What I've Learned After a Year of Writing Monday Memos

What I've Learned After a Year of Writing Monday Memos

Happy 13 Month Birthday, Monday Memo!

Hope you all have enjoyed the last 55 weekly installments. In the last year, the Monday Memo certainly has not transformed our ability to communicate at LearningLeaders. The original and continuing purpose of the Monday Memo is to provide a routinely available window into three key streams of information:

  1. What thoughts are most occupying my mind that week? (In other words, what themes or ideas do I think is most important?)
  2. What events are most occupying my mind in the week to come? (In other words, what events am I looking at as the most important?)
  3. Where am I getting my information? (In other words, what non-LL inputs am I digesting and considering as I make decisions at LearningLeaders?)

With these three questions, it’s been a consistent goal of mine to trend towards trans parency, to trend towards openness, and to trend towards sharing as much as possible. I’ve never strived to hide information from Partners that I think is more beneficial out in the open. I do believe in a certain degree of privacy for sensitive information, though the vast majority of information should be shared openly. The Monday Memo is my own little contribution to the team’s pursuit of our goals while hoping to lead by example and being open myself, sometimes writing about awkward or even potentially embarrassing issues. A challenge for us as LearningLeaders continues to grow and take advantage of various market opportunities is to remain cohesive as a group. As I wrote about in a previous Mon- day Memo, diversity is what can enable a group to consider many viewpoints with care. There are also built-in challenges with a diverse group in that we may share certain values but not others. We may view situations and circumstances differently based on our own experiences. We may interpret the words of others in different ways. What sounds direct to one person may be unclear to another. What seems obvious to one person may be obviously wrong to another. And thus, the (delightful) price that we must pay as a group is working as hard as possible to be open, honest, and forthcoming with each other about our beliefs. The farther we stuff our beliefs and opinions down into our personal trove of secrets, the more challenging it becomes for everyone in our orbit to interpret them. So what does this have to do with the Monday Memo? Growing as a company or a community is hard. We will be stressed and feel tension and torque in many directions. That is normal and that is to be expected. But we must be continually ready and vigilant to anticipate these stressors. In my opinion, a vital method for us to remain cohesive and working together is a set of common values. In our case, we’re lucky that they are clear: Prioritize People’s Potential, Take No Shortcuts, Act with Initiative, and Embrace the Adventure. Many organizations do not have these principles clearly denoted, let alone referenced with such frequency and rigor within the team. I’m proud that as a Partnership we’ve been able to identify our core values to such a degree of clarity. The next step for us is to deeply consider if we are acting in accordance with them on a daily basis when at work.

As the company grows, the number of initiatives, features, and simultaneous conversations seems to increase exponentially. I certainly have experienced that it is about 10x harder to communicate clearly with every person in the LearningCenter now than it was 2 years ago. Before, we all sat around a single table. Now it takes us quite a big circle of chairs in the Atrium area.

As the company has grown over this past year, I decided to add an additional form of com- munication, the Monday Memo, to do my best to be in constant touch with everyone. Over the last year, here’s some of my personal TILTs from writing the Monday Memo.

Lessons from a Year of the Monday Memo:

  1. Over-communicate: Repeating yourself on different mediums helps a lot.
  2. It’s Not Personal: Not everyone prioritizes the same stuff you do or has time to help.
  3. Truly Commit: Follow-through gets easier and easier.
  4. Writing Works: Forcing yourself to verbalize is a massive clarification tool.

  1. Over-communicate: Repeating yourself of different mediums helps a lot.

After a year of Monday Memo writing, I have lost track of the number of times that someone asked me a question that was literally answered in black and white in the previous week’s, or previous month’s Monday Memo. Or in a Podio group chat. Or in an email.

While I certainly expect people to check their Podio messages and emails (and I think it’s a rather good idea to read the Monday Memo weekly as well), my opinion has really shifted in the last year. I used to get super frustrated when people had either read (or not) something and then they forgot it, or needed extra clarification on something. It just used to drive me bonkers! How could you ask me that when it’s clearly written here in this email? How can you ask what our company mission is once I’ve announced it? How can you ask me what the curriculum is for the Summer Camp when you agreed to fill out the form specifying what the curriculum is? And many more.

What I’ve learned loud and clear is that communication is definitely the responsibility of the communicator and not the listener. Frequency matters. Coming from different angles/mediums matter. Check-in and reinforcement matters. Repetition matters. This is something that I should have realized much earlier, having worked closely with students over the last years - just because a piece of feedback is given does not mean it is internalized. There needs to be timely and directed follow-up to ensure the feedback is acted upon. Just because the OLC link is clearly shared with students, doesn’t mean one of them won’t message you and ask for it. Just because you explain to a parent the difference between NSDA and NHSDLC, doesn’t mean they won’t ask you again at the next Parent Coach Conference.

Over-communicating, and over-communicating, and over-communicating some more is critical to align a team around anything: be it values, objectives, or even plans for an after- work shindig.

