Facebook, Twitter & Middle Class Jobs

Thomas Friedman had a great piece a couple of weeks ago in the New York Times, titled Why I Still Support Obamacare. I recommend checking it out. He talks about the ACA but points out a much larger economic trend -- the disappearance of the middle class. It used to be that big companies needed lots of workers to run their businesses. Those businesses created lots of good paying, long-term, reliable jobs. Those jobs are what made up the middle class.

But more and more companies are finding that they don't need as many employees as they used to need in order to thrive. As an example, Facebook is a $110 billion company but only has 8,000 employees. GE, a more traditional company, has about 3 times the market cap of Facebook but has 40 times the number of employees. Fast growing tech companies are creating lots and lots of value but they're not creating lots and lots of jobs.

Friedman quotes James Manyika from McKinsey:

To be in the middle class, you may need to consider not only high-skilled jobs, “but also more nontraditional forms of work,” explained Manyika. Work itself may have to be thought of as “a form of entrepreneurship” where you draw on all kinds of assets and skills to generate income.

This could mean leveraging your skills through Task Rabbit, or your car through Uber, or your spare bedroom through AirBnB to add up to a middle-class income.

Friedman's point in the column is that affordable, mandated healthcare is going to be critical as more people begin working independently.

In many ways this is an exciting trend, but this shift in how people work, who they work for and the emergence of the "free agent" job market is going to have an extremely wide-ranging political and economic impact. It's something our policymakers need to be thinking about.

Being Wrong

Last week Penelope Trunk had a good post on 5 things she was wrong about. I've found over and over again that people that are alright with being wrong are far more successful (and pleasant to work with) than people that have to be right.  People that can be wrong have the right mix of confidence and humility -- two of my favorite qualities in a colleague. I recommend reading Penelope's full post, but in the excerpt below she captures why being able to be wrong makes people more successful. I liked it so much that I thought I'd post it here.

The real reason I don’t mind being wrong is that you can’t ever be right in a way that matters if you’re never wrong. Think about it: if you are right on something where everyone knows you’re right then it doesn’t matter that you’re right. If you are right about something where people think it’s surprising, then you take a risk of being wrong but you also open yourself up to the joy of surprising yourself with your own insight. It’s a risk high performers are willing to take.

Yahoo! & Working From Home

Much has been made of Marrisa Mayer’s controversial decision to stop allowing Yahoo! employees to work from home. I've heard pretty convincing arguments for it and against it. I feel pretty strongly about allowing employees to work when and where they’re most productive. Personally, I’ve often found that I can be incredibly productive working from home on Saturday mornings. And not so productive when in the office on a Friday afternoon. And often it can be vice versa. But having the flexibility to manage my own productivity makes me a better employee. Having that kind of control is really important.

But none of this takes into account collaboration with my company and team. There are things that I can’t do on my own time. I have to collaborate with my colleagues, and when and where we do that is not always up to me. So I need to balance optimizing my own productivity with finding time to collaborate and learn and innovate with my colleagues. Ideally, a CEO should allow individuals to manage that balance on their own. But when a company is going through a massive change in management and structure and mission (like Yahoo! is right now) it absolutely makes sense for the CEO to mandate that balance.

Right now, according to Mayer, it appears that Yahoo! is in transition. And in need of better collaboration and teamwork and that’s why she made the decision to bring employees back to the office.

In short, I guess my opinion is to not have an opinion. Those of us that are not on the executive team at Yahoo! can’t really know the circumstances at Yahoo! and, given those circumstances, can't really make an intelligent judgement about the most appropriate work from home policy.

The Power Of LinkedIn

I received this email from LinkedIn the other day. LinkedIn Email

I'm surprised I'm in the "LinkedIn one-percent". I don't share all that much on the site, or many other social networks for that matter. 95% of my sharing is done on this blog. I've always been reluctant to share very actively in too many places; I prefer to share in one place that I can be really proud of.

That said, I have built up an amazing network of colleagues, friends, partners, clients and mentors that I can easily speak to through LinkedIn's platform. And this email is a good reminder of how much of an asset that network can be.


