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Entrepreneurs: a Culture of Openness

Thursday, March 6th, 2014


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


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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Entrepreneurs: Does the Emperor have Clothes?

Thursday, February 6th, 2014


Elon Musk is everywhere these days; played up by the media as a guru and role model.

But is he?

Malcolm Berko, a financial writer who’s not afraid to say when the emperor has no clothes and with no ties to anyone but himself shares a different take on Musk in response to a reader’s question.

I understand your enthusiasm for SolarCity, founded in 2006 by the Rive brothers in collaboration with Musk. But you’re ascribing extraordinary powers to this Musk chap, who, with Peter Thiel, founded PayPal in 1998. In 2002, PayPal was sold to eBay for $1.5 billion after Musk was contentiously removed as CEO by its board of directors. Musk is kind of a geeky, spacey guy who, in late 2001, designed the project “Mars Oasis.” He intended to land miniature greenhouses on Mars, containing food crops growing on Martian regolith. But Musk put his Mars Oasis on hold when he realized that current rocket technology would not allow humans to become “true spacefaring” people. Hello! He sought to address this problem by founding SpaceX, which so far is flying in the red and running up debts. His Tesla Motors, founded in 2010 and financed with four partners, hasn’t made a dime, either, but the company has a ridiculous market cap of $18 billion. In late 2011, this wacky genius spent millions researching a new form of transportation between Los Angeles and San Francisco, and in August 2013, he unveiled his “Hyperloop,” a subsonic air travel machine relying completely on solar energy that would permit commuters to travel the 350 miles between the two cities in 30 minutes. As long as Musk has billions in the bank, he’ll be a genius, but take away his money and people will call him a fool. Meanwhile, Madison Avenue’s marketing has done a splendid job of promoting his name and reputation.

But very few things he touches turn to gold; Musk is a geek without management skills, and investors should realize this.

I have no idea how accurate Berko’s analysis vs. the media in general, but I do know that no matter who says what it’s wise to check out both sides of any story.

Not only to check it out, but to do so with an open mind.

Because even if 99 out of 100 have the same opinion that doesn’t prove that the one dissenting opinion is wrong.

It may just prove that the emperor really doesn’t have any clothes.

Flickr image credit: Huw

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Ducks in a Row: When Trust is not Enough

Tuesday, January 28th, 2014


How would you respond if you were head of a global professional company with more than 1,400 partners, 18,500 employees and a culture built on values, trust and honor when the values were ignored, trust was broken and the organization dishonored by someone at the highest level?

That was the challenge that Dominic Barton faced shortly after he became head of consulting firm McKinsey.

The values that Marvin Bower, its longtime managing director, instilled included putting the clients’ interests above the firm’s, providing independent advice and keeping confidences. These ideas were imparted from one generation to the next, mentor to apprentice. But after Anil Kumar’s arrest [he pleaded guilty] in late 2009, Mr. Barton, who had been elected to head the firm just months earlier, decided that the honor-driven, values-based system was not enough. What the firm needed was some rules.

Powerful people do not take kindly to rules and nobody takes kindly to rules that result from someone else’s actions—especially when they impact one’s income.

Ethical people like to believe that defining values and modeling them across the organization from the top down is enough.

It’s not.

An exceptional CEO I worked with who detested politics believed it was enough that his senior staff couldn’t use politics to get ahead with him. What he refused to recognize was that even though the political games didn’t work on him they wreaked havoc on those below the game-players.

This is especially true in the current world where greed, whether for wealth and/or power, is epidemic and “enough” no longer has any meaning.

But to work, the rules must apply evenly to everybody, at all levels, including the rule maker.

Flickr image credit: Andrew Scott

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If the Shoe Fits: are You Addicted to Wealth?

Friday, January 24th, 2014

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


This is a short post, because I want you to read the longer one at the link.

In an opinion piece, Sam Polk, a former hedge-fund trader and current founder of the nonprofit Groceryships, talks about wealth addiction.

Wealth addiction was described in 1980 by the late sociologist and playwright Philip Slater, but Polk speaks about it from a been there/done that perspective.

