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Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Managing Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (part 2)

There is little doubt that you will have the opportunity to “hone your managerial skills to a fine edge” at some point in your career.  It just happens to be a fact of life.  You may even be an expert by now.  But what do you do when someone calls in the future to ask for a recommendation for one of your prior less than stellar employees; try being a LIAR.

I hope you looked at the first post on this topic before reading this one. It will help put things in the right prospective.  While this post is more humorous by intention, it does have a bit of a serious side.  The ideas for the title came from real life employees in the past, believe it or not.  But the quoted recommendations below came from an editorial in The Washington Post March 3, 1987 titled,  Looking for Faint Praise? Try LIAR.” The info in the editorial contained excerpts from writings of Robert J. Thornton, at the time a professor in Economics at Lehigh University.  He invented a system he called LIAR.  The letters stand for “Lexicon of Inconspicuously Ambiguous Recommendations.”  I still have the editorial with a few of the quotes today and provide some below.

The first time a friend and I read editorial we laughed the rest of the day and quickly decided which of the key “recommendations” fit the personalities in our group.  I hope you have as much a laugh as we did.  I actually used a few of these in the past as to not provide bad information about prior employees and prevent someone from getting a new position elsewhere.

Quotes from the editorial:

·       About a person that is hopelessly inept: I most enthusiastically recommend this candidate with no qualifications whatsoever.”

·       About a person that isn’t very industrious: “In my opinion you would be very fortunate to get this person to work for you.

·       About a person who isn’t worth further consideration: I would urge you to waste no time in making this candidate an offer of employment.”

·       About a person who simply doesn’t have the credentials: “I cannot say enough good things about this candidate or recommend him too highly.

·       About an ex-employee who had trouble getting along with his coworkers: I am pleased to say that this candidate is a former colleague of mine.”

·       About a person who is so unproductive that the position would be better left unfilled: I can assure you that no person would be better for the job.”

I hope you never have to use these in real life, unfortunately I did.  As I said in the first article, HIRE WELL.  But if all else fails, try one of the above or make  up your own.

Taffy Williams is the author of:  Think Agile:  How Smart Entrepreneurs Adapt in Order to Succeed to via Amazon 

Don’t Forget You Have a TEAM

Entrepreneurs creating a startup will eventually need to bring on key players to help.  This covers the Board, Advisors, and Staff.  Sometime, the entrepreneur works for months alone trying to get the business formed and running.  During this time he/she has determined what needs to be done and may have been multitasking to accomplish everything.  It is great for the entrepreneur because when making presentations they tend to be better informed because they have developed extensive knowledge about all aspects of the business.  The listeners will get a great feeling once they see the presenter appear to be on top of the business.

Sooner or later there will be others participating and this is extremely important.  Most businesses need specific people to manage the different segments.  The business also needs people performing the routine and more sophisticated work.  After all, NO single person can know everything and NO single person knows the best way to accomplish all the tasks in the company.  More importantly, the entrepreneur / CEO has a few really important responsibilities:  RAISING MONEY, KEEPING INVESTORS INFORMED, SETTING STRATEGY, AND MONITORING MILESTONE ACCOMPLISHMENT.

Recruiting a team is very important and the team that is in the company is expected to work hard.  The CEO sets goals but the team delivers them.  Without a great team, the company will likely be less impressive or be non-existent.  Products will not be invented or made, sales goals not met, marketing a disaster, and accounting will be a mess.  Sure, you can create a virtual company with no internal staff, but that is a team of sorts.

It is easy for the senior management to think they are the most important; this is why their compensation and stock grants are greater.  But remembering to take care of your team is equally important.  They deserve to get rich if the entrepreneur / CEO does.  The team most likely did everything humanly possible to make the company successful. So remember to recognize them along the way.

A few ideas that provide meaningful recognition:

·       Regular Option Grants – These typically require board approval, but the management recommends the number.  Grants are made at the current price /valuation and carry a significant time to exercise.  They usually have a vesting period to encourage the employee to stick around.  It does have a cost and this is reflected in the accounting.  The number of options can also reflect the degree or lack of contribution.

·       Bonus – Cash bonus is something all employees recognize as great to have.  The bonus can reflect the contribution of the employee.  When the company has less cash, bonus may be small or none.  When the company has more cash bonuses can be larger.  A bonus pool should be in the budget at the start of the year.  Management does not have to issue them, but they are approved by the board early and distributed later.

