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Leaders Letter 198 – Who Do You Serve & What’s The Prioritisation?

Dear leaders, who do you serve? 

And in what order do you serve them?

I remember an all-hands I attended and the EVP stood up and read from a very simple slide:

“We serve the shareholders first, then customers second and then the staff” 

It stuck with me, I was in a follow-up meeting and the same priorities were repeated, followed by:  

“We have to remember who we are serving”.

Whenever I brought this up with leadership colleagues they failed to remember this, not just because we were clearly saying we serve two other layers of the business before the staff but because it was quite subtle, despite the slide being clear for all to consume. 

This prioritisation isn’t uncommon but isn’t spoken enough in businesses.

Survive — Thrive 

Survive: As a business when you are trying to survive you do everything you can with conversion rate optimisation (CRO), take rate (if you have a checkout) and inside of the CFO’s spreadsheet including its complex formulas to drive the most value for the shareholders (or for the owners).  

Thrive: When you are thriving you do the same, however, you do have the luxury to add more value through your product or pricing to make it more equal, and the customers tend to get a slightly better value exchange.

CVO aka Customer value optimisation was a trendy phrase towards the end of last year and at the beginning of this, it’s essentially how you get the most amount of value from your customer, increasing subscription prices, creating surge (demand-based) pricing or reducing down the basic packages to drive upgrades. 

Some brands will use shrinkflation (making items smaller) to drive up efficiency. 

Rightly or wrongly – all of this is business first and as a business performance is paramount.

Netflix Competing Priorities

Netflix has been doing this for the last few years and it’s worked wonders for their share price but not necessarily for their customers. 

Netflix is even trying to remove the basic entry-level package and recommending downgrading the user experience (yes making it a worse experience) to fulfil their advertiser numbers – adding ads for £3 less per month. This tactic has proven price elasticity studies lower quality tariffs improve subscriptions numbers.

Advertising is a way these platforms make more money, paying a high subscription to move away from ads was the way streaming enabled customers to move away from the burden of ads and cheap/low-quality content. 

Netflix is now TV (adding live content like sports into your schedule) without it calling itself TV now. 

Is this smart? Or is this market dominance pushing for more that may lead to less for consumers? 

Managing Expectations & Packaging Prioritises + Problems

Having led Product teams, a startup within a company, big company changing pricing projects and helping subscription businesses to switch their business models, the common theme is putting the business first and constantly trading what you can do for your customers, your external customers through product improvements and your internal customers (staff) by helping them manage workloads and managing their expectations on the tradeoffs. 

It’s now Q2 and most businesses start to find out where they are and what they need to do to improve the business or push harder on what’s working. 

Enter Answer Engine Vs Search Engine 

I am a user of perplexity answer engine, it’s not replaced Google completely for me but it has replaced the need to refine my searches for the right answer. 

In a recent podcast (embedded below – start at 13:45 “The Importance of Aligning Shareholder and User Interests” if prefer the audio-only experience) their CEO Aravind Srinivas calls out why Google isn’t incentivised to always offer the best answers and why their business model isn’t geared towards their customers. 

This Google example is a great example of how businesses set out on a mission and then when successful, they diversify. 

Once this shifts you then serve different stakeholders in different orders. 

Google was released in August 1996 and then went public in 2004. = Shareholders had to come first. 

>> I have an upcoming post breaking down the evolution of search engines and what we will see in the near future with “engines” and why Google’s business model is under intense threat. Teaser below 

This week’s focus action is to: Consider the prioritisation of your business and associated priorities. If you are a smaller business how can you look to serve your customers first and improve your service to a point that they will continue to use you and keep recommending your product or services. 

Thanks and have a great week, 

Danny Denhard 

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Leaders Letter 196 – Ask Me Anything 2024 Answers

Dear leaders, thank you for your challenging questions this week. 

As you will see there are many great questions, covering Company Culture, Strategy, Google Gemini, Apple AI and my “controversial opinions”. 

Let’s dive straight in: 

Q. What do you think of Google’s release of Gemini and the backlash received? 

  • Google decided to release early, they felt rushed to compete and if I’m honest it appears they released a product that missed the mark. And in other ways, it overstepped the mark. 
  • Google created amazing advertising products (particularly AdWords) and is smart to understand when to play solo or when to be multi-player to own market share through collaboration (Android). This launch will worry advertisers and their business partners. 
  • The Gemini launch would suggest they are concerned about their competitors and misunderstanding what their customers want from an answers engine, not a search engine. Google is trying to balance being able to do both without upsetting their (primary audience) advertisers and their users. 
  • Google is the utility offering, it is the default site and most trusted site for many, and this won’t change for a long time – even with more botched Gemini launches.
  • Google will come back bigger and better but until they understand their part to play here, I believe Google will struggle to tame their shift in internal culture and answer user queries in the most effective ways. 
  • Always remember Google has a unique powerful ecosystem to leverage and distribute their product, Chrome, Android, and Google Search & importantly not being discussed inside Google Suite (Docs, Sheets, Slides etc) to test, iterate and apply market dominance, whereas others are forcing new behaviour. 

Q. How can brands learn from recent mass layoffs? 

There are a load of lessons that brands and company leads have to take away, here are my top 5 

  1. People have to come first, companies need their people they do not need a dream saying a more efficient company – people do not connect or resonate with this, even with huge bonus packages 
  2. Remove the (HR and business) jargon and quickly 
  3. Be first, be human – Don’t send an email, cut access and then force your employees to try and contact you about their employment 
  4. Many allow HR to do the letting go and tell their department leads not to contact their team members, this is an awful practice, managers reach out, make the time and explain the decisions to individuals – otherwise, you will end up on TikTok and news outlets explaining your bad decisions. Yes HR is there to protect the business however if you want to be a leader, lead from the front in the good and the bad 
  5. Layoffs should never be a surprise, if they are or will be in your business, share the business performance and what it will mean. 

Q. Meta has been on a tear, where do you think is their Achilles heel?  

  • Most likely would suggest it is Meta’s metaverse push. I believe it is their advertising and topping out on their cross-platform users. Unless they go into China (highly unlikely) Meta will struggle to grow further. 
  • Simply put, Meta is an advertising machine (like Google) that often hits them hard when their products struggle to convert users or the costs spiral. Meta will be around for years to come and is an important cultural tool in WhatsApp and Instagram, can WhatsApp make ads work in their chat app and can they squeeze more value from the Instagram app that is at best 20% creator (uploading content) and 80% viewers (who aren’t engaging in content as much and won’t create). 
  • WhatsApp being more popular in the US and Canada will delight Meta executives but it will also create trade-offs around advertising and paid subscription options (away from broadcasts) they have struggled to execute and ads are far from natural in chat apps. If anyone can make it work it’s Meta.  
  • Say what you want to but Facebook (their original product) is still an important part of their engine for Meta especially with older demographics and international audiences – this will decay over time but the Facebook app will continue to drive huge revenues and advertising opportunities, will another election be a problem for Facebook… 
  • I suspect Threads will launch an advertising product and won’t get the numbers to impress advertisers 
  • Unless Instagram releases a new killer product feature and increases organic reach from the everyday user a little more usage will slow and Instagram will be forced to show more ads and have more ad slots in the feed and within stories and even potentially DM like ads that LinkedIn have.

Q. Who will win Facebook or Apple in the VR space? 

  • VR is just a part of mixed reality and although Facebook owns a large percentage of the VR space it is not a space I ever see hitting the mainstream. 
  • For Zuck to come out and critique the Apple Vision Pro it is clear he is worried about an alpha product and the Apple hardware machine. 
  • The Vision Pro isn’t perfect but if you hear how people work in them, facetime in them and use them regularly for non-gaming tasks between the two I would say Apple has the advantage in the mixed reality (aka spatial computing) space. 

Q. What are a few unpopular or controversial opinions about today’s business world?

  1. Most large tech companies brought on company bloat themselves and never empowered middle managers and could keep running larger layoffs and feel the impact for 12-18 months – in 18 months time many brands will look back and say how did we really get here 
  2. Specialist managers are going to be invaluable for small and mid-sized companies. Especially those who want to be managers and develop teams and not just play politically. Large companies will have to embrace middle managers back into their hierarchy again.  
  3. The chat interface is not going to force mass adoption quickly enough for most AI companies 
  4. HR is going to become AI first – human-driven decisions second. HR had so many decision trees and the ability to add in performance data at an individual level that AI can make decent calls 
  5. Apple can win the current market in AI with two updates to iPhones – even though this is what investors demand, Apple will play the longer game and make time be on their side 
  6. Quarterly goal setting is never given enough time to be created, rolled out and evaluated 
  7. Re-forecasting in large businesses kills morale and wastes weeks of individuals’ time – it is a necessary evil in business, too many people are taken out every two weeks kills the delivery of work 
  8. There is not enough coaching within businesses and too many won’t push their companies to improve them professionally, most are happy to waste their L&D budget at conferences, waste on on-demand courses and cohort-based courses they will never complete  
  9. There are actually 4 layers to company culture, not just one. 
    1. Micro – 2. Sub – 3. Leadership 4. Company-wide. Micro culture(s) are between individuals and teams. 
    Sub-culture is between departments and cross-functional. 
    Leadership culture is how they set behaviours top-down and interact and engage with the company, leaders break culture as much as they make it. 
    Company-wide culture is a blend of other cultural formations. Most companies struggle with company culture because they ignore the day-to-day micro-cultures and sub-cultures and have not enabled buy-in from the leadership team and leadership teams are often too disconnected from what is happening causing disconnect throughout the business. 
  10. Instant messengers (Slack and Teams) encourage over-communication not deliberate or effective conversation and regularly contribute to misunderstanding between colleagues. Many companies never do anything to guide their teams on the usage of instant messengers and how to be effective. Win by telling your teams how to communicate, where and when. 
  11. Bad hiring creates 18 months of pain and slow decision-making around firing causes 6-12 months of pain – couple this together and the ripple effect is huge. 

