Thursday, March 31, 2016

What Traveling With My Dad Will Teach You

If you read my reports about Nebraska (Day 1 and Day 2), you hopefully walked away with some new insights or knowledge.

Now, be honest with yourself...If I had said to you last week, "hey, I'm going to Nebraska on vacation," there's a decent chance you would have said, "why on earth would you want to do that?"

Over the years, I've had the privilege and joy of traveling with my dad to many different locations. Some that people would agree are spectacular (China or Ireland) some that maybe aren't so high on the list (Lincoln, Nebraska).

But here's what I've learned.

No matter WHERE you go, you can learn a TON. And that is, after all, the purpose of traveling. To open your mind, to expand your horizons.  Not to have a list you can brag about at parties.

It's a chance to challenge your pre-conceived notions and look at the world through a different lens.

If you decide that you are going to get a "Nebraska of the Mind" approach, you can make anything an adventure.

It comes down to curiosity and a willingness to experience things.

You have to engage with people, ask them questions (a lot of them), read about their mentality, seek to understand.

If you do that, a trip to Nebraska can be as rewarding a travel effort as anywhere.

May be difficult to believe, but I know it to be true.

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime.” ― Mark TwainThe Innocents Abroad/Roughing It

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Sandhill Cranes and “Flyover States”, Nebraska Day 2

Day 2 of our great Nebraska journey took us to the Rowe Sanctuary at 5:30am under cover of total darkness.

To be clear…we were remote. Very remote. The closest city, about 12 miles away, is Kearny (pronounced Car-Knee) and has a population of a whopping 30,000.

We were also told to dress for cold, extreme cold. Fortunately, that wasn’t necessary as it was a balmy 50 degrees.

So, why were we there?

600,000 Sandhill Cranes
Only to see the largest migration of Sandhill Cranes in the world. At one peak point this year, there were (we were told) 600,000 birds along the Platte River.The come up from Mexico, Texas and other parts of the southwest to fatten up here prior to their flights to northern Canada, eastern Siberia, Alaska, and other locations.

They’ve been doing this for millions of years and the Audubon is working to preserve the ideal environment for them which, as you might suspect, has been impacted by human habitation in all various forms.  I’m becoming quite the environmentalist.

After a long, silent walk (you need to be quiet and avoid flashes to prevent spooking the birds), you arrive at a “blind” where you can observe the birds waking up in the middle of the river.

[Incidentally, we learned that the phrase “a mile wide and inch deep” was coined in reference to the Platte River in Nebraska. After having seen it, we can understand why].

When you get inside the blind, you have to be quiet and only red flashlights (which don’t scare the birds) are permitted. However, you have the opportunity to look at the various holes, use your binoculars, telephoto lenses (no rapid shots allowed-again, bird spooking) and watch the animals.

The noise. You constantly hear the noise, sort of a guttural sound as they communicate with each other. When you cup your hands around your ears to intensify it, the sound is so powerful.

Slowly, but surely, the birds come to life. They do mini-dances, start to flap their wings, and a few take off. Then more, then more…until a final grand finale when they all leave (kind of like the last train is leaving) to head off for a day of foraging with the ultimate goal of increasing their body weight to prepare for the long flight, the summer mating/nesting season, and whatever else they do in their free time.

 You’re in there for 2 hours and initially you might think, “what the heck am I going to do staring at birds for 2 hours?”

But after about 3 minutes, it becomes mesmerizing. It’s meditative and a cause for reflection. You think about the digital/urban lifestyle that so many of us lead and how divorced we are from the realities of the natural world. Which is sad.

You think about the bigger picture. You are in awe that God (or whatever you think) created so many creatures and why hundreds of thousands of them come to this one spot every single year. You think about your place in the universe.

You see the dawn start to emerge, the figures start to become more clear through the lenses of your binoculars. You see the red on their heads and the black and grey of their feathers. The blurry shapes turn into High Def creatures.

And, then, in the epic Grand Finale…they all leave and the river is totally empty of birds, where only minutes before thousands had been.

The sun is now up. It’s 8:08am and you head back to the Visitor’s Center.  You just had a surreal experience and it hasn’t all sunk in yet, but you know you saw something that will stay with you for the rest of your life.

Life in a Flyover State
Before heading back to Omaha, we had a chance to have lunch with Bryan Kuntz of Intellicom, a Kearny, NE technology provider. Five or 6 years ago, he had participated in a class I gave and we’ve stayed in touch ever since. 

Bryan rounded out some of our perceptions about Nebraska from Day 1 and commented about the low unemployment (3%), high growth of the economy (agriculture, manufacturing, and increasingly technology), and best of all, the quality of life for his family.

