Posts in “Business”

August 14, 2014

Read for Cash

Our “continuing education” program for employees can be summed up in one word: read.

Every year we pay our team to read business books. The financial incentive (15 cents / page) and requirements (the books are all pre-approved, the campaign lasts six weeks) lead people to read outside their normal interests and outside their normal job responsibilities.

In 2006 32 employees read 104 books; this year we had 151 participants read 485 books.

I encouraged everyone to contact the authors of the books they read simply to thank them for writing the book. 102 participants did, and two-thirds heard back from the author. (As quickly as within an hour, and most often with appreciation and a personal reply.)

To get paid, participants email a short review and star rating to the entire company. It can be as little as a sentence, but was often a thoughtful review with insights on how the lessons learned apply to our business. I read all 485 reports and was daily impressed with what a smart and interesting team I get to work with.

On a scale of 1 – Useless to 5 – Great Program, employees rated this year’s Read for Cash 4.5.

August 12, 2014

Almost Perfect

I read Almost Perfect, the story of WordPerfect Corporation, years ago, and have used the story of ‘the minor change that wasn’t worth testing before release’ many times.

“On Friday the 13th there were so many people trying to call us that our busy signals brought down the entire AT&T 800 system in the Mountain West. The phones in the Delta Airlines reservation center and the American Express customer service center, both in Salt Lake City, all went quiet. AT&T called around lunchtime to politely inquire how soon we could clear up our busy signals. Much to our embarrassment, we had no answer for them. We were in deep trouble.”

Now the whole book is online; you’ll find this story in Chapter 9.

 

August 11, 2014

What we value at Logos

A recent email to the company…

There is nothing at Logos more important than our corporate values:

Honesty. Openness. Awesomeness. Growth. Initiative. Elegance. Shipping.

These values reflect what we want to be as an organization. They help us decide what to do today and next year. They answer both ‘how?’ and ‘why?’

I love being part of this organization. I enjoy explaining our values and get a thrill out of seeing us live up to them in big dramatic moments when people wonder if we’ll stick to them and in small, simple ways every day. I consider it an honor and a privilege to be a leader here.

Unfortunately, as organizations grow the distance between people increases. If you joined Logos in the first few years, you were probably older than me and there’s a good chance I helped you move. If you joined this year, we may not have even met yet, and I may be mysterious and remote to you.

And the bigger we get, the harder it is to do something about that. But I want to do what I can to fight that sense of hierarchy and distance. I want everyone here to be on the same page, living the same values, working towards the same ends. And I want to be part of that daily work with you.

So here is what you need to understand about me:

I care about the work. The work is what we are doing every day as we live out our values. The work is what our values enable and it is the fruit of our labor. I want the company to produce excellent work we can all be proud of, and I want us to get it out into the world where it can be useful to people.

And, at a personal level, I simply delight in excellent work: a perfect turn of phrase, an elegant bit of code, a beautiful design, a prospect turned customer and a customer turned raving-fan. It’s fun to see these things!

It doesn’t matter who creates it: when the company does excellent work we all win.

I don’t care about status or rank or credentials – mine or yours. No qualification guarantees that all your work is excellent, and no lack of qualification prevents someone from being able to recognize or create good work.

So it matters a lot that our work is done within the context of our values.

I love to see great work at Logos. (Awesomeness. Initiative. Elegance. Shipping.) I will also call out bad work at Logos. (Honesty. Openness. Growth.) And I expect the same from you. Do I like to have my work criticized? No. Do I take it personally when people tell me something I worked hard on wasn’t that great? Yes. But as painful as honest criticism is, it would be far worse to never get it. Without the honest criticism that leads to better work, I might never hear (and could certainly never trust) the praise that great work earns.

Sometimes we might disagree on what is and isn’t good work. Sometimes we may disagree about how much more effort should go into something before it ships. As CEO I have ultimate decision rights, and sometimes you’ll hear me exercise those rights.

But I want you to know that you work at a company where doing good work is the ultimate power. To know that a good idea is valued more than a job title. To know that honest criticism is about the work, never about the person, and that it’s your right – and duty – to provide that work-focused criticism to your supervisors and co-workers as much as to those who report to you.

If you are living our values and doing great work, you are doing all I could ask of you and more.

And when your work falls short, as mine so often does, you can expect to hear about it. And you can know that the feedback is about the work, not about you, and is delivered in the spirit of our values. Just like the painful and incredibly useful feedback I got on the first draft of this email from one of your co-workers. This is a better email because of it.

You are here because we chose to work with you. You were hired because you do good work and have the potential to grow and improve and do even better work in the future. Live the values in confidence.

Thank you for being part of this team with me.

October 22, 2012

Business is triage

Any idiot can run any project well.

Hire experienced professionals. Staff every project completely. Get the best tools. Use the highest quality materials. Have independent consultants and auditors verify everything. Take the time to do things right, and never settle for second-best.

If leadership is the art of delegation, then everyone can lead a product launch, a construction project, or a rocket launch.

All you need to succeed is a pile of clichés (“Never settle for second best,” “Quality is job one,” “If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well,” etc.) and an even bigger pile of cash.

Fast Company had a great article years ago about software development for the Space Shuttle. There are some interesting and even useful lessons about the process that kept software errors to 1 in 420,000 lines of code.

The problem with applying these lessons to my business: at that point they’d been working on the code for 22 years and were still spending $35 million a year on maintaining it. I can’t afford government-level quality. (And I mean that in every way it can be interpreted…)

Business is triage. Resources are limited and competition is intense, and the never-ending job of a business leader is deciding what we can get along without and how good something has to be before we ship it.

Sometimes a well-meaning employee asks when we’re going to “get through this phase” — stop changing direction quickly, stop taking on big projects with small teams, stop shipping things as soon as they are market-viable, etc.

The answer is “never, I hope.” Because a business that isn’t in triage mode is a business on its way out of business.

 

October 12, 2012

Profit Is Why You Are in Business

Does your business have a noble mission? Mine does, too. But making a profit is what enables a business to accomplish its mission. Profit needs to be the first priority or you will not have a chance to pursue any others.

It is easy to fall into the trap of labeling things “strategic” as an excuse for unprofitable work. I know, I have done it.

Chapter 10 of Fire Someone Today is now online, and summarized in these slides:

October 3, 2012

The four-word employee handbook

Everything I want from myself and others at work (and in life!) can be summed up in four words:

Honor God. Love others.

When we started Logos Bible Software twenty years ago, I used a software program to generate a boilerplate “attorney approved” employee handbook. When employees asked “What’s our policy on…?” I might refer them to the handbook, since I couldn’t always remember what it said. But more often I would just approve their special request, or tell them to use their best judgment.

Then I took the Zappos tour, and read the Netflix culture slides. And I realized that we already employed awesome, smart people who trust each other. What did we need a butt-covering book of legalese for?

So that’s it: Honor God. Love others. Our new employee handbook in a nutshell, and the primary measure we weigh decisions against.

To complement the nutshell-handbook we developed a set of slides that expound on the theme, meet the letter of the law, introduce our corporate values, and explain the culture. We even decided on two actual rules: no smoking, and no open flames.

It can be scary to work with so few guidelines. Managers wonder if employees will abuse the un-tracked vacation time; employees wonder if they’re embracing too much or too little freedom. It requires trust and openness and conversation. But after 18 months it is working well.

Practical wisdom on growing your business that you can start using today.

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