Give Them A Way To Tell You Something Bad

May 01, 2013

So last week I attended the Georgia Center for Child Advocacy Change Makers breakfast at the invite of a friend. As promised it was a moving and informative event.

The keynote speaker was Dave Moody whose firm, C.D. Moody Construction Co., is the second-largest minority contractor in Georgia (after H.J. Russell & Co.) and No. 46 in Black Enterprise magazine’s 2012 list of the nation’s 100 largest black businesses. Quite the successful guy, with quite the story. Dave was sexually abused as a child. The Penn State sex abuse scandal drove him to go public with his personal story in order to help others.

His presentation was emotional and moving. And one thing he said really stuck with me. "Always give them a way to tell you something bad." It's true with your kids and applies to business as well. You have to give your employees a way to tell you bad news and believe/support them when they give it to you.

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Posted in Management, Presentations

More Americans Working From Home

Mar 06, 2013

Timely article in The Wall Street Journal today. Seems like there has been a big jump in people working from home in the U.S according to the Census Bureau. 

More Americans Working Remotely

Some 13.4 million people work from home at least one day a week. Surprised that management leads the way.

Favoriate quote "home-based workers are more likely to work from home on Fridays and Mondays, potentially extending their weekends."

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Posted in Management

I Was Fired

Mar 03, 2013

Not me. Andrew Mason. The founder and CEO of Groupon. His letter to employees and the fact he publicly posted it because he knew it would leak are classic.

People of Groupon,

After four and a half intense and wonderful years as CEO of Groupon, I've decided that I'd like to spend more time with my family. Just kidding - I was fired today. If you're wondering why... you haven't been paying attention. From controversial metrics in our S1 to our material weakness to two quarters of missing our own expectations and a stock price that's hovering around one quarter of our listing price, the events of the last year and a half speak for themselves. As CEO, I am accountable.

You are doing amazing things at Groupon, and you deserve the outside world to give you a second chance. I'm getting in the way of that. A fresh CEO earns you that chance. The board is aligned behind the strategy we've shared over the last few months, and I've never seen you working together more effectively as a global company - it's time to give Groupon a relief valve from the public noise.

For those who are concerned about me, please don't be - I love Groupon, and I'm terribly proud of what we've created. I'm OK with having failed at this part of the journey. If Groupon was Battletoads, it would be like I made it all the way to the Terra Tubes without dying on my first ever play through. I am so lucky to have had the opportunity to take the company this far with all of you. I'll now take some time to decompress (FYI I'm looking for a good fat camp to lose my Groupon 40, if anyone has a suggestion), and then maybe I'll figure out how to channel this experience into something productive.

If there's one piece of wisdom that this simple pilgrim would like to impart upon you: have the courage to start with the customer. My biggest regrets are the moments that I let a lack of data override my intuition on what's best for our customers. This leadership change gives you some breathing room to break bad habits and deliver sustainable customer happiness - don't waste the opportunity!

I will miss you terribly.



The guy does have reason to be terribly proud. My take is that moving on is the best thing for both Groupon and Mason. The guy is set and it will be interesting to see his next adventure.

Have the courage to start with the customer. Good advice.

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Posted in Customer Focus, Management, Startups, Stocks

Working From Home

Mar 01, 2013

Last week All Things D broke the news that Yahoo's Marissa Mayers was banning remote working. The move was widely panned. Wired called it "stupid". Forbes an "epic fail."

I disagree.

Mayers has been raked over the coals with comparisons to Facebook and Google. Yet Google's CFO, Patrick Pichette, has said that working at home or teleworking is not the best environment for new ideas to grow and thrive and that very few Google employees work remotely.

I am with the search giant on this one. To me working at the office not only increases sharing, collaboration, and productivity it also leads to better personal career development.

While I believe that remote working can be effective in more mature companies and markets for those with individual contributor roles, it does not work well in fast growing technology companies. And for a big company that needs to wake up, eliminating remote working is the right move. According to a Yahoo insider remote working was a way for people to slack off and essentially work part time.

