The headlines were intriguing. “Jeff Bezos bans PowerPoint.” “Amazon eliminates presentations.” You’ve seen them, too. Before I joined Amazon, friends had told me about the company’s writing culture and how PowerPoint presentations, nearly ubiquitous in corporations I have worked for, were not used for decision making or strategic planning. Instead, press release style documents and Word files are the center point of discussions. As a writer myself, I was interested in how it would work. Did meetings really begin with a time of silent reading? Did it hurt collaboration and brainstorming? Did it slow things down or speed things up?
After calibrating to this new approach these past months, I can tell you that I will never go back. I firmly believe that this element of the culture is a critical contributor to Amazon’s success. Here is what I have learned.
Writing is clarifying: At Amazon, we write press releases. Not to announce products after they are done (although that sometimes happens). No, we write press releases before development begins. When the program or initiative is in the idea stage. Working backwards from what customers would care about, we start with the “why” and write what we call a PR/FAQ (press release plus frequently asked question style appendix). We write to clarify the value proposition. We write to position the offering. We write to coalesce all the ideas into a cohesive statement. Before we invest further time and energy, we make sure it is something we will be proud of and that will make a difference for customers. To clarify, these "press releases" are internal, confidential documents that inform the project throughout.
Brevity is strategy: Mark Twain once said “If I had more time, I would write a shorter letter.” Anyone who has written before knows that writing (or saying) a lot of words quickly. But if you have to write concisely and clearly for an audience – especially one not necessarily familiar with all the nuances and details of the topic - it forces you to prioritize, to get to the point, and to make every word count. This curation is the essence of strategy. What are you going to do and what are you not going to do begins with what do you want to say and what do you not want to say.
Documents are invitations: In corporate cultures that heavily rely on PowerPoint, decisions favor the charismatic. The great presenter, who can excite the audience and think on their feet, can dominate strategy conversations. In contrast, when a document has to stand on its own merit, ideas can come from anywhere. TheWhether it is a one-page press release or a 6 page strategy document, with all graphs and charts in the appendix, documents provide a platform, an invitation, for everyone to contribute.
Reading is inclusion: In a typical “read” meeting, the participants spend the first 20 minutes of a 60 minute meeting reading a prepared document and then they discuss. The agenda is simply stated “are there comments or feedback that anyone wants to share?” I have found this approach allows the introverted and analyticals of the group to bring their thinking forward. It allows those who read and process quickly to review their notes to identify the highest priority feedback before the discussion begins. Everyone on the read can fully participate. In my experience, this leads to much richer feedback, getting to the heart of the issues faster, and is a better use of everyone’s time as no one is tempted to just read you PowerPoint slides.
Clarity accelerates: As I have written about before, ambiguity kills organizations slowly and clarity speeds things up. When you can get to richer and more meaningful feedback on key strategic issues faster, as I have seen with the document process, you can speed up your whole organization to make better decisions faster. This has a huge impact across the organization and can lead to breakthroughs for customers and real competitive advantages.
I am sure this approach has its critics. It certainly requires learning (and unlearning) of past practices. It requires calibration to get everyone reliant upon it. It uses different muscles than PowerPoint presentations and forces everyone in the company to be a better writer. It is a big change (as I am reminded every time I onboard a new employee into the company). My initial curiosity has been replaced by conviction. When it doubt, write. You may find, as I have, that a press release is always a good idea!
This article was originally published on LinkedIn Pulse.
“Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is absurd.” – Voltaire
“Open your eyes,
Dream but don’t guess.
Your biggest surprise
Comes after Yes..”
– Muriel Rukeyser
You paid the tuition, you might as well get the learning.
“I never knew an early-rising, hard-working, prudent man, careful of his earnings, and strictly honest, who complained of bad luck.” – Joseph Addison
“Years have taught me at least one thing and that is not to try to avoid an unpleasant fact, but rather to grasp it firmly and let the other person observe that I am at least treating him fairly. Then he, it has been my observation, will treat me in the same spirit.” – Benjamin Franklin
“Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan “Press On” has solved and will always solve the problems of the human race.” – Calvin Coolidge
In order to enable a customer-centric enterprise, marketers often work closely with agencies. Choosing and onboarding an agency for success is often the key to success of the marketing leader and their teams ability to hit their objectives. Here are five common questions that marketers should ask when selecting agencies.
Why do we need an agency?