People of Groupon, After four and a half intense and wonderful years as CEO of Groupon, I've decided that I’d like to spend more time with my family. Just kidding — I was fired today. If you’re wondering why … you haven’t been paying attention.

These were the first two sentences of Andrew Mason's letter to employees announcing that he had been fired as CEO of Groupon following a disappointing fourth-quarter earnings report. The letter goes on to explain some of his failures, as well as express his hope for the future of the company.

It was really refreshing to see Mason take this approach. This guy built an amazing company (I wrote about their growth a while back). And I give him a ton of credit for talking about his failures so publicly. This is so rare in public and private life.

When I interview job candidates I always ask them about the biggest mistakes and failures in their career. Candidates are so reluctant to talk about this topic. They often don't answer the question or talk about a failure where they didn't really fail. They're afraid that I'm going to view their failures as a bad thing.

But failure is a good thing, a great thing actually. Because it shows that you've tried things that are hard and have been through difficult times and persevered. And I want to work with people that have tried hard things and been through difficult times and persevered.

When you try to do great things you're going to fail. A lot. And failing is the best chance to learn. Personally, I learn much more when I fail than when I succeed.

When I interview someone and they can't think of a failure, there are three possible takeaways: 1.) the candidate isn't self aware 2.) the candidate is lying 3.) the candidate has never tried anything difficult. All of these are bad.

I hope we see more business leaders (and interviewees) become more open about their failures like Andrew Mason was last week.

Productivity Tips

I came across some really good productivity tips this past week. One group in a great post from Matt Heinz and the other in a post from Erin Schulte from Fast Company. I'll add two things to their lists that have worked really for me:

  1. Each morning I write down my top three priorities for the day. That is, the top 3 most important things that I need to accomplish that will help me get to where I want to be. I actually capture these in the Chatter app in Salesforce.com, but you could capture them anywhere. Then, at the end of each day, I update the Chatter post confirming that I got them done. You'd be shocked at how productive you can be if you only do the 3 most important things on your list each day.
  2. To prevent myself from spending the day responding to incoming streams of messages, I work 'offline' for large portions of the day. I put on my headphones and close all web browsers and switch to "work offline" mode in Outlook and go to work. These are typically the the most productive parts of my day.

I'm sure I have others but those two stand out as things that have really helped me ramp up my productivity in recent years.

How I Interview Job Candidates

I think a lot about the best way to interview job candidates.  I’m always trying to determine how effective they’ll be at my company but also how much they’ll actually want to be at my company.   I want to be sure that we’re going to like them long after they’re hired and, just as importantly, that they’re going to like us long after they’re hired. Here’s the framework I’m currently using when I interview a job prospect:

  1. Resume Walkthrough.  First, I walk through their resume to get to know them.  I try to understand why they chose their schools, companies and industries and I always ask why they left each job.  Walking through their resume gives me a really good sense of who they are.  It can be somewhat of an intense conversation so it helps me get to know them right away.  On the surface, I don’t care about gaps in resumes or sabbaticals but I like to understand the choices that the candidate made and why they made them.   At the end I always ask them my favorite interview question.  I ask them to tell me what they want to do without naming a company or an industry.  Specifically I want to know how they want to add value to an organization.
  2. Analysis of Strengths.  Next I dig in on their strengths.  I assume that they’re really good at what they do but I like to understand exactly why they believe they are so good.  Often I’ll ask something like, “if you’re the top performer on your team and I asked the average performer on your team what makes you so good, what would they say?”  This gives some insight into how analytical they are about their success.  I don’t really care that much about hearing about their success, I want to hear about why they’re successful so I can assess whether or not that’ll be transferrable to my company.  Candidates that can’t intelligently tell you why they’re successful are risky.
  3. Hesitations.  At this point I’m in a good position to assess my hesitations.  In a nice way I tell them exactly what I think of them so far and what I’m hesitant about.  And I give them a chance to respond.
  4. Tension Breaker.  Then I lighten things up and ask what they do for fun.
  5. Questions.  Lastly I ask if they have questions for me.   I can usually get a good sense of how much they’ll like working at my company by the questions they ask.

This approach has been working well for me lately so feel free to borrow it.  I’ll try to document how this changes over time.

