The OKR Podcast
The OKR Podcast

Episode · 10 months ago

Momentum in a Messy World 

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

Hootsuite CEO Tom Keiser joins Deidre for a CEO to CEO chat on cohesion in chaos, the changing nature of connection and community, and leading the way forward in transformative times. Tom and Deidre first met when he was COO at Zendesk launching their OKR program on WorkBoard several years ago, and he brought it with him as he took the helm as CEO at Hootsuite.

...thank you for joining me on this double shot of espresso coffee conversation. Thanks for having me here we are outside in san Francisco having the only summer day of the whole summer. It is, it is and you're you've been waiting for it all summer because you live here. Yes, it's been a very foggy cold, somewhat depressing summer here we had expected, it would be, you know, we'd be HVAC stand running around on the streets and san Francisco delivered its standard summer and cold. That's right, Exactly winter and summer SAn Francisco. That's right, that's right. So I'm excited to talk to you about a bunch of topics we've touched on before. Right. And let's start with maybe the macro situation like what are the big drivers of change in your world. I work for Hoot suite Hoot suite does help companies manage their social media management, we help them navigate across social media platforms. The pandemic has brought enormous usage of social media for good and for bad. But as avenues of our channels of communication for businesses to reach their customers have dried up and a lot of ways stores and physical events have closed people have moved to social as ways to connect with customers and prospects are, Business is incredibly dynamic right now with new social platforms coming in place, new use cases coming in place and as a, as a company we're having to learn how to adapt and be more agile to try more things and act more quickly. It's a really interesting time to be in the space and I think as you and I have shared over over different conversations. It's a really challenging time from a leadership standpoint right now. We've, we've sustained this pandemic now for, you know, a year and a half, we've had...

...glimmers of hope that it was going to come to an end and we'll be getting back to normal and it just hasn't quite come to fruition. We've opened offices, partially our people are figuring out still what their long term work arrangements are, but it's very challenging as a, as a leader to to be able to lead with confidence that, you know, you know, your, your ambition is to put the spotlight out a year and two years. And it's really hard to have the confidence to do that when you don't know if you're gonna be able to keep your office open next week or not or if something substantial is going to change in your infrastructure. So it's just, there's a lot of uncertainty and a lot of unease as you try to navigate the good things that are happening and to be successful, you have a particularly unique challenge. Right? So you we first met when you were Ceo at Zendesk, which was a super fast rocket ship and then you took over as Ceo in the middle of the pandemic. So you just recently met the founders, many of the early team members, you just recently actually got some in person time with them. What a year into your role as Ceo, that's the real deal there, That's rolling the dice. Yeah, I mean it was founded in Vancouver headquartered in Vancouver, the border has been closed. So the border opened up about a month ago and we've just now opened up our office in the last weeks in the early parts of september. So it opened up the opportunity for me to go to Vancouver and actually meet some people and go through the whole process and experience what it's like Going into your office when you're going to have your office at 10 or 15% of of staff. But it was really good. It was fantastic to you kind of get the third dimension to people. You get the box dimension of people, you don't know how tall they are, you don't have any depth to them. You don't know if they're a hugger or a distant person and yeah, it was, it was really, it was fun, It was fun. I sent out a trip report to my leadership team. I just...

...have a habit of doing that of like sharing observations and thoughts around it and that was the general theme. It was just fantastic to connect with people and little short stents and all appropriately spaced out. But it was just fantastic connect and kind of get across that two dimension to the third dimension there. So at Zendesk you were driving phenomenal growth at Hoot suite, you're helping reignite growth and in a transformation or a re ignition situation. What are the big levers that you use and maybe also what are the big worries that you have as you try to do that, you've got to be wired for the mindset that comes to be focused on, on growth of, of really being able to, to listen to try to understand the problem and the obstacles that people believe or in the way of accomplishing whatever it is you're trying to accomplish and then smash those obstacles, you know, get them out of the way and so and and that that can be done individually, it's a team sport to do that, but you've got to have the team that can believe in that and then go do it. And so that frequently requires figuring out, do you have the right team, what, what pieces are you missing? Getting those into the team? It requires kind of a constant focus and prioritization on the things that are important to get out of the way so that you can go do whatever that thing is that you want to do in the world of sass that's high growth and so high growth and then ultimately profitable growth and all the things that you need to do to scale that are are the things that you're trying to accomplish and they're usually many ways to do that hopefully, but you can't do them all. And so you've got to pick and so you have to make the hard decision and then then focus the team on that and then make sure that you're knocking off the small things to get you to the big thing at the end of it. Talk to us a little bit about how you got that wheel started...

