Capture the Tribal Knowledge in Your Growing Company

Ancient Scroll in PotMany of the clients we work with are transitioning from oral to written knowledge. One of our biggest challenges is to make information more accessible to a growing workforce while retaining the tribal knowledge that makes the firm unique.

When the Bible Becomes a Book

This is not a new problem. Dr. William Schniedewind, Biblical scholar from UCLA, writes about the cultural shift that ancient Israel underwent when the Bible became a book (Schniedewind, 2008). It democratized the written word, shifting it from something that the government and priests did to something that was accessible to the entire populace.

It also took the place of the prominent voice of the teacher, whose role had been to communicate the stories and laws. With the advent of a written tradition, individuals could access the information on their own. The democratization of the Bible changed the power structure and the purpose of writing. Writing went from a ritual to a form of communication without room for oversight of a particular section that a teacher wasn’t fond of. Individuals could take their own viewpoints, but might be less inclined to hear those of others.

Turning Your Tech Tribe into a Reading Community

We find high-growth companies encounter the same issues when onboarding new hires and developing talent. They begin with tribal knowledge, where all information is passed from employee to employee through discussions, but as they grow and early employees leave, crucial knowledge gets lost, and the volume of necessary information becomes too big. The time to ramp new employees starts to lengthen.

We work with these companies to take their tribal knowledge and capture it with written documentation, easing the transition of a shifting culture.

So, how do we do it?

First, we place a tremendous amount of value on the oral traditions of a firm. We find out how they teach new hires and peers and what information people found most helpful. This is not just product facts and sales tactics, this also ties into the company’s culture and how work gets done.

Next, we figure out what people felt they were missing & had to find on their own. We try to determine why that information isn’t passed down and how it is ultimately found. Sometimes, as the firm grows, it is more difficult to get the full message out to everyone on the team. We want to know where and why that breaks down.

Finally, we create a plan to combine the best of tribal knowledge with formal instruction, checklists and guides to help the new hire ask the right questions. This can include a mentor program, structured shadowing and Q&A with executives.

We find that people want to be helpful and offer to “answer any questions,” but sometimes, new hires struggle to know which questions would be most helpful to ask. By facilitating the beginning of the conversation and creating a net so that key topics aren’t missed, we can retain the best of a firm’s tribal knowledge without sacrificing the benefits of documented, biblical knowledge.

And a PowerPoint Deck In a Pear Tree

Here at Inqune, we just celebrated first anniversary: we’re feeling a bit older, a bit wiser, and incredibly thankful for the opportunities we’ve had in 2013. And we’re going to tell you about it in verse (hey, why not?) with the 12 Days of Inqune. Enjoy!

Inqune in a Pear Tree


On the first day of Inqune, we explored, defined, celebrated and curated corporate cultures, for ourselves and our clients.

On the second day of Inqune, we worked on creating meaning in mentorship. We identified our own mentors and developed formal mentoring programs for others.

On the third day of Inqune, we led amazing events that led to increased capacity, close-rates, win-rates and average amounts for the sales teams we work with.

On the fourth day of Inqune, we encountered clients’ shifting goals and priorities. We learned to manage these changes and adjust our expectations.

On the fifth day of Inqune, we learned new tools and technologies that took our client work to a new level.

On the sixth day of Inqune, we found the importance of design in learning and how the five senses are engaged in acquiring new information.

On the seventh day of Inqune, we embarked on new relationships and partnerships, expanding our own onboarding and communication efforts internally.

On the eighth day of Inqune, we guided clients who were acquiring and merging to realize instant success from those transactions.

On the ninth day of Inqune, we kicked our business development engine into high gear and connected with new and existing clients to explore exciting potential projects together.

On the tenth day of Inqune, we created incredible content and tools that our clients will use to change their workplaces for weeks, months and years into the future.

On the eleventh day of Inqune, we expanded our definition of what it meant to be Inqune: inquisitive and in tune, when it comes to our clients needs, our own needs and those of our community.

On the twelfth day of Inqune, we remembered everything that happened on our first year of this adventure and as we look ahead into the future, are so grateful for the opportunities, experiences and relationships that have gotten us to this stage. We have incredible plans the next twelve months of Inqune and can’t wait to see them become a reality!

Do You Need More Sales Process?

