Archive for November 2008

Growing Your People to Become Effective Managers and Leaders

November 27, 2008

Without a doubt, the most important role of leadership is to develop the next generation of leaders. After all, hiring is really just a license to learn the job.

Without strong leadership throughout the company, growth will be restricted and limited. Improper decisions will be made or decisions will need to be centralized and funneled to a few leaders who will quickly become overwhelmed. Once overwhelmed, they too will make inappropriate decisions or they will delegate these decisions to those who lack the ability to make them effectively.

Most companies focus on personal traits and technical competence when making hiring decisions. The working assumption is that if a person performed well in one job, he or she will perform well in the next. This of course often proves not to be the case. And hiring gifted people from outside the company makes sense as a tactic but not as a strategy, because there is a scarcity of highly talented individuals. To address this challenge, CEOs need to look at this leadership development challenge as integral to an effective business strategy.

Ram Charan, Stephen Drotter, and James Noel have articulated in their book, The Leadership Pipeline, a way to understand how individuals grow to become leaders and the steps that we can take to make this transition more effective.

There are three major benefits to adopting this pipeline model.

  • Emotional stress for individual employees is reduced.
  • Skipping passages becomes unlikely.
  • The time to prepare someone for the top level is dramatically reduced because it becomes easier to recognize when an employee is ready to move to the next level.

The authors assert that there is a natural hierarchy of work. This hierarchy takes the form of six career passages or pipeline turns. This pipeline is not a cylinder but rather one that is bent in six places. At each change in organizational position, a significant turn has to be made. These turns involve a major change in three areas.

  • Job requirements, demanding new skills
  • The way they use their time, which we’ll call time applications, and
  • Work values

Unfortunately, many managers often work at the wrong level. They’re clinging to values appropriate to earlier passages in which they managed others individually rather than managing other managers. Or, they haven’t acquired the skills or time applications appropriate to their current level. As a result they are less effective or ineffective leaders and the people they manage are negatively affected as well.

The challenge for organizations is to make sure that people in leadership positions are assigned to the level appropriate to their skills, time applications, and values. With an understanding of this model, bosses can become better coaches and more supportive as they recognize the issues with which new leaders are struggling. What prevents companies from growing is, more often than not, the failure of people to be willing to change their work habits, give up their hands-on involvement, or trust a new layer of management.

We’ll explore this concept and approach in the next post.


And after all that, my new hire is not doing well…what should I do?

November 23, 2008

Regardless of all of the analysis or perhaps, even as a result of it, we all discover that there are certain employees or new hires who are not in the right job or simply do not belong in the organization. These are people who are not achieving their performance goals or are failing to exercise leadership effectively. An effective leader must address this situation as well.

Failure to do so exhibits false kindness. While it may be easier to leave these professionals in their roles, doing so harms the leader, other staff, and the whole company. Additionally, it sends a message that non-performance is acceptable in the company.

An employee may not be effective in the job because of any of six reasons. The person lacks the ability, was improperly trained or oriented, has the wrong attitude, demonstrates the wrong behaviors, lacks the required skills, or lacks experience.

To remedy these situations, there are four options. . You can train the employee, coach him or her, shift the person to another position, or let the person go. There is a way to determine what the appropriate remedy for each situation is.

If it is a matter of skills, training is the appropriate remedy.

Attitude related issues may be remedied by discovering what is causing the difficulty, and then addressing the issue while coaching and motivating the employee.

Correcting behavioral issues requires coaching and patience. Behaviors shift over time. In order for the supervisor to determine whether that amount of effort should be expended, he or she must determine whether the employee adds significant value in other areas.

If the person lacks sufficient experience, it may be possible to shift the employee to a position where her/his experience level is appropriate.

If the person lacks the ability, that individual should be let go. No amount of training, coaching, or shifting will allow him or her to make a meaningful contribution.

In the course of my career as a CEO and COO, I have had to let people go. In each case, I attempted to make sure that they left with their dignity intact, with appropriate severance, and frequently with another job in hand. In several cases, I created an exit strategy that allowed them to stay in their job until they found another and could then announce to their colleagues that they had accepted another position. In other words, if you release people in the same way that you hire and manage them, with integrity, honesty, and communication, the difficult process of letting people go is much easier.

