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Archive for April, 2017

If The Shoe Fits: Hollow Bros and True Brilliance

Friday, April 21st, 2017

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

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mI have some great links for you today.

Yes, I realize I’m preaching to the choir and that those who really need to see this won’t.

Unless, of course, you forward it to where it’s most needed.

I’m sure you are tired of my griping (ranting?) about the bro culture, but maybe you’ll feel better knowing that bro culture dates back to ancient Greece, although knowing doesn’t make it any more palatable.

Philosophers are the original, archetypal “brilliant jerks.” And hundreds of years have done little to change that.

It’s not surprising how many brilliant jerks have an “I’m the next Steve Jobs” mentality, which is rarely warrantedtrue genius is all around us, including the urban ghettos — and gravitate to startups.

So what does a life of true brilliance, genius, if you prefer, look like?

It looks like Robert W. Taylor  (died 4/2017) who, in 1968 said, “In a few years,” he wrote, “men will be able to communicate more effectively through a machine than face to face,” and then proceeded to make sure it happened.

Even more so, it looks like John Goodenough.

In 1946, a 23-year-old Army veteran named John Goodenough headed to the University of Chicago with a dream of studying physics. When he arrived, a professor warned him that he was already too old to succeed in the field.

Recently, Dr. Goodenough recounted that story for me and then laughed uproariously. He ignored the professor’s advice and today, at 94, has just set the tech industry abuzz with his blazing creativity. He and his team at the University of Texas at Austin filed a patent application on a new kind of battery that, if it works as promised, would be so cheap, lightweight and safe that it would revolutionize electric cars and kill off petroleum-fueled vehicles. His announcement has caused a stir, in part, because Dr. Goodenough has done it before. In 1980, at age 57, he coinvented the lithium-ion battery that shrank power into a tiny package.

Stupid professor, along with as all those who believe that creativity is an act reserved for the young.

Image credit: HikingArtist

Ryan’s Journal: Culture Wars At Fox

Thursday, April 20th, 2017

http://www.politicususa.com/2015/12/28/fox-news-literally-dying-age-younger-viewers-refuse-watch-fox.html

I grew up watching Fox News. I am reformed now, but there was a time when I thought the stances that were represented on that network aligned with my own belief system.

I remember a segment that they would do called “Culture Wars.” In the piece they would discuss an instance where conservative values were being infringed upon by the liberal left.

An example might be a town that once had a community nativity scene that the courts ruled was unlawful. Fox News would hype this up and explain how there was a war on Christmas and on conservatives.

Fast forward 15 years and it has become apparent that there is a culture war within the ranks of Fox News. Just this week Fox fired one of their top on air personalities, Bill O’Reily. He has been a presence on the network for years and continued to bring in top ratings for his time slot.

It has come to light that O’Reily and Fox paid more than $13 Million to several women to settle alleged sexual harassment charges.

As of right now I am not sure if the allegations are true or not but I will say this, the appearance of impropriety looms large.

Fox has been in the spotlight recently for sexually harassing women that worked there and promoting a culture of sexism. Most networks place attractive people on air, but even the most casual observer can see there is a certain level of skin on Fox News that is not present on other networks.

Before any of the charges came out I was actually amazed that they were so blatant with the way they sexualized the women on the shows as it seemed to detract from the story the women were presenting.

When we look at the specific case of Bill O’Reily I try to look at it from the context of the network as a whole. As a pivotal member of the organization he had a hand in setting the tone for the culture.

As the charges of sexism came to light for the network I thought it only a matter of time until specific charges were leveled at some of the men on air.

I have never worked at a TV network, but I find it hard to imagine that people didn’t talk.

Women who were put in uncomfortable situations would have surly spoken to their coworkers.

Men would have overheard things in locker rooms and elsewhere. The on air talent had to be acutely aware of the sexually charged atmosphere that was prevalent.

Why did it take this long for it to all come out? I guess an easy answer could be money.

In O’Reily’s case he gave money to women so they wouldn’t talk. In the case of on air talent being sexually harassed it may have been money and credibility.

As a man I cannot completely relate, but I have had female coworkers tell me that it’s tough to tell someone you felt harassed for fear that you will be labeled in a negative way.

