Critical conversations at work

Managing people is a skill

I’ve been a manager for over twenty years now, managing teams ranging in size from 2 to 263. One thing that I have learned is that if you want to do anything big then you need to work through other people to achieve at scale. And managing through other people to achieve goals is one of the biggest challenges when one shifts from being an individual performer to being a team leader or manager.

The skills of team leadership are not often taught formally to new managers, and they are often learned on the job. One of the scariest things that one is called upon to do as a new manager is to provide negative feedback to a team member. But it is important to know how to build the context around it so that it becomes part of the working relationship and not a surprise to anyone.

Critical conversations

Many problems in workplaces are caused by hesitation in initiating critical conversations. And this does not necessarily mean conversations that are focused on criticism of an individual or their work. It also means conversations that clarify the work to be done, issues and risks relating to the work, and any barriers to getting the work done.

“Know what you want. Clarity is power. And vague goals promote vague results.”
– Robin Sharma.

If teams are not having meaningful conversations with each other on an ongoing basis then, instead of small adjustments in course, it can evolve into enormous delivery and execution issues, and even escalate into an official performance management issue that can result in a job loss. Many times I have seen the performance management issue come as a complete surprise to the individual staff member involved, yet it is rarely a surprise to their team members. This is typically the result of the team leader being afraid to have a critical conversation, and the result of poor ongoing communication between the team leader and the team member.

“Often we go through an entire conversation – or indeed an entire relationship – without ever realizing that each of us is paying attention to different things, that our views are based on different information.”
Douglas Stone, Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most

This means that, as leaders, we need to create an environment where team members (including the team leader) communicate effectively about the work to be done, who needs to do what tasks, when they are needed by, and to what quality standards they need to be done in an objective manner.

Some techniques that I have used to create this kind of environment include the use of specific language. For instance, a team member will often give updates in terms of “I hope to deliver it by Tuesday”.  I make it very clear that hope is not a delivery strategy, and often reply that:

“We don’t hope. We provide a percentage confidence level it will done on time and budget, so what is your confidence level for this task?”

By shifting the language used by the team to talk about delivery and relating it to the reality of getting things done this creates an opportunity to discuss issues and barriers to getting the task done.

Performance management

Once this kind of environment is in place, in the normal course of things, there is little reason for the manager to intervene. However, when it becomes evident that a team member is unable to deliver assigned tasks at the required quality standard and to the relevant timeframe, the manager needs to intervene.

As a manager it is important to have ongoing conversations with team members. Performance issues rarely pop up overnight. They develop over longer periods and there are usually warning signs. If critical conversations happen early and often enough then the issues can be addressed and performance can be  improved. However, it is necessary to understand why people sometimes do not do what they are supposed to do.

Reasons why employees don’t do what they are supposed to do

The starting point for this is to work out why the person is not performing as required. Former Columbia Graduate School professor, Ferdinand Fournies,  interviewed nearly 25,000 managers asking them why, in their experience, direct reports did not accomplish their work as assigned. Here are the top reasons Fournies reported :

  1. They don’t know why they should do it.
  2. They don’t know how to do it.
  3. They don’t know what they are supposed to do.
  4. They think your way will never work.
  5. They think their way is better.
  6. They think something else is more important.
  7. There is no positive consequence to them for doing it.
  8. They think they are doing it.
  9. They are rewarded for not doing it.
  10. They are punished for doing what they are supposed to do.
  11. They anticipate a negative consequence for doing it.
  12. There is no negative consequence to them for poor performance.
  13. Obstacles beyond their control.
  14. Their personal limits prevent them from performing.
  15. Personal problems.
  16. No one could do it

Why Employees Don’t Do What They’re Supposed To and What You Can Do About It

It is always one of these types of issues that is at the root of poor performance. But lack of clarity around tasks and acceptable quality standards has been the most common reasons in my experience, and this is the most easy to remedy.

