Where to Start with Business Processes

Identifying Opportunity to Improve

Avoiding the urge to merely work through a compiled list of processes, it’s worthwhile to seek out the most impactful opportunities. Within a business, the highest impact comes from complexity, frequency, delivering value, and costs.

Complex

In the late 1930s, airlines began including a preflight checklist for pilots and crew. With hundreds of potential pitfalls, the checklist simplifies the mental load before each flight. This allows flight crews to save time, turnaround flights faster, and ultimately provide a safer experience for passengers.

Every business has areas that would benefit from simplicity. In our engineering services, we have a series of tasks an engineer must complete before writing the first line of code. This pre-programming checklist is continually refined but it reduces errors, wasted effort, and confusion.

Frequent

When a fast food franchise is producing thousands of hamburgers a day, an extra few seconds on each burger compounds to a significant cost over time. Instituting a process around high frequency activities, those done most often, allows for greater predictability. With many jobs, building a process around high frequency tasks can also drive down the level of skill required to complete the work.

While most business will not become franchises, a repeatable pattern for frequent tasks makes room for growth and improves chances of success.

Valuable

Certain tasks are more valuable than others. In a software development agency, clients are ultimately paying for strategic planning and skilled execution. Establishing processes that guide the time spent can produce even greater value. Whether a service or product, it’s important to protect the value customers are expecting.

Delivering value with more precision and consistency can increase speed of delivery, improve quality, and improve profit margins.

Expensive

In restaurants, food and labor are the largest expenses. Unchecked, even the busiest restaurants struggle. Introducing a team to processes around costly areas of the business will protect the bottom line and pay dividends over time.

It’s also important to not get lost optimizing trivia expenses. Spending hours pouring over expense reports to save a few bucks creates tremendous opportunity cost.

Business Processes Checklist

The following list includes the foundational systems and processes consistent across almost any organization. When an organization feels haphazard or chaotic, it’s likely the team is feeling the weight of unclear expectations. Each process can be further extrapolated to one or more roles within the organization. Each roles should also include an understanding of who participates, who is accountable for completion, and who has final approval.

It’s unlikely that a team could sit down and map out all these processes at once. Their creation should be prioritized based on the highest need within the organization.

* Denotes processes that will likely vary for given teams or departments

Team Members

[ ] Team Member Schedules

[ ] Team Member Milestones

[ ] Team Member Culture Improvement

[ ] Team Member Professional Improvement

[ ] Team Member Feedback

[ ] Team Member Prospecting*

[ ] Team Member Hiring*

[ ] Team Member On Boarding*

[ ] Team Member Project Roles*

[ ] Team Member Skill improvement*

[ ] Team Member Performance Reviews*

[ ] Team Member Off Boarding*

[ ] Team Member Meetings Rhythms*

Clients / Customers

[ ] Prospect Nurturing

[ ] Prospect Ghosting

[ ] Prospect Milestones

[ ] Prospect Close/Win

[ ] Prospect Close/Lost

[ ] Client On boarding

[ ] Client Cultural Improvement

[ ] Client Retention

[ ] Client Education

[ ] Client Up-selling

[ ] Client Cross-selling

[ ] Client Referral Curation

[ ] Client Feedback

[ ] Client Off boarding

[ ] Client Meetings Rhythms

Projects

[ ] Project Prioritization

[ ] Project Staffing

[ ] Project Timelines

[ ] Project Kickoff

[ ] Project Progress Communication

[ ] Project Demo

[ ] Project Deployment / Launch / Execution

[ ] Project Meetings

[ ] Project Feedback

Moonshots

At New Story, we make time every few months for an exercise we call ‘Moonshots’. The term comes from the Apollo 11 spaceflight, which landed the first human on the moon in 1969*. At the time, the idea was truly audacious.

As a team, we get together and dream big. Usually after dinner and over drinks, we throw out big, wild ideas. They’re unlikely, crazy ideas. While the origin of our 3D Printer experiment came out of one of these sessions, the point is not to be practical. It’s about dreaming, not planning.

Controlled Chaos

Some suggestions get a laugh. Others make use uncomfortable. A few have a way of lingering, but most ideas die on the spot.  The point of moonshot is to spark inspiration. Once an idea is put out into the world, the next person can build on top of it. The ideas evolve.

We want to create a place for that to happen. It’s a safe place where ideas and nonsense can coexist. One idea sparks another. Some build upon their predecessor while others seem to nuke the flow. There are no bad ideas.

Eventually, it happens. This free exchange of thought begins to achieve the decided effect: inspiration. An idea is thrown onto the pile that causes a moment of pause from the group. While still a longshot, it somehow feels achievable though currently unexplored. These nuggets speed up the energy in the room and propel the conversation forward.

The excitement and suggestions finally wane. With our cognitive capacity exhausted, we push for a final round of ideas then break for the night. It can often feel like a chaotic whirlwind. Where observers might see a whimsical waste of time and effort, we see a mental victory. Breaking the shackles of rationality, we took the time to dance with our imagination.

The notion of dreaming bigger spills into our work constantly. Like a pair of dueling racers, team members push each other to challenge what’s possible. Over time, these bouts have a way of shaping a culture and staying with us. None one knows where the next great idea will come from. But it’s unlikely to be discovered by the people who aren’t willing to look for it.

 

*Alleged moon landing. Recounting the discussions I’ve had on this topic would require more time than any sane human is willing to commit.

