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Ryan’s Journal: Can You Right A Sinking Ship?

Thursday, February 16th, 2017

https://www.flickr.com/photos/bertknot/8210386029/I read an article today about Warren Buffet. His company, Berkshire Hathaway, recently sold over $900 Million in Wal-Mart stock. Why you may ask?

Buffet believes the retailer is a sinking ship and retail as a whole is being completely disrupted. Now by all accounts Wal-Mart is still hugely successful. They sell more than Amazon, are profitable and growing.

Looking at these factors alone it would seem that there is nothing to be worried about, however a man much smarter than myself thinks otherwise. How can that be changed?

Now, this post is not about Wal-Mart per say but more on the retail experience as a whole. I can look throughout my house right now and say that a large majority of what I have purchased in the past few years has been from online.

I have twin girls and my family may singlehandedly keep Amazon in business by all the items we need on a day to day basis.

Recently Wal-Mart began a service in my area where you can pick out all of your groceries online and pay, then you just drive to your location and they load your car with the groceries. You never go in the store and you have everything you need at a great price!

I can tell you that the service would be extremely helpful to my family but I have never once considered it.

Why? Culture.

I am not a snob, in fact I prefer a good burger over whatever hot dish is on trend right now, however I have a hard time considering Wal-Mart or other similar retailers for most of my purchases.

The main reason, for me, is the culture of those locations.

I feel that retail employees are paid too low and not given opportunities for advancement. Is this true? Sometimes, but also it’s a perception thing. The culture would appear to be one of hardship.

On the other hand Amazon has commercials for drone delivery and cutting edge technology. Is the apple I get from Amazon any different than the one from Wal-Mart? Not one bit, but my perception is. I feel pleased that my money is being well spent with one while depriving from the other. 

Is retail a sinking ship? Maybe, but quite frankly I do not have enough information to support such an argument. However I can tell you that my emotions are directly connected to my perception of the culture at each company and that is what determines where my dollars go.

Culture is deeds, words and actions. It is the sprit that inhabits a person and an organization. It must be jealously guarded as it could quite possibly be the most valuable thing owned.

My personality is my culture.

The company I work for is an aggregate of all combined to make up a unifying culture.

Do I have an answer on how to fix the ship? I would think it starts with the leaders and then moves down. Perhaps it can also start with the individual? 

What fuels that person? What helps them determine right from wrong? Is there a right or wrong?

These are all questions that will determine an individual’s identity and ultimately help them determine their course in life.

Maybe it is time to right our own ship?

Image credit: bertknot

John Wooden On Stars

Wednesday, February 15th, 2017

https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/John_Wooden

In spite of being severely overloaded, KG still finds time to send me stuff he finds interesting and/or inspirational.

Over the years, we’ve had many discussions about culture and its importance in hiring.

He recently mentioned a quote from basketball player and Coach John Wooden.

“The main ingredient of stardom is the rest of the team.”

KG: In any high performing organization, there are lots of systems and processes that make the organization successful.

When you look at people considered stars, they are almost never part of second or third rate teams; they are almost always in organizations performing at the highest levels.

This doesn’t mean that there aren’t truly high performing people in lesser teams, it’s just that they are not defined as stars in general (sometimes they may be local stars, but generally don’t get the full recognition).

So a star, per definition, is a member of an organization that performs at the top.

Me: So true. I’d add that in most cases people become stars as a result of the culture and their manager, or so I’ve found.

KG: Exactly. Look at all the people who leave Goldman Sachs or Google who were stars there (e.g. Marissa Meyer) but are unable to maintain their level of performance outside the culture & systems of that environment.

That’s why it’s always dangerous to hire stars — more than anything else they are a product of their environment.

Me: Absolutely, and the poster child is GE’s Bob Nardelli!

(Click for more Wooden wisdom. For more information about stars and Nardelli use use the tags below.)

Image credit: Wikipedia

Ducks In A Row: Pros And Cons Of Omada Health

Tuesday, February 14th, 2017

http://vator.tv/news/2014-04-09-omada-health-raises-23m-for-chronic-disease-prevention

Companies are becoming more and more involved in their employees personal lives, especially health-wise.

That’s understandable, considering how fast costs keep rising.

Startup Omada is a good example of what’s new.

The company’s business model is unique, as it doesn’t just charge employers per customer, but it actually depends on the success of each individual to make money. Omada’s revenue is outcome based.

This means that client companies pay only when there are positive results and that’s a good thing.

