Connect Your Services to iDoneThis Effortlessly with Zapier
One of the biggest pain points we’ve heard from our customers is that the vital information on what’s getting done in the company is fragmented across different systems. Changes to the code happen in Github, meetings happen in Google Calendar, and tasks are marked as done in Trello. There’s no one place to see, talk about, and get excited about everything that’s happening in the company.
iDoneThis is meant to be that place, but we’ve heard that one of the biggest pain points is that you have to enter dones again into iDoneThis, what you might’ve already entered into another system. And that means that iDoneThis is just more work to do.
That’s why we teamed up with Zapier, an awesome tool that automates tasks between two apps with “zaps”, to make it even easier to record and share what you’re getting done in all the tools you use — without any change to your current behavior, to empower you to use the tools you love. We’re excited to share some of the most popular app integrations with iDoneThis using Zapier.
Zapier’s zapping magic takes small but accumulating tasks that you do every day off your plate. By automating the recording of dones, now you don’t have to enter duplicate information into iDoneThis and you can spend more time on the things that matter.
Share Accomplishments and Build Transparency Effortlessly with Zapier and iDoneThis
— The Zapier team itself found that people who habitually didn’t spend much of their day in their email inbox, such as engineers, always forgot to enter their dones when the email came around at the end of the day. They created zaps that automatically sent GitHub commits to iDoneThis which looped the business side into the progress that the dev guys were making on improving the product and squashing bugs.
Co-founder and CEO Wade Foster loves the GTalk to iDoneThis zap. Whenever he completes a task, he just sends an IM to the Zapbot on GTalk through Zapier, and the message gets logged in iDoneThis. Ever since he started using the zap, the number of dones that he logs surged two- to threefold, simply by logging them as they happened rather than batching them later.
— The Buffer team uses Zapier to connect Trello and iDoneThis. In their pipeline of tasks on a Trello board—To-Do, Doing, Done—when an item gets moved into the Done column, it’s automatically recorded in iDoneThis. That makes iDoneThis the place where they can see what’s getting done across all of the different services that they use without any additional work on their part.
— Here at iDoneThis, we zap meetings and events from our Google Calendar into iDoneThis so that the whole team gets a better sense of who people are talking to and meeting on a regular basis. Before Zapier, the engineering team often wouldn’t know what the business side of the team was doing. This is a powerful force for creating transparency in the organization, because oftentimes business guys pass of their work as inscrutable to engineers and this creates a harmful rift in the team. When the engineers know that the business folks are taking important, valuable meetings, that builds trust in an organization.
Every zap is like a recipe, consisting of a trigger plus an action. For our particular zaps, the action is an email sent to iDoneThis.
Each automation that Zapier does for you is a task. For example, if you send your dones to iDoneThis through the Gtalk zap, every instant message you send that gets recorded in iDoneThis is one task.
Now, to get these zaps going, you need to sign up for a Zapier account. Zapier has multiple plans with four tiered pricing options, but the free plan that gives you 5 zaps and 100 tasks will get you started on all of the zaps that we offer.
How to Get Started Setting Up Your iDoneThis Zaps
Head over to our Apps page and click on the Zapier link where you’ll find our specially curated collection of zaps.
To set up a zap, Zapier will walk you through each step. We’ve pre-filled in the zaps with default settings, but you’ll need to make a couple tweaks to make it work for you. Here’s a quick run-through and some tips for each step.
STEP 1:Pick your trigger and action for this zap. This is where you pick the two apps you want to connect. Depending on the app, there may be more than one possible trigger. For example, a Trello trigger could be when there’s any new activity in Trello or the addition of a new card.
STEPS 2 & 3:Connect accounts. Here, you’ll connect your two app accounts to Zapier, one of which will be your email account which will be used to send emails to iDoneThis.
STEP 4:Filter. Depending on the app, this step is either required or optional. Filtering means you can choose the conditions for when a zap’s trigger is set off to record your iDoneThis entries. For example, you probably want to choose a specific Evernote notebook or Trello board. This way, you won’t have all your notes, cards, and lists flooding your iDoneThis.
STEP 5:Create your email. Don’t worry about filling in any optional information unless you have a very specific purpose in mind.
Now for the required steps. You must choose a destination address for the email. Depending on whether your zaps are headed to a personal or team iDoneThis account, the email address will be different. In both cases, make sure you’ve connected the same email account that you use with iDoneThis.
Unless you’d like to send the done to both a personal and team iDoneThis account, click the minus sign to delete the email address you will not be using.
Personal: Fill out the “to” field with email@example.com. If you have more than 1 personal account, use the following team directions.
Team: Your “to” email address is something that looks like [your_team_short_name]@team.idonethis.com. Check the address from which your daily reminder or digest emails are sent to find out what it is. For example, if you receive emails from firstname.lastname@example.org, enter that into the field.
Alternatively, find the last part of the web address when you log onto your team calendar (this may be different from your actual team name), and that’s the team short name that goes in front of "@team.idonethis.com". For example, if your team calendar is at http://idonethis.com/cal/elephants/, the email you use should be email@example.com.
The subject and body fields are required as well. In our collection of zaps, these fields will be pre-filled, but feel free to experiment with what information you want to include in the body, which is what gets recorded into iDoneThis.
For instance, add hashtags such as #trello or #github so you can keep track of specific zaps. Here’s how we filled out the Body field of our Trello zap to record cards that are moved into the Published column of our content board into iDoneThis.
STEP 6: Try out your zap. Give a few test runs to test your zaps. Make sure everything’s hooked up and working, and that all the fields you want are included.
STEP 7: Make zap live. Give your zap a name, and then you’re ready to go. It’s alive!
The Shit Sandwich and Other Terrible Ways to Give Feedback
Giving feedback well is one of the manager’s most difficult skills to master, because, as famed tech founder and investor Ben Horowitz points out, it’s incredibly unnatural.
If your buddy tells you a funny story, it would feel quite weird to evaluate her performance. It would be totally unnatural to say: “Gee, I thought that story really sucked. It had potential, but you were underwhelming on the build up then you totally flubbed the punch line. I suggest that you go back, rework it and present it to me again tomorrow.” Doing so would be quite bizarre, but evaluating people’s performances and constantly giving feedback is precisely what a CEO must do.
Here are three fundamentally flawed approaches that inexperienced managers take in trying to perform the dark art of giving feedback, and how to avoid them.
The Shit Sandwich
The shit sandwich, or the praise sandwich, as some ironically call it, is a technique for giving feedback that involves sandwiching critical, truthful feedback (the shit) in between two slices of praise.
The idea behind the shit sandwich is that it’s a way to ease people into harsh feedback by starting off the conversation with complimentary praise. This surprisingly results in the exact opposite of what’s intended.
In a study at the University of Chicago, behavioral science professor Ayelet Fishbach conducted a simulation in which she divided a class in half and instructed one half to give negative feedback to the other. Amazingly enough, the half receiving feedback thought “they [were] doing great.”
Why did they walk away with a positive impression of their performance when the students giving feedback set out to let their them know that their performance was unsatisfactory? “Negative feedback is often buried and not very specific,” according to Fishbach. In other words, when you feed someone a shit sandwich, they’re liable to walk away licking their lips.
Feedback conversations can often devolve into “one big pile of information” from which “data points [are chosen] almost at random,” according to Ray Dalio, founder of Bridgewater Associates, the largest hedge fund in the world. Dalio calls these “below the line” conversations, where it’s difficult to derive a coherent sense of what the feedback is to begin with and what steps can be made to improve.
Imagine your feedback organized in outline-form, with main points and then subordinate points organized beneath them. Below-the-line conversations focus on the subordinate points without connecting to the broader, fundamental points about an employee’s performance.
[S]uppose your major point is: “Sally can do that job well.” In an above-the-line conversation, the discussion of her qualities would target the question of Sally’s capacity to do her job. As soon as agreement was reached on whether she could perform competently, you would pass to the next major point—such as what qualities are required for that job. In contrast, a below-the-line discussion would focus on Sally’s qualities for their own sake, without relating them to whether she can do her job well. The discussion might cover qualities that are irrelevant to the job. While both levels of discussion touch on minor points, “above the line” discourse will always move coherently from one major point to the next in much the same way as you can read an outline in order to fully understand the whole concept and reach a conclusion.
