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Leadership

Leaders Letters – Ask Me Anything

On Monday 26th of October, I led an AMA on leaders letters, there as a great number of questions and a variety, some will be useful for any business, others are specific for the person’s situation.

The AMA

Q1. How many times should we revisit our company strategy?

I believe the company strategy should be:

Think: 5 Years, Plan: 3 Years, Action: 1 Year.

I believe you can revisit twice a year but should not completely change.

Your strategy is your guide for the year, this is why tactics can change but the strategy shouldn’t.

I also believe there should only be one strategy not departmental or team strategies as these undermine your core strategy and rarely connect.

Unfortunately, 2020 has been a unique year so each quarter would be acceptable, especially at a tactical level but if you have to keep changing strategy, you are constantly missing the mark for your customers.

If you are constantly changing strategy or constantly changing your company compass no one within your company will know what or where to look for guidance.

Always aim for an Annual Strategy: I like to recommend your agreed strategy has to be signed off by the middle of November. This enables your teams to hopefully end on a high, wrap up important projects and then start the following year with crystal clear action plans on how to hit their goals, their KPI’s and feel like they are making personal progress.

You should then check in monthly and quarterly to know where you are and use the detailed playbook to guide you and your company’s direction.

I will be updating throughout the day with more answers from emailed questions.


Q2. We find that we chop and change our strategy constantly, how do you suggest we combat this?

This typically comes from confidence or consistent weak numbers, if you are part of the management team I would look to raise this and show evidence of this happening and the impact is having. If this is accepted as good behaviour and right then you should look to get external help.

I would create a dedicated strategy stream and build-out for the next 15-18 months, look at leading indicators, make big bets and back these up with all the relevant information. Ask department leads to come up with their plans and fold up to the big bets and roll into your strategic pillars.

Playbook & Two Pages: I am big on recommending detailed playbooks and these should act as your company compass, I would recommend building a detailed playbook, guiding you from what success is to what actions and activities the company will not be undertaking.

I would include the business details like average order value, the trending consumer data, the market indicators, the believes you have with your new products or updates and then convert this into a slick two-page strategy document that is shared to every member of staff. This will take you a few weeks and will feel like hard work but the reward is high. Have it in writing you and the management team will revisit twice a year and highlight the strategy is company-wide and tactically things can change but these tactics will adhere to the agreed company-wide strategy.

Even think about a kick-off for the leadership team to present and collaborate on cross-departmentally.


Q3. Our company has a huge amount of products, we struggle to focus on joining our teams together on what’s important, how you suggest we tackle this?

Pull each department lead into a meeting, create a workshop environment and use this as a time to bring everyone together. Remind the team of the company’s goals and targets and how important everyone is moving in the same direction.

Humans are used to the campfire as it was how we understood that we were safe and eating together helped build trust and bonds, I would use this and ask ahead of time for people to eat the same type of food and drink a similar drink. This is an important trend to keep up and carry on post-workshop.

Ask the department leads to prepare their goals and plans together and work on cross-departmental goals and dependencies. Call out the people who need to work together and how long you estimate these projects to take.

This will align the teams if you have strong enough leaders. If you need to bring in their number two’s or team by team organise this (remotely doesn’t mean you cannot leverage this and actually tools like Miro and google docs are easy to open up to all).

Some management teams never onboard and change the way they work, this is where management team training and management team development is priceless.


Q4. What is the one thing you think people get wrong about building a people-first company?

Almost all business that attempts to shift focus to people first think its a quick job, it is not. It takes time, training and a lot of patience and positive energy. If you suggest you are a product first business and try and shift to people, this will be shifting importance away from delivery and for some remove their spotlight, it is important to understand if this is a problem and tackle headfirst and replace that feeling of being most important.

Don’t expect a quick turn around, but be confident, have open communications and ensure everyone is along on the journey. Don’t rely on perks to be a level playing field and think about how you will reward a hybrid office, consider how you can send packages out and make the playing field level for everyone.


Q5. Our team is struggling with burn out and fatigue, what would you recommend?

I’m sorry your team is struggling, it is almost November and we have been through a huge amount. For many November feels the same as the hectic Christmas we all seem to suffer from most.

I can safely say everyone I have spoken to or have connected with has said the same. There are a number of businesses that are giving extra time off, slack encourages to take a Friday off a month and heard good things about this.

