Category Archives: Leadership
My decision to leave was made with the following understandings: that if I stayed here I would be very unlikely to afford a place of my own, and that if I wanted to take my career to the next level I would need to work for a larger company than Vancouver houses. And with the exchange rate between Canada and US, it seems a perfect time to go to the US now.
This is my journey through reasoning why I am leaving Vancouver, BC. Of course I am not alone a Angus Reid Poll estimates that a staggering 150,000 struggling families are seriously thinking about moving away from Metro Vancouver to avoid the region’s housing costs and transportation issues.
Wages in Vancouver do not match the cost of housing
In Vancouver, BC the average wage is $76,805 per year — if you borrow three times your salary you can afford a place to live at $230,415. The average place to live in Vancouver on the other hand is $857,015. Globe & Mail reports that Vancouver is the worst place to live in Canada for difference between wages and Housing. Last year the Financial Post stated that Vancouver was the most expensive place in North America. The Demographia Housing Affordability Survey puts Vancouver, BC has the second most expensive place to buy a house behind Hong Kong.
In Vancouver, the Chinese have helped real estate prices double in the past 10 years.
Here’s how the Chinese send billions abroad to buy homes – Bloomberg Business Nov 2 1015
Controversial foreign ownership study is about money — not race: Vancouver planner
“Money is no longer connected to what you do and where you live”
In contrast, Vancouver median incomes remain among the lowest among Canadian cities, while home prices in the region are the highest in Canada. The way government structures are set up in Canada means that Canadian municipalities are relatively weak and rely on other levels of government to set policy. Business Vancouver Nov 6 2015
Shrinking housing sizes
What these figures do not show is the shrinking of the size of the place you can buy. So you could pay $500,000 for a 500 sq ft apartment. Most of the places built now have stupid small kitchens, which encourages people to eat out. What does all that salt do to your health? Let alone the psychologically impact of living in a box. I have no problem with density and I believe cities need to increase it, along with good transit. That said, an apartment should to be liveable, it has to give moments of peace away from your work, and personally I want a good kitchen and somewhere I can share food with people. The current builds are not good for people.
Down Payments on a Mortgage
I have spent most of my life working for the community, non-profits and Government. I have got by, but I do not have the savings for a house down payment, I have no family to inherit from or provide a financial security blanket. This has been my biggest barrier to buying a place.
You can get a mortgage with just 5% ($42,850.75 on the average place) of a down payment but you then need to pay mortgage insurance. Premiums can vary anywhere from 0.5% to 3.5%. A great way of taking more money from poorer people. If you have a deposit of 20% you need no mortgage insurance. So 20% of the average place $171,403 is what you need for a down payment.
The Have and Have nots
Toronto, Vancouver house prices still soaring, stats show
Benchmark detached home is $1.2M in Vancouver, while average detached runs $1.07M in Toronto
CBC Nov 5 2015
Of course one of the problems for access into the Housing market is everybody who owns a place does not want the housing market to dip, because they are making money off it. Collectively that is a lot of political power, money and votes. This from people who do not want it to get easier, if it hurts them.
In Canada it is also getting harder to borrow money even though the Interest rates are low. I have so many friends in their 20’s, 30’s and 40’s who have just given up the idea of owning a place in Vancouver. They are also torn by Vancouver being a beautiful place and they want to live here.
The Economic Divide – is it sexist?
It feel like we are about to reach a point where people will never be able to buy a place if they do not do it soon. Whilst this obviously hurts younger people, it also hurts people who work in lower incomes i.e. women and caring professions.
I have already lived (Cornwall, UK) in a place where teachers/nurses/non-profit/carers/government (still a much higher percentage of women), could not afford to live anywhere near where their jobs were based. There the average house price was £500,000 and average salary was £16,500 pa in 2008.
Any good city needs Transit. I have expressed my opinion on this in a previous blog post, when the City asked for more money (via Tax) to invest, Vancouver said no.
Beyond owning a place
The rest is my feeling and experience of the Vancouver job market after 8 years in multiple startups/technology companies.
In Vancouver there are fewer software jobs than about two years ago when there was a lot of more opportunities. The companies that are now looking for software engineers tend to be small and medium sized startups with fewer career opportunities for growth than larger corporations. That said, we have a few more global companies (e.g. Amazon) here than before, so it is possible the lack of jobs is due to the a depressed market now. With national figures showing Canada is currently in a recession, despite a recent job news showing an increase but these are mostly in the Public Administration, in Government.
I changed career after 20 years in campaigns/communications/marketing/public office/leadership/training as I felt the Vancouver market was very limited in these areas for someone in a senior position. I knew that to grow my career I would need to leave Vancouver and I was not ready to move, as I love this place.
This and my need to create again (my first degree was Computer Science, 1996) led me down a two year path of re-educating myself (via BCIT evening courses and small web contracts) in software engineering with modern languages specifically for the web. With three years additional years of web development (in full time work) under my belt, I am in a similar position of wanting to grow my career.
In Vancouver, software leadership roles are generally promoted from within (few come with quality training for the internally promoted person to gain leadership skills) or some outside “star” usually from a US company, used to working at a much larger scale. In fact I can only think of one person who received their leadership training outside of the job — and they were my best leader. I have also worked with a lot of non-technical leaders which is a different kind of challenge.
In Vancouver in eight years I have had three leaders who have inspired me out of nine. In the UK the ratio was higher, I think in part because of 360 degree Appraisals which are more common in UK, leading to a faster/tighter learning loop and higher leadership quality. It is possible my experiences have been unusual, and I simply been unlucky with my leadership in Canada. However, when I ask my friends how many of them had leaders who inspired them, most agree it is rare in Vancouver and that they had better experiences in Toronto/Waterloo/Ottawa. Other skills they shared they felt missing from ‘Leaders’ included giving feedback, risk management, change management, empathy and conflict management.
In the Vancouver job market your learning is often self directed and more often self funded. Sometimes a company will have some money available but not much. One very Global company I worked for made it impossible to claim the so called 50% off Tuition costs. More European/US companies seriously invest in training and their leaders, the UK recognized this problem a couple years back and started investing in it, in every sector.
The irony is the Canadian Federal/BC Government has made available monies for training and whilst the program is not perfect — it does not recognize online training — not a lot of companies apply for it. There is also tax credits for official education institutions and even bootcamps now. Training and Conferences are something I have had to negotiate in my contract to get them in Canada. I would like to see this as more of an active partnership than what I have experienced here.
