Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Estonia leads the digital world...another story

Best line in the article:

"The way Americans cave and accept that government services have to be shitty shows they've given up."

The Unexpected Story of How This Tiny Country Became the Most Tech-Savvy on Earth

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Thinking About The People Who Got You Here....

Paul Haskell is one of the best Success Managers at Sprinklr.

He lives in Omaha, Nebraska and on my recent trip there, he insisted on taking me out to lunch.

He was most gracious...saying that "without you, I wouldn't be at Sprinklr and my life would be entirely different."

Obviously, it is very nice to be appreciated.

His comment sparked a conversation about the debts of gratitude we owe to all of the people in our lives who helped us get to where we are at the moment.

I may not be accepting an Oscar or a Tony (and that's unlikely to ever happen) and it's not like I have anything to brag about, but I did want to take a moment to thank some of the people who helped get me where I am professionally.

(I'm talking about the less obvious ones than parents and teachers.)

Call it part of my effort to practice gratitude and recognize how it's the people in each of our lives who make a difference.

So, a big thank you to...

Todd Newfield...my first boss. He gave me a chance to start my career in "Internet Marketing" in Tokyo in 1997. Ignited my passion for marketing by giving me Peppers and Rogers "the 1:1 Future."

Paul Cimino....introduced me to the world of E-Commerce in NYC during the hey-day of Internet 1.0 and taught me how to sell.

Marty Cassidy...a former client (while working for Paul) who got me into an interview loop at Microsoft.

Tom Begley...who plucked me out of the interview loop and gave me my first job at Microsoft and taught me the ropes of selling to large enterprises.

Christine Zmuda...who put me into a channel marketing role and showed me what an operationally disciplined marketer looks like.

Dan Pink...who had the confidence to become my first consulting client at Never Stop Marketing.

Adam Schorr (whom I met via Jacob Licht) and became my first client at a major brand (JNJ), thus catapulting the fledgling consulting business to a new level.

Sonja Maxwell  and Steve Measelle who became flagship Microsoft clients and advocates, opening up doors all over the place.

Sean O'Rourke who took one of my Microsoft courses and said, "hey, there's a guy who says a lot of the stuff you said and whom you should meet."

And Ragy Thomas who took Sean's word for it and went against the grain, hiring a non-traditional marketer for his 30 person company, Sprinklr.

And most importantly, the NFO (my wife), who has put up with, tirelessly supported, and sacrificed so much.

And thanks to Paul for inspiring me to be thankful.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Obama and the Redefining of the American Presidency

I may not be his biggest fan nor agree with him on a fair number of issues, but I do need to give credit where credit is due.

I think Obama has done a fantastic job of making the Presidency a more "human" role.

A few months ago, I was talking to a friend of mine who was high up in the Cruz campaign.  I said, "you know what one of Cruz's issues is for me?  He just doesn't seem like a guy that I would want to watch a game with."

I think a lot of that has come from Obama. I feel like we can disagree and still be friends.  I'd watch a game with him and I feel like he might listen to me, even if we disagree with each other.

There are plenty of Dem and GOP politicians about whom I do not feel that way.

All of this was prompted by the fact that I  saw Obama on Jimmy Fallon last night.

Here is a good clip (that was basically free advertising for his record, but as a marketer, I appreciate that!)

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Tax Dollars to Avoid Getting Hit By A Car?

I'm all for public safety and avoiding accidental death, but as a taxpayer in Montgomery County, MD, I had to wonder about the real value of paying for a public notice telling people to

  1. not get run over by cars
  2. not run over other people with cars

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Video: Muslim Uber driver explaining why he supports Donald Trump

Simply because I didn't believe it all myself, I recorded this video of my Uber driver, an Iraqi Muslim, explaining why he supports Donald Trump.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Challenging Assumptions and Listening

A few weeks ago, I went to a fantastic meditation session led by Tara Brach.

The point of the session was learning to Listen without an Agenda. Listening with no purpose other than being open to the possibility that what you hear can change you.

A powerful moment came when she said (I think quoting someone else) that "not listening causes suffering."

Not in the 3rd World sense, of course, but you know how it feels when you can tell someone isn't paying attention to you. It hurts.

I had a few causes over the past few days to think about this in a larger context.

On a simple level, here's a blog post about what happens when we don't listen in a business sense, don't challenge our assumptions (as is one of my brother's favorite mantras), and not serve customers well.

But that's nothing compared to the 2 documentaries I saw recently.

One was an ESPN documentary about the Duke lacrosse team case of about 10 years ago and how they were framed because of an agenda. (If you can, set aside the numerous other issues that touched this case.)

The other was a powerful story about Allen Iverson, who's most famous line "We're talking about practice!" labeled him as a guy who didn't care...but that wasn't the full story.

All of these remind us of the importance of trying to remember to Listen as fully as we can and not rush to judgment.

