Sep 292006

Choose Voice, Part II

Choose Voice, Part II

One reader writes to me: 

I am a vice president at a startup that isn’t in great shape.  We have some customers and a product that is meeting some market needs, but we’re way off our plan and don’t show signs of changing our trajectory in a material way.  I disagree with the direction our CEO is taking things, which is ok, but more important, our CEO refuses to listen to me when I try to discuss and debate strategy with her.  One of our board members has asked me what I thought we should do.  I don’t want to be disloyal to our CEO, and I want to seem like a team player who rallies behind the decision even if I don’t agree with it, but at the same time, I feel strongly that we’re going the wrong way and don’t want to be associated with a failed strategy or failed company.  What do I do?

My response:

Honesty really and truly is the best policy.  Always.  It just depends how you go about expressing it.

I talked about this a little bit a few weeks back in my post on Exit, Voice, and Loyalty.  Here are your options when you disagree with the system:  quit your job in protest (exit), express your opinions (voice), or suck it up and follow (loyalty).  I always say — choice voice.

If you and the CEO are at odds about the issues but she is being rational about it, you should try to encourage a broader, open debate with others.  Maybe not the whole board, maybe not the whole senior management team, but a smaller group.  Tell her that you are just concerned for the company’s future and feel like more rigorous conversation is required.  Do it in such a way that it’s her idea to call the meeting and lay out the options.  If the company is truly going sideways and she’s a rational being, she must be thinking about multiple options, even if she has an opinion about one of them.

Now, if the CEO isn’t being rational, you have a different challenge.  If that’s the case, and if you think she’s wrong, and if the company is going sideways, I’d say the likelihood of you staying as a long-term employee of that company with that CEO is low anyway, so it’s worth taking a little more risk. 

But I think you can do it in ways that mitigate your personal risk with the CEO.  One thing you could do is go to one board member and express your concern confidentially, tell the board member that he should force the CEO to call the same kind of open forum I described above.  Another thing you could do is to send an anonymous email to one or more board members expressing the same.  Another is to see how like-minded other senior managers are — and if lots of people agree with you, gang up and either stage an intervention with the CEO, or go as a group to the board.  And if the board just blindly backs the CEO without rigorous debate and laying out options, that should cause you to rethink where you work anyway.

UPDATED:  one executive coach who reads my blog just wrote in his $0.02:  The answer in my view is simple, which I should think you would prefer if it were your organization, you tell the CEO that you are going to the Board with your concerns and then if that does not trigger some more favorable process you do so, albeit, with the CEO’s knowledge.

Sep 262006

Doing Well by Doing Good, Part IV

Doing Well by Doing Good, Part IV

This series of posts has mostly been about things that people or companies do that help make the world a better place — sometimes when it’s their core mission, other times (here and here) when it becomes an important supporting role at the company.

Today’s post is different — it’s actually a Book Short as well of a new book that’s coming out later this fall called Green to Gold:  How Smart Companies Use Environmental Strategy to Innovate, Create Value, and Build Competitive Advantage, published by Yale Press and written by Daniel Esty (a Yale professor and consultant), and a good friend of mine, Andrew Winston, a corporate sustainability consultant.

Green to Gold is a must-read for anyone who (a) holds a leadership position in business or is a business influencer, and (b) cares about the environment we live in.  Its subtitle really best describes the book, which is probably the first (or if not, certainly the best) documentation of successful corporate environmentalstrategy on the market.

It’s a little reminiscent to me of Collins Built to Last and Good to Great in that it is meticulously researched with a mix of company interviews/cooperation and empirical and investigative work.  It doesn’t have Collins “pairing” framework, but it doesn’t need to in order to make its point.

If you liked Al Gore’s movie, An Inconvenient Truth, this book will satisfy your thirst for information about what the heck the corporate world is doing or more important, can do, to do its part in not destroying our ecosystem.  If you didn’t like Gore’s movie or didn’t see it because you don’t like Al Gore or don’t think that many elements of the environmental movement are worthwhile, this book is an even more important read, as it brings the theoretical and scientific to the practical and treats sustainability as the corporate world must treat it in order to adopt it as a mainstream practice — as a driver of capitalistic profit and competitive advantage.

