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What Kind of Wall Will You Build?

November 6, 2010 7 comments

A few years ago my job function was “technically” business development and operations. As with most start up environments, this was really just a title that was broad enough to encompass “anything that needs to get done”. That said, I was accountable for “marketing and sales deals” as well as devising the strategy and running the day to day operations of the company’s call center. There was not one area of the business that did not somehow effect either of these functions and as I was “employee 1”, I had a background or had worked in every other company function: building the website (design), developing the CRM (technology), driving traffic and tracking the sources/how they performed (analytics), setting up all clients and vendors (ops) just to name a few. The upside of the start up environment is the experience you get in a vast array of functional areas. The tough part is when you are told to focus in ONE or TWO areas, but you know enough about the other functions so when new employees are brought on, you are constantly working with them as well. What happens? You lose your focus.

Part of all of our journeys is to become self aware enough to recognize our faults, and choose either to fix them or use them to our advantage. At this time a few years ago my mentor sat me down and said the following,

“I assign you the project, ‘build a wall’. And you start building your wall; and it’s sturdy and beautiful – it looks like it’s going to be the perfect wall. But then, you look to your left and you look to your right and you see that your teammates have been told to build walls as well. However, their walls don’t look as good or as sturdy as yours. So, you leave your wall and you go to help them. You help them and guide them in building better walls for themselves and when their walls are done – they’re much higher quality walls than expected. You get back to finish your wall, and you’re almost done – but again you see someone who needs help on their wall; repeat performance. This time, however, when the wall is finished, you go back to your own wall and you find that the time to complete your project is almost up. You rush to build the rest of your own wall, and of course the quality suffers. When all is said and done, your team has 3 quality walls (not yours) and one semi quality wall (your wall). However, what I did not tell you is that your wall was the most important. Your wall was going to be the wall that protected the entire city and all of the other walls. I trusted you to build the most important wall because you were the most talented, the most tenacious, the most passionate; but you failed. You failed to build the wall I thought you would because you lost your focus; your passion for ‘people’ overran your passion to produce. You lost your focus.”

When my mentor told me this story, I understood. It was simple – he was telling me to focus on my tasks and stop worrying about everything going on around me. I was screwing up. What I did not realize then, that I do now – was that had I delved deeper into the story and continued a discussion, I would have realized way back then that I had a skill set that would set me on a new career path. While in a corporate environment working in one functional area, building others walls was not the ‘right’ way to perform. However, there is a whole industry of people who do nothing but “build walls” for other people. The industry is consulting. So while it took me a few years, I have realized what I’m really good at. I’m great at building other people’s walls. My “own wall” has manifested as a result of building others walls.

I think there are a lot of people who are stuck in boxes given to them by a title; who have the ability to add value in a myriad of functional areas and industries. Don’t stay in your box. Test yourself. Try building other people’s walls. It just takes one successful wall to gain the confidence to build another and then another. Eventually, you will have so many walls that you can quit your job and do nothing but creatively build other’s walls. It never gets boring; there is both short term and long term gratification; and like any famous wall – people will remember it was you who built it.

Ode to Zipper

October 23, 2010 4 comments

I hate meaningless birthday gifts. I either want something 1) practical or 2) thoughtful. I’m really looking for the ‘thoughtful’ gift. One thing I haven’t seen on any of these blogs is a post written as a “birthday gift”, so I’m trying it out.

If you’re an ‘avid’ blog reader of mine – you’ve likely read and commented on many of the lessons I’ve learned; and in those posts, I frequently refer to “my mentors”. Todd Zipper was and is the mentor who not only helped me grow up professionally, but just as important – his personal values and his family life is one I’d like to emulate as well.

