Once a year, Hershey's offers its "Fresh from the Factory" program, where you can order the freshest chocolate straight to your home. This direct-to-mouth opportunity bypasses the regional and local distribution supply chain and avoids months of sitting around in boxes and shelves before you buy. I mean, who couldn't go for a fresh, delicious Reese’s peanut butter cup (or 40) right now? You’re welcome.
Something Personal: Embrace the Madness
March is, without question, my favorite month of the year. Sure, it is the only month that is also a command (march!)… but March is a time when I connect and interact with many people in the outer spheres of my personal network. Old friends, former colleagues, distant family members, retired NBA players, current college coaches (shhhh, don't tell), elected officials, and total strangers who I've "known" for 20 years but never met in real life all fill up my inbox for 2-3 weeks each year for one reason. It serves as a temporary reminder that there is still at least one thing that unites us as a people.
Back in 1994, I organized my first analog NCAA Tournament pool for about 20 friends. I was just a sophomore in high school, and my two biggest concerns that year were not getting caught by a teacher... and studying for the PSATs. I remember handing out blank brackets from the newspaper, copied using the library's Xerox machine, passed around in between classes, then staying after school to collect them. I even carried that first bracket with me to my first-ever NCAA Tournament game, held at nearby Nassau Coliseum. I cheered as the Penn Quakers knocked off the Nebraska Cornhuskers in the first round that year, though I cannot recall if I was more excited that my future university won its first Tournament game in 20 years... or that I accurately picked my first-ever upset.
One entry 27 years ago cost $20... and each bracket still costs only $20 today. Of course, the pool has grown over the years and has become ~99% digital over the last two decades (the remaining 1% still mail physical checks to my home for their entry fees). It now includes hundreds of people... increasingly more of whom I don't even know. I expect this year's pot to be over $10,000.
COVID put a serious wrench in the final weeks of the 2020 college basketball season, resulting in the cancellation of last year’s NCAA Tournament. There was a great deal of disappointment at the time, but it turned out to be the right decision. This year's college basketball season has been most unique, with teams playing uneven numbers of games, with limited non-conference schedules in empty arenas. Even traditional powerhouse teams, who were buoyed by the home court advantage, are struggling with mediocrity. Only one collegiate conference chose not to participate in the college basketball season. It will be sad not to see an Ivy League team in the Big Dance this year.
This year's NCAA Tournament gives a whole new meaning to the term "bubble." Every single game will be played in Indianapolis with no fans in attendance (except for local first responders and select family members). All 60+ teams in one city at the same time sounds like a logistical nightmare, and in any other year, would be the biggest party scene of all-time. So this year's event won’t exactly be a "return to normal." Instead it will serve as a constant reminder that COVID remains a very serious threat to our population.
Yet, the excitement is real. As Selection Sunday approaches, everyone -- from the athletes to fans to the casual gambler -- is sitting like a coiled spring, with highlighters and sharpies at the ready. So do yourself a favor and load up at least $20 into your Venmo account and get ready for the Mattness... errr, Madness, yourself!
Something Professional: Become Replaceable
One of the worst traits any manager can have is an inability to “let go.” It’s especially hard with founders, builders, and owners. You think you’re being helpful, but the painful truth is that you’re standing in the way.
As a young manager early on in my career, I got some great advice that I’ve strived to enact and pass on ever since: Become replaceable. This may sounds counterintuitive, but managers should embrace and encourage junior team members to build the skills that will result in their upward progression at the company. The best managers put people, processes and tools in place to ensure things are running smoothly, and then find new challenges to prioritize, tackle, and solve.
Looking back at my time at 360i in the last decade, I had three very different roles in 10 years. My goal was always to make myself obsolete in my role (at least in the daily operational business). It’s easy to get caught up in the details of your business, but your job, as a manager, is to set up an organizational structure, find the right people, and enable employees to do the best possible job without further input. Being replaceable allows manager to focus on what they should be doing: becoming a leader, seeing big ideas, and shaping the future.
So… how? When defining either a project or desired outcome, the first priority is to ensure that that there are clear tasks. Dividing things up into as many small steps as possible has the added benefit of keeping people motivated because, for every step they complete, they’ll feel like they're making progress and getting closer to the goal. Next, it’s time to assign the tasks, and make sure that everyone knows who’s responsible for what. And yes, I love a good RACI as much as anyone.
If you’re a manager who finds her/himself feeling overwhelmed, your first thought should be: “How can I delegate?” The key to effective delegation is to make an honest assessment of what kind of tasks you’re not particularly good at or passionate about. These are the things you should delegate to others. Of course, delegation only works when you’ve hired the right people. When recruiting, the mix of hard and soft skills matter include personality, passion, purpose and problem-solving abilities. For me, that means people who see big ideas and get things done.
No matter your business, there will be times when slowing down adds more value than speeding up. This might mean deprioritizing certain revenue-driving opportunities in favor of investing more time in building up your people… or finding different, more efficient ways to accomplish tasks. Author Ari Meisel says that for anything you do more than twice, there should be a process for… and if there's a process, it can almost definitely be automated.
But perhaps the single most important trait required to become a replaceable manager is personal organization: being effective and efficient with time and ideas. For me, being organized with my time and others creates more time to share and create original content. We are exposed to thousands of ideas each day – from colleagues, emails, newsletters, tweets, Clubhouse talks, and more. Keeping these thoughts organized could be a full-time job, and my trick is to send it ALL to a private email address (day or night) and come back to it a few times per week. From those thousands of ideas come the Four P’s each week. All because I’m able to find ways to make myself replaceable.
