Our startup journey: The week of BETA and metaphor strategizing.

So we’ve officially decided to outline the entire journey of Amazemeet, hoping it will be helpful to others or just informative to our users. We believe that there is value in knowing what a team’s all about, not just the app, so we want to share our highs and lows with you, open our kimonos, and get to know one another better through this crazy startup process.

This week is a MAJOR MILESTONE for Amazemeet because it marks our very first round of private beta. It’s private for now and we’ve limited the number of testers, so we can extract the most value from our most eager users (and by users we mean friends, but we have to use this term because everybody else does).

Because the interest in testing the app has been amazing, we’ve decided to throw another couple of beta rounds for those who didn’t get the chance to play with the first iteration. So if you’re a hard-core early adopter who’s been praying for a new solution to boring meetings, download the canvas from the main site, and we’ll contact you when we have some spots left for early access.

Now, let’s see what the goals for this week are and what we’ve learned from last week. The closer we get to launch, the crazier this startup journey gets!

Violeta got a little color-crazy.

(Ignore the fact that Violeta is referring to herself in the third person.)

In my defense, Trello does not exactly provide label presets, so what do you do when you see six colors, which you can group with any kind of words to provide meaningful labels? Here’s what I did:

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I’m not entirely sure if Mike (my technical co-founder) was happy with this turn of events, but he did give me a 7th color for milestones. Sometimes it pays to go along with “the crazy ones” because we see things as they could be. And if you ask me, that’s a pretty powerful tool in anyone’s startup toolbox.

Question: Are you using all of trello’s useful features?

Mike worked on the app all weekend.

He found himself in Krakow, Poland for the weekend and instead of going to see Wawel Hill, Auschwitz, the Wieliczka salt mine or even rack up a healthy bill at his client’s expense, he worked on the app. If that isn’t dedication to help people have amazing meetings, I don’t know what is!

But it wasn’t all work – he spent 2 hours in the spa, swimming and braising himself in the sauna!

It’s all really worth it though –  because we are building something really beautiful that 130 really lucky people are going to see and use very soon!

The first BETA email campaign could have been better.

Feedback is so important, especially at the start when you’re fumbling your way through all the things you should be doing, could be doing, and could have done better, but you didn’t know at the time. In our case, our subscribers saved us from fumbling through all our net email campaigns by telling us what went wrong:

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There was a “yes, I’d like to test the app” button on the bottom of the email, which unfortunately, some people didn’t even see. So when I got the excited “yes, I want to beta test”, I had to make sure they’d pressed it. When they said “no, I didn’t see it”, it was clear we messed up.

Also, I am so grateful for my co-founder’s sage advice to segment the subscribers and pace our campaigns in this way instead of bulk-sending to everyone. If it weren’t for him, we would have lost on potential beta testers because we didn’t position the button right (it could have been closer to the top) and because the text on the button was invisible.

That said, we’re happy that we got lost of clicks anyway. Thanks to everyone for being as excited about this app as we are. Seriously, we couldn’t do it without you.

Takeaways: Listen to your co-founder, segment your subscribers, heed all feedback, and always improve your efforts.

How metaphors can help you launch:

This is the part where I tell you how important your pre-launch strategy is.

I am personally taking Amazemeet’s pre-launch strategy very seriously because we’ll likely not get another chance. (I don’t want us to become one of those startups that pivot and re-launch constantly, which we’ll do if we have to.)

So I created an entirely new Trello board for it and together, we (Mike and I) came up with two metaphors (well, similes) for our pre-launch experience:

  1. Launching is like a tsunami. Every wave builds up on the next until the final tidal wave strikes, and the after-waves bring additional sign-ups to make sure the buzz doesn’t die too quickly or at all.
  2. Launching a startup is like launching a rocket into space. You need certain parts to get to certain altitude, after which you need to jettison or re-imagine them to get into your established trajectory.

Based on these visions, we can clearly see what needs to be done to launch successfully. After all, launching needs to be a unique experience for each startup, rather than everyone following the same old frameworks.

Question: What’s the metaphor for your startup launch vision?

What we learned this week:

  1. As long as it helps, you can be a little crazy with your strategy.
  2. Always do better than the last time and take feedback very seriously.
  3. Don’t be afraid to be creative when it comes to strategy. Think metaphors.
  4. Some tools are indispensable at the start, like Typeform for user feedback.

P.S. We hope you enjoyed this post and if you have any questions, ping us on twitter because Violeta lurks there and never leaves a mention unanswered.

Our Startup Journey: Building a beautiful app, new faces and more growth.

Last week I shared our story so far and the unbelievable growth in subscribers and downloads of the PDF canvas. Here is more on our startup journey for the week of 16th/March/2015.

We’ve be working on making a usable and beautiful app

We’ve had the basic working app for a couple of weeks – by working I mean it does the basic editing functionality you would expect…in the gulag.

