13 May 2019

Trillion Dollar Coach – Eric Schmidt, Jonathan Rosenberg, Alan Eagle

Foreword by Adam Grant

To be a great manager, you have to be a great coach. After all, the higher you climb, the more your success depends on making other people successful. By definition, that’s what coaches do.

Coaching might be even more essential than mentoring to our careers and our teams. Whereas mentors dole out words of wisdom, coaches roll up their sleeves and get their hands dirty.

They take responsibility for making us better without taking credit for our accomplishments.

Excellent teams at Google had psychological safety (people knew that if they took risks, their manager would have their back). The teams had clear goals, each role was meaningful, and members were reliable and confident that the team’s mission would make a difference.

Chapter 1: The Caddie and the CEO

If Bill had opinions about product and strategy, he usually kept them to himself. But he made sure the team was communicating, that tensions and disagreements were brought to the surface and discussed, so that when the big decisions were made, everyone was on board, whether they agreed or not.

“Most of us have a circle of friends and acquaintances in our lives that come and go through the years. And then we have a much smaller subset of our close friends and our family. And then an even smaller number, maybe enough to count on one or two fingers, our best friends. Best friends are the ones who you can talk to about anything and you don’t have to worry. You know they will always be there. Bill Campbell was my best friend. I know that there are only about two thousand other people who also considered Bill to be their best friends, too. But, I was okay with that because somehow Bill found the time for each one of us. He had the same twenty-four-hour days that the rest of us have, but somehow he found the time to always be there for everyone on that list. It didn’t matter to Bill where you were on the list of friends. He would always be there for you no matter what.”

To balance the tension and mold a team into a community, you need a coach, someone who works not only with individuals but also with the team as a whole to smooth out the constant tension, continuously nurture the community, and make sure it is aligned around a common vision and set of goals. Sometimes this coach may just work with the team leader, the executive in charge. But to be most effective – and this was Bill’s model – the coach works with the entire team.

It’s not possible or practical to hire a coach for every team in the company, nor is it the right answer, because the best coach for any team is the manager who leads that team. Being a good coach is essential to being a good manager and leader. Coaching is no longer a specialty; you cannot be a good manager without being a good coach.

Chapter 2: Your Title Makes You a Manager. Your People Make You a Leader.

Bill felt that leadership was something that evolved as a result of management excellence. “How do you bring people around and help them flourish in your environment? It’s not by being a dictator. It’s not by telling them what the hell to do. It’s making sure that they feel valued by being in the room with you. Listen. Pay attention. This is what great managers do.”

A manager’s authority, she concludes, “emerges only as the manager establishes credibility with subordinates, peers, and superiors.”

Your title makes you a manager; your people make you a leader.

Bill rarely weighed in on strategic issues, and if he did, it was usually to make sure that there was a strong operating plan to accompany the strategy.

“What keeps you up at night?” is a traditional question asked of executives. For Bill the answer was always the same: the well-being and success of his people.

IT’S THE PEOPLE – THE TOP PRIORITY OF ANY MANAGER IS THE WELL-BEING AND SUCCESS OF HER PEOPLE.

Weekly staff meetings: start by asking what people did for the weekend, or, if they had just come back from a trip, he’d ask for an informal trip report.

Later in the meeting, when business decisions were being discussed, Eric wanted everyone to weigh in, regardless of whether the issue touched on their functional area or not. The simple communications practice – getting people to share stories, to be personal with each other – was in fact a tactic to ensure better decision making and camaraderie.

Marissa Mayer developed a variation of the trip report practice when she was CEO of Yahoo. Rather than trip reports, her staff meetings started with thank-yous[a]. “My staff called it the family prayer. You have to thank another team for something that happened last week. You can’t thank yourself, and you can’t repeat what someone else said. This ends up being a nice way to recap the entire week.”

Pay close attention to running meetings well; “get the 1:1 right” and “get the staff meeting right” are tops on the list of his most important management principles.

START WITH TRIP REPORTS – TO BUILD RAPPORT AND BETTER RELATIONSHIPS AMONG TEAM MEMBERS, START TEAM MEETINGS WITH TRIP REPORTS, OR OTHER TYPES OF MORE PERSONAL, NON-BUSINESS TOPICS.

