I found this TEDx talk by Jason Fried to be refreshing. While I don’t work in an “office” anymore, I suffered from this tremendously in my previous life. I personally love the m&m comment and no talking Thursdays. Where and when do you do your best work?
I’ve looked into they eye of the beast, and what I saw was glorious. I get the opportunity every few years to go visit a technology company through work with one of our Standing Committees. This year we took a trip out to Palo Alto, California to visit Facebook. Facebook has been a hot topic in the legal profession for a while, mostly circling their privacy changes. We didn’t get a chance to debate those issues on this trip, but we did get to discuss how brands are using Facebook and how lawyers and law firms can take advantage of the platform.
While I’m not going to get into all the details of this visit here (that will come out in other posts) I am going to quickly talk about work culture. I’ve visited three major technology companies over the last few years: Microsoft, Google, and now Facebook. Each experience was different and I think that has to do with when they were started, what their focus is on, and how they execute their product.
New School vs. Old School. I think there are clear differences between old school vs. new school companies. Old school is hierarchical with office space, titles and corporate environment. They have high-walled cubes and offices with doors. Microsoft is old school. When I visited Microsoft you didn’t feel the innovation happening. Maybe that was because it was in a different building than the one I was in. When I visited Google and Facebook the environment was much different. They have open spaces, collaboration areas, appropriate levels of distractions (like FB has a Guitar Hero room and ping pong tables). You could feel the magic happening. You could tell there were smart people in the room coding ideas, sharing thoughts, working towards common goals. It was energizing to be around and just observe. People were excited to be at work and working on their projects. It could also have been the fact that people were in jeans, walking around with Macs, working on 40″ monitors, etc.
Location, Location, Location. Maybe it is just being in Silicon Valley that is the biggest difference. Both Google and Facebook are miles away from each other. In fact, Facebook is practically in the middle of a residential district just outside of Standford University. However I’d be willing to bet that HP, which is around the corner and was in the building Facebook now occupies, is a little more old school. Microsoft, on the other hand, has a campus that has a highway that runs right down the middle outside of Seattle. Impressive, yes, but still corporate in nature for sure. However, it may not be your location. I’ve also visited Total Attorney’s offices in Chicago and their set up is very similar to Google and Facebook, so maybe the Valley isn’t as critical as one might think.
Focus. While Google and Facebook haven’t been around for a decade yet, I think that is actually one of their prime reasons they are as successful as they are. They are focused. Every employee who works there knows how their project fits into the grand scheme of their company. These companies have a focus (beyond profits), and that is something their employees embrace and motivates them. They want to be the best, breaking new ground in their industry, and setting trends, not fads. Google lets their employees work on pet projects for 20% of their time. This is how products like GMail, Google Talk emerged. Those have then taken Google into directions they initially didn’t assume they would get into — office tools. Facebook has a focus on transforming itself from a social network to a profile management and communication tool. Products like their lists which help you categorize your friends helps you manage who sees what and what you communicate to whom. It has opened a whole new door to the Social Graph for them — and how we communicate and share information.
Microsoft, on the other hand, is very diverse in their product lines. They have several divisions: Search, Gaming, Office, etc. and from a conglomerate standpoint, the act and operate like a big corporation — each division responsible for their own bottom line. While Google has several product lines as well, their delivery vehicle is the same — the Web.
Photos from Facebook HQ
Photos from Google Visit
So while one may wear a tie to work and the other scoots around on a skateboard, think about how your company works. Is it effective in producing your products and services? Does every employee know how their project fits within the overall strategy of the organization? What changes could you make that would allow for better work product, focus, and commitment from your employees? Maybe business casual is OK everyday. It may depend on the profession you are in. It may depend on experience and longevity of your management team. My biggest take away from these visits is that your work environment and culture is very critical to the success of your company.
Day one had a great line up of speakers and content. Day two looks like it will be no different.
Here is my Twitter Stream which I will be updating during the day. I’ll then recap later.
LIVE! From Forrester Consumer Forum
Online Community Sites of Note:
C|Net quietly was playing around with a business management site over the last two years. BNET, the go-to place for management, was born last recently to address the needs of business professionals. It has a great design and some great resources for business professionals from how to manage your boss to career advice. Their weekly podcast, titled Useful Commute, is one to subscribe to covering some great topics. Registration is required if you want to get access to the real goods, but it is free. If you already have an account with ZDNet or TechRepublic you are already set as your login credentials are transferable.
Short answer: continually give them advancement opportunities.
