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!
January 30, 2012
Last year, a conference attendee asked Tony Hsieh (founder of Zappos) what he'd do differently, if he knew then what he knows now. "Build culture from Day One," was his thoughtful and profound reply. Not technology, partners, product lines, marketing - culture building!
In his book, Delivering Happiness, he described several ways he and his team cobbled together a customer-obsessed culture ... including offering new-hires thousands of dollars to quit at the end of the customer-mania training program. But his point: You need to build culture starting the minute you create a company, organization, group or even project team. The longer you wait, the harder it is to build.
Here's my fave definition of culture: How Things Are Done Around Here. Culture building is a conversation about values, led or allowed by leaders, that creates a group-intuition. When the culture is strong, everyone knows what 'the right thing to do' actually is. And they proactively do it all the time from hiring to product/process design to conflict management. This is the only way you can scale your success into greatness. PS - when culture is weak, the default behavior is 'what does this mean to me?', which results in silo building or selfish actions.
I am CEO of a startup, Net Minds. We came together as a founding team last year, and currently we are hiring two developers to work for us (in Los Angeles). We are building a market place platform for creative ideas and the talent that works on them. (PS - if you know any brilliant people, please send me a note at: tims at netminds dot com or here.)
Prior to hiring our first person, though, we've contemplated culture. What is "The Net Minds Way?" and in this case, "Who is a Net Mind?" I've read often that when you are a startup, your first employees become the framework of your culture, thousands of hires later. So these first picks are highly important!
While working at Yahoo, I spent a lot of time with Libby Sartain our Chief People Officer. She ran HR at Southwest Airlines, and built a great culture there. She explained to me that step one was to define the quintessential Yahoo's common attributes (The were: Fast, Fun, Friendly, Easy To Work With, Human) and let that be the guide to hiring along with technical proficiency and background. Using these attributes, the first interview is all about this question: "Does she fit? Is she a native Yahoo?"
Apply this thinking to your next hire. Even if your organization is established, it's not too late to identify your-way and the DNA of your-best-talent. The exercise will help others come into the fold, and might identify some changes you need to make in the lineup. Immediately, you'll notice that the process empowers everyone on the team. Often, when you define the values of your culture, and the ingredients of the perfect team member, you'll realize how worthy and special your mission is.
December 14, 2011
Since reading Primal Leadership, I've been a fan of this topic and a student of the discipline.
Later, as Yahoo's Leadership Coach, I studied the areas of excellence in leaders both inside the company, and throughout our customer and partner base. Some, like Howard Stringer of Sony, had very clear skill sets, such as people skills. Others, like Scott McNeely, had implicit skills, like deal-making. After my first book came out, I was invited to speak at leadership events, which gave me valuable feedback over time. Here are four areas of leadership excellence that all great leaders continually develop.
1. VISION - As Stephen Covey Sr. said, "Management is efficiency in climbing the ladder of success: leadership determines whether the ladder is leaning against the right wall." In other words, she sees where the organization needs to go, and can enunciate it clearly to her followers. Think of this as the strategy piece of the puzzle. Great leaders do not guess in this regard, they must constantly research and observe business context closely - otherwise, their vision is blurry or incorrect. This is why Readers Are Leaders. They constantly plumb books, studies and trend data to sharpen their vision and spot strategic opportunities to pounce on. When business misfires, they rethink their vision and are willing to shift or pivot.
2. COMMITMENT - You aren't a leader if you don't step up! As Farmers Insurance executive Bryan Murphy told me, "leadership is dangerous." Why? Because when you step up and say, "this way!", you are assuming accountability for the outcome. Get your vision wrong, and you may lose your job. But it's a bet you must make, because with commitement comes respect and a new power - the ability to mobilize people and align them with a plan. Commitment is an ongoing process, though. You can lose it or let it wither due to adversity. Great leaders constantly check in on their level of commitment and refresh their motivations, especially during tough times.