New Year Ritual : Change Your Passwords (plus checklist)

In recent years, we’ve seen massive data breaches come across the headlines. Unfortunately, these reports represent a small percentage of the actual infractions. While our data is only as secure as the people entrusted with storing it, passwords are the first line of defense. Taking an hour or so once a year to update your most commonly used accounts (or as many as you can remember) could safeguard your information.

If you’ve been waiting for the right excuse to start using a password manager like 1Password or LastPass, a systematic password refresh would be great option. You could generate large, highly secure passwords and store them in a safe place.

Below is a quick checklist of common passwords you’ll likely want to reset. There are also great tools to help configure more secure passwords.

Personal Accounts

[ ] Banking Institutions

[ ] Credit Cards

[ ] Insurance Provider

[ ] Personal Email

[ ] Personal Website / Blog

[ ] Amazon

[ ] Facebook

[ ] Twitter

[ ] Instagram

[ ] LinkedIn

[ ] Youtube

[ ] Quora

Business Accounts

[ ] Business Email

[ ] Payroll Service

[ ] Invoicing Service (Xero, Quickbooks, Freshbooks, etc.)

[ ] Project Management Tool (Basecamp, Asana, Trello, etc.)

[ ] Communication Tools (Slack, GroupMe, Hipchat, etc.)

[ ] CRM (Salesforce, Hubspot, Campfire, etc)

[ ] Email Marketing (MailChimp, Constant Contact, Customer.io, etc)

[ ] Marketing Automation (PersistIQ, Mixmax, Salesloft, etc)

[ ] Form Submission (Jotform, Wufoo, FormStack, etc)


If you’re a security minded individual and interested in other tools to tighten up your digital diligence, here is a list of helpful privacy products.

Purpose Statement Framework

In the summer of 2018, I began feeling an increased tension around decision making. Growing up, we learn to decide between ‘right’ and ‘wrong’. As adults, there is more gray area and less objectivity. The right answer is rarely obvious. Our choices are less polarized.

If we are fortunate, we have the opportunity to choose between multiple great options too. Without a clear winner, this can lead to indecision or a lack of directed effort.

My intention in pursuing a personal purpose statement was simple. Create a standard to measure future decisions. More than a job description, it’s a declaration of intent and focus. We each have unique skills, interests, and passions. A well crafted purpose statement provides a framework for aligning each decision.

The process for me took months of discussion, reflection, and experimentation. Looking back, I’ve refined the process into a Framework for others to use. This article is the culmination of that effort.

It’s uncommon for people to share their Purpose Statement, . I’ve chosen to share my purpose statement as an example. Hundreds of hours, dozens of conversations, and five revisions led to one statement. Pioneer a more beautiful future for others. It encompasses core values and personal convictions. You can dive deeper into my personal purpose statement.

Now, enjoy the Purpose Statement Framework and your journey of self discovery.

Preparation

Make space. It’s unlikely that this process will take just a few hours. For me, it was an evolution over many months. To maintain continual momentum, setup a private place to take notes and record your thoughts. I used a private document on my personal computer. I added to it, reorganized it, and ultimately pulled from those sections to make this guide.

Do not share this document. The knowledge of it being visible to others will impede the open and honest flow of thoughts and ideas. You’ll likely discuss the pursuit with others but the notes should remain your own. The journey is for you and your future.

Engage Self-awareness Exercises

Personality assessments provide a great kickoff point. They’re loaded with valuable information and start laying a foundation to being thinking about how your mind works.

There are many types of self assessments. None are perfect, but each reveals something new about yourself that you way not have known. It’s not magic, but it does prompt your mind to focus on patterns and trends. Here are a few I found helpful:

Other’s I have heard of but haven’t tried include:

  • Colby
  • Brinkman

After each, the following questions should provide helpful time of reflection:

  • What affirmed what you already knew?
  • What new insights did you gain?
  • Which past experiences validate your learning?
  • Which past experiences disprove what you might have found that. Why?

Read Resources about Purpose and Values

Humans have been searching for meaning and purpose forever. As far as we can tell, this is a theme unique to our species and a symptom of our mental capabilities. Here are a few modern books that touch on the topic in diverse ways:

  • 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey
  • The Road Back to You by Ian Cron
  • Dare to Lead by Brené Brown (contains a Values Exercise)
  • The Art of Significance by Dan Clark
  • Extreme Ownership by Jacko Willink
  • The Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holiday
  • Principles by Ray Dalio
  • Mindset by Carol Dweck
  • Drive by Daniel Pink

Answer Historical Questions

Looking back throughout your personal history can often illuminate relevant trends and experiences. While we often forget day to day minutia, defining moments have a way of standing out. Some feel like scars but others inspire us. Why our mind anchored to those moments can reveal valuable truths.

  • When were 2-3 of your proudest moments?
  • When were 2-3 of your most shameful moments?
  • Who are 2-3 people you admire or respect? Why?
  • Who are 2-3 people you don’t admire or respect? Why?

Gain Perspective

Reach out to people whose opinion you value in different areas of life. The list should include successful professionals you admire, valued ‘family oriented’ people, and those whose personal discipline you respect. Leaning too heavily in one area of life could produce equally as unbalanced results in your own life.

I’ve found a simple, single question to be the most impactful and garner feedback from every people, “Do you have a person purpose statement?”

