Archive for 'group'

Thanksgiving Musings

First off, I hope everyone is having a great Thanksgiving and a safe one. Our family got together for a fantastic meal at my brother’s house in which his wife (Donna) cooked up a mean bird and her world famous green-beans. I used to hate green-beans, but she got me back to liking them to the point I can make a pretty tasty pot myself (her recipe tweaked of course).

Since this day is about giving thanks, I thought I’d take the time to give thanks for the following:
1) My parents are still alive and kicking. Mom is in a nursing home, but she’s at least adjusted and seems content/at peace. I hate seeing her there, but they can give her the care she requires at this juncture. Alzheimer’s is a terrible disease that I hope they find a cure for as it’s affected my mom’s side of the family pretty heavily which scares me to no end—I have seen what the disease can do, and I don’t want to go through that. That’s a selfish view, but I can’t help but wonder if I’m headed there eventually. Luckily, my dad’s side of the family doesn’t seem to be afflicted with Alzheimer’s so there’s hope. Anyway, I’m very thankful my parents are still with us regardless of capacity. If your parents are still around, please appreciate the time you have with them.

2) I have my health for the most part. My knees now cause issues, but I’m in pretty good condition other than that. Every since I kicked the diet drink habit (February 8, 2006), I’ve felt much better overall, and my cholesterol, blood pressure, resting heart rate, and energy levels have returned to normal. That aspartame is a demon—stay off that stuff if you can.

3) I met a great girl this past year (Jennifer), and we’ve been going strong since March. While I’m sure I frustrate her with my tunnel vision focus on work sometimes, I’m really glad to have her in my life. I’ve been fortunate in the dating department and probably take some of it for granted when I get zoomed in on another aspect of life, but that’s just who I am.

4) I got my own business started in earnest this past year—something I have always desired to do for as long as I can remember. It’s beginning to produce fruit so I feel good about the future of this firm. It takes a lot of work to start a business (a topic for a future article?), and I honestly had no idea what I was doing when I started down this path last year. I halfway started this thing then, but I threw myself totally into it in the summer of 2006. I’m thankful to have the opportunity to work with some great people and expand my own knowledge along the way.

5) Last but not least, I’m thankful for my family and friends. I’ve got some high quality people in my life, and I’m glad to have them share in the trials and tribulations of my life and vice versa. Every successful person has a solid support group so I’m fortunate to have that. Repeated success is sure to follow with the group I have in my corner.

Now onto a recap of my Thanksgiving if you’re interested.

Day in General
My day got started by doing something I truly enjoy—bicycling with our Louisville Race Team. We (13 of us at the start; 9 at the end after a few peeled off early to head back home) set out to do 40 miles from one of the local parks at a decent pace but nothing too brisk. I somewhat determined the route we’d follow with input from a few other guys. Much to my chagrin, I guided the team past a key turn about 25 miles in, and we ended up with 70+ miles instead of the planned 40. Oops! Sorry about that guys. I hope nobody got thrown into the doghouse for being late, but I’m guessing a couple of guys did. I feel bad about that because I don’t like misguiding a group of friends/teammates, and I really didn’t want the extra 30 miles because I’ve been battling knee pain for a while now, and that didn’t help matters. Around mile 50 or so, my legs started locking up in the knee area (of course) so the last portion of the ride was rather painful. Thankfully we weren’t drilling it out today, or I’d have been complete toast! Not sure if I can ride tomorrow, but the ride today really helped create quite a bit of hunger so there was some serious damage done to the food spread. This is the first Thanksgiving I can remember in a long while I haven’t been hung-over from totally blowing it out the night before so I’m happy about that. I drank nary an ounce last night so I felt pretty good all day aside from the end of the ride. Perhaps I’ve finally matured?

Work
I’ve actually done some work today—can you believe that? Maybe I’m obsessed, as some have suggested, but I truly find it easier to “catch up” during holidays because people aren’t looking to do something or go somewhere.

I am working on another SEO article and also researching different copywriting techniques to guide people through a website and ultimately get them to sign up for something or at least have enough interest to contact me. I’m disappointed in my website’s traffic so I’ve decided to do something about it. Getting it to rank well is one thing, but “converting” visitors is another. The site gets consistent new visitors each week, but they obviously aren’t intrigued enough to go to the contact page and fill out the form or sign up for the newsletter. If you have some constructive criticism you’d like to share on what you’d do to better “convert” visitors, I’m very open to that. The site can be found at http://smbconsultinginc.com/. Check it out and shoot me an e-mail (go to the contact page on site and reference this post otherwise I’ll think you’re just some wise ass. Ha, ha.)

