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Archive for July, 2006

Cornell U on culture and hiring

Monday, July 31st, 2006

Those of you who’ve been reading my blog know I hold pretty passionate beliefs (dating back over 30 years) about MAP (mindset, attitude, philosophy™) and how it affects company culture, management, staffing, motivation, and all things human. You know my definitions of good MAP and what I consider the hallmarks of good culture, how hiring needs to be a core competency for all managers, and how much culture can affect hiring. But, to be honest, over those years I often felt like a ghost preaching in the face of a hurricane.

The climate first improved when culture was talked about by the media as a real force within companies and highlighted after divestiture (1984) by Charlie Brown’s (unsuccessful) effort to change it at [the original] AT&T. It got another giant boost from Lou Gerstner when he made changing the culture central to IBM’s turn around. Today, culture is pretty much a mainstream topic, although there’s still too little talk about how much it should affect hiring.

So imagine my delight when I read a Cornell University post on Science Blog about research being presented this month that confirms just about everything I’ve been saying all this time.

But in spite of all the research coming down the pike, all the media articles on it’s importance, and all the chatter at parties, too many managers still seem to think that they can somehow implement these things externally, instead of understanding that, for better or worse, to work they must be embedded in the manager’s MAP.

Miki’s Rules to Live by 3

Friday, July 28th, 2006
Problems, difficulties, challenges and all negative stuff are like clothes—
take them off before you go to bed!

The age worm

Thursday, July 27th, 2006

Today I thought I’d add my two cents to the commentary on one of the most studied and discussed worms in the workplace can. The complaints of the over forty crowd are well documented, but after the 2000 meltdown I heard many of the same comments from the under thirty crowd.

I don’t have a PhD in psychology, but fools do rush in, so I want to share a theory I’ve had for awhile regarding an underlying cause of age-related hiring and management problems—whether old or young.

Over the years I’ve found that the inability of many older and younger people (not all, but some) to work with and for those in the opposite group has more to do with their own hang-ups and personal issues than anything else. As a shrink friend once said, how many truly functional families do you know?

  • Older workers tend to minimize the judgment and knowledge of those much younger than themselves and offer to “guide” them—the younger worker sees this as patronizing and insulting;
  • younger workers often assume that older workers won’t listen and don’t “get it,” and so they rebel.

Recognizing this, why are people so surprised when the work dynamic in play is that of parent/child, not worker/manager or worker/peer. People aren’t water faucets. It’s difficult to turn off those programmed reactions and hire your “parent” or “kid,” but it’s time you learned. Why? Because there is a long-term, serious people shortage and your future reviews depend on being able to hire the best—people who’ll make you look not just good, but great!

Attitude is catching

Wednesday, July 26th, 2006

We’ve all heard, in one variation or another, of the ongoing battle between positive and negative that is fought within each person. One of the best versions is credited to the Cherokee and uses wolves to represent the opposing sides. I like this one because it recognizes that there may seem to be no difference in appearance (in other words, you can’t always tell a book by the cover) and goes on to say that the wolf that wins the battle will be the wolf that is fed.

Skipping the biggies (kill, lie, cheat, steal), just what impact does the battle have within the workplace? And what, as a manager, is your responsibility?

A lot, as it turns out—and it even has a name. It’s called “emotional contagion” and much of the recent research that’s been done has focused on emotionally negative or positive bosses. The results won’t surprise those of us who’ve been exposed to “glass half empty” people—the experts have proved that negative emotions, especially in leaders, can bring a group down faster than running air conditioning during flu season.

What can you do? Start by staying aware of your own mood. It’s hard to be upbeat when you walk out of a meeting with an enraged client, or a design review for a project about to go over budget, but if you don’t, you’ll bring down the rest of your team and that’ll blow off the entire day (or week or even longer).

Overcome your mood using a simple approach that I first learned from a book by Napoleon Hill more years ago than matters. He said, “Think, act, walk and talk like the person you want to become and you’ll become that person.” He also said, “Act enthusiastic and you’ll become enthusiastic” Put them together and you have an unbeatable, simple, solution for keeping your own morale and, as a result, the morale of your team, positive and productive.

