Career Advice

5 Ways Trust Impacts Your Productivity In The Office

Published in Inc January 8, 2015

So you want to create something fabulous and new. You want to innovate and
create a breakthrough no one has thought of before. Well, you probably
have a list of ingredients you need: a few computers, some smart people,
project funding… but there is one critical ingredient you need which
can’t be measured but will have a huge impact on your success. That
ingredient is Trust.

Trust allows your team to
move fast, fail fast and create. It’s a simple but true fact so often
neglected inside companies. Two simple issues that can be an advantage
in a culture of trust and a huge liability in a culture of politics and
mistrust: 1) how long it takes to make a decision 2) the quality and
stickiness of the decision.

1. In Development.
Think about agile development for example. One of the 12 key principles
to be mindful of is, “Build projects around motivated individuals. Give
them the environment and support they need and trust them to get the job
done”. If managers don’t trust the technical team to get it right they
will slow down the development process and inject themselves into
decisions that need to be made by the engineers, often resulting is
lower quality decisions, or decisions that get made and then unmade.
Begin by hiring great people and most importantly trust them.

2. In Planning.
How often do executives posture in the annual financial planning
process and ask for more resources than they need, on the premise it’s a
political negotiation? Blustering, ego-driven demands! If, instead, you
have a team who truly trust each other then the dynamic will be quite
different. Team members will have the freedom to advocate for projects
and priorities, regardless of who gets the resources to get the project
done. Too many times I’ve seen people equate headcount and budget with
success–but in a trust based environment the focus is on the team’s end
result, regardless of where each person sits in the organization.

3. In Hiring.
As your team beings to grow, the talent you hire will have the single
greatest impact on your potential for success. The hiring decision needs
to be open, transparent and filled with honest assessment -setting up
an initial hiring process that counts on trust. An example of this
process can include: a hiring manager assigns an interviewing team,
everyone meets the candidate and then the team assembles for a “round
table.” At the round table everyone is required to express their
opinions is an open, constructive way, but maintaining the premise that
all input is OK, both good and bad. The process moves more efficiently
towards productive results due to trust from the hiring manager truly
wanting the team’s input, and that the team working towards getting the
manager to the best decision. Without trust, you see posturing, cronyism
and manipulation of the process. Unfortunately, I’ve worked in
companies where senior executives bring in friends with no interviewing
process whatsoever. Now that’s a recipe for others to trust–not!

4. In Time.
While running a young, growing company or a highly innovative team you
will most likely be making hundreds of decisions a day. Risky decisions
with limited input. And truthfully you know you won’t get them all right
(although you do have to get the majority right). If you are working
with a team who you trust, and who trust you, you can move that decision
process quicker. You can be transparent, share your thought process and
quickly poll for advice. When you make a mistake, your team has your
back. In a political environment where information is power, decisions
take much longer because it’s not shared so openly. In a nutshell, trust
allows a team to identify problems quickly and without fear–no
baggage, no personal positioning. It’s incredibly efficient.
Trust takes time to build, which is why people who work well together often stay together from company to company.

5. In Fun.
Unless you are a master manipulator and play office politics for sport,
teams that trust one another are just more fun to work in. Having that
professional comfort allows for more laughter, more shared wins and more
support when the going is tough. Given how much time you are going to
spend working with one another, why not invest the time and effort to
build trust so that work is fun?


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!


How to Unite your Team: Advice from Napoleon

Silicon Valley is littered with small (and large) companies that want to create a revolution. It might be a revolution in commerce – like Square trying to “Architect a revolution,
thoughtfully”, or being the enablers of a revolution like social media was for the Arab Spring, or creating a revolution in music delivery the way Apple did with the iPod.

But what is it that unites a team of people to try to create a revolution in the world of technology?

Napoleon believed that “There are only two forces that unite men — fear and interest” (from Napoleon: In His Own Words 1916) because “all great revolutions originate in fear, for the play of interests does not lead to accomplishment.”

I think he was right, but in reverse order.

In the world of the technology startups the dominant, unifying force is interest. Most people I have ever worked with were a part of the company because of shared interest. They have a common end in mind (to use one of Covey’s 7 habits).

At Simplex (bought by Cadence in 2002) our interest was in the electrical modeling that semiconductor companies needed to make faster, more reliable chip designs – and so sell more chips at lower cost. Everyone in the team was interested in how to get the technology to work (a non-trivial series of math and computer science challenges), and work in the hands of customers at ever decreasing, truly less-than-the-width-of-a-hair, geometry sizes. Chip modeling was a “big data” problem before we talked about big data. Geeky, but very interesting.

The best technology leaders – usually the CEO or founders – unite their employees with a vision for what’s possible. They have a uniting concept that everyone gets interested in – like salesforce.com with their “no software” platform to move CRM to the cloud, or Amazon with a vision that we’d all be buying books, and then everything else too, on line. Both visions were compelling, interesting to work on, and right.