Q. Is company culture dead in hybrid businesses? 

No, but it is hard and in most cases transactional, however, that is not always a bad thing if you are prepared to engage with team members more frequently and not just reward performance-first goals. 

The role of a manager in hybrid is likely the hardest it has ever been, many weren’t trained for hybrid, and even being four years into hybrid for most professionals it is still a work in progress and an operating style there was no manual for. 

Simple guidelines, agreed principles and training will help but not create a company culture without deliberate management and as I have recommended before a culture community manager is the person who helps to shape culture (micro, sub and leadership cultures) and interacts between the staff and the leadership teams. 

Many people will perform better in the office (they need a stage and an audience) and other people will struggle to perform when they do not have in-person buy-in and influence. This is some of why the mass return to the office is happening and in office policing (not management) is working for many who never wanted to change or adapt to this way of working. 


Q. My company needs help to connect departments to the company strategy – how could we go about improving their buy-in? 

Strategy means so many different things to different professionals. 

If you have multiple strategies you will lose. If you do not help your teams build their plans into your company-wide strategy you are going to struggle. This is why beliefs, bets, pillars and strategy are my go-to operating model for companies. 

You have to decide if you are top-down leadership first or a D Team (decision team that helps to shape important decisions and strategy) at a strategic level. 

Often the goals are set at the leadership level and then too many people are asked to be involved, causing no build towards your strategy. If there are more than 12 people in strategy you will experience death by opinion and leads defending their department. 

If you feel like the departmental plans are not built together with departments and their teams there will be disconnection and often this is where the middle management is lost and cannot help push the company forward in hard times or underperforming times.

So you will need to: 

  1. help the teams know how to ladder their tactics into the departmental plan,
  2. cross-functionally the departments will need to assign resources and then agree on priorities 
  3. Show and tell their department plans to the leadership team and the business while connecting to the core goals they have signed up for 

If you struggle with connecting teams and departments to leadership team set goals, then strategy is going to be extremely hard work. 


Q. What are the 3 ways to improve work for companies forcing a return to the office? 

  1. Explain why and how you are improving the office for everyone. If you cannot you are not ready for a full return to the office  
  2. Re-onboard the company into the office – so many don’t and won’t, you can win by bringing people on the office journey and asking for regular feedback away from why can’t we work hybrid. 
  3. Explicitly say how the office is going to be the connecting force within your company. Stop worrying about everyone else and have a dedicated plan for your office(s), how to collaborate and how to get into deep work mode without distractions. 

Q. What is the best advice you could give someone going from a department lead onto the C-Suite for the first time? 

Congrats on your promotion. Here are just a few to get you started –  

  1. Learn the business – learn the ins and outs and understand how decisions are truly made (if it is CEO first or always on the CEO or by committee will help you make smart decisions or fit into the leadership culture) – many don’t see this until on the c-suite or around the boardroom table 
  2. Know that the ELT and board meetings are battlegrounds and you will take many punches and knocks every meeting – you will have to grow thick skin and quick 
  3. Know when you are going to have to speak up and when you are going to allow others to speak 
  4. Find out quickly where the rest of the C-Suite lacks an edge and apply yours to that void  
  5. Your department lead experience is going to be invaluable, the difference between the most effective executives is those who use their expertise area, act like a translator and connect teams cross-functionally 
  6. Learn what your role is to play in the C-Suite and how you can be a subject matter expert and for instance, speak on behalf of the customer which many struggle to. 
  7. Understand where you need to create boundaries and own your own time, if you don’t everyone else will take it and remove all boundaries 

Read part 2 of 2024 AMA

I hope this AMA helped you, there are a couple of questions that came in over the weekend which I will turn into another leaders letter. 

This week’s focus action is to book an hour slot for yourself this week, take a step back and plan for Q2 and your development. 

Thanks for reading and have a great week, 

Danny Denhard

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Leaders Letter 189 – This Is Not The Way Book – Unleashing Creativity: An Interview with Author & Founder Andy Reid

Dear leaders, this week I have a special interview with the author of This Is Not The Way, Andy Reid. 

Andy Reid is the founder of Genius Box who help companies big and small address company issues from creating North Stars to creating or optimising company strategies. 

In this interview, I ask Andy 6 questions:

  1. Your new book aka anti-manual “This is not the way” is a mass of knowledge and learnings from your successful career of change making, why an anti-manual and why now?
  2. You have helped many well-known and upcoming companies move their businesses forward, who are the best people to get into the room to create the most effective company-wide strategy?
  3. You interviewed a number of smart strategic operators and facilitators (not just because I was involved) and curated a number of actionable insights. What surprises or new approaches have inspired you to improve your workshops?
  4. You have suggested brainstorming don’t work – what’s the best alternative in getting the best ideas and concepts out of colleagues?
  5. Many companies always problem-solve the same way or mimicking how they’ve always done it – what’s the best way to problem-solve with your decades of experience?
  6. What’s the best piece of wisdom you can share from your anti-manual? 

The Interview

I am also interviewed in the book:

  • I offer my insights around company strategy is baking a better cake
  • How to thrive in workshops 
  • Who to bring into workshops (hint not just the leadership teams but never overload strategy is too many opinions, analysis and time to step out and create the compass is critical). 

Here’s my section

Here’s The Learnings Broken Down

In a world where business books often provide high-level strategies and case studies, Andy Reid’s new book, “This Is Not The Way (The Anti Manual)” takes a refreshing approach rather than the usual approach. 

Andy dives into the motivations behind the book, the importance of innovation, and practical tips for driving creative change within organizations. Andy’s insights and discover how you can become a fantastic creative facilitator alongside several experts interviewed including me.

Why an anti-manual and why now?

Andy recognizes that existing business books often lack actionable tactics for turning strategies into real-world actions. With “This Is Not The Way,” he aims to bridge that gap by providing tools, language, examples, and stories that empower individuals to align and excite their colleagues around a new organizational narrative. This book is a treasure trove of knowledge and learnings from Andy’s successful career as a change-maker. Whether you’re looking for inspiration or tactical guidance, “This Is Not The Way” has something for you.

The importance of getting the right people in the room

When creating an effective company-wide strategy, Andy emphasizes the need for individuals willing to embark on a challenging yet rewarding journey. Making change happen requires tearing down old rules, which are often met with resistance. The best strategists and facilitators are storytellers who can flexibly explain the vision and inspire others to follow. It’s also crucial to involve senior leaders who have a line of sight on the business, as their insights are invaluable.

Surprises and new approaches to improve workshops

Andy interviewed several smart strategic operators and facilitators for his book, he discovered that creative techniques have been around for thousands of years. What may seem familiar to him is often new and valuable to others. Incorporating experiments, stories, tools, and techniques into workshops injects novelty and creates tremendous value for the participants. By encouraging everyone to share their thinking and building upon each other’s ideas, workshops become collaborative and productive.

Say goodbye to brainstorming?!?

Brainstorming has long been hailed as a creative technique, but Andy challenges its effectiveness. Our minds often shut down when forced to generate ideas on the spot. Instead, he suggests providing a clear brief and allowing people time to incubate their thoughts. In facilitated sessions, starter thoughts can be shared, and participants can build upon them. By creating an environment that welcomes all ideas without judgment and capturing them consistently, teams can foster better idea generation and capture.

Innovative problem-solving strategies

To solve problems effectively, Andy advocates for injecting 10% of difference and newness into every endeavour. The brief can provide stimuli for thinking differently while changing the environment can spark imagination. 

An example Andy shares is using a musical metaphor for a project called “Project Allegro,” which allowed the team to design activities and tools that connected to the client’s need for a new perspective. The key is to embrace new approaches and avoid striving for perfection, as progress is often more valuable.

The wisdom within the “Anti Manual”

Through his interviews with various professionals, one consistent message emerged for Andy – the importance of providing a safe space for people to share their thoughts and ideas. Creating an environment of psychological safety encourages individuals to be themselves and embrace their unique styles. 

Stories play a significant role in conveying information and inspiring change. By valuing safety, personal style, and storytelling, leaders can pave the way for a new creative era.

This Is Not The Way Conclusion:

Andy’s book, “This Is Not The Way: The Anti Manual,” is more than just another business guide. It’s a call to action, challenging the traditional approach to organizational change and encouraging individuals to become fantastic creative facilitators. 

By implementing the practical tips and insights shared in this interview, you can unlock your creative potential and drive real change within your organization. Embrace the power of innovation, storytelling, and collaboration, and let your creativity flourish.

This week focus on moving your business forward by learning to do things differently, and refresh your strategy by embracing another approach. 

I highly recommend the anti-manual for executive teams. 

Have a great week and I will land in your inbox 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 184 – The Important Themes Through My Coaching Sessions In 2023

Dear leaders, throughout 2023 I have coached, CEOs, founders, COOs, CGOs, CMOs and VP & Director level of Product, Growth and Marketing. 

It has been a highly rewarding year, especially with my passion for coaching and through my consulting (I have especially enjoyed the dedicated workshops and problem-solving-based hackathons this year). 

Professional Reflection & Retro 

In my annual review I ran earlier this week (I run a review every year, why? retrospectives are critical parts of improving as a professional), I reviewed the common themes from my coaching notes and wanted to share the themes that came up throughout coaching sessions and matching calls (the process to see if the “coachee” and I are a good match) to help you move forward with the end of 2023 and use the themes to help guide you in 2024. 

.

Confidence 

In themselves and in the team’s ability to deliver what’s required for success. This came up across all roles I coach and many CEOs and COOs are struggling with the confidence, in (1) making core decisions to drive the business forward and (2) ensuring the long-term success is actually taken care of – knowing they might not running the company. 
Confidence is something that is broken down are often performance and numbers-based, however, most are not recording and then celebrating smaller wins and micromoments to enable you and the team around you to understand wins and reflect to remind the team(s) of great moments and wins to promote confidence and delivery. Without knowing what helped success and what blocked it – how can you address confidence issues? 

