The 90-Day Plan – To Go or Not to Go

90daysI give 100% credit to my dear friend Drew for inspiring this post. Drew and I were catching up last week about our respective lives, careers, and the startup world. We are similar people in that we have a million ideas and suffer from wanting to do everything at once! When we reach our saturation point of options, we each make a 90-day plan and decide to commit to next steps within that 90 days. It could be anything – a home improvement project, planning a trip, taking a new job or founding a startup – just time box it and go for it.

Anyone who knows me well, knows that I rarely do anything with any degree of seriousness without a plan. When I decide to take on a new project, I outline a few key questions I will ask myself and/or the team I work with:

  • What goals do we think we can reach within 90 days?
  • How much of ourselves can we commit to reach this goal?
  • What will be our successful “go” criteria beyond meeting those goals and timeline?
  • What will be our successful “no-go” criteria? (because deciding not to do something can be a successful outcome!)
  • At the end of our first 90 days, what do we imagine the next 90 days or beyond to look like?

In an established company setting, this approach could apply to a prototyping phase of a new product or feature, setting up a new human resource program or even raising new capital via a series “x” or IPO. Having a plan that considers the above may help secure budget and/or support of key stakeholders to let you take a risk early on before making a bigger investment such as hiring people, marketing, etc. This approach can also apply to building a company from the ground up.

I recently took this approach on a potential startup with a prospective co-founder. We had an idea and laid out a plan to flesh out that idea before building anything or raising any money. We created a timeline and committed ourselves to dig in. We answered the above questions like so:

  • We want a clear MVP defined within 90 days
  • We will taper back our other work commitments to give ~50% of our respective work time to this project
  • Our successful “go” criteria beyond the above two points was loosely defined as:
    1. Being more in love with the idea and its potential than when we started
    2. Proving the market opportunity was massive(*)
    3. Feeling like we were the right team and individuals to build it
  • Our successful “no-go” criteria was one or the combination of the following:
    1. The market opportunity was not as massive as we had defined
    2. We were not the right individuals/team to build it
    3. One or both of us became less enamored with the idea as we pursued it
  • At the end of the first 90 days, we would either raise a small amount of capital to hire engineers to build the MVP OR we would kill the project

(*) “Massive” opportunity for our project meant we’d disrupt a billion dollar market, but each project should have its own definition of massive

While we didn’t write out our plan as explicitly as I did above, we had many deep conversations throughout the 90-day period that solidified this approach. In the end, we had a successful, mutually agreed upon, “no-go” decision. It was a great learning experience not only in terms of the domain we explored, but also in terms of what each of us wanted out of our next venture.

It’s a bit of a cliché to say “trying is succeeding”, but wouldn’t you rather know you tried, with a plan, and understood why you decided not to do something than doing nothing or working without a plan and wondering “what if” or “why did we fail”? When you’re weighing options, take the 90-day approach. Go for it, execute on a plan, and be true to your self and whomever you may partner with to go, or not to go.

Have other good examples of 90-day plans that led to go or no-go?  Please reply and share!

Just Be Excellent

“Hi, my name is Julia, and I used to be a Grey’s Anatomy fan.”

I stopped watching the show sometime after season 4 or 5, but there was a scene in an early episode that has stuck with me ever since (and if someone can find the clip, I’ll buy them a fine dinner!). One of the female characters – Yang or Grey, I think – was feeling the classic pressure of needing to do more to succeed than just be a surgeon. She was stepping out of her comfort zone because she thought that’s what she needed to do to excel in her career. In this case, she was vying for an administrative type of role that required lots of paperwork, scheduling and managing staff – all non-surgical skills. While she was learning new things and stretching herself, she was not loving or doing well at this new type of work. In the memorable clip, one of this woman’s mentors lays it on the line with her and tells her to stop trying to be something she’s not or do something she doesn’t love and to just “be excellent”.

