Building An Advisory Board

I was asked by a friend to help his team think through how to create an Advisory Board.  Here goes:

–  Don’t ask friends, customers or vendors (bankers, CPA’s, suppliers) to serve as Board members — you already have access to their opinions  but it may not be easy for them, or in their best interest to be brutally open and honest with you.

–  Clearly define what you want out of an Advisory Board member in terms of time commitment and interaction (i.e., face-to-face meetings vs phone calls, monthly or quarterly, etc).

– Clearly define how formal or informal you expect the interaction with the Board to be (i.e., highly structured meetings vs informal team dialog/rap sessions).

– Identify what functional or experiential areas your team is light on now, or may be light on relative to future growth areas, and use to Board candidate identification process to help address this.

–  Make sure you have internal consensus on whom the Board is supposed to advise (helping the CEO is very different from helping the entire leadership team).

–  Think through carefully how much “insider” business facts you’re really willing to share with the Board (high level generalities will appeal to certain potential Board members while being a complete turnoff to others — ditto for the other extreme sharing of deep strategic, financial and operational details).

–  Reflect on what type of folks, behaviors and temperament your leadership team respects and listens to — and those that they don’t.  Target potential Board members that fit this influence profile.

–  Be honest with yourselves about what you want back from Board members in the way of feedback and dialogue (e.g., general sounding board vs hard challenges to critical thinking).

– Unless you’re running a non-profit, you should expect to compensate your Advisory Board members.  Obviously what you expect of them drives what “compensation” means.  Usually stock not cash – something like $15,000 – $50,000/year.  Of course you’ll also be expected to cover all out-of-pocket expenses.  Wait — why won’t Advisory Board members want to work for “free”?  The deal is people and businesses don’t value what they get for free — and great candidates already know that and will be wary to sign on to a “no skin in the game” experiment.

– Decide at the outset an initial term for the Advisory Board members — a good starting point might be 2 years.

The reality is that it’s really hard to get a high quality Advisory Board built and working — partly because your Company isn’t used to caring a whole lot about what outsiders want and think — partly because great potential Advisory Board members are already successful, and busy, and not looking for any new hobbies — and partly because making a Board work effectively takes lots of scheduling, preparation, document sharing, time and dialog.  That said — great Advisory Boards do get created every day and can be very effective in helping companies and their leaders navigate growth.

Cheers.  DC

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Managing Growth

This post comes from a question I responded to yesterday as a panelist at a CEO conference in NYC.  The audience, all CEO’s of PE funded growth companies, asked “what tips do you have for managing acceleration of growth”.  I preface my comments below with that introduction as they didn’t need me to tell them how to find “growth” — they were focused on the “acceleration” part of the question.

I offered three suggestions:

1) Know what you suck at and do less of this.  Working on things you suck at takes more time and more energy — as a person and as an organization — energy that could, and should, be spent on growth initiatives.   All growth companies (and their executives) have a pretty good handle on what they’re great at — what they spend a lot less time on is understanding what they’re not just not great at — but what they really suck at!  Things that we need to do, or get hauntingly drawn into doing by our own perverted sense of necessity or duty, but that at the end of the day we’re just plain lousy at.

Study yourself and your company and identify these things (long meetings, committing things to writing, managing deeply valued but seriously flawed employees, designing product packaging, documenting sales calls, nurturing R&D ideas — they vary widely but they all slow us down and drain valuable time and attention that we can and should be spending elsewhere.  For example — if your company doesn’t have the patience (or temperament or interest) to nurture small tangential but potentially very important R&D projects — either outsource these, or find other companies that have already done similar work and are ahead of you.  Partner/acquire them instead of trying to grind it out yourself when you already know its something you “suck” at.

Once you figure these out, you personally and everyone else organizationally, must be “eyes up” and just stop doing them — behave differently, organize differently, outsource, find partners, whatever.  Sucking at stuff slows you down.  And PS:  We all suck at some things — even you!

