Micro–train; macro–manage

Dave’s note:  The week, we again welcome Kim Shepherd as our guest author, with her blunt, on-the-target style.  As always, you should enjoy her insights for management…

By Kim Shepherd

You have enough on your plate without having to hold your employees’ hands or peer over their shoulders. In fact, the ideal scenario is to follow Lee Iacocca’s strategy: “I hire people brighter than me and then I get out of their way.”

Of course, in practice it’s not that easy. My own version is “Hire smart and hire right, and you’ll be a mentor rather than a boss.”

Here are some tactics and strategies for making this work.

Invest in training, and save on managing. Let’s assume you’re bringing on board people who already have expertise in their functional area (entry–level training is a whole micro-managerdifferent beast). You still need to make sure they are proficient in your systems and processes. Even more importantly, they need to understand and embrace your company’s values and ethics. That knowledge will serve as a compass as they continue to learn and grow in the organization. It sets them up to make decisions independently. Instead of spending a lot of time managing them, invest a little quality time in coaching them.

[Email readers, continue here…] In addition, take advantage of the trend in the training and development space toward self–directed learning. Provide access to your robust internal “university,” or to vendor–provided training.

Shut Your CEO Hole. When an employee –– let’s call her Maria –– comes to you for guidance, it’s tempting to blurt out a solution. Instead, hold your advice until Maria asks, “What do you think?” Just describing the problem may help Maria figure out the solution. You can provide a point of view to add an extra dimension, but avoid simply solving the problem.

Be consistent. It takes a little longer, but every time Maria (or anyone else) asks for help, push her to come up with her own solution. It may not be the one you had in mind, but from the leader’s point of view, the process of getting to a solution is more important than the solution itself. Pretty soon your people will be coming to you with solutions rather than problems.

Then and now. An addendum to the “hire smart, hire right” axiom is that you also won’t need a lot of infrastructure. The workplace is changing. In the 1960s you had to pay the salary of someone who would decide whether or not an employee could take time off in order to take her son to the dentist. Your people should be able to make that decision for themselves.

If fact, in a virtual environment like we have at our company, any employee can work any hours.  As long as the work is getting done, we don’t care. But you can only do that if you have established yourself as not being a micro–manager. To get there, you have to be secure in your vision and your own leadership skills. Then you need to hire right, and establish processes that promote independence.

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Hire “Jacks” (and “Jills”)

Sometimes you need to hire a specialist already trained in a single narrow task.  But for most of us, we’d do far better hiring someone who has proven from past experience to be a “jack of all trades” able to fill many positions, do many tasks, learn and perform in many situations.

You’d be going against the grain of advice by many who state that trained, experienced new hires will benefit the organization, raise the level of enterprise expertise, and fit in and contribute immediately.

On the other hand, many breakthroughs in business and science have come from the intellectually curious, the critical thinker who can ask questions that may be unexpected but lead to new solutions.  And many business leaders have expressed their opinions that JackOfAllTradestheir best hires have been the ones that are most-able to expand the enterprise’s ways of thinking and performing – using creativity rather than rote memory and specific academic education as the driver of innovation.

[Email readers, continue here…]  This leads to a discussion of new hire cost and of sources for new employees.  In the academic world, three new hires on the tenure track can be made for each two retiring with tenure.  That same ratio is close to reality in business.  In each case, the enterprise is able to reassess its needs in relation to its strategic goals, as the natural order is refreshed over time as people leave a business for any reason.

As to sources of new, young employees:  there are two very different types of educations.  Research universities often send their students through a rigorous program of education tilted toward specific specialties, with domain knowledge emphasized over critical thinking and creativity.  Liberal arts colleges, on the other hand, usually allow specializing in broad career tracks while emphasizing the elements of critical thinking, creativity and leadership skills.

For your needs, which young graduate would you select?  The title of this insight tips my hand, as I lean toward hiring those with those extra traits, and training them in the specific skills of their discipline.  The benefit:  a boost in corporate creativity and new blood at the bottom perhaps capable of future executive leadership.

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Work–life balance is now a cliché

Dave’s Note:  Our special guest author this week is Kelly Graham from Decision Toolbox, Inc.  You’ll enjoy her take on one of the basic issues of our business-personal lives…

By Kelly Graham

Finding work–life balance is one of the most abused clichés in business today. Why? Because there is no such thing as work–life balance in corporate America today. Conventional corporate structures don’t allow for balance, just the illusion of working towards it.