According to Peter Sims, author of Little Bets: How Breakthrough Ideas Emerge from Small Discoveries, brain scans have shown how people start holding back when they encounter judgmental language. Below-the-line feedback can have this inhibiting effect, as unfocused, disjunctive statements are bound to come off as overcritical and disapproving when they’re not tied to purpose.
One-Size Fits All Feedback
One of the biggest mistakes by managers is to take a singular approach to giving feedback. This usually originates from the misconception of the person giving feedback that it’s all about his emotional need to express himself, not the usefulness of feedback to the recipient in helping her adjust and improve.
In Horowitz’s words, “[s]tylistically, your tone should match the employee’s personality not your mood.”
A recent research paper published in The Journal of Consumer Research showed a specific type of tailoring that’s required for giving impactful feedback. The researchers found that the type of feedback that people prefer to receive is dependent on whether they’re an expert or novice. Experts are more likely to seek out negative feedback, while beginners need positive feedback and encouragement to gain confidence in their new endeavor.
* * *
As with language, mastering the art of giving feedback is a skill that gets better with practice. And when feedback is approached as a more frequent, real conversation rather than an event that becomes stilted, anxiety-filled, and unproductive, it then becomes a sharp, valuable tool for improvement and growth. Approach giving feedback the way tackle your work overall — with purpose, directness, and empathy — and you’ll start getting through.
Walter Chen is co-founder of iDoneThis, an ex-lawyer, and an amateur Starcraft player. You can follow his tweets at @smalter.
Written communication creates lasting consistency across an entire team because a piece of writing is leveragable collateral from which everyone, from marketing to sales to QA to engineering, can work and consult.
Accountability spreads as a manager’s written work product — product requirement documents, FAQs, presentations, white papers — holds the manager responsible for what happens when the rest of the team executes on the clearly articulated, unambiguous vision described by the documents.
To Horowitz, the distinction between written and verbal communication is stark and in fact is what separates the wheat from the chaff. Good managers want to be held accountable and aren’t looking for ways to weasel out of responsibility. And so, good managers write, while “[b]ad product managers voice their opinion verbally and lament … the ‘powers that be’.”
"There is no way to write a six-page, narratively structured memo and not have clear thinking."
—Jeff Bezos, Amazon
Jeff Bezos values writing over talking to such an extreme that in Amazon senior executive meetings, “before any conversation or discussion begins, everyone sits for 30 minutes in total silence, carefully reading six-page printed memos.”
Writing out full sentences enforces clear thinking, but more than that, it’s a compelling method to drive memo authors to write in a narrative structure that reinforces a distinctly Amazon way of thinking—its obsession with the customer. In every memo that could potentially address any issue in the company, the memo author must answer the question: “What’s in it for the customer, the company, and how does the answer to the question enable innovation on behalf of the customer?”
"Reports are more a medium of self-discipline than a way to communicate information.”
— Andy Grove, Intel
Like Bezos, Grove finds value in the process of writing. The surprising thing, then, is that reading what’s written isn’t important to Grove. The main point of this self-disciplinary process is to force yourself “to be more precise than [you] might be verbally”, creating “an archive of data” that can “help to validate ad hoc inputs” and to reflect with precision on your thought and approach.
Writing, according to Grove, is a "safety-net" for your thought process that you should always be doing to "catch … anything you may have missed.”
Accountability, coherence of thought and planning, and commitment to vision and mission are amazing benefits of what too many consider a ho-hum, even old-fashioned, tool.
How do you use the management and work skills of writing?
Walter Chen is co-founder of iDoneThis, an ex-lawyer, and an amateur Starcraft player. You can follow his tweets at @smalter.
Tim Cigelske, on How to Keep Track of Interns and Think Bigger
As the director of social media at Marquette University, beer expert, running coach, writer, husband and father, Tim Cigelske inhabits many roles, and he’s accordingly found multiple uses for iDoneThisin his personal and professional lives. While he recently started using iDoneThis with his summer interns, Tim has been a member for over a year, with a personal account for his freelance work and a team account with his wife, Jess.
Along with Google Calendar, the couple uses iDoneThis to keep track of their household, their three-year-old daughter and her dance classes, and what’s going on in their lives. “There’s a lot going on outside of work so this helps keep tabs,” Tim says. And for his freelancing, he uses iDoneThis as a handy reminder system, recording published links, and using his iDoneThis emails to prompt him the next day or next week to promote his work on social media.
Though summer is traditionally a quiet time on campus, the intern team is in full force, having grown from one regular contributor to five, and hard at work on the school’s manifold social media channels and longer-term projects. “It’s the same thing, lots of social media promotion,” so Tim decided to bring in iDoneThis as a tool to keep track of what the interns get done, leave feedback and notes, provide reminders to publicize content, and show his team the overall path of their work from plan to production to promotion.
“One of the things that’s so awesome about iDoneThis is the simplicity. You don’t have to learn a new skill, you don’t have to download anything, you just have to know how to email,” Tim remarks. Yet he was still surprised when he sent his new team invites for iDoneThis, and “they got it right away! Before I even instructed what to do, I started getting emails saying what they’d done.”
Still, Tim realizes that college students tend to have a certain comfort-level with new tools. “There’s just a lot of openness to trying new things in that age group,” he observes. “We actually use a Facebook Group to discuss ideas and get to know each other on a more personal level.”
The interns are all on different schedules from each other and from Tim, another challenge that the iDoneThis/Facebook combination addresses. “It’ll change again in the fall. It’s not your traditional nine to five, and it’s another reason why this helps. They post what they’re doing when it’s convenient for them, and I can start my day with an overview of all that’s going on.”
While regularly dealing with constant streams of social media, Tim is a firm believer in setting up systems to take some of the cognitive load off your mind. “We always think willpower is what’s going to solve our problems and that’s usually not the case, or ever the case,” says the man who was on a daily run-streak of 973 when we spoke. Establishing the framework of “I’m going to run today” as a mental given helps make it happen. “A lot of people might think that that’s difficult. I mean, it’s not necessarily easy but it takes a lot of the thought process out of exercise.”
Tim — who has also eaten the same thing for lunch, by and large, for the past five years (cold meat and cheese sandwiches, in case you’re interested) — explains why such systems are so important: “It makes it easier to not have to think too much about unnecessary decisions and leaves more bandwidth for decisions that are more complicated.”
“That’s why iDoneThis is helpful,” he continues. “I’m going to get that daily digest of everything that’s going on as opposed to me having to go to Facebook or Twitter or Tumblr or Pinterest to see what’s new. This gives me a system that I can rely on to make my life easier. It helps you free up that space for bigger decisions and bigger thoughts.”
We’re happy that we’re helping to make room for Tim and his Marquette University interns to do great work and think great thoughts!
The Most Engaged Employees Work at Companies of 10 People and Fewer
A recent survey published by Gallup showed that when employee engagement is broken down by company size, the smallest companies have the most engaged employees—and it wasn’t even close.
42% of employees working at companies of ten and fewer reported that they were engaged at work, a huge increase over the 27% to 30% of engaged people at larger companies.
Unfortunately, only 9% of the U.S. employees work in small companies compared with the 44% of people who work at companies with over 1,000 employees —and that’s why we’ve seen a massive push from even the largest enterprises into organizing in small, self-contained teams.
Here are three fascinating illustrations of why employees on small teams are more engaged at work and what that means for you and your company.
We’re All Social Loafers
In the 1970s, a team of researchers from UMass Amherst confirmed an intriguing social psychology phenomenon known as “social loafing.” They had different-sized teams pull on a rope, but unbeknownst to the entire group, some of the rope-pullers were only pretending to pull. What happened was that individuals on larger-sized teams pulled with less effort than their colleagues on smaller teams, even though the larger teams actually had the same number of people functionally pulling as on smaller teams.
