October 27, 2014

Without objection

“Without objection, I will ship the alpha Tuesday at 10 am.”

“Without objection, this ad will go live on the front page at end of workday.”

The most powerful phrase for shipping a product, a web page, or an idea is “without objection”.

We are all drowning in email. But there’s no escape; sometimes there are a lot of people in the loop. So email discussions circulate, picking up longer and longer CC lists.

If you are pretty sure the project is ready to ship… if you’re sending this so everyone knows… if you just want to make sure there’s no typos… then don’t ask for a reply.

Show initiative and tell everyone what will happen, and when, if you don’t hear back. Then, assuming things are fine, people can review and delete your email without creating more. And you’ll look like an action-oriented-shipper-of-things.

Add a deadline, so people know how soon they need to reply if they do object. It also helps to put this warning at the very start or very end of the email, so it stands out.

October 26, 2014

Awesomeness

A series on the Faithlife core values: Honesty. Openness. Awesomeness. Growth. Initiative. Elegance. Shipping.

We live in world of quality products. Where it is unusual to repair a product, because products either rarely fail, or are so cheap that when they do we simply purchase a newer, better model for less than the cost of repair.

Every business aims to provide excellent service. A 60-cent candy bar has a toll-free customer service number on the wrapper, and a call will ensure a complete refund of your expenditure and an apology for the inconvenience.

Today, doing a good job, building a quality product, and serving customers well aren’t things that set a business apart. These things are the norm.

Awesomeness still stands out.

  • When a product has a surprisingly useful or fun feature, that’s awesome.
  • When someone exceeds your expectations in service, that’s awesome.
  • When you’re surprised by something delightful, that’s awesome.

It’s awesome if it’s something people would tell other people about. It’s awesome if it makes people say “That’s awesome!”

It doesn’t have to be expensive. It doesn’t have to be complicated. It doesn’t have to be extravagant. It doesn’t have to be consistent.

Just awesome.

It’s hard to be consistently awesome. It takes hard work and creativity. Sure, you could throw money at the problem, or build elaborate checklists and flow charts, and turn some mundane things into awesome things. But the best awesomeness is a surprise.

Our customers would find it awesome to discover a $100 bill in their new software package as an ‘instant refund.’ If every package had one, though, people would soon wonder why we didn’t just lower prices and reduce complexity. If it were routine, it would lose its awesomeness.

How can we be more awesome?

Go beyond what’s required once in a while. If a customer has a problem we can address with a $50 credit, give them a $70 credit. Not every time. Not every customer. Just once in a while. Because it’s awesome when you get more than you deserve.

Actually listen to people. So many people call or write with a story about why they need us to break a rule, not apply a policy, or make a special exception. It’s easy to receive this on auto-pilot, and hold to the rules. And we need to. Except sometimes we shouldn’t. Because it’s awesome when someone overrules a policy to help you.

Surprise someone. Send a thank you note after a routine transaction. Include a tiny gift in a shipment. Implement a feature that’s fun and delights people.

Is there a part of our business, product, or service that isn’t awesome? Put together your own ‘awesome brainstorming team’ and come up with some awesome ideas on how to fix it.

Is there a way we could be more awesome for our customers? Suggest it.

It’s hard to be awesome all the time. But it’s one of our core values – and one of the things that will keep our customers happy, returning, and telling others about us.

August 14, 2014

Read for Cash

Our “continuing education” program for employees can be summed up in one word: read.

Every year we pay our team to read business books. The financial incentive (15 cents / page) and requirements (the books are all pre-approved, the campaign lasts six weeks) lead people to read outside their normal interests and outside their normal job responsibilities.

In 2006 32 employees read 104 books; this year we had 151 participants read 485 books.

I encouraged everyone to contact the authors of the books they read simply to thank them for writing the book. 102 participants did, and two-thirds heard back from the author. (As quickly as within an hour, and most often with appreciation and a personal reply.)

To get paid, participants email a short review and star rating to the entire company. It can be as little as a sentence, but was often a thoughtful review with insights on how the lessons learned apply to our business. I read all 485 reports and was daily impressed with what a smart and interesting team I get to work with.

