Category Archives: Strategy

Leading leaders

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Maybe you are a Director, a Head of X or a Vice President, and you now own a department or multiple teams. Moving from a front line leader i.e managing Individual Contributors (IC) to leaders of other teams – requires a shift in leadership style, decision making, coaching topics, and evolving strategic/abstracted perspective. This blogpost and the following posts will attempt to explore these differences and my thoughts on them.

Leaders are not born, they are made from experience – for some reason they stood up and led.  Effective leaders help us overcome limitations, they help us do more and bigger things than we can do alone. They get the best out of people. They build a better future, looking at potential rather than being stuck with baggage of the past.

The hard thing about stepping up leadership through the levels is the number of stakeholders increases, and how you make decisions will have to change to be successful, or you will fail.  This is best laid out in an excellent article in the Harvard Business Review, The Seasoned Executive’s Decision-Making Style.

Are you a leader or a manager?

“Become the kind of leader that people would follow voluntarily; even if you had no title or position.”

Brian Tracy

I believe a Leader is an evolution beyond just a manager. It’s not a title, it’s how you do the job – where you are breaking new ground with your people and with the area/topic/business you are in charge of. You are creating something new. You are defining and evolving strategy. You are inspiring more from your people than they could do alone.

With this said, I have met great managers who were poor leaders and great leaders who were poor managers. Context matters a lot here, as not all cultures or leaders encourage the best from each person. It is easy to forget that we are each unique, especially when we are encouraged to call humans a resource.

Evaluating your Leaders

Great managers possess a rare combination of five talents.

They motivate their employees, assert themselves to overcome obstacles, create a culture of accountability, build trusting relationships and make informed, unbiased decisions for the good of their team and company.

State of American Managers, Gallup

You need a method that helps you evaluate your leaders, and maybe HR already uses one.  Below are a couple others if your organization does not yet have a clear framework for leadership and leadership development.

There are a lot of good tools to assess each of your leaders, and one of my favorites is the Talent Dimension introduced in a report by Gallup on Management:

  1. Motivator
  2. Assertiveness
  3. Accountability
  4. Relationships
  5. Decision-Making

I would strongly recommend you read their report, which gives you a basic view of their capabilities. It’s a good starting place.

Korn/Ferry International has a report that evaluates managers’ skills with a focus on how to develop them. It has 15 skills and a table to define them:

  1. Self-Development
  2. Time Management
  3. Action Oriented
  4. Business Acumen
  5. Ethics and Values
  6. Perseverance
  7. Creativity
  8. Perspective
  9. Building Effective Teams
  10. Command Skills
  11. Conflict Management
  12. Decision Quality
  13. Developing Direct Reports (those you manage) and Others
  14. Managing Vision and Purpose
  15. Motivating Others

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Checking in with a leader’s team on regular basis is also important, as well as with their stakeholders.  After you have gathered this information, make sure you circle back to the leader and get their perspective in a timely fashion. Work to separate the agenda, politics, personality, and the actual work from each person or group.

I would suggest that for each leader you have reporting to you, create a document and write down your thoughts and questions you want to ask, and keep it through out the whole year.  Add wins and feedback you get throughout the year. This will help you during performance reviews and to spot patterns you wish to encourage or discourage. It will also help you avoid cognitive bias e.g. recency effect, poor memory or only remembering the fires/crises.

Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose

Daniel Pink, in his book, Drive, lists three elements of the motivation formula: autonomy, mastery, and purpose. In situations where people are paid fairly, this trio drives, engages, and stimulates us to do our best work. Whilst I often see good leaders work hard to deliver all three of these for their teams who are Individual Contributors, I have noticed that more senior leaders begin to neglect Mastery or Leadership Development for leaders at mid level.  There is often an over-reliance on ‘learn on the job’, with little opportunity for reflection or professional coaching. A great leader is great at feedback and coaching.

That said, to a large degree your boss defines your actual level of autonomy and the organization defines the level of discovered purpose (e.g. startups are still looking for market fit, whereas a large company like Apple understands its market fit and is evolving it). In a larger organization, the level of autonomy will often be reflected through organisation culture and will either flow from the top, or else middle “management” will create a level of protection for those under their wings.

On an even bigger abstraction, the sector you are working in will impact autonomy, e.g. Banking is very regulated in most countries, thus the sector is reflected in the risk-taking of C-Suite and Board decisions, which is also influenced by perceptions of investor tolerance.

Support and Grow Leaders

Explicit communication (i.e. no telepathy), effective feedback and coaching for leaders is vital.  Every decision they make can cost money, a project deadline, a member of staff, etc. Thus they need it more than an individual contributor.  The reality is that “we” think managers can manage and thus give them less time or less training or less face time.

Thoughts:

  1. Have regular, consistent 1 to 1’s with all the people that report to you i.e. that you manage
  2. Do not build collections of feedback, help them understand what they are getting right and not.
  3. Be careful of building patterns of behavior from separate incidents, ensure you know the real context from all sides. Weak Leaders who are too decisive and judgmental people have a habit of creating a pattern and than forcing all the behavior into that pattern e.g. tunnel vision. And we are all weak sometime.
  4. Agree on a method for separating operational, strategic, and career oriented sessions.  e.g. have your leader send you a regular (weekly) operational email, and ask them to point out what needs to be discussed. Have 1 to 1s every week and have a monthly check-in with them which can be an extended 1 to 1.
  5. Be open and approachable – if people think you are judgmental they will not be open or honest with you.
  6. Grow team strength – Through meeting as a team discussing purpose, review if you achieving that purpose together. Spend social time together. Learn together.
  7. Have a clear plan for growing their capabilities.
  8. Create psychological safety. Have you ever been in a room of leaders where no one speaks up? This is usually a sign of lack of psychological safety. A lack of psychological safety (e.g. when a director is judgmental) limits the risk-taking of managers in suggesting creative or innovative solutions, or in raising real concerns. This can stunt their leadership growth.
    1. High-Performing Teams Need Psychological Safety. Here’s How to Create It
    2. How To Build Psychological Safety On Your Team
    3. Take regular surveys on Psychological safety
  9. Do not make them guess, if you have an opinion or made a decision, tell them, own it. Explain the Why. The worse leaders I have served have all done this e.g. made me guess, hint, telepathy, etc.

Good books/reports on leadership:

Why am I talking about this?

“The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away”

Pablo Picasso

My own experience so far includes leading teams (24 in total), departments and organizations. Here one post about leading software engineers. In each I have had successes and failures, and both have provided valuable lessons.  I have also been in a leader in multiple countries, and had to evolve and learn multiple national cultures, here is what I learned moving to the US.

