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If The Shoe Fits: Glassdoor’s Most Loved CEOs

Friday, June 23rd, 2017

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

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mThe last thing you need today is yet another autopsy of Travis Kalanick. If you indulge in any form of media you know TK isn’t the first to founder to go down in flames (and he won’t be the last)for creating a rotten culture.

A larger question is where was the adult oversight that kept other young founders from similar shenanigans?

Steve Jobs didn’t want to create a Windows-compatible version of the iPod or an app store for the iPhone; it was his lieutenants who pushed him to do it. Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and the Google founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, were guided by strong, experienced and extremely sober operators — Sheryl Sandberg and Eric Schmidt, respectively. Mr. Kalanick, meanwhile, was allowed to operate more or less solo, to micromanage a company that grew to enormous scale, and was left alone even when the firm’s problems became plain to see.

In its fifth year, Facebook had net income of $200 million in 2009 on revenue of $777 million; in its seventh year Uber lost $3 billion.

So instead, I thought I’d point you to a Glassdoor’s 2017 list of best CEOs as rated by their employees, so you could find positive role models.

In the large company category the top slot went to Benno Dorer, CEO of The Clorox Company.

“Excellent communication on vision, strategy, and where we are going. Constant access to leadership through round tables and other company events that allow all employees to feel like they are part of our decision making and strategy.”

In the small/medium category it’s Justyn Howard, CEO of Sprout Social.

There are many reasons why Sprout Social is an amazing place to work. Some of the pros include sensible managers that really care about you and your goals, and help you grow and advance your career. The company culture is inclusive, open and friendly. I have honestly not seen this many talented and hardworking people together prior to working here. Both individual and team initiatives are highlighted and praised often, communication is very transparent and you feel like your voice is heard.

Notice that the employee comments all focus on similar things.

They are what people of all ages want from their bosses.

Founders/bosses set the tone and values.

They shouldn’t be surprised when the people they hire have similar views.

Image credit: HikingArtist

Ryan’s Journal: A Tale of Two Cultures

Thursday, June 22nd, 2017

https://www.flickr.com/photos/anthonyalbright/4650310001/

I had an opportunity to witness two distinct cultures in action in my personal life this past week. I am in the Tampa Bay area of Florida. Like most mid-market cities there are several startups and rising companies throughout. I have friends at two that have had events transpire as of late that had two completely different outcomes and I wanted to share my observations.

One company that is located here is backed by VC’s and has been growing rapidly. They have a great culture from how I understand it. Very laid back, treat you like a friend and encourage all team members to go beyond their own role to take on more responsibility.

My friends who work there always talk about the company with pride and enjoy working there. The CEO is a thought leader in the community and can cut to the core of what is needed to accomplish the job.

In my current role, I also use this company as a customer. They provide data on prospects from several databases. It is not unique as there are many in this space, but they provide an excellent customer experience and the data is usually accurate.

Last week we were told that we would no longer be able to access the application. I reached out to my friends and it was the worst news you could hear.

The company was not able to secure another round of funding and they had to close their doors.

This happened basically overnight. They were brought in on a Tuesday told the bad news and sent on their way.

My first reaction is that the folks who worked there would be bitter about the company and the way they were let go. That could not be further from the truth.

Are they out of jobs? Yes. Do they need to scramble to pay bills? Yes. However, they also felt like they were a part of something bigger than themselves.

President Theodore Roosevelt famously spoke about the man in the arena, “The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming….”

These folks were in the arena and were honored to have strived. They spoke positively of the company and its CEO, realized sometimes you lose and looked at the opportunity to learn as a valuable experience.

In my opinion life is about balance. In the same week as the above news broke I had some friends at another company I am familiar with share some news.

This company is no longer a startup; I would call them a rising company. No VC backing, the CEO started with his own money and they have been profitable through customer acquisition for some time. (I realize if you are in Silicon Valley you may find the concept foreign, but it does still happen.) This company started out with a great culture. Awesome offices, snacks and coffee, smart folks to work with. From the outside looking in it is very desirable.

This company has been on the decline with sales in recent years. It could be the industry it serves or that the products haven’t adapted to the needs of the marketplace.

Speculation from my friends has ranged as they truly believe in the company and its founder. He is a thought leader as well, spends a lot of time with Richard Branson and other luminaries, and is extraordinarily intelligent.

However, sales have been down and it has caused strain on the company.

They recently released the new comp plan for the sales team.

We could discuss how releasing a comp plan in month five and making it retroactive to January is a problem, but that’s not the point of this post.

