You have to prioritize!

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If you want to have the most impact you have to prioritize! But how? Based on what criteria?

Do a little of everything? Pick what’s top of your list and work your way down? Do whatever comes to mind and grabs your interest at the moment? Don’t know, so rather stall and don’t do anything at all?

Well, the above approaches don’t seem like great strategies, so let’s take a more structured approach instead.

At Amazon there are limitless opportunities – always – and as a result, we constantly need to prioritize and make trade-offs. Actually, when candidates ask me in interviews what the hardest part of working at Amazon is, I tell them “it’s to decide what not to do”.

There is often quite some ambiguity on how one should make such decisions. I see this across individuals and organizations, way more often than I would have expected. Most people have a good grasp of how they should prioritize, but then they mix and muddy things as they get into the details.

Prioritization is about discipline – both in thinking, as well as in execution.

The operational discipline is something you need to develop for yourself. The mental model is easier to share though. Here is a prioritization framework that works in most cases.

How to prioritize

  1. P0: Things that HAVE to be done to support a strategic goal or prevent a strategic risk. Those are typically set top-down as company or organizational goals. If things MUST be done to support those organizational priorities, they need to be treated as non-negotiable (P0s). The important thing though is that this only applies to blockers (!) for such goals; it doesn’t include all of the nice-to-have things one could do for that space. Nice to have work must stand on its own cost-benefit analysis. It’s not a P0 if it’s not a blocker without a feasible workaround!
  2. P1-3: Things that provide the highest ROI (return of investment) / best cost-benefit ratio in sorted order. Everything else you do need to be evaluated under the criteria of ‘most bang for the buck’. Don’t spend energy on something that will be useful in the future (hopefully), but not just yet. If it will yield a higher return than what you’re doing right now, stop doing what you do and switch over; if it doesn’t, then double down and finish what you started. Sort the things that you need to do by ROI, nothing else.
  3. Exceptions from the rule. There are some reasons why you might have to invest in some projects with lower ROI. The clearest is if you hit a scaling limit by putting more people on a problem. If adding more people to a project doesn’t scale your delivery pace (close to) linearly, you should deploy them somewhere else. Similarly, if you need to make investments to lower your operational cost or substantially increase future delivery speed (e.g. re-architecture), you need to prioritize those accordingly. However, I might argue that those effects can and should also be quantified and expressed in an ROI decision. The other reason to keep some capacity for work that is not ROI-prioritized is to diversify your opportunities and/or make room for experiments to explore new areas. Be very conscious though, as to how much time and energy you want to devote to such activities.

Pitfalls to avoid

Don’t mix criteria. If you make ROI decisions, make ROI decisions. Don’t mix ROI and opportunity or something else.

If you go to a supermarket and shop for oranges, all other things equal, you will pick the ones at the lowest price. You will not pick a bunch of the lowest priced ones and another bunch of the expensive ones, just because they are there. ROI is your metric, stick to it. Opportunity only tells you that you can buy oranges, it doesn’t tell you that the price is right.

Side note: ROI doesn’t need to mean dollars – it means the impact (return) of your resources (investment) on the metric you care about most (e.g. cost, speed, quality, precision, satisfaction).

Don’t take previous decisions as gospel. Don’t block yourself by perceived constraints or previous decisions. As you get more data and understanding, challenge previous assumptions! For example, a goal is not a value in itself, it might have been set based on an incomplete understanding of the total opportunity. As you understand the opportunity space better, re-examine previous goals – if they no longer express the most important thing to do, make a pitch to change the goal!

Elephants get chained when they are young and too weak to break those chains. They learn that chains define their limits. As they get older, they don’t even try to break those chains anymore, even though they easily could. Don’t be chained by previous assumptions, re-evaluate what you know and question what you believe as you learn more!

Invest the intellectual energy to set strong and data-driven priorities. Exercise the operational discipline to focus on those goals without distraction. Nurture the curiosity, flexibility, and courage to revisit those decisions and underlying data to verify that you are still pursuing the right goals.

 


Did you like this article? Want to read more?

I will keep posting articles here and I have them lined up way into summer 2020. However if you want to get it all in one comprehensive, structured, and grammar-checked (!) view, check out our new book:

 

Put on your oxygen mask first - book cover

Put On Your Own Oxygen Mask First

A practical guide to living healthier, happier and more successful in 52 weekly steps

By Alfons and Ulrike Staerk

ISBN 9781077278929

Find it on Amazon: Paperback, Kindle

 

If you like what you’re reading, please consider leaving a review on Amazon. If you don’t like it, please tell us what we can do better the next time. As self-published authors we don’t have the marketing power of big publishing houses. We rely on word of mouth endorsements through reader reviews.

Throwing Spaghetti on the Wall…

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Have you ever heard someone say: “Don’t just throw spaghetti on the wall and see what sticks.”?

Well, obviously that’s not a good strategy to understand priorities and inform a future course of action. It’s also messy and a little disgusting…

A much better approach is to understand problems and drill down to root causes, identifying cause and effect correlations, and then formulating a set of hypotheses on how to influence those root causes. But let’s start from the beginning…

The spaghetti approach

Here is how I know when a PM interview doesn’t go well:

Me: “Interesting problem. How did you find out how to solve it?
Aspiring PM: “I did A/B testing and looked at the results.
Me: “Sounds cool, how did you know what to test?
Aspiring PM: “Well, we tried out a bunch of things, and then picked the one that showed the best results.

That’s not experimentation, at least not in a scientific sense, that’s classic throwing spaghetti on the wall and seeing what sticks. It’s expensive. With this method, you will find the right solution only by brute force or sheer luck. More often than not, the true solution and needle mover will remain elusive.