Inevitably, when clients engage us to formalize their sales onboarding & enablement, sales reps get nervous. They think: “Oh no, here come the sales trainers. They probably don’t know anything about sales and are going to want to put us in weeks of training and then make us fill out hundreds of fields on our deals, which will take hours. I won’t sell more, I’ll sell less, because I’ll spend less time selling and more time mired in classes and paperwork.”

The truth is, I feel their pain: I’ve been in weeklong training, been asked to update hundreds of fields, and struggled to connect with what was in it for me. Sales trainers have good intentions: they want to guide reps and make it easier for them to identify what they are missing in deals to get them to close faster. But they get seduced by process: “If we just add ONE MORE FIELD the reps will finally know how to close their deals!” And that one field becomes 10 which grows to 20– and suddenly, reps are spending hours updating fields, missing out on customer time.

So what’s the answer? There is a sweet spot in between the stagnancy of the solo sales rep flailing in a sea of leads with no clear direction on what to do about them, and the process so formalized that more time is spent typing about sales than actually selling.

The best sales process is minimalist. It should create structure, allowing reps to map out the steps in the deal, list key pains and expected ROI, and chart relationships required get the deal done. Reps must be able to do this without more than 30 minutes of training and update each opportunity in 5-10 minutes. And then get on to the next customer.

Does this graph reflect your experience with formalized sales process? How do you determine where your firm is on the curve?


The Project Manager in the Kitchen

Multitasking StoveMy mother taught me about project dependencies before I even knew there was such a thing as project management. It has taken me longer than most dutiful daughters to learn the ropes in the kitchen, not least because I was lucky enough to marry an incredible cook. I remember watching my mother in awe as she prepared a Friday night Shabbat dinner for a crowd of people. She began each dish at a different time in what seemed to me to be random order. Then, as if by magic, five minutes before everyone arrived, five to seven different items were finished at once.

Finally, I asked her: how do you do it? How do you know when to start each thing to make sure it will come out at the right time? Her reply was, as usual, simple and deceptively murky: You just practice and learn how to do it over time. You start to know how long each thing takes and you work backwards. Easy, I thought, but each time I tried to execute, either the chicken would be done and cold long before anyone arrived or I stood over a pot of rice willing for it to soak up the liquid while the guests stood around. She was right (of course), it does get easier with practice. I now do a much better job at knowing what needs to happen when. I’m still a far cry from replicating her well-oiled machine, but now I have a toolkit that helps me provide a framework for dinner: a project plan.

I think about phases of dinner preparation: meal planning, grocery shopping, food prep, cooking and eating.  For me, meal planning is like scoping and requirements gathering would be during a project, I think about who is coming and their dietary needs, the season, the weather, and how much time we have to prepare.  I think well in advance about what I want to make and get buy-in from the rest of the project team (whoever is staying in our apartment at the time), get what is needed at  the store and do all of the vegetable prep.

Shopping and food prep is the design phase, sometimes the plan changes when something at the store catches the eye, changing the elements of the meal.  Food prep is the early stages of execution, making sure each piece is ready for cooking.  Determining what should be done when is the same as in a project, if I start with the goals, the skills we want to have at the end of a course, I work backwards to determine what pieces are the foundation, and what other aspects are dependent on that foundation.

Just as you must sauté the onions and garlic first in many dishes, so too do you need to prepare students with a basic understanding of the core skills they need to be successful in a role. If you jump into later stage skills first, they won’t stick (and your onions won’t brown). If you blow a fuse, you might be making salad instead of soup: as things change you must adjust.  A last-minute guest with a bean allergy might cause you to make major changes. Finally, after we sit down, eat (which never takes as long as the preparation) and everyone is done enjoying, I think about what I liked, what I would do again and what I would change for next time.

For some people, like my mom, project planning and management is intuitive, for others (like me!), it takes a bit more structure to get the same result. Either way, the ingredients are the same.

Thanks Mom – You were my first project management teacher.


175287500For some people, the rules are very important. For others, the rules may seem a little more flexible. How we become a rule follower or a scofflaw, a rule breaker, has been variously attributed to personality, nature, the environment we were raised in, and the models we’ve had along the way.