2) Focus on eliminating dysfunction.  Rapid growth creates chaos — and there’s good chaos and bad chaos.  Inventive, spontaneous customer service is good chaos (at least for a while) whereas having 14 ways to get an expense report reimbursed is always bad chaos.  As the leader, learn to spot the difference and celebrate the good chaos while relentlessly eliminating the bad.

One of your big contributions as the leader of a rapid growth company is making the wheels go round and round faster.   Taking friction out of the system and reducing unnecessary non-value adding behaviors and activities helps clear the decks for more success and focus on growth initiatives.  It also signals other important things to your team — like challenging the status quo when you outgrow what you “used to do”.

3) Develop (and communicate) metrics for measuring “winning and losing” not just “wins and losses.”  Think about it — when you’re building a high growth DNA the natural tendency is to focus on “outcomes” like wins and losses.  Revenue growth, new customers, cash collected — all good stuff but all the result of an effort, not the measurement of the effort build itself.

As you’re building growth you need momentum metrics more than outcome metrics — stuff that tells you you’re making progress building the things that help make you great.  For example, don’t just measure revenue dollars on a new product — measure (and report) things like days to build, errors found and fixed during beta, # of prospects currently testing — milestones you have to pass before you can actually achieve a “win”.  Learn to measure and celebrate the journey if you want to speed things up.

These will change by department/functional area and over time — but these scorecards are measuring the performance intervals that are vital to high growth outcomes.

Here’s to growth — Cheers!  DC

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What Business Schools Need To Teach

This is a post I was asked to write.

The questions posed was:  “What do you think Business Schools need to do a better job of teaching?  Here goes but given the potential weight of this post I’m going to most stick to a list vs. narrative:

The New Corporation — the Federated Enterprise (JV’s, Partnerships and Strategic Alliances).  The corporation of tomorrow is an amalgam of various other enterprises that come together in a specific deal, to deliver a specific product or service, for a finite life cycle.  Studying the old NYSE listing corporate parent and financials just isn’t very relevant anymore.

Small/Medium Sized Business Capitalization Tables, Debt Structures and Pro-Forma Financials.  In a world where you need capital to be successful at almost anything anymore the most complicated cap tables today don’t have just common stock and bank debt — they have various classes of common, multiple series of convertible preferred — with warrants and convert options — and multiple tranches of short-term and longer-term debt.  Often sizing this up is a non-trivial matter :).  None – I repeat none of the B School grads I’ve met can digest a complicated cap table post-graduation without hand holding.

Worker Types, Pay Cycles, Employee Taxes and Benefit Plans/Approaches.  Its gotten really complicated out there and the old full-time/part-time bi-monthly payroll world with one set of benefits is dying fast.   Understanding the workforce is a critical part of any business and Business Schools are way behind on this one.  These are now critical components to attracting and retaining key talent — and theres a lot more custom crafted programs in place than schools realize.

Intellectual Property Definitions & Protections.  In a high tech world with workforce of knowledge workers — “advantage” is often cerebral nowadays.  Knowing what we own and how we can protect it is a big part of today’s factory operations.

Doing Competitive Company and Principal R&D Using Web & Social Media.  There’s no excuse for not knowing who your competitors are and what they’re thinking given the wide sea of data out there today.  Mine it – hard.

Networking as a Weapon.  When you get out of school you should have already learned how to set-up and nurture a people network.  Of mentors, of missionaries, of peers and of potential enablers.  Being competent is necessary as a floor for your success but being connected is really what will help accelerate it.

Producing Cohesive Written Documents.  I mean REALLY — where did this skill die?  I constantly see muddled, thrown together, half thought out, typo laden stuff .  I don’t care how great or engaging an oral communicator you are — business still runs on written documents (digital or paper) and when you serve up crap that’s exactly what I think of you and your idea.  Learn this at school — practice writing business plans, competitive assessments, product idea presentations — and then edit and refine them over and over until this becomes second nature.

Cheers!  DC

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What I look for (and look out for) in Business Leaders

Over the holidays I caught up on some business reading — and included in all these were some obligatory thoughts on the traits great leaders should possess.  Lots of the usual stuff — people skills, charisma, transparency, consistency, etc.

