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Archive for June, 2011

Entrepreneur: Critical Stuff

Thursday, June 30th, 2011

4848301878_b9227f6945_mEntrepreneurs have a lot on their minds; they’re famous for multitasking; they’re usually shorthanded; they wear many hats and do whatever is necessary to turn their vision into a reality.

Few admit it, but with all this action stuff is bound to slip through the cracks now and then.

The trick is to be sure that what slips isn’t critical.

Of course, it still happens—even to big companies with lots of people to focus on the details.

Stuff slips because everyone thinks it’s in someone else’s job description or because it’s so basic and so important that there’s a subconscious assumption that it’s been taken care of.

Stuff such as domain registration.

Hard to believe, but domain lapse* seems to happen to everybody from super-hot startups, Foursquare in 2010, to government, New Jersey Transit in 2011.

An early casualty was Hotmail in 1999, while Disney’s Club Penguin was just last week.

The Washington Post and Gawker made 2004 the year for both old and new media to slip.

There’s a simple, low-tech solution to avoiding critical slips; it won’t stop them all slips, but it will stop critical.

It’s called a whiteboard, but the trick is not to use dry erase pens.

Instead use a permanent marker and list nothing on it except critical items, such as domain renewal dates.

Identifying what goes on the board is simple, too.

“Critical stuff” encompasses those things without which there is no company.

*Source: Bloomberg Business Week, June 27, 2011 (print edition)

Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/28288673@N07/4848301878/

WW: the Beauty of Teamwork

Wednesday, June 29th, 2011

(Note that the artists are blind and deaf.)

YouTube image credit: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pga88xe0hFw

Ducks in a Row: Do Perks Equal Culture?

Tuesday, June 28th, 2011

Whenever culture is discussed it often is in terms of perks.

Google’s free meals, concierge services, etc.; when Apple was new and hot interviewees were told about the in-complex swimming pool and Friday beer blasts.

SAS, which is number one on Fortune’s Best Places to Work list for the second straight year, offers on-site healthcare, $400/month childcare, a beauty salon, 66,000-square-foot gym and more.

All are lauded for their cultures, but is it the perks or is something else going on?

“People stay at SAS in large part because they are happy, but to dig a little deeper, I would argue that people don’t leave SAS because they feel regarded — seen, attended to and cared for. I have stayed for that reason, and love what I do for that reason.” SAS manager

Sure, the perks are important, but they aren’t the basis of great culture.

Employees don’t leave companies, they leave managers… More than anything else, you want to create an environment where people are respected—and treated like they’ll make a difference…Jim Goodnight, founder and CEO.

Make a difference; that’s the key phrase and the key action.

That’s how talented managers in companies with mediocre perks or none at all build and motivate great teams. It’s also the reason why people who are stars at one company may not perform as well at another.

Popular wisdom agrees that people leave managers, not companies, and they leave them in spite of perks, benefits, stock and seniority.

Fabulous perks get lots of press and may attract candidates, but they can’t motivate or retain people if they feel used and unvalued.

Fickr image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/zedbee/103147140/

Soft Skills Supported by Hard Science from Google

Monday, June 27th, 2011

This post was published first on Technorati

For more than a decade at RampUp Solutions and for the last five years at MAPping Company Success I’ve coached and written about what managers need to do to motivate and engage their teams and what employees really want from their managers. Others have been saying similar stuff for far longer.

We’ve been telling them what is most important to employees, i.e., clear communications on everything, including where the team is going and why, support and opportunities to grow, etc.

Nothing you haven’t heard before, but mostly anecdotal—no hard science to support it, so we end up preaching to the choir, not converting the non-believers.

Like Google.

Google employees deal in facts and stats, stuff that can be munched, crunched and analyzed, and have little use for anything else.

So it’s logical that when the company decided it needed to improve its management skills it turned to analytics to provide the answers.

“So, as only a data-mining giant like Google can do, it began analyzing performance reviews, feedback surveys and nominations for top-manager awards. They correlated phrases, words, praise and complaints.”

And guess what?

The data supported the same results that those of us without data have been saying for years.

But Google took it a step further and prioritized the list based on hard numbers.

And of eight core employee preferences do you know what came in dead last?

Technical skill and technical skill had been Google’s main criteria for promotion.

This finally brings us to my main point, which, this time, is supported by statistical research.