If you want to get to the true best global solution through experimentation, you need to have a plan first!

Drop any preconceived notions of ‘the right solutions’. In fact, burn your list. Instead, start from identifying the root causes and focus your experiments on understanding what drives those root causes.

The scientific Method

Experimentation is like throwing pebbles. If you have a plan where to throw them, you will likely hit your targets with a few throws. If you don’t, you will need a LOT of pebbles to hit anything worthwhile.

Here’s how you develop a plan before you start throwing your precious stack of pebbles:

Step 1: Root causes – What is the problem?

Start with identifying the problem. Then ask yourself what causes that problem. List all the drivers that you can identify from the data and observations that you have available.

Check for causations. Are those drivers really causing the root problem, or are they just correlated? Drill all the way down until, based on the data you have available, you cannot draw clear cause-effect relationships anymore.

Step 2: Hypothesis – Enter the unknown!

Up to here, causations were directly supported by existing data and observations. Now they are no longer, and you need to find ways to fill your data and knowledge gaps. You start making a plan for throwing your pebbles.

Start to develop hypotheses for the cause-effect relationships for which you don’t have clear data. Check if there are any drivers that you might have missed. Where do you have hunches (informed guesses), but no data?

Step 3: Experimentation – Closing the data gaps.

You have several brilliant but untested hypotheses. Now is the time to come up with a plan to put those hypotheses to the test. It’s time to develop experiments that can validate your hypotheses and provide you with the missing data.

Be clear as to what data specifically you need to get from an experiment to validate your root cause hypothesis. You can get a lot of data out of experiments, but not all of it will truly correlate to the specific needle that you want to move.

Think creatively and broadly as you get into designing your experiment. Not every experiment needs to be a big engineering project.

There are many ways to get data. Experiments can be product implementations, but they can also be very simple initial and manual tests with small groups of users or user research studies. Of course, the closer your experiment is to a large scale production roll-out, the more precise your data will be. However, you don’t always need that precision for the initial validation of an idea that will inform the next steps in a project.

The faster you can get results, the better. Sometimes you need to build something out in scale to get the right data; more often, you don’t. There are no bonus points for expensive and slow tests.

Step 4: Refinement – What have you learned?

Look at the data. See what hypotheses are validated and which ones are not.

Don’t leave it with that simple checklist though. Reflect on how your cause-effect framework might have changed with the new data and insights. Does the experiment’s data indicate new root causes that you were previously unaware of?

Finally, ask yourself if you have answered enough of your root cause questions to build your MVP, or if you need more experimentation and data to ensure you will head out in the right direction.

Sticking points

  • Experimentation is great!
  • More specifically, targeted experimentation is invaluable to get missing data and understand your space.
  • Just trying out stuff, on the other hand, is wasteful and will likely increase confusion instead of reducing it!

 


Did you like this article? Want to read more?

I will keep posting articles here and I have them lined up way into summer 2020. However if you want to get it all in one comprehensive, structured, and grammar-checked (!) view, check out our new book:

 

Put on your oxygen mask first - book cover

Put On Your Own Oxygen Mask First

A practical guide to living healthier, happier and more successful in 52 weekly steps

By Alfons and Ulrike Staerk

ISBN 9781077278929

Find it on Amazon: Paperback, Kindle

 

If you like what you’re reading, please consider leaving a review on Amazon. If you don’t like it, please tell us what we can do better the next time. As self-published authors we don’t have the marketing power of big publishing houses. We rely on word of mouth endorsements through reader reviews.

What do Lord Kelvin and Peter Drucker have in common?

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Probably the most famous quote from management guru Peter Drucker is:

If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it. – Peter Drucker (1909-2005)

However, Scientist Lord Kelvin beat him to the punch and called out a similar principle even earlier:

If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it. – Lord Kelvin (1824–1907)

For one thing, this shows again that Physicists are usually beating everyone else to exciting insights about how the world works. 🙂

Lord Kelvin also found the second law of thermodynamics, which postulates that everything will eventually end in unstructured chaos anyway, but that’s another story, so let’s not get distracted.

While I full-heartedly agree to the above principle about measuring, I would extend it to:

If you don’t know what you want to manage, you’re wasting your time measuring. Likewise, if you’re not committed to do what it takes to improve a metric, you might as well not bother measuring it at all.

All right, after that motivational downer, I want to reflect a little bit on metrics and reporting, what we should measure, and how we should think and talk about those numbers.

How to think about metrics

Why we care about metrics

Impact and outcomes (Output metrics) – In all we do, we prioritize and target our energy on doing a few things that we believe have the most impact on a given customer or business outcome. There are many things we decide not to do to keep that focus. Once we’ve done what we have set out for, we’d better know if our believes and assumptions were right (i.e., if we can build upon them) or wrong (i.e., what we can learn from them). Metrics help us to track whether our actions lead to the anticipated outcomes. They help us identify where we need to course-correct.

Defects and actions (Input metrics) – As hinted above, not all plans work as anticipated. Looking at the right (input) metrics helps us see where things don’t develop according to plan and prediction. Once we are aware of those areas, we can assess impact, and develop strategies to fix the issues. Input metrics are typically leading indicators, and while we care about the effects and outcomes, input metrics are where we can learn why things don’t quite work and take proper actions. Here is a quick read-up on input versus output metrics: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/focus-inputs-alfons-staerk/

Early warning (Health metrics) – Last not least, metrics help us to avoid being blindsided. Like a canary in the coal mine, a good set of ‘early warning’ metrics help us avoid to discover an issue through an escalation, and instead proactively identifying it ourselves. No one wants to get an angry email from a customer or their boss.

When you develop the set of metrics that you want to track for your product and program, you want to make sure to track all three categories. Each of them is equally important and serves a specific purpose. However, you need to think about how you use them strategically and intentionally.

