Dear leaders, you would be surprised how many businesses are struggling with who they are, what they should be offering and why they should be offering their product or services.
In recent weeks, I have spoken to a number of CEOs and Marketing leads and they are at a crossroads, unsure if they are in the right market, messaging the right way and actually adding value.
Something I recommend all businesses to go through is a super simple six-question process.
This is something I typically run through right at the beginning of workshops but in this current climate and the number of fears people have, here are the six questions you will want to visit and gain alignment over. This is particularly useful if you are due a long-range planning meeting or you have your annual operating plan meeting coming up.
You would have seen iterations of these questions in popular business canvas, something to keep in mind, canvas are completed and then forgotten about, this is why you should record the decision-making process and then summarise at the end of the session (importantly remember to add this to your decision document)
(And yes, these are deliberately simple to make you think and revisit your core fundamental beliefs and you have to answer these questions in order 1 down to 6)
Problems: What are the top 3 problems you are actually solving?
Needs Solving: Why are these problems solving your customer’s needs?
Customers: Who are the target customers?
Selling Problem Solves: How are you actually selling the problems you’re solving?
Unique: What are you uniquely offering?
Find: How are customers going to find or discover you?
Something to keep in mind, these questions are deliberately simple questions to focus business leads, the more simple the questions are, the better the answers tend to be, the trick with this exercise is to ensure it fits on one a3 piece of paper and the document to act as a compass moving forward.
So this week, youraction plan: plan this session with your leadership team and even give the 6 questions a go and see where you land, if you cannot answer these questions I would suggest you really drive this session forward as quickly as possible (if not everyone can answer this the same way you have a real alignment issue)
A dedicated list of free AOP and LRP resources from Focus.
Site data is a great indicator of what is happening in the market and how management teams are operating. From the focus data, it is clear to see what phase many companies are operating at and what activities they are undertaking.
It is clear many businesses are in long-range planning or revisiting their annual company-wide strategy.
Below are the most popular and most useful free resources to help you with your AOP’s (annual operating plan) and LRP’s (long-range planning).
Resource Link (Click below to jump to the free resource)
Over the last two weeks, Coinbase has been on a mission to address the well-publicised Coinbase cultural issues.
Most recently Coinbase CEO and founder Brian Armstrong’s appeared on the Good Time Show (with backers a16z appearing), where he attempted to address the coinbase culture, suggesting they were focusing on a work-driven mission.
Top Down Culture In Action Or Challenge Culture? ⚠️
Over the past week, (June 10th) Brian attempted to address a long thread on YCombinator News (aka Hacker News) with his thoughts on why Operation Revive COIN is a dumb idea.
Operation Revive COIN is a vote of no confidence in the COO Emilie Choi, Chief Product Officer Surojit Chatterjee, and Chief People Officer LJ Brock by the Coinbase teams.
The Complaint Filed
Petition to Remove COO Emilie Choi, Chief Product Officer Surojit Chatterjee, and Chief People Officer LJ Brock in a Vote of No Confidence
Summary: We the employees at Coinbase believe that the executive team has recently been making decisions that are not in the best interests of the Company, its employees, and its shareholders. COO Emilie Choi, CPO Surojit Chatterjee, and Chief People Officer LJ Brock have been the most prominent executives who have been executing plans and ideas that have led to questionable results and negative value. Some of these include the following:
The failure of the Coinbase NFT platform
The over-prioritization of certain products, which has led to a lack of focus on other important issues like infrastructure
Initiatives like the Dot Collector and the Performance review system that has led to a toxic workplace culture
Aggressively hiring for thousands of roles, despite the fact that it is an unsustainable plan and is contrary to the wisdom of the crypto industry
Not being able to output any higher or better quality products and services despite aggressively hiring more employees
Rescinding offers to new employees despite promising them that their offers would not be rescinded two weeks earlier, leading to a massive negative reception from the public and the industry at-large
The failure to communicate important ideas and plans to the rest of the company, such as the possibility of lay-offs and the plan to fix many technical debts
A generally apathetic and sometimes condescending attitude from the CPO, COO, and Chief People Officer
Their actions have hurt multiple parties:
The employees, who have to deal with the unrealistic demands from said executives and the damage they have caused on a day-to-day basis
The shareholders, who have seen their stock price continually fall, especially from the high of $420 at the beginning of the IPO and the middle range of $250 throughout the summer of 2021
The company itself, whose plummeting stock value and bad workplace management led to low morale and the threats of losing top talent
The company’s reputation to the public, where people are less likely to view Coinbase as a trustworthy and reliable crypto exchange to do business with
Because of these factors, we believe that Coinbase should immediately find replacements for LJ Brock, Surojit Chatterjee, and Emilie Choi. We hope to find people who have had experience in the crypto space and can run such a company more responsibly.
Aired In Public, Addressed On Twitter
Brian rightly points out it is on him as the CEO and many other valid points on his twitter thread.
Leaders Lead is always what you are trained but is this time for the management team to own collectively? Yes!
The biggest issue here: the three of the most powerful and influential leaders to ask to be removed publically identifies a huge distrust problem.
