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(Clicking on the image above will take you to Amazon where a tiny percentage goes to help my movie and book buying habit.)

 

 Zappos, Tony Hsieh, and the Downtown Project are controversial subjects in some quarters of Las Vegas – although I have always been a supporter. In my opinion, it is hard to not give credit to Mr. Hsieh for having the courage, faith, and energy, to move his company and sink millions into the depressed center of Las Vegas, a city I love living in and call home.

That makes Aimee Groth’s tell all book about living inside, or at least partially inside, the bubble of Tony Hsieh’s circle throughout the first five years of the Downtown Project all the more difficult, and fascinating to read. With Ms. Groth becoming part, if not the driving force, of the narrative this is very much a piece of Gonzo journalism which gives some first person perspective to the stresses and confusion that many in the story recall.

To give some background, Tony Hsieh is the CEO of Zappos, an online shoe retailer which is owned by Amazon. In 2013, Zappos moved its headquarters into the former city hall building of Downtown Las Vegas. Downtown Las Vegas, and in particular the area east of Las Vegas Boulevard, had been a rundown collection of tattoo parlors, pawn shops, seedy bars, and ultra-cheap motels. With the result, it had all the problems of a depressed city center, with homelessness, prostitution, and drug dealing on most street corners. With Zappos’s move to Downtown, Mr. Hsieh created the “Downtown Project” with $350 million of his own money. Almost half the money was earmarked for the purchasing of real-estate with the rest to be invested in businesses and startups centered in Downtown Las Vegas. The stated goals of the Downtown Project was not only the creation of a new business and a technology startup environment, but to make Downtown a place with a thriving innovation culture.

The story follows Ms. Groth’s intial conversations with Mr. Hsieh and other invited guests to the Downtown Project, through partying and becoming part of Mr. Hsiehs entourage, the first cracks appearing in the startup culture, to the major reorganization of the Downtown Project, and the internal strife at Zappos due to the move downtown and Holacracy. Holacracy is a new management system and communication tool that was adopted by Zappos. I reviewed Brian J. Robertson’s book on Holacracy here.

However, the main thrust of “The Kingdom of Happiness” is on Mr. Hsieh’s, and those around him’s, response to these events and to their motives in the first place. As the story is told there is almost a willful lack of support, and management, given to the early entrepreneurs, lured to Las Vegas with promises of financing to follow their dreams and the expectation of mentoring. With the result that many were essentially setup to fail, or at the very least felt that way.

“…the young entrepreneurs who didn’t naturally seek out assistance or know how to navigate an ecosystem like this were left to fend for themselves.” – From The Kingdom of Happiness.

There is also a darker undercurrent that flows through the book, and that is the potential conflict of interest in the due roles of the Downtown Project as both landlord and investor to various new and startup businesses. At one point in the book an entrepreneur wonders at the oddness of trying to avoid their investor and business partner, because they are also their landlord. There are numerous mentions throughout the book by those in the Downtown Project, that a source of profits for the Downtown Project is the real estate rather than in the businesses they have investments in. An uncharitable reading might question the ethics, or morality, of this arrangement.

 What I feel is the main takeaway from the book, and makes it of particular interest to business people,  is the balance between Vision, Leadership, and Management, and how this seems to have gone awry at both Zappos and the Downtown Project. At one point Mr. Hsieh snaps at Ms. Groth that he is not a leader but a visionary and it is hard to argue with him. But if Mr. Hsieh is not leading then who is?

The move to Holacracy, a system that dispenses with traditional management structures, through the lens of Ms. Groth’s book, seems to be an imperfect answer to some difficult questions. There has been plenty of vision at Downtown Project and Zappos. There is also some merit in the argument that there has also been leadership at Zappos (you don’t undertake something like Holacracy without leadership pointing the way). But the cult of personality surrounding Mr. Tsieh, and Zappos’s focus on its non- traditional internal culture, maybe filling in for actual leadership.

What is clear, particularly at the Downtown Project, is that there has been a failure of leadership through a lack of management. In a drive to be different, focus on making things “happen,” and create a self-sustaining entrepreneurial culture, the basic structures and support networks have never been put in place that would seem to be a prerequisite for this type of project.

