NSFW: Why bad meetings are like drinking piss from a golden goblet.

Actually this post is very suitable for work.

I would suggest you organise a meeting and read this together, then decide how you might stop your meetings from being things that suck your soul and will to live. How might you explore the unique opportunity of having so many interesting, talented and passionate people in the same space for some uninterrupted time?

Part of my work as an improvement partner involves facilitating conversations with many people about many different things and I see firsthand how turned off people are when the word ‘meeting’ is even whispered. I have devised an approach that works for me to help my clients be more effective with their use of meetings.

The Big Why?

So imagine for a minute that drinking piss is not your thing – instead perhaps an ice cold lager or a chilled Pinot Grigio is. Would that make the container it is served in any more or less valuable?

The wholesale condemnation of meetings as ineffective is the equivalent of throwing the golden goblet away because you got served a pint of piss.

You can be better than this – you can recognise that the container is not the problem. The problem lies with what it contained – and you can change that!

Meetings don’t kill, poorly designed meetings do.

A meeting is a container. It promises nothing more than that a group of people will get together for a specified period of time. It is an invitation to something that needs to be designed. It is up to the designer whether it is to a party, a wake or a hanging!

That problem with meetings is that they are open to design, yet most people who schedule them don’t recognise that they need to be designed to be effective.

Think about how you or anyone you know learnt how to create a meeting – if you even actually learned it. Who did you learn to invite, how did you learn to frame the conversation, did you learn how to facilitate or even learn what to do to bring it to a successful conclusion. What did you learn about following up?

I would hate meetings too if it was just getting a bunch of people whose expected contributions are unknown together to talk incessantly and without purpose – generating lots of volume and no substance and then leaving more dissatisfied than they arrived.

Improve your next meeting, now!

The first thing I need you to do is memorise this:

A meeting is a gathering of passionate people contributing meaningfully to a purposeful conversation about something valuable

Go on, say it a couple more times, perhaps cut and paste it into a big poster, print it and stick it up all around your office, email it to your friends and colleagues.

This is all you need to remember in order to design a better meeting.

Once you’ve memorised this, then break it down:


What is the aim of the conversation. If you don’t have one consider not having a meeting until you get one.

If you do have one- it helps to frame it as a question. Especially because it’s easier to know when you have answered it or what else you need to do in order to answer it.

Example:  “What can we do to avoid service disruption over the summer” vs “Summer Holiday cover”

Start the conversation by sharing the purpose and close it by exploring whether it has been answered and agreeing what happens next, when and by whom. Without the purpose, the next related conversations have no reference.


Remember the best conversation you ever participated in – what was that like?

Did you feel heard and understood? Perhaps you felt like you fully understood what the other people were saying and you listened to understand rather than simply hearing in order to formulate a reply?

Meetings are about conversation – even if your experience to date has not been that – and great conversations are about bringing your whole person to the experience. So put away your laptop, your mobile phone and engage your ears and everything in between.


Why should anyone come to this? What is in it for them?

If your answers are “because I told them to” and  “nothing”, then consider not having a meeting.

People can accept your invitation because of who you are, but they stay and participate because it is of value to them.

As the organiser of a meeting, think through what the value is for each person – what will they learn, what can they share. If you struggle to identify these for anyone, don’t invite them. You are competing for their time against everything else they could be doing, so make it worthwhile.

As a recipient of an invitation – don’t simply attend because you were invited, consider what you want to learn and what you can share that would make it valuable for you. Remember this is your time too.

I tend to make a list of my invitees and write one thing each for what they will learn and share from this meeting. If the meeting is a while in the future, I might actually test those assumptions by asking them directly.

Passionate people contributing meaningfully

You might argue that passion has no place in meetings, or even that meetings kill passion. This may be evidenced from your experience – but I promise you, it could be so much better.

Starting from the default position that the people invited to join in this purposeful conversation are passionate invites you and everyone else to collaborate on not wasting that passion.

If that means holding it in a bar or stood up around whiteboards or role play to get participants contributing as meaningfully as they possibly can , then that’s what you do.

If you are meeting the same group regularly – ask what helps them contribute more and what impairs their ability to fully participate and then design your meetings to do more of what works and less/none of what impairs.