And what about your people? You need to deal with any kind of negativity, including a “blue” mood, immediately. Talk to the person privately; you can’t force someone to discuss a problem, but you can offer your help. You also need to make it clear that whatever is going on you can’t allow it to bring down the team—that while at work he needs to present a positive front. If it’s a personal life problem, especially a big one (illness, loss of life, etc.) offer your support and find out how much of the situation you’re allowed to share with the team. Remember, with personal information, sharing is the employee’s call, not yours.

Sometimes, when really bad stuff happens, it’s hard to act, let alone, be positive, but it’s easier on the team if they understand, even generally, the situation and can be supportive. Also, remember that you aren’t, and shouldn’t be, either shrink or confidante, but you can help them find and connect with resources that offer support and solutions.

Sure, these approaches may seem simplistic, but oft times simple is best. After all, you’re not trying to solve the cause, but to mitigate the effect.

Virtual MAP—real impact

Tuesday, July 25th, 2006

In the course of the months I’ve been writing this blog I’ve frequently referred to how managers’ MAP impacts who they hire; how managers prefer to hire within their comfort zones, etc. Each time I write on this topic I receive email explaining that many of these difficulties could be avoided by hiring VAs (virtual assistants, many of which are virtual professionals). It was pointed out that since they didn’t meet/work face-to-face the problems would not arise, but is that really true?

Whether or not a job should be outsourced is beside the point for purposes of this discussion, but having virtual employees, whether temporary or permanent, won’t improve or fix management MAP.

The idea that a manager’s mindset, attitude, philosophy and preconceived notions all change or go away because the interaction is virtual is ridiculous—almost all the same issues come into play. Bad attitude (whether the manager’s or candidate’s) show up just as much in email, instant messages and phone conversations as they do face-to-face; the manager who doesn’t like to hire female engineers is unlikely to hire one because she is working virtually; age (whether younger or older) is almost as obvious in language usage as it is visually (if it wasn’t already noticed in the résumé or skill set); etc.

The real problem (or challenge, if you prefer) is one of manager MAP (mindset, attitude, philosophy)™ and that’s what needs to change. The same problems usually affect the current organization, not just future hires, whether on-site, telecommutes, or virtual. If managers won’t hire someone because of a personal attitude, then how in the world can they manage similar people, since the same attitudes that create barriers when hiring create problems in managing?

Further, what are the chances of a manager being able to completely control every single person hired into their organization? In order to do that the manager would have to be the founder of the company, with every person reporting directly to him, which precludes growth, or a CEO who insists on final approval of every person hired, which practically guarantees failure.

So the true, the only, solution is for managers to change.

Culture Pays!

Monday, July 24th, 2006

Culture has definitely moved to the front burner in the corporate mindset. Almost every article and comment regarding the workplace is, directly or indirectly, a comment on culture—what works, or not; what’s needed, or not. Want to innovate? Change the culture. Increase retention? Fix/keep the culture. It’s a case of ignore culture at your peril for Boards, CEOs, executives and managers at all levels. Keeping people (customers, employees and investors) is the key to sustainable success and culture is one of the main reasons that people join/buy/invest in a company—and its demise is a major reason why they leave.

Think of a tripod, with customers, investors/stockholders, and employees comprising each of the legs. Over-favor one leg and it will get too long, ignore another leg and it will shrink, but the end result is the same—the tripod tips over.

Two of these legs have long alternated as management’s approach du jour, the much hyped “customer is king” and “maximizing shareholder value.” The idea being that concentrating completely on one leg or the other would assure success. Worse, the third leg, employees, has generally been ignored. It is the shortest, scrawniest, and weakest leg of the tripod because the prevailing attitude has been either that people could be bought and replaced as needed; or that their paycheck was of such importance, and their insecurities so great, that they would tolerate any environment or treatment in order to keep their jobs.

