Team building


When to tell your employees to take a hike

 Small companies are like families. They are full of tension, tight relationships, dreams and disappointments and they form a culture all of their own. And when they are small how each and every employee behaves affects the culture of the company. What it is like to come to work every day, how people solve problems, how they interact and help each other, or don’t.

In every group of employees you hire you are bound to hire a few non performers, and it’s management 101 that you know you have to move the non performers out. That’s what having an accountable team or a performance culture means.

But there is a group of employees that is harder to move on. I’m sure you’ve worked with people like this. They are good at their job but they are like dripping poison. They talk about “this place” or “this company” in negative terms. They make snide remarks about the leadership or about their coworkers. They work for you because it’s a good job, but nothing is good enough.

Clearly if the behavior is egregious you can move on the employee and treat it as a performance problem, but what if it’s borderline?

One way to handle this is to invite your employees to leave.

The most valuable resource an employee has is their time. Especially when they are in the early stages of their careers. In terms of personal growth and future earning power every year before 40 is more valuable that five after. Your millennial employees are investing in your company with their time learning, growing, inhaling everything they can do to improve their future. So if they are negative why are they there?

I talk to many teams and my logic to invite people to leave goes something like this:

“If you love this company and our mission, if you love working here, then invest your time wisely. Pour in your passion, work hard to make the company and your career they best they can be. Be a part of creating a positive, winning culture. Share your observations with your leaders but bring solutions, not just complaints. Support your leaders – they are human too and doing their best. Be positive.

But if you are unhappy here, if you see all the things that are wrong and you feel a need to continuously complain, if you think your leadership is incompetent, or the work is too hard then please leave. Get out.

Because life is too short to work in a company or a job you don’t like for people you don’t respect. If you think things could be better then make them better or please leave.”

Sometimes I am even more direct – “There’s the door”.

Photo: Petra © 2017 Penny Herscher


Sales is a Team Sport

Sometimes sales culture glorifies the lone sales rep: the road warrior who goes out and hunts, slays the order and throws it, still bleeding, on your desk, seeking your praise like a big game hunter standing over his kill’s rapidly cooling dead body.

Is this how your best guys—your top performers—sell? Or do they view sales as a sport that’s won as a team?

Now, I’m the girl who hates sports on TV, who reads a book during Super Bowl parties (except during the ads of course) and has never been to a live football, soccer or basketball game. So I’m simply not a sports fan. But I love watching a sales organization plan, play and win a deal as a well-trained team, each with his or her own role to play.

Hunting and winning the giant enterprise deal first of all takes a team lead: the sales rep on the ground who owns the account. She’s expected to know every aspect of the deal, to lead and choreograph every play, coach every other player on their role, put them in the right room with the right person and plan through what to say when. This rep is accountable for every detail 24/7—they get the glory, but they live or die by the deal.

Then there’s sales management. Carrot and stick, reviewing every play, coaching every move. Willing to show up whenever, wherever to keep the deal moving. Able to manage the CEO and the CFO through the ups and downs of the deal.

There’s the sales engineer—the showman who captures the customer’s imagination up front and answers all the thorny questions. He’s responsible for establishing the value and the match between your capability and the customer’s business need. And he works closely with the customer success lead who stands in front of the customer towards the end of the sales cycle and commits to being on point to ensure the success of the implementation with them.

Sometimes R&D leadership gets involved, especially if you’re doing any integration with a product team or IT, and sometimes your own IT gets involved responding to questions about SaaS delivery, security, response times…

In the end, everyone has a role to play, and they all depend on each other to play those roles well.

When I look at my own sales team I can see the high school and college sports training coming into play. We have several high school quarterbacks, a minor league AA baseball player, several college-level soccer players, a mountain biker who competes on a team, a Junior Olympic badminton player and several college swimmers. Even our runners like to form into teams for our summer triathlons.

