Take it from the top

the larger, traditional organisations learn from the leadership styles inherent
in dot-coms? Liz Simpson believes they can

of whether it’s a sales, administrative or technical position they are trying
to fill, lastminute.com looks beyond a candidate’s specialist knowledge and

company that helps Internet surfers find spontaneous, romantic and adventurous
things to do, looks for certain personal characteristics in its staff – like
passion, self-motivation, having a can-do attitude and "willingness to go
beyond the call of duty". These are qualities that all companies
presumably want, but which dot-coms have been more successful than most in attracting.
The good news is that given the open-mindedness and willingness to do so,
larger, more traditional companies can learn from the leadership styles
inherent in successful dot-com CEOs and start-up entrepreneurs such as Amazon’s
Geoff Bezos and lastminute.com’s Martha Lane Fox and Brent Hoberman.

out Amazon’s Web sites in the UK and the US and you’ll find thousands of books
on the subjects of leadership and unleashing creativity in employees. Cut
through all the rhetoric and you’ll discover that both topics depend on three
key principles:

Find the right people

Show them how good they are

Then get out of their way.

is in these areas that dot-commers can teach traditionally oriented businesses
a thing or two. After all, many were set up by individuals with little or no
experience of the business world and therefore are not limited by mental
constraints of how things "should be".

the right people

management recruiter for 25 years, working near California’s Silicon Valley,
Tom Thrower of Management Recruiters International says the most important
advice he would give any manager is to surround yourself with people you like,
who are fun to work with and inspire mutual caring. This is true of dot-coms,
where founders would fish in a relatively small pool of people for those they
had either liked working with in the past or whose reputation was known to them.

entrepreneurs know their employees’ motivations in depth, rather than at the superficial
level operating in most businesses. The only way larger organisations can
emulate this is to take more time over the hiring process and look beyond
experience or even technical skills," advises Thrower.

Fregger, chief product officer for e-customer relationship management at
software company 212 Studios agrees. He explains the rationale behind the
company, which is based in Austin, Texas. "Our president and co-founder,
Ingrid Vanderveldt, has a tremendous ability to discover and hire the right
people. My background is in consumer software and although she was starting an
enterprise software company – occupying a completely different technology space
– she saw in me someone who could create the product she had envisioned.

mistake most hiring managers make is relying too much on resumes and being
fixated on where a person’s knowledge comes from. One company I worked at
produced interactive 3D multimedia software. The skills we needed for a
particular project were unique, so we started surfing the Internet for snippets
of 3D code and stumbled across a site that looked brilliant. When we contacted
its programmer he was a 21-year-old K-Mart worker in Oklahoma who wrote 3D code
as a hobby in the evenings. We invited him to interview and hired him on the
spot. Yet we’d never have known about his talent in this area by asking about
qualifications and employment experience," says Fregger.

them how good they are

by example is the lesson coming out of Google.com, the search engine of choice
for the digital cognoscenti. "Our co-founders are ambitious, creative
visionaries whose goals of organising the world’s information and changing
people’s lives really inspire our employees," says Stacy Sullivan, the
company’s vice-president of HR.

mantra of Larry (Page) and Sergei (Brin) is ‘think big and differently’. They
encourage this with their own curiosity about how anyone and everything works –
even questioning the janitor about why he lines trash cans in a certain way.
When you have hands-on leaders whom everyone respects and admires because
they’re so bright, successful and innovative, a degree of mirroring goes on.
We’ve found that even when they’re not at meetings, those present are always
talking along the lines of ‘This is what Larry or Sergei would think or do’.

important aspect of helping employees demonstrate how good they are is by
operating a no-blame culture. We inspire and encourage all our employees to
take calculated risks and are planning a recognition initiative that will
highlight and reward the person in any given period who has taken the greatest
risk," says Sullivan. "Taking risks – an essential precursor to
creativity, leadership and motivation – is one of Google’s core values."

out of their way

founders, unlike the majority of big company leaders, remain closer to what’s
happening on the front line. It is here, according to leadership and creativity
expert Dr Alan Robinson, that most of the ideas that will make a difference to
an organisation come from – if only companies realised it.

