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If the Shoe Fits: Visualize Your Culture

February 27th, 2015 by Miki Saxon

A Friday series exploring Startups and the people who make them go. Read all If the Shoe Fits posts here

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mYesterday we talked about open communications and how powerful it is when part of cultural DNA.

Visual communication was recommended, with the caveat, “processes and information that can not be represented visually are probably too convoluted and bureaucratic.”

XPLANE’s Dave Gray seems to agree.

Every company has a culture, but it can take time to learn, and the stated culture can often differ significantly from what people actually experience.

At XPLANE we have created a visual map of our culture, to guide our teams in daily decision making and help them make choices that are consistent with what we stand for and who we want to be.

Smart; very smart.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/davegray/355002597What does your culture look like?

Image credit: HikingArtist

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Entrepreneurs: The Power of Open Communications

February 26th, 2015 by Miki Saxon

https://www.flickr.com/photos/thecomnetwork/15233422717

Remember Sun Microsystems? In 1998 they had a great ad that should bed on the wall of every startup and the goal of every manager, especially founders. It said, “Information shall circulate as freely as office gossip.”

Open communications is the basis of an enlightened workforce and enables world-class performance, unleashing creativity, and promoting a good working environment.

Great leaders/managers start with three basic assumptions:

  1. People are intelligent, motivated, and want to help their company succeed.
  2. People are required to act with initiative.
  3. People’s performance is directly impacted by the quality and quantity of the information they receive.

Open communications means

  • managers providing employees with all the information they need to do their job
  • sharing knowledge between employees. The double goal being to encourage employee growth and substantially reduce the time they spend reinventing the wheel.
  • eliminating one of the two pillars of political power.
  • documenting. Good documentation plays a role in every part and process of a company. Without the knowledge of what has been done in the past, it is difficult to fulfill the demands of the present, let alone make viable decisions for the company’s future. Documenting is as much attitude as action, so it is critical to continually develop the mindset among employees that no project is finished until it is documented.
  • making sure that people can easily understand information. Visuals, from a manager’s quick sketch, to the detailed drawings used by engineering to describe a product to manufacturing, are the fastest and easiest way to present information to busy people. Processes and information that can not be represented visually are probably too convoluted and bureaucratic.

Make open communications one of the core values on which you base your company’s culture.

Image credit: Communications Network

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Staying Relevant

February 25th, 2015 by Miki Saxon

https://www.flickr.com/photos/36436564@N07/15435412458

Staying relevant is crucial for every functional group in today’s business landscape.

Relevance has nothing to do with being outsourced and everything to do with being necessary to the operations of the enterprise.

Customer service is often outsourced, but no one questions whether it’s relevant to the company’s success.

IT has been outsourced, but now its very relevance is under attack.

This fight is different.

It’s called devops (a contraction of development and operations)

It’s the hardest kind of fight to win, because winning means a major change to both IT process and its cultural DNA; a totally different way of thinking that is based on what has always been anathema to traditional IT — breaking the system.

Red Hat CEO Jim Whitehurst explains.

“It’s not a market. It’s a culture and process, in the same way Kaizen or lean manufacturing is process. The problem is that vendors are making it into a market by saying ‘Here’s my devops product.’ But there are no devops products,” Whitehurst says. (…) “If you make a lot of changes, you’ll have to accept a few failures along the way. Throw out planning. Try little things and if they work, do more of them and if not, do less of them.”

So, no devops products, no new markets for vendors to exploit and no definitely no outside experts to do the heavy lifting — although there will be plenty claiming to de devops gurus.

But if there is anything to be learned from companies like Microsoft it’s that cultural change doesn’t come from the outside nor is it changed by edict.

“You start with small, iterative improvements. You release [changes] early and you release them often. That’s what devops is about. It’s a cultural shift. You recognize that big change is hard but little changes are easy. But a whole lot of little changes add up to bigger changes.”

Change is hard, but in this case, change equals survival.

Image credit: N@ncy N@nce

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Ducks in a Row: Rich Waidmann’s No jerks Allowed

February 24th, 2015 by Miki Saxon

top-jerks

(see the full Infographic at Business Insider)

I’m in love — with a man I never met, never spoke to, never followed or chatted with online.

His name is Rich Waidmann and he’s founder and CEO of Connectria Hosting.

I love him because when he started his company he consciously set out to make it a great place to work.

That means it’s a job requirement at his company that every employee treat everyone else with courtesy and respect as well as “going the extra mile” to take care of people in the community who are less fortunate

Then his company did a survey and found that

More than half (55%) of 250 IT professionals in the US. surveyed said they had been bullied by a co-worker. And 65% have said they dreaded going to work because of bad behavior of a co-worker.

Waidmann believes it shouldn’t be that way so he’s starting a No Jerks Allowed movement in an effort to encourage better cultures.

Way back in 2007 Stanford’s Bob Sutton wrote The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn’t, but looking at the stats I’m not sure how much good it actually did.

