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Ryan’s Journal: When Culture Betrays

Thursday, March 16th, 2017

https://www.flickr.com/photos/roryfinneren/2791004393/in/photostream/

Most of my writing is based on what is going on in my life right now. I have found it’s easier to write about what I know and tap into the emotion of it all. One thing I learned recently is culture can be a double-edged sword and should be respected as such.

If any of you are reading more than Entertainment Weekly I am sure you have seen the meltdowns that are occurring at Uber, the falling stock prices at Valeant Pharmaceuticals and maybe the second bankruptcy of Radio Shack.  All of these are a result of a culture that betrayed the very members it was meant to protect.

How do we watch out for that in our personal lives?

One way I do it is by seeking constant feedback. I have found I have a significant blind spot when it comes to measuring myself, so I suck up my pride and go to those I know will give me a real answer. Perhaps these companies could have done the same?

When looking at these three cases I have found one commonality, pride. Let’s examine each and see what you think.

Uber is pretty public at this point. The CEO had a history of being bold, in your face and decisive. This has its place but can also become unbalanced. Additionally, somewhere from the top down the idea that women should not be treated equal came out and as a result you have cases of sexual misconduct and favoritism playing out.

Valeant was a darling of Wall Street for many years. Its former CEO was incentivized to get his stock to a certain price point. If he did that he was rewarded with stock options that were incredible. Harvard did a study on it and thought the scheme was amazing. What people didn’t know though was the CEO was utilizing accounting methods that favored the stock price. He also utilized a private pharmacy that was undisclosed to the public to deliver his prescriptions. This had an added benefit to the stock. Both methods were found to be unethical, the stock crashed and shareholders lost billions.

Radio Shack recently filed for a second bankruptcy. They have been unable to turn around their stores to get to a profitable point. I am not too old to remember going into these stores as a child and enjoying them. They offered some great products, were knowledgeable and if you were a radio geek you could find just the part you needed. Unfortunately they didn’t expect a rise in cell phones, online ordering and other buying trends. These have all contributed to its losses. They are still around but I wonder for how much longer.

I bring all of these up as examples where the culture of each led to misses and failures.

Culture in my mind is the mentality of a company — its thought processes.

On an individual basis are you allowing your culture to betray you?

Image credit: Rory Finneren

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

Ducks in a Row: Cheating As A Basis Of Culture

Tuesday, February 28th, 2017

What do Hampton Creek, Theranos, Zenefits, Lending Club, WrkRiot, ScoreBig, Rothenberg Ventures have in common?

They all channeled the “fake it ‘til you make it” ethos of Silicon Valley.

Only they didn’t make it.

Previous well-known cheats include MiniScribe, WorldCom and Enron and they’re only the tip of the iceberg.

Cheating is the getting of a reward for ability or finding an easy way out of an unpleasant situation by dishonest means. It is generally used for the breaking of rules to gain unfair advantage in a competitive situation. — Wikipedia

Yesterday’s post focused on the prevalence of cheating at all school levels and its acceptance as a laissez-faire, “everyone does it” attitude.

Of course, cheating isn’t new, but the more ubiquitous it’s become the more it’s been shrugged off.

And it’s this cheating mindset that has shaped Silicon Valley over the last decade or so.

Along with faking it is the “do whatever it takes to win” form of cheating as exemplified by Uber’s Travis Kalanick.

Cheating on ideas, such as meritocracy and fairness, has certainly contributed to the rise of the bro culture, also exemplified by Uber and recently documented by Susan Fowler. However, as Uber engineer Aimee Lucido points out, Uber is far from being alone.

It does seem that a large percentage of the egos that drive, and aspire to drive, innovation, along with the egos that fund that drive, have lost touch with the society they claim to serve and, instead, bought into an attitude espoused by Donald Trump.

“And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.”

We would be better off if they would channel Sophocles, instead.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/smemon/5382067751/

 

Image credit: Sean MacEntee

If the Shoe Fits: A Continuing Train Wreck Called Uber

Friday, February 24th, 2017

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

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mMost of the tech/business/news-consuming world has been hearing about Uber’s latest, but doubtfully its last, scandal.

Uber showcases a culture where anything goes: sexual harassment; managerial threats, including physical violence.

A culture based on the overweening arrogance and MAP of CEO Travis Kalanick and fully supported by his top management and a subservient/ineffective/actively resistant HR.

So Kalanick did what all CEOs (and politicians) do when someone shines a light in their rat hole — he announced an internal investigation led by external, high profile lawyers and made promises at an all-hands meeting.

