May 30, 2015

Want Respect? Be Prepared, Informed, and Have a Firm Handshake

I read a Business Insider article, "9 Proven Ways To Get People To Take You Seriously," written by Drake Baer. Based on my business experience, I completely agree with Mr. Baer's opening paragraph: "If you're going to get anywhere in business, you need people to take you seriously." Mr. Baer continues to say that "according to the research, you can increase your credibility with the right presentation, knowledge, and people skills." While each one of the nine items outlined in the article is important in garnering respect, I have a particular appreciation for being prepared, informed, and having a firm handshake.

Be Ridiculously Prepared

I concur with Mr. Baer that "you need to develop a ridiculously deep knowledge of your subject area." Having a deep knowledge of your subject area will quickly establish respect. However, it is important not to speak too technical about your subject area to the point that people are unable to understand the message you are trying to convey. For example, I have a personal and professional interest in health technology, but I do not possess a technical background in this subject area. I gain respect for people who are able to explain something technical in a plain-speaking manner that makes it easy for me to understand.

I also take great pride that my colleagues and I extensively prepare for each and every meeting. We spend considerable amounts of time visiting the LinkedIn profiles and social media pages of the people whom we are scheduled to meet. In addition, we perform a comprehensive review of the company's website. If the company is publicly-traded, we will read many of the regulatory filings and reports. One important result of being prepared by performing in-depth research is developing relationships with those individuals, which is essential to business success. Understanding the interests of those whom you are meeting with is a key element to relationship-building.

Conversely, I expect those whom I am about to meet will have performed the appropriate research including visiting my LinkedIn profile or reading my bio located on ROI3, Inc.'s website, reviewing my blog, and visiting the Twitter pages belonging to me and ROI3.

Know What's Going on in the World

In Mr. Baer's article, he says that "if you work in business, then 'be up to speed on changes in your industry so that you can speak about them intelligently,'" quoting Roberta Chinsky Matuson, the author of Suddenly in Charge. This, along with "reading business news daily 'so you can speak intelligently on business matters,' is great advice. I strongly recommend becoming a regular viewer of "Nightly Business Report" (NBR) and "PBS Newshour," as well as a reader of The Economist.

Master the Handshake

While it is the final point of this post, the handshake is often the moment when first impressions are made. Having a weak handshake may convey an impression that you lack confidence, which is not a good way to gain respect. On the other hand (no pun intended), a handshake that is too strong may reflect that you want to dominate the business relationship. A proper handshake shows that you are paying respect to the person you are talking to. As Mr. Baer notes, "Giving respect gets respect."

How to execute the perfect handshake?
  1. Meet hands with your shaking partner, but do not grab yet;
  2. Wait until the web between your thumbs and index fingers meets the other person's;
  3. Grab firmly, but not overbearingly (and do not forget to make eye contact and smile).
What recommendations do you have about gaining respect?

Aaron Rose is a co-founder of great companies and advisor to talented entrepreneurs. He also serves as the editor of Solutions for a Sustainable World.

May 26, 2015

Critical Skills for Success in 2020 and Beyond

The Institute for the Future (IFTF), a Palo Alto, Calif.-based independent, nonprofit strategic research group with more than 40 years of forecasting experience, produced a report, "Future Work Skills 2020," for the University of Phoenix Research Institute. Published in 2011, IFTF explains that "this report analyzes key drivers that will reshape the landscape of work and identifies key work skills needed in the next 10 years." I often meet with college students or young professionals whom are seeking advice about how to compete in an increasingly competitive workforce. There are certain elements worth discussing from the report, which "looks at future work skills—proficiencies and abilities required across different jobs and work settings."

