Sunday, April 24, 2011

Growth Requires Cultivation, Germination, Timing and Attention

I love the advent of spring, on many levels.  Foremost is the miraculous emergence of flora and fauna after months of a hard and cold winter: the chirping of the peepers down in the river shallows at night and the sprouting of snow drops through sleet.   Logic would dictate that the extreme cold would kill all life, but it always comes zooming back as the temperature holds above freezing.

Last year, I bought a strawberry pot kit on sale, later in the summer, and followed the directions to germinate strawberry plants from seed.  The directions warned that it would take 30 days for the strawberry seedlings to sprout.  "30 days," I thought.  "It can't take that long!."  I monitored the pot on my warm and sunny back porch every day for 3 weeks, got discouraged and gave up.  It probably didn't help that I gave up watering the strawberry pot as well.  Not even a sprout emerged.  Nothing like growing peas:  you drop 'em in the ground, and bang, a few days later, they start sprouting.

Here's the answer, from GardenGuides.com:

Strawberries are cold germination plants. They require a minimum of a 2-week period of freezing temperatures followed by cool temperatures in order to break dormancy. The seeds require temperatures between 40 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit in order to germinate. Light requirement is minimal until the seedling emerges from the soil, then full sunshine is required for it to thrive. The seed must remain moist for the entire period of germination or the embryo will die of thirst once dormancy is broken.



Got it:  my timing (late summer) and the conditions:  temperature, sunlight, moisture and attention (read:  the need for immediate gratification) - were all sub-optimum.  Of course nothing grew.  Even in optimal conditions, the germination period is long, and a lot of progress is made underground before the seedling finally emerges.


I think of my failed strawberry gardening experience when I listen to the frustration of job-seekers and entrepreneurs in my network:
  • It's been 3 weeks since I applied online to the job, and I've heard nothing;
  • It's been so quiet these last few weeks, and I'm getting discouraged;
  • I've submitted 5 proposals over the last 3 weeks, and no response;
  • There are no jobs out there for me, I'm not qualified for anything that's advertised;
  • I've networked with everyone I can think of, there's just nothing out there;
  • The economy sucks.

I've mentioned several times in previous posts my Daddy's mantra:  if you make 30 calls and get one sale, you're doing great.

A pivotal distinction in that mantra is the necessary germination / gestation period after you make the 30 calls:  depending on the product you're cultivating with potential clients / employers:  whether it's a system, a widget or you, there is a necessary germination (or gestation) period that occurs after you cultivate the client.  The timing needs to be right, the need for the product needs to be yesterday, your attention to the client's needs during both the cultivation and the germination periods needs to be constantly crisp and spot-on.  Depending on several factors and various internal and external environmental conditions, the germination period for closing a perspective client, sale or job can be minutes, hours, days, weeks, months or even years.

In my career, I've been hired on the spot; and I've been hired 3 months later and one year later, respectively.  I've acquired clients after just a 1-hour conversation, and I've also acquired clients 7 months after a 2-hour conversation and a 3-hour proposal. 

The product one of my dear colleagues sells, due to its complexity and cost, typically takes 2 years to sell, after requisite long cultivation and germination periods.

Another dear colleague called me last week, frustrated after a quiet 2 weeks.  "I've put out all these feelers, and I'm hearing nothing back," they said.  "You need to keep putting out new feelers, and stay in touch with the existing feelers, until one or more germinate," I replied.  They called me back a week later, much happier, reporting 4 leads from their cultivation efforts.  "How did you know??"  they asked, amazed at the results.  "Every prospecting effort has a gestation period," I replied.  "Some efforts will fail the gestation period:  however, before there can be a breakthrough, there must be a breakdown:  which drives renewed and new cultivation efforts on your part, which in turn increase the chances of your success."

My best wishes for a fertile season, and a fruitful harvest.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Pick Yourself Up, Dust Yourself Off, Start All Over Again

My dad loves Frank Sinatra.  He would play Sinatra's albums on the weekends during my childhood, and I remember this song fondly:






Here are the lyrics:

Pick Yourself Up
 (Lyrics by: Dorothy Fields / Music by: Jerome Kern)
 
Now nothing's impossible, I've found for when my chin is on the ground,
I pick myself up, dust myself off, and start all over again.
Don't lose your confidence if you slip, be grateful for a pleasant trip,
And pick yourself up, dust off, start over again.
Work like a soul inspired until the battle of the day is won.
You may be sick and tired, but you be a man, my son.
Will you remember the famous men who have to fall to rise again,
So take a deep breath, pick yourself up, start all over again.