Over the past several years, I never know what to buy Todd for his birthday; and still don’t. He’s more of a minimalist than materialistic, he idolizes Ayn Rand; but already has all of the books, pictures, and even framed art; Capturing beauty comes naturally to him and his photography is professional, but he has a camera. He has figured out how to remain fulfilled as a C level business executive and an unbelievable husband, father, and son. Some would say, “he’s got it all figured out”. After reading Seth Godin’s blog post last week about heroes and mentors, Todd had such powerful comments about his theories and experiences surrounding mentors, I realized there was only one gift I could give him that would ever matter. That gift was to aid him in his journey the way he has guided me.

I always ‘thought’ of a mentor in the traditional sense; someone older, wiser, more experienced, someone who could help you navigate a certain path; or help you find the path that makes sense to you. Most people refer to mentors in this sense. After reading Godin’s blog post, Todd pointed out something I had never thought of; a different view on mentors – and certainly one I hadn’t read about. He said if we are ‘open’ to them, mentors are everywhere we look.

“The key is opening yourself up to all the gifts that we each have and tapping into this”

– He went on to speak about how in some instances I could be a mentor; his children could be mentors to him. Provided you choose to let someone play the role of bringing something new to your life.

So Todd, my gift to you is this blog post; in the hopes that it will motivate you to move from “mentor” to “hero” as Godin defines a ‘hero’ – “Heroes live their lives in public, broadcasting their model to anyone who cares to look.” The medium through which you choose to communicate your thoughts is immaterial, but to not share your brilliance on a larger scale would be a tragedy.

Happy Birthday Chief!

No? What Does That Mean?

September 3, 2010 35 comments

I hate the Steven Stills (and later redone by Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young) quote, “If you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with”. Does that not say to anyone else, “it’s okay to settle”? No way, not me – not for a moment would I ever settle. What do you do when someone says, “NO”? Up to age 11 or 12, I’m sure I threw temper tantrums. That was until I figured out what the word, “manipulate” meant; and became a master of manipulation…probably until age 22 or 23. And yes, I rarely heard “no”. I began working for two phenomenal businessmen around this time who were too smart to be manipulated. They just didn’t deal with it. I learned the best way to get what I want was to 1) Be honest 2) Demonstrate my value add.

Since that time, certainly I’ve had disappointments and heard that hated word, “No” while feeling the nasty claws of rejections; but surprisingly – minimal rejections thus far when it’s come to business. Up until this week, I’ve gotten every job I’ve wanted. One may read this and think, “ugh. egomaniac”, but truly – I did nothing to get jobs except be honest and demonstrate value add. Ok, so maybe I’m a bit of a schmoozer as well and I’m sure that helps, but again – that’s part of my personality – take it or leave it. This past week, someone “left it”. They didn’t want to hire me.

Just to be clear and not sound like a ‘kvetch’, I do still have my own company, a great life, I’m working for a phenomenal start up right now, so “business life is good” and I can’t complain; but I do want to use this as a learning experience. What can I learn from being ‘turned down’?

“Elevator pitch” version of the situation; great company, great mission, great executive team, (but in my opinion) only average senior level revenue drivers. I worked with one of the executives, found her to be brilliant and knew I could learn a lot from her – so asked if I could ‘help’ the company in certain areas at no cost; all I wanted in return was to learn from the executives. I am learning and certainly have not been asked to do any work at all; but as I’m getting deeper into certain parts of the company, I like the company. I see an absurd amount of potential and the people who are driving the revenue are simply not “revenue drivers”. They’re good employees, great analysts, great operators, but they’re certainly not the type that wake up at 2 AM with an “idea” as to how to drive revenue in different ways, develop a pro forma, and execute first thing in the morning. Franky, I’m unsure if any of them have played a revenue driving GM role or have even owned and managed a P&L before. Hence, I’m frustrated. I know the roles these individuals play and I am confident I can add more value. And Yes – this is my EGO talking; but I do believe I could rev this company up. So, I told the executive I was working with that I wanted to work there. AND I told her I would work there FOR FREE. These employees make base salaries…I would work on performance only. Response? CRICKETS! I got nothing!

Initial reaction was anger (bruised ego), but after a day or two I realized the important ‘take away’ here for me is the “why”. What’s wrong with me? My track record in this particular industry is flawless. My track record in start-up companies is flawless. Certainly I’ve made hundreds of mistakes in each business, but the businesses have all still prospered and were brought to profitability.

