Tag Archives: management

Being A Gender Neutral Leader

Not long ago I shared insight about the value of creating a gender neutral organization, and how to do so in your business. As part, I referenced that a large part of this relies at the top-level, led first by example but also through effort and tactics. It beings with the leader, and means adopting a leadership style that does not view staff by gender, but by talent, experience and value. In a business world where ‘male’ and ‘female’ have had clear, defined lines — and the fact that there are can be differences in how men and women do business — it may not feel natural or instinctive to remove gender from the picture. But in doing so, leaders hold not just a great potential to better manage and drive companies overall, but unlock a great benefit to the business that both men and women bring to the job.

Here’s how to adopt a more gender neutral leadership style in your organization:

  1. Recognize talent first — Talent and skills are something that everyone regardless of gender possess. View your entire organization and everyone from this vantage point first. It might take extra or careful thought, but the value in doing so is more than worth it. Watch and evaluate how every person operates in your business and get to know each at this level first.
  2. Ignore your own gender — Gender neutral doesn’t just mean how you see and treat others. It’s also in how you see yourself and interact. It doesn’t mean you’ve got to start adopting the ways or activities of the opposite sex. Rather, operate and lead with your own talent first. By making your own gender second, you’ll increase your chances of acting and reacting gender neutral among your teams and staff — and show them how to do so as well.
  3. Be prepared — Gender neutral leadership doesn’t mean you won’t have instances where gender is a factor. Men and women by design have different ways of handling things, communicating or expressing emotion, etc. — and that goes for leaders as well. Get clear on how you want to handle any issues that arise, including giving yourself time to determine course of action if needed should any situations with teams and staff happen.

Managing Employee (and Your Own) Burnout

We often hear about the exciting, invigorating and fun elements of owning a startup business. In reality, startup business can mean a great deal of stress, strain, fears, and a range of other challenges for entrepreneurs and executives. This only increases as companies attempt to reach critical outcomes, be it funding, scaling, IPO, acquisition or pivot. Burnout and other challenges are very real, and have the potential to hurt the company and staff if gone without notice or addressed. But as with any issues at a company, this can also be managed — even avoided — with a few specific steps.

First, understanding that both you and your staff can get run down or overwhelmed is an important part. That doesn’t mean you want to see personal days and time off escalate — but knowing it can happen can go a long way in successfully avoiding and managing it in your organization. Second, keeping in tune with yourself and your team is key. Have you been working 14 hour days for several days in a row? Is your staff regularly waking up early to tackle issues or problems, on top of the typical 8-10 hour day? While this can be common at a startup company, no one (not even you!) can sustain or endure it long-range, no matter how great the benefit might be once the work is done. By noticing fatigue and other issues at their onset, you can better assess and work around them.

Third, set the pace for yourself and all in the organization. You absolutely need to work hard, and get work done. But working hard and getting work done does not necessarily mean a frenetic, stressful pace is required. It can mean extra hours or time at work during crunch times or development pushes, but it can often mean a need for more streamlined or realistic expectations and processes. Keep an eye on how things are going, and what it might take to complete projects, at all times.

Last, you want to make the job easier where you can. That doesn’t mean installing a foosball table to give everyone a chance to have fun and improve morale. Rather, ask yourself and your staff what might help relieve stress, strain or prevent burnout — it might be as simple as shifting work hours to a different format than the traditional 9-5, hiring an assistant to handle personal tasks and errands, or other unexpected means to solve the problem.


Building A Great Engineering Team Large Or Small

If there is one thing technology and the internet have shown us all is the value of adapting. Legacy retail business is a great example — there have been some traditional brick-and-mortar companies that have struggled or shut down, but overall the retail industry as a whole has significantly benefited from the advent of innovation and the web.

