How to measure performance of account managers

Below is a synopsis of the tools we used to measure the performance of Sidecar Deliveries’ Account Managers.

  • Quantitative “account-health” metric. This metric quantifies the growth and longevity of each account. In scoring each account, I try to adjust for complexity of customer relationship.
  • Customer surveys.  Collected bi-weekly during pilot phase, and quarterly after customer has been on-boarded.
  • Impromptu customer call sit-ins.  Much can be learned about the account manager and health of the customer relationship by hearing how the account manager and customer interact. The sit-in is not meant to intimidate at all; rather it is an opportunity for the manager to observe and provide any helpful feedback. As with all call sit-ins, the manager should never interrupt the call nor speak over the account manager. The manager is there to strictly listen. Any feedback should be provided after the end of the call.
  • Qualitative assessment.  Does the account manager…
    • learn fast?
    • understand our product and operations in sufficient detail?
    • proactively inform manager and rest of team with possible account issues?
    • follow through on agreed-upon next steps?
    • hit invoicing and reporting deadlines?
  • Peer reviews. How easy, rewarding, and fun do peers find it to work with the account manager?

Three cool lessons we can learn from jazz and apply to business

I just watched a talk given by Google Ventures partner Ken Norton about what we can learn from jazz music and how it is created. Below are the three ideas.

1  Get uncomfortable but not too uncomfortable

“Miles Davis nudged his musicians into a place where they were uncomfortable, the zone of optimal anxiety. What Larry Page calls “uncomfortably exciting.” When Duke Ellington challenged Clark Terry to play like Buddy Bolden. When Ella Fitzgerald thought, “uh-oh!” What Frank Barrett calls provocative competence: triggering people away from habit and repetition. Where there are no such things as mistakes, only missed opportunities. Embracing uncertainty when we make software, which is inherently unpredictable. We don’t know how our users, or our audience, will react, and that goes with it.”

While it is important that we push ourselves outside our comfort zone, it is also important that we don’t overstress ourselves to a point where we are unproductively worrying about being unproductive. Norton also mentioned the importance of making sure the team is not too stressed. As leaders and teammates, we sometimes need to make sure we pull team members back up the stress curve, making them feel less anxious, by making them feel more confident, competent, and part of the solution.

2 Listen carefully.

“Jazz is a continual conversation where listening is more important than talking. Big Ears encourage empathy, knowing where others are going, and helping them get there. Looking for mistakes that can become new opportunities. You can help by listening more than talking, by being willing to ask questions when you don’t know the answers, even when you think you do. Celebrate following and listening in addition to leading and talking.”

On this note, check out this Marc Abraham post on Socratic questioning.

3 Let everyone solo.

“In jazz, everyone takes turns both leading and following. Psychological safety means everyone knows their voice is valued, and that they’re not afraid to try something risky. You can create this for your teams by demonstrating engagement, making sure each person speaks and is heard, picking up on unspoken emotions, and showing your understanding.”

I think this idea is important and speaks to everyone’s individual need to feel like our work and contributions matter in the world. We all need to feel like we can offer something to the world and that we are thus valuable for these contributions. As leaders and managers, I think it’s important that we help make our team members and colleagues feel this way. It’s what good humans do. 🙂

 

My Management Style

COMMUNICATION … both upward and downward

Excite and motivate. Make sure the team understands how their job is important and part of the larger mission.

Clear objectives and values. It is important that the team know what our primary goals are and see how we will achieve them. Where we may make compromises and where we won’t. Since most decisions involve making some kind of trade off, a clear understanding of team values enables team members to make decisions.

Before team members can follow a plan, they have to understand it. It is the manager’s job to make sure the job is explained well and understood.

Raise the flag. Everyone is responsible for identifying possible problems and surfacing the problem.

TEAM SPIRIT …Business is a team sport. 

We win and lose as a team. I am here for my team. My team is here to help me. We are here for each other.

COACHING … We are dynamic creatures.

Give team members one-on-one time at regular intervals.

Learn and understand each individual’s particular interests, goals, and motivations.

Give them opportunities to grow and challenge themselves.

Help IC’s build business acumen by

RESOURCEFUL … make sure the team has everything they need to do their jobs well.

Resources, education, work environment, support

Remove barriers or slowing frictions.

TRAIN AND TRUST … trust begets trust

Create an environment where team members feel safe admitting ignorance, doubt, or unsureness.

Explain the high-level “why” behind what we do so that team members can make real-time judgment calls without my input when necessary.

Give the team member enough autonomy to feel ownership.

MEASURE…only things that get measured, get improved 

Results have to measured quantifiably and tracked over time. We need to understand where there are opportunities to improve.

Measure early in the process to avoid more costly poor performance deeper further down the road.

RESULTS AND MORALLY ORIENTED

We check everything we do against our objectives and make sure what we are doing is causing the desired results.

We do not compromise our integrity. Doing so only makes us vulnerable to unwinding all our hard work and brand.

HIRE DRIVEN LEARNERS  … here’s what I’m looking for in team members

Ego vs. Pride:  There is nothing wrong with being proud of our work, but we don’t want people who let their ego get in their way. We need people who admit mistakes early so that we can fix and learn.

Dynamic over static: People who see their capabilities as dynamic are more likely to improve.

Business acumen: Understands why we and our customers do what they do.

Work ethic: Shortcuts may get you by in the short term but only causes problems down the road. Also, demonstrating this cultural value with clients enables us to confidently ask clients for what we need after we’ve gone the extra mile for them.