Hey you didn’t say anything about timing

Everyone who talks about meetings talks about how they should be short because long meetings are boring. I don’t buy this.

I don’t buy it because I have been in meetings that have been 30 minutes long and I have deeply resented every moment I wasted. Conversely I have been in meetings that were 6 hours long and loved every minute of it.

If you design your meeting to be valuable to everyone who is invited, work in breaks every 10 minutes roughly, add in whatever you can to maximise the way people can contribute, focus on having a great conversation, be clear about the purpose and facilitate to realise it – then you really don’t need to be too fussed about time.

I generally like to use my learning from Open Space Technology – things are over when they are no longer useful. They are no longer useful personally when I stop learning or sharing, and they are no longer useful for a group when no one is learning or sharing. Then close it.

What do you think of meetings?

How do you make them more effective and enjoyable? I’d love to hear and share.

Please consider sharing this, you might just save a life!

Disclaimer: I have never knowingly drank piss.

Featured image by: Katie LipsCC BY 2.0

Try These 3 Ideas For More Successful Employment Interviews

Over the last 20 years I have participated in countless interviews – even conducted a few myself. But recently I have been thinking more deeply about what an interview really is about.


I think if you hire solely based on an interview, you deserve the inevitably painful experience you will get. I also think if you do not recognise that interviews are simply one part of a relationship that needs to have started before you sit with the interviewee, then you really should not be hiring anyone. For anything.

Also – if you use the words ‘resource’, ‘candidates’, ‘work for’ on a regular basis to seriously describe the invitation of people to help you with your need, then please consider getting someone else who doesn’t think this way to do your hiring on your behalf.

Mike’s advice: Use interviews only as part of a balanced approach to evaluating whether you want to start working with someone – not if they will be great forever. Consider try out periods as part of your approach and taking candidates to lunch to better understand them as people.

#1 Engage Before

If you have a person who – on paper at least – seems interesting enough to want to talk to further, then reach out to them. Don’t invite them to an interview. Invite them to lunch, if it is convenient. Or a phone call that is about their day. Invest some time to understand them , discover your shared interests and make that the subject of the conversation. Or simply ask them for help on a challenge you are facing right now – how might they advise you to proceed. Engage.

Why do this?

Because you are building a relationship – not buying a spanner.

Because interviews can be daunting and they really shouldn’t be and this anxiety rarely brings the best out of people.

Finally, because your goal isn’t only to fill a role but to find a collaborator.

#2 Collaborate During

When you see someone sitting opposite you, perhaps dressed in their sunday best, trying to be acceptable to you enough for you to give them a job, what actually is going through your mind? What is going through theirs?

What is often going to mine – when I have sat on both sides of the table is – “I wonder how we can figure out stuff together – stuff they need and I need and how we can be awesome together”.

When I go into interviews now, I’ve recently started using a variation of the Lean Coffee format,  I say:

We have limited time and to help us each get what we really want from this conversation, I’d like to invite you to share what your top 3 things you want to have learnt about me before this time ends. I also have my top 3 things I would like to know and I’ll add them to the list and we work from the top down on the most valuable things. Are you willing to do this with me?

Mostly they say “yes’ and that is what we do. When I’m providing information to them to answer their need, I regularly ask if I am helping them meet it or simply talking too much!

This is a form of collaboration and facilitation of a valuable time. It is valuable because it is short and each person wants to get some key assumptions validated. It doesn’t matter who does the facilitation but it is a great idea that it is the interviewer and much more important that it happens versus who does it.

Collaboration also means not making anyone look bad. So questions designed to ‘catch’ the other person out are simply ineffective as a means to test knowledge, much less passion.

#3 Engage After

This is probably the most under appreciated idea ever!

It seems everyone is so caught up in the interview, they throw everything they have at it and don’t think about what happens beyond the interview.

Yet many people – yes even very smart and passionate ones, need time to consider how something went and form opinions after the fact. Unless you are hiring for split second decision making like a fighter pilot – who ,incidentally, are mostly trained, not born – then make it easier for the interviewee to come back later. As an employer, learn to value that quality – contemplation – as a beautiful skill.