Those all are fine and dandy but as I wrapped up 2013 I spent a minute making my own list of the traits and characteristics that I personally look for (or look out for) in leaders — start-ups to large corporations.

Knowing and accepting that you don’t know very much about most things — None of us are all that special and, in a macro sense, we know less than we’d like to believe we do.  That’s why it takes a village — including people that are very different from you.  As I get to know you I draw my own conclusions about what you’re really great at and what you really suck at — but be forewarned — the list of things I expect you are really great at isn’t going to be very long.  If your own ego doesn’t gravitate to this sort of conclusion — I’m not going to be very impressed.  And — turnabout is fair play and I expect nothing less in return from you.

A powerful willingness to focus on your business and not your lifestyle or image.  You can’t “phone it in” and build a winner — and while you’re galavanting about town someone, somewhere is still at work trying to steal your people, products and future customers.  If you’re not willing to work 50, 60, 70 or even 80 hours a week while you’re building your business you need to think about being an employee instead of a leader (and thats a perfectly OK decision by the way :).  If you want to be successful at the big job though — you will have to schedule rigorously so you make sure you have the time to devote to your family and loved ones — but tightly ration other personal discretionary time.  If you’re not capable of  forgoing the self-indugent “but I’m entitled to do ____ stuff” you’re not going to be very successful.  PS — people can smell lazy, self-indulgent and narcissistic a mile off.   PPS – sleep is overrated.

An unwavering commitment to doing what is necessary and consistantly demonstrating extreme grit under difficult circumstances. You’ve got to do what needs to be done — regardless of how difficult a decision is or how tedious the task at hand.  As the saying goes — deal with the big rocks first.  Kicking the can down the road is seldom a meaningful response to anything. Your team is watching you all the time and if you “freak out” when things go awry, or flinch at doing the necessary or difficult work — they will too.

A strong bias to strike fair bargains and compromises.  In any negotiation you need to define what exactly you need to be successful — and seek to attain only that from all the constituancies you work with (employees, customers, suppliers, partners).  It takes wasted effort to “dominate” — and we all hate overreach or being leveraged, and our memories of getting roughed up usually last a very long time.  Besides — there will come a time when you really, really need something from one of them that you’re not exactly entitled to request — and they’ll assuredly remember how you bargained with them in the past. Oh — and PS – once you make a bargain keep your word.

The ability to laugh at yourself and to laugh with others.  Sometimes — no matter what you do or try — it just a goat rodeo and things just seem to take painful, ironic turns for the worse.  Laugh about it and relieve the tension everyone feels.  People will admire your for this and you’ll create a calming freshness that will allow everyone to relax and re-engage.

Cheers and Happy New Year — here’s hoping for a great 2014.  DC

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Best Business Statements – 2013

I’m fortunate in that I have a lot of discretionary time to spend working with, and listening to, some very smart people.  As a relentless note taker I often write down some of the things I’m fortunate enough to hear — and the following list contains some of my favorites from 2013 (DISCLAIMER:  None of the following quotes are my own).

Theres a big difference in believing in a core value and simply not violating it” (Kent Thiry – DaVita Chairman and CEO).  No kidding — and we all know examples of both types of behavior, and people.

Everything benefits the data even though not everything benefits revenue” (Anonymous) That’s the secret of data — all data is good data if you’re in the data collection and analysis business.

The hardest thing in the world to do is to simplify your life”  (Yvon Chouinard Founder of Patagonia).  He’s right — try it — it’s very difficult.

What you’re famous for and what you focus on is where you’ll make the best returns”  (Paul Walsh CEO of Diageo).  Two thoughts here — (1) what you’ve already been successful at is where you’ll find the best future success and (2) focus matters – a lot!

Invention requires a long term willingness to be misunderstood” (Jeff Bezos Amazon).  What I like about this is the implication on tracking competitors vs. disrupters.  Be careful what you dismiss.

I can get more and faster everywhere – what is rare is less and slower” (Anonymous).  I substitute better for less and intimate for slower and to me this explains a lot about the experience focused commerce trends.

