Andre Durand

Discovering life, one mistake at a time.
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Archive for the ‘Entrepreneurism’

My Leadership Philosophy

August 13, 2015 By: Andre Category: Entrepreneurism, Life, Musings, You Can Quote Me

Pursue Good Profits

Life is short.

A fair profit comes from the melding of resources such that the results are worth more than the sum of the inputs. This is the point in which true “value creation” happens. Good profits don’t come from charging customers just because you can at a particular moment in time – say an emergency. This is price gouging. Beyond being illegal in most circumstances, it is also a sign of an opportunistic company thinking only of the short term. Good profits leave both transacting parties in a place of satisfaction. The pursuit of fair profits speaks to the integrity of an organization across multiple dimensions.

If you have leverage over a customer and you use it unfairly, customers will pay you back at their earliest opportunity (e.g. think Blockbusters late return fee policy in the age of Netflix and video on demand.) If you care to build a sustainable business, balance the profit taking of today with the profit earning of tomorrow. Here are some things to keep top of mind.

– Pursue the win/win with customers in every situation.
– Strive to beat your competitors, not your customers.

Know your Thesis for Winning

It’s good to be good. It’s better to be lucky. But don’t bet your future on luck. Know your thesis for winning.

When done right, a company’s thesis for winning should be aligned with it’s leadership, culture and the corporate DNA. It’s important to understand why you win and how you win, as this is the only way to purposefully capitalize on ones strengths. Take the time to understand the why, how, when and where you win. Know your strengths and weaknesses. Exploit your strengths, minimize your weaknesses.

Results & Fast Execution

There is no substitute for results and markets don’t reward slow. In software, every feature has a half-life.

Lead with Vision, Values and Culture

People are the most valuable input to any businesses. Hire for passion, attitude, values, IQ and train for aptitude. The people who come or stay only for pay aren’t the ones you want working for you. Pay and reward well, but realize that x-factor isn’t bought. It comes from the heart and it’s fuel is vision and passion. Treat people with respect, create a positive environment, inspire alignment around vision and values and then get out of the way. Get this right and everything will fall into place. Get this wrong and you will always be sub-optimized. Ignore them entirely and you will fail eventually — if not immediately.

“We” before “I”

It takes many people to move a big rock. When the needs of team and the needs of individual are at odds, focus on the team.

So many companies treat people like machinery with a defined output. This is short sighted and wrong. If you care to manage to the minimum bar, treat people like revenue producing units (“RPU’s”). If you wish to do something spectacular, put them first and let them put your business and customers first. If they know you have their back, they’ll focus their energy on your customers and your business.

Create Feedback Loops

Without feedback you’re flying blind. Treat everything like a closed loop system. Look for the places where feedback will help you make quicker, more accurate decisions. While the past cannot predict the future, not knowing where you’ve been or how you got there isn’t a recipe for success.

Hiring Comes First

Jim Collin’s had it right — first who, then what. Hire the best. Don’t bypass cultural fit, and focus on leaders first. And while a persons accomplishments are important, more important are their raw attributes. I’m fond of saying, I don’t know if a hire is right for a year. People are complicated, and you need to see them in enough situations to know if they are right for your organization. We all have to earn our way onto the team.

10/10 = Extraordinary

There is only one way to get to a great company with a great culture. It’s to hire great individuals. I call these people 10/10. They have great attitudes and they are highly capable. They get the job done. They are the whole package. I don’t believe you can build a 10/10 organization with just anyone, you have to recruit 10/10 individuals to get there. Of course people can change and improve, but just know that people come to you mostly formed. Really good leaders and coaches can move the needle, but we have far too few real coaches in business.

When you achieve 10/10 as a company, you’re extraordinary by definition.

Leadership

You are not a leader without followers
Your leadership won’t scale if you don’t transition from doer to enabler
If you are not cultivating a successor, you can’t move up
Lead by example
Own the culture
Be frugal with company resources
Hire better than yourself
Practice transparency

Analytics

Measure everything. You’re instincts are great, but you can’t influence everyone with your instincts. If you can’t influence people, you can’t redirect resources. If you can’t redirect resources, you won’t be an effective leader. The world is full of smart, intuitive yet ultimately ineffective leaders.

Why Budgets Matter

Budgets are more than just a way to direct or predict spend. Done right, budgets keep the psychology of the organization in the winning zone. You set the budget once per year with the board, but everyone, including the rank and file, live the performance for the next 12 reporting periods. Get it right, and people feel they are winning and work harder. Get it wrong, and people are demoralized, lose faith in leadership and look for other opportunities.

Paradox is Everywhere

Straight and steady is often the fastest route to ultimate success
To lead, often one must serve
Commitment

The world filters out the uncommitted and is run by those who show up and hustle.

Check Your Ego

There’s a saying that an “ego is a terrible thing to waste.” While a healthy ego is a requirement for entrepreneurs and their early teams, big ego’s often lead to big mistakes.

When it comes to behavior motivated by ego, the ends do not justify the means. Perhaps if you seek short-term profit, you can manipulate people, customers or future debt to obtain unfounded near-term profits. But if you look at winning holistically and consistently, and take into account winning across every dimension, you cannot make good decisions based upon ego.

No Short-Term Decisions

Many companies and management teams are plagued with short-term thinking. Many incentive plans only exacerbate the issue, focusing on quarterly or annual performance without due consideration for future ramifications.

