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Archive for March, 2013

Entrepreneurs: Consequences

Thursday, March 28th, 2013

http://www.flickr.com/photos/viriyincy/3889343455/Do you tend to confuse consequences with punishment?

Worse, do you confuse them with regards to your people?

The former is a part of a strong, healthy culture, while the latter is a major factor in an abusive one.

  • Consequences are the result of an action; they may be good, bad or depend on your point of view.

In other words, cause and effect—doing A results in B.

  • The consequence of studying hard is a good grade on the test.
  • The consequence of writing a check with insufficient funds in your account is having it bounce.
  • The consequence of not immediately responding to an email may be neutral for you, but not for your company.

Even if you don’t like the idea of consequences there’s no way to stop them. Everything you do, say, even think has at least one effect—if not more.

Startups, obviously, are hot beds of cause and effect—both little and large and often with a domino effect.

You land a spot at Vator Splash to introduce your new product, but you’re caught in a massive traffic jam, aren’t available to do the demo and a junior developer ends up talking with your most interested potential investor.

Consequences.

Nobody fault; you can’t even claim responsibility. Stuff happens.

There was no way to predict the accident that created the traffic jam.

Everybody knows that actions have consequences and you’ll lose credibility if you ignore them or claim there are none.

Just remember, consequences have nothing to do with punishment.

Flickr image credit: Oran Viriyincy

The Screen that Kills Connection, Friendship and Empathy

Wednesday, March 27th, 2013

http://www.flickr.com/photos/digitpedia/4882197805People’s preoccupation with their screens has been blamed for many things and if you’ve been around someone who kept sneaking peeks while talking you know how annoying that is.

But did you know it messes up not only your brain, but also your capacity for connection, friendship, empathy, as well as your actual physical health?

Texting even messes up your infant’s future!

New parents may need to worry less about genetic testing and more about how their own actions — like texting while breast-feeding or otherwise paying more attention to their phone than their child — leave life-limiting fingerprints on their and their children’s gene expression.

It’s not just a case of being distracted.

Your vagus nerve connects your brain to your heart and how you handle your social connections affects the vagal tone, which, like muscle tone, can improve with exercise and that, in turn, increases the capacity for connection, friendship and empathy.

In short, the more attuned to others you become, the healthier you become, and vice versa. This mutual influence also explains how a lack of positive social contact diminishes people. Your heart’s capacity for friendship also obeys the biological law of “use it or lose it.” If you don’t regularly exercise your ability to connect face to face, you’ll eventually find yourself lacking some of the basic biological capacity to do so.

Do I think this research will actually make a difference in people’s actions?

No!

Even if the information becomes widespread I don’t think people would give up the instant gratification of being mentioned or conquer their FOMO and focus instead on quality face time.

It doesn’t seem a big deal right now, but look into the future at a world that doesn’t just lack connection and empathy, but is filled with people who aren’t even capable of it.

I’m glad I won’t be around.

One last item; a short essay that says better than I have in the past exactly why I don’t carry a cell phone. Enjoy!

Flickr image credit: Digitpedia Com

Ducks in a Row: G&S Combats Ego-merge

Tuesday, March 26th, 2013

http://www.flickr.com/photos/vetlesk/3575715538/Yesterday we considered the dangers inherent when employees start thinking of themselves as an extension of the company/manager, as in ““I’m great because my company/manager is great.” instead of, “I’m great and my company/manager is great.””

Today we’ll look at why building people, as opposed to making them dependent, is a smart move and three prime things to help you do it.

People building is imperative, because reputation, both the manager’s and the company’s, is everything when hiring, and being known for your great G&S (grow and strengthen) policies and actions will help you attract, develop and keep the best and brightest.

You’ll still lose some now and then when they’re ready for the next challenge and you can’t provide it, but the benefits resulting from their ultra-high productivity and creativeness during the time they’re with you will far outweigh the loss when they do leave.

G&S isn’t rocket science, nor does it have to be costly.

