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Why Some Companies Make It And Others Don’t

Wed, 10/15/2014 - 06:30

I spoke to David Hornik, who has worked with technology startups throughout the software sector.  In 2000, David joined August Capital to invest broadly in information technology companies, with a focus on enterprise application and infrastructure software, as well as consumer facing software and services. Prior to joining August Capital, David was an intellectual property and corporate attorney at Venture Law Group and Perkins Coie. In his legal practice, David represented high tech startups in all aspects of their formation, financing, and operations.  In the following brief interview, Hornik talks about why some companies are more successful than others, how to scale a company, build a culture, vetting employees and more.

Dan Schawbel: Why are some companies more successful than others? What does the DNA of a successful company look like?

David Hornik: If you look at the DNA of any great company, you will see an amazing team at the core. While a great team alone is not sufficient to build a successful business, it is 90% of the battle. Great teams can attract other great people. Great teams can build great products. Great teams can raise money from great investors. The last 10% of the equation is a great market. A great team pursuing a mediocre market may be able to build an OK business. But a great team pursuing a great market will be able to build something special.

Schawbel: What should startup founders be mindful of as they create and scale their companies?

Hornik: Company building is hard. And it is a team sport. Find great people and trust them to make good choices. Find great advisors and trust them to give good counsel. Find great investors and trust them to be your partners. Going it alone is a long and lonely path.

Schawbel: How do you go about scaling a company, while maintaining a strong corporate culture?

Hornik: Every company has standard-bearers for the culture. Those folks are the ones who brim with enthusiasm for the company, spread company lore, only wear company apparel, call out behavior that is inconsistent with the mores of the company, etc. So long as the keepers of the culture are treated well and encouraged to spread the corporate gospel, the company values will stay strong no matter how quickly the business grows.

Schawbel: What is your process of vetting advisors, employees and CEOs?

Hornik: There is no substitute for speaking with those who know them best. Talk with people for whom they have worked. Talk with people with whom they’ve worked. Talk with people who have worked for them. You will quickly get a consistent picture.

Schawbel: How do you get every employee aligned with the company vision, especially as the company matures?

Hornik: Great leaders inspire teams to follow. I have seen some amazing entrepreneurs over time and they have no problem engaging the entire company around a shared vision. But great leaders also inspire teams to think independently and to innovate. Company vision can never be static. The best leaders listen to those around them and adapt.

Schawbel: Can you give examples of great leaders you’ve worked with and explain why people follow them?

Hornik: One of the great things about Venture Capital is that you get to work with amazing people. I have worked with stunning domain experts who garner the respect of their employees because of their incredible knowledge, like Kevin Johnson from Ebates or Rene Lacerte from PayCycle and I have worked with incredible managers who are masters of team building and leadership, like Godfrey Sullivan from Splunk or Danny Shader from PayNearMe. I have worked with incredible product visionaries, who invent the future, like Selina Tobaccowala and Al Lieb from Evite. I have worked with charismatic young leaders who are wise beyond their years, like Ashvin Kumar from TopHatter and Bill Clerico from WePay. I’ve worked with brilliant technologists who lead by example, like Artur Bergman from Fastly. I am honored to have the great fortune to work with these amazing entrepreneurs, as well as the many other spectacular leaders I didn’t have room to list.

Schawbel: How do you balance out a team’s strengths and weaknesses? Is it smart to find people who are specialists or generalists to fill gaps in a team?

Hornik: There is clearly value in diversity. But there is no single way to build a great company. Some companies thrive when made up entirely of technical talent. Other companies thrive when founded by business thinkers and product visionaries. Over time, companies can only scale when made up of experts across a range of disciplines (technology, sales, finance, legal, product, etc.). But focus and specialization can prove powerful at the earliest stages of company building.

Schawbel: How do you know if the company is pursuing the right market?

Hornik: Markets are tricky. The biggest and best markets don’t exist when you start out. Great companies create markets. Sometimes a great company creates a market out of whole cloth. My firm funded Atheros Communications when there was no such thing as Wifi, yet Atheros went on to be the leading chip provider for all things Wifi. My firm funded Splunk before there was any discussion of Big Data, yet Splunk went on to become the poster child for Big Data. Sometimes a great company reinvents an old market. My partner Howard was the earliest investor in Skype, which went on to reinvent telecommunications. My firm recently invested in Fastly, which is reinventing the Content Distribution Network, and AvantCredit, which is reinventing online lending. In each instance, there was a massive unmet need and billions of dollars of commerce attached to solving the problem.

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Workplace Success – What You Need to Know this Week

Tue, 10/14/2014 - 07:00

Here are three stories people are talking about this week.

