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Company Culture Leaders Letter Newsletter

Leaders Letter 101 – Opinions Vs Feedback & Pixar Pluses

Dear leaders, I want to be clear in my message this week, language and words matter more now than ever before.
We are going to dive into Opinions Vs Feedback. 

Hybrid Challenges: In the hybrid work world we are mostly operating in, landing that message, providing feedback and offering insights have to be clearer and more deliberate than ever. Many are missing the mark with hybrid communications. 

It’s time to review small tweaks to have bigger impacts. 

Sad Over Mad? 

In Product teams, you often have retros, it is “a safe place” to review the last sprint. Often the safe place or space (in hybrid working) can be hostile. 

Many frame it with Mad (things that made you mad), glad (things you are glad about and for), and sad (things that make you sad about the release/product). 

In almost all retros like this, mad and sad overtakes glad and kills the celebrations, kills micro-moments, and concentrate on what could have been. 

Even with great business results, you will see a negative impact on the product subculture and creates an internal cultural bleed.

When I temporarily took over a Product team a few years ago, I instantly removed mad, it was simply sad and glad, you would start with glad (always start with a positive) and end quick fire with sad. 

Removing ‘mad’, removed venting and negative opinions helped bring the teams closer and celebrate each other’s victories for longer and celebrate cross-functionally.  

Just by removing one element – you can have better framing and better conversations. In some good news, some teams are now reframing this into (a) what worked, (b) what could have been better. 

Why words and framing matters

I am a believer that opinions really cut up organisations, feedback helps to reshape products, people and progress.

You should not look to remove opinions, after all, we all have them, however, opinions are often just what you think or how you might be biased for or against something. Opinions rarely help guide you forward and can be your opinion versus someone else’s. 

Feedback is action-orientated, it is built to add value not take value. Feedback should be constructive and a spin on improvement(s). 

By being deliberate and adding a focus on feedback over an opinion you are setting the framing in a better light and encouraging improvement. 

Pluses Focused Feedback? Pixar have ‘pluses’ in their review process of movies, all the company attends and can add a plus which adds value, the famous example (from Dan Coyle’s book the culture code the company culture playbook) is in Up and someone from outside the creation studio suggested a tweak (a joke) and it landed so well this plus was added into the movie. 

Could you reframe feedback sessions to be pluses focused and frame feedback as a plus each time? 

In the coming weeks when H2/2H is firmly in sight and essential you review how the previous six months have gone and how you need to reshape or optimise Q3 and Q4 can you remove opinions and add feedback and could these be framed as pluses not just as “plain feedback?”. 

Thanks and have a great week ahead,

Danny Denhard

Essential Reading

  1. How to fix toxic company culture
  2. What really is company culture
  3. Why it is time to hire a culture community manager
  4. The ultimate hybrid work guide
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Leaders Letter Newsletter

Leaders Letter 100 – 10 Lessons From 100 Leaders’ Letters

Dear leaders, it is the 100th leadership newsletter I am sending out, it is the 100-week streak, where I share lessons on company culture, ideas on leadership and frameworks to help improve your people and performance leadership. 

Today I wanted to share 10 lessons your feedback, questions and requests to collaborate. Here are the ten most popular alongside supporting content to help you make a difference to your career and those around you. 

  1. Leadership is getting harder 
    1. 7 great leadership traits 
    2. 21 leadership lessons
    3. Write your team a handwritten letter
  2. Management is getting harder but getting more rewarding 
    1. Record micro-moments to celebrate as a team
    2. Questions to ask to improve people’s performance 
    3. Three ways to connect with your department
  3. Many leaders were not taught the difference between strategy and tactics 
    1. Strategy is like baking a cake
    2. Strategy cheatsheet
    3. What mission, vision, strategy and tactics actually are
  4. Creating a long term vision is hard 
    1. What is company vision
    2. Why some people have vision and others don’t
    3. The future of business is community 
  5. Hybrid is hard work and many are unprepared 
    1. Hybrid work guide 
    2. Google’s Hybrid Manifesto – its ok manifesto 
    3. How to remove proximity bias (how to beat the managing in person is best)
  6. The great resignation is the great awaking for many middle to senior leaders 
    1. The 3p’s keys to winning business in 2022 and beyond 
    2. The 3 stages of your business, what it was, what it is and what it is going to be 
    3. Have you stepped too far away from your customer’s problems?
    4. Why it is ok to be on the fence for your company
  7. Meetings are taking over 60% of managements time 
    1. 25 proven recommendations to improve meetings 
    2. Would a Bill Gates get away week work for you
    3. Time to audit your calendar
  8. Communication is hard to gain any traction 
    1. Andy Jassy’s communication masterclass
    2. The first and last ten seconds is vital to winning communications
    3. How to kill constant internal noise and gain cut through
  9. Company culture is not given enough of a focus and is only ever an agenda item 
    1. Improve company culture with department principles 
    2. The 4f framework – Feel, Fascinate, Future, Flourish  
    3. Create management pods to connect leaders to company culture
  10. Team management is a struggle, especially in Hybrid or remote-first companies 
  1. Always re-onboard your teams to the office
  2. A simple game to connect with your team
  3. The hand over and hand back process

