Blitzscaling 10: Selina Tobaccowala on Building a Global Business at SurveyMonkey

This is my eighth blog on the notes and my interpretations on the Blitzscaling sessions. In the fall of 2015, Reid Hoffman began taking session called Technology-Enabled Blitzscaling at Stanford University.Blitzscaling is what you do when you need to grow really, really quickly. It’s the science and art of rapidly building out a company to serve a large and usually global market, with the goal of becoming the first mover at scale. And its also about why organization culture is important for Blitzscaling Because when you’re growing an organization very fast, you have to make people accountable to each other on a horizontal or peer-to-peer basis, and not just vertically and top-down through the hierarchy.

Session 2 notes can be found here. Session 3 notes can be found here. Session 4 notes can be found here.Session 5 notes can be found here.Session 6 I haven’t covered. Session 7 notes can be found here. Session 8 notes can be found here. Session 9 notes can be found here.

Selina Tobaccowala was President and chief technology officer at SurveyMonkey. She has contributed alot in taking Survey Monkey global. In session 10, she shared the insights on how she managed the technology and tech people @ SurveyMonkey.Here are the session notes and my interpretations on the insights shared.

  1. When you architect your software application, not only it should scale on handling traffic, but it should also be able to handle more developers working on it. This basically means that if tomorrow you have to add more technology people in the team, they should be able to work on your code.
  2. Even if you have ended up with software code base which is monolithic( All software layers are mixed), rather than re-creating the system in new technology, pick up the part of the system which is most difficult and try to rearrange and refactor those blocks in existing architecture.
  3. When you have to take your SaaS platform globally
    1. Localisation- which means displaying data and numbers in local language, number system, and currency
    2. Integrating different payment gateways
    3. Your messaging
    4. More technology and customer support people
  4. A/B testing is important part to validate & improve the user experience of your web and mobile app
  5.  For subscription-based businesses like SurveyMonkey, important metrics to measure is (a) Number of free subscribers (b) Number of subscribers converting from free to paid
  6. While hiring, focus on behavioural interviewing to reduce bias in selecting candidates. The question in behavioural interviewing aims at learning about your past behaviours in specific work situations. In a traditional interview, you ask general questions such as “Tell me about yourself.” In behavioural interviewing, questions will be like “How would you handle XYZ situation?” Try this in your next interview. At qilo, we have adopted this and it has helped me pick up really good team members.
  7. Finding up people who can help you scale up the things is damn hard. Pick up people who have both start-up and big company experience.As your company grows, keep people motivated, focused on their role/job & engaging them for the next level of the journey is a challenge.
  8. To reduce the churn rate, look at the insights from the data produced by your customer. And present that on the continues basis to right stakeholders in your company.
  9. A tech engineer looks for following qualities before joining a technology lead company:
    1. The product(s) should excite them as they will be spending many years in building and maintaining it.
    2. They will be getting the right mentor or people there to work with.
    3. Other that engineering, what other things they will learn their.
  10. Anything that is critical to run your business should be in-house. If its outsourced, bring it in-house as soon as possible
  11. Once you have money, hire a BI analyst who looks at the data and tells you: “what you have built”, “how well it was doing” and “how well its is doing”
  12. Service oriented architecture helps you to scale the software system. And as well as helps you to strcture your backend and frontend engineering teams in the proper way.
  13. People management is not for everyone. Put only those people to managerial positions who can serve their teams by acting as servants. For people who want to remain technical, define a roadmap so that they can see how they will grow in your company.
  14. Successful manager’s get satisfaction by influencing people. Technology people get satisfaction by deliverng the product.
  15. Plan every quarter what you want to achieve. And track the progress on that every week.If you don’t do it when you are small, adopting that when you will scale will be much more difficult. On tool to implement this is OKR.
  16. Reduce the time it takes to take your code from keyboard to production. To achieve this automate the deployment process.

Objectives and key results: For executing your CEO’s priorities

The best way to achieve excellence in execution is a ongoing debate. But the discussion is becoming more and more relevant as every industry is on the verge of being disrupted by new age companies, digital solutions and fourth industrial revolution of AI and robotics. In this article, we will discuss OKR, one such tool to achieve excellence in execution.