The Type of Reference YOU Want to Speak With and Sample Reference Questions

November 16, 2008

In my last post, I mentioned that our interview process concludes with the reference check. I have known managers who have skipped this step. My advice — Don’t! With active listening, you can learn a great deal about your prospective hire including the best way to manage them.

Incidentally, one of the greatest sources of insights are references who are past teachers or professors of the candidate. I have found that teachers and professors have been trained to offer positives and then add an area for improvement. Their insight is usually spot on because they have been observing the candidate for a

The idea is to allow the reference to speak at length. Therefore, after asking a question, pause, and let the reference fill in the uncomfortable gap that silence sometimes creates.long time and have been evaluating areas where they can improve on an ongoing basis.

Here are some examples of the types of questions that we ask the candidate’s references.

  • How do you know the candidate?
  • What do you think of him/her?
  • What is his/her greatest strength?
  • As it relates to managing or coaching, what should I do to bring out the best in this person? (i.e. What type of supervision, how manage, how often to check w/them on progress)
  • What can you tell me about his/her time-management skills?
  • How does he/she make decisions?
  • How was his/her interaction with their peers? How does he / she coach their peers?
  • What other qualities does he/she possess that you feel make him/her a good employee?
  • How does he/she respond to interruptions, deadlines, and pressure?
  • How would you assure success for him/her? (i.e. What type of supervision, how manage, how often to check w/them on progress)
  • If you had a magic wand, what would you make disappear about the candidate?
  • Would you hire him/her?
  • Is there anything else that you would add?

    The way management selects its people is indicative of how competent management is, what it values, and how seriously it takes its job. Unlike strategic decisions, people decisions cannot be masked. They are eminently visible. However, implementing a robust hiring process will allow you to alter the culture of your company and improve its fortunes and your bottom line dramatically.

    A Unique and Very Effective Interview Process

    November 14, 2008

    In the course of my nearly 25 years as a CEO, I have realized that skills and capabilities alone do not guarantee success. I have come to appreciate the importance of making certain that the employee reflects the values and the management philosophy of the organization.

    Permit me to share with you a very practical way to implement a program that will dramatically improve your hiring process. It is one that we used so successfully that Inc. Magazine chose to publish it in one of their books.

    Our process began with an understanding of the assignment. We then made certain that the candidate had the skills, experience, and competencies necessary to perform the assignment. We then scheduled meetings with the two most senior people available. The purpose of these meetings was to verify that the skills were present and to determine whether there was a cultural fit.

    Here are some examples of the questions that we asked of these candidates.

    • What do you consider your greatest accomplishment and why?
    • Why do you think you were successful?
    • What is the single most important idea you have contributed to your present job?
    • How do you go about making important decisions?
    • If you had a magic wand and could change two things about yourself, what would they be?
    • Give some examples of how you get people to accomplish projects. How do you motivate them?
    • Describe the importance of your job within the company’s overall business plan.
    • How do you go about learning something new?
    • Who was the best boss you ever had? Why?
    • Name something you have really wanted to do, but have never been able to do, even when there was an opportunity.

    Nearly all of these questions are designed to elicit information about the personal behavioral styles and values of the candidate.

    After explaining how our company accomplishes its mission, we reviewed the management philosophy, a written document that articulates how we conduct our business. This is important because it is imperative that the candidate believes that s/he can also fit into the company’s work environment. Assuming we still believed that the candidate might be a good fit for the assignment and the company, we then ask for references.

    We then began the part of the process that Inc. Magazine found unusually valuable. The candidate received a tour of the office and was invited to meet with the people who worked at our company. They are encouraged to ask any questions that come to mind. This allowed the candidate to determine if we operate in a manner that is consistent with our management philosophy. The management philosophy thus comes alive for the candidate.

    Equally important, we gained the insight of the people who might be working with the candidate. These people really ask the most difficult questions because their questions reflect very pragmatic concerns, such as how they will work together. This dialogue tends to be more personal and real because the context for the conversation is one of sharing and discovery by both parties. Later on, we asked our people what they thought and whether they would like to work alongside the candidate.

    Before the candidate leaves for the day, we provide him or her with references concerning our company and asked him or her to call them. These references are clients who have agreed to speak with our candidates.

