Friday, August 16, 2013

Why Your Business Needs a Cause: 6 Ways to Make it Great

Cause as a Business Strategy

General Electric (GE) has long been involved in the cause of social responsibility. Linda Boff, Executive Director of Global Brand Marketing for GE, says that the number one reason that GE is active in those kinds of efforts is because it’s good for business.
This is about doing good, but it’s also about doing well,” says Boff. GE is a great example of a company that can do good work and be profitable at the same time.

6 Keys to a Successful Cause Initiative

Doing good takes a lot of time, resources and effort. In other words, it’s not easy. Here’s six keys to success we've learned over the years that will help you with your cause initiative.

Make it Personal

The cause has to be personal to someone in the business. It must be something the team can rally around and grow into a real passion. For us, the passion came from our son Joshua. When Joshua was two years old, we were told by one of the most renown doctors in her field that Joshua would never be able to talk or function like other kids. When we saw how Joshua went from zero words to a full vocabulary through intensive speech and play therapy, we knew this would be our cause.
Be sure the cause is personal and your company is (or can be) passionate about it.

Be Consistent

So many cause events are one-timers. Just like any marketing program, the cause needs to be consistent. Is it monthly, quarterly, annually? Whatever you do, it should be repeatable. The real results usually don’t happen after the first campaign…but after the third, fifth, tenth…
You must commit to the cause on an ongoing basis.

Get Social

The event cannot be done in a vacuum. The best events (like charity golf outings, charity runs, dinner fundraisers) get people together…talking and sharing. The perfect cause events are a mix of fun, networking, education and passion.
The cause should get people together, face-to-face (at some point, in some way).

Show Tangible Results

Supporters need to see that the program is making a difference. Yes, showing a money count is impressive, but it lacks feeling and impact. Each year at the event, Joshua takes the stage to deliver a speech on how speech therapy changed his life. It’s all the proof any of our supporters need.
Be prepared to show proof that your efforts are making an impact on others.

Have Accountability

I’ve been involved with many brands that have tried cause marketing initiatives, only to fail. The reason? No accountability. This is part of your business strategy and, as such, needs to be assigned people and resources or it simply won’t be successful.
Assign someone in your organization to lead the initiative and make sure they know what goals equal success.

Partner Now

According to the 2013 Edelman Trust Barometer, individuals trust organizations at about a 50% scenario. That means there is a 50/50 chance that people will think that your cause initiative is the real deal. How do you get that to 100%? Partner with a non-profit institution that adds credibility to your initiative (we partnered with the Easter Seals Northern Ohio). In addition to the added credibility, the non-profit can give you the resources and knowledge to make sure your program starts and continues in the right direction.
Reach out to a non-profit that aligns with your goals.
What do you think? Has a cause marketing effort helped your business or do you believe that businesses shouldn't mix charity work with business efforts?

Joe Pulizzi

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Rethinking Work: How to Choose Your Next Employee

There are only four types of jobs. Too often, people get stuck in the wrong one.

When I was a full-time recruiter, most of my clients were small entrepreneurial companies in the $20-100 million range. Typically we were asked to help them find people who could take them to the next level of growth. We started by figuring out the strengths and weaknesses of their existing management team, and where the company was positioned on the classic corporate life cycle. This led to the development of the four work types described in an earlier post, “There Are Only Four Jobs in the World - Are You in the Right One?” The graphic displays both ideas.

… companies and people grow in opposite directions – companies grow up the curve and people grow down it.

