Interesting Interview Of Phil Libin, CEO Evernote

Adam Bryan published a really interesting interview in the NYT of Phil Libin, CEO of Evernote, who has some interesting culture practices.  Read on!

Q. So tell me something about your culture.

A. We recently implemented something called Evernote Officer Training. I got this idea from a friend who served on a Trident nuclear submarine. He said that in order to be an officer on one of these subs, you have to know how to do everyone else’s job. Those skills are repeatedly trained and taught. And I remember thinking, “That’s really cool.”

So we implemented officer training at Evernote. The program is voluntary. If you sign up, we will randomly assign you to any other meeting. So pretty much anytime I have a meeting with anyone, or anyone else has a meeting with anyone, very often there is somebody else in there from a totally different department who’s in officer training. They’re there to absorb what we’re talking about. They’re not just spectators. They ask questions; they talk. My assistant runs it, and she won’t schedule any individual for more than two extra meetings a week. We don’t want this consuming too much of anybody’s time.

Q. Tell me about some other things you do.

A. We recently changed our vacation policy to give people unlimited vacation, so they can take as much time as they want, as long as they get their job done. If you want to take time off, talk to your team, but we’re still measuring you on the same thing, which is, did you accomplish something great? Frankly, we want to treat employees like adults, and we don’t want being in the office to seem like a punishment. We always try to ask whether a particular policy exists because it’s a default piece of corporate stupidity that everyone expects you to have, or does it actually help you accomplish something? And very often you realize that you don’t really know why you’re doing it this way, so we just stop doing it.

Q. Is the unlimited vacation policy working?

A. So far. We had to modify it slightly because one of the first things I started worrying about is whether people would actually take less vacation. I don’t want people not to take any vacation because that’s just bad for them, and it’s bad for me. You’re not going to get a lot of work out of someone if they haven’t taken a vacation in a while. So we started rewarding people for taking at least a week at a time on a real trip by giving them $1,000 spending money. That seems to be going well.

Q. I can imagine.

A. Probably the thing that we do that people love the most, though, is housekeeping. If you work at Evernote, you get professional housecleaning twice a month.

Q. What gave you that idea?

A. We thought that we needed to get spouses and significant others on our side. I want the pressure from them to be, “You better not be thinking about leaving Evernote.” I don’t want the pressure to be, “Maybe you should think about going somewhere else?”

Read The Full article on New York Times

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GREAT Video On “Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us”

Higher bonuses and incentives for white collar work reduces performance?  Watch this!

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Buy The CEOFlow Book

Want the peace of mind and freedom that comes with knowing you have all the support you need from your own people?  Now you can buy the book!

Chip Conley, best-selling author of “PEAK: How Great Companies Get Their Mojo From Maslow” and CEO of Joie de Vivre Hospitality:

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Yanik Silver, CEO Maverick Business Adventures, Interviews Aaron Ross About CEOFlow

I’m a big fan of Yanik Silver and Maverick Business Adventures, and was delighted to get an opportunity to share the CEOFlow concepts with a group of his CEO customers.

Here is the full audio interview:

And the transcript:
Yanik Silver And CEOFlow Call Transcript

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Don’t Deal With Sensitive Issues Over Email

Trying to address important or sensitive issues over email just exacerbates the problem. Always meet in person or pick up the damn phone!

There’s just too much opportunity to misinterpret or miscommunicate, resulting in unnecessary anxiety or drama. What about scheduling an impromptu meeting? Or calling the person? If you can’t do either of them, is it something that can wait until the morning?

Email is an erratic back-and-forth conversation which just makes it that much more frustrating than a phone call or meeting to communicate about a complex situation.  Long delays let people stew and issues fester.

By phone, you can get instant answers and feedback from the other person.

Use common sense & follow the Golden Rule – if you have feedback for someone, need to debate an issue, or have a sensitive problem to discuss – how would you want to receive it?

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Structuring Your Week For Success

Excerpted from Kurt Daradics’ (CEO, FreedomSpeaks/CitySourced) post Fight The Resistance:

“The past two months has been a blur. I wake up early, at my desk by 7am. It’s back to back meetings till really late at night.