The team was excited to hear what the new plan would be as some of the teams hit and surpassed their goals last year and figured they would be honored for that.

This could not be further from the truth. The new comp plan essentially cut their income by as much as 30%.

Now the average income for these folks was between $100,000-$150,000 annually. 30% is a huge cut and most may not be able to absorb that. Six figure deals that would bring in commissions of five figures dropped in some cases to the hundreds in commission earned on that deal. I’ll let that sink in for a moment. What’s the incentive to work!

The reaction from my friends there was as expected. They felt betrayed.

This company strives in being inclusive, expecting hard work from the team and tries to create a fun atmosphere.

These folks are invested, they love the company and the friends.

However, when you sign on and are told that you will make X amount and the company flips that on you halfway through the year it causes issues.

I cannot imagine how you would expect a great effort out of team members who feel betrayed and are now worried about paying bills.

Two different companies, two different outcomes.

How would you do it differently?

Flickr image credit: Anthony Albright

Golden Oldies: If the Shoe Fits: Wave Deafness

Monday, June 19th, 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.

When I wrote this originally it was aimed directly at entrepreneurs, especially the ones who don’t seem to hear their people very often — if at all.

Coming across it five years later I decided it’s so apropos across the board that it definitely qualified as a golden oldie.

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_mLast year I wrote about Tony Hsieh’s approach to employee empowerment, featuring some great quotes from him.

As I said then, the thing that sets Hsieh apart is security.

Hsieh is comfortable in his own skin; secure in his own competency and limitations, so he doesn’t need to be the font from which all else flows.

Entrepreneurs can learn from this.

Startup hiring usually comes in waves as the company progresses.

While most founders will listen to their initial team and first few hires, those hired later often find it difficult to get their ideas heard.

Unfortunately, this behavior often sets a pattern, with the ideas and comments of each successive wave becoming fainter and fainter and those employees less and less engaged—and that translates to them caring less and less about your company’s success—call it wave deafness.

Wave deafness is costly.

Costly in productivity and passion, but even more costly in lost opportunities.

As Hsieh points out, there is no way he can think of as many good ideas as are produced if each employee has just one good idea in a year.

And not just from certain positions. I never heard of a manager, let alone a founder, admit to hiring dummies for any position, no matter the level.

So if you hire smart people and don’t listen to them, who is the dummy?

Image credit: HikingArtist

Ryan’s Journal: How To Start A Cultural Revolution

Thursday, June 15th, 2017

I had the opportunity to spend some time in Raleigh, NC this week in the Research Triangle. If you haven’t had an opportunity to spend some time here, I highly recommend it. Not only is the area full of beauty, it’s a melting pot of diversity that exemplifies the best of America. The hub of elite universities and top ranked tech companies make this a desirable place to raise a family, but also pursue a career with meaning.

I was here to spend some time with BMC software and was able to sit in and watch first hand on how they train their inside sales teams. I was thinking about how I wanted to approach this topic and this forum allowed for me to point out some real world examples of how a cultural revolution can be started.

A little background on BMC. They are one of the largest private software companies in the world and create products for enterprise IT systems to do everything from track assets, create help desk tickets, manage capacity and sit on top of complex environments to manage jobs.

In a real world example Starbucks is a customer and if BMC’s software failed at any time then Starbucks would be unable to accept any form of plastic.

I say all of this to say they are in big spaces doing the behind the scenes work that is required for us to live this modern life. They were acquired by Bain Capital a few years ago and have been in a massive growth trajectory lately.

One major change that Bain made was the expansion of inside sales teams, BDR’s and inside sales reps.

When you think of sales you think of someone wining and dining with customers and comping their dinners; these guys don’t live that life. They manage the sales cycles through phone, email and LinkedIn.

It is a special skill that is required and it can be taught. These teams add great value to the organization by sourcing leads, closing business and creating value for the customers and field representatives. 

An entry level role is as a BDR, Business Development Representative. My experience at other companies has been that these are young college grads that are hungry.

You have some of that at BMC, but they also have folks that have years of experience in other industries who are starting out in software.

You also have some that just enjoy that role and have done it for years. BMC takes these folks from all different backgrounds and shapes them to its vision and culture.

How do they do this?

One way they do it is by constant feedback and coaching opportunities. Now, this can be done the wrong way, but they seem to balance it well here where people seek out opportunities to learn and improve.

They also spend time highlighting team members who are doing something unique that works for them. They take folks that are young in their career and allow them to teach others. This does wonders for morale and also inspires others.

