A Productive 1:1

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I have had very few one on one meetings with managers that I felt were really useful.  I only started having 1:1 meetings when I joined Fido.  And so seeing no other working model, I started to believe that they were useless.  I just finished the Ben Horowitz book The Hard Thing About Hard Things and I have revised my thinking.  The one on one is critical to my notion of making the company a family; you have to keep open lines of communication.  A 1:1 forces two people to stay in contact.  I would also include structure to the meeting so that we cover certain things essential to the personal side of the relationship.  I still believe that the subordinate owns the meeting and is responsible for its success, but structure is always good.

Here are the components of my ideal 1:1 meeting…

  1. Greet each other and shake hands.  One of my favorite Supreme Court traditions is that whenever they sit for cases, each justice greets each other with a handshake first.  The simple acknowledgment of respecting the other person in a two-way partnership, is profound.
  2. Family and what is happening with your life – A manager can’t help you be successful in work as part of your family, if she doesn’t know what else is going on with your family.  This should go both ways.  Sharing is caring.
  3. Status update.  This is bottom up.  All-Hands meetings are meant for top-down communication.  Only discuss items that are problematic and need to be discussed in confidence.  A good manager should be ‘on the floor’ and tuned into the general state of affairs.
  4. Progress on goals – Detail from a big picture how you see your progress on goals and learn how that impacts your manager’s progress on their goals.
  5. Criticism of manager – A manager should ask direct questions; How am I keeping you from being successful?  I am hearing these ‘rumors’… what do you think?  How should I fix things?  The employee should feel empowered to give direct, critical and actionable feedback.
  6. Culture – Employees are living in the culture that management fosters.  There should be frank conversation about how things ‘feel’ vis-à-vis the intended tone of the organization.  Is the behavior of leadership affecting the business and the workplace?  How can it be improved?  Can leadership and staff form a better partnership?
  7. Feedback on employee’s performance – This should always be ongoing and candid.  Detail how the employee needs to improve.  What is the perception of their Effort level.
  8. Future – What should the employee be doing to meet goals, set new goals and succeed with the company.  Is their career progressing as desired?  Is the company and your role moving in the same direction of your goals?  How could we shift that?
  9. What can we both do better over the next week.  Both parties agree on 2 objectives and EXECUTE

Obviously this is more content than 30 minutes per week.  I would block an hour and just use whatever is necessary.  Even if the content is “no update” it gives people an opportunity to check in and reconnect.

Two people cannot be productive if they are not connected in a way that makes them more effective as a team.  The goal is that the team dynamic enables you to be more productive than the sum of your parts.  I remember how Tom Brady and Deion Branch used to talk about how they could read each other’s intent based on a look or a nod.  Great teams don’t just happen, you have to cultivate them.  At the base of it, a team is a collection of one on one relationships.  You don’t have to follow this outline, but be sure to connect to that person one on one.

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Startups in NH

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It’s been about two weeks since I completed the Startup Fundamentals class through AlphaLoft.  This is an organization committed to the startup ecosystem in NH.  They do some great work and provide a lot of services for free.  I give them a big thumbs up.

At first, I wasn’t exactly sure what I would get out of the sessions.  I follow the startup scene and blogosphere and I would consider myself to be fairly well educated on startup concepts.  Listening to the business presentations from my peers on the first night, I was a little taken aback by the fact that some were not “startups” in the sense of the word that invokes impressions of a highly scalable tech product looking to find product:market fit and a sustainable business model.  Sure some of us were, but others were more suited to what would be described as a “lifestyle business.”

Much of the discussion/lecture content was review for me.  But what was invaluable were the discussions with the rest of the team about our ideas; riffing on options and giving each other feedback.  Some of it was validation and other was direct criticism.  Most of us handled it well.  After all, we were sitting in a room designed to grow businesses, not all of that is painless.  I got some really great critical feedback.

