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.