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Archive for January, 2007

More proof that cultures pays

Wednesday, January 31st, 2007

Disney stock has risen 51% in the 15 months since Bob Iger took the helm.

The cultural change was almost instantaneous, from a “micromanaging, imperious bullying” CEO to one who says, “The story shouldn’t be about me. It’s about the team.”

Quite a contrast.

Yes, his predecessor, Michael D. Eisner, laid much of the groundwork, but he also created a dysfunction culture of fear and loathing.

Iger turned that around, not by turning over the staff to bring in his own team, but by following the lead of his original mentor, Tom Murphy, founder of CapCities, “You put good people in jobs and give them room to run. You involve yourself in a responsible way, but not to the point where you are usurping their authority. I don’t have the time or concentration—and you could argue maybe even the talent—to do that.”

According to Steve Jobs, Disney’s largest shareholder, “Bob lets [the person] who can handle the job get it done. It’s not [about grabbing] headlines. That’s rare in that town [Hollywood].”

Any boss can do what Iger did, it’s a matter of MAP, not ego.

8 keys to interviewing

Tuesday, January 30th, 2007

Want to be a better interviewer? The answer’s in your MAP, not your genes, and that means that it’s within your control. Here are the most essential points to improve your interviewing skills and achieve better hires.

The most important Key, and this can’t be stressed enough, is the first one:

  1. Treat the candidate exactly the same way you want to be treated when you’re interviewing!
  2. Work to create a relaxed mood. Interviewing is usually stressful on both sides of the desk—the fear of rejection, of looking foolish, of “not doing it right”—and it’s up to the interviewer (you) to set the mood. The more relaxed the mood > the better the interview > the more information you’ll get > the better decision you’ll make.
  3. Make the interview a conversation! It’s not the person’s interviewing skill that you want to assess, so placing the candidate in a defensive position or “final exam” mode that increases stress will also reduce both the quantity and the quality of the information you receive.
  4. Be interested! If you seem bored or distracted, don’t expect the candidate to be interested. Draw the candidate out! 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 (if it’s not legal skip the sneaky questions, people aren’t dumb). Here is a typical assumption scenario between a headhunter, hiring manager and candidate.

mgr to hh: “We really liked her, but she can’t do X.”
hh: “Did you ask her if she could do X?”
mgr: “No, but it wasn’t in the resume and we talked about some tangential areas and she didn’t mention it.”

hh to candidate: “They really liked you, but you can’t do , and they need somebody who can do X.”
candidate: “I can do X. Nobody I interviewed with never asked about X and my [current] manager doesn’t think it’s important, so I didn’t mention it.”

hh to manager: “She says she can do X. Why don’t you give her a call and discuss it?”

  1. 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.
  2. 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 is a “probably,” a “possibly,” a “depending,” a “hopefully.”
  3. When in doubt use your common sense! Interviews are a holistic function, everything you see and hear should hang together without forcing it; any concerns left can be settled when checking references.

Assuring hiring success

Monday, January 29th, 2007

For over 30 years, first as a headhunter, now as a coach, I’ve pushed the idea of involving new hires before they start; of putting out the effort to help them acclimate to the new work, culture and social networks that comprise their new home—as do the best managers and, I’m sure, other recruiters.

Now the concept has not only gone mainstream, it’s moved to the executive suite and gotten its own trendy name—outboarding—and it’s about time.

There’s nobody out there who’s smart enough to walk in cold to a new position at any level and perform or, as managers love to say, hit the ground running and contribute from day one.

The article deals primarily with the practice as used in large companies and at high levels, but here’s how to do it in your company and at any level.

My more mundane name for it is pre-start involvement. It should be ready to go and is triggered by the candidate’s acceptance. It’s worth doing at every level, from admin to exec, since the goal is faster productivity and higher retention across the company board.

Start by creating a buddy system for all new hires. Choose people interested in being a buddy (it won’t work to order them, in fact, that’s likely to backfire), as close to peer as possible, strong in the areas the new hire needs coaching and knowledgeable about the company and its culture and social networks.

