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Ryan’s Journal: How To Measure Culture

Thursday, March 23rd, 2017

https://www.flickr.com/photos/beantin/8976529844/

I am in sales and as a result I have a ton of metrics that I must account for. How many calls did I do? What is my conversion rate? Are you having a prospecting or velocity issue with closing deals? Is your sales funnel robust enough? 

I think you get the idea. These and many other metrics are all important as they can lead to a greater success as you iterate.

By most accounts sales is easy to measure the successes and failures. It’s like sports, who has the most points at the end of the game?

Culture though can be a bit tougher to measure. It’s not a tangible good and as I consider the subject I wonder how can we best measure it?

It’s pretty easy to see the extremes of company cultures and see if they are positive or negative.

Uber had been in the news a lot lately, even their president stepped down after saying they did not align with his values.

On the other hand Google landed the top spot again by glassdoor.com with their annual best places to work.

With a little thought you can see one culture is more negative and the other is pretty positive.

Those are fairly easy examples, but what about all the thousands of other companies in small towns and cities? How do we know if they are indeed a positive place to be and what metrics should we use to measure?

I worked for one company that ranked as a top workplace in the local metro area. This was touted by its recruiters and quite frankly was a selling point for me when I came on board. I had had a terrible experience in a previous company and I was ready for a change!

However, after some time of working at my new place we were given the opportunity to participate in the annual survey that would measure top workplaces.

This poll was, in reality, mandatory and we had to provide so much demographic data that it was very easy to determine who had filled out what survey.

The result was we all wrote very positive reviews and then we were voted top workplace again. I believe the total is four years in a row at this point.

I bring this up as an example of how one metric, annual best workplace surveys, could be wildly skewed and may not be the best metric to utilize.

Where else should we turn to measure? Pay could be a factor of course. Tenure and turnover are factors too.

I had a teacher in college tell me to always ask my interviewer what the turnover for employees under two years was. He felt this was a good measure of the health of the company and the role I was pursuing.

I still ask that question and have found that when turnover is high, culture is low.

At this point I don’t have a silver bullet and will do more research to see if there is a magic quadrant we should be seeking.

I’ll update you next week on whether someone a whole lot smarter than me already did the tough work, or if I stumbled onto a way to start a company measuring culture that is the new hot thing in town.

Image credit: James Royal-Lawson

Golden Oldies: Differences Worth Noting

Monday, February 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 is a collection of what I consider some of the best posts during that time.

During his time at GE, Jack Welch was lauded and crowned as a god of leadership and management— How times have changed. Welch’s success was dominantly a function of GE’s financial services and he created one of the harshest cultures around—which would have failed miserably with today’s workforce.

Immelt sold off the financial stuff, totally changed the culture from one of suspicion to one of trust,  dumped the forced rankings, just issued a directive that all new hires learn to code and has responded to the current worldwide protectionist mindset by moving from globalization to localization.

Immelt is a worthy role model.

Read other Golden Oldies here.

2185315789_e5d6af6e0d_mThere is a sizable difference between accepting positional leadership when a company is at the bottom and there is no place to go but up and taking over when its at its height—even more so when what was the growth engine and source of extraordinary profits disappears from the economic landscape.

It is one thing to maximize what you have, wringing out every last possible dollar, and investing in innovation for sustainable growth in the future.

It is one thing to create a culture where public shame and the likelihood of termination for missing your numbers rules and changing that to a culture that encourages appropriate risk-taking and never kills the messenger when the risk doesn’t pan out; a culture that understands not every innovation will be a home run, but encourages and applauds the effort anyway.

These are the differences between Jack Welch and Jeff Immelt.

Welch had taken over when the company was in the bottom of an economic cycle. He took over GE in a recession, not at the height of a bubble.

Immelt got the job right after the end of the high-flying 1990s, an era which crowned CEOs with mythical, God-like crowns, and Welch was bestowed the biggest of them all.

