Thursday, January 19, 2017

The Single Most Import Thing to Having Ispired, Motivated, and Dedicated Employees

After managing people for over 3 years, I finally realized the most important thing to do to have inspired, dedicated, and motivated employees.

Yes, corporate culture, values, and vision are important. But there is one thing that beats them all:  Hiring Right.

Hiring is so important because the quality of your company is built upon the great people within it.

Hiring Right means finding people who are intellectually passionate, curious, confident, continually learning, have an entrepreneurial mindset, humble, and willing to do whatever is ethically possible to get the job done.

An obvious prerequisite is that they fit within the culture of the company and get along with others.  But let’s take a closer look at the individual traits one by one.

Intellectually Passionate
Intellectually Passionate means they care about what they do to an almost fanatical degree based on logical reasoning.  Some examples would be someone who believes in functional programming so much she wants to learn every language and feature of functional programming languages and explain to the world how it is better than the current state of the art.  Another case would be a security researcher using his personal time to learn how to program and build new types of applications such as blockchain, IOT, etc. to identify security vulnerabilities in these new platforms.  Intellectually passionate people want to go deep and wide in their knowledge of a particular area and thus have strong opinions about the technology that they work with.

Learning how something exists is important but asking why is even more important because it leads to connections which may have been overlooked.


Curious people are always asking "why".  Why something works the way it does.  Why or how it was triggered and completed.  Curiosity is the main tool that we use to identify problems and find solutions.  Curiosity is what drives us to improve things, processes and people.  Without it, we are no better than robots carrying out the same actions every day.


This is important in the negative because when an employee does not have confidence they often hide problems to avoid looking weak.  In the end, hiding problems inherently makes you look weak.  Confident people can take dings to their pride and still be resilient. Confident people are confident because they have a logical thought process which has helped them to come to a conclusion. As a result, confident people can make better decisions quicker.
Confidence comes from knowing your stuff.  Knowing your stuff comes from continually learning.

Continually Learning

The world is moving quickly.  If you aren’t continually learning, then you are following behind.  It is important to find people who are ok with this.  Some people complain about certain professions requiring continual learning but as technology permeates every aspect of our lives it will become required of all well-paying professions.  Finding people who realize that their lives are a direct result of what they put in to improve themselves is important.  These people will see opportunities, learn what they have to capitalize on these opportunities and execute.
These last three things: seeing opportunities, learning how to capitalize, and executing--define the entrepreneurial mindset.

 Entrepreneurial Mindset

Everyone in the company should view themselves as an entrepreneur for the company.  You want people who are forward thinking, and on the lookout for ways that the company can expand into new markets, generate revenue, and develop new products and services.  New ideas for improving processes, products, and services should come from every employee in the company. 
Humility is important for getting along your peers.


Unfortunately, there are people in the company who will use their position to look down on you. Every employee needs to feel that their work is relevant and important.  Humility is especially important in managers because they have the most influence on helping employees feel important and valued.  Humility also facilitates an open mind. The opposite is arrogance.  It might have worked for Steve Jobs but if everyone is arrogant nothing is accomplished, people leave, and the people who stay are oppressed.

Willing to do Whatever is Ethically Possible to Get the Job Done

People you hire need to be like water.  Some people will look at obstacles and say that things aren’t possible because of the obstacle.  Other will be like water and find a way to flow around them.  You want people who are driven and will do whatever is ethically required to get the job done.

When you hire these people with these characteristics you only need to give them a goal and they will find a way to execute.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Solving the Engagement Problem Requires Everyone’s Effort

Currently, corporate engagement is at consistent lows.  Dale Carnegie reports 30% and Gallup reports 32% of respondents are engaged at work.  The rest of the respondents are either not engaged or actively disengaged. This is huge problem because we are not effectively utilizing two thirds of our work force.  Engagement is a problem that can be solved but requires everyone in the organization to work towards the solution.  Each person has an important role to play in creating improving engagement within the organization.

