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Archive for August, 2015

If the Shoe Fits: 5 Instantly Useful Links

Friday, August 28th, 2015

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

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mI found several useful/interesting reads yesterday and thought I’d share them with you.

If you’re wondering what’s hot (security) and what’s not (social and dating apps) take a look at the thoughts of Sequoia Capital’s Mike Moritz after recently listening to 146 pitches in a row.

Investing in startups is like bird-watching, (…) For venture capitalists, Moritz advises not to look at the flock, but at each individual startup. “Each one is different, and I try to find an interestingly complected bird in a flock rather than try to make an observation about an entire flock,” Moritz has said.

That said, some trends appear when the looking at the group as a whole.

Moritz is also the PayPal board member whose penny-pinching advice saved the company in 2008 and every founder should be following it now.

“That focus was instrumental in PayPal’s survival,” Roelof Botha said. “We could have been spending money willy-nilly and fallen by the wayside by accident.”

Tenacity is lauded in the startup world; the idea is that passion and never quitting are the hallmark of successful founders, but the story of François Reichelt proves that Kenny Rogers offers a more common sense approach.

“Know when to hold ’em and know when to fold ’em.”

Last are two links that provide useful tools for you.

First is a way to find company emails when you have the name.

Oleg Campbell has automated the process of hunting for someone’s corporate email with a nifty new Chrome extension built on top of Gmail. It’s called, descriptively, Name2Email.

Second is tech lawyer David Tollen’s Tech Contracts book and website, with helpful information and free forms for SaaS, software licensing, and other IT agreements.

It’s a plain-English how-to guide on IT contracts for lawyers, contract managers, salespeople, IT staffers, and executives.

Image credit: HikingArtist

A Sea Change for Annual Reviews

Wednesday, August 26th, 2015


Years ago I wrote about how to make annual reviews painless and effective — more a review of the the year’s accomplishments and setting goals for the coming year than a critique of work past.

It worked because mini-reviews, coaching and conversations during the year were frequent.

Typical annual reviews were fraught with fear and loathing.

For decades, General Electric practiced (and proselytized) a rigid system, championed by then-CEO Jack Welch, of ranking employees. Formally known as the “vitality curve” but frequently called “rank and yank,” the system hinged on the annual performance review, and boiled the employees’ performance down to a number on which they were judged and ranked against peers. A bottom percentage (10% in GE’s case) of underperformers were then fired.

Jack Welch championed a lot of very bad stuff (e.g., work/life balance, HR), but the negativity of rank and yank is near the top, if not number one.

(As for GE’s stellar results keep under Welch keep in mind that businesses like GE Financial practically printed money until it all blew up.)

But times are changing.

According to Raghu Krishnamoorthy, the longtime GE exec in charge of Crotonville (GE’s in-house management school) “Command and control is what Jack was famous for. Now it’s about connection and inspiration.

And to that end, GE has developed a new in-house app that basically does what I and others evangelized a decade and more ago.

The new app is called “PD@GE” for “performance development at GE”  There’s an emphasis on coaching throughout, and the tone is unrelentingly positive. The app forces users to categorize feedback in one of two forms: To continue doing something, or to consider changing something.

If you don’t have the luxury of an app you can simplify it even further.

  • Care about your people.
  • Interact with your people.
  • Talk with your people.
  • Challenge your people.
  • Help them grow and advance — even when that means they leave for a better opportunity that you can’t provide.

Read what GE is doing and adapt it to your own group — whether your company does of not.

Flickr image credit: Mark

Ducks in a Row: Same Questions/Same Answers

Tuesday, August 25th, 2015


Different generations, but bosses are asking the same questions.

How do I implement cultural and other intangible changes and, more importantly, encourage (or, if necessary, coerce) their adoption?

I responded nine years ago and the answer hasn’t really changed.

The most successful method is as simple as one, two, three.

  1. Carefully define, in a quantifiable manner, what you want done (not “increase retention,” but “reduce turnover by X%”).
  2. Include these well quantified goals in the managers’ annual objectives.
  3. Make it clear to your managers that they will be evaluated on these goals and that the evaluation will impact their annual reviews and compensation.

