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Archive for April, 2006

Culture And Growth

Friday, April 28th, 2006

What happens to the culture of a startup or small company that goes through a major growth phase? Can it preserve its culture—often the main reason people joined in the first place?

Growing the culture without losing it should be of significant concern, since that culture is a major factor in the creativity, productivity, and retention of the people who produced the growth in the first place. This is a valid cause for concern.

Companies are usually started by a core group who have similar MAP and share a vision. How does a CEO protect the culture the company has without retarding growth? The careful hiring that is the solution often falls by the wayside during fast growth periods involving robust staffing.

If the wrong people are hired it can badly damage or totally change a company’s culture. Remember that a person with terrific skills and experience and lots of charm can still be “wrong” if their personal mindset, attitude, and philosophy aren’t, at the least, synergistic with the company culture.

Here are three things you can do to help avoid “bad” hires:

  • Define and publicize your culture and its infrastructure (infrastructure refers to specific intangibles, such as attitudes, as well as processes and policies that support your culture and make it work). Remember, the object is not to etch the culture in granite, since it needs to be flexible in order to grow with the company.
  • Include the intangibles (culture, manager’s style, MAP desired) when writing the job description.
  • Everybody who interviews should describe the culture, including talking about the infrastructure that supports it, and stress the CEOs commitment to it. This alerts candidates to the environment you have now and that you plan to keep it. This is especially critical when hiring your senior staff or other managers who will, in turn, be hiring, since managers tend to hire in their own image. Be prepared for the possibility of prime candidates withdrawing, or your having to pass on them, because of a bad cultural fit.

Of course there will be changes in the culture as the company matures, but they should be evolutionary rather than revolutionary, well thought out and planned and publicized—which will make them much more acceptable to your people.

Culture As Stain, Not Paint

Thursday, April 27th, 2006

I love culture. I believe in the power of culture. I believe that good culture is the difference between great companies and the rest. I believe that pretty much all the people, like myself, who promote culture know that it must be like stain, not paint, to work. Unfortunately, many companies use “culture paint,” believing their employees will think it’s “culture stain.”

The difference is obvious, while culture stain is absorbed into the very fiber of an organization, thus affecting everybody’s thoughts and actions, culture paint sits on the surface where it is paid lip-service and its effects are grounded in convenience.

Culture stain is the direct output of the CEO (or whatever title the top person holds) and can be good, bad or indifferent. It’s the result of walking the talk and making sure that everybody else walks it, too. It’s never an accident and, although it can be unconscious, it shouldn’t be. Nor can it be considered the output of an underling, since “I didn’t know!” is never an acceptable reason for anything when coming from the person who ultimately is supposed to be in charge.

So, like it or not, culture is a product of, and flows from, the top. The ideas and desires that percolate up may be included in the culture, but if the top person only includes them to make people feel good, but doesn’t truly buy into them, the result is culture paint. Like real paint, culture paint can hide the dry rot and structural weaknesses in the company, but in the long run it won’t hold the people, because no matter what the CEO tells himself and his Board, people aren’t that dumb and they will vote the culture with their feet!

Debriefing Culture

Wednesday, April 26th, 2006

From the time she was a young woman in the early part of the last century my aunt would cut items that she wanted to remember from the newspaper and put them under the glass of her bedroom vanity table. I don’t remember much about the room or other clippings, but I’ve never forgotten this, “Profit from the mistakes of others, you don’t have time to make them all yourself.” Valuable advice for people and companies.

Companies spend a good deal of time/energy/money studying and emulating best practices from corporate leaders which is good. But they might want to spend a bit of those resources profiting from the mistakes, especially in areas such as retention that may not be looked at as often. And not necessarily expert public study, but rather the totally subjective opinions of the people you hire—as well as the ones that you don’t!

Include conversations about previous employers’ cultures to your interviews. Find out what they liked and what they didn’t. What did their favorite managers do that turned them on? Off? What would they like in a culture? Be sure to draw out all the cultural information and opinions you can before you start talking about your culture, because you don’t want to put ideas/words in their mouths.

The information is useful in three ways:

  • Individually, if the cultural things a candidate likes and wants aren’t supported by you/your company then the hire won’t work out long-term, and you should keep looking.
  • Group-wise, tracking the likes/dislikes of all the people you interview offers an employee-eye view of what’s good and bad in cultures. This can help you hone your own culture to be more attractive—or at least warn you when you head down the wrong cultural path.
  • Recruiting-wise, when multiple candidates say negative things about a company or manager you’ll be alerted to a good hunting ground for future recruiting.