Sports
While I sit here watching the Boston College/Miami college football game, I’m reminded of how far the Hurricanes have fallen yet I don’t believe Larry Coker should be fired. The guy has a 58-15 record (.795 winning pct.) coming into this game. That’s phenomenal! I think he should be given another year at least. You can’t throw someone with that kind of record under the bus so quickly and easily even though the fans are screaming to chop the guy’s head off.

Tomorrow the Cards play in Cincinnati against Dayton in basketball, and Saturday the football team is at Pittsburgh. Both are worrisome games because the basketball team can’t stop dribble penetration worth a damn, and the football team’s defense struggles against the pass. Tyler Palko (Pitt) is a solid quarterback that could pick apart the secondary if we don’t get consistent pressure on him. I believe we will put some pressure on him, but that doesn’t mean a win is guaranteed because of that alone. Our offense has struggled of late, and this game has been a source of stress all season even when we were undefeated and rolling.

As for the basketball team, there is a good group of young talent, but Rick Pitino doesn’t like to play freshmen as much as he’s going to have to play them this season. That troubles me because this freshman class is a very talented one, but they have to learn on the job. Last year was a complete circling of the bowl in hoops, and I frankly won’t go through another one of those this year. If this team shows signs of sucking, I’ll have to find something else to do with my time. My blood pressure simply can’t handle a repeat of last season.

There you have what’s on my mind today. Not a lot of business for a change, but I figure a change of pace every now and again doesn’t hurt anything. Right?

What are you pondering this Thanksgiving Day? What are you thankful for? As always, f
eel free to e-mail me or comment below, and thanks for reading.

Yahoo! Memo from Brad Garlinghouse (SVP)

This is a memo leaked to the public written by Brad Garlinghouse, a higher ranking management official of the company. It’s been referred to as the “Peanut Butter Manifesto.” It’s an interesting read that further demonstrates you can have a successful company yet still need a LOT of help strategically. Think they could use some of our services? 😉
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Three and half years ago, I enthusiastically joined Yahoo! The magnitude of the opportunity was only matched by the magnitude of the assets. And an amazing team has been responsible for rebuilding Yahoo!

It has been a profound experience. I am fortunate to have been a part of dramatic change for the Company. And our successes speak for themselves. More users than ever, more engaging than ever and more profitable than ever!

I proudly bleed purple and, yellow everyday! And like so many people here, I love this company. But all is not well. Last Thursday’s NY Times article was a blessing in the disguise of a painful public flogging. While it lacked accurate details, its conclusions rang true, and thus was a much needed wake up call. But also a call to action. A clear statement with which I, and far too many Yahoo’s, agreed. And thankfully a reminder. A reminder that the measure of any person is not in how many times he or she falls down – but rather the spirit and resolve used to get back up.

The same is now true of our Company.

It’s time for us to get back up.

I believe we must embrace our problems and challenges and that we must take decisive action. We have the opportunity – in fact the invitation – to send a strong, clear and powerful message to our shareholders and Wall Street, to our advertisers and our partners, to our employees (both current and future), and to our users. They are all begging for a signal that we recognize and understand our problems, and that we are charting a course for fundamental change, Our current course and speed simply will not get us there. Short-term band-aids will not get us there.

It’s time for us to get back up and seize this invitation.

I imagine there’s much discussion amongst the Company’s senior most leadership around the challenges we face. At the risk of being redundant, I wanted to share my take on our current situation and offer a recommended path forward, an attempt to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem.

Recognizing Our Problems
We lack a focused, cohesive vision for our company. We want to do everything and be everything – to everyone. We’ve known this for years, talk about it incessantly, but do nothing to fundamentally address it. We are scared to be left out. We are reactive instead of charting an unwavering course. We are separated into silos that far too frequently don’t talk to each other. And when we do talk, it isn’t to collaborate on a clearly focused strategy, but rather to argue and fight about ownership, strategies and tactics.

Our inclination and proclivity to repeatedly hire leaders from outside the company results in disparate visions of what winning looks like – rather than a leadership team rallying around a single cohesive strategy.

I’ve heard our strategy described as spreading peanut butter across the myriad opportunities that continue to evolve in the online world. The result: a thin layer of investment spread across everything we do and thus we focus on nothing in particular.

I hate peanut butter. We all should.

We lack clarity of ownership and accountability. The most painful manifestation of this is the massive redundancy that exists throughout the organization. We now operate in an organizational structure – admittedly created with the best of intentions – that has become overly bureaucratic. For far too many employees, there is another person with dramatically similar and overlapping responsibilities. This slows us down and burdens the company with unnecessary costs.

