Work Smarter Series #7 – Interview with Dave Morgan, CEO and founder of Simulmedia

Dave Morgan is the CEO and founder of Simulmedia. He also founded TACODA, Inc., an online advertising company that pioneered behavioral online marketing and was acquired by AOL in 2007 for $275 million, as well as Real Media, Inc., a predecessor to 24/7 Real Media (TFSM), which was later acquired by WPP for $649 million.

I started my career competing with Dave Morgan and he quickly became one of the media executives I learned the most from. I was recently lucky enough to sit down with Dave to ask him questions about his journey as an innovator and executive. Here’s what we discussed.

Building Companies

Q: You have a reputation for being in-tune with your customer’s needs before the rest of the industry. When others speak in generalities, you are more personal and specific. When you describe your businesses’ evolutions, you remember the names of those who asked for a feature or product you are working on. How deliberate is this level of attention to your customer’s needs?

 

 

Evangelism is all about the connection. You have to instigate the conversation with really smart people and then listen to them.

Dave: Companies don’t buy things people do. Companies don’t have visions – people have visions. Companies are simply collections of individuals. They may or may not have the capacity to get something done, and they need help. That is why I really embraced the enterprise sale. I understand how to deconstruct the company as a group of individuals who make decisions. I looked for a collection of individuals who I knew who had a vision that was consistent with my vision and then I really focused on how to enable them to be successful. My product vision is ultimately informed by their ideas. I have to give credit to Gil Beda who was my CTO in my first two companies. Gil forced that discipline in me. He forced me to think about product delivery cycles when we first worked in enterprise software and worked on 12-18 month release cycles. The version 1.0 ad server at Real Media was defined by The Chicago Sun Times; v2.0 by The Washington Post and v3.0 was aided by the New York Times. In each case, it was an individual person at each of those companies who helped collaborate on our vision. Version 2.0 was defined by Mike George. He later became a 20-year Amazon veteran who went on to drive Echo, Alexa, and Twitch. Version 3.0 was driven by Martin Nisenholz, who became the CEO of NYTimes Digital.

When we were selling against Netgravity we partnered with Netscape and it was Mike Micucci and Mike McCue who helped us. That is where the personal side of evangelism is helpful. It’s not the institutions that designed our products with us; it was the people.

Evangelism is all about the connection. You have to instigate the conversation with really smart people and then listen to them.

That is why Workfit and Eva is so exciting – because you can capture that listening skill at scale. That is game changing. If I could go back and recover the conversations I had with people in key positions in the past, that would be amazing.

Q. You created Real Media, Simulmedia, Tacoda which were all trend setters. How do you create companies that are early enough to set a trend but not too early?

Dave: I can’t say I always did this by design. When I began, I had no background in business. I wasn’t initially taught to be constrained by profitability. I was trained as a lawyer but had a love for science and a lot of exposure to technology. I coded and wrote games on a Radio Shack TRS 80. I saw that technology would change business, and I knew that I needed to pick the trends well. When you are ahead of a trend, this means you need a lot of evangelism. To do this effectively you need to identify those people that will latch on to your vision and help spread it. You have to refine the vision to be suitable to the market reality. And finally, you need to be an optimist so the cynics cannot dissuade you.

On meetings

Q: In my mind, a good team meeting is a balance of Navy seal fitness test, suspense thriller and cheerleading session. Do your staff meetings favor any one of these forms or others? What meeting styles do you prefer?

 

 

I think people come together in a meeting to confirm that what they are working on is being recognized.

Dave: I think if there was another piece to the puzzle: group validation. I think people come together in a meeting to confirm that what they are working on is being recognized. Especially if those meetings give them a sense of connectedness. A lot of the hardest work is accomplished alone, but we are social animals, and it is that validation we crave. The idea is that we are not alone. Someone has my back. It is like telling our hunting stories around the campfire. It isn’t about going back to a manager, it’s about me going back to my tribe.

On Productivity

Q: Prioritization, presence, responsiveness, and bias for action are all important productivity attributes. Pick the most important ones to you and tell us why it is important.

 

 

Great leaders take pattern recognition on their own and convert those patterns into doctrine to teach many others to process fast.

Dave: Presence is a critical attribute of an effective organization. You realize the difference between someone who is truly present and someone who is not. Someone who has the capacity to hear your thoughts and convey them back to you.

I once sat next to a stranger on a cross-country flight and that time was life changing. That person had presence that was better than anyone I had met before. Later in the flight, I learned that this person had been an astronaut and flew to space six times. He didn’t have a high school degree but acquired three PhDs. He had the capacity to draw you in and to stay engaged.