However, (as they say) the times they are a changin’, in part, thanks to Frederick Reichheld, who’s written numerous books on the economic effects of loyalty, and shown in carefully researched studies that a 5% improvement in retention translates to a 25%-100% gain in earnings. (Loyalty Rules). Loyalty happens because people like the stuff the company says it believes in, and that stuff is embodied in its culture. In other words, good culture pays!

Another major change for companies in terms of its employees is the changed mindset regarding what used to be called “job hopping.”

  • Generation Y thinks nothing of having “several jobs in their first five years out of college.”
  • Generation X grew up amid the corporate upheaval of the eighties and nineties, which resulted in a willingness to change jobs with a frequency unheard of in the past.
  • The Boomers have learned from their children and are far more willing to change, too.
  • Demographics are killing business—starting with the Boomers putting off having children and Gen X and Y waiting longer, too—there is a shortage of people, skilled or not.

For everything that’s being written regarding creating good, let alone great, cultures you need to start with the basics:

  • Open, honest, constant communications
  • Never kill the messenger
  • Accept and act on input from all levels
  • Walk your talk

Sure, there’s tons more you can do, but I guarantee that if you do only these four you’ll enjoy a quantum leap in loyalty.

Interviewing (finally:)

Friday, July 21st, 2006

Managers at every level have a responsibility to spend the company’s resources—money and time—wisely; interviewing is costly on many levels, especially time, so it makes sense to spend wisely and aim for the highest possible productivity. In other words, get the biggest bang for the buck and the minute.

To this end, RampUp has a productivity rule that we instill in our clients: You should be 70% sure you want to hire the candidate and the candidate should be 70% sure he wants to work for you before the first face-to-face interview happens.

Many managers, headhunters and HR people think of a phone interview as a quick surface qualifier prior to inviting the candidate in for a “real” interview. Change this mind-set and you can ensure faster response time, better qualified candidates, and more efficient staffing. Good phone interviews take the place of first-time face-to-face interviews.

In some cases it even makes sense for more than one person to do a phone interview. Multiple phone interviews, as long as they are done quickly, are a major time-saver—not just for you, but also for the candidate—and should be presented as such. It’s important that the candidate understand that this process is mutually beneficial. Explain the 70% Rule emphasizing that the goal is for her to have enough information about you, your position, and the company that she is also 70% sure she wants the on-site interview.

No matter the labor market, good candidates have virtually zero shelf life. If contact isn’t initiated almost instantly and the hiring process launched, you run the risk of a more nimble manager wooing and winning the candidate from under your nose. A phone interview—not a conversation, but a real, first-time interview—is the fastest way to get the ball rolling! To do this successfully prepare for it exactly the same way as for an on-site interview. Here are nine key points to enhance your interviews, whether by phone or in-person:

  1. Work to create a relaxed mood. Interviews are very stressful for most people—the fear of rejection, of looking foolish, of “not doing it right”—and it is up to the interviewer to set the mood. The more relaxed the mood the better the interview > the more information you will get > the better a decision you will each be able to make.
  2. Make the interview a conversation. By creating a discussion, as opposed to a Q&A session, you will lower the stress level and get more and better information. This allows you to make a better decision. It is not the person’s skill at interviewing that you want to assess. Interviews that put the candidate in a defensive position or “final exam” mode increase stress and reduce both the quantity and the quality of the information received.
  3. Ask open-ended, information-gathering questions. Here are some examples:

