RESULTS MATTER MOST*
I am going to start with a short, overarching chapter that includes my most important consideration for you to remember: Results matter most*. Let me repeat. Results matter most*. One final time. Results matter most*. Business, like sports, is a highly competitive environment. So, I will start with a section that I hope will get you in the right frame of mind.
“You PLAY. To WIN. The GAME”
Former NFL coach Herm Edwards gave this response in a press conference when asked if he was worried about his Jets team giving up and mailing in the rest of the season:
“You PLAY. To WIN. The GAME. Hello? You PLAY to WIN the GAME. You don’t play to just play it. That’s the great thing about sports. You play to win. I don’t care if you don’t have any wins, you go play to win. When you start telling me that it doesn’t matter, retire, get out. You don’t quit in sports. You retire. You don’t get to quit. It’s not an option.”
At the end of a sports game, there is a scoreboard. The team with the better score wins. It doesn’t matter if you played harder, played smarter, played more together, had a good game plan going in, had more sub-stats in your favor, etc., etc., if, at the end, the final score isn’t in your favor, you lost. Sure, these other factors can be used as motivation/inspiration going forward. They can give you hope that the future will bring wins instead of losses. And, if you continue to do them well, you may likely win. But, if you don’t win, it won’t matter. No amount of explanation or “should haves/could haves” will change anything. They will fall on deaf ears and appear as excuses. And, making excuses in defeat never solves anything. Claiming that you should have won appears ignorant in the context of sustained losing. Nobody will care other than reinforcing their belief that you have no clue what you are doing. In a sports context, the coach will ultimately lose their job, new players will be brought in, and everything about the team will be questioned by those funding the team unless they win.
I believe that everyone that worked with me understood that I got things done. I have my strengths and weaknesses like everyone else. However, above everything else, I delivered. This wasn’t by accident or just because of who I am. I made delivery a focus. I used techniques that facilitated delivery like cutting scope or removing “nice to haves” so delivery of “must haves” happened sooner. These are skills that can be learned and mastered. When you deliver results, it builds credibility. It builds confidence, in your team, in your owners, and in your fan base. Everyone looks better. Delivering is a mind-set. You have to incorporate it into your planning, teach its importance to your team and reward those that deliver results. Remember this:
No “proposed” or “estimated” result, no matter how good “in theory” or “on paper”, no matter how sound the basis for it is or how strong it’s proposed in a presentation, is worth anything if it doesn’t actually happen and yield the desired effect on the field. We all win “on paper” and “in theory” or in our minds as we set out to do things. Talking is easy. Estimating is easy. Showing projection graphs that go straight up in PowerPoint is easy. Delivering actual results is not. You need a good product to deliver. You have to be smart about how you deliver it. Often, you need to deliver it in increments while learning and adjusting. You need to manage expectations. You need proper measurements in place. You need to test different variations and get consumer feedback. All the while, you need to motivate and maintain quality execution from a team with different backgrounds, skillsets, and views for a common goal, winning. Because nobody wants to play for a loser.
I will discuss a lot of techniques to help your team deliver in this book. And, when you deliver, remember to keep some control on declaring and celebrating victory. Don’t get too high with all the praise when you win. As they say in sports, you are only as good as your last game.
Greg Blatt, my boss and CEO at Match, would remind me about the story of Julius Caesar whenever things seemed too good to be true and he thought it might be going to our heads. It is about a triumphant Caesar’s return from war. You can find historical references online and most of the literary ones read something like this:
Trooping through the streets of ancient Rome, conquering legions under the standard of the eagle wheeled carts piled high with the booty of war. Plundered were the treasuries of the vanquished. Gold, silver, jewels, livestock and grain overflowed. Captured enemy soldiers, their faces lowered in defeat and humiliation, were forced at spear point to march past the cheering crowds of patriotic patricians.
At the rear of the procession rolled Caesar’s chariot. To prevent pride from consuming him, the man of the hour had positioned a lowly servant at his side. The slave’s sole responsibility was to temper the boundless enthusiasm of the masses with a four word warning, ‘Sic Transit Gloria Mundi.’ (All Glory is Fleeting).
Translation: don’t get too high when things are great.
In addition, things won’t always be great so don’t get too low when things are not. Just keep delivering. Take the emotion out of it. Don’t get distracted. Don’t second-guess. Continue to deliver and you will end up fine in the long run. Delivering results once is not enough. You have to continue to deliver results. It won’t always be easy. There will be tough times. Sometimes you will deliver but the results will not be as expected. Again, during these times, don’t get too down. Try to learn from them. Derive motivation from them. You must believe that you will be able to turn things around. Great hitters go through slumps. Winning teams have losing streaks. Basketball players miss shot after shot. The great ones keep shooting. They know the results will turn in their favor. They are too good. The odds will catch up with reality. You must believe that too. If you don’t, nobody around you will either. Continue to focus on doing the things that will produce sustained results. And, do them. How many times have you seen a sports team get way ahead in a game and then seem to let up? Then, the other team gets back in the game and all of a sudden, things are very different. You can’t let up. You can’t slow down. Not until the final whistle.