So, I figured I had 2 options: 1) Take a good look in the mirror and put myself in this executive’s shoes. Why wouldn’t I hire me? 2) I could just ask why she didn’t respond. So, I did ask (via email) why there was no response and didn’t get a response on that either. My assumption (which I hate making assumptions) is that she is an executive in an important company with a lot of work to do; she hasn’t had time to address. That’s fine with me (although at times I do believe I’m the center of the universe), reality at age 30 is that I’m NOT!

As for Option 1, I looked in the mirror and put myself in this individual’s shoes; whew – talk about a few days of insecurity!
Was I too ego driven? Too cocky? Was I coming off as not a “team” player? Perhaps I’m too ‘honest’ about my feelings towards what the business could be doing better? Or worse; does she just think I suck? I’m not ‘corporate’ enough? I could go on and on with these thoughts I’ve been thinking all week, which will probably serve to do nothing but make me upset (again). But really, at the end of the day, I feel like there must be something significantly ‘wrong’ with me if I’m offering to work on a performance basis (free unless I perform) and someone says “NO”.

So at this juncture, I wait for option 2; I wait for a response. And while the egomaniac, immature, 11 yr old in me would like to throw a tempter tantrum and know WHY I can’t have what I want…and the 18 year old wants to say, “Your loss”….the 30 year old will continue to try to learn from this and learn how to handle the age old issue of “REJECTED”!

PEOPLE make start ups profitable. Period.

August 26, 2010 3 comments

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I’ve worked in 4 start ups and been successful 4 times. I define success in a start up as the company becoming profitable as well as a “going concern” business.

While my ego would like to think I can attribute these successes to my own intellectual superiority, I have become more of a realist. There have, however, been 3 constants to these successes and now consulting for numerous start ups, I’m shocked to find the minimal time and thought that goes into what I consider the initial recipe for success.

A strategic and well thought out human resource initial plan will

1. Hiring on 4 traits

Always list these 4 criteria in order of the ‘traits possessed’ for your potential hire:

Education
Motivation
Experience
Innate Intelligence

The order that will bring you a successful candidate in a start up world;

Motivation
Innate Intelligence
Experience
Education

What does this mean? It means that someone who is tenacious, ambitious, has unparalleled work ethic while also having the ability to make good decisions and think ‘outside the box’ is going to be far more valuable than the “MBA who has worked in corporate America for 5 – 10 years”. Certainly, there are roles for these folks, but not in the core of your start up executive, senior, or middle level management teams.

2. Sacrifice is KEY

Offer a very minimal base salary – regardless of the role. PAY FOR SUCCESS ONLY.

When you have team members that are confident enough in their abilities that they agree to being tied directly into accountability metrics to get paid, you have people who are ‘bought in’. Take the time to develop a monthly accountability plan. It may take you a couple hours to develop the ‘right’ plan and another hour to explain it to a colleague, but it will drive millions in revenue over time; as well as cut costs.

3. CUT THE FAT

Stop hiring people who do not have the ability to act in numerous roles. Oftentimes, I see start ups where executives can play numerous roles; they can develop and drive strategy on the marketing side, but also be an operator if needed – and most times a salesperson as well. Then when it comes to hiring senior and middle management, ‘executives’ seem to think that they should each have a vertical of employees reporting to them. Forget the vertical. Find senior and middle managers who can play multiple roles as well. YOU WANT TO HIRE MINI C.E.O.s.

For example, you don’t want just a ‘director of creative’, you want a creative designer who can design, code, has an e-commerce and technology background, can manage websites, QA the site, and has the operational background to project manage anything in your marketing department. Many start ups hire 1 “director of marketing”, 1 creative designer, another technology person. Find someone with all of these skills.

