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Forget logos and new uniforms. Make employees happy for the best shot at success.
About a year ago, I wrote an open letter to Tom Horton, CEO of American Airlines. They had just filed for bankruptcy, and as a long-time, loyal American flyer, I was hoping that he would take the opportunity to engage his employees in his fight to save the airline.
As it turned out, Horton's relationship with his employees and the unions remained chilly. So much so that they went around him to negotiate directly with US Airways in the hopes that a merger will bring positive change.
So here we are again. The merger is happening and there is a new sheriff in town. Doug Parker will emerge as the CEO of the combined airline, and just in the nick of time. While he is a finance guy like Horton, and these types often don't succeed in the CEO role, I was impressed during their recent press conference. Parker focused on worker benefits; that's a good sign.
Horton is to be applauded for getting American to this point, but their future will be defined by one word: leadership.
Every company culture is a close reflection of the personality of the leader. Look at Southwest Airlines--the only major airline that has never filed for bankruptcy. They had a founder and leader in Herb Kelleher who had a multi-stakeholder approach to business, and he put employees first. That resulted in a better customer experience and consistent financial success.
The employees of American Airlines should be recognized for the incredible sacrifices they've made over the last decade. In 2003, they took cuts in compensation and benefits to keep American out of bankruptcy. American eventually filed anyway, and the employees stepped up again to help them get through it. I have flown hundreds of thousands of miles on American during this period, and you can tell that the employees are not generally a happy lot. Loyal? Yes. (Though they may have different reasons for that.) But feeling valued? Not from the conversations I have and letters I get.
Mr. Parker--this is your chance. Your nearly 95,000 employees will be hopeful but uncertain about their futures. Will I keep my job? Will seniority change? Will I have to move? Customers can switch airlines and investors can take their money in or out. But your most important stakeholders--with the least amount of choice--are the employees actually doing the work day in and day out.
I know you have a lot to deal with. But if you focus first on your coworkers, they will reward you with better customer service. That will put more money in the coffers.
I like the new logo, and I hear the employees are going to get new uniforms, but I will take more than a new coat of paint on the airplanes to make things better. It will take a deliberate, consistent effort to show the employees that you genuinely care about them. This only comes with trust, and you have to earn it.
If you can make your employees and your customers smile, you'll have a competitive advantage for years to come.
During Social Media Week, Quirky CEO Ben Kaufman said when it comes to product innovation, there are limits to what social media can do.
Among the many events currently taking place as part of Social Media Week, Quirky CEO and founder Ben Kaufman spoke Thursday about benefits and, more importantly, the limitations of social media in developing a new product.
“I have a sort of love hate relationship with social media,” Kaufman said to an audience at the Metropolitan Pavilion in New York City. “I think it’s amazing we can talk to each other, share our thoughts, but on the other hand I think it’s changed the way we interact with each other to a fault, to the place where we’re not putting our energy in the right place.”
In an average week, Kaufman said Quirky fields as many as 3,000 new ideas on the product evaluation section of its website, and each idea can be shared via Facebook and Twitter. “They go up for the world to vote, comment on, enhance, and refine each other’s ideas,” he explained. “People aren’t just saying ‘that sucks’ or ‘that doesn’t suck.’ They’re saying round that corner, or make that a little bit cheaper and I would buy it.”
Research, functional design, and even naming a product, he said, are all discreet phases in which community helps Quirky make smart decisions.
But this community, he said, has its limitations. “Community is still the Internet, and there are still trolls,” he said. “Community plus technology plus an expert team is proper product development. No one of these things can work without the other.”
The back end, Kaufman said, is what the Quirky team is most proud of: the mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, and patenting process. The community, he said, is not smarter than the experts, and the experts are not smarter than the community.
“What the world needs is a little bit of both,” he said. “It’s experts sitting side by side with the hillbillies figuring out what the future can hold.”
How to initiate professional conflicts without upsetting your colleagues or getting accused of being a "hater."
We all know that healthy conflicts are an essential part of any well-oiled management team’s routine. But initiating conflict is never easy. No one wants to be the person who raises contentious points. Because when you’re the one who speaks up, well then it’s you who prolongs the meeting, or ruffles a teammate’s feathers, or stands accused of negativity.
Here at The Build Network, we’re always looking for smart tips on the subject of healthy conflict among teammates. It’s one reason we hold The Table Group’s advice in such high regard.
So, we were thrilled when we spotted Margaret Heffernan’s "5 Rules for Productive Conflict" on the TED blog not long ago. Heffernan is an international businesswoman, management expert, and author of three books. Here are her rules.
1. Appoint a devil’s advocate.
"Someone whose excellence is demonstrated by the quality of questions they ask. Great questions include: 'What are the best reasons not to do this?' 'What don’t we know that, if we did know, would change our decision?' 'If we had more money or time, what would we do?' 'If this were a documentary, what would be the narrative arc?' It’s important that different people play the role of devil’s advocate: if it is always the same person, they’ll get tuned out--and burned out."
2. Find allies.
"If you have concerns, try asking others privately, 'Are you OK with this? Does anything about this bother you? Is there another way to frame this question?' Having allies allows you to work together to be creative and solve the problem."