And considering the fact that companies are shoehorning more people into less space something needs to change.

The Talmud says, “We do not see the world as it is. We see the world as we are.” Moreover, it’s often as we are that particular day, or even minute, and even as we change, minute to minute, so do others.

Jerks are known to lower productivity and kill innovation, so a lot of good information on identifying and dealing with jerks has been developed since Sutton’s book came out.

Contributing to that effort, here are my four favorite MAP attitudes for dealing with jerks.

  • Life happens, people react and act out, but that doesn’t mean you have to let their act in.
  • Consider the source of the comment before considering the comment, then let its effect on you be in direct proportion to your respect for that source.
  • Use mental imagery to defuse someone’s effect on you. This is especially useful against bullying and intimidation. Do it by having your mental image of the person be one that strips power symbols and adds amusement. (Give me a call if you want my favorite, it’s a bit rude, but has worked well for many people.)

And, finally, the one I try to keep uppermost in my mind at all times

  • At least some of “them” some of the time consider me a jerk—and some of the time they are probably correct.

Image credit: Connectria

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A Response to Remember

February 23rd, 2015 by Miki Saxon

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mister_Ed

Like most of you, I get a lot of email.

Maybe because I write not only this blog, but also creatively for clients, I tend to care about my responses.

The result is that every now and then I write something worth sharing beyond that email.

That’s what happened today.

A friend sent me an article.

My response was especially apropos considering the upcoming presidential election, which means months of being bombarded by candidates, talking heads, pundits, gurus, etc., on all forms of media.

That said, here is my self-described brilliant take on it.

Years ago there was one talking horse named Mr. Ed on TV. These days there are dozens of talking asses on all kinds of media.

Feel free to use it, although attribution is appreciated.

Image credit: Wikipedia

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If the Shoe Fits: the Duplicitous Founder

February 20th, 2015 by Miki Saxon

A Friday series exploring startups and the people who make them go. Read all If the Shoe Fits posts here.

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mIf anything has changed in the 21st Century it’s the recognition that culture is everything — the true “make or break” for any company.

Knowing that, founders, of all people, should know better than to do anything that undermines their culture.

And yet they do it all the time.

One of the worst is also one of the commonest — having two teams

  • the one to which they pay lip-service and talk about in public; and
  • the one that has their ear, takes priority and stays front and center in all decisions.

Founders constantly refer to their “team” and it’s taken to mean all the company’s employees.

But, for those the shoe fits, it actually refers to their stars, their pets and all (most?) of their direct reports.

This was a common attitude in larger companies, but at least it was honest; bosses were ‘us’, workers were ‘them’ and everybody knew where they stood.

The changes started when Volvo focused the world on the power of teams, research showed that productivity increased when people were more invested and engaged in their work and terminology was introduced that is inclusive and empowering.

Fast forward to now and that language is in common use, but, as with most things, it can be distorted and perverted.

Founders, like other bosses, fall in two categories.

  • Those who buy it, own it, use it and mean it;
  • and those who use it to keep everyone in line who’s not on the ‘real’ team.

Which are you?

And before you claim the first bullet take a good look at your past actions.

In fact, get some feedback from someone you know will tell you the truth, as opposed to what you already “know” or want to hear.

Image credit: HikingArtist

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Entrepreneurs: Fundraising

February 19th, 2015 by Miki Saxon

kg_charles-harris

It’s Valentine’s Day and I’m in deep fundraising mode.  In essence, I’m the guy at the dance trying my best to land the pretty girl, and experiencing the challenges, rejection and hard work that this entails.

The process and preparation has made me reflect on a number of dearly held “truths” among startup founders.  Most consider fundraising highly distracting and grueling; preventing them from doing the real work founders should be focusing on.  Add to this the perception that investors and VCs often come across as assholes, and it becomes a chore worse than scrubbing public bathrooms.

I view it very differently.  To me it is a real test of whether the Kool-Aid I’m drinking is actually as tasty as I believe it is.  The fundraising process is an opportunity to interact with smart people (some are truly great people) who see a lot of deals and problems and have a very difficult challenge — putting themselves in the customer’s shoes without having their experience or being in their situation.  As a consequence, they have to try to imagine themselves as someone they are not and ascribe value to problems they are not dealing with personally.  If you try it, you’ll see that it’s virtually impossible.

This causes the constant delays, increased information search, desire for proof points, and the follower behavior that looks so ridiculous from the outside.  But we who are starting companies don’t have to deal with problems as difficult as this; we just have to understand the customer’s problem and deepen our knowledge of them.  And we’re usually not dealing with 15 different customer types, products and industries in a single day.  Just one product, one customer and one industry everyday for an extended period of time.  So let’s be a little more humble about the significantly more difficult work of making investing decisions.

