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Ryan’s Journal: A Culture Of Compassion

Thursday, May 18th, 2017

https://www.flickr.com/photos/leighblackall/18728658808/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

Ryan’s Journal: Musings on A Tough Week For PR

Thursday, April 13th, 2017

https://www.flickr.com/photos/tofu_mugwump/25716292035/

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

Golden Oldies: If the Shoe Fits: Finding the Cause of Turnover

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

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.

respect

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

Ryan’s Journal: Has The Nation Lost Its Mind?

Thursday, March 2nd, 2017

As a nation, and perhaps as a species, we reward success above all else.

I am in sales and a mantra I have heard many times is, “exceeding quota covers a multitude of sins”. Did you show up hungover to a team meeting? Did you grope someone at an after-hours event? Did you mouth off to your boss?

These are things I have all personally witnessed at work and the one question always asked was, “are they hitting their quota?”

Why do I bring this all up you ask?

As you may have read Uber is having a tough few months and an even worse week. I won’t jump on the bandwagon to bemoan their culture, but I will say it’s probably not limited to them alone.

Because we have put value in success above all else it is easy to forgive when those companies or people err.

In my professional life I have had an opportunity to work in both large and small organizations. These are all made up of people with strengths and weaknesses, but one common thing I see is those that produce revenue and growth get away with a bit more.

Now this is only anecdotal, but headlines can support this claim to a degree. Uber, Google, Wal-Mart have all had scandals or missteps.

While this may not be indicative of social decay, it points to an opportunity for improvement.

One thing I truly believe is culture begins with self.

The choices we make as individuals are what shape the greater group.

When I see these stories of harassment, abuse or other issues it is not a company that is doing it, it’s an individual. Personal responsibility must be an expected outcome if we want a change.

How can we start?

There is always the Golden Rule or Karma to consider.

If you want to consider science alone we can look to Newton’s third law as reference.

All of these have a common theme — your actions will have equal reactions in measure.

Perhaps that can be a basis for culture moving forward?

Image credit: Dani Mettler

If the Shoe Fits: A Continuing Train Wreck Called Uber

Friday, February 24th, 2017

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

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mMost of the tech/business/news-consuming world has been hearing about Uber’s latest, but doubtfully its last, scandal.

Uber showcases a culture where anything goes: sexual harassment; managerial threats, including physical violence.

A culture based on the overweening arrogance and MAP of CEO Travis Kalanick and fully supported by his top management and a subservient/ineffective/actively resistant HR.

So Kalanick did what all CEOs (and politicians) do when someone shines a light in their rat hole — he announced an internal investigation led by external, high profile lawyers and made promises at an all-hands meeting.

“What I can promise you is that I will get better every day. I can tell you that I am authentically and fully dedicated to getting to the bottom of this.”

This from the guy who two short years ago called his company “Boob-er” in GQ, because it was a chick magnet.

There’s an old joke that you should never trust anyone who says “trust me.”

The same can be said about the person who proclaims their authenticity.

Image credit: HikingArtist

If the Shoe Fits: Who Do You Ask?

Friday, February 17th, 2017

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

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mHow many members of your team have been “bloodied in combat?”

How many have worked successfully through multiple economic (upturns/downturns) realities?

Who would you ask if you needed dynamic (question/discuss), as opposed to static (online postings), advice of “the been there/done that” variety to

  • land a candidate;
  • sell in a recession;
  • tweak/kill a marketing campaign;
  • beat the competition; or
  • Layoff a team member?

Don’t ask me; I’ve answered this question multiple times in varied forms.

Instead, ask millennial Tom Goodwin.

Maybe you’ll listen to him.

Image credit: HikingArtist

Golden Oldies: Ducks in a Row: They Are Not You

Monday, January 30th, 2017

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

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

In case you might think this post contradicts the one about how to be a great boss by giving your people what you wanted from you boss, it doesn’t.

The difference happens if you provide what you wanted, but only the way that would satisfy you, with no consideration of how they want it.

For example, recognition. While most people crave it, they want it displayed in different ways. I’ve always liked mine loud, more or less public and without having to ask. (Asking is akin to reminding your person that it’s your anniversary/birthday/Valentine’s Day, because they obviously forgot.) Others don’t want a fuss; to them, recognition comes from nothing being said. For them, feedback happens when something is wrong, so silence means everything is fine.

The trick is to not only give people what they (and you) want, but to give it to them how they want — sincerely.

Read other Golden Oldies here.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/hammer51012/3545163854Most of us crave acknowledgement when we do something well, I know I do.

Decades ago when I worked as a recruiter for MRI in San Francisco my boss, “Ray,” wasn’t big on that.

