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.

What is the Meaning of Love?

There is no time in New York like the weeks of the U.S. Open. I’m not a big tennis fan, but I do love competition, dedication, and celebration. Something happens to the city in those weeks: it becomes electrified as the competition builds, like the national fervor of March Madness all packed into one city. Fans flood the city wearing tennis gear and trek to Queens to sit in the sun for hours. Often, the most exciting matches are found on the smaller outer courts, where up-and-coming stars duke it out for a chance to appear on the main stage.

At the same time, I’m uncomfortable with my love of the U.S. Open. Tennis is a sport that requires a lot of resources to play and to watch. It isn’t a game that easily crosses socioeconomic barriers. And understanding tennis has a code: scoring is counted in non-sequential increments – sometimes not with numbers but words, you must win by two, except in the cases when you can win by one, men and women’s games are scored differently, clothing is highly standardized, there are two sets of lines, and sometimes you get two chances, but other times you don’t. And that’s just playing; if you’re watching tennis, there are another set of rules. No cheering until the point is over, until recently that cheering was limited to polite applause, at certain events attendees dress up, but not at others. Even if you can cross the economic barrier to entry, how do you learn about the terms and rules for playing or watching tennis? It is exclusionary by its very nature.

The same thing happens when you join a company. Figuring out how to dress appropriately for your role in various settings: the office, client meetings, sponsored social events, can be overwhelming. Never mind the labyrinth of acronyms and special terms each company creates: they make work faster once you know them, but they can be a beast to learn. It’s easy to find yourself outside the social fence, an outsider, unable to concentrate on your actual work until you figure out the code going on around you.

Don’t leave your employees on the other side of the fence. Well-researched onboarding programs clue them into the code that is your organization has created. Creating a welcoming environment means more than lunch with the boss on your first day, although that is important too.  Give them the rulebook – and only put rules in it that are actually enforced. If you write down rules that don’t apply, it leads to worse confusion than no rules. Make the implicit explicit: tell them about unspoken rules or practices. Create a shared dictionary of your acronyms and terms.  Let them watch a few of your ‘matches,’ and tell them what to look for when they are observing. When they go to practice for the first time, provide them the support and feedback they need so they know what parts of their game they need to work on. All of these tactics can take your team to center court.  Inqune can partner with you to get you there.

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


Origin Story: How Inqune Got Its Name


The first question many people ask when they first learn about Inqune is “How did you come up with the name?” We love this question, because we know that the story behind a name can say lot about a company, their philosophy and early history.

So, what does Inqune mean?

Inqune (n̩ ˌkuːn) combines the attitudes of being in tune and inquisitive. We work with our clients to get their teams in tune – with one another and with the company’s message and process, setting team members up to grow and lead. We do this by asking deep questions about what the company values and what it does – this can be an uncomfortable process, but the rich understanding that we gain from it lets us produce optimal results.

To successfully work with a company we must first tune in: we must understand the company’s culture, their values, and their assumptions. We must talk about how they want to be seen in the world, and how they currently are seen, and whether those things align. We need to understand their marketing and branding along with their priorities and choices, so that we can incorporate all of that into the future of their employee development programs and tools.

How did we come up with Inqune?

Tactical Considerations

1) Short. We didn’t want to spell or @mention something that was very long.

2) Domain & Twitter handle should be free. You can pay a lot for a domain name, but here at Inqune, we value being lean and scrappy. We didn’t think shelling out for a domain was a good use of our resources.

3) Look. We wanted to use our name in a logo celebrating another Inqune value: clean, clear, simple design.

Strategic Considerations

1) We wanted it to reflect our philosophy that employee development, learning, and growth is directly influenced by everything else going on at a business.

2) We wanted it to convey our best selves. We are: lean & scrappy, clean & simple, exploratory & inquisitive, and creative.


1) We brainstormed words that represented our values & philosophy. There was a lot of scratch paper. Think of the Julie & Julia movie scene when they are naming The Joy of Cooking – lots of post-its on the wall.

2) We asked a lot of people.  We had an epic family brainstorming session in Palo Alto and another one in New York with people from different industries and backgrounds: Doctors! Journalists! Wine sellers! Coffee roasters! Ops managers! A huge thank you to Josh Shapiro, Becca Shapiro, Shira Ballon, Tyson Evans, and Jacob Ballon for their ideas & input.

3) We asked our designer, Matthew Strong from He drew on our desire for simplicity and played with the Q a bit – which reminds us of a magnifying glass. A great tool for business explorers!

