As I have seen our company grow, I have been thinking a lot about the best way to serve its employees. One lesson that I have repeatedly learned is that people are very complex and different. I am continually taught new lessons about how what works for one person does not work for another. Every effort I have made to treat a group of different people the same way has backfired. I am slowly, but surely, beginning to respect the complexity of human beings.
So, as I got to reading about this topic, I realized that a lot of really smart people have thought much more about this than I have. I came across a really interesting book titled “Workforce of One” by Susan Cantrell and David Smith. I am pretty excited because a lot of ideas in it really resonate with me.
What is a Workforce of One about?
The core premise of Workforce of One is that you treat your workforce like your customer. For executives and leaders, your employees really are your customers. And just like we have been doing in e-commerce for years now, the key to success is to segment your customers so that you can provide a personalized experience that strives to give everyone what they really want.
There are six core trends that drive the need for customization for the talent management organization:
Ok, Ok, I get it. How do I customize my People practices?
There are four core ways that an organization can customize its people practices.
The core takeaway for me is that you really have to customize your approach to the dynamics of your workplace. A segmentation scheme that works in one organization may not work in another. Furthermore, you should only start thinking about this kind of personalization when your organization is above a certain size (I’d say it starts getting relevant at about 200). Finally. you have be sure that you are staying within the confines of the law, particularly if you are segmenting your workforce.
Why should I care?
Driving a customized approach to people practices is more critical today than ever. In today’s knowledge work economy, people really are your largest asset. If other companies start to offer these kinds of customized benefits, you are already one step behind. As your organization grows, you will find that a one-size-fits-all strategy simply won’t be good enough. (That’s what I am learning more about every single day.)
I was reading this great blog post about the problems with estimating business value by Mike Cohn, and found that it identified a problem that has been nascent in my mind for a little while now.
I won’t summarize the whole blog post here (you should just go read it!), but I will talk about how it gets me to thinking.
We’ve recently started our company-wide steering committee process, and I have had a hard time deciding how fine or coarse-grained we should get when we make the relative priority tradeoff decisions.
One of the values of getting fine-grained is that you can, theoretically, maximize ROI. You can identify the lowest-hanging fruit by getting to the user story level. Instead of looking at a large grouping of stories, which may have varying levels of importance to the business, you can look at the stories one-by-one and decide which ones are the most relevant right now (particularly based on their level of effort.)
The problem with this approach, however, is that this approach can be more complex than it seems in practice. The core reason is shared costing. There is often times architectural work that is shared across multiple stories. Or, there is work that can be combined and will take less time than if done separately. One example we’ve thought about recently is our checkout system and our return system. It’s probably more important to us to tackle the checkout enhancements. But, if we combine the checkout and the returns in one initiative, then we can tackle much of the architecture at once, and it will probably take us 60% of the effort that it would if we did it separately.
How do we take that into account at the ‘steering committee’ level? I think the answer is that we don’t. There are too many complex tradeoffs that exist like this when you get to the user story level. I think we are better served at the epic level.
I’ll experiment more soon and report back!
I’ve had the opportunity to evaluate and hire around thirty very talented people in the last few months, and it has been a pretty eye-opening experience for a lot of reasons. Perhaps the most interesting reason is the varying outcomes I have seen from all these new employees. I have seen some new employees do a fantastic job of integrating themselves with the culture and the team, and I’ve seen others crash and burn.
It got me to thinking, “what is it that makes certain new people successful in an organization and others not-so-successful?” If there are certain attitudes and behaviors that drive good outcomes for a new team-member, I’d like to know what they are. This is especially interesting because I find that some team members who I am excited about during hiring/evaluation process actually don’t do so well in their first 30-90 days.
So, I’d like to better understand what works and what doesn’t. That way, I can try to help coach new employees in that direction. I’ll establish a working list here, and try to add to it as I learn more.
This topic is not only timely for me, I think its hugely important in any rapidly growing organization. There are lots of new faces and there is a lot of uncertainty. What I have found is that some of the brightest people have the least organizational savvy. So if you think this advice doesn’t apply to you because you ‘smarter than that,’ I encourage you to think again. No matter how smart you are, you are not going to be effective in an organization where you haven’t built trust and don’t have the ability to gain buy-in.
Joining a new organization can be harder than most people think. Hopefully some of this advice helps people on their way…
I read a great article by Tony Schwartz in the Harvard Business review about why companies should insist on their employees napping in the workplace. Those of you that know me well can imagine my delight!
I have been napping consistently for about 4 years now. I make it a point to trade my lunches for a nap in the middle of the day, and I can’t feel better about it. In fact, it’s gotten so routine that I don’t really even need to look at the clock to know that it’s nap time.
