curious. creative. chutzpah.

What are you doing to make your employees feel more energized, better taken care of, more focused and more inspired?

Employees are vastly more satisfied and productive, it turns out, when four of their core needs are met: physical, through opportunities to regularly renew and recharge at work; emotional, by feeling valued and appreciated for their contributions; mental, when they have the opportunity to focus in an absorbed way on their most important tasks and define when and where they get their work done; and spiritual, by doing more of what they do best and enjoy most, and by feeling connected to a higher purpose at work.

– “Why You Hate Work,” The New York Times

“There Are No B Players”

Human beings are deep, complex creatures with many subtleties and nuances. They can contribute to a whole variety of endeavours in a whole lot of ways. The key to unlocking this human potential in yourself is to find the stuff you’re good at, that you enjoy doing, and that you think is worth doing to make a positive difference, to find that elusive state of flow where work becomes more like play, where despite dealing with a variety of tasks, some of which may seem boring, you take the time to love what you do and thereby end up doing what you love. When you find that place, you’re an A player.

– Daniel Tenner, original blog post

brand first

if you don’t have a mission, vision, and mental picture of what your long-lasting brand is…

how can you hire people?

how can you sell your product to the right consumers?

how can you make decisions about what to build, whom to partner with?

it’s never to early to start – personally or for your product. 

par example: warby parker.

Planning a team retreat? Start here.

A startup founder just asked me what he and his fellow team leaders should do on their one-day leadership retreat. Here’s what I wrote to get him started.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * 
i’d strongly recommend giving yourselves structure + goals for the day. why are you taking this time off? what do you hope to accomplish / walk away knowing? how will it have an impact on your company?

give the day a theme. is it scaling (team and product)? is it leadership and values?

set 2-3 goals, i.e., vision alignment, company + team goal-setting.

give yourself some rules of the day, i.e., all other topics are off the table (as in, no distractions), no cell phones during work sessions, etc. mostly things that will help you focus and make the best of your time.

what do you need to do to prep? read an article? answer a question, i.e., what will it take to get to x users / $x.

for the day of, i’d recommend a balance between work and bonding / connecting.

have an agenda. start with something high-level / birds’-eye-view, like having the CEO do a year-in-review where he goes over big wins / pitfalls / etc. just to get you all on the same page about what you’re doing and why. have a deep work session, where you focus on your goal / questions you’re trying to answer. in other words, work through the how of getting to where you want to be. strategy, team culture / members, etc.

you should walk out of there with very concrete next steps and a plan for communicating what you did that day to the team. the worst thing you can do is have all the leaders of the company leave for a day, come back, and not even acknowledge what went on + start giving new direction / ideas to the team. transparency is super key for when you return. what did you learn? decide? 

How to Build the Team that Builds Your Dream

There is nothing more important to the success of your company than hiring A players. I originally shared this presentation with the TechStars EdTech Accelerator. It covers recruiting and hiring best practices, what not to dos, how to craft a company-specific interview process, building a talent pipeline (both attracting talent and going out and getting it yourself), tips for candidate outreach, and an onboarding checklist. This should be an actionable jumpstart to your recruiting & hiring plan.

Pop-Up Shabbat

Pop-Up Shabbat

I’ve read Macbeth in Hebrew at Jewish day school, made out with a Jewfro-ed counselor-in-training in the red gazebo at Jewish summer camp, and sung Shabbat songs around the piano with my Zionist mother. You can be sure I’ll at least give my children Israeli names.
I made the pilgrimage to the Lower East Side of NYC after college (my Brooklyn-born grandmother: “But we used to buy furniture there!”). I joined the board of a Jewish non-profit and I tried out hippy synagogues in Park Slope and matchmaking ones on the Upper West Side. But I loved my potluck Shabbat dinners the most.
Friends, food, fun.
Pop-Up Shabbat is about comparing bar mitzvah stories over a glass of non-Manischewitz. Or maybe you’re a goy-ish illustration designer who simply has a penchant for tasty matzoh balls. Either way, we’ve saved you a seat.
Pop-Up Shabbat surfaces only a few nights each year. Each has its own theme and name. The location perpetually migrates. These evenings are intimate and designed for kibbitzing and connecting. All Pop-Up Shabbats are “Jewishly sourced”: the food and entertainment are inspired by Jewish culture, but can be enjoyed by all.

The Woz on employee equity

“If somebody is sitting there working till 2:00 a.m. with you, helping to write a little code, and says ‘Wow, that is a cool one,’ those words mean a lot to you and they deserve something. So I gave each of those five [early Apple employees] a large amount of stock, probably a million dollars in that day. And that was an early day for a million dollars.”

– Steve Wozniak, “Founders at Work” by Jessica Livingston

How to Say Goodbye Part II: Company

At most coffees or lunches since I’ve left my job, I see that combo eager/tentative look on people’s faces, as they inquire into my reasons for leaving Skillshare. It’s like I’m a piñata full of pent-up gossip or hurt feelings and all they have to do to enjoy the sweet contents is tap me lightly with a probing question; “So…what happened?”

