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Archive for July, 2006

Hiring is a MAP function!

Monday, July 17th, 2006

Speaking of hiring and MAP (mindset, attitude, philosophy™) (we weren’t, but we’re going to this week). A manager’s attitude towards hiring is, without question, the biggest single factor in hiring successfully, which, in turn, is the biggest factor in successful retention. (You can’t hire the wrong person today and still have her next year.)

In other words, it pays to hire wisely and well. Most managers I know agree with this statement, but the de facto performances I run into contradict their words. One director-level manager in a large high tech company privately told me that, “Interviewing is the biggest waste of my time. It consumes the most time for the least return of anything I do.” (I can’t repeat what I told him in a public blog.) Publicly, however, he extols the virtue of “quality hiring” and “staffing today for tomorrow.”

Headhunters and HR run directly into this contradictory public/private attitude all the time. Here’s on of my favorite examples. (Definitely no names!)

A controller needed to hire a financial analyst. The HR department kept running ads and forwarding resumes to him only to be told that none were a good fit. The HR manager finally went to the controller’s office personally to find out why none of more than 50 carefully prescreened resumes had been considered strong enough to bring in for an interview. She found all the resumes stacked on his desk, obviously untouched and unread. When she confronted him with this, he admitted that he had not looked at them but said that none fitted in order to have a constant stream of current candidates available “as soon as he got around to it.”

I love telling this story. No matter where, at least a dozen people stop to tell me that my example either (had) worked for them, was a peer, or was their boss, and that I must have changed the title from Controller to protect the anonymity—thus confirming my own view that this behavior is way too common!

Obviously, as with any MAP-related item, real change needs to be internally driven, but it can certainly be externally encouraged. And the best encourager is vested self-interest, which is easily activated by committing a viable percentage of the annual bonus to a combination of low turnover and filling openings with speed and accuracy (hiring the right person for the right position at the right time and for the right reasons).

Building a Senior Staff Powerhouse

Friday, July 14th, 2006

Whether you’re the CEO of a Fortune 100 or the owner of a small biz you need a senior staff. “Senior staff” doesn’t necessarily mean a bunch of vice presidents (although, for convenience, I’m going to use that title in this post), but it does mean the top people in your company who manage different functions (with or without staff). They are the people the CEO relies on

  • as a sounding board;
  • for both tactical and strategic intelligence;
  • to tell it like it is—even when he doesn’t want to hear it
  • to see and understand the big picture;
  • to lead the effort in employee acquisition, motivation, and retention;
  • to support and strengthen the culture she envisioned;
  • to not sabotage another group or start a turf war, and
  • to help stamp out politics whenever and wherever it rears its ugly head.

And more, but you get the idea.

The first item on your agenda when creating a senior staff is to determine what parts of your business/company (beyond the standard ones of finance, development, marketing, and sales) need to report directly to the CEO for peak performance. You never want function that is truly critical to our success reporting through, and responsible to, someone else, because personal agendas can get in the way.

It may be customer service (or whatever it’s called); it could be IT; if you are large enough to have a real HR department (not just a benefits admin) it should definitely report directly. Support functions are often left to report to the CFO, which can prevent them from being used fro real strategic advantage.

Where does one find talented VPs? Now and then you’ll be lucky enough to actually hire one complete with all the bells and whistles, but more likely you will find a current VP, or talented director, with some of them, or with the right potential.

Be aware that one of the main things that sets good VPs apart from other managers is a strong strategic ability, that means they see the entire team and understand how their department fits into the whole. I’ve known many C-level executives who never grasp this, as well as director level (and lower) managers who get it.

All of your staff needs a real understanding of business, including financials, and it’s your responsibility, as their manager, to make sure that they get whatever training and information is needed to do their job as a member of your senior staff.

Further, if you want the most powerful senior staff possible cross train them in each others functions and challenges. Think of the phenomenal value of a CFO who understands the intricacies of manufacturing as more than a set of numbers; a VP of Engineering who understands financials and inventory turns; an HR head who understands what actually happens in the different departments, etc.

Think of the power inherent in a senior staff that understands what it takes to turn an idea into a product and a product into revenue.

Think of what a difference it would make to your ability to do your own job.


Trust and your street rep

Thursday, July 13th, 2006

Trust is an interesting concept. And a necessary one for managers at all levels, but especially for CEOs. When trust doesn’t permeate an organization distrust, discord, fear, and other negative behaviors may take root. Trust is the kind of weed killer gardeners dream of—killing only designated plants and harmless to the rest of the garden.

