“Coaching members out.” I heard this phrase a few months ago as a euphemism for firing or terminating. I thought it was a good way of sharing how leadership and managers ensure smooth transitions out of a company, beyond just “getting rid of an employee”.
Then, I heard a twist to the phrase – “coaching themselves out”. In this case, it’s the member of an organization who is removing him/ herself by subtle environmental/ cultural cues. This doesn’t necessarily mean a company is ostracizing a team member, or otherwise explicitly motivating a team member to leave. That’s bad.
I heard this phrase from a company who was recently voted as one of the best companies to work for. Folks here coach themselves out because they feel they are the “wrong fit”. Their values, ambitions, and the like do not align with that of the company’s.
The company is enthusiastic about living out the mission and values. Here, team members are encouraged to speak up to other team members when they are not living up to the mission and values.
Being so vocal and explicit about mission and values entrenches folks who believe and follow the prerogative. On the other hand, such explicit faith means those who do not align eventually leave on their own accord. Culture begets culture.

There’s a Greek parable I heard recently from a VP of Sales about the Hedgehog Concept. The parable goes, “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.”

In essence, the fox uses his cunning to pounce, sneak upon, play, etc. to attack the hedgehog. However, the hedgehog needs only do one thing and do it well – defend itself. Against the cunning fox, the hedgehog simply rolls into a ball with its spines pointed outward in all directions.
Jim Collins, author of From Good to Great, took the parable and related it to organizations. He suggests companies should find the one thing they’re good at to beat competitors. There are three factors to consider what a company is good — illustrated below.
Copyright © 2001 Jim Collins. Originally published in the book “Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap… And Others Don’t.” Image source: https://www.mindtools.com/media/Diagrams/Hedgehog-Concept.jpg 
The VP of Sales I spoke with goes on to share how his sales organization must also be the fox. I couldn’t agree more in today’s age where companies are rising from every corner of the internet. In fact, Chief Martec posted last year its annual Marketing Technology Landscape. They mapped almost 4,900 companies. This is a significantgrowth from the 2012 landscape of roughly 150 companies.
Chief Marketing Technologist Blog, May 2017. Image source: https://cdn.chiefmartec.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/marketing_technology_landscape_2017_thumb.jpg
The environment for startups is both exciting as well as daunting. Great startups must do one thing well to survive. Really, they must do one thing well to earn customers. But as they compete against the budgets of their much larger counterparts, startups must also be cunning and use their agility to outmaneuver larger companies.
To that point, people must also think about their own abilities as a hedgehog and as a fox. How are folks surviving and growing beyond themselves and their counterparts?
Consider your now… like a hedgehog, what is the one thing you are truly great at? How are you (or can you be) cunning like a fox?