3. Listen for what is NOT being said.
"If the conversation is being framed about money, consider what is not being talked about. If everyone’s talking technology, what have they left out of their equation? Sometimes it’s helpful to bring in an outsider to help with this. They should do nothing but listen. Then, ask for their impressions--not recommendations. They may notice trends that people embroiled in the conversation simply can’t."
4. Imagine you cannot do what you all want to do.
"In other words, think about what you would do if you could fire someone, if you could change the timetable, or if you were allowed to cancel the deal. If you could do any of those things--would you still proceed with your plan? What are the hidden orthodoxies nobody is challenging?"
5. After a decision is made, declare a cooling off period.
"Ask everyone to go home and think about the decision on their own as well as discuss it with their family. Come back after a prescribed amount of time and ask the group: Does the decision still look great?"
You may recognize many of the firms on this ranking of most successful VC firms. But there are a few noteworthy surprises, too.
Have your eye on an acquisition as your exit strategy? Here's a list you might want to print.
PrivCo, a financial analyst firm that focuses on private companies, recently released its 2012 ranking of the top tech VC firms, based on the number of their portfolio companies acquired last year. A number of these names you may recognize, but there are a few noteworthy surprises on here, too.
Here are the top 10:
- Intel Capital
- Felicis Ventures
- Sequoia Capital
- First Round Capital
- Battery Ventures
- DFJ (Draper Fisher Jurvetson)
- Greylock Partners
- Google Ventures
There are 10 more on the page linked above, including some notable surprises. Kleiner Perkins, a traditional powerhouse in Silicon Valley venture capital, didn't make the top 20. Also, newer generation VC firms took the No. 2 and 3 spots, as well as 11 and 13. What makes this of particular interest is that the people running these firms have entrepreneurial backgrounds rather than investment and financial experience. They have actually lived and sweated through business problems, not just watched their investments do so. Chances are, they can offer a solid foundation of advice in addition to money.
Knowing who is good at fanning the acquisitions fire is important because that seems to be the hot route for exit strategies. Last year saw 2,357 acquisitions of private tech firms by more than 100 acquiring companies, whether tech businesses themselves or private equity firms.
Your greatness isn't enough. If you want your company to succeed, you need a fantastic team.
Success in a company usually comes from the top down, starting with a quality leader and moving on down the ranks. Think about Larry Page at Google. Through his company’s ups and downs, Page is a fantastic leader, one with a vision, goals, and the drive to push those around him to achieve greatness.
But it doesn’t start and stop with leadership. A successful company is built on a healthy ecosystem, which includes a quality leader, the right employees and some inspiration.
First: Set the Tone
Great start-up leaders tend to envision a world that’s better than it is today, a world where something--be it education, technology, communication--is more dynamic and enhanced when they’re done. At the end of the day, they’re evangelists for whatever they’re working to improve and are the driving force behind the product and company.
The first quality of a great leader is an understanding of the importance of surrounding themselves with smart people. To be viewed as a great ecosystem, a work environment needs to be a great place for people to come and be nurtured.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned in leadership positions it’s that people really can do amazing things when they’re inspired. When you find ways to pull that inspiration out of them and really determine what they want, you’ll see some truly incredible work.
From my experience, people tend to fail when they aren’t inspired. Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric, said, “No company, large or small, can succeed over the long run without energized employees who believe in the mission and understand how to achieve it.”
Next: Nurture Greatness
And if you’re thinking money is the ultimate motivator, you’re wrong. Greatness comes from passion and from dedication. You can't get truly brilliant things from people just by paying them. You can get bursts of greatness from them, but you need to engage them to answer, "Why am I working on the weekend? Why am I here?" The best leaders understand that they need to inspire their workers but they also recognize that everyone wants something in their career, and it’s up to the leader to deliver that to them. When employees recognize their leader is working hard to push them towards their personal career goals, they’re even more likely to harness the passion and dedication needed to do amazing work.
The people you surround yourself with need to be fundamentally smart, hard working, and have good judgment. That's the easy part. More difficult, you have to be willing to let them go if they’re underperforming. When the founder of my company started the business, there were some smart people working here, but some had very poor judgment. He was quick to let them go.
After all, your company’s first hires should drive the vision forward and doing so requires strong judgment. You must be willing to let them go if they’re holding your company back.
In an exclusive video interview with Inc., Sir Richard explains how he combats "analysis paralysis" at Virgin Group.
Well, this is one way to make scientists cool again. It's called the Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences.
A handful of Silicon Valley's tech titans--including Mark Zuckerberg and Sergey Brin--put $33 million into a new award meant to spark scientific innovation.
The first annual Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences was awarded this week to 11 scientists, who each got a cool $3 million--more than twice of Nobel Prize ($1.2 million). The Breakthrough Prize was sponsored by a group of renowned tech billionaires, including Russian entrepreneur Yuri Milner, Google founder Brin, and Facebook CEO Zuckerberg. Other participants include Anne Wojcicki, founder of the genetic mapping start-up 23andMe and Brin’s wife, and Priscilla Chan, Zuckerberg’s wife and a medical school graduate from Stanford University. Apple’s chairman Art Levinson will chair the Breakthrough Prize Foundation.
