How to decline a meeting.

standing_ozy-2Last week, I axed a weekly meeting.
The three other people in on this weekly meeting are incredible, and I’ve learned a lot from our time together.  But, besides enjoying their conversation, there was no reason to keep on meeting.  What we had set out to achieve had been accomplished.
Canceling this meeting got me wondering, if I hadn’t cancelled the meeting, how long would we have still met, simply for the sake of meeting?

Meetings are effective and necessary. But not all of them.

When deciding to accept or decline a meeting – run it through this checklist first.

  1. Agenda: Does the meeting have a planned agenda? If it doesn’t, consider opting out until one is established. I’ve attended way too many agenda-less meetings that could have been accomplished in 15 minutes instead of 60. Consider responding by saying something like: “Thank you for inviting me to this meeting. I’d like to attend, but before I accept could you provide me with an agenda of what will be discussed? As a rule, I only attend meetings that have objectives for what’s to be accomplished.”
  2. Content: Are you having the meeting to make a decision? Decision-based meetings are necessary. If no decisions are being made or discussed, there’s a good chance the meeting isn’t worth your time.
  3. People: Are the right people in the room? Only the people needed to make a decision should be invited. People attending to just be in the informational loop should be dismissed. Having the right people in the room makes for quality conversation. Having too many people in the room makes for a quantity of conversation.
  4. Brainstorm: Is the meeting a brainstorming session? Creative meetings are fun, and are meant to be less-structured and more free-flowing. But beware brainstorming sessions that are completely unstructured. So, run it through #1-3 first – make sure the meeting has some objectives (agenda), ask what outcome is needed from the meeting (content), and make sure all who needs to be there is present (people).

Do you have other criteria for accepting or declining meetings? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section!

Seattle Startup Week Sponsor Spotlight | Code Fellows

code-fellows-ssw-sponsor-logosCode Fellows, a Seattle Startup Week sponsor, is a code school training both mobile and web developers in industry practices, in-demand frameworks and technologies.

What makes you excited about Seattle Startup Week?

A chance to connect with all of the resources that happen over a year in one week.

What are you hoping to get out of the week of events?

Awareness of Code Fellows with a broader community of potential co-founders and future employers.

What do you love about being part of the Seattle startup culture?

It has changed a lot over the years.  It’s great that we now have an ecosystem that is helping new folks get connected with resources.

If Code Fellows was a food, what would it be and why?

Spicy Mexican.  It’s something you expect, but it has a bit of a kick to it.

Every Question to Ask Before You Roll Out an Unlimited Vacation Policy

I’ve been thinking about implementing this policy for three months. I’ve interviewed dozens of CEO’s who have implemented an Unlimited Vacation Policy to discuss how different companies handle different situations. Next week at the Beyond the Beer Pong and Foosball Tables event, I’ll be discussing the process that I went through to  come up with answers to every Unlimited Vacation Policy question that we could think of. Register for this event at Westland Distillery on October 28!

Why Implement an Unlimited Vacation Policy?

My company is not a tech startup, but because we support hundreds of startups and are entrenched in the startup ecosystem, I gravitate towards and embrace the workplace culture that is on the bleeding edge. I also want to attract employees who thrive in the startup ecosystem and feel like this is one of those things that separate the best from the rest. I also feel that PTO is punitive and traditional vacation and sick leave is even worse. Having an Unlimited Vacation Policy shows your employees that you trust them and allows employees to recharge when they need to. This leaves employees feeling empowered, respected and motivated.

Build With the Long View in Mind

I’m also a firm believer of building the company with the long view in mind. There are no shortcuts when you’re building something that is sustainable. Life is full of changes at each stage of life. When you’re single, there are things that you just want to be able to do and there are fewer commitments holding you back. Once you have children, the world completely becomes different. Suddenly your time off is spent at your kid’s Halloween party, attending parent teacher conferences, staying home with them when they’re sick, or figuring out how to handle summer vacation when they are bouncing back and forth between summer camps. That leaves a person with essentially no time off for actually recovering from working hard and crushing their goals. There are also unforeseen issues that come up in life, ones that no one ever plans for, and I want employees to feel supported in those situations and throughout the various stages of life.