I hate to disappoint, but I’m still singing Skillshare’s praises. I ain’t this guy.

Sure, I’ve got memories of harsh feedback and failed efforts emblazoned in my mind. And while it’s exactly those sore spots that have inspired me to create a peer mentor community and set of resources for early stage startup employees (more on that soon!), they’re not what define my post-Skillshare state of mind.

Every day, in moments of reflection, in networking conversations, I’m aware of how lucky I am to have Skillshare lineage. For all the sunshiny moments and stormy debates, Skillshare’s mine and I’m theirs. You’ll always be able to Google old articles like this one, where I’m quoted as the face of our community and spokesperson for our mission. And I’ll always have a meaty Skillshare section on my resume that will inform how others view my startup grit and qualifications. We help define each other.

Which is why I agonized over how to say goodbye in a respectful, meaningful, and forward-looking way. And although I couldn’t have predicted how Skillshare would send me on my way, I can now say it was pretty exemplary. Our individual approaches were mutually beneficial – we both knew that if I land well, that’s a win for Skillshare, too.

Here are some tips for employees and companies – startup or not – about how to graciously say goodbye to each other when the employee gives notice or there’s a mutual agreement that it’s time for the employee to go. This is *not* a replacement for a formal Exit Process (companies, you should have a detailed list of what to do when you let go of employees or when they quit), just a guideline for the “how” of it all.

Employees: How to Say Goodbye

  • Don’t be afraid, be prepared –  It’s sooooo much worse for everyone involved if you stick around and are miserable, because it has an impact on your productivity and on your coworkers’ morale. If you’re ready to go, just do it. But know what you’ll say and prepare for common Qs, i.e., Why are you leaving? Do you know where you’re going next? Is there anything we can do to make you stay?
  • Leave the house cleaner than you found it – If you’ve got a couple of weeks to wrap up what you’re working on, don’t just finish up the items on your to do list. Actually prepare your team and company for the next month or the whole quarter if you can. For instance, I left about a month into the quarter but we still had at least one key hire and a few company and team events to take care of. I built a pipeline for the hire and kicked off initial interviews, and I reserved event space and created the Eventbrite listings for all of the meetups and happy hours. Brain dump and playbook what you’ve learned so that your company can go on without you fairly painlessly.
  • Be thankful and give good feedback – Tell your boss and teammates how they shaped your experience. What did you learn from them? I wrote personal notes to each of my coworkers before I left – they were short and sweet, and less awkward than it might have been to pull each of them aside in person. In your exit interview, share feedback about how your experience could have been better – make it a mutual learning experience.
  • If you want to go above and beyond, find your replacement – I wrote the job description for mine (which, by the way, was extremely helpful, as it forced me to define what I had been doing!). Knowing that there were candidates to fill my role helped my conscience a bunch.

Company: How to Say Goodbye

  • Don’t fight it – When I was heading up our talent efforts, I got some good advice at a summit with other companies in our portfolio: trying to make any employee stay when they’re quitting rarely ever works. If someone is giving notice, they’ve already got at least one foot out the door. Offering extra cash for them to stay temporarily is worse than letting them leave and getting started on your replacement search ASAP.
  • Be reasonable with timing – 2 weeks is the norm for a reason – it’s enough time to close out, do knowledge and responsibility transfer, learn last bits from each other, but not too much time to for the employee to feel burnt out all over again. Week 1 will be about accepting the change and planning for the transition. Week 2 will focus on hustling to transfer knowledge and resources and tie up loose ends.
  • Send them off with bells – If you’re feeling nostalgic and bittersweet about losing an employee but know you want to maintain a relationship for them (you never know who you’ll want to hire for your next company! or if they’ll want you to invest in theirs down the road…), then celebrate them. I got roasted at my going away party – hard. But it left me feeling loved (in a sibling rivalry kind of way). And I felt a sense of team, which encouraged me to do my part with renewed vigor and thoroughness towards the end. If you’re feeling particularly generous, send your employees off with some severance – it’s another way of saying thanks for a job well done.
  • Ask what you can do better – Do an exit interview for everyone who leaves who will let you. Learn how to foresee something like this coming the next time or how to avoid doing what you may have done wrong. Use that time to show your future company alum that you respect him or her and set the tone for an ongoing conversation.

There’s a right way to say goodbye…and there’s definitely a not right way.

I can tell you from the past month post-Skillshare that the way we said goodbye has paid off. I’ve encouraged friends of friends to apply for jobs at Skillshare that I know they’d be a fit for, and I’ve had potential clients tell me they’ve heard great things about me from my former colleagues. It feels awesome to have your old teammates trek to Gowanus for your birthday party, meet up with you for a multi-glass-of-wine dinner, and smile when they run into you at the local coffee shop. So, if you’re walking around with a pit in your stomach about badmouthing your former boss when you know you made some of your own missteps along the way, or you regret saying goodbye the way you did…either fix it or do it better next time. It pays.

How to Say Goodbye, Part 1: Community

[Originally posted on TheCommunityManager.com]

A little over 2 weeks ago, I said goodbye to the Skillshare team. I’ll tell that story next, but this one’s about another community I had to bid adieu at the same time: the Skillshare teachers and students.

