Friday, February 22, 2019

7 Job Qualifications For Intrapreneurs In Any Company

Intrapreneurship-qualificationsEvery mature company I know is looking for more innovation from within. They are painfully aware that tenure on the list of S&P companies is shrinking – from thirty-three years back in 1964, down to twenty-four in 2016, and predicted to be just twelve by 2027. They need inside intrapreneurs who think and act like the outside entrepreneurs who are disrupting their business.

I have seen this happening firsthand from my years of experience in several big-name companies, including IBM and Fujitsu. In my view, success starts with nurturing and bringing in the right people to make it happen, or being one of the right people from within if you want your career to blossom.

I just completed a new book on this challenge, “Disrupt-It-Yourself,” by Simone Bhan Ahuja, which includes a great summary of the required attributes to maximize your success potential in this area. I don’t believe that any of these requires a birthright, and all can be adopted or learned by anyone, so I encourage you to take a hard look at your own interests and key team members:

  1. Action trumps ideas and more analysis every time. Real change comes from people who are obsessed with action, not ideas. Thinking and analysis without execution feels like zero cost to existing organizations, but it actually ignores the opportunity cost lost. If you act, you learn from other people, especially customers, and you build momentum.

  2. Focused on progress rather than process. Most entrepreneurs realize that for early stage startups, process is the enemy of progress, slowing you down when you're trying to move forward. But more mature companies have learned that scaling a business requires process, so the focus changes. Intrapreneurs have to always think like entrepreneurs.

  3. Relishes the opportunity to learn from problems. Corporate environments tend to treat problems as failures, rather than opportunities. People are trained to avoid change, and stick with the safer status quo. True entrepreneurs, like Thomas Edison, realize that the biggest innovations come from solving problems, such as failing light bulb filaments.

  4. Loves to “hack” new outcomes from existing systems. In software, hackers love the intellectual challenge of confronting a system designed to do one thing and cleverly exploit it to achieve something different. That’s the essence of innovation, and good intrapreneurs need to find new opportunities by bending existing strengths in new ways.

  5. Reach out across the aisle for complementary talent. Smart intrapreneurs know they can’t do it alone, and know how to enlist the help they need by making it clear “what’s in it” for others. They enjoy engaging in informal partnering and co-design solutions with other stakeholders, while making the total opportunity as much possible about others.

  6. Married to a mission, but not just to one way to do it. The people you desire know the “what” and the “why,” but don’t want to be told “how.” They are always looking for gaps and misalignments, and thrive on changes, even radical changes, so the organization performs better. In this context, strategy deviations can keep the company on track.

  7. Frugal by nature, and don’t ask for much to proceed. Even though they see huge budgets all around, they prefer to start on the cheap (like an entrepreneur), reusing existing resources, working on the side, and employing messy, make-do methods over expensive sanctioned systems that have long approval cycles and much oversight.

Because fostering entrepreneurship internally is hard, many companies have now shifted their innovation focus to acquisitions and partnerships. All have found that this approach can be equally difficult, due to the integration of multiple corporate cultures, processes, supplier dependencies, and management styles.

Thus, I continue to assert that effectively harnessing and building of internal talent to drive innovation from within will continue to be one of the single most important factors for your company’s long-term success. It starts with a mindset that disrupting your business regularly is necessary, before your competition and new startups do it to you. Start your tenure from today.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Inc.com on 02-07-2019 ***

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Wednesday, February 20, 2019

10 Ways To Highlight The Credibility Of Your Website

website-trustSmart people only visit and buy from credible and memorable websites. In the past, if your startup had a website presence, the company was credible by definition. In today’s world, a website is necessary but not sufficient for credibility. Dreamers and gamblers have found out that if the website isn’t validated as credible, it’s probably a scam, and everyone loses.

Yet most startups I know experience the same shock of disappointment when they first open up their website to offer their “million dollar idea” product, and nobody comes. What validates credibility and makes your site memorable in the minds of consumers, and how much does it cost?

  1. Put yourself on the site. People buy from people. Until the company name is a famous brand, you are the brand. No name, picture, address, or business history only convinces customers that you are hiding, located in an un-trustable country, or don’t have a clue. They will exit quickly.

  2. Show evidence of your expertise. Publish a regular blog, contribute to relevant social networks, and highlight several videos, podcasts, or eBooks of you and your technology. People respect people with relevant experience, so highlight your accomplishments, and the credentials you have.