Of course, that's much easier said than done.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

More on the Higher Education Conundrum in America

I've been on the "there's diminishing ROI" on traditional college education kick for a while now. 

Again, I don't think the objective (in terms of exposure to new ideas and new people is bad--it's good), I just question the way in which it is delivered.

Now...coming on all of the economic arguments, here's an NYT article by Nick Kristof that challenges the assumptions about how many new ideas our kids are really encountering.

Monday, May 09, 2016

Meeting Estonia's Ambassador to Discuss a Bastion of Democracy and Innovation

If you have been following my blog, you know that I have become an e-citizen of Estonia, have been celebrating Estonia and digital transformation and am organizing a trip Estonia this summer.

Thanks to my friend, Shai Franklin, I was introduced to Estonia's Ambassador to the US, the Honorable Eerik Marmei (@eerikmarmei).

While we talked a great deal about Estonia's remarkable achievements as a digital innovator (more on that in a moment), what struck me was the story of Estonia as a democracy.

Before 1940 (and the invasion of the Soviets), Estonia had been a democracy. In fact, on the wall in the room where we sat, was a framed document where a previous Estonian ambassador had presented his credentials to President Calvin Coolidge.

The reason why this is important is that, as the Ambassador's generation grew up, it was their grandparents who essentially said to them: "once upon a time, we were a free people...we will be free again." (Having just finished Passover, this resonated for me).

So, by the time the Soviet Union fell in 1991, it was his generation (those under 30) that were the ones who carried the torch of the hope of a free Estonia.

His parents generation (those born during Stalinist era) grew up in a culture of fear and repression.

That had a fascinating consequence...when the time for elections came, it was the senior citizen generation that essentially said "You can't trust anyone over 30."

They knew they were too old and their children didn't have the courage to get it done. It was only their grandchildren who should lead, which is why (if my memory serves me correct), 4 of the first ministers (defense, foreign, economy, and one other) were all under the age of 30 when first elected.

This group (which had protested by singing in the streets in the late 80s and early 90s) literally threw out the Soviet law book, rebuilt the legal system and, as the Ambassador said, "brought in Milton Friedman" to guide the economy.

They passed a Constitution that forbade the government from ever running a deficit or borrowing money.

(Interestingly enough, this had a unique implication in 2007 during the global recession. The gov't had to reduce spending by 15% including laying off a number of people....and they were re-elected! You can't see that happening in Greece).

By 1995, the government ensured that every school in the entire country was wired for Internet and computer access.

They began building out the digital infrastructure that eventually allowed them to cut 2% of GDP worth of bureaucratic waste and invest in start-ups, defense, and things that really add value.

So, by now, as Estonia has become a hotbed of entrepreneurship, one of the reasons is that an entire generation has grown up with technology (they teach programming in the classroom).

Libraries went digital in the 90s and senior citizens got classes on using the Web.

Today, over 99% of votes and taxes are cast online (among many, many other things).

As the Ambassador says, "in Estonia, no one waits in line, because everything is online."

And the privacy angle is fascinating...in Estonia, everyone knows when any government agency requests any piece of uniquely identifiable information and is entitled to inquire as to why.

By the way, if the answer isn't satisfactory to the citizen (or the review board), people are fired.

In the US, we have NO idea which gov't agency looks at our records. In Estonia, you know exactly who is looking at what and when.

Now...it's fair to ask if all of this is only possible because it's a small (1.1 million), relatively homogenous, Protestant-work ethic culture.

But there may be something deeper. Something that sent chills down my spine.

Something that I wish every American had.

What he has is a profound, deep, and total appreciation for Freedom.

They have seen socialism and totalitarianism. They have seen demagoguery. They want nothing to do with that ever again.

"We'd rather have 1 million dead Estonians than live that way."

That appreciation for freedom fuels a desire to make life better and easier; to facilitate trade and commerce; to empower people to pursue their passions.

Given their location (on the border between Europe and Russia and the Nordics) and their history, I think Estonia could be a player that punches well above their weight-class when it comes to shaping the next wave of geo-politics and globalization.

In an era where some in America would put up walls or roll things back and others either want to give up on or take freedoms for granted, Estonia serve as a reminder and, in some cases, an inspiration.

It's both an outpost of Democracy and an Epcot of the e-future on a national scale.

That's what I am going to investigate.

For more on the history of Estonia (wikipedia)

I've been asked about Estonia's role in the Holocaust.  My initial answer was "better than Lithuania, but not quite Denmark."

Wikipedia has a summary.

Tuesday, May 03, 2016

A Seriously Crazy First Date Story

I've heard some crazy stories in my day. And this guy I met on the train is WAY up there.

The video is 10 minutes long, but it's a crazy story.

Disclaimer: I do not condone this type of behavior. Nor do I think it is advisable to do.