If we trace it back to adolescence I am sure we all have memories of girls and guys who were put in compromising positions, but didn’t speak out for fear of being ostracized from the group.

Perhaps that is at work at Fox News as well.

My point to all of this is simple. O’Reily benefited from the loose culture of the network. Regardless of whether the allegations are true, he benefited from the fact that he kept silent about the mistreatment around him.

If we take it all the way and he is guilty of misconduct, he benefited from the belief that he would be protected as all of the other aggressors had been.

As a society what must we do to change this error? One way I see it is we must enable people to speak out without fear. That is much easier said than done.

We must also attach shame to actions that take advantage of others. We have gotten to a place where we are uncomfortable confronting others, but in this case we must.

I no longer watch Fox News, but the few times I see it in passing I think about the culture wars within. Ideally they would become transparent and learn from this. I have been alive for longer than two days though and strongly doubt that will be the outcome.

My lesson I have learned is I must be the change, I cannot wait on others to lead it.

Image credit: Politics USA

Does Being Busy Make You Valuable?

Wednesday, April 19th, 2017

https://www.flickr.com/photos/smemon/3619878820/

Live mindfully long enough and you can get an interesting perspective on lifestyle changes.

Some will please, some not; some you’ll question, some deplore, and some will cause you to shake your head in amazement.

The last is how I felt when I read new research from HBS.

In fact, some boast the lack of spare time as a status symbol—even an aspirational lifestyle.

“The new conspicuous consumption is about saying, I am the scarce resource, and therefore I am valuable.”

I’ve seen this first hand, not just in the startup community or twenty-somethings, but among Gen Xers, Boomers and even my own peers.

It used to be that overload came from always saying yes, instead of a carefully evaluated “no” — however, if you are known for saying ‘yes’ be prepared for the backlash if you change.

These days, the things that keep you busy also need to raise your profile/ reputation/Klout score/ increase your Likes/generate followers (preferably on multiple platforms)/social presence/etc.

A couple of year after I started MCS a reader asked why I bothered to do it when it generated so few comments.

My response was that I wasn’t writing to promote myself, but to provide information to those who wanted/needed it and that comments came when readers had questions or wanted to add to the dialogue.

While accurate, my response ignored the fact that because my blog is not high profile commenting on it has a very low ROI.

That said, I understand and don’t fault readers.

We live in a world where building your personal brand is a necessary part of building a career, so the time allotted to writing comments needs to provide a certain ROI and, of course, you are busy.

OK, I get all that.

But no matter how long I live I doubt I’ll ever understand the fragility of egos that need to prove their value so badly they are willing to give up their lives to do it.

Image credit: Sean MacEntee

Ducks in a Row: Value-Based Compensation

Tuesday, April 18th, 2017

https://www.flickr.com/photos/gardener41/1452771619/

Yesterday we considered the error companies make by basing offers on salary history, instead of future performance.

That may be about to end, at least in the outliers of Philadelphia and New York City.

In short, the law prevents employers from asking candidates about their current/previous compensation.

Candidates can volunteer the information, but can’t be asked for it by the company or any recruiting process, including third parties.

Doing so opens them up for lawsuits.

Ignoring implementation and legal hurdles, what does it really mean and why do I see it as such a positive?

Primarily because I don’t believe that either performance history or salary history has a damn thing to do with the value candidates bring to their next job.

Companies need to have a hiring range for each opportunity based on the impact that specific position should have on the company’s success.

The low end is based on average performance, while the high end is the result of an over achiever in the position.

The offer should be the highest number within the range based on the hiring manager’s evaluation of the candidate in light of two strong constants.

  1. 98% of star performers become stars as a function of their management and the ecosystem in which they perform.
  2. People who join for money will leave for more money.

Merit raises are then given based on that individual’s actual contribution to the company’s success, as opposed to some number from HR.

This puts most of the responsibility on the hiring manager — exactly where it belongs.

Image credit: gardener41

Golden Oldies: Pay For Performance

Monday, April 17th, 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 are a collection of what I consider some of the best posts during that time.

Money. Everyone’s favorite subject that no one wants to talk about. Especially when it comes to work, as in, “what were you making previously” and “what are you looking for now?”  

