April 26, 2021
Reports from the spring council meetings are very positive. Members were really there for each other.
And now preparations begin for the return to in-person meetings in Chicago in the fall!
Meanwhile, *you* need help not just during the council meetings, but all the time and this community is here for you *all* the time – including when you are negotiating a promotion or new job.
But the challenge with that is you are likely to NOT want help when you most need it.
I saw this recently when a council member whom I had been helping in her job search did not reach out to ask for help with negotiations.
Negotiating both salary and non-salary requirements may be the single most impactful time to ask for help in your entire career. A 10% boost in base salary can increase pay for decades. Further, asking for what you need to succeed (i.e., non-salary requirements) can be even more important.
But because the stakes are high — and we thus feel fearful and vulnerable — it also means many of us do not ask for help at that crucial moment.
Over the years, however, I’ve helped members get over the inclination NOT to ask for help, and, as a result, have helped them increase salaries, signing bonuses, options and restricted stock, and, most importantly, helped them open their eyes to negotiating the non-salary requirements that set them up to succeed (I’ll write about these non-salary requirements in a future newsletter).
So, when I found out later that this member I had been helping had gone through the negotiations alone, I congratulated her but also felt angry that she had not asked for help.
But why be angry, I thought to myself.
Let me answer that with a question: have you ever noticed that sometimes you get the most angry at others when they repeat your mistakes, or share your weaknesses?
Just in case you are under the illusion that I don’t make all the same mistakes that you do when it comes to asking for help, let me take you back to 1994.
After being a community organizer and an early “netizen”, and after several years of struggling with a health crisis, I decided to do something radical for me: apply to business school.
I worked with a GMAT tutor and I even assembled a small council of friends, none of whom had been to business school or even worked in business, but who would help me *not* walk alone.
I spent two years studying for the GMAT and arguing with my tutor. He thought I was good at math and I didn’t. I’m happy to say that he won that fight. But we also fought about something else.
I planned to apply to a part-time program that my then-employer, Moody‘s Investors Service would pay for.
My tutor, on the other hand, believed I should apply to full-time programs and, most importantly, he wanted me to apply to Harvard.
That was out of the question as far as I was concerned. Number one – I did not want to have the humiliation of applying and not getting in. Number two – I didn’t think I could make it there in that competitive system (HBS grades on a curve and kicks out the bottom 5%-10% of the class).
He kept insisting, however, and I kept saying no.
Even more to the point, I never brought this question to my council.
Then one day just before the deadline – and not really asking for help I’ll point out – I quietly mentioned that my tutor wanted me to apply to Harvard Business School and how obviously ridiculous that was.
This is an old trick. You just kind of mention something and hope it slips by without anyone noticing. The goal is to get a kind of validation for a decision while not reallyasking for input.
My council of friends, alert and knowing my capacity to underestimate myself, however, did not let that comment just roll by.
Instead, they halted the conversation and asked some questions. And once they heard that my tutor recommended applying, they said:
Why aren’t you listening to John? You don’t know anything about business schools, and we don’t know anything about business schools. The only person who knows anything is John. So, again, why aren’t you listening to him?
This was not the conversation I wanted to have.
But I went ahead and explained that it would be a waste of time to apply and, even worse, if I got in, I wouldn’t like it, or be able to compete against the other much smarter and better prepared students coming from Goldman Sachs, McKinsey, etc. — and, furthermore they were all smarty-pants who came from Ivy League schools like Harvard and Yale (I went to tiny Occidental College, which most people had never heard of, or confused with Occidental Petroleum).
They listened and simply asked again what does John say about your logic?
In other words, they were just annoyingly relentless.
I had to further explain that John says that Harvard Business School has a large class, which gives them the capacity to take risks on non-traditional candidates like me. That my time spent as a community organizer in the United States as well as in Africa and Europe made me a very different candidate. Combine that with my early Internet experience (I had built one of the first websites) and my academic skills, and my difficult health journey, he said I was a great candidate. Furthermore, once I got in, he thought I would do quite well there.
You can guess what happened next. They insisted that I get over myself and apply.
My trick of sneaking this by them had backfired. I begrudgingly agreed.
The deadline was in a week so I took several days off and warily wrote the 10 essays and got the application in just under the wire.
Here’s the punchline: HBS was the *only* MBA program that I got into.
I still get angry (and a little humiliated) that my entire career since then rests, in part, on this moment where I almost totally blew it.