...and and spinning on, getting the leadership team aligned on objectives, Getting clarity on that may be helping teams imagine the best possible options, particularly as you try to reignite, where were you kind of dial it back a year ago or so? And then where do you find the team now on that rhythm of iteration on what were lined on and what matters in the coming quarter? Yeah, I Think, you know, I mean the hindsight on, you know, 30 plus year career and all kinds of different industries is that you frequently measure your success based on the things that make you look the best. You know, they're kind of the glamour metrics and you kind of cherry pick the things that are most important as opposed to systemically thinking through the things that need to be in place and what success looks like. And then coming up with a plan on how to get there and rigorously measuring and holding yourself accountable to it. And I had spent a lot of years in consulting, I worked across retail where there were always financial metrics and some other specific metrics that the industries traditionally measured themselves on, but you always struggled with every part of the organization knowing how they fit in to reaching that set of objectives. You know, whether it was, you know, store growth or e commerce growth or whatever it was and my experience in tech was that while there was more sophistication, we were still missing getting beyond glamour kind of metrics or metrics at the highest level that people couldn't associate and prioritize their work around. And so the okay, our process was the first one I had run into where it made sense to me being able to really espouse, put your headlights out for ways and then have the stair steps that you needed to, to knock off to get there and to empower your people to ask the question...

...of like I see this thing that we want to go do, I'm over here Breaking rocks, how does my breaking rocks help us get to that thing so that you're questioning and you're talking about what it is that's important that you're working on with your manager and they need to be able to articulate why it's important to get to that objective. And it was one of the things I learned early, early in my career, was like whatever you're working on and make sure that you understand how it helps your company make money if you're if you're somehow dis associated with that you're probably in the wrong company or certainly in the wrong job. And so anyway, it just made a lot of sense. So I had the hindsight opportunity having done this at Zendesk of bringing of that into the who's sweet and we've gone through the same starts and stops of really trying to get clear on where we want to go what those objectives really are and you know, initially doing it where each leader had their own set of objectives and you know, and you add them all up together and say, oh here are the company objectives, but they weren't really company objectives, they were their unique individual silos. And we've we've found that the second iteration, it was much better than the third iteration. You really start getting into the hard work of really bringing them organizationally together and really starting to understand all of the different integration points and dependencies that are there and then you start having the real conversations that really allow you to start prioritizing and really decided that these are the most important things and we're I'm not going to do those things and so we're on that journey, that's where we started at the top level management, We're kind of working our way across the organization, I think that, you know, having to do it all on video has made it go a little slower than I would like, but I think the organization, I know the organization is paying attention and participating in each quarter or really each month, I do an open Q and A around how we're progressing against okay ours and we're...

...very, very open to the organization, very transparent to them and the questions are getting way better and harder to answer like why did we make this decision, you know, which is what I want. I want people really thinking about growth and about How we make the company a better company. And so that's the journey where we're right smack dab in the middle of it and 20, is going to be way better than 2021 but we're making good progress. I think that I mean the big non surprises that the path is the destination, there's no arrival date where you don't have to think really hard about what matters now and if these are the things we want to do, what are we not going to do? Right. That that hard thinking is just ever ever present. And the only thing it's easier is we know the rhythm and we have the same language for that conversation, conversations still meeting, but you've got to commit the management team and especially in the role I'm in is you know, you've got to commit to it. If you halfway commit to it, you will prioritize other things because the push for time is so great and it does require an investment of time up front to have those hard conversations and to get a line and buy up front, I mean every quarter, you know, it's like, it's, it's a commitment of time, but the belief is the investment in that time and spending the time up front saves you enormous time, takes a ton of friction out and unlocks the whole organization to really go afterwards. I always think that the, the difficulty in the conversation on what our objectives are and what results are we trying to drive is always the evidence of why we need to have the conversation as many times, people say, oh, we're all really aligned and this will be really easy, we only need an hour and on the first objective, can't agree on what it is we're trying to achieve. Like, yeah, good thing we all got together because clearly we didn't all agree on where we're going and it's...

