4 Ways to Make Your Executives Fail

Last week, I shared some of the insights that Bea Wolper, entrepreneur and lawyer focused on family businesses, shared with my class. An area of special interest for Bea is how succession happens well (or not) in family businesses. She shared the four critical steps for succession (which is rarely seamless) to happen well. Upon discussing this with some of my students, it dawned on me, that this is just as applicable to startups and non-family businesses as well. And not just in a founder or CEO transition, but for any major role in a business – such as HR, Marketing or Sales heads. 

  • Ownership In a family business this is usually a controlling interest. In a startup or other enterprises, this is equity with the potential for significant upside. As Bea pointed out this is the easiest to “do” – you sign a piece of paper and it’s done. This is however only a necessary condition and not sufficient. If you do this alone, it is almost always going to result in failure.
  • Knowledge Change is never easy. Having a new person in charge without equipping them with everything that your organization and you know is dooming them to fail. This ranges from how things are done, who does them, how they are done and why they are done (or not) the way they are. I have walked into marketing positions, with nary an introduction to existing customers, current prospects and can tell you it’s not fun. Successful organizations, debrief and even put together a “Bluebook” of everything the person leaving the position knows for their successor. Ideally, you have a team, including the person presently playing the role do an ongoing knowledge transfer for the successor.
  • Relationships The old cliché “business is all about relationships” is true. So formally introducing the new person to key employees, key customers and of course key business partners—starting with bankers, component suppliers, channel partners is vital for success.
  • Authority This is where the rubber meets the road and even well run companies stumble. When you promote someone or hire someone new, but other employees still come to you or their old boss or colleague, you’ve not handed authority. Most times the founder/entrepreneur is the problem (or “Dad” in the family business) when he is not willing to relinquish his authority. So the new person while having the title has little or no actual authority – or what he has is undermined by others.

As you can see any one of these, even when you’ve done the other three well can cause your executives to fail. I’ve been guilty of violating every one of these, at one point or the other. Which ones have you not been giving adequate attention to?

7 Simple Tips for Success from an Entrepreneurial Lawyer

One of the joys of teaching is the opportunity to invite guest speakers who bring their experience and insights alive for the class. The speakers have the added advantage of being a “guest” lecturer and their message not only sounds new but resonates well. I was fortunate to have Bea Wolpert, an amazing entrepreneur, lawyer and woman leader.  Over an hour, Bea in her inimitable style—reality laced with humor and self-deprecation—shared her own experience as a lawyer and entrepreneur as well as the stories of some of her entrepreneur clients. I realized her stories and insights serve well as advice for most prospective and practicing entrepreneurs. Here they are

  • Purpose Be purpose-driven – It’s well worth figuring out what are you passionate about. Pursue that passion rather than money alone – be it dog-walking, raising Labradoodles or being a chef or lawyer (all examples she illustrated)
  • Relationships Work on building authentic relationships – these take time and will pay off in spades
  • Give forward Focus on giving something of value first – people will automatically seek more and become customers. This could be a blog, seminar or webinar, free consultation, or samples at farmers markets – make it easy to buy from you.
  • Sales Recognize your job is selling – not just being a chef, designer, lawyer and learn to become good at it.
  • Numbers Business is about numbers – so the more you learn to understand numbers – costs, profit & loss the better off you will be
  • Commitment Be all-in. Don’t expect a bank (or anyone else, except a parent possibly) to fund your company or you, if you are not willing to be all-in and
  • Plan Whether a business plan for a bank, succession plan for yourself or a marketing plan for the company, planning is both important and will help.

Maintaining Privacy in Social Media – An Ongoing Battle

I had been planning to write a piece on how folks are getting off of social media particularly Facebook—from the famous such as Om Malik to a lot of 18 to 29-year olds. Even when people choose to stay on networks (social or professional) it’s hard to maintain the degree of privacy or control they seek. It’s hard for at least two reasons

  • there’s just a LOT of options, kinds of data, kinds of audiences an and
  • companies just don’t make it easy for users to turn on or off something.

