Tomicide Solutions, April 2012
By Tom "Bald Dog" Varjan
Many IT companies are very good at demanding excellence from their people but somehow fail to create an environment in which people step up to the plate on their own volition and do amazing things.
And the main reason of this problem is that executives and managers fail to act as exemplars and become the kind of change that they'd like to see in their people.
And without the proverbial "alpha dog", people soon lose their inspiration and direction to do their best. They go to work and get through the day... somehow. And then they go home and produce miracles in their spare times.
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On average, there are 178 sesame seeds on each McDonalds BigMac bun, which seems to be pretty reasonable on the surface.
But the reason why this is a problem is because the human body can't digest sesame seeds. The body struggles and struggles, investing significant amount of energy, but keeps losing.
And this is what's happening to many IT companies' business development departments.
Management keeps demanding excellence and peak performance, but excellence and peak performance are missing from the department's cultural DNA.
The reality is that when you merely demand excellence from others, you're unlikely to get it. After all, it's just a demand, like ordering your goldfish to ride a bicycle.
But when you immerse merely good people in a culture of excellence, those people will "drown" in excellence and become the reflection of their environments. You don't manipulate the person but the environment and the culture.
So, what is the problem?
Well, it's hard to create a culture of excellence. To do that, you need to be a real leader and your people have to have the mentality of leaders.
This problem is nicely demonstrated in the societal dogma that...
A shark is a "peak performer" in water. But put a bullet in his head, and hang him upside down in a freezer, his performance as a predator will be seriously hampered. And this is as much of an understatement as calling Mount Everest a sizeable speed bump.
Or look at many highly successful entrepreneurs and the number of companies they had been fired from before starting their businesses. The reason is almost always the same: They are branded as lazy, incompetent idiots with seriously compromised or non-existing work ethics.
Because most companies are Orwellian "Big Brother"-driven dictatorships that expect blind obedience, but despise ambition, enthusiasm and initiative.
This is why the school system has to work so damn hard to brainwash students and beat every shred of ambition, enthusiasm and initiative out of them, so they become Big Brother's dutiful little minions behind the flimsy shields of so-called "safe and secure" jobs.
Please read something from John Taylor Gatto. His materials can open your eyes to the defective school system.
Or look at another problem. You're recruiting a new person for your company, and the person you're interviewing has had 10 jobs in the last three years.
Your HR person will scream: "Jobhopper."
But is she really? Maybe. Maybe not.
As an entrepreneur, you know how the production system works to produce Big Brother minions.
So, you think, maybe this person is just smart enough to recognise when she is duped by deceptive hiring methods and phony offers, and quits before it's too late.
Maybe she's just a trusting person who fell for some attractive-looking job offers and after a few weeks on the job she realised that everything she had been told about the company and the job was a big, fat, juicy lie.
The company was a real shithole, and in comparison to her manager, Hitler was the proverbial Mother Teresa. A swell ship for the skipper (owner and executives) but a hell ship for the crew.
Considering Pareto's 80-20 rule, it's safe to say that 80% of all companies fall into the shithole category. And the 80% is a very very very conservative estimate. In reality, it's much higher.
Now, is she really a jobhopper because she has the self-respect not to work at a company that is run like a concentration camp by some petty tyrants?
I've come across quite a few IT companies over the years that should put up a big sign on their front doors...
...as it was done on the front gate of the Auschwitz concentration camp. That is, "work liberates".
I believe that past performance has almost nothing to do with future performance.
But what I equally believe is that past behaviour has a lot to do with future behaviour, and the impact of the environment is a lot stronger than many people believe.
Performance happens when people of certain characters apply their skills in certain work environments (cultures).
For instance, take an ultra-successful used car salesman who is hired by a consulting firm, and he fails miserably. Selling used cars, due to the compensation structure and the cut-throat environment, requires people who are willing to do anything for money.
They must be fine with a high degree of dishonesty and manipulation to make the sale. Also, they feel comfortable to screw their colleagues out of their commissions to make more for themselves. Backstabbing is daily practice, starting with management at every level.
So, this car salesman is hired by the consulting firm, an ethical, collegial, team-driven culture that truly believes in serving clients, not merely taking their money.
His devious and shady character and ability to sweet-talk clients out of their money were great assets in the car dealership, a predominantly immoral and unethical culture, but now they are liabilities. In the consulting firm he is expected to be a straight shooter.
And he can't do that. He can be an excellent peddler, but he couldn't be a trusted advisor. He can pitch used cars, but he can't diagnose complex business situations.
And his inability has nothing to do with the lack of skills. It's his character that made him a star in the corrupt, self-centred and client-antagonistic environment at the car dealership.