Healthy workplace conversations

This list above is a good starting point for conversations about performance. But performance is also a result of the team culture, high performing teams tend to experience a lot less poor performance.

Most of the issues listed by Fournies can be discovered by having meaningful conversations among the team about goals and objectives, and open discussions about roadblocks.

“difficult conversations are almost never about getting the facts right. They are about conflicting perceptions, interpretations, and values.”
Douglas Stone, Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most

Don’t wait until someone is performing poorly, look out for the early indicators of problems and initiate conversations about the issues early. Provide relevant feedback, both positive and negative in timely manner – it is much better when the feedback is delivered close to the action.

It is important that it is a conversation too, that is, a dialogue between two human beings – with give and take. So listening as well as speaking is critical. Building a relationship with your team member is important too. If you have taken the time to build a relationship with your team member then the difficult conversation becomes somewhat less difficult.

Some good questions to ask at regular catchups

Here are some questions to prompt the types of conversations we need to have to build healthy and productive workplaces:

  • How are you going?
  • Are there any road blocks you need help with?
  • Is there anything you need me to do?
  • Who are your key stakeholders? What are their issues? How are your relationships with them going?
  • Does that align with the culture we’re building here?
  • Does that align with team/individual KPIs or should you be doing something different?
  • How do you plan to achieve that objective?
  • Are you on track with that?

Resources about difficult conversations

Carmichael, S. G. (2017, May 02). Difficult Conversations: 9 Common Mistakes. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2010/10/difficult-conversations-9-common-mistakes

Dowling, W. (2014, July 23). 7 Tips for Difficult Conversations. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2009/03/7-tips-for-difficult-conversat

Fournies, F. F. (2007). Why employees dont do what theyre supposed to do – and what to do about it. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Patton, B., Stone, D., & Heen, S. (2011). Difficult conversations: How to discuss what matters most. London: Portfolio/Penguin.

Riegel, D. G., Healey, T., Roberts, J., Knight, R., & Whitehurst, J. (2016, June 30). When to Skip a Difficult Conversation. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2016/03/when-to-skip-a-difficult-conversation

Rowland, D. (2016, April 14). What’s Worse than a Difficult Conversation? Avoiding One. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2016/04/whats-worse-than-a-difficult-conversation-avoiding-one

Sharma, R. (undated). The Giant Achievement Method [and free worksheet]. Retrieved from https://www.robinsharma.com/article/the-giant-achievement-method-and-free-worksheet

Future proof your career – some tips for women

Spoke at a women in technology conference recently on the topic of how to future proof your career. It might seem strange that I hardly mentioned technology at all in this talk. But the essentials for a long career are mostly outside of technology. Any intelligent person can pick up technology skills, but other essential skills include:

  • Self analysis and self understanding
  • NO to office housework
  • Support networks
  • Power of sponsorship
  • Impostor syndrome
  • And lastly, actual technology

Self analysis and self understanding

Self analysis and self understanding are the first thing to consider. If you can get a clear eyed understanding of your strengths and weaknesses this provides a good foundation for managing your career. This will also help with the development of the ability to take rejection, to ignore it, and to move on regardless. You will be rejected – sometimes because you are a woman, sometimes for other reasons. But if you have clear idea of your skills and the value that you provide then you can pick yourself up, regroup and get on with things.

Resilience counts – a career is a marathon not a sprint!

Another key skill to develop is not to take things personally at work. I always imagine that they are talking to the chair when someone appears to be having a go at me. Many times I have found out later that the person who was giving me a hard time was upset about something completely different. Of course there can be the case where someone really is out to get you – I’ve suffered from bullying at work before – the best thing to do in that case is to engineer an exit as soon as possible.

‘Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all your getting get understanding.’ Proverbs 4:7

Take every opportunity to obtain a 360 degree understanding of yourself. And ensure that you seek feedback from diverse and reliable sources. Take time out to reflect on your work and assess it dispassionately. Learn to recognise your strengths and weaknesses, so that you can use your strengths and improve on your weaknesses. I often say that it’s not a weakness if you know about it and can compensate.

