5 Wrong Things Experts Told Me

September 12, 2010

This blog originally appeared in Innovation DAILY.

One of the dangers of being a good listener is that, well — you listen. Combine this with a tendency to believe that other people generally know what they are talking about, and you’ve got the setup for entrepreneurial enervation.

Herein, five of the most off-target ‘truths’ that business experts inflicted on my entrepreneurial soul:

1. If you are working too many hours, you’re doing something wrong.

MYTH! The 4-hour workweek? Who’s kidding whom? Maybe this is relevant if your goal is near-total retirement or some other ‘lifestyle option’. Or perhaps you have created a totally self-service online business, have outsourced the satisfaction of your personal needs, and your ambition is a life of leisure. But if you are a bootstrapping a company, or you want to change the world with your innovation, be prepared to sweat. And besides, if you know how to build a quality team and you have a worthy goal, why would you want to NOT work?

2. You should be able to define what you do in 10 words or less, and your great grandmother should understand it.

MYTH! OK, I overstated the criteria just for effect. It’s true that eventually you’ll need a very succinct and accessible value proposition, so you can get people to invest in it, and get the buzz going. But if you know where you want to go and you are only beginning to find your way, focusing on a ‘high concept’ pitch can be counterproductive. This happened in my own company!  We had been advised to sell TGI Role-Based Assessment as an ‘innovative Talent Management Solution’ and went nowhere.  Finally we reassessed the situation and realized that “RBA predicts whether a person is a top team-player…..before you hire them” and can “Make the workplace a better place to work.”

Going from point A to point B took us nine months and innumerable refinements. Start with a vision paper of about three or four thousand words. You can trim down later, but at least you’ll know the outer limits of your possibilities and can make better choices about how to achieve them. And forget the opinions of grandmothers, great and otherwise. There’s a saying that “People can only understand new things in terms of something they already understand.” My mother never got what I do. I shiver at the mere hint of what her mother would have thought.

3. Entrepreneurs are not made, they are born….with at least one Y chromosome.

MYTH! I am living, breathing proof. But I have been told this is impossible–and not years ago, when I started my first company. This was in 2010!  And you wonder why there are so few women entrepreneurs? Enough for THAT expert. But he is not alone. If we women are forever having to prove ourselves (an even more pronounced requirement when said woman is of the petite variety) then this is the one wrong thing I am actually concerned may become the truth. Man-up and listen: it’s what’s inside. Give me people with great teaming characteristics and I don’t care if they wear ties or mascara, or both.

4. You need to pay someone to sell for you because Founders can’t sell.

MYTH! This is the one you get from out-of-work sales people, and from morons. Sometimes you get the related myth that you can’t sell until you take the sales training being offered. Think about this. Who knows your product better than you? And who has more passion for it? (Hint: if you actually had an answer for that second question, you aren’t an entrepreneur.) You need these things: the ability to TALK…and LISTEN…and ASK THE RIGHT QUESTIONS. Enough said. Read ‘SPIN Selling’ or anything else by Neil Rackham. You’re smart enough to figure out how to apply it to what you do.

5. Starting a business isn’t easy.

MYTH! Starting a business is very easy. Keeping it going is hard. What does it take to keep it going?

First, you need to recognize that the trip from single person start-up to functioning business team is a HUGE transition. You will have to stop doing a lot of things you’ve been doing just because they had to get done, and you will need to entrust them to other people. Then you will need to get out of their way. You will need to set standards for respect and communication on the team, and you will also have to live up to them! You will have to be a better, smarter person–probably better than you have ever been, and you will need to surround yourself with people who can do likewise. (Make sure those people are Coherent, with the right Role-fit to their job responsibilities, and have great teaming characteristics, of course.)

Finally, remember that further growth means those interrelationships will have to grow too. Some people who love the challenge of going zero to sixty in record time, but they have no interest in driving a bus….or even a race car.

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I love when a company takes responsibility for its mistakes, but it’s even more impressive when a company steps up to solve a problem that they didn’t even cause.