Is There A Shortage Of Sales Talent?

An article on the Harvard Business Review blog today talked about the shortage of good sales talent and the need for more formal sales training programs. My theory is that there's actually a lot of sales talent out there but those people simply don't want sales jobs. Here's the comment I posted.

Great post and an important topic.  I believe that in today's business environment you need a variety of skills to be a good salesperson -- it's not about back slapping on the golf course anymore.  Sales is much more complex now.  You need to have a strong understanding of finance, economics, accounting, marketing, strategy, technology, product and management to understand what makes a good prospect, what problems your prospects have, where markets are going and how your company's products can fit in.  These skills are not easy to acquire.  In my experience, they come from getting an MBA or working in a client-facing role in a very early stage company where you're forced to wear a lot of hats and figure out how to make your product work or, in a rare case, you've gained these skills on your own by educating yourself.  And I've found that people that have that kind of experience under their belt are, for the most part, uninterested in filling a typical "sales" job.  They're interested in getting into finance or consulting or strategy.  This is because sales has a stigma to it.  People with that kind of ambition and experience often don't want to tell their friends and family that they're a "salesperson".  Not because sales isn't an admirable job -- it is -- but because there's a stigma attached to it.  People that don't understand the complexity of today's sales environment think of the used car salesperson trying to sell them a lemon.

As a result, I believe we need to begin to stop using the word "salesperson" to describe the roles we're trying to fill.  And not just for recruiting reasons.  Because the word no longer describes what these people are being asked to do.  These people aren't selling knives door to door to every house in town.  They're not pitching and responding to objections.  They're seeking out and understanding business opportunities, carefully selecting the appropriate individuals to connect with, having open, informal business conversations, validating assumptions, iterating those assumptions, refining products and services, participating in internal and external strategic planning, creating mutually beneficial partnerships, negotiating legal & business terms, setting goals for the partnerships and seeing that those goals are met.

I believe that the sooner that companies create roles and job titles around this new skill-set, the sooner we'll see more professionals signing up to fill these jobs.

Hard Work Isn't Enough Anymore

There was a good op-ed from Thomas Friedman in yesterday's New York Times titled, Average Is Over, Part II.  The key line for me is:

Thanks to the merger of, and advances in, globalization and the information technology revolution, every boss now has cheaper, easier access to more above-average software, automation, robotics, cheap labor and cheap genius than ever before. So just doing a job in an average way will not return an average lifestyle any longer.

I've written in the past that hard work isn't enough anymore and as Friedman points out this is becoming more and more true. If a person or a machine anywhere in the world can do your job as effectively as you can at a cheaper cost it is simply a matter of time before you're unemployed. You have to find a way to add irreplaceable value.

In some ways, I think the key to thriving in this new environment is just to simply be aware that doing a "good enough" job isn't enough anymore.

I'm glad Friedman is giving people that awareness.

Retaining Your Employees

Fred Wilson had a good post a while back on employee retention. I posted some of my thoughts in a comment there and thought I'd post them here as well. One trend that I’ve seen is that employees leave companies, for the most part, for one of three reasons:

1. They don’t think they’re great at what they’re doing

2. They don’t feel like what they’re doing is important

3. They don’t feel appreciated for what they’re doing

Smart, ambitious people want to be winners. They want to be awesome at what they do, they want to be doing work that is meaningful and impactful and they want to feel appreciated for it. If an employee feels this way, it’s very unlikely that they’ll leave. But with so much going on, busy managers often forget about these things. It’s critical for managers to stop and recognize when an employee is good at something. Verbalize it, don’t just think it. Tell them they’re awesome. Say thank you. Show appreciation.

Everybody gets insecure at some point, even top performers. I remember Mike Krzyzewski, Duke’s basketball coach, explaining that once or twice a year he calls his best player into his office to tell him how much he’s appreciated. This kid is in Sports Illustrated and on ESPN and is the most popular kid on campus, but as Coach K says, everybody gets insecure. And when they do, results suffer.

It’s management’s job to create an environment where people feel awesome. They feel like they’re good at what they do, they’re doing important work and they’re appreciated by their company. When you have these three things in place,you’ll see your retention numbers soar.

