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The Destruction of American Workers

October 20th, 2014 by Miki Saxon

https://www.flickr.com/photos/dpurdy/2954271099What’s going on?

Why is there such a disconnect between management and minimum wage workers?

A disconnect that goes beyond all logic.

A disconnect that treats low wage workers more like serfs.

Two weeks ago it was Walmart’s efforts to enforce a dress code at their employees’ expense.

Now it’s companies such as Jimmy John’s sub shops requiring minimum wage workers to sign noncompete agreements.

But who knows, perhaps there is a proprietary trick to spreading mayo that I’m not aware of.

California outlawed most non-compete clauses on the basis that people have a right to earn a living.

And then there is the sexual harassment of low wage women workers.

The study showed that women reliant on tips made up the highest share of those who had experienced harassment and that those who lived in states where the tipped minimum wage was $2.13 an hour (the federal minimum for tipped workers) were twice as likely to experience sexual harassment as those who lived in places where a single minimum wage standard applied to all workers.

Whether large corporation or small business, it seems that those in the upper levels, who are financially secure, place little-to-no value on those who actually keep their company running.

And as for morality, well, that comes down to whether more employers decide that basic human decency requires viewing their workers not as interchangeable cogs to be paid as little as possible and worked to the bone but as valuable partners in building a company for the long term.

Centuries ago, when describing the actions of leaders, Lao Tzu ended by saying,

To lead the people, walk behind them.

Today it reads,

To lead the people, walk upon them.

Flickr image credit: Derek Purdy

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If the Shoe Fits: Which Kind of Leader are You?

October 17th, 2014 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_mIn an interview Robert Herjavec said,

If you can’t inspire the people around you, you are going to fail. If you can’t inspire the people around you, you should go sell real-estate, because that is probably one of the only businesses where you could make a lot of money working completely on your own. But I think if you want to build a great business, you’ve got to bring other people along, and nobody wants to be managed. People want to be led.

His comment reminded me of a post from a few years ago that I believe is worth repeating.

Ducks in a Row: Leadership or LeadershIt?

If you truly want a culture of innovation, then you also need to create a culture of leadership.

Last week I commented that if the ‘i’ in leadership is capitalized it changes leadership to leadershIt.

Whereas leadership can be a great motivator, leadershIt is a guaranteed demotivator.

Visions and other leadership functions done with an eye to self-aggrandizement aren’t likely to resonate whether done by positional leaders, leaders in the instance or those who aspire.

Last year I wrote

Because initiative and leadership are synonymous, leadership needs to be pushed out of the corner office and spread throughout the organization; doing so will encourage growth, creativity and innovation.

If leadership is the fertilizer then culture is the water, without which nothing will grow, and people are the seeds from which ideas come.

By spreading leadership evenly through out your company garden and watering regularly, leaving no unfertilized or dry patches in which a seed will be stunted or die, you assure yourself a bountiful harvest that will be the envy of your competitors. (Two follow-up posts have more on this topic here and here.)

This isn’t a new idea, just a new way of phrasing it; Lao Tzu said it best 4000 years ago, “To lead the people walk behind them.”

The one thing that remains constant in all these discussions is that you always have a choice—this time it’s between leadership and leadershIt.

Image credit: HikingArtist

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Entrepreneurs: Riot Games: Against Prevailing Wisdom

October 16th, 2014 by Miki Saxon


When Riot Games was founded in 2006 by Brandon Beck, and Marc Merrill it was done out of frustration. They wanted a game that would embrace fans desire to engage in that game, rather than being forced to dump it for a new version.

League of Legends was launched three years later; it was launched ignoring prevailing wisdom about how to make a game pay, i.e., no hardware, free download, players couldn’t buy extra power or skill for their avatars and time to grow organically.

“People told us when we started that if you don’t charge up front, or if you’re not selling extra power or stats, it won’t work,” Mr. Merrill said. “But that fails to account for the coolness factor. If you’re really into cars, you don’t mind spending $50,000 to soup up your Honda. That’s the player we’re tapping into.”

Riot now has 1500 employees and is on target to break the billion dollar revenue mark.

The company says there are now 67 million active monthly players around the world, and in August alone this crowd spent $122 million, according to SuperData.

Riot Games doesn’t have advertising on its site; it focuses totally on its users believing that if they are happy revenues will come.

“Whenever I talk to executives at Riot, it’s like a mantra: ‘Revenue is second, the player experience is first,’ ” said Joost van Dreunen, chief executive of SuperData. “The paradox is that by putting revenue second, League will be one of the very few games to bring in $1 billion in 2014.”