    From these conversations, the candidate learned firsthand what signing up to be a part of our company and culture truly means. Do we really go to the extremes that we speak of to delight our clients? Do our employees really take their role as a trusted advisor seriously? Equally important, we received the benefit of yet another round of high-level, personal interviews that helped us to understand what concerns the candidate has, and most important, whether the client would welcome the opportunity to work with the candidate.

    Although this particular approach is uniquely geared for external, customer-facing positions, everyone in an organization is there to meet the needs of at least one internal customer. This model may be easily modified to allow for some version of customer feedback.

    Our interview process concluded with the reference check. This check was not performed by an office manager or a Human Resources staff member but rather by the person who will be the direct supervisor of the candidate, should he or she be hired. They have the strongest interest of anyone in the capabilities of the candidate because the candidate will have a direct impact on the supervisor’s own success. Of course, these people should be guided by the human resources department regarding the types of questions that they may ask.

    Five Practical Guidelines when Hiring

    November 9, 2008

    Here are some practical considerations that are now part of my hiring process. They are a result of both experience and my research into what other executives, such as Jack Welch, have done to make their hiring process more successful.

    1. Think Through the Assignment

    Job descriptions may last a long time, but the assignments and the challenges associated with a position fluctuate with the changing conditions of the organization and the environment or marketplace. If the challenges are different, then the talents and skills necessary for the role will change. Undoubtedly, the role of Treasury Secretary today is different than the one of two years ago – yet the job description may well be the same. To grow a new area from scratch is very different from managing a seasoned team. If the team is getting close to retirement age, the new sales manager may need people development skills to grow the new team. As a leader, you must get to the heart of the assignment.

    One of the ways to determine what is at the “heart of the assignment” is to revisit the strategic plan. By understanding the strategic goal and the tactics necessary to achieve the goal, one will be able to understand the key skills required to achieve success in a role. As a result, your thinking shifts and a new set of candidates may emerge.

    2. Look at a Number of Potentially Qualified People

    The key word here is number. Formal qualifications are a minimum for consideration, as their absence would eliminate the candidate. The person and the assignment need to fit each other. To make an effective decision, three to five candidates should be considered.

    3. Think Hard about How to Look at These Candidates

    The crucial issue is to understand the focus and priority of the assignment. The primary questions are, “What strengths does each candidate possesses?” and “Are these strengths the right ones for the assignment?” While weaknesses may rule a candidate out, if the answers to these questions are that s/he is the right person for the assignment, regardless of a particular weakness, then that person gets the job. It is then the company’s responsibility to provide the additional training, talent, or skills to mitigate the effects of that weakness.

    4. Discuss Each of the Candidates with Several People who have Worked with Them

    One executive’s opinion is worthless. That’s because we all have biases, prejudices, likes, and dislikes. Competent executives do this routinely and informally. My former partner, a senior executive at Microsoft, has five to seven people in the interview loop. If the candidate does not meet the approval of this group, the candidate is eliminated from consideration. Each interviewer is also assigned a specific attribute or characteristic of the candidate for evaluation. One might evaluate analytical problem solving while another might evaluate collaborative skills. By following this discipline, one gains valuable additional perspectives.

    5. Make Sure the Appointee Understands the Job

    After the appointee has been in a new job for three or four months, he or she should be focusing on the demands of the job rather than on the requirements of preceding assignments. It is the executive’s responsibility to call that person and say, “You’ve now been manager for three months. What do you have to do to be a success in your new job? Think it through and come back to me in ten days and show it to me in writing.” It is critical that you, as a manager, assist others to think through what a job requires. Frequently, these requirements are not the traits that the performer thinks got him the job in the first place. And as we will discuss later on, if this person was promoted to this position, it is almost a one hundred per cent certainty that he will have to shift his work approach and focus in order to be successful in his new role.

    Building a Team

    November 7, 2008

    Now that the election is behind us, the hard work for our new president truly begins. President-Elect Obama’s first responsibility is to put together capable of leading our nation. Today, he began announcing his staff with the selection of Rahm Emanuel as White House Chief of Staff. This, therefore seems like a very appropriate time to discuss hiring and that is what the next few posts will address.

    Executives spend more time managing people and making people-related decisions than anything else, and they should. No other decisions are as enduring in their consequences or as difficult. It is the people decisions that have the greatest impact on the cultural fabric and the performance of the entire organization.