The report outlines six drivers of change:
  1. Extreme Longevity: Increasing global lifespans change the nature of careers and learning;
  2. Rise of Smart Machines and Systems: Workplace automation nudges human workers out of rote, repetitive tasks;
  3. Computational World: Massive increases in sensors and processing power make the world a programmable system;
  4. New Media Ecology: New communication tools require new media literacies beyond text;
  5. Superstructed Organizations: Social technologies drive new forms of production and value creation; and
  6. Globally Connected World: Increased global interconnectivity puts diversity and adaptability at the center of organizational operations.
What do these six disruptive forces mean for the workers of the next decade and beyond? The report identified ten skills that will be critical for success in the workforce:
  1. Sense-making: The ability to determine the deeper meaning or significance of what is being expressed;
  2. Social intelligence: The ability to connect to others in a deep and direct way, to sense and stimulate reactions and desired interactions;
  3. Novel & adaptive thinking: Proficiency at thinking and coming up with solutions and responses beyond that which is rote or rule-based;
  4. Cross-cultural competency: The ability to operate in different cultural settings;
  5. Computational thinking: The ability to translate vast amounts of data into abstract concepts and to understand data-based reasoning;
  6. New-media literacy: The ability to critically assess and develop content that uses new media forms, and to leverage these media for persuasive communication;
  7. Transdisciplinarity: Literacy in and ability to understand concepts across multiple disciplines;
  8. Design mindset: The ability to represent and develop tasks and work processes for desired outcomes;
  9. Cognitive load management: The ability to discriminate and filter information for importance, and to understand how to maximize cognitive functioning using a variety of tools and techniques; and
  10. Virtual collaboration: The ability to work productively, drive engagement, and demonstrate presence as a member of a virtual team.
While all six drivers are important in shaping the landscape in which each skill emerges, the color-coding and placement in the chart below indicate which drivers have particular relevance to the development of each of the skills.

The report is correct to note that "the results of this research have implications for individuals, educational institutions, business, and government." Furthermore, "To be successful in the next decade, individuals will need to demonstrate foresight in navigating a rapidly shifting landscape of organizational forms and skill requirements. They will increasingly be called upon to continually reassess the skills they need, and quickly put together the right resources to develop and update these. Workers in the future will need to be adaptable lifelong learners."

As for businesses, I wholeheartedly agree that they "must also be alert to the changing environment and adapt their workforce planning and development strategies to ensure alignment with future skill requirements." Moreover, "Strategic human resource professionals might reconsider traditional methods for identifying critical skills, as well as selecting and developing talent. Considering the disruptions likely to reshape the future will enhance businesses' ability to ensure organizational talent has and continuously renews the skills necessary for the sustainability of business goals. A workforce strategy for sustaining business goals should be one of the most critical outcomes of human resource professionals and should involve collaborating with universities to address lifelong learning and skill requirements."

The six disruptive forces and ten essential skills apply for the second decade of the 21st Century and beyond. Do you agree or disagree? What would you add to this list?

Aaron Rose is a board member, corporate advisor, and co-founder of great companies. He also serves as the editor of GT Perspectives, an online forum focused on turning perspective into opportunity.

May 17, 2015

Customer Obsession, Insist on the Highest Standards, Think Big, and Deliver Results

Photo: John Cook/GeekWire
As part of Seattle University's Albers Executive Series, I attended a talk on May 12, 2015 by Jeff Wilke, Senior Vice President of Consumer Business at Amazon.com. Speaking on "Amazon.com: Our Peculiar Leadership Principles," Mr. Wilke talked about his background as a former chemical engineer and self-described hacker, the experience of moving his young family to Seattle in 1999 to join Amazon.com, and Amazon.com's Leadership Principles, which are outlined below.

John Cook of GeekWire wrote two articles about Mr. Wilke's talk: "The peculiar traits of great Amazon leaders: Frugal, innovative and body odor that doesn't smell like perfume" and "This is the one thing that absolutely terrifies the head of Amazon's massive consumer business." However, there are aspects of Amazon.com's Leadership Principles worth discussing in this post--many of which can be incorporated in businesses across a plethora of sectors.

My father, who spent most of his adult life as a cab driver, often said, "Customer service is #1." While companies should never lose focus on developing a service or product of the highest quality, successful businesses understand the importance of providing exceptional customer service.

As stated in my previous post, it takes a team to build a successful company. While each member of the company comes with a unique background and qualifications, leaders must possess high standards and continually raise the bar to drive their teams to deliver high quality products, services, and processes.

Thinking big is often a difficult concept for leaders to understand and communicate. Most entrepreneurs want to think big, but what does this really mean? "Think big" provides a different meaning whether it applies to a company's profit, staffing, product line, market share or geographic presence. Irrespective of the definition of "think big," a leader must communicate a bold direction that inspires results.

"Deliver results" is something that I express regularly to my colleagues (and try to hold myself accountable to this principle). People will encounter setbacks and obstacles, but the drive to deliver results should remain a constant focal point.

I see value in each one of Amazon.com's Leadership Principles. What would you add to the list?