You gotta work like a soul inspired until the battle of the day is won.
You may be sick and tired, but you’ll be a man, my son.
Will you remember the famous men who have to fall and then to rise again,
So take a deep breath, pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start all over again.

Once again now:
Will you remember the famous men who have to fall and then rise again,
So take a deep breath, pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start all over again.

Those of us detoxing from the employment Kool-Aid are slowly learning what entrepreneurs and inventors have known for centuries:  before there can be a breakthrough, there must be at least one, if not more, breakdowns / failures.  

I won't exhaustively list examples here:  however, I think of Thomas Edison's multiple versions of the light bulb before he hit on the right combination and changed the world forever.  Think of it:  all of those previous versions were failures. Surely Edison must have worn a hair-shirt at times, wondering what the hell he was thinking and doing.  It didn't stop him for long, though.  I think Edison, in all of his creative genius and fervor, was a glass half-full guy of a particular sort:  I believe that when his laboratory in Menlo Park caught fire and burned to the ground, he called his wife to come and watch the beauty of the myriad chemical rainbow flames.

Just as the modern economy continues to remove us even further from our agrarian and journeyman roots, the increasingly passe' employment paradigm also makes a mediocre vacuum of the research & development experience of experimentation and failure.  Failure is implicitly and explicitly not an option as part of an employee innovation process, if innovation is welcomed at all in an organizational culture.

It is an unnecessary compounding layer to the already stressful experience of entrepreneurs who most recently were only laid-off employees.  As a culture and as individuals we are programmed to be at least satisfactory employees who should avoid errors.  I wholeheartedly support that level of perfectionism when it comes to human and environmental health and safety.  However, I wholeheartedly believe that everything else is up for grabs from an innovation standpoint.  And in order to innovate:  to create new products, to fill needs in the economy that are unmet either as a vendor or an employee:  the creative process of trial and error to both drive profit and change the world must be engaged, again and again.  

Bottom-line:  if you define being laid-off as a failure, great!  Keep trying:  working for yourself, or working towards your next position, or both:  the breakthrough is coming.  None of us can predict how many tries it will take, but if you persevere, you will achieve breakthrough.  More often than not, you will need to try options you have never tried before:  you will need to innovate to achieve breakthrough, and experience failure on the path to breakthroughYou will need to embrace the joy and rewards of risk, and abandon the fear and shame of failure that has been hammered into us, one of several generations of employees.

I had a conversation with a colleague who recently started their own business "until they get their next job."  Their business is growing; and they're trending to earn 30% more than in their traditional career position working just 4 days a week than the 5+ days they worked for their former employer.  They're already doing it:  it just feels weird to them not to be an employee, and there's grief and loss around that, as well as anxiety and fear.  Not surprising:  we don't have a strong cultural or economic context for new entrepreneurs, or a good support system.  It's like bush-whacking in a wilderness into which you've been dumped unceremoniously.   It's okay.  It will start to feel normal, and believe it or not, even better.  My best advice is to stay connected to a support system of other entrepreneurs and colleagues, and build your own new self-determined economic context.

Once again now:
Will you remember the famous men who have to fall and then rise again,
So take a deep breath, pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start all over again.





Sunday, April 10, 2011

OMG YR FIRED ;(

I recently heard through my network of a text-message employee termination, which was brief and in the neighborhood of the following:

Pls don't report to work tmrw; not working out; will pay out yr notice.

I shared the story with my husband, Joel.  "The employer could have just tied the termination note to a rock and thrown it through the employee's car window," he replied in disbelief.  "That really happened?"  I nodded sadly.  "Really, really cheesy." Joel said sadly. "That goes beyond cheesy.  It's like 'Hi, I'm breaking up with you; and oh, by the way, I have herpes.'"

Sometimes I fear that popular media examples of poor people management practices, like firing NPR Correspondent Juan Williams via the phone without due process and/or a progressive corrective action program, unduly influences some harried and hapless employers to hear what they like and leave the rest (E.g., the reputational flak that results from such attention:  could it be true that there's no such thing as bad P.R.?  Best to ask NPR's former CEO, who eventually lost her job as a result.)