Recommendation: Start to keep track of the wins and losses throughout the year, have a quick retro on each item and call out (1) what went well and the triggers of this, (2) what could have been improved and how potentially this can be removed in the next phase and (3) what went wrong and if you needed to go again or you could have stopped earlier for the same result.  
This is very similar to an after-action review and something I commonly recommend.  

Boundaries 

When I searched my coaching notes, boundaries came up in almost every session review, boundaries are often hard to set when you are not confident, you are not hitting targets or a new department lead or in a promoted role. 
Boundaries are crucial for owning your time, controlling how and when people can contact you and ensuring you can deliver work. Boundaries aren’t just for you, they are for your department, team leaders and for the business to know how you operate. As I tell many, think of boundaries like the guardrails at ten-pin bowling, not perfect but help to train and guide. 

Recommendation: Create a working schedule, that starts around X, finishes around Y and blocks out time for your own work and regular breaks. Many suggest they do not take a lunch break daily. Have a list of ways to contact you in emergencies out of hours (if business critical does it have to be a phone call, a SMS or on the emergency group chat) and use messaging scheduling as a way to control how and when you are contactable and how you communicate to your business, departments and teams to set boundaries for you and them. 

“Owning My Time” 

Every person I spoke to this year and coached brought up how they struggle to own their time and find the time for deep work. Without deep work you are not completing your role and critically thinking deeply (or thinking through first to third-order effects) If you do not own your own time, you are giving away the most precious items to us. Owning your time doesn’t mean you stop every meeting request or set too strict boundaries, it means using time blocking, setting non-negotiable requirements for meeting requests and being ruthless with requests. A title requesting a time slot or ‘got a quick five minutes’ shouldn’t mean you have to say yes. The best executives own their time and create barriers to getting any time on their calendar.  

Recommendation: Time block sections of your day where you are unavailable, and create statuses where your colleagues know you are in deep work (for example agree on instant messenger statuses green = contactable, orange = in a meeting, red = do not disturb / deep work etc) and creates requirements for others to complete for you to join their meeting requests. My focus recommendations for meeting requirements include – every meeting must have 
(1) a clear agenda 
(2) why was this not an email 
(3) what does success look like 
(4) what question(s) do we need to answer 
(5) owner of the meeting and a few others. 

Meeting Overload 

Many department leads and c-suite are blocked out with meetings, many suggesting they are booked in back-to-backs and then just about have time for lunch and to grab water or a coffee. I know every executive says this but often this approach can be confused with wearing the busy badge of honour, many knowing if in back-to-backs they are seen as working. One issue that many are unaware of is MRS (meeting recovery syndrome) and the knock-on effects bad meetings have and the mood you will carry into the next interaction and next meeting. Meetings are significant parts of most businesses, they have however caused a disconnect between getting work done and making decisions away from a Zoom room, a team call or being in a meeting room. 

Recommendations

  • Be clear in meeting requirements, what type of meeting is it (a brainstorming, a decision-making session that is needed versus an email chain, a workshop or a 1-2-1), what decisions have to be made, who has the sign-off for important decisions, what are the expected outcome from requested “meeting”.
  • Default meetings from 30 to 25 minutes, 60 to 45 minutes and any recurring meeting have a cadence of updates that everyone follows to ensure these aren’t just status updates, leaning more towards collaborative working sessions. 
  • Lastly, consider how a walk-and-talk or a standing meeting (if possible with all parties) can speed up the meeting. 
    Here are 25 meeting recommendations to improve your meetings and reduce overload

Struggle With Management & Leadership 

  • Team management is hard and from all the feedback, it is getting harder. This is something many need support with and something I am recommending more and more if creating a management style and approach that is unique for you versus just following what others are doing. 
  • Leadership is interrupted in many different ways. Being a department or division lead isn’t enough to be seen as a leader and knowing what type of leader you want to be and what the needs of your business are – is the only way you become a better and effective leader and executive. 
  • The demands of being both manager and leader take a toll even on the best and well-known CEOs with the best teams around them. There are times when the two blur together and times when inexperienced or time-poor struggle with management particularly of team members and many aren’t ever taught to be a manager of managers and taking on the extra responsibility of being a Head of Team/Department. Others struggle to know when to bring HR into conversations and when to bounce off issues with senior colleagues. 

Recommendations

  • Create your own management profile and work through what you need to work on and what you need to proactively learn and lean into more 
  • Create your own leadership profile and work through learning how to be the leader you need to be and want to be. Focus on communication and ‘holding a room’ if you are looking to become a CEO or have aspirations of becoming a founder. 
  • Understand when you can speak to colleagues with potential team issues and when to go directly to HR with everything logged. The best executives have a unique feel for what the issue is and who is best placed to help problem solve people issues or performance issues. 

Goal Setting 

Many leads stated how they despise goal setting, particularly how hard it was to set and track OKRs. Digging deeper most struggle as they are fully aware the goal is almost impossible to hit and they understand the constraints the team are under or how much additional work or headcount is required. Once breaking down the goals into more manageable and achievable steps most coaching collaborations end up in a different model, whether that’s using SMART goals methodology or moving across to think big act small by when framework understanding how to set goals and break these down into manageable tactical attacks.  

Recommendations

  • Review how you are setting goals and the framework you are using. 
  • OKRs are confusing without real training and are often rolled out and takes 12-18 months for them to make sense to a business, many opting to remove them. 
  • Most companies set goals from the top and often use spreadsheets with formulas to understand what the business needs, create strategy ~10 weeks before the end of the year and then ask the departments to build their departmental plans into the company-wide strategy to ensure they are realistic and review tactics regularly and then review plans quarterly. You can then revisit strategy up to twice a year by being informed by the business metrics and the leading indicators rather than looking to change everything all the time. 

Ongoing Costs Of Bad Decisions 

Everyone makes decisions, often in the most positive way possible, a common theme in bad decisions is selfish-based decisions, and political-based decisions (Me before the We decision) but never keeping track of decisions and whether they were bad decisions or decisions that were right at the time but need addressing with a market shift or reacting to a new market condition. What is key is to understand the cost (whether in £/$ or in headcount losses or motivation and performance). Also, have retros on whether decisions were slow or fast and if this impacted the business – most businesses come to understand slow decision-making is detrimental to performance and can have real long-term impacts.  

Recommendations

  • Create a decision document that shows what the major decisions were, why they were made, and how and who made these. You can then share across the business and receive feedback and questions. 
  • Taking this one step further is reviewing within your QBRs and reviewing if the decisions were “good” or “bad” and any impact they might have had. 

Bonus — Strategy 

Strategy is baking a better cake’ – this is a statement I say to almost every coaching client. Strategy is something we have forgotten its actual role within the business, strategy is often misunderstood, misinterpreted or misdiagnosed. 

Strategy takes time and dedicated resources away from just a room with execs and the CFO’s spreadsheet in mid-December or in an away session. 
Through Q&A I uncovered most professionals do not make the time to think and build the long-term strategy, they do not think about who has to be invited to contribute and how to gain the right level of investment needed.  

Recommendation: Have a clear idea of what strategy is and what it is not, arrange a kick-off meeting inviting department and discipline heads and work through 2-week window where they will be blocked out to work through strategy, the department plans to roll up into the strategy and where their teams co-create the tactical elements to use and roll out. Throughout the year block of time to review department plans as a leadership team and block out 2 sessions to review strategy but ensure you are incorporating QBRs and recent updates to guide you and not to guide biases. 

» Are You Or Your Business Struggling With Strategy? Here is my free strategy cheatsheet

This week’s focus action is to run your annual review, understand where you did well, where not so well and where the seven themes will help you for next year. 

Thanks for reading again this week, have a great break and for those celebrating enjoy Christmas and have a great week ahead. 

Danny Denhard

If you enjoyed this newsletter, I deliver a leadership newsletter every Monday morning. Sign up below

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7 Recommended Following On Reading: 

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  5. Your Leadership Superpower – Your Leadership Kryptonite
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Categories
Leaders Letter Newsletter

Leaders Letter 180 – Caleb Parker’s Guide To Entrepreneurship

Dear Leaders, are you an entrepreneur? Or do you have an itch you want to scratch but struggling to know its time…
Or would you consider yourself an intrepreneur*? 

If yes, this week’s leaders letter with returning guest Caleb Parker is for you. Caleb is a true entrepreneur, what makes Caleb unique is his ability to understand complicated markets, building brilliant brands to stand out and evolve the industry before sweeping changes. 

Caleb and I had a great chat a few weeks ago and I wanted to bring it to you in the format you enjoy most, podcast, video and written formats.

Quote Of The Podcast

As entrepreneurs, we’re, we’re telling a story where we’re creating new ideas and we need to be sharing that with the world. I fundamentally believe that entrepreneurs make the world a better place.

I’ve said this many times to the point that it’s almost like a recording now, but for lack of for the, you know, trying to avoid being, you know, not authentic, I really believe that entrepreneurs, because we’re the ones who are standing up and saying, you know, there’s gotta be a better way.

And to be able to scale a business, to be able to grow a tribe, to be able to attract people to our cause, we have to be, we have to make sure people know about it.