The consequence of short-term decision making is that over time, your lack of investment will limit your future options, largely because they tend to compress tomorrow’s profits into today’s time frame, while pushing today’s costs into the future.

Avoid the Hail Mary

We all love the idea of the 11th hour win or the so-called “Hail Mary Pass.” It creates a dramatic Hollywood ending. If you complete a Hail Mary, be thankful, enjoy the drama for a minute, and then figure out what went so terribly wrong with that you required a Hail Mary to survive.

When you rely upon a Hail Mary, you place your future in the hands of luck. This is a poor strategy that will likely end badly. Remember the following when you contemplate a Hail Mary as the best course of action.

If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right.
If you can’t afford to do it right, you likely aren’t yet good enough to be playing the game you’re playing

Accruing Debt Kills the Future

Don’t push the true cost of today’s actions into the future or worse yet, onto others (externalization).

The first is a bad strategy and you’ll pay the price later (plus interest). The second is simply wrong.

Balance is an Active State

Finding and maintaining balance is hard, that’s because it’s an ‘active state’.

If you don’t plan to last, don’t bother with balance. You can sprint and crash. Planning for short-term outcomes can be profitable, but risky because they tend to limit your future options. They create a future debt that will eventually have to be paid.

Some don’t worry about the future debt they create because they don’t intend to pay for it themselves. Instead, their strategy is to make it someone else’s problem. This strategy lacks integrity.

In nearly every decision, a view towards balance should be considered.

How does this short-term decision impact you long-term?
What takes precedence when work and family life are fighting for attention?
If you sprint now, how long will it take to recover such that you can sprint again?

Innovation Stems from a Culture accepting of Risk

Innovation is how we grow the pie and create matter from energy (something tangible from an idea). It’s the foundation of abundant thinking and win/win philosophies. Innovation comes from within. Don’t expect your customers to lead you there, they are looking for the next great feature, not the next great break-through.

Often times, scarcity is the sandbox of innovation — which is in of itself ironic. It’s ironic because scarcity is the spring well of abundance.

Nothing will kill innovation faster than a culture intolerant of failure. Conversely, if you foster a culture which learns from mistakes, you open the door to new ideas and to the risk which accompanies breakthroughs.

Run Lean. Always

Bloat happens.

Just because you can throw money at a problem doesn’t mean you should. In fact, it likely is the worst thing you could do, and it’s lazy. It deprives you of the creative solution (e.g. an innovation opportunity) and it saps the company of precious resources that could be used more effectively elsewhere.

Running lean doesn’t mean run your resources to zero excess capacity either. Saving some energy for the unexpected event is simply smart.

Be Pro-Active

Run the business or the business will run you.

By the time you’ve let something become a fire drill, they’ve already spread to other departments and take on a whole life of their own. Drills like this sap productivity, energy and enthusiasm within your teams. Being so disciplined that you anticipate everything won’t feed your ego if you like to be the hero and save the day, but if you spend all your time fixing things, you won’t be looking up to see the brick wall that you’re about to run into.

Bad News First

Good news is energizing, but it shouldn’t come at the expense of the truth. A culture that doesn’t want to hear bad news is a dead man walking.

Avoid the Roller Coaster

Crazy is all around us. You can partake in the roller coaster, but be ready for the lows that come with the highs. I love roller coasters, but I hate being on one with my business. I’ll take the steadier path any time. Steady up and to the right.

Always Improving

In business as in life, I believe there is no final destination. Only a series of challenges and summits followed by a series of challenges and summits. It ends when you want it to end, or when your poor decision-making forces it to end.

“Best” is at best — temporary. There is always better. Life is a journey in which, as long as you’re alive, you can strive to do better.

Simpler is Better

The world is complicated. Don’t make it more complicated. It’s a true gift when someone can distill complex problems into elegant solutions. Until you truly understand the essence of the problem to be solved, it will be hard to make it simple.

No Failure, only Learning

If you’re not uncomfortable, you’re not growing and if you’re not failing, you’re not trying.

But keep in mind that failing isn’t failure unless you haven’t learned. Pick yourself up and try again. Anything and everything can be achieved with will, passion and hard work.

Actively Manage Expectations

Whether you’ve won or lost is largely a matter of expectations. Setting the right expectations, achieving them and then exceeding them early can create an uplifting vortex of momentum that carries you and an organization into over-achievement. Create the wrong expectations and you will quickly demoralize yourself and your team. If you allow your ego to penetrate your decision-making, you’ll set poor expectations.

Causality is Real

You are not the victim. You’re in control of more than you give yourself credit. If you take the time to retrace your actions, you’ve had some part, likely significant, in every circumstance that surrounds you today. Taking ownership of that fact is powerful. It means you’re in control and can effect change. Don’t sell yourself short by blaming others for your circumstances. Own your situation. Be accountable.

Think, Plan, Aim, Act

Fools rush in and false starts are more expensive than you likely realize. If it’s worth pursuing, it’s worth the time to investigate, plan and do it right.

Turn Art into Science

If you don’t understand it, you can’t repeat it. If you can’t repeat it, you can’t scale it. If you can’t scale what’s working, you’ll never be successful.

