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Archive for the ‘inspiration’ Category

I attended the Leadercast 2011 seminar via their simulcast at the Shelton Chamber of Commerce.  Overall it was another great learning experience.  I was a little peeved when there were technical difficulties/connection issues with the first two speakers, John Maxwell and Seth Godin.  Seth Godin is one of my personal favorites and it was going to be the first time I’d see him speak live (even if it is via a satellite.)  Below are the notes I took and overall thoughts of the event.

Local Leader Panel Discussion:  Steve Pelletier (Prudential Annuities), Edward Schultek (Sandler Training), Robert Scinto (RD Scinto, Inc.)

Before the real show started, they had local leaders in an interview panel.  Robert Scinto was the standout of the three.  He owns the business complex where the Shelton simulcast was held.  It is a beautiful campus.  There were at least 3 buildings, a restaurant, and a parking garage from what I saw when walking around.  Many of the parking spots had covered walkways into the buildings.  The building where our conference was held had a lunch deli and a gym.  You could tell this guy values his tenants.  The three keywords he focused on:

Service, Imagination, Time

Robert demonstrates his service in the way he takes care of his buildings.  I would love to work on a campus with all those amenities.  Edward Schultek also mentioned being communicators and being knowledgeable are two of the most important qualities a CEO should have.  Overall, I was left with a desire to know more about Robert Scinto and how he was able to do all he has done with the area.  (I understand there are things going on with him at the moment but I’m leaving that out.)

John Maxwell

The person I went with is a big fan of John Maxwell.  After watching him speak, I can see why.  He was very good.  He has a new book coming out that discusses the 5 levels of leadership.  A picture is worth 1000 words, below are the levels he talked about, with the keywords and descriptions of each level.

5 Levels of Leadership

What I found interesting, is if you are a manager this is likely true with your employees, each person at different levels.  You probably have some that are just there for the position (Level 1).  They give the bare minimum acceptable effort.  People in Level 2 listen well, observe, and are learners, which all leads to better service.  The quote I took away from Level 3 is, “Be a tour guide not a travel agent.”  A travel agent sends you to places they’ve never been.  A tour guide is there with you and shows you around.  At Level 4 is an increase in capacity.  This is likely to occur if you recruit better people.  (As an aside, this was a big point from many of the speakers.  You have to hire people you get a good feeling from.  If you hire people you don’t get a good feeling from, there’s  more of a chance you’ll get bad results.)  Put people in the right places.  Recruit good people, put them in the right positions, and equip them with what they need to do their job.  I forget where in the day this was mentioned, but there was a story about a varsity basketball team playing the junior varsity team.  The catch, was that the varsity team had to switch up their usual playing positions, while the junior team played their usual positions.  In the end the junior team won.  The point of the story is put people where they’ll produce their best for the best overall results.

Seth Godin

Seth Godin was one of the main reasons I wanted to see Leadercast.  I read his blog everyday and own many of his books.  Unfortunately, at this point the technical difficulties were at their worst, so I was only able to catch bits and pieces.  The parts I was able to get were:

Seeing what is vs. Seeing what you hope for
Irreplaceable parts vs. Interchangeable parts  
(What I took from this is make your employees irreplaceable rather than interchangeable.  Yes, it’s risky, but it’s worth it.)
Hard work vs. Long work (Work smart and give 100%)
Lead vs. Manage
Artists vs. Accountants (In this example he also used painters.  An artist creates something special, a painter paints.  I can’t remember if it was Seth Godin or someone else that expanded on this, but an example they used was they asked two guys what they were doing.  One guy said, “I’m putting up a fence.”  The other guy said, “I’m building a house.”  They were both doing the same thing, but the second person valued his work more than the first.

Mack Brown

Mack Brown is the head coach of the University of Texas football team.  He is known of having at least 10 wins every season from 2001-2009.   He reiterated earlier points about picking winners.  If you pick the right people, you increase your odds of winning.  When recruiting, he only looked at people with a GPA of 3.0 or higher.  This decreases the chances the student will have a drug or alcohol problem, and obviously demonstrates that they are smart.  Two key quotes I liked, “Quit complaining or quit.”   and, “The company pays you, so as long as you work for them you should be loyal to them.”  After his players won the national championship, he told them, “Don’t let this be the most important thing you do in life.”  I appreciate that he said that…he wants more out of his players than just to win a game.  He wants them to continue to succeed in life.

Sir Ken Robinson

Sir Ken Robinson was very enjoyable to watch.  The first third of his presentation was comedic and talked about how he moved to L.A., visited Las Vegas, and celebrated his 25th wedding anniversary by having an Elvis impersonator re-marry them.  I was thinking, “How did the Queen of England knight this man?  He’s very funny but I am not seeing where this is going.”  And then he neatly wove his comedy stories right in to his inspirational one.  He encouraged us to use our imagination to remember the past and plan for the future.  Most people endure their lives rather than enjoy them.  The question “What do you do?” is different from “Who are you?”  

Don’t do something you are good at if you don’t love it.  Be in your element, love your element.  Imagination leads to creativity.  Creativity leads to innovation.

Erin Gruwell

The movie “Freedom Writers” is based off her story.  She’s a schoolteacher who went above and beyond her typical duties to see that 150 of the lowest graded students in her district were given a chance.  She had to find unique ways to reach out to them when initially they wanted nothing to do with her.  She brought up examples of specific students that she was able to connect with.  The most touching moment was when they brought out an actual student and presented her with a $20,000 scholarship.

Frans Johansson

Frans is up there with Sir Ken Robinson as surprisingly very good.  The best ideas emerge from different perspectives.  The people we know today who change the world are people who try more ideas.  We only know them for their successes, but in addition to that there are probably more fail stories that led to their successes.  The example he used was ice hotels in Sweden.  Initially the person who developed it, wanted to do ice sculptures, then an ice art gallery, then an ice event hall.  Each one didn’t take off the way he wanted.  It was only when backpackers asked if they could sleep there that the idea of an ice hotel came to be.  He was very captivating and interesting to listen to.

