In-House Team Building & Training – Pubcon NOLA 2014

During Pubcon NOLA 2014 I was, once again, privileged to do a presentation during the In-House Team Building & Training session. While I was up first, Brian McDowell and Dave Rohrer followed up with some excellent information. Here are some notes I took during their presentations …

During Pubcon NOLA 2014 I was, once again, privileged to do a presentation during the In-House Team Building & Training session. While I was up first, Brian McDowell and Dave Rohrer followed up with some excellent information. Here are some notes I took during their presentations:

Brian McDowell – In-House Team Building and Training

  • SEO Function scales horizontally instead of vertically
    • Starts in Marketing or IT
    • Eventually moves across the whole organization
  • Find the proper fit for what you need
    • What talent do you need?
    • Where can you find that talent
    • Look at the maturity of your organization in order to see where you need to fill in skill sets
  • Understand the needs of your business
    • Education – Why
    • Advisors – How
    • Evangelism – Who
    • Analysis – What
  • Look for people who intersect Technology, Marketing and Sales
    • You’re director of SEO will fit right in the middle
    • Other roles will have skills that skew in one direction or the other
  • It’s difficult to train someone right out of school who doesn’t understand SEO
    • Someone from PPC can really understand SEO, that’s a good place to find talent
    • It’s sometimes valuable to hire someone right out of school and put them into PPC and then migrate them to SEO if they are good
  • There are over 1 million people who claim to have experience in SEO
    • Create pressure
    • Do a group interview
    • Have the interviewee do some code on the whiteboard – how comfortable are they in figuring out a problem?
  • Don’t forget about training, consultants, coaching, conferences and dedicated time to do research when figuring out how much a person will cost to hire
  • Don’t forget digital resources when estimating costs of everything. You have to make sure the person has the right tools to get the job done
  • SEO is really more about web presence management – remember this!
  • Be a coach –
    • Build your playbook
    • Identify your position needs
    • Attack free agency
    • Call the plays

Dave Rohrer – In-House Team Building and Training

  • Don’t skimp on CPU and RAM in computers for your team members – there’s not much worse than a huge Excel file crashing in the middle of something
  • Align your goals
    • Company Goals
    • Marketing Goals stem from company goals
    • SEO Goals stem from Marketing goals
    • This way everyone is supporting the next level up
    • Break your goals down into strategic initiatives and tactics
  • Consider hiring a journalism temp or intern to interview people during content creation
  • Keep meetings short and to the point – pay attention , make an agenda and follow the agenda
  • Agencies use task and time management to track projects – in-house should use them, too. Tools can help get you more time, people, budget or other help

Leadership Unplugged – A Google Hangout Event

Last week at the Pubcon Austin Regional, I had an opportunity chat with Rebecca Murtagh, author of Million Dollar Websites, before the final keynote. Rebecca has been hosting Google Hangouts after several recent Pubcon events, and I asked if she was going to do that again. In our pursuing conversation, she asked if I’d like share some of the ideas about leadership I talked about during the “In-House SEO” session earlier in the day. I thought that was a great idea, so we will be having a Google Hangout called “Leadership – Unplugged: What Every Leader Should Know” on Thursday, February 13, 2014, 2pm to 3pm Central …

Last week at the Pubcon Austin Regional, I had an opportunity chat with Rebecca Murtagh, author of Million Dollar Websites, before the final keynote. Rebecca has been hosting Google Hangouts after several recent Pubcon events, and I asked if she was going to do that again.

In our pursuing conversation, she asked if I’d like share some of the ideas about leadership I talked about during my “Elmer’s Leadership Lesson 2.8” presentation I did in the “In-House SEO” session earlier in the day. I thought that was a great idea … so we will be having a Google Hangout called “Leadership – Unplugged: What Every Leader Should Know” on Thursday, February 13, 2014, 2pm to 3pm Central.

Leadership Unlugged Google Event

This is listed as a private event. When you click the link above, please click the “Request Invitation” button. Of course, you’ll need a Google account to join in. Accounts are free … just sign up for one.

I am always pleasantly surprised how well my leadership talks are received at Pubcon events. Certainly, the main reason why people attend Pubcon and other industry events is to help hone their technical skills. While this is certainly a critical aspect of working in a technical field, those of us who lead people are sometimes not as dedicated to honing our non-technical, people-related skills. That’s not to say we are neglectful or bad – not at all. It’s just that we sometimes are so heads-down and focused on work, that we don’t think about those other skills needed to build a great team. That’s where I come in.

