Ray Zinn, Silicon Valley’s entrepreneurship godfather, covers some New Year resolutions entrepreneurs should make and keep.
Guy Smith: Hello everyone, and welcome to another episode of the Tough Things First podcast, where we pick the brains of Ray Zinn, the longest serving CEO in Silicon Valley, and the epitome of entrepreneurship with insight of the Valley. Good morning Ray, how are you doing today?
Ray Zinn: Doing great Guy. Thank you again for putting on this podcast with me.
Guy Smith: Oh man, I always love doing this, and I think today’s going to be special. We’re timing this particularly for the New Year, because we want to encourage all the entrepreneurs in our audience to make some resolutions. Entrepreneurs probably should make resolutions for themselves, for their company in the new year. And just like personal resolutions, it’s something that you need to focus on for the entire year, and to stick to it. So let’s jump right into that. Why should an entrepreneur make New Year’s resolutions for their company?
Ray Zinn: Well, I don’t think the problem is making the resolution, I think the problem is executing on that resolution. So that seems to be the trick, is not just making a resolution, because we can all say, “Oh, I’m going to lose ten pounds, or I’m going to do this or that, do more exercising, or whatever.” But, until you actually have an execution program to go along with your resolutions, they’re for naught. That’s not my feeling anyway.
Guy Smith: Well, it’s funny you mentioned it that way, because statistically most gymnasium memberships are sold in January, and people are really gung-ho about their New Year’s resolution, and most people who buy a new gym membership, are never seen again after January 31st.
Ray Zinn: Well, I’ve even heard that even … that if you even keep 10% of the resolutions you make, you’re at 90% level of the population. So at least 10% of them are not even keeping any of it, so just 90% only keep about 10% of their resolutions. So the key is, not just to make the resolution, it’s to also execute on it. And I think that’s the key thing, Guy. I know that you want to talk about some of the various resolutions that we should make, but I’d like to talk about executing, and there’s actually having a program to execute on your resolution.
So to do that, you need to not have more than five resolutions for the year, and preferably no more than two or three. And then, have a list of those resolutions that you will then focus on every single day, not just on Monday through Friday when you’re at work, but also for the whole week. Because, you’re at home, or you’re at least away from work at least a half to two-thirds of the time, so you need to develop that habit, H-A-B-I-T, habit of executing on those resolutions. So again, if you really want to make resolutions, I suggest not more than two or three, five at the most. So pick two or three that you absolutely are going to commit to do, and then have this execution program that we’re talking about, which is, you have this list that has … it reminds you like a calendar. Put it on your calendar and let it just remind you every single day of what you have committed to do.
And I think that can be done through your computer system. Whatever device you have, allows you then to put down … It pops up maybe however frequently you want it to pop up. It’ll pop either every half hour, or every hour, or whatever, and it just reminds you to do something that you’ve resolved to do. So that’s my mind … my thoughts on executing on your resolutions.
Guy Smith: And I think that’s great advice. In the 21st Century with all the technology that we have, there’s no way that a resolution should be allowed to drop off of somebody’s agenda. But, the other thing that you said, now has my attention. I think people can get overwhelmed if they come up with a list of 10 or 12 or 20 resolutions, because every day when they see that list it feels to oppressive, and what you said was just a couple. Do you think that’s intrinsic to the process, picking out the one, two, or three resolutions that are absolutely critical for an entrepreneur and his business in the coming here, and just pounding on those relentlessly?
Ray Zinn: Absolutely. I mean, if you have 10 resolutions and you don’t execute on any of them, you’re going to become discouraged. You’re going to say, “Oh, there’s another resolution I didn’t achieve.” So by having it … narrowing it down to one, or two, or three at the most … well, not three, but five at the most, but preferably two or three, than those when they pop up on your reminder, then it’s something for you to focus on, and you can develop a habit of focusing on these resolutions that you actually are committed to do. And as they say, a bad habit is easy to start and hard to break, a good habit is the opposite. A good habit is hard to start, but easy to break, because the natural man has a tendency to fall back.