Here are three basic rules to encourage G&S and discourage ego-merge.

  1. Treat everyone on your team and in your company with the same level of respect you want.
  2. Listen to your people. Encourage and assist them as much as possible in developing the skills they need to take their next step—even when it makes your life a bit more difficult.
  3. Always remind them that for all their successes, challenges, and failures it’s “and” not “because.”

Any manager can implement these and other strategies on her own, whether the company supports G&S or not.

However, it’s to a company’s advantage to fight ego-merge and advocate G&S through its policies, then support it by hiring managers who believe in the power of G&S.

But what if you’re a manager pushing G&S down while your own manager is either blind to it or the type who sees ego-merge as a plus?

But what can you do to avoid ego-merge as a worker with no control or leverage?

Awareness is the best protection against ego-merge. Recognize that it exists, understand what it is, know its symptoms and whether you’re prone to it, then monitor yourself, always remembering that the opposite of ego-merge is not arrogance.

Here’s what you do.

  1. Post a watch for the first symptom of ego-merge: when your glow of accomplishment for an exemplary project you did is quickly quenched by negative internal news or media coverage. The greater the offset the greater the ego-merge.
  2. Listen to yourself. When describing a project (successful or not) or coup (large or small), listen to how you describe it and where and how you attribute its success or failure. Adjust accordingly.
  3. Offset and reduce ego-merge in others by publicly giving full credit to those around you at all levels up and down for their contributions.

Flickr image credit: vetlesk

You are NOT Your Company

Monday, March 25th, 2013

http://www.flickr.com/photos/swanksalot/8584948105/How many times, especially these days, at a networking function have you asked someone what they do and gotten the reply, “I’m not working, I’m looking for my next opportunity.”

OK, a lot of people are looking, but that doesn’t answer the question.

Ask again and you might get the same answer, but if your face still has a look of inquiry written on it you’ll get a second answer, “I’m a [whatever].”

It’s sad when people choose to define themselves based upon how they earn a living; worse when, as in the example above, employment becomes the career validation without which the career ceases to exist.

Bad as those are, the worst is when people take another step and subconsciously merge their identity with that of their company—I call it ego-merge.

I coined the term in the eighties to describe a state of mind that is not only unhealthy for individuals, but also damaging to the companies for which they work.

Ego-merge is what happens when “me” and “my company” meld together in the mind of the employee, whether worker or manager.

It’s most obvious in tough times and most noticeable in conversation when people use “because” instead of “and” when talking about accomplishments, thereby crediting the company or manager for their skills.

“I’m great because my company/manager is great.” instead of, “I’m great and my company/manager is great.”

At first glance ego-merge might actually seem to be a positive for companies—but it’s not.

When employees’ egos merge with their company’s, they often blame themselves for the company’s problems even when they have little power and may not have any line responsibility.

No matter how great their work environment, feeling responsible is a major productivity sapper when times are tough—employees with ego-merge have a difficult time believing that

  • it’s not their fault;
  • their manager doesn’t blame them;
  • they are good enough to help turn the company around,

because in their minds their skills and talent are good because of their manager/company.

Ego-merge affects the best companies/managers, where people are very involved, have high esprit de corps and are passionate about their mission and success.

But it also happens with more Machiavellian managers who intentionally foster the attitude within their organization as a retention tool.

Ego-merge does, in fact, encourage people to stay, but it also cripples them, ruins their creativity, saps their initiative and reduces their long term value to the company.

It’s every company/manager’s responsibility to help their people grow and become stronger, not to subtly cripple them in the hopes that they won’t leave.

In fact, it’s in the best interest of both the manager and the company to become people-builders.

Join me tomorrow for a look at how to recognize and avoid ego-merge, as well as why people-building pays off.

Flickr image credit: Seth Anderson

If the Shoe Fits: Long-term Success Means Being Open

Friday, March 22nd, 2013

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

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mYou recognized a need or a problem and had an idea for a solution.