In the technology sector the pay is a lot lower compared to US cities.
Lets take http://www.payscale.com or http://www.glassdoor.com as a comparison. In Vancouver the average Senior Software Engineer would be paid CDN $ 89.214, in San Francisco it would be US $130,00, New York US $95,000. The big differences is not so much in base salary, but in the bonus which is often 10%-20% of your base salary and then shares gifted at again 10%-20% vesting over three years. These last two are not common in the Vancouver market. In fact few companies appear to share success in Vancouver. There are even a couple that claim to be startups, but are actually family business with no scheme to buy stocks or share the company’s profits. Maybe they like the label startup, its good for marketing and recruitment.. and you can ask your people to work harder and longer.
An added bonus for working in the US is the current exchange rate whereby you would get an extra 20% to 30% when converting your US dollars into Canadian money. Taxes are also generally lower in the US.
BC & Company Benefits
A lot of small companies will do the minimal in terms of benefits and BC employment law (thanks to the BC Liberals) is so pathetic in compared to well everywhere, that some employers think they can get away with offering crappy benefits and they do.
And then there is 3 months wait for extended benefits, by some, not all Vancouver companies. Do they not care about the health of their new employees during the most stressful part of a job. All of the companies I interviewed with in the US start extended on day 1. Still Canada has a better health care system then the US.
Cost of living
Ok lets not be blind here, you need more money to live in a bigger city. Using numbeo/expatisan it rates Vancouver 34% cheaper than San Francisco, or 23% cheaper than Chicago. This seem greatly affected by exchanges rates, so I am sure they give me some indication but they are not entirely accurate.
Cost of living comparison between Vancouver, Canada and Chicago, Illinois, United States – Expatisan
- Food 8% less
- Housing 24% less
- Clothes 12% less
- Transportation 23% less
- Personal Care 20% less
- Entertainment 37% less
- TOTAL 23% Vancouver is cheaper than Chicago
- Consumer Prices in Chicago, IL are 22.63% higher than in Vancouver
- Consumer Prices Including Rent in Chicago, IL are 23.63% higher than in Vancouver
- Rent Prices in Chicago, IL are 25.43% higher than in Vancouver
- Restaurant Prices in Chicago, IL are 31.30% higher than in Vancouver
- Groceries Prices in Chicago, IL are 23.89% higher than in Vancouver
- Local Purchasing Power in Chicago, IL is 8.19% higher than in Vancouver
The United States is ranked No. 1 for most expensive healthcare per capita at $8,233. Conversely, Canada ranks No. 6 worldwide and is over $3,700 cheaper than the United States at $4,445 per capita, according to a 2012 OECD Health Data study using 2010 statistics. Americans pay over 17 per cent of their Gross Domestic Product (GDP) towards healthcare while Canadians sit at about 11 per cent.
From what I can work out I will have to something like $100 to $180 a month to get a similar service to that in Canada, with the exception that serious stuff is paid for me after a ceiling but I am still paying a percentage. Where as in Canada serious stuff is part of our Health Care system. If you have a domestic partner you will have to pay for health insurance for at the cost of $3,000 per year. If you are married, your companies health scheme would cover them at much less cost but roughly about an additional $1,600 to $2,000 per year depending on the scheme you chose.
Actual Work Culture
Every company I have worked for in Vancouver has “over sold” how good their culture is and made it sound like the best place on planet earth. They will rarely talk about the weaknesses and problems they are encountering, things they still need to fix. Maybe I am at fault here, I am from the UK and we are direct people, and not scared of conflict.
The companies I interviewed with in the US were a lot more honest about what they were good at and where they needed help. Their leaders were more vulnerable, something that engenders more trust in me.
Culture is formed from all the ways people communicate with each other, the more honesty the better. And honesty should be matched with kindness. How you start any human relationship for me says a lot, yes be proud but also be honest. You really get a sense of how good a culture is and how good the leadership is when you or the company fails in some fashion, what level of forgiveness is there? Also on the opposite side how does the company celebrate success? Values and Ethics matter.
Working for a company that is actually working at scale i.e. Billions of transactions versus Millions, is hard to find in Vancouver. A lot of the companies here are building a form of Marketing platform and/or B2B platform, often at a much smaller scale. Successful B2C is rarer in Vancouver.
In software you are out of date pretty much every three months, you have to love learning and I do. I have built a number of “social media platforms” and job sites I want something more complex.
I moved from the UK to Vancouver with a lot of stuff in 2008. It is not cheap, there are many things to be careful of and the insurance can be a killer. Advice given to me specific to a US move is that the initial offers do not match the actual cost. That technology is hard to move and expensive. And inventory everything.
Oh a really important thing to watch is they will give you an estimate based on what they think gas will charge. Then ding you for the actual amount when you arrive. And in some instances if you live where they can’t get the big moving truck and need to move items to a smaller one, they ding you with that too. Plus you need to be very careful with valuables. I think one friend ended up with an empty box instead of a playstation the last time she moved. And my move back to Chicago was $1000 more than quoted because of gas and miscellaneous charges.
Make them Saran Wrap all your furniture. All my furniture got nicked. Even though they paid for my insurance claim, I wasn’t about to replace my furniture so I just end up with ugly furniture.
If you go to the US there are a bunch of risks:
- There is no employment insurance for you in either countries
- Your TN Visa will expire and you will have 30 days to pack up and leave the country
- You pay double on Relocation, there and back again
- Trips home cost a lot more money
- If you have a Spouse or Partner they cannot earn money.. so what do they do? Do not under estimate this
- You have no credit score in the US and it will take months to a year to build one. Get a secured credit card ASAP.
- Consider how you will maintain your Canadian Credit score
The actual job that got me to move
A couple years ago I once met a guy at a software conference who was a mentor like me and was very passionate about his company. I liked him but he worked for a finance company that have a reputation of not being innovative (FinTech had not really kicked as a trendy thing). A number of years later the same company started an apprenticeship scheme and posted it online on github so anybody could use it. Wow I thought they are a company to watch, it was smart, courageous and risky. Another year that guy emailed me and asked if I could recommend any good software development managers. I did (not me).
