Vol. 11, No. 2 – Jan. 31, 2011

January 31, 2011


The 8020Info Water Cooler

Highlights from the latest information
for managers, leaders and entrepreneurs

1. Can You Predict Leadership Failures?

Appointing somebody to an executive position can be a risky moment. On Harvard Business Review blogs, the management psychologist Richard Davis, who assesses businesspeople for senior positions, suggests looking out for these defects in leadership candidates:

  • Lack of integrity: Some people have a misdirected moral compass, which you can’t necessarily spot before hiring. Ask the candidate about the lessons his family taught him when he was young, since often the wrong values were taken in at an early age. “Inquire about times when he had to do something he didn’t want to in order to get ahead. Discuss difficult political situations he confronted and how he handled them. Listen carefully for mere inklings of integrity lapse. If you have any question marks at all, trust your gut and pass on the candidate,” Davis advises.
  • Lack of maturity: Some executives have poor judgment simply because they’re immature, lacking the foresight and judgment to see the outcome of their behaviour and giving in too easily to impulses around sex, money, and power. “Ask the candidate about situations in which she needed to control her emotions: Did she fly off the handle, or did she remain calm? If it was the latter, how did she resolve the situation?” he asks.
  • Lack of fallibility: Executives who must always be right can eventually mess up badly when they try to cover up their flaws, as happened to two high-flying CEOs, Martha Stewart and Hewlett-Packard’s Mark Hurd.

2. Break Down Ambiguity To Make Lasting Change

Clarity is essential to change. In Fast Company, best-selling authors Chip and Dan Heath say you have to avoid ambiguity and create specific focus for lasting change. That means breaking ambitious goals into specific actions.

They point to Terry Leahy, who helped reverse the fortunes of Tesco, now the U.K.’s No. 1 grocer. One of the company’s goals was to do a better job of “listening to customers.” Lots of leaders set a similar goal, but fail to recognize how ambiguous it really is.

Leahy broke down that strategy into a set of specific actions. Cashiers, for example, were trained to call for help anytime more than one person was waiting in the checkout line.

Similarly, at Alina Hospitals and Clinics, medical director Bruce McCarthy addressed a drug-abuse problem amongst patients by “breaking down the play”, as he put it: just as on a football team, everyone knew what role they had to play. The Heath brothers write that breaking down the play is not the same thing as being a micromanager. “McCarthy never could have made up a set of specific instructions for his nurses and doctors, in the vein of a McDonald’s franchisee who tells a teenager exactly how to fry the beef patties. The process was inherently collaborative and creative: His team had to figure out a way to transform an admirable goal into a set of individual responsibilities,” they note.

3. Improving Your Conversations

When career coach Mark Robertson asks clients what he would see if he taped them in the act of being a leader, they respond he would see them talking and listening. “Leaders get paid to have effective conversations,” he notes in Peer Bulletin 192.

He says that means you should ask yourself:

  • Am I getting the results I want in conversation?
  • Am I speaking clearly and honestly with everyone in the organization?
  • Am I really listening in the conversations that I have?
  • Are my conversations creating an environment that is inspiring people?

Discern the particular focus of different types of conversation:

For example, when setting the context, or foundation of what needs to be done, there are conversations of orientation, when you establish vision, mission, meaning and purpose; and conversations of relationship, where you establish how you will work with others.

Three types of conversation might focus on content: Conversations of learning that help us to grow; conversations of implementation, where we co-ordinate action with others; and conversations of innovation, or brainstorming work.

He says too often we spring into action without taking time to have the context conversations.

4. Take The Marketing Minute Test

Marketing consultant Drew McLellan, on his Marketing Minute blog, asks you to grab a pen and within one minute jot down the three reasons people buy from you. Quick, with no editing.

“Once you’re done, take a look at the list. Are those the benefits you talk about on your web site, in your brochure and as you pitch a prospect?” he asks.

“I’m betting not. You have ‘marketing speak’ in all those places. You aren’t speaking from your customers’ heart.”

Time to change.

