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Leaders Letter 194 – The 3 Box Challenge Interview Question

Dear leaders, I’m going to let YOU into a secret, there’s an interview question I love asking, it is one of three questions with challenges I ask to find out the best candidate(s).  

This is an in-interview question, not a challenge to set with any pre-warning. 

If There Were Three Boxes In Front Of You – What Would You Do? 

Here is the breakdown: 

You don’t know what is inside of  

  • Box 1 
  • Box 2 
  • Box 3 

Some Guidelines 

  • You have 30 seconds to view the boxes 
  • You can lift the boxes once 
  • You cannot shake them  
  • You cannot open the boxes or see inside of them – they are padlocked 
  • You can walk around the boxes and look under the table 
  • You cannot ask for the exact contents of the boxes – but there are varying amounts of money inside 
  • You have 5 minutes to complete this challenge – remember to set the timer so there is pressure associated 

Phase 1A

I will let you ask 3 questions to qualify the boxes 

or 

I can give you 3 hints:

— Do YOU pick the questions or the hints? 

Phase 1B: Questions Or Hints 

The 3 hints are: 

  1. 1 sentence to explain vaguely what inside box 1 
  2. Offer you to pay a % of what is inside box 2 
  3. Box 3 needs breaking open 

Readers stop here: Question: What is the best option for you? 

Phase 2: Answer Questions Or Pick 

Answer questions with varying answers. 

Note: Almost all questions will be trying to validate what’s inside the boxes and which is best. 

Which do you pick?

Or 

Do you want to carry on qualifying? 

Phase 3: Select Step Forward Or Step Back? 

Ask: (1) Step forward and select a box 
(2) Do you want to step back — if step back ask them if they want to ask 1 more question or select 1 box to be removed. 

Phase 4: Offer A Question

If I were to ask you to start again would you change your decisions so far? 

Phase 5: Box Selection

Ask what box you are selecting and why?  

» So, which box did YOU select? 

Here are 6 presets to make this successful for you and the candidates:

  1. Set the money amounts for each box before the challenges 
  2. Vary these amounts at each interview some candidates share online and it could be gamed 
  3. Set the timers to view “the boxes” and the 5 minutes – many will run out of time 
  4. Have a slide with 3 boxes set up or a set of boxes you can pull out and run through the exercise 
  5. Work out if you are going to let the candidate see the other two amounts 
  6. Money could be £, $, €’s or could be notes, a cheque, a mocked-up bank statement, a USB stick etc – be sure to know the contents and the order of least to most 

I know what some of you are thinking, this is either a clever challenge or a stupid challenge and you might be right, it could be clever and stupid at the same time. The but: you need to understand the candidate and without some form of challenge and working session how do you get to know them? 

Why This Challenge? 

  • The challenge is designed to understand the decision-making process and understand first, second and third-order thinking from your candidates. 
  • One of the biggest challenges in interviewing is to understand your candidates’ working style and decision-making while asking questions 
  • No questions all answers are typically a red flag to me – this is where a gambler and a calculated risk taker are decided. This is on you as the interviewer to understand and bring out of the candidate 
  • This is a collaboration challenge – you learn if they are a collaborator or make their decisions on their own, if they select not to collaborate ask questions on why this was the case. Hint many selfish managers and above will make the decision not to collaborate, understand the engineering behind this 
  • Making a decision in a controllable environment is what they will likely have to undertake week in and week out 
  • You will find out a lot about the candidate’s confidence and conviction 
  • Candidates who think outside the box often get into the box 
  • This challenge doesn’t have a right answer per se and often within business you have to make a hard or what seems an impossible or stupid decision fairly quickly 
  • This challenge is a simple challenge designed to:
    • (1) Challenge the candidate’s mind 
    • (2) Understand if the candidate wants to change their mind and how many times they change 
    • (3) See how the candidate makes up their mind and challenges themselves and you
  • You find out if you would want to work with and trust this candidate in the early phases of working together 
  • If the candidate does not ask about the motive or what’s in the other boxes, do they demonstrate a growth mindset? Or have they decided to move on and not look back…

Why did I share this today? Many interview questions are bland and restrictive and they do not effectively test candidates in a working environment and you do not understand your potential colleagues at an operating level quickly enough. This is why I have 3 questions and challenges to test the candidates and the interviewing team to deeply understand each other and the dynamics moving forward. 

This week’s focus action is to review this challenge and see if you could use the 3-box challenge in your mid to senior candidates and whether you find out enough about your candidates in your interview process. 

Have a great week and I’ll land in your inbox again next week,

Thanks,

Danny Denhard

Missed Any Leaders Letters? Here’s 3 Of The Most Recent To Help You To Become A Better Leader

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Leaders Letter Newsletter

Leaders Letter 193 – Is It Time To Reshuffle Your Executive Team?

Dear leaders, how are you and your managers and management team doing? 

It is business week 8 (where has 2024 gone already) and typically you get a pretty good baseline of how things are going, how the business is shaping up and how your team have performed. 

