Sales Kick Offs in a Post-Pandemic World

Sales Kick Offs in a Post-Pandemic World

Every year, January and February is the time when companies organize Sales Kick Off (SKO) events. The name of such event may varies but the idea is always the same. Bring together people from different regions and different functions and deliver key messages of the year to them. Typically, it is 2-3 days packed with PowerPoints during a day and socializing during a night.

Two years of limited travels and COVID pandemic forced to make those events fully virtual. And it does look like that many companies are going to continue with hybrid format for SKOs. First of all, when you saved all this travel budget during the last couple of years, it is very uncomfortable to start spending the money again.

So, how can we make SKOs in a post-pandemic world more efficient? Below are my some ideas and examples from successful and that much events.

Pre-recording of keynote sessions

Keynote sessions are designed in a way where information flows only in one direction. Hence, the key messages for the year may not be live streamed. They can be pre-recorded and then streamed in different timezones. Ideally, every keynote session should come with a transcript distributed to an audience before or after the session.

Watching parties

If some sessions should be live streamed it makes sense to organize watching parties with pizzas and drink. Especially, it works well for EMEA region people for whom US-West or US-East based events are outside of business hours. It is also simply more fun.

Top priorities 30 seconds pitches

Every team or organization has 30 seconds to present their top priorities for the year. In my experience, this does not work well. It is difficult to maintain timing and people will not be able to remember anything anyway. Online collaboration board, like Miro, where everybody can add their pitches would work better.

TED Talk-sized demos and presentations

For a fully virtual event, reduce demo and presentations length to 15-20 minutes maximum. Increase number of demos and presentations instead. Limited attention span is real. So, if you want the audience not only just listen through but actually pay attention, then SKO sessions should be short. Another advantage is that there is a higher probability that people will watch a short content after it is published.

Gamification

Let the audience acquire virtual coins for an every video they watched or a quiz they passed. Make companies swag purchasable for these SKO virtual coins. Any element of a game will make a virtual event easier to consume and help people to keep concentrated.

Capstone project for regional teams

Create an assignment that every regional team of sales reps should deliver in the end of SKO. For example, produce an essay about how they understood the strategy or how they are going to implement new ways of working introduce during the Sales Kick Off. If you need to produce some output, then you will pay more attention.

So, these are my thoughts what can be improved for virtual SKOs. Post in the comment section your ideas!


Nudge: The Final Edition

Nudge: The Final Edition by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein

Humans decision making process was always fascinating me. Why do we choose what we choose? How much rationality and how much emotions are involved in this process? Behavioral economics is a science that tries to answer on these questions and Daniel Kahneman won a Nobel Prize in Economics Science for his research in this area.

The authors of “Nudge” have taken the next step and tried to apply the same scientific findings to build more efficient decision making mechanisms. They called it “choice architecture”.

Humans are extremely biased and are not following the most rational behavior as economic theories suggest. I.e. in many circumstances our immediate choices are not aligned with our own long term goals. Hence, people have to be “nudged” into a proper direction.

This create an ethical dilemma – how much of a “nudge” should be allowed and/or built into “choice architecture” not to be considered as exploitation? The authors introduce methodology they call “paternalistic libertarianism”. In short, it means to build decision making mechanism in a such way to protect freedom of choice. But help people to make the most efficient decision at the same time.

The book provides a number of examples from different areas of our modern society – pension system, organ donation, money savings and etc. The authors analyze biases that may impact humans behavior and propose recommendations for “choice architects” how to improve the system.

The most interesting example from my perspective is the analysis of Swedish pension system and how people behavior has changed over the last 20 years after original pension reform. The story proves one more time that “nudge” is required. Otherwise, people just fail to take an action on time.

Overall, the book provides good overview of how to incorporate nudges and shares interesting examples of actual implementations. But, many things in the book are outdated and too well known today. My recommendation is to read Thinking Fast and Slow instead.


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2023 Reading List

Let’s summarize how 2022 looked from reading perspective.