After talking about family and other non-work stuff, Bill would ask Jonathan what his top five items were. Jonathan came to realize that this approach was Bill’s way of seeing how Jonathan was prioritizing his time and effort. If Bill led off with his list, Jonathan simply could have agreed with it. The discussion of the list was in itself a form of coaching.

Bill advocated that each person should put his or her list on the board – a simultaneous reveal. That way everyone could see where there was overlap and make sure to cover those topics. He felt that the process of merging the two agendas could serve as a lesson in prioritization.

Conversations with Bill were more meaningful and layered; you sometimes got the feeling that the conversation about life was more the point of the meeting than the business topics. In fact, while his interest in people’s lives was quite sincere, it had a powerful benefit: a 2010 study concludes that having these sort of “substantive” conversations, as opposed to truly small talk, makes people happier. From the (not so) small talk, Bill moved to performance: What are you working on? How is it going? How could he help? Then, we would always get to peer relationships, which Bill thought were more important than relationships with your manager and other higher-ups.

From peer relationships, Bill would move on to teams. He always wanted to know, were we setting a clear direction for them, and constantly reinforcing it? Did we understand what they were doing?

Then he’d want to talk about innovation. Were we making space for it on our teams? How were we balancing the inherent tension between innovation and execution?

When you left Bill a voicemail, you always got a call back. He was also great at email.

Emails – how well written they all were: concise, clear, and compassionate.

BILL’S FRAMEWORK FOR 1:1s AND REVIEWS –

PERFORMANCE ON JOB REQUIREMENTS

  • Could be sales figures
  • Could be product delivery or product milestones
  • Could be customer feedback or product quality
  • Could be budget numbers

RELATIONSHIP WITH PEER GROUPS (This is critical for company integration and cohesiveness)

MANAGEMENT/LEADERSHIP

  • Are you guiding/coaching your people?
  • Are you weeding out the bad ones?
  • Are you working hard at hiring?
  • Are you able to get your people to do heroic things?

INNOVATION (BEST PRACTICES)

  • Are you constantly moving ahead . . . thinking about how to continually get better?
  • Are you constantly evaluating new technologies, new products, new practices?
  • Do you measure yourself against the best in the industry/world?

When his team was confronted with a challenging decision, Eric liked to use a management technique he called the “rule of two.” He would get the two people most closely involved in the decision to gather more information and work together on the best solution, and usually they would come back a week or two later having decided together on the best course of action. The team almost always agreed with their recommendation, because it was usually quite obvious that it was the best idea. The rule of two not only generates the best solution in most cases, it also promotes collegiality.

Bill believed that one of a manager’s main jobs is to facilitate decisions, and he had a particular framework for doing so. He didn’t encourage democracy. (Before he arrived at Intuit, they took votes in meetings. Bill stopped that practice.) Rather, he favored an approach not unlike that used in improv comedy. In improv, the entire cast is at risk and needs to work together to continue a conversation, to put off the finality of a scene until the last possible moment. Bill encouraged ensembles and always strived for a politics-free environment. A place where the top manager makes all decisions leads to just the opposite, because people will spend their time trying to convince the manager that their idea is the best. In that scenario, it’s not about the best idea carrying the day, it’s about who does the best job of lobbying the top dog. In other words, politics. Bill hated that. He believed in striving for the best idea, not consensus.

Numerous academic studies have shown: that the goal of consensus leads to “groupthink” and inferior decisions. The way to get the best idea, he believed, was to get all of the opinions and ideas out in the open, on the table for the group to discuss.

To get those ideas on the table, Bill would often sit down with individuals before the meeting to find out what they were thinking. This enabled Bill to understand the different perspectives, but more important, it gave members of his team the chance to come into the room prepared to talk about their point of view. Discussing it with Bill helped gather their thoughts and ideas before the broader discussion. Maybe they would all be aligned by the time they got there, maybe not, but they had already thought through, and talked through, their own perspective and were ready to present it.

Be the last person to speak. You may know the answer and you may be right, he said, but when you just blurt it out, you have robbed the team of the chance to come together.

