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Golden Oldies: If the Shoe Fits: Wave Deafness

Monday, June 19th, 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.

Golden Oldies are a collection of what I consider some of the best posts during that time.

When I wrote this originally it was aimed directly at entrepreneurs, especially the ones who don’t seem to hear their people very often — if at all.

Coming across it five years later I decided it’s so apropos across the board that it definitely qualified as a golden oldie.

Read other Golden Oldies here.

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

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mLast year I wrote about Tony Hsieh’s approach to employee empowerment, featuring some great quotes from him.

As I said then, the thing that sets Hsieh apart is security.

Hsieh is comfortable in his own skin; secure in his own competency and limitations, so he doesn’t need to be the font from which all else flows.

Entrepreneurs can learn from this.

Startup hiring usually comes in waves as the company progresses.

While most founders will listen to their initial team and first few hires, those hired later often find it difficult to get their ideas heard.

Unfortunately, this behavior often sets a pattern, with the ideas and comments of each successive wave becoming fainter and fainter and those employees less and less engaged—and that translates to them caring less and less about your company’s success—call it wave deafness.

Wave deafness is costly.

Costly in productivity and passion, but even more costly in lost opportunities.

As Hsieh points out, there is no way he can think of as many good ideas as are produced if each employee has just one good idea in a year.

And not just from certain positions. I never heard of a manager, let alone a founder, admit to hiring dummies for any position, no matter the level.

So if you hire smart people and don’t listen to them, who is the dummy?

Image credit: HikingArtist

Ryan’s Journal: How Does Culture Impact You?

Thursday, January 19th, 2017

http://www.flickr.com/photos/charliellewellin/3413568618/I was thinking throughout the week about culture again. Obviously, that is a theme, but I was thinking about it from a self-centered perspective. How does the culture of a company impact me personally? I am sure you have thought similarly in the past as you have dealt with different organizations in your day to day activities.

I read a book recently by Tony Hsieh, “Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion and Purpose.”  This book is written by Tony Hsieh, founder of Zappos, and highlights the growth of a fledging company that was eventually acquired by Amazon for nearly $900 MM.

I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to see how a radical pursuit of culture can drive a company to immense growth. Now I have not had the pleasure of meeting Tony personally, but just reading that book made me feel like I could speak to him on a first name basis if I met him on the street.

One takeaway I had from the book was the fact that Tony truly wanted his employees to feel happiness and joy while they were at work. He did and continues to do this in a variety of ways.

He hosts epic parties, they have a relaxed work environment and they pay people to quit during the on boarding process. That last part may seem a bit radical, but they basically offer on boarding employees the opportunity to take a severance package if they don’t feel like they are a good fit.

This has a two fold impact; it weeds out those who probably shouldn’t be there and it prompts those writing a blog to mention it in their blog.

Even though Zappos has been around for a while and I am technically a millennial, I had never purchased shoes from the website before. I tend to be a tactile guy who wants to hold something in my hands before I buy, so the concept seemed at odds with my buying style.

After I read the book I decided that I needed to at least try out the service and see what I thought. I chose some shoes that I have worn in the past (I don’t want to dive head first here) and placed my order. Typically you get delivery in two days so before I knew it I had a box on my doorstep. I eagerly opened my box, discarded the paper and put on the shoes… and they didn’t fit.

So at this point I have a conundrum, I never order online for this very reason. Well the book did mention that they offered free returns as a part of their culture and that they actually preferred for you to call, so they could speak directly with you.

Tony has a 24/7 operation where you can call and place orders, make returns and so on. I decided to follow this experiment to its natural conclusion and make the call. This is the opportunity to learn how Zappos’s culture would impact me personally.

I made the call and explained the issue of the shoes being a bit too large. The person I spoke with was nothing but kind. He talked about the weather and things that were going on in his neck of the woods, which happens to be Vegas.

He also placed an order for a smaller size to be sent, as well as a return label so I could ship the other shoes back for free. Now this may sound like standard fare, but the entire call was relaxed, personable and memorable.

Now I am by no means a frequent customer of Zappos, but I know I can rely on them for a quality experience and they are no longer this faceless entity swallowing up my money.

At the heart of it, that is culture’s impact on you and I. We interact everyday with companies and people and we have a takeaway from those interactions.

Sometimes its not a science, its a feeling.

