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Archive for October, 2009

Halloween Success Story

Saturday, October 31st, 2009

ghoulI do love writing rhymes for holidays and special friends. And when I read them again a year or decade later I’m always amazed that I don’t die of embarrassment.

Last Halloween I wrote A Halloween Economy at MAPping Company Success and Scary Times Require Rhymes for Leadership Turn.

So without more ado, here is your rhyming fix for this Halloween.

There was a student named Delf

who had a high opinion of self

He truly believed that with nary a sigh,

he could start a company that would fly high.

He founded it on Halloween

in stealth mode to avoid being seen—

he didn’t want the media calling or

have to deal with VCs stalling.

He started a social networking site

for all the creatures that go bump in the night,

because they had no safe place to gather

cyberspace was perfect to network and blather.

Delf launched his site in 2006

with offices next to the River Styx.

Vampires, demons, werewolves and ghosts

all flocked to the site in order to boast.

The member list grew and grew

’til even Delf didn’t have a clue,

but he was smart and used his noodle

to arrange for the site to be acquired by Ghoulgle!

Image credit: Seamus Murray on flickr

The Scariest Halloween Costume

Saturday, October 31st, 2009

halloween-pumpkinsAll my life I’ve written rhymes for certain days and special events or people. Last Halloween I wrote Scary Times Require Rhymes for Leadership Turn and A Halloween Economy at MAPping Company Success.

I’m always surprised when I go back, read one and it doesn’t make me run screaming from the screen.

So, here is Halloween 2009 for your reading pleasure. I hope you enjoy it, because I had a lot of fun writing it.

Are you attending a party tonight

wearing a costume that inspires fright?

Halloween’s a night for spooks,

for witches, demons and other kooks;

vampires, werewolves, serial killers and more—

all those types who are drenched in gore.

But if you really want to inspire fear

you can do it best with much simpler gear.

All you need is a designer suite, well-styled hair,

a fancy watch and executive chair.

The back story’s simple, you just have to choose

which character best fits your particular ruse.

Hedge fund manager, Wall Street or insurance exec

depends on whose world you are planning to wreck.

Have fun tonight and stay safe!

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Image credit: boydiz on flickr

ERing Means Progress

Friday, October 30th, 2009

ERing-noticeI write and talk a lot about what happens when you choose to change your MAP through awareness and the resulting boos to your energy and creativity.

What I can’t remember sharing with you is a critical ingredient in the change sauce that I call the Philosophy of ER.

I consciously developed it formally and have shared it for decades to offset all the talk about failure when people are working to change.

First, you have to understand that I don’t believe in failure; I don’t think that someone has truly failed unless they’re dead. As long as they’re breathing, the worst bums on skid row have the potential to change, i.e., the possibility is there, even if the likelihood is not.

For decades change has focused on setting goals and if they aren’t achieved as stated, then you had failed.

Over the years I’ve worked with a lot of people (including myself) whose self esteem was at best badly bruised, at worst like Swiss cheese.

They started by telling me how they had failed at this or that, but in more detailed discussions it turned out that, although they hadn’t achieved their stated goal within the deadline, the goals and deadlines (one or both) weren’t exactly reality based or had changed along the way and not been restated.

To be valid, goals must come with delivery dates, but those dates must be achievable—not easy, but achievable.

When you set goals without taking into account minor details, such as friends/family/spouse/kids/working/sleeping/eating, then you’re setting yourself up for failure.

Beyond being reality-based, we all need an ongoing sense of accomplishment, especially for that which can’t be done in a few days, to sustain the long term effort that big goals take—thus came the Philosophy of ER.

Over the last couple of decades I’ve ERed almost everything (even when it’s grammatically incorrect).

  • I may not be wise, but I’m wisER.
  • I may not be rich, but I’m richER.
  • I may not be patient, but I’m patientER.
  • I may not be skinny, but I’m skinniER.

You get the idea.

So start ERing today and tomorrow you too will be happiER, smartER, healthiER and successfulER.

Just keep reminding yourself that to err is human, but to ER is divine.

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Image credit: Warning Sign Generator

Culture Serves And Protects

Friday, October 30th, 2009

filter-hiresPhilip Mydlach wrote a great article saying that to create a better environment, where creativity and success can flourish, the management team should be like a fudgsicle—consistent all the way through.

Your management team’s behavior sets the tone for the entire corporation. So it better be consistent, predictable and true to your core values.

Absolutely true, as is the need for clearly communicating those values and not tolerating managers who don’t support them.

But achieving your fudgsicle is easier if you include a preliminary step that Mydlach doesn’t mention.

That step is using your culture as a filter in all your hiring—especially when hiring management and most importantly the executive team.