My first “department” was running a kitchen (I was the Head Chef). I have since led an organization of 330 staff, then multiple departments with 600 people, and later several departments with 21,000 people total.  My experience is a mixture of Government, Political, Non Profits, and Private sectors.

You can see my full career history on Linkedin.


Whats Next?

I will break up the rest of my thoughts into four more posts. Below is a summary of what I will cover in each post:

1) Leadership by Example

“Leadership is practiced not so much in words as in attitude and in actions.”

Harold S. Geneen

Your behaviors are contagious 

  • Build trust, with those you manage/reports through being authentic, clear in communication and consistent
  • Stay empathetic and thoughtful whilst remaining proactive and decisive
  • Always be learning and stay open to new possibilities
  • Keep your empathy and humility while you evolve through this journey
  • Be a boss that reports(those you manage) want to work for
  • Manage your Ego
  • Admit your failures and help people learn from failures and grow from them
  • Advocate for your people and their needs
  • Advocate for your Brand and Business

2) Create strategy. Build an environment for execution. Adapt.

“After a business implements a strategy, competitors will react, and the firm’s strategy will need to adapt to meet the new challenges. There is no stopping point and no final battle. The competitive cycle continues on perpetually. Produce and compete or perish”

Thomas Timings Holme

  • Understand the business
  • Align with business goals
  • Have a plan and deliver it
  • Balance the needs of stakeholders and those of your team
  • Measure improvements and failure, but do not let metrics define you
  • Be good at change management through early involvement
  • Advocate for your department
  • Make decisions, be decisive without being judgmental
  • Be consistent in reporting
  • Pay Attention to the real world customers and to competitors

3) Grow others & always be learning

“Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is all about growing others.”

Jack Welch

  • Catalyze the growth of others by facilitating opportunities for achievement, leadership and learning
  • Encourage creativity and evolve it to Innovation
  • Be great at coaching and feedback
  • Grow Leaders and find the right career path
  • Spend time growing your team as a team
  • Have a framework for Team performance
  • Encourage Diversity, manage the growth it takes to be diverse
  • Be great at handovers, make change easier with involvement and prep
  • Build out training for each career path that is important to you
  • Build momentum through on-boarding in a well thought out way

4) Understand and evolve the culture

“Our number one priority is company culture. Our whole belief is that if you get the culture right, most of the other stuff like delivering great customer service or building a long-term enduring brand will just happen naturally on its own.”

Tony Hsieh, CEO, Zappos

How we do things around here

  • Strive to build a positive, transparent and constructive culture
  • Understand and define cultural principles, together
  • Build Psychological safety/Trust across your team
  • Understand failure, how to manage your emotions and make it part of evolution
  • Appreciate Structure and how it creates barriers, silos and stupid behaviors
  • How does your physical environment affect people’s work
  • Authentic recruitment – Culture fit vs Culture Add
  • Celebrate and learn when people leave
  • Encourage everyone to own appreciation and celebration
  • Empathy vs rational decision making
  • Understand when you are overwhelmed

5) Get Results

“However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results”

Sir Winston Churchill

  • Through all the above, produce results for the business and for customers

Within each post I will ask questions and recommend books and posts that I have found helpful

 


 

 

Why games are good for you – Board, RPG and War

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Without a doubt I love playing games. They grow my skills, they help me evolve as a human and they can even be fun.

“You learn more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation.”

Plato

I have broken this blog post into several sections:

  1. What does gaming give you?
  2. Getting started – boardgames for you
  3. Getting started – roleplaying for you
  4. My gaming journey

For the last three decades, I have been playing games. I own over 250 board games and 400 Roleplaying books(RPG). You can see what I own here at boardgamegeek.


“What does gaming give you?

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As a teenager, board games gave me confidence, problem solving skills, pattern recognition and little fear for failure.  Roleplaying Games (e.g. Dungeons and Dragons) gave me the ability to step into someone else’s shoes and imagine what they would do, as well as developing my leadership skills.

Board games can teach or improve important social skills to all ages (especially for children and teens), such as communicating verbally, sharing, waiting, taking turns (i.e. patience), and enjoying interaction with other humans. They can also encourage the ability to focus, and increase your attention span. Even simple board games like Snakes (Chutes in the US) and Ladders offer meta-messages and life skills: Your luck can change in an instant — for the better or for the worse. The message inherent in board games is: Never give up, have tenacity. Just when you feel despondent, you might hit the jackpot, if you stay in the game for just a few more moves.

Many people, when they first start playing games, are surprised at the level of brainpower that board games use. Modern games are often highly strategic and tactical, requiring you to constantly make calculated choices, where you to weigh the alternatives. While all board games are different and each one challenges in a different way, I would suggest that, in general, board games are very effective at testing your problem solving abilities, decision making skills, and tactical capabilities. And some that involve more player interaction bringing out the your negotiating, charm or persuasion skills.

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Studies on Games

I am a man of science. So what does science say? Here are a couple studies:

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What do I get from Boardgames?

Boardgames tend to be abstract and there is often no continuation from one gaming session to another.

  1. Continuous evolving Strategy and Tactical experience
  2. Improved problem solving under different environments
  3. A better understanding of people under stress
  4. Learning to gracefully fail/lose
  5. Learning to win, and when not to
  6. Learning to understand the nature of chance/probability
  7. Teaching others simple/complex rulesets and tactics/strategy
  8. Learning different game mechanics and how to maximize them
  9. Socializing, Fun and Laughter

What do I get from RPGs?

While similar to boardgames, there is continuation from one gaming session to another. Players become heavily invested in their individual characters, and the skills learned tend to be more about humans than mechanics.

  1. A better sense of Good and Evil, and ethics in general
  2. Team Planning
  3. Leadership
  4. Continuous evolving Strategy and Tactical experience
  5. Ability to walk in someone else’s shoes
  6. Improved Problem Solving under different environments
  7. Investigation skills
  8. Better understanding of people
  9. Teaching others simple and complex rulesets
  10. Socializing, Fun and Laughter

What do I get from WarGaming?

In some ways Wargaming is more mature than boardgames, as you tend to view each games as an experience to learn from.

  1. Having a strategy and sticking to it
  2. Paying attention to opportunities and recognizing when they are a trap
  3. Recognizing when you have lost and should retreat
  4. Understanding the importance of logistics
  5. Understanding Combat Strategy and Tactics and the impact of different weapons systems
  6. The importance of morale on the battlefield
  7. Using terrain to your advantage
  8. Improved Problem Solving under different environments
  9. Understanding your strengths and weaknesses and comparing them to competitors

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Getting Started – Boardgames for you

So where should you start? It depends on how many will play with you and how adventurous they are.

Most start with the Family games e.g. Monopoly, Clue, and Apples to Apples. Those with a bit more adventure may start with Settlers of Catan, Smallworld or Pandemic (this game is collaborative i.e. you work together). If you are not affected by crossing the lines of political correctness than Cards against Humanity would be a good start for a small group.