3. INFLUENCE - The Chinese proverb applys: He who has no followers is merely taking a walk! Despite your vision and commitment, if you can't motivate and/or inspire others, you can't lead effectly. Influence stems mostly from our communications skills, both in terms of what we say and how closely we listen to others. Great leaders use story devices to unite their teams, speak in clear terms and exude authenticity. They take every communications opportunity very seriously, and prepare relentlessly to move their audiences to action. READ: Leadership Is Dead: How Influence Is Reviving It for more here.
4. PURPOSE - This is likely the most important corner of leadership excellence. Great leaders are focused on the WHY behind the WHAT. Their strategy has a purpose bigger than traditional business goals: Making money, growing, accumulating resources. Leaders don't get the means and the ends mixed up. In True North:Discover Your Authentic Leadership, Medtronic founder Bill George talks about our compass, which is the ultimate guide for the leader. To him, integrity and service are the true north we point our enterprise towards. In Good To Great, Jim Collins reminds leaders that their purpose needs to be worthy - something bigger than just P&L management. This is an ongoing challenge for leaders, as they need to ask themselves, "how do we make this world a better place?" and then using purpose (think service, not self) as the ultimate device to give their followers focus and hope.
October 28, 2011
Today, I spoke at a conference for radio executives on the topic of Leadership.
In their industry, there's a lot of change, turbelence and economic uncertainty. Digital is ripping a new one in their lives. Last night, I heard quite a bit of talk about recent layoffs and dour predictions about ad spend.
I challenged the group this morning to change the conversation when they got home from the Bad News to the Get Busy News. It's a remarkably different conversation that leads to opportunity analysis instead of fear based paralysis.
Here's the punch line: Culture is a conversation, led by leaders, about 1) How Things Are Going and 2)How Things Are Done Around Here. If the conversation induces fear, the scarcity mindset sets in and the culture becomes "what-have-you-done-for-me-lately?" or "Let's build a survival silo." When that happens innovation stops and top talent quits (even if they technically stay on the job).
So, I challenge you to do the same: Stop talking about the Bad News and, instead, talk about the solutions you can build, assets you can leverage and opportunities that change is creating. You'll be amazed at how the spirit of your group changes. You'll be rewarded with better treatment of your people by managers.
Tweet this via @SandersSays: Culture Is A Conversation...How's Your's Going?
October 20, 2011
Twice a month, gather your team (company, project, group) to discuss the sanity and solvency of 'the processes' that you pour yourself and your customers into to. It could be the process by which orders are placed, processed, delivered and/or accounted for. It could the process by which you ask for, receive, spend and/or account for your budget.
You know, those damn TPS reports from Office Space!
There are other processes: How do we communicate? What do we do when things go wrong or someone complains? These are less linear, but, just the same, can be broken or poorly designed.
Think about it this way: A real leaders-manager-owner realizes that whenever a person or a group fails, it's always the result of an ineffective process. Yes, sometimes people screw it up on-purpose or through a lack of focus - but in the end they got on the team through your hiring process!
And, nothing is more demoralizing than to be a high-function person working inside a broken process. I can't tell you how many times I've seen great engineers at Yahoo dial-out in frustration after trying to work through our various Byzentine Project Labayrinths back in they day. This is likely what the Google Engineer Rant was all about.
So have a bi-monthy meeting just to discuss the processes that impact a project or a group's efforts. Focus on less-than-expected results, and to take a page from The Lean Startup, ask "Why?" five times, digging deeper into the REAL reason the goal couldn't be achieved. As a leader, don't let your people convert this Five-Why drill into the Five-Blames drama (Eric Ries in this blog post warns this will happen a lot and it's never productive). Culture is a conversation, led by leaders, about the-way-things-are-done-around-here. And meetings count.
Remember, we criticize the outcome and process, not the people. We treat the process as a thing, and all of us as people with motivations, limitations...and emotions. We realize that 'the way we do it' is completely arbitrary, usually hatched out of anecdotal experience and rarely crafted on real data.
Don't worry, you aren't creating a free for all bitch session, unless your process needs a serious overhaul. Just focus on making the changes as far upstream as possible - starting at HQ. You'll be surprised how easy it makes regular meetings, and how empowering this innovation-centric approach is for your people. Besides, to be a great company, you've got to iterate often. And that relies not just on flexibility in business model, but a limber approach to the myriad processes that run it.