Questions and Roll Play

Here is a list of questions that I came up with. As a team, we spent a few hours (spread out over a week) to discuss and role play the questions.

  • How do you ensure that people don’t take too much time off?
  • How do you ensure that people don’t take too little time off?
  • How do you ensure that people do not become resentful of others who take too much time off?
  • What do you do if your incentives don’t support your goals?
  • How do you ensure that people do not feel guilty about taking time off?
  • What’s a healthy amount of time off to take per year?
  • How much lead time do you have to give in order for vacation to be approved?
  • Should unlimited vacation be tracked?
  • Most unlimited vacation plans have some sort of manager approval step. What systems are in place to ensure there is an equal approval process for each manager to ensure that there is not inequality among teams?
  • If sales people reach their goals they can take off as much time as they like. What about for jobs that are more operationally focused?
  • If you need an extra day to recover from your vacation buffer that it. Nothing sucks more than people that call in sick because they are wiped out, hung over or didn’t rest enough when they took their vacation. Be back in the office when you say you’re going to.
  • Is it okay to just call in sick when you just don’t feel like working?
  • If it just happens to be a sunny day, should you just call in and say, “I’m not coming in”?
  • What if an employee needs to take time off because of something related to FMLA (Family Medical Leave Act)? How does that work with a unlimited vacation policy?
  • How does maternity or paternity leave work with an unlimited vacation policy?
  • Can you take time off if you’re behind on your projects or they are not complete?
  • Do employees feel like they are working all the time even when they are on vacation?
  • Is there a cap on the number of weeks a person can take off at one time? Two weeks? What if someone has something that they would like to take off which is longer?
  • How do you treat existing accrued leave while transition from PTO to unlimited vacation? Payout at termination?
  • How do you ensure that you have a vacation schedule that is fair to all and effective for the business?
  • How can you have an unlimited vacation policy for hourly employees?
  • How do managers arrange with their teams to take time off?
  • The hiring process needs to weed out people that don’t align with our core values and how we operate with a unlimited vacation policy.
  • Is the client or customer suffering?
  • What if I want to take time off but my manager doesn’t approve?

Unstructured or Guidelines?

At the end of our discussion, it was clear that expectations are set and guidelines are in place. This helps people understand what is considered to be acceptable, aligns with our core values, and allows employees to show they really care about their coworkers and the company.

What other questions would you ask if you were implementing an unlimited vacation policy?

Three Reasons Why I Start My Day Early in the Morning

Here are the three reasons why I start my day early. My first reason is backed up by a ton of articles about what super successful people do.

  1. They wake up early. The coolest thing that I learned from the morning exercise routine was I had created a new equilibrium point every single day. I was no longer at the whim of a random feeling on how my day was going to be. Exercise allowed me to always be full of energy, alert, and attack the day with more clarity. If you’re an entrepreneur, I think you’re going to find that to be a better thing to do than work late at night all the time.
  2. Train at the same time as when you run your marathon. A few weeks ago I ran my first marathon and one thing I did differently was wake up early and exercise. In the past, I trained at night for my half marathons and I was always groggy when it came time to run really early in the morning for the Seattle Half Marathon and Seattle Rock and Roll Half Marathon. The results were obviously different when I trained in the AM for the Leavenworth Oktoberfest Marathon where I’ve been waking up at 5:15am every day.
  3. Two people that I greatly admire are Annie Duncan and Katie Walvatne. Both of them have amazing positive personalities, get crazy amounts of important work done, are a complete joy to be around, they have grit and resilience, and they both exercise and wake up super early. Oh and both have run marathons!

I’ve never read an article that talks about how awesome someone is for pushing the snooze button and waking up late. I’ve also never met anyone that was super successful who was always sleeping in and coming into work late. Once you’ve made the shift of waking up early, you’re going to recognize all of the positive ripple impacts it’s going to make on your life and company!

