The Power of “We” in Building High Performing Teams

 

Bosses versus Leaders

 

Many years ago, I got the opportunity to sit through a lecture given by an executive of a large company in Atlanta.  He had come to talk about his experiences in business and some of his key lessons learned.  I meticulously logged and wrote down his words that night, more than ten years back, and have kept them close ever since.

One particular jewel he provided which has alway stuck with me was “Seek Results Not Credit”.  Now that one little statement seems innocuous enough but I believe it is full of life changing wisdom, particularly for entrepreneurs, if it’s root meaning can be truly grasped and applied for good.

Too often in business, individuals and teams get very caught up in the “credit” side of their endeavors and they often fail to appreciate the much more important “results” side.  If we look at some of the most successful enterprises of modern day, particularly in the software / SaaS arenas, you will see highly motivated, often organizationally flat teams that rallied together, sacrificed and bled together, and in the end triumphed.  The triumph was not the act of a single contributor but the act of the team, the WE.

Unfortunately, often times the WE gets overlooked and organizations fall into what my wife and I like to call the “pronoun game”.  (Writer’s Note:  Since writing this article I’ve been informed that the pronoun game actually has a meaning in LGB communities too…who’d a thunk it). 

In our house, a common yellow-card foul is when one of us invokes a particular “I” oriented phraseology to indicate arduous or more than a fair-share of the work.  For instance, “well was busy with that fantastic microwave dinner, while YOU were searching for your latest “Art of Zen” Adult Coloring Book”  so I have no idea who used permanent marker on our new bed sheets”.   Our kids like to jump in on the pronoun game occasionally too.  “Mom & Dad, did all the work and They didn’t help.”   You get the picture.

In our home, the pronoun game is a fun little policing mechanism that we all use to help us paint boundaries around the culture of our household that we choose to have.  However, in corporate scenarios, the pronoun game is not a joking matter.  Environments that are plagued by “I” mentalities if left unchecked can wreak absolute havoc to business productivity, achievement and morale.  These “I” environments, as I’ll call them, generally are allowed to exist by the culture of the founders, entrepreneurs or executives and are not easily changed.

At it’s root, business is a team sport.  Great businesses…aspirational businesses are built through a loose amalgamation of great people banding together and agreeing to not only help one another but focus on a higher good, the customer, the idea, the next-great breakthrough.  In these environments there is no room for “I”, there is only room for the “We”.

As I sat through that night and listened to this great Atlanta executive opine and summarize his many decades of experiences in succinct and hard-hitting verses I was mesmerized.   That one statement has meant a great deal to me over the years and I think can be a catalyst for great change in your enterprise if you are currently playing the pronoun game.

Summer Cadence and Meritocracies

Summer StartupThe summer.  That magical time when you get to lay back, sip a mojito, maybe lazily take in the beach air and reflect on all the great work you’ve done to get you to June.   Summer in business has become analogous with that mid-marathon point where you slow your pace to a slightly lumbering 9:30 mile or apply a little brake and down-shift into that particularly technical track corner before really opening it up on the straight away.

Summer for some of us is all about a mid-point of reflection and taking a breather.  Sound like your summer laid out?  If yes, congrats and please thank the 50,000 other people at your company who are helping to allow you to idle your engines for a brief sojourn.  If no, bravo sir or madame, I salute you!

Don’t get me wrong, breaks, summers, sojourns and reflection are awesome but often times these come at a price.  The price is a relative equation that has an exponential variable involved if you are a  rapidly growing company in a particularly competitive market.   For many large Fortune 100 companies the pace of business is fairly static and the cadre of personnel employed allows a brief mid-point reflection in the US to create hardly a blip across the multi-national spectrum in which these entities operate.

For companies that are smaller than these 100 giants (hint: there are a lot of them) – the summer can be a chance to refine your strategy, accelerate your execution, or get closer to prospects and customers.  I’ve enjoyed the summer immensely but have also been busy at work trying to advance our company’s (Edelberg & Associates) mission.  The summer has also reminded me of the importance of my bond with my other friends and colleagues in this business.  This bond is based on a joint expectation that no matter what we are doing or where we are at we all know that at the end of the day our place in the business is decided by our contributions, in effect a true “meritocracy“.

 

 

Groupon – Lesson for Entrepreneurs?

So this may be admittedly old news, and I also am willing to acknowledge that looking in the rear view mirror is a luxury entrepreneurs don’t have… that being said, WTF Groupon?

Here is the quick timeline: (1) Groupon sees interesting opportunity to take what effectively amounts to a coupon book online to the masses, (2) Groupon is first mover and grabs headlines and market share, (3) Big Gorilla (aka Google) sees success and wants in, (4) $6 Billion dollar offer to Groupon and it is denied, (5) Groupon goes public and now is in fierce competition with lots of other “johnny-come-latelies” in market that is getting saturated with price pressures & margins are quickly eroding.

I could ruminate on this to great length but I think I’ll keep it simple and to the point.  Here are the items that I’ve learned from this unfolding drama between Groupon and Google from an entrepreneurship perspective:

(1) Recognize Luck vs. Skill – Not trying to incite a riot here but let’s be honest, Groupon is a local advertising / coupon book taken to the web.  They did awesome with it and executed flawlessly.  My point with this one is that sometimes right time, right place and the synchronicity of all the variables coming together needs to be acknowledged and appreciated and taken advantage of.