Accomplishing it, however, can feel invasive.

Its flagship program, Prevent, is modeled around the National Institutes of Health study called the Diabetes Prevention Program and is designed to help participants modify their behavior and reduce their risk of Type 2 diabetes.

The client company contracts with third-party organizations to identify those most at risk for at risk of diabetes or heart disease and enrolls them for intensive personal counseling.

The digital scale that each user gets, which is connected wirelessly to their Omada account, does daily weigh-ins to track their weight loss, as that is a good indicator of blood sugar and the risk of diabetes. Omada then gets paid based on the percentage weight loss that user has seen.

However, weight is not always an accurate indicator. Based on my lifetime weight I should be diabetic, have high blood pressure and likely a heart condition.

But I don’t.

In fact, I am amazingly healthy, always have been, and require no medication, whereas 85% of people my age are taking at least one prescription drug.

While Omada’s process would work for many people it feels invasive to me and if I were an employee I’d want to opt out of it.

So the real question here is not the value of the program offered, but whether the employer forces people to do it and penalizes them if they refuse.

Image credit: Vator TV

Golden Oldies: Bullies And Performance

Monday, February 6th, 2017

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

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

I hate bullies. The biggest changes in the decade since I wrote this post are that there are more bullies, many using the anonymity of the internet to morph into trolls, more hand-wringing, that accomplishes nothing, and a rising tide less willing to be bullied that responds loudly and displays its disgust actively with its wit and its feet. Hopefully that tide will turn into a tsunami.

Read other Golden Oldies here.

Does your newspaper carry The Born Loser by Chip Sansom? Actually, I don’t find Brutus, the main character, to be a loser—just a slightly naive guy who works for an arrogant bully who constantly belittles him.

In the July 26 panel the dialog is as follows:

Boss: I am looking for a unique spin to put on our new ad campaign—do you have any ideas?

Brutus: Gee, Chief, I’m not sure—are there any ideas you think I should think of?

Boss: Brutus Thornapple, master of thinking inside the box.

It reminded me of managers I’ve known, who, no matter what happened or what feedback they received, never could understand that it was their MAP and their actions, not their people’s, that was the root cause of their under-performing groups.

After all, if you

  • ask for input and ridicule those who offer it, why be surprised when you stop receiving input;
  • claim that you want to solve problems while they’re still molehills, yet kill the messengers who bring the news, you should expect to grapple with mountainous problems requiring substantially more resources;
  • tell people their ideas are stupid, whether directly or circumspectly, or, worse, that they are for thinking of them, why should they offer themselves up for another smack with the verbal two-by-four?

So, before you start ranting or whining about your group’s lack of initiative and innovation, try really listening to yourself and the feedback you get and then look in the mirror—chances are the real culprit will be looking straight back at you.

Role Model: Craig Zoberis and Fusion OEM

Wednesday, January 25th, 2017

http://www.fusionoem.com/

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

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

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

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

But not all of them.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image credit: Fusion OEM

Where To Work

Tuesday, January 24th, 2017

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

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

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

What a crock.

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

An even bigger crock.

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

And that is the biggest crock of all.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image credit: Mike Mozart

Golden Oldies: The Abuse Of Authenticity

Monday, January 23rd, 2017

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

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

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

Read other Golden Oldies here.

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

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

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

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

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

But at what cost?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image credit: pattista on flickr

Role Models: Yuchun Lee

Tuesday, January 3rd, 2017

Two old adages, “don’t waste time reinventing the wheel” and “profit from the mistakes of others, you don’t have time to make them all yourself” gave rise to a new series for 2017. Role Models is my effort to help you adhere to both, always remembering to tweak their ideas to fit your MAP.  

Yuchun LeeYuchun Lee was a member of the famous MIT blackjack team (the basis for the movie 21) and a serial entrepreneur since childhood. Unica, his first “real” startup, which went public in 2005 and sold for around $500 million to IBM in 2010 . He is currently co-founder/CEO of sales training startup Allego.

Lee learned early on that telling, let alone ordering, people to do whatever didn’t work and radically changed his approach.

But then you very soon realize that human beings have free will and you’ve got to persuade them.

He runs his company based on three core philosophies.

The first is the ability of the company to know what is true, what is not true, and what’s real and what’s not real. (…) The foundation is all about truth.

The second is how you behave as a team to solve problems. (…) Everybody’s trying to figure out how to look smart in front of the C.E.O. (…)  it’s actually O.K. if you sit there. If you’ve got nothing to say, don’t say it.