There is an art and science behind everything. The art is beautiful. It’s like magic, you can’t explain it, but you love the outcome. When you’re lucky enough to have a person who has the art of making something work, consider yourself lucky, but don’t rely upon it. You’re job is to turn the magic into science, to demystify why something works and turn it into a simple, repeatable processes which can be achieved by mere mortals.

Intelligent Reaction

You may be smart but you won’t predict everything. Adapting to a changing environment quickly is a weapon not just of survival, but also of offense. To any surprise in life the human mind has two distinctly different modes that tend to fight each other. One is that of emotion and the other of the mind. It is the leader’s responsibility to tap the motivation of emotion while harnessing it with the composure of the intelligent reaction. After all, business is ultimately supremely rational.

Assumptions can Kill

One of the things I love about being an entrepreneur is our confidence. The problem is, we often don’t know when we should say no to opportunity. We think everything is possible.

As companies grow, one takes bigger and bigger risks, often times, based upon a few key assumptions. Assumptions are really dangerous, especially when you’re optimistic by nature. Take the time to really scrutinize your assumptions. Leaping and missing is painful, and you should not ‘assume’ you will always recover — sometimes you won’t.

Understand the Psychology of Winning

People work harder when they are winning. It’s a leader’s job to get (and keep) their teams in the winning zone.

Remember, Happiness = Reality – Expectations. As a leader, set expectations with care.

PingPossible

January 26, 2012 By: Andre Category: About Me, Entrepreneurism, Identity, Life, Ping Identity

Marketing had a bit of fun at this year’s kick-off. I must say, I hate hearing myself, or seeing myself on camera. I’ve got more respect for actors.

The chicken came first

January 25, 2012 By: Andre Category: Entrepreneurism, Life, Musings, You Can Quote Me

chickenegg

I’ve had an epiphany. Everything we’re told is wrong. The truth is most often the opposite of conventional wisdom.

* Conventional wisdom says the shortest distance between Point A & Point B is the short-cut. In business, the short cut is often the long way around.

* Conventional wisdom says the ends justify the means. This is true only if you’re willing to sacrifice one constituent for another.

* Conventional wisdom says focus on the outputs (the what). But how can you effect an extraordinary output without an extraordinary input – the ‘why’, ‘who’ and ‘how’?

It’s the cause that counts stupid!

Let me explain. I’ve been fascinated with cause and effect for some time. It’s like a game to me, can I see the effects of my actions? If I press here, do this, or say that, what happens?

Often times, I’ll do something and wait for a response in the moment. Nothing. Silence. No impact. Hmm, well I guess I can do that with no consequence. WRONG. Everything has a consequence. Every action an equal and opposite. Karma, ying & yang, anti-matter, they’re all real. The thing is, we’re just not looking in the right places, or we’re not looking in the right time-zone.

People have short memories and to make matters worse, we live in an instant gratification world. We’re almost pre-programmed to expect a response in the moment, and when we don’t see it, we lose the connection to the original action.

If I yell at someone today, I might not see the negative impact of that action for weeks or months. I personally might never see the result of that action. But trust me, it’s there, and that energy will bleed somewhere, to someone, in some form.

Disassociation = BAD

We’re disconnected as a society from cause & effect. The two are disassociated, and that’s a bad thing. Why? Because when we disassociate our actions from their impact, we lose sight of consequence.

Derivatives are an example of bad things happening when creditor & debtor are disassociated. We created too much distance between the debtors and the creditors by bundling debt and reselling it to people who had no idea what they were buying. Like processed food, the debt became processed to the point of non-recognition. The banks, once close to the debtor, were nowhere in the equation and how would consumers discern the specifics of all that embedded risky mortgage debt?

Short-term decisions = Ponzi scheme of a different sort

Here’s another example of cause & effect gone bad. Short-term decisions. I have a problem with short-term decisions because they often come with a long-term ramifications (a future debt that will have to be paid by someone). So here’s the problem. When you separate the time-frame of profit (short term gain) from the cost (long-term expense), it opens the possibility of abuse. The disassociation in time of the profits and the cost get played (gamed even) like a sort of ponzi scheme.

For example, it’s a well known money making formula for private equity to come in, cut expenses and flip a company. Truth be told, there is some benefit to society in this act. The companies they acquire are often stagnant with layers and waste. But when they simultaneously cut future investment and innovation to maximize the short-term financial picture for flipping, they put the future of that company at risk. There is a future debt that they don’t expect to reconcile because they’ll be long-gone, having made their profit. They disassociate themselves from the long-term ramifications of their actions, leaving others (employees or the future buyer) to pay the price tag for their profits.

Inputs not Outputs

Here’s the summary. We’re a culture fascinated with results (outputs). And who could argue, if we get there, that’s winning right? Win at all costs. The ends justify the means?

Wrong.

It’s only right if we’re willing to sacrifice one constituent to profit another. When you focus on outputs, or short-term decisions, one person gains, another loses. It’s a formula that can only be exploited for so long before the system collapses on itself.

Instead, counter-intuitively, focus on the inputs and let the outputs simply happen. This is how you create systems that sustain the test of time across all dimensions.

Leadership Philosophy

November 16, 2010 By: Andre Category: About Me, Entrepreneurism, Life, Ping Identity, You Can Quote Me

I have been an entrepreneur for over 15 years. Like many, I have made many mistakes along the way. Fortunately, I’ve have had the great benefit of having mentors with incredibly varied experience to help provide perspective and learning through these years. From these trials, tribulations and lessons, I have developed and honed a set of guiding business principles, which now define who I am as a businessman. I am sharing these principles in this paper with the hope that it will help both those deciding to take the venturous business route and those I work with today whom would like to better understand my business philosophy.