Work–Life Balance is dead

Look at the structure of conventional corporate America. Employees must wake up in time Work-Life-Balance 3dto get whatever household chores need to be done before heading off on their commute to the office. Depending on where that employee lives, the commute could take anywhere from minutes to a couple hours.

Everyone is rushing to make it to the office by the set start time, when everyone is expected to be at their desks to comply with the “butt in chair” office policy. Work, work, work until lunchtime, when the lucky employees are allowed to take a lunch break, though in many environments, it’s an unspoken rule that truly dedicated team members eat at their desks while continuing to work. Work some more, until the designated “quitting time,” which again, may be influenced by the unspoken rule that only slackers leave right at 5 pm. The dedicated team members stay long past that. Again with the commute home, just in time to figure out dinner, get the kids settled in for the night, have an hour to do whatever needs doing, then it’s lights out and start the whole process again tomorrow. Where is the balance?

It’s Not About Logistics

[Email readers, continue here…]  Some might argue that because Kim’s company is a 100% virtual company, where all team members work from home offices, it’s all too easy for us to be simplistic about the concept of work–life balance. While it’s true that working from home allows us to throw in a load of laundry while on a conference call, or squeeze in a workout on our lunch break, the truth is that working from home requires discipline. When the office is ten steps away at all times, we can, and do, end up working at all hours. The difference is…it’s our choice to work when it works for us, not when the clock tells us we’re supposed to be working.

Being virtual is a logistics benefit for sure, but more importantly, work–life balance is also a cultural mindset. We are not just able, but encouraged, to take ownership of our jobs. As long as the work is getting done, nobody should be looking over your shoulder to see when you’re doing it.

Why it Matters

If you’re looking for a way to turn your clock punchers into highly engaged employees, take a look at your culture. Does it really encourage work–life balance? Or is it lip service? Employees are highly engaged when their personal and professional values complement and support one another.

This is especially important for Gen Y, who value flexibility in their lives. We should take a lesson from them. They watched their parents struggle on the teeter–totter and learned that it doesn’t work. Instead, they expect a holistic approach to work and life. This includes work schedules, telecommuting, home–office arrangements, and dress code.

“A” leaders won’t get “A” players just by offering the highest pay, the shortest commute or the coolest water cooler. Instead, they’ll attract them by allowing employees the space to incorporate their personal and professional lives into one cohesive, meaning–driven life.

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Work on your three levels of leadership

Another leadership development bit?  Yup. But if you have no time or are impatient, here are the three levels:  visionary, strategic and tactical.  Skip or stay, but think about your balance in leadership either way.

As a leader, you have to worry over issues from mundane to strategic, constantly reordering your priorities to accommodate competing needs.  Sometimes, the

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Visionary leadership…

noisiest or most recent issue takes center stage – just because it is easiest to respond to at the moment.

But we all should be aware of the three levels of leadership that each of us experience as we create, grow and nurture our various enterprises, no matter what their size.

By far the most enjoyable for most of us is visionary leadership – the time we spend thinking ahead, creating new ideas for products or services, focusing on the big picture and how we can change the world with our creation.  It must be the lifeblood of a company that is going to make a difference in an industry or the world.  And each of us tasked with a senior role in an enterprise should dedicate some amount of time to just this.  Visionary leadership is not performed in a vacuum.  Many times it is a customer, an employee, or an industry conference that sparks the idea that drives you to create and express your vision of the future for your company or product line.

 [Email readers, continue here…]     Then comes the strategic thinking and planning that leads to what must be done to achieve the vision.  Think of creation of your strategic plan as drawing the roadmap to get to the goal.  Strategic thinking is a necessary part of a leader’s mental toolkit and often requires input from those who will execute the plan.  A leader who does not periodically engage others in strategic thinking is missing the critical step in focusing the organization toward achievement of goals and the vision.

The third level, tactical leadership, is the one that requires trust in your direct reports, along with the ability to delegate and empower others to execute the plan.  You should be involved in development and review of the tactics to achieve those strategies you’ve mutually created. The best leaders find metrics to measure progress in achievement of these tactics, then don’t interfere with the execution of these tactics unless negative metrics signal a reason to do so.   Delegation is an art, requiring a form of strength that must be learned – especially by eager entrepreneurs used to tight personal control of processes.  But no enterprise can grow or succeed without the delegation of tasks and without the thoughtful use of metrics to measure progress and success.

