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Archive for January, 2017

Role Model: Shopify’s Harley Finkelstein — Transparency Is A Two-Way Street

Tuesday, January 31st, 2017

harley-finkelstein-shopify

There’s a lot of talk these days from consultants, academics and executives about the importance of transparency, AKA being totally open and honest.

And many of those in the business world, from team leaders through CEOs, are actually walking the talk.

Or believe they are.

The problem lies in the fact that even those executives who have opened operations, especially financials, to the internal scrutiny of their people don’t recognize that true transparency needs to be a two-way street.

One-way transparency is open to spin — whether intentional or not.

Which, if you stop to think about it, should come as no surprise. It is a normal, human characteristic to put the best face on even the most negative thing.

So how is true, two-way transparency achieved?

By opening yourself to a no-holds-barred Q&A with everybody and forcing yourself to provide the A no matter how uncomfortable.

Harley Finkelstein, COO at Shopify and a new “Dragon” on CBC’s Next Gen Den, among other things, is the perfect role model of what should be called AMA transparency.

The AMA idea has been around for a while.

President Obama broke with convention back in 2012 when he agreed to do an Ask Me Anything — AMA — on the Internet forum Reddit.

But if you think it takes guts to expose yourself to a half hour of inquiries from strangers on the web, try fielding regular sessions of no-holds-barred questions from your own employees — live and on camera. Welcome to our normal routine: the internal AMA.

… While facing questions from my team is tough when I’m in the hot seat, it’s become a crucial tool for building trust as we’ve scaled from hundreds to more than a thousand employees.

I doubt you’ll find a lot of executives willing to do it, because a true AMA isn’t exactly fun for those in the hot seat, as Finkelstein freely admits, but it’s a great way to build trust, ownership/engagement, eliminate fear, etc.

There are plenty of times when I’ve been caught entirely off-guard. But that’s precisely the point. The element of surprise is the secret ingredient that makes the internal AMA such a valuable tool. (…)

Creating a culture where it’s safe to ask literally anything can lead to some awkward moments, but just taking that step helps instill a sense of ownership at every level. Sitting in that hot seat might make you sweat, but that just means you’re doing it right.

Do you have what it takes to “do it right?”

Image credit: Shopify

PS: Shopify is the first site I’ve seen that offers a “download” link next to all their leadership team.

Golden Oldies: Ducks in a Row: They Are Not You

Monday, January 30th, 2017

It’s amazing to me, but looking back over more than a Decade of writing I find posts that still impress, with information that is as useful now as when it was written.

Golden Oldies is a collection of what I consider some of the best posts during that time.

In case you might think this post contradicts the one about how to be a great boss by giving your people what you wanted from you boss, it doesn’t.

The difference happens if you provide what you wanted, but only the way that would satisfy you, with no consideration of how they want it.

For example, recognition. While most people crave it, they want it displayed in different ways. I’ve always liked mine loud, more or less public and without having to ask. (Asking is akin to reminding your person that it’s your anniversary/birthday/Valentine’s Day, because they obviously forgot.) Others don’t want a fuss; to them, recognition comes from nothing being said. For them, feedback happens when something is wrong, so silence means everything is fine.

The trick is to not only give people what they (and you) want, but to give it to them how they want — sincerely.

Read other Golden Oldies here.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/hammer51012/3545163854Most of us crave acknowledgement when we do something well, I know I do.

Decades ago when I worked as a recruiter for MRI in San Francisco my boss, “Ray,” wasn’t big on that.

It’s not that he wouldn’t do it, he just never thought about it.

Acknowledgement wasn’t something Ray needed, so he was blind to its effect on others.

When he did give the kind of heady feedback that makes people hungry for more, you could see that he didn’t understand it.

Worse, more often than not, it came in response to what he was told — you literally had to walk into his office and say you closed the deal or got a new client to have it happen. 

But praise caught by fishing or out-and-out asking is not worth a whole lot when it comes to motivation.

Nor did he understand how to build a strong team; the kind that could put an ‘Office of the Year’ award on the wall.

I still remember his effort to create the same esprit de corps as “Jeff,” another MRI manager and good friend of his, enjoyed.

The effort failed, probably because Ray considered Jeff’s approach rah-rah stuff — the kind of stuff he was known to disparage.

Ray’s problem was similar to many managers I’ve worked with over the years, i.e., he assumed others wanted to be managed in the same way he liked to be managed.

When Ray did try doing it differently it felt like a con.

Which it was, because he didn’t really believe in what he was doing.

Image credit: Jim Hammer

If The Shoe Fits: Hypocrisy And Greed In Startup Land

Friday, January 27th, 2017

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

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mTuesday I cited a post by Scott Belsky on Medium talking about how employees are often conned (my word) by founders, especially unicorns, when it comes to the wealth that is supposed to flow from their ISO.