Beyond that, investors often provide introductions (in their search for proof points) to knowledgeable and interesting people from whom I can learn.  I usually don’t have the time to seek them out (or even know who they are) unless I encounter them in a fundraising situation.  So I’m grateful for the investors that seem so frustrating — they make me more knowledgeable and professional every step of the way.

But the most important thing is my perception of My Baby — the product and company I’m creating.  As a parent, I believe my baby is the most beautiful and important thing that has happened to the world in recent history, and I expect others to agree with this.  It is so easy for me to believe that when people don’t see this, it’s because they are blind, stupid or narrow-minded.  Sometimes it can be the case, but I remind myself of how often I visit new parents who proudly show me their new baby, expecting me to offer compliments on its cuteness and how often I’m amazed that something so ugly can actually be called human.  Yes, I’m being extreme, but I’m sure that this is how investors feel when they sit through hours upon hours of meetings every day with delusional founders.  Or maybe they are just pointing out a blemish on the cheek of the baby and we react as if it’s a mortal challenge, rather than take it as good feedback and a learning experience.

Ultimately, we need to have humility and compassion for investors.  Making money this way is really difficult.  And if we mix in the politics of being part of an institution I’m amazed that they actually manage to keep going every day.  We have passion for solving a problem or seeing a market opportunity.  They are just trying to maximize returns and hope to be able to work with great founders to accomplish this. 

There is no question that we founders have the better deal.  More fun, more learning, more challenges, more passion.  And for this we have to pay a price – the risk of loss and temporary poverty, much heartburn and far too much work. 

I enjoy what I do.  In fact I love it.  And investors help me to accomplish my vision in so many ways, even when they reject My Baby or me.  I’m grateful each time they invest and each time they don’t – they are putting me in a stronger position to succeed whatever they do.  Thank you.

Image credit: Quarrio

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Kevin O’Leary Prefers Investing in Women

February 18th, 2015 by Miki Saxon

Kevin Oleary

I love watching Shark Tank, whether the current season on ABC or reruns on CNBC.

My favorite sharks in order are Robert Herjavec, Barbara Corcoran and Daymond John.

My almost-least favorite shark is Mark Cuban, but it is Kevin O’Leary who I really can’t stand.

I have no problem with a shark saying no, but to listen to O’Leary tear down not only ideas, but also the entrepreneurs themselves makes me slightly ill. His criticism is rarely constructive and sometimes it is downright destructive — especially to women founders, or so it seems.

So you can imagine my amazement when I read an article in Entrepreneur Magazine where O’Leary said he preferred women CEOs.

“Women make better CEOs. All things being equal, given the choice between a woman and a man, I would pick the woman every time.” (…) “If I want high returns with low volatility, that equals a woman.”

Like I said, amazing; not original, but amazing.

There are reams of statistics and dozens of studies that prove having women in senior management roles and on the board positively affects the bottom line.

Companies that have more women on their boards and in their senior management teams aren’t just opening doors to gender equality. They’re reaping greater financial rewards.

Kevin O’Leary is emphatic that his only interest is making money. He has no interest in furthering diversity or leveling the playing field for women — but he prefers to invest in them.

That should provide a lot of creditability to the studies that are so often shrugged off or rationalized into oblivion.

Image credit: ABC Shark Tank

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Ducks in a Row: Preventing Corporate Foot-In-Mouth Disease

February 17th, 2015 by Miki Saxon

https://www.flickr.com/photos/usgeologicalsurvey/14195198599

Yesterday’s post focused on the difference between mindful and mindless social media usage as private individuals.

The problem is more far-reaching when the person speaking heads or publicly represents the company, whether as an employee or celebrity spokesperson.

Foot-in-mouth disease isn’t anything new.

What is new is its global reach and immortal status.

The problem is best summed up in a comment from Lee Rainie, a Pew Research Center specialist in the social influence of digital technologies.

“Despite all of the warnings, all of the evidence to the contrary and all the material floating around proving otherwise, people still think that when they’re sitting alone typing something out, they know exactly who their audience is. But the specific character of digital information is that it’s replicable, repeatable, and there are lots of outlets now that are interested in these stories.”

One further warning.

The “outlets” mentioned above — old and new media, pundits, individuals and trolls — like nothing better than to take that private email, joking tweet or casual image and spin it into something that supports or illustrates their own viewpoint — no matter how badly they distort it or how warped the application.

Image credit: US Geological Survey

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Mindful Social Media

February 16th, 2015 by Miki Saxon

https://www.flickr.com/photos/jasonahowie/7910370882

Today is a day of links, rather than paraphrasing previous posts and a new article from the NY Times that’s garnering a lot of attention.

In 2006 I wrote An Employee Dilemma—What Would You Do?— be sure to read the comments, because they are critical in juxtaposition to the Times article.

The article is How One Stupid Tweet Blew Up Justine Sacco’s Life.

Sacco is actually one of many whose mindless actions on social media provided repercussions beyond anything they could have imagined.

Of course, imagining repercussions requires mindfulness.

As does social media.

Image credit: Jason Howie

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