I got contacted by a US recruiter (NeoHire North) looking to bring people from Canada. We explored an opportunity together and I started to realize that maybe I could move to the US. The TN Visa is simple enough you need a company that wants to sponsor you. You can bring a spouse into the US with you or you could get a B2 Visa for Domestic partner that has to be renewed every year.
So I reached out to the guy and said, hey do you still need any Software Development Managers? Yes we do. Two Interviews were done over the phone and seven in person.
The thing that really struck me is I really liked the people, all of them and they were so different. I asked them all the question “Why do you work here?” they all spoke with passion and vulnerability. In the end I had a number of opportunities both in Canada and the US, on the table. Whilst this company did not offer the best financial package, I wanted to work with these people, learn from them and help them be the best they can be. And the finial package is substantially better then anything I would be offered in Vancouver, and it means one day I will have a box that I can name as our own.
It fucking hurts to leave your friends, to leave the mountains, to leave the sea, and it is an exciting time in terms of Canadian Politics (I am hopeful that the Federal Liberals will do a good job and the BC NDP could revitalize BC). The emotional journey of moving country/city is a hard one and should not be under estimated.
Is it over for me and Vancouver?
Maybe not, I hope given a number of years I will be smarter, wiser and better off. Then I could come back and share what I have learned and find somewhere to live. That said, I fear if Government (Federal/Provincial and City) keeps ignoring the problem, not finding a way to collect data, to truly understand the problem and find a solution; then I will come back to find the situation much much worse. Then I will find a new home in Canada.
Brian Jackson (retiring City Planner) foresees no change in ever-upward pricing pressures on housing unless Ottawa shifts immigration policy or applies land purchase restrictions on foreigner buyers or the Bank of Canada hikes interest rates.
Possible Housing Solutions?
In my time in Vancouver I have spent about $115,200 in rent over 8 years. My biggest problem was having a downpayment. I will add more ideas to this as I learn more:
- Make it easier to pull together the downpayment, maybe larger companies could help their employees
- One idea I considered exploring was buying with a bunch of friends and living together
- Have better building regulations in making Kitchens actually useful
- Re-define what Government thinks is affordable
Checklist for moving to US from Canada
Apply for your Social Security Number – It can take 2-3 weeks for your SSN to be processed and this number really is needed for most things. Do it as soon as you have your visa, you can ask for it as part of the visa process, do this.
Open a Bank Account – Once you have a US mailing address and SSN, you should get to a bank and open an account so you have a place to deposit your US paycheques and an account to start paying bills from.
Get a US Credit Card – Apply for a prepaid credit card where you would leave a $1000 deposit for a $1000 limit on a credit card. Use this to slowly build credit over the next 3-6 months and then you can eventually ask for your deposit back. This is essential to build a Credit Score.
A friend (non technical) recently asked me how I lead my dev team, he had led product and marketing before, so I have attempted to focus on the differences, that said good team leadership has commonality with all disciplines.
I currently have three software engineers, one IT/Dev OPs and one product designer (3 female and 3 male). In the past I have led 23 teams. I will use this blog for my team to hold me to account 🙂
Being accountable for “no surprises” is the core. Where ever possible you should be accountable for all of the people that you work with, people should not be surprised by what you say, because you have already asked their opinion, maybe even evolved your thinking and they can see the process by which you went through to reach a decision.
It means more communication and more interaction with your people. It means you can be vulnerable. It means stepping outside of your “assigned” responsibility and forming relationships with all parts of your organization, and other organizations. Its about being connected, its about being a leader and a follower. It shows that people understand you and your core principles. That you can be consistent and when you adapt they can see that to.
There are not things left unsaid, you are not passive aggressive or have control issues.
Being a Leader of context
The role you take on should change depending on the context. Sometimes you are the coach, sometimes the mentor, sometimes the friend, sometimes a psychologist, sometimes the engineer, sometimes the product owner, sometimes the user advocate, sometimes the engineer advocate, sometimes the leadership context, sometimes the inspirer, sometimes the critic.. There are different leadership styles and yours should adapt. In 2003, prior to my MBA this book really helped me step up my game The New Leaders: Transforming The Art Of Leadership Into The Science Of Results
You are the right person at the right time
Different places/ways to work
People are generally smarter/productive longer, when they can have different types of environments to work in and have multiple ways to express themselves. Have multiple places that engineer can work in. When I recruited my current team, I got the organization on board with the following:
- Give the engineer a laptop
- Have somewhere comfortable to work e.g. sofa, kitchen
- Have somewhere serious/quiet with extra screen
- Have somewhere they can stand up and code
- Have somewhere outside if possible, natural light/fresh air is a great refresher
- Make it possible to work remotely
- That there are white boards for people to express, figure out a problem.
This is a good book if you want to really consider your culture and the way you work. The Best Place to Work: The Art and Science of Creating an Extraordinary Workplace. Without doubt you should ask each team member what helps them concentrate, what distracts them, what they need to stay in the zone. The obvious big one for many is a good set of headphones. Do not underestimate the quality of a good display also, anything at the quality of a Retina can reduce eye tiredness.
Different physical environments can refresh you, help you think bigger or focus. Be flexible.
Leave chunks of time to code
Engineers are generally more efficient if given chunks of time to code. Thus have your meetings meetings near mornings or lunchtime. To give several hours of interrupted research/code time.
- Get engineers to block out their time on their calendars, so product/founders can book time when needed
- Use an IM system to ask questions such as Slack or Skype during those chunks of time and do not expect a quick response
Developers need chunks of time to be left alone to get on and focus
Being a good human being
This means understanding each others needs and wants. Expectations both from the lead and engineer should not be hidden, things should not be left unsaid. Sometimes we need processing time, to check in destructive emotion, but you should still tell that person how they made you feel. You should also be kind but not nice.
Both people should be able to be vulnerable with each other and trust each other. You both need to avoid surprises. This is done through good communication, which is not common and takes effort. This needs time together.
- Feedback in the moment, always ask permission before giving feedback and make it about the behaviour you saw. Do not assume intent, in fact assume positive intent. Give positive and negative feedback. Understand how each member likes to receive feedback. This is my slide deck from teaching my teams about feedback.
- Weekly One to One checkins 10-30 mins, any fire issues? any smoking issues?
- Monthly sit down at least one hour. I have a list of questions to always go through, which we agree when we start together.