Many recipients have conducted research on genetics and causes for cancer, according to a list by the Foundation. While most of them come from universities across the U.S., some are top foreign researchers from as far as Netherlands and Kyoto. The Breakthrough Prize aims to “recognize excellence in research aimed at curing intractable diseases and extending human life.”
The effort to set up the Breakthrough Prize was led by Milner, according to the New York Times. Milner launched the Fundamental Physics Prize last July with his own money and gave out $27 million prizes in total to nine fundamental physicists.
“Solving the enormous complexity of human diseases calls for a much bigger effort compared to fundamental physics and therefore requires multiple sponsors to reward outstanding achievements,” said Milner in a prepared statement.
The prize will continue to give out five $3 million annual prizes in the future. The nomination process will also be open to the public online.
A franchise can be a great on-ramp to small business ownership. Here's how to decide on a new or existing franchise purchase.
Becoming a franchisee can be a great path to entrepreneurship. You can leverage the benefits of an established brand and a proven operating plan and the franchisor may serve as a source of capital--something that is especially helpful in today's tight financing market. However, what's the best way to become a franchisee? Should you start fresh with a new franchise or simplify things and buy an existing franchise business?
The key to solving the new versus existing franchise dilemma is to understand the opportunities and challenges before you make any decisions. By thoroughly evaluating the pros and cons of each approach, you can minimize the potential for nasty surprises and significantly improve the odds of success in franchising.Advantages of an Existing Franchise
There is a general sense among buyers that acquiring an existing franchise is easier than launching a new franchise outlet. That may or may not be the case, depending on the specifics of the outlet, but it is true that existing franchises offer several advantages that are worth considering:1. Track Record
An existing franchise opportunity can be a turnkey business acquisition. The business is already operational so the seller should be able to demonstrate a track record of profitability as well as hard numbers that will help you determine current cash flow and make better projections regarding future performance--two key elements in the value of the business.2. Customer Base
An established and loyal customer base is a huge benefit for a new business owner. Existing franchises make it even easier for new owners to leverage the advantage of an established customer because the franchise brand gives customers a sense of consistency, even if an ownership transition has occurred behind the scenes.3. Flexibility
Franchisors typically have a set fee structure for new franchise locations, limiting the buyer's ability to negotiate on terms or price. Buying an existing franchise, however, puts you directly across the table from the seller with more ability to negotiate the terms and maximize the return on your investment.
Advantages of a New Franchise
New franchise outlets have higher risks and, thus, potentially higher rewards. While every franchise opportunity is different, new franchisees often discover that building a new location from the ground up provides benefits that simply aren't available with an existing operation:1. Clean Slate
A new franchise offers buyers a clean slate; a business opportunity unaffected by the habits, preferences and/or shortcomings of a previous owner. Although you'll have to work harder to establish your business in the community, you don't have to worry about the possibility of negative customer impressions haunting your business.2. Lower Purchase Price
New franchises are often less expensive because you aren't buying existing cash flow from an established customer base and you aren't paying for "goodwill" value often expected by sellers of existing franchises. A business with a solid reputation and a strong customer following is clearly worth more than one that is just getting off the ground. If the new franchise is successful, you'll be the beneficiary of the company's goodwill value--not the seller.3. Newer Equipment and Facilities
When you buy a new franchise, it's likely that your equipment and facilities will also be new or at least newer than they would be if you bought an existing franchise. Outdated equipment isn't always a deal-breaker, but in some sectors (e.g. food service franchising) it's important to make sure the business is outfitted with reliable machines and the latest designs.
Ultimately, the decision to buy a new or existing franchise boils down to your personality, preferences and risk threshold. In general, proven franchises are a safer investment, but if the idea of breaking ground in a new franchise area doesn't faze you (or even appeals to you), then a new franchise might be a better option.
To be honest, there's no right or wrong answer to the new versus existing franchise dilemma. Both approaches have benefits and drawbacks.
As your company grows you need to think less like an entrepreneur and more like a CEO.
As entrepreneurs, we inherently resist structure and conventionality. Entrepreneurs succeed in many cases because they break the mold and think about things differently. They build a team that can move in many directions at once and can turn on a dime. This typically means that they lack a formal organization structure and almost always implies that they reinvent their model regularly to suit the needs of the customer.
In a recent article, Growing Like Gangbusters, we outlined three changes that growing companies need to make as they transition from an entrepreneurial start-up to a growth-minded company. First, growth companies need to focus their customer targets, as we outlined in Why Fewer Customers Will Help You Grow Faster. Second, they need to change their leadership style, as we outlined in Difference Between Brute Force & Strategic Growth.
The third key element growing companies will need to transform is a structure and supporting processes. For a small entrepreneurial company, the lack of a formal organizational structure actually helps the team break down barriers and move quickly to capture the highest-value activities. But once a company reaches a certain threshold, a lack of structure becomes a hindrance to further growth.
We've seen this in our own business, and we see it time and again in similar growth businesses. An unstructured approach creates the nimbleness that a small growth company needs to gain new customers and maintain a flexible business model. The larger growth company needs structure to define roles, create clear accountability for results, and ensure that it can scale the business beyond a few customers, locations, or products.
