Cell phones can be counter-productive

When in a meeting or having lunch with someone that you are interested in talking to, you should turn off the ringer on your phone. The other day, I was having lunch with a gentlemen who was helping me with some information gathering. He was in essence doing a favor for me. I received multiple calls while talking to him, and each time I looked down at my phone, and then ignored the call. The third or fourth time it happened, he said to me “if you are going to keep doing that, then I’m going to do it too, and this will go nowhere. I’ve got more emails and voice mails than you do [which I’m sure is true], so let’s both stop it now or forget it”.

He was right. I turned the ringer completely off – not even on vibrate. Since then, I’ve been very cognizant to make sure that during important meetings and appointments that require my full attention, I turn my ringer completely off so I can focus and be productive with whoever I am with.

Giving Receivable Feedback

Have you ever received feedback that felt hyper-critical or invasive? I don’t like getting feedback like that, and I don’t like giving it. Recently, a friend gave me some really good advice on how to give receivable feedback. I’ve used it a couple times, and it has worked really well. I took his advice and broke it down to these steps:

– Breath

– State your purpose – “I want to give you some feedback”

– Describe the behavior you see – “I notice that in this situation, you…”

– Explain the affect of the behavior – “When you do that, this is what I see happen…”

– Give the feedback – Paint a picture of the modified behavior and it’s potential impact

I’ve got a good example to illustrate. I take the bus a couple times a week from my home to the office. It’s a 17-mile drive down a very curvy canyon. I like to read on the bus. Some drivers are very smooth drivers, go a respectable speed, and handle the curves well. With these drivers, you feel safe and you can read without getting sick.

A few weeks ago, I had a driver who sped up at every straight-away (no matter how short), hit the brakes in every curve, and all-in-all drove too fast. It felt unsafe and I couldn’t read a few pages without getting nauseous from all the lurching around. I also noticed that when we got to a stop mid-way down the canyon, we stayed there for a couple minutes. I guessed that this was because he drove so fast down the first half of the canyon and couldn’t leave the stop ahead of schedule. I had him twice in two weeks and I decided on the second ride to give him feedback.

I used my friend’s approach. At the end of the line, where I get off, I waited until everyone was off the bus, so I could talk to him alone. I took a deep breath and imagined what it would be like to receive the feedback I was about to give. I think this made me more receptive and receivable. I said, “I have some feedback for you”. He didn’t say anything, but he seemed available for more. I then said, “I noticed that coming down the canyon, you speed up on all the straight-aways and brake on all the curves. It makes for an uncomfortable ride and feels unsafe. I also noticed that at the Magnolia stop, we wait there for 2-3 minutes.”

I paused, and he said “that’s because we always get to the stop ahead of schedule and I need to wait to leave there.”

I said, “I wondered that. You know, if you drove slower down the canyon, you could give folks a more comfortable ride, it would feel more safe, and you wouldn’t have to wait at the Magnolia stop.”

He replied with, “thanks for the feedback.”

I thought it went pretty well, but wasn’t sure if he was going to take my advice or not. I have had him as a driver twice since then. And both times he drove very safely all the way down the canyon and did not take an extended stop halfway down. And I got to read the whole way.

If you have experience giving/receiving feedback that you’d like to share, please do. I’d like to hear other suggestions and/or comments.

Developing Good Recruiting Practices

I have always thought that one of the most important aspects of my job is to hire and keep exceptional employees. I have a recruiting process that has worked well thus far, though a bit time consuming and with a long lead time from beginning of job search to hire. We recently brought in a recruiting expert who is trying to change that process.

To date, to hire someone on my team, I would get resumes from many sources (postings, recruiters, and connections). I would then have an initial 45-minite phone call with possible candidates. A lot of our work is done with customers remotely and I felt a phone call was a good way to vet out their phone-ability. There was then a 30-minute technical screen with a technical member of my team (also over the phone). And last a 2.5 hour on-site visit meeting with me, then the team, and then wrap-up with me. At each stage, of course, candidates were filtered out of the process because they did not “pass”.

I have been trying the new expert’s process lately. Which is she does the initial phone interview, and that includes some basic interview questions and the technical screen. She then sends a transcript of that to me. I then decide whether or not to bring them for an in-person interview, using input from my team. And that in-person interview is a one-hour meeting with the whole team. We should then make a hire / no-hire decision from there.

