Small Business News
Leading has its challenges, but when your followers are powerful leaders you need to step up your game. Here are six helpful tips.
As a boss or team leader, you have to lead people every day. It makes life easier when you have established authority and your followers are generally compliant. But someday you may find yourself leading powerful leaders, perhaps for a board meeting, a nonprofit, or even a high-level management team. These focused and dynamic people create completely different challenges for a facilitator.
This was my exact challenge this week in London. I was honored to moderate a panel for the G8 Young Summit (G8YS) and was quickly recruited to help facilitate 35 young leaders to create an important, detailed communiqué for the heads of state from G8 countries, all in 24 hours. These young leaders, from more than 14 countries, many of whom had never before met, were described at the event by keynote Matthew Bishop of the Economist as the people who will control the world in 2030. They are all strong-willed, successful, passionate entrepreneurs with healthy egos, varied points of view, and independent agendas.
I am happy to say that after an intense and spirited discussion we achieved our goal, but only because of agile facilitation practices, some of which I knew well and some of which I had to improvise along the way.1. Prepare
At G8YS, much of the attendee list was in flux until the day we started, so we had to work on the fly. If you are blessed with advance time, give attendees plenty of information to ready them for the discussion. Use subject matter experts to help frame the conversation in writing, preferably days in advance. Send the attendees a bulleted e-mail with key points and objectives so you don't waste valuable meeting time while preparing them for discussion.2. Manage Expectations
Make sure your attendees are absolutely clear and aligned on both the objectives and the deliverables. Strong leaders will likely have varied views of the level of depth and detail required in a solution or document. Your job is to make sure you are all working toward the same goal. You also have to make sure the deliverables can be completed within the available timeframe or you will take the blame. Take a little extra time initially to determine a clear and appropriate scope. Then constantly remind everyone in case they stray to their own standards.3. Keep Everyone Equal
In a free discussion, some people will dominate and others will hang back, letting others talk. Your job is to bring everyone's ideas to the forefront so all can be heard. When soliciting input, start by having everyone take a few minutes to jot down specific ideas on paper. Give them tight structure, such as asking for only two or three responses. If there is time, each person can read his or her notes. Or if consensus is close, simply vote with hands and ask if anything was missed. Don't be afraid to cut someone off if they are hogging the conversation. They might think you are a little rude and bossy, but the other people at the session will appreciate you keeping time and input in balance.4. Maintain Clear Priorities
Passionate people will follow their passion especially when it's coming out of their mouth. Strong advocates can derail a discussion by constantly dragging it back to their own agendas. Your job is to keep the focus on the objectives and deliverables. Write down the discussion focus at the top of the whiteboard so you can simply point to it when correcting a digression. Guide the group toward expansive thinking early and then tighten the boundaries to refine and get to consensus. You have to own the conversation or your leaders will push you aside and take it their own direction.5. Step Out of Situational Conflict
It's not your job to make people play nice. Spirited debate and healthy conflict can add to the depth of the result. When flare-ups happen, let them go, at least for a bit. Otherwise your participants will feel stifled or unresolved. Let them express enough to verify they have been heard without overusing the time required to complete your task. Of course, recognize that strong advocates may never feel fully heard if the group agrees to go a different way. In this case, make sure that you acknowledge the issue and focus the advocate on the need to meet objectives and deliverables within time constraints.6. Be Firm but Gracious
When facilitating leaders you have to show strength and self-confidence. You may or may not have time to build trust, but you still have a job to do and you are accountable for completing the task. Many in the group may feel they could do better and they indeed may be right, but this is your session and you must take absolute ownership even if it means politely rejecting the people you admire and respect. As long as you keep a sense of humor and advocate for the priority, most leaders will respect your approach within the context of a difficult challenge. Make sure at the end you acknowledge the participation and patience of each member of your group. Show appreciation and grace; voice your pride in the successful accomplishment of the team deliverables.
Like this post? If so, sign up here and never miss out on Kevin's thoughts and humor.
Building a business takes a village. But how can a growing business afford it?
Entrepreneurs are highly motivated, risk-taking individuals. Despite their risk profile, they aren't necessarily risk-seeking individuals. Many "solopreneurs" yearn to build a team around them and share the risk as well as the upside benefits of building a company.
We recently heard from Cecilia Wong, the CEO of Cecilia Wong Skincare in New York. She asked us three questions:
1. I'm a solopreneur and would like to start building a team. Where do I start? Should I hire a sales assistant or a marketing assistant or both?
2. I sell my products through several avenues: my website, Amazon and at the salon. I'm trying to find ways to increase more sales online--any tips to attract more traffic or different ways to increase sales?
3. What are some no-cost marketing ideas I can implement besides social media?
At the heart of these questions, it seems that Wong is struggling with how to build a team and infrastructure around her. Growth businesses can't be built solely by an individual; they require a team of people and partners with complementary skill sets. Building a business takes a village.
In Wong's case, she is trying to build an internal team to boost her marketing and sales efforts. She needs a distribution network to put her products in front of more customers and she needs to promote her product to attract potential customers .
Finding an individual with all of these capabilities would be rare and possibly expensive. The right person is not only "smarter" than Wong in terms of sales and marketing prowess, but also must be seeking an entrepreneurial environment. The perfect individual might also be willing to take some equity in lieu of salary.
In terms of distribution and marketing partners, Wong should look to find companies that can work with her in building the business. This might mean investing alongside her in the upfront costs and reaping some of the benefits as the company grows. She may be able to find a young, entrepreneurial PR expert looking to build a track record of his or her own and is willing to partner with Wong at a reduced rate, or on a success basis.
As a solopreneur who aims to build a growing business, the best thing Wong can do is find the right partners and team members. This takes a lot of digging, and the ability to give up some of the future upside of the business. But finding the right partner can reap rewards for years to come.
How are you finding success in building an entrepreneurial team? Send us your thoughts and questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
No one says you have to help out a fledgling fellow entrepreneur once you've found success. But there are some pretty compelling reasons to do so.
One of the enduring mysteries of human nature is why a very successful business person would give away his time to help an up-and-comer. After all, given the mentor’s success, he easily could charge the protégé $500 an hour for the valuable advice and contacts that he has pulled together during his career.
And yet mentoring is a widely accepted practice. To figure out why, I spoke with Mike Bergelson, CEO of Everwise, a service that connects mentors and protégées. It’s a mentoring company that benefits from being near a key mentor. Bergelson--who started Audium, a software company in New York City that Cisco acquired in 2006--ended up moving to California as a Cisco executive.
He left Cisco and pulled together the team from the software start-up to work on business ideas. But Everwise did not gel until 2012 when Bergelson discussed these ideas with Maynard Webb, his mentor, whose Webb Investment Network (WIN) offers “young entrepreneurs seed capital, mentorship, and on-demand access to experts.”
Thanks to his conversations with Webb, Bergelson decided to focus solely on mentoring. As he explained, “Maynard asked questions that made me realize that I had a passion for creating a way for corporate protégés to find mentors and that addressing that need could be a big opportunity.”
Bergelson knew first-hand how commonly big companies miss the opportunity to match protégés with mentors. That’s because when he was working for one of those big companies, he was given the name of his mentor. That person never responded to Bergelson’s email suggesting a meeting. A few weeks later, the mentor had quit and the company never gave Bergelson another.
