The 50/50 Employee

Over the last month or two I have had the opportunity to contemplate on my time as a direct supervisor of 10 to 12 employees. I came to the conclusion that there is a 50/50 contribution that each employee brings to their work environment.

The first contribution involves possessing the necessary skills for the position. In other words, “Are they competent?”.

The logical framework of the “workplace” consists of an employee performing a task for an employer. This is the short and the long of it – employees perform tasks that bring value to the employer. The task may be anything from producing a product to performing a service. However, we all know that the employee/employer relationship is far more complex. After all, when is the last time that you went to work, performed your role and then left? The employer/employee relationship is vastly more complicated due to the multiple levels of psychology involved in the work environment.

The second contribution is more enigmatic, more of the ‘soft skills’ category. It has everything to do with the employee’s contribution to the sociality of the workplace. On some level they understand the psychology of the workplace and are able to navigate it in a way that helps those in the workplace to contribute more efficiently. I argue that for most positions this skill is EQUALLY important to that of the first.

Let me give you an example:

One of my employees that I supervised had a Ph D. in our field while everyone else held a Bachelor’s degree. In addition, he was heavily involved in ongoing research. And yet, this employee, over the first 48 hour period that our field crew began interacting, alienated each of the six individuals in our group. The problem came to such a head that I could only accomplish our tasks by having this individual directly by my side over the remaining 6 days. In other words, despite being the most knowledgeable person by far in our group, his net contribution was negative.

On the flip side of that coin, on a much later field session I had a technician with very little field training compared to the rest of our crew. Yet by the time the third session began the following month, he was ably performing as the lead technician. This result largely stemmed from his background of working with teams while in the military as well as his native social intelligence.

I recently took a wonderful course in organizational management. To my surprise most of the coursework covered topics revolving around the psychology of the workplace. This course detailed the interactions between employees, between employees and employers from the employee’s perspective, between employers and employees from the employer’s perspective, between an individual employee and the larger group of employees, and on and on and on. In fact, the course focused on the mental aspect of the workplace over the physical and definitely over the topic of technical skills.

Why is this so important to understand? Because the employer is ultimately interested in obtaining the contribution of the employee. Further, to get that contribution the employer must deal with all of the psychological interactions we find in the work place. The employer that understands these psychological interactions will find it easier and cheaper to obtain the employee contribution. Therefore it behooves the employer to understand this work place psychology.

You may find that an employee who is working for you in the ‘hard skills’ sense is actually work against you in the ‘soft skills’ sense. Take the time to review who is working for you and try to pay attention to how they are doing in both of these two categories.

Strategic Secrecy Will Kill Your Venture

I first thought of my second venture eight years ago. This venture was based on a killer idea that answered a need in a unique way. It brewed in my mind for some time and I kept the idea strategically secret for two reasons. First, I knew it could be duplicated by a competitor fairly easily. Second, I wanted to be first to market.

Five years after this idea had been swimming around in my head I joined The Reno Collective. The Collective is a shared work space dealing primarily with techcentric consultants peppered with nonprofits and marketers. It is more than a simple work space that gives you a better place to do your thing than the local coffee house, or worse, your home. It really is a collaborative stew. I found this out when I first joined. Within a month I found myself spilling my guts about my ‘genius’ idea to Michael Henderson (who would go on to be my partner in the venture). Then a very strange thing happened – synergy. You know, the whole “There was a horse pull in…..” thing. We were feeding off of each other. By the end of the discussion we had mapped out a completely new creature that offered far more benefit than my little measly idea could have done all alone.

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What happened?

I reviewed my progress and realized that my strategic secrecy had actually held me back for years. My fear that someone would steal my idea had come at the cost of me not being able to realize any progress on the idea. A truly unacceptable trade off.

Now, I understand that there are sometimes that secrecy is needed. For example, my venture I discuss above is a program that allows employees to donate the cash value of their Pad Time Benefits (sick and vacation time) to the Nonprofit of their choice. It further enfranchises everyone involved by letting the action be shared on all social media platforms thereby linking the donor (employee), the employer, and the nonprofit. I love to talk to everyone about it. But I do not reveal our secret sauce on the actual accounting mechanics.

But just know this…..in far more cases than not, keeping your idea secret is holding back the true potential of that idea. There have been numerous personal examples where I have opened my mouth and evangelized my work only to find that people did not want to steal my idea but to help my idea. People came out of the woodwork to mentor us, coach us, offer assistance, and cheer us on. They gave us connections, introductions, and leads. In the end, you will find that you will gain FAR more by opening your mouth than by keeping it shut.