Immelt had known before the meltdown the company needed to wean off the leveraged risk from finance that was begun under Welch. … He admitted mistakes, as any good leader must do, and GE more quietly if not humbly went about its business in making the company a 21st century sustainable and reliable profit engine.

The differences are worth noting.

Flickr image credit: laurita13

If the Shoe Fits: Cards Against Humanity’s Great Super Bowl Ad

Friday, February 10th, 2017

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

If you don’t live in the Midwest you probably missed one of the best, not to mention apropos, super Bowl ads shown.

The ad was from Cards Against Humanity and they listed the reasons it failed on their blog.

  • We wasted time with establishment thinking.
  • Overconfidence in the model.
  • Bad luck.
  • Failure to trust our customers.
  • We were asking the wrong questions.
  • Our ad failed to connect with young people.
  • We were too early.
  • We didn’t add music.
  • We didn’t add music.

How many times have you heard founders say similar things?

Yup, it reads like a generic laundry list of the reasons “why startups fail.”

And they end the post with a fervent Valley paean to failure.

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mAt Cards Against Humanity, we believe that you can only become a master by trying and failing. In this way, failure is life’s greatest teacher; failure is actually success. At Cards Against Humanity, we fail all the time. We are veterans of failure. And constant failure, plus unlimited capital, is what led us to greatness.

Now you know why this post is called “if the shoe fits”…

Image credit: HikingArtist    
Video credit: Business Insider

Role Model: Shopify’s Harley Finkelstein — Transparency Is A Two-Way Street

Tuesday, January 31st, 2017

harley-finkelstein-shopify

There’s a lot of talk these days from consultants, academics and executives about the importance of transparency, AKA being totally open and honest.

And many of those in the business world, from team leaders through CEOs, are actually walking the talk.

Or believe they are.

The problem lies in the fact that even those executives who have opened operations, especially financials, to the internal scrutiny of their people don’t recognize that true transparency needs to be a two-way street.

One-way transparency is open to spin — whether intentional or not.

Which, if you stop to think about it, should come as no surprise. It is a normal, human characteristic to put the best face on even the most negative thing.

So how is true, two-way transparency achieved?

By opening yourself to a no-holds-barred Q&A with everybody and forcing yourself to provide the A no matter how uncomfortable.

Harley Finkelstein, COO at Shopify and a new “Dragon” on CBC’s Next Gen Den, among other things, is the perfect role model of what should be called AMA transparency.

The AMA idea has been around for a while.

President Obama broke with convention back in 2012 when he agreed to do an Ask Me Anything — AMA — on the Internet forum Reddit.

But if you think it takes guts to expose yourself to a half hour of inquiries from strangers on the web, try fielding regular sessions of no-holds-barred questions from your own employees — live and on camera. Welcome to our normal routine: the internal AMA.

… While facing questions from my team is tough when I’m in the hot seat, it’s become a crucial tool for building trust as we’ve scaled from hundreds to more than a thousand employees.

I doubt you’ll find a lot of executives willing to do it, because a true AMA isn’t exactly fun for those in the hot seat, as Finkelstein freely admits, but it’s a great way to build trust, ownership/engagement, eliminate fear, etc.

There are plenty of times when I’ve been caught entirely off-guard. But that’s precisely the point. The element of surprise is the secret ingredient that makes the internal AMA such a valuable tool. (…)

Creating a culture where it’s safe to ask literally anything can lead to some awkward moments, but just taking that step helps instill a sense of ownership at every level. Sitting in that hot seat might make you sweat, but that just means you’re doing it right.

Do you have what it takes to “do it right?”

Image credit: Shopify

PS: Shopify is the first site I’ve seen that offers a “download” link next to all their leadership team.

If the Shoe Fits: Lessons From 178 Failed Startups

Friday, November 18th, 2016

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

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mYesterday we looked at how dangerous it is to substitute what-we-wish for what-really-is and I promised you a look at startups that died as a result.

