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Leaders Letter Newsletter

Leaders Letter 78 – It’s Time For Your Calendar Audit

Dear Leaders, this week’s newsletter is here to save some of your sanity and time. 

Do you look at your calendar with pure dread? 

I bet you have signed off or left a meeting and think – this was a massive waste of time? 

There are two options you have:
(1) Take that your time is taken from you 😞
or
(2) Actually take action and do something about it 💪

An important step many executives do not take is actually reviewing and scoring meetings. 

Busy is not a badge of honour and should never be an excuse.

Many leave meetings with a sour taste in their mouth, often mentally noting that a colleague or two are good or bad (or worse need to leave the business) and then having to recover from MRS (meeting recovery syndrome). 

There is an action (much more than a hack) to help save your sanity and review your calendar to make a real difference. 

This will take an hour’s work to save ten’s of hours in the coming weeks and months. 

A Calendar Audit 📅

  1. Review your calendar: look back over the last six weeks  
  2. Colour code the meetings into group meetings, recurring meetings and one to one’s 
  3. Create a meeting scoring system. 1-10 (10 being great, 1 being worst) – the maths is an important dimension here 
  4. Flag and review any recurring meetings first.
    Score these meetings, use: 
    (1) effectiveness for work, (2) time efficiencies and (3) participation levels as success factors.
  5. Review group meetings and project meetings, please then score accordingly 
  6. Review 1:2:1’s particularly on how successful you were either as the leader or the participant
  7. Fire up Excel or Google sheets and score the meetings in groups, you will see many patterns. 
    There is a common theme here, important notes and keep scores
  8. Review your notes from these meetings and really be self-critical and critical of meetings and drive change. Always provide feedback and look to reduce meetings. 
  9. Understand if you need to keep meetings, cure meetings or kill meetings.
    You should not only edit and audit your time but provide people’s time back. This is a huge gift!
  10. Feedback the information, kill or cure meetings and reorganise the time and save the energy of your colleagues. 

You will be surprised by the benefit to performance and the positive impact on company culture this will have. 

Remember The Focus Rules For Meetings: 

  1. Always call out why this meeting should not have been an email 
  2. Set an agenda 
  3. Explain why each meeting attendee was invited and how they can add value 
  4. At the beginning of the meeting remind what the objective of the meeting is and what success looks like 
  5. Have a chairperson taking notes and keeping you to agree on timeframe 
  6. Have the chairperson call out what the notes were, what the decisions were and what the follow-up actions are and by when 
  7. Always provide time for meeting feedback and if the meeting is able to finish early, enable everyone to have their time back 

Good luck rolling this framework out, it will take a couple of attempts to really hit your stride, in the near future you will be able to have open and honest conversations and save many hours of wasted time and negative time use. 

Have a great week,

Danny Denhard 

Two Other Proven Methods

Here is the hybrid guide to remote meetings chapter that will drive improvements to your meetings and your business. 

Look to roll out the NDA meeting framework for taking notes, logging decisions and the actions you and the team need to take.  

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Leaders Letter Newsletter

Leaders Letter 77 – Two Up x Two Across Matrix 

Dear Leaders, Frameworks and documents are the most popular leaders letters. 

This week I have a matrix (simple framework) I have adopted over time and something many managers might benefit from. 

It is the:

Two Up x Two Across Matrix. 

Moving laterally aka across does not mean a demotion or non-promotion it actually means you are helping to shape their career and moving them towards the right long term career for your team member. 

Keeping your team members happy is a huge challenge, in which in “The Great Resignation” is going to be harder for you and the company. Therefore, this matrix might be an asset to have and use before the end of the year. 

What is it? 

Two Up

The next two levels of promotion within the team or department. This works up until the C-suite level. 

This is the most natural movement, you move up the ranks within your own department, potentially mapping out replacing yourself as the Department lead or helping the team member understand their next step may be Head of or Director of, or moving into a generalist department head role. 

