Your Sport is Your Career

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.    
 
Let’s go be great! 
Brad 

Be Your Own Boss

“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.  
 
Let’s go be great! 
Brad 

Be Like Mike

“When you’re screwing up and nobody says anything to you anymore, 
that means they’ve given up on you.” ― Randy Pausch (The Last Lecture) 

In loving memory of someone who made me try harder… 

We continue to enjoy good fortune in the marketplace. As I wrote yesterday, happy clients and perfect quality work create a virtuous cycle that needs attention and care. I wanted to take a moment and remind all of you about the priorities for the business we discussed at the all-hands meeting.  
 
•    Great customer service – no balls dropped, no phones left unreturned, no emails unanswered. We are always either building or tearing down our client relationships. 
•    Perfect quality work – Every deliverable is reviewed for excellence before it sees a customer. We systematically review the work of our teams and our teammates, so we KNOW the work is good. We are all the avenging angels and teachers of perfect work.  
•    Focused on profitability – Eliminate unnecessary expenses, be mindful of T&E spend, review your expense reports, ensure everyone has billable work, hire accurately, and don’t give away hours by spreading people across the project. Maximize our margins. 
•    Resolve differences quickly – Get real with one another, don’t leave things left unsaid, agree on priorities, and adjudicate or resolve issues expeditiously. Make decisions quickly quickly quickly. 
 
Everyone needs a coach; everyone needs a mentor, and everyone needs to be focused on perfect quality work. Not close, not good, not even great but perfect. Perfect happens when teams collaborate and review one another’s work. When you’ve done your best and you take the time to put it before others for critique, you have a shot at perfect quality work. It’s the only way anyone of us can get better. 

As some of you know, I swam competitively for many years. In a very big swim meet, I lost a race by one one-hundredth of a second. That is less time than it takes you to blink and less time than it takes to say faster. I was devastated, to say the least, I hate losing! I went to talk with my coach, a gentleman named Mike Troy. He was an Olympic goal medalist and a world record holder and a decorated Navy Seal. I thought he would comfort me and tell me that I did a good job because I tried hard. Quite the opposite, he laid into me … calling out the mistake I made at during the start, how I handled my turn and not the least which was not stretching my fingertips out to touch the wall … it just went on and on. He was mad at me because he knew I should have won that race, he knew I could do better, and he was right.  
 
I was a young boy at the time, it took me a couple of weeks to recover emotionally from the loss, it would have been longer, but Mike was unrelenting. We practiced starts, turns, and finishes for what seemed like weeks. You know someone cares for you when they expect the best of you and won’t let you get away with anything but your best work.  
 
So, go out and be a Mike Troy in someone’s life, push your teammates, and be open to criticism, it’s the only way to get better. We are a company that wins first place not second with a “nice try”.  
 
Mike recently passed away, but not before imprinting himself on my life, and this DOB is dedicated in loving memory to a man who loved me enough to never accept anything but the best from me. It would honor me for you to read more about this amazing man who helped shaped my life here. 

Let’s go be great, and I love each of you enough to never accept anything but the best from you. 
-Brad 

Career Coaching

“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 

Career Coaching 

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 

Never Lose Alone

“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. 
 
Let’s go be great! 
Brad 

The Marketplace of Ideas

It takes all kinds of people. 
 
One of the things I enjoy most about Tahzoo is the diversity in thinking and talent within the company. We are truly a team of SMART and HAPPY people. Over the last few weeks, as we’ve onboarded new clients and projects, I’ve seen the best of our company has to offer. One of our most important company values is that we believe in the Marketplace of ideas.  
 
This means that each of us has an obligation, an imperative to listen to one another and absorb the great thinking that surrounds each of us. I am often asked what is the most challenging part of running Tahzoo? It’s creating space for all of the bright but very different minds within our company. We have engineers, creatives, strategists, mathematicians, writers, and analysts, imagine all the different perspectives that are brought to bear on our client’s problems?  
 
This also means that sometimes, well-intentioned, well-meaning teammates can have an entire point of view on how to solve a problem or approach a client solution. The point isn’t that the marketplace of ideas is supposed to sponsor conflict, quite the opposite the marketplace of ideas is that we hear one another with an open mind and work towards the best solution for the client. The only right solution is one in which the client’s business goals are achieved, not that your idea is adopted or that you’re proven right.  
 
It takes an entire team of skilled professionals to deliver solutions for our clients. Next time you find yourself advocating a position, take a moment to ask yourself if you’ve considered your teammates’ perspective, or rather spent your time trying to win an argument. We are all motivated talented people with a passion for our craft and our customers, let’s create space to hear one another and let the best idea be the boss.   
 