One question that is often asked around now is: 

How do I know when it is time to review your leadership team? 

And connected follow-up question: 

» Is it time to review my management team around you (those who report to you)?

The big question you have to ask yourself is:
How are you performing and how are the relationships and dynamics helping the team and the company progress?  

You might be in one of three situations: 

  1. Leaders like their colleagues but don’t love their output. 
  2. Leaders dislike their colleagues and the team around them but they perform.
  3. Leaders wouldn’t mind if they left and it wouldn’t impact performance. 

If you land with option 1 or option 3 you are ultimately in a place to consider performance plans or a reshuffle. 

Letting go of people you dislike but perform within their role is what makes or breaks leaders and tests your executive chops. 

The Cost & Effects Of Hiring & Firing

Hiring and firing is a core part of being a leader and many struggle with hiring replacements, understanding the demands of their org and then replacing almost like for like or go to an extreme opposite and miss the subcultural impact. 

The Caretaker AKA The Number 2: Others thrive in the firing but the replacements are often not lined up and can take a long time to replace, you are then expecting someone internally to step up and often this will see performance stay as is or improve. 

You are then left in a place with a number 2 who will ultimately have two decisions to make: 

1/Is this number two role enough 

2/ Will this new boss feel threatened and can I learn anything from them to progress my career further? 

Often the ‘Number 2’ will move on and you will be left with a hole and a six to twelve-month window where you will have instability and turbulence.  

Middle management is a tricky place to operate and often when you are in the mid to senior end of your career a new boss coming in to replace your old C-Suite boss is a big swift and has months’ worth of impact on you and the team around you. 

Executive Changes = 24 Months Of Hard Change 

If you notice what happens in many companies, a new CEO comes in, assesses their colleagues and their board and the supporting management team and then makes changes, some make sweeping changes and bring in their people, while others refresh core areas and often make the management team smaller. 

This approach is often about the CEO being successful first not always directly correlated to the business being successful. 

10 Leadership Levels Questions To Consider

There is no one size fits all but here are 10 important themes to consider and bake into your plan (sidenote – always check with legal and HR to ensure you have taken the right legal steps to protect you, the company and the individuals you might be letting go). 

  1. Any Move Is A 2-Year Bet: Don’t make big and rash decisions if you haven’t planned out the next 2 years 
  2. Identify The Right Interim Lead: The next question to ask and answer is: Is there is someone within the team who can and will step up or will there be another exec who is tasked to step up and run dual areas
  3. Thrive Vs Chaos: Some departments thrive in change, while others don’t. Chaos and confusion are never tolerated – find out which the departments are and how you remove any confusion with a timeline of next steps and actions 
  4. Back Up Plans: If you are an exec and department lead understand how you are reshaping a team/discipline lead will impact the business for the next 12 months and have backup plans for additional support, hiring consultants, agencies or reshaping to adding more headcount under the original level will help to get back into the driving seat. You will naturally need to step up and have relationship managers with external vendors to own the alteration  
  5. Sub Culture & Cultural Impact: Culture can be made and broken by hiring and firing mistakes, hiring is more important than firing, if you hire badly you have six months to understand their capabilities and influence and then be confident they are right for the next 12 months 
  6. Popularity: Popular employees being let go sends ripples through businesses, from gossip to direct questions about them and their performance. Understand the impact of these decisions and how you will address this 
  7. Comms Plan & Plan Execution: Communication is key, what you say to the key member of staff you are hiring and firing is critical it stays between you.
    1. Welcoming new senior staff or a shift in operating models requires a well-thought-through comms plan. Time and energy are critical here 
    2. You will need to have a company-wide notice to explain the reasons and what the future looks like clearly. Over-communication and over-sharing lead to questions and a reduction in confidence 
  8. Difference Between Small Biz & Large Orgs: If you are looking to make many changes inside a small business it will reshape quickly, if you are in a mid-sized business it takes longer to understand the impact, in large and enterprise businesses it can be 9-12 months for the effects to come out in the wash 
  9. Talk Of The Town? Big exec firing will lead to external questions and will be the talk of recruitment/headhunter firms, C-Suite groups and industry press. Knowing how to frame the layoff and reshuffle externally is as critical as internal comms. Know internal comms will be shared and screenshotted to be shared across social media and chat apps 
  10. Day 0 Influence: If you want to restart a department’s performance you will have to think about the executive in charge and their relationships and influence over their department. If they have influence and sway you will need to understand how to replicate this, if they don’t think and plan about how you will restart from day 0 of letting them go. 

This week’s focus action is to review if you should reshuffle your exec team, review the list of exec hiring and firing notes and make an action plan on who, what, when, why and how to move forward with reshuffling your executive team. 

Best of luck this week and if you are in doubt ask yourself, if this person were to leave on their own terms what would the plan be, versus letting them go as the leader? 

Thanks and have a great week,

Danny Denhard

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Leaders Letter 188 – How To Get Better At Problem-Solving & Develop Leadership Level Problem Solvers

Dear leaders, do you want to know how to get better at solving problems? 