“What I can promise you is that I will get better every day. I can tell you that I am authentically and fully dedicated to getting to the bottom of this.”

This from the guy who two short years ago called his company “Boob-er” in GQ, because it was a chick magnet.

There’s an old joke that you should never trust anyone who says “trust me.”

The same can be said about the person who proclaims their authenticity.

Image credit: HikingArtist

Ducks in a Row: Are Your Employees Owners or Renters?

Tuesday, November 8th, 2016

https://www.flickr.com/photos/gusilu/2888338293/

“Ownership” is the difference between having employees who care and those who are just along for the ride.

Jim Haskett, Harvard business School professor emeritus, hosts lively conversations around current research he and his colleagues have done. The comment period is roughly two weeks and the ideas/comments are as interesting as Haskett’s original post.

Are Employees Becoming Job ‘Renters’ Instead of ‘Owners’? is the most recent and is critical to any manager looking to foster an engaged workforce.

In our work, we found that an “owner”—either a loyal employee or customer who takes responsibility for improving relationships, products, and processes as well as referring new employee candidates or customers—can be worth more than a hundred “renters—”those who are only involved with the organization to complete one or more transactions.

Think about it; why would Uber drivers care about the company — to use Haskett’s terms, they rent the job.

It isn’t just the so-called on-demand jobs that hire renters. There are plenty of them in full-time positions and, surprisingly, even in companies such as Google and Facebook.

In a recent Golden Oldie we considered the truism that “you get what you give” when it comes to respect and that’s true about most things.

Another old saying is also very true — people don’t quit companies, they quit managers.

In companies with “real” jobs, it’s the managers who determine whether employees are owners or renters.

Be sure to click over, read the comments and add your own.

Image credit: chispita_666

Ducks in a Row: Pundit Poop from Graham and Kalanick

Tuesday, June 14th, 2016

http://www.flickr.com/photos/spacepleb/249761636/

Background:

  • Austin passed a law requiring fingerprint-based criminal checks;
  • Uber and Lyft spent $8 million on a referendum to repeal it; and
  • lost on May 8.
  • On May 15 Paul Graham tweeted

    I will go out on a limb and say Austin has zero chance of being a serious startup hub without Uber and Lyft. (I am an investor in neither.)

Essentially, Graham, a man devoted to innovation and startups, discounted any possible innovation in ride-sharing beyond the current scenario.

(Keep in mind that this is the same guy who claimed that London’s not a startup hub because some establishments still enforce a dress code.)

Little did Graham know just how weak that limb was.

Contrary to his expectations, Austin did not reel in shock, wallow in grief or stay home.

Arcade City Austin / Request a Ride is a Facebook group that has grown rapidly in the weeks following Uber’s and Lyft’s departures. The group, which requires approval to join, is currently populated by more than 33,000 members who use the group to find rides to and from their destinations.

Beyond that effort, there is Zipcar, getme, Fare, Fasten, Wingz, zTrip, RideAustin and InstaRyde riding into town (if not already there) and all willingly complying with the required fingerprint background check.

All this should bring a note of caution to Uber CEO Travis Kalanick’s stated plan to avoid going public as long as possible.

“So I say we are going to IPO as late as humanly possible. It’ll be one day before my employees and significant others come to my office with pitchforks and torches. We will IPO the day before that. Do you get it?”

Amazing arrogance.

  • Graham discounts the world, the people in it and innovation itself.
  • Kalanick plans Uber’s IPO with no consideration of the economy, competitors or the speed at which things change.

Graham’s words have already come back to bite him; Kalanick’s probably will, too.

Flickr image credit: Dave Gough

Entrepreneurs: the Silly Side of Paul Graham

Thursday, June 9th, 2016

http://www.paulgraham.com/images.html via w:en:Image:Paulgraham_240x320.jpg

I’m not sure what I dislike most about Paul Graham; his arrogance, narrow-mindedness (previous link) or his misogynist mindset .

I suppose his latest comments fit the arrogance category, but I’m inclined to add a just-plain-silly category instead.

It all started with Sam Altman’s shoes, which weren’t allowed at the Ritz in London.

Shallow though this test may seem, it shows London’s not a startup hub yet. No hotel in SF could afford this rule.

— Paul Graham (@paulg) (read the thread.)

So, according to Graham, in order to be a good place for startups, a city/all businesses must drop any standards and just accept whatever.

Of course, this is the same guy who said that a city can’t be serious about startups if it doesn’t have Uber and Lyft.

Hmmm, does that mean Silicon Valley wasn’t a startup hub prior to 2009?

As I said — silly.

Image credit: Sarah Harlin via Wikipedia

Ducks in a Row: Do People Count?

