Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Factoring in Founders

The more I think about it, the more I realize that The Founder Factor™ ought to be interesting reading to more than just the founders and their venture capitalists. Just as most people don’t wake up in the morning saying, “I think I’ll be a jerk today,” I'm guessing that most do not begin working for a startup wanting for it to fail.

Now that I’ve read the book, I can say with all confidence that it’s very worthwhile even for people who have no intention of starting a company of their own. With a clear understanding of the Founder Factor, we can more appropriately assess the leaders of the organizations with which we intend to align ourselves. We can also better plan for the transitions that will inevitably take place if the business is to succeed. And if we’re fortunate enough to have the ear of our founder, we can help coach that person to be more successful in their role, which will help us be more successful ourselves. In short, it gives us greater control over our own destinies, even if that control is limited to having a better understanding of when the ship is sinking and knowing that it’s time to get out.

The understanding helps from the moment we find out about an attractive-sounding position within a startup. It helps, for instance, to understand that founders, by nature, tend to be arrogant and difficult to work for – if you want something different, it might be better to find a company that’s already crossed the chasm. Nancy Truitt Pierce describes in her book the paradoxical relationship between the "founder factor" and this business of crossing the chasm - how they are defined and influenced by one another.

Understanding that relationship also helps explain that while we may be very connected with the founder in the early stages, it’s not helpful later in a company’s maturation process. I’ve lost count of the number of people I’ve had to counsel to give up trying to talk directly with the founder to get problems solved – that goes for customers as well as employees. Sure it works, sort of – for a while. The trouble is that it’s destructive to the long-term health of the organization to go at it that way and so that behavior really should not be rewarded.

The reason it doesn’t make good business sense is because it’s not scalable. Believe it or not, there are reasons why bureaucracies are part of the evolutionary process. The trick is not to eliminate them entirely but to embrace them in a healthy way, in a way that helps the business scale up.

Not everyone will get that. Those that do have a big job ahead of them trying to help everyone else understand. Their reward usually comes in the form of getting to stick around longer and often it means they get to increase their level of responsibility within the organization too. Fortunately, this is usually a good thing.

Those who don’t understand have a limited shelf life. Even if no one understands exactly why that is, their managers usually have some instinct that this is true. People who whine about how things are no longer the way they used to be come to mind as the sort of people who don't last as long as they might if they weren't whining. Things rarely stay the same, so it seems pointless to spend too much time mourning the past. Instead, it’s far better to use that energy to help create a viable and worthwhile future or go find someplace else that suits you.

If you can't help yourself, it may be useful to know that whining in this situation is the same as painting a bulls-eye on your chest and carrying a big red flag identifying you as "incapable of adapting" at a time when adapting to big changes is critical.

Whether you prefer the relative stability of a larger organization or the relative intimacy of a smaller one or are looking for some suitable compromise between the two, you’ll make more informed choices if you understand what Nancy’s talking about with regard to founders and emerging companies. Nancy herself does a great job helping the founders keep their wits about them. For everyone else, if you need help understanding where you fit in or how to manage in the midst of the kinds of changes she describes, I suppose I’m pretty good at that part of it these days, having been through many stages and permutations of the evolutionary process of an emerging company.

I'm curious what you've noticed regarding trends and issues as companies scale. As always, you can reach me at to send me your thoughts.

What does adaptibility mean for you?

Thursday, March 24, 2005

When It Hurts to Laugh

I admit that I am looking forward to the pilot of the new television series The Office with some mixture of trepidation and excitement. This has little to do with my sense of how good the American re-make of a fabulously successful British comedy will be. I have zero clue. I’m hoping I'll have more of a clue tonight after I have a chance to see it. For me, it’s more a matter of how painful it’s likely to be, watching a truly bad manager in action.

My question is whether anyone will ever be able to make bad management funny without making me completely cringe at the same time. The original British series after which tonight's new show is patterned was great, but frankly, it always hurt too much to watch. Wanna know why? Because I’ve wondered at times whether my own successes as a manager were simply a figment of my own imagination – whether I have been at any time as deluded as David Brent.

Watching the movie Office Space left me feeling the same. After seeing it the first time, I found myself watching my approach very carefully whenever I needed a support analyst for a weekend or a holiday. Was I in danger of becoming the kind of person who hung on a cubicle wall with a coffee cup saying, “So…” and drawing in my breath sharply before ‘casually’ mentioning I was going to ruin their plans?

It’s possible. It’s even possible that despite my best efforts not to be a Brent or a Lumbergh that at least a few people thought I was anyway. I suppose that’s why good feedback is so important. It’s also why I also take such feedback very seriously, even when it doesn’t feel good and yes, even when I disagree, whether it is from an employee, a peer, or my own manager.