Another outgrowth of this work was the interesting idea that companies and people grow in opposite directions – companies grow up the life cycle curve and people grow down it. This creates opportunity and friction, and defines the company’s actual, vs. desired, culture.
The life cycle curve portrays the growth of a successful organization (or project) as it moves from start-up through rapid growth and on to maturity. People grow in reverse by moving down the curve, first developing their technical prowess at places that already do it well, and then taking on more complex projects and tasks. This is why smaller companies like to hire people from bigger companies, and people at bigger companies want to work at smaller companies.
While all of the four work types are required in each phase of company growth, the mix needs to shift dramatically to successfully move on to the next higher level. This is a problem for many people - they either need to adapt or get out of the way. Lack of recognition of this work type mix shift is one of the reasons companies struggle to grow, why many become stagnant once reaching maturity, and why people get frustrated, because they can’t implement change or are being forced to change. That's one of the reasons why consultants recommend breaking companies into smaller units to reignite growth.
The Four Building Blocks of Work
Thinkers: these people are the idea generators, strategists, and creative types. They’re at the front-end of the growth curve, and their work covers new products, new business ideas, and different ways of doing everyday things. Sometimes they get in the way once the company or projects begin to grow.
Builders: these people take ideas from the Thinker and convert them into reality. Entrepreneurs, inventors, and turn-around executives are typical jobs that emphasize the Builder component. They thrive in rapid change situations, make decisions with incomplete information and can create some level of order out of chaos. They feel strangled in bigger organizations.
Improvers: these are the people who take an existing project, process or team, organize it and make it better. In a fast-growing company they are charged with putting the wings on an airplane in flight. In a mature company they’re the ones that need to implement major and minor change despite heavy resistance. They are typically under-appreciated, yet have an enormous impact on a company’s long-term success.
Producers: these are the people who execute a repeatable process, ensuring quality and delivery. They touch the customer every day in some way, whether it’s designing a great product or manning the help desk. This work type becomes the foundation people use to build their careers as they take on bigger and more challenging assignments.
With this background, here’s how the interaction of the four work types with the corporate life cycle can be used to make better hiring and career decisions:
Hiring: hiring managers need to figure out the problem they’re trying to solve, including where the job fits on the project or corporate life cycle. Preparing a performance-based job description can help, by first defining the work that needs to be done, rather than the skills used to do the work. For example, someone launching a new product line would probably need to emphasize the Builder work type, while someone upgrading the international accounting system would most likely be the Improver-Producer. (Here’s the full handbook on how to prepare these performance-based job descriptions for all types of jobs.)
Career Planning: Ride the curve down to companies or projects that are at an earlier life cycle stage. Start by becoming a very proficient Producer. Then seek out situations where you can become an Improver, making things better, managing and developing people, and achieving results. If you’re so inclined, you then might want to take on a Builder role. Of course, you’ll be using your Thinker capability at each step. Sometimes it might dominate everything else you do.
Cultural Fit: Regardless of the corporate value statement, culture is defined largely by where the company is positioned on the life cycle filtered by the style of the hiring manager. For each person hired, these two factors determine the real culture, and whether they fit or not. For example, a rapid growth company that hired some bureaucrat to expand its retail distribution will not be able to hire and keep highly motivated Builder-Improvers if every decision requires multiple levels of approval. Cultural fit is not defined by HR with some lofty statement, but in the field where things happen, and by the people who make them happen.
There’s more to hiring top people, or jump-starting a career, than mixing and matching the skills and experiences listed on some poorly crafted job description. Follow the life cycle curve instead. It might be a far better way to get you where you want to go.

Lou Adler

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Building Great Founding Teams

