Management by Reframing

It’s all about perceptions. You can view that horrible mistake you made last week as a horrible mistake that will scar you forever. Or you can view it as a learning opportunity. A teachable moment, in presidential parlance.

As a manager, it is your job to remove the roadblocks that hinder your team’s path. Even if the roadblock is themselves, such as fear, anger, confusion, frustration, misunderstanding, or a mistake. A roadblock such as missing information is easy to resolve. Just get them the information they require. A roadblock such as fear is harder because you’re dealing with a psychological issue.

So how do you deal with such an issue? Reframing.

Reframing is an extremely powerful technique. It involves changing one’s perception of a particular situation from a negative, disabling one to a positive, enabling one. For instance, a mistake is really a teachable moment. Something you fear is really a chance to overcome that fear. Someone who’s angered you is really a chance to better understand that person.

Let’s take a more concrete example.

You are John’s manager. John has been working with the manager of another team for weeks now. The other manager, Bill, has been micromanaging him, despite not being John’s direct supervisor. It is known amongst the department that Bill is a micromanager, as he does this to his own team too. It usually doesn’t effect you and your team, but on this project, John needs to deal with Bill and thus encounters his micromanaging style.

You’ve spoken to Bill several times about this. After each talk, he eases up a bit on John. But after a few days, he’s back to his old ways.

What can you do about this?

  1. Keep on talking to Bill and reminding him about his behavior every few days. This would be time-consuming, however.
  2. Talk to Bill’s boss. Recommend that Bill be sent to a management class. If he’s on a critical project, he may not be able to go, even for a few days. Or his boss may not agree with your suggestion.
  3. Get Bill off the team. Talk to his boss and the overall supervisor of the project. Recommend that Bill be replaced. That may be a long & ardorous process, depending upon the politics involved and the policies of your company.
  4. Talk to John and reframe the situation for him. First, talk to Bill and find out why he’s micromanaging. Get to the fundamental psychological issue. Perhaps he’s a new manager and is very nervous about his job. Explain this to John and help him to understand Bill’s point of view. Since Bill is insecure, he wants lots of communication. Work with John to come up with some low-impact processes that give Bill all the information he wants. Perhaps a daily status report or issue-tracking tool will assuage his insecurities.
  5. Talk to Bill and reframe the situation for him. Understand his point of view, world view, and motivations. Relate to him how his micromanagement style is effecting the team. Offer alternatives, such as daily stand-up status meetings, issue-tracking tools, or other project management techniques. You could even suggest management training or self-help books to Bill directly.

I’ve been in this situation before. My approach was both options four and five. I talked to both John and Bill to help them reframe their behaviors and perceptions. In my scenario, we set up daily stand-up status meetings. This gave Bill all the information he needed to feel comfortable and got him off of John’s back. As a result, John was much happier and more productive.

The downside was requiring a fair bit of upfront time from my busy schedule, especially on the part of Bill. I had to talk to him several times in a supportive, non-threatening manner. I related to him my struggles as a new manager and how I dealt with a perceived lack of communication and control, then helped Bill with solutions.

For John’s part, he had believed that Bill didn’t like him. He didn’t realize that Bill was insecure in his role and simply wanted more information, which he was glad to provide. Understanding Bill’s point of view also encouraged John to provide more details in his status reports.

I essentially reframed the situation for both John and Bill. I helped them both understand the other’s point of view, then worked with them to set up solutions.

Reframing is a powerful technique that can be used by managers to enable their teams to become more effective. It is the art of changing one’s perception of a particular situation from a negative one to a positive one. I was able to use it to make the lives of John and Bill easier. Hopefully it can help you on your projects as well.

Photo by: Sundials by Carmichael

Recessions Are a Great Time to Hire

It’s true. When other people are downsizing and firing, you should be hiring.

In slumping economies, rock star employees are easier to woo. If you’re lucky, some may be less expensive right now – though you shouldn’t count on that. Most are finally available because their former employer foolishly laid them off, or they quit because out of a change of heart or growing disgust.

Methinks Facebook knows this tip and is hiring in full force. The story has even made Techmeme and the blogosphere. Smart move guys.