Something Practical: Write Like a Marketer
Just about every job listing/description requires “excellent communication skills” these days… though it’s hard to imagine a time when an employer would be comfortable with mediocre communication skills. Even the most brilliant, organized thoughts are useless without the ability to write and speak with clarity and conviction.
For me, strong writing would be at the top of the list. But becoming a great writer doesn’t just happen magically overnight. It takes years of practice, refinement, and openness to feedback/editing from more experienced communicators. Effective writers use frameworks, outlines, and patient planning. I have been the beneficiary of different advice over the years to hone my writing process (“Speak like a writer, and write like a speaker” and “Be a storyteller”). This may help simplify things… or it may sound overcomplicated, but these are really just structures that make it easier for the reader to follow. Writing structures can simplify things to a common denominator (Wait, that’s math, sorry). Some examples of these structure are: “Thesis, antithesis, synthesis” and “Introduction, body, conclusion.” Even devices like lists and alliteration (Four P’s) can help.
But the guide that has worked best for me over the past few years: “Write like a marketer.” Marketers first look to gain a better understanding of the audience, then use a command of language and creativity to drive an outcome with the message. From letter writing to copywriting, journalism to social media posts, good writing is active, brief, and clear (A,B,C = structure!). The active voice makes the written word energetic, engaging, concise and easier for readers to understand. Good writing avoids using “weak verbs” like: is, was, were, has, have, and had, as much as possible. Instead, turn to power verbs to create appealing sentences with fewer words.
Marketing is all about the “pitch.” Whether pitching a creative idea, crafting a mass message to consumers, or writing targeted content for an email campaign, good marketers consider the problem to solve, the solution, the market, and the business objectives. We (yes, I just called myself a good marketer) ask ourselves: Why is it such an issue? What are the repercussions? Why do they matter? Why am I able to better communicate a solution to this issue in a way that others haven’t? What’s going to set me apart from others doing something similar? Great writing also has its own version of a “Unique Selling Proposition” (USP). The USP explains: Why you? Why this? Why now? Why am I telling this story? What do I hope the audience will know or feel as a result?
Last, but not least: Good editing makes great writing. Crafting perfection on the first draft of an email, report, or presentation is impossible. It requires patience, reflection, re-reading, and fresh eyes. I also read my writing out loud, because my ears are better than my eyes and pick up errors that would have been otherwise missed.
To become a writer that people want to read: think strategically, analytically, and empathetically about your audience and what matters to them. Armed with knowledge about who will receive your words, you can personalize the intent and message to get the most impact out of your communication.
Something Political: Follow the Lead on Gun Safety
Over the past week, there have been several instances where athletes faced criticism for speaking out against injustice and other important social issues. “Stay in your lane” or “Stick to sports,” they’ve been told. U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team captain Becky Sauerbrunn and NBA star Lebron James both used their platforms to raise awareness and advocate for change. But athletes are just one group of prominent leaders who have become increasingly mobilized in the pursuit of progress. Think about Microsoft founder Bill Gates championing lobal health and climate crisis issues. PayPal CEO Dan Schulman took a stand against the North Carolina law requiring people to use the bathrooms corresponding with the gender on their birth certificates. His advocacy helped drive a referendum on transgender rights. These are leaders by action and example.
Now, I am joining with other business leaders following those examples on another important issue: gun safety. According to the Gun Violence Archive, there have already been over 7,000 gun-related deaths in the United States this year. I don’t believe that any private citizen should own a gun. I do not understand anyone who feels the need or desire to own a weapon. This anti-gun stance may position me as more of an extremist on the overall opinion spectrum, but I will not apologize for being an extremist for SAVING lives. Unfortunately, a devolving judicial interpretation of the 2nd Amendment over the years has indefinitely postponed this debate. The reality of our current political and social landscape is such that guns are not going anywhere. I will not abandon my hope that we can, someday, repeal or amend the 2nd Amendment.
Instead, the objectives need to be more achievable and the narrative we pursue has to start moving the needle, even slightly. One step at a time. Sure, most gun owners are responsible, and many own guns to protect themselves and their families. They currently have the right to do so if they follow the law. But we should all understand the risks and responsibilities that come with owning firearms.
That’s why I support the Gun Safety Alliance, an organization of business leaders from the creative, tech and marketing community who are joining forces with non-profit gun violence prevention organizations. Together, this group is smart enough to understand that change happens slowly, and are shifting the conversation from “gun control” to “gun safety.”
Last week, I was fortunate to join a Clubhouse chat with about 70 people, including Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, along with national leaders from Everytown, Mom’s Demand and both the Giffords and Brady advocacy groups. The discussion also included dozens of senior executives from some of America’s biggest companies – Facebook, Lowe’s, WW, and more. Without question, it was the most significant conversation I’ve been a part of on the platform since joining last year.
The objective is simple: We want to work together as leaders from every industry to reduce gun deaths in the US by 50% by 2030. How we do that is more challenging, but some critical opportunities to start with: mandatory universal background checks for anyone who wants to buy a gun (something on which 90% of Americans agree), close the gun show loophole, ban automatic and semi-automatic guns, outlaw high-capacity magazine, battle “Red Flag” and “Stand Your Ground” laws, and mandate gun storage improvements. These are common sense changes that will save lives in the short-term and the long-term, and do nothing to inhibit the legal right to own a gun.
Ultimately, only a smart, ongoing, concerted effort to hold ourselves and society accountable for ending this violence will create a better and safer future for us all. Let’s do this.