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Archive for September, 2017

If The Shoe Fits: The Self-Made Talent Shortage

Friday, September 22nd, 2017

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

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mQuick. Off the top of your head, what are the chances you’d hire a 65 year-old Black man for a senior management role in your startup?

Unlikely — or flat-out ‘no’?

Next question.

How well could you handle traveling from the Bay Area to Detroit to Toronto back to the Bay Area and then to New York, London and Columbus, Ohio, back to the Bay Are for one night, then to Singapore, Australia, and Hong Kong for ten days, with a side trip to Seattle?

That was the recent schedule of the 65 year-old Black guy you probably didn’t hire.

Tough schedule, jumping around all those times zones; think it would dent your 20/30-something system more than the 70+ hour week you brag about?

The guy you didn’t hire is John Thompson, but that’s OK, he already has a job.

He’s CEO of Virtual Instruments, one of several startups he invested in after he retired from his ten year stint as CEO of Symantec, which came after his mandatory retirement from IBM after 28 years.

That little age bias you have would also preclude your hiring Impossible Foods founder Patrick Brown (62), Qualys CEO Philippe Courtot (70), Oracle cofounder Larry Ellison (73), Netflix’s Reed Hastings (56) and dozens, if not hundreds, of others.

The interesting (hilarious? ironic?) part is that if you were using most recruiting filtering tools, human or software, their resumes would probably be screened out.

Now just think how much larger your pool of exceptional talent would be if you brought yours and your organization’s biases/assumptions/prejudices under control.

What talent shortage?

Image credit: HikingArtist

Ryan’s Journal: Are Companies Replacing Governments?

Thursday, September 21st, 2017

https://www.flickr.com/photos/gdsteam/26584933684/I was on LinkedIn today reading a post by an employee of a company that I was unfamiliar with.

In the post this guy wrote about how great his company is. They allow you to work remotely, pay for all insurance premiums for the entire family and also give a $150 credit towards a monthly gym membership. I’ll be honest I was a bit jealous at the perks and thought about the possibilities there. At the same time, I thought about how companies have come to exert great influence as well.

Governments are designed to keep us safe, build roads, ensure proper regulations and so on. Depending on who you ask and what generation you are speaking with there is also an expectation for access to proper education, low cost or free healthcare, and perhaps a living wage. Government has not really lived up to those dreams, though, and companies have stepped in.

Is this a bad thing? From a free market perspective it is the natural next step. As economies mature the workforce demands greater amenities. Of course a lot of these higher end perks are limited to one industry, tech.

So maybe the free market isn’t responding at all, this is merely a bubble. And if we take it one step further these companies we hear about with great perks are the outliers. Even most run of the mill tech companies do not offer unlimited vacation and in-house yoga classes.

As I ponder all this I think it can go a few different directions, because I really do not see government stepping up to the plate anytime soon. Companies that are offering these great perks are on the cutting edge and leading a sea change.

The next generation will take these amenities for granted and time will march on. The flip side is we determine these amenities are unsustainable and companies wind them down. As a result greater pressure is put on government to reform.

Without stepping into the hell called politics today, I will say this.

I like a path where we can chart our own course. We can choose the company that we want to work for based on our value system.

That way, as we mature as a society, we can learn to accept different beliefs of value and realize it is the differences that can make us good.

Image credit: gdsteam

Change Requires Trust From All Parties

Wednesday, September 20th, 2017

https://www.flickr.com/photos/vexrobotics/17795865460/

Sometimes — more like most of the time or at least too often — we all say things without thinking through the full ramifications, especially those gleaned from experiences we’ve never had or opposed to what we think.

Yesterday I mentioned a startup CEO who said he was concerned about hiring more women, “It just seems like such a huge risk as CEO,” which brought the social media house down on him.

Although he apologized, etc., I noted that his words and actions probably didn’t do much to change his mind.

After reading the post a friend from back east wrote me his thoughts as a man-of-color/founder/CEO.

Sadly, everything he says is true and has been for decades — and I say that from first-hand other-side experience.

In the 80s and 90s I was three things that weren’t supposed to align: a successful tech (hdwr and sftwr) recruiter who was female.

