“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.
There is an old saying that “the difference between people is the books they’ve read and the people they’ve met”. As most of you know I enjoy reading very much. I still consider it reading if you listen to a book on Audible etc., (just to state my position on the topic). When I was in the Tahzoo Richmond, Virginia office, we had a quick chat about books and restarting Tahzoo’s book club. I read three books over the holidays: Designing Your Life, Partners in Command and Talking to Strangers. All great reads – thought provoking and good brain food.
I enjoyed Designing Your Life the best. I recommend this book for anyone who is interested in a more conscious and prescriptive approach to living your life. Many of you are early in your careers, this book is a great way to frame how to approach the critical thinking and next steps for creating a fulfilling life.
When I read, I am in ‘Flow’ … a state of total immersion where I lose track of time and I am fully engaged at the moment. There is an American psychologist named Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi who pioneered the study of Flow or sometimes referred to as “being in the Zone”. His work is fascinating, and at Tahzoo we used some of his methodologies for analyzing the quality and intensity of various brands and their customers. One of the main points of Designing Your Life is to make sure you are doing things that put you in a state of Flow.
In an effort to sponsor more Flow within Tahzoo and to give us an opportunity to share ideas and perspectives, I am restarting the Tahzoo book club. The first book we are going to read is Range, by David Epstein. “Why generalist triumph in a specialized world”. It appears to speak to my belief that success and innovation at Tahzoo will be a byproduct of bringing together interdisciplinary teams in support of the customer experience. However, I haven’t read the book yet, so we’ll see.
We’ll read one book a month and meet every four to six weeks depending on schedules, which seems like a reasonable cadence. If you’re excited about this, then let me know and I’ll send you a copy of the book to get started.
“I believe in these guys and they believe in each other. The biggest thing for us is never quit.”-Washington Nationals manager Dave Martinez
All of our engagements are about three distinct areas of organizations; people, processes, and technology. Our clients hire us to work through all of those dimensions to achieve a business objective.
In that context, I want to start a conversation about “how” we execute on those three dimensions. One of our core values is we hire interesting people who are interested in change and I’ve written often about how as individuals and as a company we are agents of change.
I’d like to stipulate that we do work in these three domains with every client. What I am concerned about is that we are not consistent in the way that we approach our client relationships recognizing that all three domains need a strategy and an execution plan. I think on the technical side of our business we are extraordinarily well documented, consistent and virtually every consultant within Tahzoo operates within a common and consistent framework. However, when it comes to people and process, we need more well-developed methodologies and execution plans.
I’ve always been proud of how good we are at building relationships with our clients. Over the years we’ve become quite good at mirroring the corporate culture of our clients. These “connections” have enabled the change management processes but we should not be deluded into thinking that building strong personal relationships is our change management process. We need to be way more thoughtful and structured about how we are going to drive organizational change and assist our clients with designing, leading, and implementing change.
On the process side, we have excellent Business Analysts and Functional Consultants who work very well with our designers and engineers to design and build a state of the art systems. We document the “as is” and the “to be” state quite well. But that isn’t sufficient when we are driving large scale organizational change. Not only do we need to design the “as is” state but we also need tools for rationalizing the ROI of the change and then a plan to drive wide-scale adoption of the new methods and procedures.
As a company, we do many things very well and we need to continue to evolve our thinking and methodologies. I am raising this with each of you today to begin a companywide conversation about change management and how are we going to evolve the people process and technology aspects of our engagements. The combination of Sites and Docs coupled with the DAM/Aprimo workflow tools is leading us down this path regardless. We can’t just be good at implementing systems against business goals, we need to be good at leading change in all three dimensions.
Remember, rarely is the technology that is the impediment to success… it is the people, process, and change management issues. I believe we can be the agents of change that our clients need to push through and make the most of their investments.
“There are two primary choices in life: to accept conditions as they exist or accept the responsibility for changing them.” —Denis Waitley
You’re not the boss of me. In the 21st century, companies will thrive because they are agile. We are warping through a period where computational power is doubling, and the rate of technology adoption is moving at an exponential clip. For the most part, it’s why we are going to grow by 65, almost 70 percent this year. There is a very high demand in the market for a company like us to help our Fortune 500 clients take advantage of all of this change and opportunity.
That brings me to each of you. In the 20th Century typical business setting you had a boss and you followed instructions. If you were competent and showed some initiative, you’d move up the ranks. You could pick a discipline, become an expert, and enjoy the requisite level of seniority. If your heart was in management and leadership, you could add that to your competencies and again move up the ranks, but you always had a boss. Someone you could depend on to tell you what to do.
Well, that is soooo 20th Century. At Tahzoo you are your own boss, you don’t have a boss. You have a small group of people who are here to support you and help you achieve success and your career objectives. You don’t have to be on a specific track or have a singular focus on a discipline… you have agility, you have mobility and you have options. Now back to my original statement, 21st-century employees need to be agile. When I meet some of you, the technical skill you were hired for doesn’t even exist anymore… are there any former flash developers in the house (ahem Dara Keo, VP of Technology)?