We have thus far done this for 4 weeks or so, and one candidate made it to the in-person interview (and we didn’t want to hire him). The recruiter’s philosophy is to make the right impression, you want to take as little of the candidate’s time as possible. That an hour in person is all you need to to know whether you want to hire the person, and why use more of your and more importantly their time to figure it out. I like the idea of having to do less, but I question whether we get a good enough feel for the candidate and whether they get a good enough feel for us.

Then I read the following posts by other experts: Ring Noshioka, Angela Baldonero. They actually agree with my philosophy – that a longer interview process is the way to vet the good candidates and to give them a better understanding of the company.

That was enough to help me resist our expert’s advice. But after talking to some of the folks on my team, I decided to condense the two phone interviews to one one-hour call, still conducted by me and a senior engineer. So, although the expert advice is not being fully followed, it has helped shape the process to make it more efficient.

How to say “No”

I’ve got some advice for anyone that needs to tell someone “no”. It’s simple – connect with them first. Know what’s going on for them. Know what the “no” will mean to them. This is true in all areas of life. Take a managerial situation, for example (which seems to be how I’m focusing this blog). Before saying no, bring yourself to your team mate. I don’t mean to go to their desk, I mean inside yourself, meet them where they are in the situation. Exhale and get connected to their role and their request. Know the no, don’t just say it.

This is actually true for all decisions a manager will make. Don’t issue edicts from a higher-than-thou place. Be connected to your team before you make a decision. Before you make a decision, listen to their input. For example, when I need to dedicate a person on my team to a new project, I will usually contemplate it myself and as long as I have enough information, I come up with who I think should do it. I then bring the project to the team, and specifically not say who I think should do it. Usually the team decision is the same person I think is good for the job. If it’s not, I listen to the arguments made and sometimes change my mind. If I don’t change my mind, I exhale, make sure I’m connected to the team, and give the reasons for my decision. And while everyone else may not prefer that decision, my decision is coming from a place of connection.

This empowers everyone and results in the best decisions for the team.

Decision Making Meetings – Agenda is Important!

We had an management day-long meeting today. For the past year, when the management team grew larger than 5 people, the meetings had started to evolve into a gigantic 1-2 day status meeting. Kind of how Brad Feld talks about board meetings here. Everyone throwing out information with no real structure and no decisions made at the end. They did help all management know what everyone else’s teams were doing, but they took way longer than they needed to and was not a good use of everyone’s time. That many smart people in a room should have a better output than everyone is just more informed.

Today, Symplified’s CEO, started the day with something like “we need to make a plan about how to approach the enterprise market and the mid-market”. So far, so good. We then started talking about the enterprise market. He started off by leading a discussion on what defines an enterprise customer, what our strengths are in that area, and what our gaps our in that area. It was a good discussion for the most part, but it had a few longer tangents than needed and I saw first-hand how difficult it is to keep 10 people on task without any direction on what is going on.

After 1.5 hours of the meeting, at a pause in the discussion, I said, “it would really help if we had an agenda for the day. I know you want a strategy for the enterprise and mid-market, but how are you going to get to any decisions? We’ve been talking about the enterprise definition, strengths, and gaps. What do you want to cover next? And then I assume we will do it all again for the mid-market, is that right? It would be helpful if we all knew the agenda, when there would be breaks, etc…” Then some smart-asses in the room said “I can see who runs our implementation projects” and “no, Josh just has to go to the bathroom”. I say smart-ass in the most appreciative way – it created some good laughter.

So, a break was called. I went up to him, and we laid out an agenda for the day and put it on the white board. We would talk about definition, strengths, and gaps, for the enterprise, then make some decisions and have some take-aways. We would frame the discussion around the concept of “People, Process, Product, Plan”. We would then do that with the mid-market. There were a few particular items that we wanted to make sure were covered, and we noted those on the whiteboard as well. When everyone came back from break, the agenda was laid out, as well as the important items that needed to be covered, we asked for other important items to cover, and then we continued with the agenda.