What's the threshold that drives this transition? The answer varies from company to company, but from what we've seen the best opportunity to establish a structure and process is when a company has proven its model and is ready to scale. Structured organizations are inherently bad at reinvention but can excel at growth. You don't want to create an overly structured organization, with lots of processes, until you've determined that your business model is right and can withstand the trials of growth.
True sustainable growth is created by an organization with clear accountability and process. The CEO needs to be able to delegate specific elements of growth and monitor progress. Managing growth through the P&L is like driving while looking in the rear view mirror. The growth process must measure activities that lead to growth and enable frequent course corrections to redirect the business toward sustainable growth.
The structure and process required of a growing company is in some ways the opposite of the entrepreneurial organization. But it's essential in creating a sustainable, growing enterprise.
Send us your learnings and challenges on growing your company. We can be reached at email@example.com.
Where might you get the biggest payday, if you decide to sell your tech firm? Look no further.
Private company research firm PrivCo has compiled a list of the top 10 most generous buyers of private tech companies in 2012. Call it the money-is-no-object list.
According to PrivCo, Zillow was the No. 1 most generous acquirer--on average, paying more than a staggering 70 times revenue--last year. Among Zillow's acquisitions on its shopping spree: Mortech, HotPads, Buyfolio, and RentJuice. Constant Contact came in second on PrivCo's most-generous list, paying a typical revenue multiple of 65, followed by Microsoft, at 40.
Rounding out the top 10: vmare, EMC, brightcove, Bazaarvoice, Intuit, SingTel, and IBM.
PrivCo computes revenue multiples using a purchased company's trailing 12-month sales at the time of acquisition, or most-recent fiscal year-end available, according to its own database of private company financials.
What's notable about these big spenders?
"These top acquirers have two things in common," says Sam Hamadeh, PrivCo's chief executive. "First, they're all public companies, and they can afford to pay more than a private company acquirer like Twitter or Airbnb."
Second, he points out the list is entirely made up of so-called strategic buyers, those companies looking to buy to do something other than achieve an explicit financial return, like take out a competitor, or enter a new market, perhaps more cost-effectively than starting from scratch. He notes that strategic buyers can afford to pay a higher price because they can achieve cost savings by plugging a new product into an existing sales force or eliminating duplicate overhead, like HR and accounting.
"None of these are private-equity firms, which pay on average only one to four times the revenue and resell at a profit," Hamadeh says. Private-equity firms "are focused on reselling within three to five years at a profit so they are very disciplined about not overpaying."
You can check out the numbers in more detail:
The list is part of Privco's annual Top 100 Private Tech Company M&A Report.
A growing business has expenses. Use these steps to cut costs and ramp up your profits in 2013.
Once a quarter I sit down with our CFO and review our budget, projections for the upcoming months, and ways to reduce or control overhead to ramp up profitability.
In the zeal to grow a small business managers and CEOs all too often focus on revenues and not profits. Increasing revenues is vital to a growing business. But cost increases that outpace gains in month-over-month revenue can deteriorate the profitability of a sustainable business if not kept in check.
As such, as you grow your business create a checklist of costs you annually, bi-annually, or quarterly check and audit so that you can cut costs where possible increasing the overall profitability of your business.
Here are seven categories that we look at every quarter to attack those costs:1. Health Insurance
If you provide health insurance to your employees make sure to shop around for new coverage every so often. Traditionally if you were willing to change insurers you could reduce costs for similar plans. In fact, I have even heard stories that some insurers would reduce an employer's rates for simply threatening to shop for another policy.
Of note, this year with the new health care reforms around the corner it has been more difficult than ever to use this tactic as insurers are bracing for a somewhat unknown future and uncertain costs and revenue forecasts themselves. Nevertheless, our company is poised to save 15 percent or more this year on our healthcare expenses by changing carriers earlier this month.2. Credit Card Processing Fees
Any business that accepts credit cards must ask for an annual reduction in fees or, at a minimum, speak with your representative from your processing company to find out how to achieve the cheapest rates.
At our company we have the ability to process credit card transactions through two separate credit card processing companies at all times. In part this is done for security in case one of the two ever experiences technical difficulties. But this also allows us to play one off another for rate reductions knowing that we can stop processing through that company at any time on a moment's notice.
Irrespective of the power of having two, it is also always advisable to speak with your processor and inquire how to receive the lowest rates. They are typically full of advice on this subject as to how to get the lowest rates (e.g., always use the CVG code).3. Mortgage
If you own your own business and it, in turn, owns its work space (e.g., office building, condo, etc.) it is time to refinance. Mortgage rates are at all-time lows. Now is the time to lock in a super low rate and save money today, tomorrow, and for the rest of your mortgage's life.4. Kill Recurring Payments
Every so often you must check your credit card statement to see whether you are being billed for any moot or discontinued recurring payments. Vigilant businesses will do this every month. But, at a minimum, all businesses must review their statements quarterly hunting for stale payments that should be discontinued.
