was before we had a name and frankly even before deciding what the company would be doing. In my mind, if we could agree on a core set of values and organizing principles, then we’d have the opportunity to bring together a group of likeminded people to solve problems. A careful note of distinction — I never expected to build a company where like-mindedness was centered around one or a few technical disciplines, quite to the contrary, it seemed to me that having a core set of values would be the glue that would hold the company together rather than consistency in our collective expertise.
The purpose of these values was to ensure that we could bring together a wide variety of people from differing backgrounds and experiences to solve some very difficult problems and be able to count on these types of people every day. I think Smart and Happy is the easiest of the values to understand. Who wouldn’t want to go to work every day with a group of smart and happy people? It wouldn’t matter what you “did” for the company or that you’d work within integrated teams, but you could count on the notion that at least you’d be working with Smart and Happy teammates. It’s a simple hypothesis, “that consistency in values across a company would facilitate more effective teams and better solutions as we tackled difficult problems”.
A quick reminder of the company values – The words have been tweaked from time to time but the sentiment remains that same.
If you care about your clients and you care about your employees, you’ll have a company worth caring about
We hire for character before we hire for capability or qualifications
We want to work with interesting people, who are interested in change
We believe in the marketplace of ideas
We hire Smart and Happy people
Touching on value number three, “We want to work with interesting people who are interested in change” … My DOB last week was about change. I approach change with vigor and curiosity, maybe it’s a way of dealing with my fear of change or a natural extension of my curiosity. Either way, I find the idea of change, understanding what is going to change, and the reward of experiencing change to be a central and driving force in my life. I am excited about all the change happening within Tahzoo right now, we are going places! We are doing great work for amazing clients and most importantly we are perfecting our craft.
I was chatting with Dara Keo, VP of Technology, today about the importance of trust among teams and trust between Tahzoo and our clients. One of the first and most important steps in building trust is getting to know one another. We have a lot of interesting people at Tahzoo, take the time to get to know your peers, their interests, their hobbies, and their passions. My challenge to each of you this week is to go spend some time with someone in the company you don’t know very well and get to know them. Being interested is the start of being interesting, and if you work at Tahzoo you’re an interesting person.
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.
Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today and creates a vision for tomorrow.” -Melody Beattie
Can’t stop, won’t stop…
You cannot break up with yourself, you cannot grow apart from yourself. No matter where you are in life, the rest is up to you.
There are a lot of reasons that I started Tahzoo and a very important one is that I wanted to test myself. I wanted to see if I could build a company that did meaningful work and provided an environment where each person would have the opportunity to grow to find their best self. It is the most important thing to me. Over the last 9.5 years, I’ve been tested in so many ways, so many unexpected ways. I’ve found new reservoirs of strength and at the same time been left grieving over my failures and inadequacies. There was a show called ABC Wide World of Sports with the tagline “The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat”. I used to love to watch this show as a kid, watching various athletic competitions with a detailed storyline about the contestants. I really enjoyed hearing the back story about the athletes and how they progressed through their training to compete at the highest levels.
If I learned anything from the show, I learned that being good is hard but being great is a whole different level of effort. Even with all the practice, all the training, and all the effort, sometimes you come up short… but do you really? Or is it more about the effort and what you learn about yourself along the way?
Your career is your sport. You work hard, improve your skills, and hopefully one day you’re executing at the highest levels. Sometimes you’ll be extraordinarily successful and sometimes you’ll come up short, but every day is a chance to learn about yourself and make improvements. I want Tahzoo to be a place where you have a chance to excel.
I’ll continue to work hard and engineer the company in ways that increase the opportunity for each of you to be successful. Some days we’ll enjoy the thrill of victory and some days the agony of defeat, but you’ll never ever see me stop trying to make Tahzoo a better place and I hope that I can count on each of you to do the same.
“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.
“Each person holds so much power within themselves that needs to be let out. Sometimes they just need a little nudge, a little direction, a little support, a little coaching, and the greatest things can happen.” -Pete Carroll
As you all know, yesterday was the close of the first round of selecting your career coach. I’ve had conversations with many of you and there seems to be a mix of enthusiasm and some concern. With any new system, there are going to be lessons learned and some unintended consequences. The first period is only four months, after which each of you will be given the opportunity to stay in place or select a new career coach if they have an opening. What is at stake here is a novel way to ensure that everyone in the company is receiving the coaching they deserve and enjoying the freedom to learn about different parts of the business.
I have been speaking regularly on the importance of agility for 21st-century companies. Agility is a derivative of focus and decision making. We have to work in an interdisciplinary model for which the definition of success is a happy client. While each of us will bring expertise to the account, we have to work together collaboratively and understand all the disciplines that are being brought to bear within an account. For example, it makes sense to me that the project management model for strategy work, creative design work, and technical build work will all operate slightly differently. If the goal is a happy client, then the handoffs between team members are critical.