Back then it was assumed that, as a woman, I acquired most of my clients in the same way Hollywood starlets got parts — on my back.

But, as I always said, if that were true I wouldn’t have had time to go to the office, let alone recruit anyone.

Here is the email; my only editorial change was to delete the name of the incubator.

Miki,

When I expressed skepticism regarding real change, you said that it’s better because now people are speaking about it. I replied that it will probably be worse for women in general, because now they will be seen as a risk factor. Unfortunately this is my own experience — I am afraid of mentoring women because they will often take it the wrong way, as several have interpreted my well-meaning advances as attempted pickup. It’s just not worth it.

Most recently, I saw a young black woman at an incubator I was visiting and decided to pay attention to her in a purely social way to make her feel welcomed. There were NO black people there, and since I am viewed as somewhat of a star and important, I believed it would be a boost for her. I never had a conversation with her, and the contact stayed on the level of smiles, fist bumps, etc.

While I was in SF, I received an invitation to a Y-Combinator invite-only event on women and leadership that I could not attend. I approached the woman and told her about the event and asked if she was interested in going. She said, “Absolutely!” and I said — “Send me your email and I’ll introduce you to the people who are leading this effort within YC.” She wrote her email address on a piece of paper and I made the introduction. 

Unfortunately her email bounced. I tried several different approaches. Then I went to her a few days after the event and said that I tried to make the introduction, and that her email had bounced. She looked at the piece of paper that she’d written her email on and confirmed it was incorrect without correcting it.

It then dawned upon me that she’d purposely provided me with the wrong email address, probably because she interpreted my friendliness as sexual advances. The sad thing is that I subsequently observed her whispering with other women and looking over at me, and that other women were avoiding contact with me. 

I then resolved that it’s just not worth it. I’m never going to make friendly advances to a woman in a work situation in the US again.

I do it all over the world, and have mentored men and women in Europe, Asia, Latin America and the US, but here is the only area where I’ve had negative experiences doing so with women (several). I’ve never had, or been interested in, a sexual relationship with any woman at work, in any country where I’ve worked or lived (except my partner who was my teenage girlfriend). 

The inflamed, sexualized nature of everything regarding female/male relationships in the US work environment does much to damage women’s advancement.

Which men will take the risk of staying late to mentor a woman after everyone has left the office — not me. Which men will take a woman out for drinks to have an informal chat about the politics at work — not me.

Which men will associate informally and socially outside of work with women they work with — not me. The reputational risk is simply too great. 

Who is the loser? Obviously both men and women, since there is greatness among them both.

Culturally it is more difficult to mentor women in the US than in Pakistan. Who would have thought…

The following came as a PS about an hour later.

Sexual advances are something most women, and some men, have to learn to deal with.

This has always been the case, and there have always been successful women. There are more successful women now than ever before.

The worst thing that can happen is to scare away the men that genuinely mean well.

Haven’t you ever asked yourself why women in more misogynistic societies are surpassing US women in societal and professional advancement to an increasing degree?

May it be because there is no cost to supporting women for those men who choose to do so? In fact, there is often great benefit, as they will have access to a more motivated and competent pool of people.

All that said, I am not recommending turning a blind or benign eye to the kind of behavior and toxic cultures that have been making headlines.

Image credit: VEX Robotics

Ducks in a Row: Change? Yeah, Right

Tuesday, September 19th, 2017

https://www.flickr.com/photos/timove/34352989113/

I read a post by Ellen Pao in Medium in which she asks if anything has really changed.

On its face, it all sounds like meaningful change, right? Or at least it sounds a lot better than the very recent public shaming of women who came forward and the sweeping of bad behavior under the rug. (…) Public apologies and one-off actions are superficial ways to react to criticism or put on a happy face, but they often cover up company culture failures that are hard to fix, especially if no one is seriously trying.

While there have been multiple resignations and apologies (complete with crocodile tears), do you really believe that any of these wealthy, well-known, white guys will land anywhere but on their feet? That their actions will have any permanent effect on their future?

If so, you’re living on a planet to which I’d love to emigrate.