Business is not much different than sports. You must deliver results that matter. However, unlike a sports game, there is no “final whistle” while you have a job. It doesn’t matter how many product features you launch, how good your employees are, how much revenue you generate, etc., etc., if you can’t ultimately sustain the business, you don’t have a business. For almost all companies, this means turning a profit. If the company doesn’t, the CEO will be fired. Employee changes will be made. Everything about your team will be questioned by the owners of the business. Some businesses will go bankrupt or be shut down by the owners. So, you must first understand what results matter (at different stages of the company these could be different – early on perhaps it’s user base size but ultimately, it will be profit). You must communicate this to your employees, you must have measurements in place, you must have incentives in place and, above all else, you must deliver these results. And, it can’t be overstated, that the delivery must ultimately drive the goal of the business, profit, not some theoretical benefit from a whiteboard. However, when it does, this changes everything. When you deliver, it builds confidence in your employees, bosses, owners and investors. It’s easier to get budgets approved, raises through, and reduces friction around your execution. You are given more leeway to execute without oversight and thus you can deliver more, keeping the momentum strong. While this may sound easy, it isn’t. And, finding people who can deliver results is not easy either.
Results Won’t Count If They Aren’t Earned The Right Way
I will now explain the asterisk(*) in the Chapter Title. While results matter most, they have to be delivered with integrity (by the rules). You can’t cheat your way to results in the long run. If you do things that harm your personal integrity, the integrity of the company and/or tarnish the brand that you are selling to your customers, you will lose in the long run. Compete hard but compete fair. If others do not, don’t copy them. Instead, find ways to exploit your differences to your colleagues, bosses and/or customers. When you play fair, the facts are on your side so be as transparent as possible. You’ll have nothing to hide and can leverage this to your benefit. Executing with integrity may seem easy. It’s not. There are gray areas where the difference between right and wrong can be blurred. Where the upside in business results can sway your thinking. Where the choice between improving the bottom line could be at the expense of the customer. Is it really wrong? Will it hurt the business? Will anyone ever know? Will our employees be impacted? Will the press care? Will our investors understand? Will I be fired? Is this legal? So many questions. And, what to do is not always obvious. If you are searching for a way to justify what you are doing, looking for an angle or “spin”, then you are likely doing the wrong thing.
The rest of this chapter will describe some important lessons to help you approach decision making and execution structure. It should help provide a framework. The rest of the book will then focus on additional ideas and techniques to help deliver results within this framework.
Reputation: A Lifetime To Build But Can Be Lost Overnight
One of my most trusted mentors, Victor, used to tell me: “Reputation Takes a Lifetime to Build but Can Be Lost Overnight”. One stupid mistake can undo a lifetime of hard work. This applies to our business and to our personal lives. So, you must take every decision seriously. To help you, I have a simple test for my actions:
If my actions were headlines in the Wall Street Journal or in front of a judge in a court of law, where everyone knows what I’ve done, would I be OK with this and could I reasonably explain and defend my actions?
Assume that every one of your actions will become public. Assume that everyone will know. Are you comfortable with your actions in this context? That’s what my Wall Street Journal test is for. Of course, I can’t honestly say that I’ve always followed this advice, especially when I was young. However, for those times that I didn’t, I now wish that I had.
When judging decisions, it is important to consider the context. There is a big difference between the following two scenarios:
- Having good intent, making a decision and taking an action that doesn’t turn out well
- Having bad intent, regardless of the outcome
In scenario #1, the world may know that your decision turned out poorly. The results or outcome may end up being really bad even though they were done with good intentions. However, you can defend these actions if you were prepared going in and something unexpected happened. That’s life. Unfortunately, there is no defending actions in #2, if exposed. Try and you’ll lose. I am sure that you know someone in public or in private where this occurred so I won’t include any of the obvious public figures. Needless to say, there are many of them. So, remember my Wall Street Journal test.
Handle Your Business With Class
My first introduction in this area came from my Harvard baseball days. During my sophomore year, our team was one of eight teams to be invited to play in the University of California Riverside baseball tournament. Other teams included baseball powerhouses like Arizona State (future major leaguers Barry Bonds and Mike Devereaux) and San Diego State (Mark Grace). The tournament also included the Air Force team. Air Force was our first scheduled game to open the tournament. The night before the first game, at the opening reception attended by all teams, the Air Force coach spoke. During his speech, he made a comment like the following:
We are honored to be included in this tournament with these great baseball teams. I am not really sure why we have been included because our primary mission is to serve our country. However, I look over and see Harvard sitting there and I’m not sure what they are doing here either. So, it should be one hell of a game tomorrow.
Following the game, here is the line from the local newspaper the next day:
MARCH 26, 1985 12 AM
In other action on the tournament’s opening day, Harvard beat the Air Force Academy, 24-1 and Riverside beat Missouri, 11-5.
We demolished Air Force 24-1. We took the Air Force coach’s comments as a slight. I’m sure that his point was more about Harvard being a great academic institution with a priority on education not baseball. A parallel comparison to Air Force’s primary mission of serving the country. Unfortunately for the Air Force baseball team, it didn’t really matter to us what the reasoning was. We were challenged and determined to prove him wrong. During the game, we executed to perfection. Our pitching was terrific. Our hitting was outstanding. We were motivated. In the mid-to-late innings, our coach substituted out our starters in an effort to slow down the demolition. Our second team performed as well as the starters. At one point in the 7th inning (we scored 11 runs), we had a call go against us and our dugout started screaming even louder. We were already loud given our motivation and the score but this was especially loud with some directed towards the umpires. I remember someone yelling “we want more”. As soon as this happened, our coach walked through our dugout and let everyone have it. He said that if anyone else yelled at the umpires or disgraced our program that they would be removed from the team. “He” was the only person allowed to talk to the umpires. And, he made it clear that we were not going to further embarrass Air Force by shouting at them about the lopsided score, regardless of our motivation. Root on your teammates but don’t say a single word about the umpires or the opposing team.