How we track and report metrics

Outcome metrics (impact and outcomes) are the ultimate goal, but they typically lag and move slowly. You want to present them to leadership and stakeholders, but do you want to do it weekly? Do they change fast enough? What’s the right forum for them (quarterly, monthly, or weekly reports)? If you present them weekly for reference, are they the data that you want to draw attention to every week?

Input metrics are critical to managing your product and program. They are leading indicators and most often change weekly. You do want to look at input metrics (defects and opportunities) weekly, but you also want to make sure you look at and focus on the ones where you would consider taking action. If you are not willing to take action or ask for support to take action, it’s just noise and distracts everyone. Make input metrics actionable or think harder what the right actionable input metric would be! Last not least, some input metrics are noisy. If that is the case, think about how you can report them differently to separate noise from a real trend. Metrics are all about learning, not about showing that you have many numbers.

Health metrics are critical, and you should look at those weekly or even daily. They are your insurance that you are not caught on the wrong foot. However, by definition, they should be very dull and not change much. No news is good news! If you have a story to tell about your warning indicators every week, then there is a more fundamental issue at hand. With that, in most cases, those metrics are something you and your team need to look at very frequently; however, you don’t want to report them to a broader group frequently (e.g., through regular reports). Instead, those are the metrics that, while not looked at by a large group regularly, should kick off an immediate heads-up to your leadership when you see things going sideways.

How to talk about metrics

For me, the most frustrating experience in metric reviews is to see a sea of data with no apparent focus or structure. In those cases, it takes me a while to catch on the slide structure, and by the time I have, I have missed the call-outs. The second worst thing is to have the same call-out on the same data, that didn’t change anyway, every week. The third most frustrating thing is to have a call out, that’s not related to the data on the slide – it utterly confuses me every time. Bonus frustration: having a new slide where the structure needs to be explained instead of being self-evident.

Slides are stories. They need to be able to speak for themselves without additional explanation. The stories they tell need to engage and focus on the ‘news.’

Let’s start with the simple thing – the presentation.

Visual presentation – Make it digestible

As we think about how we can turn slides into stories and data into statements, we need to give focus to presentation. A sea of data is not a story; it’s a distraction. One hundred rows don’t convey insight but chaos. Data that are not organized along a logical flow isn’t providing a signal, but increasing noise.

The flow of your data – First of all, think about the right logical flow of your data. What is the correct organizational principle that will guide the viewer along and help them make their findings? Often this is obvious (e.g., funnel steps or input metrics that feed into an output metric), but give it a hard thought. Having the right structure is the difference between a strong slide and story, and a weekly struggle to get through your WBR section.

Help drive focus – Most times, less is more. What data is needed? What data would you take action on? What data is critical, versus supplemental, and how can you visually highlight the critical data? Can you bold specific data, can you visualize a funnel structure in how you present your data? Make it easy for the viewer to see for themselves what you can see in the data. Also, make the hard choices not to show data that doesn’t matter. We’re all proud of all the data we can find; however, focus wins the game in a presentation every day. Metrics meetings are crisp and focused presentations of the state of the union, not word search puzzles.

Be clear what you talk about – When you talk about something that is not on the slide, be clear about it before you get into your story. Try to avoid that situation though – if you launched something new and it doesn’t show in the data yet, then talk about it once it does. When you talk about something on the slide, make sure to refer to where the data is – searching for the needle in the haystack is no fun in a fast-paced meeting.

Data with Intent! – WHY? SO WHAT?

We don’t talk about the data just because we have it. We have an intent! Be sure to talk about that intent. Why should I care? Why does this particular data matter? You know it, but I don’t, so please explain it to me!

Here are some categories that are usually leading to exciting stories about data. Don’t feel you have to tell each of them every week, tell a story if things have progressed or changed in a meaningful way.

Progress – We all want to know if we are making progress against our goals. A key to seeing that on a weekly or even monthly basis is to have a ramp plan. If we want to achieve a particular goal by the end of the year, where should we be this month, next month? How close are we to that ramp goal, and if there is a gap, what can we do to close the gap? An output metric without a ramp plan is useless! We need to know if we can feel good or should be worried. These callouts are typically related to the outcome metrics we committed to.

Learnings – What did we learn from the data. Are there any surprises or positive trends that we didn’t anticipate. This is where input metrics come in. Focus on the differentials, though, don’t repeat the same insight every week (without taking action). This is where we should talk about surprises and experiments and their related learnings and outcomes. Focus on what’s new, don’t tell the same repeating story again and again without changing the game from one meeting to another (if you decide something is not worth managing, remove the metric from the official deck). Most of the learnings come from input metrics that we are tracking.

Attention needed – Sometimes, trends turn in the wrong direction without warning, and without us having done something specific to anticipate that development. Those are the canaries in the coal mine. Be sure to call out when such things happen. Also, be sure to have some insights on what happened, or at least a plan and a timeline on how to get those insights. These alerts are essential data points and not bad. They tell us when we need to focus on something. Take them as an opportunity to fix something early on before it gets bad. However, don’t wait for a pre-scheduled meeting if you notice that health metrics erode – kick off an email thread with your leadership immediately and take action!

A lot of the follow-up questions from leaders usually poke into one of the above areas. By looking at the categories in that framework, thinking through your story along those lines, and presenting it succinctly, you will convey that you are on top of your game. You will show your confidence, ability, and success, instead of being caught off-balance.