If there is just two of you there are many varieties of card games to get you started, such as Settlers of Catan card game, Gloom or Herbaceous. Or if you like word games, Moot or Quiddler are good.

If you want a good database of games, the best is at BoardGameGeek where you will find ratings, photos, reviews, FAQ, pdf manuals etc.

If you want to learn a game without reading the manual checkout Geek and Sundry as they may well have a review of a game, which will get you up and running faster.  Of course there are lot of videos out there, but remember its Internet, quality is mixed.

If you are worried about what to buy, head to your local Gameshop and ask them, the best game shops will let you play a copy of the game, or give you a good breakdown of how it works.

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Finding a Gaming group

If you are alone here are some suggestions of how to find people to play with.

  1. Gaming Shops – That is what google is there for
  2. Meetups – there a lot of gaming groups across the US
  3. Gaming Conventions
  4. Work Colleagues
  5. Friends

Finding the right people for your group can take time, and finding people that reliably come to regular sessions is harder. Be patient.

One Hint -> Watch how people play and lose, that will give you deep insight into the their character as a person.

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Not all boardgames are the same

How does a game play? Where is it set? What are your goal? How do you achieve them? These can differ dramatically from game to game. Here’s a list of the different board game categories, or “styles” of play:

Conflict orientated

Some games, like Risk, Dustor X-Wing challenge your tactical skills and invite aggression, pitting you directly against other players. You have to make decisions on who to attack and why. You also have to know how to anticipate losses, as well as how to recover from them.

Detective/Investigation

Some are about finding the clues and solving the “problem”. Clue is an obvious example, and a really good modern one is T.I.M.E. Stories. Murder Mystery dinners are also a lot of fun and easily played with non gamers.

Dungeon Quests

These are often collaborative games, where a group of adventurers (the players) head somewhere dark and try to survive whilst achieving some goal. These are often RPG/Boardgame hybrids, such as Mice and Mystics, Mansions of Madness, Arkham Horror, or Castle Ravenloft.

Resource Management

Games like Monopoly, Firefly, Civilization, Twilight Imperium and Scythe challenge your resource management skills, as well as your ability to make decisions in the present that can yield exponential gain later. Some games are primarily economic games, and you may even learn about investments i.e Planet Steam or Tesla vs Edison or Startup fever.

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Strategy & Puzzle orientated

DominionCastles of Burgundy and Puerto RicoYou don’t compete much with the other players, instead building up your own area and trying to score points. These games challenge your ability to weigh decisions against each other and calculate opportunity cost.

Collaborative or Team orientated games

For those who do not like conflict there is now a whole range of games that encourage collaboration i.e. Pandemic, Spirit IslandShadows over Camelot, Robinson Crusoe, and Dead of Winter.

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Other types of games:

  • Legacy Games -the board and game evolves after or during play (Risk Legacy, Pandemic Legacy)
  • Political games (Diplomacy, Junta)
  • Search & Gather (Merchants & Marauders, Pirates Cove)
  • Betrayal Games – They start off as collaborative but it turns out during the game someone maybe working against you, in some cases this an optional version of the game in others not e.g. BattleStar Galactica, Shadows over Camelot, Pandemic with the Terrorist. Check with your group that they understand what will happen, also make sure that you have several copies of the rules, so the “Traitor” can understand their rules without letting on who they are.

Summary of things to consider for Boardgames

For reviews check out BoardgameGeek, Geek & Sundry or Starlit Citadel video Reviews.

Here is how I compare and contrast boardgames, when choosing to play or buy.

1. Complexity

How big is the rule book? Is it easy to read? Do the examples make sense? That said some games are great just the instructions suck.

Hints:

  • Look at PDF of the instruction manual online, so multiple people can learn the game at once
  • Watch a YouTube video How-to-play walkthrough Geek & Sundry is a good start

2. Setup time

How many pieces are there? How do you record impact on your “empire”? How many cards or counters need to be setup? Twilight Imperium can take 30-40 mins to setup, where as Dominion may take less than 10 mins.

Hints:

  • Buy extra bags or one of the organizing kits, this will get you up and running faster
  • Put cards in an order that makes sense

3. Competition vs. Collaboration

Some players do not like conflict and others do. Check in with the mood of the group, sometimes you just want to fight the game and other times you are up for a fight with your friends.

Hints:

  • Having a variety of games will help with this, as well as knowing your fellow players.

4. Chance/Random

Some games like Chess are all player choice, there is no randomness. Others, like Snakes and Ladders, is all chance and no choice. Settlers uses a die to determine which resources will be given out each turn, so it’s a combination of both. Combat games use a variety of choice and chance mechanics to determine the outcome.

5. Player Interaction

If you like your friends, and if you want to spend the evening talking (instead of in silent concentration), games that encourage interaction are good. Some games only encourage attacks between players e.g. Scythe and not trading. Others have minimal if any interaction e.g. Puerto Rico.

6. Growth and Snowball effect

Some games have what is called a snowball effect, where the powerful get more powerful and the weak will die off.

So players might be eliminated, e.g. Risk, or end up feeling bored and frustrated, e.g. Settlers of Catan. Other games are kinder and allow players to restart e.g. Pirates Cove, but the chances are you will be so far behind you will never catch up. It’s important to see if anyone gets left behind in the game, and if you have a player who reacts badly to falling behind or being eliminated, it may be best to avoid these games.

The other aspect of the Snowball effect is that if you make mistakes at the beginning, the whole game could suck for some or all players. This can happen if you are deeply unlucky with the die, or if you suck 😉  The reality is you can learn and improve so watch and absorb, you will get there…

7. Number of Players

A lot of modern games limit the number of players to four. Is that a tribe? (I don’t think so). Some delight you with an expansion to extend to five players for a bunch of dollars or pounds.

Again, it’s definitely worth a collection that has a different number of players. You never know how many people will show up for games night!

8. Time per player

The first time you play a game, expect the initial time to double, until you figure out how the game works.

Hints:

  • Read the rules once before you play and if you have time play against yourself or with a friend.
  • Teaching rules all the time can become exhausting, share the load: Get all the players to download the PDF to their phone. Having access to more rulebooks will help the game move faster.

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Getting Started – Roleplaying games for you

If you have no idea where to start, try the Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition Starter Set or Star Wars RPG Beginner Game, unless you find another world you want to really play. Starting with a simple game will get you unfraid and ready to explore other games/universes. Also, starting with a starter set saves on spending a lot of money on books until you are ready.

If you have not run a session before, keep an eye out for my post for first time Dungeon Masters / Game Masters.