1. How about a pre-cation before you start a new job?

Ever wished you could have some serious time off between jobs but felt like you couldn’t take it because the new company wanted you to start quickly? Then you’ll love “pre-cations,” a new perk from Silicon Valley, where start-ups are increasingly pushing new hires to take time off – on the company’s dime – before starting work. Some go so far as to give new hires not just paid time off before their first day, but travel vouchers too. “We want people to bring their best every day, and we want them here for the long haul,” Jeff Diana, Atlassian’s chief people officer told Slate. “Changing jobs is an important shift, and we want to give people time to recharge, spend some time with family. Because once you start a new job, you kind of jump all in.”

2. Could your choice of mate make or break your career?

The most successful people have particularly conscientious mates, finds new research that will be published in an upcoming issue of Psychological Science. Researchers found that people who scored highest on three measures of career success –salary increases, promotions, and job satisfaction – all have mates with a personality type known as “conscientious,” meaning that they’re especially reliable, detail-oriented, and organized. After all, “it’s a lot easier to concentrate on your next brilliant idea at work if someone else can be counted on to make sure the dog has all his shots, the car gets inspected on time, and the kids are fed,” notes Fortune. Moreover, suggests the researcher, personality traits can rub off; over time, people may emulate the behaviors of their conscientious partners.

3. When a manager is a jerk, does intent matter?

When a manager is a jerk to staff members, does intent matter? A researcher at San Francisco State University set out to learn whether workers felt differently about abusive behavior from a boss when they believed it was intended to motivate them – to light a fire under them, for instance, or to get a team to up its game. Psychologist Kevin Eschleman found that this type of “motivational abuse” is just as counterproductive as abuse that’s meant solely to humiliate or demean. His study concluded that employees who are verbally abused – regardless of motivation – are more likely to slack off or act out at work. That’s one more reason that companies should care about how their managers are treating employees.


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A Closer Look – Kraft’s Deliberate Drive Toward Innovation

Mon, 10/13/2014 - 07:00

Kraft Foods Group Inc. is a company perhaps best known for products such as Velveeta, Jell-O and Kool-Aid. But it also is trying to make a name for itself as an innovation leader with engaged and forward-thinking employees. One of Kraft’s leaders shares how its culture is changing.

Barry Calpino, vice president of breakthrough innovation at Kraft Food Group Inc., recently noted in a radio interview that there is an effort within Kraft “to push our organization and our innovation teams to shoot for bigger opportunities, more incremental white space, new categories and new usage occasions.”

While he admits that driving innovation was one of Kraft’s “weaknesses” in the past, it is “now one of our biggest strengths,” he says.

Part of that strength comes from hiring more innovative-thinking employees to join the company, which has more than 22,500 workers.

“Our people are our competitive advantage. When we recruit, we’re always looking for a diverse profile of talent. Our objective is to bring together diverse talent and unique perspectives … which, in turn, drives innovation that reflects the needs of the consumers we serve,” Calpino says. “With our big push toward Innovation, we’re particularly focused on finding creative, conceptual thinkers – especially for roles that involve ‘white space’ innovation.”

Such “white space” innovation means looking for new opportunities in a crowded marketplace,  an initiative that has proven successful for the company. Calpino points to Kraft’s leadership as making a “huge difference” in that effort.

“Our business unit leaders set the tone and set the example with their sponsorship of innovation – and innovators. It’s important to have empathy to what it’s like to work in white space, given the high rate of failure,” he explains.

In addition, Kraft has created dedicated innovation teams in all of its business units, “which helps keep the fire lit red hot all the time,” he says, noting teams “feed off each other.”

Further, Kraft takes seriously its commitment to innovation by providing training, speakers and town halls, which “again, keep that fire burning,” he says.

Calpino acknowledges that while innovation can be exhilarating, it can also be difficult. One concern is ensuring that Kraft workers don’t feel they’re taking on too much.

“We have a strong stage-gate process that is designed to help teams deal with innovation challenges and do so in a highly collaborative way, so they don’t feel like they’re out on an island,” he explains. “Culturally, it’s really about leadership and empathy – leaders signaling to innovators that they ‘get’ the pressure and stress. They’ve been there, and they are supportive and have their backs.”

Calpino says that these teams feeding off one another means that the company doesn’t need to turn to gimmicks or other motivational tactics to keep teams engaged, “especially when their leadership is acting as sponsor and champion, and is highly empathetic,” he says.

But one concern, he acknowledges, is that the work can be so exciting that “I would actually say from experience one of the challenges is to not be too engaged or wrapped up in the innovation so that issues of burnout or loss of perspective come into play.”

Kraft does use metrics for key milestones, “results that happen along the journey from ideation to commercialization” – so that teams and individuals are “seeing and chasing results every step of the way, not just at the very end,” he says.

“This is also key for engagement – but also for retention of top innovation talent, especially those who are strong at the front-end but do not want to be the ones who execute in-market,” he adds.

