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If the Shoe Fits: The Lean Startup’s Office Optional Conference

Friday, April 25th, 2014

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

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mYet again Sarah Milstein and her crew at Lean Startup have knocked it out of the ball park.  The first time I experienced it was at their Lean Startup Conference last year.  With the new Office Optional Conference, they have tapped into a motherload of issues that affect the Future of Knowledge Work and Workers.  Companies both large and small are struggling with attracting, growing, retaining and managing distributed teams, just like an increasing portion of the workforce is enticed by the ability to work from home (or anywhere).

I attended with Galina Landes who leads our engineering team, and one of the great experiences was to see how differently she and I experienced distributed work and strategies for improving what we’re doing.   But then, engineers have always had a more logical approach to most things than those of us working in management or other functions in a company.  Combining our perspectives and discussing strategies was interesting and very productive.

This conference on distributed teams dealt with collaboration, communication and the tools necessary for achieving goals as a team and creating a positive work environment.  I’ve personally struggled with this in my previous company and now as we are building a new one.   Our small team is fully distributed, although several of us are in the San Francisco Bay Area and can meet face to face when necessary.  But it’s still challenging to build a company culture, have good communication and trust without which we can’t achieve our strategic goals. 

Personally, I got a lot of ideas for tools and strategies to enhance our collaboration and communication.  In addition, many of the speakers spoke about the need to create an environment where “water cooler talk” and informal communication (and interruptions) was acceptable.  Just like in a normal office environment.  After all, we human beings are (mostly) social creatures and need to create bonds and trust with those with whom we work to achieve goals.

It was a pleasure to see that so many people from large organizations such as GE to small startups like EMANIO, and everything in-between, dealing with the issues around an increasingly distributed workforce.  In interacting with fellow participants, it was clear that we were all neophytes in the area and even those organizations that successfully had deployed a distributed model were still learning and adjusting their strategies and methods.  Office Optional was a great learning experience and I’d exhort anyone dealing with these issues to participate next time they put it on.  It was invaluable for us.

My only negative feedback would be that toward the latter part, the speakers became a bit repetitive.  However, for a first conference small issues like this should be expected and judging from my prior experience with the Lean Startup team the next one will excellent.

The day ended with a conversation between Eric Ries, who wrote The Lean Startup, and Stanford’s Bob Sutton, who penned the No Asshole Rule, and more recently, Scaling Up Excellence.  Though the conference would have been very good on its own, this was the crowning part of my experience.  Professor Sutton is an engaged and charismatic speaker with deep knowledge of how organizations work.  Excellence is what we’re all striving for and he provided a captivating roadmap for how to achieve it.

Image credit: HikingArtist

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Authentic What?

Wednesday, April 23rd, 2014

https://www.flickr.com/photos/54933689@N00/6896999591According to a blue ribbon group at Wharton, the secret of customer loyalty is in connecting on a deep level.

 “If you have been authentic, consumers will love you and share your brand” — Vanessa Rosado, global director of digital capabilities, AB InBev

Or you can be totally inauthentic, if you prefer, because many people won’t even notice.

Retweets. Likes. Favorites. Comments. Upvotes. Page views. You name it; they’re for sale on websites like Swenzy, Fiverr and countless others. 

Of course, if everybody demanded authenticity, instead of accepting cyber-stats as real, we would live in a much better world.

But they don’t.

Then there are the dozens of companies that hype their “community,” but have changed their legal terms so that any interaction with the brand, from buying it to ‘liking’ it eliminates the customer’s right to sue, whether for a perceived labeling error or life-threatening problem.

And then there is Google, who very publicly changed its TOS in response to a lawsuit over its email scanning.

Our automated systems analyze your content (including emails) to provide you personally relevant product features, such as customized search results, tailored advertising, and spam and malware detection. This analysis occurs as the content is sent, received, and when it is stored.

