The Why of Your Company

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In 2009 Simon Sinek filmed a Ted Talk entitled “How great leaders inspire action”. It’s a great Ted talk and I recommend watching it. The meat and potatoes of the talk are this “Successful companies and leaders know WHY they do what they do before the how and what of it”

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But why is the “WHY” of what you do important? I’m sure there are far more companies out there that only really know the How and What of their business verses the ones that know the “WHY”.

I only recently watched Simon’s Ted talk during my annual Wildland Firefighting recertification and it got me thinking. For my company, Resgrid, I can give you the WHY of my company in 3 words “Empowering First Responders”. This drives why the company exists, why I have a free plan when pretty much every SaaS book/blog/talk/course out there says not to and why we’ve been adding new features while keeping the cost as low as possible.

The “WHY” of your company (or you) does what it does gives you purpose, direction and principals. If it is well stated, simple and communicated it will be far easier to get all your employees, partners, etc all moving in the same direction toward the same goal.

The “HOW” and “WHAT” of you company will change over time, but the “WHY” never should. You may start out with one direction say creating mobile applications then start delivering a SaaS solution. Your “WHAT” will also change, you may pivot, change markets or start making hardware instead of software. But your “WHY” is your rock, your north star.

Companies that don’t know their “WHY” end up thinking that their WHAT and HOW are what matters. They let their technology stack define their identify or their market. Your “WHY” can define your market or define your company philosophy. If your only in business to make money that’s ok too, but that’s more difficult to communicate to your customers.

Communicate up and down your company structure ensuring everyone is on the same page. Share it with your customers and perspective customers. People like knowing why something the way it is and it will endear them to your company and it’s brand.

Resgrid is a SaaS product utilizing Microsoft Azure, providing logistics, management and communication tools to first responder organizations like volunteer fire departments, career fire departments, EMS, search and rescue, CERT, public safety, disaster relief organizations, etc. It was founded in late 2012 by myself and Jason Jarrett (staxmanade).

Decisions Set in Stone

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We’ve all had these moments, your driving and trying to do it unaided (no GPS, no map). Maybe it’s a Sunday cruise to clear you mind or your on you bike and don’t want to pull over to whip out your cell phone. You come to a fork in the road and you make a decision. But as your diving along you have a feeling you made a wrong choice, do you A.) Pull over and verify your decision using some reasonable observable information (i.e. GPS) or B.) Keep going? Something like this will always happens: buyers remorse when buying a car or another big purchase, a diet or implementing a strategy at work. The goal is to re-evaluate early and often taking emotion out of the equation, if possible, and objectively and critically analyze what your trying to do. Do you keep going (you may not have enough information at that point to make a solid decision and that’s ok) or course correct.

6a00d83452d66d69e201901f07fc12970b-800wiHow silly would it be for you to keep driving? If you were trying to get from San Francisco to Denver you may hit the Pacific Ocean, Canada or Mexico instead. If someone you knew did that you would never let them forget it “Hey Ted remember that one time 10 years ago you tried to drive to Denver and ended up in a jail in Mexico?!?”. But are you doing this exact same thing at work?

A friend of my Gabe Chavez (check out his wife’s awesome art) recommended that I read “The Four Steps to the Epiphany” by Steve Blank. It’s a very good read if your into startups or business processes. At it’s core the book is about the Customer Development process which basically is a series of steps that are constantly re-evaluated and analyzed to ensure they are correct before moving on. After reading the book I’ve become more and more aware how companies make decisions and continue to plow on with them until it’s too late. I’ve always had an issue with this decision making processes, but now after reading that book I see why and how it’s far more harmful then I previously assumed.

Individually we all need to ensure that we are evaluating our decisions after they are made, especially with the ones that can greatly impact the business or our professional lives. No matter which side your on it should be something we all push for. If you alienate all your co-workers because the product or service you wanted got picked and they all hate it, was it worth it?

Before any decision is made a schedule for re-evaluation should be agreed upon, it should be frequent and based on how complex and how important the decision is. For example switching your transactional email provider, you may have had a list of pro’s and justifications on why your moving on from your current one to another. Give yourself a little bit of time to settle into the new thing and after a month or two take a look at your justifications to see how their holding up? Are they holding up well, then maybe only look at it one more time in 3 more months or so, is the foundation for those justifications showing some cracks? Then re-evaluate again in another month. Use metrics, observable data and facts as much as you can to guide your analysis.

I’ve championed many decisions and been in many meeting rooms where I’m the loudest guy. I’ve push many decisions that in the long run weren’t good ideas. But some of my proudest moments were when I went back into the same meeting room with those same folks and say “This isn’t working, and let me show you why”.

Blind commitment to a path is not desirable character trait in my opinion. We should all strive to re-evaluate and introspect when we can. At a minimum you have just reaffirmed a good decision, but by cutting your losses or adjusting your plan you could save time, money, get something to customers quicker or improve the quality of your work life.