Not all RPGs are the same

There are different themes, different play styles, different universes and different mechanics (how to calculate how I grow as a character, fight, solve, etc). Next to each game, I have added an overall complexity rating (Simple, Intermediate and Advanced).

Fantasy –

Fantasy includes Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, Conan, Pirates, generally medieval time with Swords/Bows and often Magic.

Present with Twists

These include modern day or in the last 50 years, something we would maybe have learned about in history class at school, if you were awake.

  • Vampire (Simple) – Surprise surprise!… it’s about vampires
  • Werewolf (Simple) – You are guardians of the earth protecting it from Wrym who uses toxins to destroy the planets and humans
  • Dresden Files (Simple) – Detectives with Magic in Chicago
  • Call of Cthulhu (Intermediate) – Run away! anddd… you’re dead. Horror and  investigation
  • Unknown Armies (Intermediate) – You are armed with magic or a gun, slightly insane and you have to stop them.. you know them.. they are real

Science Fiction

Most of these would be 50 years plus in the future

  • Eclipse Phase (Advanced) – Dark future of mankind, AI, Corporations and technology. Get the backup of you ready, let’s jump through Stargates to take on the evil robots. A favourite.
  • Shadowrun (Intermediate) – Elves, Dwarves and humans in our future with guns, magic and cyber gear
  • Star Wars (Simple) – You should know this
  • Polaris (Simple) – Far future under earth’s oceans
  • Traveller (Intermediate) – At least a 1,000 years
  • Coriolis (Simple) – Space Arabian Nights

Summary of things to consider for RPGs

  1. Complexity- Often referred to as how Crunchy (in terms of lots of numbers and arithmetic) the game is.
  2. The size of the Community of the game- the bigger the community, the more resources will become available
  3. If you are a first time GM -> the number of adventures published for the game
  4. How far from reality – The further away from reality takes a longer investment i.e. no humans or science fiction or very different universe
  5. The Number of Players 5 to 6 are best
  6. The Player Mix – A mixture of decisive and support players is good.
  7. Will others GM/Story Tell -> Troupe Style

The first game experience really defines whether someone comes back to RPG. So no pressure but… choose the game wisely and make sure everyone gets the opportunity and space to participate.


My Gaming Journey

 

Family Boardgames

Like most, I played card/board games as a child e.g. MouseTrap, The Game of Life, Super Cluedo Challenge (Clue in the US), Monopoly, Chess, Backgammon, Mah Jong, Casino, etc.  Good games for passing the time with family and friends. As a teenager I played Risk with friends taking a whole day to complete the world conquest games.

WarGaming

I played a couple war-games as a teenager, some counter, some miniature, some rules coming from magazines, mostly based in the Second World War.  Around 1983/4 Warhammer Fantasy Battle was released.  This is a miniature war game in which two armies fight against each other, but fantasy based, Lord of Rings mythology e.g. Elves Dwarves, Orcs, etc.  I played with friends and in tournaments with a Wood Elf army – They favored fast movement and range attacks, but had some specialized Heavy Infantry.

Later I discovered Advanced Squad Leader, a WWII counter tactical-level board war-game. Extremely complex and thorough. It’s interesting redoing tactical situations that actually happened during the second world war.

Space Marine was created by Games Workshop Ltd and consisted of Epic scale (6 mm) miniatures games. Later they were replaced by Warhammer Epic 40,000 which worked at the same scales but had all new mechanics. I built a large Eldar army and played a lot of games again both with friends and in tournaments.

Other war-games I played at this time included Flat Top, Harpoon, Air Superiority, The Hunt for Red October, and Supremacy.

War gaming taught me a lot about military strategy and tactics, the importance of logistics, a lot of history, how to cope with the unexpected i.e. dice rolls, how to predict your competition and their likely moves, and how to learn from failure and success.

Board Games

Finding friends who would play war-games was tough, especially because war-games are such a big investment (i.e. a couple hundred painted miniatures, a BIG table, scenery and a day to play).  This led me to explore boardgames which took less time to setup, learn the rules and play.

Some of my favorites from this time period 80s – 90s are Kings & Things, The fury of Dracula, Block Mania, Talisman, Axis & Allies, Shogun, Twilight Imperium, Dragon Masters, Mighty Empires (this was a strategic version to Warhammer Fantasy Battle). These were all produced by Game Workshop, which I feel was its peak in creativity at this time.

Board gaming for me was mostly a fun and social thing to do with friends and new people. That said I learnt from them in terms of problem solving.

Roleplaying

Through Warhammer Fantasy Battle and Games Workshop I learned about Warhammer Fantasy Role-play. We played The Enemy Within campaign led by Shane Johnson. Later, through a University student (I was still at College i.e. 16 years old) and part-time shop keeper (Gaming shop) Alan, I learned about a new D&D campaign, just starting.  This was redbox D&D and I started with a level 1 Mage through to something double digits level. It was an amazing campaign which relied on a lot of roleplaying. The Dungeon Master (Steve) really opened by mind to acting the character, their motivations and conflicts e.g. Roleplaying rather than just tactical play i.e. surviving and getting Gold.

Later I discovered at Exeter University (UK), a big RPG group. This expanded my playing into new RPG games such as AD&D Second Edition, Mega Traveller, Vampire, Amber, etc. At some point I attended my first RPG Convention, where I played first edition Ars Magica. The way the game dealt with personalities and emotions, it blew my mind. My regular gaming stopped after I left Exeter, UK 1992.

Roleplaying has continuously opened my mind to different possibilities, new worlds, and new ways to solve problems. The people I played with were also important, I learnt a lot about them through how they played and how they reacted to successes and failures. For most it was pure escapism from their lives, for others it was the opportunity to be something better in their minds, and for others it was the opportunity to be something worse than society would allow them to be. For all it was a moment of freedom.

Gaming Again after 16 years

I started Gaming when I moved to Vancouver, BC, Canada in 2008 (from the UK) and I met new gamers. Most of my games that had survived this time period had progressed through several editions/versions.

I met a LOT of boardgames and RPGers in Canada. I wonder if cold prairie nights encourages more people to play games, rather than simply watching TV like in the UK.

My modern boardgames favorites are Risk Legacy, Eve Conquests, Middle Earth Quest, Eclipse, Merchants & Marauders, T.I.M.E. Stories, BattleStar Galactica, Starfarers of Catan, Shadows of Camelot, Terra Mystica, Civilization, Village.

My modern RPGs favorites are Eclipse Phase, D&D 5th Edition, Coriolis, Ars Magica 5th Edition.

My modern Wargame favorites include Warhammer 40,000K, Advanced Squad Leader

Playing with adults is different to playing with teenagers, in part it’s less emotional, except for those adults who never learned how to fail. RPG characters that people play as adults, are generally more complex and games have kept up with this multiple layering of personality.

