On Motivation

Someone recently asked me “how can I motivate my team member when the market is down and the value of their stock options may not grow as quickly?” I initially tried to answer the question by focusing on the odds of startup valuation still growing faster than other asset classes, and other non-linear & intrinsic value of social capital accumulated at startups that may introduce new opportunities later in life. But I didn’t find my answers satisfying at all. I thought about why.

Over time, experience has taught me that more often than not, defining the right problem to solve is far more important than the solution itself. Perfect solution to a wrong problem is just plain wasteful.

So how can one motivate their team member when things are getting tough? What are the mechanics behind motivation that can give us insights into finding the right solution to the problem?

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Drivers, Not Passengers

“Leading for Hypergrowth by Raising Expectations, Increasing Urgency, and Elevating Intensity”

Frank Slootman is Chairman and CEO of Snowflake. He recently wrote a short book on business management “Amp It Up”, sharing his experience from days at Data Domain, ServiceNow, and Snowflake.

In his book, Chapter 6 talks about “hiring drivers, not passengers” and below is some excerpts from the book:

Passengers are people who don’t mind simply being carried along by the company’s momentum, offering little or no input, seemingly not caring much about the direction chosen by management. They are often pleasant, get along with everyone, attend meetings promptly, and generally do not stand out as troublemakers. They are often accepted into the fabric of the organization and stay there for many years.

The problem is that while passengers can often diagnose and articulate a problem quite well, they have no investment in solving it. They don’t do the heavy lifting. They avoid taking strong positions at the risk of being wrong about something. They can take any side of an issue, depending on how the prevailing winds are blowing. In large organizations especially, there are many places to hide without really being noticed. …

Drivers, on the other hand, get their satisfaction from making things happen, not blending in with the furniture. They feel a strong sense of ownership for their projects and teams and demand high standards from both themselves and others. They exude energy, urgency, ambition, even boldness. Faced with a challenge, they usually say, “Why not” rather than “That’s impossible.”

These qualities make drivers massively valuable. Finding, recruiting, rewarding, and retaining them should be among your top priorities. Recognize them privately and publicly, promote them, and elevate them as example of what others should aspire to. That will start waking up those who are merely along for the ride. Celebrate people who own their responsibilities, take and defend clear positions, argue for their preferred strategies, and seek to move the dial.

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Managing Time Horizons

I recently came across the clearest definition of a bubble in an asset class:

“When investors have different goals and time horizons—and they do in every asset class— prices that look ridiculous to one person can make sense to another…

Bubbles form when the momentum of short-term returns attract enough money that the makeup of investors shifts from mostly long term to mostly short term. That process feeds on itself. As traders push up short-term returns, they attract even more traders. Before long, the dominant market price-setters with the most authority are those with shorter time horizons.

Bubbles aren’t so much about valuations rising. That’s just a symptom of something else: time horizons shrinking as more short-term traders enter the playing field.”

The Psychology of Money (by Morgan Housel)

What was particularly impressive about this framework was that it can be applied to any forms of investment — including people. When you have a “different” time horizon when working with someone, your behaviors will change.

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Thinking Second-order Effects

💡 I was going to write a longer piece on this topic, but found this article to be helpful.

One of the key elements of being better in leadership, strategy, and organizational changes is being able to think and anticipate second-order effects.

When you want to roll out programs, systematic changes, (re)budgeting, headcount planning, introducing new processes, thinking beyond the first intended first-order, being able to navigate second-order effects will be critical in how successful those initiatives will be. Most outcomes will be lagging and have lasting/trickling effect throughout the organization, so the quality of the decision and the thoughtfulness matters a lot to save a lot of people’s time, effort, and pain.

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The Anatomy of Managerial Initiative

The five degrees of initiative of the managers

Below is an excerpt from "Management Time: Who's Got the Monkey?" (HBR)

There are five degrees of initiative that the manager can exercise in relation to the boss and to the system:

  1. wait until told (lowest initiative);
  2. ask what to do;
  3. recommend, then take resulting action;
  4. act, but advise at once;
  5. and act on own, then routinely report (highest initiative).

Clearly, the manager should be professional enough not to indulge in initiatives 1 and 2 in relation either to the boss or to the system. A manager who uses initiative 1 has no control over either the timing or the content of boss-imposed or system-imposed time and thereby forfeits any right to complain about what he or she is told to do or when. The manager who uses initiative 2 has control over the timing but not over the content. Initiatives 3, 4, and 5 leave the manager in control of both, with the greatest amount of control being exercised at level 5.

In relation to subordinates, the manager’s job is twofold. First, to outlaw the use of initiatives 1 and 2, thus giving subordinates no choice but to learn and master “Completed Staff Work.” Second, to see that for each problem leaving his or her office there is an agreed-upon level of initiative assigned to it, in addition to an agreed-upon time and place for the next manager-subordinate conference. The latter should be duly noted on the manager’s calendar.