    • What problems arose in your last project? What approach was taken to solve them? Did you agree with that approach? If not, what approach would you have taken? Why?
    • Show me [on the whiteboard] how you would approach this circuit problem [or whatever]. (Discover methodology.)
    • What do you like most about your current job/project/manager? Least? Why?
    • In what direction(s) would you like your career to develop?
    • In what ways do you feel you could contribute to our success?
    • What motivates you? Why? Demotivates you? Why?
    • What are you looking for professionally or personally that is not available in your current situation? What would you like to accomplish while working here?
  4. Be interested. If you seem bored or distracted, don’t expect the candidate to be interested. Draw the candidate out. Remember that interviewing is not something most people enjoy, so if you are both working to make it better, the results improve exponentially.
  5. Don’t make assumptions. If you want to know something (legal) ask about it directly (and if it isn’t legal don’t verbally play around trying to figure it out). This is a typical assumption scenario from a headhunter/manager debriefing: “We really liked her, but she can’t do THIS.” hh: “Did you ask her if she could do THIS?” “No, but it wasn’t in the resume and we talked about some tangential areas and she didn’t mention it.” hh: “They really liked you, but you can’t do THIS, and they need somebody who can do THIS.” “I can do THIS. They never asked and my [current] manager doesn’t think it’s important so I didn’t mention it.” hh: “She says she can do THIS. Why don’t you give her a call and discuss it?”
  6. Be honest. Level with the candidate. Tell her the good stuff and the bad stuff and the in-between stuff. She will hear it anyway and will have a higher opinion of you for being honest.
  7. Candidates don’t forget. When discussing the future—career moves, new projects, new technology, promotions, etc.—talk about the reality. Reality is not a promise or a guarantee; it’s a “probably,” a “possibly,” a “depending,” a “hopefully,” and you should say it that way.
  8. Treat the candidate the same way you want to be treated when you’re interviewing!
  9. When in doubt use your common sense. When your head says one thing and your gut another, most managers say to go with your gut.
  10. The trickiest interviews are with the seemingly terrific candidate. Beware the person who seems so good and is so well-liked that the red flags are ignored.

Finally, here are the weeks if-you-learn-nothing-else points:

  • As a manager, you are who you hire.
  • Hiring is a function of your MAP. It can be learned. Learning it enables you to hire great people.
  • Involving employees in the hiring process lightens the load, reduces the blunders, and strengthens your people.
  • The first step in efficient hiring is knowing how to read a resume.
  • Using phone interviews as “real interviews” lets you implement the 70% Rule decreasing the number of on-site interviews needed per hire. You’ll experience a quantum leap in hiring productivity, saving time and money.
  • Your company has many assets besides money to attract candidates. You must know what they are and believe in them in order to sell them to potential employees—because the candidate who joins just for money will leave for more money.

OK, the week’s over and those of you implement what you’ve learned can look forward to at least a 100% improvement in your hiring productivity.

Plan your interviews!

Thursday, July 20th, 2006

Jim was interviewing for a design position and was scheduled to see six people. The first was late; the second had never seen the resume and couldn’t find a copy; the third interviewed Jim for the wrong position; the fourth didn’t show; the fifth was in a meeting. The sixth, Kim, was the junior person on the team. She was fully prepared, available, had the resume and had read it, knew the position. Kim asked Jim how it had gone so far. Much to Kim’s embarrassment, he told her about the previous five non-interviews and they spent the time discussing what had happened and comparing it to other places Jim had interviewed. The result? When Jim was hired at another hot-growth company, he called Kim and told her she should check it out. Kim was treated so well at the interview she changed jobs even though she had not been looking!

This scenario, and variations of it, are happening many times a day all over the country. It happens in good companies and involves good people who aren’t adequately prepared or don’t want to be in the interviewing loop. When you ask competent people to do tasks in which they don’t feel secure about their ability to perform, you have no right to complain about their performance. Interviewing is a learned skill, but rarely a taught one! Teach your people to interview, how to sell the available opportunity, and prepare them for each one, and a significant portion of your staffing problems will disappear.

Back when I was a headhunter we had a maxim, “You shouldn’t send a candidate of whom you know little to a company of which you know less. As a manager, “You shouldn’t participate in an interview you know little about, with a candidate you know less about, at a time you weren’t told about.”

Managers who wouldn’t consider “winging it” for a presentation, client or staff meeting will wing it in an interview and often expect other interviewers to do the same. When will people learn? Winging it doesn’t save time it wastes it—along with candidates. First impressions matter and aren’t easily changed. As with any complex exercise, having a plan of action is mandatory. Here are six points to help you plan.