Equally problematic, at what point in the organization does someone really OWN the success of their product or service or feature? Product, marketing, engineering, corporate strategy, financial operations… there are so many people in charge (or believe that they are in charge) that it’s not clear if anyone is in charge. This forces decisions to be pushed up – rather than down. It forces decisions by committee or consensus and discourages the innovators from breaking the mold… thinking outside the box.

There’s a reason why a centerfielder and a left fielder have clear areas of ownership. Pursuing die same ball repeatedly results in either collisions or dropped balls. Knowing that someone else is pursuing the ball and hoping to avoid that collision – we have become timid in our pursuit. Again, the ball drops.

We lack decisiveness. Combine a lack of focus with unclear ownership, and the result is that decisions are either not made or are made when it is already too late. Without a clear and focused vision, and without complete clarity of ownership, we lack a macro perspective to guide our decisions and visibility into who should make those decisions. We are repeatedly stymied by challenging and hairy decisions. We are held hostage by our analysis paralysis.

We end up with competing (or redundant) initiatives and synergistic opportunities living in the different silos of our company.
• YME vs. Musicmatch
• Flickr vs. Photos
• YMG video vs. Search video
• Deli.cio.us vs. myweb
• Messenger and plug-ins vs. Sidebar and widgets
• Social media vs. 360 and Groups
• Front page vs. YMG
• Global strategy from BU’vs. Global strategy from Int’l

We have lost our passion to win. Far too many employees are “phoning” it in, lacking the passion and commitment to be a part of the solution. We sit idly by while – at all levels – employees are enabled to “hang around”. Where is the accountability? Moreover, our compensation systems don’t align to our overall success. Weak performers that have been around for years are rewarded. And many of our top performers aren’t adequately recognized for their efforts.

As a result, the employees that we really need to stay (leaders, risk-takers, innovators, passionate) become discouraged and leave. Unfortunately many who opt to stay are not the ones who will lead us through the dramatic change that is needed.

Solving our Problems
We have awesome assets. Nearly every media and communications company is painfully jealous of our position. We have the largest audience, they are highly engaged and our brand is synonymous with the Internet.

If we get back up, embrace dramatic change, we will win.

I don’t pretend there is only one path forward available to us. However, at a minimum, I want to be pad of the solution and thus have outlined a plan here that I believe can work. It is my strong belief that we need to act very quickly or risk going further down a slippery slope, The plan here is not perfect; it is, however, FAR better than no action at all.

There are three pillars to my plan:
1. Focus the vision.
2. Restore accountability and clarity of ownership.
3. Execute a radical reorganization.

1. Focus the vision
a) We need to boldly and definitively declare what we are and what we are not.
b) We need to exit (sell?) non core businesses and eliminate duplicative projects and businesses.
My belief is that the smoothly spread peanut butter needs to turn into a deliberately sculpted strategy – that is narrowly focused.
We can’t simply ask each BU to figure out what they should stop doing. The result will continue to be a non-co
hesive strategy. The direction needs to come decisively from the top. We need to place our bets and not second guess. If we believe Media will maximize our ROI – then let’s not be bashful about reducing our investment in other areas. We need to make the tough decisions, articulate them and stick with them – acknowledging that some people (users / partners / employees) will not like it. Change is hard.

2. Restore accountability and clarity of ownership
a) Existing business owners must be held accountable for where we find ourselves today – heads must roll,
b) We must thoughtfully create senior roles that have holistic accountability for a particular line of business (a variant of a GM structure that will work with Yahoo!’s new focus)
c) We must redesign our performance and incentive systems.

I believe there are too many BU leaders who have gotten away with unacceptable results and worse – unacceptable leadership. Too often they (we!) are the worst offenders of the problems outlined here. We must signal to both the employees and to our shareholders that we will hold these leaders (ourselves) accountable and implement change.

By building around a strong and unequivocal GM structure, we will not only empower those leaders, we will eliminate significant overhead throughout our multi-headed matrix. It must be very clear to everyone in the organization who is empowered to make a decision and ownership must be transparent. With that empowerment comes increased accountability – leaders make decisions, the rest of the company supports those decisions, and the leaders ultimately live/die by the results of those decisions.

My view is that far too often our compensation and rewards are just spreading more peanut butter. We need to be much more aggressive about performance based compensation. This will only help accelerate our ability to weed out our lowest performers and better reward our hungry, motivated and productive employees.

