Archive for Human Resources

What Makes A Good Boss?

Like a boss

By Tom Fedro

How many books have been written on this subject?  I remember a decade ago there were two bestsellers out at the same time.  The first suggested the key was “servant leadership” which meant the boss was there to serve his employees and to help them become all that they could.  The second focused on “execution” and said the company should be run entirely as a meritocracy—get rid of the non-performers and keep firing/hiring until you had a good staff.  I’ve read books that said the best bosses managed by “walking around” and others that said the only good bosses around were “hands off” bosses.  One thing that seemed strange to me in this contradictory mess of advice was that every author was successful.  A number of successful businessmen shared their advice on how to succeed and you couldn’t follow the advice of all of them.

Gradually, I came to the conclusion that the success of the authors (assuming they really followed their own advice) had less to do with their actions and their philosophies than it had to do with the fact that their behavior was consistent.  The servant leader was a servant leader on Monday and a servant leader on Tuesday, Wednesday, and the rest of the week as well.  Mr. Execution demanded the same performance on every day of the week.  Employees went to work knowing exactly what to expect and they didn’t have to reinvent the wheel of behavior every single day.  Perhaps, then, the single greatest attribute someone in management can have is consistency.  I’m not ready to say it’s sufficient for success, but I think it’s a fair assumption to say that it’s necessary.

How does a manager (at any level) remain consistent in a world that’s changing so rapidly?  I think the key is to consider the question from the perspective of consistency of aim or consistency of purpose rather than consistency of action.  No, that doesn’t mean you get to be a sweetheart on Monday and an utter jerk on Wednesday.  What I mean is that you can make your employees understand that your goals for the company are clear.  When your actions are presented in light of your goals, they gain consistency even if the actions represent a change in direction.  For example, assume your clear goal for a tech support department is a service level commitment and you’ve been harping on a policy you think will result in faster response time.  Now assume the policy was a complete failure. If you change policy while explaining you were wrong about the policy’s results, and you need to try something else in order to meet the service level commitment, you’re consistent.

This isn’t the last post I’ll write about effective management, but I think it’s the most important.  Employees know we’re human, and when we let them know that we’re aware of that as well, we gain rather than lose respect.  Consistency is reassuring to an employee and by itself increases employee productivity by setting clear expectations that remain even when job duties are in flux.

What If Hard Work Isn’t the Answer?

Hard work

By Tom Fedro

I’ve always loved the work of W. Edwards Deming.  I recall watching a brief clip of a video once where he relates his interactions with a group of middle managers.  He asks how they’ll accomplish the company goals, and Deming’s response is perhaps the best description of the problem with most management.  “Immediately, a hand shot up in the back. ‘By everyone doing his best.’ Sounds great!  But you know, that won’t work.  Everyone is already doing his best.”

In the startup world in particular, the response to difficulty is almost always a cry to work harder, and rarely do we interpret those difficulties as an indication of flaws in our procedures or our business plans.  I can understand that.  Our hearts are usually wrapped up in those plans, and our first inclination is to protect our hearts, right?  A problem has to lie in the effort we’re expending, right?

I don’t think so.  I don’t think the difference between a successful startup and a failed startup has much at all to do with the amount of effort put in to try to make the company work.  In fact, although I’m certain startups would fail without effort, I don’t know of any that didn’t make it for that reason.  In general, I believe people work hard and try their best.

Deming was pointing out that the success of a company is reliant on the direction given to the company by management.  He wasn’t discounting the role of a worker at all.  In fact, he said the workers already do the best they can.  Management is responsible for the success or failure of a venture, and that means we need to step back when things aren’t proceeding as planned and evaluate our business before we decide more long hours and whip-cracking is the solution.

I thought about this recently when I read a quote from Jeremey Liew.  His insight into startups is evidence by his success at Lightspeed Venture Partners.  He said, “Working harder is usually not the solution (actually working harder is usually the solution for when things are going well). Doing something differently (up to and including giving up and trying something else) is usually the right answer…”  It’s not what we want to hear, but it’s good advice.

You’re already doing your best.

Relationships and Buzzwords

Branding

by Tom Fedro

I believe I first heard about relationship marketing… Let me think.  Oh yeah.  The very first day I ever studied business.  So why is it that today, many years later (I’ve already explained I don’t intend to give away my age by telling you how many decades that is) we still get articles, posts, videos, and books by gurus explaining that the “new” way to do business is all about relationships?  Really, hasn’t all marketing and all sales been about relationships from day one?

Think about it.  When we were asked to join the Pepsi Generation, we were asked to form a relationship.  Even when we were learning to teach the world to sing with Coca Cola, there was an implied relationship.  The first vendor I ever hired had a relationship with me, and the first person who hired us had a relationship.  Some relationships are deeper and more personal, but how do you call the fact that a good portion of the country uses the word “Coke” to describe soda pop generically and a good portion of the country does the same with “Pepsi.”  Those companies built relationships with consumers that altered our vocabulary.

No!  That’s not what relationship marketing means!

Why not?  If you could efficiently market relationships to a million customers, wouldn’t you?  I’ve watched relationship marketing transform from branding to direct sales to face to face sales to some kind of touchy feely friendship thing to branding again and back to face to face sales.  The core has always been the same.  We want brand loyalty and we earn it by developing a relationship, sometimes with very interaction-based efforts and sometimes from a higher level.

The new flavor of relationship marketing is really discussing the sales process as involving marketing for a longer term prior to handing off a lead to sales.  In other words (and I wish people would just use those other words) the relationship building process begins well in advance of the customer acquisition.  I don’t know that it really represents a new concept at all, but I’m certain that it should be that way.  Perhaps what’s happening, really, is that the reality of the information age and the growing level of prospect education mean we have to focus consciously now.  We have to focus with effort where we always should have, on the relationship with our customers.

Into the Heart of the Jungle

Jungle eyes

By Tom Fedro

Jim Stengel is an author, business guru, and experienced global marketing executive.  His branding expertise surpasses most, and I’ve enjoyed wisdom I’ve garnered from his writing, especially his new book.  He focuses on consumer branding more than business to business, which is no surprise given he was the global marketing officer for Proctor and Gamble, a company legendary for its ability to brand consumer products.  He came to mind a few days ago as I caught up on my various feeds and found him quoted in a post about great marketing quotes.  Here’s his quote:

If you want to understand how a lion hunts don’t go to the zoo. Go to the jungle.

It was a bit strange to see that quote right in the middle of a list of quotes that spoke of customer awareness, product development, advertising, and response ratios.  Each of the others was a somewhat pompous truism (and let’s face it,  a lot of the “experts” can make even the most basic marketing statement in a completely pompous way—myself included.)  I suppose that’s why it stuck with me, and I found myself realizing it had a lot of value in the world of B2B technology.
One of the problems with those of us in the tech sector—especially in tech startups—is that we tend to market our product as though our customers were caged.  In a zoo, the lion gets what’s thrown through the bars of its cage.  It’s docile.  It’s reactive and not proactive.  In short, it’s just waiting for the zookeeper to direct its behavior.  How often do we market to our customers with the same perspective?  We parcel our data and try to control the sale as though our targets lived in a cage and had no ability to see beyond the exhibit.
That’s not today’s customer for us.  Today’s executive isn’t locked in a cage.  We’re not zookeeper’s handing out controlled portions of information with which to make a buying decision. On the contrary, today’s executive is constantly on the hunt.  Access to information is almost completely without barrier today and it doesn’t come from zookeepers in call centers.  Our customers aren’t caged and we can’t control the sale.  So what do we do?  There’s a simple answer, though it’s by no means easy.  We start exploring the jungle.