If the answer is no I’d be very surprised. 

When you’re faced with a huge problem or a brand new problem you’ve never faced before. 

What do you do?

  • Do you automatically stress and panic? 
  • Do you look for help?
  • Do you go into autopilot and make quick muscle memory-driven decisions? 
    OR
  • Do you revisit or review prior issues and problems to reignite the problem-solving muscle you have been building your whole professional career? 

Reflex Actions? 

We all have a bank of problems we have experienced or been connected to, some learn from them, others struggle to remember the details and don’t have the sixth sense that waves the big red flags in front of us to warn us. 

Problems become a reflex action for many experienced leaders (most don’t even have to think, they act).  

The best learn from problems and develop a sixth sense of how to think and tackle major problems and the most efficient stay calm under pressure, some even thrive. 

You’ll likely have a (unknown) two-by-two matrix in your head of where the problem fell and how you had to tackle these problems. 

The 2×2 could be problem size by problem impact, scored by small to big and then apply the actions right away. 

Reaction & The Ripple Effect Is Everything 

One of the biggest signs of a leader on their journey is instant stress and panic. 

You can always witness a less experienced leader who will run around, make a lot of noise and make people around them feel pressure and stress – this is either deliberate or often a sign they haven’t been in situations before or learnt from related problems. This ripples through the business and causes panic – this is not an environment to thrive in. 

If some appear to thrive in causing more confusion and chaos they aren’t a leader at all. 

Clarify, Remove Confusion, Confront 

The best leaders often will take a beat, ask clarifying questions, review their experience and bring in the best people to solve the problem(s) at hand. 

As I have shared before and in my superpowers and kryptonite newsletter, one of the powers I was made aware of was my “ability not to panic and to be a calm person in business problems” So below is how I got here and how you can apply a similar approach. 

I am often asked in coaching and inside of my problem-solving workshops how businesses can get better at decision-making and problem-solving and my answer is simple. 

Enter The Problem Wiki  

Create an open wiki of problems, and the solutions used and then revisit to remind yourselves you have faced numerous issues before and review how you’d tackle the issue today. 

Remember: Over the last decade (and specifically the last 4 years) we have lived and operated in numerous huge problems and the likelihood is you made 70% good to great decisions. 

In some cases, you may have made quick and less well-thought-through or informed decisions that (may) negatively impact you or the company. If it’s under 10% you’re likely doing a good job. 

The trick is to know – hindsight is a wonderful thing and to add notes to say this was in play or this wasn’t. Remember those guardrails I talk about often, this is where your guardrails will be important to keep note of and understand how to move when required and how to incorporate them in the future. 

Templated Help

The decision document (my free template for sharing the most important decisions and how you got to them and how to ask clarifying questions) is just one way to be able to review your decisions of the last year(s) and then revisit how well you did and where you can optimise decisions for the future. 

Without sharing with your leadership and management team and importantly reviewing how are you going to move forward as a business and let it positively spread throughout your business? Async coaching is something many do not talk about but can be priceless with the right approach. 

This week’s action item for you is to book a slot in your calendar to create a decision document and a problem wiki, review the last big 5-10 decisions and revisit the most important problems and the actions you took over the last year and add real detailed commentary to what, why, who and how you tackled these problems. If you then open this up and share internally you will offer a chance for those around you to learn and grow out the problem-solving muscle. 

Have a great week and I’ll land in your inbox next Monday morning with an extra special leaders letters. 

Thanks,

Danny Denhard

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Leaders Letter 187 – The 2024 Corporate Buzzword Bingo Card

Dear leaders, what are the buzzwords you hate being said every day in meetings, used around the office, on Slack or Teams and stuffed into your emails? 

I bet I have them for you in the 2024 update to my annual buzzword bingo card. 

It’s a playful and the most popular post every year. Over the last two years, both 2022 and 2023 have been the most searched on social for and shared posts on the Focus Blog

The 2024 Corporate Buzzword Bingo Card

What Is In and What Is Out

  • Authentic – most likely the phrase you will have heard from Marketing, then across LinkedIn and now has become a mainstay across the board and senior leadership and becoming commonplace across the business 
  • Convictions – A word many use to justify decisions and insert into speeches and all company emails. Expect convictions to be used thousands of times by the CEO/founder and across the business (likely in connection to the vision and mission being refreshed and to try and inspire when the first performance dip of 2024)
  • Return to the office – mandate — mandate was the most hated work last year and it won’t go away this year. Expect ‘mandate’ to be used in other situations and 
  • Economic Headwinds – despite everyone going to experience headwinds, I expect the phase to be replaced and removed from most boardrooms 
  • RTO – RTO went out as the mandates came in and as discussed in last week’s newsletter the battle for hybrid and mandate is heating up 
  • Microeconomics – micro is out, macro stays, expect microeconomics is to be said less and referenced less and bigger themes replace it 

An important note between the humour, and buzzwords often alienates those who don’t understand them or aren’t taken through the significance of these buzzwords, as a leader you should help your team members understand the importance and consider providing them a chance to use where they are applicable. 

