My partner Chris Moody recently sent around a note on a concept he refers to as Leader Leverage. I encourage every CEO to read and consider it. His rant follows.
Many of you are probably tired of hearing me rant about some form of what I often refer to as “leader leverage”. If you’ve been lucky enough to avoid these rants, the quick summary is that your biggest lever as a board member is the CEO and your biggest lever as CEO is your direct reports. I learned this lesson the hard way running a very decentralized business with 70 offices in 17 countries at Aquent.
A critical learning about a company’s leadership is whether or not employees trust and respect their senior-most manager. Yet, asking this question directly often doesn’t get a great answer. However, asking it indirectly can be magical.
Using an NPS approach, the example below asks the question, “The company is in a position to really succeed over the next three years.” The different answers are by department.
The average employee believes the Company is in a position to succeed over the next three years. The exception is the employees in one particular department (the red box) who all believe the company is completely fucked. This perfectly illustrates the point that the collateral damage of having a bad leader goes far beyond that leader’s ability to perform their technical job because a bad leader will usually poison a team’s perception of the entire company.
We’ve known for a long time that we needed a new leader in that department for the Company. However, we’ve always viewed the issue with the current leader to be an issue around technical skills. It turns out the ramifications of not having a leader that people can trust and respect goes far deeper.
At Aquent, we found similar results around crazy specific things like compensation where people would go from feeling grossly under-compensated to feeling like they were compensated fairly simply because we made a change in the leader of their market.
If you found this useful and want more of Moody on topics like this, I encourage you to go watch his vlog Venture Kills. For example:
I had a really nice week off the grid. More on that in another post.
I woke up this morning with a very long run in mind. The air quality in Longmont is awful because of the forest fires and, after checking the weather on my iPhone and seeing an air quality index of 138, I decided that a run wasn’t going to happen.
So, I ate breakfast with Amy and read the Sunday New York Times.
That was an error. Breakfast was great, but the NY Times was awful. Well, the paper wasn’t awful, but it made me feel awful. I hadn’t read any news all week, including any tech news, and 15 minutes of turning the pages made me anxious.
I think that’s the last time I’m going to read the NY Times.
I needed a palate cleanser. I saw on Slack that my partner Moody released episodes two and three of his Venture Kills vlog. Since I’d finished off The Last Dance during the week, I figured watching Moody might work to shift my mood.
I should have just watched this and skipped the NYT. I feel mostly back to normal now.
My partner Chris Moody decided to be a vlogger and has started a new video series. I suggested he hang out on TikTok but he prefers trying to get famous on Youtube.
So far he has 57 Views but 102 Subscribers. I find that fascinating.
For your Sunday video watching, I encourage you to spend ten minutes of your life and watch Chris Moody‘s Commencement Address to the Auburn 2016 graduates.
His message is simple: Work Hard. Be Kind.
Having worked with Chris for many years, it’s a great summary of how he lives his life. And he ends with a magnificent Dalai Lama quote. “Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.”
Chris Moody, the former CEO of Gnip (now VP Data Strategy at Twitter) is doing a fun fundraising drive for the National Center for Women & Information Technology.
For at least $20, you can take a picture with him. 100% of the money goes to NCWIT. He’ll then blog it.
Yeah – I know it’s a little silly, but that’s Chris. Delightfully silly and huggable Chris.
I contributed $500 to match the first $500 Chris raises for NCWIT. As the chair of NCWIT, I appreciate his, and your, efforts.
For those of you out there who have asked “hey Brad, what can I do to help you”, get your picture taken with Chris and make a contribution to one of the non-profits I care the most about in this world.
Following is a guest post from Chris Moody. Chris is president and COO of Gnip, one of the silent killers in our portfolio. Once the main stream tech press starts noticing Gnip, they will be blown away at how big they got in such a short period of time by just executing. Chris is a huge part of this – he joined Gnip when they were 10 people and has been instrumental in working with Jud Valeski, Gnip’s founder and CEO, to build a mind blowing team, business, and market leadership position.
Following is a great email Chris sent me Friday night in advance of the Foundry Group “Scaling Your Company Conference” which we are having this week for CEOs of companies we are investors in that are on the path from 50 to 500 people.
Startups that experience success are typically built upon a strong foundation of trust among the early founders/employees. This trust has been solidified through long days/nights in small offices working on hard problems together. The amazing thing is that the founders don’t always realize that their company is even operating under an umbrella of trust or that trust is one of their core values. Instead, they just know that it feels easy to make decisions and to get shit done.