I was 30 years old, had no children to raise, no debts to pay, no philanthropic goal in mind. I wanted more money for exactly the same reason an alcoholic needs another drink: I was addicted.

Read the post, then look in the mirror and ask yourself if you are or are getting addicted.

Wealth addiction isn’t a case of wanting to get rich; it is a case of nothing is enough.

And it applies to more than money—from followers to titles to trophy relationships and everything in-between.

 Image credit: HikingArtist

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How to Live

Monday, January 20th, 2014

I thought I’d share some advice with you today.

It comes in two parts with images you can save and share (just call me InstaMAP).

I’ve always believed that humans shouldn’t talk in absolutes, such as ‘always’ and ‘never’.

That said, I have found the following to be as universally applicable, i.e., absolute, as is humanly possible.

I especially like it because it underlines that you always have a choice.


Sometimes people choose not to find a way for reasons that seem valid, but most don’t hold up to scrutiny.

The following provides a roadmap for how they should behave.


Flickr image credit: Arya Ziai 1 & 2

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If the Shoe Fits: a Tale of Two Companies

Friday, January 10th, 2014

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

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mLast week two companies were in the news.

One successfully gamed the gods of Google, as millions of others have tried to do for years, got caught and was banished from the kingdom.

The other’s security was breached and more than four million of its customers’ phone numbers were published.

The one that did no damage to its customers apologized.

The one that betrayed its users did nothing—no apology, no explanation and no security fix.

Even granting the incredible level of today’s tech arrogance saying/doing nothing is a little much.

My question to you is simple; in similar circumstances who would you follow, the founders of Rap Genius or Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel?

Image credit: HikingArtist

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Self-censorship Not Allowed

Monday, December 30th, 2013


There is a major push by many news and media sites to bring back at least a modicum of civility by eliminating comment anonymity.

The general feeling is that the ability to remain anonymous encourages a general nastiness that is unlikely to happen if we had to take responsibility for our actions.

In other words, when your real identity is attached to our actions you are more likely to show some self-restraint.

While many prominent sites are encouraging (forcing?) people to take a second look before hitting enter and practice a bit of self-censorship, Facebook is taking the opposite tack.

Unfortunately, the code in your browser that powers Facebook still knows what you typed—even if you decide not to publish it.* It turns out that the things you explicitly choose not to share aren’t entirely private.

While people are freaking out over NSA collecting phone numbers and the FBI being able to turn on their computer’s webcam, most don’t seem to consider Facebook a threat.

People surveilled through their computers’ cameras aren’t choosing to share video of themselves, just as people who self-censor on Facebook aren’t choosing to share their thoughts. The difference is that the FBI needs a warrant but Facebook can proceed without permission from anyone.

Facebook much prefers you to do a continual, uncensored brain dump, whether civil or hate-filled, truth or lies, it doesn’t matter as long as you post it.

Das and Kramer [Facebook researchers] argue that self-censorship can be bad because it withholds valuable information. If someone chooses not to post, they claim, “[Facebook] loses value from the lack of content generation.”

And in case you are wondering how Facebook loses value remember that the ads you see are based on what you post.

In the age of Facebook, “let it all hang out” has taken on a whole new meaning.

Flickr image credit: Carolyn Tiry

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If the Shoe Fits: How to Create a Truly Open Culture

Friday, December 27th, 2013

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

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mI probably sound cynical, but I do get tired of listening to founders talk about the openness, honesty and authenticity of their culture even as they go to great lengths to protect their salary and stock grant information, hiring criteria and customer interaction information.

Discussing salaries and/or stock grants is grounds for termination in many companies

Google is notorious for killing blogs on Blogger with no warning and no explanation except that they violated the TOS, but offering no specific information as to what the violation was or responding to the blog owner’s queries.

If you choose to talk the openness approach, then you should read up on a CEO who truly walks it.

In a post on Buffer’s Open blog, CEO Joel Gascoigne reveals his salary along with the salary of every single employee in the company, and includes the formula the company uses to get to each one.

Image credit: HikingArtist

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