Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Why being "too aggressive" is a compliment for a leader

Much is being written right now about high performing men and women are described differently in reviews. Kimberly Weisul in Inc calls it an "insane double standard", and the who wrote up the original survey in Fortune points out the old truth professional women know:

Jane - who is a strong female - gets the feedback to be less aggressive whereas Joe - who is a strong male - gets the feedback to be more patient.
In Kieran's survey a full 71% of women had negative feedback in their critical reviews, vs 2% of men. Why am I not surprised?

I've always been characterized as "too aggressive" and "too ambitious" in my reviews. From day one, until the day I became a CEO. Then the very same characteristics were praised - you are aggressive - that's great!

When I wanted to recruit a world class board member to my board and identified Larry Sonsini (who I did not know) my board said "you're being too aggressive, you'll never recruit him" - and then I did. When the IPO market shut down after the dot.com bust and I needed to get my company public many people said "it can't be done, you should just sell the company" - but I took it public in a very successful IPO in 2001 (with the help of Frank Quattrone and his CSFB banking team - Frank is very, very aggressive). When the financial market cratered in 2008/9 and we decided to pivot FirstRain to the enterprise it took every ounce of aggression and assertiveness to do it - and we did - with the result that FirstRain has significantly higher quality personal business analytics than anyone else because we cut our teeth on hedge fund managers.

For young women wanting to get ahead - especially if they want to be a GM or run their own company one day - I say be aggressive. Be a rebel. Stand up and be noticed - don't conform. As Cindy Gallop (an original rebel) says you can't change the world if you are worried about what other people think all the time.

And if you are a rebel, embrace it. There's an interesting section in Ben Horowitz' fantastic book The Hard Thing About Hard Things where he talks about When Smart People are Bad Employees. One such type is the Heratic - and two of the three examples he gives are indeed bad for your company. But one, the Rebel, may change the world for as he says "She is fundamentally a rebel. She will not be happy unless she is rebelling; this can be a deep personality trait. Sometimes these people actually make better CEOs than employee."

I recognized myself when I read that. I am sure I was tough to manage. I am sure I got heaps of critical feedback because I was aggressive, and ambitious, and challenged the status quo every day. But it is those same characteristics that make me a leader and a (reasonably competent) CEO. 

I did have to learn how to be kind with my strong personality though. Early on I was not always aware of the affect I had on other people. But once I figured that out then I let my aggressive personality blossom, and took care of the people who were following me.

So when someone tells you you are too aggressive and you need to tone it down smile and say "thank you" and keep going.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

5 Keys to Authentic Leadership

From a talk I gave at VMware in Palo Alto earlier this month

Leadership comes in many styles - charismatic, intellectual, bullying - but in all cases leadership is hard to sustain over time unless it is authentic. Real. Genuine. These 5 keys are from a woman's perspective, but most apply just as much to men.

1. Embrace making decisions. 

Not only embrace them, but have confidence in how you make decisions. I'm a fast, intuitive decision maker. I make a decision on minimal visible information and then use data to check my decision. This means I cannot be afraid to be wrong and change my decision, but I will make it in my head, whether I like it or not.

For a long time, I thought that my method of decision making was in some way bad. Shortcut, or lazy but not a studied, analysis based approach which is what "smart" people do. I doubted myself and did not feel authentic about my own decision making! Until I read the book Blink by Malcolm Gladwell.

As I read Blink I gradually realized that I was not crazy, but my method of decision making is actually very human. We have evolved to make snap decisions on limited amounts of data - some visible to us, some not - and when you can tap into that skill and embrace it is an advantage! But you do need to keep one ear open and keep listening to additional information as it comes in so you can course correct if you need to.

Embrace your decisions and be real about your decision making process. Don't pretend otherwise - even if you've been taught it's not ladylike to be assertive. If it's your decision make it; if it's someone else's support them. Be direct.  It takes guts to make big decisions, but it's what leaders do.

2. Don't ask "whether", ask "when"

This is an area where men typically differ from women. There are many studies now that show that men will ask for promotion before they are ready, whereas women will wait until they are over qualified to put themselves forward for promotion. I believe, if you have a goal, it's really important that you communicate that goal out to your leadership confidently. Don't think about whether you'll get a promotion or a big opportunity, think about when you'll get it. Talk with your management about what you want, and ask for their help to get you there.

American Express used this understanding of how women wait to change the demographics at the top of their company. They won the ABI Top Company for Technical Women in 2012 and when Yvonne Schneider accepted the award she spoke of how AmEx proactively trained their male managers to reach down into the organization and ask women to apply for promotions, often before they would have done it naturally themselves. As a result, women moved up into management alongside of men, and the top of AmEx was changed. AmEx didn't ask whether, they asked when and reached down.

I knew I wanted to be a CEO after I had been working a few years. And being verbal, I talked about it with my network. With the coaches and VCs whom I was getting to know. And as a result I got told all the reasons I was not ready and the education and experience I needed to get to be ready. It was invaluable, and included my company Synopsys sending me to the Stanford Executive MBA to learn about finance and management (since all my formal training was in mathematics). Had I not spoken out about "when I'm a CEO" I would never have got the smack down and been told to learn about running a P&L first, which was the best advice I could have received at the time!

3. Learn to Act As If

You might think that learning to act is in contradiction to being authentic, but I find it's a part of the process. There are so many situations where I have had to learn to act as if I belong, even though I am the odd man out (so to speak). For many years I went to Japan every 4-6 weeks for business meetings with my customers. In 6 years I was never, ever in a meeting in Japan with another woman. The only women I met were tea ladies. And through that experience I learned to act like a man. I was treated as an honorary male. I learned to drink whiskey late at night in small Osaka bars, and eat food that was still moving, and most of all, never show traditional female traits. That made me effective, and over time my behavior became natural and authentic to me.

And just a few weeks ago I went to a dinner in Palo Alto for 100 CEOs and I was the only woman in the room. By now I've learned to "act as if". As if it's not odd being alone in a crowded room and relax. That allows me to be authentic in the moment.

4. Balance is a myth

I've written and spoken about this many times here and here. I spoke about it again at VMware. We're in a competitive industry. We're competing on a global scale. It's important to decide what matters to you at any point in time, and focus on that. Balance doesn't win intense market share fights or create dramatic innovation. 

And sometimes you just have to let go and be human. Like the time my son broke his arm on the last day of the quarter. This story always gets a laugh... because it's true!

5. Laughter is the best weapon

Gender discrimination is all around us, all the time. Some days I think it's getting better, some days when I see the games being played in the San Francisco tech startup world I think nothing's changed, but my approach remains the same: when it happens to you keep a sense of humor. It's hard for men to discriminate if you are humorous in your response, and it help you keep your head on straight and not get mad.

One day, when I was a CEO, I was at the beginning of a meeting with a group of investment bankers who did not yet know my company. We had not yet introduced ourselves and one of the group knocked over a diet Coke. Without missing a beat the banker turned to me and said "sweetie can you clean that up?" I smiled, went to kitchen for paper towel, came back, cleaned up, went and washed my hands, came back, reached out my hand to the banker and with a big smile said "Hello, my name is Penny, I am the CEO".