When companies try to scale, one of the biggest mistakes they make is trying to replace trust with process. This is rarely a conscious decision, it just feels necessary to add new rules in order to grow. After all, there are a lot of new people coming into the company and it isn’t clear who of the new people can be trusted yet.
A startup obviously needs to add process in order to scale, but if you replace trust with process, you’ll rip the heart right out of your company. When adding processes, ask yourself the following questions:
If the answer to these questions is “yes” you are off to a great start.
Now ask yourself “Are we adding this process because we don’t trust people to make decisions?” If the answer to this question even has a hint of “maybe” you need to stop and really consider the cost of that process.
Replacing trust with process is like a cancer that will spread quickly and silently throughout the company. One day you’ll wake up and think “this place doesn’t feel special any more” or ask yourself “why is it so hard for us to get stuff done.”
Trust could be one of your most valuable company assets. As a leader, you need to fight like hell to protect it. If you are successful protecting trust, you’ll actually grow much faster and you’ll still have a place where people love working.
I’ve seen trust work at a 700 person company. Trust can scale.
Today’s guest post from Chris Moody, the COO of Gnip, follows on the heels of the amazing Big Boulder event that Gnip put on last Thursday and Friday. To get a feel for some of the speakers, take a look at the following blog posts summarizing talks from leaders of Tumblr, Disqus, Facebook, Klout, LinkedIn, StockTwits, GetGlue, Get Satisfaction, and Twitter.
The event was fantastic, but Chris sent out a powerful email to everyone at Gnip on Saturday that basically said “awesome job on Big Boulder – our work is just beginning.” For a more detailed version, and some thoughts on why The Work Begins When The Milestone Ends, I now hand off the keyboard to Chris.
We’ve just finished up Big Boulder, the first ever conference dedicated to social data. By all accounts, the attendees and the presenters had a great experience. The Gnip team is flying high from all the exciting conversations and the positive feedback. After countless hours of planning, hard work, and sleepless nights, it is very tempting to kick back and relax. There is a strong natural pull to get back into a normal workflow. But, we can’t relax and we won’t. Here’s why.
As a company it is important to recognize the difference between a milestone and a meaningful business result. Although it took us almost nine months to plan the event, Big Boulder is really just a milestone. In this particular case, it is actually an early milestone. The real results will likely begin months from now. All too often startups confuse milestones for results. This mistake can be deadly.
Milestones Are Not Results
Milestones represent progress towards a business result. Examples of milestones that are commonly mistaken for results include:
Getting Funded. Having someone make an early investment in your company is positive affirmation that at least one person (and perhaps many) believe in what you are trying to accomplish. But, the results will come based upon how effectively you spend the money; build your team/product, etc. Chris Sacca has tweeted a few times that he doesn’t understand why startups ever announce funding. Although I haven’t heard him explain his tweets, I assume he is making the point that funding isn’t a meaningful business result so it doesn’t make sense to announce the news to the world.
Signing a partnership. Getting a strategic partnership deal signed can take lots of hard work and months/years to accomplish. Once a partnership deal is finally signed, a big announcement usually follows. The team may celebrate because all the hard work has finally paid off. But, the obvious mistake is thinking the hard work has paid off. Getting the deal signed is a major milestone, but the results will likely be based upon the amount of effort your team puts in to the partnership after the deal is signed. I’ve never experienced a successful partnership that just worked after the deal was signed. Partnerships typically take a tremendous amount of ongoing work in order to get meaningful results.
Releasing a new feature. Your team has worked many late nights getting a new killer feature in to the product. You finally get the release out the door and a nice article runs in TechCrunch the next day. The resulting coverage leads to your highest site traffic in a year. But, have you really accomplished any business results yet? Often the results will come after lots of customer education, usage analysis, or feature iterations. If no customers use the new feature, have you really accomplished anything?
Is it okay to celebrate milestones? Absolutely! Blow off steam for a half-day or a long celebratory night. Take the time to recognize the team’s efforts and to thank them for their hard work. But, also use that moment to remind everyone that the true benefits will happen based upon what you do next.
Results Increase Value
Unlike milestones, results have a direct impact on the value of the company. Results also vary dramatically based upon different business models. Examples of common results include: increasing monthly recurring revenue, decreasing customer turnover, lowering cost of goods sold (increasing gross margin).
Announcing a new feature is a milestone because it adds no value to the company. On the other hand, having customers actually adopt a new feature might increase customer retention, which could be a meaningful business result.