It's both romantic (in a weird way), but also a type of assault and probably only would work 1 in a million times.

Spoiler alert:
After being unable to get a young woman's attention at a wedding after 5 hours of trying, he went over to her, asked for her phone, put the phone on the table and then proceeded to PICK HER UP, put her over his shoulder, run across the dance floor and jump fully clothed into a swimming pool.

They got married 11 months ago.

Read the story.

And buy his puzzle at www.CanYouSolveMe.com

Lessons from People Manager All-Stars, Part 3

I’ve taken on the professional goal in 2016 of becoming a better “people manager.” 

One of the activities in my plan is to interview peer-nominated “People Manager All-Stars.”

Thanks to Sheryl Tullis, I was introduced to Rick Zimmerman, who is our headliner for part 3 (see part 1 and part 2).

“Don’t ever think there’s a finish line.” 

In every interview I’ve done, there’s a “money line,” where the interviewee shares the absolute core nugget.  Rick did it off the bat.

It’s almost like the “Never Stop Marketing” version of people management.

Once you are leading a team or leading people, you are never done, he says.

“You need to make it part of your process. You can NEVER check it off the list.”

People change. Situations change. The world changes.  So, as a result, there’s an evolving benchmark of what people expect from you. You will change in your own eyes.  So you can never be complacent about being a good leader or a good people manager.

Rick, who’s spent a long time working in the CPG industry, said there are two things which are critical.

The first is (and yes, it’s obvious in both theory and reality, but sometimes difficult to remember in practice) is that “people are different.”

He offers that as you get to know someone, you will have opportunities to ask questions upon questions so that you understand them better. However, there will be a moment, a time in which you ask THE question which gets to their absolute Core (think City Slickers for those of you who remember it. YouTube for those who don’t).

You want to find the CORE that truly reveals who the person is. What makes them absolutely positively tick.

The sooner you find it (and we all have it), the better off you as a people manager are AND the better off the individual is…as you’ll be in a position to help him/her thrive.

Ideally, you want to look for this CORE issue during the interview process.

Push people on career inflection points. What happened? Why? What’s your biggest regret? 

As Rick says, “what’s the one question I can ask this person to reveal who they are?"

Keep asking until you figure it out.  By NOT probing, you are doing yourself a disservice and doing them a disservice. 

No one wins when there’s a bad hire. (I’ve learned the hard way on this one).

And the second thing…VULNERABILITY.

Rick told a powerful story about a previous boss, a former army officer.

In Rick’s words:

“We had an energetic debate -- a bit out of character for both of us, as it was really intense, with raised voices and sharp words.  Upon reflection that night, I felt I had “stepped over the line” -- after all, he was my boss.  So, the next day I sought him out to apologize. 

When I entered his office, he told me “I’ve been looking for you” and I thought I was in “trouble.” 

But the fact was he was looking for me to apologize to me because he felt he may have “stepped over the line.”  Which then led to us hugging it out.

Then the real kicker was, 16 years later when we were catching up on stuff, he remembered the episode as vividly as I had.”

So the experience was less about him or me being wrong.  And more about each of us reflecting on what had happened and how that impacted the relationship.  A bit rare, I think, for boss/subordinate, especially for an ex-Army officer.”

We saw in part 2 of this series…everyone has vulnerabilities. Show yours as a leader first. It’s actually a sign of strength.

In short
  1. The journey is never over
  2. Figure out the CORE of each individual
  3. Show your vulnerability.

Bonus Material
Rick shared a best practice from one of his companies that I think makes a lot of sense and dovetails with my next goal (Clarity in Communication)—see chart below borrowed from the G2C2 framework.

He said that every memo begins with “THIS document serves THIS PURPOSE” as the opening line, so people can more easily understand the context of the memo/email.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Power of Attorney for Healthcare Directives

I've been working on developing my sense of empathy and compassion to balance out my rational/logical approach.

The other day, I had an experience which felt quite validating in terms of achieving that objective (but trust me, I have a lot to learn and many miles to travel--advice is welcome!)

A friend of mine called and asked if (after his wife), he could give me the Power of Attorney for his Healthcare Directive.

I considered this a great honor as it provided external validation that he considered my emotional and logical realms to be balanced in order to make what could be a really difficult decision.

Now, I share this not to get kudos, but to inspire all of you to

1. write out a Healthcare Directive if you don't have one
2. give someone you trust the Power of Attorney

These are important decisions that hopefully you'll never have to confront, but we all know how Life works (or doesn't).

Thursday, March 31, 2016

What Traveling With My Dad Will Teach You

If you read my reports about Nebraska (Day 1 and Day 2), you hopefully walked away with some new insights or knowledge.

Now, be honest with yourself...If I had said to you last week, "hey, I'm going to Nebraska on vacation," there's a decent chance you would have said, "why on earth would you want to do that?"

