Thursday, June 22nd, 2017
I had an opportunity to witness two distinct cultures in action in my personal life this past week. I am in the Tampa Bay area of Florida. Like most mid-market cities there are several startups and rising companies throughout. I have friends at two that have had events transpire as of late that had two completely different outcomes and I wanted to share my observations.
One company that is located here is backed by VC’s and has been growing rapidly. They have a great culture from how I understand it. Very laid back, treat you like a friend and encourage all team members to go beyond their own role to take on more responsibility.
My friends who work there always talk about the company with pride and enjoy working there. The CEO is a thought leader in the community and can cut to the core of what is needed to accomplish the job.
In my current role, I also use this company as a customer. They provide data on prospects from several databases. It is not unique as there are many in this space, but they provide an excellent customer experience and the data is usually accurate.
Last week we were told that we would no longer be able to access the application. I reached out to my friends and it was the worst news you could hear.
The company was not able to secure another round of funding and they had to close their doors.
This happened basically overnight. They were brought in on a Tuesday told the bad news and sent on their way.
My first reaction is that the folks who worked there would be bitter about the company and the way they were let go. That could not be further from the truth.
Are they out of jobs? Yes. Do they need to scramble to pay bills? Yes. However, they also felt like they were a part of something bigger than themselves.
President Theodore Roosevelt famously spoke about the man in the arena, “The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming….”
These folks were in the arena and were honored to have strived. They spoke positively of the company and its CEO, realized sometimes you lose and looked at the opportunity to learn as a valuable experience.
In my opinion life is about balance. In the same week as the above news broke I had some friends at another company I am familiar with share some news.
This company is no longer a startup; I would call them a rising company. No VC backing, the CEO started with his own money and they have been profitable through customer acquisition for some time. (I realize if you are in Silicon Valley you may find the concept foreign, but it does still happen.) This company started out with a great culture. Awesome offices, snacks and coffee, smart folks to work with. From the outside looking in it is very desirable.
This company has been on the decline with sales in recent years. It could be the industry it serves or that the products haven’t adapted to the needs of the marketplace.
Speculation from my friends has ranged as they truly believe in the company and its founder. He is a thought leader as well, spends a lot of time with Richard Branson and other luminaries, and is extraordinarily intelligent.
However, sales have been down and it has caused strain on the company.
They recently released the new comp plan for the sales team.
We could discuss how releasing a comp plan in month five and making it retroactive to January is a problem, but that’s not the point of this post.
The team was excited to hear what the new plan would be as some of the teams hit and surpassed their goals last year and figured they would be honored for that.
This could not be further from the truth. The new comp plan essentially cut their income by as much as 30%.
Now the average income for these folks was between $100,000-$150,000 annually. 30% is a huge cut and most may not be able to absorb that. Six figure deals that would bring in commissions of five figures dropped in some cases to the hundreds in commission earned on that deal. I’ll let that sink in for a moment. What’s the incentive to work!
The reaction from my friends there was as expected. They felt betrayed.
This company strives in being inclusive, expecting hard work from the team and tries to create a fun atmosphere.
These folks are invested, they love the company and the friends.
However, when you sign on and are told that you will make X amount and the company flips that on you halfway through the year it causes issues.
I cannot imagine how you would expect a great effort out of team members who feel betrayed and are now worried about paying bills.
Two different companies, two different outcomes.
How would you do it differently?
Flickr image credit: Anthony Albright
Thursday, June 8th, 2017
Partnership is an aspect of culture that I think could be explored further.
We all have partners we deal with in life that range from personal to professional. And isn’t it nice to have a partner throughout your day? Someone to help shoulder the burden?
But there is a fine line between a partnership and a parasite and it’s important to remember the distinction.
I work in a partnership daily. My company, Flycast Partners, is a partner of several large scale software vendors. We work hand in hand daily to increase sales, provide services and support. We are essentially an extension of the vendor and work hard on maintaining those partnerships.