The issue here is his leadership is obviously creating fractions for his management team and then disconnecting with the middle managers and causing issues that are not being reported back in management meetings.
These issues are highlighting a real disconnect between the managers and the “leaders” within Coinbase.
In addition, the agreement of mission-focused work and delivering on cultural promises is obviously not being translated well from the c-suite to VP to team level.
Question To Ask Externally
This does raise the question when you and many others believe in the promoted performance-based culture and work-focused culture, where do you go to voice these concerns especially when you have likely raised these internally and have been dismissed.
Can ‘challenge culture‘ work in an environment like this?
When issues go unaddressed it creates internal and departmental conflicts and creates combative them vs us environments.
Many company cultures and subcultures are overly reliant on the business leader to acknowledge, discuss internally and then share their approach externally as a listed company.
Pattern sends alarm bells and signals there is potentially a leadership issue. When having to address in public and address open internal issues.
Will The Headcount Reduction Going To Highlight The Biggest Issue?
(1) Economic conditions are changing rapidly (2) Managing our costs is critical in down markets (3) We grew too quickly (suggestions of over 5000 employees).
It is unclear which exact areas of coinbase were impacted, it is likely the COO, CPO and Chief People Officer were not included despite the ongoing issues.
Will this headcount reduction reduce fractions or highlight the issues more clearly? Most likely highlighting the ongoing issues and potentially increasing the bad company culture bubbling up to the top of the external news cycle.
Any PR Is Not Good PR
In the previous podcast discussions and addressing external factors coming into the workplace, Brian mentioned how well that it played out after a month or so with top-quality talent wanting to join.
Right now this is coming back to bite Brian and his business performance. Externally pointing fingers by teams rarely works, however, this really does demonstrate a need for critical discussions.
With company culture being recognised as an essential factor of successful businesses, will this count against Coinbase leadership? The quick answer for sure, especially with crypto’s recent performance, the volatility within the web3 space.
This fight in public opens Coinbase and the business up to showing the bigger and ongoing issues internally, namely the trust of the leadership team and those who have joined and delivered weaker products leading to poor performance.
The CEO in any business has to live and die by the sword especially ones with continued rumblings and continued people-related issues.
In the coming weeks, we will likely hear less about the internal issues with Coinbase, listed companies often have a way to reduce the external reporting, however, with so many stories and known issues this is unlikely to go away and it could be another story where business “leaders” on the c-suite exit the business to plaster over these issues.
Social media will be a hard place for the Coinbase leadership team as many will air their truths, especially after the large headcount reduction.
Is this unique in the business world in 2022? – no, however, this is a theme Coinbase is setting for others – yes. It is going to be a case study in years to come on how to or how not to handle internal issues when you are lorded as a leading light by some powerful figures and identified for what leadership is not anymore.
If you want to understand the coinbase founders’ beliefs on culture and woke culture this is an interesting interview with Lex Fridman.
Dear Leaders, this week a lesson and an exercise from one of the names you should know but might not.
I recently read a long profile of Tobi (Tobias) Lütke and it really made me consider what makes a great leader within mature businesses making a difference.
Tobi is the CEO and founder of Shopify, he is widely recognised as one of the most influential and important CEO’s of modern-day business.
Tobi is famous for asking the five whys and wanting to understand each component of the engine to truly understand the topic and help to shape his business future.
Tobi is well known for having a saying “if I were to take over the company tomorrow, what would I do?”
Simple but effective right.
Remember — sometimes the most simple question and comments are the most impactful.
Exercise To Try: I often say to founders and management teams, go up a level and ask themselves if we had to restart what we would change tomorrow, next week and next month.
I like to consider this question as a quickfire question to ask leaders within your business and then a deep pondering to address in asynchronous work. A working document (slides in my typical use case) and ensure everyone has a chance to think, draft and create an action plan they would take forward.
What would you change within your company if you took over tomorrow?
What elements are truly broken and need instant attention. Prioritisation will be the hardest part of this, nonetheless, it is an essential exercise.
Sketch / Design Over Tables: Something I drive forward in sessions like this is imagery, whether hand sketched or created within your favourite editing tool because you put in more effect and more thought into making it understandable for colleagues.
Yes, a table is often the easiest (and you will rarely hear me tell you not to create a simple as possible table with the right columns and rows), however, a table doesn’t enable you and your colleagues to demonstrate the connective element of pen on paper or really thinking about the steps and flow.
Make It A Priority: I recommend you take this question quarterly, if you have quarterly business reviews (QBR’s) and in long-range planning (LRP’s).
Moving forward into Q3 and H2, make this a question you have to ask yourself and then those around you.
Thanks and best of luck in answering this simple but driving question.
Every business has a variation of creating strategy and creating a vision for the company, everyone does this slightly differently, particularly in the hybrid work era.
The Rules Of Vision
As previously written in the company vision cheatsheet, the vision is a ten-year top level achievable driver for the company, vision is what you will strive to become from successful strategic steps.
You can revisit your Vision every 3 years. More revisiting means it is not a vision it is a tactics based strategy.
Vision should be set by leadership and the supporting panel.