As water seeks the path of least resistance, we tend to take the path of least resistance in our lives. And boy, developing these good habits are extremely, extremely difficult to achieve. And take no thought about this, it’s definitely going to be something you’re going to have to work very diligently on. As I have said years, and years, and years, discipline is doing what you don’t like doing, and doing it well. So again, a resolution is something that you don’t want to do, but you execute on it and you do it well, because you have developed this discipline of developing good habits. So the discipline of good habits, is really the focus of this podcast.
Guy Smith: And to phrase what you said differently, laziness is its own penalty. If you don’t have that discipline, if you’re not willing to apply it to yourself, you’re going to invite your own failure. Which kind of brings me to the other question. The big part of being a boss, being a leader, being an entrepreneur, is leading your staff. And it’s one thing for the top dog to set a number of resolutions for himself, how does an entrepreneur instill a small set of resolutions to the entire organization for the coming year? What is it that an entrepreneur has to do make people see, and hold onto and execute to new resolutions for the company?
Ray Zinn: Well, what we did at Micrel, was we had four cultures, or four resolutions. Honesty is number one, ethics … being ethical is number two, dignity of every individual is number three, and the fourth was doing whatever it takes, no excuses. So what we did is, we just refocused every year on those four things, honesty, integrity, dignity of every individual, and doing whatever it takes.
So, in the dignity of every individual, is what I’d like to focus on right now, because in here everybody understands honesty and integrity. But, dignity of every individual, at Micrel, we had a no swearing policy. In other words, you couldn’t use foul language. That’s something you can do that you can get the whole company to get involved in, is having that concept, or that resolution of no swearing, no vulgarity, and people liked that. I mean, employees, once they get the handle on that, they’ve people who have left Micrel and then come back, have said that what they missed the most is how nice people treated each other at the company by not using foul or condescending language.
So that’s something you can do as a company, but we focused on that every single year. Those four cultures were reinforced every year, so it was not like we had to develop every year, we didn’t come up with … because I was the CEO for 37 years, we didn’t come up with 37 of them, we just focused on those four.
Guy Smith: And I think that gets back to what we were talking about a moment ago, is that a small number of things that are critical to the operation of the business are much more important than focusing on a lot of them.
In a recent article that you had, you had a number of resolutions that an entrepreneur probably should adopt in the coming year, and there were three of them which caught my attention. I thought that they were a little out of the box thinking, but also kind of critical to the survival of the entrepreneur himself, and so I want to talk about those for just a second. The first one that you said is that, an entrepreneur should limit themselves to no more than 10 hours a day working, and no more than 48 hours a week. How does an entrepreneur achieve that, and how do they avoid overworking themselves if there are gaps in their organization that seem to be driving them to work more and more hours?
Ray Zinn: That’s a good one, Guy. The national average on employees of course, is around that number of hours. Now, what employees want, if you look at the surveys that are being run, surveys show that employees want to work fewer hours, they don’t want to work more hours. And being the head of the company, you set that example. And so, to get your productivity up, or keep it up, and keep your company running efficiently, you have to say, “Okay, how do I get more done in less time?” So it’s not work longer, it’s work smarter, or work harder, work smarter.
And in our book Tough Things First, we talk about doing the tough things first. In other words, outlining the two or three items in the day that you don’t want to do, and all of us know those. I mean, we wake up every morning and we say, “Okay, here’s the two things I don’t want to do”, and then we go do them first. So the very, very, very first thing you do, is you tackle those two things that you don’t want to do. And once you do that often enough, you develop the habit of what we refer to as, doing the tough things first, or eating that ugly frog before breakfast.
Guy Smith: And tell me more about that. I mean, eating an ugly frog for breakfast, that’s kind of a tough sale. So what are the benefits to a business leader, or to an entrepreneur, to an executive in sitting down at the desk first thing in the morning and taking that big, horrible task that’s on the to-do list and knocking it out? What are the direct benefits that they’re going to see for themselves, and then, let’s flip that and say what are the collateral benefits that the organization’s going to get by the entrepreneur doing that tough thing first?
