Sheryl Sandberg, Lean In and Preparing Yourself for Success

This is the first in a series of articles I'm writing about women in business, the lessons of Lean In and, particularly, how you can help build your career and a healthier workplace. For women, the lessons will be immediately understandable and applicable. For men, this will explain a lot of the dynamics you see around you. For all, it's information on which you can immediately act. I look forward to your comments, thoughts and experiences.
It's been a year since I wrote about the ways that women actively undermine other women and how crucial it is that that behavior stops.

Based on Jodi Kantor's recent article in the New York Times, not only was she not listening, but the behavior is alive, well and thriving.

Interestingly, the target is the same as last year (Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook), and even though it's different people taking their shots, the tactics they use remain the same as well.

What makes this particularly heinous is the context of the attack. Ms. Sandberg has taken the message of her TEDTalk (which has netted over 2 million views) and turned it into a book, Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead. Moreover, she has simultaneously established the Lean In Foundation - giving women the tools and skills they need to take themselves and society - worldwide - to the next level at no fee to themselves.

Yes, that's right. She's making sure that women who aspire, have dreams and have been stymied by themselves, others and the system at large (basically, every woman) now will be given a world class curriculum of skills and support to help them fulfill themselves and achieve their dreams.

You'd think that women who have already achieved success would cheer Ms. Sandberg for her efforts. No. At least not in Ms. Kantor's and her crew's case. Instead, using incomplete information, inference and personal attack, they do their best to undermine Ms. Sandberg and what she's offering the world - even before either the book or Foundation launch.

So, since these are, unfortunately, too common (and, frankly, lazy) tactics, let's take a look at how Ms. Kantor did it in her article. That way, as you achieve your goals, you'll see the game as it's being perpetrated against you (which it will be), take the right actions (which in many cases is none) and, generally, feel sorry for the perpetrator. (We'll get to why in a bit.) 

Tactic 1: Incomplete Information 

Let's start with two facts:
  1. At the time of this writing, neither the book nor the Foundation are live yet, and
  2. Ms. Sandberg both founded and funded the Foundation.

So, when Ms. Kantor casts aspersions about what is being asked of the launch partner organizations - name brands like Sony, American Express, Johnson & Johnson and Google - she's offensive to the companies and their leaders by demeaning the letter and spirit of their participation.

Do Ms. Kantor's assertions have substantive merit? No. Are they a handy tactic? Yes. Because even before the launch has occurred, she's doing her best to make those organizations' leaders question their partnerships and the impact it will have on their brands.

The good news is: It won't work.

New organizations grow and evolve. As needs develop, they respond - at least the smart ones do. As time goes on, the involvement of the Foundation's partner organizations will also evolve based on ideas generated by the Lean In Circles, the partners, themselves, and the Foundation, at large.

So not only is this tactic substantively shortsighted (which the partner organizations' leaders know - if they're even paying attention to what Ms. Kantor wrote), but it's boring and lazy - because the only thing the perpetrators using this tactic are doing is replaying the old adage, "The best defense is a good offense." 

You'd think they'd come up with something new - which they sort of do when combined with... 

Tactic 2: Inference

Let's remember who we're talking about here. Sheryl Sandberg has a resume of public and private sector achievements that do one thing most clearly: they show that she is both successful in her own right and knows how to create success for others. 

I apologize for the repetition but at this moment, the Foundation hasn't launched yet. So why is Ms. Kantor asking if anyone will come to the Lean In Circles - and if they do, will they get anything out of the experience and want to come back? 

Worse, why is she using the pilot Circle participants as targets - just as she did the partner organizations?

The Circles are the heart of the Foundation. They're the outreach. They're where a progressive, structured curriculum of skills training and interpersonal support are delivered. They're treated as the learning environments they are - while designed for a generation that engages and connects in ways that older generations of women (like mine) either didn't or couldn't because we didn't have the opportunity.

Lean In Circles are not a coffee klatch, a 'consciousness raising' group or sitting around a campfire singing "Kumbaya." They're a commitment - by the Foundation to the women involved and by the women involved to themselves and their Circle members.

So, in direct answer to Ms. Kantor's question: Yes, women will come to the Circles and when they do, they'll learn and grow. Then grow more. 