10 years ago I wrote and article for MSDN about how to use company culture as a screening tool to avoid hiring turkeys of any kind at all levels.

With the sighting of “economic green shoots” this seems a good time to revisit it (with some updating).

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

Companies don’t create people—people create companies.

All companies have a culture composed of its core values and beliefs, essentially its corporate MAP (mindset, attitude, philosophy™), and it’s why people join the company and why they leave.

Generally, people don’t like bureaucracy, politics, backstabbing, etc., but when business stress goes up, or business heats up, cultural focus is often overwhelmed by other priorities.

In startups, it’s easier to hire people who are culturally compatible, because the founders first hire all their friends, and then their friend’s friends.

After that, when new positions have to be filled 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.

Here is how you do it.

  • 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 real.
  • 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 that don’t fit the company MAP, since she may be unaware of them, may assume that your culture is more talk than walk or consider it something that won’t apply to her.
  • Red flags must be followed up, not ignored because of skills or charm.
  • Consider the various environments in which she’s worked; find out if she agreed with how things were done, and, more importantly, how she would have done them if she had been in control.
  • Whether or not the candidate is a manager, you want to learn about her management MAP, approaches to managing and 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 your 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.

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” is actually a good thing.

Remember, the goal is to keep your company culture consistent and flexible as you grow. From the time you start this process, 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.

Use your cultural sieve uniformly at all levels all the time. If someone sneaks through, which is bound to happen occasionally, admit the error quickly and give her the opportunity to change, but if she persists then she has to go.

Do this and watch retention, creativity, productivity and morale surge ever higher.

Stop doing it at your own risk.

Image credit: daveyll on flickr

Feedback Means No Surprises

Thursday, October 29th, 2009

feedbackYesterday was Phil Gerbyshak’s last day writing Slacker Manager and the last day of Bizzia, the b5 business portal, (he’ll continue writing at The Management Expert), but his choice of topics is an important one.

The Secret to Firing Someone talks about being human and accepting that the response will also be human—and likely emotional.

But it shouldn’t be, not if you have really done your job as their manager.

Because if you’ve done that they would have been getting feedback all along; feedback that told them there were performance or attitude issues that needed to change; discussions of what needed to happen and how to do it.

This is your responsibility as a manager, leader, parent, whatever; it is up to you to give feedback constantly—not just on a certain date or because it’s convenient—never forgetting that good feedback should be public, whereas criticism is only given in private and always in a constructive manner, because no matter what is going on, no matter the problem, nothing positive will happen without honest feedback.

Yes, sometimes it is necessary to fire someone, but it should never come as a surprise to that person.

Image credit: daniel.julia on flickr

Leadership's Future: America's Tragic Shame

Thursday, October 29th, 2009

Neglect. Drugs. Abuse. Molestation.

Where do you go when those four words describe your parents and your home life?

Where do you sleep; what do you eat?

homelessWhen you’re cold and hungry you do what it takes to survive, including stealing and selling whatever you can find to sell—including yourself.

And these kids are as young as 10 years old.

The NT Times ran a two-part series called Running in the Shadows about teen runaways. It should be required reading for every American (part 1 and part 2).

Children on Their Own

This is the first of two articles on the growing number of young runaways in the United States, exploring how they survive and efforts by the authorities to help them.

Many cling together to avoid predators, but many more are seduced by pimps—it doesn’t take much.

“My job is to make sure she has what she needs, personal hygiene, get her nails done, take her to buy an outfit, take her out to eat, make her feel wanted,” said another pimp, Antoin Thurman, who was sentenced in 2006 to three years for pandering and related charges in Buckeye, Ariz. “But I keep the money.”

Out of frustration, Sgt. Byron A. Fassett of the Dallas Police Department started looking for patterns in child prostitution cases.

One stuck out: 80 percent of the prostituted children the department had handled had run away from home at least four or more times a year.

Fasset created a special “High Risk Victim” unit within the Dallas PD that has seen enormous success, both in getting kids out of that life and putting the pimps behind bars.

The unit’s strength is timing. If the girls are arrested for prostitution, they are at their least cooperative. So the unit instead targets them for such minor offenses as truancy or picks them up as high-risk victims, speaking to them when their guard is down. Only later, as trust builds, do officers and social workers move into discussions of prostitution.

Repeat runaways are not put in juvenile detention but in a special city shelter for up to a month, receiving counseling.

Three quarters of the girls who get treatment do not return to prostitution.

The results of the Dallas system are clear: in the past five years, the Dallas County district attorney’s office has on average indicted and convicted or won guilty pleas from over 90 percent of the pimps arrested. In virtually all of those cases, the children involved in the prostitution testified against their pimps, according to the prosecutor’s office. Over half of those convictions started as cases involving girls who were picked up by the police not for prostitution but simply as repeat runaways.