As pithy as the post was, some of the comments were even pithier. I especially like this one from  colorfulfool (21st comment)

If profitability were proportional to hypocrisy, there would be no failed startups in the Valley.

Not just true, but succinctly and elegantly stated.

Founders love to talk about the importance of transparency, trust and authenticity.

However, their stock plans and pitfalls thereof exhibit such a high degree of opaqueness and caveat emptor that they kick a hole the size of Texas in the fabric of the founders’ authenticity.

Another prevalent piece of hypocrisy is “change the world.”

Do you really believe that another dating app or being able to evaluate a new restaurant or a better way to buy your groceries will change the world?

While they may impact one’s personal world, they certainly don’t have the impact of something like Mine Kafon.

What is proportional to the Valley’s hypocrisy is its sheer greed.

Actually, when I stop to think about it, the greed probably exceeds even the hypocrisy.

Image credit: HikingArtist

Ryan’s Journal: Culture Wars

Thursday, January 26th, 2017

https://hikingartist.com/2012/06/17/teamwork-illustrations-new-gallery/circle-of-collaboration-2/

Culture can come from many sources, a CEO, fellow employees or perhaps a set of precepts that have been formalized for all to read. Regardless of the source culture acts as a zeitgeist to shape the actions of all who encounter it.

We can all recall companies or groups that have had great cultures, as well as some that make you want to run in the opposite direction.

Sometimes a culture change is all it takes to right a company or cause its demise. I think that is one reason you will see a sports team go from good to great. The players and staff may not have changed, but something did for them to pull out a win.

What happens though when a culture changes for the worst? Can we see it’s slow creep from the inside?

For me, whenever I have been in a period where I am actively job hunting I utilize glassdoor.com. It’s a great free resource to research companies based on posts from actual employees.

Do you want to know the salary range of a job? Go to Glassdoor. Is it fun to work there? Glassdoor. What type of questions will they ask when I interview? Glassdoor. I think you get the idea.

My favorite section has to do with reviews. You encounter the entire spectrum of feedback from those who say its the worst job ever to those singing its praises. What I have found is if there are enough reviews you can get a decent sample size to get an average.

Why do I bring this up? Because this website and others like it can help an employee determine the culture of a company before starting.

Once you’re in the role it can be tough to know if the culture has changed. I think it’s similar to the frog in hot water. It won’t leap out if you start with cold water. The same can be said of employees who have been around for a while. This site can give clarity.

Culture is a daily ritual that must be protected.

We all share in some part of the culture, so it’s up to the individual to be the best version of themselves daily.

I say all of this because I have seen from the inside the slow creep of culture decay and I realize it is something to be cherished and protected.

Image credit: Hiking Artist

Role Model: Craig Zoberis and Fusion OEM

Wednesday, January 25th, 2017

http://www.fusionoem.com/

In 1914 Henry Ford doubled his workers’ daily wage, much to the consternation of other magnates, who believed, as do most of them today, that success comes from paying as little as possible.

Ford, however, believed that he would benefit if his workers had disposable income and he was correct; they used the extra money to buy Fords.

The same holds true today; modern research has proved that higher wages increase profits.

Businesses, from very large to very small, still don’t believe it and scream at the thought of a so-called living wage.

But not all of them.

Fusion OEM at just $12 million is considered very small, but it’s profitable and founder Craig Zoberis is very happy, because he is meeting his twin goals.

While lots of other manufacturers have moved operations to China or Mexico, Zoberis has kept his plant in the United States – and considers it a point of pride to pay his 55 workers above-market rates. Workers with no experience start at $14-an-hour, he says, and by completing training and gaining skills can reach $18-to-20-an-hour, plus overtime and bonuses, for total pay near $50,000 a year, within a few years.

Zoberis doesn’t expect his people to buy his products, but he did want to have a  place to work that matched his MAP and not his father’s.

My father and his partner never did a good job of hiring the right people with the right attitude. I wanted to be excited to go to work every day, and working for my father’s company, I was not.

Fusion OEM has never had a layoff, but finding great workers in its industry is just as difficult as finding great programmers, hence the need for a creative, long-term solution.

My colleagues were always complaining that there aren’t enough skilled workers who have the right attitude. When I talk about skilled workers I’m talking about machinists (…) What we discovered halfway through our life at Fusion is that we couldn’t always look outside for skilled people. We decided to hire for attitude and train for aptitude.

Fusion OEM is enjoying double digit growth, but Zoberis isn’t interested in taking outside investment. He loves going to work, saying, “This is my hobby, my income, my life,” and knows that hyper growth can kill you.

You can’t grow your company any faster than you can get the right people. If it goes too far, you might go beyond your capabilities and you’ll fail.