One evening, I was at a dinner with people I did not know, at a table of men. During dinner I felt a hand on my knee, creeping under my napkin suggestively. I leaned towards the man whose hand it was, gave him a big smile, lifted his hand up and put it back on his lap and said "no thankyou".

I have a thousand stories like that, and I have found humor defuses almost any situation. Especially if you are a leader in the group. If someone discriminates against you it is rare that it is overtly intentional. And if you can, try to work with men who have wives who work or daughters. Your humor will make them catch themselves and think about what they are doing.

In the end effective, authentic leadership is all about results. Being authentic means you are focused on the real, the now and reaching the end in mind. You don't get caught up in what people think about you - instead you try to be your most complete self in the moment - and so be effective.


Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Why dating where you work is a dangerous sport

As the current fashion of writing about women in tech surges it's not surprising that tales of sexual harassment are emerging. Men in power, women climbing into power, money, ambition, attraction, alcohol - what could go wrong?

Consider today's latest - the suit being filed against Tinder. While the filing is by nature one sided it does appear one person dated another, things went bad and harsh words were spoken. It's a scene being acted out all over the world today (most relationships do break up after all) but this is one that's particularly ugly because one person works for the other, they're executives and it's public.

California law is known to be favorable to employees especially when it comes to harassment and protection of employee rights. In California, your employer is responsible to "take all reasonable steps to prevent harassment or discrimination from happening." Practically, what that means to many companies is once they have 50 employees, they run sexual harassment training for at least 2 hours, every 2 years. Online or in-person, a company needs to remind every employee of their responsibility to respect other employees, regardless of gender, sexual orientation etc. Simple, right?

Most people I have worked with in my career are very rational, responsible people. And yet, I have found the discussion, and the training, more necessary than I would have expected because of unintentional harassment rather than deliberate unpleasant behavior.

For example, don't date within your "cone of control." Don't date anyone within your piece of the organization (which means if you are a CxO don't date at work). You have too much power. Whether you misbehave - positively favoring or negatively retaliating - or you don't, there is too much risk for you and the company. HR or your CEO should step in and remove the risk. If you find the love of your life in your organization, put your relationship first and ask your love to move to another organization far away from your professional scope of influence. And if you're married and having an affair at work, it's especially ugly if your lover is within your organization, and everyone knows it, so for heavens sake either don't do it or make sure absolutely no one knows. I watched one of those trains wrecks close up and wreck doesn't begin to describe the damage done.

A second example: always pay attention to what you say. If you're a manager the people around you are listening to what you say. They'll even emulate you if they admire you. Especially sales guys when they are fueled up and winning. So making sexual innuendos and jokes is going to offend someone soon enough. Keep it for your friends outside work. I try hard to not say anything I wouldn't have said in front of my mother. It's a good guideline for me, although one I do fail at sometimes.

Or don't touch your coworkers. Even if in your culture it's ok to touch someone on the arm as you talk with them, or lean on their shoulder. For many people (like the English) touching in public is uncomfortable—and open to misinterpretation. Having been felt up by men in the office earlier in my career (before I was so fierce) I can tell you the "I was only joking" line doesn't wash when someone has made you feel physically uncomfortable. Save touching for your family and close friends.

...all conversations I have had with my managers at some point (though not all at FirstRain)...

But we're all human and make mistakes (yes, everyone does) and training helps because it's a good reminder of what's ok and what's not. So while mistakes will happen, you can ensure they won't be from ignorance of what's OK in the workplace. They'll be from insensitivity, or poor management oversight or maybe even deliberate.

But whichever way mistakes happen, the company is responsible to do everything it can to prevent them, which in most well-run companies means putting some distance rules around dating at work.

Photo: http://uncorneredmarket.com/tandem-bungy-jump-valentines-day-video/

Sunday, June 8, 2014

How Women in Business Are Moving Forward

Guest post from Sarah Sherwood

“Don’t be a woman in drag,” went the article. “Act like a lady,” was the advice.  In my 20+ years as a publicist I have seen this kind of counsel hurt women both personally and professionally.  The truth is that women have been transcending this kind of advice since we have worked outside the home, which is as long as men have been working, actually.  We’re acting as if women just walked into the boardroom and they can’t figure it out, when working is what women have been doing for many, many years. It’s mildly annoying to be told how to be, how to act, or how to go through any “how-to-be” training program.

At American University, where I studied public communication, there were basically two different camps in communications theory, a.k.a. preparing clients for how to be, in public.  One group believed that public communicators must tightly control the client and then manage closely, moving them with the script.  People in politics tend to follow this formula.

The other group believed more in authenticity, arguing that you can damage their communications with too much control.  This group of communicators give their clients a few perimeters based on their goals and work with the client’s own style to bring out what they want to say. This makes some communication professionals nervous.  What it does is force them to sign good clients who have positive intentions.

I’ve been in the later camp since I left graduate school, but even more now.  This is what we women need to do:  lovingly, and without worry, self-police ourselves.  Speak up, yes, and speak authentically. People can see right through the kind of personal positioning that Penny refers to in her post because the words you choose are insignificant compared to the tone you use, which come from your beliefs.  When you come from what you believe you’re always more powerful.  This is what I tell women.

Successful women have figured out that to solve problems, we need to first prioritize, hire what we need, work hard and be who we are.  That’s it.  These women are taking time out to raise their children, or looking for good quality childcare.  They are having long talks with their husbands and their bosses.  They are concerned about quality relationships in and out of the office.  And they are making it work. They always have.

From my perspective, it is easy to see that people everywhere are oversold.  They see through the B.S. and yearn for a quieter place.  What do they want besides an efficient solution to their problem?  They want honesty-- basically a friend in business.  How many companies have this kind of relationship with their public?  I applaud those who do.

So please stop telling us how to behave.  We moved on a long time ago, figuring out that it is much better and much easier just to be us.

Sarah Sherwood is a publicist in the San Francisco Bay Area and the former executive director of Silicon Valley Women in Business.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

How Smith College Turned Christine Lagarde's Cancellation Into a Win for Women's Voices

Ruth Simmons gave a brilliant, beautiful and moving commencement address at Smith College, MA on Sunday. Emotional to be back at Smith where she was previously president, she spoke to the students about free speech, about the importance of "tak[ing] good care of your voice" and the power of the opinions of people who disagree with you.

Her perspective is one of a child growing up in the South: "My coming of age was marred by the wide acceptance of the violent suppression of speech," she said. "No forums of open expression existed for me in the Jim Crow south of my early youth. Once you have tasted the bitterness and brutality of being silenced in this way, it is easy to recognize the danger of undermining free speech."

