Total Leadership cover @ Amazon.comTwo weeks ago, I presided over an amazing "experiment" with my friend and mentor, Stew Friedman.  But before I tell you about the experiment, let me tell you a little about Stew and Wharton. 

Stew was my Leadership and Teamwork professor at Wharton's MBA program.  Wharton is a pretty hard-nosed school, located in a tough area in Philadelphia, with famous graduates like Steve Wynn, Donald Trump, Donny Deutsch, and countless investment bankers and management consultants.  Stew actually founded the Leadership and Teamwork program at Wharton in 1991.  Hard to believe that no business school, in the U.S. at least, taught this subject until then. 

Like many Wharton MBA candidates, I was skeptical of the subject.  Most of us were thinking, "why are we in this class learning this 'soft' stuff when we could be learning the 'real' stuff?" (note: Stew's class was part of the core, or required, curriculum).  However, a few years after I graduated, I wished I had payed more attention.  As an entrepreneur, I can tell you that this is the most important subject of any MBA program.  You cannot build a great company without great people.  And you cannot attract and retain great people without great leadership and teamwork.  Realizing this a few years after graduation, I contacted Stew and he has been a fantastic mentor ever since.

Stew is one of the world's foremost experts on the subject of work/life balance, pioneering in the field since 1984 (read his amazing bio).  He doesn't like the term "balance", though, as it implies tradeoffs.  So, for the last few years, he has working on a program he pioneered called "Total Leadership", which challenges the participants on the "balance" notion.  By the way, when I say working, I mean practicing in the field, as in with real companies.  This is one of the best aspects of a world-class MBA program: professors that actually learn from the field instead of inside an ivory tower. 

Stew's new book, appropriately named Total Leadership, will be released on June 8.  I have been a student of leadership and teamwork for over a decade now, and I honestly think this is the single most powerful book I have read on the subject (I was an early reader, per my mentoring relationship with Stew).  So I decided to buy everyone in our company a copy of it and ask Stew to visit us in Austin and personally train us on it.  Graciously, he accepted.

Stew trained all of us on Wednesday, May 14 for the entire afternoon.  It was the most powerful moment in our culture's history, in my opinion.  Prior to his visit, I told my co-founder, Brant, that this would have a "massive impact" on our culture, and I wasn't disappointed in our company's initial response. Many employees thanked me afterwards, and the fun is only beginning (we are going through the entire program and all of its exercises over the next four months).

Culture has been a huge focus for us from the beginning, and is, I believe, the most important reason that we now lead our emerging industry.  We have tried and adopted many practices that were controversial at the time, such as:

  • Testing for all new hires - many fail the test and it is frustrating when under pressure to hire, but it ensures that we make fewer mistakes and build a strong culture (without a strong foundation, building a strong culture is not possible).
  • No vacation policy - we trust our employees to not abuse it and we do not want to limit them from taking personal time when they need it; we had an employee take a 3-week vacation to China just two months after starting with us (and beating all of his goals at that time).
  • Quarterly performance feedback (our "3/3/1" process), including "upward" feedback for the managers from their staff - to help all of our employees rapidly grow and reduce the anxiety in our organization (everyone always knows where they stand); I have been told by many of our employees and managers that they have learned more at Bazaarvoice than anywhere else they have worked.  Our feedback is balanced (the 3/3/1 is a simple email form to document the 3 things you did well that quarter, the 3 things you could have done better, and the 1 initiative you are going to focus on as a result).  The upward feedback from staff illuminates blind-spots on our management team, many of which have never been discussed with them in previous companies because the feedback process was too poor to generate intensely constructive dialogue.
  • And much more (read our Culture page to learn more).

But perhaps none of these were more controversial than the roll-out of the Total Leadership program.  Why?  Because it usually results in a decrease of time spent at work.  So why take this risk when Bazaarvoice is doing so well?  Well, because I sincerely trust our employees.  Many of our cultural policies are "discovered" at our quarterly executive strategy meetings when brainstorming on how to evolve culture by treating employees like mature adults.  And I know from first-hand experience that I wasted so much time at work before the birth of my daughter, Rachel.  Once she was born, I was more focused than ever before, and it led to a corresponding increase in my productivity, although my work hours actually decreased.  So, I believe that the Total Leadership program will do the same.  And, sure enough, Stew's research shows that productivity/effectiveness goes up at work once employees go through the exercises in this program.

Why did I call this "an experiment"?  Well, it certainly is one for our company, with it being a new initiative.  But, as importantly, it is an experiment for Stew too.  He has never rolled out the program to an entire company - usually just to a large team at a Fortune 500.  So he is just as excited about it as I am.

To be a good steward of the Austin community, I also hosted Leadership Austin, Bootstrap Austin, 100 attendees outside of Bazaarvoice, and Stew Friedman at our offices the evening of May 14.  I received just as many compliments from those attendees as I did from our own employees. 

This is a very powerful book, and I highly recommend it to all of our clients and partners.  Roll this out in your teams and you will not be disappointed.  Buy it for your friends, clients, and partners as a holiday gift.

Total Leadership is a way of life, and I already incorporate many elements of it into my workstream.  I hope you decide to do the same.  The workplace would be a happier place if more leaders take the leap to trust and empower their employees to not just be a leader at work, but a leader in all aspects of their lives.  If you want to learn more, buy the book and check out Stew's website for the program (watch the videos, especially).

Finally, I have one request.  We are going to double our staff this fiscal year, and we need your help.  Please forward this post to anyone that you think may be interested in joining us, and remember that we have four offices now (Austin, London, Paris, and Singapore).  Here is our jobs page.   Your friend would not only be joining a great culture, they would be joining at an amazing time of growth, globally, in our company.

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