So, although he was the number 1 salesperson at the car dealership, and he was his manager's favourite for his super-aggressive closing skills and outstanding performance, he's a total disaster at the consulting firm, and the practice leader is contemplating suicide for the mistake of hiring him.
And that leads us to...
I think performance is about applying specific skills in a specific environment (culture), while operating within our core values (character).
Under skills you can list everything you've have learnt over the years from any source. Yes, this can be academic knowledge and all the practical expertise you've learnt in the trenches.
But this is not all. List everything you've been involved with some interest over the years.
List all the magazines and newsletter you've ever read on a regular basis.
Make a list of every kind of work you've ever done regardless of how long and when.
List all the various groups of any kind you've been a member of regardless of how long and when.
List all your schooling, training, education you've ever done. If you've served in the military, list that too. Some experts regard the military as the best business school on the planet.
List all the hobbies you've ever done. List five areas where you are very knowledgeable, but most people don't know about it. Include topics that you have a number of books on and have invested time and money to learn.
List all products and services that you know really well.
Divide up your life onto some age brackets, and for every decade find 2-3 success stories when you achieved something that was significant for you. How did you feel about those achievements?
Many people make the mistake of believing that only what they've learnt in school is real knowledge. Well, considering how screwed up the school system is and what its purpose is, that's probably the least significant contributor.
Character is basically your core values, and everything you do is driven by this factor.
For instance, your accountant may be the best accountant in the vicinity, but if he's a notorious liar, then his excellent accounting skills will be overshadowed by his habit of "misrepresenting" the numbers.
And since it's in the person's DNA, there is not much we can do about it.
As the late Jim Rohn put it at his seminars...
"Liars lie, cheaters cheat and the perplexed ones get perplexed. This is their default modus operandi, and we can't change that."
You have to have a pretty good idea of what character traits you're seeking in your people, and you'd better focus more on the right character than on the right skills.
Skills can be taught and learnt, but the character is given, and there is not a sausage we can do about it.
And since we can't directly manipulate character, we have to manipulate the company's...
This is the environment in which the person operates. And when the environment's character blends with the person's character, eventually the person gets pretty seriously influenced by the environment's character.
This is why so many losers in civilian life excel in the military and so many corporate losers start their businesses and achieve incredible success.
And the good news is that business owners can shape their business environments by bettering themselves. But it works the other way round too.
Business owners who do nasty and duplicitous deeds in their personal lives, are likely to do the same in their businesses too. So, inadvertently they create duplicitous environments which cause their best people to quit and join the competition.
And here is the problem.
When they join the competition, although they never directly reveal inside knowledge from their former employers, subconsciously they use every bit of it to help their current employers to be successful. And if that success means sending their former employers to the poorhouse or the bankruptcy court, then so be it.
Using a military example, a soldier can't fight for both sides. His job is to vanquish the enemy. Not out of anger, but because he wants his side to win.
And who stays? The people who know they are not really good at what they do, so they would have a hard time to get new jobs.
So, now our business owners are left with the mediocre bunch. And in today's hyper-competitive world that's not a good idea.
People are free to choose how much they are ready and willing to apply themselves to contribute to their work. And that choice depends on how they are treated. And since a large percentage of the work is invisible brainwork, in most cases managers can't even recognise when their people actively disengage from their work.
According to the Gallup Organisation, 59% of employees are disengaged, that is, don't pay attention to their work. What's even worse is that 14% of employees are actively disengaged, that is, actively working on non-work related activities, often knowingly sabotaging their companies' success.
According to a survey by the Insurance Journal, more than 50% of North American workers question the morality of their organisations' leaders, and say their managers treat them poorly. Only 5% of the workforce understands their companies' strategy. Less than 15% of North America's employees feel strongly energised and enthused about their work.
And we can't even blame employees. They respond to the examples their managers set through their behaviour.
Some 60% of organisations don't link budgets to strategy. 86% of executive teams spend less than one hour per month discussing strategy. They are too busy putting out fires.
Now, that can be a pretty miserable way of growing a business.
In his book, The 8th Habit, Stephen Covey outlines the six types of behaviours people show depending on how their managers treat them.
Most employees operate in the bottom three levels. The diagram below shows the whole behaviour matrix. Click on the image to magnify it.
First do these exercises to gain some clarity as to what you'd like to see in your company.
Underline the five adjectives that best describe your company's current culture.
And now using the same pairs of adjectives, underline the five adjectives that best describe the company that you want to build.
And now figure out how to get from point A to point B.
I don't say it's easy, but it takes you a tad closer to the kind of business you had in mind when you started your business.
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Attribution: "This article was written by Tom "Bald Dog" Varjan who helps privately held information technology companies to develop high leverage client acquisition systems and business development teams in order to sell their products and services to premium clients at premium fees and prices. Visit Tom's website at http://www.varjan.com.
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