Just say no: the art of making decisions

First, my apology, and then we’ll move on. I am sorry for not posting in so long. I do not know what happened. I enjoy writing and I’m not doing enough of it. My days have turn into evenings, which turn into nights, which turn into early mornings, which turn into 2-3 hours of sleep. Most of you know that I am OK on little sleep, but I need 4-5 hours to feel good, and I haven’t been getting that lately. I think the question becomes… what have I been doing?

We’ve been working on budgets at Spreadshirt. We are doing a more extensive round than before, so that means lots of meeting and work. Along with this, we are also talking about our priorities for 2008. These are always fun processes because you are talking about the future, but they are also wrought with one word, “No.”

“No” is a post I’ve been meaning to write for awhile. First, let’s take the definition of the word. The Oxford English Dictionary says no is “a denial”, “a refusal”, “the negative side or party”, and “a person who votes against a proposal”. Ouch, such harsh words for two little characters. But, it shows how powerful language is. These two letters often bring up lots of emotion. So, whenver I’m saying “no”, I try to think how the other party thinks about the decision. What does it mean from their perspective?

Remember you hired your team to be the best advocates for their department/group. If they aren’t passionate about your saying no, then are they the best advocates? You need to remember that there is trade off between local (departmental) and global (corporate) optimization, but there should be push back on a no vote. Because, as defined, no is a denial. (Note… Your team won’t always understand your reasons for this denial, but as a leader, try.)

As more help in understanding why “no” is so hard, I had a revelation a few years ago when reading a terrific Fortune article by Jerry Useem on decision making. The piece that I repeat to myself (for two+ years now): (bold added by me)

Start with the Latin decidere. It means, literally, “to cut off.” Decisions force us to foreclose other opportunities–jobs not taken, strategies never attempted, options unpursued. Would that sales gig in Houston have worked out better? You’ll never know.

This little piece helped me understand why people have problems with decisions. I never have had a problem with decisions… in business, in personal life, in shopping even. I make a decision and move on. Though not conscious, I think it is because I don’t look at a decision as cutting off anything, but rather the flip side… I look forward to the road taken, or at least, if the road looks bumpy, I look forward to having a road to take, rather than sitting at the crossroads waiting. Thanks to Mr. Useem, I now understand the struggle with decisions more, and can help coach them to the right answer.

So, as I said when I started this blog, I want to learn from you too. What is your experience with decision making? Are you consistent across business and personal decisions? Do you struggle with any particular types of decisions? Do you think that these definitions and latin roots have an impact on how we look at decisions and “nos”? 

P.S. Jerry Useem also interviewed Jim Collins on decision making and it was a good piece too.

What is on my shirt today? What else?

I (heart)
decisions

 

Adam says I'm dusty… and what a CEO should be doing

Adam’s right, it has been too long since I posted, so the blog is dusty. (Jenny, I cannot believe you haven’t nudged me too. Are you turning patient?) Speaking of what I’ve been doing, well, I’ll answer by covering the question that Om Malik asked me, when we were recently chatting in San Fran: “What should I be doing as a CEO anyway?”

If you don’t know Om, a talented and respected writer, a year or so ago struck out to start his own media group. He’s done well, even running out of ad inventory (go Om!). And he’s now not looking at himself and a handful of freelancers putting this together, but employees and larger responsibilities to partners and advertisers. Om knows well what CEO’s do, as he’s been talking with them and writing about them at Fortune and Business 2.0 for years, but the problem comes from the big grains (vision, principles, foundation) to the small grains (hours and minutes of time). Om was thinking more about the latter… whas he going the right things on the daily and hourly basis to meet his goals… and the big question… what was he missing?

Here’s my answer, based on my experience:

  • 30% should be about customers+prospective customers and their use of your product with your team.
  • 25% of your time should be with customers or key partners.
  • 10% should be spent coaching and mentoring your team.
  • 10% should be with your business’s numbers.
  • 25% should be spent working on tomorrow’s vision and innovation… which includes recruiting and org work!