I, for one, am a supporter of the Downtown Project and Zappos – particularly for Zappos’s focus on internal culture. One only has to walk through downtown to see the enormous impact that Downtown Project and Zappos have had. However, there have been significant costs, and without examining the issues that The Kingdom of Happiness raises we are doomed to repeat them. In business, but particularly in the startup culture, there is a focus on leadership to the expense of everything else and an almost dismissal of management. What the story that Ms. Groth tells us is that visionaries abandon management at their peril and that leadership, while the key ingredient in all successful companies, cannot survive without good management.

 

Is is just me, or is hiring getting more difficult due the bad behavior of the un (or under) employed?

I mean I get it, and employers are partly to blame, looking for a job can really suck. Employers rarely respond to applications (guilty), some employers insist on their own applications rather an accepting a resume, interviews are time consuming, and wages in some fields are stagnant.

However, none of the above explains some horrendous behaviors I have seen – in particular in the last year or so.
“Obviously you did not read the resume – good luck to you.” A message from an applicant after receiving a rejection email because they were totally unsuitable for position.

“Hi I’m very interested in the position, although I do not have any experience, could you call me back with more information?” A phone message from candidate replying to ad that clearly stated “NO PHONE CALLS.” I have 100 applications on my desk, if everyone does this I’ll do nothing else for days.

Harassing an employer with voicemails telling them that you are obviously the best person for the job and how dare they not hire you because you probably know more than they do. – Yes, this actually happened to me.

Replies to ads that directly contradict what is being asked for. – I don’t think I need to explain this.

Companies, or consultants, replying to ads for full time employees. – Please don’t assume I don’t know what I’m doing. If my ad explicitly states that telecommuting is not an option, an outside contractor is even less likely.

LinkedIn invites after an interview for an entry level position.- This is not going to get you the job and just makes things weird.

Not showing up – really! You accept an invite for an interview and then do not have the courtesy to call and cancel?

Photos on your resume. – We get it, you think you’re hot, but it really just makes most managers uncomfortable. It makes me uncomfortable.

Resumes in weird formats. – When did a PDF become so hard to create? Those of us who get a lot of email everyday are very wary of opening attachments from people we don’t know, but PDFs are a necessary evil for the most part. Word files are annoying but I guess I’ll live with it. Wps files? Google doc files? Jpegs? Screen shots from your phone? I get it you don’t have a computer, and are using your phone, but there are better ways. Just looks lazy.

Bringing a coffee or energy drink into the interview with you. – I’m sorry to get in the way of your morning routine, but I may be your future employer. Or not.

Dressing inappropriately. – It is an interview, not a nightclub, or a trip to the store on a Sunday morning, or a day at the beach.

Now a lot of managers blame the Millennial phenomenon for the above behaviors ; however, I’m not so sure. For one I’m not a big believer in the Millennials being that different from everyone else. They just happen to be young people who are not shy about saying what they want. And a lot of the above behaviors have come from people who do not fit into the generally agreed upon Millennial age bracket. I do think there are cultural things afoot, however, that transcend age. A lowering of the value of work, and generally a misunderstanding of a value of first impressions for starters.

As Tyler Durden from Fight Club might say: “you are not a beautiful and unique snowflake.”

If you want to impress an employer, try professionalism. There are so few practicing it that it will make you easily stand out

I have been reviewing books for a number of years now; however, movies have always been my passion and on occasion I have used movies in staff meetings for the accessibility of the message. I decided that it was time to share some of these.

(Clicking on the image above will take you to Amazon where a tiny percentage goes to help my movie and book buying habit.

 

Burnt is a great movie. Staring Bradley Cooper, it’s the story of a chef seeking redemption by opening a new restaurant in London and winning a 3rd Michelin star after imploding and ruining his mentor’s restaurant in Paris.

It’s use as a management tool comes from the relationships of running a team and of how not to treat employees. It does contain swearing, so if that is incompatible with your company culture this movie is not for you.

I feel there two ways to use this particular movie. In whole; individually, to help illuminate how abusive management is contagious and ultimately counterproductive and in a general staff meeting. As a tool in a meeting I found the best way was to isolate certain scenes.

