It's Worth Noting | By Levi Smith Leadership, productivity and technology ideas worth noting. Wed, 26 Nov 2014 17:04:17 +0000 en-US hourly 1 A simple “Is it worth my time to improve?” calculator Thu, 19 Jun 2014 14:26:23 +0000

I’m an optimizer by nature. I notice opportunities for small improvements to save time or money that are only motivating when you think about the time or money saved over the course of a year. I call this the “Accumulated Efficiency Effect“. I’ve also written a related post about the “Power of 10x Problem Solving“.

But how do you know whether a small inefficiency is actually worth the time and effort to improve with a better tool or automation? Well, I’ve got a calculator for that.

This little gem will help you figure out whether saving a minute or two a few times a week is actually worth the effort. If you run a business, you can click on the advanced options to calculate the impact on your entire team and the return on investment for implementing a solution.

If you’d prefer a chart, I’ve included that below, which you can download to keep on hand as a quick reference.

Is it worth my time to improve chart

The next time you’re enjoying an extra day, weekend or week off, drop back by and leave a note in the comments!

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Are all your leaders worth following? Wed, 11 Jun 2014 22:13:14 +0000


What if you walked into your business tomorrow, tossed the handbook and told your employees that from this point forward they should simply mimic the behavior of their supervisor or manager? Aside from giving HR and Legal a heart attack, would this shift result in better or worse behavior? Better or worse performance? Probably depends on the leader.

If your company is like most, you have a least a few managers or supervisors that you don’t want to replicate. They may be high performers on paper, but they don’t align well with the company’s mission, vision and values. They don’t improve the culture, they undermine it. People make excuses for them because of their output or legacy, but you don’t want anyone to follow their lead.

Having an exceptional culture and team is an all or nothing proposition. It’s impossible to accomplish if you’re unwilling to hold everyone to the same standards. Personalities and work styles will always vary, but you want consistency around your mission, vision and values.

If specific managers or supervisors come to mind, how would their teams and the organization as a whole benefit if they were replaced with leaders worth following? If you have experience or ideas to share, comment below!


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Stop paying for performance Tue, 22 Apr 2014 16:15:25 +0000
It’s a best practice of countless companies and a recommendation from even more consultants, advisors and the like.

Identify the key metrics for success in your business, measure them and incentivize your team to hit or exceed those metrics with a reward, usually monetary. Pay for performance.

The trouble though with typical pay for performance programs is that they only measure and incentivize outcomes. Sales quotas are a classic example. New revenue is measured and if a salesperson meets or exceeds their revenue quota, they get a reward. The measurement and reward system can be simple or complex, but ultimately it comes down to measuring and incentivizing specific outcomes.

The challenge is that this system inevitably create a culture where the end begins to justify the means. The most cunning and sometimes least scrupulous employees get rewarded more than the most admirable and desirable employees since the former are willing to game the system to ensure they benefit even if the organization suffers. These employees extract as much as they can as quickly as they can from the organization. The admirable and desirable employees, the company builders who create lasting value, feel discouraged and disadvantaged.

If you’re willing to go against conventional wisdom and blaze a new trail, there is another way.

I recommend clients replace their pay for performance program with a behavior incentive program. The focus becomes the input, not the output. We identify the key business outcomes and work backwards to identify the behaviors that will produce those outcomes that are in alignment with organization’s mission and values. Outcomes are still measured for coaching and accountability, but are no longer tied to incentives or rewards. Only behaviors, inputs, are tied to incentives or rewards.

So, for example, the desired outcome for a salesperson is to meet or exceed a revenue quota, which comes from sales to new or existing customers. A behavior that may produce that outcome is developing real relationships with customers with a focus on adding value even if it doesn’t result in an immediate sale. While this would be one of several behaviors needed to achieve the outcome, the shift here is to get the salesperson to focus on developing and meeting the needs of customers (“what can I give”) v. hitting a quota (“what can I get”). The salesperson begins to behave like a long-term stakeholder, pursuing customers who will become good repeat customers, instead of a short-term hired gun, pursuing anyone who will pay regardless of fit or desirability.