Even when you think you’re on larger teams, you don’t try as hard.
Jeff Bezos’s Two-Pizza Rule for Autonomy and Empowerment
Teams should be no greater than the number of people who can be fed by two pizzas, according to Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon.com.
Bezos found that when teams get bigger than 10 people, they become subject to groupthink, the psychological phenomenon where group members favor consensus and minimization of conflict over critical and independent decision-making. Groupthink kills your initiative to engage actively in thinking through problems yourself, drawing your own conclusions, and voicing those opinions.
Falling for the Team Scaling Fallacy
A group of business school professors analyzed what they called “the team scaling fallacy,” or the recurrent misbelief in the ability of larger teams to get stuff done more quickly. They asked two-person teams and four-person teams to assemble the same Lego figure. Two-person teams took 36 minutes on average, while four-person teams took a whopping 52 minutes to finish assembling.
Worse yet, we become more overconfident as our team size increases. The study showed that large teams consistently underestimate the friction that additional team members add to communication overhead and other process losses. Larger teams were nearly twice as overoptimistic about the time it would take to complete the Lego figure, a huge margin of overconfidence compared with smaller teams.
The mere expansion of people in a company means there’s a precarious potential for people to experience less motivation, diminished decision-making capabilities, more miscalculation, and overconfidence. While most businesses revolve around growing bigger and bigger, it turns out they should look to what smaller companies do best to help prevent employees from checking out.
Walter Chen is co-founder of iDoneThis, an ex-lawyer, and an amateur Starcraft player. You can follow his tweets at @smalter.
Buzzfeed's Kismet Engine that Drives Deliberate Focus
People often hold this ideal about how great work gets done through serendipity, as if brains to stumble upon each other like characters in a romantic comedy. More often, the spark happens when we create the conditions for it to do so. If you really want lightning to strike, you don’t just mosey along empty-handed, you go out there with a lightning rod.
Jon Steinberg, president and COO of Buzzfeed found his lightning rod system, what he calls his “kismet engine.” That fateful engine is Snippets, a surprisingly simple productivity system that originated at Google.
How Snippets works at Buzzfeed is this: employees send Jon a weekly email by the end of the workday on Friday identifying what they’ve been working on and what they need help with. Everyone can also subscribe to each others’ snippets. As for Jon, he reads his compiled snippets over the weekend and then responds with feedback and questions.
He explains, this makes it possible to “connect dots and people on things I wouldn’t otherwise know about.” Voilà, facilitated kismet.
With Snippets showing Jon and the growing team at Buzzfeed where all the dots are, they get a sense of the layers of individual details and multitudes of dots that help create the big impressionistic picture. The result is that:
"Snippets … forces me to review my week and tell the whole company what my contributions and challenges were for the week. Some weeks it feels great, other weeks not so much. On the weeks it feels disappointing, it’s a great forcing function to prioritize and focus."
Depending on what’s going on, that kind of transparency may show you something wonderful or ugly or what’s sticking out. Getting a view of the picture’s composition is revealing and full of insight. And it’s a good deal better than the alternative of merely having a random, vague sense of what’s going on, only seeing some percentage of the whole.
This kind of process is essential given how — as Jeff Weiner, CEO of LinkedIn, suggests with great wisdom — “if you don’t take the time to think proactively you will increasingly find yourself reacting to your environment rather than influencing it.”
Oftentimes, in the workplace, we don’t take time to think, reflect, and situate ourselves. So we try to connect the dot when it’s actually someone else calling out Twister directions and end up entangled and mired.
The ironic thing is that thinking — no matter how proactive it is — looks like you’re doing nothing. And maybe this explains people’s reluctance to put reflection and review into real, meaningful practice.
Yet embracing that appearance of doing nothing and taking the time to think is integral, psychiatrist T. Byram Karasu explains, “for previously unrelated thoughts and feelings to interact, to regroup themselves into new formations and combinations, and thus to bring harmony to the mind.” And tuning in, Dr. Karasu says, ultimately creates rather than takes away, because you build a better sense of reciprocation.
By being in touch with the internal, you establish links with the external world. Tuning in, not just on an individual but team and company level, is how you connect, sync, and plan, enable kismet instead of waiting for lightning, influence rather than react.
Janet Choi is the Chief Creative Officer at iDoneThis and keeps the wheels of the iDoneThis blog turning. She is not a morning person. Follow her tweets at @lethargarian.
While it’s tough enough to get into good personal habits, how do you get your employees to adopt good companyhabits?
Changing your behavior starts with an intention, and when you’re herding multiple human intentions, that transformation process can become tricky.
Pipedrive, a startup that makes a simple CRM that people actually like to use, is one of our oldest team customers. As the company grew rapidly, from six to twenty people within a year, overall iDoneThis usage flagged because new people weren’t getting on board. Pipedrive found a way to turn that behavior around, hacking the iDoneThis company habit with great success.
A bad habit arises
Split between San Francisco and Talinn, Estonia, Pipedrive started using iDoneThis to address the challenge of working together across the globe. “It’s been incredibly useful,” says Martin Henk, co-founder and head of customer support. “Keeping track of everyone with the ten-hour difference is pretty huge. We wouldn’t know half of the things people are doing without iDoneThis.”
But capturing the full advantage of that knowledge and conversation about what people are working on relies on full participation. A core group had continued to use iDoneThis regularly, but new people, says Martin, didn’t seem to understand the value of the tool or ever get comfortable with how to record their accomplishments, ignoring their iDoneThis emails.
Changing the habit
Since the founders had seen first-hand the benefits of using iDoneThis, they wanted to fix this problem of team buy-in. Merely telling people to do it failed to catch on. The next idea floated was administering some kind of punishment, but the founders instinctively knew that threats would not only be ineffective but damaging. “Luckily we didn’t go through with it,” Martin recounts. “We couldn’t figure out a way to do it that would end well.”
Ragnar Sass, co-founder and head of partnerships & HR, then proposed counting the number of dones and likes and rewarding the person with the most activity with a small prize, like flowers or a gift card. “I can’t believe how well this worked,” Martin reports, still sounding surprised. “In hindsight, it’s logical that positive reinforcement works, but it worked incredibly well. Now there’s so much interaction going on in iDoneThis.
“It sticks when you get into the habit.”
The positivity effect
Now that the whole team is on board with the tool, Martin says, “I can rest assured that the entire team knows what someone’s doing.”
The positive prize method has had lasting effects. People who had, just a few months ago, filled out iDoneThis on some haphazard, even monthly basis, became some of the most active users. Likes and comments have gone up six-fold. The support team started recording and celebrating impressive numbers of support cases completed in a day. An “iDoneThis report” has become a core part of the monthly all-hands team meeting.
Newcomers can quickly make sense of what coworkers do and grasp that feeling of being in the same boat, one of the hardest challenges of distributed and split teams. For example, people could immediately connect with a recently hired designer and his work and vice versa. Martin observes, “It’s rewarding for him to know that other people know what he’s doing and actually give feedback right away. So he’s not feeling alone in a new company.”
Pipedrive’s success with this company habit hack was critical for a company that found it difficult to even see each other online. What has been so surprising to Martin and the other founders is how a thoughtful change led to richer conversation and connection.
“People are actually commenting and having a discussion there.” He explains, “Otherwise something like that would be drowned in a Skype chat. The time zone difference doesn’t matter as much. You can have a conversation that’s happening every ten hours but it still gets done.
“It’s funny. So many apps now have likes and comments, but not every app actually has a reason for having them. But in iDoneThis, it’s essential, especially with the time zone difference.”
Why Pipedrive’s company habit hack worked
Dangling goodies like money or looming with threats is not effective. On the contrary, people do their best when motivation comes from within, when they simply want to. According to notable psychologists, Edward Deci and Richard Ryan, people are naturally and deeply driven by needs for autonomy, competence, and relatedness.