  • We’ve closed significant funding for CitySourced/FreedomSpeaks.
  • We’ve been nominated to Davos.
  • We were selected to the Finals of the Knight Foundation grant

Lord knows I’ve been busy, but even though we’re seeing traction, I still don’t feel like I’m really getting that much done, sorta spinning my wheels.  Even lately I’ve been feeling a bit paralyzed and at the end of the day my focus and concentration has been toast. I’m terribly behind on some personal correspondence and taking care of personal business. The start up has officially consumed my life…

Read the rest of Structuring Your Week For Success

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Make Fewer Decisions

Decision making skills, just like muscles, get better as you use them more often. As a manager, think about how much you’ve learned by exercising these muscles, and how you’ve been able to move the team forward with your confident (or at least confident-sounding) decisions.

That makes sense, right? Now flip it around to look at it from the team’s side: the more decisions you make for your people, the fewer they make for themselves. For every decision you choose to make for the team or for someone, you’ve deprived the team or that person of an opportunity to exercise their decision muscles. Even bad decisions can be valuable, when the person learns from them.

By making decisions for them, you’re teaching them to become dependent on you and less self-reliant. This is true even if that person wants the decision to come from you – you can still decline to accept. An obvious example: “Should I stay in my position and earn another promotion, or try to move to another group where I might find my job more fulfilling but will earn less?”

Yes, there will be decisions that ultimately HAVE to be made by you, but many fewer than you think, such as significant organizational changes, [examples] I bet most of the decisions you current make are ones you don’t have to make but that you choose to make.

As a manager, it’s your decision to make as many, or as few, decisions as you want with the team. You can choose to encourage your people to get approval on everything new they try, on every discount, on every kind of new marketing message, of every change in seating arrangements…or you can choose to let them take responsibility for their own decisions. Decision-making as a whole will improve and they will truly appreciate it.

Are you (or your company’s processes) depriving your people of the opportunity to make decisions?

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Author Interview: Isaac Getz, “Freedom, Inc.”

Recently I “sat down” via Skype with Isaac Getz, who lives in Paris, to ask him about the new book that he coauthored with Brian Carney: “Freedom, Inc.”

The book explores a topic near and dear to the CEOFlow heart: the journeys leaders took to build environments in which employees, without having to be told what to do, have the freedom and responsibility to take independent actions that they decide are in the best interests of the company.

I love this quote that Getz and Carney use in their book: “If you put fences around people, you get sheep,” said William L. McKnight, 3M’s chief executive, in 1924.  Their premise is that If you give your workers maximum autonomy, in the right conditions and culture, they will “lead your business to higher productivity, profits and growth.”

Here’s the basic four steps the authors suggest are important on the path of creating and maintaining a freedom culture that generates great results:

  1. Excite employees about a vision for the company so that they own it and feel that they are true contributors to making it real, not cogs in a machine.
  2. Eliminate “all the symbols and practices that prevent your people from feeling equal.” If different groups feel disrespected or that they are lower classes, they won’t be energized to go above and beyond for a company.  In other words, why should they work harder or smarter when it’s others that reap all the benefit – whether in money or respect?
  3. Stop trying to motivate employees – you can’t.  All you can do is create an environment in which they are encouraged and allowed to motivate themselves (see my own post on Push vs Pull Management).
  4. Once the new culture is in place, maintain it at all costs.

Personally, I’m very excited to see another great book come out that will help give CEOs and leaders more examples of how to create these kinds of cultures.  Thank you Isaac Getz and Brian Carney!  You can buy the Freedom, Inc. book on Amazon.

Interview of Isaac Getz, Author, “Freedom, Inc.”

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Register For A CEOFlow Consult

ceoflow-triangle-to-circle-sketchKnow any CEOs feeling overwhelmed while juggling life, employees and the world? I have a great opportunity for both you and the person that refers them to me…

CEOFlow is my coaching program for CEOs. I saw, from being a CEO, working with them and knowing many of them, that it’s easy to create a business that traps you rather than works for you.  It’s also just plain lonely at the top.