Once you’ve gotten their feedback, ask yourself, “Why did I choose these people over anyone else?”

Consolidate your Finding

Assuming you’ve been documenting your thoughts and findings along the way, begin to look for patterns. Which ideas are unique? Which ideas reemerge? Are there certain concepts that seem compelling?

Use the Goldilocks Method.

The goal of the Goldilocks Method is to sort things by too hot or too cold in order to land on something that’s just right. My original draft of a purpose statement was ‘leverage unlikely inputs to produce extraordinary outputs.’ It was revised for a variety of reasons, but the primary red-flag was that it was too sterile. The ‘inputs’ that were most important to me were actually people and the ‘outputs’ were lives changed. Talking about people with words like ‘inputs’ and ‘outputs’ lacked the emphasis on humanity I was striving for.

As you review the patterns you find, ask yourself:

  • Which word or phrases are too intense? Are some not intense enough?
  • Which are too rigid? Which are too ‘fluffy’? Why?
  • Which are too passive? Which are too assertive? Why?
  • Could it be more like this? Less like that?

Draft a Purpose Statement

I overthought this at first. Your first draft will likely be wrong, but just write something. From there, circle back on the Goldilocks Method to refine it. With each attempt, ask yourself:

  • Is it clear enough?
  • Would this help me decide between two choices?
  • Does this point toward a deeper ‘why’?

Share with a Core Group

Whether mentors or close peers, share what you’ve come up with. Resist the urge to defend it too rigorously, but get their perspective. Make sure they understand what you’re trying to accomplish and ask for specific feedback.

  • Does this seem like a fair representation
  • Does it make sense?
  • How would you summarize it?

Own it!

Don’t let the need for perfection bottleneck progress. Done is better than perfect. The emphasis to make it timeless can often overweight the importance. I decided to just look 10 years out. “Does this phrase give me enough direction and clarity for the next decade?”

If so, it’s time to own it.

Do you use a notebook? Write your new formed Purpose Statement on the first page. Maintain a blog? Perhaps a post that shares it and highlights your key findings. Most importantly, leverage it make your next decision. Big or small, see how it holds up.

Bonus Points

Once you’ve clearly defined a purpose statement, seek out a Mantra or Rally Cry. This is a shorter, declarative phrase that points back to your Purpose Statement and can be used to rally your mental focus. While it’s unlikely you’ll be in battle, this call quick prompt can center your mind quickly on the bigger picture purpose.

2018 Annual Report

The act of reflection continues to be the most impactful habit I’ve developed over the years. I’m continually amazed by how much growth can be seen in some areas of life while others seem to shrivel. I’ve broken down my Annual Report into the areas that matter most.

Also, pardon my typos. I had a lot of ground to cover and my usually proofreading process was too much mental energy.

Family

Our family has seen a lot of changes in 2018. From our immediate family, to extended family, it’s been marked by births, moves, and big announcements.

Welcome Rowan!

Our little red-headed bundle of smiles was born on May 21, 2018. She LOVES her big sister. Major milestones at the moment include sitting up on her own, eating real food, and a veracious smile.

Smyrna

Despite some early resistance, we made the move to Smyrna. Walkable to specialty coffee, the grocery store, and local restaurants it’s been a welcome change. The ride to and from work has been somewhat grueling, but I’ve hit my annual target for audio books and arriving home is worth it.

School for Avery

Avery started at a school down the road from our house (about a 10 minute walk) two days a week. It’s allowed her to meet a new group of friends, level up her sharing skills, and increase her immunity to communicable diseases. It’s had the added benefit of allowing Megan to meet other local parents.

Marine Deployment

My brother has been serving in the United States Marine Corp for about the last decade. This year, he shipped out of his third overseas deployment. I continue to be proud and inspired by his committed service. So much of the liberties I enjoy as a husband, father, and entrepreneur are a direct result of people serving to preserve our freedom.


Polar Notion

Founded in 2012 with Josh Wood, Polar Notion welcomed new team members, structural changes, and new service offerings.

New Team Members

In late 2018, we welcomed Kevin and Miruna to the Polar Notion team. Kevin is apprenticing within our engineering team while Miruna is rounding out our design team as a design apprentice. Their fresh perspectives and positive attitudes have raised our average and leave us eager to see what 2019 holds.

Transparent Salaries

As our Leadership Team has dove deeper into operational excellence, we were led to reevaluate compensation and how we handle professional growth within the organization. Pushing the limits on human centered business, transparent compensation felt like a natural next step. The goal was that each person could defend their salary and understand exactly what’s expected to move up.

We’ve defined the levels of growth and mapped key behaviors to categories such as Values, Culture, Evangelism & Sales, Leadership, Client Facing Skills, Industry Involvement, and Knowledge. We learned a lot in the process, but have been pleased with the results.

Friends and Family

Our design team has launched a monthly design program called Friends & Family. It provides a low cost, low commitment, friendly way to create a better brand experience. This is a major milestone because it allows us to continue serving small businesses while our skills and rates increase.

Imminent Survival

Near the end of 2017, a client defaulted on an invoice costing us over $100,000. It created a grueling start to the year, but through creative problem solving and team buy-in, we’ve made it through the worst of it.


New Story

In the summer of 2018, I eclipsed my second year at New Story at CTO. The most notable changes surround our rapid growth. Ten team members have started at New Story within the last 12 months.

Team Members

I have the fortune of leading the Tech Team alongside Matthew Marshall, but we’ve seen growth in every department.

