Saturday, May 31, 2008

The New Woman on the Block -- Or How to Fit In

As graduates are flooding the market and I am also training a new employee at work, I am reminded of Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz.

Dorothy had to learn how to follow the yellow brick road before she could get help from the wizard and learn how to return home to Kansas. She had to learn that things were different in the land of Oz and had to learn some accepted behaviors as well as learn about the value of friends and what friends could do for her. Before she was accepted by the Munchkins, as well as the people of Oz, she had to prove herself. She had to learn the proper way to travel down her yellow brick road before she could reach Oz. She also had to determine the use of her magic slippers, a tool she already possessed before she could reach her goal of returning to Kansas.

The Land of Oz was a new world for Dorothy. She was accustomed to Kansas where she fit in and where she was familiar with her surroundings. Beginning with Munchkin land, all along the road to Oz, Dorothy was continuously learning new things about her environment. By the time she left to return to Kansas, she had made friends and felt comfortable in Oz.

When students graduate from college and take that big first job (or anyone switching to new jobs), the new company can be like Oz. Like Dorothy when employees first enter the organization, new employees need to learn how to fit into a new environment. They may possess necessary skills to accomplish tasks and learn to fit in, but nobody is going to tell them unless they ask.

Like Dorothy, any new employee needs to learn what behavior is acceptable and decide whether to conform totally, conform somewhat, or rebel. New employees should determine for themselves what behavior is acceptable and how to fit into the organizational scheme. Employees will possess many motives behind their behavioral decisions. Some of their motives are based on their backgrounds, needs and aspirations, attitudes, characteristics and a host of other factors.

As employees join new organizations, they undergo a socialization process. Socialization is the process by which individuals learn and acquire the habits, beliefs, values, norms, and accumulated knowledge of the culture around them. This is a dynamic learning process in which individuals interacting in a specific culture or organization can be active participants. Some of the individual or personal factors which influence the socialization process may be psychological, motivational, or ability related. Pulling on the organizational side are structural or systemic factors (ie., interdependence of subsystems, hierarchical positions, organizational policies) as well as social factors (ie., group acceptance, organizational culture and social relationships). These various factors intermix and become instrumental in the socialization of new organizational members.

Socialization and learning to fit in to groups is critical for new employees because the way their careers are managed by organizations influence the quality of their life. Also as the success of companies become increasingly dependent on the commitment of members rather than on traditional control systems, this learning process becomes increasingly critical to companies. The stability and productivity of companies depends a lot on the way newcomers to positions come to carry out their tasks. The socialization or learning process has impact for the newcomer as well as for the organization.

If socialization is optimally performed, new employees will not become too conforming and maintain creativity. New employees can be valuable contributors through informal as well as formal means. Read the office policy manual. Listen to the grapevine. Go to lunch with other employees and listen, listen, listen. Ask questions. Get to know management. Who are the winners and who are the goats in the organization? Why? Where is the company succeeding? Where are they struggling? Where is the opportunity to shine and help out?

Formal (do start-ups have time for new employee orientation?) and informal socialization process are important in bringing new employees along the yellow brick road and to the land of Oz--a new world. Like Dorothy, new employees may possess their magic slippers, but they need to learn how to use these slippers in the specific environment.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Memorial Day

Originally, Memorial Day was declared a day to honor war veterans who bravely fought in the Civil War. After World War I, the day was expanded to honor those who have died in all American wars. In 1971, Congress declared Memorial Day a national holiday. The holiday was also placed on the last Monday in May, as were most other federal holidays.

The observance of Memorial Day likely had many origins. Many towns planned or had spontaneous gatherings of people to honor the war dead in the 1860's. Stories exist of different localities in the US creating a "Day of Remembrance" and honoring veterans. There is one story of a springtime tribute that first occurred in Columbus, Miss., on April 25, 1866. "A group of women visited a cemetery to decorate the graves of Confederate soldiers who had fallen in battle at Shiloh. Nearby were the graves of Union soldiers, neglected because they were the enemy. Disturbed at the sight of the bare graves, the women placed some of their flowers on those graves, as well." [US Department of Veteran Affairs]

Memorial Day is not about the division of the North and the South; it is not about being for or against a particular war. Memorial Day is about reconciliation and honoring those who died serving our country.