Chapter 5: @ 26:30 through to Chapter 6: @ 36:20 – The preparation for the opening of the restaurant. The attention to detail. Staff working at the top of their game, working as a team, and watching that disintegrate due the the behavior of one employee and then the abuse that is untenable.

Chapter 7: @ 40:44 through Chapter 7: @ 43:45 – Again, the preparation and attention to detail and that things have recovered after the events of Chapter 5 and 6. Does this mean the behavior that was seen in chapter 5 and 6 was ok and worked?

Chapter 9: @ 50:58 through Chapter 9: @ 52:23 – Contagion. Demonstrated behavior turns into learned behavior.

Chapter 10 through Chapter 10: @ 56:03 – More contagion, and now it is difficult to control.

Chapter 12: @ 1:11:52 through Chapter 12: @ 1:16:00 – Appalling behavior has a price to pay – even years afterwards.

Chapter 15: working as a team, and working together, is more important than anything else.

It is unusual to see actual work environments, even though this is quite a dysfunctional one, with the real kind of relationships that employees have between each other in a mainstream movie. A thoughtful viewing of “Burnt” should give any leader pause for thought or something to aspire to. And even with taking scenes in isolation it should allow staff to see how bad behavior from anyone can spread and create a workplace where no one wants to work. It is also nice to see a movie where unacceptable behavior is shown for what it is: unacceptable, rather than celebrated.

By Mike Falconer

The most popular post to date on my site is: “Why I hate Yelp (and you should too!).”

I still do by the way; and everything is that post still stands today three years later; however, I have grown to accept it as part of the daily life of being in business and feel that, a few road bumps aside, I’ve made my peace with online reviews and even with Yelp.

That mighty sound a little contradictory, but the bottom line is that reviews are here to stay so we all have to deal with it.

“Scott, we have a Yelp problem. We keep getting these horrible reviews what can we do about it?”

” – Build a better product.”

Scott Stratten @unmarketing

There is no strategy or tip that I, or anyone else, can give you that will fix your business and your online reviews overnight (those that promise to do so are scamming you). If you are a horrible business the chances are you will have horrible reviews online.

Now you can write your own reviews, and risk the wrath of companies like Yelp or Google which are filled with people smarter than you or I (sorry it’s true) who spend a lot of time and energy trying to foil the attempts of those gaming their systems. If you are really unlucky you could also find yourself the subject of a FTC investigation and slapped with a serious fine. It has happened a few times already to those trying to buy or reward those for reviews (many thanks to he great Mike Blumenthal @mblumenthal for this awesome nugget of info and indeed for solidifying my thoughts on Yelp, and online reviews, in general) and expect it to happen a lot more when the government figures out how prevalent it is and how much money can be made. But why bother? It is simpler, easier, and better for your business to just fix the problems in the first place.

Think Yelp or Google (or whatever review site you feel tortures you on a regular basis) does not accurately reflect what your clients think of your business? Prove it! Survey your clients. Make it easy for them to complain and give you feedback. Have a policy to deal with complaints. And, of course, read, learn, and above all, reply to your reviews. If your survey results really are different from what you are seeing from the review sites then publish the data and be honest about what people were complaining about and what you are doing to fix it.

When I started reviewing my business’s clients what I found from the was that they wanted to respond. The feedback I got was overwhelmingly positive, and it allowed me to fix issues, even minor ones, quickly before they blew up online. It also provided real data about what problems we did have and where we were excelling.

A splash page with links to review sites helped make it easy for those who already reviewing us privately to review us in public. As a rule I and not a big fan of asking for reviews – particularly when companies just try to flood one channel. (400 reviews on Google and 10 on Yelp just makes you look shady.) However, a simple splash page with three or four links is tasteful and is the least spam-like way I have found and does not seem to offend anyone.

Unhappy clients will, of course, still happen. How you respond to them is all important, not just for the client, but your future clients who will read your response and see how you deal with complaints.

Apologize – it costs you nothing.

Try to resolve the issue – D’uh!

If you can’t resolve the issue – apologize again!

Do not get into a protracted fight online – would you rather be right or have an unhappy client, a bad review, and maybe worse? Genuinely apologize and try to make things right.