“Technical skill” covers far more ground than most people think. It refers to any hard science (math, engineering, chemistry, etc.), but also to soft sciences (psychology, social science, etc.), sales, finance, the arts—just about anything in which humans develop expertise.

The lesson here is that technical superiority does not predict success in a management/leadership role.

Managerial success is based on a person’s ability to connect in a meaningful way to those she manages and provide what each one needs to produce and grow.

Not new information, but now that it’s backed by hard science and with Google as the role model the choir just got a whole lot larger.

Flickr image: http://www.flickr.com/photos/warrantedarrest/74688743/

mY generation: Descriptification Redux

Sunday, June 26th, 2011

See all mY generation posts here.

Jim is traveling, so I looked through the archives. I think you’ll agree that Descriptification is worth a rerun.

Quotable Quotes: Hodgepodge

Sunday, June 26th, 2011

Today is a bit of a hodgepodge.

Richard Branson is one of my favorite people; I like reading about him and he’s played a part in several posts I’ve written. Branson was focused on business opportunities, but this comment applies just as well to other areas, such as hiring.

“A good idea for a new business tends not to occur in isolation, and often the window of opportunity is very small. So speed is of the essence.”

Back in the day word that Microsoft had turned its attention to a product or service sent waves of trepidation through founders and investors alike, much as Google does today. I was reminded of that when I read an old comment by Ralph Nader. Funny thing is that Microsoft is still making the same noises.

“John D. Rockefeller wanted to dominate oil, but Microsoft wants it all, you name it: cable, media, banking, car dealerships.”

Nader was referring to Rockefeller senior; I prefer John junior, probably because his thinking so perfectly sums up what I keep saying, ‘people perform up (or down) based on the quality and skill of their management.’

“Good management consists in showing average people how to do the work of superior people.”

Several centuries ago John Mason pointed out the difference between a fool and a wise man.

“The wise man has his foibles, as well as the fool. But the difference between them is, that the foibles of the one are known to himself and concealed from the world; and the foibles of the other are known to the world and concealed from himself.”

Add social media to that mix and the number of fools increases exponentially.

Warren Buffet understands the fragility of reputation.

“It takes 20 years to build a reputation and only five Minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you will do things differently.”

The problem is that for too many people social precludes thinking.

I hope you enjoyed my hodgepodge. Have a wonderful rest of the weekend.

Flickr image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/grigoriprime/4902494653/

Expand Your Mind: Advice, Example, Action

Saturday, June 25th, 2011

Many of the news reports and stories I read leave me with the same unanswered question, ‘why’?

Why do people with everything do such incredibly stupid things?

Why do they risk losing it all—and often do?

To paraphrase a question, what’s in it for them?

And more importantly, what can be done about it?

Bill George, Professor of Management Practice and Henry B. Arthur Fellow of Ethics at Harvard Business School wrote an article on the subject. Focused on positional leaders in a variety of circumstances it considers “Why Leaders Lose Their Way,” but his solution, while correct, is old and tired. Not to mention that he’s preaching to the choir—those who listen are on the right path already and those who should won’t.

While George’s approach offers nothing new, Dave Balter, founder of BzzAgent, provides a much more compelling story that should provide a wake-up call to anyone who’s ego is on the way to, or has already gotten, out of hand.

Interestingly, there is a ‘why’ on the other side of the coin, too, but it’s one that goes unnoticed, buried in positive actions and the (well earned) praise sung by the media.

I’m referring to the actions of people such as Angelina Jolie, Bono and now, Matt Damon. If you aren’t aware of the role he’s created for himself, read about it. It surpasses by far anything else he’s taken on before.

Image credit:  MykReeve on flickr

If the Shoe Fits: Bad Judgment VS Inexperience

Friday, June 24th, 2011

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

3829103264_9cb64b9c62_mDon’t mix inexperience with bad judgment.

It’s okay to be a first time entrepreneur or company advisor.  You know the domain, you know the market, and you know your customers.

You’re there as an entrepreneur to invent the company and drive it to success or as an advisor or board member to help the team succeed.

But growing a business from small to large, with all of the nuances of growing the team, financing and operations is another matter.  It’s hard work and there are known pot-holes.  It’s just hard to see them while running at 120 MPH.

Sometimes first-time startup folks cut the wrong corners.

In the process of having urgency, working with very little (if any) cash, and wishing to keep the “attention” of startup colleagues, sometimes those stinky “admin” details like stock plans get left for later “when we get our first real investment.”  Read: “when my investor or lawyer says I have to do it.”

