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Ducks in a Row: Rich Waidmann’s No jerks Allowed

Tuesday, February 24th, 2015

(see the full Infographic at Business Insider)

I’m in love — with a man I never met, never spoke to, never followed or chatted with online.

His name is Rich Waidmann and he’s founder and CEO of Connectria Hosting.

I love him because when he started his company he consciously set out to make it a great place to work.

That means it’s a job requirement at his company that every employee treat everyone else with courtesy and respect as well as “going the extra mile” to take care of people in the community who are less fortunate

Then his company did a survey and found that

More than half (55%) of 250 IT professionals in the US. surveyed said they had been bullied by a co-worker. And 65% have said they dreaded going to work because of bad behavior of a co-worker.

Waidmann believes it shouldn’t be that way so he’s starting a No Jerks Allowed movement in an effort to encourage better cultures.

Way back in 2007 Stanford’s Bob Sutton wrote The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn’t, but looking at the stats I’m not sure how much good it actually did.

And considering the fact that companies are shoehorning more people into less space something needs to change.

The Talmud says, “We do not see the world as it is. We see the world as we are.” Moreover, it’s often as we are that particular day, or even minute, and even as we change, minute to minute, so do others.

Jerks are known to lower productivity and kill innovation, so a lot of good information on identifying and dealing with jerks has been developed since Sutton’s book came out.

Contributing to that effort, here are my four favorite MAP attitudes for dealing with jerks.

  • Life happens, people react and act out, but that doesn’t mean you have to let their act in.
  • Consider the source of the comment before considering the comment, then let its effect on you be in direct proportion to your respect for that source.
  • Use mental imagery to defuse someone’s effect on you. This is especially useful against bullying and intimidation. Do it by having your mental image of the person be one that strips power symbols and adds amusement. (Give me a call if you want my favorite, it’s a bit rude, but has worked well for many people.)

And, finally, the one I try to keep uppermost in my mind at all times

  • At least some of “them” some of the time consider me a jerk—and some of the time they are probably correct.

Image credit: Connectria

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Ducks in a Row: Robert Sutton—Scale Means People

Tuesday, May 13th, 2014


Stanford management professor Robert Sutton has a new book out called Scaling Up Excellence: Getting to More without Settling for Less.

In it Sutton says, “Scale means the spreading of excellence from the few to the many”.

As usual, Sutton is right on and TechCrunch columnist Andrew Keen is way off.

So is Bob Sutton right? Is everything in Silicon Valley really about people? And are the most successful companies those that are best able to scale their organization?

I say that because anywhere, not just in Silicon Valley, but in every town, city and country, it’s about people.
It’s about people because there is no such entity as a company.

What is a company other than a piece of paper showing that the government recognizes its existence and that it owes taxes?

Is it the office buildings that house it? The manuals that explain it? The stock that represents its value?


A company isn’t an entity at all. It’s a group of people all moving in the same direction, united in a shared vision and their efforts to reach a common goal.

And that group attitude is best summed up as culture, which is a living/growing/changing depiction of those people and their MAP (mindset, attitude, philosophy™).

Google, 3M and P&G are examples of a number of people who are all eager, or at least willing, to move in the same direction.

Whereas at Yahoo people move in multiple directions or refuse to move at all. In part that reflects the differences of people hired over the years through multiple cultures that were not all that synergistic.

Yes, it’s the people. It has always been the people all the way back to our hunter ancestors.

And it will always be the people.

Flickr image credit: Kitty Schweizer

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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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Ducks in a Row: Bad Boss Bad Culture

Tuesday, March 6th, 2012

So very true. I once worked at a company where one of the Vice Presidents took obviously sadistic pleasure in torturing people below him in the company hierarchy.

He even said to me once in private, with a smirk on his face, “I love scaring the hell out of people. Watch how I can make them shake when I threaten their ability to support their family. It feels good to have this much power.”

Adult bullying—particularly in the workplace, where people are often terrified of losing their source of income—is a serious problem and society has to stop ignoring it. You may be “the boss” but that does not give you the right to brutalize and abuse the people who work for you.Father and Husband, Seattle

2737187867_b162a330d2_mThis comment is from an NYT op-ed piece on about bullying and Lady Gaga’s official unveiling of her Born This Way Foundation at Harvard.

Sadly, the comment isn’t outlandish or even a recent phenomenon.

A memory dating back to the late Seventies is of a VP whose favorite pastime was forcing the managers under him to run layoffs a few days before Christmas; he really got off on that.