Seattle Startup Week Sponsor Spotlight | Hired

Hired LogoHired, a two-sided recruiting marketplace and a Seattle Startup Week sponsor, is on a mission to make both finding a job and finding quality employees easier.

What makes you excited about Seattle Startup Week?

We’re excited to support and participate in Seattle’s startup community.  In particular, we are excited to discover new companies, share ideas and meet interesting people.

What are you hoping to get out of the week of events?

We are hoping to be a resource for job seekers and to build partnerships with startups to help grow their teams.

What do you love about being part of the Seattle startup culture?

The Seattle startup culture is extremely welcoming and extremely innovative.  The people here are passionate about what they do and it shows in their enthusiasm to help others and give back to the community.

If Hired was a food, what would it be and why?

Hired would be a Vegas seafood buffet.  It serves and satisfies everyone and is a pleasure to experience.

Seattle Startup Week | Fremont Run to Beat Breast Cancer

Fremont Run To Beat Breast Cancer LogoSeattle Startup Week is only two weeks away, and preparations are in full swing here at thinkspace!  October is also Breast Cancer Awareness Month.  And you know we are always looking for ways to build and strengthen our ties within the community. If you’re a part of the startup community and we haven’t met you yet, we’re hoping to change that soon.  And if we have already met you, we’d love to see you, too!

We’d like to invite you to spend your morning with us on Wednesday, October 28th for a 5K Run to Beat Breast Cancer.  Run, walk, skip, jump and be merry with us.  The run begins at 8:30 am and will take us along the Burke-Gilman Trail and through Gasworks Park.  Stick around after the run concludes to eat some breakfast noms and jam out to some early morning disco tunes at our Fremont location.

The event is free, but we’d appreciate any donations you can put forth.  All proceeds will go to raise funds for Dr. V.K. Gadi’s research at Fred Hutchinson Medical Research Center.  5K t-shirts will also be available for $20, with all proceeds supporting Dr. Gadi and his team.

RSVP for the Fremont Run to Beat Breast Cancer here.


Peter Chee, Ali Spain and Katie Walvatne at Brunch to End Breast Cancer October 11, 2015

Can’t make it on the 28th?  Running just isn’t your thing?  Not to worry!  We’ll be supporting Breast Cancer Awareness Month throughout Seattle Startup Week, with opportunities to make a donation to the Fred Hutch team at each of our events:



Seattle Startup Week Sponsor Spotlight | is a domain name registrar, web hosting company and a Seattle Startup Week sponsor.  To get to know them a little better, we asked them a few questions.

What makes you excited about Seattle Startup Week?

We are excited to support Seattle Startup Week because we love the whole Startup Week movement.  We’ve supported Boulder and Portland this year too, but see a particular energy in Seattle’s startup scene that’s infectious; and we want to be a part of it.

What are you hoping to get out of the week of events?

We are hoping to spread the word that new alternatives to .com domains are now available.  Domain name extensions like .ninja, .social, .news, and 1,300 others are becoming available.  We love these names because they inspire people to come up with new ideas and discover new possibilities on the Internet.

What do you love about being part of the Seattle startup culture?

Our favorite part of the Seattle startup scene is the drive that people have.  There’s a unique sense of “anything is possible” in the Seattle area.

If was a food, what would it be and why?

We would probably be lasagne.  That’s because we are simple on the outside, but super complex on the inside.

We are made for Labor Day.

So, I gotta be honest.  Up until writing this post, I actually didn’t know the history behind Labor Day.  Why question a 3-day weekend, right?  For the majority of my teens and twenties, Labor Day was simply the weekend I saw Dave Matthews at the Gorge before heading back to school.
But the history behind Labor Day is as interesting as it is empowering.

