Building Winning Teams

Need some practical, yet not superficial advice about Building Winning Teams? Try the pages of High Output Management by Andy Grove.

I don’t tell you that because this book is a hot new read. In fact, although only published in 1995, the twenty years since have brought such radical innovation that in some way the book feels oddly dated. Especially given its author is a Silicon Valley pioneer and one of the most important human contributors to the high-tech tsunami.

The sole reason I read the book was due to the sheer number of times that Ben Horowitz referred to Grove and his managerial lessons in his CEO “guidebook”, The Hard Thing About Hard Things. Horowitz’s book is a must read in my mind for business leaders. Grove’s book, while old in business years, is not a dusty diary but an absolute managerial clinic.

What I found invaluable, and probably timeless, are his lessons regarding recruiting, building, and managing teams for peak performance. This is both an art and a science.

Some things that stood out for me include:

  1. He recognizes how hard it is in an hour or two of interviewing to really size up a candidate’s potential to succeed. Grove stresses interview questions that probe deeply to understand the candidate’s approach to business challenges. It is the approach to the problem, not the knowledge base of the problem, that he feels is most critical.
  2. Grove has created his own index for assessing the level of mastery a report has over their tasks. He stresses this approach to allow for an evolving management style even with the same individual. Over time, Grover believes the management of an individual should vary based on development in their ability to accomplish tasks. In short, it’s okay to micro manage someone who is new to an assignment or has taken on a special assignment that is out of their usual accountability. It is actually helpful.
  3. Train. Train. Train. Grove feels strongly that training should be done by managers and there is no better ROI of a manager’s time than training. He mathematically validates this hypothesis, as you would expect a PhD to do. But in short he believes that the time taken to prepare and deliver training material by a manager has an exponential impact on the productivity of the trainees. He firmly believes managers, not outsiders, own training. Plus a robust training assignment also helps the trainer sharpen their skills.
  4. Hold regular one-on-ones with your reports. Let them set the agenda; it’s their time to seek your assistance with problems and issues. They need to happen regularly. They need to happen without fear. The 1:1 provides the best quality development time for a report and keeps the manager in touch with key issues.
  5. Hold on to the good ones. If a keeper employee wants to quit, drop everything immediately and work to find a solution to keep them. It needs to become your priority and that of your organization’s. Don’t buy their concern of having made a commitment to their new place of employment for having signed a contract, because at that point their signature is on two contracts. The one with you and the one with their new boss. One is going to be broken anyway.
  6. Conduct employee reviews that focus on how they’re contributing to future success of the business, not on the current results of the business. This is essential to ensure that employees don’t get rewarded or punished for circumstances beyond their control. This viewpoint will contribute to employees’ focus on contributing to the strategic plan issued by the business unit and not on short-term results.

In an era when too many fluff books about management are written, both Horowitz and Grove break through with realistic lessons that resonate, at least in my little world.


Mirren Mashup

Attending a New Business conference isn’t something you usually tell your loyal clients about.

But without the aid of an alias I crossed the border last week and attended Mirren Live in New York. Clearly I haven’t learned any lessons on discretion in this area, because I am now going to share my key learnings in this blog, which by my last check is read by many of our clients.

While there wasn’t a client in sight among the 300+ attendees, there were insights and inspirations that resonated so loudly with me I think they are worth sharing with all participants in my marketing ecosystem: staff, interns, suppliers, competitors, industry colleagues, clients, ex-clients, and maybe even a few future clients. While intended by the presenters as advice for agency leaders, their applicability to all marketing constituents will hopefully be apparent.

I debated long and hard whether I should attribute these ideas to their contributors and decided I would. However given certain legal trouble I am facing (just kidding), I do offer the following caveats.
1. If I misquoted you as a contributor, please forgive me, advise me, and correct me. In that order.
2. If you didn’t want your comments publicly broadcast – it’s too late for that.
3. If you wish to add to your comments, then please fill your boots and comment away.

I was mentioning to a friend the other day how I get so many comments on my blog directly by email, text, etc. Selfishly, nothing gets me more excited when I receive a WordPress notice of a comment to moderate. Yes I love having comments. Check back to my Donald Sterling blog. I even approve comments when people take a swipe at me.

Excuse the mindless segue about comments. Just don’t ignore it.

