Accountability is What Matters Most

Every executive (startup or otherwise) needs to be accountable to the rest of the leadership team and the company’s board.  This is pretty obvious.  It is perhaps even more critical at startups compared to larger companies as larger companies typically have more executives who can mitigate the negative impact of one under-performer.

In my experience, lack of willingness to be accountable is one of the leading “business” reasons for executives resigning or getting fired.  I write “business” reasons to set them apart from non-work related matters.  Here are some red flags for non-accountability:

  1. Failure to communicate in terms that are clear and concise. This might be a sign of communication inability or just dancing around lack of good results.
  2. Failure to give explanations that make business sense. I have seen this from engineering heads, for example.  Even for complex engineering problems the head of engineering needs to be able to explain to the rest of the team what those problems are and how they are being solved.
  3. Failure of a sales executive to talk actual numbers ALL the time. This is a big one.  To have any credibility, the head of sales must be crazily numbers focused. Building customer relationships only goes so far – getting orders is what counts ultimately.
  4. Hearing “almost done” too many times.  Almost done = not done.
  5. Inability to deliver simple things to CEO after repeated requests.  This needs no explanation.

I would love to see some more red flags in the comments so please chime in.  If you see red flags, act quickly, which is often very hard to do.

Sorkin and Smith (two very prominent Cornellians)

This morning I read “Dealbook” like I do every morning.  Andrew Ross Sorkin at the NYT created Dealbook many years ago.  He happens to be a Cornell alum (irrelevant to this post but nice to point out), and still is one of the primary writers of Dealbook.

Terrible racist acts have stunned most of us over the last few weeks. Andrew reprinted a memo in Dealbook today that Robert Smith, founder of Vista Equity Partners, wrote to his firm’s employees over the weekend.  Robert Smith is also a Cornell alum (also irrelevant to this post but nice to point out). If you have not already read the memo, please read it. I have nothing to add – it says it all.  Thanks.

Dear Vista Family,

This has been a heartbreaking and painful week for America and a reminder that in our endless pursuit of a “more perfect union,” a great deal of work remains.

When I see the face of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, or Christian Cooper, I see myself as a young man; I see the faces of my children; and I am reminded of the many times in my life when I have been judged not by my character, but by my skin color. I am not alone. I have heard from many of you that you have been deeply moved by these events, and I did not want them to pass without sharing a few thoughts with you.

I can still vividly recall the pain I felt as a youth when I found my mother and father comforting each other as they just learned that my uncle was shot dead, by a white gas station attendant. I was quite confused by this as my uncle, who had just received his masters degree and was recently married, was quite excited about having landed a job with the State of Colorado inspecting various facilities across the state. Apparently this gas station attendant couldn’t imagine why an African American would have a state gas card and felt the appropriate action was to shoot and kill him. This was almost 50 years ago, and the pain still lingers.

In so many ways, this is a better, stronger, more inclusive country than it has ever been. In other ways, progress still feels so elusive. There is still so much hate, bigotry, anger, violence, and misunderstanding in our society that’s a lot harder to overlook after the events of this week.

It’s natural to feel helpless in light of the events we’re seeing in the news. Each of us has to choose to overcome. Each of us can embrace the words that Dr. King spoke in a sermon in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1957. He said, “We must discover the redemptive power of love. And when we discover that, we will be able to make of this old world a new world.”

We may not be able to mend all the broken parts of our society immediately, but we can each contribute the love and understanding in our hearts and in our souls to our families and our communities. Take the time to reach out to the communities that are grieving most, and let them know that you support them and we are one.

Let’s each of us hold the people we love a little tighter this weekend, and do our part to make of this old world a new world. We have work to do.

With love and gratitude,

Robert

Job Descriptions

I hope you all are staying well, safe and healthy!