Many career advisers suggest that interviewees do the ‘polite’ thing and write an appreciation to the interviewer. This is a good idea too – but it persists the ‘work for’ culture that encourages people looking for employment to do all the gratitude.

So, however the interview went, engage after it with a simple email:

hi Mike, thanks for coming to our offices and chatting through your experiences and how you can help us with our current challenges and contribute to our growth plans. I hope we answered your questions, you certainly helped us with our assumptions.

Engaging after is wonderful because it achieves a number of great things.

First, it invites the interviewee to come back with ideas and insights that have come from contemplation and greater learning.

Secondly, it communicates that you are different sort of employer – one that cares about relationships and the wellbeing of the person.

Finally, it also provides a great opportunity to offer some feedback and invite some too. Remember this interviewee is a valuable and objective user of your organisation and will have experiences that can help you improve – at least on how you hire.

So always offer feedback:

Mike, I enjoyed the conversation, though for it to have been really valuable for me, I would have liked that you listened more and talked less.

And always invite feedback:

Mike,  as a personal favor, I wonder if you could share one thing that I could have improved to make our time more valuable and enjoyable for you.

This is often enough – if you have an idea of what happens next then share that. If nothing happens next because you have decided not to offer them a role, then say that also. But the relationship has been built and is healthy for where it is at.

Whatever you do. DO NOT SIMPLY GO SILENT.

Bonus: 3 Things That Might Happen If You Try These 3 Things

  1. You might have to spend more time than you are doing now to find the people you need. I haven’t done any deep research into this, but my circumstantial exploration says it isn’t actually that much more. But you will use that time differently. If you are too ‘busy’, then ask yourself whether you need to do less or get help to do it.
  2. You might have to think more deeply about what kind of people you want to work with – collectively as a group – before you venture out to find them.
    If you do not particularly know or care about collaboration then you might want to start there.
  3. You might, very likely,  do fewer interviews and be more successful with each one that you do. Now wouldn’t that be lovely. So in the end, the marginally higher investment in time delivers higher success rate, better quality of collaborators and stronger relationships.

What ideas do you find useful in improving the hiring experience. I would love to learn and share.  If you try these 3 ideas, I would be really happy to hear how they worked for you.

Please share this with others.

Featured image by: dennis crowleyCC BY 2.0

3 Things Recruiters Could Do to Deliver A More Valuable Service

Recently I have been looking for some paid work. Things are quiet on my own ventures, with my partners and previous clients and so, as part of my strategy, I hit my last resort – the open market.

And what I discovered scared me.

Before I carry on , this is where I’m coming from:

A recruiter has ONE job to do  – of all the things they think they are doing, only one really counts – building and nurturing relationships – all kinds of relationships but especially with hirers and with candidates. To help this relationship thrive they might specialise in a space and learn the lingo, join communities etc. But fundamentally when it comes to making the ‘sale’, it is the relationship above all else.

Anyway, the last time I had to resort to the open-market option was at least 5 years ago. So much has changed , and much of it for the worse.

I considered what the pain points of my experience were and I would like to share those in a positive way to help recruiters who care to improve. Also I want to help employers who use recruiters to get more value from the services they use.

Frankly the alternative would take me away from things I care more about – but if it didn’t I would build it and put every recruitment agency out of business, at least in the UK and at least in the tech sector.

FYI Employers –  you are possibly missing out on fantastic employees because the recruiters you engaged don’t know their ass from their elbows and don’t reply emails or pick up the phone to talk with them.

Rant over, here are the 3 top things recruiters could do differently.

#1 – Use Better Job Boards

Side rant:

I mean seriously, we have the internet and computing power that lets us unravel the secret of DNA and we have commercial space travel but we all mostly still find work via job boards? What the hell??

There are so many job boards out there. There are even job boards of job boards – that scrape or otherwise aggregate the jobs from other job boards into their platform.

It seems someone decided that blanketing the world with 3139 copies of each of the 9 jobs available was the way for reach. Really what it ends up doing is cluttering up the internet and increasing the amount of false positive emails recruiters get.

So, for goodness sake pick a job board that doesn’t scrape but has brilliant SEO so you can be found. Oh and pick one that shows how long the job ad has been active for – I wasted so much time on jobs that weren’t live anymore.