Tomorrow’s post focuses on a new law enacted in Philadelphia and New York City that has the potential to change that entire, unwanted conversation, forcing managers/companies to focus on the future, as opposed to history.

Read other Golden Oldies here.

starIn a post last week I asked for opinions on the ideas presented in a series of articles in Business Week on managing smarter but especially one that claims that “treating top performers the same as weaker ones is ‘strategic suicide’” and said I would add my thoughts in a future post.

Bob Foster left two interesting comments (well worth your time to click over and read). Regarding pay for performance he tells the story of a company where everybody from the CEO down all quit.

“Taking on the task to salvage the company, I hired new people that met unusual qualifications: they had to be qualified for the job they were applying for; they had to be unemployed and available immediately; they had to work at sub-standard wages; they had to work while knowing the company could close at any minute; and they had to work without supervision. The team that came together produced a highly successful company, and it was not because of high pay, or performance bonuses (there were none). The team stayed together, and performed, because of mutual respect, trust, appreciation, and consideration—people were ‘valued.’ To me, this is the truest form of ‘pay for performance.’”

I agree that trust was one of the key ingredients in what Bob accomplished, but it wasn’t the only one—or maybe I should say that it needs to be based on fairness and honesty.

Bob says the pay was ‘sub-standard’, but I assume that it was universally sub-standard relative to position and experience. If he had chosen to pay part of the team, say 10% more than their peers, the team wouldn’t have coalesced.

And that is exactly why I disagree with the idea of paying top performers, AKA stars, big sign-on bonuses or higher salaries than their peers.

  • Based on my own experience, 98% of star performers become stars as a function of their management and the ecosystem in which they perform. Change the management, culture or any other parts that comprise that ecosystem and the star may not survive.
  • Just as a chain is as strong as its weakest link there is no star in any sport, business, media, etc., who can win with a team that is subject to constant turnover and low morale.

Consider this common example.

Two people are hired at the same time with the same background, same GP0 and similar work experience, but with the one exception. One graduated from a ‘name’ school and the other from a community college. Starting salary is $50K, but the manager adds a 20% premium to the first candidate’s offer on the basis that she must be better to have gone to that school.

Neither candidate lived up to their potential because the manager made poor choices. In doing so he set both up to fail but for different reasons; one thought she had it made and the other that he was low value.

Merit bonuses fairly given for effort above and beyond acceptable performance levels make sense as long as they don’t come at the cost of developing new talent.

But one problem with ‘pay for performance’ is the pay often comes before the performance, but there are others and I’ll discuss them more Thursday. In the meantime, here are links to five posts from 2006 that give more detail on the trouble with stars.

Stars—they’re in your MAP

More about stars and MAP

Rejects or stars?

Star compensation

Retaining Stars

Image credit: sxc.hu

There were several interesting comments on the original post; check them out.

If The Shoe Fits: Founder Love Is Blind

Friday, April 14th, 2017

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

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mIn 1405 Chaucer enlightened us that “love is blind” and it’s been proven through both scientific and anecdotal evidence ever since.

In past centuries this referred to romantic partners and kids, but, as with most things, that, too, has changed in the Twenty-first Century.

Now researchers at Finland’s Aalto University have gone a step further.

(From the abstract) Here we tested the hypothesis that entrepreneurs’ emotional experience and brain responses toward their own firm resemble those of parents toward their own children.

Surprise, surprise — the results show that they are the same.

Anyone who has been around entrepreneurs, especially young entrepreneurs, won’t be surprised.

In my experience the more life experience founders have the more open they are to hearing critism about their startup baby.

However, that statement comes with a caveat.

It’s not just age or experiences that makes the difference, but the kind of experience — specifically raising kids.

Travis Kalanick may be 40, but he hasn’t been responsible for the shaping of a successful human being.

Mark Zukerberg may be raising kids, but they aren’t old enough to know how they’ll turn out, let alone what they will do along the way.

Just as parents believe their kid wouldn’t bully/drink/drug/cheat/steal, founders notoriously won’t listen to criticism of their vision/business model/culture/management.

Some, not all — obviously — but the number seems to be growing

It will be interesting to see if young, data enamored entrepreneurs will embrace this research.