I personally focus on anything that undermines the credentials of what we’re trying to sell” (Anonymous).  Similar to my “eliminate dysfunction” mantra for executive leaders.

There is infinite demand for the unattainable” (Multiple Sources).  It’s only after you build “one” that you can really gauge market demand.

Everything speaks” (Multiple Sources).  This is particularly true in today’s everything is on-line instantly everywhere world.

Cheers and Happy New Year!  DC

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What Drives Me Crazy…..

Spent the last two weeks here in Atlanta – a first for 2013!  Nice to catch a travel breather.  Plowing through the mess by in-box and desk had become, I made lists of things that needed my belated attention.  A by-product was this list of things that drive me crazy…….

#1 – Google Calendar Invites — I absolutely hate them.  HATE them. My “way” of keeping my calendar and your “way” of keeping your calendar are likely very different — and it’s just maddening when a meeting changes several times and duplicates instead of changes appear thereby trashing my schedule. Plus – I’m already organized and your annoying reminders and alerts make me think that you’re not.  Just say no — this is one of my pet peeves and it starts you off in the penalty box with me when you insist on using these. Sorry Google but No, No, No.

#2 – Mystery Meeting Requests — you want to get together but also want to play coy about what you want to talk with me about.  Gong.  My close friends and I do this – sure.  If you’re not one of them but you insist on doing this all it really does is greatly reduce the likelihood of me agreeing to a meeting.  I know what I’m interested in and I know what I’m good at (and not very good at).  Why would you want to try to meet with me anyway if you think by telling me more I’d say “no thanks”?

#3 – Ducking Status Reporting — if we’ve agreed to “do business” – either on the investment or the consulting side – then it goes without saying that I now care about what you’re up to and how you’re doing.  Making me drag status reports out of you just causes me to 2nd guess why I’m spending time/$ with you in the first place (and really reduces the probability of me being happy about it/you). Duh?  And — its likely that you already know the short list of what I routinely care about so just spit them out — don’t make me drag them out of you or sort through a pile of factoids that I’ve previously told you don’t matter to me or that I find irrelevant to the prime directive.  When you make me continually “set ping on” you’ve already got me half way to annoyed.

#4 – The Inability to Articulate in Writing — a surprising number of folks I run across  just absolutely suck at putting things down on paper.  I mean really, really suck.  I suppose they either (a) don’t want to take the time, (b) know that they haven’t thought it through well enough or (c) realize that the latest “version” of whatever they’re thinking is vastly different from the prior “version” and they don’t want to fess up to the change/pivot/do-over.  Whatever — all of these reasons are just terrible excuses and make me think you’re either lazy, or dumb, or both.  If you can’t take the time to get your thoughts down on paper and really edit and organize them in some intelligent manner – what impression do you really expect to make on me (or your employees, customers and investors)?

#5 – Saying “Thank You” — it’s a small world.  The whole 6 Degrees from Kevin Bacon thing.  When something goes “right” we all know about it — and we also likely know who it was that “brung you to the dance”.  If those folks feel bruised or unappreciated then it reflects poorly on you — and we’ll all know about that too.  It takes a village and most likely you didn’t just win because of your own “unique genius”.  Give it up to the people who helped you get where you are today.  It’s a sign of character and maturity (or lack thereof).  Plus – it’s easy and it’s the right thing to do.

There I said it.  Onward and Upward.

Cheers.  DC

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DPM* (Dogs Per Minute)

Stuck indoors in Atlanta for July 4th because of our seemingly never ending rain, I distracted myself by watching a Great American Sporting Event — The Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest.  The winner once again (7 times in a row!) was Joey “Jaws” Chestnut besting his own record with 69 dogs (20,010 calories for those of you counting them).  During the ESPN broadcast one of the announcers said “it all comes down to DPM – Dogs Per Minute”.  Really?  This got me thinking about metrics.

In business, as in sports, we’re obsessed with metrics — but is “your” DPM really the right thing for you to be measuring?

