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Archive for March, 2007

Culture and Values

Friday, March 30th, 2007

Attention, CEOs and business owners, I have a question for you. Does your company have a cultural statement? A simple, one-page description of your culture and values that’s shown to every candidate, so they can understand the company before they join? A statement that’s emailed to every employee and posted on your intranet and around the offices? If you don’t, you should.

Rather than lecture on its importance and how to do it, I’ll give you a real life example from a client.

KG Charles-Harris is your typical over-achiever—a father with two young children, CEO of Emanio Inc, a startup in the world of EDI, founder of M3, a non-profit whose focus is to create habits of success in young, black boys—who isn’t part of today’s world of greed and ego (there’s more than you would think).

One caveat—this can’t be faked. Your people are smart, they’ll know if you, yourself, live by the values you talk about or not. If not, you can count on two things—high turnover and a reputation for hypocrisy.

EMANIO Culture & Values

EMANIO’s philosophy is one of CARE. The basic principle is that any organization — our own, customers or partners — are comprised of individuals. Care for the individual is central to our success. We value collaboration and an open flow of information, cherish good ideas, and strive for quality. Built from a strong focus on individual productivity, our people are self-starters that take great pride in their work and understand how their personal efforts contribute directly to the success of the company as a whole. For a small company, we are tremendously international with people interacting on a daily basis with persons of different cultural, racial and philosophical backgrounds. Acceptance, tolerance and understanding are qualities that are necessary to excel in this environment.

We believe that:

  • We exist in a competitive environment. Only through competing better than others in our market will we create a stable, growing company with a good work environment.
  • We exist to profitably create the best products for our customers. The best product is the one that best addresses their perceived needs, enables them to accomplish their goals and for which they are willing to pay.
  • We function best as an organization when our goals are clearly defined and all activities and results are measured against these.
  • Our employees invest in EMANIO achieving its objectives and we expect our managers to nurture this attitude. Managers are accessible and provide all the information needed for their employees to understand the company, industry and how to perform their work as efficiently and effectively as possible. We foster and work with our employees to help them grow and achieve both personal and career goals.
  • EMANIO has no time or tolerance for “the blame game” or for “killing the messenger.” We recognize that mistakes may happen, but that the real damage is that of covering them up, since this prevents learning and corrective measures. When our people make mistakes it means they are trying and it is management’s responsibility to help them analyze what went wrong and ensure that it is corrected. This is true at every level of the company.
  • EMANIO has no time or tolerance for politics. We believe that control is the primary source of political power in an organization and that there are only two things worth controlling—information and money. Our money is constructively controlled by budgets. But information is the lifeblood of our organization. Therefore, anyone trying to curb or control the flow of information will be viewed as being obstructively political and in violation of EMANIO’s culture.

Keywords: Care — Openness — Collaboration – Initiative

A measure of success?

Thursday, March 29th, 2007

Do you find yourself scratching your head when reading (IMHO) over-the-top items on various pop culture subjects? I do, especially housing.

There’s no way to ever convince me that any family or person, really needs a seven thousand-plus square foot house in order to live comfortably—let alone 10,000 and up.

Hence, I found quite a bit of irreverent amusement in this Business Week UpFront blurb.

According to Finance professors David Yermack of New York University and Crocker Liu of Arizona State University, “The bigger or pricier the house… the greater the risk of lackluster shares.”

“”If [the CEO] buys a big mansion, sell the stock,” Yermack says. “Many of these guys have been super performers, but at some point that stops, and they reap the benefits.””

Seems reasonable to me.

What’s that old saying? Something about boys and the price of their toys. Seem like the toys’ values are going up, while the boys’ values are decreasing. (Note: As used here, “boys” is genderless.)

Skills homogeny hurts innovation

Wednesday, March 28th, 2007

Yesterday I wrote about avoiding mental homogeny when fostering innovation; the same holds true for skills homogeny.

As with MAP, people tend to gravitate towards people whose skills are within their or their group’s. Additionally, managers are often unaware of the full range of skills available within the group.

The fix for skills homogeny is far simpler, since it requires awareness and mechanical action, rather than changes in MAP.

Use this three-step process.

  1. Skills survey: Have each person in your group create a complete list of all their skills, not just the ones they’re using in their current job, but also those from previous positions and companies, as well as skills they’ve developed outside of work. Have them rate each skill 1-5 (five being the strongest) based on their expertise. (I’ve yet to see a manager do this who wasn’t surprised at the results.)
  2. Skills set matrix: Using a spreadsheet, create a matrix of the information.
  3. Repeat the survey and update the matrix twice a year; add every new hire’s info immediately.

Be sure to consult the matrix every time you develop a new position or replace someone, whether through promotion or attrition.

Knowing all this gives you tremendous staffing flexibility. For example, you may have someone in your group who’s developed the needed skills elsewhere and would be thrilled to move to the new project. Then, using the matrix, you can design the new position to fill other skill gaps, both current and future.