There’s been a lot written about the individual characteristics of what makes a great founder, but a lot less about what makes a great founding team and how that’s different from a greatfounding CEO.
I think we’ve been imprecise in defining three different roles. In doing so we’ve failed to help founders understand what it takes to build a great founding team.
Here are my definitions.
Founders – The IdeaA Founder is the one with the original idea, scientific discovery, technical breakthrough, insight, problem description, passion, etc. A founder typically recruits co-founders and then becomes part of the founding team involved in day-to-day company operations. (However, in some industries such as life sciences, founders may be tenured professors who are not going to give up their faculty positions, so they often become the head of a startup’s scientific advisory board, but aren’t part of the founding team.)
A couple of caveats about founders with “ideas.” It’s important to differentiate between ideas that have been or can be patented and ideas thought up late night in a dorm-room. One of the hardest concepts for my students to grasp is that “an idea is not a company.” The reality is that in most cases, without the company to commercialize it, the idea is worthless (except to a patent troll.)
Even if they become part of the founding team, it’s not a given that the founder, having come up with the idea has a “guaranteed” leadership role (CEO or VP) in the new company. For some entrepreneurs this idea that the founder is not necessarily the CEO, is a surprise. When I hear, “What do you mean I’m not CEO? It’s my idea!” I get nervous that the founder is clueless about what makes the founding CEO special, and what else it actually takes to build a company. (Read on to see the difference in the roles.)
Founding Team – The Rock on Which to Build the CompanyThe founding team includes the founder and a few other co-founders with complementary skills to the founder. This is the group who will build the company. Its goal is to take the original idea and search for a repeatable and scalable business model- first by finding product/market fit, then by testing all the parts of the business model (pricing, channel, acquisition/activation, partners, costs, etc.)
In web/mobile startups the canonical view is the founding team consists of a hacker, a hustler, and a designer. In other domains, the skill sets differ, but the key idea is that you want a team with complementary skills.
There’s no magic number about the “right” number of founders for a founding team, but two to four seems to be the sweet spot. One of the biggest mistakes in assembling a founding team is not thinking through the need for skills but instead settling for who’s around. The two tests of whether someone belongs on a founding team are: “Do we have a company without them?” and, “Can we find someone else just like them?” If both answers are no, you’ve identified a co-founder. If any of the answers are “Yes,” then hire them a bit later as an early employee.
Key attributes of an entrepreneur on a founding team are passion, determination, resilience, tenacity, agility and curiosity. It helps if the team has had a history of working together, but what is essential is mutual respect. And what is critical is trust. You need to be able to trust your co-founders to perform, to do what they say they will, and to have your back.
Most startups that fail over team issues fail because co-founders hadn’t dated first, (spent time together in a Startup Weekend, worked together in an incubator, etc.) but instead jumped into bed to start a company.
Everyone has ideas. It’s the courage, passion and tenacity of the founding team that turn ideas into businesses.
Founding CEO – Reality Distortion Field and Comfort in Chaos
Idealistic founders trying to run a venture with collective leadership, without a single person in charge, find that’s the fastest way to go out of business. Speed, tempo and fearless decision-making are a startups strategic advantage. More often than not, conditions on the ground will change so rapidly that the need for immediate decisions overwhelms a collective decision process.
The founding team CEO is the first among equals in the founding team. Ironically they are almost never the most intelligent or technically astute person on the team. What sets them apart from the rest of the team is that they can project a fearless reality distortion field that they use to recruit, fund raise, pivot and position the company. They are the ultimate true believers in the company and have the vision, passion and skill to communicate why this seemingly crazy idea will work and change the world.
In addition, the founding CEO thrives operating in chaos and uncertainty. They deal with the daily crisis of product development and acquiring early customers. And as the reality of product development and customer input collide, the facts change so rapidly that the original well-thought-out product plan becomes irrelevant. While the rest of the team is focused on their specific jobs, the founding CEO is trying to solve a complicated equation where almost all the variables are unknown – unknown customers, unknown features that will make those customers buy, unknown pricing, unknown demand creation activities that will get them into your sales channel, etc.
They’re biased for action and they don’t wait around for someone else to tell them what to do. Great founding CEOs live for these moments.
Figure Out Who You AreMany founding teams fail because they’ve never had the conversation about founder, founding team and founding CEO. Spend the time and take stock of who’s on the journey with you.
Lessons Learned
  • Founder, Founding team, Founding CEO all have word “founder” in them but have different roles
  • Founder has the initial idea. May or may not be on the founding team or have a leadership role
  • Founding team – complementary skills – builds the company
  • Founding CEO – reality distortion field and comfort in chaos – leads the company