Case in point: the order from Philosophy that the post office saw fit to return to sender instead of deliver to me, sitting here in my office in the center of Philadelphia, at a well-known address. Apparently the handoff went fine from Fedex, but a postal employee couldn’t – or wouldn’t – figure out what to do with the correctly addressed package.

So I called Philosophy’s customer care line and before I could say a demanding word, the representative cheerfully offered to send replacements immediately so I’d get my order in a day or two. Let me make that clear: no blame-shifting, no having to call a supervisor. Just an employee making it right for a customer.

Cristina, you not only have great products, you empower your employees to stand behind them – no matter where the fault for non-performance lies.

That is the essence of the great CEO.

A few months ago, the experts at Right Management surveyed more than 900 workers in North America, asking a seemingly innocuous question: “Do you plan to pursue new job opportunities as the economy improves in 2010?”

These were the responses

  • 60% said they intend to leave in 2010
  • 21% said they might, so they’re networking
  • 6% said it wasn’t likely, but they have an updated resume
  • And only 13% stated their intention is to stay in their present job

You can look at this data in two contexts.

First, you can think of what it means on the employee level and glean some pretty useful plans.  You can ‘do the math’ and realize you might be needing to replace up to 87% of your workforce.  You can hire another recruiter – or ten.  You can change your comp and incentive plans to try to keep your mission-critical people.  You can even start cross training, internship, mentoring, engagement, and similar programs.

Or, for something completely different, you can think about your workforce as a human infrastructure.  How could it have become so fragile? How can it be restored? What have we been missing? How can we avoid repeating the same mistakes?

Obviously something has been missing, and there’s a good chance that you need to learn the ‘new math’ of valuing people’s performance in teams.  And to avoid making the same mistakes, get answers to these questions before you launch a massive recruiting drive:

  • What do we really need to accomplish: adding more people, or building a sustainable human infrastructure?
  • If it’s true that people leave managers, not companies, what’s the best way to identify and support managers who naturally get people to ‘stick around’, and how can we replicate their success?
  • Are we using measurements that were designed to identify teaming characteristics and to solve team performance problems?  If not, why not?
  • Have we structured our teams correctly, ensuring that the teaming characteristics of the people are a good fit to the functional mission of the team?

And finally:
What’s our strategy for identifying and dealing the people who just don’t fit – never have and never will?

Could it be that you never had the right people on the bus in the first place?

This piece originally appeared in Innovation DAILY, February 27, 2010.

Humility Breeds Trust

March 8, 2010

Since so many CEO failures are caused by failure to put the right people in the right job, and the related failure to fix people problems in time, the big question is, why do such smart people make such bad decisions?

One reason is approaching the problem and believing that you already know the solution. Starting with a full mind leaves no room for new perceptions. Performance is highly linked to how much trust is in the DNA of the culture. And we know more about how to destroy that trust than we know how to build it.

Most people’s default is to trust others and to expect to be trusted. They assume that everyone is headed in the same direction, toward the achievement of the vision. Then they crash into someone who neither respects nor returns that trust. They have their first experience of disenchantment.

Sometimes it’s the rigid, Machiavellian boss who promises you’ll get to try your wings on an exciting project and then clips them mid-air. Sometimes it’s the co-worker who has little original thinking but is happy to take credit for your work.

If you want to lead a trust-based organization, you should start by focusing on bottom-line results. If you believe the hype about leaders, you’ll think that all it takes is a lot of charisma and a great story. That helps. But neither vision nor execution alone gives you bottom-line results—they require vision plus planning plus execution plus follow through.

You can’t do all that yourself. No one can focus on all of these at the same time and accomplish anything. Teams can achieve what an individual cannot, but only if there is diversity of style and focus, and a leader who realizes that no one can be everything. Humility will keep you from flying into the sun, unlike poor Icarus who was gifted with many qualities of leadership — save the humility that would have allowed him to listen to others who warned him that things were going to heat up far beyond his control.

