Thoughts on Life

On Sudden Losses

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Without going into too much detail, we lost one of our dogs in a freak accident recently. My wife and I were out on a date when we got the call from the emergency room.

It’s a highly emotional moment for both of us when something like this happens – especially when it’s sudden. For folks that know us well, our dogs are our children. We know each of their personalities, quirks, mannerisms, barks, and even their barking styles and what they mean. Sure, call us crazy and maybe we are, but the love we have for these dogs transcends just a simple relationship.

It’s hard to describe the range of emotions that one can go through when something like this happens. We all cope differently. My wife does it all at once. I tend to chunk my grief into stages and spread it out to ease the pain. There’s no one way to cope with a sudden loss of someone you love.

It’s a cliche saying but make every moment count. I was putting on my shoes in the morning when our lost dog came and nudge me to scratch her neck. That was my last memory. For my wife, hers was cutting her nails, grooming her hair, and giving her a kiss on the nose. You never know when something tragic will strike. I don’t think it’s reasonable to always live like tomorrow won’t come, but I do think I’m realizing it’s becoming more important to take more frequent moments to appreciate the things in life that you have – especially those around you that support you (whether human or animal).

We tend to ignore them because we’re too busy with our lives, focusing on what we perceive is “important”. Money, jobs, politics, news, whatever. At the end of the day, we all die. When we die, the moments we remember that create a foundation and central tenancy for who we are is what we will remember. I believe those moments are often reaffirmed and hardened through deep emotional connections with those that support us through thick and thin.

There’s a great quote that we have on a painting in our kitchen: Dogs are not our whole lives, but they make our lives whole.

You were way too young to go. We’re sorry we couldn’t protect you. I hope you know that we love you very much and that you mean the world to us. I hope there’s a lot of giant fields in dog heaven for you to play in. We’ll miss you, Eve, and I hope you forgive us.

R&J

My Job is Me

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I had yet anther interesting and fun conversation with my colleague who sparked a fun question: why don’t people hire me because I’m Matt?

Here’s the back story. My colleagues and I interview a lot of different candidate each week. I think our average right now is probably 3-5 candidates a week ranging from entry level positions to director level. We’re hiring them for a specific job, such as Director of Engineering or Product Manager over a certain domain.

It’s always interesting being on the interviewer side because we get to briefly review a resume that has a list of accolades related to their history that maps to the job they are applying for. We often come in with strong assumptions around whether we are going to like the candidate or not. It’s hard not to be biased in these situations because we often know what we’re looking for and the words on their resume either map or don’t to the job description.

What we often find is that we’re wrong on our assumptions (rocket science level statement right there!). The problem is that we often really like the people we interview but they just aren’t a good fit for the existing role. Otherwise, we’d hire them in a heartbeat!

Part of what is tricky is that everyone has what they’ve done on their resume but there’s no context on how they got it done. That’s the art form that is missing. It’s not on there because it would look super weird and potentially off putting if someone said “Drove $5M in revenue through strategic political bachkchanneling” or “Rapidly pushed product through to the market by obfuscating a department through automation”.

Here’s the real ugly truth that’s a bitch to explain in reality: those traits are implied both in what an interviewee has delivered and how they explain that in the interview process. No one will every outright say that they had to make a massive political campaign to get the ball over the line, but rather explain it as “I influence the right people to move it forward”.

What we see is the job description and the resume. What we don’t see, and often don’t hear, is the art form in which they accomplished that.

For example, within product management, there are a ton of different ways to get the job done. There are general qualities that you want to look for but it really is an art form much like any other role. Product managers can be really strong on the quantitative analysis. They can be heavy on the business model side. They can also be a pure play product manager where they heavily focus simply on delivery to the market. They can be technically focused. The point is that they come in all different shapes, sizes, and expertise.

Now, I’m sure folks will argue that a product manager should have qualities that cover a wide range of the above skills sets. I don’t disagree but the reality is that individuals will skew in certain directions based on their education and experience. Finding someone who is well rounded in all of them is finding a unicorn and, I’d argue, someone that you actually don’t want because they are likely too shallow in each domain.

This goes back to the beginning of this post which is this: why can’t people hire me for me? It’s true that companies need specific skill sets at different stages of their life. But it would be interest to see a different type of hiring model where instead of hiring specific skills, we instead hire for art form styles of a domain. Meaning, we qualitatively look at an individual who has applied for a job in a certain domain (eg. UX, product, etc.) and identify how that individuals unique art form maps to areas of where the business needs.

There are some companies that do this by saying “we’re hiring product managers” and then map an individual to a product line of interest or art form need. Those are the minority, however, and it would be really interesting to see if both the employee and company are more happy than the traditional route of hiring.

At the end of the day, I want people to hire me – Ryan – because I have certain valuable skills but have an invaluable art form of applying those skills. I think that’s where the intersection of happiness between employees and companies may stem from.