Obviously, trust can be built over time, but how can you create “instant” trust? Or is that even possible? eBay, and other selling sites, have proved that instant trust is possible, with millions of total strangers buying from, and selling to, total strangers. How’d they do it? According to a survey of buyers and sellers it’s ratings that build trust. Not surprising, companies have been checking references for years. Both on and off line businesses love to show off their testimonials, whether posted on their website or tacked up on bulletin board near the cash register.

Managers, too, are rated locally, industry-wide and, sometimes, even globally, in a street rep[utation] that proceeds them. One of the best examples is Steve Jobs. I have yet to read an article about bad bosses (most recent) that doesn’t mention him. Steve is a perfectionist manager, well known as a screamer, who will stop someone in the hall and scream about an error (no matter how tiny) and publicly humiliate the person about their “stupidity.” People who work for him do so to learn—and they do. They also have ulcers, panic attacks, and other stress-related problems. (Managers like Jobs, whose brilliance, talent and charisma offset their woeful management skill, are practically nonexistent, so he’s probably not the best role model from a people-management perspective.)

As a manager you already have a street rep and you would do well to listen in to what people are saying about you.

  • Google yourself, but be prepared for the worst, since bad comments always get more play than good ones.
  • Arrange to be reviewed by your peers and those who report to you; if you want total honesty make the review truly anonymous.
  • Set up a “Review blog; juice the responses by posting an area to review that day (leadership, assigning tasks, people development, vision, etc.). For this to work you need to leave all comments (except for real spam) up and unedited, although you can respond if it makes sense. Deleting/editing comments invites the writers to post far worse elsewhere.
  • Talk to people and really listen to the responses.

One of the best ways to build your street rep (i.e., trust) is to use the feedback to actually change! If you’re told that

  • it’s difficult to understand exactly what you want done when you assign tasks;
  • they’re not sure exactly what your vision is;
  • instructions are confusing

then you should realize that your communications skills need work and start improving them immediately!

Everything I’ve said here applies equally well to the company’s street rep, both how to find it and how to fix it.

Ratings, references, testimonials, call them what you will, they are critical to building trust which is the basis of a great street rep and street reps have a major impact on attracting and retaining talent!

Mr. Welch, I respectfully disagree…

Wednesday, July 12th, 2006

Today I take my (professional) life in my hands and disagree with an icon. Jack and Suzy Welch write a column in Business Week called, “Ideas The Welch Way” that I’ve been ambivalent about since it’s inception. Jack Welch is one of the gods of the business Parthenon and for a “nobody” to publicly disagree with him—well, fools rush in and all that.

The July 17 column is about what HR is and should be. My disagreement is that they seem to feel that HR should orchestrate, and even do, line management’s job. In the second paragraph they say, “Look, HR should be every company’s “killer app. “What could possibly be more important than who gets hired, developed, promoted, or moved out the door?”

Agreed, nothing is more important; those four actions are critical, but there is no way that the most brilliant HR person can make the call on any of them. They are neither close enough to the day-to-day actions of each department or knowledgeable enough of the work and its technical requirements to determine

  • what skills should be strengthened or what skills-hole needs to be plugged most urgently based on upcoming projects;
  • the subtle competence, latent leadership or intuitive flashes of brilliance that would bloom with effort—or what efforts would produce the best growth;
  • the level and quality of leadership and interpersonal skills in action;
  • whether/when to terminate (unless the company uses some variety of forced ranking, a practice I really detest!)

These are not only the responsibility and decisions of line managers—it’s what they’re paid for!

I’m not saying that top flight HR can’t play a real role in a company’s success. I am saying that it can’t substitute for excellent managers and that the smaller the company the less need for HR talent or, in many cases, any HR beyond benefits administration.

Look, without people there is no such entity as a company (Welch and I agree on that). In my headhunting years I saw stars at all levels change companies and dim under different management; by the same token, I’ve seen people who were terminated for poor performance become internally (and externally!) recognized stars under different management. It’sgreat line managers at all levels that attract and retain talent.

Managers are the reason that

  • within the same company (or division) one department has high turnover while another doesn’t;
  • within a department one manager promotes from within and fills her openings while another doesn’t.

It’s managers that raise productivity, promote innovation, and set the company on the road to success.