Two up requires deep thought, an ability to build out organisation design and map out succession plans and replacement plans. Alongside working with other leaders and potentially your HR function. 

Two Across

Two across is helping your team member realise their potential, either based on their skills or based on their desire. 

What is evident in most businesses is individuals want to want in different teams, different departments and grow. Many examples of this are when a Marketer moves in Product, when Product move into Operations and when Customer Support moves into Product and/or Marketing. 

A Personal Anecdote:

Some of the best hires I ever made were internal hires and dare I say internal poaching that worked out particularly well. 

One today is an absolute Marketing superstar and another has gone on in the creator economy and working through their passion. 

Both knew the timeline, both knew the plan to move them into the role and the steps we both needed to take to ensure they were supported, coached and had a mentor to help them move. 

“The Squilly Career”?

Becoming a Team or Department Lead, taking the next step to VP or SVP or joining the leadership team is not the only future for team members, although most are conditioned to believe this, in the future I truly believe specialists and leads will help reshape businesses and coach those around them to benefit their careers and those who they work alongside and work.  

Lastly, remember this will take teamwork and connections between you as the team or department lead and other leaders across the business, you should also note you will want to continue the mentor or coaching relationship with the team member who might move across not just up. 

The two up two across matrix will help hold important conversations, improve subculture within your team and connect with other department leads to improve the company. 

Good luck and keep on developing as a people (culture) and performance (strategy) leader. 

Thanks,

Danny Denhard 

PS Remember my saying, always be Marketing, always be Auditing, December is the ideal time to audit your department plan or developing your management team, do get in touch for help. 

Two Important Free Frameworks To Use

Important Company Culture Resources:


For more information on the squiggly career – watch below

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Leaders Letter Newsletter

Leaders Letter 76 – Time To Rethink Training Budgets?

Is It Time To Rethink The Way You Are Spending Your Training Budgets?

Dear leaders, for years we have accepted staff going on many different forms of courses as acceptable ways of spending training budgets. 

We have to trust our people to make the right decisions for their training.

Over the last decade, we have seen the majority of people move their training budget to attend conferences. 

We trust they have learnt and rarely do we get to see the direct results from this. 


There are many conferences that make sense for individuals, there are many which are geared towards networking, this is not wrong but is this really going to improve your people and their performance? Maybe… 

Attending conferences at the early stage of my career, I created a set of success criteria that really did help me to find those talks that added value, the why and the how were my criteria, if it wasn’t a talk with the why they did it and the how they did it specifically I would feel short-changed and ultimately added no value to me or the attendance price.
Mid to this point in my career, the majority of conferences are now designed to be big brand logos to attract the audience, big brand logo presents a big case study, the sticking point; they can rarely go into the why or the how, it’s the what and if you’re lucky some numbers that have been signed off to use. 

Over the last seven years and leading departments, I have encouraged people to find courses (and/or conferences) that will help them to develop, I like fundamental training, the courses that teach a core set of frameworks and skills. 

Most big businesses set out a training budget and you get to go wild on LinkedIn courses or equivalent online software. 

There were two outstanding team members who took traditional project training and they tremendously benefited from this, just because agile and waterfall is in vogue, this doesn’t mean structure and operational excellence will ever go out of fashion, particularly in larger organisations that need operating excellence. Most mid-level employees will understand more agile methods, it is because they have lived it and have to operate in it because another person has said it is best. 

Another example is signing off a senior Marketers request to have formal financial training. Why? Budget management and understanding how finances flow-through businesses is a core skill everyone should learn. Hint most team members just never understand why headcount is often shuffled or removed and it’s driven by the CFO or CEO. 

2022 for most will be from ‘survive to thrive’, it will be about seeing the bigger picture again and delivering excellence alongside learning core skills. 

The training many actually required is a coach, most specifically a performance coach. Someone to help shape their career, help to shape thinking and importantly sharpen skills, it won’t be attending how big brand x did big campaign y through spending z millions of dollars – you will be able to reverse engineer or hear the same story on podcasts. 