The language used by the various practice areas needs to be consistent and well understood across the company. When a team shares a common understanding and a common language then decision making is accelerated. Bespoke consulting for Fortune 500 companies is hard. Our clients have large bureaucracies and shifting power structures that need to be attenuated. The only way we can successfully navigate within a large account is to have great team communication and to speak with one voice to the client. Every account team in the company should be talking about and striving to improve communication, collaboration, and decision making. The career coaching model should provide more exposure across disciplines, and hopefully breakdown some silos and improve our common language.
One of our company values is “we hire interesting people who are interested in change”. It is my hope that this new system sparks a wellspring of knowledge sharing within Tahzoo. That each of you has a chance to thoughtfully consider the coaching and experience that will advance your career. Be intentional about your career, don’t just let it happen to you. Think about where you’d like to be in 5 years or 10 years and ask yourself what experiences, what knowledge do you need to acquire? Where do you have a curiosity that should be explored? Finding a good mentor is about the most important thing that someone can do to advance their career. I trust that this new model will give each of you the opportunity to strengthen relationships, explore new areas of the business, and enrich your Tahzoo experience. Let’s go be great! Brad
“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
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!
“You can waste your lives drawing lines. Or you can live your life crossing them.” –Shonda Rhimes
I’ve been thinking about these two concepts a lot lately. They are often in juxtaposition with respect to someone’s performance as a teammate or an employee. There are times when each of us falls short, misses the mark, or just lets their teammates down, it happens. The question that I wrestle with is why?
I think the company is working really hard these days. We are winning business, onboarding new colleagues, and doing really great work for our clients. I think everyone should be really proud, we’ve focused on our clients and the teamwork is really impressive. I can’t count the number of very strong performances in recent weeks. It’s truly amazing and I am so proud of all of you. However, there have been some moments in the last few weeks when the team or individuals have faltered. In my case, no matter how well we execute, I can only see opportunities for improvement. But that is okay because I want each of you to be the best you can be at what you do.
Hence, my concern about how do we hold one another accountable and also have compassion for the challenges someone may be facing.
A few things for each of you to contemplate. You are responsible for holding each other accountable. The idea that “management” is the only party responsible for that is just silly. You are the management. We hired you because you’re Smart and Happy, which means I am expecting each of you to be leaders. You are expected to do great work and empowered to expect the same from one another. We are and will always be a flat organization because I believe that our success is based on great teamwork- not hierarchy.
Teams need to effectively communicate; they need to be honest both in praise and in criticism. This is where the juxtaposition comes into play … the obligation is to communicate. If you see someone not living up to the Tahzoo standards, then say something. Don’t hold on it, don’t let resentment build, don’t tell stories… own it and say it. People know you care about them when you take the time to be honest and help make them better. You know someone doesn’t care about you when they just watch you fail.
On the other hand, if you’re struggling, then say something, we are all here to support you. I say this all the time “never lose alone” and I mean it if you’re having a hard time call it out. What you can’t do is wait till someone offers constructive criticism and then unleash a torrent of excuses or an explanation about the problem you’re having. It’s not fair and in fact, how can we ever have a great team if when someone delivers a substandard performance, they can just provide an excuse. Each of you has an obligation to be real and transparent about what is going on for you.
Think about this as a set of rules that we are going to run the company with…
• Everyone needs to be focused on delivering their best work at all times. • We hold ourselves and each other accountable to that standard. • We agree that if we are challenged in some way, we share that with our teammates so they can help.
If we can focus on those three rules, our performance will improve, our teamwork will improve and we’ll find ourselves enjoying work because each of us is doing our best work, the hard work every day surrounded by teammates who are doing the same. This is the Tahzoo that I’ve envisioned, each of us finding our best selves by building a company that cares for one another and cares about our clients.
“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.
“Rest when you’re weary. Refresh and renew yourself, your body, your mind, your spirit.Then get back to work.” -Ralph Marston
I was enjoying listening to the classic rock band, The Doors last night. The is a great song named “I’ve been down so long” … The famous lyric from the song is; “Well, I’ve been down so very damn long that it looks like up to me”. It’s a great example of literary wordplay.
As I was listening to the song, I was struck by the idea that when times are tough it’s easy to become overly narrow in your focus. We have a saying at Tahzoo which is “Never Lose Alone”. When things are difficult sometimes it’s hard to ask for help. Keep in mind that you work with Smart and Happy people… we are a team, not a collection of individuals.
It’s an exciting time for Tahzoo, we have lots of big projects kicking off and some of which are groundbreaking. That means we are going to have challenges, differences of opinions, and a number of new people that are joining Tahzoo. It’s up to all of us to make sure we are communicating effectively and working as a team to resolve issues. In many ways, this is project management 101 but a truly great team doesn’t just have good systems and processes, they communicate effectively.
So if you find yourself having a challenging time over the next few months, don’t hesitate to be vocal and reach out for support and guidance. Another Tahzoo saying “Escalate Early and Often”. Lastly, there is nothing more important to me than ensuring that we have satisfied clients, so if you’re challenged and want some advice my door is always open.
“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.