A Lesson from Google on Keeping Your Employees – (Sharing from Adam Vacarro)

Google’s decision to place senior vice president of advertising (and employee No. 16) Susan Wojcicki at the helm of YouTube offers an important lesson about retaining employees.

Re/code reports that Wojciki had recently had some of her responsibilities on Google’s senior executive team split with fellow SVP Sridhar Ramaswamy. Moving on from Google wasn’t out of the question. “Wojcicki had been interested in running her own thing [and] had also been a recruitment target for a venture capital or perhaps a CEO role,” the website reports.

Google’s dilemma–a high-performing worker wanting to give her leadership skills a whirl–can come up at any company. You might not be able to hand your employees the keys to a brand as powerful as YouTube, but you can let them scratch their itch by letting them launch their own projects under your umbrella. In other words, you can retain your top talent by encouraging a culture of intrapreneurship.

I know, I know. The term is one that causes many business owners to roll their eyes. It’s been found in the pages of Inc. since the 1980s, but rarely is it clear exactly how a small business with a distinct focus can realistically expect to let every employee chase her dream.

A few months back though, I was able to interview the leader of an Inc. 5000 company–Kansas-based marketing firm DEG Digital–about the company’s dedication to encouraging intrapreneurial endeavors. Among the feathers in CEO Neal Sharma’s cap: More than half of all DEG employees have a different title than the one they were hired with by the end of their first year at the company.

Sharma related the story of then-DEG web strategist Cara Olson, who years ago told him she wanted to leave the company to launch her own email marketing startup. Sharma listened to her idea, then asked her whether she’d want to stick around and launch the project for DEG. Eight years later, Olson manages 30 employees, and email marketing is one of the company’s biggest business units.

Weigh Your Interests

The obvious and important caveat about Olson is that she didn’t want to start a recipe blog or open a coffee shop. It’s unlikely that Sharma would have let her do so on DEG’s time. She wanted to start something that made sense for DEG to have under its umbrella.

So it’s important to clarify that for small businesses, an intrapreneurial initiative should be judged on its fit with your company. Sharma says he tries to approach every employee-pitched project as a venture capitalist would, thinking about the kinds of returns it could ultimately net DEG. At the same time, it’s necessary to weigh how well you can afford to lose that employee.

In the case of Wojcicki, Google’s brass clearly didn’t want to lose her. She’s been with the company since some of its earliest days; the company even operated out of her garage for a time. Putting her in charge of YouTube keeps everybody happy.

Google’s experience with Wojcicki doesn’t perfectly mirror DEG’s with Olson, but both drive home one obvious, yet easy-to-forget point: One key asset you have in your effort to retain top employees is, when reasonable, to let them do what they want.



Through setbacks, Tom Brady, Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots machine rolls on

This article recently ran in my hometown paper, The Washington Post.

By Adam Kilgore, Published: December 25 E-mail the writer

BALTIMORE — The New England Patriots operated for years like an unholy, inexorable assembly line. They cruised along and cranked out victories, records and the occasional Super Bowl appearance. They made dominance in a capricious league seem easy and smooth; the coach dressed for comfort and the quarterback married a supermodel. Then this fall happened.

The Patriots are currently held together by ACE bandages, miracle comebacks, baling wire and whatever magic dust Tim Tebow — remember that? — forgot in his locker back in training camp. The defense lost almost a half-ton of defensive tackles to the injured reserve list. Tom Brady’s three best targets from the end of last season are injured (Rob Gronkowski), incarcerated (Aaron Hernandez) and in Denver (Wes Welker). His best remaining receivers would probably be underestimated if they split out wide during a particularly competitive intramural flag football league.

The gears grinded, screws came loose and parts went flying off, and still the machine lurched forward. The upheaval has tested, and ultimately reaffirmed, the wicked football genius of Bill Belichick. The Patriots have clinched their fifth straight AFC East championship, their 11th in 13 years. With a win at home Sunday over the 6-9 Buffalo Bills, they will seize a first-round bye for the fourth straight season.