That’s why this member not reaching out to ask for help during negotiations made me angry. I had made the same mistake of not asking for help at a crucial moment.
Then, a few days later, another member did the same thing. Got help during the job search but not during the negotiations.
Exasperated, I went to my team at CG to ask for help.
They made a great suggestion: let’s formalize negotiation support as a key benefit of council membership. Many members, they said, do not know they can ask during those moments. Let’s communicate it during new member orientation and track it and remind people that this community is here for them each step of the way, including, during negotiations. Let’s shout it out 100 times.
So, henceforth, let it be known, if you have lost or left your job, or are negotiating a promotion, then reach out for some 1:1 negotiations support – this is now an official benefit of your membership.
And, please, please, don’t make my mistake: do *not* try to walk alone or hide, or be sly, at a critical moment of your career. You deserve better.
P.S. Re: my tenure at HBS….after a rocky start, I had a great career there. I received honors in finance (yes, beating out some of those kids from Goldman Sachs and Harvard undergrad), built a global community of tech MBAs, helped McKinsey launch a council of Internet CEOs (which became the prototype for the councils), and won the Dean’s Award.
P.P.S. We are running a *free* zoom-based summer program for high school and college students who want to learn some basics about business, finance, and worldly wisdom. I have a small team of HBS MBAs teaching. And the curriculum is a selection of Warren Buffett’s shareholder letters and a set of questions that I’ve created over the years.
Here’s the one-pager with explanation of how to apply and testimonials from kids who have taken the class.
Recent Talks and Activity Recordings
- JTBD in Large Distributed Environments
Jay Haynes, Founder & CEO, thrv.com
Talk Type: Product; Skill Builder/Practitioner
Audience/Roles: All Roles
Jobs To Be Done has proven to be an effective methodology for building much better holistic end-to-end products and customer experiences.
*But* CG Council member companies with large distributed environments are finding it difficult to apply JTBD in effective ways.
Jay Haynes, CEO of thrv, and a global expert on JTBD will come and speak to the Councils community on this specific challenge of using the methodology in large, complex technology environments.
- Groundwork: Get Better at Making Better Products
Vidya Dinamani and Heather Samarin, co-Authors of Groundwork
Talk Type: Product
Audience/Roles: All Roles
Product leaders are all too familiar with the one to two-year period it typically takes to train and coach PMs. Product leaders hire smart people and then work with them individually, guiding them through how to think about product management, and watching them develop. Vidya Dinamani and Heather Samarin wanted a much faster way to help cultivate efficient and effective product managers that consistently create products that delight customers, regardless of the industry, the environment, and the development methodology that the team employed. They took years of experience as product executives and working with hundreds of teams as product coaches to create a framework to Get Better at Making Better Products.
The design philosophy and methodology behind Groundwork was created to help product leaders be confident that their teams were committed to solving the right customer problems, minimizing costly rework by using individualized needs, and leveraging actionable personas in big and small product decisions. Vidya and Heather want Groundwork to help product teams have a much higher chance of success in the market—and help every product manager shine.
Join Vidya and Heather as they share the background, principles, and methodology behind the Groundwork to help you, and your team, get better at making better products.
- Making the Case for Empowering Your People
Marty Cagan, Partner, Silicon Valley Product Group
Talk Type: Product, Leadership Development, Culture
Audience/Roles: All Roles
From Marty: “I have long been interested in the difference between how the best companies work, and the rest. Working with both types of organizations for so many years, there are many differences ranging from culture to process to staffing to roles to techniques. But at its core, strong product companies empower their people, and most of the rest do not. My focus over the past few years has been tackling this issue head-on, which means the product leadership. In this talk, we’ll discuss why this model consistently yields better results, and what’s necessary to transform to work like the best.”
Marty’s Bio: Marty Cagan is the founding partner of the Silicon Valley Product Group, which he created to pursue his interests in helping others create successful products through his writing, speaking, advising and coaching. Before starting SVPG, Marty served as an executive responsible for defining and building products for some of the most successful companies in the world, including Hewlett-Packard, Netscape Communications, and eBay.As part of his work with SVPG, Marty advises tech companies of all sizes and stages, stretching far beyond Silicon Valley. Marty is the author of the industry-leading book for product teams, INSPIRED: How To Create Tech Products Customers Love, and the upcoming book EMPOWERED: Ordinary People, Extraordinary Products. Marty is an invited speaker at major conferences and top companies across the globe.
- See talks from the last month and beyond here.