Tuesday, September 19th, 2017
I read a post by Ellen Pao in Medium in which she asks if anything has really changed.
On its face, it all sounds like meaningful change, right? Or at least it sounds a lot better than the very recent public shaming of women who came forward and the sweeping of bad behavior under the rug. (…) Public apologies and one-off actions are superficial ways to react to criticism or put on a happy face, but they often cover up company culture failures that are hard to fix, especially if no one is seriously trying.
While there have been multiple resignations and apologies (complete with crocodile tears), do you really believe that any of these wealthy, well-known, white guys will land anywhere but on their feet? That their actions will have any permanent effect on their future?
If so, you’re living on a planet to which I’d love to emigrate.
Whereas the women who went public will pay a heavy toll.
I [Pao] have heard from several women who spoke up in this newspaper and elsewhere this year that they continue to face harassment. They have been told that discussing their experiences has limited their careers.
After virtual reality startup UploadVR was sued for sexual harassment in May, a male startup CEO publicly commented that lawsuits like this make him “VERY afraid to hire more [women]. It just seems like such a huge risk as CEO.” His comments went viral and he later retracted, apologized and deleted them.
Retracted, apologized, deleted, none of which is likely to have changed his attitude.
Speaking of UploadVR, which had, and probably still has, one of the worst, sex-drenched cultures in Silicon Valley.
The Valley will protect it, because it isn’t just a guy or a company, but a hub for the VR crowd and, collectively, they need it.
While current publicity is heavily focused on tech, the same actions are alive and well in many venues from the University of Rochester’s Department of Brain and Cognitive, one of the top graduate programs in the US, to women in sports broadcasting.
Are things getting better? Maybe.
But as long as there are no long-term ill effects for guys there is little reason for them to do the hard work of educating against bias, both inherent and societal, and changing culture.
Nothing is as simple as it seems. Be sure to read about an experience, shared by an East Coast founder (published September 20), that turns a spotlight on rarely mentioned fall-out from the harassment problem.
Image credit: TimOve
Wednesday, September 13th, 2017
Everywhere you turn today you hear a reference to a person as a brand, with dozens of pundits telling you how to use social media to “build your personal brand.”
Four years ago, in another post, I said “In an oracular vision of the Twenty-first century Henry Ford said, “A bore is a person who opens his mouth and puts his feats in it.” These days it’s more accurate to say, “A bore is a person who opens their social media and puts their feats in it.””
The result is still a bore, but on a wider stage.
Branding yourself supposedly makes you more valuable, which is laughable, as is the current idea that being busy increases your value.
Sheryl Sandberg has a different take; she believes brands are for things and voices are for people.
The idea of developing your personal brand is a bad one, according to Sandberg. “People aren’t brands,” she says. “That’s what products need. They need to be packaged cleanly, neatly, concretely. People aren’t like that.”
“Who am I?” asks Sandberg. “I am the COO of Facebook, a company I deeply believe in. I’m an author. I’m a mom. I’m a widow. At some level, I’m still deeply heartbroken. I am a friend and I am a sister. I am a lot of very messy, complicated things. I don’t have a brand, but I have a voice.”
Focus on developing your voice, she says. Figuring out what’s important to you and being willing to use your voice for that purpose is incredibly valuable. “If you are doing it to develop your personal brand, it’s empty and self-serving and not about what you’re talking about,” she says. “If you’re doing it because there is something you want to see changed in the world, that’s where it will have value and depth and integrity.”
Sandberg’s comments on building a voice are just part of her thoughts on how to have a career that is successful and meaningful.
Additional thoughts from Emily Esfahani Smith, an editor at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University and the author of “The Power of Meaning: Finding Fulfillment in a World Obsessed With Happiness” contribute to that goal.
Most young adults won’t achieve the idealistic goals they’ve set for themselves. They won’t become the next Mark Zuckerberg. They won’t have obituaries that run in newspapers like this one. But that doesn’t mean their lives will lack significance and worth. We all have a circle of people whose lives we can touch and improve — and we can find our meaning in that.
It’s worth your time to read both articles no matter your age or situation.
Hopefully you’ll agree and send them on to colleagues, friends and the young people in your life.
Find your voice; live the wisdom that’s been shared, and help change the world for the better.
Image credit: Wikipedia
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
Are 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.
His idea will save his company $5 million or more each year.
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
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
Tuesday, July 18th, 2017
Everywhere you turn these days you’re told to use social media to create an easily recognized persona that becomes your “personal brand.”
It’s supposed to be the “real” you, i.e., authentic.
It’s also supposed to be the best you, which usually means inauthentic.
Inauthentic, because people typically share all their upside, but rarely the downside.
They post all the fabulous pictures (even helping them along via photoshop-type editing).
Non-fabulous pics are a rarity, unless they are meant to be funny, e.g., morning bedhead before coffee, and those are screened carefully.
We’re not talking spontaneous, rather faux spontaneous.
In fact, everything is carefully curated to enhance and extend one’s personal brand.