The printable Canvas was designed to be simple and deliberately monochromatic. In print, a lot of colour would be counter productive.
But in the desktop and mobile world the  greater interaction and dynamic content could really rock with the right use of colour.

So where are we at with the app? Well we think we can open it to private beta in the next 10 days  – around the 30th of March – with a beautiful experience and some essential basic features like:

  • Creating new canvases
  • Auto-saving a canvas as you edit
  • Downloading a canvas as a PDF
  • Managing your canvases
  • Sharing by email
  • Basic calendaring

Although we have not built a native mobile app, we have taken great care to make the experience pretty sweet on tablet (think iPad) screen sizes.

Invites to the private beta will be going out this week. Ping us if you would like to join it.

We’ve also been working on growth

With just the two of us, we need to work extra smart to pick the right experiments to conduct. Early on we had really focused on LinkedIn – after all it is the world’s largest professional network. Perhaps it was timing or what we did, unfortunately our Return on Hacks (RoH)  was pretty poor on LinkedIn. Even contacts on my network were quite unresponsive to friendly ‘please check out my cool canvas’ emails.

However the data we are getting from the TNW and follow on exposure is telling us we should explore “getting press” a bit more deeply. In addition, we’re applying the Bullseye Framework from the best-selling Traction book, which everyone has been recommending. It’s powerfully simple and straightforward, I’m sure we’ll benefit a lot from it.

So that’s what we are doing for the next couple of weeks – doing research and experiments into getting more press exposure, and narrowing down our marketing strategy. Wish us luck!

We hired a designer

Using basic Rails scaffolding and jQuery, I got the main app site up and running – but it was pretty nasty looking. Well, not so much nasty as much as just plain and uninspired.

My trouble is I know good and beautiful design, I just can’t do it. So off I went to my most trusted of freelancer sites – oDesk.

I love oDesk because it has such a huge population of really good people. It offers a platform for digital nomads and other talented people to make a decent living wherever they live in the world. You can find pretty much any kind of digital professional on oDesk for almost any price range.

All of the previous people I have worked with from oDesk have gone on to become really good friends too and I’m confident the designer I found will also become a great friend and collaborator.

Ana Flasker is a wonderful designer I found on oDesk. She loves photography, travel and has such a wonderful eye for simple beautiful things. At our first Skype call she was really thoughtful and asked great questions. And OMG – she turns stuff around PDQ!

She is freelancing right now and if you are looking for an amazing designer with mad skills – please check her out at anaflasker.com.

We exploded Trello

Violeta did an amazing job holding the fort last week whilst I was working with clients and keynoting a conference and it must have unlocked a hidden chamber of ideas because our Trello board is bursting with ideas for growth hacks, people we have to follow up with, candidates for a blog series featuring our users and a whole host of other things.

As a result we had to reorganize our Trello board into its own organization and created a few other boards to help us stay organized on the bits that matter.

We tried to hire a developer

So last week I was focused on trying to hire a designer  – not just for the app – but to help us incorporate some design thinking into other things we create. I’m confident that Ana can do that with us.

I also tried to hire a Rails developer. So, onto oDesk again, I found a guy in Poland. This suited me because for the next few weeks I will be visiting Krakow in Poland pretty regularly on other business. I thought it would be a great opportunity to improve collaboration with the developer.

When it comes to hiring developers, I’m pretty easy. I offer a paid mini-contract of no more than 3 hours. For the first hour, I pair program with the candidate on a few stories of a small app of my choosing. This is to experience firsthand their collaboration skills, how they approach a problem and their general craftsmanship. Are they messy? Do they create more tech debt than is healthy , are they naturally efficient – that sort of thing. Then they spent 90 minutes on their own working on as many of the other stories in the sample app as they can. We then meet again for the last 30 minutes, they demo what they have and talk me through the design of what they built.

Based on this paid trial, I decide whether I want to do more work with the candidate.

Unfortunately as I got to the point of explaining this evaluation approach to the candidate, he asked ‘you mean pair program with me?’ and when I responded ‘Yes’, he suddenly went offline on Skype and I haven’t seen him since.

I think I dodged a bullet on that one. However, the search continues.

Skype
Scared to pair?

 5 things we learned this week

  1. The world loves openness – we are getting so much love in the various communities we are in by just being open. Sharing what we are trying to do and being astounded at the willingness of people to help.
  2. You can spread yourself too thin – between client work, keynoting, travel and family, there was very little of Mike left to spend on our startup.
  3. We need to invest in translation into Mandarin – thanks to some lovely coverage in Manager Today, we got a few thousand downloads from Taiwan and Mainland China. We want all our subscribers to be super-comfortable with the language on the Canvas – so we need to invest in translating both the Canvas, the app and the site. Volunteers welcome!
  4. Conducting small experiments is the way to go – we’ve been focusing on two channels too heavily while we should have explored more growth channels in parallel. But it’s never too late to start now.
  5. Keep your friends close – Violeta has been telling me that her heavy participation in communities and social networks has helped her with a few things, like for example, looking for easy solutions or finding the right people to ask for particular things. She’s super grateful for them and I am for her. It all works.