The interview is well worth reading, especially their approach to hiring and compensation.

I rarely make predictions, but in this case I feel pretty safe making two.

  1. Zoberis will continue building his company, growing his own people and being a management outlier.
  2. Most companies of whatever size will continue to treat people as disposable, pay them as little as possible and bitch about them to whomever will listen.

Image credit: Fusion OEM

Where To Work

Tuesday, January 24th, 2017

https://www.flickr.com/photos/jeepersmedia/9698637692/

There’s a very stupid myth that only the very talented are hired by startups and that the very talented only want to work for startups.

The corollary being that those who work for public companies, let alone large ones, probably aren’t all that talented and certainly not innovative/creative.

What a crock.

Another part of that myth is that working for a startup is the road to riches.

An even bigger crock.

The myth also says that the best place to work is a unicorn, such as or AirBnB, GitHub or Palantir,

And that is the biggest crock of all.

If you are looking for new opportunities and are dazzled by the idea of working at a unicorn I strongly suggest you read Scott Belsky’s post on Medium.

A company’s fate is ultimately determined by its people, so talent is everything. But this old adage bumps up against another one: cash is king (or runway is king, for a fast-growing private company). Without runway, talent takes off. So, it is no surprise that bold moves to extend runway (think late-stage financings at technically large valuations with some tricky liquidation preferences underneath) are done even if they could hurt the company (and its people) in the long run. This is especially true when these financings are ego-driven rather than strategic. The problem is, the employees at these companies don’t understand the implications.

But whether startup or Unicorn, this anonymous post on GitHub is a must read.

This is a short write-up on things that I wish I’d known and considered before joining a private company (aka startup, aka unicorn in some cases). I’m not trying to make the case that you should never join a private company, but the power imbalance between founder and employee is extreme, and that potential candidates would do well to consider alternatives.

The right place for you to work is the one that satisfies what you want — whether that’s the opportunity to work on bleeding edge technology, build a network, upgrade your resume or even plain, old curiosity.

The wrong place is the one you join with an eye to getting rich quick or for bragging rights.

Image credit: Mike Mozart

Golden Oldies: The Abuse Of Authenticity

Monday, January 23rd, 2017

It’s amazing to me, but looking back over more than a decade of writing I find posts that still impress, with information that is as useful now as when it was written.

Golden Oldies is a collection of what I consider some of the best posts during that time.

“…that’s the way I am” How many times have you heard it? How many times have you said it? Is it valid? How much damage does it do?

Read other Golden Oldies here.

no-excuseMAP (mindset, attitude, philosophy™) is a wonderful thing, encompassing as it does everything that makes you you.

MAP is also the great excuse, the adult version of the “because I said so” people use on their kids.

How often, when asked why you do X, have you responded “because that’s the way I am.”

Organizations have two versions, “not-invented-here” and “we’ve always done it that way.”

Whether individual or company, both use them to avoid innovation, change and disturbing their comfort zone.

But at what cost?

Marshall Goldsmith calls it an excessive need to be me and tells the story of a CEO who was lauded in other areas, but refused to provide positive feedback because it wasn’t him and would, therefore, be phony.

The example isn’t as extreme as you might think. I’ve talked with many executives, managers and workers who use authenticity as their reason not to change their MAP.

And because authenticity is hot, it’s the perfect excuse for not tackling the root causes of whatever needs to change, although, as with most excuses, it doesn’t hold up well to the light of honest, intelligent analysis.

But what do you analyze; how do you know what to change?

Take feedback from your colleagues, team and customers; then take a hard look whenever the answer to “Why?” is some variation of the reasons mentioned earlier.

Then think it through; ask yourself if there is a real, rational reason to stay that way or if it’s something that would be better to change,

And remember, whether individual or company, the most powerful reason for changing MAP is that doing so pays off handsomely, as the CEO in Marshall’s story learned.

Image credit: pattista on flickr

If the Shoe Fits: Answer 5 Questions To Boost Your Management Skills

Friday, January 20th, 2017

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

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mDid you start this year with a promise to yourself to be a better boss?

If you didn’t you should have , because no matter how good you are you can always improve — but that’s true for everything.

In December I gave you 56 words that would change your life and at the start of the year three steps to being a better boss.

Today I’m providing five questions to ask yourself.

  1. How well do you delegate, AKA letting go/loss of control.
  2. Is your self esteem tied to your Klout score or your team’s accomplishments?
  3. Are you so tied to your vision that you’re blind to your market’s response?
  4. Do you practice culture by design or by accident?
  5. Do you want to get things done or just done your way.

Next, query five trusted colleagues for objective, outside input.

Compare the responses.

Depending on you’re your goals, adjust your attitudes and actions accordingly.

Image credit: HikingArtist

Ryan’s Journal: How Does Culture Impact You?

