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Ducks in a Row: It’s About Culture, Stupid

Tuesday, March 25th, 2014


Lou Gerstner (IBM) says it best, “I came to see, in my time at IBM, that culture isn’t just one aspect of the game—it is the game.”

Dick Clark (Merk), Rex Tillerson (ExxonMobil), Robert Iger (Disney) and Steve Jobs (Pixar) all agree, as do a host of other bosses.

There’s no getting around it—everything comes down to culture.

The millions of dollars spent developing strategy provide no value unless the strategy is implemented.

“I wouldn’t say that their strategies are useless, but if they added a separate ‘people’ process on the strategy process they would be a lot more effective.” That process is execution, which many consultants and academics have largely ignored because it is seen as merely tedious detail.

Culture embodies more than a company’s values; it embodies the company’s ability to execute.

Too many bosses treat building culture also as tedious detail—exciting to visualize and discuss, but procrastinating the hard work required to create and sustain it.

Bosses who ignore the tedious details jeopardize their careers and put their companies at risk.

Flickr image credit: Max Klingensmith

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Ducks in a Row: Once Again Old is New

Tuesday, March 18th, 2014


I find it amusing how frequently I read something that is presented as totally new when, in fact, it was done decade(s) previously.

In this case, it was the agreement not to poach each others engineers, supposedly masterminded by Steve Jobs.

Just how far Silicon Valley will go to remove such risks is at the heart of a class-action lawsuit that accuses industry executives of agreeing between 2005 and 2009 not to poach one another’s employees.

The last time I remember this happening was in the late Seventies/early Eighties by the HR organizations in a group of semiconductor firms, including National Semiconductor, AMD and Intel, among others I can’t remember.

The story was broken by a gossipy semiconductor-focused newsletter to which everyone in the Valley subscribed, shared and denied reading. (Sadly, I can’t remember the name, although it was published by an individual who lived near Santa Cruz.)

Word was that being caught reading the newsletter could get you fired.

When the information surfaced it was the EEOC that fined the companies involved.

It was a stupid corporate move then and just as stupid now, but back then the workers affected didn’t do anything; how times have changed.

Flickr image credit: Harold Heindell Tejada

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 Entrepreneurs: You and Henry Ford

Thursday, August 8th, 2013

Henry_ford_1919When you think about great entrepreneurs who comes to mind?

Not Steve Jobs if you limit entrepreneurs to those who invent something brand new; he didn’t invent technology; he took what was there, infused it with brilliant design and then convinced us we couldn’t live without it.

Bill Gates? Larry Page and Sergey Brin? Larry Ellison? Mark Zukerberg?

But could you build a powerful company culture off just their quotes 100 years from now?

Actually, will entrepreneurs even remember them in the Twenty-second Century?

But a century later you can do it off of Henry Ford quotes and it would be not only sustainable, but socially responsible.

Consider this small sample

  • There is one rule for the industrialist and that is: Make the best quality of goods possible at the lowest cost possible, paying the highest wages possible. Ford practiced what he preached, too.
  • Whether you think that you can, or that you can’t, you are usually right. This may be true for all of us, but it is especially true for entrepreneurs.
  • Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success. Overseeing each of these stages is a perfect description of a founder’s primary responsibility.
  • Obstacles are those frightful things you see when you take your eyes off your goal. This isn’t to say that you should be blind to them, but keeping your focus on the goal allows you to overcome them by not losing track of what’s really important.
  • A business absolutely devoted to service will have only one worry about profits. They will be embarrassingly large. Tony Hsieh has proved this in spades, as has Jeff Bezos. The difference is that Hsieh also practices the first principle above; while Bezos has ignored it.
  • Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently. The first half of the sentence has been proven over and over, but it is the second half that determines whether the effort is successful.

Parts of Ford make a great role model, while other parts should be treated as poison, which, in the long-run, merely proves Ford mortal.

(Find more Ford quotes here.)

Image credit: Wikipedia

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Entrepreneurs: the Truth about Yelling

Thursday, June 13th, 2013

Entrepreneurs: the Truth about YellingAn AlwaysOn post explaining How to Get Yelled AT caught my attention and should catch yours.

Verbally it had the typical male orientation, but there is plenty for women who are just as likely to be alpha males as guys, so ignore the gender stuff.

Supposedly, those who yell in the military and sports do so because they care, which is true only when the words yelled aren’t abusive (as they so recently have been).

Outside of those two areas, with the caveat mentioned, I don’t believe there is any reason to yell, since yelling rarely accomplishes anything positive.