Suzy Welch and Alison Levine

It may be because it was towards the end of the day, but Suzy Welch didn’t grab me.  She had an audience with the mothers in the crowd; there was one lady who laughed out loud for a good 30 seconds straight at one of her stories about her kids showing up to one of her live events.  Her questions had to do with “When you are 70, what will you think of your life?” and “What do you think other people will have to say about you?”

Alison Levine, first of all, looks great for her age.  I thought she was in her late 20’s early 30’s, and I later found out she’s 45.  She’s had a lot of health setbacks in her life, but that didn’t stop her from climbing Mount Everest.  She spoke well, but I think her accomplishments are what make her stand out.  One thing I liked was how she said storms are temporary.  Be patient and the skies will clear.  Executing is more important than planning.

Dan Cathy & Muhtar Kent

Muhtar Kent is the CEO of Coca-Cola. D an Cathy is the CEO of Chick-fil-A.  I’ve seen this in the past, and I saw it here today.  This is no knock on Muthar Kent, and I am 100% certain he is a very smart man, and a true leader, but I don’t know if he’s the best public speaker.  Dan Cathy on the other hand, is a very well public speaker.  I think they make a good team speaking together.  One quote I liked from this session, “When a student is ready, a teacher will appear.”

Dave Ramsey

I don’t dislike Dave Ramsey, I just don’t always agree with him.  He thinks people who use credit over cash have a psychological tendency to spend more, even if they pay their bills in full at the end of the month.  I think if you stick to a budget and are smart with your money, you can use credit cards.  He thinks after saving $1000, you should pay all your debts before you start saving for anything else.  I think you should pay off all your high interest debts first, but if you have student loans or  a mortgage at low interest rates, that it is okay to save for retirement or other things.  I guess where he leans strongly toward one side, I try to meet in the middle.

Okay, I’m done ranting.  All in all, he gave a very good presentation.  The key points he talked about:

Leadership matters – leadership = service
People matter – your employees, your vendors, even your competitors matter.  They are not numbers, they are people with husbands, wives, and children.
Team matters.
Slow and steady matters – People don’t become sensations overnight, it takes time.  A crock pot is better than a microwave.
Financial principles matter (He didn’t get into everything I mentioned above, which I guess was a good thing.)
A higher power matters – Whether it’s someone on your team, your boss, your country, or your God.

Final Thoughts 

One last thought before I close it out.  The host, Tripp Crosby, did a great job.  There were little segues for certain speakers and they were absolutely hilarious.  He really kept people captivated through the entire event and I’d gladly watch him again.


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…which makes nothing a priority.  Below is a picture (click on it to get a larger view) of an agenda from a meeting on a specific project.  I’ve distorted the information that isn’t relevant to this article.  The area I want to focus on is the third column.  This meeting was held on August 31st.

image

The agenda has twelve items.  Four have a date of “August” and two are labeled “ASAP”.  The numbers 1-12 have nothing to do with priority.  They just happen to be ordered by the date the item was added to the list.

Each week, this group will meet, and run through the twelve items.  Is 1 more important than 7?  No one knows since they all have a high priority.  Here would be my suggestions:

Prioritize

Instead of ordering the items chronologically, order them by importance.  Number 1 is the most important and deserves the most attention.  Number twelve is just going to have to wait another day until we have more time and resources to focus on it.  Once an item gets crossed off the list, the others can shift appropriately.

Specific Deadlines

Rather than mark an item as “August” or “ASAP” give it a hard deadline.  People tend to focus on the quick wins and attention grabbers.  They’re probably shuffling 5 other projects besides what’s on this list.  With a vague deadline, your line item just got pushed to the bottom.

Offer realistic deadlines.  How realistic were these deadlines if everything is labeled as “August” and the meeting is held on August 31?  Don’t be too aggressive if you can’t meet the date.  Factor in other projects, holidays, potential unplanned activities, or any other possible distractions that will keep you from meeting your target date.  Nobody is perfect so don’t expect them to be.  Things will go wrong and you should factor that in.

Ownership

Hold one person responsible per line item rather than an entire department.  When someone sees a department as the owner of a specific task, they figure someone else will do it.  When they see their name next to a specific task, they know they are responsible for seeing that it gets done.

Keep a Backlog

Separate the list into 2 sections.  If something can’t start due to a dependency on another task, don’t bring it up each week.  If that task with a dependency is so important, bump up the priority on the task that is holding it back.  If an item has no progress from the previous week, find out why.  Is the right person assigned to the task?  Is it as important as you thought it would be, or should the priority be lower?

Once a month or so review the backlog for a large project.  If it isn’t feasible to get it in this timeframe, defer it for a later time and move it to a completely separate list for another project.  Which leads me to…

Keep Lists Small

This isn’t a complaint against the actual list I mentioned above, I think it does a good job of keeping it small. But I think it’s important and wanted to bring it up anyway.  If a list has 10-12 items, it’s very manageable.  Once a list gets too big, it’s too overwhelming.  People look at the list, freak out, and procrastinate.

Break large lists into a couple of smaller ones.  It’ll feel easier.  When you’re done with all the items on the first list, move onto the second.  It will make everything feel less stressful because you are managing smaller pieces at a time.

So there you have it.  Keep the above in mind the next time you work on a list for a project.  Hopefully things will go smoothly and work out for you.

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I came across this book by chance.  I heard of a great website called Basecamp that is used for managing small projects.  They sent me an email to the address I registered with about a book by the creators of the site.  I read some of the literary reviews on the front and jacket and was surprised not only at the names I saw (Seth Godin, Mark Cuban, Tom Peters, Tony Hseih), but also at what they had to say.  I was excited to find out what the book had to offer.

I was initially skeptical.  I was worried this was going to be one of those books where I could find myself relating to it because the ideas offered were pretty generic and could be applied to anything.  I was pleased when they proved me wrong.  There may be areas where I didn’t agree with their viewpoints, but overall I think it was an inspiring read.

Learning from Mistakes

To start however, I disagreed with the authors said the beginning where they discussed the concept that learning from your mistakes is overrated.  Instead, they suggest learning from your successes.

I think you should learn from both as long as they lead to growth and future successes.  They offer some pretty haunting statistics that people who fail initially will continue to do so.  The questions I have that aren’t answered here are:  What if someone with an entrepreneurial spirit happens to fail the first time, are they doomed forever?  What about people like Steve Jobs who has failed in the past but has also succeeded?

