Fearless

Hi Everyone,

I hope you had a great week, I certainly had an exhilarating one. There were some big highs this week and some real lows, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I was chatting with someone about Tahzoo and they asked me, “How do you keep going and how do you have the energy to keep pressing forward?” It gave me a moment of pause for sure, but then I simply said, “I cannot turn away from what I believe is my calling.”

The following are the lyrics to a Pink Floyd song called “Fearless”. As with most Pink Floyd songs and great poetry, the words leave a fair amount of room for interpretation. Spend some time on Google and you can draw your own conclusions.

As I’ve made big choices in my life, this song has been a grounding point for me. There is always the balance between what you are supposed to do, what is expected of you and what you actually choose to do. So as not to be too esoteric, our culture – and often our friends – don’t want to see us too far out of the mainstream or taking risks that they believe are too big or that could harm us. As well intentioned as all of this is, what matters is doing what you believe in… and I’ll share that because I believe in what we are doing at Tahzoo so much, that more often than not, I am Fearless.

You say the hill’s too steep to climb
Climb it.
You say you’d like to see me try
Climbing.

You pick the place and I’ll choose the time
And I’ll climb
That hill in my own way.
Just wait a while for the right day.
And as I rise above the tree lines and the clouds
I look down, hearing the sound of the things you’ve said today.

Fearlessly the idiot faced the crowd
Smiling.
Merciless the magistrate turns ’round
Frowning.

And who’s the fool who wears the crown?
And go down,
in your own way
And every day is the right day
And as you rise above the fear-lines in his brow
You look down, hearing the sound of the faces in the crowd.

Let’s go be great; it’s on my website, it’s in my signature, it’s what Tahzoo is all about. You made a choice to be here. You made a choice to work at a company that aspires to do big things and change the way the world operates. We do work for some of the most influential companies in the world; you have the platform to think big and go for it. So what is it… what is that one thing that you want to do… do it, be fearless.

Let’s go be great,

Brad

Conflict Resolution

I’ve been thinking about conflict the past couple of weeks. I thought it would be a good idea to share my perspective and some thoughts around the inevitable conflict that arises when humans work together and how to manage it from my perspective.

I wrote out the company values in an effort to provide some guide posts around how we should decide things, standards that can be applied to specific situations to facilitate quicker outcomes. For example, caring for our customers or our employees is our first value, then simply any decision which puts that value at risk is off the mark. The first step in resolving conflict is to apply our values to the situation and make a determination.

A habit I learned a long time ago, which I borrowed from Stephen Covey is seek first to understand and then to be understood. Most conflict arises when two sides are advocating their perspective but not listening to one another. This does mean you won’t disagree with each other but at least you’ll be able to acknowledge the things that you agree upon so you can focus on the differences. While I was at Nordstrom, I managed a lot of customer complaints, more often than not people just want to be heard, their issue to be understood and then real meaningful resolution can begin.

No matter how mad I might be… that email I wanted to send in the heated moment never, I mean never is the right thing to do after I’ve had time to think it through. My drafts folder is full of emails that I wrote and never sent. There is something cathartic about writing out your thoughts and feeling but better to have never pushed the send button. Additionally, I’ve found that email is about the worst medium for resolving issue possible, only text messages might be worse… so don’t do it. Pick up the phone and call someone, talk it through and exchange energy and ideas. Emailing is a cowardly way to conduct a disagreement.

What are you fighting for? When I get mad I have another habit which kicks in, I ask myself why and I mad? Who and what am I fighting for? It’s tough especially in the heat of the moment, but when I recognize that my issue is about me or how I feel or how I think things should be… I am usually off base. My best energy is spend furthering the big ideas and focusing on the desired outcome. If we agree on the high level goal or objective the we can have a discussion about how to best achieve our goal rather than argue about a way of working.

Quantitative decision making, reviewing the numbers and the measurable outcomes is a great way to remove emotional discourse. As I’ve mentioned in the past one of the downsides of qualitative decision making is that it lends itself to a gut feeling which isn’t easily shared. When you want to change the system or a way of working look for some numbers facts or figures that you can use to justify the work and level of effort required for change.

My last piece of advice on this subject is to remind everyone that by and large people are well intentioned. They may have a different approach or see the world differently than you but they are working hard, just like you. When I assume that someone is well intentioned then it’s hard to not treat them like valued colleague or friend. My mom used to tell a story about the word “respect”, if you respect someone then you’d “re-look” at them. You’d make sure that your underlying assumptions about them were still valid and if they’d had changed, you would change your perspective too. It’s all too easy to see someone as categorically one way or part of one group when really they are just like you and trying hard in some cases desperately to make things better. We are part of groups but we are individuals. We share a common vision and a common goal… So next time you feel conflict brewing, take a moment of pause and remember you are all on the same team.