This can flux a bit, but what’s important is evaluating yourself at the end of each week. How did you do? Where did you spend your time? Was it on your critical areas? What impact did you have in those areas?

I learned this approach to time management when I was working in sales. My brilliant husband taught me the principle of 1/3 of your time prospecting, 1/3 of your time moving deals through the pipeline, and 1/3 of your time closing. And yes, I need to practice it more myself!

What do you think of these time allotments? Think I’ve missed or underrepresented something?

Today, what is on my shirt:

       You have
         10,080
(make each great)

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.

Things that make you feel good

First, I apologize for being quiet for so long. In addition to my travels across the ocean, I have been training. And that leads me to what things made me feel good the past two weekends:

  1. Last weekend, Evan and I finished a HalfIron triathlon. People are impressed when we say we do triathlons, then less impressed when we say HalfIron triathlons. It sounds like half, but it is more. I came in near last. Due to the work that went into this, the fear of not finishing due to a flat tire, the dread of starting a 13.1 mile run, when I was exhausted… I have a very warm sense of accomplishment for my near last half. 😉
  2. We had my parents, and four of our dear friends join us at the finish line. My parents drove over 3 days from Arkansas, and waited around all day (over 8 hours!) from before we started to the very end just to see those final steps. Our friends Mark and MJ took away time from their vacation to push us on with signs like, “Faster, we’re hungry!” And then there was Anna… 9+ months pregnant and surprising the heck out of me at the finish! Scott, I love you too, but Anna is PREGNANT… scratch that WAS pregnant… congrats, the baby scanna came TODAY!! 🙂
  3. Traveling to Germany this weekend, a man came over to me at the airport and explained he was making a career change to pharmaceutical sales. As I started to wonder why this was relevant to me, he said, “And you’ve just helped me. I was nervous, and your shirt gave me a new attitude.” A simple white shirt, with simple black text gives someone a needed lift. How great is that? I love my job. 🙂

Thanks to you all for being patient with me. I look forward to writing more… because it does make me feel good.

What was on my shirt for the race?

Swim.Bike.Run.
     EAT!!!

What was on my shirt at the airport?

 Fear less.
Hope more.

 

 

What's interesting about "My Life"?

It has been awhile since I posted on a book that I’ve read. A couple of months ago, I finished My Life in France by Julia Child and Alex Prud’Homme. I enjoyed living through Julia’s words from the 40s through the 60s, a time when both the world and her life changed greatly. My friends know that I’m an active reader, and often write in books, as well as turn pages over to mark interesting passages. So, what did I find interesting in Julia’s book?

  • “The word is not the thing.” Borrowed from semanticist Alfred Korzybski, this was one of Julia’s husband’s favorite sayings. I’m a word geek, so this resonated with me. (As I typed that I used my OED subscription to make sure I knew the etymology of resonance.) This is a great saying to remind us that words aren’t sufficient often times in communication. One of the best things we did in the Innovation Lab was hire Anna Simmons to help us visualize our words, as an additional way of communicating between ourselves and with customers. I think designers are so lucky that they have this additional outlet to help express themselves!
  • Ta-Da. When Julia finished her first book, she declared a “ta-da”. I’m a believer in “ta-das”. Just before I left Intuit, we had started using them in the Innovation Lab. One challenge working with high achievers is that they often forget to step back and realize their accomplishments. Usually when they solve a problem, rather than feeling proud, they are annoyed that it took them so long to figure it out… it all seems so clear once you know the answer. Our “ta-da” effort in the Lab was meant to make sure that we realized when we solved problems… and besides that it was fun!
  • “I just walk away from it–fin!” When Julia decided to stop going to her house in France, her niece was having a tough time leaving the place. Her niece asked Julia if she was going to miss the house. Julia said, “I’ve always felt when I’m done with something, I just walk away from it–fin!” I have this same feeling as Julia. I have such an appreciation for my memories and how I’ve lived my life. From experience, I know things end; I don’t feel the need to dwell on their ending, but rather always celebrate their happening. As Julia said, “I will always have such wonderful memories of the [house];” I agree with her… I’ll always have the memories!