The third is about mistakes. We tell people you’ve got to love your mistake. If you go through a whole day without making a mistake, you just wasted a whole day because you probably haven’t pushed yourself. (…) You need to see mistakes as opportunities to improve.

Image credit: Allego

Golden Oldies: Vested Self-interest In Action

Monday, December 12th, 2016

It’s amazing to me, but looking back over more than a decade of writing I find posts that still impress, with information that is as useful now as when it was written. Golden Oldies is a collection of what I consider some of the best posts during that time.

To truly understand this post, you need to click the link and read the original explanation of VSI. VSI isn’t particularly original, but it is rarely called that — people prefer nicer or more professional sounding euphemisms. And that’s OK; I just prefer to opt for clarity and simplicity — which is why I’m considered too blunt.

Read other Golden Oldies here.

vsi-successTuesday I shared my version of VSI, the main ingredient in motivational sauce, and today I want to tell you a story about how it works.

Earlier this year I was working with a client, Jim, on various management approaches, such as offering good feedback and open sharing of all information, i.e., not dribbling it out over multiple requests, that he wanted to integrate into the company culture. During the conversation he asked me “What can I do to open the minds of some of my managers?”

Unfortunately, there is really nothing you can do to force a person to change the way they think, but there is much you can do to encourage it. I honestly believe that the fastest, as well as the most potent, way to encourage change is good old VSI.

I used to believe that people had to perceive the need for change before they could change, but based on experience I’ve found that if they see benefits to themselves from doing things differently they will start moving in that direction and the results can be almost surreal.

Jim had a manager who was known for making his people come to him constantly to get the information necessary to do the work they were assigned. His attitude/actions resulted in higher-than-normal turnover in his group, but he insisted that he wasn’t doing anything and people could get the information at any time, so there was no correlation.

Using VSI, Jim and I worked out a two-prong approach to change his behavior.

  • 20% of his annual bonus was tied to reducing his group’s turnover by 30% (which would bring it in line with the company as a whole); and
  • Jim started doing to the manager as he did to his group by forcing him to come and ask and then dribbling out the information he needed to meet his targets.

Part of the manager’s reaction was straightforward—he grumbled a bit about the retention bonus. But the surreal part was in his reaction to the information plug—nothing, not a word or an action to acknowledge what was going on.

However, he must have noticed, because within days of it starting he was giving more complete information to his people.

Not all at once and not very graciously, but he loosened his hold on the information flow, so did Jim. If the manager backtracked Jim tightened up and the manager learned that to get he had to give.

At first, his people were cautious, not really trusting the new openness, but after about a month the results started and after six weeks they took off like a rocket—productivity and retention zoomed north, while grumbling and discontent headed south and on into oblivion.

But the surreal part is that, in spite of his people commenting publicly on how differently he was handling assignments, meetings, etc., to this day the manager claims that nothing changed and certainly not him.

Image credit: Street Sign Generator

Entrepreneurs: Motivational ‘Duh’

Thursday, December 1st, 2016

https://www.flickr.com/photos/anchovypizza/4222126794/

Tuesday I commented on the ‘duh’ factor in relation to Amazon finally eliminated forced ranking reviews, AKA, rank and yank, recognizing that they did nothing to foster teamwork or improve retention.

Like I said, “duh.”

Today we have Facebook offering up another duh moment.

Facebook is trying to accommodate millennials and its younger predecessor by talking to each worker and figuring out how their individual skills can be used to make a more personalized career path, not something more traditional and cookie cutter-like.

Definitely duh.

I defy you to think of anyone who works at any job and any level who doesn’t prefer this approach.

Take a look at what turns on/off the so-called silver-tsunami  of Gen X and Boomers.

Millennials may walk faster than Gen X and Boomers when they don’t like the culture, but that, too, will change as they take on more responsibilities, such as kids, mortgages and aging parents

Whenever I hear how different the needs of millennials are compared to previous generations I’m reminded of these words from Socrates.

“Our youth now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for their elders and love chatter in place of exercise; they no longer rise when elders enter the room; they contradict their parents, chatter before company; gobble up their food and tyrannize their teachers.”

Give it a rest.

You hire individuals and need to manage them as such.

So put away the cookie cutter and provide everyone, no matter their age, with an environment in which to grow and flourish and the tools needed to do it.

That’s your job in a nutshell.

Flickr image credit: David

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