And never, never ever, send, say, or do anything that that you are not completely happy with being splashed all over the Internet. “If you take your review down we will give you your money back” means you care more about the bad review than the unhappy client. If the client deserves their money back – give them their money back!

I am a big fan of responding to even positive reviews – a simple thank you goes a long way. The interesting thing about responding to every review and trying to keep clients happy is that it is not just new clients that notice. Potential new employees use the tools available to them when researching their potential new employer. Those tools are Yelp and Google.

While I still hate Yelp – it really is a flawed product. It exists because customers used to basically be powerless. The balance may have shifted but I know at my business we try to solve issues, I know that we sometimes succeed and sometimes we fail. We are not perfect, but we have not stopped trying and I think even those that view us on Yelp can see it.

And I can live with that.

I had been a big believer in Yelp and the review site model: treat your customers well and they will reward you. I have also had little time for the Yelp haters: “Stop complaining about Yelp and work on your business.”

Well that is what I used to think and then I saw the real, ugly side, of Yelp. Forbes, PBS, and the New York Times seem to agree.

As a rule, the larger the business, the more clients you have, and therefore the more chance that you are not going to be able to keep them all happy. That is not to say that you should not try, but there is always that reality.

In the veterinary world, there is a great product called Vsurv that allows for electronic surveys to be sent out to clients who visit your practice. It plugs straight into practice management software. The great thing out surveying every client for whom you have an email address, as Vsurv does, is that to gives you real data for client satisfaction. Data that you can track from month to month. Even with a 50% – 60% compliance rate you are still talking about hundreds of responses. If I have 30 online reviews 10 of which are filtered (more on that later) but I see 100 – 150 clients a day the online review numbers add up to the statistical error rate of direct surveying.

So a product like Vsurv is better than online review sites. Then what about Yelp?
Well the big problem with Yelp is its review filter. What’s Yelp’s review filter you ask? Well you wouldn’t be alone in not knowing much about it. Unless you run a Yelp page you probably don’t know about the filter, and many who do run pages don’t know about it until they get bitten by it.

Yelp’s review filter is supposed to protect the integrity of Yelps reviews by filtering out suspicious reviews: Overly positive reviews by users that have only one or a couple of business reviews or overly negative reviews by the same kind of user. A least that is the idea…

The problem is that the criteria that Yelp uses to filter it’s reviews is a closely guarded secret – supposedly to avoid businesses “gaming” the system. The filter is supposedly “automatic” and therefore is not influenced by petty concerns such as advertiser preference. However, individual users, and businesses have no recourse to un-filter filtered reviews.

To add to the problems, consistent reports exist of Yelp filtering only good reviews and leaving only bad reviews after the business concerned refuses to advertise with Yelp. I personally have seen a negative review get filtered and then miraculously become unfiltered – not sure how an automatic filter changes its mind but apparently it can.

You can even read the filtered reviews – and it is quite amazing how different a picture of most businesses you can gather by reading the filtered reviews. Yelp only allows access to filtered reviews via a Captcha – why? To make it more difficult to link to? It is quite an experience to see 15 filtered reviews 13 of which are positive that have basically the same user profile as the six recent negative reviews that have not been filtered.

Then, of course, are the online reputation management companies that promise to get bad online reviews removed from Google, Yelp, and other online review sites. All the major review sites say that the only way to remove reviews is with the same tools that everyone has access to – flagging in other words. There is, however, another way – the reviews themselves have been created by a reputation company which can work “miracles” by removing review that they themselves have posted. On a couple of occasions now, I have seen very odd reviews appear and then been approached by some of the more unscrupulous types of Online reputation managers who say that they can work “miracles.” This issue has been addressed by Yelp, but only in the broadest of sense.

The real issue with Yelp; however, is that is does not practice what it preaches. Concentrate on customer service and customers will give you great reviews. So what does is say when so many potential customers feel that the Yelp system is fundamentally flawed and refuses to engage them on the subject? Yelp encourages businesses to respond to negative reviews however provides no mechanism to challenge its filter. Yelps does provide a flagging system, but no feedback on why it does or does not agree with the business owner flagging the review in question. Yelp also refuses to engage with clients about the review side and will only engage about advertising.

I, for one, do not actually believe that Yelp is trying to extort business owners as some charge. I do, however, feel that the product and company is flawed.