Those whose kids are in their teens or older don’t need data, they have, or are getting, experience.

Image credit: HikingArtist

Ryan’s Journal: Musings on A Tough Week For PR

Thursday, April 13th, 2017

https://www.flickr.com/photos/tofu_mugwump/25716292035/

This past week we had one bad press event after another and all from different sectors. Let’s review what has transpired so far: Pepsi decided to release an ad that equated the giving of a Pepsi to a police officer as the answer to the protests that have occurred.

It was looked, at the very least, tone deaf, but was also offensive to many who felt Pepsi was attempting to capitalize on societal events that have true impacts.

Our President’s Press Secretary, Sean Spicer, somehow thought it was a clever idea to bring up Hitler as an example of how he was better than the current Syrian regime. If you missed it he essentially said that Hitler never gassed his own people, unlike what Assad has done in Syria.

A basic history lesson will show that Hitler may not have used gas attacks in a combat role but he gassed millions of innocent Jews in death camps throughout Europe. Not exactly a bastion of humanity there.

The event, however, that caught many by surprise was the viral video of a passenger being forcibly removed from a United Airlines flight after it was determined that they needed his seat for an employee.

This man was already seated and refused to leave, since he was a doctor and had appointments he needed to make. When he refused to leave, the police were called and he was dragged off screaming. To make matters odder he somehow got back on the plane, bloodied and rambling.

That event was terrible, but then the CEO of United decided to double down and call the man belligerent. Since then the CEO has issued several apologies, but the damage has been done.

What do these three events have in common? I would argue that in each of these cases the leadership of the company, who typically maintains the cultural norms, has failed.

Let’s dive in and see how this could have been prevented to learn from them in the future.

Pepsi had grand ambitions to have a meaningful conversation around current events and sell their product. One critical flaw here, they utilized their in-house marketing team.

They were operating in an echo chamber with no one to tell them to stop and think for a moment. This is something I personally must do in my own life. I must seek out feedback on a continuous basis to determine if I am on the right path.

My goal for this post is not to get political, but we can look at the Sean Spicer event as a leadership problem. He was hired by Donald Trump, who already had an idea of what Sean was like. Since taking the role Sean Spicer has been in hot water several times, this being the latest in a string of gaffs.

This man is essentially the voice of our President, twitter aside. The culture of the White House has enabled him to act recklessly and uncouthly. Similar to the idea that brilliant jerks are ok, we have a similar issue at stake here.

My take-away from this is to put yourself in the shoes of your listeners. Would what you are saying be divisive to your listeners or just plain wrong?

Finally, we have the United Airlines debacle.

Now the event itself was a shock but we need to look at the response since it came to light.

The CEO started by stating the man was belligerent and the CEO supported his employee’s decisions.

I get it, you want to reassure your workforce that you have their back, but in this case the CEO was also viewing this from a legal standpoint.

There is a law that allows you to forcibly remove a passenger if he is belligerent. The CEO labeled that passenger in such a way to protect himself legally. But we all saw the video and beyond refusing to leave the man really wasn’t much of a threat.

To me, this response is indicative of both pride and attempting to cover up rather than solve. That CEO has surrounded himself with folks that are unwilling or unable to push back and offer insight.

I have done that in my own life as well and so must always reach out to those that share different opinions than I or different beliefs, so I can continue to learn.

Image credit: Topher McCulloch

Words Words Words

Wednesday, April 12th, 2017

http://www.dailyexcelsior.com/yoloclicktivism-among-new-words-in-oxford-dictionary/

A newish reader called me, mainly, he said, to see if I really did answer my phone (the number and an invitation to call is prominently displayed in the right-hand column). He seemed even more surprised that I would take time to chat.

The conversation covered several topics, but the question I found most appropriate to mention here was, “Do you really think word choice and punctuation make all that much difference or is it just your own personal hang-up?”

Fair question and one I’ve heard before.

Regarding the importance of punctuation I referred him to the lost lawsuit in yesterday’s post, which he hadn’t read, yet.

As to the importance of word choice you need to look no further than the care taken by the shared economy giants, such as the UK’s Deliveroo when referring to their non-employees.