A common saying in business is, “It’s easier to ask forgiveness than permission.” Meaning, don’t ask ahead of time if you can do something; just do what you are going to do, then, if someone objects, apologize afterwards. You are more likely to be able to do what you want and the consequences are unlikely to be severe. For confirmed rule-followers, this piece of wisdom can be profoundly problematic, and they are unlikely to thrive in an environment where this ethic rules.

The first formal lesson I had in this area was in high school science, where we learned about permeable and impermeable boundaries. Permeable boundaries are those that can be crossed, one example is the speed limit on a freeway, when you drive faster, you risk a ticket, but nothing physically stops you from exceeding the boundary. Walls are an example of a non-permeable boundary. You can’t walk through solid walls, if you barrel into them, the wall, the boundary will win and you will fall down.

In the workplace, though, boundaries aren’t as neat. They are neither completely permeable nor solidly impermeable. Understanding what can and can’t be done, or what should and shouldn’t be done to climb the corporate ladder are nuanced, a grey area, and differ from firm to firm. Even in my own household there is disagreement.

My husband, Jake, is a rule follower, he has a strong sense of order and is frustrated by those who skirt the rules to get ahead. He gets upset when people ignore fasten-seatbelt notifications or try to cut in front of a long line. My approach to rules is less rigid: I am more interested in consequences and equity than a strict adherence to the letter of the law. Nevertheless, together, Jake and I are the executive team of our family. We have to make decisions together on what is and isn’t acceptable behavior.

When we at Inqune work with leadership teams, we strive to partner with them to engage in the same collaborative work. The teams we work with are often transitioning from direct to indirect management, with that comes a process of formalizing the informal, codifying the previously unspoken. We coach our teams in sessions that allow them to express their individual opinions, values, and beliefs, share the knowledge we have gathered from their team’s impressions of unspoken policies and, together, create a new generation of processes.

This post is dedicated to Jacob Ballon, my personal editor-in-chief, biggest champion and transformer of dreams into reality.

Leaving on a Jet Plane

153188829If you’re like me, you feel like you’re always on an airplane. You start planning a trip weeks or months beforehand, and your inbox and calendar hold confirmation numbers, scheduling details, flight information, and appointment dates and times. Knowing where you are going and what you’ll do there informs what you need to bring.

I sit in yet another airport, it occurs to me that our work with clients is not unlike the preparation for a trip. Here are the steps that we go through as we prepare for a training program to take flight.

When we work with clients, we go through the following steps:

1) Planning

How do you decide what you want in a vacation? You think about the time of year, how you want to feel (relaxed, active), and your budget.  Creating a training is similar: we work with our clients in a discovery process to understand the outcome of their ideal training, including:

  • Why are they engaging in this training?
  • When it is completed, what will their team be able to do?
  • Who will be there?
  • What skills do the trainees already have?
  • What does the client picture happening throughout the day(s) of the training?
  • Have they conducted this sort of training before? Were they satisfied with the results? Why or why not?

The answers to these questions help us create a training that truly speaks to the client’s unique purpose, vision, and the delta between where they are now and where they want to be.

2) Itinerary

We outline a prospective training plan based on what we’ve learned. This includes a comprehensive vision for the training: content, activities, where it should be held, facilitation, duration, and assessment (how we’ll measure training’s success).

Sometimes the plan we propose to our client is different than what they were expecting. If you imagined a beach vacation in Hawaii and your spouse proposes Thailand, you might be surprised; even upset. We review their expressed goals and talk through how we arrived at our recommendations, and do some wiggling to find the solution that works with their resources to best fill their needs.

We work together to finalize the itinerary, then it is time to get packing!

3) Packing Your Bags

Based on the objectives of the training and the itinerary, work with our clients to create the content for their training sessions. Packing a roller bag, you tick through the categories of attire needed: underwear, socks, gym clothes, work outfits, casual evening outfits, shoes, travel toiletries, your laptop. Maybe you keep a list somewhere to make this process efficient.

We go through a similar process to make sure that we provide an engaging variety of activities that are appropriate for the content, location and desired outcome. The activities serve as a way to apply the knowledge, giving participants a chance to test it out. We also want to make sure to engage visual, audio, and kinesthetic learners, introverts, extroverts and mesoverts. And we always create: a list of what materials you need to have on-hand, a student workbook and an instructor guide (think: travel guide) to make the training a success! While each training is unique, our templates and already-developed programs serve as a generalized packing list, helping us make the most of our allotted hours.