While we begin by focusing first just on the CEO themself, because the CEO is the ‘pebble in the pond’ that creates every ripple within the business, the CEOFlow system is about turning your employees into mini-CEOs who can help you run and grow your business like high-level executives.

Here is what is possible for CEOs to experience:

  • A peaceful and centered mind – stress is the enemy (of your and your company’s success)
  • Manage & succeed by being yourself rather than stepping into a different CEO personality at work
  • More enjoyment of your business and your daily work
  • Your ideal combination of money, freedom and adventure

Free CEOFlow Coaching Session (One Available Per Week)

I’m offering a free 30-minute CEOFlow coaching session to one CEO per week (each is a $375 value). Again, for a sense of the specifics of the program and my approach, you can take a look at

How To Apply

Send an email to info at pebblestorm dot com, with answers these questions:

  1. How many employees (including part-time or independent contractors) do you have?
  2. If you could wave a magic wand and change 3 things in your business or life right now, what would they be?
  3. What 3-4 things do you feel are holding back the potential of a) your business, and b) you within it?

Looking forward to speaking with you,

Aaron Ross


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A Visual Intention For CEOFlow And More Sketches

A Visual Intention For CEOFlow

Do I even need to write anything to describe my intention here, in how CEOs and their people should feel about how the culture and company work?   (Seriously – comment below if I do need to explain further!)

CEOFlow Triangle to Circle sketch

Where Outrageous Growth Comes From

It’s not from having a great product. Or perfect sales and marketing.  Those, for sustained success, are necessary…but what really creates lasting, outrageous growth is customer trust, success and love: that is, customers who love your service and can’t wait to tell others about it!  This is the basis for the massive success of companies like Google, Zappos, Facebook and


CEO Sweet Spot

This should be self-evident 🙂


CEO as the Pebble In The Pond

Everything begins with the CEO.  Are they centered, or stressed?  The thoughts, feelings and actions of the CEO (whether trusting or fearful) will ripple out through their employees and to the market…and will come back around either as increased or reduced growth:


Problem Multiplication

In command-and-control organizations that have trained employees to require approval from all managers, issues and problems multiply because so many people must touch them.  The companies train people to not make decisions by requiring upper approval for everything.

In a self-managing organization, in which employees are encouraged to make (and live with) their own decisions, the problems are dealt with at the source before they ripple up the organization.


What the text says:

  • Command & Control: Every problem escated / Decsisions pushed up
  • CEOFlow: Problems solved at source / Decisions pushed down


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"Pull Management" vs. "Push Management" systems (v1.0)

Are we working harder, under more pressure, but running in place?

The internet has changed business – in helpful and challenging ways:
* We have more information and metrics – and more confusion from all the clutter.
* We can develop and deploy products faster – far beyond our clients’ ability to absorb them.
* We can find prospects more easily – but they’re less interested in talking with us.
* We have more forecasting tools – but less predictability.
* We work harder – but not as hard as the scrappy firms in India and China.

I’ve worked with, mentored and observed dozens of companies over the past couple of years. It’s not uncommon for the double whammy of clutter and pressure to make companies and people so busy that they can’t get anything done!

The brute force methods that used to work so well, such as “work harder,” “hire more,” “spend more” aren’t true strategic or competitive advantages. Anyone can work hard, hire people and raise more money.

It’s time to start taking regular breaths to reflect on what we’re missing – there is a better way to increase growth more productively. From my point of view, the most impactful thing a CEO can do to increase sustainable growth than to move towards a pull management system and away from a push management system.

How can a CEO create an environment that helps the company to grow itself faster by unlocking the motivation of its people in an environment of trust, transparency and alignment? Can a CEO spend 95%+ of their time enjoyably surfing the flow of growing a company, rather than feeling sometimes like they’re paddling against the waves?

