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Ducks in a Row: the Reality of Culture

Tuesday, October 14th, 2014


Washing dishes for Jeff was grueling, greasy work. But then again, making a pizza, or driving a truck, or baking a cake, or any of countless other jobs are not always enjoyable in themselves, either. Out of all the lessons I learned from that guy in the Pizza Hut tie, maybe the biggest is that any job can be the best job if you have the right boss. Danial Adkison

People work for people, not companies.

People quit people, not companies.

They accept positions because of the culture and leave when it changes.

Bosses interpret company culture; they improve or pervert it; they add/subtract/polish/tarnish it.

What bosses don’t do is pass it on intact and untouched.

Flickr image credit: Susanne Nilsson

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If the Shoe Fits: Hiring Responsibility

Friday, August 8th, 2014

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

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mWhose responsibility or fault, if you’re feeling judgmental, is it if a hire goes south?

No matter the circumstances, that dubious honor lies with the hiring manager.

In the decades I’ve worked with hiring managers I’ve heard every conceivable (and inconceivable) reason, but none shifted the de facto responsibility (blame, if you prefer).

Most of the time managers’ claim some variation of ‘the candidate lied…’

Of course, that’s what reference checks are for.

Often it’s the manager who doesn’t

  • sufficiently think through the job;
  • consider the current team’s competencies;
  • accurately share the culture; or
  • was even consciously aware of the culture;
  • consider the candidate’s career interests;
  • etc., etc.

The main thing to remember is what good hiring actually means:

Hiring the right person into the right position at the right time and for the right reasons.

Change any “right” in this sentence to “wrong” and you’ll end up with a bad hire, but a bad hire does not mean a bad person.

Bad hires have four basic ingredients—

all of which are a function of the hiring manager’s MAP and can be overcome.

Founders, like many managers in larger companies, frequently claim they are too busy to take time to lay the groundwork for solid hires and then wonder why they make hiring blunders.

Poor hiring leads to high turnover.

High turnover shrinks your candidate pool because it wrecks your street rep and street reps are forever—good, bad or indifferent—nothing fades away in this digital age.

Image credit: HikingArtist

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Saying Good-by to a Well-Loved Boss

Wednesday, August 6th, 2014

Do you like your boss?

Or do you love your boss?

Obviously, the global staff at online luxury fashion retailer Net-APorter loves theirs.

The company was founded in 2000 and MARK Sebba joined in 2003—not the best of times for the dot com world.

During Sebba’s 11 years as CEO Net-APorter grew to €550m sales last year, 2,500 people and a valuation around €2.5bn

When he stepped down from that role the end of July his people found an amazing way to show their feelings.

The comments at YouTube are pretty cynical; saying that he must have known about the tribute, etc., but that’s not really the point.

Watch the faces of the staff and you’ll see emotion that can’t be faked.

Whether he knew or not, his staff’s feelings are very real.

YouTube credit: Diagonal View

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Investing—What Pays Off?

Monday, August 4th, 2014


“It’s not about the dollars you invest. It’s about the people you invest in.”

I don’t remember where I read that, but it’s certainly true.

Some bosses invest in their companies—they buy new hardware, upgrade development software, customer service and other IT systems, improve the physical environment, etc., etc.

They spend to improve their company’s bottom line.

They don’t spend much on training.

They believe the money spent building and growing people provides marginal return, while increasing turnover.

Great bosses invest in their people—they encourage learning new skills, cross-train, provide access to educational opportunities, etc., etc.

In return they have a highly creative, fully engaged, hyper-productive workforce.

They know people may leave if there are no internal growth opportunities, but great bosses cheer them on.

They know that people leave for many reasons, but when the reason is positive then the buzz is positive.

And positive buzz enhances both the boss’ and the company’s street rep.

Flickr image credit: opensource.com

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If the Shoe Fits: Finding the Cause of Turnover

Friday, May 30th, 2014

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

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mIn the right frame of MAPping Company Success it says, “Have a quick question or just want to chat?” along with both email and phone number.