3. Execute a radical reorganization
a) The current business unit structure must go away.
b) We must dramatically decentralize and eliminate as much of the matrix as possible.
c) We must reduce our headcount by 15-20%.
I emphatically believe we simply must eliminate the redundancies we have created and the first step in doing this is by restructuring our organization. We can be more efficient with fewer people and we can get more done, more quickly. We need to return more decision making to a new set of business units and their leadership. But we can’t achieve this with baby step changes,
We need to fundamentally rethink how we organize to win.

Independent of specific proposals of what this reorganization should look like, two key principles must be represented:

Blow up the matrix. Empower a new generation and model of General Managers to be true general managers. Product, marketing, user experience & design, engineering, business development & operations all report into a small number of focused General Managers. Leave no doubt as to where accountability lies.

Kill the redundancies. Align a set of new BU’s so that they are not competing against each other. Search focuses on search. Social media aligns with community and communications. No competing owners for Video, Photos, etc. And Front Page becomes Switzerland. This will be a delicate exercise – decentralization can create inefficiencies, but I believe we can find the right balance.

I love Yahoo! I’m proud to admit that I bleed purple and yellow. I’m proud to admit that I shaved a Y in the back of my head.

My motivation for this memo is the adamant belief that, as before, we have a tremendous opportunity ahead. I don’t pretend that I have the only available answers, but we need to get the discussion going; change is needed and it is needed soon. We can be a stronger and faster company – a company with a clearer vision and clearer ownership and clearer accountability.
We may have fallen down, but the race is a marathon and not a sprint. I don’t pretend that this will be easy. It will take courage, conviction, insight and tremendous commitment. I very much look forward to the challenge.

So let’s get back up.

Catch the balls.

And stop eating peanut butter.

Leveraging Better Competition

Most people who know the least bit about me know I’m a huge University of Louisville athletics fan, and I’m also an avid cyclist. I’ve been a season ticket holder for UofL football and basketball for over ten years, and I’ve been involved in organized cycling for seven plus years. It is through these two interests in conjunction with a childhood of playing competitive baseball I have developed a strong appreciation for the value of solid competition. It has also taught me that in order to achieve improvement, you need to compete against those stronger/better than you.

This Thursday’s West Virginia versus UofL football game is a case study in the value of strong competition. Last year, Louisville (and others) joined the Big East Conference, and many said it was a conference undeserving of a BCS bowl bid and was a severely watered down football product. Nobody questioned the level of competition in basketball, but the losses of Miami, Boston College, and Virginia Tech in football was supposed to be too great a hurdle to climb in terms of bonafide respectability. Nobody was counting on Louisville and West Virginia raising the football bar to Top 5 levels so quickly. West Virginia comes in ranked #3; Louisville #5. The high level of play by both programs already has forced programs like Rutgers and Pittsburgh to improve, making the overall conference a pretty formidable league all of a sudden. Syracuse and Cincinnati have shown improvement but are likely a couple of years away from being real threats. UConn and South Florida aren’t pushovers necessarily, but they haven’t quite kept up with the others in the league. The league itself has moved ahead of traditional powerhouse leagues in the computer rankings because it is much stronger top to bottom than many envisioned. My belief is the top tier programs have forced the bottom tier to step it up or risk embarrassment and humiliation (a very strong motivator).

In cycling, there are five divisions in road racing (Categories 1-5 with 1 being strongest). I’m admittedly not in that strongest group (I raced Category 4 this past season), but I frequently train with some of the category 1-3 guys when improvement is my focus. Time constraints often prevent many of the members on our team from training the 20+ hours/week it requires to race at that top level. If I consistently train with my peer group, however, I’ll merely maintain my existing fitness levels, and I’m less likely to move up to a higher category. Our team (Team Louisville) has been debating various improvement training programs on our team message board the past few days so that’s why I’m including this in today’s post. Some have called for our team to strictly train together with no other teams involved over the winter, and others have suggested that we mix it up with stronger teams in order to improve our overall team. The problem with training just with our team is our team is composed of cyclists of very similar abilities and styles. To me, it’s not an endeavor that is going to improve our team or teach it anything new. That will come with training consistently with stronger riders and teams which brings me back to the value of stiff competition.

If you are looking to improve your business or any aspect of your life, look at businesses or individuals that are currently better than you at whatever it is you’re looking to improve upon. If you merely continue challenging yourself in a manner you are accustomed, you will succeed at developing a plateau not improvement. Sports provide several good examples of this concept in action, and the lessons should not be lost in the business world.

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