The critical importance of using the correct terms (click the link above for a sample) can be found in Deliveroo’s bend-over-backwards effort to avoid having the government class their non-employees as employees, with all the associated rights and costs.

The six pages of do’s and don’ts are meant to serve as a template for how staff should speak to and about its couriers (though it prefers to call them “independent suppliers”). For example, they want to avoid saying “We pay you every two weeks”, preferring the more obtuse passive phrase, “Rider invoices are processed fortnightly.”

Words are incredibly powerful, as I wrote way back in 2009; more than 50 years ago James Thurber concurred.

Precision of communication is important, more important than ever, in our era of hair trigger balances, when a false or misunderstood word may create as much disaster as a sudden thoughtless act.

Of course, precision is just as important, if not more so, when intentionally creating false views and misunderstandings as proven beyond doubt by recent elections here and around the globe.

Image credit: DailyExcelsior.com

Ducks in a Row: Cost Of A Comma

Tuesday, April 11th, 2017

https://www.flickr.com/photos/allenthepostman/2223927152/

Yesterday I promised to share how the lack of a common comma lost a lawsuit upon appeal.

A Maine court ruling in a case about overtime pay and dairy delivery didn’t come down to trucks, milk, or money. Instead, it hinged on one missing comma. (…) On March 13, a US court of appeals determined that certain clauses of Maine’s overtime laws are grammatically ambiguous. Because of that lack of clarity, the five drivers have won their lawsuit against Oakhurst, and are eligible for unpaid overtime.

And, as every company knows, overtime is costly.

The comma in question isn’t a true commoner, not with an Oxford University Press pedigree; it is a serial comma and one might even consider it a titled comma.

It was the relationship between the comma and lists that housed the seeds of lawsuit destruction. To clarify,

According to state law, the following types of activities are among those that don’t qualify for overtime pay:

The canning, processing, preserving, freezing, drying, marketing, storing, packing for shipment or distribution of:
(1) Agricultural produce;
(2) Meat and fish products; and
(3) Perishable foods.

There, in the comma-less space between the words “shipment” and “or,” the fate of Kevin O’Connor v. Oakhurst Dairy was argued.

(…) all the other exempted activities were listed as gerunds, words ending with “-ing”: Canning, processing, preserving, freezing, drying, marketing, storing, packing. The word “distribution,” they argued, was therefore not intended to be one of the items in the list.

Unlike me, my ESL clients often err on the side of overuse, whereas for years I deleted commas after ‘and’ and ‘or’, but no longer.

Now I consider the actual content and context and, like the court, determine the meaning before using the delete key.

Image credit: allen watkin

Golden Oldies: A Lesson in Capitals

Monday, April 10th, 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 are a collection of what I consider some of the best posts during that time.

Have you noticed how boring/confusing/annoying/embarrassing/etc. so much content, emails and other written communications are these days?

Or are you happy communicating by text and feel everyone should just forget dumb, outmoded stuff like grammar, capitols, punctuation, and shoving it out the door fast?

If you’re in the latter category I feel sorry for you. I’ve written many times about the value of good writing along with the importance of reading as a basis for it.

I don’t mean polished and professional; I mean the ability to put words together in a way they won’t be misunderstood.

If you think that it really doesn’t matter read the following 2012 post and join me tomorrow to see how a lowly comma cost a company big time.

Read other Golden Oldies here.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/scottiet812/3064819572/My client/friend, EMANIO [now Quarrio] CEO KG Charles-Harris, has been a guest poster here; he’s received several hat tips for sending links to information used in various posts and he just racked up another one.

I’ve written before about the importance of details when writing; details like commas, periods and capitals.

But the note KG forwarded drives home the importance of capitals—unforgettably.

Miki, I received this from a friend who is an English Professor and thought you would appreciate it; it’s short and to the point.

In the world of hi-tech gadgetry, I’ve noticed that more and more people who send text messages and emails have long forgotten the art of capital letters.

For those of you who fall into this category, please take note of the following statement: “Capitalization is the difference between helping your Uncle Jack off a horse and helping your uncle jack off a horse.”

Thanks, KG; graphic word imagery does get the point across, even to teens.

Flickr image credit: ScottieT812

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