Last, not least:

Don’t try to fill the space/time – If you don’t have a story in any of the above areas, don’t make one up. Power usually lies in not giving in to the temptation to fill empty space. Just say that nothing happened to the data that is worthy of a call-out, and make a short statement as to what changes you expect to see shortly and why (if you don’t anticipate any, then your program is dead, and the slide should be removed). Related, there is no rule that you have to have three call-outs. I would much rather hear one strong call-out and finding than three repetitive ones.

Learning from the data can be fun if we let it be! Use metrics, reports, and reviews as an opportunity to learn about your space and tell compelling stories to leadership.

 


Did you like this article? Want to read more?

I will keep posting articles here and I have them lined up way into summer 2020. However if you want to get it all in one comprehensive, structured, and grammar-checked (!) view, check out our new book:

 

Put on your oxygen mask first - book cover

Put On Your Own Oxygen Mask First

A practical guide to living healthier, happier and more successful in 52 weekly steps

By Alfons and Ulrike Staerk

ISBN 9781077278929

Find it on Amazon: Paperback, Kindle

 

If you like what you’re reading, please consider leaving a review on Amazon. If you don’t like it, please tell us what we can do better the next time. As self-published authors we don’t have the marketing power of big publishing houses. We rely on word of mouth endorsements through reader reviews.

Innovation! – And how to pitch it

Edison

Innovation

We are all excited about seeing innovation, and even more so, driving innovation. But how is innovation happening? More interestingly, how can we drive innovation?

Modern Entrepreneurs will tell you that it takes many attempts, and often countless experiments and pivots, to find an idea that sticks and takes off. That wisdom is not new though. As a kid, I saw a movie about Thomas Edison, and I never forgot this quote:

“Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.” – Thomas Edison

Edison tried hundreds, maybe thousands of different materials, until he finally got his first working lightbulb.

The same is true for innovations that we want to drive. We need to think through many ideas, vet the ones that make the most sense to us, and develop them further. Then we need to pitch them to see if they hold water under scrutiny. Finally, we must test if the assumptions hold true in the real world, or are just paper dreams.

We will pitch a lot, and only a few of our ideas will see the light of day. But that’s ok, it’s actually good and intentional. Unless you are a once-in-a-century genius, just like it did for Edison, it will take you several attempts before you come with an idea that gets broad support and quick traction. That’s good, the selection of the best ideas is a critical part of the process. In our case, Amazon is successful because it focuses on the most promising ideas, not everything we could tackle (otherwise we would still be selling books from a garage).

Pitching

So how do you pitch an idea?

Of course, there are events through the year, that proactively solicit ideas – unconstrained ones like Hackathons and Ideathons, or more focused ones like 3 Year Plan and roadmap planning.

However, I hope that your ideas are not limited to those fixed and defined dates, but your creative juices flow every day at work. So how do you land those sparks of inspiration?

First of all, please don’t wait for the next ‘official’ planning session! Second, don’t trust the ‘elevator pitch’. It’s highly unlikely that a thoughtful and responsible leader will invest substantial resources based on the information and depth they can get from a quick hallway chat or an improvised meeting.

Instead, the mechanism we have at Amazon to pitch ideas and sell them is through PR FAQs. PR FAQs and Working Backwards docs are Amazon’s way to explain a proposal, think through the critical details, and win approval to move forward, experiment and learn more along the way.

Here’s a quick overview as to what makes a good PR FAQ (at least in my mind):

Be clear, be focused – You need to focus on the core problem that you want to solve, the core proposal you want to make. Don’t provide a laundry list of stuff, make a pitch for a core idea (you can still move your laundry list to the end of the appendix if you have separation anxiety). You want your PR FAQ to be a clear, crisp and concise story. You also want it to be a believable pitch so that your leaders can trust that you have thought it through.

Understand your ‘What’ – What problem are you solving or what new value are you creating? Specifically! Pick one, not ten.

Explain the ‘Why’ – Answer the “so what” question that every leader has. Why should I care? Why does this matter? This is where you MUST have data – our beloved Xs and Ys just don’t cut it here. As you explain the “why this matters”, also think about the “why now”. It’s a great idea for sure because you are a smart person, but of all the things, why should we focus on this right now, and not in a year or two?

Be diligent about the ‘Why not’ – Pitch your idea, but don’t be a sales rep (sell it, but sell it honestly). Tell the full story, not the rosy picture. Don’t drop valid concerns to drive an easier sell. What are the risks, challenges, and headwinds? If you proactively address them, and explain how you think about testing or mitigating those risks, your credibility will jump to the next level.

Lay out the ‘How’ – Let’s assume, we buy your idea, now what? How would we execute? How can we test your assumptions (see the next point)? What are the next steps that we need to take if we want to go further?

Clarify the ‘Asks’ – What do you need? Are you asking for time or permission to run an experiment on your own? Are you proposing to rebalance current funding? Are you asking for incremental funding? Be clear, not ambiguous! What’s the goal of the doc? What do you want to achieve?

At this stage, keep in mind, that it takes many attempts and many shots to develop, pitch, and land a new and compelling idea. Some will land, others won’t.

Early validation

One of the first questions you answer when you think about your proposal and draft your PR FAQ should be: How do you validate that you are onto something? How can you get early signals, as to whether this will actually work in real life?

You must be explicit and specific in the experiment you will do as a next step and litmus test. That experiment needs to be something simple. It can be a proxy for what you actually want to build. It can be something that you run manually, and with only paper support, before we all take the next step and decide to invest in engineering. It can be something that you do in shadow mode in parallel before we decide to change process or customer experience. For example, you can just show a few paper mocks to future users and see their reactions. Whatever it is, you need to make it a point to find ways to test quickly and cheaply.

You need to break big and scary proposals down into smaller bits that are less expensive to fail and learn, and then quickly test them before you move on. If you don’t do that, you are asking for a big leap of faith from your leaders to make big investments in a paper-idea, that very possibly could not work after all.