Another example; do not hire a “director of sales” or “director of marketing”…Hire a “director of revenue driving operations” or a “rain maker”. Find someone who can negotiate deals and don’t only use them on the business development side; use them on the marketing team as well – to work on marketing negotiations. If the individual is “innately intelligent” and “motivated”, they will pro-actively learn about all areas of your business (motivation) and adapt their skill sets quickly based on the knowledge (Innately intelligent). Combined with creative deal making and negotiation skills, you want your ‘revenue driver’ to also have had an operational background – who needs a sales / marketing operations person? Until you’re profitable – it’s a waste.

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How Humble Do I Have to Be?

August 1, 2010 12 comments

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Three words I hate hearing most: “You’re soooooo lucky”.

Really? Am I? Was it “luck” that caused me to get where I am today?

When someone speaks those three horrid words to me, let’s talk in the context of ‘business’, I typically bite my tongue (shocker), but sometimes I’ll ask them, “Really? How many weeks did you work 90 hours straight? Because I pretty much did that for about 5 years. And oh – by the way, when I was working those 90 hour weeks, I also spent 1 hour each day reading articles, books, and surfing the internet – always trying to find new ideas, fellow innovators, and ways to better myself…”.

At that point, people usually come up with an excuse; yes, unless one is dealing with an illness – I call it an excuse. Either they were “working on their relationship” or they were “having family issues” or any of the other reasons one can think of for not kicking their own ass into the office, there was always a CHOICE that was made. Individuals make the conscious choice to prioritize their friends or other relationships before their jobs; they make the conscious choice to read “fluff” (I love fluff, BTW), like Candace Bushnell, versus reading books by Seth Godin or Malcolm Gladwell. I don’t believe there is any ‘perfect science’ to becoming successful, but I am a firm believer in creating your own luck. My fellow blogger, Ty Unglebower will argue with me in-depth about “Skill vs. Luck”, but when looking at studies of various entrepreneurs and whether their success has depended on Skill or Luck, scientific evidence points to skill.

I am also a firm believer that if you have a skill (which may be innate – and some may look at that as “luck”, hence the nature vs. nurture debate) and do nothing with it, you are doing a disservice to society.

People have always told me I’m tenacious and ambitious. I would argue that my success is based on Skill + strategic ambition. What I mean by strategic ambition is this; don’t be myopic in your endeavors. Most people think, “If I’m ambitious and work, work, work, and bring in the most revenue or sign the biggest deals, I’ll make more money or I’ll move up in life”. Wrong. That’s only one piece of the puzzle. Sure, it’s the easiest to see coming out of college and there is certainly a correlation between bringing in revenue (or reducing costs) and moving up in a company, but what else does it take?

Certainly, I would say a large piece of success is dependent on the people you surround yourself with in the office as well as in life. As I wrote in a past post, I’ve taken pay cuts to work with or for certain individuals. By surrounding yourself and only working with people who will better you, make you think, expose you to new ideas and management styles, you are learning every time you interact with that individual. Choosing the right mentor and being pro-active enough to secure that mentor is a huge part of being ambitious. It takes time to build a relationship with the right person; it takes patience; and you have to be strategic about ‘who’ you pick.

Another important piece is the desire to for continuous improvement (learning). As cliche as this sounds, if you’re not moving forward, you are only moving backwards.

Many people talk about “balance”. I agree we all need balance in our lives, however there is a time for balance and a time to go “all in”. If you make the conscious choice to go ‘all in’ (working 90 hours / day for example), you WILL lose out on other aspects of your life. When people say, “you’re so lucky”, they fail to realize the losses that come with that proposed “luck”. Friendships and other relationships are ruined. Most people either lose or gain a lot of weight as they either have no time to eat or eat too much. When people talk about ‘balance’ and the importance of balance, I agree; but I think there is a right time for you to balance your life and some of us choose to be extremists. Whether you agree with it or not, again studies show that the more time someone puts into their job, the more money they will make and the higher likelihood they will have of moving up in a company. Again, it’s a conscious choice.