This is especially true when bosses are yelling at staff (or parents at kids).

Often when I call startup bosses for yelling at their people they respond by saying something to the effect that if it was good enough for Steve Jobs it’s good enough for them—forgetting that from a management prospective Jobs is a lousy role model.

Generally, yelling is the fastest way to make sure that folks tune out and disengage.

So what do you do when something happens and you are justifiably angry?

Use the process I described way back in 2006; a lot may have changed, but it still works.

Flickr image credit: AlishaV

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Entrepreneurs: Choose Your Type

Thursday, February 28th, 2013


Do you read Agnes? A few days ago she asked her friend if she was superstitious; when her friend said not often Agnes told her she was sortofstitious. Agnes then made an over-the-top superstitious comment and her friend said she was megastitious.

The wordplay got me thinking.

In reality, most entrepreneurs are superpreneurs or they won’t make any headway.

Then there are the megapreneurs who manage to innovate, create successful companies and then do it again (think Tony Hsieh) or stay in the same place and keep innovating (think Steve Jobs, the Google Guys or Intuit’s Scott Cook).

However, there are still plenty of sortofpreneurs, who create me-too businesses (think daily deals), that stand little chance of success (although they often get funding), instead of real innovation.

They have may have the passion of a superpreneur, but in their rush to riches they want to skate—not innovate, i.e.,

  • not solve a problem that needs solving or create something that nobody even knows they want;
  • not provide real value to stakeholders; and
  • not create an entity that provides jobs and futures to its people.

It’s not that sortofpreneurs can’t become superpreneurs, but to do so they need to give up (relatively) instant gratification and be willing to both slog and pivot as necessary.

A tall order for someone who is in it for the money.

Flickr image credit: 401(K) 2013

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If the Shoe Fits: The Real World

Friday, January 18th, 2013

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

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mYet again, the startup world is changing.

I’ve watched it morph many times over the last 30 years, but what I find different this time is what I can only call entrepreneurial stupidity—a combination of arrogance, myopia and ignorance.

I don’t think it’s too widespread, but when you come head-to-head with it it tends to bring you up short.

“Jaime,” an entrepreneur with whom I, who has a B2B subscription startup, attended an event that had entrepreneurs presenting to investors.

He was highly offended because one of the presenters was looking for investment to start a winery.

Jaime said that a winery was a business, not a startup, nor was it scalable; when I disagreed he quoted Steve Blank to me, “a startup is an organization formed to search for a repeatable and scalable business model.”

First of all, in the post, Steve says, this is “a new definition of why startups exist” and as to the scalable part, someone had better tell Naked Wines and its portfolio of startup wineries that they aren’t scalable.

It reminded me of a young woman I spoke with in 2000 when I was still a headhunter.

We were talking about startups and I said something to the effect that I’d been working with startups since the Seventies; she disgustedly informed me that startups were a function of the Internet.

I guess someone forgot to tell Hewlett and Packard, Steve Jobs and dozens of others, and, more recently, Eric Ryan and Adam Lowry, the two guys who started $100 million, 100 employee Method cleaning products,  that their companies weren’t startups.

The lesson here is that while some startups may go where no person has gone before, most will leverage the existing adding tweaks and new twists to add value.

Image credit: HikingArtist

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If the Shoe Fits: Drinking Your Own Kool-Aid

Friday, January 4th, 2013

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

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mFounders are known for the passion and drive that turns their vision into reality. While many are known for their technical brilliance or marketing expertise few are known for their management skill.

Many harbor a secret dream of being hailed as the next Steve Jobs, Larry Ellison, Anna Wintour, Barry Diller or Martha Stewart.

If those names impress you then consider that they all are in Forbes Bully Bosses Hall of Fame (personally, I’d have included Jack Welch).

“At some point, those we consider ‘visionaries’ become puffed-up creations of their own imagination. When business executives stop looking beyond quarterly reports and stockholder dividends, they start ignoring internal stakeholders. We’re seeing that unravel now.” –Gary Namie, management consultant

American tolerance for bullying leaders may be waning.

In four decades I never spoke with anyone who liked being bullied and have watched tolerance for it slowly seep away.

There has been a real sea change in what’s conceptualized as good leadership. Americans have become disenchanted with power. Almost daily, they watch as leaders–in government, in business–fail to exercise appropriate restraint.” –Roderick Kramer, Stanford Business School professor.

These days people vote with their feet; the question is not ‘should I leave’, but ‘how soon can I leave’.

The focus is how quickly someone can find a position that combines personal satisfaction with the ability to take care of their responsibilities.