We all want to experiment, fail (we don’t want to, but we are aware that it’s part of the process), and learn fast. Make it a core part of the proposals you are putting forward. In every single proposal, think a LOT about how you can experiment cheaply in the early stages, to provide quick validation or signals to pivot.

 


Did you like this article? Want to read more?

I will keep posting articles here and I have them lined up way into summer 2020. However if you want to get it all in one comprehensive, structured, and grammar-checked (!) view, check out our new book:

Put on your oxygen mask first - book cover

Put On Your Own Oxygen Mask First
A practical guide to living healthier, happier and more successful in 52 weekly steps
By Alfons and Ulrike Staerk
ISBN 9781077278929

Find it on Amazon: PaperbackKindle

If you like what you’re reading, please consider leaving a review on Amazon. If you don’t like it, please tell us what we can do better the next time. As self-published authors we don’t have the marketing power of big publishing houses. We rely on word of mouth endorsements through reader reviews.

How do you shine a light on the moon?

Chinese-Academy-of-Sciences-Yunnan-Observatory-1.2m-telescope-moon-laser-rangefinder

How do you shine a light on the moon?

Well, it’s actually pretty easy: you use a laser, not a flashlight.

So what is so special about a laser? It’s really just two things: focus and coherence.

I. Focus (Spatial coherence)

A flashlight creates light in one point (the lightbulb) and then lets it travel out in a more or less focused way. There is a lot of energy produced, but it spreads out in multiple angles, with a quickly diminishing impact. A laser bounces light back and forth in one beam between two mirrors before part of it escapes in a single beam and travels outward.

Lasers are focused (spatial coherence). They point in one direction, and one direction only. As a result, their light travels far without losing intensity.

Focus maintains energy and signal, ensuring that it will travel far without being watered down. That is just as true for our strategies, stories, business, and life. All too often people are all over the place. They overload stories (at Amazon we use PR FAQs to develop, crystallize and communicate big new ideas), have unclear and disconnected goals (for example in annual planning, or OP1 in Amazon speak), jump around adjacent problems (e.g. project updates), or are jack-of-all-trades and master of none (often seen in personal priority setting and time management).

We need to constantly push ourselves to gain and maintain focus!

When you write a PR FAQ (or call it strategy proposal), what is the one thing you want to achieve? Make that your story and stick to it. If you had to pick one thing, what would it be? What is most impactful? If you need to land only one thing with me (and I won’t remember more anyway), what’s that one thing? Put everything else in the FAQ (i.e. the appendices for your proposal).

That focus needs to come from you. Don’t collect a bunch of ideas, and present them (regardless of whether it’s just bullet points or a polished narrative) to see what sticks with the audience. ‘Throwing spaghetti on the wall’ only makes a mess that you will need to clean up afterward. You need to do the hard work of figuring out what matters most and go through the painful process of letting go of all the other cool stuff (there will be another PR FAQ for those).

The same thought model applies to all other plans, strategies, and written updates that we produce. Spend the time to really understand what matters. Then figure out all aspects and implications of that one thing, and write it down in a flow that allows others to follow your thinking.

The same is true for your career. You can do many things every day, and our space certainly allows you to be busy and tactical all day long. The problem is that busy and tactical doesn’t get you very far in the long run (nor does it get your team anywhere). The flashlight shines brightly a few feet away, but it won’t travel to the moon.

Take your time, sit back and think where you want to go. Then make a list of the few (!) things that you need to be really good at and deliver, to get there. Focus on them and deliver excellence. I hate to break it, but people rarely get rewarded for the effort. They do get prompted for impact.

If you’re versatile, you will be the go-to person to fix issues and plug holes. If you focus on your core areas, you will be looked upon to lead others.

The hard work is to keep that focus. Make time for constant check-ins and reflections. When tactical escalations distract you, take a pause, reflect, and come back to your priorities.

Don’t compromise strategy work for tactical work. It’s a true temptation, as humans always seek instant gratification. Push back against that desire. A good framework for that thinking is the 4-block model of urgent vs important. Make sure you spend the majority of your time in the top two quadrants. Avoid the bottom two. Spend time on the important things that move you and your goals forward!

 

4 boxes

 

II. Coherence (Compounding)

The second important quality of a laser is temporal coherence. The waves are aligned in resonance, with the peak of every wave overlaying and sitting on top of the peaks of other waves. It’s the perfect compounding effect. Without that compounding effect, a laser would be nothing else than a very flimsy flashlight, that won’t even be able to illuminate something a foot away.

You want to use the same compounding effect in your stories, projects, career, and life.

When you tell a story, don’t jump around. Once you have identified the key point that you want to convey, build upon it. Develop it further through your PR FAQ, OP1, or project update. Don’t jump around to other adjacent things. Stay on the topic until you’re done, then stop.

A good way of thinking about this is the inverted journalistic pyramid. Start with your punch line, then as you go further, add additional details. Don’t jump around. The story should not change, if the reader goes further down in your text, it only becomes more detailed and colorful. If someone only reads the first paragraph, they should understand the core. As they read further down, their understanding should deepen, but not change. If their understanding changes, and the story morphs and shape-shifts in their mind, then you didn’t do a good job in understanding, developing and focusing on the key point.

pyramid

 

Likewise, in your career, make sure the activities you’re driving are aligned with your goals. Make sure you are consistent with them! Switching around all the time will not let you gain real momentum anywhere. Focus, deliver, deliver more, build upon it, until you can proclaim victory. Small things add up, and the effect of compounding investments is staggering. It’s doesn’t need to be much that you add every time, but it needs to be consistent.

