michael overell: work in progress

Cofounder of RecruitLoop. Sharing notes on startups, tech and a few sounds keeping me inspired.

The way we’re working isn’t working.

Put simply, the way people feel at work profoundly influences how they perform…

Employees are vastly more satisfied and productive, it turns out, when four of their core needs are met: physical, through opportunities to regularly renew and recharge at work; emotional, by feeling valued and appreciated for their contributions; mental, when they have the opportunity to focus in an absorbed way on their most important tasks and define when and where they get their work done; and spiritual, by doing more of what they do best and enjoy most, and by feeling connected to a higher purpose at work.

The Next 50 Ideas for Billion-Dollar Software Companies

This may be my favourite Influencer post yet. So many good nuggets I just had to share:

  • the goal is for a virtual company to become a real company faster than the real company can become virtual. Linkedin is making the same effort with this essay, hiring editors and journalists to cultivate business writers: Linkedin is trying to become Bloomberg faster than Bloomberg can become Linkedin.
  • I learned from this that many of our so-called business decisions aren’t made for business reasons at all but because of aesthetics: surrounded by computer scientists from Harvard and Stanford, we simply don’t want to think of ourselves as booksellers, car dispatchers, or real estate brokers. This is the real reason software entrepreneurs for years shied away from starting real companies: it just wasn’t cool enough.
  • From 2000 to 2010, would Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos have been able to walk into a venture capitalist’s office and ask for millions of dollars to build fulfillment centers across the U.S.? Or might he have been persuaded instead to build a social network for talking about, rather than actually delivering, books? Just such a company was started in 2006. Amazon bought it for pennies on the investors’ dollars.

And the punchline:

But what if the world’s best software entrepreneurs, the ones who could raise serious money, took on real-world projects bigger than a little gadget? Imagine how much better a hospital, a school, a research lab could be if doctors, teachers and scientists worked together with software engineers to create something not wholly virtual, and not completely analog either, but a combination of the two.

Open Sourced Feedback as Startup CEO

We just completed our first structured performance review in my role as RecruitLoop CEO.

Our chairman ran the process, after interviewing all our team members. He also asked me to complete a self assessment.

I crave feedback. My instinct is to always look for areas to improve in whatever I’m doing. Where some people find feedback threatening, I’m more concerned by its absence.

The process was incredibly invaluable. I’ve decided to open-source parts of it to show how we ran it. And to be completely transparent about the areas I’m developing (with a shout out to Rand Fishkin).

Our review process had 3 parts:

  • CEO self assessment
  • Chairman interviews with team
  • Chairman provides synthesised (and anonymised) feedback and key themes.

Here I can share my self assessment, along with a short summary of some of the themes shared with me today.

Self Assessment

Garry asked me to provide thoughts on:

  • Achievements
  • Disappointments
  • Leadership
  • Effectiveness
  • Professionalism
  • Strengths / weaknesses
  • Skill sets
  • Communication
  • Team working / development

I sent him the note below.

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The Year End Walk

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This morning our founding team celebrated another rewarding and interesting year together. With a walk.

This has become something of a tradition for RecruitLoop to close out the year. We’ve now shared two in Sydney, and had our first in San Francisco a few weeks ago.

We walk outdoors, in nature, early morning for roughly 2 to 4 hours. Some people might call it a hike. The pace is enjoyable, not overly exerting. At the end point we share a meal and (some of us) a glass of champagne, to recognise and celebrate the year spent working incredibly hard together.

There are no speeches or formalities. We try to avoid talking shop. Just spend some time together in beautiful surrounds outdoors.

Some people find this a weird and/or interesting idea. I thought I’d share why we do it.

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Team Sydney overlooking Harbour mouth

Why we walk

For the past two years, this walk has taken the place of a more ‘traditional’ boozy Christmas party or long lunch. Why would anyone want to avoid such a long-standing and oft-regretted hallmark of the silly season? Several reasons:

It fits with our culture.

We’re an active bunch who place an incredibly high value on health and wellness. We each do this in our own ways, but I’d say it’s almost a defining characteristic of our team of 7.

We like spending time outdoors. And importantly, there are several non-drinkers among us.

Some companies seem built around a culture of drinking and associated camaraderie. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s not us. That’s not to say a few of us don’t enjoy a delicious glass of red or a long lunch. But shared time outdoors seems a more appropriate and inclusive way of celebrating the year as an entire team.

It’s quality time, away from work.

We spend a LOT of time together. Mostly in or around the office, focused on work. When you get outside, somewhere seemingly remote, a strange thing happens. We don’t talk shop!

For a few hours we’re not checking emails or smashing out tasks, just connecting as friends.

There’s no hangover or awkward moments.

Year-end parties can be fun. But we’ve all seen the standard drill. Someone drinks too much, says something stupid or inappropriate. Either way, everyone wakes up feeling worse than when they started.

A side benefit of a morning walk? We leave feeling better than when we started.

We live in two of the most beautiful cities in the world.

Sydney and San Francisco are phenomenal cities. Water, coastline, mountains, warm climates. Few other world cities can claim such a range of natural beauty within 30 minutes of downtown.

We’d be crazy not to treasure these places.

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Team SF by the coast

Future Steps

We’ve committed to keeping up the tradition, and may look to expand it for semi-annual or quarterly getaways.

As we continue to grow, there’s a few things I’ll be thinking about:

  • How to incorporate the entire team, when we’re split across 3 continents.
  • How the format evolves with a larger team.
  • Whether we can include partners.

And obviously, how to avoid danger and possible death. That’s no fun for anyone.

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Thanks to our awesome team for a fantastic 2013. Looking forward to a massive 2014.

3 Things I Learnt At InfluenceHR (NYC 2013)

I was in NYC last week, for the second InfluenceHR Event. I missed the first, in San Francisco earlier this year. Which I now regret.

It was a top-quality event. Hyper focused on ‘Tech companies marketing to the HR buyer’, with content tailored exclusively towards that market. No schedule-fillers here. The content was engaging, and highly targeted.

This was also reflected in the quality of the audience: startup founders, CEOs, Heads of Marketing and HR, and industry leaders such as Bill Kutik.

I’ll be attending the next one for sure.

Along with some great conversations and connections, I took away 3 lessons about marketing HR products in 2013-14.

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