I predict many c-suite execs will need formal coaches, more than just the CEO or the COO. Formal and professional coaches who drive the business forward. Like Bill Campbell with execs from Apple, Google and so many other firms.


A c-suite example: A formal CMO coach to help reshape their knowledge and drive their organisations forward and be able to understand the 2 critical P’s, their people (culture) and their performance (strategy –  Focus) and then enable performance coaching underneath them. 

Your team’s training budget should be the best ROI within the business, it will likely be the best ROAS for staff retention and staff development helping them to attract better candidates in the process. One important tip, the more people learn from coaches, the more you should encourage a coaching loop. 

Have a good week thinking about how you can repoint and restructure your training budget and how potentially it becomes a coaching budget. 

Thanks,

Danny Denhard

Get Ahead Of Your Competition – Read These 5 Must Reads

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Leaders Letter 75 – Ending First In Last Out Mentality

Dear Leaders,

During my career, I have worked in house, agency side and had my own consultancy and a few unsuccessful side hustles. 

When you work agency side, it was (and mostly still is) as someone senior you have to be visible and has to be perceived someone whos committed – basically be there late. 

In the majority of startups you are expected to work more than the core hours and available, do what is necessary. 

When you become senior within organisations there is an unspoken and unwritten rule you should almost always be available. Whether that’s on the phone, late-night emails, long slack threads and early morning and late-night Zoom’s with other regions.

Is any of this effective?
Is this efficient?
Is this right? 

No! 

I have spoken previously on the internal dilemmas work ethic can have and how I used to think my ability to outwork colleagues was a superpower, it isn’t as it is not scaleable. 

The best companies I have worked in or worked with enable people to thrive by working smartly, rewarding working hard and celebrating others around them.

Great company culture should guide values and behaviours, reward behaviours and never ever reward bad behaviours. 

So why do so many businesses reward people looking like they word late versus working effectively? 

Can you scale and grow as a business with fear around ineffective working schedules and hours? And are you breeding the right environment for those to thrive? 

Rethink how you may be rewarding the old way of thinking, reconsider how you might embrace scheduling emails, not sending that non-urgent late-night instant message or how you may be suggesting there is a dominant office or timezone for calls and video conferences. 

Please remember: 

Scaling and maturing businesses do not win by appearing to be working more hours, it is working in an environment that promotes great work, great collaboration and great problem-solving

Never let your commitment be questioned because you are effective, work differently or deliver great work within your working hours.

This week consider how you develop your business out and move away from old ways of thinking. 

Danny Denhard

PS Maybe Jeff Bezos or Elon Musk might agree, but the small and agile are making waves and taking market share across all business sectors.

Great Related Resources

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Leaders Letter 74 – Have A Wish List Of Roles You Want To Hire For To Reshape Your Business 

Dear leaders, there is something important many of us think about but rarely plan.

It is organisational design, creating a team and wishlist of roles we want to hire for. 

In one of my support networks, a question was asked about how other execs go about reshaping their team(s) and was there a method anyone used specifically. 

Away from old school methods of creating a skills matrix or having to question every January the bottom x% of staff, many thought about it but did not plan or have a plan. 

There are two main components for success for organisational design and reshaping your business to consider: (1) company culture / your own subculture and (2) company performance.

My recommendation is to always plan forward, I have a saying that is:


Always Be Auditing, Always Be Marketing.

Auditing helps you review, plan and understand if you are on the path you should be on and the timeline you are operating on.
Marketing enables you to guide, influence, bring others on a journey, alongside being able to attract talent and great team members and bring in senior leaders into your business. 

Many leadership teams are on a long term journey together and just started their journey, there are CEO’s and chairpeople who follow the adage, you should always look to change 5%-10% of their management team, especially if it is larger than single digits. (A good podcast to listen to on this is with PagerDuty CEO Jennifer Tejeda on BVP)  

Remember a large leadership team can be great and add more diversity, with more people there is always more bikeshedding (Parkinson’s law of triviality) and more opinions creep in and can become a politically charged status game and each decision can become death by committee. 