The Role of CEO and Executive Management (Executive Leadership)

The CEO and executive management need to ensure that the corporate mission, values, purpose, and culture are well defined and are in themselves engaging.  The mission, values, purpose and culture should be concepts that people can rally around, easily understand, and apply to their daily work.  In additional, the CEO and executive management have to ensure that the culture is actively being evangelized to new and existing employees.  Finally, executive leadership needs to communicate openly and transparently with employees to build trust.  Although, executive leadership is import, mid-level managers are the people who directly interface with your employees.

Middle Management

Middle management is directly responsible for providing leadership in the direction provided by executive management.  Middle managers are important because they build relationships with the employees getting things done.  And it is this relationship which is the most influential on employees.  To improve engagement, middle managers need to understand people and to understand people middle managers need to understand human needs.  According to Maslow, humans have the following needs:


As a mid-level manager, I am guessing that you are paying people enough to meet their physiological and safety needs.  So I am going to focus on the other three sections of the pyramid:  belongingness and love, esteem, and self-actualization.

Belongingness and Love

Mid-level managers can help their employees feel belongingness and love by the efforts you make getting to know each of the people you manage and your willingness to help each of the people that you lead reach their maximum potential.  Start with understanding their career goals and aspirations.  You don’t need to conduct an interview but take advantage of fortunate events.  For example, if you are at their desk and notice pictures of their family, you can ask about how old they are, if they play sports, how they are doing in school, etc.  If the person is wearing a team jacket, you can ask about the team, etc.  Once you know of their interests then act on it.  If an employee has displayed an interest in management then try to give that individual more responsibility and opportunities to lead. If everyone is interested in Pokemon Go then organize a team meet up at a Pokemon Crawl. 

But don’t take the love thing too far, and you know what I mean.  You are still their manager.


Everyone needs to feel important, acknowledged, and appreciated.  It is sometimes easy to feel that you are just a cog in the corporate machine. Some people are afraid to speak up.  Some people do really great things and managers forget to say “Thank You” and “Great Job!”.

Middle managers need to help employees improve themselves so they are take on more challenging opportunities.  This may require sending them to training or working with them to go through free training online.  You also need to help your employees set up career goals and track progress in completing those goals.

Middle managers need to be inclusive.  If you notice that certain individuals are afraid to speak up then you can work with them individually.  Then build them up so that you can actively bring them into conversations and group meetings as they progress.

Finally, middle managers need to remember.  Remember what great things your employees did and give credit.  Remembering to say “Thank You” and “Great Job” are just the beginning.  Don’t forget spot awards and bonuses.  Show off their great work.  Let other managers and employees know the great accomplishments that your employees are doing. Getting acknowledgement for work well done is great but your best people know they are good and will often be driven by other things.

Self-actualization (Self-fulfillment)

Our time on this earth is pretty short.  People want to do something that makes a difference.  For some it is doing something which makes the world a better place.  For others, it is solving a hard problem which affects that employee.  For others, it is a general purpose or career goal.  Your job is to understand what makes your employee tick so that you can help that person on their path towards self-actualization or help them see that what they are working on is helping them move in the direction of their purpose.  This may require you to “sell”.  Once they are bought in, you also need to trust them enough to let them take control of their own destinies.

But the executive management and your direct manager are not the greatest influencer to your engagement.


Your beliefs and attitude are the greatest predictor of engagement.  No matter what situation you are in, you are in control of your future. Make a conscious decision to see the glass as half full then commit yourself to making sure that you continually do proactive things to fill the glass back up so that your life is full.

The Importance of Over Delivering

In other words, always over deliver.  For example, if you building a new application and need the PRD (product requirements definition) document to start, then see if you can get the partially complete document to start.  Don’t wait for the final complete PRD.  I see this a lot in large organizations.  People saying they can’t start because some other dependent process in front of them is not complete.  Yes, there may be changes in the PRD because it is not complete but by having an early jump on the work--you will be virtually guaranteed to complete everything on time due to your head start.  It also important that you keep in constant communication with people.  Taking the PRD example, make sure that you periodically communicate with product management to be promptly notified of changes and additions.  Don’t get stuck in the organizational processes of your organization.  Once you are over delivering on your current responsibilities then you can start finding time to work on other things that spark the fire inside of you.