David Brent never got that. Ricky Gervaise did get it – or at least got what it took to come off as a character that clueless about his own deficiencies. Steve Carell’s pretty good – I bet he gets it too. I’m hoping that he can pull it off, making his Michael Scott a good object lesson while we fall onto the floor laughing. If he can do it without making me squirm, I’ll enjoy it even more.

So let’s hear some of your bad management stories. Send them to me at – and since we’re not whiners here, consider including how you handled it and what you think a good manager would have done.

I am, of course, working with the premise that there is such a thing as a good manager and that we're willing to do what's necessary to make our own working conditions better. While we might laugh at others who hate their jobs, it’s not our preferred state.

What if you enjoyed earning a paycheck?

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Wasn’t That a Party?

I had a great time last night – honestly I did, even though I’ve hardly been able to move today. I got to spend time with some wonderful friends and got to meet some fabulous new folks with whom it turns out I have quite a lot in common. Today, however, I want nothing more than to take a nap. I think I overdid the whole party thing and, while I am a lightweight, I am certain that the couple of tablespoons of champagne that I drank to toast my longtime friend and colleague who is now an author had absolutely nothing to do with it. My problem today has more to do with the fact that I overtaxed my people skills.

This “longtime friend and colleague” is Nancy Truitt Pierce. There are others who can, I’m sure, lay claim to even longer associations with Nancy. For me, it’s a matter of how much of my career I’ve had the pleasure of working with her and how much of an impact she’s had. Of course, I know dozens of individuals who feel similarly so, again, I’m not alone. Already mostly famous in the Seattle tech scene, I expect Nancy’s well on her way to becoming even more well-known. That’s as it should be; she’s developed key business insights over the years that others need to hear. I’m glad her book, The Founder Factor, is finally out there so that others can learn from her what those of us who know Nancy cherish so much.

When Nancy set the date of her book signing, I was not the least bit surprised that she chose the first day of spring. It suits her sense of seasons and her style. I figured (rightly so, as it turns out) that several others of my good friends and colleagues in the industry would be there and so it was a good opportunity to catch up with some of them. And of course I wanted to be able to congratulate Nancy in person on her accomplishment. As I keep telling her and everyone else who will listen, this information really needs to get out and I am so very glad she's the one putting it out there.

In the midst of all the catching up I did, I was so involved in conversation with a couple of people that I totally missed out on getting to take home a copy of The Founder Factor. I also missed out on getting to say hello (or any more than that) to a few of the people I'd intended to chat with more. I'll catch up with those folks through other channels though, and I’ve been promised a couple copies of the book soon enough, making it all work out just fine in the end, I'm sure. Not getting the book yet also gives me an excuse to post again about it so I’ll still write something in the way of a review when I can have something more to say about what I've read.

Back to the problem of being an introvert, for I'm certain that's the reason I have such a tough time sustaining group-oriented social interaction for any length of time. In true Mary Harwood fashion (for those of you who know her), I am reasonably certain I cannot carry on a decent conversation on a topic about which I am enthusiastic without my hands – and I get enthusiastic about so much. And I enjoy feeling connected with people. It would seem from these isolated data points that I ought to have an easy time with parties but nothing could be further from the truth; I'm just now these days getting comfortable with admitting that and it feels so much better to make that confession.

The trouble is, admitting these more gregarious-seeming traits is not the same as saying I am necessarily outgoing or that I am, by any stretch of the imagination, an extrovert. Quite the opposite. In fact, in many ways I am rather shy, though in most situations I seem to be able to overcome (or at least compensate for) those tendencies rather nicely and most people seem never to notice. My sister knows better but that's perhaps a different story. Because I do hide it so well, trying to describe myself as at all shy and have anyone really believe it is difficult.

Then someone who knows me well pointed out to me a column in the Atlantic Monthly by Jonathon Rauch. By Rauch’s definition, that introverts become tired or feel drained by the presence of other people whereas extroverts are energized by the company of others, I am indeed an introvert. Suddenly, it all makes sense. Suddenly, I have a more reasoned response for people when they ask me why I’m so serious or whether something is the matter when I’m quiet. And while I would not have traded the special time out with such wonderful people last night for anything, today I need a nap.

Note to self – in the future, be sure to plan down time around big events so that I can fully enjoy myself, fully connect with the people I am able to see, and then have the time I need to recover without adversely impacting the other things I want to accomplish. Honestly, I feel about the same this afternoon – even after having had a brief “lie-down” as they say – as I have the day after running a marathon. So now I’m doing my best to take care of myself; it’s one of the perks, I suppose, of working for and by oneself. It’s part of my business plan to make it possible to take that time for myself when I need it.