Image credit: Charlie Llewellin

Interviewing Fly-On-The-Wall

Wednesday, January 18th, 2017


This is a short post, because you need time to read the links.

It doesn’t matter whether you are a CEO building an executive team or a newly promoted supervisor, interviewing is critical to success — the team’s, the company’s and, especially, yours.

The most important things to learn from your interviewing aren’t about hard or soft skills.

The truly critical factors are

  • how they think; and
  • their attitude.

That should be the “make or break” information you come away with.

There’s a lot of help to be found here; look in the hiring category and use the various interview* tags — and, of course, today’s links.

Asking slightly off-the-wall questions that candidates can’t prepare for is a good technique as long as you have a valid goal in mind — one that is well beyond just being discomforting.

The technique is used by CEOs from companies diverse companies, including Tony Hsieh of Zappos, Stormy Simon, president of Overstock and Ashley Morris, CEO of Capriotti’s Sandwich Shop.

Use them as a guide, because the same questions probably won’t work for you. First, they will become well-known as they are passed around the digital world, and second, because they won’t be relevant to your particular situation.

Now, a moment of interviewing levity, better know as “candidates say/do the strangest things” or  WTF?????

“It’s hard to say why a candidate would do some of these things,” Rosemary Haefner, chief human-resources officer for CareerBuilder, tells Business Insider. “Maybe he or she is nervous, thinks an employer would find it funny, or perhaps the candidate simply has no boundaries.”

More than 2,600 hiring managers and employers shared with CareerBuilder the most memorable job-interview mistakes candidates have made. Here are 25 of the most unusual things that happened:

I sent this link to several friends; here is the response of one who is a senior manager at a large industrial enterprise in the southeast.

I’ve been offered a blow job, been asked out, been introduced to the “cruising” area of my city, threatened with a sexual harassment suit and shouted at. Interviewing is no joke…

Managers are still sticking their respective feet in their respective mouths.

Don’t be one of them.

Image credit: Hiking Artist

Yelp Follows in Walmart’s Footsteps

Wednesday, February 24th, 2016


Have you read yet the story of Talia Jane?

She is a customer service rep at Yelp, whose pay puts her right down there with Walmart and bank tellers.

“I got paid yesterday ($733.24, bi-weekly) but I have to save as much of that as possible to pay my rent ($1245) for my apartment that’s 40 miles away from work because it was the cheapest place I could find that had access to the train, which costs me $5.65 one way to get to work. That’s $11.30 a day, by the way. I make $8.15 an hour after taxes.” (Minimum wage in San Francisco is $12.25 an hour.)

She was fired two hours after writing an open letter to Yelp CEO Jeremy Stoppelman on Medium.

Yelp, of course, says the letter had nothing to do with her termination.

Stoppleman has a solution.

“The reality of such a high Bay Area cost of living is entry level jobs migrate to where costs of living are lower. Have already announced we are growing EAT24 support in AZ for this reason.”

Stoppleman’s solution seems to be to kick out everyone who doesn’t earn a fat salary — how dare “them” have the temerity to want to enjoy the pleasures and opportunities of life in San Francisco/Silicon Valley.

That said, I’ve never understood why Walmart, banks, Yelp or all those who follow in their footsteps, pay their front-line people—the actual “face of the company”— what can amount to starvation wages in urban areas and then are surprised when those same people lie, cheat, steal or speak out publicly.

Tony Hsieh, of Zappos fame, Costco and Trader Joe’s are a different story.

What it comes down to is that the further away from contact with customers the greater the money, perks and benefits.


Flickr image credit: Javier Morales

Golden Oldies: Self-starter Does Not Mean Self-managed

Monday, January 11th, 2016


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.

The effort to flatten management has been going on for awhile culminating in the idea of totally eliminating it and culminating in holacracy . I’m not impressed. Read other Golden Oldies here

How flat should an organization be?

How well do “self-starters” manage themselves?

Crucial questions for startups and small businesses, since how they are addressed can make or break the company.

Often the most important hires made when a company wants to grow are in sales.

Founders and owners often have technical, marketing or business backgrounds and many have a tendency to shrug when it comes to sales.

They see hiring salespeople as no big deal—there is an assumption that as long as they have a good track record in their previous sales position and understand the new product they can manage themselves.

