Q3 2018 Quarterly Planning Session Debrief

Creation Chamber teamers,

Apologies for taking longer than anticipated to get this debrief out. As all of you know, Carol, Tiffani and I just completed our latest quarterly leadership offsite. The purpose of these multi-day meetings is to provide a forum where we can step away from the day-to-day tasks and responsibilities of working in the business and deep-dive into the strategic aspects of growing our agency. We held this quarter’s meeting in Las Vegas solely for the opportunity to tour the Zappos campus and get some inspiration for evolving our own culture.

Interestingly, none of us was blown away by what we saw, and I think that’s a good thing. It’s not that they don’t have an amazing culture, but that it’s so well outlined in Tony’s book that the only big surprises from our visit were the things that seemed a bit negative. For example, a huge chunk of their staff tracks time so tightly that they’re afforded 19 minutes per day for things like getting a cup of coffee and going to the restroom (this makes it very difficult to take advantage of many of the most famous perks, like sleep pods in the aquarium room and “Watch and Works” in the auditorium. Also, the entire staff only gets 12 days of vacation per year for the first 5 years).

I don’t get any joy out of seeing these apparent contradictions to their reputation, but it does reinforce my belief and promise that Creation Chamber will have an even better culture, at the very least as it relates to our own personality. At the same time, it also suggests that despite the highest level of commitment to building a great culture, they’ve still encountered various challenges that necessitated the implementation of hard boundaries to keep things on-track. As we grow, we need to be ready to recognize our own risks and then plan around them before they do more harm than good for our culture.

But we covered a lot more ground than just visiting Zappos…

We refined our core focus for the next quarter: We’re going to focus on becoming the best inbound/Hubspot agency we can be. That means no distractions related to previously-discussed/explored directions like proprietary information products, developing our own platforms, or new industry/vertical foci—for now. We’re simply going to get our ducks in a row when it comes to selling, managing, and delivering websites and growth marketing services under an inbound model. It’s very likely that this focus will continue for the remainder of 2018, but certainly through Q3. At some point, we’ll be dialed in enough on this foundation that those other paths can offer a lot of value, but right now they’re essentially shiny objects that will only exacerbate weak points in our core offering.

Most of you know that we used to be a 70-person agency. We’ll be there (and beyond) again, but we want to be smart about that growth so that quality and culture improve vs degrade along the way, preventing the issues that we ran into 9 years ago when we essentially dissolved that large team. We’re much smarter now.

We also officially started Carol’s transition from the website delivery and support team into her new role of Chief Culture Officer. This transition will likely span all the way through the 3rd quarter as we work to transition her existing duties to other resources. Here’s how that’s coming along:

I have been talking to a former CC’er about coming back and heading up our project management and account management efforts. This person was one of our senior people back in 2007-2009 and has added another decade of experience in the industry since then. We’re not yet sure when/if it's the right person for the job and we’re not going to rush it and make the wrong choice.

We’re also looking for someone to take the role of visual design lead. That’s a role that would take projects through the UX (user experience) and aesthetic design phases and ensure a smooth handoff and execution with the implementation (development, growth marketing, etc.) teams.

Part of the reason we set up social events with candidates is so that we can all determine whether or not we think they’d be a good fit for our culture (one of our main hiring criteria is to only hire people that we’d love hanging out with outside of the office). Anytime you have any thoughts on any candidates, please speak up (at Zappos, if any one person isn’t feeling a candidate, that candidate is a no-go).

Q2 2018 was one of our most exciting quarters ever. Parting ways with our strategy lead was unanticipated until the last minute, but I speak for the entire leadership team when I say it was the right long-term decision (It brings with it some temporary discomfort and challenges, but nothing we can’t overcome). My top priority as the head of this team is to build a near-perfect leadership team. The most important factor in doing so is ensuring that everyone on that team is in complete alignment on vision and values. This also extends to the rest of our company and family, and we’re getting better by the month at interviewing/recruiting, training, managing, and reviewing performance based on those factors.

With his departure, we knew/suspected we’d be losing 2 key accounts as well. And those 2 accounts, which were fairly lucrative, were also highly custom. They were worthwhile experiments that were largely focused around his connections and skillset, but they also distracted from a narrower focus that can help us solidify our process and value proposition.