After the game, I’m sure that the Air Force coach understood why Harvard was there. We had a great team. Not that they didn’t, necessarily, since one game doesn’t define a team. However, we were clearly a better team and worthy of being at that tournament. The final score proved it. Still, it wasn’t the most important thing that happened on the field that day for me. I’ve long forgotten the baseball part of the game. It was my coach’s actions, and the sequence of events that led up to them, that I remember. Our coach took representing Harvard very seriously. We wore ties and jackets on every road trip. We stayed at nice hotels and were expected to stay on our best behavior if we wanted to remain on the team. Representing yourself, your business and your brand with class is something that I was introduced to early at Harvard. Yes, winning was important but I can honestly say that playing the right way was expected.
The second example that I’ll share is from my Match days. It is perhaps the most difficult time that I went through at the company. In early 2009, we exchanged our Europe business for a stake in the French public company Meetic. I was running Match’s international business at the time. What is important to understand is the following:
- Our Europe business represented the vast majority of Match’s international business at the time we made the deal.
- I had a large staff working for me on this business. This included central product and technology resources in the US and many resources in country teams overseas.
- As a result of the deal, we were turning over our European customers and the operations of the Europe business to the Meetic team in Paris.
- There would be a year-long transition effort but, after this, we would no longer need much of my team.
While the impacts of the deal to my organization were obvious and significant (steep reductions), the business rationale was sound.
- Meetic and Match were competing hard in Europe and the only winners were the distributors who were making us bid against each other to drive up the advertising and partnership prices that we both had to pay.
- There was a great fit between the companies. Match was stronger in Northern Europe while Meetic was stronger in central and southern Europe. Both of us had been competing to win all of Europe for years but by 2009 it was clear that the only true winners in this game were the distributors.
So, my boss at the time, Greg Blatt and the CEO of Meetic, Marc Simoncini worked out a deal where we’d combine forces. And, honestly, it made the most sense to do so in Europe with Meetic. Marc was a seasoned businessman and incredible entrepreneur. Meetic was located right in the heart of Europe and was built and run by international employees with multi-lingual and multi-cultural skills. Match had some of this in-country but the core product and development teams were in the US. So, running an international business out of Dallas, Texas, with a bunch of Americans, myself included, was clearly not the right choice given the great alternative that we had. My team had done a good job building a European business within this configuration and this had made the deal possible. However, this “truth” didn’t make our employees feel any better when the announcement of the deal was made. They felt like they had lost. They also felt betrayed. They had worked hard to get us into a position where the company benefited and they would likely lose their job. They knew that there would need to be significant organizational reductions because of the deal moving our Europe operations to Meetic. This was obvious to everyone.
The basic impact of the deal on our employees was simple. For the countries where Match was strong, our country teams would play a significant role with Meetic. For the other countries and for the US (technology and product), it would be unlikely that there would be roles available going forward after the one-year transition period.
The transition started mid-year in 2009 and ended April 30th, 2010. These were probably the toughest months that I experienced at Match. There was a lot of money riding on a successful transition of our customers to the Meetic platform to preserve the value of the combined business going forward (which we now owned a significant stake in). Meetic was a public French company. At the time, I had already done many acquisitions with Match where I was responsible for the execution of the major product and technology efforts. However, this one was different. Here are the main reasons why:
- In all of the previous acquisitions, we were the buyer. We integrated the product, technology and employees of the company we acquired back to our platform and our teams. In the case of Meetic, we were the seller.
- I had to deliver the transition with my employees in the US who believed that they would be fired once the transition was completed.
- I had no control over the Meetic platform and teams. This meant that I had little absolute say in the decision making on how the transition would be executed. I followed Meetic’s lead.
I could probably write an entire book on the acquisitions that I’ve done at Match but Meetic was a big one. I’ll talk more about some of the others in later chapters. The main points that I want to highlight in this section are related to how we handled our employees in the deal and during the transition period.
From a business perspective, successfully migrating our European business to Meetic was the result that mattered most for the overall business. Once completed, the combined business would be the leading dating company in Europe, by far. Match would hold a significant ownership stake in the company. If the combined companies didn’t achieve the expected combined value (registrations, subscriptions, conversion rate, etc.) then the Meetic stock could plummet. And, so would the value of our ownership stake. However, to achieve a successful transition, we would need to execute flawlessly within a very challenging operational environment, as I’ve previously laid out. So, I will walk you through the major components and explain it further.
It all starts with the deal announcement. I had to let my team know that we were exchanging our European business for an ownership stake in Meetic. This meant that our European customers would be migrated to the Meetic platform during a transition period. It also meant that my country managers in Europe would be moving to Meetic (and it would be Meetic’s choice on whether they were retained after the transition period). For the US employees, it was clearer. There was no home for them at Meetic. We’d try to find them other jobs within the company but there would be no guarantees and reductions were expected once the transition period was over.
Different people choose to announce things in different ways. Some announcements are done via email, some via phone/video, some via meetings, and some done in other ways. For this announcement, I knew that it would raise all kinds of fears, both justified and unjustified. I have a few rules that I always try to adhere to when involved in things like this:
- Let them hear it from you first. You must be the one to deliver the news. Don’t let rumors and speculation have time to fester. It’s a terrible thing to hear rumors that people are being fired, the company is making some major change that you haven’t been told of, and/or some other major news that impacts you has happened. If it’s your people, let them hear it from you. Sure, you’ll have to coordinate with HR and other groups. Insist on driving the communication and timing with your own team, while also following company guidance/input.