This week’s focus action is to share across your leadership team and have a bit of fun with these and maybe have a laugh at who uses the most, even circle back to them when you are under the bonnet. 

Have a great week and I’ll see you next week. 

Thanks,

Danny Denhard

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Leaders Letter 185 – Free Metrics Masterclass From Jeff Bezos

Dear leaders, I have an ongoing loathing of bad metrics. 

Whenever I speak to companies the first thing that is often brought up is performance and then, their associated metric(s). 

My dilemma; is how quickly I tell companies they have bad metrics and often how rotten their OKRs (or equivalent systems) are. 

You will have heard me rant about noise vs signal many times in Leaders Letters. 

Many professionals allow noisy metrics to: 

  • Influence their decision-making process 
  • Confirm their biases 
  • Misunderstand what of the noise is driving significance and which signals are contributing to success or leading to failure. 

Usage Vs Chrun Metrics: In an app company I worked with, the big obsession was usage metrics, there was no metric for successful usage, just if they were a DAU (daily active users), a WAU, or a MAU. 

Churn was almost exclusively ignored. Yes ignored, retention and churn was not something they ever looked at, let alone discussed. 

Imagine if the user opened the app and most days they had a bad experience with the app and ended up using your competitor. 

An example would be Google Maps providing a bad experience and users churned after a couple of uses over to Apple Maps and their daily trips and memories (maps products aren’t just A-to-B products, they help you plan and live important memories) they were arranged and guided by Apple Maps. 

Yes, this does happen and is happening more frequently. 

What I have learnt over the last 22 years is metrics can be good and bad, and the worst metrics are often what senior people obsess over and distress others over. 

Enter Jeff Bezos And His Unknowing 3-Minute Metrics Masterclass On Lex Fridmans Podcast: 

  • Why metrics are mostly good but not great
  • Why metrics can become outdated and mislead companies and their leadership teams (this is common, many ELTs and SLTs never revisit original metrics and understand what I call the metric decay)
  • Why metrics are often just proxies 
  • How the world shifts and metrics do not (and many do not proactively change)
  • Why old metrics are often why day 2 companies struggle  (a day 2 explained by Jeff is “Day 2 is stasis. Followed by irrelevance. Followed by excruciating, painful decline. Followed by death. And that is why it is always Day 1.”)

Watch The Masterclass 

» Scroll down to the bottom of this newsletter for the transcript

This 2-Minute Exchange Is Critical

“The proxy for truth. Let’s say in this case it’s a proxy for customer happiness, but that metric is not actually customer happiness. It’s a proxy for customer happiness. The person who invented the metric understood that connection. Five years later, a kind of inertia can set in and you forget the truth behind why you were watching that metric in the first place. And the world shifts a little and now that proxy isn’t as valuable as it used to be or it’s missing something. And you have to be on alert for that. You have to know, “Okay, I don’t really care about this metric. I care about customer happiness and this metric is worth putting energy into and following and improving and scrutinizing, only in so much as it actually affects customer happiness.”

And so, you’ve got to constantly be on guard and it’s very, very common. This is a nuanced problem. It’s very common, especially in large companies, that they’re managing to metrics that they don’t really understand. They don’t really know why they exist, and the world may have shifted out from under them a little and the metrics are no longer as relevant as they were when somebody 10 years earlier invented the metric.”

The whole podcast is a business masterclass and something you will want to grab your caffeinated drinks of choice and your notebook or notes app and take copious notes to action. 

More, Cheaper, Free & Stagnation

We live in a world of choice, cheaper products, more competition than ever before and in many companies they allow poor leadership and bad metrics to stagnate. 

I have been in a handful of incredible QBRs (quarterly business reviews) and AOPs (annual operating planning), I have also been in some time and energy-draining QBRs and AOPs which many would have paid to leave. 

  • In the best, we discussed the metrics, the actual signals creating real business impact and the actions we were taking forward and the optimisations we would make. 
  • At the worst, we never discussed what the signals were telling us, what the missing links were and how we would truly fix the rot, despite many of us attempting to force the change many executives are happy for BAU and status quo. 

I cannot imagine Jeff Bezos allowing Amazon, Blue Origin or The Washington Post to have bad meetings, QBRs or AOP cycles and not taking competitors seriously and focusing the rest of the exec team around positively obsessing over the customer. 

This week’s focus action is for you to review your metrics, understand which are working to improve your business, which are there just because they always have been there, which are actually limiting your company and the metrics that are negatively impacting you and your business. 

Have a great last week and get in touch if you would like to

Thanks,

Danny Denhard

.

The Transcript (source)

Jeff Bezos

(01:24:36) Well, I’ll talk about… Because I think it’s the one that is maybe in some ways the hardest to understand, is the skeptical view of proxies. One of the things that happens in business, probably anything where you have an ongoing program and something is underway for a number of years, is you develop certain things that you’re managing to. The typical case would be a metric, and that metric isn’t the real underlying thing. And so maybe the metric is efficiency metric around customer contacts per unit sold or something like. If you sell a million units, how many customer contacts do you get or how many returns do you get? And so on and so on.