Back at Yahoo! (YHOO), I helped grow a new role from three people to forty, than to hundreds. This was during the last dot-bomb, when strong talent was out on the market and easy to find. We hunted for developers who specialized in advanced CSS and JavaScript development, doing what is now commonly known as AJAX. I don’t know if we could have attracted such a rock star team had it not been for the stunning availability of them in the market – though I like to think our supportive environment and industry-wide ambitions were a big factor too.

Looks like Facebook is another company who is doing that right now. I’m sure there are dozens more. If you are one of them, good luck and happy hunting!

Photo by: DrBacchus

The Five Key Evolutions of Entrepreneurship

Oh wait, there’s more. Yesterday, I cited a quote from the article “How to Thrive in 2009” by Bo Burlingham of Inc. Magazine. In it, he interviews Jim Collins, author of Built to Last and Good to Great.

Collins also talks about what he calls the “five key evolutions that have helped bring to life the idea of entrepreneurship as a systematic, replicable process” since the 1970s. Before that era, starting your own company was a momentous task that was done without any kind of support. Now, these evolutions have allowed countless individuals to become entrepreneurs:

  • Raising Capital

    There are all kinds of ways to raise capital now, as compared to the 1970s: venture funds, angel networks, private equity, search funds, IPOs, etc. These new methods have enabled many more businesses to grow.

  • Learning To Be An Entrepreneur

    Starting a new business is now considered a learnable process, as opposed to something just wacky, gutsy people do on their own. There are now entrepreneurship classes, seminars, workshops, books, and websites galore, all geared towards teaching someone how to start a business.

  • Being a Hero

    In the 1970s, the role of an entrepreneur was seen as exploitative and sleazy, sort of like a used car salesman. Somewhere along the way, the role did a 180 and is now socially acceptable, even heroic, in some cases. What a flip-flop!

  • Building a Better Process

    Remember the phase, “build a better mousetrap”? That was what being an entrepreneur meant in the 1970s. Now, it means building a better process.

  • Going Through the Stages of Entrepreneurship

    Entrepreneurship has evolved through three stages so far, with a fourth that has been emerging. They are:

    Stage One
    You have a great idea.
    Stage Two
    You build a successful business.
    Stage Three
    You build a great company.
    Stage Four
    You start a movement.

Wow, I got two blog posts out of one Inc. article. Nice!

Photo by: foundphotoslj

Yahoo Layoffs

Today are more layoffs at Yahoo. 1,500 to potentially 2,000, some say.

Days like this make me wonder what I would do if my business had to lay off employees. I tell myself, “I wouldn’t lay anyone off. I would hire slowly and grow only as fast as we’re capable of, so we don’t end up with a glut of resources.” I know that’s not always easy, but growing too fast can be disastrous for some companies.

Then, if finances were still really tight and I’ve made other budget cuts already, I’d cut my own pay first. If we still needed more, I’d cut bonuses. Then I’d ask the leadership team if they’d be willing to take a pay cut. Finally, I’d ask everyone else if they’d be willing to take a pay cut. I would explain that we value everyone and want to keep everyone, so rather than eliminate jobs, we’d rather decrease salaries temporarily. The key point is temporary – as soon as revenues are back up, salaries will return to their previous levels. Or maybe even higher.

Is that realistic? Some companies have done this with apparent success. But there will be a few employees who will inevitably leave because of personal financial concerns, such as mortgages and bills. They live paycheck-to-paycheck and any decrease in pay is a serious economic issue.

To try to reduce that, I would explore the possibility of finding contract work for them. Basically, I’d turn my company into a consultancy and hire my employees out, if they’re willing and able to. I would need to keep a percentage of that revenue for overhead expenses, but the vast bulk would go into their pockets. There may be some tax and legal implications though, which I’d have to work out with my attorney and CPA.

The end goal, though, is to keep everyone with the company. No lay offs, no loss of jobs.

Realistic? I think so, though it’s probably difficult to execute. This is just me thinking out loud. I haven’t had the ill fortune of making such a decision, so I don’t know what I’d really do.

In any case, here’s my virtual “pour one out for my hommies.” Good luck, guys.

The Haiku Out-Of-Office Email

Yahoo Cube Tchotchkes Now for some Friday fun.