The Work Begins When X Ends
When I worked at Aquent, there was a point in time when we were doing lots of tradeshows. We noticed a pattern of team members taking months to prepare for an event and then returning from the tradeshow declaring the event a success. They would put a stack of business cards on their desk and spend the next several weeks digging out from the backlog of normal work stuff. The business cards would begin to collect dust and the hot leads from the show would eventually become too cold to be useful.
In order to avoid this phenomenon, someone coined the expression “the work begins when the tradeshow ends”. This simple statement had a big impact on the way that I think about milestones versus results. Since that time, I’ve used the concept of this phrase hundreds of times to remind my team and myself that a particular milestone isn’t a result. You can substitute the word “tradeshow” for whatever milestone your team has recently achieved to help maintain focus.
The most recent example? The work begins when Big Boulder ends.
My friend Chris Moody, the COO of Gnip, has another guest post up today titled Startup Culture: Values vs. Vibe. He’s written about this in the past on his blog, but we both thought it was worth reposting. Enjoy – and comment freely, especially if you disagree or have constructive feedback.
I hear some form of the following question frequently from founders that are starting to have early success:
“How do we hire a bunch of new people and grow the company quickly without losing the culture we’ve worked so hard to establish?”
I’ve been fascinated by different company cultures for as long as I can remember and I love asking entrepreneurs to describe the culture of their companies. Over time I’ve come to realize that when you break down culture descriptions you’ll often find a mix of two components: values and vibe. Although each component can have a significant impact on the overall feel of a company, the way you establish and manage the two should be different.
I think of values as the guiding principles or a code-of-conduct upon which a company was founded and which it operates on a daily basis. If you establish the right set of values early, these principles won’t change with time. Values establish your company’s view of the world and determine how you treat others including employees, customers, partners, and investors. Most importantly, values serve as the foundation on which tough company decisions are made. Values are 100% controlled by the company and should be unaffected by competitors, market conditions, and industry trends.
The people you hire will come with their own set of values. Every person you hire should have personal values that completely align with the values of your company. 95% isn’t good enough. In fact, if a team member violates a company value, the violation should result in removal of the individual from the company. Here are some other things to consider around establishing and maintaining company values:
This last point is particularly important. Watered down or generic values might be easy to uphold, but they also won’t establish a strong culture. Companies with unique cultures tend to have values that are unconventional and sometimes controversial. A famous example of a unique value is Google’s “Don’t Be Evil” (I believe the actual company published version is “you can make money without doing evil”). I’m guessing “don’t be evil” is discussed at Google hundreds of times of day when decisions are being made, and I bet it is surprisingly hard to stay true to this value even though the premise seems fairly simple. The fact that Google allowed this value to become public knowledge has resulted in a huge audience of observers that are constantly scrutinizing Google’s actions to see if they are staying true to their values.
Vibe represents the emotional side of the company. Like all emotions, vibe can be fairly volatile and is highly influenced by outside factors. For example, think about the vibe of a company on the night that the first product is launched vs. the vibe of the same company when Apple announces they are launching a competing product or service. When it comes to vibe, management can certainly set a tone and lead by example, but the reality is the vibe of a company will naturally change with time as the company grows and the products/employees mature. The biggest influence on vibe is typically success. Most companies that are doing well tend to have an overall positive vibe.
In the last few months, I’ve talked to two different startups that described one of their values as “Work hard. Play hard.” Is this really a value? Perhaps this statement actually describes the vibe at a certain moment in the life of the company. If an employee is no longer willing or able to play hard but is still producing at a high level, is this person no longer valued by the company? Working and playing hard together might be an important part of the company in the early days, but will it be a necessary component for all 300+ employees when the company has been around for 10 years?
As a leader, there are aspects of vibe that you will naturally want to try to control. However, you have to ask yourself a few questions:
If you answered, “yes” to all of the above, congratulations: you’ve just identified a new potential value. However, it can be fairly liberating to realize that the foosball table in the middle of the office is nice, but it isn’t crucial to the long-term success of the company.
I know this won’t be a popular statement, but I don’t think maintaining culture (as defined by many entrepreneurs I’ve encountered) is important. Instead, I think it critical to focus on establishing strong values early and hiring people that have aligning values. Maybe it is all just semantics on how you define culture, but I believe you shouldn’t sweat the vibe part. You’ll have an overall positive feel if you are successful and that is the only type of vibe that really matters.