I recently went through an exercise with the team at Entrepreneurship at Cornell.  We have all been working remotely (obviously), and I wanted to get a very good read on how each team member viewed his/her primary contributions to our program.  So I went back to basics and asked each team member to send a list of bullet points describing their material functional duties.  Importantly, I only asked for bullet points (knowing that sometimes it is hard to be concise) and material duties (so things that are ongoing and not one-off small tasks).  I gave examples to the team for me and our assistant director.  Here was my list:

  • Manage the Governing Board, including meeting preparation
  • Manage the Advisory Council, including meeting preparation
  • Heavily involved in all aspects of Eclectic Convergence speaker selection, planning and hosting the event
  • Heavily involved in all aspects of Celebration planning and hosting
  • Represent EaC with central administration (particularly Provost, AAD, VP of Research, VP of HR and VP of Communications)
  • Heavily involved in all aspects of EaC budget setting and planning; responsible for budget results
  • Heavily involved in all aspects of fund raising for EaC (including corporate sponsor interface)
  • Heavily involved in the Student Business of the Year and Entrepreneur of the Year and Beck Fellows selection
  • Chair of eLab, responsible for budget
  • Represent EaC on various Cornell related boards (for example, McGovern, Praxis)
  • Responsible for hosting faculty/staff lunches
  • Responsible for EaC performance and staff
  • Interface directly with Student Agencies on eHub and other matters
  • Supervise the EaC team

I got back responses from the team, and we will review this week as a group at our staff meeting so that everyone knows what everyone else perceives as their primary functional duties.  I am hoping that the discussion will lead to a few edits.

The exercise got me thinking about job descriptions. I have NEVER been a huge fan of them. In fact, I think that job descriptions are most (perhaps only) useful in the initial hiring process. Beyond that they can serve to stifle innovation, creativity and growth. I would hope that people would want to continually find new things to do at work – things that interest them, things that advance the “office agenda”, things that engage others, etc.  Things that might not fit into their job description.  I hope to never hear “that is not in my job description” :).  Sure, there are only so many hours in a work day, but job evolution is part of what makes going to work enjoyable.

Doing the bullet point exercise periodically (perhaps yearly) could be a great way to keep things fresh and encourage innovation at work. The bullets are like a “live” job description.  Never gets stale!

Finally getting some spring weather in Ithaca! Have a great week.

A Little COVID-19 Relief

As many of you know, Entrepreneurship at Cornell hosts a big conference in NYC each fall.  The event is called Eclectic Convergence, Cornell Entrepreneurship Summit, and this fall the date is November 13, 2020, again at the TimesCenter.  We hope that the event will go ahead, but only time will tell.

I source the speakers for Eclectic Convergence well in advance.  As of today 7 of the 8 speakers are lined up:

Michelle Adelman, Accite Holdings

Emin Gun Sirer, Ava Labs

Polina Marinova, The Profile

Ryan Hudson, Honey

Katia Beauchamp, BirchBox

Steve Hindy, Brooklyn Brewery

Jeremy Cohen, NYC Photographer

I was on the phone with Jeremy today, and am already looking forward to his presentation.  He is the first professional artist that we have had as a speaker!

With all that said, I bet you are wondering why I am titling this post “A Little COVID-19 Relief”.  Well, here you go.  Check out the video clip below from Jeremy’s twitter feed:

Holy Banana Peels!!

I hope that title made you laugh.  There is not much to laugh about recently.  Companies laying off people, companies closing down either temporarily or permanently, people doing stupid things (too many examples), craziness at grocery stores, etc.  I am sure you all have your best “un”favorite example.

In these incredibly challenging times, I wanted to pass along 2 articles in case you have not seen them yet.  The first, by Steve Blank, it about the virus and startup survival.  I don’t need to make any comments on it as it really does not need any.  Have a read here.  One of the folks at Entrepreneurship at Cornell sent it to me yesterday (thanks!).

The second article is called Coronavirus: The Hammer and the Dance.  I am guessing that many of you have already seen this one.  Tomas Pueyo, who is a leader at Course Hero, has been quite prolific in his analysis of the virus and what/why we need to do do to address it.  A fact-based presentation.  I wrote an email yesterday to someone that one “light” from yesterday was that China had reported no new infections overnight.  If you would like to better understand why that good news happened, then take 20 minutes and read Tomas’ article. I don’t care if you think this whole thing is an overblown episode in time – read the article.  Someone on the Entrepreneurship at Cornell advisory council (former student, now VC!) sent me this one (thanks!).

Be safe!