— Caleb Parker

Caleb and I discussed some incredibly important topics:  

  • The new Misfits Mindset podcast and why it’s important 
  • Dedicating life to championing the entrepreneur mindset
  • Why modern companies have to embrace media 
  • The future of work and remembering the importance of people first approach 
  • The future of humanity 
  • AI and the shift we are experiencing and going to experience 

If you prefer podcasts click play and listen below or on your favourite player like Spotify or Apple podcasts

The Leadership Lessons & Takeaways From This Interview

  1. Entrepreneurs drive the business world forward, not always perfectly, however, without entrepreneurs we would stagnate and have a lot less disruption 
  2. As a business leader, you will have several itches, especially if you already have a business or operating in one, often another itch is bigger (and better) and going to be the bigger business you will end up working on and making positive changes with – Caleb see’s opportunity and runs full pace at it when the time is aligning 
  3. When it comes to LLM and AI – ‘missions’ are going to be more important. Missions are going to be incredibly powerful as a driver and it’s critical for people to connect to a (company or personal) mission to get their best work 
  4. What works for some does not work for others and that is ok but as leaders, you have to embrace differences and enable people to thrive – whether that’s in an office environment, working hybrid or becoming more flexible within business operations
  5. The world of work has to change, especially around the future of the office – it has to be more flexible and environments people want to work in and collaborate in not just be in to work in 
  6. The business world will change in the future and there may not be 100-year companies anymore, there could be more disposable companies set up for specific tasks and then change or fold once their tasks or job is done and that’s going to be empowering and offer futures for many professionals. 

Go & Connect With Caleb

This week’s focus item is to embrace your entrepreneurial side and look at how you can look at a set of problems from the outside in and push forward on it, what is the worst that could happen? 

Thanks and have a great week,

Danny Denhard


*intrepreneur – Is self-motivated, proactive, and action-oriented people who have leadership skills and think outside the box (link)

The Full Vodcast Transcript

Caleb Parker Bold To Brave 

[00:00:00] Danny Denhard: Caleb, firstly, thanks for joining me today. I want to give like a background on, on who you are and what you do and, and the mission you’re on, but I thought I’d give a little intro because what people tend to do is they tend to ask the guest first. And I think I want to give a a little shout out because we’ve, we’ve known each other for a little while and you’re one of those people that, always comes front of mind to things. So the way I I would explain you to people when, when I do intro emails for you is first and foremost, you’re, you’re a great person. You’re an entrepreneur. You’re a builder and an operator, which many people can’t do. You’re one of the select small percentage of people who understands what it takes to be a modern day company.

[00:00:41] So you integrate media and media creation into what you do. And you’ve always put community first. So have I done a good job 

[00:00:49] better than me? Probably thank you for that. I really appreciate it, Danny. Yeah, no, I, I think media is important. As entrepreneurs, we’re, we’re telling a story where we’re creating new ideas and we need to be sharing that with the world.

[00:01:02] I fundamentally believe that entrepreneurs make the world a better place. I’ve said this many times to the point that it’s almost like a recording now, but for lack of for the, you know, trying to avoid being, you know, not authentic, I really believe that entrepreneurs, because we’re the ones who are standing up and saying, you know, there’s gotta be a better way.

[00:01:20] And to be able to scale a business, to be able to grow a tribe, to be able to attract people to our cause, we have to be, we have to make sure people know about it. And so that’s where I think social media has been fantastic for helping us over the last 20 years to do that. I’m a big fan of using media for that.

[00:01:39] And you said mission, I guess my personal mission somewhere around 10, 12 years ago, I decided that I’m dedicating my life to champion in that entrepreneur mindset in that I’ve been going doubling down on that for the last several years. 

[00:01:57] And you’ve, you’ve had quite a successful decade or so you’ve been involved in many different businesses, all different shapes and sizes.

[00:02:07] You’ve, you’ve obviously got you’ve got a lot going on. I think somewhere to start might be with the new podcast series you’ve got, which is called Misfits, right? 

[00:02:16] Yeah. Misfits mindset. It’s it’s a, it’s about what we’re doing is sitting down with founders of scale up companies to really dive deep into how they think and how they approach decision making, how they attract people to their team, getting the right people on board, how they rally people around their purpose.

[00:02:35] And then when it comes to pivoting or making really tough decisions, what goes on in their brain, I think there’s a lot of podcasts, there’s a lot of content out there on how to do this, what to do tactics and creating strategies. But it’s the, it’s the mindset. I think it. It takes to, to really be successful.

[00:02:58] Because business is hard. And yeah, I just think that I really want to dive into that for my own learnings, but also for, you know, other entrepreneurs as I champion this, this mindset, 

[00:03:10] I think is something that you, you said when you go to like conferences. People talk about what they did. They don’t necessarily talk about why they did it and how they did it.

[00:03:19] And then on podcasts, it’s like the greatest resource for, for almost anyone, because you can find out what they did, why they did it. And some of the, the how, but what you hit the nail on the head is the mindset. No one really gets into that and drills into it specifically in and around business. And I think that’s like something that’s going to be unique and why people will want to tune in as of next week for episode one and the series, was there anything specific that you learned?

[00:03:45] Are there like two or three different really high level or really specific lessons that you took away or that you, you have to apply for your new business?

[00:03:58] Well, I don’t want to spoil the season, of course, but I will say that there, there are some, some recurring patterns that, that we, we noticed across the, the 10 episodes in season one, season two is in production right now. But we’ve got a range of people different industries and different phases in their business.

[00:04:20] They’ve all raised millions. They’ve all, some of them have exited. But I think resilience is one keyword that I would use, but I don’t want to go into too many details because it’s just, it’s a, it’s a great season and yeah, you’re right. Trailer and episode one drops on Monday the 30th and then for 10 weeks, we’ll have.

[00:04:39] Each, each episode coming out and you in something that might is there anything that really surprised you like that really jumped out and you, you really were surprised by what, what someone said or like an under undertone that happened that you weren’t aware of, or you didn’t think would come out of, of the questions and answers.

[00:04:58] Yeah, there’s, well, there’s one thing that pops to mind is in episode one with Holly hole. She’s the founder of an events company. She’s actually nominated for the great British entrepreneur awards. And I’ve always been for myself. I’ve always tried to separate emotion from business decisions.

[00:05:20] And she made the point that actually it’s not about separating emotions, about controlling emotions, because you need emotions in business, because that’s what helps you bring out and rally people in, you know, the positive aspects of the emotions. Can, can contribute to business success and that just made me see things a little bit differently.

[00:05:40] , Everyone understands IQ, you know, your, your intelligence, especially around like in the job that you’ve got a few skillsets that that I would apply to IQ. You’ve got EQ, which is emotional intelligence, which got a lot of attention a while ago, but a lot of people don’t actually work on it.

[00:05:56] And I think, like you said, like the emotions and being able to either control them or lean into them. It’s really important. And then I call it a PQ, which is political intelligence. Like I think what a lot of people haven’t realized is the two actually played together. There’s the emotional intelligence and then the political side, which is typically playing the game or, or leaning into working through some of the problems.

[00:06:20] And I think a lot of the time, the emotion sides, the emotional side is, is tapered down or, or, or held down, whereas actually a lot of the time you can win by embracing and blending the two, two sides together. So I’d love to, I’m going to be tuning in next week. 

[00:06:38] There, there is a, you bring this up. There’s another episode the founder of a company called Tokyo, which is TOQ.

[00:06:44] io.

[00:06:45] , so Eduardo talks about how how we can see truths on both sides of, of a conversation or a topic. And I think that plays very well into business and in sitting down and negotiating business deals, but it can go into, you know, relationships in everyday life to politics to. Everything 

[00:07:05] I can’t on a lot of people’s leadership journeys and entrepreneur journeys, they are so busy.

[00:07:15] They don’t ever take a step back and consider what’s happened or don’t actually try and. Feel their emotions and the emotive sides. I’ll be tuning in to to definitely dive into it and understand it. We you’ve also got like a new, a new company coming out that’s part of part of the podcast series to, to a degree, if you want to dive into it a little bit and give people a flavor of what you’re going to be doing and how it’s going to be driving business forward.

[00:07:44] Yeah, the, you know, the podcast itself the, you know, our audience are, are the people that we want to be surrounded by the people we want to do business with in general entrepreneurs, people with the people with the growth mindset we’re launching brave. And there’s some news that came out last week.

[00:08:00] I the founder of a brand co working brand called bold. We set up in 2016 was acquired in 2019. And back in may, I started working on brave, actually, I’ve been working on the idea for brave for quite some time, but officially back in may, I started working on brave and then we just announced the launch of the new company last week.

[00:08:20] in January, we’re launching the brave app and we’re, we’ve taking all of the growth mindset entrepreneurs from startup to scale up around the world and giving them an opportunity to connect with each other come to the, our events that we partner with other entrepreneurs to facilitate and to bring people together.

[00:08:40] We have a network of locations that people can tap into. But I don’t want to make this a sales pitch about braid because really, it’s really about the mission of championing that entrepreneur mindset. That’s just the way we facilitate that. 

[00:08:54] And that’s something that as long as I’ve known you it’s something you’ve been passionate about and you know, you’ve been doing it for such a long time.

[00:09:02] I think people often don’t realize like how long it takes and how much work it is to not only start a company, but have that like mission in the background where like you’re striving to always, always succeed and always have that like connective tissue or element where people have to come together to succeed.

[00:09:20] I think that’s something that’s probably been lost a little bit more recently. 

[00:09:24] Well, it’s the cliche thing where you say, okay, well, it’s 10 years of hard work, looks like an overnight success or whatever. And I think what, what I’ve learned in my journey is the vehicle may change, but the mission doesn’t.

[00:09:39] And, you know, I’ve been, I’ve, I’ve been in several different vehicles, but my mission has stayed the same in the past decade. And this is a new vehicle, it’s an evolution of an existing vehicle, but I think the mission of helping entrepreneurs grow their businesses, making real estate easier for entrepreneurs.

[00:09:55] And I think it’s my small contribution to making the world a better place. 

[00:10:01] Sounds like great mission to me. I think there’s a lot of there’s a lot of, obviously there’s a lot of noise around to return to the office and office space and, and that, and Dropbox recently announced that they’re going to be giving back a lot of space.

[00:10:14] Do you think that office is going to be like this big, big contentious point for, for the future? Or do you think there’s going to be a shift and people will, you know, 2024, 2025 will come to a point and it will, there’ll be like a leveling of the market almost for return to the office and the office being like one of the most important elements to.

[00:10:36] It’s a success in, for, for corporations or businesses. 