Client Partner and Delivery Lead

I am asked from time to time to better define the role of Client Partner and the Delivery Lead. As part of a project kick off, I spent a few moments outlining the basic working relationship in an effort to ensure a successful engagement. The following is an excerpt from the letter that I wrote to the team…

Not unlike a pilot and a co-pilot, (the client partner and the delivery lead) they are responsible to fly the plane. It’s hard to imagine any circumstances in which they are not locked at the hip working through strategies and solutions to ensure the best possible experience for our client. As a team they need to ensure that we have the right people on the job, that we are delivering a level of quality that makes us all proud to be a part of Tahzoo, and thirdly that we are building our business within the account. While the division of labor between the two may change based on the client and individual expertise, the entire company needs to be operating in support of the pilot and the co-pilot. It is their plane; their account they are accountable no exceptions. There is no delivery view and sales view of the world that is acceptable to me. Tahzoo is not a hierarchical company… we are all here to serve the client or serve people who are serving the client. If you are in a position of leadership or expertise or administration you are at Tahzoo to give the team what they think they need to be successful.

The first deliverable from this team should be a vision statement/document that details what success looks like for this account. Keep in mind that we are a CX agency – our view should include the entirety of our client’s customer experience. We need a north star so that everyone who works on this account knows what we are aiming for and what are the major success milestones. I would expect this deliverable to be a page or so and a must read for everyone involved.

We’re in the Relationship Business

When I think about the skills required to execute our mission, not only does it include a high level of expertise in the areas of marketing and thought leadership, it also means that we are excellent at building and maintain great relationships with our clients.

If you were asked what does Tahzoo do? Would your answer be; we build great relationships with our customer so we can help them change? Or would it be something like we do digital marketing? Or we’re a customer experience agency?

We are in the relationship business. It just so happens that the primary value add of Tahzoo is we work on customer experience problems. Here are my thoughts on developing a great relationship with your client.

You care for your clients –
Caring is not defined by how you feel, but by how you act. I’d go on to say that it’s a commitment. A commitment to your client’s success, to treat them with respect and to care enough to do your best work on their behalf. If you truly care about your client, you are obligated to find a higher purpose in your relationship with them.

You’re a servant –
You put the client before yourself, before the company and before profit. With a servant’s heart you assist your client in any way necessary to ensure their success. Zig Ziglar, a famous sales trainer used to say “you get what you want by helping others get what they want”.

You’re honest –
Honesty requires courage. Good consultants have opinions and in a respectful way they share their perspective and experience. If the primary goal is to ensure the clients success, then they need to hear from you what you really think. The better the communication, the stronger the relationship; build the trust and have the confidence to engage your customer in the marketplace of ideas.

You make friends –
I make friends with my clients. Many of my clients from my Microsoft days are still friends. Your work is important but a friendship creates a basis for trust. We are a company full of smart and happy people… share your happiness, be friendly and get to know your client.

You’re patient –
The work we do is hard… we are agents of change. Our clients built tremendously successful business over a long period of time and although technology and consumer expectations are changing rapidly, they need time to catch up. Be patient, take the time to explain things and don’t be afraid to stick with your client while they work through the internal challenges of managing change.

You’re loyal –
Trust is a function of consistency over time. The client needs to know that you’ll be with them through and through.

You check in regularly –
If you have a great relationship with your client, then you’re be continuously checking in to ensure that you share a common vision of success. Working together, building together, failing and succeeding together (all while pursuing a common definition of success) is what great relationships are made of.

You have fun –
Find the joy in your work and share it. Enthusiasm is infectious and sometimes your client will need your energy. All great relationships have an element of fun. Smile, laugh and find reasons to celebrate.

Feedback

Giving people feedback is one of the most important things we can do in our lives.

One of my favorite books is called The Last Lecture, written by Randy Pausch. For those of you who don’t know the story, after receiving a terminal cancer diagnosis, Randy gives a lecture to his class which is a summary of his life lessons.

I want to share a quote from the book on the importance of feedback. The set up for the quote is that Randy had a very difficult coach and was recounting a conversation he had with an assistant coach…

“Coach Graham rode you pretty hard, didn’t he?” he said. I could barely muster a “yeah.” That’s a good thing,” the assistant told me. When you’re screwing up and nobody says anything to you anymore, it means they’ve given up on you.”

Shortly after I founded the company we started the voice of the culture survey. It was and is an import way to give feedback to me and others within the company. We publish the positive comments every week in the desk of Brad, so that peer recognition remains a pillar of our culture. I review the feedback every week as part of my standard routine.

Internally we also have the thrive review process, monthly one on ones with your manager, Kudos alias and the soon to be rolled out delivery lead feedback system. Externally, for customers and partners we have the customer satisfaction survey, however most customers vote with their wallet and either the business is growing or declining.