Over the years, I've had the privilege and joy of traveling with my dad to many different locations. Some that people would agree are spectacular (China or Ireland) some that maybe aren't so high on the list (Lincoln, Nebraska).

But here's what I've learned.

No matter WHERE you go, you can learn a TON. And that is, after all, the purpose of traveling. To open your mind, to expand your horizons.  Not to have a list you can brag about at parties.

It's a chance to challenge your pre-conceived notions and look at the world through a different lens.

If you decide that you are going to get a "Nebraska of the Mind" approach, you can make anything an adventure.

It comes down to curiosity and a willingness to experience things.

You have to engage with people, ask them questions (a lot of them), read about their mentality, seek to understand.

If you do that, a trip to Nebraska can be as rewarding a travel effort as anywhere.

May be difficult to believe, but I know it to be true.

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime.” ― Mark TwainThe Innocents Abroad/Roughing It

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Sandhill Cranes and “Flyover States”, Nebraska Day 2

Day 2 of our great Nebraska journey took us to the Rowe Sanctuary at 5:30am under cover of total darkness.

To be clear…we were remote. Very remote. The closest city, about 12 miles away, is Kearny (pronounced Car-Knee) and has a population of a whopping 30,000.

We were also told to dress for cold, extreme cold. Fortunately, that wasn’t necessary as it was a balmy 50 degrees.

So, why were we there?

600,000 Sandhill Cranes
Only to see the largest migration of Sandhill Cranes in the world. At one peak point this year, there were (we were told) 600,000 birds along the Platte River.The come up from Mexico, Texas and other parts of the southwest to fatten up here prior to their flights to northern Canada, eastern Siberia, Alaska, and other locations.

They’ve been doing this for millions of years and the Audubon is working to preserve the ideal environment for them which, as you might suspect, has been impacted by human habitation in all various forms.  I’m becoming quite the environmentalist.

After a long, silent walk (you need to be quiet and avoid flashes to prevent spooking the birds), you arrive at a “blind” where you can observe the birds waking up in the middle of the river.

[Incidentally, we learned that the phrase “a mile wide and inch deep” was coined in reference to the Platte River in Nebraska. After having seen it, we can understand why].

When you get inside the blind, you have to be quiet and only red flashlights (which don’t scare the birds) are permitted. However, you have the opportunity to look at the various holes, use your binoculars, telephoto lenses (no rapid shots allowed-again, bird spooking) and watch the animals.

The noise. You constantly hear the noise, sort of a guttural sound as they communicate with each other. When you cup your hands around your ears to intensify it, the sound is so powerful.

Slowly, but surely, the birds come to life. They do mini-dances, start to flap their wings, and a few take off. Then more, then more…until a final grand finale when they all leave (kind of like the last train is leaving) to head off for a day of foraging with the ultimate goal of increasing their body weight to prepare for the long flight, the summer mating/nesting season, and whatever else they do in their free time.

 You’re in there for 2 hours and initially you might think, “what the heck am I going to do staring at birds for 2 hours?”

But after about 3 minutes, it becomes mesmerizing. It’s meditative and a cause for reflection. You think about the digital/urban lifestyle that so many of us lead and how divorced we are from the realities of the natural world. Which is sad.

You think about the bigger picture. You are in awe that God (or whatever you think) created so many creatures and why hundreds of thousands of them come to this one spot every single year. You think about your place in the universe.

You see the dawn start to emerge, the figures start to become more clear through the lenses of your binoculars. You see the red on their heads and the black and grey of their feathers. The blurry shapes turn into High Def creatures.

And, then, in the epic Grand Finale…they all leave and the river is totally empty of birds, where only minutes before thousands had been.

The sun is now up. It’s 8:08am and you head back to the Visitor’s Center.  You just had a surreal experience and it hasn’t all sunk in yet, but you know you saw something that will stay with you for the rest of your life.

Life in a Flyover State
Before heading back to Omaha, we had a chance to have lunch with Bryan Kuntz of Intellicom, a Kearny, NE technology provider. Five or 6 years ago, he had participated in a class I gave and we’ve stayed in touch ever since. 

Bryan rounded out some of our perceptions about Nebraska from Day 1 and commented about the low unemployment (3%), high growth of the economy (agriculture, manufacturing, and increasingly technology), and best of all, the quality of life for his family.

Low crime rates and a very friendly atmosphere.  He said that his in-laws cannot even physically lock their home, as there are no locks on the doors at all. Yes, you read that correctly.

That dovetailed with something we had experienced while at the state capital building. There is NO security to get in there.

X-ray scanners and metal detectors are now so common place that it’s noticeable when it’s not there.

But here’s the thing…at least in my experience, people on the East and West coasts like to deride middle America as “flyover states” and the perception that the people who live there are less sophisticated, less open-minded, less educated, and less intelligent.

