Thursday, June 29th, 2017
If you’re reading this I am making the assumption that you’re a knowledge worker. You may be in an office, a coffee shop, or perhaps some hillside retreat. Regardless of where you may be you have work to do and it needs to be done in a timely manner. When I am truly engrossed in something that has all my attention I get a hit of dopamine that channels my energy. Some call this flow.
Your brain is being fully maximized, distractions fade away and creativity takes place. When I am in this state it feels like work takes less effort. I am satisfied with the results and I feel accomplished. Truth be told I wish I could achieve this state more often and for longer periods of time.
As I was thinking about the concept of flow I was thinking how it could be applied to culture. If we are looking at flow in a way that reduces effort and gets faster results than perhaps we can apply that principle to culture as well.
I read a quote from Steve Jobs where he said, no one individual accomplishes something great, a team does. As I thought on that it occurred to me that the culture of Apple must be one where the team comes first, rather than the individual.
In my mind that is culture at work.
Any new hire would quickly see that belief in action, mimic it, and before they knew it they would assimilate without any conscious thought. That’s not a bad thing, since our brains have so many other things to worry about.
I think the same could be said of the military. You read stories of folks who did heroic things and their reasoning was that they didn’t want to let their team down. As a former Marine myself I can assure you that peer pressure is real and the last thing you want to do is let your buddies down. As a result you see some extraordinary actions on the part of service member, first responders and others. In my mind that is flow at work.
As always, though, we need to figure out how to iterate and expand our culture to a point where flow is achieved and it seems effortless.
I have found that surrounding yourself with folks that have passion for life, push themselves past their comfort zone, and care for others is a terrific foundation to achieve success.
Image credit: ReflectedSerendipity
Thursday, June 15th, 2017
I had the opportunity to spend some time in Raleigh, NC this week in the Research Triangle. If you haven’t had an opportunity to spend some time here, I highly recommend it. Not only is the area full of beauty, it’s a melting pot of diversity that exemplifies the best of America. The hub of elite universities and top ranked tech companies make this a desirable place to raise a family, but also pursue a career with meaning.
I was here to spend some time with BMC software and was able to sit in and watch first hand on how they train their inside sales teams. I was thinking about how I wanted to approach this topic and this forum allowed for me to point out some real world examples of how a cultural revolution can be started.
A little background on BMC. They are one of the largest private software companies in the world and create products for enterprise IT systems to do everything from track assets, create help desk tickets, manage capacity and sit on top of complex environments to manage jobs.
In a real world example Starbucks is a customer and if BMC’s software failed at any time then Starbucks would be unable to accept any form of plastic.
I say all of this to say they are in big spaces doing the behind the scenes work that is required for us to live this modern life. They were acquired by Bain Capital a few years ago and have been in a massive growth trajectory lately.
One major change that Bain made was the expansion of inside sales teams, BDR’s and inside sales reps.
When you think of sales you think of someone wining and dining with customers and comping their dinners; these guys don’t live that life. They manage the sales cycles through phone, email and LinkedIn.
It is a special skill that is required and it can be taught. These teams add great value to the organization by sourcing leads, closing business and creating value for the customers and field representatives.
An entry level role is as a BDR, Business Development Representative. My experience at other companies has been that these are young college grads that are hungry.
You have some of that at BMC, but they also have folks that have years of experience in other industries who are starting out in software.
You also have some that just enjoy that role and have done it for years. BMC takes these folks from all different backgrounds and shapes them to its vision and culture.
How do they do this?
One way they do it is by constant feedback and coaching opportunities. Now, this can be done the wrong way, but they seem to balance it well here where people seek out opportunities to learn and improve.
They also spend time highlighting team members who are doing something unique that works for them. They take folks that are young in their career and allow them to teach others. This does wonders for morale and also inspires others.
The last thing that I saw that helps is that they like to have fun as a team. They have happy hours, Vegas trips, president’s clubs. Constant incentives to allow people to reach their full potential.
I was impressed with the way they won as a team and built on mutual successes. They were not afraid to share best practices and they helped each other out as much as possible.
Now, maybe we can’t all go to Vegas but some of the things they are doing are very scaleable, not rocket science, and can be repeated at any org.
And then start the revolution.
Image credit: BMC
Wednesday, June 7th, 2017
Yesterday we considered the idiocy of postponing your career in an effort to “find your passion.”
The popular attitude is that if you do something you are passionate about then it will lead to success.
Of course, that depends on how you define success.
Most people believe that if they are successful they will also be happy.
Coincidentlly, a large percentage of them have also bought into the current attitude that equates success with money.
So it comes as a major surprise to many who have achieved financial success to discover they still aren’t happy.
Rather than my opinions, I thought you would find these stories more enlightening.
First, an unhappy $150K a year millennial woman at 26 to happy single momhood and $50K five years later.