This became really evident when I tried to help a LinkedIn user yesterday to maintain some contact info private. You’ve have thought that you would go to Settings & Privacy, as I did, and fix it. Well, you’d be wrong, just as I was.

While I consider myself a technophile and an experienced user of LinkedIn – neither a dekko through their settings nor a Google search produced a reliable answer on, “How do I not reveal by birthdate on LinkedIn?” The nearest I got to was this Quora post, and of course, LinkedIn had changed things around again!

The changes range from explicitly leaving out the word Birthday from the options listing, which was tucked away under Contact Info, which was hidden (and not evident at all) under the Intro section of your profile.

and how to get to even this stage. It involved

  1. Selecting View Profile from the Me menu on the top right
  2. Then choosing the Edit (pencil icon) in the Intro section
    LinkedIn-Edit-Profile
  3. Scrolling down to the contact info section (above) and choosing the Edit (pencil icon) again
    LinkedIn-Contact-Info
  4. Clicking on the eye icon to now actually select the desired settings for your birthday
    LinkIn-BDay-Options

It took me nearly 20 minutes to research, test and ensure this works before I could help the original LinkedIn user who’d sought my help. Not cool! LinkedIn you can do better than this!

 

How Do They Do It? Secrets of Great Storytelling

Twenty-five years after publicly announcing it, at a party in Cupertino, I’ve finally begun to work on my first mystery novel. The visit to Hampi, which ironically I did many years after I had visited Pompeii, was the catalyst to set my murder mystery in early 16th century Vijayanagara. If you think making daily sales calls is hard writing every day is harder still. And I’m not even talking about writing well, just putting words on paper.

As entrepreneurs, we have to be storytellers. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not talking about making stuff up. Each day, whether we are trying to hire a new person, motivate an employee who can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel, persuade an investor to make a bridge investment or trying to get a customer to buy or better yet pay us an advance, we are trying to persuade others. Make no mistake, persuasion is selling. In a manner of speaking, we are all sales folks. The sooner we accept it, the sooner we can get better at it.

It’s no accident that the best sales folks are good great storytellers. Here’s the good news, like most things storytelling is a learned skill. With a little attention to how others do it and a good deal of practice, we can all get better at it. November is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) – and there’s no reason you can’t make a resolution or start a new habit on the 1st of November. Make improving your storytelling skills a goal. Notice I say improving, for we are all natural storytellers. Any time you’ve tried to lie to your mom, or a friend or fudged the facts with your spouse (none of which you’ve ever done of course!), you were telling a story—not necessarily well. Let’s get started. One of the simplest and most fun ways to do this is to join a ToastMaster’s club near you. Your storytelling will get better (mine certainly did) but at the very least you’ll make some new friends. It never hurts to have a life (and a few friends) outside of our businesses.

To make things easy for you, I’m sharing one video (below) and one article.- Get rolling.

Storytelling in a corporate setting – 11 examples

 

2 Tools That Will Improve your Effectiveness as a Marketer

Every year I try to learn something new – be it a skill, a tool or just some facts. 2018 has been a time of great learning, thanks to my daughter, I wanted to share two tools that I’ve learned about from her and since put to good use for myself and customers.

  • Canva, as my primary online visual design tool – from making Twitter or web post headers, webinar announcements to trifold brochures and even eBook cover design, this has been an amazing tool where every day I’m discovering more. Here are some examples

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  • Tableau as my data visualization tool has similarly been a much used for not just number crunching, but being able to create excellent visualizations as well as insights that aren’t always self-evident from staring at the data in Excel.
    Here are two examples

Visualization of Girls Toilets Availability


The kicker is, both of them are available online, easy-to-use and you can get started for free. They also have great online communities that can help you get up the learning curve fast. So give them a spin today and share your own favorite tools in the comments.

4 Simple Things Startups Can Do to Retain Employees

Earlier this week I read at least two articles that spoke of how startups in India are having a hard time retaining their employees. One spoke of startups now having higher employee churn than Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) firms!

