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Archive for February, 2007

Missed talent

Wednesday, February 28th, 2007

Late last week, the national officers of Delta Zeta sorority kicked out 23 of 35 members in the DePauw University chapter.

“The 23 members included every woman who was overweight. They also included the only black, Korean and Vietnamese members. The dozen students allowed to stay were slender and popular with fraternity men — conventionally pretty women the sorority hoped could attract new recruits. Six of the 12 were so infuriated they quit.”

Hmm, sounds as if the officers need either 21st Century sensitivity training or one heck of a good spinmeister.

Wait, it gets worse.

26 year old Brant Walker started FakeYourSpace.com, where you can buy attractive friends for your social networking pages.

“He said the idea came to him when he noticed, while browsing MySpace pages, that “some people would have a lot of good-looking friends, and others didn’t.” His idea was “to turn cyberlosers into social-networking magnets” by providing fictitious postings from attractive people.”

Hmm, maybe the people thus attracted should join Delta Zeta or the comparable fraternity when they hit college.

But before I could really enjoy my virtuousness for not being as petty, I remembered reading a study when I first started headhunting that attractive people received more job offers and promotions than shorter less attractive people; there was even a study showing that newborns and infants were cuddled and received more attention if they were attractive.

The attractiveness theory was unscientifically tested by MSNBC in 2004, and confirmed by Dr. Gordon Patzer, Dean, Walter E. Heller College of Business Administration (Roosevelt University) and author of The Power and Paradox of Physical Attractiveness, who’s researched the subject for 30 years, “We are just hard wired to respond more favorably to attractive people. This is something anthropologically that has existed for as long as history exists”

I’ve always said that charm is the number one reason for bad hires, what I forget is that looks are the number one reason for missing good hires.

More on this tomorrow.

Communicating success

Tuesday, February 27th, 2007

If you really don’t want to hand the organization off, don’t hire—succession procrastination is neither as messy nor as media-worthy as heir termination.

  • If you’re scared of the candidate, don’t hire—hiring-to-fail is morally reprehensible.
  • If you have “issues” about the position, don’t hire—work them out beforehand, the candidate shouldn’t be part of your therapy.
  • Once you do hire, then communicate with all your might, you’ll be surprised at the difference it makes!

    Growing MAP

    Monday, February 26th, 2007

    If your family has owned, and successfully run, a $300 million company, Louis Padnos Iron and Metal, for 102 years, its culture is very much a function of the family MAP.

    So, what do you do when the current generation wants to ease back, the next generation are only in their teens, and the management bench’s MAP is totally different?

    How different? Night and day.

    Whereas the thirty-something managers “are mostly conservative, from Protestant backgrounds with working- class roots, and have spent much less time outside Western Michigan;” the Padnoses “are politically liberal, Jewish and, having grown up wealthy enough to travel widely, they are worldly…view themselves as part entrepreneur, part social worker…And it is the latter quality they seem most anxious to pass along to the managers.”

    Fortunately, the family recognized that their MAP (mindset, attitude, philosophy)™ was a function of their upbringing; rather than lecture the managers, in 2005 they hired a local philosophy professor as mentor and committed the funds necessary to expand their team’s MAP.

    It’s moved forward, but both sides are still struggling, although with different issues. The young managers chafe at the education, feeling that they’re ready, while the Padnoses have their own issues in sharing information, such as the company financials.

    Will it work out? Only time will tell, but they’re certainly off to a good start.

    At the end, everybody’s MAP will have changed, expanded, and grown, probably in ways no one was expecting, and that can only be good.

    Email and your brain

    Friday, February 23rd, 2007

    Email. Whether you love it or hate it, in the business world, you’re stuck with it.

    Granted, it has some valid uses in terms of basic sharing of information, but it’s not a time sensitive form of communication, it’s definitely not a good management tool, it seems that many people are super sensitive to how you sign-off, and what the younger workforce sees as acceptable communications is downright scary.

    But the single, most disastrous, part of email is the speed with which people click “send.” Jobs lost, business deals derailed, and friendships destroyed—all because emails are rarely reread, let alone rethought.

    Since email’s inception, there’s been much research to determine why people so blithely communicate in emails that which they would never speak aloud, let alone write on paper.

    An article in the NYTimes discusses what the experts call “disinhibition” and comments that, “This work points to a design flaw inherent in the interface between the brain’s social circuitry and the online world. In face-to-face interaction, the brain reads a continual cascade of emotional signs and social cues, instantaneously using them to guide our next move so that the encounter goes well.”

    The research described is interesting, but it focuses completely on the differences between face to face and virtual communications and places the problem on the lack of visual clues.

    I’m not disagreeing, but, in the centuries before email, there was still communications between people who weren’t face to face, with far longer periods between writing and feedback, but they didn’t suffer from this social disconnect. Why?

    Because they were forced to consciously think while physically writing, even when they were angry or in a highly emotional state. They might be screaming out loud or crying bitterly, but in order to put pen to paper they had to think and to form the letters carefully enough to be read by another; even when messages were typed, they appeared on paper, and that paper needed to be taken from the machine, folded and placed in an envelope or in a fax, addressed and sent.

