April 20, 2013
Less than a year ago, I met Nolan Bushnell at a METal breakfast, where I gave a talk on "the Future of Publishing." He told me he had a few books he was working on, and was interested in talking to me about publishing them via Net Minds.
We met the following week (see above) and cooked up a third idea: Finding the Next Steve Jobs: How to Find, Hire, Retain and Nurture Creative Talent. I had just read Steve Jobs (by Walter Isaacson), and was aware of Nolan's history with Jobs, and how he created a creative-friendly workplace culture at Atari. I knew that many companies today need a creative genius to reinvent their products, or perhaps their industry.
Nolan talked to me about all the changes he made, and how so many of today's companies are getting it wrong. They filter out the creatives, then let the naysayers discourage the few that get in. We both realized that this was the book he needed to write, so he joined Net Minds and we started the project.
Using the Net Minds network, we put together a team around Nolan's book that included editorial, design, marketing and media relations team members. On March 26, it was the first publication by our young company, and it was covered widely: AP, NYT, AllThingsD, Mashable, Fox and Friends and In the Loop on Bloomberg TV.
We got this book to market in less than 1/2 the time it would have taken through traditional means. We've already cut deals to license the book in Russia and Taiwan, with several foreign publishers on deck. Many of you have supported us by buying a copy of the book. It's a great read, and will help managers and leaders of all types attract, hire and retain creative talent.
The book is comprised of short chapters (Pongs, read on here) that give YRMV advice on how to change your culture, environment and process to be more creative-friendly. Here's what Walter Isaacson said about the book when he read it (on an iPad): "An absolutely invaluable book by the founder of Atari and the man who launched Steve Jobs' career."
We have a special offer for companies or organizations. If you'll buy a minimum of 100 copies, we can setup a Skype or webinar with Nolan as a priceless bonus (based on mutual availability). If you are interested, email me!
For those that are eBook friendly (maybe everyone has an iPad?), we have a special way of helping you buy them in bulk for your whole company. Here's what our partner BookShout did for one of Nolan's speaking clients.
Sweet, huh? Again, if you are interested in this, drop me a note.Tweet
November 15, 2012
From sales to leadership to operations, the rock stars of business multiply the value of everyone they come in contact with. They share intangibles with them to improve their resume, and in return, are rewarded with loyalty and appreciation. Simply putting in hard work and "adding value" is no longer enough, not in the constant change we are all living through.
There are three ways we can grow others' potential at work, be they co-workers, customers or even prospects or industry colleagues:
1. Share Knowledge - You should always have a mentee, someone that you are counseling with either your experience or specialized knowledge you've invested time to acquire. You should share knowledge with a sense of boldness, and at the same time, the humble nature of the greatest teacher you ever had in school. You'll realize that you'll never get dumber by making someone else smarter.
2. Share Your Network - I believe your network of relationships is your ultimate asset, and too often we hoard it for a rainy day. Every week, you should connect three people that "should meet." Often, people in your life simply need the right introductions to gain traction or solve their most pressing business problems. From now on, when someone gives you their business card, talk to them until you can write down someone he or she should meet on the back of the card. Then quickly act on it with an email, phone or in-person introduction.
3. Give Encouragement - If you are a manager, catch people doing something right, then talk about them behind their back. When it comes full circle, you'll give them confidence and improve their self-image. This grows their potential. As you encounter people in your industry that are struggling, help them focus on their minor victories, herculean efforts and never let them forget about their greatest assets. This will help clear their mind of worry, and focus on tasks at hand.
Do all three of these in every business relationship you have, and soon you'll realize that business isn't hard anymore. It's fun. It's meaninful. And later, when you retire, you'll look back on all you did and "enjoy it a second time."
From my recent keynote address for the wonderful leaders at Acosta.Tweet
November 08, 2012
Are you tired of the political discussion? Now that the election is over, there's nothing left but celebrations and grousing. Most of us had our fill of it a month ago, but it drags on. We react by covering our ears, unfriending people and pushing back. Then we go to work, and a different kind of politics emerges, with no election-day-end-point in sight.
Depending on your corporate culture, office politics can rule the conversation or be a rare occurance (annoyance) in your life. Exactly what are office politics? My favorite non-governmental definition is: Any activity concerned with the acquisition of power or gaining one's own ends. That's it on the nose. Selfish organizational behavior.