Moreover, although it isn’t paying off immediately, Riot Games is working diligently to build LoL into a major e-sports presence.

Dozens of those players are now in Seoul, at the fourth world championship. On Oct. 19, the finals will be held in a stadium built for soccer’s World Cup, with 40,000 fans expected and many times that number watching online. Last year, Riot Games says, 32 million people around the world saw a South Korean team win the Summoner’s Cup, along with a grand prize of $1 million, in the Staples Center in Los Angeles. That’s an audience larger than the one that tuned in to the last game of the N.B.A. finals that year.

And while most of Riot Games’ 1500 employees are in Santa Monica, the bulk of its players are in Asia.

Sometimes it pays not to listen to the experts.

Flickr image credit: Chris Yunker

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Hiring Mojo

October 15th, 2014 by Miki Saxon

https://www.flickr.com/photos/agiraldez/5535714052When filling an opening do you look for primarily for world-class skills?

Do you long for the person who can ‘hit the ground running’ with little-to-no time or assistance needed to come up to speed?

Are your hires generally successful in both productivity and longevity?

If your response isn’t an unqualified ‘yes!’ then maybe you’re ignoring the most important factor.

Attitude, which translates to cultural fit.

Or, as David Ogilvy puts it, hire for the 3 P’s philosophy: Performance, Promotability and Potential

By the same token, the hottest candidates don’t always grab for the biggest bucks or need to be the biggest frog in the pond; there are intangibles that resonate on a purely personal level.

Every boss craves a world-class team.

Every candidate wants to play on one.

World-class is achieved most quickly when attitudes align.

Flickr image credit: Alex Giraldez

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Ducks in a Row: the Reality of Culture

October 14th, 2014 by Miki Saxon


Washing dishes for Jeff was grueling, greasy work. But then again, making a pizza, or driving a truck, or baking a cake, or any of countless other jobs are not always enjoyable in themselves, either. Out of all the lessons I learned from that guy in the Pizza Hut tie, maybe the biggest is that any job can be the best job if you have the right boss. Danial Adkison

People work for people, not companies.

People quit people, not companies.

They accept positions because of the culture and leave when it changes.

Bosses interpret company culture; they improve or pervert it; they add/subtract/polish/tarnish it.

What bosses don’t do is pass it on intact and untouched.

Flickr image credit: Susanne Nilsson

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Traits of a Good Boss

October 13th, 2014 by Miki Saxon


I was never impressed with Steve Ballmer when he headed Microsoft.

I didn’t follow him closely, but based on what I read/heard he seemed opaque, bombastic, prone to management by edict and incredibly arrogant.

I could have missed it, but I never heard Ballmer admit a mistake, even with a debacle like Windows 8.

Admitting errors or missteps, being vulnerable and being open to saying “I don’t know” are all signs of a secure executive.

So far, that description seems to fit Satya Nadella, Microsoft’s new CEO.  

There are three things that we are thinking hard about when we think about Windows moving forward. We have to nail the user experience. It doesn’t mean one user experience for all form factors but consistency that makes sense when using any one of those devices. Let’s face it, we got some things wrong in Windows 8, and I feel very good about the progress we’re making, especially for Windows 7 upgrade into Windows 10.

The next area we’re thinking about is the IT component. Getting identity packaging, device management and data security right.

Lastly, the developer. We will have the Universal Windows Application platform.

That’s a far cry from the old Microsoft that built what they wanted, arrogantly assumed that everyone would love it—and wouldn’t back down when they didn’t.

Of course, no matter how smart or mindful people still end up with their foot in their mouth as Nadella did at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing.

Mr. Nadella, the chief executive of Microsoft, suggested on Thursday that women who do not ask for more money from their employers would be rewarded in the long run when their good work was recognized.

Oops, not something that would ever be said to a man; actually, not the smartest comment anytime, let alone now, with the spotlight on the way women are treated in tech.

Twitter, of course, lit up.

But Nadella didn’t waste time before he said he was wrong and he didn’t dance or minimize.

“Was inarticulate re how women should ask for raise,” he wrote in a Twitter post. “Our industry must close gender pay gap so a raise is not needed because of a bias.”

Mr. Nadella went further in an email to Microsoft employees on Thursday night, saying “I answered that question completely wrong.”

He added: “If you think you deserve a raise, you should just ask.”

Secure bosses know when to back down.

And when to say, “I was wrong.”

