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Ducks in a Row: Jerks and “Culture Fit”

Tuesday, July 11th, 2017

https://www.flickr.com/photos/forsterfoto/168970168/Although both articles I refer to are aimed at startup founders, I believe they are applicable to bosses at any level and in any company.

First, no boss ever accomplished their goals by being a jerk.

As Bob Sutton explains in The Asshole Survival Guide, treating people like dirt hurts their focus and saps their motivation. (…)  In the podcast, Reid [Hoffman] describes his test of a great culture: Does every employee feel that they personally own the culture?

Most jerks point to Steve Jobs to justify their actions, but consider how much more he could have done if he had been a better leader/manager.

It’s hard to find any boss who doesn’t recognize that culture is the most critical element in a company’s success.

However, what “culture” is has been twisted and warped out of all recognition.

These days “cultural fit” is the excuse of choice to indulge whatever biases, prejudices, and bigotry moves the hiring boss.

So, what does cultural fit really mean?

To answer that you have to understand what culture really is.

Culture is a reflection of the values of the boss.

Values have nothing to do with perks, food, or office buildings and everything to do with attitudes such as fairness, merit, transparency, trust, etc.

The point of cultural fit is to hire people whose personal values are, at the least, synergistic with the cultural values of the company.

Period.

That means that if the boss is biased, bigoted or a jerk, they will hire people who have similar values.

Image credit: Matthias Forster

If The Shoe Fits: Glassdoor’s Most Loved CEOs

Friday, June 23rd, 2017

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

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mThe last thing you need today is yet another autopsy of Travis Kalanick. If you indulge in any form of media you know TK isn’t the first to founder to go down in flames (and he won’t be the last)for creating a rotten culture.

A larger question is where was the adult oversight that kept other young founders from similar shenanigans?

Steve Jobs didn’t want to create a Windows-compatible version of the iPod or an app store for the iPhone; it was his lieutenants who pushed him to do it. Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and the Google founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, were guided by strong, experienced and extremely sober operators — Sheryl Sandberg and Eric Schmidt, respectively. Mr. Kalanick, meanwhile, was allowed to operate more or less solo, to micromanage a company that grew to enormous scale, and was left alone even when the firm’s problems became plain to see.

In its fifth year, Facebook had net income of $200 million in 2009 on revenue of $777 million; in its seventh year Uber lost $3 billion.

So instead, I thought I’d point you to a Glassdoor’s 2017 list of best CEOs as rated by their employees, so you could find positive role models.

In the large company category the top slot went to Benno Dorer, CEO of The Clorox Company.

“Excellent communication on vision, strategy, and where we are going. Constant access to leadership through round tables and other company events that allow all employees to feel like they are part of our decision making and strategy.”

In the small/medium category it’s Justyn Howard, CEO of Sprout Social.

There are many reasons why Sprout Social is an amazing place to work. Some of the pros include sensible managers that really care about you and your goals, and help you grow and advance your career. The company culture is inclusive, open and friendly. I have honestly not seen this many talented and hardworking people together prior to working here. Both individual and team initiatives are highlighted and praised often, communication is very transparent and you feel like your voice is heard.

Notice that the employee comments all focus on similar things.

They are what people of all ages want from their bosses.

Founders/bosses set the tone and values.

They shouldn’t be surprised when the people they hire have similar views.

Image credit: HikingArtist

Ducks in a Row: Behavioral Addiction Means Profit

Tuesday, March 7th, 2017

https://www.flickr.com/photos/notionscapital/4549543273/

Do you believe that Twitter was founded with effects like Arab Spring in mind? Or that Mark Zukerberg started Facebook for altruistic reasons? Or that Instagram, Snapchat and other similar sites actually have your wellbeing in mind?

If so, you probably also believe in Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy.

The primary purpose of every one of these sites is simple: to make as much money as possible.

How?

By using personalization to achieve behavioral addiction.

Infinite personalization comprises the artificial intelligence-driven, big-data based tools that allow algorithms to build a personalized Internet echo chamber customized just for you, designed to make you feel great. Infinite personalization feeds you the real, the fake, and everything in between, with the simple goal of holding your attention and getting you to come back for more. It is the process by which companies can measure, match, and predict consumers’ individual preferences with amazing accuracy and then tailor offerings to maximize revenue.

It’s done with full knowledge and, in my opinion, malice afore thought.

It’s why tech titans, starting with Steve Jobs in 2010, limit their kids, as I said a couple of years ago in The Hypocrites of Tech.

They want their kids to grow to positions of leadership and power and know they can’t if their world shrinks to a self-enhancing echo chamber that only regurgitates information that fits their preconceived ideas.

Personalization is active in the real world, too, and has been for several years, with young adults inventing ways to shrink their world by curating their college roommates and demanding “safe places.”  