Last year Stanford prof Bob Sutton published Good Boss, Bad Boss about how power makes us focus more on our own needs and wants and less on others, also to act like the rules apply to others and not to us.

Based on new research Sutton has added more material on what he terms “power poisoning” to the recently released paperback version.

“Alas, recent developments suggest that staying in tune with the people you oversee is even more difficult than this book suggests. And the other disturbing effects of wielding power over others are even worse than I thought.”

Worse than Sutton thought? That, indeed, is a scary statement and one that should get your attention.

Bad Bosses are the source of bad cultures; there is absolutely no way to separate them.

Bad cultures are the source of bad results; there is absolutely no way to separate them.

This makes it simple for you to know if you have a case of power poisoning, as well as how severe it is.

Look at the results of your organization, whether team, department, division or company.

Just yours, not in combination with the rest of the company or in light of the economy or any other of the dozens of rationalizations available.

If you can actually do that you are at least half way to being able to counter the poison and reading Good Boss, Bad Boss will actually be worth your time.

Image credit: B Garrett


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Are Bosses Needed?

Monday, November 1st, 2010

are-bosses-neededIs the picture true? Do people need bosses?

A study about the value of middle management and what happens when it is significantly improved focused on manufacturing in India, but the bottom line, and what is universal, is that good managers and management practices can raise productivity in any situation.

But do highly educated knowledge workers need bosses as much as unskilled factory workers or could they produce the same results on their own?

Let’s make this very personal.

Think about the differences you found when working for a good boss and for a bad one—even if the relativity was more like good/great, bad/worse, or the most common, OK/so-so.

Think about how you felt when the alarm went off; did you look forward to your destination or shrink from it?

During the day did you feel part of a productive team; one that was making a difference and helping the company accomplish its goals or did it feel dysfunctional, untrustworthy, with everyone faking it?

Did you end the work day with a feeling of accomplishment and good mental attitude that you could share with family and friends or did you go home, slam the door and yell at the humans or animals that greeted you?

Trace those feelings back to the management actions and attitudes that fostered them.

Now you know what to do and not do yourself and which to do more of or eliminate.

No question that people need bosses, but what they really need are good to great bosses—and with a little effort you can be one.

Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/builtbydave/2149638304/

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Reviews: Good Boss, Bad Boss and The Orange Revolution

Monday, October 25th, 2010

I’m backed up on my reading and reviews, so I thought I’d cover two today, one with my own brief review and the other linked to a review by Jim Stroup.

good-boss-bad-bossFirst off is a new offering from Stanford’s Bob Sutton whose first book, The No Asshole Rule, loudly and publicly said what we all know—the workplace is no place for assholes (AKA jerks). Sutton’s new book, Good Boss, Bad Boss loudly proclaims another truth—boss quality matters or, as Sutton says, “people do not quit organizations, they quit bad bosses.” Jim already said everything in my mind, so read his excellent review and then read the book, you won’t be disappointed.

Second is The Orange Revolution by Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton. I reviewed their previous books, The Carrot Principle and The Levity Effect and The Daily Carrot Principle (which makes a great gift).

The Orange Revolution is about the power of teams, but instead of typically anecdotal the-orange-revolutionevidence, it’s based on a 350,000-person study done by the Best Places to Work folks and other global studies, as well as their own experience over 20 years.

They found six traits that all successful teams share, sharing a dream or a vision, believing in your ability to realize that dream, willingness to take prudent risks, appropriate metrics, perseverance, and a narrative or story-line that captures people’s imaginations and drives extraordinary efforts.

You may have heard this before, but solid research and good presentation makes a big difference. The book isn’t geared just to managers and positional leaders, if you work with a group, even a dysfunctional one, reading the book will benefit you.

I think both these books belong in your personal library and they would make great presents to friends—or anonymously to bosses who need them.

Image credit: Simon & Schuster and Work Matters

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Expand Your Mind: About Leadership

Saturday, July 31st, 2010

expand-your-mindToday we’re going to start with the general and move to the specific.

Last year we saw a generational shift during the Presidential election and that generational shift is happening in business, too.

Ethisphere recently spoke with William W. George, a professor of management at Harvard Business School who is the former chairman and chief executive officer of Medtronic and currently a director of both ExxonMobil and Goldman Sachs. He talked about how leadership in business is going through a huge and dramatic transformation as the baby boom gives way to younger executives with very different ways of seeing the world, connecting and working. He also talked about what it takes to be a strong leader in a challenging time.