Michelle Reape is the Director of Marketing for AssureSign, an e-signature provider, having spent time in companies like Beazer Homes, Revenue Analytics and the consulting firm North Highland where she led marketing campaigns across industries like financial services, life sciences and healthcare. She advises companies to find an agency if they do not have in-house capabilities. “For example, if you don’t have public relations or digital experience, it’s imperative to leverage the skill sets of agencies or people who do,” Reape said.
Joe Koufman leads AgencySparks, a firm that connects brands and agencies and added “companies should consider hiring an agency, if their team is missing a capability or needs additional capacity. Capacity is when the company just does not have enough 'arms and legs' to do the marketing work. Capability is when the company is missing some expertise in a specific marketing discipline, like email, social media, mobile, etc.”
That said, some companies build in-house creative, strategy or execution teams rather than relying on agencies or freelancers. If the work load is steady and understood, it can be successful. However, Koufman is skeptical of the model where companies build in-house agencies or big consultancies absorbing marketing agencies. “Talented marketing executives go to work for agencies for a reason,” he observed. Sometimes the talent you need to grow your business or execute your campaign prefer working in the highly diverse and dynamic environment of an agency, over working for a client. Other times, brands choose a hybrid model, where strategy and specialty work are done by in-house leaders and other production tasks are done by third-parties.
How do we pick an agency?
“Usually, 50% of the reason that brands select a new marketing agency partner is capability,” Koufman offered. “The other 50% is chemistry. At the end of the day, brands want to work with agencies that they like, trust, and compatible with their teams.”
“Depending on your budget and goals, it will dictate the type of agency you will need to be successful,” Reape observed. Even the term agency can vary. Koufman explains that it can be “anything from a one-person marketing consultancy to a massive holding company. For instance, WPP is now over $20 billion in revenue and made up of a slew of different types of agencies. Global consulting firms are snapping up agencies to deliver not only strategy, but also execution.”
Do we need more than one agency partner?
“Given the companies that I’ve worked for, it is very rare that you have one agency what will do everything or has the capability to do everything.” The term “agency” itself can be pretty broad. Koufman sees these same trends. “Currently, some brands are seeking a stable of specialist agencies rather than one agency-of-record. The upside is best-of-breed capabilities. The downside is the need to manage multiple agencies.”
How do we select the right partners?
Sorting from amidst the agency options and vetting agencies and proposals is a challenging process. This is further complicated by time pressures. Reape recalled a situation where she had to move a project from one agency to another mid-stream. “I learned the power of your network is crucial when you are looking for an agency to partner with.” Asking for recommendations from other leaders or marketers is a good place to start.
Reape recommends asking some specific questions to avoid problems later. Asking, “Do you have specific references or case studies where you’ve solved a similar problem in an industry that aligns with my business?” will allow you to gauge how much you will need to familiarize them with the problem and what expertise they have to bring to bear on your particular issues. Asking, “Have you ever had a project that went off track, if so, why, and what did you learn from it?” shows how self-aware they are and how committed they are to professional growth, even if it requires admitting their wrong.
Should we go with a big agency or a boutique firm?
“I have a slight bias against massive marketing agencies because I feel clients often get the ‘B’ or ‘C’ team working on their business,” Koufman observed. “The smallest client for an agency receives less attention - alternatively, the largest client for an agency is the top priority.” Reape agreed. “I like for my agencies to always consider me to be one of their largest clients. It’s all about the client experience. If an agency makes you feel like you’re the most important client, they are responsive, and do excellent work, and are good to work with, you will continue to throw that agency business,” she said. That said, the experiences can be as unique as the companies and personalities involved, so testing the relationship for chemistry and commitment is a good start.
This article was originally published on Forbes.com.
“The greatest challenge in life is discovering who you are. The second greatest is being happy with what you find.” – Unknown
“When it is obvious that the goals can not be reached, don’t adjust the goals, adjust the action steps.” – Confucius
Building a customer-centric enterprise relies on employees building relationships, acting on insights and growing alongside the needs of customers. Underlying this is an assumption that marketing teams have the personnel they need and that they are up to the task. In today’s competitive job market, companies are changing their approach in order to stay competitive, not only in the eyes of their customers, but in the fight for talent.
Annelle Barnett runs a marketing recruiting firm, a job board, and produces and hosts the popular, Marketing Mob podcast and webinar series. I joined her for a talk in February 2018 and we had a chance to chat recently about the new trends she sees in staffing.