Low crime rates and a very friendly atmosphere.  He said that his in-laws cannot even physically lock their home, as there are no locks on the doors at all. Yes, you read that correctly.

That dovetailed with something we had experienced while at the state capital building. There is NO security to get in there.

X-ray scanners and metal detectors are now so common place that it’s noticeable when it’s not there.

But here’s the thing…at least in my experience, people on the East and West coasts like to deride middle America as “flyover states” and the perception that the people who live there are less sophisticated, less open-minded, less educated, and less intelligent.

However, even in the middle of the Platte River Basin, you have 4G coverage. The wi-fi in our motel was faster than some places I’ve been in New York City.

The people I’ve met (and yes, it’s a limited subset) are educated, informed, and connected.

They just like the pace of life and the fact that they can let their kids walk around the neighborhood without fear.

And, I’ve decided that the term “flyover state” is just plain arrogant.  Look around Nebraska (or any other states in this area). First off, these are people like you and I, just doing their best, but maybe more significantly for all of us…this is where your food is grown. Don’t take that for granted.

So, I guess Nebraska, Day 2 represents an appreciation of the world at large, beyond the urban metropolises in which I normally find myself and the digital lifestyle which I lead.

It reminds me of the larger eco-system in which I am but a bit player; reminds me of the many pieces of the global puzzle, all of which have a role to play.

P.S. A special shout out to the kosher bagel shop (Bagel Bin) in Omaha. Who knew?! ;-)

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

"Nebraska of the Mind" & a visit to (my) state #49

Call it a "bucket list" objective, but I've set a goal to visit all 50 states (airports do not count).

The last few have taken a while and a variety of shenanigans and assists (North Dakota #45 in 2008 incl. a hot tub at minus 6 degreesMichigan #46 in 2008, #47 Oregon in 2010, #48 Alaska in 2011) and today, I was able to knock off #49....

Welcome to Nebraska!

In our family, we have a concept that my dad and brother, Asher, invented called "PLACE of the mind."

Originally, it came about when they were in Norway, "Norway of the Mind," but it now applies to any place you visit.

It reflects an effort to immerse yourself in the people, places, culture, and philosophy of any location in order to better understand it.

So, while technically my objective of visiting Nebraska was complete once we had lunch with the Paul Haskell (the only known Sprinklr employee who lives in Omaha (to my knowledge), that wasn't going to get it done for us.

We had to achieve a "Nebraska of the Mind."

To this end, after talking a bit of shop with Paul, my dad and I began to ask this native Nebraskan what it meant to be Nebraskan.  We subsequently had the good fortune, while going out for ice cream, to meet two of his friends--also native Nebraskans, one of whom is a direct marketer at Omaha Steaks and one is a surgery resident at Creighton University (both iconic Nebraskan organizations)-the same questions.

What did the say?

Nebraskans are:

  • hearty (you have to be to survive the harsh climate in summer and winter)
  • hard-working, roll up your sleeve types
  • accepting of outsiders (there's a large immigrant/refugee community here, particularly from Somalia and Myanmar)
  • focused on family (both Paul and his friends' families go back generations)
  • appreciative of the relatively slow pace and family-friendly atmosphere
  • "Nebraska Nice," a term that means people will always be friendly and courteous to you...even if they don't really like you. Certainly good when some Type-A East Coasters come to town! ;-)
So, that was a good start, but we weren't done yet.

Of course, no visit to Omaha (at least in my book) without a visit to Warren Buffet. Ok, well, his house...which we drove past. I pinged him on Twitter, but he never got back.  Amazingly enough, he just lives in a regular neighborhood (security cameras and a fence), but if you didn't know it, you wouldn't think the house was so remarkable.

We left Omaha and headed to Lincoln, the state capital as well as the home of the University of Nebraska.

The capital building is really, genuinely impressive. It was built during the Great Depression at a cost of $10million dollars and is rightfully a source of pride for the state.  

Unlike other capital buildings, it's not a straightforward dome. It's a domed tower, filled will great art and murals that depict different parts of Nebraska history, as well as busts of some of the members of the Nebraska Hall of Fame, including Father Flanagan (Boys' Town), Will Bill Cody, Willa Cather, and General John J. Pershing.

 Interestingly enough, Nebraska is the ONLY state in the US with a unicameral legislature. No Senate & House. Just one legislative body.

The idea is that it saves time, taxpayer money, and gets more effective outcomes more efficiently. While we were there, the legislature was in session and we had the chance to hear a debate on...something...we're not 100% sure what it was.

Even better, in the elevator which takes you to the 14th floor observation deck, my dad had the presence of mind to ask the other person with us, "are you involved in state government?"

That's how we had the chance to chat with State Senator Joni Craighead of Omaha (our new favorite Cornhusker legislator). I even got her autograph in our Guide to the Nebraska statehouse book!