Three levels of leadership to learn, practice, and teach: visionary, strategic and tactical.

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Employee vs. contractor: Here we go again.

Several years ago, I wrote an extensive article on the ten most important tests of a company in classifying a person as an independent contractor.  See http://berkonomics.com/?p=662 for that important insight.  But things have gotten much more complicated lately, partly because of the Uber, Lyft and other new generation of Employee-vs.-Independent-Contractorworkers and the best description of their class as “semi–independent.”

But now we have to weigh in with the U.S. Department of Labor definitions as well as the Internal Revenue Service, and try to make sense of the mix.  So here goes:

The Department of Labor (in its Fact Sheet #13) lists six classes of test for independent contractors:

  1. The extent to which the work performed is an integral part of the employer’s business. (If high, then employee.)
  2. Whether the worker’s managerial skills affect his or her opportunity for profit or loss. (If high, then employee.)
  3. The relative investments in facilities and equipment by the worker and the employer. (If worker is even remotely high, then independent.)
  4. The worker’s skill an initiative. (If initiative high and unsupervised, then independent.)
  5. The permanency of the worker’s relationship with the employer. (If high, then employee.)
  6. The nature and degree of control by the employer. (If rules are great and control is high, then employee.)

[Email readers, continue here…]  The IRS guidelines cover the same principles, but the IRS combines these into three basic classes to test that relationship and classify the person in question.

  1. Behavioral control: Does the employer have the right to direct or control how the work is performed through instructions, training or other means? (If yes, then employee.)
  2. Financial control: Does the business have the right to direct or control the financial and business aspects of the worker’s job? (If yes, then employee.)
  3. Type of relationship: How does the worker and the business perceive their relationship? (More difficult. If each considers this a contract, there should be documentation, but that would lean toward independent contractor.)

And the IRS has many more tests within this grouping. (See my article referenced at the beginning of this for those.)

The IRS helps a bit by providing form SS–8 which can be submitted to the IRS for a pre–determination of the status of a worker.

This is not a test to be considered lightly.  The penalties for misclassification are onerous, and early stage companies usually cannot afford the risk at the very time when they are most vulnerable.  One more time:  check out the previous article listed above for the ten tests.

And now, think of Uber, Lyft, AirB&B, and all the others that try to teach and enforce consistency, adherence to company rules, management of time, and determination of the quality of the worker’s facility or vehicle or tools.  And try to classify the worker using the above questions.  It becomes very difficult, and certainly leads to conflict, potential lawsuits, and lack of easy resolution.

No–one said that managing a business is easy. This range of issues just makes it even more difficult.  Yet, the risk of betting the farm on a wrong classification of an increasing number of workers is too great to ignore this subject or not to understand its impact upon the business.

Posted in Protecting the business | 2 Comments

The Power of the glass half empty

Dave’s note:  This week we again welcome my co-author of “Get Scrappy” to give us some of her sage advice in only a way she could express it.  You’ll enjoy her style and message…

By Kim Shepherd

It’s great to get good reviews and hear positive feedback . . . positive is good. But negative is powerful. Don’t get me wrong: the glass is half full. But what’s in that “empty” half? I think it’s filled with clues on how we can make the good even better. The trick is to spot the clues.

Here are some ideas…

Hang in the negative

Not surprisingly, people like to focus on what’s working. But imagine this: at the end of a Glass-half-full-webproject or period, you get back a client satisfaction survey with a score of 100%. Now shake things up. Call the client and say, “We appreciate that feedback, but no one is perfect. Wasn’t there something we could have done better?”

For one thing, you’ve just blown that client’s mind. She’s thinking, “I just gave them a perfect score and they still want to be better? Wow!” But suppose she tells you, “Well, now that I think of it, there were a couple of days during the engagement when I wondered where things stood, but I wasn’t getting updates.”

[Email readers, continue here…]    This is feedback you can use, a guide for making that good thing even better. No, the changes probably won’t be huge. But Olympic athletes like Apollo Ohno take steps to shave .02 seconds of their time –– and sometimes that difference is golden.