This is why it's bad for you to employ or get sucked up into office politics. In the end, any good company will expunge those who aren't adding value - and the corporate politico is always thrown out, along with his cronies. I've witnessed this countless times, especially at my last employer, Yahoo! Politics lead to turf battles, the building of silos and a decline in the company's brand.
While it seems impossible for a non-leader to avoid conscription, I've found a way to sidestep most political movements at work. Here are my recommendations for you:
1. Focus on the Customer. Always ask, "what's in it for the end user or customer?" When you are pushed to participate outside those boundaries, bring the conversation back to this subject. Your most senior leadership is likely aligned with this, so consider yourself covered at the top.
2. Refuse to keep secrets. In fact, leak them if you must. Secrets are only good for the politicos' interests, not the Customer's or the company. It's pretty easy to 'accidently' include people outside the circle-of-trust in email threads, exposing the politico's selfish agenda.
3. Stay out of the conversation. In some cases, options #1 and #2 may not work, due to your lack of power of authority in the organization. If you don't do what you are told, you might get canned before the politico is brought to organization justice. I understand this fear, and personally believe it's usually in your mind and not reality. The last thing the politico wants to do is have a dissident with their own agenda, talking to HR or the media about their situation. But still, if you have this fear, the easiest thing to do is the minimum: Turn in the report, show up for the meeting, etc. To paraphrase Viktor Frankl, 'you can lose your liberty, but you can never lose your final freedom - your response to a situation'. You can choose to be silent on the political issues, patiently waiting for the politico to create his or her own downfall.
The key, then, is not to be fuel for the political fire at work. Once you get involved beyond your job description, you are a foot soldier, not a team player. You might be thinking, "yeah, but the politico at my company is currently ruling the division with impunity! She got a raise last year, and looks like she's gaining power, not losing it." Let me assure you that this is just the middle of her movie. If you study the history of organizations, you'll find that they always correct politics in the end. The concluding scene of her movie won't be pretty. That's the way any good story goes.Tweet
October 11, 2012
Many might think it's about performance or schmoozing. The former is hard, because not everyone gets an opportunity to produce measureable results. The latter isn't really true, except for those rare situations where the leadership cares more about being popular than organizational success.
Recently, I discovered for myself the best three steps. They account for my rise at broadcast.com, then later again at Yahoo. Recently, a good friend of mine (in his 20's) was leaving for his first corporate conference. He was excited about the trip, the food, the chance to socialize and all the parties likely to happen. Why not?
I gave him this advice: Leverage the conference to move up in your organization. Many will have your POV, and goof off publicly there or worse. Let them eat cake and guzzle beer while you move up. He asked me, "what then should I do?" The advice I gave him is the same advice I'd give anyone, whether you are just starting out at a company or participating in a training program/conference.
1. Learn - Open your ears and eyes to take in all the data, stories and advice you can. Attend everything you can, take notes like an A student, and ask questions until you 'get it'. Do your homework and then do some extra credit work on your break.
2. Demonstrate Learning - For many leaders, this is how they spot real team players. It's one thing to know-it-all, it's another to put it into practice. Find ways to apply your learning in real-world situations, and don't be afraid to take your mentor with you on your journey or report the results to them later.
3. Lead Others To Learn - As you succeed with your new found learning, leverage your success to convince others to become students and not just workers. Challenge them from your position of strength to give more of their mind to grow. Offer to mentor those who are struggling and reward their attention with praise (and more time). Offer to teach a class or gather students for one. Nothing encourages your leadership more than this behavior, as it's the way to creating organizational bench strength.Tweet
April 06, 2012
Recognition experts Adrain Gostick & Chester Elton have pivoted from recognition to culture with their new book, All In: How The Best Managers Create A Culture Of Belief and Drive Big Results. And well they should, as today, culture is more important to your company than ever.
Why? Transparency, the cloud and a new generation that needs a dollup of purpose with their paycheck. Bad cultures are now a matter of JobVent record. With the cloud, startups spring up like weeds, requiring less capital than ever. The Millenials will bail on a bad boss, a negative group or a company they-just-don't-get.
Think of your company culture as the operating system of the entire group. It focuses human energy towards specific programs, gives and enforces commands and makes necessary connections or deletions. In Gostick and Elton's view there are effective cultures and disfunctional ones. The effective ones satisfy the customer, the talent and usually the owners. The bad ones cause the company to sputter or shutter through ineptitude, inconsistency and negative behavior.
