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4 Big Priorities

“One truth I have discovered for sure: When you believe that all things are possible and you are willing to work hard to accomplish your goals, you can achieve the next ‘impossible’ dream. No dream is too high!” 
– Buzz Aldrin 

We have a lot of work going on within the company these days and I wanted to share my four core priorities. I met with the leadership team early this week to discuss these, but it is imperative that the entire company participate in achieving our goals.  
 
•  Great Customer Service – no dropped balls, no phone calls left unreturned, no emails unanswered. We are always either building up or tearing down our client relationships. 
 
•  Perfect Quality Work – Every deliverable needs to be reviewed for excellence before it goes to a customer. We systematically review all the work, so we KNOW the quality is there. We have lots of new people in the company, each of you is an avenging angel and teacher of perfect work.  
 
•  Focus on Profitability – Eliminate unnecessary expenses, be mindful of T&E spend (we are closely reviewing expense reports), ensure everyone has billable work, hire accurately, and don’t give away hours by spreading resources across a project. Maximize our margins. 
 
•  Resolve Differences Quickly – Get real with one another, don’t leave things left unsaid, agree on priorities, and come to me or your manager to adjudicate or resolve issues. Make decisions quickly quickly quickly! 
 
We should grow north of 60% this year. The only way to achieve that is to maintain our quality and satisfy our clients’ expectations is to improve the way we work. We need more sustainable and foundational ways of working, better systems and processes. Remember that we are not a large company, each of you plays an important role in our overall success, each of you should be making a difference and contributing to the improvement of the company. I am looking forward to all of your business case submissions!  
 
Let’s go be great! 
Brad 

Lessons Learned

I was chatting with John Kottcamp the other day about leading and coaching people. I was reminded of a mentor of mine named Mike Winn. Like they say, “the difference between people is the books they’ve read and the people they’ve met”. Over the course of my life, many people have given me good advice, at times I embraced it vigorously, other times it was challenging for me to understand the relevance.  
 
The nice thing about having mentors is that they influence the rest of your life. In particular with Mike, some 40 years later his advice is still having a big impact on me.  
 
When I was 14 years old, I decided I’d visit the local church. I had never been there before, and I was by myself. Being new to church, when the pastor asked us to read out loud a specific verse from the bible, I was completely lost. I was fumbling through the book trying to find the chapter he had referenced, feeling a bit awkward, to say the least. Mike happened to be sitting next to me with his family. Realizing that I was struggling, he helped me get to the right book and verse so I could follow along.  
 
Mike and I struck up a relationship. Turned out he was an elder in the church and an English Literature professor. He had recently returned to the States after running large refugee camps in Cambodia and Laos. After the Vietnam war, there was a refugee crisis and he took a sabbatical from teaching to helping organize and run these camps. I spent a lot of time with Mike over the next couple of years until he moved to take a tenured teaching position at a UC school in Northern California.  
 
Mike was always feeding me books to read, mostly science and fantasy fiction novels. Those types of books turned out to be a great forum for he and I to talk about life lessons, including leadership lessons. Mike had a lot of stories about his time running refugee camps and did his best to impart his wisdom to me. We had a Socratic relationship. 
 
One day, I asked Mike “What is the hardest thing about leadership”? He said, “letting people fail”. Of course, I wanted to dive into this subject, and he explained that people learn more from their failures than from their successes and sometimes you have to step back and let them work things through. Even when, as the leader, it’s easier to just do it yourself, Mike counseled that you need to give people the opportunity to grow and learn. His point was a great leader “knows just the right time to step in and help verse step back and allow people to struggle”.  
 
When I received this advice, I was probably 16 years old and it was inconceivable to me that you could responsibly let someone fail. We discussed the subject for a while and then moved on. It sat with me as an important lesson but just one that didn’t quite make sense at the time.  
 
As I moved into my career and took increasingly larger leadership roles, the wisdom of Mike’s perspective became clearer to me. As a manager of a small or medium size team, you can kill yourself, micromanage every detail and generally be successful. As you run larger teams or lead people who lead teams this becomes an impossible task. Ultimately people need to be coached and they want to learn, the balance is finding the right blend of attention to detail, so you can protect the business and give your people space and time to fail. In retrospect, Mike was absolutely right … to know when to stand by and allow someone to fail but is engaged enough so that you can coach them is the secret to great leadership. So, if you find yourself wanting to jump into the orchestra pit and start playing someone else’s instrument, consider taking a moment of pause and consider if there is an opportunity for leadership and coaching.  
 