George considers Chip Conley too old at 49 to be one of those transformational leaders, which just goes to show how silly it is to define things by a random circumstance like birth date. It may seem to work as a generality for marketers, but it rarely holds up on a case-by-case basis. In a delightful post, Conley talks about his leadership lessons during junior high.

No, what Danari [13 year old grandson] wanted to know is which classes had the most profound impact on me as a leader today?

I do like Bob Sutton’s stuff, he’s a great writer and he always makes sense. In this post he looks the boss as a shield, not for herself, but for her people.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this topic lately, since it’s the focus of an article I’m publishing in September’s issue of Harvard Business Review called “The Boss as Human Shield,” and of one chapter in Good Boss, Bad Boss. There are many nuances to how bosses protect their followers, but it’s a useful simplification to say that the protection must be both tangible and emotional.

The recent stories of unbridled greed makes you think that nothing would surprise you, but any time you think that another story comes along and you realize that you ain’t seen nothing yet. The story of David H. Brooks, CEO of DHB, which makes body armor for the military and police, fits that category. It’s not just his greed, although that is stunning,

“What makes it interesting isn’t that there is anything novel legally about it, but just how egregious this guy’s alleged behavior is, how gross the abuses are and how much greed is involved,” said Meredith R. Miller, an associate law professor at Touro College in Central Islip, N.Y.

but it was his defense that blew me away.

His lawyers also defended the hiring of prostitutes for employees and board members, arguing in court papers that it represented a legitimate business expense “if Mr. Brooks thought such services could motivate his employees and make them more productive.”


Flickr image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/pedroelcarvalho/2812091311/

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How to Improve Your Management Skill

Monday, June 14th, 2010

What do you do when you want to improve your management skills?

expertsMany people take a class, get another degree, and attend leadership school, all with the hope of finding management Tao. They crave a methodology, a set of actions they can do that assures management success.

But as the old adage says, it ain’t gonna happen.

Or to quote Bob Sutton, “I’ve come to conclude that all the technique and behavior coaching in the world won’t make a boss great if that boss doesn’t also have a certain mindset.”

So when you face new and challenging situations go ahead and

  • access expert information, but don’t stop there.
  • Discuss it with friends/colleagues,
  • think about both what you read and what they said and
  • watch the magic happen when you synthesize the input, tweaking it so it fits your MAP and the situation.

It is this process that makes it an approach you truly own.

Try the process with Sutton’s 12 Things Good Bosses Believe at the link above.

Management skills evolve, both personally and on a wider front, as they are shared with other managers, who also use the process, adding and subtracting based on their situation, experience and MAP.

Stop trying to use the whole cloth from just one source as seems to be happening more often these days.

Yes, the demands on your time are greater than ever, but there  is a crazy idea floating around that most, if not all, solutions are available on the Net if one searches long enough and, worse, that a better-than-50% fit can be used as is.

While this beats the “do first, think later” school of management, it’s not something that will win praise from your bosses or kudos from your team.

The way to become a great manager is to think, mull, accept, reject, evolve and even change your MAP as you digest and apply the information around you.

Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/hikingartist/4192571173/

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Quotable Quotes: Bob Sutton

Sunday, January 31st, 2010

bob-suttonBob Sutton is Professor of Management Science and Engineering at Stanford and a Professor of Organizational Behavior, by courtesy, at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, but he is best known to the majority of people as the author of The No Asshole Rule.

He is also a genuinely nice guy, has a prominent email link on his blog and actually responds when you write him.

The blog is called Work Matters and it’s one of those ‘if you read nothing else…’ things. In the left column Bob has listed “15 things I believe” and my favorites form today’s quotes along with links for context.

Which ones would you choose?

Getting a little power can turn you into an insensitive self-centered jerk.

The best test of a person’s character is how he or she treats those with less power.

The best single question for testing an organization’s character is: What happens when people make mistakes?

Saying smart things and giving smart answers are important. Learning to listen to others and to ask smart questions is more important.

Image credit: Stanford Report

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Robert Sutton On How To Be A Good Boss In Bad Times

Friday, May 29th, 2009

Do you subscribe to The McKinsey Quarterly? They have a great selection of topics depending on your interests. I mention this because you may have to register to read the following, but no worry, it’s free.

McKinsey has done a great interview with Stanford prof and management guru Robert Sutton, he of The No Asshole Rule fame.

In his McKinsey interview Sutton talks about how to be a “Good Boss in Bad Times.” Take a moment and see the video interview  or read the transcript (sorry, the video won’t embed).

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Image credit: McKinsey Quarterly

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