Before I am accused of being some management neanderthal I do believe in the concept of ROWE. I do believe in offering proven performers the flexibility to manage both their lives and their job responsibilities. I have let two first time mothers go from full-time employees to part-time job sharers. In the office.

When I have observed employees being given set times that they do not have to come into the office the result has also been the same. Decreased productivity. Because they are not working a hard as if they were in an office environment.

Remote working. Just say no.

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Posted in Management

How To Create An Employee Handbook

Jan 30, 2013

If you follow me on Twitter, you know that I have been tolling on creating an employee handbook for Half Off Depot. Mostly on Saturday mornings. And I told some people that I would publish it when I finished. Well I can't do that.

As it turns out section 6.2 of the Half Off Depot Employee Handbook addresses the issue of confidenitality. And it states restricted documents can not be given to a person outside of the company. The Half Off Depot Employee Handbook is marked confidential. I can not share it without violating the provisions of a handbook I wrote. Go figure. I guess the next best thing would be to tell you how I went about creating the 30 page beast.

So when I started at Half Off Depot I was employee number 21. We had an employee handbook. It was designed for a company with about 20 employees. The big driver of the project was that we were quickly going to be approaching 70 or so employees. They needed some rules. I started with that designed for 20 people handbook. But I needed more, much more. So our corporate counsel provided a very legal cover every base handbook that was just way too serious. Way.

But it was a good outline. I just had to move all the super legal cover your bases to the back. Employees don't care about EEOC BS (and BTW I guess at this point I should state that I am a big believer in acceptance and diversity). Employees want to know work hours, vacation, and holidays.

So started asking folks that I know at similar sized companies about their handbooks. Three people that know and trust me quite well offered to provide me with copies of their handbooks as long as I never ever shared them with anyone else. While I would like to publicly thank them I fear that might even break a confidence. Thanks boys and girls. You know who you are.

Well it took me a little while to realize this but it just so happens one of the folks that provided me with their company handbook share the same corporate counsel that we use at Half Off Depot. It was way less stuffy and boring but covered the important topics. I took those two handbooks and combined them in a way that Half Off Depot actually operates on a day to day basis. When I was finished with that I compared the result with the other three I had at my disposal. Filled in a few potholes. Thing of beauty. All in it took me about 40 hours to get it together.

So the way to create an employee handbook is to get your hands on some and adapt them to the way you operate your business. It really is as easy as that.

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Posted in Half Off Depot, Management

On The Management Team

Mar 22, 2012

One of my favorite bloggers is Fred Wilson. I don't have tons of time to read blogs these days but I still try to make my way to A VC once or twice a week. Some time ago Fred started a series called MBA Mondays. There are about 100 articles in the series now. 

As a guy with an MBA and a bit of startup experience I found much of the early content not very interesting (though I suspect it is highly interesting to someone with no formal business education). More recently Fred has been writing about the management team during various stages of startup growth. The last post was on management while building the business. There is a great quote in there:

"The people side of the business is harder and way more complicated than building a product is." 

It is. People are messy. But not many entrepreneurs think about this. Perhaps because few get to the growth stage. At Half Off Depot I am right in it. After revenue it is the most important thing I do every day.

After he wrapped up his last post in the subject Fred did something that was brilliant. He had a series of guest posts on management. They are really good, with nuggets of wisdom throughout. Below is a favorite thought from each guest blogger. Something that I personally believe. Anyone that aspires to lead or be a part of a successful startup should take the time to read these guest posts. Because after you build the product and initial user base it really is all about management.

Jerry Colonna
"Surrendering to the demons that torment your organization does not mean abdicating your responsibilities to manage. You are still responsible for dealing with the reality of what is. In some cases, the demon is the wrong vision for the company. In others, it might be that you’ve hired the wrong people. In still others, it might be your own failings—like an inability to admit that you’re wrong."