Whilst you are at it – don’t make me submit my CV and an application form through some weird site that I don’t really know who gets my details or makes me have to sign up to get to you. Simply show me your email and a phone number and lets get the relationship started.

#2 – Reply every email from an interested candidate within a day.Every one!

Remember the ONE job recruiters have to do? Well, imagine my horror when I emailed 5 recruiters in response to their job ads and not a single one replied me. Not a single one.

An email  – even a super short one – that said “I read your profile but …, sorry…” or “I read your profile, I think you’d be perfect, can we speak more between 3pm and 5pm tomorrow” – would suffice. No comms is bad comms.

Recruitment is a funny game. Recruiters are not paid for the search but for filling the roles. Recruiters are not paid by the person filling the role. So they essentially have two customers. The person who has the money and the person who has to be happy to take the role. In my experience of being the latter, the relationship is what swings it.

So if your customer sends you an email – do you simply refuse to acknowledge or respond to it – especially one that requests a reply or a phone call. What business runs like this? How might that work in a store? Would the store salesperson simply remain mute to every question you asked until you walked out of the store in exasperation? Hell no.

So every email that comes from a customer – you answer. In a timely and respectful way. If you are doing other things that prevent you from do this – do less.

#3 – Organise your day better so that you are available for a conversation

The number of recruiters that never seem to be at their desks to take a call is astounding – even at multiple times of the working day.

Again, actual communication is essential for the relationships on which recruitment is fundamentally based. Remember – you have ONE job to do.

If you won’t engage via email or take and return phone calls, how on earth are you building this relationship.

At least 3 recruiters seemed to be in meetings all day. If this were unavoidable, then return the calls later or pass the job on to a colleague to stop either the candidate of the employer from wasting their time.

It turns out lots of other people have the same frustrations with recruitment agents. At least in the UK and at least in the software sector.

I spoke with 18 people – both candidates and employers – who all have similar tales of their recent experiences. They have a lot more complaints including those that inspired the above.  Frustrations including very poor domain knowledge, misinformation, poor support in prepping for interviews, high commissions/fees, uncrupulous practices like luring people to submit CVs for phantom jobs.

Special Thanks

To Testing Circle, Aston Carter, Mortimer Spinks and MA Worldwide for inspiring the improvements in this post and for saving me and anyone I influence, the time of ever doing business with them.

Very special thanks to Thomas Walding at SquareOne for being the single black swan that saved the entire industry from being total crap.


If you are in the UK or use a UK based recruitment agency and you are not impressed with their conduct – you can request that they completely delete you from their systems so that no one can contact you or pimp your CV and they are obliged to comply under the Data Protection Act. Ask them to confirm they have done this.

I’d love to hear your tips for recruiters or even employers to improve how they recruit for their roles. It is time this whole experience was better. Help me.

Featured image By: aussiegallCC BY 2.0

'For' vs 'With' – usage on the web!

As I searched the web for images to use for my recent post on “I want to work with you, not for you”, I search google for “work for us” and for the term “work with us”.

In the end I chose to use a montage of website navigation text from the websites from the results of the respective searches:

Work For


I was not surprised by how many companies use this phrase. I do not know for sure how they think about work or whether they recognise that a ‘work for us’ mindset might inherently imply less empowerment. Clearly they get the candidates that are comfortable enough with that language and perhaps are suitably productive. I cannot help but wonder what would happen if they hired using differently.

Work With


From churches to bus companies, restaurants to emergency humanitarian organisations – I found many organisations using ‘work with’ to invite collaboration. I also found the language to be more collaborative than the ‘work for’ folk. Again I have no way of know if these organisations have pervasive cultures that are inherently more collaborative, less bureaucratic than the ‘work for’ folk.

A special mention

One of the most beautiful examples of ‘work with’ that I found was Equal Experts. Their message resonates with me so deeply, I thought I would give them a shout here. They seem to be a network of experts kind of business and perhaps that is why their message must be just so. I hope to have an interview with some of their experts and their CEO to get some insight into the culture to see how congruent it is with the messaging of ‘work with’.


Why I love this.

It is collaborative – ‘work with us’

It focuses on the relationship not the transaction – the job.

It is human – “let’s make time for a chat” – not ‘click this button to apply’ or ‘send your CV to:’

What is your organisation’s messaging on this? Is the internal culture congruent with its messaging?