Until next week, keep on keeping on.

 

Work Backwards: The Key to Overcoming Impostor Syndrome

Like many (semi) accomplished individuals, I experience Impostor Syndrome almost daily. It recently accelerated because I was asked to do an AMA and put on a page among some amazing people who have done amazing things, and I… I’ve just done things.

But then I thought about what my friend Nikki always says:

If I’m not in over my head, I’m not having fun.

While this is a healthy attitude to have, many people will react in the opposite way when forced to face things they don’t know about. And the thing is, even the most accomplished people experience this.

I have heard famous people admit they have it, watched my heroes explain how they wake up every day, not believing their “luck” and worrying if they’ll be able to meet their fans’ bloated expectations.

I used to get paralyzed from expectations myself. Whether I expected too much of myself or others did of me, my reaction was always the same: I would refuse to do anything that could get me in that position, ever.

And yet, I said a big YES to the AMA. Why?

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Because fear is the worst driver. And it never goes away. The only way to vanquish it is not to feed it. Even though most of us feed our inner fears and doubts daily, it doesn’t mean we have to be “stuck” in this mentality. It simply means that we need to dig deep, find the source, and face it.

Before We Start

Let’s find the best definition of I.S. and go from there.

(I’ve put numbers next to the points I’ll discuss in reverse order.)

Impostor syndrome is a psychological phenomenon in which people are unable to internalize their accomplishments(4). Despite external evidence of their competence, those with the syndrome remain convinced that they are frauds and do not deserve(3) the success they have achieved. Proof of success(2) is dismissed as luck, timing, or as a result of deceiving others into thinking they are more intelligent and competent than they believe themselves to be. Notably, impostor syndrome is particularly common among high-achieving women(1). 

It’s from Wikipedia. Forgive my sources, but you’ll find no better definition of this syndrome anywhere, and so detailed. Now, in order to get to the bottom of it, we have to work backwards, point by point.

1. The Gender Gap

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Before we can tackle this on an individual level, we have to look at the global implications. The fact is that more women tend to feel this way than men, which says a lot about our society.

In a world where men are generally paid more and are encouraged to be more confident and successful, women fall slightly behind. Except we don’t. We only perceive ourselves as standing on a lower level because of these unfair conditions we’re fighting to change.

And, as we all know, perception is reality.

I’m not suggesting that men are intentionally making women feel that way, but they’re not helping themselves either – attitudes in the tech world have been toxic and a lot of men have been making asses of themselves lately (like Google executive Eric Schmidt at SXSW and T.J. Miller at the Crunchies). All this media attention reflects the reality we live and work in, so it’s natural for women to feel bullied and under-appreciated in such a hostile environment.

If we want to turn this around, we have to start with a better appreciation system (not to mention fair wages), especially in the work place where male ego reigns (and frankly, needs to be deflated).

2. The Locus of Control

There are two types of people: those with internal locus of control and the ones with external locus of control. Internal locus of control means that you see yourself as the driver of your life — everything you do happens as a direct result of your actions and decisions. External locus of control just means you tend to blame external factors for your failures and successes.

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So if you tell your boss you’re late on that report because your colleague hasn’t given you all the information you needed, you’re viewing the situation externally. You must know there are things you can do to speed up the process, but you either see yourself as helpless or you’re lazy.

I generally disagree with this type of thinking. If you see things this way, you’ll never be able to take responsibility for your life. The sooner you do it, the better you’ll be at: solving problems, overcoming fears, getting results, advancing your career, forming relationships, etc.

And by doing so, you won’t have the need to prove you deserve your success. You’ll just know you do.

3. The Confidence Problem

A person with high self-esteem will not be experiencing the Impostor Syndrome, at least not frequently and/or deeply. A person with high self-esteem knows what they’re capable of, where their weaknesses lie, and thus sees no reason to feel inferior to anyone.

If this is you, great! The other 70% of the population, however, doesn’t feel the same way. Most of us go from day to day slightly terrified of being exposed or laughed at. (This is especially true if you work in a high risk/high reward environment, like entrepreneurship for example.)

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But this is low confidence speaking. Don’t listen to it.

You’ve reached this level because you worked hard and you took the right opportunities. In fact, if you learn how to apply the “internal locus of control mindset”, you’ll be more likely to recognize your success as your doing, as it should be.

(And of course, refrain from focusing on failure too much.)

Whatever you can do to raise your confidence, do it. Ask friends, colleagues, etc. what positive traits you possess. Look into the mirror and tell yourself what you love about your personality. Just anything that can help.

As a side note, I also think it’s important to encourage women to be more confident and not to punish them if they already are — because in today’s business world there’s a tendency to view “bossy women” as “bitches”, which is yet another gender lapse on society’s part.