- Allow others to lead, giving opportunities to members of your team to lead on a project/task whatever you do not need to be the boss of everything.
Question set for monthlyFirst conversation should be to agree the questions, here is a starting set. They should based around the culture we wish to create and how we want to treat our people
- How are you feeling? Any hot issues we should talk about?
- How are you contributing to the company and your team?
- Are you a Team player? How are you involving others in your process?
- How are you growing/learning? Are we are helping your reach potential? Do you have mastery?
- What are your Technical Capabilities here? Where do you feel competent?
- How are you helping the company grow and evolve?
- Are you Hungry? How productive are you? Are you taking inspired action?
- Do you have a friend here?
- Do you have a mentor or coach in the company? Are you coaching others?
- Do you want stay with the team and the company?
- What can can we do better as an employer/me as your leader/CEO?
- Do you feel you have Autonomy? Are there things stopping you doing your job?
- Do you feel you have Purpose? Do you understand what we are building and why?
- Are you contributing to the wider community? What can we do to help?
One to one, face to face is the highest bandwidth of communication
Your processes and system should evolve.
The way you do things should be Agile (as originally intended i.e. flexible and evolve NOT rules). Agree a workflow together from product to engineer. It should change and evolve to be right for the context.
- When starting with a team, I will audit all current systems and ask for each members views privately on each tool/system/process, to ensure the less confident or shy people get their say
- I will then have a team meeting to review what we need and what we like
- Any team wide system change should involve all parties
- Deadlines should have engineer involvement and not be dictated downwards
For example in my latest team we discussed the tools we wanted and we decided to use
- Slack for IM
- BaseCamp for idealization and research
- Github for product/features/user stories and code/issue management – The way we used tags evolved several times.
Freedom to solve the actual problem
Sometimes Product/founders/Engineering leads may try to solve the problem in their way i.e. micromanage. Giving the engineer the “code monkey” role of just coding to a very prescribed way i.e. an exacting feature. Giving no space, to actually problem solve can be very limiting and create an environment where creativity and innovation are stifled i.e. the evil called micromanagement. Most humans do not like their freedom taken from them. So find the the right balance between the organizations’ needs and the employees. That said some people like more structure, context matters.
- Give space for engineers to solve the problem in their way. If you are already using Agile then you may evolve the story a couple times as users respond to the work.
- Within the user stories/feature requirements do not limit. Ensure you actual describe the problem you want solve, suggestion ideas/solutions but where possible do not dictate
- Involve the team in talking about the features and discussing possible approaches, but the actual engineer who takes the feature gets to decide
- Engineers should have some understanding of the customers. Ensure your engineers meet customers, and spend time with your Customer success/relations people.
- Keep the engineer accountable for the response by users. Thus have good monitoring software and have a culture when engineer go back to check the real world implications of their work.
Micro Management is the evil of leadership, it kills creativity, innovation, trust, and growth. It can appear both in a manager and in the processes you impose on your people
A culture of science
Scientists experiment many times and fail many times and one day they get it right. Encourage a culture of learning from mistakes not teasing/persecution which means encouraging experimentation and forgiveness.
- Discussion should be based on logic in reference to code
- Create an environment where people can I say “I do not know.. but here is an idea/feeling/instinct”
- Call people out if they tease others about their failures or use it to argue they case in a discussion
- Careful to not let irrelevant aspects enter into the discussion such as gender, race, age or sexuality. I say careful because humour can involve these but they should not sway discussions and the receiving of the humour should not be hurt.
Experimentation and failure should be Ok, team members should not “haze” each other. Leadership need to be able to move on
To build a team well, needs reflection and the teams involvement
The team needs time to connect as a team and evolve together as a team. We have a book club where we talk about the teams performance in terms not related to code. How good are we at communicating:
- Giving/receiving feedback
- How do we react to others ideas?
- Who do we go to help us through problems?
- Who pair code with more often
- How much do we know about each others strengths and weaknesses?
- How vulnerable can we be with each other?
We used The Five Dysfunctions of a Team to kick start this conversation. Every couple months we take time to talk about how a team we are in terms of communication. You need to invest in the actually team to have a team..
You need time for the team to talk about the team, spot weaknesses and evolve
Ask your people how you are doing
“How am I doing?” should not be a hard question for you. Ask it informally in your one to one monthlies and formally at least every 3 months. The no surprise rule should be for all. It should be 360 your leaders, peers and your people. Find out if people get what they want and what they need from you, in terms of communication, conflict/challenge, advice and performance.
You learn faster by other people telling you what you are doing right and wrong
Collaborating with your leader
Hopefully you chose your boss carefully when you were recruited into the organization.. but things evolve, so maybe that perfect person you went to work for, moved on. I have found the best leaders are those who keeping growing i.e. they read about how to be a better leader, they can be vulnerable with you and you can talk openly. When you make mistake your instinct is to tell your boss, when one of your team performs really well you never feel the need to take credit and generally you have no fear of your boss talking to your team. If you do find the above hard, understand why.
- Never underestimate the amount of time you will need for your leader
- Know each others strengths, weaknesses and blind spots
- Find those things you really enjoy about each other
- Find those things that you find difficult and talk about them
- Build strong relationships throughout the organization, ensure all find you approachable
Success in any organization is about working together and helping each other evolve
Adding to the team
Whilst you as the lead will drive this process, you should involve the team in the process. You should ensure everyone is trained and good at the interview process. This may mean mock interviews, where your team interview you. Its worth noting that you do not want more clones, you need different types of people, skillsets, who sometimes will clash, but have the communication skills and reasoning capacity to grow from each other.
- Be clear what the team is missing and what you need
- Agree on what you are looking for both terms of technical and personality
- Ensure the all those that are interviewing try out their questions, again no surprises
- Have space for something social
- The best interviews are like a great chat amongst friends about something technical
- Personally I hire on communications skills, problem solving skills, learning capability and then current technical skills
- I often look for potential as much as current craft capabilities
- I do not hire more of me, I want diversity
- If employing someone with less experience, be clear what the areas are and put in place a training program to fill those gaps.
I look for growth potential, hunger, curiosity, pro-active, problem solving capability, how they will add value to the team and how they will help the team evolve. Then I start start to consider technical experience.
Software engineers are great problem solvers
Sometimes we box people into a role. Humans are so much more than their job title and job description. Most people are capable of applying their skills in other domains. You have a problem, why not ask a software engineer?
