Category Archives: Organisation Leadership

Actions speak louder then words

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.

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Becoming a leader of an organization

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.

Eric Brooke newly elected to the cabinet of Cornwall County Council 2005

Eric Brooke newly elected to the cabinet of Cornwall County Council 2005

The Best Place to Work by Ron Friedman

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!

The Leadership Secrets of Colin Powell by Oren Harari

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.

Good books to read if you want to create a web startup

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:

Value Proposition Design: How to Create Products and Services Customers Want

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

Four Steps to Epiphany -> The Startup Manual

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

The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Customer Development

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.

Managing Startups: Best Blog Posts

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

Startup CEO: How to Build a Company to Success

Great book for first time CEO and how to survive growth.

The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers

War stories

Scaling Up Excellence: Getting to More Without Settling for Less

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.

Presentation Zen
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?

Start with Why
This is an interesting book with a great TEDx video. It will encourage better pitches and storytelling and improve the marketing of your business and products.

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.

Delivering Happiness

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:

Start Small, Stay Small: A Developer’s Guide to Launching a Startup

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.

Clean Code

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.

Clean Coder
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.

Final Thoughts

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

Branding for Tech Startups

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.

  1. Its starts with the founder(s) vision,
  2. It shifts according to the team they have built and their values plus behaviour
  3. Its is limited by the technology used
  4. Its expressed and reflected in the product built
  5. 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 😉

Transparency & Consistency

The world is becoming far more transparent for those who are curious enough and the ability to scrutinise anything is becoming easier.  Some think it is limited to politics and government, they need to wake up and google their own name and get past the first few pages (unless of course you are famous or infamous).  This scrutiny is not just being carried out by journalists, but by bloggers, customers, staff, friends and families. Even potential friends and lovers are checking you out, obviously literally, but also online.

In the past companies felt they could get away with ‘discrepancies’ between what their marketing says and what they do and/or have created.  I am not talking about the ‘disasters’ but the translation of marketing/sales promises into actual customer and user experience. (Or the promise of HR and managers to new employees.. or the promise of employee to company.)

Who does marketing?

There are some that believe marketing is done in marketing departments. Most intelligent people know this is bollocks: it’s done in every department of your business.  Every person goes home and talks or leaves an impression (even through what they dont say) about your boss, their boss, the products and services.  Every person the company fires goes out and tells people if not with words, with body language what they thought of that company. The sales people, leaders and strategy people are the ones who usually over promise to get you through the door.  Once through the door its up to the account managers, customer service people, the technical support who – in most cases are the people that define the actual brand (customer experience) for the company. Yet they are often the ones who are not as well paid or given respect. And of course there are the people who actually make what you sell, whether they be software developers, factory staff, production artists, they all leave their imprint on the user experience.  How consistent do you think they are in telling the whole world what the company is about? In the old days (before Web 2.0) it was easy to cover up ‘discrepancies’ and pretend companies are wholly wonderful places to work, but the reality is that most humans are flawed in some fashion as are the communities and organisations we create.  I believe the best option in this world is to be honest and transparent.  (Just to be clear, I am not advocating transparency with your new hot sauce: we do after all live in a competitive world.)

Lessons from political campaigning

There is one kind of marketing / campaigning / communication in which you cannot afford ‘discrepancies’ and that is political campaigning. Everyone has to be ‘on board’ and saying the same thing, or else the competition or journalists will pick it up and shove it in your face (if you are lucky).  This does not mean people working on political campaigns do not have differences of opinions – they most certainly do – and in most cases they have strongly held beliefs (except the consultants <– joking.. sort of).  I think they have a couple things that help them survive their differences of opinion, including:

  1. Shared values and principles and possibly vision.
  2. A clear end to the campaign
  3. Competition or an ‘enemy’ to blame for all the ill in the world
  4. Directly connected with ‘consumers’ i.e. electorate. Has your politician crashed today? Please ring technical support..
  5. Newspaper and journalists who make their money by finding your ‘discrepancies’
  6. Bloggers and activists who find ‘discrepancies’ for fun, for belief or for hate.
  7. Limited funds, often transparent sources.