4) We tested out our story.  We told people about how we arrived at the name Inqune and got positive responses from the clients we wanted to work with.

And that is the story of how Inqune got its name.

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?

Ignoring Corporate Culture? It is Costing You.


1. You haven’t identified the values that drive your culture

We know, you’re building a start-up and corporate values sound, well, corporate. Many companies incorporate their values into strategic planning: Salesforce has V2MOM, Symantec has Victory Plan, and Dov Seidman wrote recently in Time Magazine about National Instruments’ corporate values: respect, integrity and dedication. (

At Inqune, we’ve designed an interview, shadowing and survey methodology to help start-ups and mid-sized companies pin down the core values of their businesses and understand how those values are enacted in their corporate culture. You can’t curate and cultivate your culture until you know what you stand for.

2. Values are being enacted… but maybe not the ones you want

Even if they are not stated, values are still being communicated. The layout of your offices, the way meetings are run, and who has control over resources all define and convey your culture.  Leadership, along with others with longer tenure and seniority, have already established a culture that is passing from group to group, whether you like it or not. Even you “like things the way they are,” undefined values are hard to protect or use in decision making. If you choose to lead, you can define the culture that you want.

3. You aren’t measuring the impact of your culture

What metrics are you tracking? Revenue? Pipeline? Opportunity to close? Customer satisfaction? Renewal and churn rates? Attrition? Business researchers have written about the impact of employee attitudes on job satisfaction and, ultimately, job performance. One of the gaps they have identified is how satisfaction and performance are measured: the metrics used often fail to actually correlate to satisfaction or performance. Oops! (Saari, L. M. & Judge, T. A., 2004).

Go beyond employee surveys; encourage employees who uphold corporate values by tracking and rewarding actions taken with customers and colleagues that reinforce the best aspects of your culture.

4. You aren’t hiring for cultural fit

If you are able to hire employees who are a good fit with your corporate culture, you can increase employee retention – increasing the ROI of each of your hires.  Employees who are a good cultural fit are 2x more likely to stay with a company compared to those who are not, according to RoundPegg, a SaaS culture management platform. (

5. You aren’t marketing your culture

What are your company’s competitive differentiators? We all enjoy working with those we like and trust. If you have great teams who prioritize customer success, you should be yelling that from the rooftops. If you have a service-oriented mission that can be seen from your CEO’s time in the soup kitchen to your support team’s dedication to going the extra mile, that should be front-and-center on your webpage. It is easier to relate to people who have a clear and confident sense of self. The same is true of companies. Know who you are, and don’t be shy about telling the world.

Fujitsu Consulting is just one example of a company trumpeting their people as a leading differentiator:

Who is Your Royal Baby?

In the world of start-ups, we have all had a Royal Baby.


You haven’t been able to escape it. The reporters camped out weeks in advance. Your twitter feed has been drenched in hashtags: #royalbaby, #royalbabywatch, #royalbabyboy. The Royal Baby is everywhere.

Some people followed it closely and overwhelmed all of our social media feeds with congratulations, commentary and criticisms. Others loudly proclaimed their disdain for the media hullabaloo, asking, “Why is this baby different from any other baby?”

I wonder about the 370,000 other babies who were born on July 22 this year. Or, more to the point: I wonder about their mothers. How do they feel about sharing their special day?

Your Royal Baby is the touted, flush-with-cash startup next-door, backed by big names. It’s the firm hosting a splashy, eye-grabbing launch while your hard-working team grumbles about vaporware and incomplete vision.

The Royal Baby in your space seems to constantly be in the blogs, generates thousands of tweets and is always asked to be on the conference panel. You ask yourself, “Why is that start-up different from my start-up?”

The reasons are similar to the Royal Baby:


What did the founders start before their current firm? If they have cultivated relationships with investors who have seen their past work and have been impressed, those investors will often back anything that individual or team does in the future.


Do they have a sexy UI? Are they entering a glamorous space or marketing their tool in a novel way? Are they skilled at making themselves look larger than they are?


What’s their story? Are they delivering their message in a compelling way? People love a good story of triumph over evil, hardship or pain.

What can you do to chase away the Royal Start-up Blues?

Just like all those other kids born July 22, 2013, you’re going to have to prove yourself.


Make a great product, make sure it looks good, tell people about it in a compelling way.

Don’t forget: the small stuff is really big stuff.