For a long time I have advocated for startup concepts to be applied in other areas.  Incumbent “big business” is a natural target.  Steve Blank seems to be focusing on that demographic in recent years (government too).  I have tried to advocate the benefits of experimenting, product design, MVP, customer focus and other concepts with little success.  I find this sad because top management gets it and we hear the same concepts espoused by our leaders, only to be squashed somewhere in the middle before being put into practice.  Good luck to them if they continue that behavior.

But the really enlightening thing for me with this class is how Startup concepts actually SHOULD be applied at a micro level to a whole bunch of companies not in the traditional mold.  That includes the lifestyle businesses that are often ignored as not being ‘scalable’ or ‘high-growth’.  I started to see that even in these cases when you apply new concepts, sometimes you learn even more about them, just from the new perspectives.  Yes this seems like a no-brainer.  But when all of your content comes from so-called ‘experts’ it is easy to forget that there are other perspectives whose insight could be more useful.  In my case, reading books and blogs did not offer the same wisdom as having an in-person conversation about working through even the most basic of ‘fundamentals’.

Sharing the Startup ethos across other areas of the NH economy is going to benefit our community in ways that we don’t see yet.  The point is to grow the ecosystem and then create scale in the ecosystem itself.  It will be interesting to see how this eventually merges with old school institutions like the Chamber of Commerce and Rotary Club.  I am excited to be part of our evolving community of entrepreneurs and I hope to add value back to the platform as soon as I can.

Thank you to Alpha Loft, Josh Cyr, and the rest of my classmates for an eye-opening 6 weeks.  See you all in the trenches.

Let’s get started!

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Getting Wicked Smaht

I’ve been listening to Podcasts for years now. Over the past year there has been an explosion in popularity as the advertising strategy and market has expanded. Where there is money there is a way.

Podcasts are an exceptional way to gather knowledge and make better use of time. I listen when driving, exercising, household chores and doing house projects. The real genius is that you get to hear from people that don’t normally comment on the world in a way that reaches the general public.

My list of podcasts has grown over the years and I have dropped a few here and there. Sometimes people ask me what I listen to, so I made a list on the page here. I have categorized each and will keep it up to date as I add new shows. As of today, I subscribe to 62 and listen to about 85% of them each week. Yes that is a lot of time. But we all spend a lot of time doing stuff that could be enhanced by listening to podcasts.

I can’t stress enough how important I think it is to stay connected with the world. Podcasts are a great – and free – way to do that. Give them a shot, you’d be surprised how much smarter you get listening to people talk.

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Signs of Stupidity


It’s 8:30 AM, people are just getting to work. The parking lot fills from left (near the building) to the right. There are multiple lots with several rows of opposing-car spaces each. Quick, what is SERIOUSLY wrong here?

[Hint: 4 of these 5 people are complete morons]

Why would you NOT pull through to the space in front of the car to make it easier when you leave so you can pull straight out???

1) It helps your car. Why park facing in when it just means you have to shift unnecessarily into reverse before selecting drive. That extra shift is useless wear and tear. If you do this every day, you double the shifts on your transmission. That cuts in half the life of your transmission’s shift-life estimate. 

2) It saves gas. Ok even if you don’t care about the environment and burning fossil fuels you must care about money. Moving a car in one direction, stopping, and then moving in the other is a spectacular waste of kinetic energy. Unless you are the Flinstones, the only way you make that energy is by burning gas. 

3) It saves time. Shifting into reverse. Turning your head and body around. Checking both directions. Moving. Stopping. Shifting into drive. Looking around. Moving. That just wastes time. Probably 20 seconds. Is that a lot?  No but it is free time. 

I am so sick of waste. The notion that “I can’t be bothered” is a metaphor for American entitlement and laziness that will kill this country.  If I am a third would country looking to tackle the world leader, I’m fixing all this little stuff.  Execute flawlessly.  We are flawed. 

If this kind of crap throughout the day wastes 25 bps or one quarter of one percent of total economic output, on US GDP which is right about $20 trillion…that means we waste $50 billion dollars a year. Imagine that kind of macroeconomic savings from doing nothing but reflecting the fact that you are human and are supposed to be intelligent. 