  1. Read the resume before the interview.
  2. Decide exactly what you want to find out during the interview.
  3. Write down a series (however many are necessary) of well-defined, open-ended (can’t be answered yes or no) questions to guide the interview and achieve number 2 above.
  4. Questions such as “Tell me about yourself” and “What do you want to be doing five years from now?” rarely yield good information.
  5. Few people enjoy interviewing, so you must focus your mind and be sincerely interested. If you’re wishing you were someplace else during the interview, the candidate will pick up on it.
  6. Find the “why” behind the answer. “Why” is personal. It will open up the conversation and give you the opportunity to learn a lot about how the candidate thinks. Who a person is is as important in hiring as what the person does.

Even if you have an HR department it’s still your responsibility (as hiring manager) to make sure that each person interviewing receives

  • a copy of the req;
  • a copy of the resume;
  • the day and (approximate) time of the interview;
  • knows the specific information for which she is responsible;
  • and some kind of evaluation form.

Never lose sight of the fact that you’re going to spend at least as much time with this person as you do with your family for (hopefully) several years.

Well, you’re all planned, now you actually need to do the interview, and that’s where we’ll finish up tomorrow.

Hiring talent requires selling!

Wednesday, July 19th, 2006

One trait common to managers and employees alike is the desire to succeed—both are always searching for ways to look good to their bosses. For managers, accomplishing this is both simple and difficult—simple because the advice is age old: Hire the best people even if they are smarter than you and you have to pay them more; difficult because following this advice can bring paranoia and insecurities to a boil. However, if your desire is to complete the project on time and within budget; juice innovation; find creative solutions to procedural bottlenecks; turn a cost center into a revenue generator; reduce department turnover and lower recruiting costs; increase quality; develop better service and stronger ties with your customer—while the list is endless, the source of success is the same: People.

Recently a manager I know said, “In some ways I miss the good old days (most recent recession) when there were plenty of candidates and I could pick and choose.” He might think that was true, but no matter what the market the smartest managers knew they had to sell their company and they learned how to do it! They did that to

  • better compete for talent;
  • get the candidate to accept the offer;
  • hire without always resorting to increased salary/benefits;
  • ensure a better fit;
  • make it harder for headhunters to steal their people.

But the foremost reason to learn to sell is that it is the fastest, simplest, and only way to guarantee your own personal success! As a manager, there is nothing you can do individually that will offset a nonperforming group. When you choose management, you are choosing to lead and motivate—not do it yourself.

The ability to sell your company doesn’t mean talking someone into taking the job, it means presenting your story in an appealing way, projecting your enthusiasm, portraying your company as a great place to work, and, most importantly, doing it honestly.

Life is full of silly assumptions and two that I’ve run into in this area are that people

  • know how to interview, know what to talk about, remember to cover all the bases, and are good at it; and
  • will automatically sell during interviews, know how to sell, and are good at it.

First, people aren’t born knowing how to interview—there is no interviewing gene—it’s a learned skill, just like any other in the business world.

Next, other than sales professionals, most people don’t consider themselves to be salespeople. However, if they ever convinced anybody to do anything that was their idea they’ve sold. As with any presentation ever made, you must know why your offering is great and believe it! Think about yourself in relation to your company—think about the whys

  • Why do you work there?
  • Why are you excited?
  • Why are you passionate?

Selling your company isn’t about lying or spin, it’s about drawing out the candidate to discover what she’s really looking for—what turns her on, what turns her off—and addressing those needs and desires.

In order to sell, you need to know all about your company, the position, career path, etc. The best part about honest selling is that you don’t have to remember what you said! You want to make the most of selling what your company has and improving it when possible instead of agonizing over those things you don’t and can’t have. Just don’t fall into the “idiot trap” by thinking that

  • you’re smarter than the candidate, therefore the candidate won’t know when you’re blowing smoke; or
  • the candidate will forget statements or promises made during the interview.