As Jack Welch used to say, self-esteem is the fuel that powers great companies.

You're Not Special

Here's my favorite excerpt from David McCullough Jr.'s highly publicized commencement address at this year's Wellesley High School graduation.  It's about time educators starting sending this message...read the entire speech if you get a chance.

Contrary to what your u9 soccer trophy suggests, your glowing seventh grade report card, despite every assurance of a certain corpulent purple dinosaur, that nice Mister Rogers and your batty Aunt Sylvia, no matter how often your maternal caped crusader has swooped in to save you… you’re nothing special.

Yes, you've been pampered, cosseted, doted upon, helmeted, bubble-wrapped. Yes, capable adults with other things to do have held you, kissed you, fed you, wiped your mouth, wiped your bottom, trained you, taught you, tutored you, coached you, listened to you, counseled you, encouraged you, consoled you and encouraged you again. You’ve been nudged, cajoled, wheedled and implored. You’ve been feted and fawned over and called sweetie pie. Yes, you have. And, certainly, we’ve been to your games, your plays, your recitals, your science fairs.  Absolutely, smiles ignite when you walk into a room, and hundreds gasp with delight at your every tweet. Why, maybe you’ve even had your picture in the Townsman! And now you’ve conquered high school… and, indisputably, here we all have gathered for you, the pride and joy of this fine community, the first to emerge from that magnificent new building…

But do not get the idea you’re anything special.  Because you’re not.

Is Sales A Dying Profession?

A commenter on the 'A Sales Guy' blog asked this question the other day and Jim Keenan posed the question to his readers. There's a decent discussion on this topic on his blog so I recommend checking it out. Here's my answer:

Short version: Absolutely Not.

Longer version: Before you can answer the question of whether or not sales is going away, you have to define what salespeople do.  To me, salespeople make connections and tell stories that allow products to be diffused into the market at a faster pace and on a wider scale than they would be if a salesperson wasn't involved.  So companies hire salespeople when they believe that the investment in those people will be outweighed by the incremental revenue that will be produced from their activity.

That said, the commenter is right that because of the internet there are some products that can be sold to enterprises without the involvement of a salesperson.  But that doesn't mean salespeople are going away, it just means that salespeople will have to continue to adapt to selling those things that can't be sold off the shelf -- this means more complex sales and more innovative products.  This has always been true -- products adapt and salespeople adapt.

If a company decides that they can rest on their laurels and its products are so refined that they don't need people out making connections and speeding up the diffusion of their innovative products into the market, then salespeople aren't going away, that company is going away.  

In short, if a company feels like it doesn't need salespeople then that company either isn't innovating or doesn't have very ambitous goals.

The 40 Hour Work Week

I came across what was supposedly a very, very controversial graduation speech given by a right wing talk show host to students at Texas A&M.  It turns out that the speech was simply a chapter in his (fictional) book.  Much of the speech is totally over the top.  But if you’d like to get your blood flowing you can check out the entire speech here

The reason I’m posting about it is there was one line towards the end that struck me as pretty good advice for college graduates… 

Speaking of earning, the revered 40-hour workweek is for losers. Forty hours should be considered the minimum, not the maximum. You don’t see highly successful people clocking out of the office every afternoon at five. The losers are the ones caught up in that afternoon rush hour. The winners drive home in the dark.

Also, related to this topic, Salon.com had a good article a while back on the advent of the 40 hour week, that argues bringing it back would increase productivity -- interesting read when you have a few minutes.

Two Posts Worth Reading

Seth Godin had two great posts last week with two simple lessons worth remembering.  Both posts are super short, I recommend checking them out.

The first points out that success comes not just from working hard, but from working on the right things.  Often, knowing what not to do is harder than knowing what to do.

The second discusses the balance between knowing a lot about one little thing but also knowing a little about a lot.  Both are crucial.

The Start-up of You

Startup of You I read Reid Hoffman's (LinkedIn's co-founder) new book last week, the Startup of You: Adapt to the Future, Invest in Yourself and Transform Your Career.

The thesis of the book is that everyone (from CEOs down to the lowest level employees) should view themselves as entrepreneurs.  It argues that you need to manage your career the same way an entrepreneur would manage a new enterprise.

