A GenY Female on Zappos Versus Yahoo!

Recently Zappos was called out for “getting rid of all managers“. While this leads to some Aldous Huxley meets Ayn Rand type arguments about the structure of modern corporations, it drew attention away from a bigger discussion, the value of individual or the “results oriented” workplace.

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This means moving away from working in two-by-two cubicles while filling in our select tasks assigned by the manager, and towards a project oriented workplace, where groups can “touchdown” together for a meeting and then split to work separately, culpable for the tasks decided on by the group.

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Unless you suffered an internet outage last year, you know the corporate, Silicon Valley and feminist communities were up in a tizzy about Marissa Mayer’s ban on telecommuting. “We need to physically be together”, she said. She believes it’s the best way to communicate ideas and facilitate innovation. I agree.

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I’d like to address the telecommuting issue with a GenY female manager’s perspective. I know I also I’m come from a rare line of women: I’m the fourth generation of females in family to hold a white collar profession, mingling with lines of house cleaners and farmers. It was never a question would I work, would my work be a “career”, but only how disciplined I would be to go far.

“Don’t call me at work unless your bleeding, someone is dying, or you set the house on fire…again.”

This was my mother’s rule, and all four of us kids knew she meant it. My mother was from the eighties/early-nineties wave of working women who played by the same rules as the old boy’s club. They didn’t have expectations for maternity leave or special benefits. We supported Planned Parenthood and most of her blazer’s had shoulder pads, but that was the only signs my mother gave there was any gender differences…or anything to be proven.

My childhood memories include waiting in the parking lot of her corporate offices late at night as she worked for a promotion. “Telecommuting” in my house meant after dishes were done and four loads of laundry finished, my mother would lock herself in the downstairs office and work on another piece of ad copy. Sometimes, she’d have to run home on a lunch break and meet the cable/plumber/lawn worker. I have no doubt that balanced with the late nights and weekends she came into the office to “get things done” or maybe to getaway from the noise four active and “creative” children provided.

I work in a very different world than my mother. My current company is so much on the edge of technology I could work from Mount Kilimanjaro, if there was decent wifi. If it’s say -30 degrees below zero with the windchill, I could feasible curl up under fleecey blankets and never leave my home. I could go weeks without seeing a single soul…

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Except not really. Because I have worked in social media, I know so much more poignantly how important the face-to-face interactions are. The time to brainstorm, to let words fly across the air in conference room, grabbing a markers to draw over each others diagrams, and, most importantly, not having the inevitable awkward cat/dog/baby running across the background of someone’s Google hangout image. Talking a walk for coffee, running by someone’s cubicle to clarify an email, overhearing a conversation and jumping in, grabbing someone you forgot to include in a meeting – all this spontaneity and physical movement can only take place when we are invariable forced to be together.

CLEAR-1And yes, sometimes your manager just needs to come by your cubicle to check in on you. If we were all so self-disciplined, coaches, mentors, personal trainers, teachers, professors, all would cease to exist. So get over it, and get off Facebook.

Oh wait, that’s your job…

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9 First Lessons in Management and Other Business Arts

I have a degree in the “science” of business. I always confuse my “BS” with a “BA” because it seemed to contrast better with my chemistry minor, which was an attempt at a bachelors of science…in science. It also seemed more reminiscent of a sinophilic business major’s favorite: Sun Tzu’s The Art of War. Either way, $40+ a year for four years, (ok five), was supposed to have taught me something about business and management. A few years later, as a manager, I am finding out how very, very little I learned in those classes, and how very, very much business is an art.

I started two School of Life classes in leadership and management last year: Leading the DC social media club as a vice president, and managing one employee and two interns in marketing. Since this is my first year in the School of Life’s leadership and management courses, you may call this “Management Kindergarten”.

1. “Management’s job is to remove obstacles and provide resources.”
After dismissing my business degree, I had to start by quoting something I did learn at American University. This credo was so engrained in Kogodians, that after four years we would respond automatically on prompt.

2. “Surround yourself with people who know more than you.”
I will attribute this to an AU professor who is so well remembered, I need only to reference one punch line or outrageous phrase to conjure him up in my coeds’s minds. This doesn’t mean hire people smarter than you, but to hire or find the people in your company who are experts on the subjects you need. While you are looking at strategy and the bigger picture, experts will be essential in making each piece of the plan or company work the better than you could.

3. Find an amazing boss.
I’m not sure how Babe Ruth learned to play baseball, probably practice and being born talented, but I am fairly certain every great manager had one in their lives. There is no one better to learn from than a great example, and a great manager will invest in training you to make her job easier.

4. It is always your responsibility, because you are the one leading it.
I have in this past year done some ridiculously stupid tasks, been stressed to the brink and missed out on countless hours of reality television and Pinning while wondering “Why am I the one doing this?” As the things I did were completed, “shipped”, amazing, and exactly how I wanted, I realized this answer. Never begrudge your workload, but focus on making things happen.

5. “Kid, you gotta learn to delegate.”
This quote is from my mother, as I sat shotgun in her Surburban, her daily planner open on my lap, circling, highlighting and most likely complaining about how she’d just “delegated” washing the kitchen floor to me. While everything you need/want to do is your responsibility, the reason you have people working for you is you can’t ever possibly do everything there is to do. Learning what tasks you can hand off, how to politely task them away and how to leverage your coworkers talents is an art in management, and according to my mom, in parenting.

6. When it’s time, make the decision.
If you’re lucky enough to work with people who are amazing, everyone has an opinion. It’s an art to step back and let others have their say, then swiftly finalize decisions so a project can move forward. Your job as a manager is to make sure things get done, while leveraging expert input. Most of us actually want a leader who can make decisions for us, and people will respect a record of good decisions.

7. Know what you don’t know.
I am currently reading Buffet’s biography and eating helpings of humble pie. It is illuminating to realize the Midwestern temperament of humility can be a manager’s best quality. It makes you more likeable, it helps you identify your weaknesses, and it allows you to ask for help, which makes you a better worker and a better manager. (One thing I really don’t know is politics.)

8. Know how your coworkers take criticism.
Dale Carnegie famously said that “no one likes criticism”. Correcting people can be an essential part of management, but it’s a quick route to anger, resentment, tears, laziness and quitting. (I know because I’ve had all of those reactions.) Learning how different people react when you criticize them, and heaping compliments in with every correction, is the art in this essential management task.

9. Know what your coworkers want.
Delegating is more than just leveraging your subordinates time and talents; It’s about getting them to do things in a better way, the way you want, or inspiring them to find a better way themselves. In not just management, but every business negotiation every made, finding out what the other party wants is the best way to get what you want. Bribe, trade, promise, tempt or reward, but best of all, show them how doing the tasks you want will help them achieve their personal goals.

10. Chinese Business Bonus: In China, guanxi means somewhere between friend and business associate. The first step to creating guanxi with someone is asking or doing a favor. Each trade or favor builds a relationship which bonds you. Building these bonds with your coworkers or associates can last beyond the job, and create lifelong relationships which offer benefits for you both for years to come.

Gratis to Alan Berkson for needling me to post and one of my interns for asking me why I wasn’t blogging after recommending she start. This post was inspired by my 90 day feedback, a nice alternative from a review, which required me to stop, think and question what it is I’m doing, as well as a LinkedIn Article, “Use the Theory of Seven to Motivate Others“. After reading it, I reacted like a true business major: I thought I could do better.