Much later on in the book, they talk about under-doing the competition.  They describe what a great product the Flip video recorder is, even with it’s minimal features.  However, Pure Digital Technologies, the company that developed the Flip video recorder, has failed in the past.  They started out by designing disposable digital cameras.  They had the same features as regular disposable cameras, but you could pick and choose which pictures you wanted to save or delete.  They had trouble selling these disposable digital cameras because people seemed to hold onto the ones they bought rather than dispose of them.  Had they not learned from their mistakes and improved, we would have never seen the intuitive Flip device.

Planning is Guessing

“Plans let the past drive the future.”  Plans are inconsistent with observation.  Planning hinders us from picking up opportunities that come along.  They actually recommend working without a plan.  We can pick up as we go along.  To blindly follow a plan that has no relationship with reality doesn’t make sense.

This is one area where I strongly agree with the authors, and one of the main reasons I bought the book since I saw this mentioned on the back cover.  Many projects I’ve participated in have required a ‘plan’.  Many projects I participated in have never met the plan date.  This is probably because…

…Interruption is the Enemy of Productivity

The authors say people who stay late and work weekends aren’t doing it because there is too much work to be done, they do it because they’re not getting enough done at work.  We’re not getting enough done at work because we’re constantly being interrupted.  Most of us get our work done early in the morning or late in the evening when there are less people to bother us.  The rest of the day is filled with monotonous meetings, emails that need replying, and chatty co-workers.

They recommend blocking off ‘alone time’ where people aren’t allowed to get in  our way.  They recommend some crazy rules like “No Talk Thursdays” or blocking off 10am-2pm on your schedule where no one can talk to you.

I say do whatever works for you.  Turn your email off, sign off of instant-messaging, and put your phone on Do-Not-Disturb.  If you work for a company that has multiple offices, pay the other location a visit and hide in a cubicle.  If they’re flexible about working from home, take advantage once in a while and get things done.

Meetings are Toxic

One item they mentioned that I liked was the thought that email trumps meetings.  Have you ever been on a productive email chain where there was back and forth between a group of people, with progress being made, only to have a manager say “instead of going back and forth maybe we should have a meeting…”  But think about it for a second.  Email let’s you think about it and absorb what is being said.  You don’t need an instant reply with half-thought comments.  If email is working, there’s no need to take a group of people away from what they’re working on so they can sit in a room and comment once every 10 minutes.

Some reasons why the authors are anti-meeting that I agree with:

  • They often include at least one moron who inevitably gets his turn to waste everyone’s time with nonsense
  • Meetings procreate.  One meeting leads to another, and another…

They also mention how meetings are like TV shows…regularly scheduled at a specific time each week.  So we set aside 30-60 minutes several times a week even if there’s little progress.  They recommend scheduling 7 minute meetings in Outlook if that’s all the time that’s needed.

Meetings are expensive.  If you invite 10 people to one meeting, that’s 10 hours of work you just lost.  Factoring in mental switching costs, they say it’s more like 15 hours of work lost.  Meetings are often liabilities, not assets.

Workaholism

I also liked what the book had to say about workaholism.  As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, I think working too hard has more drawbacks than benefits.  Co-workers tout how many extra hours they stayed late finishing up a project.  The authors call workaholism stupid.  “Working more doesn’t mean you care more or get more done.  It just means you work more.”

Workaholics work harder not smarter.  They throw hours at problems.  They make up for “intellectual laziness with brute force.”  It’s smarter to figure out you can’t do something and ask for help or to give up, than to throw endless hours at a problem.

Workaholics make people who work normal hours feel inadequate.  Now no one is happy because the workaholics are complaining and the normal working people don’t feel good enough.

Draw a Line in the Sand

Here is where I have some respect for the authors.  When I was testing out Basecamp (after dabbling in Microsoft Project in the past) there were features I wish it contained.  (Mainly to give tasks sub-tasks.)  But here they state their reason for not doing so (and leaving out other features that people might request) is to keep the product simple.  Although I may get frustrated when there’s something I want that they don’t do, I like the fact that they stuck to their guns and kept it simple.  They didn’t start adding features that would bloat and complicate the product.

An example from the book is a sub shop in Chicago.  The shop orders bread early in the morning and closes up when they run out.  When asked why they don’t order more, they replied that the bread isn’t as good later in the day.  A few extra dollars isn’t worth selling food they aren’t proud of.  Are  a few half-assed features worth selling a product you aren’t proud of?

Mission Statement Impossible

There’s a difference between truly standing for something and having a mission statement that says you stand for something.  They use an example of a car rental’s mission statement that promises to do all these great things and going ‘above and beyond’ to ensure customer satisfaction.  What really happens when you rent a car, is that the front desk is dirty, the room is cold, and they’re trying to sell you insurance.

I feel the same could be said for bland resume objectives, which I talk about here.  You need to stand by what you say, and don’t just write something fancy that makes you look good.  People will see right through you.

The More Massive an Object, the More Energy Required to Change Its Direction

I really like that statement.  When companies start out, they have less mass.  As they grow, the longer it takes to get things done.  Some items that increase mass that they mentioned:

  • Permanent decisions – Be careful what path you take.  You may make a choice you can’t turn back from.
  • Meetings – Standing meetings are useless.  I wish I could get up and leave when I feel like I have nothing to gain or give to the meeting.
  • Thick Process – You get longer than a couple pages on a process and you’ve lost my attention.  Keep it simple.  Use diagrams.
  • Long-term road maps – Technology changes.  People’s needs change.  Regulatory items come out of nowhere.
  • Office politics – Don’t be fake.  I can see right through it.  And it bothers me.

If you can avoid these things you can change direction more easily.  Huge companies take years to change direction because they talk instead of act, and meet instead of do.

Some Constraints are Good

You’re better off with a kick-ass half than a half-assed whole.  Do a few things really well than a lot of things in a mediocre fashion.  You can’t do everything and do it well.  There is a limit to how much time, money, and resources are available.  Once you push the limits on one, you sacrifice one of the other two along with quality.  Southwest chooses to only fly Boeing 737s.  If something breaks on a plane, they have the parts to repair it.  They keep their costs down.  Less is more.