But what about personal culture?
As with company culture, your personal culture is based on your personal values.
Values are much harder to curate, since they underlie all actions.
Fred Destin is the latest VC to apologize for his actions, along with Binary Capital’s Justin Caldbeck, 500 Startups founder Dave McLure, and Lowercase Capital’s Chris Sacca.
Apparently it didn’t occur to any of them that their actions towards women were unacceptable, which makes you wonder about their values.
There is no wondering about Donald Trump’s values, since he stated publicly that he could do as he pleased, because he is rich.
The take away here is that no matter how carefully you curate your brand your personal culture will eventually trip you up if your curation doesn’t accurately reflect your values.
Image credit: Jinho Jung
Thursday, July 6th, 2017
Folks, I thought it fitting to have something veteran related as America just celebrated Independence Day. While the holiday itself is about the founding of the country, I think we can all agree that the actions of the men and women who fought helped secure the independence.
My goal here is to not make this a political blog, but sometimes folks who I respect speak out and I like to highlight them.
I had the privilege to read “Tribe” recently and found the book to share a perspective on PTSD and culture that I had not heard before.
I may have shared in the past, but when I was a younger man I served in The United States Marine Corps. In that capacity I lost several Marines while on patrol in Fallujah, Iraq and it’s still something I keep with me.
With that said, I am fortunate not to suffer any serious effects, physical or mental, but I found the book to be a breath of fresh air.
I say all of this to say that Junger is well respected in the community and a voice of reason.
Below my post Junger is quoted as stating the current divisive political environment is causing moral injury on the troops. Moral injury could be very true. In the current conflicts young men and women are thrust into confusing situations that have no clear objective.
For us, we had to contend with the so called enemy, but also the locals; all while trying to explain that we were there to provide peace (while holding them to the gun).
It was confusing and as an introspective guy I had a hard time rationalizing what I was doing. My response was to just not consider the socio-political ramifications and focus on the day at hand.
What Junger says though is true in my opinion. As politics have become more divisive, it is tough for the folks in harm’s way to truly believe in the cause. The homeland is secure and we fight most wars now for no clear reason.
One takeaway from Junger’s book about PTSD I found can be applied by anyone.
He says we should embrace veterans, but not in such a way that you isolate them. Most veterans do not want adulation and praise, they just want mutual respect and the ability to remember, but not dwell.
I have included the full text of his interview below.
An award-winning journalist says people who claim Trump isn’t their president hurt US troops
Sebastian Junger has a message for lawmakers: the partisan warring of politicians in Washington DC is hurting the American military more than they realize.
“Unity is all soldiers have when they face the enemy, and you must do everything in your power to make sure that it is not taken away from them,” the noted war journalist and author, who has written and directed extensively on war, told members of the House Veterans Affairs Committee during a hearing on post-traumatic stress disorder on June 7.
Junger used the opportunity to rail against the toxic influence of partisan politics among the armed forces.
“When it became fashionable after the election for some of my fellow Democrats to declare that Donald Trump was not their president, they put all of our soldiers at risk of moral injury,” he told lawmakers. “In order for soldiers to avoid something called ‘moral injury,’ they have to believe they are fighting for a just cause. And that just cause can only reside in a nation that truly believes in itself as an enduring entity.”
The issue isn’t just about the unusual nature of the Trump presidency, or Democrats’ resistance to it. “When Donald Trump charged repeatedly that Barack Obama [ …] was not even an American citizen, he surely demoralized many soldiers who were fighting under orders from that White House,” he said.
Junger, whose career as a war reporter began covering the Kosovo genocide in the 1990s, most recently penned a book called “Tribe” in which he wrote about the fractionalized America that troops face when they return home.
“For the sake of our military personnel, if not for the sake of our democracy, such statements should be quickly and forcefully repudiated by the offending political party,” Junger said.
“If that is not realistic, at least this committee — which is charged with overseeing the welfare of our servicemen and women — should issue a bipartisan statement rejecting such rhetorical attacks on our national unity.”
The military, which serves the president as its commander-in-chief, has become increasingly politicized in recent years.
The Center for New American Security reported a trend of more politicization of the military’s ranks by observing speeches given by retired generals at both Republican and Democratic national conventions in 2016.
What’s more, a study by the National Defense University found that more military personnel are sharing their political views on social media.
After surveying 500 West Point cadets and active duty officers, the report found that 75% of respondent said that they had seen their contemporaries shared political links on their personal social media accounts on sites like Facebook and Twitter.
In “Tribe,” Junger writes, “Soldiers all but ignore differences of race, religion and politics within their platoon.”
Read the original article on Task & Purpose.
Image credit: Sebastian Junger
Friday, June 23rd, 2017
A Friday series exploring Startups and the people who make them go. Read all If the Shoe Fits posts here.
The 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
Thursday, June 8th, 2017
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
Thursday, May 18th, 2017
This month is Go Grey month.
It’s a month designed to bring awareness to brain cancer and the horrible effects it wreaks on both patients and their families.
