Work Smarter Series #5 – Interview with Clara Shih Founder and CEO of Hearsay

The Work Smarter Series by Workfit explores the productivity habits of the world’s most successful executives.

Clara Shih is a pioneer in the social media industry and the founder and CEO of Hearsay the leading advisor-client engagement solution for the financial services industry. Clara has been named one of Fortune’s “Most Powerful Women Entrepreneurs,” Fast Company’s “Most Influential People in Technology,” Businessweek’s “Top Young Entrepreneurs,” and a “Young Global Leader” by the World Economic Forum. She also has been listed in both Fortune’s and Ad Age’s “40 Under 40,” as well as InvestmentNews’ “40 Under 40” and ThinkAdvisor‘s IA 25 – Industry Influencers. Clara also authored the New York Times-featured best-seller, The Facebook Era. Her latest book is The Social Business Imperative about adapting your business model to the always-connected customer.

I first met Clara on a hike in Aspen at a Fortune Brainstorm event and was impressed with her energy and her views on building productive teams and so we scheduled this interview which took place in her office in San Francisco.

 

 

You have to constantly delegate and empower others to do the work

Q: When you think of the best execs you’ve learned from, what sticks out to you as the most effective productivity traits you’ve learned from one or more of them

Clara:  I feel like I’m constantly trying to pick up productivity ideas, and then incorporating them into my life. The one that sticks out is, delegate everything that you can. If you and your execs are going to scale, you have to constantly delegate and empower others to do the work. That means that you only do, what only you can do. In addition, you should try to modularize everything that is repetitive. For instance, utilize canned responses and templates when you can. That saves time and lets you focus your energy on what is important.

 

Q: Let’s talk about meetings. If you think of your best run meeting, the best-attended meeting that you’ve been to, what stands out? How do you get people engaged and get the right actions out of the meeting?

Clara:

  •  Pre-read. Make sure that everyone pre-reads the material ahead of the meeting. That requires more discipline because people have to prepare for the meeting both by creating content and consuming it ahead of time, but it pays off.
  • Limit the meeting to six people or fewer. A lot of people have the temptation to invite others to a meeting so that no one feels left out. That is the wrong thing to optimize for. By limiting the number of attendees, you can have more candid, focused discussions where everyone participates.
  • Encourage everyone to be fully engaged, so no cell phones or distractions. This one is a little trickier to enforce. Maybe I’ll set up a cell phone basket to enforce it in the future. Even though this is harder to do, the payoff is huge.
  • Have clear meeting objectives stated up front, and keep the discussion on task with clear deliverables and action items at the end. Again, this one requires real discipline. It is much easier to just schedule a recurring a meeting and show-up. But that is a recipe for wasted time. Agendas need to be shared and this ties back into #1 the pre-read. Also, for this to be useful you need to keep people on task so that you make it through the most important parts of the agenda. Finally, there must be a focus on clear action items and ownership.

 

Over communicating what is important is the best way to align an organization.

Q: We have this concept that we came up with called, the building blocks of Work fitness, which include – prioritization, responsiveness, presence, bias-for-action and perpetual beta. Do any of those resonant with you and why?

Clara:  Prioritization. There are a thousand good ideas and it’ll kill you if you try to pursue more than three. Prioritization is one that I’m continually working on. When you envision an organization of our size (around 170 people) good prioritization is essential. The thing I didn’t get for so long, was having to repeat the same priorities over and over again, to everybody. But over communicating what is important is the best way to align an organization. Also, when there are new ideas, you should realign those ideas and see if they fit into the three priorities that you’re focusing on at that time.

 

Q: What didn’t we ask that you think is important to unlock the secrets of meetings and productivity?

Clara:  One big challenge is remote meetings. How do you keep all these great techniques we’ve talked through already in play? Especially if they’re on the phone and not video, they’re probably multi-tasking, it’s just too easy to multi-task. And that encourages the worst type of interaction. This gets magnified when a call is a mixed group (where some are on site and some are remote). Often the remote person will get lost and the in-person attendees have to wait for them to catch up or circle back to a topic – which is super unproductive. The best way to get around this is to have people in person and off their phone when possible. If in-person isn’t possible then, moving people to video helps. People are much less likely to multitask when they are on-screen.

 

Three Simple Strategies to Fix Team Meetings

Follow These Three Simple Strategies to Fix Meetings

Team meetings a drag? Here are three easy to follow ways to make them better.