A few weeks ago a “John,” a founder, called me to see if I had any idea why his turnover was so high.  

In response to my questions he described his company’s culture, management style, product, etc.

I told him that assuming what he said was what was actually happening then something else was going on.

Since we are several thousand miles apart, we came up with the idea of using a stationary camcorder to tape the interactions; a “set it and forget it” approach to capture the norm and not performances.

A few days later he sent me a link to see the results.

I choked at the length, but it didn’t take that long to find what the likely problem was.

To see if my instinct was correct, I watched the entire nine hours on fast forward.

What I saw was that, almost without exception, during every interaction John had, whether with programmers or senior staff, he interrupted them to take calls or respond to texts.

We discussed the ramifications and effects of the constant interruptions and I asked him how he would feel if they had acted the same way.

He said it had happened to him and he usually felt annoyed, offended or both.

So I asked why they would feel any different.

John said that also explained why one senior developer said he preferred to work where he was shown some respect.

John had chalked it up to the developer’s age and that he couldn’t handle the casual atmosphere, but thinking back the guy had had a good relationship and no problems with the team.

I suggested that instead of saying anything he just change, i.e., pay attention and not interrupt, since actions speak louder than words.

I also sent him this image as a constant reminder.

John went further than changing; he called the most recent three who had left, apologized and said he would like them to come back.

One had already accepted a job, but the other two decided to give it another shot.

They both said that his candidness, honesty in recognizing the problem and sincere apology made it likely he would follow through.

Image credits: HikingArtist; via Imgfave

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Seen Any Good Candidates Lately?

Wednesday, April 30th, 2014


What do you look for in your candidates?

How important is college?

Do you focus on GPAs?

Google homogenized it’s workforce by using an algorithm that measured people in terms of their similarity to current googlers (but I think that has changed).

Some managers are so naïve/dumb/lazy that they hire based on Klout scores.

EMANIO created a hiring manifesto to define its approach.

Some people think certain questions are the secret to good hiring, and while they are useful they aren’t silver bullets.

However, good questions asked correctly can tell you how the candidate thinks, which is far more valuable than where they went to school, previously worked, position held or even current skills. This is especially true if your goal is to increase creativity and innovation.

For those bosses who think that hiring is a waste of time, not to mention a pain in the patootie, I remind you that the only thing more important than acquiring talent is keeping what you have.

And if doing a good job isn’t enough, keep in mind that as a boss (any kind/any level) your reviews/raises are a function of your team’s performance not just your own.

For more how-to-hire knowledge read my Insanely series.

Flickr image credit: Kristina D.C. Hoeppner

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Ducks in a Row: Why Invest in People?

Tuesday, April 29th, 2014

invest-in-peopleThere are two attitudes when it comes to investing in people.

The common one considers it a cost that should be minimized.

The more astute believe it provides significant ROI.

Providing benefits can raise productivity and reduce turnover no matter the size or type of business.

Training is just as important (in England it can even stave off a corporate manslaughter charge).

It’s a well-documented fact that attitude/cultural fit are the most crucial factors when hiring, so where’s the sense in dumping people who are not only good cultural fits, but also possess institutional knowledge?

The graphic elegantly sums up the fear of the cost minimizers and the pragmatism of the astute.

One boss lesson that really needs to sink in is the true cost of replacing people.

  • A decade ago replacing cost 2-6 times the annual salary and although the dollar amount has risen I’m sure the multipliers haven’t gone down—they’ve probably gone up, too.
  • Losing the wrong person at the wrong time has the potential of crippling or even destroying the company.

As to ROI, look no further than Frederick Reichheld, founder of Bain & Company’s Loyalty Practice and author of Loyalty Rules!, and other loyalty books, whose carefully researched studies that a 5% improvement in employee retention translates to a 25%-100% gain in earnings.