 
Let’s go be great! 
Brad

Why before What

“Happiness lies in the joy of achievement and the thrill of creative effort.” 
-Franklin D. Roosevelt 

I’ve been talking with my daughter about a charity that she wants to start. She’ll be calling it boxes of hope, which is essentially boxes full of items that would benefit children in need. Toys, treats, and books. She is 11 years old and I was a bit surprised and delighted by her ambition. You know I am a proud father, like everyone. She has asked me for help about how to get an organization started and for some lessons learned.  
 
So, I said to her “you have to start with the why, before you worry about the what”. I explained to her that the first act of our company before we had a name and a clear business plan, was to write down our company values. It was important to me to define what the values of the company would be as a basis for why we existed rather than the other way around. As a reminder the company values are; 
 
•    If you care about your employees and you care about your clients, 
       you’ll have a company worth caring about  
 
•    We hire for character before we hire for capability  
 
•    We believe in the market place of ideas  
 
•    We hire interesting people who are interested in change  
 
•    We look for Smart and Happy people  
 
They are the guideposts, the ambition of the company. The decision to focus Tahzoo on customer experience management and subsequently to recognize that we could make millions of people a little happier every day was the natural evolution of the business.  
 
Start with the “why before you worry about the what”, applies to much more than the formation of a company or a charity. Think about the work you do for our clients … ask yourself why, why are we doing this work? We have a bunch of new projects kicking off. Has each team sat down and come to a conclusion about the why for each project? I am quite certain that project plans, schedules, and resourcing are all in full swing, but those are the what or the how we are going to accomplish something, not the why.  
 
Take some time as a team and discuss the why … write it down and make sure that everyone on your team understands the why. It is the NorthStar for all of our client engagements.  
 
 
Let’s go be great! 
 
Brad 

Never Lose Alone

I was enjoying listening to the classic rock band, The Doors, last night. There is a great song named “I’ve been down so long” … The famous lyric from the song is; “Well, I’ve been down so very damn long that it looks like up to me”. It’s a great example of literary wordplay.  
 
As I was listening to the song, I was struck by the idea that when times are tough it’s easy to become overly narrow in your focus. We have a saying at Tahzoo which is “Never Lose Alone”. When things are difficult sometimes it’s hard to ask for help. Keep in mind that you work with Smart and Happy people… we are a team, not a collection of individuals.   
 
It’s an exciting time for Tahzoo, we have lots of big projects kicking off and some of which are groundbreaking. That means we are going to have challenges, differences of opinions, and a number of new people that are joining Tahzoo. It’s up to all of us to make sure we are communicating effectively and working as a team to resolve issues. In many ways, this is project management 101 but a truly great team doesn’t just have good systems and processes, they communicate effectively.  
 
So if you find yourself having a challenging time over the next few months, don’t hesitate to be vocal and reach out for support and guidance. Another Tahzoo saying “Escalate Early and Often”. Lastly, there is nothing more important to me than ensuring that we have satisfied clients, so if you’re challenged and want some advice my door is always open. 
 
Let’s go be great! 
Brad 

Moving Offices

Today marks the last day that our headquarters will be at 1005 7th St NW, starting Monday we will be taking up residence in a different office space at 1015 7th St NW- located just down the block.  
 
Many of you may recall when we first got our soon to be former office space… we announced it at our 4th Anniversary party in August of 2014. It was such a momentous occasion to open a “cool” office space and we were all so proud to see our name on the side of the building.  
 
We took over that office as a leap of faith in what Tahzoo could be. We were a small company. It was a big commitment. It was scary and intimidating. And it was totally worth it.  
 
When I think back to all of the milestones, people who’ve come through those doors and the challenges and victories that we’ve faced here I couldn’t be more proud of where we’re going.  
 