So “the play of interest” does lead to accomplishment when you are building a technology company. I think it’s the only thing. You can’t unite people around money (well not for long anyway) and you can’t unite them with fear in a market when they can walk down the street and find another interesting job.  You have to do it with interest.

The great general was right that fear plays a role too but it’s only at the tactical level, in the moment, or in the sleepless times of the night. Fear of losing a deal, fear of failure, fear of missing a deadline you’ve committed to another team or a customer, fear of being wrong in the path you took to solve a problem. Everyone in a startup feels it. If they say they don’t they’re lying. Everyone experiences The Struggle. But you can’t unite people with fear because, in the end, this is a game. It’s not life and death, it’s not the control of empires or the defense of your homeland. It’s a business, with a dream, but a business.

Napoleon had to unite his men to fight through the mud and risk their
own lives to (almost) bring continental Europe under his command –  he used both fear and interest. You
need to unite them to work grueling hours and take huge personal risk to
try out new ideas – and in technology that means uniting your team with interesting work and a meaningful goal.

Career Advice

Why hiring smart is not enough

Warren Buffet once said “In looking for people to hire, look for three
qualities: integrity, intelligence, and energy. And if they don’t have
the first one, the other two will kill you.”Clearly integrity is the first requirement when hiring. But right behind it, and just as critical, is intelligence, but intelligence comes with it’s own baggage.

Obviously intelligence is essential when hiring into a fast growing company. Intelligence enables quick problem solving and brilliant, innovative ideas. Intelligence allows people to work autonomously when they need to cut through to the solution and many smart people can work faster and still get to a great result. Smarter employees take less time to train, less time to positively impact your business.

But smart people can also have a hard time learning. Chris Argyris‘ article in the HBR, written in 1991, “Teaching Smart People How to Learn” outlines the basic dilemma and ways to think about solving it. (It’s a must-read in my opinion) The dilemma is that the smartest people in the organization, who are assumed to be the best at learning, may actually not be very good at it.

“Put simply, because many professionals are almost always successful at
what they do, they rarely experience failure. And because they have
rarely failed, they have never learned how to learn from failure. So
whenever their single-loop learning strategies go wrong, they become
defensive, screen out criticism, and put the “blame” on anyone and
everyone but themselves. In short, their ability to learn shuts down
precisely at the moment they need it the most”

Brittle behavior, defensiveness and blaming kill a team’s ability to solve complex problems together. When you are changing quickly and learning a market (which is a continuous process when growing fast) it’s important that everyone on the team can learn from the facts that are emerging, and when things don’t turn out exactly as planned (which they never do) don’t blame, just get on with finding the next solution.

And the key to not blaming is to be able to be introspective and look inside first – What are my assumptions and beliefs that are holding me back from learning from this situation (and so contribute to learning as a team)? Very smart people who do this naturally learn fast in complex business situations. Very smart people who are arrogant about their intellect typically don’t. Struggling early (in school, in your first job); and/or experiencing failure is humbling. It makes you go inside, and with practice people develop the ability to check their internal assumptions first, before blaming someone else.

It’s tricky, but you can figure this out in a candidate interview. Chris Argyris’s article points out that: “One of the paradoxes of human behavior,
however, is that the master program people actually use is rarely the one they
think they use. Ask people in an interview or questionnaire to articulate the
rules they use to govern their actions, and they will give you what I call
their “espoused” theory of action. But observe these same people’s behavior,
and you will quickly see that this espoused theory has very little to do with
how they actually behave.”

The way you can determine a smart person’s real behavior, not their theory of who they are, and whether their default reaction is defensiveness or blame is to spend time with them on their failures. Can they describe to you a time they failed? What did it feel like, what lead up to it, what would they do differently, what areas of growth are they still working on improving that hurt them then as well as now? When I look back on the bad hires I’ve made (and I’ve made plenty), for many of them I can think back to the interview and I missed the introspection step.

I’m still always surprised when I ask the question “so tell me about a time you failed and what you did that contributed to the failure”, shortly followed by “and what is the area you still need to improve, where you keep screwing up and you’re working to fix it” that very smart people cannot, or will not, answer in a meaningful way. Or give all the reasons why it wasn’t their fault. Conversely, it’s powerful when a candidate can tell me what they are working on (in personal development) and how they are looking for a team of complementary skills, or an environment where they can grow and learn.

Note, this is not about EQ. Being charming in an interview and being the person I’d like to hang out with in a bar is not the same thing as being good at learning with a team.

So the first step is to test if the candidate is smart, and smart enough for the job you have. Technical tests, or emulations of real life situations (eg. for sales) are necessary to find the high IQ candidates. But it is also important to make sure you are hiring someone who can learn as your business changes and learn from circumstance without becoming defensive.

To quote my father (not always a good idea on a blog, but sometimes worth the risk) “If you’re so smart, why aren’t you rich?”

Career Advice

How judgement and blame are ineffective

Why do we tolerate judging and blame when we all know they are such toxic behaviors?