4) Out The Door

Training, like travel, is expensive: you want to make the most of it.  Through years of practice (and lots of mistakes!) I’ve just about perfected the process for getting to the plane: streamlining kisses goodbye, transporting myself to the airport, traversing security… these days, I feel prepared for any travel blips that might come my way.

But if you’re presenting at a training, you don’t want to do that practicing and mistake-making in front of your trainees. Too many times, we’ve seen leaders who are not accustomed to conducting trainings try to wing it, leaving their team wondering what the message was.

Steve Jobs used to practice his keynotes hundreds of times before delivering them to the world; business presenters can do it at least once. Otherwise, it’s as though you forgot your toiletries in the security bin and went to the wrong concourse… in front of your entire team.

5) Wheels Down

We all know that arriving at your destination can bring a slew of unanticipated zigs and zags to our travel plans. But with sound goals, proper planning, a well-packed bag, and lots of practice, you’ll be able to roll with the punches and pull off an amazing training.

6) Don’t Forget to Write Home!

How do you make sure you remember the training, making sure that it has a lasting impact?

  • Plan a survey to capture the feedback from your team: their feelings and thoughts about how the training went. It will help you improve for the next round.
  • Implement the planned assessments or certifications to measure what your team has learned. It will help you build the ROI needed to get approval for your next training adventure!

Corporate Wedding Season


Between your mid-20s and mid-30s, there is a period where you seem to be packing off to celebrate a joyful nuptial each weekend between May and October.

Corporate mergers also swell in seasons: the 1960s, 1980s and 1990s each saw a major waves of corporate marriages between public companies (Andrade, Mitchell, Stafford 2001). We’ve also seen a recent sharp increase this year, 2013, over last (Matthews Time Inc. 2013), which is putting 2013 on pace to have the biggest M&A year since 2000.

At Inqune, we’ve worked with several companies who, after acquiring a firm and celebrating with a party larger than most New York weddings, turned to each other the next morning and said – now what? They had projected sales, marketing ideas and customer service lines, but they also had two completely different teams with different sets of systems.

As an employee, I hated to hear the words “merger” and “acquisition.” Like a single gal, I was a salesperson who enjoyed my independence. I was comfortable selling the products that were available to me and the last thing I wanted was another sales team coming in, scavenging my accounts like vultures. Whether it was rumored that a large corporate takeover was upon us or that we were poised to buy someone else, the disruption didn’t seem worth the prospective gain, from my perspective as an individual employee.

My time in employee development helped me overcome some of my prejudices. Instead of feeling like the enemy was coming to share my bunk, I saw the marriage of two families. To be sure, there were growing pains and adjustments that needed to be made, but the benefit of bringing two pieces together to produce more value that they could individually. So, what can you as a corporate newlywed do to prevent marital strife?

1) Define the new company culture.

What aspects of each company will be incorporated?

2) Redefine your joint value proposition.

Why does this union make sense? How will customers benefit from it? Which customers already use both of your tools or services together?

3) Orient your teams to this new messaging.

Give them space to practice it out loud.

4) Bond

Bring your teams together and establish trust.

5) Plan

Guide your reps to creating strategies for their territories that will maximize both products/services.


Reward the behavior you are looking for. Pay them extra for deals including both company offerings, initially, it will be harder and take more work on their part.

Andrade, G., Mitchell, M., Stafford, E. Journal of Economic Perspectives Volume 15, Number 2—Spring 2001—Pages 103–120


Returning To The Table

4514690784_b88de6ccdb_bThis week it was announced that Israel and the Palestinians were coming back together for direct talks for the first time since 2010. India and Pakistan are reportedly coming back the table after peace talks fell apart in January of this year. These conflicts remind us that no matter what we worry about in our daily start-up-landia lives, for the majority of us, our negotiating challenges are entirely resolvable with some effort.

VPs of Sales and Marketing are famous for not getting along – fighting over lead flow, lead conversion and execution on both sides. In the merger space, sometimes firms are coming together after years of competing against each other. At Inqune, we work with several VPs of Sales & Marketing, as well as companies coming together as a result of a merger or acquisition. While we are not negotiating geopolitical stalemates here, what if we thought about the strategies of international diplomats in regard to our own negotiating tables?