I often reflect on this scene when I coach leaders of early stage growth companies who are striving to grow professionally. keep-calm-and-be-excellent-8Sometimes it’s a salesperson who has become a CEO or a programmer who is now a VP of Engineering. Often, when one starts a new company, they are still doing their day job (sales, programming, market analysis…) not just because there’s no one else but them to do it, but because it’s their passion and the reason they started their business to begin with. The catch 22 of a successful startup can be that the job you loved and got you this far is a job you no longer have time to do. You are meeting with investors, managing people, closing deals, looking for space or just paying the bills. In many cases, there’s great satisfaction in learning how to run a company and domain experts become great leaders across and outside of their organizations. They are being excellent! Sometimes, however, they are being anything but excellent. They are poor people managers or suck at managing investors and they find themselves in a role that makes them miserable. This can have a negative impact on everything from the happiness of their customers, employees and the overall bottom line to their personal self-worth and esteem.

I have taken pleasure in seeing some great founding CEOs and CTOs step down from their roles early into their company’s success to go back to their true passion. Whether it was programming, a business development or sales role, they chose to be excellent so that they can make an impact on their company and found someone with the right skills and experience to do the job they did not want or were good at doing. So, when I am advising leaders in early stage growth companies about scaling their organization, I walk them through an exercise that forecasts what their company might look like in 12, 18 and/or 24 months. Then, I ask them a series of questions that include some of the following:

  • Do you feel prepared to manage an organization at that size?
  • What tools do you think you are missing in your toolbox to be good at that role?
  • What daily tasks and responsibilities are you willing or eager to give up?
  • What daily tasks and responsibilities are you loathe to give up?
  • What criteria will you use to know when you need to delegate something to a new or existing team member?
  • What criteria will you use to decide if you are still happy in your role?

Even with the best planning, most leaders have no idea what their companies will look or feel like at scale, never mind how they will feel about their own roles. However, being self aware and having some ideas in mind of what one will do at that juncture can be vital to their success. Lining up advisors and/or coaches who can help add those tools to your toolbox or to find the right people to delegate to, or perhaps hand the reins to, can be critical to the overall success of the company.

A good leader/founder is not a failure for admitting they suck at their job or that they can’t do it all. The best leaders are those who acknowledge what needs to be done and by whom and they make it happen. They know they need to just be excellent.

Have you stepped down from a leadership role so you can be excellent or know someone who has?  Please share your story in the comments!

Author’s note: After posting, I realized I should have called out that this mindset is applicable for ANY role. If you’re a great programmer, be an excellent programmer. If you’re a great designer, be an excellent designer, etc…

Computer Science – Because It’s Just Plain Fun

I’ve worked in tech for my entire career and I love it. I get to work with people who are really smart (and very cool) and I get to build things that people actually use. Where did my interest come from? It all began in an office a long time ago…

I got turned on to technology in the 70’s when my Dad would take me into work with him on the weekends and give me girl-techprojects to do on his fancy Radio Shack TRS 80’s. He’d go through these huge stacks of Byte magazines and hand me cool programs he wanted to use for his civil engineering work. I’d sit in front of the “trash 80’s,” pop one of those huge 5+ inch floppy discs into the computer and start to code. The instructions were simple: Enter the text on a particular page and type “run.”  If there was an error, it was up to me to debug until the program ran successfully.

At eight years old, I had no idea that I was coding or that what I was doing was a rare activity for a girl. I liked how it felt to click on the keys. Debugging was like solving a puzzle and it was so satisfying when I finally got program to run. I was learning a new language and soon I could translate what the code was telling the computer to do. I was hooked.

As a studio art major in undergrad, I took computer graphics and Computer Aided Design (CAD) as electives. I can remember spending hours in the computer lab with my fellow students as we hacked away in BASIC to make little stick figures jump across the screen. We would fantasize about how cool it would be to get a job where this was actually what you got to do all day (If we had only known that Pixar was brewing out West!). Before the days of simple LANs and mainstream internet, I would work late into the evening with my male colleagues writing code in the lab. But not once did it ever occur to me that as a woman, I was a minority. All I knew was that I was alongside people who were as passionate as I was about what we were doing. That was all that mattered. And it still is.