Give it a try. Spend the next week telling everyone you can about your great idea and see what happens. You may be surprised but I won’t. Your idea will make more progress in that month than any month before. Let me know your thoughts and experiences with this experiment.

The Danger of Overextending

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Too many fingers and too many pies.

There comes a time when you stop for a second and find yourself firing on all pistons. Things are moving along according to plan and your spirits are up. It is a great feeling! You begin to think that at this pace you can not only taste success, but you can finally get started on your next project or two.

This very thing happened to me last year. Summer was around the corner and some recent problems had ingeniously been solved through some creative thinking on my part. That’s right, things were finally coming together. I had my business ready for the busy season and my full time school was going well. Things with the new baby were finally calming down after 9 months of sleepless hell. I felt like I could tackle anything.

And so I tried.

Like all serial entrepreneurs, I had a running list of at least 20 businesses I would like to start working on. I began working harder on our nonprofit venture that allows employees to, in essence, cash out their Paid Time Benefits (sick and vacation time) and then gift them to the nonprofit of their choice. I STILL felt like I had immense energy and time. So I began to start yet another venture with my neighbor. She had previously owned an amazing store by the name of Rad Betty’s which sold top notch retro clothing. I loved the name and hated to see her store not have a chance to reach it’s full potential. I had already on my own time envisioned a chain of retail stores that focused on everything that younger girls love to do – writing, photography, clothing, clothing design/sewing, etsy-like arts/crafts, etc. These retail stores would mainly act as community centers for groups that focused on the needs of women. It would have larger rooms for groups such as ‘Stitch & Bitch’, Reno Roller Girls, etc. to meet in. Basically it would serve as a center for everything young females would need.

Because everything was so easy at this time, I approached her over the idea of resurrecting her brand and giving it all another try. I spent one day a week for that month investing in realizing the idea with her. And then everything came crashing down.

My first business hit a rough patch. My second business – the nonprofit – ran out of steam and the ‘team’ began limping away from the project. Family life seemed to get bogged down. Time became valuable and I had to start pulling my fingers out of all the pies I had them in. This meant dropping the Rad Betty project. I felt horrible for abandoning my neighbor but I could no longer juggle everything.

Later on, I read a small digital book published by Mark Cuban. He devoted an entire chapter imploring the reader to focus on no more than two or three projects. I was, by this time, completely convinced. If you ever find yourself in that ‘zone’ with all pistons firing and you feel like you can tackle the world, take my advice. Use the time to finish the projects you are working on. Use the time to catch up on the things you have let go. Over extending yourself inevitably leads to a tremendous waste of your time (if not the time of others).

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Have you had an experience with over extending yourself? Do you carefully decide when you are spreading yourself too thin? How do you know when it is right to say ‘No.”? Let me know what you think.

“Give It Your All!” – The Rally Cry of the Naive Optimist

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When I was young and full of ideals (6 years ago) I had every step of my business plan worked out. I knew every detail for the next two years and putting it on paper was easy. This was because every night as I lay in bed I spent a good amount of time envisioning my success before fading into sleep. In those days, business was simple and straight forward.

Then came the year in which I planned to realize my well laid plans for growth. At the beginning of the year I researched my data for the previous four years in relation to growth. I analyzed my sales numbers as my cold contacts worked their way down the pipe to converted customers. I analyzed my per customer numbers. I analyzed everything I needed in order to be sure that come our sales season in March our audacious marketing program would be a success. 

In the previous four years we had continued to increase our “direct samples” program in which we sent free samples directly to the active professor teaching the relevant courses related to our products. We continued to reach out to additional regions of the country and continued to see the same numbers. In the end, for every ten samples we sent out we would gain two sales. Each sale would average 50 units a year with a tidy $10/unit profit. With these numbers holding consistent over various regions and over time we felt confident of doing a ‘Great Push’ for the coming Spring. We sent out over 500 samples. We anticipated the following:

500 sample contacts/1 x 2 conversions/10 sample contacts x 50 units/conversion x $10 profit/1 unit = $50,000.00 profit

Considering our current sales were roughly 3,000 units for the year previous, we expected a 167% growth in revenue! We were excited to finally make the push.

Here is where things began to fall apart based on the naivete of the optimist.