For instance, we recently discovered a double payment to the same provider occurring on a monthly basis. That was quickly remedied for a savings of $79.99 per month. Sure, that's under $80 dollars. That's almost $1,000 per year and, just think, if you find one of those per month, that's a savings of $12,000 per year.5. Go Paperless
Even the smallest of offices these days goes through at least a case of paper a month. A mid-sized office may go through 10 or more. And if you are a large office, well, let's just say Dwight Schrute may have you on his Rolodex. But why do we need all of that paper? With today's computer programs and electronic signature capabilities the world of what needs to be physically printed out has shrunk significantly. Add in more reliable computer systems with backup services such as MozyPro or Carbonite the need to print again has virtually vanished.
So go paperless. Not only will you save the cost of paper but also the ink used to print it.6. Advertising
How much are you spending on advertising? Do you pay for pay-per-click advertisements? Do you track your advertising expenditures to make sure your investments are paying off?
Recently we realized that we were paying thousands of dollars per month for a certain pay-per-click program that was not generating any sales leads. The people using that search engine must, in large part, be the Internet's modern day window shoppers. Clicking but not buying. As such, we shut down these ads to save a wasted expenditure.
But saving on advertising is not limited pay-per-click campaigns, you must evaluate all advertising expenditures to make sure they are worth the dollars invested. Sure, branding people will yell and scream at me that advertising has two functions: (1) immediate inbound sales leads and (2) long-term brand recognition. The latter must always be taken into account. But, in my opinion, long-term branding must always bow to short-term profitability.
So audit your advertising expenditures on a regular basis to cut costs where non-profitable advertising exists.7. Shop for New Service Providers
Over time a business acquires numerous service providers. From the Internet service provider that keeps you connected to the janitorial company that keeps the office clean. Often, however, we become complacent with our existing service providers and fail to notice that our original teaser rate they used to acquire our business has been slowly but steadily raised over the years.
Don't let this happen. There is almost always another service provider that can perform these services for you no matter what they are. So keep a list of your service Providers and their rates. Make a habit of routinely--perhaps two or three times per year--shopping for better rates. And politely let the existing providers know this is your policy so they will be more averse to raising rates on a customer they know will find someone else.
Bad hires suck up time, energy, and money. How to avoid them.
The Hall-of-Famer Ted Williams famously said baseball is “the only field of endeavor where a man can succeed three times out of 10 and be considered a good performer.”
Maybe not the only one: The same could be said for hiring.
Hiring and retaining the best people is one of the most critical jobs the owner or manager of a company has. In surveys, most rate their success at about one excellent hire out of four. The other three either weren’t a good fit or didn’t have the ability that their training or resume indicated.
That’s a huge problem. As Jim Collins wrote in his indispensable management book “Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap ... and Others Don't,” getting the “right people on the bus and the right people in the right seats” is the most essential task in business. You can’t train your way out of a bad hire, either.
The worst part? While good hires energize those around them, bad hires become energy drains. Bad hires dampen productivity and suck up management time and attention.
Often, it’s not skills or credentials that predict success. What really matters is whether the prospective candidate fits the job. Do they have characteristics that match those of your top performers? It sounds a bit squishy, and yes, hiring may be part art, but it’s also a science. You can assign metrics to the characteristics that make a difference in performance and better predict candidates’ success.
Here are five things we’ve done at Marlin Steel that may help you hire and retain top performers.
1. Use a structured hiring process that goes beyond resumes and interviews.
We begin by determining the applicant’s basic employability characteristics: integrity, reliability, work ethic, and attitude toward drugs. This assessment helps screen out people who are not likely to perform well or fit our performance culture.
2. Get an objective understanding of your best people.
We use a normative assessment that measures learning ability, occupational interests, and behavioral characteristics. Our top performers embody what success looks like, so we ask them to take the assessment to help us develop a performance model--a benchmark-- for that position. The questionnaire reveals personality traits as well as language and math aptitude. We look for a close match between the applicants’ scores and the performance benchmark. You can use the information to coach employees, as well as for promotion and re-deployment decisions.
3. Develop customized performance models.
One size does not fit all. Slight differences in the model may have a big impact on performance. Start with critical or problem positions where productivity or turnover may be an issue. Be certain that your performance metrics are objective and clearly identified so you can differentiate between top and bottom performers. The model that derives from this process will help you improve performance in all your positions.
4. Have the supervisors take the assessment.
This way, they can better understand themselves and their direct reports, and coach them toward increased productivity. The reports give supervisors a “user’s manual” for each direct report that shows challenge areas, how to motivate them and how to get a better performance.
5. Repeat for every hire, for every position.
More input will produce better benchmarking. If this sounds like reverse engineering, it is. This method has proved to be highly reliable, helping achieve good hires three times out of four. (Tom Maze of Polaris Profiles guided Marlin Steel in implementing our process.)
The approach has helped us consistently identify, hire, retain, and manage great employees. I’m certain that my company wouldn’t have achieved seven straight years of growth, through a down economy, otherwise.
One thing is clear: If you don’t start out with the right person, nothing else you do will turn out well. A bad hire never works out for anybody. There’s no crying in baseball -- and there should be less of it in hiring, too.
The one-time CEO of Chrysler and Home Depot says companies should have a mosaic of ethnicity, experience, and opinion.
A few Twitter pros remind us that to be funny, you have to take a risk.