👉 Summary: When an employee brings a problem to you, outlaw use of level 1 or 2. Agree on and assign level 3, 4, or 5 to the monkey*. Take no more than 15 minutes to discuss the problem.

* Monkey: It’s from “monkey-on-the-back” metaphor, and means a task that needs to be done/handled/responded to.

The Five Forms of Power

Leadership powers to cultivate

The five forms of power were introduced by John French and Bertram Raven, and depicts different forms of power that exist in organizations. There are ones that are short-lived with limitations and ones that are more sustainable and scalable.

  1. Coercive Power: Being able to force someone to do something (against one’s will)
    • Cause of many problems, poor form of leadership, can be easily overthrown (or abused)
  2. Reward Power: Ability to reward to do something unpleasant
    • Diminishing returns, short-term effect, regularity removes its effectiveness completely
  3. Legitimate Power: Exercise a degree of reward or punishment based on role/title
    • Loses power immediately as the position or title is changed, weak form to persuade/convince people
  4. Referent Power: Respected, approved, admired
    • Highly scalable and effective, but may decrease dramatically based on circumstance (e.g., popular politician getting taken off the show upon scandal)
  5. Expert Power: Knowledgeable and capable
    • Long-lasting, high value, and defensible form of power

Later on, they added 6th power — Informational Power: Ability to control the information that others need to accomplish something which usually comes from a position or a role. This too can be effective, but can also be interpreted as political or gossiping.

One of the most effective ways to build and demonstrate your power in the organization is the combination of #4 Referent Power and #5 Expert Power. By combining the two, leaders can build and demonstrate scalable and long-lasting form of influences in their organization and beyond.

Managing through COVID-19

Adapting to the new norm

This is a note for the future, to adapt the company and self through a global pandemic caused by COVID-19. I have full trust that the world will have a better playbook to deal with such pandemic in the future.

Short-term Shock and Long-term Recovery

  • While it’s uncertain how long the Covid-19 global pandemic will last, the impact on the overall economy is real, as seen from some of the markets where Covid-19 hit earlier, the consumer industries are already experiencing real loss of business. The travel industry collapsed, airlines in Korea are down by 80%, freights revenue down by 44%, ship manufacturing revenue down by 76%, and so forth. These are not the market caps, but the actual revenue decreases already being realized as months have gone by since the initial outbreak of Covid-19. Now the impact data on U.S. economy is starting to surface and except for a few industries (e.g. digital healthcare, online education, food delivery, grocery, etc.), most industries are getting crushed. Unemployment ratio is rocketing through the roof and companies and physical stores are shutting down with massive lay offs.
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A Guide to Scaling Yourself

How to keep your head above water

I was having lunch with a friend today, and we were discussing how does someone know when a person is scaling or not. Who will scale as the company grow and what stops someone from scaling further?

Some companies have early members scaling beautifully as the organization grows, while some don’t. A lot of smooth scaling happens typically when the company is growing organically and the growth rate is relatively modest (< 50% YoY). When a company is growing > 50% YoY, and in some cases, doubling or more, it becomes incredibly difficult for people to keep up with the scale of the company, as humans grow linearly, yet companies grow exponentially.

Below are a few questions to ask yourself to check if you are scaling with the growth needed and some tips and strategies to continue on the fast growth trajectory.

1. Am I “going horizontal?”

I came across the concept of “Going Horizontal” during 10xCEO program and we discussed extensively on how to make sure the executive team is continuing to scale at the right capacity level for the growth needs of the company.

The team internally might already be “over capacity” if the company’s growth rate is modest and the team is experienced. But if the needs for the leadership capacity emerging from growth out weigh the current capacity, then it will hurt the growth rate and the potential upside of the company as long as the leadership team is not fully built to handle the needs.

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VPC Framework in Management

Balancing between Value, Price, and Cost

I first learned the VPC Framework (VPC: Value-Price-Cost) back in 2006 and the simplicity of the framework made an impression on me. I still revisit a few times a year to think about where our company is in the position within the framework and how we are investing our resources.

The concept is quite simple. Let’s start with the definition:

  • Value: This is the value your offering is creating and delivering to customers.
  • Price: This is the price you charge and customers pay for to acquire or use your offering.
  • Cost: This is the cost of creating and delivering your offering to the customer.

The differences between these elements create the benefits:

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Scaling Leadership through Two Management Frameworks

As an organization reaches certain scale, it is inevitable, at least due to the current limitation set by human interaction mechanisms (e.g. verbal communication, synchronous meetings, groups, hierarchies, physically independent) that there is a certain level of structure that needs to be put in place to manage the organization.

There is a few frameworks that can be useful when scaling the leadership. It’s local applications of the general management frameworks, so let’s explore how they can be relevant to scaling leadership.

1. Convergence <> Divergence framework

This framework demonstrates how to navigate within the horizontal layer (x-axis) of management.

As your organization scales, one thing you constantly run into is the overall increase in diversity within the organization. The proportion of diversity may increase or decrease, but the absolute number of diverse entity (in this case, employees) will simply increase as your headcount grows.

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