However, even in the middle of the Platte River Basin, you have 4G coverage. The wi-fi in our motel was faster than some places I’ve been in New York City.

The people I’ve met (and yes, it’s a limited subset) are educated, informed, and connected.

They just like the pace of life and the fact that they can let their kids walk around the neighborhood without fear.

And, I’ve decided that the term “flyover state” is just plain arrogant.  Look around Nebraska (or any other states in this area). First off, these are people like you and I, just doing their best, but maybe more significantly for all of us…this is where your food is grown. Don’t take that for granted.

So, I guess Nebraska, Day 2 represents an appreciation of the world at large, beyond the urban metropolises in which I normally find myself and the digital lifestyle which I lead.

It reminds me of the larger eco-system in which I am but a bit player; reminds me of the many pieces of the global puzzle, all of which have a role to play.

P.S. A special shout out to the kosher bagel shop (Bagel Bin) in Omaha. Who knew?! ;-)

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

"Nebraska of the Mind" & a visit to (my) state #49

Call it a "bucket list" objective, but I've set a goal to visit all 50 states (airports do not count).

The last few have taken a while and a variety of shenanigans and assists (North Dakota #45 in 2008 incl. a hot tub at minus 6 degreesMichigan #46 in 2008, #47 Oregon in 2010, #48 Alaska in 2011) and today, I was able to knock off #49....

Welcome to Nebraska!

In our family, we have a concept that my dad and brother, Asher, invented called "PLACE of the mind."

Originally, it came about when they were in Norway, "Norway of the Mind," but it now applies to any place you visit.

It reflects an effort to immerse yourself in the people, places, culture, and philosophy of any location in order to better understand it.

So, while technically my objective of visiting Nebraska was complete once we had lunch with the Paul Haskell (the only known Sprinklr employee who lives in Omaha (to my knowledge), that wasn't going to get it done for us.

We had to achieve a "Nebraska of the Mind."

To this end, after talking a bit of shop with Paul, my dad and I began to ask this native Nebraskan what it meant to be Nebraskan.  We subsequently had the good fortune, while going out for ice cream, to meet two of his friends--also native Nebraskans, one of whom is a direct marketer at Omaha Steaks and one is a surgery resident at Creighton University (both iconic Nebraskan organizations)-the same questions.

What did the say?

Nebraskans are:

  • hearty (you have to be to survive the harsh climate in summer and winter)
  • hard-working, roll up your sleeve types
  • accepting of outsiders (there's a large immigrant/refugee community here, particularly from Somalia and Myanmar)
  • focused on family (both Paul and his friends' families go back generations)
  • appreciative of the relatively slow pace and family-friendly atmosphere
  • "Nebraska Nice," a term that means people will always be friendly and courteous to you...even if they don't really like you. Certainly good when some Type-A East Coasters come to town! ;-)
So, that was a good start, but we weren't done yet.

Of course, no visit to Omaha (at least in my book) without a visit to Warren Buffet. Ok, well, his house...which we drove past. I pinged him on Twitter, but he never got back.  Amazingly enough, he just lives in a regular neighborhood (security cameras and a fence), but if you didn't know it, you wouldn't think the house was so remarkable.

We left Omaha and headed to Lincoln, the state capital as well as the home of the University of Nebraska.

The capital building is really, genuinely impressive. It was built during the Great Depression at a cost of $10million dollars and is rightfully a source of pride for the state.  

Unlike other capital buildings, it's not a straightforward dome. It's a domed tower, filled will great art and murals that depict different parts of Nebraska history, as well as busts of some of the members of the Nebraska Hall of Fame, including Father Flanagan (Boys' Town), Will Bill Cody, Willa Cather, and General John J. Pershing.

 Interestingly enough, Nebraska is the ONLY state in the US with a unicameral legislature. No Senate & House. Just one legislative body.

The idea is that it saves time, taxpayer money, and gets more effective outcomes more efficiently. While we were there, the legislature was in session and we had the chance to hear a debate on...something...we're not 100% sure what it was.

Even better, in the elevator which takes you to the 14th floor observation deck, my dad had the presence of mind to ask the other person with us, "are you involved in state government?"

That's how we had the chance to chat with State Senator Joni Craighead of Omaha (our new favorite Cornhusker legislator). I even got her autograph in our Guide to the Nebraska statehouse book!

To the right, she is pictured with my dad. We actually had a 10 minute or so conversation with her....that really got us into Nebraska of the Mind.

Our final stop in Lincoln was the University where, as a sports fan, we needed to visit Memorial Stadium, home to the Cornhusker football team and the ongoing NCAA record for most consecutive home sellouts (currently at 311, I believe). It was locked, but homage was duly paid.