currently on the faculty of the Isenberg School of Management at the University
of Massachusetts, explains, "Most managers are completely unaware of the
fact that 70-80% of innovative ideas originate from front-line employees. Ideas
start with problems – something bugs you and you want it solved. Hierarchical
management is not conducive to either hearing employees’ opinions or acting
upon them quickly enough. An informed leader creates an environment in which everyone
is encouraged to take responsibility for innovation and ensures the
facilitators of creativity are spotlighted and rewarded."

adds, "Dot-com leaders provide a gigantic training ground for their
employees by encouraging them to test out their ideas. This stimulates
motivation and trust. Big companies can do this too. For example, a flight
attendant at Delta Airlines had a wonderful idea after seeing then-President
Clinton pass a law overturning the liabilities preventing institutions passing
on unused food to the needy. She wrote to her bosses explaining how they could
distribute food that usually gets thrown away on flights and got a call from
one top manager who told her he’d been assigned to help her implement her idea.
Not only did she learn all the ramifications of her plan, enhancing her
experience of the business, but this sent out a clear, motivating message that
senior management took employee initiative seriously."

go of the reins so that employees can demonstrate their leadership and
creativity is a skill that Steve Rosa, president and chief creative officer of
Rhode Island bricks-and-clicks agency Advertising Ventures, understands is hard
for most managers to do.

instinct was always to micromanage employees, especially when I could do the
work quicker or I had more experience," says Rosa. "I realised that
if I didn’t pull back I would inhibit my employees’ potential for leadership
and creativity – which are all about freedom of thought and actions. Creativity
cannot be managed because it’s synonymous with risk-taking. I think it’s
possible for large, more traditionally oriented companies to encourage greater
passion, motivation and self-responsibility in employees, as those of us
working in the new economy are doing – but only if leaders send out a message
that people won’t be sacrificed or made scapegoats for trying something new or
making mistakes.

entrepreneurs, for all their failings, have a pioneering spirit. They encourage
employees to look at situations with fresh eyes and ask, ‘Is there a better

the layers

to TJ Linzy, head of global operations at lastminute.com and former head of UK
customers services at Amazon.com, both companies have benefited by having
flatter management structures – in those areas in which direct comparisons can
be made – than those found in most other companies.

and Amazon have similar approaches with regard to hiring the right people,
encouraging individual leadership and risk-taking – even though one is
services-based and the other product-based. Certainly the personal qualities of
charismatic, visionary, energetic founders offers a distinct advantage with
regard to the leadership of an organisation, but not exclusively so.

well as clearly articulating what they are trying to do, our co-founders Martha
(Lane Fox) and Brent (Hoberman) need a highly adaptable, self-motivated,
technologically focused workforce that will drive that vision forwards. And
actions – such as having a no-blame culture and publicly celebrating individual
successes – always speak louder than words."


Rich, executive vice-president and chief creative officer worldwide for global
PR firm Ketchum (clients include BP Amoco, Nokia and Visa USA) offers these
thoughts on managing for innovation:

There should be no such thing as a "creative department". Innovation
is everyone’s business and everyone should be encouraged to get involved.

You never know where good ideas will come from, but they definitely won’t come
from people who know they won’t be listened to.

Send out the right message the minute a person joins your company. Make
leadership and creativity part of the staff orientation and review procedure.
Establish goals appropriate to the position and never let successes go

Give employees thinking time in a space where they can go to reflect
comfortably and quietly without feeling they’re not doing their job.

Put people in new partnerships. Working in the same teams or departments eventually
leads to mental blocks. The less you circulate, the less you stimulate people
and the more challenging "thinking outside the box" becomes.


Corporate Creativity: How Innovation & Improvement Actually Happen, by Alan
G Robinson and Sam Stern (Berrett-Koehler, 1998)

What Leaders Really Do, by John P Kotter (Harvard Business School Publishing,

The Centre for Creative Leadership: www.ccl.org


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