Changing Your Base Assumptions

I was chatting with an awesome member of our team at Automattic, Sarah, the other day about handling frustrated users in live chat. She has an amazing talent for staying calm (likely developed during her years as a teacher).

When asked about how she stays so unperturbed, she replied that she starts from the assumption that everyone is there to learn. Every customer at WordPress.com is there precisely because they want to build their site and establish their voice online. With that frame of mind, frustration presents an opportunity to teach.

Our base set of assumptions impacts how we interpret situations. The right assumptions can drastically impact our behavior.

For customers, assume that they signed up for your product or service specifically because they want to use it. They’re open to learning. Frustration presents opportunities for improvement. Switch from “How on earth do they not get it?” to “Where did we drop the ball? How are we letting this person down?”

For colleagues, assume that they want to do their best work. Actions to the contrary aren’t signs of malice. They’re opportunities to say, “Where did this go wrong?” and “How did I incentivize the wrong behavior?”

Regardless of the situation, here two base assumptions to operate from:

  1. Everyone is trying to do their best work.
  2. Everyone wants to have an impact and feel valued.

I don’t know how…

…should be removed from your vocabulary unless it’s followed by the word “yet.” Here are two replacements:

“I haven’t learned that yet.”

“I’m not sure where to start. Can you point me in the right direction?”

“I don’t know how” presents a closed door. The other variations present an open one instead. “I’m not there yet, but show me the path.”

Just like other parts of a growth mindset, self-education is a reaction we can practice. Instead of an insurmountable wall, we can choose to see a challenge meant to be conquered.

It’s hard to find something I’m more passionate about than self-education. There are limitless learning opportunities available to anyone with an internet connection or a public library card. We just have to take advantage of them.

Explore, read, learn, and practice. Then, most importantly, teach someone else.

Behavioral or Attitudinal Loyalty

In Customer Success, the authors breakdown two types of customer loyalty:

Attitudinal loyalty—Customers that are loyal because they love a particular brand.

Behavioral loyalty—Customers that are only loyal because they’re trapped.

If you only have one grocery store in your town, you’re going to exhibit behavioral loyalty. You’re a repeat customer because you don’t have any other choice.

On the flip side, if you drive past three grocery stores just to get to the nearest Publix, you’re exhibiting attitudinal loyalty. You have many options, but you’re picking Publix because of what they stand for, how you’re treated, etc.

Companies like Apple have the best of both worlds. As you buy more iDevices and become more dependent on iCloud, switching to Android becomes harder (behavioral). At the same time, they have millions of raving fans exhibiting attitudinal loyalty.

Attitudinal loyalty is built on amazing experiences. It has strong ties into customer support. Every interaction is a chance to reinforce attitudinal loyalty by exceeding expectations, removing roadblocks, and delivering delight.

Creating your own luck

I recently read What to Do When It’s Your Turn by Seth Godin. One chapter in particular caught my eye. It’s titled “Luck School.” The chapter mentions the work of Richard Wiseman and his book called The Luck Factor.

Wiseman dug into the science behind “luck.” He concluded that lucky individuals create their own good fortune through four factors:

“They are skilled at creating and noticing chance opportunities, make lucky decisions by listening to their intuition, create self-fulfilling prophesies via positive expectations, and adopt a resilient attitude that transforms bad luck into good.”

These are all skills we can practice.

We can practice noticing opportunities and grading our predictions. Businesses provide an easy proxy. Read TechCrunch or peruse AngelList. Make predictions about which companies will survive (and why). Check back in a year and see if you were right.

We can create chance opportunities by shipping projects out into the world. Justin Jackson is a great model when it comes to this.

Listening to your intuition takes skill. It doesn’t happen when you’re frantically working. It happens during quiet periods where you have time to think. Build that time into your day.

We can create positive expectations. We can practice envisioning all the ways this can go right.

We can adopt a growth mindset and approach disappointing outcomes as learning experiences. We can practice getting back up to bat.

Effort, Tactical, or Adaptive Goals

I recently finished digging into Primed to Perform. The book emphasizes tactics for building a motivated culture.

The authors lay out three factors that influence the total motivation of your organization—Play, Purpose, and Potential. I found one bit about framing goals particularly interesting. There are three potential options:

  1. Effort goal – This is the least effective. It’s akin to saying, “Try harder.” There’s no real direction.
  2. Tactical goal – This is a step in the right direction and the form you’ll most recognize. “Sign 20 new clients” is an example of a tactical goal. The desired outcome is clear.
  3. Adaptive goal – According to the authors, this is the most effective type because it focuses on helping team members become competent while providing space for autonomy and creativity. In this example, instead of “Sign 20 new clients,” you might say, “Find three new ways to describe how two of our products create value for our clients.”