4. The Accomplishment Book

Once you have the right gender attitudes, locus of control, and confidence, all you need to do is internalize your accomplishments.

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This is easily done with the help of an “accomplishment book”.

After a tough spell of burnout/depression, I had to find a way to crawl back to my most productive self again, so I applied this hack. I bought a small notebook and started writing down small accomplishments I had made every day. At first they were things like “went for a walk” and “sent an email”, but they started growing bigger, and soon enough there was plenty to be proud of. And I’ve continued this ritual to this day.

It also helps raise your confidence and acknowledge the steps you’ve taken to be where you are. It’s the proof you need to see in order to believe that where you are is very much deserved.

In fact, you can read about Fast Company’s experiment with that same concept, where the team kept a daily journal of their accomplishments for a week and found out that it was beneficial to their night’s sleep and daily productivity.

*

If you followed the steps in that order, you may feel much better about your accomplishments. The key here is to remember and apply this process (or at least certain parts of it) every time that the unwelcomed feeling surfaces.

And know, you’re not alone. We’re all fighting the same demons.

Our Startup Journey: Finding a Co-Founder and 2 Rockets

March 17th 2015

Today we hit 5000 signups and downloads of the Meeting Facilitators Canvas.

5000
MailChimp List of 5000

These are 5000 individuals who filled a short form, got an email, clicked the link contained in the email and downloaded the PDF, Word template or sample word document – even all three.  I think this is the perfect time to share this jaw-dropping milestone and our beautiful journey.

The story so far

I created the Meeting Facilitators Canvas in November 2014 as part of a workshop to help my clients experience better conversations. My intention was to offer a simple, open sourced tactile tool that people could use to design better meetings.

My offering was a simple PDF that meeting organizers can download, print and work through to create a one page meeting plan and shared record that all meeting participants could collaborate on.

Throughout December, I tweeted and tried to create some awareness on LinkedIn about the presence of the the Canvas. My friends and professional network were great in spreading the word and downloading the Canvas – which gave a small morale and growth boost.

I had tried to build multiple startups – all by myself and self funded. I knew the pains of such a approach well. This time I was determined to get help earlier.

Enter The Social Media Maven

cyclone , journey photo
Photo by WikiImages

Violeta Nedkova is a force of nature – her enthusiasm and seemingly endless curiosity is infectious. I initially came across her blog from a retweet a couple of years ago and was really impressed with her style.

We had tried to launch something together early in 2014. So when I needed help with hustling on Amazemeet – Violeta was my first thought. I approached her initially with some freelance work and I’m glad that she agreed!

We got to work – creating content, exploring the market segments and tuning our strategy. We collaborated so well and with such ease that it wasn’t long before I was convinced that Violeta was the right person to become my co-founder. I asked, she said yes and the party was about to get funky!

Prepared for slow growth

By the middle of February , downloads of the Canvas had doubled but still only about 200 but growing. Our Twitter following had grown from zero to over 1200 followers – and not the dodgy kind either.

Overall though, interest was still pretty low. We used this time to put in place a delivery mechanism using Sendgrid and MailChimp to automate the registration and downloading of the Canvas. Coupled with Google Analytics, we had a great setup to get info-rich data about where the signups were coming from and when.

Rockets

Week by Week Analytics
Week by Week Analytics

From March 2nd, the automation we had in place was going nuts.

Hundreds of people everyday were signing up.

  • Google was showing how many were signing up and getting the ‘Thank you ‘ page.
  • MailChimp was showing that similar numbers were getting the welcome email and clicking the download links.
  • Finally the download tracking on our WordPress site were confirming that similar numbers were actually downloading the Canvas.

Rocket #1: We got Product Hunted

We got Product Hunted
We got Product Hunted

Violeta: OMG!!! We got listed on Product Hunt

Me: Huh? Product Hunt – it’s not connected with our customer segment [LinkedIn]?

Violeta: Well it isn’t, but it is an awesome community of passionate people I’m in that shares cool products.

This is just one of many times that I’m grateful that Violeta is my co-founder. Her conviction that Product Hunt was a community we needed to be part of was absolutely spot on.

Violeta does what she does best – she engaged openly, sincerely and with curious wonder. The support and comradeship that the Product Hunt community showed us was spectacular.

Rocket #2: The Next Web Facebooked us

The_Next_Web_-_Make_sense_of_meetings_with_this_free___
The traffic we noticed from the time the Product Hunt listing happened was phenomenal – we were experiencing about 20-30 sign ups a minute. People from everywhere were downloading the Canvas.

We believed Product Hunt alone was the reason for such traffic – until I took a look at the analytics we were getting from Google.

Sure, there was significant traffic from Product Hunt referrals but almost double that was from Facebook. Yes – FACEBOOK!!!