I want to work with you, not for you.

What does ‘working for someone’ mean to me.

To me, it means a transaction of employment – between an employer, who pays you for X – and the employee who provides the X.

To me , it means almost all the power in the hands of the employer and almost none in the hands of the employee.

To me, it means employment as a gift to the employee – and seen by the employee as such. An idea that has been seeded by successive generations of parents into their children and nurtured by governments – keen to shift numbers off lists

To me, ‘working for someone’  is littered with double standards. When things work, it was the ‘someone’s’ idea and their process that succeeded, but when they don’t it was the employee that screwed up.

It is the reason – I believe – that so many people hate work and see it simply as a means to an economic end.

To me, it is top down and chain of command structures and hierarchy, everyone having a boss and a pyramid of egos and arses trying to cover themselves.

“Working for someone” is about stuff that makes no sense but has sensible people accepting it as ‘that’s how things are done around here’.
It is ‘keep your head down and you might just make it through’.

To me, ‘working for someone’ is much more than a contractual transaction, it is a mindset of many employers and ’employees’. So much so that even when open collaboration and flatter structures are offered, employees – like Seligman’s dog – continue their learned helplessness.

Why I prefer “working with someone”

Because it is centered on mutual respect and shared destiny – we recognise we are in this together.

Because risk is shared and so is reward.

Because ‘working with someone’ recognises that all work and all economic activity involving more than one person is fundamentally a partnership.

Because we give ourselves the best chance to create something so amazing, neither of us could have individually created it by ourselves.

Because it is flat even as our contract means you pay my wages.

Because people who love ‘working with’ other people are actually pretty awesome to work with (and even work for!)

So, what do these terms mean to you and which do you prefer?



Pretend you didn't know me, how would you respond?

If this arrived in your inbox in response to a ‘job’ ad, how would you respond – if you even bothered to?


I’m Mike and I was exploring the interwebs and found a job you posted on [oops] – which sucks because it doesn’t say when you posted the job – so I don’t know whether you still have the need.

Anyway, I’d like to talk to a real life human about what you need and how I might help. From your ad, you say ‘CTO’ and I hear ‘partner to change how the passionate people find passionate work…and who can code’ – and that excites me.

I don’t generally do CVs. But you can check me out at
twitter: @mhsutton
linkedIn: http://es.linkedin.com/in/mikesutton/
my blog: http://mhsutton.me

Over the last 20 years as a maker of things, I’ve…
… led the building of this: Some cool site (and [another cool app])
… helped rescue and scale this: [Awesome service]
… (and oh yeah, I used to build defence software too – so hush hush).

Right now, I’m building this: [Something I’m working on now]
and I recently mothballed this: [something I used to work on]

When I’m not doing this: [My current thing]
I dabble on these: [a dabble] and [another dabble] (it’s a little slow – there’s a lot of data crunching going on).

I’ve made things with many languages – some which are technically extinct now. But I currently mostly play with web things and craft in Ruby, Node.js. Though I use what I need to make what I want.

I play nicely with others and help others do the same.

If this sounds like something you want to hear more about – then lets get a conversation started and you can tell your story, I can tell you mine and we can explore how we might tell a new story. I’m free anytime next week to explore.

ps. If I hear nothing by Monday, I’ll assume any/all of the following
a) you’re too busy to care
b) totally uninterested in our future awesomeness
c) or battling a tummy bug so bad you can’t type a reply.
… In any case, I’ll thank you for reading, wish you well and move on. No worries.


I have recently been experimenting with self-selective content that is designed to appeal to exactly the kind of people I want to work and collaborate with.
Would be interested in whether you think this does that.

Thanks for reading.

Featured Image By: Pedro Ribeiro SimõesCC BY 2.0

#Startups, do you have a solution looking for a problem?

I’m having a wonderful time being helpful on SoHelpful.me.

So many different people – with amazing stories – reaching out to and trusting a complete stranger to help them via experience, learning and a diverse perspective.

Recently I met with Greg – a super smart engineer with a really interesting invention who sought to understand how to turn customer interviews into an investment pitch. After a few minutes of conversation and hearing about where he is at with his startup work, I concluded that he has a different and more pressing problem.