Push v Pull Management

Note that companies are not pull OR push…there would be a sliding scale (such as 70/30 push/pull)

Push System
* The CEO actively works to motivate (push) people.
* Work is usually exhausting.
* The company does not trust employees, who must be monitored and pushed to do more.
* The company culture is pressured, competitive, political.
* The executive team and board come up with the vision and goals and push these out to the company.
* Goal setting and tracking metrics take up 80% of the attention; prioritization of projects and goals is 20%.
* The executive team then pushes the employees to hit those goals on a quarterly or monthly drumbeat.
* Mistakes are punished.
* Burnout is common.
* Does not require much time from management. High rates of internal confusion or mis-alignment are acceptable.

Pull System
* The CEO actively works to create an environment that unlocks people’s inherent motivation (their own motivation “pulls” them to sustainably achieve).
* Work is usually energizing.
* The company culture is enjoyable, nurturing, collaborative.
* The company trusts employees to pull what they need from management (advice, information, help) as necessary.
* All employees have an opportunity to include their voice/feedback in company goals and priorities.
*  The executive team and managers work to maintain constant clarity alignment across the company, even on a weekly drumbeat.
* Every employee has transparent access to (or feeds to) updates on the company’s priorities and goals, so they remain in a constant state of alignment.
* EVERY mistake is a learning opportunity to improve something.
* No burnout – employees, through conversations with their peers, have total discretion in how and when they can take time off.
* Requires more investment of time by management, but much more productive (like the Toyota Production System).

Next step? Continuing the CEO discussion

Shoot me an email if this is something that resonates and you want to participate now or in the future in this conversation: aaron(at)pebblestorm(dot)com.

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Alexander Kjerulf's Chief Happiness Officer blog, and surviving a downturn without layoffs

Alexander Kjerulf is a great writer, and I recommend you check out his blog.  I’ve included a sample here of his last post (“The seeeeeeriously cool way out of a downturn”) that’s very relevant to what CEOs are dealing with today.

By the way, I would never tell a CEO to do everything they can to avoid layoffs.  Layoffs can hurt a culture, or it can help it – it depends on how they’re handled, and the unique situation of the company.  In fact, I’m often suggesting CEOs consider layoffs before they’re ready to accept the necessity themselves, because lots of companies, especially startups, tend to overhire and have too many people anyway.  Boards and CEOs like to make aggressive hiring plans based on aggressive growth…which often doesn’t come as fast as they want.

Having said that, if a company has a tight culture and feels that surviving a downturn without layoffs is the right course, this is a great example of a company that did it.
“The seeeeeeriously cool way out of a downturn”

Is there a better way out of a corporate crisis than layoffs? I’ve long felt that there has to be, and back in 2001 when my own IT company was deep in the hole, we fought hard to avoid laying off anyone (and succeeded).

I’m currently writing my second book which will be about keeping an organization happy during a crisis and one of the case stories I’ll be using is so good, that I just had to share it here.

The story is quite long, but it shows very clearly that there are better ways to handle a financial crisis than layoffs and panic. Enjoy!


The economy may be bad, but Wim Roelandts isn’t really bothered much by that because, as he told me, this is his 8th. recession so far.

Wim’s worst crisis as a leader came in 2000 when Xilinx, a computer chip manufacturer based in  Silicon Valley, got hit hard and fast by the dot-com crisis. In the December 2000 quarter their revenue was $450 million – 9 months later, their revenues for the September 2001 quarter was down to only $225 million.

Something had to be done, and fast, but what? Wim Roelandts, an affable Belgian who is usually seen with a smile on his face, was the CEO back then and was clearly facing some tough decisions. And while Xilinx’ closest competitors wasted little time in firing a large percentage of their staff to cut costs, Wim felt here had to be a better way.

He came up with a plan for his organization and the 2.800 people in it and called it “Share the pain”.

The plan had three simple components…continue to the full article

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Want to brainstorm with Richard Branson on Necker Island?

Sharing something here for any CEOs/board members into fast cars, Richard Branson, or are just feeling stressed and need a break… (by the way, the “Me” on here is Yanik Silver, not moi):

In Silicon Valley/Los Angeles it’s pretty grim here for many CEOs/owners – especially the ones of venture-funded companies. I see that the more stressed they get, the less able they are to get a clear picture of what they need to do to succeed. Whether it’s racing fast cars or going for a hike, getting some mental space, regularly, makes a big difference in your productivity (a big reason why I have CEO groups going in SF and LA – getting together with peers can also create that space).