This past week my company had the honor of being named partner of the year for North America by BMC software. It was a surprise and unexpected. We are only about 70 strong right now and there are partners that are much larger than we are.
We asked why we were chosen. Was it revenue? Was it the number of accounts we grew? Was it some other tangible thing?
The simple answer was none of that. We didn’t bring in the most revenue or the most new accounts. What we brought was a trusted partnership.
BMC Software is the 7th largest software company in the world and their CEO personally said it was because they knew we acted in the best interest of the customer and BMC.
What drove us to this place?
For one, integrity. The president of my company, Nathan George, believes that you should be honest in all dealings, meet your commitments and do what you say you will do.
He hires based on those criteria. To me these are fairly simple concepts, but not always followed. It would be easy to take the low road sometimes, but not sustainable.
We have competition out there, but we don’t dwell on them. We work on building relationships and providing value.
This is an instance where the partnership benefits both parties.
Next week I will highlight where a partnership can turn parasitic.
Flickr image credit: K-State Research
Monday, March 13th, 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.
Bosses are usually unrelenting when something goes wrong with a product/service. They, the team and often the entire company work to not only find the cause, so it won’t happen again, but also to placate their customers.
However, when the problem is an internal human one, they are more hesitant to root it out, since that often means first looking in the mirror and then actually changing (not just paying lip-service until the turmoil dies down).
Read other Golden Oldies here.
A Friday series exploring Startups and the people who make them go. Read allIf the Shoe Fits posts here
In the right frame of MAPping Company Success it says, “Have a quick question or just want to chat?” along with both email and phone number.
A few weeks ago a “John,” a founder, called me to see if I had any idea why his turnover was so high.
In response to my questions he described his company’s culture, management style, product, etc.
I told him that assuming what he said was what was actually happening then something else was going on.
Since we are several thousand miles apart, we came up with the idea of using a stationary camcorder to tape the interactions; a “set it and forget it” approach to capture the norm and not performances.
A few days later he sent me a link to see the results.
I choked at the length, but it didn’t take that long to find what the likely problem was.
To see if my instinct was correct, I watched the entire nine hours on fast forward.
What I saw was that, almost without exception, during every interaction John had, whether with programmers or senior staff, he interrupted them to take calls or respond to texts.
We discussed the ramifications and effects of the constant interruptions and I asked him how he would feel if they had acted the same way.
He said it had happened to him and he usually felt annoyed, offended or both.
So I asked why they would feel any different.
John said that also explained why one senior developer said he preferred to work where he was shown some respect.
John had chalked it up to the developer’s age and that he couldn’t handle the casual atmosphere, but thinking back the guy had had a good relationship and no problems with the team.
I suggested that instead of saying anything he just change, i.e., pay attention and not interrupt, since actions speak louder than words.
I also sent him this image as a constant reminder.
John went further than changing; he called the most recent three who had left, apologized and said he would like them to come back.
One had already accepted a job, but the other two decided to give it another shot.
They both said that his candidness, honesty in recognizing the problem and sincere apology made it likely he would follow through.
Image credits: HikingArtist and via Imgfave
Tuesday, October 11th, 2016
A response on Quora offers a key good insight for human interaction. It’s especially applicable when leading/managing a team, whether you’re a CEO or just-promoted supervisor.
A knight on his weary horse pulling up to house of a peasant. “Peasant, water for my horse and food and ale for me.”
Whilst eating and drinking, he says to the peasant “I am heading for the next town, what are the people like there?”
The peasant inquires “What we the people like in the last town you visited?”
The knight thinks and says, “The towns’ people were dishonest, unfriendly thieves, I was glad to leave the place.”
The peasant replied “Sadly, I think you will find the people in the next town the same.”
One week later another knight pulls up to the same peasant on his weary horse and says, “Excuse my look, but my horse and I have travelled far. If you have some food and water for my horse and also for myself, I would be grateful.”
