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Ducks in a Row: Good Boss Culture

Tuesday, August 29th, 2017

https://www.flickr.com/photos/andrewwippler/4556732144

There’s no question that tech, just like every other industry, is highly biased. It’s become a major issue not because it’s new, but because tech drives much of the economy, which puts it in the spotlight. Added to that, more women and people of color are and speaking out publically about what they have to deal with.

Tech’s main excuse for its lousy diversity numbers is a lack of talent, so they focus on kids to fill the pipeline — but all that really does is provide 5-20 years of avoidance in dealing with the real problem

Consider the hard data.

Among young computer science and engineering graduates with bachelor’s or advanced degrees, 57 percent are white, 26 percent are Asian, 8 percent are Hispanic and 6 percent are black (…)  technical workers at Google, Microsoft, Facebook and Twitter, according to the companies’ diversity reports, are on average 56 percent white, 37 percent Asian, 3 percent Hispanic and 1 percent black.

Those numbers certainly don’t add up.

The real problem is culture (duh!) — why spend eight-or-more (usually more) hours where you’re actively not wanted?

Yolanda Mangolini, Google’s director of global diversity, recognizes this problem.

“We know that it’s not just about recruiting a diverse workforce. It’s about creating an environment where they want to stay.”

True, but, in fact, the greatest company culture possible won’t cut it.

Even more important than company culture is the boss’ individual culture.

For hard proof there is Mekka Okereke, the black engineering manager who runs Google Play and seems to be missing (or controls) both conscious and unconscious bias.

That team is 10% black, 10% Latino, 25% women and 50% female managers, and has become a role model for other managers,

Obviously, Okereke doesn’t just hire strong talent; he provides an environment in which they can learn, grow and excel.

That’s what a good boss is supposed to do.

But it’s the great ones who actually do it.

Image credit: Andrew Wippler  

If The Shoe Fits: Plato’s Soft Success

Friday, August 4th, 2017

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

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mEngineers constantly channel Wernher von Braun, “One good test is worth a thousand expert opinions,” preferring AB tests and data points to anecdotal evidence or everyday been there/done that experience.

This is a serious problem for most founders who are

  • engineers, and
  • inexperienced (AKA, young).

Tests, no matter how good, and data points fail miserably when it comes to hiring people, let alone managing them.

Proof of this comes from no less a data embracer than Google, which scrapped an algorithm that was supposed to predict successful hires, its famed brain teaser questions and rigid responses to recruiter questions.

Such was the experience of Quang Hoang and his two partners when they started Birdly, which pivoted three times before finding a solid product/market fit.

…the tumult alienated most of Birdly’s employees, who quit. Hoang attributes the turnover to his own inexperience as a manager.

We, along the way, made many mistakes in management,” Hoang tells Business Insider. “We lost many great developers.” 

Enter Plato, a new name and a new team, focused on providing techies with soft skill mentoring.

The idea, says, Hoang is that an engineer’s education is focused heavily on “hard skills” around programming and systems design. The rest has to be learned. And for programmers-turned-leaders, it’s often the “soft skills,” like management and leadership, that need the most attention.

To people such as myself, who for decades have been involved in teaching and honing those skills in managers across all fields, not just tech, it’s more of a ‘duh’ factor.

But that’s OK; just don’t call it “thought leadership.”

Most great management concepts and skills aren’t decades old, they’re centuries old, constantly updated using language that will resonate with the current target audience.

Probably one of the best pieces of leadership/management advice comes from Lao Tzu and dates to the fourth or fifth century BC; I’ve quoted it multiple times over the last ten plus years.

As for the best leaders,
the people do not notice their existence.
The next best,
the people honor and praise.
The next,
the people fear;
and the next,
the people hate…
When the best leader’s work is done,
the people say, “We did it ourselves!”
To lead the people, walk behind them.

Difficult advice to follow in a world of personal brands and excessively large egos.

Image credit: HikingArtist

GoDaddy: How A Leopard Changed Its Spots

Wednesday, July 26th, 2017

https://www.flickr.com/photos/forthefunofit/4225932657/

I’ll bet you remember GoDaddy’s incredibly sexist commercials and bikinied conference models.

But did you notice that they totally stopped in 2013; they didn’t taper off, just stopped?

Obviously, something changed. It couldn’t have been public outrage; that had never bothered GoDaddy bosses before.

What happened was the installation of Blake Irving as CEO.

Irving not only stopped the ads, he set out to radically change a toxic culture that could easily have destroyed the company.

Culture starts at the top and its values and attitudes seep down throughout the organization.

That means change must also come from the top, but seepage won’t effect change.

Change requires structural and enforceable process change.

The answer is more complicated than just stamping out overt sexism. GoDaddy also focused on attacking the small, subtle biases that can influence everything from how executives evaluate employees to how they set salaries.

This was partly accomplished by changing the language, so that managers would evaluate impact as opposed to character.

You can’t change a place just by hiring more women,” said Ms. Weissman, the senior vice president, who oversees a technical staff. “You have to create a safe space to talk about the assumptions all of us have. You have to work against the biases.

Are the efforts paying off?

Today, almost a quarter of GoDaddy’s employees are women, including 21 percent of its technical staff. Half of new engineers hired last year were female, and women make up 26 percent of senior leadership. Female technologists, on average, earn slightly more than their male counterparts.

Who’d a’thunk it?

Go Daddy as one of the nation’s most inclusive tech companies and a top workplace for women and a lodestone of gender equity.

The company’s policies on equal pay, its methods for recruiting a diverse work force and its approach to promoting women and minorities had been lauded inside business schools and imitated at other firms.