I am a believer in people and their capacity to get more out of others. Someone who has presence really focuses on interacting and respecting the other person. Doing this maximizes communication and it maximizes what 1 + 1 could equal.

I also believe in responsiveness. I once sent a note to Steve Ballmer after a talk he gave and he responded in 15 minutes. Some organizations are extraordinary at creating methods that help people become responsive. They create doctrines that help you process situations faster.

The US military is another example. One of their doctrines is that you move towards the fire. It is not natural. But the doctrine the US taught was you move towards fire. The doctrine of the English army used to be that at the moment you come under fire, you were to defend the position and then wait for instruction. The US strategy disrupts the person initiating the fire; the doctrine helps process a situation. Great leaders take pattern recognition on their own and convert those patterns into doctrine to teach many others to process fast.

Q: You have run several companies, invested and served as an advisor in many others, which means you have probably learned from other great executives. When you think about the most effective executives, what productivity attributes stick out the most?

Dave: I would say they are highly creative. They are trial and error people who are relentless but got smarter all the time. They don’t get tired of creating and iterating. In the journey to find the product-market fit, they know they are the test case every single time they pitch. They know how to listen and adjust. They are good at sharing what they learn because they love that part of the evolution.

Q: What have I not asked that would help us unlock your best secrets around being productive?

Dave: People need a chance to be inspired. A lot of people aren’t fulfilled or happy at work because they aren’t inspired. You and I have had the benefits of a great education, a chance to meet leaders that we can learn from, leaders that inspired us. A lot of people didn’t have that opportunity. People just need a chance to be inspired.

Think about that astronaut who never graduated from high school. Not only did he become a bio-physicist and a neurosurgeon he flew more missions on the T3 than any man alive and yet he had no high school degree. He inspired me.

*Note: This interview has been edited for clarity and readability.

Productivity, Innovation, and AI: an Interview with Jerry Yang

Jerry Yang is a technology forefather. Co-founded Yahoo! in 1995, Yang also sits on the boards for Workday, Alibaba, and Lenovo. He started AME Cloud Ventures with the belief that data, cloud, and hardware advances will create unprecedented opportunities for great companies to be built. I had the opportunity to sit down with Jerry to ask him about productivity, about investing in China and Japan and about investing in AI.

Productivity

Q: You run a venture company, you’re also an entrepreneur, you advise and sit on the boards of some great companies. When you think about the most effective executives you’ve worked and partnered with, what productivity attributes stick out the most for them?

Jerry:  I think all executives have their own style to be productive. But I think the common thread would be that they have a very effective executive assistant team that organizes their calendars so that when meetings happen, they are very precise. People are trying to replace this with AI, but this is very hard to do practically. Assistants have to match the executive’s style, some require considerable help with prep, others don’t.

Executives spend lots of time in meetings, which makes it critical that meetings are well run. Many resources inform and help with communications before and after these meetings. However, these meetings are where decisions are made, and actions are taken. Executive assistants serve those critical needs, and they are an under-appreciated resource to the teams.  They also highlight an underserved market for these types of tools. Part of what Eva can do is she could help the exec assistants capture these actions and decisions.

 

Q:  Prioritization, Responsiveness, Presence, Bias-for-Action, & Continual improvement are important building blocks of productivity.  Which one of these is most important to you – and how do you go about achieving that?

 

I would rather wait a week and do something well thought out rather than fire something back right away that creates unnecessary work for others

Jerry: The answer depends on the executive. The higher you are in the c-suite, the more important responsiveness and quality of action become. However many confuse rapid response with how much weight the action has. I would rather wait a week and do something well thought out rather than fire something back right away that creates unnecessary work for others due to lack of critical thinking. The key issue is that the decisions that senior executives make usually create work for others. Creating efficiency by giving clear, actionable, meaningful, well-synthesized commands that are correctly assigned is the most important skill to have.

 

Meetings

Q: Meetings need a fundamental upgrade.  There are 9 billion meetings every year, but most fall short of our expectations, subsequently eating up way too much time relative to the output. How do you focus your teams on having productive meetings that drive good decisions and drive important actions? What are the key ingredients of reducing meeting overload and improving meeting output?

 

 …it’s not about having a critical mass of participants it’s about having prepared participants.