He has a solution looking for a problem.

If you use Lean Startup or Steve Blank’s Customer Development approach, you’ll probably be doing it the other way round.

With Customer Development , we find and validate a problem that people have and try and solve it for them. It is a very successful strategy that delivers learning, risk reduction and human connection in a neat little package. But that is not the only way to build a startup. Sometimes – especially if you are a maker – you go ahead and make something and then try and figure out who might use it.

Solutions are always from a problem

I can’t think of anything that is devised as a solution that wasn’t problem driven. It might be a problem you have or one that is well publicised that many people have. It might be real or imagined. The problem might exist today or might be a logical future result of how things are evolving in the present. But solutions mostly always stem from a problem.

What we do in Lean Startup and Customer Development is – through experiments – tests the assumptions we make about the problems.

Work backwards, look for assumptions

As the conversation progressed with Greg, it was clear to both of us that he had built something for his own very specific problem and was now trying to sell it to the wider world. Almost all of the interviews he had were about markets and how to access them. Almost none were about a problem someone had. Even in established markets where you think you have a Unique Selling Point – USP – you are better off validating that your USP is both unique and a selling point – with actual people.

So to help Greg understand his situation better, I asked him to tell me how he thought his product might be used. This is a great technique – tell a story of who uses and how they might use it.

Well, the person that uses this might have a need for this much output and they may want to use that much storage and my product gives them that flexibility

Stop. Rewind.  We just found three assumptions.

  1. “They might need this much output”,
  2. “They might need that much storage” and
  3. They value the flexibility.

This gives Greg something to start better customer development – he can take a few steps back and design experiments to test those assumptions.

As he designs his experiment, he can explore where to find people who use similar products or are trying to address the problem but with similar products. Once he’s found them, he can start conversations with them – not about his product – but about his understanding of the problem. Those conversations will inevitably lead to other learning and new assumptions and we continue doing experiments until we have enough validated information to do the next thing.

The moral of the story is…

The fact that you have a product does not mean it is marketable. It means you got over enthusiastic and built something that was scratching your own itch – nothing wrong with that – or you simply wanted to do something fun and interesting – definitely nothing wrong with that!

But reality check yourself. Sure it was fun and it probably was perfect for your problem but unless you establish product-market fit, it is almost certainly not marketable as it stands.

A really straightforward way to determine product-market fit is to turn it into a problem-solution question. Once you positively answer this question with actual data, then the next thing is to determine whether the problem is perceived enough to have people pay money for the solution. Then you have a marketable product. Then you can go try and seek investment and all the other things the cool kids do.

Are you stuck with your startup? Do you have a product that you are struggling to find market fit for? I don’t have any answers, just a difference set of experiences and perspectives through which we might together find answers in. Check me out on http://sohelpful.me/mikesutton and lets get a conversation started.


Featured Image By: Eva CristescuCC BY 2.0

Fab.com: It is a fucking startup and…

I read the post that Fab.com’s CEO – Jason Goldberg – published on his Tumblr site and I sought and failed to find a way to comment directly on the post. From what I could tell, people can only repost – not comment – on posts on Tumblr?

Anyway, as I read what seemed to be a very open and honest update on where the CEO of Fab.com thinks their restructuring is at right now, I have very mixed feelings about a lot of what Jason says and how he says it. Given I have no inside info on how Fab works internally, I can only surmise from the CEO’s words.

Here is what I would have said and some of the questions I would have asked had I been able to comment on the tumblr post:

Yes – you are a fucking startup, again! At some point you had it all going for you – the billion dollar valuation, the love and adoration of the media – everything. Do you have all the perspectives of what went wrong? What lessons did you learn? How do you apply that learning. If you are restricting your learning to your management team – I can almost guarantee this will not be the last time you taste the humbling effect of demotion to a startup from thriving business.

Yes, you had experienced huge layoffs and are battered and bruised from it – but how did you grieve? How did your colleagues grieve? As ‘leader’ how did you facilitate the support of others? Loss is a huge driver of behaviour and we all think we know how it works because, hell, it is part of life. Even now as you rally troops – do you know how the loss of colleagues and a dream affects those whom you rally?