Joel Spolsky
"Stop thinking of the management team at the top of the organization. Start thinking of the software developers, the designers, the product managers, and the front line sales people as the top of the organization."

Joel mgmt

Phil Sugar
"I go on as many sales calls and customer visits as I can.  I’ve been told that once I hire a Head of Sales, I should stay out of the process.  I totally disagree.  I am not going to be the one managing the process, but I want to hear what the market is saying directly."

"Bad news --- your generation did not invent sex.  It does not have to invent the crafting of companies either.  Someone else has also done this before."

Matt Blumberg
“Management teams never scale intact as you grow the business.  Someone always breaks.”

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Posted in Management

Remember Where You Came From

Mar 12, 2012

So about a week ago I posted an article about the eight qualities of remarkable employees. It was inspired by an article by Jeff Haden and he is back at it again with the five qualities of remarkable bosses. I try to live by some of the qualities that Jeff points out like never asking an employee to do something that I would not do myself. But his last point really hit home. 

Always remember where you came from.

To some of your employees, especially new employees, you are at least slightly famous. You’re in charge. You’re the boss.

That's why an employee who wants to talk about something that seems inconsequential may just want to spend a few moments with you.

When that happens, you have a choice. You can blow the employee off... or you can see the moment for its true importance: A chance to inspire, reassure, motivate, and even give someone hope for greater things in their life. The higher you rise the greater the impact you can make—and the greater your responsibility to make that impact.

In the eyes of his or her employees, a remarkable boss is a star.

The pressures of trying to grow a startup make it so so easy to blow off an employee that wants to chat for a few minutes. A manager's most important job is to help their employee's do theirs. Doing that means being available for them when they need you, not just when it is convenient for you.

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Posted in Management

8 Qualities of Remarkable Employees

Feb 29, 2012

So I came across this article the other day at Inc.called 8 Qualities of Remarkable Employees by Jeff Haden. Here's the quick list.

  1. They ignore job descriptions. 
  2. They’re eccentric.
  3. But they know when to dial it back. 
  4. They publicly praise.
  5. And they privately complain. 
  6. They speak when others won’t. 
  7. They like to prove others wrong.
  8. They’re always fiddling. 

The link was sent to me by one of Half Off Depot's investors. The note simply said "this describes you." First time I ever took being a bit quirky as a compliment.

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Posted in Management, Personal

College Degree Required

Feb 28, 2012

So I week or so I tweet out that I was looking for a receptionist. Entry level college grad was the gist of it. I got four potentials on short order but I also got a few questions. College grad to be a receptionist? Really?

Well yeah.

While I am looking for a receptionist, and about five other gigs for that matter, it is really a bit more than that. I am looking for smart people that can grow and contribute in a startup environment. Two of the things it takes to do so is smarts and drive. Rightly or wrongly having the gumption to go get yourself a degree can serve as an indicator of those two things. It's a screen. A proxy of some sort. It is why Google only hires from top tier universities. 

A gotta add that one of the people that questioned me is one of the smartest technologists that I know. A Georiga Tech drop out to play CTO for a hyper growth startup. About four successful ones at this point. Sometimes a degree just slows you down.

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Posted in Management

Three Types To Term

Jan 31, 2012

Not to long ago a nice article (regardless of the title) made its way to my inbox. It was called "Three Types of People to Fire Immediately" by G. Michael Maddock and Raphael Louis Viton. It kicked off with this:

“I wanted a happy culture. So I fired all the unhappy people.”

                            —A very successful CEO (who asked not to be named)

Lots of detail in the article but the gist of it is if you have tried to change people and they won't adapt they need to go away. Below are the three types of people to fire immediately.

1. The Victims; people looking for problems not opportunities.

2. The Nonbelievers; the difference between winning and losing is desire.

3. The Know It Alls; they will snuff out any sparks of change.

While the job of management is to improve people's performance sometimes they just won't change. You don't want these types of people in your organization. They will stifle innovation and growth. 

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Posted in Management
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