Over the last three years, I have written about startups, entrepreneurship and business in general in the Hindu BizLine and Wall St. Journal. I have compiled these for easy access in the column below.Starting upPeopleBusiness is about people People - the lifeblood of an organization Hiring for a start-up Mentoring people Do Startups need consultants Letting the founders goMoney, money, moneyCustomersExecutionMarketing & SalesBusiness of business
In a hat tip to Om Malik who writes a periodic column called “What I’m reading“, I decided to write a weekly note on what I’ve been reading. Today it was Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes. I was rooting around the basement library of some friends that I was crashing with for the week, hoping to find a mindless Ludlumesque or Lee Child adventure, when I came across the book. My friend’s copy was in mint condition lulling me into believing it was a recent book despite its blurb “The classical novel that inspired the Academy Award-winning movie Charly” which of course I’d never heard of.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I picked up the book with little idea of what it was about or even when it was written. I certainly did not think of it as science fiction, which is what Wikipedia speaks of it as. I read the book in a single sitting, as it held me enthralled. The start of the book, as in letter form or more accurately, journal entries took a moment to get used to and for the first page or two, the misspellings and poor grammar seems a little contrived. However, Charlie Gordon’s voice and narration drew me in and I had a hard time attending to real life needs be it breakfast or lunch as I plunged my way through the book on a work day! The book worked at so many levels, from how mentally retarded folks are treated, to the insular world of academicians and scientists to growing self-awareness and insight of an evolving Charlie Gordon and how childhood experiences and memories continue to shape us. The redemption of Charlie’s sister Norma, his encounter with his father, his evolving relationship with Alice – the book is filled with tales of redemption and self-knowledge – even if every one of these characters are not threshed out fully. I’ve rated the book with 5 Stars for both the subject and how it’s been covered and the way it held me truly enthralled.
Get it and read it.
The other book I’m reading at present is
Mojo: How to Get It, How to Keep It, How to Get It Back When You Lose It by Marshall Goldsmith with Mark Reiter
Whether a startup or a large corporation, email has become just a fact of our work lives, it’s hard to imagine a time when it wasn’t so. Email useful as it is, however seems to create as many problems as it addresses. Beyond the chain letters and phishing emails or spam, flame wars conducted over email is probably the biggest cause of productivity loss, in both large and small companies.
Most back-and-forth email stinkers or flame wars are preventable and many times seem downright silly or petty. Yet they seem to pop up all over the place with near-despairing regularity. Flame wars, particularly between colleagues, is a huge emotional sink, sapping productivity and motivation. This is even truer when the parties involved are in the same office. It is to overcome these that we’ve formulated a simple rule – yep 1 single rule to prevent email flame wars.
The No 3rd email rule Simply put this rule states, if one person has sent an email (#1) and a second person has responded (#2) and it’s clear that they are not agreeing, or not happy – there should be no 3rd email sent. Instead the two parties should talk in person (sometimes this only requires swivelling in one’s chair) or pick up the phone, if not in the same office.
Think about it – most email flaming starts due to one of two reasons:
- public questioning, accusation or challenge (real or perceived) by usually the sender
- outright misunderstanding by one party (usually the reader)
In the former case, the recipient responds either defensively, or attacks the sender, as they perceive themselves or their work being undermined or attacked. This may or may not have been the intent of the sender. In the latter, regardless of the sender’s intent, the recipient misunderstands either what is being said or why it is being said (or at times to whom it is being said or copied to) and leads to misunderstanding and grief.
Regardless of who started it, their intent and what was being actually said, the No 3rd email rule works excellently by stopping the electronic conversation, which would at this stage usually deteriorate into accusations, counter accusations and fingerpointing. The beauty of this rule is it is independent of who wields the organizational power between the sender and the recipient and nips the blooming potential conflict in the proverbial bud.
Like all good rules, it’s simple to state and understand, a little bit harder to practice. We are still working on it. What are you waiting for?
“He’s my best sales guy. He makes his numbers quarter after quarter! But everyone dreads it when he comes into the office.” My friend was on the verge of tears – it was clear that he was going to have to do something about his sales guy, if he didn’t want others to quit. But he was worried about his star salesman would react and he was not looking forward to it.
We’ve all faced this issue of what to do with that employee – the trustworthy finance guy, who upsets your team members often over trivial amounts; the brilliant technologist who cheeses everybody off with his superior attitude, or the HR manager, who despite the many years she’s been with you, who’s not pulling her weight any more. The timing is rarely right to confront them and the longer you put it off the worse it’s likely to get. We also worry about how we got here and how best to handle it so we retain them without too high an emotional cost. If you are like me, then you put it off for a better time, which rarely comes.
Hiring people is always one of the top 3 problems I hear managers or founders talk about. Implicit in this of course is that matter of hiring the right people. Yet, even after we’ve hired the right people, as neither organizations nor the people stay constant, we run into all kinds of issues. Gil Amelio, who was an inspiring leader (and CEO) at my first employer National Semiconductor, taught me a very simple framework to both talk about this and to aid action.
Attitude and Effectiveness Successful organisations look at not just at proven capabilities and experience that would make a prospective employee effective, but also their attitude and fit with your organisational culture. He used the familiar four quadrant framework, with effectiveness along the y-axis and attitude (or cultural fit) along the x-axis as shown in the figure below.