Traditional observances of Memorial day have diminished over the years. Many Americans have forgotten the meaning and traditions of Memorial Day. The graves of the fallen are often ignored or neglected. Some people think the day is for honoring any and all dead, and not just those fallen in service to our country.

As Memorial Day 2008 approaches, let us remember all those brave soldiers who have given their all for our country.

Thanks to the US Army Band for this moment of reflection.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Microsoft Yahoo -- the saga continues

"Microsoft is considering and has raised with Yahoo an alternative that would involve a transaction with Yahoo but not an acquisition of all of Yahoo," the statement said. "Microsoft is not proposing to make a new bid to acquire all of Yahoo at this time, but reserves the right to reconsider that alternative depending on future developments and discussions that may take place with Yahoo or discussions with shareholders of Yahoo or Microsoft or with other third parties."

As an interested observer, I bet Yahoo is trying to appease Carl Icahn and other shareholders.....It sure is interesting to watch.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Music History

I've been thinking lately about the history of music and how history in general is reflected in our music. According to Wikipedia"

"A culture's music is influenced by all other aspects of that culture, including social and economic organization and experience, climate, and access to technology. The emotions and ideas that music expresses, the situations in which music is played and listened to, and the attitudes toward music players and composers all vary between regions and periods. "Music history" is the distinct subfield of musicology and history which studies music (particularly western art music) from a chronological perspective."

I was thinking of my visit a few years ago to The Experience Music Project in Seattle. So much of our culture and history has been shared in music: Jazz and the blues, war time patriotic songs (or war-time protest songs), etc. "Where have all the flowers gone?" or "Born in the USA." When we look back at popular songs, what does that tell us about history?

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Yahoo in the news again

I knew the Yahoo saga wasn't over yet.

In a letter to Yahoo Chairman Roy Bostock, billionaire investor Carl Icahn said he had snapped up 59 million Yahoo shares, worth about $1.5 billion, and was seeking permission from the Securities and Exchange Commission to amass up to $2.5 billion worth of shares. His holdings constitute about 4.3% of the Sunnyvale, Calif., company's stock.

According to the LA Times he wrote:

"It is unconscionable that you have not allowed your shareholders to choose to accept an offer that represented a 72% premium over Yahoo's closing price of $19.18 on the day before the initial Microsoft offer," Icahn wrote. "I and many of your shareholders strongly believe that a combination between Yahoo and Microsoft would form a dynamic company and more importantly would be a force strong enough to compete with Google on the Internet."

The song and dance will be interesting to watch.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Mothers Day

Did you know there was a Working Mother's Day? September 5, 1982. I wasnt a working mother then, so I did not even know the day existed. Does anybody celebrate it now?

Since today is the traditional Mother's Day, I salute all Mothers -- whether they work outside the home or inside the home. They all have a tough load.

Proclamation 4957
by Ronald Reagan
Delivered on 4 August 1982.

By the President of the United States of America
A Proclamation

Over the past half century a great change has been taking place in the social and economic structure of the United States: mothers are joining the labor force in ever-increasing numbers. At the present time, over half of all the children in America have mothers who work outside the home.

Over forty-three million women are now employed in every area of public and private employment and are continuing to develop new opportunities. They have made, and continue to make, increasingly important contributions to the Nation.

Of these forty-three million working women, over eighteen million simultaneously perform the vitally important role of mother.

These women make substantial contributions both to the Nation's economic growth and to the increasing strength of the American family, often at great personal sacrifice. They deserve our recognition and gratitude.

Most other mothers are working full time in the home. Their work is no less important. The guidance they give their children and the maintenance of a strong and cohesive family unit also contribute to the Nation's economic growth.

By Senate Joint Resolution 53, the Congress of the United States has authorized and requested the President to designate September 5, 1982, as "Working Mothers' Day."

Now, Therefore, I, Ronald Reagan, President of the United States of America, do hereby proclaim September 5, 1982, as "Working Mothers' Day" and call upon families, individual citizens, labor and civic organizations, the media, and the business community to acknowledge the importance of the mothers who work inside or outside the home and to express appreciation for their role in American society.

In Witness Whereof, I have hereunto set my hand this 4th day of Aug, in the year of our Lord nineteen hundred and eightytwo, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and seventh.