“Every year is special,” Brady said. “But we really earned it this year.”

Even if he hoisted three Lombardi Trophies, even if he went 16-0 in 2007, this season may stand as Belichick’s finest work. Consider what the Patriots have handled on the way to another 11- or 12-win season. Sunday, humans named Michael Hoomanawanui and Matthew Mulligan played tight end for an offense originally built around Hernandez and Gronkowski. Vince Wilfork, Jerod Mayo, Sebastian Vollmer and Tommy Kelly are out for the year. Make a list of New England’s 10 most indispensable players, and probably half are on injured reserve.

“I think everybody on the team has the same attitude,” Belichick said. “They’ve got to be prepared. They’ve got to be ready to go. You never know when those situations are going to come. You’ve got to be ready for those things. Every team has guys on injured reserve. Every team has players get hurt. That’s the league we’re in. It’s a war of attrition.”

But the Patriots have both faced more attrition and overcome it better than most. Belichick finds players other teams don’t want and makes them useful. Sunday, with left tackle Nate Solder out with a concussion, the Patriots moved all-pro guard Logan Mankins to tackle and inserted undrafted rookie Jeff Kline at guard. In a 41-7 victory, the Patriots ran over the defending Super Bowl champions.

“It always starts with the head guy,” Mankins said. “He doesn’t care who’s out on the field. He expects you to do your job to the best of your ability. If you don’t, he’ll find someone else. He did a good job of finding guys that are willing to do whatever they’re asked of in their role.”

In late October, the Patriots added a defensive tackle named Sealver Siliga to their practice squad. He went undrafted in 2011 — as a junior at Utah, he made the all-Mountain West team only as honorable mention. He bounced between the practice squads of the 49ers, Broncos and Seahawks, appearing in only one game.

Sunday, he started at defensive tackle as one of Wilfork’s replacements. Along with a sack, he was part of stopping Ray Rice on a fourth and one that all but sealed the victory.

“Bill is a great leader of men,” linebacker Rob Ninkovich said. “He gets us all in the right place, all in the right schemes, everything that benefits us as individual players.”

The Patriots changed their offense on the fly, relying on two sawed-off wide receivers. Julian Edelman, 5 feet 10, played quarterback at Kent State in college and was picked 232nd overall in 2009. As a free agent this summer, he agreed to return to New England on a one-year contract with a base salary of less than $1 million. He has caught 96 passes for 991 yards. Brady calls him “Minitron.”

Danny Amendola, the Patriots’ 5-11 replacement for Welker, has bounced in and out of the lineup with injuries but is still second on the team in catches and receiving yards.

“What can you say? We have great leadership in Coach Belichick,” special teams ace Matthew Slater said. “He’s been able to prepare us and keep us focused. Tom, obviously, has shown great leadership and poise throughout the adversity we’ve faced this season.”

Running back Shane Vereen suffered a broken wrist and missed Weeks 2 through 9. The Patriots could have subsisted with Stevan Ridley, a bruiser who scored 12 touchdowns last year, but he fumbled his way onto the bench and, for one week, the inactive list. Their top running back Sunday was LeGarrette Blount, whom they acquired last year for little-used wideout Jeff Demps and a seventh-round pick.


“Whatever happens,” Blount said, “we’re going to adapt to it.”

In the Patriots’ locker room Sunday, a reporter wanted to know if Blount considered himself the team’s No. 1 back. As Blount demurred, Vereen crouched behind him and grumbled.

“Asking about our [expletive] role,” Vereen said. “That’s not how this group operates.”

The Patriots’ gaudy record could be viewed with skepticism. They have won just four games by more than a touchdown and have outgained opponents by just 13 yards per game. Without three unlikely comebacks, they would be scrounging for a playoff spot. The close calls may portend another early playoff exit — the Patriots have three postseason wins in the past five years. Then again, during their 41-7 throttling of Baltimore’s champions, they again played like a powerhouse.