I’ve spent the last few years exploring productivity across many leading companies. While out talking with various people, a surprising theme became clear: most people don’t have a vision of how to run a good team meeting. Despite holding these meetings every week, people don’t pay attention to the team dynamics of what happens during these meetings. The net result is that they become an energy drain for everyone involved.

Through our interviews of the most productive leaders for the Work Smarter Series, we have started to deconstruct the best elements of successful team meetings and have identified three prominent patterns. The patterns that emerged provide a useful strategy to keep teams engaged during meetings, and results in more productive and higher-performing teams after the meetings end.

 

Three Simple Strategies to Fix Meetings:

  1. Start the meeting with a Navy Seal Test

  2. Transition to your Suspense Thriller portion

  3. End with a Pep Rally

 

 

If you don’t raise the bar, progress stagnates.

 

Navy Seal Test

To run a good team meeting, you have to be able to drive results and measure progress. Start the meeting by focusing in on a small set of important goals you are measuring (custom tailored to each team member). To drive progress you first have to measure, and continually push people to raise the bar on these goals. This part of the meeting should feel like a Navy Seal fitness test. The team should be aware of the most important goals and should come prepared to share quantifiable updates on them. If today your team member reported closing 75 contracts, next week’s meeting should target 80. If you don’t raise the bar, progress stagnates. The best leaders achieve this by having each team member share their progress on a well-defined set of metrics in front of their peers so that the team can get used to holding each other accountable. Revenue pipeline meetings are a great example of this style of meeting, but this principle should be applied beyond Sales.

  • Pro Tip: Many leaders require that everyone send out their updates along this line as a pre-read. This takes an extra level of discipline, but gets everyone on the same page, drives better preparation, and delivers focus.

A couple of words of caution on metrics:

  • a) you get what you measure, so make it count.
  • b) identify leading metrics and not lagging metrics so you can stay ahead of the trends in your business and not behind.
  • c) just because it can be measured doesn’t mean it should be measured – look for the metrics that drive the business and give you leverage. The rest is noise.

Each discussion is different than the previous one

Suspense Thriller

If every week, your team enters a meeting where you will review other people’s metrics, things become too predictable. People start zoning out when others are presenting, especially when much of the data could be made available in a pre-read. The best way to get around this is to leverage your team for making decisions that are important, strategic, and that require collective input.

  • Pro Tip: Many leaders create a list of important strategic topics that need to get discussed, and these are scheduled in advance (when possible). The advantage of this? A leader can be assigned to the topic so that there is sufficient prep-work on framing the problem, collecting the data, and presenting alternatives, allowing more efficient discussion and decision-making.

This section of the meeting tends to drive much better engagement. Each discussion is different than the previous one, and helps push the teams to become a connected, engaged, high-performance group. It also builds trust and mutual understanding of complex decisions. We call this aspect a suspense thriller because the audience participates but they don’t know what that ultimate outcome will be. As important as this is, we wouldn’t advise only having team meetings that are suspense thrillers. You need the more predictable components that come with metrics to make sure people don’t constantly shift their focus to the discussion of the day. The Navy Seal test portion of the meeting helps create that stability, continuity, and focus and compliments the suspense thriller portion.

 

 

The pep rally component acknowledges that every team member needs to be a source of energy for their teams.

Pep Rally

So far, we have focus and engagement, but we also need a way to inject the team with the kind of energy that lasts beyond the meeting and helps power team members beyond the individuals in the meeting. Adding a portion of the meeting which resembles a pep rally toward the end of your meeting is a great way to energize the team so that they carry that energy to the rest of the company. I have seen some of the best leaders keep a team excited by carefully crafting the relevant achievements each week to share with the team. Don’t fake it, this must be authentic, and must draw on real achievement. By doing this, a team has a chance to celebrate it’s progress while also pointing out areas of improvement. This type of meeting tends to be very natural for the go-to-market teams. Other teams might take some additional coaxing to unlock their inner cheerleaders.

  • Pro Tip: The best highlights tend to be ones that come from external validations – like a customer, partner, or prospect. It also has to be followed by or tempered by an identification of where the team can improve. One strong leader I have worked with used to end this section by saying: “Stay humble, keep improving”

 

 

Pulling it all Together

These 3 simple traits create a strong healthy meeting dynamic and a cohesive high-performance team.