Principle #1: Pursue Good and Fair Profits

A fair profit comes from the melding of resources, over time, in such a way that the resulting widget is worth more than the value of the sum of the parts. This is the point in which true “value creation” happens. It means you don’t charge customers just because you can at a particular moment or circumstance – say an emergency. This is price gouging. Beyond being illegal in most circumstances, it is also a sign of an opportunistic company thinking of immediate term only. Good and fair profits leave both transacting parties in a place of satisfaction. The pursuit of fair profits speaks to the overarching integrity of an organization across multiple dimensions. Understand that your value will change over time depending on competitive factors and you’re ability to keep pace. “Good”, long-term profits means you have to keep up with growing customer demands. If you have leverage over a customer and you use it unfairly, customers will take note and pay you back at their earliest opportunity (e.g. think Blockbusters late return fee policy in the age of Netflix and video on demand.) If you care to build a sustainable business, balance profit taking of today with profit earning of tomorrow. Here are some things to keep top of mind.

● Pursue the win/win with customers in every situation.
● Strive to beat your competitors, not your customers
● If you decide one day you must stratify your products, “reach up” with augmented features and functions, versus creating a “reduced” version by removing features from the product you have. This is not value creation, this is value destruction.

Principle #2: Lead with Vision, Values, Culture & Passion

People are the biggest input to most businesses. Hire for passion, attitude, values, IQ and train for aptitude. Treat people with respect, create a positive working framework and then get out of the way and let them do their job. And remember that there is no substitute for passion, values, culture and vision. These are not just words through about, but descriptors to a manner of operating. Good passion, values, culture and vision cannot be faked. They are earned and owned. It’s how you lead, it’s what you say, and it’s how you live. Get this right and everything will fall into place. Get this wrong and you will always be sub-optimized. Ignore them entirely and you will fail eventually if not immediately.

Principle #3: Put People First; Put “We Before “I”

So many companies treat people like machinery with a defined output. This is short sighted and wrong. If you care to manage to the minimum bar, treat people like revenue producing units (“RPU’s”). If you wish to do something spectacular, put them first and let them put your business and customers first. If they don’t know that you have their back, they will spend their time and energy mitigating their perceived personal risk, and this deprives your customers and your business of energy and focus. When the needs of teams and the needs of individuals come to odds, focus on the team. Great accomplishments require a group effort.

Principle #4: An Unchecked Ego Makes Poor Decisions

There’s a saying that an “Ego is a terrible thing to waste.” A healthy ego is a requirement for entrepreneurs and their early teams as cowering to rejection and self-doubt are the suicidal tendencies of a young company. Often times unfortunately, it’s the ego that tends towards narcissism and emergence of the destructive ego – an ego that is unhealthy and wasted. An ego that empowers with perseverance, not arrogance can only come through process of “self-actualization.”

When it comes to behavior motivated by ego, the ends do not justify the means. Perhaps if you’re one-dimensional and only care about short-term profits, you can manipulate people, customers or future debt to obtain unfounded near-term profits. But if you look at winning holistically and consistently, and take into account winning across every dimension, you cannot make good decisions based upon ego.

Watch for the ego-driven individuals feeding their own need to stoke the savior complex by lighting the very fires they must organizationally extinguish. It makes them a hero and it feeds their ego. You won’t see them actively lighting a fire, most do it unconsciously by not pro-actively managing the business. They key to successful management is to head off a fire while it’s yet a trace of smoke. Ignore it and you have a fire, and an opportunity for an ego to become the hero.

The other place where ego’s get into trouble is in expectation management. An ego driven individual is motivated to receive praise in the moment. This leads them to create unrealistic goals and expectations to receive praise in the moment. This behavior inevitably leads to situations where a company under-performs to expectation. Everyone loses when this happens.

Principle #5: No Short-Term Decisions

Many companies and management teams are plagued with short-term thinking and a focus on short-term gains. Many incentive plans only exacerbate the issue, focusing on quarterly or annual performance without due consideration for future ramifications. In stark contrast to the shorter-term American business philosophies are those of

The consequence of short-term decision making is that, over time, it will limit your future options, largely because they tend to compress tomorrow’s profits into today’s time frame, while pushing today’s costs into the future. The result of this over time is that you will eventually have to pay, and when this happens, you will lose people and market momentum. Perhaps this is sad commentary on the state of much of today’s leadership, but many appear driven more by short-term personal gain than by building world-class businesses and long-term market value creation.

Principle #6: Beware of the “Hail Mary Passes”

We all love the idea of the 11th hour win or the so-called “Hail Mary Pass.” It creates the dramatic Hollywood ending. If it happens, be thankful, enjoy the drama for one minute, and then figure out what when so terribly wrong with the business that the ending of a financial period was met with the unexpected. When you rely upon a silver bullet or a Hail Mary, you place your future in the hands of luck. This is a poor strategy that will likely end badly – statistically. Remember the following when you plan to win by Hail Mary:

● If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right. See “Think, Plan, Aim, Act”
● If you believe that balance is the key to sustainability, and strive for the win/win, you abhor living a roller coaster ride of ups and downs (optimism followed by reality)
● You will understand and appreciate the beauty in having near term focus on long-term gain.