BTW, there was another aspect of this tactic that was at play in Ms. Kantor's playbook: If you can't take on your target directly - or you don't think you'll win if you do - get someone else to fight it for you. Cat fight, anyone? Yes, to read Ms. Kantor's article is to wait for any number of her cohorts to join in the fun of trying to make the success of Ms. Sandberg's book and Foundation - and, by extension, the women involved - failures before they even begin.

That's not only wrong, it's shameful, especially when tied to... 

Tactic 3: Personal Attack

We already know that Ms. Kantor had no hesitation in attacking the partner organizations and the pilot Lean In Circle members. But she didn't stop there.

Ms. Sandberg is taking the women's movement to a new level for a new generation. What the trailblazers of the movement did for their time is what Ms. Sandberg is now doing for women in a world that has evolved to provide more opportunities - and obstacles - than ever before.

Why, then, does Ms. Kantor think we need to know about the size of Ms. Sandberg's home ("9000 square feet"), her education ("double Harvard degree"), her wealth ("a fortune worth hundreds of millions on paper"), her husband (CEO of SurveyMonkey) or her "army of household help"?

We don't. It has nothing to do with the message that Ms. Sandberg is bringing. But it's a handy - and, once again, lazy - way to undermine that message by making the messenger a less than trustworthy source.

That way, even before the Lean In Foundation has launched or the book has been released, the seed has been planted: Since you don't have what Ms. Sandberg has, what she's offering won't do you any good.

That's wrong - on so many different levels - which takes us to...

Why You Should Feel Sorry for Women Who Attack Other Women 

In a word: they're scared.

They may be scared that they can't compete. They may not believe that their skills will get them where they want to go. They may be afraid to aspire. To dream. To be disappointed.
Ultimately, their reason doesn't matter - because it has nothing to do with you. It's all about them - and that's the most liberating thing of all.

You are free to aspire and to achieve. You can set your goals and go after them - not feeling the need to take others...and especially other women...down in the process. In fact, you'll share your success.
And to help you along the way, make sure you read the book and look into establishing or joining a Lean In Circle in your area. That way, not only will you have your own skills, but you'll have Sheryl Sandberg supporting you every step of the way. 
Women and Leadership: Sheryl Sandberg and the Facebook IPO (llk)

An earlier version of this article appeared on Technorati (llk)

With Apologies to Google: I Didn't Understand

Long ago, in the dark ages before the days of immediate internet access fact, before the days of the internet, in general...I was a graduate student known, among other things, for my expertise in research.

In fact, I had such an impressive reputation in article search - because I could and did find anything that needed to be found - I was constantly being approached by other students and faculty members asking for my help in search logic.

I was, to put it mildly, excellent.

Well, the day came that I decided to stop collecting degrees (because that's what it had come to feel like) and go do what I enjoyed most - which was working full-time for pay in organizations, rather than on graduate internships. (Lots of good learning. No cash.)

The years passed and the technological capabilities grew. And then there was Google - which confused me no end. What was this thing? How did it work? Was it trustworthy? Who was deciding what information I was going to be able to find?

So, one day I had a conversation with my friend, Nadine (you can call her "Haute Everything," as I do - or just "Haute" for short) and I asked her: Is Google just a newer version of ERIC?

Now, for those of you who don't know what ERIC is, it was the breakthrough technology for academic research. It stands for Education Research Information Center and it was the Google of its day. Sort of. At least to start.

Nadine, who, in her Haute-ness, is very tolerant, explained patiently that it was sort of like ERIC but it was much, much more. She also told me that what I was seeing was just the beginning of what Google would be.

More years passed and I watched as Google grew to become a verb. And out of that verb have come some of the most amazing achievements and greatest technology minds the industry has ever seen - including those not working for Google any longer.

Today, I was reminded of all of this when I was introduced to yet another facet of the ubiquity of Google: the Google Trusted Stores program.

I had made an online purchase from a site having nothing, as far as I knew, to do with Google (which it doesn't). I didn't use Google to find it. There was no searching or browsing involved that took me anywhere near Google.

Yet at the end of the transaction, I was suddenly taken to a page informing me that the company I had just done business with is a "Google Trusted Store" and was given the option of participating in the Google Trusted Stores program. For free.

Now I'm used to Amazon's excellent service - both when purchasing through them or the protections they provide when dealing with their vendors - and I knew that you could purchase online using any number of Google entry points...but I didn't know that Google had decided to have my and others' backs by providing a consumer protection service.