Still, Bergelson believes mentoring is a great way for big companies like his former employer to develop talent. A study by a former Sun Microsystems executive found that employees who received mentoring were five times more likely to be promoted. And a study of successful people like Warren Buffett found that the second most important reason they believe they’ve been successful is great mentors (Buffett’s was Benjamin Graham).
Everwise has developed an algorithm that has contributed to a “96 percent match satisfaction rate.” Assuming that’s true, Bergelson should be an authority on why people agree to serve as mentors. Here are his four top reasons.
1. Give Back
Successful people I have interviewed often say that they were helped early in their career by someone who had achieved greatness. Now they believe that they should “pay it forward.”
But why do they feel that way? Some feel that they are repaying a debt to future generations; others believe that if their advice helps a younger person, it will make a little piece of them immortal; still others see mentoring as going back in a time machine and giving a younger version of themselves the advice that they wish they had received.
This last reason highlights the importance of matching the right mentor and protégé. After all, if a mentor finds a young person with similar life experiences--such as emigrating from Chile or competing in triathlons--it will strengthen the feeling of giving back to a younger version of herself.
2. Learn From Process
Many mentors claim that they learn by teaching. This observation brings to mind the Seinfeld episode about mentoring. In case you missed it, George Costanza needs to learn about risk management so he asks his protégé to record herself reading the book to him. (Naturally, Costanza took the idea of learning from mentoring and turning it on its head.)
Bergelson said that many mentors learn through the process of teaching others and they find that mentoring makes them better leaders. He said that 94 percent of mentors agree to repeat their experience because they “take away a lot from the process.”
3. Meet New People
Mentors also like the idea of meeting new people whom they can add to their “I knew when” list. After all, who doesn’t like the idea of bragging to associates that they knew [currently famous person X] before they became successful?
For mentors with this motive, there is also a potential financial benefit. The protégé might offer the mentor an opportunity to invest in an early-stage venture. And if that happens, the mentor may not only get bragging rights but a big slug of cash when he sells stock in the now successful venture.
4. Get Exposed to New Ideas
Protégés also expose mentors to new ideas. For example, the protégé might discuss how her company is using a new approach to innovation, pricing, or customer service. Mentors may be able to apply some of these best practices to their own activities.
People are willing to mentor for free because they already have--in the context of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs--met their physiological and safety needs and now seek esteem and self-actualization. Mentoring is a way to get there.
Beyond the lessons learned, you'll establish a culture that emboldens your employees to take risks.
Remember that old Teddy Roosevelt quote--the slightly sexist one you had to write an essay about in high school? It goes something like this:
"The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face in 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 . . . and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat."
In short, it's better to dare to fail, than it is to fail to dare. Few would disagree. But when it comes to incorporating such derring-do into your company's culture, you'll probably need to do more than write a few presidential bons mots on a whiteboard.
Engineers Without Borders Canada, a nonprofit that specializes in international development, has gone farther--much farther--than inspirational quotes. For the past five years, it has published a "failure report" alongside its regular annual report. "I only let the best failures into the report," Ashley Good (@admitfailure), the report's editor, tells the New York Times.
On Management Innovation eXchange's M-Prize website, Good explains how the report has helped to instill more risk-taking in her organization's culture. The 2010 failure report, for example, features a story by an employee named Owen Scott about his efforts to improve the water-infrastructure monitoring system in Malawi.
Scott describes one of his failures as "prioritizing tangible activities as outcomes." He explains, "Success is hard to find sometimes in development work and can have a serious effect on how we think about it. For me, success quickly became about having the district staff collect data--it was tangible, concrete, and simple. Success wasn't about the district office valuing the program or about behavior change. This all but guaranteed that my own priorities and the actual priorities of the district would eventually become misaligned."
As you can see, much of what a nonprofit like EWB can learn from its failures is transferable to the business world. Beyond that, Scott shared his failure with the organization in an extremely public manner. That's a habit any culture should aspire to encourage.
And it's cultures like this that abet recruiting. Good writes: "Michael Kennedy, who was hired last year to join EWB's Water and Sanitation team in Malawi, told me, 'The failure report is the reason I am in Malawi right now. Having had no previous experience with EWB, the report's existence indicated to me that the organization was reflective and dynamic. It gave me the impression that if I had issue with an approach we were taking I would have opportunity to voice my concern and be heard--which has been the case.'"
In addition, EWB has acted on the events documented in its failure reports. In 2010, an employee named Eli Angen wrote about an outreach initiative called Bring EWB to Work. The idea was simple: The nonprofit would mobilize its volunteer engineers to make presentations about EWB in their workplaces. "A major goal was to deliver 200 presentations nationally through this mobilization strategy," Angen reveals. Yet only 51 presentations were delivered (25 percent of the target).
Why did the initiative fall short? Angen gives three reasons:
1. Timing. "July was a poor time for workplace engagement given vacation schedules."
2. No regional representative. "This limited our follow-up and personal touch required for engagement."
3. No follow-up. "Seventy-five presentations committed were never delivered. We were not diligent in ensuring follow-through."
When the time came for EWB's next national outreach, the nonprofit acted on these lessons. Guided by Angen's experience, the organization took workplace schedules into consideration. In addition, it identified regional representatives who could take the lead on follow-up actions. The campaign, according to Good, reached 85 percent of all the first-year engineering students it targeted.
It's not just cocktails and hookups. No other television show portrays life in a start-up the way Mad Men does.
If you're watching with the eyes of an entrepreneur, the true star of Mad Men isn't really Don Draper, Joan Holloway, or Peggy Olson. It's not even the 1960s. The true star of Mad Men is the advertising firm itself.
Entrepreneurship is a roller coaster, and it's hard to think of a television show that has dramatized that better than Mad Men. Over the course of six seasons, viewers have watched the firm's partners battle for business, come to blows, grow big, get acquired, fall apart, relaunch as a start-up, lose key clients, gain even better clients--and most recently, merge with a rival.
Your business life may not come with quite as many cocktails, or quite as much sex. But when it comes to what it takes to build a business and keep it humming, the show has demonstrated some key lessons of entrepreneurship.
1. It's not who you know. It's who you get to know.
So, you've filled out your LinkedIn profile completely and you go to industry meetings with a stack of business cards? That's nice.
Don first got hired at the agency after meeting Roger, engineering a daytime bender, and then showing up the next day to convince Roger he'd offered Don a job but had been too drunk to remember doing it. That's some aggressive networking.
More recently, Sterling used a fling with an airline stewardess (that's what they were called then), who tipped him off on midwestern executives flying to New York to interview advertising agencies. He hops on airplane trips to meet and befriend them--all in the name of drumming up business.
That kind of networking is probably the second-most important impact on the fictional agency's success. Its account executives are willing to do almost anything to meet decision-makers, develop rapport, and keep them happy.
2. Customers don't know what they want until you show them.
If networking was the second-most important lesson, this is the most important.
Whatever you call the firm (its post-merger name hasn't been revealed as of this writing), much of its success in early seasons was due to creative director Draper's ability to see beyond what clients and customers said they wanted, and understand instead what they truly needed.
In a famous episode from Season 1, he saw that the cool thing about the then-brand-new slide projector wasn't its technology, but the fact that customers longed to connect with their pasts. (The scene where he pitches the client is worth watching.)
That kind of empathy requires truly understanding the client--maybe even better than the client understands him or herself.
3. Perception often trumps reality.
Don's stock in trade is deception--in his messy personal life, for sure (he's not only a hounddog; he's literally living another man's life), but also in business. He and many of the other characters spend much of their time trying to shape reality into what they wish it really were.