Kraft was started in 1903, but in 2012 the company remade itself, Calpino explains. The international business, the Nabisco business and the chewing gum business was split off as a separate company called Mondelez International. What was left behind was the traditional Kraft brands that many consumers know.

At that time, the company decided it wanted employees to embrace a “fresh mindset,” he says.

“The most important thing is to drive hard against our agenda – and to track it and measure it. It’s one thing to emphasize innovating on traditional brands – it’s another to track it, measure it, and set goals against it. It must be more than talk,” he says. “And when we have wins, it’s important to share those success stories, to show everyone what’s possible, and what’s achievable. “

Still, Kraft isn’t just focusing on its traditional brands and launching new products. Calpino says the company also believes it must have teams building the future.

 “This is one of the hardest things to do. It’s about having the right type of talent and keeping them focused on filling the future pipeline versus executing the current pipeline, which in any company tends to get more attention and traction,” he says.

“You have to be very deliberate about it – even amongst those groups make sure there are milestones and metrics and measures of success that teams can drive against and achieve. But they must be dedicated and focused. Where we do this at Kraft we see incredible quality and quantity of future pipelines and big ideas,” he says.


Six Business Lessons Managers Can Learn from Nonprofit Peers

Fri, 10/10/2014 - 06:30

Executives and managers don’t often think of nonprofit organizations as competing in the same marketplace as profit-based companies. But even though these groups aren’t out to turn a profit, they still have goals to accomplish, deadlines to meet, and people to manage–many of whom have moved from the private sector. Here are six lessons executives in the private sector can learn from their nonprofit counterparts.

Timing is everything

Successful nonprofit managers know that in a crisis, distribution and communication needs to be in place before supplies can be disbursed. The same philosophy holds true for training, supply, and production in the private sector. Anticipating and planning—whether it’s for a natural disaster, a major product release from a competitor, or your own announcement—is essential to being agile in the marketplace.

One CFO described his concern for timing with this anecdote: “The Red Cross upgraded its emergency help phone system after 9/11 with funds raised for the disaster; this rubbed donors the wrong way when it was reported in the media. So timing isn’t just about doing the right thing at the right time; executives need to be aware of the perceptions of that timing.”

Establishing (and maintaining) credibility

As nonprofits know, credibility is hard to establish and all too easy to lose. Executives need to build trust with suppliers, customers, and employees. In addition to the obvious marketing upsides, operating ethically can have a positive impact on the bottom line:

One nonprofit CFO at a financial literacy organization advised, “You want [your company] to be known for your positive qualities. When troubles do come, this may be what stands between you and financial ruin. Think of the hit that Toyota took over brakes, accelerators, and floor mats. Decades of being the safest, cheapest to maintain, and [having the] best-built cars meant the company didn’t collapse outright. Its hard-earned credibility on the quality issue bought it a second chance.”

Maintain a strong ethical standard to attract the best

Employees who work for an organization with high ethical standards, profit or nonprofit, are more likely to stay. Maintaining standards doesn’t just help with retention though. Word of mouth can also open the door to a higher quality pool of talent. Not only that, it’s good for business.

To give an example, certified “B Corps” (Benefit Corporations) are voluntarily meeting higher ethical standards for labor and sourcing practices to distinguish themselves in a cluttered marketplace. While the initial ramp-up costs for certification are high (up to $25,000 a year), a 2011 New York Times opinion piece found that B Corps are using the certification for old-fashioned networking: with impact for the bottom line in terms of attracting better talent, discounts from other B Corp suppliers, and customers who vote their values with their wallets.

Nothing is more expensive than “free”

The senior vice president of a major advocacy nonprofit cautioned, “Everyone thinks volunteers are great. But volunteers need training. There are labor laws—even with volunteers. They can mess up jobs, leave you in the lurch, act racist or sexist, just like a regular employee—but with less accountability.”

Remember: Volunteers must be managed, incentivized, and trained. For the private sector, this advice clearly applies to any “free labor–including internships or studentships or other kinds of relationships that look inexpensive on the outside–that may impact the bottom line through damage to credibility or public perception.

Passion motivates

Passion enthuses nonprofits, but a good manager knows the same passion can also drive a business. The executive needs to translate this passion for their services and communicate that enthusiasm to their stakeholders. If you are truly evangelical about your products and see them as filling a genuine hole in your customers’ lives, your passion will infect and inspire those around you.

The most successful example of this kind of passion from both the for-profit and nonprofit worlds is Bill Gates, who brought his early passion for computing to millions through Microsoft and earlier business efforts, and more recently his passion for improving global health through the Gates Foundation.