(2) Be Mindful of the Market – I think most persons if they project out could have realized the business model of Groupon is one that is damn hard to defend against.  The technology is widely available, the secret sauce of sales is their massive sales team and copy writers.  As we see today everybody is in the local coupon space.  Being mindful of the market and realistic about the business you’ve created (see point #1) are key.

(3) Think Worst Case – 1000 scenarios could have manifested post Google offer presentation. However, the worst case scenario was that Groupon turned down the money and saw their healthy lead in the marketplace becoming infiltrated with wanna-be’s and others who may have been equally cash rich.  Jump til’ today – guess what happened?…. it’s a straight out bare fisted, gang fight in this market that Groupon competes in.  In an alternative scenario, upon acceptance of the $6 Billion clams that Google was offering here is what would have happened –  (a) Groupon team got handsomely rewarded for 2 years of effort, (b) They got a buyout company with deep pockets and already massive leverage / data and reach into local markets, (c) They transferred the market risk to the buyout entity.   I like the latter a bit better.

(4) Recycle and Innovate.  What do entrepreneurs love? In my opinion, they love the thrill of the hunt, creating something from nothing, and absolutely loving what they do.  Maybe Andrew Mason so loved Groupon that upon the $6 Billion offer from Google he decided his love child was better off going it along.  I’m not sure.  One thing I can say is that for me – continually innovating is my passion.  At a $6 Billion buyout offer from Google, Groupon and the guys that created and made it successful could have a hell of a lot of passion to continue their entrepreneurial pursuits.

So in the short analysis, I think this was a bone headed decision. I sure as hell hope it wasn’t motivated by greed and the belief that if Google would pay $6 Billion then surely we must be worth $10 …. sadly, however, I do believe there was a bit of dollar / valuation chasing taking place on this one.  In the end, no one but the team will know whether they made the right decision – but for me, in the lens of the rear view I certainly have learned some valuable lessons from what they did. So for that Groupon, thank you….and no I won’t be making any buyout offers any time soon.

 

Previous Articles & Interviews re: Groupon

Interview with Andrew Mason (CEO) via All Things Digital – Summer 2010

Buyout Offer from Google Details via All Things Digital – Winter 2010

Success of Google Offers & Should Groupon Have Taken the Deal – Fall 2011

The Power of Presentation

The Christmas tree was gone, the wreaths were put away, and the assorted knick-knacks that make their yearly pilgrimage to my living room were back gathering dust in the attic. What to do now?

Well of course I had to set up my Christmas gift, the Apple TV. As I began opening the box I was amazed at the quality of packaging and presentation that occurs with every Apple product I purchase. Each product has a symmetry and precision to it that is both remarkable and exciting.

As I was opening and taking apart power cords and reading through instructions it made me think of how nice it is to receive a high performing product and to also receive it in a well thought out presentation. I know many times in my business activities, (I’ve been guilty as well), there is a great deal of time spent on the quality of the output but little effort spent on the packaging or overall presentation. It’s analogous to shelling out $10,000 for a beautiful, precise time instrument (i.e. Rolex) for your best friend and then putting it in a brown-paper bag with a bow on top. How many times, particularly, in the professional services industry do we work day and night on a white-paper, strategic assessment, or new version of software and then the big-day, the day of presentation arrives, and the “wrapper” for that product / service is an after thought?

With Apple, do to the quality of their presentation plus the product itself I’ve developed a dual affinity. This dual affinity is centered in confidence that the product will work as specified but also in the excitement of how I will receive and “discover” that product. This discovery process is putting your best foot forward and is the opportunity to WOW them.

In business, most any company or individual service provider could take notes from Apple regarding how to expertly present a product. What are your thoughts? Do you have experience with good and or bad packaging and the impact on your overall experience?

Lessons in Entrepreneurship via the Lemonade Stand

This past weekend I got the awesome pleasure of working for less than minimum wage in the hot Georgia sun!  What you say?  I got to be a  barista of a different order, instead of being a fine purveyor of wonderfully roasted coffee beans and scrumptious delights, I was pushing a fine yellow powder kissed with just the right amount of water and with a tinge of sweetness.  Really confused? I hope not. Simply put, I had the awesome pleasure to help my daughter in her very own lemonade stand.

The “big event” had been some weeks in the making and finally our big break occurred.  The neighborhood was hosting a garage sale.  What goes better with other people’s dusty junk and the Georgia heat and humidity?  If you answered Ice Cold Lemonade from a pretty, blond-headed five year old you would be right on the money.  Although my daughter probably was more focused on drinking some of the fruits of her entrepreneurial efforts I had a slightly more educational approach in mind.  I had the pleasure of reading a post some months ago on Sebastian Marshall’s blog regarding entrepreneurship and what it really means to be an entrepreneur.  Its a great article linked here:  “What Skills Do You Need to be an Entrepreneur, Only Two”.   In the article Sebastian mentioned showing his future kids the path of an entrepreneur at an early age, showing them specifically how to (1) add value to the things they touch & (2) get some share of the value they create.  This is a wonderfully simple idea and kudos to Sebastian for boiling down an idea that graduate business school professors (no offense to my special professor buddy at a great school) spend months trying to teach.

