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Walking 13 miles in the rain

The forecast for this Sunday just gone looked totally miserable – rain all day.

So with that in mind, Ella and I set out on a 13 mile walk – armed with a packed lunch of sandwiches, granola bar, crisps and of course a big bag of maltesers…

Before you think we’re totally odd, it was in preparation for the Shine london (26 mile night walk) this weekend. We held out pretty well, just a few minor aches the following day!

Some pics below to show you just how much fun it was 🙂

Oh and you can sponsor me here. Jagex have kindly offered to double what I raise, so your money goes even further!

 

 

 

 

 

 

When did you last make a 'Bet Your Job' decision?

I recently watched a video with Mark Pincus (CEO, Zynga) and Bing Gordon (Ex Chief Creative Officer, EA and board member of Amazon, Ngmoco, and Zynga) and something they talked about continues to stick in my mind – bet your job decisions (go to 16.28 on the video).

‘Anyone who’s good has to make a bet your job risk once a year – and some of them have to work out’ – Bing Gordon

It got me thinking that if you want to achieve a certain level of success you simply have to put your neck on the line from time to time and show a bit of an entrepreneurial mindset. You need to take some risks to your career in order to get the big pay-off (rapid promotion, pay increases, bonuses etc.) as these types of rewards very rarely come to someone who constantly plays it safe.

Some examples of bet your job decisions might be:

  • Making a decision to change a product feature that will be controversial with its users in the belief that it will ultimately improve the product and user experience (even if they perhaps don’t realize it at the time)
  • Making a decision that is outside of your remit (perhaps your boss wasn’t around and the decision was time critical)
  • At times work outside your area of responsibility, because you believe you can add value
  • Removing someone from the organization because it is the right thing to do even though they may be popular with many
  • Giving someone responsibility because you believe in them – even if there are others in the organization that might question it and will point fingers if it doesn’t work out

‘If they don’t think you are giving them a scary amount of responsibility then you’re not doing your job’ – Mark Pincus

I think the other important aspect of this is that companies need to provide an environment where people feel they can take the risks and make the decisions that will grow the company.

People need to be stretched and given what at first might feel like a scary amount of responsibility. There also needs to be trust between everyone and when people take risks that don’t quite work out, yet take responsibility for it and learn from their mistakes – you must positively re-enforce this behavior and not let it dent their confidence. The last thing you want is for them to retreat into their comfort zone and play it safe all the time.

Now, if someone is taking risks regularly and none of them are working out then you need to question their decision making ability and either shift them to a role where they cannot make such decisions or move them out of the organization if such a role doesn’t exist (that’s the ‘some of them have to work out’ part of the quote :))

My personal take home

By nature I tend to be quite risk adverse so I can tend to focus on trying to organise people and projects in the safest way where the probability of executing to a high standard and on time is high.

However I need to be much more open minded to exploring areas of innovation and encouraging break through ideas from people and then let that flow through into execution. Ultimately this is the type of stuff that ends up ‘moving the needle’. I’m going to work hard on this over the coming months and be much more conscious of it as I am going about things and making decisions.

What bet your job risks have you taken in the past or perhaps are you considering taking soon?

Book Review: Like a Virgin by Richard Branson

I’ve got mixed feelings on Like a Virgin by Richard Branson. On one hand I like it because it’s an easy read. It’s broken into lots of short chapters and it therefore covers a good range of topics – there are definitely some gems in there.

But on the other hand it wasn’t particularly exciting to read and I found myself kinda soldiering through it. Maybe my expectations had been set high from reading the very, very awesome ‘Losing my Virginity’ book a few years back.

Some of the notes I made aswell as two key personal takeaways are below:

Be a mentor – there are lots of people out there creating start-ups or working through challenges in their careers, which you may be in a great position to help with. Looks for ways to help others – this could be through organised mentor programmes or simply seeing an opportunity to help someone you know.

Get a mentor – as above, everyone can benefit from receiving guidance and a steer from a mentor. There is such a wealth of knowledge and experience out there and highly successful people have never been easier to reach directly. In the past I have actually been quite surprised just how positively people respond to a request for advice / help.

Goals and Focus – I’m very passionate about goals and focus and have written quite a lot about them here, so it’s always nice to see it being talked about by others. The importance of having clear goals / strategy, quarterly meetings to review progress and re-plan, an intense weekly focus and resisting the temptation to take on too many things is covered.

