Adopting a “Subcontractor” Approach to Managing

Paula Long

Paula Long is the CEO of DataGravity, a data management firm based out of New Hampshire that emphasizes mutual accountability. In a recent interview with Adam Bryant of the New York Times, Long spoke about her unique management techniques, the importance of mutual accountability, and her interesting approach to interviewing. Here are some highlights from the interview:

  • After you become a manager, nobody really works for you. In fact, you really work for them.
  • It’s your job to help people be successful; it’s not your job to make them successful.
  • It’s important to assert what you’re good at and why it matters.
  • Work out when it’s OK to micromanage, and when it’s not.
  • Consider a “subcontractor” approach to managing. By creating individual, contract-like, relationships between staff and managers, each party approaches the contract agreeing to put in equal amounts of effort in good faith.
  • When it comes to interviewing, consider asking “stupid questions” to see how a candidate answers. Try making false statements to see if a candidate corrects you, or pick a fight to see how they react to conflict.
  • When advising college graduates, Long emphasizes that it’s OK not to know what you want to do. Don’t cut off the ability to explore. Remember, it’s harder to explore as you get older as you have different commitments.

Click here to view the interview in full.

Fixing a Sales Team


“Yesware” is a 4-year-old company that designs and sells software intended to make it easier for sales teams to record and analyze essential data. Released in 2012, Yesware’s basic version, which can be downloaded free, quickly attracted more than 100,000 users. However, the company experienced difficulties converting those free users into paying customers (an unfortunate irony considering it is sales software they’re looking to sell).

Yesware’s chief executive Matthew Bellows came up with 3 solutions to fixing his sales team:

1) Clean up house: trimming that fat by firing 7 out of 10 salespeople.

2) Hire a vice president of sales: have this VP do the firing, hiring, and supervision while Mr Bellows remained as chief executive.

3) Appoint a manager: promote the best sales person among the 3 he deemed worthy of keeping to manage the team.

What would YOU suggest? Click here to see the full article in the New York Times.

“Is it the cards, or how you play them?”


Narinder Singh is the president of “Topcoder,” a company that administers computer-programming competitions. In a recent interview with Adam Bryant of the New York Times, Singh spoke about his early management experiences, leadership lessons, and hiring processes.

Here are some points we took away from the interview:

  • Don’t underestimate the power of stereotypes: Try to understand when you could use stereotypes and when it’s important to break and challenge them. “I started looking hard at the assumptions I was making about people, and what assumptions they were making about me.”
  • Ask “Was it the hand, or how you played it?”: If you stumble because of the cards you’re dealt, “you should get better cards… But if you played them badly, you need to think about how to make sure that doesn’t happen again.”
  • Admire leaders that aren’t afraid to be challenged: People have to feel that the best idea wins. “If I have somebody working for me who’s really good, I should lose 80% of the arguments I have with them because they should know their area better than I do.”
  • Ask how a candidate travels: “Are you a get-there-early-for-the-flight person, or a barely-make-it-in-time person?” Then find out WHY! You want to understand how a candidate looks at the world.
  • Everyone has a unique perspective: “When you meet somebody, pull every piece of insight you can out of them.” You never know what you’ll learn!

Click here to view the full article in The New York Times.

Finding the Perfect Team for Your Business


Barney Harford is the chief executive of “Orbitz” Worldwide, a leading global online travel company. In a recent interview with Adam Bryant of the New York Times, Harford explains the importance of “Finding a Team That Fits to a T.” Some excellent, and incredibly relevant, points were raised in the article:

  • Successful organizations have to foster creativity and innovation at all levels: Harford insists that it’s important to help team members learn about other parts of the organization so that they can “connect the dots between what’s going on in their area and what’s going on elsewhere.”
  • Seek “T-shaped” individuals: T-shaped individuals are people who can go really deep into their particular area of expertise, but also have the capacity to go broadly when needed. If you rely only on executives to identify opportunities, you’ll be missing A LOT of potential.
  • Create a culture of openness: Open communication, and the sharing of information, is important. You can achieve this through the use of weekly newsletters and informative emails that focus in on different parts of the company.
  • Look for a career trajectory on a résumé: The time in which a candidate made achievements is indicative and predictive of how they will progress within your company. Look for people who have curiosity, passion, and energy, who are well-prepared for their interview.

Click here to view the entire article in the New York Times.

How an Entrepreneur’s Passion Can Destroy a Startup


Passion can function as a double-edged sword. Often the very thing it takes to ignite a business can be responsible for ruining it. Even the most promising startups can be destroyed by too much passion. It blinds entrepreneurs, leading to overconfidence and bad decision-making at the worst possible times. Entrepreneurs within this category of over-zealous, blind-sighted optimism are often so impatient to move forward with their new ideas that they lose perspective on how would-be customers and investors will view their product.

Noam Wasserman, a professor at Harvard Business School, identifies three major areas prospective founders need to take into account when they’re thinking about kick-starting their new business:

1)   Market Circumstances: A founder who is passionate about an area is more likely to misread whether a large potential customer base for their venture exists.

2)   Career Circumstances: Passion often blinds founders into thinking they already possess the full skill set they need to build their business when in fact they’re poorly prepared. Many entrepreneurs eventually realize they don’t have the connections or resources necessary to find co-founders, investors, or even employees.

3)   Personal Circumstances: Many aspiring entrepreneurs discount the toll a start-up will take on their family, and they are more likely to sugar-coat scenarios to a spouse in an attempt to attain their support.

While passion and optimism are great when building a business, founders should be encouraged to find effective ways of tempering their passion with a hefty dose of realism. As Steve Jobs famously warned: “[f]ollow your heart, but check with your head.” We couldn’t agree more!

Click here to view the related article in The Wall Street Journal (8.25.14)