But while most businesses today must utilize technology to the advantage in some way, doing so is another story. A particular pain point for virtually any organization is in how to select, hire and manage engineers, and build engineering teams that have the power and knowledge to get the job done. However, it can be more efficient and successful than it seems. A few strategies that can help:

  1. Know what you want — With technology, it can be hard to know how to make the things you want or need, but that does not change that you can be clear on what you need or want. Take time to have a sense of your technology needs or vision long before you begin the hiring process. It’ll help you better communicate and drive your technology or innovation needs, and put you in a stronger position to lead and direct those you bring on board for the job.
  2. Do the homework — The internet can be a powerful tool for learning about technology. While you do not have to become an expert in the field, taking a little time to do some research into what you feel you need or want can be an asset as you seek engineering talent. It can be as easy as typing a few keywords on a search engine and taking notes. If nothing more, it’ll help you have a stronger sense of what you want or need, and in some cases, assist in finding the right type of engineering help.
  3. Seek the right talent — Explore your options for job boards and other talent resources before placing your ads. While certain resources for finding hires and talent might be great in one area, there are many that attract and focus specifically on niches including technology and engineering. Ask peers, look around a bit, or consider working with a speciality staffing firm or head hunter — it can be worth it by finding qualified individuals for your position or team. Once interviewing, be sure to ask candidates about their process, how they report or communicate work, if they’ve structured projects in the past, work style and other elements beyond their technology skills and background.
  4. Set the perimeters — You may not be the technology expert in your organization, but you are essentially the ‘boss.’ Think about and establish what your needs are in terms of how team members communicate specifics, report on progress, provide in meetings, etc. before you hire. In doing so you will be able to set expectations and structure essential to your technology project.
  5. Be involved and engaged — Once your engineering team is in place, stay active, involved and engaged with them and their work at all times. Ask questions, read the reports and other updates they provide, keep an eye on budget, schedules, timelines and progress. You may not be a technology expert, but basic management and business skills still apply with leading and overseeing your technology team and project.

My Thoughts On Managing The New Entrepreneurial-Minded Workforce

I’ve shared thoughts on managing the new era of entrepreneurial-minded, ambitious teams and staff on The Huffington Post this week. It’s an exciting time for all, and one that presents a new landscape for leadership teams and employees in multiple industries and organizations. You can read the full article here.

The Beautiful, Forgivable, And Necessary Value of Failure — And How To Make Sure Yours Is Done Well

Without question, it’s an era where big wins and gains in technology and innovation are highly celebrated, and rightfully so. There is nothing more exciting than the pace and progress of the market. Funding deals, exits, IPOs, great and pioneering products. It makes for an exciting time and certainly one worth celebrating.

However, there is no truer side of innovation and product or idea development than the occasional/possibility of failure. It’s not like you expect it to happen — and certainly nobody wants it to happen — but can happen and it is possible. It goes hand-in-hand with innovation in any organization, forever looming at the door. In a promising and progressive market, it can be frowned upon and highly criticized. But failure is a very real and realistic part of the innovative and development process — and it can have great benefit to your company regardless of stage or size.

In fact, having the right mindset about failure can help a company better recover from it, and even leverage it for the greater good of its business, services or products. It can aid in keeping the costs associated with failed ideas and efforts lower, and even streamline the failure process. The key is to have a good approach toward handling and managing failure at the start, and plan in place for when or if a loss might come.

Recognize that failure is an opportunity to learn, and that even with the best, most well thought out plans and processes there is a risk for it. There are always variables, things that could not have ever been seen or anticipated. Even with the smartest, most experienced teams, the best resources, etc. failure can still come knocking at the door. That doesn’t mean you want to invite failure into the mix — but knowing it may arrive at any point can be a crucial step towards moving on if it does and minimizing the risk of the potential impact.

It’s also important to have a format in place for identifying and reporting problems early on. In this aspect, leadership and management teams need to constantly lead by example in creating an environment where employees feel safe bringing up issues the minute they’re spotted. What you don’t want to have happen is someone in the company fear failure to the point that they try to solve it themselves and hide the problem. Create a format and culture where failure isn’t wanted, but is understood, and that employees should immediately bring issues to the management or leadership team so that the collective group can set a plan towards fixing the problem.

Which brings up the last and likely the most important part of the failure process: It’s always most important to first recover from a loss more than anything else. Immediate action to do so can minimize cost and downtime. Once the problem is fixed or near fixed, that’s when you can take a step back and triage or determine what went wrong, how you can learn from it or benefit from it moving forward once the immediate danger of the problem is solved.