When the firm was struggling a couple of seasons ago, and Roger accidentally invited their biggest client to the office Christmas party, they cranked up the tempo "from convalescent home to Roman orgy" to make it seem as if they were doing very well. Advertising itself is largely about perception. To take a recent example, there's the Fleischmann's commercial that Don and his new creative partner, Ted Chaough, came up with: a farmer's wife forgoing the fresh butter from their dairy cows and spreading margarine on her breakfast (as if that would ever happen).
I think this brings up a very fine point: So much of entrepreneurship is about salesmanship, and so much of salesmanship is about managing perception. The difference between fiction and life, I suppose, is that in real life if you squander your credibility, it's much harder to regain.
4. Details matter, but vision matters a little more.
One of the big plot lines for the remainder of the series (the show ends next year) is likely to be about complications from the merger with a competing firm.
Fast growth through acquisition is what you might call a "good problem," but it's clear already that the details are going to drive the drama. From fitting everyone into the physical space, to growing and shrinking staff, to figuring out how the big personalities involved will get along, Mad Men looks as if it will face many of the same management and administrative challenges that any growing business faces in real life.
As that unfolds, it might be easy to forget that driving that kind of major plot development--either on a TV show or in real life--often requires bold vision.
Two episodes ago, sitting in a hotel bar the night before pitching Chevy, Don and his rival Ted decided on-the-spot to merge their firms. They stayed up all night, according to the story, won the carmaker's business--and left it to others to clean up the mess and wrap a pretty administrative bow on it.
5. Drink to excess and cheat on your spouse.
Okay, I'm kidding about this one. But if there's one thing the show's characters seem to do besides run an ad agency, it's drink a ton of alcohol and sleep around. These aren't exactly keys to success, and I'm not advocating them. But they do make for good television.
Some entrepreneurs need to overhaul their lifestyle, but everyone can benefit from small tweaks to their routine.
When we posted a new trick for shoehorning healthy habits into your schedule, LinkedIn lit up with several comments from business owners going to heroic lengths to stay fit.
Scheduling your life to accommodate good health can be a challenge for many. But why does it have to be difficult?
Trevor Gibbs, a former engineer turned health blogger, says it doesn't. Simple but effective interventions are often overlooked, especially by those who feel a need for bigger change. People can "build the movement habits first, and look for opportunities to move, stretch, and be mobile," he says. From there, he offers some useful tips to get started:
- Park at least five minutes away from the office so you'll walk more
- Use the stairs instead of elevators
- Set up a standing workstation
"Oh please," you might be thinking, "these small things might be decent first steps, but they're hardly going to make a dent in my health." But Gibbs isn't the only person saying little changes can have big impacts. The iDoneThis blog recently offered more examples from some big names in business.
Ryan Hoover, a grown-up who knows he should take his vitamins but somehow always forgets, is one of them. "I made a small change," he explains in a post. "I took the jar out of the cupboard and placed it on the countertop. Since then, I haven’t missed a day of taking my vitamins."
Again: Tiny change, big impact.
Hoover notes how other entrepreneurs are taking small steps toward big change:
- Buffer’s Leo Widrich sets gym clothes on top of his alarm clock so he's forced to move around.
- Google increases employees' water consumption by rearranging the fridge--Googlers go for the visible water that's within arm's reach.
- Simplicity author Leo Babauta says flossing-challenged people should only do one tooth per night.
These small behavior tweaks won't disprove the fact that many of us are in need of a major lifestyle change. But the key point still stands: Don't overlook simple but effective changes because you're searching for a silver bullet.
What small change can you make today?
Oreck used to be one of the biggest names in the vacuum cleaner business. Ten years after he sold his company, David Oreck reflects on what happened.
The Oreck vacuum is familiar to generations of consumers who remember television commercials and QVC spots featuring company founder David Oreck touting the quality, value, and light weight. Now, a decade after Oreck, then an 80-year-old entrepreneur, and his family sold the business to a private equity company, Oreck the company has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
"We sold a company that was doing extremely well: profitable, growing, debt-free," Oreck says. Now 90 years old, he has looked back on decades of experience in business and written a book called From Dust to Diamonds, in which he discusses what made his business a long-term hit and what fundamentals entrepreneurs today should hone.
Oreck thinks he knows what went wrong with the company he founded since the sale: Management strayed from important business principles.
Keep Control of Distribution
One problem was an over-reliance on third-party retailers. "If you don't control your distribution, you'll be controlled by your distribution," Oreck says. Back in the day, the company had about 600 franchised stores.
"At Oreck, we built a good product," he says. "We built it to last. We had a 21-year warranty. Our people would keep it going. If service was required, it was done immediately and if it couldn't be done immediately, we gave them a loaner."
However, third-party retailers like big-box stores cannot provide that level of attention and service. "I submit that value is essential," Oreck says. "You don't get that as a rule from the big-box guy."
Not that big retailers are unimportant. "[They have] a role to play and certainly an important one," he says. Being able to display merchandise and explain the relative values and benefits is critical to many purchase decisions. Unfortunately, many consumers will use the retailer as a showroom and then go online to purchase for a lower price, which hurts the future of the retailers, as well as the businesses that depend on them.
Know Your Target Customer
Oreck's two big selling points were its light weight and a reputation for being dependable, built by selling the units to hotels for commercial cleaning. The vacuums were not cheap.
Oreck says that the successful target market was middle-aged women. The light weight made the vacuums easier to handle, and middle-aged people were often better able to afford the price tag.
"By definition your customer is someone who could buy today, not a year from today," he says. "A year from today you could be broke." However, the new owners of the company began to target a younger demographic, moving away from the natural customer base.
Marketing should go with knowing your customer as a glove fits on a hand. "With advertising costs today, you can't afford to advertise to everyone," Oreck says. "Many manufacturers don't really know who their customer is. That's essential. A productive ad costs no more than an unproductive ad."
Oreck says that he was willing to continue being the spokesman for the company, much as Dave Thomas was the face of Wendy's after he stepped down from daily management. But "someone convinced the company they didn't want to have some old fart tell them to buy their vacuum cleaner," Oreck says, "so they had some eye candy gal push the vacuum cleaner."
Put Money in the Business
The final straw was a classic private equity approach to making money: Buy a business, rack up the debt and pull cash out, and then drive down costs to service the debt. "It weakens the company and I think it threatens the jobs of those who invested heavily of their own time," Oreck says. It may not be illegal, but as far as I'm concerned, it's immoral."
Although David Oreck has no financial interest in the company, some members of his family are exploring a repurchase of the company when it exits bankruptcy. Presumably to use his father's principles to reestablish the business.
What you gain when you stop taking everything so seriously and giggle a bit.
I live across the street from a kindergarten. Kindergarten, where I live in Switzerland, is two years and begins at four. They have their own building and most of the children walk by themselves to school. Except, they don't walk. They run.
As adults, we run, too. When we're very late, or when we're in exercise clothes, trying to get in shape or just get into our jeans. But, these children are not late. They aren't trying to lose weight. They are just running, from their houses to the school. And they laugh while they are doing it.
They run in clumps of threes and fours. Sometimes they hold hands. Sometimes they don't. They all stop at the curbs and look carefully, right and then left, as their parents and the safety officer, who came to their kindergarten, explained to them. And once they are assured of the safety of the situation, they take off, running, until they arrive at the kindergarten gate.
We're adults. We're way too busy and serious and important to gleefully scamper down the street, on our way to whatever task it is that we have to do. Most of us tend to drive whenever it's possible.