Anyway, the short of the story is that I can’t say enough in the way of good things about it. I feel like I get two days for the price of one. (As someone who starts working at between 4:30am and 6am, I sort of do.) I don’t have any afternoon slumps to deal with. I am able to be high-intensity the whole day. I also feel much better when I get home in the evenings. Instead of just wanting to veg out and do nothing, I at least have the energy to read interesting books and articles.
Anyway, over the years, I have gotten various levels of pushback and scepticism about my napping. I’ve responded with a simple rule: “I don’t pretend to know enough about everyone else to prescribe what they should do to perform their best, but I support their decisions, provided they are within reason.” I believe that we are all adults here (at the workplace), and that we can each figure out what is best for us. I expect the same respect from others in the workplace.
So I never really tried to convince folks that napping is for them too. Mostly because I don’t know if it will work for other folks as well as it does for me. I also don’t want to come across as the crazy ‘nap pusher.’
But upon reading Tony’s article, I have to say that there is some really compelling evidence out there to support napping. The research seems to align with the feelings I have gotten from napping, so it seems that at least some people out there get positive benefits too.
I suggest you read Tony’s article .. I won’t spoil it for you!
I’ve thought a lot lately about innovation and creation. There are lots of ways that we can try to improve our total creative quality and output as an organization. The first, and most obvious choice, is to try and find and surround ourselves with innovative people. We’ve gone from a group of four very talented folks in our office to over fifty in the last four months. Check. Now what?
Now we have to think about fostering an environment that enables people to be creative and innovative. What I have come to find is that talking about culture is really easy. But, doing anything about culture is MUCH harder. Actually trying to drive cultural change or evolution can be very trying work, and it often doesn’t feel like any progress is being made.
So I have done some research and thinking about the best way to create a culture of innovation, and here’s what I’ve got so far. You have to:
So, why does this matter? Well, simply put: people are hard enough to manage when you are not expecting them to innovate or be creative. Adding this (very high) expectation to the mix is no small matter. Doing so without creating the right environment for success is a recipe for disappointment.
Also, take it from someone who is learning the hard way: focus on the culture early, before it gets too far ahead of you. It’s a lot harder to play catch-up and drive cultural change than it is to be thoughtful about it from day one!
I said in my recent post that creativity an innovation are the key factors of success for entrepreneurial businesses, going forward. I still mean that. And the more I think about it, the more I have come to believe that it’s actually true. If you want to succeed in the incredibly tough marketplace of high-growth technology start-ups, you have to out-innovate your competition.
Since I have come to this realization, I have been hunting for ways to get better at being creative. Creativity is a fuzzy concept that is easy to talk about, but harder to define (and succeed at) in practice. Also, not all of us are born with that ‘creative flare’ that so many innovators are known for.
As I read and research more about the topic, I find myself surprised at how much is written about creativity and the ‘creative process.’ Perhaps my most interesting recent discovery is about the stages of creative thinking. There are generally accepted stages of creativity that most writers seem to know (but that I have never heard of until now!)
After discovering these five stages of creativity, I find myself impressed by how intuitive they seem, and by how broad reaching they are. I suspect that these phases of creative thinking are not only applicable to writers, but are probably useful to many entrepreneurs and innovators as well.
Without further ado, here they are:
1. First Insight – This is the act of finding or formulating the initial problem or topic that you are interested in. This in itself is challenging. Einstein put it better than I ever could:
“To raise new questions, new possiblities, to regard old problems from a new angle requires a creative imaginiation and marke the real advances in science.”
Too true. I find that often times, good business ideas come from being stuck on ‘your own problem.’ A lot of innovators end up ‘scratching their own itch’ because no one else had done so already.
2. Saturation – After this problem area has been discovered, the goal is to get as much data as you possibly can from a variety of sources. This aligns very well with the kind of market and product research I have done in the past. It’s about talking to real users, customers, and even people ancillary to the space you are thinking about.
The secret here is to discover without an agenda. You want the ideas to roll around in your head in the beginning. You don’t want to be trying to find an answer too soon.
3. Incubation — This part may be counter-intuitive to some, but the idea is that you want to let your subconscious mind start attacking the problem. The secret here is to get away from the problem. How you do this is non-trivial. Each person is different, so you have to find the way that’s best for you.
4. Illumination — This is the eureka moment. Basically, as your subconscious mind attacks the problem from all angles, it will eventually find a solution that excites you. You’ll know it when you feel it!
5. Verification – Now you have to vet out the idea. This is likely to be the part that takes the most effort. Further, this is the part where I am guessing most entrepreneurs fall by the way-side. They either don’t have the time, energy, or follow-through to actually see this phase through. But those of us who actually succeed in building something find that the ‘journey of creation’ actually teaches us a lot.
So there you have it! Hopefully you find the five phases of creativity to be just as interesting as I do. You might be asking yourself, “So why does this matter?” Well, the stages of creativity matter because the ‘the battle of creativity’ is where the war of entrepreneurship is won or lost. We entrepreneurs would be well-served by taking a page out of the book of innovative writers.