Whereas the women who went public will pay a heavy toll.

I [Pao] have heard from several women who spoke up in this newspaper and elsewhere this year that they continue to face harassment. They have been told that discussing their experiences has limited their careers.

After virtual reality startup UploadVR was sued for sexual harassment in May, a male startup CEO publicly commented that lawsuits like this make him “VERY afraid to hire more [women]. It just seems like such a huge risk as CEO.” His comments went viral and he later retracted, apologized and deleted them.

Retracted, apologized, deleted, none of which is likely to have changed his attitude.

Speaking of UploadVR, which had, and probably still has, one of the worst, sex-drenched cultures in Silicon Valley.

The Valley will protect it, because it isn’t just a guy or a company, but a hub for the VR crowd and, collectively, they need it.

While current publicity is heavily focused on tech, the same actions are alive and well in many venues from the University of Rochester’s Department of Brain and Cognitive, one of the top graduate programs in the US, to women in sports broadcasting.

Are things getting better? Maybe.

But as long as there are no long-term ill effects for guys there is little reason for them to do the hard work of educating against bias, both inherent and societal, and changing culture.

Nothing is as simple as it seems. Be sure to read about an experience, shared by an East Coast founder (published September 20), that turns a spotlight on rarely mentioned fall-out from the harassment problem.

Image credit: TimOve

Golden Oldies: Change Starts with the Boss

Monday, September 18th, 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.

I think the best commentary on this post comes from a comment on the original that validates it.

You just nailed the main issue with failed change efforts. Change starts in the head (pun intended. . .). Many times when I’m brought into a company, bosses want me to help change everybody else but them. Doesn’t work!

It always amazes me how bosses are more willing to waste money than to change their thinking and behavior. The trick is how to find a way to help bosses see the ROI of changing the way they think and behave before trying to embed those changes throughout their organization.

Great post! – Dr. Ada Gonzalez

No one ever said change is easy and it’s still harder when it is your MAP that needs to change, but it is possible. More on change during the week.

Read other Golden Oldies here.

The thing she [behavioral psychologist] taught me—and this sounds obvious—is that behavior is a function of consequence.  We had to change the behavior in the organization so that people felt safe to bring bad news. And I looked in the mirror, and I realized I was part of the problem.  I didn’t want to hear the bad news, either. So I had to change how I behaved, and start to thank people for bringing me bad news.Joseph Jimenez, chief executive of Novartis

The behavioral psychologist was brought in after a consulting group was paid to provide “better, more robust process, with more analytics,” which changed nothing.

When we started RampUp Solutions in 1999, we spent a good deal of effort coming up with a tag line that easily explained the services we provide.

After several iterations we finally settled on “To change what they do change how you think”

Over the years, I’ve heard and read story after story of how all kinds of changes—from turnarounds to improved productivity to retention — all started with a change in the way the boss thought.

And that applied whether the boss was CEO, team leader or somewhere in-between.

Stories and discussions about change tend to focus on the actions that bring about the changes, instead of starting at the beginning with the hardest work.4222820626_8089f3a13b_m

Work that requires the boss, at whatever level, changing the way they thinks and then dispersing and embedding those changes throughout their organization.

So before you hire expensive consultants or seek help from advisors look in the mirror to determine how much of the problem is you.

Image credit: manymeez

Ryan’s Journal: Uncomfortable Situations Can Bring Comfort

Friday, September 15th, 2017

https://www.flickr.com/photos/andrewbain/521768141/Last week I wrote about Hurricane Irma bearing down on my home state of Florida.

It was a scary time and brought a dose of reality to life that is not often seen. Through the experience I had a chance to view the before and after effects on people and thought I would share.

In my post I mentioned that there was a mad dash at stores for food, water and fuel to prepare for the arrival of the storm. It tended to be everyone for themselves and as a result was a bit chaotic.

In the interest of safety and because I have lived through several hurricanes, I took my family and left.

The trip we took normally calls for about 8 hrs of driving, but in this case it took 12. Roads were clogged, gas stations were packed, when they had fuel, and everyone was heading one way, north.