So let’s talk about that concept of “quarters” and how we prefer to use them. It’s probably best illustrated through one of our favorite books: The 12-Week Year. This book breaks down the weaknesses of “annualized thinking” (or planning milestones around a full year) and recommends operating under a 12-week cycle to increase progress. Afterall, a year is a really long time to track a single set of goals. So everything you hear from us about goals and foci tend to be tied to a quarter. This doesn’t mean we don’t/can’t think longer-term, it just means that for a business like ours, the nimbleness we need is difficult to act on more than 90 days out.

For each calendar quarter, we’ll update our main priorities/goals (called “Rocks” in EOS [Entrepreneur Operating System] and “OKRs” [Objectives and Key Results] in other systems) and how each member of our team will contribute to them. We strongly believe in “cascading” objectives, meaning each individual or department within our team only focuses on metrics that will drive overall progress toward the main company goals. In other words, if our objective/goal for a quarter is to build a new e-commerce platform, we’re not going to assign individual goals for things like “increase sales” because that individual goal doesn’t support our stated company goal.

We’re now rolling out a tracking platform, called 15Five (recommended by Sami), to document and track our progress toward these objectives. It will give us a structured system for driving scheduled check-ins/reviews (virtual and one-on-one between everyone on the team and his/her manager) and it has some handy features to simplify and centralize other features, like the replacement of Tap My Back with 15Five’s “High Fives.”

Here are our company-wide Objectives through the end of September:

  1. Develop Our Financial Standing

  2. Achieve Extraordinary Culture

  3. Improve Our Processes

Now, let’s add our measurable Key Results to those objectives:

  1. Develop Our Financial Standing

    • Close an additional $750k in new business this quarter to fund our growth plans

    • Achieve a 30% margin this quarter to help fund our growth plans

    • Put a strong forecasting system in place so that we can plan for growth better

    • Start putting aside 5% of projects for charity budget so that we can begin team volunteering and giving activities

    • Close outstanding collections to increase cash flow

  2. Achieve Extraordinary Culture

    • Furnish our new office by August 31 so that we have a home base that starts to feel like us (this will be ongoing, but we just want the base furniture/features in-place)

    • Complete Our Employee OKR, Review and Feedback Processes so that we can better execute on vision, promises, and OKRs

  3. Improve Our Processes

    • Move invoicing to Stripe to build a simplified model for billing

    • Template all of our workflow tasks (onboarding, offboarding, projects, etc.) to improve consistency

    • Fully implement the point system to standardize, track, and promote profitability

And then we get even more specific, with individual objectives and key results. Those are currently being reviewed with all of you and set up in 15Five so that we can keep them front-of-mind and track progress. In fact, we’ll be reviewing these in weekly 1-on-1s with all of you.

For anyone who hasn’t heard, our new warehouse fell through. The city is demanding so many exterior improvements that the landlord decided not to convert them to offices after all. So, we’re removing that initiative from this quarter’s priorities. Our current office is essentially month-to-month, so we’re going to make it a fun place to meet until we start to outgrow it. It’s a fraction of the cost of the warehouse and we can comfortably fit a dozen full-time people, so we’ll take our time finding another, more permanent home.

To summarize, we’re focusing the rest of this quarter on improving the way we do business, so that we can scale that part of our business, add new types of products and services, and grow our team intelligently. We have good people with good ideas and we’re going to ensure that we’re delivering an environment full of fun and opportunities. It’s not an overnight shift, but it will happen quickly.

There’s so much more that could be discussed, so many more goals and issues that could be addressed. But the power of methodologies like this comes from identifying the most important foci for the period and sidelining the rest until they are the most important. When you identify everything and try to fix them all at the same time, you tend to come up short across the board and frustrate the team along the way. Regardless, Tiff, Carol and I will all be focusing on communicating even more moving forward. Even though we very rarely have confidential discussions, we sometimes take for granted how much value could come from constantly updating the team on various convos.

Please add your comments to this document so that we can discuss everyone’s thoughts. More complex discussions can be opened up in Social Clubs and other forums, too. In the meantime, pat yourselves on the back for contributing a ton of value to our team and for being part of the core group that’s going to help get us to the next level of our evolution. It’s an exciting time and I again speak for the leadership team when I thank you for your hard work, passion, and loyalty to our mission :)


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