The last thing that I saw that helps is that they like to have fun as a team. They have happy hours, Vegas trips, president’s clubs. Constant incentives to allow people to reach their full potential.

I was impressed with the way they won as a team and built on mutual successes. They were not afraid to share best practices and they helped each other out as much as possible. 

Now, maybe we can’t all go to Vegas but some of the things they are doing are very scaleable, not rocket science, and can be repeated at any org. 

And then start the revolution.

Image credit: BMC

Privilege, Bootstraps, And Reality

Wednesday, June 14th, 2017

https://www.flickr.com/photos/littlehuw/9410579316/

Yesterday we looked at the hypocritical nature of Walmart’s culture, but perhaps it’s a reflection of what’s happening across the US, as opposed to an attitude unique to Walmart.

In the last half century, economic, political and social changes have altered not only the makeup of the workforce, but also what it takes to get a job and support oneself, let alone a family. 

Public policy does little to mitigate what’s happening, and much of enterprise is retreating.

“You end up with this perfect storm where workplace and public policies are mismatched to what the workforce and families need,” said Vicki Shabo, vice president at the non-partisan National Partnership for Women & Families (NPWF). (…) Overall progress for workers has been slow, because the country is attached to an “ideal myth of America.” One where you pull yourself up by your bootstraps [emphasis mine].

Assuming bootstraps were once real, do they still exist?

Of course, there is no doubt that privilege is real — no matter how often and how much people deny it.

We all need to remind ourselves of our advantages: whether it’s straight privilege, or financial privileges, or able-bodied privilege, or whatever extra boost we’ve gotten. Humans are prone to credit our successes to our own ingenuity, true or not. Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, asked randomly selected subjects to play Monopoly. But the game was rigged. The winner of a coin toss got twice the starting cash and higher bonuses for passing Go.

Not surprisingly the advantaged players won. But as they prospered, their behavior changed. They moved their pieces more loudly than their opponents, reveled in triumphs and even took more snacks. Some, when asked about their win, talked about how their strategy helped them succeed. They began to think they earned their success, even though they knew the game was set up in their favor [emphasis mine].

Bootstraps depend on who you are.

Thorstein Veblen’s The Theory of the Leisure Class was published in 1899 and in it he coined the term “conspicuous consumption” — no definition required.

Although you still find that in the 1%, Elizabeth Currid-Halkett, a sociologist, has a new book, The Sum of Small Things: A Theory of the Aspirational Class — a new term that better represents the far-reaching consequences of what’s happening today.

Who is the aspirational class?

Highly educated and defined by cultural capital rather than income bracket, these individuals earnestly buy organic, carry NPR tote bags, and breast-feed their babies. They care about discreet, inconspicuous consumption—like eating free-range chicken and heirloom tomatoes, wearing organic cotton shirts and TOMS shoes, and listening to the Serial podcast. They use their purchasing power to hire nannies and housekeepers, to cultivate their children’s growth [emphasis mine], and to practice yoga and Pilates.

These kids grow up with better health, better education, more enrichment, a solid belief of their place in life.

No matter how liberal their parents’ politics, they consider the world they inhabit the norm.

Few consider it privileged — after all, their parents aren’t actually rich.

Most of these kids are white.

And so the cycle continues.

(Thanks to KG for sending me the first article.)

Image credit: Huw

Ducks in a Row: Culture Of Hypocrisy

Tuesday, June 13th, 2017

Whttps://www.flickr.com/photos/bonniesducks/4395202521/almart loves showing off all they do for their employees and it has a lot of them.

From its website (emphasis mine).

Walmart employs 2.3 million associates around the world. About 75% of our store management teams started as hourly associates, and they earn between $50,000 and $170,000 a year. Walmart is investing $2.7 billion over two years in higher wages, education and training.

What isn’t mentioned is that around the same time

Walmart lifted wages [to $10/hr], it cut merit raises and introduced a training program that could keep hourly pay at $9 an hour for up to 18 months.

Walmart especially loves to brag about its special efforts, such as those for military workers and defines its culture as “our values in action.”

However…

What kind of values enable the following scenarios?

The report says that Walmart uses a point system to discipline workers, and too many points results in firing. Walmart reportedly gives workers disciplinary points for any absence they consider unauthorized, and working less than half of a scheduled shift is considered an absence.