A friend of mine, Yanik Silver (who’s offer to share PebbleStorm with his audience catalyzed me to launch PebbleStorm this week), has a cool business (Maverick Business Adventures) of putting together mini-adventures for CEOs, combining fun and networking/business sessions, and he has a few spots open for two upcoming events:

Brainstorm with Richard Branson on his private island, Necker (all proceeds go to charity):

200+mph racing trip in Miami Fl:

If you sign up, send me pictures!

Aaron Ross

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CEO meeting in westside Los Angeles (Santa Monica), March 13th [Updated]

hot-coalsEric Golden (CEO of Equipois) & I (Aaron Ross bio) are organizing a formal, facilitated CEO group here on the westside that will meet monthly. The theme of CEOFlow is to explore what it takes to create predictable revenue & sustainable growth.  It will consist of a fixed group of up to 12 CEOs which will meet in person and support each other in navigating through the economic turmoil, generating revenue and working with investors and customers in the new climate.

In this month’s meeting we will lay the groundwork for future sessions – determining who will be part of the group and a few topics for discussion.  Starting in May, with just 4-6 CEOs, we will begin to charge for participation, so it’s a great opportunity to see if we’re a possible mutual fit.
Bio summary: Aaron Ross is the founder of CEOFlow, which helps CEOs understand how to create predictable revenue, through guidance, groups and consulting.  Aaron is also the Program Director for Entretech’s, a non-profit mentoring network in partnership with USC, UCLA and Caltech, to help develop LA’s entrepreneurial community by “getting more companies funded in greater Los Angeles”.

Who this is for:
This is for CEOs of companies that have either raised $1m+ in capital or have $1m+ in revenues. We intend the group to be mostly CEOs of B2B companies and companies with some direct sales.

First session:
To kick things off and find other founding members, we’re organizing a first working session and get together for interested CEOs on March 13. There’s no cost. It will be held at FinaVentures’ office in Santa Monica (3340 Ocean Park, Suite 1050).

The intentions for this particular session:
1) Leave with specific ideas for tackling current issues, especially around revenue & cashflow,
2) Connect with other quality CEOs working through similar bottlenecks, and
3) Create a core group of founding members for a formal westside CEO organization that meets monthly.

I had a great CEOFlow session at Battery Ventures in Silicon Valley a couple of weeks back. About a dozen CEOs discussed, among other things, how they’re dealing with the changes in what works (and doesn’t) in sales & marketing/revenue generation, the financing environment, issues with investors/expectations, and what it takes to prove value after the sale and smooth renewals.

“Judging from how much the participants seemed to benefit from the exchange — including CEOs of companies that have raised tens of millions of dollars, CEOs who’ve taken companies public, and CEOs still figuring out their product portfolios — I gather there will be plenty more.” -Connie Loizos, Thomson-Reuters private equity blog (full article)

Date & Time:
Friday, March 13

Session #1, for CEOs with VC investors or over $1m raised

7:30a – 9:30a: CEOFlow working session
9:30a – 10a:  Network with CEOs from this and the next session.

Session #2, for CEOs of companies without investors, or <$1m raised
9:30a – 10a: Network with CEOs from this and the prior session.
10a – 12p: CEOFlow working session

(Unsure which session to attend?  Just write me)

3340 Ocean Park, Suite 1050 Santa Monica, CA 90405

If you’d like to attend, please contact Aaron Ross (aaron at pebblestorm dot com)

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Excerpt from "What I learned in a new support group for CEOs"

By Connie Loizos, of peHUB (Thomson-Reuter’s private equity blog)

“A New Support Group for CEOs Emerges”
ceoflow-1I spent Friday morning at the Sand Hill Road offices of Battery Ventures, where a dozen CEOs took up temporary residence to discuss what to do about sales cycles that have grown longer every month since September, why most no longer discuss sales leads with their VCs and some of the surprising differences between selling to a new customer versus getting an existing customer to renew.