Now, I'm not advising you to start running down the road, flailing your arms and giggling madly, because there is something to be said for showing a little restraint and maturity. Clients aren't generally thrilled when your team of four walks into the meeting all holding hands and giggling. But, there's something I want to point out here:
Not one of those children is going to kindergarten of their own free will and choice.
Not one. Even their parents didn't have full authority to make that decision. School is mandatory from age four. (Homeschooling is legal here, but it's a complex process to be approved for it.) They don't even get to decide if they want to go in on a particular day. If mom and dad say, "Today's a school day!" then, by golly, it's a school day.
Yet, they still run, gleefully. And it's not because it's a perfectly cheerful place to be. There are squabbles. Skinned knees. Rules about what they can have in their snack. (Healthy snacks only!) And occasionally, one of their classmates may slap, punch, kick or bite them.
But, when they are on their way to school, they don't focus on the unpleasant parts. They may be holding hands with someone who hit them the day before. They may have a slightly mushy apple as their snack.
Do we do that? Or do we focus on the negative? When we get up in the morning, do we focus on the cool things we get to do today? Or do we grumble the whole way about the person at the office who is a jerk? When we had a squabble with a coworker or direct report or boss they day before, do we still look forward to seeing that person? (We shouldn't, however, attempt to hold that person's hand, as sexual harassment laws apply, and that's pretty creepy.)
My challenge for myself and for you for this week, is to try to be a bit more like a kindergartener. I'm going to look for the positive. Rapidly forgive those who are rude, thoughtless or just plain clueless. I know I have lots of hard things to accomplish this week, but that's not going to stop me from trying to giggle my way through it. (If not out loud, at least an internal giggle.)
I think my life will be better. Who is willing to join me?
It's not enough to delegate work. If you can't bring yourself to delegate responsibility, everything will get clogged up.
Hierarchy constipates the economy.
I’ve been reading a lot recently about decision-making, including Chip and Dan Heath’s Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work and Tom Davenport and Brook Manville’s Judgment Calls: Twelve Stories of Big Decisions and the Teams That Got Them Right. (Both excellent, by the way.) These and similar books discuss how to make better decisions. They talk less about the imperative to get decisions made by getting them the hell off your desk.
Every leader recognizes the importance of delegation. But you cannot delegate work without delegating responsibility--and the defining mechanism of responsibility is the decision. Failure to (I can’t believe I’m going to use this word, but here goes) empower people to say yes or no not only slows work to a crawl in your organization, but also potentially affects the performance and even the reputations of individuals at every organization with which you do business.
If every decision lands on your desk, then your company is like a city with one street, one traffic light, and no byways or exits. Slowly, as your time permits, a car or two passes through. But most of them just sit there, idling in frustration, their emissions (which are bad feelings in this metaphor, from which I am getting impressive mileage) poisoning the air.
It's bad enough that your subordinate can’t act until you give him an answer. But consider the people who can’t act until they receive an answer from your subordinate. And the other people farther down the line who can’t act until they receive an answer from those people who are waiting to hear from your subordinate.
Let’s say your company is weighing whether to move into a new office or expand in your current building. The general manager has been trying to pin you down on this for six months. Every week he receives several calls or emails from your building’s facilities director and a real estate agent whom the GM consulted about alternative spaces. The facilities director, meanwhile, is getting calls from her regular contractor, who will need to knock down some walls and perform other construction work if you decide to stick where you are. The contractor wants to keep the facilities director happy--she’s a great customer--so he’s been putting off other customers until she commits to a schedule. Further down the chain of inaction, employees handling building projects for those put-off customers can produce no firm answers about the contractor’s availability for their own finger-drumming bosses. Meanwhile, the real estate agent wonders whether she should keep looking for new sites or she’s just wasting her time. The GM can’t give her any guidance (we need more conference rooms or a bigger parking lot) because you haven’t given him feedback on the spaces you’ve had time to inspect.
I could extend this string of dependencies out further, in a kind of there-was-an-old-lady-who-swallowed-a-fly progression. The problem isn’t just that--as my husband says when I stand in front of a cashier trying to dredge exact change out of my purse--the wheels of commerce have ground to a halt. It’s also that bad feelings are created at every level. Every time a new message comes in--“Can we schedule this?” “Is it going to happen?” “What are the next steps?”--the person applied to must respond, in essence, “I don’t know. I am powerless. I cannot make that decision. I cannot even get my boss to make that decision. I know I am making your life harder. I cannot help it. Sorry, sorry, sorry.” And that humiliating response travels down the line.
At some point, the people with no answers begin to feel harassed or beaten down by the people who need answers, and they stop responding altogether. Bridges burn. Reputations are tarnished.
How to avoid all this? Carve out a few categories of decisions you want to be consulted about and delegate--without threat of second-guessing--the rest. The matters on which you require input should not be the kind that power day-to-day operations. Remember that behind every employee tapping her toes outside your door, there may be two or three or four toe-tappers waiting. Their ability to get things done, to maintain reputations as people who get things done, and in some cases to earn a living, depend on you.
Don't think it's possible because you're already working in overdrive? Here's a new way to look at your to-do list.
In the spirit of the topic, let's get right to it:
1. Eliminate one ego commitment.
We all do things that have more to do with ego than results.
Maybe you serve on a committee because you like how it looks on your CV. Maybe you teach at a local college because you like the words "adjunct professor."
Or maybe, like me, you write a weekly column for your local newspaper mostly because you like when people recognize you at the grocery store.
The things you do mostly for ego are mostly a waste of time. Think about something you do mainly because it makes you look important, smart, or cool. If it provides no other "value," drop it. I'm dropping my weekly newspaper column.
Anything you do that serves the greater glory of you is a waste of time; besides, the best glory is reflected, not projected.
2. Create a happy shelf.
I have a shelf full of old Photoshop books. Haven't opened them in years, so I replaced them with family photos.
Makes me happy. When I'm happy, I do better work. You will too.
3. Stop looking for that extra 10 percent.
I'm somewhat competitive. When I start to do something, within a short period of time I start wanting to do it better than other people.
Okay, I'm overly competitive.
Take cycling. I'm faster, fitter, etc. than the average person. But compared to the fast guys, I'm nothing. They can drop me within a few miles. Drives me crazy. Makes me ride more and train more and spend tons of hours on a bike--and for what? So I can hang with them for a couple more miles? So my time up a certain mountain is only 30 percent slower than theirs instead of 40 percent?
The kind of improvement has no real importance. Sure, I may get in better shape, but at that point the improvement to my overall health is incremental at best. And in the meantime I spend hours on cycling that I could spend on working towards more important goals.
Or I could just spend more time with my family, the most important goal of all.
So this year I'll stay in good shape but I won't worry about working to keep up with the fast guys: One, I never will, and two--it really doesn't matter if I do.
Think about something you already do well but are trying hard to do even better. Then weigh the input with the outcome.
Sometimes "good" truly is good enough, especially if that 10 percent gain is hugely disproportionate to the pain required to reach it.
4. Craft your "just say no" elevator speech.
Entrepreneurs work hard on their elevator speech. They revise, they hone, and they rehearse because their elevator speech is important.
It's also important to know, with grace and tact, how to say no.
Most of us default to "yes" because we don't want to seem rude or unfriendly or unhelpful. Unfortunately, that also means we default to taking on more than we want or can handle.
Maybe your response will be as simple as what I plan to use, "I'm sorry, but I just don't have time."