Work / Life Balance – this is a constant theme throughout the book. Taking the time to have great moments with family and friends, prioritising health and enjoying time away from the office to re-charge and in general pursuing hobbies and passions is really emphasised. The quote ‘no one on their death bed has ever said I wish I had of spent more time in the office’ says it all.

Clarity of Roles – define people’s roles and accountability really clearly and then step right back out of the way – don’t micro-manage.

Mistakes – having a culture that allows people to take risks and at times this will mean making mistakes is incredibly important. Taking the time to review and learn from mistakes is also very valuable, however don’t let the process linger on too long – aim to put them behind you as quickly as possible and move on.

Celebrate Successes – it’s really important to celebrate successes regularly. Make the time to regularly think about what you have been successful in and then highlight and celebrate these with your team. Remember, success breed’s success and there is no better way to create serious momentum than regularly celebrating successes.

Personal Takeaways:

Two things that particularly resonated with me that I am going to take action on:

Firstly to prioritise my health – there is really nothing more important in life than to be in good health. Working a ton of hours combined with no exercise and crappy food only points one way and that’s being over-weight and having poor health (I’m sort of on that road right now). I’m determined to prioritise and make time for exercise and to improve my eating habits – it’s simply a matter of willpower and being organised.

Secondly, I need to push the issue of getting myself into some type of COO / CEO group and /or starting to work with a mentor. I work with a lot of very smart people every single day and am always learning new things, however for me to continue making progress on my own personal development I need to get amongst more people who have been a successful COO / CEO for many years. Being able to draw upon their knowledge and expertise and to have a sounding board for my own ideas / challenges would be very advantageous.

Grab the book – it’s definitely worth a read – and if any of these points resonate with you or you’ve read the book and have an opinion, let me know in the comments.

The Unfair Advantage – Achieve More Than Others Do The Entire Day – Before Breakfast!

Lose an hour in the morning, and you will be all day hunting for it.  ~Richard Whately

I’ve always tended to be an early riser but it wasn’t until I stumbled across an excellent article that talked about how successful executives used their mornings that I got the inspiration to really make the most of them myself.

I have got myself into a nice habit of rising at 4.30am. Between 4.30am and 6.00am is ‘me’ time – I work on personal projects, read and set a few personal things to get done for the day.

I aim to get into the office for about 6.30am, where I get almost two hours of uninterrupted time before most people starting getting in. I use this time to plan the work day ahead, organize my calendar, get on top of my emails and often get a solid 90 minutes to myself to do some of the most important things on my plan for the day.

It’s without doubt the most productive thing I had EVER done. Some days I feel like I achieve more between 6.30am and 9.00am than I did the entire day previously!

I see people coming in just a few minutes before 9.00am and they literally have only moments to turn on their computer before being met with a full inbox, several requests for their attention and often a meeting that starts at 9.00am. It’s then normally a dogfight through to the end of the day. I feel almost guilty for having such an unfair advantage

So, when I finished the Like a Virgin by Richard Branson (reviewing coming soon) and the kindle recommended several similar books, ‘What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast’ by Laura Vanderkam naturally caught my eye (I think Laura actually wrote that article I read sometime ago). At 5 bucks and only 35 pages, I purchased it and I was reading it within minutes

The book is fantastic. Not only does it contain advice that can literally change your life – it’s short, really easy to read and super cheap!

Here are some of my notes from the book. I really encourage you to buy the book as there are some great examples and further context that are important.

What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast by Laura Vanderkam:

Notes:

  • Out of 20 executives questioned, 18 rose very early – in fact the latest any of the 18 were up regularly was 06.00am
  • Early mornings are the time we have the most control over our schedules (it’s quiet and we can think clearly)
  • Early mornings are a perfect time for focused work and exercise
  • The morning is best used for:
  1. Nurturing your career – strategising and focused work
  2. Nurturing relationships – spending time and thinking about family and friends
  3. Nurturing self – exercise, spiritual, creative pursuits
  • Early mornings are a perfect time for important, not urgent things – personal projects, communications and thinking
  • It’s not unusual to achieve more before 9am than you used to the entire day
  • Design your morning – having a schedule / routine is important to make the best use of the early hours
  • Be careful not to overdesign your morning. I fell into this trap to start with and tried to plan the most jam packed, perfect 3 hours and often didn’t achieve it and felt bad. To start with keep things simple and focus on creating one strong new habit each morning (i.e. run, read etc.) and then let the routine unfold from there over time
  • Rising early can be a hard habit to create – start small and rise just 15 mins earlier than you would normally – after a 4 or 5 days, rise another 15 minutes earlier and repeat until you are rising when you want
  • Choose things to do in the morning that you actually enjoy doing. If it feels like a slog or chore, you’re unlikely to get out of bed and get at it
  • Consider using some time in the morning for gratitude – take some time to list the things you’re thankful for, it can be a great way to start the morning
  • One person was quoted to send an appreciation email every morning to someone. This could be family, friends or a colleague. I thought this was pretty cool.