Among the many events currently taking place as part of Social Media Week, a panel of experts talked Thursday about a topic not easily executed by most people: How to be funny (like really funny) in 140 characters or less.
And while it's hard to just throw caution into the wind in such a public forum, here's a quick, simple list of tips from these funny people.
1. Don't watch your follower count. "I think, in terms of being funny, [you shouldn't] worry about your follower count, ‘cause...you'll get down on yourself—'Maybe I'm not so funny.’ But if you stick to your style, what you think is funny, your audience will find you. You're getting rid of the ones that aren't gonna click with you.” – Friedman
2. Man up. "The second you hit send, the second it passes your lips, it becomes the world's to decide how they feel about it. You can try to go back and re-explain, and that's always a disaster, you can try to apologize or backtrack, but if you have to backtrack or apologize, you have to ask why you're putting it out there in the first place." – Winstead
3. Be confident that followers "get you." "Give your audience credit. You don't have to spell everything out for them." – Friedman
4. Go all out. "Nobody ever made a difference being cautious." – Winstead
Do you want to build a business or a job? Many entrepreneurs don't understand the difference.
What's your top priority as a business owner?
I believe the first principle of business--the one that shapes every single decision you make from the moment you decide that a business of your own is something you truly wish to create--is that your business must be able to grow.
Seventy percent of all companies and 100 percent of home businesses are sole proprietorships. One person, or two, operate the business. That's all. These businesses are populated by owners working for a living. They are working at a job and nothing more. All they ever wanted to do was to create a job; to create control over their personal income; to create a place to work, a place to do what they know how to do. Or, if not that, to do something, anything, they can turn their labor and ideas into money. In short, they want to be self employed.
They are told that the idea of going out on their own is to do what they love. And once they do that, everything else will come their way.
Unfortunately, it isn't true.
Being self employed, and building a company are two very different things. And that's why most businesses fail ... because they aren't businesses at all.
The true test of a business is whether you--as the business owner--can step away and have it run without you. That should be your primary goal: to build a business large enough where you aren't the one doing the work. You have employees who do the work, and your job is to think about growing the business even bigger. Your top priority should be to get to that point, and to get there as quickly as possible.
So, decide. Do you want a job? Or do you want to build a business? Work for the sake of work is ultimately an exhausting enterprise. All pain, no gain. Working to build something that can then run itself can provide a lifestyle most would love, but few can ever achieve.
Don't worry so much about doing what you love--just love what you do. Fall in love with what you are building, and what it will do for you in the long run. In order for your business to thrive, it must become much more than a job like it is now... it must possess the ability to grow.
When's the last time you gave yourself some time for quality, focused, creative thinking? Start here.
Without a doubt, the explosion of the Internet and mobile technology has made business faster, more efficient and less expensive. That’s the good news. The bad news is that all this speed and accessibility creates an awful lot of clutter, mental and otherwise.
When a client emails you with a request, the typical reaction is to stop what you are doing and respond. The problem with this is that our brains are not dual-core processors! It's been proven in study after study that we are incapable of truly multitasking. We must stop one task, even if it’s only for a very short time, to pick up another.
Rather than making us more efficient, the constant interruption of emails, IMs and calls is pulling our mental and physical resources from bigger, more strategically important projects. As a result, we are constantly left with half-finished or barely-started micro projects. We’re constantly busy, but we’re not devoting any time to quality, creative, focused thinking.
Unfortunately, our jobs require that we be accessible. We cannot ignore our client or boss's request, and ultimately we expect the same speed of response from our underlings. So the challenge lies in balancing the two: think-time and real-time. Here a few tips that I use to help keep a focus on the big picture for my business, while remaining accessible.
Set accomplishments for the day
Take ten minutes in the morning to consider your goals for the day. Ask yourself what you want to achieve? If you have a meeting, set your own mental goals/objectives and envision that outcome. If you have to make sales calls, do the same. Knowing what you want to accomplish allows you to create a realistic to-do list.
Identify tasks that are best completed offline
Treat yourself to quality work time where you can focus and be creative: time away from email, away from IM and away from the phone. Block out the time on your calendar beforehand and let your colleagues know you will be busy.
There is nothing wrong with politely saying “wait.”
Open-air offices may foster collaboration, but they also encourage colleagues to wander into your space to discuss things of varying importance. You can judge the severity of the issue and then act accordingly. But you shouldn't constantly stop what you are doing just because someone asks you to.
Take a break
A brief, planned change in your environment can do wonders for your productivity. Stroll around the block. Get a coffee. It will help your mind and body to refresh, recalibrate and focus.
While we can't (and shouldn't wish to) slow down the progress of business technology, we certainly can slow ourselves down long enough to make some good decisions about how best to spend our days.
If you don't know how to run effective meetings, your business, your organization, and your career are doomed.
There's nothing worse than a bad meeting. You sit there grinding your teeth wondering why in the world you have to waste your time sitting through something that never should have happened in the first place.
The fact that we've all been there, sometimes weekly or even daily, doesn't make it any less annoying. It doesn't even begin to take the edge off that nagging thought that you could be making so much better use of your time.