Have a great week and you can get in contact at any point by emailing me directly. 

Thanks,

Danny Denhard

BTW I am taking on a limited number of clients, do you need a coach? 

Other great helpful resources 

Be Inspired By Others 

Jeff Bezos’s business lessons 

7 business rules from Elon Musk

Stripe’s communication masterclass

Think Differently 

Time for a performance panel

Annual strategy playbook template

Two up two across framework for career development

Categories
Leaders Letter Newsletter Leadership

Leaders Letter 99 – Leader & Cheerleader 

Dear Leaders, this is the 99th leadership newsletter I have sent out. It’s been a pleasure landing in your inboxes each week 

It has been 99 consecutive letters helping you to fight the battles that come thick and fast at leaders every day. 

This week I am going to show you why cheerleading is the hidden pillar of leadership. 

I set myself on a quest in 2020 to speak to as many leaders as I could.

I actually do something similar every year, however, when we were in lockdowns and trying to navigate that evolving landscape I wanted to speak to leaders who were driving their company forward. 

I spoke to leaders from as many industries as possible, including; secondary education, the military, sport, FMCG, creators, finance and fintech and there were three themes that arose from the calls and zooms:
(1) leadership evolves every day
(2) know when to lead and know when to get out of the way
(3) communication is key – but it’s how you deliver the message that is so important to landing that vital message. 

When I checked in with a few of these leaders recently, I revisited the themes and a fresh theme bubbled up to the top: knowing when to be the leader and when to be the cheerleader. 

The role of the leader regularly changes, but the core principles are often the same. 

Many learnt throughout the last three years that being leader changes but what was required most recently was being ‘the cheerleader’. Cheerleading the strategy, cheerleading the culture, cheerleading teamwork, cheerleading great work, cheerleading the pending business pivot, cheerleading change when many were proactively feared change. 

The issue many leaders cited was when their middle management and their leadership team struggled to rally the teams or galvanise change, it was on them to step up and cheerlead not always just force leadership decisions and change. 

Are you cheerleading enough? Are you embracing the role of the cheerleader and the impact is has on your team? 

This week consider how you can embrace this pillar of leadership and cheerlead more to help drive positive change.

Thanks, 

Danny Denhard

Are you interviewing? Here are the company culture interview questions to ask 

Here are the 7 leadership tips to win 

Struggling with the hybrid work shift? Read the hybrid work guide 

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Leaders Letter Newsletter

Leaders Letter 98 – Why Do Some People Have Vision And Others Don’t

Dear leaders, in letter 3 future seers I discuss embracing those who can see the future and have the rare ability to understand where the future is going. 

In many recent conversations and hosting coaching sessions, I have been asked about professionals who have ‘vision’ and those who don’t. 

There is not an exact formula for those with vision and those without, however, I have listed out the skills and abilities I have experienced with those with vision and those lacking vision. 

Subject matter knowledge, not expertise

Most colleagues and leaders with vision have subject matter knowledge, they understand the vertical or matter but do not have to be experts and often this is what helps them not be constrained or have bias through too much experience or expertise. 

Understand how the market operates

Many understand how the business of their market works and how their rivals make money. You don’t have to know down to the processing fees or salary breakdown but understanding the economics of the market and the factors involved helps to shape some thoughts and build a plan. 

Product direction

For me, this is what separates those with vision and those looking to shape the near future. Product is hard, understanding product nuisances and where the products within your market are going is a trait that very few have and can envision. The real vision here is to know the products are likely to be shaped in a way that you can lead or you can follow. 