Or could it be that some employers believe they have the ultimate power in an employer-employee relationship, giving them carte blanche to freestyle employee hiring, firing and relations?

There are three barriers to such freestyle misconceptions on the part of misguided employers:  legal compliance, reputation and customers.

Failure to observe legal compliance in employee relations exposes employers to legal, financial and reputational risk.  A roll of the employer-freestyling dice here can spell the end of a business.  Can you say "lawsuit judgment?"  Courtesy of a former employee or government regulatory entity, or both?

Reputation can make or break the recruitment and retention of both customers and employees, particularly in a local economy like SmAlbany.  A colleague and I were chatting discreetly about the vagaries of a local small business whose name we did not mention during our conversation in a remote Starbucks a year ago, when one of their former sales managers serendipitously walked in the door of the shop. The colleague waved to the sales manager and remarked to me in a whisper: "Seriously, the owner is a nut:  he continuously hires sales managers only to let them go in about 6 months.  That poor guy is the owner's latest victim, and everyone in the business community knows it."

And finally, and most importantly, customers.  It has been my observation and experience, and recently documented in Guy Kawasaki's Enchantment, that there is absolutely a direct connection on how well (or poorly) you treat your employees and how well (or poorly) in turn your employees will treat your customers.  And how well (or poorly) your customers patronize you as a vendor long-term as a result of mistreatment by your employees; mistreatment by you as the owner; or hearing about your mistreatment of your employees.  In other words:  treat your employees like hammered cow pies, and run the risk of your customers being treated like hammered cow pies, too:  and having both consequently conduct business with one of your competitors.

Bottom-line advice:  reserve text-messaging and other remote media for good news.  For both good news and the tough messages:  nothing beats face-to-face communications, supported with SME (subject-matter expertise) advice and compliant documentation, to drive authentic, accountable and courageous relationships, which in turn will only reinforce reputation and retention with both internal (employees) and external customers.

;)

Sunday, April 3, 2011

A LinkedIn Success Story: A Positioning Statement Produces a Customer and an Entrepreneur

I shared my LinkedIn SME (Subject Matter Expertise) experience, strength and hope with a group of budding entrepreneurs / LinkedIn novices a few weeks ago, paying forward the wealth Gerry Crispin first shared at a LinkedIn recruiting seminar I attended 7 years before, when LinkedIn was brand-new and beta, totally free and invitation-only.  Gerry offered to invite any of the seminar attendees to LinkedIn as his closing remark.  I was one of the few geeks who took Gerry up on his offer that day, and it was a gift indeed.   A few years later, in my role as Recruiting Leader for my organization, I was one of the first LinkedIn business customers, and I still treasure my LinkedIn polo shirt.

As I guided the group of entrepreneurs through some of the LinkedIn basics a few weeks ago, I emphasized the importance of their LinkedIn profile as both their business website and their online résumé, and I encouraged them to browse through examples of their colleagues' LinkedIn profiles to gather ideas to maximize and leverage their LinkedIn presence.

One of the entrepreneurs reported instant and great results a few weeks later.  He'd been on LinkedIn for months with minimal information on his profile.  In reality, he has an incredibly valuable background and highly sought-after skill set, and he was interested in starting a consulting practice but was just beginning the storming process of thrashing through how to consult after years as an employee SME.  After our LinkedIn in-service, he changed his profile headline -- a.k.a. the Positioning Statement that Guy Kawasaki so elegantly describes in his new jewel of a book, Enchantment -- to include the term Consultant.

The very next day, the Entrepreneur was contacted via LinkedIn by a Practitioner who typed in "Consultant" and the keyword for the Entrepreneur's SME expertise and found the Entrepreneur.  The Practitioner has an immediate and potentially ongoing project need.  Turns out the going rate for the Entrepreneur's expertise is $175 an hour.  Who knew?  I love it!

Now, you can read this experience a number of ways:   as a rudimentary exercise in LinkedIn Search Optimization; as happenstance; or, as being in the right place at the right time, using the right Positioning Statement.

What is your Positioning Statement? And is it searchable on LinkedIn and beyond?