We were eager to avoid debt. Therefore, we threw all of our resources into the program and into building the needed inventory for the estimated sales. It was only at this point that we, falling short of resources, looked outside for help in funding our guaranteed venture. Institution after institution refused our requests for capital. Why? Couldn’t they see the obvious? This was a sure fire plan backed by hard data. They could all see that we were all in, that we had confidence.

Turns out we had it exactly backwards. First, when asking for a loan you need collateral. By using our resources FIRST we effectively had no collateral. Second, when loans ask for data and estimates it is only a formality and means nothing. Everyone knows that numbers come from thin air. Your numbers, as were ours, may come from recent data or be made up based on a daydream. It does not matter! To the group issuing a loan it is still only an estimate. Especially when the estimate is indicating different numbers than previous quarters. This was the case for us as we were anticipating a whopping 167% growth. So, to the lending institutions we looked like poor, daydreaming, clueless fools.

We became more and more desperate. We committed the necessary resources for the ‘Great Push’ in March. And now here we were trying to build the inventory in June for the sales in August. In the end, we were not able to originate the necessary capital to service the estimated sales. We were frightened we would have to turn down sales with our new university clients. After working so hard to convert them to our product, peeling them away from our competitors, and convincing them to trust us we would need to tell them we were out of product.

For many reasons, that Fall was difficult…..painfully and embarrassingly difficult. We grew by 10% that year and completely avoided a marketing program the following year to give ourselves a chance to recuperate.

Here is the moral of the story. You can take the world by storm, but it must be a steady and consistent storm deliberately and wisely pushing steadily ahead. There are too many variables in this world (do not make me relate the time that our shipment was held in port in China for three weeks by two consecutive typhoons!) that make being a naive optimist too costly a proposition.

Legitimizing the Entrepreneur’s Resume

For the last several months I have contemplated re-entering the traditional workforce, aka JOBland. I have leaned towards emigrating to JOBland for several reasons. First, a traditional job can often be less stressful (though sometimes less rewarding) than owning your own business. Second, it usually means greater stability. Why? Because working for someone else is not as volatile as hanging your own shingle (something that most entrepreneurs begin to relate to shortly after walking out of their last JOB). Third, most jobs come with a bevy of benefits, healthcare in particular. Most entrepreneurs are not able to come up with the extra $15,000.00 needed to keep their family covered. The final reason I have for returning to JOBland is to legitimize my resume.

“What is not legitimate about my resume now?”, you ask.

The two most important groups I will deal with in my profession as a business consultant/guide (colleagues and clients) will not recognize self-attained experience at the same level as ‘real’ experience.

Colleagues –

In no way is the appearance of ‘self-employed’ looked well upon when a fellow professional is looking at your resume/curriculum vitae. They cannot verify your experience and responsibilities associated with your venture. Surely they can not compare the standards they are held to with the standards you are setting for yourself. So, from their point of view, anything you claim as ‘experience’ is suspect at best. This is especially true when there is little by way of any certification available for business consulting, at least any that make financial sense.

Clients –

Down the road as I am consulting with others on their projects they will want to know where my expertise and training come from. If there is no professional company with ‘real’ standards in my background then I become suspect.  And in a real way this is true. Without a consultant stepping foot in JOBland for experience, that consultant’s professionalism is limited. In my case I was a professional Archaeologist for nearly 10 years. While it is true that I have run my own business on the side and have had a hand in helping others move their projects forward, I am pulling most of my expertise at this point from my personal (do not read as ‘professional’) experiences and my educational background (traditional MBA coursework). If there can be negligent doctors who have earned an M.D., then you better bet there can be a lot of negligent consultants that have earned their M.B.A.! This is doubly true for those whose background has only been filled with self-attained experience.

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So from the other members of the profession you will associate with to the clients you work with your experience should include experience from JOBland. A recent informational interview I went on two weeks ago, the CPA-credentialed business consultant I interviewed mentioned time and again about getting ‘real’ experience before consulting.

This is what I mean about legitimizing my resume. By getting that ‘real’ experience from JOBland I can give my self-attained experience the value it deserves. And, honestly, give myself the experience of meeting and exceeding professional standards.

 

While the M.B.A. degree can be a great point of pivot for those switching their careers (as I am doing), you will find that without having appropriate experience in JOBland you are doing yourself a disservice to your clients and yourself. Let me know what you think about   ‘real’ versus ‘self-attained’  professional experience by leaving a comment below!

 

What Signs Are You Wearing?