So, is this kind of subjective, prejudiced information valid? Is it valuable? A resounding yes on both counts!

Unless, that is, you don’t value the opinions of the people who want to, or do, work for you.

8 Drop Dead Points To Hiring

Tuesday, April 25th, 2006

Business is booming, companies are growing and managers are hiring. Hiring proficiency is learned, not something people are born knowing how to do. To help you through it I decided to share RampUp’s eight “drop dead” points (AKA, “If you learn nothing else…”) that we teach our clients.

  1. As a manager, you are who you hire—your career success and compensation depends on hiring well!
  2. People are intelligent, motivated, and once hired, really do want to help their company achieve its objectives.
  3. Involving employees in the hiring process lightens the load, reduces the blunders, and strengthens your people.
  4. Follow the Minimum Hiring Rule: Hire the first person that walks through the door who meets your minimum requirements. To do this, you must know and have internal agreement on both the position and its minimum requirements before you talk to even one candidate.
  5. The first step in efficient hiring is knowing how to read a resume.
  6. Using phone interviews as “real interviews” lets you implement the 70% Rule—you should be 70% sure that you want to hire the candidate and the candidate should be 70% sure she’s interested in you/company/position before arranging an in-person interview—and decreases the number of on-site interviews needed per hire. You will experience a quantum leap in hiring productivity, saving time and money.
  7. Response speed—to the resume, interviews, the offer—is one of the least expensive and greatest edges a manager has.
  8. Your company has many assets besides money to attract candidates. You must know what they are and believe in them in order to sell them to potential employees—because people who join just for money will leave for more money.

Implementing any one of these points will boost your hiring productivity at least 10%, some will boost it more. Implement them all and you’ll blow away the competition.

It Pays (You) To Be Fair!

Monday, April 24th, 2006

Is fairness part of your MAP? Is your company fair? Are you fair to your people? How often have you heard (or said),“That’s not fair!”

People more or less accept that life isn’t fair, but are more likely to walk from a company or manager they perceive as being unfair.

So, what do people expect within the business world in terms of fairness? The obvious is that they don’t want to be shafted a la Enron. But fairness refers to more than the obvious, most often to the company/manager doing what they said they would do, i.e., walking their talk!

Fairness is what people want and companies/managers promise, but frequently don’t provide. For example:

Fairness excludes politics

  • Official – people will be promoted based on what they do
  • De facto – people are promoted based on who they know

Fairness is egalitarian

  • Official – everybody will fly economy class when traveling
  • De facto – senior management flies first class

Fairness includes parity

  • Official – similar skills are compensated similarly with any differences the result of merit
  • De facto – compensation differences result from expediency, prejudice, or favoritism

So, besides doing “the right thing,” why be fair? What’s in it for you? Quite a lot, actually.

Fairness reduces turnover (and it’s associated costs), increases productivity, and fuels innovation. These makes you look good as a manager (and gives the company a good street rep—yeah, companies have reputations and they have a major impact on the caliber of the people applying for positions—making it easier to higher great people) meaning better reviews and increased compensation for you.

A GOOD Hiring Process

Friday, April 21st, 2006

For those of you who just joined us we’ve been talking about the difference between process (good) and bureaucracy (bad) and how open communications is the basis of good process (easy-to-use and flexible). I thought I’d finish out the week with an example of how a process that is common to every company should work, but is often one of the first to ossify into bureaucracy

It’s the hiring process—every company needs one that is transparent and painless for the interviewEE, while being easy to use and painless for the interviewERs.

But why a process? Why take the chance on creating something that so often turns into a bureaucratic nightmare? Why not just grab ‘em when you find ‘em?

Because you need a repeatable procedure that allows for the orderly acquisition of people so the company can plan for and support growth, as well as land the candidates you want!

A good hiring process removes chaos and allows speed in staffing. The best hiring process is flexible and, although based on a set of fixed principles, constantly re-invents itself based on changes in the real world.

Speed. Without question speed is the most effective, least expensive of all hiring practices. This means there must be speed at all points of the process—any delays should only originate from the candidate.

People tend to judge what it will be like to work for a company/manager by how they are hired. If the process is fast, smooth, and enjoyable, they will assume that decisions are made speedily, the company has little bureaucracy, and that working there will be fun—and they are usually right.