This is a really important work in terms of advancing the cause of corporate social responsibility as it applies to the environment.  Most important, it proves the axiom here that you can, in fact, Do Well by Doing Good.  If you’re interested, you can pre-order the book here.  Also, the authors are writing a companion blog which you can get to here.

Sep 212006

New Deliverability Index is Out

New Deliverability Index is Out

Return Path’s semi-annual Sender Score Deliverability Index, which has become a sort of industry standard metric about how much non-spam commercial email is getting snared by ISP filters, is out.  You can read Heather Palmer Goff’s posting about it (and download the report and the metrics) on the Return Path blog here.

Sep 202006

Counter Cliche: Between Permission and Forgiveness

Counter Cliche:  Between Permission and Forgiveness

In today’s VC Cliche of the Week, Fred actually takes a Counter Cliche position himself when he talks about how in a startup, it’s NOT usually better to beg for forgiveness than to ask for permission, as the team needs to be aligned and on the same page.  But Fred does go on to say that startups as organizations need to act like mavericks, essentially that the organization needs to break some eggs in the industry in order to make an omelet.

I actually think in most organizations — particularly companies who used to be startups but are growing out of that phase (which is where we are at Return Path now) — there’s something in between Asking for Permission ahead of time and Begging for Forgiveness after the fact.  I’d call it the Courtesy of Notification. 

It comes down to practicality.  Consensus is usually good, but sometimes you just have to forge ahead with your initiative.  A healthy organization is one where most of the players know the rules and framework and mission and are empowered to make things happen.  There are lots of circumstances where "just doing it" makes sense, but making sure that relevant people at least know "it" is happening will save a lot of heartache down the road and probably create a safety valve to make sure there are no radically adverse unintended consequences.

So make sure you think about who in your organization is affected by the things you do, and when charging forward on your own, at least give your colleagues the Courtesy of Notification.

Filed under: Entrepreneurship

Sep 182006

Book Short: Just One Minute

Book Short:  Just One Minute

What The One Minute Manager does for basic principles of management and goal setting, The One Minute Manager Meets the Monkey does for delegation.  Both are blessedly quick reads (the classic “airport” book), and Ken Blanchard really nails some of management’s most critical components with simplicity and grace.

I’m a fan of the One Minute Manager school, and it does work well for some of the basics, but it has its limitations in terms of how broadly it can be applied.  My colleague Whitney McNamara‘s words in an email to me a few months back say it all:

OMM has actually been useful.  I have to agree that it’s got a bit of a “Jonathan Livingston Seagull” mystical simplicity thing going, but as you say, simple is sometimes what works best.

It’s really strong in that the basic lessons are at root so simple that they’re easy to forget about day to day…having them articulated in a similarly simple way, so that they stick at the top of mind easily, is nice.

The other side of that is that it presents such a simplified, best-of-all-possible-worlds sort of scenario that I did sometimes find myself wanting to set fire to the OMM’s office building and scream “let’s see you deal with *this* in 60 seconds, buddy”…but on balance a pretty good experience. :)

In the end, it’s not that good management is easy — but it can be quick and relatively painless if done well and regularly.

Sep 062006

A Better Way to Shop

A Better Way to Shop

I love Zappos.com.  It’s rapidly becoming the only place I buy shoes.  Their web site experience is ok – not perfect, but pretty good, but their level of service is just unbelievable.  They are doing for e-commerce (shoes in particular) what Eos is doing for air travel.

They’re always great at free shipping and have always been super responsive and very personal and authentic when it comes to customer service.  But today took the cake.  I emailed them when I placed an order for new running shoes because I also wanted to buy one of those little “shoe pocket” velcro thingies that straps onto shoelaces and holds keys and money for runners.  I didn’t find one on the Zappos site and just asked if they carried the item in case I missed it.