Working with people who are passionate has been a fundamental driver for my career.  It concerns me that there are not enough women taking an interest in this field. Lenore Blum’s research at Carnegie Mellon demonstrates that women are more inclined to stay within the field if there are female professors and student role models to learn from and emulate. While I agree that we need more women role models in the field, and I will always try to be one myself, I also believe that if we inspire our children early to be creative thinkers who are comfortable with, and have access to, technology (beyond their smart phones and iPads), they will pursue careers in the field because it’s just plain fun.

We need to show children (and their parents) that computer science is an interesting and cool career path and not just an option for nerdy boys. We need to integrate lessons on programming, networks and clouds into daily curricula because these are basic tools one should possess. Children learning about how our bodies work, science works, or how to do math equations should be equally educated in the history and workings of the technology they use and rely upon every day. This is how we can diffuse the “nerdy boy” stigma associated with computer science. This is how we can better prepare our children to be innovators of the future.

I have three daughters who are all tech savvy. It’s unclear which side of the nature vs. nurture debate that falls under but regardless, technology has been a part of their lives since they were born. They see it as an enabler for a variety of fields and not just the basis to become programmers. With two who are artists and one who is a musician/budding architect, their days are filled with high tech sound mixing, computer graphics and CAD tools. It is a part of their daily lives. They are well past making a stick figure jump across the screen and blow me away with what they can do with the technology at their fingertips.

As we kick off CS Ed Week in MA this week (December 8-14), hundreds of young people and their parents will be checking out Hour of Code at their schools or with local community groups. The purpose is to provide access to coding and demonstrate how fun it can be. My hope is that somewhere a young boy or girl will be as excited about technology after that hour as I was when I was in my dad’s office years ago, and still am today.

To find a group in your area that is leading an Hour of Code, check out this list. You can also help promote computer science in your community by signing this pledge to encourage policy makers to include computer science in core curricula.

Please tweet or post your experiences during CS Ed Week using the #HourOfCode and include @Masstlcef if you’re in MA!

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The Value of An Art Degree (and Computer Science)

Recently, one of of my friends sought my advice about her son’s college plans. artscienceShe and her husband had aspirations for him to apply to computer science programs and he had just announced that he wanted to apply to art schools. GASP!

“What’s he going to do with an art degree? How will he make any money?”

As the resident nerd among my gaggle of friends, I wasn’t surprised to be asked about how to sway her son towards computer science. However, my friend didn’t realize how close this was to my own experience when it came time for me to apply to college many years ago.

I was born an artist. I would have finger painted my way from preschool through Kindergarten if I hadn’t been forced to learn my ABCs and 123s. I doodled on every notebook and book cover I made (you know, the ones you made with paper bags?) and while my friends were playing soccer or going to cheerleading practice, I was taking painting and pottery classes.

Despite my artistry being a defining characteristic throughout my young life, when it came time for college, my engineer Dad put a halt to my dreams of a career in art. He wanted me to be self-sufficient with a practical degree that gave me plenty of career options. Being a starving artist was out of the question. While I wasn’t happy about this, I wasn’t paying the bills for college, so I enrolled in the liberal arts program at UMASS Amherst.

Three years and four different declared majors later, once I had satisfied every general education requirement and took a few business classes, I applied and was accepted into my university’s studio art program.

I went on to graduate school to earn an MS in Management Information Systems, but my undergraduate degree in studio art impacted my career like no other major or on the job training could have done. I developed skills that were invaluable for my eventual career in technology. Here are just a few:

Learning by doing: Instead of rote memorization for exams, I was given complex assignments that were left totally up to my interpretation with extremely tight deadlines. Each assignment involved deep thought for a tangible outcome and there was no right answer; it was the quality of my execution and ability to convince the professor and my peers that I achieved a good result. This experience prepared me for projects where rapid prototyping and user experience were vital to success and led to my ability to delivery high quality software products on short timelines.