Tuesday, March 15th, 2016

800px-The_protectors_of_our_industries

I’ve written a lot about the 1099 economy and its poster boy Uber; none of it particularly flattering.

Why?

Because the way the drivers are treated they are not “independent contractors” as described by the Feds.

They are revolting in the best way — by becoming the competition.

That was back at the end of February and in tech three weeks can be a lifetime.

The new news is that Talmon Marco founder of Viber six years ago and sold for $900 million two years later, is the guy behind Juno, Uber’s newest competitor — but a competitor that values it’s people.

“What Uber left out in the process of building their company is that they completely and totally forgot about the people who do the work, the drivers. Imagine a company where all the employees hate management; that is not a good place to be.”

And there lies the problem for most of the 1099 crowd.

Unlike most other 1099 businesses, full-time Juno drivers will be employees, not contractors, receive stock quarterly and have the potential to build  “as much equity as the founders.” according to Marco.

Remember the robber barons of the late 19th-arly 20th Century?

A robber baron is a wealthy, powerful businessman who employs practices including exerting control over natural resources, influencing high levels of government, paying subsistence wages, squashing competition by acquiring competitors, creating monopolies and raising prices  [emphasis mine], and schemes to sell stock at inflated prices to unsuspecting investors.

Even the inflated stock seems familiar when you consider that Uber’s unicorn valuation is based on funds raised, not revenue, and it’s losing hundreds of millions each year.

Robber barons indeed.

Image credit: Wikipedia

Managed by Q: No 1099

Wednesday, March 18th, 2015

managed-by-q

I’m not a lover of the so-called 1099 economy, primarily because I think the concept and the unicorns it’s spawned have been successful at gaming the system — so far.

But that’s unlikely to last.

More importantly, a company called Managed by Q is proving it doesn’t need to.

Managed by Q provides on-demand cleaning services for offices using an iPad, which it installs for free, and also offers other services like restocking the fridge or office supplies. With on-demand and subscription services for customers — and now 150 cleaners in New York — its services have become pretty popular: They’re used by other startups like Flatiron Health, Elite Daily, and Uber.

Managed by Q hires its “operators,” as it calls them, as employees, offering full-time and part-time employment with benefits and stock options. The work is flexible, and Managed by Q works with operators’ schedules.

I find it ironic that Uber, poster child of the 1099 model, hires a company that proves you can make money and still do traditional hiring, treat all employees well, draw investment and make money.

I’ve said it before and will continue saying it because it’s true, a company is like a three legged stool with investors, customers and employees being the legs. If one leg is longer or more robust than another the stool will tip over.

Managed by Q is part of the minority of on-demand services that is paying attention not just to its clients, but to the people carrying out its day-to-day work. And that’s what sets it apart.

Sets it apart, gives people a future, isn’t looking at lawsuits and seems to have missed the startup greed train.

All I can say is read the article and three cheers for Q, the anti-1099 heroes.

Image credit: Yelp

The Uber Worms Are Turning

Wednesday, February 4th, 2015

http://401kcalculator.org

As has been pointed out in every media outlet on the planet, Uber is arrogant, pugnacious, obnoxious and plays fast and loose on matters from privacy to government regulations to customer charges to “contractor” relations and compensation.

Uber, in the person of CEO Travis Kalanick, has so enraged various officials that the company has been kicked out of cities, domestic and foreign, and entire countries.

Even Matt Kochman, Uber’s founding general manager in New York, left in disgust.

“Discounting the rules and regulations as a whole, just because you want to launch a product and you have a certain vision for things, that’s just irresponsible.” 

Kalanick pushed, denied problems and claimed that everything that disagreed with Uber’s plans was anti-progressive or nit-picking.

But in January the tone changed.

In January, Mr. Kalanick delivered a speech in Munich filled with talk about compromising with regulators he once sparred with, wanting to “make 2015 the year where we establish partnerships with new European cities.”

A couple of weeks ago I wrote of clouds on the horizon in the form of a class-action lawsuit from 2009 that could affect not only Uber, but every business based on so-called contractors.

Turns out they weren’t clouds, but a full-fledged storm.

A legal storm.

The Boston law firm representing Uber and Lyft drivers, Lichten & Liss-Riordan, won a 2009 decision that Massachusetts exotic dancers were employees because the club could set their shifts, and fire them. Judges in New York and Nevada followed that reasoning last year.

It will be interesting to see what happens in the California courts.

If the drivers win, it will be even more interesting to see how all the startups based on the 1099 business model play when the field is level.

Image credit: 401kcalculator.org

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