But here's the thing. Meetings aren't just an unfortunate fact of business life. They're a hugely important fact of business life. They're how strategies are debated, budgets are vetted, projects are reviewed, and plans are agreed upon. They're how deals are negotiated and how they ultimately get done.
Not only are meetings the most efficient ways to get certain things done, they're the most effective tools for managing teams--if they're done right, that is.
I once calculated that I sat in more than 30,000 meetings during my 30-year career. Every type of meeting you can think of, from executive staff and board meetings to project reviews and strategy sessions. From one-on-ones to all hands operations reviews. From press interviews to customer meetings.
And you know what? I learned a lot about how to make meetings more effective. Here are 7 tips that I guarantee will make a big difference for you and your organization.
Learn this equation. No leader + no documentation + no follow up = waste of time. Every meeting has to have a leader, a stated purpose, a start and end time, and a valid reason for each and every person to be there. The leader documents conclusions, plans, action items, whatever, then follows up.
Do you even know what you're doing? Every leader should know how to run effective meetings, like how to set ground rules for constructive engagement, how to use tools like Parking Lots to take issues offline, and how to bring people to consensus.
Have them in the afternoon. I once read in a Scott Adams Dilbert book (no, I'm not kidding) that people do their best work in the morning, so you should have meetings in the afternoon. I asked my staff and they agreed unanimously. Turned out to be a great move. Also most people are more relaxed after lunch. Don't ask me why.
Beware the hive mentality. I've worked with companies where executives were double and triple booked in meetings most days and managers were required to have weekly one-on-ones with their boss and staff (and monthly with peers). How in the world do CEOs expects their management teams to get anything done that way?
Lose the hallway meetings. Founders and other start-up executives are often fond of ad-hoc hallway meetings. The problem is that decisions are made without input from key stakeholders. Sometimes that's a smokescreen for passive-aggressive behavior. Other times it results in strategy du jour. Either way, it destroys organizational effectiveness.
Challenge the status quo. If you run a periodic staff meeting, occasionally ask your team what you can do to improve it and help make them more effective. You'll usually get at least one good suggestion. Not only that, but your folks will appreciate it.
You evaluate individual performance before entrusting a new hire with a big task. Science suggests you should apply the same principle to teams.
Teams, as we've all experienced, aren't simply the sum of their parts. Through good mojo, friendly competition or complimentary talents, some groups wildly outperform what their individual members could accomplish working alone. But sadly, the converse is also true. Some teams produce less than the same people could crank out alone in a cubicle.
What separates the one sort from the other?
The ability of a team to gel together seems magical sometimes, something akin to the inexplicable chemistry that you either do or do not have with a date, but science, it turns out, actually has useful lessons to offer on how you can better ensure the teams at your company have chemistry.
A post by Dr. Christian Jarrett, a psychologist and author of the Rough Guide to Psychology, on 99u recently laid out five evidence-based techniques for getting more out of your teams, including one idea that applies a fundamental principle of car shopping to team selection. In short, writes Jarrett, take it for a test drive:
Individual assessment is such a fundamental part of working life, yet we often take it for granted. If you want the best person for a job, you put the candidates through their paces to see who comes out on top. The basic assumption is that if they do well in the test context, they'll also excel on future projects. It turns out the same principle applies to groups – U.S. researchers showed in 2010 that a team that does well in one situation will tend to do well on other challenges too.
He concludes that, "it's a mistake to think that putting together a bunch of skilled individuals will automatically create a gifted team." Social sensitivity matters as much as smarts, according to the same research (which, as a side note, means teams of mixed gender generally outperform all males groups because of women's tendency to be more socially sensitive). So before you hand over a huge pile of work to a newly formed team, consider giving them something smaller to gauge how well they'll perform together.
Interested in the other four research-validated ideas to improve your teams' performance? Check out Jarrett's uniformly interesting post. Or, if you're looking for other expert tips to encourage teamwork, architects and designers suggest that office design really matters, while Phil Geldart, author of In Your Hands, the Behaviors of a World Class Leader, has outlined seven fundamental building blocks of successful teams.
What's your top tip to optimize teamwork?
Whether you think your pitch meeting went well or poorly, you can improve your next one with an intelligent de-briefing.
When you walk out of a big pitch meeting, what comes next? We all know you shouldn’t discuss the meeting on a public elevator or within earshot of your hosts. But once the coast is clear, what should you say? Here’s the smart way to debrief.
What was that question?
Make a list of the questions the other party asked, and think back to how you answered.
Questions show two things:
- They are most often a search for data and learning--someone’s attempt to better understand what you are trying to say. You almost always do well on these questions because you know your business better than anyone else.
- Second, questions are a natural way for someone to signal what their concerns are, and what they are really thinking about. These questions usually take a different form. They can have a more negative tone, and they can be stated somewhat clumsily-- often as a statement that’s been turned into a question. These questions tell you what your potential partner is worried about, and what you need to address in your follow-up.
What was important to them?
There is nothing wrong with waiting for follow-up, and asking the other party to outline next steps. But it’s more creative and proactive to walk out and think about what the others reacted to. See if your colleagues heard the same things as you did.
What were they thinking?
Of course you can never know exactly what’s going on in someone else’s head. But try to figure out why your potential partners asked you particular questions or steered the conversation to certain topics.