But what made her speech so perfect for that day was a disappointing event that had happened earlier. A small group of Smith students (less than 500) signed a petition objecting to Christine Lagarde as their commencement speaker because of objections to the policies of the IMF. Christine is the first female leader of the IMF, and a powerful role model of how a woman can change the world, so perfect for Smith College but, given the controversy, she withdrew, as Condoleeza Rice had withdrawn from giving the commencement address at Rutgers a few weeks earlier.

So Ruth spoke about the importance of allowing, and hearing, opposing points of view. How when you speak out, and someone disagrees with you, and then you stand up your voice is stronger. How disagreement is a key part of learning, and freedom, and something we must all protect. And so, how it was limiting free speech to reject Christine Lagarde. The Smith faculty agreed in a HuffPost article and Smith's president, Kathy McCartney, told the students "Those who objected will be satisfied that their activism has had a desired effect. But at what cost to Smith College?"

It is still so new that we, as women, have a strong voice. It needs to be heard and not suppressed, no matter how much we may disagree with some of the voices. The movement to suppress women's voices is alive and strong. In radical Islam in Nigeria, in attacks on Hillary Clinton (she'll be a grandmother -- she can't be president), in the relentless drive to reverse our rights to our own bodies.

Nora Ephron spoke so eloquently about this in her commencement address at Wellesley in 1996 (as Jessica Goldstein reminds us here). Every attack on our path to leadership, and our voices, is an attack on women's progress to equality. To reach the goal of equal opportunity regardless of our gender (or color, or sexual orientation) we must all vigorously pursue equal pay (Jill Abramson stood up and was fired), equal seats at corporate decision making bodies (less than 17 percent of board seats are held by women in the U.S.), equal representation in our governments (still only 20 percent of the U.S. senate and 18 percent of the house are women).

We have a long way to go. But Ruth Simmons strengthened Christine Lagarde's voice on Sunday by reminding the audience of parents (me included), students and faculty, with clarity and passion, that we must speak, and protect our right to speak, and just as importantly protect the right of those who disagree with us to speak, so we can move forward to a world of learning and equality of opportunity.
 
Posted on the Huffington Post earlier today

Do all CMOs have to be data geeks now?

Written by me in the The Economist Group today

Few would argue against data’s importance in marketing today. Data is essential to every marketing decision now, and the techniques used to transform that data into actionable market insight can make or break a company.


DataCMO Given this, some data-intensive companies now require their CMOs to have a background in data science—but will we get to a point where all CMOs and senior marketing leaders have to have a background in data science? Or will tools continue to emerge that will help marketing leaders better interact with big data and enable them to make strategic decisions?

As the Internet and sheer amount of available data expand, companies are rushing to take advantage of it—but they are finding themselves overwhelmed, and many marketing organizations are reacting by hiring data scientists. In fact, data scientists are in such high demand that a recent McKinsey study found that there would be a deficit of up to 190,000 data scientists in the U.S. alone by 2018.

Because so many marketing decisions are data-driven these days, having someone adept at finding relationships, identifying anomalies and making predictions based on data can be key to an effective go-to-market strategy.  CMOs absolutely need to understand how to interpret data. To quote a column by Computerworld Executive Editor Julia King, “Data science is all about predicting the future.”
The particular responsibility of choosing and driving strategy based on where the market is headed lies with the CMO. But if the CMO arms herself and her team with the right tools, she doesn’t need to be a data scientist—and she doesn’t have to fill her bench with data scientists, either.

Senior leaders will find more and more that cloud-based apps—like emerging personal business analytics and marketing automation solutions—will become their go-to tools to solve their big data overload problems. These solutions will allow the business user to make better real-time decisions, helping them to embrace not just analysis, but also synthesis of the data.

Solutions whose analytics are easily embeddable into existing platforms and apps, and which provide clear visualization and collaboration tools, will ultimately help leaders strategically grow their businesses without requiring a team of onsite data scientists.  By choosing the right solutions, CMOs can save themselves the headache of searching for a team of data scientists, but reap the same benefits quickly and economically.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

How Your CEO Is Part of Your Brand Marketing Whether You Like It or Not

Posted in the Huffington Post earlier today

We're living in a transparent world today. Everything your write or share online is public and you cannot hide. Anything you say outside (or in) the privacy of your home can be recorded. Anything you do can be video taped and posted on YouTube.

But somehow executives can forget this--and more now than ever before the CEO is indistinguishable from the brand of the company. If the recent uproar over the Clippers' Donald Sterling, Mozilla's Brendan Eich and RadiumOne's Gurbaksh Chahal has taught us anything (besides that it doesn't pay to be hateful or beat up your girlfriend), it's that, in this age of social media, the world sees the CEO as a key element of the brand, with the associated advantage and liability.

In a recent article about Target's dismissal of it's CEO, Gregg Steinhafel, writer George Bradt wrote that "any of you doubting the importance of your brand in this age of complete transparency should take a look at what's going on at Target... Steinhafel has not done the job he needed to do as brand steward." Unlike the CEOs I previously mentioned, Steinhafel's personal beliefs or actions didn't cause a scandal--but his point that the CEO is the "brand steward" resonates across every industry. Starbucks' Howard Schultz and Zappos' Tony Hsieh pioneered this to the positive as social media first emerged.

Companies need to differentiate themselves from their competitors and establish their brand as representing something special. In tech, where innovation and brainpower are the driving currency, companies and their CEOs work hard to establish themselves as thought leaders on the industry they are serving. This means that the CEO has become hyper-visible; he tweets, goes on TV, writes blogs, posts on Facebook and speaks at events. While that is certainly by design, hyper-visibility curries a public fascination with all aspects of their lives -- just look at celebrities. And with this "age of complete transparency" being what it is, anything, whether a recorded off-color remark or a campaign donation, can be shared and seen by millions in a matter of hours.

So what does that mean for your company's CEO? Even though the argument rages on about whether it's right that her private life should have any effect on her qualifications in business, it is abundantly clear that it does make a difference to the brand. The new CEO may have a successful business history and a visionary mind, but if customers mistrust her, they will be less likely to use the products, or do business with the company -- and sales will fall.

But in contrast to the CEOs whose actions and exposure hurt the company, some CEOs are harnessing the power of their pulpit to be a force for good, and strengthen the brand of their company at the same time. In the midst of the social unrest in San Francisco, brought about by tech boom and subsequent rapid increase in rent (and evictions), Marc Benioff has been leading San Francisco tech companies to donate $10 million to SF Gives and help fight poverty in the city by the Bay--and in doing so he has reminded the world of the strong role philanthropy plays in Salesforce's culture and brand.

So good or bad, whether we think it's fair or not, our new world of 24/7 transparency and social media has thrust CEOs into the public eye and made them an integral part of their company's brand. Their actions, their political beliefs, and if they are even slightly careless, their behaviors in their private lives, have consequences for their business. Something every brand manager, and CEO, must remember.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Would you be intimidated being alone in a crowded room?

Imagine you are a successful business professional. You are invited to many events after work to network, create useful contacts and learn about new areas impacting your work. You go to such an event one evening and, as you walk into the room, you quickly scan to see if there is anyone there like you. And event, after event, you are the only one of your kind in the room. There may be 100 people in the room and you are still the only one.