It’s easy to start a lot of things, and not follow through with them – I only need to look at the list of PR FAQs that we ‘wanted’ to write in our team but never did, or the plethora of action items we decide upon in brainstorming meetings and offsites, but hardly ever followed through with. Once you identified a goal, keep pushing.

Don’t kick off a lot of things, and then abandon them. Start a few that matter, and follow-through to the end. Go a few steps further every week, every day. Layer wave peak on top of wave peak. Gain momentum and build upon it. Make it an (Amazon) flywheel that you are constantly pushing!

Be a laser, not a flashlight. You CAN shine to the moon (and back).

#focus #goals #career #success

 


 

Did you like this article? Want to read more?

If you want to get it all in one comprehensive, structured, and grammar-checked (!) view, check out our new book:

Put on your own oxygen mask first - book cover

Put On Your Own Oxygen Mask First

A practical guide to living healthier, happier and more successful in 52 weekly steps

By Alfons and Ulrike Staerk

ISBN 9781077278929

Find it on Amazon: Paperback, Kindle

 

If you like what you’re reading, please consider leaving a review on Amazon. If you don’t like it, please tell us what we can do better the next time. As self-published authors we don’t have the marketing power of big publishing houses. We rely on word of mouth endorsements through reader reviews.

Confidence Establishes Authority

Most of us are working in an environment and culture in which we (luckily!) cannot just demand someone to follow our orders. We’re not McDonalds. We are all working with highly skilled and experienced professionals who will only follow us, if we earn their trust and gain authority through our actions, not hierarchy. I would not want it any other way!

So, how do you gain authority as a leader in your org and with partners?

leadership-913043_1920

Competency

Step one is to have your act together. You need to know what you know, and what you don’t. Don’t pretend you know something, only to then be called out on your gaps. Don’t make up stuff if you want to be trusted and followed.

Of course, you will want to close the gap on the things that you don’t know as quickly as possible. Ask lots of questions, learn, reflect, understand.

Learning and deeply understanding your space is the 101, so I will not spend any further time on this. I wanted to call it out though since authority without understanding isn’t sustainable in our space.

Be bold, accept the risk to fail

As a leader, you are expected to make tough calls and bold decisions. You cannot do that if you are afraid of risk or scared of failing. In addition, if you don’t make bold calls, people will not follow you because quite frankly you are not leading.

As a leader, you cannot play it safe. Take calculated risks, but take risks. Free your mind by allowing yourself the option to fail.

When I look back at my own different leadership roles, I can see a clear pattern of being most impactful as a leader when I had the least concern about what I could potentially lose. I was bold, took the right risks and set unambiguous direction when I wasn’t scared about failing or losing something. I was lame when I was so concerned about a certain personal outcome or gain, that I tried to avoid anything that could put that outcome at risk.

The good news is that the loss avoidance mindset is a question of your perspective and subsequently you are in control to change it. It is the human default though, which means you need to put in serious energy to change it.

Leadership means making bold decisions and taking calculated risks. As a leader, you need to bring (disruptive) energy into the system to break the inertia of everyone else who is playing it safe. You need to shake the status quo. You must take risks.

You cannot please everyone anyway; be bold where it’s needed. Don’t be fluffy.

Free yourself from being scared. You won’t die. Take (personal) risks and be bold, otherwise you will get nowhere.

Making decisions

The above inspires me to take a little detour on decision-making. Being bold, taking risks and setting direction automatically leads to a reflection on decision making.

There are fundamentally two types of decisions. It’s important to understand what type of decision you are trying to make or drive.

Decisions you feel you should make and own

Get your data, understand the problem, weigh the options, and then make the decision. You are empowered to do so.

However, you cannot hide your decision. Decision authority is not a blank check to do whatever you want.

Communicate your decision out with the reasons why you took it. This is not to ask for permission, but to (1) make sure everyone is aware and (2) to let folks chime in and call out if you should have missed a key piece of data in your decision making (yes, that can happen!).

Decisions that you feel are above your paygrade and you don’t feel comfortable to make them

Same as above, do the research, gather all the data, weigh all the options, prepare to the point where you would feel that you can make a decision.

Then just change your communication style. Instead of communicating a decision, make a proposal and ask for help to decide. Set a clear date by when you need a decision and drive to that date. Don’t ask an open ended question (‘what should we do?’), don’t just present alternatives without proposal and reasoning why.

In both cases of decision-making, explain the reasons for your decision or proposal. Give others the required context to follow along.

Confidence establishes authority

So, you have clarity on your areas of competency (and the blind spots) and work on expanding them. You freed yourself (at least partially) from being scared of mistakes and failures. You got yourself to a point where you make bold decisions and take calculated risks.

Great! Be proactive about it. You achieved a lot, project it outwards. Proactively, not just when called upon. Take the lead!

Bring it all together and you will project competence and confidence.

Competence and confidence establish authority.

And just to be clear: this is NOT the same as ‘fake it until you make it’.

Go lead!

 


Did you like this article? Want to read more?

I will keep posting articles here and I have them lined up way into summer 2020. However if you want to get it all in one comprehensive, structured, and grammar-checked (!) view, check out our new book:

 

Put on your oxygen mask first - book cover

Put On Your Own Oxygen Mask First

A practical guide to living healthier, happier and more successful in 52 weekly steps

By Alfons and Ulrike Staerk

ISBN 9781077278929

Find it on Amazon: Paperback, Kindle

 

If you like what you’re reading, please consider leaving a review on Amazon. If you don’t like it, please tell us what we can do better the next time. As self-published authors we don’t have the marketing power of big publishing houses. We rely on word of mouth endorsements through reader reviews.

Single Threaded Leadership at Amazon

Single Threaded Leaders (STLs) are core to Amazon’s leadership philosophy. We are all STLs for one thing or another. However, what does that actually mean?