During the hangout, I’ll highlight some points from last week’s presentation, then have some time for Rebecca and I to do some Q&A, then we’ll open up the discussion to anyone for questions, discussion or whatever.

Sign up and join me and Rebecca. I’m sure you’ll learn something you can take back to help you be a better team leader.

Companies Without Managers? It Might Just Work!

I’ve read several articles over the past few months that described how some tech companies are doing away with middle managers, titles and hierarchy in an attempt to make their organizations more agile and entrepreneurial as well as to avoid building a bureaucracy as the organization grows. Most of these companies are rather small, but even some larger firms like Zappos is starting to buy into this trend. As a student of leadership, I found this to be very interesting …

I’ve read several articles over the past few months that described how some tech companies are doing away with managers, titles and hierarchy in an attempt to make their organizations more agile and entrepreneurial as well as to avoid building a bureaucracy as the organization grows. Most of these companies are rather small, but even some larger firms like Zappos is starting to buy into this trend.

As a student of leadership, I found this to be very interesting. I am a huge fan of avoiding and eliminating bureaucracy. I also believe that employees, especially in a small- or medium-sized business, need to be agile and entrepreneurial. But, is it a good idea to eliminate “managers” and “bosses” in order to build a flat organizational structure? While the idea seems counterintuative, I think breaking things down into a Holocracy® or some other “-ocracy” can work if it’s implemented properly.

The key is that, in the end, whatever jobs that need to be accomplished are “owned” by someone. It doesn’t matter if the person is called a “manager” or not. Titles, or the lack thereof, are irrelevant. Someone has to “own” the work. Even better if the person who’s tasked to accomplish something is passionate about whatever it is and volunteers to do it. They will do a better job and someone who couldn’t care less being appointed to get it done. I learned this very valuable lesson long ago: “If something is owned by everyone, then it is owned by no one.”

Even in a “flat” organization, there needs to be accountability. In Zappos’ new structure, people are empowered to be entrepreneurial about their tasks, more transparent and self accountable. These are all great ideals that I applaud. But, there doesn’t appear to be any other accountability built into the system other than to one’s peers within the “circle” they are assigned to. This could end up being a fatal flaw.

Going along with the ownership idea: Someone also has be accountable for the work. Whether in customer service, payroll, shipping, etc., if everyone within that team owns it all, then no one really owns it. Who is going to:

  • establish budgets and make sure departments or teams stay within those budgets
  • make decisions about major investments of equipment, software or other property in the organization
  • have the final call on hiring and firing
  • make sure all members of the team are contributing their fair share
  • cast vision within teams and make sure everyone stays on track?

Certainly, some of those tasks can be accomplished by committee; but, it may be challenging or impossible for others. The “Quartz” article about Zappos does not address these questions specifically, but I do believe Tony Hsieh is a very smart person and has addressed these issues so they don’t cause problems as his company moves forward. If those things can be successfully dealt with, then Zappos could lead the way for other larger organizations to follow this trend.

 What say you? Do you think a flat organization is the way for businesses to go in future? Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.

EntreLeadership by Dave Ramsey – Book Review

A few years ago, I attended the EntreLeadership 1-Day event in Dallas, Texas. I was already a fan of Dave, having read “Your Total Money Makeover” as well as attended and coordinated his Financial Peace University class at our church and my former employer. His book, EntreLeadership: 20 Years of Practical Business Wisdom from the Trenches (Amazon Affiliate Link) was released in September, 2011 and has been on my “to read” list since then. I finally caught up with it last week, and I’m glad I did …

Cover shot of the book "EntreLeadership" by Dave RamseyA few years ago, I attended the EntreLeadership 1-Day event in Dallas, Texas. I was already a fan of Dave, having read “Your Total Money Makeover” as well as attended and coordinated his Financial Peace University class at our church and my former employer. His book, EntreLeadership: 20 Years of Practical Business Wisdom from the Trenches (Amazon Affiliate Link) was released in September, 2011 and has been on my “to read” list since then. I finally caught up with it last week, and I’m glad I did.

Much of the information I remember from that event was included in the book, and a whole lot more. The ideas included in the book aren’t just a bunch of theories put together by someone who hasn’t “been there and done that.” Instead, it is filled with practical knowledge that lets you learn from someone with experience (read: learning from someone else’s mistakes).

