Back in the engine room

One of the things, I have always enjoyed, is getting my hands down in the day-to-day grind of operations; ensuring that the wheels are in motion, running smoothly and any issue is dealt with in a timely manner. I absolutely love oiling the machine here and there, ensuring it spins properly.

For that reason I am excited to announce that I have joined our great portfolio company Cortrium as their interim COO for the coming months to help the management team there run operations and prepare for the next significant steps forward in the companys development.

I have been helping Cortrium out with marketing and other things for the past 9 months, and its a great company with an even bigger potential. The MedTech company specializes in longterm ECG Holter measurements and reporting, and they have a very innovative and forward-leaning tech stack of both hardware and software ready to help doctors and cardiologists diagnose people with atrial fibrillation, which is one of the leading precursors to strokes.

It’s not often that you get the chance to combine something you love with the opportunity to work on something where the ‘why?’ is as evident and awesome as in Cortrium, and I am really looking forward to working with the entire team to help them on fast forward.

(Photo by iSawRed on Unsplash)

Getting your goals right

January is typically the month where a lot of us set new and often ambitious goals for ourselves. And the coming weeks are typically the ones where we once again fail miserably in achieving them.

Maintaining and working hard towards a goal – especially a big hairy one – is really hard and takes an awful amount of discipline.

None of us are super disciplined 100 % of the time, and thus it makes sense to conclude that the more goals, you add to your list, the bigger the chances are that you won’t reach them. Maybe even none of them.

If we take that to be true, how come we seem to always add new goals to our lists at work? How come we have a tendency to add so many goals across one or more teams that sometimes it seems like we spend a lot more time managing and reporting on goals than we do on actually working towards achieving them?

Part of the reason for that is probably that we use the different frameworks for setting and managing goals in ways that are not really productive. We adapt frameworks built for other purposes and apply them across our teams as a ‘one size fits all’-thing that ultimately don’t fit anyone particular well. But causes a lot of frustration in the process.

So of course the good question is what to do about this and apply a way of working with goals that actually works by setting direction but not bogging you down in micro-management, lack of discipline and ultimate loss of motivation?

An initial step could very well be to just realize that goals are in the same way are not meant for everyone. That for instance it doesn’t make sense to apply an OKR approach through the entire organization, if some different way of setting and meeting goals work better in sales than it does in customer support or engineering.

With that in mind allow me to outline a suggested approach. From the bottom and upwards:

On the operational level it makes a ton of sense to look at the different disciplines as essentially part of an organism that has a firm rhythm. Almost like a heartbeat really.

When you look fx at sales there are established simple frameworks for setting goals and managing performance when it comes to everything from time from lead to closing to average deal size and more.

There is absolutely no reason to work with anything but the established standards there and in other areas of your business, where standards apply, as you want to ensure that the people in your team who is on point to deliver work towards types of goals that they know and recognize, and which ultimately frees up as much time as possible for their core tasks: Closing deals, managing support tickets, deploy new features etc.

It would probably be quite easy from a senior management point of view to apply different approaches and then cascade the metrics upwards towards a simple ’rhythm of the business’-scorecard, you can use to keep track of how the operation is ticking along, and which allows you to step in and do an intervention, of you can start to see anomalies in the rhythm. That would actually be quite effective.

Because the operational versus development aspect does play a key role in getting this right; you want to keep operational issues operational, and you want those operational issues that require an effort to optimize and fix going forward to feed into the development cycle and how you look at things for the longer term.

The development cycle is not only related to engineering and new features. It is also related to the overall development of your business. Put bluntly there is no reason you should bother your team members with issues of future strategic importance, if it takes away from their ability to focus on getting the job, they need to do today, done.

Thus the overall strategic objectives of your business should only be of primary concern to the senior management team or the founders. And this is where it makes sense to look at frameworks such as the OKR model.

The OKR model great for stating an objective and identify some key results that you need to achieve in order to meet that objective – like a guideline for reaching the goal with a few built-in sanity checks. But it should be restricted to big picture issues, as it’s terrible for micro-management.

Setting your OKR objectives also takes some skill in ensuring that you set just the right number. You should always have more than one, but you should probably not have more than 3 across the business. Because if you have more, you’re just adding on to your list, you loose track and motivation, and you likely won’t achieve the goals.

You should also not set goals that are too far out in the horizon. One of the big reasons people give up on their goals is because the time to experience success is way too long. You thus need to break up the objectives in smaller bite sizes and work to meet them one at a time.