And this was all done in about 4 hours before our 2 hour drive to Kearney (the speed limit was 75mph) where we are staying overnight to do what should be one of the highlights of the trip, a visit to the Rowe Audubon Sanctuary  where, at this time of  year, 80% of the world's crane population converge on the Platte River Valley and 60,000 cranes (roughly) are there every day as part of their annual migration northward.  We're going to go see that, which should be a moment of natural awe.

More on that tomorrow.

Before I close, I should make a special mention. This trip is a celebration of my dad's 80th year.  As part of his year-long celebration, he decided that he wanted to visit many of his old friends and, if he could, take 1:1 trips with each of his kids.

He asked me where I wanted to go...which is how I settled on Nebraska.

So, in reality, the point of this trip is both visit my 49th state and, more importantly, spend quality time with my dad, being part of this great milestone and all he's accomplished and taught me over the years.

Everything else is just bonus...we just happen to be in a Nebraska of the Mind way.

For those keeping track...Hawaii is #50. Seems appropriate.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Lessons from the People Manager All-Star Team, Part 2

I’ve embarked on a journey to become a much better people manager. 
As part of that, I’m interviewing peer-recommended “best people managers”.  This is Part 2. If you missed Part 1, here it is.
REQUEST: If you know of someone who is a great developer of talent, I’d love the referral and the chance to interview him/her.

First off, let me recommend this podcast that Josh Duncan sent my way. It’s great. Be a Super Boss and also this article on Facebook’s favorite job interview question.

Now, on to the show.

In round 2, I had the chance to chat with Susie Sedlacek, (nominated by Shira Shimoni) and Evan Bernstein(doubly nominated by the husband/wife team of Adam&Yael Faleder)

So what did I learn this time about becoming a great people manager?
A few (new) themes emerged which I might narrow down as:
  1. Nobody’s Perfect
  2. Show your Human Side
  3. Over-invest in the Relationship
Nobody’s Perfect
Susie could not stress enough how important it is to hire right in the first place. However, you can’t always pick your entire team.  Regardless, you want to figure out what each person’s weakness and vulnerability is as soon as you can.
You don’t do this to expose them, you do this to protect them, the organization, and yourself.

“The sooner you find someone’s vulnerability, the sooner you can make sure it’s not exposed….everyone has one

,” she said.

To help identify it, Susie is very upfront about her own vulnerabilities and weaknesses.  That openness and honesty builds immense trust and loyalty.

People feel pressure to be perfect, both in interviews and as bosses. Once you get rid of that, you are getting to the “real” part faster and you’ll get results faster.

The converse is also true though.  Everyone has one thing that they can uniquely add. Your job as a coach is to find it and build on it, so that the weaknesses become irrelevant and you can push them to the background.

Evan echoed this sentiment, albeit in a slightly different way.  When something goes wrong, he says, he always “gives the benefit of the doubt and seeks to find out what is going on.” Always.
Show Your Human Side
Evan is an elementary school principal in Montgomery County, MD.  Not only does he have support staff and teaching staff, he has two other constituencies, the kids and their parents.

He makes sure he is visible to all of them, but not in a pro-forma way.  He’s outside every morning greeting as many of the 750 kids by name as he can. He has gotten on the PA system and done a rap about a school event and even had himself duct-taped to a wall.

His focus on the relationship is complete and total. Which brings us to the next point.
Over-invest in the Relationship
The “diamond” moment in my conversation with Evan came when he said, “to be a good manager, you need high expectations and collaboration, but you can’t get any of that without a relationship.”

So ANY investment you make in that is well worth it.

As Susie said, “every human being has something value, you need understand what motivates them, spend time w/people to get to know them. Try to understand the human being.

“And give people the benefit of the doubt. You never know what is going on in their lives, so taking that time before rushing to judgment will buy you understanding and loyalty.”  Something that Susie echoed as well.

When all is said and done, people want to be heard and understood.

Evan left me with 2 recommendations.

The second? Ask these 3 questions of everyone on your team.
  1. tell me something you love about your job that you don’t want to change
  2. ]tell me something we can do better
  3. tell me something about yourself
Two more great interviews. Thanks to both of them for generously contributing their time and expertise.

Monday, March 07, 2016

"What I Learned About Networking from Sprinklr VP of Marketing, Jeremy Epstein, During my Summer Internship"

One of Sprinklr's interns, Diego Conteras, wrote a short story about working with me.

Posting it more for posterity sake than anything else, but you may find it amusing.

Friday, March 04, 2016

Lessons from the People Manager All-Star Team

Over the past few weeks, I’ve interviewed nearly 6 peer-nominated “all-star people managers” to help me reach my personal and professional developmental goals for 2016.

Since some have asked (and because writing it will make it stick), I’m going to share some of the themes that have emerged.

Hope you find this helpful.

It All Starts With Smart Hiring
Obvious, I know, but every single one of the interviewees talked about making sure you have a rigorous hiring process to screen for the right candidates.

It’s the proverbial “Get the right people on the bus.”