The book is laid out quite well and is filled with stories from Dave’s experience starting his business on a coffee table in his home to the multi-million dollar enterprise it is today. There are chapters covering:

  • Setting goals and creating mission statements
  • Time Management
  • Making tough descisions
  • Marketing
  • Launching your dream
  • Hiring and firing
  • Sales (selling by being a servant)
  • Money issues
  • Communication
  • Building unity and loyalty in your team
  • Recognition and inspiration
  • Dealing with contracts, vendors and collections
  • Compensation plans
  • Delegation

Each chapter is built with information, illustrative stories and different ways to approach different challenges with pros and cons of each. While Dave points out the things that led to his success, he also shows there are sometimes more than one way to solve a problem. I got the iBooks version which also came with videos that further illustrated finer points of the chapter’s content.

Here are some quotes from the book and some ideas they brought to mind:

The big deal here is to remember that the very things you want from a leader are the very things the people you are leading expect from you. You must intentionally become more of each of these every day to grow yourself and your business. And to the extent you’re not doing that, you’re failing as a leader.

Dave mentions throughout the book that leaders should follow the “Golden Rule” and treat others as they would like to be treated. This is key to help leaders treat those they lead with dignity and respect.

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… it means you are more than a corporate bureaucrat who treats his people like units of production.

“Leadership” does not equal “management.” I just mentioned this idea in a recent post. You lead people, and to the extent you look at them as “units of production” you fail as a leader. This type of “leadership” doesn’t work as well as people think.

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Passion is so key in leading and creating excellence that I will hire passion over education or talent every time. I prefer to have both, but given a choice I will take passion. La Rochefoucauld once said, “The most untutored person with passion is more persuasive than the most eloquent without.”

Passion is so important to look for when hiring. Look for those who are passionate about your products and services. This also applies to those who are looking for work. If you can’t be passionate about who you work for, then you should start looking for another place to be.

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Big decisions should take big time and little decisions should be done instantly. The more money involved the more you should slow down. The more time involved as a result of the decision, the more you should slow down.

This is a good formula for figuring out the difference between big and small decisions.

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There was a line forming at my office to ask permission and direction on every single detail. This is a normal progression for the small-business person to grow past emotionally, but be quick to recognize this as a bad process and grow your people to make the call.

I was once part of an organization where the head of the unit pulled all his junior leaders (20-30 people) into his office every morning to tell them what their teams were going to do. What a complete waste of time and energy! Once you grow beyond 12 or so people, you have to start splitting things up. Start developing leaders NOW!

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Sometimes as organizations grow they get confused and stick by the letter of the law rather than the spirit of the law. People who never change the process, who worship process, are called bureaucrats. If your team can’t explain why you do something, you are filling your building full of bureaucrats and you have sown the beginning seeds of your destruction.

This is very wise … an important lesson.

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With social media like Facebook and Twitter you can ask your customers their opinion quickly, easily, and inexpensively.

The web can be the greatest and least expensive focus group you can use. Get feedback from real customers to learn how to improve products, or what new products might be needed.

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Have you ever sat down with a friend to discuss a problem and by the time you finish describing the problem you know the answer and don’t need his advice anymore? The reason is simple: when you force your thought process through another layer and verbalize your thoughts, you reach a higher level of understanding. This escalation of your thought process happens yet again when you write out your problem. Thoughts are one level, verbalization is another level, and by writing out a problem you have processed it once more.

Sometimes the best solutions come from just talking about it for a few minutes. I remember once I was writing code for a complicated web application and got stuck on this one part. I spend the better part of a week trying to work out the logic for this one piece of the process. I happened to be talking to my mom toward the end of that week, and, as sometimes happens, I started telling her about how work was going. I started to describe the project I was working on and how I was stuck on this one part. As I described the process to my non-nerd mom, the solution came to me. It was through the process of explaining a complex problem so it would be understood by someone outside that the solution came to me.

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People don’t want to be “marketed to,” they want to be “communicated with.” – Flint McLaughlin

“Markets are conversations.” Check out The Cluetrain Manifesto.

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… a guy who owns a heating and air company thought … he just did HVAC repair and replacement, but by flying over his “field” … he saw something new. He went home and changed his website to reflect the funnel. He first offered free downloadable reports on how to make your furnace, air-conditioning, and hot water heater last longer with some simple free maintenance tips. … He asked for an e-mail address to get the free reports and offered his e-mail newsletter to continue the free education. … Next down the funnel he offered a $59 HVAC tune-up, which included a fourteen-point checkup and cleaning to make the system run better … and make sure the unit is safe. Of course sometimes the tune-up led to the discovery that the system … would have to be replaced. So the funnel started with a free report and ended for some folks with a $3,500–$5,000 purchase. … He sent me a note to say that simply viewing his product offerings through the funnel had opened up a ton of new business for him.