I was puzzled – Facebook wasn’t even in our customer segment and frankly we didn’t really want it to be. But the data was the data. We thought someone from Product Hunt had cross posted on to Facebook. But with over 4000 visits so far from Facebook  – that was some cross post!

So we looked and there it was. The Next Web – one of the internet’s most influential technology publications had posted a simple post on their Facebook page. They hadn’t written about us – simply posted and the flood began.

It is still going on – in 2 weeks since all this started we have gone from 248 signups (from December 16th 2014) to 5000 today. And climbing.

A Real Platform for Engagement

So now we have 5000 sign ups. But what does this really mean?

It means we have a great platform to start to talk with the people who signed up and really understand what their experiences of organising, attending and surviving meetings are.

It means we can begin to learn how to be useful and valuable to our users. This is exciting beyond words and it has already started.

Special Thanks

Product Hunt –  We are deeply grateful to this amazing community for their openness and support. Please go check them out, you will discover and support many startups and meet some really amazing people.

The Next Web – we are still in awe at the power of a simple post by the influential press. We are so grateful that we somehow earned their blessing.

What Next?

We think we have something that genuinely helps people, so over the coming days we will be releasing an online app to help the people who signed up to use the Canvas faster and more conveniently. We will also be sharing our journey of building this start up.

Stay tuned!

How to Approach the Problem of Anonymous Feedback

Two movie scenes come to mind when I think about anonymous feedback:

  1. From Life Partners, 2014
  2. From Legally Blonde 2, 2003

Excuse my poor examples, but bear with me, it’ll make sense.

In Life Partners, Sasha has just received a bunch of anonymous notes from colleagues. She’s devastated because they’re all negative.

In Legally Blonde, Elle introduces “The Snap Cup” where you’re supposed to come up with compliments for your colleagues and share them anonymously.

Which one of those methods do you think renders better results?

According to science,

People are more productive when they are happy.

They find solutions more easily, enjoy their job more, and overall feel more connected and engaged with their teams and the company in general.

This is a gold mine for managers because it gives you an easy solution to solve your “engagement problem” and also attract more millennials to your teams. When you offer something that makes people happy, they will fight to work for you and bring a lot of energy and enthusiasm to your projects.

So, whenever possible, start off on a positive note.

Just look at buffer. Far from a large enterprise, their record of 1000 candidates per job offer is unheard of in the startup world. If you look at what they offer their employees, you’ll see why the demand is so high.

perksandbenefitsatbuffer

Wouldn’t you be happy with this arrangement? (By the way, this is for Happiness Hero. There are other formulas for the different positions.)

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Not only do they offer a LOT, but they also provide great customer service because they make sure they make you, the customer, happy. (See image on the left.)

So that’s one way to achieve great results: Strategize for happiness on every level of your business.

And I mean, every level.

When it comes to feedback,

Even though there are different types of people and as such, every one of them requires different kind of feedback, there’s a universal fact that:

Positive reinforcement works better than its negative counterpart.

In the first film I mentioned, Sasha wasn’t motivated to improve her service or even stay with the company. She simply wanted a new job.

In the second film Elle inspired her colleagues to be nicer to one another and to take time to share the small joys in the snap cup as well. (The cup even moved to Congress, but that was more satirical than realistic.)

So when you’re thinking about positive feedback, you have to consider the way it’s presented. As a leader, you can encourage certain types of feedback more than others, or straight out make a rule “no badmouthing”.

I recently talked to a girl who used to work at Achievers, who had daily scrum meetings where they shared happy news about their lives. Usually, at a scrum meeting you share your goals and achievements, but these guys just wanted to wake everyone up and make them engage with one another on a more meaningful level. I was told it made everybody smile.

As for constructive feedback,

It is very much useful and desired. However, when it’s presented in an anonymous context, it forces you to start thinking things like, ‘who could have said that’ and ‘am I in trouble’, etc.

You must always think of the value something brings to people’s lives.

Most companies complain about anonymous feedback and it’s probably because the feedback itself is not presented in the right context. If you think about it, would you rather meet face-to-face with your boss and hear what they have to say about your performance — honestly — along with the criticism and praise, or would you rather get it anonymously?

In the app market a lot of people like anonymous apps because they can speak their minds without being judged publicly, which I think is a cop-out and if more people were brave enough to speak their mind, we would live (and work) in better conditions. If you can’t say something constructive to somebody’s face, you’re giving into your own fear of being confrontational. And most of the time this fear is ungrounded — people often appreciate straightforward feedback.

After all, it’s not personal, it’s business.

I understand about fearing your boss and fearing what your colleagues think about you, but those concerns do not make your life easier or better — they just increase your daily stress. (And let’s remember that the best managers are the ones with a “no bullshit” approach, so if you want to go higher up the ranks, you need to start practicing being direct and honest right now.)