The major challenge for any CEO is to manage short-term objectives based on long term plans. As organizations grow, the speed of execution decreases. And at a same time duplication and inefficiencies around planning and resource allocation increases.

“As Andy Grove, Intel’s former CEO said, “I have seen far too many people who upon recognizing today’s gap try very hard to determine what decision has to be made to close it. But today’s gap represents a failure of planning sometime in the past.”

Objectives and Key Results (OKR) is a management tool that brings in the discipline to achieve excellence in execution aligned with organization and CEO’s priorities. OKR is a goal setting framework originally created by Intel and later adopted by Google in the way back in 1999 when it had had not even celebrated its first birthday. OKR has supported Google’s growth from 40 employees (when it first started using OKR) to more than 60,000 today, proving that it can be used by small organizations as well as large corporations. Today, both technology and non-technology companies are moving fast to leverage OKRs to enable a high-performance work culture.

What is OKR?

OKR_Image_1_recyie

Here are a few examples of what could be objectives:

1)  Reduce the variable cost in production by 2.5 %.
2)  Increase revenue from product X by 10%.
3)  Become a more effective sales machine.
4)  Move to the new office by December end to provide a happy environment to employees.
5)  Solidify brand and position as market leader.

And following are some example of ‘Key Results’ with respect to above-stated objectives. There can be more than one key result(s) that can define how one will achieve one’s objectives.

1)  Hire a consultant to review and improve the six-sigma process.
2)  Ensure at least 75% of the sales team members achieve their quota.
3)  Hire three sales managers by end of June.
4)  Identify an office that facilitates company and employee growth for 250+ employees.
5)  Hire a new branding agency by end of Q1.

Benefits of OKR

OKR improves alignment with organizational priorities and helps business leaders identify what is important to be achieved and how to achieve it. It brings in accountability and ownership among employees and helps in achieving operational excellence.

Implementing OKR

OKR_Image_2_mmpsjm

Once you are convinced that OKR can help you get to the next level of business growth, the question that you should be answering is, ‘What is the best approach to implement OKR in my company?’

One of the biggest challenges in implementing OKR is not having a clear approach to implementation. You can’t adopt what worked for Google or Intel or Twitter or Sears. Your organization is unique and your challenges are different from another. You need to understand that OKR is not a methodology, there is no step-by-step guide that you can follow. Instead, OKR has a set of practices that you should understand and customize according to what works for you and your company.

Usually, OKRs are set on a quarterly basis and progress is measured weekly or monthly. But again, it depends on your business priorities and you can set them at a calendar that works for you.

You can start implementing OKR in incremental steps, one role or one business unit at a time.And research shows that it makes more sense to start the implementation at the top of the organization. Start creating objectives (what needs to be achieved) on a monthly basis. Don’t create individual objectives at the start of the implementation. Once that is done, start creating Key Results (how you will achieve the objective) involving team members from same or different business units. This will also help in breaking organizational silos and enhance business communication.

You probably will fail at first attempt, don’t stop there. It takes 2 to 3 quarters to understand how you should structure the objectives for your organization and how it can help you achieve your organizational priorities. The effort spent is worth as it gives the organization and leadership visibility on where the organization is going on their priorities, every week. Teams and individuals will adopt this because it’s linked to their day to day work, and help them see the big picture of their work.

At the end, please remember that OKR is not a tool to measure employee performance. It’s a management tool to align execution with organizational priorities and track the progress of execution for those priorities. As Intel’s Andy Grove, wrote, ‘It is not a legal document upon which to base a performance review, but should be just one input used to determine how well an individual or a team is doing.’

From 1855 to 2017, leaders still face same issue: performance accountability

1855 was an interesting year. This was the year when for the first time someone thought seriously about how to bring execution closer to organizational priorities, measuring employee progress on those priorities and enhance overall employees effectiveness. If you talk to any of the CEO’s or business leaders, they will be stating the same kind of challenges. The credit for seeding the initial idea of enhancing people effectiveness goes to Daniel McCallum, a railroad engineer at the New York & Erie Railroad Company.