Presentation Skills: Standing up in front of your peers to “defend” your approach to an art assignment is not easy. It’s not a power point outlining the impact of the Vietnam War. It’s a very personal explanation of why your piece makes sense and why you feel you achieved the goal of the assignment. At 20 years old, presenting in front of a group to speak was terrifying for me, but after two years of art school, I learned how to be a confident speaker who could translate the complex ideas in my head into easy to understand concepts for almost any audience.

Creative Problem Solving: Each art assignment challenged me to create something unique. More importantly, it was a piece that not only I thought was beautiful and met the requirements, but something others would understand. I learned to take a novel idea, distill it into a “development” plan, and make something that others could appreciate. I attribute my ability to work with teams on highly complex and innovative technology products to this experience.

There is much research and many articles written about how art and science come together – this is what the STEAM (Science, Technology Engineering, ART and Math) movement is about. I am certain that, as an artist, my entry into the world of technology was no accident. I have worked with countless engineers throughout my career who are also artists and the common theme among them is the way they creatively solve problems and present their innovative ideas. I think the Dean of NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, where my oldest daughter just enrolled as a film major, said it amazingly well this past weekend at Parents’ Day:

“Artists have the broadest set of skills. They have strengths in creative thinking, communication and leadership like no other student. They are willing to take risks and challenge convention and the world needs more artists for the next moonshot.”

So, what did I tell my friend? I told her to let her son apply to art school! If he’s got an interest in science and/or math, those will come later. For now, let him develop valuable skills that will pay off down the road no matter what path he chooses

Are you an artist in a technical role or have kids following similar paths?  Please share your stories in the comments!

People Who Code – A Call to Action

I am a huge advocate of the women in computer science movement. coding-bannerI am also a huge fan of the Computer Science (CS) field in general and, despite my number of years in this industry, I continue to be amazed at the volume and speed by which new technology is coming at us. Yet, with all that’s going on out there, it is still incredibly hard to find talented developers and designers. So, while I want to see more young girls learning to code and women in professional technical roles, quite frankly I just want to see more people who code.

Three things happened recently that made me realize that I need to focus my efforts on encouraging more young people to get into computer science:

First, there was the scuttlebutt around the “Male Allies” panel at the Grace Hopper Conference a couple of weeks ago. Everyone was so wound up about the gaffes of the three men on the panel that we lost sight of their key messages which were to support gender balance and eliminate wage gaps in tech across all levels of a company. How are we going to make progress for women and minorities in tech if we attack the majority when they aim to support the movement? When will meritocracy prevail over gender? My friend Jocelyn Goldfein has a lot of good thoughts on this topic here. We need to bring men into this conversation without them worrying about being attacked for speaking up and we need to focus on how to build great careers in CS for everyone – not just women.

Second, I have been thinking a lot lately about the preponderance of women and girls’ organizations that are encouraging and supporting women to code and choose technical careers. It’s wonderful that there are SO many of these organizations out schools-codingthere, yet it is so hard for girls and women to know which ones are the best to meet their particular needs and/or interests. I am concerned by how many of them position themselves competitively against each other vs. combining forces to form a stronger, united, movement. A founder of one of these organizations told me recently that when she approached a nearby, similar, group to collaborate she was met with “hostile resistance”. Also, that some of the members of her organization did not want to be part of meta-organizations because it drew too much “adverse attention” to their roles – akin to the extreme circumstances of #gamergate where women are fearful for their lives because of their chosen profession. Certainly there are varying views on how best to encourage girls and women to code, but imagine how powerful these groups would be if they combined efforts instead of competing with each other or fearing retribution (or worse) for participating. Perhaps the mere size of these groups would deter those who attack them today or maybe, even, convince their attackers to support vs. challenge their mission.