Let’s go be great! 
Brad 

The Bumps Are What You Climb On

Hi All, 
 
There are challenges in our business – there always have been and always will be. The strength of the team and in each of you is the ability to overcome those challenges. You’ve done great work for our clients, and I’ve seen this team pour their heart and soul into each account. 
 
There are many new projects and initiatives within our accounts right now. I’d say in many ways we have more opportunities now than ever. The work that we’ve done over the last quarter is some of the best ever produced by this company. You should all be very proud of your work. 
 
As we drive to consummate these new projects and roll out the new account and delivery model we are going to have some bumps along the way. We work for big clients, with complex organizations…and getting to yes, while more effectively organizing ourselves is hard work. We’ve changed a lot of things in the last quarter and I see the momentum in our business. 
 
On a side note hopefully, you all saw the new branding today… I am very excited about that! 
 
In order to realize this opportunity, in order to continue the transformation at Tahzoo, I need each of you to push hard and not leave any options or conversations unaddressed. It doesn’t matter if the challenge is within Tahzoo and how we are executing, or within the client… you have to speak up and help create the right outcome. Silence is often perceived as an acceptance; we need to hear your voice. 
 
There is an old but favorite book of mine, ‘The Bumps Are What You Climb On’. The moral of the story is that if life was smooth there’d be nothing to hold on to as you climbed the mountain. Let’s pull each other up and get to the top of the mountain. Time to pull together and be heroes!!! 
 
Let’s go be great, 
Brad 

What I Learned From My Best Customer

I want to tell you a story about one of my best customers, Gene. As a young account rep at Microsoft, I was tasked with managing the US Department of Agriculture (USDA). For some context: At that time USDA had 29 sub-agencies, over 100,000 employees, and an IT budget of well over $1.5B. The organization, the mission, and the politics of the agency were so complex that I didn’t even know where to start. It turns out that even in a place as complex as USDA, there are a surprisingly limited number of people who actually have most of the influence and make a majority of the decisions.

Like most people I suppose, I looked at the organizational chart and set a meeting with the Chief Information Officer for all of USDA. We had a nice meeting… she was very friendly and appreciative to hear what Microsoft had to say, unexpectedly for me, she asked me a lot more questions about what was happening within USDA then I was able to ask of her. Like most executives, she wanted to know what was happening in the field and she recognized that she only received very filtered information. All and all, it was a great meeting that got me nowhere.

I quickly realized that the org chart and the real power structure within an organization were not the same thing. Eventually, I found my way to Gene. He was located in Davis, California – about as far away from the DC headquarters as you could get. He worked in a small regional office and had a relatively unassuming title. There is a long and very interesting story about how I found Gene that I am happy to share in person if you’d like to know. Turns out Gene started at USDA when he was 17 years old and had been there for more than 40 years. He was someone who not only believed in the mission of USDA but had lived it most of his life.

In my first meeting with Gene, I passionately sold the value of Microsoft Software with all the features and benefits. He was patient, asked a few questions, and politely allowed me to finish my presentation, and then asked me to lunch. At lunch, he explained to me that he didn’t really care about all the features or benefits, what he cared about was how our software could impact the mission of USDA. He wanted to know if I even knew the mission of USDA. Without elaborating too much, he made it pretty clear that he saw vendors every week and all of them spent too much time talking about their product instead of talking about how they could improve USDA. He woke up every day thinking about how to make USDA a better agency, and he wanted partners to achieve that goal.

Over the years Gene and I became good friends; he was a second father in many ways. We did a lot of business together and I am very proud of the positive impact we had on USDA. What I learned from Gene was that his organizational power wasn’t a byproduct of his position on the org chart, it was that for almost 50 years when he finally retired, he made a difference every day. So when he spoke or made a recommendation everyone listened. It was his fidelity to the organization that was the source of his influence and power. Secondly, he taught me that my job wasn’t to do product demos or send feature benefit spec sheets, it was to understand how my products could solve problems and improve his agency.

Now when I engage with our clients I look for people who care deeply about their company and their mission. I want to get to know those people because they are the ones who make it happen – they are the ones who I can partner with to make a difference because making a difference is what they do every day. We are a customer experience agency; our business is about making our client’s customers a little bit happier every day. To find the “Gene” in your account, learn everything you can about your client’s business and start making a difference.

Let’s go be great!
Brad

Adding Value

We are in the business of change. More specifically, we are agents of change. Change requires a reframing of someone’s perspective; and as leaders, we provide the guidance to help others achieve their goals.

