Solving the “my team doesn’t get my vision” problem

“F&%*, they just don’t get it.”

I was chatting with a founder CEO last week and asked him if his organization had a clear mission and vision. His answer was a definitive ‘yes’ as he proceeded to rhyme off his intention for the company. Thirty minutes later I asked the same question of a key team member. Her responsibilities include communicating the company message abroad. Her response? ‘NO!’. She went on to elaborate on the confusion and frustration she experiences as a result.

How is it that your simple and compelling vision for your company’s future is so illusive to others? There is one prediction that I can make with 100% certainty. Your team doesn’t see your vision with the same vivid colour and crisp detail that you do.

So much time and money wasted. Hours of work by a team with limited contribution to the founder’s vision.

But why?

PC1 Last month I found myself at Peggy’s Cove on Canada’s east coast. It’s a quaint spot. Photographers and artists flock to the area to capture the essence of life by the sea. During my visit, a collection of painters had gathered for the day to share their passion. Easels dotted the landscape throughout the tiny village. Many of the artists were set up side by side looking out over the same landscape.

As I walked around, it struck me how different each painting was developing on the canvases. These artists were looking at the exact same landscape. Yet none of the pictures looked remotely similar. One artist was painting only in shades of red and pink. Another was capturing the broadest view possible in watercolour. Yet another had zoomed in on a small boat in the harbour. Some of the artists painted the finest details. Others aimed to capture the essence of the scene with broad strokes.

Which artist was right? When it comes to art, personal preference is in the eye of the beholder. Read More »

Five tips to building (or rebuilding) your first sales team

Ready to move beyond entrepreneur-as-solo-salesperson?

Tried already and disappointed with the results?

This article’s for you.

One of the biggest challenges for most entrepreneurs is building their first sales team. Sales provide the essential fuel that makes tomorrow possible. Company founders carry a lot of that responsibility in the earliest days. And if all goes well, the need to build a sales team comes fast. Without the team, opportunities will dwindle.

As founders we tend to have one of two views of sales. We’re either born to sell and love to be in every deal. Or we can’t wait for someone else to take over. Both offer challenges when it comes to building the team.

To get a fresh perspective on how to best tackle this phase of growth, I reached out to Andy Aicklen. Andy has been driving hyper-growth in software and tech companies for over thirty years. He now works with venture capital firms to maximize returns from their software investments. Andy and I shared stories and compiled the following list of tips for founders as they build their teams.

Deciding what you need

Do you hire a heavy hitter or an energetic new grad? Manager first or pure hunter? There are many needs to balance.

Although there is no single right answer, there are a few important elements to consider. Some of the questions that Andy asks founders include, “What are you selling? How long is the sales cycle? What’s the expected average monthly and annual run rates? How technical is the product? Who is the buyer?”

There’s a big difference in hiring someone to manage a short, simple sales cycle versus  a long, complex one. “Big deal” sales people can inspire a customer to stay engaged for the long haul. They help customers get to a place they didn’t think they could get to. They understand customers at a deeper level. They know how to leverage people on the team. They have an advanced level of social skills. They are also expensive.

Often product knowledge gets too much focus. From Andy’s perspective, “Understanding the technology and product isn’t that big an issue. Do you want your people to be experts in the product or an expert in selling? If they are too product-focused they won’t be successful long-term in managing a large number of clients. I’d rather hire a salesperson who was a sale executive first and a subject matter expert second. That’s why we use sales engineers or product specialists”.

Spend time upfront. Figure out exactly what you need before building a sales team with the wrong mix of skills for what you’re trying to sell. Read More »

Five ways to turn the traditional termination process on its head

Click here for a free comprehensive termination checklist


Terminate: To bring to an end.Saying_Goodbye1

Whatever the situation, we humans don’t usually do well with endings. Emotions get triggered. Things get messy.

When it comes to terminations, we are asking a colleague to leave our tribe. No matter the reason or the situation, it can be torturous for everyone involved.

Traditional termination processes don’t help. Risk reduction trumps trust and human decency.

What if there was a better way?

Why things go awry

Despite many great evolutionary developments, much of our wiring is still primitive. Our reptilian brain (yep, the same one that reptiles have) kicks in more often than we’d like to admit. As danger approaches, we regress quickly to basic fight, flight, or freeze responses.

When it comes to basic human needs, termination of employment hits all the wrong buttons. Uncertainty. Loss of social status. Fear of the unknown. Social exclusion. A deep sense of unfairness.

Whether staying or leaving, similar emotions of fear, anxiety and guilt flood your body.

Consider these paradigm shifts to make the process easier on everyone.

Who’s in the room?