Which is what I’m going to do, but not by reinventing the wheel (there’s enough of that without a contribution from me,)

CB Insights put together a great list of 178 failed startups — why they failed as told by their founders or, occasionally, an investor — including links to the full articles.

I hope you take the time to read through, especially those that parallel your own markets, circumstances, etc.

Save the list as a reference; the lessons learned could keep you from stepping in the poo now or somewhere down the road.

Image credit: HikingArtist

If the Shoe Fits: Is It Really Failure?

Friday, October 28th, 2016

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

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mA post on Medium from Alexis Tryon considers something that many entrepreneurs face, i.e., if your company fails are you a failure, too? She puts it like this.

If Alex = Artsicle
& Artsicle = Failure
then Alex = Failure

I saw this happen decades ago during every downturn and each resulting layoff. It happened to many people at Enron and other corporate debacles.

Not just to founders/executives/managers, but to workers at all levels.

And I spent enough time coaching, encouraging and working with them that I coined a term for it.

I called it ego-merge.

I’ve written about it several times, how to avoid it in 2010, not making your company or position your identity (which is what Alexis did), along with a way to combat it in 2013.

As bad as ego-merge is for “regular” people, it is much worse for entrepreneurs.

That said, they also have a psychological advantage in dealing with it, since if they didn’t have more-than-normal grit to start with they wouldn’t have become entrepreneurs in the first place.

Also, real failure isn’t about getting knocked down.

It’s only real if you don’t get up.

Hat tip to CB Insights for pointing me to Alexis’ post.)

Image credit: HikingArtist

Entrepreneurs: Words of Encouragement

Thursday, August 11th, 2016

kg_charles-harris

I only have time for a quick note before my plane lands, but I wanted to share two quotes that have helped me keep going in rough times.

The first is something we all know from our own experience, but it always helps to hear it from “names” who have already pushed through and succeeded.

Success is not built on success. It’s built on failure. It’s built on frustration. Sometimes it’s built on catastrophe. — Sumner Redstone

The second is something that every entrepreneur will swear to, although it would be nice to have summer vacation as we did while actually in school.

There is no education like adversity. –Benjamin Disraeli

Judging from these words of wisdom, I will be phenomenally well educated by the time Quarrio is a huge success.

Plane’s landing; back to work.

Golden Oldies: ERing Means Progress

Monday, February 8th, 2016

It’s amazing to me, but looking back over nearly 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. I recently read an article in Inc. on a better way to move yourself forward then setting goals or making resolutions and it reminded me of something I wrote back in 2009. Same idea; different language. Read other Golden Oldies here.

ERing-notice

I write and talk a lot about what happens when you choose to change your MAP through awareness and the resulting boos to your energy and creativity.

What I can’t remember sharing with you is a critical ingredient in the change sauce that I call the Philosophy of ER.

I consciously developed it formally and have shared it for decades to offset all the talk about failure when people are working to change.

First, you have to understand that I don’t believe in failure; I don’t think that someone has truly failed unless they’re dead. As long as they’re breathing, the worst bums on skid row have the potential to change, i.e., the possibility is there, even if the likelihood is not.

For decades change has focused on setting goals and if they aren’t achieved as stated, then you had failed.

Over the years I’ve worked with a lot of people (including myself) whose self esteem was at best badly bruised, at worst like Swiss cheese.

They started by telling me how they had failed at this or that, but in more detailed discussions it turned out that, although they hadn’t achieved their stated goal within the deadline, the goals and deadlines (one or both) weren’t exactly reality based or had changed along the way and not been restated.

To be valid, goals must come with delivery dates, but those dates must be achievable—not easy, but achievable.

When you set goals without taking into account minor details, such as friends/family/spouse/kids/working/sleeping/eating, then you’re setting yourself up for failure.

Beyond being reality-based, we all need an ongoing sense of accomplishment, especially for that which can’t be done in a few days, to sustain the long term effort that big goals take—thus came the Philosophy of ER.