Resgrid is a SaaS product utilizing Microsoft Azure, providing logistics, management and communication tools to first responder organizations like volunteer fire departments, career fire departments, EMS, search and rescue, CERT, public safety, disaster relief organizations, etc. It was founded in late 2012 by myself and Jason Jarrett (staxmanade).

Only Jesus Gets a 5

I was in a meeting on Friday where a number of developers were ranking in candidates for a position. The rating scale was a 1 to 5, and every candidate, even the ‘best’ ones only got a 4.5, why because “No one can earn a five”. Why is this ever an issue, why have a 1 to 5 scale when your never going to use 5.

jesus_christ_superstarThis is annoying when your reviewing a candidate, but when this creeps into performance reviews that is a huge issue. One of my friends told me a saying from a former boss of theirs when asked why they never get a 5 in a performance review, “Only Jesus Gets a 5” was his reply.

By the way in case your wondering this picture of badass Jesus is from Jesus Christ Superstar a rock musical, with Ted Neeley portraying the 5 star man himself.

There are a lot of excuses to why people arbitrarily limit the top of the rating scale, and I feel if they do that they should also limit the other end with the logic of “Only Satan gets a 1”.  A little bit latter I’ll go over why the logic of this is a bad motivator.

First I’d like you to think about that logic for a second and apply it to other facets of your life. How would you feel with this replies to some important and common events:

“I’m sorry you can’t get an A+ because no quiz can be completed perfectly”

“You can’t get a max credit score, as everyone has made a bad decision with even a small amount of money”

“I know your entitled to a $1,000 refund but your getting $800, why because the IRS said so”

“Amazon order for 100 Canned Unicorn Meat stuck at 93 out of 100, why because who the hell needs 100 cans of Canned Unicorn Meat?!?!?”

If you can never get a 5 out of 5 then the scale is 1 (or Zero) to 4, 4.5 or 4.9999999999. This can be innocuous in many cases, but when a potential raise or bonus relies on it then it’s time to get serious.

So what are some of the reasons why people thing this way.

  1. It gives people a goal to shoot for as there is always room for improvement
  2. No one is perfect
  3. The question or task can’t be completed fully/perfectly
  4. Its my opinion
  5. I want to control costs in my business unit by keeping bonuses/raises to a minimum

Lets go though these and I’ll give my answer to them.

#1 It gives people a goal to shoot for as there is always room for improvement

No it doesn’t. People will very quickly learn that you don’t ever give out 5/5’s and will say to themselves “4/5, nailed it”. You can’t perpetually Carrot on a Stick people, especially in such a transparent way. Lets say you have a goal where a developer need to write unit tests for their code. The developer, by the time of the review, has 100% code coverage. Do you A only give them a 4/5 or B give them a 5/5? The answer is pretty clear if your being honest. How do you get the developer to grow? Well add a new goal (have 50% of your code integration or approval tested).

This is a very easy conversation to have with someone. “Man Sam, you rocked the unit testing goal this year good job, 5 out of 5 man. Now the goal for next year is 100% unit test coverage and 50% integration test coverage, you ready?”

The person has met the goal, feels accomplishment, gets a reward and continues to evolve and grow.

#2 No one is perfect

Correct no one is perfect, but based on that your measuring imperfect people. I don’t know about you but I’ve never reviewed Jesus and I never will be. So based on that 5 stars is the max for a normal human. Now if I do ever work along side Jesus I would be pretty stoked to get a 4/5, as I think he’d blow the curve up for everyone else.

Objectively this doesn’t make sense. If your reluctant to give out 5 out of 5’s then chances are your being to unreasonable. Nitpicking is toxic to a organization and if your getting to the level of “man Tom’s performance was stellar this year but he did miss 2 days in April last year with a blown sphincter so I have to dock him”. It’s time for some introspection, and to give Tom a donut pillow.

#3 The question or task can’t be completed fully/perfectly

Then this isn’t’ really ratable in a fashion like this. Think about a Yes/No evaluation for it. Or 2 stars incomplete and 5 stars complete. If it can’t ever be complete then frame it as “was it completed or answered satisfactorily?”.

#4 It’s my opinion

Your totally entitled to your opinion, but you have to back this up with objective facts. This should be something you can justify within seconds of thinking it and convey to the person. “Sally I gave you a 4/5 on this because you were rather aggressive in some design meetings this year”. This is good, but “Sally you got 4/5, why because I said so” is not.

#5 I want to control costs in my business unit by keeping bonuses/raises to a minimum

You are a bad human being and an even worse manager of people. You should look at a career path as a test crash dummy or as taste tester for a formaldehyde production facility. If the company can’t afford raises or bonuses then communicate it to your people well in advance of reviews. People have a decent opinion of how well they met objectives and may be planning on that raise or bonus. You not giving them a good evaluation and not giving them a raise or bonus is a double whammy.

This could easily turn into “why bother, I tried my best met the goals and I still got a 4/5, time to head over to Careers 2.0”. An open, honest and slightly uncomfortable conversation with your employees can go a long way.

Thanks for reading and happy reviewing!

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