I’m easily frustrated with entrepreneurs and leaders that quote metrics (and scores against metrics) that mean absolutely nothing to me (and should mean absolutely nothing to them).  Sure — it’s a number — but does it really signify anything that really matters?  If there’s any truth to the business adage of “you manage what you measure” then measuring the wrong thing will surely lead to managing the wrong thing and drawing the wrong conclusions.

Let’s discuss this a little more…..

I think of the world of business performance in terms of “gaining on it” and “achieving success”.

“Gaining on it” is all about milestones and momentum.  Are we moving in the right direction?  Are we passing the markers (milestones) that we need to see on the path to real success? Are we seeing less of the bad results we want to eliminate?  These metrics are necessary to motivate your team when you’re out chasing big hairy goals — but they mostly signify “getting better” or “sucks less” — not the next necessary end-state of existence.

“Achieving success” is about accomplishment.  Setting out to do something extraordinary that, when achieved, sets your organization apart from all others — and positions you and your team transformatively to now pursue the next set of even bigger, hairier goals.

Making it to base camp at Mt Everest is a milestone.  Surviving a successful summit of Mt Everest and returning to base camp to talk about it is an accomplishment. See the difference?  I’d argue that even reaching the summit isn’t THE achievement — you have to touch the top and survive the climb back down to really grab the brass ring of accomplishment.

Both kinds of metrics are important — but milestone metrics only mark your path or measure your pace — achievement metrics measure your success.  Make sure your really think about your own business DPM.

Cheers.  DC

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Why Marissa Mayer is Right…

Marissa Mayer and her leadership team at Yahoo! made news (and waves) last week by announcing to all the Yahoo’ers  that the Company was abandoning the typical tech staffing model of “distance working” (whether home-based or alternate geography-based) and returning all employees to the Mothership/Hive model of old.  Widely criticized as anti-progressive, anti-parent, Neanderthal command and control, retrograde leadership — I completely disagree and think she made absolutely the right call.

Here’s Why:

“You can’t change what you don’t understand….”

Yahoo is a broken company — and Job #1 is to get the Company turned around and re-positioned for success.  To do this Marissa needs everyone on her team to see the same challenges, embrace the same changes and execute against the same plan.  That just can’t happen either fast, or well, with folks scattered all over the place marching to echos of old, or orders they make up on their own.  It’s a lot easier to fire up the troops and set out to take a new hill when everyone is starting from the same spot at the same moment with the same battle cry.  It all starts with getting everyone on the same page.

“Chemistry is something that happens between people…”  Lars Ulrich Metallica

Stone and flint have to rub together to create sparks.  “Tele-engagement” may be likable, productive and even cost-effective but it’s neither innovative nor exciting (Admit it — we’ve all found ourselves banging our heads on our desks during long, painful conference calls).  For Yahoo!, normal isn’t coming back — and Marissa is smart enough to know that the organization needs a nurturing but collective kick in the head — and butt.  Come together, feel the buzz, be excited about who you work with and what we’re doing, collaborate on the fly — that’s what the new normal needs to become.  We need to change and we need to change now.

“R&D is what I’m doing when I don’t know what I’m doing…”  Wernher Von Braun

Every company needs to feed R&D.  The problem with R&D though, is that it needs to be balanced with relentless execution — and I don’t just mean doing the appropriate things the proper way — I mean the breathless stampede of a large committed army running 100 miles per hour with their hair on fire determined to build weapons to stick in the sides of the heads of the competitors before those folks come and steal our kid’s Cheerios.  In a world of unlimited resources everything gets done — but with resource constraints come resource re-allocation and re-prioritization.  Marissa may not yet know whether she needs to spend more or spend less — but she surely knows Yahoo! needs to spend different — with money, time, talent and technology.  Calling everyone back to Mecca helps reset the bar on what’s necessary and what’s not.

“We didn’t work this hard to get where we are today, we worked this hard to get where we’re going next”

Yahoo! is starting over — taking what’s been built and pointing the Company in a new direction.  Everything that everyone has done is appreciated and celebrated — but it’s gut check time.  Marissa is telling the entire workforce that its time to re-sign up or step off the train.  What’s most important to her is doing whatever is necessary to regain Yahoo’s greatness.  If that’s not what’s most important to each and every Yahoo! associate — then that’s OK — but she’s going to leave you behind.  In some ways, having the associates “clock back in physically” is the table ante to figure out who wants to stick around and play the next hand.