I recently came across a great model for thinking about how blame and judgement impact team behavior. The first chapter in Kevin Kennedy’s new book “Devil in the Details” uses a four quadrant model to explain this as follows:

  • The horizontal axis is the spectrum driven by thought – how we think. On the right the positive aspects: thought driven by insight and learning; on the left the negative aspects: thought driven by blame and judgement. 
  • The vertical axis is the spectrum driven by emotion. At the top the positive: emotion is modulated in a predictable rhythm, measured and controlled; at the bottom the negative: drama reigns.

As you would expect, Quadrant 1 leads to the most useful behavior in most business situations. When we can remain calm and centered, neither judging nor blaming, nor being the victim, we can build trust and make forward progress. Everyone can be heard, facts are the basis for decisions, the team can move forward together.

When we judge other people on the team, blame them, or even play the tourist (Kevin has a whole chapter on the damage “tourists” do to teamwork) we experience dissonance. The team becomes divided, some judge, some feel judged and facts and clarity go out of the window.

And yet, judgement is common in technology. Maybe it’s because engineers are taught critical thinking, taught to be black and white in their judgements and they get in the habit in all walks of life – they know they are smarter after all. Maybe it’s because we are all emotional creatures (yes even engineers, although they can’t always see it) and so we get out of practice of consciously checking our emotions at the door. Or maybe it’s just a lack of personal discipline, the discipline of being always aware and present. Being, as Steven Feinberg says, neutral.

It’s a simple model. The left hand side is simply never productive. When I can put myself to the right, (which I am sorry to say is not always), I am simply more effective. When I lead my team to be to the right, they can solve any problem.

Most of the time, I try to put myself in quadrant 1. But not always. As Kevin points out, sometimes as the leader you need to be in quadrant 2. Not often, but when you want to create a call-to-arms, you want to create intensity or to lead with emotion, then you consciously step into quadrant 2.

Either way, the important thing is to be conscious of which quadrant you are in, and to be deliberate if you need to move yourself, and your team, from quadrants 3 and 4 into quadrant 1.

Kevin Kennedy is CEO of Avaya. I’ve served on two public company boards with him, and learn from him in every meeting. His book is a terrific, practical guide to team leadership.


Will must be stronger than Skill

With all the coverage of the get-rich-quick startups of Silicon Valley at the moment it’s important to remember that most of the time building a company is a marathon, not a sprint.

Yes you need a good idea. Yes you need a strong, growing market. Yes you need smart people. But even with all of that, s**t happens, you get surprised, some things take longer than you expect, markets change and it can be a long, hard slog up the hill to build long term value. Especially in a time of global recession.

Eric Jackson wrote a terrific article in Forbes last week — titled The Most Under-rated Key to Long-Term Career Success: Staying Power — in which he admires people who just keep churning out great work. They have the will power to just keep going, keep reinventing themselves and live his first key “Never Give Up”. U2, Henry Blodget,  Magic Johnson. Vastly different but similarly committed – they determinedly persist.

When you are building a company you want to find a team of people who, like you, have willpower and simply won’t give up. You know you are going to ask a lot of them. You know you are sometimes going to push them past their limits, and then ask for more, and forget to ask for forgiveness later. At times you are going to appear insane, a bitch and heartless. But you won’t give up. Winning may be quick, it may be lucky, but most of the time it comes with determination, persistence and hard work. When Yahoo recovers under Marissa Mayer (as I certainly hope it does) it will be because a team of people in Yahoo decide not to give up, they decide to fight to climb back out with great products.

When I was running Simplex we discovered that our product wasn’t a must-have until the customers were designing for 0.18u semiconductor technology – which came 18 months later than we had planned. We had to cut back, hold expenses down, keep developing leading edge customers and persist until 0.18u ramped up for the big customers. Then a couple of years later as we grew and needed cash we filed our S-1 to go public in Sept 2000 but it took another 7 months of a rotten, volatile equity market to finally get public in May 2001. It would have been easier to bail out and sell instead at either of these points, and I’d have been a nicer person, but we were stubborn and determined, and tough.

It’s not easy to never give up, especially in the face of The Struggle (as eloquently described by Ben Horowitz), which most leaders experience at some time or another. In the end it just takes sheer willpower. I love Muhammad Ali’s quote, which is as much about building companies as it is about boxing: “Champions aren’t made in gyms. Champions are made from something they have deep inside them. A desire, a dream, a vision. They have to have stamina, they have to be a little faster, they have to have the skill and the will. But the will must be stronger than the skill.” Something we don’t talk about enough in the flashy, celebrity-CEO style of today’s tech industry.
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!

Career Advice

Teamwork is about alignment of interests

Teamwork comes in all shapes and sizes… and species. It’s about knowing that your goals are aligned and you have to cooperate to reach your goals.

For example, if you don’t share the plate nicely you don’t get to share in the plate cleaning. And even if you are a cat, if you’ve been raised with dogs since you were a kitten you quickly figure out how to think like a dog, and act like a dog so you get the same treats as a dog.