At first glance, Pipedrive’s habit hack of giving out a prize seems to undermine intrinsic motivation and self-determination theory. The monthly prize looks like an “if-then” motivator — do this, then get that carrot or stick — which Daniel Pink has written about in his book Drive. He describes how such extrinsic motivators fail because they focus attention away from the work itself. According to Pink, if-then motivators work fine for routine tasks, but “even with routine work, people are going to work even better if you … let them know why they’re doing it.”
Yet iDoneThis not merely an empty, routine task, nor is Pipedrive’s prize a focus of attention. A small token like a bouquet of flowers is not exactly a brass ring. Instead, it acted more like a trigger, easing the path for new employees figure out for themselves what iDoneThis was all about — to find their own meaning and value in the product.
“The coolest thing about this was the fact that we didn’t have a lecture in a meeting about iDoneThis being really important. Everyone got it by the hint of the subtle award.” Martin describes the extent of the change, “The number of dones and likes are one thing, but the feeling and fun comments are completely different.”
Pipedrive’s habit hack worked because the company approached the behavior change with positivity and a light touch, and because iDoneThis is a tool that aims to blends routine and purpose into a ritual that both builds and is built out of meaning based on hard work and interactions with each other. There: autonomy, competence, relatedness.
How ScribbleLive Powers the Moment with Liveblogging
ScribbleLive is bringing media companies and brands up to speed with software that allows them to publish, curate, and syndicate content in real-time.
Recently, ScribbleLive powered Boston.com’s liveblog coverage of the Boston Marathon bombings and even served as their homepage when the traffic surge caused Boston.com to go down. By providing tools for journalists and media companies to adapt to this era of always-on social media, ScribbleLive helps fill in context and provide reliable reporting of breaking news.
We talked with Matt McCausland, software development manager at Scribblelive, about how the Toronto-based company manages and communicates with each other.
There’s the company-wide liveblog, ScribbleLive Daily, which serves as a fun watercooler-type communication channel. Employees publish posts on side projects and Hack Days, share interesting links and photos, and celebrate good news such as positive feedback about their customers’ liveblogs.
Matt explains, “It’s an ‘eat your own dog food’ kind of thing. You’re supposed to post one interesting thing a day related to your job or not. So people will share cool things that our clients have done or an article about development or whatever their job is. You get a wide range of stuff. It’s like an internal social network.”
With the bulk of the ScribbleLive team is in Toronto and a small sales team in the UK, the Daily liveblog helps people stay in touch and build camaraderie, on top of Skype and email. “We get to know them better than we would otherwise,” Matt explains.
For their own communication needs, the dev team turned to iDoneThis, especially to help keep a record of innovative projects for a Canadian research and development tax credit program. More generally, the team can see what’s getting done and how long it takes. “It’s good to keep track and have a log of things we worked on,” says Matt. “We like it because it’s so simple — just reply to an email with what you did. If a project gets out of control, we can go back in iDoneThis.”
As a team manager at a workplace with flexible hours, Matt finds the digests especially useful. “Sometimes I leave at 4 and other people are here until 6, so I can just see what everybody worked on all day. And Jonathan [the CTO] likes [the digest] because he’s not as hands-on as I am. Within two minutes you can quickly read what everybody was working on yesterday.”
As the dev team grows rapidly — doubling every year — Matt is reconsidering how sheer size may change his management style. “We’re a startup, so we just try to get things done quickly that’ll push the business in whatever direction we need to be going in at the time. We don’t really have a project manager, we don’t have charts, it’s all pretty loose. We don’t have any software. We schedule out one project and work through it when things come up. Now we’re going to have 15, 17 people, so I might have to bring in some tools or we could use iDoneThis differently.”
The dev team does hold standup meetings in the morning, and Matt admits in regards to iDoneThis that, “Some of the developers are like, ‘I’m just telling you what I wrote the next morning.’ But the meeting is to talk about it.” With standups getting longer with team scaling up, iDoneThis could be used to make sure that those meetings stay short, by doing away with reports on what you did and jumping right into problems and issues.
All in all, Matt and the ScribbleLive dev team understand that a regular review of priorities is key to how the company moves forward. “We have a master list. We meet regularly with the exec team to discuss the importance of the top ten things on the list to make sure what we’re going to be working on in the next few weeks are the most important — not necessarily the most urgent, but the most important.”
We’re delighted to help ScribbleLive build software and share information in real-time by focusing not just on speed but on context and significance!
Talk To Your Customers to Stay In Touch With Your Product
Talking to your customers is the best way to improve your product. You already do it — but not often enough. The problem is that it’s a pain to reach out all the time and gather that feedback.
It doesn’t have to be hard. In fact, you already talk to your customers all the time and probably aren’t taking full advantage of it.
My very first job was at Gateway Computer. Though well past its prime when I started, in its heyday, Gateway took a unique approach to its customer support that helped them gather plenty of user feedback.
The stories I heard back then helped shape our own approach toward support at my current company, Onepager. Here’s one that stood out in particular:
Some Personal Attention from South Dakota
At the South Dakota factory where Gateways were built, every custom system was assembled by hand. When people finished building a computer, they took the time to handwrite a personalized note thanking the customer. At the end of the note, they provided their own phone number for customers to call in case of any problems with their new Gateway.
Building computers with one hand, taking support phone calls with another, and writing thank you notes with a third (they must have wished they had a third!) couldn’t have been easy. But it was the right thing to do in order to encourage quality and customer satisfaction.
The people who built those computers did everything they could to ensure quality by doing one more important thing. They conveyed suggestions that they heard from real users back to the product team.
Gateway’s computers were top-rated, they kept improving, and customers loved buying them.
But times changed. After much success and leadership change, manufacturing moved overseas to save costs. The quirky yet effective user feedback system was lost. Quality dropped, sales suffered, and today, Gateway is just a logo slapped on a generic computer. The company lost touch with its customers.
The Customer-Product Connection
The lesson from that story helped shape what we do at Onepager. We leverage customer support by using it as a simple way to collect user feedback with three simple steps.
1. Understand the root of problems to solve in the long-term.
People contact firstname.lastname@example.org with questions that are important to them. Taking care of their needs quickly is a priority, but to truly improve your product, view support issues as potential catalysts for important long-term fixes that benefit all your users.
2. Turn support into user research.
If you’ve helped customers with their problems, they’ll naturally feel gratitude and a desire to reciprocate. It’s the perfect time to ask for them to help you.
On our team, when we complete a support request, we often ask the customer for feedback on something unrelated. It could be, “If you don’t mind us asking, we’re doing product research and were wondering what you like most about Onepager?” or “What would you most like to see us do in the future with Onepager?”
3. Dive into detail.
Don’t be afraid to go into detail with a user. If someone is having trouble finding where to edit their billing information, you can put together some mockups of improvements and ask them for their preference. Obviously, it’s a very small sample, but it can help set you on the right path.
You can even kick it up a notch, and ask customers to set up a time to discuss your product — whether it’s a new feature or a whole new version. It’s amazing how receptive people can be to simple requests for their feedback and help. Don’t forget to say your own ‘thank you’ by doing something nice, like sending the participant a T-shirt, and you’ve made one loyal, and rather invested, customer.
Early on, we asked new customers in our automated “Welcome” emails if we could schedule a fifteen-minute call with them. This helped us learn how they found us, why they chose us, and if they had any problems getting started with our product.
You can continuously make your product better by taking easy steps to engage more with your customers. It’s easier than you think.
“Coming back is the thing that enables you to see how all the dots in your life are connected, how one decision leads you to another, how one twist of fate, good or bad, brings you to a door that later takes you to another door, which aided by several detours – long hallways and unforeseen stairwells – eventually puts you in the place you are now.”—
— Ann Patchett, What Now?
A little bit of reflection and connecting the dots can lead to insight, an honest overview of where you are, and perhaps, a clearer picture of where you’re headed!
But figuring that out is no easy matter because of the jumble of possibilities and complexities of running a business, on top of the cottage industry of abundant, contradictory, and just plain bad business advice.
These 6 pieces are the thoughtful reflection of industry leaders on what matters, above all else, in building a successful company from scratch.
“The #1 company-killer is lack of market.” When there isn’t a market, the quality of the team and product don’t matter; conversely, when your market is booming and customers are banging down your door, it’s really hard to screw things up.