Now the long answer. The reality is that you won’t be able to retain all the good talented staff that walk through your door. That’s a given. For some reason they won’t blend well into the organization or they will a short attention span and hop jobs (let’s face it, it’s not where employees stick around for 30 years anymore). I guess I can say I’m somewhat unique in that I’ve stayed at my first company post graduation for over 5 years without leaving, though I’ve had opportunities to advance. It is those opportunities to do more with my career that has been the key factor to stay longer and will be for employees your organization.
For many, staying at a company is a balance between “real” benefits and intrinsic benefits (job satisfaction, healthy work environment, knowledge expansion). Sure access to the health club is nice, but if I can leave work knowing that I made a difference, improved my work product, and can be recognized for it, I’m happy. That’s what keeps me coming back in the morning and not dreading my job come Sunday evening when the thought of “having to go back to work tomorrow” pops in your head.
I hope employers feel that advancement doesn’t always mean more money or a promotion. Advancement could include allowing an employee to:
- improve a skill-set
- have the ability to teach the organization a new way of doing business they have researched
- the ability to provide continual feedback to the organization
Employers should also look to:
- present new challenges to employees where their diverse skill-set can solve
- provide clear career path options (nothing is worse than coming to an organization and find there is no-where to go within the organization)
Eventually you will always tap out on what you can do for an employee, but as long as they feel that they can continue to contribute and be rewarded in some way, they will stay. So when was the last time you sat down with your employees and asked them how satisfied they are in their jobs? What can you do to make it better? Maybe you should.
I was recently at Tech Cocktail 3 here in Chicago and I put this site down on my name tag instead of my work domain. Many asked me, what is From the 21st Floor? It dawned on me that I really couldn’t explain the purpose of this site concisely in a sentence. I would say it is about looking at things from the big picture perspective. That is true, but what I’m really trying to attempt (and I hope to get better at) is explaining how I look at things in a holistic point of view. The “big picture” falls in that category, but maybe it will be easier to explain to others.
The holistic point of view I see the world in relates to the balance between strategy and implementing actions to meet goals. How often have you been in a meeting and heard about a new plan or idea that was going to be implemented and you thought to yourself “But what about that other plan we have?” or “How does this meet our overall goals or work within or strategic vision?” That is the world I see. I think those questions all the time, and more recently I start to ask them in meetings. I guarantee your company will waste more time and money on developing and implementing ideas that contradict your overall company goals than you want to admit. This will be because you don’t have a vetting process for major projects, and more importantly it is because your fellow employees can’t recite what the company goals are. And for the record, it shouldn’t be “to make our shareholders money.”
So I encourage you to understand what your companies strategic goals are. Be able to recite it at a moments notice. Why? Because when you are in project planning meetings or brainstorming sessions you can effectively ask “How does this idea work towards our strategic goals?” More often than not you will probably get someone to pause and think about it because they hadn’t before.
Coming back full circle, From the 21st Floor is about looking at business, goals, strategy, marketing, communications, the whole package from a holistic view–the big picture.
The following are my top five reasons why your Web site will ultimately be unsucessful and be useless stagnant bits and bytes on the Internet.
5. The IS department is in charge of design and content creation/publishing.
The IS department does not know your content better than you, the content contributor. Unless you have a very specific workflow that facilitates the content creation process and how it interacts with your IS dept. for publishing, it will never work.
4. Your content is “brochure-ware”, static and stale.
Have you ever heard this in your office?
“Hey Bob, let’s just put our brochure up as content on our web site. It is the same marketing copy we would use anyway, so why re-invent the wheel.”
This conversation should never happen. If it does, please..PLEASE say “no” and make sure your content for your web site is written for the Web (yes, there is a difference) and it is reviewed on a regular basis if not changes on a regular basis.
3. The majority of your senior managers and middle managers don’t “get it” when it comes to the web.
Your management sees the Web site as a something that you “had” to do to keep up with the Jones’, but never saw the value in it and will not put more resources to improving it.
2. You have decentralized content creation without standards and rules.
Can you say Silence of the Lambs? Wild, rabid kids without any supervision will fend for themselves which gives you a fractured, inconsistent mess for your visitors to wade through to find the content they are really looking for. Without explicit standards and business rules, decentralized content control and creation can become unruley and very difficult to manage globally.
1. You don’t understand your audience and how they interact wit your brand and company.
Rule number 1: Know thy audience and thy will strive. If you don’t know who you are providing content/services to how can you build something they will use or come to?
Note: This is a republished post from my old Web site (now defunct and removed). It still has value towards the "Big Picture" concepts discussed here.