Thanks to GoodReads I have some data – I was able to finish 15 books with 5198 pages in total. I think it is a pretty good result.

For 2023 I have selected books below and tried to cover following themes:

  • Public Speaking skills improvement
  • People management and leadership
  • Emotional intelligence
  • Historical non-fiction

Leadership and new skills

  1. Concentration: Maintain Laser Sharp Focus and Attention
  2. The Promises of Giants
  3. The Art of Public Speaking: The Original Tool for Improving Public Oration
  4. Talk Like TED: The 9 Public-Speaking Secrets of the World’s Top Minds
  5. Rebel Ideas: The Power of Diverse Thinking
  6. Advanced Grammar in Use with Answers
  7. Emotional First Aid: Healing Rejection, Guilt, Failure, and Other Everyday Hurts
  8. First Break All The Rules
  9. Why We Sleep: The New Science of Sleep and Dreams
  10. Pre-Suasion: A Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade
  11. The 48 Laws of Power
  12. Loneliness: Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection

Non-Fiction

  1. Inferno: The World at War, 1939-1945
  2. Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity and Poverty
  3. The Proud Tower: A Portrait of the World Before the War, 1890-1914
HBR's Must Reads

Book Review: HBRs 10 Must Reads on AI, Analytics and the New Machine Age

Only after I pressed “purchase” button, I have realized that this book has been published back in 2018. Feels like ages ago. But it was really interesting to see what authors’ predictions came to reality and what are still just concepts. Many new cool technologies from 2018 did not cross the chasm.

This was the first HBR’s Must Reads book I finished in my life and there are several pros and cons with such format. First of all, different authors have different writing styles and it is a bit confusing for a reader, especially, because quality of writing varies as well. Second, writers are seemed to be aware of very short attention span of readers and try to pack as many ideas as possible and trim the text. It works, but it leaves a reader with a lot of unpacked thoughts.

Out of ten articles the most interesting ones were “Marketing in the Age of Alexa” , “Collaborative Intelligence” and “When Your Boss Wears Metal Pants”. All these articles provide analysis how humans will collaborate with AI in various workplaces and businesses. While we don’t see such collaboration in full yet, there are clear indications of this trend. The breakthrough will happen at that moment, when AI will be considered part of the team and will be participating in tasks assignments on par with humans. The article “When Your Boss Wears Metal Pants” gives overview of some experiments and researches how humans will behave in such situations. The results were quite surprising for me.

There are a lot of predictions that did not become a reality. For example, we don’t see massive usage of commercial drones, while there is a clear use case for them as a weapon. Marketing organizations did not change their objects from humans to AI Assistances and, overall, AI Assistances are very far from the point where we can delegate to them complex tasks and rely on their decisions to make purchases on humans behalf.

Several articles touched how business is and will use AR and AI/ML (like, Stitch Fix) and it is funny to realize that from a consumer perspective you may not know that a product or a service value was generated for you by Artificial Intelligence. As a technologist, I am aware that infusion of AI/ML capabilities into apps and tech products happening on a massive scale, but it is rarely visible for an end user. So, those predictions from 2018 became true 100%.

Overall, this book is 4 out 5. It has several interesting ideas, but they are worth only if you want to learn what was a trail of thoughts in 2018.

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Leadership on the Line

Book Review: Leadership On The Line by R. Heifetz and M. Linsky

There would be no need for leadership, if all challenges were technical. But, luckily, not all challenges are technical. A lot of them are adaptive and they require people to learn new ways and cannot be fixed by applying current know-how. This idea is pretty simple, but opens an interesting discussion that authors of the book are following through.

Indeed, the change is always associated with a danger. And for those who are in leadership position it is vitally important to stay alive going and leading through the change. In the first part of the book, the authors describe what dangers of the leadership are and what forms they take. The most interesting idea in this part of the book for me was about loyalties.

When you ask people to change and adopt something new, you ask them to abandon their existing loyalties at the same time. And a lot of people are reluctant to do that. Our society values consistency in the one behavior. On top of that, there is a natural loss avoidance that is hardwired into humans. So, if the change is associated with some losses, adoption of new values and etc., people will resist.