A STL is the one person who owns success or failure of a given initiative, project or goal. They are the decision maker or the one who is responsible to drive decisions. They are the single point of contact and the one who answers for the project. The STL is the one who doesn’t have excuses for not raising an issue, driving a decision and moving the project forward.

Less polite descriptions used in other companies are ‘butt on the line’ or ‘throat to choke’. I do NOT think that’s the right way to think about it though!

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How to be successful as a STL

We all strive to be effective leaders, in Amazon-speak strong STLs. So what makes a strong STL?

It starts with Ownership

Being a STL means that you OWN the projects you were given responsibility for (better even: you took responsibility for). It also means that you feel fully responsible for the success of that project. There is no one else to point a finger to or to blame.

It does not mean that you need to fix or do everything yourself though. Far from that!

Ownership doesn’t mean that you need to do everything yourself. It does mean that you need to make sure the right things are happening and the right people know about status changes early on. Delegate and orchestrate!

Ownership means that you own the progress, understand when things go sideways, and either put the right fixes in place to correct course, or escalate quickly if problems/fixes are beyond your control. You don’t need to be afraid if things don’t always got the way as initially planned. However, you should feel bad if things go sideways and you didn’t try proper actions and escalations.

Come with a solution

When things go sideways and a fix is beyond your scope of control, you need to escalate up quickly. Speed matters. There are few things a manager hates more than being surprised at a time when they are out of options to help you out.

So how do you escalate if you need help? Come with a solution!

Followers come with a problem; leaders come with a solution.

Present the problem, give a short explanation on the root cause that got you there, and then offer a solution proposal. Ideally, also explain the alternatives and why you picked that specific proposal (what were the pros and cons of the alternatives?).

Explain how far you were able to push within your scope of influence, what you tried, and what specific help you now need from your leader. Help them understand the tradeoffs that need to be made. Be clear what specific help you need or what action you are taking for which you need backup from your leader.

Do not only come with a problem or open ended question. Your leader will most likely jump on the opportunity to solve it for you, but that will harm your authority as STL and also deprives you from the sense of control over your project.

A quick glimpse into the mind of your leaders

Leaders like to problems-solve. That’s how they grew up, how they became leaders. However, as a leader, the ultimate goal is to grow their impact by delegating spheres of problem ownership and knowing they will get solved locally as much as possible (and without needing to keep track of progress).

So when presented with an open ended question or problem, a leader will jump into solving it for  you (unless they are a really good leader, in which case they will try really hard to hold themselves back). However, after your meeting they will have that nagging question in their mind: ‘why did I have to solve this, what did I do wrong?’ Help your leader to not wrangle with that question!

Help your leader to scale to the next level by showing them that you own your space at the next level.

What makes a great STL?

Know that you are empowered. Don’t just say it, know it, feel it!

Feel responsible for the end to end! Fully.

Own driving the solution, or if you can’t, own having a solution and asking for proper help.

Escalate when you exhausted your options or ideas or spent too much time trying – understand the point when you need to go up.

 


Did you like this article? Want to read more?

I will keep posting articles here and I have them lined up way into summer 2020. However if you want to get it all in one comprehensive, structured, and grammar-checked (!) view, check out our new book:

 

Put on your oxygen mask first - book cover

Put On Your Own Oxygen Mask First

A practical guide to living healthier, happier and more successful in 52 weekly steps

By Alfons and Ulrike Staerk

ISBN 9781077278929

Find it on Amazon: Paperback, Kindle

 

If you like what you’re reading, please consider leaving a review on Amazon. If you don’t like it, please tell us what we can do better the next time. As self-published authors we don’t have the marketing power of big publishing houses. We rely on word of mouth endorsements through reader reviews.

Good Reads

open-book-1428428_1920

There are countless great books on business and (self-) management. I cannot possibly list all that inspired me over the years. Below is a short list of the ones I read recently and found relevent to the topcis in this book. Enjoy!

Establishing habits

Mini Habits: Smaller Habits, Bigger Results
Stephen Guise
ISBN-10: 1494882272
A quick and simple guide on developing small habits and let them grow to bigger ones over time.

Atomic Habits: Tiny Changes, Remarkable Results
James Clear
ISBN-10: 1847941834
Lots of good advice on developing habits. It also shares some of the science behind habit forming and how to go further. “Change your self-image instead of chasing goals!”

Focusing on what matters

The ONE Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results
Gary Keller, Jay Papasan
ISBN-10: 1848549253
Stay focused on the one thing you need to achieve. There is always one thing that’s more important than everything else. What’s your one thing today, this week, this year?

Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength
Roy Baumeister, John Tierney
ISBN-10: 0143122231
Besides time, willpower is your most important resource. Learn what depletes willpower and what you can do to preserve it to get the most out of it.

Off the Clock: Feel Less Busy While Getting More Done
Laura Vanderkam
ISBN-10: 0735219818
Lots of good advice. My favorite one is on making experiences a priority. “Plan it in. Do it anyway.”

Living within your values

Dark Horse: Achieving Success Through the Pursuit of Fulfillment
Todd Rose, Ogi Ogas
ISBN-10: 0062931547
There are many ways to be successful, find what YOU want to do. Not what others tell you or do.

An Audience of One: Reclaiming Creativity for Its Own Sake
Srinivas Rao, Robin Dellabough
ISBN-10: 1101981733
Your pursuit for passion or art is about you, no one else. Don’t try to please others. Don’t chase external confirmation. Do it for yourself.

Conscious Business
Fred Kofman
ISBN-10: 1622032020
A little lengthy but the book presents good principles on how to live and make business in accordance with your values and with integrity. Has a great side story on accountability culture.