The end result is a well-rounded organization of people inspired to learning new skills, because they know that they won’t be relegated to a rut just because “that’s what they’ve always done.”

Cloning kills creativity

Tuesday, March 27th, 2007

Late last year I wrote about clutter, neatness, and the control attitude implicit in bosses’ efforts to force Baroque-minded people to have minimalist personal workspaces.

A recent Dilbert reminded me just how far this attitude is sometimes carried.

Juicing creativity and innovation requires a strong diversity of vision and of skills within your organization—homogenizing your workforce dilutes the juice.

There are three ways to homogenize

  • Hire all the same types, most often “people like me;”
  • scorn/belittle/reject anything that doesn’t conform with your own MAP/ideas/approach; or
  • allow others in your organization to do the first two.

Keep in mind that true diversity is about MAP and mental function, not just a race and gender. I’ve known managers whose organizations were mini-UNs with equal numbers of males and females, but they might as well have been cloned from the boss, their thinking was so identical.

Viva La Difference is the rallying cry for the anti-homogenizing movement.

That means you want to celebrate controversy, encourage disagreement, and enable discussions—all within a civilized framework that debates the merits of ideas, not individuals.

You can do it, after all—it’s in your MAP.

Screen out turkeys, jerks and a**holes

Monday, March 26th, 2007

Yesterday I was reading Guy Kawasaki’s follow-up to his original comments about The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn’t, written by Stanford professor Bob Sutton.

And that made me think about something I’d written in January and that brings me to what I want to share with you today.

For any company, there’s a variety of types that you don’t want to hire—no matter how great their skills are. Whether they qualify as turkeys, jerks or a**holes, they spell bad news to your people and their productivity. While turkeys and jerks come in many flavors, all of which are bad for your company, a**holes are completely toxic.

Way back around 1998 or so, I wrote and article for MSDN about how to use your company’s culture as a screening tool to avoid hiring turkeys—and it works equally well for jerks and a**holes.

Here it is again, just as it was written, except for some slight formatting changes.

Don’t Hire Turkeys! Use Your Culture as an Attraction, Screening, and Retention Tool and Turkey-Proof Your Company.

Companies don’t create people—people create companies. At the beginning, most start-ups have great cultures that attract great people, but when business heats up, cultural focus is often overwhelmed by other priorities.

It takes a certain kind of person to brave the early days of a start-up. Generally, these people don’t like bureaucracy, politics, backstabbing, etc. In the beginning, it’s easier for startups to hire people “like themselves.” First, they hire all their friends, and then their friend’s friends. Then what? New positions have to be filled and the only people available are strangers.

So how do you hire strangers and not lose your culture? Since your culture is a product of your people, hire only people with matching or synergistic attitudes. The trick is to have a turkey sieve that will automatically screen out most of the misfits and turn on the candidates with the right values and attitudes.

  • Your sieve is an accurate description of your real culture.
  • It must be hard copy (write it out), fully publicized (everyone needs to know and talk about it), and, most important of all, it must be true.
  • Email it to every candidate before their interview and be sure that everyone talks about the culture during the interview and sells the company’s commitment to it.
  • Everybody interviewing needs to listen carefully to what the candidate is saying and not saying; don’t expect a candidate to openly admit to behaviors considered negative, since he may be unaware of them or not consider them negative at all (remember “Chainsaw Al” Dunlap).
  • Red flags must be followed up, not ignored because of skills or charm.
  • Consider the environment the person has been working in, find out if he agreed with how things were done, and, more importantly, how he would have done them if the decision were his.
  • Whether or not the candidate is a manager, you’ll want to find out about his attitudes and approaches to managing as well as his work function methods.
  • Probing people to understand what their responses, conscious as well as intuitive, are to a variety of situations reveals how they will act, react, and contribute to the company’s culture and its success.

Finally, it is up to the hiring manager to shield the candidate from external decision pressures, e.g., friends already employed by the company, headhunters, etc., and, above all, it is necessary to give all candidates a face-saving way to withdraw their candidacy and say no to the opportunity. If they don’t have a graceful way of exiting the interview process they may pursue, receive, and accept an offer, even though they know deep down it is not a good decision.

A bad match can do major damage to the company, people’s morale, and even the candidate, so a “no” can actually be a good thing.

Remember, the goal is to keep your company culture consistent and flexible as you grow. From the start, you need to consciously identify what you have, decide what you want it to be, publicize it, and use it as a sieve to be sure that everyone who joins, fits.

Doing so means that the people who join in year three will have as much fun as those who started the company in year one.

Fools, Tools, and Management Cool

Friday, March 23rd, 2007

I was talking with Tom Wohlmut this morning and, in the course of the conversation, he passed on a great line that I’d like to share with you.

“Give a fool a tool and you’ll still have a fool.”

A sage comment, frequently forgotten in our tech-happy world.

But how, exactly, does this wisdom impact you, as a manager?