Although assigning a buddy reduces your involvement, it doesn’t eliminate the need for contact with you during the period between acceptance and start. The goal is to make sure your hire-ee is thinking of herself as an employee of your company and not of where she currently works. This is a mind-set you want to start implanting even before you make the offer.

The purpose is to not only strengthen her connection to you and Widget, but also shorten the timeline between starting and actively contributing.

Based on the interviews, both you and your new employee know in which areas she needs to gain knowledge in order to come up to speed quickly. Here are nine steps to follow to accomplish that purpose.

  1. Assign a buddy who can supply help and information on a proactive basis.
  2. Take your new hire and the chosen buddy to lunch to introduce them and break the ice.
  3. Take an assumptive approach when talking about anything in the future. Use phrases such as: When you’re here, After you start, etc.
  4. Give her information to read to familiarize herself with your company and its products.
  5. Discuss the first project and give her information to take home.
  6. Call her after she resigns to make sure things went smoothly.
  7. Besides you and her buddy, have various members of the interviewing team call her occasionally to tell her how much they’re looking forward to working with her.
  8. Solicit her opinion; ask for her suggestions.
  9. Don’t overwhelm her.

Performance reviews

Friday, January 26th, 2007

Love ’em or hate ’em, performance reviews are a fact of life—every employee is reviewed by whoever is one level up.

I’ve read a fair number of articles, arguments and discussions and thought I ‘d share one of the better discussions I’ve seen—better mainly because so much of the discussion comes from working managers.

On November 27 Harvard Professor James Heskett posed the question What’s to Be Done About Performance Reviews? in an open forum in HBS Working Knowledge. He started with an excellent commentary and summation of the practice and questions about it, including forced ranking, then opened the forum to readers.

There are 93 cogent comments, all well worth reading, providing substantial food for thought.

Although I found all the comments of value, it was number 47 that resonated most clearly with me, probably because it played to my own personal prejudices regarding managing.

Maybe it is because my background was as an academic sociologist before I ran a business, but I think this excellent discussion would be strengthened by looking at a “big picture” context. Most comments are looking inside the company/organisation at the performance of employees, but not linking it to wider considerations.

Three things strike me. First, many (not all) of the comments imagine the performance of employees to be a function of their inherent capacity or current motivation. In many cases, however, a poor performer in location X is a good performer in location Y and the difference lies not in the person but in the context and in how she was managed. One of the best Air Force leaders I know told a wonderful story of being a squadron CO of a squadron that was not performing as well as he would have liked. He called his four immediate subordinates in, closed the door and said, “Guys, things aren’t going well. What am I doing wrong?” When a colleague asked about the response, he said, “Well, they spent 15 minutes telling me. Then they spent an hour talking about what they were doing wrong and we never had to have that conversation again.” So the idea that the managers are the first issue and need training, which a couple of people have mentioned, seems to me the starting point.

The second thing, which again only a minority have mentioned, is that the bottom 10 percent of a given organisation might still be outstanding. It is said of the Australian Cricket team, which is ranked number 1 in the world by a long way, that it is harder to get out of it than to get into it, a comment that refers to the enormous stability of the team and the unwillingness of selectors to drop players who are going through a bad patch. In almost every case in recent years, the player going through the bad patch has emerged into good form and the side has won competition after competition.

The third and most important thing, however: Not only is there a “war for talent” going on, but most OECD counties are facing the fact that the population structure is aging and fewer young people are coming onstream to replace baby boomers. In this content, making the primary link between performance reviews and performance improvement, while simultaneously downplaying the link to firing, is likely to be a strategy that will become increasingly relevant.

Stephen Mugford


QQSR, Australia

Once you’ve read them all, share them with other managers in your company; then, most importantly, set aside enough time to discuss them and create a stronger, more beneficial, review function within your own company.

Be a leader

Thursday, January 25th, 2007

Leadership is a strange and wonderful thing. It’s elusive, hard to define.

The best description of leadership I’ve found comes from Lao Tzu, who succinctly refutes the concept of an imperial-styled leader.

In 1915, Theodore MacManus wrote an ad that appeared just once in the Saturday Evening Post. Called The Penalty of Leadership, it was a discourse on the attacks and enmity earned by being a true leader—and it still resonates today.