I will keep adding to this blog as I learn.
A person, company, organization community can be judged on its actions and behaviours not its intents. Especially when the shit hits the fan. Its easy to be nice when the world is all good. Behaviours, the culture under stress shows the real capacity of the leadership.
So recently someone I respect has being promoted to become a leader of an organization. I want them to be successful, so I thought long and hard if I had some good advice that I could share. Was there a good book I could recommend? Or a video?
I own about 60 books on leadership excluding the MBA stuff. There was one that I kept coming back to me, it was a book I first read when I had just being elected to office and became the cabinet member for Cornwall County Council (UK) as Community & Culture “Minister”. This role was a real step up for me in terms of budget (71 million) and staff (over 440 spread out over many locations), where there was often upto 4 leaders between me and the frontline staff.
A good book for those who wish to improve their workplace. Provides a lot of evidence e.g. psychology studies and crafts them into a compelling narrative. The actions at the end of each chapter are a usefu summaryl.
A lot to learn here for all leaders and those who wish to be leaders. And maybe even for progressive trade unionists. And of course for people who would rather improve their workplace, rather than complain about it!
This book not only had a lot of wisdom in it, that we often take for granted and thus forget. I think the best kind of leadership book is one you walk away from and think/feel I want to be led by this person. And to make it even better I know now how I can ‘upgrade’ myself to replicate this over time.
“The day soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you have stopped leading them”
In the end the leaders behaviour will create a culture, so the book and video I recommended were as much about context (i.e. of this new leaders organisation, and its culture).
Another choice was the video by Simon Sinek, Start with the Why
This video ties into the need to inspire and effective leadership is about inspiration not overt control.
The book The Power of Why by Amanda Lang, had a number of factors I needed, it is written by a women who is also Canadian and the stories come from other industry sectors. Context is everything.
“Permission to dream is also permission to fail”
A book I found useful early in my career was The New Leaders by Daniel Goleman (he also wrote Emotional Intelligence). It was this book that showed me on reflection, the different leadership styles you will apply e.g. command and control has its place, depending on the context. It was also the book that helped to delegate with trust when moving into middle management.
Great leaders move us. They ignite our passion an inspire the best in us. When we try to explain why they are so effective, we speak of strategy, vision, or powerful ideas. But the reality is much more primal: Great leadership works through emotions..
There is a great TED video -> As work gets more complex, 6 rules to simplify by Yves Morieux
Suddenly it becomes in my interest to be transparent on my real weaknesses, my real forecast, because I know I will not be blamed if I fail, but if I fail to help or ask for help.
The last book is produced by CEO of the company with probably the best customer service on the planet. Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh journeys through time and a mans’ growth in understanding importance of leadership behaviours and their impact on the staff and thus the organisations’ culture.
Be Adventurous, Creative and Open-Minded
My last couple thoughts come from experience:
- That leadership is as much about vulnerability, as it is about confidence – see Brené Browns TED Video
- That followers choose who inspires and leads them rather then manages and controls them
- That women leaders are often better coaches then males, but the often to do not “give” territory for their coachees to succeed in.
- That “rebels” can often be bright people who are bored, give them something to do, they could become your greatest innovators
Finally leadership is a skill that you will never master, so expect to fail, maybe even plan for it, that said we often “love” rather than just respect the leaders more who have failed and have come back to succeed.
These are books that have made a difference to my thinking. I have read them all. They are not all perfect but sometimes we learn lessons from imperfection as well. Overtime I will keep adding to this list.
Top two to read now:
This book is visually amazing. Some in fact may find it too visual. It is an alternative book to The Startup Owners manual by Steve Blank or the The Lean Startup by Eric Reis. It takes the foundation laid in Business Model Generation Book and focus on customers and experimenting with those customers to establish a proven Value Proposition.
The contents is solid and assumes you have not a research background or a marketing background. Yet it gives you the things you need to know to reduce false positives.
Its approach is to assume the customer knows what they want.
I highly recommend this book for Product Leaders, MBA students, entrepreneurs, startup founders and project leaders.
Business Model Generation
Need to work how your business could make money, but not sure of which way to go. This book is an amazing and essential resource in establishing possible pathways. It also challenges you to stay flexible with business opportunities. It has some excellent real case studies in how to use this technique.
Top Lesson – Your business model should be a part of your daily thinking not lost in a 50 page MBA document.
Other great books
Getting Real -> Rework
Getting real was a good book to getting started, really from the perspective that you have all the skills and people already, it felt practical. Rework was a updated version and it felt more abstract, more about the business then the product.
Top Lesson – get on with it and start simple
This book really helped me do proper market research and how to do it. It is really a step by step guide in how to build a business around an idea.The updated book was much better designed and easier to read.
Top Lesson – don’t pitch but listen to the customer pains
There is also a “cheat sheet” by Brant Cooper & Patrick Vlaskovites, I liked it because it was visually pleasing and gets to the point faster then four-steps and The lean startup.
Do more faster
This book was like having lots of friendly practical tips. The chapters are short and it’s useful as a reference for early stage Startups.
Top Lesson – Founders earn equality too
Web 2.0: A strategy Guide
This book was full of case studies of web businesses that we all know, it shows their journey and their strategies. It is helpful in helping you think through the big picture in terms in how you handle the market, competition and evolving customers.
Top Lesson – Stay flexible and be ready to adapt but do have a long term vision with game plan, in your head.
Start Small, Stay Small: A developers guide to launching a startup
This is a really practical guide to how to turn your website into a business. What are your first few steps.
Top Lesson – There are many paths to the same goal.
This book pulls together some of the best blog posts on well everything startup.
For the founder who concentrates on the business, money side, culture
Great book for first time CEO and how to survive growth.
Finding and addressing management and leadership weaknesses in organizations. It’s more relevant to large organizations but had plenty for small teams to incorporate as well.
You need to be good a telling your story, in a really simple fashion that all ages can understand. It helps you move away from bullet points to visual explanations.
Top Lesson – can you make this simplier?
Top Lesson – Those who start with WHY never manipulate, they inspire. And people follow them not because they have to; they follow because they want to.
This is told from the perspective of one person and his journey to learn the importance of organization culture. Every behavior or interaction you have will set the foundations for your Organisation. If you bully your people will copy you and bully to. What are values and principles? This book will help you start this journey.