My thanks to Julia and Alex for a fun read… letting me share in some of those memories, and for giving me some examples and experiences for use in my life.

So, what is on my shirt today? Evan and I checked out, Cafe Indigo, a Vegan bakery in Concord, NH. We aren’t vegans, but we do try to eat healthy. Since we were going to the vegan cafe, I decided to wear the shirt I made for the launch of our organic shirts at Spreadshirt:

     I’m organic!
(and so is my shirt)

The shirt was a hit!

What can make you feel like a CEO?

Being asked by the BBC for a response to allegations about supporting sweatshop labor through our supply chain made me feel like a CEO. I’m not going to dwell on that story here; you can read about what’s occupied a good chunk of my time since Sunday in my note to our community on the situation. What I will dwell on here is that feeling, because I told you I would share these things. I described it to a friend tonight as walking a tightrope without a net but with:

  • the confidence of knowing what’s right (Bennett would call this True North),
  • the reality that “what’s right” doesn’t always win,
  • a fear that the group misrepresenting facts could be the one you are trusting, (would they really lie to your face?)
  • an unsure audience watching every move,
  • some nay sayers hoping for a fall,
  • the press looking for a hook (and sometimes taking the bait without investigating), and
  • a family (our team) looking for a successful end.

The first and last points create the net for me. The rest of it makes the holes in the net bigger. While it isn’t over, as we still have more investigation to do, what makes the holes feel smaller is a comment like the one I received this afternoon from a team member, Lindsay Patross who said, “You know, we don’t talk enough about why we are proud to work for Spreadshirt. This answer and what’s behind it is one of the reasons I’m proud to work for Spreadshirt.” That “what’s behind it” is my first point, and her comment is the last.

And with that, I’ll leave you with my shirt for today…

Inquiry is
fatal to certainty
(a quote from Will Durant)

I wish more reporters practiced inquiry, like the BBC did. Because of our core values, I’m happy to answer the questions… the questions just need to be asked.

Do you know what drives your business?

For the past few months, we’ve been working on driver-based analysis and planning for our different business units at Spreadshirt. The effort reminded me of why so many businesses do not attempt such an analysis. The main reason: lies, damn lies, and statistics. What happens is that you start at the highest level. Like most retail businesses, for us, we can start with traffic, conversion and basket size for each of our business units. Kind of feels cold, huh?

The next step for the drivers is to get to what makes each business unit special to its customers. For us:

Shop Partner. Number of selling shop partners and sales per shop is where you head next. And, once you have that, you start thinking about the different levels of shop partners used to judge sales per shop. For example, major accounts, power sellers and then the “long tail” are typical classifications. Then, what about recruiting of those different partners? Lead generation and direct advertising can be broken into impressions, click through, registration, activation, and shop set-up. What about shop traffic and customer WOW (I believe in Net Promoter for this measure)?

For each of these, you then argue more critical drivers. And, we haven’t even gotten into regions, and their maturity, which has a big impact on the drivers.

The question is where do you stop? When do the numbers matter and when do they become details that are distracting? My experience… stay at 5-7 drivers. No lie. Pick 5-7 and stick to them. Period.

Team members can focus on levers that impact these drivers, but don’t let those levers become drivers themselves. Keep the team focused on the drivers for their business, which will help you focus on the business as a whole versus get stuck on one number.

Another recommendation… be careful not to let drivers be self-referencing. For example, we could define major accounts as accounts over a certain level. The problem with this is that you don’t know if an account is major until it becomes major. You want to be able to target leads as having “major” potential. We did this at QuickBase by defining major accounts as Fortune 500, with a special emphasis on Fortune 100, as an example. While not all Fortune 100 accounts turned major, the hit rate was higher than going after accounts with “potential”, than waiting and seeing if those became major to define them as major.

What are your thoughts and experiences with driver-based analysis and planning? When have you seen business drivers used well and when not?

What am I wearing on my shirt? To bring some levity to a serious post, I’m going to turn to one of my favorite mood lighteners, Yogi Berra.

