Original Thinkers Use Firefox & Chrome

Great 15 minute Ted Talk by Adam Grant; The surprising habits of original thinkers.

My favorite take away is that you can predict job performance and commitment by the web browser that you use (9:50 mark).  Google Chrome & Mozilla’s FireFox users perform better and last longer at their jobs.  The conclusion of the study he quotes is that IE and Safari are embedded and pre-installed on your operating systems.  But those who take the time to search for a better performing/different browser show the tenacity and creativity to think originally.

 

Training is Good, Right? Not at IronFX

I had a cup of coffee the other day with a gentleman I used to work with.  He was the Sales Manager of a company when I was brought in as COO of that company.  He is no longer the Sales Manager (I fired him), and I am no longer the COO.  But we have a mutually beneficial relationship so when I am in his part of the world, we meet up.

He is now in charge of a smaller sales team in a different industry, and I asked him if he is training his Sales Team.  He confirmed that he is, and we got into a background story that I had not known before I fired him a few years ago.  It was shocking.

He had been trained at IronFX.  IronFX was a rapidly-growing brokerage in the FX & CFD industry for a few years.  The company showed up out of nowhere and seemed to have an unlimited marketing budget.  Omnipresent online campaigns, platinum-level sponsorships of industry events, a sponsorship deal with FC Barcelona (!), and the ability to open regional offices all over the world.  It was hyper-growth.  Many veterans in the industry like myself wondered who the investors were behind this company; there was no way they were EBITDA positive with all this marketing spend.

My friend had gone through the Sales training and then the Sales Manager training from IronFX.  Good for IronFX that they had formal training programs.  Too many companies have zero training; they hire candidates and throw them into the battle to see who survives and who becomes cannon fodder. But IronFX had formal classroom instruction within their massive, start-up-feeling campus.  IronFX was hiring college graduates with language skills and was teaching the graduates how to be salespeople in the spot FX & CFD industry (what I call the Margin Trading Products or “MTP” industry).

Now back to my colleague that I had to let go a few years ago.  A big part of the issue was the fact that he had no idea how to incorporate a budget into his management.  When I would ask for a budget for his team, he had no idea what I was talking about.  I assumed his IronFX manager (Regional Sales Manager) must have run the budgeting.  But I gave him some background, gave him some questions to think about, and then asked him to propose a budget for his 6 person team.

He came back proposing his 7 person sales team (including himself) would raise on average 175,000 EURUSD in net client deposits per month, or 2,100,000 annually.  Very soft numbers, but I at least had a starting point to base my budget, and a starting point to use for improving the sales team performance.  With an expected net client deposit from his team of 2,100,000, I assumed the company could turn that into approx 700,000 of revenues.  (I know income of 33% of AUM is crazy for some to understand, but I will get to the economics of the Margin Trading Industry in another post).  Here is where his IronFX training and my understanding of the realities of the economics of running a MTP brokerage split.

His team had a salary cost of 180,000 EUR per annum.  His budget assumed each team member get a 100% bonus for hitting these targets (another 180,000 EUR of costs).  And the next two items blew me away.  His math showed each team member traveled business class around the globe to three or four events each year, and spent lavishly on clients and referrers while there.  That is 7 people travelling 4 times per year (28 travel persons), flying business class (assume 6,000 EUR per trip) and staying at nice hotels (assume 2,000 EUR per trip), then spending on clients and referrers (assume 3,000 EUR per trip).  That math comes to 280,000 EUR annually.  Between Salary, Bonus, and Travel his team’s costs were 668,000 EUR of the expected available 700,000 EUR in revenues generated!!  Huh??!!??  Did he really just submit that?

After my initial shock, I calmed down and asked him to walk me through the numbers.  There had to have been a mistake.  We went through his numbers and he stayed right where he started.  It was not until I said his proposed “budget” would eat up more than 90% of the revenues his team brought in that I realized the insanity of IronFX’s training program.  He looked at me like I was crazy.

“668,000 of 2,100,000 was not 90%.”, said he.

I said “668,000 of 700,000 is over 90%”.

“Where are you getting this 700,000 number from?”, he asked.

