What can I say?

I’ve been struggling. I wrote a post last week that I decided not to post. I had an experience today that I wanted to share. But overall for both, I did not feel it was appropriate to share just yet. I will share these points, but the immediacy is a challenge, as some things still need to shake out. I’m realizing that many things that are pressing on my mind, I just can’t post yet. So, tonight I took a step back, took a deep breath and here are my two experiences over the last week based on that wide-angle lens…

A tool I’m finding useful

A few months ago, the Spreadshirt Vorstand (roughly translated to executive board members … it is a German legal construct), we adopted a principle to follow: ask questions first. The point was to give the presenting person(s) the benefit of understanding their position and reasoning, before going negative. This sounds good, but rarely works in practice. Lukasz and I have done a good job of pushing each other on this principle and it has led to good results. Basically, we have both become comfortable saying, “I think you are breaking our questions first principle.”

What it has done for me… rather than feeling defensive if Lukasz starts with arguments on a point rather than questions, I back up and push for the questions first, as that brings out the issues more clearly… rather than a presupposed solution. Since we’ve both adopted this pretty well, I believe he feels a similar comfort.

Now, we need to be better about this in the Vorstand in general, and it is a concept I’m trying to practice and encourage in the company. So, even if you don’t have this principle agreed in your situation, you can take this approach. As soon as you feel that “defensive” instinct triggered, back up and ask for the questions. Don’t defend your position, until you get those questions and understand the other party’s concerns.

This tool reminds me one of the principles of talking to the press… answer the question you want to answer, not the one asked. This doesn’t mean ignore the question, but turn it into one that makes your key points. Like the above, this “press” principle puts you in control and not trying to back track through logic unfamiliar to you. Back up, start at the source where you are both on the same page. To be clear, to do this, YOU MUST LISTEN.

Something I didn’t do, but wish I had

In Watkins’s 90 Days book, the first point he makes is to promote yourself: Make a mental break from your old job and take charge in your new one. His principles and my comments on this:

  1. Establish a clear breakpoint. I did a rolling start versus a clear breakpoint. Watkins says to identify the ways you have to think and act differently. Maybe this is a good thinking point for the plane tomorrow night? Anyone have experience or advice on this?
  2. Hit the ground running. Done. I run and I feel good milestones have been established weekly, monthly, etc. that follow the corporate priorities. I’m following these and also driving them through the org.
  3. Assess your vulnerabilities. I’m on the fence on this. First, I’d redefine “vulnerabilities” to energy assessments, meaning where do you get energy versus have energy taken. But that’s not the point. I don’t agree with the assessment which puts me weak on Finance and R&D. I agree that I don’t get energy from Finance; I like the analysis, not watching the sausage being made. But I get tons of energy from R&D. If you look at the questions though, one of them that I ranked low was “project management systems” (I don’t get energy from implementing them, but I love them in use!). But the bigger point is, I don’t see that as R&D. OK, so that’s not Watkin’s point… the words. The point is knowing where you are vulnerable, and if I ignore getting project management systems in place because I don’t get energy from them, then I could be vulnerable. (Does this count for #5?!)
  4. Watch out for your strengths. I’m guilty here. I should back up more and spend some of the time I’m working more closely with some teams backing up and communicating the vision and priorities for the company more. This is really critical, even if the vision is the same, people need reassurance that it really is the same, and in general, “it’s the same” doesn’t seem to hit home.
  5. Relearn how to learn. Done. Well, I didn’t need to relearn here. My career has been spent as a learner. It is a strength… oh, darn, according to the above, I guess I should worry about that. I feel like I’ve just hit a circular reference. 😉
  6. Rework your network. Done. I haven’t done this as consciously as Watkins suggests, but it is again something I’ve always done. I’m fortune to have an incredible mentor network — I call them friends — who constantly reveal new skills and insights to me!
  7. Watch out for people who want to hold you back. I suck at this. (I am quite sure that isn’t something a CEO should say. Oh, well.) It has impacted me in my career. I trust people, and if they don’t want to support me, it is their issue not mine. With respect to Mr. Watkins, I’d change this one to… stay true to yourself. Don’t change your beliefs because of your new role, and don’t let the naysayers distract you. Learn from them, but don’t let them distract you from what you know is right. This thought crosses my mind almost daily.

So it is bedtime now, and this brings me to what is on my shirt today…

I’m recruiting!

 Spreadshirt is hiring, and we need great people. What better place to say it than a shirt?

The #1 Question for a New CEO

Based on recent experience, what is the #1 question asked about a new CEO?

“What will change?”

Or specifically in our case: “What will be different now that Jana, the American is in charge, rather than Lukasz, the founder?” Three answers given most often:

  1. I’ll add more process (sometimes said in the negative sense, “I’ll add bureaucracy”)
  2. I’ll be more US market focused (including will you move the company to the US)
  3. English will be our corporate language

These aren’t my answers, but the ones given most often from what I’ve read and heard… sometimes created or assumed by an outsider, sometimes implied or directly said by an insider.