Principle #7: No Future Debt

Don’t push the true cost of today’s actions into the future or worse yet, onto others. The first is a bad strategy, which will harm you later, and the second is simply wrong.

Principle #8: Maintain Balance

Finding and maintaining balance is hard. Our society teaches us to be myopic and short sighted. Yet achieving balance creates a foundation for sustainability. It’s powerful when given time to work, but it is an investment in your future. If you don’t plan to last, perhaps you don’t need balance. You can sprint and subsequently crash. Planning for short-term outcomes can be profitable, but it’s risky, because it limits your future options and creates a future debt that eventually you will have to pay. Some don’t worry about the future debt they create because they don’t intend to pay for it themselves. Instead, their strategy is to make it someone else’s problem. This strategy lacks integrity.

In nearly every decision, a view towards balance should be considered.

● How does this short-term decision impact us long-term?
● How does our focus on tactical execution not set us up for the future (strategic)?
● What takes precedence when work and family life are fighting for my time, attention and energy?
● If I sprint now, how long will it take to recover such that I can sprint again? Is now the right time to sprint or is now a time to conserve energy and resources?

Principle # 9: Innovate!

Innovation is how we grow the pie or create matter from energy (something tangible from an idea). It’s the foundation of abundant thinking and a win/win philosophy. Innovation comes from within. Don’t expect your customers to lead you to innovation- they may not know what they need or want until you show it to them. You need to think out of the box to innovate – and this is the core of entrepreneurialism. Focusing on the problem at hand won’t get you there. You need to think non-linearly about problems. Often times, scarcity is the sandbox of innovation — which is in of itself ironic. It’s ironic because scarcity is the spring well of abundance.

Principle #10: Run Lean. Always

Just because you can throw money at a problem doesn’t mean you should. In fact, it likely is the worst thing you could do, and it’s lazy. It deprives you of the creative solution (e.g. an innovation opportunity) and it saps the company of precious resources that could be used more effectively elsewhere. Running lean doesn’t mean run your resources to zero. It also doesn’t mean run your existing resources at 90%+. Save for a rainy day and unexpected events that are beyond your control. Running lean day-to-day saves resources for when they’re really needed.

Principle #11: Be Pro-Active

I measure myself on the number of fires I need to put out. If I’m putting out fires, I’m failing. A form of future debt is denial and neglect. Neglect an issue long enough and it becomes a fire. Neglect it even longer and it becomes a firestorm. Think of fires as a symptom, not a cause. The cause was that someone was playing with matches in the forest on a hot dry day. I have a saying, “Run the business or the business will run you.” I prefer to focus on causes before they become fires. It’s a matter of being proactive rather than reactive. I’m not lazy, but being preemptive is actually a lot easier and less time consuming than dealing with symptoms. When things become a fire, they spread to other departments and take an emotional toll on the company. This saps productivity, energy and enthusiasm. Of course, being preemptive won’t feed your ego, but if you spend all your time fixing things, you’re simply doing it wrong.

Principle #12: Bad News First

Good news is energizing, but it shouldn’t come at the expense of the truth.

Principle #13: Stay off the Roller Coaster

Compressing future profits into today’s consumption creates bubbles. Invariably bubbles burst and this in turn leads to emotional highs and lows. Like being on a roller coaster, but only fun for the first few seconds. I love roller coasters, but I hate being on one with my business. I’ll take slower, steadier growth any time. It’s easier to manage, it’s easier to create expectations around and it won’t give me whiplash.

Strive for Better
In business as in life, I truly believe there is no *final* destination. It’s a series of challenges and summits followed by a series of challenges and summits. It ends when you want it to end, or when your poor decision-making forces it to end. “Best” is at best — temporary. There is always better. Life is a journey in which, as long as you’re alive, you can strive to do better.

Principle #14: Simpler is Better

The world can be complicated enough. Don’t make things more complicated. It’s a true gift to distill complex problems into their simple essences to better understand them. Until you truly understand the essence of the problem to be solved, it will be hard to fix the issue.

Principle #15: No Failure, only Learning

When you fail, you haven’t “failed” unless you haven’t learned. Pick yourself up and try again. Anything and everything can be achieved with will, passion and hard work.

Principle #16: Actively Manage Expectations

Whether you’ve won or lost is largely a matter of your expectations. Setting the right expectations, achieving them and then exceeding them early can create an uplifting vortex of momentum that carries you and an organization into over-achievement. Creating the wrong expectations can demoralize you and a team from the start. If you allow your ego to penetrate your decision-making, you’ll set poor expectations. It’s smart to leave some margin in your back pocket. You live the glory of your annual forecasts but once a year with a board. You live the results of your forecasts the following 12 months. Under promising and over-delivering is a lot more fun. Trust me.

Principle #17: Causality is Real (Cause & Effect)

You are not a victim. You are in control of more than you likely assign to yourself. If you take the time to retrace your actions, you’ve had some part, likely significant, in every circumstance that surrounds you today. Taking ownership of that fact is a powerful tool. It means you’re in control and can effect change. Don’t sell yourself short by blaming others for your circumstances. Own your situation. Be accountable.

Principle #18: Think, Plan, Aim, Act

Fools rush in and false starts are more expensive than you likely realize. If it’s worth pursuing, it’s worth the time to investigate, plan and do it right.