  • The Navy Seals component shows everyone that they have to perform, that they have to share that performance, and that as a team, they should all hold each other accountable. As a result, team members never want to let each other down. This also moves the focus from subjective behaviors (like playing nice to curry favor) to more objective measures (like improving performance). This is a necessary component of a high-performing team. It is necessary but not sufficient.
  • The suspense thriller component of the meeting is also needed because it keeps the team engaged together. Without this, it is entirely possible for each team member to improve their personal performance without really leveraging the full team. The thriller portion of the meeting gives the team an opportunity to deploy its collective intelligence. It also helps the team make better decisions while keeping everyone engaged.
  • The pep rally component acknowledges that every team member needs to be a source of energy for their teams. The pep rally allows you to train your team that it is important to celebrate the successes and that each leader should energize their team while also staying humble enough to identify the areas for improvement.

As the CEO of Workfit, I’ve found this meeting playbook a great way to create high-performance, collaborative, and energized teams.  What do you think? Share your key elements to running an effective meeting in the comments below.

 

 

 

Work Smarter Series #4 – Interview with Jeff Green Founder and CEO of The Trade Desk

The Work Smarter Series by Workfit explores the productivity habits of the world’s most successful executives.

Jeff Green is founder and CEO of The Trade Desk, Inc., a demand-side platform that powers the media campaigns of the world’s most advanced buyers in digital advertising. In 2015, Ernst & Young named Jeff and co-founder Dave Pickles Entrepreneurs of the Year in the Greater Los Angeles region and recently Glassdoor named The Trade Desk #20 on its Best Places to Work list for small and medium businesses. In 2016, Jeff took The Trade Desk public, making it one of the most valuable companies in the advertising technology arena. I recently sat down for breakfast with Jeff to explore his ideas on productivity.

Meetings

Q: Do you experience meeting overload – how do you handle it?  What tools and tricks do you use to make meetings more productive?

Jeff: Yes, I experience meeting over-load.  I could sit in meetings for 14 hours a day if I didn’t look at my calendar defensively.  There is a balance here, though.  If you aren’t getting invited to a lot of meetings that may be a sign of you being abrasive.  Also, I have a bias to action so people invite me to meetings where they want decisions and actions.  Given the demand on my time, I tell people to tell me what they want to accomplish before the meeting.  People need a chance to prepare based on the goals of the meeting.

 

If we identify a long-term problem, then I ask if we have sufficiently described the roles and responsibilities that enable that long-term action.

Q:  That sounds great, so what do you after the meeting is held?

Jeff: Once the meeting is held every meeting needs to end with actions and assignments.  That is part of our culture.  If we have a short term problem, there are action items coming out of the meeting.  If we identify a long-term problem, then I ask if we have sufficiently described the roles and responsibilities that enable that long-term action.  If you haven’t properly described the roles and responsibilities that means more meetings and discussions because no one knows who really owns the task.  You want to have the right input and also avoid too much bureaucracy.  That long-term lens is what execs often miss when they just dictate action items.

 

Q:  When you think about the most effective executives what productivity attributes stick out the most from them?

Jeff: It all boils down to time.  People think in terms of money way too often when they should be thinking more about their time and how they use it.  When you are an early stage company, you are liberal with your time.  As more opportunity presents itself you have to become really good at time management.  It all comes down to how you choose to assign your time.

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Workfit Featured in the Wall Street Journal

Voice-activated assistants with artificial intelligence are moving from the home to the office.

We’re very excited to be featured in a recent Wall Street Journal article that takes a deep dive into voice-activated AI moving from the home to the office. Our vision for Eva is to bring the capabilities people currently love about augmented intelligence (AI) and the voice activated devices they interact with in their personal lives, to businesses—more specifically, to meetings. As we explored in an earlier blog post, businesses have a lot of meetings every day (33 Million per day to be exact). The transition of voice assisted AI from personal to business will usher in a new era of productivity, and we’re excited to be at the forefront of bringing this technology to the workplace.

Interesting takeaways from the article:

  • “Roger Lee, a general partner at global venture capital firm Battery Ventures, believes that technology for the workplace has been following consumer trends, and he thinks voice-enabled intelligent assistants will be next.”
  • From a survey of IT professionals
    • Roughly half of IT professionals said their organizations already use intelligent assistants for work-related tasks on company devices or plan to within three years.
    • When asked about the benefits of intelligent assistants, the top three were.
      • Increased productivity 45%
      • Less typing with voice dictation 42%
      • Improved data analysis 34%
  • In a 2016 survey of workers’ attitudes toward technology conducted by Dell Inc., Intel Corp. and consultants Penn Schoen Berland, 30% of employees around the world chose “digital helper” as the potential use of artificial intelligence that they would be most excited about in their jobs.