October 11, 2011
In any turbulent time period, like now, asking "how's it going" will often bait a negative response.
"Just hanging in there," is a consistent reply. "Trying to survive" is pretty typical. And then the conversation goes south, focusing on lack, worry and dread. In my latest book, Today We Are Rich, I talk about how important it is for us to lead the conversation forward.
Talking about how bad the economy is constitutes a sideways conversation. You cannot be afraid enough of the future to make it better - in fact, you'll often make it worse!
Dale Carnegie trained his YMCA students in the 30's to ignite positive conversations by opening with "what's the good word?". It changes the conversation, the mood and the direction of the talk. You could also ask people the following:
1 - What are enthused about these day?
2 - What are your working on these days?
3 - Tell me something intersting, I'm dying to hear about something new and cool.
In each instance, you'll discover how critical the conversation starter question is to the tone of everything to follow. Leaders need to lead conversations into a place of solution, hope and constructive thinking. It's a question of where we point our minds! As Dr. Norman Vincent Peale once wrote, "If you can worry, you can visualize success."
September 15, 2011
In short, she was predictably fired. She followed the natural path to failure, which should have got her canned in the first year (it took over 2). That's why Roy Bostock needs to step down as the Chairman Of the Board ASAP.
When I lived in the Silicon Valley (2000-2005), I witnessed this failure phenom several times. The most notable one was Carly's slow motion #fail at HP. In both cases, it wasn't financial performance that preceeded the firing. It was the style of leadership that hampered the innovation and execution cultures necessary to achieve financial performance.
Fortunately, we can all learn from history. It's no fun to be fired as a CEO, regardless of the severence to follow. Both Carol and Carly wanted to succeed and I'm sure they experienced emotional trauma after being fired and publicly ridiculed. But, if you are a glutton for punishment, and would like to follow in their fired footsteps, here's what you should do:
1 - Ignore The Founder's Values. Carly did this, especially when it came to the founding members of HP. She took down their pictures, disregarding some of their early success stories and attempted to reboot the culture her way (Carly's Way). That is no way to make friends with the long time stakeholders or fans of the company. Carol was much the same, as unJerry&David as it gets. When I was at Yahoo we described our culture as: Fun, Human, Friendly, Easy To Work With and Fast. Carol was none of those.
2 - Treat your new team like they are on probation. Many of my Yahoo friends told me that Carol's attitude coming in was, "these kids need adult supervision - to be help accountable for once." That was NOT the reason Yahoo was in it's situation. Sure, the delay of the Panama self-service project was a black eye, but the ship had already sailed by that point. Yahoo's fall had to do with missed opportunities (merge with Ebay, buy Go-To before paid search took off, purchase Google when it was cheap to buy.) It wasn't because the kids were acting fools.
3 - Crush The Group's Collective Spirit. Apple came back from the dead over the last 15 years because Jobs injected enthusiasm and drive into the culture, which produced stunning product breakthroughs. The employees brought all of themselves to work and when they hatched a brilliant idea - they gave it to their company out of a fierce sense of loyalty. At Yahoo, under Carol's rule, if you had a great idea, you left the company to start one that's fun to work for. Just saying.
4 - Manage With A "What Are You Doing?" Style. When you first met with Carol, she'd wrinkle up her nose and with obvious consternation ask you, "So, what do YOU do!? What have you made for us that makes money??" That's no way to trigger emotional engagement. If she was concerned about accountability, she should have lifted a page from Google lore and adopted OKRs (objective key results) and made them public via the employee's profile on the Intranet. That would have positively done the trick. That's what Eric Schmidt did in his successful tensure at Google. The great leader, instead, mixes "How Are You Doing Here?" in the leadership lexicon, which employs the tool of empathy to create bonds instead of silo'd divisions.
For more of this rant, in a collective academic tone, read The Top 10 Mistakes Leaders Make by Hans Finzel.