Having Passion To Find and Solve Big Problems Facing Your Group or the Organization

Passion is something that is found in almost anyone who cares strongly about something or someone.  It is the characteristic that separates those “just doing their job” and those that impact the organization.  To have passion you got to strongly care about your company, the people within the company, and where the company is going.  You got to be willing to go the extra mile. 

You typically see it in people who walk into work in the mornings, see trash, pick it up, and throw it away (even through it is “not their job”).  You see it in people who are will to share burdens by understand big problems in other groups and seek out the people in those teams to solve those problems with.  You see it in the people pitching their ideas to the President of the company even if their role is not to pitch ideas to the president.  You find it in people who are willing to call the CEO of a partner company when things are not going well with the existing lines of communication at the partner company.

No woman or man is an island.  In order to develop engagement, you need to build strong relationships to other people and groups within the organization.



You have got to go out and talk to people.  Ideally meet face-to-face but phone is a less preferred option.   Email can be used as an introductory tool however you still need to meet face to face.  And when you talk to people you have to be non-threatening and friendly.  It helps to smile.  It also helps to be transparent and open. 

Remember people’s names and faces. Whenever you see them politely greet them and acknowledge their existence and importance by saying hello and genuinely asking how there are doing.  Be ready to help them solve their problems by listening and then providing a solution or connecting them with others that you know who can help. As you get to know people and their roles you will be able to solve cross-organizational issues.  Understanding what the big problems and issues are is the first step, knowing the people who can help you solve the problem is the second but getting others to buy into your solution is the final piece of the puzzle.  

When you are trying to convince or get another group to work with you, you have to understand their point of view and help them understand how what you are proposing helps them.  When people see you trying to help them you naturally become “friends”.  As you build relationships within the organization, your ability to sway and influence increases because you can say things like “I already have the support of organization x, y and z.  Your group is the final group to get on board to make this happen.”  When you do this you will get noticed.

Putting Yourself Out There

Be willing to put yourself out there.  You may face criticism by people who don’t understand (because according to Gallup and Dale Carnegie 68-70% of people are trying to do the minimum possible).  You will face rejection but you will also face acceptance.  If you are rejected, then you will be in no different a situation then you currently are but if you are accepted than you will be moving your career and engagement forward. 

This article was written from my personal experience and perspective but you can apply it to almost any role in the organization.

Applying These Principles to Your Role

If you are an engineer and are not feeling engaged because of the technology or work you are currently doing, then take time on the weekends and learn a new language and framework that can do the job better than the current infrastructure and sell this to your manager.  If you would like to develop something new instead of just doing maintenance, then think of a new stand-alone service or feature which could help the business make more money and then implement it.  If you really feel strongly about it, then start it on your personal time.  Once you have something working (where others can see the concept) you can pitch it to your manager and other senior managers.

If you are a QA resource, look at ways of automating manual processes to take the existing testing environment to the next level.

If you are a product engineer, develop the next product or feature the company needs without anyone telling you.

If you are a security engineer, seek out other groups which may need your help in reviewing their code for security vulnerabilities.


Engagement is everyone’s responsibility.  With it, we can take our group and the company to the next level.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Successfully Getting That Awesome Internship