(01:25:30) And so what happens is a little bit of a kind of inertia sets in where somebody a long time ago invented that metric and they invented that metric, they decided, “We need to watch for customer returns per unit sold as an important metric.” But they had a reason why they chose that metric, the person who invented that metric and decided it was worth watching. And then fast-forward five years, that metric is the proxy.

Lex Fridman

(01:26:02) The proxy for truth, I guess.

Jeff Bezos

(01:26:04) The proxy for truth. Let’s say in this case it’s a proxy for customer happiness, but that metric is not actually customer happiness. It’s a proxy for customer happiness. The person who invented the metric understood that connection. Five years later, a kind of inertia can set in and you forget the truth behind why you were watching that metric in the first place. And the world shifts a little and now that proxy isn’t as valuable as it used to be or it’s missing something. And you have to be on alert for that. You have to know, “Okay, I don’t really care about this metric. I care about customer happiness and this metric is worth putting energy into and following and improving and scrutinizing, only in so much as it actually affects customer happiness.”

(01:27:03) And so you’ve got to constantly be on guard and it’s very, very common. This is a nuanced problem. It’s very common, especially in large companies, that they’re managing to metrics that they don’t really understand. They don’t really know why they exist, and the world may have shifted out from under them a little and the metrics are no longer as relevant as they were when somebody 10 years earlier invented the metric.

Lex Fridman

(01:27:29) That is a nuance, but that’s a big problem. Right?

Jeff Bezos

(01:27:33) It’s a huge problem.

Lex Fridman

(01:27:34) There’s something so compelling to have a nice metric to try to optimize.

Jeff Bezos

(01:27:38) Yes. And by the way, you do need metrics.

Lex Fridman

(01:27:41) Yes, you do.

Jeff Bezos

(01:27:41) You can’t ignore them. Want them, but you just have to be constantly on guard. This is a way to slip into day two thinking would be to manage your business to metrics that you don’t really understand and you’re not really sure why they were invented in the first place, and you’re not sure they’re still as relevant as they used to be.

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Leaders Letter 181 – Which Are You Surrounded By? Problem Raisers, Problem Solvers Or Problematics

Dear leaders, when I look back over the last two decades of my career, there are a number of common themes that come up and bubble back up to the surface. 

In March 2020 I wrote one of my most popular blog posts called Problem Raisers Vs Problem Solvers Vs Problematics. 

In short, it is about the three different problem profiles. I have revisited the blog post and updated it to align specifically with leadership and how we can improve our teams(s) and importantly the leaders around us. 

» Throughout my career, I have made many observations about teams and individuals, as I have run teams in agencies, had two of my own consultancies, advised businesses & marketplaces and worked across multiple disciplines and business sectors; I have seen many versions of individuals who raise problems or pain points or become the problems themselves.

For the most part, people raise pain points, typically it is for the right reasons and depending on your work environment (or direct manager), you will see types of three profiles of people:

Problem Raisers — Problem Solvers — Problematics

Problem Raisers

Problem Raisers usually have the right intent, they want to raise pain points for themselves, for users or for clients. Problem Raisers want to create a fix to these pain points, however, they might not engineered in that way, they may not be creative (Problem Solvers are) or environmentally it is not their place (the position within the org or down to core individuals or departments to be the fixers) to offer a solution.

Problem Raisers are concerned about the problem but the fix is not always an important milestone for them, they potentially work around the problem or in some cases can continue to work without the Problem being explicitly fixed or removed.

A great team or cross-functional teams have a blend of Problem Raisers and Problem Solvers.

Problem Solvers

Problem Solvers (often seen as ‘the rescuer’ in Stephen Karpman’s The Drama Triangle) are those people who find pain points, raise problems and then offer solutions, typically driven by the outcome and fixing the problem that is at hand.

Problem Solvers can come in two subcategories:

  1. Empowered Problem Solver:
    Empowered Problem Solvers want to solve the puzzle, they see puzzles not problems. Empowered Problem Solvers have the ability to lead from the front and often act as the project manager and engineer the fix. The fix is their energy source and how they thrive.
  2. Problem Solver Solutioniser”: 
    The problem solver solutioniser are not empowered to make the change themselves and have to push for the solution from the passenger seat.

From experience, the best Problem Solvers typically have a growth mindset, they embrace change, they strive to improve themselves and the situation around them and want to take it on as a learning curve and grow from the experience.

There can actually be negative to Problem Solvers; they can get frustrated and fairly quickly and do not understand why these problems are not fixed. Problem Solvers often have high IQ and WIQ (work IQ) but can lack the PQ (political intelligence) needed to ensure these problems are addressed. 

The best MarketingGrowth and Product people I have worked with fall into the Problem Solvers profile and actively want to address the pain points at hand and the ones that are up and coming and prioritise accordingly. 