They decided to write the book after repeated requests by their clients to address it in their consulting work. In working with several companies, they quickly realized that culture was one of the most important areas a CEO needed to focus on. Bad culture = inconsistent results for everyone involved.
So, they commissioned a massive study (300k people) with Towers Perin and validated some assumptions and uncovered 7 areas of excellence that every manager or leader could learn from. The first idea: Define Your Burning Platform is a winner in my view. Too many managers forget about this. Why are we doing this?
Get the why right and the group comes together organically. Humans rally around a shared vision of value. You can connect with what the company is doing for the world (Delivering Happiness or Mission Zero). You can connect with what you are doing to respond to your competition (Steve Jobs loved this one). You can even connect with what your group is doing to respond to a company edict or challenge (eg., the Don Ostler story from my 3rd book.)
The point of this chapter is that the foundation of widespread belief is a sense of purpose. Making money isn't enough, you must trigger a Maslovian need: Pride, Survival, Actualization.
Pick up the book, spend a few hours learning about how to innovate your culture at work. This is an important topic and I hope it takes market share away from the Leadership Category (which I find oversubscribed these days...a subject of next week's post here.)
April 03, 2012
The night before, I attended the company's dinner function, which started with a retirement sendoff for Marc. He was a long time manager and employee of the company. As we were served food, a stream of co-workers presented their account of the difference Marc made, including funny slides and inside jokes.
Over and over again, presenters stressed how much Marc had influenced them and made a difference in their life. At the end of the half hour ceremony, a slide collage played while "In My Life" by the Beatles played over the sound system. Everyone, especially Marc and his wife, choked up during this touching moment. I did too, and I don't even know him. It was all the attention to detail, the thoughtfulness of the troupe of co-workers that organized the ceremony. It was love.
The next day, before my talk, I congratulated him. He replied, "I feel like my life was made last night." From a psychological standpoint, his reaction makes sense. Abraham Maslow would call this a moment of self-actualization, the highest need we have as humans. Marc was publicly and personally made in that his contributions were acknolwedged sincerely by people he cared about and respected.
"You just don't see that enough these days," was a common phrase I heard at breakfast that morning. It's been a few years since I've seen such a staged recognition event (I've attended a few heart-tuggers that Career Builder put on for their top performers - including flying in family and creating custom videos.) Most companies likely are too busy to stop, kiss the roses, and put on the thank-you for their best. Maybe leaders fear creating jealousy?
The value of public recognition goes beyond how it makes the recipient feel. It shapes the culture too, teaching others that their contributions are appreciated and will be recognized. In all these ceremonies I've attended, no one was thanked because he killed his numbers. He was thanked because he helped and cared about his people.
Culture is a conversation about the way things are done around here. How's yours? Do you regularly stage recognition events to promote gratitude and giving ? Next time you have an event or meeting, find a reason to say thank you to a contributor and don't forget the details, the pictures and special guests to make it memorable. Who knows, you might make someone's life.
March 22, 2012
It was the top read of the year for me, and the most impactful book on my business life since Good To Great. Why? Because the Lean Methadology changes the game, whether you are a startup or a big-old-company.
When you are Lean, you interact with customers from the get go, pivot until you find that nuts-crazy-busy product/market fit. Then you learn how to cycle through the process faster and faster over time. This way, you build products and processes people really want, and eliminate most of all waste from the system. Whew. That's the kernel of the book, basically.
This Monday, Eric was in LA for a fireside chat at a LeanLA/StartupUCLA event. He talked for an hour about the book, took some questions and I had a chance to meet him as well. Here's what I learned:
1. Failure Is A Chance To Learn - He believes that successful companies have many little failures that add up to verified learning and market intelligence. The reason you need to have the courage to launch your 'minimum viable' product, is so you can prove your assumptions wrong (or just maybe, right!). The longer you stay stealth, whiteboarding out the future, the longer it takes you to LEARN.
2. Conduct Scheduled Pivot-Or-Persevere Meetings - He suggested every 8 weeks for startups. In this meeting, you analyze what is working or failing and consider making radical changes to the business. Sounds scary, but here's his twist: If they are regular, then the employees don't freak out when you have one of these meetings! This way, between meetings, everyone is measuring what matters, in anticpation of the next Pivot-Or-Persevere summit.