I feel the energy changing in the company. It might be slower than I’d like, but its building…We are winning new projects, we are hiring and we’re not sitting around waiting for change- we’re making it happen.  But the only way we will continue gaining traction is if we don’t lose sight of the priorities. We need to take care of our clients and our colleagues, we need to be good stewards of our finances and our relationships and we need to continue to be innovators and leaders in our space.  
 
So cheers to 1005 7th St- you were a milestone in our history and I’m grateful we had you through such pivotal years. 

I can’t wait to see what new adventures await us in this next wave! 
 
Let’s go be great! 
Brad

Being a good consultant, like being a doctor

“Spring is the time of plans and projects.” 
-Leo Tolstoy 

My grandpa never met a stranger, he loved people and loved talking to them. My grandma used to say, “waking up, when his feet hit the floor his mouth started moving”. As a small boy when I spent time with them, we’d have coffee cake in the morning, and grandpa would talk and talk the entire time. My grandma trying to read the newspaper, growing frustrated would finally say, “Bernie, give your mouth a rest”. He’d be demurred for a few minutes and then start talking again.  
 
My grandma wanted to make her point a little more clearly one day hung a nicely carved plaque that said, “God gave you two ears and one mouth for a reason”. It was part of their routine and some of their playful banter that I experienced growing up.  
 
It left an impression on me about how to conduct myself. I love talking too, but I also enjoy learning and listening. It’s funny what you remember from growing up and how it shapes your life.  
 
However; this desk of Brad isn’t about my childhood memories. It’s about being good consultants and good advisors to our clients. 
 

As consultants, we talk way too much. We don’t ask enough questions and we aren’t taking the time to really get to know our customers and understand their problems. Yes, that is a pretty strong statement from me and may feel categorically unfair but it true.  
 
Over the last six months, I have been working with many of you in our accounts, involved in several workshops and new business pitches. I see these beautiful decks, I hear our smart thinking, our leading-edge solutions … it’s all great but we aren’t asking questions and when we do, they aren’t very precise.  
 
Being a good consultant is like being a good doctor. They need to figure out what is going on with the patient, what they are experiencing and where is the pain BEFORE they begin to diagnose the problem and solution. So, what does the doctor do? Ask a bunch of questions. There is a pattern to precision questioning, you start broadly and then drill into specifics.  
 
As you begin writing your next deliverable, preparing for a workshop, or creating a pitch deck, start with the questions that need to be answered. We are a collection of smart and happy people, no doubt we are hired for our expertise, but we are not educators or professors. We are consultants, we need to analyze the problem and then use our expertise and solutions to solve problems. If you can’t tie your work product to a well-articulated diagnosis, then you didn’t ask enough questions.  
 
Back to my grandpa for a moment, he was the best salesperson I’ve ever known and although he talked a lot, he asked a lot of questions. He used to say “interested, is interesting”. The reason he never met a stranger is that he took the time to get to know everyone. Let’s spend our time learning more about our customers and their challenges. No more preaching teaching and assuming we know the answers … A great consultant first and foremost, asks great questions.  
 
Let’s go be great! 
Brad 

Beware of the Ides of March

I am sure many of you remember this phrase from Shakespeare’s play, Julius Ceasar. First whispered by the Soothsayer, then falling into the dialogue between Brutus and Ceasar, finally, Ceasar dismisses the Soothsay as a dreamer and ignores the concern. In a moment of great foreshadowing by Shakespeare, the audience is warned of Ceasars’ peril. 
 
Today is the Ides of March (the 15th) and since it’s part of our cultural lexicon I thought I’d share some of my thoughts on the subject:
 
I read a fascinating book a few years ago by Daniel Kahneman, Think Fast Think Slow, where he articulates how your brain naturally processes information in two different ways; quickly based on pattern recognition and training and slowly based on contemplation and absorption. Two examples would be reacting to the crack of a baseball bat and then deciding what college to attend. Our brains are powerful parallel processing engines that track vast amounts of information that don’t always reach the conscious mind. Did you ever wonder about the number of mathematical calculations that your brain makes when you throw a ball down the field to someone who is running away from you on a windy day?    
 
When you have an intuition about a situation or a person, how is that formed and what level of concern should you have? Great storytelling leaves clues for the audience to follow as the plot progresses. 
 