Top Lesson – Happiness never decreases by being shared.
For the founder is more technology focused:
An awesome book how to bootstrap, written by a developer for developers.
The Art of Agile Development
A most excellent book with practical tips in how you can truly move in applying agile. This book uses xp programming as its pathway.
Top Lesson -Your software only begins to have real value when it reaches users.
This book gives a good description of clean code and how to achieve it in your own projects.It is based above some very clear principles and will help you think through the code your currently create.
Top Lesson – always commit better code then you have checked out.
How good is your code? How professional are you really? Can you say no. Do you pass the buck? Are you accountable for your code. This author puts the prefect model out there, which is a good start for a dialogue for what is possible.
Top lesson – You need to say no when you need to say no
For the founder who is design focused, UX inclined:
The Smashing Mag Books 1,2,3
Both the books and the website are an excellent for both designers and developers alike. A smart collection on web design principles. It’s a high-level view of user interaction information and has useful takeaways in each chapter.
A Project Guide to UX Design: For user experience designers in the field or in the making
A step-by-step guide to web development from proposal through wire framing to testing and launch.
Now go and build, create and show us your vision.
You want more -> If you want to see all the books I have read on startups have a look at my goodreads profile and my startup shelf
Your brand is the COMPLETE experience, every interaction, anything that can change motivation and/or attitudes, with your company. This can include the consuming of your product and service, repair, suppliers and yes your recruitment process. The good modern brands are human and often concrete, you can trust them.
You are only worth an automated response..
If a person spend hour’s, maybe days writing a letter of introduction, adapting their resume/CV, maybe even pulling a slideshow or video together for you. And than they receive a notification that you will not even bother contacting them, because you have so many applicants. You know this type of letter:
Thank you for your interest in XXXX Company and for sending us your resume link and supporting information. We’re always looking for the best and brightest new candidates who are interested in joining our fast-growing team.
Please note, due to the vast number of enthusiastic applicants, we are only able to contact those we select for interviews. We will however take the time to review your resume, cover letter and all related materials you’ve sent through, and will contact you if you are selected as a shortlisted candidate.
We frequently add new positions to the Careers Page so keep an eye out for more opportunities to work at XXXX company.
I wonder who in an organisation is so naïve that they feel that this experience will encourage the ‘recruit’ into buying any of your products let alone a service. Many organizations don’t mash together their HR and marketing talent. When the applicant started the process the applicant was a keen advocate, which you have turned into something else.
No closure for the applicant
The typical scenario is where the applicant is not even told when you have been thrown out of the process, or when the process is complete and they have not got an interview. The applicant then does not even get a chance for closure. The first they may hear is through a press release on your website or indeed nothing. That’s just plain mean and very common.
As an applicant we only care if you have the capability
Most employers will not look at a candidates’ application if they have not even taken the time to write a relevant cover letter that covers off the person spec. So they expect you to spend time on them but they are not always willing to do the same. Aren’t good relationships formed on equality?
You are just a transaction..
It seems most Applicant Tracking Systems have being built from the aspect that you are just another process to deal with. They do not see you as a human that or you should be treated with dignity or respect. In fact the more they ‘take over’ the process the less human you are treated. People are not simple nor are the ways you should interact with them.
We are often more protective of our friends than ourselves
The applicant may not be alone during this journey through your recruitment system, as they may share it with their friends e.g. can you check the letter please, especially if they are woman. Friends don’t take it kindly if you reject, ignore or attack their friends. You haven’t just pissed off one person; congratulations you just gained two pissed off people for the price of one – who now thanks to online social media have the ability to share globally. They may not indeed talk about the job application process, they just may look at all your marketing as another ‘poke in the eye and respond negatively.
Your worse case scenario is that you have just given them the motivation (see this TED video) for the job applicant and their friends to dislike your products and services and look to your competitors.
Bottom line – the buying power of every rejected applicant is?
In the end this will affect you financially. The chances are that you will reject more applicants than you will take on board. You will, probably still want them as a consumer? Who will pay a company that has just rejected them? or even taken the time to communicate, er, anything after the initial application.
Not just B2C
In the B2B sector relationships are even more important and in the end B2B purchases come down to a very human emotion e.g. Trust.
StartWire, recently completed a survey of 2,000+ job seekers, asking how a company’s application process affected their view of the brand. This is what we heard:
- 77% said they think less of companies that don’t respond to job applicants,
- 72% would be deterred from recommending or speaking positively online of your company
- 58% said they’d even think twice about buying your products or services if they don’t ever hear from you after they submit their application.
Outsourcing to save money
I wonder who missed the lessons from out sourcing call-centres to another country where the understanding of both culture and language was insufficient to handle the customer care in an appropriate manner. Now its automated on a computer (and they are really known for their customer care!), you are not even worth a human response.
Good ‘customer service’
If your customer service system treats your customers as just a transaction you deserve to go out of business. Humans want to be treated with respect and dignity. Even politicians know this hence why some of the most sophisticated marketing happening on the planet is happening in election campaigns. But some of the best sustained examples I have seen in customer service are from Zappos (http://www.zappos.com/) or Freshbooks (http://www.freshbooks.com/) They essentially treat you with respect and appreciate your time is as valuable as theirs.
Who is accountable for this?
Maybe the CEO for not paying attention or CFO for cost cutting, or the HR leader being squeezed or even the CMO for not considering the brand impact. In the end HR needs people to ensure a good experience.
The days of unaccountable recruitment and HR process are coming to an end if you are consumer-facing provider.
On-line systems are rating well everything. For example http://www.ratemyemployer.ca/ it’s only a matter of time when people start rating recruitment systems and HR. We already have individual rating systems for people such as http://blog.ratemyprofessors.com/
It will not get easier to find talent, just more competitive
The economist wrote two pieces about how hard it is in get the right talent:
The Search for Talent – http://www.economist.com/node/8000879
The battle for brainpower – http://www.economist.com/node/7961894
Another article of interest – Canadian tech CEOs see shortage in talent. – http://www.pwc.com/ca/en/emerging-company/connecting-vision-to-reality/ceo-report-emerging-companies.jhtml
In these circumstances, is it wise to give job applicants a good experience? They may return and have grown since they last applied, if you gave feedback last time, they may have responded to it and exceed your expectations on the next attempt.