Yes – you are a fucking startup and startups are hard, so why are you making it harder by still ‘assembling and managing the right people’. Of all the times to grasp a different way of leadership – this is it. You alone don’t have all the answers, not even the ‘right’ people you might have hired. Yet you are lucky to have a lot of good – yes bruised and battered – people and you all together have more of the answers. The question is how do you have the conversations that you need to have and how will you help harness and unleash their awesomeness on your turnaround?

Yes, you are a fucking startup and you are ready for war. You say this is ‘wartime’. People die in war and almost all who escape death are left with wounds that never heal. People also kill in war. Who or what are your enemies? Is that really the analogy you want? If you choose to stick with ‘war’ then remember that the skills to win a war are not the skills to thrive in peace. Ask countless guerilla leaders from Alexander the Great to Robert Mugabe. Do you have the skills to recognise and lead in ‘peace’ – whatever that means in your context? Finally remember that most great guerilla leaders tend to turn peace into war in order for them to ‘manage’ effectively.

Yes, you are a startup – or at least you want something from that culture. From what I can surmise, you want the ‘right’ people to be committed and to work tirelessly, remaining focused. How do you intend to help them do that? Can you have the benefits of that culture without having the challenges from which that culture emerges? Can you have the challenges in a ‘turnaround’?

Yes, you are a fucking startup and no, brutal honesty is not part of my experience of a startup. Honesty without the brutality is. Is a company where honesty is violent really what you want? Where is the violence in your organisation, how can you find it and neutralise it or- better still – channel it into something positive. I can guarantee you do not need the violence that words like ‘brutal’ encourage in your re-imagined company.

Yes, you are a fucking startup – and in every single startup I have seen and met, there is uncertainty and fear. There is also Joy – some times pure and unbounded Joy. Of making and being with other dreamers, the Joy of making a ‘ding’ in the world. Or simply the Joy of Whatever. Where is the Joy in Fab.com and how do you hope to nurture it, how do you find it, amplify and make it the single reason for being. The thing that makes all challenges seem achievable.

Finally, yes – you are a fucking startup. But actually wait, no, you are not.
You are a deeply broken business company. A startup is not 750 people or even 300 – it is small, it is nimble and it pivots without mass nausea. A startup is not valued at $1 billion while raising $150 million. That is a business, not a startup. A startup is people being pretty equal and pretty fluid – doing what needs to be done. More importantly, a startup is searching for its model. Fab.com is not. You had a model – probably one that is still viable.

I think you are searching for your soul and that needs a different set of skills to find. Do you have them? How can you find them and how can you spread them to everyone still left in your company?

Jason – I work with broken companies and I can help with yours. You seem a pretty decent dude, who has peeked into the abyss and is doing something to find and retrieve the soul of his company back from the darkness. I would be happy to help. Email, tweet or call me and let’s have the conversation.

How does your company address its organisational history? I'm doing research and would like to learn from you. Pls Share

Hey, I need help!

I’m researching how companies address their organisational history?  Specifically I want to understand:

  1. How important do companies consider organisational history to be?
  2. What aspects do companies consider least to most valuable?
  3. What problems do companies repeatedly experience?
  4. How do companies practically address organisational history?
  5. What might a company learn from its organisational?
  6. How rich does a company’s organisation history have to be to be valuable?

Rather than a survey I would like to conduct short – < 30 minute – interviews with interested C-level management via Skype, Hangouts or phone.

If you can help with my research I would really appreciate your time. Please drop me a note via the contact form and I’ll get in touch to set something up.

[contact-form to=’[email protected]’ subject=’I would like to help your research’][contact-field label=’Name’ type=’name’ required=’1’/][contact-field label=’Email’ type=’email’ required=’1’/][contact-field label=’Company’ type=’text’/][contact-field label=’Best time to chat. Skype or other?’ type=’textarea’ required=’1’/][contact-field label=’Website’ type=’url’/][/contact-form]

Open Source Learning

Everything that I learn from this research will be freely available to help both the participants in the research and the wider world of work.

