The Hard Thing

I just finished one of the best business books I’ve read: The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz. A brutally honest, laugh out loud, quick witted and easy read about what to do after you’ve screwed up.

Ben is a successful startup CEO as measured by the sale of his company, Opsware, to HP in July 2007. Yes, a Cinderella story. But what Ben brings to life is the battle scars and wounds that he earned when his company was worth less than a $1/share. He clawed his way to that $1.6B deal.

While I’ve never founded a company or been a CEO, Ben’s points in the book are for leaders with an entrepreneurial style. Leader’s that want to scale a business. Leader’s with a tough skin. Leader’s that stand firm when everyone else is running away.

My next blog series will focus on my five favorite tips and tricks from Ben’s book with my own spin. I’ll bring to life personal learnings and approaches that have worked for me.

The best of Ben in the eyes of Tia:
  1. There is no secret to being a successful CEO (or any other executive position). However, one skill is critical: focus and make the best move when there are no good moves. Spend zero time on what you could have done, and devote all of your time on what you might do.
  2. Take care of the People, the Products and the Profits – in that order. Things always go wrong and the only thing that keeps an employee at a company? She likes her job.
  3. Hire for the role you need now. Not the one for tomorrow.
  4. Training is the most important investment for employee retention and scaling a business successfully. It takes work. A lot of work. From CEO to line managers. Enforcement is as simple as withholding requisitions and teaching the management expectations course yourself (tops down). That investment will pay off in dividends in four critical ROI areas:
    •  Productivity – a simple equation of training efforts in hours (time in) compared to the number of employees trained x hours worked x 1% improvement. Hint: it’s a big number.
    • Performance Management – No training? No basis for performance management.
    • Product Quality – No rigor in training leads to inconsistencies in product. A lot more expensive than upfront training.
    •  Employee Retention – Solid training of employees mitigates and addresses head-on the top two reasons why people leave companies:
      • They hated their manager: appalled by lack of guidance, career development and feedback
      • They weren’t learning anything. Employees need to develop new skills.
  5. Ask questions. Lots of them. Some of my favorites:
    • What are we not doing that we should be doing? Because sometimes those are exactly the things to be focused on…
    •  If we could improve in any way, how would we do it?
    •  What’s the number-one problem with our organization? Why?
    • What’s not fun about working here?
    •  Who is really kicking ass in the company? Who do you admire?
    •  If you were me, what changes would you make
    • What don’t you like about the product?
    • What’s the biggest opportunity that we’re missing out on?
    •  Are you happy working here?

 I look forward to expanding on each of these over the next 5 blog posts.