When you upload, submit, store, send or receive content to or through our Services, you give Google (and those we work with) a worldwide license to use, host, store, reproduce, modify, create derivative works (such as those resulting from translations, adaptations or other changes we make so that your content works better with our Services), communicate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute such content.

While the wording is similar to other sites, Google’s services and their ubiquity aren’t.

It is these words, “upload, submit, store, send or receive content to or through our Services” that raise a giant red flag in my mind.

Google Docs is a service used by thousands of companies of all sizes for collaboration, both internally and with their vendors and customers.

They’re people upload and store designs, marketing plans, contracts, etc. to share and send.

According to its TOS, if Google so chooses it can share the details of those docs with anyone they please or publish them for general consumption.

Of course, everyone knows that Google does no evil and would never consider violating anyone’s privacy, but that old bottom line seems to require continual reinterpreting of both ‘evil’ and ‘privacy’.

The only thing I’m sure of is that the experience being provided by these companies are authentic.

The real question is, “authentic what?”

Flickr image credit: Dee Bamford

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Women @ Kimberly-Clark

Wednesday, April 16th, 2014

kimberly-clark

Personally, I think the only thing dumber than expecting a twenty-something to design a product that resonates with Boomers (the people with money) is to have predominantly men leading, guiding and driving innovation for a corporation whose customer base is 83% female.

Yet, that is what was going on at Kimberly-Clark.

In fact, the situation was dire enough in 2009 that it even caught the eye of the board.

If they wanted to create better products targeted to female shoppers, executives realized, they had to transform into the kind of company that propelled women into higher positions instead of letting their careers stall.

With consultants’ assistance, the company did a wide-ranging survey of what was holding women back.

These ranged from concerns that promotions would lead to putting their families second to eradicating the “mommy track” stigma to the time to commute in China.

Kimberly has moved aggressively to address the roadblocks and has accomplished a great deal over the intervening five years.

By 2013, women at Kimberly-Clark made up 26% of the director-level or higher slots, up from 19% in 2009. Female representation on the board of directors also increased.

That was enough to win Catalyst Inc.’s top award for advancing women in the workplace.

Of course, the prime question is did it pay off in terms that Wall Street could understand?

At the end of 2009, the company’s stock price stood at $63.71. By the end of 2013, it had risen to $104.46.

‘Nuff said; money talks.

Flickr image credit: Kimberly-Clark

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Ducks in a Row: Ageism/Sexism—Cause and Effect

Tuesday, April 15th, 2014

https://www.flickr.com/photos/speedywithchicken/5842604404

As I wrote yesterday’s post, I had a personal epiphany regarding the cause and effect that has driven/is driving the escalation of ageism and sexism in the tech world.

I’m not saying I’m the first person to think of it, but I also haven’t seen or heard it put this simply.

It probably applies more to the tech world, because this is the first time in history that success—in the form of money, profile and influence—has come to a large number of people sans the experience that leads to maturity.

Moreover, many of them come from economically secure/elite backgrounds and are the children of the majority in control—mostly white and male.

What you have are thousands of boys in men’s bodies who suddenly have the financial ability to do what they want.

And what they want is to continue their frat boy life substituting work for school, but with the same partying, pranks, attitudes and immaturity of the collegiate fraternity boys they were.

It is a proven biological fact that males mature at a later age than females.

Generally speaking, 18-24-year-old males aren’t known for their sensitivity or respect, let alone any kind of deep thinking.

They are known for their insecurity, irresponsibility, partying, randy mindset, dismissal of everyone outside their small circle and generally oafish behavior.

So when they trade school for work, yet have the opportunity to do so without losing their previous mindset, why would you expect them to create an environment that was different from their college days?

Or want to invite people in and spend time around those who don’t share that mentality?

Flickr image credit: speedywithchicken

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What’s in a Name?

Monday, April 7th, 2014

https://www.flickr.com/photos/jonoropeza/1832649884

How do you start your day?

Do your colleagues and boss jump on you with questions, demands and complaints?

Or are there congenial greetings, happy how-are-yous and questions displaying authentic interest in you-the-person?