Or at least a place to go when things go wrong.

Which makes this one of the most amazing of the amazing steps Google has taken - because Google is morphing more and more into a company that understands that, technology-based as it is, as a service provider it still and always works for and with humans.

And humans have a need for a trusted ally - especially when they're dealing with the blank face and low-grade hum of technology.

Haute was right, all those years ago - only it's not just that it was only the beginning. It's that Google always seems to find new ways to create new beginnings...even in arenas that have nothing to do with them. Like my purchase.

From what I read, it takes a lot to become a Google Trusted Store - which makes me think that, once you've achieved that status, you're going to do everything you can to keep it. Which means that, other than finding the stores that qualify, Google probably doesn't have to do much of anything - because they only get involved when something goes wrong and the vendor doesn't provide a satisfactory answer to the customer.

But, from the customer's perspective, Google has their back - and that's really nice to know.

What does this have to do with you?

Well, at its most basic, bricks and mortar or in the ether, it shows just how important and profitable a differentiator customer service is - because if it wasn't Google wouldn't bother. (Neither would Amazon for that matter.)

It also shows you that you want to find out what the criteria are to become part of the Google Trusted Stores program and then go for it. Whether you qualify for their consideration as an online vendor or you're bricks and mortar, you'll have a clear, measurable target for excellence on which to focus.

And, finally, it shows you the value of surprises to your customers on the upside. Every time you wow your customers with a new idea, a new service, a new way of doing business, a new way of showing respect to and thoughtfulness for them, the more they'll want you to be their verb. Or, at least, a regular destination.

Innovation and Strategy: What's Wrong with Facebook?

Yesterday I wrote about a talking head on a business news program that was explaining why it made sense to dump Apple stock. (The link to that post is below.)

In that same program, he also talked about why it makes sense to run like the wind away from Facebook.

That got me wondering:
While the talking head's logic about Apple's future innovations made no sense to me, why is it that when that same logic is applied to Facebook there's a core of sense that makes me think he might be right?
Here's my thinking:
Where Apple innovates outward, Facebook innovates inward.
Let me explain.

Facebook's strategy, in some ways, mirrors Apple's (and Google's and Amazon's). Once you get your users into your ecosystem, whatever you do, don't let them go!

It's the "Cheerful Ruthlessness" strategy I've described before. (The link to that post is below, too.) Under the guise of "You're our customers and we love you" you're actually being held prisoner as they take down everyone in their way.

But, where Apple and the others innovate outward into markets, Facebook is building its business based on what it can provide to other Big Boys from within:
  • Its users. 
  • Its data. 
  • Its targeting.
Facebook is operationalizing the marketing concept of "mass customization" to a whole new level.

But will it translate?

When Amazon "mass customizes," it looks like personalized recommendations from Amazon to you.

What's key about that - and also how Google's algorithms have evolved - is that it looks like it's the company, itself, that's doing the personalization. Not someone to whom they sell their data.

And that's why I'm uncomfortable with Facebook's strategy on a long-term basis. Even its new services - like "Gifts" and "Graph Search" - that give its users access to information about other users, are inward directed. It's all about the data.

The question is: What about the humans?

Targeted ads are great - but if they look, in any way, like the only reason that those advertisers know to target you is because Facebook sold them data that led them to you, you feel more used than user.

It feels like an invasion of that privacy that's so hard to keep on the platform.

Don't get me wrong. I think Facebook is an amazing company. It really did change the world - both personally and on a corporate level - fast and furious. It enculturated social media as part of how we live and work...and that's not going to go away.

The question is whether, 1+ billion users and still but more slowly growing, it will stay the leader in its space.

Facebook needs to do more to understand the human aspect of social media. Not the technology nor the data nor the algorithms. Those are for them.

What will keep Facebook viable - as the industry leader and innovator for the long-term - is looking at and incorporating the satisfaction people find in all the other ways that humans socialize with and without social media.

It's not about what Facebook can do. It's about what they're not doing...for their human population. Not their advertisers.

This is a hard one in the strategy world. It's when you've got the operations to execute on just about anything - which they do - and are hard-pressed to figure out what to execute on.