We do complexly bespoke consulting to Fortune 500 companies with very difficult, expensive, and unique business problems. Where you started, where you are and where you finish will most assuredly be different.
Considering all of this, in September I implemented “the choose your own career coach” management model. I did this because you don’t need a boss, you need a small group of people, for now; your career coach, your account executive, and your practice lead to support you in reaching your goals and assist you in servicing our clients with acumen and aplomb.
Guess what- it’s hard, it means that you need to develop and manage at least three relationships within the company and as many or more on the client-side. That requires emotional agility, it requires that you have a plan and you work the plan. If you think that you’ll have a boss who will tell you what to do and you can merrily tune out, you’ve missed the point. Each one of you is your own boss, you decide how you’d like your career to progress, the skills you are going to develop, and frankly, you are only limited by your ambition.
Everyone will be receiving feedback from their career coach within the next week or so. Please take the time to talk about your career and your ambitions, develop a plan. Tom Wanat, VP of Delivery Operations, called it a personal learning journey. I like the ring of that…
It’s almost 2020, computing power and the solutions that are a derivative of that are going to double in effectiveness within 18 months, are you ready for that level of change? Have you thought about what skills you need to be developing to take advantage of the change? Are you learning to be agile in your approach to work and who you manage your career path?
Invest in yourself, leverage your three core relationships, and have a plan. You are your own boss.
“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.
I am nothing but thrilled about the progress we’ve made in our business over the last couple of months. That is not to say that we still don’t have a long way to go but we have a direction now and the opportunity to do great work. We grew up doing SDL Tridion implementations, we started out as builders and we also need to become consultants. We need to be solution-focused and very adept at bringing many different skills together to deliver for our clients.
So what does it mean to be a good consultant?
We need to practice being good consultants to one another. Again, we can’t expect to be a good consulting firm externally and not act like one internally. You can’t loaf in practice and go win the big game, it just doesn’t work.
Good consultants do a few things really well, aside from being Smart and Happy. They are experts, they have opinions, they run effective meetings concisely and beautifully present information.
As an expert in your field, you are expected to be always learning. You are expected to take growing your knowledge seriously and you are expected to contribute to the thought leadership of the company. As Tom has recently coined, everyone needs to be on a “Personal Learning Journey”.
You have to have an opinion. You cannot be an expert and be afraid or unwilling to speak your mind. It’s important to recognize this means that you have to be well prepared and immersed in your client’s issues so that you can have opinions. It should never be acceptable for one of our consultants to be a wallflower. Of course, as leaders, we will have members that are so opinionated that they are ineffectual or just stubborn, but you’ll coach them appropriately. We believe in the market place of ideas. Our clients should be enamored with our critical thinking and brilliant ideas.
Running an effective meeting. This is a real area of opportunity for improvement for Tahzoo. An effective meeting has the following attributes; An Agenda is sent out ahead of time, it starts on time with all members present, all the necessary information/reports are available, decisions are made, and meeting minutes are sent out as a follow up with action items detailed.
Start on time
All members present
All information/reports available
Decisions are made
Meeting minutes are sent out
Action items are documented
Just put yourself in our customer’s shoes; they are hiring us, every hour, per person, seems to me this should be a minimum expectation for each and every one of us … and everyone who works at Tahzoo.
Concisely and beautifully presented information. Our work needs to be perfect, not just good. Each of us needs to take the time to do perfect work and to ensure that the work that is being produced by our team is perfect. We cannot count on perfect work from our teams unless there is a process of inspection. There is an old saying of mine, “you get what you inspect, not what you expect”.
These are the core skills of a consultant. We’ll practice working with one another and by extension become better consultants to our clients.
“I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes. Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You’re doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly, you’re doing something.” -Neil Gaiman
Dear Tahzoo Family,
As we approach the end of this year, I want to thank each one of you for being part of this family. I appreciate your great work, commitment, and dedication, which have been the reason for Tahzoo’s progress and success.
Eight and a half years of operating in a competitive marketplace such as ours that is constantly and rapidly evolving is an achievement that I am particularly proud of – I am honored to be here, honored to work with each of you, and even more so to have done it on the back of our consistent strong values and high-quality service.
There is still plenty to be achieved in Tahzoo’s evolution and I see next year lined up with many successes and great achievements. Our new project at Deloitte is shaping up to become a fantastic, long term client for us and I have high hopes for a continued reinvigorated partnership with SDL.
As you know, we will be closed to celebrate New Year’s Day, I invite each of you to slow down, take time to breathe, ponder the opportunities that await all of us in 2019. We should be thankful for what we have, and remember to embrace our loved ones and be grateful for the feeling of having them around and close.
I wish you all a very happy new year, filled with success, happiness, and good health.