How People Perform Is Influenced By Their Perception

Most people believe that their perceptions about a situation are accurate. For example, if I perceive an employee to be lazy, I’m confident that the employee is, indeed, lazy. The reality is quite different. Our perceptions are influenced by many factors, and people can perceive the same thing in fundamentally different ways. I’ve learned this first-hand not only while working with the team at crowdSPRING, but during my 13 years as a trial attorney – trying complex cases in front of judges and juries.

Why should you care about this? You should care because changing a situation (such as a bad work environment, poor team collaboration, etc.) doesn’t necessarily change perceptions. Many times, perceptions can be more damaging than the actual situation.

You also should care because perceptions impact performance. Startups – especially those with small teams – cannot succeed unless people perform well. I talk about these issues in the following 5 minute video.

What do you think? Do you agree that perceptions affect performance?

Startup Tip: Both Leadership AND Management Are Important

As some of you saw in my video from last week (Startup Tip – Leadership is Not Management) leadership and management are not the same. But, successful companies – and especially successful technology startups, need to have both leaders and managers. The need for management becomes more important as the startup matures. In this 4 minute video, I talk about the stages of a startup, from birth of the idea to a startup’s second year, and the points when you need leadership, management, or both.

Startup Tip: Leadership Is Not Management

Many people confuse leadership and management. It’s important for entrepreneurs to understand the differences. They are not the same. I discuss why in this video.

If you want to learn more about the differences between managers and leaders, I recommend you read Mark Suster’s excellent post – What Makes an Entrepreneur? Four Letters: JFDI.

Five Reasons Why You Should Focus On Today And Not Tomorrow

People often worry about the future and make decisions that may not have any impact for months or years. While it’s important to consider the future, doing so might cause you to lose focus about the present. This is particularly true when running a business, and especially true in today’s challenging economic times. So, let me offer five reasons why you should spend most of your time focusing on today, not tomorrow. Here we go:

1. Companies change. If you haven’t read Founders at Work by Jessica Livingston – buy it. The book tells the stories of some of the best known companies of the last several decades. There are some important common elements to those stories: the first ideas aren’t always the best and be prepared to change your plans. Many of the companies profiled in the book are today respected for their sharp focus on their business. But when you read about those companies’ early days, it’s apparent that some were forced to change their business models in significant ways before finding something that worked. Those stories underscore why it’s important to focus on the now – thinking too far ahead might be a waste of time when you get there.

Here’s further proof that companies change: their brands evolve to keep up with the times.

2. Industries change. Time and time again companies have ignored major changes sweeping across their industries. Case in point: Getty Images initially was highly critical of iStockphoto but later acquired iStockphoto for $50 million. In a June 2006 article in WIRED – The Rise of Crowdsourcing – Jeff Howe discussed how smart companies in different industries were tapping the talents of crowds around the world. It took some time for companies to understand that entire industries in which they were operating were changing. Smart companies leveraged these changes and have embraced news ways to conduct business. Example: Dell’s IdeaStorm.

Those who become too fixated with long range planning often lose focus about today and fail to appreciate that their industries are changing. Regaining that focus tomorrow may be too late.

3. Situations change. While some visible Internet personalities are writing about how they’ve been oracles all along – predicting for a long time the monumental collapse of the global economy – the reality is that very few people predicted the dire situation facing companies today. And that’s fundamentally the truth about markets. Markets are fare more unpredictable than they are predictable.

Unfortunately, unforeseen events often cause people to react in predictable ways. Witness the almost cult-like shedding of costs by tech companies around the country. Companies are shedding costs by laying off staff and terminating vendors as if they’re following some magic formula which requires 10% reductions. Now for some companies – this is a necessity. There’s too much fat, too little business, and poor planning. For others, it’s a reactionary response that may ultimately hurt them.

I am not suggesting that companies should ignore the economy and should not shed costs. But the economic downturn hasn’t changed the fundamental truth about what it takes to build a successful business.

By losing focus on today and following the pack, many companies think that they are focusing on today when they prepare for a harsher economic climate. They are wrong. In a recent post – The Beauty of Pirate Ships – Chris Brogan nicely captured the strategy employed by pirates. Chris Brogan pointed out that companies should not blindly get lean for the sake of getting lean.

“In the coming months, there are strategies one can follow to try and survive. Some companies are hunkering down, cutting their spending, tightening their expenditures. Some are laying off, getting lean. Others are slashing their projects and sticking with what they’d been doing for the next year, shifting their efforts into preserving what they have instead of pushing forward.

I think that’s the worst plan in the world. Forget the ship. Don’t preserve the ship. Go after the prize. Take on the far more dangerous-but-rewarding stance of seeking the treasure. If you’re a company, set the targets and launch your ships. If you’re one of the pirates, look for the reward, not the larger story.”

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