    All this gave time for reflection, unlike the print in an email, which has no life in the real world. I’ve always found that one of the great side benefits of enabling spell-check in your email program is that it adds a minute or so of conscious thought to what you’ve written.

    Maybe it’s time to update the old adage, “Be sure the brain is engaged before the mouth is in gear” to “Be sure brain is engaged before clicking send.”

    Innovators aren’t always entrepreneurs

    Thursday, February 22nd, 2007

    In an article about Yahoo’s new, internal, innovation incubator Brickhouse, Todd Dagres, general partner at Boston venture firm Spark Capital, says, “People who take jobs at a big company don’t often have the big ideas—or risk-taking mentality—of an entrepreneur.”

    Pardon my language, but the first part of that sentence is a crock.

    Ever heard of Botts’ dots (California Department of Transportation), nylon (DuPont), the HDMAX camera (Florida Atlantic University), and this doesn’t even scratch the surface, and, last I heard, there was a lot of innovation coming out of companies such as HP, GE, IBM and Google.

    Academia and government researchers find breakthrough products constantly that aren’t brought to market, but not for lack of trying.

    In 1995, I read an item in Business Week’s Developments to Watch about an Agriculture Department researcher who had found a fat replacement made from oat hulls, no chemicals, no fancy process, completely natural, and nobody could tell the difference between ice cream made with cream and that made using oat hulls.

    Gee, that sure sounds like a really big idea to me. Wouldn’t you think someone would want to commercialize it? I kept waiting, and waiting, and waiting…

    It’s now February, 2007, 12 years later, and I see that a company called UTEK found a partner to commercialize the product (although not in the way I had hoped).

    People work in various size companies for various reasons with benefits, especially health insurance, often being at the top of the list.

    A risk-taking mentality doesn’t guarantee a creative mind or big ideas. Further, VCs don’t fund ideas, even brilliant, breakthrough ideas, unless they come with business plans, strong management teams, and either a connection, or are introduced by a connection, that they already know.

    Even location matters.

    So, the next time you hear someone voicing the myth that anyone with a great idea will become an entrepreneur and, conversely, only people with no creativity work for others, please set them straight. Or send them to me and I will!

    Hiring And Retention

    Wednesday, February 21st, 2007

    More and more, management is recognizing that hiring and retention are Yin and Yang—two sides of the same coin, tightly interwoven, and blowing one means blowing the other.

    Poor hiring leads to high turnover. High turnover shrinks your candidate pool because it wrecks your street rep and, as described yesterday, street reps are forever. Good, bad or indifferent, nothing fades away in this digital age.

    Bad hires have four basic ingredients—

    all of which are a function of MAP and can be overcome.

    Good hiring means

    Hiring the right person into the right position at the right time and for the right reasons.

    Change any “right” to “wrong” and you’ll likely have a bad hire, not a bad person.

    “Let it all hang out” takes on a whole new meaning

    Tuesday, February 20th, 2007

    Every company, from largest to smallest, has always had a street reputation compounded of their own PR and the perceptions of their employees, customers and vendors as shared with the people in their circle, who then shared their version of what was said with their circle, and on and on.

    With each telling, the information changed slightly, sometimes better, often for the worst, but continually diluted. Even when the media was involved, the information had a modest lifecycle and, whether good or bad, faded with time.

    No longer—”In perpetuity” has taken on a whole new meaning.

    With the digitizing of the world and the ease with which individuals can share their thoughts and opinions on a global level, both companies and individuals need to stay aware of what’s said about them.

    Most importantly, they need to realize that

    • sooner or later it’s going to happen;
    • there’s no way to stop or control it; and
    • it will never go away.

    What to do? In today’s parlance, deal with it. No matter what’s out there, sticking your corporate head in the same won’t help. Good, bad or ugly, find ways to address it—because it’s never going to go away.

    Innovation and the box

    Monday, February 19th, 2007

    In every country in the world bosses are looking for ways to spark innovation. Whether the company is a multibillion-dollar behemoth or the local coffee house, it needs to move forward. In these days, innovation isn’t about succeeding—it’s about survival.

    Bosses constantly exhort their people to think outside the box, but exactly what is the box? How can you expect your people to think outside of something whose definition changes with every manager in the hierarchy?

    What really defines the box? The culture of the company as structured by the boss’ MAP (mindset, attitude, philosophy™). Think about GE.

    GE seemed to experience great growth for many years under former CEO Jack Welch. But, after he retired, world happenings (September 11, Enron, Tyson) put Welch’s legacy under a microscope and left new CEO Jeff Immelt to answer the questions.

    As time passed, Immelt found that GE’s driven Six Sigma/strict adherence to each manager making the numbers/no room for failure culture was stifling innovation—it had to change.

    What Immelt did is nothing short of a revolution, making it “…OK, to take risks,” possibly miss the numbers and, along with other innovative companies, making failure acceptable.