This is the experience of being a female CEO, or I suspect an African American CEO of either gender, in Silicon Valley.

This week I went to an evening event run by one of the top executive recruiting firms on Developing Business in China. I walked into the cocktail reception, scanned the room, and saw no women, not even a waitress. As I sat down for dinner at a table of white men (all charming) the dinner guest to my left asked me "Don't you feel intimidated coming to a dinner like this since you are the only woman?" He noticed, and projected, and predicted intimidation. I just laughed and said "it's the norm for me, so no" - and proceeded to have a delightful evening.

A few months ago I went to a PE (private equity) reception for CEOs to meet the partners and each other (they were developing deal flow). Again I walked into the room of about 100 people and saw no women whatsoever, not even a waitress. Sometimes there will be a young woman on the desk handing out badges (most firms have good looking young women on the front desk), but rarely in the room with the players. That particular evening was a "Monday Night Football" cocktail party - huge screens and speakers, lots of alcohol, and so I worked the room and briskly left. Not my scene.

If you are a white male, can you imagine how you would feel if almost every time you went to a professional event for executives, investors and CEOs (of which you are one) you were the only man in the room. Or the only Caucasian in the room in a room of African Americans. How would you feel? Remember, you're not there for social reasons. You're there to be respected, engaged, treated as a professional equal. Could you?

How many times would you have to be put in that situation for you to become blind to it?

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Why Personal Positioning is Toxic in the Office

Which matters more - how you are personally positioned, or what you get done?


Sometimes popular wisdom would tell you personal positioning truly matters. Who you know, what they think about you, how much "face time" you get, are you networked... but while this strategy may be effective in some large or political companies, it's death in a fast moving, apolitical one.

I define politics in the office as any person, or behavior, that puts their personal interest in front of the company's interest. When you're growing fast, and making a thousand decisions every day, there simply is not room for people's self interest if it's not aligned with the company's. But the learned behaviors, from larger political organizations, still hang around with new employees until we stop them.

Behaviors like obfuscation of the details - let me make broad statements as if I know what I'm talking about to shut you down, but I don't actually have the details to solve the problem. Or CYA - let me tell you why the problem I am bringing to your attention is a result of something that happened before I had the job to solve it. Or the "Well everything's all effed up so I'm the hero for trying to fix it". Or the eye roll when describing someone else's problem. All behaviors designed to position the source as superior and not responsible for whatever problem you are tackling.

But in a rapidly moving company, I want my staff to be responsible. Even if it is effed up, and the fire was burning before you arrived. Personal positioning is just a waste of my time.

A customer is unhappy. Bring me specifics. This happened. I think the issue is A or B. I've formed a small team to get to the bottom of it. We'll tell you if/when you need to speak with the customer.

A release is late. Tell me what and why. This piece of code took longer than we expected to deliver, or that piece is unstable and we need two more weeks to test it. We'll come to you if we need more time or resource to solve it.

To the point, specific, centered on action and resolution.

And blame is simply not helpful. Things go wrong some times and individuals are to blame. But the time for blame (if there is ever a time) is after the problem has been solved and then in a post mortem. Bring the team that failed in a situation together and debug what went wrong - with no blame. That allows you to make sure it doesn't happen again.

I have a friend who, early on in his career, proudly called himself the vice president of personal positioning. He had it down to an art form. He was smart, articulate, good looking and senior management loved him. This served him well for a while. Then he came to work for me and I called him on his BS, repeatedly, until he figured out he was capped until he solved real problems. Because he's smart he stopped it, and is now an SVP at a large enterprise software company.

People who are repeatedly successful, across multiple companies, figure this out. They focus on action. On creating solutions, solving problems, helping others. Despite the number of blogs written that say you should manage your brand, and how you are perceived, the truth is power accumulates to the people who know what to do and how to get it done (See my post about Pfeffer's books on Power if you are not familiar with this concept). Not people with friends. Not people who know how to network. It accumulates to people who know what to do and how to get it done. Period.

So if you find yourself worrying about your personal positioning, yes, you're human, but put it aside and set about solving the problem you're faced with.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Feelin' Sorry for the Ladies

Guest post from Tom Bentley, board director at Rambus, Nanometrics and Cortina, former investment banker, and one who loves to stir it up!

In reaction to the "Ban Bossy" campaign write up in the WSJ:

Sheryl Sandberg must be their worst nightmare.  It's hard enough meeting the expectations for a Superwoman, having a wonderfully successful career, raising a passel of great kids, attending all the extra-curricular events that have blossomed in recent years, managing a wonderful home, and looking your best every day (how much time do you think Sheryl spends getting ready in the morning, compared to Mark Zuckerberg?).  Now they have Sheryl telling them that they're losers if they don't behave exactly as she tells them to.

This gets to pass for science these days: "Over the past 30 years," she (Joyce Benenson, a psychologist) writes, "I have come to believe that boys and girls differ in some of their basic interests and accordingly behave in different ways".  Who knew!?  The good news for women is that the world is moving their way, collaboration is becoming a far more powerful tool for success than competition.  The great success of American business results in substantial part from an evolution of management towards a more collaborative, less hierarchical style – flatter organizations and more empowerment at the group level.  Social media is the phenomenon driving the tech world these days.  Leading business schools have all moved towards group learning and team projects, and away from the traditional individualized classroom teaching.  We could look at this as the feminization of the economy, but then we have Sheryl telling us that girls need to become boys.

Not only has internal hierarchy been breaking down, but businesses behave much less like silos, now depending on lengthy and complex supply chains, collaboration with partners in all sorts of areas, great inventions coming from widely dispersed teams rather than the Einstein in the closet, etc.  Over the years, I watched the traditional autocratic tech founder/CEO's pass from the scene, to be replaced by professional managers whose ability to draw on the talents of the people under them was the overarching key to success.  Women should be rejoicing at this evolution, until Sheryl tells them to stop being afraid of being bossy, and to "lean in" until people get sick of them being so obnoxious.

Disclaimer: I am a victim of my own reality, my daughter is a psychologist, a field dominated by women.  She's married to an econ major who teaches math and coaches men's basketball, i.e., all male.  They have a great life, and I assume that my daughter has no idea who Sheryl Sandberg is.

Monday, March 31, 2014

A journey through time in Turkey

The cradle of so much Western history. We tripped over thousands of years of history just by walking down the street. Sleep was elusive because my imagination was on fire. The history pulsed under my feet and at the tips of my fingers.

First stop Istanbul. Founded as Byzantium in the 7th century BC, then re-imagined by Constantine the Great in 330AD, captured by Mehmet and the Ottomans in 1453 and now a glorious international city at the meeting point of Asia and Europe.

Constantine's city - surrounded by water and a powerful wall - that stood for 1,000 years as a bridge between Europe and Asia. Today it still acts as a buffer: a moderate secular state (for now) between radical Islam and the West. As it did from the beginning of Islam until the fall of Constantinople and the end of the Byzantine empire.