If this sounds off base to you, you’re right, it’s not that simple. To use a real-life example, I had a client who thought that way.

The CEO hired “Jack” (before my time), a salesman with a fantastic record selling a parallel product to the same market.

The CEO personally taught Jack the product line and explained what the company was working to accomplish and then pretty much gave him free reign.

In the year Jack was with them he sold only two accounts, spent a good deal of his time on marketing and managed one large client; commissions totaled only $15K.

When he left he went to work in a field completely unrelated to anything he’d done before and in a market about which he knew nothing. In his first year at the new company he earned over 125K in commissions.

The difference was management.

Based on his track record both the CEO and Jack assumed that he could manage himself.

However, Jack didn’t have, and didn’t create for himself, the structure, accountability, etc., necessary to be successful.

During his exit interview he admitted that although he had no knowledge or training in marketing, he spent substantially more time than he should have because it was new and exciting.

After the CEO and I had fully analyzed what happened he concluded that the failure was 80-20, with the 80% his responsibility.

Hind sight is 20/20 and my client believes that if he had taken the time to do what was needed, instead of expecting Jack to completely manage himself, that he would still be with the company and doing a spectacular job.

The important lesson here is that “self-starter” does not mean “self-managed.” Even the best will need direction, structure, and accountability in order to perform brilliantly.

I’ve read multiple articles on holacracy, including Tony Hsieh actions at Zappos, but I believe that most people enjoy working for good managers and that they excel more and grow faster.

Of course, the operative word is “good”.

Image credit: iamwahid

Entrepreneurs: What About Holacracy?

Thursday, July 2nd, 2015


Jim Heskett is a very smart guy. At the beginning of each month he asks a question of his readers, then publishes a summation of the general ideas expressed the comments at the end of it.

The topics are always timely, of great interest and the conversation lively.

This month he asked about something that is on many founders’ minds thanks to Tony Hsieh actions at Zappos.

The question was, Is the Time Right for Self-Management.

Here is the summary. I believe you will find it of great value to read all the comments if you are considering adopting/adapting it for your company or just intrigued by the idea.

When and Where Will Holacracy Work Best?

Holacracy, or self-management, is an interesting concept and not entirely new. It can work, but only under the right conditions. And its applications will be limited. That’s what one might conclude from reading responses to this month’s column.

The more thoughtful of them provide a primer on applying the concept. Deborah Nixon’s comment echoed several others when she said the idea has been around a long time in other forms, by other names. “The larger an organization becomes, the tougher one model is to implement. The time has always been ripe for self-management and there are always people who will poke up their heads and insist on managing themselves. But it isn’t a quick fix.” Others cited its long-time application in the London taxi system (Andrew Campbell), the hospital ER (M Iqbal Gentur B), and even Aboriginal societies in ancient Australia (Kai Akerberg).

Stephens Jr., who loves the idea, said, it does not come without extensive time, cost, and involvement in employee development. “I not only say yes (to the question of whether the time is right for self-management), but ‘it’s about time.'” Dyan Porter added, “Holacracy strikes me as a positive way to manage professionals, especially in flat organizations where job advancement is limited.” Brooks Tanner commented, “Regardless of its level of success at Zappos, this form of organization is the way of the future. The rapidly increasing complexity and unpredictability of our world is such that only a highly distributed decision-making structure will be able to adapt and respond effectively, she continued. “Most of us don’t think a centralized planning type economy makes sense. Why should it make the most sense for organizations?”

Others saw limited potential in the concept. As Edward Hare put it, “There are some people capable of managing themselves in a larger organization … but many who can’t… This strikes me as another of those ‘ideas’ promoted by consultants and academics. ” Frank Fabela added, “Holacracy in its form of each individual taking responsibility for their own self-management is absolutely necessary, however it is the responsibility of ‘managers ‘ to ensure effectiveness of the organization through coordination of those objectives. Pure holacracy … absent management is destined to fail.” Krishnan Mak was more succinct when he said: “Culture will eat Holacracy for breakfast.”

Many comments addressed conditions under which Holacracy might work best. “It might not be for everybody,” wrote Maria Rosa Serra, “but if you hire employees aligned with your values and pay them fairly, it seems an interesting proposal for both the company and the individual.” Juan Manuel Salas Guevara commented that the challenge in Holacracy “is a strong communication process from the top level of the organization that enables each member to understand the company’s vision.” Charlie Efford added that “The key to self-management becoming embedded is changing the mindset of the management team. Most corporations haven’t made this shift.” Denis Collet suggested “it’s all about clear goals and deliverables, and the metrics for success. Absent of these it’s bound to fail.”