Tech
Shane Ardell
Tim Whitacre
Vi Pham
Ops
Sam Ballmer
Gary Carrier
Genna Heidkamp
Brand
Annie Brannon
Nathan Bach
Katie Tynes
Growth
Ellen Paik

3D Home Printer

This was a HUGE milestone as a company and for the home construction industry in general. You can read more about that moment here, or watch the video.

Atlanta Office

Originally meeting from the Polar Notion office, New Story is now in a space of their own. There is still room, but it’s filling up quickly.

Saas Product (Spoilers)

We haven’t shared a lot publicly, but we’re packaging up our learnings as a housing organization and rolling out a Saas (software as a service) product to allow other organization to experience the same efficiencies that have been driving our organization forward. We’ve set our sights on ending global homelessness and are equipping other organizations and governments to join us.


Personal

Apparently there are certain fish that never stop swimming. Asleep or awake, they never stop moving. I’m not sure if that’s true but love the notion. As humans, we have a remarkable ability to collaborate and adapt. This section highlights person changes or milestones this year.

New Roles

Board Chair for Entreprenuers Organization‘s Accelerator Program.

Mentor for Founder CEOs at Atlanta Tech Village

New Habits

Hydration

Since running cross country in high school, I’ve always defaulted to water over any other beverage. On top regular trips to the water fountain throughout the day, I’ve added more thorough hydration to my morning ritual.

100 Somethin’

To get my blood flowing in the morning (inspired by Own Your Day), I’ve started doing 100 of some type of movement each morning. Squats, trunk twists, overhead press (unweighed), etc.

The whole process takes just a few minutes but immediately gets oxygen pumping to my brain.

Generous Followups

Most business people have a solid followup cadence for meetings and appointments. I took it up a notch by sending a direct message to the person who introed me to the person I met with and intro-ing that person to 1-3 other people. Example: I had a 30 minute coffee with Adam. Later that week: Send followup to Adam. Send thank you to whoever introed me to Adam. Make 1-3 intros to other people in my network Adam should meet.

New Tools

RealtimeBoard (https://realtimeboard.com)

A virtual whiteboard. I have never fallen so fast for a product. It does exactly what you’d hope and the collaborative nature is excellent. Personally, Polar Notion, and New Story are all using it now.

Notion (https://www.notion.so)

Wow, this tool has taken over my life. Best in class organizational structure for documents. It’s everything I wished was possible with Google Docs but couldn’t wait any longer.

Otter (https://otter.ai)

A native app for recording thoughts and meetings. I use it while I’m driving to riff on ideas and convert into articles later.

Lyft (https://www.lyft.com/)

After a year full of Uber scandals, enough was enough. Yeah, it’s more expensive but our dollars are votes.

Travel

In no particular order.

  • Las Vegas, NV
  • Tahoe, CA
  • Austin, TX
  • Chicago, IL
  • San Francisco, CA (2x)
  • Seattle, WA
  • Chattanooga, TN

Books

Building a StoryBrand: Clarify Your Message So Customers Will Listen

A great read if you looking to clarity your business’ message and position to customers. Also, the author has a worthwhile podcast that combines anecdotes with actionable insights.

Lost and Founder: A Painfully Honest Field Guide to the Startup World

A must read for founders. Whether you’re on your first business or fifth, it’s dispels common myths and resets expectations around starting a business, especially a tech startup.

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change

It’s a reminder of timeless truths that continue to yield extraordinary results. There is a lot of complex advise and insights, but Covey boils it down to the fundamentals. Likely worth revisiting each year.

Play Bigger: How Pirates, Dreamers, and Innovators Create and Dominate Markets

Great read for marketers and founders about the art and science of creating a ‘Category’. Rather than trying to compete with the noise of a crowded marketing, creating a new Category and becoming it’s king has a proven path to success… if you can do it right.

The Creative Curve: How to Develop the Right Idea, at the Right Time

Creativity isn’t magic. We are all creative creatures and it comes back to a balance of consuming and trying stuff. Great for people who view them selves as ‘non creatives’ or other who think they have some magic ability. The brilliant minds we elevate as a culture we’re too different from us, which is worth remembering and this book breaks that truth down well.

Own the Day, Own Your Life: Optimized Practices for Waking, Working, Learning, Eating, Training, Playing, Sleeping, and Sex

Rather than complicating health, Aubrey Marcus breaks it down into focusing on just one day. Planning the perfect, thoughtful day. A lot of great health and fitness tips, combined with a casual yet scientific perspective. Our life is merely a serious of choices, he simplifies the importance of choosing well.

Atomic Habits: Tiny Changes, Remarkable Results

In listening, it reminiscent of The Power of Habit (from my 2016 reading list) but the tips and principles are worth repeating. Listening to Atomic Habits around the same time as Own the Day really drilled home the point. They compliment each other well. Also, the author (James Clear) has an active twitter account full of great habit-forming wisdom.

Thirst: A Story of Redemption, Compassion, and a Mission to Bring Clean Water to the World

Our team at New Story has long admired Charity Water. Ironically, Matthew and Brett both applied to joined their team. Fortunately for the earth’s homeless population, they didn’t get the opportunity. 😉 Scott Harrison’s journey and life transformation is inspiring. It provides useful wisdom for nonprofits of all ages. Not a nonprofit leader, if you have a pulse you’ll likely connect with Scott’s inner wrestlings and vulnerability.

