Jeff Bezos and Bob Pozen’s Shared Keys to Increase Office Productivity
A CCW Digital Analysis
Bob Pozen has been a top executive at two mutual fund giants, Fidelity and MFS Investment Management, the oldest mutual fund company in the U.S. He’s also been an attorney, a government official, a law school professor, and a business professor at Harvard Business School and MIT Sloan School of Business. Oh and he’s also a NYT bestselling author on multiple books (most notably, Extreme Productivity), and a regular contributor to the Wall Street Journal, Harvard Business Review, Financial Times, and more.
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However, Pozen’s biggest claim to fame has been keynote speeches and studies on a topic that business managers are constantly trying to extract from employees. Whether it’s Amazon’s warehouse workers, Chipotle customer service, or Morgan Stanley’s top investment bankers, everyone wants to increase productivity in the workplace, save time, and deliver profitable results for their company.
Think First. Read, Write, or Call Second
In an article Pozen wrote nearly nine years ago, he shared one of his most undervalued productivity lessons in business.
“Here’s an exercise I used with my children and nephews. When I saw them doing dense reading in a history or science textbook, I would ask, ‘When you get to the exam in a month or two, what do you want to remember from this chapter?’ Then I’d say, ‘After reading this chapter, please write no more than the one or two paragraphs you want to remember for the exam. Then go back and see how you could read more efficiently to obtain that paragraph or two.’
“When it comes to writing something longer than an e-mail, the key is to first figure out your argument. If I don’t fully understand my line of argument, I cannot write even a paragraph. To do this, compose an outline before writing... I’ve seen many executives realize what they wanted to say only after they had written a lengthy draft. That is unfortunate. You should know where you will end up before you start.”
This productivity practice of Pozen’s doesn’t just apply to handling e-mails or writing proposals. It applies to achieving any goal with a consumer. Before facing a client or customer, have a designated procedural paragraph or two for different genres of customers (a pre-prepared mission statement) that “you want to remember for the exam,” or the interaction. Then build your proposals, emails, pitches, etc. towards obtaining that modified paragraph or two.
Just like deal closures and customer inquiries can be made easier through remodeling and reorganizing the process and how we view it, so too can communication within workplace meetings. Many meetings are unproductive in the long run because they are centered on one person’s view of how to achieve a result. The meeting may be efficient and organized, but the result isn’t.
As CCW digital writer and editor, Kindra Cooper pointed out in her recent article, “At Hugo, new hires receive a copy of Team of Teams by retired army general Stanley McChrystal, commander of the Joint Special Operations Task Force that defeated Al Qaeda in Iraq. In his book, McChrystal introduces the concept of ‘shared consciousness,’ which entails having faith in your colleagues and aligning behind a common goal. It enables you to read, empathize and nonverbally communicate with your team, while giving them the ability to use their personal strengths to accomplish goals.”
How? It gets cultivated over time using a method called a “decision journal,” another concept McChrystal introduces in the book as a way to develop shared consciousness. When teams or individuals make important decisions, they fill out a form that asks for the rationale behind the decision, the expected outcome, and a review date. This exercise helps employees understand how their colleagues think, lets colleagues deliver their own deadlines and expected outcomes, and opens up decisions for the most effective and undervalued component of workplace meetings… debate.
According to a Harvard Business Review excerpt, Pozen likes to take his own approach to teamwork within meetings, “the rebuttable hypothesis” which is designed to encourage debate. “I might say, ‘Here is the area where we really need to do something. It is a difficult area, and there are several ways to address the problems. Now, this is my tentative view of the path we should take, but I could be wrong. I want you to feel free to disagree and offer alternatives.’ Then I have to be willing to discard or modify my hypothesis if someone comes up with a better approach.”
At the end of a meeting Pozen will ask, “What are the to-dos, who’s going to take care of them, and when will they be delivered?” The strategy is to have the participants agree on the deliverables and to set their own timetable. Interestingly, Pozen claims “…they will [then] have an ownership interest in the follow-up, rather than just going along with my directions. And they often select a more aggressive timetable than I would have had the nerve to suggest.”
The strategy here is to get employees to take ownership over their own space by determining what they want to be held accountable for and by what time frame. Why? They’re more likely to do it, Pozen believes. “You can reinforce the principle of ownership in many ways. For instance, instead of assigning detailed tasks, you can present general priorities for the upcoming year and let your reports formulate specific ways to implement those priorities along with the metrics for measuring success.”
“Disagree and Commit”
Bob Pozen, one of the most productive human beings in the world offers nearly the same strategic productivity lessons Jeff Bezos, one of the most financially successful human beings in the world.
“Most decisions should probably be made with somewhere around 70% of the information you wish you had. If you wait for 90%, in most cases, you’re probably being slow. Plus, either way, you need to be good at quickly recognizing and correcting bad decisions. If you’re good at course correcting, being wrong may be less costly than you think, whereas being slow is going to be expensive for sure,” said Bezos in an annual Amazon shareholder letter.
To combat this philosophy, Bezos likes to use the term “disagree and commit.” “This phrase will save a lot of time. If you have conviction on a particular direction even though there’s no consensus, it’s helpful to say, “Look, I know we disagree on this but will you gamble with me on it? Disagree and commit?” By the time you’re at this point, no one can know the answer for sure, and you’ll probably get a quick yes.”
But just like Pozen, Bezos isn’t saying, “do as I say, not as I do.” In fact, he’s saying the opposite. “If you’re the boss, you should do this... I disagree and commit all the time. We recently greenlit a particular Amazon Studios original. I told the team my view: debatable whether it would be interesting enough, complicated to produce, the business terms aren’t that good, and we have lots of other opportunities. They had a completely different opinion and wanted to go ahead. I wrote back right away with ‘I disagree and commit and hope it becomes the most watched thing we’ve ever made.’ Consider how much slower this decision cycle would have been if the team had actually had to convince me rather than simply get my commitment.”
After an analysis has taken place and both sides of a debate are heard, a decisive decision needs to be made in order to be productive. One side is going to lose, and that side might have to surrender. For the betterment of the organization, that side might be the most powerful man in the room, as seen in the Bezos and Pozen cases.
“It’s a genuine disagreement of opinion, a candid expression of my view, a chance for the team to weigh my view, and a quick, sincere commitment to go their way. And given that this team has already brought home 11 Emmys, 6 Golden Globes, and 3 Oscars, I’m just glad they let me in the room at all!”
As Steve Jobs once said, “It doesn't make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.” Bezos epitomizes that idea. If you can’t trust your employee to challenge you and efficiently arrive to a conclusion that might combat yours, why hire them?
This strategy of “disagree and commit” avoids the possibility of the “You’ve worn me down. We’ll go with that idea” factor.
Bezos and Pozen share similar philosophies when it comes to productivity in the workplace. Most notably, they constantly revert to desired end goals and mission statements, encourage their employees to challenge their ideas, and make decisive decisions regardless of who is or isn’t on board.