Changing your self-perception

Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges
Amy Cuddy
ISBN-10: 0316256587
Harvard scientists have proven what martial arts taught for centuries: “Your inside reflects on your outside, your outside reflects on your inside.”

The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work
Shawn Achor
ISBN-10: 9780753539477
Success comes from happiness, not the other way around. The stories you tell yourself define your perspective which in turn defines your happiness level. Learn to be happy.

 


Did you like this article? Want to read more?

I will keep posting articles here and I have them lined up way into summer 2020. However if you want to get it all in one comprehensive, structured, and grammar-checked (!) view, check out our new book:

 

Put on your oxygen mask first - book cover

Put On Your Own Oxygen Mask First

A practical guide to living healthier, happier and more successful in 52 weekly steps

By Alfons and Ulrike Staerk

ISBN 9781077278929

Find it on Amazon: Paperback, Kindle

 

If you like what you’re reading, please consider leaving a review on Amazon. If you don’t like it, please tell us what we can do better the next time. As self-published authors we don’t have the marketing power of big publishing houses. We rely on word of mouth endorsements through reader reviews.

Once You Stop Growing You Start Declining

woman-945427_1920

Never stop learning and growing!

Once you stop growing you start declining.

Never stop observing, learning, tweaking, optimizing and improving yourself and how you live your life.

Life is a marathon, not a sprint. It’s the path we take and the choices we make that count, not any singular goal that we are heading out for.

In the end what matters are not the possessions that your accumulated, but the learnings you had and the person you became. It’s about how you improved yourself and what you left behind.

Never think that you are too old for something new. Never think that you are ‘there’. Once you stop learning, growing and pushing you start declining. You start to crumble and die.

There is not much steady state in life. It’s either up or down. There is also no rule in life or the universe that says you cannot go up and grow until the very end. As a matter of fact, that is exactly what Chinese medicine and Tai Chi try to achieve: live healthy as long as you can and grow until the end. Set your sights high up all the way through.

Back in Germany I all too often saw successful people retire at age 60, stop doing anything and then rapidly falling apart. Don’t do that to yourself – at any age. Keep the learner’s mindset, be a lifelong apprentice.

No matter where you are, what your circumstances are and where you will go next, you can always make yourself just a little bit better. You can always make your life a little more balanced and meaningful. You can always strive to become a even better person.

The path is the reward, not the destination.

 


Did you like this article? Want to read more?

I will keep posting articles here and I have them lined up way into summer 2020. However if you want to get it all in one comprehensive, structured, and grammar-checked (!) view, check out our new book:

 

Put on your oxygen mask first - book cover

Put On Your Own Oxygen Mask First

A practical guide to living healthier, happier and more successful in 52 weekly steps

By Alfons and Ulrike Staerk

ISBN 9781077278929

Find it on Amazon: Paperback, Kindle

 

If you like what you’re reading, please consider leaving a review on Amazon. If you don’t like it, please tell us what we can do better the next time. As self-published authors we don’t have the marketing power of big publishing houses. We rely on word of mouth endorsements through reader reviews.

Engineer Your Happiness, Count Your Blessings Every Day

How you perceive your world and look at opportunities is much more influenced by your mindset than by your circumstances. External events will influence your happiness in the moment, but after a short time you will bounce back to your ‘natural’ level.

The good news is that we can train our mental frameworks and over time change our perspective on the things we encounter in daily life. We can make ourselves happier and more positive human beings. And by making ourselves more positive we will encounter more encouraging situations and as a result follow more fulfilling opportunities.

Worst day of my life

Every night at the dinner table we do a little round robin where everyone talks about the experiences of the day. It took our kids a while to get there, but now they love it and can’t wait to tell their story.

For a while our 7 year old son had phase where he always started with “worst day of my life”. For some reason he thought it was cool, but we could see how it always dragged him down emotionally.

We can observe the same in us. As grownups we often look back at how hard a day was, all the things that went wrong, all the annoying interactions.

With that we train our brain to pattern match. If we pay attention to something, our brain will look for more of the same and proudly present it to us. When you think about buying a new car, you will all of a sudden see that model everywhere.

Indulging on the things that were bad or went wrong will train your brain to only see things going wrong. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Change your mental frameworks

Instead of thinking back to what went wrong in your day, spend time every day to reflect on what was great, fun or just positively memorable. You can do this throughout the day or in the evening before you go to bed. But do it every day!

Reflect on the positive things that happened every day. Write them down.

Focusing on the positive things will train your brain to pattern match for those. It will help you see the good more easily and more often. It will help you see opportunity to get more of those positive interactions. It will make you happier and more successful.

I bought a little notebook for myself in which I write down 3 positive things that happened to me every day. It’s a great exercise to reflect and boosts your happiness.

We also changed our dinner routine and added the question “What were your 3 most positive things today?” Question before we get into talking about our days. Our kids are fighting for who can share those first and usually end up with more than 3.

I also haven’t heard the “worst day of my life” sentence anymore.

Being happy is in your control. So is being unhappy. You decide.

 


Did you like this article? Want to read more?

I will keep posting articles here and I have them lined up way into summer 2020. However if you want to get it all in one comprehensive, structured, and grammar-checked (!) view, check out our new book:

 

Put on your oxygen mask first - book cover

Put On Your Own Oxygen Mask First

A practical guide to living healthier, happier and more successful in 52 weekly steps

By Alfons and Ulrike Staerk

ISBN 9781077278929

Find it on Amazon: Paperback, Kindle

 

If you like what you’re reading, please consider leaving a review on Amazon. If you don’t like it, please tell us what we can do better the next time. As self-published authors we don’t have the marketing power of big publishing houses. We rely on word of mouth endorsements through reader reviews.