Three lessons we can take from the leaders who are coming back to the table:

1) Be a leader with a different vision.

Since the 1994 Oslo Accords and the Simla agreement in 1972, talks between the respective pairs have stopped and started.  The vision and continued hope that different leaders have had over the years teaches us that we can always start again. Why are you adopting a traditional paradigm of conflict? What could your team do if sales and marketing were completely aligned? What if your merger was focused on shared goals instead of prior territorial claims?

2) Courage to do the unpopular is key.

Many of the leaders who have agreed to engage in talks have faced unpopularity at home. Will your team hate you if they think you are working with “them”? Keeping your team’s focus on the firm’s long term goals and vision is key to maintaining courage. Ask yourself and your teams: Why do we do the work that we do? What are we hoping to accomplish? How can we best accomplish what we’re trying to do? Everything else is just getitng in your way: jettison it.

3) Perseverance

Things don’t often work on their first try. In both of these global conflicts, leaders have stepped away from the negotiating table only to be coaxed back by other world partners.  If something hasn’t worked in the past, what approach can you take to try again? Who are your (internal and external) partners? Often times this is the CEO or other leadership team members. What’s in it for them? What’s in it for you? What do you have to lose by trying again? What do you have to gain?

Business Lessons from Egypt's #30June Revolution

Egypt's Silver Stars Skywriting Egypt Flag Red, White, Black: Egypt's Military jet contrails over downtown, Tahrir Square, Cairo, Egypt 2013. Taken from the Gizeera Club on Friday morning.
Egypt’s Silver Stars Skywriting Egypt Flag Red, White, Black: Egypt’s Military jet contrails over downtown, Tahrir Square, Cairo, Egypt 2013. Taken from the Gizeera Club on Friday morning.

As the Egyptian Army took control of the country last week, I revisited Nicholas Kristof’s article from February 2011: “What Egypt Can Teach America.”

In the past two and a half years, Egypt’s political system has evolved, but citizens are still struggling with one thing that we take for granted: peaceful transfer of power and basic inalienable rights. When Kristof wrote this article, none of us knew what lay ahead for Egypt.  Writing this Sunday afternoon, I am sure it will take more time before Egypt’s future is clear, but I know this: more people are participating in the process, hopefully peacefully.

The lessons Kristof outlined struck me because they rang true beyond the world of foreign policy.  Just as Egypt is developing many voices to advance democracy, creating leaders, representatives, systems, and processes to function effectively, so too do companies develop many voices to create corporate culture, structure and personnel.

Technology and media give us a window into what is happening throughout the world and we are lucky to be able to apply the lessons from what is happening globally to our own lives.

Here are Kristof’s lessons from Egypt’s revolution and what you can learn from them.

1)”Stop treating Islamic fundamentalism as a bogeyman and allowing it to drive American foreign policy.”

Who is your company’s bogeyman? When it comes to top investors, competitors, and partners is your strategy reactive or proactive? Identify what force in the market is creating fear and brainstorm with your leadership team what steps you can take to step outside of that fear and lead.

2)”We need better intelligence”

How do you gather the information you need to make decisions? What information are you using? As more companies rush to create tools that make Big Data useful, you must strive to embrace new information that is readily available and the interpretations that come along with it. Abhi Rele from Magento recently wrote about how SMBs can leverage Big Data by tracking new customer metrics and streamlining A/B testing.

3)”New technologies have lubricated the mechanisms of revolt.”

People choose the path of least resistance and will engage with whatever new technologies are available to most effectively perform their job. Are you engaging with your employees by giving them the tools they need to do their best work? If you don’t, someone else will.

4)”Let’s live our values”

First, what are your corporate values? Inqune works with companies to identify, disseminate and develop corporate values.  Once you have identified them and shared them publicly with your team, commit to them. When making strategic decisions, it is important to cross-check possible choices with your corporate values.  Making the team consider whether or not a plan is in line with those values reinforces to your entire organization that your company has a meaningful center. One example is Fairphone, out of Amsterdam. Their values of “sharing, opening, positivity, creativity, and access” contribute to creating a human feeling of ‘fairness’ and have driven them to create a phone through a supply chain that reflects these values. Their values are central to their marketing, targeted toward people who want their devices to reflect their moral codes.