Okay here goes my version of the Mirren Mashup. Remember speakers, these aren’t direct quotes….just me paraphrasing and in some cases not so loosely interpreting.

Hiring Tip from David C. Baker of ReCourses:
If you couldn’t imagine yourself surviving a nine-hour car ride with the candidate, don’t hire them.

Hiring Tip from Alex Bogusky, FearLess Cottage:
Obnoxious people need not apply.

Client Loyalty Regret from Bogusky:
Dumping Mini for VW (while at Crispin Porter + Bogusky)…will haunt me for a lifetime.

Tim Sullivan of Sales Performance International on Agency Pitches:
The majority of agency pitches do not provide a value proposition to the prospect. What is the transactional value? What is the collaboration value? What is the financial value?

Lead Generation Advice from Peter Caputa of HubSpot:
Utilize multiple landing pages to generate more leads for your inbound programs.

WONGDOODY’s Ben Wiener various tips for Agencies:
Don’t wait for the client to ask before you bring them ideas… Have the balls to say no… Don’t forget who you are… My worst day in Advertising is a better day at the office than my wife’s best (who is a lawyer)… Killed doesn’t mean dead… Pitch less.

Mark Harrison on Mirren:
Pitch less was a big theme of the conference. I wonder how clients feel about that?

Sullivan on 2nd Place Finishers in Pitches:
Finishing second is finishing last. The true second place finisher is the first agency to withdraw from the pitch. It’s a poker analogy. When you fold, you cut your losses.

Future of Advertising Comment from Pete Stein, Razorfish:
Less Campaigns and more Real Time Marketing.

Sarah Hofstetter, 360i on Social Strategy:
Develop a database/relationship with the top 10,000 (yes 10,000) online influencers.

Hofstetter on consumers:
They are human beings.

Hoftstetter on the Oreo Super Bowl Moment:
That wasn’t a fluke. It was a case of a brand understanding its DNA and jumping on a moment.

DDB Worldwide’s Mark O’Brien on client-agency fit:
We are a great agency for a client that has tons of ongoing work that needs to be outputted with efficiency. If you’re doing one spot a year, we may not be the right shop for you.

O’Brien on small agencies:
You have advantages over big agencies. Use them.

Mark Harrison on speaking at Mirren:
I would love to speak next year. (Think this will work?!)

Hofstetter on clients assigning agencies based on marketing channels:
You are better off assigning different parts of the marketing ecosystem and having an agency attack that in an integrated manner.

Laura Maness of Havas on Brainstorming:
You need to transition people into the room. They need to be able to switch from their current distractions to the task at hand. Interview them 2-3 days prior to get the juices flowing. Do Projective Exercises when they are in the room to create moments of reflection. Most of all ensure discipline in the brainstorming process.

Values Redefined by Bogusky:
Your values don’t have to be nice values, just have some.

Client Admiration Comment by Edward Cotton of Butler, Shine, Stern & Partners:
Ugly clients can be great for an agency…. You don’t have to have a BEER client on your roster.

Cotton on Being Persistent:
Just because a client turns you down, doesn’t mean you should stop pursuing them. The Saatchi brothers built an empire on not taking NO for an answer.

We had a private investigator on retainer to get us scoops on prospective clients for pitches.

Hopefully my clients feel I wasn’t in the Big Apple trying to cheat on them, but rather working hard to make my agency a better contributor to their business.

This is where I make a kissy face.

Go SouthWest Old Man

I am one thousand percent worried I will be the oldest delegate at SXSW this week.

I was further spooked last week, when the first fellow delegate who spotted me on the attendee list was a former intern…barely into their first real job.

Yet it’s high time I broke out of my conference routine. Later this month I will be attending IEG for the 19th or 20th time. But I need to change things up. This April will be the first time in several years I’m not attending the CSTA Sport Events Congress. It’s all I can do to resist the pull of SportAccord in Turkey or the Event Marketer conference in Salt Lake come May. The latter’s been replaced by the Mirren New Business agency conference in NYC. I’m still debating C2 in MTL and want to hear any thoughts people have on that.

(Kudos by the way to the TwentyTen Group and their XL Leadership Summit a couple of weeks back. Hearing lots of orbital buzz about how good it was!)