My goal in this endeavour was simple, help Mackenzie understand the concept of entrepreneurship and particularly the concept of investing and most importantly “PROFIT”.   All in all it was a tremendous success and something that I will continue to repeat in different forms and fashions with both Mackenzie and my other daughter Carrigan.  The formula for us that worked so well was pretty simple:

  1. I let Mackenzie use her “investment” envelope to buy the supplies.  She counted out the money, she knew how much she was investing & I let her decide what she wanted to purchase (with a bit of guidance).  Her total investment was $6.50 – including bottled water, ice, lemonade mix, fresh lemons, etc. (NOTE: We use the Dave Ramsey school of thought with our daughter.  Each week she gets a small allowance that she allocates (her choice) to four different envelopes (a) spend (b) save (c) invest (d) donate.)
  2. I let her carry her money, pay the cashier, etc.  (seems small but the concept of money, profit, revenue, etc. is an elusive one when your 5)
  3. We discussed our marketing, how would we get people to purchase her lemonade.  The concept of competition, marketing, sales tactics … you get the idea – some great concepts here.   This was particularly funny part of our endeavour in that Mackenzie decided one of the best tactics for drawing in customers was dancing around, smiling big and waving while shouting “Ice Cold Lemonade”.
  4. During our selling I encouraged her with some ways she could interact with her customers (selling) and attracting the crowds (marketing). This also resulted in a funny outcome.  One particular patron who was perusing earlier said “dusty junk” was not in the mood for lemonade.  However, after four very convincing sales pitches from the 5 year old she folded like proverbial cheap suit.
  5. I encouraged her to manage her money and the transactions. Giving people change, managing the supplies, making more product… it was her business and I helped her keep track of the moving pieces.
  6. As we wrapped up the day’s activities we had a lengthy sit-down where she counted her sales for that day.  We talked a bit about the concept of sales, etc and what that means.
  7. We then payed her investment envelope back (the whopping $6.50) and were left with her profit.   We talked a bit about profit and the idea that in those 4 hours she made $15 in profit.  Normally her allowance is $5 per week.  The point she got very quickly was in a few hours of work she made “ALOT” (her words) more than what she normally does.  …This was the best realization – she labored, she applied her ingenuity and her talents (ADDED VALUE) and then got to pocket the profit (GETTING A SHARE OF THE VALUE SHE CREATED).
All in all – the lemonade stand was a total success and a really exciting time for me too.  To see entrepreneurship and these sometimes difficult concepts come into clarity for my five year old daughter was truly awesome!  For me to get back to my love of entrepreneurship and see it through the early lens of my daughter was equally awesome!

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PERSEVERANCE

So each day when I wake up and get the day started I walk out of my bedroom and am greeted by this picture of President Abraham Lincoln.  My wife got it for me several years ago for Christmas after I commented how much I liked the theme of the print and the saying.  I generally am a bit cynical when it comes to these success oriented blurbs with catchy themes like “vision”, “inspiration”, and so on.  In fact, its enough sometimes to make you think you are locked in an old episode of “The Office”, walking into another great day at Dunder Mifflin. 

“Office” comments aside, I really enjoyed this particular piece and its a great saying to wake up to each day.  This past year has been a real meat grinder on several fronts.  Business, life, etc.   Some has been exciting and inspirational, other moments have been stressed and lonely.  I was one of the unfortunate many that got caught flat footed in the real estate bubble.  What started off as a fun hobby with a few rental houses ballooned into quite a business with lots of houses and other side ventures (on top of my regular day gig by the way).  That was all great on the upswing but the new market reality has created quite a “shit” storm to be perfectly blunt. 

That being said, life is there to be lived, experienced, chances taken, rewards and penalties received.  I’m not happy about some of the current economic realities but the alternative to all of this is never trying, never putting yourself out there, never dreaming, achieving or pushing yourself.  I know that I’ll get through this and be stronger, better and more experienced for it… but some days the struggle is taxing to say the least. 

So each day when I wake up I am greeted by this view of Honest Abe and the wonderful saying below.  For all of those out there enduring your own challenges in life, love and business – here is something to brighten your day.   To me, the quote is priceless and so true.  

“Perseverance”

He FAILED in business in ’31.
He was DEFEATED for state legislature in ’32.
He tried another business in ’33. It FAILED.
His fiancee died in ’35.
He had a nervous BREAKDOWN in ’36.
In ’43 he ran for Congress and was DEFEATED.
He tried again in ’48 and was DEFEATED again.
He tried running for the Senate in ’55. He LOST.
The next year he ran for Vice President and LOST.
In ’59 he ran for the Senate again and was DEFEATED.
In 1860, the man who signed his name A. Lincoln,
was elected the 16th President of the United States.

“The difference between history’s boldest accomplishments, 
and its most staggering failures is often, simply, 
the diligent will to persevere.”

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