The article asserts “The reason for this high churn rate is that young professionals come to startups for all the wrong reasons.” While understanding why startups, particularly in India, are having this employee turnover problem is important, it’ll have to wait for another post. What should startups do to retain the employees they already have?

As Lao-Tzu (or was it Confucius?) put it “When the student is ready, the master will come,” my daughter shared this video by Amy Cole, CEO of Amy Cole Connect, on 4 Tips to Retain Your Talent. For those of you who are too busy (really!) to watch the 2.5 minute video, here’s the TL;DR version

  • Excitement – are you exciting your team members from the day they come on board? Many simple things can make the job and your company exciting – do it!
  • Engagement – how are you engaging your team – making their job meaningful and laying context rather than assuming they’ll stay motivated and engaged
  • Encouragement – are you explicitly encouraging them – from paying attention to active inputs, are you helping them grow and not taking them for granted
  • Empowerment – do you trust and provide them flexibility, as long as the work get done? Are you all about control and not empowering them?

Crafting that Compelling Story – A 3-Point Cheat Sheet

Regardless of our job role, one skill every one of us needs is storytelling. The truth is we are all born with it, but let’s just say some of us are a little rougher around the edges. Having spent most of my time around tech folks, I suspect we probably beat this skill out of them which is why so many presentations we sit through or documents we read, make us at the very least drowsy — some even maybe put us in a coma. These same people, when you observe them talking to friends or colleagues can be great raconteurs. Some of this comes from just not having performance anxiety that presentations induce in all of us. So without having a few libations how do we spin a good yarn? And particularly in a business context how do ensure that we’ve provided our listeners or readers something of value – that elusive takeaway?

Here’s what I’ve learned.

A. Begin with the end in mind I’ll use the example of a seminar or webinar that you intend to host. Write down the one takeaway that your listener or audience walks away with – it could range from broad statements or highly specific

  • Entrepreneurship is hard – so you’d better be certain, what it is your passion? And why you are doing this?
  • Good leaders recognize strategy is as much about deciding what NOT to do, as it is about what it is you’ll do
  • Writing 1000 words every day is the key to finishing your book – then all you have to do is edit it
  • Measuring ROI on your GIS project can seem hard but it’s not rocket science – here’s how our customers are doing it

B. Use the power of three  While scientists and psychologists thought that the human brain can hold only 5-7 things at a time, newer research suggests that number might actually be (gasp) 4! So why risk it? I find if you break down things into three chunks, they are a lot easier to hold at least in my easily distracted mind. Now break it down into three chunks. Sticking with the entrepreneurship or leadership theme,

  • Context: Set the stage – often best set as a story – that usually illustrates or reinforces a widely held belief. How Steve Jobs had a mythical touch when building products or how Unilever or P&G were masters of strategy leading to their success; Or why government projects are always a boondoggle, like the Big Dig in Boston
  • Counterpoint – core premise: Is that really the case? Here are eight products that Steve Jobs launched with much fanfare and failed miserably at; here are the huge missteps P&G made and here’s what we’ve learned from NASA’s space mission, which has had minuscule failure rates – so here’s the takeaway – entrepreneurship is hard, there will be naysayers, you’ll fail before you succeed, so you’d better know what your passion is about, if you wanna be able to stick with it
  • Break it down: Offer an actionable set of things that they can do – how can they realize this core premise you’ve made? Maybe it’s a checklist – that helps them understand themselves better? It’s reading of case studies – of how other entrepreneurs succeeded (or better yet failed and recovered), followed by a checklist.

This can work, whether the topic’s losing weight, giving a speech, or how to measure the return-on-investment on a project.

C. Challenge your audience This is what we marketers term the Call to action!  This could be as simple as inviting questions that allows them to challenge your assertions or having them take the first step (“What will you do differently tomorrow morning, because of what you learned here”) The key here is that this doesn’t remain your story but one that compels them to action – ideally an action that benefits them. Of course, if it benefits you whether purely psychically (I did some good!) or professionally (lands you a consulting gig or job) that’s icing on the cake. As my father tried to teach me, “Give first before you ask.”