So I’m making some changes. Slowly.

My guess is SXSW will be anything but slow. I’m attending the Interactive week, which also is hosting three days of SPORTS this week. The integration of Sports with Interactive is generating pre-conference buzz among attendees. It’s a savvy move by the organizers, mirroring the very real collision between these two social movements on a daily basis. I’m excited to attend an event where I can hear Gary Vaynerchuk one day and Dick’s Sporting Goods the next!

Let me know if I can get anything for you while I’m in Austin. I’ve got to run and find my fake ID that says I’m 27!


This morning, while taking my son to his freestyle skiing competition, I drove past one of my former rivals from my high school football days.

Predictably, he groaned as I began to tell him about every game we played against this school. Not again, he begged, and I begrudgingly retreated into silence. But silence can often prove to be a blessing, as it allowed me to think about my worst game against this rival.

It was the year I finally won the starting QB position. We travelled to this school for a season opener that we should have won. Instead I let the team down, played a tentative game, messed up my play calls, and cost us a victory.

Why? I was afraid. Panicked I would screw up. Frightened to lose my role. In the end, my fear-induced ineptitude swiftly cost me my QB job. This was my first experience realizing that if you think about something too much, it will come true.

There is no greater enemy in the arena or the boardroom than fear. Nothing frustrates me more than when I hear one of my employees is afraid of screwing up or even worse, afraid of me. I once had a client tell me I scared them.

Creating an environment devoid of fear has been a relentless objective of mine for several years. The only thing I want people to be concerned about is not trying. Not giving their all. Mistakes will happen. Initiatives may fail. Pitches may be lost. But trying and giving it our all is the true victory. Not trying is failure. I think I am most upset with people when they won’t try. The effort is as important as the result.

It’s a lesson we need to apply away from work as well. If you have kids who play sports, you have no doubt been a part of some great seasons and some crummy seasons. Odds are high that during the crummy seasons, your child and her teammates competed in a culture of fear. Usually created by a well-meaning coach who thinks she is installing a system, but doesn’t realize she’s installing a Pavlovian condition.

Maybe she is as afraid of losing as I was? Maybe she too had the same experience when she was 15? Maybe she too will drive past an arena from her youth, where fear got the better of her one game, and realize that fear doesn’t breed success.

TrojanOne is For Sale

No, just kidding. But who can blame any of my agency-owning peers for some wishful thinking of selling our businesses this week after witnessing the IMG sale?

In less than 10 years after being sold for $ 750 million to Forstmann Little by the estate of the late great Mark McCormack, IMG is now being sold for more than three times that…$2.4 billion to William Morris Endeavour. These two transactions reflect the brilliance of two men. Mark McCormack, who founded IMG in 1960, effectively invented the agency business model for sports and sponsorship marketing. The second genius in our saga is Ted Forstmann, who, according to the script written by industry pundits, went from a reviled investment banker criticized for gutting IMG…to a man who clearly knew what he was doing!!!

IMG has incredible assets in the properties they own and the rights they broker. Now we know they aren’t just incredible; they are pretty valuable. Worth billions.

So how much would you give me for TrojanOne? What assets do I have? You probably don’t see media rights to international properties or ownership of fashion shows or marketing relationships with star athletes on my balance sheet. But look a little further.

What I do have is the most dedicated and talented team of people you would ever want to be associated with, who proved to me once again in 2013 that they will do whatever it takes to get our clients promoted. They push the boundaries of creativity with Twitter-activated vending machines, keeping a relentless focus on clients’ business objectives, generating thousands of leads for a Grey Cup sponsor, or ensuring our field staff are motivated and equipped to travel the country and endure the demands of a grueling experiential tour schedule.

I have witnessed my team spend all night rebuilding bike racks at an international sports event; held my breath while they created from scratch, in less than 24 hours, a mobile payment system for an event registration venue that threw us a curve; and tried to support them relentlessly during six emergency conference calls on a weekend when a music property went astray.

Most people in life never get to work in area they love. The passion my people have for their work is amazing and I love them for it. That’s why TrojanOne will be accepting bids today starting at Infinity!

Boarding the WestJet Bandwagon

You know what I love best about the WestJet Christmas promo video that was soaring to 4 million YouTube views when I started writing this tonight?