- Show up in person. Do not hide from the reality of the situation and do not run from the questions. Own up to your responsibility. Show up to answer questions. Do it in person. Be honest about why you made the decisions that you made. You may have to send out an email prior to any meeting in person because of timing (and to let them hear it from you first). If so, make it clear that you will be meeting with them in person to explain and answer any questions they may have. Don’t cut the meeting short. Don’t have scripted answers. You can review anticipated questions and prepared answers. However, in the meeting, don’t read from a piece of paper. If you have to, you didn’t prepare enough or don’t understand the situation well enough.
So, I made the announcement and let everyone know that I would be meeting with them in person to discuss and answer questions. I always try to minimize the time between people hearing the summary level information and the detailed information. So, I worked internally to get my recommendations approved with the following mind-set:
- Do everything possible to do right by those that did right by the company. In some situations, there isn’t much you can do. Maybe the company is out of money. Maybe you aren’t a decision maker but rather a messenger. Still, you can show support in many other ways. Show up and listen. Write recommendations. Endorse skill sets. Offer to be a reference. Don’t drop the news and then ignore the realities of the situation. For me, this situation was actually good for the business. And, I was a decision maker on the deal even if I was not the ultimate decision maker. Since I was critical to the success of the transition, I had leverage to create transition packages as part of the deal. Everyone, including Meetic, understood that without my team behind the transition, it wouldn’t be successful.
- Don’t expect others to do what you aren’t willing to do yourself. This is a simple principle yet has powerful impact on those around you. It’s one of my core principles. If you work for me and you tell me that something can’t be done or I think that you just don’t want to do it, I may tell you “get out of the way, I’ll do it myself”. I’ve literally asked people to get up from their seats so I could sit down and start. Most times, they won’t get up. They start doing the task. If you are willing to do something, so will others.
I was able to get transition bonuses approved for everyone involved in the transition effort. When the transition was successful, everyone would get a bonus, regardless of whether they were staying or not. And, since the transition was going to take about a year, I didn’t have to decide who was staying up front. I would get a year to try and find other places within the organization for my people. During this time, I also decided that at the end of the migration, I would be leaving too. Truth was that my position was being eliminated as well. The European business was most of my P&L. And, sure, I could have done other stuff within the company. However, I had been 24x7x365 for almost 10 years by that time. I never took a meaningful vacation, I was always connected (thinking about the business or getting alerts), and I spent many days away from my family abroad. At one annual Match company event, my “blackberry” and I were selected as the most inseparable couple by the employees. My kids barely knew me and they were getting older. I was worried that they’d leave for college without me ever being there. This is just the reality of business if you want to succeed. People, including my wife, would always ask me to slow down. Here is what I would tell them:
Think of business success like a NASCAR racetrack. You have two options:
- You are on the track going as fast as humanly possible because that is what it takes to win
- You are off the track
There is no option to enter the race and putter around at a slower speed. That’s embarrassing. Your name and your company name are on the car. If you step on that track, it’s full speed. If you aren’t mentally prepared for this, it’s time to get off the track. So, the question isn’t one of “slowing down”. That isn’t an option. It’s on the track at full speed or it’s off the track. Pick one.
And, so it was my time to get off the track. I just didn’t feel right letting so many people go and me getting some huge reward out of it. I felt that it was a good time for me to take a break. Ultimately, my boss proposed that I take a sabbatical. The plan was that I would leave the company’s day-to-day operations for a while after the transition. What would come after that, nobody knew. I’d be off the track for a while. Maybe, I’d come back full speed at some point. Maybe not. However, at that time, I wasn’t focused on what would come after I left. I was focused on making sure that the transition happened successfully both for the company and for my employees. So, I began preparation and execution of the transition immediately after the deal announcement.
I went to Europe many times during the transition. My first trips were to meet with my country staff in the various EU (European Union) countries that reported to me. The very first trips, I did alone. I went there to explain my decision and to answer questions. I say “my” decision even though I wasn’t the final authority. Still, I was deeply involved and agreed with the decision. So, it was mine. Everyone would know this. I wasn’t going to hide behind “a company decision” to soften the blow or somehow point to “someone else”. I’d rather explain the rational. I’d rather discuss the facts. And, then answer any questions directly and honestly. While I didn’t have all the answers, I vowed to get answers where I could. On following trips, I went with Meetic staff for introductions and support. I also worked behind the scenes as much as a I could to convince Meetic to retain our people. We had a commitment from Meetic for the transition period as part of the deal but, after the transition, it was Meetic’s call on what to do with the Match country teams (assimilate into Meetic or let them go). If you’ve been through deals like this then you understand that the default position of the acquirer is to let people go. It’s up to the acquired people to convince the acquirer otherwise. I felt this was part of my job.
For my product and technology teams in the US, I met with everyone multiple times. I explained the decision and also answered questions. Many people came to see me in my office for one on ones. Everyone knew that I was available at any time. And, I would give them honest responses. I also informed every one of the transition bonuses and that I would try to find homes for as many people as possible in other areas (Match US platform or other brands that we had). I tried like crazy to find spots for people.