5. Zingers

  • Consultant Susan Finerty says three not-so-obvious signs point to a lack of trust in your team or organization: The core teams are ridiculously large; there is a never-ending dialogue on role clarity, buttressed with big binders of job definitions; and everyone needs to run things past the leader before approaching a peer. (Source: Leadership Mutt blog)
  • New research shows that overqualified workers tend to perform their work better than other employees, and don’t quit any sooner. As well, any dissatisfaction they have can be reduced by empowering them. (Source: Harvard Business Review)
  • Life coach Curt Rosengren suggests making a “juice menu” of the things that give you energy — at work, or outside of work — since pursuing those activities will make you more productive. (Source: Mapmaker.curtrosengren.com)
  • Management consultant Lisa Haneberg says that if you spend 90 per cent of your time travelling and have a hard time eating the right foods, don’t promise to cook everything from scratch. Similarly, if you are trying to solve a problem in your organization, make sure the solution fits the culture and doesn’t aggravate the context that created the problem initially. (Source: Management Craft blog)
  • Paper beats digital for emotion in advertising. Brain scans in a study by branding agency Millward Brown found that physical media, such as material shown on cards, left a deeper “footprint” in the brain, suggesting that physical material seems more real to the brain — it has meaning, and a place. (Source: Neuromarketing Blog)

6. Q&A with 8020Info:
Dealing With A Struggling New Employee

Question: We hired someone and brought him from across the country to join our organization. But after two months, it’s not working out. What should I do?

8020Info Associate Harvey Schachter replies:

That’s a tough emotional, ethical, and practical issue. And, as you might suspect, there’s no perfect answer.

Start by reviewing the reasons why he was hired. What attracted you to him? What was the process like? If you kept scorecards in interviews, revisit them. Re-read his c.v. Check the interview notes from the reference checks, if you still have them.

There are two purposes here. The most important at this point is to rebuild some enthusiasm and understanding of why this person should be successful at your organization. Consider whether you have the right person, but in the wrong slot. Or maybe you’ll be reminded that he has a slow, deliberate style and should come on stronger with time. Instead of dealing with today’s gut reactions, distance yourself a bit, rethink the situation and, perhaps with more caution, psychologically rehire.

The second purpose is to see if, in hindsight, there were some aspects of the person you didn’t pay enough, or any, attention to: perhaps it will spark some helpful ideas. And what does it say about your hiring approach? Certainly if this was a bad hire, you don’t want to repeat the mistake. How would you improve next time?

Talk to others you trust, particularly those involved in the hiring. What does their brain, or gut, tell them about the new employee? Don’t start a gossip chain or a wave of negativism that will make it impossible to reclaim this individual as a successful employee. But check that you aren’t alone in your assessment, or missing part of the picture.

Then approach the person for a chat. It might be best to do it on site, in your office or his, or offsite, over a lunch, depending on your rapport and styles. Arguments can be made for any of those locales.

Begin by saying that you’ve sensed that he is struggling and you wonder if it’s anything you or others have done to hurt his entry to the organization. He will know he’s on the spot — you’re unhappy. But that places it in a friendly context, signalling this is not a dismissal meeting. Cover what you can do to make the situation better, but also probe what he can do, getting his thoughts and offering your own.

The meeting should be a renewal of vows, if you will, but remember that his departure may become necessary, and you have to leave that possibility open. Give him a fair chance while keeping in mind that, in fairness to him, you may eventually have to help him move on.

7. News From Our Water Cooler:
Shout Out to Ryan Computers

We’ve had a long and happy association with Michael Ryan and his team at Ryan Computer Services. They are based in Kingston but serve Eastern Ontario, specializing in computer hardware repairs, sales and service, network installation and service, and Internet services.

Last weekend after migrating some systems to Windows 7, we innocently tried to do a bit of deep technical tweaking ourselves — definitely not recommended: the “blue screen” of a serious system crash was a sudden, incapacitating surprise. (Thankfully all our data was safe on the server and backups.)

A quick email to Michael brought a fast on-site response on a Sunday afternoon (after he completed some community service work), a rebuild overnight, and he had us back in business by Monday noon. Whew! Yes, that’s customer service… and value. So it’s no surprise to us that over their 17 years in business, no more than a mere couple of clients have ever questioned how much time they spend on a job — we know they always respond with the client’s best interests at heart, which is why we’re sending this shout out to Ryan Computers, with thanks.

8. Closing Thought                                                                 Top

“The only function of economic forecasting is to make astrology look respectable.”

— John Kenneth Galbraith