While there were some differences, the idea of a “Growth Mindset” as Carol Dweck advocates came up A LOT.

Lori said “Look for people who are confident, but not cocky. Ambitious with a passion for learning.”

Les said “Look for strong players who are self-motivated. The best people on teams want the feedback. They crave it.”

I’ve seen this myself…the cost of a bad hire is enormous and the difference between a “B” player and an “A” player is not a multiple, it’s an order of magnitude.

Les further stated that you want to find people who have a process that is repeatable, as that is an indication that they really understand their craft.

Even better (as Jim advocated)…involve the whole team in the hiring process, as that will pay dividends down the road, because the team will hold each other accountable, saving you (the coach) from having to do so.

Understand Their Goals and Ambitions
The best way to motivate people is to remember what it was like to be in their shoes, as Jim said. In fact, that came up a lot. Put yourself in their position.

They may not care about your ambitions and goals, but if you understand theirs, you’re in a much better place to help them achieve it…and tap into their intrinsic motivation so they can achieve both team and personal goals.

Remember the Person…Always
Every one of the interviews stressed the importance of knowing the whole person.

“If someone is having a personal challenge, you need to know about it,” said one of them. “Otherwise, you can’t give them the flexibility they need when they need it. And, if you can do that…it will come back 10-fold when you really need them.”

Jeff boiled it down beautifully into his own version of the “4 Questions:”
·       Who do you care about?
·       What do you care about?
·       What do you have to work with?
·       What battle can you not afford to lose?

He then went on to challenge me (and all managers) with the following:
•   People want to be recognized for who they are…are you doing that?
•   People want to belong to a community…do you make them feel that way?
•   People ask themselves: do I like myself better when I am around you? Are you leaving them with that feeling?  

Candid Feedback…But It Comes In Different Ways
So this one was really interesting for me, probably because it helped extend my toolkit most.

Every one of my interviewees said that you need to give direct feedback often.

Lori nailed it, I thought, when she said, “practice transparency with diplomacy. Make feedback a regular event, not a quarterly or an annual event

In fact, in every conversation, you have the opportunity to give it.
[For a great article on this (and really an overall management style that makes a lot of sense to me, see: Radical Candor.]

What was really helpful was the advice on how to coach people who may have a more difficult time taking the feedback right off the bat.

Two of the interviewees recommended that you engage by asking questions along the lines of “how do you think you are doing?” instead of just beginning the feedback (which works for some people).

Even better…creating a blank report card that you and your direct report fill out separately and then reviewing it together to look for areas of discrepancy.  That provides the grist for the conversation.

For those who don’t mind or “crave it,” just jump right in, but this approach prevents a “one size fits all” angle to feedback and ultimately serves the employee better.

Get Rid of Weak Performers….FAST
When you keep weak performers, you are doing even more damage than you realize.
  1. You are hurting the company. Obviously.
  2. You are hurting that employee, but not giving them an opportunity to achieve fulfillment in their jobs.
  3. You are sending the message that sub-par performance is acceptable.
  4. You are cheating your “A” players of valuable time to make them even stronger…because you are spending too much of your time with (or compensating for) the weak performers.
Promote and Celebrate
Finally, it’s not about you.

In fact, you should go above and beyond to get your people the right visibility…even if it means leaving your team.  In fact, according to Lori, “sometimes you make trade-offs that favor the person at the cost of the organization.

A corollary to this is “remove obstacles for your team.” The more you do this, the more they will be in a successful position where you can celebrate them.

It’s a different mindset from being an individual contributor… your put others first, whenever you can.

As Jim said, ““when the team is winning, you’re in back. When team is losing, you’re in front."

Meet The All-Star People Manager Team
·       Lori Deo (nominated by Adam Schorr, Dawn Kidd)
·       Jim Macchitelli (nominated by Adam Evers)
·       Jeffrey Lang (nominated by Karin Schwartz)
·       Les Russell (nominated by Eric Marterella)
·       Kristen Kavalier (nominated by Sprinklrites)
·       Dan Swift (nominated by Sprinklrites)

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Looking for a Good Book (or 3)?

Plowed through 3 books recently. All enjoyable and for different reasons. Thought I'd share if you are looking for a good read.

E-A Novel
What makes this so clever is that the entire book is written as a series of emails. Every single thing is an email. The novel unfolds as you see the intra-office politics played out via emails that are bcc'd, cc'd, and forwarded. If you work in an email intensive office, you'll love this.

The Circle
Obviously our lives have been changed dramatically by social media (heck, it's why I have a job, right?)  This book is a look at what happens if we continue along one path of continued sharing.  It's pretty intense and reminds us of the need to strike a balance between sharing and privacy in a stark, powerful way.

How the Mighty Fall
A bit more traditional business book, but a great study by one of the authors of Good to Great and Built to Last.  In this book, he examines the 5 stages through which great companies go as they descend into irrelevance. Some lessons for all of us so we can identify the warning signs..and some advice on how to avoid it.