The meeting went very well and we ended the day with clear decisions and action items. This was noted by other executives as well. The CEO and I also agreed that next management meeting I would set some time with the two of us a week before the meeting to lay out the agenda and get in everyone’s hands so we all had time to think about what’s to come and prepare ourselves with information for the topics at hand and decisions to be made.

Keeping Audience Attention with Eye Contact – Spread the Love

I gave a two public presentations last week in Chicago. Each presentation had about 20 attendees. I was espousing the virtues of Symplified’s product. The first was a case study with the American Hospital Association (click here for a recorded version of the webinar). The second was on how to securely protect business use on mobile devices.

What I noticed is that I during the first, I felt I had equal eye contact with many of the audience. During the second presentation, in the beginning I primarily focused on one person who seemed particularly interested in what I was saying. Okay, maybe there was something to the fact that she was the only woman in a room full of 20 guys. It took me some minutes before I realized that I needed to spread my attention around, to keep more people engaged. I find myself more engaged when I am connecting to more people. And one reason to give a public presentation is to connect with as many people at one time as you can. Otherwise, just have a bunch of one-on-one conversations, right.

Think about when you’re in the audience, and the presenter looks right at you for part of the presentation. You feel included, you feel important, you feel the love. Now think about a time when the presenter gave way more eye contact to you than anyone else, you start to feel estranged, and singled-out.

To make the biggest impact when you are presenting, make as much eye contact as you can, and try to give some eye contact to everyone. Spread the love as far as it will go, and you’ll get the most interest in your topic, convince the most people, and accomplish the most.


Funny thing is, after I wrote my previous post Balance Asks for More Balance, where I state that I would rather work less and have stock options be worth less, I then worked one of the busiest weeks of my career. It all just came crushing down on me. Then, I participated in a 10-day men’s retreat, and came back very refreshed. I checked email almost every day and responded to the important ones, but especially toward the end, I really let a lot of work go.

I just came back this last Sunday (5 days ago). I have had another one of those work-like-it’s-all-you-do weeks. At the beginning I was feeling like “wow, it is so much work to catch up after being gone”. Yesterday, I realized this is how I operate and what I do. It is not just me catching up, I just went right back into the technology service delivery river like I was never gone. It was just kind of surreal for the first few days because it felt so different after having that time off.

How do I get balance? I can do one extreme or the other.

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.

A blog first step

I don’t know exactly what to write, and I feel absolutely silly writing that I don’t know what to write. I mean, how cliche and trite is that? How cliche and trite is it that I even call it cliche and trite? So ridiculous, I was feeling about starting a blog. Then I had lunch with my friend Susan.

Susan is a great friend of over 10 years. She is twenty years my senior, that puts her over 60. The way we help each other is awesome. The way it usually goes is one of us has something that is bugging us, getting us down, or slowing down our mojo. The one who needs help, lets call them the Identified Patient (my friend and teacher Steven Young’s phrase), tells the other about their trials and tribulations. The other (lets call them the Helper), listens intently to what the other says. At some point the Helper gets some divine inspiration and starts to tell the Identified Patient the way that it is. This can be something the Identified Patient is not doing that they need to be doing, it can be mini-lesson on the way the universe works, anything about how it really is. I believe they call it “getting real” in the South.

Now to lunch. With Susan on Friday. At Leaf in Boulder (awesome restaurant). Most recently in our lunches, I had been the Identified Patient, needing help in my marriage, and she has been an insanely great Helper for me in that. But on Friday, it was her turn to be the Identified Patient. She was stuck. Her husband had been working for the last year, with her acting as housewife. She is a very active woman, and usually involved in many activities, some that earn income and some that don’t. But she has been really stuck for a while not doing much and can’t start anything. She has been waiting for the one thing that would grab her and she could then pour all her soul into it, like usual with the things she does. When she was finished with what happens in her around this, she asked “what do you think.”

I told her that right now it doesn’t matter what she does, she just has to do. That she can take the first step without having to commit to anything. That she needs to ask the universe / pray to God to find something worthy and rewarding, and then take action to find it. Not just wonder what it is and wait. I told her that if she would just do, then it would fuel her power of attraction and she could then create what she wants.

Since then I’ve realized that’s exactly what has prevented me from starting to write. So here it is. I am going to do. And see where it goes.