When the best idea doesn’t emerge, it’s time for the manager to force the decision or make it herself. “A manager’s job is to break ties and make their people better”.

THE THRONE BEHIND THE ROUND TABLE – THE MANAGER’S JOB IS TO RUN A DECISION-MAKING PROCESS THAT ENSURES ALL PERSPECTIVES GET HEARD AND CONSIDERED, AND, IF NECESSARY, TO BREAK TIES AND MAKE THE DECISION.

In any situation there are certain immutable truths upon which everyone can agree. These are the “first principles,” a popular phrase and concept around Silicon Valley.

LEAD BASED ON FIRST PRINCIPLES – DEFINE THE “FIRST PRINCIPLES” FOR THE SITUATION, THE IMMUTABLE TRUTHS THAT ARE THE FOUNDATION FOR THE COMPANY OR PRODUCT, AND HELP GUIDE THE DECISION FROM THOSE PRINCIPLES.

How do you determine when the damage a person causes exceeds their considerable contributions? There’s no perfect answer to this, but there are a few warning signs. All of these are coachable, but if there’s no change, they shouldn’t be tolerated. Does the aberrant genius break team communications? Does he interrupt others, or attack or rebuke them? Does he make people afraid to talk? Does the aberrant genius suck up too much management time? It’s hard to know when an aberrant genius’s behavior has become too toxic for the team to bear, but if you are spending hours upon hours controlling the damage, that’s a good sign it’s gone too far. A lot of that time is usually spent arguing with the person, which is rarely constructive.

MANAGE THE ABERRANT GENIUS ABERRANT GENIUSES – HIGH-PERFORMING BUT DIFFICULT TEAM MEMBERS SHOULD BE TOLERATED AND EVEN PROTECTED, AS LONG AS THEIR BEHAVIOR ISN’T UNETHICAL OR ABUSIVE AND THEIR VALUE OUTWEIGHS THE TOLL THEIR BEHAVIOR TAKES ON MANAGEMENT, COLLEAGUES, AND TEAMS.

Bill’s point of view on this was that letting people go is a failure of management, not one of any of the people who are being let go. So it is important for management to let people leave with their heads held high. Treat them well, with respect. Be generous with severance packages. Send out a note internally celebrating their accomplishments.

“When you fire someone, you feel terrible for about a day, then you say to yourself that you should have done it sooner. No one ever succeeds at their third chance.”

HEADS HELD HIGH – IF YOU HAVE TO LET PEOPLE GO, BE GENEROUS, TREAT THEM WELL, AND CELEBRATE THEIR ACCOMPLISHMENTS.

Board meetings fail when the CEO doesn’t own and follow her agenda. That agenda should always start with operational updates: the board needs to know how the company is doing. That includes financial and sales reports, product status, and metrics around operational rigor (hiring, communications, marketing, support). If the board has committees, for example to oversee audit and finance or compensation, have those committees meet ahead of time (in person or via phone or video conference) and present updates at the board meeting. The first order of business always needs to be a frank, open, succinct discussion about how the company is performing.

Send out financial and other operational details ahead of time and expect board members to review them and come with questions. And when we say expect, we mean expect: board members who don’t do their homework shouldn’t stick around.

Bill always pushed Eric to ensure that the operations review included a thorough set of highlights and lowlights.

It can take some prodding to make teams be completely frank about where they are falling short, and indeed, Eric often rejected an initial draft of the board lowlights for not being honest enough.

Chapter 3: Build an Envelope of Trust

Perhaps the most important currency in a relationship – friendship, romantic, familial, or professional – is trust. Trust means:

  • You keep your word
  • Loyalty
  • Integrity
  • Discretion

Trust doesn’t mean you always agree; in fact, it makes it easier to disagree with someone.

He only coached the coachable. Then, if you passed that test, he listened intently, practiced complete candor, believed that his coachees could achieve remarkable things, and was intensely loyal.

He chose the people he was going to work with based on humility. Leadership is not about you, it’s about service to something bigger: the company, the team.

The traits of coachability Bill sought were honesty and humility, the willingness to persevere and work hard, and a constant openness to learning.