Here’s a great presentation on how one technical guy (Claudio Perrone aka AgileSensei) went from being just a dude to a compelling storyteller to even cynical technical folks).

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What I’ve been reading this last week

books-education-school-literature-51342.jpegAs with so many other folks,  I’m trying to spend less time on my phone and computer reading the news obsessively. Yet there’s ever more great reading out there and accessible in ways we haven’t had before. But discovering, reading, assimilating and internalizing even a fraction of what we’d like is hard.  Yes, technology like Pocket and GoodReads help, but it’s still a firehose.

Om Malik, tech journalist and blogger extraordinaire has always been a regular source of great readings as has Brad Feld, venture capitalist, and all-around inspiring human. Inspired by their example, I’ve resolved to share interesting things that I’m reading each month. Hopefully, you’ll find it interesting and useful. Share your own thoughts on what you’ve been reading and enjoying.

Practice learning from history  Despite trying to maintain a reading diet low in politics, I found this piece I’m a law professor, and I teach my students how to destroy American democracy by Ozan Varol fascinating. Despite its click-bait title, Ozan’s premise draws from a business strategy formulation process at Merck. CEO Kenneth Frazier wanting to promote innovation asked his employees “to generate ideas to destroy Merck and figure out how to put Merck out of business. The executives then reversed their roles and crafted strategies to avert these threats.

When Ozan had his class run a similar exercise, he states “The exercise made the urgency of action clear. In this century, the threat to democracy will come, not from military coups or openly repressive dictators, but from elected politicians in seemingly democratic countries who gradually roll out an authoritarian agenda. The students realized the importance of remaining vigilant against these strategies and actively resisting them through legal, political, and social means.” Read the full piece here.

“What privacy?” in the era of Alexa Om is the one who turned me on to this Gizmodo article  The House That Spied on Me by Kashmir Hill and Surya Mattu. On one hand, I was fascinated by how much a journalist is prepared to do and (over) share for a story and on the other scared witless by the amount of data that’s being gathered and shared shredding any last illusions I had about privacy. The scariest part for me personally is the sheer number of my friends, who seem to have made Alexa and her competitors an integral part of their lives. Read the full piece here.

Before the rest of us feel too comfortable read this bonus piece on how fitness trackers share information that you might not want them to.

Skilling ourselves One of the joys of working young people is that I learn a lot from them. In turn, you get to see them handling, sometimes better and at other times no worse, issues we’ve faced in our own lives. Of course, a common question that pops up from nearly everyone – from young adults to middle-aged folks, is the issue of what do I want in life? I found this article on Don’t Know What You Want? Improve These 7 Universal Skills by Darius Foroux quite useful. If like many others you’re still looking for your true purpose. Check out the complete article here.

In summary

3 Tips to Hold Fast To Your Dreams

“How will your company become a billion-dollar company?” An analyst at a venture capitalist firm, likely a freshly minted MBA, posed this question to me. I tried to keep my temper in check and answered “Never.” You’d think I’d slapped him across the face – “Then I’m afraid there’s no point in talking to us.”

I was a still a relatively new entrepreneur. It seemed like all I heard was NO. Worse yet, people kept telling me why it wasn’t going to work. Not just venture capitalists but prospective partners, friends, and relatives.

That’s when I learned that You’ve gotta Hold Fast To Your Dreams.

Even my father, a man who loved me, inspired me and most importantly lent me a lot of money had the “Talk” with me. “Son, sometimes businesses fail. Just because your business failed doesn’t mean you have failed.

If you have a wonderful and supportive wife, you are still likely to face questions – “Honey, I want you to pursue your passions. But I hope you realize we have two young kids and no income

You’ve gotta Hold Fast To Your Dreams.

In my case, there was a happy ending – my company first survived, then it thrived – okay mildly thrived and then we got lucky and we were able to sell the company for a tidy sum. Now you might think, “Nah Sri, you are just a lucky fellah.” And I’ll tell you I’m a lucky fella – but only because I held fast to my dreams.

It was film producer Samuel Goldwyn who said: “The harder I worked the luckier I got.