I get a lot of folks asking me about joining a startup. Most have spent many years in the large corporate world. They start off by asking for recommendations of startups nearby and contacts I know. They think they know what they’re looking for. At least, they know what they are looking for right now. Rarely do folks take a hard look at what they want to achieve longer term. Then, how do they figure how a potential move now fits into the longer goal(s).
Before I go name-dropping startups, I always ask folks to think about the larger picture. There’s a lot of attention to startups because of the glitz and glamour media portrays. But there are big companies that can offer the right opportunities many startups can’t. It’s best to start with what your vision is – what drives you. Cue: Simon Sinek’s Start With Why.
Then, there are other elements oftentimes overlooked when considering startups…
  • The stage of the startup can influence the roles available. Generally, company growth can be split into a handful of stages — early, growth, and maturity. Early-stage companies are still figuring out product-market fit. They can change direction very quickly. Growth-stage companies are starting to optimize for scale. Here, roles are less “wear many hats” and more “this particular hat”. Mature companies go even finer with roles (sub-functions). As a prospect considers a role at a company, s/he needs to realize the agility that may be required. After all, most folks who ask about startups mention their interest to do many things.
  • How much funding has been raised — number of raises, how much, how many investors. Investors are pouring money into some companies to get in on potentially lucrative gains. Venture capitalists (VCs) are hoping to make up for that one big win in 20 companies invested to cover the fund and make significant returns. The more money, the more rounds of raise, the more investors mean the more pressure and expectations there are for timely returns. This pressure is put onto the executive team which will continue to flow down to every position of the company.
  • … about money raised, think about what the goal of the company and its shareholders may be. Is the goal to create a company that lasts and stays private (rare in the tech startup world)? Have a liquidation event (most common desired state, i.e. acquired by another firm)? Go public via an IPO? Whatever the strategy of the company is in funding, consider what the possible outcomes may be 2, 3, 5, or even 10 years down the road.
  • Again, what are you really after? Clayton Christensen, author of How Will You Measure Your Life, developed the Jobs-To-Be-Done Framework. He posits that everything we do or have has some purpose in life… a “job to be done”. In this way, what is the job the literal “job” should provide? Is it just money? Is it some fulfillment? Is it a place to meet friends? A startup is a company that provides goods or services to drive shareholder value. A corporation is no different – they’re all companies. How one startup executes its vision can be different from any other startup. This applies to large corporations as well. Thus, maybe what one is looking for is less about “startup” or size of company as much as it is purpose and vision or role.

Think about it. What’s your vision for yourself? How does your right-now fit into that vision? What does a startup offer that a large corporation may not? Or vice verse.

I’ve always been a Microsoft fan even with their Vista debacle. It’s been sad to see for many years Microsoft lose its position as a dominant company losing market share for… complacency.
But, I’ve been impressed the last several years as Microsoft has re-emerged as an innovative company. So innovative that several developers and engineers I know have shifted from Apple’s ecosystem to Microsoft’s recently. Microsoft’s re-emergence from several lackluster years have been spearheaded by Satya Nadella, Microsoft’s 3rd CEO who took the reins of the Redmond corp in February 2014.
I recently read Satya’s book Hit Refresh to learn about the CEO and hear how he has steered Microsoft’s ship into a bright future. Again, I’ve been impressed with the corporation’s recent changes going against its long-gone dogmatic approach from software licensing to hardware.
The book is a deep dive into how Satya views Microsoft’s role in the world. This book was written just several years into his tenure. He shares how most CEO leadership books are written after their tenures, but Satya wanted to be open to his company’s employees and shareholders during the process. As the book implies, the approach is welcome and “refreshing”.
A few take-aways:
  • Satya is very open in the book about his family, and how his family has influenced how he envisions Microsoft’s purpose in the world – its WHY as Simon Sinek would put it. He opens up about the impact of his son, Zain, who is severely disabled. At one of his son’s appointments, Satya describes being in wonder of how Microsoft products were used everywhere in the hospital. It was at that moment he realized the importance and impact his company has in the world helping others.
  • One of the first tasks Satya did when he took over the helm as CEO was to re-engage people. He reached out and spoke to as many Microsoft employees as possible and Microsoft’s partners and customers. If you hadn’t guessed by now, culture is so important to the Microsoft CEO.
  • I believe one of the greatest results of Satya’s work and connection to his employees has been building adaptability and agility to the organization. For many years, Microsoft laid stagnant in innovation choosing to stick to its licensing deals and keeping its products away from other ecosystems. Satya saw the larger opportunity with the cloud and changed the company’s many product roadmaps – shifting to subscription-based programs, focus on enabling others with its software no matter the platform (i.e. building new partnerships with Apple, its fiercest competitor).
  • Satya’s bet on the future is largely in three areas: mixed reality, artificial intelligence, and quantum computing. The latter, I still don’t understand. Satya has certainly invested more and more resources into these areas – seeing firsthand the implications of not being a leader in mobile when Apple and Google did. Now, he’s pursuing leadership.

This is not a traditional “self-improvement” book I’ve enjoyed in the past. Instead, this book helps highlight a now-CEO. All this being good fodder for me to continually think about as I continue to lead my company.