In the process of developing a behavior incentive program, everyone comes to agreement on the values and related behaviors that should produce the needed outcomes. If the outcomes do not flow from the behaviors, it’s either time to coach and train the employee, incentive different behaviors or acknowledge that circumstances beyond the employee’s control are to blame. If blame falls on the employee and he or she still doesn’t measure up after a couple coaching and training cycles, the employee needs to be let go or moved to another role. Shifting from paying for performance to incentivizing behaviors is not an abandonment of accountability for outcomes. It is a shift in motivation and focus. Instead of everyone wondering whether they’re going to hit their numbers, everyone begins to focus on whether they’re doing the things that will result in them hitting the numbers. Everyone begins to focus on living out the organization’s mission, vision and values instead of gaming the system.

How do you think your team would react if you abandoned your pay for performance program? Share below or if you’d like some help making the transition, contact me.

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Do you have any canaries to warn you of trouble? Thu, 20 Feb 2014 18:04:52 +0000
You’ve probably heard about how miners used to bring caged canaries with them deep into mine shafts. If any harmful gases emerged, the canaries would die, giving the miners sign of trouble while they still had time to get out.

Having easily observable indicators of coming trouble is really helpful, not just in mines, but in all areas of life. As we go about our days, weeks and months it’s easy to get lost in the details and fail to see trouble brewing until it hits us hard and has significant consequences. If you can identify a few leading indicators or “canaries” that you can easily keep an eye on though, you can get an early warning of coming challenges in time to make adjustments and avoid more dire consequences.

As an example, I have three key canaries I watch to make sure my schedule is in healthy balance:

  1. Do I have time to go for a 20 min walk everyday for prayer and reflection?
  2. Do I have time to exercise or work outside every other day?
  3. Can our family take a sabbatical, a day without work focused on relationships and rejuvenation, every week?

If I struggle in any of these  areas, I know my schedule needs attention. I’m either over-committed, prioritizing poorly, procrastinating or similar. It’s extraordinarily easy for me to use these three canaries, all specific and measurable, to keeps tabs on whether my schedule is in healthy balance.

Next step: Consider taking a few minutes to identify 1-3 canaries in each area of your life – e.g. finances, key relationships, schedule, etc. Try keeping an eye on the canaries for 30 days to see if focusing on a handful of indicators makes it easier to make course corrections and stay on track.

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Henry Kaestner interview – The advantage of revealing your true motivation Mon, 10 Feb 2014 21:49:04 +0000

Henry Kaestner is a man of deep faith and tremendous success. He is the Chairman, Co-Founder and former CEO of, a disruptive telecom start-up that he and his partner David Morken grew from nothing in 1999 to over $140 million a year in revenue and over 350 employees today. More importantly, Henry is a Christian, husband and father, priorities that served as the foundation for’s culture and are the focus of a venture capital fund he now leads.

In this podcast, Henry shares his perspective on how’s culture empowers employees to do amazing work, lead fulfilling lives and want to stick around.

Listen on iTunes, SoundCloud or other podcast players.

Follow-up resources:

Please take a moment to share you reactions in the comment section below!

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Lawrence “SugarBear” Reyes interview – How Can I Help? Fri, 22 Nov 2013 21:38:24 +0000


Lawrence Reyes serves as the Ambassador of Culture and Global Onboarding Manager at Rackspace, a leading cloud server and hosted services company based in San Antonio, Texas. As employee #14, Lawrence has seen firsthand how the company evolved from a 90’s start-up into a global enterprise known for its innovative offerings, fanatical support and unique culture.

SugarBear, as he’s known to fellow “Rackers” inside in the company, loves inspiring other companies and new employees with the vision of what can happen when everyone is focused on how they can help. I think you’ll find his journey and experience with Rackspace inspiring and applicable.