Clearly, sports experience is not a requirement for the job, but training in how to work well in a team is – because, in the end, sales is a team sport. And the end result of great teamwork is killer results!

Career Advice

Loyalty Matters

Seems like an old fashioned concept doesn’t it?

Loyalty. A word from the old feudal world being “of good quality, faithful and honorable” and “carrying out legal obligations” – with deeper origins in the Latin legalem, or law.

Loyalty was expected in the past. You would be loyal to the company that employed you, and the company would be loyal back and employ you for your whole career. A 1950’s dream that no longer exists in our current global competitive environment, as pensions get wiped out and companies downsize in the blink of an eye. It’s a word than can carry negative overtones today – being loyal sometimes being synonymous with being blindly loyal, something many people would be uncomfortable claiming as one of their key characteristics.

And yet it is a concept that is very powerful when creating and growing a company, and something I look for when hiring key employees – can they be loyal, is it in their nature?

When people are loyal to each other – up, down and across an organization – they can move quickly, make mistakes and recover. They can make difficult decisions, knowing that they won’t get stabbed in the back if they are wrong. They can take risk, knowing that their boss, or their peer, or their employee, will support them and help them recover if the risk was too great.

As a CEO, building a loyal culture can make a big difference in how much risk you can take with the business, how fast you can drive growth and change. In the extreme case the figure of the cult CEO, like Marc Benioff at Salesforce.com, can inspire loyalty in employees and help them feel empowered to take more risk, run faster, push the edge of what’s possible because they are loyal to a risk-taking leader. And obviously nothing creates loyalty like success.

I’m old fashioned. I think loyalty within a company matters. When people are loyal to the company, the goals and dreams of the company, and each other, they can make magic happen. Like trust, loyalty is efficient. It makes a working system where everyone can focus on the task at hand, not watching their back or their own personal interests. But to build a loyal culture you have to take care of each individual’s growth interests as well as the company’s.

As a leader you can build loyalty when you:

– create an experience that is fun, intense and a growth experience for every individual

– are fair – even-handed and open in how you deal with people, pay and promotion

– have your team’s back, especially in times of adversity

– stomp out politics – put the company first at all times

– be direct – if you don’t agree say so, if you think an idea is dumb say so and respectfully explain yourself, if you think an idea is great say so

– act quickly – if someone is not cutting it tell them so, tell them why, and move them on – and if you have to let them go for performance reasons, help them
through it so they land in a better job for them – that creates long
term loyalty in both the employees who are staying and those who are leaving

– don’t be afraid to exercise authority if you need to – people understand in the end that your job as a leader is to drive forward and make decisions, even if they are unpopular

– be decisive

– be courageous

– be accessible and human

 and the most important

– be loyal to your team – loyalty begets loyalty

My Personal Journey

Progressive states of long offsite meetings

Long meetings can progressively sap energy and create altered states of being. Yes they can.

We went offsite as a management team for 2 days this weekend to talk through our strategy and 2012 planning. 11 of us in 2 houses at Pajaro Dunes, lots of flip charts, heated discussions, cooking together, walking on the beach and generally spending time together thinking about our business. It was really fun but, even so, it was intense and, combined with long discussions late into the night about the state of the world accompanied by some excellent wines, pretty tiring for some.

Two of our jokesters memorialized their progressive states of mind as they helped clean up after the meeting. They sent me the photos – the editorial is all mine.

Yeah! This two day offsite thing is a great idea, they’re ready.

A few hours in and Ryan is already wondering, he’s seen enough of these type of meetings to be healthily cynical, but Nima’s still gung ho.

Second day and Ryan’s mind is wandering but Nima’s using caffeine to push through – “There’s the mountain guys let’s go for it!”

Ryan’s rolling his eyes at Nima’s enthusiasm, just as Nima starts to wind down .

But as Nima finally falls asleep in response to Penny’s energizer bunny, Ryan stoically keeps pushing forward.

Thanks Nima and Ryan – it was fun – and despite the warm sun and sand, amazingly productive!