And their resistance will be most probably convert into attack on those who are driving and impersonalizing the change. Hence, you are on the line if you hold a leadership position. For me it translates into a simple fact – there is nothing personal, it is just a natural reaction.

The second part of the book focuses on how to respond to dangers of leadership. The authors provide many examples and advices that are highly relevant for leadership in large organizations. This part is highly valuable as it gives practical advices how to lead through the change and how to orchestrate conflict to make people actually change their behavior.

In the last part of the book authors reflect on how keep yourself in line and how to anchor yourself. And this was also an interesting topic for me. People around interact not with me, but with the role that I represent. Hence, I need constantly remind myself to distinguish me from the role. If tomorrow my role will change, all associated with it importance and limelight will be gone.

Overall, 5 out of 5. There are a lot of new ideas that I found in the book together with practical advices.

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Amazon Bar Raiser

Amazon Bar Raiser

With this post I want to celebrate a personal achievement and important milestone in my career. After passing extensive training program, I have become Amazon Bar Raiser!

Since the day I had my interview at Amazon back in January 2020,  I was amazed by Amazon hiring process and when I started interviewing myself and learnt more about how to Make Great Hiring Decisions and the role of Bar Raiser, I knew that I want to become a BR myself.

So, now I will do my best to keep raising the bar, support my peers in different Amazon organizations and continue do what I enjoy – meet diverse candidates, learn about them and help Hiring Managers.

The formal definition of Amazon Bar Raiser goes as following:

A Bar Raiser is an interviewer at Amazon who is brought into the hiring process to be an objective third party. By bringing in somebody who’s not associated with the team, the best long-term hiring decisions are made and we can ensure that the company is always serving, surprising, and innovating for customers. The role of the Bar Raiser is to be a steward of Amazon’s 16 Leadership Principles.

https://www.aboutamazon.eu/news/working-at-amazon/what-is-a-bar-raiser-at-amazon

I want to share some of insights that I got during my Bar Raiser In Training program.

  • Some candidates eager to know who is a Bar Raiser at their interview. This is partially a natural curiosity but in the reality, this information does not matter much for the interview outcome. The candidate is being assessed holistically and exceptionally good interview with a Bar Raiser will not outweigh issues with other interviewers
  • Authenticity matters a lot. It is very clear when a candidate is trying to pretend and when their stories are not aligned with how they possess themselves. So, instead of trying to act like some other person, concentrate on quality of the stories.
  • While subjectively a candidate may think that the situation they are describing is complex, it may no be true. So, think in advance – Are your examples, actually complex and not everybody would be able to achieve results you were able to achieve?

Check out my other post Amazon interviews “Yes, but…” insights


New Power

Book Review: New Power by Jeremy Heimans and Henry Timms

New Power was written in 2017, but today it is even more actual than ever. It is clear that power – the ability to produce intended effects – can be obtained via different strategies. The modern technologies made possible to create the new strategies built on new principles. Crowdfunding, participation, shared responsibility – this is new power.

Old power works like a currency. It is held by few. Once gained, it is jealously guarded, and the powerful have a substantial store of it to spend. It is closed, inaccessible, and leader-driven. It downloads, and it captures.

New power operates differently, like a current. It is made by many. It is open, participatory, and peer-driven. It uploads, and it distributes. Like water or electricity, it’s most forceful when it surges. The goal with new power is not to hoard it but to channel it.

Heimans, Jeremy; Timms, Henry. New Power (p. 2)

The book analyzes multiple organizations, social movements and companies that use new power to achieve various results and solve different challenges. Create social movement (GetUP in Australia), spread ideas on scale (TED), rally people for the political campaign (Barack Obama) or get funding (BrewDog). It is very interesting to find patterns in behavior of so unlike entities.