...even in a small cycle, it's the trough of disillusionment, oh my God, we're so far from alignment, this is super painful. I want to deny this is happening to oh, I see the light of alignment emerging, I'm gonna change that well, and for us, we've been onboarding quite a few leaders as well, and it's helped with the onboarding process to that were so active in the process right now as leaders at our leadership level of the company, but within their own teams and making sure that we've got alignment up and down the line, that it, it gives them a forum to not just have to digest a bunch of presentations to them, but actively participate in a conversation and ask questions that they come in with, you know, kind of brand new eyes and they're like why is this the most important thing? And what I what I heard and the interview process or from the board was this? It's it's really a little painful but really healthy. Super healthy. Are you seeing assumptions shift more frequently? And how are you thinking about operating rhythm and are you trying to adjust the operating rhythm as you learn and as things change? Yeah. You know, I think all ceos want agility or want more agility so that you do have kind of the superpower of being able to react either market change an opportunity that somehow fell out of the sky on your head, technology change. So we're, I would say we're on the journey of that. We haven't we're not at the maturity level that your company is yet, but we're getting there, we're setting our, we're revisiting objectives but setting key results quarterly, we have worked them into each level of staff meetings. So people are actually talking about how we're progressing. We're recognizing that some of the Glamour metrics that we started with weren't the right metrics and changing those out, recognize some measures we really need to understand, we can't measure. And so some some key results...

...turned into figure out how to measure this key results so that we can actually have it as a, as a target. But we haven't, we haven't gotten down into like what are the underlying assumptions that went into thinking that this was really important and critical for us. Some of it is, you know, we're a SAS software company. There's some pretty good givens around what the right metrics are and how you will be measured by the market around those. But the space we're in in social media and helping organizations navigate that is very, very dynamic and what success looks like and what safety looks like our evolving very quickly. Commerce is of our is evolving very quickly on it. So we we need more agility to be able to to not just play defense but to play offense with this. And I know it's in there. We just haven't haven't made it made it to that yet. I was talking to a Ceo at a startup, maybe 5, 600 people now and super funded super fast growth and the colo had come out of Cisco which is where I first met him. And no, he he described the change. The difference in how fast the inflection points come in a growth company versus a big company. Like there's an inflection point every nine months every 12 months in a big company in a mature industry right? In a less mature, super transforming industry. The inflection points you might become every Four weeks. Every eight weeks and each one feels like a major shift or change imagine in your space, given the last 18 months and given your new leadership and the changes you're trying to make, you must feel like you're on the cusp of a real inflection pretty often. Yeah, we, you know, we we drink our own champagne so we use our own product as well for for social media management. So we're super active and we have employees who are absolute experts and instructors and we work with lots of universities and we...

...train lots and lots of students on marketing and the importance of social media inside of marketing. You have to let go of the idea that you're in control. Like, you know, you the way I grew up in my career, the at each level you went up, you tried to eliminate some variables by bold proclamation and control and the reality is in the world war and now there's just no control. And so you try to absorb it, explain what you're you're seeing have some parameters to work in for folks. But yeah, it's you you have to be comfortable being uncomfortable all the time in the space and you've got to be curious and you've got to be Listening and learning and our customers, you know, come from every walk of life from the single proprietor to the Fortune 100 and they have such good insights and things that they're trying to accomplish, which helps bring it to the forefront and you celebrate when you get it right and you're, but you're frequently disappointed because you know, there were so many things that you could be doing to provide more value that you just can't quite get to. And we're also seeing the starts and stops of companies, I mean what's happening in every industry, but it's happening in social and messaging as well as brilliant new ideas come roaring in and companies want to be able to market and advertise and leverage those and some of those are like flash in the pan there, they're big for a moment and then they go away and you can think of tons of examples of those. Some come roaring in seemed to have staying power when everyone, you can tell when all the other platforms start copying what they're they're doing and as organizations and businesses, governments and organizations are all trying to figure out how to navigate that Anyway. It's just really fascinating. Yeah. And I'm glad we're at this point, I have a short attention span and I get bored and I actually like being uncomfortable.

