Why I'm not ashamed of Wal-Mart

I’m getting a little defensive over the Wal-Mart “thing” due to living in the Northeast and Germany, where Wal-Mart has been chewed up and spit out. I have to admit that I hate having the Wal-Mart conversation with many people in both of these places. Most typically, they boastfully say, “Well, Wal-Mart couldn’t succeed here.” I’m not completely sure why that is something to be proud of in itself. I think that folks are saying it because the big company didn’t overrun their town or country and turn everyone into mindless (money-saving) zombies with small businesses left in the wake. But that’s not the point of my post… that’s another conversation that maybe I’ll find interesting enought to write about at some point. My point is that

    • Even though they are a very large corporation and I’m quite sure there are people involved with Wal-Mart that have both deliberately made unethical decisions and mistakenly made bad decisions
    • And yes, turning a ship that big is hard, and they can’t react in the way they used to be able to react
    • And yes, they have lost some of their charm with Mr. Walton gone

… I still respect what Wal-Mart has done and I’m proud they are from Arkansas… my home state.

I’ll give you my top 5 reasons why I respect Wal-Mart:

  1. Before Ben & Jerry’s, Google, and Southwest, Wal-Mart shared success throughout the ranks. Yes, across the South, there are people who were cashiers at Wal-Mart who are millionaires now. Sam Walton believed in his employees and rewarded them with stock in the company through ESOPs and stock grants.
    • Note… The company doesn’t have that leverage for employees now due to their size. This is a law of nature, not something evil they are doing to their employees. 
  2. Sam Walton was a communicator, and he built a company that values communication. Being from Arkansas, I saw examples of this from friends who worked there. I knew about the Saturday morning meetings that drove the business for years and years. I know about the incredible satellite network used for communicating across the country to all the remote places where Wal-Mart was.
  3. Wal-Mart defined relentless focus on execution. An example: Their distribution centers lay out let stores have the minimum amount of space dedicated to storing inventory without risking selling inventory… they used 40% of what most competitors did. Why? They knew that stores were about selling and they wanted maximum space to selling space. Wal-Mart knows what is important to them and then execute with keen focus against that.
  4. Wal-Mart is not a slave to their systems. Their systems are built and bought to support their business. (I was a vendor to them… this one I know keenly.) For example, their retail systems were designed to give local flexibility with centralized control. Stores were allowed to adjust prices as needed to respond to local competition, but only to a certain point, as defined by the business objectives set in Bentonville. In all my interactions with Wal-Mart, I have to say they are the best at being the master of their systems.
  5. Sam Walton set up the company to learn. This is one reason they’ve struggled more in recent years, there are very few people from whom they can learn. Mr. Walton set the company up to be driven by benchmarking themselves across industries and departments. Every single group was expected to benchmark with people that were the tops in their areas… across marketing, communications, HR, retail, distribution/logistics, etc.

I recently learned from the book What I Learned from Sam*Walton that there was an internal rally cry at Sam’s Club, HEATKTE, which stood for “high expectations are the key to everything”. This is how Mr. Walton ran the company. He expected more… all the time… from everyone. He was tough, but inspirational, and he built an outstanding company that has been the most successful company in my lifetime.

Please know I am not saying Wal-Mart is perfect. I don’t think this. I also don’t think they deserve the ire they have stirred up in people. Before you bash them, make sure you know the facts. The company has done a great deal of good and are a model company in many ways, particularly looking at the first 4/5ths of their existence.

OK, I’ve gotten that off my chest. Feel free to hurl insults my way for standing up for the big evil American corporation.

What can we learn from how surgeons learn? BE A TEAM!

[Aside… At 3:20a I shouldn’t be doing this, but I don’t learn…]

I’m reading Complications: A Surgeon’s Notes on an Imperfect Science. There’s a great description of a then recent study (book from 2002) from HBS on learning curves in different industries. One “industry” that the HBS students decided to study was the medical industry — surgeons specifically. In this case, they followed 18 cardiac surgeons as they learned a new technique of minimally invasive surgery.

The surprise from this study was that the surgeon on one the fastest learning teams was relatively inexperienced to the surgeon on one of the slowest learning teams. The fast learning surgeon:

  • Picked specific team members and kept a consistent team for max learnings
  • Conducted a dry run before the first case
  • Scheduled six operations for the first week to increase knowledge retention between cases
  • Held a planning and update meeting before each surgery and a debrief afterwards
  • Tracked results carefully

The slow learning surgeon did not carry out these points.

It reminded me of one of the areas where we are struggling a bit now as we grow. Folks are understandably frustrated by the number of people with whom they “have to” coordinate now. I’ve often thought about this and wondered how you inspire the excitement of working with a team more. Sure, it is easier to be “fully in control” yourself, but you miss so much learning and improved solutions… and really collaboration fun. Yes, it takes work… and more work than if you were able to do things yourself. You need to have the dry runs, and the planning and debrief meetings. Basically, without this kind of structure, you do have the overhead of a team, without the rewards.

Hope this spurs some thoughts for you as it did for me.

What is on my shirt…

What do you pack
to pursue a dream?

… as I go off to pursue a dream! (By the way, this is written on my shirt in our new Santa’s sleigh font. Perfect for this thought…)

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

 

OLP, CNN, jetlag and training

I was going to post something more thoughtful tonight, but the new season of The Unit started last night and Evan and I had to “sling” it tonight. What can I say? I worked at Los Alamos, remember? I’m amused by secret government operatives, since I knew a few spooks there. 😉

So, something a little less serious tonight:

  • In case any of you are forgetting what I look like, here are some vids for you:
  • This brings up point number two… yes, those are dark circles under my eyes. As I looked at myself in the mirror tonight, I thought “Hmmmm… I should have added ‘deal with jetlag’ as some percentage in my ‘what a CEO should be doing’ post.” I’d say that’s another 10%. Jenny, I hope that didn’t scare the horses. 😉
  • And point number three… I’m almost, possibly ready to go public with this… I am considering… doing Ironman Brazil in May. There I did it. Evan’s keen on doing one as soon as possible, and this one is open, and early in the season. My friend (and Ironman) Paul Mccarron told me when I started with my first sprint (Duxbury 2005 — I did not think I would finish!) that I would end up doing an Ironman. How did he know? So far, training has been going well. Thanks to Matthias (co-founder and CTO Spreadshirt) who is making me run FASTER and more often. One thing I know for sure… I will have the best shirt!

Well, on that note, I need to go and work on the circles under my eyes. I hope you are all well. Thanks for indulging me tonight.

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)

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.

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!