The big part of the book is about building a crowd. A crowd that will not simply consume product/information/content but actively participate in a community and help to develop it. To measure it, the authors introduce “Participation Scale” and it is very much aligned with another book I read earlier this year.

New power is not only about methods, but about values as well. The book introduces another dimension that allows to create the mapping below:

The most practical part of the book for me was Chapter 9: Leadership and Chapter 11: New Power at Work. Younger generations, who grew together with the rise of disruptive Internet-based technologies have different values and expectations from the workplace. They (or maybe I should say “we” as I belong to the same group of people) are looking for more recognition, more feedback, more participation in decision making process. And most importantly, they see employer – employee social contract differently – there is no decade long commitment and loyalty. Is it good or not is another question, but companies have to adopt. And it is encouraging to see how Amazon’s policies and tools actually aligned with new power values and values.

For me, as a people manager, is very important to find the way how to give the power to my team, how to give “founder feeling” and how to create mutually beneficial relations between the company and an employee of a hyperconnected age. So, there are number of practices that I will implement at my work.

I highly recommend this book to everybody as it cover both philosophical and practical aspects of a new power world.


Th Oz Principle

Book review: The Oz Principle by R. Connors, T. Smith and C. Hickman

If you are in program or project management, you definitely familiar with RACI matrix. Probably, the most confusing part of it is the difference between Accountable and Responsible. The picture below I took from the book and it visualize this difference nicely.

The one may be directly responsible for a specific scope, but true accountability spreads beyond immediate tasks and covers a wider area.

Accountability and Responsibility

Why it is important? Because at any company things “fell between the cracks” because people let them fell between cracks because they don’t want to take accountability for that. So, it does not really matter how many head counts are assigned to the task, there always be missed deliverables. There always be blame assignment to other departments, customers, ineffective tools or processes Unless everybody feels accountable.

This resonates very well with Amazon Leadership Principle – Ownership: “Leaders are owners. They think long term and don’t sacrifice long-term value for short-term results. They act on behalf of the entire company, beyond just their own team. They never say “that’s not my job.

The Oz Principle book defines a framework which an individual or an organization can utilize to detect that they fell “below the bar”, accept accountability for that and start a process of exiting downward spiral. The book defines four steps in the framework.

See It

Everything starts with accepting the reality. If there is a problem, denial is not a solution. The book does not give any magical instruments here – ask and listen to a feedback, actively work towards better understanding of a problem, acknowledge the reality, accept coaching from others.

I believe that deep inside everyone knows if they are below or above the line. So See It is not about knowledge but about courage to accept the reality.

Own It

Accept accountability for results and actions that led to the problem or current state of things. The book provides an interesting list of questions that helps to swallow a pill of accountability:

  1. Can you cite the most convincing point of the “other side of the story” that “they” are telling?
  2. If you wished to warn someone in similar circumstances not to make the same mistakes, what would you tell them?
  3. What facts did you choose to ignore?
  4. What facts should you add to the story that you have left out?
  5. What would you do differently if you faced this situation again?
Solve It

There is always somebody in a team who Sees all the problems and even may be Owns them but still does not move an inch towards resolution. The book suggest ask yourself triggering questions, like “Do you stay engaged in solving a problem when things get difficult?”, “Do you try to discover new ways of thinking about problems?”. There is always an easier way to “quit and stay” and wait until somebody will step in. But will it help in a long run?

For me the best part of the book is simple idea to ask yourself and your team – What else can we do to rise above our circumstances and get results we want?

Do It

Well, Do It is actually about doing it. Stay above the bar for a long time, review selected course of actions and progress step by step. There is a gravitational pull from below the bar that you have to resist. And you failed to resist, then recognize it quickly enough to raise the bar again.

Overall, 4 out of 5 book. The ideas described in it are not new and some parts of the book are outdated, but it is still a solid summary how to drive accountability for yourself and organization.

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Amazon Interviews

Amazon interviews “Yes, but…” insights

Recently, I have crossed the mark of 150 completed interviews at Amazon. Taking my tenure into the account, I have interviewed one candidate every 4 days. It may look like a high number, but I am still learning what does it mean to be a “professional interviewer”. I am passionate about the subject, so I want to share some of the insights. So, this will be a first post of its kind.