That is one hell of a return for creating a culture that does the right thing by investing in its people.

Flickr image credit: Peter Baeklund


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From Ageism to Sexism

Monday, April 14th, 2014


It’s pretty obvious that ageism is alive and well in tech.

As is sexism, which you can see from the email a female CEO received from an engineer she tried to hire.

But far worse are these examples of what women in tech face, exemplified by the latest bit of app stupidity.

“Titstare is an app where you take photos of yourself staring at tits.” –David Boulton and Jethro Batts at the TechCrunch Disrupt hackathon

Not to mention those who defended it.

“It is not misogyny to tell a sexist joke, or to fail to take a woman seriously, or to enjoy boobies” –Pax Dickinson, co-founder and CTO, Glimpse Labs

Or the incredible level of ignorance and pure stupidity exemplified by White_N_Nerdy on Reddit.

“I’m honestly trying to understand why anyone says that females are ‘needed’ in the tech industry.” He continued: “The tech community works fine without females, just like any other mostly male industry. Feminists probably just want women making more money.”

Being old enough to remember, medicine, research and law were “mostly male” industries not that long ago—as were college and advanced degrees.

In the comments section of the article, many women say that prior to the Nineties women developers and engineers weren’t subject to nearly as much abusive harassment, which matches my memories from when I was a tech recruiter in the late Seventies through the Eighties.

What happened?

Please join me tomorrow for a look at what may be an epiphany of cause and effect for both ageism and sexism.

Flickr image credit: KAZ Vorpal

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What is Ex-employee BCS?

Wednesday, March 12th, 2014

http://www.flickr.com/photos/library_mistress/3723274800/It’s well known that what goes up comes down; programmers know that ‘garbage in/garbage out’ always holds true (and applies to more than programming, but that’s another post) and bosses (should) know that at some point current employees become former employees.

While people leave because of layoffs, it’s often by choice; either way it’s bad news and, like all bad news, requires clear communications to avoid repercussions.

However, there’s one repercussion that even the best communications can’t avoid and that’s what I call boss/company stupidity or BCS.

Granted, there’s a lot of BCS floating around the workplace, but this particular BCS ranks in the top three.

It’s the attitude that no matter how great employees are when they leave they are suddenly no good, their time with the company had no value and the resources invested in their growth were wasted.

The traditional way of looking at the “return on investment” on the training and coaching of employees is that it is truncated the moment they walk out of that door.

Which is really, really stupid.

Stupid because both companies and bosses have street reputations and while current employees contribute to them, those who leave have an outsize impact that lives everywhere forever in our social, wired world.

Flickr image credit: library_mistress   

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Can Awards Demotivate?

Monday, February 10th, 2014

http://www.flickr.com/photos/fsnorthernregion/5061121998/Ian Larkin is an assistant professor Harvard Business School and he shared some interesting research last spring.

The study focused on the effect of rewards, and although the subjects were laundry plant workers the results apply to knowledge workers, too.

The plan rewarded workers for being on time and not missing days.

The results were not as expected and productivity dropped.

In other words, the rewards plan ended up demotivating the workers.


Because it was easily gamed and structured to reward actions that were an expected part of the job, such as being on time.

Rewards should always be for going above and beyond the job description, showing initiative, creativity, reaching out to support not just the team, but others with whom they interface, etc.

It’s also important to remember that money isn’t always the best reward.

Most studies have proved that praise is an excellent driver of performance, productivity and good feelings—public recognition/kudos usually carries more weight than bought rewards such as meals or movie tickets.

“You can’t put a price on that. The recognition of hearing you did a good job and that others are hearing about it is worth more than money.”

The main thing to remember is that awards aren’t a solve-all panacea for an ailing team.

“You can’t say awards are good or bad. It depends on how they’re implemented.”

And they certainly won’t/can’t replace good management skills.

Flickr image credit: FSNR


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