Since I read this bit, I’ve been thinking about how I would set adaptive goals within our team at Automattic. Here’s one example that came to mind:

Tactical: Increase customer satisfaction scores to 95%.

Adaptive: Identify three ways a month to go above and beyond with a customer. Share those stories with the group.

The end result (happy customers) is still the same. The presentation and perspective are changed.

What if no one shows up?

That’s always the fear when creating something right?

Variations can apply to any pursuit: Why start a blog if it might get 0 visitors? Why launch this product if no one cares enough to look? Why host this event if no one shows?

For our first Drink for Pink event, I stressed the entire time that no one was going to show. When we planned a Canvas & Cocktails event this past year, we had sold 0 tickets as of a week out. When I published this learning experiment, I worried that no one would join me (I even included a caveat at the end).

That’s always the fear, but it shouldn’t stop you from moving forward.

People will show up if you build something awesome. Excitement and energy are contagious. They draw people in.

Your initial goal is to get one person to show up, not a crowd. Someone has to be first. Make the experience amazing for that one person.

Worst case scenario: Even if no one shows up, you learned something. You delivered. You’re ready to either double down or move on.

The precursor to giving feedback

When talking about feedback, we focus on the delivery. If we phrase this better, the whole conversation will get easier.

What if team members actively were asking “What could I have done better? How can I improve?”

Giving feedback is akin to giving a gift. If you walk up to a stranger on the street and hand them a wrapped box, you’re in for an awkward interaction. There’s no relationship established. This person has no idea who you are. Why in the world would they accept a gift from you?

Marching a team member into your office and “giving” them feedback can operate the same way. Why should they care what you think?

The answer is to create an environment where feedback is invited. The receiver is eager ask for your opinion.

How do you create that environment? Three easy suggestions:

Avoid jumping to conclusions. Ask questions like “What happened here?” Don’t assume you know. Build an environment based on understanding versus catching teammates doing something wrong.

Let them bring things to the table. This is a simple, effective flip. If we’re doing a performance review, I could list out areas for you to improve. Or, I could ask you to do a self-assessment and send that over before our conversation. The latter is going to be far more effective. You’re guiding the conversation, not me.

Understand them as a complete person. What makes them get out of bed in the morning? What kinds of projects do they find exciting? Build this relationship early in 1-1s. When it’s time for feedback, there’s a deeper relationship established. You have demonstrated that you care about them as a person.

Spend time evaluating successes

Our initial reaction is to ask: What could have gone better? Why does that matter? and How can we do better next time?

We spend time looking at the red Xs on the paper and skip over the questions we got right.

It’s impactful to ask the opposite set of questions: What went well? Why did we get that right? How can we apply what we learned to something else?

The latter helps us dig into our successes, understand them, and repeat them in the future.

We’re driven to grow and improve. That’s fine but don’t forget to spend time focusing on what worked.

Script the Critical Moves

One takeaway from Switch: We become paralyzed in new situations if the next steps aren’t clear.

The Rider, the rational side of the brain, can become overwhelmed and default back to the status quo. When we’re looking at behavior change, it’s important to “script the critical moves.” Identify the foundational actions that will get you most of the way.

This applies to fitness, career changes, finances and more. Identifying the critical moves early on will provide an escape hatch when overwhelm hits.

Take leadership for example. It’s difficult. There are times when you feel completely lost and incompetent. In those scenarios, revisiting the fundamentals can be key. For example, here are my fundamentals when it comes to leading a team:

  1. Have one-on-ones with every team member starting with “What awesome thing can we celebrate?” and ending with “What can I hold you accountable for?” and “What can you hold me accountable for?”
  2. Invite in feedback through many mechanisms across the year. Include anonymous survey-based feedback and performance reviews.
  3. Collaborate with the team to set clear goals. Revisit those goals on a weekly basis and identify next steps.

If I cover those, I can breathe easier knowing that the house isn’t burning down.

The same works for finance by the way:

  1. Pay down your smallest debts first.
  2. Setup automated transfers into your savings account, 401k, and IRA.
  3. Auto-invest in index funds.
  4. Bump up your retirement contribution by 1% every time you get a raise.

That might not make you Warren Buffett, but you’ll be far ahead of the pack.