What I have learned is that by ‘giving things up’ in the short-term, you not only reap the business benefits in the long-term; but the long-term personal benefits as well. If we go back to relationships again – any relationship is work. If you have been through work experiences that teach you that “hard work pays off”, you will associate work with success. hence, you are more likely to work harder on your relationship.

If you have worked and been pro-active enough to find a mentor; likely you would recognize that a connection with an individual is important enough to change a life. Once you have had a successful relationship where you are being taught, learning to take criticism, sometimes even “tough love” (like a mentor) and see that it has led to something positive…you are more likely to be able to take criticism and / or ‘tough love’ from other people in your life. You will likely not just be able to take it, but do something constructive and better yourself (and your relationship) by making changes.

Tying back around…is there such a thing as ‘luck’? Probably. But when you make your own luck in one aspect of your life, you learn how to bring it to other areas. If you are one of the people who are reading this and disagree with me, try what I said above…try it in one aspect of your life or your job. And if you’ve already tried it once, try the steps again…and again…at a certain point, you will find your way and you’ll then understand that there isn’t luck. There are decisions; and each decision comes with sacrifices. it’s up to you to decide what’s most important and when the right time is.

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Reality Check – Are You a Hypocrite? I think I am!

July 20, 2010 13 comments

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After five years of success in what I termed to be a “large” corporation (about 10,000 employees) and then four successful start up ventures, I thought I had learned a lot. In my experiences, I had learned far more in any start up than my friends or family that worked for REALLY large companies; 50,000 employees +. Hence, I’ve spent the last few years training management teams on my experiences; specifically, how to quickly become successful in the start up world. Once again – very successful. I unconsciously made the decision that there was one way to do things – the “start up” way. By making this decision, I had unknowingly turned my back on the “large” corporations as I always incorrectly assumed that “their way” was corporate; ideas needed sign off, plans took too long to be written, there was politics to deal with, and frankly, corporations seemed to move to ‘slowly’ for me.

At the same time, whenever someone has asked me what has made me successful, my response has always been, “I’m open minded. I know what I don’t know. But mostly, I just love to learn; every person I meet is like a commodity and if I stay in contact with them, it’s because I believe they are a commodity that will allow my knowledge portfolio to grow”.

I’m a hypocrite. If I was so open minded, I’d be willing to work with / for these 50K + employee companies. I wouldn’t only work with start ups, but would also look to learn from high level executives in HUGE businesses. I would learn to relinquish control and learn how to play in a different sandbox.

I frequently meet with executives from all companies, small to large, to get their feedback / advice on how I’m doing in my business. I ask for suggestions as to how I can better myself. Thus far, everyone I’ve met with has said to me one of the following things: 1) “You’re an entrepreneur. You’d be wasting your talent if you don’t start your own business” 2) Continue consulting; you have a wide range of skill sets that are transferable over most sales and lead generation industries. 3) Continue working with start ups and imparting your knowledge there. You have the visions and know how to execute and bring a company to profitability quickly”.

While all of this is ‘nice’ to hear, I still always felt like I was ‘missing’ something. The advice given above is nice to hear and certainly from a monetary standpoint works very well. But again, I still felt the “fire” was missing – the passion was not there as it had once been when I had connected myself to one brand or company.

I had dinner with a brilliant executive last night who finally made me realize what I was missing. I had turned into the one type of person I hated. I was the one that was being closed minded. I had been so successful and enjoy the start up world so much, that I had closed myself off to the thousands of other possibilities to learn. I put all “large corporations” into the same ‘box’ and in doing so, had missed what could have been some phenomenal learning experiences.

For those of you successful entrepreneurs and ‘start up’ junkies who read my blog, I’m wondering…has this happened to any of you? Have you ‘turned yourself off’ so much to the “corporate world” that you think you may be missing out on learnings? I’m trying to decide where to go from here. It’s interesting, because I always said, “If you’re comfortable, you’re dead”…and what I realized last evening is that I AM comfortable in the start up world. While every start up is different, different product, different strategy, etc. the pattern is the same. I’m comfortable with that pattern. In order for me to grow, learn, and get out of my comfort zone – I would need to go to a large company and ‘learn’ how to play the game, learn some patience with slower processes, learn how to NOT always have to be in control. Or I could continue doing what I’m doing, make great money in start ups and enjoy them – but would likely not learn as much. It’s a catch 22, but I’m wondering what any of my readers thoughts are on this and if anyone has been through a similar point in their life? If so, seeking your opinion / advice!

