Archive for the ‘Core Values’ Category

Eight Kinds of Smart

Monday, July 9th, 2007

I’ve long observed people to possess many kinds of intelligence and everyone comes to the table with their own unique blend. This fact bears heavily on my recruiting strategy for start ups–both at the company level and at the department level. Namely, I actively strive to identify and recruit a diversity of intelligence, culture and style to staff the start up. I believe this conscious attempt at diversity maximizes the organizational intelligence of the firm and therefore the potential for the start up to succeed.

The business plan presented to the Series A VCs usually shows bold strokes on canvas at best. As the company moves toward achieving market fit, having the broadest possible organizational intelligence, maximizes potential to achieve that all important signpost. By the very nature of entrepreneurship, the firm navigates previously uncharted waters. The path to market fit presents many cues and hints to the start up–some blunt, some subtle–along the way. Intellectual diversity maximizes the odds the organization will actually hear those messages. The key question and challenge for the leadership is to balance being tuned to these voices while maintaining a steady hand on the rudder. The leader needs to embrace something I often refer to as the “it’s okay to be wrong; not okay to stay wrong” principle (which will be the subject of a future post).

Embracing this diversity of intelligence, culture and style carries its own burden. It can be harder to achieve consensus as the organization processes and integrates a broader array of perspective. What’s the best glue to hold all of this diversity together? Values. Put the values up front. Get everyone to salute them at the get go, and revisit them in times of stress. And use them to navigate those troubled waters when the market feedback cuts across the lines of the business plan.

I believe an organization of homogeneous intelligence is more likely to fall prey to saluting “the king’s new clothes” and failing to integrate market feedback.

Let’s examine this principle at the department level for Sales. In the early going, stalking market fit, a sales force full of diversity casts the broadest possible net. And not just “eight kinds of smart” diversity, but diversity of experience in industry, price point and sales model because despite an outward appearance of confidence, we really cannot know for sure what will work best. Despite Marketing doing a terrific job crafting our product strategy and go-to-market plan, until we actually get some sales, it’s just a plan. And with a diverse sales team, we naturally and organically try a much broader mix of ingredients in the sales process with far greater odds of identifying a formula that catches fire. And once we see that happen, if we analyze what it is about that combination of experience and approach that’s creating the success, we can then aggressively go hire more folks with that mix.

This highlights the natural drawback of hiring a rockstar VP of Sales who brings his entourage. It’s a high stakes gambit that’s not a sure bet. Assuming this entrepreneurship delivers something truly new, what worked in the old company may not work in this one. I prefer hiring an initial sales force that’s more of a mixed bag.

Values Myth No. 1: Articulating Values Creates a False Sense of Superiority

Sunday, May 20th, 2007

Some people worry that the process of articulating a set of core values risks creating a kind of “holier than thou” mentality. I think this concern originates from a subtle but significant misunderstanding of how to go about discovering core values. The task of identifying core values is not about stating those values you would like to be known for. And perhaps an intended outcome of ithat approach could be a false sense of importance or superiority. Rather, in my experience, the most effective values articulation process centers on digging deep to identify those values and beliefs about work life the individuals in that organization do truly and authentically hold dear to their heart. Some people experience difficulty with this approach; finding it easier or more comfortable talking about those things they wish they were. But the persistent and recursive effort to zero in on those values we authentically hold and follow can be one of the most rewarding experiences achievable in work life.

Doing so from a place of confidence that these authentically-derived values will become a publicly respected and expected code of conduct, unleashes peoples’ power to act. It clears the cloud found in so many organizations of just exactly what operating principles are expected whether explicitly or implicitly. “It’s not personal, it’s business.” “Business is war” and other commonly repeated conventional wisdom leave ordinary good people confused about what is expected of them by their leadership and therefore can result in hesitation to act, constricting what could otherwise be a natural flow of results.

The truth about identifying an authentic set of core values through honest introspection is that they do not make either the individual or the organization doing so any better than anyone else. They may result in the organization enjoying a clearer sense of self-identity, but not an increased sense of importance. The key point is that these are our values and they are important to us. Properly integrated into the organizational fabric, in times of stress or ambiguity about what is right or how to proceed, core values can serve as a much-needed and strength-giving guiding light.

The Values Vacuum

Saturday, February 24th, 2007

A technology company CEO acquaintance recently told me he didn’t consider it that important to articulate core values for his start up team. It struck me speechless as I could not imagine how articulating values don’t matter. Nor did I have a ready made rationale for why it should. Shame on me. Today it hit me. Nature hates a vacuum. In the absence of an authentically stated and published set of core values, the organization–being a culture of people–will publish its own un-written values. They may or may not be what leadership had in mind. My experience in business tells me that people in general want and deserve better. Most people want to be–and appreciate being–held to a higher standard. In the absence of a code of beliefs to define the organization, the organization defines itself along the path of least resistance, losing soul and purpose along the way.

Only Positive Values Work

Friday, September 29th, 2006

A golfer poised at the tee who mentally admonishes herself to “don’t hit it in the water” will invariably see a splash in short order. Some contend that the human mind-body system does not comprehend negative constructions and therefore coach players to structure their self talk in positive frames as in “hit the green!”

And so it is with corporate values. They too should be set in positive terms. We believe in X. Treat people like Y. Honor agreements as Z. As much of an avid fan of Eric Schmidt and Google as I am, I nonetheless fear their choice of a negatively phrased corporate value (“Don’t be evil”) may ultimately do them–and their community–great harm.

Macolm Gladwell in The Tipping Point holds that people are neither inherently good or bad, but that context plays a huge role in how an individual behaves (eliminating graffiti in NY City subways dramatically cut crime). Well-articulated core values can set a powerful enabling context within an organization to achieve results well beyond the norm.

Ask people about their experience interviewing at Google and you will be treated to stories of “we’re at Google and you’re not” attitude. Probably pretty low on the “evil” scale, but because the intent of the founders was not framed in the positive, otherwise fine respectful individuals drift to this kind of behavior which will integrate over time into corporate postures which carry far more serious consequences.

One can easily understand how “don’t be evil” could have been earnestly, honestly adopted as a righteous battle cry in the early going at Google. They must have sensed that they were on to something big and perhaps been apalled at some the heavy-handedness exhibited by Microsoft. But with the benefit of time and experience and in the spirit of “it’s okay to be wrong; not okay to stay wrong” I call upon Eric, Larry and Sergey to recant their negative value and replace it with positive, easy-to-visualize targets. They will do their company, their investors and their community a world of good if they chose to do so.