Old paradigm: Two people meet with the employee to deliver the news

There are usually three fear-based “what if” drivers of this approach. One: What if we need a witness to what was said in the meeting? Two: What if the manager doesn’t do a good job delivering the message? Three: What if the terminated employee gets physical? In reality, the risks are small. We can manage every situation anticipating the worst, causing unnecessary trauma to everyone involved. Read More »

The king of management says “Uncle”

Something monumental has happened in the world of business. Equal to taking a bulldozer to the foundation of a high rise, this will change how business is taught.

Falling booksI usually don’t write about the big behemoths of business.  They are too far removed from the day-to-day lives of entrepreneurs.  Yet recent changes at GE need a closer look.  The shift they are making challenges so many foundational beliefs. This wipes out a third of the books on my bookshelf.

Jack Welch increased the value of GE by over $300 BILLION during his tenure.  In 1999, Fortune Magazine named him “Manager of the Century”. Over time his beliefs washed into every nook and cranny of business. Multinational conglomerates to twenty person shops adopted Jack’s way of thinking. It became absolute best practice.

And now, with little fanfare, GE is in the final stages of jumping ship. Left are thousands of companies. Each operating with a basic philosophy that could be doing more harm than good.

The GE we know

Known for a rigid system of performance management, GE relied on the Topgrading method. For almost 30 years, the company administered an aggressive annual performance review process. Employees were scored and ranked against peers. The bottom 10% of under performers were then fired. As an industrial conglomerate, Jack Welch’s no nonsense style drove results. It was a time when cost, efficiency, and operational excellence were paramount.

At it’s core, GE’s used an approach based on meritocracy. Reward the best talent, get rid of the worst. Some might describe the process as ruthless. Others call it good business. Either way, GE has decided to change. And, as a consistent leader in business effectiveness, GE’s move is noteworthy. Read More »

The easiest ROI booster that most entrepreneurs miss

From day one of starting a business, so much entrepreneurial mind share goes to figuring out ROI. Every dollar counts. You start hiring people. Their salary is cash out of your pocket. When they screw up, it costs you.

The business grows. Complexity increases. The search for ROI improvements continues. For most businesses, people investments add up. They can be the largest single expense line.

So what do entrepreneurs do to maximize the output of the team? Most of the focus falls to hiring, firing and intense management of performance. Hire top performers. Expect great things. If they turn out to be a dud, fire them. It sounds harsh, but this is a reality. When an investment isn’t paying off, move on.

The problem with this cycle is cost. Many expenses associated with employee turnover are invisible. The end-to-end process burns a pile of cash. So entrepreneurs focus on better hiring, better on boarding, faster firing. It’s an expensive way to learn.

There is a cheaper, faster, and simpler habit you can develop. It won’t cost you a dime. And if you’re not using it already, it’s guaranteed to boost your ROI.

The ah-ha moment

Chatting in office croppedA colleague of mine relayed a story to me. He was meeting with the CTO and founder of a billion dollar start-up success story. Over coffee the CTO shared a recent revelation. He had come to appreciate the ROI of asking his team about their weekend. People worked harder and gave more to the company because he showed interest in the personal lives of his team.

I shared this story with a senior leader at another company. Her response: “Wow, that’s exactly what we need. If we could get our CEO to do that… to say good morning to the team… to show he cares… it would revolutionize our company.”

Why it matters

In the early part of my career I worked in a team of 12 people reporting to an executive. He was my second-level manager so I didn’t interact with him much. But I did have full appreciation that my career rested in his hands. He came in every morning and went right to his desk. He never said hello and rarely acknowledged me. Some days it made me anxious, other days it pissed me off. In both cases it affected my creativity and contributions to the company. Read More »

The secret to boosting innovation… and the catch.

Flower lightbulbWhat if there was a secret that guaranteed your company an exponential innovation boost? And what if there was a small group of people who had figured out this secret? And what if that group was willing to share every intimate detail of that secret for free? Would you be interested?

I’m guessing you would jump at the chance.

Now, what if there’s a catch to learning this secret? And what if that catch requires you to challenge every personal belief you hold about leading business? Would you still do it?

Last week I spent three days with the people who hold this secret. They came together from all over the world to meet in two connected conferences. One in Hungary and one in Canada. These are deep thinkers. Explorers. They share an intense passion for figuring out a better way to run businesses. And together, they’ve found a secret they are willing to share.

Sometimes secrets are so big and so scary, we don’t want to hear them. This could be one of those secrets.

The need for change

Like it or not, our world is changing. With change comes disruption. With disruption comes discomfort. In business, this discomfort is showing up through disengagement. Right now 76% of full-time employees are open to new job opportunities. This raises a big question. How innovative is someone in their current job while thinking about working somewhere else?

The Google generation is looking for a new way of contributing. Power structures no longer work when everyone has access to the same information. Hierarchies collapse when everyone has an equal voice in the virtual world. Sub par ideas get crushed when power structures can’t protect them.