I wonder if in our lives we get clues, intuitions, or signs that we need to pay better attention too. Each of us has a perspective on divine providence, the fates, or how randomness affects our lives, I won’t tip into a theological debate that’s for each of you to sort out. However, I am convinced that our brains are amazingly powerful tools, skilled at pattern recognition if, in a moment of mindfulness, you have an inkling, intuition, or an epiphany it might just be foreshadowing in your life.  
 
So, on March 15th or any other day, it comes to you “Beware of the Ides of March”.       
 
Let’s go be great! 
Brad 

Are you all in?

Sometimes I write this letter wondering if I am shouting into the ether … I just pray that someone is reading, I know you do because the open rate is well above 90%. I love it when I hear from you.  
 
If you have to do something each week come hell or high water, vacation, travel, or otherwise, it takes a toll. I’ve been writing to each of you for more than four years now. That means every week, you’ve received an email from me without fail. I am not complaining, well maybe a little bit, but I am saying that I am in the fight. I want the best of what each of us has to offer. 
 
I dream of your impact, your success, and that each of you achieves your remit. I wish I could tell each of you exactly what to do but that would just be cheating. I don’t know … What I know is that, what matters to me most, is that each of you achieves something you thought wasn’t possible.  
 
I wish that was all it took to make me a perfect leader, I wish that made me above reproach, but alas … that makes me human. The good news is that I’m not alone. You’re all here for a reason, so make the most of it! All I can say is that I am all in. 
 
Let’s go be great! 
Brad 

Modeling Good Consulting

Dear Team, 
 
I am nothing but thrilled about the progress we’ve made in our business over the last couple of months. That is not to say that we still don’t have a long way to go but we have a direction now and the opportunity to do great work. We grew up doing SDL Tridion implementations, we started out as builders and we also need to become consultants. We need to be solution-focused and very adept at bringing many different skills together to deliver for our clients.  
 
So what does it mean to be a good consultant?   
 
We need to practice being good consultants to one another. Again, we can’t expect to be a good consulting firm externally and not act like one internally. You can’t loaf in practice and go win the big game, it just doesn’t work.  
 
Good consultants do a few things really well, aside from being Smart and Happy. They are experts, they have opinions, they run effective meetings and concisely and beautifully present information.  
 
As an expert in your field, you are expected to be always learning. You are expected to take growing your knowledge seriously and you are expected to contribute to the thought leadership of the company. As Tom has recently coined, everyone needs to be on a “Personal Learning Journey”.  
 
You have to have an opinion. You cannot be an expert and be afraid or unwilling to speak your mind. It’s important to recognize this means that you have to be well prepared and immersed in your client’s issues so that you can have opinions. It should never be acceptable for one of our consultants to be a wallflower. Of course, as leaders, we will have members that are so opinionated that they are ineffectual or just stubborn, but you’ll coach them appropriately. We believe in the market place of ideas. Our clients should be enamored with our critical thinking and brilliant ideas.  
 
Running an effective meeting. This is a real area of opportunity for improvement for Tahzoo. An effective meeting has the following attributes; An Agenda is sent out ahead of time, it starts on time with all members present, all the necessary information/reports are available, decisions are made, and meeting minutes are sent out as a follow up with action items detailed.  
  

Agenda 

Start on time 

 All members present 

 All information/reports available 

 Decisions are made 

 Meeting minutes are sent out  

 Action items are documented 

  
Just put yourself in our customer’s shoes; they are hiring us, every hour, per person, seems to me this should be a minimum expectation for each and every one of us … and everyone who works at Tahzoo.  
 
Concisely and beautifully presented information. Our work needs to be perfect, not just good. Our biggest client is an auditing firm – All they do is look for mistakes, you should too. Each of us needs to take the time to do perfect work and to ensure that the work that is being produced by our team is perfect. We cannot count on perfect work from our teams unless there is a process of inspection. There is an old saying of mine, “you get what you inspect, not what you expect”. 
 
These are the core skills of a consultant. We’ll practice working with one another and by extension become better consultants to our clients.   
 
Let’s go be great! 
Brad 

What is the big experience that has driven your life?

Hi Everyone, 
 
Normally, on a day like today I’d write about football and share some quotes from Vince Lombardi in advance of the super bowl, however; today I want to talk about something different.  
 