The group was gathered by Aaron Ross, who has been an Internet entrepreneur, a executive and a venture capitalist, among other things, and who recently began organizing small, monthly meetings of chief executives looking to create predictable revenue during one of the worst recessions in our country’s history.

Under the rubric of CEOFlow, Friday’s meeting was Ross’s first in the Valley (a Bay Area native, Ross now lives in L.A., where he has had similar gatherings). Judging from how much the participants seemed to benefit from the exchange — including CEOs of companies that have raised tens of millions of dollars, CEOs who’ve taken companies public, and CEOs still figuring out their product portfolios — I gather there will be plenty more.

In the meantime, though I agreed not to identify the people gathered,  I thought I’d share just some of the ideas and advice that surfaced during their get-together.

* Everyone was more concerned than ever about scaling while acquiring customers more cheaply, a tall order considering that “standard budgeting apparently went out the window in October,” according to one seasoned CEO. Said this person, “Even if a CEO tells you they’ll do something, it’s not clear that they will when push comes to shove. How do you teach your prospects that they shouldn’t wait?”

* There was lot of talk of getting from organic growth to proactive growth. Part of the issue seems to be that new CEOS often think that based on a set number of leads and a particular number of close rates, that they’ll do twice as much the next quarter or year. They don’t take into account that the metrics involved in outbound sales (owing to customer acquisition costs) makes that data meaningless.

* Everyone agreed that in days past, CEOs could add more salespeople and spend more on marketing to acquire customers but that neither works today, partly because companies aren’t able to raise the amounts of capital from VCs as they once were. A serial CEO also observed that “you had more time to prove out” your business model in years past. Now, he said, “everything has to work so much more quickly and effectively.”

continue on for full article

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Getting over the "Hot Coals"

What CEO or VP Sales wouldn’t relate with this image?  Usually the cause of the ‘hot coals’ is the shift from organic growth (based on founders’/investors relationships) to proactive growth, which is based on efforts that generate predictable results.  However, any big change in the environment, like the current economic turmoil, can throw a company back on the barbie.


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New CEOFlow sketch: "Revenue, Space & Enjoyment"

As I wrote about in My original notes on frustrations with the way work, uh, works, PebbleStorm: CEOFlow is like “advanced PebbleStorm”. I’ve been playing with my CEOFlow circles for awhile, and finally this morning they really clicked:


Sales advisory service:

Subscribe to CEOFlow by Email

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Marketo interview: "Sales Lead Management: Thought Leadership with Aaron Ross"

I’ve always really liked the team over at Marketo, which offers lead management software for email marketing, lead nurturing, lead scoring, sales lead insight, and closed-loop reporting. Jon Miller has a popular and excellent blog, “Modern B2B Marketing”.

They just published an interview with me…

The next interview in the B2B Marketing thought leader interview series is with Aaron Ross, formerly with and founder of PebbleStorm:CEOFlow. I’ve long been a fan of his blog Build a Sales Machine and I learn something new every time we interact.

1. Tell us a little bit about how you got into marketing, and what you like most about it.

Getting into lead generation was an accident. Back in 1999-2001, I was CEO of an internet company. I had more ego than understanding about lead generation and professional selling. After that experience, I decided I needed to learn how to build and manage a killer sales organization. Where better to learn that than doing sales at I had no professional sales experience (raising venture capital doesn’t count), and the only opening they had for me at the time was answering the 800#. So, I started literally at the bottom, responding to inbound website and 800# leads. That started my journey into lead generation, marketing & sales. It’s funny how life takes you places you never expected to go!…

Full interview “Sales Lead Management: Thought Leadership with Aaron Ross”

My new monthly sales advisory service to help CEOs and organizations create predictable revenue:

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CEOFlow Sweet Spot

The CEO is the person who sends the ripples out through the company that will inspire or de-motivate people. To maintain a productive and energizing environment, we need you (the CEO) to stay in a sweet spot as much as possible, so that you can inspire employees and customers just by being who you are.

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