Back at Yahoo! (YHOO), there was an unofficial rule of being able to telecommute one day a week. It was known as WFH, or Work From Home. Along with that was another acronym, OOO, or Out Of Office.

Whenever someone would WFH, or be OOO, they’d send an email to their entire team. Sometimes it would include a reason. Other times, simply a “WFH” as the email subject and nothing else.

Isaac Schlueter of Foo Hack recently wrote about an awesome tradition in his team at Yahoo! – writing haiku emails. Whenever someone is going to be WFH or OOO, they’d send it in the form of haiku.

Some examples:

Sick on an airplane.
Second carry-on: virus.
Infect passengers.

Nothing in iCal:
Must take advantage of this.
Work in pajamas.

Sneezing mightily
Wish not to infect colleagues
Thus working from home

How awesome an idea is that? Wish I had thought of it!

The next time you’re going to be out of the office or telecommuting (if your company allows it), consider communicating it in haiku.

Coworkers boring?
Office drab and tiring?
Why not make work fun!

Even a little
Can go a long way sometimes
Start a trend haiku

How Small Businesses Can Save Money in a Recession

Newstand Speaking of saving & making money in a recession, entrepreneurs can do it too. It requires some financial discipline, but it’s certainly possible. Countless businesses and smart entrepreneurs have done it. You can too.

Here’s how:

  1. Buy Cheap

    Prices fall in recessions. That means it’s a great time to go shopping for cheap supplies, raw materials, and services. Outsourcing sites like Elance and oDesk can help you find lots of affordable contractors. A year ago, I saw software developers on Elance going for $40/hr. Now, the cheapest ones are $12/hr. The downside is that quality can vary significantly. So caveat emptor.

  2. Renegotiate Your Vendor Contracts

    This is a good time to renegotiate all of your vendor contracts for lower prices. Chances are, many of them will be willing and able to lower their prices to keep you as a customer. Try to lock in these prices with long-term contracts too (assuming you’ve got enough in the bank), so you can benefit from these lowered prices when the economy improves.

  3. Hire the Best

    It’s layoff season. That means there will be a lot of good talent on the streets. Look for them and woo them. Do everything you can to keep those smart individuals around, so that they’ll continue being there after the recession. It’s a great time to find great talent.

  4. Learn Financial Discipline

    Tough times call for strict discipline. This is what separates the script kiddies from true programmers, the boys from the men, the girls from the women. Learn how to bootstrap, trim the fat, and make smart choices. Ask yourself how each decision will benefit your business. Don’t just focus on the short-term either, tempting as that will be. The financial discipline you’ll learn now will benefit you when the economy rebounds.

  5. Impatient for Profits, Patient for Growth

    Though this is very counter-intuitive to many Web 2.0 companies, the book The Innovator’s Solution advises entrepreneurs to be impatient for profits and patient for growth. This, in my humble opinion, is great advice. If you don’t have a real business model, you don’t have a real business. At best, you have an “Acquire Me!” business, which is a horrible model, especially in a recession.

  6. Negotiate Your Credit Card Rates

    This tip works for both personal and business credit cards. Lots of credit card companies will give you a lower interest rate if you just ask. So ask! Every little bit of savings can help.

  7. Look Into Recession-Proof Businesses

    Some industries aren’t as affected by recessions as others, such as health care, funeral parlor, debt collection, and repair services. Repair services are good because people want to maintain what they have instead of buying something new. If your existing business can be extended into any of these areas, give it some consideration.

  8. Be Creative

    Be creative about your marketing, your products, and your services. Think outside the box for new customer solutions. As you increase your financial discpline, you should also increase your creative solutions. Perhaps it’s engaging in a catchy PR campaign or creating a viral marketing piece. Or a streamlined development process or distribution channel.

  9. Treat Your Customers Very Well

    If you aren’t getting any new customers, treat your existing customers really well. (Honestly, you should be doing this already.) Any practices you start here could be the start of new customer service practices later. Customer loyalty will come in very handy at a time like this.