Now add Generation Y behaviour to this and you have an interesting power cake just around the corner.
Is your recruitment system losing you customers and damaging your brand? How many job applicants did you reject last year? How much social influence did they each have?
It seems to me that corporate culture is on a journey from repression to expression from viewing human beings as number, resources, sales figures to, surprise, human beings. It can be seen in the HR titles e.g. VP Personnel -> VP Human resource -> VP People. I think the organisations that have the lead HR person reporting into finance or corporate or operations are worse off. There is one person, that a lead HR person should report into i.e. CEO. In terms of political power HR are generally one of the weakest on a board (if they are even on it), I think in part because so many of their process orientated capabilities are being outsourced, maybe because people are too complex or too emotional compared to finances/sales/operations. Or maybe its because in some organizations leaders are taking on the role of HR for their teams (about time).
Reward, if possible give feedback and say thank you
The job applicant, was a person who wanted to help your organization grow, for a moment in time were probably your most passionate advocate. Yet they are often treated like robots, resources or costs. How would you like to be treated? If someone has invested more time in your company than the average, why not say thank you. Tell them what they are missing in terms of capability or fit and prove you mean it. I think the best companies employ on ‘fit’ before capability. Who is to say that this person maybe a future employee? Consider it another form of relationship marketing.
Leadership accountability – Don’t pass the buck!
If a candidate gets through a number of stages, it should not be HR having to give the bad news, the leader should do what they are paid for and give the bad or good news. I believe leadership is taking on the responsibility of your decisions both the easy and tough ones.
- Tell the applicant when they have been removed from the process.
- Give some useful feedback; the chances are that you have spent some time human processing anyways; at least give the biggest single reason why they were knocked out. You may find that there are a lot of standard reasons e.g. you do not have enough relevant experience or the average interview applicant will have 5 years more experience.
- Say thank you in some meaningful way.
- For those who you think culturally match, consider other posts or put on a watch list. But be careful no one believes “we will file it and if something comes up we will contact you.”
- The deeper the experience (number of interviews) the more likely rejection will be felt. But also they are more likely to be match for your organization and thus the more likely they may be a future employee.
- For all candidates that have being interviewed by the manager, should be given the news by the manager.
You are nothing without your people. The ones you have now and the ones you have yet to work with.
There are Marketers who are marketers… then there are Marketers that are techies, entrepreneurs, educators, leaders, community-builders… and marketers. I’m not your average Marketing VP: I’m a Marketing VP with benefits and I’d love to help you take your company to the next level.
To cover off on the traditional stuff first, I’ve chalked up about 19 years total in marketing, communications and campaigns. My experience in every sector from government and non-profit to private corporations, and in several markets, reflects a breadth that mirrors your client base. There are few-to-no delivery channels I have not explored, and I have a habit of driving organisations to get a ahead of the wave in using the latest and greatest, with social media no exception. I’ll leave my resume to provide the details of my engagements and achievements.
Now onto the bonus material…
You’ll find I have zero distance to travel when it comes to creating marketing strategy around a SaaS model. Spending the last two years creating a tech start-up has honed my product management, development and business model know-how to a fine point. In fact, technology is and was my first love: I have computer science degree, an IT consultancy to my name, led 110 people IT department and more recently refreshed my hands-on experience with a web dev qualification.
In addition, my career here in Canada began as VP Marketing for a Vancouver SaaS success story, Vision Critical, where I led a major re-branding initiative, a new website launch and contributed to sustained growth throughout the recession despite major marketing spend curtailments. Speaking of which, you can’t get away with working at a market research company without great data to inform and back-up your efforts: whilst there, I initiated the first customer satisfaction system. In all marketing I do, I expect to deliver ROI metrics.
I have a passion for people: I love them. I just can’t help it.
This has taken me down a number of roads, including serving, developing and communicating to communities (and the multiple groups, agencies, businesses and services therein) as a politician. What this brings to my marketing (aside from experience of managing budgets of £71 million and approximately 400 staff) is getting the balance between a results-driven and value-driven approach. All great brands are built around emotions and values.
My bordering obsession with human psychology helps me to both understand client needs, both in product features, but also in terms of the complete customer experience and the messages they want to hear. It also makes me a great leader. I’m the guy that puts out a lot of positive energy and gets to know everyone. I also relish the opportunity to grow those around me: you’ll see that education and training forms a major theme throughout my career. Right now, I teach Marketing, Public Relations and Advertising part-time for BCIT.
CEO, I hope this provides a sense of what I can bring to the table. Successful marketing requires a great CEO – Marketing relationship, so I believe fit is as important as capability and I would love the opportunity to see if we get on. 🙂
P.S. Here are a couple of opinions about me:
“Eric is a prolific thinker and one of the most well read individuals I know. While he is skilled in Marketing and Communications, he is a strategist at heart, looking for greenfield to take companies and pushing organizations to consider bold new directions. While visionary in his thinking, Eric is equally tactful in his negotiation. He is one of the few people I’ve met who can succinctly articulate and communicate multiple sides of an issue without offending anyone in the room. He knows when and how to move around roadblocks, invite debate, and get things done. Eric is someone who can really make a difference in organizations large or small if given the runway to do so.” Jason Smith, President, Vision Critical
“Eric Brooke is a professional, thoughtful, inventive and provocative marketer and communicator. I’ve had the pleasure of working with Eric on a number of projects, most recently and most deeply on a task force charged with rebranding Vision Critical and Angus Reid Strategies. In this role, Eric brought a tremendous amount of energy, branding experience and resourcefulness to the task. He did an excellent job balancing the need for being a team player with being willing to challenge conventional thinking and the status quo – a role we needed him to play.
In addition to understanding marketing, Eric also has a deep knowledge of communication, change management and organization development – in our case bringing a company brand/vision to life for staff and customers. This is something that sets him apart from those who have only had experience with traditional marketing and will be truly valued by those who require successful transformation.” Andrew Grenville, Chief Research Officer, Angus Reid Strategies
I was recently asked by a organization leader of an local education institute what my view is. Here are my thoughts along with some possible solutions in red. The green boxes are what my startup Professional You is working on.