The funnel approach is simply having some inexpensive or free and quick ways to interact with your company. The quicker and cheaper the product or service, the more people you will draw. This can be as simple as having lots of quality content that the customer can get for free on your website.

This is a great example of content marketing. Anyone can “Be That Expert.”

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We were there working hard, helping people, doing media all along. The national media just happened to notice and I wanted our team to understand that this particular event in our company wasn’t random. Instead it was more like we had worked our tails off for fifteen years and we were suddenly an overnight success.

There is rarely the real “overnight success.” Most of the people and brands that seemingly come from nowhere have been working hard for a long time before they got noticed by a larger audience. Hard work pays off and there are no real shortcuts.

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Companies whose stock is publicly traded often fall victim to worrying about Q1 profits so much that they lose focus on the future.

It’s sad to see companies sell their future for one quarter of numbers instead of looking to see where they will be (or want to be) in 5 or 10 years.

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Two years ago we alternated three different types of graphics on our website to sell live event tickets. The one that I hated sold the most. So we dropped the other two and went with what worked. So your ego and your best guess may be proven to be as pitiful as mine was.

A/B Testing – Do it! The “Conversion Scientist” says the same thing.

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Not only do I want to convince you that you as an EntreLeader are always selling, but I want you to convince your whole company that they are in sales. Customer service is sales, shipping is sales, production is sales, and quality control is sales. If the customer has a wonderful total experience they will remain a customer and send you more customers.

This is so true. Think about your team members driving around town with your logo on the truck. Everyone is involved in the sale!

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The trick in our business is to create such quality that we go viral with positive referrals in the community and on the Internet, creating instant rapport. And we must be very intentional about pushing referrals into the market as part of our sales plan. That can be as simple as asking for referrals.

This can also apply to asking satisfied customers to review your business online. A sticker on the door or a message on the register receipt might be enough of an ask.

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Once you have that connection you should do research on the person to learn additional points of common ground before you meet with them. Again, we are not trying to be manipulative; we’re trying to avoid major rapport mistakes by knowing who you are talking to. My personal assistant will have a bio on you on my desk before we talk on the phone or have a meeting. We do that so I do not say something offensive or stupid, not knowing any better. Do a little simple research and find out who you are meeting with before you enter a meeting.

This makes a lot of sense. I agree that it’s not good to do this as manipulation, but as a way to build bridges.

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In order to serve your customer with passion you have to know so much about the competitor that you know why you are better. You can point out the brand differentiation without trashing your competitor. I am sure you have noticed that it is hard for you to trust someone who is selling you by tearing down their competitor. Just point out the differences and why you believe you are a better choice. You cannot do that if you have not studied your competitor in detail, as if you were going to sell their product

This is very key. It’s like what Santa did in “Miracle on 34th Street.” If Macy’s didn’t have it, they referred customers someplace that did.

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It is really hard to imagine, but people actually think using a credit card to finance a business is smart. The person who thinks that is a very naive businessperson—basically, a gambler. Yet according to Businessweek 50 percent of small companies use credit cards, with 71 percent of them carrying balances. This extremely expensive form of debt is an indicator that the person running or opening the business isn’t putting much thought into the finances. They are under the illusion that they can outearn their stupidity.

I can speak from experience that this is true. I tried financing my first internet business with credit cards after reading an article in Entrepreneur Magazine telling how much it made sense. I finally paid off those credit card balances 7 years later. A very expensive lesson!

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Annual reviews are often the one time a person gets real feedback on their job and personal performance, and the time that a raise is given. At our place job and personal performance get continuous, almost weekly feedback, positive or negative. I do not wait a year to course-correct mistakes. Team members don’t need to wait a year to bring problems to leadership either; that is silly … We do not use the annual checkup as a job-performance discussion; I require my leaders to make that a fluid ongoing discussion.

Even if your company does do annual reviews, you shouldn’t wait a year to give feedback. Meet with your team members weekly. Let them know what’s going on and where they stand. Don’t wait until things become a huge problem before dealing with them.