Free or extra time away can feel daunting if people have pressing deadlines, there are a few options around mental health support partners and giving people time to take a couple of hours off per day.

I would try and keep these rules formulaic so everyone has the same opportunity. Ensure your leadership team follows the same suit and rewards teams for taking time away or breaks. This will ensure this becomes commonplace and widely accepted and celebrated.

I would recommend helping teams know that it is ok to reduce down meetings, reduce down early morning meetings and suggest earlier finishes especially with the time changes happening.

I would suggest making more time for fun where it makes sense. It’s probably planning season, so addressing planning stresses upfront and reduce down the mad dash will help everyone.


Q6. Where do I start first with improving company culture?

Without specifics, this is how I recommend approaching improving company culture without external help. Send a survey around to your teams and ask for feedback on what the problems are. Questions can include how they are performing, how they interact with colleagues, how they feel within the company, what can be improved and what can start, stop and continue.

Pulse surveys can be tricky especially around benchmarking baselines, the more open feedback to begin with the better the questions can be.

I typically find many bosses struggle with EQ and need help or an additional person to be at hand to help, many people are wired their problems have to go through their manager and if they go above or around their boss it causes friction, ensure this is not the case. Skip 1-2-1’s (skip a line of management and go to bosses boss) can be good but also reduces the managers and colleagues, if you can make the time and ask for transparent feedback this will help open up numerous eyes and build more trust and transparency.

Ask your department leads to breakdown any issues they understand to be a problem and collate together and categorise and then prioritise.

Ask for internal influencers to fill in the dots and consider to appoint a dedicated culture community manager (https://www.focus.business/culture-community-manager).

Communication is the most vital part of this and being open and admitting any issues you are tackling with important progress updates will ensure colleagues take this seriously.


Q7. What is the most difficult part of company culture?

People and culture is a huge evolving area of your business.

Everyone has opinions, not everyone will think they need an opinion, many will think their opinions should count more.

The most challenging for many organisations I speak to is communication and getting cut through. I highly recommend building principles with communication as an essential pillar.

What company culture is post (https://www.focus.business/what-company-culture-is) will really help shape your thinking.

I believe subcultures and environments are the most tricky to fully understand and develop out especially remotely however with the right process and good people around you it is possible to help improve company culture and get everyone backing the move towards improving company culture.

Leadership have to be fully on board with company culture and not just disagreeing and committing, they have to live and breath it and promote it constantly, repetition is essential especially from the most senior leaders.


Q8. Which startup seems to get it right every time?

Peloton (https://www.onepeloton.co.uk/), they missed the mark with their ad around a year ago (https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-50649826) but it was brought to live with Ryan Reynolds and his spin off ad. Both had huge positive impacts on sales.(Ryan Renyolds ad https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GqXj_JmWfgc)

they are so Apple-like in their products, their aspirational brand and connecting their customers to high profiles instructors and together with leaderboards and hugely expensive product that is the envy of your friends. Peloton business is built based with ambassadors throughout it. Brilliant.


Q9. What was the biggest business lesson you learnt from your most senior role?

Customers over Competitors

– Jeff Bezos and Amazon are famous for creating what I call prime expectations, they make the Amazon service so compelling with speedy “free” delivery and “fair” prices you are brought in. I genuinely believe Amazon when they say they put their customers first and are customer-obsessed, by obsessing over your competitors you are looking at the wrong indicators, competitors are important and competitors analysis and keeping on top of changes will help you but your customers will be the best indicators and best source of inspiration.

The next and every product huddle or every leadership meeting, you should always ask first, “how are we improving our service for our customers” and “what is our next big bet to improve their experience”.

Revenue only ever comes from relevancy, not relevant = no revenue.


Q10. Where do you think companies go wrong with growth teams?

A few things,

1/ Instant results, Growth = returns but over a few months, you need to set the team up to succeed. Some are lucky but those tend to slow over time.

2/ Growth cannot make a bad product process and bad marketing better quickly, this where some companies try and focus Growth and they will instantly face fight back. Growth should be a SWAT team that are specialists at uncovering issues, developing and testing different solutions and once they find the sweet spot ramp up.

3/ The biggest misconception is Growth is part of something else.

Growth has been a term that confuses many, it can mean sales, it can mean performance marketing, it can mean product.