AMAZON'S LEADERSHIP PRINCIPLES

Whether you are an individual contributor or the manager of a large team, you are an Amazon leader. These are our leadership principles and every Amazonian is guided by these principles.

Customer Obsession
Leaders start with the customer and work backwards. They work vigorously to earn and keep customer trust. Although leaders pay attention to competitors, they obsess over customers.

Ownership
Leaders are owners. They think long term and don’t sacrifice long-term value for short-term results. They act on behalf of the entire company, beyond just their own team. They never say “that’s not my job."

Invent and Simplify
Leaders expect and require innovation and invention from their teams and always find ways to simplify. They are externally aware, look for new ideas from everywhere, and are not limited by "not invented here." As we do new things, we accept that we may be misunderstood for long periods of time.

Are Right, A Lot
Leaders are right a lot. They have strong business judgment and good instincts.

Hire and Develop the Best
Leaders raise the performance bar with every hire and promotion. They recognize exceptional talent, and willingly move them throughout the organization. Leaders develop leaders and take seriously their role in coaching others.

Insist on the Highest Standards
Leaders have relentlessly high standards - many people may think these standards are unreasonably high. Leaders are continually raising the bar and driving their teams to deliver high quality products, services and processes. Leaders ensure that defects do not get sent down the line and that problems are fixed so they stay fixed.

Think Big
Thinking small is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Leaders create and communicate a bold direction that inspires results. They think differently and look around corners for ways to serve customers.

Bias for Action
Speed matters in business. Many decisions and actions are reversible and do not need extensive study. We value calculated risk taking.

Frugality
We try not to spend money on things that don’t matter to customers. Frugality breeds resourcefulness, self-sufficiency, and invention. There are no extra points for headcount, budget size, or fixed expense.

Vocally Self Critical
Leaders do not believe their or their team’s body odor smells of perfume. Leaders come forward with problems or information, even when doing so is awkward or embarrassing. Leaders benchmark themselves and their teams against the best.

Earn Trust of Others
Leaders are sincerely open-minded, genuinely listen, and are willing to examine their strongest convictions with humility.

Dive Deep
Leaders operate at all levels, stay connected to the details, and audit frequently. No task is beneath them.

Have Backbone; Disagree and Commit
Leaders are obligated to respectfully challenge decisions when they disagree, even when doing so is uncomfortable or exhausting. Leaders have conviction and are tenacious. They do not compromise for the sake of social cohesion. Once a decision is determined, they commit wholly.

Deliver Results
Leaders focus on the key inputs for their business and deliver them with the right quality and in a timely fashion. Despite setbacks, they rise to the occasion and never settle.

Aaron Rose is an advisor to talented entrepreneurs and co-founder of great companies. He also serves as the editor of Solutions for a Sustainable World.

May 13, 2015

Advice to Entrepreneurs and Job Applicants

I served as a speaker and panelist at the International Biz-Tech Forum at the University of Washington on April 4, 2015. Organized by the Technology and Business Association at the University of Washington (TBA), the primary purpose of the event was to help students gain experience and knowledge in both academic and industrial fields in order to prepare themselves after they graduate and enter the job market. While my presentation covered a variety of topics including the risk and rewards of entrepreneurship, operational and financial strategies for early-stage companies, and recommendations for those planning to enter the job market, there are some aspects of my presentation that I wish to discuss in this post.

Photo: In-Between
Photography and TBA
It is important that would-be entrepreneurs understand the sacrifice involved in creating and building a business. I believe many people enter entrepreneurship for three reasons: (1) Be their own boss, (2) be in creative control of their service or product, and (3) the opportunity to make a lot of money. Whether I am advising entrepreneurs or investing in their dream to launch a business that will provide exceptional customer service, create a product or service of the highest quality, and build shareholder value, most entrepreneurs fail if making a lot of money is any part of their motivation to create a start-up. Being monetarily-motivated can lead to a grave consequence for an entrepreneur.

Quite simply, the passion and sacrifice required in building a business rarely corresponds to the monetary results entrepreneurs are seeking. Sure, most tech entrepreneurs desire to build the next billion dollar empire, but the reality is most businesses fail within the first few years of its existence.