Trust your employees

One senior nonprofit executive noted that employees and volunteers who feel trusted perform better. This is even truer in industry. A 2008 study in The Journal of Applied Psychology found compelling evidence that employees who feel trusted have improved customer service and sales records over employees who did not.

When does the executive know when a volunteer or employee is ready to be trusted with critical or highly sensitive work? While there are few universal best practices, there are general principles: proceeding gradually with increased responsibility, having clear goals that can be measured, and perhaps most importantly, try to build “peer trust” or “horizontal trust” between employees.


Irrespective of business size and structure, management can learn from the nonprofit world by delivering the right products at the right time; growing their businesses by carefully tending their reputation; and establishing a track record of delivering on their promises and behaving responsibly. A good manager can also learn that cultivating a trusted workforce isn’t surrendering control but a way of ensuring that you never feel the need to do everything yourself.

The businesses that last focus on more than simply doing business inexpensively: They believe in their products and services and their staff.


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How to Help Employees Step Out of Their Comfort Zones

Thu, 10/09/2014 - 07:00

Helping your team members develop their skills can pay off in all sorts of ways: They’ll get better results in their work, be able to shift more and more work from your plate to theirs, will generally stick around longer and feel more fulfilled when they can see themselves growing professionally. But what do you do when staff members are nervous about taking on something they’ve never done before and don’t know if they’ll succeed at?

Here are four ways to help employees step out of their comfort zones and develop new skills.

1. Err on the side of letting your staff members make decisions whenever you can. Managers sometimes get so used to making decisions that they forget to step back and let team members make decisions when circumstances allow for it. If you’re asked to weigh in on something and you don’t feel strongly about the decision, hold your tongue and instead leave it up to your staff member. If you’re always calling the shots yourself, your staffer won’t get experience thinking through decisions – which is essential to doing higher and higher level work. So when you spot opportunities to pass that decision-making responsibility along, do it. Get comfortable with the words “It’s up to you” or “What do you think?”

2. Give people stretch assignments and tell them why you think they’ll be able to handle it. Assigning projects that require developing new skills (or using old skills at a higher level) is one of the best ways to develop employees, since most people learn by doing. But in order to make sure your employee doesn’t feel thrown to the wolves, make sure to explain why you think she can handle it – such as by pointing to great work that she’s done in a similar area, or talking about strengths you’ve observed in her that will help her tackle this new frontier. Additionally….

3. Use a gradual approach. If your staff member is daunted by the thought of taking on a whole new type of work that she’s never done before, make it more manageable by breaking it into smaller pieces. For instance, rather than just putting a staff member in charge of training new employees, start by talking with her about how you normally train people, what it looks like when it goes smoothly, and what the pitfalls are. Then let her sit in while you train someone, or jointly train someone together. Then the next time a new hire needs to be trained, you might have her manage the process, but look over her training plan and reflect with her afterwards about how it went. In other words, ease people into new areas gradually, before you expect them to do it on their own without help from you.

4. Model the skill yourself – and talk about what you’re doing and why. Often people need to see and reflect on how a skill is used before feeling comfortable doing it themselves. So if, for instance, you’re trying to help a staff member get better at running strategy meetings, you might have her watch while you lead one. Then, afterwards, meet to talk over what you did and why, such as how you got the group to agree to an agenda at the start of the meeting, why you left a particular tangent run its course while choosing to redirect another one, and how you drew out quieter members of the group. This type of watching and reflecting can help people feel much more prepared to practice the skill themselves.

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Mistakes to Avoid When Scaling a Business – Interview with Brad Feld

Wed, 10/08/2014 - 07:00

I spoke to Brad Feld, who has been an early stage investor and entrepreneur since 1987. Prior to co-founding Foundry Group, he co-founded Mobius Venture Capital and, prior to that, founded Intensity Ventures. Brad is also a co-founder of Techstars. In addition to his investing efforts, Brad has been active with several non-profit organizations and currently is chair of the National Center for Women & Information Technology, co-chair of Startup Colorado, and on the board of UP Global. Brad is a nationally recognized speaker on the topics of venture capital investing and entrepreneurship and writes the widely read blogs Feld ThoughtsStartup Revolution, and Ask the VC. In the following brief interview, Feld talks about the biggest mistakes business owners make, typical management issues that occur when entrepreneurs grow their businesses, and more.

Dan Schawbel: What do most business owners get wrong when first starting their companies?

Brad Feld: People, people, people. Picking the people you start your company with – partners, investors, and mentors – is critical. Many founders don’t spend enough – or any – time thinking about this. You are about to enter into a very long term relationship. Make sure you’ve thought hard about who you are about to enter it with, and they are the ones you want to work with.

Schawbel: What typical management issues occur when entrepreneurs grow their companies and how do they solve them?