Finally, I was recently enlightened by my friends at the MassTLC Education Foundation on the rather pathetic state of our k-12 CS programs in Massachusetts. I view CS as basic literacy in the 21st century, yet in most publicmassCS_stats and private schools it is treated like an elective, not a core math or science requirement. In 2012, only 1000 students in Massachusetts took AP CS and 559 passed; of those who passed, only 24 were underrepresented minorities and 89 were female. There are also no standards or licensure for teachers who teach CS in k-12. According to this NPR story, only an estimated 10% of k-12 schools in our country teach computer science. This interactive data chart shows the steady decline of CS majors in the US. With all the money out there to invest in new technology and innovation, we are not making the same level of investment in the people we need to make these innovations a reality and sustainable into the future.

From the past we have learned that big issues such as the civil rights and feminist movements took large groups of likeminded people to go from controversy to significant policy and cultural changes. We take for granted that women can vote in the US and in many, but not all, other countries around the world and we tend to forget that not too many years ago, schools and busses were segregated. Today, we are fighting for equal pay and career opportunities for women and there is controversy about how few women there are studying CS, but there is a bigger issue to solve. If Venture Capitalists and technology industry leaders want to support these movements, we need to do more than just attend conferences and speak on panels. We need to change policy – like eliminating noncompetes in MA to allow talent to move where their passions take them instead of feeling trapped in their jobs or eager to depart from the field of technology altogether.  We need to band together instead of standing on hundreds of different platforms to solve a greater issue. We need to fund programs for young people – not just girls – that foster interest in creativity and technology. We need to enlighten high school kids about the opportunities in technology and be available to mentor these kids when they go to college. We need people who code.

Do you agree that we need to do more to encourage young people to code? Join me the week of December 8-14 for CS Ed Week where the MassTLC Education Foundation will be championing Hour of Code in cities and schools across all of Massachusetts. This national program is designed to inspire students to learn more, dream more and be more through Computer Science.

“People are Funny”

IMG_4079One of my favorite and rather famous family quotes from my Dad, is “People are funny” [see his epitaph, inset]. It was his catch-all phrase for when someone did or said something odd. The saying was his way of recognizing that we can’t always explain why people do or say what they do, we just have to either learn from them or have compassion for them. Sometimes, though, I want to do more than just learn or have compassion. I want to respond with a “hey, what are you doing?” or “you can’t say that!”.  Yesterday was one of those days. When someone said something that I brushed off in my head as “people are funny”, but the next morning it still nags.

“Are you two both work and life partners?”

I’ll explain…

Because I’m in the wonderful world of entrepreneurship and tech, I have the common experience of working closely with men. A man has been my boss in just about every job I’ve had. Men have been the majority of the employees I have hired and managed and, as I have grown professionally, more often these men are my peers. I travel with these men, go out to coffee, lunch, drinks, and have dinner with these men. Often, I also get to know their wives and have introduced our children. I’ve been to their weddings and have had the honor of staying in their homes when I travel. I have been so fortunate to develop some of the strongest relationships with these men over my career as I have with some of my dearest girlfriends. They’ve been my mentors and confidants and often ask the same of me – which I do with pleasure.

Despite all of this, it seems that no matter what my rank and status or theirs, there is always someone who assumes that my strong rapport with these wonderful men must mean there’s more to our relationship. Good working relationships at work are often like second marriages. We’ve all heard the expression “my work husband” which suggests that this other guy in your life who knows you inside and out is your go-to guy at work, but it’s strictly a professional relationship. These are the guys we have friendly banter with, we share inside jokes and we are able to finish each other’s sentences. We’re BFFs in the best sense of the word. Yet, someone always opens that door that questions how a relationship like this is possible without something more going on. It’s the proverbial “a man and woman can’t possibly JUST be friends“.