[00:10:41] I look forward to the day where, where we don’t have to talk about return to office. 

[00:10:45] I look forward to the day when we have podcasts and not talk about return to office. I’d rather be talking about return to humanity. Because if you ask a hundred different people how they like to work and what makes them successful, you’re going to get a hundred different answers.

[00:10:58] So I think the last century that we’ve been working in offices in the knowledge based economy, it’s all been, real estate’s all been about taking a white box and giving it to a company, the company turning it into a branded box. And then that branded box. The company tells everybody to fit into, and I think going forward, it’s going to be a lot different in the sense that people understand how they’re.

[00:11:23] Team works best and everybody works best slightly differently. And so companies will to attract the right talent and they’re going to be more empathetic to people and they’re going to be able to help people be successful in their own way. And that’s going to mean a lot of different things for a lot of different companies, but the office quotations no longer has a monopoly.

[00:11:44] On work, it just becomes one of the tools in the whole platform of work. And so, to me, and this is some of the stuff that we want to address with brave is we want to be able to create offices that what we’re calling campuses are flagship locations and cities where there are places that destinations that people come to do certain types of work some days.

[00:12:07] And the app gives them access to tap into other communities and workplace environments on other days. But there’s going to be days where they don’t go into an office and they work from home. I’m working from home today. So I think the future is flexible and that’s what I’ve believed for some time.

[00:12:22] I’m just kind of surprised it took a global pandemic for other people to get on board with it. 

[00:12:27] I think for a lot of people and probably for the next generation to come, because there isn’t like a playbook, there isn’t a copy paste that you, that people can follow, it’s really difficult because.

[00:12:40] The people in charge are always going to default to or mimic the way that worked for them. And I think this is, this is like the one of the core tenants of, of, you know, my mission of trying to fix the broken world of work is to help people understand that everyone is different. Everyone is engineered slightly differently and everyone can work in different environments, but the traditional office spaces and isn’t always conducive to work and definitely isn’t conducive to, to collaboration. So it’s just something that you nailed it on the head is humanity. And, but what we’ve. Lost a little bit in this as well is, is understanding that some people can work in a busy, noisy coffee shop and others can’t.

[00:13:24] Some people will do their best work on their mobile phone between commuting on the way home and other people have to sit in absolute silence or sit in their bedroom on their bed to do their best work. It’s just, that’s sort of been lost in, in the last, you know, decade. 

[00:13:44] And even, even within one person, it’s not binary because sometimes I do a lot of travel, sometimes on a plane, I can be super productive on my laptop and getting things done.

[00:13:55] Other times on the plane, I don’t even want to open my laptop. I just want to watch some movies and drink some wine and have my meal and go to sleep or, you know, so I think it depends on the day. And so it’s not just. Depending on the company or depending on the person, it actually depends on the day in the mood that person’s in.

[00:14:10] So I think the future is a lot more human and empathetic. And I think the leaders that are going to succeed going forward, the companies that succeed with these leaders are going to be more in tune with their team and empowering their team to make those decisions for themselves. I think the other thing is you talked about how people learn to be successful growing up in the workforce themselves, and they’re trying to pass that on.

[00:14:35] I think the best leaders are leaning, leaning into the future by looking at what the next generation is doing. And so I was at a Google comp, I was at, sorry, I was at a conference two weeks ago at Google HQ in London, and they were talking about AI and they were talking about how AI is going to impact us.

[00:14:52] And look, there’s a lot of questions around that and we won’t go into that. But one of the questions that I thought about was, okay, well, if, if we no longer have to search for the answer, but we can speak the question and not just the answer comes back, but what to do with that answer and, and not just have one answer.

[00:15:14] A path, but multiple paths that we can choose from the A. I. Really takes all that up. What if we’re just thinking about the right path to choose? The answers are all there. Here’s the right path to choose. We have to decide that. So that’s going to just change the whole workforce. And, you know, we can go down a rabbit hole there, but.

[00:15:33] I think there’s more questions than answers around that right now, but I think it’s important for us to lean into the future of work by looking at how people are growing up today. 

[00:15:43] For sure. We can, we can flirt a little bit with AI. It’s overhyped at the moment. I think the, a lot of the tools are very similar.

[00:15:52] My true belief is that… At the end of it, we’re probably going to get to a point where we have assistants, like an AI assistant, that’s going to help us informed. The one thing that a lot of people aren’t talking around is like our competitive edge, which is that we’ve got the gut, which will often give us the best answer.

[00:16:12] So a lot of us are really data driven and that’d be really easy. 

[00:16:15] You got the what that gives us the best answer? 

[00:16:17] The gut? 

[00:16:17] The gut, yeah. So like our gut reaction, our gut feel drives us forward. So almost all big businesses. Say 20 years ago, didn’t have any of this data or any startup 15 years ago, had a tiny, tiny percentage of, of informational data.

[00:16:34] And what a lot of companies and people have moved away from is the gut, the gut feel or what’s, what’s driven them or made them successful. So some over lean and over index on it, but there’s a lot of companies now who are going to allow large language models to give them the answer. And without being cautious enough to query it or say to ourselves, but what do we, what do we believe and what’s our gut telling us, or what is it that we might’ve missed? That’s going to give us that competitive edge because otherwise all the data is going to be, data is going to drive all the decisions. It’s going to be moving away from what’s made a lot of people successful. I’m not, you know, everyone will quote Steve jobs in five years time and say, well, Steve jobs wouldn’t have, wouldn’t have given all of the data away and wouldn’t have enabled the machine to make all the decisions, especially on design or on features.

[00:17:28] We’re going to get to this point where we’re going to be assisted and I completely agree. It would give us the pathways or the steps that we could take. It’s just on us now as like the decision makers or the business leaders to decide whether that data is right, or those pathways are right, or we need to interject and become a different source of decision making because unless you’re going to give your complete knowledge center, like I’ve got almost 8, 000 Apple notes, unless I’m going to give that in into a large language model, it’s not going to necessarily understand me and help the team around me. And I think that’s what some of the async work is, is sort of done well, is everything’s around clear communication.

[00:18:15] And I wonder in the future, if we’re going to be able to get to a point. Where we can say, AI has given us this answer, how do we give the second, third, fourth order on it? And how do we empower people around us to, to say, actually, we don’t believe that is true. We need to tweak that. I think that’s something that a lot of people have almost stepped away from a little bit and gone on that hype cycle to a point, but I’m happy to be proven wrong in, in the future.

[00:18:46] I think, I think there is a lot of hype around it and I’ll be the first to raise my hand to say, I’m not an expert. I’m very curious about it. My friend, Jason says that nothing’s AI right now. It’s just machine learning. There’s no artificial intelligence. It’s just, it’s just, it’s learning right now. But I think I can imagine that in the future we’ll be able to ask it a question.

[00:19:07] It presents us with several options. We choose, let’s go back to the humanity side. We choose as a, as a human, what we think is the right path forward. And then it goes and completes the task. So I think what that does though, if that. Is a reality that we will one day live in from a leadership perspective, we have to stop valuing doing in time and put more value on outputs results in thinking, and that’s a big shift.

[00:19:39] That’s a big shift for leadership who’s used to managing people doing things on a systematic basis. 

[00:19:48] The question I was come back to now is. For the, for the middle managers and the people who are department leads or business leads is, are you going to enable and allow more policing? So like, are you going to allow human policing?

[00:20:03] So where they are, what they do, the delivery on the task, or is that going to be some sort of automation? That’s going to, that’s going to be the driver and the police, the police force on, on, on their work and the outputs of the company, because I think that’s where we’re going to land in. In a short while, and are we going to be able to.

[00:20:24] To trust, trust that enough, or is it going to be still relying on a combo of people and process that’s automated? 

[00:20:32] Look, I don’t have the answers here for sure, but my ethos is that we bring people together around a mission. We work backwards from that mission to how, how did we get there? We all get on the same page with that strategy, the tactics we’re going to deploy.

[00:20:52] And then we give each other the space and autonomy to choose how to do that and come together when we need to. Now that’s a bit maybe altruistic or maybe even utopia. And it doesn’t work right now for all companies because there’s a transition going in, in leadership styles. But the future to me is people aren’t policing.

[00:21:14] People are motivating. 

[00:21:17] That’s what the, you know, difference between a manager and a leader is motivation and driving people to, to get by into what they’re going to be doing long term. Manager often is someone who moves. Moves people from task to task or tactical channel to channel or spreadsheet to spreadsheet.

[00:21:36] Right. So yeah, I, I sympathize and appreciate you giving, giving your thought on that one. With a lot of the stuff that you’re doing, you’re, you’re kind of predicting a little bit of the future of work and some of the ways of working. Do you have do you have some predictions or do you have a, like some.

[00:21:54] Some feeling around what the future of work might look like. Obviously you’re shaping it a little bit with Brave and you’re sharing a load of insights through the podcast. Is there, are there. Do you have some thoughts around the future of work and when we might be moving towards? 

[00:22:09] Well, at a macro level, I think we’re going to see a lot more companies get started, a lot more people moving into entrepreneurship, a lot, almost call it solo inc or, you know freelancer inc.

[00:22:22] There’s going to be a lot of people where that become their own entrepreneur. Maybe they don’t build up a big company with lots of people around them, but they plug into other people’s companies and a lot of people working together in that way. I think there’s still going to be some big companies that grow.

[00:22:38] I think we’re going to see a lot more volatility around that. Seeing, we see companies today that have been around for over a hundred years. I think we’ll see less of those in the future. Companies will get set up to, for a specific cause they’ll go for several years and then they’ll go away and they’ll evolve into something else.

[00:22:53] Maybe. So macro level, I think we’re going to see a lot more uncertainty on jobs and stuff like that, but people on the flip side have the opportunity to create their own income, create their own wealth to control their own destiny. I think that’s going to be very difficult for some people. But this is why I, you know, I think you go back to the whole cliche of nurture versus nature.