In a coaching session with Bill, you could expect that he would listen intently. No checking his phone for texts or email, no glancing at his watch or out the window while his mind wandered. He was always right there.

Bill’s listening was usually accompanied by a lot of questions, a Socratic approach.

PRACTICE FREE-FORM LISTENING – LISTEN TO PEOPLE WITH YOUR FULL AND UNDIVIDED ATTENTION; DON’T THINK AHEAD TO WHAT YOU’RE GOING TO SAY NEXT; AND ASK QUESTIONS TO GET TO THE REAL ISSUE.

An important component of providing candid feedback is not to wait.

If the feedback was critical, to deliver it in private.

BE RELENTLESSLY HONEST AND CANDID, COUPLE NEGATIVE FEEDBACK WITH CARING, GIVE FEEDBACK AS SOON AS POSSIBLE, AND IF THE FEEDBACK IS NEGATIVE, DELIVER IT PRIVATELY.

When he was finished asking questions and listening, and busting your butt, he usually would not tell you what to do. He believed that managers should not walk in with an idea and “stick it in their ear.” Don’t tell people what to do, tell them stories about why they are doing it.

You want to be supportive and demanding, holding high standards and expectations but giving the encouragement necessary to reach them. Basically, it’s tough love. Disagreeable givers are gruff and tough on the surface, but underneath they have others’ best interests at heart. They give the critical feedback no one wants to hear but everyone needs to hear.

It’s a manager’s job to push the team to be more courageous.

PEOPLE ARE MOST EFFECTIVE WHEN THEY CAN BE COMPLETELY THEMSELVES AND BRING THEIR FULL IDENTITY TO WORK.

Chapter 4: Team First

So as a coach of teams, what would Bill do? His first instinct was always to work the team, not the problem. In other words, he focused on the team’s dynamics, not on trying to solve the team’s particular challenges. That was their job. His job was team building, assessing people’s talents, and finding the doers. He ran toward the biggest problems, the stinkers that fester and cause tension. He focused on winning but winning right, and he doubled down on his core values when things turned south. And he brought resolution by filling the gaps between people, listening, observing, and then seeking people out in behind-the-scenes conversations that brought teams together.

As managers, we tend to focus on the problem at hand. What is the situation? What are the issues? What are the options? And so on. These are valid questions, but the coach’s instinct is to lead with a more fundamental one. Who was working on the problem? Was the right team in place? Did they have what they needed to succeed?

Bill looked for four characteristics in people. The person has to be smart, not necessarily academically but more from the standpoint of being able to get up to speed quickly in different areas and then make connections. Bill called this the ability to make “far analogies.” The person has to work hard, and has to have high integrity. Finally, the person should have that hard-to-define characteristic: grit. The ability to get knocked down and have the passion and perseverance to get up and go at it again.

How do you know when you have found such a person? Keep note of the times when they give up things, and when they are excited for someone else’s success. Sundar notes that “sometimes decisions come up and people have to give up things. I overindex on those signals when people give something up.* And also when someone is excited because something else is working well in the company. It isn’t related to them, but they are excited.

This is perhaps the most important characteristic Bill looked for in his players: people who show up, work hard, and have an impact every day. Doers.

The general tendency is to hire for experience: I’m hiring for job X, so I want someone who has years of experience doing job X. If you are creating a high-performing team and building for the future, you need to hire for potential as well as experience.

When Campbell ran a meeting or brought a group together, the environment was results oriented, everyone participated and contributed, and they actually enjoyed the meeting. It was positive and fun to be part of a team.

PICK THE RIGHT PLAYERS – THE TOP CHARACTERISTICS TO LOOK FOR ARE SMARTS AND HEARTS: THE ABILITY TO LEARN FAST, A WILLINGNESS TO WORK HARD, INTEGRITY, GRIT, EMPATHY, AND A TEAM-FIRST ATTITUDE.

An important, often overlooked, aspect of team building is developing relationships within the team. This can happen organically, but it is important enough that it should not be left to chance. So Bill looked for any opportunity to pair people up. Take a couple of people who don’t usually work together, assign them a task, project, or decision, and let them work on it on their own. This develops trust between the two people, usually regardless of the nature of the work.