A simple approach could be to define your objective for the next 12 months and then look at the key results needed to get there. Define those and break them down into smaller short-term objectives that can be the only ones, you put up on a board and work towards in fx a quarter.

That will help make your overall business goals smaller, ambitious but achievable and – crucially – point in the right strategic direction. When you then add the key results to achieve these minor short-term objectives, you should look to set and integrate the standard KPI’s from your various teams in order to ensure that everybody in your teams are working towards the same overall common goal – but without adding work streams, processes and reporting for them to the mix.

This is just a suggestion on how you could do it. The point is that while goals are important to have, it’s more important to have goals and a way or working with them that is actually operationally viable and don’t have a detrimental effect on efficiency, focus and ultimately morale.

(Photo by Rhett Lewis on Unsplash)

Qualify for WFH

There are a lot of fallouts from Covid-19, once we have the vaccine(s) and things start heading back towards some kind of normal (whatever degree of pre-pandemic behaviour that might turn out to be).

One of the ones I am most curious about is the Working-From-Home (WFH) phenomenon. How much of that will stick, and how will it pan out, once it’s not a 100% necessity anymore?

WFH policies after the pandemic will be made difficult by two things: A plethora of ways people have administered it during the pandemic, and employers inability to dictate what employees in reality do when they’re out of sight.

It is going to be a ton of ‘fun’, and I don’t think it will be possible to go back to the old ‘command-style’ model of employment in the past, where employers could just belch out orders and employees would comply – few questions asked (but unlimited eyes rolling behind the managers back).

Personally, I have never been a big fan of top-down orders. But on the other hand I don’t think we’re suited to too much independence, if we are to achieve great things as teams, companies and society as such. So what to do?

Deutsche Bank has circulated an idea to tax WFH due to the associated decrease in costs by not using commuting services, lunch on the go etc.

I think the idea is stupid and not the way forward. Frankly, it’s the kind of idea that a bank would come up with.

What we might be looking at instead is qualifying people for WFH privileges.

Instead of just sending people home and letting them decide for themselves, we might need to make sure they have the skills and the mindset to make it on their own, before we let them. Have them spend some time in the office, delivering on their tasks, cooperating with the team etc before moving to a more flexible schedule.

The concept is not new. It’s basically the cornerstone of bringing up children. As a parent, you don’t let your kid go to school on her own, before you’re absolutely sure she can handle herself in the bustling traffic.

It’s not only about trust. It is also about having routines and the experience to ensure that you can still perform, no matter where your team is located.

I fully realize that there are a lot of companies that already operate remotely, and are very good at doing that. My point is just that there is a difference between being born this way and having to learn and adapt to it.

Most fall into the latter category (no, your company is not Automattic), and it is those it will be interesting to follow, as Covid-19 transforms back into a ‘new’ normal.

(Photo: Pixabay.com)

Come on, lean in!

Yesterday I went for a summer get-together in my VL network group. Over a super nice summer meal, the discussion was flowing and we got talking about some of the things that you don’t normally find yourself talking about.

One of the discussions I was a part of was a discussion about what defines the opportunities we get in our professional lives. How did we become and do the things that we have become.

After some going back and forth, we agreed that what pretty much defined us had been the ability (and to some extend also luck, I guess) to invite ourselves to the party in crucial, defining moments:

Picking up on a sudden job opportunity presented by a promotion of a boss. Writing that unsolicited application. Sending the CEO an email after a meeting asking “Do you want more of this? I can offer you it”, etc.

Had we not done that our careers had not panned out the way they did (so far). It would have been vastly different. A lot of opportunities would never have been had, including opportunities to help create something meaningful and – in retrospect – perhaps even awesome.

It got me thinking.

How many of those I meet today are inviting themselves, taking charge of the conversation, having the ability and the guts to say “This is mine. I got this!”

Preciously few. Even with the opportunity presented right there in front of them, where it’s basically up for grabs.

Why is this important?

Because it is the people who are inviting themselves – who are leaning in across the table – that you really need on the team. It is those where you have got the feeling that if they continue to do that, chances are they will be awesome in the role. They will take ownership, take charge.

Because they care and really, really want it.

You want to be around people who really, really want it. It brings out not only the best in them but also the best in you.

(Photo: Pixabay.com)

WFH? Not so fast

A movement is forming around the future of work; saying goodbye to the office in return for unrestricted flexibility to work from wherever whenever and however you might choose. It’s the future, damn it!

First of all, I will always be very reluctant to base any long term strategy on a short term experience of what happens, when you make the switch. Add to that that the switch was forced due to Covid-19 and add all the stress elements of anxiety, having to keep kids at home while trying to work etc, and to me it is just a big NO GO!