Ray Zinn: Okay. So, what we say, and what we promise in our book, Tough Things First, is that, if you will do the tough things first every day, you will increase your productivity by 20%. So, now, you can go to eight to ten hours, rather than that 10 to 15 hours a day, by just doing those tough things first. Because, we absolutely have shown, by doing the tough things first, you do increase your efficiency by 20%. And I have proven that over the 40 or 50 years that I’ve been working, is by hitting those tough things and getting them out of the way first thing, my productivity accelerates because I won’t have that thought, I won’t keep, “Oh, I’ve got to get this done. Oh, I’ve got to remember to …”
So that takes mindset, or mind share as you think about all of the things that you didn’t do, that you should have done. That procrastination habit, you just don’t have that, so you don’t think about that, or dwelling on those things that you’re dreading to do because you got them out of the way. And so, getting them out of the way, you’re more productive.
Guy Smith: How does it affect the organization though? Let’s say that you’ve got an entrepreneur and he is every day, religiously, knocking out that one big thing that’s on his nasty to-do list, how does that affect the organization?
Ray Zinn: Because, they’ll do the same thing. Like father, like son as they say. So, as you develop that habit of doing the tough things first, you’ll see they’ll do the same thing, because often they’re involved in the tough thing that you have to do, and they’re going to see you’re going to get them involved in doing those tough things. And that’s going to be the key to you increasing your efficiency by 20%, and then you can get that eight to ten hour work day as opposed to that 10 to fif … or, that 12 to 15 hour work day. It’s hard on your family, it’s hard on you personally. As they say, all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. So by you putting in all those hours, it’s affecting your family, it may affect your marriage, it may affect how your children do in school, or just the whole family dynamics in general is impacted by your inability to be home with them, and have dinner with them, and to interact with them, and help them with their problems in life.
And so, work smarter, not harder.
Guy Smith: Well, I have to imagine that it also has some collateral benefits. I know for … when I knock a tough thing off of my list in the morning, it adds clarity. I understand all the other work that I have to do, because the big complicated problem has now been resolved. Does that have a similar effect throughout an organization, by the leader getting his brain wrapped around the one big problem? Does that make the rest of the organization execute more effectively, because the big issue now has greater clarity?
Ray Zinn: Let me throw that right back at you. You’ve worked for me, for what, four, five years now, and I’ve noticed that you’ve improved in your ability to get the tough things done first, and get things out of the way. So, what have you found in the last four or five years you’ve worked for me?
Guy Smith: Well, I’ve found that the other people on our team, are more responsive once the mission is better defined. So, when I get the big thing off of my list, and I realize that doing A is good, and doing B is bad, then getting everyone else aligned is almost automagic.
Ray Zinn: But haven’t you noticed that your efficiency has gone up, that you’ve been able to get more accomplished now that you’ve focused on getting those tough things first done?
Guy Smith: Oh, without a doubt. Without a doubt.
Ray Zinn: Yeah, because I’ve noticed it. So.
Guy Smith: Well, let me switch gears on you here, because this one I think is, to me, in the modern American context, possibly most important. You’ve talked about having a resolution of having honest praise for employees, and a lot of business analysis has been done about how the greatest reward that you can give an employee, is recognition for doing a good job. But you’ve taken it a step further, I think, in that a leader has to be aware all the time, and take every opportunity to authentically praise an employee for doing something well. Talk about that for a bit, because in my experience on the corporate world, is that praise is not always authentic, and a lot of time it’s just haphazard. It happens when a boss is under pressure to perform some sort of miracle. So talk to me about continuous authentic praise for employees.
Ray Zinn: Okay. So, surveys show that the primary reason employees leave a company and seek other employment, is not for a higher position or more money, it’s because they had difficulty with their supervisor. And so, if you want to improve your retention rate, because losing employees is a cost to the company. I mean, you have to train a new person and you lose efficiency. And so, you want to get your turnover down below 15%, and hopefully then below even 10%, and to do that you’re going to have to have a happy work force.