 

Justinian's Hagia Sophia - 537AD (minarets added later).
We were hunting Byzantine mosaics here and in Chora.

 

Glorying in the scale of Justinian's vision The largest building in the world for 1,000 years.

A humble 6th century AD cistern, filled with water to withstand siege for years, now a beauty in it's own right.

The Fort of Europe built by Mehmed the Conqueror in 4 months as part of his strategy to choke trade in the Bosphorus and take Constantinople. He was only 21 years old!


The Sultan Ahmed Mosque (the Blue Mosque) - 1616 AD - at sunset


In the Topkapi Palace Harem, stunned by the blue tiles in 300 rooms, thinking we'd have gone crazy with the political intrigue at the heart of the Ottoman empire.



Then down the Aegean coast hunting ancient Greek, New Roman (Byzantine), Medieval European and Ottoman history.


The temple of Zeus, Euromos - 2nd century BC


 

Ephesus - 2nd century AD. One of the 4 largest Roman cities in the world. They lived well here.


 

Ephesus - My kind of theatre! Beautiful location and large enough for serious entertainment.


 

One of the Seven Wonders of the World, the 6th century BC temple of Apollo at Didyma near Miletus. Hard to realize the scale in a photo.


 

The ruins of Miletus. A glorious 4,000 year old city, conquered by Alexander in 334 BC, turned into a bishopric with a castle by the Byzantine's in the 6th century, used by the Ottomans in the 14th century but finally abandoned when the harbour silted up.


 

The knights of St John's castle in Bodrum - build in 1400 to resist the Ottomans


Nice place to be sent if you lived in Medieval England! Kos and Greece in the distance.


Full circle in time. to the oldest shipwreck ever found - 1400 BC treasure on a ship carrying enough tin and copper to make bronze armor for 5,000 soldiers. A king's ship.


And of course, great food everywhere!

Monday, March 24, 2014

Appreciating my freedom of speech in Turkey where Twitter is now banned

There's a lot written about "social selling" in tech these days, and how to use Twitter to engage your prospect, but this week we are all seeing just how trivial a use of Twitter this is in comparison to the power it can have on a global scale.

I flew from New Delhi to Istanbul a few days ago and as I flew the PM of Turkey,  Mr Erdogan, shut down Twitter in Turkey. I was in the air, reading the news on line (36,000 ft up) on Turkish Airlines as he put this decision into action. My plane at this point was somewhere over the Caspian Sea and the signal was pinging through a groundstation in Georgia (according to my analysis with Google maps at that moment) and so I could still see the Tweet stream almost up until landing in Istanbul.

And as I watched the hashtag #TwitterisblockedinTurkey soared! (check it out with Twitter search)


 My view coming in to land...

Original and thought provoking art appeared within minutes as the suppression unleashed creativity. And of course most users figured out how to get around the ban using a direct DNS and texting - even spray painting the instructions on how to bypass the block on walls so everyone can see.

By Sunday the government had blocked Google DNS directly but the internet is too pervasive and flexible to shut down quickly, as Turkey's government is finding out. The tech-savvy are working around the ban with VPN and anonymizing sites like Tor.

But why? What's really behind all this? I've heard as many reasons as people I ask, and I am asking everyone I meet. One of the wonderful things about Turkey is how open and friendly the people are, and they speak their minds. With elections coming up in 6 days it's probably a mix of all the reasons we are hearing -- corruption, mobilizing the rural conservatives to vote, creating tension to show power -- and above all a desire for control to try to change the outcome of the election.

The US dept of state has called this "21st century book burning" but in Turkey this is a case of history repeating itself (telegraph was the equivalent in the Turkish war of independence). Sadly, the actions of the government will set back Turkey's bid to join the EU, which would be good for both Turkey and the EU on many levels.

Freedom of expression is a fundamental right. It's something we take for granted in the US and sitting in a remote mountain village of rural Turkey this morning I am acutely conscious of how precious that right, and the freedom to speak my mind is. I am choosing not to use VPN to access Twitter today, but I cannot imagine living in a world every day where I had to worry about my actions on line and whether I am taking political and personal risk when I express myself.

My heart goes out to the people of Turkey who want to be free, and live in the modern world in a high functioning democracy. Their press is still free but their country is divided. I hope and pray they navigate through the next few weeks and months safely -- and still free.


The newspaper our first morning

Monday, February 24, 2014

How not to get lost in the Twitter ocean

Navigating social media without analytics is like crossing the ocean without stars.

No self respecting ancient mariner, or night-migrating bird for that matter, would try to cross from Knossos to Delos without use of the stars. The ocean is too large, and full, and dark.

But sales people are trying to follow their B2B customers on Twitter without the stars. They load up users and keywords into excellent B2C support apps like Hootsuite or Radian6, but still miss their destination because they can't navigate the business developments by following people. To understand how your customer's business, and so your target, is changing you need to be navigating through all of Twitter and extracting out the B2B business trends buffeting your prospect.

That takes analytics. Analytics that process every tweet and figure out it's meaning. Real time.That figure out whether it is relevant to You. Does it match your personal interests, does it have meaning to Your business, and Your strategy whether or not the keywords you put in are matched?

That's what we're doing at FirstRain. Analyzing Twitter the way a Minoan navigator would study the stars 10,000 years ago. It's all very personal. Finding you the path through Twitter's ocean to get to your ultimate destination - revenue growth.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Three things you can do to hire women and change your company forever

Posted in the Huffington Post

Our world is changing very fast, and the role of women is changing fast with it -- and, mostly, for the positive. We have more women in power, more women in the workforce, more women in control of their lives but there still aren't representative numbers of women at the top of companies.

And yet, we now know that diverse teams make better decisions. We know women make 85 percent of consumer buying decisions, and so, if you sell anything to them, you probably want women in your decision structure. As a CEO, if you're making strategy decisions, and hiring decisions, you want a diverse set of opinions around you to advise you. It's time to pro-actively bring women into your workforce.

So why would any company build an all-male leadership team now, or an all male board, or a board that is mostly male with one token female? The most often-cited reason is that there are no qualified candidates -- what baloney! When Twitter filed for its IPO with no women on the board (despite the dominance of women on social media) the reason given was: "The issue isn't the intention, the issue is just the paucity of candidates."

It's just not the truth (as the NYT kindly pointed out to Twitter at the time). There are women available to hire, but you have to be determined to build a diverse leadership team to make it happen because the easier path (less work) is to hire people just like you: men. You have to be willing to do the extra work, find the diverse candidates, and open up your job spec to change your company for the future -- and for the better. It's just good business.

Here are three roles where you can change the numbers:

Board of Directors: Mostly male still. Women hold only 16.9 percent of board seats, 10 percent of boards have no women on them and those numbers are barely changing. If, as many boards do, you set your search criteria narrowly... for example, must have been a CEO (that cuts most women out), must have prior board experience (that cuts most women out), must be retired (the women in the workforce are newer and so less likely to be retired) then, presto! all you see are male candidates.