Don’t make the wrong mistake

Eating peas, stepping on toes and other things you don't know about me

Dear Chris Shipley tagged me a few months ago and I’ve been remiss in responding. I reached into the depth of my memory trying to think of things that even Evan (husband) didn’t know about me, that I learned from, and that were amusing. So here goes:

  1. I was on the Seventeen Magazine’s Teen Advisory board. They had a three-pronged program: work, volunteering, and fashion, of course. It was a good program that taught balance and community service. Bet you didn’t expect that did you?
  2. I stepped on a church school kindergarten teacher’s toes once in a fit of kindergarten rage. I still feel guilty about this. I learned that I needed to control some of my passion, not letting it boil over in this manner.
  3. I started using Optima C Dual Action Firming Serum this year. I learned I need to take care of my skin; it takes care of me. And, oh, I work with youngsters now!
  4. I like Buckcherry. Can you imagine me singing “I love the cocaine”?! Still freaks me out. OK, I can’t think of anything I learned from this one, but admit it, you laughed.
  5. I eat peas first. This one needs a bit of explanation. I love Just Tomatoes’s Just Veggies. The peas are my least fav of the veggies included, but I always eat them first. I carry this theme in much of my life. I often do the least fun or least appetizing things first, which regularly means that I run out of time or energy before I get to the fun stuff. I actually was not conscious that I did this until I started getting Just Veggies. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to modify this habit, but maybe now that I’ve confessed it publicly, I can start my recovery.

One form of recovery (I hope) will be getting back to posting more often. I enjoy blogging, because of the learnings that I get from it. Blogging starts conversations online and offline, and that is where I learn. THANK YOU!

And now I get to tag five folks:

  1. Jenny Spadafora. Jenny is the brilliant Community Evangelist at Intuit’s Innovation Lab. She always teaches me something, and this is the way I thank her.
  2. Steve Mann. I just met Steve yesterday, and I have a feeling I’ll be learning from him. I thought this was a great opportunity to start that learning.
  3. Adam Fletcher. Adam works at Spreadshirt with me, and not only do I appreciate his perspective, his writing amuses me.
  4. John Hagel. I’m not sure if John will do this or not, but I hope he does. I learn from his writings regularly. One of my favs is the data section of his Halloween Goblins post.
  5. Nuts about Southwest. I’m sure I’m breaking some rule by tagging a blog versus a person, but that’s me. I love Southwest’s blog, attitude, and company. I’m hoping that one of their great bloggers will pick this up and teach us all some things we don’t know about Southwest.

What is on my shirt today? I am honoring the folks with whom I spent the last 2 days. (I’ll blog on this over the next few days.) I am part of Creative Good’s Customer Experience Councils, specifically Council 10. We are a 20-person group that bonded and shared years of experience quickly and efficiently. I’m very grateful to be part of this group, and they’ve really shown me how:

10 > 20

It is easy to catch a cold, not create one: Thoughts on viral marketing

Most viral marketing ideas go something like this:

a) We’ll create something really funny (outrageous, edgy), so people forward it around

or

b) We’ll add our logo and link to the bottom of every message our customers send from our product

Both of these end with:

…and we’ll sell lots/make lots of $$

Both of these techniques can be critical components of a viral campaign. But most often they become the focus — above the message or action you want taken — and that’s why 98% of viral marketing campaigns fail.

P&G has an example going viral, but missing the messaging/action point:

P&G’s ThermaCare Heat Wraps team created a campaign that went viral, because they listened to customers. (YAY!) They were looking for a way to promote their menstrual cramp relief line. In talking to women about menstrual cramps, the team learned that top issue from women is that they wanted men to get what having cramps felt like. The team had the idea that they could use this information to create something viral… something that hit the exposed nerve they had found. So, they created, MENWITHCRAMPS, a website devoted to the (fictitious) study of male menstrual cramps.

This campaign did hit “viral” status. Lots of talk, lots of website visits. But… people didn’t have any idea what it was selling. A typical quote:

“I am not quite sure what they are selling at menwithcramps.com, but I am buying it as soon as I can.”