I thought it important to bring up, because I have a friend who’s daughter is terminal. Yet, while fighting brain cancer she is a light to those around her.
You may ask yourself, how is that related to culture? Under normal circumstances I would agree I don’t see the connection either, but I believe there is one in this case.
My friend has instilled a culture of compassion into her life and that of her little girl.
She posts constant updates on non-profits that support cancer research, updates on other child warriors fighting the good fight, and also shares messages of hope.
This may be deeper than culture, it’s character and it has the power to transform institutions and people.
I watch her and feel both a deep sadness but also respect for what she is going through and accomplishing.
I am a parent myself and I feel blessed daily that my girls are healthy and safe. I am not sure I would have the strength that this friend has shown under the same circumstances.
How can character change an institution?
There are numerous examples of one person transforming a company. Steve Jobs, when he returned to Apple, always comes to mind.
And there are cases where the leadership transformed something for the worse — Yahoo?
Character has the ability to almost be self sustaining. It burns bright and true regardless of circumstances.
How do we harness that in a culture? The first step would be, do you have a good character. In the age where there is no right or wrong it can be tough to determine, but, as a rule, I believe if you are taking the time to honor your fellow man and putting them first, you’re on the right path.
So this month I ask that you take time to examine your character, look to serve others, and learn.
Just like my friend who gives her all, we have a choice every day to make it a great day or not.
Image credit: Leigh Blackall
Thursday, April 13th, 2017
This past week we had one bad press event after another and all from different sectors. Let’s review what has transpired so far: Pepsi decided to release an ad that equated the giving of a Pepsi to a police officer as the answer to the protests that have occurred.
It was looked, at the very least, tone deaf, but was also offensive to many who felt Pepsi was attempting to capitalize on societal events that have true impacts.
Our President’s Press Secretary, Sean Spicer, somehow thought it was a clever idea to bring up Hitler as an example of how he was better than the current Syrian regime. If you missed it he essentially said that Hitler never gassed his own people, unlike what Assad has done in Syria.
A basic history lesson will show that Hitler may not have used gas attacks in a combat role but he gassed millions of innocent Jews in death camps throughout Europe. Not exactly a bastion of humanity there.
The event, however, that caught many by surprise was the viral video of a passenger being forcibly removed from a United Airlines flight after it was determined that they needed his seat for an employee.
This man was already seated and refused to leave, since he was a doctor and had appointments he needed to make. When he refused to leave, the police were called and he was dragged off screaming. To make matters odder he somehow got back on the plane, bloodied and rambling.
That event was terrible, but then the CEO of United decided to double down and call the man belligerent. Since then the CEO has issued several apologies, but the damage has been done.
What do these three events have in common? I would argue that in each of these cases the leadership of the company, who typically maintains the cultural norms, has failed.
Let’s dive in and see how this could have been prevented to learn from them in the future.
Pepsi had grand ambitions to have a meaningful conversation around current events and sell their product. One critical flaw here, they utilized their in-house marketing team.
They were operating in an echo chamber with no one to tell them to stop and think for a moment. This is something I personally must do in my own life. I must seek out feedback on a continuous basis to determine if I am on the right path.
My goal for this post is not to get political, but we can look at the Sean Spicer event as a leadership problem. He was hired by Donald Trump, who already had an idea of what Sean was like. Since taking the role Sean Spicer has been in hot water several times, this being the latest in a string of gaffs.
This man is essentially the voice of our President, twitter aside. The culture of the White House has enabled him to act recklessly and uncouthly. Similar to the idea that brilliant jerks are ok, we have a similar issue at stake here.
My take-away from this is to put yourself in the shoes of your listeners. Would what you are saying be divisive to your listeners or just plain wrong?
Finally, we have the United Airlines debacle.
Now the event itself was a shock but we need to look at the response since it came to light.
The CEO started by stating the man was belligerent and the CEO supported his employee’s decisions.
I get it, you want to reassure your workforce that you have their back, but in this case the CEO was also viewing this from a legal standpoint.
There is a law that allows you to forcibly remove a passenger if he is belligerent. The CEO labeled that passenger in such a way to protect himself legally. But we all saw the video and beyond refusing to leave the man really wasn’t much of a threat.
To me, this response is indicative of both pride and attempting to cover up rather than solve. That CEO has surrounded himself with folks that are unwilling or unable to push back and offer insight.
I have done that in my own life as well and so must always reach out to those that share different opinions than I or different beliefs, so I can continue to learn.
Image credit: Topher McCulloch
Monday, March 13th, 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.
Bosses are usually unrelenting when something goes wrong with a product/service. They, the team and often the entire company work to not only find the cause, so it won’t happen again, but also to placate their customers.
However, when the problem is an internal human one, they are more hesitant to root it out, since that often means first looking in the mirror and then actually changing (not just paying lip-service until the turmoil dies down).
Read other Golden Oldies here.
A Friday series exploring Startups and the people who make them go. Read allIf the Shoe Fits posts here
In 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 and via Imgfave
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