Thursday, January 19th, 2017

http://www.flickr.com/photos/charliellewellin/3413568618/I was thinking throughout the week about culture again. Obviously, that is a theme, but I was thinking about it from a self-centered perspective. How does the culture of a company impact me personally? I am sure you have thought similarly in the past as you have dealt with different organizations in your day to day activities.

I read a book recently by Tony Hsieh, “Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion and Purpose.”  This book is written by Tony Hsieh, founder of Zappos, and highlights the growth of a fledging company that was eventually acquired by Amazon for nearly $900 MM.

I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to see how a radical pursuit of culture can drive a company to immense growth. Now I have not had the pleasure of meeting Tony personally, but just reading that book made me feel like I could speak to him on a first name basis if I met him on the street.

One takeaway I had from the book was the fact that Tony truly wanted his employees to feel happiness and joy while they were at work. He did and continues to do this in a variety of ways.

He hosts epic parties, they have a relaxed work environment and they pay people to quit during the on boarding process. That last part may seem a bit radical, but they basically offer on boarding employees the opportunity to take a severance package if they don’t feel like they are a good fit.

This has a two fold impact; it weeds out those who probably shouldn’t be there and it prompts those writing a blog to mention it in their blog.

Even though Zappos has been around for a while and I am technically a millennial, I had never purchased shoes from the website before. I tend to be a tactile guy who wants to hold something in my hands before I buy, so the concept seemed at odds with my buying style.

After I read the book I decided that I needed to at least try out the service and see what I thought. I chose some shoes that I have worn in the past (I don’t want to dive head first here) and placed my order. Typically you get delivery in two days so before I knew it I had a box on my doorstep. I eagerly opened my box, discarded the paper and put on the shoes… and they didn’t fit.

So at this point I have a conundrum, I never order online for this very reason. Well the book did mention that they offered free returns as a part of their culture and that they actually preferred for you to call, so they could speak directly with you.

Tony has a 24/7 operation where you can call and place orders, make returns and so on. I decided to follow this experiment to its natural conclusion and make the call. This is the opportunity to learn how Zappos’s culture would impact me personally.

I made the call and explained the issue of the shoes being a bit too large. The person I spoke with was nothing but kind. He talked about the weather and things that were going on in his neck of the woods, which happens to be Vegas.

He also placed an order for a smaller size to be sent, as well as a return label so I could ship the other shoes back for free. Now this may sound like standard fare, but the entire call was relaxed, personable and memorable.

Now I am by no means a frequent customer of Zappos, but I know I can rely on them for a quality experience and they are no longer this faceless entity swallowing up my money.

At the heart of it, that is culture’s impact on you and I. We interact everyday with companies and people and we have a takeaway from those interactions.

Sometimes its not a science, its a feeling.

Image credit: Charlie Llewellin

Interviewing Fly-On-The-Wall

Wednesday, January 18th, 2017

https://hikingartist.com/2015/10/21/cutting-of-the-branch/

This is a short post, because you need time to read the links.

It doesn’t matter whether you are a CEO building an executive team or a newly promoted supervisor, interviewing is critical to success — the team’s, the company’s and, especially, yours.

The most important things to learn from your interviewing aren’t about hard or soft skills.

The truly critical factors are

  • how they think; and
  • their attitude.

That should be the “make or break” information you come away with.

There’s a lot of help to be found here; look in the hiring category and use the various interview* tags — and, of course, today’s links.

Asking slightly off-the-wall questions that candidates can’t prepare for is a good technique as long as you have a valid goal in mind — one that is well beyond just being discomforting.

The technique is used by CEOs from companies diverse companies, including Tony Hsieh of Zappos, Stormy Simon, president of Overstock and Ashley Morris, CEO of Capriotti’s Sandwich Shop.

Use them as a guide, because the same questions probably won’t work for you. First, they will become well-known as they are passed around the digital world, and second, because they won’t be relevant to your particular situation.

Now, a moment of interviewing levity, better know as “candidates say/do the strangest things” or  WTF?????

“It’s hard to say why a candidate would do some of these things,” Rosemary Haefner, chief human-resources officer for CareerBuilder, tells Business Insider. “Maybe he or she is nervous, thinks an employer would find it funny, or perhaps the candidate simply has no boundaries.”

More than 2,600 hiring managers and employers shared with CareerBuilder the most memorable job-interview mistakes candidates have made. Here are 25 of the most unusual things that happened:

I sent this link to several friends; here is the response of one who is a senior manager at a large industrial enterprise in the southeast.

I’ve been offered a blow job, been asked out, been introduced to the “cruising” area of my city, threatened with a sexual harassment suit and shouted at. Interviewing is no joke…

Managers are still sticking their respective feet in their respective mouths.

Don’t be one of them.

Image credit: Hiking Artist

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