Say ‘NO’ to office housework


Office housework consists of the myriad of little tasks around  the office that folks just assume that women will do. These range from filling the dishwasher, to tidying the bench tops, buying the birthday cakes and opening the mail. People will unconsciously expect women to do it.

  • Stop doing it immediately (unless, of course, you really really want to do it)
  • It takes time for which you are not remunerated
  • It distracts you from your mission

If you consider how much of this you’ve probably done over your career it really adds up over the years. And our male colleagues have been blissfully ignoring all of this unremunerated labour and coasting past us.

Find your support network

Find a work support network. Often social friends will not understand your work context and you do need someone who understands. I’ve had conversions with family members as I try to explain some work thing and watch their eyes glaze over, or they simply do not have the mental map for my work. The main thing is that you need a cheer squad of folks who understand your work context and who can also provide contextually relevant advice.

Another sad fact is that sometimes colleagues at work will diverge as you progress in your career. This is especially true if you have risen up the ranks within a single organisation. In that case there might be envy or resentment, so you might need to socialise with different folks.

Discover the power of sponsorship

Sponsorship not mentorship. As noted in this article:

‘Mentors advise. Sponsors act.’

A sponsor is someone who will advocate on your behalf. Mentors are helpful when you need advice, but to really get ahead a sponsor can be more useful. It is helpful to have mentoring throughout your career, but a sponsor can help to make things happen and be real change agent for your career.

Nobody knows you feel like an impostor

Impostor syndrome is real, and almost everyone experiences it at some time. But the important thing to remember is that nobody knows how you feel so heed the advice to ‘fake it until you make it’ or rather ‘fake it until you become it’ as Amy Cuddy argues.

The crucial thing about imposter syndrome is that there is clear evidence that you are not an imposter, that is, someone has given you a particular role. You have the feeling that you are an imposter but there is evidence that you are not.

The Dunning–Kruger effect is a cognitive bias wherein persons of low ability suffer from illusory superiority, mistakenly assessing their cognitive ability as greater than it is. Therefore by having imposter syndrome at least you know you’re not suffering from the Dunning-Kruger effect.

New jobs will emerge as technology changes

The 21st century offers us great challenges and opportunities. Things like the  digital revolution, AI, machine learning, Internet of Things, big data and data science, and Quantum computing – among others – are all going to change things beyond recognition. Always be looking to generalise your current skillset into the next big thing, and keep in mind Amara’s law:

‘We tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run.’

As Paul Roehrig, chief strategy officer for Cognizant Digital Business, notes:

‘People skills are more and more important in an era where we have powerful and pervasive technology,’ he says. ‘It sounds counterintuitive, but to beat the bot, you need to be more human.’

21st Century skills include:

  • Problem solving
  • Creativity
  • Analytic thinking
  • Collaboration
  • Communication
  • Ethics, action, and accountability

Above all…

You can have multiple careers

Don’t panic!

Remember to breathe

Digital citizens and the future of government

Hosted a panel at the UNSW Michael Crouch Innovation Centre last week with Selena Griffith on Digital Citizens and the Future of Government with Dominic Campbell, Penny Webb-Smart, and Amelia Loye.

You can view the video here

Panel members

Dominic Campbell is a digital government entrepreneur with a background in government policy and technology-led change. He is an experienced in organisation design and has senior management experience in implementing successful change initiatives within public services. Having spent six years in government in the UK, Dominic established FutureGov in 2008. A team of 40, FutureGov supports digital and design thinking in government in the UK, Australia and many places in between. Dominic has previously been voted in the top 100 most influential people in UK local government.