Listen to the silence

There’s also power in silence. No, I’m not going all Zen on you. Not long ago, Kathy Marshall, our Director of Recruitment Quality, blogged about this notion. She says the feedback she does get around quality is valuable, but she believes there is “quality gold” in the feedback that isn’t always offered. You have to go and get it.

This applies beyond client satisfaction surveys. For example, people tend to ignore introverts on their teams. But you need both introverts and extroverts. You don’t usually have to ask extroverts for their opinion –– in fact, sometimes the challenge is getting them to be quiet for two seconds.

But the introvert in a meeting may be quietly looking at the issue from multiple viewpoints or playing out different scenarios in his head. If you’re leading the meeting, make a point of asking the quiet ones to share. Or find some time alone and ask their thoughts.

Think inside the box

A lot of people rush to think outside the box. It’s sexy. But thinking outside before thinking inside is like trying to sell someone a drill when all they really need is a hole. Great innovators first look inside the box so they’re really clear on what’s there. THEN they turn outside.

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Leadership: Sell the dream; Make the reality.

As a leader, you set the goals, establish the strategies and tactics to get there (with help from others of course) and sell the dream to all of your stakeholders.  And that includes potential customers as well as executives and employees.

Sometimes growth happens without a leader envisioning it, living it daily, evangelizing it to anyone who will listen.  But not often.  More often, you (the leader) set the goal and

Leading 3d Characters Showing Command And Leadership

push for achievement – hopefully establishing a realistic set of strategies and accurate metrics to measure progress along a timeline.

I recently sat in on a roundtable meeting in which the executive of a company stated his goal as “educate the world.”  To be fair, he followed a bit later with a goal of thirty million dollars in revenue in five years, which got my attention.  The first statement was a mantra, a vision, a rallying cry.  But when he did state a monetary goal, he started a real conversation about how he will achieve it and with what resources, and which of several focused revenue models.

[Email readers, continue here…]  Note that “Educate the world” elicited little response until the group saw the financial goal.  Your executives, board and others will surely do the same.

You will have sold the dream – one that is tangible and actionable.  So that is the challenge you won’t be able to avoid.  With that number out there, you will be held accountable by your board (and hopefully yourself) to make this happen in the time period stated.

So is this different from the vision thing?  For sure. Leaders lead. Managers execute the plan.  You will have just set in motion a whole series of events which might never have begun without your establishing, then selling your dream that you set in a tangible form.

Make that your new reality.

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The power of THREE – Solving critical issues

Kids Wooden Number Block As Symbol For Numeracy Or Counting

Here’s a formula for success…

Let’s say you have been told by your board, by your chairman, CEO, or direct leader to solve three problems you identify and report back within a month showing progress – or that you have solved these three.

First, you’d worry that this is an artificial way to focus management.  Why three? Why now? After a short moment, you’d turn into action mode, perhaps calling in senior staff for a brainstorming session.

So you identify the three most critical issues, perhaps with the help of the group. What next?  Here comes the important part.

Define success: Think of what an ideal outcome would look like and find metrics to measure progress along the route.

Create milestones: Make them public, easy to identify when reached, and follow progress toward each, again publicly posting the progress and achievement.

Simplify the process:  Reexamine the definition and milestones.  Find ways to make each step clear and simple enough for all to understand and follow.  Err on the side of oversimplification.  Remember that this exercise has a time limit for completion.

[Email readers, continue here…]       Set expectations for each participant, clearly listing the expected outcome for each person and department, asking them to define the steps they will make toward completion and how they will measure each.

Measure the outcomes.  Was the intent to remove a barrier?  Increase marketing effectiveness? Increase sales closing rate?  Reduce manufacturing or shipping errors?  Speed the processes?  Measure how each of the three resulted in a gain, and publicly report the outcome.

Finally, celebrate the wins with the whole team.  Never forget to celebrate, compliment, reward.   Just three critical issues that will have led to three positive outcomes.  Now that would be a good month for any of us.  Why not try it now?

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How do you measure your effectiveness as a leader?

There are many roads to Rio, so they say.  But there is one overwhelming method of appraising the effectiveness of a business leader.


We can invent lots of metrics to measure progress for a leader, including revenue, profit, employee satisfaction, cost containment, percentage of available market, and more.  But managementofpainthese are all individual roads to Rio – which is the stated goal for the organization.

