Posted tagged ‘learning’

Establishing the Foundation for the Leadership Interview

June 22, 2010

A leadership interview is a little more delicate. In fact, I would categorize this discussion as more of a conversation than an interview. There are several reasons why this is so.

The candidate being interviewed is typically more mature. Usually, this person has managed departments or divisions, if not other companies. Therefore, this applicant is more comfortable with the proceedings.  For this level candidate, it truly is an opportunity to shine and demonstrate the depth and breadth of the knowledge and experience that has been acquired over an entire professional career.

These factors by themselves make this interview different.

It is as much about making sure that there is a stylistic and cultural match as it is about the skills that the candidate possesses. And the candidate also usually understands on some level that a poor match will not work for him or her.

To make this conversation more effective and easier, I typically explain that I am assisting n this process. My intention and goals is to find a fit so that the candidate can be happy and fulfilled for years to come and so can the company.

This allows for a conversational shift toward getting to know the person. The context and the most fundamental rule to apply is that we are here to “screen out” inappropriate candidates rather than “screening in” people.

The purpose of the questions that we outlined in the previous post is now clear. The se questions have been designed to facilitate the discussion and they are clearly in the best interests of the applicant as well as the company.

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Determining the Candidate’s Leadership Profile

June 17, 2010

One of the challenges in the interview process was the need to capture information in a meaningful way.  The plan was to interview five candidates in one day and the risk of blurring responses, characteristics and attributes was fairly high. Effective data capture was therefore important.

The tool that was built had a section for evaluating each of the core attributes highlighted in the prior post. It was to be completed after the interview and it simply asked if the candidate had the particular attribute and allowed for any additional comments or insights.

The rest of the document – and clearly the most important section – was devoted to a series of questions designed to create a conversation that would enable the candidate to share his or her views on leadership.

Here are some examples of these questions:

A. Getting to know you questions:

(1) I’m about to buy a brand named <candidate>. Describe what I just bought.

(2) What was the best job you ever had? Why?

B. Execution:

(1) How do you assure / implement accountability among your staff?

(2) What do you reward and how do you reward it?

(3) How do you convince people to change behaviors?

(4) How do you evaluate staff?

(5) Why should someone be fired?

C. Ability:

(1) What characteristics of your present job do you like?

(2) What are some of the things you don’t like?

(3) How would you change your job if you had the power to do so?

(4) Describe your perfect job?

(5) Describe your perfect boss?

(6) Give me 5 adjectives that generally describe the people who work for you.

D. Leadership:

(1) What are 3 core tenets of your management philosophy that you would never compromise?

(2) Fast forward a year —  how is our company, the one that just hired you, different?

(3) How do you hire people (i.e. what is the hiring process / what do you look for)?

(4) Talk to me about a great hiring success (what were the factors that made it successful)?

(5) Talk to me about a great hiring disaster. Why did it happen? What did you do about it? (this is a great question to learn about blindspots)

(6) How do you make important decisions?

(7) How do you go about learning new things?

(8) Describe the perfect company culture? How would you create this culture?

E. Ability to Grow and Learn:

(1) Most people have at east one tough integrity challenge in their professional lives – what was yours and how did you handle it?

(2) What is the greatest lesson that you learned in the past five years?

(3) What is the greatest professional challenge you’ve ever faced and why?

F. Vision:

(1) Tell me about three competitive trends for which we should be concerned.

(2) What is the single most important idea that you contributed to your present job?

The purpose of these questions is to learn what is important to the candidate and the thinking process that is utilized. What can be learned from these questions is the values of the candidate, how they are reinforced and the type of people with whom these leaders will surround themselves.

Getting these answers will your company know the type of leader it is engaging.

Contextualizing Who We Are…

October 9, 2009

Recently, I returned from a trade show. While on the floor of the exhibit hall, I listened intently as people walked up to those staffing the booths and asked about their products. Many of those people did not bother to introduce themselves – rather they asked general questions with the intention to learn about the product being promoted.