The solution here is to open your search up to operating executives who are not CEOs. They are in related industries in powerful operating positions like CIO, GM or CFO and probably have no prior board experience. But everyone starts somewhere, and there are excellent training programs you can go to to learn how to be a public company director.

Software Engineers: Mostly male still. And with hiring practices like the "Bromance Chamber" at DropBox not surprisingly! Twenty percent of CS majors are girls, and the best technology companies (Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Intel et al) both compete to hire them and invest in programs like the Anita Borg Institute to learn how to both recruit them, and retain them. But the best companies also reach outside the rigid spec of pure computer science.

Again the solution is to be open to a wider set of candidates, without compromising quality. Open up to girls (and boys) with math majors, or double majors in math and computer science -- those who wouldn't make it through the narrow filter of typical CS hiring processes, but who are likely smarter, harder working, and need just a small amount of training to be fully effective for your company. Facebook even runs a summer intern program for students without technical degrees, knowing they can train them and wanting the very best brains for their engineering teams.

Sales People: Mostly (white) male still. A lingering bastion of the smart, golf-playing male in a crisp white shirt. When challenged on the limited number of female candidates being presented, most recruiters will whine and complain about the limited pool.

The solution: Deliberately ask your recruiter to do the extra work to find the diverse candidates. At my company our sales recruiter did, and we found excellent female candidates immediately. It's been my experience that women sell just as well as men, so why not get a mixed team in place so you see the selling challenges from more than one perspective?

In all these cases, you are not trying to hire women. I'd never compromise the quality of the hire for race or gender. Many women would (quite rightly) be offended if they thought they were only being hired because of their gender. What you are doing is insisting on a diverse candidate pool and a level playing field for those candidates. And, in my experience, that leads to stronger candidates, to gender balanced teams and, as a result, to better decisions.

At my own company, FirstRain, where I am CEO, our board is 50 percent women. My senior leadership team is half men, half women. That's no accident. If you are determined to see diverse candidates you will -- and have absolutely no compromise on quality -- quite the reverse!



Monday, February 17, 2014

Hey Mr Waiter! Don't insult me at the table

Insult can be about blindness as much as it can be overt.

Case #1: My husband and I are at a lovely restaurant. The wine list is put in front of him. He hands me the wine list, I chose a wine, and I tell the waiter when he comes. The waiter returns with the unopened wine, opens it and asks my husband if he wants to taste it. Bret has seen this movie before. He usually smiles at the waiter and says "My wife ordered the wine, if you want a tip I suggest you let her taste it".

This scenario used to happen every time we went out to dinner. But after 30 years of marriage it happens about 1 time in 20 in California now, but still almost always when we are in Italy. Waiters of Italy take note - my husband knows how to say it in Italian too.

Case #2: I am out to dinner with a friend, who happens to be male. When you work in a male dominated industry like tech, and you make most of your friends through work, this happens often. We're at the end of the meal, I signal to the waiter that I'd like the check, and the waiter brings the check to my male friend. We tussle over who's going to pay and, if I win, I place down my card. If the waiter isn't on the ball (or checking the name) he still brings the check back to my male friend.

This second scenario is a source of great amusement to one of my friends who thinks I shouldn't be allowed to pay anyway because I am "a girl". He, of course, says it just to get a rise out of me. But I win enough times with him, but when I do it, and the waiter returns the check to him, it makes his teasing laughter that much more annoying.

Ah, but life is short. I've now become skilled at gently telling the waiter his (or her!) mistake and letting it go. But I look forward to the day when waiters are trained to be gender-blind.

Image: Agent-Hope on Deviant Art

Friday, February 14, 2014

When do chocolate, diamonds and STDs go together?

It's Valentine's Day. The media is advertising flowers and movies, Facebook is filled with sweet sentiments but me, I'm working and, in a moment of curiosity I plug "Valentine" into FirstRain.

Now, in case you don't know, FirstRain is a personal business analytics system. For the companies and markets you care about - your customers, your markets, your competition, the market trends impacting your go-to-market. Powerful, insightful, real-time ... everything I tell my customers.

And more...

Behind all our powerful data science are the fun use cases too. Wine, vacation trends and now Love.

Key market drivers on Valentine's Day? Weddings, flowers, gold, diamonds, chocolate and... STDs!


Monday, January 27, 2014

Someone should have protected Tom Perkins

Yes, Tom Perkins' letter to the WSJ was shameful, but now, 48 hours later, I too feel shame.

If you missed it you can read his letter to the Journal here, and then his follow up here. The Twittersphere lit up, everyone piled on (including me) that his comments were stupid, and the rants of a now irrelevant old man, and tone deaf about the gap between the 1% and the 99%, and an insult to the Jews, venture capital etc. etc.

But this morning I am wondering how did his family, or the WSJ for that matter, let this happen? Tom Perkins was born in 1933. He was alive when Kristallnacht happened. I am sure, if asked 20 years ago, he would not have said these things even if he thought them! He would have known it was reputational suicide.

I spend a lot of time around old people these days, and I am grateful for the time with them. On one side we have Alzheimer's and on the other we have healthy, honest-to-goodness old age. And I'm learning that, as people age, the self-governors can come off. My father and his friends can sometimes say things that make me cringe, and that I know they would not have said even ten years ago. But they're older and less tolerant, and frankly care less about what other people think. So they speak their minds and sometimes reveal prejudices that they were taught as children in the 1930s, which they suppressed as thinking adults, and which are re-emerging as they age. Sometimes idiotic, sometimes upsetting, but often just raw and unfiltered.

But Tom Perkins is considered a fair target because he's a billionaire. Because of who he is, and because of his prior role as both a founder of the venture capital firm that bears his name (Kleiner Perkins) and a former board member of News Corp., he was given the platform to speak his 82-year-old mind. And, unlike conservative friends at a private dinner, Tom Perkins was allowed to embarrass himself in front of the world—and to destroy his reputation in a single day.

But should he be a target? Should we not remember his age? Or if he is still a target in our society, then surely someone should have stopped him?

Yes he's rich, and has been crass with his wealth, and offended a lot of people, but now he's at an age where his mind may be weakening and his judgement may very well be off. He is no longer in power. He's not on HP's board, he's not involved in KPCB in any way, he's out of the picture. I'd feel differently if he was still driving companies and investments, but he's not. The WSJ should be ashamed for publishing his letter, realizing how tone deaf and inflammatory it was -- chasing clicks at the expense of an octogenarian.

And I hope his family now knows they need to protect him from humiliating himself in public.

Monday, January 13, 2014

How to be one of the 1-in-3 that know

How many of your sales people talk to their customer blind? How many don't know what the latest breaking developments are for their customer's business? How many don't understand their end market?

According to Marc Benioff it's 66%. That's 2 out of 3!

 

Here's one of Marc's slides from Dreamforce 2013. And yet there is no reason for it. Today you can easily get your hands on simple information about your customers even with general purpose sales intelligence tools, and with FirstRain you can get that magical "in depth understanding". With personal business analytics you can look at your customers through your own personal lens. See every development, tie your strategy to the trends your customer cares about and is talking about.