Plan: Be Strategic, Not Reactive

The plan can be simple, you ideally would like this role for these reasons. 

You can build out another dimension and create an org chart with names and responsibilities and how you look to develop out the people and reporting lines, some do this with their right-hand person and create a timeline for such moves.

Often the unspoken truth is; the more senior you become the less turnover and change occurs, the longer it can take to improve your senior leadership and the longer teams and company culture can suffer. 

Why not look to plan the people evolution of your business for the next 24 months ahead, this helps you to reshape the business, refocus the teams and create a window where you are the company and the employees openly embrace change.

Remember: Organisational design has to be proactive, never reactive.

This week start planning the two years ahead, what you would like your team to look like and operate like and where you can transfer the next generation of leaders into your business and smartly and proactively evolve your business. 

Thanks and have a great week,

Danny Denhard 

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Leaders Letter 73 – Setting Your New Norms Now

Dear Leaders,

There is something unrivalled about being ahead of the game and being able to be proactive than being reactive. 

Planning can be stressful however knowing you are ahead and driving the business forward is something many crave but rarely own.

There are many newer ways of working we have now become accustomed to since March 2020, whether that’s right or wrong, we are now in a place to design a better set of norms.

We have become accustomed to too many videos calls, too many instant messages and too many meetings. 

Isn’t it time to address these and help set up a better hybrid workplace

Being reliant on synchronous communications and video calls is something so many are fatigued by and without the right structure are really struggling with. 

This newsletter goes out to leaders across The Americas, Europe, Africa and Australasia, we are all in slightly different phases of returning to the office and with hybrid being the future, how about you set your new norms for the next phase and rethink the tools and the systems you are using currently. 

Here are a few hows to consider: 

More deep work – Remove the constant distractions and enable teams to use statuses to embrace deep work and block out times. Dropbox has set times for deep work, how about you embrace this too? 

Less reliance on video calls – Fewer video calls to make decisions. Making decisions should never be left to video calls or a number of video calls. Consider how you embrace different technology and wiki’s and knowledge centre’s to enable better, more streamlined conversations. 

Fewer videos updates – Feedback from almost every company suggests that many companies are just relying on video as every communication channel, this can be reduced by introducing more audio-only updates, better documentation and introducing better communication practices. 

A move to asynchronous communications – Many businesses have struggled to introduce or reintroduce the right levels of written and documented communications. Having deliberate thought and documents helps to share knowledge and cut through misunderstandings and delivery issues fair quicker than several video calls or having to organise real-time attendance. 

Keep in mind: Improving company culture is imperative, if you are in a place to hire a dedicated headcount, a culture community manager will be essential to improving EX (employee experience) to improve CX (customer experience and success).

Having the right tools is essential, onboarding and coaching on how to use these tools are essential. Ensuring you have agreed working principles will help you to shape your business far quicker than dumping more rules and tools and expecting teams to embrace these. Departments need fewer tools but better tools. Cross functionally departments need to share updates, insights and knowledge to help move your company forward and make real positive change. 

Have a great week planning a better norm.

Thanks,

Danny Denhard

Please remember if you have any disabilities please ensure all of these updates are relevant and can be used. 

Important Supporting Resources 

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Leaders Letter 72 – Where Are You Placed When Consolidation Happens?

Dear Leaders, consolidation is about to happen and it’s imperative you are on the right side when it happens. 

There are two ways of doing business, bundling and unbundling (the famous Jim Barksdale quote has been proven right many times over the last decade). 

What tends to happen in both scenarios is consolidation, you see something ripe for unbundling, many flock to unbundle a large incumbent and then phase two of acquisitions and mergers take over. 