The trip was not scary, but it was surreal.

We took a back road highway as the interstates were turning into parking lots. We also drove in the dead of night and it was still packed.

Small towns with one open gas station had traffic jams. People were driving in emergency lanes and all toll roads were suspending payment for evacuation purposes.

This all added to the overall discomfort.

I knew my family and I were safe, but when I left I did not know how my house would fare or if I would have a home to return to.

The great news is we suffered minor damage to a fence and that is about it. Others weren’t so lucky.

How does this bring comfort though?

I spoke to my friends throughout this experience and truly felt closer to them.

Strangers have been open and people are helping.

Now that the panic of the storm has passed folks are banding together. Because I was gone my neighbors that stayed watched over my home and sent picture updates after tot show the results.

It has been rewarding to be surrounded by a sense of community and love.

Now I know times like these are sometimes short lived, but the memory of it can last a while.

I would never suggest that you suffer a major tragedy to experience this sense of belonging.

But I will say I am grateful that I was.

Image credit: Taber Andrew Bain

Sheryl Sandberg’s Better Idea

Wednesday, September 13th, 2017

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sheryl_Sandberg

Everywhere you turn today you hear a reference to a person as a brand, with dozens of pundits telling you how to use social media to “build your personal brand.”

Four years ago, in another post, I said “In an oracular vision of the Twenty-first century Henry Ford said, “A bore is a person who opens his mouth and puts his feats in it.” These days it’s more accurate to say, “A bore is a person who opens their social media and puts their feats in it.””

The result is still a bore, but on a wider stage.

Branding yourself supposedly makes you more valuable, which is laughable, as is the current idea that being busy increases your value.

Sheryl Sandberg has a different take; she believes brands are for things and voices are for people.

The idea of developing your personal brand is a bad one, according to Sandberg. “People aren’t brands,” she says. “That’s what products need. They need to be packaged cleanly, neatly, concretely. People aren’t like that.”

“Who am I?” asks Sandberg. “I am the COO of Facebook, a company I deeply believe in. I’m an author. I’m a mom. I’m a widow. At some level, I’m still deeply heartbroken. I am a friend and I am a sister. I am a lot of very messy, complicated things. I don’t have a brand, but I have a voice.”

Focus on developing your voice, she says. Figuring out what’s important to you and being willing to use your voice for that purpose is incredibly valuable. “If you are doing it to develop your personal brand, it’s empty and self-serving and not about what you’re talking about,” she says. “If you’re doing it because there is something you want to see changed in the world, that’s where it will have value and depth and integrity.”

Sandberg’s comments on building a voice are just part of her thoughts on how to have a career that is successful and meaningful.

Additional thoughts from Emily Esfahani Smith, an editor at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University and the author of “The Power of Meaning: Finding Fulfillment in a World Obsessed With Happiness” contribute to that goal.

Most young adults won’t achieve the idealistic goals they’ve set for themselves. They won’t become the next Mark Zuckerberg. They won’t have obituaries that run in newspapers like this one. But that doesn’t mean their lives will lack significance and worth. We all have a circle of people whose lives we can touch and improve — and we can find our meaning in that.

It’s worth your time to read both articles no matter your age or situation.

Hopefully you’ll agree and send them on to colleagues, friends and the young people in your life.

Find your voice; live the wisdom that’s been shared, and help change the world for the better.

Image credit: Wikipedia

Ducks in a Row: Influencer For Sale

Tuesday, September 12th, 2017
https://www.flickr.com/photos/usfwsmtnprairie/8409186334/

Or not…

Although yesterday’s post about influencers focused on founders, influencers are everywhere.

Influencers effect the entire global population, because they populate social media, new media, old media, and your entire offline world.

Some influencers are real people who are paid real money to endorse a brand, movement, or some other effort, lending credence as well as a halo effect.

Others are faux.

The symbols that identify “real” influencers and provide immediate legitimacy are sold in a black market that is an open secret among those who earn their living as influencers — and they are willing to pay.