I know -- enough selling -- but seriously—when your enterprise sales people cost you at least quarter of a million dollars a year, why wouldn't you give them the ability to deeply understand their customer's business, real-time, each and every day so they are smart on the phone?

A living example of how the "princess romance" theme can backfire

If you were raised on Disney princess movies, and Hollywood musicals, as I was, you were probably brainwashed into thinking that to be happy you had to find a man. Even a few years ago in Sex and the City, the girls were all pursuing relationships as their ultimate goal. Most movies don't pass the Bechdel test because what few women are in the movie have only one topic of conversation—relationships with men.

But this weekend I was reminded of how very toxic this brainwashing can be. My mother-in-law is now 83 and in assisted living dealing with slowly-progressing Alzheimers. Some days she's good, some days she doesn't want to get up and just lies in bed staring out of her window. Saturday was one of those days.

As I sat on her bed quietly talking with her, trying to cheer her up, I asked her what she thinks about. She told me she thinks about the past and all her good memories are about husbands. Part of her sadness now is that she sees no future for herself because without a man she has no future.

Margit was married first at 19 in Malmo, Sweden, and divorced at 20. She then moved to New York, a beautiful Swedish girl who spoke little English in the early 50s—a time of fur coats, night clubs and martinis. There, she had a part-time job in the New York Public Library but quickly started dating, and then married, a man 30 years older then her. She and Harry were happily married for almost 20 years when he died at age 70.

Once widowed, Margit took off, dropping all contact with her teenage kids until she had another husband (they learned to fend for themselves younger than most). Again she married an older man, this time a Swedish restauranteur. He died after an 8-year marriage and at 53 she had a facelift, lost a lot of weight and set out to find another husband. This time, she chose a man her age with whom she lived happily for 20 years. But when he fell ill and died, she was truly alone, and her attention latched onto her son, my husband, whom she now expects to be the source of all her care and attention.

What's so sad listening to her talk as she looks back is that she has never lived an independent life where she was happy with herself. She's never really worked, never really spent much time with her kids, her whole existence revolved around her husband—and now that she doesn't have one she has no center or purpose. She has told me she is embarrassed to be without a husband and, while she's had a few female friends through her life, she's not making any now. When we discuss events happening to my family and friends she always asks me what Bret thinks, or my father thinks, because my ideas don't really carry weight unless validated by one of the men in my life. With my kids she openly favors our son, and has little time for our daughter or her own daughter.

Why, I wonder? Why build your whole existence, your whole source of happiness, around whether you have a man or not? And yet in film after film that is the woman's sole objective—find your prince, marry him and fade out. I'm all for being in happy, stable relationship, but not as your entire source of happiness.

Which is why it is so very important that we support filmmakers who show independent women living full lives without a prince. Why Geena Davis' work on the portrayal of girls in media is so critical. And why we must help our girls get to college, have meaningful careers and build independent lives so that their husband, if they chose to have one, is a part of their life—not their whole life.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Why CMOs won’t lock CIOs out of the C-suite

Published in the Economist today

Money talks. It's common knowledge that people with money tend to get what they want, and today’s business dynamics are no different. A new Accenture study shows that CMOs are claiming more of the tech budget share. Much to the chagrin of CIOs, it is coming out of the IT purse.

Regardless of how much injustice CIOs feel, the success of their companies is increasingly reliant on their teams learning to align with CMO teams whose priorities—and very nature—are incredibly different from their own.

CIOs and IT professionals are, of course, very good at evaluating and implementing complex software processes. They have been doing that for CFOs forever, which is one of the main reasons they are not going to be rolled under the marketing umbrella anytime soon.

Despite the fact that marketing professionals have tended to see IT as more of a support organization, they now need the CIO for the same reason finance always has: they need the technical expertise to help them choose the right system and then implement it. So, rather than have the CIO report to the CMO, they need to work together in a true partnership to make sure that they get the right sales support technology for their businesses.

But how will that work? Beyond the inherently differing priorities of the CIO and the CMO (case in point: protecting data vs. using data), IT people and marketers are two very different breeds. So we find ourselves with yet another example of why diversity is so important in today’s environment. Marketing, as we have already discussed, is becoming increasingly digital, so the “creative types” will need to learn to work with the more technical staff, and the “math nerds” will have to figure out how to deal with people whose main concern is responding to the capriciousness of public interest.

There is no doomsday on the horizon for CIOs. CMOs need them just as much as ever because the systems that marketers want and need are technologically sophisticated. Just because they are in the cloud doesn’t mean that creative types know how to buy them and run them. In order for a business to be successful, both teams are going to have to come to an agreement on what is important and adapt to achieve their goals—together.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Top 5 behaviors to avoid when interviewing with the CEO

I interview everyone. Sounds like overkill I'm sure, but I do interview everyone. No one joins FirstRain without me meeting them in person or talking to them on the phone. I think of myself as the final quality control on culture and IQ. I try to be at the end of the cycle once the candidate is someone the hiring manager wants to hire, but not always and so I do interview some doozies.

So what makes a doozy? Here are the top 5 things that I really don't recommend if you're interviewing with someone like me:

1. Answer a question with a 5+ minute answer. I time the answers if they go over a minute. I had one last month that was 10 minutes long! No check in with me on whether I was interested, no awareness that she was going on, and on, and on.

2. Get so nervous you um and er and can hardly make a sentence. I'm just a person. I put my pants on one leg at a time just like you. If you're that nervous in front of me how are you going to hold your own in an intense discussion with your manager?

3. When I ask you if you have any questions for me tell me no, you know everything already. This happens more often than you'd think. In every interview I always time the interaction to allow for 5-10 minutes of questions from the candidate to me at the end. And sometimes the candidate will literally say "no, I think I know everything about FirstRain" and then start to tell me everything they know about my company. Stunning.

4. Or instead, only have one very unoriginal question "What are you top challenges?". Come on- you can't think of a more interesting question than that?

5. Be indifferent on whether you want the job or not. C'mom you really think we're going to hire someone who doesn't care about whether they get the job, and doesn't care about FirstRain. If you really don't care don't waste my time or yours!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Don't confuse Visibility with Success



It's the age of social media no question. It's ubiquitous and if you are in business you need to be active, but it's also seductive and can make you confuse visibility (wow, I'm famous) with success (I'm truly making a difference). I know a few entrepreneurs like this - do you?

Do you know people who are more concerned with how they look on Facebook and landing speaking gigs than they are with how the company’s quarter went? Are they distracted in the office more than involved? Did they make it onto a "top something-or-other" list but you know their business is fluff?