A few extra tips from my own experience:

  • Skipping breakfast can be a great way to remain productive in the morning. I got into this habit when I was experimenting with intermittent fasting and have never looked back. My first meal of the day is normally about 1pm and it’s actually surprising how much more focused and productive you can be when you don’t need to worry about making and eating breakfast.
  • Rising early can be a hard habit to nail. Get straight out of bed when the alarm sounds – DO NOT snooze and don’t be tempted by ‘just another 5 minutes’ – you WILL fall back to sleep! Putting your alarm over the other side of the room is a good tactic to force yourself out of bed.
  • Go to bed at a reasonable time. Everyone is different in respect to how much sleep they generally need (although I think most can survive and get used to less than they think). I generally need about 6 hours so getting to bed for about 10.00pm is key. Just count back how many hours you need from your getting up time to ensure you get enough sleep.

I’ve slipped a little in getting up early and getting a great, productive start to the day lately – I probably manage 04.30am only 2 or 3 days of the week at the moment. I’m going to work on being more consistent with this and am also going to design a new morning routine to include some form of exercise.

If you have a morning routine or have any questions about rising early or morning routines, leave a comment!

 

Promoting From Within vs. Hiring From the Outside

If you are in a leadership role, you’re almost certainly going to have to deal with hiring people.

It’s therefore inevitable that you will wrestle with the decision to promote from within or hire from the outside.

I have a reasonable amount of experience with both (getting it right and wrong!) and wanted to share some of the pro’s and con’s, aswell which strategy is most appropriate for different situations.

I went through a phase of almost exclusively promoting from within. The fact that someone (thank you Constant and Andrew!) gave me a shot early in my career at something I was entirely unproven at, definitely played a big part in that. I wanted to be able to do the same for others too.

Promoting from within

There are some very strong advantages promoting from within.

For a start, you can normally fill the role more quickly. This is because the recruitment process can be streamlined and you can move things around quickly internally (if you choose to make that trade off) to get them in the new role ASAP.

They also tend to get off to a quicker start than an external candidate. They already know how the company works (culture, politics, processes, who is who etc.) and most people in the company are already familiar with them too. It’s also easier and more natural for the hiring manager to work with someone they know. It makes it easier to set expectations, give feedback and establish how work should be delivered.

Lastly, it sends a fantastic signal to the rest of the company when you promote from within. It highlights that there are opportunities for career progression, something which is often very important to people. This can have a big influence on how long people stay at a company.

However, there are some risks to promoting from within and they have bitten me hard a few times (particularly as I was learning the basics of leadership myself).

If you misjudge peoples potential to be able to perform in the short term and most importantly, to be able to grow into the role at the pace the business needs them to, it can be disastrous. A huge amount of effort and time is wasted, focus and execution suffers, relationships can be ruined and everyone goes through a stressful and crappy time (particularly the over-promoted individual).

It can often result in the over-promoted individual leaving the business (their old role is not always available and sometimes they’ve just had enough of you!). And because they are usually promoted because they were very good at their previous role, you’ve just lost a really good person.

I’ve definitely been successful in getting the individual back into their old role (or another suitable role), but sometimes the relationship and their work is never quite the same.

Lastly, remember that signal you wanted to send to the rest of the company? It’s not a great sight for people watching to see someone struggling and ultimately fail. Even if you manage the situation fairly, it can be easy for people to assume you under supported or unfairly removed them.

There are a few things you can do to help mitigate the risks of promoting from within.

It’s really important to spend time up front, thinking about your expectations for the role and person. What level do you need to them to perform at now and how will the role and your expectations evolve over the next 6-18 months? You need to feel comfortable that the person can handle it. Have an open conversation with them about this and be honest with each other about how it could pan out. There is no shame in it not quite being the right time for them.

You should also identify what training and support they will need, both now and down the line. You need to be confident you are capable of giving this to them.

Sometimes giving the person the role on a 3 or 6 month trial can work well (holding their old position as a fallback option can be a good idea too). This makes it easier to undo if things don’t work out. But only a little bit. This type of set up this can have it’s own unique problems and in my experience I think it’s probably best to go ‘all in’ or not at all. You either believe they can do it and will support them in line with that view or you don’t.

