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.

Reverting back to what made you successful

Radical Focus wasn’t for me, but this quote, in particular, struck a chord:

“In times of crisis, people go back to the thing that made them successful. Even when it’s not the right thing to do.”

Doing something new is hard. Sticking with what’s familiar and old hat is always easier.

Leadership is an easy analogue. Let’s say you’re great at making widgets. You’re promoted to head of the widget-making group.

In periods of stress, when the widget factory is behind on production, your first reaction is to jump back in and start making widgets. Instead, stick with what’s hard. Remove roadblocks. Clear the path. Help everyone else be more successful.

Pushing through the difficulty of doing something new is what grows and changes us for the better.

Follow-up read: What Got You Here Won’t Get You There

What about the customer’s that don’t say anything?

In support, it’s common to track positive and negative feedback. At Automattic, we call those green (good) and red (bad) robots. Happiness Engineers review green robots to celebrate awesome conversations and red robots to identify areas they can improve.

There’s another robot that frequently gets ignored—blue robots.

Blue robots are the equivalent of “Meh, the support I received as alright.” It wasn’t great. I probably got my question answered, but I wasn’t blown away.

Blue robots don’t tell their friends about Automattic’s products. They aren’t tweeting how wonderful WordPress.com is. They aren’t “raving fans.”

There’s another group that we certainly ignore. These are the customers that don’t say anything. They get a feedback survey after a customer interaction and don’t feel motivated to reply. We didn’t cause a strong reaction either way.

You can’t move every customer to the poles, but it’s worth reviewing these interactions too and asking yourself:

“What could I have done to turn this customer into a raving fan? What would have set this interaction over the top?”

It’s logical to focus on the poles but don’t forget about the middle.

H/T to Dean at Automattic for originally pointing this out to me.

The wrong incentives and workplace motivation

(Note: I have an extra copy of Your Turn by Seth Godin. If you want it, just email me at jeremeylduvall – gmail.com with your address, and I’ll send it your way!)

In Primed to Perform, authors Neel Doshi and Lindsay McGregor cover motivation in the workplace. What kinds of incentives and situations promote the right kind of motivations? Here are three ways that indirect motivators (emotional pressure, economic pressure, and inertia) can negatively impact performance.

The distraction effect explains how our focus on the stakes of a situation can ruin our performance. This applies to creative, problem-solving tasks.

This is illustrated through two tasks:

  1. Students have to press two keys as quickly as possible. Group A is told if they do well they’ll earn up to $300. Group B is told they would earn up to $30.
  2. Students have to solve a simple math problem. Same group setup with a max of $300 offered to one and a max of $30 offered to the other.

In task #1, Dan Ariely (the author of the study) found that the higher reward increased performance much as you might expect. Pressing keys on a computer is not a creative task.

In task #2, the higher paying group actually did worse than the lower paying group.

The cancellation effect says that your motivation to do the right thing can be cancelled out. Put short-term pressure on colleagues, and their willingness go the extra mile for customers could suffer.

When motivation is low, the wrong kinds of incentives can produce trade-off situations. The authors lay out three examples:

  1. Quality and quantity
  2. Individuality and teamwork
  3. Near-term and long-term results

The cobra effect says that your solution could actually make the problem worse. Every job, every metric creates an opportunity for maladaptive performance. When motivation is low, team members look for the shortest path to ease the pressure, even if that doesn’t serve the end goal.

The name comes from the 1800’s when India was still under the British government. The British set out to lower the number of cobras in the city by paying a bounty for dead cobras. Cobra farms also popped up outside of town breeding cobras they could then kill for bounty.

Two Polarizing Customer Support Examples

I’ve had to contact customer support on two different occasions in the past week. They were polar opposite experiences.

In one, I walked away frustrated and amazed that it took so long to accomplish such a basic task.

In another, I walked away happy, solving my problem in less than two minutes with none of the headache I expected.

I want to talk about what we can learn from both, but I’m going to leave the name out of the former as the point isn’t to trash the company but to learn from the experience.

Situation #1: I need to cancel a service.

I’ve been a customer of this service for some time, but it’s time for us to part ways. I scour the site for a way to cancel myself and do some searches in their support documentation. I can’t find anything except upgrading my service so I hop on live chat.

It took nearly 30 minutes of live chat with two operators to get this service cancelled despite having super clear intentions from the very start and making known that this wasn’t up for debate. At one point, I was transferred to a Customer Loyalty Administrator, which was frustrating. I had already waited for quite some time, and now I was transferred elsewhere?

In total, that chat took over 31 minutes from start to finish (disregarding the 5 minute wait in the queue).

Key takeaways:

  • When your customers want to leave, let them leave. I’m a believer that energy is normally better invested at the top of the funnel (getting the right customers to use your service and getting them in the right buckets) versus the bottom of the funnel (saving cancellations).
  • Give everyone on your team the power to solve problems. I might have been transferred to the Customer Loyalty Administrator for any number of reasons, but I can think of two likely ones: 1) they wanted one more shot at saving the cancellation or 2) the original operator couldn’t cancel my account.

Situation #2: A package didn’t get delivered.

I ordered something from Amazon, and although the tracking information read “Delivered,” we didn’t receive it. I went straight to contact support expecting to have to pay for the replacement.

First, I was amazed at the simple solution Amazon has in place for phone interactions. Customers don’t have to wait on the line and press a series of buttons to get themselves in the right department. It’s all handled through Amazon.com. You select what order you’re calling about and the reason for your call. You enter the phone number and they call you. The agent is immediately up to speed on your issue.

Second, the conversation was super fast. She said it was delivered on a day in November. I said I didn’t receive it. She then said, “No problem. I’ll ship a replacement out right now.”

No arguing. No blaming the delivering company. No hassle.

Key takeaways:

  • Find ways to alleviate customer pain points on the front-end. Having phone customers pre-select what their calling about trumps the traditional “Hit 1 for questions about an order” process every time.
  • Give your people the power to make the situation right. I’m guessing there is some sort of dollar limit on the amount they can immediately replace. In my case, the product was $60 so not exactly cheap. In any case, give your support pros the power to solve issues and provide a delightful experience.

Reading for Your Weekend

Here’s a little snapshot from my Pocket collection that I’ve been digging into.

First, Shane Parrish continues to deliver high quality content on Farnam Street. This article had some important takeaways about adopting new habits—At Some Point, You Have to Eat the Broccoli.

The Wall Street Journal argues we should read more. I certainly agree.

Seth Godin had two blog posts that struck a chord. First, he lays out three thoughts on decision making. Learning about Wheeler’s Which was entirely worth the read. Second, education is the answer (join my related experiment).

I loved this simple post from Austin Kleon. I’ve started “It wasn’t for me” it when discussing books in particular, but it applies to anything.

Leadership is a skill. It’s one you need to work at. Here are 9 places you can learn about leadership for free. I’ll also add in the MicroMasters programs here. You can complete many (maybe all) for free if you don’t care about the verified certificate.