R. J. House defined “leadership” organizationally and narrowly as “the ability of an individual to influence, motivate, and enable others to contribute toward the effectiveness and success of the organizations of which they are members”

Notice that nowhere is there an indication of the level of the leader; each speaks to what a leader does, as opposed to the position a leader holds.

Being a boss, at any level, doesn’t make you a leader; developing the MAP (mindset, attitude, philosophy) of a leader, and implementing it, requires hard work, not proclamations.

Go on—be a leader.

CEO communication

Wednesday, January 24th, 2007

I read an article yesterday about a CEO who violated many of the principles of MAP and good management.

The CEO is Jobster’s Jason Goldberg.

First, I want it known that I don’t know Jason Goldberg, nor have I followed the situation in the blogsphere. I read Damon Darlin’s article January 23 in the NYTimes and chased down the other references.

The highlights, taken from the article are

  • On Dec. 22, the post summarized five company achievements
  • On Dec. 26, employees were reminded to use up their vacation days (the post has been removed)
  • On Jan. 3, he announced a layoff of 40% of the staff, among other changes.
  • In the article, he excused his actions by claiming, “It’s the nature of Web 2.0 and new media that if you don’t embrace openness, it will come back and bite you.”

To me, in my possible myopia, this isn’t about Why CEOs shouldn’t blog, it’s about whether enabling rumor is good management.

I’ve commented in the past on how to handle bad news and that trust is the basis of a company’s street reputation and the importance of that rep in attracting and retaining staff.

Layoff rumors have damaged employee moral before, during and after the fact long before there was an Internet, let alone a blogsphere; rumors of all kinds have wreaked economic damage on companies and even countries.

The best CEOs understand this; they understand that openness and honesty from the corner office builds trust, that trust engenders loyalty, and that loyalty pays. They also know that none of this is a creation of Web 2.0

My only other thought is a question. I wonder who actually wrote the January 3 post. Read them both, from style to language to construction they certainly seem to come from different pen…I mean keyboards.

The fine art of verbal graphic communications

Tuesday, January 23rd, 2007

The old adage, “one picture is worth a thousand words” is usually true, that’s why fundraisers use some kind of graphic to show how close they are to their goal. That concept gave rise to millions of .ppt files, entire industries dedicated to presenting information graphically, and billions of dollars spent annually to do it.

The best communicators use words to create pictures—images that are simple and graphic enough to create identical impressions in all the minds that hear/read them.

When I was recently asked for an example of this I offered my favorite, which is a version of an email that’s been making the rounds for at least a decade. I think you’ll agree that the mental image created would be universal—and very graphic.

Lipstick in School

According to a news report, a certain private school in Washington recently was faced with a unique problem.

A number of 12-year-old girls were beginning to use lipstick and would put it on in the bathroom. That was fine, but after they put on their lipstick they would press their lips to the mirror leaving dozens of little lip prints.

Every night, the maintenance man would remove them and the next day, the girls would put them back.

Finally, the principal decided that something had to be done. She called all the girls to the bathroom and met them there with the maintenance man. She explained that all these lip prints were causing a major problem for the custodian who had to clean the mirrors every night.

To demonstrate how difficult it had been to clean the mirrors, she asked the maintenance man to show the girls how much effort was required.

He took out a long-handled squeegee, dipped it in the toilet, and cleaned the mirror with it.

Since then, there have been no lip prints on the mirror.

This version ended with the comment, “Here lies the difference between teachers and educators.” I would add that here lies the difference between talkers and communicators.

MAP and what comes at you

Monday, January 22nd, 2007

I write a lot about the actions fostered by good MAP, how to evaluate your own MAP and how to modify/change it if you’re so inclined—but this only applies to output, what about input?

Now and then we all find ourselves dealing with %#@$&, better known as jerks or, to be truly polite, difficult people.

The Talmud says, “We do not see the world as it is. We see the world as we are.” Further, it’s often as we are that particular day, or even minute, and even as we change, minute to minute, so do others.