The transition period lasted until April 30, 2010 (we finished early) and was successful. There were many things that helped us deliver the transition successfully. I will talk more about the specifics later in the book. I want to focus on the people-side of things here. What I learned in this area from the final phase of the transition, well, it sticks with me today. Before I explain what happened, I will give you a framework to think about as you read the remainder of this section.
- Nobody can succeed alone.
- The coach can have impacts on the results but it’s the players that actually play the game.
- When you let people go, you are impacting a lot more than just their financial state. You impact their confidence, their reputation, the way they are viewed, the way they view themselves, and you impact their family. This is not something to do frivolously or without serious care and concern.
- How you handle people that are let go just doesn’t impact those that you let go. Other employees will think that it could be them the next time. News of the reductions will become public at some level. Potential future employees might think this might happen when they consider applying/accepting. Partners will look at your actions and wonder if they’ll be treated that way. Customers may view the company differently and this could impact their decision to buy and use your products. The company will be judged in this context. You need to be fair. You need to explain your decisions to everyone, not just those you let go. Explain it to yourself first. If you don’t believe it, nobody else will.
- Someday it could happen to you.
As the end of the transition period approached, everyone knew that the time was closing in for a decision and announcement of which jobs would be eliminated. Anxiety was high. I had been working for months in private trying to finalize the new organizational structure going forward after the transition. I spent a lot of time on coordinating the specific date and mechanism of how everyone would be informed. I didn’t want to leave people in limbo. I wanted the changes made and the information shared immediately after the transition was completed. No waiting. April 30th was a Friday in 2010 and I announced the new organization the following Tuesday, May 5th. It was the events of that day that I look back on with respect for those that we let go. These people, like all who have contributed to the company, are why Match is so successful today. No amount of preparation or experience could have predicted what happened that day. Of all of the product and technology resources, I was able to find homes elsewhere in the organization for about seventy five percent of them. I was very happy about this. Unfortunately, this still meant that the other twenty five percent would lose their jobs on May 5th. Yes, while they would receive their transition bonus and a very good severance, it still is a major blow to let 25% of a team go. So, let me explain some context and events leading up to May 5th.
During times like this, everyone is looking for any sign that they may be staying or going. Fears mount. Little things become big things. You can’t let things fester and uncertainty reign. So, for many that were staying, I let them know early. This is a tricky situation to communicate.
- You don’t want key people that you will retain to find other jobs on the chance that they will be let go. Telling them early helps prevent this.
- You don’t want it to leak who hasn’t been told (and thus think they are being let go). Morale and efficiency of the transition would suffer. So, for those staying, I let them know that this information was strictly confidential and that they couldn’t tell anyone or it would jeopardize their position. More importantly, it wasn’t fair to their colleagues. Leaking could reveal who may be let go simply because some people weren’t told anything. These people would fear that they WERE being let go and maybe they’d be right. So, I asked those that were staying to show respect for the others who weren’t being told anything. Treat them in the way that you’d want to be treated. Don’t say anything to anyone about what I’ve told you.
Ultimately, nobody really knew what everyone else had been told, if anything, about the upcoming changes prior to May 5th. Those that hadn’t been told anything were looking for any little signal about their status. It’s a very tough time, this “limbo” time. It’s why I made it as short as possible for everyone. On the Monday following the migration end (May 4th, the day before the organization changes were officially announced), we set up calendar meetings on the schedule for everyone. Those that were staying were scheduled with their new boss. Those that were leaving, were scheduled with me. It wasn’t too common for ad-hoc, one-on-one meetings with me but it wasn’t unheard of either. However, it was clear that many of the employees whose positions were being eliminated figured out that the employees meeting with me were going to receive bad news.
We finalized the plan on May 4th. May 5th was back-to-back-to-back meetings all day with the employees that wouldn’t have a job going forward (with the head of HR with me). We had an entire playbook for how the meetings would be conducted. I’m very particular about how these things are handled. I try not to use a script but rather talk from the heart in these situations. People can tell when you are reading off a script. They can tell if you are not sincere. So, be honest. Obviously, company guidelines need to guardrail the discussion but don’t let them drive the content. My planned approach for the day was as follows:
- My managers that were meeting with the team members that were staying would start earlier than my meeting and tell everyone to go home and work on what they could from home for the day. Be quiet, don’t say anything, gather some stuff and leave without making a big deal out of it.
- In my meetings (one on ones), I would inform each individual that they were being let go as part of the restructuring going forward. They understood that we were downsizing since the transition was over and we were no longer supporting Europe. Europe was 80% of our international business. They would officially find out it was impacting them directly in my meeting.
- I would inform them that the decision was mine as to why their position was eliminated. I wouldn’t go into details. There is no point in defending my position in that context – it only makes it worse for the employee. It wouldn’t help. It wouldn’t change their mind. So, I would just keep it simple and straight-forward. It was my decision. And it was a tough one.
- I expected many to disagree and possibly argue with me. Perhaps even get angry with me. I wouldn’t fault them. However, I wouldn’t argue. It’s the decision that I made and it’s final.
- I would inform them that they would be officially employed through the end of the month and that their severance package would start the following month.
- I would inform them that they could go home after the meeting. I don’t like people feeling like lame ducks walking around the office. And, I don’t like them walking around with others staring at them. Or, being escorted out by security after many years of loyal service. This is no way to treat people. Our office section would be empty because those that were staying would be told to go home as well. For those that were let go, Match HR would contact them about the details of their severance, gathering of their belongings and collecting any company property within a few days. They could just go home and we’d follow up later. No gathering their stuff while the lucky ones peered on and no shame walk with armed escorts to the door, implying they are some sort of threat after killing themselves to help the company. I would have none of this.