I realized that higher pay didn’t equate to a better job fit for me. I do know that at the end of the day, life is so much richer than the number on your tax form — and that’s a lesson that’s priceless.
Not that there is anything wrong with financial success.
Ed Schweitzer moved his company into the future decades ago and has already accomplished in terms of good jobs what Washington claims it’s going to do by turning back the clock.
Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories, a manufacturer of sophisticated equipment for the global power industry based in Pullman, WA, solved its people problem internally.
While others outsource, Schweitzer goes DIY. While others establish a tightly focused definition of work history and skills they’re looking for, Schweitzer focuses on fundamentals: “I like to hire smart people with good values and strong fundamental education,” says founder Ed Schweitzer, who started the company in his basement 35 years ago. Today, it employs just over 5,000 and has revenue of nearly $1billion.
Schweitzer also set the company up as an ESOP, meaning it’s employee-owned.
Even in Silicon Valley, maximizing financial success isn’t everyone’s preferred road, like Craig Newmark — the Craig in Craig’s List.
“Basically I just decided on a different business model in ’99, nothing altruistic,” he said. “While Silicon Valley VCs and bankers were telling me I should become a billionaire, I decided no one needs to be a billionaire — you should know when enough is enough. So I decided on a minimal business model, and that’s worked out pretty well. This means I can give away tremendous amounts of money to the nonprofits I believe in … I wish I had charisma, hair, and a better sense of humor,” he added in a completely deadpan voice. “I think I could be far more effective.”
When enough is enough.
A quaint concept by today’s standards.
Read the stories.
Think about them.
Then create your own definition of success—what you want, not what you’re supposed to want.
Image credit: Ron Mader
Wednesday, May 24th, 2017
I’ve worked with and spoken to thousands of hiring managers over the course of my career.
They all want to hire the best people available and will go to great lengths to do it.
Sure, some work harder at hiring than others, but they all want a hire that succeeds.
Some look hardest at skills.
Some at accomplishments.
But the most successful managers focus on three character traits, before anything else.
Attitude, aptitude and initiative.
Attitude: Skills can grow and tech can be learned, but energy expended on changing someone’s attitude has the lowest ROI.
Aptitude: Things change. Not just tech, but rules, bosses, buildings, colleagues, and anything else you can think of; an aptitude for change can mean the difference between success and frustration.
Initiative: Going beyond the job description; doing more than expected; not for a reward or the glory, but because that’s who you are.
That’s how you build an organization that succeeds and makes you look great.
Attitude. Aptitude. Initiative.
Image credit: Mauro Parra-Miranda
Monday, April 3rd, 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.
Jerks. Turks. Stars. Bro culture. Definitely insanely stupid. I wrote this exactly six years ago and nothing has changed; if anything, it’s gotten worse and the post is yet more applicable.
Golden Oldies are a collection of what I consider some of the best posts during that time.
Read other Golden Oldies here.
Are you already a devotee of insanely smart hiring, in the process of changing after reading insanely stupid hiring or somewhere in-between?
Wherever your MAP is on the subject there is one thing about hiring that you need to wrap your head around if you want your career to flourish.
You can not hire stars, but you can create and maintain them.
This is as true of executives and management as it is of workers at all levels.
Think of hiring in terms of planting a garden—only these plants have feet.
You’re at the nursery and find a magnificent rose. It’s large, because it’s several years old, has dozens of blooms and buds and is exactly what you wanted for a particular space in your yard.
The directions say that the rose needs full sun to thrive, while the space in your yard only gets four to five hours of morning sun. But the rose is so gorgeous you can’t resist, convincing yourself that those hours from sunrise to 11 will be enough, so you take it home and plant it.
It seems to do OK at first, but as time goes by it gets more straggly and has fewer and fewer blooms.
Finally, you give it to your friend who plants it in a place that gets sun from early morning to sunset.
By the end of the next summer the rose is enormous, covered in blooms and has sprouted three new canes.
One of the things that insanely smart hiring does is ensure that people are planted where they will flourish, whether they are already thriving or are leaving an inhospitable environment.
I said earlier that people are like plants with feet. Abuse a plant, whether intentionally or through neglect, and it will wither and eventually die; abuse your people and sooner or later they will walk.
Insanely smart hiring also gives you a giant edge whether the people market is hot or cold.
By knowing exactly what you need, your culture, management style and the environment you have to offer you are in a position to find hidden and unpolished jewels, as well as those that have lost their luster by being in the wrong place. (Pardon the mixed metaphors.)
These are often candidates that other managers pass on, but who will become your stars—stars with no interest in seeking out something else.
They recognize insanely smart opportunities when they see them.
Flickr image credit: Ryan Somma
Thursday, March 23rd, 2017
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
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
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.
Tuesday 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
Thursday, August 11th, 2016
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.
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
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
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