This shit makes me insane. Don’t Be Dumb. 

#DBD

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Jail House Rock

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Americans are 5% of the world population, but 24% of the world’s incarcerated populace is here in the US. Everyone says this is a problem. They argue we have too many people in jails. I agree that there are people in jail for the wrong reasons, like minor drug offenses. And I agree that sentencing guidelines have become arcane. Most importantly, I think the criminal justice system targets certain groups of people unfairly and needs reform.  But I would argue that our high incarceration rates are generally a reflection of something positive.

  • A society advances when it has a strong economy.
  • A strong economy creates demand.
  • Demand creates jobs.
  • Jobs allow people to grow and thrive.
  • When people thrive, capitalist forces push for better jobs which translates into the need for a more educated workforce.
  • More education should lead to lower crime and poverty

These are some broad strokes and yes they are nuanced in a true economic sense, but I tend to think they are axiomatic. Basic economic theory in this case, insinuates that capitalism pushes the world to evolve into a smarter, better and wealthier place.

The key is that none of these economic forces can take hold without a level playing field. We need the rule of law. It’s what keeps the capitalistic forces evenly distributed.  It is the force that drives us to want to do better. If there was no rule of law, everyone would cheat. There would be no incentive to do something better or more efficient.  The law is what makes us strong. It’s why the Constitution is such a remarkable document and guiding philosophy.

I may be oversimplifying, but look at China’s growth vs sub-Saharan Africa over the past 20 years.  I have long postulated that China’s exponential growth started in 1998 when President Clinton, fought to grant permanent Most Favored Nation trade status.  Prior to that, each year there would be a big Congressional debate about human rights abuse and China’s status in the world.  It created uncertainty.  No business leader wants uncertainty.  Moving manufacturing to China is much easier when you have trade stability.  Economic uncertainty is like lawlessness.  There is no level playing field when political forces are always pushing one end of the scale or the other without predictability.  MFN was the last piece China needed.

At home, the Communist Party maintains such a tight legal control of the country, that while there is some corruption, the law is enforced on domestic players.  There is never a worry of political coup in China.  As a result, the trinity of cheap labor, political stability and rule of law makes China a natural focus for growth with US companies creating the potential for cheap goods (electronics, appliances, etc).

Contradict this with Africa.  There are very few stable government institutions.  Enforcement of laws (if they exist) is haphazard and inconsistent.  Kenya is at the forefront of getting things together, but widespread corruption and recent voting irregularities continue to stifle investment.  Global companies are hard-pressed to invest in a place that can’t maintain the basic rule of law.  They need predictability and stability to plan future business operations and significant capital investment looking for high ROI.  You can’t predict production, sales, growth, or CGS when all of the geo-political variables are constantly in flux.

The rule of law is good. And our incarceration rates reflect that we take the enforcement of law seriously. Corruption in its truest sense (not the political notion of a ‘swamp’) is relatively non-existent here. It’s why we thrive.  People in jail means we are enforcing the law, creating a level playing field. I know the natural reply is that we need more white collar violators in jail…maybe so.  But a vigorous prosecutorial collective enables us to continue to grow.

There are always going to be bad people.  The fact that ours are in jail is a good thing. We should recognize that this is what makes us so successful. Only then can we fix the problems that continue to plague the enforcement of the law.

“And they began to wail”

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Taking a Knee

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It seems the commotion has died down some.  At the game this past Sunday, no one took a knee and I heard very little complaining about our latest ‘crisis’.  I saw a few t-shirts with “I Stand for the Anthem” but that was it.  It’s been a few weeks since NFL players started to engage in civil protest on the field.  Time for some reflection.

I was in the stands (see arrow above) for that first week when players took a knee.  And I yelled “booo”  just before the anthem started.  Then I sang out loud with my hand over my heart, just like I always do.  We frequently tap someone on the shoulder, “hat,” reminding them to show respect.  That’s what you do.