You know, I, I like, I like the challenge of being uncomfortable. So it's, it's really interesting. Okay, I must ask Tiktok Flash in the pan or I have 21-20 and 18 year old Tiktok and what they have been able to put together and how they've been able to entertain that group and pull them away from things that did not appear that they could pull them away from has changed the game and done it very quickly and that gen Z group has a massive influence on what's going to happen next and e commerce and retail and gaming and everything. So I think even with all of the different regulatory things surrounding it, I mean, I hope it's not smarter. I think it's, it's a powerful unlock and and challenge. We'll see what happens from a security standpoint. We'll see if the Chinese government allows it to continue to evolve and what positions we take in the US. But now I think it unlocked and you know, kickstarted across all of social media, rejuvenation of some things that have been tried and and stopped over time. But you know, social is getting a bit stale and boring and it just, yeah, it blew it up so super exciting. But what it means you got to pay attention because there's, there's more things like that coming that start bringing together entertainment and commerce and experience and ways to be creative and create content and it's like, it's really interesting, mm hmm, curiosity is the secret weapon of leaders is the takeaway is there you have to like, there's no, we get caught up like here in san Francisco, you're caught up in like all the good ideas are coming from here and Tiktok shows, there's good ideas coming from every nook and cranny of the globe. And if it's a...

...really good idea or something really creative, it can go massively viral. It's really interesting of what that will, will unlock. So it's turn to one of the biggest forces in everybody's market, which is its customers and you between Zendesk and obviously hoot suite and probably long before that have focused on customers. The experience customers have, enabling and servicing them in the best way. You focused on customers for a very long time, what's changing and what they expect from their providers, their vendors and their partners and and what companies need to do to mobilize to meet those needs. Yeah, it's a tough one. Like we all like we all have massive expectations of every company we interact with, that they know us, that they're going to respond quickly to us, that they can answer our question quickly, that we don't really want to have to talk to them to get to our data. And it's all driven by whatever the best customer experiences are that you, you have, whatever that experience is, that's what you expect from everyone. And most companies are not thinking about it at that level. It's certainly dramatically improved in the last, you know decade. A lot of it driven by technology, A lot of it driven by companies embracing the idea that customer support is not a cost center, which, you know, my growing up in retail, customer support was a contact center over there and it was all cost center and it was, how do you most efficiently deal with the customer as opposed to customer service? Is a conversation with a customer that can go in many, many different ways and your customer service is fully empowered with all of the data to do whatever it takes just to make a happy customer, but to have a loyal customer and you know, in times of crisis, whatever your business is, in times of crisis, where you have that great experience is where you build the most loyalty. So it's not easy, there's a whole bunch of like, just fundamental...

...things that you have to do. But the key is somewhat what we were talking about with okay, are is that it's a never ending journey, your never ending, trying to take friction out for the customers so that they can accomplish what they want to accomplish and that you're widening the periphery of what support is, support, is marketing its product, it's sales, it's everything every you know, customers don't care what your work hard is. They want to be able to interact and navigate across that. So it creates a tremendous opportunity if you can use data well, as a company to turn conversations into commerce opportunities or loyalty opportunities to gather lots of information about your product and influence that Really, really hard requires an ongoing investment requires people that are constantly working on that, but it's exciting, different mindset too, right? Like if you, I think of, you know, the functional divisions between sales, marketing product as hard boundaries, then inevitably somebody decides who owns customer support. And then in that decision is who doesn't own it, right? And then in the end, as you point out, the customer really don't care what borders you do around your people, right? They care really about their experience, fundamentally. Digital changes so much right now. I mean grandma orders cat food on her phone, right? Everybody's digital native. And I think that's pushing customer experience and customer expectations too, a completely different edge. And then of course, if I don't like the service, I'll use social media, just say that I don't write well and it means that everyone's gonna be out listening on social media as well. And traditionally that's been the marketing organization or a subset of the marketing organization, the social media organization that's doing the listening. But frequently what's coming at them is a product complaint, a bad experience. Airlines lead the way of people trapped here there everywhere, looking for support and just shouting until someone answers, which is...