The peasant feeds them both, with ale for the knight also, when the knight asks, “We are heading for the next town, what are the people like there?”
“What were they like in the last town you left?” asks the peasant.
“They were the most wonderful, generous people I have ever met. I was sad to leave them,” answered the knight.
“Do not worry,” said the peasant, “they are are the same in the next town.”
In other words, people rise to your level of expectations.
Not only do they rise, but they also sink when expectations are low. This is most obvious when considering the difference between schools and teachers.
Although more subtle, it applies just as accurately to the workplace.
If you want your people to trust you — trust them first.
If you want respect — offer it first.
While the list of wants is endless, the recipe for achieving them remains the same.
To get what you want, give it first.
Flickr image credit: Chuck Black
Monday, June 13th, 2016
It’s amazing to me, but looking back over 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.
I wrote Verbal Avoidance in 2011, not because it was new, but because it was so prevalent — and since them it’s gotten more so in spite of all the talk about honesty and authenticity. Read other Golden Oldies here
There’s a bad habit I see sweeping through companies. It’s not really new, but it has gotten much worse in recent years.
This particular habit used to be more the province of arguing couples, relationship counselors and divorce courts.
Always more of a guy thing, I now find it on the rise among women.
I call it “verbal avoidance” and it is irritating to say the least.
It occurs when something happens, or is supposed to happen, and person A needs to communicate that to person B.
A doesn’t because
- what happened is going to upset B and A either doesn’t want to be the messenger, since messengers are sometimes killed or deal with the fallout if/when B gets upset.
- B is waiting for A to notify him of good news, but B doesn’t have the information yet, so rather than saying that, he doesn’t call.
Of course there are dozens of variations, but they all boil down to the same thing—A does not communicate with B as expected.
When B does reach A, A offers a variety of reasons why the contact didn’t happen, but reasons don’t excuse anything.
B feels frustrated/disappointed/disgusted/angry/betrayed.
Verbal avoidance for any reason breaks trust.
And trust is the basis for any kind of relationship, whether at work, at home or in the world at large.
Silence isn’t always golden.
Stock.xchng image credit: Sigurd Decroos
Monday, May 23rd, 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.
Have you noticed the threats flying around this political season? Not in-your-face threats, but the subtle kind; the kind that end with an implied ‘or else’. And some not so subtle, with the ‘or else’ loud and clear. ‘Or else’ may be common, and even acceptable, in politics, but when used as a management tactic the results are always negative. Read other Golden Oldies here.
How often do you (or your boss) add “or else” or words to that effect when assigning a project or discussing a deadline?
It happens more than you would think.
The threats are rarely direct—Do it or start looking.
More often, they are subtle, unstated—I expect employees who work here to be team players.
Have no doubt, the threat is there: Do X if you want to keep your job.
Anyone who’s ever been on the receiving end of a threat will tell you that they aren’t exactly motivational.
What they are is atrocious management.
Threats are costly not only to the threatEE, who loses confidence and the threatenER, who loses credibility, but also to the organization itself for allowing it to happen.
Far worse is the ripple effect that the sows seeds of a self-propagating culture of intimidation.
Threats kill creativity, innovation, motivation, caring, ownership, in fact, everything that it takes to compete in today’s economy.
Managers who choose to use ultimatums as a motivational tool should not be surprised when employees respond with their feet.
Flickr image credit: James Cridland
Thursday, January 7th, 2016
New year, new ideas — one would hope.
Less ‘me too’ and more ‘me new’, or, as Matt Rosoff puts it, stuff that impresses his 5-year-old son.
By groundbreaking, I mean a technology that changed society, changed every other industry in the world. The World Wide Web was groundbreaking. The internet was groundbreaking. The personal computer was groundbreaking.
And before you write Rosoff off as a know-nothing consider Peter Thiel’s comment.