Penny Webb-Smart is Executive Director, Service Reform for the Department of Finance, Services and Innovation in the NSW Government. The Service Reform team was established in February 2015 to facilitate digital and service innovation on a cross-agency basis that puts customer at the heart of NSW government. The key drivers for service reform are: * Accelerating digital government * Customer centric transformation * Joined up government services Penny’s has deep experience in digital transformation, service design and development, building customer-centric cultures, and developing strategic partnerships. Prior to NSW Government, Penny spent twenty years in financial services, consulting and telecommunications in Australia and New Zealand.

Amelia Loye is a social scientist with more than a dozen years’ engaging citizens and stakeholders for Government’s in Australia, New Zealand and Canada. She has engaged across the participation spectrum, for policy, planning and project development, for legislative change, and for community education and behavioural change. Amelia now provides strategic support for organisations wanting to practice digital democracy and improve the way they engage, consider social issues, and work with others to serve the needs of community. She is also well known for her work on Australia’s first Action Plan for Open Government.

 

 

Mobile and social media – what it means for business

Mobile and social media have created a new business landscape

If you’re not already working out how to disrupt your business and your industry then you will be disrupted…

The web 2.0 revolution and social media changed the game for business. At a basic level brands discovered the notion of customer ‘conversations’. But for the most part this was not  strategic, rather it often consisted of random tactical efforts.

It is amusing to see that even in 2015 many brands are only just now discovering the notion of metrics and measuring their online activity:

“…many brands moving towards measuring audience impressions, clicks, and thinking cross-platform”

Tania Yuki , Shareablee CEO and Founder

Then we often hear statistics like this:

“…Instagram delivered these brands 58 times more engagement per follower than Facebook, and 120 times more engagement per follower than Twitter.”

The real question to ask about all statistics like this is “so what?” What does that engagement translate to as business outcomes?

“There is no ROI in anything if you don’t learn how to use it.”

– Gary Vaynerchuk, Founder VaynerMedia

The simple fact is that hardly anyone is driving direct revenue from social media, and many businesses are not optimized to sell via mobile. And the big question for businesses is what is the goal for their social and mobile activity?

But now all business online presence must be mobile friendly – Google and customers will punish businesses that do not embrace this. Increasingly users are accessing digital  content via mobile devices, and this means that businesses need to ensure a good quality experience.

Social media was only phase 1

Social media was phase one of the new digital revolution, next coming is the collaborative economy and internet of things ( IoT).

The present of social is mobile. The future of mobile is IoT and wearables. and these offer huge  monetization opportunities:

Cisco [former] CEO John Chambers Values Internet of Things at $19T #CES2014

People

People, both customers and staff, now have a default position that assumes access to any resources they want. And they want it online, on demand, real-time, anywhere, and on any device they choose.

This is all part of the democratisation of communication enabled by the digital revolution. It leads to an inversion of power relationships and puts the means of production for communication in the hands of the populace.

It leads to opportunities and growth in peer-to-peer and mobile. Kevin Kelly sums it up nicely as:

“…a shift towards the individual as the centre of a network of relationships mediated and enabled by technology…”

The shift is from customer channels to a customer continuum mediated by social and mobile.

This means that businesses need to connect social media activity to purchasing activity, they need to make it work on mobile and tablet. And it must be friction-less.

Changes to team and organisation structure

In a fast moving context like this command-control management is dead. This is because the operational tempo of a digital business is not days or weeks or months; it is minutes and seconds.

To support this shift in operational tempo we need employees with skills to work in a social or collaborative context. We need team members who can deal with ambiguity and a fast pace.

To support customers who do not have patience with internal silos businesses need to move towards integrated teams. This means using ideas like DevOps and agile to support cross-functional teams to meet customer needs and deliver across organisational silos. To achieve this all parts of the business will need to bring together expertise:

  • Tech
  • Marketing
  • Sales
  • Operations
  • Customer service

Workforce changes mean that new ways of working will emerge, such as co-working and collaboration. These will lead to increased decentralisation of the workforce and be accompanied by much shorter change cycles.