Avoid answering those queries by falling back into what you think is important-;try to put yourself into their heads. And don’t make things more complicated than they need to be. If your potential partners asked a certain question repeatedly, maybe they just didn’t hear you the first time.
What’s the process?
Ask yourself, “If they don’t follow up, what’s the next logical step in engaging them?” If your counterparty doesn’t already have a process in place, they’re not going to build it for you. You need to do it.
One safe bet is to suggest a next step that will provide more information on something the other party asked about, in a way that doesn’t disrespect their process but gives them more data to assuage any concern. It may be best to include your follow-up information in your next communication, without waiting to ask, “Would you like us to do this?” or “Would this help?”
We all struggle to be self-aware, to know what we are good or bad at, and to examine ourselves. A pitch meeting, along with the content and feedback that come out of it, provides a platform for you to look at yourself and your company and learn. Take 15 minutes after the meeting to review the data so that your next meeting is even better.
Use these tactics to thwart four common dirty tricks that employees play on their bosses.
While most people are well-meaning, there is always a subset who thinks they can get a head by manipulating others to do what they want. Nowhere is this tendency more toxic than in the employee-boss relationship.
I've already written about the ways bosses (foolishly in my view) attempt to manipulate employees rather than inspire them. This post describe the four most common ways that employees try to manipulate a boss, and how a boss can avoid being manipulated.1. Forcing a Card
When stage magicians have an audience member pick a card, they have numerous ways to ensure that a particular card is picked. This is known in the trade as "forcing a card."
Employees do something similar when they want a boss to make a particular decision. They prepare three alternative approaches to a problem so that it appears to the boss that there's a choice, but in fact only one approach makes any sense.
For example, suppose an employee wants a boss to hire his college friend. He recommends three candidates: 1) his friend, 2) an unqualified person, and 3) an overqualified person.
The Best Defense:
When presented with false alternatives, refuse to accept them. Say something like "I wanted three real alternatives and what you've given me here is one that's viable and two that aren't."
The employee will probably get defensive. If so say: "Be honest: are you trying to force my hand? Because I need some real choices." Your goal is to insert honesty into the relationship while letting the employee know you can't be manipulated.2. Creative Goldbricking
When employees want to avoid difficult projects or even work in general, they'll often pretend to be so busy that you'd be insane to even consider putting something extra on their over-full agenda.
Such employees sport frazzled expressions, carry around huge stacks of papers, and complain--constantly--about how "stressed" they are. Even so, when you actually look into what they're getting done, it's not all that much.
Some employees, of course, may be spinning their wheels unintentionally, in which case you'll need to help them get out of a rut. But make no mistake, sometimes the "stressed to the max" shtick is only for show.
The Best Defense:
The difference between wheel-spinning and goldbricking is the intent behind the behavior. Since it's impossible for you to read an employee's mind, it's a waste of time to assess intent. Instead, address the behavior.
Tell the employee: "I'm clearing you of all responsibility, starting now." Give that statement a second or two to sink in. Then say: "We will now work on specific tasks that must be completed by a specific date."
Make certain that every task on the list has a concrete end-point, where there's no question whether the task has been accomplished or not. Think "get Acme to buy a product by end of month" rather than "increase customer communications."3. Hiding the Skeleton
Suppose an employee wants you to remain ignorant of a fact but also doesn't want to be accused of holding back information. In this case, the employee may inform you of the fact without really informing you.
There are two ways to do this. The first is to bury the inconvenient fact near the end (but not AT the end) of a long report or email. Chances are you won't notice it, but the employee can claim you were "told all about it."
The second method is to hide the fact with weasel words and legalese. Example: "Pursuant to the inquiry dated 11/7, the conclusion was that the extirpation resulted from product usage." Translation: "Our product just killed somebody."
The Best Defense:
Whenever you receive a long report that might contain something problematic, click to the end of the document, then click back a few paragraphs. If there's a skeleton hiding in the report, that's where you'll find it.
When confronted with jargon, your best approach is to ask, point blank: "What does this mean in plain language? Please use words of one syllable." Note: this approach is a really fun way to drive corporate lawyers crazy.
In either case, hedge your bet by asking: "Is there anything here that, if I fully understood it, might alter my decision?" Then add: "Because I'm going to hold you accountable if there is."4. Rat-holing
When employees don't like where a meeting is headed, they may try to change the subject by bringing up an issue that's guaranteed to distract your attention. This is known as "sending the meeting down a rat-hole"
For example, suppose the purpose of your meeting is to review project status, but "Joe" hasn't gotten much done. Rather than take the heat, Joe brings up (or makes up) a rumor that your biggest customer may leave for another vendor.
Suddenly, the project review turns into a planning session to avoid the impending disaster. The ensuing discussion consumes the remainder of the meeting time, thereby keeping the lateness of Joe's project off your radar.
The Best Defense:
Rat-holes only work when you're willing to jump down them. Have an agenda for every meeting and stick to that agenda, so that your meetings stay on course, even if employees surface distracting issues.
Whenever you sense a rat-hole, state that you realize that the issue is important (even if it's not) and then "table" that issue for later discussion. Eventually, employees will realize that, in your case, rat-holing is futile.
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