Steve Blank

Monday, July 29, 2013

How to Evaluate Personal Characteristics When Hiring

Last week, I wrote about how personal characteristics were the biggest predictor of whether a potential hire would succeed, even over skills and knowledge. Many of you commented and rightly asked, “how do you evaluate that?”
While they're critical to making the right hiring decisions, personal characteristics require much more effort to evaluate. Simply interviewing for them isn't enough. We’re talking about traits like ethics, judgement, integrity and values — so you can’t exactly ask someone, “how ethical are you?”
Instead, actual experiences are the best reflection of someone’s character. As Senior Talent Acquisition Professional Tim Heard commented on last week’s post, “All else being equal, the best predictor of future performance is past performance.”So instead of placing weight on interviews, thefocus should be on deep reference checks, resume evaluation and, yes, even gut instincts.
The reference checks
While you can’t ask a candidate how ethical they are, you can ask people who have worked with them. At oDesk we believe in what we call ‘deep reference checks’ — talking to many references, especially ones who were not provided by the candidate. We all know that interviews can only tell you so much, and that the references given by a candidate generally represent only the most positive among their contacts. As a result, deep reference checks are the most heavily weighted part of our hiring process.
There are two ways to conduct deep reference checks — asking for referrals and doing backdoor reference checks.
Backdoor reference checks can be tremendously helpful, but they center on knowing at least one person who has worked with the candidate before (or who knows someone who has). By talking to that second- or third-degree connection, you can get a more authentic look at what the candidate was like in a previous role. (LinkedIn is a great place to start for finding these mutual connections.) If a backdoor reference isn’t available, you can ask for referrals by calling the references provided by the candidate, then asking those people, “who also worked with [name] that I could talk to?” That will lead to a second or even third tier of people who are likely to be more unbiased than the original references.
When talking to references, remember to cross-check what the candidate said during interviews, to ensure they were being accurate about abilities and past results; discrepancies here can be a signal that there are problems with trustworthiness, or that the candidate lacks personal insight.
The resume
Another way to assess character via past performance is to take a close look at the candidate’s resume. Have they proactively steered their career, in a way that signals growth and not opportunism? Have they been given increasing responsibility (either within one company or among several), or do they frequently make one lateral move after another? The latter may reflect that the candidate lacks a sense of mission, which is critical to holding on when a company hits a rough patch. Or worse, the pattern could indicate that the candidate is a “soldier of fortune,” leaving as soon as a situation is no longer optimal for them. Finally, if all of the departures are for reasons beyond their control, then the candidate’s judgment in choosing companies and roles can be called into question. Look for these and other patterns in a resume, as job progression can tell you a lot about someone’s character — from personal responsibility and work ethic to loyalty.
The gut check
At the end of the day, what’s most important is that the candidate has the characteristics that matter most to your team. Assessing this character fit requires that you get in touch with your gut instincts. 
To do so, you can ask yourself:
  • Would I be comfortable on a project where my success depended on this person?
  • Would I like working with them?
  • Would I be willing to be fully open and honest with them and truly believe they were acting in kind?
  • Would I be proud to turn over my most valued customer relationship to this person?
  • Could I see myself working for this person someday?
  • Do I trust this person?
The interview
Of course you shouldn’t neglect the interview itself, as it can still provide some helpful insights. But I would suggest reframing the interview — instead of taking answers at face value, use the interview to dig deeper into patterns and behavior. By listening carefully, you can begin to piece together a picture of how the candidate sees the world and their relationship to it.
Painting a full picture may take multiple interviewers comparing and contrasting their impressions. For example, often several people get a vague sense that they were not comfortable with something about a person, and only by discussing it together are they able to identify what they were seeing. Remember to also watch for consistency of responses, as it’s a major red flag to get different answers to similar questions at different times.
When all is said and done...
...if you don’t trust the candidate or don’t want to work with them, neither will your customers or team members. Do not compromise on personal characteristics.

Gary Swart

Friday, July 12, 2013

12 Points - Do You Cover These In Your Touch Point Process?

In B2B selling, there are conflicting reports about how many times you need to metaphorically touch a prospect before they buy from you, so whether it’s 5, 7 or something else, it’s likely more than just the first or second interaction you have with them.