PEER FEEDBACK SURVEY –

CORE ATTRIBUTES

For the past 12 months, to what extent do you agree/disagree that each person:

  • Displayed extraordinary in-role performance.
  • Exemplified world-class leadership.
  • Achieved outcomes that were in the best interest of both Google as a whole and his/her organization.
  • Expanded the boundaries of what is possible for Google through innovation and/or application of best practices.
  • Collaborated effectively with peers (for example, worked well together, resolved barriers/issues with others) and championed the same in her team.
  • Contributed effectively during senior team meetings (for example, was prepared, participated actively, listened well, was open and respectful to others, disagreed constructively).

PRODUCT LEADER ATTRIBUTES

For the past 12 months, to what extent do you agree/disagree that each person demonstrated exemplary leadership in the following areas:

  • Product Vision
  • Product Quality
  • Product Execution

OPEN-TEXT QUESTIONS

  • What differentiates each SVP and makes him/her effective today?
  • What advice would you give each SVP to be more effective and/or have greater impact?

He didn’t tell the women what to do; rather, he told stories about his experiences and asked questions.

SOLVE THE BIGGEST PROBLEM – IDENTIFY THE BIGGEST PROBLEM, THE “ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM,” BRING IT FRONT AND CENTER, AND TACKLE IT FIRST.

LEADERS LEAD WHEN THINGS ARE GOING BAD, TEAMS ARE LOOKING FOR EVEN MORE LOYALTY, COMMITMENT, AND DECISIVENESS FROM THEIR LEADERS.

“I have a little more time than Larry does to do some of that stuff. I have a little more time than Sundar does to do some of that stuff, so, you know, I’ll say to Sundar, Do you want me to meet with so-and-so? Sure. And here’s what I’m going to tell ’em. You okay with that? Yeah. Great. Perfect, and, you know, that helps a little bit in moving the thing along. Let’s get it moving.

His advice was “deal with it”! But sometimes that’s all it takes. An acknowledgment that things didn’t go your way, some empathy that it sucks, a reminder to buck up and soldier on for the team. These were the sort of messages that Bill delivered all the time. Short, timely, and highly effective.

FILL THE GAPS BETWEEN PEOPLE LISTEN, OBSERVE, AND FILL THE COMMUNICATION AND UNDERSTANDING GAPS BETWEEN PEOPLE.

Chapter 5: The Power of Love

TO CARE ABOUT PEOPLE YOU HAVE TO CARE ABOUT PEOPLE: ASK ABOUT THEIR LIVES OUTSIDE OF WORK, UNDERSTAND THEIR FAMILIES, AND WHEN THINGS GET ROUGH, SHOW UP.

ALWAYS BUILD COMMUNITIES BUILD COMMUNITIES INSIDE AND OUTSIDE OF WORK. A PLACE IS MUCH STRONGER WHEN PEOPLE ARE CONNECTED.

Chapter 6: The Yardstick

Interviewing dozens of people who were older than him but had retained plenty of vitality, asking them how they had approached similar transitions and how they stayed engaged in their later-in-life careers. The answers:

  • BE CREATIVE. Your post-fifty years should be your most creative time. You have wisdom of experience and freedom to apply it where you want. Avoid metaphors such as you are on the “back nine.” This denigrates the impact you can have.
  • DON’T BE A DILETTANTE. Don’t just do a portfolio of things. Whatever you get involved with, have accountability and consequence. Drive it.
  • FIND PEOPLE WHO HAVE VITALITY. Surround yourself with them; engage with them. Often they will be younger.
  • APPLY YOUR GIFTS. Figure out what you are uniquely good at, what sets you apart. And understand the things inside you that give you a sense of purpose. Then apply them.
  • DON’T WASTE TIME WORRYING ABOUT THE FUTURE. Allow serendipity to play a role. Most of the turning points in life cannot be predicted or controlled.

Bill usually did not take compensation for his work as a coach. When he first showed up at Dan Rosensweig’s office, he told Dan, “I don’t take cash, I don’t take stock, and I don’t take shit.”

[a]or ask to put themselves in the shoes of the person sitting next to them and think what are the top 3 challenges they're facing right now.