Personally, I agree with Krishnan Mak when he said, “Culture will eat Holacracy for breakfast.”

Image credit: HBSWK

If the Shoe Fits: Is San Francisco/Bay Area Really the Promised Land?

Friday, October 24th, 2014

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

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mThe Bay Area is touted for being the best place in the world for startups; the place that all others try to copy.

But is it really the best place?

I live in Washington State, just across the river from Portland, Oregon, AKA, Silicon Forrest. Lots of startups including a few that have jumped ship from San Francisco.

Tilde joins startups like Simple, Panic, and Sprint.ly, which have already set up shop in the city. Big-name companies like Salesforce, eBay, and Airbnb have also opened outposts here in recent months.

New York State offers cushy lures and there’s a lot more to the state than just New York City.

START-UP NY, Governor Cuomo’s groundbreaking initiative, is transforming communities across the state into tax-free sites for new and expanding businesses. Now, businesses can operate 100% tax-free for 10 years. No income tax, business, corporate, state or local taxes, sales and property taxes, or franchise fees.

Detroit should be up for consideration, too, thanks to Dan Gilbert, Quicken Loan’s billionaire owner who bought 60 skyscrapers totaling nine million square feet.

He has brought 12,500 employees with him to downtown, and along with other private investors is funding the construction of a light-rail system that will connect the central business district with the neighboring Midtown district. Through his umbrella company, Rock Ventures, he formed a start-up incubator called Bizdom and a venture-capital firm, with some of the funded companies already expanding into other Gilbert-owned office space.

Or you might prefer the new Las Vegas being guided by Tony Hsieh, using $350 million of his own money, because he deeply believes that some of the best ideas come from the unplanned interactions of dissimilar people.

He has brought 12,500 employees with him to downtown, and along with other private investors is funding the construction of a light-rail system that will connect the central business district with the neighboring Midtown district. (…) Around the same time, the Las Vegas city government was also about to move, and Hsieh saw his opportunity. He leased the former City Hall — smack in the middle of downtown Vegas — for 15 years. Then he got to thinking: If he was going to move at least 1,200 employees, why not make it possible for them to live nearby? And if they could live nearby, why not create an urban community aligned with the culture of Zappos, which encourages the kind of “serendipitous interactions” that happen in offices without walls?

One thing all of these areas have in common is diversity; because living costs are lower their populations reflect real-world attitudes and concerns, as opposed to the more homogenized views of the wealthy, super-educated white males that dominate the Bay Area.

More on them next Tuesday.

Image credit: HikingArtist

Ducks in a Row: Open-book Management

Tuesday, July 8th, 2014


Among today’s most popular buzzwords is ‘transparency’.

Transparency is one of the most important underpinnings of ‘authenticity’ and ‘trust’.

Corporations large and small trumpet the transparency of their dealings—except financial ones.

(Individuals, too; they will describe in detail their thoughts, attitudes and actions, even their sex lives, but freak when the subject is their money.)

But some bosses believe that financial transparency is not only possible, but can lay the groundwork for an extraordinary culture.

Financial transparency means not just sharing all the company financials with all its employees, but ensuring they have the skills to understand them by explaining and discussion them.

It’s called open-book management and was documented in “The Great Game of Business” by Jack Stack and Bo Burlingham.

Mr. Stack and the managers bought the plant [International Harvester engine plant], renamed it Springfield ReManufacturing and turned it into a thriving collection of more than 30 businesses now known as SRC — thanks largely to an innovative strategy that came to be known as open-book management.

The basic rules are

  • Know and teach the rules: every employee should be given the measures of business success and taught to understand them
  • Follow the Action & Keep Score: Every employee should be expected and enabled to use their knowledge to improve performance
  • Provide a Stake in the Outcome: Every employee should have a direct stake in the company’s success-and in the risk of failure

Ari Weinzweig and co-founder Paul Saginaw wanted that kind of inclusive, engaged culture when they started their company and used open-book to anchor their growth.

Zingerman’s Delicatessen, a tiny sandwich shop near the university, into a group of nine businesses that, three decades later, has 650 employees, 18 managing partners and combined annual sales of $50 million.