Feld: Scaling a business is hard. There are many points at which the leadership and the management structure of the company needs to change. This often happens a lot early on, at 10 people, 20 people, 50 people, 100 people, and 200 people. You wake up as a CEO and you realize you don’t have the right people in the right roles, or the business has scaled beyond what someone is capable of, or there is a fundamental gap in the execution of the business. Great entrepreneurs are always thinking about this and building capacity and skills ahead of scale.

Schawbel: How does a successful entrepreneur hire the right people, manage them and then deal with expected turnover?

Feld: Recognize that you can’t motivate people, you can only create an environment in which people are motivated. As a result, putting effort into understanding and defining your culture and then only hiring people with high competence for the role and high culture fit is critical. It’s very hard to get this right, especially if you haven’t clearly defined your culture. In addition, when you find someone who is very competent for the role, but missed on culture fit, it’s easy to rationalize that you should hire them and then keep them around. But this is a bad idea, especially in a fast growing company. Once you start missing on culture fit, things spin out of control quickly.

Schawbel: What is the best way to scale a business or create a model that is scalable? How do you know if it’s going to scale or not?

Feld: You only know if it scales by understanding the economic drivers and then applying more capital to the things that you believe will create a scalable return. Many companies, especially those that are overfunded early on, spend too much money scaling before they’ve found product market fit. Spend money slower and really search for something that your customers and users respond to. Once you’ve found that, you can start to scale.

Schawbel: What do most entrepreneurs not know about business operations that would help them be more successful at managing their company?

Feld: It’s hard. It’s very hard. It’s messy. It can be extremely boring. As you start to scale, hire people who know what they are doing because they’ve done it before.

Schawbel: What types of qualities do you look for in the type of people you hire when your company scales? What do you try and avoid when hiring? 

Feld: Optimally, you are looking for people who have been through the scale point you are at in an equivalent role. So – if you are 100 people growing to 200, you want to bring on people who have been in companies that have gone from 50 to 250 people. This is particularly true of executive hires. For example, if you are 100 people, bringing someone in who has never been in an organization of less than 1,000 people is likely going to be a miss. Ultimately, you still have to filter heavily for culture fit and should be willing to trade off specific experience in an organization at similar scale for tight culture fit and strong competence in the role.

Schawbel: Aside from hiring the wrong people, what are a few other mistakes that entrepreneurs make in the beginning? How do their problems change after the company has a few hundred people?

Feld: Over and over I see entrepreneurs being in denial about what is going on in their business. Every day brings new problems and you have to confront them. There are times when they pile up and are overwhelming. This is a huge trap – convincing yourself that things are ok when they aren’t, or that they are unchangeable (e.g. “this is just the way it works”) is a path to despair.

Schawbel: How do you create the right type of culture that makes for a successful business? Can you give a few examples from the companies you invest in?

Feld: There is no right type of culture. The beauty of being an entrepreneur is you get to craft the culture however you like. Some companies, like Moz, have an incredibly open culture (see TAGFEE - Others have a confrontation culture. Understanding what you want your culture to be is critical – if you don’t own it, it will own you.


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How to Be Your Own Boss – Even When You Have a Manager

Tue, 10/07/2014 - 07:00

If you’re like most people, you’ve thought at times that it might be awfully nice not to have a boss. Unless you’re planning to start your own business, that probably isn’t an option – but you can minimize the amount of managing your boss has to do (and thereby get some additional autonomy and independence) by taking care of some big pieces of it yourself.

Here are four key ways to benefit by acting as your own boss – even when you have a manager.

1. Pay attention to how to get things done in your organization. If you’ve ever had a manager who knew exactly how to make things happen in your company – who to go to in order to get something done, how to circumvent a cumbersome process, or how to get a project or decision out of limbo – you know how valuable that skill can be. You can cultivate this ability yourself, by paying attention to how things work outside of your team (how they really work, not what the process manual says), who has influence, what gets things expedited, and what approaches are most valued in your company. You can also learn by paying attention to the people who don’t have this ability – what are they doing wrong that you can learn from? Pay enough attention, and you’ll start to put together a roadmap that you can use yourself.

2. Make sure your time reflects your priorities. If you have a good manager, one thing she’ll do is check in with you to make sure that your biggest priorities are continuing to move forward and that you’re not getting sucked into spending significant amounts of time on things that simply don’t matter that much. But you can do this for yourself, by taking a few minutes at the start of every day/week/month and asking yourself, “What are the most important things for me to accomplish today (or this week or this month?” … and then making sure that you allocate your time accordingly. That also means …

3. Figure out what to say no to. A good manager will occasionally step in and point out that a particular project isn’t the best use of your time or the team’s resources. But you can also serve this function for yourself. One way to do is it to set up a “do not do” list, composed of things that you’ve deliberately decided not to spend your time on. Of course, make sure that you’re aligned with your manager about what items end up on that list – but thinking strategically about what belongs there (not to mention just having such a list in the first place) is a great thing to do so that your manager doesn’t have to.