3. Culture Springs Up From Your Processes - This is a new spin of what I've always thought (culture is a conversation about how things are done around here). His point is that we create explicit and tacit processes at work, and through repition, they create our opearting system down to the individual leader. How we react. You can't 'create a good culture' he says, you design and manage processes with your values in mind. A strong culture ensues.
4. First, Do The Standard Work - Eric is deeply influenced by the Japanese Lean movement for manufacturing and specically by The Toyota Production system, an obsure book by Taiichi Ohno. One of the most profound points of the book is that we must understand the standard work first, before we can customize it. Standardization is only bad when we are locked into processes in the face of adversity (pivot!).
I could see the people in the crowd react to this viscerally. We live in a world where no one wants to master the fundamentals, instead, they want to innovate from day one. But what Eric points out is that the innovators of history from Miles Davis to Steve Jobs first and foremost, understood and practiced the Standard, so as to have a real foundation to build upon.
If you haven't already, read The Lean Startup.
Read the transcript of Eric Ries talking about Taiichi Ohno.
March 16, 2012
For leaders of all types, here's an assignment: Hand out some praise today.
Think about how long a weekend can be for someone who feels under appreciated or over worked. It's emotional stew time, and you aren't around to defend yourself. When Monday rolls around, your team members are not refreshed. They are back to the grind.
When Tom Ward was turning around Barton Protective Services in Atlanta, he employed a tactic of catching someone doing something right, then on Friday, reporting it to the company. He realized something important: That which gets rewarded gets repeated.
Take a look around you today and make an effort to notice good work. Effort, outcome, thoughtfulness, tenacity .... all attributes to admire. Start with your team, fan out to adjacent groups and staff and even consider partners or customers. When you lock in on your gratitude recipeient, remember:
1. Be Specific! General praise doesn't ring true. Talk about the action, the result and how you feel about it. This will also ensure you are giving praise that others can respect.
2. Be Generous. If it's a team effort, take the time to identify all the players. Don't let the most outspoken or popular get all the cred.
3. Be Visual. A cryptic atta-boy email isn't as impactful as something you can see. We live in a Pinterest world of the picture, not the word.
A culture of appreciation is a sustainable one. Friday is a platform, an end of the grind week opportunity, for you to help create one by your example. When you take this lead, you are fulfilling what Napoleon Bonaparte identified as the leader's role: To define reality, then give hope.
March 14, 2012
One person, or a small group of likeminded individuals, can accomplish anything. Likely, they have more power than mega-organizations, due to their nimbleness and ambition. One of the greatest impacts a conference can have on an organization is to unleash this type of thinking! Leaders then align this energy towards the mission and vision - and presto, big things happen..
It's not just a matter of enthusiasm. That's necessary for the change-the-world person, but not sufficient. This was my study focus for a few years, while writing my third book, Saving The World At Work. There are three key ingredients that all roll up to unlimited power:
1. Be Audacious - When Martin Luther pinned his note to the church door, he defined the concept. Ask for the seemingly impossible. Challenge the wrong headed and unjust. Risk all by asking for all. Consider, what's the worst that can happen?
In 1989, City Year officials asked Timberland for 50 pairs of boots for a local project in Boston. Intrigued with the program, CEO Jeffrey Swartz Jr. approved the donation. When Jeffrey visited with City Year co-founder Alan Khazei, he had no idea what he was about to be pitched. Jeffrey commended Alan on how City Year was saving and improving lives, pining that he wished Timberland could do the same. Alan pounced on this with an audacious request: "Let me show you how you can..." then he pitched a merger of sorts, where Timberland made a deep investment in City Year by giving all employees a week off annually to volunteer there. Ever audacious Alan asked for City Year to office at Timberland, and have access to its resources: Legal, HR, etc.
Since then, City Year's strength has increased exponentially, due to an audacious request.
2. Be Judicious - Alan Khazei showed good judgement, striking while Swartz was waxing philosophical. That's the next ingredient - ask for the impossible very intelligently. For Joyce Lavalle, at the time a regional director for sales at Interface, it was the key to her success.
More than timing, she understood protocol. If you want to ask for the impossible in order to change the world, make sure you ask the right person! Her daughter had sent her a great book on business and ecology at a time when Joyce's sales reps were telling her that Interface (a carpet company) needed to form a sustainability program to attract future clients.