2. It’s Not Personal: Not everyone prioritizes the same stuff you do or has time to help.

In a similar vein to above - it used to really bum me out when not everyone read the Monday Memo. I used to have a lot of self-doubt. Were people not finding it useful? Was I a terrible writer? Did people not care what I had to say?

Over the last year, I’ve just learned that not everyone prioritizes the same stuff I do. Honestly, while I wish that everyone found all the links that I sent out helpful, or found that the ‘On My Mind’ section helped them understand where I’m coming from and the way that I see the company more clearly, that’s not always the case. And it makes a ton of sense - everyone has different priorities and focuses.

When I ask for feedback on the Monday Memo, or we ask for feedback on the Team Voice Survey, or more generally, when Partners ask for feedback and send out surveys, not everyone replies. I used to take the stance of being offended by this. Over the last year I’ve gravitated more to the “If you don’t provide input, then a) we can’t help you improve the situation, and b) quit complaining about it if you’re not providing actionable feedback.”

As Jerry Maguire (played by Tom Cruise) famously says, “Help me, help you!” But in the last year I’ve learned, some people don’t want to be helped so much.

There’s a bit of honey and a bit of vinegar there. Obviously, as many of you know, I much prefer honey, positive reinforcement, and providing more than 50% of the value and trust in every relationship and business dealing. I think it’s not only the right thing to do, but also good business.

But when it comes time for other people being as invested in your work as you hope or being as helpful as you would want them to: It’s not personal. It’s just that everyone has their own priorities. And over the last year, I’ve come to see that and respect that more and more. You do you. It might sting for a second, but I honestly won’t judge.

3. Truly Commit: Follow-through gets easier and easier.

Over the last year, I’ve sent out a Monday Memo every single week, except for once over Chinese New Year holiday. In the beginning, I thought that committing to a weekly email/newsletter would be super challenging. Spoiler alert: it kind of is! Some weeks I’m not feeling as creative, or introspective, or thoughtful. Some weeks it takes me five hours to slog through the writing and piecing together the links and upcoming events. Some weeks it only takes me two to three. It’s rarely super fun, but it’s become easier and easier.

Jerry Seinfeld has a super awesome rule for improving his joke writing. Though this story may be apocryphal, he’s shared it numerous times, so I’ll take him at his word for it. Basically what he does is hang up an old fashioned calendar on his wall and put a red magic marker next to it. For every day that he writes a joke, he crosses off the day with a big, fat, red, ‘X.’

Pretty soon, he has a chain of red Xs that lasts nearly a whole month. Soon after, he has 45 days of red Xs. And at that point, he doesn’t want to break the chain. Reminding himself of previous commitments and following-through just helps him continue to produce consistently great work.

Regarding the Monday Memo, I couldn’t agree more - to produce a weekly email is probably not as hard as writing an awesome joke, but it does take time and concerted effort. And I can say there were definitely times last October, November, December, and even up to February when I considered not writing the Memo. (In fact, over CNY I basically used the holiday as an ‘excuse’ not to send one out! I wrote the Memo, but then said to myself, “I can just use this one next week. No one will read the Memo over CNY anyways.”).

But since then, I’ve really never considered not writing it, because I don’t want to be that guy who broke a great streak of productive work. I want to be able to look back in a few years and say, “Yep - I committed to something and I followed through on it. I didn’t wimp out and I made it happen.”

Committing only gets easier once you get started. Build the chain of those Xs and watch what unfolds.

4. Writing Works: Forcing yourself to verbalize is a massive clarification tool.

Much of what is drafted for the Monday Memo gets left ‘on the cutting room floor.’ For every word that is here, there’s probably one or two that is just saved on my computer with a different file name. While being concise is not a strength of mine, I do strive to keep these Memos as brief as I can while still conveying all of the relevant ideas I wish to share each week.

Editing is the secret. Culling and cutting and reducing and removing is the name of the game. The Romans would have called this ‘via negativa’ - learning by removal, not by addition. Hans would call this ‘Simplify!’

Writing and editing your work, even if not to be shared with others, is something I can appreciate so much more now that ever before. At various stages in my life I’ve journaled, written, or recorded to various extents. I’d almost always done it in paper journals before, which are romantic, but super hard for me to catalogue and sift through.

Now is really the first time I’m seeing the beauty in reflecting on both ‘finished’ and ‘non-finished’ pieces from the years since starting LL. It’s great fun and wildly informative to look back on my writing from 2014 when the company just started, to 2015 when we found traction, to 2016 when we saw the first glimmer of success, and to 2017 when we really changed from a ‘rag tag group of superheroes’ (as Pat would say), into a thriving company.

To view what I deemed as important then, and now especially as I go through last year’s Monday Memos for the corresponding week before I write each one for this year has already been fun.

As the kids are saying these days on the social medias:

Writing - “10/10 would recommend.”