Principle #19: Lead. Don’t Manage

People don’t want to be managed. They want to be led. If you’re not familiar with the concepts behind servitude leadership, read up. If you look out for people, your people will look out for your business. People don’t work for you. You work for them. You’re job is to make them successful. Full stop.

Principle #20: Turn Art into Science

If you don’t understand it, you can’t repeat it. If you can’t repeat it, you can’t scale it. If you can’t scale what’s working, you’ll never be successful. There is an art and a science to everything. The art is beautiful. It’s like magic, you can’t explain it, but you love the outcome. When you’re lucky enough to have a person who has the art of making something work, consider yourself lucky, but don’t rely upon it. You’re job is to turn the magic into science, to demystify why something works and turn it into a simple, repeatable processes which can be achieved by mere mortals.

Principle #21: Intelligent Reaction

You may be smart but you won’t predict everything. Adapting to a changing environment quickly is a weapon not just of survival, but also of offense. To any surprise in life the human mind has to distinctly different modes that tend to fight each other. One is that of emotion and the other of the mind. It is the leader’s responsibility to tap the motivation of emotion while harnessing it with the composure of the intelligent reaction. After all, business is ultimately supremely rational.

CEO / Founder relationships

November 01, 2010 By: Andre Category: Entrepreneurism, Ping Identity

“About a dozen times a year, a CEO contacts me, concerned about how to deal with the founder of his company, who is still in place. Sometimes, the CEO says it’s a pain to deal with the founder’s nervousness, and the CEO doesn’t want his own time consumed with hand-holding. Generally speaking, what are your thoughts? Bernie Daina, Ph.D., Organizational Psychologist, go2daina@aol.com

strangling

I obviously have a soft spot for founders. But like so many things in life, one of our strengths is also one of our weaknesses. We don’t ask people if we can have something, we just take it — likely because no one would give it to us if asked. We’re genetically overly self-confident optimists. We like to make our own mistakes to discover our own limits.

This means we often don’t take the time to listen until we’ve scraped our knees, or failed in some way.

There’s an aspect to partnering with a founder that’s a lot like taking on a second marriage. In marriage, the first wife trains a bachelor how to husband and the second wife receives the gentleman. Turning the tables, if I were someday the CEO brought into another company and asked to partner with a first time founder, I’d take note of how aware the founder was of his own strengths and limitations. If the founder was aware, then I’d know coaching & partnering is possible. If not, then I’d know establishing mutual respect would be difficult. Especially if tough decisions needed to get made quickly.

I’ve found that lasting business relationships are built on two things. Complementary skills and mutual respect. If you get those right, then you have the foundation for a powerful team. Lack of respect for either party (a founder for the hired CEO or a CEO for the founder) inevitably leads to discontent by one or both.

If I were a CEO brought into a founder’s situation, I’d assess if the founder was open to coaching, partnering and capable of trusting me. If the answer was yes, I’d attempt to coach and mentor and then get out of the way.

From Startup to Real Company

February 09, 2010 By: Andre Category: Entrepreneurism, Life, Musings, Ping Identity

As start-ups mature, many fail to transition in how they deal with decisions. When you’re strapped for cash, you don’t always have the luxury of thinking through the full-cost of your actions. You are essentially forced to compromise, opting for the short term gain, and pushing the full cost of your decision into the future in some manner. I emailed this to Bernie Daina (a friend and corporate psychologist) knowing he’d have something to say about it. I wasn’t wrong.

I’m sure many companies are started that way, it’s in the people’s heads originally and then becomes a fundamental component of the company’s culture as a result of repeated decisions reflecting this mentality. But not many companies last for long this way. In today’s market, investors’ pressure for exits is so profound that even companies that are aimed at short-term gain are exiting earlier than anticipated. Or merging for reasons that — when it comes to mission and business focus — are nonsensical.

Much of the formula for a startup’s long-term viability has to do with a clear yet adaptable vision, faith in that vision, and the readiness, discipline, and competence required to do the heavy lifting in order to fulfil the vision. Many hiring decisions must be made to get from one point to the next point. But if the predominance or decisions are made this way, whether hiring or purchasing decisions, logistics companies — for example — would buy used vehicles cheaply off some rent-a-heap lot on East Colfax Avenue. Your company would purchase its servers on Ebay.

Framing the problem in terms of social comparisons can also be a trap. Making social comparisons is useful in competitive dynamics. The runner sees a faster colleague win a race, and is inspired to beat him, or at least place second. He or she will seldom, if ever, compare his own performance to that of people at the bottom of the heap, unmotivated runners, and so on, unless the subject is also near or at the bottom. Comparing ourselves, or our endeavors, to those that rate our contempt just drags us down. Even if the comparison is made with “good” performers, whose methods, ethics, or standards we disrespect.

It is also useful to bear in mind that decades of research have established that making social comparisons can help performance in well-mastered, routine tasks. In complex and unfamiliar tasks, and especially ones we are learning, having a real or imaginary audience or base of comparison only hampers performance. True in humans, primates, and cats; true cockroaches running various types of mazes that also vary in how dark they are.

The bromides and cliches suggesting delayed gratification are so numerous, it’s not worth mentioning them. World religions are founded on this principle. Popular cliches also proliferate to the opposite, e.g., A bird in hand is better…” In today’s times, the way we are reacting as a nation, a Jihadist can blow up a pizza parlor in St. Louis and throw our economy, and that of nations we trade with, into an abysmal depression. This would not be the consequence if an insane citizen performed the same act. So who’s to say if short-term versus long-term is the wiser course? Best be prepared for both.