I don’t think you should protest during the National Anthem.  I don’t think you should desecrate the flag.  There are certain symbols of national pride that you don’t mess with.  But I would defend anyone’s peaceful demonstration against these symbols, should they decide it was necessary, and the government tried to take that right away.  That’s not what this country is about.  Freedom of speech and expression is what we are.  It’s what makes this country awesome.  It’s why we engage in civil debate.

I don’t believe that a conscientious protest disrespects service members, first responders or anyone.  Exercising your individual rights guaranteed by the Constitution, upheld by governments and defended by our military, is the single greatest thing you can do to show respect for people that died for that right.  Imagine fighting for something that no one cared about.  I care about freedom.  I don’t take it for granted.  It is important to remember that even as you protest, we all recognize how profound the struggle to maintain your ability to lodge that protest.

But in that same thread, I can also exercise my right to criticize a protester.  Hence my boo-ing.  Personally, I think a better way would be to do it like Dallas did that first week: The whole team, even the owner, came down on the field to take a knee right before the Anthem, and then stood for its singing.  That was profound.  That was a demonstration of protest.  I thought it was pretty awesome.

Expressing concern and raising awareness about police brutality and the disproportionate arrest rates for black men is noble.  It absolutely should be done.  Professional athletes have been blessed with a talent that allows them to be celebrities and heroes.  They have huge followings.  Leveraging that star-power to communicate to an audience is admirable.  I wish more would do it.  I wish they would also express concern about their peers when they abuse women, or general disrespect of women in language and action.  Imagine if they also praised the responsibility of actively fathering children and being part of a child’s life.  Or vigilant use of birth control.  Or encouraged kids to try hard in school.  There are myriad issues to protest and raise awareness with your soapbox.  Do more than one.

I would encourage players to not just make a silent show of solidarity with something as trivial as taking a knee.  Stand up and speak.  Get out and talk to kids and men and associations.  You have a voice and if you believe in something then you owe it to your audience to talk about it and be vocal.  Show your following that while actions speak louder than words, it is the actual words that convey meaning.  Take ownership of what you want to say, and say it.  Get off your knee, stand tall and proud, and then shout it to the world.  We are listening.

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Speed to Market

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A little ways back I was listening to an interview with Derek Sivers, former CEO of CD Baby.  While I often find it hard to come to decisions, I’ve made some big ones lately.  It got me to thinking about the Sivers interview.  He said that when presented with a choice, he has one standard, “Hell yeah or no.”  Now that I am focusing on decisions, I like this framework.  He was saying, either I absolutely love it, or I’m not touching it.  If I don’t absolutely love it, it’s not worth my time.  I’ve been doing that by accident lately, but I think it needs to be institutionalized.  Given how short we all are for time these days, is there any other standard that you should apply?

Sivers also talked about his attitude once he makes a decision, and this one rang true to me and how I approach life,

The Standard Pace Is for Chumps.

People always talk about how the journey is part of the adventure.  That has always troubled me.  I might make the most of the journey because it takes a while to get somewhere and why not enjoy it… but I want to get there!  Just because I make the most of the journey, doesn’t mean that I focus on it.  I hate waiting for something to be done.   And while I hear all your snickers about me getting house projects completed in a reasonable time; just because I don’t finish one project before moving on to something else, doesn’t mean that I LIKE that.  It drives me nuts and I have always tried to resist the pressure best I can.  Moreover, when others see something as “done,” all I see are the details I didn’t finish.  That stuff makes me crazy.

I’ve accelerated some parts of my life, and others have dragged.  My proudest accomplishment in executing speed to market, was finishing my degree at Bentley in 3 years.  I’ll leave the details for another time.  There was a point in my career where I made a jump to consulting with relatively little experience and for a while I did well.  I also made Director at Fido relatively quickly.  But the stagnation has been killing me.  Ten plus years in the same place can really sap your spirits.

Sometimes you just need a mantra or two to add to your self motivational routine.  The standard pace is for chumps.  Time to execute and deliver.  Hell yeah

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