So, what are my answers?

  1. De-centralize management. About a month ago, Lukasz asked me if I would have done a project the way it was being done. I told him no. He asked why I “let that happen”. I explained why I believed the project was within the tolerance levels of “right”, and that as a leader my role was to set the end goal, give guidelines as how we work as a company, and then support the team in getting to the goal themselves. Guidelines are often expressed as process, so yes, likely this will include some process.
  2. Take us beyond Web 2.0. While I am excited about the North American market due to both its t-shirt culture and giddiness over self expression, what I like is our opportunity beyond the Web2.0 leaders into the mass market in all of our markets. Based on the company’s success, it is often overlooked that we have an incredible growth opportunity here in Germany, in France, in the UK, in the US, in all of our markets. It is our turn to cross Geoffrey Moore’s chasm from the early adopters to the early majority.
  3. Say no more often. De-centralizing management and crossing chasms is a lot of work. We need to focus and deliver with exceptional quality across our priorities in order to succeed to the level available to us. To focus, we need to do less… and to do that, we need to say no. So, yes, perhaps the amount of English will increase… by the word “no”. 😉

So, what is on my shirt today? For some reason “Hazy Shade of Winter”, written by Paul Simon, resonates with me when thinking about our current stage. The song goes from “look around, leaves are brown” to “look around, grass is high”. It is easy to see the brown leaves as we go through the process of change, but we need to stay focused on where we are headed… high grass, ripe fields.

See what’s become of me

This would have been a great shirt for my 20th high school reunion this Summer! 🙂

P.S. Some folks were confused about the whole “90 days” thing. I didn’t mean I would blog EVERY day, but I will blog more than once per week and discuss directly the things that are happening during this change. Oh, and feel free to ask me questions… that you want to know about during this change. I’m game for Q&A!

I've been quiet, I know… but get ready for a 90-day roller coaster!

The main reason for my being quiet was work… work I couldn’t really talk about. For my first six months at Spreadshirt, Lukasz, Matthias, Michael, and I — along with lots of folks from across the company — worked on mission, strategy, business analysis and organization structure to understand who we were, who we wanted to be, where we were and where we were going. I’m excited about the results, but that’s not the point of this post; I’ll share that in the coming days, weeks and months.

The purpose of this post is what happened around months six through nine, at least from my perspective. The quick version… Lukasz realized he gets more energy from angel investing and advising, than running the daily operations of Spreadshirt. The result of this is that as of today, I’m the global CEO of Spreadshirt. (See “Gadowski Passes CEO Baton to Eggers”, our news release, for more details.)

This was a process of discovery peppered with confusion, excitement, frustration, opportunity, and fear; and I’ll be open and say for the most part, it wasn’t fun. Being the newbie, outsider, and foreigner on this executive board made my position awkward for me and Lukasz, Matthias, and Michael. (One memorable moment was sitting in my Leipzig flat at 2 in the morning, talking through things with Lukasz and telling him overall, I just wanted to go home. That was exhaustion speaking.) Despite that, I feel lucky that they were the team on this journey with me.

Since this blog is about learnings, I thought I’d share my top three from this experience:

  1. Find a “perspective” board. You’ve heard of a sounding board; I’m going to propose a different twist. This is a specific person that you find for a certain perspective. I stumbled upon this. I happened to call Scott Cook, founder of Intuit, for advice on the potential of my being CEO. He gave me that advice, but more importantly, what he gave me was the perspective of what it is like to hand your company over to someone else. And woah, did that make me put the angst and frustration that I felt at times in perspective.
  2. Make a network map. Call me a geek, but this is an effective tool to think through who is connected to whom, how, and what impact the connections have. It seems calculating, but it is really about making sure you understand the network of what is happening in a complex decision framework. I made big mistakes here, so it is the area I would change the most if I got a “do over”. I was stuck on conversations with Lukasz, and while I did talk with Michael and Matthias, I should have done that more for learning and understanding where they were.
  3. Write down a working together principle. This piece worked well for us. Our working principle was simple: “Don’t assume. Ask questions.” We were pretty dedicated to it, and it felt good to be able to say to someone, “I feel like you are assuming…” and know they would understand immediately and the discussion then changed tone… most often.

I hope these help you in some way. I’m always happy to hear your comments and suggestions.

Now, what is this about the 90-day roller coaster? My goal is to document my first 90 days as the global CEO for Spreadshirt. I’m going to be as open as I can, which if you know Spreadshirt is pretty darned open. So… here’s to day 1! 😀

What is on my shirt today?

If something goes wrong,
        don’t follow it

I got this tip from a fortune cookie and immediately made it into a shirt. I feel that our “working together” principle helped us not follow something when it seemed like it might be going wrong.