Is holding on to your dreams easy? No.
There will always be naysayers. People will put you down.
You will doubt yourself. “How do you know that you are not being just plain pig-headed?” You don’t.

Here are three things I’ve learned:
Dream BIG. And write your dreams down. Ask yourself why this is your dream.
Read biographies – read other’s life stories – those who have achieved amazing things. Most importantly,
Surround yourself with people who love you and care about you. But who will speak the truth and keep you honest

And Hold on To Your Dreams.


Two weeks ago I spoke and wrote about the inspiring story of my grandfather, who epitomized what holding on to your dreams can help you achieve. You can read it here.

Hold Fast To Your Dreams

As an entrepreneur, you are likely to face any number of obstacles. Worse yet will be the naysayers around you – people who don’t believe in you or what you are trying to get done. Even friends and family – well-intentioned as they may be will doubt, question and even actively discourage you. So it’s really important to Hold Fast To Your Dreams.

I realize that the challenges I’ve faced are hardly worth boasting about. My life has been one of relative privilege. But the lessons I’ve learned from my father‘s life and that of my grandfather, his father in law are a living testament to why you should hold fast to your dreams. I’ll share one story – that of my grandfather who Held Fast To His Dreams well past his nineties.

A rough start
My grandfather was born in 1902. His father died of tuberculosis barely two months before he was born. His widowed mother, then barely 19, moved back to her father’s home in a village in south-western India, another mouth to be fed. Then at age 2 my grandpa contracts polio. His left leg is permanently shortened. When it’s time to go to school, his grandfather says, “What’s this crippled boy going to do with school?” I’m sure he was not a cruel man, but those were the times they lived in.

My grandfather even at that age never gave up on his dream to making something of his life. One day the schoolmaster showed up at his grandfather’s house. “Why have you come?” he was asked. “Your child has been showing up in school, so I’ve come to collect the fees.”

More Deserving Candidates
When my grandfather graduated from high school, he had to come to the city for college. When he appeared for an interview, the head of the department told him, “You are a cripple. Why do you want to study science? You’ll not be able to stand up and do all the laboratory work. I can give the seat to a more “deserving” candidate.” My grandfather was not happy, but he did not give up his dream. He enrolled in English and tutored other kids to pay his way through school, even as he lived in a “Mission” home for poor boys.

By the time he graduated with a Master’s in English, my grandpa had been teaching & tutoring for several years. So rather than work for someone, he turned into a tutoring entrepreneur and eventually started his own private college – whose motto was “Under the Minerva roof, you are failure proof.”

Dream Achieved?
It looked like grandfather’s dream of making something of himself, and liberating his mother from poverty and dependency on others had come true. He was a renowned Shakespeare scholar – his Minerva notes were sold across the Commonwealth from Kenya in Africa to Australia in Oceania. He’d also gotten married and over time fathered ten kids – yep 10! Five girls, the fourth of whom was my mom and 5 boys.

Setbacks again
Just as it looked like all was going well, his wife died in childbirth leaving behind twelve kids, ten of his own and two grandkids. But as he was fond of saying “Ambition is made of sterner stuff.” He had his daughters and sons put through college and most of them married – more grandchildren were on the way, and it looked like normalcy was back. But a year after I was born, my grandfather was in a car accident, and he lost the use of his other leg and his right hand. Now at age 62, he was confined to a wheelchair and 100% dependent on others.

I think you can safely guess he still had things he wanted to do and he held fast to his dreams. He did not give up his dreams.

  • He studied classical Indian dance and became an expert who every dancer of repute consulted on their latest projects.
  • He built a house in which a wheel-chair bound person could live by themselves – this was in the early 70s.
  • He became an educator for nurses who worked with the “handicapped” as they were called then.

By the time my grandpa passed in 1995, chess grandmasters, dance divas, Sanskrit scholars and hundreds of others’ lives had been touched by him. And the thousands who’d been through his college eulogized his memory.

I can’t think of a better example of what “Holding fast to your dreams” can achieve.

 

Dreams

Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.

Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow

Langston Hughes