Quadrant 1 – Neither the right attitude nor effective These are the easiest folks to deal with – they are basically hiring mistakes you’ve made. Ideally you’d not have anyone in this quadrant or if you do, you’d fix your hiring process to minimize recurrence. Lou Adler, author and CEO of the Adler group in his recent article titled “There Are Only Four Types of People — Are You Hiring The Right Ones?” terms these folks Type 1: Those you should never hire!
Quadrant 2 – Have the right attitude but are not effective Usually this is a sign that these folks are in the wrong job. They may have been effective, even in the same job, but no longer are, because the jobs requirements have evolved or they haven’t. Or you’ve placed them in the wrong role. The ineffective sales guy may bloom in a business development role or inside sales job. The trick is to find them a role that they can be effective in. If your organisation is big enough, you may have one or more such roles – sometimes the right role may not be within your department or even company, in which case its best to help them find the right role, whether inside or outside your company.
Quadrant 3 – Have the right attitude and are effective These are your stars – the people who perform consistently and lead from the front. The trick with these folks is to ensure that they are constantly learning and growing. Folks in Quandrant 3 can fall into Quandrant 2, when your company and your needs grow fast and they don’t grow as fast. These are the folks you want to be hiring and your company and its processes should be geared to finding, attracting, retaining and growing Quadrant 3 folks.
Quadrant 4 – Don’t have the right attitude but are effective This is the hardest group to deal with. The obnoxious sales person my friend had to deal with, the supercilious technologist or rude finance guy we met all fall into this quadrant. Two things make it difficult to effect change with these folks -
- they are deemed successful and have been rewarded in the past, despite their interpersonal shortcomings.
- They are often positions deemed critical, that make change not just unpalatable but downright scary. “What’ll happen to my sales, if this guy leaves?” or “Will I find another trusthworthy finance guy?”
Organizations suffer the most, because most of us don’t know how best to handle Quadrant 4 folks. The first step is to recognize not only the existence of these four quadrants but that people can move within the quadrants. This is most commonly seen from Quadrant 2 to Quadrant 3 (more effective) through skilling and occasionally to Quadrant 2 from Quadrant 3 (less effective) when the job needs grow and person doesn’t.
I’ve found talking about the four quadrants and even mutually agreeing with your team members where they see themselves and where their peers or you see them helps immensely. This way when it is time to have the hard conversation, you both have a framework and vocabulary that can help keep the conversation professional. In my experience, almost always folks in the Quadrant 2 will have to be let go. We’ve had the occasional technical person build out their interpersonal skills and make the move from Quadrant 4 to Quadrant 3.
Let me know how this works for you.
How often have you found yourself tapping your feet impatiently, as you waited for the another person who as speaking to either pause or wrap, before jumping in with your own point of view? if you are like me, you may even end up interrupting the other person. Never mind, if we fully heard let alone understood what the other person was saying, before we are countering or questioning, what we think they said. This can be very frustrating for both the speaker and the listener (or interrupter).
Being a good listener, somehow seems a hard trait to come by and with so many of us struggling with it, is it a surprise that few of us are effective listeners? Brian Tracy – sales trainer, inspirational speaker and successful entrepreneur talks of three steps to becoming an effective listener. In the video at the bottom of this post, you can hear him speak on the subject. For those of you who’s rather get the gist of what he says, here it is.
Pause Once the other person has stopped speaking, pause before you speak. This ensures, that you don’t interrupt the other person, in case they are just taking a breath. It shows that you are giving consideration to their words and you’ll actually hear the other person better! So pause first.
Ask Questions to achieve clarity. Open ended questions help the other person expand on their responses and this will help you in turn understand better, what is it that they are saying.
Paraphrase In your words, state what is it you heard them say. Usually a statement such as “What you are saying is _______”, helps demonstrate that you are paying attention and working at understanding what it is they are saying.
Brian also answers the question Why bother with effective listening?
It makes the speaker, be relaxed and happy which in turn will make them want to be around you. Listening builds trust and self-esteem in the speaker. It also helps the listener (you) achieve greater self-worth through the practice of self-discipline. Watch the video below to hear this in Brian’s own words.
Recently LinkedIn opened up their blog post functionality to me – given the larger business audience there, I’d shared 4 Sales Lessons I Gained in Losing 20 Kilos and realized that it might be particularly relevant to startups trying gain traction. Here’s the short abstract.
- Make every day count – sales is one activity, that you can’t turn on and off, but have to pursue, doggedly, determinedly, daily. No ifs, ands or buts!
- Plan & start your day early As Brian Tracy says, Eat that Frog – get it done first thing in the morning. An early start will set the tone right for each day – planning makes sure that early start is productive.
- Measure but in moderation Have specific goals and targets and measure them diligently. Only what gets measured will improve. Don’t go overboard, results are what count, not just the counting
- Teams make it fun Sales is hard enough with rejections and hang ups – make it easier by working with teams, including partners, customers and competitors and don’t roe a lonely road.
Happy hunting. You can read the full piece here.
Given how popular 10 Books Every Entrepreneur Should Read has been, I reckoned it would be good to share 10 non-business books that every entrepreneur will do well to read. So here it is.
So what would be your favorite non-business book? Join in with your thoughts.