Throw Less at the Problem

In typical situations, when things aren’t working out, people are inclined to throw more resources (people, time, money) at the problem.  All this does is exacerbate the problem.  Try cutting back instead.  I’ve seen this work in the real world on occasions.  Often people will come to me with a problem.  Sometimes, I delay in helping them right away.  A while later when I ask if they still need help, they told me they overcame the problem on their own.

Doing less forces people to think differently.  They have to base their decisions on the limited resources available to them.  If you keep trying to do more, deadlines will continue to be pushed back and budgets will continue to be exceeded.

Launch Now

Set artificial deadlines for yourself.  If you had to launch your product in 2 weeks, what would you cut?  Once your product does what it needs to do, get it out there.  Those other features can be done later.

I have mixed feelings about the above statements.  I agree small businesses need to get their product out there, but at the same time they can’t ship pure crap.  It has to be of a quality that customers are willing to accept.  Customers should be made aware of what your product does and does not do.  If not, you better have some good persuasion skills.  When a product I worked on first launched, the scheduling module didn’t work and the site was ready for training.  The trainer was a smooth talker, and in a Jedi style move, told the customer, “You’re not even open yet…why would you want to schedule now anyway?”  The customers were convinced, and the software was ready to schedule when they were.  A bold move, but it worked out in the end.

Illusions of Agreement

Another favorite section of mine.  They talk about how the business world is inundated with documents, reports, and processes that do nothing but waste people’s time.  No one reads them.  They take forever to make but only seconds to forget.

Instead of describing a process over 12 pages, write a 1 page diagram that shows the different steps.  Remove layers of abstraction.  If you’re writing requirements, create a picture instead of writing in paragraph form how it is supposed to work.

Your Estimates Suck

We have no idea how long something will take.  We estimate based on a ‘best case scenario’.  But somehow they end up slipping.  They recommend breaking up the project into smaller pieces that are more manageable.  The smaller something is, the easier it becomes to estimate.

Long Lists don’t get done

I’m a huge fan of making to-do lists.  For some reason I get satisfaction when I crossed items off.  They say long lists are burdensome, and recommend making shorter lists.  Break a list of 100 items into 10 lists of 10 items.  You’ll be less terrified to get started when you know you only have 10 items to tackle.  Feel free to re-arrange your lists as you complete items.

Be Original

If you copy others all you’re doing is catching up.  Your product will always be inferior.  Be influenced, but make sure you’re doing something different.

This reminds me of the difference between the Wii knockoffs you see in stores.  The Wii knockoffs are direct copies of the Wii Sports video game.  Companies that build these knockoffs make a quick profit but they don’t seem to be around for long.

Another way to prevent people from copying what you do is to inject unique qualities into your company that aren’t easily duplicated.  Zappos.com does this through exceptional customer service.  Customer service reps do not have scripts and have the power to do almost whatever it takes to make sure the customer is satisifed, as I also mentioned in this review of Seth Godin’s Tribes book.

Just Say No

You can’t do everything for everyone.  Sometimes you just have to say no.  Don’t avoid it because it makes you uncomfortable.  The example they used to drive the point is to imagine your a chef.  If a group of customers say your food is too salty or too hot, you make a change.  If a customer asks you to put bananas in your lasagna, you have to turn them down.  “Making a few vocal customers happy isn’t worth it if it ruins the product for everyone else.”

When you do say no, do it in a polite manner.  Be honest.  Explain why you can’t do something for them.  They go as far as to suggest recommending them to a competitor instead.  Better to have them happy with someone else, than miserable with you.  Which leads to the next topic…

Let Your Customers Outgrow You

The scenario they use is to imagine you have a customer that pays your company a lot of money.  In the past, you’ve tried to please them in every way.   You tweak and change the product for this one customer’s request and you start to alienate your original customer base.  Then one day, that customer decides to leave you.  Now you’re left with a product with features that are useless to all of your remaining customers.

They recommend working on features that will help you grow new customers.  If you focus only on your existing customers, you become too tailored to them and stop creating features that would pull in new clients.

The authors had customers give them heat for not adding features to their product.  The customers’ business was changing and the authors’ product wouldn’t work for them anymore.  The authors said no.  Their reasoning was simple:  They would rather have their older customers outgrow their product than never be able to grow into them in the first place.  Don’t add so many features into your product that you overwhelm the new users from ever wanting to use it.

Don’t Write It Down

They pose the question, “How do you keep track of what customer’s want?”  And they answer it with, “Don’t.”  I actually did this test with some people at the company where I work.

If you don’t write it down, you’ll remember the important things.  The things that come up over and over again.  Customers and co-workers will keep reminding you.  If there’s a request that you keep forgetting, it’s a sign that it isn’t very important.  It’s the ones that are constantly presented to you that are really important.

Build an Audience

Companies have customers.  Lucky ones have fans.  But the luckiest have audiences.  An audience comes to you on their own.  Compare the cost of the work involved in trying to attract audiences with that of spending tons of money on advertising and trying to reach the right people.

When you have an audience you don’t have to buy they’re attention, they give it to you.  So start slow.  Create a blog, join twitter, speak in public, whatever it takes to slowly build your audience.  Then when you need to say something important, people will already be listening.

It’s Okay If You’re Not Perfect

They say it’s okay not to be perfect.  It may not seem as professional, but it will seem a lot more genuine.  Personally, I’m a huge fan of this, because it’s what I’d like to see if someone was presenting something to me.  On the flip side, I think you have to know your audience.  If they’re expecting perfection, and you have flaws, you better handle that well.  If you try to hide your imperfections and they see through it, you’re in trouble.

Press Releases Are Spam

One place I worked at emailed everyone in the company a press release as they sent them to customers.  And if I thought our own press releases were annoying, I can only imagine what our customers thought.  (In the book they refer to press releases as being sent to journalists, but I’m reviewing this book as it relates to me.)

They refer to a generic pitch sent to hundreds of strangers spam.  They’re not personal.  Your  introduction to the people reading them is too vague to make a connection.  They recommend reaching out to people via email or telephone instead.  That’ll make you stand out far better than some generic press release.