Themes

Many understand what is a trend and what is going to be a (longer) theme. This who chase trends very often highlight they do not see long term. 

Understand the gaps

Gaps are generally opportunities or weaknesses to exploit, understanding gaps within the market and then what are routes to build a wedge becomes essential. 

Gaps ➡️ Wedges

Following on from gaps, those with vision know how to build a wedge within a competitor’s gap and build out to create a large opportunity and start to make or take market share.  

Storytell with words or imagery

It’s not just the way to have a vision, the best at vision are those who can sell with words or by imagery, by painting a picture of the future others can then see the same or similar picture and want to join 

Ability to envision the future

This is a rare ability to not only see a future state but a way to envision it and the steps you need to take not just a big idea from an aha moment. 

Knowing a timeline and time matters

Those with vision know that timing matters and know how important a timeline is to create and deliver on the vision

Chance and Change

Understand there is a chance to build something. Or a chance to make a change or change something to make a bigger impact. Often starting small to take a chance to make that change. 

Risk & Reward

Those with vision are not blinded that there will be an associate risk to the upside and the reward of this bigger vision. 

More isn’t vision

The smartest people with vision know that more is not the answer, it’s unlikely just to sell more, just to build more or to just rely on optimisation. 

How do you stack up? How do your colleagues stack up? Does the founder or CEO of your business show these elements to prove they have vision? I hope so. 

This week consider how you can develop some of these skills and share your vision. 

Thanks,

Danny Denhard

Essential Follow Up Materials

The Strategy Cheatsheet

The Difference Between Mission, Vision, Strategy & Tactics

Your Business Moat Is Infected

Stripe’s Inspiring Vision (Aka The Stripe 2021 Letter)

Can You Confidently Say What 2027 Looks Like?

What Is TikTok Competitive Advantage? Executing Its Vision

What is the metaverse?

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Leaders Letter Newsletter

Leaders Letter 97 – Your Infected Moat Is An Internal Disease

Dear Leaders, Over the last decade, a moat (business moat / economic moat) is what every business has been searching for and attempting to build. Believe it or not, it is a lot harder than most executives think. 

“A company's moat refers to its ability to maintain the competitive advantages that are expected to help it fend off competition and maintain profitability into the future.” - Source

As someone who has been an operator on the Product, Marketing and Growth sides, I have heard and used moat hundreds of times. 

In a recent coffee catch up, a couple of industry friends and I discussed an important area that goes unspoken, and what I dubbed “the infected moat”.

When the believed competitive advantage blinds your company-wide strategy, it infects your internal messaging and affects your company so much it starts to hinder the business performance and your company culture

Misleading and blinding your people is one of the most damaging aspects of company culture and can cause decay to the foundation of the business. 

You stop building, you rely on optimising the final steps of the funnel and you reduce your budgets and hiring based on infected beliefs and data. 

One of the most common infected moats is believing you have network size or quality of data which means you have the best product in the market. 

You rely too heavily on your data, you rely too heavily on the algorithms and you become a Blackberry (vs Apple), Yahoo (vs Google) and most recently an Instagram (vs TikTok).  

This comes down to the management of the company, the misunderstanding of the influence of the brand, the power of the product and the state of the market or a blind obsession with competitors versus being informed by your customers and competitors. 

Something I recommended is to audit your business, audit your product, audit your marketing, audit your growth activities and go deeper than reviewing just top-level insights and competitors’ actions. 

Don’t allow your moat to become infected, impact your people and performance and don’t develop a blind spot that is of your own doing. 

This week focus on reviewing your moat, auditing it and planning to evolve. 

Thanks and have a great week,

Danny Denhard

Essential Strategy Reading

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Leaders Letter Newsletter

Leaders Letter 96 – Remove Constant Content & Content Noise!

Dear leaders, are you an inbox zero or 100s of unread notifications person? 

It appears we fall into these two camps, the one common theme is the constant stream of noise, notifications and content. 

With the constant noise and demand for our attention, how do you cut through with essential information? 

Many businesses have adopted more = better. 

More slacks, more calls, more meetings, more decks, more…more…more. 

A quick why: I believe this has happened:
(1) the chat-ification of work happened and we have been conditioned to message more and
(2) we are hit with more noise and more notifications as we live in a feeds driven world and we believe what most companies and departments are doing – sending more. 

More doesn’t mean better. 

More comms is more noise and means your message won’t land. 