My Personal Journey

Raising over $31,000 for the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund

Earlier this year I set out a challenge for myself to do a really long swim for my mother, and on Monday that crazy idea grew into something really big for FirstRain and for the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund.

We started doing athletic competitions at FirstRain back in 2008 as a way to build stronger teams inside the company and this Summer I decided to encourage Rainmakers to get involved in a series of events building up to my personal challenge of a 2.4 mile ocean swim off Maui.

And to my delight many of my coworkers have been with me all the way – and into the race! All summer Rainmakers have been training with me in the pool, competing in the Splash and Dash series and yesterday two of them did the Maui ‘Aumakua Swim too. We’ve been doing relays, running, teaching each other how to swim better and generally having fun and becoming friends.

The race yesterday was on a spectacular, perfect Maui day. The water was crystal clear and we were swimming over coral reefs, fish and the occasional turtle. Thomas and Jordy did the 1 mile distance and were both very pleased with their times and I beat my time goal in the 2.4 mile distance.

2.4 miles is a very long way to swim if you don’t compete all the time. It was a huge personal challenge for me but once I set my pace I pushed through, absolutely determined to finish because I was raising money for OCRF, I was on a mission and I was supported by so many coworkers, friends and family.

My mother was diagnosed with stage 4 ovarian cancer 18 months ago. She has been through treatment and is in remission but we know the fight is not over. Unfortunately today there is no effective early detection method for this disease and so the statistics are tough. Over 22,000 women are diagnosed with the disease each year in the US and over 15,000 die from it. My goal was to raise as much money as possible for OCRF to help find a detection method and ultimately a cure.

And the result was donations of more than $31,000! Truly fantastic generosity from many, many people. We put out a FirstRain press release on the news because the achievement is, to a great extent, the result of my coworkers wonderful involvement and support. It’s a privilege to work with such terrific people.

Several Rainmakers have asked me what we are going to do next Summer – any suggestions for what we should do next?

Career Advice

Are you an energy source or energy sink for your coworkers?

Everyone interacts differently in the office, based on their role and personality, but most people sort into one of two types with respect to their impact on other people: energy sources and energy sinks. The CEO has to be open to all, and to motivate and energize all, and so I become very aware of the net gain or drain of interaction with my coworkers – and everyone at all levels of the company is consciously or unconsciously impacting the energy level of the people around them.

Energy sinks:

– Bring you problems for you to solve. They’ll arrive with a problem, dump it on you and ask what you are going to do about it. Particularly sink-ish when they phone you up with the problem on Friday afternoon and get it off their chest so you can worry about it all weekend.

– Have a negative outlook. Every solution you come up with they shoot it down without chewing on it first, and they drag down other people in the discussion who are trying to find a positive solution. Some people are consistently negative – about movies, about food, about their spouse. It’s exhausting!

– Take cheap shots up. Some people think it’s OK to be positive down their organization, positive to peers and attack up. The logic is something like “well you wanted the job so you just have to take it”. Very negative to other people in the room and, inside, very tiring for the leader. Equally draining are people who are obsequious – also does not move the business forward.

– Are non interactive. They sit silent in a problem solving discussion. Especially frustrating when you know they are smart and have ideas to contribute so you work extra hard to help them participate and overcome whatever inhibition is holding them back.

In contrast energy sources:

– Bring solutions with the problems. Even if they don’t have a good solution to some killer problem you are facing together, they try get the brainstorming going until the team comes up with a reasonable idea.

– Bring smart, out of the box solutions. The people who are willing to listen to an issue, think and then take the risk of an unusual or creative solution are particularly energizing, even if half their ideas are bad ones. They open up the solution space for everyone.

– See issues as bumps in the road, not roadblocks.

– See you a fellow traveler on the road (whatever level of management you are at), working together to move the company forward. They don’t take cheap shots or kiss up.