The Problem of Cookie Cutter Students
You don't know how many times I look at internship applicants from the same university and they all look the same.  They all took the same courses with the same projects.  After a while I can't tell if the only difference in the resumes is formatting and the name at the top.  When I am selecting a candidate, I want a person that stands out for all of the right reasons.  Obviously, the person has to have the skills or ability to quickly get the skills needed to execute in the area that we are focused.  However, ]if you look like all the other candidates from your school then you are leaving the decision of getting that lucrative internship to the whims of the selector.  If you are going to stand out then you have to understand what defines a standout.
What Defines a Standout
Employers from top companies want passionate employees who will find ways around obstacles.  Students that take initiative and have grit.  People who are creative problem solvers, driven to succeed and work as a team.  Great communicators that know the importance of listening.  
So you have got this laundry list of characteristics, but how do you demonstrate this?
How to Stand Out
You need to do extra side projects on your own in areas that you are interested in.   Take initiative by taking online courses and starting your own company.  I do not like hearing about how you are genuinely interested in computer vision, graphics, security, etc. but you didn't have the prerequisites, or the class was full, or the time slot was conflicting with your other core classes.  You have the Internet and it is the Golden Age of the Internet.  You can find almost anything to learn out there and if you can't find it you can connect with the people researching your area of interest to find ways to work together.
Find problems that need to be solved and then solve them.  Don't wait for the professor to give you an assignment.

Who knows, if the problem you solve is real, you may not need the internship after all.

Tips for a Successful Email Marketing Campaign: Power of 8

Make the first 8 words you write compelling.
Email has become the bane of most email boxes.  Every time you want to view articles or receive content on a web site you usually have to give up your email address.
In some cases, the emails you receive are valuable but in other cases the information is a waste of time.
In many cases going through your emails is a game of technical Russian Roulette because you can’t see what the email is about.  And this is where the power of 8 comes into play.
When running a successful email campaign make sure that the first 8 words of the subject and email are compelling to the person you are marketing to.
For example, I get daily alerts from the Harvard Business Review where the subject is “The Daily Alert from Harvard Business Review” and the first words of the email are “Are you having trouble viewing this email?”
This is a waste.
The subject of the email should be specific to the email content such as “Keeping Your Entrepreneurial Faith from Fading” and the first words of the email message body should be “To succeed you have to believe in something with such a passion that it becomes a reality.”  These two things are usually visible in the preview for most email browser and desktop clients.
I am surprised that Harvard Business Review is making this mistake as they are supposed to be “practicing what they preach” but instead they are making one of the most fundamental email marketing mistakes.  I know Harvard knows what they are doing as I took all 30+ Harvard Management Mentor training classes.

Remember to make the first 8 words of whatever you write, say, or email compelling so you improve the possibility of someone listening to you, reading your email or diving into your article.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Are You in the Top 15% of Your Company (Warning...You May Not Like This If You Are Part of the 85%)

In my quest to be a great CEO, I have been going around trying to find out what motivates people to go the extra mile (put in 150%).