All I can say it ‘good luck’ when their carefully curated echo chamber has to function in the work-world.

However, it’s a sad and scary commentary that in the frenzy to make more and more money tech is providing a detailed roadmap, along with the supporting technology, for demagogs to become dictators.

For a more detailed look at behavioral addiction check out Adam Alter’s Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked

Image credit: Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com

If the Shoe Fits: Avoiding Foot-In-Mouth Disease

Friday, December 16th, 2016

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

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mPronouncements by pundits are often pretty funny, but those that come from corporate heads (who should know better) are worse.

That is especially true when they are obviously suffering from head-in-the-sand syndrome.

Lest you think it’s a modern phenomenon here is one from 1876.

William Orton, President of Western Union, when deciding not to buy the patent for the telephone. “What use could this company make of an electrical toy?”

Steve Jobs said e-readers would fail, because people no longer read.

Steve Ballmer, whose foot spent a lot of time in his mouth, called Google a “house of cards.”

Just last year JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon sounded off about blockchain ledger products, such as Bitcoin

“This is my personal opinion, there will be no real, non-controlled currency in the world. There is no government that’s going to put up with it for long … there will be no currency that gets around government controls.”

Of course, tech execs aren’t the only ones to nosh on their toes.

There are a lot more, read them all on CB Insights blog.

Why?

Because they might help you keep your foot out of your mouth as your company grows.

Image credit: HikingArtist

Ducks in a Row: KG on leadership strength, vulnerability — and asking questions

Tuesday, July 26th, 2016

kg_charles-harris

A couple of days ago KG sent me a link to an article questioning previous research, which found that bosses asking questions engender positive reactions and asked me what I thought.

But a 2015 study suggests that there’s one glaring exception to that phenomenon. According to the findings, men in leadership positions wind up looking less competent when they ask for other people’s help.

As usual, I found KG’s thoughts well worth sharing. I include mine mainly to add clarity to the flow.

Me: With regards to the “clever experiments” I don’t think a bunch of MBA students, who are often all-knowing and judgmental, are a good guide to managing an age-diverse team.

KG: Possibly, but as I’ve remarked in the past, the general culture appreciates “strong” leadership. See Bush II or Trump as examples. Or Steve Jobs and Larry Ellison.

Me: True, but leadership still plays out within each specific culture and doesn’t always travel well. Also, your examples are the top dogs; there are leaders at every level and I don’t believe it plays out the same.

KG: Within a culture, little dogs follow top dogs. If the top dog displays certain behaviors, then the little ones will follow suit — we’ve all seen this in organizations.

The issue is that if it is expected that leaders are more than other humans, then we have a false view of leadership.

It is good for stroking the egos of those who are in leadership positions, but it leaves them exposed and ignorant. It should be unnecessary to appear as a demigod to be an effective leader in any culture.

In certain situations a leader must cut through and make decisions, either with limited visibility or high risk. In addition, there are many situations (especially if the group is in crisis) that a dictatorial style may be necessary. These, however, should be limited both in time and scope, because if they are prolonged they will end up damaging collaboration and initiative.

The truly great leaders, both from history and present day business, are those who are good at asking questions and keep asking questions. Genghis Khan was known for his insatiable curiosity and desire to learn, and he was also the most successful military commander in history.

In effect it is our laziness and fear that makes us want to create demigods — beings who know better, with more power and understanding.

We want them to tell us what to do, rather than having to think ourselves, because thinking takes work and research. It is simply easier to hand it over to someone else who “knows better.”

Having done so, we are surprised when our leaders are corrupt, their promises broken and our lives affected negatively.

Can we continue to absolve ourselves of responsibility? Isn’t a leader just another human being with the same levels of fallibility and constraints that any other?

Maybe they are in different areas, but I have yet to meet another human that is good at everything or sees everything.

And even if these people exist, they will still be constrained by their perspective, which is determined by their position in the organization, background, etc.

Only by humbly asking questions, and daring to do so, will a more complete picture emerge.

This is because everyone has a piece of the puzzle, and sometimes this has to be cajoled out.

This is the true art of leaders, because the great ones then make decisions with better information and achieve better results.

If the Shoe Fits: the Edge of Non-tech Founders

Friday, August 21st, 2015

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

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mFounders who can’t code are often brushed off as bringing little to the table in comparison to their often tech co-founder.

Which is really stupid, considering that the majority of moving parts in any company aren’t technical.

Steve Jobs once said, “It’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields the results that make our hearts sing.”

Additionally, it’s all the items that are labeled “business” — finance, marketing, design, sales, customer service and more — that make investors write checks.

Which is why non-tech executives are brought in by investors.

That’s something worth keeping squarely in mind.