It can also be helpful to have a communications plan or protocol in place for dealing with failure in your industry or market. And most of all, don’t forget that failure doesn’t just happen in the technology department but can in every corner of the organization. It is part of taking risk. Be sure to implement the above with each silo at your company, and encourage leadership and management to constantly manage and lead failure by example.

While failure is never fun, and can hurt the business in the short-term, it’s important to remember that some of the most outstanding and successful ideas in our world were failed upon many, many times before seeing the ultimate value they would later become. It doesn’t mean failure should or needs to be encouraged, but like anything else in life, sometimes we fall and when we do, we need to get back up.

What Makes A Good Startup Community?

Silicon Valley, Alley, Flatirons, Prairie, Beach — the startup tech community and business has leaped from its legacy home of Northern California to nearly every major city in the U.S. As each area of the country sets a stake in creating a place that fosters and helps grow startup business, there is increasing talk of these new, great hubs for the industry.

It also brings up an interesting discussion point about what makes a good startup community. The answer ranges — what entrepreneurs and founders might need at an early stage of the company can often be different from the desires and needs of executives and employees working in the business at later stages. While some believe it’s networking events and media attention, others look to deal flow and access to capital within their city. Some may benchmark it by a robust community of resources, like engineers and other talent. Everyone, of course, looks to jobs and job creation as an integral element.

For entrepreneurs and founders, needs are often centered around an environment where they can focus and leverage the ecosystem. This group in the ecosystem often benefits from access to capital, networking and/or educational events, but the type of curriculum for conferences, attendees, and other elements can be different from what executives and employees working with a tech hub might seek or benefit from. In terms of resources, it can range from affordable office space, to good talent pool, and of course, investors. Though because we are in a truly global (and often virtual) world, these elements can be surprisingly less important or necessary — good companies and ideas can find and work with remote resources and often do successfully. In terms of learning and access to resources, many startup entrepreneurs and founders need or want to learn as much about corporate structure, equity allocation and other business elements of owning a company as they do strategies and other means to grow or market their business. With email and the internet, networking to find potential partners or customers can often be done without attending events. Therefore, moving the founder or entrepreneur to attend such gatherings has to be focused on the potential of a return on their time investment as many are juggling busy schedules as is. Legalities such as tax breaks, regulations, and other elements can also be important for entrepreneurs and many cities have worked to create this to attract startup business.

For executives and employees, what constitutes an ideal startup tech community depends on the stage of the company . Events where business development and marketing executives can evangelize the company, meet and network with peers or potential customers, can be key. Connecting with the tech community outside of the company takes a different value proposition and need. Access to resources shifts a bit  — talent to support the company efforts such as engineers, marketing, graphic designers, and sales or business development executives may replace the desire or benefit of meeting potential investors and other founders. Just the same, availability of top talent is as  critical to this group within a startup tech environment. Talent is attracted to where it can earn income or revenue, and markets that are not demonstrating job opportunities and growth are often passed on. Regulatory and compliance issues tend to be less or not relevant as employees are often removed from this burden within a business.

But as there are some differences among the needs of everyone within a technology and business market, many things that are the same. Location and/or ease of getting around the community can be critical to all regardless of what position they hold in the company. Affordable housing and other personal services such good medical practitioners and schools can be an attractive benefit. Good restaurants, grocery stores, and even eco-friendly living may be top of mind for many in the industry. It takes decades to build a flourishing community of startups and entrepreneurs, it cannot be willed, and many factors play a vital role.  When such a community reaches a critical mass it becomes uniquely nurturing and self-perpetuating. While media coverage and attention is often assumed to be a value, it’s important to understand that a technology community best benefits from the right kind of attention. Inflated expectations or ‘hype’ within a market can actually hurt its growth, both long and short-range.

Creating the impression or illusion that a market or the companies within it are ‘hot’ is not always for the good — in some instances, it can set companies up for the impression of failure when the natural, often unavoidable challenges or pitfalls of any startup company come into the picture. What’s more beneficial from a media and attention standpoint isn’t the ‘deals and exits,’ or the ‘buzz’ alone, but important fundamentals such as real market traction, authentic, steady growth, market maturity, solid leadership and management, and many of the components that helped put the original ‘Silicon’ (the Silicon Valley) startup market on the map.