If you care about your customer and you care about your employees, you’ll have a company worth caring about. As the first value of our company, this is the definition of success for me. If we do those two things well, the rest will take care of itself. I designed and implemented the feedback loops so I could understand how well we were doing toward our most important goal.

My feedback to you is that not enough people are participating in the voice of the culture survey. If you care about Tahzoo and you want to make the company a better place, then you’ll take the time to give feedback. Consistent and constructive feedback is one of the most important aspects of your job. The only way Tahzoo will be great is if each of us participates in making it great… so next time I say to ‘let’s go be great’, let me and your teammates know what we need to do to get there.

Shared Stories

I am looking forward to visiting the Netherlands next week, it’s been almost 2 months since I was last there and I am missing my home away from home. I came back from vacation with a strong sense of optimism about the business and most importantly how fortunate I am to work with such great people every day.

We all have stories to tell… Tal and Jen have been leading a project to capture our stories and then build a visual representation of the company’s history. Tal has interviewed many of you with many more to go. Please be on the lookout for an invite to share some stories.
One of the best decisions we ever made was the naming the company. I am sure most of you have heard the story of how we came up with the name, so I’ll spare you the repetition.

A company name should have a ring to it, an emotional connection that strikes the zeitgeist. We won a large project with our first client, which of course included a lot of meetings. Shortly after the project started we were having our Monday morning stand up call. Janet, the executive sponsor of the project, started out the call by telling us how much she loved the name of the company, so much so, that she announced she had purchased a dog over the weekend and decided to name him Tahzoo. What a proud moment that was for all of us on the call!

We are looking for these kinds of stories about your history with the company. Funny anecdotes, pivotal moments and even the dramatic. Please send us your stories… if you’d rather send me an email that would be great or feel free to touch base with Tal (talh@tahzoo.com) and schedule an interview.

A shared history is the foundation of great relationships. The more we know and understand one another the better. We will continue to work on this project through the fall with a big presentation before the years’ end.

Just remember that while there is a company named Tahzoo, somewhere out there is a little black terrier named Tahzoo too.

Process and Procedure Is No Substitute for a Great Relationship

I thought I’d share with you some of the pictures from my holiday in Washington state this week. Like most Americans, it’s a working vacation but none the less it’s been an enjoyable and thoughtful time. I have a sense of renewal and focused determination coming back from holiday. One of the best things about being away for a few days is the opportunity to think about the big things. I’ve been reading a biography of President Roosevelt who led the US through the great depression and World War II. What has been remarkable to me was how much of his life’s work boiled down to key moments, decisions and most importantly how his temperament guided the arc of his life.

Brad Summer Pic

I know that you’re expecting a paragraph on my insight or plan for the company or what I think are the big decisions that need to be made. We’ll get to that another day. I would like to tell you, I am grateful to work every day with a bunch of smart and happy people. Of course we have lots of work to do, plenty of big decisions to make but the future of the company is in the strength and quality of the relationships that we build at Tahzoo. They will carry us forward today and in the future.

One of the first events I attended at the Delft office included two nice women who were handing out written compliments to all of the guests. One of them spoke with me for a few minutes and then wrote out my compliment, even from a stranger I was touched. So imagine a working world where we took the time to say thank you more and share what we appreciate about one another? Imagine what that would do for our relationships. So if you’re on holiday or just coming back, take a moment to share some compliments and your appreciation… make someone’s day… it really does make a difference.

brad-summer-1

I am grateful to have such brilliant and talented people that I get to work with each day, thank you all for everything you do to make Tahzoo something so remarkable.

brad-summer-3

Optimism… Nature or Nurture

Some people say I am optimistic, others say I’m too optimistic. I am certain the second group says this only because they don’t want me to get my hopes up and then be disappointed. Either way I am optimistic by nature, but what does that really mean?

I am currently reading The Effective Executive by Peter Drucker. It is an annual rite for me. Mostly, it is a great reminder of all the things I need to do better. In his book, there is a turn of phrase that goes … “A knowledge worker’s growth is directly related to how much they challenge themselves,” which led me to recall a story I often tell that, if I don’t go to work every day a little bit scared, I’m not pushing myself enough. I guarantee you that I go to work every day with butterflies in my stomach.

I came across a quote from Mahatma Gandhi: “Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will.” As with optimism, I have been told that I have a strong will. Some people say that I am stubborn. Either way, when I am on a path it’s hard to get me to take another one and I often tell my team we just need to “will it happen”.

I learned the good habit of confronting the hard stuff head-on while working at Microsoft. My mentor Jason had an uncanny talent for rooting out the fear that keeps you stuck. Over the years, I have internalized those lessons and come to understand that real problems never get better with time. You must do something about them. So, I challenge myself every day to confront the things that worry me the most.

The answer to the questions is that I stay optimistic because I have some habits that I’ve learned over the years and they keep me going. I know what I want. I’m willing to take on big challenges. I am committed to a path. And I confront the obstacles in my way.

