How do I know I am making progress?

This weekend my sister-in-law and her friends graduated from business school.  Watching her earn her MBA over the past two years, I saw her develop in many facets of life.  She learned to ask for what she wants.  She prioritized new relationships with old ones.  She took risks on classes and jobs that scared her.  I am very proud of both her personal and professional growth.

While I can easily see her growth over the past two years, she grew in areas that are hard to track.  How should we measure growth in learning to ask for what we want?  Or, even more difficult, how we prioritize our friends, family and ambitions? 

Conducting interviews at Google over the past two years (and asking a lot of GCA questions, thank you Lazlo) taught me that you can always find a way to track progress, even in the “warm, fuzzy” areas.  Often, simply focusing on tracking, though you cannot record precisely, helps.  And, furthermore, showing yourself progress keeps you motivated (The Power of Small WinsTeresa Amabile, Steven J. Kramer, 2011).  Any thoughtful solutions works, but below you can find a few of my favorites:

  • Write down quick snippets each week.  This is my favorite solution since it takes 30 minutes each week and promotes team transparency as well.
  • Use OKRs.
  • Commit to “one simple thing” as a resolution.
  • Develop a PDP.


Gretchen Rubin suggests we copy Benjamin Franklin’s ethos on tracking progress.  He said, when reflecting on the chart he used to track his progress, “though I never arrived at the perfection I had been so ambitious of obtaining, but fell far short of it, yet I was, by the endeavor, a better and a happier man than I otherwise should have been if I had not attempted” (Benjamin Franklin. Autobiography. New York: Derby & Jackson, 1859.).

As you aim to grow in “warm, fuzzy” areas that seem hard to track (one of mine now is Headspace), I challenge you to try to find a way to measure your progress.  I believe it will cause you to try harder and, maybe, achieve more.


How do I know I am making progress?

How Should I Spend My Money?

NYC offers so many tempting ways to spend money: apartments, jewelry, clothing, etc, which we often believe will make us happy.  Yet, most research concludes that spending money on experiences, saving time (especially to minimize commuting), giving to others and purchasing smaller, frequent treats (expensive chocolate bars over one large sailboat) produce the greatest “happiness” return.

One of my business school professors, Prof Malcolm Baker, espoused these concepts in his “last lecture” of the year.  In Professor Baker’s view, financial analysis enables us to:

  • Deliver a logical, organized thought process that stimulates thinking.
  • Deliver useful, though rough, estimates.
  • Recognize the limitations of numerical analyses and risk management and measurement.
  • Create value as an integral part of firm strategy and operations.

Ultimately, he said, “Finance is ideally more of a process, a lens to view the impact of your decisions.”  I try to apply this theory of finance not only to how my company spends money for financial return, but also to how I spend my own money for “happiness” returns.  I follow the research below to help me perform this analysis:

Opt for an experience rather than something tangible.  Research shows that individuals are happier when they invest in experiences rather than material possessions.  “Do experiences make people happier than material possessions?  In two surveys, respondents from various demographic groups indicated that experiential purchases—those made with the primary intention of acquiring a life experience—made them happier than material purchases.”  (Van Boven & Gilovich, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2003).

Invest in your happiness with more free time.  Research shows that spending money on time-saving purchases — e.g., a shorter commute, lawn-mowing, laundry, housecleaning — promotes greater happiness than spending money on objects.  “Surveys of large, diverse samples from four countries reveal that spending money on time-saving services is linked to greater life satisfaction.”  (Whillans AV, Dunn EW, Smeets P, Bekkers R, & Norton M, National Academy of Sciences, 2017).

Indulge yourself.  Indulgences may seem impractical in the moment, but the more time that passes after a purchase decision, the more consumers regret choosing a practical option instead of an indulgence.  (Kivetz & Keinan, Journal of Consumer Research, 2006).

Giving might actually be better than receiving.  Teams that received pro-social bonuses performed better after receiving the bonuses than teams that received money to spend on themselves. People are generally happier and more satisfied when they give to others, so be generous (Anik L, Aknin LB, Norton MI, Dunn EW, & Quoidbach J, PLoS ONE 8(9): e75509, 2013).

When you get your next bonus or pay check, try out one out and see how you feel.


How Should I Spend My Money?

Does your attractiveness impact your performance review?