I think gaming will add a lot to your life, your experiences, your skills, and your friends. And I think it’s a worthy investment. I hope it brings you as much joy, frustration, and laughter as it has brought me. 

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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.

Building an open source program for technology co-founders

In February I wrote a blog post about the lack of support for technology co-founders in BC, Canada.

I have decided to pull together an open source program/set of courses to educate/grow/upgrade technology cofounders, to increase their chances of success in their role.  The first step will be to collect ideas/experience/wisdom from the community and then pull it into a bunch of classes that a person can work through at their own pace.  It is my intention to build it so anyone could actually run it as face to face classes, in their local area.

How can we help each other to avoid mistakes that others have suffered?

How can we help each other to avoid mistakes that others have suffered?

The idea.

Create an open source resource/courses/program that people can run in their local area to educate/grow/upgrade technology cofounders, to increase their chances of success in their role as a technology cofounder and grow into a full CTO role.

The Why.

There are many, many programs that support the business/leader/ceo co-founder but few I know to support technology co-founders.

Motivation.

To help technology co-founders avoid mistakes, learn from others experience and build the quality product

Target audience Technology co-founder of a startup (Startup levels) with the intention of building a fast prototype to prove the concept.

Boundaries

To stay platform/technology agnostic

Journey

I will start with a level one startup and build through the others

Please share this link and come and contribute to the program at https://github.com/ericbrooke/ctofounder/wiki this is a wiki in which will collect all the ideas, suggestions for people we should interview, good resources you have already found and learned from..

We need the views of:

  • developers,
  • those thinking about creating their own startup,
  • those who are in it creating their first production,
  • those who have supported technologists on their journey,
  • those who have done it several times.

We don’t care if you have succeeded or failed share it!  We need all your questions and experiences 🙂

Is Vancouver missing the vital component to create enough tech co-founders?

If only somewhere Vancouver,BC would offer a course in Startup Engineering/Architecture?

Like this http://startup.stanford.edu but maybe it could be something better, that trains up developers into potential tech co-founders? Where they can build more then just a web app, with their best coding language, where they are prepared to bring other developers on board, where the basics of dev ops are discussed, when the architecture was thought through.  We seem to do a lot to grow our potential CEO/business lead co-founders, but what about the tech/dev co-founders?

The startup orientated offerings in Vancouver are wide, here are some examples:

but where are offerings in BC for technology? Most of these offering concentrate on finding the “right”  business model.

BCIT does great skills, but does not pull it together and UBC/SFU offers the theoretical, but not so much the architecture and how to make the technology choices.

Most the tech/dev meet up groups concentrate on one religion, sorry language or another…

IT

A course, a program, a group, an event for developers who would like to become co-founders, something that passes the knowledge, wisdom and maybe even practice.

So what could this offering look like?

  1. how to build for a startup
  2. web app architecture
  3. how to cope with prototyping
  4. how to scale
  5. cope with dev ops
  6. paying attention to the full stack
  7. best ways to manage for quality with a small team
  8. make decisions on which technologies and frameworks

What else would you suggest?

It feels a real technology gap, which people have to learn and fail by doing.. could there be a way of bringing this together, growing more tech co-founders?

Related example includes: Bitmaker Labs offers one approach.

Another Alternative is Dev Bootcamp pointed out to me by Dean Prelazzi (BCIC), thank you :–)

Quora also has a couple interesting discussion on what is web application architecture –http://www.quora.com/What-does-a-web-application-architecture-include

My favourite books on his are soooo out of date:

Key Players who could make a difference

So I have e-mailed the key players in Vancouver, asking their thoughts which I will summarize:

  • Launch Academy  – interested in discussing – I will assist in thinking through their technology educations
  • Grow Labs – connecting me to tech cofounders – nothing yet
  • BCIC – Its not a priority
  • UBC – sent email to dean 22 feb – no response yet
  • SFU – sent email to dean 22 feb – no response yet
  • BCIT – sent email to dean 22 feb – no response yet

Who else should I contact?

A cold startup weekend in Seattle – The rise of the designer

After Vancouver Startup weekend, I pretty much decided to head to the next Seattle event.  Mujtaba Badat @MujtabaBadat (he presented Duke Nuke – one of the winners) and I became friends after the Vancouver event and so drove down to event from Vancouver together.  The Seattle event was themed the “Rise of the Designers”  on January 13 – 15th 2012.

Bootcamp (Thursday night)

I loved the idea of the bootcamp, but we could not get down on thursday night.  In the last event I helped out with business model, marketing, wire framer and social media setup. This weekend I wanted to help out with front end web dev. The bootcamp offered the following:

    1. Get your computer configured with all the tools needed to work collaboratively with your future team members.
    2. Setup and configure a GitHub account with a skeleton project including:
    3. App Engine – web framework with simple user accounts, database, and hosting.
    4. Bootstrap – HTML design toolkit
    5. jQuery – client side Javascript framework
    6. Backbone.js – Rich application HTML5 framework

FRIDAY EVENING

Entering into the venue there was real energy, most people were up and talking to each other.  There was the fresh smell of pizza, beer and excitement, it was infectious.

Networking

I met as many people as I could without being rude.  Sometimes I forget that I have a British accent and I find that americans tend to listen to my accent more than my words for at least the first sentence.

Speaker – Matt Shobe CEO Big Door (@shobe)

Here are some highlights I took from his presentation.

  1. Surpass fear (learn from everyone, the answer is yes to any reasonable request)
  2. Successful teams (speed of execution, empathy, transparency (Good honest arguments))
  3. Openness (No such thing as a private conversation with your customers, Admit your mistakes publicly)
  4. Personality (The spirit of the people who created the product, find opportunities to high-five your customers when they succeed)

Preamble

The event was hosted by John Morefield (@jamorefield) and Shane Reiser (@shanereiser). There were about 36 designers at the event and 20% returning from other startup weekends. Ideas

So one difference at this event from Vancouver was that you had to put your pitch online.  I liked this, as it made it easy to track which ideas you like. There was about 50 pitches. The ones that stuck with me include:

  • QR Codes for giving to homeless,
  • Robots – Here is Justin’s initial pitch
  • Writing community
  • A wish list of places you want to go
  • After party mobile app
  • make the most of an event
  • A mobile app to plan surprises for people
  • Bus route app
  • Web monitoring to provide affordable home security
  • Superheros mobile app where you could conquer real life locations

The ideas were presented and we than got a chance to meet the pitchers and discuss further. I was looking for an interesting idea, but also people who would be fun to work with.  I wanted to avoid people who came over as too serious or who appeared to need to control. I also wanted to avoid ideas that had being researched in great detail, as then focus tends to be narrowed and there is less clay to play with (although they are more likely to win).  I did not care about how good a presenter the idea pitcher was.  We were given three votes.  After the vote 15 ideas remained.  Each pitcher got 60 seconds to tell us who they were looking for.