Uber et al. take note.

With truly committed leadership a leopard can change its spots.

Image credit: jdog90

Golden Oldies: Incentive Doubleheader

Monday, July 24th, 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.

Companies constantly talk about what they are doing to incentivize productivity and innovation. Incentives are supposed to help drive performance. Recognition is very important as are financial rewards — as long as they are seen as fair. If not, they act more as disincentives, as seen in the first post.

The second focuses on sales incentives.Maximizing revenue generation, AKA, sales, is a top priority for every business, from micro startups through the Fortune 10. Commissions have always played a significant role incentivizing salespeople  — until they don’t.

Read other Golden Oldies here.

The Reward Should Fit the Act

1095615_success_wayAre you familiar with the saying “let the punishment fit the crime?”

It’s a valid approach, but it’s just as true that the reward should fit the action.

A friend of mine works for a Fortune 1000 company in a tech support role. He’s well respected lead tech in his group.

Last year he developed an idea on his own time and gave it to his company.

As a result, he was flown to annual dinner and presented with an award and a $5000 bonus.

Sound impressive?

His idea will save his company $5 million or more each year.

Still impressed?

My friend isn’t.

He has a friend who is very impressed, but that’s because his company doe nothing; no recognition whatsoever.

My friend feels that a $5K reward for saving the company $5M or more every year, while being better than nothing, is still just short of an insult.

Other than being disappointed what’s the fallout?

He likes his job and his boss, so he’s not planning on leaving, but…

He has another idea that he’s not going to bother developing.

He’s still one of the most productive people they have, but that extra edge is gone.

What do you think his employer should have done?

Join me tomorrow for another look at how, to quote another old saying, companies keep cutting off their noses to spite their faces.

Image credit: dinny

 

Ducks in a Row: Incentive Stupidity Knows No Bounds

http://www.flickr.com/photos/finsec/354260437/Yesterday I told you how a company squashed my friend’s initiative by giving him a bonus that had no relationship to the value he provided them in annual savings.

This reminded me of something that happened back in the early 1980s when sales was truly dependent on the skill, relationships and reputations of salespeople.

Another guy friend, another incredibly stupid company.

In a nutshell,

  • Guy outsold every salesperson both internally and at the competition. He had years of experience; relationships with customers that didn’t quit and unmatched skill at understanding customers and convincing them that his company (whichever it was) had the best solution available.
  • One day guy was called into the CFOs office and told that his commission was being capped.
  • He was on track to earn more than the president and that was unacceptable; he asked if they were sure that was the only solution and told yes.
  • Guy proceeded to write a resignation letter on a sheet of paper he borrowed from the CFO.
  • He left the offices without speaking to anyone.
  • By the time he reached home there were three name-your-own-terms offers from competitors on his voicemail.
  • He started with his new company the next day.

Over the years I’ve found that actions like these usually come from the company’s bean counters. (In this instance, ‘bean counters’ is definitely a derogatory term.)

Apparently, some bean counters involved never learned to do the math.

In both cases the actual cost was zero, since they were funded from direct actions well beyond anything expected of the employees involved.

The lesson here is that you never cap a commission and the reward for saving $5 million annually should be at least 1% of one year ($50,000) as opposed to .001% ($5,000).

I realize it’s difficult for some financial types, executives and managers to understand, but that is why bonuses and commissions are called incentives—not disincentives.

Image credit: Finsec

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

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.

Golden Oldies: Insanely Smart Retention and Stars

Monday, April 3rd, 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.

Jerks. Turks. Stars. Bro culture. Definitely insanely stupid. I wrote this exactly six years ago and nothing has changed; if anything, it’s gotten worse and the post is yet more applicable.

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

Read other Golden Oldies here.

3937284735_35e9f47fb3_mAre you already a devotee of insanely smart hiring, in the process of changing after reading insanely stupid hiring or somewhere in-between?

Wherever your MAP is on the subject there is one thing about hiring that you need to wrap your head around if you want your career to flourish.

You can not hire stars, but you can create and maintain them.

This is as true of executives and management as it is of workers at all levels.

Think of hiring in terms of planting a garden—only these plants have feet.

You’re at the nursery and find a magnificent rose. It’s large, because it’s several years old, has dozens of blooms and buds and is exactly what you wanted for a particular space in your yard.

The directions say that the rose needs full sun to thrive, while the space in your yard only gets four to five hours of morning sun. But the rose is so gorgeous you can’t resist, convincing yourself that those hours from sunrise to 11 will be enough, so you take it home and plant it.

It seems to do OK at first, but as time goes by it gets more straggly and has fewer and fewer blooms.

Finally, you give it to your friend who plants it in a place that gets sun from early morning to sunset.

By the end of the next summer the rose is enormous, covered in blooms and has sprouted three new canes.

One of the things that insanely smart hiring does is ensure that people are planted where they will flourish, whether they are already thriving or are leaving an inhospitable environment.

I said earlier that people are like plants with feet. Abuse a plant, whether intentionally or through neglect, and it will wither and eventually die; abuse your people and sooner or later they will walk.

Insanely smart hiring also gives you a giant edge whether the people market is hot or cold.

By knowing exactly what you need, your culture, management style and the environment you have to offer you are in a position to find hidden and unpolished jewels, as well as those that have lost their luster by being in the wrong place. (Pardon the mixed metaphors.)

These are often candidates that other managers pass on, but who will become your stars—stars with no interest in seeking out something else.

They recognize insanely smart opportunities when they see them.

Flickr image credit: Ryan Somma

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

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