[Filed with the Office of the Federal Register, 10:50 a.m., August 5, 1982]

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Rumormongering, Grapevine, Modern journalism and blogging

As I experiment with this blog, I am often reminded of papers I wrote in graduate school (too many years ago). I once wrote an in-depth research paper on the Grapevine. Now, blogging did not exist back then, and the internet was in its infancy. I would love to have done some of my research based on today's rumor and grapevine mechanisms -- Twitter, facebook, texting, IM, etc.

I currently know someone who works in a small start-up, where one would think there would not be too many communication issues. But, time and time again, the company hires remote employees, and formal and informal communications don't occur at frequent intervals. In the early stages, they sometimes developed patterns of only speaking via IM, even if the person was only a few offices away (or MILES away). Currently, they have many changes going on in the company and changes in product focus again. Yet, still people are seeking direction (uh, there are other issues here, but that is not the focus of this blog). Much of the communication is informal and often based on second-hand reporting or the grapevine.

Grapevines can provide a number of valuable services in the workplace. For management, they can provide feedback about almost anything going on. Roman empires used to send rumor wardens, called "delatores," out into the street to collect scuttlebutt because it was useful. For employees, the grapevine translates formal company orders into their own lingo, spreads information about job performance and employment opportunities and makes the workplace more close-knit and cohesive. In addition, it is a great source of entertainment, conferring special status on those who pick up on the juiciest nuggets.

To some extent, productivity in organizations depends on spontaneous cooperation and coordination through informal contacts and relationships. Also, the "informal" organization can make less tangible, but equally valuable contributions. Properly guided, it can help build teamwork, loyalty, and motivation that makes individuals desire to do their best. Have you had group Skype "chat" sessions?

Some managers use the grapevine as a tactical maneuver (a common device in collective bargaining). The grapevine is also a primary source of upward communication, especially information about what people are doing and how they feel toward certain situations. The grapevine brings both facts and feelings, rumor and truth, and it is the managers task to sort and interpret them. The grapevine is a useful emotional safety valve. When individuals get irked at their boss, they are NOT likely to tell him or her -- but they do need to tell someone in order to the the problem off their minds. They best not write it down in e-mails, but many will "text" it to others, or leave mood messages in their IM tools.

Grapevines and rumors thrive during periods of uncertainty and when formal communication is missing. Upper management has not announced my pending departure (nor the reasons), yet most people seem to know I am leaving and I am left to "explain" the "unexplainable nonsense." This is an example of how the absence of clear communication from management can leave employees with the need to explain the reasons themselves...

Managers can use these informal systems to their advantage if used correctly. I know a president of a company who developed informants in lower echelons. He knew he sometimes needed to ignore the lines on an organizational chart to develop relations and to help him view the organization as a whole. He also used these relationships to communicate "downward" informally. Although no executive can totally control the grapevine, he or she needs to think about how employees use the grapevine to fill information voids.

UPDATE: You might also want to read this later post of mine here.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Document Edits and Business Plans

One VC I know had a very funny post yesterday regarding Business Plans and editing. The Business Plan submitter didnt strip out the edits and comments. Its worth a read for a good laugh. My favorite part was the following:

"I'd delete this section since we don't have these features on the roadmap and haven't figured out how to code this unless you believe the investors won't catch this."

I've forgotten once myself to strip edits in a legal document. I only forgot once before I learned to always create PDF's for important documents.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Warner Music to Charge Variable Prices

I was reading one of Wired Magazine's Blog today. Warner is going to start a test that will alter the price of songs on some online music stores to reflect supply and demand. Sales data will be gathered real-time and set prices where consumer demand and market potential meet.

I know labels are tired of playing Steve Job's 99 cent pricing structure game and will try anything to try to squeeze money out of a dying market. Personally, if I know prices could go down, I am enough of a cheapskate that I'll try to guess when the price will be lowest. It will be interesting to see the results. Other companies have failed. How many people will wait to buy the music -- or just file share?

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Amazon Kindle and Digital Books

I logged in to Amazon today and the announcement on the main page is that Kindles have been tough to keep in stock. I know that people are not reading physical books as much any more. I myself have been reading more digital documents and articles, but less physical books. I signed up for some free e-books to be delivered via e-mail to read on my iphone, but I still didnt have time to read them. Digital books seem more appealing as we culturally switch to a digital age full of ipods, blackberries, and other digital PDA's.

Microsoft and Yahoo

Where will Yahoo's stock end up Monday now that Microsoft has dropped its bid for Yahoo? This poll came from Fred Wilson, A VC. If the deal had gone through, I can just imagine the culture clash.