  10. Prioritize, Prioritize, Prioritize

    Finally, be strict about your true priorities. What is absolutely critical to you? Every decision you make has trade-offs. If you really want those product features or direct mailers, think long and hard about the trade-offs you’ll be making – more design & development time in creating the feature or more design & supply cost in creating the direct mailers. Make a strict priority list and stick to it.

Another benefit of a recession is seeing weaker competitors drop out of the race. Businesses who don’t learn financial discipline won’t survive. So if you have a spend-happy competitor who’s been creeping into your market, don’t worry – they’ll soon be gone.

Do you have any other money-saving tips for entrepreneurs?

Almost Half of Google is Beta

Oops, looks like someone forgot to finish Google (GOOG). According to Pingdom, website monitoring service, almost half of Google’s products are still in beta.

Out of the 49 Google products we could find, 22 are in beta. That’s 45%!

This list includes well-known products such as Gmail, Google Docs, and Google Finance. Pingdom didn’t include Google Labs products because they’re considered a “playground” for future products – though if they did, the percentage would be 57%.

What’s especially notable is that Gmail and Google Docs are products with premium editions – for $50 USD/year, you get more storage space, better security, integration capabilities, and deeper technical support.

The question on everyone’s (well, everyone who’s read Pingdom’s article, at least) mind is: why? Why are so many of Google’s products still in beta?

Why Are 45% of Google’s Products in Beta?

My take is that this is the result of a lack of oversight, coordination, and product release process within the product management organization at Google.

Google is full of smart people. It’s not like they want nearly half their company to remain in beta. However, Google is a company mostly run by engineers, not product people. Engineers typically want to build cool, innovative, and new products, as opposed to working with existing code. Ask an engineer to build you a new feature and the engineer is likely to rebuild your entire architecture in the process. Building something new is way more fun than working on something old.

So perhaps most of the top engineers who built Gmail and Google Docs have moved on to new projects, leaving junior engineers to continue their work. And the product managers don’t have a lot of resources or authority to take these products out of beta.

Other Opinions

Some have guessed that Google is trying to limit their liability by using the “beta” label. I seriously doubt that. Though I’m no lawyer, I would guess that since they accrue revenue from these products, the beta label doesn’t given them any extra protection. I’m not sure that a beta label would give anyone any serious protection anyways.

Others have surmised that Google is just making a statement that they’re constantly building & improving their products. That, of course, begs the question: why are some products in beta and others not? Are only some still being improved while others are not? And you don’t need a beta label to do that.

Google is Struggling Through Puberty

I see this beta label as an example of how Google is a young company that grew up very fast. They went from childhood to adolescence before they was totally ready for it. To be fair, many of the best companies do that. Now Google is struggling with puberty, that awkward age where they’re trying to stay true to their childhood ideals while becoming more responsible. Their voice is squeaky and there’s hair in funny places. But they’re trying.

What Beta Officially Means

Within the software world, a beta release is:

The first version released outside the organization or community that develops the software, for the purpose of evaluation or real-world black/grey-box testing. … Beta version software is likely to be useful for internal demonstrations and previews to select customers, but unstable and not yet ready for release.

Since Google is using this term, I have to imagine that they know what it means. But they clearly aren’t using it properly, since a product that is “unstable and not yet ready for release” is definitely not something for which you would want to charge your customers. Yet they are.

The argument that beta is Google’s way of telling the world they still have huge product plans is unfounded. Web software, by its very nature, allows for uninterrupted and relatively seamless updates. They don’t need a beta label to state the obvious, especially if they don’t use the label consistently.

Lack of a Product Release Process

That’s why I fault Google’s product management organization for this. They know this. At least, I hope they do. They just may not have the power and muscle to do this. And chances are, someone is emailing Pingdom’s entry around the Googleplex like crazy with the note, “Hey guys, did you see this? We gotta get on this!”

I hope someone listens and fixes this. Perhaps by doing an internal audit of all their products for official release viability. Or at least by implementing a proper product release process. This process doesn’t even have to be a convoluted and bureaucratic process; just a simple checklist will do. Otherwise, they’re diluting the beta label.

Though, honestly, I don’t think this is going to have a dramatic impact on how people use its products. Only software programmers and web geeks know what beta means, so they (we) are the only ones who are really bothered by it.

It certainly does irk me though.