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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

Ryan’s Journal: Has The Nation Lost Its Mind?

Thursday, March 2nd, 2017

As a nation, and perhaps as a species, we reward success above all else.

I am in sales and a mantra I have heard many times is, “exceeding quota covers a multitude of sins”. Did you show up hungover to a team meeting? Did you grope someone at an after-hours event? Did you mouth off to your boss?

These are things I have all personally witnessed at work and the one question always asked was, “are they hitting their quota?”

Why do I bring this all up you ask?

As you may have read Uber is having a tough few months and an even worse week. I won’t jump on the bandwagon to bemoan their culture, but I will say it’s probably not limited to them alone.

Because we have put value in success above all else it is easy to forgive when those companies or people err.

In my professional life I have had an opportunity to work in both large and small organizations. These are all made up of people with strengths and weaknesses, but one common thing I see is those that produce revenue and growth get away with a bit more.

Now this is only anecdotal, but headlines can support this claim to a degree. Uber, Google, Wal-Mart have all had scandals or missteps.

While this may not be indicative of social decay, it points to an opportunity for improvement.

One thing I truly believe is culture begins with self.

The choices we make as individuals are what shape the greater group.

When I see these stories of harassment, abuse or other issues it is not a company that is doing it, it’s an individual. Personal responsibility must be an expected outcome if we want a change.

How can we start?

There is always the Golden Rule or Karma to consider.

If you want to consider science alone we can look to Newton’s third law as reference.

All of these have a common theme — your actions will have equal reactions in measure.

Perhaps that can be a basis for culture moving forward?

Image credit: Dani Mettler

Golden Oldies: Vested Self-interest In Action

Monday, December 12th, 2016

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.

To truly understand this post, you need to click the link and read the original explanation of VSI. VSI isn’t particularly original, but it is rarely called that — people prefer nicer or more professional sounding euphemisms. And that’s OK; I just prefer to opt for clarity and simplicity — which is why I’m considered too blunt.

Read other Golden Oldies here.

vsi-successTuesday I shared my version of VSI, the main ingredient in motivational sauce, and today I want to tell you a story about how it works.

Earlier this year I was working with a client, Jim, on various management approaches, such as offering good feedback and open sharing of all information, i.e., not dribbling it out over multiple requests, that he wanted to integrate into the company culture. During the conversation he asked me “What can I do to open the minds of some of my managers?”

Unfortunately, there is really nothing you can do to force a person to change the way they think, but there is much you can do to encourage it. I honestly believe that the fastest, as well as the most potent, way to encourage change is good old VSI.

I used to believe that people had to perceive the need for change before they could change, but based on experience I’ve found that if they see benefits to themselves from doing things differently they will start moving in that direction and the results can be almost surreal.

Jim had a manager who was known for making his people come to him constantly to get the information necessary to do the work they were assigned. His attitude/actions resulted in higher-than-normal turnover in his group, but he insisted that he wasn’t doing anything and people could get the information at any time, so there was no correlation.

Using VSI, Jim and I worked out a two-prong approach to change his behavior.

  • 20% of his annual bonus was tied to reducing his group’s turnover by 30% (which would bring it in line with the company as a whole); and
  • Jim started doing to the manager as he did to his group by forcing him to come and ask and then dribbling out the information he needed to meet his targets.

Part of the manager’s reaction was straightforward—he grumbled a bit about the retention bonus. But the surreal part was in his reaction to the information plug—nothing, not a word or an action to acknowledge what was going on.

However, he must have noticed, because within days of it starting he was giving more complete information to his people.

Not all at once and not very graciously, but he loosened his hold on the information flow, so did Jim. If the manager backtracked Jim tightened up and the manager learned that to get he had to give.

At first, his people were cautious, not really trusting the new openness, but after about a month the results started and after six weeks they took off like a rocket—productivity and retention zoomed north, while grumbling and discontent headed south and on into oblivion.

But the surreal part is that, in spite of his people commenting publicly on how differently he was handling assignments, meetings, etc., to this day the manager claims that nothing changed and certainly not him.

Image credit: Street Sign Generator

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: Do You See the Hole or the Whole?

Monday, December 14th, 2015

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. Read other Golden Oldies here

donut

When you evaluate a task or project to you see the whole or the hole?

Most people are adept at seeing the hole, i.e., what needs to be added in order to succeed. What’s missing can include scope, skills, resources, etc.

Unlike donuts, holes don’t enhance your projects. Being sure the hole is filled is important, but it’s also difficult to fill it if you don’t also see the whole.

The whole is the overview of how that particular project fits into the larger picture. Understanding that helps you to identify and address the entire hole, so you don’t end up having to go back and fix the part of the hole you missed or, worse, move on leaving an unnoticeable hole that turns into a sinkhole down the road.

Seeing the whole means taking time to understand not just your own position/area, but the functions of those around you and how they all interact, your company’s competitors and trends in your market.

More work? Yes.

A pain in the wazoo? Yes.

The benefits to you, your team and your company? Priceless.

 image credit: sxc.hu

Entrepreneurs: Pay Attention — Or Not

Thursday, November 5th, 2015

https://www.flickr.com/photos/mslgroup/15848604309/

Have you ever considered that the comments and musings of so-called influencers and thought leaders carry more weight than they should.

Insider anecdotes from tech often show just how wrong those at the top can be.

Steve Jobs didn’t believe anyone would buy big phones.

Or the mindset of Jim Clark, as revealed by Michael Lewis, author of The New New Thing, a book about the tech industry in the late ’90s.

