Sunday, June 14, 2015

The Hard Thing about Mergers and Acquisitions

Mergers can be fun.  I'm mostly kidding.  They're hard hard work and most of the time fail.  Companies are typically acquired for either customers or technology and little thought is given to the nurturing or even preservation of people.  Many times there exists a my way or the highway mentality, especially when it's a large company acquiring a smaller company.  

How do we play this game better?  How do you thrive in this new environment?  Having been through it a few times, I've boiled it down to 3 things as guide posts on the people road.

Take care of the people, the products, and the profits - in that order.

Know the goals and motivations -  The goal of merging may seem obvious but it is often poorly articulated.  Create a phased goal for the integration team.  If you can parse the integration into digestible and measurable chunks, just like on any other project, it will go better.  Understand people's motivations on both sides of the integration.  Are people incentivized to make this work?  What/When output is expected?  Get this info together and make a plan that truly incentivizes the people who will make it work.

Identify leaders who can be culture bearersFind the people in the acquired organization who have the ability to lead and are already somewhat aligned with the culture of the acquiring organization.  Give them some responsibility in the integration that they can be successful at.  People will start to follow and values will be reinforced. 

Look for ways to bond the teams and measure itCelebrate wins and ask for people to participate in the process to come up with solutions when you fail.  These are the things that bond new teams together.  The more wins you create, the more people will feel good about the situation.  The trials create lasting bonds if the leaders can bring the people together to create a jointly owned solution.  It's not hard to measure engagement.  If you baseline people's engagement level around the goals of integration and pulse survey it you can easily get a sense of where people's heads are at and whether you're making progress or momentum is slipping.  
M&A integrations are never easy and many of them fail to live up to the expectations of the acquirer.  If you get the people part right the other pieces will start to fall into place.  As Ben Horowitz says in his book, "The Hard Thing About Hard Things", "Take care of the people, the products, and the profits - in that order."

Saturday, June 06, 2015

Pennywise and Culture Foolish

As we grow our business we are always looking for ways to improve it, ways to measure and apply focus, more efficient ways to achieve our goals. Most of these optimizations have historically had little to do with the most expensive asset of our business: our people.

 We have purchased all manner of platforms, tools, mobile apps to enhance productivity. Tools such as, Hubspot, QuickBooks, Supply Chain Management tools like SAP to get better at getting the right materials to the right spot at the right time. And we have spent trillions of dollars doing so.

 All of this spending has occurred while spending on fostering and optimizing talent has languished. This negligent phenomenon can be most likely attributed to the view of HR as a cost center. HR is typically not viewed as strategic and the tools, platforms, and apps are part of that cost center.

 Even while so much attention has been placed on Culture in mainstream media illustrated here in this New York Times article from May 2015.
One recent survey found that more than 80 percent of employers worldwide named cultural fit as a top hiring priority.

Domino is your business.  Courtesy of The Oatmeal

We need to start viewing how we manage our people as strategic advantage and pull it out from under the yoke of HR.  Optimizing people requires understanding how people are wired, what drives and motivates them, the type of environment they thrive in, and who they are surrounded by.  Everyone has experienced this as Culture Flow (borrowing from author Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi book on The Psychology of Optimal Experience) and typically happens for a brief time when everything comes together for a company.  When it happens it's really cool and the organization covers ground in months that would typically take years.

You have to pay attention and invest in culture to achieve Culture Flow.  And to pay attention you must understand how people are wired in your organization.  The first step to optimizing your most expensive asset, like optimizing every other part of your business is getting at the data.  You wouldn't go on a road trip without a map, you wouldn't start a business without first understanding the market, and you can't grow a culture without first understanding the values of your people.  It's so much less expensive than the wrong turns you'll make without a map.

Don't run your business like Domino and don't be pennywise and culture foolish.  Go figure it out.  You'll  find Culture Flow and as a result everything in your business will start to get easier.

Saturday, April 04, 2015

Be a Wingman

As I was watching this morning's television news sports reporter interview a few of the boys from a local high school lacrosse team, I found myself thinking, "how poised are these kids?"  Sure, they're a little camera shy, and they used the word "awesome" a bit too much, but what was truly impressive was the praise they deflected towards their teammates.  

Now, you see this all the time with athletes at all levels, so much so, that I have to believe that it has become a core component of the coaching curriculum.

It got me thinking about the crossover to all teams in life, and in particular how it relates to the vibe and overall enjoyment at work.  Work is at its best, similar to sports teams, when everyone takes pride in what they do and everyone knows that they can depend on their team members. But what makes a team truly special is when there's personal glue.

Personal glue is the bond of caring.  When a team has chemistry it binds together via a set of shared values and experiences, shaped through overcoming obstacles with the positive reinforcement of "winning".   As a result, personal bonds emerge and the team starts to take on its own identity.  There is no greater way to reinforce that identity than to pass accolades on to teammates.

It cements the glue.  And even though every team member is special and critical in their own right, the team wins and is much more likely to continue on that track.   Now we have a virtuous cycle, a self reinforcing, annealing, winning machine.