Deciding who to join?

  1. QR Codes for homeless donations I really liked and they had a decent sized team.
  2. Robots: the pitcher (Justin Wu) I had met during networking and I loved his energy but he had only two others on board, one tech and one interior designer.
  3. The Surprises App had a really big team, maybe too big.
Here is Justin’s initial pitch:

The Team In the end I decided Robotic team, as they had no business person (yes I wanted to code, next time), I had never worked on a physical product before and I knew I would enjoy working with Justin (he has sooo much of energy, and surprisingly he works at Microsoft!). We moved quickly to find the best location, a window for light, a white board and near where the food would be setup.. The team consisted of Justin @jzwoo (Microsoft engineer) – standing at the back, Guru (Microsoft engineer) sitting down on the left , Elijah (Interior Designer) hiding at the back on the left  and me (the nutter in red). Justin basically wanted to find a business model excuse for playing with robots!  We brainstormed use cases, the strongest seemed to be:

  • Checking in on elderly parents
  • Playing with your pet at lunchtime
  • Security for second home owners or people who travel a lot

Getting to know Robots

Justin talked about the capabilities and what we would have to build ourselves.  From this we felt that an Open source robot operating system, with a modular chassis into which you could plug and play extra hardware and sensors. The intention was to allow the shell to be different shapes and materials. We also considered giving 1% of profits to WWF and modelling our robots on endangered species Making money with a consciousWe live on one planet when it’s done it’s done. So we considered what could we do sustainably. 100% Organic Polymers seemed easy enough. We debated the concept of Cradle to Cradle – essentially we take back your dead robot to recycle and reuse.

We broke up for the night and I started playing with some ideas for names, concentrating on the product rather than the company.

SATURDAY

Up early with the Dogs

In the morning I went to the nearest dog park to gut-check some early name and price points with the locals and to see if I could learn anything to help us. I learned that the most receptive target market was young, professional woman, who live in small apartments (especially tower blocks) and whose commute to work was at least 25 minutes.  The price point seemed to be under $300  I tested a number of names and found that animal concepts worked well, but that most women did not like made up names.  The name “Chicken Checkin” brought a number of smiles to people’s faces.  Pushing a bit further, most of the people I spoke to had grandmothers who they all felt guilty about not interacting with enough and that about 50% did not live anywhere near them,

Name

I sold the “Chicken Checkin” idea to Justin and the rest of the team as they came in, and updated them on what I’d learned. Justin worked on giving an us a set of robot feature set that would cost under $300. This was a product name only, the company name would be Life Style Robots.

Drafting the Business model

Version One Life Style Robots

I found some research conducted in Japan that showed elderly people preferred robots to look like robots or animals but not humans (maybe they watched Battlestar Galactica). Also women tend to care more for aesthetics of a device (and this was rise of designer weekend). So I played with some concepts and trialled them out on random women in coffee shops and fellow weekenders. I worked on animals that had fat bellys so to be able to accommodate the chassis.

  • Chicken checkin – to be our cheapest option under $300
  • Chatty Panada – Use an iTouch equip device and allow for two-way video and be under $600
  • Periscope Penguin – To be able to see above a kitchen counter to be under $700
  • Reaching orang-utan – with long arms

Mentors

So during saturday several mentors came over to ask what we were up to.  After describing our idea they would give their perspective. Early on some of the advice was tough to listen to as it was extremely critical.  Each of them had some really different styles.  The style that really worked was those mentors who owned their perspective and gave what they saw as our weaknesses with ideas about how we could overcome them. At some point on saturday we had two mentors come and give their perspective, both were pretty aggressive with their opinions.  Some of their advices was not helpful as they wanted a lot and we just did not have the resources (people to carry them out). We as a team felt really deflated.  Justin had being to a couple of events and he said he called this “Mentor Whip Lash” and his perspective was to take the good advice and follow our instincts.  Labelling it seemed to help. For the mentors that came after this, whilst we listened, and I wrote copious notes and then we also chose what to ignore and what to take on. NOTE – this is not say that the advice that was given was wrong, in some cases we needed to process it, others we wanted this to be our path, and not the mentor’s. That said mentors sometimes need to tell us the uncomfortable things.

Social Media

Facebook page is the easiest, least resource intensive way of getting a presence on the internet.  That said, you need 25 likes of your page before you can own the URL for the page. So my poor Facebook friends got spammed.. I asked some of the other teams to help out too. www.facebook.com/chickencheckin/

Mock design

Elijah (our interior designer) took the Chicken concept to heart and started to mould a physical mock-up.. Of course we are building a physical product! Clearly the egg came first.. Software

Justin and Guru concentrated on the software: in our perfect world we want to show the robot being controlled by a web browser or via smart phone whilst video chatting.

Who should pitch

Sometime during the day Justin said that his head was going to be in making sure we could present the robot and asked if I could present the pitch. I nearly said no but he looked stressed when I started to, so I agreed.  We talked about how to divide the pitch, I would get two and half minutes (out of four) leaving the rest for the robot. At some point on sunday one of the mentors check us out and the presentation and told us that Justin should pitch as does not sound “above the audience”. Sidenote – Over the last couple years US TV and film has put a lot of English people into ‘evil’ character roles. I wonder sometimes if is becoming part of the american psyche to assume that we are.  (Mwa-Ha-Ha-Ha-Haaah!!) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v2hmP8_mXUc&feature=related

UPDATES

During the day, teams stopped for 15 minutes to give each other updates with where they were, including accomplishments and problems.  Most teams stayed in the same space which kept the energy high.  I believe a couple of teams went to a VC’s office and another some other office space. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pH9Gx_IdLic&feature=related

Drafting the pitch

So as the cards fell out, I ended up  building the presentation deck as I was the only one comfortable with design and presentation software.  So I built out the skeleton of what we need to cover. My process is to put down everything, work out what is missing, fill it out and then replace all the words with images.

Drafting Business Model Version two

Website

Saturday night I worked on the website as I was the only one with any front end web skills.  I did not finish it for the weekend.  I was looking for a playful style, that showed a prototype mentality. Its in HTML 5, Css 3 and Javascript so it may not work on IE9

SUNDAY

Concept diagram & logo

Elijah built a couple of concept diagrams so you could see our device to scale and then he started on a logo. Building the pitch deck

I pitched a couple of times to mentors and strangers alike. I am an amateur designer and would loved to have a graphic designer on the team to help me build out the visual story.. We got some good news the pitch length was going to be five minutes.  Now we could really cover the business model.