But, just as Starbucks (another Cheerfully Ruthless company), began to cannibalize itself and had to do a u-turn on its growth, products and services to save itself, so does Facebook need to stop looking at its data as the only answer. By looking in that one direction, only, it, too, cannibalizes itself - only in this case, it's the data that drive the users away.

So the question for you is:
How are you, by what you're doing now, making it easy for your customers to want to find someone else to provide your product or service?
If your focus is wholly internal, you're missing opportunities all around you. Go back to the five questions I laid out for you in my Apple post. That will get you going in the right direction...and keep you there.
Innovation and Strategy: What's Wrong with Apple? Nothing. (llk)
The Secrets of Success: Cheerful Ruthlessness (llk)

5 Reasons Why Mayer's Leadership Brings a New Culture at Yahoo

Today, Marissa Mayer, Yahoo's new CEO, announced two major changes to its employee policies:
  1. There will no longer be a "rest week" at the Holidays and
  2. There will be consequences if you're performing in the lower 20% of the company's internal rating system.
These are both good decisions for the company. Here's 5 reasons why:
  1. The company can't afford a "rest" period at all. It's in the midst of a major change to save its life. You don't take naps when you're doing life-saving measures.
  2. The Yahoo that Mayer is leading forgot what it takes to be successful - particularly in the tech sector. The key: You never stop acting like a start-up. Start-ups don't rest. They're too busy changing the world...and their code. 24/7/365.
  3. To succeed - no matter what the industry or sector - you have to be hungry. You have to want it. You have to be willing to sacrifice. There are no laurels to sit back on. The second you've stopped leaning forward, you're lost. So's your company.
  4. The 20% that aren't hungry don't belong in a company that is fighting for its life. Let them find other employers that aren't as concerned about complacency. They're out there. In fact, unfortunately, that's the majority of employers...which leads to the question: Are you accepting complacency in your enterprise?
  5. Because Mayer is using a like-system to Google's employee evaluation system - highly data-driven, measured, monitored and integrated by teams and functions while, ultimately, intrinsically motivated - Yahoo's employees have the opportunity to take their careers in make sure they're not part of that 20% to be culled. They've been given fair warning. Now it's on them.
Marissa Mayer knows what it takes to build and maintain a tech giant. After all, she was key to that occurring at Google. That's why the Yahoo Board tapped her for CEO.

Give the company a chance and watch what happens now. As long as she remains committed to the direction she's set, the culture at Yahoo is in for a big change...all for the good.

An Open Letter to Facebook Employees

Dear Facebook Employees:

You don't know me. I'm not an investor and don't even have a Facebook page. But I'm hoping you'll give me a moment to give you some perspective based on my many years of helping organizations under attack.

Because that's what you and Facebook are: Under attack.

It's typical, just so you know, and to be expected. After all, unless the people involved (in this case the investment industry analysts and talking heads) are the ones benefiting from having been "right" (which is always a moving target), they're going to diss the company anyway.

The good news is, that means that you get to ignore them. Seriously. Just ignore them. Quite frankly, they don't know what they're talking about. They can't. They're not inside. They don't know the amazing work you've done, are doing and have in the pipeline.

Even with all the publicly required information, they don't know what your current or future products and services are. They can't. Nor should they. That's proprietary - and needs to stay that way.

The other ones who benefit from you being under attack are your competitors - existing and emerging. They're hoping you get distracted...and maybe even that you take your eye off the Facebook ball.

Don't. Don't let them win that way. It's too easy - and underhanded, too. If they're going to win, they should win on product and service. Not because they like watching you being kicked when you're ostensibly down.

Which leads me to the most important point of all. It's that word: "ostensibly."

You're not down. You're Facebook - with your hundreds of millions of users, with millions more to come. All of whom will be participating in creating the social and financial success everyone envisioned.

Are you at a turning point? Sure - but so were Apple and Google and Amazon when the analysts were saying the same things about them and their management teams at their respective turning points. And look where they are now.

Follow the guidance your COO, Sheryl Sandberg, gives: Don't leave before you leave. Lean forward.

You joined Facebook because you wanted to. You believed in it. You saw it for all the opportunities it provided - and still provides. That hasn't changed.

So, do what your CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, says: Stay focused and ship.

You'll win - and then the talking heads will say they knew you would all along.
An earlier version of this post was published on Technorati.