Amy Schumer’s latest movie “I Feel Pretty” sparked an interesting debate in the NYTimes this week.  Amanda Hess wrote:

“I Feel Pretty” is based on a pretty little lie: Looks don’t matter. It’s what’s on the inside that counts.

In the film, the down-on-herself Renee (played by Amy Schumer) conks her head in a SoulCycle accident and awakens believing that she has miraculously become supermodel-hot. She revels in it — charging into a bikini contest, snagging a promotion and basking in the affections of a beefy corporate scion — only to discover that her looks never changed a bit. The benefits she thought she accrued through beauty were won instead through her newfound self-confidence. (Hess, Amanda, ‘I Feel Pretty’ and the Rise of Beauty-Standard Denialism, NYTimes, April 23, 2018)

Hess argues that, in reality, looks do matter.  We cannot simply tell women who believe (or are) unattractive that society does not care about their looks but rather their self-confidence.  Women (and men) cannot overcome the impact of their appearance with self-confidence.

Hess’s article prompted me to think about how attractiveness functions as an unconscious bias in the workplace.  As a manager, I try to challenge myself on my biases and if they impact my team.  Some of the common ones I discuss with my colleagues include gender, race, time in role and, my favorite, recency.

However, we never discuss our bias towards attractive people.  Attractiveness remains a silent bias perhaps because talking about it seems uncouth and everyone, at the moment, fears #metoo.  While we may not yet comfortably talk about this bias, academics do write about the topic.

The most compelling evidence that humans prefer more attractive humans to less attractive humans comes from a study done at the University of Texas in 1999.  In the study, Rubenstein found that infant face perception showedinfants’ preferences for attractive faces exist well before socialization from parents, peers, and the media can affect these preferences” (Rubenstein, A.J. Dev Psychol. 1999 May;35(3):848-55).  Even before we inherit the values of our shallow society, we prefer pretty people.

Obviously, we cannot conclusively say attractiveness leads to higher salaries or promotions at work.  In fact, in some scenarios it may work detrimentally.  For example, Maria Agathe’s 2011 study found if a “person being evaluated is of the same sex as the evaluator, attractiveness hurts, rather than helps” (Agathe, Maria, Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. 2011. 37(8) 1042–105).

Regardless of which way the bias flows, we need to add attractiveness (both physical traits, fashion style and self-grooming) to the list of biases to think about when judging the performance of others.

In my world, I will think about attractiveness as a potential bias in my management and work with others, but I don’t think I am quite ready to challenge my peers to do the same.

Does your attractiveness impact your performance review?

How to Deal with Difficult Customers

I love sales because it often produces (if you sell a product you believe in) win-win situations.  You make money selling a product that people or companies truly needs to do something better.

Sometimes, I find uncovering these “deals” easy.  The customer gives you all of the information you need to make appropriate recommendations.  However, I most enjoy the times when I face resistance.

In a call I took recently, a customer voiced (GREAT) dissatisfaction with what we would write into a contract.  I knew we would not change our mind on the contract request.  However, this lead to an interesting question: What made this customer “need” that provision?

In gathering more information on the customer’s goals and own contract language, we realized that could meet their needs without changing our policy and which resources we needed to leverage to do this.  The deal is now back on track.

How did we get the customer to ultimately share the information we needed?

  • Transparency: “The best way for me to get you a meeting with [insert senior leader the customer wanted to speak to here] is to understand how big of a client you might be with us.  Can you tell me how much you spend on [insert product] right now?” Customers know we reserve senior execs only for certain customers.  They understand this, so in showing those cards as to why I want to understand their size to help them, I got valuable information that helps me size the deal.
  • How / What Questions: Always use open-ended questions.  It helps secure the most information and comes off as less aggressive and more aimed towards understanding.
    • “What do your customers want?”
      • “What did you commit to legally?”
    • “What are your main goals in this new product?”
    • “What does your 2018 strategy include?
  • Share your BATNA: While I don’t recommend this in all situations, an openness to walk away from the deal can help.  “Writing X down will never work here. Does it make sense to continue conversation on how can find a way to help?”  This proved to the customer that we did not lie, but do want to help.

I recommend watching a few of the videos or reading Ury’s book below if you nerd out on negotiation like I do.

Good resources for further reading (a business school favorite): Getting Past No: Negotiating In Difficult Situations, Online Videos by William Ury

How to Deal with Difficult Customers

Forgive. As many times as it takes.