Resumes are a Farce

Resumes are a joke, filled with action verbs that don’t mean anything.  Responsibilities and job titles are hardly accurate.  In reviewing resumes in the past, I’ve found this to often be true.  You have to be careful with what you put on a resume, because the interviewer can call you out on it.  You better be able to talk about that glorified bullet point.

People who take the shotgun approach haven’t done any research on the companies they’re applying to and should be avoided.  I’ve talked here and here why the shotgun approach should be avoided.

5 Years Experience Means Nothing…

I have a friend who is hesitant to put his resume online without staying at a job for 3 years.  He thinks 3 years shows loyalty and dedication to the job.  I say you’re sitting around, procrastinating, and stalling.  You have nothing to lose and everything to gain by putting some feelers out.

The authors believe that number of years experience mean nothing.  A baseline experience is required, but after that what difference does 3 years experience doing a particular job have over 2 years and 2 months?  They say it may take as little as six months to learn a skill, but after that the curve flattens out.  The people that want to do well will learn fast.

…The Same Can be Said for Formal Education

Your GPA in college doesn’t matter.  90% of the CEO’s running the top 500 American companies didn’t go to Ivy League colleges.  Moreover, some of the things you learned in school shouldn’t be applied in the business world:

  • In school, the longer a document is, the better.  In the business world, the longer a document is, the more likely it won’t get read.  (Same goes for emails.)
  • In school, using big words looks impressive.  In the business world, you want to keep it simple to make sure all audiences understand what you are saying.
  • In school, the format is just as important as the content.  In the business world, I care more about understanding what you have to say than how you present it.

Hire Great Writers

If ever deciding between more than one person to fill a position, the authors recommend hiring the best writer.  They believe their writing skills will pay off, regardless of the position.  Clean writing is a sign of clear thinking.  Good writers make things easy to understand.  They know their audience.

Test Drive Employees

Some people are pros at interviewing.  Too bad they don’t always work like pros.  In contrast, maybe they don’t interview all that great but they turn out to be great workers. If possible, hire people for mini projects to feel them out.  See how they react to certain situations, and evaluate their work ethic.  If it goes well, you can choose to keep them.

Everyone on the Front Lines

A former co-worker mentioned this in the past and I fully support it.  In the book they refer it it as the ‘front-of-house/back-of-house’ split.  The developers work in the ‘kitchen’ while customer support handles the customers.  The problem is that the chefs never hear what the customers are saying directly.  As an example, they use the children’s game Telephone.  You have a group of ten kids transmitting a message down the line.  By the time it gets to the last person, the message is distorted.  The more people you have between the customer and the developer, the more likely their message will become blurred.

In the book they recommend that everyone in the company interact with the customer a few times a year.  I think it would be awesome if developers took customer support calls or held focus groups that totaled 5 days a year.  It would allow them to see what customers really think of their work.  I don’t think that’s asking for much.

Trust Your Employees

If everything constantly needs your approval, you create a culture of non-thinkers.  It makes them think you don’t trust them.  “What do you gain by banning employees from visiting a social-networking site or watching a YouTube video?”  You will gain nothing.  The time doesn’t convert to work.  They’ll just figure out another way to not do work.

Better Hours is Greater Than More Hours

The real title of this section is “Send people home at 5.”  The dream employee for most companies is someone in their twenties with no life outside of work.  They counter that argument saying it may not be as great as it seems.  It perpetuates the myth that “this is the only way.”

People will work harder at work when they have something (or someone) to go home to.  They will be more efficient because they want to get out of there.  They use their time wisely.

ASAP is Poison

I ignore emails from people if they abuse the use of ASAP.  The authors go into detail here on why people should stop using the term.  Essentially, ASAP is implied.  If you start using ASAP in all your emails, all of a sudden everything is a high priority, which in effect makes nothing a high priority.

If a task doesn’t get done this very instant, more often than not, it will be okay.  It won’t cost you your job, cost the company a ton of money, and it will save you unneeded stress.

You can only do one thing at a time.  Reserve the use of ASAP for true emergencies.  A true emergency is where there are direct, measurable consequences to inaction.  For everything else, there’s time to think it through.

Final Thoughts

Rework is a quick read, and I found it to be one of my favorites.  Their ideas are inspiring and can be used to get the ball rolling if things are feeling stale.

It is mainly geared to entrepreneurs and small businesses.  I don’t think many of their ideas can be applied to large companies as it is too late in the game for them to enact many of the tips in the book.

I would say this is a must read for anyone who has the power or the inspiration to create change. I may have disagreed with their thoughts on failure at the beginning, but I really liked what they had to say in the rest of the book.  I’d say more, but I have a 7 minute meeting to attend.

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Entrepreneur’s February 2009 issue had a really good article that explains how you can analyze a company by all the things that happen while you are at the interview.  Some examples in my recent past directly apply to this article.

All the Small Things

The first thing the article says to look out for is the small things.  Did the company validate your parking?  Did they offer to help with directions on getting in or out of the building?  Did they offer you anything to drink, or ask if you need to use the bathroom?  This tells me whether or not they care about their people.  If they are not taking care of me, what does that say about the way they treat their employees?

When I interviewed at my last job, I had to meet with 3 different people.  When I got there, the person I met with asked me if I needed to use the bathroom or wanted a drink of water.  He repeated asking me this after the first 2 interviews.  The way he treated me gave me a really good impression that he takes care of his employees.  I ended up taking the job, and my impressions were right.  He put people first, and his team was successful.

Interviewer’s Priorities Reflect Company’s Priorities

The article goes on to say that if the interviewer is late and seems to be viewing the resume for the first time that it is a clue that the company is somewhat hectic and unorganized.  If the interviewer isn’t enthused about the company mission and work responsibilities, how can the interviewee be?

One time I referred a friend to a job opening at a place where I was working.  His interview was scheduled for 4:00pm, and he had to meet with three people.  Another meeting was scheduled that involved 3 of the people at 4:30pm.  The first person interviewed with my friend and he wrapped up around 4:25pm.  Rather then postpone, delay, or not attend the meeting, one of the other two people decided the candidate could wait until after the meeting because they thought it would end quickly.  The meeting did not get out until 5:15pm.  That meant my friend was waiting in a conference room for 45 minutes.  Even if it was not my friend, I would not feel comfortable about this situation.  It just sends the wrong message about where the company’s priorities lie.  They put deadlines and meetings ahead of people.

