What I read in May

My reading slowed a bit in May as I hired a business coach to help me with some changes in the business. It’s something I hope to write more about at a future time, but it required a lot of my time and attention, so reading decreased a bit. But learning did not. I was learning by reading a lot of their resources, working through video-based training and interacting with my coach on weekly calls.

Still, there was time for reading. Here are the highlights of what I finished in May, 2020:

Who – The A Method for Hiring

Most business leaders and entrepreneurs have run across the famous concept popularized by Jim Collins in his seminal book, Good to Great: “First who, then what.” The idea is that those who build great organizations focus first on getting the right people on the bus and in the right seats before they figure out where they’re driving the bus. But most don’t know how to do this. They follow what Geoff Smart calls some method “of voodoo hiring” like scanning a resume, conducting a short interview, calling a couple of references and going with a gut instinct. Smart instead gives a system for hiring that involves a scorecard rather than job description and a series of interviews designed to determine if the candidate is a fit for the mission, has the competencies to do the job and can achieve the agreed upon objectives. The ultimate goal is to hire A Players – to get the who decisions right. I’ve started implementing some of these concepts in my business and, if you don’t have a hiring system, you should, too.

VC – An American History

One of my businesses is owned by a private equity company, which is not exactly the same as venture capital, but in the same vein. So I was interested in this history of venture capital in America. It started long before California became a state and has been tied to the entrepreneurial story of America since its founding. Wherever there has been the promise of out-sized returns at great risk, financial intermediaries (venture capitalists) have arisen to mitigate that risk. It started with whaling industry and was made famous by the Silicon Valley firms that invested in the tech giants Amazon, Apple, Google, Facebook, Uber, etc. etc. In between those two points in history is a fascinating story where the industry was kept alive first by wealthy families, military investment and universities. I was especially interested in his take on where the industry goes in the future. Nicholas mentions the innovative approach of Andreessen Horowitz to offer its portfolio companies a slate of services (HR, marketing, etc.) in addition to investment. Nicholas sees that as a sign of the industry returning to a long-term focus of building companies for public markets rather than short-term returns. Time will tell if that approach wins out, but what’s not debatable is that venture capital will continue to be part of America’s story.

Free Prize Inside!

The only way to win in business is to become remarkable. That was the message of Purple Cow. But how do you make a purple cow? That’s what this short book is about. In fact, that’s what the subtitle says. According to Seth Godin, he had to write this follow-up because business was all wrong in how they were going about their search for a purple cow. They were seeking the big. Big innovations. Big marketing campaigns. But a Purple Cow is much more likely to be a small, soft innovation that customers love – a Free Prize inside their offering. Writes Godin, “Most free prizes have two essential elements in common. First, they are the thing about your service, your product or your organization that’s worth remarking on. Something worth seeking out and buying…Second, most free prizes are not about what the person needs. Instead, they satisfy our wants. They are fashionable or fun or surprising or delightful or sad. They rarely deliver more of what we were buying in the first place.”

One of the most obvious free prizes is customer experience. It’s not more of the product or service. It’s something unexpected during the delivery of the product or service. Something that’s worth remarking on. And late in the book, Godin gives a fitting example. He tells the story of his interaction with Jose who worked in a taco shop in the Denver airport. What was remarkable about this interaction? Jose chatted with Godin for an extra minute while he ordered, got him a special condiment from the back. Later, he asked Godin how his meal was. In other words, Godin had a great experience with Jose. And as he points out, the cost of that experience was zero, but the value to Godin was “enormous.” Your customer experience can be a free prize for your guests. It can cost you nothing while delivering enormous value.

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team

Great teamwork is the exception and that exception almost always means that a team has overcome five specific things that cause all teams to misfire. Patrick Lencioni has identified those five dysfunctions in this fantastic little book. I’m a huge fan of Lencioni. The first two-thirds of almost all of his books are a fictional account that makes his point followed by a non-fictional explanation of that point. I’d read the non-fictional third of this book many times, but never the fable that comes before it. I think both are his best work. Here’s a quick listing of the five dysfunctions (as I plan to write more about this book later):

  1. Absence of Trust: The fear of vulnerability prevents the building of trust within the team.
  2. Fear of Conflict: The desire to preserve artificial harmony stifles the occurrence of productive conflict.
  3. Lack of Commitment: The lack of clarity or buy-in prevents making decisions the team will stick to.
  4. Avoidance of Accountability: The need to avoid discomfort prevents team members from holding one another accountable.
  5. Inattention to Results: The pursuit of individual goals and personal status erodes the focus on collective success.

I recently listened to Overcoming the Five Dysfunctions of a Team, which Lencioni calls the field guide for implementing this book. I can’t recommend both highly enough to anyone managing a team.

More

I read The Vision-Driven Leader by Michael Hyatt, which would be a great book for someone looking to establish an organizational vision for the first time. Also read Visioneering by Andy Stanley, which I blogged about here.

What should I read next? Leave a comment below if you have a recommendation.

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