But if you are a man with vision, vision pertains to longer term thinking and actions. Short-term is more about risk aversion. A modicum of risk aversion is healthy, and even healthy to have on hand in stable, upbeat times. When caution drives the decision making and momentum singularly, you don’t have an entrepreneurial endeavor. You have a lemonade stand set up for the day a safe distance from the road on a quiet cul-de-sac; by some children who wish to garner a little cash for tonight’s charity event or visit to the toy store. Or to “show” their ingenuity and enterprise in order to please parents — who invested in plastic cups. A little too saccharine for your tastes, I imagine!

Bernie

Bernard L. Daina, Ph.D.
Management and Organizational Psychology
730 Seventeenth Street, Suite 690
Denver, Colorado 80202
Tel 303-596-6640
E-mail Go2Daina@aol.com

Balancing Extremes

December 11, 2009 By: Andre Category: Entrepreneurism, Musings

One of the hardest things to do as a CEO is to determine where in the shades of gray to land between long-term and short term, between strategic goals and tactical mandates. And how to change the mix as the market changes, resources change and competitive situations change.

I’ve heard two great quotes which summarize the extreme endpoints of the decision making spectrum, as it relates to product related decisions and quality.

1. Anything worth doing is worth doing well.
2. There’s nothing worse than doing well, that which no-one cares about.

In an early stage company, you’re not quite sure what the market wants, so it’s not unusual to go a bit broad, and a bit shallow. In this period of the product life-cycle, you’re essentially trying to avoid mistake #2 above.

As the market matures, and as the customer feedback loop matures, one has a better understanding of what the customer wants, and then you need to make sure that you don’t forget to circle back around, and close the loop on #1.

Sustained Performance Mandates Balance

March 12, 2009 By: Andre Category: Entrepreneurism, Musings, Ping Identity

I value a healthy work/life balance. My wife might disagree with me, and cite my inability to stop working, even while on the couch in front of the TV with my laptop, but quite frankly, I think we’ve achieved a pretty nice balance here at Ping.

On occasion, which I think is both normal and healthy, when we’re nearing a major product release, a big trade show, or we’re at the quarter end push, things can get pretty hectic. In those situations, I don’t think it is that uncommon to have to put in some extra hours to get things done. That’s normal. But if you find yourself always under the gun, working mad hours just to keep your head above water, you likely need to re-examine your priorities and planning process. Sooner or later, this style of operation catches up with you, and your people, the company and ultimately your customers will pay the price.

In the past 5 years, our engineering team has delivered on time 97% of the time. As major product release dates approach, and the known defects list grows, our teams often have to work extra hours to meet our high quality standards. This is normal. We try however, as best we can, to keep weekends sacred. We don’t always succeed, but it’s important that we recognize the boundaries between life and work balance. I think this is especially true when a company values tenure and wants to inspire confidence in its people.

This week, we discovered the fact that we will likely need to pull some extra hours to wrap up our next release on time. I have 100% confidence that our team will deliver, after all, they’ve earned their reputation. But, our VP of Engineering had a few words to say about it, which I think are simply beautiful, so I thought I’d share.

 

…Obviously I have strong feelings about overtime and family time.  Hoping this note gives you some insight to a perspective I’ve developed through a lot of years.

Engineering Requires Overtime: I have generally found that some level of overtime is needed to meet the shared goals of the team and company.   Things happen and hopefully the overtime is a speed bump, contained to the work week and does not spill over to weekend time.  When it does we need to think about what it means.

Overtime as a Life Style: People have different work patterns and different feedback loops to “have they done their best”.  We have team members that constantly pull some level of overtime as reported in every two-week period.  I do this as I have a >8 hr work day pattern that I am comfortable with each day and I actually draw energy from.  It is reasonable for me and I have strong boundaries to it not going unreasonable.  I’ve learned that with such a pattern, things can get out of hand as I can recall billing 3,400 hours one year (consultant world) versus a normal year of 2080 hours minus vacation, holidays, and sick leave.  This pattern, something I kept up for many years at levels above 3,000 hours, was not fair to my wife, not fair to my work, and not fair to me.  Oddly enough, I had no leadership person in my life to ground me to what was best for all and I blocked everything my wife said about long hours.   You could say my CEO took advantage of me but because I did not draw a boundary, I took advantage of myself.

Do Not Cast Your Overtime Ethic on Others: First, it is a fair expectation that everyone wants Ping to be successful.   However, that expectation should not translate to you laying your personal overtime feedback/allocation on others.   Everyone has a different situation and a different ability to handle speedbumps.  I like to think that given enough warning, everyone can find 3 to 4 hours on a single weekend to help catch up.  Repeating that is family situational as I learned one time.

I was leading a classic waterfall effort and we had fallen behind by a least two weeks.  We did the speed bump thing and everyone pitched in but we needed more weekends.  The lead engineer came to me and said he couldn’t do it—I was upset as meeting the goal was, in my small mind, what we all lived for.  He mentioned he needed to spend time with his wife and children picking wildflowers.  I thought, wildflowers over getting a new distributed DB to the market—how crazy. You can imagine how crummy I felt when two years later his wife died of a brain tumor.  A painful lesson that touches my heart even today.