Here are the basics of a good hiring process:

  • The company’s operating plan and budget are the basis of the staffing plan.
  • Know exactly what the job entails, what authority it has, and how it interacts with the team and outside departments, customers, vendors, etc.
  • Based on number two, write a complete req and hire the first person who meets its minimum requirements.
  • Be flexible and creative when sourcing.
  • Involve your people.
  • Interviews should be as culturally-relevant as they are work-relevant.


  1. Do create a positive experience for both the hire-ees and hire-ers.
  2. Do use multiple interviewers—they are harder to con
  3. Do have a well-understood set of components including: media spending, headhunter use, relocation, sourcing, resume evaluation, scheduling, interviewing, negotiating, cutting and extending offers, closing candidates, deflecting counter offers, and pre-start actions in your hiring process as well as a flexible way to deal with each.
  4. Do make sure that sourcing and headhunter policies reflect both company needs and the current labor market.


  1. Don’t “figure out” what you need by interviewing multiple candidates.
  2. Don’t keep interviewing candidates in the hopes of finding one who embodies your entire wish list.
  3. Don’t assume using a headhunter will automatically reduce your time and work.
  4. Don’t have a start and stop hiring process—whether from whimsy or human bottlenecks.

When all is said and done, the true purpose of a hiring process is to help the company compete for people which, in turn, allows the company to compete for customers.

Good commications = good process

Thursday, April 20th, 2006

Yesterday I talked about the difference between process (good) and bureaucracy (bad) and defined process as an easy-to-use and flexible method of accomplishing various business functions. How do you create good process? By using completely open communications to foster the information flow; or as Sun Microsystems said in a 1998 advertisement, “Information shall circulate as freely as office gossip.” A good ad for a network and a great philosophy for a company.

I define open communications as: The ability and willingness of all managers, from CEO down, to produce clear, appropriately high-level instructions as needed, and disburse the accurate and complete information needed for their people to do the work in a timely manner.

Open communications are honest, originate at all levels within the company, and flow in all directions—not just top-down. By seeking the active participation of their vendors and customers, the company can cultivate an information flow that provides the basis for more intelligent decisions, increased productivity, lower costs (both internally and externally) and more innovation.

The goal of open communications is to create an enlightened workforce enabling world-class performance, unleashing creativity, and promoting a good working environment.

This philosophy starts 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 also means sharing knowledge between employees. The double goal being to encourage employee growth and substantially reduce the time they spend reinventing the wheel.

Open communications means 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.

Open communications means 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. Organizational processes and information that can not be represented visually are probably too convoluted and bureaucratic and need to be rethought.

Finally, it’s the responsibility of the top person in the organization to not only walk the open communications talk, but to actively insist that all managers walk it, too.

Process vs. Bureaucracy

Wednesday, April 19th, 2006

People sometimes confuse process and bureaucracy. Process is good—it helps to get things done smoothly and efficiently; bureaucracy is bad—it’s process calcified, convoluted, politically corrupted, or just plain unnecessary.

Good process is an easy-to-use and flexible method of accomplishing various business functions. It is informal without being haphazard, and neither ambiguous or confusing.

Occasional surveys (internally asking staff and externally asking vendors and customers how things are working) alert you to when processes start to mutate.

By creating a skeletal process and a corresponding graphic in areas where it is needed (financial controls, hiring, purchasing, etc.), you lay the framework for your growth in the future, no matter how hectic.

Bureaucracy may stem from a manager, whether CEO or first level supervisor, who believes that his staff is so incompetent that it is necessary for him to spell out exactly how every individual action needs to be done. To correct this, the manager responsible must

  • reduce his own insecurity,
  • increase his belief in his current staff, or
  • hire people he thinks are smart!

Bureaucracy is often fed by people’s fear of change, “We’ve always done it like that.” and similar comments are dead giveaways.

Another significant factor that contributes to unnecessary bureaucracy is the failure to align responsibility and authority.

If a person has the responsibility to get something done (design a product, create a Human Resources department, meet a sales quota), she should have enough authority (spend money, hire people, negotiate with outside vendors) to get the job done.

Giving people responsibility without concomitant authority forces them to constantly ask their superiors for permission, thus reducing productivity, and lowering moral.