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Does 10,000 Hours Make the Best Businessman?

July 9, 2010 2 comments

In Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Outliers, he talks about the rule of 10,000 hours. He cites researchers agreement that “10,000 hours of practice is the optimum time needed to gain expertise”. He goes on to demonstrate in a myriad of industries that all experts in a field have a minimum of 10,000 hours working or practicing in that field. He cites The Beatles, violin players, Bill Gates and software programming, and numerous other examples.

He does not, however, tie this into any sales, marketing, or other businessmen. Does this ‘rule’ hold true when applied to business? If yes, it would certainly show that “experience” is the #1 factor in determining job hires an success rates; but we know experience is not the #1 factor. I believe that the 10,000 rule can translate to business, however past the point of 10K hours, there is likely little difference in someone who has worked 100K hours vs. 50K hours. At that point, it would be more about innate ability and ambition.

In going back to Gladwell’s book, his examples all talk about “practice”. The Beatles “played” for 10K hours, Bill Gates “coded” for 10K hours…so I’m wondering, how do we “do” 10K hours of business? Does this mean 10K hours of work in 1 area? 10K hours of work researching? I look at myself and executives tell me my ‘best’ skillset is sales. Well, I started to sell when I was 18 and had my own business in college; is that why I’m more successful now than the majority of people my age? Did I hit that 10K hour mark sooner?

I’m not sure about me; but I am sure that I would like to figure out how to go about getting 10,000 hours in each business area – so this will be my next conquest.

What Good is a Start Up Company if You Run it Like a Corporation?

June 16, 2010 8 comments

It’s not good. period. I should probably start by telling you what I think of as a corporation: 1) Sign offs 2) “strategic plans” that cannot be altered in a moment’s notice 3) High level executives who want to ‘stick with what they know’.

In my first start up, we went completely outside the box and did things that had never been done before. We didn’t listen to other people’s opinions, but like the book BLINK says, we went with our gut…and we got it right. We had belief in our product (leads), we were able to sell our product, and our CEO / COO that ran the marketing component of our business were not limited by norms. To be more precise, they went against the norms. We ended up with two things: 1) Profitability in under one year 2) A new business model for our industry. If we had been running our business trying to stick with what we knew, not changing or testing things on the ‘fly’, and not listening to the younger / less experienced folks in our organization, none of this would have occurred.

Taking “C” level executives from the corporate world and throwing them into a start up business is not a good thing unless there is balance. If you have 3 “C” level or “VP” level employees from ‘corporate’, they should be balanced by those of us who have succeeded in the ‘start up’ world. There is a reason the same people are successful in start ups again and again and again; they have great business instincts, have no fear, and are tenacious. When they try something that is “outside of the box”, they’re going to do whatever it takes to make it work. They’re out to prove their model. In many companies, they would likely be defined as “rebels” as they may be superstars, but many of their ideas are viewed as outrageous.

Start up people need freedom. They need freedom to make decisions and freedom to act on decisions within a short time frame. Not everything must be laid out in a “plan”. If something works, SCALE IT…and scale it immediately before your competitor does.