“You know what, coming in, on the bus ride in here, I felt great,” Ninkovich said afterward. “I knew that we were going to beat these guys. Some hand gestures coming from the fans, it’s always a good motivating thing. Again, I was confident. I knew that we worked hard. We had put in the work, and that’s what it’s all about.”

On the Friday before the Patriots pasted the Ravens, Belichick took his team to the movies. They watched “Lone Survivor,” the Mark Wahlberg movie about a Navy SEAL mission in Afghanistan.

“I didn’t feel like they needed anything — just changed up the routine a little bit,” Belichick said. “I think the movie certainly had the messages of leadership, perseverance, preparation, and then execution. It’s one thing to prepare; it’s another to actually go out there and play the game and go through the battle that they did. So, that was a great message, no question. And a great movie.”

Sometimes, even through his dull monotone, Belichick can make the blandest NFL clichés seem vividly real. He still has Brady behind center, and he doesn’t care about who is on injured reserve. He cares only that the machine rolls on.



Team Building Nashville Style

The Song Team with Amy & Holly at Delta Airlines Cincinnati Leadership Day.

The Song Team with Amy & Holly at Delta Air Lines Cincinnati Leadership Day.

It occurred to me while Sherrie, Michael and myself were working with Delta Air Lines up in "Cincy", that we were witnessing first-hand... a true, team building Nashville style experience, in real time. It was a bit odd actually, though not in a bad way. I mean, it's not as if we haven't seen this many times before while facilitating a songwriting/team building program. That's what we do. But in this case, there was so much give and take, a fast-paced, honest, transparent and ever evolving collaborative process going on in this beautiful,old library ball room.  We even had to vote once or twice on using one word vs. another in certain lines of our collective song.

The back and forth brainstorming was unfolding on stage between Michael, Sherrie and myself for certain(though in my exuberance at how supremely involved the Delta Cincinnati team was, I couldn't keep myself out of the audience)...but the back and forth dialogue and exchanging of ideas were truly happening at a dizzying pace..with an ever building crescendo... between attendees, as well as between attendees and The Song Team. It was amazing.  It inspired me once again, to realize how this process can lead to such proactive dialogue.  Often, this occurs between team-members who don't readily communicate with one another outside of their "normal work circle." This type of active listening and cross-pollination of ideas is often the place where creative solutions "live." It's how we find the ladder, the path that takes us to where we need to be.

With the entire Delta Team

With the entire Delta Team


Amy and Holly (we're first name type of folks here:) run a great ship at this particular department within Delta. It was very apparent to us that they honestly believe in the "listen, care, connect" mantra which they preach at Delta. Their department is typically ranked at or near the top, in customer satisfaction rankings when compared to other "sister" departments with whom they compete company-wide, all in an effort to better serve internal and external customers. This is a testament to the fact that their team is truly empowered, engaged and inspired. It starts at the top.  Thanks for including us in your annual Leadership Day program.  Onward and upward 🙂



Technology as part of the team: Songwriting and team building

Technology as part of the team was our topic this past weekend at The Keen Digital Summit at the Omni hotel in Nashville was a truly inspiring, and enlightening event. With so many entrepreneurs, social media gurus, marketers and designers in one place…MAN, the ideas and solutions were flowing. So much information was transferred back and forth, amazing networking. Really it felt great to be a part of this inaugural event put together by Kristin Luna and Scott Van Velsor. Amazing presentations from Chefs, bloggers, designers and even Hub Spot blew the lid off my creativity tea-pot!!

Sharing the overall bill/speaking platform with the likes of Jairek Robbins and Mark Montgomery www.findyourflo.com was very cool. Both of these guys are at the top of their game creatively and have accomplished so much relative to their ages on the timeline…so to speak.

For my part, it was rewarding at a “Tech Conference” to be well-received with the message of technology as PART of the team, rather than as a replacement for vital team members. Unique thinkers, creative problem solvers, passionate inventors, skilled workers will always have a place in successful organizations. There is NO app, that will replace these folks. Nope, no way, no how.