4. Reflect on what you do well and where you could do better. A good manager will help you regularly assess what’s going well and where you should work on improving, but the reality is that many managers don’t give as much feedback as they should. But that doesn’t mean that you need to go without! Try setting aside time periodically to reflect on your own about where you’re excelling and where you’d like to do a better job, develop more skills, or simply operate at a higher level. You don’t need a manager to help you identify these things, and one advantage to reflecting on this on your own is that you’ll often be well on the road to improving by the time it even occurs to your manager to critique you.

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Harness Employee Strengths Through Reverse Mentoring

Mon, 10/06/2014 - 07:00

Mentoring is often seen as a way for a young IT employee to gain knowledge from an older worker, but more companies find that setting up reverse mentoring programs can provide payoffs for every employee, no matter their age or rank. The key is making sure the program is structured so that the parameters and expectations are clear for everyone.

When older workers witness young IT employees making workplace gaffes like referring to the CEO as “dude,” they may shake their heads and sigh, knowing that the young employees have a lot to learn.

But when young IT employees watch older workers struggling to understand new technology, well, dude, they may shake their heads and think the same thing.

That’s why more employers are starting to explore reverse mentoring. At Mastercard, for example,  Chief Human Resource Officer Ron Garrow admits that while he’s not a technophobe, “I recognized that I had a lot to learn about operating in this new world.”

So Garrow, 51, began participating in the employer’s reciprocal mentoring program. He was partnered with 24-year-old Rebecca Kaufman who taught him how to use Twitter and get more out of professional networking sites. He says that Kaufman not only taught him how to better navigate online connections, but also gave him greater insight into younger consumers and how they are changing the industry.

Lois J. Zachary, director of the Center for Mentoring Excellence, says reverse mentoring allows a young IT person to gain exposure to a senior-level person, “and the senior-level person gets to learn something” from the young employee.

“Senior people benefit from learning what younger people are thinking about. This can help, for example, if they’re developing a new product. A senior-level person needs that input,” she says.

The young employee benefits from the “face time” with a senior employee, also allowing them to learn something such as better communication or organizational skills, she says.

Research shows that employees often learn more from one another than they do from formal training, but successful reverse mentoring programs should be structured and overseen by a human resources department, Zachary says.

She also encourages such programs to set expectations so everyone involved knows what will happen, in addition to providing a reminder that everyone should “be real.”

“Sometimes young employees will start doing a lot of posturing in these situations, starting to say what they believe senior people want to hear,” she says. “Older employees need to encourage them to be genuine.”

She adds that these groups may be brought together only for a specific purpose – such as evaluating a new product – but should not be looked upon as another focus group. “This is really more about give and get,” she says. “”The purpose of it is learning for both parties.”

Reverse mentoring became popular when Jack Welch, former General Electric chairman, ordered 500 top-level executives to connect with those below them to learn how to use the Internet. Even Welch was partnered with an employee in her 20s.

If you’re considering a reverse mentoring program for your IT people, here are some things to consider:

  • Acknowledge there will be bumps. If you decide to match Millennials with baby boomers, for example, there may be some preconceived notions. Baby boomers may believe that young workers are an “entitled generation” who aren’t willing to work hard and constantly want to be given a trophy. On the other hand, Millennials may believe that baby boomers are technologically inept and stuck in their old-fashioned ways. You’re going to need to address these issues and get all those involved to enter the arrangement with an open mind.
  • Be sure to stress the positives. One way to get participants to be more open to the idea is by outlining the benefits they will receive in their careers. All workers, no matter their age, want to feel valued. By improving their skills in various areas, this can assure them they will be even more valued by what they’ll bring to the table.
  • Choose participants carefully. It makes no sense to pair up people who are inflexible and aren’t open to learning something new, no matter their age. You want employees who have demonstrated a desire to learn, want to help their team and are interested in career development. At the same time, try to pair up those who have something to really offer the other person. If a senior person already seems to have mastered social media, for example, then maybe it’s best to pair him or her with a younger IT employee who can pass on more specific technology knowledge, such as working in the cloud.
  • Provide training.  To ensure an open and honest relationship, provide some training about how participants can best communicate their ideas or thoughts to their partner. Knowing what to expect will help alleviate any doubts or anxieties the participants may privately harbor.
  • Measure it. For a reverse mentoring program to thrive, it should be documented so that the benefits are clear, and any adjustments are made to the appropriate areas. It’s also important to set parameters such as how often – and where – partners will meet, and the desired outcomes.