Promoting from within can be tricky and if you get it wrong a couple of times, it’s easy to be tempted to play it safe and have a preference to hire from the outside. This was certainly true for me at one point.

Hiring from the outside

Hiring from the outside has some big benefits, the biggest being that you can bring someone in who’s been there and done that (probably several times before). In fact, often they will come in and open your eyes for how things need to be done. You can end up learning a lot from hiring very experienced people.

Having a fresh set of eyes on something can be very powerful too. It’s surprising how blinkered you can become when you are in the weeds or simply just used to your own environment. This is why new people tend to have quite a big impact in their first 3 months. They can see things you can’t.

Like promoting from within, it can also send a good signal to the rest of the company when you hire externally (assuming you manage the situation in the right way).

Hiring a very experienced external candidate shows your intent to assemble the best talent in the market. It’s a sign of ambition. Also, purely the fact that a very experienced individual wants to join the company can help raise confidence on the outlook for the company.

As you would expect, there are some risks to hiring from the outside though.

Unlike promoting from within, you don’t know who you are working with and generally only get to spend a few hours with the individual before making the decision to bring them on board. Slick talkers can exaggerate their previous achievements and sometimes what you get isn’t quite what you thought you were getting.

Whether the individual can fit into the culture of the company is also a big question mark. Of course, you can get a feel of this throughout the interview process, but you can never be 100% sure how things will pan out (I’ve seen some people let go in their first week due to a complete misfit of values).

The best way I have found to mitigate the risks of hiring from the outside is to get several people into the assessment process. This is critical. I’ve felt pretty good about some individuals to only find that some of my leadership team picked up on things I didn’t and it then led to a decision not to hire.

You should also do your own homework and search out people who have worked with the individual before and ask some direct and discreet questions. If you can find someone in your company who has worked with them before, this is the best option. You can check supplied references, but you should be sceptical of these as they will likely be biased.

I’ve also been bitten hard a couple of times when hiring from the outside and ultimately had to exit them from the business. If you find yourself in this situation, be fair to the individual and if you can, be generous in their exit package. Ultimately a decent amount of responsibility lies with you for hiring them in the first place and parting ways in a positive (or at least neutral) way is always best.

So, hire from within or hire from the outside?

I don’t think it’s quite as simple as one being better than the other.

There will be times when hiring from the outside is always the preferable option. This is normally the case with very senior roles where the gap for internal people to jump is just too big.

The other time is when the role is to part of an entirely new function for the business. Often the skill set here can be quite specific and there won’t be any experience of it within the company itself. A good example of this is perhaps marketing, legal, finance etc.

Going out and getting people from the outside will normally work better here. I’ve seen this happen really well on many occasions.

I mentioned above that my preference swung to hiring from the outside due to a couple of internal promotions not going particularly well. I think this was a mistake and since then, my risk profile for promoting from within has shifted. I’m willing to take a few more risks with it now.

As I mentioned above, it all comes down to your judgement on their potential and their ability to grow into the role inline with your expectations and how the business will move. Also, your commitment to provide the right coaching and support.

If I have a role and have a few good external candidates and a promising internal candidate that has the right attitude, is eager to prove themselves and has a solid view of where they sit now and where they need to get to in the next 6 months, I’m much more likely to give them the shot. The positives I mentioned for promoting from within outweigh the unknown for me.

The closing point I want to make is that building a culture that develops internal talent and regularly promotes from within isn’t easy. It requires the company to make it a conscious priority and to consistently work hard at it.

High potential individuals need to be flagged early and there needs to be conversations with them about their ambitions and any support they need as early as possible. These conversations need to be ongoing.

Considering what peoples future potential is at the recruitment stage is also very important. This will help people grow into their roles and new roles in the future more easily.

Forecasting what types of roles you will be looking for in the future and doing succession planning for key people is very important too.

Having a great learning and development function can really help. They can often provide a lot of the forward thinking and structure. However, I think it’s important that it’s seen as the responsibility of leaders in the organisation to think about this and make it happen. They should be thinking about this and having the right conversation with people, using the L&D function for support.

Basically, it’s about identifying what the businesses future needs will be and then being very conscious and organised in how people can and will move around the company in the future to fulfil these. It’s also about doing everything you can to prepare them for it. There is some good stuff on this here.

Companies that do this well should be very proud. It isn’t easy and takes a ton of effort and some talented people to pull it off. But the rewards are massive if you get it right.

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