“Lean” startup is a great mantra, but some “process” and steps are needed to ensure that the company and the team are headed for success.  And here’s why stock is so important.

Good judgment says “use stock to get the best people.”  This is tempting when cash is tight (or non-existent) and for good reason.  This is a great instinct and is fully aligned with the start-up entrepreneur’s mindset of “stock is important” and “my company is valuable, and will be even more valuable in the future.”  You want to enroll early employees in this story.

Using gut instinct, ad-hoc grants and haphazard allocations however, is not a good idea, and can sabotage a team’s ability to grow and survive rough times.  And for all those first-time entrepreneurs—there will be rough times.

Belief in the mutual commitment of team members, and belief that the company will survive and thrive after those tough times (even perhaps leading to the epiphany and “pivot”) is what holds a team together.

Inexperience is normal and can be managed through passion, being coachable, and by building a great team.

Bad judgment cannot.  Stock is not some abstract thing that can be picked from a tree, used as needed, and re-grown.  It is precious and has both positive and negative impact on workers.  It is the most common source of “drama” in the founding team.  There’s enough drama in a startup.

It is just plain bad judgment to avoid putting a coherent and thoughtful stock option allocation process into place at the beginning.  No entrepreneur would put-off creating a budget and cash-flow management plan.  It’s just as important.

Having a clear plan and system ensures that both the early co-founders and all key team members that follow them (from office assistant to big-hitter sales pro) understand and buy-into the company’s philosophy and process around fair stock allocation.

A good allocation plan and philosophy eliminates drama, is unemotional, transparent and authentic. There will be no whining, and no hurt feelings.  When things get tough, there will be no resentments about who has more stock.  The result is that there will be a better chance of survival through the predictable (an unpredictable) storms.  Sure, there may still be some drama, but it will be more manageable.

In thinking about what is needed and what is not needed in your “Lean Startup” think about the difference between inexperience and judgment.  Passion ignites the rest.  Don’t let bad judgment sink the ship.

Good Judgment = essential.

Direct Experience = helpful but not essential.

Passion = essential.

Fair and transparent stock allocation process = priceless.

Option Sanity™ counteracts naiveté

Come visit Option Sanity for an easy-to-understand, simple-to-implement stock process.  It’s so easy a CEO can do it.

Do not attempt to use Option Sanity™ without a strong commitment to business planning, financial controls, honesty, ethics, and “doing the right thing.” Use only as directed.
Users of Option Sanity may experience sudden increases in team cohesion and worker satisfaction. In cases where team productivity, retention and company success is greater than typical, expect media interest and invitations as keynote speaker.

Flickr image credit: Kevin Spencer

Entrepreneur: Not for Everyone

Thursday, June 23rd, 2011

1221230_my_holidaysBack in the late Seventies/early Eighties women who chose to stay home, as opposed to working, were, demeaned, called “traitors to the cause” and looked down on for their choice.

Which was stupid.

Today, people who don’t start their own companies or choose to work for established corporations are similarly treated.

Which is just as stupid.

Not everybody should be an entrepreneur; not everybody should work in a startup; and those choices do not reflect negatively on the quality of a person’s skills or attitude.

Choosing to work for an established company or large corporation does not lower people’s intrinsic value; nor does it mean they are dumb, lazy, unmotivated or uncreative.

Some see large company experience as a training ground, while for others there is pride in being part of something large and ongoing and they enjoy the camaraderie.

Some are looking for stability, although that is mostly gone, and some don’t really care as long as they can pay their bills—their job (paycheck) is not their career; that energy is focused on a passion that just doesn’t pay.

Even some entrepreneur’s think traditional jobs can be a better fit.

Just as thousands of intelligent, educated, driven, passionate, creative women chose to stay home and raise their kids, thousands of intelligent, educated, driven, passionate creative people choose to work for large companies.

As I said Tuesday, it’s about fit and “fit” isn’t a reason to judge.

We are all different; you need to find what floats your boat and do it—not do what others say should float it.

Stock.xchng image credit: http://www.sxc.hu/photo/1221230

WW: the Truth About the Economy

Wednesday, June 22nd, 2011

(You may hate the politics, but it should still resonate—unless you are super-rich. And if that’s the case I need a loan.)

Image credit: YouTube

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