Where did this come from? Many companies I work with have solid products…not disruptive technology and neither are all business models different, but the products can certainly beat out that of their competitors. Most have high level executives who come from ‘corporate’ backgrounds; certainly brilliant and experienced in their respective areas, but ‘corporate’ nonetheless. At times, I’m hired to consult in one area that I’ve had immense success in; marketing for higher education. Under the marketing umbrella, many times I’m hired to execute on ONE aspect of that strategic marketing plan. I attempted to remain focused on that specific ‘goal’ and as I’m was executing, it becomes apparent that there are secondary strategies needed to supplement what I was doing. It’s low risk / low cost. I put it out there for the companies to evaluate. Response, “We’ll think about it”…and you could tell the companies weren’t ‘really’ going to think about it. Think about it? 1) Who thinks about anything in a start up? Think about it for 5-10 minutes maybe…and get back to me with an answer. It would be less than a $2K test. I wanted to say, “if it doesn’t work, take it off my paycheck…” but surprisingly keep my mouth shut. 2) DATA. Past data from the same exact type of campaign shows that my ‘gut’ instinct was correct. I guess I should have sat down and made a formal “business case” for what I wanted to do, but it’s a start up – who has the time?

Anyways, as a consultant – even if hired to focus on 1 area of the business…I consider it my “job” to advise on other parts as well. I don’t mind being told, “No”, if there’s a good reason…but for a cheap test, that’s 100% scalable, and historical data proves it works…I don’t want a “No” or an “I’ll think about it”. I want a “Go for it” – like a start up company with a “start up” executive team would do.

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It’s NOT “All About the Benjamen’s Baby”

June 5, 2010 15 comments

Puff Daddy (I believe he is now referred to as “P.Diddy”) captured one of the human motivations for work in his number one hit, “It’s all about the Benjamen’s Baby”. While money is “nice”, Mr. P.Diddy obviously 1. did not do his ‘research’ (shocker) and 2. Was speaking about a very different generation that today’s “Gen Y” working professionals.

I’ve perused thousands of articles that talk about “what Gen Y wants in the workplace“, “what motivates Gen Y“…and here is my favorite part about them; they were all written by baby boomers or Gen Xers.

Here is my “Gen Y” advice to executives: Stop managing the masses and build your “Gen Ys” using mentorships. This is not brain surgery. All articles I’ve read have several points that most of the fancy Harvard, BusinessWeek, and other Business Journals agree on; 1) Gen Y’s value relationships (TRUE) 2) Gen Y’s want meaning in their jobs (TRUE) 3) Gen Y’s grew up in the era of constant reinforcement, hence – they want feedback; and they want it NOW (TRUE).

There is one apparent solution to managing Gen Y’s. MENTORS!

That said, as with any relationship, this is a “two way street”. CEO’s can’t just ‘assign’ mentors. The HR departments need to take the extra 30 minutes to provide questionnaires to these young employees / our future executives. And then like anything else; proteges must be matched with the mentor that “meets their needs” and genuinely care about not just the success of their protege, but their professional AND personal growth. Gen Y’s want mentors who will not only teach them the ‘business world’, but will listen to how business is affecting their life; and give advice on how to maintane both their business and personal life.

In my last post, “Does Your Mentor Ever Leave You”, I stated the best career move I ever made was to take a salary cut. I did so because I knew the two men I’d be working for would mentor me; and they did. They turned me into who I am today, both professionally and personally.

Now that I don’t work with them anymore, I am constantly taking consulting jobs where it’s NOT “all about the benjamens”, but where I see baby boomer and Gen X talent. I’ve turned down $250 / hour jobs to work for $50 / hour just so I can learn from certain executives. I wonder though – if these executives have even given a thought to how they can utilize my “want” to be like and learn from them. It would seem they have not. I would work for free in return for being mentored and taught what they know. If every executive would invest a couple hours a week to professional and personal development; giving challenges and then providing feedback; I bet most of us would work for far less money. Not only that, but we would also stamp out the “stigma” that we are ‘job hoppers’ as we would be loyal to our mentors, and thus, our companies. I know the Gen Y’s I surround myself would do the same. While we may like the ‘short term gain’ of money, we far more value the long term gain of knowledge and experience.

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Does Your Mentor Ever Leave You?

May 30, 2010 13 comments

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The smartest move I’ve made in my professional life was to take a salary cut.