In the name of a stress-free existence,

Let’s be honest in the office and only be anonymous when we have positive things to share. When you share negative feedback anonymously, it’s like you’re admitting that you’re afraid of giving this feedback to the person’s face, and that helps nobody. Fear is the worst driver. (Even worse than the drunk ones.)

So if you insist on anonymous feedback…

If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.

Finally, the most important thing you can do for your team is to foster an environment of encouragement and positive company culture. The rest will follow in the form of grateful employees and personal fulfillment.

Once that happens, your own job satisfaction will increase and the company at large will prosper without any additional incentives.

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Question: What are you doing to foster a positive culture at work?

Introducing New Habits in the Meeting Room

When I was in primary school the principal decided that it would be wise to play the Bulgarian Hymn before classes every single day, so they did. Pretty soon it got so annoying we staged a rebellion and they dropped it.

I realize other schools around the world may be doing it and you might think we were strange to revolt, but it’s hard to rope us in — Bulgarians I mean — if you try, you need to have a pretty fancy rope there, so when you try, we’re so preoccupied with how fancy it is that we forget what it’s there for. You know what I mean?

I have a theory about why this attempt didn’t pan out. Let’s examine the new habit they were trying to introduce to us:

  • it’s always the same, no alterations
  • it’s supposed to inspire us
  • it’s a show of respect

I see various problems with this method. First of all, we’re a bunch of kids, so we really don’t want to be showing respect to anybody instead of happily shuffling in our seats and passing notes. Secondly, after a couple of days it feels like you’re being forced into the same mind-numbing ritual every single day… like being force-fed pancakes every morning of your life.

You get bored. You want out. End of story.

Finally, the fact that it’s always the same suggests that the system works. When something works, you repeat it, over and over.

Okay… but do modern meetings work? I’ll let you answer that one.

If something does not work, don’t try to repeat it over and over, or else you’ll have a revolt at your hands.

Judging by the first two problems, I’ll conclude that the system was broken before it was introduced, thus rendering it completely useless.

In fact, I’ve seen many employees complain about daily scrum meetings for the following reason: instead of increasing productivity and morale, they’re viewed as “just another distraction”. Truth is, some people will see them as such and others won’t — it also depends on character. Ultimately you want to see which companies make it work and which couldn’t, so you can manage an informed opinion before you apply them yourself.

Which leads us back to the question… what is it exactly that makes new habits stick? Is it repetition? Judging by the story I gave you, repetition won’t fix something that’s broken. Is it authority? If the CEO says “we’ll have three-hour meetings every day from now till the end of days”, will people adhere to his command? Probably, but out of fear of losing their jobs. They won’t be looking forward to these meetings, that’s for sure.

So what is it?

In his TED talk about motivation, Dan Pink clearly states that intrinsic motivation works better than external stimuli. Bonuses are not enough when you dread the task or when it’s too hard to complete. This is why there are so many entrepreneurs nowadays — because by being their own bosses, they get to do the things they love. 

Tech giants like Google and Atlassian know that autonomy’s important, so they have created things like “do whatever you want” days and “ShipIt days”. They KNOW their employees, their values, and they respect their needs by meeting them, not just acknowledging them.

It shouldn’t be about someone telling you to do something. The idea should come from you, not from “them”.

Them being managers, CEO’s, and basically anyone in charge.

After I though about this for a while, I remembered Simon Sinek saying:

They don’t show up for us, they show up for themselves.

That’s it! People pick up new habits when they want to pick them up. It’s so obvious and yet so overlooked. Granted, you do your job and everything that’s required of you, but when you don’t like it, productivity saps.

So how can you introduce new habits that people will want to pick up?

Ask them. By learning to ask powerful questions, you are connecting to your team in a powerful way. You’re engaging them.

So ask them what they think would fix the “constant interruptions” problem (in some offices they use headphones). Ask them — individually — how they handle the flood of emails in their inbox (maybe it’s “inbox zero” or a template system). Ask them what hours they’re most productive in (which depends on whether they’re early birds or night owls) and whether they would like the option to take work home or leave it at the office (Volkswagen employees are not allowed to access email after work hours). Ask them whether they would like to try walking meetings. Ask them how the ideal meeting should go.

Percolate has the following rules:

BpnCtZWCEAA_GN1

Your team should easily come up with an even better one if you care enough to ask them and listen to their answers. You don’t have to be the disengaged, arrogant boss, micromanaging everyone. You can be the humble leader your team needs to evolve. You can be better than those before you. Let this be your competitive advantage, not trying to copy someone famous.

I will let you mull this over, but consider the alternative —judging by every meeting you’ve ever had, meetings continue to be unproductive and boring. Nothing changes, nobody does anything about it, you waste money, time, and stress over results while employee engagement declines.

To overcome the same old problems, you must introduce new solutions.

And when you figure it out, tell us! We’d love to hear about it. 🙂

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P.S. And keep your meetings organized with the Meeting Canvas. Hah-yah!