The State of Project Management in 2014

Mon, 10/06/2014 - 06:30

The Project Management Institute’s Pulse of the Profession is a global research study that examines the impact of the implementation of project, program and portfolio management. The “hot off the press” 2014 results show that in order to remain competitive, organizations must tie projects to strategy and place a primary focus on people, processes and outcomes.

Why are 44 percent of strategic initiatives unsuccessful? PMI’s Pulse research reveals the reason: just 42 percent of organizations report having high alignment of projects to organizational strategy. Furthermore, only 32 percent of organizations report that their projects are better aligned compared with those of a year ago.

Are you one of the agile few?

Organizations with high alignment of projects to strategy are significantly more likely to be highly agile (23 percent versus 5 percent), and agility is critical. Organizations with high organizational agility report not only more successful projects, but also more successful strategic initiatives (69 percent compared with 45 percent among organizations with low organizational agility).

Unfortunately, only 15 percent report high levels of organizational agility, suggesting that organizations are not prepared to adapt to shifts in today’s complex market environment and shifts in consumer demands and expectations.

[Are you Competing at Cloud Speed?]

An organization’s focus on agility and strategic alignment not only impacts the success of its highest priority initiatives, it also leads to better project performance overall. Eighty-nine percent of projects at high-performing organizations meet original goals and business intent, compared with just 36 percent at low-performing organizations.

Does your people mix drive high performance?

Organizations need to focus on the development and training of their talent in order to achieve superior project performance, successful strategic initiatives and become high performers. But talent management is a challenge, with two-thirds of organizations using outsourced or contract project managers and 26 percent of organizations planning to increase the percentage of project managers who are contracted or outsourced in 2014.

Effective integration of internal and external workforces is essential. According go the research, high-performing organizations are more than twice as likely as their low-performing counterparts to align talent management to organization strategy.

Do you leverage optimized PM processes to effectively manage change?

Two out of five organizations (40 percent) report that their effectiveness at organizational change management is higher compared to a year ago. Despite this, only one in five organizations reports highly effective change management.

The research reveals that organizations that are highly effective at change management are four times more likely to frequently use change management practices (94 percent compared with only 24 percent among organizations minimally effective).

Nearly one half (46 percent) of organizations don’t fully understand the value of project management. These organizations face a real risk to their success as significantly more strategic initiatives are successful when organizations “get” PM (63 percent versus 47 percent).

The percentage of organizations that report having a PMO remains flat at 69 percent. The use of standardized project management practices throughout the organization is also flat; today, only one-fourth of organizations report using these throughout the organization.

Do you understand how your projects positively impact the big picture?

Benefits realization is the practice of ensuring that the outcome of a project produces the projected benefits claimed in the business case. This is achieved through the establishment, measurement and communication of the expected benefits of an organization’s initiatives.

The Pulse research reveals that fewer than one in five (17 percent) organizations report high benefits realization maturity. High performers are nearly eight times more likely to be mature in their benefits realization processes. Organizations with benefits realization maturity see 73 percent of their strategic initiatives meeting original goals and business intent.


Get Over It – 10 Hard Truths We Still Can’t Accept

Fri, 10/03/2014 - 07:00

Many tough life lessons are first explained to us in childhood but seem to go in one ear and out the other. Our failure to master these often results in professional agida. 

As human beings, we tend to hold on to irrational ideas and fight against the inevitable.  Based on Eran Dror’s new book, here are 10 difficult truths we all must recognize and then take steps to get over. Warning: some of this might be hard to hear and even harder to digest.

You are going to die

Acknowledging life’s limited duration is good for us. It helps us focus on what matters and forget petty things. It can motivate us to make decisions and take calculated risks. It can make us better people: more self-aware and less self-involved. Cope better by asking yourself: what would I do differently if I only had a year to live? A month? A day?

Nothing is permanent

We are constantly looking for “happily ever after,” a contentment so stable that nothing could ever shake it. And then a friend moves away or our company closes its gates. What if we could accept that everything is subject to change and that both pleasant and unpleasant experiences will pass in time. Ask: do I tend to suffer in moments of great change? How can I find peace instead of desperation?

The future is uncertain

We agonize over a hoped-for promotion or the success of a business venture. But the future cannot be directly observed and is therefore impossible to predict.  Focus on what you do know and what you can do, and leave yourself open to adventure and discovery. Ask: have I ever experienced uncertainty as exciting or even beautiful?

The present is all you have

We obsess about the past and worry about the future and often forget to appreciate what’s right in front of us. But our whole lives are nothing but a string of present moments, so you must stop and pay attention. Ask: do I miss out on wonderful experiences in my life because I am too preoccupied with what’s already happened or what hasn’t yet happened?

You can’t do it all

We are beings of finite time, limited attention, and constrained resources. Accepting that you must be highly selective will teach you a lot about yourself and liberate you to focus on what you care about most. You simply can’t sample everything in the buffet of life, so take pride in saying no. Ask: do I feel overwhelmed by all of the commitments in my life?