  • ‘I passed out at work. They sent me to the hospital. The next day, they fired me for it.’
  • “I got into a car wreck on my way to work and was sent by ambulance to the hospital. I had two fractured ribs and a concussion. I reached a manager from the hospital, who said it would be ok, and I came into work the next day with wrapped ribs and a concussion. The front manager then said that they wouldn’t accept the doctor’s note from the hospital, and they fired me for missing that day.”
  • “My appendix ruptured while at work and because I already had eight points, I could not leave work to go to the ER without pointing out and losing my job. I should have been able to leave to go to the ER and not worry about losing my job. I had even said to management, ‘So if I fall out because of my appendix and have to go out in an ambulance…I will get a point and lose my job?’ The response from management was, ‘Yes.'”
  • “I was vomiting blood and had to go to the ER. I was there for two days and each day was a point. I then had two days off, and I brought my hospital notes in when I went back. They would not accept them.”

Of course, Walmart’s well-known attitude towards women is front and center

  • “My daughter was having seizures, I had to take time off to monitor her. They counted it against me. I passed out at work. They sent me to the hospital. The next day, they fired me for it.
  • Katie Orzehowski was forced to return to work still bleeding after a miscarriage or face being fired.

It would be funny if it wasn’t so grim, but apparently Walmart expects events, such as heart attacks and car accidents, to be scheduled.

If an employee does not call in to report an absence at least an hour in advance, they receive four points, the report says.

Most ironic of all is Walmart’s tag line, which reads, “Save money. Live better.”

More accurately, it should read “Save money. Live better — unless you work here.”

All of this proves once again that there is a major difference between words and actions.

Image credit: Duck Lover

Ryan’s Journal: Partnership

Thursday, June 8th, 2017

https://www.flickr.com/photos/ksrecomm/6147266596/

Partnership is an aspect of culture that I think could be explored further.

We all have partners we deal with in life that range from personal to professional. And isn’t it nice to have a partner throughout your day? Someone to help shoulder the burden?

But there is a fine line between a partnership and a parasite and it’s important to remember the distinction.

I work in a partnership daily. My company, Flycast Partners, is a partner of several large scale software vendors. We work hand in hand daily to increase sales, provide services and support. We are essentially an extension of the vendor and work hard on maintaining those partnerships.

This past week my company had the honor of being named partner of the year for North America by BMC software. It was a surprise and unexpected. We are only about 70 strong right now and there are partners that are much larger than we are.

We asked why we were chosen. Was it revenue? Was it the number of accounts we grew? Was it some other tangible thing?

The simple answer was none of that. We didn’t bring in the most revenue or the most new accounts. What we brought was a trusted partnership.

BMC Software is the 7th largest software company in the world and their CEO personally said it was because they knew we acted in the best interest of the customer and BMC.

What drove us to this place?

For one, integrity. The president of my company, Nathan George, believes that you should be honest in all dealings, meet your commitments and do what you say you will do.

He hires based on those criteria. To me these are fairly simple concepts, but not always followed. It would be easy to take the low road sometimes, but not sustainable.

We have competition out there, but we don’t dwell on them. We work on building relationships and providing value.

This is an instance where the partnership benefits both parties.

Next week I will highlight where a partnership can turn parasitic.

Flickr image credit: K-State Research

What Is Success?

Wednesday, June 7th, 2017

https://www.flickr.com/photos/planeta/5306860886/Yesterday we considered the idiocy of postponing your career in an effort to “find your passion.”

The popular attitude is that if you do something you are passionate about then it will lead to success.

Of course, that depends on how you define success.

Most people believe that if they are successful they will also be happy.

Coincidentlly, a large percentage of them have also bought into the current attitude that equates success with money.

So it comes as a major surprise to many who have achieved financial success to discover they still aren’t happy.

Rather than my opinions, I thought you would find these stories more enlightening.

First, an unhappy $150K a year millennial woman at 26 to happy single momhood and $50K five years later.

I realized that higher pay didn’t equate to a better job fit for me. I do know that at the end of the day, life is so much richer than the number on your tax form — and that’s a lesson that’s priceless.

Not that there is anything wrong with financial success.

Ed Schweitzer moved his company into the future decades ago and has already accomplished in terms of good jobs what Washington claims it’s going to do by turning back the clock.  

Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories, a manufacturer of sophisticated equipment for the global power industry based in Pullman, WA, solved its people problem internally.

While others outsource, Schweitzer goes DIY. While others establish a tightly focused definition of work history and skills they’re looking for, Schweitzer focuses on fundamentals: “I like to hire smart people with good values and strong fundamental education,” says founder Ed Schweitzer, who started the company in his basement 35 years ago. Today, it employs just over 5,000 and has revenue of nearly $1billion.