People like to buy from people they like, know and trust and you can speed up the relationship building part with extra touch points and adding your own personality where possible. Not many people do it, so stand out and make it work for you.
Have a look at these points and see if you can introduce any into your process:
  1. Make your initial contact via telephone or in person to arrange a meeting rather than email.
  2. Send a personalized calendar invite to confirm your meeting.
  3. Attend your actual first meeting.
  4. Leave a brief hand written card with their assistant to be delivered when you leave, thanking them for their time today.
  5. Send a follow up email to confirm your next steps or include your proposal.
  6. Send a personalized LinkedIn connection request if you connected well.
  7. Telephone and arrange your next appointment to discus your proposal or to follow up on a decision.
  8. Follow them on Twitter or become a fan of their Facebook page, great intel for further meetings.
  9. Attend your follow up meeting.
  10. Thank them and confirm your deal in writing via email.
  11. Send a personalized hand written card thanking them for their business.
  12. Call either in person or telephone after you have shipped to check they are happy with what they purchased.
If their decision was a “no”, why not still send a hand written card wishing them luck with their chosen provider?
It is worth mentioning here that if you add in a little of your personality at each point, such as a friendly personal message in your calendar invite, you really will start to build a relationship with them quite quickly which can only be a good thing.
Compare these steps with what you are currently doing now. I am guessing, but I would imagine that in many cases, points 2,4,6,8,11 and 12 would be missed out.
Of course once your prospect has bought from you, there are many more times that your customer is then touched with personal communication from you, others staff members involvement, head office interaction, marketing and so on, and if you have done and continue to do a great job delivering in all of these different areas, the word of mouth advertising from your new customer will come.


Monday, July 1, 2013

A Simple Rule to Eliminate Useless Meetings

Ask your team to identify their biggest productivity killer and inevitably two issues will rise to the top of the list: managing their inboxes and their meeting schedules. I'll tackle the former in a future post. For now, I'd like to focus on increasing the value of meetings by sharing a practice our team has implemented to great effect.
At LinkedIn, we have essentially eliminated the presentation. In lieu of that, we ask that materials that would typically have been presented during a meeting be sent out to participants at least 24 hours in advance so people can familiarize themselves with the content.
Bear in mind: Just because the material has been sent doesn't mean it will be read. Taking a page out of Jeff Bezo's book, we begin each meeting by providing attendees roughly 5-10 minutes to read through the deck. If people have already read it, this gives them an opportunity to refresh their memory, identify areas they'd like to go deeper on, or just catch up on email.
If the idea of kicking off a meeting with up to 10 minutes of silence strikes you as odd, you're not alone. The first time I read about this practice it immediately conjured up images of a library or study hall, two of the last forums I would equate with meeting productivity. However, after the first few times you try it, not only won't it be awkward -- it will be welcome. This is particularly true when meetings end early with participants agreeing it was time well spent.
Once folks have completed the reading, it's time to open it up for discussion.There is no presentation. It's important to stay vigilant on this point as most people who prepared the materials will reflexively begin presenting. If you are concerned about appearing insensitive by not allowing individuals who worked hard on the materials to have their moment, constructively remind the group this is a new practice that is being applied to the entire company and will benefit all meeting attendees, including the artist formerly known as The Presenter.
With the presentation eliminated, the meeting can now be exclusively focused on generating a valuable discourse: Providing shared context, diving deeper on particularly cogent data and insights, and perhaps most importantly, having a meaningful debate.
If the material has been well thought out and simply and intuitively articulated, chances are the need for clarifying questions will be kept to a minimum. In these situations, you may be pleasantly surprised to see a meeting that had been scheduled for an hour is actually over after 20-30 minutes.
Of course, even the best prepared material may reach a highly contentious recommendation or conclusion. However, the good news is meeting attendees will now be able to dig into the subject matter and share their real opinions rather than waste time listening to an endless re-hashing of points they're already familiar with, or worse still find irrelevant or redundant.
In addition to eliminating presentations in favor of discussions, the following are a few additional practices I've learned along the way when it comes to running effective meetings:
1. Define the objective of the meeting. Asking one simple question at the onset of the meeting, "What is the objective of this meeting," can prove invaluable in terms of ensuring everyone is on the same page and focused on keeping the meeting on point, rather than allowing it to devolve down endless ratholes unrelated to the matter at hand. I've seen some companies go as far as including the meeting objective on the cover sheet of the materials.
2. Identify who is driving. Each meeting needs one person behind the wheel. More than one driver and it's going to be prohibitively difficult to keep the car on the road. The primary role of this point person is to ensure the conversation remains relevant, that no one person ends up dominating the discussion, and that adjunct discussions that arise during the course of the meeting are taken offline.
3. Take the time to define semantics (and first principles). It never ceases to amaze me how often meetings go off the rails by virtue of semantic differences. Picture a United Nations General Assembly gathering without the real-time translation headphones and you'll have the right visual. Words have power, and as such, it's worth investing time upfront to ensure everyone is on the same page in terms of what certain keywords, phrases, and concepts mean to the various constituencies around the table.
4. Assign someone to take notes. This should not be the equivalent of a court stenographer documenting every word uttered, but rather someone who is well versed in the meeting's objectives and who has a clear understanding of context that can capture only the most salient points. This not only avoids the classic Rashomon effect -- multiple people recalling one event in multiple ways -- but also creates a plan of record for what was discussed and agreed to. This can also be particularly valuable for invitees who weren't able to make the meeting.
5. Summarize key action items, deliverables, and points of accountability. Don't end the meeting without summarizing key conclusions, action items, and points of accountability for delivering on next steps. This summary is usually the first thing to suffer if the meeting has run long and people start running off to their next scheduled event. However, it's arguably the single most important thing you'll do at the meeting (and is ostensibly the reason for the meeting to begin with). Have the discipline to ensure attendees sit tight and remain focused while next steps are being discussed and agreed to.
6. Ask what you can do better. I like to gather feedback at the end of meetings I'm responsible for (particularly if it's a new standing meeting) by asking whether or not the attendees found it valuable and what we can do to improve it in the future. There is no better way to ensure the meeting is necessary. If it's not, either change the objective and/or format, or take it off the calendar.
I look forward to hearing your thoughts and the best practices you use to run meetings more effectively.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The Intern Invasion