Read the entire article from the Wall Street Journal, Alexa and Cortana May Be Heading to the Office.

 

Work Smarter Series #3 – Interview Auren Hoffman, CEO of SafeGraph and former founder and CEO of LiveRamp

The Work Smarter Series by Workfit explores the productivity habits of the world’s most successful executives.

Auren Hoffman is an entrepreneur, angel investor, author, and current CEO of SafeGraph, which graphs datasets together to solve humanity’s biggest secrets. Previously he was founder and CEO of LiveRamp an identity resolution provider offering data onboarding. I had the chance to sit down with Auren and learn more about his productivity habits, including managing his inbox, dealing with meeting overload and more.

We’ll be regularly publishing new interviews in the series. Follow @WorkfitHQ on Twitter and LinkedIn to make sure you don’t miss the next post.

Meetings

 

What type of meeting are we having? What is the goal and the agenda? When we have meetings we pre-write the goals and share the agenda. We do that even with external meetings.

Q: Do you experience meeting overload – how do you handle it?

Auren: Yes, I do experience meeting overload and to counter that I always try to have as few meetings as possible, with as few people as possible. For example – our Eng VP would have all engineering meetings on Wednesday and only on Wednesdays. Wednesday was release day so it worked for the engineering team. Code reviews and other types of meetings would also happen then. That streamlines the rest of the week for a team that isn’t big on meetings. That might be easier to accomplish for engineers – but it is an example that can be useful for others.

Also, it is really good to know what you are trying to accomplish in advance. What type of meeting are we having? What is the goal and the agenda? When we have meetings we pre-write the goals and share the agenda. We do that even with external meetings.

Finally, another useful idea is to streamline attendance, because most meetings don’t need everyone that gets invited.

 

Q:  How does multitasking in meetings help or hurt productivity?

Auren: Most external meetings are on the phone. When that happens there are too many opportunities to multi-task. In-person meetings are better because you don’t multi- task. If you find yourself in a meeting where people aren’t focused it is a good sign that the meeting is not run well. It doesn’t necessarily mean the meeting is bad (that might be the case) but at a minimum, it means the meeting should be run better. Once someone was checking Facebook in a meeting I ran. I thought to myself that it might not be that person’s fault and perhaps I needed to make the meeting more compelling.

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The Results Are In: American Workers Have 33 Million Meetings a Day

American Workers Have 33 Million Meetings a Day

Ask an employee of any company – large or small – what their biggest time sink is, and they will tell you how many meetings they have. In the US alone, there are billions of meetings a year. Yet more than a third of that meeting time is considered wasted by attendees. Given that level of impact on the workforce, it is surprisingly difficult to pin down how many meetings there actually are in the US every day. Unfortunately, the commonly quoted metrics on meetings are outdated. The most widely cited quantification of meetings was published by Michael Doyle and David Strauss over 40 years ago. Doyle and Strauss claimed that there were 11 million meetings a day, and that number has been published dozens of times without a rigorous evaluation of the growing workforce, virtualization of the workforce, and advent of the last 4 decades of technological and cultural progress. It is clear that we need an updated number but perhaps even more important is that we need a transparent methodology that will allow us to stay up to date.

The Approach

  • In order to begin to estimate the number of meetings held each day in the US, we need to first answer the following 4 questions:
  • Question 1: How many workers are there in the US?
  • Question 2: What percent of these workers are in jobs that regularly have meetings?
  • Question 3: What is the % of time on average that these workers spend in meetings?
  • Question 4: What is the de-duped number of daily meetings in the US (a meeting count overstates the number because each meeting by definition has multiple participants)?
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Open-Sourcing Tester: Lightweight Go Test Utilities

Workfit loves Go

The Go Gopher was designed by Renee French.

At Workfit, we strive for building world-class software at a high iteration velocity. We heavily rely on open-source software; it allows us to build for scale while standing on the shoulders of giants. Our tech stack aligns with our culture and values, which foster an environment for code craftsmanship to thrive and a strong bias for action. We’re pleased to kick off our engineering blog posts with open-sourcing Tester: a lightweight test library that we built for Go; a small token of giving back to the open-source community and fellow Gophers.