Schweitzer also set the company up as an ESOP, meaning it’s employee-owned.

Even in Silicon Valley, maximizing financial success isn’t everyone’s preferred road, like Craig Newmark — the Craig in Craig’s List.

“Basically I just decided on a different business model in ’99, nothing altruistic,” he said. “While Silicon Valley VCs and bankers were telling me I should become a billionaire, I decided no one needs to be a billionaire — you should know when enough is enough. So I decided on a minimal business model, and that’s worked out pretty well. This means I can give away tremendous amounts of money to the nonprofits I believe in … I wish I had charisma, hair, and a better sense of humor,” he added in a completely deadpan voice. “I think I could be far more effective.”

When enough is enough.

A quaint concept by today’s standards.

Read the stories.

Think about them.

Then create your own definition of success—what you want, not what you’re supposed to want.

Image credit: Ron Mader

Ryan’s Journal: Fear As A Culture

Thursday, June 1st, 2017

https://www.flickr.com/photos/bullgator0892/11370960706/This week has been an interesting confluence of events across the world stage.

Uber continues to be in the news, this time they decided to fire the head engineer, Anthony Levandowski, who is at the heart of the lawsuit with Google.

The US is on the verge of leaving the Paris Accord, something that could quite possibly have a generational effect.

Suicide bombs continue to tear apart lives across the globe.

What is at the root of these three things?

I believe it is fear.

They say the coward dies a thousand tiny deaths, but a brave person dies one glorious death.

I can tell you right now these are cowardly acts.

To begin, Uber is in the fight for its life. They are losing money every day with their current model. They are betting big on automation and have come up against Google over perceived theft of proprietary documents.

If they lose this they could be done. When you step back and look at the ride sharing model, it’s needed but it’s not unique. The barriers to entry are low and there is no differentiation of product from one company to the next.

They need to lead the space in automation because it’s the future and is inevitable. Fear has led them to both hire and fire the engineer at the center of it all. Perhaps they believe this will help their case, time will tell.

The US leaving the Paris Accord is monumental. I am not a scientist, but I can say this: I inherently know that pumping carbon emissions into the air is bad. Add to that the science that supports it and you begin to see the need to somehow influence climate change for the better.

Why would a president risk the lives of future generations so that a few energy companies can prosper?

Fear. Fear has gripped the voters in the first place who chose not to better their lives through education, which would enable them to better their lives.

Fear is in the president’s heart as well to think that climate change is not real.

Finally it brings us to terror.

These plots are designed to disrupt and bring fear to the masses. It is sometimes effective and can have lasting implications.

How do we combat fear?

One way is by seizing the courage to move one step forward at a time. Embrace the fear and look st how destructive it can be and then make a move against it.

That could be helping someone that isn’t like yourself. Learning about a new culture. Perhaps even sitting down to talk with someone on a different political aisle then yourself to learn why they believe the way they do.

It starts with believing people have value regardless of position and then embracing them.

Perhaps that’s too simplistic, but I know in my own life it has worked and is scalable.

Image credit: Pati Morris

Ducks in a Row: Say Hello To Generation Z

Tuesday, May 30th, 2017

https://www.flickr.com/photos/kathryn-wright/27567185716/Companies and bosses have struggled over the last decade or so learning how to attract, manage and retain millennial workers.

Long before that they had to learn to manage Boomers — the original me generation.

This is a generation, after all, that thinks of itself as “forever young,” even as some near 70. Most of all, what came across onscreen as well as in Greenfield-Sanders’ portraits was an unapologetic affirmation of the essential Boomer mantra—yes, it is still all about ME.

Then came Gen X, the supposed slackers who are now running things.

For a small, and supposedly lost, generation, Gen X’ers have found their way to positions of power. (…)Gen X’ers, incidentally, are among the most highly educated generation in the U.S.: 35% have college degrees vs. 19% of Millennials.

We all know that everything moves faster these days — whether products, attitudes — or generations.

So, without more ado, meet Generation Z, which encompasses those born between 1995 and the early 2000s.

They present a new challenge to bosses, especially since they bear little resemblance to Millennials.

The question for most bosses and bosses-to-be is this: having finally wrapped their heads around Millennial dos and don’ts is it worth the effort to add Gen Z to the repertoire?

Unequivocally yes.

Actually, you don’t have much choice, since there are 79 million (and counting) of them.

Image credit: Kathryn Yengel

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