– Have a positive outlook. Some people know how to look for the silver lining – it’s in their nature – and these people often become leaders of their teams, whether they have an official manager role or not.

– Understand that executives are human. Everyone makes mistakes, everyone gets stumped at times and energy sources know that and detect when to be demanding and when to offer an ear to listen. As CEO you can never expect support from below, you need to be self reliant, but it sure is helpful sometimes when it’s offered no strings attached.

Think about which are you in what circumstances – and is your behavior and impact on your coworkers conscious? And if you behave differently with co-workers who are at or below your level in the org chart than you do with coworkers above you why is that and is it justified or helpful to your company?

The top image is of Centaurus A which is two colliding galaxies around a super massive black hole. The bottom image is our Sun.

My Personal Journey

My team completes the Splash and Dash!

Perfect, beautiful Cupertino evening last night. A few of us competed in the July Splash and Dash in the Stevens Creek Reservoir – a 1 mile swim and 3 mile run which is just the right distance to make you feel great! Aaron and Cory did both the swim and the run, Thomas ran in relay to my swim, and Doug completed the swim and decided he’d wait until next time to do the run….

I am a big believer that competing in sporting events is a great way to build teams and it’s something we do well together at FirstRain, especially within the sales team. We started with everyone participating in some way at the Aquabike in 2008 and now we not only compete in a couple of events a year together, we also train together, and eat and drink together!

Because the reservoir is only a couple of miles from my house we joined up with supporters, spouses and several kids at my house for a bar-be-que. The kids — and one of our dogs — spent the whole time in the pool and I gather everyone under age 10 slept like a log last night!


Using pop psychology for team building

Diversity is a strength – especially in management teams – but it can also lead to tension, misunderstandings and all the challenges that can appear when two people are very different and don’t “get” each other.

Years ago it was popular to hire expensive consultants – often called coaches – to work with executive teams and help them form tight bonds and appreciate one another but having been put through that type of coaching several times in my career at different companies I am now a great believer in the home grown use of personality based team building to develop an appreciation of the differences.

The method I advocate is going through Myers-Briggs Type testing as a team and sharing and talking about the results.

First step is everyone takes the test – online and together in a room – you can take the test here.

Next I explain (in lay terms) what the Myers-Briggs Type Indicators are – what they mean and what they indicate about each personality and how it influences and decision making. I’ll walk through the 4 dimensions and I use simple anecdotes to explain the differences – as I show here. (Each is a scale where you get a percentage along the scale to one end or the other as a measure of your personality type along that dimension.)

Note a healthy dose of humor and self depreciation at this stage breaks the ice and gets the team to relax.

Extroverted vs. Introverted: what energizes you – being with people or being alone? To make a decision do you go and talk to other people or go for a walk? Are parties exciting or a bit of a chore?

Sensing vs. Intuiting: Do you gather data and then make a decision – or do you intuitively make a decision and then use data to validate or invalidate your decision?

Thinking vs. Feeling: Do you decide with your head or with your heart? Where are you in your body as you work through tough decisions.

Judging vs Perceiving: This is a desire for structure – do you make lists, organize into spreadsheets, like operational process or do you prefer being open ended? Do you take a list to the grocery store or buy as the mood takes you? Do you plan your vacation down to the hour, or get in the car and just drive?

This is a layman’s view – Wikipedia has a much better description here.

And then – it’s time to share. I look for the extroverts in the team to start to talk – to share their type and talk about what it means and how it affects them in the team.

At this point I am at the white board and draw the chart (below) – and start putting names into the boxes so everyone can see where they fit – and how they are like, or unlike other people in the team. It’s really important at this point to make sure everyone understands there is no right or wrong, no one type is any better than any other – and that the strength lies in diversity. It’s much better in a team to have some P some J, some E some I , some N and some S. If you can leverage each other you can quite simply make better decisions because you can cover each others blind spots and biases.