This Is Marketing: You Can’t Be Seen Until You Learn to See

Seth Godin continues to rank among my favorite authors and thinkers. He connects dots that others don’t see and continually challenges others to think differently. To think better. Make things better by making better things. I bought the preorder, the special edition, and some other thing associated with the launch.

Dear Seth, take my money.

Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts.

A Polar Notion team member helped me climb aboard the Brene Brown bandwagon in 2017 and Dare to Lead prompted me to settle deeper in my seat. Her practical approach to human psychology provides a need voice and her unapologetic pursuit of breaking down the walls between people is motivating. If you lead people, this will challenge commonly held beliefs. If you don’t see yourself as a leader: read this book, change your mind, and get started.

Alie Heenan your confidence and courage led me to give Brene a chance. For that, I’m grateful.

It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy at Work

Jason Fried and DHH provide an extreme anchor to the hustle-grind-madness that has come to define startup and entrepreneurial ventures. It’s easy to reject their position at face value, but when you hear their passion for a better style of workplace it’s worth the dissonance. It’s unlikely any business can implement everything they mention, but don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. Their investments in human-centered work are only the beginning of a massive shift we will experience in the next 10-20 years.

Matthew Marshall, thanks for the advance copy. I’m love building a world class company culture with you.

The Great Game of Business, Expanded and Updated: The Only Sensible Way to Run a Company

Rather than keeping team members in the dark, The Great Game of Business showcases what’s possible when you trust people to show up with their whole selves. Exemplifying a transparent business, it’s refreshing to hear how successful their unique recipe of trust and openness has become.

Thanks Adam Walker and Shantel Khleif for the recommendation here.

The Servant: A Simple Story About the True Essence of Leadership

If you can’t make time to read this annually, you should start by reading it daily. It’s a powerful story about leading from a place of submission and servanthood. Tim Dorr turned me back onto it and I continue to be challenged and inspired.

To Sell Is Human: The Surprising Truth about Moving Others

As humans, we’re always selling whether it’s in our job description or not. When my daughter brings me the remotes and says, “watch Muana”… she is selling. Rather than rejecting the notion, To Sell is Human adds new color and clarity to how we bring our ideas into the world.

Never Lose a Customer Again: Turn Any Sale into Lifelong Loyalty in 100 Days

Customer experience is more important than even. If you’re a business owner who thinks sales is the key to growing your business, pause for a moment. Customer retention is the backbone to business growth and this book provides tips, strategies, and a way of thinking about customer advocacy.

Unshakeable: Your Financial Freedom Playbook

Tony Robbins simplifies basic financial strategy. He breaks down wealth creation, retirement planning, personal spending and more. If you’re ‘playing the stockmarket’, this conservative approach to playing the long game might be just what the doctor ordered.

The Thank You Economy

Gary Vaynerchuk has strong opinions shared intensely, but his predictions and understanding of how human connections have and will shape the economy is impressive. What’s most impressive is how well the content has help up so many years after publication. So much is still right on point.

The Art of Significance: Achieving the Level Beyond Success

I’ve been heavily focused since September on developing a personal purpose statement. This book gave some helpful tips and insights. Nothing comes to mind off the top of my head, but was worth nodding along to.

Great by Choice

Jim Collins scientific approach to business analysis is illuminating. A great read for founders and business leaders working to build a lasting business of significance. Spoiler: It rarely happens by accident.

The Road Back to You: An Enneagram Journey to Self-Discovery

The New Story team read through this book together and we’ve engaged in dozens of meaningful conversations. It describes each personality type of the Enneagram. I’m an eight (challenger) with seven (enthusiast) tendencies. This book was the origin of a lot of reflection and self discovery. It also sparked great conversations between me and Meg.

Thanks Annie Brannon, fellow 8, for pushing this forward like only a Challenger would. 🙂

No More Cold Calling: The Breakthrough System That Will Leave Your Competition in the Dust

I’m not the ‘cold call’ kind of salesman. I’ve always found it to lack empathy and pretty inefficient. This book talks about the value of investing in current customers to drive referrals. It lands on the importance of relational business.

If we’re the average of the 5 people we spend the most time with: Kara Brown, you continue to raise my average. Thanks for the suggestion.

Pitch Anything: An Innovative Method for Presenting, Persuading, and Winning the Deal

A helpful guide for getting and keeping people’s attention. It’s easy to assume people say ‘no’ because they don’t want something when more often than not it’s because we’ve poorly engaged them.

Crushing It!: How Great Entrepreneurs Build Their Business and Influence-and How You Can, Too

A firehose of social media insights and marketing expertise. It’s on the other end of the spectrum from It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy at Work but gives some helpful advise for building a business. Especially in the early years, the lift is often quite heavy.

Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise

Perhaps my favorite book of 2018, Peak talks about the effort required to achieve mastery in almost anything. Unwilling to settle for the idea of ‘natural ability’, he presents compelling evidence that supports the thoughtful, consistent student. As someone who never really excelled at anything growing up, I’ve felt the compound effect of his insights throughout my adult life. The importance of consistent, deliberate practice rings load in this book and it’s value has been felt thoroughly in my own life.

Managing Oneself + The Effective Executive: The Definitive Guide to Getting the Right Things Done

I lumped these together because they’re so similar. Akin to The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Peter Druker has a succinct, straight forward way to hitting the essentially for personal growth. Special thanks to the Dave Gerhardt and David Cancel from Drift for recommending.