Communication: We want people who share their concerns. We don’t want pressure building into passive aggressiveness.

POSITIVE ATTITUDE … one of the most important things to have in an innovation culture

Thinking positively has been proven to make us more creative problem solvers, resistant to burnout, and just more pleasant to work with.

Attitude is contagious. It is important to feel energized by the opportunity we have in front of us.

Positivity drives creativity. Playfulness leads to more innovative ideas. Creative problem solving by is a competitive advantage because by definition it means that we are coming up with better solutions than what currently exists in the world.

McKinsey Quarterly interview with Pixar award-winning Director, Brad Bird

In the McKinsey Quarterly interview of Brad Bird, the award-winning Pixar film Director shared very interesting insights relevant to anyone leading highly-creative innovation work.   Below are some quotes from the interview and takeaways that are worth sharing.

Before I got the chance to make films myself, I worked on a number of badly run productions and learned how not to make a film. I saw directors systematically restricting people’s input and ignoring any effort to bring up problems. As a result, people didn’t feel invested in their work, and their productivity went down. As their productivity fell, the number of hours of overtime would increase, and the film became a money pit.

In my experience, the thing that has the most significant impact on a movie’s budget—but never shows up in a budget—is morale. If you have low morale, for every $1 you spend, you get about 25 cents of value. If you have high morale, for every $1 you spend, you get about $3 of value. Companies should pay much more attention to morale.

Takeaway:  It is how people feel that determines their productivity!

Our goal is different because if you say you’re making a movie for “them,” that automatically puts you on an unsteady footing. The implication is, you’re making it for a group that you are not a member of—and there is something very insincere in that.  If you’re dealing with a storytelling medium, which is a mechanized means of producing and presenting a dream that you’re inviting people to share, you’d better believe your dream or else it’s going to come off as patronizing.

So my goal is to make a movie I want to see. If I do it sincerely enough and well enough—if I’m hard on myself and not completely off base, not completely different from the rest of humanity—other people will also get engaged and find the film entertaining.

Takeaway:  It is critical to believe in what you are trying to create.  It therefore makes a lot of sense to make something that you yourself find valuable, and then trust your own judgment to represent preferences of a larger group.

[At Pixar] Steve [Jobs] put the mailboxes, the meetings rooms, the cafeteria, and, most insidiously and brilliantly, the bathrooms in the center—which initially drove us crazy—so that you run into everybody during the course of a day. He realized that when people run into each other, when they make eye contact, things happen.  So he made it impossible for you not to run into the rest of the company.

Takeaway:  In this information age, with more sophisticated new ideas and technologies swarming around us than ever before, small simple things are still elemental to success.  People making eye contact for example is necessary above and beyond simply being physically near one another.  Communication, engagement, sharing of information, and connecting with colleagues are fundamental elements that lead to effective collaboration and timely execution.

I don’t want him to tell me, “Whatever you want, Brad,” and then we run out of resources. I want him to tell me, “If you do X, we’re not going to be able to do Y.” I’ll fight, but I’ll have to make the choice. I love working with John because he’ll give me the bad news straight to my face. Ultimately, we both win. If you ask within Pixar, we are known as being efficient. Our movies aren’t cheap, but the money gets on the screen because we’re open in our conflict.  Nothing is hidden.

Takeaway:  Don’t waste time with interpersonal conflict.  Seek to identify points of conflict within the team and discuss it right away.   It sounds like, at Pixar, they don’t waste a lot of time and resources building movie parts that don’t ever make it onscreen; rather a large proportion of the work produced ends up in the final product; and this is because the team addresses conflict immediately, without letting it live subsurface, which is distracting and energy-consuming.

Passion, Design, and Top Gear

I just finished watching Top Gear Uncovered, a production of one of my favorite television shows. Not only is the writing brilliant, but the show’s presenters balance the comedy of cars with the seriousness of exceptional driving machines.  I think the episode helped me realize a few things about passion and design.

First, I realized that–allow although I like the show’s antics, wit, and comedy (because I am human and enjoy a laugh now and then)–what keeps me coming back to the show are the show’s serious moments.  Let me explain.  It is precisely when the silly smirk on a Top Gear presenter’s silly face becomes properly stoic that I sit up in my seat and unconsciously assume a perfectly erect posture, Continue reading

it is how you react that matters

I think bad stuff happens to everyone, and that how one reacts to an unfortunate situation is more important in the long run than the circumstance of situation the person has at least indirectly gotten themselves into.   Here, I am referring to life situations that do not warrant falling into mental depression because they do not involve some kind of life or death scenario affecting directly, you, or someone very close to you.

When we find ourselves in challenging situations, do we stand tall, as if wholly cognizant of life’s big picture, or do we fall into mental depression?    And, isn’t strength of character one of the most important things by which we measure the people we want in our lives?    And, maybe we are smart for measuring this quality in other people because we know on a subconscious level, the people with this quality are good to have around.   Maybe we know that people, who are willing to take risks and learn from their failed attempt(s) to achieve a specific goal, are not only interesting and fun to be around, but that these people will be successful in a variety of arenas. 

Take for example the situation of an entrepreneur who started a company that has recently gone out of business.   The entrepreneur can look at the situation as a learning experience or simply a failure.

The takeaway

The moment when one feels like crumbling under the pressure of an event that–in the big scheme of things–does not call for such a reaction, is exactly when you cannot afford to crumble.  Not only because you risk spiraling out of control into depression, but because other people are watching, and nobody wants be around people who cannot handle the messes life throws at us or–especially–the messes we get ourselves into.