[00:23:19] I think some people are born with sort of a innate ability to take on risk. And I think other people, even if they’re not born with it, can learn it. And so I think we need to be in our school systems, teaching people not to just go get a college degree or you go to university and then get a job that you stay at for a long time.

[00:23:39] It’s, it, we need to be able to navigate this new world and people need to be taught this. 

[00:23:45] But I think what all that means though, is that and I’ll come back to my world of the future of work as it relates to the future of office, because that’s where sort of I, I live. I think real estate in general has always been inflexible for entrepreneurs and is very expensive to get into in the past.

[00:24:08] We used to think the first thing when we’re going to start up a company, we’ve got to go get an office. And now we don’t have to do that. But at some point we need to access. Professional places that we can meet people, whether it’s our team or our, you know, team or our colleagues and and customers.

[00:24:26] And so I think the future of real estate becomes more flexible because it, as I said earlier, doesn’t have the monopoly on work anymore. It’s got to be more service driven. It’s got to be more hospitality driven. It’s got to facilitate a community because I think people want to go where they belong and that they are empowered to choose when and where they work best. It’s about going to places that I feel taken care of and I feel like I fit in.

[00:24:55] 100 percent agree that the one there’s that one thread there that I personally really like is. Years and years we’ve both worked in environments where the office is. Open plan, you have, you have your desk, you have your monitor or two monitors, you have your laptop or your computer, and that’s your space.

[00:25:16] And you work around people from your team or your department. And then everything turned into hot desking and people didn’t really change up. And they loved their desk, their cup on their desk. They knew that they were near the toilet or the kitchen. And then interestingly, now it’s not, you know, the office is still very much similar layout.

[00:25:37] People didn’t rethink or, or restructure it and didn’t embrace the opportunity to change it. And something that I worked with a startup a few years ago, and we, we really rethought the office. Like we thought about what, how people would want to collaborate, how rather than the customer support team didn’t want to be near the sales team.

[00:25:58] It’s how could you embrace a different layout or. Or different areas where people could be noisy and collaborate. And then more library based rules where people could go and be quiet. And, and the kitchen was more of like a, an informal breakout area where you could have meetings or brainstorm stuff like that.

[00:26:15] And I think that’s, what’s really important for the future is offices will look different, like they’re going to have to operate differently, connecting people and exactly what you said is. It can’t just be a gray box anymore. It has to be something that is interchangeable or some way you can feel like you’re, you’ve got your community there, which is just so important.

[00:26:40] And I think where leaders need to evolve most is understanding that it’s different now, like it has to change in the near future and the longterm. And I predict that people that are for. I haven’t rethought the office, so I’m going to lose. And those who really rethink it or rethink environments are going to be the ones that win.

[00:26:59] And I really liked the idea of companies don’t, don’t have to be there for a hundred years anymore. I think the people will spin up companies, solve specific problems and then move on to the next one. And they don’t have to be acquired or have to sell to, to see that as successful. I think they’re going to be so many different career paths people take and rather than having one career or two careers, you might have three or four.

[00:27:25] And then you can patch on top passions that you might have. So. I love your prediction or where you, you’re going to help reshape. Some people’s future of work. 

[00:27:36] Well, this is why I’m curious about the misfits mindset the scale of entrepreneurs, because if you think about being empathetic with people, but also rallying people around a mission and a purpose entrepreneurs, startups.

[00:27:51] Or where that ethos sits in, you can see it clearly the best, the people that are the early founders, the early senior team, the early employees, you know, all the way down to employee number 20, 50 at some point along the line, the further you get away from the founder in that early stage, the further you get away from the purpose and the mission, if you look at the companies today, I think the companies of the future, the leaders of those companies, and it doesn’t have to be just the founder and the CEO, but the leaders throughout the company are able to be so close to the mission and the purpose and are able to articulate that and have that front and center in all of their conversations with recruitment, attracting people with customers, with investors, everybody’s aligned around this mission and purpose.

[00:28:37] Because I have a theory that when someone is aligned, when someone is, is working towards something they really care about, they don’t think of it as work. So if. In the future of work, if people are aligning their, their purpose with their income, then they’re going to be happier. They’re not going to go home at the day and hate to go back to work the next day.

[00:29:03] They’re going to look forward to it. Mondays are going to be better for people. And so I think it’s important that leaders really articulate that. And don’t just treat people like an employee and like you’re solving my problem of getting to the next level. It’s it’s we’re all on the same team here trying to advance this particular cause.

[00:29:28] If you think about volunteerism over the last several years, volunteerism has rose significantly. People want to pursue something. People want to spend their time doing something that they care about and that they’re not getting paid for it. So imagine being able to do that and get paid for it. 

[00:29:48] That’s a, that’s a big idea that I pitched a number of years ago for, for somewhere I used to work.

[00:29:56] I saw that actually.

[00:29:57] And it was one of those ideas that like is more than money. But I don’t want to get into, into like too, like too, too much detail into it. But if you can “imagine more”, so for what a lot of people don’t realize is companies often just are based on transactions, transactions, and, you know, user data.

[00:30:17] What we’ve moved away from is understanding actually is things that are very often more valuable than that. So whether that’s the time that you can spend and donate or it’s the energy that you can give to someone or it’s the support you can give to other people, doesn’t always have to be monetary and very often the monetary doesn’t.

[00:30:36] It doesn’t match the love or the energy or the time someone else can spend. So interestingly, it all, it all comes around, but I completely agree when you can base your future on something that you’re really passionate about and that you, you want to pursue some companies will embrace that. And I think that’s something that we’re going to see more and more.

[00:30:57] And I. I personally would love to see people, even if they’re intrapreneurs, if they can get the support internally to, to push that forward, I think we’re going to be in a much better place commercially and, You mentioned the word

[00:31:14] transaction and, and I think companies and employees, that’s a transactional experience a lot of times. And we announced the Brave launch last week. And my LinkedIn DMs like got flooded and you can quickly see who really cared about the cause and who didn’t buy what they said. And like, I’ve had some people to say, look, if you need any help, I love your mission, I love what you’re doing.

[00:31:39] I’ll, I’ll, I’ll work for free to help you, you know, and then, you know, it’s like, okay, well, at which point we’re going to be hiring people, that person, she’s who I want to hire, or he’s who I want to hire because. Forget skillset and experience and all that it’s the, it’s the passion they have for the cause that makes the most difference.

[00:31:57] Cause you can teach all that other stuff. 

[00:32:01] A hundred percent funny enough with what you’re doing and, and where you’re going with, we’re seeing a lot of groups, you know, like iMessage, WhatsApp, Telegram, they’re becoming more and more powerful. In and out of companies, because you can learn far more and ask questions of people who know the company or know of the leaders and they’re going to get unfiltered responses, whereas online you tend not to get that, but it’d be really interesting in the future, especially in with Brave is you might get recommended someone who is an incredible employee who you wouldn’t want to lose, but it lines them up really nicely.

[00:32:38] And you can, you know, not let your. Your platform necessarily would love to do it, but that recommendation, that connection is going to be so valuable. And what people will pay high, high amounts for where they used to have to pay a recruiter high retainer fees to, to send someone who isn’t anywhere near as passionate or qualified.

[00:32:57] So I look forward to the launch. 

[00:33:02] Me too. Thank you. 

[00:33:04] Why don’t you promote the podcast, the new launch, obviously that’s coming out fully in January, but where should people connect with you? What, what should, how should they either help you or what, what can, how can people help you move, moving forward?

[00:33:20] Well, thank you. First of all I would say that misfits mindset drops next Monday, finding all the major podcast platforms. I’m on LinkedIn. So Caleb Parker on my social media, Instagram, formerly Twitter X at Caleb underscore Parker. So I’ll obviously share. And all those places, but listen to the podcast.

[00:33:41] I would, that’s where I would promote the most. You’ll find on the podcast how to connect with brave and our timings and when our first events are where people can plug into to connect with other like minded people. And then. Look, I think the best way people can help me is to, to go out and, and find the problem that they’re passionate about and go solve it because that, that’s how we create a better world.

[00:34:04] And that’s what I’m trying to, to champion. Let’s, let’s solve the problems of today. And and create a better future together. I know it sounds cliche and cheesy and all that, but I’m American. So I can, I can get away with it, I think. And you can tell it far better than us miserable Brits. So yeah, it’s it’s great.

[00:34:20] Thank you. Thank you for all your time your, your honesty and, and I look forward to the podcast and supporting you on Brave. 

[00:34:28] Thank you, Danny. Really appreciate it.

Categories
Leaders Letter Newsletter

Leaders Letter 177 – Community The Sixth Business Moat

Dear leaders, are you prepared for a sixth business moat? 

Here is the list of the traditional economic moats – including network effects that we all rushed towards over the last decade 

Community. 

The chances are you haven’t heard a definition of community that has even got you thinking about how you can turn your business into a community-driven ecosystem. 

Let’s change that. Here’s a quick teaser on why community has to be included: 

I recently spoke at the Love Inbound Conference. It was a great conference and organised really well and had a number of brilliant speakers, one of whom Luke Staton you will hear from in a couple of weeks (below is a short video to give you a teaser). 

Here’s me presenting the risks and benefits of community and why it’s not going to be everyone! 

My concept and talk were centred around you guessed it… community, it is doing business differently (you can decide whether it is worth the long-term work and if you can make it effective in your space) and why connecting at a deeper level (community done right) is more important and actually scaleable. 

Community is how the smartest brands are going to be building “connected customers” not just a broadcast channel on WhatsApp or Instagram (move over Facebook Groups, Circle and Telegram groups) but a fully engaging community platform for existing customers (aka members) and new customers can feel safe, share their insights, tips and give feedback directly to the brand, while saving other community members money (think about sharing discount codes/coupons and being rewarded for it) and having a direct 1-2-1 relationship with their brand of choice.

Sound too good to be true? 

NO!

Not with hard work following the rules and cheat codes provided you will win.  