Remove the confusion, I am a huge fan of what I called silicon valley growth, a dedicated department that has a core set of people to work on problems and opportunities and bring in the right supporting experts from the internal teams, so if it needs product marketing internally and externally bring in the strongest product marketer.

Growth should not replace Marketing in my opinion, it should compliment it, likewise with Product, it should work hand in hand, Marketing is there to acquire all of the customers and drive into the funnel, Product should convince those in the funnel and build out loops to drive usage and increase sharing, whereas Growth should be there to work on those who are not convinced fully and work on edge cases to increase usage and if retention is not owned then help with retaining the user.

Growth will need a quarter to get set up and buy-in and then with the right team will start making the company engine speed up and drive the flywheel. I personally like Growth to constantly be looking to innovate and try to develop something that everyone will get excited about.

Growth as a department is an investment but one that will reap the rewards with backing from teams and departments.

Focus Growth Info: https://www.focus.business/growth


Q11. What is the one thing companies don’t do enough?

From experience, it’s officially auditing internally, audits are by far the most important and enlightening part of improving companies if you are not reviewing your work or departments how can you improve?

Numbers are important but there are far more factors than just numbers and performance trendlines, knowing what makes your company and departments tick or fail will help you improve and optimise far more quickly. It is essential to me that companies get help with setting up audits.

Here is the Focus Audit Approach https://www.focus.business/audits


Q12. How do I fire my co-founder?

This isn’t something I would be able to recommend a legal perspective on however I’ve worked at businesses where this has had a huge business-changing impact.

Firstly I would seek legal advice and understand every step.

Secondly, I would understand the business impact and how you and your business can put safety measures to take over the work and deliver on your goals.

Lastly, I would advise to bring in external support, to set up support for colleagues and someone to talk to about it and to help you realign your business.

Once this change is made, your business won’t magically be better for everyone. Take note and help set up everyone for success by the support and with frameworks.

Best of luck


Q13. What are the work podcasts you never miss?

1/ The anxious achiever from HBR is probably the best validating most work-related pod,

2/ a16z sixteen minutes is good for a roundup and thought starting

3/ Invest like the best offers you something unique, really enjoying founders field guide.

4/ Pivot podcast with Kara Swisher & Prof Scott Galloway


Q14. What is a space that doesn’t get much exposure but is exciting? (Ideally b2b)

A space to look out for is video and audio within the b2b space.

Keep an eye out for software like jamm, pragli, around.co & remotion all bringing a different approach to zoom or teams for meetings.

I like where https://whereby.com/ is taking the video meeting and challenging zoom. So many opportunities in this space, especially whilst no one is doing it right


Q15. Managing upwards vs managing downwards – which is most important as a leader?

For less experienced (managers or leaders) managing down and around you.

Why? You are there to manage the team members and the direction of your team or department and help the other leaders drive the business forward.

If you and your fellow leaders don’t get on or do not align you impact your business far more than you can imagine.

Many less experienced managers are too concerned about their boss or bosses boss opinion, this doesn’t help you or your team to deliver brilliant work and often you forget to lead your team and develop the team.

Managing upwards is a skill you (should) develop over time and if the senior management team didn’t trust you you wouldn’t be in the role and if they lose the trust they will let you know quickly.

For more experienced and the super senior, I believe managing below you is more important. Why? You are there to coach, mentor and help your team make better and smarter decisions to get the best performance for your business.

Managing upwards is important and managing expectations is tricky but without your team delivering it will be very difficult to manage them and their expectations.


Q16. What would you do if you run an in-person conference company?

This is something I think a lot about especially with the number of self-learning professionals will have to do in 2021.

The ROI of attending an all day online conference will be hard to justify vs spending in other areas. I have been there when you have to justify why you signed off a team member attended a conference or on a training course vs something else.

I would look to find the best platform available and get together a great range of speakers from all different size brands. Make sure every speaker makes the talks actionable.

I would also consider inviting great storytellers over just a name everyone knows or a logo everyone recognises.

AKA Deliver the best possible conference online but better than just a zoom chat or something they could find on a podcast or YouTube.

We are all suffering from zoom fatigue or content overload. Charge for the event, go into niches, create experiences – so send supporting content, send physical objects where possible and safe and offer something that can complement the talks.


Q17. Is there an area you are excited about in 2021?