I agree with this concept completely, and for those that haven't been exposed to this thesis, it's worth the read.  If you're already familiar with this career approach, you won't find much value in the book.  It describes the concept effectively, gives several practical tips and action items to help get you there but largely it comes off as a long advertisement for LinkedIn.

That said, there were a few valuable insights that I took from the book.  Here are two:

The first is about managing your network and asking for help/favors.  When you ask someone for something like advice or an introduction, try hard to give that person something first: a link to an article they might be interested in, an insight you picked up that might help their business, a connection or recommendation that might help them do their job better.  Also, give them some thoughtful and insightful context on what you need.  Once you've done this, then ask for the favor.  Give them a "gift" before you ask them for help.  This is a neat approach to managing your network.

The second is about risk.  The book cites a Neurophysicist that explains that to keep our ancestors alive, Mother Nature evolved a brain that routinely tricked them into making three mistakes: overestimating threats, underestimating opportunities, and underestimating resources (for dealing with threats and fulfilling opportunities).  This caused our ancestors to be very good at avoiding dangerous tribes or animals that could kill them in favor of seeking out opportunities for more food or shelter or resources.  While this was a practical approach at the time (they had to avoid death), this instinct is far less applicable to the world we live in today; a bad investment or a poor career decision isn't going to kill us.  The book encourages the reader to keep this instinct in mind when navigating your career and to try to resist it.  You're likely vastly overestimating the risk and potential pain that could come from most career decisions.

In short, the book is a fairly engaging and quick read and the message is spot on.  If this is new concept for you, I'd definitely recommend picking up a copy.

Managing Up

I gave a short talk a few weeks ago on some of my thoughts on being effective at managing up.

 Managing up is critical.  Bosses want to be assured that you care, that you're getting results and that you're contributing to moving the business forward.  With that in mind, here are the three tips I gave on managing up:

1.  Have a Point of View.  That is, have an opinion, hopefully a strong one, on how you should grow your business, both for your group and the company as as whole.  You may not get your way, that's life, but you should always have a point of view.  Be interested and passionate and opinionated.  Don't be annoying and try to push all of your ideas through but have an opinion and advocate for it.

2.  Drip Your Insights.  I like to say that "insights are just as important as results".  Obviously results are what everyone wants and they should be the primary tool for measuring success or failure.  But when you get results, you should be able to tell your boss exactly how you did it.  You should have insights that are repeatable and scalable.  Of course, the opposite is also true.  When you're not getting results, you should be able to tell your boss exactly why.  It's ok to not get results in the short term if you're showing that you're making massive gains and getting smarter every day and closer to success.  As you gain these insights, be sure to "drip" them to your team, your clients, your boss.  Send emails, share them in meetings, write them on a whiteboard.  Sharing your development and how you're getting smarter is critical to managing up.  Show that you're obsessing over figuring out how to hit your goals.  And that you're getting smarter everyday -- when you're getting results and when you're not.

3.  Build Trust.  This one is the hardest and I'm reluctant to give too much advice on how to build trust.  People do it in their own way and you should build trust with your boss in a way that works for you.  But one thing that's clear is that you're never going to be the lynchpin in your organization if you aren't trusted.  One way I've built trust in the past is to effectively walk the fine line between being a complainer and being a trusted advisor that speaks up when it's needed.  In short, you have to learn to not sweat the small stuff.  Your boss has a lot to worry about -- likely a lot more than you.  Taking problems on yourself and not complaining upstream makes your boss's life easier.  But, when a problem is important enough, raising it up the ladder is also critical.  When you've proven you can balance what's important and what's not your boss will be inclined to shift the more important projects in your direction.

Answer to My Favorite Interview Question

Several weeks ago I posted my favorite question to ask a job candidate.  This is the question:

How do you see yourself adding value to a company?  That is, when you get a job, a company is going to invest in you and pay you (hopefully a lot), so, ideally, what would you like to be doing on a weekly, monthly, quarterly basis to ensure a high return on that investment? 

I thought I'd post my own answer to this question here.  For me, the answer to this question is always evolving.  But there are three critical pieces to the answer that must always be there for me.  What I want to do has to be something that 1.) I really enjoy doing 2.) I'm pretty good at and 3.) is something people will pay for now and into the future.