Lessons from the technology world

The technology sector is constantly striving for faster and more efficient ways to communicate, examples include rumour sites (www.macrumors.com), Blogs (Tech crunch), linkedin updates, facebook updates, twitter etc.  Technology people  are often the first bunch of people onto new technology, curious to see how it works.  They have little fear to try out technology often will talk about technology and the people that create it. Also technologist form strong online communities to support each other in acquiring new knowledge. For example, if someone leaves a job in the technology market you will ‘hear’ about it or easily find it out, whether they be from a large company or just a startup. During the recession (2008 -2010) there were even sites counting the number of jobs been lost by tech staff. Information travels fast e.g. status update or job change, and often before the marketing or communication department is in the know.  Most good communicators know that the absence of information will give space for rumours to build and/or for anticipation to build.

Some companies do very well because of the 24 information need for speedy communications, others through the notable absence of information i.e. Apple

  1. Put the information out first
  2. Remember to back your statements up, with depth and evidence. Remember before the days of twitter and click polls?

Transparency and extra free data is adding to depth of conversation..

Some corporate websites try to hide the numbers of staff that work for the company, especially startups.  Be warned that people can use linkedIn or Jigsaw to see who actually works for a company.  Other tools have ‘encouraged’ transparency LinkedIN Company profiles allow you to see how many VPs does a business have, you can see who has joined and who has left.  This is useful to see how high up the chain you have actually got.

Your resumes are in multiple places, are they consistent?

How many places is your resume? A word doc right, a pdf, LinkedIN, Facebook, and couple recruitment websites, what about the ones recruiters have got, what about the organisations you have worked for in the past?  Consistency of what you say about yourself is important to gain trust but can be difficult when you multi-talented and can sell yourself to different markets or into different roles.

Relationships

I wonder sometimes what the real impact of showing our ‘relationship status’ is on Facebook or other social networking tool.  For a secure relationship, it’s not  a problem, but new ones? Hmmm – it is only ‘official’ when it says so on facebook?! It goes without saying (but I am going to say it) that inconsistency in personal and professional relationships can cause problems.

Archive sites or cached info

It’s worth noting that if you make a mistake online it will be archived or cached somewhere on the web, if left for any period of time. I think most cultures are forgiving of making a mistake, many are not forgiving of covering up mistakes, however.

What can you do?

  1. Have clear vision, values and principles for the organisation
  2. Be transparent where possible, dont hide..
  3. Consistency with brand values, organisation values and leadership behaviour e.g. If your leader bullies, senior managers will copy as will middle managers and staff will be bullied.  Is that the culture you want?
  4. Honesty from leaders and sales, rather than leaving accounts/customer or technical support to clear up the mess
  5. HR and Management appraisal and review mechanisms reflect the values and principles
  6. Encourage lateral communications and breakdown silos
  7. Not see technical support or account managers or customer service as an afterthought

The end for propaganda marketing and the era of dialogue marketing

There are many who will claim that social marketing is the future, some will claim it is the now. I believe that being social is part of the human condition and we have being ‘doing’ social marketing since we could communicate.  Just as some people claim that communities have just appeared, idiots.. There are a lot of frauds who call themselves social media specialists and few really good ones.. I do not claim to be either.

The real change that, is/has happened in the online environment, is the movement from propaganda marketing i.e. one way, to dialogue marketing i.e. two way.

This did not start online with facebook or other ‘social networking tools’ but with chatrooms and forums in universities, where conversations have been going on, since the early days of computers.  I feel that it was geeks and nerds (like myself) who wanted to talk about a particular topic e.g. Unix or shell coding who started this online journey.  Years later, instantaneous and global communications has fed the human addiction need for fast, quick and scannable information. And I personally hope one day we care about quality and depth again…

Really two way communication..

Marketing Communications has taken the long journey from one way ‘preaching’ of the religious leader to two way conversations or dialogue of a Townhall. Consumer rights groups and Bloggers were the leaders that eventually broke into the general public consciousness and encouraged ‘consumers to state their opinions’ and than web 2.0 gave us the tools to do this easily.

Political Marketing/Campaigning has probably been at the forefront of dialogue marketing for sometime.  Obamas’ campaign was certainly not the first to combine both ‘real world’ and online dialogue marketing, but clearly is the most famous (well at least for North America’s).  The Liberal Democrats in the UK have been doing for the last 5 years, and examples can be found in other areas of high internet penetration and large numbers of technology people.