In many ways, I think this is a brilliant move and message.

Cheers.  DC

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A New Year’s Resolution….

Day #1 back in the office for 2013.

I’m starting the year like I always do with my annual “note to self” — a list of people and things that I’m not going to think about or deal with this year.  I’ve written previously about the notion that in a world of unlimited communication the most important time management decisions aren’t about what you say “yes” to — there about what you say “no” to — thereby leaving time for the “right stuff’ to seep through.  

You can’t really stop incoming noise — but you can resolve to give it no quality attention cycles.  My way of doing this is to keep a file folder on my desk (or Mac desktop) labeled “Waiting for Columbus” (in that this stuff will get dealt with only if Columbus discovers this folder) for every posting from the “note to self” list.   It’s not necessarily a permanent purgatory as some things do end up rotating out of the folder — but it is a place where a lot of “if you don’t care about it then why should I” stuff ends up getting buried.

What I do every do may not matter to anybody else, but it matters very deeply to me.  I’m not getting any younger, I had ADD long before it was fashionable, and I have my own long list of things I’m curious about or would like to be better at doing.  If you’re not willing to run 100 miles per hour with your hair on fire — and go down fighting full of piss and vinegar — then I’ve got better things to do with my time then spend it on the things you profess to care about.

 I’m NOT the guy to help folks validate their excuses, rationalize their sense of “victimization”, or help them feel better about their lack of effort or commitment.  Sure, sometimes winner’s win because they’re lucky, but more often than not they win because they simply refuse to quit — and they outlast those around them who get tired, or lazy, or quit early.  

The world rewards results.  Results require complete dedication of your time, your talent and your treasures to the achievement of your goals. If you’re not willing to give that — then unless you’re lucky — someone else will outperform you and kick your ass.  

Yes, it’s often really that simple. 

So here’s to 2013 — bring on the committed, lunatic, passionate dreamers.  

Failure isn’t losing — quitting is.  

Cheers!  Doug C.



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My Daily Reading List

While I continue working on a post on Winning (and Winners), I thought I’d knock out this request — What’s on your daily reading list ?

Before I go to the office in the morning……

USA Today (iPad) — its easy, its quick and its perfect for a scan while the coffee is being made.

AJC (online version not mobile app) — not much news but it does cover local politics and sports.  Annoying crime, car wreck, etc headlines.

Zite (iPad) — customized news feed with tabs on the topics I care about (music, photography, world news, social media, sports). My morning favorite.

Washington Post (iPad) — not as good as it used to be but still a real newspaper with some real stories.  Interesting Opinion pages.

The Guardian (web site) — just to see what the other side of the pond cares about.  Great interviews, great photos, obscure stories.

The Daily (iPad) — Murdoch online only paper.  Light on real news but some insightful stories and great photos.  Annoyingly stuck in portrait mode — a change for the worse they made a couple of months ago I presume to save money.

Politico (iPad app) — saves me a trip to Jimmy’s in the morning to find out what the local coffee clatch crew will be complaining about today. (iPad app) — all the key plays from the night before with great video and articles.  A must have for any baseball fan.

ESPN (web not mobile site) — mobile site is awful but full web site works just fine on my iPad.  Quick check in on College Football, MLB, NFL and Women’s soccer news.  Absolutely no news reading about the NBA, Notre Dame, Ohio State or Golf.

Twitter/Facebook — headline updates on FB and a quick scan of the twitter feeds I follow.  Some of the artsy folk I follow post some hilarious stuff while I’m sleeping.

Weather Underground — a quick check of the weather where I am, where I want to be,  and the fishing grounds off Destin, Fl.

Once I get to the office……

New York Times (physical paper) — all the news that’s fit to print.

Wall Street Journal (physical paper) — the greatest newspaper in America.

Now I’m ready to go to work !

Cheers.  DC

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