The general consensus that I got was:
  • Ownership
    1. In the company’s success. A feeling that your success and the company’s success are linked. Usually via stock or stock options which have good potential value. If you have an insignificant amount of stock in the company or the value of the company is in the toilet, then this loses its power to motivate.
    2. Being a part of a delivered product which is important. Examples are developing the core pricing algorithm for your product management solution or derivatives valuation engine.  Usually there are few positions like this because the problem is broken down into smaller pieces worked on by a team.
  • Buying into the company values, mission, and culture
    1. You feel the company is trying to solve a problem that you care about personally. But most companies do not adequately build their values, mission, and culture in a way that people can rally around.
  • Recognition
    1. You feel that what you are working on will be acknowledged by higher ups if it is successful. Unfortunately, many projects may fail or only produce mediocre results.
  • Effect on the company’s success
    1. You feel that what you are working on will help the company be successful and will have a great effect on the company’s future. This is getting harder and harder to do. If you look at Apple, almost every project that they were working on in the past had this potential but now the environment and expectations are higher.  Making it difficult to surpass prior results.
  • Effect on other people
    1. You feel that what you are working on will positively affect people in the world. It is debatable whether most products that are developed today are really making the world a better place.  Even electric cars are powered by electricity generated by coal fired plants in many parts of the world (including the China, US, and India).  And what do you do with the caustic chemicals from the millions of batteries in hybrid and electric vehicles that will need to be disposed of later?
  • Rewards
    1. You will get some prize (bonus, additional stock, vacation trip, etc.) for successful completion of a project. This is difficult to do because you are expected to deliver your projects because you are getting a salary.
So the end result that I have seen is that many people are discouraged to put in extra effort.  They don’t believe that what they are doing will produce any great reward, promotion, or outcome in their lives because the usual suspects get all of the rewards and promotions.  Some feel that this is a result of favoritism or because of a situation where people who got early opportunities capitalized on their luck to establish themselves.
Usually companies have a ranking system where the “outstanding” (top 15%) employees are fast tracked and the rest move a bit slower up the ranks.
So the rest of the 85% accept their position in life and choose the option of "balancing work and life".  Just collecting a pay check and trying to do whatever they have to at work.
The thing most people don’t realize is that life is a long journey.  What you do today to make yourself outstanding may not get recognized at your current company but if you work at developing yourself and your passions it will get recognized in your next job.  This leads to the final motivator.
  • Self
    1. You believe that you need to be constantly improving and adding value because you know you will be sought after and recognized by the next company that sees this value.
    2. You know that you want to be the best so you continually read, study, and apply yourself to your practice and area of expertise to become a recognized expert.
    3. You constantly are reaching out to different parts of the organization to try to build synergies because you understand the power of breaking down silos.  You also understand the power of communication.
    4. You provide value to your company by going above and beyond in as many ways as possible because this allows you to be more marketable for your next opportunity.
    5. You accept that today’s environment is challenging. Competition is getting fiercer every day for the highest paying jobs.  You understand that in order to be selected you need to be able to stand out.
    6. You take responsibility for your future. You spend your own money to train yourself.  You do not complain and seek to embrace all that the future offers in both challenges and benefits.

So if you feel like you are in the 85%, look inside yourself, see what you want to become and work toward that every day.  You are your best motivator.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Passion - Jack Welch’s 3 Essential Inborn Leadership Traits Part 3

I respect Jack Welch enormously.  He is a CEO I hope to emulate and learn from but I have to respectfully disagree that 3 of his 5 essential leadership traits are inborn (existing from birth)
Jack Welch defines “Passion” as “They care deeply. They sweat; they believe.”
Passion can be learned as well.
Everyone in the world is passionate about something in their lives.  It is that one thing or hobby which drives them because they want to feel a greater sense of accomplishment from doing the activity.  If you look carefully at these people, passion is a factor of two essential things: 1.) wanting to give their all to something and 2.) having the will to drive toward that goal faithfully.
Wanting to Give Your All to Something
What does it mean to want to give your all to something?  To some it may be the long hours of practice and study necessary to be the best at something.  To others it may be the preparation and effort needed to accomplish a difficult goal.  When we are passionate about something we focus every cell in our body toward that endeavor.  It is this extreme focus that allows you to sacrifice other things in your life that normal people deem essential.  It is taking time out of your personal life to learn, apply and practice the skills you need to move further in what you are passionate about. 
It is learning from the people who are regarded as the best in the industry.  Understanding what got them there and trying to emulate their practices but with consideration for your strengths, weaknesses and background.
It is learning to love what you are passionate about and dedicate yourself to a cause without reserve.  When you love what you do, you care deeply about it.  You believe in it almost to the point of delusion.  You suffer inordinate amounts of pain gleefully and with unabashed vigor.
You have to look at today as preparation for your eventual greatness.  Looking outside of your box to the horizon to make connections toward your envisioned future.
Thought Without Action is Worthless
I often hear people say that they “love” something.  Throwing around the term haphazardly without understanding its true meaning.  Love is not just words.  Words alone are shallow. Notice how you listen to and pay attention to your love.  Watching intently when she/he lights up about different things and then following through to meet those desires and needs. Face every day with the same attention that you give to your love.  Be committed to making things better by taking actionable steps toward your goal every day. 
As you see yourself getting closer to your goals you will feel the passion growing in your heart.  It will become easier to give up distractions and non-productive behavior getting in the way of reaching your goals.  There may be occasional setbacks but if you are consistent and dedicated you will work through those setbacks and be stronger for it.