Andreessen articulates this observation (citing Andy Rachleff, formerly of Benchmark Capital) concisely, as the following law to startup success:
When a great team meets a lousy market, market wins.
When a lousy team meets a great market, market wins.
When a great team meets a great market, something special happens.
What that means for the founder — and should be her singular focus —is that the only thing that matters is getting to product/market fit. Product/market fit means that you’re “in a good market with a product that can satisfy that market.” You can tell by how that feels: customers are snatching up your product just as fast as you can make it, and the wind’s not in your face anymore — it’s at your back.
Before attaining product/market fit though, there’s the long slog to get there. Whether you have the tenacity to stick it out and the insight to make it there will hinge on founder/market fit.
Founder/market fit requires that you as the founder (1) understand the market with “a deep understanding of the market [you] are entering” to the point that you “personify [your] product, business and ultimately [your] company” and (2) love the market enough that you’ll stick with the journey over many years, even as your product and the market evolve.
Without founder/market fit, there’s little chance that you’ll make it to product/market fit.
Graham takes an abstract concept like product/market fit — that you know when you feel it — and quantifies it as 5-7% week-over-week growth in your key metric, the growth rate that successful startups tend to have.
The twist is that focusing on hitting your target week-over-week growth rate gives you the focus you need to be successful. It turns the “bewilderingly multifarious problem of starting a startup to a single problem” by “turning starting a startup into an optimization problem.”
If they decide to grow at 7% a week and they hit that number, they’re successful for that week. There’s nothing more they need to do. But if they don’t hit it, they’ve failed in the only thing that mattered, and should be correspondingly alarmed.
It’s absolutely vital that you define the right metric for tracking your business’s growth. The key is to identify a metric that demonstrates that people “are using the product in the way you expected and that they use it enough so that you believe they will come back to use it more and more.”
In other words, the only metric that matters answers the question, “How many people are really using your product?”
That has two components (1) people and (2) really using. For example, because pageviews aren’t people-centric, they’re too abstract. Focus on the people taking an action, not the action itself. DAU/MAU can be misleading depending on how “active” is defined and may not indicate deep engagement with and love for the product.
At Twitter, we found that if you visited Twitter at least 7 times in a month, then it was likely you were going to be visiting Twitter in the next month, and the next month, and the next month. And we decided this was enough initially to be “really using it.”
The beauty of this is that you’re forced to reflect on the unique metric and lodestar for your product, not adapt a generic, abstract, and ultimately unhelpful number that’s the product of someone else’s thinking. Then, it’s all about making that number grow.
The power of the compass metric is that it guides and aligns the whole team and gets everyone moving in the same direction, which is the extremely powerful force that’s the engine driving Shopify, a multi-million dollar e-commerce juggernaut.
Once the metric has been defined, getting everyone to be guided by it is a UI problem. “You implicitly tell your team that if someone moves this metric in the right direction they are doing a good job” by making your compass metric the singular topic of recurring reminders.
Our internal goal is to reach 3% weekly growth, a very ambitious number given our size. The user interface is simple. Monday mornings, our system sends an email to the team:
Red ✘ if we fell short, green ✔ if we made it. Everyone gets it.
That’s supplemented by a quick weekly meeting attended by people who have a direct impact on the compass metric in which everyone in attendances shares two things:
What have we learned this week
What we are going to do differently next week
The “the motor of a fast-growing multi-million dollar venture-backed business” is picking the right metric and making its growth rate the subject of focus on a recurring basis (email and meeting) according to the appropriately chosen time frame (1 week).
The startup lifecycle can go by as quickly as a fruit fly’s. When you’re amidst the thick of things, it’s easy to confuse time and perspective, zooming in too much on the short-term. Don’t get caught up in marginal thinking or on local maxima.
Christensen reminds us to “[t]hink about the metric by which your life will be judged, and make a resolution to live every day so that in the end, your life will be judged a success.” In that way, both our startup and our lives strive to reach their global maxima.
For Christensen, his metric is “the individual people whose lives [he’s] touched.” Choose your key business metric as a subset of the metric by which you measure your life.
The most productive thing you’ll do today is practice
I wasn’t originally sold on the idea of blogging.
Even when I tried to get in the habit of posting, I found it hard to stick with. Blogging took time — time to write essays daily, put in links, clean up spam, and respond to the comments that trickled in, time that was uncompensated. Why, I wondered, would I take time away from paying assignments to put my work out there for free?
Even after my book, 168 Hours, came out in 2010, and I realized I needed to interact with readers, I still thought blogging was a side venture to my real writing. More days than not, I’d take 30-60 minutes to write a post and publish it, but I still viewed it more as a labor of love (or at least PR) than anything else.
Then something funny happened. About a year into daily blogging, I’d carve out time to write a draft of an essay for a newspaper or magazine. I’d give myself until lunch, but by 10:00, I’d be done.
What was going on? I finally figured it out while reading Practice Perfect: 42 Rules for Getting Better at Getting Better, by Doug Lemov, Katie Yezzi, and Erica Woolway. These three educators have trained thousands of teachers over the years, and they studied patterns in how teachers improved at their craft, and how others do, too. The big breakthroughs, they noted, came from drills — discrete actions that focus on certain skills — in order to automate certain practices you’d like to improve.
Basketball players do shooting drills and passing drills. Piano players do arpeggios and scales. As they carve these actions into their muscle and mental memory, they can summon these skills almost by instinct during performances or games. That gives them the mental space to focus on bigger things — the arc of a piece, the layout of players on the court.
For a writer, blogging turns out to be a daily drill. By writing lots of don’t-need-to-be-perfect blog posts, I learned how to crank out rough drafts fast. By carving out time for daily practice, I made myself more efficient at my work. Each hour spent blogging saved me time later as I stewed less over drafts and had more time for edits.
Put in that light, blogging now seems like the most productive part of my day. Not only am I interacting with readers, I’m getting faster at what I do! Just as I accepted practice as part of studying the piano years ago, I embrace blogging as the “practicing” part of my writing work.
If you’d like to get more efficient at your work, making time every day for practice drills could likewise be one of the most productive decisions you make. To be sure, not everyone has a job where the drills are as obvious as blogging, in retrospect, was for me. But if you think about your job and how you spend your time, you can likely see certain skills you use repeatedly.
Maybe you make presentations. Maybe you deliver feedback to employees. Maybe you field hostile questions from clients. Think about how you can isolate these skills and practice them repeatedly. Ask your team members to launch a rapid-fire barrage of criticism about a proposal at the end of a staff meeting, for instance.
Most people don’t consciously practice their job. If you do, it can be a source of major competitive advantage. Keep track of your practice and how you’re improving individually or as a team by writing it down.
Most importantly, you have to actually make time for your practice drills. When you spend time getting better, you often get better. And that’s a much better place to be.
Laura Vanderkam is the author of “What the Most Successful People Do at Work" (Portfolio, April 23, 2013), "What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast”(Portfolio, 2012), “All The Money In The World" (Portfolio, 2012) and "168 Hours" (Portfolio, 2010); visit www.lauravanderkam.com. Receive a free chapter from “All the Money In The World” by subscribing to my monthly newsletter here.
The Most Innovative Employees at Google Aren't Stanford/MIT grads with Perfect SATs
Google has long had a reputation for being a place that’s near impossible to get a job if you aren’t a Stanford or MIT grad. They not only asked you for your college GPA, they even asked you what you made on your SAT as a pimple-faced high schooler.
Recently, that’s all changed.
Google’s known for being one of the most data-driven companies in the world and in the area of HR, they’re no different. They even have a department of “people analytics” whose job it is “to apply the same rigor to the people side as to the engineering side.” Google takes this extremely seriously: “All people decisions at Google are based on data and analytics,” according to Kathryn Dekas, a manager in Google’s “people analytics” team.
Their use of data is so powerful that it was able to refute the bias of the company’s founders towards those with an elite educational background that mirrored theirs — that is, top university grads with high GPAs — and it actually resulted in changed organizational behavior.