And these changes will all lead to issues with boundaries between public and private; between personal and business. With this blurring between roles it will be increasingly difficult to establish role clarity. And this means that team members need to be able to manage through ambiguity and across functional lines.

Risk and governance

In the fast-paced world of digital business we still need to consider how to manage risk and how to enact effective governance.  Some factors to consider in this regard include:

  • Monitor your business online
  • Assign responsibility for online channels
  • Include social & mobile in digital strategy
  • Link digital strategy to marketing strategy
  • Ensure cross media planning in place
  • Develop mechanisms to track progress
  • Create and manage loosely connected networks
  • Grow a business in a networked world
  • Engage people and garner advocates for your business
  • Focus outward while protecting your brand

Top 10 checklist for digital business

  1. Digital strategy: is just part of it, includes websites, email marketing, etc.
  2. Tactical plans: For implementation of campaigns
  3. Resource plan: Social is not free, it needs people and tools
  4. Tools: Required to enable management, tracking and monitoring
  5. Metrics: Need to be decided prior to implementation to enable effective reporting
  6. ROI: Need to track investment and results
  7. Reporting: For good governance
  8. Roles & responsibilities: Defined and clear to all parties, in particular governance + cross-functional teams
  9. Cross media plan: Integration with other digital and marketing activities
  10. Risk management: Includes social media policies and procedures and crisis management process

LinkedIn and the power of networks

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I used to think of LinkedIn as a boring but worthy social network for business contacts. But I was wrong.

Over the years it has become a critical B2B social network, with multi-million dollar deals often being done via the platform.

LinkedIn has also disrupted the recruitment business and reshaped the way people find jobs. It changed the power dynamic in recruitment by enabling the jobs to find people. Clever recruiters embraced LinkedIn early. The rest clung to their clunky old proprietary resume databases.

With the recent acquisition of Lynda.com, the reach of LinkedIn looks like growing into training and education. This is a more interesting play than MOOCs from an education perspective.

Remembering my LinkedIn story

Last night I caught up with a longstanding buddy, Des Walsh, as he visited Sydney. Des is a doyen of social media in Australia, as well as being a passionate networker and executive coach.

As we chatted I finally remembered to tell him the story of how one of his ideas helped me to get a great job.

LinkedIn ’30 day blitz’

Back in late 2012 Des contacted a diverse bunch of folks who were active on social media, noting that LinkedIn was our ‘orphan’ social network. He was right, most of us were enamoured with other sexier social media platforms. We were all members of LinkedIn, but at that time none of us were particularly active there, nor were our profiles up to date.

Des setup a social network challenge for November 2012, rounding up a diverse group to take part in a month of LinkedIn activity.

The concept was simple – “A collaborative project, in which each participant commits to take action on his/her LinkedIn presence and activity, over a 30 day period.” – 30 Day Linking Blitz.

I signed up for the blitz, and started with updating my LinkedIn profile with previous work and a decent profile picture.

The results were immediate

Almost immediately after that I was contacted by a recruiter. The recruiter had been trying for almost a year to find a candidate for a role that called for a diverse mix of skills. She explained that my name had popped up in her LinkedIn search that morning.

The rest is history. I interviewed for the role at UNSW Australia, where I’ve been working happily since then. All thanks to Des and his 30 Day LinkedIn Blitz.

Leaders, problems, and action

“We measure a leader, not by the absence of problems, but how he or she confronts those problems and takes action.”

Rosabeth Moss Kanter


There has been a long and largely unprofitable debate in management circles about the difference between management and leadership. Over the years I have come to a realisation that management and leadership are inextricably linked and that they are defined by actions.

In the long run it does not matter what is said. The finest words pale into insignificance beside our actions. What we do defines us.

The true test of leadership is when problems arise. And the actions taken by the leader in response to problems are the measure of their leadership.