When moving from my first “Corporate job” at 24 years old to my first “start up”, I took a pay cut. Why? I could see the value and ROI in a longer term investment. I left a company where I was the ‘best’ of about 1600 people to go back to the bottom. For what? I found my mentors. I found two businessmen who, between the two of them, encompassed everything I would ever need to be successful. What’s ironic about this is it is now about 6 years later and when I look back at those wondrous three years working with these two men, I remember what one used to say to me. He would say, “You should be paying ME for allowing you to work here because you are learning more than you would be in any MBA or Doctorate program”. Looking back now, he was right. I should have been paying him. Everything he taught me, everything I watched, the meetings that I had become a part of; he truly taught me not only how to build a business, but more importantly – how to build and successfully manage the people in that business. He was the best sales and marketing individual in my industry and I was his sponge.

His counter part, my other mentor, had quite the opposite skill set. He was master in operations and finance (yuck). That said, “if you want to run your own business one day, you have to be able to have worked in all areas of the business that you will be running”. I did. I learned operations, I learned finance; and I even learned to like and see the value in both.

So, a year after leaving that business, there are so many lessons and conversations that run through my head daily, sometimes hourly. I feel that everything I do has their “mark” on it because they taught me to be the business person I am today. Looking back through this blog, most of my posts are things I’ve learned from them; and in my everyday life…their faces and voices run through my head constantly. To share a few of the key learnings:

1. Hold yourself accountable – don’t play blame games and don’t ever blame anyone else for something that is in your domain. If something goes wrong in your department or on your project, OWN UP TO IT. While your manager or boss may be angry, they are going to respect you more for coming to them vs. hiding it from them and trying to fix it on your own. Most importantly, take a step back and learn from your mistake; explain your learnings to your boss when owning up to your mistake.

2. Get out of your comfort zone – if you’re good at something, congrats! Now…GET OUT! If you’re comfortable in what you’re doing, you’re dead; you won’t grow anymore. Figure out ways to either scale what your doing, train what your doing, or change it in some other way. If there are no changes needed, get out and do something different. Ask yourself, “would you rather be in the minor leagues as the best player for 10 years?” or would you rather jump into the major leagues; you may not be the best in the beginning, but you will get there.

3. It is the manager’s fault if someone is terminated or quits – LOOK in the mirror every time you lose an employee. If you cannot look in the mirror and say, “I’ve done everything in my power to keep this employee”, you’re not a good manager. People don’t leave companies, they leave managers.

4. Treat everyone as if they are your most important client – this means vendors, employees, bosses, etc. Everyone deserves to be treated with respect; you will get more production out of treating people with respect than you will berating them.

5. Don’t waste your time doing something that has been done before. If you’re not innovative, you lose. Developing the same business plan and just “doing it better” is a waste of time; your competition, the company that was there first, will rise up eventually. Do something that has never been done and always have a unique value proposition. It’s all about disruptive technology.

6. Your gut is great for ideas, tests, and innovation. Data is better.

7. Test everything you can make a business case for.

I could go on and on, but that’s not the purpose of this post.

Unfortunately, as with all good things – the relationship came to an end. Since that time, I’ve worked with so many intelligent and innovative people. I take minimal and sometimes do not even charge executives that I would like to work with, simply so I can learn from them.

Interestingly enough, I have yet to find anyone that I want as a ‘mentor’. Not like “before”. Perhaps this is part of growing up? I’m not sure. There are a couple people who I want to take bits and pieces from, but no one I would work for FT to become an all around “better me”.

As with any relationship, I’m beginning to see that I’m “comparing” everyone with the best mentors I’ve ever had. I remember doing the same with boyfriends before I got married…and I remember being told by everyone NOT to do so.

Also analagous to any other relationship, I think the foot prints that were left in my heart and my head from these men will be there forever; and it’s time to move on, take my experiences with them, and build upon them.

What I’m stuck with; Am I getting too “old” to work with people I will learn from so entirely? Do I need to be in the same organization / work with them to do so? More importantly, will a day in business ever go by where I don’t think of my first two mentors?

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