  3. Highlight personal presence and testimonials. Third parties are always more credible sources than you are. Highlight interviews and reviews from recognized industry sources, and news sources. Include links to your profiles on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter.

  4. Create a positive online image. Show your visitors some evidence of community involvement and charity efforts. Offer something that is really free – with no strings attached to cause them to lose their trust. Set up an award, and show winners.

  5. Link to recognized brands. If you can have an affiliate relationship with any recognized brand names, or any connection to publicly recognized experts, highlight these and provide links to their websites.

  6. Add a modest advertising presence. The presence of a few related advertisements can actually improve your site credibility, since most credible sites have them. Of course, too many or obnoxious advertisements are especially harmful to a site’s credibility.

  7. Join relevant business associations. Most will give you a membership graphic for your website, and an association link to give your business extra credibility. Don’t forget the local Chamber of Commerce and Better Business Bureau.

  8. Provide a privacy and security statement. Display a logo like McAfee Secure or Trust Guard, in addition to specific policy statements on these subjects, to persuade your visitors and prospects to trust you.

  9. Offer support assistance and guarantee. Publish the terms of your support, return, and replacement policies. Be consistent is their application, and provide contact information for both phone and email access. Follow-up for customer satisfaction.

  10. Professional user-friendly site design. Studies have shown that consumers gauge credibility in large part based on the appeal of the overall visual design, including layout, typography, font size, color schemes, no broken links, and correct language usage. Don’t forget basic Search Engine Optimization (SEO) so search engines improve your ranking.

These are all minimal-cost survival marketing efforts. Beyond these, you will likely need to budget time and dollars (up to $50,000 is not unusual) for real marketing efforts to enhance your visibility and credibility, which include branding, promotions, give-aways, and free services.

In summary, a startup with no website, or a website with no credibility will kill your business. Use the tips outlined above during the first three months to get in the game, and count on much more time and money if you intend to stand above the rest. Make your website not only credible, but incredible!

Marty Zwilling

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Monday, February 18, 2019

5 Indications That Your Work Culture Needs Attention

toxic-office-environmentWhether your company is a startup or a mature business, the last thing you need in the office is a toxic work culture. Yet, according to a recent study, more than half of tech employees see their current office culture as toxic. That can’t possibly be healthy for employee morale, productivity, or customer focus. The sad part is that many executives still don’t know how to recognize the signs.

I saw some excellent guidance for all of us along these lines in a new book, “Cultural Brilliance,” by Claudette Rowley, who has been helping both big and small companies recognize and fix their cultural problems for almost 20 years. In my own consulting career, I have observed examples of each of her five key signs that your business work culture is not operating in a state of brilliance:

  1. People are punished for telling the truth. In broken cultures, people are marginalized and ignored when they tell the truth, or get passed over for a well-deserved promotion, when they try to point out flaws in the current system. In a healthy work culture, telling the truth is encouraged, and new ideas are considered vital to the success of the business.

    As an executive, I found that the first step toward fixing this is actively listening to people, and not being defensive in responses. It’s fair to ask for positive suggestions and actions to fix problems, as well as more details to get to the source of the problem.

  2. Leaders ask for data and do nothing about the problem. When leaders ask for more data, and don’t respond with a credible action plan, they are communicating a lack of courage, or are unwilling to confront reality. They may be more concerned with their own power or comfort than they are with positively impacting the culture around them.

    Even healthy organizations face regular problems, so if you aren’t hearing anything, it probably means that people have given up, or are afraid to bring up issues. Maybe it’s time to leave your office door open, or follow-up and communicate more regularly.

  3. Your culture generates a high turnover rate. You may have a revolving door as people recognize the truth, burn out, and depart. If you find yourself losing your best people, then it’s certainly time to take a hard look at the culture. Healthy cultures thrive on career development and promotions, and don’t wait for people to leave due to frustration.

    If you don’t regularly invest in employees through training and mentoring, they won’t invest in you by stretching themselves, and tackling risky but critical business change challenges. They need to trust and respect you, as well as peer team members.

  4. People are jammed into open spaces or crowded offices. This may not sound like a cultural issue, but people won’t collaborate or focus well in crowded, hectic, and noisy environments. You may be saving money on facilities, but losing more in productivity and lack of commitment. Friendly and comfortable work places lead to positive cultures.