Vested self-interest will do the rest.

Flickr image credit: Martin Cooper

If the Shoe Fits: the Edge of Non-tech Founders

Friday, August 21st, 2015

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

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mFounders who can’t code are often brushed off as bringing little to the table in comparison to their often tech co-founder.

Which is really stupid, considering that the majority of moving parts in any company aren’t technical.

Steve Jobs once said, “It’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields the results that make our hearts sing.”

Additionally, it’s all the items that are labeled “business” — finance, marketing, design, sales, customer service and more — that make investors write checks.

Which is why non-tech executives are brought in by investors.

That’s something worth keeping squarely in mind.

The coolest tech leaves investors cold without a healthy market

Your friends and other techie’s care about the technology.

Investors care about the market.

‘Market’ translates to customers.

‘Customers’ translates to revenue.

Great code not does a market make; it is a tool used to make something that fills a market need.


Image credit: HikingArtist

Tough or Toxic?

Wednesday, August 19th, 2015


Everybody is talking about the NY Times article detailing little-known aspects and actions of Amazon’s culture.

There is a plethora of discussion, commentary, vehement agreement/disagreement on the information presented in the article and I don’t plan to add more.

What is important is knowing when your workplace crosses the line from tough to toxic.

While the fluidity of the line is a function of the individual, that is only true when there is choice.

And fear, whether real (no new job prospects), instilled (abuse resulting in an “it’s my fault” mentality) or imagined, precludes choice.

Without choice it’s toxic.

Flickr image credit: eek the cat

Ducks in a Row: Politically Correct is a False Positive

Tuesday, August 18th, 2015


I sent an article about the “frat house” (AKA, sexist) culture prevalent in ZocDoc’s sales department to “Kevin”, a good friend who works in sales.

While agreeing about problematic sales cultures, he had a different take on culture in general.

His viewpoint, from someone who has been there/done that, may not be socially acceptable and could probably get him in trouble if posted on social media, but I can share it here — anonymously

Whether you’re a nigger or a bitch, this is the shit you have to deal with. I prefer environments where it’s obvious what the culture is, like this, than politically correct cultures where bigotry is the norm but you never onto why you won’t get the bonus, promotion or accolade with superior performance. Screw political correctness!

I believe it’s important to know where you stand, because then you can make informed choices. Give me this culture anytime – when I enter, I will know what the rules are. If I stay, it’s to accomplish a particular personal goal. When I leave (if not immediately), I will know why I stayed, left, and what I gained. I’m richer, they are poorer.

There is no such thing as “politically correct”. The term itself is an oxymoron that implies consensus building, popular sentiment or sinister machinations. Politics is about popularity — we never let others know where we stand or what we stand for in order to win a popularity contest. It is giving in to the tyranny of the mob, not daring to have unpopular opinions or stances, because one will not be popular.

Being a black man, I prefer a racist that’s honest about who he is and what he is. I prefer working for such a person because I know what to expect. I presume it would be the same for you as a woman regarding sexists. These days no one is a racist, we just have “unconscious biases” that prevent us from taking unpopular positions and that ensure that the powerful can continue to exclude the less powerful. 

Politically correct environments rob me of information, choice, and the ability to navigate astutely to attain my objectives.

I agree with Kevin, even in those instances where bias has its basis in neuroscience, it’s better to know.

Flickr image credit: Zaskoda

The Gender Pay Gap

Monday, August 17th, 2015


In bygone days the ‘my father can beat up your father’ was a favorite taunt.

These days it’s more often ‘my father earns more than your mother’.

So goes the gender pay gap and has since women entered the workforce.

Much has been written and many hands have been wrung over the disparity of pay between men and women doing the same job.

But the bias isn’t always intentional.

A vast majority of them are fair-minded guys who want women to succeed. They’re absolutely certain that they don’t have a gender problem themselves; it must be some other guys who do. Yet they’re leaders of companies that pay men more than women for the same jobs.