College is out for the summer and I can see all the interns floating around workspaces. The new movie The Internship is shining a light on them too. The pressure to get a cool internship is mounting but getting one and making the most of it is not easy.
Interns are easy to spot. They all try to blend in and not make too much noise but, they can’t help it – they stick out like a sore thumb. None of them want to look like they don’t know what’s going on, but truth is, they don’t know what’s going on. Most of them would rather be anywhere else having fun. But here they are, hoping to learn something. At the very least, interns are willing to suffer in order to get something good to put on the resume.
Looking around the workplace, I see three kinds of internships:
1. Those that are unpaid but might look really good on the resume. See under keywords like orphanage or not-for-profit.
2. Those that pay well because, often, no one else will do the work. Keywords construction or sewers.
3. Those that might require quitting college because there is so much money involved. Keywords Twitter, Google and Hot Startup.
The ideal internship is one that pays well AND looks good on the resume. These are tough to find according to the intern seekers I meet. Keyword: hen's teeth.
And there are always the standbys like camp counselor, barrista, lifeguard and waitress. These are borderline internships. The pay can be good but these are more like “summer jobs” and seem to have fallen out of favor. But that experience can be just as valuable. Keywords here are work hard and maybe do some good.
Regardless of the type of internship, the actual interns don’t have a lot of control over their experience and usually don’t want to make any waves so they may quietly suffer. What a waste. But if we each do only one thing, it might help.
That one thing you must do for an intern is: Take the intern under your wing. Give that intern some attention. That’s all. You don’t even have to be nice – just include them. (The workplace is full of not nice people and they need to know.) I know for you over burdened workers it may seem like an investment of time that will never be returned, but don’t think that way. And I know the attention that you give to an intern will not show up in your own performance review. No matter. The attention requires nothing special, just integrate the intern into your work day. Here’s how:
  • Take interns out to lunch. You have to eat anyway.
  • Tell them how things really work “around here”. Really work.
  • Encourage them about careers. They will have to choose one eventually.
  • Invite them to meetings. Maybe they will take notes for you.
  • Give them a reading list. Get those books you’ve been meaning to read off the credenza and ask them to summarize.
  • Ask them questions about their lives and see if they will help you with your social media presence.
Most importantly, convince them that work may not be as good as college but it’s not so bad.
Someday one of those interns could be your boss.
One thing I know for those of you seeking internships is that sitting around playing video games all summer is not an internship. Keywords: waste of time and talent.