Like the person in meetings who just talks without saying anything and constantly has to add their opinion, not their feedback. 

Let’s commit, to being better, not more. 

Focus on sending better communications, get everyone together and has rules on what is important communications, where you send them and what communications you will have to read. 

Gone are the days every email is read from the big boss, from your own boss and not every important document with essential information is read, therefore, create a process that everyone understands. 

Deliver the most important message with fewer comms, not more. 

Use a blend of storytelling techniques; audio, video and written numbers to hit the right message. 

Ask for confirmation of reading/viewing and ask for feedback, not opinion. 

In the very near future, less is more. Especially in the world where asynchronous work and hybrid work are what many demands and few are really delivering. 

This week commit to communicating more effectively, improving performance and culture by improving your internal communication.

Thanks,

Danny Denhard

Be inspired by the stripe letter

Essential Reads This Week

Cultural Reads

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Leaders Letter Newsletter

Leaders Letter 95 – Time For A Performance Panel

Good morning leaders, a quick pondering for you today. 

After speaking at a conference pre-pandemic, I was asked if I could join a panel discussion around how to improve business performance. My “role” was from a Growth perspective as there was already a CEO and a COO on the panel and the original panellist couldn’t make the event. 

A theme of questions arose from the attendees, what do you do to improve performance or receive fresh ideas and perspectives when performance maybe stagnates. 

The others on the panel provided good answers and offered ways to trust internal staff and double down on what got them there. 

I recommended something different.

A performance panel

The panel is not too dissimilar to what you likely have internally, a group of people who analyse and discuss performance, review the data and make recommendations on the next set of actions. 

My difference, you introduce formal external advisors to your panel. 

Why? 

  • Not stuck to doing it way its always done 
  • Not restricted by knowing details of the roadmap constraints
  • Help with getting out of the weeds 
  • External intel, often knowing what others are struggling with and if there are changes your internal team are unfamiliar with 
  • Less panic = less stress. Calmer environment to review and attack potential issues 
  • New ideas – fresh approaches often help 
  • If you are a department lead you spend too much fighting on behalf of your team, external assistance and expertise will greatly help support or guide 

This can work across the board, it can work from adding Operations, Marketing, Growth, Product, Technical, HR and company culture representatives.  

You will have to onboard the panellists, you will have to brief them well and allow access, the formal agreements can work like non-executive directors and can be formalised to a few days per month. 

For the existing department leads, ensure they are prepared to share insights, they are comfortable in asking for help, curious about what is recommended, and take some time to build the connection and trust, this will be key when they look to roll out the recommendations of your panellists. 

This week consider how you could improve not only performance when there is a dip but company-wide performance when there are opportunities to grow, hire smarter and develop departmental plans and your company-wide strategy with external advisors. 

Thanks,

Danny Denhard

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Leaders Letter Newsletter

Leaders Letter 94 – Quest Lists

Dear leaders, this week I am going to introduce you to one of my own personal practices, this time I am going to introduce you to my annual quests list. 

Every year I keep a quest (like missions but actually able to complete) list that I want to achieve. They are more than personal year resolutions because I hold myself accountable. 

Here are my current quests.

My outstanding 2022 quests are:  

  • Guest lecture at universitywhy? I never went to uni and I want to provide an accurate story of work and what is happening through my experience 
  • Appear on a tier 1 podcastwhy? I have had two podcasts and write two weekly newsletters, I want to be able to add value to the biggest audience possible. 
  • Take on 2 more coaching clientswhy? I love mentoring and coaching. I love seeing people develop their skills and want to help improve two more people in the coming year.  
  • Keynote a conference (hybrid or IRL)why? I speak at conferences, I have spoken at many over the last 13 years, I want to keynote a conference this year with a hybrid audience as it is new and will be the first time talks will be as much for that on-demand as in person. 
  • Take on another NED rolewhy? I have a broad skill set and I want to help businesses to develop with my skill set and help to shape a company with my unique perspective where company culture and strategy have to be aligned (my P+P mantra of performance + people). I also love seeing the lightbulb switch on with professionals who just haven’t found the right switch yet.   
  • Get better at storytellingwhy? Storytelling is one of the opportunities on my SWOT analysis and I believe getting better at storytelling is going to be vitally important when there are too many data points available, storytelling will cut through when data is inconclusive or actually divides teams and companies. 
  • Release a brand new productwhy? I release “products and services” every year, a lot of them are for my own test and learn approach to life. I haven’t launched a new product officially in 2022 (although I have a number of templates and frameworks in the works). 