If a Problem Solver Solutioniser is ignored or their pain points are not addressed in a reasonable time, over time Problem Solvers can turn into Problematics and that can be a difficult place for you and your teams. 

Most often Problematics have a negative impact on their colleagues, they negatively impact how they are perceived and will then impact your department’s performance and the company’s subculture

As a leader, this is where you have to step up and ensure these changes are made or you or an external exec coach actually evolves the Problem Solver Solutioniser’s to have more PQ (political intelligence). 

Problematics

We have all worked with Problematics, they stand out, they are a negative (almost toxic) employee and unfortunately, the likelihood is they have been burnt, and the pain points they raise have not been addressed in the way they have felt heard.

Problematics feel like their pain points have never been addressed or fixed and every time they raise pain points it comes across as a problem or someone else fault.

Problematics are often overly negative and it starts to spread or they compare their experiences versus others and start resenting the work or workplace. Two or more Problematics in close proximity can have a real negative impact on people and teams around them.

Problematics fall into two subcategories: 

(1) Negative Problematics 
(2) Positive Problematics

I generally believe Positive Problematics can be moved back to Problem Raisers with specific coaching, supporting frameworks and measurements to help them understand the logic behind the decision made and re-engage them back into the business.

My Problem-Solving Power Half Hours can work with Positive Problematics and I recommend there are two or three sessions to uncover their issues and enable them to put across their business cases. 

Once a Problematic knows deep down things won’t change or they cannot make the changes they have recommended, unfortunately, they become Negative Problematics

Negative Problematics are faced with a realistic outcome and that is often unclear to them, it is to move onto a new workplace and have the opportunity to become Problem Raisers and reset their energy and become successful again with their role. 

Framework To Help

My favourite and most recommended framework that can help is the One Problem — Two Solutions framework:

One Problem — Two Solutions: With every problem raised, you should offer two possible solutions, one preferred and show how you landed with this solution and the second an alternative. 

This framework works particularly well with more senior people who are unaware of these types of pain points or those who like to make the decisions.

It is always important to ensure you show business impact, and external impact with revenue figures and I recommend going that step further and showing internal/cultural impact.

Offer a way to show which people or teams need to be involved and the timeline of the proposed solution. If this pain point is to replace other issues or stop work on existing items on roadmaps everything needs to be laid out and thought through. Often you will need to speak to the relevant teams to gain this insight however if you are a Problem Solver this will be part of something you have thought of.

As a leader, you can run the exercise in 1-2-1’s, informal check-ins or across your leadership team meetings and categorise your fellow leads into these three profiles and decide if you need to help enable them, back them more or in extreme cases move them towards an exit if they have moved too far towards a Negative Problematic. 

This week’s focus action is to categorise your department members into these categories and an interesting exercise is to apply this to your fellow management and leadership colleagues, this will give you a different perspective on how you can and should interact with your colleagues and the actions you have to take. 

Thanks and have a great week, 

Danny Denhard


Now Watch Leaders Reshaping Their Industries

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Leaders Letter Newsletter

Leaders Letter 175 – The Good, Better, Best Trap

There’s A New System In Town – Good Enough, Good, Better, Best & Greatest

Leaders Letter 175

Dear leaders, if you have worked in a corporate environment, you will likely hear the phrase: good, better, best. 

For those unfamiliar. The concept is easy, you have three quality categories to fall into: 

  • Good (or good enough for the users) 
  • (slightly) better (than others), 
  • best (the best in the market) 

Many still need help to use simple ways of comparing themselves or features (or disciplines like Marketing) into scores or categories. 
This is a super simple way for anyone from the most junior to the most senior to understand where they are. 

These categories are easy to apply to yourself and your competitors in a table or matrix and then go a layer deeper when reviewing your own products and features.   

Making Good, Better, Best Work In A Plan

What is more challenging is to say why there is a difference and the steps to take from good to better and then to best and then provide a dedicated timeline to get there.

Product teams especially can struggle to provide this on their roadmap and know with confidence their competitors aren’t doing the same or accelerating away. 

Over the last few years, we landed in a place where good could have been a barrier too high, good enough likely could have been added especially since 2019.

Let’s be honest, there are two other categories on the scale: 

1/ Good Enough

Being ruthless, “good enough” is where many market leaders truly are, they leverage their huge ecosystems or heavily invest in core features that make them seem much better than it is. 

2/ Greatest

There’s a layer that many don’t talk about and that’s greatest. 

The reason why greatest matters, best is sometimes not enough, even with the greatest tools or apps as a company you can still struggle to make it pop or become an industry leader. 