There’s lots you don’t know

We cling to our ideas about the world, feeling insecure without them. We pretend we’re certain when we’re not, sometimes with disastrous consequences. Our society is enormously complex and offers limited information, and when we accept our present ignorance, we become more curious, creative, and rational. Ask: is there anything I wish I knew much more about?

You’ll never find yourself

We tend to think of ourselves as having fixed qualities and mistake those traits for who we are. But you are not an object, you’re a process. Negative traits can disappear and positive ones can unfold. Habits can be re-written, beliefs can be re-examined, and emotions can mature. Ask: am I always trying to become something other than what I am?

You’re not the best

We were trained to base our self-worth on comparisons with others. Life is not a competition and all that matters is your experience. Learn to evaluate yourself by a personally relevant standard: you should want to get better rather than get better THAN. Ask: do I feel badly when I don’t measure up to or surpass others?

You’re not special

It can be hard to accept that others don’t see or care about us with the same urgency as we do. They have their own priorities that must be taken into account in any negotiation. Understanding this will help you establish more meaningful connections with others instead of trying to manipulate them. Ask: do I find myself longing for more satisfying relationships?

Failure is an option

We lay down plans and come to depend on their successful execution. But when our neat plans clash with messy, complicated reality, guess what wins? People who achieve great things know that failure is the only way to learn many skills and solve most problems. You can’t make your life failure-proof, but you can learn from it and keep going. Ask: am I ever paralyzed by a fear of failure?

Which of these have you had the most trouble with? What have you done to overcome it?


3 Ways to Build Accountability On Your Team

Thu, 10/02/2014 - 07:00

If your staff is missing deadlines, not following through on work, not taking responsibility for mistakes, or simply not producing high-quality work, you’ve probably got an accountability problem. Here’s how to fix it.

1. Talk explicitly about your expectations – not just about what people do but also how they do it. Managers often make the mistake of having a whole set of expectations for how employees will behave but keeping that information to themselves – and then being frustrated or surprised when employees don’t act in accordance with those expectations, even though they never shared them. But unless you manage a team of mind readers, part of your job as a manager is to do the work of getting your team aligned with what you expect from them.

Some of this happens in the hiring process, of course – you screen for people who have a strong work ethic, take initiative, exercise ownership, and so forth. But a large amount of expectation-setting also needs to happen afterwards, as well. For instance, if you’ll get antsy if people aren’t responding to emails within a business day, tell them that. If your deadlines of “by the end of the day” really mean “by 5 p.m.,” be explicit about that. Whatever your expectations, get them out of your head and articulate them for your team. Otherwise, you’ll end up frustrated that people aren’t performing in the way that you want, and your team will end up frustrated that they’ll be held to standards they were never told about.

2. Give feedback when you see things you like and things you don’t like. Too often, managers keep their thoughts about employees to themselves. They’ll be impressed and delighted at how a staff member handles tricky clients – and might even praise her to others – but neglect to tell the staff member directly how great her approach is (or even better, specifics of what makes it so great). Or they’ll be annoyed that a staff member always turns in unpolished work, but never actually tell the employee, “When drafts come to me, they should be fully polished and ready for publication, which means no proofing errors and no fact-checking still left to be done.” That can lead to employees not feeling accountable for the types of things the manager would like them accountable for. Which leads us to…

3. Ensure that actions have consequences – both good and bad. If people feel like great work goes unrecognized, over time they’re less likely to continue going out of their way to do truly exceptional work. And if people feel like great work isn’t recognized but problems are always called out, people will wonder how it is that you always notice the bad without seeming to observe the good, and then you’ve got a recipe for plummeting morale on your hands. It’s important to ensure that you’re providing recognition and rewards when things go well, as well as consequences when they don’t.

And keep in mind that “consequences” for problematic performance doesn’t have to mean something formal, like a write-up or disciplinary action (and those things can often be overkill). Rather, a consequence can simply be a conversation with you, asking about what happened and what the plan is for avoiding it in the future. On a healthy staff, that should often be all the consequence you need to reinforce accountability and get things back on track. (Of course, there will be times when that doesn’t solve the problem, and then you’d escalate in seriousness from there – but that’s usually the right place to start.)

You may also like:
What to Do When Your Team is Missing Deadlines
Taking Responsibility for Mistakes at Work
Learn how to build accountability (as well as Focus, Simplicity and Transparency) on your teams to improve your business operations and project success, with Gordon Tredgold, October 8.


Patra Corp Moves Outsourcing to the Cloud

Mon, 09/29/2014 - 12:35

Fast and Agile – Competing at Cloud Speed

Wed, 09/24/2014 - 06:30

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