I’m sharing the letter I place on the desk of a new hire, when they join Three Ships Media. We have made great progress the last year in building our culture and creating values that guide the company. This attempts to convey some of that to new sailors. What do you think?
From: Zach Clayton
To: New Shipmates
Re: What We’re Trying to Do Here
Congratulations! We’re extremely excited that you’re now a sailor at Three Ships Media.
By this point, you’ve probably gotten to know several people at Three Ships fairly well. Our hope is during the recruiting process we’ve been fairly transparent about what we’re good at, what we’re working on, and more importantly, what we’re trying to do here. All that said, the recruiting process is always a bit of an awkward dance. You’re trying to sell us while you evaluate us; we’re trying to sell you while we evaluate you.
As you begin, I want to share a few reflections with you on what we’re trying to accomplish at Three Ships Media. The more we get to know each other and the more trust we develop, the more forgiving and empathetic we’ll be when either the company screws up (which it will) or when you screw up (which you will!)
We are trying to build a company that attracts the best talent from across the country to help our clients move their businesses forward. Across the last couple of years, we’ve been able to exploit what is a huge inefficiency in the market: the lack of sophistication around how to effectively use content, digital advertising and tactics like Search Engine Optimization to effectively build audience and convert it into customers. That doesn’t mean that inefficiency will always exist or that there aren’t other capabilities Three Ships Media will add as we grow. At the core of what we’re trying to accomplish is helping our clients move their business forward.
Many mature companies – notably General Electric, Honeywell, or Disney – have well-established processes for leadership development. The positive of joining a place like that is you benefit from generations of leadership development training. The negative is you enter a huge freaking bureaucracy. Hopefully one of the things you learned as you were assessing Three Ships Media was the fact that, as a start-up, we don’t have much bureaucracy. The con of this is that sometimes we lack systems, which means you have to be a little patient with us.
In addition to patience, several other virtues will ensure that you add value quickly at Three Ships Media. Adding value is the #1 factor that will influence your access to future career opportunities, your compensation, and the overall quality of your experience. Let me suggest some shortcuts to adding value quickly:
1. Build domain expertise. We want an unfair advantage at digital marketing. That requires each person on the team to build knowledge in specific areas.
2. EQ is more important than IQ. In our business, complexity is a given. That means our teams must be cross-functional and we must proactively communicate across them, solving problems to get things done and feeling comfortable disagreeing with colleagues while not being disagreeable. It’s a given that you’re smart (otherwise, we wouldn’t have hired you). Going forward, your emotional intelligence will likely have a bigger impact on your success than your intellect though.
3. Ensure accountability for commitments. We are invested heavily in our company operating system. However, while tools may help you achieve accountability, ultimately it rests with your willingness to accept ownership for results. Ask constantly: What does good “look like” and am I tracking toward that or do I need to find resources (advice, learning, etc.) to achieve the goal?
4. Think and act with discipline. A significant competitive advantage we will have at Three Ships Media is our ability to get concrete. Many companies have a meeting when they don’t know what to do. Many companies make decisions by committee. Ultimately, one person is responsible for any decision at Three Ships. Others may weigh in but one person must be responsible and must be held accountable. Getting concrete and being disciplined in our thought and in our actions means being precise. Don’t send an email saying to 8 people, “What should we do?” Instead, send an email saying, “Here is my proposed plan of action. I welcome thoughts by Thursday on what we should do; otherwise, I will act.”
5. Have a bias to action. Very few start-ups die from lack of strategy. Many die from lack of results. We have a bias to action. We try to sell before the product may be ready. We try to build the product before the vision may be complete. We test things in the market before we make big fancy announcements and roll them out. In doing this, we must be willing to fail, and we must be willing to move fast.
6. Engage. By joining Three Ships Media, you gained access to something unique. Several members of the team have started businesses. Others have worked at the world’s most prestigious companies. And you have access to all of them. You will need to make a deliberate effort to seek them out and to find resources that support your own efforts to accomplish something for the business. Ask for help. Get shipmates input. Think proactively about what’s the next step. And if you do all of this, you will deliver results.
7. Be selfish with your time. The best leaders know that time is their most precious resource. If you’re in a meeting, is it moving you closer to the objective? If you’re working on a task, is it accomplishing the goal? You will have to be jealous with your time, because you will need it to achieve the results we expect.
There is no secret to success. The best leaders are focused. They are disciplined. They are engaged. We saw something unique in you during the interview process, and I’m certain that that you will bring confidence and competence to this company. We’ll do all we can to ensure you are working on the right activities. Ultimately, it’s up to you to make sure you deliver the right results.
I’m looking forward to getting to know you better as we have the opportunity to work together.