The final, and most important difference between process and bureaucracy is that people like working for companies with good process in place, and hate working for those mired in bureaucracy, but not for long—they leave—making bureaucracy-eradication a major tool in the retention game.

Think, dream, innovate

Wednesday, April 19th, 2006

Phooey, I’ve spent the last couple of hours trying to find either the hard copy or the digital version that is somewhere on my computer or in the BusinessWeek archives of an article telling the story of how one of the top international investment bankers has unplugged from the wired world so he would have more time to think. But during my search, I found over-wired examples that curled my hair—the worst of which is mentioned in both Hope Brown’s and Canon Kendall Harmon’s blogs—an article in WSJonline called The Type A Bathroom (I’m glad I missed it, I would have had nightmares!) The responses to the blog tell me that I’m not a minority of one in my feeling on this subject. More about this another day.

Today is about time to think; to dream; to play in your mind; and then innovate—not just in business, but in your home, your relationships, your life.

Where do you find time in our busy world to think, not think-to-accomplish-something-specific, but just think? About everything, about nothing. To un-tether your mind and let it fly free. To play with thoughts, ideas, concepts, something you’ve seen—or wanted to see—with no structure or expectations or goal.

To find time to think, unplug! To dream, unplug! To innovate, unplug! Not just you, but your employees, too! Turn off your cell phone, take a break from your email, shut down your Blackberry. If, in fact, your world does crash because you were unplugged for a couple of hours, guess what? The structure was fundamentally flawed—whether knowingly or by accident.

Fewer and fewer people seem to be able to tolerate silence, let alone enjoy it, wherever you go there is sound. TVs run all the time when people are home, businesses have background music, there’s music-on-hold, radios in and out of cars, music on iPods/phones. Anything to stop the silence—and thinking.

Trust me, the world as you know it won’t end if the next time you get in your car you leave off the radio/iPod and all your wireless world. Try it on your way home. Shut off all the electronics, skip your music fix, and just let go of your mind. It takes some practice and probably a few miles of fear, but get through that and see the difference.

Treat yourself to silence—it can be magical.

Know how to say no!

Monday, April 17th, 2006

A terrific CEO I work with has a handle on everything he’s supposed to do—except how to say “no.” The result is that he’s starting to annoy clients, employees and family. He’s not alone, employees at all levels, stay-at-home moms, kids, everybody seems to be having that problem and lots of people are writing about it, so I thought I’d add my two cents.


First, create a SAY NO template

  • Draw a circle on paper or make a pie chart on the computer representing one day.
  • Make it large enough to have 24 segments each divided into fourths representing the hours in a day broken down into 15 minute segments.
  • Block out your minimum sleep requirements.
  • Make seven copies each labeled with a day of the week.
  • Block out any other constants on the appropriate days (exercise, classes, family, etc.).

Next, use the SAY NO template

  • It is imperative to print out 52 weekly templates (enough for the year), because digital versions do not work!
  • Mark off the time requirements for all appointments, meetings, projects, etc. to which you’ve already committed
  • Never agree to do something until you’ve looked at the appropriate day(s) and considered the time required for a task (don’t under-estimate, writing a white paper takes more time than writing a proposal) and the deadlines involved.
  • When you do say yes immediately mark out the necessary time.
  • When there is no time available for the meeting/project/whatever you’ll know that you need to either remove something else or say no!

The reason the printouts are necessary is that the circle’s primary purpose isn’t scheduling, it’s to avoid over-scheduling and to learn to say NO.

I’ve found that this approach works far better than either paper planners or PDAs because it’s so visual. Also, unlike the others, the circle is finite, as are the number of segments within it, so it’s much harder to mark off more time than exists—kind of like trying to serve nine people from a pie with eight pieces. Sure, you can change allotted times, but that doesn’t include changing the constants in the template because

  • sleep time raises productivity;
  • it’s well-documented that exercise reduces stress and improves energy; and
  • reducing family/relationship time causes unhappiness for everybody involved.

Urgent and/or unplanned stuff always comes up, so why block out all available time when you know you’ll have to eliminate something—say no!

I know, it sounds simplistic, but every person I’ve had try it says that as long as they do it honestly, it works! The payoff is excellent because you’ll

  • have more energy,
  • better relationships,
  • be more productive, and best
  • fewer people upset because you didn’t do what you said you would do when you said you would do it

Oh, and like a crossword puzzle, you may want to start off using a pencil.

Tomorrow: finding time to think, dream and innovate.

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