They know when showing vulnerability is better than pretending invincibility.

They are willing to say ‘I don’t know’ and listen to whomever has the information.

They don’t always need to be right.

Flickr image credit: BK

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If the Shoe Fits: Saving Culture

October 10th, 2014 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_mAs the importance of culture in startups becomes ever more obvious, founders are faced with this question.

“How do we keep our corporate culture as we grow?”

The answer is “Through a lot of hard work and tough hiring decisions.”

There are no shortcuts; no easy way; no app for that.

Unfortunately, that’s not an answer many founders want to hear—or do.

First, you have to clearly identify absolute company values—those with no wiggle room—which takes time and effort.

Next, it means interviewing far more candidates than when all that matters are skills.

Finally, it takes the toughness to walk away from sometimes dazzling candidates who, no matter how brilliant and skilled they are, just don’t fit.

It’s far easier to teach a skill than instill/change values and/or attitude.

So the next time you find yourself in this situation stop and think—is it worth selling your company’s culture down the river just to avoid more interviewing.

It’s your choice, but everyone will end up sleeping in the bed you choose to make.

Image credit: HikingArtist

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Entrepreneurs: It Started with Ada

October 9th, 2014 by Miki Saxon


I do love learning new bits, especially the kind you can toss out when someone says something stupid and shut them down cold.

I was working by Skype with a friend; she was at a cafe in the Valley and there was a group of braggy programmers who could have been poster boys for the “bro culture.”

At another table were 3 young women quietly discussing a problem one was having tracking down a bug.

When the guys realized that the woman were also programmers they started talking loudly about how women couldn’t program because they aren’t smart enough, blah, blah.

My friend shared what was going on and I quickly shared a link to an article I read last week.

It talked about women who were instrumental in the math world, but whose names were quickly erased from tech history.

My friend was in a slow burn listening to the guys, so she interrupted them and asked if they were aware that it was a woman mathematician, a Countess no less, who wrote the first-ever computer algorithm and dreamed up the concept of artificial intelligence.

One guy said that was bull poop, so she suggested he Google Ada Lovelace.

And when he was done with that he should check out Jean Jennings and Betty Snyder, who were two of the original programmers of Eniac, the first general-use computer built and used during WWII.

In an interview, Walter Isaacson, Steve Jobs authorized biographer, said

“If it wasn’t for Ada Lovelace, there’s a chance that none of this would even exist,” Mr. Isaacson added as he waved his hand in the air, gesturing as if to encompass all of Silicon Valley and the techies sitting around us.

The guys had gotten very quiet as they read the results of their search and left soon after.

The women left also after thanking my friend for her intervention.

Hopefully, the next time the women are being disparaged they will invoke the name of Ada Lovelace and share the story with their friends.

I love it.

Algorithms and AI—both from the brain of a woman.

Image credit: Wikipedia

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The Story Behind a Great Interview Question

October 8th, 2014 by Miki Saxon


Michael Cascio, a former executive at the National Geographic Channel, A&E and Animal Planet, who now runs M&C Media, has a favorite interview question.

Early on he asks, “What did you do in the summers during college and high school?”

Not a question most candidates are expecting, but one that stems from Cascio’s personal experience.

He worked two summers as a janitor at the Wolf Trap event venue while he was getting his MBA.

You might not expect that would be a defining experience for a “middle-class college kid headed for a white-collar life,” but it was.

Cascio says it was in that job that he learned the basics of a great career and it was his janitorial boss who gave him the best career advice.

The basics:

You have to show up every day, and on time. You have to appreciate everyone who works around you. You should acknowledge — and learn to deal with — the pecking order in the working world. You have to exert yourself in ways you may not have learned in school. And you often have to do things that have nothing — and everything — to do with your career and your life ahead.

The best advice:

“Never turn down a chance to take on more responsibility.”

The point is that it’s not just about what candidates have done, but what they learned from the experience that matters—no matter what it was.

Flickr image credit: warrenski

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Ducks in a Row: Brains and Performance Reviews

October 7th, 2014 by Miki Saxon

Performance reviews are a frequent subject of management gurus, the media and pundits of every variety, myself included.

More recently the focus has been on what’s wrong with reviews and how they often act as a demotivator.

A new article in strategy + business uses brain science to look at exactly why and how reviews demotivate.


On another front, it’s Leadership Development Carnival time and the offerings are excellent. Click on over and I’m sure you’ll find information that will be of active use both at work and in your non-work life.

YouTube credit: strategy + business

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