For example, Instangram’s little blue check sells for anywhere from $1500 to $7000

More importantly, it’s a status symbol. The blue emblem can help people gain legitimacy in the business of influencer marketing and bestows some credibility within Instagram’s community of 700 million monthly active users. It cannot be requested online or purchased, according to Instagram’s policies. It is Instagram’s velvet rope.

In addition to verification, there are black markets for attractiveness, Likes, followers, and anything else that boosts profiles and Klout scores.

We live in a world where everything is for sale, so when it comes to influencers, caveat emptor is the watchword to live by.

Image credit: USFWS Mountain-Prairie

Golden Oldies: If the Shoe Fits: Influencers

Monday, September 11th, 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.

It used to be said that a person was “influential” — these days they are “influencers.” Are the terms synonymous? Can they really be used interchangeably? I don’t think so, and plan to enlarge on the differences over the next two days.

Read other Golden Oldies here.

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

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mInfluence isn’t about your online ranking or the strength of your brand, although they contribute.

Influence is about effect.

The effect your words or actions have on those exposed to them.

Yesterday I linked to an article in which Penelope Trunk said that it’s a bad idea for founders to be of different genders and because of her influence dozens of founders are probably rethinking their startup plans.

There is a common arrogance among influencers to generalize their opinion and present it as fact applicable to all. Typically, the more successful the influencer the greater the arrogance.

But from day one every founder has influence, before success and beyond the expected, so even a casual word can cause trouble.

A founder CEO I know, whose original education years before was engineering, had a habit of occasionally strolling through engineering to see what was going on.

One day he commented that he wouldn’t do a design the way the team was doing it. It was a casual, throw-away comment, one he had forgotten five minutes later, but it devastated the design team.

The CEO had no clue to the havoc he wrought and it took the vp of engineering, who was co-founder, hours to settle them down. He then told the CEO not to talk to the team and banned him from the department.

What those on the receiving end of influencers need to realize is that no matter how brilliant or experienced someone is they are still voicing an opinion.

And as valuable as the opinion may be, it should never be swallowed whole, because opinions are subjective.

They are the product of that individual’s MAP, which itself is a product of upbringing and experience. Even someone else having exactly the same background and experience would not have identical MAP because each person processes differently and has different inherent characteristics.

Influence comes with responsibilities—how well do you handle yours?

Image credit: HikingArtist

If The Shoe Fits: Guys’ Fault / Guys’ Responsibility

Friday, September 8th, 2017

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

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mIf you’re a guy and have a daughter/niece/sister/mom/female friend this post is for you.

If you’re a bro this post is especially for you.

You’ve all heard the stories of women who weren’t taken seriously as founders and couldn’t get funding.

You’ve heard it as anecdotal evidence, directly from women founders, and from those around them.

In fact, there’s finally enough data-driven proof that the fact can no longer be denied or blamed off on something else.

https://techcrunch.com/2017/04/19/in-2017-only-17-of-startups-have-a-female-founder/

It’s not just investors; but suppliers, partners, and vendors who ignore/condescend/etc., when the other party is female.

Penelope Gazin and Kate Dwyer experienced all these problems when they launched Witchsy last year.

So they took a time-honored approach.

Having noticed that the mostly male artists, developers, and designers they were working with took their sweet time to respond to requests and were often slightly rude and condescending in email— “They’d say things like ‘Listen, girls…,’” Dwyer tells Quartz—they decided to bring in a male co-founder named Keith Mann to make communication easier.

Pre-Keith, Dwyer explains, “it was very clear no one took us seriously and everybody thought we were just idiots.” When “Keith” contacted collaborators, Gazin says, “they’d be like ‘Okay, bro, yeah, let’s brainstorm!’”

Keith only lasted six months, but, by then, being Keith had taught them to stop being communicating “like a girl.”

Neither the approach nor the result is unique; women have been obscuring their sex to get ahead for centuries. But…

In era that touts gender equality, even school-age children are still absorbing warped messages about the sexes. A recent study published in the journal Science revealed that by the time most girls are six, they believe that only males can be geniuses.

That means by the time a female hits first grade she’s already convinced she’s second best.

And that’s on you.

Image credit: HikingArtist and TechCrunch

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