Friday, September 25, 2009

Incubator Syndrome

I was reading a blog entry on incubators, and the author advised prospective clients to watch out for incubator syndrome: "in which the entrepreneur allows their initiative and judgment to be replaced by those of the consultants in the center." I had never heard this term used, but a quick Google search showed others have referred to the same.

If you are starting a business, and the incubator manager says he has started multiple businesses, and met with many companies, and here is what you need to do, you might well decide to follow me, rather than your vision.

And that would be bad.

But is it a 'syndrome'? I am no more easily able to manipulate your initiative than any other person you might depend on for advice.

It is true that I have to be careful to acknowledge that what advice I provide is just that - advice. My confidence of how you need to sell or market your product, while based in experience, is not the 'truth'.

What is more important than worrying about whether you will fall susceptible to the incubator manager's beguiling, is whether you really are making good decisions based on the advice you receive, and what your action will be. If you refuse to listen to advice and want to go it your own way, then why come into the incubator in the first place? Get clear in your mind what you want to do to be successful and then pursue that.

Most incubator managers are there to help you, not manipulate you into their vision of your company.

Of course, when I heard the use of the word 'syndrome' - i was reminded of the SNL skit "The Pepsi Syndrome"! I assure you, incubators are not like the nuclear power plants of the skit.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Fighting Adversity with Indifference

Chris Guillebeau in his latest post discusses what happens when he misses a goal he's set for himself:

1. Acknowledge disappointment: don't hide it away.
2. Revert to backups if possible: accept a secondary or partial goal.
3. Compare to other goals at the end of the year (and reevaluate for next year): if you did not achieve the goal, maybe others got in the way, or were more important.

Let's apply his response to our situation. As entrepreneurs, we are confronted with (the possibility) of failure every day. A sale could fall through, a product has a tough bug or problem with it, an employee - or yourself - can fail to get something done that needed to be done.

1. Acknowledge disappointment: let others know it happened - the telling gets it outside of ourselves
2. Revert to backups if possible: accept a secondary or partial goal - you did have an alternate or backup to whatever the goal was, didn't you?
3. Compare to other goals at the end of the year (and reevaluate for next year): if many things went right, and a couple went wrong, take it as a win and move on. Or decide on whether the goal is a valid one or not.

Try to follow the maxim: "Fight Adversity with Indifference". Act as though the setback has been expected, and that you have a response to it. It is not that you don't care about the missed goal - but that you are focused on the consequence, not the event itself.

An advantage of following the maxim also is that when you are setting the goal, you set the expectation as to what you will do if it is not handled. "We are going to sell product X to Company Z in 3 months" - well, what are you going to do if that does not happen?

Too often an entrepreneur says "well, we were supposed to get the sale last month, but didn't so now we don't know how to recover from it".

Instead, set goals in a matrix of what the different outcomes may be, and the resulting responses to them. It will keep you ready for when things do go wrong, and responsive when an alternative presents itself.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Evaluating your Staff

It is time for our bi-yearly performance reviews here at the tech center. Most people dread the entire process of performance reviews, and some entrepreneurs have been motivated to start their own business after receiving a review that seemed to ignore all they did the last year!

Once you start your own business and have your own staff, it is easy to decide that your company is not going to do the same tired performance review. But all to0 soon, it seems as though the HR blanket falls over the company and you are filling in forms that say "Performs duties as necessary" with a five point bubble scale.

It is understandable to want to avoid the above, and you are so busy doing other things - how are you going to review your employees? Nevertheless, this does not absolve your responsibility to evaluate the employees you have working for you!

One way I like to get my hands around an issue is to create a framework across two parameters and use that to categorize. You could consider your employees according to there Usefulness/Critical skills for the organization, and whether they are likeable/good to have around. (You may have other more important criteria).

Setting these two parameters into a quadrant layout gives us the following:This gives us four categories of employees. Then work out what you want to do for each category:
  • An employee you want to keep, but is not doing a critical or very important role, you need to get them into something more useful (whether by training, promoting).
  • The difficult employee performing a critical task needs to be handled carefully until you have the chance to brings someone else into that role or at the very least, be a backup. Then you can try to change whatever it is that makes them difficult.
  • The want to keep/critical employee may not need any more than just taking care of them and being sure that what they need to do their job is gotten them.
  • The difficult/non-critical employee needs to be moved out; you don't have the time to deal with that type of employee.
Generally, you want to move employees up and to the right, that is, someone you want to keep and someone doing something important. Those in the 'want to keep' and 'less critical' roles can serve as your 'bench' for future moves into important spots. Those in the difficult and critical you might have to keep because of skills or particular need, but you are always looking for someone who can better do the work.

Again, each of these are merely types, not particular people. By using a typology though, you can look over your 5, 10 or even 20 employees and quickly sort them into categories, then come up with reasonable responses for each.

If you have an employee you can't categorize, put him or her on your list to watch a bit more closely.

The reason I like this typology is that most employees already think of the other employees as 'nice or not' and 'good worker or not' - so it gives you a rough method to start thinking proactively about your employees and where they are going in their careers at your company. Which is something you as the owner should have at hand anyway!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009


Labor Day represents the end of Summer for most of us. Even though the local schools have been going since mid-August, and Fall seems a way off, Labor Day weekend ends Summer.

But in ending Summer, it also kicks off the next few months until the holidays start up again with Thanksgiving. Now is a great time to rally the team, get them re focused on business priorities and even enthused about what is coming.

Take a bit of time over the next few weeks to reconnect with each employee or report one-on-one. Does she know what is the most important thing that has to be done? Does he know what goals you have set for the next quarter?

Likewise, take a bit of time and be sure you know what your goals are for the next quarter - and what is the most important thing you need to get done.

Put away the beach clothes and let's get back to work!