For years, candidates were screened according to SAT scores and college grade-point averages, metrics favored by its founders. But numbers and grades alone did not prove to spell success at Google and are no longer used as important hiring criteria, says Prasad Setty, vice president for people analytics.
Rather, based on extensive surveys of its work force and performance data, Google discovered that its most innovative workers "are those who have a strong sense of mission about their work and who also feel that they have much personal autonomy.”
Google’s findings have a strong congruence with bestselling author Dan Pink’s work, that the source of human motivation and our best work comes from the drive towards autonomy, mastery and purpose. This can clash with high-prestige and credentialed individuals who are driven by external recognition and rewards, not curiosity and craft.
What you might end up with is people who can follow the rules, but not necessarily those who are after moonshot innovation with extreme dispatch and verve.
Almost all meetings are just power-plays in disguise.
Years of my life have been wasted in useless meetings. At a large company, meetings are standard. Get a few people together to talk about a problem. Sounds easy, right?
But instead of a quick resolution, you have to book a conference room for two days from now. Then, you invite stakeholders. Someone suggests so-and-so should attend too. More invites.
When you finally meet, what happens? Nothing, because everyone ends up in a power-play.
Let’s take a look at three common useless meetings and ways we can fix them.
Weekly Team/Status Meetings
Usually someone with direct reports runs this type of meeting. Once a week, for an hour or so, there’s a loose agenda. The manager goes over administrative stuff — stuff that’s going on at the company, stuff that’s going on in your department, stuff on product direction. You can even ask questions! Then, you go around the room to talk about what you accomplished that week.
Nothing useful ever happens in these meetings. Have you ever looked forward to this meeting? No. You surf the internet on your laptop while waiting for lunch time to roll around.
Managers are establishing their authority over everyone. They speak. You listen and don’t speak until spoken to. The danger is that this might tempt you to try to establish that you’re an important person too. You fluff up your weekly status and make it seem like you’re super busy all the time.
What’s the fix?
Try alternative forms of keeping everyone updated. Managers, do you really need to get everyone in a room for an hour? Have everyone send an email update to the team instead. It only takes a few minutes to write up updates to share for the week. Try daily updates or other frequencies that are most optimal for your team.
If you’re not the manager, suggest this method to yours. Any good manager will gladly accept feedback on how to improve the way the team operates.
Senior Executives Meeting
Here’s where you and your team have to meet with senior executives to talk about how your product is doing and next steps you’re going to take. This type of meeting takes place maybe once a month.
This, too, is a big power-play by the executives. They look at what you’ve accomplished, and they’re quick to judge what they like or don’t. Even though months of your efforts have gone towards building an awesome feature that your customers have been wanting, it gets axed because an exec didn’t like it.
These meetings usually just set the team and the product back. You now have to include what the exec wants in the product — not because they’re talking to customers every day, not because they have the data to back up their claims. It’s because they need to establish some authority.
What’s the fix?
Executives, keep your ego in check. Learn to trust your team. They probably know more about the customer than you do. You hired them because they are the best at what they do. They have pored over the metrics and have the best sense on what will result in customer happiness.
Use meetings to find out issues that impede execution. Are people short on resources? Are they dependent on someone from another department who’s being difficult? Remove the roadblocks!
For regular employees, defend your position with data. The exec can’t argue with you if the metrics show that a particular feature will increase sales by 10%. Don’t let their position of power waste your time.
Product Planning Meeting
This is my favorite useless meeting because its original purpose is quite constructive. You’re supposed to be planning out the what and when of building for your product, but what usually happens is everyone needs an explanation of features and why they’re necessary. That is always a long conversation.
Then everyone argues about what’s important. It’s the ultimate struggle to feel like you have some power. If your feature makes it into the product, you feel like you have a bigger impact.
Since everyone at the meeting does this, you’ll need to call another meeting to finish the planning. Five meetings later, you finally finish planning.
What’s the fix?
Everyone should come prepared to the meeting already! Road maps, user stories, and numbers should be sent out beforehand. The team can review and internalize the information and even have high level estimates for the level of effort needed.
This way, you’ll set a good tone for the meeting. It will be about what features you can actually fit into a sprint, based on priority and informed argument. If you don’t already use an agile development process, please consider it. It helps set a cadence for the team.
Now that I know about about power-play meetings, how can I gain the upper hand?
That really depends on what your goal at the company is.
Hope no one notices.
If you want to be mediocre and get paid, then just follow the crowd. Some people are fine with showing up and doing exactly what they need to do, especially in certain working situations and environments. There’s nothing wrong with that. You get a nice paycheck and you can continue to support your lifestyle.
Promotions and fat raises.
Learn the intricacies of the power-play. You’ll have to follow the meeting playbook to appease the people above you.
The goal here is to get recognized and impress people. Call your own meetings when you have issues to resolve and be the one to run them. You’ll automatically be known as the person in charge when you become directly involved in decision-making.
Understand that these meetings will take up a lot of time but you still need to execute on deliverables. Let everyone else know how busy you are as a result. The upside is that you can fix the common meeting downfalls mentioned above and be known for running really effective meetings.
Be the change.
This is for people who like where they work and want to change it for the better. Useless meetings is a serious cultural problem that companies face. Run meetings differently to change that culture.
Try not to have any meetings unless absolutely necessary, and if they are, keep them short. When issues arise, talk to the relevant people immediately. You can usually make more decisions in a five-minute direct conversation than you can in a one-hour meeting.
Designate no-meeting days. This will allow your team to have long periods of time to concentrate on hard problems. If you know anything about the maker’s schedule versus the manager’s schedule, then you’ll understand how meetings can ruin your productivity.
Sherman Lee is the founder of Good Sense. He writes about developers, productivity, customer discovery and marketing. He’s an entrepreneur, high-end consultant and author. You can follow his updates on Twitter.
This painting on the wall of a Zurich office building is actually an art piece called “How to Work Better” by artist duo Fischli/Weiss (that’s Peter Fischli and David Weiss).
The interesting part? As described in the Guardian's obit of Weiss:
How to Work Better (1991) is a manifesto comprising 10 persuasive but empty sentences, each with the aim of improving workplace productivity and morale… . Fischli/Weiss plucked these stock phrases from a factory in Thailand and painted them in large stencilled letters to cover the exterior of an office block in Oerlikon, Zurich, visible on the approach into the city centre by train from Zurich Airport.
Think twice about pithy motivational business quotes!
Each morning, my mother would hand me my daily Flintstones chewable vitamin before I left for school. But now that I’m an adult, she can’t tell me what to do — Mountain Dew and Starcraft all night!
Well, and less vitamins. Since moving out of my parents’ house long ago, I’ve also moved away from this healthful routine. Sometimes it takes effortful self-control to do things we know we should do. But not always. Habits can function as a force, shaping our behavior and negating the need for self-control.
So months ago, I purchased a jar of multi-vitamins and placed it in my cupboard to get back into my healthy vitamin habit.
It sat there. Unused. Lonely.
I’m responsible. I’m a grown-up. I knew I should take my vitamins. Yet it was hard to do so regularly.
So I made one small change: I took the jar out of the cupboard and placed it on the countertop. Since then, I haven’t missed a day of taking my vitamins.
The visible jar is an unavoidable reminder, a trigger to take my vitamins. Removing them from the cupboard also made it easier, increasing my ability to do so. Sometimes the tiniest friction can make the difference between action and inaction.
“[T]hree elements must converge at the same moment for a behavior to occur: Motivation, Ability, and Trigger.”
By simply increasing my ability and creating a trigger, I’ve been able to reinstate this habit. Sometimes it doesn’t take all that much to change behavior that feels so difficult to start doing regularly. For example:
Google increased water consumption by 47% by simply rearranging the fridge. Water moved to eye-level, unhealthy soda to the bottom. More Googlers chose the more visible, reachable bottled water.
Leo Babauta instructs daily flossing-challenged people to start flossing just one tooth per night. This may seem ridiculous but starting out with very small habits makes large changes in behavior much easier.
What changes would you like to make in your life?