5 Brilliant TED Ideas for Leaders

I bet you’ve watched some TED talks, haven’t you? You closed the door, hoping the kids or the partner wouldn’t hear you, or maybe you were slacking off at work, looking for some inspiration. I’ve been there.

TED.com is not only a wonderful source of ideas and inspiration, it is also an amazing collection of hacks and potential strategies for the businesses of the future — or in your case, your business in the present.

Why wait for change when we can kick-start it right now?

As a leader, you are probably always looking for great ideas to incorporate in your business. These days not only small businesses have to innovate to grow, but big companies as well, if they want to stay on top. So consider the ideas I’ve outlined for you below. Don’t be a dead fish like some of your colleagues who keep saying they’ll “make changes” but never do.

Of course, I’m referring to the famous quote by Malcolm Muggeridge:

Never forget that only dead fish swim with the stream.

Are you ready to enter the 21st century? Here we go…

How to Make Employees Happy

That’s the easy part, even though you don’t know it yet. Maybe you think that happiness depends on many things, but science says a different story. Basically, whatever happens to you affects only 25% of your mood and the rest is in the way your brain processes the world.

positiveexrscisesdone

There are several exercises that — if done for 21 days — will drastically change the happiness level of your employees (and your own if you choose to partake), which will then increase their engagement and productivity.

My favorite exercise is “three good things” (or 3 gratitudes) — every day you write down or tell somebody three good things that happened to you that day. Eventually your brain starts to notice the good more than the bad, and when you habitually start fixating on good things, your happiness level shoots up. If you incorporate one or more of these exercises during a team-building seminar or the daily scrum meeting, your team will thank you for it.

There are more cool insights in Shawn Achor’s talk if you’ve the time:

[ted id=1344]

How to Keep Employees Motivated

There is a mismatch between what science knows and what business does.

This sentence is the most memorable part of Dan Pink’s talk about motivation. First of all there are two types of motivation— external and internal. You can probably guess which one is more important even though the other is woefully overrated at work. All those bonuses, awards, etc., they are all incentives for a job well done, but not only that. The system of giving rewards to “the best” means “we’ll give it to you if you get there”.

Science shows  that whenever a task involves actual cognitive effort, incentives don’t work. Instead of motivating people, they actually lower their chances of completing the task successfully. If the task is manual and easy, this problem doesn’t exist, but Pink posits that nowadays there is no such thing as a “simple task”. Everything depends on creativity and our creativity saps when we have to compete for rewards. Instead of incentives, Pink suggests 3 crucial internal motivators:

thethreefoldmodelmotivation

Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose. And how can you apply these? Pink offers examples of autonomy at work in Atlassian, where there are designated days for “doing whatever you want”, i.e. personal projects outside of work, and the results are always —  boosted productivity and amazing new products coming out. (It’s called Fedex Days. Google it.)

So try and give your employees some autonomy. They do it at Google, too. As for Mastery and Purpose, you can fill in the blanks.

[ted id=618]

How to Inspire People to take Action

Simon Sinek’s famous “How Great Leaders Inspire Action” talk is brilliant, and it has been praised time and again for its ingenuity. He gives a simple model, explains how you can apply the “golden circle”, and at the end of it you feel as though you can convince anyone to do anything.

simonsinekcircle

All you need to do is start from Why. Look at the circle on the left. It has three rings in it — why is the innermost, then there’s how, and finally — what. The outermost circle is the surface — your product, what your company is selling/offering to the world. Is it cars? Stocks? Whatever it is, it’s your what and the how, naturally, is how it works and what it offers.

So you usually explain, “we make this and it does this and it’s amazing!” That’s pretty much the gist of your marketing. You skip the why, but it’s the most important element. The why is your purpose, it’s WHY you’re selling cars and why you’re working at the company.

If you don’t believe in your product, who will?! 

A great leader would start from the why and end with the what. They’ll say “We believe in diversity, innovation. If you’re the sort of person who likes to try new things, this model is revolutionary. It does [this and that]. Now people want the product and people want to buy it from you because:

People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.

Next time you’re selling an idea to someone — be it a job candidate, a potential partner, or a client, start with the why and hook them.

[ted id=848]

How to Keep Everyone’s Accounts Safe

Now for a more practical idea, Lorrie Faith Cranor has studied thousands of passwords, and the pointers she gives can make you and your team feel a bit safer in the recent threats on cyber security.

First of all, you probably know that you’re not supposed to write your passwords down or re-use them (oops), so I’ll skip to the juicy stuff.

There are several ways to come up with memorable AND safe passwords. For example, she discovered that you don’t have to include all kinds of confusing symbols in your password. Instead you can make it: longer (a phrase or sentence) or a combination of random words (something like cat window tree fall). Even a shorter pseudo-word works (as long as it’s pronounceable).