From a corporate perspective Facebook and LinkedIN company pages followed, which gave us even more access to information and conversation, beyond the corporate website.

The same journey can be seen in market research (MR).  With MR in the online environment, first we had survey tools and then ‘Panels’. Online research panels is where the business asked the questions to specially selected consumers and consumers answered.  Now we have ‘Online Communities’ in which consumers can talk to each other, ask questions and answer them.  This is, of course is more than just dialogue marketing but moves from one to one conversations to many to many conversations adding an addition dimension (*I will cover this in another post – Townhall dialogue).

Is dialogue marketing expensive?

It definitely costs money, both in terms of content producers and responders to ‘consumer posts’.  People often underestimate the amount of time so called social marketing content production takes.  Writing a good blog post is not just based on time but inspiration and good writing.  Next time, you hear it will only take 30 to 40 minutes per post, I would suggest you give them THE look or a ‘verbal’ slap. Good writing is not always that predictable.  And lets not forget people may respond (if you write interesting and engaging copy), and you should respond to their response. Its worth pointing out they may respond in another environment or platform e.g. their blog not yours.  The point that I am making, is not that it is bad, but there is a real cost in staff time.  I personally think good writers are rare (I count myself in the category – who has the imagination to write but yet not the writing skills to go with it).  Of course blog posts are not the only way to go, there are webinars, podcasts, videoinars (I have yet to have seen this done well yet), whitepapers, etc. All great stuff for honey pot (inbound marketing) e.g. bring customers to your website to sell shit. In all cases you still need good content producers.  Often they are not in the marketing department, they are the specialists in your business whose bottom line is often driven by short term goals (cash now), thus they are not rewarded by the business in the short term to take time out of their ‘real job’. So there is some political or bureaucratic work to be done here. If you want regular quality content you need to create a good content strategy. This has be done in partnership with senior leadership, marketing and the content producers.

Is the leadership ready for it?

Some yes, some NO. However, if I was to give you a segment that I am cynical about ,it would be the old guard of baby boomer CEOs. I believe that  a vast majority are still in the era of propaganda marketing. In some cases their chief marketing officer (CMO) will be out on a limb, trying to prove its worth. Than again the CMO may not understand this form of marketing and may delegate it to the youngest member of the marketing team (Gen Y) because they live and breathe it in their personal life. But portraying a company is very different from a person, so I would suggest that the CMO should ensure that training/development is given to help this team member and the marketing channel succeed.

So what do I do?

  1. Allocate people and time
  2. Build a strong content strategy – who will your providers of content be – what do they gain from this?
  3. Ensure strong relationships with other parts of customer facing departments/people.
  4. Choose the right tools for you.
  5. Be ready for abuse, challenge, the occasion thanks and good ideas.
  6. Prepare your senior leadership.
  7. Open up the channels .
  8. Respond to your customers/clients and ensure the comments get passed to the right people in the organisation. Follow up.
  9. Learn and evaluate – Show how you are learning, to your customers – Its after all a two way dialogue.


Starting a tech company -co founders

So, eventually my brain connected a few dots  and came up with a big idea. BIG yes because it means changing the way the world works. For the better I think and feel, there are no mass murders planned, it will mean people doing less but with more depth.  The journey that has being interesting in getting to know Vancouver and its support for building a business.

So I met everyone I could through my friends and their connections. There are a lot of networking events which are attended by professional networkers.  I tried BC American Marketing Association, League of Kickass, Connect, Launch Party.. And through these I meet some of the good, bad and the ugly, I met a few stars who took the time to answer my overfilling wardrobe of questions..  I knew I was looking for a tech guy who could not only scale up himself but make the tech scable, who had worked in enterprise and but had also actually delivered small projects on his own,  I needed a artist who understands expression and  usability but also was a through tester and than had grown beyond that..  And we need to like each other because I wanted us to be all from different backgrounds..  Why these two roles because I believe form and function should be developed together, I think this one of those things that Apple has got right and Google is still learning.  I was also looking for 2 other people who wanted to build something, something big, a community a new form of company, that would grow in Vancouver to become its own medium/large company.. and one not intended to be sold.  The surprising thing is I think and feel I have found them!