You started your company based on that idea.

You attracted a team and customers because your idea worked.

Now what?

Early success doesn’t always translate to long(er)-term success.

Why?

Because one-product companies don’t prosper long-term.

Extending and expanding product uses based on customer feedback will provide further growth, but for longer-term success you want additional products.

The best new products will address your current market place.

Why?

Because your current client base knows and trusts you, so they will be more willing to try a new product from you.

And this is where many founders go astray.

They assume new product ideas will come from them, another senior manager or a senior developer, instead of allowing ideas to bubble up from anybody on their staff.

Which is why they are so surprised when a lower ranking staffer resigns to do a startup that plays to their market.

Where is your next idea coming from?

Image credit: HikingArtist

Entrepreneurs: Seth Goldman, Barry Nalebuff and Honest Tea

Thursday, March 21st, 2013
Barry Nalebuff and Seth Goldman

Barry Nalebuff and Seth Goldman

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In 2008 Coke paid $43 million for a 40% stake in Honest Tea and acquired the other 60% in 2011 for an undisclosed amount. The founders are still running the company and (so far) it’s stayed true to its mission.

But that’s not what today is about.

If you aren’t a reader, and even if you are, you’re probably tired of plowing though business books.

Even the good ones are often over-written; publishers want a certain number of pages to warrant the price, so there is often a lot of same thought/different words repetition, while customers’ assume there’s a direct correlation between length/weight and price.

It’s even harder to find business books that provide solid advice for startups that are focused on sustainable, environmentally friendly and socially responsible along with financial success.

Seth Goldman and Barry Nalebuff, founders of Honest Tea, are hoping to fill that gap with a 302 page comic book due out in September.

We’d like to think this isn’t your typical How I Built My Business book. For starters, it looks like a comic book. We designed the book this way because we wanted the story to come alive. You get to share in our journey, meet some colorful characters, and not take us too seriously.

That’s right, comic book style; here’s a preview of the first chapter.

Different company, different business advice, different marketing.

The pair, with a budget they did not disclose, are focusing on online and social media efforts, and have created a Web site, missioninabottle.net, where, for $25, a customer can buy a book, a signed bookplate and a T-shirt.

I haven’t read the book, but the first chapter (all of four pages) makes at least three important points painlessly in very few words. (My kind of writing!)

And skipping a few trips to Starbucks will pay for the signed book and T-shirt.

Such a deal!

Flickr image credit: Mission in a Bottle

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Stupid Is as Stupid Does

Wednesday, March 20th, 2013

http://www.flickr.com/photos/opensourceway/5392982007/Remember the old saying “pretty is as pretty does,” meaning the action dictates the label?

Well, “stupid is as stupid does,” which is especially accurate when applied to management.

It’s hard to know which is most offensive when it comes to management—stupidity or ego, but when they join together the result is…wow; I’m not sure what adjective to use.

You decide.

I received a call from a distraught president. He said the company had been hit with a rash of resignations from some of their best development and marketing people and he had no idea why, since productivity had been running at an all-time high. Would I do some fast debriefing in an effort to turn things around?

It only took a few calls to identify the problem—actually the persons—responsible.

It turned out that the director of engineering and her counterpart in marketing had come up with a unique motivational technique.

They identified comparable projects both inter and intra-department and allowed the teams responsible to make steak and beans dinner bets with each other.

(For those unfamiliar the losing team buys steak dinners for the winning team, while they eat beans and are subject to good natured heckling by the winners.)

The contests had boosted productivity in both departments with most projects finishing early, even under budget, and morale was at an all time high.

The problem came from the fact that the engineering vp and the marketing vp were political enemies and didn’t want their two groups on good terms. Furthermore, the engineering vp felt work was serious business and games undermined his mission.

When they found out what was going on both were furious and agreed to fire the instigators.

That didn’t go over well with the staff, which had no hesitation of protesting with their feet, hence the flurry of resignations.

