The Expectation of 100%

It’s 4:36am. I’ve been awake for an hour, stumbling through email and catching up on reading. G and I flew back from London two nights ago, and although I slept great last night, I crashed at 10pm tonight and only managed 6 hours before the jetlag kicked in.

Casey, who runs the inbound engineering team at Moz, and I had an interesting conversation before I left (note: this is from jetlagged, 4am memory, so hopefully I’m capturing the spirit if not the right words):

Casey: Why are you out of the office so much?

Me: Same reasons as always – lots of brand building and making connections, some direct marketing value, some serendipity

Casey: You know, when you’re in a meeting, things get done faster and more efficiently. There’s less discussion and more action.

Me: I know. I’m sorry. But in some ways, that’s how it has to be. The company’s getting bigger. I can’t be in all the meetings and we need to find ways to scale that don’t require my presence or input. And we’ve been doing pretty well so far.

The funny part is, I’ve actually been in Seattle much more this year than in years past (spent 20/78 days so far in 2013 on the road). I’ve been intentionally limiting my travel schedule to do more Moz stuff at home. But Casey’s right. I’m trying to get out of the weeds and out of the tactical day-to-day decisions and focus on other stuff. It’s pretty different from 3-4 years ago when a few of us would get in a room, hammer out a plan, and then go do it (though, if we’re being honest, the past had plenty of inefficiencies, too).

But even when I’m home, I’m out of the office a lot. My biggest responsibility and largest time consumer these days is 1:1s. I sit down with a ton of Mozzers (there’s 120 of us now) and try to get a sense for their happiness, their job responsibilities, where (and whether) they feel like they’re making a positive contribution. Then I take a lot of that data and bring it back to the company level – working on team structures, policies, processes, and hiring that will help.

The days are filled with context switching that, on reflection, even I find crazy. Yesterday’s a good example:

  • Get up at 7am (thanks to jetlag) and plow through email, then do lots of sharing & interaction catch-up on Twitter. Feel guilty (as usual) for not being able to get a blog post up in so long.
  • Walk to the office at 9:35am and arrive barely in time for my first marketing stand-up (a 15-minute block where folks on the team give a brief shout-out to the projects they’re working on). I’m trying to spend more personal time with our marketing team due to some internal changes & challenges. That will probably continue for a couple months and then I’ll back out and maybe dive in with another group. Last year it was a lot of time with the Mozscape team, and early this year it was with the Fresh Web Explorer team.
  • Run over to Cafe Ladro for a coffee with a potential candidate.
  • Dash to lunch with Joanna at Lola to chat about marketing projects.
  • 1:1 with Adam, our head of product, that’s cut short by my tardiness.
  • Call with a VC firm that wants to invest, but we’re not looking to raise a round and I say as much. It’s interesting to hear the things that matter to them, and good to maintain these sorts of relationships. Who knows what the future will bring (though I have my fingers crossed we won’t need to raise another round).
  • 1:1 with Jon, a new addition to our product team who’s taking over some long neglected projects (like the poor Mozbar). We have an awesome chat, and he tells me that his first few weeks here have been amazing. I’m thrilled, but tell him that we have to stay vigilant. Moz isn’t going to be a great company to work for if we start letting little things slide, so I want him to tell me (or Samantha – his manager) if he’s seeing anything here that feels broken or needs help. That gets onto a chat about his last company, where disciplined use of agile methodology saw a great return in speed of deployment on engineering & product teams. Later, I’ll bring that feedback to Anthony (our CTO) who’s working on process across engineering (to be honest, he’s done a remarkable job and shit is shipping, but it’s good to stay on our toes).
  • Meet with Marissa, a longtime friend whom I’ve been trying to get on our team for forever. She’s remarkably talented and experienced, but her background (primarily in the non-profit sector) is tough to match up with existing open roles. I’m hopeful we’ll find something, though. That reminds me, I need to email Emmi, one of our recruiters, who also met with Marissa (be right back).
  • Meet with a former Mozzer whom we somehow missed exit interviewing. We chat for a bit about the positive and negative experiences she had here. Some of it’s tough to hear, but I want to know all the feelings and experiences people have here – it’s the only way to improve.
  • Chat with the eteam for an hour about the big issues facing us. We’ve overhired against budget, and way overspent on contractors in order to help us launch a big project that’s due for end of April. Thankfully, we’ve got a nice balance sheet, but we need to slow down adding new people to the team until we see how Spring goes from a revenue growth perspective. We also have a few team issues to talk through and I try to bring my experiences with internal and external folks to everyone for consideration and discussion.
  • We end slightly late, but it works out. Geraldine’s driven down to the office so we can attend a dinner in honor of the team that launched Fresh Web Explorer. It was a really hard project – probably worthy of its own blog post – but long story short, the first version was tested and planned for release in December, and feature creep + lots of technical challenges pushed it back many times. Seeing the adoption and value it’s providing to our subscribers, though, it was all worth it.
  • We get home at 8:30pm and are both exhausted. We head to our computers, finish answering the most important emails, and then hit the hay. Tomorrow (now today), I have an equally demanding, context-switching day and a public speaking event in the evening. I’m pretty sure there’ll be some bags under my eyes for that one.

