Archive for April, 2010

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Uniqueness

April 16, 2010

I find it strange that most companies don’t focus on developing some form of uniqueness. To separate yourself from the pack you need to do something different. Most companies seem to want to standout, but they try to do so by following the latest trend in their industry. This path is me-too thinking, as generally everyone is taking it.

Another challenge with uniqueness is getting your employees to recognize that it only matters if the uniqueness is valuable to customers. Ask the people you work with what the company can do to be innovative and you’ll likely get some very stale ideas, followed by something completely off the wall ideas that are completely unrelated to the customer you serve.

You develop uniqueness through innovation. Innovation is a highly misunderstood concept. I worked at one company that was very process driven, and they attempted to put in an “innovation process”. It was like they thought they could bottle it. The process did more to stifle innovation than it did to foster it.

The first thing you have to realize is that a good idea can occur at anytime and can come from anyone. Don’t assume the people with the titles will be the innovative thinkers. In reality their job is to spot the innovative idea when it emerges and to prioritize it highly.

One method I’ve used to get the creative juices going is brainstorming. I like to keep it simple, I always start out by talking about customer needs, and then try to get others to engage in how we better serve them. Once they get the feel for the openness of the conversation they engage.

I did this a year or so ago with a group in Germany. I’ve been told that Germans can be very difficult to engage in a brainstorming conversation, but I got one of the best ideas I’ve heard in a long time from the group. If you get people to drop their guard and think in terms of customer value, you’ll be surprised by the good ideas that just popup.

The leaders job is to recognize the good ideas, capture them, and then make sure people focus on making them a reality. My belief is the execution is the hard part. There are an abundance of good ideas out there if you know how to look for them, just open your eyes.

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Changing A Culture

April 9, 2010

I’ve walked into a number of situations over time where the culture needed to be changed. People simply weren’t into what they did anymore. I also find “How would you go about changing our culture” a frequent question in interviews.

My answer is simple: give them something to believe in. I’ve found that if employees really believe in what the company is trying to do the good ones engage.

I’ve also found that in most places the employees already know what needs to be done, even when they don’t. I’m sure you read that and thought what? If you talk to the employees they won’t be able to articulate what needs to be done, but when you ask them what they would change, you’ll most likely find a lot of commonality.

When you enter a new situation and you are expected to change the culture, there is a reason why the job was open. The most common reason is the management of the person before you. You’ll also find that their management fit one of two scenarios. First, and most likely is that they gave up trying. Nothing kills morale more than a leader that simply gave up. Second and almost as common, the last guy went nuts. This is the person that tried to the bitter end. You know what they say, if you keep doing the same thing and expect a different result…

If the person before you gave up and you paint a compelling vision and do it with passion, you’ll see the attitude change quickly. If you followed the second type of person it’s harder. Think of it like being the second husband of a wife that was abused by the first. The employees are ducking for cover before any words come out of your mouth. In this case you need to be supportive. It takes time to recover from this. If you need to do it quick, bring in a couple of helping hands and spread the load.

Culture change is not as hard as it seems, and it isn’t as touchy/feely as all the books make it out to be. Keep it simple, and you’ll be surprised. People want to contribute and feel good about what they do. Show them you care, give them a chance, and they’ll surprise you in a positive way.

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Update

April 5, 2010

You might have been wondering if I gave up writing this blog already. The answer to that is no. Since selling Captaris in the Fall of 2008 I took some time off to enjoy life, and I also explored a couple of startup possibilities. Going into this year I thought one of the startups was about to take off, and I was locked and loaded on making it happen. Unfortunately, it was dependent on third party IP that never materialized.

When the startup fell apart it was only a couple of weeks from the Olympics. A life long friend and his family were going to joining my family on our Olympic trip. I decided to throw all my energy into making it the trip of a lifetime, and it was.

Now you’re probably wondering what does this has to do with the blog; I’m getting to that. I also promised myself I would start writing a blog and begin looking for the next interesting challenge on the other side of the trip. Last week the second part of that promise was realized.

For the next nine months I’ve taken an assignment as the Interim COO in an early stage company (I’ll share the name when the contract gets finalized) that has developed cutting edge digital video surveillance and analysis technology. Like many early stage companies they have interesting technology, but haven’t found their niche in the market. My job is to determine the right market fit, package the product, and bring focus to the company. This is a role I have played several times over my career, and it should make for interesting new blog postings.

Unfortunately the job isn’t local, so last week I spent a fair amount of time planning an extended commute. The good news is the job is in Michigan where I have lots of family. I start tomorrow, so you should be hearing about it soon. I look forward to getting this company to the next level of success and sharing what I learn with you, so stayed tuned.

I’ll try not to have such a big gap in the future, but last week was very busy.