I have broken down the full presentation into an exec summary below or view the full community deck below

The Exec Summary Of ‘Community As A Moat?’: 

  • Network Effects Table Stakes Now: Moving on and building on top of network effects, 
  • Trust: Customers and potential customers don’t trust brands – more trust = more business and more recommendations to friends, family and colleagues  
  • Improved Acquisition: the only way to kill one-and-done customers is to build deeper connections with your customers and provide better service (quicker payback period, lower CAC, better LTV) 
  • Less Reliance On Platforms: Remove your business reliance on algorithmic updates and zero-click results
  • Closed To Competitors: We can see every competitor’s Marketing moves, from their emails, to their push notifications to seeing every one of their ads 
  • Better Retention: Retention comes from trust and offering great products we need (and sometimes want) – retention will be higher, it will engage customers who are advocates and those who want long-term trusted relationships 
  • Brands have created ask fatigue: Always asking for more (this can be removed)
  • Whether you’re a startup, challenger brand or have aspirations to become a super brand, community will be hard work but will build a moat around your products, your people (yes builds connection deeper than CS tickets and complaints) and its performance  
  • Everyone craves PLG (aka product-led growth) and referrals (and move away from SLG) but these are extremely hard. Why not grow with community-led growth think of a bigger & better flywheel, more feedback, and shared results  
  • Superfans & Superspending: Be inspired by Taylor Swift’s lead, from her deep connections to building a community flywheel
  • Reddit is a precautionary tale of community but that’s a whole different community culture & that Reddit brought it on themselves

Or you can enjoy the full deck with commentary here and add it to your Google Drive. 

If you would like to chat through community and implement true community get in touch with me directly > danny @focus.business

This week’s focus action is to deeply consider community and whether you can build a new moat in a true community. 

Thanks and have a great week ahead. 

Danny Denhard » coach, consultant, advisor 

Categories
Leaders Letter Newsletter

Leaders Letter 171 – Which Do You Need, A Refresh, A Reset, A Reboot Or A Restart?

Dear leaders, I have a little secret, away from the leaders newsletter and focus, I run a dedicated offering for Execs, Growth and Marketing leaders

When people ask me what I do, I used to say – I am a coach, consultant and advisor. 

When people ask me what that means I tweaked it recently to ask a question, “Which do you need, a refresh? A reset? A reboot? Or a restart?”  

It’s the 4 R’s you didn’t know you needed but everyone is in this phase. 

Over the last two decades, I have actually had a lot of jobs that aren’t on my LinkedIn and aren’t specifically broken down on my resume so here are a few stories to help to frame reset, refresh, restart, reboot. 

A Reset Story

When I worked as a Project Manager (in today’s world it would be a Product Manager releasing software) in finance I actually had to do a stint of work in commissions (in the finance team) when we were really struggling and my job in that period was to talk on the phone and over email with finance brokers on why their payments were late or missing. 

It was at the brutal end of customer service. I learnt a lot in that period with mortgage brokers coming to the office to find out where sometimes 100k was missing from payment runs. 

The owners didn’t know how to stop this business from going under in the middle of the major subprime mortgage crisis (2007 to 2010) but with a little hindsight, I believe we could have reset the business by removing more of the complexity of the processing department and helping our partners and brokers to remove numerous friction points and understanding how to reject applications more quickly. 

Hindsight is a wonder thing, isn’t it?  

A Refresh Story 

In another job I had to shift the focus of the sales packages from one discipline we were known for (there were white and black hat associations) to broadening out the offering with a super talented internal department lead who had to package up solutions on the fly (sometimes in the morning of big pitches) with hardly any time as a bolt-on to bigger pitches to offer a better more holistic Marketing solution. 

We built sales packages, built bespoke tools and hired an insanely talented person to come in and service clients, build reports and be the face of the new offering and we expanded that offering 4x that year. 

It worked really well and diversified the business. The refresh helped the company refresh the offering when pitching and have a broader influence on the marketing teams of the companies we were working with and being introduced to. 

A Reboot Story

There is something I don’t share often, I joined a company and for me, despite all of the interviews, great conversations smart people within the business and negotiations, it didn’t work out within a week. 

This company had a top-tier product (this was why I reached out to them directly), had high loyalty and was a utility (for many it was essential to check before work) and it had powerful sets of data across the globe (it was not quite a moat but close enough to to be excited of what we should do). 

Speaking to the founder and the leadership team I could see what was missing to kickstart the company’s new chapter and it was a reboot around brand side and stories connect to the product, a fresh product positioning and the business could make significant money with the right investment. 

The vision I had to reboot and drive ultra focus the business wasn’t shared by the founder and their vanity-based KPI wasn’t exactly what the brand needed, what the non-users craved and that’s not what the hundreds of thousands of daily active users would ever care about. 

Like I have said before big ideas rarely hit home, especially with founders, cofounders and CEOs as it means big shifts within the business and often has large time and business costs they just cannot commit to. 

A Restart Story 

In March 2020 I left a leadership role, I poured my heart and soul into the business and through five years of being connected to the company first as a consultant and then employed I knew in late 2019 after annual planning and discussions that I needed a full restart. 

I knew from the internal coaching and the work that gave me energy, I had to start my mission to fix the broken world of work, I knew companies weren’t placing the right emphasis on creating a company-wide strategy where people (company culture) and performance (company strategy) were rarely connected or aligned that this was the focus that businesses needed. 
I knew this was the restart I needed. 

What I didn’t think would be a two-year battle (thanks to the pandemic) was a long restart and many still are catching up to the concept of bringing people and performance closer together and understanding that the way it has always been done isn’t working in the 2020’s and those leading industries (away from big tech) are tackling this in more progressive ways… 

A Hard Reboot Story

A business I have been advising this year needed a hard reboot. 

Their business is large, they are a national favourite, however,  they were being chopped down piece by piece and broken down by numerous new competitors and their features were no longer unique or value-driving vs. cheaper or free options. 

My recommendation was: 

  • To revisit their annual strategy and rethink it from a fresh perspective 
  • To rethink how their product should work for existing but also for the new use cases appearing in the market and in products adjacent to them  
  • To understand the lite product hacking (when people use your product in a completely new way you never considered)  
  • To consider how they showed up with their pricing. 

We had a number of sessions and took a hard reboot approach, to go back to if they were a startup, review their own product be brutally honest and run a keep, kill, core and copy approach to the product and run a set of pricing surveys. 

Looking Back With Fresh Set Of Eyes

None of these was fun to me, it was incredibly hard work and took a number of painful conversations but one was an enlightening business lesson for me, one has helped me understand the lay of the land in businesses and agencies and has been a brilliant foundation to my career and another enabled me to be part of an IPO, numerous M&A deals and drive positive change for people I coach and the businesses I help to reshape. 

This week’s focus action is to down and think about how you are performing and consider which R phase are you in and what you need:  

  • A Refresh 
  • A Reset 
  • A Reboot 
  • A Restart

Have a great week ahead and if I can help you on your 4R journey happily email me directly danny@focus.business

Danny Denhard

Categories
Leaders Letter Newsletter

Leaders Letter 162 – Threads Strategy Breakdown

Dear leaders, are you one of the 100m users who flocked to threads over the last couple of weeks? 

I am and I must confess, I am not so convinced about the product and its lacklustre product features…yet.

I suspect you have heard it at least mentioned within your business, from the employees using it and as likely from your Marketing or Growth team with the race to get the account and find if you are relevant within the evolving app culture. 

This week I am going to breakdown one of Focus’ core offerings strategy and break down Treads, what it is, why it launched and why it is different, how Meta has thought about the landscape and how they’ve used this launch (smartly or not I’ll let you decide) to misdirect some of its recent failures. 

The Threads TLDR

  • App only (threads.net prompts you to download the app) 
  • Threads is an extension of Instagram – it connects to your Instagram account and supplies you with an @ with a specific number you joined 
  • Threads are built into the Instagram platform enabling micro-updates (500 characters)  
  • Updates can be shared publicly or privately (you set when you sign up) 
  • It has limited features and is by all accounts an MVP 
  • A curated feed that does not allow users to select just those they followed (a lesson from their previous growth days that the feed has to be incredibly valuable) 
  • As a platform, it wants to sit away from news and not be known as a news outlet like Twitter (this will be harder for Threads as this is what people use microblogging platforms for) 
  • There were no ads for a week (Hulu were exclusively the first)
  • Think of a really lightweight Twitter 
Mark Zuckerberg’s tweet poking fun at Elon Musk on Threads launch