And so, when we look at how do you make a happy … how do you get a happy workforce, is number one, if you know what they’re doing, and you praise them often enough, you’ll just see that they just like when you … When you train a dog, or an animal, you have this reward thing you hand out there, and it’s nothing fancy, it’s just that pat on the back as they say, and that just recognizing what they’re doing. They love praise. I mean, I’ve, in my 37 years and thousands, and thousands of employees that have worked for me, I’ve noted that praise is the single most important thing that will help improve your turnover amongst your people. So if you want to have low turnover, if you want to have a more productive workforce, and happy workforce, is through praise.
A fine way area … So one of the resolutions that I think you should make is, look for reasons, seek out the good in other words, seek reasons to praise your people, and when you do, you’ll see that they really will rally behind that. Authentic praise is not just, “Oh, hey, nice job buddy.” It’s finding something that they’ve done and then recognize them for it. Either by sending an E-mail out to them and copying their supervisor, or others, or, by sitting down with them and saying, “Oh, boy, that was really a neat idea you came up with”, and that shows you’re interested in what they’re doing, you’re not just a number or a face in the company.
Guy Smith: Well, I have a hunch, given the general societal animosity that exist today, this very harsh environment that we live in, that a little extra praise with inside the company, is going to make the company look like a spiritual, wholesome, wonderful place to be every day, and that’s just going to lift employees spirits even further.
Ray Zinn: Absolutely. I mean, they say praise goes a long ways, and one negative, and one negative … or bad comment will ruin the whole day, and ruin a person’s week. Whether it be this bullying sort of thing that goes on, or whether it’s just these nasty comments that we make, or in fact the lack of recognition that an employee receives, it’s going to have a big impact on your company and society. So, do your part for society, have a happy workforce.
Guy Smith: Well, and speaking of praise, I have to heap a little bit of praise on you. What your audience may not realize, is that, a huge part of what you do in the writing of the books, the producing of this podcast with a campus outreach program that you have called, Zinn Starter, is that you are giving away 50 years of experience in Silicon Valley, 37 years as an entrepreneur and a CEO of a publicly traded company. You’re basically giving this away to all the would be entrepreneurs out there in the world, with the intent, and you’ve stated this rather bluntly, of making them more successful, making them more survival … survivable, excuse me.
And so, I want to, as long as we’re doing authentic praise, let’s put that on the table. You deserve some authentic praise for making sure that the next generation of entrepreneurs, build enduring businesses that last for generations, and are actually serving the public good, and mankind in general, because what they do for a living really affects society directly, and indirectly.
Ray Zinn: Well, thank you Guy, I appreciate that. Well, I tell my people when I bring them on board, or I’m hiring a new employee, I tell them, “I’m not here to make you rich, that’s something you have to do, that’s your challenge. But, what I will do, what I will promise you I will do, I will help you become a better person. And, if becoming a better person is of value to you, come work for Micrel, or come work for me.” That’s always been my mantra, is, “I won’t make you rich, but I’ll sure help you become a better person.”
Guy Smith: Well, and there’s nothing wrong with becoming a better person. I think we all can put a little bit more diligence into that every day. And speaking of diligence, for your audience, Ray’s two books should be on your reading list, and should be part of the diligence that you’re executing to yourselves. The first one of course, Tough Things First. It was Ray’s manifesto on management and leadership in his 37 years in Silicon Valley, and it’s an entertaining read. I won’t relate the story about being naked in the bathroom of a ranch house, but that’s pretty much the way the book starts, and it gets more entertaining from there.
And his other book, The Zen of Zinn, not directly on the management and leadership line, it’s much more the philosophical relationship of people in business, in society. And it gives you a lot of out of the box thinking in terms of why this all fits together, and what your role, and how you can progress as a human being, and as an employee or a leader with inside a society makes it all work better.
So by all means, drop by Amazon today, get those two books, get two of them since we’re in the new year, and give one away to somebody who could use that little spiritual lift.
Well, thanks again Ray, it’s been great. And for the audience, tune in again next week for another episode of Though Things First.
Ray Zinn: Thanks Guy, I look forward to meeting with you again.