Nice sentiment, but if you don’t know what you are buying, it is hard to buy, and you definitely can’t tell others to buy it. So, this team “sold” the site, but not the product. And most folks, thought it was funny and shared it, but wondered why someone had made the site, as they noted how professional it was. (Note: For awhile the site didn’t even link to the ThermaCare site, as it does now.)

Dove and Live Vault each have great examples of ads that became viral and got their message across:

Dove’s Evolution video hits both the emotion of how people feel, and goes to the core value of Dove’s message… real beauty. Even if it hadn’t gone viral, it would still be an awesome ad that got across their message, which has to be the foundation of your campaign.

Live Vault’s John Cleese video (requires registration) shows you can be funny and get across your message. They used Cleese as a doctor at the Back-Up Trauma Clinic. Every IT manager (their target) relates to this and it gets across the message of the pain that’s associated with “out-of-date, tape-based back-ups”.

So here’s my 3-step recipe for making something going for viral without wasting $$:

    1. Talk to prospective customers to find out:
      1. What is important to them about your product? E.g., ThermaCare’s [missing message] “relief”, Dove’s “real beauty”, Live Vault’s “easy, up-to-date recovery”
      2. Is there an emotional trigger for them around your product? E.g., ThermaCare’s “men understanding”, Dove’s “fake beauty”, Live Vault’s “out-of-date back-ups”)
    2. Make a campaign that you know nails what is important to prospective customers about your product.
    3. See if you can come up with a simple, unexpected, and concrete story around the emotional trigger. (For those of you that haven’t had a chance to read Chip and Dan Heath’s book Made to Stick, these qualifiers, including emotional, come from that book. This is the clearest set of qualifiers I’ve seen for viral yet.)

And if this doesn’t work, you can always attend the Viral Learning Center. (Thanks to the Church of the Customer blog for that one!)

So, what’s on my shirt? Well, I have an idea for small business marketing that may or may not be viral. It gets across a key message that many small businesses want to get across to their customers and it brings up a funny childhood emotion:

I know something you don’t know

See most small business owners start their business because they have an expertise that they want to share/live… something they are passionate about. I believe, if they created fewer logo shirts, and instead wore a shirt like this, they would be better marketers. This shirt would spark the conversations that they want to have… telling people about their passion.

I’ll tell you how it works! I’m going to be wearing this one at the South Beach Wine & Food Festival this weekend. Evan got me this trip as a Christmas gift (we are foodies), but we will also be talking to the chefs about working with us on culinary cruises for SureCruise.

Other shirts we’ll be wearing this weekend say:

Ask me about sea + food

Sea the world
Eat the world

Of course, I’ll also be sharing that Spreadshirt is what enabled me to get these targeted messages across simply, unexpectedly, concretely. See… I have several of the points going for viral on this idea! 🙂

Knowing when to stop

I’m someone who craves quick and thoughtful decisions. (We called this “think smart, move fast” at Intuit.) Balanced with that, I’ve always been a believer in stopping meetings and conversations that are not moving forward; sometimes you just need the break to change the way something is progressing. Lately, the number of meetings and conversations I’ve stopped for this reason is more than I want. (Not an extreme, just more than the “rarely” that I like.)

My general guideline for knowing when to stop is if I find myself repeating the same thing in a different way a fourth time, it is time. The key point is “in a different way”. Make sure you are listening to understand the other party well enough to change your response to answer their objections, or clarify your position. You should also listen to hear the differences in their explanations. Overall, if you are both just repeating yourself, then you likely won’t move forward at all.

So that’s how I approach it… do you have any rules that you use for when something isn’t moving forward and how you solve that?

For what’s on my shirt, I have a line that is appropriate for this story, but actually happened to me a week or so ago. I was paying for parking at an automated machine. I swiped my credit card, and on the screen it said:

Waiting for an answer

Here I sit now waiting for your answer… and looking forward to the conversations this t-shirt starts when I wear it. 🙂