Measure What Matters: How Google, Bono, and the Gates Foundation Rock the World with OKRs

Intent on finding a better process for tracking goals, we read through Measure What Matters with New Story Leadership this year. Stilling looking for a tool that’s not Excel to track progress but the shared vocabulary and simple framework has proven helpful. We’ve bounced around a little with the best way of breaking annual, quarterly, and monthly OKRS into personal, department, and company items but it’s a work in progress that’s picking up steam.

Smartcuts: How Hackers, Innovators, and Icons Accelerate Success

I’ve always struggle with the idea of social norms or unwritten rules. Smartcuts spotlights entreprenuers and innovators who found broke these cultural constraints to achieve extraordinary results. For myself, I’ve begun referring to the idea as ‘coloring outside the lines’, and this book echos that ethos.

Sarah Lee, I own you one here. The mention of DHH put me over the edge.

Sell or Be Sold: How to Get Your Way in Business and in Life

We’re either selling something (a service, a widget, a preference, an idea) or being sold by someone else. It can create a paradigm shift for most people but seems ideal for founders or sales people.

The Obstacle Is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumph

As I mentioned in my personal recap from 2018, we had some major challenges at Polar Notion. This book came at just the right time and served as a reminder that challenges are part of the journey. Rich with stoic principles, it’s a worthwhile read for anyone who has felt the urge to complain about almost anything.

Be Obsessed or Be Average

Grant Cardone is a madman, but a great reminder about the importance of finding something you enjoy and throwing your whole self into it. I have a tendency to obsess things, so left me feeling like I was in good company.

Principles: Life and Work

I enjoyed hearing Ray’s thoughtfilled approach to almost everything. Rather than viewing life as a random series of events, he provides a wealth of knowledge and insight about distilling thoughts into repeatable processes. Instead of relearning, his approach to principled living was impactful and has led me to think more about the ‘why’ behind decisions.

Top Posts

Annual Reflection Framework

Bringing Humanity Back to Email

Unbridled Diversity

Work Life Harmony

Purpose Eats Work for Breakfast


Special Mentions

I attended two funerals this year. Two men whose legacy has had a lasting impact on my life. I’d spent little time with them personally but their children and grandchildren have marked my life beyond compare.

Bob Ardell

I came to know Bob Ardell through his son, Jason Ardell. For years, Jason has been a close friend and early mentor as I began a career in technology. Through stories shared, it was evident that Bob was an avid reader for decades and continually invested in his family.

Read Obituary

Warren Wood

I met Warren for the first time in middle school. He was grandfather to Josh, one of my longest friends and business partner. Warren’s son, Mike, continues to display an advanced work ethic and stoic resolve that seem to have been a direct result of Warren’s leadership and modeling.

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Annual Reflection Framework

Another year is gone in a blink.

Over half a million minutes of life lived. Taking time reflect on the status of key areas can help ensure the past was well spent and the future is more impactful. Borrowing from the techniques of others, the most prominent being the 4 Burner Theory*, I put together an exercise for myself to frame this valuable reflection.

I put aside about 3 hours and worked through each section. Thoughts, ideas, and insights began pouring out. The goal is not a resulting task list for the next year. The purpose is to frame yourself around what matters most. Each year should involve more of what matters and less of what doesn’t.

It’s about thoughtful action, not perfection.

Also, I will not be publishing my own reflections. The ratings and insights are (and should be) convicting and highly personal. It’s unrealistic to think a public audience wouldn’t bias my thoughts or vulnerability. Growth and maturity is the goal.

* The 4 Burner Theory. You’ll notice my prompt is different, but the intention is quite similar.

  1. The first burner represents your family.
  2. The second burner is your friends.
  3. The third burner is your health.
  4. The fourth burner is your work.

Family

Overall Rating (1-5 stars): ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Spouse.

Rating (1-5 stars): ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Greatest Success?

Greatest Failure?

What would it take to increase 1 star in the coming year?

What is one upcoming change I should prepare for?

Children.

One summary per child:

Rating (1-5 stars): ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Greatest Success?

Greatest Failure?

What would it take to increase 1 star in the coming year?

What is one upcoming change I should prepare for?

Siblings.

One summary per sibling:

Rating (1-5 stars): ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Greatest Success?

Greatest Failure?

What would it take to increase 1 star in the coming year?

What is one upcoming change I should prepare for?

Parents.

One summary per parent:

Rating (1-5 stars): ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Greatest Success?

Greatest Failure?

What would it take to increase 1 star in the coming year?

What is one upcoming change I should prepare for?


Interpersonal

Overall Rating (1-5 stars): ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Friends.

One summary per friend (deep friendships):

Rating (1-5 stars): ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Greatest Success?

Greatest Failure?

What would it take to increase 1 star in the coming year?

What is one upcoming change I should prepare for?

Mentors.

One summary per mentor:

Rating (1-5 stars): ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Greatest Success?

Greatest Failure?

What would it take to increase 1 star in the coming year?

What is one upcoming change I should prepare for?

Mentees.

One summary per mentee:

Rating (1-5 stars): ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Greatest Success?

Greatest Failure?

What would it take to increase 1 star in the coming year?

What is one upcoming change I should prepare for?

Local Community.

Rating (1-5 stars): ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Greatest Success?

Greatest Failure?