Not the fact that the airline’s project lead for this campaign is a former employee of mine.

Not the fact that I was secretly (?) tipped off by a WestJetter the week before it came out. No, not by my ex-Trojanite!

Not the fact that I probably wasn’t being tipped off, but in fact being used as an influencer to hopefully spread the word.

Not the fact that I cry much too regularly at Christmastime, a condition I blame on Jimmy Stewart and his performance in my fave flick of all time, It’s a Wonderful Life.

No. The thing I love best is that this video was done by a company, WestJet, that treats its customers like it’s Christmas 365 days a year.
This has long been their differentiator and it’s entirely genuine. Hence, when you see this video (and if you haven’t, stop reading my drivel, grab a box of tissue, find a quiet place, dial up Google, and get ready to smile), you believe it to be genuine. Even though, in reality, it’s a stunt. A marketing activity. A promotion. Scripted. Contrived. Amplified. What could be more horrific?! Marketing!

Doesn’t matter. It’s a beautiful piece of marketing by a company that walks their talk.

So kudos to WestJet. Not just for the video, but for a little lesson for all of us in marketing.

Imagine if we all treated our clients like everyday was a holiday?

Kicking Game

I think every year I could write an emotionally charged blog when my football season ends.

If we finished with a championship win (circa 2005 & 2009), then the storyline might be about how my players overcame the odds or how they developed as a team.

If we finished with a playoff loss (insert the other 18 years of volunteer football coaching here…unfortunately), then I could pursue plot lines of valiant effort, or perhaps how I underperformed as a coach, or a wait-till-next year rallying cry.

This year, following our quarter-final upset loss last week, I could highlight being out-coached, a team that was overconfident despite fielding only 21-22 players versus 45 for our opponent, mistakes by me in the kicking game, key injuries to some of our best receivers, and mistakes by my team…also in the kicking game. Did I mention a team that fields only 21-22 players versus 45 for our opponent?

After the game, I was particularly obsessed by my errors in the Kicking Game, but was reminded by a knowledgeable parent of one of my players that one play doesn’t win or lose a game. He’s right, though I only half believe him today….

Admittedly, I’m a sore loser. I’ve been looking inward, very very deeply, over the last few days. Realizing that at 48, it really is time for me to grow up. Thankfully, I think I’ve stumbled over the reason why I feel this way.

It’s not the losing that really kicks. Because losing suggests I’m jealous of the winners. I’m not. They deserved to win. What hurts isn’t the loss of the game, it’s the loss of purpose.

When the season is on, everyone on a team has a common purpose. A brotherhood. A galvanizing force. When the season ends, the suddenness of that loss destroys that purpose. It’s the ending of the mission that hurts. Failure isn’t what creates fear, it’s the end of the journey and what that entails.

This is the true Kicking Game moral. It applies to sports, business, a husband and wife saving for their first house, a person trying to lose weight, someone facing a grave disease. The journey, the mission, the effort is the reward. The outcome is important; in most of my examples there is much more at stake than winning a silly high school football game. But even winning a championship results in the silence of the post-season the next day.

Fortunately, and unfortunately, I’ve recovered faster than ever from this loss. I’ve got a ton of missions to sink myself into. Work, clients, helping my wife and kids fulfill their dreams, mentoring my staff, supporting a sick colleague. Given what’s going on in this world, from devastating typhoons to ridiculous mayors, there is so much for us all to become a part of. Having a mission can be so powerful. So instead of waiting for next season to get my kicks, I’m going to tackle everything else in my life like I do my beloved Lawrence Park Panthers. As a volunteer, a leader, a committed partner.

That will give me lots of kicks!


Over the past couple of years, the industry volunteers who drive the Sponsorship Marketing Council of Canada have been working their fannies off to build an organization that is more relevant, valuable, and attractive to the marketing community. This morning proved they have achieved their lofty ambitions.

Every couple of months the SMCC holds breakfast forums in Toronto. In past years they have been hit and miss. Some have had great content, with poor attendance. Others have been attended en masse, only to showcase disappointing content. Finally the light went on and made enough people at the SMCC executive table realize that poorly orchestrated events were more than bad events. They were actually reflecting poorly on the entire sponsorship marketing industry. How can you sell the C-suite on the ROI of sponsorship marketing when our own industry events have zero ROI?