- I would ask if they had any questions. I was prepared to answer questions and react in real time. You can’t script what may happen. In my responses, though, I would focus my answers on the business deal with Meetic and that I believed that it was best for the business going forward.
Finally, Tuesday, May 5th 2010 arrived. I had prepared for months for “that” day. I have done many terminations at Match and I don’t like doing them. Yes, I believe that it’s the right thing for the business. Yes, it ended up being true. Still, in the moment, there is no pleasure in the actions and no consolation for the consequences. I just want to be prepared and act with integrity and consideration. I thought about things every day leading up to the meetings. I prepped my answers for many questions that I thought would be asked. I fine-tuned my messaging, the delivery and the way that I’d orchestrate the meetings. I wanted to be respectful of everyone that we were letting go whether they felt we were being fair or not. It would be an emotional day for everyone. Then, that day came and I wasn’t prepared for what happened.
- When I arrived, many of the employees that were meeting with me were dressed in suits. They knew that they were likely going to be out of a job but took the time to dress up. They showed respect for meeting with me, even on a day that they knew would not be a favorable for them.
- Almost none of the employees asked any me questions about “why me”. Instead, they thanked me. They shook my hand. They told me how much they loved working for me and the company.
- They got emotional. Not on the angry side but on the disappointment of receiving the final word on not being part of the company going forward. They loved working for Match.
- They told me how appreciative they were of the transitional bonus, the severance, and the way the organization handled everything.
- Some of the meetings went a little longer than planned (we should have spaced more time in between) so the next person would be waiting for me outside my door when I exited with the previous employee and asked them to come in. I didn’t see anger in their faces. By this time, they knew. Once the first meeting was over, everyone knew, for sure, what was happening when you met with me during your slot. Still, all of the events unfolded the way they did.
I remember wondering to myself if I would handle myself this way if I were on the receiving end. I wasn’t so sure. These people are part of the reason that Match is what it is today. And, the way Match treated them throughout this entire process directly contributed to how all of our employees viewed the company going forward.
I want to emphasize how important is it to treat your employees fairly. Treat them with respect. Show them that if they deliver for you, you will deliver for them, the best you possibly can. And, if it ever gets to a point where very difficult business decisions must be made, don’t treat them any differently. They can handle it if you are fair and honest with them. How you handle yourself and how you handle your business matters. Do it with class. Don’t sell out “doing the right thing” for a little cost savings in the moment. And, remember, all of the employees in your company will judge you and the company by what happens. You will never deliver results if employees don’t feel that the company has their back. Again, treat them fairly and with respect. Someday, it could be you on the receiving end. If so, how would you want your company to treat you? Just as importantly, how would you handle yourself? We will talk more about these types of situations in Chapter 4 when I discuss when I first arrived at Match. I have other experiences that shaped my thinking on how to handle these tough times. As I write this chapter, the 2020-2021 coronavirus has still effectively shut down the country. Businesses are in dire situations. Everyone is staying home. I have no idea how it will all turn out. What I do know is that how businesses treat their employees in times like this will shape their brand, culture and business, good or bad, for decades to come. Not only for employees that work there now but for future employees who may want to work there some day, for customers that may consider buying their products and for partners that do business with the company today and in the future. Trust me, how you handle employees in tough times matters a lot more than most people think.
You will hear a lot more about transparency throughout this book with many different examples and recommendations with the same core message. For now, what I want you to understand is that everyone generally understands the situation before you communicate it to them. They may not know the exact facts but they aren’t stupid. Don’t treat them as such or insult their intelligence. Sugar-coating things or presenting them in the best-case scenario will erode their trust in you. Be direct. Be honest. Admit you don’t have all the answers but educate them on what you do know and what your plan is. While they may generally understand the situation, they may not fully understand the “why” behind it or what it means for the future. Tell them to the best of your knowledge. Let them ask questions. Answer them. Your message will be much better received and you will get their understanding and support if you give them yours. Without your team’s support, you won’t deliver results.
When you set out to deliver results, you must ensure that the path is actually implementable within an acceptable cost structure. This seems so obvious but I must include it in this section. Too many times the feature set of proposed projects gets inundated with what I call “nice to haves”. Most of these will be claimed as “must haves” in working sessions. However, when you ask how they are implemented currently, you’ll find that they aren’t. So, pretty hard to claim they are “must haves” if the business is running without them. Unfortunately, this is often a delicate balance, working with business owners, project stakeholders and others funding the business. You don’t necessarily want to limit creativity, stifle communication and/or tell people what they should do, especially if they are funding the work. So, it’s very easy in strategic sessions to claim that the sessions will not be limited by cost or time to implement so “creativity can be expressed”. These sessions often become open idea sessions, wish lists, ideas without limits and bounds to get juices flowing and ideas on the table without fear of judgement. I’m not totally opposed to these types of sessions if they are kept short. I’m not particularly interested or good at participating in limitless discussions because my view is that EVERYTHING in business has limits. Cost. Time to market. I’d rather tackle these limits head-on, right up front so nobody wastes time and money. However, again, this can be tricky in practice. Nobody, myself included, wants to be labelled a “naysayer”. Many people go along with ideas well beyond the point of reality because, in business, it’s often not as easy for participants to detect when ideas aren’t practical. Let me describe an analogy in terms easier to understand:
A team is having a brain storming session about designing a new plane. Here is how the session goes:
- One person recommends making the plane the size of three football fields because it could carry many more people
- Another recommends adding an upstairs with a bar and a dance floor for long flights because that would be very entertaining and customers would love it
- The idea of adding an Olympic sized swimming pool comes up and it’s added to the list and discussed because “in this session there are no limits to the ideas”
- Another suggestion is to change the design of a plane to make it a box because the density would be better
- A financial person jumps in and says “will this new plane cost the consumer a lot more money per ticket?”