Good Cop Bad Cop

The article discusses the types of questions interviewers ask during interviews.  Are they too difficult?  Too easy?  Do they even apply?  If the questions are too easy the article says the job might not be challenging enough.  If the questions are too difficult or do not apply, it is almost as if the interviewer is trying to prove they are smarter than the candidate.

This has never happened to me personally, but I have a friend that went on an interview once that had a similar experience.  The interviewer asked really tough questions, and seemed very cocky.  This turned off my friend, and he didn’t even contemplate taking the job.

A Good Fit

The article wraps up with the writer describing how he got his current job.  His interviewer asked challenging but applicable questions.  It allowed the interviewer to evaluate his skill level.  The author also felt he could learn a lot from the interviewer.  This would also be important to me.  If  you are considering taking on a challenging job, you would be better off if your manager could help guide you in difficult times.  If your manager isn’t that type of person, you better be a great self-starter or already know everything there is to know about the job.

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This book is all about rejecting the status quo, leading your own tribe, and getting people to come along.  If this movement can be successful then companies can thrive.  Anyone in the organization can lead.  Individuals have more leverage than ever before.  Your idea could change the game.  Take a stand.  Make a difference.

A tribe is a group of people who are connected to one another, a leader, and an idea.  Tribes are everywhere.  With the help of the internet, they don’t need to be localized.

The Factory

Many of us are stuck working for companies who follow archaic rules.  They not only try to avoid change, but they actively fight it. We’re pessimistic and are worried about the outcome of change. We manage instead of lead.  The problem is that without change you cannot sustain your success.  Examples used in the book included AOL and Sears. Once successful companies at the top of their game, they are now lost in the shuffle amid better companies who embraced change.

An example that might be relevant to today’s culture, is Facebook.  A few years ago MySpace was #1 in the social networking world.  Then Facebook started to change.  At first people resisted the change creating groups “Bring back the old Facebook.”  But look at Facebook now.  It proudly sits at #1 because they kept innovating.  Even as Twitter has emerged, Facebook keeps adding features to remain competitive.  And when was the last time you logged into your MySpace account?  Better yet, when was the last you made a change to your MySpace page?

Managers vs. Leaders

A manager completes tasks assigned to them by someone else.  They don’t encourage change because they do not feel that it is required of them.  They are worried they will get fired.  Leader’s don’t care for this organizational structure or process.

I recently heard stories from friends of mine who received very negative, one could say threatening, emails from their managers in attempts to motivate them.  Rather than saying, “What did we miss?  How could we have done this better?  Let’s look at it together and see what we can do.”  the worker was told, “You can be sure this will be mentioned on your review.  I can’t believe what a poor job this was.”  I think the manager felt threatened about the quality of his worker, but did not react in a way to make his worker want to do better.  In a similar situation, after a delivery went bad, a manager sent out an email to his team saying “Maybe you guys should update your resumes with the results of this project.”  If that was sent to me, I would have updated my resume all right.

A tribe contains a leader with motivated employees.  The employee wouldn’t need to be reprimanded, because they would want to improve their work.  In a tribe, the leader and the employees under him have common interests.

Average and Mediocre

Companies often strive to maintain the status quo.  This will work in a stable environment.  But with new technology and the recent economic events nothing is stable.  Time moves too fast, and if you don’t change to keep up you’ll be left behind.  Instead people fight hard to defend the status quo and prevent change.  It wears them out.  It’s like being stuck on a sinking ship with nothing but a bucket to move incoming water.  They don’t have time to patch the hole, or even to try and figure out where it’s coming from.  They’re too busy moving the water.  Sooner or later that ship will sink.

Companies that destroy the status quo will survive.  It is up to the leaders within these companies to push for this to happen.  We can be the leaders.  It doesn’t matter where we fall on the org chart.  We just need to speak up, and motivate enough people to see the need for change. “In unstable times, growth comes from leaders who create change and engage their organizations, instead of from managers who push their employees to do more for less.”

The Peter Principle

The Peter Principle states that a company will reward a good employee by promoting him to a level where he becomes incompetent.  “Johnny is a really good Support Rep, the best we’ve got.  Let’s promote him to Support Lead.”  Johnny ends up being a terrible lead.  He was great at a support rep and working with customers, but he just doesn’t have the management or leadership skills.  This, in a nutshell, is the theory behind the Peter Principle.

Godin states that this can be counter-acted if the right people are promoted.  Leaders will realize that their skill set may not be the best fit for the new position, but being aware of this, they will learn what is required to do the job well.

If we are aware that we are not good at a new position, we’ll do what we can to try and be better at the position.  However, I see ‘The Peter Principle’ happening too often in the real world.  People are put in the wrong positions progress slows.  It would be ideal if the leaders above them then work with these people to try and make them better at their job.  In today’s world of ASAP and “have to have it now” leaders would have a hard time doing both their job and mentoring their subordinates.

Curious George

Godin says there are 2 kinds of people:  fundamentalists and the curious.  Fundamentalists consider whether a fact is acceptable to their belief before they accept it.  A curious person will explore first and then consider whether or not they accept the ramifications.  A curious person will embrace the tension between his core beliefs and something new.  They will think heavily on it and come to a decision on whether or not to embrace it.

This small section of the book may have been my favorite.  I immediately thought of when some people discuss politics.  Regardless of weighing the pros and cons of one side, they immediately take the side of their political party.  “This is what my party believes therefore I believe it to be right.”  I prefer to weigh each topic separately.  It bothers me when people see things always as black or white; a lot of topics have a grey area, and there is no right or wrong answer.  Learn as much as you can before you make a choice.  Be curious.

A Leader Gets His Hands Dirty

Today’s society leads us to believe that leaders are egotistical and driven by fame and recognition.  Godin says the opposite is often true.  Leaders who give are more productive than leaders who take.  An example describes how leaders sometimes sit in cubicles with their co-workers.  I witnessed this at one of my former jobs.  Often the office manager would sit in the cubes with his co-workers and make sure everyone was doing okay.  He ended up getting a very nice promotion.  His leadership skills are what led him to the new role.  I think he’ll be successful in anything he chooses to do.