Whatever yours is, rehearse so it comes naturally. That way you won't say yes simply because you think you should; you'll say yes because you think it's right for you.
5. Eliminate one "fun" commitment.
I used to play fantasy baseball and football. Now I just play fantasy Premier League soccer. When I think about it, I have no idea why.
I could rationalize that it creates a nice break in the week. I could rationalize it's like a "mental health" activity that lets me step aside from the stress and strain of business life. I could, but that's not true.
I just do it because I've always done it, and once I start every year I don't want to quit because, um, I'm not a quitter. (I know that sounds stupid, but I'm willing to bet you do at least one thing for the same reasons.)
Look at the things you do because you've always done them and decide if it's time to stop.
Here's an easy test: If you wouldn't do something while you were on vacation, there's no good reason to do it when you're not.
6. Set limits.
Deadlines and time frames establish parameters, but typically not in a good way. We instinctively adjust our effort so our activities take whatever time we let them take.
Tasks should only take as long as they need to take--or as long as you decide they should take.
Try this: Decide you'll only spend 10 minutes a day on social media. Just 10.
The first day you'll get frustrated because you won't get everything done you "need" to get done. The second day you'll instinctively skip a few feeds because they're not as important. The third day you'll re-prioritize and maybe use a tool like HootSuite to get better organized.
By the fifth day you'll realize 10 minutes is plenty of time to do what you need to do; all that other time you used to spend was just fluff.
Pick a task, set a time limit, and stick to that time limit. Necessity, even artificial necessity, is the mother of creativity. I promise you'll figure out how to make it work.
7. Rework your nighttime routine.
Every day the first thing you do is the most important thing you will do: It sets the tone for the rest of the day.
Prepare for it the night before. Make a list. Make a few notes. Review information. Prime yourself to hit the ground at an all-out sprint the next day; a body in super-fast motion tends to stay in super-fast motion.
8. Rework your morning routine.
Then make sure you can get to that task as smoothly as possible. Pretend you're an Olympic sprinter and your morning routine is like the warm-up for a race. Don't dawdle, don't ease your way into your morning, and don't make sure you get some "me" time (hey, sleep time is me time). Get up, get cleaned up, get fueled up--and start rolling.
My elapsed time from bed to desk is about 15 minutes, so there's not much I can improve there. So I'm going to take a different approach. I normally check email first thing; now I'll get at least one important thing done.
Sprinters don't do cool-down laps before they race. Neither should we.
9. Rework one repetitive task.
Think of a task you do on a regular basis.
Now deconstruct it. Make it faster. Or improve the quality. Pick something you do that has become automatic and actively work to make it better.
Even if you only save five minutes, that's five minutes every time.
10. Eat one meal differently.
Eating can take up a lot of time, especially if you eat out. Deciding where to eat, what to eat, driving and ordering and waiting and lingering... ugh.
Pick one meal to eat efficiently. Turn 30 to 60 minutes of dead time into 10 minutes of refueling and recharging. Bring something healthy you can eat at your desk, like tuna and a salad or fruit. Or eat a meal replacement bar.
Use that meal to fuel up in a healthy way. Then move instantly on to doing something productive.
You'll feel better. And you'll get more done.
11. Outsource one task.
I was raised to think that any job I could do myself was a job I should do myself.
Starting next week the kid down the street will cut my grass. He can use the money. I can use the time.
12. Fix that one thing you often screw up.
I'm terrible about putting meetings and phone calls on my calendar. I figure I'll get to it later and then I never do. I spend way too much time, often in a panic, trying to figure out when and where and who...
All that time is wasted time. My commitment: I will immediately enter every appointment into my calendar the moment I make it--regardless of what else I might be doing.
You probably have at least one thing you tend to mess up. My wife often misplaces her car keys, and when she does she (and I) spend too much (because any is too much) time looking for them.
Maybe you don't file stuff properly. Maybe you put off dealing with certain emails and then forget them. Maybe you regularly find you're unprepared for a call or meeting.
Whatever your "thing" is, fix it. You'll save time and aggravation.
13. Rework your commute.
According to the Census Bureau the average commute is 25 minutes. (Here's a cool map showing average the commute times across the U.S.) That's almost an hour a day you're probably wasting.
Make it productive instead. Review your to-do list and think of the best way to knock off those tasks. Listen to a podcast or audiobook. Make a couple of calls--not ones requiring focus or important decisions, but ones to check in, review progress, network, etc.
Shoot, learn a language. Studies show speaking at least two languages may slow the onset of dementia and Alzheimer's in an aging brain. (Reason enough, eh?)
Don't let your commute be dead time. Get things done you won't have to do later; if nothing else you'll get to do something you actually enjoy during the time you free up.
14. Pick one task during which you won't multi-task.
Plenty of research says multi-tasking doesn't work. Some research says multi-tasking actually makes you stupid.
Maybe you agree. Maybe you don't. Either way, I feel sure there is at least one thing you do that is so important you should never allow a distraction or a loss of focus.
Choose an important task and when you perform it turn everything else off. Focus solely on that task.
See if you do it better.
I bet you will--and I bet you'll extend the practice to other tasks.
Here's how OUYA co-founder and CEO Julie Uhrman and four other female entrepreneurs are revolutionizing gaming.
Last week, OUYA game console CEO Julie Uhrman closed a whopping $15 million in funding, in a round led by Kleiner Perkins. The funding was a sign of a dramatic shift underway as women start to revolutionize games. "There are more [games] that appeal to women, and therefore it makes sense that there are more female developers making [them]," says Christopher Swain, an entrepreneur and member of the University of Southern California's gaming faculty. Here are the five most visionary women in gaming.
In Russia, gamers know Chumenchenko by name. She says her Game Insight Internernational owns 10 percent of the Russian mobile gaming market, and the company, which reported $50 million in revenue in 2011, added a San Francisco bureau last year. Her biggest game to date? Paradise Island, which puts you in control of your own Caribbean island resort, and was at one point making $1 million per month on Android phones, according to BusyBizBee.
Santiago's Flower and flOw video games were commercial and critical successes that turned traditional gaming on its head. "They created this user experience that was about things other than competition," says Swain, the USC professor. Santiago sets herself apart with games that allow a player to control the wind or an aquatic microorganism. Flower also ranked in Sony's top 10 Playstation games for two years in a row, while the PS3 follow-up Journey swept several video game awards last year, plus a Grammy nomination for Best Original Soundtrack.
In April 2008, Abbas teamed up with Ziad Feghali and Karim Abi Saleh to found Wixel, one of Lebanon's first gaming companies. Their latest game endeavor, Survival Race: Life or Power Plants, available for iOS and Android, centers on a post-global warming Middle East with two unlikely Arab heroes: Salem, the young Saudi wheelie stunt champion and Abu Ahmad, a middle-aged botanist. "Two unlikely heroes from the Arab region determined to save the world from this catastrophe is a feature that you rarely see in the entertainment industry in general," Abbas said.
Uhrman's OUYA, which just closed a $15 million round in funding after raising a cool $8.6 million on Kickstarter last summer, is probably the most anticipated video game console to hit the market in years. You'll soon be able to pick up the Android and open source console in Amazon, Best Buy, Gamestop, and Target--and Uhrman hopes to produce a new version of the $99 product every year. "Our plan is to have a yearly refresh of Ouya where we leverage the best-performing chips and take advantage of falling component prices to create the best experience we can at the $99 price point," she recently said in an interview with The Verge.