Other than perpetual curmudgeons and people who got up on the wrong side of the bed, most people would prefer the second scenario to the first.

Bosses should take note, because the second scenario leads to higher productivity and better retention rates.

Wharton management professor Sigal Barsade has solid research to back that up, but, in my view, she badly undermined its adoption by choosing to describe it in terms that will turn off most managers.

She calls it “companionate love.”

Companionate love is shown “when colleagues who are together day in and day out, ask and care about each other’s work and even non-work issues. They are careful of each other’s feelings. They show compassion when things don’t go well. And they also show affection and caring — and that can be about bringing somebody a cup of coffee when you go get your own, or just listening when a co-worker needs to talk.”

Why don’t experts, especially academic experts get it? Why is it so difficult to understand that what something is called affects it in the marketplace?

From about age two on (maybe even younger) humans react to what something is called, whether a product or an action, and that reaction is a good predictor of success.

In today’s world, to succeed, management advice needs to develop terms that wrap the user in a mantle of cool while projecting an image of knowledge and leadership.

Sadly, ‘companionate love’ seems to fall short.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t implement the underlying philosophy or respect, consideration and interest using terms more acceptable to your situation.

Flickr image credit: jon oropeza

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If the Shoe Fits: Can You Build a Team?

Friday, April 4th, 2014

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

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_m

I hear a lot of bull disguised as best practice from founders (and other bosses) regarding hiring and management.

  • We only hire stars.
  • All our people are self-starters.
  • Our people are self-managing.
  • We’re not into hand-holding here.

And all forms of variations on the theme.

The reason it’s bull is that most people prefer to be part of a cohesive team (think family)—with the exception of those who are out for themselves and their own glory.

The smartest founders know that it’s the power of the team that confers long-term success.

Christopher W. Cabrera, founder, president and CEO of nine-year-old Xactly is a good example.

He has a 300 person workforce, mostly in their early thirties, which means most were in their twenties when hired.

He uses a prominently displayed rubber band ball to drive home how the company works.

Every month we have an all-hands meeting where every new employee puts their rubber band on the ball. Rubber bands come in all different sizes, shapes and color. Together, when they’re combined, they take on a whole new set of properties and the ball can be bounced or thrown where an individual rubber band can’t. So our motto is, “That’s how we roll.” Somewhere in that ball is my own rubber band. There is no single band in there that’s more important than any other. It’s the collective that counts. Our employees are part of something bigger and we’re trying to build something great.

Take note: no stars.

Hall of Famer and current SMU (turnaround) basketball Coach Larry Brown puts it this way,

“They all want to be coached. They all want to get better. They all want somebody who cares about them.”

Which pretty well sums it up.

A place to make a difference and a boss that gives a damn.

Image credit: HikingArtist

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Look at Me; Look at Me!

Wednesday, April 2nd, 2014

http://www.flickr.com/photos/narayanaforus/2274598167/

When you were little and did something you were proud of you probably yelled “look at me; look at me” to your parents or whomever was there.

These days the desire to be noticed doesn’t stop as people age, it merely moves to social media.

People have taken to putting themselves out there in all kinds of ways, producing — in words, pictures, videos — the shared stories of their lives as they are transpiring. They disseminate their thoughts and deeds, large and small (sometimes very small), in what can seem like a perpetual plea for attention.

They do it because their friends do; to raise their Klout score; to prove they matter.

The desire to matter is ancient, probably all the way back to our caveman ancestors, but it was the Greeks who named it—kleos.

Kleos lay very near the core of the Greek value system. Their value system was at least partly motivated, as perhaps all value systems are partly motivated, by the human need to feel as if our lives matter.

The difference between the Greeks’ idea of kleos and our current focus on klout is the difference between internal and external.

Mattering wasn’t acquired by gathering attention of any kind, mortal or immortal. Acquiring mattering was something people had to do for themselves, cultivating such virtuous qualities of character as justice and wisdom. They had to put their own souls in order. This demands hard work, since simply to understand the nature of justice and wisdom, which is the first order of business, taxes our limits, not to speak of then acting on our conclusions.