We see disruption, we see innovation, we see lower prices or more convenient services come to market and as consumers (particularly the early adopters amongst us) we love it. 

The next phase is messy and can get bloody. 

We race to zero and that’s not a fight for the faint-hearted. This phase influences careers, impacts even the strongest company cultures, it can also create short to mid-term obsessed business strategies that reshape your business and the industry.  

Businesses end up having to consolidate, they have to sell or go through a sale to ensure the company survives or can compete for the long term. 

Why? Consumers end up with too much choice and have to vote by selecting their side, their default and truth be told, the most convenient, the cheapest, or the biggest perceived brand. Being the brand in your market is often the most underdeveloped action taken by businesses in the last five years.    

We saw this with apps on your phone selling to larger companies, the music industry saw independents selling to large companies and to the tech and social platforms, we saw social networks buy up chat apps, photo sharing apps and live streaming platforms. 

We are about to see this with podcasts (exclusives, first listens, only available on x), TV (we have too many services with +), ride-hailing (Uber vs Lyft in the US, Uber vs Bolt in EU) and apps on our smart devices and gaming. 

I have been in two markets that ended up consolidating quickly and it actually killed off competition and creativity across the board, not just in the companies I operated in.
It has a real impact on your company’s performance and you lose that thing that drove your business on and that spark in your culture that was that extra versus competitors.  

The question for many over Q4 and into Q1 of 2022 is what side are you going to land when consolidation happens in your market?
Are you in a place to acquire or are you going to be on a larger companies shopping list?
Are you preparing the business and the people to understand what consolidation means for the business and their careers? 

Action Needed: If you are unsure where you are landing in your role, find out quickly and prepare yourself and those around you.
Consolidation should never be a surprise. 

For many this is an opportunity phase, for others, it’s a phase of threat and concern. Work out what side you are on and help to share the knowledge with your management teams and help them support their teams around them. 

This Q4 is going to see the largest numbers of people needing help and suffer from a record amount of burnout, consider how you help your teams, don’t just stop meetings like Google did or roll out meeting-free days, think about how you support mental wellness apps, therapists and bonus afternoons off that’s designed for people to organise their time and work around it. Consolidation will create some fear and heighten concern if not handled correctly.

Have a great week ahead.

Thanks,

Danny Denhard

Important Reads For Your Week Ahead

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Leaders Letter Newsletter

Leaders Letter 71 – Pitching The BIG Idea

Dear leaders, this week I am going to tell you about a personal experience that might be a lesson or two to take forward. 

I had a BIG idea, I crafted an aesthetically and numbers perfect 22 slide deck (with a huge FAQ and appendix), the idea was reshaping the business I was on the local leadership team and opening up the business to offer three new services that would have answered more customer problems, enable a global launch and create a bigger impact. 

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Leaders Letter 70 – The Fear Of Your Discipline Moving Ahead Of You 

Dear Leaders,

For a recent keynote presentation, I created a dedicated list of fears leaders go through and stack ranked those fears. 

When I create leadership lists and content for larger presentations, I always run it through a group of c-suite connections who then suggest what they are going through.

One of the agreed-upon biggest fears leaders had was the fear of their discipline moving on ahead of them.
This is something I know many department heads struggle with, you have team management, getting your work done, being an executive and then juggling the work admin. 

I recently spoke to a group of Product and Marketing leaders and when I raised the fear of being left behind, many had not considered it but almost all admitted they hadn’t been in a place to keep on top of the latest moves. 

Losing Subject Matter Expertise?

One of the biggest challenges for department heads is how to be the best department heads (ensuring the right work is being delivered + internal politics), and how to keeping on top of your industry and the movements. 

This is one of the juggles many professionals go through and is rarely discussed. 

How do you know how to prioritise, keep up and lead from the front with so many challenges?

Hint, collaboration and internal training and coaching from your team and those around you. 

The question for you to ponder this week is: 

How far removed from your discipline are you and how do you intend to get back on track? 