What are your quests for this year?

Do you have any and why’s for them? 

As previously hinted at I am slowly writing a book, this is more of a personal mission for me than an annual quest but it’s coming together. 

Want to help me with my quests? Or can you help with any of my quests? Definitely get in touch.

Have a great week and think about how you can create an actionable quest list (or help your team members create their own).

Thanks,

Danny Denhard


What To Read Next

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Leaders Letter Newsletter

Leaders Letter 93 – The Role Of The Translator

Dear leaders, today’s letter will introduce you to the most important unofficial role on the leadership team.

In the 21st year of my career, I have seen the landscape move tremendously, the shift to tools and different ways of operating has impacted how successful companies are and be. 

For instance, when you sit in a leadership meeting, you very often as a department lead sit there with your department hat on and advocate for your teams and you will use many abbreviations, industry language and your own lingo. Very rarely do you stop to think about how you make these nuances apply across the board. 

Defend: As the department lead you will often spend much of your time defending your team’s performance, much of the backlog and delays on external factors and go to great lengths to explain why but in the language of your own discipline. 

You will also go to a war of words with other department leads who have negatively impacted your teams’ performance. Alliances are created and battle lines are drawn. 

Adapt For The Room? Very rarely do you consciously change your language to make it land with the other members around the table (Zoom etc) and some deliberately do this as an ‘I know most’ tactic. 

I remember sitting in twice-weekly meetings where Product and Dev would almost deliberately go into the full technical mode to try and go over the room’s head to say they were late due to many technical reasons we may not understand.
The TLDR (too long didn’t read) was there were too many moving parts on old technology formats and needed more time. 

Sales would regularly blame ARR goals being missed and sales targets being impacted by Marketing’s failure to drive MQL’s (marketing qualified leads) and Product not releasing on time – all with adding how great their team were doing with a tiny headcount. I am sure you have been there and as it was this way when you were coming up, you likely continued the trend. 

Enter The Translator: 

There is a role within many functioning and highly functional management teams that is the unofficial role of the translator, someone who can and proactively does cut through the buzzwords and technical speak and explain what Product is suggesting or what the Finance team to trying to get across.

The translator often can be seen as the person breaking up fights and attempting to apply logic and bring teams together by positioning arguments differently and cutting through the noise and letting the right hand know what the left hand is doing. 

Do you have a translator? 

Do they step constantly and put the team’s performance ahead of their own team’s performance to ensure there is understanding and consensus?  

Does the business understand that this person exists and takes on numerous issues and enables the business to progress? 

If you have a translator, consider how you can support the translator in their unofficial and under-appreciated role and how you help them move the business forward. 

Have a great week and if you are the translator, congrats for being the unofficial leader of your business.

Danny Denhard 


The Other Unofficial Essential Business Roles

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Leaders Letter Newsletter

Leaders Letter 92 – What Questions To Ask This Month To Improve Your Performance For Your People?

Dear Leaders, 

March is often the most important month in the year to review how companies are progressing, how the morale and the performance of teams are going and preparing to review the five-year plan. 

Remember my motto;
Think 5 years aheadPlan 3 years aheadAction the year ahead.

So here is a list of questions you will want to ask internally and ask your fellow leaders, answer and then address: 

Strategy & Performance 

  • Do we trust the plan ahead?
  • If we were to change one part of the plan what would it be? 
  • Are there new market conditions we did not plan for or consider?
  • Have we returned to normalised seasonality? 
  • Can we ramp up our spending to accelerate growth? 
  • What would be the best investment to improve company-wide performance? 
  • What do the next six months look like if performance stagnates? 
  • What one hire would positively improve our leadership team? 

Company Culture & People 

  • How are our people doing?
  • How are our people reacting to ever-changing conditions? 
  • If we were to make one change to make people happier at work what would it be? 
  • How is our hiring going? 
  • Do we need to implement any company-wide training? 
  • Are our people in the right internal roles? 
  • Do we need more coaches and mentors?

Important Resources To Help You Answer These Questions 

I trust you work through these with your fellow leaders and consider how you could remove barriers for your performance and your people. 

Have a great week ahead and remember that your leaders should always think action, plan, think model to help address performance people issues alongside leading your business to success years for the next five years. 

Thanks,

Danny Denhard