Another example Godin mentions is how Jimmy Carter now builds houses for Habitat for Humanity.  Leaders like this get ‘paid’ by watching their tribe thrive.

Someone towards the top of the pyramid that doesn’t get their hands dirty is too far from the action to make a difference.  If they don’t see the day to day activities they aren’t in a position to make an impact.  A leader who works hard to get to the top, remembers what it took to get him there, and then remains involved with his tribe will be successful.

Leadership and Bravery

Leadership requires acting like the underdog.  Managers follow rules, they live by the book.  Following the book is hard work but it feels safe.   Leaders challenge the rule book.  They recommend things that don’t exist yet.  This takes bravery.  Managers are happy to do just enough to get by.  Real leaders fight for a worthy cause that people want to join.

The easiest thing we can do is react to something.  The second easiest thing we can do is respond to it.  The hardest thing to do is to initiate something.  Leaders initiate.  When others take themselves out of the game, leaders swoop in and create opportunities for themselves.

A line in the book I says “The status quo is persistent and resistant.”  People think that what they have is better than the risk and fear that comes with the unknown.

Life is Short

Life is too short to be both unhappy and mediocre.  We shouldn’t keep counting the days until our next vacation; rather we should construct our lives in such a way that we don’t feel like we need to escape.

Thermostats vs. Thermometers

A thermostat is much more valuable than a thermometer.  All a thermometer does is indicate the status of something.  The thermostat has the ability to change the environment.  This goes back to previous posts where I’ve disagreed with metrics.  A metric is a thermometer.  You need to do something about the results of those numbers if you want to see changes.  You can’t just have meetings explaining the results of the quarter and expect things to change for next quarter.  You need an action plan.  Godin says every organization needs at least one thermostat.  I would debate that in a very successful company you have a thermostat in every department.

Maintain the Status Quo

People show up to work every day.  They do the same thing they did last week.  They expect something to change because they are following processes. Isn’t one of the definitions of insanity doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting a different result?

Customer service reads from scripts and escalate issues to the next tier.  Successful companies like Zappos don’t use scripts.  Successful employees would want to learn how to solve a problem instead of escalating it.  Successful companies would encourage employees to do this.

People go through these routines because they feel they have to, not because they necessarily want to.  It leads to ‘the long slow death of the stalled organization.’  Leadership is the antidote.

Believe in what you do, do what you believe.  If it’s any good people will follow you.

Connecting

Godin makes a lot of strong statements that really make you evaluate yourself and how you present your ideas.  For example, if you hear my idea and don’t believe it, that’s my fault.  If you see my product and don’t buy it, it’s my fault.  If you don’t learn what I am teaching, I have let you down.

I can design my products so that you will want to learn more.  I can make them user friendly.  I can captivate an audience when I am teaching.  The choice is mine.

Recruit

When you are trying to get people to join your tribe, don’t start with the leader of the opposition.  You are better off persuading individuals who have not attached themselves to a philosophy yet.  If you can convince them to join your tribe, others will see the benefits and follow.

Try Something New

The Los Angeles Philharmonic is a very well known orchestra who needed a new conductor.  They could have picked one from the resume pool of thousands of applicants.  They hired a 26 year old newbie from Venezuela named Gustavo Dudamel instead.

They could have went with the tried and true.  But they went with something new.  They wanted something that could attract new audiences.  They got that with Gustavo.

Positive Deviants

Leaders can appear throughout the ranks in an organization.  Managers do not like deviants.  A deviant goes against standard processes which a manager sees as a failure.  A manager tries to get rid of deviants.  Leaders understand that change is necessary.  Change allows processes to become more productive, leading to happier people.  A leader welcomes deviants.

The Peanut Butter Manifesto

Brad Garlinghouse, a former Yahoo employee wrote a very persuasive memo to his superiors.  He noticed the flaws in the company’s strategy and offered solutions on how they can improve.  The full text can be found here, and I highly recommend you read it.  The memo was leaked and featured in the Wall Street Journal.  It started a chain of events that led to the CEO’s departure and kept Yahoo breathing for a few more years.  (Ironically as of this writing Brad has left Yahoo and joined AOL.  It looks like he enjoys fixing companies that were once #1 but have since taken a hit.  Maybe his next job will be at MySpace.)

Now

Godin says that the very nature of leadership is that we’re not doing what has been done before.  If we were we would be following instead of leading.  It is up to us to make the choice to lead.  We can do what thousands of others have done in the past.  Or we can try something new.

In closing Godin asks us if we’ve gotten anything out of the book, perhaps by highlighting or post-it-ing it to death, to give this copy to someone else.  I’ll leave a copy of this book on the bookshelf in my office.  I encourage you to read it for yourself, and put it back for the next person.

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Inc Magazine had a great article in their April issue aimed towards helping companies find talented candidates in a crowded talent pool.  I read the article and thought, “I can turn this around, so it can be applied to the candidates themselves.  The same tips they are telling the companies to look for in people can be used to stand out to those companies.  It’s win-win.”

The Problem for Both: The Shotgun Approach Has a Low Success Rate

The article opens with a story about a Dallas fast-food chain looking to hire 32 employees in anticipation of opening a new store.  They posted positions on the 2 major online job boards (Monster and CareerBuilder).  They bought ads in the Dallas Morning News and advertised over the local radio stations.  The result:  10,000 resumes.  It’s the recruiting version of the shotgun approach.  “Just send out as many postings as possible, that’ll give us the most resumes to look through…”  The problem:  They didn’t focus their efforts.  Blasting the openings out across all media outlets will result in all different kinds of people with all different kinds of skill sets applying for positions.  The same can be said for applicants who send their resume to 1000 different job postings in the hopes that someone will bite.  I wrote here and here how this just doesn’t work.

Solution 1: Focus on the Industry

It’s okay to use job boards, but go local.  For recruiters, this allows them to reduce the number of applicants that don’t have the qualifications.  For candidates, this narrows the competition because not everyone uses the local job boards.  You stand out more.  The article lists a lot of unique websites but I would recommend doing your own searches to find out what works best for your needs.