And it’s the CEO, supported by his senior staff, which, as Welch says, should include HR, that is the font of the culture that allows and encourages all this to happen.

How to kill the fear

Tuesday, July 11th, 2006

Continuing from yesterday. Just as culture is created from the top, fear is killed from the top.

How do you kill the fear? Not by proclamation, that’s for sure, although the information that the messenger won’t be shot, that failure isn’t the end of the world, that intelligent risk will be rewarded, does need to be announced to the troops.

But first, you need to be sure that your senior staff believes you when you tell it to them; and you can count on its being a hard sell if it’s a major reversal of your current attitude or they recognize it as lip service to the idea du jour.

Since it’s unlikely that kill-the-messenger types are reading this blog, we can proceed with how to align your senior staff with your world view. Assuming there is trust between you and your staff, you need to create an understandable, stable environment within which it’s OK to fail—a little or a lot—but not in the same way over and over.

  • Design a simple methodology provide that environment and encourage risk-taking. There are dozens of examples available on the Net. It’s rarely a good idea to adopt another company’s stratagem whole, but you can adapt ideas/approaches from the best to fit your situation, no matter the size of the source or of your company.
  • The very best (I really believe that there is none better) way to move people in a specific direction, let alone get them to alter their MAP (you can’t force that, they have to want to change), is through the use of vested self-interest. Make it worth their while using innovation bonuses, kudos, etc.
  • Since you know that not every effort is going to pay off revenue-wise, the innovation bonus must be partly for the effort (linked this story yesterday, but you may not have read it) and partly for not killing, or allowing others to kill, the messengers below them.

People are creatures of habit and conditioning. The speed with which the fear is killed is directly related to how much of a cultural change you are implementing. In other words, the greater the balance in your, and each manager’s, “trust” account the faster the fear will die.

One more thought that may be of use to you—my own definition of “failure” is death. I’ve always believed that as long as I could get up (no matter how slowly) and try again that I hadn’t failed, I’d just postponed success.

Kill the fear—not the messenger!

Monday, July 10th, 2006

Culture is on everyone’s mind these days. Starting with Lou Gerstner’s cultural turn around at IBM; Jeff Immelt over at GE working to change from a quantitative, Six Sigma culture to an innovative one; steelmaker Nucor built a culture that is fostering it’s success in one of the toughest businesses around; and, most importantly, innovative companies are learning to appreciate failure in order to innovate.

What’s the common thread? Is there one single thing that holds companies back from building successful cultures that juice innovation, spark creativity and empower their employees/customers/investors?

You bet there is: fear! Fear of being dumped/demoted; fear of being laughed at; fear of what bosses/employees/customers/investors will say when they have the chance; fear of being fired; and all of these fears boil down to one basic belief: the messenger will be killed.

The idea that the bearer of bad news should not be blamed dates back to Sophocles in 442 B.C. and has been reiterated often in the intervening years—obviously, without success, since it’s still an active, though unstated, policy for too many companies and/or managers.

Understanding the problem (why the messenger shouldn’t be blamed) and the solution (why this attitude needs to be in the cultural DNA) isn’t rocket science, so why is it so difficult to make happen?

Tune in tomorrow for ideas and approaches on how to kill the fear—not the messenger!

Learn when?

Thursday, July 6th, 2006

David Anderson, and ex CEO who writes a really cool blog about Italy where he lived, wondered what level people I coached after reading about management by walking around on June 29th. During an email exchange he said, “I was just wondering because the concepts, although valid, are things that should be taught in the very early years of a manager’s career.”

Hey, David, I agree with you—but the problem is that they aren’t! In fact, if you ask most managers how they learned to manage, they’ll say by watching their manager. Some will talk about a really great manager they had, but, too often, they say that when they were promoted they succeeded by doing the opposite of what had usually been done to them! So we’re talking neutral to negative role models more often than not.

A good many of the actions that make for good managers and create great cultures aren’t new, but that doesn’t mean that they’re done either correctly or consistently. And while intelligence and good instincts can take people a long way, managers will go further, faster when they know the “why” along with the “how.” On top of all that, they need the right MAP in order to successfully put these actions into practice.

Miki’s Rules to Live by 2

Monday, July 3rd, 2006

And here, in honor of freedom and the Fourth is the second of my Rules for Living!

Work like you don’t need the money,
love like you’ve never been hurt,
and dance like no one’s watching.

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