Or do you believe you are serving the team best by being removed? 

Actionable Recommendations 

Something I recommend is to have monthly sessions where you discuss the industry changes with your department, what those in your market and importantly outside of your market are rolling out and how they did this. 

For your own personal development, I would recommend you create a list of five news sources you trust and create a list to block out time to keep up to date with their content, if not daily then weekly. 

Lastly, always have an ongoing and updated inspiration board/wiki/note to help you (and the team) rethink problems and be inspired by what others are doing and how you could apply this to your business.  

Thanks for reading today and have a great week,

Danny Denhard 

Helpful Resources

Read or watch my recent presentation 

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Leaders Letter 69 – Why It Is Ok To Be On The Fence

Dear Leaders, recently we have learnt the lesson that life is often too short. 

Something that is often questioned in upper management is people’s commitment.
Is our team fully committed?
Are they on the bus?
Do they bleed the company colours?

For years I was a BIG believer in this, I was a big advocate of: are you in or are you out? 

Until a few years ago when I had to really consider what it meant to be in the middle, not fully in or fully out.
And you know what, it was and is ok. 

My Experience: 

On one occasion, in an away long-range planning session, I was called out “for being on the fence”, a set of the leadership team were not convinced I was fully committed. 

Why?

I was fully committed to doing my job and getting the best results for the business, however, I had pushed myself to the brink, I pushed my colleagues to step forward to take on important projects and I knew we were up against a challenging period and I knew deep down I was not going to be able to give my usual 110%. 

I was however aware at that business I was not progressing at the same velocity I had for a few years before, the company openly couldn’t match my ambition and importantly, I was not 100% brought into the lack of vision and I would often question a number of decisions we as the leadership team were making. 

I was often pushing for different (in mind much smarter) outcomes vs wanting to just “disagree and commit” as the others did. 

What this made me realise was this and something I teach in my coaching sessions

  • Commitment is a two-way street – you and the company have to show you are both committed 
  • You can be a professional and disagree with decisions but still get your job done right and keep pushing and developing those around you 
  • Some companies will never match your own ambitions – this is for you to work out or work through — or leave 
  • Being all in or all out is more poker than real working life, having the right beliefs and making the right sets of bets is best for the company 
  • Companies evolve, as do professionals, sometimes you drift apart – this does not mean you do not want the best for the company 
  • Vision is a big part of leadership, if some struggle with vision or sharing a long term vision, then that’s a personal discussion to have or a point to discuss as a management team 
  • It is then natural for people to assume you are interviewing, hearing about other roles and taking other opportunities when you take a step back from being in every conversation or taking on more projects others who know you will notice – you must deal with this and a challenge coming
  • There are risks and benefits to being in a company for a prolonged period of time – on many occasions salary is just not going to be enough for your sanity
  • It is ok to know there is more out there and for you to pursue opportunities – as an individual you have to decide if you discuss this with your line manager or CEO, be wary this will 99% of the time play against you.

Unfortunately, my commitment being questioned did ultimately help me decide to leave for another opportunity that was right for me and my future.
However, when someone is on the fence in your business, it doesn’t mean they are working against what you want, or what your business needs to achieve, it can mean they are opening up potentials for them and the business. 

This week I recommend you think about your own situation, you consider how you and the company might be pushing people to consider their options and lastly, ponder how you could actually benefit from different discussions and reconsidering leading with paranoia when your colleagues are considering their next steps, it could be the best for the company and enable you to bring in someone else to refresh the management team. 

Have a great week. 

Danny Denhard 

PS if you and the business are always doing strategy and AOP the same way, you have to read this strategy article.


Other Leadership Articles To Improve You As A Leader:

Why the next big business will be people-powered 

Why Management Pods will help you improve your leadership

Why a rotating contrarian role will help your leadership team 

Why Microsoft CEO thinks Hybrid is a paradox

Watch my keynote presentation on fan clubs, communities, tribes and herds