Friday, October 26, 2007
The old adage is “Lead, follow or get out of the way”. But really its only Lead or Follow; getting out of the way means getting totally out of the way (and the company).
I’ve always maintained that I’m a pretty good leader and I’m also a pretty good follower. I’m pretty lousy at in-between. Many companies, especially startups, suffer from entrepreneurs who are sporadic leaders. Between their electric personalities and ADHD styles they tend to flip between mandates that nothing be allowed to happen without their knowledge and consent to rage about having to “do everything” themselves. This tends to plant the hired employee base in the dreaded Twilight Zone of “neither a leader nor a follower be”.
What to do. I’ve seen the Alexander Haig syndrome where people “take charge” whenever the opportunity presents itself. This is high comedy for the rest of the office, only trumped if there are two “Al’s” in the same office. Unfortunately no one listens to these people so no progress happens. The other extreme are the pouters who do nothing since no one told them to. This is painful and without humor.
If you’re that sporadic leader, stop it. Your schizophrenic style is slowing down progress. If you can’t stop then at least make sure there is a clear and understood path forward and some directions. I worked for a VP at ADP once upon a time who said, “Look, I don’t mind if some of us end up in San Francisco and others in LA, but let’s at least all go West”.
If you’re the one experiencing the churn learn to live and love the adage, “I’d rather ask for forgiveness than permission”, then go do your job.
Friday, October 19, 2007
A good friend of mine is one of the best process engineers I’ve ever known. I was watching him operate the other day as he listened to a room full of people chatter, discuss, argue, fight for control of the white board and try hardily to come to some consensus opinion. Then, right on schedule, it happened. The phrase he dreads the most popped out. “Wait, we can make this easier!!”
He hates this phrase above all others because a) it usually comes from someone who won’t have to do any of the work; b) it usually comes just at the time consensus has been reached; and c) its never true.
But then, as is his talent, he wrestled his way through all the new debate, took all the data and mapped it out into a process diagram that nearly anyone could understand and follow. Really, this guy is good.
The problem is sometimes the person who utters the dreaded phrase really has had an epiphany and really can make “it” easier. So you can’t just throw the idea out – well, you can but you shouldn’t.
You may not be able to control your colleagues, but as for yourself when you feel you’ve had a brainstorm take some time, let the idea sink and see if it floats to the top again.
Then smell it…....
Monday, October 15, 2007
There's a new blog out that focuses on companies that are " Tuned In" (http://www.tunedinblog.com/). In one of their posts they discuss why some new products/services fail. In this post they say "People who run tuned in companies largely ignore the competition".
This is a classic "are you market driven" scenario with Unit Sales up the Y-axis and Customer Satisfaction along the X-axis. The magic upper-right square is “Market Driven” on the “Path to Profitability”. The lower-left square is “Competitor Driven”, which of course puts it the farthest away from strong unit sales, good customer satisfaction and most damaging profitability. Why?
Chasing your competition means you’re a day late and a dollar short. Not to mention that once you’re clearly superior competitor sees that you’re chasing them you become subject to smoke screens and misdirection moves that cost you time and money and gives them great joy.
A friend of mine has this great poster of cowboys riding hell to leather down a hill with the caption, “You either make dust or you eat dust”. I grew up on a farm on a dirt road and I can tell you with certainty that eating dust is unpleasant.
Spend your time and energy paying attention to your market – your whole market. Yes, your competitors are part of that market and certainly you need to understand them and their strengths because casually dismissing your competition is just as bad as following their every move.
Spend your energy making dust.
Monday, October 8, 2007
As my kids have grown up and headed out into the work place we've gotten to have more conversations about their trials and tribulations of being wage earners. Around this I wrote for their benefit the following. I pulled this out the other day. Not for them, for me. I felt I needed a refresher. Each point is probably worthy of a blog session but let me give you the meat.
The 10 simple (well, they sound simple and should be simple but really aren’t simple) rules to being a successful employee.
- The place you work is truly only interested in what YOU can do for them.
Yes, good employers realize that happy, motivated, well-trained employees are great assets, but….
- Never (ever, ever)….(ever, ever, ever) lie, cheat or steal. It will create a stigma that can never be overcome.
- Always treat every assignment as an opportunity to learn something useful. Knowledge really is power.
- Being positive and flexible can overcome many other faults. Most bosses greatly appreciate “can do” attitudes.
- The people you work with want to get to know you, but, uh, not all that well. Actually they mainly want to tell you about themselves.
- Ignore the time clock. Getting the job done should always be the priority.
- Volunteer (without fanfare) for some real crap assignments. One, you’ll learn something. Two, you’ll show you’re flexible. But the “without fanfare” is the key.
- You don’t have to like people to work effectively with them. You also don’t have to be subservient to people who are difficult, by the way.
- Get to know as many people as you can (as well as understand what they do and how it affects the company, your group and you). See #3
- If you’ve followed the first nine rules and get fired, shame on you for not getting out of that hole before it happened.
Two bonus points:
- Get to the point. People generally aren’t interested in the explanation, just the answer.
- Learn to drink your coffee black (don't be high maintenance) and understand that business meals aren’t about eating (don't treat a "free" meal like dinner at home). Learn to recognize situations and adapt accordingly.
Monday, October 1, 2007
"The race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, but that’s the way to bet” Damon Runyon
When my kids were young like all good yuppie parents we got them involved in organized sports. This of course meant soccer. Watching 6 year olds play soccer was best described as a “dance of the bumble bees” since all players from both teams swarm after the ball with varying degrees of vigor. Sometimes the ball inexplicably even goes in the net. Watching this event is amusing – for about 10 minutes. After that watching the parents and coaches is much more fun since they are much more serious about THE GAME than the kids, who would be having a great time if the coaches and parents weren’t screaming instructions at them.
Startup companies tend to be very much like soccer matches involving 6 year olds. There is so much new stuff always going on that everyone wants to be involved – with everything – all the time. Thus business tends to be a group of people all trying to do the same thing, together, all the time.
The successful startup executive must get people to play their position, because the ball is going to come their way at some point and they’ll be out of position and miss an opportunity. And where missed opportunities are important to big companies and critical to small and medium sized companies they can be deadly to startups.
Assuming you’ve hired normally intelligent and well-rounded people (and if you haven’t you have way bigger problems) you do this by COMMUNICATION. It works like this; you have a conversation with each of your key people to make sure they understand:
- their role
- how their role fits into the success of the company
- how their role fits with other roles
- why “playing their position” is critical for success
- what needs to happen before the “ball” comes their way
- what they need to be prepared to do with the ball
The total time for this conversation is about 30 minutes each. Then, a couple of times a month you refresh the conversation. That’s it, an hour per key player per month. And what you get are involved and informed partners in your start up who are on the program and ready to participate.
The total number of start up executives who actually do this?