The coolest tech leaves investors cold without a healthy market

Your friends and other techie’s care about the technology.

Investors care about the market.

‘Market’ translates to customers.

‘Customers’ translates to revenue.

Great code not does a market make; it is a tool used to make something that fills a market need.

Period.

Image credit: HikingArtist

Ducks In A Row: A Train Wreck Named Marissa

Tuesday, January 6th, 2015

https://www.flickr.com/photos/infomastern/10189970344/

Talk to any boss looking to turn around a company or just one team and you’ll probably hear a reference to Steve Jobs.

Using the same reference, Nicholas Carlson traces What Happened When Marissa Mayer Tried to Be Steve Jobs and as most people know it didn’t turn out well.

It’s a fascinating article and well worth the time to read it, whether for enlightenment or as a cautionary tale.

It’s a story of expectations, ego, bad judgment insensitivity, and excessive micromanagement.

In some ways Mayer reminds me of Robert Nardelli, who came out of GE and fell on his face (more than once).

Both made their mark in other companies (Google and GE), but success didn’t travel well.

You see it happen over and over when people start believing in their wunderkind status and media hype.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Now for great tips on good leadership check out this month’s Leadership Development Carnival.

Image credit: Susanne Nilsson

Ducks in a Row: the Difference Between Winning and Losing

Tuesday, December 2nd, 2014

https://www.flickr.com/photos/formatc1/2378617163

What separates success and failure for new CEOs?

Some crash and burn, like Robert Nardelli and Apple retail chief Ron Johnson when he moved to Penney.

Others flourish.

Since becoming CEO at Microsoft, Satya Nadella has made revolutionary changes in both products and culture that would/could never have happened under the old regime and the stock is up 53%.

The world said that Apple under Tim Cook would be mediocre or even fail; it was assumed that no one could follow Steve Jobs. But in the three years April since Cook took the reins Apple split 7:1 and more than doubled its stock price.

What do these pairs have in common?

Culture.

Nardelli and Johnson were both outsiders who lacked interest or understanding of the existing culture. Both tried to use brute force to radically overhaul the existing culture and both failed miserably.

Nadella and Cook were both insiders; Cook was with Apple 13 years, while Nadella had 24 at Microsoft, and so far both are succeeding brilliantly.

Does this mean CEO jobs should always go to insiders?

Absolutely not.

Does it mean that changing the culture is a bad idea?

Absolutely not.

Lou Gerstner was an outsider who radically changed the culture at IBM.

And he sums the lesson up best.

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

Flickr image credit: Jeffrey

Entrepreneurs: the Magic of Urgency

Thursday, October 30th, 2014

https://www.flickr.com/photos/bullgator0892/11371185513

Steve Jobs is an icon and a beacon to entrepreneurs around the globe, although not as a management role model.

Many have weighed in on what made Jobs so great, but in a recent talk Malcolm Gladwell focused on a trait that anyone, in any field and any position can cultivate and become great at.
It’s not a trait that’s inborn nor does it require any special abilities.

It’s what Jobs had in abundance; it’s what drove him.

It’s what you can have, too.

What is this magical trait?

“Urgency,” Gladwell declared, characterizes Jobs and other immortal entrepreneurs. (…)  “The difference isn’t resources,” Gladwell said. “It’s attitude.”

Cultivate urgency.

Own it.

Flickr image credit: Pati Morris

Entrepreneurs: Modifying Your Vision

Thursday, September 18th, 2014

https://twitter.com/SamsungMobilePH/status/509404624655503360What makes a hit a hit?

When you’re ridding a comet of popularity and constantly need to release a new, better version does it make sense to take a step back and garner outside to better understand why your product is hot?

Or are you confident enough in your vision that you feel it’s unnecessary?

Would it surprise you to know that the success of the iPhone was due to the very feature Steve Jobs belittled in his competitors?

Size.

People became blackberry addicts because they could do more on the larger screen.

The iPhone’s screen was substantially larger than Nokia.

Can you even imagine surfing the Net, watching videos or streaming a movie to a phone with a screen like these?

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/1/1e/Nokia_evolucion_tama%C3%B1o.jpg/512px-Nokia_evolucion_tama%C3%B1o.jpg

In hindsight, it’s not weird that Jobs might have been wrong about consumer preference for screen sizes in the four years following his death. Rather, it’s weird that he didn’t acknowledge that the iPhone’s (relatively) big screen size was actually driving its popularity while he was alive.

The iPhone is arguably one of Jobs’ greatest hits, yet he never really understood why—because the ‘why’ clashed with his vision.

To acknowledge something you need to be aware of it.

And no matter how good you are at seeing around corners, you may need to modify your own vision to respond accurately to what your market craves.

Image credits: @Samsung Mobile PH and Jorge Barrios via Wikimedia Commons

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