Here are some suggestions for building your trust-based organization:

  • You don’t have to be a member of a 12-step program to take a fearless inventory. Is your default arrogance or humility? Do you know how you affect those who work with and for you?
  • Remember to balance the needs of the organization with the needs of the people. You won’t know what those needs are unless you know people as individuals and understand what motivates them. A good measure of your humility will be your lack of surprise when you realize that what motivates you most is not necessarily what motivates them most.
  • Understand that there is great value in the diversity of other people’s styles and roles. People who don’t think the way you do are tremendously valuable to you in solving problems and coming up with innovative ideas. Listen carefully to all of them, and understand each point of view and carefully consider it even if, at first, you don’t agree with it. If you turn it down, do it with respect and gratitude for their act of trusting you with it.
  • Earn the best team you can get. Engage them in your process — vision, execution, evaluation — and make it a living process. Set team goals that are challenging but attainable and lavishly reward the entire team for achieving them. Rewards can be non-financial and just as effective as long as they are oriented to what motivates each individual.
  • Remember your origins. You were not born to lead at birth. Someone trusted you. Now it is your turn to trust and to be trustworthy. The further you get from your origins, the further from Earth you will fly until, like Icarus, you are left with no supports, and your fall is inevitable.

This piece was originally published by Leadership Excellence magazine.

Are you a ‘Cvangelist’?

October 1, 2009

Rank has its privileges. One of them is that CEOs, and others at the C level, are privy to information that others can’t access. And it’s that exclusivity, or the illusion of it, that makes their status all the more tantalizing. The most important information, I’m beginning to think, isn’t the trade secret or the true state of the finances. I think it’s what we like and do and buy.

Analysts want to know where you’re having dinner, the color of the leather in your next ride (even better if that ride is on water or air), and what your future acquisitions will be. Most of them are satisfied with just knowing the “who* and *what*; the really inquisitive ones are interested in the *why*, and how that differs from what others – non-C’s – do.

I think the difference is that we’re used to thinking in terms of ‘business benefits’ and ‘long term valuation’ rather than the satisfaction of an ephemeral desire. And that’s what makes Cvangelists so important to emerging growth companies. We need more than buyers – we need evangelists. And when they’re at the C-level–Cvangelists–we know that they are buying and telling other people because they are focused on benefits and value.

I’m a Cvangelist for Virgin Atlantic. Please don’t ask me to go to London on any other airline. And I’m a Cvangelist for Whole Foods Market (I know they’re expensive — but the business benefits are my time saved and the long term value is my health). Mark. our EVP and former tech CEO, is a Cevangelist for MAC. (He’s got me convinced. This blog will be getting done on a MAC very soon.)

So why would you want to become a Cvangelist? Simple. The benefits are many.

  1. You get to feel very cool, like the people who bought Microsoft stock (the stock – not the software) soon after the IPO.
  2. You always have something *different* to say at CEO cocktail parties.
  3. You have the satisfaction of knowing that you’ve promoted something that not only has immediate business benefits but also long term value.

How do you start? Well, if you want to join the very cool, always witty, highly satisfied Cvangelists for TGI Role-Based Assessment, just call me at 215-825-2500. Or email me at DrJanice (at) thegabrielinstitute.com!

According to a recent Korn-Ferry survey I read about today, 47% of executives are dissatisfied with their jobs and 31% say they don’t trust their boss.

To put that another way, 47% of executives are not worth what you are paying them.  They aren’t satisfied and maybe that’s because they aren’t capable of feeling the pleasure of a job well done.

The 31% who don’t trust aren’t worth any more than the ones who aren’t satisfied.  People who don’t trust often can’t trust.  They get distracted by the wrong things and don’t keep their minds on the right things.

Can you afford to have people you can’t trust to do the jobs you need done?

You can’t afford not to assess them and figure it out.

I was going to write something on Labor Day but entrepreneurial CEOs work 24/7 so there wasn’t time.  Not even much time to think about how many labor/management problems would disappear with better job-fit.  And management-fit.

Instead I dug out the tombstone from my late father-in-law’s 1960 IPO and brought it to my office, where it now stands as a reminder of the history of a company – and lives – destroyed by equal amounts of greed and entitlement on the parts of both an investment banker and a union leader.

Fast forward almost 50 years and I’m not sure much has changed.

When is Entrepreneurs Day?

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