What would it take to increase 1 star in the coming year?

What is one upcoming change I should prepare for?

Global Community.

Rating (1-5 stars): ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Greatest Success?

Greatest Failure?

What would it take to increase 1 star in the coming year?

What is one upcoming change I should prepare for?


Health

Overall Rating (1-5 stars): ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Physical Health.

Rating (1-5 stars): ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Greatest Success?

Greatest Failure?

What would it take to increase 1 star in the coming year?

What is one upcoming change I should prepare for?

Mental Health.

Rating (1-5 stars): ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Greatest Success?

Greatest Failure?

What would it take to increase 1 star in the coming year?

What is one upcoming change I should prepare for?


Professional / Work

Overall Rating (1-5 stars): ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Fulfillment.

Rating (1-5 stars): ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Greatest Success?

Greatest Failure?

What would it take to increase 1 star in the coming year?

What is one upcoming change I should prepare for?

Performance.

Rating (1-5 stars): ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Greatest Success?

Greatest Failure?

What would it take to increase 1 star in the coming year?

What is one upcoming change I should prepare for?

Your Boss / Supervisor.

Rating (1-5 stars): ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Greatest Success?

Greatest Failure?

What would it take to increase 1 star in the coming year?

What is one upcoming change I should prepare for?

Your Team.

Rating (1-5 stars): ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Greatest Success?

Greatest Failure?

What would it take to increase 1 star in the coming year?

What is one upcoming change I should prepare for?

Effective Leadership Teams

Over the last few years, I’ve watched first-hand as two teams transition out of reactive decision making and into more proactive choices. In both cases, defined and organized leadership teams are at the center. Regularly confronting organizational patterns and trends becomes a gateway to improved performance. It also provides increased alignment around company vision, values, and behaviors.

Beyond traditional c-level leadership, interdisciplinary leadership teams can also be highly impactful. Take Business Operations for instance. Operations is one part of the organization’s needs, but a growing company will eventually require more specialization.  Selecting key members within operations will allow for increased buy-in and deeper focus are the vital part of the organization.

In a recent session with our Operations team at Polar Notion, we distilled the form and function into the following concepts.

The Purpose

We should explore current operational pains, in order to produce lasting organizational gains. The discussion time should focus on things that are high impact, high frequency, and high volume.

High Impact items are those which present substantial cost, unsustainable inefficiencies, or significant opportunities. A problem around company culture, for instance, runs the risk of effecting every part of the business.

High Frequency problems are felt on a regular and recurring basis. Assuming all things are equal, a pain felt daily is more important than one felt annually.

High Volume problems impact multiple people. While it’s important to address problems of all sizes, the cost is much great when felt in mass.

Ideally, issues appropriately sized for a leadership team would overlap in these areas. The goal shouldn’t be to tackle them all at once. If appropriately prioritized, the gains and improvements will likely compound.

Agenda

Consistent agenda’s are crucial of standing meetings. Here is a simple example we’ve tried for the operations team.

  1. Everyone brings 1-2 problems and proposed solutions.
  2. Each person shares problems.
  3. Nominate a ‘winner’ based on highest value to organization.
  4. Chosen problem is unpacked in more details along with proposed solutions*.
  5. Remainder of time is identifying and discussing solutions.

*Solution should include:

  • Classification of problem (people problem, strategy problem, cash problem, execution problem).
  • Proposed action?
  • Who is needed?
  • What does success look like?

Onward

Continuous, forward movement is crucial for an organization of any size. A healthy cadence of tackling the biggest problems can lead to organizational maturity, growth, and a more enjoyable work experience for all.

Big Meetings and Better Choices

There are few things more costly than large, group meetings. Whether we realize it or not, they are the greatest expense of a business. More than salaries, benefits, or a physical building.

More than utilities, inventory, benefits, or a physical building. They may be needed, but it’s a tall order to make sure they are worth it.

They disrupt the day, occupy limited time, and become bottlenecks to productivity. If Deep Work is where we experience a state of flow and professional achievement, large meetings usually impede that progress.

Here are some strategies to build better meetings.

Choose smaller blocks.

There are plenty of cases where large meetings are needed. Whose says they have to be long? Many businesses default to one hour block. Unfortunately, stuff expands to the space you give it. How different might a meeting flow if everyone knew there was only 30 minutes? 15 minutes? There is nothing magical about an hour, though it seems to be a common interval. For an average work day, 1 hour meeting consumes over 10% of your time.

Review priorities regularly.

As I mentioned in weekly rituals, priorities are constantly evolving. Coincidentally, some meetings are scheduled weeks or months in advance. Before blindly attending, evaluate it’s relevance and have the courage to cancel if it’s no longer necessary. Not only does this free up precious time, but it also respects the time of other attendees as well.

Keep them small.

Other than a demo, I’m skeptical that a meeting with more than 6 people is useful for everyone. Meetings should block as little time as necessary and involve as few people as possible.

Come prepared.

Meetings should have an agenda ahead of time and all parties should come prepare with their contribution. Nothing is more useless than a directionless meeting or one in which everyone isn’t prepared to contribute.

Opt out.

‘Do you need me in this meeting’ is a fair question. Imagine if you don’t understand why you were present you would have permission to leave. More people would welcome this than you might expect. Excusing yourself is more noble and respectable than merely staying because you were invited.

Protect your schedule.

