Surviving the Shift to Growth Mode

A Growing Company

A Growing Company

In the 14 years I’ve been with the Fool I’ve seen us take on a huge amount of capital from venture capitalists, septuple our workforce on a fragile business model, turn around and reduce our workforce seven times after said model collapsed, slowly build a sustainable business model, get to cash flow positive, and, recently, payback our VC’s. All without having to go public or sell the company. In short, we now own our future and are heavily reinvesting back into our business.

Surviving

In our early adolescence we developed habits and behaviors specifically geared towards nurturing our cash machine. Quality, Robustness, Craftsmanship, Uptime, and Process Improvement all mattered. And they still do, but they are the very same behaviors that tend to work against us now in our growth initiatives.

As we seek out new revenue streams, and scale existing ones, we find that it requires a different set of habits and behaviors from our workforce. Move fast, try new things,  try a lot of things, use some duct tape if you have to, are the orders of the day as we look for the next new thing that we hope will delight customers.

We realized quickly that we faced a pretty big cultural behavior challenge. How do we change a workforce of highly skilled craftsmen and women into business thinkers?

Here are a few things we’ve done to address it:

Shout it from the rooftops! – <Insert your best halftime speech here> but make sure it includes a message about how you plan to grow and what new behaviors are needed from your employees. “Win one for the Gipper!”

Get them training – We have a companywide business education program. It teaches business fundamentals and the nitty-gritty of our business model.   Every Fool has to complete it in order to receive a certain percentage of their yearly bonus.

M.V.P. – If you’re not familiar with the acronym, it’s  Minimal Viable Product. Put another way, “What is the bare minimum I need in order to see if my idea has legs?” Your employees should be intimate with the term. BTW product documentation is NOT part of MVP!

Turn the org chart upside down –Change starts from the top. Make sure you have the right players in your leadership ranks.

Incentives – Consider incentive programs for behavioral change.

Coaching – Any kind of change is uncomfortable. Some of your employees may need someone outside of their department to help guide them through it.

Don’t discount the old behaviors – There is a time and place for slow and deliberate just as there is a time and place for fast and furious. Help your employees understand when and where to apply them.

Carefully building robust solutions for unproven products is wasteful until they become…well…proven. Don’t ignore that your workforce needs help understanding this context shift and don’t neglect helping them develop the new behaviors that go along with it.

A Problem With Perception

Perception

Perception

There are two things to consider when undergoing any kind of improvement initiative:

  1. The actual improvement.
  2. The perception by others that improvement has happened (or is happening).

Improvement and perception don’t go hand-in-hand. We often expect they do and can get off-put when no one takes notice of the improvements we’ve made. We fail to realize that significant improvement alone usually results in little to no change in others perceiving we’ve made an improvement. This is especially true for anyone trying to change a prickly interpersonal behavior.

Branded

Let’s take “Late Guy.” He’s late to meetings so often that his team just expects him to be late all the time. Some of his team even, in a weird way, root for him to be late in order to play up to his annoying behavior so they can top the most recent “Late Guy” water cooler story.

Parched Pete: “You can NOT believe how late ‘Late Guy’ was today!”

Dehydrated Diane: “Tell me about it. That guy is a hot mess.”

Let’s say “Late Guy” suddenly decided to fix his tardiness problem. How long would it take his team to notice? If he just worked at being on time and not his team’s perception of him being on time, what are the odds that his team would stop rooting for him to be late? When would they stop expecting “Late Guy” and start noticing “On Time Guy”?

Digging Out

So how do you get yourself out of this mess? Here are three things you can do now:

  1. Own the Perception Problem!  Other people’s perceptions of you is Your Responsibility, not theirs.  This means stop looking at other people to blame for not seeing the better you. Look in the mirror, “Billy Blame it All!” It’s time for you to be accountable for how others see you.
  2. Apologize When Necessary.  If what you are trying to improve has affected anyone in a bad way in the past, say you’re sorry. This can quickly stomp out any bad blood from the past and put the focus on an optimistic future.
  3. Tell Everyone and Ask for Help.  Tell your team. Tell your manager. Tell your family. Get it out there. “Hey everyone! I’m trying to get better at X and I need your help.” By doing so, those people are more likely to become problem solvers with you and not a critic of you. They will start looking for the new you in place of the old you and will expect the positive behaviors that come with it.

Conclusion

Take ownership of managing others’ perceptions of you. Don’t let yourself be victimized by them.  Be genuine with yourself and others in resolving to right any bad perceptions and communicate your intent to do so.

This post is largely inspired from something I read in the book Mojo by Marshall Goldsmith. At best this post is a bad representation of a great book, but the book alone has inspired a lot my Coaching career here at the Fool. I highly recommend reading it.

Tackling the Elephant in the Room

The elephant in the room

The elephant in the room We’ve all been there…

Something big and hairy is standing in front of us. It is a roadblock to progress, one that is blatantly obvious and highly emotional.

We shoot knowing glances at colleagues to see if anyone will muster up the courage to take this roadblock on. But, no one moves.

This roadblock is… the elephant in the room.

Rather than tackling the oafish beast head on, we try to wiggle our way around it. We waste time, we prolong decisions, or, worse yet, we knowingly make bad decisions – all in fear that the big dumb thing will stomp our guts out. Yet, we fail to consider that there is something even more costly at stake. We unknowingly start to build a culture of (you guessed it) wasting time, prolonging decisions, and knowingly making bad decisions. It’s a culture of submission and stagnation, rather than one of empowerment and growth.

So unless you happen to work at P.T. Barnum, or perhaps a zoo, I think you would agree that smelly, oversized animals have no place in our organizations. So why are we so afraid?

Our fear is warranted because we typically don’t handle these conversations well.  Why? Because we fail to realize that the elephant (the thing we are afraid of) is not a person or an issue. It is the anticipation of an overwhelming emotional reaction.

Here are 3 things to consider in preparation for your next elephant encounter:

  1. Break down the elephant. The elephant isn’t that big. It consists of 2 smaller parts: your point and your audience’s emotional reaction to your point.
  2. Manage the emotional reaction. Consider how you could change the nature of articulating your point so that problem solving and learning occur, rather than defensive positioning and argument winning.
  3. Practice! Don’t wing it. Know what you are going to say and how you are going to say it beforehand. Practice with someone who can help you temper your own emotion before you deliver your message.

Obviously these conversations are not easy, but they are part of a critical set of soft skills that build healthy organizations. Don’t neglect developing these skills in yourself and your people.
Need more information? A good place to start is the book Crucial Conversations Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High from the folks at Crucial Skills.

Good luck!