It’s not that he wouldn’t do it, he just never thought about it.

Acknowledgement wasn’t something Ray needed, so he was blind to its effect on others.

When he did give the kind of heady feedback that makes people hungry for more, you could see that he didn’t understand it.

Worse, more often than not, it came in response to what he was told — you literally had to walk into his office and say you closed the deal or got a new client to have it happen. 

But praise caught by fishing or out-and-out asking is not worth a whole lot when it comes to motivation.

Nor did he understand how to build a strong team; the kind that could put an ‘Office of the Year’ award on the wall.

I still remember his effort to create the same esprit de corps as “Jeff,” another MRI manager and good friend of his, enjoyed.

The effort failed, probably because Ray considered Jeff’s approach rah-rah stuff — the kind of stuff he was known to disparage.

Ray’s problem was similar to many managers I’ve worked with over the years, i.e., he assumed others wanted to be managed in the same way he liked to be managed.

When Ray did try doing it differently it felt like a con.

Which it was, because he didn’t really believe in what he was doing.

Image credit: Jim Hammer

Golden Oldies: The Abuse Of Authenticity

Monday, January 23rd, 2017

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

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

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

Read other Golden Oldies here.

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

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

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

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

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

But at what cost?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image credit: pattista on flickr

If the Shoe Fits: Keep The Best — Get Rid Of The Rest

Friday, January 13th, 2017

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

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mAs I’ve said before, Steve Jobs may be a good role model for building a company, but not for building a culture.

Just think what would you could build if you combined the best of Apple’s culture with the best of cultural benchmarks — the way Pearl Automation is doing.

Founded in 2014 by three former senior managers from Apple’s iPod and iPhone groups, Pearl has tried to replicate what its leaders view as the best parts of Apple’s culture, like its fanatical dedication to quality and beautiful design. But the founders also consciously rejected some of the less appealing aspects of life at Apple, like its legendary secrecy and top-down management style.

Pearl’s cultural focus is totally inclusive, based on the idea that, since, every employee is contributing to its success, every employee has a “need to know.”

The start-up, which makes high-tech accessories for cars, holds weekly meetings with its entire staff. Managers brief them on coming products, company finances, technical problems, even the presentations made to the board.

Of course, the first thing you need to do is accept that you are not Steve Jobs.

The next thing is to understand that both creativity and failure are necessary to succeed.

Eswar Priyadarshan, who sold his mobile advertising company, Quattro Wireless, to Apple in 2010 and stayed for four years, said that he learned about design and aesthetics during his time there. But he noted that Apple’s high compensation, focused product mission and top-down decision-making tended to damp the risk-taking necessary to start a company.

Mr. Priyadarshan, who is now chief executive of BotCentral, a six-person start-up, compared Apple to a community of warrior monks. “Warrior monks don’t talk and do whatever is asked,” he said.

The actual question you need to answer is: do you want to lead a team of warrior monks or are you more excited about herding a team of innovative, quirky, creative cats.

Image credit: HikingArtist

Ducks in a Row: To Get It, First Give It

Tuesday, October 11th, 2016

https://www.flickr.com/photos/southpaw2305/3311925355/

A response on Quora offers a key good insight for human interaction. It’s especially applicable when leading/managing a team, whether you’re a CEO or just-promoted supervisor.

A knight on his weary horse pulling up to house of a peasant. “Peasant, water for my horse and food and ale for me.”
Whilst eating and drinking, he says to the peasant “I am heading for the next town, what are the people like there?”
The peasant inquires “What we the people like in the last town you visited?”
The knight thinks and says, “The towns’ people were dishonest, unfriendly thieves, I was glad to leave the place.”
The peasant replied “Sadly, I think you will find the people in the next town the same.”

One week later another knight pulls up to the same peasant on his weary horse and says, “Excuse my look, but my horse and I have travelled far. If you have some food and water for my horse and also for myself, I would be grateful.”
The peasant feeds them both, with ale for the knight also, when the knight asks, “We are heading for the next town, what are the people like there?”
“What were they like in the last town you left?”
asks the peasant.
“They were the most wonderful, generous people I have ever met. I was sad to leave them,” answered the knight.
“Do not worry,” said the peasant, “they are are the same in the next town.”

In other words, people rise to your level of expectations.

Not only do they rise, but they also sink when expectations are low. This is most obvious when considering the difference between schools and teachers.

Although more subtle, it applies just as accurately to the workplace.

If you want your people to trust you — trust them first.

If you want respect — offer it first.

While the list of wants is endless, the recipe for achieving them remains the same.

To get what you want, give it first.

Flickr image credit: Chuck Black

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