In another word, "fun"

So, to get the "fun" engine running, be a wingman.  Pass on some of those accolades.  Celebrate the wins.  Build the glue.   

Watching those lacrosse kids almost made me jealous.  They're part of something bigger than each of them individually, and they're having so much fun. Then I remembered,  I'm in the same boat with an amazing team of my own, its my kids, it's my crew @roundpegg,  it's the great peeps @awesomeboulder.

Find your over awesome.  Start by being a great wingman.

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

Anna Karenina review

Anna Karenina, Vol 1 of 2Anna Karenina, Vol 1 of 2 by Leo Tolstoy
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Tolstoy is a master of emotional nuance and the human spirit. I found some of the chapters on Levin and his farm to be tedious but outside of that was a brilliant read. The inner demons that haunt people in relationships whether between Levin and Kitty or Anna and Vronsky are so intriguing. I found myself thinking how crazy the characters become, but know, under certain circumstances, I've been in exactly the same place. When love and the overt struggle for power interplay, magic and tragedy can and often do happen. I also enjoyed the steeple chase as allegory of Anna's downfall.

Yes! This is a "must read" for any literary enthusiast.

View all my reviews

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Pay Attention

Your best employees are crushing it for you.  The number one, two, and three things that drive them are feeling successful in their job, making you proud of the awesome work they're doing,  and feeling like they're making a difference.  If you listen, you'll find out what it is they need.

 Marina Shifrin gives us a flat out brilliant example of not doing this.  In her viral video on quitting her job (and doing Kanye West's "Gone" some dance justice) she explains the thing that was vitally important in doing her best, that quality is important, especially when your name is stamped all over it.
Just listen.  You'll be surprised at what a difference it can make.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

(26) Startups: How to Communicate Traction... by Brendan Baker - Quora

My co-founder at RoundPegg brought this to my attention the other day.

If your company plans to be or is venture backed, it's a gem. Venture Capitalists are looking for traction and momentum. Companies exhibiting exponential progress are much more likely to be funded or further funded than companies experiencing linear growth.

Figure out what to measure, drive it, measure it.

(26) Startups: How to Communicate Traction... by Brendan Baker - Quora:

"4) Choose Your Y Axis

Broadly, I find traction most convincing in the following order:
- Profitability
- Revenues
- Active users
- Registered users
- Engagement
- Partnerships/clients
- Traffic"

Monday, January 04, 2010

Eight Rules for Internal Meetings

Time goes by so fast when you're in a startup. There is always too much to do and when you look around for someone to assign a task to you usually end up doing it yourself (thinking they already have too much to do too). So time is of the essence. With that in mind let's tick off my top 8 rules for internal meetings:

  1. Don't - don't meet unless you need to. This sounds like a no brainer but happens more often than you would think. Sometimes you need to get together to get on the same page but most times an email suffices.
  2. Agendify - know what you want to accomplish going in and work towards an agreed upon result.
  3. Moderate - some people will take meetings off track from the planned agenda. Politely interrupt, acknowledge their concern, move it back on track.
  4. Pare - who really needs to be there? Reduce the size of the meeting to the essential people needed to make a decision. More people = more time waste.
  5. Summarize - when you've reached a conclusion, summarize it and move on.
  6. Time Block - consistently have meetings in the same time block. Pick mornings or afternoons or schedule even tighter. "we will only have meetings between 1-4 on Tuesdays or Thursdays" This forces people to use the time efficiently and gives them a known productive block when meetings will not take place.
  7. Start - start the meetings on time whether everyone has shown or not. This gets everyone in the habit of showing up on time. I have been super guilty of this in the past. It isn't good for anyone. If this is you, just acknowledge that you're time challenged and make an extra effort to get moving earlier. This shows respect for everyone there and starts the meeting on solid footing.
  8. Cookies! - absolutely! If you're running the meeting you should always bring cookies.

... for completeness, here are a few other posts that cover the subject.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Alternative 18 countdown for 2009

I've listed SiriusXm's top 18 requested songs for their Alt radio station 2009. I starred the ones I prefer (one star = good, two stars = great, three stars = buy it right now. Just having dined at Cyrus outside of Napa, I'm going with the Michelin Guide stars rating system :).

As a side note, and even though none of them made it on this list are the Scots. There've been a number of really good Scottish bands to emerge lately and these three I like in particular. The entire Midnight Organ Fight lp from Frightened Rabbit is a well written emotional roller coaster with beautifully haunted arrangements.

Frightened Rabbit - The Modern Leper**
They Promised Us Jetpacks - Quiet Little Voices*

other tasting notes - Ike Reilly must surely be the least known brilliant song writer out there. Hard Luck Stories just came out in 2009 and is fairly good but in the three star category are both "Salesmen and Racists" and "We Belong to the Staggering Evening." I don't know of any other artist who can quite cut to the quick of this beautiful mess we call life.

Also, if you get the chance to see Wilco in concert, don't pass it up. I saw them last minute at Red Rocks outside of Denver this year. Red Rocks is a magical venue anyway, but together with Wilco was out of this world. I believe the encore set was longer than the main set. No one wanted to leave.

Enjoy and happy listening in 2010!

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