Today’s topic – preparation for an interview at Amazon.

What is common among the candidates who received an offer from Amazon? They took time to prepare for the interview, but there are some nuances you should be aware of:

  • Be prepared, but not overdo it. It is very clear for the interviewer, especially tenured one, when a candidate is prepared. But is also very clear when the candidate overdid that. When a candidate answers looks like a script, it breaks a natural flow of a conversation and may give a weird impression.
  • Know Amazon leadership principles, but do not try to memorize them. Nobody will ask you to name Amazon Leadership Principles during your interview, so an attempt to remember them all is a waste of time. Amazon interviewers assess your previous experience, complexity of situations you dealt with and scale of your impact.
  • Prepare to ask questions, but only relevant ones. There are no additional scores for the question “What is your favorite Amazon Leadership Principle?”. Ask something that you genuinely interested in – a team structure, a working from home policy, key objectives for the role you applied and etc.
  • Carefully read emails from a recruiter, but do your own research. There is a reason why recruiters send you information before the interview. And this information is important, do not ignore it. But it should not be your single source of truth.
  • Collect data points for your examples, but only those you can explain. Amazon is a truly data-driven company, so are Amazon interviewers. But if a candidate cannot explain context of the data or how it was measured/collected, it does not give additional scores to the candidate.

If you are interested in the role of Technical Account Manager, check out my other post.


Multipliers

Book Review: Multipliers by Liz Wiseman

Years ago, at the beginning of my career, I learned a simple but powerful idea – people come to work for a leader, not for a company. Talent development and retention is one of the most difficult parts of a people manager’s job. So, how do you “multiply” intelligence of your team?

Even if a company fully equipped with learning materials and encourages employees to develop themselves, if will not going to happen on a large scale without a leader who possesses right skills to help people to grow. But what are those skills? And how to measure them?

A one way to measure these skills is to check if people around a leader become smarter over time or they stall in professional development and degrade? The book uses this specific metric to group leaders into two categories “Multipliers” and “Diminishers”. And it makes a lot of sense – if people grow around a leader, they can contribute more and willing to do it. The book calls it “Multiplier Effect”. And vice versa, if people don’t grow, they will give less and less. They will “quit and stay”, as the author nicely put it.

5 chapters of the book analyze patterns and anti-patters of behavior that help a reader to identify are they a “Multiplier” or a “Diminisher”.

  • Talent Magnet vs Empire Builder
  • Liberator vs Tyrant
  • Challenger vs Know-It-All
  • Debate Maker vs Decision Maker
  • Investor vs Micromanager

The book describes how patterns above influence people productivity and collective intelligence . This part has helped to see my own flaws as a manager and a leader.

One interesting idea described in the Chapter 1 is “The Logic of Addition”. And I think, may organizations and individuals operate exactly as the book describes it:

Operational leaders entrenched in the logic of resource allocation and addition argue:

1. Our people are overworked.

2. Our best people are the most maxed out.

3. Therefore, accomplishing a bigger task requires the addition of more resources.

Wiseman, Liz; McKeown, Greg. Multipliers (p. 14).

If this logic applies in a growing market, it may work for a long time. But, inevitably, an organization will face a problem that cannot be solved by throwing in more bodies. And what to do when it happens? Increase productivity of an organization by getting more from its people. It is an obvious conclusion that is very difficult to implement in practice. First of all, why people should care about giving more?

The book gives perspective and recommendations how to run a team in a way that people will want to contribute more and will do it voluntarily. Out of all recommendations, one was specifically interesting for me – “Work The Extremes”. The research done by the authors showed it is not necessary have strengths in all Multiplier dimensions. The one can be great in one or two. What is important that there are no obvious weaknesses. I will use this idea in my development plans.

Overall, a great book – 5 out of 5. If you are a people manager, I highly recommend you to read it.


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