I don’t share this to complain or to seek sympathy. I love my job. LOVE. I feel like I must be among the 0.001% of the luckiest people on this planet. So many people who work in technology and marketing don’t get to control their own destiny or make the impact they want, but I think I have that opportunity.

This job is hard. It’s hard because it requires so much discipline, care, time, emotional energy, and the ability to jump way down into the details and way back up into the big vision/long view. It’s hard because there’s so much knowledge I need to have to be effective and uncovering it can be time-consuming and sometimes scary. It’s hard because the obligations and pressure, both internal and external, are so high. It’s hard because I fuck up a lot, and it’s my first time doing this, and every day this team is the largest team I’ve ever run, and every month it’s the most revenue and costs I’ve ever had in a budget, and every 6 months it feels like an entirely new set of responsbilities and challenges.

I think a lot of what I feel right now is something I talked about with Hillari, who manages team happy, a few weeks back. I’ll try to illustrate:

expectation-of-100

Hillari worries about pleasing 100% of the people 100% of the time. And she’s in charge of events, meals, office equipment, seating charts, and a thousand other things that are designed to make Moz a comfortable, wonderful work environment. But sometimes, someone isn’t going to be happy. They wanted to sit by a window and one wasn’t available. They wanted the gluten-free soy snack and we ran out. They thought the beverage selection at the venue for the last all-hands was too limited. All of this is natural, normal, and OK. But poor Hillari sweats every detail. That’s part of what makes her so incredible at her job, but it also means a lot of undeserved emotional strife.

So, as Hillari and I were talking, I referenced Amy & Brad’s book, Startup Life:

…we reserve one day a month, for a special dinner we call “Life Dinner.”

On the first day of every month, we go out to a dinner. It’s not “date night” (we have plenty of those). Instead, it’s a spcial celebration of being alive. It’s a chance to reflect on the past month and talk about what’s coming up in the next month, an opportunity to give each other a “non-Hallmark-promoted-holiday” gift, which we manage to do most months…

… We have been doing this for 12 years. We miss one or two a year. That’s okay as it’s part of our fail 12.5 percent of the time rule (Brad gets to blow it one out of eight times).

I love Brad & Amy’s intelligent setting of expectations. A built-in, expected rate of failure is so damn smart, and so essential, too. Imagine the guilt of missing a life dinner with your romantic partner. It could be overwhelming and the catalyst for huge fights and a lot of pain. Unless… you’ve got a built-in failure rate. I shared that with Hillari, and we talked about the difference between striving for 100% and expecting 100%, and why the former’s so valuable and the latter so harmful.

I don’t know whether it helped Hillari to have that concept, but it’s something I believe in, and something I’m working to internalize.¬†And even though I know it’s OK to mess up now and again, even though I’m coaching other people about how it’s OK to target 90% instead of 100, I still feel this great weight on my shoulders to get everything right.

I need to step back, take a deep breath, acknowledge that even though the job is hard, the company is in a good place, and hitting 90% is pretty good.