...required organizations to have to really think about that silo that they had around social media and how to connect it into the workflow of their company so they can respond appropriately, which means social media is a channel is working its way across every function of an organization. Whereas just a few years ago, it was trapped in just a silo inside of the marketing the parking lot. But it's exciting like if you think about like the companies that you use, like I took an Uber here from my house and yeah, Uber built a set of services that took a bunch of friction out of how crazy it was to get a taxi when I arrived in san Francisco took all of that out and just made it easy. But they built their whole service around customer service like right in the middle of their services, this you know this, this taxing service is a customer service mindset that makes everything right for me, every question, every concern, everything, they continue to automate and make it better for me and I know they've got all kinds of other issues but that kind of mindset of whatever my product is, I'm gonna build it all around the customer and customer services like the path to success and we see that over and over again and like the high growth unicorn type companies that are really successful that build their business around the customer and their experience and those that don't, those that think like the retailers I grew up in which was retailers I grew up in, we had and some of this was technology driven, we had an ideal customer, you know, they had a name and had a little bit of information about them, but we did, it wasn't like a real person, it wasn't like the real person and the technology that we have today enables us to take into account the hundreds of thousands and millions of real people and and provide real services for them. It feels like some of the digital transformation initiatives are maybe...

...missing the customer point right there in some ways, a new angle on speeds and feeds and not actually about a transformation in the way we engage customers or customers at the center or whatever. And, and, and yet I feel like that's the giant take away out of the pandemic, is that everyone's well, Our digital activity went up uniformly, right. We're all might as well be 21 across all age groups. Exactly, right. Not just young people, but everyone and then our expectation that we can do it from home, do it right now, have it tomorrow is extraordinarily high because it can, that expectation can be met, right? I see a lot of transformation initiatives, but rarely do I hear that the customer and the experience we're gonna deliver to the customer is actually at the center of it. It's interesting the world that I've been in for the last, you know, 10 years, has been, has been sass and, and sass is about building a flywheel, building repeatable processes, building something that's easy for someone to to try and buy and in that model you've got to listen to the customer, but you're building for the masses and the reality, I mean, there's tremendous opportunity in that, but the reality is there's somewhere in there where you've got to personalize that you've got to connect with a real customer, not a generic customer and and have a real response for them and I think that's what's happening right now and technology and that's where a lot of interesting breakthroughs and interesting companies are emerging is is being able to operate at that scale at saS scale and with that flywheel but still have a personalization component to it. That's real, that is that is learning that is evolving around what the customers want and need and...

...building that loyalty around. You're a set of products and services. Cool, okay, we've talked to curiosity, we've talked customer, let's shift to the subject of momentum, particularly in I think obviously you've seen and been a part of the incredible momentum and Zendesk maybe like the fastest path I. P. O. Or something and now in your current role, right, come in, change the trajectory, build momentum for the business that you're trying to build. How do you think about actually creating momentum? How do you think about building momentum? My observation is it's a force unto itself if you can get it moving and actually start to build it. I believe that to my core, I think momentum helps you build confidence and confidence and momentum feeding off of each other allows you to do great things. Some of it is, you know, you want to when you find the strength especially early on, you want to leverage that strength, you want to fuel that strength, you want to prove that strength and if you can do that then that gives you the credibility to try it in other areas and that's certainly the way I've approached things most of my career is looking for where those opportunities were to get things going to prove it out and then to build momentum because when you have that momentum going, that gives you the space to make other hard decisions, it gives credibility to make other types of prioritization to maybe take some additional risk that if you're, if you don't have that, it becomes very difficult to do and plus I think you know, having, I don't know, I think better with my feet moving and momentum keeps my feet moving. One of the things I noticed with maybe it's the last year and a half, maybe it's not but is change agents find what needs to change and problem solvers find the problems that need to be solved. But both of those things...

...eclipse identifying where we have momentum and adding to it. It's almost like a real exercise to make sure that in addition to driving change and solving problems were also building and amplifying and really feeding the momentum that we have. Do you have a habit of ritual or like how do you keep that at the same sort of plain as the changes that need to be made and the problems that need to be solved, you know, I'm operational. So I'm always thinking about like, okay, we skipped a bunch of things here, there's a bunch of things that need to be built to truly scale this the way we need to, but it's impossible to, it's not impossible. It's very difficult to invest in the scaling that's required to support a business if you don't have the momentum feeding that and so you've got to prioritize that to enable you to do the other things that need to be done what, what gets lost. And I see this with founders sometimes they never go back and get the the different things that need to be scaled and build. They keep pushing on the different momentum plays until things start really breaking on them, so you've got to keep it balanced. Yeah, I know. That's hard for sure. Alright with that. Thank you so much for joining the conversation and being my guest. Really, really enjoyed it.

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