That brings me back full circle to my original question: Do these habits make me an optimist, or am I overly optimistic? The answer to the question is, simply, that I am an optimist. With such good habits, I have no other choice.

My challenge for you, then, is to ask yourself: What’s preventing you from being optimistic?

The answer just might be: It’s time for some new habits.

Why Tahzoo

I spent the week driving across the United States visiting BBQ restaurants and meeting people. I am always fascinated to hear the stories about how the restaurant was started and to feel the passion of the pit master. One thing strikes me about BBQ, nobody gets into the business for the money, maybe the fame but usually because it’s a family tradition. Inevitably, we have a discussion about recipes and techniques for making the best BBQ, there is a life time of debate to enjoy. But that conversation is about the How and I am most fascinated about the Why.

I was visiting the Richmond office last week, and Ari Ugwu who is a long time Tahzoo employee, one of the first 20 in the company, made a comment about how much he appreciates that we are spending more time talking about the Why instead of the How (full credit to Ari for pointing this out..thank you).

Simon Sinek wrote a great book called “Start with Why”. On these road trips I get time to think and maybe more importantly I get extended periods of time to contemplate an issue and consider all of the possibilities. I’ve spent a lot of time on this trip asking myself… Why?

Tahzoo exists to improve the customer experience, that is our Why. That experience is delivered by how we help our clients take care of their customers and in the way in which we treat our clients. Not unlike the BBQ enthusiasts I met this week, I developed my passion at an early age but rather than being handed down through my family, I was taught by working with the Nordstrom family. It is an ideal that has driven me for my entire adult life… That is my Why.

You are part of the Why… You are Tahzoo. Every day in big ways and small ways you make the company great. It’s important that you know your why. You are part of something that aspires to change the world. Your contribution is unique and you have every opportunity to be a part of the Why. I am so proud to be a part of this great company, to visit each of the offices and feel the passion from each of you. On the best days and the worst days, remember why you are here.

Growing a Business

growingabiz

As a young manager at Nordstrom, I was speaking with John Nordstrom one day and he was complimenting me on the great service my department was giving. I was pleased to be receiving the compliment, however I was curious about how he could know that when he’d only spent a limited time on the sales floor with me. So I asked him “how do you know we are giving good service?” He said “happy and well served customers spend more money. When I looked at your numbers, the increases in your sales are a result of good service.” At that time, my department was one of the fastest growing in the company. He was right in that we had a great team, giving great service and it showed in our numbers.
 
One of the core values of the company is that if we care about our employees and care about our customer, we’ll have a company worth caring about.
 
When I think about caring for clients, I think about how they are trusting us with their goals, their work and ultimately their credibility. This is a precious gift and we need to treat that with the honor and respect it deserves. Understanding and exceeding a client’s expectations is the hallmark of good consulting. When we disappoint a client, it’s rarely a blatant violation of their trust, more often it is what I call benign neglect. An apathy or an unwillingness to understand the client at the right level of detail or the unwillingness to do the little extra. At Nordstrom, if I saw someone walk past a messy table and pretend not to notice, I knew that person needed coaching about the importance of doing all the little extras that made up a great experience for our customers.
 
So what are the little extras in our business? First, it starts with building a relationship with your client. Most of my clients, I consider friends. Some better than others, but I build relationships based on trust and exceeding expectations. My goal is always to become a trusted advisor to my clients. Whenever I am asked about secret to building trust, I tell people that trust is a function of consistency over time. When client can depend on you to consistently meet their needs, they will trust you… If you consistently exceed their expectations, you’ll become a “trusted advisor”.  Back to the little extras, prompt return of phone calls or emails. Hand written thank you notes. Being on time and prepared for meetings. Ensuring that your work is client ready or pitch perfect. Ensuring that your team is informed so they can be effective working with your client. There are many ways in which each of us can do the little extras and build trusted relationships.

.Building trust with customers
 
We also employ something we call the employee thermometer with customer centricity and customer satisfaction surveys to understand how we are doing as a company and what needs to be fixed in order to make us a great service organization. These tools are critical to ensure that we have the insights we need to make the right investments in the business.
 
Based on the employee and customer feedback, we are instituting a new role in the company called the Delivery Lead. The Delivery Lead is the single point of accountability within Tahzoo to ensure the quality of our work. In short, the person responsible for making sure we are exceeding client expectations. A DL operates at an account level, overseeing, working on and guiding multiple work streams. It is and will continue to be one of the more important roles within our company as we build our digital transformation business. When we consistently deliver great work for our clients they will trust us with more work.
 
But back to the John Nordstrom story, survey results notwithstanding … how will I know if you’re building trusted relationships and do the little extras to make a client feel appreciated? I’ll see it reflected in the numbers.