Posted by: pauditore | August 20, 2009

Startup Leadership Culture in the Millennium: What are Your Core Values?

As a leader you are ultimately responsible for creating, architecting and driving the core values of your organization and motivating employees to deliver on the promise of these values to your customers and partners. There is no difference for government, NGOs, and/or non profits, they must deliver on the core value promise to their citizens, membership and ecosystems. Many organizations and company’s today have lost sight of the core values that made the companies of the twentieth century major successes. These values did not revolve around driving profitable and sustainable growth that satisfied Wall Street, which now represents a spectacle of American greed. For those of you that don’t travel abroad trust me on this one, we are viewed through very different lenses in many other countries.  Driving profit and growth were in fact viewed as a benefit and/or means to achieve these core values. The establishment of core values (core competencies) drove the innovation of new products and services that sometimes served the better good of man and science, not just drove profits.

Recommended reading this month is Jim Collins newest and I think greatest book, How the Mighty Fall: And Why Some Companies Never Give In.   This book is a great fast read built on a rock and as you read it you might see similar symptoms in your own organization. Jim identified in his previous books Packard’s law, “no company can consistently grow revenues faster than its ability to get enough of the right people to implement that growth and still become a great company.” This is extremely poignant for me because during the 1990’s I watched HP build a culture of complacency, by personality profiling all its new hires and weeding out those, “who might do things differently.” At one point I nicknamed them the Amish of the computer industry, because they built a culture of yes men, much like our own FBI and CIA. If you don’t know it, during the 1980 and 90s the FBI and CIA heavily recruited from a famous church in Utah.

Two years ago my team and I had the pleasure of meeting and spending two hours with one of the world’s most famous management consultants, Ram Charan. At the time Ram was predicting that we were about to enter what he called a global economic restructuring, and he was right. America is a great country, and in my view for it to remain great in flat world where business velocity moves at lighting speed, leaders of all kinds including small businesses and startups need to return to their core values.  Strong leadership and vision are key to motivating employees and managers to adhere to the core value and competencies that put you in business to begin with.

Hallmarks of Core Value Leadership

  • Respect and compassion for employees and families.
  • Mentoring a gift for life.
  • Obsessive focus on core values and competencies.
  • Character-personality & lack of ostentation.

Respecting Employees

I can vividly remember the strong responsibility I felt as a senior manager in all of my startup companies, but none as profound as when I became the closer at Hummingbird and President of Survey.com.  In those winning days I always had a great deal of respect and compassion for those who helped me win.  I made an effort to mentor those that I could and advance their careers, but I always felt an innate responsibility for making sure that we won so they could get a pay check and their kids could go to schools of their choice. Many startup leaders are so arrogant that they don’t see the forest or the trees when it comes to managing their most precious resource people. Mentoring is king and as a small business person or startup leader you have the option of picking one of two employees and mentoring them. Yes it is extra work, and they have to go into the heat of battle with you, however, it is a gift that gives their entire lives and yours. They will respect you greatly for the opportunity and spread the core value message.

Core Competencies and Values

Have you identified and truly understand the core values of your organization? How does this relate to your unfair advantage in the market? This is seminal question and if you wander into any Fortune 500, I will wager significant sums that most employees have no idea. The “mission statement” is the antiquated answer to getting the masses in line, and recently my own company’s mission statement was highlighted and ridiculed at a recent conference. At Hummingbird our core competency was doing something that Microsoft did not do, display applications running on UNIX computers on Windows desktops, fast and reliably. And I demonstrated this core competency by generating press coverage, tech product awards, and customer success stories that were leveraged internally and externally. Even if you have a small business share the successes and generate customer testimonials, this will not only empower employees but also keep them focused on the competitive advantage that core values deliver. One thing I have learned in business is that it is hard to argue with success, and that means your customers’ success. And I can tell you that there is no doubt that externally driven information that articulates the success of your core values will be believed more than any internal company wide meeting that seeks to motivate and energize.

Leadership Character

As President of Survey.com every single day I felt a profound responsibility to the employees and their families. In a startup there are always too many things to do especially near the top, so to focus myself I would list the top ten things I could do that day to make a difference both strategically and tactically. But always in the back of my mind, was how can I make the payroll this week and how can I put on the Friday afternoon party. Maintaining honesty and integrity in a startup environment is not easy and even more difficult in the business environment that we live in today. Yes I had a large office and a humidor full of cigars and a full bar, and in spite of my aggressive sales focused personality I was both feared and liked. My one on one employee meetings involved knowing employees, and often sharing life experiences and cigars if they smoked. Establishing an altruistic culture where leaders are understood and respected is not easy to achieve. Do it without establishing an overt caste system where leaders abuse company resources and highlight their superiority.  Make the depth of your character, integrity and humility the foundation of your company’s core values, customers and partners will notice this. For me I enjoy a great network of friends today, many of whom feared me during our startup days together.

Personality of Fish

As promised this week it’s salmon and for many of you eating salmon today, you should know that they are anadromous, which means that they spend the majority of their lives living and wandering up and down oceanic shores. There are also salmon that are landlocked and live in the large lakes throughout the world. Eels on the Eastern Seaboard of the US on the other hand are catadromous, that means they spend their lives in fresh water streams and lakes and return to the Sargasso Sea to spawn and reproduce. Salmon imprint on the scent and chemistry of their home streams, and employ olfactory (smell) sensors to find and return to the stream or river that they were spawned. This is one of the most amazing characteristics of all fish, after traveling sometimes for years throughout an ocean, salmon are able to return directly to the place that they were born. For many salmon fisheries, such as the Atlantic salmon this meant the end and is a huge problem when it comes to making salmon fisheries sustainable. We have irreversibly damaged and destroyed salmon habitat throughout the world and fine examples are the near extinction of Atlantic salmon over the last one hundred years and the damage already done to Scottish and English salmon fisheries.  The abundance of salmon in the Pacific Northwest and Northwestern Canada made life easy for early native Americans and Canadians who spent less than 20% of their daily lives looking for food because of the abundance of resources in their region especially salmon. These fisheries are also suffering because of poor management, over fishing and destruction of spawning habitat.

Once full grown, the personality of salmon is that of a voracious predator that travels great distances eating just about everything that it can fit in its mouth. Often traveling in large schools up and down coasts they feast on anchovies, sardines, herring and many other species of bait fish. Like many species, salmon use a lateral line of sensors to find and locate their place in a school of their species. Salmon use swim bladders to regulate their body pressures in the depths and are often caught in more that a hundred meters of water. They also grow bones called otoliths, which are thought to help regulate bouncy. Otoliths are flat bone like structures near the eyes that fisheries biologists use to help in aging a fish. An otolith grows a ring, or rings like a tree for each year of growth and they can be easily viewed with a compound microscope after polishing.

I hope that you have enjoyed this week’s post and are taking some time off to rest this summer, until next time great selling and marketing in the millennium. There is an old saying from the bible that is most appropriate in ending this week, “he who exalts himself is humbled and he who is humble is exalted.”

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