What is the big experience that has driven your life?  
 
Each of us has a series of experiences, things that have happened to us, books that we’ve read, or people that we’ve met, that have changed us. Often times without some introspection, those experiences influence us and drive us subconsciously. The more time you take to explore the influence of these moments in your life the more you’re able to fulfill your life journey or destiny.  
 
Understanding what motivates you, what motivates each of us, has always been a fascinating subject to me. I find there is so much to learn from one another. I fundamentally believe that the human condition hasn’t changed, we struggle with the same things ancient Egyptians did. The difference is that technology is making the world a smaller place. From stories carved into cave walls to the advent of the printing press and now the social media age, we can connect with virtually anyone in the world.   
 
So much of social media is a projected image and not an honest conversation between people. We’ve traded connection for a genuine shared understanding of what makes each of us great. All of these new tools can help us find our better selves or fall prey to our worst inclinations.  
 
One of my favorite songs is by Pink Floyd “Wish You Were Here” released in 1975. The second set of verses in the song are profound and have always resonated with me. Is what you’re choosing what you want? 
  

“Did they get you to trade 
Your heroes for ghosts? 
Hot ashes for trees? 
Hot air for a cool breeze? 
Cold comfort for change? 
Did you exchange 
A walk on part in the war 
For a lead role in a cage?” 

  
I have been working on how to create a forum in which people can share the big ideas in their life. How their hopes and dreams drove them and what lessons could they share with all of us about their journey.  
 
I’ve started a new brand called Wonderingbuddha.com. Not to be confused with the wandering Buddha, which is the story of Siddhartha. After leaving his Fathers kingdom behind him in the renunciation of his former plentiful life as a prince, he began to drift from place to place as a devoted wanderer.  In search of the ultimate meaning of life he found and studied with the wisest men of the time.  But to his disappointment, no matter how far he traveled, not one knew the answer to end the suffering that had so greatly affected him. 
 
The Wondering Buddha is a place where we contemplate the what and the how. What is the big experience(s) in each of our lives? We are working on the creative and have secured all of the social handles to build this brand. Our initial effort will be focused on a series of podcasts in which I’ll interview a diverse group of people and talk to them about their journey and their big ideas. I want this to be a series where we learn from one another and share perspective.  
 
Along those lines, I thought I’d tell you a story about me… 
When I was very young, my mother enrolled me in a swimming class. The methodology for this class was the Sink or Swim method. The lessons at first were learning to put your face in the water and blow bubbles, then we practiced kicking while being held by the coach, then we moved on to pushing off the wall into the arms of your coach. Well, I was terrified to push off the wall for some reason. My coach said to me that he’d throw me in the pool if I didn’t push off, of course, I couldn’t bring myself to do it. He in fact threw me into the deep end of the pool to force me to swim. It was a horrific experience, to say the least, and has been seared into my consciousness ever since. It goes into my top five worst experiences of my life.  
 
Several years later, I had the opportunity to join a swim team. I immediately signed up for the team. I had to prove that I could be a great swimmer. I spent the remainder of my childhood swimming competitively and achieved significant success. Swimming had a profound impact on my self-esteem and shaped my personality in many ways. The big idea for me is that I had to prove to myself that I could do it, that no matter what, I was going to prove the coach wrong. Throughout the course of my life, every time I’ve been challenged by someone or something, I have to prove to myself that I can overcome the situation. I just won’t quit until I’ve succeeded. I have a dozen similar stories to share about overcoming difficult situations, it’s why I am so optimistic about life. That drive within me has been a thematic narrative in my life experience, some of it great, and some of it not so great. But that is what the podcast is for … to talk with people about these seminal moments in their lives how it’s shaped them and what they’ve learned.  
 
I hope Wondering buddha can be a place to share ideas and spark inspiration. I’ve identified about 50 people on my list to be interviewed. We’ve found a broadcasting booth a couple of blocks from the office in DC that we’ll be utilizing while we get this off the ground. Don and team are working on the creative and we’ll have our site up soon. 
 
If you’ve got a story or stories to share, I’d love to interview you for the podcast. Just let me know.  
 
 
Let’s go be great! 
Brad