Daniel Craig McCallum was a Scottish-born American engineer known as one of the early pioneers of management.

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Daniel McCallum. Image credit: Wikipedia

He set down a set of general principles of management and is credited for having developed the first modern organizational chart. The of the major problems faced by then large railroad companies like “New York & Erie Railroad” was the rising cost of operations compare to smaller companies. He wrote a letter to highlight this issue to his higher-ups and CEOs. And he presumed that the root cause of this problem was people performance issues and inefficient internal organization.

McCallum’s letter outlined five key challenges posed as questions. Read them carefully, and you will realize that they still hold true even today.

  • How do you get a group of people to work together to common business priorities & goals?
  • How do you give people the right amount of responsibility?
  • How do you make sure the job gets done?
  • How do you know how things are going?
  • How do you do all this with respect for others?
Lithographic_Drawing_of_McCullam_s_Patent_Timber_Bridge_akfkvc
Lithographic drawing of McCullam’s Patent Timber Bridge, 1852. Image credit: Wikipedia

Because of his constant focus on enhancing execution excellence, McCallum retired as General Manager controlling over 5000 people.

Take a pause now and think about the questions McCallum has highlighted 161 years back. These questions were asked more than a century ago before Peter Ducker started helping organizations understand management science. The astonishing bit? Even after 161 years and three industrial revolutions later, McCallum’s questions are still valid and relevant for today’s corporate world. The need of the hour is to answer these questions for your organization and find up an appropriate solution to avoid losing the market share to small companies and start-up’s, or the repercussions could be huge.

While you process the story of Mr. McCallum, here’s another interesting story, this time about Andy Grove, known as the ‘guy who taught Silicon Valley how to do Business’. Grove was Intel’s former CEO and mentored business superstars, the likes of Steve Jobs and Larry Ellison. He was among the first business leaders to implement the MBO (Management By Objectives) model – a management model popularized by inimitable Peter Drucker.

Andy Grove, with his team (1978). . Image credit: Wikipedia
Andy Grove, with his team (1978). . Image credit: Wikipedia

At Intel, Grove and team later gave birth to OKR (Objectives and Key Results), which according to Grove had two important components.

  • What do I want to achieve? (The Objective)
  • How will I pace myself to see if I am getting there to achieve that? (a set of Key Results)

OKR which over the years has been adopted by leading organizations across the world such as Google, Uber, Sears Holdings, Vox Media, Zynga, etc, helps in creating a culture of high performance that is focused on results. The core concept in OKR is to align the organization with the CEO’s priorities. OKR is very different from traditional goal setting frameworks which lately are showing signs of aging. Adopting OKRs enables organization, teams, and individuals to:

Work together for common business priorities & goals.
Helps in ensuring that the job gets done and done well
Enables you see in real time the progress people make while achieving their targets.
The bottom line is, every thoughtful business leader, be it McCallum or Ducker or Grove are able to re-invent the processes to enable better performance in their people. They were able to identify new ways to make people accountable for their own performance. Organizations that don’t focus on building or re-inventing themselves to leverage people power will always lose the battle to their competitors.

Originally published at: People Matters , India’s leading HR focused media company

Blitzscaling 09: Session Notes[Reid Hoffman and Allen Blue on Why and How They Scaled LinkedIn]

This is my seventh blog on the notes and my interpretations on the Blitzscaling sessions. In the fall of 2015, Reid Hoffman began taking session called Technology-Enabled Blitzscaling at Stanford University.Blitzscaling is what you do when you need to grow really, really quickly. It’s the science and art of rapidly building out a company to serve a large and usually global market, with the goal of becoming the first mover at scale. And its also about why organization culture is important for Blitzscaling Because when you’re growing an organization very fast, you have to make people accountable to each other on a horizontal or peer-to-peer basis, and not just vertically and top-down through the hierarchy.

Session 2 notes can be found here. Session 3 notes can be found here. Session 4 notes can be found here.Session 5 notes can be found here.Session 6 I haven’t covered. Session 7 notes can be found here. Session 8 notes can be found here

In session 9, Reid Hoffman and Allen Blue shared the insights on how they scaled Linkedin.Here are the session notes and my interpretations on the insights shared.