Good management/leadership isn’t just about killer visions.

It’s about enabling growth by building up and never tearing down either the people or the enterprise for which you are responsible.

In short, take care of your people; without them there is no company.

Image credit: HikingArtist

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Expand Your Mind: 12 Greatest Modern Entrepreneurs

Saturday, June 30th, 2012

A couple of weeks ago I linked to stories about great women entrepreneurs. Today we’ll look at the guys.

A contributor at Fortune created a list of what he considers the 12 greatest entrepreneurs of our time.

They are Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Fred Smith, Jeff Bezos, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, Howard Schultz, Mark Zukerberg, John Mackey, Herb Kelleher, Narayana Murthy, Sam Walton, Muhammad Yunus

These founders created and then nurtured healthy, sustainable organizations that now have a combined market value of more than $1.7 trillion. They directly employ more than 3 million people…

Each of their companies sits at the nucleus of a thriving ecosystem that has cultivated and nurtured dozens if not hundreds of other enterprises.

There is a short profile of each at the link; considering it’s a kind of holiday weekend that’s enough reading.

Flickr image credit: pedroelcarvalho

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If the Shoe Fits: Nothing is Black and White

Friday, April 27th, 2012

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

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mWhy is it that so many who offer good professional commentary ruin it by presenting it as black and white?

Nothing that involves humans is black and white.

If I describe a manager who screams, rants, insults, and belittles his people I doubt that you would want to emulate his style.

What happens when I tell you his name is Steve Jobs?

Nothing is black and white.

A recent Inc. article listed 8 Core Beliefs of Extraordinary Bosses, they are

  1. Business is an ecosystem, not a battlefield.
  2. A company is a community, not a machine.
  3. Management is service, not control.
  4. My employees are my peers, not my children.
  5. Motivation comes from vision, not from fear.
  6. Change equals growth, not pain.
  7. Technology offers empowerment, not automation.
  8. Work should be fun, not mere toil.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with the list, the concepts are good, but there is a lot wrong with the accompanying commentary starting with the adjectives.

According to the article bosses who don’t embrace these eight in the way described are average bosses.

More accurately, the descriptions of the actions and attitudes attributed to the “average boss” belong, by and large, to the toxic boss category.

Based on the categories Jobs is average, by the descriptions he’s toxic.

Tony Hsieh comes to mind as fitting the description of ‘extraordinary’, although I doubt you would hear him describe himself that way.

Apple and Zappos are both highly successful.

The take-away is nothing is black and white; things that look great at first glance need to be thought through before you embrace them.

Option Sanity™ helps think things through.

Come visit Option Sanity for an easy-to-understand, simple-to-implement stock allocation system.  It’s so easy a CEO can do it.

Do not attempt to use Option Sanity™ without a strong commitment to business planning, financial controls, honesty, ethics, and “doing the right thing.”
Use only as directed.
Users of Option Sanity may experience sudden increases in team cohesion and worker satisfaction. In cases where team productivity, retention and company success is greater than typical, expect media interest and invitations as keynote speaker.

Flickr image credit: HikingArtist

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More than Money

Monday, April 16th, 2012

3236677121_fc8711b629_mI’ve often cited Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers regarding right time/right place luck—often an accident of birth. For example Bill Gates, Paul Allen, Steve Jobs, Bill Joy and Scott McNealy were all born between 1953 and 1955

Another example of right time/right place is found in Harvard’s MBA class of 1974 as chronicled by Laurence Shames in The Big Time: The Harvard Business School’s Most Successful Class & How It Shaped America, originally published in 1986 and being republished now.

1974 was probably the most successful single group of MBAs ever graduated from any school; further, this class actually did stuff and built things, as opposed to shuffling money around.

But they also worked their tails off. They didn’t expect anything to be handed to them. They always asked for more work, not less. They were a very competitive, driven group. But, again, not only for their own monetary gains. They wanted to excel. They wanted to be leaders.

When the ’49ers graduated, I think there were 653 graduates. Only six guys went to Wall Street –less than one percent of the class. It just wasn’t considered where the action was or considered a place where you could make a meaningful difference.

Learning about that class makes you wonder what happened. Where did the drive for more than money go?

What happened between 1974 and 2008 that so changed the attitude of our best and brightest? Why did money gain primacy as the only thing that matters?

The funny thing is that if you ask the folks who actually are changing our world, such as Larry Page, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg or Kevin Systrom, they’ll all say the same thing—they didn’t do it for the money.

Flickr image credit: Patricia Drury

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