Business Model version three

At some point we narrowed down our target market to provide senior citizens with life style robots and dropped home security and pet care. Whilst they were nice additions there was no way I could sell all three markets in three and a half minutes. Better to focus. Guru pulled a competition analysis together. Elijah helped me pull out some more figures together and Justin gave us the final breakdown of components and costs.

Research

During the day I kept researching to find some real nuggets of information and to be ready for the Q & A. I think this is where our team size hurt us as if we had another person we could have worked out all the figures we needed for a professional, investor pitch. I went to a couple of stores to find some senior women (over 65) or women in their fifties (their daughters) to talk about our Chicken checkin. I spoke to five woman in their fifties, three out of five liked the idea, but on two occasions they were with their daughters (grand daughters) who really liked the idea.  Again, three out of five (woman in their 50s) did not live anywhere near their mothers. I had a great conversation with one elderly lady who frankly I wanted to adopt as my grandma! She had a great sparkle in her eyes and was very cheeky. Practice, Practice, Practice

I found a quiet spot and practiced my pitch out loud and timed it.  I was coming in at three minutes forty. I showed it to a couple of others in another group and got feedback. Later, I joined the locals around pioneer square, talking out loud whilst wandering around. 😉  I even practiced my chicken noise with a homeless guy for a while. I got back to find the pitch length was back down to four minutes.. back to two and half minutes. I watched Mujtaba give his (it was very good for CloudSense) and I gave mine.  We gave each other honest feedback.

Err.. Snow in Seattle!

I love snow, trying to think about the project not skiing down a mountain 😉 Maybe we could put the robot on skis or a board and test it.. Pitch order and technical check in

About 4pm we chose our pitch position. Our team felt going near the end to help us buy more time to get the robot ready, so we might learn from the other pitches and be more likely to be remembered by the judges after 14 pitches (a lot to remember).  We ended up pitching last!

The other pitches It’s really hard to pay attention to all the other pitches, when you are waiting to do your own.  I think I watched nine:

  • Iron Curtain was polished, this was led by Seattle venture capitalist Greg Gottesman, who also pitched.
  • Street Code was powerful, this was pitched and led by one of the judges (Mike Koss who was replaced by Adam Philipp). They had two pitchers.
  • Suprize had a lot of bumps but was immensely funny (in a good way)
  • WhichBus was gorgeous
The Judges were well natured, yet asked some good questions.  Adam took on some of the aggressive business questions.

Our Pitch

I knew I had to bring the audience back to life after a long weekend and 13 other pitches and Q&A. I had to give them all the energy  I could muster (I was balancing my drinking of energy drinks with water), but being sensitive enough to feel what they wanted from me.  Our pitch can be seen (well just heard really) on Ustream http://www.ustream.tv/recorded/19798455 and starts at 45:20 it misses about 10 seconds but the sound quality is really good OR or you can see below on YouTube. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2978E3H1cTU&feature=mfu_in_order&list=UL http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MNNpuR7mBEw&feature=mfu_in_order&list=UL It starts with Chicken Checkin Screen and ends with Demo Time.. Sorry cannot get the slide show to exclude the other images..

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I started the pitch with a Buuraaa ac (chicken noise).  A couple slides in I noticed a big spelling mistake in one of the slides (I changed the word right at the last moment).  I would have liked to allow some of the jokes to rest with the audience but I did not have time.  At the end of my section I asked the audience to cluck to encourage our chicken checkin robot to come out.  The audience was awesome! 🙂 I am pretty sure I even heard a judge cluck 🙂 I then handed off to Jason at 2 minutes 40ish, to demo the robot.  Of course there were a couple technical hitches but we showed it working.

The Q & A

The judges were speechless. “The obvious question is… I guess there isn’t an obvious question….”  was tweeted out referring to Scott Rutherfords’ reaction (one of the judges).  I got asked some good questions and I gave OK answers, but I should have practiced this more. There were questions about the serious uses of the robot, what market validation had we done, an offer for help and the cost margins.

F*ck, we won something..The judges awarded five companies and we won best presentation and came third, prizes for which included:

Iron Blanket (@Iron_Blanket)came out top with the best business model, followed by Street Code(@StreetQR_Code) with the best market Validation, followed by us (Chicken Checkin) for the best presentation, followed by Surprise with the best UX.  With honourable mention going to WhichBus for best design. More detail can be seen here on Geekwire.  For the other teams have a look here http://swsea.posterous.com/

Reflection:

We had to drive back to Vancouver, so we headed, straight after the event (with the snow we were not sure how icy the roads would be), so we missed the after party 😦 .  Mujtaba and I reflected on what we learned, how it was different from the Vancouver event, how are respective pitches went and what we would do differently next time.  It was at this point I noticed how HUNGRY I was, having not eaten since breakfast..  Junk food here I come..

1.  The size of teams

I think Iron Curtain had 14 bodies and Surprise was 13 bodies, having that many people really helps what you can deliver in a weekend. Clearly you need good leadership if your team is that big. At just 4 people we needed more people, but we did good.

2.  Graphic Designers and Artists are important 

We did not have a graphic designer, in fact 75% of team were engineers. Having that capability on your team will make such a difference in UX, branding and story telling. I need to find a way to recruit one next time.. Maybe show them a very badly drawn presentation that breaks ALL of the principles..  Just in case you want more proof, here are the sketches I did in my hostel for the pitch for the website (saturday night). 3.  Pre-weekend work

Both in Vancouver and Seattle it felt like, those that had some good pre-market research done before the weekend started. This gives a team a real edge, as it can be quiet difficult to do effective market research at the weekend.  Some people avoid their e-mail, some businesses are not even open, depending on the weather it maybe possible however to find people shopping, which gives the possibility of some direct marketing (face to face clipboard questioning).

4.  Accessible network

Having friends to help out to cover spots that your team is missing is really helpful, I saw this happen both in Vancouver and Seattle..  As well as having friends respond to your survey to get some serious validation. Maybe give some of your specialist friends a heads up and an offer for beer..

5.  Awards

Having the awards broken down into why they were in best was really good. However, there was a little confusion (and a lot of emails) as the judges did not state beyond best design, best UX, best presentation, best validation and best business model any order of winner(s). But this was cleared up after Geek Wire published an article declaring the winner – Iron Curtain (well done guys) and that the order reflected the position of the winners (reverse). We just have to work out how to reward developers with some credit now.

6. Pitching

I learned from my first startup weekend that you need to always focus on how, what you are doing is going to help the pitch. I think I took too long in letting go of parts of the pitch (e.g. the two other sectors – pet owners and house security), mentors certainly told me what to concentrate on, but on occasion I resisted (because targeting 50 year old women seemed a tough nut to crack and maybe not so fun).  I think my pitch was OK, but not brilliant.  Areas I could have strengthened it were in demonstrating the market validation and building out the finances. Maybe having that extra slide with component prices etc, ready for the Q&A.  And of course I should have practiced the Q&A with some of the team to be stronger on the answers. Don’t get me wrong I am extremely proud to be part of a team to win best presentation and win some prizes, I just want to learn and be better.