Here are a few triggers and friction-reducers to start:
Want to eat healthier? Pre-prepare individual meals and place them toward the front of your fridge for maximum visibility and accessibility.
“First, the seed being sown falls on good ground, but the birds get it. Then it falls on shallow ground and can’t grow. Then on thorny ground, where it withers away. And only with the last attempt it falls on good ground and the seeds grow. So we must shift our focus. We don’t want to look for which seeds thrive and which don’t. We want to know what the rate of success is.”—
Buffer’s Leo Widrich describes Jim Rohm’s law of averages in explaining his approach to measuring success.
In many companies, your manager will know the team’s and company’s objectives, but you won’t. He may keep crucial information from you so that he can consolidate decision-making power.
Not so at Qualtrics, the extraordinary Provo, Utah-based company that did $50M in revenue, raised $70M from elite venture capital firms Sequoia and Accel, turned down a $500M acquisition offer, and grew its headcount to nearly 300 employees in 2012. At Qualtrics, transparency is perhaps the company’s most important value for one simple and obvious reason—”Nowadays, you’re hiring individuals to think.”
We took our best product guy and some of our best engineers and built a system internally to help scale our organization by knowing everyone’s objectives in the company. We have five objectives annually for our company, and everyone goes into the system each quarter to put in their objectives that play into those broader goals.
We have another system that sends everyone an e-mail on Monday that says: “What are you going to get done this week? And what did you get done last week that you said you were going to do?” Then that rolls up into one e-mail that the entire organization gets. So if someone’s got a question, they can look at that for an explanation. We share other information, too — every time we have a meeting, we release meeting notes to the organization. When we have a board meeting, we write a letter about it afterward and send it to the organization.
When everyone’s rowing together toward the same objective, it’s extremely powerful. We’re trying to execute at a very high level, and we need to make sure everyone knows where we’re going.
“Google has found that the most innovative workers — also the ‘happiest,’ by its definition — are those who have a strong sense of mission about their work and who also feel that they have much personal autonomy.”—
Google has long been known as an elite organization bordering on elitist. It’s fascinating to see how their conception of prospective candidates has changed as they’ve looked at the data over time, departing from a SAT and GPA-driven view.
We’ve seen an interesting trend at companies that are extremely culture-focused: the culture hacker. Software developers have built internal developer productivity tools since time immemorial because great engineering cultures push for automation and improving iteration speed. But now developers are turning their attention to addressing team dynamics and how the whole company functions and works together on the whole — in a word, culture.
Zappos: making values concrete with process and code
At many companies, company values are just words on a piece of paper tacked to a wall somewhere. At Zappos, they’re extremely thoughtful about giving their values bite. For example, they’re famous for paying new employees to quit. After new employee training ends, each employee is offered the opportunity to quit their job and walk away with $1,000. They do this because one of the Zappos core values is “be passionate and determined”, and paying people to quit ensures that those who remain are incredibly enthusiastic about their work and in it for the long haul.
They take it a step further by using code to reinforce cultural values in individual workflow. As Zappos has grown from a small startup to a 1,500+ employee company, it’s had to scale its value of having a tight-knit team and family-like atmosphere. It was a natural fit to help those relationships scale through technology.
Zappos has what’s called a “Face Game”. When you log into the computer system, after you enter your password, a face pops up of a fellow employee and you’re asked to enter the person’s name. Whether you answer correctly or not, you see a bio and profile – another way of getting to know your fellow workers and building culture.
During a recent visit to Las Vegas, we met Darshan Bhatt, a developer at Zappos who spends 100% of his time on building internal culture products that empower everyone in the company to make Zappos culture their own.
For instance, Zappos conducts monthly surveys to gauge the happiness of employees in the company. At another company, the survey results might be something management discussed behind closed doors to determine, at most, where in the company to deploy more pizza parties. At Zappos, Darshan builds tools that empower every employee with the data necessary to improve culture and happiness in the company.
Darshan showed us an application he was building that every employee in the company would get access to that allowed you to plot anonymized survey responses along different employee demographic information. He showed us an example where he plotted employee tenure length versus reported employee happiness. This gave insight into whether every stage in an employee’s lifecycle at the company was being properly supported and put the power of that data in the hands of every employee to make improvements.
Shopify: developers working with the human relations team to reinvent HR
Shopify is a hugely successful e-commerce software platform based out of Ottawa, Canada, that has a remarkable company culture. They have a two-person team called Shopify Labs which is focused on building internal tools. What surprised and impressed me was the tight-knit relationship the Labs team has with HR in working together to build culture products.
At your average company, you’ll likely see a sharp division between front office and back office teams like HR. You might even see a contentious relationship if HR is focused too much on compliance/CYA and running employees through an impersonal annual review process. Shopify CEO Tobi Lutke made the point to us that they call HR “human relations”, not “human resources” to reinforce HR’s cooperative, culture-focused role at Shopify.
When Serena does something great, Daniel gives her thanks by going into Unicorn, logging her accomplishment, and giving her one, two or three unicorns. Everyone in the company sees Serena’s plaudits and can pile on more unicorns if they agree that she did an awesome job.
At the end of month, every employee in Shopify gets allocated a proportion of the company’s profits that are set aside for Unicorn bonuses. Daniel’s allocation goes to Serena and anyone else to whom he’s given unicorns over the course of the month.
Unicorn gives the power of employee recognition and even bonus disbursement to every employee in the company, not just to managers and HR. The tight working relationship between Shopify Labs and HR makes the cultural value of peer recognition real and vibrant through software.
We’re seeing how company culture is becoming a huge differentiator in attracting and retaining top talent, and this is doubly true for the companies that truly walk the walk, not just talk the talk. Companies on the bleeding edge of focusing on company culture like Zappos, Shopify, Github, and Stripe are investing developer time — the most valuable resource at a software company — to make cultural values real through software.
Walter Chen is co-founder of iDoneThis, an ex-lawyer, and an amateur Starcraft player. You can follow his tweets at @smalter.
J.T. O’Donnell, CEO of CAREEREALISM Media, has an interesting to-do list of 10 items that she tries to do every day. This list isn’t made up of specific tasks but more general ones. Think family or genus, rather than species.
Read something related to my industry.
Read something related to business development.
Send two emails to touch base with old colleagues.
Empty my private client inbox by responding to all career coaching questions within one business day.
Check in with each team member on their progress.
Have a short non-work related conversation with every employee.
Review my top three goals for my company that are focused on its growth.
Identify and execute one task to support each of my top three goals.
Post five valuable pieces of content on all my major social media accounts.
Take a full minute to appreciate what I have and how far I’ve come.
It’s a neat way to think about and carry out your goals for the day!
The way you listen is telling, a compass that points to the true focus of your attention. For good listeners, that needle points to the person talking. For bad listeners, that needle points to themselves.
The thing is that it’s really obvious. Great listening requires you to show that it’s happening, and that it’s happening sincerely. Much of that sincere communication comes down to lighting up to show “message received”. Instead, some people fall into a bad habit of putting on a show of listening, mumbling sounds of non-contextual agreement, or interrupting with “yes, but —”, or pretending to be attentive but mishearing everything.
Listening isn’t simply waiting for your turn to say something or show off your brilliance but engaging with what’s being said, building on it, reacting with thoughts and emotions, and showing that you understand or want to know more.
While the art of listening is touted in business, it’s rarely practiced. Bad listening is bad business, and here’s why:
1. Bad listening is dismissive and ultimately disengaging.
Bad listening affects how we feel about ourselves, eventually reaching into how we feel about our existence. You know that philosophical question, “If a tree falls in the forest and nobody’s around to hear it, does it make a sound?” Well, have you ever provided some insightful input at a meeting, toiled to reply to an email asking for opinions with a worthwhile response, or done something pretty great — only to be met with nary a ripple?
If nobody’s actually listening to me, then why am I here?
People who feel unheard and undervalued will understandably disengage and suffer negative impacts on their stress and wellbeing.