Its not the money, no I don’t get free courses or any discount on other courses. Here are 15 reasons why I teach:
It turns skill into knowledge
I have always found the act of refining and teaching what you think you know, turns it into something more refined, more useful even. It can make you think very deeply on a topic and for me; it makes me question the foundations of what I think I know. It encourages me to seek alternative answers, sometimes before I have formed a question. It allows me to reflect on some of the decisions I made in the ‘field’ and explore other options of a possible future from that decision point. Whilst you can copy someone’s skill you cannot copy his or her knowledge, as I believe knowledge comes from a journey, which you have to travel and reflect upon.
“Knowledge is the inoculation of information” Anon
I learn & and grow as much as my students
Helping others learn, if you listen to the students questions, can challenge your own thoughts and feelings on a matter. The ‘tired’ teacher just forces the student to learn what the ‘agenda’ tells them, whilst an ‘awake’ teacher will explore with the student the path of understanding and together they can grow. Occasionally I will meet a student who does not receive my materials or teaching in the way that works for us, this keeps my thinking and rethinking of different styles, materials, activities I need to use to involve and engage the students mind.
Staying ahead and preparing for the future
To teach keeps me up-to-date with my domain expertise and it pushes me to understand the likely trends for that domain. I than have to translate that into my lessons and it explain to my students and prepare them for it. Of course at the same time I am preparing myself for the future.
Hubris does not take over
Some teachers think they know it all, not only is this naive in terms of knowledge but also in terms of communication/engagement. They are idiots. I need to remind myself that I am not an idiot! 😉
I test my assumptions
Working with people from different generations and history is really useful as your assumptions are constantly challenged not every Gen Y acts like a Gen Y or every baby boomer like baby boomer. We often get surround by ‘shortcut labels’ or brands and start to believe that every women thinks’ shopping is fun or every teenage boy only thinks about sex. As you teach you get to see the next upcoming generation, how they think/feel, learn and make sense of the world. On the counter side you get to see the older generations re-training themselves.
Prevention is better than cure
Effective education can prevent many problems in our lives, communities and society. Unfortunately we as a human race spend more time fixing problems after they have occurred, rather than preventing them with education. If you are not part of the solution you are part of the problem.
It helps me understand humans to a greater level
I am thirsty for works on memory, learning, processing, communication, interaction and risk. All of this curiosity helps me explore, test and understand. Hopefully over time it improves my lessons and the students retention and ability to use the knowledge.
I believe in meritocracy
I am strong believer that our society has too much cronyism and nepotism and this needs to be balanced with meritocracy. Note I said balanced not replaced. There are days when I would suggest that meritocracy should be then dominant force, but not completely replace.
I like partnership
For me I have a contract with each of my students. They do their part and I will do mine. Sometimes life intervenes and does not allow the student to put the work in. I don’t have that choice.
I like accountability
In the end you get to see how successful you are as a teacher by the students work. When did you teach well and when you communicated a concept that was unrefined or too fluffy. For me this holds me accountable.
The global need to share
Like most human beings I have the need for acknowledgement, to belong and be part of something. Teaching satisfies part of that need.
It reminds me to be patient, understanding and compassionate
The most effective teacher will take their time and not hurry a student. They will allow ideas and thoughts to grow in the student and I greenhouse them until they are ready to be challenged. I don’t believe the Socratic method is always helpful, especially in early stages of knowledge development; it can force people down a path of believing in what they can defend. It can be very aggressive which not all humans appreciate. Nature often reminds us that to allow something to grow, you have to wait. Don’t get me wrong, there comes a time for testing where the Socratic method is very helpful.
It improves my ability to explain and communicate
For every lesson I have to think of a number of ways to explain the same concept, so that students with different learning styles can understand the concept well and grow beyond it. Very helpful in business.
It improves my leadership & mentoring
My simply philosophy for my employed teams, is to help them out grow you and the organisation, so they move on. I don’t expect anything to be forever. If you want to keep people in your life you have to work at it and try not to take each other for granted. Even so I think those people who work or play together for long periods have found a way to evolve and grow together. I have and do coach/ mentor a number of business leaders and politicians, I will cover this in another blog.
Teaching is not just in the classroom.
Mentor, Coach, friend, lover, colleague, leader, follower, we are all teachers.
“Those that cannot do, teach” Anon
Whilst I don’t agree with this statement, for many of reasons above. For me teaching is part of my life not the whole of it, hence why I prefer to do it part-time.
A lot of people seem to believe that a brand is about advertising. That it is merely corporate identity, the name, and the logo, the colours used.
So here is what after 19 years of marketing I uses a definition for my start-up and my marketing students.
- Its starts with the founder(s) vision,
- It shifts according to the team they have built and their values plus behaviour
- Its is limited by the technology used
- Its expressed and reflected in the product built
- And finally it is decided on by users and their experience both with the product and customer/support team
Whilst it starts with the founder(s) it is decided and defined by your users.
I believe good strategy and brand can support each other. It’s not about spending lots of money on an icon, name or colours. It is about the sum expression of what you are already doing.
For me a good strategy and brand go together through having a vision, mission and values. These will evolve but they will help guide your decisions – what space am I in (Vision – some call this Brand promise), How will I change it (mission) and how will I make decisions (Values).
Here is ours http://www.professionalyou.com/vision.html once we had done this, it was easy to develop a corporate identity as our prime value is Growth, hence the tree and colours. This value set has/is helping me make a large number of decisions about what we are and what we are NOT.
Once I wrote the vision, mission and values name came to me i.e. Professional You. Not in a sudden flash admittedly. Personally I prefer names that are concrete and that mean something. If you take no time I believe it shows your users that you do not care, that you are only temporally, why should they invest in you if you can not get the basics right. Sometimes sharing this journey (of choosing your name) can also be powerful when users want to know who you are.
It is both my strategy and brand; my pitches are cleaner for it, my messages cleaner and my decisions easier. People tend to trust clarity, if you are clear people find it an easier journey to trust you, branding can help you with this.
So far I have spent nothing on advertising, on creative agencies and a local (Vancouver) designer helped with the logo for free.
Occasionally I tweak the vision and mission as I form better ways to describe what we are up to.
It will continuing evolve but in the end users decide, so do not forget the importance of your customer/user facing staff if they are happy your customers are more likely to be also 🙂
P.S. Do tell your users who you are and what you are about. It is always disappointing if you go to the About Us on a web page, to see that you don’t care to make an effort or even bother to introduce yourselves and its not polite 😉