The leader needs to embody the values espoused by the organisation. The actions taken by the leader enable their teams to see how they too can respond to problems facing the organisation.

Good management goes hand in hand with good leadership, and it is how efficient and effective processes are put in place to support the business, its customers, and its staff.

Too often we see a combination of poor leadership with an absence of good management. This makes for an organisation with unhappy customers that is a horrible place to work.

And it is easily changed. Good leadership and good management will fix it. It can be surprising how quickly appointing an effective manager can turn a dysfunctional team into a functioning team. And to effect this change it is often how the leader confronts the challenges facing the team that causes a cascade of behavioural change among the team.

A good leader is a catalyst for new ways of being and of thinking for the team. As mentioned previously, the good leader embodies new ways for the team to be and gives them permission to act differently.

As managers we must give sincere thought to our role as leaders. We are the ones who set the tone for the team. For good or ill, leaders set the scene and signal the boundaries of acceptable and desirable behaviour.

Annual Global CIO Survey 2014

The annual Harvey Nash CIO Survey launched in Sydney in early December 2014.

This is a long running CIO survey with responses from more than 3,200 CIOs and technology leaders globally.

It was interesting to join the panel at this event for a lively discussion of technology and business related matters.

My fellow panelists were:

We had a wide-ranging discussion including: big data (and its friend little data); the importance of good alignment between IT and marketing for the business; and the need for a new kind of IT that is freed up from legacy systems and closely aligned to the business.

Some of the comments are documented here.

Why privacy on the internet of things doesn’t scare me

The debate about the internet of things often centres on privacy, but here is why privacy on the internet of things doesn’t scare me as much as digital rights management.

I tend to suspect that issues relating to privacy on the internet of things will be sorted out as a result of consumer and government expectations enshrined in privacy regulations.

A key capability that is enabled by the internet of things is that vendors can keep charging us for services related to their device. One reason why businesses are so excited by the internet of things is it allows them to move from selling a device as a one-off sale and towards ongoing fees for services associated with that device.

This phenomenon will enable internet of things companies to increase their revenue streams and to drive sales of additional services. Thus the value of an internet of things device is not so much in the hardware as in the software and services.

Take the pacemaker as an example. If you have a pacemaker installed and the vendor decides to charge a monthly service fee to keep the device going, what happens if you miss a payment? If the vendor has, very sensibly, implemented digital rights management on your pacemaker service then they will be able to turn it off if you miss a few payments.

If this sounds far fetched, it’s not, it is already here. Last December I test drove a new electric car, the Renault Zoe, at a conference in Paris. This car has implemented digital rights management.

If you do not pay the ongoing rental fee on the battery for your Renault Zoe then you will not be allowed to recharge the battery.

Also, chipmaker FTDI,whose chips are found in many consumer electronics products, recently announced that they will kill third party chips remotely via driver updates. This will likely render useless the devices that consumers have purchased in good faith which have counterfeit chips installed.

This is why digital rights management scares me more than privacy in the brave new world of the internet of things.

Welcome to the digital revolution and our networked future.

 

 

Business plan – ultimate waste of time or absolute necessity? #startups

There is an enormous amount of information and advice about creating a business plan for one’s startup.

The advice ranges from the necessity to prepare a traditional narrative form business plan document, to preparing a business model canvas, or using a business planning tool or app.

There are even notions like the idea-less startup, where the team is formed before the startup idea comes together.

No business plan at all is not a good idea

While the consensus nowadays seems to be that shorter business plans are better, some folks even argue that preparing a business plan is a complete waste of time. Others who argue that business plans are a waste of time suggest:

“Throw your business plan in the recycling bin. Instead, focus on your team and on getting to market as quickly as you can.”