Yet we still aim to be innovative in organization structures designed for a different time. Read More »

Escaping the Policy Trap: Why young companies start implementing policies (and how to avoid them)

When it comes to non value add activities in business, policy creation takes top spot. Trouble starts the moment your organization slips into control by policy. The breakdown of trust is underway.

Early in my career I rocked it as a master policy writer. I took great pride in my superb ability to foresee every exception and close every loophole.

I’ve since learned from my mistakes. I now see policies for what they often are—an attempt by one person to control another.

I recently connected with one of the most progressive CEOs in my network. He shared his view on the topic. “Policies are put in place to manage the 1% at the detriment of the 99%.”

Why would we do that? Why go to so much effort to punish the 99%? The answer is simple but perhaps not obvious.

The love affair with policies

At the core of policy development is predictability and structure. They create restrictions and limitations. For those of us with perfectionistic tendencies, control is like a comfortable blanket. It keeps us safe.
That explains why some people love policies. But what about the non-perfectionists who aren’t drawn to structure? Why doesn’t this group rebel and topple the policy fortress before it’s too big?

It turns out that the heart of the issue is fear. We are afraid of having difficult, important conversations with each other. Policies, even terrible ones, provide us with a safety net. When a problem requires a difficult conversation, we have control on our side.  Read More »

What every exec should know before joining a founder-led company

It looks so easy.  There is low hanging fruit everywhere.  In fact, there’s fruit all over the ground.

There are no systems.  No structures.  No guidelines.  The team is running hard and fast, seemingly in a state of chaos.

Welcome to your early stage entrepreneurial adventure.

To a seasoned executive with years of industry experience, this can look like a piece of cake.  It’s an opportunity to make a real difference and fulfill those entrepreneurial urges.  You can have a big impact and boost this company to the next level.

You are ready to leave the safety net of Goliath for the challenge of fighting along side David.

The idea of joining a startup is sexy.  It’s alluring.  There are stories of pending industry disruption, untapped market opportunity, mushrooming prospect lists. You can taste the freedom, clear of senseless bureaucracy.

How do I know this?  Because I’ve had this conversation more than a hundred times with executives. Successful and talent people who were planning to jump on board with an entrepreneur.  Earlier in my career I hired many of them into their roles. CXOs. VPs. Super-talented industry specialists. Unfortunately I consoled many of them too on their way out.

There are three mistakes that executives make heading into their new entrepreneurial roles.  For most executives, starting with an early stage company is like falling into a cookie jar. You are full of energy and ideas. You want to prove your worth, and so you get to work.  It’s understandable.  And it’s a path to failure.  Here’s why. Read More »

Why you should avoid hiring an HR leader for your company

I have a sinking feeling when I hear that a young company is hiring their first HR leader. I’ve seen this story play out many times. Too often it goes awry, ending months later with everyone frustrated. The people involved are well intentioned. And I get it. The team is growing. People issues are cropping up. The internal running of the company is becoming a distraction. Hiring a multi-talented HR person seems like the right next move.

Why HRI often get calls from headhunters looking for names of potential candidates. The call usually goes something like this: “I have a client, early stage, led by an entrepreneur. The company is looking for a Director of HR. Someone who is strategic and can also get their hands dirty in the day-to-day stuff. Do you know anyone?”

These people are extremely difficult to find. Developing business strategy is a completely different skill set from handling the multitude of day-to-day issues.

The company thinks they need this role, but maybe they don’t. When I get one of these calls, I try to orchestrate a conversation with the CEO so I can share my experience.

What does HR do?

Having run HR teams in my past life, I know there is no limit to the things that keep HR busy. The question becomes, how much of that work is adding measurable value? And for the work that needs to be done, who is best to do it? Read More »

Seven signs you are successfully shifting from entrepreneur to CEO

bridge-1082117_960_720Over time I’ve observed the moments when entrepreneurs are called upon to become a CEO.  I don’t mean a title change on your business card.  I’m talking about that moment when the nature of your contribution needs to change.

When are these moments?  It might be your first large and meaningful customer order. Or when an investor dumps cash into the business.  Or when the company outgrows your kitchen table. The moment is different for each entrepreneur and each business.  It’s in these moments that you need to pivot.  Many of the activities that defined personal success and satisfaction shift to others. At the same time a whole new list of responsibilities and decisions get loaded on.

These moments are challenging times for entrepreneurs.  Everyone is watching.  Can you slide into the role of superstar CEO? Should you? Your funders are watching.  Your employees are talking.  And deep down, your inner critic is on overdrive.

Fear not.  Many have made the successful transition and you can too.

There are seven signs that the shift is underway. Read More »

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