Many new or would-be entrepreneurs seek my advice and/or financial support. While the individual thinks they are submitting their business (or concept thereof) for my advice or consideration, it is often difficult to determine if their idea is a hobby or a business that will generate sustainable revenue. During my presentation, I advised the attendees to contemplate the following questions if they are considering starting their own enterprise:
  • Why you (and your idea) and why now?
  • Who are your customers?
  • How will people know about you?
  • How will you make money?
  • How will you retain customers, while at the same time, grow your business?
  • How will you achieve and sustain profitability?

Photo: In-Between
Photography and TBA
This led me to another important point of my presentation: "HAVE A PLAN!!!" For reasons that I have yet to understand, many entrepreneurs whom I meet do not have a business plan nor do they plan to draft one. A business plan is not only necessary if the owners are seeking financial backing from investors, a business plan provides a greater value by serving as a road map for each and every individual involved with the company. For example, every one of my colleagues at ROI3, Inc., irrespective of their place on the company's organizational chart, is presented with a copy of the latest draft of our business plan and he or she is given the opportunity to provide critical feedback. I use the word 'draft' deliberately since a business plan is always evolving.

I subsequently explained to the attendees the requirement of forming a team to build a business that will produce revenue and achieve profitability. It is important to note that the team is not limited to employees only, but it consists of mentors and advisors, family members, and friends. In addition to emphasizing the requirement of forming a team to build a company of value, my slide titled "It Takes a Team" emphasized the need to "surround yourself with people smarter than you." The ability of every entrepreneur to lead their business effectively often lies in the awareness of their personal and professional strengths and weaknesses alike. I learned long ago that building a successful business requires building a team with people whom are smarter than me and provide the support (financial and/or emotional) when the company, or I as its leader, encounter obstacles that often appear unexpectedly.

"If you do not know your numbers, you do not know your business" was another important point of my presentation. While many businesses fail for a variety of reasons, the management team's inability to understand their financial plan is often a common cause of business failure. A company's operational plan is only as strong as its financial plan, the latter of which is required to implement the former. Business owners who do not understand the numbers, which should be expressed through a profit and loss (P&L) statement, cash flow statement, and balance sheet, will see the demise of their hopes and dreams of becoming a successful entrepreneur. Ideas alone will not build a business that will produce revenue and achieve profitability. Business success requires a sound operational strategy complemented by a realistic financial plan.

Photo: In-Between
Photography and TBA
As part of my discussion regarding a company having a financial plan, I emphasized the importance of a company providing a timeline for operational and financial milestones including its break-even point and plans for sustained profitability. In addition, a company building for successful future should convey its operating expenses segmented by (1) sales and marketing, (2) general and administrative, and (3) research and development, as well as knowing its cost of revenue (sales) and the percentage of its cost of revenue as it relates to the company's gross revenue.

For those attendees preparing to enter the job market, I provided some advice about looking for a job and writing a résumé that will stand-out from the dozens or hundreds of résumés submitted to hiring managers. It is important for job seekers to not just network with people affiliated with a specific sector, but building meaningful relationships. Utilizing social platforms like LinkedIn is important, but going the extra step to meet with sector or business leaders, and the applicant's willingness to learn from these leaders, is essential to building strong long-term relationships.

Citing an article from Entrepreneur magazine, I noted one in four and one in ten HR managers receive 50 résumés or one in ten résumé per job listing, respectively. The article also provided the following list of criteria HR managers are looking for from job applicants:
  • 77% - relevant experience;
  • 48% - specific accomplishments; and
  • 41% - résumé was customized to the open position or not.
Again citing the article, I provided the percentage of HR managers who look for specific keywords in résumés:
  • 56% - problem solving;
  • 44% - leadership;
  • 40% - oral and written communication;
  • 33% - team building; and
  • 31% - performance & productivity improvement.

Photo: In-Between
Photography and TBA
Speaking from my perspective as an employer, I explained that I will spend no more than 30 seconds looking at a résumé and the applicant's résumé is poorly-written if I have to "read" it. While each career services department provides useful guidelines about constructing an effective résumé, I think a two-page résumé is acceptable (and do not include an objective statement). More importantly, the content of the applicant's résumé should be consistent with their LinkedIn profile. And yes, I do look at the applicant's Facebook, Twitter, and Weibo pages.

I enjoyed the experience of presenting at the 2015 International Biz-Tech Forum at the University of Washington and I want to convey my sincerest appreciation to the members and leaders of TBA for providing me with the opportunity. The slides from my presentation may be found below.