    One of the reasons that Google has consistently been ranked as one of the best company cultures is that they customize their office environments to the people and the role, to make them enjoyable and comfortable, rather than regimented and cold.

  5. Your culture tolerates unacceptable behaviors. Too many organizations tolerate anti-social or even bullying activities from a few employees, under the false notion that these people or so valuable or hard to replace that the cost is a net positive. It’s time to look at the indirect costs, including lost clients, other worker turnover, and overall productivity.

    Remember also that your employees expect the same professionalism and respect from you that you expect from them. I’ve personally been in more than one organization where the manager is more the problem than the solution. A great culture must extend all the way to the top.

Remember, you can’t fix something that you don’t recognize as broken, or don’t know how it’s supposed to work. Since change is always hard, it’s also smart to work on getting your culture right the first time as you build your startup, rather than trying to recover later after it turns toxic. A great culture can save your business, but don’t wait for success to save your culture.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Inc.com on 02-04-2019 ***

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Sunday, February 17, 2019

7 Strategies To Accelerate Creativity In Your Company

accelerate-creativityWithin the startup realm, there is a big difference between having an innovative product versus an innovative business. Some startups have a new technology, but stick to a tried-and-true business model. Others take an existing product, and give it new life with a creative business model. The most competitive startups do both, all the time and every time.

In today’s competitive world, with its accelerating rate of change, no competitive advantage lasts long. According to Josh Linkner, in his classic book “Disciplined Dreaming,” we have entered the Age of Creativity, in which each incremental gain is zeroed out as global competitors quickly copy and adapt. The only sustainable competitive advantage is creativity.

He makes the case, and I agree, that creativity in a company, large or small, doesn’t just happen – it requires a culture. If you want to build and maintain a creative culture in your organization, you need to make sure your operation is guided by these seven critical strategies:

  1. Fuel passion. Every great invention, every medical breakthrough, every advance of humankind began with passion: a passion for change and for making a difference. With a team full of passion, you can accomplish just about anything. To promote passion, you need to develop a sense of purpose, promote collaboration, and have fun.

  2. Celebrate ideas. Many businesses give lip service to their celebration of innovation, but punish, rather than reward, risk-taking and creativity. In a creative culture, rewards come in many forms: money, yes, but great businesses also celebrate creativity through praise (both public and private), career opportunities, and perks.

  3. Foster autonomy. People and teams that can call their own shots are better able to produce valuable creative output, since requiring approval at every step kills the creative process. Granting of autonomy first requires extending trust. The key is to provide a clear message of what you are looking for, and then get out of the way.

  4. Encourage courage. Netflix, which is known for its creative culture, tells employees to “Say what you think, even if it is controversial. Make tough decisions without excessive agonizing. Take smart risks. Question actions inconsistent with our values.” Encourage team members to take creative risks without fear.

  5. Fail forward. Rather than characterizing something that doesn’t work immediately as a “failure,” position it as an experiment. These experiments can be called “failing forward,” because each one leads you one step closer to the perfect solution. The key is to fail quickly. Flush out ideas and let go of the ones that fail.

  6. Think small. When you want to foster big ideas, it’s important to have a strong sense of urgency, be nimble, and not afraid to embrace change. It’s easier to accomplish this in a small team, in a small local environment, before you try to extend it a much larger infrastructure. You will see results sooner, and be more able to overcome opposition.

  7. Maximize diversity. A diversity of thought and perspective fuels creativity and builds creative cultures. To connect with customers, for example, you need to understand the world from their perspective, not yours – this is one area where a diverse culture can make a huge difference.

Fostering creativity doesn’t mean that you don’t need a business plan, or must forgo all discipline in running your business. A successful business is still all about execution, so you still need clear milestones, checkpoints, and metrics to keep you on track.

Creativity is the ultimate competitive advantage. Not just one innovation, but a culture that assures that you are never standing still on the technology or the business model. Make it the priority we are all looking for. No investor wants to bet on a “one-trick pony.”

Marty Zwilling

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Saturday, February 16, 2019

10 Clues That A New Business May Not Be Your Passion

Stressed-businessmanPeople who get stressed managing their own lives don’t make good entrepreneurs. Small businesses require multi-tasking, work prioritization, and decision-making, with no assistants or help from specialists. That’s why Fortune 500 executives usually don’t survive as startup CEOs.