Almost to a person, these people did not volunteer any information about themselves. On one level, I can get it. After all, who wants a salesperson calling you and disturbing your day?

Here’s the argument though for rethinking that position…

If you’re stopping by a booth, chances are there is a reason. You want to compare a product to something that you are using. You have a unique need or challenge or opportunity and you wish to see if the product can address it. Or you simply wish to discover if something is possible.

If you contextualize who you are, and by that I mean you paint the details of what your company does, who you are and the role that you play, why you are at the booth and what you hope to address or learn, you allow the salesperson to leverage their expertise and help you determine very quickly if your unique need can be met.

And you can still always decline to move forward with the conversation after you have learned more.

What this all comes down to is trust – and part of this is about trusting yourself to have a real meaningful conversation. If you are willing to share and discuss and engage, you open yourself to the possibility that the other person can help you. And you learn whether the solution fits or what is even possible.

We already know all that we know. It’s usually the other person’s knowledge that is the most useful.

Securing Early Wins

January 28, 2009

While it is important to secure early wins, it is equally important to avoid early losses. Common causes of early losses include the following:

  • Failing to focus. This appears as having too many initiatives. Identify the moist promising opportunities and concentrate on them
  • Not taking the business situation into account. What constitutes an early win in one situation can be a waste of time in another. See the table above regarding examples for each type of situation.
  • Not adjusting for the culture. Leaders who come from outside the organization naturally assume their old culture is in existence. Be sure to understand what the organization considers a win.
  • Failing to get wins that matter to your boss. Addressing problems that your boss cares about will go a long way toward building credibility and cementing access to resources.
  • Letting your means undermine your ends. Process matters. The early win must be accomplished in a manner that exemplifies the behavior you hope to instill in the organization.

Studies show that successful change is implemented in “waves” with distinct phases. These phases include acclimatization, change, consolidation, and deeper learning so people can catch their breaths. What follow are deeper and more thorough structural changes. The final wave is focused on fine-tuning to maximize performance.

Each wave ought to consist of distinct phases.

  • Learning
  • Designing the changes
  • Building support
  • Implementing the changes
  • Observing results

The goal of the first wave of change is to secure early wins that build personal credibility, establish key relationships, and identify and harvest low-hanging fruits – the highest-potential opportunities for short-term improvements in organizational performance. These targets should be consistent with your A-item business priorities and introduce the new patterns of behaviors that you want to instill in the organization.

A-item priorities should

  • Follow naturally from core problems
  • Be neither too general nor too specific. They must include measures for overall success so that wins may be recognized. In other words establish S-M-A-R-T goals but not goals that result in micro-managing.
  • Offer clear direction yet allow for flexibility when you learn more about the situation. This is an iterative process. Be prepared to test, refine, and restate the goals.

To realize A-item priorities, it is imperative to eliminate dysfunctional behavior. To alter culture, the new leader must define which behaviors are desired and which ones are not. Some organizations refer to this as the creation of a management philosophy but the key element is that the behaviors must be defined. It is also important to note that every culture has good points and faults. It is crucial that the good points are maintained so that people have stability in times of change. Elevate and praise the good points that already exist so that people have a bridge to the future.

In turnaround situations, bringing in new people from the outside and setting up project teams to secure performance improvement initiatives are a good fit. In realignments, it may be well advised to start out with less obvious approaches to behavior changes. The new leader can set the stage for collective visioning by changing performance measures and beginning to benchmark.

Once the A-items have been identified and behaviors have been defined, detailed plans for early wins may be created. During the first 30 days these wins are about building credibility and deciding where you will focus your energy to achieve early performance improvements in the next 60 days. The goal of a second wave of change, once this has been accomplished, is to address more fundamental issues of strategy, structure, systems and skills to reshape the organization. This is when the real gains of organizational performance are achieved.