Think: Kodak, Polaroid, Compaq, and others.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

The Story of How I Arrived at Sprinklr

I was asked by the People Development team at Sprinklr to share some of my experiences for others in the company.  I thought it might be fun/illustrative to share it here. 

Perhaps not. Let me know.

Feedback welcome.

What do you currently do at Sprinklr? 
I'm currently the VP of Marketing. I'm responsible for global field marketing, marketing operations, analyst relations, partner marketing, events, and marketing for the Advertising business unit. 

 Where did you start out? How has your career grown?
I started out as the VP of Marketing over 4 years ago, so I suppose you shouldn't really take much advice from me as clearly I haven't been able to get promoted since then.

What's been remarkable in that time, however, is that when I started I was the only person in marketing, Sprinklr had 30 people, and we had no brand awareness or reputation of any consequence.  

The amount of skills I have picked up across the entire marketing spectrum is mind-boggling to me. 

My career has grown because with every single day, I have had the opportunity to take on new challenges and new opportunities.  The single most important element is that I've been surrounded by people who courageously gave me constructive criticism in order to make Sprinklr and me better.

That's actually been a hallmark of my career at every step. I live and die by my professional and personal network. I am always trying to meet new people, ask them questions, and understand their worldview. Then, I try and keep in touch with them in a passionate and genuine way so that I can learn from them over time.

One thing I've done for over 20 years now is to call people on their birthday. I make about 1800 calls a year. It gives me a chance to keep in touch, but also helps me understand how they see the world.  By hearing all of these different voices--and reading a ton--I feel like I have a respectable understanding of how the world is changing. That prepares me to do my job better and adapt to change quickly.

 What path & opportunities have you taken? How did you get them?

My professional career began in Tokyo. I dropped out of graduate school to join a company doing what we might now call "Digital Marketing."  After doing that for a year, I moved to New York to join an e-commerce start-up during Internet 1.0. I worked in sales for 2 years. 

After 2 years of that, I left to start my own company with my brother. After the Internet 1.0 bubble crashed, we raised $500,000 and ran our company for two years.

Eventually, I moved to Washington, DC where I live now. I worked at Microsoft for 6 years, doing mostly marketing for the partner community.

One day, I was sitting in a meeting with about 25 people in Redmond, WA. We were going around the table sharing ideas of how we could do marketing better and I suggested that we use something called "Facebook."  There was a guy there...we'll call him B*** since that's his name...who said "Facebook? That's the craziest idea I ever heard. We don't control the platform. It's built on a competing technology. We can't do that. It's a stupid idea."

I walked out of the room feeling a bit embarrassed and also recognizing that although Microsoft had been very successful for a long time, their view of the future of marketing and mine were very different. So, soon thereafter, I decided to quit and start my own consulting firm.

I called it "Never Stop Marketing," which I like to say is not just a company, but a mantra and a way of life.

The focus was on helping clients understand not just that social media was here to stay but on HOW the world (and marketing) would change because of its arrival.  I started doing that and the best part was 2 years later when Microsoft called me to hire me to teach their marketers how to do it.

How did you get or what led you to your current role?
It was through my work for Microsoft that one of the attendees in a class said to me, "you know, I have a friend named Ragy Thomas. He says a lot of the same things you do. You guys should talk."

I still remember the day that Ragy called me (and where I was) when he called me. I answered the phone and he didn't even introduce himself. He just said, "Hey Jeremy....I read your blog. It's brilliant. You need to come work for me.'

And I was thinking..."this guy is crazy" (and I was right about that).  I said, "you don't understand...I have a pretty good gig here. I make great money, get to travel around the world, or I get to stay at home, wear shorts, and walk my kids to school in the morning."  

He said..."YOU don't understand. I'm going to build the next big enterprise software company."

The "You don't understand," "No, YOU don't understand" went back and forth for about 4 months until one day I went to New York and met with him in the office on 30th Street.

I saw the platform and fell in love...well, it was profile properties and profile tagging to be exact, and I said, "ok, this guy has figured out how to scale what I've been talking about."

He said, "there are a lot of marketers our there, but none of them who understand Social. I need someone who does. I need you."

I agreed, went home, told my wife that I was taking a 70% pay cut, and shut down my business.  Been here ever since.

What's your advice for people who want a role like yours? 

There are a few things I would say.

1. Always, always, always grow and cultivate your network of contacts...in a genuine way. No matter what, it is people who make the world go round.

2. Read a ton about anything you can. Never stop learning.

3. Change is the only constant in your life and your career.  It's FAR better to force the change upon yourself than to have it forced upon you.  Practice adapting to change by seeking it out instead of being afraid of it.

4. Take smart risks. That's the best and fastest way to learn new skills which you can apply.