There’s lots of good information on identifying and dealing with jerks in the article; also, here are four of my favorite MAP attitudes that have helped myself and others over the years.

  • Life happens, people react and act out, but that doesn’t mean you have to let their act in.
  • Consider the source of the comment before considering the comment, then let its effect on you be in direct proportion to your respect for that source.
  • Use mental imagery to defuse someone’s effect on you. This is especially useful against intimidation. Do it by having your mental image of the person be one that strips power symbols and adds amusement. (Give me a call if you want my favorite, it’s a bit too rude for a business blog, but has worked well for many people.)

And, finally, the one I hold uppermost in my mind

  • At least some of “them” consider me a jerk—and at times they are probably correct.

Who not to hire

Friday, January 19th, 2007

It’s Friday, the holiday glow is long gone, the holiday bills are just arriving, the weather nationally isn’t too great, and the weekend won’t be long enough, so I thought I’d share with you a bit of irreverence sent to me by a client. It’s apropos, since this is also the season to consider outside assistance. When you do, be sure to keep the last paragraph firmly in the front of your mind.

A shepherd was herding his flock in a remote pasture when suddenly a brand-new BMW advanced out of a dust cloud towards him.

The driver, a young man in a Broni suit, Gucci shoes, Ray Ban sunglasses and D+G tie, leans out the window and asks the shepherd, “If I tell you exactly how many sheep you have in your flock, will you give me one?”

The shepherd looks at the man, obviously a yuppie, then looks at his peacefully grazing flock and calmly answers, “Sure. Why not?”

The yuppie parks his car, whips out his Dell notebook computer, connects it to his AT&T cell phone, surfs to a NASA page on the internet, where he calls up a GPS satellite navigation system to get an exact fix on his location which he then feeds to another NASA satellite that scans the area in an ultra-high-resolution photo.

The young man then opens the digital photo in Adobe Photoshop and exports it to an image processing facility in Hamburg, Germany. Within seconds, he receives an email on his Palm Pilot that the image has been processed and the data stored. He then accesses a MS-SQL database through an ODBC connected Excel spreadsheet with hundreds of
complex formulas.

He uploads all of this data via an email on his Blackberry and, after a few minutes, receives a response.

He prints out a full-color, 150-page report on his hi-tech, miniaturized HP LaserJet printer and finally turns to the shepherd and says, “You have exactly 1586 sheep.”

“That’s right. Well, I guess you can take one of my sheep.” says the shepherd.

He watches the young man select one of the animals and looks on amused as the young man stuffs it into the trunk of his car.

Then the shepherd says to the young man, “Hey, if I can tell you exactly what your business is, will you give me back my animal?”

The young man thinks about it for a second and then says, “Okay, why not?”

“You’re a consultant.” says the shepherd.

“Wow! That’s correct,” he says, “but how did you guess that?”

“No guessing required.” answered the shepherd.

“You showed up here even though nobody called you; you want to get paid for an answer I already knew, to a question I never asked; and you know nothing about my business—now give me back my dog”

A real live “do it right” CEO

Thursday, January 18th, 2007

Last week I wrote about doing the right thing in compensation and a couple of days ago I wrote about the importance of likability, which is directly dependent on MAP.

Every time I write about how a CEO should be, I get queries asking for a specific role model who fits my definitions, really practices what he preaches and is high profile. To quote one caller, “I can see doing it when you run a small company, but I don’t see doing it when you’re playing with the big boys.”

My answer is Harry Kraemer, ex CEO of Baxter Labs.

The reasons for my citing him are well summed up in a January 7 profile (to read the profile, because of Chicago Tribune policy, please click the seventh link listed when you follow the “additional articles” link, it’s worth it!), or any of many additional articles.

In this profile he says, “I took the view that I’m going to do the best job I can and if they don’t like it, I’ll go work someplace else. The day you can’t walk away, you’ve given yourself to the company.”

That’s a sentiment I’ve heard again and again from the best executives, managers, and workers I’ve known over many years. None are big spenders and they all have a financial plan that allows them to walk instead of selling themselves.

So, go for it. Harry Kraemer would be the first person to tell you that with effort and planning you can do it.

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