Of course, that kind of deep thinking is out of favor these days, since it doesn’t provide instant gratification or lend itself to shouting ‘look at me’.

Flickr image credit: Pat

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Entrepreneurs: a Culture of Openness

Thursday, March 6th, 2014

http://www.flickr.com/photos/psd/3717444865/

Many founders talk about the desire to build truly open cultures.

Then they start adding exceptions and caveats, especially when it comes to compensation—whether dollars or stock.

Sharing compensation information is usually discouraged and discussing stock options or salary may even be considered a firing offense.

While there are startups opting for openness, what happens over time?

Based on Whole Foods nearly 30-year trial salary openness can work.

Whole Foods co-CEO John Mackey introduced the policy in 1986, just six years after he co-founded the company. In the book, he explains that his initial goal was to help employees understand why some people were paid more than others. If workers understood what types of performance and achievement earned certain people more money, he figured, perhaps they would be more motivated and successful, too.

It takes solid planning and a culture with a real commitment to transparency and developing people over time to make it work.

By making it’s financials, including profitability, available to all it employees, so they could see not just what everyone was paid, but where else the money went, Whole Foods created a true feeling of ownership along with the knowledge that promotion was available and the support to make it happen.

The company’s openness even drew recognition from the Federal Government.

In fact, in the late 1990s the widespread availability of so much detailed financial data led the SEC to classify all of the company’s 6,500 employees as “insiders,”

Building openness into your culture requires support and full buy-in from your senior staff.

And that means being willing to pass on people who have the right skills, but not the right attitude.

Flickr image credit: Paul Downey

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Google and the Fluidity of Evil

Monday, February 24th, 2014

Did you know that the sixth point of Google’s 10-point corporate philosophy is “You can make money without doing evil?”

But ‘evil’ is a fluid term when it comes to making money.

And if Google is into anything it is into making money.

Take Google Plus. Google isn’t trying to displace Facebook and doesn’t even care if you use it.

That’s not really the point.

Google Plus may not be much of a competitor to Facebook as a social network, but it is central to Google’s future — a lens that allows the company to peer more broadly into people’s digital life, and to gather an ever-richer trove of the personal information that advertisers covet.

Plus is now so important to Google that the company requires people to sign up to use some Google services, like commenting on YouTube.

Some people have no problem being tracked and their personal information being shared to the enrichment of the sharing parties.

To millions of others, stalking in the name of better ad targeting smacks of evil.

Of course, when world domination is your long-term goal you need to keep those definitions fluid.

Google Maps Its Way to World Domination
Source: Business-Management-Degree.net

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Ducks in a Row: What do You Assume?

Tuesday, February 18th, 2014

http://www.flickr.com/photos/26492300@N00/3430828614/

When chatting over dinner the conversation often takes on a more philosophical turn; this happened recently in a discussion of good places to work.

One mid-level manager commented wistfully that while he understood that business was a game, he wished it could be a bit more gentlemanly—like chess.

While we understood what he meant, the example was a source of amusement.   

Chess is the last game to use as an example of function over dysfunction.

The latest intrigue revolves around corruption allegations by the two candidates for the federation’s presidency, Garry Kasparov, the former champion and Russian opposition figure, and Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, the incumbent president and self-described space-alien abductee.

Such charges would normally hardly raise an eyebrow in the world of organized chess, which has been rife with rumors of corruption for decades.

This time there are smoking guns, although each side claims theirs is being misinterpreted.

As Lady Macduff said, “things are not always as they seem,” but, at times, we all attribute certain qualities or abilities based on assumptions.

We think of chess being a scholar’s game and scholars are usually gentlemen, therefore the world of chess must lack the typical nasty interactions of other human organizations.

An assumption that is obviously false—as most assumptions usually are.

Flickr image credit: M.J. Ambriola

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