For the last month I had a political sign on my car urging others to vote for Chuck Reno for Mayor of the city of Reno. From the moment I placed that sign on my car it changed me. At least, it changed the way that I drove! In fact, over the last four weeks I have driven better than ever before. Magically I became a considerate driver. This was quite a change from my normal semi-aggressive driving style. And all the while every time I stepped into the car I remembered that I had that sign on the back. I hope that my new found courteous driving added a few more votes than it may have cost Chuck.

In a very real way, our social media presence creates a similar behaviour in each of us. As we develop our image on various platforms the thought dawns on us that people are paying attention. And when people pay attention they begin to form opinions about us from the details we are sharing.

Let me give you another example. A friend of mine recently posted a new profile picture and so his profile came up on my feed. Only his profile picture shows him with an exaggerated, very wide, open mouth smile with his left shoulder far back behind him and his hands giving two Fonz-style thumbs up. It is classic lounge lizard style sans 12 carat diamond ring.

 

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Let’s be honest here. His business may not require any level of professionalism and the style truly suits his personality (He truly is an amazing guy). But let it be a warning to those that will heed it – the things you share on your social media platforms are like the political sign on the back of my car. Knowing this and acting on it can make you the courteous driver that adds votes to your “campaign” or the poor driver that detracts from your message.

 

What ‘signs’ are you wearing? Specifically, what signs have you placed on yourself? Have they had an affect on your behaviour? Leave a comment below.

The Third Step

I talk a lot about Entrepreneurship Road. While most people have taken the first step down this road, very few have taken the second step. Even fewer venture on to the third step. Below I shade in a bit more detail on these three steps.

The First Step: Day Dream

The first step on this road requires only thought. When a person thinks “We need a dedicated Hispanic bank that could truly understand and serve the Hispanic community in a way that the larger banks around here will never be able to do.” they are taking the first step. (Contact me if you want to move forward with this idea. No, seriously – it’s an awesome idea!) Or a person may think, “I could really help our clients with their needs if I had my own firm and set my own rules. This place is holding me back.” Just committing these thoughts is the first step on Entrepreneurship Road. Most of us have done this at least once if not regularly.

The Second Step: Call To Action

The second step is far more difficult than the first. The second step is moving from thought to action. This may be as simple as telling others about your thoughts and ideas. It may be just making a phone call to suss something out. However, DO NOT confuse simple for easy. I can tell you many things that are simple that are not easy. Think back to that first person you has a crush on. Calling that person was simple but it was NOT easy!

Two points about this step. First, you are starting to get really excited by now! Second, you have not made a single commitment that requires anything more than a bit of your time. So, while it is very hard to get this far (and most people never will) it is also embarrassingly simple to take these two steps.

Oh, one last thing about taking the second step. When you get to this point, stop. Look at both of your feet! At this point you are really committing to your idea! Both of your feet are in one world. You do not have one foot in and one foot out. You are turning thought into action and you are committing! While you can not see how far down the road you are going to go, realize that you are now only one step away from MOVING down the road!

The Third Step: Follow-Up

The third step is different than the first two. The first step is like dipping your toe in the water. It is simple and easy. The second step takes more chutzpah! You have to admit at an important level that your idea, that you yourself, are worthy of extra effort. When you can admit that, then you are finally willing to put energy into pushing your idea into action. It is simple but not easy. The third step is neither simple or easy. This step is called Follow-Up. And we almost all suck at it. I posted an article that spoke to the value I bring to my potential clients. I wrote that I bring skills and experience. But, I added something most people do not think about; something that does not matter very much in the JOB world and can’t be taught in school. I wrote that I bring a ‘continued momentum’. That is the ability to keep at something and never give up. The ability to incite movement and to take advantage of  this movement (more on this later). And the key ingredient to ‘continued momentum’ is Follow-Up. When I say Follow-Up I mean the ability to push an idea one more step. When you hit a road block you keep your mind actively in ‘solve’ mode. You call people for advice. You look at the world around you for inspiration and seek for answers in the thousands of systems that are operating around you at all times. If you can continually Follow-Up you will achieve ‘continued momentum’.

Let me close with one last observation about the third step on Entrepreneurship Road. When you take your third step you are not testing (Step 1). You are not committing (Step 2). You are MOVING! You are creating momentum. And the thing about moving is that you very rarely have two feet on the ground at the same time. Taking the third step will make taking the fourth step easier. If you continue to Follow-Up then you gain ‘continued momentum’. Walking down Entrepreneurship Road is scary and exciting! And it can make life amazing!

Let me know your thoughts on taking your first steps down Entrepreneurship Road.