Listen on iTunes, SoundCloud or other podcast players.


Please take a moment to share you reactions in the comment section below!

New to this blog? Welcome and consider subscribing.

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David Niu interview – What would you gladly pay for? Fri, 11 Oct 2013 14:46:10 +0000
What if you broke up your retirement into bite-sized chunks and went on small adventures? That’s exactly what David Niu, serial entrepreneur and founder of TinyHR, did with his wife and ten month old not too long ago. Along the way, David sought to understand the biggest pain point leaders had related to managing their people and an idea was born.

I think you will enjoy David’s inspiring story and find his approach to understanding how happy employees really are intriguing. Enjoy.

Listen on iTunes, SoundCloud or other podcast players.


Please take a moment to share you reactions in the comment section below!

New to this blog? Welcome and consider subscribing.

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The power of 10x problem solving Mon, 29 Jul 2013 03:58:47 +0000


Life in business and at home presents an endless array of problems to solve. Probably due to this relentless volume, it’s easy to get stuck in a routine of implementing solutions that will simply solve the immediate problem. It’s uncommon to routinely take the time and energy to identify good long-term solutions that will be scalable and flexible enough to handle growth and other changes.

Unfortunately, the effect of routine short-term problem solving is that problems reoccur and accumulate. As the volume of reoccurring problems increases, it gets harder to have the time and energy to work on long-term solutions. It is a vicious cycle and it’s easy to get stuck.

One easy way to either avoid getting into this mess or to claw your way out of it you’re already there is to start solving problems using what I call a 10X test. The next time you have a fresh problem to solve (or one of those reoccurring problems resurfaces) ask yourself how you would solve it if you had ten times (10X) whatever is the root catalyst of the problem. That could be 10X the number of staff, customers, transactions, kids – whatever.

The idea is to jar you out of your current problem solving mindset, to approach the solution from the top down (10X) instead of the bottom up. It does not mean that you need to go with a solution that is 10X more costly or complicated than what is actually needed, but simply to explore solutions from a 10X perspective.

Go ahead and give it a try and comment below if you too find that this approach leads you to more creative and longer lasting solutions.

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Mark McClain interview – “It’s a competitive advantage” Thu, 02 May 2013 22:05:35 +0000


Mark McClain is a friend, dedicated family man and experienced leader and entrepreneur in the Austin, Texas tech scene. Mark serves as CEO of his latest co-founded venture, SailPoint Technologies, a leading enterprise identity and access management application.

During our time together, Mark shared how lessons learned as a father and leader in other organizations that were less attentive to culture have shaped his leadership philosophy. Today, Mark and his co-founder at SailPoint are committed to maintaining a healthy culture – a competitive advantage in the marketplace for talent and customers.

Listen on iTunes, SoundCloud or other podcast players.


Please take a moment to share you reactions in the comment section below!

New to this blog? Welcome and consider subscribing.

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Forget sitting or standing meetings. Start walking. Thu, 18 Apr 2013 21:06:28 +0000


What if the following could be said of your team meetings?

  • They help us focus
  • They help us get exercise
  • They help us think more clearly

None of these benefits could be said of a typical meeting around a desk or table, or even standing.

If you want to improve your one-on-one and small team meetings overnight, insist that they take place while going for a walk.

Walking meetings are obviously impractical for larger groups or if there is no way to avoid needing to look at a computer screen or document. Setting those two situations aside, here is how walking meetings can make a big impact:

  • Without documents, slides and the like, attendees are forced to master their material and talking points. The result is more focused and engaging conversations.
  • People are more apt to look forward to meetings that get them out of the office and moving around. Everyone could use the extra exercise and attitude boost.
  • Moving around increases blood flow and oxygen levels. The more oxygen your brain has, the better it works. Walking meetings magically sharpen everyone’s mind.

Why not give it a try for 30 days? Bring walking shoes to work and ask others you are meeting with to do the same. Come back and share your experience in the comments below!

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