I attended my wonderful co-worker’s wedding yesterday.  Since his wedding centered around a culture different to the ones I know well, I paid special attention to the advice and customs.  In his speech, the father of the groom advised the couple to “Forgive. As many times as it takes“.

During the ride home, my friends and I talked about why, for most of us, this phrase struck us.  For me, I like the implication that if we can receive continuous forgiveness, with no upper bound, we can make mistakes, and thus learn (which, for me, makes life fun), secure in the fact that our partner will not abandon us once we hit a certain threshold.

We then debated if this “continuous forgiveness” does and/or should exist in business.  We ultimately concluded no, since at some “forgiveness” threshold at work, you would cut the inefficiency.

However, my Director told me a few months ago that she always “assumes good intent” of others at work.  In some ways, her mantra coincides with the groom’s father’s speech.  And, although different than forgiveness, I can attest that it promotes a surprising amount of empathy, calm and learning.

For example, a few weeks ago one of my colleagues took credit for work he did not do (and one of my employees did do).  Instead of fuming inside, or becoming passive aggressive, I tried to abide by my Director’s ethos and assume that he did not intend to take credit for work that he didn’t do, but rather wanted to efficiently start taking about a project, so the “I” slipped in there.

Assuming a simple mistake rather than a malicious one, I could much more calmly tell  my colleague that I thought we missed an opportunity to highlight a less senior person’s work.  Once he heard my perception, he quickly pinged others from the meeting and let the entire group know my employee, not him, thought of the idea.

While this reaction did not exemplify any extraordinary feat, the copious situations when I used my Director’s mindset in the past few months demonstrates the its potential.  Try “assuming good intent” at work and “forgiving, as many times as it takes” in your personal relationships.  Let me know how it goes.


Forgive. As many times as it takes.

One Easy Tip for Much Better Emails

Managing an Inside Sales Team, I spend a lot of time helping my team perfect emails.  Today, I want to share a tip I often encourage my team, peers and (even) my bosses to adopt: avoid using passive voice.

In my high school’s junior year English class, we got an assignment to write a 15 page paper.  The teacher allowed us to use passive voice three times– in the entire paper.  I also grew up with a lawyer for a father.  In every assignment he edited, my papers got shorter and passive voice disappeared.  Now, passive voice bothers me.  I re-read most, and all important, emails to delete out any passive voice.

I find avoiding passive voice helps you:

  • Clearly state who needs to do what and why
  • Shorten your emails (and we all know how much people read if an email is tl;dr )
  • Sound more professional and polished

I challenge you to take out the following (most common) passive voice words from your email for an entire day (for over-achievers, a week).  Let me know if it helps.

Just seven words to eliminate from your emails:

  • is
  • was
  • has
  • have
  • were
  • be
  • am

Here are a few resources to help:


One Easy Tip for Much Better Emails

Just Ask.

A few days ago, I spoke with a sales person on my team and asked them “How much does the client spend on AWS now?”

He answered that he did not know.  I asked him why he did not ask that question in his last conversation and he replied that he thought it awkward.  I said I agreed the ask would feel uncomfortable, but that did not make it inappropriate or wrong.  This situation reminded me of something I often find in both professional and personal life, people shy away from questions that make them feel uncomfortable.

Asking, more often than not, does not damage relationships (if done nicely), the worst outcome entails receiving an answer you do not want.

Below are both personal and professional examples of places to practice “asking”:

  • Refunds or new items for a product that didn’t work
    • Rent the Runway shipment late? Amazon late?  Ask for a refund (partial or full). Often, subscription businesses don’t want to lose or anger subscription customers since you provide repeat revenue.
  • A hotel upgrade
    • “Do you have any complimentary upgrades available”
      • Even without status, if the front desk knows the room won’t get used that night, they have no incentive not to please a guest– even one without status
  • An earlier or later dinner reservation
    • Book a time on Open Table and call the restaurant to see if they can take more/less/same people at an earlier/later time.  Often by securing the initial reservation, the staff wants to help the person they know will dine at their restaurant soon.
  • A hard client question
    • “How much do you spend on XYZ now?”
    • [Insert here] Any question that gets you more information that will help you do your job better in serving your client

So, if you take anything away from this quick read.  Next time you think you can’t ask for something you want (information, refund, upgrade), ask.

In the comments section, would you please add something you think our community should start asking for? 

Just Ask.