  1. The key thing about establishing an organization culture or creating a distinctive one to identify what kind of people will not fit into your culture.
  2. Most elite organization are able to establish this very early. For example:- Google was able to identify that folks from top degree colleges with highest CGPA will fit in the collegial culture which Larry and Sergey want to create. Now want works for Google will not work for your organization. You have to identify what kind of culture you want to create.
  3. Part of establishing a unique culture is to answer questions on
    1. How you will communicate internally and externally
    2. how you will develop your leaders
    3. how you do decision making in the company
  4. The entire Blitzscaling sessions are divided into 3 parts addressing 3 stages of start-up called as Family, then Tribe and the village
    1. Family: – It’s about identifying a non-obvious market opportunity where you have a unique insight or strength or approach to capture market share. And then building your initial team to build the initial offering to address that market.
    2. Tribe: – Execute and iteratively improve a plan which gets you to achieve a market share.
    3.  Village: – In this stage, you are now able to identify, plan and execute the core business that you will be able to scale up and take it globally. 
  5. The goal of the core business is to
    1. Create continued growth
    2. Generate growing revenue
    3. build competitive advantage
    4. Grow strategic assets for later opportunities.
  6. From time to time in company lifecycle, founder’s need to communicate the same language which people can follow while they are doing their day to day jobs.
  7. When your organization is growing from 15 to 50 to 500, as founder’s you will not be the part of each and every conversation in your company. But as founders, you have to make sure that those conversations are aligned with big picture/directions and priorities you have decided.
  8. Communicate about your (a) mission (b) vision (c) competitive advantage (d) strategic objectives (e) business model (f) operating priorities with your companies on the continues basis. But especially when you are moving from family to tribe to village
  9. All the above communications should be simple, clear & easily repeatable. If you will be able to crack this, you will be able to create an effective organization.
  10.  At the family stage and somewhat at initial stages of tribe stage, you hire generalist. But as you grow to become a full-fledged tribe or village, you have to hire specialist.
  11. A good generalist is someone who can come and pick up skills & things without founders doing many interventions.
  12. Specialist have good analytical skills and problem-solving skills with respect to specific area of business
  13. Tips on hiring and managing talent
    1. Fire fast low performers
    2. When hiring look for the long term probability of the guy who will be able to evolve as company goes from family to tribe to village.
    3. “Given a chance, will you hire a person again? ” – Answer this question if you have difficulty in firing your low performer or even co-founder.If answer is no, fire ASAP.  But always make sure to remain humble & human while you are parting away.
  14. Following is the screenshot of Linkedin product plan. During the family stage, you have to get just one thing right. But when you are moving to tribe and village stage, you have to get many things right at the same time. To achieve this, you need an altogether a different approach for the execution and people who will execute that plan.
  15. Look at the below metrics. It shows the kind of analytics and number crunching successful companies do to move fast. CEO’s and senior folks of the company see these numbers on daily basis
  16. When you move to village stage, as a founder you have to answer few fundamental questions about:
    1. Are you the right CEO for this stage?
    2. What is the core mission, culture, and values to enable rapid distribution scaling?
    3. How to fire the right HR guy that can support the hyper growth?
    4. Who are those key executives required to support execution in critical areas?
    5. How to develop tobust reporting to allow you and your senior team to learn about where execution is going and how that can support in creating future plans?
  17. Embed communicating about your core values & culture in your hiring & onboarding processes. Or you will end up being a culture less company
  18. Here are the Linkedin culture & value details. When your sales head links those values and organization culture, that’s where it will give you the competitive advantage.
  19. As a founder, put down points why people should join your company. And make this communication visible internally & externally. At qilo, we have taken an alternative approuc, where in all JD’s we put in “Why you should not join us”. Here are the points from latest JDWhy you should NOT join us
    • If you don’t put in efforts in identifying and/or pursuing your passions in life
    • If you cannot put in extended working works to achieve WOW results for the customers.
    • You don’t believe in taking ownership and accountability of assigned work.
    • If you are NOT a good self- learner.
    • You don’t know how to crack jokes 🙂
  20. Getting your technical, HR and operational process in place is essential to make the large team work together properly. And keep optimizing these processes to improve efficiency.