    Sure, outside events helped drive the changes, but, at the most basic level, the new culture at GE is born of Jeff Immelt’s MAP, just as the previous culture was born of Welch’s.

    GE’s innovation engine is on a tear, fueled by a culture that recognizes that risk-taking guarantees occasional failures and that if people are penalized for them nobody is going to gamble their future by innovating.

    Fear of failure is the biggest barrier to outside-the-box thinking. As I wrote last July in “Don’t kill the messenger” and “How to kill the fear,” if you want your people innovating outside the box, give them a culture in which they feel safe enough to do so.

    Finally, never forget that culture is grounded in your MAP, because culture, and the accountability required to make it real, all stem from the top.

    To loose or not to loose

    Friday, February 16th, 2007

    It’s Friday and I decided to indulge a tiny rant, then offer up a little ditty to make you smile in compensation.

    First, let me say that I’m not a great typist, actually, based on the results, I’ve come to the conclusion that my fingers are dyslexic. So, although I’m a heavy spell-check user, I’ve grudgingly accepted that most people don’t spell check their emails. I also understand that, when in a hurry, “from” is often rendered as “form.”

    Now for the rant.

    The next time someone writes that they will loose the project if whatever doesn’t get done I think I may scream.

    I’ve only seen this in the last few years, at first very occasionally, now it seems commonplace. Not just in email, but in “professional” business correspondence; not just from the thirty-and-down crowd, but more and more often from the forty-and-up crowd.

    Arrrgggghhhhh. Am I truly a voice in the wilderness? Does no one else notice? Is it now a case of use it or loose it? Are most people loosing their minds while I am losing mine?

    OK, rant over. Now for the ditty—and please feel free to sing along…

    Eye halve a spelling chequer
    It came with my pea sea
    It plainly marques four my revue
    Miss steaks eye kin knot sea.
    Eye strike a key and type a word
    And weight four it two say
    Weather eye am wrong oar write
    It shows me strait a weigh.
    As soon as a mist ache is maid
    It nose bee fore two long
    And eye can put the error rite
    Its rare lea ever wrong.
    Eye have run this poem threw it
    I am shore your pleased two no
    Its letter perfect awl the weigh
    My chequer tolled me sew.

    Have a wonderful weekend, and try not to loose anything if you’re traveling.

    Culture stories from the trenches

    Thursday, February 15th, 2007

    I find culture within the corporate world is fascinating. The following three wildly divergent stories illustrate the importance and impact of culture.

    The doings of private equity firms are a major news staple today.

    What do you do when you’re one of the biggest, baddest firms, “tagged in the popular imagination with warmongering, treason, and acting as cold-eyed architects of government conspiracies,” and you want to radically change not just public perception, but the actual business of the firm?

    If your name’s Carlyle you start by momentous changes at the very top. “The founders asked members of the bin Laden family to take back their money. They sat down with George H.W. Bush and John Major and discussed, improbable though it might seem, how the two were no longer wanted as senior advisers because they hurt the firm’s image. Out went former Reagan Defense Secretary Frank C. Carlucci as chairman. In came highly regarded former chairman and CEO of IBM (IBM ), Louis V. Gerstner Jr., along with former Securities & Exchange Commission Chairman Arthur Levitt, former General Electric (GE ) Vice-Chairman David Calhoun, and former Time Inc. (TWX ) Editor-in-Chief Norman Pearlstine, among others, to underscore Carlyle’s commitment to portfolio diversification and upright corporate citizenship.” You then go on to do things that “might come to redefine the very nature of private equity.”

    But the second part could never have happened without that total change in culture.

    Labor and buy-out firms are typically anathema, but they don’t have to be if you let go of greed and share the spoils. Hard to believe?

    It worked for Onex at Spirit AeroSystems where they created a productivity culture based on real rewards for the risks taken.

    There were some layoffs at the start, “But the new owners helped ease the pain by giving the remaining workers $246 million in cash and stock options. The money was a reward for helping the company…cut costs and pull off a successful initial public offering. “I can’t tell you what a thrill it is to give our organized workforce nearly $250 million,” says Seth M. Mersky, an Onex managing director.”

    The turnaround and successful IPO couldn’t have happened without the cultural shift.

    And finally, a high profile, not-so-happy example of the impact of culture.

    Julie Roehm’s explosive departure from Wal-Mart last December made business headlines and will probably continue in the news.

    It was considered an odd match from the start, “…a cautionary tale of what happens when a self-described change agent goes to work for a company that needs to reinvent itself but can’t.”

    In discussing what lessons she has learned, Roehm says, “The importance of culture. It can’t be underestimated.”

    Culture is a living, multifaceted animal and needs to be cared for on all levels if you want to keep its multiple parts uniform, or, at the very least, synergistic.

    • The publicly stated culture of the company.
    • The culture actively fostered by the CEO and top management.
    • The covert culture that may exist because it is ignored or, worse, fantasized away.
    • The cultural fit of managers, employees and candidates.

    In short, take care to know and cherish your culture and it will take care of you.

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