And sharing the commonalities between successful collaborative songwriting and team building, was joyous.

Songwriters for Soldiers – A true team effort!

Recently, a few of us experienced what can only be described as a trans-formative songwriting and team experience.  2 weekends ago, Sherrie Austin www.sherrieaustinmusic.com, and I joined hit songwriters from throughout Nashville at a rural retreat.  The mission was to collaborate on songs that told the very personal stories of soldiers and their families whom are battling PTSD.  Phew, talk about a passionate, emotional, inspirational and exhausting experience. How about one more superlative? Rewarding.

For a weekend, songwriters who love nothing better than to write, got the opportunity to put away their appointment books, forget about Music Row, not worry about if a song is “ready for radio,” and write from the deepest spaces in the heart.  Primarily, writers acted as conduits for the amazing and personal stories of these men and women heroes.  Our Veterans…Their families and their counselors.

On Saturday night we had a traditional “Song-circle” or “guitar pull.”  When one by one the writers and veterans performed their songs for this intimately sized group, there was not a dry eye in the house. By the end of the 2nd song, a box of tissues had been placed in the center of the circle….for easy access to all. Suffice it to say that all of us have been changed by this experience.

This collaborative retreat was co-sponsored by The Beat of Life www.thebeatoflife.org and S.A.F.E. (Soldiers and Families Embraced)www.thesafenetwork.org.  These are two tremendously cool non-profits whose focus on healing are synergistic with one another. Without the collaboration of these two start-ups, both very small in stature, but large and bold in mission…this weekend could not have happened.   “Because Music Can Save a Life,” is the motto of The Beat of Life.  We believe it truly can.  And one life at a time, that’s what will happen.  Through team effort, developing more effective programs and partnerships as time goes by, we can save lives.  I’m happy to wear several “volunteer hats” for TBOL.  I hope you’ll check out this worthy team and see what you can do to help. Jeni (The Founder and visionary) Kelly (Our Development Director) and Robin, our newest jack of all trades, sharp-shooter.  When people come together, whether at a Fortune 500 company, a non-profit or a tech start up, it’s amazing what can be accomplished.

Is Your Workplace Environment Stunting Collaboration and Innovation?


Recently, our team participated in a songwriting/team-building program with a Fortune 500, Financial Services Company.  We were very excited to be working with a new group of driven, talented individuals.On this day, we were part of a full-days “technical” training.  We were the “Grand Finale”-Non-industry related part of the program.  We were there to shake things up, and help shift the thought processes of those in the room from their normal, linear thinking norms.

We were challenged to work in a room, where the layout was, well let’s say not ideal so as to encourage collaboration.  A primary goal with our programs!  Set up class-room style with long, thin rectangular tables.  All attendees were facing forward.  Nearly all had laptops in front of them, rather than the round tables we typically prefer.  So, what did we do?

Well, we “re-arranged the chairs on the Titantic!”  We shut down the lap-tops.  We asked those in attendance to move the tables around. Rather than row upon row of faces turned towards  “us” at the “front” of the room, we NOW had 4 “pods” or “Squares” of attendees facing each other.  Eye contact.  Everyone was now able to see lips moving when a colleague was speaking…contributing to the conversation.


NOW, we were set to work together in individual teams, and as a collective whole.  And everyone chipped in.  Beautiful.

 So, what can you do within the “walls” and WITH the walls of your organization to better promote innovation through collaboration? 

  •  Are there actual physical barriers which you as leadership can consider “bringing down?”
    •  Are there systemic barriers, or parameters that might be easier to change than you think?
      •  Conversely, are there systemic barriers or policies, which despite how difficult change may appear to be…STILL need to change? 
        • What can you do right now?  Within 3 months…6 months…12 months to better assure that all voices at the table have a say in creating and/or finding solutions?