I’ve been successful in sales because of my ability to diagnose business issues. Paired with my skills as a technical and digital strategist, I’ve been able to help many companies work through change. It has taken years of effort to develop my expertise in these areas. I share my white papers, presentations, and my blog with our clients and prospects.

Each person in our company needs an area of expertise, outside of their functional area. One of our values is, “We hire interesting people who are interested in change”. What do you write or blog about? What presentations have you shared with your customers or within the company? Everyone needs a body of published work to establish credibility. The example being if you have a Ph.D., you are automatically considered smart… even if the topic being discussed isn’t your area of expertise.

I need each of you to pick an area of expertise that is related to our business. Research it, learn about it, and occasionally write about it. I want everyone to contribute to the thought leadership of Tahzoo. I know we have smart and happy people. I know we have interesting people… but that’s not good enough; the rest of the world needs to know.

Jen and Chris are building out a calendar of content that will be regularly promoted to clients and prospects. It needs to be a blend of white papers, online articles, blog posts, and infographics. We need everyone’s help producing enough content and thought leadership.

The next step in this process is for each of you to share Tahzoo content with your customers. Promote our subject matter experts. As I discussed last week, identify who you would like to build relationships with, and add value by sending thoughtful commentary and content to them.

In addition to thought leadership, there are a number of ways to build great relationships. How about thoughtful hand-written notes? How about delivering a Tahzoo logoed sheet cake to the lunchroom for a contract award, final deliverable, or the launch of a site? Drop off Tahzoo t-shirts, pens, stress balls, and S’well bottles – they are also all thoughtful gifts. Candy wrapped with Tahzoo logos… the list could go on and on.

Most importantly – build relationships by adding value, exposing our clients to your thinking, and the thought leadership throughout the company. We have lots of interesting people who have great ideas. Let’s share our vision for the 21st century.

Let’s go be great,
Brad

Leadership & Rolling Up Your Sleeves

“Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing themselves.” – Leo Tolstoy 

Leadership 

 
Leadership is not about identifying issues, it’s about resolving them. It’s so unfortunate that “management” as a career path to leadership creates so many bad habits. As a “manager” you need to identify work and divide it across your team. As people move up the ranks, they often continue this pattern of work identification and delegation. This results in what I call the “issue spotting disease”. The notion that spotting an issue and then discussing strategy/solutions is the work of leadership. Executives often fall into this trap with disastrous consequences. 
 
Most issues follow a consistent pattern; there are very few new or unique problems. The role of the executive is to create frameworks and decision-making patterns that resolve these repeating patterns once and for all. If the issue is unique, then it requires the executive’s time and attention, otherwise, the work of leadership is putting systems and processes in place to eliminate a repeating issue. 
 
The second trap is believing that leadership in a crisis is effective delegation. All too often executives in a crisis revert to old habits of spotting issues and delegating solutions. Good leaders lead from the front not from behind. We all remember the movie Braveheart, in which Mel Gibson, playing William Wallace, gives a rousing speech to his army and then charges into battle. Literally, he is the first man into the fray. Movies are replete with this type of heroism. 
 
I remember being 15 years old working at the Nordstrom men’s sportswear gift wrapping station a week or so before Christmas. I had a huge line, customers were getting grumpy and I was overwhelmed and stressed. I didn’t have the experience to know what to do or even to ask for help. I was suffering in silence – so were our customers. 
 
The next thing I know, two people started helping me and we spent the next few hours wrapping Christmas presents. I actually started to have fun, the customers were happy and the Christmas spirit began to take hold. The two people that helped me were Jamie Baugh, President of Nordstrom and Mr. John Nordstrom; I really had no idea who they were or how “important” they were, I just needed help. They walked by, saw a huge line, rolled up their sleeves, and started working. They led by example. 
 
Sure, there was a systemic problem that needed to be fixed – hire more cashiers and gift wrappers! Suffice to say, we were never understaffed in that department again. However, they didn’t delegate the solution to the problem, they managed an acute crisis and worked on the systemic challenges later. All the while teaching me and others a valuable lesson in leadership. When things settled down, Jamie told me that I should never be worried about asking for help because taking great care of customers was our only priority. 
 
I spent the next 12 years working at Nordstrom, and that experience set the tone for the rest of my career. The only thing that matters is taking care of customers. That means hard work for everyone, including staff, managers, and leaders. We should always lead by example and do the hard work with our teams, then resolve the long-term problems later. Anyone in leadership could have identified that we had long lines and unhappy customers; how many would have rolled up their sleeves and wrapped Christmas presents with a 15-year-old?  
 
 
Let’s go be great, 
Brad