I reported back to the prez and, smart guy that he is, he didn’t hesitate.

After verifying what I told him he fired the two vice presidents and promoted the two directors.

Because his solution was not only swift, but highly visible, the resignations were withdrawn, the contest reinstated and the approach encouraged across the entire company.

Stupidity and ego; what adjective would you use?

Flickr image credit: opensourceway

Ducks in a Row: Bias—a Four Letter Word

Tuesday, March 19th, 2013

http://www.flickr.com/photos/brighton/8201654745/I had a solid dose of déjà vue when I read yet another article about the cancellation of Yahoo’s work-from-home policy, but this one from a different angle.

What about all the single people? And all the people without kids? We need to stop acting like they’re not part of the work-life conversation.

Some things never change.

I never married and after five decades in and around the workplace I find it dispiriting that almost nothing has changed.

The original version (before my time) was “Jim won’t mind, because he’s single”; the great improvement is now it’s “Jim or Judy won’t mind, because s/he’s single.”

Back then companies/managers assumed that singles were easy to relocate, because they didn’t own homes and moving costs would be minimal, since singles don’t own furniture or much stuff.

There are plenty of managers who still think that way.

Males were given hiring preference, because “they had families to support,” and while it may be 2013, that attitude still exists, however deeply buried.

Bias.

Unconscious or not, it has the power to taint, damage and even destroy anything/everything.

Bias drives homophily, not just in people, but skills; is grounded in assumptions and negates the diversity that leads to success.

Bias can lay waste to your culture and, in doing so, destroy your company.

Bias is a four letter word.

Flickr image credit: Jim Linwood

Irrational Rational Animals

Monday, March 18th, 2013

We human beings are taught that it is rational thought that separates us from other animals—what we aren’t taught is that the ability to think rationally doesn’t necessarily translate to acting rationally.

While irrationality and outright stupidity isn’t new to the modern scene (think PT Barnum’s sucker) social media has certainly opened up new vistas on it.

One expects a certain level of irrational actions from teens, expressed these days by sending nude photos, but if you think adults have more sense think again; a new survey shows one in four adults stores intimate pictures on a mobile (easily hacked) device—which, as an adult, ranks as just plain stupid.

For both irrational and stupid you can’t beat those who turn to Twitter, etc., for investing advice accepting both poster and information at face value.

Startups often cater to irrationality, but they wouldn’t be in business without irrational customers—like the women willing to pay $18 for a box of tampons delivered regularly because they can’t remember to buy them.

Companies aren’t immune, either.

Online stores are trumpeting a service that only 9% of their customers want, paying celebrities for social media endorsements only to have their brand branded with the celebs bad behavior or irrationally deciding the only thing needed to foster an innovation renaissance is mandatory face-time.

However, my all-time favorite (that I’ve found so far) is Dennis Hope, who has earned a legal living since 1980 selling plots on the moon.

(Monday probably isn’t the best day to offer you distracting links, but these were burning a hole in my pocket; shades of Sundays past)

YouTube credit: TheeOscar2013

If the Shoe Fits: Gods and Gurus

Friday, March 15th, 2013

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

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mAristotle produced a good bit of wisdom in the course of his life, much of which can be tweaked to apply to subjects other than those originally intended. For instance,

“A tyrant must put on the appearance of uncommon devotion to religion. Subjects are less apprehensive of illegal treatment from a ruler whom they consider god-fearing and pious. On the other hand, they do less easily move against him, believing that he has the gods on his side.”

All you have to do to this one is singularize and capitalize ‘gods’ and it’s just as applicable today as it was when he said it.

Tweak the words differently and you have a profile that fits more founders than you might think.

A founder must put on the appearance of uncommon devotion to startup gurus. Employees are less apprehensive of invalid treatment from a leader whom they consider guru-savvy and humble. On the other hand, they do less easily walk, believing that he has the gurus on his side.

Well? What do you think?

Does the shoe fit?

Image credit: HikingArtist

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