The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers
The hard thing isn’t setting up an organizational chart. The hard thing is getting people to communicate within the organization that you just designed.
IF YOU ARE GOING TO EAT SHIT, DON’T NIBBLE
“I move onward, the only direction Can’t be scared to fail in search of perfection.”
It turns out that is exactly what product strategy is all about—figuring out the right product is the innovator’s job, not the customer’s job.
innovation requires a combination of knowledge, skill, and courage. Sometimes only the founder has the courage to ignore the data;
A healthy company culture encourages people to share bad news. A company that discusses its problems freely and openly can quickly solve them. A company that covers up its problems frustrates everyone involved. The resulting action item for CEOs: Build a culture that rewards—not punishes—people for getting problems into the open where they can be solved.
There comes a time in every company’s life where it must fight for its life. If you find yourself running when you should be fighting, you need to ask yourself, “If our company isn’t good enough to win, then do we need to exist at all?”
After what seemed like five minutes of silence, Mark reached into his bag and pulled out a giant training manual he had designed. He said he couldn’t possibly explain what I needed to know about training in the time we had left, but if I wanted to schedule a follow-up meeting, he would explain the nuances of training salespeople to be elite across a broad set of disciplines including process, products, and organizational selling. He explained further that even with all those things, a successful sales leader still must inspire courage in the team. He sounded like General Patton. I knew I had my guy.
Most workplaces are far from good. As organizations grow large, important work can go unnoticed, the hardest workers can get passed over by the best politicians, and bureaucratic processes can choke out the creativity and remove all the joy.
Good product managers know the market, the product, the product line, and the competition extremely well and operate from a strong basis of knowledge and confidence. A good product manager is the CEO of the product. Good product managers take full responsibility and measure themselves in terms of the success of the product.
Good product managers don’t get all of their time sucked up by the various organizations that must work together to deliver the right product at the right time. They don’t take all the product team minutes; they don’t project manage the various functions; they are not gofers for engineering. They are not part of the product team; they manage the product team. Engineering teams don’t consider good product managers a “marketing resource.” Good product managers are the marketing counterparts to the engineering manager.
Good product managers create collateral, FAQs, presentations, and white papers that can be leveraged by salespeople, marketing people, and executives. Bad product managers complain that they spend all day answering questions for the sales force and are swamped. Good product managers anticipate the serious product flaws and build real solutions. Bad product managers put out fires all day.
Good product managers define their job and their success. Bad product managers constantly want to be told what to do.
Good product managers send their status reports in on time every week, because they are disciplined. Bad product managers forget to send in their status reports on time, because they don’t value discipline.
The most important thing to understand is that the job of a big company executive is very different from the job of a small company executive.
As a result, I spent most of my time optimizing and tuning the existing business. Most of the work that I did was “incoming.” In fact, most skilled big company executives will tell you that if you have more than three new initiatives in a quarter, you are trying to do too much. As a result, big company executives tend to be interrupt-driven. In contrast, when you are a startup executive, nothing happens unless you make it happen.
Running a large organization requires very different skills than creating and building an organization. When you run a large organization, you tend to become very good at tasks such as complex decision-making, prioritization, organizational design, process improvement, and organizational communication. When you are building an organization, there is no organization to design, there are no processes to improve, and communicating with the organization is simple. On the other hand, you have to be very adept at running a high-quality hiring process, have terrific domain expertise (you are personally responsible for quality control), know how to create process from scratch, and be extremely creative about initiating new directions and tasks.
The most important difference between big and small companies is the amount of time running versus creating. A desire to do more creating is the right reason to want to join your company.
Every executive must understand the product, the technology, the customers, and the market.
The biggest difference between being a great functional manager and being a great general manager—and particularly a great CEO—is that as a general manager, you must hire and manage people who are far more competent at their jobs than you would be at their jobs. In fact, often you will have to hire and manage people to do jobs that you have never done. How many CEOs have been head of HR, engineering, sales, marketing, finance, and legal? Probably none.
As the great self-help coach Tony Robbins says, “If you don’t know what you want, the chances that you’ll get it are extremely low.”
If you like structured agendas, then the employee should set the agenda. A good practice is to have the employee send you the agenda in advance. This will give her a chance to cancel the meeting if nothing is pressing. It also makes clear that it is her meeting and will take as much or as little time as she needs. During the meeting, since it’s the employee’s meeting, the manager should do 10 percent of the talking and 90 percent of the listening. Note that this is the opposite of most one-on-ones.
If you want to build an important company, then at some point you have to scale.
A process is a formal, well-structured communication vehicle. It can be a heavily engineered Six Sigma process or it can be a well-structured regular meeting. The size of the process should be scaled up or down to meet the needs of the communication challenge that it facilitates.
When my partners and I meet with entrepreneurs, the two key characteristics that we look for are brilliance and courage. In my experience as CEO, I found that the most important decisions tested my courage far more than my intelligence.
The right decision is often obvious, but the pressure to make the wrong decision can be overwhelming. It starts with small things.
evaluating people’s performances and constantly giving feedback is precisely what a CEO must do. If she doesn’t, the more complex motions such as writing reviews, taking away territory, handling politics, setting compensation, and firing people will be either impossible or handled rather poorly.
Giving feedback turns out to be the unnatural atomic building block atop which the unnatural skill set of management gets built.
feedback is a dialogue, not a monologue.