Solution 2: Make Sure the Resume Has the Right Words

The article recommends using special recruiting software that is designed to automate the screening process.  It helps companies narrow the results by ruling out candidates that do not have enough education, or aren’t skilled in a particular area.  For candidates, my recommendation would be to make sure your resume contains the facts needed to get through these screeners.  If the job you are applying for requires project management skills make sure it is mentioned in your resume.

Solution 3:  Pass the Test

They recommend testing the candidates early in the process to measure various skills.  Examples used are typing speed, QuickBooks knowledge, or even people skills.  My recommendation: You probably shouldn’t be applying to the job if you don’t think you are going to pass the test.

Solution 4:  It’s Who You Know

This one is obvious.  Use social-networks such as Linked-In, or ask friends for referrals.  Try and find someone that works at the company and reach out to them.  Being referred internally greatly increases your chances compared to an outsider.

Final Thoughts

It was very easy to apply these recommendations to the candidate even though the article was written for companies.  If you’re stuck in your search don’t be afraid to try to apply a story written for them and relate it to your situation.  Who knows, it just might work.

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I can’t remember how I first heard about Seth Godin.  I added his blog to my Google Reader and have been a fan ever since.  He creates new blog posts daily.  They’re usually short and direct, which is ideal for me.  I recently read The Dip, and here’s what I thought about it and how I relate to it.

What exactly is the Dip?

I interpret the Dip as ‘the point of no return’.  It’s when you are excited to try something new but don’t know a lot about it yet.  So you dive right in.  It’s fun at first, but then you get to a point where a little more skill is required.  Do you stick it out, or do you quit?  That’s where the dip lies.  Sure, you’ll learn a new language.  You buy Rosetta Stone or books on tape.  You do the first couple of lessons and never use them again.  That’s the dip.  You want to learn how to create flash animations.  You buy a book on Flash, read the first chapter, and it collects dust on your bookshelf.  That’s the dip.  You want to lose 15 pounds.  You tell yourself you are going to go to the gym 5 days a week and start eating right.  On day two you have a headache and decide to skip the gym and pick up McDonald’s.  You tell yourself you’ll start tomorrow instead.  That’s the dip.

At first whatever it is you are doing is new and exciting.  But then there’s the dip.  The dip is when it gets hard.  You have to make a choice.  Do you realize it’s not for you and quit, or do you tough it out and reach the other side?  It’s okay to quit if you know it’s not for you.  But quit when you reach the beginning of the dip, don’t do it when your at the bottom.  If you do it when you’re at the bottom of the dip you’ve wasted a lot of your time.  If you can get through the dip, and WANT to get through the dip, then you’ll be one of the best at what you chose to do. Benefits come to the smart people who push through the dip because only a tiny number of people can manage to do this.  Benefits also come to the smart people that quit early and are able to focus their efforts on something that is a better fit for them.

The toughest part is deciding what dips we should quit early on and what dips we should push through.  Whichever ones we decide to stick with, we should be aim to be the best there is for that market.

Last House on the Left – The Cul-De-Sac

Another term mentioned often throughout the book is the ‘cul-de-sac’.  The author describes it as a situation where you work and nothing changes.  It doesn’t get better or worse, things remain the same.  It’s a dead-end job.  If you want to grow as a person, you need to get off it fast once you realize you are in one.  Being in a cul-de-sac prevents you from doing other things.  The types of people I picture in cul-de-sacs are those semi-retired middle aged women working in the local bookstore to pass the time during the day.  They are there for the job, but don’t see a need to move on up.  They really don’t care to satisfy the customer or make their day special.  If your goal is to make it to the top, you don’t want to be in a dead-end job. You should always look to be growing.  Give yourself and your employees something to work towards.  It will motivate them each day to work hard.

An Example

A good example the author uses to explain the dip is with snowboarding.  It sounds new and exciting, so you think about taking it up.  Learning even the basic skills is where the dip lies.  It takes a few days to learn the simple skills during which you will catch a few bruises.  It’s easier to quit than to keep going.  Therefore, the brave thing is to tough it out and get all the benefits that come from scarcity.  However the mature thing is not to start if you know you likely won’t make it through the dip.  The stupid thing to do is to start, waste a lot of time and money, and quit right in the middle of the dip.

Diversification Doesn’t Always Work

Record companies hire thousands of artists hoping one makes it big.  A job-seeker takes a shotgun approach and sends his resume to 100 different companies hoping one will respond.  These people are relying on luck.

Real success is rewarded to those who focus their efforts.  An example Godin uses is a woodpecker can tap 20 times on a thousand trees and get nowhere, or the woodpecker can tap 20,000 times on one tree and get dinner.  The bird focused his efforts, and he was successfully rewarded.

Why Get Through the Dip?

Getting through the dip makes you scarce, perhaps irreplaceable.  Seth Godin recommends cancelling the space shuttle program because it is a cul-de-sac.  No one has the guts to cancel it.  However, if it did get cancelled, it would force us to invent a better alternative. People stick with it because it’s easier to stick with something that we’re used to. I feel the same way about the auto industry; I would not have minded seeing companies the government supported not get help, since it would have led to newer, better, more efficient companies.  I have thoughts about the airline industry as well, not in terms of getting rid of them, but I feel there has to be a more efficient process to board and un-board passengers, taxi planes, etc.  It takes more time to board and take off than it does to fly.

Average is for Losers

The author says that the next time we realize we’re being average and feel like quitting we have only two choices.  Quit, or be exceptional.  Average is for losers.  This is a wake up call to people at the crossroads in their career.

When To Quit

When it’s a dead-end.  When you have a mountain to climb and the reward at the top isn’t worth the effort to get there.  We don’t have the time to be the best at the projects that excite us and at the ones that don’t.  When you’re wasting your time coping.  Our time is better spent doing something else.

My Assignment

Seth recommends to write down the circumstances with which we are willing to quit, and when.  I’ve kept mine private, but they are written down.

Final Thoughts

This book opens up your eyes when you’re stuck.  Don’t settle for mediocrity.  Just because you are breathing does that mean you are alive?  Don’t stick around because it’s easy.  Don’t stick around because you are comfortable.  Don’t stick around out of fear of the unknown.  Stick around if you think you can make a difference.  Stick around if you think you can be the best.  Stick around when you can conquer the beast that is the dip.

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