7. A place to reflect and share

As there was no online announcement, there was no place to see the final winners and prizes given. In additional people like myself write blogs, to reflect on the experience, process it and hopeful learn (and publicly show off our failures and successes).  It would be good to have a final page listing the winners, the final teams and who was in them (with contact details) and blog postings. On this occasion the GeekWire Article and the #swsea(twitter tag) became the informal places to carry on the conversation.

8. An idea? Angel List for Startup Weekends

It would be awesome if Startup Weekend started to keep an archive of all the startups, maybe even profiles for people who do it on a regular basis. Maybe even game it like foursquare? Maybe that could be my next pitch??

Other Perspectives:

After finishing this article I re-surfaced and found some other posts, have a look: Harmony Hasbrook  on the team “Hungry, Thirsty, Bored.” Dwight Battle on the surprise team. Paige Pauli on the WhichBus team. Katie Kuksenokon multiple teams.

[Update] Here is a promotional video looking at the Designer story.

BIG Thanks to:

A place to stay Not from Seattle I stayed in the Green Tortoise Hostel

The Venue – The Hub A great location, one BIG room. Thanks to Lynsdey  who was an awesome hostess.

The Startup Weekend Crew  Thanks to John, Sean and Ashley (@A6Hodgson) – You are a great waffle maker 🙂

The Food Was awesome, particular the Thai food on saturday night.

T-Shirts Thanks to Rohre from Five Bamboo for the T-shirts.

Extra Video Thanks @adamlovering for the extra video!

Your recruitment system maybe losing you paying customers and damaging your brand

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.

SYMPTOMS

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:

“Hello Applicant,

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.

Sincerely,

Automated response”

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.

Motivation..

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.

Evidence

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.

CAUSE

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-COMING TRENDS

On-line accountability

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.

Gen Y

Now add Generation Y behaviour to this and you have an interesting power cake just around the corner.

WINDING UP

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?

Corporate/Organisation culture

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.

Suggestions

  1. Tell the applicant when they have been removed from the process.
  2. 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.
  3. Say thank you in some meaningful way.
  4. 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.”
  5. 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.
  6. For all candidates that have being interviewed by the manager, should be given the news by the manager.

FINAL THOUGHT

You are nothing without your people.  The ones you have now and the ones you have yet to work with.

Why should I be your next CMO/VP Marketing

Dear CEO,

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. 🙂

Kind Regards

Eric Brooke

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

What does the future of post secondary education look like?

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.

Abstract vs Concrete

I think abstract is dead and concrete is in. I am biased its my style, I am a survivalist, if I could build a shelter to protect me from the impeding zombie or alien invasion I would 😉

Technology companies and their expressions

Do you remember those websites from technology companies in the 90s’?  For me they seemed to love the abstract.  It felt like technology people were leading web development and to a degree they were. Admittedly the technology did not make it easy.

In a recent gig I worked on creating a new web site in which the aim was to  show off the people. This was a professional services company and most business development relied heavily on contacts and relationships.  In effect people were buying these people and their brains.

Technolgy companies who offer faceless applications make me sad and very unlikely to trust them. All these applications that you should make my life easier and make me efficent seem to be lacking the human story, they are/were abstract and expected me to understand their ‘clever’ context.

I think showing a technology in action in is a way to help but you need to show what it does for a person, its more concrete and less abstract. Don’t talk about it show it.

The need for speed

We are in a world that ‘requires’ instant gratification. We have become impatient.  Whilst we can Google anything we don’t want to unless we have to. We want to click and swipe less. We are being bombarded with thousands of messages every day and we start to ignore or even deny the existence of the things too big or complex for us to understand. To understand something that is abstract takes longer than something concrete, in part because we have a framework to reference. Coming back to gratification we generally know that if something is concrete it is more likely to gratify us quicker than an abstract thing.

Logos

There are a bunch of successful logos, but I think the ones that are really succesful come from something that actually exists.  Yes we can train our brains to fill up the brand cup and understand the values and their brand promise but in the end I think the journey is quicker and more complete if the thing actually exists. And maybe the more common it is the more reminders you will.  I think designers can be so ‘clever’ that they are the only person who understand what they have done.  This may miss the opportunity to ‘educate’ a viewer about the company and its values.

Company Names

There was a horrible stage in human history where we decided to reduce company names to acronyms. OMG the letters.. What is more disturbing is the number of North America tech startups that are repeating this era.  It makes me want to give free branding consulting.  Ok why is it bad?, enuff screaming already.. You are expecting the viewer to know or care, to work out who you are and what you are about.  Yes a logo can ease this journey.  But a society where instant gratification is driving force or goal, people will make a judgement in the first few seconds if they want to engage, consider it like dating, you know straight away if you are physical attracted to someone, it is no different with Logos and names.

Choice limitation

As our lives and choices become more complex we often looking for a simply journey or option. If I want Orange Juice I just want orange juice and the packing that can help me a quick simply choice will win. I DO NOT care if it has 15 features, I want to know it is orange juice the real shit not the frozen from concentrate shit. Make it simply.

Its got legs, Spock..

For a while we consumed and created media in abstract environments e.g. office desk, office chair, computer and monitor. Yet we are starting to bring those devices into new spaces and out into the world..  now they are travelling with us rather us travelling to them..

Visual Thinkers

We are already this, but we are starting to use it in more mediums and ways. Cinemas, Television, Videogames, WYSIWYG Interfaces, smartphones, they have all infected us with their UX ways.  First they had to train us how to use their interfaces.. Now we are needing less and less training.. in part what was once abstract is now concrete and we have learnt more in UX into lean into what is ‘natural’ for humans.

Tactile Thinkers

Our entire body is our biggest sensory organ.  We started with abstract controllers and now we are going back to basics.  We got diverted with Keyboard, Mouse, Talbets, Palm Pilot, and now we are waving our figures and hands and legs around to control devices (with iPhone, Kinect). We are starting to control, and engage with real and virtual environment through more concrete controllers.

However..

For some of us where concrete ends and abstract starts maybe further along a scale.  I reckon those who have taken their education and learning to higher level through books/web or higher education will see somethings that are abstract to others, as concrete to them. I think the human mind will allow you to build a tower of babylon into the skies, built on partly concrete and abstract to understand something out of the reach of others.. Maybe that is what genius is the ability to exist in a world entirely of abstract concepts.. But I am guessing that this is still a minority in our human race.