With that in mind, here's my answer:

I'd like to take innovative products that solve important problems and shape them and the stories around them to get them adopted into the market well before the market is ready.

Success at Work

On Friday I was asked to walk a small team through some of my thoughts on what makes individuals successful at work.  After the session the team was asked to send me their key takeaways.  There were some interesting trends in what they sent back.  I'm posting their takeaways here – in their own words.

  • real failure is highly valuable
  • strive to be the lynchpin
  • make boss’s job easier
  • always bring energy and positivity
  • insights are just as valuable as results
  • consistent habits are important (going to the gym at the same time everyday)
  • always add insight, value, be interesting
  • biggest takeaway – the importance of becoming a “lynchpin” for the company, and for your boss.
  • results and insights are equally important; always search for insights on how to improve next time, even if the results aren’t really there this time
  • in conversation, try to make the majority of it insights; always aim to add helpful/interesting things to increase value
  • simplify the goal; break it down into more achievable parts
  • 3 things that ensure added value: be good at what you’re doing, like what you’re doing, and make it worth paying for
  • become the lynchpin – work towards becoming indispensable to my boss
  • reflect on the work that I have done and think about whether or not someone/something else can do the same or better at a lower cost
  • simplify the goal – this will allow me to focus and create a clear path towards actually achieving it
  • communicate with insights not empty words – always think about how I can add value to a conversation rather than just fill in space
  • key to career growth isn’t necessarily being the smartest/ most intelligent person. Core values such as Trust, Collaboration, and willingness to work towards manager’s goals are some of the key attributes that help in career growth.
  • always remind yourself to be on the learning curve – to better yourself + add value to the company
  • always ask yourself – Why am I best suited to do the job that I am supposed to do? What can I do to better myself in order to do that job better?  If you don’t know the answer to both these questions your career path is probably not on the right track

My Favorite Interview Question

This changes over time, but here’s my favorite question to ask a job candidate:

How do you see yourself adding value to a company?  That is, when you get a job, a company is going to invest in you and pay you (hopefully a lot), so, ideally, what would you like to be doing on a weekly, monthly, quarterly basis to ensure a high return on that investment? 

Typically, you can learn several things from their answer:

  1. What they like to do
  2. What they’re passionate about
  3. What they’re good at
  4. What differentiates them
  5. How they see themselves fitting into an organization 

Of course I would never qualify or disqualify a candidate based on the answer to one question, but the answer to this question usually tells me a lot.

Employee Promotions & The Peter Principle

Recently I made the following comment on a blog post:

I recall watching an interview with Bill Gates.  The interviewer asked him what was the biggest mistake he made when he was building Microsoft. Because I admire Bill Gates enormously, I was on the edge of my seat to hear his answer...

His answer: the biggest mistake he made was assuming that their best engineers would also make good managers.

Of course it's intuitive to promote the best tactical performers but given how often this fails I'm amazed at how companies -- big and small -- continue to use this approach.

A few days later, I came across a theory known as the "Peter Principle":

The "Peter Principle" states that in a hierarchy every employee tends to rise to his or her level of incompetence, meaning that employees tend to be promoted until they reach a position at which they cannot work competently.

It's easy to see how management allows this to happen in their organizations.  If someone performs well it's only logical that they go onto the next step in their career path.  But of course it's extremely dangerous for companies to operate with a bunch of employees that can't do their job well, much less competently.

The solution to this, I believe, it to shake up the old fashioned "career path culture" and build a culture that values the "do'er" and not the manager.  To promote this type of culture, companies should setup formal incentive systems that reward the employee without promoting them into management.  Incentives can include:

  • Salary, bonus, equity increases
  • Allow them to work on the coolest projects or largest accounts
  • Allow them to work on exploratory or strategic projects
  • Let them work side by side with senior management and/or the CEO
  • Give them the best mentorship and training

Most cultures, especially in large companies, value the managers -- employees want to be "in management".  It's critical to setup values and formal systems that disrupt this type of culture to avoid mediocrity and the dangers of the Peter Principle.