That’s called success and has been recognized as such and emulated a la Tony Hsieh.

Wayne Baker, a professor in the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan, turned it into four case studies. Bo Burlingham featured Zingerman’s in a book called “Small Giants,” which is about companies that “choose to be great rather than big.” And the owners and employees of more than 1,000 companies have attended ZingTrain seminars to learn more about the Zingerman’s model.

While their approach is definitely a success, not everyone likes or wants the involvement.

Former staff members talk about the frustrations of having to placate difficult customers, as well as the stress of being “Zingy” throughout a long shift. “It is exhausting to work somewhere where you feel like you have to improve what you do constantly,” said one former worker at Zingerman’s Roadhouse.

Others love it.

Krystal Walls, who works in the mail-order business and has two children and a third on the way, said at the training session, “I have never worked anywhere where I was trusted or respected like this.”

When their little deli first succeeded they were offered substantial buyouts, as well as the opportunity to franchise, but none of those options allowed them to pursue their vision and make a difference. The company pays its people well and provides full health benefits.

“Employees who are stressed out financially, wondering how to pay for their kid’s allergy meds, or their rent or auto insurance, are not going to be able to do their job well,” said Mr. Saginaw, who has been lobbying in Washington for the last year for an increase in the minimum wage. “We’re comfortable with the notion that there’s such a thing as enough. Others may be wealthier than we’ll ever be, but I wonder if they’ve lost a certain amount of joy in their work.”

Flickr image credit: Carl Collins

If the Shoe Fits: How Well do You Listen?

Friday, February 7th, 2014


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

I’ve cited Harvard Business School’s James Heskett’s insightful questions and the discussions they foster many times.  

This time he asks if listening is becoming a lost art.

In his new book Quick and Nimble, based on more than 200 interviews, Adam Bryant concludes, that, among other things, managers need to have more “adult conversations” —conversations needed to work through “inevitable disagreements and misunderstandings” —with our direct reports. Such conversations require careful listening.

In the same book he reports that CEOs expressed major concerns about the misuse and overuse of e-mail, something that they feel encourages disputes to escalate more rapidly than if face-to-face conversations had taken place instead. The latter, however, would require people to listen.

As to the concerns about email, I would add abuse to the misuse and overuse, as well as adding texting, instant messaging and, although not as obvious, cell phones. (Nobody is really listening while navigating rush hour, zipping down the highway at 70 or listening to the GPS when they are late to a meeting.)

Listening is both skill and art, but it’s also a revenue generator—just ask Tony Hsieh, whose own willingness to listen helped create a culture that’s the envy of corporations everywhere, while the listening skills he encourages in his CSRs have sold millions of pairs of shoes, or the Asana founders, who built the company on mindfulness, a philosophy grounded in listening.

Incorporating listening into your cultural DNA requires it to be universally manifested starting with you.

If you aren’t willing to put down your phone, discuss stuff in person, facilitate and carefully listen to disagreement then don’t expect anyone else to do so.

Image credit: HikingArtist

Ducks in a Row: Snapchat Values Culture

Tuesday, November 19th, 2013


Everyone has an opinion on Snapchat turning down a $3 billion offer from Facebook (here’s the thinking of others who have been there), but the comments that caught my eye were from Gary Burnison, Korn/Ferry’s CEO, who focused on the cultural aspect.

Burnison said that based on his company’s experience, “…people are hired for what they know, they are fired for who they are.”

Very true, but it shouldn’t come as a surprise, as I said five years ago when I wrote Culture Trumps whether Hiring or Acquiring.

The problem is that managers often ignore culture, because they believe they that theirs is ‘right’ and the other will change. It’s not a case of you/your company being right and ‘her/them’ being wrong, it’s a case of the pieces don’t fit—and 98% of the time you should see it coming.

The power of culture has been at the forefront of many discussions, with top CEOs focusing on culture above everything, including strategy. When his investors wanted to cash out, Tony Hsieh knew going public would destroy the culture, so he sold Zappos to Amazon instead.

Burnison also said, “I never thought I would see culture trump money with $3 billion on the table.”

I did, but I thought it would take a lot longer before a CEO, let alone a founder, had the insight to understand that a successful culture is priceless.

Flickr image credit: Neil T

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