To the right, she is pictured with my dad. We actually had a 10 minute or so conversation with her....that really got us into Nebraska of the Mind.

Our final stop in Lincoln was the University where, as a sports fan, we needed to visit Memorial Stadium, home to the Cornhusker football team and the ongoing NCAA record for most consecutive home sellouts (currently at 311, I believe). It was locked, but homage was duly paid.

And this was all done in about 4 hours before our 2 hour drive to Kearney (the speed limit was 75mph) where we are staying overnight to do what should be one of the highlights of the trip, a visit to the Rowe Audubon Sanctuary  where, at this time of  year, 80% of the world's crane population converge on the Platte River Valley and 60,000 cranes (roughly) are there every day as part of their annual migration northward.  We're going to go see that, which should be a moment of natural awe.

More on that tomorrow.

Before I close, I should make a special mention. This trip is a celebration of my dad's 80th year.  As part of his year-long celebration, he decided that he wanted to visit many of his old friends and, if he could, take 1:1 trips with each of his kids.

He asked me where I wanted to go...which is how I settled on Nebraska.

So, in reality, the point of this trip is both visit my 49th state and, more importantly, spend quality time with my dad, being part of this great milestone and all he's accomplished and taught me over the years.

Everything else is just bonus...we just happen to be in a Nebraska of the Mind way.

For those keeping track...Hawaii is #50. Seems appropriate.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Lessons from the People Manager All-Star Team, Part 2

I’ve embarked on a journey to become a much better people manager. 
As part of that, I’m interviewing peer-recommended “best people managers”.  This is Part 2. If you missed Part 1, here it is.
REQUEST: If you know of someone who is a great developer of talent, I’d love the referral and the chance to interview him/her.

First off, let me recommend this podcast that Josh Duncan sent my way. It’s great. Be a Super Boss and also this article on Facebook’s favorite job interview question.

Now, on to the show.

In round 2, I had the chance to chat with Susie Sedlacek, (nominated by Shira Shimoni) and Evan Bernstein(doubly nominated by the husband/wife team of Adam&Yael Faleder)

So what did I learn this time about becoming a great people manager?
A few (new) themes emerged which I might narrow down as:
  1. Nobody’s Perfect
  2. Show your Human Side
  3. Over-invest in the Relationship
Nobody’s Perfect
Susie could not stress enough how important it is to hire right in the first place. However, you can’t always pick your entire team.  Regardless, you want to figure out what each person’s weakness and vulnerability is as soon as you can.
You don’t do this to expose them, you do this to protect them, the organization, and yourself.

“The sooner you find someone’s vulnerability, the sooner you can make sure it’s not exposed….everyone has one

,” she said.

To help identify it, Susie is very upfront about her own vulnerabilities and weaknesses.  That openness and honesty builds immense trust and loyalty.

People feel pressure to be perfect, both in interviews and as bosses. Once you get rid of that, you are getting to the “real” part faster and you’ll get results faster.

The converse is also true though.  Everyone has one thing that they can uniquely add. Your job as a coach is to find it and build on it, so that the weaknesses become irrelevant and you can push them to the background.

Evan echoed this sentiment, albeit in a slightly different way.  When something goes wrong, he says, he always “gives the benefit of the doubt and seeks to find out what is going on.” Always.
Show Your Human Side
Evan is an elementary school principal in Montgomery County, MD.  Not only does he have support staff and teaching staff, he has two other constituencies, the kids and their parents.

He makes sure he is visible to all of them, but not in a pro-forma way.  He’s outside every morning greeting as many of the 750 kids by name as he can. He has gotten on the PA system and done a rap about a school event and even had himself duct-taped to a wall.

His focus on the relationship is complete and total. Which brings us to the next point.
Over-invest in the Relationship
The “diamond” moment in my conversation with Evan came when he said, “to be a good manager, you need high expectations and collaboration, but you can’t get any of that without a relationship.”

So ANY investment you make in that is well worth it.

As Susie said, “every human being has something value, you need understand what motivates them, spend time w/people to get to know them. Try to understand the human being.

“And give people the benefit of the doubt. You never know what is going on in their lives, so taking that time before rushing to judgment will buy you understanding and loyalty.”  Something that Susie echoed as well.

When all is said and done, people want to be heard and understood.

Evan left me with 2 recommendations.

The second? Ask these 3 questions of everyone on your team.
  1. tell me something you love about your job that you don’t want to change
  2. ]tell me something we can do better
  3. tell me something about yourself
Two more great interviews. Thanks to both of them for generously contributing their time and expertise.

Monday, March 07, 2016

"What I Learned About Networking from Sprinklr VP of Marketing, Jeremy Epstein, During my Summer Internship"

One of Sprinklr's interns, Diego Conteras, wrote a short story about working with me.