It’s understandable why people get caught up in being “visible.” Fame is seductive. Celebrity is followed more by the media every year. Even something as simple as getting a like or a comment on a blog post makes you feel good. Research by Dr. Dinah Hurwitz, a psychology professor at California State University, Northridge, shows that people become hooked to the endorphins that come every time someone responds to their post. She said the symptoms are almost the same, when comparing heavy social networking users to drug addicts. It’s gotten to the point where, as an HBR blog post stated, “our unending use of social media has radically elevated the level of ego in our personal lives… we are in the middle of a narcissism epidemic.”

Take that in for a second: It’s an epidemic—that means thousands of people, millions even, are suffering—from narcissism! I'll bet you know some of the people I am talking about. People who are so wrapped up in their social media presence that, like Estelle in No Exit, they can't see that everyone else can see how self-serving they are.

If your goal is to be a celebrity, then it makes sense. For example, the Kardashians’ whole empire is built on a good social foundation and Lady Gaga turned social media fame into a market development strategy. But if you want to be a high growth corporate professional, beware of substituting celebrity for the substance of your business. Because if your business fails, you won’t have much with which to carry on being famous. It's important to find a balance between growing your own brand—which, don’t get me wrong, is certainly mutually beneficial if done correctly—and growing the business.

One way to ground yourself is to never forget what “success” is. Successful businesses are ones that make and grow revenue or have millions of users as proxy for future revenue. Brand recognition (and, yes, that includes you as a representative of the company) is an important cog in the growth wheel. But visibility is not success in and of itself.

So if you find yourself checking Facebook more than a couple of times a day, or promoting yourself on Twitter endlessly, come up with a scheme to strike a balance between your own social presence and your business success. Maybe you allocate only a certain amount of time per day (outside of working hours, perhaps?) to social media. Or limit the number of tweets you send per day. Or, even, have your marketing team help you (they have their own work to do, so they’ll help you if it will help the business—that seems like a good barometer to me!)

The bottom line is: before you set out to make yourself a corporate household name, know what your success metrics are and make sure you don't confuse celebrity and visibility with true success. Those who really matter know the difference.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Forced ranking is about the top, not the bottom


How do you rank against the guy next to you—better, worse, the same? And do you think the process of your managers discussing you relative to your peers is a good thing, or a bad one?

The practice of forced ranking—or the euphemistically named "vitality curve"—was developed by Jack Welch and GE in the 1980's as a way to identify non-performers and so improve the financial results of the company. It was quickly picked up by companies in Silicon Valley with more aggressive cultures, like Intel, and used as a way to force employees onto a bell curve. It was recently dropped by Microsoft, while being picked up by Yahoo.

The ranking process is not a scientific one—it's a process of judgement. My experience has been managers sitting in a conference room, putting names up on a white board, arguing through the lifeboat test: if you had to throw one employee out of the life boat, which one would you throw? Sometimes the process is simply a forced ranking, putting employees in a linear list; other times it's a process to force employees into groupings like A, B and C, or top 20%, middle 60% and bottom 20%.

Sometimes it is a scientific process. In sales, results are ultimately measurable, and I know one tech CEO who used to fire the bottom 10% of his sales team each quarter, irrespective of whether they made quota or not. His purpose was to drive a dog-eat-dog competitive culture within his sales team.

The end result is the same. You end up with the collective judgement of a group of managers on a group of employees and, if you've run the process well, you know who your top and bottom performers are.

It's always illuminating. If nothing else, to find out what other managers think—but I think it's a clumsy, archaic process to manage the performance of your weakest players.

Poor performance needs to be managed continuously, not once a quarter or once a year. When you have someone who is not performing, you need to act quickly. Never forget, if someone's not pulling their weight you can bet everyone around them knows it, and they are pulling down (at a minimum) the morale and (more likely) the performance of everyone on the team with them. So as the manager, you owe it to everyone to intervene and either put some training and coaching in place quickly to bring up the employee's performance, or get them out.

But the top performers are the most valuable people in your organization and the ranking process can make you pay attention to their satisfaction and compensation, as a team, on a rigorous schedule. The pareto principle holds true for your engineer's performance as much as it does for the likely distribution of your customers—80% of your results are probably coming from the contributions of your top 20%. This does not mean that the middle 60% is not important—quite the contrary—but it does mean you need to pay daily attention to the happiness and professional health of your top 20%.

This is where forced ranking can be truly illuminating. When you get your managers from across the organization, responsible for different job types, into a room and get them talking about their top talent, everyone can then pay attention to their careers. You can make sure your top talent has appropriate top compensation (especially stock options and/or RSUs) and that their career interests are being watched over and nurtured by every member of your management team.

Forced ranking is a useful tool, but a tool to be used occasionally and not as a religion. It's not about making your employees compete (and so driving financial performance up). It's not about identifying your bottom performers (you need to be doing that continuously). It's about making sure your leaders know who the top talent in your organization is so you can grow them, and grow their leadership and impact on your company.

Photo: Seth Coal Deviant Art

Monday, November 25, 2013

Dressing like a woman -- not a man

A year ago at Dreamforce 2012 I was delighted to see women dressing as women - and posted on the trend. And this year in 2013 we had both Sheryl Sandberg and Marissa Meyer on stage with Marc Benioff looking like women! Fashionable, professional but very feminine.

Why do I care? Well here is my employee badge from Synopsys in 1990. Thirty years old, very, very much in the minority, and I decided to poke fun at the system and the dress code (I always was a bit of a rebel). A baby face in a suit and tie -- I figured I'd have fun with the dominance of men and dress like one so they just might not notice I was a woman.

So yes, I appreciate that we can dress like women in the office now!



Friday, November 8, 2013

Stop Sh****ing on me!

There's a word in the English language that, when you hear it, is likely to either make you feel guilty, or make you turn off. Do you say it? What do you do when you hear it? What's your reaction when someone says "you should" to you?

It's a turnoff, isn't it? And yet it's pervasive in the way many people speak in business.

There's the person who thinks they're a coach and you can benefit from their wisdom. Instead of listening and carefully reflecting ideas for you to figure out, they listen to what you're worried about and then launch into "Well, what you should have done is..." (I hate this response, it's just not helpful to me).

Then there's the guy who thinks he's smarter than everyone else. Born with a sense of superiority, he loves to tell you what you should have said or done. Especially if you criticize him. It's a quick way to deflect from the substance of what you are saying to how you are saying it.

Then there's the woman who says it to herself all the time. Told by the world every day that she's not good enough, she thinks, "I should have done..." - and loses her personal power in her own mind every time she thinks it.

The problem with the word is that it carries a sense of obligation and guilt with it. The word originally comes from the past tense of "shall", from the days when shall carried the obligation of "I owe/he owes, will have to, ought to, must." We don't use shall that way anymore, but should still means "ought to" to many of us.

So it feels like a judgmental word. It's difficult to take "you should" and turn it into a positive feeling when your first reaction is guilt or shame.

So listen for it. When you hear someone say it around you to someone else, try to help them re-frame their feedback. When you hear someone say it to you, try to check your reaction and listen to the substance, not the delivery. And when you say it to yourself, go find a mirror, look in it, and try saying "stop shoulding on yourself" several times. You'll hear what you're really doing to yourself.

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