The assumptions that companies make about what sells, why people change jobs, why they accept offers, etc., also tend to create problems. There’s a myth out there that the best people all have the same hot buttons:

  • Family-friendly
  • encourages risk taking
  • Cutting-edge work
  • Free-wheeling culture
  • High growth rate

As with most assumptions, these are delusions. Furthermore the people who want one or more of these circumstances are not necessarily better than the people who don’t want them. Even company politics or a reputation for being bureaucratic and slow is not on everybody’s taboo list. The fact is a person might take a certain job in a certain company at a certain time for reasons that not only aren’t apparent, but don’t really matter outside of the candidates own mind.

Different people have different needs. Take a truly honest look—at your company, your group, your products, yourself, your world—and then sell what you really have to offer. The worst error is to hire a round peg for a square hole, even if she is a world-class peg. If you are a mature company and hire a great candidate by convincing her that you can satisfy her risk-taking desire, you are setting up a scenario for failure. Similarly if you are a hot, young start-up and hire a brilliant marketer who wants to work 45 hours a week in a structured environment with lots of resources, that too is a disaster waiting to happen. Neither candidate is better than the other—just different with different needs.

You want the best person for your specific position—the person who can be a happy, productive member of your team—not the best person in existence as measured on some cosmic industry yardstick. It doesn’t matter what you have to offer; it will light someone’s fire and that person will produce for you.

Do’s and Don’ts of selling


  • ask your employees why they’re there and what are the biggest selling points: project, people, growth opportunity, career path, etc.
  • start selling at the first opportunity, the ad, and sell at every contact thereafter until the person starts work.
  • communicate your passion.
  • listen, don’t just talk.
  • identify the candidate’s desires and explain how your opportunity can satisfy them.


  • lie—ever.
  • make assumptions.
  • get carried away and forget to actually interview.

Good hiring is based on a simple idea—that the highest productivity gains come when employees are happy. When an employee is challenged, appreciated, and given the opportunity to develop: happy > turned on and motivated > higher productivity > increased success, satisfaction, and loyalty. The credit goes to the manager and that reputation will proceed her wherever she goes.

Finally, as important as selling is, it’s not the only thing that needs to happen during the interviews, whether by phone or in person. That’s why interviews must be planned (tune in tomorrow).

Don’t hog the hiring!

Tuesday, July 18th, 2006

Continuing on with hiring thoughts. Want to make filing your openings easier? Want to use staffing itself as a way to strengthen your organization and build ownership? It’s easy—get others involved.

Few companies would consider doing a major project using individual contributors instead of teams. Hiring is a major project, one that has substantial long-term impact on the group, department, and company. So, why are teams used in every part of business today—except staffing. Why is it assumed that the various parts of staffing are a function only of managers and HR? In today’s fast-paced work environment, it’s hard for managers to block out several consecutive minutes, let alone the hours, needed to source candidates, read resumes, screen, etc.

Speaking as an ex-headhunter, I’m here to say that the mechanics of recruiting aren’t rocket science; they may not be intuitive, but anybody can learn them. And when it comes to recruiting, there is no manager, no HR person, certainly no headhunter who is as impressive to an outsider as employees excited about their company.

Candidates really respond positively to being recruited by a peer! A peer who likes her company so much she is willing to put time into the staffing process? A manager to whom hiring is not about control but rather about empowerment? Who sees hiring as a chance to shine, not a necessary evil? Who not only understands the desire to make a difference but actually gives people extra opportunities to do so? Wow! That is the kind of manager most good candidates want to work for! Nobody can sell the company or the group or the project or the manager with the same intensity and passion as the company’s own people!

Sadly, some managers are not comfortable with any form of staff involvement. The reasons range from control issues (involvement in staffing is very empowering) to fear (the manager feels insecure) to disinterest (staffing has a low priority).

More bodies ease the load, as well as supplying creative ideas and fresh energy to the staffing effort . Further, teams

  • empower and give your people a feeling of ownership;
  • they learn critical managerial skills;
  • it spreads the workload; and
  • helps minimize new employee friction.

With the exception of technical interviewing anybody in your company can be on the team, whether they are from that department or not. Sure, it takes a well written job req, but almost everybody in your company knows as much technically as most headhunters—and they certainly know more about the company. Best of all, they really care!

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