Posting it more for posterity sake than anything else, but you may find it amusing.

Friday, March 04, 2016

Lessons from the People Manager All-Star Team

Over the past few weeks, I’ve interviewed nearly 6 peer-nominated “all-star people managers” to help me reach my personal and professional developmental goals for 2016.

Since some have asked (and because writing it will make it stick), I’m going to share some of the themes that have emerged.

Hope you find this helpful.

It All Starts With Smart Hiring
Obvious, I know, but every single one of the interviewees talked about making sure you have a rigorous hiring process to screen for the right candidates.

It’s the proverbial “Get the right people on the bus.”

While there were some differences, the idea of a “Growth Mindset” as Carol Dweck advocates came up A LOT.

Lori said “Look for people who are confident, but not cocky. Ambitious with a passion for learning.”

Les said “Look for strong players who are self-motivated. The best people on teams want the feedback. They crave it.”

I’ve seen this myself…the cost of a bad hire is enormous and the difference between a “B” player and an “A” player is not a multiple, it’s an order of magnitude.

Les further stated that you want to find people who have a process that is repeatable, as that is an indication that they really understand their craft.

Even better (as Jim advocated)…involve the whole team in the hiring process, as that will pay dividends down the road, because the team will hold each other accountable, saving you (the coach) from having to do so.

Understand Their Goals and Ambitions
The best way to motivate people is to remember what it was like to be in their shoes, as Jim said. In fact, that came up a lot. Put yourself in their position.

They may not care about your ambitions and goals, but if you understand theirs, you’re in a much better place to help them achieve it…and tap into their intrinsic motivation so they can achieve both team and personal goals.

Remember the Person…Always
Every one of the interviews stressed the importance of knowing the whole person.

“If someone is having a personal challenge, you need to know about it,” said one of them. “Otherwise, you can’t give them the flexibility they need when they need it. And, if you can do that…it will come back 10-fold when you really need them.”

Jeff boiled it down beautifully into his own version of the “4 Questions:”
·       Who do you care about?
·       What do you care about?
·       What do you have to work with?
·       What battle can you not afford to lose?

He then went on to challenge me (and all managers) with the following:
•   People want to be recognized for who they are…are you doing that?
•   People want to belong to a community…do you make them feel that way?
•   People ask themselves: do I like myself better when I am around you? Are you leaving them with that feeling?  

Candid Feedback…But It Comes In Different Ways
So this one was really interesting for me, probably because it helped extend my toolkit most.

Every one of my interviewees said that you need to give direct feedback often.

Lori nailed it, I thought, when she said, “practice transparency with diplomacy. Make feedback a regular event, not a quarterly or an annual event

In fact, in every conversation, you have the opportunity to give it.
[For a great article on this (and really an overall management style that makes a lot of sense to me, see: Radical Candor.]

What was really helpful was the advice on how to coach people who may have a more difficult time taking the feedback right off the bat.

Two of the interviewees recommended that you engage by asking questions along the lines of “how do you think you are doing?” instead of just beginning the feedback (which works for some people).

Even better…creating a blank report card that you and your direct report fill out separately and then reviewing it together to look for areas of discrepancy.  That provides the grist for the conversation.

For those who don’t mind or “crave it,” just jump right in, but this approach prevents a “one size fits all” angle to feedback and ultimately serves the employee better.

Get Rid of Weak Performers….FAST
When you keep weak performers, you are doing even more damage than you realize.
  1. You are hurting the company. Obviously.
  2. You are hurting that employee, but not giving them an opportunity to achieve fulfillment in their jobs.
  3. You are sending the message that sub-par performance is acceptable.
  4. You are cheating your “A” players of valuable time to make them even stronger…because you are spending too much of your time with (or compensating for) the weak performers.
Promote and Celebrate
Finally, it’s not about you.

In fact, you should go above and beyond to get your people the right visibility…even if it means leaving your team.  In fact, according to Lori, “sometimes you make trade-offs that favor the person at the cost of the organization.

A corollary to this is “remove obstacles for your team.” The more you do this, the more they will be in a successful position where you can celebrate them.

It’s a different mindset from being an individual contributor… your put others first, whenever you can.

As Jim said, ““when the team is winning, you’re in back. When team is losing, you’re in front."

Meet The All-Star People Manager Team
·       Lori Deo (nominated by Adam Schorr, Dawn Kidd)
·       Jim Macchitelli (nominated by Adam Evers)
·       Jeffrey Lang (nominated by Karin Schwartz)
·       Les Russell (nominated by Eric Marterella)
·       Kristen Kavalier (nominated by Sprinklrites)
·       Dan Swift (nominated by Sprinklrites)