The Right to an Opinion

I have been on a consulting engagement since I got back Thailand in November. I have learned many things on my first independent gig. I’ve also discovered some new policies I have for operating in the world. One of the most important is that I only express my opinion when I have a right to one.

To give some specificity to this, take my current engagement. I was brought on to help put services around some specific products. So, when it comes to services processes, or services pricing, I have been readily offering my unsolicited opinion. But when it comes to things like the structure of the organization, it is not my place to offer my opinion unless asked.

At a more subtle level, I was talking to the CEO, Binod Singh, a very conscientious leader who knows everyone in his organization. I had been on assignment for about three weeks. We were discussing some changes that needed to be made. He told me how I should go about initiating those changes inside the company. I said “that sounds like a good idea”.

I was explaining this interaction to my friend and mentor, Steven Young, and he pointed out that I couldn’t really know if it was a good idea or not, since I knew very little about the company or its culture. Not only had I not been there long, but the company is 95% Indian, which is different than anything I’ve been in before. Putting it another way, I didn’t have a right to an opinion about how to take the action Binod suggested.

Now, my positive intention in saying “sounds like a good idea” is to tell Binod that I was on board with his approach. But when looked at carefully you can see that it actually comes across sounding a little foolish and arrogant. Binod did not react negatively to my saying it. But I think that even if only at a subconscious level, it did not serve me to pass judgement on his direction to me.

So, the question then becomes, how can I appreciate Binod for the advice without judging that which I have no right to judge? Any of the following could do: “thank you for the direction”, “I appreciate the advice”, “thanks, I”ll do that”. There are many more.

Next time you’re planning with someone, I invite you to try this for yourself. Recognize when you have a right to an opinion, and only give one when you do. Could you imagine what the world would be like if everyone did this in their marriage…

Organization Dynamics: Chain of Demand vs. Enablement Chain

I was talking to the VP of Engineering at another local start-up in Boulder yesterday. In the conversation, I asked what metric their board was focused on. He listed a few – total revenue, revenue per seat, subscription revenue vs consulting revenue. Then he said that a majority of the board meetings are spent with the executive team asking the board questions and the board offering to assist in various ways.

We talked about how this differs from a board that uses their time with the executive team to make demands and give orders to the exec team. We discussed which way the ask is going. Is it going down the org chart or up (if you can consider the board as being above in the org chart).

And of course, this impacts the way all the asks in the reporting structure of the organization go. In the organization, is there a “chain of demand” effect where execs make demands of managers, and managers make demands of front-line employees? Or does the ask go in the other direction, where front-line employees ask questions to their managers to be able to do their job better, and managers ask questions of the execs, etc… I think of this later category as an “enablement chain” within an organization. Because the managers are there to enable the front-line employees to do the best work they can, and the execs enable the managers to best enable the front-line employees.

Of the companies I know, those that are more on the enablement chain side of the spectrum have happier employees, stronger growth, and more longevity. The studies I hear and read about suggest the same.

Recruiting Improvements

My post from a few weeks ago talked about the evolution of my recruiting strategy. Since then, there have been more evolutions to make the process better. There have been improvements in two main areas. One on candidate inflow, the second on interview process.

To start, I worked with our consultant and created a much better (and attractive) job description. Then I got the thumbs up to hire technical recruiters to find candidates, which really helped.

The improved interview process is now like this:

–       I review resumes and determine if candidate moves to phone screen

–       Phone screen consists of booking an hour with a senior engineer and me. I do the company and job overview in the first 30 minutes. If we like the candidate, then the senior engineer does a 30 minute technical evaluation. Otherwise, we end the interview after that, and the candidate doesn’t know there was a technical evaluation that normally follows.

–       If we still like them, then we invite them in for an in-person interview

–       The in person interview has been improved so that it is only 2 hours. It consists of 30 minutes with me. Then I bring them to a conference room with engineers on the team, and I stay for the first 30 minutes. Then they have 30 minutes with just the team. They end with 30 minutes with just me.

To the interviewee, there are only 2 steps – a one hour call and a 2-hour in person interview. And everyone gets a really good feel for the candidate – and they get a good feel for the company.

I really like this new process. The thing I like best is that we now have 2 new hires starting September 6. Very needed, as Symplified is signing many more deals and there is a lot of work to do.

balance asks for more balance

It is Monday evening of Memorial Day weekend, which first off deserves a mention to all the men and women who have served and died in military duty to the country. For me, I almost took three days off in a row. I did compose and send an important email to a customer on Saturday, but it only took about 15 minutes. Since Friday night, I went rock climbing, did yardwork, saw Hangover 2 with friends, went to a dance party, went rock climbing again, and today took a 4-mile hike in Rocky Mountain National Park with my wife.

I thought how much I enjoyed these days off. I was wondering if it will make me more productive when at work because I took this time to recharge. There are plenty of theories out there to support that. Sometimes I think it only makes me want to spend more time recharging. I am for sure more productive while working if I regularly keep balance in my life. And keeping balance does in fact mean working less hours. I don’t mean less than 8 hours a day, but not 10-hour days six days a week.

I’ve got a lot of stock options at Symplified. I’m not a significant shareholder or anything, but still quite vested in the company and the value of those options. And one thing the company culture has dictated is if each person works more, then we can hire less people, pay out less salary, and make the Venture Capital money we’ve raised last longer. This will then lead to waiting longer until having to raise more money, which means the stock options will be worth more. That’s all the long way of saying, if I work longer hours now, my potential future payout will be bigger.

For the past few years at Symplified, I have been a bit of a work-aholic, as my lovely wife reminds me. I’ve spent less time exercising, only enjoyed a little more than required time with the kids (and not enough with my wife), less time doing things with friends, and more time working. Today I started to think that I want more fun and balance now, even if it means my potential future payout may be smaller.