I'm not alone in finding parties and other social gatherings a stretch. Although this trait alone doesn't make me a geek, I know that it's a trait shared by plenty of techies and other intellectually-oriented people. So how do you make the most out of unwinders, reunions, parties and other social gatherings? What makes you crazy about them? Send your thoughts to me at - as we've already established (or are in the process of establishing), social relationships help make our work lives better and more successful, so it's in our best interests to figure out ways to make that easier. You can help.

What energizes you?

Monday, March 14, 2005

What Do You Know Now?

A short while ago (or so it seems), I was working with a close friend of mine of the younger persuasion (kid) on a puzzle. He was still fairly new to this business of puzzles so as we worked, we talked a bit about strategies to use in doing puzzles. They're the same strategies that work well in solving any problem and since the business world is full of problems to be solved and tech work is particularly all about solving problems, it seemed worth mentioning here.

It's probably all stuff you know and/or do already - the more you do it consciously and on purpose, the more effective the strategies are likely to be for you.

  • Categorize - putting like things together on the table (or in your head) helps reduce ambiguity and gives you some structure for thinking about the problem. Of course, with some sorts of problems, this can be a red herring, so as with most of these strategies, it doesn't pay to get too locked into one way of thinking!

  • Go from the known to the uknown - when it's a puzzle with a picture on the box of what you're trying to accomplish, work from that - it's much easier. In any kind of problem, identify what you know already and then begin exploring your possibilities out from there.

  • Identify new knowledge - for each piece you pull out of the box, there is something more that you know for having looked at it, even when you fail to place the piece. For every new piece you look at or experience you have, what can you now say that you know? Sometimes the knowledge has very limited application, so be careful not to make assumptions that are too broad... and yet, isn't it still useful to some degree to say that with one less piece of sky in the box, that means the ratio of other pieces is now higher?

  • Go back over old knowledge - sometimes we miss things the first time around because we don't yet understand enough to put what we're looking at into context. Retracing your steps every once in a while can sometimes yield real gold. Just be ready to pitch what you thought you knew in the event that later learning proves the earlier stuff is now obsolete.

What sorts of problems have you solved using these steps and what others can you suggest? I hope you'll share them to and a growing group of readers.

What would you do if you had it all figured out?

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Prove It!

It seems that some folks aren’t so sure about this ‘getting to know you’ stuff. I’m big on proof, so here’s your chance to see it for yourself in some quantifiable way. I feel comfortable promising some extraordinary results that should be convincing.

First, pick a sport that holds no interest for you – preferably one in season if you want to see the effects anytime soon. If you’re a sports nut already, choose a team with which you can’t be bothered or turn this task over to some sports-phobe with whom you have regular contact like a buddy, parent, or significant other. If you’re involving someone else, then you have a choice – they can choose to do this themselves or you can be a bit more sneaky about it though I certainly wouldn’t recommend anything illegal, unethical or immoral.

Got a sport in mind? Good. I happen to like baseball, so let’s use that one as an example. Now – pick a team if you haven’t already. This can be completely at random. You (or your test subject) can pick a name out of a hat, choose based on uniform colors or mascot, roll the dice, etc. You get the idea. I’ll choose the Seattle Mariners for my example.

Now, pick an individual on that team. This choice too can be rather arbitrary if you like; the only real requirement is that it be a person who’s likely to get some playing time. I’ve seen some people choose a player by nationality, a name they like, birth date, you name it. Have some real fun with this piece.

In my case, I’m picking Jose Lopez this season for the Mariners because I have zero clue who this kid is except that he hit a real sweet triple in their game the other day against the Brewers, giving the 2005 Mariners their first Spring Training win. If you’re trying to get your girlfriend interested in your favorite sport, you might try choosing a player that shares her birth date (you do know when that is, right?) and point out that he looks as great in tight pants as she does. Extra points if he plays for a rival team.

Okay – now you’ve got a person, a team and a sport. That’s the order too, so keep that in mind. Here’s the experiment… now that you’ve identified an individual, simply pay more attention to this person and what they’re up to during the sporting season. If you care to carry the experiment out that far, keep it up through the off-season too.

You can start by doing a Google search on the person and see what you can find out. With Jose, for instance, I can quickly confirm that he is one of the new kids on the block and that he’s Venezuelan. From there, simply let curiosity be your guide. I might be interested in finding out more about his hometown or digging into some of his stats. If I run across some numbers that don’t mean anything to me, then maybe I’ll find out more about them and what they’re good for.

Throughout the season, keep an eye on the sports pages for your person, or their team, or that sport – again, in that order. After your girlfriend becomes sufficiently convinced about why she should care about a particular player, you can always point out to her whenever you find accounts of him in the news if she doesn’t pick up on it quickly enough for your liking; keep track though – pretty soon, you’re likely to see her beat you to the punch. Hopefully you’re plenty secure in your manhood where sports are concerned. It’d be a shame to start feeling like you’re something “less than” just because she starts spouting on-base percentages when you’re barely tracking with RBI’s.