First you have to learn to accept total responsibility for things that happen to your business, just like you are responsible for everything in your personal life. Maybe you are comfortable with having a spouse in control of your personal life, but couples running a business are high risk.

If you recognize yourself in these clues below, you probably won’t have as much fun running a startup as Sir Richard Branson always seems to be having. You don’t even have to try the entrepreneur lifestyle to know if these points are likely to be a problem for you:

  1. You often feel overwhelmed and out of control. There is always more to do than time to do it. Usually the stress people feel does not really come from having too much to do, but from having to make decisions on what to do first, and not setting reasonable targets.

  2. Starting many things, but completing few. Productivity is all about the ability to complete tasks. It requires tradeoffs and decisions, to declare that something is finished. Get in the habit of finishing what you start. Perfectionists need not apply.

  3. You like to defer big things until later. If you catch yourself deferring important tasks, in favor of smaller easy things, that’s a management problem. Adopt a “do it now” motto, and tackle your to-do list in priority order, rather than crisis order.

  4. Over-thinking and second-guessing yourself. If you spend more time thinking and worrying about a task, than doing the task, then you are not managing yourself. Don’t waste your precious creative energy. Finish items, and get them off your mind.

  5. You get defensive at the slightest criticism. Some people feel pain and high stress with any negative feedback or suggestions for improvement. They react quickly and emotionally with rationalizations and justifications for their actions, and find active listening very difficult. You need a thick skin to be an entrepreneur.

  6. Avoiding new opportunities due to fear of failure. Real entrepreneurs look at every new opportunity as an exciting and new-life experience. They are energized by the risk, and learn from every failure.

  7. Always counting your weaknesses. Good business leaders never criticize themselves for their weaknesses. Smart ones recognize their undeveloped skills and higher potential, but they are confident that they can change, and constantly work at it.

  8. Lack of confidence and enthusiasm. If you have a “downer” day at least once a week, and can’t remember the last time you were truly enthusiastic about something in your life or work, you are not ready to manage a business. Self-confidence is key to success.

  9. You like to work alone. Every business and every relationship is a team effort. Loners hide from others because they don’t want anyone to see that they are not in control. Make an effort to network with others to stay informed and contribute, but not dominate.

  10. Admit to being a control freak. Believe it or not, many people who don’t manage themselves very well are control freaks, when it comes to their business and other people. Practice the art of delegating and the joy of being spontaneous.

Managing yourself effectively is the best preparation for managing a new business. It means you understand yourself, and are likely able to read other people and understand them, leading to a trusting relationship with your team and your customers.

More importantly, managing yourself gives you a deeper understanding of what you value and how you define success. It means that you can make the hard choices about your real goals in business, and help you reach those goals. Above all, you will be able to truly enjoy your successes.

Marty Zwilling

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Friday, February 15, 2019

Businesses Without A Website Are The “Walking Dead”

Halloween-walking-deadThese days, if your startup does not have an Internet home base up and running, you are not ready for business or potential investors. Customers go there to check on the details of your offerings and verify that you are not a scam, investors look there to check out your management and sales approach, and suppliers expect to find contact information.

There should be no doubt that an Internet presence is as basic to success in business today, as brick and mortar was a hundred years ago. Yet I am amazed to see from recent data that nearly 36 percent of small businesses today still have no web presence at all. These are soon to be the walking dead, and the competitors you can beat today.

In fact, you need to have at least a prototype web site published several weeks before you expect anyone to find yours, since it takes that amount of time for the web search engine “spiders” to find you and index your content. I still remember my disappointment the first time I published my website, did an immediate Google search on the name, and it said my company didn’t exist.

There are many practical reasons for going to work early on your web site. Here are a few:

  1. Register domain name and set up hosting. I’ve said many times that the Internet domain name should be reserved at the same time you incorporate your company name – they need to be the same, or highly related. Yet I still hear stories of companies being well down the road on products and collateral with a given name, only to find out that everything has to be changed because of a domain name conflict or availability problem.

  2. Websites do take time to get done right. I’ve also known startups who have worked for months on the infrastructure of their business – front office, manufacturing, product design, marketing, personnel, and sales – then started work on a web site in parallel with their “grand opening.” Two months later they still didn’t have a web site, and didn’t have a customer. You should allow three months for the design, building, and rollout of your first site, and you can actually build it yourself these days.