I explained my assumption of 33% of 2,100,000 in client deposits would give us 700,000 EUR in revenues from his team.

He said, “What the hell are you talking about.  I am telling you we will bring in 2,100,000 EUR in Revenues.”

He was not in denial, and he can do basic math. The problem was in his training from IronFX.  You see, IronFX instructs their Sales persons and Sales Manager that client deposits equal revenues.  Again (for those who are not thoroughly shocked)……a brokerage firm was instructing it’s Sales and Sales Managers that each dollar (or Euro, or Yen) deposited with the brokerage was not an asset that was owed back to the client, but rather was income the broker could expect to have available to run the brokerage!  It was an instant ponzi-scheme to those who would question it, but to those needing a job and impressed by the awesome surroundings of the IronFX campus and the hyper-growth of the company, it was what they needed to learn to be a part of the growing team at IronFX.  IronFX could not be wrong, could they?  They were a very visible business to the regulators on the FX-crazy island of Cyprus.  If IronFX said it was so, then they must be right!

(The travails of IronFX are well documented at Financefeeds.com an on other industry news sites  and there are currently two former IronFX China executives on trial.  But the company has not been shut down in it’s home country of Cyprus despite the well-known and agreed fact that the company is at least $170 million underwater.)

But back to the point of my post.  Training in a company is vitally important.  It hammers home company culture & expectations.  It lays out processes and knowledge bases.  It forces Managers to think through the daily processes within their departments and gets standardized information up to senior management.  Don’t slack on training for new employees or you are have an inefficient (at best!) workforce.  And training does not end after the initial introduction to the company and role.  Engaged employees are valuable.  So continue to offer them internal and external training that helps them in their career.  Seek out your best employees and have them build training workshops for those who come after them.  I give credit to to Chet Holmes’ “The Ultimate Sales Machine” for helping me understand the importance of proper training.

But the lesson for me in this interaction is that incorrect training is a ticking time-bomb.  Both for the company and the employees.  Whether purposeful (IronFX) or not, training had better happen and happen correctly.  Your employees with do what they are trained to do.  And your company is the aggregated output of what your employees do.

Remote Workplace Culture (con’t)

I expect I will write about this subject more often.  I have spent a lot of time reading and thinking about it, and as Visual Trading continues to add momentum and employees I will use this place as a means to flesh out my thinking.

As leader of remote teams, I have recognized the importance of following up and repeating myself for expectations.  Even small items like how to use a ticketing platform.  One of the teams implemented a new platform, and with any new platform there is a learning curve.  We tried a few features and functions (“F&F”), choosing to keep using a few and abandon some others.  With this baseline usage, we decided to add other F&F’s.  Like most new processes, we try things for a few weeks, share our thoughts, and determine whether to continue or abandon.

Though it was discussed on an informal call, some off the team members are not using the new F&F’s.  I got frustrated once, but then realized that to fully implement usage, I am asking people to change their habits.  So I need to help them understand how to change their habits.  Merely demanding it is not enough.

How to help change habits?  Today when the first few support tickets rolled in, I told the team not to load them into the ticketing platform.  Once there were four tickets I grabbed the two team members who had not been using the new F&F’s and together we input the tickets using the new F&F’s.  I helped them see what we are doing and why I think it will work.  And I re-iterated their input on the F&F’s will be important when we review in a few weeks.

As I have monitored the ticketing platform today, I see the new F&F’s being used by all team members.  With a truly remote team, the ability to cajole usage by sitting next to someone is not there.  And “public” reminders via team chats are not great either.  So topic-specific training from the top down is now a part of my processes when we want to implement a new process or procedure.

PS – When I went to search for an image to tie into this post, I typed in “remote training”, which Google auto-filled as “remote training collar” and populated the search with electric shock dog collars.  I am not condoning the use of electric shock collars on team members (yet).  😉

 

 

 

Replace “Productivity” with “Processes”

My version of being productive was interrupted for 6 days when I misplaced (aka: lost) my trusted Moleskin Notebook.

I truly realized that my level of productivity is driven by my use of the processes I have honed over the years.  Use the notebook to set a weekly Goals and daily tasks; block incoming messages when doing project work, delegate and follow up, etc.