Jerry: We need to make sure there is something ahead of meetings – to ensure there is a critical mass to have a meaningful meeting.  Too many times meetings are held because they are scheduled not because it is needed.  Preparation is key, especially for those responsible for having the meeting.  No matter what type of meeting, it’s not about having a critical mass of participants it’s about having prepared participants. Time should not be spent for catching people up, if team members are unprepared, then meetings should be rescheduled. Rescheduling might seem punitive, but it is better than wasting people’s time.  Once people know that you are prepared to not have a meeting when people haven’t done the right preparation, people tend to be more accurate about what they are trying to achieve.

 

Q:  From my perspective, the most effective meetings balance a few core parts: one part Navy seal fitness test (accountability) , one part a suspense thriller (discussion on an important topic with an unknown outcome) one part cheerleading (sharing wins and establishing goals) and ending the session with a bit of reality-show where you get the participants involved via Q&A.  What do you think about this description? What meeting styles do you prefer?

Jerry: I like elements of all three. I believe strong metrics truly help, especially in business centric or sales centric meetings. Performance should be a consistent part of your focus. The cheerleading meetings motivate teams and give them the positive support, but it’s critical to have people walk away feeling they can do more. Meetings where there is suspense, and you are debating a critical strategic issue are less frequent but important. Most meetings there is a focus on performance or motivation. Also, as an executive, everything you do or say is ultimately reflected by your team. Is the executive moody, consistent, erratic? You have to make sure you are performing at a high level in all meetings even if it’s just a quick standup. You want people to leave with a sense of accomplishment and direction. That direction and energy impact the teams as they move on to other things.

Innovation

Q: Investing in Innovation:  You have a great track record picking successful innovations to bet on. Alibaba was one of the most successful bets made in Valley history. Yahoo Japan was another bet. What makes you able to make such successful cross-cultural bets?

Jerry: Making bets in global cross cultural settings is very difficult. There is no standard formula.  I can highlight two or three practices that helped us.

  1. We didn’t just drop into China and just choose one partner. It was years of repetition and years of iteration where we experienced the successes and failures that helped us evolve.  Through this experience, we concluded that we wanted to work with Alibaba. That was the culmination of several years of ground work and on the ground learning.
  2. This was true in Japan also. We ultimately bet on the people.  In green field opportunities, you have to focus on the right people.  China and Japan were green field opportunities for digital in the mid-90s.  We wanted to pick people who were ambitious and had a vision and wanted to set the rules rather than follow the rules.  Both CEOs we chose to partner with were visionaries who wanted to define the game and set the game rather than play by someone else’s rules.  Choosing the right entrepreneur is especially important in these green field opportunities.

Q: Another area where you have made bets on is productivity. You bet on Evernote, Zoom, Workday and now Workfit. What do you look for when making such bets?

 

For better or worse, AI is an ingredient to making a better successful application that works for a value prop users really need.

Jerry: I think of a couple of things when making these bets:

  1. Better Experience @ Work: We look for productivity tools that work better in a cloud environment. We also look at productivity capabilities that are very intuitive and will spread virally similar to a consumer capability. Using an enterprise tool shouldn’t be more laborious. The way it has been until now is that if you were going to log on to an enterprise tool you expected to have a bad experience. That’s changing. With good easy to use UIs, analytics on how users adopt and rapid feedback, enterprise tools are becoming more consumer like. That higher consumer standard has now reached the enterprise. So in summary, we look for enterprise tools that have an experience that is as good as a consumer experience.
  2. Large valuable data assets: Major companies like Salesforce allow you to develop apps on top of these large islands where a plethora of tools has been pulled together. That means if you have a new application you can distribute on one of these platforms. To do this well, you need a unique data asset. The data around audio and data around communications is one of the bigger gold mines that haven’t been tapped yet. If you solve this, it will be huge. When you think of the large mines of data that have to be mined and leveraged audio sticks out. You guys are on to something, and it is a fascinating problem. Particularly you need to make all this consumer accessible. That takes a lot of work.  Our kids will be used to saying “hey Eva do this.” We have seen what a mobile OS looks like, but what is the next voice operating system for work? We have seen Siri, Alexa, and Google for the consumer.  But the voice operating system of choice at work hasn’t been achieved yet.  It is a huge opportunity, and it needs a platform.

 

Q: When you bet on an AI company what attributes are most important in driving the bets?

Jerry: I think AI is overloaded and overused. It is the word du jour. But to answer the question, I look for a couple of attributes.