Go is the programming language of choice for many of our microservices; it provides the greatest return on investment for our needs: security, correctness, simplicity, iteration velocity, scalability, and maintainability. Testing is an integral part of Go; the language provides robust and opinionated support for testing and benchmarking. However, developers who moved from languages like C#, Java, and Python miss the convenience of test utilities like assertions and data providers for data-driven tests. That’s why we started Tester: lightweight test utilities to use with Go’s testing package. Most tests follow the same pattern: set up, invoke the unit under test, assert, then clean up (if need be); said pattern encourages test code reuse and consistency. By using test utilities, you can spend more time thinking about test strategies and less time typing boilerplate code.

Features

  • Assertions that make tests easier to read, write, and debug
  • Streamlined data providers for data-driven testing (DDT)
  • Test hooks’ hygiene check
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Work Smarter Series #2 – Interview with Tod Sacerdoti Founder BrightRoll

In 2006, Tod Sacerdoti started BrightRoll, which became the digital ad industry’s largest programmatic video advertising platform. Omar had lunch with Tod to discuss his keys to productivity and how he used that to grow BrightRoll which was ultimately acquired by Yahoo in 2014 for $640M.

We’ll be regularly publishing new interviews in the series. Follow @WorkfitHQ on Twitter and LinkedIn to make sure you don’t miss the next post.

 

 

Q: Since meetings are the single most expensive time commitment for executives, let’s start with discussing meeting productivity. What tools and tricks do you use to make meetings more productive?

Tod: In any meeting that I run (like staff meetings) I try to be clear about whether a portion of a meeting is about an update or a decision. It is important to stay clear on which part of a meeting is which type. Until the meeting starts every agenda should be open and contributed to by the attendees. For updates, I have people send them out ahead of time so everyone can read the update before the meeting. There shouldn’t be any time spent saying things that should have been written in advance. We try to get much of this done in advance of the meeting.
For decision-making meetings, everyone contributes to what needs to be discussed. I prioritize the decisions to be made ahead of the meeting. We spend all the time on the most important items. We don’t spend time on less important items. It is ok if you don’t get to item #4 on the list. The opposite isn’t true – you can’t miss the important ones.

 

Q: What about the number of people who attend the meeting, what works best?

Tod: I am ruthless about only required people being in a meeting. I don’t like extraneous people in my meetings. A board meeting is a good example of this. No one is allowed in our board meetings unless they absolutely must be there. I understand the value of a learning opportunity so we do allow people to be present in a meeting as part of a mentoring process, but that is done explicitly. Meetings shouldn’t be reserved meeting slots, and they shouldn’t fill time. Meeting blocks are huge parts of productivity problems. If a meeting occurs in an hour block and it only takes 10 mins then stop at 10 mins. When the work is done – leave. Don’t allow meeting blocks to dominate how you spend your time. I also love feedback on meetings. Could this meeting not happen or could it happen in another way? We continually use feedback to improve how we conduct our meetings.

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Kicking off the Work Smarter Series – #1 The Building Blocks of Work Fitness

The Work Smarter Series by Workfit explores the productivity habits of the world’s most successful executives.

When you meet a productive leader you always know it, even if you don’t recognize what makes them productive. It turns out that successful people share a few basic productivity building blocks. I have had the privilege of spending time with leaders such as Larry Ellison, Satya Nadella, Marc Benioff, and Sir Martin Sorrell.  As I interacted with them, a common set of productive behaviors started emerging. It became clear that prioritization, responsiveness, presence, bias-for-action, and perpetual beta were key traits. As I became more interested in the kinds of behaviors that make successful people effective, I began to interview additional exemplary CEOs. The purpose of the Work Smarter Series will be to share these interviews and create a conversation around them.

To kick off the series, I will introduce the basic building blocks of productivity.

  •  Prioritization

  • Responsiveness

  • Presence

  • Bias-for-action

  • Perpetual Beta

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Introducing Eva by Workfit

Humans are social animals. Our conversations are the crucible from which ideas are born, get tested, improve, and gain flight. Any conversation between two or more people is a meeting, and thus meetings should be the best collaboration tool ever experienced. But for all their potential, meetings fall short. In too many meetings, a lot is said, little is remembered, and follow-up is inconsistent. There are about 9 billion meetings a year in the US. These meetings take between 20% and 40% of an employee or executive’s time and thus are one of the most expensive labor costs any company has. Yet, despite, the time spent in meetings, everyone feels that many meetings waste too much time. In companies across the globe, meeting fatigue has become an epidemic.

 

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