For many early stage companies with outside investors, the goal is to ultimately sell the company or even go public, always at a significant increase in valuation over time.  For larger or later stage companies, it could be to increase market share through acquisitions with the attendant elimination of competition or increase in a company’s reach.

[Email readers, continue here…] I prefer a financial goal, such as “achieve $20 million in revenue within five years.”  That requires real thought and strategies.

More importantly, what if you as a leader haven’t a stated goal for your enterprise?  How do you begin to measure your effectiveness if you lead without corporate purpose?

So if you find yourself unable to answer the headline question, it is time to regroup with your senior leaders, board members and investors – and look for consensus upon a goal.  With that in hand, short term or long term, you should then be able to plot a course of strategies and tactics for you, each of your direct reports, and the entity as a whole to focus resources upon and to progress through the steps to achieve that goal.

Yes, if you are a bad leader of people, you will lose human resources and frustrate your attempt to reach to goal.  And if you rough ride through your human resources just to achieve the goal and somehow achieve just that, does that achievement make you a good or great leader?   Perhaps your investors would think ‘yes’ while your entire staff would be in the opposite camp.

So, outcome measurement is a more nuanced art – involving goal achievement for the entity while being sensitive to and an enabling resource in the achievement of goals for your human resources as well.  And that’s not as easy as “simply” selling the company or achieving a financial goal over time.

So, how would you measure your effectiveness as a leader?

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The seven attributes of a highly successful start–up CEO

Dave’s note:  This week we welcome guest author, David Friedman, to tell us about his favorite startup CEO, and his take after interviewing her – asking for her list of attributes for startup success.  

By David Friedman

I met Kirsten Mangers several years ago after she successfully sold her startup, Webvisible.   Kirsten is the founder of ChickLabs, an incubator that focuses on helping primarily women entrepreneurs.  She is also the CEO of Immunogum, a start–up in Newport Beach, California.

Here are Kirsten’s Magnificent Seven attributes and roles for an entrepreneurial CEO:

Chief sales person. Selling is required whether it is for sales of the company’s products or selling the business idea to investors. Pure and simple, it is the number one attribute.  If a CEO cannot get comfortable selling, then he/she needs to find a strong complement or a replacement CEO.

Group of friendly businesspeople in suits standing head to head

Seven attributes of a highly successful start-up CEO

Culture Maven. The culture of a company attracts and retains great people.   Think about the culture of Google or Apple and you get somewhat different impressions.   But culture will help you succeed and be one of the differentiators to also–rans.

[Email readers, continue here…]  Chief Strategist. As Louis Carroll said in Alice and Wonderland: “if you don’t know where you are going, any road will take you there.”  CEOs need to set the direction and if necessary make the decisions to pivot the company.  Early startups will go through false starts and pivoting will be essential.

Teacher, tutor, and mentor. Kirsten claimed to be a whiteboard fanatic.  Where there is a whiteboard, she could share ideas and interact with the staff on a regular basis and even get others to critique, comment, and debate those ideas.   This goes along with the concept that the CEO needs to be a visible leader and wander about with the team.

You have to challenge yourself and others – even with ideas that seem outrageous.   Why?  You stay fresh and there may be a kernel of insight into the new idea or someone else may see another path to success buried in that idea. Someone may say: that’s crazy, but what if we did this?  Challenging prevailing wisdom and valuing the diversity of thought among people is critical to engage your team.

Chief Reporter and Scribe. This is the issue of transparency.   The CEO of a start–up needs to create an environment where everyone on the team feels that they understand and can contribute to the business’s success.   With normally smallish teams and fewer people, such discussions keep the team engaged and motivated.  I have personally witnessed employees banding together to find solutions to seemingly unsolvable problems.

Chief Recruiter. To be successful, a strong team needs to be assembled and nurtured.  As Kirsten said, it all starts with people – and finding the best people is the biggest challenge.  When she interviews someone, she has asked some interesting questions to probe the character, drive, and attitudes of the recruit.   One question I like is: “If you were on a three–hour flight and could sit next to one person, who would that person be and why?”   From this answer you can determine motivation and quest for learning, both of which are critical in a start–up

I believe that these sage words of wisdom from Kirsten will help an aspiring entrepreneur be successful and potentially be as successful as Kirsten.  It can’t hurt for more seasoned managers either

Posted in Growth!, Surrounding yourself with talent | 1 Comment