 

Keep watching this blog for more notes and awesome articles. I personally feel this session has given me a very good level of understanding what I should be focusing on as one of the co-founders of qilo. Hope you have enjoyed this article too.

Blitzscaling 08: Session Notes[Eric Schmidt on Structuring Teams and Scaling Google]

This is my sixth blog on the notes and my interpretations on the Blitzscaling sessions. In the fall of 2015, Reid Hoffman began taking session called Technology-Enabled Blitzscaling at Stanford University.Blitzscaling is what you do when you need to grow really, really quickly. It’s the science and art of rapidly building out a company to serve a large and usually global market, with the goal of becoming the first mover at scale. And its also about why organization culture is important for Blitzscaling Because when you’re growing an organization very fast, you have to make people accountable to each other on a horizontal or peer-to-peer basis, and not just vertically and top-down through the hierarchy.

Session 2 notes can be found here. Session 3 notes can be found here. Session 4 notes can be found here.Session 5 notes can be found here.Session 6 I haven’t covered. Session 7 notes can be found here

Who doesn’t know Eric Schmidt. He is the one who has contributed A LOT in making what Google is today. In session 8, he shared his insights on how to structure the teams and scaling Google.Here are the session notes and my interpretations on the insights shared.

  1. As a young manager, observe and do everything to learn various aspects.
  2.  The first 10 years of your career is too crucial & that’s where you learn all the s**t. Thus it’s important that you focus on getting right kind of learning.
  3. To make a better decision, keep asking yourself “What should be happening in your career/start-up in next 5 years”. I know this advice might sound like a theory to you or you probably have heard from yogis to practice living in the moment. But that doesn’t mean you should not try to foresee or plan where you what to go and how probably you can reach out there.
  4. Making faster decision is one single trait that CEO’s should focus on developing.
  5. How to handle issues and situations between founders and outsiders(probably older than founders) who are part of the company: – Outsiders should understand that it’s not his company. This means to avoid being the face of the company or getting media coverage. That’s what Eric did when he was leading Google and Larry Page, Sergey Brin. He focused on running the company & making it profitable leaving Larry & Sergey to be the face of it.
  6. The way you build great products is by building a small team, work really hard, push the team & get the product out which just barely work. Example:- Original iPod just barely worked initially. From there, Apple improved it before it was taken to mass market. As a founder, you have ti have a judgment when your product & start-up is ready to scale.  At qilo , we faced the same challenge. Where I want to speed up the scaling, Vipul(another co-founder) slowed the things down to make sure that product actually solves a problem, before we scale out and hire sales guys.
  7. Great products are built from self-use. As a founder, you know your product really works or not. And if you don’t know, get the data from your initial set of customers and analyize it. Making sure your product works before you take VC money and start expanding in all directions.
  8. Tips on hiring
    1. Hire experience over intelligence
    2. Hire best guys to get job done. Take your time to hire the right guys. And if things are not working with new hires even after doing multiple interventions, fire them fast.
    3. Sell your dream to prospective candidates. Hire those to whom it make sense. If you have to convince the guy, he/she is not the right hire.
    4. Hire ordinary people who have done extraordinary things.
    5. Hire people who can work better in teams. Give a person an exception to be an individual contributor if she is an exceptional talent.
  9. Next generation of successful programmers will be those who can write programs os that software themselves can learn how to solve a problem. This is also called as machine learning 🙂
  10. At finance side, hire CFO’s who have gone bankrupt because they have seen what should not be done to become bankrupt
  11. In every successful company, you got to have someone
    1. Who has very good product sense
    2. Has emotional intelligence for all the stakeholders
    3. Move fast
  12. All successful start-ups do one thing right:  Hire right people
  13. Strong values and beliefs take company to the next level of growth
  14. If you got a large team of programmers and s/w engineers to work on your product, then probably your s/w architecture is not right
  15. Advice to entrepreneurs who want to build a great company
    1. Have an incredible founding team & right founders to address right kind of problem
    2. You need to have some luck
    3. Passion, lots of hard work and hiring awesome people

Moving from performance management to enablement (Part 2)

In the two-part series of “Moving from performance measurement to enablement”, part 1 highlighted the problems we have with current performance management process. In part-2, will be discussing on how you can get organization ready to move from performance management to performance enablement. As stated in part 1, the annual ritual of performance management is dead, future belongs to performance enablement.  Companies who will not leverage this change will potentially lose an opportunity to increase their revenue by up to 9% and reduce cost by up to 7%(Source:: Mckinsey).