If it’s still slow to catch on or you simply want to see a new level of involvement, try wagering something small (and legal) on an outcome involving your player or your team with someone else who is also conducting this experiment or already has a vested interest themselves. Suggestions include who does the dishes, who pays for the next beer or who runs out for Cherry Garcia ice cream in the middle of the night. This is where it can get interesting having a girlfriend rooting for the team most likely to damage your own team’s prospects, so choose wisely!

Any worthwhile experiment of course includes a review of what's been discovered. Are you (or your test subject) more interested in your chosen sport? More knowledgable or conversant? More aware? My hypothesis is that the answer to most if not all of these questions is a resounding "Yes!" The key to my theory is that it's the relationship; once you build a relationship, more stuff happens and usually it's better than whatever happened without the relationship.

Prove me wrong if you like but I'll want proof you made a serious effort as well as some information about what you learned about why it didn't work. Whether your discoveries support or contradict my claims, I'm very interested in what you find out. I hope you'll send whatever useful data you collect to so that we can all continue to learn.

As an added incentive to comment, I have a limited number of magnetic Mariners schedules available for proud display on your filing cabinet or your refrigerator. They're perfect for planning your trips to the ballpark, tracking their broadcasting schedule or just trying to figure out what nights traffic is going to be bad. Be sure to let me know you want one and give me a good email address so I can arrange to send it to you.

How much more could you accomplish if you were more engaged with your work or your life?

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Are We Having Fun Yet?

The fact that the economy is picking up slowly should be good news for employers as well as for the people still out there looking for work. It's a gift to have the opportunity to think about the impact the recovery will have on their particular environments before it reaches a critical stage.

If you've been running your place well and choosing the right people to work for you, then you shouldn't have any serious trouble as the employment numbers improve. I'm guessing though, based on some recent statistics and from what I've heard anecdotally from friends and clients that that you're in the minority. It seems that even with some recent improvements, a lot of folks – approximately half the working population according to the numbers – are still miserable at work.

If you’re one of those people, I’ll tell you again – no amount of pay is worth doing something you detest, at least not for very long. We deserve to feel fulfilled in our lives and I’ve seen it proven over and over again that it’s possible, even under the direst circumstances. For those of you still feeling stuck, it usually it comes from some inner shift; when external shifts are necessary, they’re often far easier than we expect.

That’s not to say that we can’t expect to have down days too. It’s probably the German in me that believes in a strong work ethic that helps us battle our way through the tough times. Developing some sense of entitlement that we should love every minute of every day of our employment serves no useful purpose. Just because loyalty is significantly reduced on all sides these days doesn’t mean that the whole work ethic ought to go by the wayside too. On balance, though, if we can’t say that we feel good about what we do, shouldn’t we be doing something different? That goes both for management and for staff.

Managers, are you listening? Sooner or later, staff will figure this part out – or the economy will continue to rebound and you’ll be dealing with a seller’s market again instead of a buyer’s market. Either way, as soon as employees feel like they have better options, they’ll start making changes that will impact you. Perhaps you’ve already begun to notice the shifts.

If you’ve been treating people well all along and creating an environment conducive to good productivity, then most likely you’ll be further rewarded for your efforts. If you’ve been one of those who has gotten complacent and at least subconsciously counted on the fact that your staff all feel stuck and without other options, it’s starting to look like you won’t have that hammer much longer. Now is a good time to plan what sort of meaningful changes you want to make in yourself and your work environment to improve your chances of success down the road.

Offering training is a good start. Not only does training help improve job performance, a recent SSPA survey detailed in Call Center Magazine confirms what many of us have known for a while – that training is a great motivator too. Geeks like to learn stuff so if you make that possible in addition to offering fair pay, you’ll be making some real progress toward closing the gap. Finding ways to improve your own skills, reconnect with what’s authentically you and helping your employees do the same is another key.

I’ve always believed we have the power to create our own sense of happiness, joy, and fulfillment – it’s not something that’s handed to us though it certainly helps to make the tools available by which this happens. To address this issue to some extent, I’m currently in the midst of facilitator training for Laura Berman Fortgang’s “Now What?: 90 Days to a New Life Direction” program. For anyone who might be interested, I plan to start offering this program to 1-1 clients and to small groups starting the end of April or early May. I figure it rounds out the leadership development I already offer on the corporate side of things.

What else are you doing as managers to ensure the health and productivity of your organization or what would you like to see done? Send your ideas to me at and let's start shaping a future worth having.

What are you doing to get or stay unstuck?