- Finally, an engineer speaks up and says “we realize the plane has to fly, right?”
You may think this example is silly. Nobody building planes has these types of meetings. And, you’re probably right. Planes are easy for all of us to understand so this analogy fails on the surface. The plane has to fly. The plane can’t cost the consumer $5,000 or more per coach seat ticket. It’s ridiculous to talk about. However, many business ideas are not as obvious if you don’t understand the details of the business or the technology. Far-fetched ideas in business sessions happen all the time without proper understanding of the practical limits. What’s worse, projects the equivalent of planes with Olympic sized pools, dance floors and box shapes are funded and worked on all the time. They often get shut down for cost overruns or, worse, the plane crashes on take-off (i.e. project launch). It’s not OK to let things get that far before someone speaks up. And, as a leader, it’s your job to have people in the room that will ask practical questions and understand limits and bounds while the design phase is happening. Many brainstorming sessions exclude engineers, operations and financial resources. These people only get hit at the end and often have little or no say in the process (yet still have responsibility). It’s like a goalie in hockey. The forwards can be out of position, the defense may fall down but when the puck is in the net, it’s the goalie’s fault. Make sure that everyone involved has a voice at the table early on in the process, including the goalie.
I emphasize the importance of this section because, metaphorically, I was always the person responsible for making sure that the plane would fly. Not only that it would fly but that it made sense to pay the price to make it fly (i.e. consumers would be willing to pay what we invested in it). As mentioned, I was responsible for the major project launches for years. Hundreds of millions of dollars were on the line. The company’s reputation was on the line. My team’s reputation was on the line. My reputation was on the line. Yours will be too. So, remember this:
There is absolutely no way to deliver results and succeed if you design a plane that won’t fly, you go bankrupt building it or, in the end, you offer flights that no consumer will pay for.
The Ripple Effect
When evaluating the practicality of a solution, you must consider the ripple effect. What is the ripple effect? The ripple effect is what the changes that are implemented do to other parts of the business. Often, these changes are not explored or understood when designing something new. Let me provide a hypothetical analogy:
There is an effort underway to redesign the quarter. One of the proposed changes is to make the quarter a little bigger and thinner than the current version because studies have shown it would be easier to handle. It turns out that the machines that mint the quarter can easily be changed to accommodate the new size. The new design would actually save money because there would be less material used in the quarter because it is a little thinner (it’s overall volume would be reduced). So, under these circumstances, it makes sense to change the design. The consumer would prefer the new design, it would be more convenient for the consumer and the government would save money in printing the new design. Unfortunately, there are always “legacy” impacts where existing operations can be impacted by new changes that may otherwise not be present. Think about the following questions:
- Will the new quarter be accepted in existing vending machines and toll booths? Almost certainly not. The new quarter is now bigger and won’t fit in the slot and/or won’t be recognized.
- How many other types of machines are out there that accept quarters? Laundromats, of course. Vacuum/air pumps at gas stations. The more you think and explore, the more you’ll find.
- How much will it cost to retrofit all of the current equipment to handle the new quarter? Staggering amounts of money.
In “theory”, the answer is simple – just replace all of the machines with new machines that accept the new quarter and/or fix the existing machines to handle the new design. That’s an easy thing to say and it may make sense on the whiteboard. However, in practice, the cost and time to implement would be ridiculously prohibitive. So, in the end, the new quarter will end up being the same shape as the old quarter if it ever gets redesigned. Sure, the writing on the face can change but the practical elements that impact usage won’t. And, you know what, that’s OK. Businesses are no different. You must evaluate the ripple effect of any new changes to the existing business practices. Often, these are not considered at all or the possible impacts are not fully appreciated. There is always risk in making changes, often much higher than what is expected. We’ll talk more about how to minimize impacts through incremental launches, A/B testing, etc., later in this book. However, remember the “mindset” of the ripple effect. There is no “easy” change with “no impacts”. If you hear this, an alarm bell should go off in your head.
The Power Of “No”
It’s a simple word. “No.” Yet the power of this word remains somewhat misunderstood and even carries a negative connotation in many situations. I have chosen this section to include my view of this word because in the context of business, it may be the single biggest contributor to delivering results. Let me explain.
In life, we all want to say “yes”. “Yes” means we are capable. “Yes” means we can please. “Yes” is a “can do” word. “No” is viewed as the opposite. Here is the problem. If you say “Yes” to everything then you probably will get nothing done or at least nothing done well. There is an infinite number of things to say yes to. In business, it’s no different. Everyone will have ideas. Every feature can be changed. Every idea has infinite ways to “make it better”. In theory, all of these changes or additions are better. On paper, they all show improvement. They all work. In practice, this is never true.