  • a) We look for companies that have an advantage by using AI. Is it an algorithmic advantage stemming from deep learning or a machine learning technique? Is it a data advantage or a training data advantage? Ultimately the advantage needs to be specific, like autonomous driving, computer vision or audio. Some companies have over generalized, and it would be far better to find one key application that works well for their method. We look for excellence. For better or worse, AI is an ingredient to making a better successful application that works for a value prop users really need. It doesn’t need to be sexy per se, but you can’t just have a grand vision based on algorithms.
  • b) You need to tune and focus on an experience that is better than everyone else’s. You need to have a period where you labor through many iterations. This is where you build a significant barrier to other people who will be behind you. Look at self-driving cars. It will take years to handle all the edge conditions. For other applications, you have to manage the edge conditions. This is mission critical for the enterprise. Getting that last one or two percent of accuracy in a real world scenario is what defines the standard. There is no shortcut around that.

*Note: This interview has been edited for clarity and readability. AME Cloud Ventures is an investor in Workfit.

Work Smarter Series #6 – Interview with Thomas Kurian, President of Product Development at Oracle

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

I had the pleasure of interviewing Thomas Kurian (President of Oracle product development), at his office in Redwood Shores. I knew Thomas well from when I ran the Oracle Data Cloud under his and Steve Miranda’s organization after Oracle acquired BlueKai. I learned a ton about productivity working for Thomas and I wanted to get him to share his thoughts on productivity so it could benefit others.

Productivity

Q: You run one of the largest technology groups of any B2B software company in the world, which means you’ve met and learned from some of the best CEOs and execs in the world. Are there any specific attributes of theirs you’ve observed that impressed you?

Thomas: There are three things that I’ve seen. 

  1. Precision in communication. People usually want to hear what they want to hear. They may listen, but they don’t often hear what you say. You’ve got to be very precise when you’re talking to large groups. Focusing on precision helps ensure what you mean, and also why you mean it is conveyed.
  2. Seeing the long-term view. A key component of productivity is getting people to understand a long-term picture so that decision-making happens within the frame of that vision. Once you have a context that everybody on team shares, decision-making happens much faster because everybody’s using the same frame of reference. 
  3. Make time to learn. The third thing I would say is, if you want to be productive, you’ve got to save time to learn stuff for yourself so you remain fresh and creative. For myself as an example, Fridays are my time. I don’t have any meetings on Fridays. I spend time learning and doing new things, which I feel very important. I think this helps me keep up my own personal productivity. You should have a sense of freshness and energy. For me making time to learn rejuvenates me.

Meetings

Q: I observed you developed great habits around meetings. For example – whenever I had a meeting with you, you had always pre-read the material, and you always followed up on action items in a timely manner. How did your good habits around meetings evolve?

Thomas: Regarding the pre-read – I personally find that I can read much faster than I can listen. The reason I ask for materials to be sent ahead of time is, I can read in 20 minutes what normally would take two hours to get through in a presentation, and that way we can focus on the issues. Another reason I tend to read offline is, I like to make the decision quickly. When you have a large organization, if the person at the top doesn’t move quickly, and decide, and course correct later, the whole organization slows down. As far as action items go. if I take an action item, it’s a courtesy to the people that work with me that just as much as I’m asking them to follow-up on stuff, that I follow-up on stuff. Usually, I draft an email and save it in my draft folder so that I can remember it. Then I complete it that evening rather than postpone it.

 

It’s really a gesture of politeness and courtesy that if you’re with somebody, they have 100 percent of your attention.

Q: Another thing I noticed when I’m meeting with you is you’re not distracted by ten other things. Even though you might have excuses to be distracted, you don’t allow it. How important do you think it is to get people to understand how to be present?

Thomas: When it comes to presence I think it’s really a gesture of politeness and courtesy that if you’re with somebody, they have 100 percent of your attention. I find it’s faster to identify topics in advance, give people your attention, make decisions, and get through meetings fast rather than having long meetings where people are looking at other things throughout the time. My default meeting is 15 minutes or less. To me, it’s much more efficient that way because then, I can meet with the team or the individual, give them complete attention, decide, and then I have 45 minutes to do my own stuff rather than be at an hour-long meeting when people are hearing things but not really paying attention and multi-tasking at the same time.

 

Q: How do you keep your calendar open and maintain the ability to have these meaningful, engaged, prepared meetings?

Thomas: It’s important to me that people who work for me are given consistency, so I give every one of my staff a fixed time every week for meetings with them and their teams. I tend to do one-on-ones when they are needed rather than have it scheduled because then people don’t feel like they have to manufacture something for a one-on-one when there’s nothing to discuss. My normal style is to save at least two hours every day and six hours on Fridays for my time. I feel that to be a creative person leading an engineering function, you must have your own independent view of technology. You have to stay current on it. You have to have ideas that people believe in. For me to have those boundaries and personal time I save for myself, I have to be comfortable delegating. An important aspect of being able to work with people is being able to delegate decision-making and not have to be involved in every decision yourself.