It’s just a poor way of using data. Almost fraudulent. Especially if you have the well-being of the people, you’re trying to determine the future of work for at heart.

Second, I strongly believe in working together – also in a physical sense. A lot of the work I do and do with others is centered around creativity, open discussions, listening to arguments and finding the best course of action going forward. I find it super hard to replicate sitting at my kitchen table versus being present in the office with the others on our team. But that’s just me.

What is not just me is the thing about workplace culture.

Let’s for a second forget that going completely WFH effectively eliminate all discussion about work-life-balance, because we take away the one thing that keeps things kind of separate for us – the commute. That’s a problem in itself.

No, the real problem is how we create a great company culture, if we’re never together? Culture is not something that happens at bi-weekly all hands meetings or the annual company picnic. It happens every day in your interactions – little and big – with your colleagues around why it is you come to work every day:

You need to see your great colleagues, your need to figure out great solutions together, your need to know and really FEEL that you’re together in creating whatever it is that your company is working to create – the big “why?”

Even though a lot of leaders talk about the importance of having a great company culture, a lot of companies still ultimately rely on people figuring the culture part out themselves and keeping it alive at the water cooler, the small chit chats and whatever else you have, where you can meet informally and bond.

That is super, super hard to do remote. It least if you care about having a team where the “why?” matters.

And that brings me to the final point:

There are lots of roles, where it makes sense to go predominantly WFH; some very well-defined roles, where you essentially have a tasklist, you can work yourself through on a daily basis, be done and call it a day knowing that somehow your contribution fits into the corporate hamsterwheel of things.

But by and large – for ordinary jobs in ordinary companies (and be honest, those are the 99,9 % of all companies) – the “why?” goes out the window during this process.

You can give people all the flexibility in the world that you want. But once everybody starts doing that, it seizes to be an advantage.

And you will be stuck with the downsides;

It will be as easy for your employees to leave as it was to onboard them. Because nothing is going to be holding them back:

They don’t have a real relationship with your company. They don’t really know the people they work with. They (probably) have an even more crap manager than in the office, because managing remote is even harder than in the physical space). And they are distanced from the mission, the “why?”

What’s not to leave behind for greener pastures?

A WFH defacto for work going forward will do nothing else than (1) make it harder for the vast majority of mediocre companies to make great things happen and (2) make it near impossible to keep the people that go the extra mile to see the vision come true as a true team effort while (3) all along giving the false sense of relief that everything is flexible, fine and dandy.

Choose WFH at your own peril.

(Photo: Pixabay.com)

This is real leadership

What is the difference between leadership and management? A manager is someone making sure you cut your way through the jungle. A leader is someone who makes sure we’re in the right jungle to begin with.

We’re in a time of crisis. Managers are busy making cutbacks, weathering the storm and looking at whether to retain employees or let them go. They are trying to optimize for the moment. To survive.

They’re not especially creative. They were not hired as managers to be creative or even innovative. Rather they are looking in all the usual places for all the usual plays, and as a result we’re likely to see more of the same going forward.

Underwhelming.

And then there are the leaders. The visionaries even.

People like Jeff Bezos of Amazon.

Who invests the entire profits of an entire quarter into Covid-19 related initiatives around testing, extra risk pay for employees – existing and new who are joining in droves to meet demand.

Giving the short term thinking analysts and shareholders the bird in the meantime.

Boom!

What’s he gunning for on the longer term?

The first virus-free supply chain worldwide. A safe alternative in a time of great turmoil and anxiety. Coming with a premium. Or maybe only available to Amazon Prime members.

Who knows?

But it is the difference between deadwood management and visionary leadership.

(Photo: Pixabay.com)

Don’t undersell your idea

Should the person who comes up with an idea also be the one who straight out of the blocks evaluate its desirability, feasibility and viability? Probably not due to the obvious risk of bias. It is also why we have some tools for ideation and another set of tools for assessment and validation.

The really funny thing about the article in Harvard Business Review though is the finding that companies tend to put an excess value on ‘ideas’ presented by the upper tiers in the organization, while ideas from the floor tend to be oversold and thus often not really gets taken under consideration. It is actually thought provoking when you think a bit about it.

It seems like a big potential loss. Experience shows that the closer people get to the problem through their day-to-day jobs, the more valuable ideas for improvements they come up with. Somebody in upper management should apply their sales skills to help the people downstream sell their valuable ideas the right way.

(Photo: Pixabay.com)