The Next Lazy Generation of Workers

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Millennials. It’s almost a derogatory word when you say it out loud. I’m sure you’ve heard phrases like “millennials are so damn lazy” or “they just don’t care, are selfish, and only just want to get their work done”.

I was onsite with some customers last week where we talked about this topic in great detail. It was an older company that has a new age brand, creating an environment where their workforce spans 3 different generations. We were meeting with more senior management where, as you’d expect, they were older. Most of their employees ranged from 21 to 35 in age and they shared the same complaints as everyone else we’ve ever talked to.

It seems like each generation loves to hate and shit on each other around their work ethics with very little empathy towards the other. I’ll be honest, I’ve done the same around my own generation (I’m a millennial) when I get frustrated with their lack of commitment or work ethics. It’s true, we were spoon fed a lot and everything we want has largely been given to us “on demand”. We grew up in the age where if you wanted to get an answer to a question, you didn’t need to go to a library or ask a bunch of wiser people – you just go to Google.

This creates an interesting dynamic where if you know how to search for what you’re looking for and can quickly comprehend information, you can punch well above your weight quickly. I see this creating discourse between them and the older generations where their mentality is largely around getting years of experience before you can say certain things. It’s also why our generation wants to constantly know the “why” around our work. We question because we think we have better answers than the older generation who says “because I’m the boss, you’re going to do what we need you to do”.

Now, I’m making some big generalizations here but I’ve talked with enough senior members of organizations across many industries to feel that there is credence in what I’m saying. What now gives me pause is a conversation I had with my colleague in design where he said an amazing quote. I’m paraphrasing a little but the gist goes like this:

New generations coming into the workforce are hyper energy conservationists. Since they grew up in a world where they have 100’s of services vying for their attention, they treat their attention as a privilege. When this enters the workforce, they question the validity of everything they do because if they don’t understand the “why”, they correspond that with wasting their attention and, thus, a loss of energy.

Interesting, right? Energy conservationists. I believe it too. I find myself in this situation all the time where I have senior leaders pushing me to do something that I think is ridiculous – so I fight them. I gather the data and present the case as to why this is “dumb” to do. When they over rule me, I give that particular work effort as little attention as I possible can, creating a lack of quality. Funny enough, my employees and engineering teams do this as well.

Why? Because we want to spend our energy on what we deem to believe the highest return on our energy spend. I fundamentally believe this is why the OKR framework is starting to take off. Because OKRs can shed light on what is the most important work efforts, it allows the newer generations to focus and perceive that their energy truly is going towards a single effort.

Going back to a point I made earlier, there is a lot of consternation in the workforce between older and younger generations because of the perceived ability to acquire knowledge at a rapid rate. The speed in which we can access critical data, crowd source an opinion, and create an reasonably well thought out opinion on a particular topic that we have no training on is astounding. The younger generations are so effective at this that it makes them not trust their leaders when they think they smell bullshit. It’s also the reason why they are quick to challenge opinions, creating the perception that they are “lazy and don’t want to do the work” or “self entitled”.

The reality is that it’s probably a mixture. Their opinions probably have some credence but in lieu of the older generation clearly communicating nuances and experience with data sets to back it, the younger generation perceives the older generations attempt to override their opinion as disingenuous, creating a large lack of trust between the two. It’s largely why only 9% of the workforce believe that their work matters and that they care about it. I believe it’s also a large reason why younger generations switch jobs more frequently than their older ones. They just don’t put up with what they think is bullshit. 60% of workers leaving or looking to leave cite that it is because of their boss. I’d be willing to bet that the sub-reason is that they believe their boss is incompetent, a poor communicator, or doesn’t know how to lead.

The exceptional leaders who are able to retain their employees are the ones who can tell stories, have the data to back their opinions, and have the soft skills to bring along folks throughout the journey. It’s not longer good enough to have a title because, the reality is, everyones opinion is up for debate. Even the CEO. The most effective leaders will provide focus, mappings of work efforts to outcomes, and provide education through story telling to their employees. They will build trust and relationships with their employees, creating a sense of kinship instead of something that is transactional and inhuman. Bosses who come off as robotic and “all business” will lose the trust of their employees.

It’s been an interesting journey and privilege to be able to interview and research with many of these top leaders in the Fortune 500s. While every industry is different on the surface, the process and people are insanely similar. No one organization has a snowflake operation and every one of them share the same problem sets. Interestingly enough, the problem sets are getting distilled down more and more to being problems with the people; largely the problem with everything I stated above. I’ll continue to write about these transformations and problem sets as I interview these folks. Hopefully, some of the learnings and key insights will be of use to folks who are trying to figure out how they transform their business. Distilling down the problems are simple. The answers are actually pretty simple. The action to get there is much harder. Perhaps I’ll write some thoughts about that next.