“In the past, it was often advised to 'hire slow, fire fast' with the idea that you would spend a good bit of time doing your due diligence to ensure you’re setting yourself up with the best chance for success when selecting an employee,” she recounted. Managers are taught that it is best to take the required time to hire the best candidate with the most relevant experience and the best cultural fit. However, things are changing. “Whereas it used to take days, weeks and sometimes even months to make a hire, that is no longer the case today. Especially with high demand positions, like digital marketing and agency account positions.” Time is not a luxury that most employers enjoy today.
“Due to the competitive landscape, candidates are hired in a matter of days and even hours,” she continued. “Things can also change at their current employers. I’ve had situations where a candidate was promoted while in the interview process and they took themselves off the market.” It is a highly dynamic space and “if you’re too slow to react to finding a great candidate, you will miss out and lose your amazing candidate to someone else, perhaps to your competitor.” Nimbleness is winning the game in talent acquisition.
Filing open roles also has practical implications on productivity. If an open position is filled in January, they have 11-12 months to contribute to the goals for the year. If that same position stays open until July, the employee is only going to be half as productive that first year. Hiring fast, Barnett continues, “allows the employer to move forward, expediting productive contribution.”
If you find yourself in a battle for great talent, what can you do to speed up your hiring processes?
First, audit and measure to provide a baseline. “If it takes more than 1 month to move a single candidate through the interview process, they should consider reexamining their hiring strategy,” Barnett advised.
Second, build your process for speed. “Calendar availability of hiring managers is the number one factor that slows down an interview process,” Barnett observed. “If a company or hiring manager is ready to hire, it should be one of their top priorities.” Blocking time for interviews, being ready to reschedule, or even being available after hours or before the workday (when passive candidates who are currently employed might have more flexibility) can all expedite the process. “Have offer letters ready in advance and get them out quickly,” she continued.
“Candidates get excited about positions. The longer the offer letter takes, the more anxious they get and that excitement starts to wear off. It’s like when you’re having lunch at a restaurant and the service has been fantastic through the entire meal but then the check takes 20 minutes. The guest often forgets everything that happened before the delayed check and they will reflect that in the tip. It’s just as important to finish strong in the hiring process. The candidates are paying attention.
And finally, “I’d say the most important thing to remember is flexibility and letting go of the way things used to be,” she concluded. “There may need to be more trusting of your gut and intuition than checking every box.” Employers would do well to remember that “great candidates get scooped up quickly by companies with more nimble processes.”
This approach to hiring has implications on the organization that extend beyond hiring decision speed.
The first obvious downside to a “hire fast” strategy might mean more turn-over. “By hiring more quickly, the chances of making the wrong hire are greater,” Barnett observes. Not every hire will be a good fit. They might not actually have the skills for the job or perhaps they bring with them toxicity that could spread to the rest of the team. “A disgruntled employee has the potential for disrupting the entire company or team culture,” Barnett adds.
The impact of a bad hire can be substantial, so a “fire fast” mentality has to be adopted. “Firing fast means that an employer would let go of an employee as soon as it’s recognized that the individual is not the right fit for the role,” she explains.
This might require the organization to be prepared to spend more in severance, outplacement services, or working with employees to place or coach them into new roles within the organization. In high-impact or customer facing the roles, the risks of “fire fast” can be dramatic as you don’t want customers to lose confidence in the brand. Barnett says that in some cases it is useful to have “a training period for a month or so before the employee becomes client facing to ensure the right hire was made” before key customer relationships are fully transitioned to new hires.
Care must be taken to not fire too fast, however. “By firing too quickly, you may miss out on a great employee because you didn’t take the time to coach them or move them to another position in the company that is a better fit for the individual,” Barnett said. If the employee is a good cultural fit and has the right attitude, often a better role can be found to put their strengths to use. “There may also be some repercussions online with employer reputation” with this strategy, Barnett warns. “If employees are fired often, the employer brand may take a hit from bad reviews on sites like Glassdoor.” Managers should always work with their human resources and legal teams to ensure compliance with applicable laws and practices, which vary dramatically by state or country.
In order to attract talent and maximize productivity, many companies are changing their hiring practices to a “hire fast, fire fast” strategy. This approach might not always be a fit for every company, but in highly competitive roles and dynamic markets, employers may find they no longer have a choice.
This article was originally published on Forbes.com.