Less than 24 hours later, I got an email reply from Lori, a Customer Loyalty Representative there, who apologized for not carrying the item — and then provided me with a link to buy it on Amazon.com which she had researched online herself.

Zappos’s tag line on their emails says it all:

We like to think of ourselves as a service company that just happens to sell shoes.

Does your company think of itself and its commitment to customer service like that?

Sep 052006

Seth Responds

Seth Responds

About an hour after I posted a not so flattering review of Seth Godin’s new book this morning, I got an email from Seth with a couple good points worth responding to here.

His main points (other than offering me a refund, which was nice) were that (a) the book itself was very clear about its content — on the book itself (back cover, inside flap, marketing copy), kind of like a ‘live album’ for a recording artist; and (b) if I thought the blog postings were worthwhile, why  did I still feel like there was a downward trend in his writing?

Ok, so these are fair points.  Let me try to clarify.  I am 99% sure that I bought the book off the Amazon.com email which said “if you enjoyed other books by Seth Godin, then here’s his latest,” which prompted my robotic one-click order without paying attention to the fine print.  That’s why I was disappointed when I got the book.  My bad, I guess, although that’s somehow an unsatisfying thought as a consumer — that I should have paid more attention to the fine print.  Live albums from musicians usually have that in the title so the marketing is clear, and they still sell a ton, probably even more so.

In re-reading my review, I actually think it’s balanced — I do say there are a bunch of circumstances where the book is a must-have — but my use of the word “sell-out” was a bit harsh given the attempts to present the book as a compendium.  But the downward trend in my mind is more than just this book.  I think a lot of Seth’s writings have been hitting the same notes for the last couple of years, while I’ve been hoping to hear his next Big Moo.

I didn’t take up Seth’s offer for a refund, as I fall somewhere between (a) and (c) in my definition of why this is a must-have.  And while I’m at it, maybe I should rethink my earlier point that this whole blog thing isn’t about conversations.

Filed under: Books, Business, Email

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Sep 052006

Book Shorts: One Up, One Down

Book Shorts:  One Up, One Down

I read new books by two of my favorite authors today:  Geoffrey Moore and Seth Godin.  Moore’s was his best book in years; Godin’s was his worst.

Geoffrey Moore’s latest book, Dealing with Darwin:  How Great Companies Innovate at Every Phase of their Evolution, is Moore’s best book in a while. While I loved Crossing the Chasm and thought Inside the Tornado was a close second, both The Gorilla Game and Living on the Fault Line didn’t do it for me — they both felt like a pile of Silicon Valley buzzwords as opposed to the insightful and groundbreaking market definition in his first two books.

But Darwin is a gem. It goes back to Moore’s strengths in analyzing leading companies and creating a powerful framework for innovation that transcends industry and stage of company. And even better, the book has a few very useful “how to” lists to help readers interpret the content and adapt it to their own environments.

So whether you’re a Geoffrey Moore fan or not — assuming you are a fan of innovation and kicking your competitors’ collective butts — this book’s for you.

By contrast, Seth Godin’s Small Is the New Big is old news if you are a Seth Godin fan. It is literally a repackaging of essays, articles, and blog postings he’s written over the years. He’s trended down lately in his writing, like Moore (and most authors who have a single theme or two, it should be said), but unlike Moore, this book isn’t his recovery. The book is a must-have if you (a) love Seth’s writing and want a hard copy archive of his soft-copy stuff, (b) you don’t read Seth’s blog and want to see what you’ve been missing, or (c) you have his other books and are compulsive enough that you can’t stand incomplete collections.

Otherwise, wait for his next book, which hopefully will have some more of the original thinking and writing and ideas that made books like Permission Marketing, Unleashing the Ideavirus, and Purple Cow such new business classics.  I have to say, the thing that disappointed me most here is that I felt like Seth totally sold out with this book — as a regular reader of his, I just felt duped by the Godin Marketing Machine, which is precisely the kind of thing he rants against.  There was definitely NO Free Prize Inside this one.

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