Three Sad Letters You Should Stay Away From In The Workplace

Posted by amy.

Acronyms have created a new language, and we all speak that new language. Some letter phrases are so widely held that we use them in speaking. Phrases like LOL, FYI, BTW are second nature.

Others are not as widely used, like @TEOTD (At the End of the Day) or YKWYCD (You Know What You Can Do), but even those are creeping into the language.

Each one captures a sentiment in a few letters that are both direct and efficient. And somehow the group of letters doesn’t seem as bad as the hack-neyed buzzwords. Twitter and the constant barrage of instant messages have helped create the new language. It is ever expanding and here to stay AFAIK (As Far As I Know).

But there is one rarely used three­-letter designation that can kill a career. Sometimes it is not used explicitly but it is always there, lurking in conference rooms and project plans. The worst three letters in business that can be assigned to your name are: D N F.

DNF stands for DID NOT FINISH. Anyone who ever enters a race knows those three unfortunate letters. Whether the race is running, swimming, bike riding, or Formula One racing, it doesn’t matter. When the results are posted, DNF next to your name means you started something but didn’t finish.

And in a race, just like any project, one either finishes or does not. Swimming halfway across the English Channel doesn’t count as swimming across the English Channel. It means DNF, Did Not Finish.

At the office, the DNF letters may not be placed next to any name. But the label exists. The DNF label means you start things and that is as far as you got.

It means you are good at thinking but not at doing. It probably means no one wants to work with you and it could mean you will be out of a job. You may think others don’t notice or that it is NBD (No Big Deal). It is a big deal and should be avoided.

Don’t be caught in the DNF box. It’s more important to tackle projects that you know you can finish than it is to start huge projects that everyone knows will never be completed. The BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal) can be tempting but don’t make the goal so hairy that it will never be achieved.

Sometimes you don’t have a choice of assignments but always avoid the dreaded DNF label. Crossing the finish line is a very good feeling.

GFN (Gone for Now).

The Thing About Work

Posted by amy.

Photo by on Unsplash

Lots of other phrases circulate through a workplace but most are not suitable for print. With so much going on in the workplace, why does the inability to get things done generate so much creativity in the catchphrase department? The answer is simple: FRUSTRATION. Nothing will make a team or an individual more frustrated than the sense of working on something that will never get implemented, that nothing will ever change.

Execution of a plan is the most difficult activity of any organization. Strategies and plans can be copied. Who cares? Effective implementation is the secret sauce in any organization, and requires discipline and hard deci-sions. It is so difficult because it requires changing behaviors, which most people don’t want to do. It requires changing out people­ — and it depends on which side of that change you are on, but most people don’t want to see change in this regard. It requires making difficult decisions that are by their nature tough to make. Implementation requires courage, which can be hard to come by in some leadership ranks.

Strategies are necessary. Plans are required. Goal setting is critical. Lists of things to do are important and necessary. But the success of any individual or organization is measured in what has been accomplished, not in what was planned.

I do know that where there is effective implementation, phrases are not necessary because results don’t require phrases. And people generally like their jobs more.

Be alert to the phrase du jour at work, it may tell you more than you think.

Twins of Different Mothers? College Presidents and Venture Capitalists

Posted by amy.

Photo Credit: Warren Photographic

Venture capitalists and college presidents are two groups that, at first blush, do not have anything in common. The VCs are all about deals and money and entrepreneurs. College presidents might say they are all about feasting on the fruits of knowledge and drinking from the fountain of wisdom while raising money from rich alumni. Hold on, they might have more in common than you think.

As a member of the small fraternity with tenure in both roles, I am here to report that there are similarities. There aren’t very many members in each group. And depending on the day, both can be seen as equally unpopular.

Descriptions of venture capitalists can include comparisons to animals and body parts. Description of college presidents are only slightly more favorable and may include the words “out of touch”, wimpy or lousy leaders.

Of course, there are positive descriptors for both too. VCs can be described as the people who see and invest in the future. College presidents shape the leaders and citizens of the future. Both can sit in a lofty perch that can wield real influence.

There are more substantive ways in which VCs and college presidents share a similar perspective on life. These two seemingly disparate professions are both critical to the future and not only do they have traits in common when they work together good things happen.

Take the emergence of MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses). The concept began with academics and was quickly embraced and expanded upon by venture capitalists resulting in new companies and free online courses offered around the world.

Other partnerships between VCs and universities include Stanford University and StartX, the University of California and UC Ventures and MIT and the E14 Fund. This is just the beginning. For the benefit of innovation and education, let’s acknowledge the similarities between VCs and college presidents. Here are just a few…

1.) Both must rely on pattern recognition in considering possibilities. Does the entrepreneur show something that signals future success? Did the basketball coach have an overall winning record before? When making decisions about the future, the data is often incomplete. As both VCs and presidents may comment, “It has never been done before.” To create the future both must rely on instincts and judgment, sometimes against the grain.

2. Both must follow investments closely. The model is not to spend some money and hope it works. The model is to allocate resources and then make sure something good comes out the other end. The “end” may be five or ten years in the future and the need to follow never ends.

3. Both need ideas, the more the better. It’s better to consider ten ideas in the hopes that one might be worth the investment, whether it’s a new technology or a new academic program. When the deal flow or the demands on a college budget dry up it’s a warning sign that the ideas aren’t coming.

4.) Both need to be smart about lots of things. Investment considerations can run from autism analysis to video games. Academic decisions can run from athletics to zoology. Renaissance type people are required. It’s not a matter of SAT scores, it’s a matter of being intellectually curious and well-read.

5.) Both can see the future. The VC sees through entrepreneurs and technologies. The college president sees the future through the students and institutional research. Both need to view the future world with optimism.

6.) Both need to show a return on investment. The capital required to be successful in both roles is immense. An ROI needs to be shown for the fund or the college to survive. Both pay a lot of attention to this metric. A lack of an ROI could be a career-shortening event.

7.) Both can benefit disproportionately from a big win. Win an NCAA title and the entire institution will benefit in fund raising, enrollment and branding. See Duke or Gonzaga. Make a tremendous investment and you have the Midas Touch and the fund’s reputation is set for ever. See Google or Twitter and Sequoia and Accel Partners.

8.) Both have many constituents to please. For the VC the list includes investors, partners, entrepreneurs, other investors and the entire tech world. For presidents, the list includes alumni, faculty, students, and the local residents to name a few. Oh, and then there is the family.

9.) Both will sometimes make decisions that don’t make sense. A VC might make the decision to invest in cold fusion, a technology that has never been proven. A college president may decide to build a new sports center in the midst of budget cuts. Only time will tell if the decision makes sense.

10.) Both must rely on the success of teams. Any VC will report that the entrepreneurial team is more important than the technology. Any college president will say that without a great team, success will be elusive. Creating teams is the critical part of each job.

11.) Both have limited resources to spread around. Even the big venture funds are not limitless and monies must be set aside for future investments. No college president has enough money to keep everyone happy. At a time when big funds are being created and tuition is high, both need to overcome the perception of having unlimited resources at hand.

12.) Both must rely on funding sources. Both are always raising money. The well of money always needs to be refreshed in the venture world or in higher education. Effective leaders in both are always raising money.

Good leadership requires so many special traits. Key among them is a unique blend of judgment, risk-taking and keeping lots of people happy. VCs and college presidents are related like twins of different mothers in these unique traits. Both groups are trying to make the world a little better.