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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: The Perfect Attitude

Monday, June 12th, 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.

Attitude. That illusive quality with the giant impact. It’s the ‘A’ in MAP — mindset, attitude, philosophy — and a large part of the reason you land the job or ‘the one’.

Read other Golden Oldies here.

Have you ever wondered what the perfect attitude is? Not just a top dog or the person out front, but for any entrepreneur who aspires to succeed and, for that matter, every person who lives and breathes.

I recognize it when I see it, know when I’m doing it, and can explain it when I’m coaching, but I’ve never seen it so perfectly boiled down to ten short words—all self-explanatory, nothing to look-up or study or requiring training.

I found those words in a friend’s description of how his daughter lives.

Like 3 year olds, be passionate, humble, impatient, grateful…daily.

Do it and change your life—and your world—guaranteed!

Image credit: LizMarie on flickr

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

The Three Most Important Things When Hiring

Wednesday, May 24th, 2017

https://www.flickr.com/photos/mauropm/3436674445/

I’ve worked with and spoken to thousands of hiring managers over the course of my career.

They all want to hire the best people available and will go to great lengths to do it.

Sure, some work harder at hiring than others, but they all want a hire that succeeds.

Some look hardest at skills.

Some at accomplishments.

But the most successful managers focus on three character traits, before anything else.

Attitude, aptitude and initiative.

Attitude: Skills can grow and tech can be learned, but energy expended on changing someone’s attitude has the lowest ROI.

Aptitude: Things change. Not just tech, but rules, bosses, buildings, colleagues, and anything else you can think of; an aptitude for change can mean the difference between success and frustration.

Initiative: Going beyond the job description; doing more than expected; not for a reward or the glory, but because that’s who you are.

That’s how you build an organization that succeeds and makes you look great.

Attitude. Aptitude. Initiative.

Image credit: Mauro Parra-Miranda

Golden Oldies: Pay For Performance

Monday, April 17th, 2017

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

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

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

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

Read other Golden Oldies here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Consider this common example.

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

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

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

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

Stars—they’re in your MAP

More about stars and MAP

Rejects or stars?

Star compensation

Retaining Stars

Image credit: sxc.hu

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

If The Shoe Fits: Growth At All Costs — Unsustainable AND Unethical

Friday, March 24th, 2017

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

This is a short post, aside from the quotes, and I honestly don’t care if you skip my part and just read the  main links, especially the last on from DHH.

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mIt’s exactly two years since I saw a successful lifestyle business founder, Andrew Wilkinson of MetaLab and Flow, loudly and publicly say that he would rather be a horse than a unicorn.

Meaning, he would rather build his businesses organically and self-funded than take outside investment.

I wondered if his attitude was a harbinger of returning sanity.

Ha! Wilkinson’s attitude was an outlier, as opposed to a trend.

However, early as he was I see more successful founders following a similar path.

A few days ago I read a Medium post from Mara Zepeda, Co-founder and CEO of Switchboard, and Jennifer Brandel Co-founder and CEO of Hearken, coining a new term, zebra, to denote a sustainable approach to growth.

A year ago we wrote “Sex & Startups.” The premise was this: The current technology and venture capital structure is broken. It rewards quantity over quality, consumption over creation, quick exits over sustainable growth, and shareholder profit over shared prosperity. It chases after “unicorn” companies bent on “disruption” rather than supporting businesses that repair, cultivate, and connect. After publishing the essay, we heard from hundreds of founders, investors, and advocates who agreed: “We cannot win at this game.”

Adam Eskin, founder and CEO of expanding restaurant chain Dig Inn and a former private equity associate at Wexford Capital puts it this way,

“Having a background in private equity, we don’t just want to grow this business for growth’s sake, lose passion for what we do, or the reasons why we’re here. I think that’s what some folks can end up doing when they raise this kind of capital.”

As a tech person, who has been seduced into believing that valuation is everything, why should you listen to an outlier or non-tech founder, let alone a couple of women?

Perhaps you’ll be more inclined to listening to the guy whose tech generates raves and may even be the source code of your company.

DHH (David Heinemeier Hansson), creator of Ruby on Rails, Founder & CTO at Basecamp (formerly 37signals), writer of best-selling books and winning LeMans racecar driver.

There is no higher God in Silicon Valley than growth. No sacrifice too big for its craving altar. As long as you keep your curve exponential, all your sins will be forgotten at the exit. (…)  The solution isn’t simple, but we’re in dire need of a strong counter culture, some mass infusion of the 1960s spirit. To offer realistic, ethical alternatives to the exponential growth logic. Ones that’ll benefit not just a gilded few, but all of us. The future literally depends on it.

Image credit: HikingArtist

 

Ducks in a Row: How Good Is Your Face-To-Face?

Tuesday, March 21st, 2017

https://www.flickr.com/photos/44412176@N05/4197328040/

Why is it that the most difficult part of management, i.e., people management, constantly moves backwards?

Managers from the Greatest Generation tried to manage by memo.

That lasted until the 1970s when Boomer and Gen X managers took a giant step backwards and started trying to manage by email.

Millennials have taken an even larger step in that direction by trying to manage by text and have swept many of the previous contingents along with them.

Granted, people at all levels often look for and find ways, frequently turning to available technology, to avoid, or at least minimize, the most frustrating and difficult parts of their jobs.

However, that doesn’t work when the frustrating part is 90% of the job.

Every time this comes up I find myself quoting something Terry Dial said to me decades ago.

“People are 90% of our costs as well as the key to customer service and satisfaction. The only thing that should take priority over hiring a new employee is keeping a current one.”

Wally Bock puts it this way (and offers excellent advice on how to do it.)

In the Marines, I learned that when you’re responsible for a group, you have two jobs. One of them is to accomplish the mission. The other is to take care of the people.

I personally guarantee that you won’t accomplish the former if you ignore the latter.

You cannot “care for your people” by email or text — it requires face time.

It requires one-on-one conversations — wherever they take place — and not just about performance.

Conversations need to be human, that means family, hobbies, food, sports, etc.

Face-to-face humanizing contact is critical for teams, too, whether they are in a different office around the block or around the globe.

As Valerie Berset-Price, founder of Professional Passport says,

“Building trust is a multisensory experience,” she says. “Only when people are physically present together can they use all of their senses” to establish that needed trust. Without a bond, conflict or disengagement can more easily arise and is more difficult to resolve.

So whether you consider yourself a manager, a leader, a boss, or just a plain working stiff honing your in-person communication skills will not only improve your career opportunities, but also all parts of your life.

PS I just saw this article on IBM’s move to have teams in-person face-to-face.

Image credit: gorfor

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

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