2. Bad listening leads to inferior information and decisions.
When you don’t take care to listen and pay attention to the people around you, you miss out on crucial information. This is especially important for managers and bosses to consider. Research by NYU Stern’s Kelly A. See confirms what many employees already know: people with more power listen less, take less advice, and are ultimately less accurate in final judgments.
In contrast, Intel’s Andy Grove understood that his position of managerial power affected his ability to make good decisions. So he chose to spend most of his time gathering information by staying out in the open, signaling that he was ready to listen. He understood that information-gathering is “the basis of all other managerial work,” and that ultimately, “your decision-making depends finally on how well you comprehend the facts and issues facing your business.”
See’s studies identifies “confidence in one’s judgment” as the reason behind the inverse relationship between power and listening skill. Powerful people are confident; their reaction is to stop listening. Keys to listening well, then, are openness and vulnerability, pointing the compass needle away from yourself and showing confidence in others.
3. Bad listening is a waste of time.
If poor listening leads to misunderstanding, disengagement, and poorer decision-making, that means more time is required to arrive at accurate information, good decisions, and a righted course.
There’s one kind of behavior in particular that is often overlooked as a form of bad listening — too many unmindful managerial interruptions. An obvious example is how meetings are a breeding ground for bad listening and inefficiency. But there are also more casual intrusions.
In astute answers to a question posed by Inc. to successful entrepreneurs to identify their biggest time wasters, Katia Beauchamp, co-founder of Birchbox, said, “Randomly bugging my team with questions about yesterday, today, six months from now.” Ben Lerer, CEO of Thrillist, responded with, “Checking in with the product team to look at work they’re doing that isn’t ready for me to see yet.”
In failing to respect your team’s schedule or space, you’re not listening to their needs or giving them a chance to formulate their contribution to the conversation. It’s an easy trap for managers to fall into, but it’s the kind of listening that points right back at yourself, making the information-gathering about you rather the team or the project at hand.
How to Become a Better Listener.
Admit that you’re not a great listener. Think everyone else around you is not good at listening but that you’re great? That’s called a delusion. Most of us could use some improvement in our overall listening skills, or in equalizing how well we listen in different spheres of our life. The first step is to recognize that everybody, including you, could use some practice.
Practice focusing. If you’ve ever gone to a place where all the people speak a foreign language that you’re trying to learn, you know how listening can take a lot of energy and focus. Without it, the words wash over you as a blanket of meaningless sound.
You have to see conversations as real exchanges, expanding your full attention on the other person in order to gain all the verbal and nonverbal cues to what she or he’s saying. That kind of focus is impossible to do while fiddling around on your phone. Practice bringing that type of watchful focus, attention, and engagement to more of your conversations.
Acknowledge and respect. Good listening signals the broader messages of respect and trust.
Acknowledge people and their work by giving rich, frequent feedback that’s broader than corrective criticism. Without encountering a supportive voice at the end of the line, people will simply disconnect.
Stop telling people what to do, and instead, ask for and consider people’s opinions. Learn the best way to get something done by listening rather than assuming.
Finally, be mindful of others’ listening schedules and rhythms. Interrupting people at random, unexpected moments co-opts their time and attention. While information-gathering is important, doing so in a respectful way ensures that you help more than you hurt.
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If people feel like they are only there to be corrected, directed, and interrupted, they’ll lose vital autonomy and motivation. More important than the business case, though, is to remember that good listening and giving quality attention is just not about you. Listening is how you build trust, knowledge, connections, and relationships. And that’s about all of us.
Company with the "World's Least Powerful CEO" Makes $2.5 Million Every Day
The popular depiction of the CEO is the titan of industry who rules with an iron fist. The CEO’s will is the employees’ command.
Not so at Supercell, a remarkable Finnish company that’s making $2.5 million dollars every day and has been described as “the fastest growing company ever.” Supercell CEO Ilkka Paananen, calls himself “the world’s least powerful CEO”, and that’s not the surprising part. What’s incredible is that Paananen made himself a weak CEO by design:
As its name implies, Supercell is organized as a collection of small, independent teams called cells tasked with developing new games or building new deep features for existing games. Cells are given complete autonomy in terms of how they organize themselves, prioritize ideas, distribute work and determine what they ultimately produce. Describing himself as the “world’s least powerful CEO”, Ilkka encourages cells to exercise extreme independence and prides himself on having no creative control over them once they are constituted. The company as a whole is merely an aggregation of these cells; a Supercell.
The only thing to say is that it’s working. Their organization and philosophy is letting this team of 100 take on the behemoths atZynga, which has 30 employees to every 1 employee at Supercell.
The organizational and cultural design decision was purposeful: Supercell’s founders had witnessed first-hand “the downfall of too many companies that had turned into bloated, bureaucratic behemoths with many design studios in multiple time zonesrequiring massive management overhead and crushing hierarchies to coordinate.”
If it’s hard to fathom how an economic miracle could result under the leadership of a weak boss, consider another organization that designed its CEO to be powerless: the United States. The founders of America purposely set up the government to have a weak CEO, compared with Europe’s monarchs.
Having experienced misguided local tax policy decreed by a head of state thousands of miles away, the founders pushed decision-making authority out to a federated constellation of state governments, local governments, small groups of people, and individuals. That structure set the stage for the American economic miracle.
Walter Chen is co-founder of iDoneThis, an ex-lawyer, and an amateur Starcraft player. You can follow his tweets at @smalter.
“[T]ry picking a stubborn item from your own to-do list and redefining it until it becomes something that actually involves moving one of your limbs… Breaking each task down into its individual actions allows you to convert your work into things you can either physically do, or forget about, happy in the knowledge that it is in the system.”—
We make a lot of mistakes in life, and a lot of those mistakes take place at work. Elaine Wherry, founder of Meebo, even made a mistake diary to remember and review her mistakes, such as time management and perfectionism issues. “I wanted to be able to reflect on them later,” she explains, “so I wouldn’t beat myself up during the week … It was a way to get more sleep.” As she saw her employees make many of the same mistakes she did, the diary developed into a manual to share what she learned with others.
Luc Levesque, founder of TravelPod and General Manager at TripAdvisor, decided to guide his employees with a boss blueprint. Luc shares his particular values, dislikes, and quirks to prime new employees for great performance in short order. With swift, effective communication rather than protracted information asymmetry, employees — and the company as a whole — are able to sidestep a period of trial and error, as well as lots of trials, tribulations, and stress.
Luc’s candid approach to managing people extends to his efforts to build a transparent work environment, turning management into a conversation. Frequent feedback through daily syncing tools and monthly reviews have taken the ceremony and often fruitless, demotivating effect out of the more formal review process and normalized the discussion around setbacks and mistakes. He explains, “When something happens that deserves to be talked about, it’s so much easier to have that conversation on a thirty-day basis. It’s not a big deal. It’s just a conversation, which is what we’re supposed to be doing as leaders anyways.”
The monthly review was actually a concept recommended by Luc’s business coach. “I’m a big believer in coaching, just because I’ve seen the results,” says Luc. “Our results have been very good for six years in a row, and I attribute a lot of that to the team and the help that my coach has given me.”
When you have something like a blueprint, a manual, or people like managers and coaches to guide you along the way, you gain lessons and perspective. Too often, though, we ignore the fact that we can be our own beneficial guides and coaches, make our own blueprints. Few people take time to pause, reflect on and grow from mistakes, and take stock of the ever-evolving questions of what’s working, what’s not, what we want, what we don’t, and why.
Maybe it’s because pausing seems unproductive, too much like idleness, but the opposite is true. Your mindset toward mistakes can influence your performance. Research shows that people who think they can learn from their mistakes pay more attention and improve performance after making them. And learning, driving toward goals, and getting better at things — which are undoubtedly productive — requires quiet self-reflection
We will continue to make mistakes; the important thing is that we can stop repeating them. What’s more, we do things that are smart and magnificent — let’s repeat those. Let’s help others and ourselves grow by building a practice and culture of slowing down to review the past and contemplate how that fits into our present and future. In doing so, we arm ourselves with the confidence to try and innovate, the resilience to flourish from failure, and the knowledge and courage to make an impact.