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If The Shoe Fits: Today’s CEO Cowboys

April 28th, 2017 by Miki Saxon

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

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mWay back in 2009 I wrote Leaders Should NOT Be Cowboys. While the advice was accurate at the time, it made the basic assumption that founders were adults.

I suppose it was naïve to assume that anybody starting a company, let alone being handed millions of dollars to do it, would have a certain level of mental and emotional maturity — or at least know when to shut up.

But the world has changed drastically.

It’s now a world where nothing is private and letting it all hang out has been take to extremes; where sharing all aspects of your life is expected and the resulting personally identifiable data packaged and sold; where sex/sexism in one form or another is prevalent; where anybody can freely and anonymously critique/shame/bully/insult whomever they please; where frat boy culture/attitude/thinking is the new norm, where etc., etc., etc.

Doubt me?

Take a look at Uber, Thinx, Tanium, or the US president; the list goes on even when the actions are well camouflaged, as they are at Google and Facebook.

These new CEOs aren’t necessarily cowboys in the previous sense.

They have moved past that and are more aligned with the back end of their horses.

Image credit: HikingArtist

Ryan’s Journal: Thoughts About Tanium

April 27th, 2017 by Ryan Pew

A few days ago Miki sent me an article about Tanium giving prospective customers a look into their client hospital’s live network, but without permission or protecting the identity of the hospital completely.

I wrote her back today as follows.

I had not seen this on my own, but I have been reading about the company for a few days now.

Coming from the medtech industry and security specifically I will say this.

The fact that he and his company used live hospital data without their consent will be a deathblow to them.

Hospitals take this very seriously because they are the ones who are held responsible by the Office for Civil Rights under Health and Human Services.

The hospital will be shown to have a vulnerability and will be forced to pay fines, lose out on government funds and potentially face sanctions. 

As a result the rest of the healthcare industry will treat Tanium like a pariah because they will not want to face repercussions.

Regardless of the industry it’s shocking to see how folks think it’s ok to manipulate or abuse customer relationships for their own profit, it always ends badly.  

Miki responded.

Sadly, I think they will find a way to smooth it over. Google, Facebook, etc sell customer data all the time. It’s how so many make their money and no one seems to care.

I know HIPPA is supposed to prevent this stuff, but I’m sure companies are getting around that, too, they just haven’t been caught, yet.

That’s the key, not being caught.

Every company that is caught, or just challenged, cries that they take their customer’s privacy seriously or that that’s not what their culture stands for, etc.

But only when they are caught.
I sincerely hope you are correct and that Tanium takes a major blow and, more importantly, that the CEO is forced out, but I’m not holding my breath. I guess I’ve finally gotten pretty cynical about this stuff.

So now I’m trying to decide if Miki’s cynicism is warranted or if I’m right and the publicized results of Tanium’s actions will have the effect they should.

I’ll keep you informed as there are more developments.

Image credit: Wikipedia

Happy Birthday To Me!

April 26th, 2017 by Miki Saxon

Another year, another birthday and I’m taking my day off.

Eventually I won’t be here, nor will I have a tombstone, but if I did here is what it would say…

Instead, I’ll be enriching the soil around the redwood I grew from a burl and planted at my friend’s ranch (how cool is that?).

And if you’re interested, today’s image comes from a 2014 post.

Ducks in a Row: The Secret Of Good Process

April 25th, 2017 by Miki Saxon

https://www.flickr.com/photos/archer10/4455027620/Continuing yesterday’s conversation regarding the need for good process in every size organization — the key word being “good.”

Good process, like all good things, starts with its ability to change, which, in turn, enables all kinds of good stuff.

Process won’t calcify if questioning fundamentals and avoiding the tradition trap is baked into your company DNA and you don’t forget that there are no absolutes.

Just as MAP (mindset, attitude, philosophy™) is the why, process is the how.

And because MAP is constantly growing and changing, process must constantly develop to support it.

In short, process changes to make things happen, whereas bureaucracy is carved in stone and stops them.

Image credit: Dennis Jarvis

Golden Oldies: Process vs. Bureaucracy

April 24th, 2017 by Miki Saxon

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.

The interest in some subjects is eternal — like avoiding bureaucracy. This post dates to 2006 (before I added pictures) and the subject is still a hot topic.

Too many bosses and founders confuse organizing business segments with becoming bureaucratic and everyone hates bureaucracy.

In reality, not organizing and developing a process to accomplish each function facilitates a wild west mentality, which usually results in a bullet in the foot or worse.

Read other Golden Oldies here.

People sometimes confuse process and bureaucracy. Process is good—it helps to get things done smoothly and efficiently; bureaucracy is bad—it’s process calcified, convoluted, politically corrupted, or just plain unnecessary.

Good process is an easy-to-use and flexible method of accomplishing various business functions. It is informal without being haphazard, and neither ambiguous or confusing.

Occasional surveys (internally asking staff and externally asking vendors and customers how things are working) alert you to when processes start to mutate.

By creating a skeletal process and a corresponding graphic in areas where it is needed (financial controls, hiring, purchasing, etc.), you lay the framework for your growth in the future, no matter how hectic.

Bureaucracy may stem from a manager, whether CEO or first level supervisor, who believes that his staff is so incompetent that it is necessary for him to spell out exactly how every individual action needs to be done. To correct this, the manager responsible must

  • reduce his own insecurity,
  • increase his belief in his current staff, or
  • hire people he thinks are smart!

Bureaucracy is often fed by people’s fear of change, “We’ve always done it like that.” and similar comments are dead giveaways.

Another significant factor that contributes to unnecessary bureaucracy is the failure to align responsibility and authority.

If a person has the responsibility to get something done (design a product, create a Human Resources department, meet a sales quota), she should have enough authority (spend money, hire people, negotiate with outside vendors) to get the job done.

Giving people responsibility without concomitant authority forces them to constantly ask their superiors for permission, thus reducing productivity, and lowering moral.

The final, and most important difference between process and bureaucracy is that people like working for companies with good process in place, and hate working for those mired in bureaucracy, but not for long—they leave—making bureaucracy-eradication a major tool in the retention game.

If The Shoe Fits: Hollow Bros and True Brilliance

April 21st, 2017 by Miki Saxon

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

April 20th, 2017 by Ryan Pew

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?

April 19th, 2017 by Miki Saxon

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

April 18th, 2017 by Miki Saxon

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

April 17th, 2017 by Miki Saxon

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.

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