In fact, they had to part ways, too. One of the last things I did before I left Skillshare was officially retire the Master Teacher program I had started, nurtured, and grown with the help of our community team over the course of the past 2 years.

Over time, Skillshare has evolved and expanded the definition of what a class can be. We launched as a local marketplace and are now a global, online learning platform. We’ve also rethought and improved what teacher success looks like and how the best teachers can build and maintain their reputations on Skillshare. Our Master Teacher program no longer represented the full scope of our community and classes.

Knowing that Skillshare would continue to explore different ways to promote and connect its best teachers in its new landscape, I emailed each of our Master Teachers personally to let them know we would all have to move on. I was anxious about the responses I might receive – this wasn’t good news! But I was shocked. The overwhelming reaction from this group of committed Skillshare community members was supportive, understanding, and hopeful.

As one former Master Teacher said, “Thanks for the heads up! Keep me posted on the evolutions.”

So how’d I do it? Here are my tips for kindly and successfully closing down a community.

1. Ask Yourself Why

Start with these questions:

  • Why are we closing down this community (group / platform / forum / etc.)?
  • Why are we doing it right now?

Whatever the reason…have one. Your answers to the above questions will clarify the outcome you’re hoping for and help you plan.

2. Draft a Plan

Do NOT, I repeat, do NOT wing it. Like any good PR expert would, answer all of the what ifs, plan for all possible realities.

Follow up your Whys, with these questions. If you can answer them, you’ll be well-prepared.

  • Who will this have an impact on?
  • What are we specifically removing / changing?
  • When will be the final end date of this program?
  • Where will we be making changes on and off the site?
  • How will we make the transition? Who will be responsible for what?
  • How will we communicate the change to the affected community members?

Also, think about all of the questions your community members might have for you and answer them *before* you talk to them! They might ask:

  • Why are you doing this? (You’ve got that one down!)
  • Why does it have to happen now? (Don’t you feel so prepared?)
  • What does this mean for me now? How does this affect my experience with your company moving forward?
  • What are my next steps?
  • What do you think about all of this? (Tow the line between straightforward honesty and professionalism here.)

3. Do It In Advance

Give your community members time to react, ask questions, and prepare for what’s next. If you run a blogging platform and are doing a site redesign that will eliminate all previous blog comments, is there enough time for your bloggers to notify their followers and export the old content they want to save?

4. Be Honest

Be incredibly straightforward and honest. Be empathetic. Don’t overpromise. As a gesture of respect and mutual bummed-out-ness, tell your community why you’re making the decision you are – if you went through the steps above, you should feel pretty solid about the plan you’ve laid out and your community will hopefully see the logic, too.

Check out Uber’s exceptional communication about an experiment they were running with taxis in SF. While the topic of the announcement isn’t closing down a group, their human tone is good inspiration.

5. Be Thankful

Let your community members know how much you appreciate their time, effort, and contributions. Without them, you would have learned less about your business along the way. They deserve an official thanks!

This is what I said in my update email: “First, let me say a HUGE thank you for all of the effort and love you’ve put into teaching – you’ve helped make Skillshare what it is, and we’ve learned so much from working with you thus far!” And I meant it.

6. Set Aside Time to Talk

Be ready to answer questions about the logistics and impact of your community closing up shop. Have answers prepared – know how people can grab their data, if possible, and where they can communicate with each other moving forward. Also, be ready to have less tactical conversations. Some of your community members will want to thank you in person or vent their frustration, and listening goes a long way.

I set up “office hours” and spent much of that time reminiscing with our Master Teachers! These were nostalgic conversations, less rooted in next steps and more in getting used to the idea of change.

7. Offer Alternatives and Next Steps

They loved your brand yesterday, and they’ll still respect you the morning after if you follow the advice above. Find a more relevant way for your community members to engage with your company next. Give them a way to connect with each other, if you’re removing the forum where they used to convene. If you’ve held valuable data of theirs, try to find a way to give it to them.

I created a Google Doc where the Master Teachers could drop their contact info and notes about what they would/n’t like to be contacted about by other MTs. I reminded them that they could connect with our Education Team to learn more about teaching online classes and evolving with us.

These folks stuck with you and your work up until now, so if you respectfully involve them in a transition which directly affects them and offer them meaningful next steps, it’s likely that they’ll still spread the good word about their experience with your brand. As one of our earliest teachers said in his response to learning about the end of the Master Teacher program, “Thanks for changing my life (and thereby, helping to change all the lives I’ve changed).”

Just like we rarely see stories about companies that have failed, we rarely talk about communities that reach the end of their roads. There’s much to learn from both, so let’s help each other out and share!

10 Tips for Getting What You Want

10 Tips for Getting What You Want

I first made this presentation on getting what you want at the ReBoot Workshop, which was my first unconference ever and a really inspiring event with ambitious and creative people. The audience was made up of freelancers, entrpreneurs, and other non-9-5-ers. The main takeaway of my presentation: it’s in YOUR hands. Enjoy!

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