Category: culture

Posts

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14 June / culture
Earlier this week, I spoke at 2U's annual employee conference. Redpoint partnered with 2U at the Series A, and they are now a $2B publicly traded education company that powers online degree programs for Georgetown, USC, Syracuse, Berkeley, and Yale, among others. It was an inspirational moment for me because I observed the intense power of developing strong company culture. I've never read the list of core company values or spoken to the executive team about them.
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12 September / culture
Like many others, English is my second language. As I learned over time, there's a particular way of ordering adjectives in English to make yourself understood. Opinion. Size. Shape. Condition. Age. Color. Pattern. Origin. Material. Purpose. Noun. That's the order most of the time. When I say a unique large curvaceous second-hand modern orange checked Italian carbon fiber racing car, it rolls right off the tongue and you imagine a sleek, if garish, Lamborghini.
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10 March / culture
We all recognize great leadership when we see it. But what characterizes great leadership? Is it an inspirational speaker articulating a goosebump-inducing vision? Or an executive with the five universally praised characteristics Stanford professor Jeffrey Pfeiffer identified: modesty, authenticity, truthfulness, trustworthiness and selflessness? Or is it a great manager of people, someone who understands the aspirations of each report, charts a career path, assigns meaningful work along that path, and champions their promotion?
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04 March / culture / startups
In “How People Learn to Become Resilient” Maria Konnikova retells the story of Norman Garmezy and George Bonnano, the first developmental psychologists to study grit and resilience. It’s only when you’re faced with obstacles, stress, and other environmental threats that resilience, or the lack of it, emerges: Do you succumb or do you surmount?…One of the central elements of resilience, Bonnano has found, is perception: Do you conceptualize an event as traumatic, or as an opportunity to learn and grow?
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04 December / culture / startups
After a startup attains product market fit and begins to exceed the first breaking point of the startup management structure around 10 employees, it's time to codify the company's values. The values of the company are the most concrete way for a business to determine whether candidates might make good employees. At two separate SaaS Office Hours recently, we heard similar stories from Maia at Greenhouse and Pete at Optimizely. At both Optimizely and Greenhouse, one member of the management team began the values definition process as the company began to scale.
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26 September / startups / culture / best practices
The startups that build and retain the best teams develop a huge competitive advantage. It's no surprise that managers are the most important influencers of team development and retention. The most frequent and consequently most powerful tool for managers to coach, develop and lead their teams are one-on-ones, weekly meetings between a manager and his or her individual reports. Most one-on-ones are ad-hoc, loosely structured 15-30 minute meetings. While extemporaneous meetings can work, leaders who manage their teams this way forgo an important opportunity to further their team's success.
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13 May / startups / culture
Startups are in a state of perpetual change. During a startup's first few years of establishing product market and winning the first set of customers, this state of change is obvious. But as a startup scales, the company must adapt by learning and reinventing. Whether it's building the processes to grow the team, creating new sales and marketing initiatives to pursue adjacent customers, developing customer success teams or handling an unforseen crisis, this process of reacting to the market and evolving the company happens at every level in each function.
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Imagine a city council meeting with three agenda items: a $100M power plant zoning approval, a request to build a $10,000 bike rack for city sidewalks and and a $100 proposal to buy refreshments for the annual picnic. The power plant discussion takes all of 3 minutes to reach approval, as does the refreshment budget. But the $1000 bike rack debate drags on for hours as council members debate the right materials, the best color scheme and the right way to announce the project.
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27 February / startups / best practices / culture
The process of creating the right culture in a startup has always been mysterious to me. Each company's culture evolves in its own way. I've wondered whether the culture is set by the personalities of the founders, or prominently displayed value statements and mission, or biases purposely imposed in the hiring processes like Google's googliness filter. Or is understanding the psychological forces at play among employees the most important element?