I ran this process with our whole US team a month ago – and then our India management team last week. It was great fun both times. Lots of laughter (led by the Es) and some very insightful discussions about where the tension comes from. For example – a strong J can really annoy a strong P. J’s often state opinion as fact – they are putting structure on the opinion and testing the idea – but for a P this can seem arrogant and over constraining.

So how did my team come out? As you can see from this diagram we have a strong collection of leaders in the ENJ – they are extroverted, very intuitive and operational. Surprisingly this is not at all representative of the population at large. 63% of FR management are NJ, and yet only 7.8% of the population are NJ. So we have a very unusual concentration – and I think this is characteristic of the type of people who enjoy high growth, hurly burly opportunities where they can make decisions fast, based on intuition, and operationalize the execution.

If you are my competitor and you are reading this you may be able to figure out our inherent blind spot… except that I am not an NJ. My personality type is ESFJ. Very strong E (I like people a lot) and am a slight S, but I will challenge intuition by talking with customers and prospects. Knowing I am an ESFJ you can probably understand why I like to talk to customers every single day. That’s both where my energy comes from, and how I gather the input to steer the ship.

The end result of this exercise was very positive, especially within the executive team. We talked through some of the times when we don’t work as well together, and what triggers it – and it is personality related. Just reflecting together and reviewing tough conversations has now been very powerful to defuse the tension the next time it happened. I have the M-B chart on the wall in the office with everyone’s name on it and any of us can refer to it an any time to help understand a team mate – and the only rule is that we all have to remember to use it with a smile – it is just pop psychology after all.

Career Advice

How “team” is different in a small tech company

Guest post: Michael Prospero, FirstRain Director of Research

Throughout my professional career, I have worked for large financial organizations employing 100s to 1,000s of people. Therefore, I was one member of a very large so-called “team”.

Every organization I have worked for attempted to make me feel as though I am a part of a team working toward a common goal. However, if I am one analyst or one person in accounting ( or whatever your job function may be ) I really never feel like my group and the other departments, functions or locations are all working together. In fact, I would rarely interact with other departments unless for some reason I was required to because of some need of theirs or mine. I always felt like just an employee in a large organization. Often the CEO never knew who I was and I may have only met them briefly at some function. There wasn’t any team building to bring us together. We never really got to know many of the others in the organization unless they sat near us or worked in the same department. In fact, employees were only in the same room together during a rare HR requirement or speech by the CEO, who wasn’t necessarily in the same office as us.

Three years ago, I accepted my current position knowing that I was about to begin working for a small company, which was essentially a mature start-up at the time. FirstRain continues to have a aggressive small company – like a start-up – type of culture, which is so different from a corporate environment that it would require a much longer post to describe it all to you.

To me, the refreshing part of working in this type of environment is truly being part of a team. Not the team that corporations pretend to be, but really a team of people all working hard at their respective positions to reach a common goal. To use a sports analogy, it is like being part of a football team. If each person doesn’t perform well at their respective position, the team may lose. If someone misses a block or a defensive assignment, the whole team suffers and may lose.

I guess working at FirstRain brings me back to those days when I played competitive team sports. Today, many of the employees at FirstRain are very different and we work in three different locations and in two countries. We bring different backgrounds, skill sets and even cultures together in a unique way and we are all working very hard to do something that hasn’t been done before. To bring us together, every so often, we have an activity set up where we are doing something outside of the office from movies, to half marathons to bowling. During our company outings, we are provided with an opportunity to get to know each other in a real way and it’s invigorating. Also, we have frequent all hands meetings where our CEO will hold a call to discuss everything going on with the company and responds to all questions from any employee.

Working as part of a team is the reason sports are so popular around the world. If you ask any retired athlete what they miss most about their playing days, they will almost invariably respond that they miss being part of a team. In many ways I’ve learned more in the past three years working at FirstRain than I have in my entire career. I feel my work contributes to each win that we have as a team.

Note from Penny – I promise I didn’t ask Michael to write this – I think he’s having fun!