·       Pay Increases – Everyone likes this, but be careful as these will have the long term effect of increasing the budget. Give the increases, but one time bonuses can help and these are not annual.

·       Awards – Ok, awards have no monetary value, but calling a staff member in front of the whole group and making a big deal about what they did will let everyone know you liked it.  The employee may even smile for the next few days!

·       Promotions – Great employees that can lead others will need to see upward mobility if you want to keep them. 

·       Send them on a trip – It may be for business or it can be a vacation or both.  Sending an employee to a meeting in a great location and telling them the company will pay to take the family can be a different way to reward the employee and get work at the same time.

This is not a complete list but just a few common ways that companies help motivate employees and encourage them.  Your goal is to have them feel they are cherished and their work is important.  You are likely going to be so busy that you will forget this important task, so set the strategy for recognition and make sure you find new ways to say “THANK YOU.”

Taffy Williams is the author of:  Think Agile:  How Smart Entrepreneurs Adapt in Order to Succeed to via Amazon

Monday, October 24, 2011

The One Word Entrepreneurs Do Not Say

Sometimes words have multiple meanings depending on the spelling.  They may sound the same, but are spelled differently.  The word spoken of in this article is not any of these.  In fact look it up, the meaning is not ambiguous and it is short.  That said the word when heard by real entrepreneurs carries multiple meanings.  To everyone else, it carries it true defined meaning.

I spent most of my career listening to people use the word.  Most often telling me things about companies I worked in or help.  It is amazing word is used by many of those I interact with because I always thought of most were at least entrepreneurs once.  Yet, even today when I am told the word, I still get a bit surprised.  The difference now is that my reactions have changed and I am more subdued on hearing it.

You cannot start a new company, turn-around one in trouble, or manage a business without having someone tell you the magic word.  It scan be an advisor, investor, employee, a family member, or most anyone.  The word is so simple, yet to me it means something entirely different.

I always like a challenge. Sometimes the challenge can be much more than I bargained for but that is what keeps work somewhat interesting; i.e., doing things that others believe to be impossible. Most of the time I do not go searching for the impossible, it usually comes looking for me.  But I get rejuvenated when someone uses the magic word around me.

What is the magic word: CAN’T.  I bet you know the dictionary meaning, but do you know the entrepreneurs’ interpretation?

I have many ways I interpret the word and wanted to give you a few to think about. Try these:

·       I challenge you to make it work

·       There is a lot of money in this for someone that figures it out

·       How many work-arounds can I come up with to show everyone they are wrong

·       How can someone be so stuck on failure and not see the upside

·       Haven’t they seen what I can do

·       Where is this person’s imagination

Most entrepreneurs start companies with the odds stacked against them.  They believe strongly in what they do.  For them, the word CAN’T is something they do not want to hear and do not believe.  They know there is a way to make things work; it just takes time to find the right approach.  They will work extensively until they find it.  “I bet you CAN’T get your company going.” Now get to work and show me wrong.

Taffy Williams is the author of:  Think Agile:  How Smart Entrepreneurs Adapt in Order to Succeed to via Amazon .

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Go Back and Make It Work

I recently signed up for Quora and saw a question in the entrepreneur section asking what the single piece of advice I received that was the most important.  My response was “Go Back and Make It Work.” I will explain below.

I was a graduate student working in the field of Biochemistry.  As a graduate student, a major portion of the program was conducting novel research and making discoveries.  These discoveries usually ended up as published articles; either in journals or a thesis.  Each student had a thesis advisor and usually conducted the research in that advisor’s laboratory.

After a long review of projects, I selected one that contained a mix of different fields of chemistry and would provide a chance for broad training.  My advisor helped kick the research off by designing my first experiment.  I worked on this project for 6 months and could not get the experiment to work.  In desperation, I walked into my advisor’s office and told him the experiment did not work, “give something else to do”.  You guessed his response “You did not do it right, Go Back and Make It Work.”  He did not review my notebook, research experiments or anything.  He just said go back and make it work.  A few months later I actually resolved the problems and my research program was off to a great start.

As my career developed this philosophy of making things work became a goal.  In business or in science the continual seeking of ways around problems and making the situation work out became a way of life.  I developed an attitude that all problems have some type of solution and often more than one.  Working parallel approaches to resolving the problems often presented the resolution sooner.

I spent much of my time in business working on startups and turn-around of companies.  The problems grew and the number of options to resolve them grew as well. 