With the many options available in today’s work environment, there are a few steps to ensure you take to ensure the strategy or vision lands well.
A/ You have to make the presenter comfortable, they have to know their content and be able to feel like they have landed their message the best way they can
B/ Ask for specific feedback and questions in set time frames to ensure you have covered those who have attended and those who were absent.
C/ Set guidelines of what is negotiable and timelines to review and drive these steps forward.
A company vision is a great step and long term compass, however, the likelihood is the team needs to know they are co-pilots and there are steps they can drive forward with.
The Most Effective Way To Land The Presentation
I recommend pre-recording the video of the presentation (that way stick to a time schedule – 10-30 minute max) and taking the Q&A in real-time.
Consider how you can add (cc) captions for those who may have disabilities
You can now embed videos within videos across PowerPoint, Keynote, Google Slides and Canva
Ensure all links or reference points are linked to and available (HBR articles, big reports and articles are often behind paywalled and inaccessible)
Allows team members to download the presentation deck to review after the presentation
You can also ensure the presentation is something people can watch back (for those who cannot attend or on annual leave etc)
Call To Actions:
Leverage the forms of tech available now and ensure you encourage engagement and CTA’s
Leverage QR codes and links to create an open discussion.
Consider a chairperson to ensure it is a true Q&A format with the “leader” and the team and then people can ask follow up questions and is managed away from the founder or CEO presenting. This step is important as they chairperson will be the bridge between the founder and the staff members.
Tip: Something that works well is keeping a couple of pre-planned or “pre-approved” questions as many don’t want to be the first to ask a question and can spark conversation or create ideas in the team’s head.
Tools To Leverage:
Slido is easy to organise Q&A and can gain votes on questions. This covers introverts, extroverts and ambiverts.
Chat Apps – If you use slack or teams you can leverage the anonymous bot and settings to ask questions or give feedback.
Forms – Google forms can work but fails with threaded conversations. Microsoft forms are an option too however they can be
Spreadsheets – Some use Google Sheets or Excel to
Consider votes –
If you have a company wiki or internal knowledge centre ensure you record the event and post the presentation and Q&A to ensure it is accessible to all.
Many smaller companies and startups enjoy the open approach and ability to add specific emojis to reach or show support, however, these emojis and reactions are hard to interrupt and very often any follow up is not anonymous leading to some frustrations.
Departments & Future Teamwork
Your company culture is a crucial element to consider and keep front of mind, especially when presenting a company strategy that many have not been involved in or if you have changed the company vision you will be painting a picture that could seem like a huge shift, businesses struggle with big change without a detailed plan they are can add into.
Remember Vision & Strategy Are Very Different
Vision and strategy are very different streams of work, it is imperative to ensure these two streams are clearly defined and the audience knows the difference and clearly shows how the strategy rolls up into a broader vision.
No connection will cause a disconnect and ripple through the business.
Always offer 24 hours for those who like to digest the information and then come back to ask questions, this often enables smarter discussions and follow up workstreams.
If you have not presented in this style before, expect it to land well quickly or be something many feel they will require time to digest and then come back with questions.
Best of luck presenting your company vision and supporting company-wide strategy and remember to ask for feedback and insights to improve for the follow-up sessions.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
The one word that confuses so many companies is strategy, what strategy is and is not and who sets strategy, plans and tactics.
In one of the most popular and most shared leaders newsletter, WTF is strategy we shared how you build strategy, simply: you have one company-wide strategy, departmental plans rolling up into the strategy and then tactical layers underneath.
Well, it should be, however, with so many demands to have longer plans and missions to complete, here is a free breakdown and cheatsheet to build the right framework for your company’s strategy journey.
The incompletable mission your company is on. The biggest of achievements.
Missions can be revisited every five to ten years or in big times of world change. Set by leadership (founder + board)
The ten-year vision for the company, vision is what you will strive to become.
Vision is to be revisited every 3 years. Set by leadership and supporting panel
The guiding principles to make decisions. If there is confusion or your strategy is going off course, your principles make decisions easier and guide you into the vision and the mission.
These principles should be re-visited each year but stay the majority the same to keep the company on track Set by leadership and supporting panel
The annual company-wide strategy, the things you are going to do and the things you definitely will not be doing. It should fit on one page and everyone in the business should be able to tell you what it is and what success looks like.
The annual strategy should be re-visited but rarely ever change significantly. Set by leadership
No company should have departmental strategies, your department plans have to roll into the annual strategy. Your plans have to be cross-functional and understand the overlap and how you work together with other departments to make the company successful. If there are no cross-functional elements to part of the plan, you have to revisit.
Departmental plans can evolve and change but when they do it has to be known across the business. Revisit the plans every month, these unlikely should significantly change quarterly Set by the department (lead+) and their panel
These are the number of activities you will take, including the channels and the levers the teams are going to pull to roll up into the plan, that rolls up into the annual company-wide strategy.
Tactics can change regularly, fortnightly/bi-weekly to quarterly. The more you change, the more you will struggle to keep everyone updated and believe in long terms plans. Set by tactical discipline team
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 up 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.