On a scale of 1 – Useless to 5 – Great Program, employees rated this year’s Read for Cash 4.5.

August 12, 2014

Almost Perfect

I read Almost Perfect, the story of WordPerfect Corporation, years ago, and have used the story of ‘the minor change that wasn’t worth testing before release’ many times.

“On Friday the 13th there were so many people trying to call us that our busy signals brought down the entire AT&T 800 system in the Mountain West. The phones in the Delta Airlines reservation center and the American Express customer service center, both in Salt Lake City, all went quiet. AT&T called around lunchtime to politely inquire how soon we could clear up our busy signals. Much to our embarrassment, we had no answer for them. We were in deep trouble.”

Now the whole book is online; you’ll find this story in Chapter 9.

 

August 11, 2014

What we value at Logos

A recent email to the company…

There is nothing at Logos more important than our corporate values:

Honesty. Openness. Awesomeness. Growth. Initiative. Elegance. Shipping.

These values reflect what we want to be as an organization. They help us decide what to do today and next year. They answer both ‘how?’ and ‘why?’

I love being part of this organization. I enjoy explaining our values and get a thrill out of seeing us live up to them in big dramatic moments when people wonder if we’ll stick to them and in small, simple ways every day. I consider it an honor and a privilege to be a leader here.

Unfortunately, as organizations grow the distance between people increases. If you joined Logos in the first few years, you were probably older than me and there’s a good chance I helped you move. If you joined this year, we may not have even met yet, and I may be mysterious and remote to you.

And the bigger we get, the harder it is to do something about that. But I want to do what I can to fight that sense of hierarchy and distance. I want everyone here to be on the same page, living the same values, working towards the same ends. And I want to be part of that daily work with you.

So here is what you need to understand about me:

I care about the work. The work is what we are doing every day as we live out our values. The work is what our values enable and it is the fruit of our labor. I want the company to produce excellent work we can all be proud of, and I want us to get it out into the world where it can be useful to people.

And, at a personal level, I simply delight in excellent work: a perfect turn of phrase, an elegant bit of code, a beautiful design, a prospect turned customer and a customer turned raving-fan. It’s fun to see these things!

It doesn’t matter who creates it: when the company does excellent work we all win.

I don’t care about status or rank or credentials – mine or yours. No qualification guarantees that all your work is excellent, and no lack of qualification prevents someone from being able to recognize or create good work.

So it matters a lot that our work is done within the context of our values.

I love to see great work at Logos. (Awesomeness. Initiative. Elegance. Shipping.) I will also call out bad work at Logos. (Honesty. Openness. Growth.) And I expect the same from you. Do I like to have my work criticized? No. Do I take it personally when people tell me something I worked hard on wasn’t that great? Yes. But as painful as honest criticism is, it would be far worse to never get it. Without the honest criticism that leads to better work, I might never hear (and could certainly never trust) the praise that great work earns.

Sometimes we might disagree on what is and isn’t good work. Sometimes we may disagree about how much more effort should go into something before it ships. As CEO I have ultimate decision rights, and sometimes you’ll hear me exercise those rights.

But I want you to know that you work at a company where doing good work is the ultimate power. To know that a good idea is valued more than a job title. To know that honest criticism is about the work, never about the person, and that it’s your right – and duty – to provide that work-focused criticism to your supervisors and co-workers as much as to those who report to you.

If you are living our values and doing great work, you are doing all I could ask of you and more.

And when your work falls short, as mine so often does, you can expect to hear about it. And you can know that the feedback is about the work, not about you, and is delivered in the spirit of our values. Just like the painful and incredibly useful feedback I got on the first draft of this email from one of your co-workers. This is a better email because of it.

You are here because we chose to work with you. You were hired because you do good work and have the potential to grow and improve and do even better work in the future. Live the values in confidence.

Thank you for being part of this team with me.

August 7, 2014

Advice to my 21 year-old self

An intern invited me to coffee today and asked what advice I’d give my 21 year-old self.

The answer was easy: read more history and biography.

As the saying goes, “Good judgment comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgment.”

The only shortcut I’ve found is to study other people’s experience, and that’s mostly written up in history and biography. You can’t read enough of it.

Practical wisdom on growing your business that you can start using today.

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