Weekends are Special: Work week time is different from weekend time.  We have a company ethic of not gobbling up weekends as a normal way of operating.  With 30ish years of career, this is the first job I have not worked at least a half day every weekend and in some, a full Saturday.   Funny as it sounds, it is my wife that remembers this and made that observation, not me because I had come to expect it as a pattern necessary for being in a leadership role.   So, I shorted the wonderful things of value that come with not having every weekend pulled down to a day or, best case, day and half.  And, let’s not forget that weekends are about recovery, so we can do our very best during the week.

Families Have Weekend Patterns: So let’s say we have to pull some speed bump weekend time.  It’s not an easy thing to do.  If you’re are like me, I have a family pattern (with a few variations).  We shop for groceries on Saturday, we do house cleaning, home improvement stuff, and yard work generally on Saturday afternoons and so on.  Actually we both have an agreed to floating two-hour block set aside for doing our personal work stuff—I generally try to catch up on reading and I scan my e-mails.  Even with this built in time, breaking this pattern as a speedbump requires shifts around responsibilities since things still need to be done to keep the “ship” provisioned and running.  So, more warning is fair to my wife and to having less stress at home.

Burnout Can Happen: I like people to report every hour spend in serving Ping.  This is important as I track overtime for each person so I can alert the PDs to people starting a burnout pattern.  I put them on alert to a few people just a couple weeks ago.  It is complex, as reset from habitual overtime in a burnout mode is tough as it involves the person’s feedback mechanism and the baseline expectations of the organization.  Burnout is bad and I do not want anyone in Ping to say we drove them to burnout.  If this should ever happen, I will view it as a failure of leadership.

I am proud of our record as a team.  Less than 3% slip rate year-over-year is amazingly solid and easily in the top 5% of development teams.  And don’t forget the situations where the release to marketing was a day or so ahead of the timebox end.  The stats point to every train requiring some push to higher hours at the end and the indicators are that our current delivery is no different.  I think we will improve this situation with better testing automation, faster defect finding, and knocking down defects in flight throughout the release.  And this will happen this year!

Wandering is Important

January 28, 2009 By: Andre Category: Entrepreneurism, Life, Musings

I meet with a number of entrepreneurs who struggle with the uncertainty that’s natural in any new business. In their anxiety to land their business, they sometimes sacrifice a better future trajectory by committing to early to a certain path. Wandering in business, especially in the early days is important. Many great businesses sort of wandered into their situation. Google is no exception with their advertising business. The lesson is, don’t set up camp at an oasis when the promise land might be just beyond the horizon. But you have to be willing to be a bit patient.

Unless you know exactly what you are doing (perhaps you’ve built a similar business before), take your time in making sure you understand your market, what’s unique about your approach, where the competition is going, what sorts of macro-trends are driving your opportunity and how you can reach your market effectively.

Every business, over time, develops a sort of DNA. This DNA, once set, is very hard to change. So make your decisions on where and how to play wisely. Seek expert assistance during this phase if you can. Experience has a lot to do with eliminating the wrong choices. Realize also that decisions made early have more weight on your success or failure. Even small mistakes, made too early, can kill a venture. Over time, if you survive, you will build up the strength and defenses to mitigate the impact of a mistake to the organization, but early, there is little room for error.

So, the point of all of this is that choices made early are very important, and in your rush to get a business off the ground, make sure the cement of you business DNA does not dry too quickly, because speed and scale of where you will ultimately go is largely dependent upon the fundamental characteristics of the space you choose to operate in, the timing, your approach to the market, etc. etc. All things that can be considered the genetics of your business and having very little to do with how well you execute.

In the end, serendipity and following the money trail will have a lot to do with landing your business, but just be aware that once you lock and load and begin down a path, it’s very difficult to change that path without significant cost and loss of time. Cherish the time you have to experiment and wander and hopefully you will avoid the mirages.

The “Are you Serious?” Filter

September 23, 2008 By: Andre Category: About Me, Entrepreneurism, Identity, Life, Musings, Ping Identity

We all develop filters for the noise and clutter we encounter in every day life. These filters protect us, allow us to concentrate, and generally shield us from being bombarded.

In biology, there is a concept known as homeostasis. Homeostasis is the ability for the body to adjust what it considers ‘normal’ to the current conditions, giving it an ability to detect changes in those conditions.

If it’s hot, your body adjusts its normal state to account for the heat. It can then detect if it gets hotter or colder. The same holds true for light, sound, touch, taste and smell.

In business (and I’ve found this to be especially true with entrepreneurs), I’ve noticed that people have developed a sort of ‘are you serious’ filter when they hear a newbie entrepreneur describe how they are going to set the world on fire. While friends may be generally encouraging, they are also inherently skeptical. And why would you blame them? ‘Normal’ for them is to hear a lot of talk, but witness very little follow-through. We’ve all seen and heard of plenty of great ideas. But of all those great ideas, how many are ever acted upon? And of those that are actually acted upon, how many of those ideas are really, really pursued, through the inevitable hard times in any startup? The answer is, not many.

Life itself I believe has a way of really challenging the conviction of any great yet unimplemented idea.

It reminds me of a question Phil Becker asked me before he invested in Ping. Sitting in his living room, he asked me, “…are you really serious about this?” That was a wise question.