What a business needs to think about

That notion of no business plan is all very well. But a new business does need to consider things that are traditionally covered in a business plan, such as:

  • Business purpose – the purpose for which the business exists (some like to include mission and/or vision); what makes the business and its products special or different
  • Markets in which the business will operate – including competitors, geography, since these inform operational matters such as logistics and distribution
  • Sales – how the business will make money, as Guy Kawasaki said recently during his visit to Canva in Sydney: “Sales fix everything“, also need to consider pricing and distribution
  • Business finances – funding sources, financial projections including operating costs and revenue; how the business will make money
  • Business structure – incorporation, board and directors
  • Management and ownership – who will manage the business operations, who owns what and what obligations are to be fulfilled
  • Key personnel – people required to run the business, either contract or staff positions
  • Products or services, innovation, and intellectual property – including how the product will be developed and brought to market
  • Insurance and risk management
  • Legal considerations
  • Business operations – how the business will manage production, logistics, distribution, customer service, sales, accounting, bookkeeping, statutory requirements, etc

If these types of information are not written down it is hard to ensure that all participants share a common understanding.

Quick approaches to business planning

My approach to business planning is to do it in stages, with each stage focused on checking the team’s current understanding of key issues, risks, and obtaining agreement as to sensible next steps.

Lean business model canvas

A good way to start the planning process is to use a lean business model canvas to get the team thinking about the key issues for the business. If the team cannot answer the questions posed in this document then it is a clear risk signifier for the project.

Once agreement is reached on the high level information in the lean business canvas it is a good checkpoint for the team. The canvas also provides a helpful artefact for sharing with potential collaborators and investors. It is a useful way to assess the viability of the business idea.

More detailed planning

For the preparation of the next level of detailed business plan I had traditionally used the narrative form document with charts and tables. However, recently Avis Mulhall put me onto a business planning tool called Live Plan. I’m now a total convert to this approach (please note that I have no affiliation with Live Plan, just find it a very handy tool).

This kind of tool asks the right questions and enables the team to prepare a good looking presentation document that includes sensible categories of information.

This more detailed plan provides another useful artefact for sharing with potential collaborators and investors.

Quick business planning

For a few startups I’m working with, the teams went through the entire planning process outlined above – including lean canvas and detailed business plan – in a single day.

The business planning process does not have to be onerous.

Business planning at its best

At its best, business planning is about the team asking sensible questions about:

  • how the business will work,
  • how it will find and keep happy customers,
  • how it will make money,
  • how the risks will be mitigated,
  • and how the rewards for success will be shared among the founders and investors.

Predicting success #startups

“The only major personality trait that consistently leads to success is conscientiousness.” via Business Insider

In large companies personality tests and similar instruments are often deployed to provide people with better insight into their own and team performance.

Over the years I have participated in many of these – for example, Myers Briggs, DISC, Belbin Team Roles, Hermann Brain Dominance, 16PF, Big Five Inventory, etc.

Many people debate the efficacy of any or all of these instruments. However, the primary importance of these kind of instruments is the opportunity they provide for people to reflect upon their personal and work preferences. They also provide an opportunity for people to consider how best to participate in teams and to collaborate with others in a work context. These personal reflections and insights are the true value of these personality profile tools in the workplace.

Startups rarely have the luxury of investing time or money into administering these kind of instruments for their teams. This means that personal traits and interpersonal skills are not explicitly considered as part of the setup of a startup.

For co-founders and investors due diligence on the business is typically about the ‘hard’ data – budgets, sales targets, capital – rather than on ‘soft’ skills of the startup team.

Success, focus, and startups

In recent times I have been pondering how to assess the soft skills of startup teams. The one trait that keeps coming up is conscientiousness.

In the long run, brilliance and inventiveness are less important than the ability to focus and persist in the everyday tasks that accrete to make a successful business.

As Thomas Edison said:

“Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety nine percent perspiration.

Related research on the Big Five

How Universal Is the Big Five? Testing the Five-Factor
Model of Personality Variation Among Forager–Farmers
in the Bolivian Amazon