As founder of Perfect Plum, a start-up that builds and designs "personal pleasure" software for women, Kelley conceived the much-publicized iPhone app OhMiBod Remote. As co-founder of the Kokoromi experimental game collective, she curates the annual Gamma social gaming event, to showcase the best and brightest indie games, like Paper Moon. "I really feel that games can be considered one of the most important and profound forms of culture in the 21st century," said Kelley during a TEDx Vienna talk in February.
Before making the decision to downsize, you need to evaluate your sales efforts. Your real problem might just be a lackluster sales strategy.
Do you ever look around your office and ask yourself, "What are all of these people doing?" You look at your sales and revenues and they are flat or below projections. Your payroll, however, is still disproportionately robust. You start to wonder...Do we really need all of these people?
Before you grab a pencil and start plotting how to "right-size" your business, ask yourself a few questions first:
1) How does seasonality and business cycle affect your staff needs?
2) What does the backlog show the demand to be in the near future?
3) What does the pipeline show for the possible demand in the near future?
One of my great mentors once said, "All business problems are really sales problems." An overstatement perhaps, but it is still something worth considering. Once you have looked at the fluctuations in your staffing demands based upon the questions above, you need to focus on ramping up your sales efforts.
Let me start with a confession--I have made almost all of the staffing mistakes you can make, some of them more than once. I have held onto staff when I should have trimmed. I have trimmed when I should have kept. It took me a while, but eventually I learned the lesson to hire slow and part ways fast when it is clear the relationship isn't a good fit. Assuming you have done the same, that means you have a really strong staff who are underused. This is not a management problem, a scheduling problem, or a lack of commitment. It is a sales problem.
What to do:
You have solved many of your people problems in building a good team. Now go solve your sales problem. You may not be overstaffed overall, just undersold.
There's only one way anyone gets motivated. And it's not a big speech to rally the troops.
I recently sent around a rather direct memo to a number of our marketing folks, suggesting that (a) being better prepared for certain meetings was a really good idea; and (b) that one great way to be better prepared was to make sure that they had seen and reviewed the videos and other materials that were going to be discussed in upcoming meetings beforehand - especially those sent around by me.
Not only would this improve their participation and the value of their contributions, but it would also prevent them from wasting the time of everyone else by insisting that we watch the videos again before getting started.
To me, it seemed to be a fairly basic, straightforward and obvious request. Apparently, for at least some people, I wasn’t being sensitive enough to how awfully busy they are and how hard it is for them to keep up with things. I guess that expecting people to do their jobs and telling them when you don’t think they have has fallen out of fashion and is bad for morale.
The whole episode got me thinking about motivation and incentives, and how too often, we’ve got it backwards. Way too many folks think that motivation is something that we do to other people. That it’s the boss’s job to be the team cheerleader and keep the troops pumped up. That motivation is an external process and a management tool that has to be religiously applied to keep the wheels from falling off.
Wrong. Real motivation comes entirely from within. People who pump themselves up stay pumped and succeed because passion and commitment and a true appreciation of why you’re doing something--and how it ultimately benefits you--don’t wear off. These things aren’t slogans, incentives or stupid party tricks that you read in some book.
There’s no way to excite or motivate or inspire people that’s not grounded in their own perceived self-interest. That’s the way it should be. No one’s really against anyone else in business - they’re just mainly interested in themselves and looking out for Number One.
So if you want to effectively influence others, the process is simple: You’ve got to talk about what they want (their future) and you’ve got to show them how to get it (the path). Then get out of their way and let nature take its course. If they’re engaged and excited about their prospects, their projects and their futures, they will create far more compelling and comprehensive justifications for working their butts off than you ever could. Each of them knows exactly what’s important to them. You’d have to be a mind reader to even try to guess.
Instead of thinking about motivation as something you do to your team, think about what you can do for them. How can you remove obstacles, add resources, clarify directions and goals, or reduce friction so that they can see clearly what’s ahead of them, how to get there, and what’s in it for them? The smart ones will be highly and authentically motivated all by themselves. The others will soon be working somewhere else.
The truth about sales compensation, customer complaints, and other sales basics
When you run a company--especially a start-up--it can be a 24-hour job. But no matter how busy you are, there's one crucial part of your operation you should never ignore: sales. Not every entrepreneur instinctively understands this part of the business, but if you keep these four things in mind as you lead, you’ll have happier, more productive sales reps and plenty of loyal customers.
1. A good sales team can be as important as a good product.
We’ve all heard it: “Create a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door.” But often it does take effort to demonstrate how great your mousetrap is to potential customers. Even the best products have to be sold, and that’s where your sales team comes in. Astute leaders recognize the value of their sales teams, and they ensure that their teams are made up of top performers.
2. Sales reps should be paid well--maybe even more than you.
Many people ask me what they should pay their sales reps. The answer is simple: What’s a sale worth to you? Professional, well-trained, and skillful salespeople help ensure consistent revenue growth. And for many companies, sales reps are the primary contact between the company and customer. They are responsible for the customer’s primary impression of the company. You definitely don’t want a group of cut-rate employees handling this pivotal part of your business.
In nearly every high-performance, publicly traded company I’ve worked with, the top salespeople’s income routinely rivaled or exceeded that of the CEO. So don't be resentful or envious if your top salespeople earn more than you do. Instead, recognize the immense benefit they bring to your organization.
3. Yes, the customer is always right.
Some entrepreneurs still debate whether or not this maxim is true. But the customer is the ultimate judge of a business and votes with his or her pocketbook. Business owners who stay close to their customers and pay attention to what they have to say will far outperform those who don’t.
4. Customer complaints can be a blessing.
No one likes handling a disgruntled customer, but a complaint can actually be a good thing, because it means that the customer wants to continue doing business with you. And, if you manage the complaint in a timely and efficient manner, 95% of complainers will continue doing business with you. That’s what put Nordstrom on the map. The company gave an unconditional guarantee that if a customer was unhappy with a purchase for any reason, Nordstrom would provide a replacement or a refund--without any red tape--100% of the time. Like Nordstrom, you can turn complainers into loyal customers.
Entrepreneurs complain that it's lonely at the top--but it doesn't have to be.
Often entrepreneurs feel ready to take their company to “the next level,” but aren’t sure how to make it happen. The good news is that there are a few things you can do to make life a bit less lonely at the top, and to give yourself the smarts and inspiration to push onward.
Access expertise You may know perfectly well how to run your company, but if you step back for a moment you’ll probably see that there’s one thing (okay, maybe a couple of things) that you do better than anyone else. And there’s probably something you could do a little better. After accepting this moment of transcendent self-awareness, go get that expertise. This may mean reaching out to a consultant or simply someone you admire who is good at what you aren’t. Don’t sweat how formal or informal your approach might be.
Grow your network Many owners are looking to raise growth capital. Look for business organizations that can be helpful, such as industry associations or your local chamber of commerce. Often, these organizations link up with companies that could be a supplier, a potential customer or someone you can work with in some way. But they also often enable entrepreneurs and CEOs to open up about the challenges they face, and to identify new solutions. Networking with other similarly-situated CEOs can only help.
Be strategic Most days, company owners are busy simply running their businesses. Few owners get to step back and think strategically. They just don’t allocate the time to it. Strategic planning also can devolve quickly into budgeting sessions or other mundane issues. Step back and take a day (or more) and think about what your business could be. What is the opportunity you should really be pursuing?