Found my notebook today and feel good knowing I am back up to my productivity norms (and always working on improving.)

 

Trading Regulation Change Happening Quickly & Quietly

I know to expect looser regulations in the world of finance under Trump.  Just look at his cabinet picks and advisors.  Its a murderer’s row of hedge fund guys and senior bankers  (Plus that nutjob Betsy DeVries).

I expected the changes to take a while to go into effect because I was thinking about equity markets and banks.  But banks and equities markets are easy fodder for the media; especially the mainstream media.  And Trump is making this move under the radar of the mainstream media because he is making changes to the CFTC.  (Note: I agree with a NYT piece that stated, “…Trump…is an moral and intelligence midget.”  But he is POTUS and is who I have to deal with for a while)

A few old hands at the CFTC have quickly departed, and Trump is naming “markets” guys like J. Christopher Giancarlo in their place.  And the 23+ year leader of the NFA, Dan Roth who presided over a number of massive scandals costing clients and traders billions of dollars, left last year.  Maybe that entity will get better organized and start acting as the ” industrywide, self-regulatory organization for the U.S. derivatives industry.”

So look for the beneficiaries to be the hedge funds who play in the futures and derivatives markets, and maybe (just maybe) look for the rise of the US retail trading industry to grow by leaps and bounds in the next few years.

 

 

Manhunt

Interesting show concept.  It was up on screen as I got down to some Sunday night work after the NE Patriots won their AFT Championship game versus Pittsburgh.

I have thought about it before; when the two prison inmates in upstate NY escaped and evaded for a few days.  Could I do it?  What would the first steps be?  Flee far, or stay close?  Into a city and mix with the homeless and unnamed?  Or head to the woods with a tent and sleeping bag?

Richard Marcinko, the legendary former commander of SEAL Team Six played a game with those in his charge.  On occasion he would drop two guys off in a random town in an Eastern European country (Slovenia, Czeck Republic, Montenegro, etc)….take all their possessions such as passports, money, credit cards, weapons…..and tell them to meet him at a certain pub in London 4 days from now.  What a rush it must have been to be off on an adventure such as that.

But could I do it?  Not for real life, but for a show?  Vanish for 28 days?  In the show it is two people, paired up.  I think going solo it would be achievable.  But pairs stand little chance.

 

 

 

Team, Tools, Processes

Found a good read on “Remote First” company culture here from Wade Foster of Zapier.  I particular liked many of the Processes he uses at Zapier.

The bits and pieces from the third category, Processes are:

1. Everyone does support

The customer is our lifeblood. We strive everyday to solve our customers’ problems and help make their job just a little bit easier. When everyone on the team does support, everyone gets to hear the voice of the customer.

Also, the people who build the product also end up supporting the product. If a customer is angry about a bug, then the person who introduced said bug is going to hear about it and fix it right away.

5. Monthly One-on-Ones

In every job I ever had (even co-located ones), there wasn’t enough feedback between me and my supervisor. So at Zapier, I setup a recurring monthly event with each team member where we both jump on Skype or Google Hangout to chat about four things: what’s one thing you’re excited about, what’s one thing you’re worried about, what’s one thing I can do better to help him with your job, and what’s one thing you can do better to improve at your job.

These questions are consistent so it’s easy to prepare and so that it’s easy to measure changes over time. We specifically limit it to one item per question. One item is easily achievable for a person each month. But over time, being able to fix one issue a month adds up.

The answers to each monthly session are logged in a Google Document so that the next session we can reference the previous month’s information and check on how we did.

The below point is the most challenging question of working with remote teams……

6. A culture of accountability

One question often presented is “how do you know if people are doing work?” Any easy way we know is with Friday updates. Each Friday, every person on the team posts an update to Async about what they shipped that week and what they are working on for the next week.

This makes it easy to keep in the loop on projects and also keeps everyone at Zapier accountable to everyone else to do their part.

8. Automate anything that can be automated

The core of Zapier is automation. There are a couple reasons why we automate things. One, it allows us to keep the team size small since we don’t need people on staff to perform repetitious, mundane and boring tasks. Two, it lets teammates focus on high impact work nearly all of the time rather than figuring out less impactful things, like the proper deploy commands.