Flash forward to 2013 and you now have all-star panels such as this morning’s featuring my pal Don Mayo of IMI, Jacquie Ryan of Scotia, Nathalie Cook from TSN, Iain Chalmers of Diageo, Alan Dark of CBC and Kyle McMann from the NHL. Today’s 8:00 AM seminar was held in Real Sports, which was great except I had never seen the place sober before. (Bummed that none of the usual waitresses were working either, but I did recognize a couple of their moms serving coffee.)

The topic of conversation was “The Elusive Fan,” with the NHL and its partner programs utilized to illustrate the theory that Fan Value is the key for sponsorship ROI for all parties: sponsor, property, and media rights holder. It’s a sound theory that extends beyond the NHL case study, although hockey is a perfect lesson for us all.

More important than the topic is the effort of the SMCC execs and the commitment of the speakers to ensure that the sponsorship marketing industry in Canada grows, flourishes, and is duly recognized for its impact on business success. That’s ROI for all of us!

Hey SMCC, you have won over this elusive fan.

First Cut

I still remember the first time I was cut.

Despite being Grant Fuhr’s doppelgänger and my 6.85 House League goals against average, the Orillia Pee-Wee rep team didn’t want my netminding “skills”!

Then again, that wasn’t the last.

In Grade 9 I was thrilled when the basketball coach suggested I join the wrestling team, until my parents advised me this wasn’t an “incremental” suggestion. What I really needed was some incremental inches given I was 4′ 6″, without the skills of Spud Webb.

Seems lots of coaches had some great suggestions for me over the years, but they never involved sticking around. The late Tom Dimitroff took one look at my 5′ 2″ freshman frame and suggested the Guelph campus paper needed a sportswriter more than the Gryphons needed a wannabe Pinball Clemons. (Though in those days, Johnny Rogers would be a better example.)

Even today, when I’m 25 years past trying out for teams, I endure regular cuts from potential clients during the pitch process. Many of them sound just like my old coaches. “We loved your agency, but you finished second.” “If we could only hire everybody.” “Your pitch was great, we just found a better fit.”

But today it’s me who has to do the cutting. It’s my first time. It’s making me sad. I have never had to boot someone off the high school football team I have coached for over 15 years. But I have finally met the kid who won’t try. Won’t listen. Won’t commit.

So it’s bye bye time. Unless he can turn it around. He doesn’t have to be good. He just has to try.

When I am angriest at myself at work, it’s when I lose a pitch I know I didn’t put enough effort into. A valiant effort resulting in a loss is okay. Losing because I was outworked…grrr!

For three long weeks I’ve tried to create the teenage analogy of this lesson in junior’s head. But he doesn’t give a crap.

There is no room in my world for people who won’t try hard. Maybe I should try harder to turn him around. But I really think it’s time. The first time. For me to make that cruel, everlasting decision to cut someone. Because I believe it’s the only message that he will remember.

Workcations Don’t Work

Last summer I was pretty proud of myself. I took two weeks off and only sent four work-related emails. Of course the London Olympics were a serious distraction from the office rote.

Stupidly when I embarked on this vacay, I actually expected to work. The theory of this hot air balloon burst quickly when I crashed into this old world time warp called Spain. Since swapping the chaotic romance of Barcelona for the organized tranquility of Montreux, Switzerland…the work time hasn’t increased. But my productivity has…and today while yodelling down the mountain, I decided to share my epiphanies with you.

#1. Mark the hypocrite says don’t work on vacation, but if you feel the pressure to be available, then:

# 2. Take twenty minutes in the morning to work and no more. You will be horrified you can actually do everything that’s truly important in way less than the hours of candle burning you normally incur!

# 3. Email at the best of times is horribly misused. When you are away you realize how much so. Convince your team to use email as a data transmitter, not a conversation enabler, and your inbox will shrink.

# 4. Use the twenty-four hour rule. On home soil, this applies when you’re about to send an angry email. But when you are away, delaying all will allow you to edit your replies so they are divinely surgical.

# 5. Mull. Meditate. Ponder. Never do we have enough daylight hours to think. What better time to teach yourself new techniques.

Smile for the camera, it doesn’t know you’re working!