Also, she advises to let a computer generate it for you because you apparently suck at it. And whatever you do, DO NOT use: iloveyou, monkey, and names of pets. Apparently, everybody thinks monkeys are cute.

quiltpass

Take a closer look at the image above. It contains the most commonly used words and combinations in passwords, which you’re not supposed to use yourself because the hackers will immediately sniff you down. And set some guidelines for your employees, too. All this time they’ve been walking around with (possibly) very shitty passwords.

[ted id=2030]

How to Avoid Unnecessary Meetings

And we end with David Grady’s classic “How to Save the World (or at least yourself) from Bad Meetings”, which is very topical seeing as Amazemeet is a tool for better meetings (which you can find here).

In his talk, Grady announces that there is a global epidemic called MAS: Mindless Accept Syndrome, which has gripped every worker, everywhere. It makes you accept invitations to meetings and suffer endless hours of frustration because you didn’t take the time to investigate.

nomaslol

The solution: say NO MAS and click the tentative button on your invitation, and talk to the person to check if your presence is really necessary. Are you doing that? If not, it’s time to start…

[ted id=2135]

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Stop wasting your time and other people’s and start valuing it. Lock your team in a room with padded walls and play them all of the above talks if you have to, just don’t underestimate the most valuable thing you have at your possession — it’s not your money, it’s your time.

The Number One Meeting Rule: If You Are In, Be In.

I really don’t want to be here!

How often have you sat in a meeting and wished you were somewhere else, or seen others who are clearly miles away – in some other work, some other place or time.
The signs are always there – staring into the distance, fiddling with a gadget or being engrossed in the laptop.

When I convene any meeting of more than 3 people – I stress my number rule of group collaboration:

It’s ok to be out, but if you are in – be in!

What does it mean to be ‘In’?

Being ‘In’ means being 100% engaged in the conversation – you don’t have to talk all the time or do anything spectacular, you just need to be mentally and emotionally present.
When you are in – you are focused on the conversation. You are listening, questioning, participating with others to reach the purpose of the conversation.

It is a specific kind of mindfulness – being in the moment, listening without judgement and being open to what is emerging – with the added aspect of doing it towards the purpose of the conversation.  Being ‘in’ is pretty hard to sustain for long periods.  Clearly, how long anyone can sustain it at a stretch is relative and personal – for me, I struggle to be ‘in’ for more than 45 minutes at a time.

Why is it important to be ‘In’?

important , Be in photo


Image by Valerie Everett

There are few reasons why being present and accounted for in any conversation is important, here are some that I think are particularly important:

You get more from your conversation
Your senses are open to more that is being said – you really hear what is being discussed. You notice more, you question more and you likely get better answers.

You give more to your conversation.
When you are engaged and present, your collaborators feel that you are engaged and so you are more likely to have your input respected and heard. With your senses in the conversation, it is more likely that your collaborators feel they are being heard – one of our fundamental human needs.

Your conversations become more productive.
Imagine if everyone was ‘in’ – there would be fewer distractions and fewer distractions tolerated. You and your group could focus all your resources on the purpose at hand. With this kind of collective focus, your group will

You can count on your co-collaborators and they can count on you.
There is nothing worse than not being able to count on the participation of people who show up at a meeting. You are there for a purpose and there are people who don’t really want to be there – they are less likely to help tease and idea into some wonderful. If they contribute at all, it is usually because they are prodded to respond and even then, it is the barest minimum engagement.

When you are ‘in’ , your collaborators learn to count on you being present and you can count on them for the same.

5 Tips for being ‘In’.

laptops , Be in photo

  1. Have more interesting meetings
    You are more likely to be ‘in’ if something that is being discussed interests you  –  either that you can contribute to or learn from. So learn to say ‘No’ to meetings that do not interest you.
  2. Have shorter meetings
    It is a safe bet that anything over 1 hour without breaks will burn out the ability to be ‘in’ of most people. Encourage people who invite you to meetings to keep them shorter to help you give your undivided presence.
  3. Ban laptops in meetings, discourage phone fiddling
    Meetings where everyone is armed with their laptops are awful – everyone has their head down doing who-knows-what. Declare a general amnesty and ask attendees to check their ‘weapons’ at the door – this could actually be another way to get shorter meetings. Few people in this ‘always on’ world can bear to be away from email or IM for more than an hour!
    Also – ask that people not check their phones – put them on silent or vibrate – instead build breaks every 15 minutes or so to help them get their notification fix.
  4. Be Explicit.
    Be explicit about being ‘in’ , but make it ok to be ‘out’ and people don’t have to attend if they are ‘out’.
  5. Explicitly Check In
    For longer meetings – do a check in at the start and after every break. Also make it ok for attendees to ‘check out’ at any time – by raising their hand or simply notifying the group with as little disruption as possible.

I hope these tips help you be more present in your meetings and to recognise when others are. I’d love to hear what other ways you find to help you and your group be ‘in’.


Image by David Blackwell.