The outcome of enabling performance are clear. Done right, it can lead to employee far more engagement at work and with their work and will be more effective as their careers progress. Now let’s look at how you can enable the performance.

Re-focus on the Core: Organization Culture

Organization culture is not about dogs at work or yoga (Ben Horowitz). Organization culture is about “how works get done when manager’s or leadership is not there”. To understand your culture, start with analyzing or doing diagnosis with your people about what kind of culture or subcultures have been created in your teams in all these years.  And then put down on paper what kind of culture is required or expected. Once this is done, then only you can define and communicate expected behaviors from your people while they are doing their daily jobs. This may sound like a theory to you, but believe me, it’s a science. The only difference is, the secret of this science and how to implement it was till date was available with a handful of companies.

Enabling Business Heads and Managers to be Better Coaches

There are two aspects which can enable managers and BU head’s to be better coaches:

  • The way communicate is handled
  • The way conversations are handled on giving feedback

The way communicate is handled

Your business heads and managers are continuously focused on getting transactions done. They occasionally communicate with their team members about what they are feeling and what challenges they are facing. The medium of communication is right now: ‘Town Halls’ and ‘Corporate Emails’, which are not effective. Managers and business heads need to be more colloquial with their communication so that people in their team feel more connected to them. The art of chasing numbers are easy, but the art of communication is difficult. You need to enable them to think creatively to communicate well.

The way conversations are handled on giving feedback

How many times your manager give feedback to their team members. Either it’s annual during the performance management process or when deliverables/targets turn red. You have to put in a discipline throughout the company to enable these conversations to happen more frequently (at least quarterly).  And remember, this entire exercise should be employee and manager centric otherwise, they will again fail at adoption end.

Implement a Dynamic Goal Setting Framework

The business world is dynamic where targets are changing continuously. But the goals to be achieved remain static throughout the year. And they largely don’t get connected to the day to day work of the employee. An ideal goal setting framework gets connected with the daily, weekly, monthly & quarterly deliverables. It should be simple enough to change and track. It should have the ability to define the performance metrics for every role in the company. OKR is one such goal setting framework which acts more like a management tool.

Enable More Transparency

Transparency can be enhanced at two level: – team level and company level.

Transparency at team level

There are 3 types of team members. One who think he is a Hercules, one who know he is Hercules and the one who needs to know whether he can become Hercules or not. Within the team, if you can show this data (or gamify it) and enable calling a “SPADE a SPADE”, it will not only help you in achieve excellence in execution, your real heroes might be able to help those who need help. What is the different between a non-performer employee of corporate and start-up? In start-up, the shelf life of non-performers is maximum 2 month, in the corporate its 12 months or more. By enhancing transparency, you will be able to identify non-performers in lesser time and can start working with them faster.

Transparency at organization level

An employee always keeps guessing how my work is affecting overall organization progress. And few of them want an exposure to more opportunities availability to enhance their career growth. A simple way to achieve this is by implementing team goals and making all goals transparent at the company level. Employees who want to grow will be able to figure out their path for growth. You just need to show them path.

To conclude, as an HR leader, being an early adopter of initiating the journey of performance enablement,   you will be stand to gain significant advantages and help you to contribute towards business growth in a tangle manner. Newly empowered employees of the digital age are constantly looking for the value proposition from their employers. Companies, new and old alike, and their HR leaders cannot afford to sit on the sidelines.

Summary

  1. Focus on how you can determine your sub-culture(s) and fix them.
  2. Enable your managers to be better coaches with continues feedback.
  3. Implement a more dynamic goal setting framework with goals making sense to employees.
  4. Enable transparency in teams with data to identify non-performers by implementing shared goals.