In Cloud or Software-as-a-service, renewal rate is the fountain of youth. If you can’t keep customers happy, none of the other stuff matters.


Put your money where your mouth is, and if you don’t have money, put your sweat equity where your mouth is. Invest in developing your people who are in turn driving your product, brand and sales. These days, Growth > Splash.

6 Things Students Can Do To Get A Job After Graduation

Study: By Jeff SmithLast week, I responded to a NYT piece about the employment prospects for new college grads– and how companies choosing to invest in their employees through training are the ones, ultimately, getting more bang for their workforce buck.

But just because there are great employers out there who want to hire great-but-green recent college graduates, doesn’t mean students themselves shouldn’t be working to develop themselves to be ready for the job market when they get there.

Here are six things do do while you are still in college, to help you hit the ground running:

1. Identify target employers

What companies do you think are cool and interesting? What is interesting about them? Set-up Google alerts ( to follow their strategy, their partners and their work. Reach out to them when they recruit on campus. Seek friend-of-a-friend introductions to people who work there.

2. Build a network

Create a profile on LinkedIn ( and start connecting to anyone: classmates, professors, your parents’ friends.  Reach out to interesting alumni, most schools have online directories where you can search by industry, title and location. I attended a focus group in college for Seattle’s Best Coffee and the leader helped open internship doors for me, just because I asked about their summer internship program.

3. Take Classes

Even Liberal Arts colleges offer great classes in writing, economics, statistics, and communications that can be marketed to future employers; if your university has a Business School, consider taking some classes there to show off your smarts! Take courses you care about, but consider adding some “marketable” selections as well: who knows, you might love them!

4. Get an internship or a job at a company you might want to work for

Use the resources your school provides to find interesting opportunities.  Most schools offer online internship listings & it is never too early to start reaching out and asking hiring managers what they look for in future interns. Is there a class you should take now if you are going to apply next semester?

5. Get another internship/job

If you are still interested in your first firm and had a good experience, try returning for another semester or summer. I got my first full-time offer after a paid summer internship. If your first position taught you that that kind of work is not a good fit, use what you’ve learned and try something new.

6. Pivot

If you realized that your internship won’t turn into your dream job, write down what you liked about it, what you didn’t like about it and think about what other jobs include the skills you were leveraging.  What made you unhappy: the job or that firm’s culture?

Remember, you are interning so that you can one day have your boss’ or boss’ boss’ job. Do you like what they do? You can pivot at any point in your career, and explain how you determined what things you liked about your past experience which will make the next one an even better fit. This is also a great time to debrief with your college’s office of career services: the counselors there can help you make sense of what worked, what didn’t, and what lessons that gives you about the jobs where you will thrive. 

Dear Alina, We Make New College Graduates Employable

photo by Lewie Osborne

Dear Alina,

I recently read your NYT piece about your older son’s high school graduation, and your worries that follow him to college. (

First, congratulations! Getting your kid through high school (and maintaining your sanity) takes a lot of work.

Second, try not to worry about his job prospects. My clients will hire him.

When filling an opening, employers have choices. They can hire experienced entry-level employees at lower cost or they can hire experienced employees who got their entry-level training somewhere else. My consultancy, Inqune, and our clients believe that the first model is more profitable, although it requires investment up front.

In baseball, the best teams in the major leagues have strong farm teams where they develop high-potential players. Once developed, those players progress to the major leagues. When other teams hire away that talent through free agency, they pay a premium, often quite large.

Since its 1926 inception, IBM has prioritized talent development in its recruitment process: they hire thousands of interns each year, and 40% of their entry-level hires come out of this pool., and Accenture are well-known for recruiting at colleges and developing employees who stay for more than 5 or even 10 years. Employees value the training and investment the company makes, the opportunities to advance and the culture this learning and development environment promotes.

Inqune focuses on small technology firms who, like their larger counterparts, prioritize hiring employees who can learn content quickly, apply it, and learn something new as the environment and products change. Our clients know that recent college graduates have spent years studying, writing and taking tests. These grads are skilled consumers of knowledge. Our clients leverage our team to teach specialized skills for doing their job and basic skills, including:

  • Business Writing vs. University Writing
  • Presentation Skills
  • Client Meeting Etiquette
  • Company & Client Social Events
  • Travel & Expense
  • Relationships at Work

In my next post, I will explore 7 things that your son, and the young women and men like him who are about to start their college years, can do to prepare themselves for work at a company that will invest in him once his schooling is done.