Please share this wide and far. Thanks

Featured Image By: Kathleen Tyler ConklinCC BY 2.0

What Happens Next: Introducing The Improvement Partnership

Following my successful and very insightful 6-week free remote coaching experiment, I am delighted to introduce a new service that is primarily designed for passionate companies who are committed to getting incrementally better – whatever better means for them – and who have tired of the buzzword bingo that is costly and generally ineffectively applied.

Please show some love for my service: The Improvement Partnership.

The Improvement Partnership is about creating partnerships amongst willing participants within companies and teams and with me, with the single purpose of helping them build incrementally better versions of themselves.

In this partnership model, people participate because they care, have been invited open-heartedly and are respected vs they are made to do it by their managers or pressured by their peers and reviewed by how well they do (or don’t).

What Problems Does The Improvement Partnership Address?

  1. Many businesses are clambering to do agile, Scrum etc. Unfortunately their mission becomes doing the thing versus solving their fundamental problems. This is further compounded by overhyped training offering misleading certifications. They spend the money, but remain unhelped.
  2. Coercion and violence in organisations that seek to improve themselves. Traditional management structures promote mandated processes and imposed help.
  3. High cost of hiring consultants to do the work that is both most appropriately and most sustainably done by employees – who are usually the ones who are feeling the pain.
  4. The broad brush implementations of frameworks that are peddled, regardless of what the actual problems are.
  5. The lack of accessible, experienced, empathic and independent help to support improvement work in many companies.
  6. Current alternatives are hugely disruptive and create even more pressure in an already pressurised system of tight deadlines and tension.

How it Works

Organisation as a Product

My newly designed framing metaphor is to imagine the Organisation as a Product.

We now know a huge amount about building software and products well and I want to apply that learning back to human systems. The metaphor is a good one and has limits  – as all metaphors do.

So I ask you:

If your company/team was a product, who would be its customers and users, what value does it generate for them? What are its current known ‘bugs’ and what are its capabilities/features.

What would its next and better version be like? What bugs would be fixed, what new/different value would it offer and what capabilities would it provide?

My Approach

I work with a 4 step approach to partnership – you can read more about it on the site, but briefly it is:

Make the Invitation – Version the Organisation, NOW and NEXT – Build towards NEXT – Review, Reflect and Adapt.

There is no magic to this, there is only passionate people working in partnership and overcoming anything , together. Maybe that is the magic.

Remote Partnering

Making the Invitation and Versioning the Organisation will be done face to face with clients and is achieved in the TIPStart workshop – a 2 day deep exploration onsite workshop that is held with everyone interested in participating.

It is here that the fundamentals of human collaboration will be established, where we set the shared purpose, explore shared values and create the strong relationships that will help down the line.

The TIPStart is the starting point for every client partnership and it where we emerge what work we need to build and assemble volunteer working groups to own the work.

Then we all go home and start collaborating remotely as partners, establishing optimal cadences to collaborate in working groups; and reviewing collectively as we work.

Fundamentally we work from the problems that people are experiencing and the capabilities they want to build. The solutions will emerge.

I help by bringing my passion , 20+ years of distilled learning, knowledge, experience and networks to help my partners find solutions that work for them. I help by facilitating, mentoring, coaching, pairing on research or code, training and anything else that offers value to my clients’ reaching the NEXT version. It may be agile or a something based on a combination of many different practices and techniques. It will almost never be the stock Scrum, Kanban or SAFe. (I say almost because of the theoretical possibility that it is never ‘never’!!).

Warning: What I Offer Is Not For Everyone

My aim in partnership is to help maximise Joy and Effectiveness for all participants and my client partners. My style supports that and is based on a fundamental belief in the equality of all humans regardless of rank or experience any other factor. Some individuals might not share that view. That is OK – I just won’t work with them.

There are many – I worked with 4 in my experiment – who will and I’m betting there are many more.

I Need Your Help

It would be hugely valuable to me if you would be willing to help me test my message on the site.

  • How does the site flow?
  • What do you understand the value to be?
  • How do you feel when you explore the site?
  • If you work in any of the roles in the ‘Who I Help’ section? How well does it resonate with you?
  • What do you think I need to focus more/less/none on?

Please send feedback via email: me[at]mhsutton.me

Finally, I would love if you would consider sharing The Improvement Partnership.
I really am as good as they say and you could be helping someone you care about out by tweeting about it, sharing via email or blogging about it.