Ray Anderson, the founder and CEO of Interface, wasn't a fan of the green movement at the time. He bristled at the social-responsibility arguments that looked like cost drivers to him. But Joyce just knew that if she got this book into his hands, he'd realize it was a smart long-haul move. She knew that if she tried to deliver it, she'd fail. He didn't know her and it would be takent wrong.
So she asked her boss, a VP back at corporate, to arrange for the book to appear on his desk. It did, Ray read it, and Interace was transformed in less than three years into the most sustainable carpet company in history.
3. Be Tenacious - It's going to take some time, and some serious persistance if you want to change the world. You'll need a long term plan, and a thick skin to withstand criticism and adversity. For Louise Young, that was her secret - along with her audacity and judiciousness.
She was a quality assurance manager at defense contractor Raytheon. Her mission was to bring domestic partner benefits to the company; where it would acknowledge same-sex unions by offering health, club and death benefits to partners. Imagine how hard of a sale that would be to a mostly-military executive group. For several years, she served on the GLBT stakeholder group and built relationships with VPs from different parts of the company.
She developed a reputation as a warrior for this cause. She also built up a business case for it in two areas: Productivity & Recruing Talent. In 2001, SVP at the time, Bill Swanson, invited her to speak at the company's first diversity/hr summit. There were 400 business managers in the room, and you could her a pin drop as she made her simple plea for business-sanity. (See a clip of it here).
After the talk, she handed out cards and forged relationships. Within a year, Raytheon stunned the business community by enacting a comprehensive domestic partner benefits program. The Dept of Labor gave them an award for diversity and inclusion a few years later. She combined all three of the ingredients into a winning way to accomplish what most of us would think of as impossible.
In her remarks, she quotes Margaret Mead: "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."
March 08, 2012
In HR world, they call this the "bench-strength" issue and it can be a game changer. As companies expand, new divisions are formed, requiring fresh leaders to guide them to effectiveness. For startups, this is even more critical. Pick the wrong one and you lose time, and often good talent.
Too often, we rely on the resume to find leaders. Or we let managers grow up into leading, mostly a matter of attrition. File that approach under Peter Principle. That's why so many 'leaders' are managers in power clothing. Over my career, I've recruited, fired and studied leaders. Recently, I've consulted with companies on leader spotting. There are six sure signs that you should look for when considering a promotion or a hire at a leadership position in your company:
1. She Has Followers - As the old Chinese proverb indicates, "without followers, you are just taking a walk." When she calls a meeting, including dotted line participants, do people show up? Do they pay attention and contribute? When she rolls out an initiative, do others listen and understand? Are they inspired to action? Here's a little trick: Is she often accused of poaching? Does everyone want to transfer to her group, to work with her? (PS - research suggests that a permissive manager is not a popular destination for real talent, they usually pick highly effective managers that will challenge them and win in the market.)
2. He Has A Bias To Action - When I worked for Tim Koogle (first CEO at Yahoo), he talked about how some managers were 'ings', always study-ing or think-ing about doing something. He told me the real leaders were 'eds', meaning, they execut-ed, fail-ed and learn-ed. Great leaders help thier teams make the leap from talking to doing. No happy talk!
3. She Is A Better Listener Than Talker - In a meeting, especially with her team, does she listen more than talk? Can she leave a room understanding the emotions as well as the facts? Does she have the capacity to show empathy? This is important, because if the leaders isn't a deep listener, they'll fail to see the entire playing field. Not listening is also a leadership problem from a trust standpoint. For my second book, my team conudcted a survey on the issue of trust and "doesn't pay attention when I'm talking to him" was a leading non-trust indicator, right up there with "lied to me".
4. He Has Emotional Talent - Connected with the last point, the real leader has a combination of emotional intelligence and generosity. He's in control of his emotions and respectful of others. He wants to create customer delight and be part of a great employership experience. He realizes that long after his troops forget all the things he did for them, they mostly remember how he made them feel. (thanks Maya).
5. She Is A Multiplier Of Her People's Potential - In her fabulous book, Multipliers, author Liz Wizeman points out that there are two types of managers: Multipliers and Diminishers. The former creates a good place to grow and the latter creates a place where dreams die. The multiplier is not a hoarder of resources like the diminisher. She stretches people to deliver beyond their self-perceived potential. She doesn't think of her self as the brain, with a number of hands that 'help'. She measures her success in a triple bottom line capacity: Enterprise, People, Self. In that order.
If you've crafted some leader-spotting techniques, contribute them in comments!