Over the last couple of decades I’ve ERed almost everything (even when it’s grammatically incorrect).

  • I may not be wise, but I’m wisER.
  • I may not be rich, but I’m richER.
  • I may not be patient, but I’m patientER.
  • I may not be skinny, but I’m skinniER.

You get the idea.

So start ERing today and tomorrow you too will be happiER, smartER, healthiER and successfulER.

Just keep reminding yourself that to err is human, but to ER is divine.

Try it. You can do a lot worse than adding some ER to your life!

Image credit: Warning Sign Generator

 

 

Entrepreneurs: Emily White

Friday, July 17th, 2015

Emily White

Emily White is a long-time friend of mine.

We met at the end of the last century over our startups.

Like me, Emily isn’t a twenty-something-guy-in-a-hoodie.

She founded OnlineHR, one of the earliest social networks, in 1999. Then 47, “I didn’t know what I didn’t know.”

Emily is back with a vengeance as an entrepreneur, although she never really left. She reached into her past to pay the bills, while searching for her next startup idea.

In search of that next unidentified problem and solution, White returned to social work 30 years after earning a masters degree. Working for five organizations—all of them related to geriatrics, a personal interest and expertise—over the course of seven years, she “saw the problem was in care transition.”

In doing so, she also tapped into her passion for better senior care and combined it with technology to find a viable, affordable solution in the booming healthcare arena.

All of that led her, at the age of 61, to two 20-somethings, both MIT graduates, with a big idea. In 2014, White joined GeriJoy as co-founder and vice president of strategic alliance. GeriJoy is a tablet-based chronic care management and virtual caregiving tool backed by real health advocates. Bottom line? GeriJoy leads to lower hospital readmission rates. (…)GeriJoy has already successfully reduced emergency room readmissions for users and, in tests, had good results with people who are experiencing various forms of dementia. The combination of a human interface and artificial intelligence puts GeriJoy at the forefront of healthcare tech start-ups.

Contrary to popular media, nearly a quarter of startups are founded by the over 55 crowd.

Leaping in to entrepreneurialism as an older adult, White is not alone. According to the Kauffman Index of Entrepreneurial Activity, 1996-2011, 23.4 percent of American entrepreneurs in 2013 were people between the ages of 55 and 64, up from 18.7 percent in 2003.

Read the full story here.

Image credit: Emily White

Staying Relevant

Wednesday, February 25th, 2015

https://www.flickr.com/photos/36436564@N07/15435412458

Staying relevant is crucial for every functional group in today’s business landscape.

Relevance has nothing to do with being outsourced and everything to do with being necessary to the operations of the enterprise.

Customer service is often outsourced, but no one questions whether it’s relevant to the company’s success.

IT has been outsourced, but now its very relevance is under attack.

This fight is different.

It’s called devops (a contraction of development and operations)

It’s the hardest kind of fight to win, because winning means a major change to both IT process and its cultural DNA; a totally different way of thinking that is based on what has always been anathema to traditional IT — breaking the system.

Red Hat CEO Jim Whitehurst explains.

“It’s not a market. It’s a culture and process, in the same way Kaizen or lean manufacturing is process. The problem is that vendors are making it into a market by saying ‘Here’s my devops product.’ But there are no devops products,” Whitehurst says. (…) “If you make a lot of changes, you’ll have to accept a few failures along the way. Throw out planning. Try little things and if they work, do more of them and if not, do less of them.”

So, no devops products, no new markets for vendors to exploit and no definitely no outside experts to do the heavy lifting — although there will be plenty claiming to de devops gurus.

But if there is anything to be learned from companies like Microsoft it’s that cultural change doesn’t come from the outside nor is it changed by edict.

“You start with small, iterative improvements. You release [changes] early and you release them often. That’s what devops is about. It’s a cultural shift. You recognize that big change is hard but little changes are easy. But a whole lot of little changes add up to bigger changes.”

Change is hard, but in this case, change equals survival.

Image credit: N@ncy N@nce

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