        Let’s think about it….Then, let’s do something about it.


Emdeon Team-Building/Songwriting with Karen Taylor-Good!

Recently, we facilitated an intimately sized songwriting/team-building program for Emdeon’s IT department. The VP’s who attended this program are charged with blending personnel and systems from an old company, with parts of a new company, new personnel, and new systems.

With Grammy-Nominated Songwriter, Karen Taylor-Good at my side, we convened in the collaborative workspace that is C3 Consulting just south of downtown Nashville. Tackling both the challenges of A) A company in today’s fast-changing healthcare industry, along with the B) The challenges faced by a company in the process of merging the “old with the new”, is a formidable challenge.

However, as we often find…the steeper the hill, the more opportunities we have to improve… the longer view vision we tend to have, which leads to a big picture focus. This is especially good when dealing with such complex issues. If we “can’t see the forest through the trees”, then being strategic in our implementation of new engagement systems, new professional development goals etc. becomes quite a bit more difficult.

Building a Great Team – A Dentist's Chair View

If you have work to be done on your teeth, please take note. The following describes a situation that might make you LOVE going to the Dentist. This is not your typical open up and say “ah” experience.

Building a great team is not easy. Developing that team once in place so that it performs consistently at championship level, may be even more challenging. However, Dr. James Munro and his amazing cast at Belle Forest Dental in Bellevue, just a few minutes west of Nashville proper…. are Oscar-worthy in the quality, scripting and demeanor of their service. From the moment you walk into their office “living room” with its West Elm sense of modern, open décor you are swept into feeling as though you are in a spa. Complimentary beverages of a very wide variety await you in their help yourself, guest fridge. Watch the program of your choice on their huge flat screen TV, or assuming it’s not being utilized at the time, take a seat in their highly effective, full body massage chair, isolated in it’s own “Zen” room complete with waterfall sounds, and soft lighting to set the mood. This part of your experience really helps reduce your stress level before entering the inner sanctum.

None of this even begins to touch upon how genuinely friendly, extremely knowledgeable, or efficient the cogs turn here. Susan and Connie in the front desk area are amazing. “What flavor smoothie would you like when you’re finished?

“What’s that,” you say?

“Yes, with fresh fruit, we make a smoothie for you to take with you when done with your procedure! “

Brilliant. This clinic not only goes above and beyond in every aspect of your clinical experience with them, before, during and post-procedure….BUT they also stand by their work. If there is an issue with something that has been done, and you’re not happy with a result, they will take care of it. (Disclaimer – within reason. If you go and bash your teeth on a microphone or with a baseball bat…I wouldn’t expect any help here.)

The staff at Belle Forest Dental truly illustrates the winning definition of TEAM to me. Together Everyone Achieves More.

The Magical Team of Rodgers and Hammerstein

In talking about what makes a team of songwriters successful, or a team at your organization successful, it’s instructive to view the example of the hugely influential collaboration of Rodgers and Hammerstein.  This unit changed Broadway into a worldwide word and destination and idea.

In this entry we’re specifically discussing the hit musical Oklahoma!

What made Rodgers and Hammerstein stand out were the risks they took together to write a play that they believed was truly meaningful. It was unheard of at the time to have an opening number without colorful costumes, celebratory dancing, magnificent music, and of course chorus girls. Yet Oklahoma! opened with a single baritone singer and a woman churning butter (and the chorus girls didn’t even enter until half way through the first act).

INNOVATION – Their willingness to risk altering long-standing traditions was a testimony to their cohesion and defined their extraordinary friendship. Rodgers recalled his relationship with Hammerstein right from this opening piece, saying:

The paramount thing is what we gave each other creatively. The very first lyric that Oscar finished was ‘Oh What a Beautiful Mornin’,’ and when he handed it to me and I read it for the first time I was a little sick with joy because it was so lovely and so right. When you’re given lines like ‘The corn is as high as an elephant’s eye,’ you get something to say musically.

And the rest as they say…is history.