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31 January / startups / best practices / culture
OODA was a technique coined by John Boyd, one of the leading military thinkers of the last 100 years, based on the German’s Blitzkrieg-style warfare which prioritized speed and surprise over the traditional win, hold and grind attrition techniques of trench warfare. After @pmarca tweeted about the concept, I read one of the books on the topic called Certain to Win. Boyd’s thesis is that leaders of successful teams have to enable their organization to move rapidly, which means empowering people at all levels to make decisions.
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22 January / startups / culture / best practices
When I worked as an engineer, I loved crafting code and feeling the satisfaction of having built something each day. But there was one thing about coding I never grew to love, despite its importance: forecasting my coding time. Every two weeks, I trudged into a planning meeting that exposed my incompetent forecasting. During these meetings, each person in turn would review their commitments for the last two weeks and provide an update.
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03 January / startups / culture
Earlier this week, Zappos declared they will abandon traditional management structure for holacracy, a management ethos that eschews pyramids and hierarchy in favor of self-organizing groups, called holons. It's not a structure without management, but one of distributed authority and management. Below is a schematic describing holacracy at a high level. Holacracy has been adopted by a handful of other companies including David Allen's company, the blogging platform Medium and some non-profits.
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02 January / startups / best practices / culture
Like many others, during my work day I fall into the firefighting trap, a time mis-allocation problem that leaves me focusing on urgent, but not necessarily important tasks. Firefighting is addictive because it's fast-paced, nonstop and fun. But firefighting is exhausting and leaves me feeling as if I haven't made progress toward my goals. In addition, firefighting inhibits effective time allocation. A week can pass and I find that the non-urgent but important projects like preparing for a board meeting and researching a new sector like Bitcoin have been starved for time.
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20 December / startups / best practices / culture
You’re walking down the hallway at work from one meeting to the next. A colleague or report stops you en route, asks for a minute and presents an important problem. It’s easy to respond with “let me think about it” and duck into the meeting. In that half-second, all the responsibility of the decision has been transferred. Unlike a minute ago, you have the monkey on your back. The challenge with these situations is two-fold.
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A key component in a startup's formula for success is educating customers about the product and driving sales. The sales and marketing teams of a startup are responsible for this. There are many ways to structure sales and marketing teams. The diagram above outlines a sales and marketing team structure that I've observed across many startups. It is consistent with the organizational design Salesforce used to drive revenue from $0 to $100M, described Aaron Ross's book, Predictable Revenue.
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20 November / startups / best practices / culture
At its core, a startup's advantage in the market is the speed created by focus. When a team is well orchestrated, they can accomplish amazing things. Creating an environment that fosters communication best is therefore an essential part of startup management. But how best to do it? Founders have to balance span-of-control with span-of-managerial-responsibility. In an article this week's New Yorker, Amazon's founder/CEO Jeff Bezos is quoted on the subject with a contrarian point of view:
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15 November / startups / best practices / culture
In response to yesterday's post on management design patterns, many readers asked for examples of best practices. So I'm going to write about the management best practices I have been taught and I have observed in startups. This is the first post of that series. The first management technique is called Situational Management, one that my wife, a terrific manager at Google, taught me. A manager's most important function in a startup is to motivate employees to accomplish the business's goal.
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21 October / startups / best practices / culture
At all hands meetings on Tuesday afternoons, our 75 person AdSense Ops team reviewed the most important metrics for the business: top-two box customer satisfaction scores, revenue growth and customer churn. But unlike every other all hands meeting I attended, these meetings ended with a monkey and a dog. Our director, Kim Malone, would stand up and call for two stuffed animals, first, Whoops the Monkey and Second, Duke the Dog, both of whom employees had carried to the meeting.
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12 November / culture
This morning NPR profiled an education researcher comparing and contrasting the way different cultures approach intelligence and learning in schools. Though the debate about education methodologies is fascinating, I found the one of the stories in the report reminded me of the importance of transparent cultures in startups. In 1979, Jim Stigler, a researcher from UMich went to study education in Japan. Sitting in the back of a fourth grade math class, he watched as the teacher asked the class to draw cubes.
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