Category Archives: Culture

The Joy & Sorrow of Outsourcing

This morning, I read an article in the NY Times titled “To Understand Rising Inequality, Consider the Janitors at Two Top Companies, Then and Now“. The article compares the story of Gail Evans, who worked as a janitor at Eastman Kodak in Rochester, NY in the 1980’s and Marta Ramos, who currently works as a janitor at Apple’s headquarters in Cupertino. Ms. Evans was an employee of Kodak and received full benefits, including help with college tuition, and she took classes at night. Upon graduating, she was promoted to a professional-track job in information technology and now has an executive position at Mercer.

Ms. Ramos works for the company that was hired to clean Apple’s offices. She makes a little over $16 an hour with no vacation pay and no help with college tuition. She may get small raises every year, but the likelihood of her moving from an outsourced janitor position to a professional-track job at Apple is pretty much nonexistent.

Ms. Evan’s experience at Eastman Kodak reads like the classic American story where you, by working hard, can rise through the ranks into middle class – and beyond. Part of that story that is often left out is that you need an employer to support you on that journey. With companies outsourcing so much of their labor, essentially anything deemed nonessential, the support system is lost.

It’s easy to sympathize with Ms. Ramos’ situation and it helps me understand the desire to “Make America Great Again”. Working hard and still struggling to make ends meet is a hard existence, but easier to withstand if you know you’re on a path that will eventually lead out of it. Yet, I am also sympathetic to the companies who decide to outsource so much of their labor because I have done that myself.

First let me say that I think that there is far too much emphasis on short term results to please stockholders.

Second let me say that I think CEO’s, venture capitalists, many people in tech, etc make way more money than they need. Yes, it’s a way to lure talent but seriously? This guy pays over $20,000 in rent per month for his apartment. It appears to just instill a superiority complex in people who aren’t superior.

pantos_logistics_-_warehouse_picture

Back to my outsourcing story. I used to have employees but I let them go in 2015 to give me the space to focus on what was working for the company, and what wasn’t. Going from a 3-person company to a 1-person company meant that I had to eliminate, automate, or outsource a lot of things. Currently, this is what I have outsourced:

  • Manufacturing of my product
  • Overseeing the manufacturing of my product, including sourcing materials and finding new vendors
  • Warehousing and order fulfillment
  • Customer service
  • Product photography

Some of these things I didn’t know how to do. Some things I thought someone else could do better. Some things I thought someone else could do for less money. Once I started outsourcing, I became kind of addicted to it. It just seemed to make life so much easier.

I no longer had to “mind the shop” and could travel as much as a I pleased. I could take a weekday off and make it up on the weekend because I didn’t feel the pressure to set an example for anyone. The biweekly stress of having to make payroll was gone. I had less rent, and fewer expenses related to it. Besides the freedom of not having employees, I was free to focus on making Po Campo grow. In theory.

Common business wisdom tells us that companies grow when they can focus on what they’re best at, and do more of that. Yet, for me, my company has not really grown since outsourcing. Either I am doing outsourcing wrong and it has not liberated me to focus on growing the company. Or, my employees were contributing more to the company’s growth than I was accounting for.

I expect the answer is a mix of the two. While it is nice to feel liberated from a lot of the humdrum of running a business, and a lot of the stress of managing human resources, I also find myself obsessed with optimizing the outsourcing rather than moving onto to other things. Also, before, when I had employees, I had a team.

Which makes me wonder: do Apple and its employees lose out on something intangible by having its lower-end jobs outsourced to another company? Or is it true that in this world, the lowest price always wins? I hope it’s the former, but it sure feels like the latter a lot of the time. One of my mottos is “Beware of the high cost of saving money” and I feel like that could ring true with outsourcing too.

Advertisements
Tagged ,

Creating an Environment for Work/Life Balance

One of the major draws of starting my own business was to create a work environment where people like me could thrive. I craved an atmosphere that honored introvert tendencies (enough with the constant collaboration and open floorplans already!) and that trusted its colleagues enough to let them structure their work days in a manner that best suits them.

Now I have that! At Po Campo, we each have our own space that gives us a place to focus and get work done. We have a flex schedule that allows for remote working, so you can structure your life how you want it.

An unexpected outcome of this arrangement is that work doesn’t feel as urgent. We agree at the beginning of each week what needs to be done that week to keep us moving towards our business goals and then each person is responsible for completing their portion of the tasks. We check in with each other daily, but questions can take a little longer to be answered since you lack the immediacy of impromptu conversations, so you learn to be patient.

Going from the fast-paced environment of a design consultancy to the more easy-going environment of Po Campo took some getting used to for me because at first I worried we were slackers. Now I appreciate that we still get as much work done (if not more), just with a lot less stress. I’ve learned that treating work with less urgency does not mean you care about it any less, it just helps you fit it in to the rest of your life better, which in many ways makes you value it more. For the first time, an actual work-life balance feels attainable.

Tagged , ,

Removing Gender Bias from Job Postings

In 2013, I attended the National Women’s Bicycling Forum in Washington D.C. and sat in on the panel discussion entitled “Insight from the Industry: The Keys to Closing the Gender Gap”. In discussing different ideas for inclusion of women in the biking industry, Julie Harris from REI talked about how her organization changed their interviewing process after realizing it was predisposed to favor males. Their former process used to include questions that required applicants to rate themselves, but after learning that males tend to rate themselves higher than women do, regardless of ability, they decided to remove this practice from their employee selection process.