Yes! Other than audio which is set to boom (https://dannydenhard.com/2021-and-beyond-predictions-the-biggest-industries-for-economic-growth/), I would say cloud gaming for professional reasons. Cloud gaming is moving towards social and some games will be social first then gameplay, this came from fortnite and is set to continue with other super popular games.

I would also say hyperlocal is something that has a huge opportunity, especially with dark stores and the opportunity to make the high street an experience space. I said in my Must Reads newsletter (http://mustreads.co.uk/) if I was advising a big company, I would be looking at the local high street and plotting to take more space and adopt the Amazon approach to compete with them and bring loyalty to local customers and fans.

FWIW Loyalty and retention are going to be key to growth for the next 24 months.


Q18. What is your key management tip for startup employees?

Manage your time wisely. Go fast but be deliberate. Be transparent and open with everyone.

More specifically for management and leadership tips for founder-led startups.

A general rule of thumb with an active founder or founder who oversees product, managers need to manage up as much as down and around them.

From experience and helping businesses, founder-led companies can be extra work and effort because the founder wears many hats, typically hides their flaws and the company set up is less than optimal. Founders tend to feel more responsible and feel like they need to across everything, this can feel very challenging for leaders at any level of startups.

Investors apply a lot of pressure which is then passed through the org. Founders do not always get support, coaching or mentoring, so they often have to learn on the job.

If you are middle management or new to management but want to transition into a leader, I would recommend following something like a 70% – 20% – 10%.

70% for the team: The team will need you around, will require guidance and like to know you are involved and collaborating and championing you.

20% for management: 20% as you will need to manage expectations, delivery and costs. Middle management can be tricky and being succinct and deliberate with communications is vital.

10% for yourself: To protect yourself, make time to get your own work done and importantly develop yourself. This is something that is lost and developing your knowledge, your skills and your muscle memory will be essential in different moments and needs of leadership


Q19. Which companies are “getting it right” for – Brand – Product – Culture?

– Brand: Apple (haven’t missed at all in 2020) and Peloton. Gymshark from the outside have done some stand out campaigns (they own LinkedIn feeds)

– Product: TikTok (best product for years), Miro (finally making it out of the design bubble) & muse app (new chat app, is more of a canvas than a stream of bubbles)

– Culture: 2020 has been such a difficult year I would have to say many of the firms who went and allowed their teams to work remotely and sent all the equipment they needed. There are a number of brands that went asynchronous and have set their teams up to succeed for the next 18 months.

Q20. Who is getting it wrong?

Wrong:

– Brand – Premier League, they have charged fans too much for games alongside their broadcasters and will impact the clubs and the fans for the next few years. It just doesn’t make sense to add more expense to people who are struggling the most. (link – https://www.wired.co.uk/article/premier-league-pay-per-view-ppv-iptv-streams)

– Product, Google have had recently rolled their confusing new rebrand of all of their products, will make perfect sense internally, makes no sense externally. Google need to crystal clear of their offerings and why us it. Google meet has a lot of potential but doesn’t compete (link – https://www.fastcompany.com/90560175/gmail-new-logo-g-suite-google-workspace-rebranding-productivity-apps)

– Culture – coinbase dropped the ball a few back and saw 5% of staff leave (Link – https://blog.coinbase.com/a-follow-up-to-coinbase-as-a-mission-focused-company-6e7545e9aea2)

Q21. What is your routine/what advise would you give to maximise productivity?

3 steps

1. Get a notepad and pen, columns left to right, client / project column a, task and explainer column b, due date column c, priority column d and done column e. It’s essential to tick off and cross work with pen, its a dopamine kick your brain is wired to want and rewards you.

2. Take and make notes, moved to a centralised system (like apple notes or notion)

3. Create a personal wiki: Revisit notes regularly and link to other notes, keep an update. Whether this is in notion or a google sheet or something else.

I wrote a blog post recently you might appreciate https://dannydenhard.com/daily-and-weekly-prioritisation/


Q22. What do you recommend to help improve a team?

Here are a few quickfire tips:

1. Get around the campfire. Eat and drink together (works remotely too)

2. Problem solve together

3. Celebrate together

4. Have competitions. Take quizzes regularly.

5. Create a department session where you get to know each other. Ask the most senior to go first. Have quick-fire rounds regularly

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