I’ve found meetings work best when they bookend larger chunks of heads-down time. Rather than slicing a 3 hour block in half with a meeting, you’ll have more uninterrupted time if you schedule the meeting at the beginning or the end of that time.

Introduce a Reschedule Limit.

If a meeting gets rescheduled more than twice, perhaps it wasn’t that much of a priority in the first place. When considering how many people are impacted, the act of finding an opening on everyone’s calendar is an even greater drain.

Batch productive time.

Allowing mental space to do great work is important. Identify key days that can be free from meetings. These prolonged strengths of work can often become an oasis from otherwise cluttered schedules. At Polar Notion, we start sprints on Wednesdays and end on Tuesdays. This makes Tuesday and Thursday crucial days in making progress. These days should be as clear as possible.

Shoulder to shoulder

Mentorship and learning is one exception. Meetings that fuel a deeper understanding, rich decision making, and professional development are crucial. We’ll try to invite team members into meetings where they could learn something new or practice a skill they are developing. If you see a particular meeting as a learning opportunity, speak up, make sure you’re in the room, and make sure it was worth it.

Values First, Always

In 2016, the team at Polar Notion interviewed a passionate and polished software engineer. Fresh out of code school, she seemed focused, articulate, and eager to gain experience in the industry. The technical interview was organized and deliberate. From the first introduction we remarked on her poise and confidence. From twenty applicants, we had narrowed the list down to just two candidates. Geraldine Galue was one of them.

Our team suspected Geraldine would thrive in any role. She was a teachers assistant after graduation, maintained a nonprofit’s website, and even landed a spotlight in the local startup news. Unfortunately, the other candidate possessed more of the requisite experience. With much reservation, we declined Geraldine’s application. This was in February of 2016.

New Opportunities

By fall of that year, a lot changed. Polar Notion was moving full steam ahead, but I had also taken on a CTO position at New Story. A few months into my role at New Story, the work was pilling up. For months, my focus was around consolidating the external systems and reducing the technical debt. We were well underway, building a robust system to store the organization’s flood of information.

The team began looking for a full time engineer with years of experience, to fill the gap. We realized it wouldn’t be easy, but were only beginning to understand the difficulty of aligning culture fit with software engineering skills.

After a few weeks of looking and a number of candidates weren’t quite right, we began to discuss alternative options. I remember the phone call and pacing outside the office talking to the team in San Fransisco. Tasked with finding the candidate, I was hitting a bottleneck when the founders vetted for organizational fit (ie culture). Weighing out our options, a question arose: ‘What is more important, skills or culture?’

After an awkward pause and rumbling hesitation, Brett spoke up, “Culture. They’ve gotta be good, but definitely a culture fit.”

I bounced back almost immediately. “To be clear, you’d opt for an engineer of untested skills who fit perfect into the culture instead of an amazing engineer who wasn’t quite right culturally?”

“Yes”

This was a defining moment for me at New Story. The company was picking up steam and pushing for big goals. Culture was always championed but this moment felt appropriate to settle for ‘good enough’. Companies cast a great vision, but seem willing to compromise on the details. When push came to shove, I half-expected a side conversation with Brett advocating for the fast win and the highest performer.

That conversation never happened.

This interaction was a glimpse of true organizational integrity. It communicated to me that “We know who we are, we won’t compromise on our values, and we won’t ask you to do it either.” The call strengthen my belief in the team, and further endeared me their cause.

Something else became crystal clear during this call; I already knew our engineer. Walking back inside, I began drafting the email to Geraldine.

Unlocking Potential

Two years later, I’m thrilled by all we’ve accomplish together. In the early months, she stepped in to polish and support the product. Her full-time availability augmented my fractional availability. I’d work in the early mornings while she would keep things rolling during normal work hours.In hindsight, it was instrumental to me staying involved with New Story. Her self-directed style and tenacity allowed me to maintain my focus in other areas. For this, I’m beyond grateful.

She exudes positivity and team spirit. One of our most heralded values at New Story is something we call ‘team of founders’. It’s not about grunt work. It is an attitude of teamwork, humility, and willingness to do what is needed. “That’s not my job” is the antithesis of a team of founders. For nearly two years, Geraldine did what was needed to support New Story and my role. Where many engineers may have been burned, she continued to show up with enthusiasm and a smile.

In recent months, I’ve reflected on this level of commitment. While it speaks volumes of her, it illuminates one of my greatest failures as a leader. In her diligence, I failed to advocate for her personal growth and career aspirations. I allowed myself to be distracted by competing priorities. Her humble pursuit of excellence, a strength and company value, never screamed for attention. She has been patient and consistent.

As we head into her third year at New Story, I’m thrilled for the opportunity to course correct. Her skills and abilities have grown significantly during her time here and she is indispensable to the organization. In the coming months, she will be taking the reins of the original system we began building together in 2016.

While much of the tech team develops a new product, Geraldine will own the engineering demands of our current system. Our operations depend on it every day. It maintains thousands of donors, tens of thousands of donations, millions of dollars in contributions, and each recipient New Story has impacted around the globe. It’s complex and sophisticated. I look forward to seeing her rise to the challenge.

Geraldine, you are an inspiration and a friend. You have been patient and gracious as I learn to lead within such a unique organization. Thank you for still trusting me and believing fully in the work we are doing. It’s a delight to see how far you’ve come and I know this is only the beginning. You embody what it means to be a team of founders.

Boldly forward!