Energizing Others - Jack Welch’s 3 Essential Inborn Leadership Traits Part 2

I respect Jack Welch enormously.  He is a CEO I hope to emulate and learn from but I have to respectfully disagree that 3 of his 5 essential leadership traits are inborn (existing from birth).
Ability to Energize Others
Jack Welch defines “Ability to Energize Others” as “releasing their positive energy, to take any hill”.
The ability to energize others is built on the foundation of positivity, persuasion, and love. This ability can be learned through Part I of this series, studying Aristotle’s 3 modes of persuasion (Ethos, Pathos, and Logos), and having a genuine love of others (Eros).
Releasing Positive Energy
Releasing positive energy requires you to be realistically positive.  See part I of this series for details.  But imparting that energy and convincing others to see the positive side of things requires a bit of persuasion.  Aristotle gave us 3 key principles in order to persuade:  Ethos, Pathos, and Logos.
Ethos (reputation, credibility, and ethics)
Ethos deals with your ability to convince and persuade based on your reputation, intelligence, credibility, moral standards, and likeability. When a project gets stuck or faces a setback, don’t sulk or waste time being discouraged.  Instead, immediately explain that every setback is an opportunity for the team to find a creative way to solve the problem or make the product/solution better.  Then proceed to reframe the problem and ask how we as a team can solve the problem or use the problem to pivot or become better, stronger, and faster. Keeping up the momentum is important but sustained momentum comes from respect and leadership.
You can quickly gain the respect of your team mates by teaching and mentoring them.  Help them learn a marketable skill.  Share your knowledge about negotiation, programming, public speaking, security, hacking, source code analysis, marketing, sales, etc. Once you have helped them to be better, they will naturally be more willing to listen to ideas you present.  Once they are willing to listen, you need to lead with action.
Show that you are willing to do whatever it takes (as long as it is ethical) to get the job done. Do not reject any serious ideas.  Be open to any opportunity that presents itself during the process to solve the problem.  No idea is dumb.  This will allow the person who has the solution but is usually afraid to speak up to participate.  Now that the ball is rolling you have to keep it rolling with trust.
Be transparent to build credibility and trust.  Gain a reputation for shooting straight and saying exactly what you mean.  People are usually willing to support initiatives whole heartedly when they know and understand the exact circumstances.  That is why it is important to let people know what is going on.  They will feel they had a part in making the choice to participate.  Energizing other in today’s technical environment is extremely challenging because managers need to excel at both soft and technical skills.
You got to be someone that other people want to follow.  Millennials are the most technically advanced generation; growing up with both the developed Internet and computers.  To inspire them, you need to be both extremely technical and have exceptional soft skills (EQ, negotiating, sales, networking, communication, etc.)  Millennials are really no different from us when we were younger (maybe more technically savvy) but looking for a way to move up and be successful.  You need to help all of those that work with you to gain career skills to help them move up the career ladder. If you see your goal is to help people progress, then you will energize others in their careers and lives.
Pathos (appealing to their passions and feelings)
Energize others by tying what they are working on to their passions.  Listen and talk to your team members.  Get to know your team members both professionally and personally.  Understand what they are looking for career wise.  Find out what things they are passionate about.  Understand what they feel confident about and their fears.  Learn about what makes them excited or annoyed.  Help them understand how what they are working on is related to their passions and give them responsibilities tied to their interests and goals.
Logos (appealing to logic and reason)
Listen to your team members to understand what their concerns are.  Make sure that you use logic to right wrongs and make decisions.  Hold off on letting your emotions get the better of you in difficult times. However, be not a mat for people to walk on.
Eros (Brotherly/Sisterly Love)
Have the best interests of the people you lead at heart.  If they are going through tough times personally then encourage them, invite them over for dinner, and take them out.  Help them with career decisions such as salary negotiation strategies, mentoring, training, and finding ways of building their confidence up.  Treat them as you would family. 
If you do the five things outlined above, you will energize those around you and enrich their lives.