To build credibility,

  • Determine what you want to get across about whom you are and what you represent.
  • Decide the best way to convey those messages.
  • Identify your key audiences (direct reports, other employees, and key outside constituencies). Craft messages tailored to each focusing on who you are, the values and goals that you represent, your style, and how you plan to conduct business.
  • Think about how you introduce yourself. Should you first meet with your direct reports as a group or individually? Will the meetings be informal get-to-know-you sessions or immediately focus on business and assessment? What other channels such as e-mail or video will you use to reach people? Will you meet people at other locations?
  • Remove minor but persistent irritants to your organization.
  • Focus on strained external relationships and begin to repair them.
  • Cut out redundant meetings, shorten excessively long ones, and improve physical space problems.

A Blueprint for the New Leader to Effect Change

January 18, 2009

The transition from one presidential administration to another is nearly complete and the country is visibly excited.

There is no doubt that part of this excitement stems from public’s sense that Mr. Obama has demonstrated extraordinary effort in planning his presidency. He certainly seems to be working diligently to avoid the consequences of the aphorism, “Failing to plan is planning to fail.” Our country seems to appreciate the efforts of the President-elect and this is reflected in his approval ratings which are remarkably high.

There have been numerous books written on how a new leader should take charge and this seems like a great time to look at how Mr. Obama should be approaching this important initial period. One of my favorite books on this topic is The First 90 Days by Harvard Professor Michael Watkins.

Watkins’ work is instructive for all of us, but in the context of this “new beginning” one can see the areas that Mr. Obama has been addressing and which ones he will likely be focusing on in the days ahead.

Here’s the short list.

1)     Promote Yourself. Psychologically break from your previous role in order to take charge of your new role. You are likely to need new skills to be successful at this new level.

2)     Accelerate Your Learning. Focus on understanding markets, products, technologies, systems, and structures as well as its culture and polities. Do this systematically.

3)     Match Strategy to Solution. Diagnose whether you are in a start-up, turnaround, realignment, or sustaining success situation. Each requires a different strategy. You may have different parts of your organization in different situations.

4)     Secure Early Wins. Early wins build credibility and create momentum.

5)     Negotiate Success. Figure out how to build a productive relationship with your boss and manage his or her expectations. This means critical conversations about the situation, expectations, style, resources, and personal development. Gain consensus on your 90 day plan.

6)     Achieve Alignment. This is a strategic role. The higher that you rise within the organization, the more that you have to play the role of strategic architect. This means evaluating strategy, developing appropriate organizational structures, and developing the systems and skills necessary to realize your strategic intent.

7)     Build Your Team. Inheriting a team frequently means restructuring it to better meet the demands of the situation.

8)     Create Coalitions. Develop supportive alliances, both internal and external. Identify them now as well as ways to line them up on your side.

9)     Keep Your Balance. Develop a network that can advise and counsel you so that you do not lose perspective. It can be difficult to look out from the inside.

10)  Expedite Everyone. Help everyone accelerate their own transitions to their new roles.

This week, we’ll talk more about the bottom half of this list.

* * *

Now some thoughts about President Bush as he leaves office…

Without a doubt, the Bush Administration left us with far too many challenges. We should, however, also acknowledge that there were no further attacks on American soil after 9/11. At that time, we were shaken and disheartened and scared and whether by intention or good fortune, the Bush Administration did keep us safe at home and helped us to reclaim our sense of balance.

We likely will never know if we were safe by design or by the Good Lord watching over us (or, of course, both) nor will we probably ever know how many plots to hurt our fellow citizens were thwarted.

Still, if we choose to discredit this Administration for the financial situation we find ourselves in today and the war in Iran, for our safety after 9/11, we should express our appreciation. The Bush administration also looks to have worked diligently during this transition period and that will, without a doubt, help the new president in moving us forward. Thank you, President Bush.

Let us also take a moment to remember that we are still blessed to live in a country that has the greatest opportunities and the most remarkable freedoms.

And now on to new beginnings and may the best be yet to come.


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