Let me tell you about the Match.com home page. At any single point in time, it was the best performing home page that we knew of. Through testing and years of execution, it had beaten out all challengers and previous versions. It converted better. The numbers definitely showed this. Why? There are many theories as to why. It’s like a race where horses get on a track, they run, and there is a winning horse that has the quickest time. The stopwatch defines the victor. Why did the horse win? There are many plausible reasons. Maybe it is always the fastest horse (you’d have to run many races to determine this). Or, maybe the other horses had a bad day. Maybe the winning horse got extra rest. Maybe it was the food. Who knows? And, in the end, who really cares. It won. The Match homepage was no different except, in fact, it did win over time to a statistically significant sample set. The best performing home page got to stay. Almost every new product manager that we hired would come to me and say that our home page needed to be changed. They had a lot of reasons, all with plausible justification. Yet, only 1 in a 100 might actually beat the existing one. Multiply that by thousands of pages on the web site and thousands more in our apps and the number of possible changes becomes unmanageable. All with little probability of success. All will cost time and money to implement. You simply can’t say yes to everything. In fact, you should take pride in ONLY saying yes to critical things. Things that could deliver materially better results with what you believe is a decent probability of success. The Match homepage was a good place to focus because it had huge volume. Success there translated into big gains. Pricing was another area for us. However, there needs to be maniacal focus on selecting these critical areas. If there is no process in place, no maniacal focus on reducing “noise”, then all of the other things will just reduce the probability and likelihood of success on the things that really matter. The critical items may get lost or be implemented poorly. I will explain more about this in chapter 8, Focus on the Core.
In my view, the most important skill that someone can have is the ability to say “yes” to the core items and “no” to everything else with maniacal, ruthless focus. The most successful people that I’ve worked with have an innate ability to wade into a sea of complexity, littered with possible things to do, decisions to make, features to release, and quickly identify the very few things that matter and say no to everything else. They say no without the fear of loss, without the worry that someone may be judging them, without the concern of being wrong, being labelled a naysayer, etc. These leaders don’t care. They are focused on the gain of what they believe will work and do so with precision and conviction.
I’ll end this section with a quote from Warren Buffet:
“The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything”
Be Skeptical Of “On Paper” Or “In Theory” Solutions
You can find a lot of people who can make projections, explain how these projections could be met, and whiteboard out a theory of it happening. We deal with the differences between theory and reality every day in our lives. Some of these differences are easy to understand. For example, we all have electricity in our homes. In theory, the energy of electricity travels at the speed of light from point A to point B. But does it? In practice, wiring is needed and the material used impacts this flow. Proper wiring is critical to electricity flow. Good conductors, like most metals, allow current to flow without much loss. However, there is ALWAYS some loss. Electricity doesn’t travel at the speed of light in a wire regardless of the metal used. On paper, silver is the best metal for conductivity. In theory, just for conductivity, every wire should be made of silver because it is the best conductor, even better than copper or aluminum. Silver, though, oxidizes (corrodes) and this isn’t great. It would be better to use metals that won’t corrode. Best for this: gold! And, gold is a very good conductor too. It’s obvious, though, that if silver or gold were used to wire every building, the cost would be prohibitive. It’s almost silly to even talk about this because it’s so obvious. So, aluminum and copper are used in wiring because they are practical options. Best conductivity at an acceptable cost. These types of situations (the difference between theory and practice) happen all the time in business. Some are obvious. Unfortunately, many times, the differences between theory and practice are not as easy to understand if you haven’t experienced the situations before in business. Often, there are many more variables involved. In my career at Match, we looked at many companies to buy. I was always the guy that evaluated the product and technology. Almost all of the companies that we looked at had proposed new features and technology that they were pitching. I would always ask a simple question: Is it in production running as you’ve described it with the results that you have stated? If the answer was “yes” (and it almost never was) then on a scale of 0-10, I would give it an 8-10 (depending on whether I believed the data) as far my confidence in their pitch (and valuing it as something we were purchasing). If the answer was “no” (and it almost always was), then I’d value it at 0 (and would not pay anything for it). This may sound extreme but things on paper almost never work in practice the same way.
Finding experienced people that have delivered results in practice is not an easy task. Hopefully, this book will help you become one of them.
Make Sure That Everyone Can See The Scoreboard
I’ll finish this chapter with a point on measurement. You’ll hear a lot more about this in the remainder of the book. However, since this chapter is about delivering results, you must understand that there needs to be a scoreboard that shows the score during the game. Unlike sports, the game in business never ends. It’s continuous. So, the score must always be shown. Everyone in the business is on the team and contributing to the score. So, make sure everyone can see the score at all times and understands what it means. This means understanding the rules of the game, how results are measured, and measuring them in real time. Everyone should understand what winning means. Unfortunately, employees are often disconnected from the actual business results and think that their own little world will be how they are judged. For example, I’ve had numerous technology employees put technology drivers in front of business drivers at the potential expense of business results. So, make it clear what key business drivers will be measured and make sure there is a visible scoreboard available for these drivers. This could come in daily reports or real-time information. At Match, we had TVs installed around the office that displayed our key business drivers in real-time (e.g. new registrations, new subscriptions, etc.). It doesn’t really matter how good an employee is at their own specific skill if the business gets shut down. Everyone will lose their jobs. It’s an easy message to deliver up front. What’s a little harder is measuring things and making sure that the business metrics are visible for everyone to see, not just management. If you have a public scoreboard then everyone can see. Once everyone sees and understands then behavior will change. Focus will change. People will rally around the key business drivers, not their own individual skills.