A little story about "A" players

'A' Players

No doubt you want your startup to be filled with ‘A player’ hackers and hustlers.

This is the common reason why we people talk up the importance of so called A players:

A Players attract A Players


B Players attract C players.

Personally, I think we are all A,B and C players. What determines our quality of play is the culture we are immersed in. The people we are around, the tasks we are asked to do, whether this is the right industry or project for us, and maybe even the playing habits of those in charge.

I strongly believe A, B and C players are a function of the environment, not the person. We’ve all had periods and places where we’ve excelled and others where we have been the weak link. So in real terms, our job in any organisation should be about creating a culture where A players happen to emerge.

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Don't create what you ran away from

I’m betting that everyone reading this blog, either works in a business they helped build, or is planning to escape their corporate cubicle some time real soon. And the people who are planning exit from the big nasty industrial conglomerate they work for, are planning, most often – build a corporation. (Sounds a lot uglier than the word ‘startup’ – doesn’t it?)

Ok, so the irony is clear.

But the way to overcome the irony is to remember why we left our job / company in the first instance. It probably wasn’t because we weren’t earning a decent income. It probably wasn’t because our standard of living was too low. It probably wasn’t because working conditions were unsafe. No, it was about the culture, the excessive administration, the frustrations, the lack of creative input and the dehumanising elements which so often ensconce a large corporate environment. And so here’s what we need to remember:

If we succeed in building our own version of a ‘corporation’ people like us will someday come and work inside it. They too have the same desires and requirements in order to enjoy their work day. They too, will hope to leave someday and make their own version of a corporation. Given all of this, it’s best we remember not to create the thing we ran away from.


Startup Honesty

Old school, and still cool, business coach Brain Tracy has an important question we should ask ourselves:

“What type of company, would my company be, if everyone in it, were just like me?”

Now, on the face of it it seems like a simple prose. How hard do we work, what kind of effort do we put in, how do we treat people and would we like others to behave the way we do. Honest answers to this question can be revealing. And it’s a damn good question to ask ourselves frequently.

But it goes one layer deeper. When we bring in new people to our startup, do we really need more people like ourselves? Do we really want another person who thinks like we do, acts like we do, has the same skills that we do and approaches things in the same manner? Or do we really need someone who is juxtaposed to ourselves?

The real challenge here is knowing where the similarities and differences are needed. And while that is a decision that only the startup founder can decide here’s a nice starting point: Alignment of philosophy and attitude is far more important than that of capability and aptitude.


The successful company lie

When anyone is looking for a new job, the company they worked for starts to matter more than ever. Society seems to have a default position to want to employ people who come from big name companies. When assessing potential employees the first thing we look at is where they have worked before. The thinking being that if they have worked for a successful company, then they are part of that success. A contributor, someone who knows how to win, someone who has already been vetted, if you will. But what if the opposite of that was true?

What if this employee from the successful company was hiding inside the deep and wide corporate infrastructure?

What is this employee was riding the wave of the hard work already done by those who came before them?

What if they were claiming the work of projects with a zillion participants?

What if they were better at internal company politics, than actually creating any true market value?

What if they never had the freedom of independent decisions and never actually did anything, and but worse, never made any mistakes either?

When we start to ask some of the question above (and there are many more) we start to see how flawed the ‘successful company mantra’ is. In real terms they’re the easiest place to ride career coat tails. Maybe we should instead be looking for people who’ve worked at crappy companies with poor reputations. Those struggling to stay alive, the fringe dwellers, or even those that failed. The irony is not lost on me that startup land reveres and respects failure, as a key learning mechanism, yet recruiters only ever what to employ people who came from a stable of success.

We need to think back to some of the best lessons we’ve had in our lives. Forget the corporate crap for a second and just consider the art of learning. We’ll find that mistakes are key. That when the scars run deep so do the lessons. When things go very wrong, we vow never to do it again and have the personal experience to know when to change course. We know the warning signs and what to look for. We spot the problems much quicker. Surely the same is true for where we work. We’ve all had superiors who just don’t get it. Bad bosses who taught us more about leadership than the good folk we worked for. And we’ve all seen ‘what not to do’ by working somewhere that consistently stuffs things up.

Success breads success? Well I’ve worked in some of the worlds most successful companies, I can tell you that they are often still filled with chickens, they are never an eagles only zone. Mind you, with size everything mathematically gravitates towards average – eventually. It’s a physical fact. So the larger the organisation, by definition the larger number of average employees it has. The real question isn’t if large company X has a better calibre employee than small company Y, the real question is what filter bubbles are we letting hide great people from us?


Investing in staff

I was recently speaking with someone about training staff, and the benefits of really investing in our people. To which he replied:

‘What if I train them and they leave?’

I said:
‘What if you don’t, and they stay?’


Have a drink on me!

I was at lunch today and got to talking to the owner of this restaurant seen below:

He mentioned that looking after regulars was important to generate return custom. One of his tricks was to provide a free glass or bottle of wine at the end of a meal. He empowered his staff to do the same. He said as reward and ‘thank you’ tell said customers this:

‘That last bottle / glass of wine is on the house!’

Problem was that some of his staff got the language ever so slightly wrong. Instead they would often say:

‘The next bottle / glass of wine is on the house!’

As you can imagine this changes their view on what to order (Hint: it comes from the top shelf). Instead of where they would normally focus their purchase. The strange thing is that the benefit to the consumer is essentially the same:

A free drink you didn’t expect to pay for.

The problem with getting it wrong is a cost to the business that could be many times higher.

Startup blog lesson: Our words to our audience matter. Small changes can have a huge impact.


The authentic phone message challenge

I’ll start by saying the concept of getting customers to “hold” on a telephone is a pretty bad idea. Then I’ll tell this story….

Today I was on hold for Optus telecommunications, which gave me a reasonably standard phone message:

“Your call is important to us. At this time we experiencing high demand for our telephone support staff, and we’ll be with you as quickly as we can. Please hold the line for the first available operator.”

Here’s what I seriously would prefer to hear:

“We’ve made a deliberate choice to only have X number of people to answer our phones. They are incredibly expensive and having any more than this would impact our profit too much. We’ve done studies which have worked out the number of people that hang up for waiting too long, and how much revenue the average phone call generates or loses for us. The number of people employed to answer our phones is just about optimal. We check this every few months. The average wait is about 5 minutes, so it’s a cool idea to put the phone on load speaker while you wait. Then you can do other stuff. If we answer and you’re not at the phone immediately, we’ll do you the the same favour of waiting a bit while you run to the phone to talk to us once we actually answer. We hope you appreciate our honesty. We reckon it’s better than giving you a load of shit that tells you how important you are. Cheers.

And so the challenge goes out to any startup or business is prepared to develop the worlds first authentic phone message be sure to let us know here at Startup blog so we can spread the awesomeness.

There’ll also be a prize for the best comment with a phone number to a company that has a message of this ilk – and the prize is $100 Amazon gift voucher.