Now an intriguing idea has surfaced playing off the SEC’s new rule forcing companies to publish comparisons of how much chief executive officers take home compared with ordinary employees

The idea is to do the same between males/females within each company.

This would be especially interesting in tech, which admits that diversity may be a great goal, but won’t happen any time soon, even in companies which have made it a priority, such as Apple.

In the event the idea gains any traction you can assume enterprise will fight it as passionately — probably more — as it fought the CEO comparison, which took five years to become reality.

Without the force of law, how likely that the comparison could become a reality?

There are two ways that come to mind.

  • The first is to have a company step forward and offer the information voluntarily.
  • The second is that an internal whistleblower will publish the information anonymously on social media.

The second is far more likely, especially in the data-driven world in which today’s companies must operate.

Flickr image credit: Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com

If the Shoe Fits: the Importance of HR from the Start

Friday, August 14th, 2015

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

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mAre you one of the many founders who revel in a so-called startup culture that eschews structure and ignorantly confuse process with bureaucracy?

If so, you aren’t doing your company, your people, your investors or yourself any favors.

  • In a 2012 post I quoted Paul Graham, co-founder of Y Combinator, regarding the need for financial controls and frugality during good times in order to survive the bad ones.
  • The number of leaders, investors, academics and others who have recognized the impact culture has on success is as diverse as it is numerous — ‘culture eats strategy for lunch’ didn’t become a catchphrase by accident.

Now listen to the money.

Robert Siegel, general partner at XSeed Capital and lecturer in organizational behavior at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, makes the case for incorporating viable HR practices from the beginning.

 “The single largest issue that causes the most emotional heartache in a startup is people challenges. Every organization has them. If you put best HR practices into place in the earliest days and are doing the right things right, you’ll have fewer and fewer issues and blowups.”

If you want to build a successful company you need a solid base that includes a consciously designed culture based on your values, financial controls/accountability that engender frugality and best HR practices that enhance growth, while protecting the company.

Image credit: HikingArtist

Entrepreneurs: Wisdom from the Internet

Thursday, August 13th, 2015


Reading/listening/watching the quantity of cyber stuff we all receive, whether by email or social media, is daunting.

It’s worth it, however, because now and then You’ll find a real jewel among all the costume jewelry and plain, old junk.

As I did with this one,

Today, I asked my mentor, a very successful business man in his 70s, what his top 3 tips are for success.  He smiled and said, “Read something no one else is reading, think something no one else is thinking, and do something no one else is doing.”

which makes a great mantra for every entrepreneur.

Flickr image credit: Arya Ziai

Temperature Diversity

Wednesday, August 12th, 2015


Decades ago when my office was on the 35th floor of a Financial District tower in San Francisco I always had a sweater or just dressed warmly no matter the season, as did most of the women.

The cold never seemed to bother the men.

Fast forward to August 2012 when a friend emailed to say she had changed companies.

I was surprised, to say the least, since she held a senior position along with sizable stock options and I knew she would be leaving a lot on the table.

When I asked why she said it was a great opportunity, but the deciding factor had been the ambient temperature during multiple interviews — she was tired of always being cold.

Imagination? Personal idiosyncrasy?

No, actual fact, according to an article describing a new study published last week.

Finally, scientists (two men, for the record) are urging an end to the Great Arctic Office Conspiracy. Their study, published Monday in the journal Nature Climate Change, says that most office buildings set temperatures based on a decades-old formula that uses the metabolic rates of men. The study concludes that buildings should “reduce gender-discriminating bias in thermal comfort” because setting temperatures at slightly warmer levels can help combat global warming.

Just as a too warm office can slow people down and make them sleepy, so can a too cold office.

Bosses can alleviate the problem to some degree.

  • If your physical space operates by zones rearrange workers based on their temperature needs, as opposed to functional or gender lines.
  • If there is only one central control raise the temperature or at least try splitting the difference.
  • Provide snuggies, blankets and space heaters when needed.
  • Treat it as the problem it is and not as a joke or gender weakness.

While addressing the problem may have little-to-no impact on global warming, it could have a substantial impact on your talent acquisition and retention.

Flickr image credit: Lara

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