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
Thursday, November 5th, 2015
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
Tuesday, October 20th, 2015
Is there an eternal answer to the eternal question of ‘what should be learned/done to make oneself promotable’?
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
Friday, July 31st, 2015
A Friday series exploring Startups and the people who make them go. Read all If the Shoe Fits posts here
This 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
Monday, June 29th, 2015
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
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