The word from Yelp seems to be do what what say – not what we do.

I’m not a big believer in that.

We’ve all heard the excuses:

“They just care so much…they are very passionate.”

“You should have seen them a few years back – they are really mellow now in comparison to then!”

“They have a lot on their plate at the moment.”

The bottom line is that a lot of people, in a lot of businesses, get away with being badly behaved because of who they are. Maybe they bring in more business than anyone else, maybe they have been around for a very long time, maybe your business genuinely does depend on their work. None of this, however, overcomes the fact that behavior that would not be tolerated from most members of staff is quite often considered part of who these “superstars” are.

This phenomenon can be called “The Steve Jobs Effect.”

I’ve been reading Walter Isaacson’s excellent biography of Jobs. For all that I admire the man for his dedication to the user experience, and to creating great products (I’m writing this on an iPad, while listening to an iPod, and checking Twitter on my iPhone), I can’t help feeling that I would have had nothing to do with the man had I met him while he was alive. That is not a very popular opinion these days, but even if you ignore all the dubious dealings, and less than perfect life choices, it is difficult to argue that Jobs was anything other than a horrible person to work for.

Tantrums, routinely losing ones temper, and humiliating those who report to you, are not how most people want to be treated, and at the end of the day, as a management or leadership strategy, it does not work and it is not acceptable.

There are essentially three ways to deal with people who’s idea of management is to induce fear and to shout louder than anyone else.

1: Accept it.

2: Fire them.

3: Work with them to improve.

It is interesting to note that Steve Jobs experienced all three.

As mentioned above, just accepting bad behavior from any employee is the road to ruin.

Firing them is a viable option, but since they are a superstar, you will have to think very carefully as to the ramifications of termination.

Working with them on their behavior is really the only option unless you feel it is either you or them.

In reality, most businesses are going to accept bad behavior from their “superstar” employees, but ultimately this does no one any good as the employee will probably end up being fired for going too far. Not to mention opening up the business accusations of creating a hostile work environment. It is important to understand that this kind of behavior is about the person themselves – not the people that surround them and are the aledged triggers. Bad behavior makes the badly behaved feel good. It is a way of telling themselves that they are doing something without actually having to do anything other than shout or throw things.

The challenge, of course, is to try and work with these individuals to limit the worst of the behavior and solve the underlying issues that set them off in the first place. This does require a certain amount of “pandering” for want of a better expression, but since the alternative is to fire them you do what needs to be done. It is important to note, however, that the disciplinary action, up-to and including termination has to be an available option, and as a manager you have to be prepared to use this should the situation demand it.

I believe, that the tools you use to work with the badly behaved “superstar” are pretty similar to those of working with an under performing employee. Coaching sessions, inserting yourself into issues before they turn into explosions, and winning enough trust and respect from both sides to come up with workable solutions. If you can show your badly behaved “superstar” that praise, cooperation, and the basic social niceties (please and thank you go a long way) actually work, and makes their lives better, then hopefully they will adopt some of those tactics as their own.

I am however a realist. I can complain that the Arizona Sun is hot, and I can do things to modify the environment to lessen its impact on me, but I cannot change its nature. Many badly behaved “superstar” employees will fall back into bad habits if you do not stay on top of things and call them behavior that crosses the line. It is important not to back down – but also not to fall into their way of handling conflict. They are wrong, you are right, and you have to have the courage of your convictions.

Ultimately, the badly behaved “superstar” employee may have be a superstar somewhere else. The chances are the superstar of your business is not Steve Jobs. If they are, maybe you need to be somewhere else.

The great Malcolm Tucker from the BBC’s superb “The Thick of It” showing how not to people manage. WARNING: Very strong language!

Do you have any experiences with  the badly behaved superstar – Care to share?

For those who do not use Twitter, you might not know about Friday Follows. The idea is that on Fridays, Twitter users recommend other Twitter users to follow.

It has fallen out of favor of late a little, the Twitterverse can be fickle, and I’ve never been a big believer anyway – preferring to retweet (repost others messages) on a regular basis. But it has always been nice to get one.

Yesterday, however, I got the best Friday Follow ever from Jim Dougherty who goes by the name @leaderswest on Twitter.