Now back to yesterday. While in a meeting that was (ironically) about raising awareness of gender bias in venture capital, I was asked if my male colleague in the meeting with me was both my “work and my life partner”. I do not believe there was anything this man or I said or did that would infer such a thing. We clearly know each other well and had a few occasions of poking fun at each other that demonstrated a good working relationship, but it wasn’t flirty or unprofessional.

So, what provoked this question? Do men and women have to be all business to be taken seriously as professional colleagues? Should my colleague and I be more impersonal in meetings? Can men and women NOT just be friends? When we are striving towards more equal and gender neutral work environments, how do we eliminate the assumptions and biases we have about men and women working together? As a society, we need to hold each other accountable for respecting the strong relationships colleagues develop regardless of their gender. If two guys can be BFFs at work, play golf together and travel together without judgement, shouldn’t male and female colleagues be able to do the same?

…or, are people just funny?

Thoughts on Leadership From a Great (and sorely missed) Leader

danny-lewin-close-story-topIn the grand scheme of the tech world, very few of us can say we had the privilege to work with/for Danny Lewin – Akamai Founder and CTO, who we lost on 9/11.  Yesterday, on the anniversary of his murder, I assembled our “Akamai Early Days – Pre-2002’ish” Facebook group to use Throwback Thursday (#TBT) to share memories of Danny.  There were so many stories from his heroic sales moves and tough discussions to the more humorous incidents like when, weeks before he was about to make bank on the Akamai IPO, he tried to buy a ring for his wife at Tiffany’s and none of his credit cards would work because they were all tapped out.  Sharing these stories not only allowed us to all get through what’s usually a very difficult day, with some amount of warmth and humor.  These stories also reminded us of the type of leader Danny was and inspired us to be.  One post to the group was an email Danny wrote on leadership that my dear friend John Healy had saved for all these years.  This note was sent when Danny had just taken the reins as the head of Product Management.  It’s truly inspirational and worth sharing.  I believe this message planted a seed in many of us over 13 years ago to be better leaders and as I have watched my colleagues from those early days at Akamai grow in their careers – still there or now on to other great companies – I see a little bit of Danny’s spirit and leadership in each of them.

Please read and take notes!

A note from Danny….

Hi All,
I’m writing this email to communicate to you some leadership principals that I believe are very important and that I want to see implemented in our organization. As the management team of product management it is core to what we do to think about the leadership of our organization and of the company. Most management teams don’t spend nearly enough time thinking about leadership – and the result is low productivity, inefficient decision making, and subdued creativity. I want our new organization to be an example inside Akamai of how thinking actively about leadership, and planning how to motivate and empower people, can lead to a great organization that executes flawlessly.

Talking about how to lead people can be a little “cheesey” at times, however in my experience you need to get over the discomfort and create a plan to lead – just like you would create any plan of action. Now, I am no great expert in leadership, but I was lucky enough to have learned some basic principals first hand from some of the best leaders I know of, and I want to try to implement these principals together with you in our organization. Here goes:

Great leaders create great teams. You can always tell that there is a great leader at hand when you see a group of people that are executing as a team. People do not naturally create good teams. Most intelligent human beings are opinionated, irrational, jealous, and angry – but when there is a great leader at hand people seem to put all that under the rug and concentrate on working together towards a common goal.

So, a great leader is someone who can create a great team, and creating a great team means understanding how to manipulate people to work together instead of against each other. Surprisingly, people in groups behave in very predictable and reproducible ways, and hence, there are some common principals that great leaders use over and over again to create teams. It is almost like we humans have built inside of us a basic capacity to function in a team that just needs to be turned on by pushing the right buttons – we need to identify the buttons!

There are a zillion things a great leader does to create and lead a team, but I want to focus on the ones that I believe are the most important. There are only three.
1. Lead By Example
2. Suffer Together
3. Hold People Accountable and Get Rid of Non-performers
These may seem harsh and simple, but please read on to understand what I mean by each one, and how I see us implementing these principals in our organization.