Those statistics are amazing. Here we have a case of initiative taken; leadership shown, and impressive success. Not a fancy approach, but a pragmatic one based on a proven pattern.

So why hasn’t it been applied across the nation?

In 2007, Congress nearly approved a proposal to spend more than $55 million for cities to create pilot programs across the country modeled on the Dallas system. But after a dispute with President George W. Bush over the larger federal budget, the plan was dropped and Congress never appropriated the money.

Just $55 million dollars, that’s all; a drop in the bucket in comparison to most earmarks.

But, in their wisdom, our wonderful, elected leaders in Washington didn’t believe it had enough reelection value to make it worth fighting for—maybe this is what’s meant by throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

Of course, these kids can’t vote, may not live long enough to vote, so it’s no big deal to the folks on their perpetual campaign trail.

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Image credit: Franco Folini on flickr

Wordless Wednesday: A Truly Stupid Action

Wednesday, October 28th, 2009

Now find out what stupid has to do with shame and duty

Image credit: cesarastudillo on flickr

Wordless Wednesday: Shame And Duty

Wednesday, October 28th, 2009

shame-is-duty

Now check out this truly stupid action

Please join me tomorrow for America’s Tragic Shame.

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Image credit: erix! on flickr

Ducks In A Row: Feedback And You

Tuesday, October 27th, 2009

ducks_in_a_rowHow do you define success? Do you (or your boss) look only at the numbers and other recognized metrics or do you go a step further and evaluate the harder-to-define areas? Numbers and other business metrics are important, but they measure mostly the present, i.e., short-term results. What does long-term success look like? How can you evaluate yourself in terms of long-term success? Do you care? If your answer to the third question is “no” then you probably won’t be interested in the rest of this post, but if it is “yes” read on. Whether you are a newly promoted supervisor or Fortune 100 CEO, one easy way to know if you are succeeding is to ask your team. Asking is like a 360 degree review without all the bells, whistles and forms. It’s immediate and gives you a fairly accurate reading of the trust level of your team. If you hesitate to do that or your people won’t provide honest feedback then

  • Your hesitancy means you already know there is a problem and aren’t comfortable with, or not interested in, changing to accommodate the feedback.
  • If your people won’t be honest then you have propagated a belief that the messenger will be killed and that belief is typically entrenched in a larger culture of fear.

Either way, the source of the problem is you—not your team or even the general company culture (unless you are CEO), just you. You made it happen and if you want to fix it I suggest you have a long talk with your MAP because that is where the problem lies. The good part is that it’s your MAP and your choice to change it. Your comments—priceless Don’t miss a post, subscribe via RSS or EMAIL Image credit: ZedBee|Zoë Power on flickr

After The Layoff

Tuesday, October 27th, 2009

Layoffs are so common these days that there’s little left to say about them, but what about after?

Whether you are a team leader, a CEO or something in-between, you need to deal not just with the casualties, but with the survivors—many of whom are walking wounded.

Morale and productivity go hand in hand and both usually go south when layoffs happen and all those empty desks are a constant reminder of the friends and colleagues lost in the storm.

Even if those laid off didn’t always pull their weight or weren’t that well-liked, the layoff erases all the bad leaving only positive memories uppermost in the minds of those still there.

Shortsighted as it is, many large companies are more concerned with subletting empty space than with the effect of empty offices and shifting employees to further cut costs. The more forward thinking ones bring in professionals to help with space reorganization—but the money spent on that can backfire if employees see it as money that could have gone to keeping jobs.

The problem is even more critical for smaller businesses where the loss of one or two people often creates a hole as big as hundreds do in a larger organization.

What to do?

Follow the lead of the designers in the article without spending the bucks.

  1. Don’t leave the spaces, whether offices or cubicles, empty. If you do, they become a constant reminder of friends who are gone.
  2. Reusing the spaces, equipment, furniture or stuff is fine, but not on a first come, first serve basis. Assign it based on real need, not seniority, and don’t play favorites.
  3. To use the space in the most productive way bring your people together and brainstorm ideas.
  4. Changes, such as a lounge or brainstorming area, can be done without expensive goodies.
  5. Use imagination instead of money in changing/redecorating the company and reinventing extra spaces.
  6. There is amazing art to be had in thrift stores and garage sales and you may have employees who love that kind of shopping.

Finally, this kind of creativity is fun and exciting; it not only saves money, but unites people in a common goal.

Like the alchemists of old, you can’t really turn a layoff into a positive event, but you can, with effort, keep it from being a black hole and convert it to an opportunity to move forward.

Image credit: Jake Sutton on flickr

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