Discipline yourself Some of us can get up in the morning and say, “I’m going to get this done today.” Others need someone looking over their shoulders. One benefit of having a board, informal or formal, is that you can use them to add more discipline to your business. If you have to report out to your advisors, you are going to need to tell them what you have accomplished!
Prepare for the sale Eventually you aren’t going to own your business--either you or it is going to pass away, or you are going to transfer or sell it to someone else. Reporting out to advisors or a board on a regular basis is one of the best ways to prepare your business for the transfer process, because the questions your advisors or board will ask are probably not that different than the questions a potential buyer would ask.
Johnny Earle says the only way his clothing company Johnny Cupcakes could survive was by getting the name out there.
Everywhere from New York City to Omaha would like to be the next tech start-up capital. Here's what actually makes Silicon Valley and San Francisco hotbeds of tech start-up activity.
I didn't grow up in Silicon Valley. My parents weren't engineers. My dad was a Navy pilot; my mom was a mom. I learned to program computers in the sleepy suburbs of San Diego.
I moved to San Francisco in 1994, because my wife had landed a great job there. Everything changed. Suddenly I was surrounded by a ton of people who were already doing exactly the same thing I wanted to do: create software that used the Internet to do amazing things. I jumped right in.
I'd been an entrepreneur since my teens. My first company had created inventory control software for small local businesses--a safe bet that made me enough immediate income to pay for college and an apartment, but little more. But that was then. This was entirely different. Now, parked in a 300-square-foot office near the San Francisco Caltrain station, with four crazy guys in the suite next door creating one of the first 'I-S-P's (nobody even knew what that meant back then), I made a little videoconferencing program with equally little hope of generating revenue. I sold that company to another then-little software company called RealNetworks, and in 1999 used the money from RealNetworks going public to start Second Life.
These things would not have happened in San Diego.
Not being from Silicon Valley, I was fascinated by what was so different in the Bay Area, and what exactly it was that was so helpful to me as a 26-year-old software developer when I arrived here.
Seems everyone has an opinion about what it is that makes Silicon Valley generate so much value and so many crazy start-ups, but I think a lot of those easy explanations are full of hubris and miss the real magic of what is happening here. Yes, Stanford is a fine engineering school, but that probably doesn't have much to do with it. And yes, there is a fantastic well-oiled network of smart VCs and investors here, but the vast majority of start-ups (even in Silicon Valley) are still funded by second mortgages and family friends. Finally, I also don't buy the theory that Northern California attracts low-serotonin thrill-seekers who love creating businesses as risky as their skiing habits.
I think the magic of Silicon Valley (and, most visibly, San Francisco) is not in fostering risk-taking, but instead in making it safe to work on risky things. The phenomena is larger than the people: having traveled a lot, I would argue that the entrepreneurs and engineers in San Francisco are pretty much the same sorts of people as the ones you'd find anywhere.
But there are two things happening in Silicon Valley that are qualitatively different from New York or London (or pretty much anywhere else): First, the sheer density of tech entrepreneurs per capita is 10 times greater than the norm for other cities, and second, there is a far greater level of information sharing between entrepreneurs here. Putting a sharper point on that second one: In New York City they ask you to sign NDA's, and in San Francisco we don't. And what may feel a bit risky for the one turns out to have a big positive benefit for the many.
Working with my team at Coffee & Power, we discovered that we could query LinkedIn to tell us the number of tech founders and co-founders in a major metropolitan area, and that by dividing that number by the overall population, we could get an index of founders per capita. Looking at a graph of how the Bay Area compares to other metro areas in this index is immediately telling--San Francisco has about twice the density of the next-highest city (Boston), and about five times the density of New York.
In a founder-dense city like San Francisco, which further has two peak neighborhoods where tech companies congregate (SoMa and the Mission), what this means is that you can't walk down the street without (almost literally) running into someone else who is starting a tech company. If you are sitting in a coffee shop or a bar, it means you are sitting across from someone else who might be able to hire you.
So in practice, if you are young software developer or entrepreneur in San Francisco, you can choose to work at a start-up that will have a more than 50 percent chance of going out of business in the next 18 months without risking the embarrassment of running out of money and having to move back in with your parents. Because when that start-up does fail, you will park yourself back at that coffee shop, open your laptop, and wait. Within one week you will most likely have another job or will have found another co-founder, and be back in business. Since you probably have two or three months of living expenses saved up, if you can get a new job in a week, this isn't actually risky at all. While tech ventures are individually risky, a sufficiently large number of them close to each other makes the experience of working in start-ups safe for any one individual. I like to visualize this as a series of lily pads in a pond, occasionally submerging as their funding runs out. If you are a frog, and there are enough other lily pads nearby, you'll do just fine.
The graph of founder-density by city suggests a classic power law, which we see in network effect systems where "the rich get richer." And that is what we see in the graph--so apparently the benefits of having a lot of entrepreneurs in one area increase with their numbers. Beyond simply having a lot of people near you to work with, I believe that the openness and willingness to share inherent to Silicon Valley is a big driver in this effect.
That's because once you reduce the risk of failure by having a lot of people around who will hire you next, everyone becomes more open and friendly about what they are working on, which then further amplifies the benefits of having a lot of people around. In other words, if you are a 3-D developer looking for a new 3-D project to work on (like my new company, High Fidelity!) and people are talking a lot about what they are working on, you will find that project even faster.
If you want to create a vibrant start-up ecosystem somewhere else that is competitive with San Francisco and Silicon Valley (and this is starting to happen right now in places such as Boulder and Austin), you want to do two things: You want to pack the people working together into as dense an area as possible, with public areas and co-working venues where they will see each other constantly, even when they aren't working in the same company. And then you want to encourage them to let down their guard and be as open as possible about what they are doing.
Also, consider this: If the magic of San Francisco is simply driven by the natural result of having so many of the same sort of people pile up in one place, then this means that as technology continues to inexorably lower the communication barriers between us, we will see more of these magical places pop up, as we are seeing with Boulder and Austin.
Finally, if virtual reality at some point offers the ability to communicate in as natural and compelling a way as we do face-to-face in San Francisco, we can expect a sudden disruption as the biggest "city" of the tech future goes 100 percent online.
The very best managers do the exact opposite of what the average manager does.
At best, following conventional wisdom results in mediocrity. Truly great bosses don't just march to the beat of a different drummer, they convince everyone else to march along with them. Here's how:1. They put the customer second.
When managers preach and practice the longstanding axiom to put the customer first, they overlook their employees, who are the people actually responsible for creating and nurturing the customer experience.
Customers can immediately sense when the employees of the firms from which they buy are miserable, overworked, or under trained. Truly great bosses concentrate on making certain that their employees are happy, healthy and can do the work required.2. They don't manage the bottom line.
The "bottom line"--your quarterly or yearly numbers--only represents the history of what's happened, so focusing on it is like trying to drive a car while looking in the rear-view mirror.
Truly great bosses know that the only way to get good numbers in the future is to keep your attention on what's going on right now in your market and industry and the activities that your employees are undertaking to take advantage of the present reality.3. They celebrate the tough times.
It's easy to have great morale when a company is successful, but when times are tough, not so much. Worst case, you can get a "chicken or egg" situation where everyone is waiting for things to improve, with decreasing hope that they actually will.
Ironically, it's when things are difficult that you're most likely to have breakthroughs--but only if people keep their spirits up. That's when truly great bosses figure out how to make work fun and keep their people happy.4. They have more questions than answers.