    Yet, according to Peter Drucker, the noted management guru, most executives bat no better than .333. At most, one third of these decisions turn out to be right, another third are minimally effective, and the remainders are outright failures.

    Drucker goes on to say that this level of performance is unnecessary, and while we will never be perfect, there is no reason why we can’t bat closer to 1000 if the leadership and hiring executive adopt these basic principles.

    • If I put a person into a job and he or she does not perform, I have no business blaming the person, the Peter Principle, or complaining. Rather, I have made a mistake.
    • Employees have a right to competent leadership. It is the duty of management to make sure that the responsible people in their organizations perform.
    • Of all of the decisions that an executive makes, none is as important as decisions about people because they determine the performance capacity of the organization. Therefore, I’d better make these sorts of decisions well.
    • Don’t give new people mission critical assignments without very strong monitoring and guidance. Doing so compounds the risks we all face with a new employee. Giving this sort of assignment to someone whose behavior and habits you know and who has earned trust and credibility within your organization is always better. Putting a newcomer into an established position in which expectations are known and help is available is the ideal. Many small companies though don’t have this luxury. In those instances, you would be wise to monitor and guide.

    Once these beliefs have been adopted, how does one become effective at making the right hiring decisions? Here are a few important steps that will enable you to select the right people for your company. The context and the most fundamental rule to apply is that we are here to “screen out” inappropriate candidates rather than “screening in” people.

    In the next post, we’ll take a look at the way one should go about hiring the team.

    Putting It All Together: Initiatives, Priorities and an Approach

    November 3, 2008

    Today’s post is the culmination of the “trilogy” of posts (see the “Managing by Priority” and number of Business Initiatives” posts for the first two.) My intention is to provide a working model that allows you to decide which projects should be in the portfolio of projects that you would choose to address.

    To accomplish this, I have found it best to apply the classical decision making process with a strategic twist. (To learn more about this approach, you may want to visit the American Management Association site and research their seminars on Strategies for Effective Problem Solving and Decision Making or look at some of Peter Drucker’s books and particularly The Practice of Management)

    Here’s the model we will use:

    1. Prework: Understand and agree on the problem / opportunity. This is really one of the most critical steps. Often decisions are made incorrectly simply because the “wrong” problem or opportunity is defined. I consider it wise to add a strategic filter to any discussion. Put more simply, the problem or opportunity has to be supportive or related to one of our strategic goals.
    2. Define the Objectives: Establish the outcome of the process. This is a further refinement of the defined problem or opportunity. It speaks broadly to the attributes of a successful decision. Performing this step allows us to assess the decision that we make is in the context of a specific outcome. If it allows us to meet the outcome that we were aiming at, the decision is probably a good one. This can be quickly accomplished by merging perspectives into a brief written statement regarding the desired outcome.
    3. Establish Criteria: Establish boundaries within which the decision must fall. This is yet another level of refinement of the objectives. I like to execute this step before we discuss tactical options. This is because it is not uncommon for the people in the room to be biased toward a particular tactic(s). By establishing criteria first, the group tends to offer more objective factors or conditions by which the options will later be evaluated. Examples of criteria might be ROI, availability of resources, committed executive sponsorship or complexity.
    4. Generate Alternatives: At this stage we are ready to list all of the tactical options. An effective facilitator should be careful not to edit out options or pre-judge them. To enable buy-in, everyone must be heard and the process must have integrity.
    5. Evaluate / Analyze Alternatives: With our choices in front of us and criteria establish by which we may evaluate them, the group is well positioned to determine which projects are the most appropriate ones to be addressed. I do counsel the group to create a portfolio of short-, medium- and long-term projects as well as allowing some room to handle emergencies.
    6. Make the Decision: This is the final stage. At this point the group reaches alignment. (The choice of the word “alignment” is by design. It is a more apt word to me than “consensus.” In many situations the group does not fully agree but they can “get behind” the decision and agree to move forward with it as the plan for the organization.)

    Once all of this has been accomplished, there is typically one of two steps that must take place. Either the group must obtain approval from someone else or it can begin implementation planning. Each of these processes has very defined steps to success and I hope to discuss them in a future post.

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