Being seen as the greatest is often a tag you won’t really want once given externally. Let’s dive into why…

Better Or Best Is Powerful For Market Leaders Currently  

Many products have shaped our experience and our reference point into a market we see as the best. This is often flawed but we rarely go looking for the greater product or switching cost is so high we just don’t. Here are a couple of examples: 

  • Facebook has struggled to develop their own hit since the big blue app went live in 2008. They have had to buy the best in the market to continue their growth, including their acquisitions of Instagram and WhatsApp. Threadshaven’t set the world alight since launch and are proof Meta can acquire or drive users quickly but can they keep users on a “good enough product”. 
    There are many better products on the market but this is the social media leader and knows how to port users and gain huge buzz. 
  • Many Apple products are believed at best but aren’t the greatest. I love my Airpod Pro headphones, they changed my working style and enabled me to seamlessly shift between iPhone, iPad and my Macbook without any issues and kept me connected (alongside the great battery life). The microphone is terrible being Bluetooth-based and doesn’t help with calls without Apple’s update on background noise reduction (and some echo reduction) and podcast interviews. The issue for most customers we haven’t looked for, seen, used/experienced or heard of the greater products or are extremely expensive – we won’t ever purchase them. 
  • Google is often seen as the (only for some) best search engine and search experience but it isn’t, it is often the only one have used and most often is the default search engine across their browsers (paying billions to Apple to be the default on the Safari browser), on their phone (if you have an iPad and use safari and use Gmail, see how hard google pushes its search and downloading chrome to own search) and on their devices at home and work. 

The Potential Trap Of The Greatest 

We have seen the “greatest” products launch and then bomb quickly. 

They launch and either don’t have enough marketing budget, they haven’t promoted the app enough, don’t gain traction with the early adopters or they have sold quickly understanding funding won’t ever be enough. 

Greatest is often a trap for startups and challenger brands. If you believe you are the greatest when you are at a large brand, you will likely need to revisit the scoring… 

Audit To Know Where You Really Are

If you were to audit your product features or marketing efforts, how would you audit your business efforts? 

  • Good enough (0-3)
  • Good (4-6) 
  • Better (6&7) 
  • Best (8&9)
  • Greatest (10) 

Hint: By adding in the score you can show how you move the needle and be honest that you might be a 1 on good enough and can only get to a 6 as better. 

The scoring and associated timeline will be invaluable for the business to understand your development and Marketing decisions. 

And if you are higher on the scale (better or above), what do you need to do not to lose against competitors with bigger ecosystems, better distribution and strong moats? 

This week’s focus action is to audit your Product and Marketing to understand where you are on the scale and what you need to do to really improve your performance and build for the next 18 months. If you default to AI – you need to run better auditing 😉 

Thanks and have a great week! 

Danny Denhard

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Leaders Letter Newsletter Leadership

Leaders Letter 168 – The 5 Simple Questions To Ask This Week To Improve Prioritisation & Performance

Ask Better Questions & More Often To Improve Work & Performance

Dear leaders, this week I am introducing 5 questions to clarify situations and remove ambiguity.  

These questions are basically my frequently asked questions from the last three months, the questions come from recent conversations, coaching sessions and helping leaders with personal development questions from expert calls.  

  1. For when meetings and performance aren’t flowing:
    Ask: What context am I/are we missing? 
    Why: Simple questions and stopping poor meetings to gain realignment are critical 
  2. For when you need deeper feedback loops:
    Ask: What is your analysis here?
    Why: It is critical it is not first opinions or thoughts. The analysis framing allows people to dive into issues and create compelling arguments for both sides. 
  3. For when ruthless prioritisation is required:
    Ask: If we were to stop this activity today what negative impact would it have? 
    Why: Most people default to more and have a bias for doing more, being ruthless and clearly calling out tasks will reduce strain and cognitive load on teams. 
  4. For when to understand output at a greater level:
    Ask: what is x’s performance like over the last nine months? 
    Why: Results are often too binary. Performance allows you to understand the wider impact and uncover the deeper actions and decisions taken. 
  5. For when to understand performance and productivity: 
    Ask: What expectations do you have for this project? And how are you prioritising your tasks within this project? 
    Why: When performance is struggling and when team members feel stretched autopilot kicks in and many team members just start, very often understanding the required steps are missed out and prioritises these tasks are overlooked and underappreciated. 

This week’s focus action is to ask these 5 questions when required and move your business forward with smarter questions and reduce the bias for more and have an eye for prioritised (aka smarter) work. 

Have a good week and land in your inbox next week,

Danny Denhard

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Leaders Letter Newsletter

Leaders Letter 167 – The Comprehensive Guide & Ranking Of Company Culture Activities

Dear leaders, are you considering your options to improve your company culture? I hope so. 

Why? I am often asked by CEOs, leadership teams and founders about how to invest in company culture and what are the best activities to improve culture. 

Each business is in its own phase and each business has specific characters who will have their say on what’s best, particularly the internal influencers

What is important is to balance these factors out and select the best most inclusive event. 

Company Culture Activities  

I bet you have asked your fellow leadership team members what you should do. 

I bet you gathered a wide-ranging list of events, and you might now be considering a getaway, an army assault course or even starting a computer game league or sorry startups – a ping pong tournament? 