Strategy Smarts 

  • Record Breaking – Leveraging the user numbers across the Meta portfolio (Facebook 2.9b MAUs, WhatsApp 2.2b, Instagram 2b MAUs) is driving record user creation and download numbers was incredibly smart and knowing how difficult being an audience can be this was strategic smart and savvy.
  • OrganicTikTok spent over $2b to gain a record number of downloads, user accounts and drive retention through advertising efforts, this has been largely organic channels and knowing they gain mass attention from the tech press and mainstream media
  • New & Alternative – An alternative method to always posting videos and the perfect picture on your native Instagram feed and threads allows users to have something to say and create a new space to be different or be more you. Twitter usage has dropped and it was prime time to release new. We might see Meta allow this to fly too close to the sun and crash quickly after the engagement levels drop. If you follow a number of friends, not media outlets and personalities the updates have already dropped (falling foul of the deliberate full feed of random content)
  • Creating FOMO – creating FOMO around a new product to remove time spent on other apps is intelligent in a market full of attention and time-based apps (while many were enjoying JOMO (joy of missing out) was happening on Twitter)
  • Algorithmic Driven Feeds – Something that Meta got right with Instagram and Facebook was flipping the feed from chronological feed to algorithmic-driven feeds with affinity signals and then learning from a superior product in TikTok. TikTok took algorithmic-driven content to another level and then evolved into an entertainment engine from anyone showing in a feed created for you versus just from people you were connected to. This shows how the internet went from and where it is now, with numerous apps driving entertainment for “free” with us as the product aka being sold to by advertising and subscription models.
    Meta has tweaked their approach to offer similar features and has helped to drive engagement and usage. 
  • Acquire Or Copy – When you hit Meta’s size and scale you cannot easily acquire a competitor or new entrance in the market due to anti-competitive laws and measures. Meta is famous for using Snap, iMessage, Telegram (chat and group platform) and TikTok features in its brand’s umbrella and roll directly into their apps. This is another example of Meta and their leadership team embracing the Microsoft approach to strategy, copying key features and killing others with distribution within their own ecosystem (think recently with Teams fighting with Slack and Teams winning the professional chat app battle)
  • Meta Huge Scale = Controllable Narratives – By releasing a new product it starts to remove narratives away from other platforms and helps to control mass narratives and then how they communicate (we will see exec and media companies exclusively updating and using threads)
  • Big Army Big Battles – Fighting for time and attention from Twitter and importantly against TikTok – this isn’t widely discussed but new products reduce the usage of other platforms while users work out the new platform, the etiquette and the culture of the new app/platform 
  • Hitting Other Apps That Have Potentially Run Their Course – Twitter is struggling to stay relevant (other platforms in the same category as Twitter such as newer players Mastodon and Bluesky), and BeReal was effectively killed off by Instagram and TikTok being inspired by their USP and rolling in a product feature and then usage dies off. This is a smart tactical move(s) for these big platforms horrible for BeReal and similar apps and services that are easily copied 
  • Data Collection – This is the most controversial piece here, Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp all collect a large number of data points on their users and use it to inform their next series of decisions. This is well known and although this has caused a large number of headlines, court cases and investigations, it hasn’t stopped Meta from releasing a new app with a new set of data collection and a way to connect users into cohorts 
Threads announcing record-breaking weekend, no more official numbers since

Meta Misses & Misdirections  

  • The Metaverse – Meta invested multiple billions in a new metaverse (the company re-branded around) and it hit its stock price and confidence in Mark Zuckerberg’s leadership 
  • AI Struggles – Meta has struggled to have any breakout with their AI tools and while rivals are making bigger steps in the perceived AI battle – we should never count out Meta but their very slow approach it’s likely hindering them from an investor’s perspective 
  • App Store – Facebook wants to become a marketplace for others and an app store alternative, allowing users to download apps directly from their potential version of an app store. This is the play Mark Zuckerberg has wanted to lead on since his earnings call back in 2018 —  “Our biggest competitor by far is iMessage,” “In important countries like the U.S. where the iPhone is strong, Apple bundles iMessage as a default texting app and it’s still ahead,” 
  • Hits & Misses – Despite the Meta brand’s dominance, Instagram and Facebook apps have had a number of product feature misses, including audio and creator funds. Can Threads be a hit or will it be a miss and popularity nose dive like a clubhouse or more recently BeReal.  
  • Creators Only? Instagram threw itself into the creator economy and has struggled with making its shop feature and shopping experiences work – Facebook has also struggled with shopping away from ads – for now, that works, however, in the near future Meta brands will struggle with stuffing more ad units 
  • WhatsApp Controvisal Usage – WhatsApp is a behemoth, it has however struggled with governments (and Taliban) using its platform and having their messages leaked or released – despite its e2e encryption this will have a negative impact (despite all of the convenience and free use via data packages) 
  • 80:20 rule: Apart from on WhatsApp Meta’s properties have a 20% creator role and 80% viewer role (consume content but don’t create) – this will likely also become the norm on Threads. Will their growth teams be able to break this and can their feed be important enough to fill the boredom slots that other apps do already?  
  • Mark Zuckerberg vs Elon Musk – A supposed MMA fight and spat really has taken a leaf out of the music beef (between rappers) playbook to pull attendance away and be part of multiple conversations. This may have seen fun but is a waste of time and effort  
  • Step Out – With many elections coming up, Meta has now built a new (currently) mostly completely organic product that shouldn’t influence the election 

Having worked in a space where Facebook entered with a bang, you prepare for their growth engine and its huge breadth of users and ability to cross-sell to hurt you, interestingly, in two businesses I was in or across this didn’t materially hinder or hurt us. With the right prep for the teams and a reminder of why we were different and to focus on our journey, we drove the business forward. I am not sure Elon and Twitter have the same sort of defence. 

Whatever you think of Meta, there are always numerous lessons we can and should take away, from their aggressive tactics to their ability to engage and retain users and drive more ads into their ecosystem while glueing the user data together. It is the modern-day company that has navigated numerous issues and continues to be stronger for users and advertisers. 

This week’s focus item is to: learn from how Meta leveraged its own ecosystem and a weakening market to drive a record-breaking app that may or may not keep its mass appeal… 

Have a great week! 

Thanks,

Danny Denhard 

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Leaders Letter Newsletter

Leaders Letter 155 – Is Mission and Vision Statements Actually Essential For Your Business?

Dear leaders, what I am about to say is going to divide options.

Mission and vision statements are nice to-haves in many to most businesses. 

In recent coaching sessions, in my advisory roles and consultancy gigs, I am often shocked by the number of companies who say they don’t have a mission and they don’t have a vision and it’s hindering their business. 

They suggest they cannot tell their teams where they are going and why they are heading in that direction without them being clearly defined. 

The challenge with this; how will you articulate your mission and vision in two sentences so everyone in and around your business can recite it without thinking about it, follow it, believe in it (enough) and retell others in simple terms to make your company or products stand out against the crowd? 

Mission and vision for many companies are just too fluffy or equally frustrating overly precise that the teams simply struggle to connect with them. 

The Essentials In Every Business Are:  

  • What + Who: What we are and who we are for, for the next 12-18 months – revisit every 5 to 6 months 
  • 1x Strategy: An annual company-wide strategyrevisit every six months 
  • Objectives: Key objectives you have to hit for the coming year, ideally broken down by quarter and month and ideally with seasonality planned in – these should be reported on and analysed every week, some goals will be daily leading up to monthly and quarterly reports.
    If a goal is not kept on top of it will lapse and become deprioritised by everyone. If you struggle with objectives sticking, use the SMART method or I highly recommend think big, act small by when frameworks for teams to build into these quarterly or annual objectives. 
  • Department Plans: Departmental plans roll up into the business goals and have to be completed by each department with connecting conversations to handle roadmaps, cross-functional dependencies etc – these should be reviewed every quarter 
  • Team Plans: Team plans rolling up in the department plans and goals – these should be reviewed every quarter 
  • Tactics: In-depth tactical level is critical explaining what we are going to do, how much we are going to spend and the potential to revisit frequently and as often to tweak the tactics to optimise towards the company goals. 
Mission Vision Strategy Tactics Cheatsheet
Here is the breakdown from the mission, vision, strategy and tactics cheatsheet

Beliefs, Bets, Pillars: I created the focus framework aka beliefs, bets and pillars framework to help every business make strategy simple, by creating a company-wide system that explains strategy simply by explaining the beliefs you have, the bets you are going to make and the pillars to drive decisions when teams could are conflicted. 

Throughout my strategy workshops and c-suite coaching you will be surprised how many lightbulbs go off when you remove the overly complex ways of creating a plan for the company to blindly follow and reduce the secrecy of the week offsite and weeks of tweaks into a small doc or deck that is shared across the whole business, including what we are going to do, why we are going to do these small number of things and where we are going. All explained in simple language with reasoning versus a spreadsheet each team has to fit into a formula. 

>> Here is a free cheatsheet for how to think and plan around mission, vision, strategy and tactics

Vision Vs No Vision 

A vision is great for internal teams to help make core decisions and add value to the recruitment process and for external investors and potential acquirers to help those understand where you are heading and why. 

A vision is however something you will struggle to change and often when companies pivot they struggle to say why the change, what it means and where the two visions merge. Visions can also divide leadership teams and will be hotly contested when you do not have complete buy-in. 

Visions will drive company culture until there is a mid-sized disagreement over what and why and your performance drops and people blame drops on a misleading vision.  

Is It Missionless Vs Mission Led

A mission is also great when you are setting off on something you cannot see completed for 100 years, yes 100 years! 

My mission is to fix the broken world of work, it is something I aspire to complete throughout my lifetime (let’s hope for all of our sakes and this newsletter is one way I see helping little by little) and it resonates with many people and often with clients who want to understand how strategy and company culture come together. Most companies’ missions are hard to see, hard to create any real action against and hard to place a value or a revenue target on.
With that said, many startups and upstarts can be mission-driven as they go after a specific issue and it can be why many people decide to join this business. The larger the business, the harder the mission often is and often is then contested. 

A mission should be something as simple as We are on a mission to do x, so if you can boil it down into this format and drive passionate people into this do it, if you cannot do it in an hour (I have sat in workshops over the last decade and its taken weeks to create a strapline or tag line for the business and a whole quarters OKR for the mission to be written and signed off – go figure why so many struggles), you are likely never going to hit a mission that lands. 

A mission will drive some but for many, it won’t make any difference, if you are a not-for-profit (charity & non-for-profit) or a business creating huge change, missions will be nice to have. 

Vision and missions should fit on a post it note, the tendency is to throw in a lot of jargon and buzzwords that won’t land in the external world meaning it won’t translate to customers (internal or external) so make it so simple your parent or child would get it. 

Q: Do you still want a vision and mission statement?
I recommend most companies put a SWAT team on your mission and vision project, give them two x one-hour meetings to complete it and if doesn’t fit on one post it note each you are overdoing it. 

This week’s focus action is to consider where you need a vision or mission statement and if it’s yes, find the right people who get your business to collaborate on it and present it quickly back to the management team and then to the wider business. 

Good luck with this moving forward and keep creating the right compass for the business to clearly understand their direction of travel, on the brightest and darkest of days. 

Thanks and have a great week and remember to sign up below for the weekly newsletter to land in your inbox every Monday.

Danny Denhard

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