“At the end of The New New Thing, Jim Clark, who has made a fortune out of the internet bubble, says he’s getting out because he’s scared. Why’s he scared? Kleiner Perkins, the VC firm, has given $25 million to this startup called Google, which he thinks is outrageous. Why would anyone give $25 million to Google? A search engine is just a commodity, everybody knows that, it’s a silly name.”

There are always experts who will tell you why whatever won’t work.

I’m not recommending that you just ignore or dismiss them.

What I am saying is that you need to take everything with a grain of skepticism and not buy it because of who says it.

Flickr image credit: MSLGROUP Global

Ducks in a Row: An (Almost) Foolproof Formula for Success

Tuesday, October 20th, 2015

https://www.flickr.com/photos/chad_sparkes/14090714820/

Is there an eternal answer to the eternal question of ‘what should be learned/done to make oneself promotable’?

Yes,

The answer was recently expounded upon by Xin Li, a Staff Software Engineer At Google, in response to a question posed on Quora.

I work at Google Mountain View.  Here, if your base salary is around 200K, you are most likely a Staff Software Engineer.  The defining characteristics at that level are:

  1. Go beyond being a technical expert to also being a domain expert.  You need to know what should be done, rather than just how things can be done.
  2. Be an owner.  The buck stops with you.  If something goes wrong with your part of the product, it’s ultimately your responsibility, even if the mistake wasn’t made by you.
  3. Work for your people, rather than have your people work for you.  That is be the one to volunteer to take on the tasks others don’t want to do.  Your job is to make your people look good.  Give them the opportunity to grow professionally, and support them where they need it, and clear obstacles for them, so they can be at their best.
  4. Be a leader and a consensus driver.  Real world problems don’t have cookie cutter solutions, and not everyone will agree on what the right solution is. You need to have a vision, work across teams, and bring people together, resolve differences.
  5. And of course you still need technical chops.  You need to be good at technical system design.  Be able to create an architecture that is as complicated as it needs to be, but no more, and no less.  It needs to serve the requirements of today, while robust enough to be extensible a few years down the road.

If you want to get to this salary level as a software engineer, I think the requirements are fairly similar everywhere.  As you can see, these requirements have less to do with any particular language you may or may not choose.  Focus on delivering value for your employer, and the rest will follow.

Xin Li’s response specifically addressed a software career path, but is universally applicable.

“Focus on delivering value for your employer, and the rest will follow.”

That’s as close to a guaranteed formula to drive success in any career that I’ve ever seen.

Best of all, it’s never too late to start.

Flickr image credit: Chad Sparkes

If the Shoe Fits: Understanding the Gender Fuss

Friday, July 31st, 2015

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

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mThis post is for all the male founders out there who don’t understand the fuss about diversity, especially gender diversity.

After all, why bother finding female talent when it’s so much easier to find male talent?

What difference does it really make? (click “Resources”)

Venture-backed companies with females as founders or executives are more likely to go public, turn a profit or be sold at a steep price (source: DowJones)

Globally, companies with diverse executive boards enjoy significantly higher earnings and return on equity. (source: DowJones)

Download the Report

The difference is money, stupid; it’s the money.

Hat tip to KG for sending me the link.

Image credit: HikingArtist

Success Sans Ego

Monday, June 29th, 2015

4107732661_b2e4e7964e_m

What is the secret to getting ahead?

According to Mike Curtis it’s pretty simple.

“Look for opportunities, and shed your ego.”

Curtis should know.

After high school, he was working in a coffee shop when a company called iAtlas Corporation opened across the street.

He pestered his way into an internship that included acting as receptionist and answering the phones.

When Alta Vista (the original search engine) acquired it he chose to move to California instead of starting college.

After a stint at AOL and another company he landed at Yahoo where he was lead engineer for Yahoo Mail, with a team of 200 and a 2-window office.

The reason he left offers yet more sage advice.

“Make sure that one day whatever company you join is working as hard for you as you are for it.”

He went from an executive position at Yahoo to Facebook’s bootcamp sitting next to interns and new grads, hence his advice to drop the ego.

Now he’s a VP at Airbnb.

Quite a career path for a guy who skipped college before it was fashionable and worked his way up.
Flickr image credit: Celine Nadeau

Ducks in a Row: Living Your Own Life

Tuesday, April 14th, 2015

https://www.flickr.com/photos/42244964@N03/6826537248

Do you find today’s world a bit strange?

I do. Not because of the technology or breakthroughs, but because so many people are trying so hard to live someone else’s life or spending incredible amounts of energy trying to force others to live their way.

I’m not saying they shouldn’t; it’s their choice and doesn’t require my approval or opinion — unless they are trying to cram something down my throat that chokes me.

I neither need nor want the safe, curated world described yesterday.

I’ve screwed up many times in the course of my life; three had disastrous, long-range consequences, yet without them I wouldn’t be me — and I like me.

I realize that there are probably many versions of me that I would like; each a result of choosing a different fork in my path.

What I wouldn’t like would be to live with the desire to be someone else.

We look at public personas with no knowledge or understanding of what went into creating each one or even if they are real.

The dichotomy between the inauthenticity of craving or controlling someone else’s life and the talk of living an authentic life is often hard to swallow.

Geno Auriemma, Coach of the Connecticut Women’s Basketball Team summed it up very well in an interview.

“I’ve always been fascinated by people who care so much about what other people are and what they do in their personal lives,” he told a news conference. “Like, how small-minded do you have to be to care that much about what other people are doing? Life is hard enough as it is, trying to live your own life.”

No matter how wealthy there is someone with more money; no matter how beautiful or handsome there is someone who is better looking; no matter how brilliant there is someone who is smarter or just better uses what they have.

So, whether at work or personally, be proud to be you. No matter who you are or what you do you have a spark that no one else has.

Image credit: Frank Vassen

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