Jim’s Friday Follow took the form of a short – talking to camera – video, explaining to users why they should follow me, and others, on Twitter. The genius of the idea is that each subject gets their own short video making it very easy to view and share by the subject.

This is great content marketing.

Easy to consume, relevant, and selfless – which of course reflects very well on the content creator like all great content marketing. It would be interesting to see if all recommendations will eventually be like this: personal, short, and on video. It has certainly got my wheels turning considering just how effective I find the video below. Interestingly, Jim used Keek for this project. Keek is hoping to be video Twitter.

Please follow @leaderswest on Twitter, after you follow me!

Video Friday Follow about @mike_falconer from @leaderswest

(Keek's embedding does not work very well in WordPress yet - just click on the image to take you to Jim's Keek page and his video post about me!)

Well, what did you think?

Let me know in the comments and take a look at Jim’s other Friday Follows in the same page.

(Click on the image above to view the book on Amazon!)

With possibly the longest subtitle ever: “Move your business forward through the convergence of search, social & content marketing,” Accelerate! cannot be accused of false advertising.

Quiet simply, Accelerate is a blueprint for successfully using 21st century tools for small business online marketing. Written by Arnie Kuenn, the president of Vertical Measures in Phoenix, and a co-founder of the Arizona Interactive Marketing Association; Mr. Kuenn certainly knows his stuff. In fact, it is one of the few criticism of the book that I have, is that it gets a little dense at times, particularly early on. The Search Engine Optimization (SEO) section while being very detailed gets to be a little much and will require a couple of readings for all but the most experienced of readers. However, the style does settle down, and it would be a mistake to give up on the book as and what you are left with in the end is, a user friendly handbook for search, social media, and content marketing.

The book covers all the major players as you might expect; Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google; but is also covers a lot of the less mainstream sites. Accelerate! plucks a number online tools out from the magic geek SEO toolbox to help with almost every aspect of the radical overhaul of your marketing strategy that will undoubtedly unfold once you have finished the book. I myself, am already looking carefully at how I put posts together for my site and have joined a number of social bookmarking sites directly because of this book.

A self published book, also available in a Kindle edition, I was initially concerned about the physical binding on Accelerate! I’ve had problems in the past with the spines of self published books cracking and then loosing pages after a single reading. I’m happy to report that this is not the case with Accelerate! I did take care not to be too absusive to the spine, but i needn’t have worried, the book is in great shape and looks the same as when it arrived.

I mention the self publishing issue, not just because of quality, but also because the text of the book directly references it as well. With a subject such as search and social media marketing, it is easy to get very out of date very quickly – Google+, for example, is not mentioned once. As the text explains, being a self published book, in addition to being an E-book, allows for easier updates than traditional publishing. I, for one, hope we do get new editions on a fairly regular basis, because this a great resource and one I know I will be referring to for quite some time. In fact, I found it quite odd to see URLs in the footnotes and be unable to click on them – should have got the Kindle version!

Mr. Kuenn’s book will not tell you how to brand and create a marketing strategy for your business – hopefully that is why you read my blog! What Accelerate! will do, however, is tell you how to navigate the waters of the increasingly complex world of search, social media, and content marketing. This still might not mean that you still don’t need to hire someone of Mr. Kuenn’s caliber, or the man himself, to work with you on these magic things. But if you do you’ll at least know what they are talking about and why.

If you want to get serious about search, social media and content marketing, you need to buy this book – it does what is says on the cover!

(Clicking on the cover above will take you to the book’s Amazon page and contribute to my book buying habit / problem.)

So why, when there are thousands of other things to be doing, have I (and you should too) have a blog?

Well, there are a number of reasons – but for the most part it is because I believe in content marketing and I need to practice what I preach.

Content marketing, the generation of content (articles, tweets, etc.) that create a following amongst potential clients, is currently considered the future of marketing. It is also, quite probably, the most honest form of marketing as it is an exchange of information. A blog is hopefully a dialog between writer and reader, meaning that the writer’s position can be challenged or supported.

So in addition to my Twitter feed, my rants on LinkedIn groups, and my book reviews on LinkedIn, I’ll be posting here about every week – thousands of other things permitting…

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