“We wanted flying cars, instead we got 140 characters.”
It’s nice to know my nobody-know-nothing opinion is in good company.
In the tech world IoT is supposedly the bright light on the horizon, but don’t hold your breath.
According to a study by Accenture of 28,000 consumers in 28 countries, the world is tired of gadgets and no interest in replacing what they have.
Worse for tech, the public is waking up to the fact that it doesn’t give a damn about people’s privacy, security or even safety as long as they buy — at least not until it’s forced to and then only enough to shut up the noise.
As Accenture puts it, companies must “ignite” the next five years of growth by coming up with products that “offer a compelling value proposition,” “ensure a superior customer experience,” and “build security and trust.”
Read the article. Digest Accenture results.
Then think about what you can build that would impress a 5-year-old—even a little.
Flickr image credit: centralasian
Friday, December 18th, 2015
A Friday series exploring Startups and the people who make them go. Read all If the Shoe Fits posts here
If you truly want to succeed it’s important not to let your ego get in the way.
Or, as Marva Collins said, “If you can’t make a mistake, you can’t make anything.”
During the first startup boom in the Nineties it was called “founder ego,” but there were those, such as me, who just called it stupid.
Perhaps there is a new term I haven’t heard or it’s gone underground, but founder ego sinks more startups than you can imagine.
The thing to remember is that you
- don’t’ know more than everybody else; and
- can’t do everything better than anybody else.
You will screw up, you’re human, but people will think more highly of you and trust you more if you admit it and move forward by unscrewing it no matter where or who the solution comes from.
Thanks to Wally Bock at Three Star Leadership for sharing Collins’ quote.
Image credit: HikingArtist
Monday, November 9th, 2015
This post first appeared in 2012, but I believe both its premise and its point deserve another airing.
As companies grow and managers build their organizations they frequently talk about “weeding out” low performing employees—Jack Welch was a ninja weeder.
If that thought has crossed your mind you might take a moment to think about James Russell Lowell’s comment, “A weed is no more than a flower in disguise.”
As with weeds, there are better ways to look at under-performing employees.
Seeing a weed as food changes everything, just as seeing people’s potential does.
95% of the time it’s management failures that create weeds and those failures run the gamut from benign neglect to malicious abuse and everything in-between.
Weeds can come from outside your company, inter-departmental transfers and even from peers in your own backyard.
What is amazing is how quickly a weed will change with a little TLC.
“Weeds can grow quickly and flower early, producing vast numbers of genetically diverse seed.”
People grow quickly, too, and often produce innovative ideas — just because someone listened instead of shutting them down.
And while trust that your attitude won’t change takes longer to build, the productivity benefits happen fairly rapidly.
So before you even think about weeding look in the mirror and be sure that the person looking back is a gardener and not a weed producer.
Flickr image credit: Clare Bell
Tuesday, October 27th, 2015
This great leadership information from Lars Dalgaard, general partner at venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, is applicable to every boss, whether startup or Fortune 50.
The biggest thing in my life is really daring to be human, and that’s the approach I take to the working world. We could all be so much more human, but we don’t allow ourselves to do it. I think it’s because we’ve been brought up thinking that when you’re in a business role, if you show any emotion, then that’s the opposite of being tough.
The funny thing is that you’re actually a stronger leader and more trustworthy if you’re able to be vulnerable and you’re able to show your real personality. It’s a trust multiplier, and people really will want to work for you and be on a mission together with you.
Dalgaard’s approach is the opposite of so many of today’s bosses, who act as if every day is a tough mudder experience.
To them, being vulnerable is the same as being weak — and weak loses.
Worse, by acting on that belief they, in turn, force the attitude on their people.
The end result often turns a workplace into a warplace, with X% of your people trying to out-tough each other and the rest running for cover.
So give them, and yourself, a break by recognizing that you’ll go further, and have more fun getting there, by being, and showing, that you are human.
Flickr image credit: BK
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