Many managers think that their job is to know all the answers--and provide them to their employees as frequently as possible. However, when managers provide all the answers, they rob their employees of the opportunity to think and grow.
While experience has value, people can't learn when that wisdom is presented on a platter or forced down their throat. That's why great bosses ask questions that will spark, in the employee's own mind, the thought processes that will make that employee successful.5. They measure themselves by their worst employees.
Managers like to point to their top performers as an indicator of how successful they are as managers. However, the success of a top performer is more likely to reflect that person's drive and ability, rather than anything the manager brought to the table.
Great bosses know that the real measure of a manager's skill is how he or she handles the poor performers. Because they remain employed, your worst performers illustrate exactly what you, as a manager, are willing to tolerate.6. They mistrust their common sense.
When managers depend upon their "common sense" to solve problems, they seldom assess whether their hunches actually paid off. As a result, the same problems keep cropping up month after month, year after year.
Great bosses know their employees and their employee's interests, and manage according to those interests. In other words, getting the best from your team requires applied psychology rather than common sense.
Note: This post is very loosely based on a document sent me many years ago by veteran executive and corporate chairman Ray Williams.
Like this post? If so, sign up for the free Sales Source newsletter.
The CEO of Happy Family talks about the recent acquisition by Danone, the company's future, and what it means for her role.
Following reports of the acquisition of Inc. 500 company Happy Family by Danone for hundreds of millions of dollars, Inc. Executive Editor Nicole Marie Richardson reached out to founder, CEO, and Chief Mom Shazi Visram to talk about the deal. Concerning handing over 90 percent in equity to the food giant, Visram says, "I am one Happy Mama." Here's what else she had to say about the deal, the future of Happy Family, and her role within the company.
Why was now the right time to consider an acquisition?
We were simply approached by our dream acquirer. We weren’t looking to sell, nor did we have to, but it was impossible not to be honored, flattered, and thrilled by the prospect of continuing our vision under the guidance of such a respected visionary company. Their R&D capabilities are world renown, and their people are as passionate as we are.
Were you considering other major partners or buyers?
Not really, although we have been approached many times. It has always been my intention to do what’s right for our brand, and with Danone I knew Happy Family will leave a lasting legacy for health and wellness in our country and prove to offer parents the most nutritious and personalized products for the specific needs of our babies’ growing bodies. No one I had ever spoken with could offer us that, regardless of the monetary situation.
How did the relationship with Danone come about?
We had an initial call in September on my mother’s birthday and we flirted with the idea of a partnership--it was like dating if you will. But after meeting their team in Amsterdam and understanding their commitment to optimizing nutrition for babies around the globe, I began to fall in love. They proposed in January, and then on May 12, 2013, Mother’s Day, we accepted. It was an auspicious sign for me as it was literally seven years to the day that we launched as a gift to moms, and we signed this deal. Maybe it will close on Father’s Day, who knows!
What made Danone a good fit for Happy Family?
They have a booming global infant nutrition business based on work from the world’s most innovative R&D facilities. They recognize that Jessica Rolph and I continue to be the natural leaders of our business and that our team and our passion is central to our success, so nothing will change. I will remain as CEO and chief mom. I will chair the new board. Jessica will continue as COO and also serve on the new board. Our team will remain and our passion and commitment to our mission will only be bolstered.
In the past, you shunned VC funding for fear that you would lose some control over your business. Is this a concern with this new deal?
Not at all. I shunned them for that reason and also because I never thought they would have much value to add. With Danone, I will still run the company based on my original mission and they will add tremendous value to further those goals of changing the way our children are fed through optional organic nutrition.
What was your previous knowledge of Danone?
The company is one that I have always deeply admired. The CEO is a visionary, and their efforts globally are social responsible in every way. The company had created a wonderful partnership with Stonyfield under the leadership of Gary Hirshberg, a man who has been my role model for 10 years and who is a friend and mentor to me.
What will this new partner allow Happy Family to do in terms of scaling?
We will have access to their R&D for new product development and will be able to expand our reach. Danone will offer continued growth capital to finance the business’s expansion as well as access to the world preeminent thinkers and leaders in the baby nutrition space.
Is there the potential of a 100 percent sale to Danone?
Anything is possible, but that is not something I foresee for our future. Happy Family will continue to be our baby.
What are the new growth targets for Happy Family?
We plan to hit $100 million this year and the future continues to be bright. I’d like to see Happy Family become the leading brand that focuses on the health and wellness of young families.
Gun owners have gun safety classes. So, too, should Web users have cyber safety training, argues Silicon Valley entrepreneur and investor Steve Blank.
Editor's note: This post originally appeared on steveblank.com.
I grew up in New York City and for a few years heaven on earth for me was going to Boy Scout camp in the summer near the Delaware River.
The camp had all the summer adventures a city kid could imagine, hiking, fishing, canoeing, etc. But for me the best part was the rifle range. For a 12-year-old kid from the city shooting target practice and skeet with a 22 rifle meant being entrusted by adults with something you knew was dangerous--because they were beating gun safety into our brains every step of the way.
From the minute we walked onto the shooting range to even before we got to touch a gun, we learned basic rules of handling weapons I still haven't forgotten. You screwed up and you got yelled at, and if you did it again you got escorted out of the rifle range.
While target practice and skeet shooting were fun, safety was serious.
Over the years I would learn how to shoot an M-16 in basic training in the military, go through a basic combat course to go to Southeast Asia (when we acted like this was a lark, our instructor stopped our drill and said, "For your sake I hope the guys shooting at you were screwing around in their combat course." It got our attention.)
When I bought my ranch, herds of wild boar still roamed the fields. While we were putting in the miles of fencing to keep them out, I bought much heavier weapons to deal with a charging 400-pound boar and hired an instructor to teach me how to safely use them. Each time gun safety was an integral part of training with new weapons. For me, guns and gun safety became one and the same.
Hacking and Cyber Security
For consumers, online surfing, shopping, banking, and entertaining ourselves have become an integral part of our lives. And with that has come identify theft, hacking, phishing, online scams, bullying, and predators online. As well as a loss of privacy.
But for businesses, the threats are even more real. Go ask RSA, Northrop, Lockheed, Google, Amazon, and almost every other company with an online presence. Intellectual property stolen, customer data hacked, funds illegally transferred, goods stolen, can damage a company and put them out of business.
I think we’re missing something.
In the last 20 years, 3 billion people have gained access to the Web. Yet for most of them safety online remains a problem for other people. It's pretty clear that a company going online today is equivalent to playing with a loaded gun. The analogy of comparing the net with guns might seem stretched, but I think it's an apt one. Guns have been around for hundreds of years, to provide food as well as wage war, but it wasn’t until the 20th century that gun safety rules were codified and taught.
I think we need the equivalent of gun safety training for online access.
We now know the basic tools online hackers use. We know enough to harden sites to stop the simple hacks and to educate employees about basic social engineering and phishing attempts. It's time to teach Cyber Security as integral part of the high school and/or college curriculum--not as an elective. Companies need to make Cyber Security education an integral part of their on-boarding process.
The Air Force Academy basic Cyber Security course is a good place to start (Stanford and other schools have a similar syllabi). The class consists of basic networking and administration, network mapping, remote exploits, denial of service, web vulnerabilities, social engineering, password vulnerabilities, wireless network exploitation, persistence, digital media analysis, and cyber mission operations.
- The Web is not a benign environment.
- Companies, high schools, and colleges ought to make a basic Cyber Security course a requirement of getting online access.