Lead By Example
—————————
Leading by example may seem a trite principal at first – it is “clear” that a leader has to lead by example! However, in many cases people only give lip service to this principal without really understanding what it takes to truly lead by example. There are three big buckets here (in order of importance):

  1. A leader needs to exhibit truly exceptional abilities in at least one aspect of the personal skills required from team members. This allows people to give the leader responsibility for decisions related to the tasks that the team executes with a feeling of safety. For example, if the team is required to program, the leader must be an exceptional programmer in at least one area. This requirement is ignored in many reorgs and hirings – but is critical to the formation of a great team. This does not mean that the leader has to be the best at everything that the team does – just in some specific areas. No good team member will submit to the leader without at the very least respecting his or her capabilities. A good leader both has the required capabilities AND makes sure that the team knows it! Without this quality – a leader will fail.
  2. A great leader identifies the job specific behaviors that the team needs to have to succeed and makes sure to exhibit them to the extreme. For example, if a team needs to work weekends to be successful – the leader will work weekends, holidays, and nights. If the team needs to manage costs down to be effective, the leader will reduce his/her own salary and follow up on all expenses. People are motivated on a day-by-day basis by a leader who maintains a superior record of professional behaviors – this tells people that they have to live up to the expectations of behavior because their leader can always hold herself up as an example.
  3. A great leader understands the basic characteristics that any leader needs to show and they make conscious and concentrated efforts to exhibit them. All people look to the leader of a team for the following things:
    a. Clear Goals and Objectives – Teams form around a leader to achieve objectives. Without an objective, a leader cannot build a team. Team members want to see goals and objectives communicated clearly. Vagueness in goals and objectives is the death of team.
    b. Crisp Decision Making – Leaders make decisions and teams expect and need leaders to make decisions. Decisions should be made by soliciting input from all relevant team members. But – the responsibility for the decision is with the leader. Decisions need to be made efficiently, firmly, and with authority. Once a leader makes a decision, the team needs to be held accountable to accept that decision. Team members make decisions all the time while working, and for teams to be effective they need to make decisions. The way that a leader makes decisions is emulated by the team, so great leaders make an effort to expose to the team how they make decisions.
    c. Follow Up – One of the great pitfalls of leadership is the Delegation Pitfall. A leader falls into the delegation pitfall when they start to truly believe in delegation and that leads to the dangerous idea of Delegation of Accountability. Responsibility and accountability are never delegated. Work is delegated and new accountability created by a leader. A leader is responsible and accountable for everything a team does – no matter what. This means that:
    1 – A leader always follows up on work that is delegated. Always and often. Team members perceive micromanagement not because of follow up, but because of shortfalls in other areas of leadership.
    2 – A leader manages down to the details. Great leaders follow up on the details of what team members are doing. Truly great leaders create atmospheres where team members feel responsibility, but also search out the leader to share the details.
    3 – Leaders always work harder than all of the team members. If you have X work for your team, you can delegate X into three parts, but the follow up and the details will sum up to more than a third of X.
    d. Integrity – Team members need to trust the leader. Trust is inspired by integrity. Integrity is the firm adherence to a code of professional behavior that the team respects. This includes directness, honesty, clarity of conversation, and a sense of incorruptibility.
    e. Equivalent Accountability – Only leaders can cause the principle of equivalent accountability to take hold in a team. Equivalent accountability is the principle of holding all people and all organizations, at all levels to the same standard of performance and honest dedication to the mission at hand. Teams that operate without equivalent accountability, tend to disintegrate into unfortunate politics and finger pointing, which takes the place of forward progress for the team.

Leadership by example is the number one priority for all leaders – and I expect us in Product Management to focus on the example that we set for our own teams and for the whole company.