Labor Day was first celebrated in 1882 (pictured: a lithograph of the parade in New York City on Labor Day).  In 1887 it was established to be celebrated yearly on the first Monday in September to honor the American Labor Movement and the contributions that workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of their country (source).  A group of the key players within this movement called themselves The Knights of Labor. The Knights believed in the unity of the interests of all producing groups and sought to empower not just laborers but everyone who could be truly classified as a producer (source).

For most of us, work is a commitment that takes up most of our time.  But, though work dominates most of the hours of our week, it is also the one thing that we can routinely do week in, week out.  Think about your work week rhythm.  Now replace your work with something else.  Can you imagine doing something else for 40-60 hours, week in, week out?  Exercising?  Watching television?  Reading books? Playing golf?  I’ve heard people say, “When I retire I’m going to play a lot of golf.”  But 40 hours a week of golf?  Or television?  Try keeping that up for a few weeks.  We aren’t made to do that.

But we are made to work.  We can handle work in large quantities of time, unlike other activities.  We are made to be creative.  We are made to produce things.  Just like the Knights of Labor believed in the late 1800s, the movement wasn’t just for laborers, but anyone who produced anything.  I have a friend who is a project manager, but her passion is baking cupcakes.  She spends time dreaming of flavor combinations to try.  She carves time out of her schedule to carefully craft and decorate them.  And then she lets me eat them.  She is a “laborer” (project manger by day) and “producer” (cupcake creator by night).  You take away her labor and she is still a producer.  Take away what she produces, and she’s still a laborer.

The point is this: we are made for work.  We are made for Labor Day.

Happy Labor Day everyone!

I Hate Process, But, Now We Are Creating a Playbook


I attended an event last week where ironman Jack Daly was the speaker talking about his journey as an entrepreneur. There are two things that stuck out to me when he spoke. Firstly, if the Seahawks drafted a player and they said “that’s nice you have a playbook, but, I’m not going to follow that because I’ve got my own style” – what do you think Coach Pete Caroll would say about that? Secondly, the only thing that matters is conversion rate. Yes, you can track tons of other KPI’s but the one that matters most is conversion rate. My personal feeling is that customer satisfaction is also one other metric that defines your success as company and a company should track their NPS (Net Promoter Score).

What’s inside our playbook:

  • Core values.
  • Mission and vision.
  • How do we want people to feel?
  • Defined Roles with each person having a set of measurable KPI’s.
  • Measuring KPI’s on a weekly, monthly, quarterly basis.
  • Color-coding each person’s KPI’s with the colors green, yellow, red.
  • Tying everything back to our Quarterly One Page Strategic Plan.
  • Accountability by having numbers on the wall for each person.
  • Quarterly performance reviews instead of annual performance reviews.
  • Standard operating procedures.
  • Training, practicing, and regular testing to ensure we understand what’s in the playbook.
  • Hiring people that only fit into this system.
  • Benefits that allow our team to have an unlimited vacation policy.

Who Draws Up the Plays?

This is definitely a situation where key employees get to help design what the playbook should look like for their area of expertise. I’ve always focused on leveraging the strengths of each individual person and learning what they are great at. In the book “It’s not about the coffee” by Howard Behar, Starbucks executive. He shares:

The Person Who Sweeps the Floor Should Choose the Broom. People are not “assets,” they are human beings who have the capacity to achieve results beyond what is thought possible. – Howard Behar

Leadership and employees need to both agree on the outcome, but, the process to get there should be determined by the employee. At the end of the day, it’s about ensuring the results are achieved.

Our Biggest Area of Focus

Over the last year, the thing that has been my biggest area of focus is the customer experience. It’s also been my biggest point of frustration too. I badly want to raise the bar for our customer experience but I just haven’t been able to make traction on that. Clearly, I’m missing something in my knowledge and work experience that is allowing me to break through. In the last few months, my last three hires are people with university degrees in Hospitality Management. My intention and hope is that these people will focus on raising the bar really high for customer experience. I don’t think we will be able to do this without having a playbook and the entire team is in synch and executing as a unit.

What do you think? Does your company have a playbook? What do you like about your company’s playbook? How do you track and measure KPS’s. Please share!