I have worked since 16 years old and over the last 25 years, I have experienced 16 different attempts to connect and improve company culture. 

I have ranked them below with a score out of 5, a cost implication and a breakdown of the score. 

If you want to expand or have a detailed look at the list, request full access here

My top 5 recommendations to improve company culture would be to consider the following: 

  1. Problem Solving Day – a revamp on the hack day, a way that the whole business can come together and select existing problems, bring the team closer together and develop new tech, and different approaches and release a new working practice collectively. Work out whether you remove the leadership team from this as it can bias the problems solved or how problems are shaped  
  2. Hack Day (Aka Hackathons) – a staple in most businesses, a hack day can be a great way for devs to demonstrate their skills and their broader ways of thinking and collaborate with many they just don’t have a chance to work directly with. It’s key to encouraging or constructing teams who rarely work together to work together. It is key to ensure you remove the boredom from hack days as it can be a lot of start-stop without real structure and deadlines throughout the day  
  3. Sports Day / Sports Team – sports can divide people (sporty vs non-sporty) but in my experience, it is the closest thing to connecting people quickly and easily across the ability scale. Here in the UK rounders (like softball), giant egg and spoon, sack race, and tug of war is the go-to, I have been part of a company that hired an athletes track and we took part in an Olympics-style event it was brilliantly done and everyone stepped up for the event. The key to winning this is keeping everything light-hearted and encouraging people to give it a go and making the in-between about connection, not competition!  
  4. Company Retreat / Holiday – you either love or hate retreats, I have had some brilliant company-wide holidays/vacations/retreats and I have had some of the worst professional experiences at leadership retreats. I found company-wide holidays work particularly well for those companies from 10-200 and then effectiveness can scale down quickly from 500 as it is logistically so challenging and you need people to force people to interact and speak to complete strangers. Leadership retreats aren’t treats they are hard work and it’s important to onboard new members of the leadership team to the way you do offsites or retreats and then gather rounds of feedback to improve retreats.  
  5. Cooking Class – I am a cook (not quite a Masterchef) and I have always enjoyed cooking classes, from pasta making to pizza making to Indian cooking classes, they bring people together, everyone tends to get a job and then there is healthy competition and connections. For those who just don’t or can’t (or won’t) cook if you want them to engage create a judging panel or drinks classes to encourage making the drinks (alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks) and make for those cooking etc. 

All company culture activities and days have a series of costs, from internal costs (like the number of hours missed of work) to large external costs of hiring event spaces and paying for external facilitators. 

Tip: Always have a dedicated budget in mind before the events are created rather than react to the potentially large quotes you will likely receive. 

This week’s focus item is to review the full list and then create a series of activities or events to connect and galvanise the company employees in line for Q4 and the associated ramp-up. 

Have a great week ahead,

Thanks,

Danny Denhard

Need help with company culture? Get in touch, just hit reply or email me directly >> danny @ focus.business 

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Leaders Letter Newsletter

Leaders Letter 166 – The No Passengers Principle

It Is Time To Remove The Passengers From Your Business

Dear leaders, if I said no passengers within your team what would I be referring to? 

A passenger (to me) is someone who always sits back, does just about enough and doesn’t strive to push their work forward or importantly improve the company’s status quo.

Passengers are in every business, in almost every team and are often hidden away by a lack of people management (managers this is on you, if you catch the early onset of passengers you can address it, if stays after six months it’s hard to reset) performers or by performances from their colleagues. 

Having Potential & Good Is Different To A Passenger 

I believe you can have brilliant performers who can take their foot off the gas from time to time and can have a lot on to keep up their high standards, however, allowing long-term mediocrity is going to have a hugely negative impact. 

Middle managers have a hard job and motivating passengers can be almost impossible. It’s critical in management and leadership you know who’s adding value and whos detracting from it. This is where you can proactively score performance and output and then address them regularly. 

Blending quant and qual with real work examples is critical to influencing, improving performance or replacing passengers.  

Passenger True Impact 

Passengers are often hindering your department’s performance, they are coasting, and passengers often rub off in the wrong way and then bring on others for their ride and it can then spill over into other members of the team. Remember team members mimic behaviours especially hard and high performers who feel they are being taken advantage of. 

Why A No-Passenger Principle? 

Principles are what people can get behind, and agree on and they can lead behaviours. 

Long-time readers will know I am a huge supporter of principles, I have: 

Principles Over Pointers 

When you look to create your principles or look at revisiting your principles (it’s annual planning for most larger companies in August), you should question what you really need and what makes the business better and why no passengers are critical to reset expectations and drive the business forward at every given opportunity.  

Principles are written up, formalised, put up in the office and shared so frequently the whole company should be able to repeat on request without any effort or hesitation. Being a pointer isn’t enough and this is when HR will likely have to be called in to help when principles are there to support managers and colleagues. 

This week’s focus action is to consider adding a no-passenger principle to your business and being clear on what behaviours work within your business and which behaviours will not be accepted. 

Have a great week ahead,

Thanks,

Danny Denhard

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