There is a moral of this story.  You may have heard it as a child “You Can Do Anything You Set Your Mind to Do.”  I heard it as a child but never believed it.  It was not until graduate school when I was forced to complete things I thought were not possible that I became a believer.  With each success I became more optimistic about resolving problems and my confidence grew.

Optimism often improves as you learn to solve the difficult problems.  What is optimism?  This story will help explain it:

A child was told that there was not enough money for presents for the coming holiday.  The child had duties on the farm and routinely was asked to clean the stables.  He always wished for pony and this holiday he made the same request of his parents.

When the holiday drew near, the family had enough funds to buy fertilizer for the farm.  They had the manure delivered to the stables and placed in a stall.  One morning the parents awoke to hear an excited child in the stable shoveling and digging in the manure.  The horrified parents asked what the child was doing.  The child responded, “With All this Manure, There Has to be a Pony In Here Someplace.”  That is optimism!!

Summary:  Startups are not trouble free and entrepreneurs will have their fair share of problems.  There are no instructions on solving problems in startups. The resolution to the problem may be totally different than anyone may have expected.   “Remain optimistic” and don’t forget the title of this article: “Go Back and Make It Work.”

Taffy Williams is the author of:  Think Agile:  How Smart Entrepreneurs Adapt in Order to Succeed to via Amazon 

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

One Day at a Time

Each day I review what I am doing and trying to decide if it is working!  The questioning is important because it is hard to improve if you have no clear vision of what needs to be better.  Layering this questioning on top of any ups and downs one may have can make some days a real challenge.  During the down days, it seems like everything is all wrong.  On the up days, why should I change anything, it is great.  Somewhere in the middle is where the real issues reside.  Identifying those can be most important. 

Yesterday, a colleague commented that he had received a note from someone following him on Twitter.  The note was a positive affirmation of the contribution the colleague has been making in the life of those following him.  This type of information can be helpful as much as the info regarding what is not helping people.  Both self-assessments and outside input are great aids when seeking ways to improve.

By now you know that I have a Blog and am on Twitter.  Just this morning, I read a note which described why a writer blogged and analyzed whether it was worth the effort. I would like to thank Liz Strauss ( @lizstrauss ) for sending the link out for the blog posted by Mitch Joel.  His conclusions were interesting:

1)     It was worth while

2)     It improved his critical thinking

3)     He met people

4)     He stayed connected

5)     He paced himself

6)     It keeps him regular (committed to a timeline)

Oddly enough, it was this morning that I was questioning why do I Blog?  I have posted a fair number of articles in Startup Blog and in the Examiner.com.  I have made new friends and have had comments from several that have benefited from the posts.  I am often asked what I want and where I am going.  The answer is that I have no real plan other than trying to help those entrepreneurs starting companies.  I believe creating startups is an excellent way to stimulate a real growth economy.  Apparently the CEO and Founder of Starbucks believes this as well.   This is why he started a special program to stimulate growth of startups via loans which the American people can contribute to.  Actually, I like his plan a lot; since the banks won’t loan money, people can do it.

Coming back to my day job of helping startups, I have questioned how to get them funded. Many of the startups I work with need much more cash than can be obtained from Angels, Crowdfunding, or typical loans.  The funds and criteria for funds willing to participate in financing rounds in excess of $10MM for companies needing in excess of $50MM to launch a first product has changed.  The diligence needed has increased, the lower risk levels are needed, and the number of companies to choose from makes it a buyers’ market for the funding sources. The landscape is constantly changing along with the economic conditions requiring a continual questioning of what can be done next to be able to best assist clients.

The economy has changed rather dramatically over the last 10 years.  Nearly all startups are seeking funding and are having to work extra hard to find it.  I suspect you have figured this out by now.”  There are a wide range of avenues one can explore for funding and you really need to travel all of them.  The economic conditions will eventually improve. Until it does, you will need to get up each day and ask, “What can I do different today?” 

·       Determine if there is something you can do to make the business stronger and more attractive to an investor.

·       Look for those funding sources you have been ignoring.

·       Try to find corporate partners that may have interest in your business.  Maybe there is a deal that will help.

·       Possibly a manufacturing partner is willing to become a partner.  Or, a service provider.

The point is:  Each day, you should explore what you can do that day to maintain your positive attitude and determine those steps that can advance your business. 
  Taffy Williams is the author of:  Think Agile:  How Smart Entrepreneurs Adapt in Order to Succeed to via Amazon