I was impressed that REI took responsibility for their process and did not fault women for answering the way that they did, as I often feel like the solution to problems like this is, “women just need to learn to be more confident!”. (Why never “men need to learn to be more modest!” WHY!?) I find psychology to be so insightful, yet so rarely do I hear about companies learning from its lessons and changing the way that they do things. Bravo REI!

Fast forward a year and a half and I’m toiling with the idea of adding a new person to my team. I started with writing a job description to make sure I knew exactly what I wanted this person to do (Simply “Help Us!” doesn’t work – I tried). I made a list of everything I wanted the person to do. Then I made a list of all the skills I wanted the ideal candidate to have, and then I made a list of certain personality traits that I think this person should possess to fit in with our culture. Much to my chagrin, in doing this exercise, I caught myself drafting a job posting that favors men over women.

There are very few people that would be able to “check the box” for all of these things, and almost certainly no one that would be willing to do it for the what I can pay. Rather, I was hoping that applicants would get the idea of what I was looking for, craft their cover letter and resume accordingly, and then I could pick who I thought was closest to the ideal candidate. Seems logical, right?

Similar to the illusory superiority cognitive bias that men possess and that REI corrected for, I am also aware that women tend to apply for jobs only when they meet 100% of the criteria, whereas men apply when they meet 60%. (This statistic is from a much-quoted research study from Hewlett-Packard). Since I already knew that there was likely no person that could fulfill 100% of the criteria I outlined in my job posting, wasn’t I biasing the application process towards men from the outset?

recent blog post on the Harvard Business Review by Tara Sophia Mohr debates the common conclusion that this disparity in behavior between men and women exists simply because women are not confident enough. Her study showed that the main reason men and women do not apply for a job is because they don’t want to waste their time and energy when they don’t have a decent shot at it. As Mohr succinctly concludes, “what held them back from applying was not a mistaken perception about themselves, but a mistaken perception about the hiring process,” and goes on to say, “For those women who have not been applying for jobs because they believe the stated qualifications must be met, the statistic is a wake-up call that not everyone is playing the game that way. When those women know others are giving it a shot even when they don’t meet the job criteria, they feel free to do the same.”

Equipped with this knowledge, I revisited my job description and job posting and rephrased some things to level the playing field somewhat, such as changing the standard “Required Qualifications” to “Desired Skills & Experience”. I also tweaked the description of my ideal candidate to include being “comfortable with challenging assumptions” to give her permission to break the rules a bit, to apply even if she doesn’t feel qualified. I just hate the thought of the perfect candidate being out there somewhere but not applying because she doesn’t want to waste her time, and I believe these small changes will make a difference.

Have you encountered gender bias in your workplace? In what way and how have you addressed it? I’m very curious to know! Please leave comments below.

Tagged , , , ,

Creating my business in my own image

let-my-people-go-surfingI recently read “Let My People Go Surfing: The Education of a Reluctant Businessman” by Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard. There were many parts of the book that I found inspirational and informative, but perhaps the lesson that stuck with me most was how strongly he carried his values through to his company. Of course this includes the company’s famous environmental policies, but also how the company manages its finances, the relationships it builds with its customers, the benefits it provides its employees and on and on. Sure, some aspects of Patagonia’s culture may not be as close to his heart as others, but it is clear that he built Patagonia to be an extension of the things that he cares about through and through.

Then, today I read an interview with Cadence Dubus, who owns the Pilates studio Brooklyn Strength. In explaining her commitment to creating an eco-friendly space, she says, “If you’re going so far as to open your own business, that is such a statement about your beliefs. I would hope that every aspect of that would be as close to my values as possible”.

This really struck a chord with me because it acknowledged that starting a business requires a lot of courage and commitment and you don’t just do it willy nilly. But, strangely, I never thought about how the business you start is an automatic reflection of yourself. Why did this seemingly obvious thing never occur to me? Maybe because the start-ups you read about nowadays are high-growth tech companies intended to be sold as quick as possible, thus having a fingerprint of the founder is not necessary, if not undesirable. Or maybe it is because I always pictured Po Campo living on beyond my involvement, in which case I would not want the whole operation to lose its sense of identity without its founder. Possibly it is because I started Po Campo with a dear friend, and since it was “ours” it could never be “mine”, or “me”.

Regardless of the reason why I never thought about how my personal values should be shared with my company, my new “flex time” policy showed me why it is important. Declaring that no one has to come in to work when they don’t want to as long as they get their work done was my biggest managerial statement to date. And experiencing the freedom of not having to come in to work every day is incredibly liberating and joyful to me. I finally saw for the first time just how cool Po Campo could be. Po Campo can become my dream company to work for, and for others who share a similar idea of how a dream company should behave.

Sure, there are certainly other aspects of myself that the company has already assumed, like a persistent frugality, a certain mellowness, a respectful position towards others. But now I’m thinking of things that I always thought that we would do later when we had more time or money, like recycling or volunteer work or decorating, but now I am thinking we should just do it now. Those things are important to me, would be a part of my dream company, so what am I waiting for? I want to start working at my dream company today.

Tagged , ,