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One of the hallmarks of winning companies is they are very intentional and effective at communication. As a matter of fact the EntreLeader’s goal should be to create a company culture of communication. Communication is the grease in the gears. You can have great gears in your company and it will still freeze up, grind to a halt, if you don’t put the grease of communication into the engine. When the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing, great frustration and distrust sets in.

The more you communicate the better. Even if something comes up you can’t talk about due to special circumstances, because you are open about everything you can be, people trust your judgement.

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Jacques Plante, Hall of Fame NHL goalie, said, “How would you like a job where every time you made a mistake a big red light goes on and eighteen thousand people boo?”

OK – big bonus points to Dave for having a Jacques Plante quote!

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… the EntreLeader values his team and never mistreats them, but I am discussing our legal obligation. We don’t have, nor will we have, a legal employment obligation arising from a contract. I don’t want someone to stay on my team because of their contractual obligation; this would mean they have no passion, have no creativity, and add a lousy element to our culture. Nor do I want to be forced to keep someone when it is time they leave.

This illustrates the difference between building a team and hiring a bunch of “employees.”

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Are they compensated like a valued partner or like a unit of production that can be tossed to the curb like last week’s garbage? If you have team members like I am describing and you make a net profit of $10 million this year, would you be okay with paying them $1 million? … Realize your team is your secret weapon. Bad companies become so worried about Q1 profit that they squeeze their secret weapon and kill the culture that brings profit. When in doubt, be generous. You will live with fewer regrets and you will profit more by attracting and keeping extremely talented and passionate people.

This is a question every business needs to ask itself. Of course shareholders deserve a return on the money they risk investing in your company’s, but are they more important than the people who make success happen day in and day out?

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EntreLeadership: 20 Years of Practical Business Wisdom from the Trenches (Amazon Affiliate Link) by Dave Ramsey. Great book filled with leadership and business knowledge. This book is ideal for anyone aspiring to leadership and those who run (or who are thinking they might one day run) a business.

Hiring Vets Makes Sense!

Those dozen or so regular visitors to The Crossing know that I believe veterans bring a great deal of practical experience to business. Not only do they bring valuable leadership experience to just about any business venture, those who worked in the intelligence field are especially suited for online marketing work.

Colonel (Ret.) David Sullivan recently wrote an article appearing on Forbes.com outlining some great reasons why former non-commissioned officers (NCOs) are likely better suited for business leadership roles than MBAs with no experience. Of course, I agree with his reasoning.

Those who served in our armed forces and rose to the ranks of the NCO Corps, regardless of service, had to earn their way to that level. They were mentored and taught from early in their careers not only how to do their own jobs, but the jobs of those who led them. This type of mentoring and success is critical in military life, but often missing in businesses. Because of this unique aspect of career development in the armed services, most former NCOs have a “can-do” attitude and look to mission completion as the ultimate goal. As Colonel Sullivan points out in his article, once they get going, former NCOs usually get things done before their boss even has a chance to tell them to go.

The Missing Element: Leadership
I’ve worked for and with some MBAs who were very good, and I’ve worked with some who were terrible. The issue I usually have with the terrible ones is that they have no experience or knowledge of how to lead people. This is a critical part of the success equation that seems to be lacking in MBA programs. Many people come out of their education with the idea that management and leadership are the same thing. Those people are the ones who look at the workforce as assets, or worse, as expensive liabilities. Those are the ones who demoralize and disenfranchise those who should be members of the their team. Again, not all those who graduate MBA programs are like this, but some are. Many MBA grads I’ve talked to admit they did not learn about how to be leaders in school, just the nuts and bolts of business. Those who were good leaders tended to be those who were mentored by another leader who demonstrated to them proper leadership and helped them to develop their own leadership styles after they graduation and actually got into the workforce.

I remember when I was out in the marketplace looking for new opportunities. I ran into more than one recruiter who told me I didn’t have enough leadership experience to fit some of the roles I looked into. I was quite surprised that they didn’t understand 10 years of experience as an NCO was more than enough experience to fit that organization’s need. While that frustrated me at the time, I’ve come to understand there is a gap in how we veterans communicate what we did so that the business world can understand. That’s something we in the vet community are working on correcting.

In the meantime: If you are looking for someone to fill a leadership role and a vet applies, please give them an interview. I’m not saying to automatically hire them. Just as I have worked with good and bad MBAs, I’ve also worked with good and bad NCOs. But, at least call them in and give them a chance. You will likely be pleasantly surprised at what that person brings to the table.

What say you? What do you think about Col. Sullivan’s piece in Forbes? Please feel free to share in the comments.