  3. Finalizing the web site validates your product plan and sales strategy. Many founders find that building the web site forced them to commit on the product design, set final pricing, define ordering and delivery procedures, and actually schedule and staff the marketing events that they had in mind.

  4. Viral marketing needs a website. Everyone knows that word-of-mouth advertising is an effective and important part of any small business. But word-of-mouth and viral marketing doesn’t work without a web site. On the other hand, don’t assume that viral marketing is the only marketing you will need.

  5. The website can be a source of revenue. If your business and product are as attractive as you believe, the traffic to your web site will build quickly. Now you should monetize that aspect of your business through the use of Google AdSense to display ads for related products and businesses, and get paid for the “click-throughs.”

  6. Your web site will promote your business 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Like you probably do, many people search for products and services on the weekends and in the evening. They are busy business people and very often this is the best time for them to concentrate on researching a new product or service. As a business owner, there is nothing more satisfying than having several orders and email inquiries waiting for you when you get up in the morning!

In fact, you can set up a web presence these days on social media alone, by creating a company page on Facebook, company profile on LinkedIn, or a free blog with static pages on WordPress. These may not have the globally recognized www.companyname.com domain name, but will certainly put you in touch with the new Internet generation.

I’ve heard all the excuses for not stepping up to this requirement - like I don’t have the time, skills, or money. But believe me, the costs these days are trivial, compared to the benefits. For the first time you have at your disposal the whole world market for whatever product or service you happen to provide. It’s time to turn the light on, and let the world know you exist.

Marty Zwilling

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Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Do You Know A “Downer” Who Is Killing Your Business?

stress-downer-depressionA “downer” is defined here as someone who seems to dwell on the negatives of every business challenge, and loves to highlight bad news or potential problems. No matter how smart or experienced this person may otherwise be, things must change or they will kill your startup.

I’m not talking about someone who has an occasional bad day, but rather people who when asked, “How are things?” will proceed to give you a 20-minute dissertation on their latest health symptoms, the latest company problem, and the sad state of the world in general.

This brings down the mood of everyone around them, and often leads to a self-fulfilling prophecy. We all know this kind of person, but they never seem to recognize themselves. So here are a few clues that you can look for in yourself, to see if you slipping into this abyss:

  • “It’s just another long day at work.” You can’t remember the last time you were positively excited by something you did at work, or even in your personal life. Your brain has leveled all events and activities into a desert of sand dunes, where just getting from one to another is a struggle, and there is nothing new to see over the next hill.
  • “I’m always tired or stressed out.” You may know this, but you assume that it’s not obvious to anyone else. Yet, think of your own office, you noticed on the first day those people that speak slowly in a low monotone, walk or sit with their head down most of the time, and rarely contribute anything without being asked.
  • “If it’s not broken, don’t fix it.” This can happen to business executives, once able leaders, who have spent too many years doing the same job. They know their processes and team aren’t perfect, but they no longer notice these imperfections. They are bored, or no longer interested in improvement opportunities.

If you recognize yourself in these points, or you feel yourself slipping in that direction, what can you do to turn yourself around before the company pushes you out, or a competitor pushes your company out? Here are a few suggestions:

  • Get a medical checkup. You may be fighting a health problem that can be easily solved by proper treatment or medication. Even more severe medical problems, like chronic depression, can be mitigated once they are recognized and understood.
  • Change your environment. Ask for a new assignment at work, or look for a new job before you are fired from this one. Make a concerted effort to wake yourself up to the positives, and re-engage in processes that once excited you. Start a log on your efforts and progress. Measurable progress is itself exciting.
  • Ask a mentor for support. Choose a friend or mentor (not your spouse) whom you trust to tell you the truth, and ask for help. Then listen to the recommendations. These people can’t change you, but you can change yourself. Focus on identifying strengths, and capitalizing on them.

Let me assure you, every startup faces more challenges than any other business – unproven product, new processes, new management, and unpredictable customers. This is not the place for downers. If you are a downer, find a new place to work. If you run the startup, and you don’t deal with this issue quickly, your fledgling business is in jeopardy.

As I’m writing this, I’m thinking that these points are so obvious that they don’t need to be reiterated here. Yet I still find this to be one of the most common drags on startup productivity, as well as employee satisfaction. Remember that being a downer is not something that someone did to you; it’s something that you did to yourself. Therefore, it’s up to you to fix it.

Marty Zwilling

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