Suffer Together
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This one is a shocker!! But seriously…
Teams form around a leader when there is *necessity* for a team. Teams are necessary when there is an external circumstance, requirement, goal, obstacle, or pressure that cannot be overcome or achieved by an individual alone.
In any case where you are required to lead, there must be some necessity for a team – so the circumstances at hand usually provide the external pressure.

Many times, people who lead believe that the goal of a leader is to shield teams from the external pressures. This is a mistake because is prevents the team from feeling the need to become a team. People need the pressure to form a team – this is how people work.

Great leaders keep their teams under pressure at all times.
External pressure alone however is not enough for a team to form. External pressure is like having critical mass for fusion – you still need the compression to start the chain reaction. In team building the compression comes from Suffering Together.

Suffering together means allowing a team to feel pain related to the external pressure as a group.
Truly great leaders make sure that during team formation (and at regular intervals after that) the team suffers together. This may seem simplistic, but groups of people are very predictable – teams need to suffer together to form.

Hold People Accountable and Get Rid of Non-performers
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The third and last key principal for building a team again seems trite at first glance. However, this is probably the most misunderstood of the three principals.

There are really two parts to this principal. First, a leader holds people accountable. This has three simple components:
1. People have commitments that they make to the team and to the leader
2. People are measured in a fair and uniform way against the commitments that they have made
3. People are compensated according to how well they perform
This is the simple part.

The more complex, and more critical part, of this principal is Getting Rid of Non-Performers. Getting rid of non-performers is NOT aimed primarily at raising productivity by replacing a non-performer with a performer. Getting rid of non-performers is aimed at helping the group that remains to coalesce and perform as a team. This is one of the most difficult of the three principals to grasp at first. Here is an explanation:

For teams to form, there needs to be trust.Trust between the team members and trust between the team and the leader. The first part of trust is coaxed into being by leadership by example. Next, suffering together forces initial trust between team members – there is no other choice! However, in all teams, after a period of initial trust, non-performers are identified by team members and trust starts to deteriorate. This is a critical time for the team and for the leader. In order to preserve the trust that team members have for each other and for the leader, the leader must remove the non-performers from the team. The result is two main behaviors that cement the team together:
a. The team respects the leader for taking action when holding someone accountable reveals that they are not holding up their part of the bargain. This creates trust in the leader. In addition, when accountability is equivalent for all team members, the leader demonstrates integrity to the team.
b. The team feels comfortable trusting each other – because if they are still in the team, they must be performing against the teams goals and objectives. This sense of safety in the group is key to a great team.
Because this principal is the most difficult to understand, it is the most widely abused. Things to be careful of:
a. This principal does not say that anyone who does not perform needs to be fired immediately. Leaders work with people to improve and to achieve first. Only if after fair chance and help a team member is not performing should they be removed from the team.
b. Both parts of this principal need to be applied for it to be effective. People have to have commitments that can be fairly measured. Only after people have a chance to execute on clear commitments can they be help accountable by the leader, and only then can the leader effectively decide to remove non-performers from the team. This means that coming into a team and getting rid of 3 non-performers does not contribute to team building.

These principals are simple to state, but the way they affect people is quite profound. It is worth thinking about the successful and unsuccessful teams that you have been a part of and recognizing how these principals applied to each situation. Questions to me.

In the new organization we are building I plan to leading our team by these principals – and I want you to think about how you can implement these steps in your groups as well.

[excluded AKAM sales data points here]

Our ability to provide good leadership is key to Akamai not becoming “just another company” – we need to take it seriously as a group.
Things you will get from me:
1. Clear goals for you and your groups
2. A commitment an measurement process you feel is fair
3. A compensation plan based on performance
4. An organizational structure based on what is best for Akamai as a company
What I need from you in the mean while:
1. Stay focused on the Sales Push and support teams
2. Absorb the uncertainty about the future of the org until the end of the Sales Push
3. Input
Thoughts, questions, suggestions – to me.
Thanks,
Danny