Tom Peters has published another great ChangeThis manifesto called Tomato TomA[h]to. OK, it was published back in July, but I’m finally getting around to it today. In it Tom explains how while on a trip for a speaking engagement he woke up in the middle of the night sweating. He had a nightmare of being accused of explaining his point of view with too many exclamation points (!!!!). To combat his nightmare, he picked up a pad of paper and a pencil to write. What came out was a manifesto of ‘They’ vs. Tom explanations for how business must be conducted today. Some examples of what Tom had to say were:
They say…my [Tom’s] language is too extreme.
I say…the times are extreme.
They say that Brand You is not for everyone.
I say the alternative is unemployment.
This goes on for about ten solid pages of back and forth. I wanted to point out a few that I found thought provoking and true from my point of view.
They say “We need more steady, loyal employees.”
I say “WE NEED MORE FREAKS WHO ROUTINELY TELL THOSE ‘IN CHARGE’ TO TAKE A FLYING LEAP…BEFORE IT’s TOO LATE.”
They say “Of course we believe in marketing.”
I say “Is your Web site Sooooo Cool, Soooo Fresh, Soooo Friendly to Use that it gives you goose pimples just to e-visit, even though you’ve seen it 1,000 times?”
They say “Employees need Well-defined Structure.”
I say “Talent should be encouraged to embark on Quests to the Unknown.”
They say “We can’t all be a Brand.”
I say “Why not?”
There are many more that are just as inspiring and make you think about the way business is conducted today. I had a few observations of my own about the business world and what I see in the news today. I would add the following to Tom’s list:
Have you seen the recent New Balance commercial on TV? I love it. It asks the simple question, do you play sports for the love of money or the game? I think it resonnates beyond sports and into the business world if you think about it. For the love money or the game…or rather are you in business for the love of making a lots of money your providing the customer the best experience or product possible? I think if you can answer that fundamental question you can set the proper tone and strategy for your business…and you’ll be profitable too.
Don’t believe me, here are some examples of companies who are customer focused, not out to make a quick buck.
– Located in Chicago, Feedburner is the defacto tracking solution for RSS feeds. They aren’t just crazy about syndication and all of its possibilities, they are passionate about it. They are passionate about providing key statistics to their customers. Each year Feedburner takes a day and lets their developers loose to each build one cool new enhancement that can be implemented tomorrow on their service. They are committed to keeping a free version for smaller businesses and individuals to use. They create evangelists one customer at a time every day with the information and service they provide. It is that focus on providing tools for their customers to analyze and monetize their data through syndication that is what landed Feedburner some of the largest publishers in the U.S. including Reuters and the Associated Press.
– Originally a small Web site design shop in Chicago, 37Signals changed their business model in 2003 when they showed their internal, home-grown, project management (or collaboration as they call it) tool. Now called Basecamp, 37Signals launched a revolution of design companies expanding into the software developement world to solve solutions they and their clients have been struggling over for years. 37Signals is passionate about creating small business tools at a reasonable cost. They know that there will be better, more expensive tools created by other companies, but 37Signals is focusing on the lower end of the market. Command the lower end of the market at prices almost anyone can afford and you will profit. 37Signals runs a scaled down version of their products for free with the ability at anytime to upgrade or downgrade levels. They take the mentality that less is more and that enables them to respond to the real needs of their customers.
37Singals then took that mentality and expanded it out to three more products (TaDa, BackPack, and Campfire) and has helped revolutionize a programming language (Ruby) and framework (Rails) into mainstream use.
No, I’m not talking about the next Apple “super secret” announcement. I’m also not going to sit here and predict what the “next” thing is, but I can tell you it will affect you and your company in ways you can’t imagine today. Why? Because the movement I’m referring to is not digital, though it may be played out in the digital arena. No, I’m referring to a cultural shift from what is “the norm” to what is “winning ______.” That isn’t a typo. ______ refers to whatever business you are in. It could be customers, clients, student admissions, employees, new products—anything. It’s so broad that I can’t define it for you. It is something you will have to figure out for your industry, company, and business. But trust me, the change is coming.
How do I know that change is in the air? Sure I’ve read the books, magazines, articles, blogs that say “it” is coming, but more importantly I’ve witnessed the change. I’ve seen it in people’s eyes. I’ve heard it in corners at conferences. I’ve read it on blogs. Employees, customers, end-users are fed up with “the norm.” They want, we want, something to change from the products and services we use. It could be from the lawyer that helps you buy a home or the server that brings your food to your table at dinner this weekend. We want something more than the usual service.