To start with, it warns that you can’t fix an underperforming person or group by showering them with outside tools, whether technology or the latest silver bullet du jour.

And you can’t fix everybody. If, in fact, you truly hired a fool, or what’s passing for one, then you have a responsibility to yourself, your group, and the person hired to unhire him before too much damage is done.

However, the majority of fools aren’t really fools; they’re more like lost souls looking for a path to productivity and personal satisfaction. Most people want to do their work well and they want to feel good about what they do.

It’s not simple or easy or even much fun, but that’s your real job as a manager; guiding them to the path out of fooldom and into becoming an appreciated member of a powerful team.

It’s also one of the most satisfying experiences you’ll ever have.

Email clarity

Thursday, March 22nd, 2007

I’ve written on and off about email’s (few) pros, (mostly) cons and dangers.

Yesterday, I had an interaction I thought was worth passing on, especially since many people no longer give much thought to capitalizing or punctuation.

By request, I sent the link of a specific post to some people I know. However, because my email server was messed up my mail was badly delayed, so I didn’t receive the separate request from one of them for that same URL until the next morning. When I complied with the request, I received this response.

‘yup. I got it yesterday, actually. it’s a good read.’

Three points

  • Many very good writers (such as this one) don’t always capitalize in casual correspondence.
  • For reasons unknown or understood (at least by me) email fonts are often very small.
  • Casual emails, such as this, are scanned more often than read.

As I told her in my response, at first glance, the period after ‘actually’ looked like a comma, especially since the ‘I’ in ‘it’s’ wasn’t capitalized; and that completely changed the meaning of what she had written.

Her response, ‘boy, is that ever true. changes the meaning ENTIRELY! and insults someone into the bargain…’

‘Email’ and ‘clear communications’ are almost an oxymoron and you don’t want to make it worse than it already is.

Think about it.

Ignoring danger

Wednesday, March 21st, 2007

The foibles of the human animal are universal, crossing all human-instituted lines of demarcation.

Within the business world, greed-based financial shenanigans have been the front-page foible for quite awhile.

Deterrents in the US run the gamut from negative media coverage to jail time, in Japan, humiliation and job loss, while in China, they often carry a death sentence, but none seems to have the desired effect.

Why? Every animal I’ve ever read about has learned by watching others to avoid danger, and often warns others when it’s present—but humans don’t seem to learn.

Animals learn of danger and, by instinct, avoid it; whereas human animals learn of danger, and, by intelligence, often choose to ignore it.

What is it in the human animal that prevents deterrents from having their desired effect?

It’s the dark side of what I’ve previously described as the “but me” factor.

It’s certainly something to think about, and to remember, the next time you’re tempted and have a choice to make.

Shift Happens

Tuesday, March 20th, 2007

I don’t usually frequent video sites (dinosaur that I am), but I received a link to a video called Shift Happens and it had some very interesting information. I don’t know if the number stats are 100% accurate, but the information in it parallels other sources I read.

Three of the points confirm a critical hiring attitude—

  • One week of the New York Times contains more information than a person living in the 18th century came across in a lifetime.
  • More unique, new information will be generated this year than in the previous 5000 years combined.
  • Half of what students starting a four-year degree learn in their first year will be outdated by the third year.

Given the third point, it’s reasonable to assume that a similar pattern holds for work experience, too.

And that brings us to the critical hiring attitude that every manager needs to have—it’s not just what a person knows, but also how well they learn combined with their ability to extrapolate new insights from their previous knowledge and experience that makes them a more valuable addition to your team.

In other words, think not only of where they have been, but also of where they can go in the future.

The verbally clueless

Monday, March 19th, 2007

Much of what I write, on a variety of subjects, involves communications, whether directly or indirectly.

While the inability to write coherently, let alone elegantly, is fast becoming the norm, the verbal skills of the younger, highly wired set are getting downright depressing—you could replace Gabby, in Sunday’s Grand Avenue with a large majority of the population.

I borrowed the following paragraph from an interview between Maria Bartiromo and Klaus Schwab and annotated it, so you would have some idea of the impressive discourse you’ll soon be hearing—my apologies to Mr. Schwab…

What are the most important issues facing the world economy?

Uh, the World Economic Forum did like some research, with Citigroup and Marsh & McLennan to, you know, keep track of major global risks, and we have identified like 23 different risks, like global warming, terrorism, oil price shocks, uh, a hard landing for China, and so on and all of them will be on the agenda. Davos has, uh, one, uh, specific function: We look at all the, uh, issues on the global agenda, trying to see, you know, priorities and like find, ah, solutions. There’s going to be, ah, 2,400 people—like half business and half other, ah, stakeholders in the, ah, global society, and that includes like 25 heads of state. You have, ah, practically every major government like represented.

If you think the above is depressing, think about one of these wordless wonders similarly mangling a presentation to your best customer.

I certainly don’t have any quick or easy solutions to offer, but I would suggest that you reconsider just how much communications your people do wired and how much they need to return to verbalizing, whether by phone or in person.

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