 

A meeting is not about getting people together for the sake of getting people together. A meeting is to accomplish a decision.

Q: How do you focus your teams on having productive meetings that drive good decisions and important actions?

Thomas: A meeting is not about getting people together for the sake of getting people together. A meeting is to accomplish a decision. If there’s nothing to be decided, we don’t need a meeting. I can be updated on email. I can read a memo somebody sends. I can listen to a voice update. I don’t need a meeting to be updated on things. That’s a very important element. When you have that belief, I think meetings become much more focused and constructive. When people think of most of the nine billion meetings a year, surely they’re not nine billion things to be decided. Right? A lot of meetings are just meetings for the sake of having meetings. When the top people in an organization enable those types of meetings, it leads to a real difficulty for people more junior in the organization, not only not to mimic them, but even just to say, “Hey, I don’t know why I’m coming to your meeting. It’s taking a lot of time, and I have to prepare a lot of stuff, and it doesn’t accomplish anything.” One of the things I find effective in meetings is when the participants take what I call a “top management” viewp point. Think “What would the person I’m talking to think about, and what decisions are they facing, and how would I phrase the options that they have and therefore make a decision?” I think if you foster that in people, they become much more effective. A lot of the times, when people think like that they find they can make the decisions themselves and they don’t need to have a meeting with you after all. When they adopt that mindset they gradually get more confident in decision-making.

 

Q: Is there a secret of productivity that we haven’t discussed yet?

Thomas: Once you get to a point that the technology and facilitation mechanisms are operating smoothly, the elements I discussed earlier can show their value. When the team you’re working with share the same frame of reference and develop an innate sense of what other people would want to do, I think the decision-making becomes much more natural and therefore things move much more quickly.

 

 

Thomas Kurian is president of Oracle product development and reports to Oracle Executive Chairman of the Board and Chief Technology Officer Larry Ellison. He is responsible for leading software development and transitioning the company’s technology to Oracle Cloud. For the past several years, Kurian has been responsible for the Oracle Fusion Middleware family of products. Under his leadership, that business became the fastest-growing within Oracle and the industry’s leading middleware product suite. Since 2008, Kurian has also led the development for Oracle’s next-generation business applications, Oracle Fusion Applications

—The above post was written based on an interview we conducted with the participant. We’ve made minor edits to improve readability.

 

 

 

Introducing the AI Exoskeleton

Our CEO and Co-Founder Omar Tawakol came up with the concept of an AI exoskeleton as a way to both visually describe the current landscape, and serve as a framework for where the industry is headed in the future.

At its core, we believe AI, when applied to the knowledge worker should:

  • Be easy to use.
  • Seamlessly integrate with your existing systems.
  • Make you better at whatever you do.

We’ll be talking more about the idea of an AI exoskeleton and how, whether they realize it or not today’s knowledge workers are already benefiting from Augmented Intelligence (AI) in their workday. Their AI exoskeleton isn’t taking the shape of a physical suit they step into but rather an invisible one comprised of apps, tools, and services that make them a super productive version of their best self at work.

To kick off the idea of the AI Exoskeleton we contributed an article to CIO.

Here’s an excerpt.

What the Rise of the Exoskeleton means for the Future of Work: AI Exoskeletons will Boost and not Replace Knowledge Workers – CIO.com

Beyond physical exoskeletons, there is an opportunity to provide a virtual exoskeleton for the knowledge worker. Exoskeletons focus on taking our human abilities and increasing them using huge amounts of data and sophisticated algorithms. Rather than replacing workers, this mix of human skill and AI will propel workers into faster and better productivity across a wider range of outputs. While this might be a silent revolution, it is already delivering results.

 

AI (Augmented Intelligence) Trends Contributed Article from VentureBeat

Our CEO Omar Omar Tawakol shared his thoughts on the trends around AI (Augmented Intelligence) in a contributed article for VentureBeat. In the piece, he touches on a wide range of topics ranging from AI exoskeletons, Hippocratic oaths for AI, the history of technological disruptions and more.

One topic that’s particularly relevant to what we’re working on here at Workfit is Augmented vs Artificial Intelligence and how we define the difference.

“We call this type of AI “augmented intelligence,” and it is a twin of artificial intelligence. While both techniques use algorithms and data to perform tasks that normally require human intelligence, they differ in the types of tasks they target. For example, augmented intelligence is all about identifying desired outputs and then using technology to help the workers produce those outputs better, faster, and cheaper.”

How to keep AI from turning us all into mindless slaves

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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