Category Archives: Excellence

Reflections on the pursuit of excellence

We Can Do Better

Has contacting candidates after an interview to let them know their status become as antiquated as a rotary-dial telephone?

It’s become apparent to me over the past few years that—somehow—it has become acceptable for even the best HR departments not to follow-up with candidates after an interview  to let them know their status … ever.  As a 20+ year HR professional, I’m embarrassed for our profession by this.  We can do better.

Disclaimer

Over the years, I have found recruiters to be among the hardest-working, most dedicated employees in an organization.  They are almost invariably over-worked, underpaid, and putting in the maximum effort, day after day.  Therefore, the “not calling back” phenomenon is certainly not due to lack of effort or commitment on the recruiter’s part.  Yet and still, this isn’t acceptable, and we need to change it.

What’s Happening

Here’s the scenario that often plays out:

  1. Candidate responds to an internet posting with a resume and cover letter.
  2. If they’re lucky, candidate receives an automated response saying, “We’ll be in touch if you’re a match.” (No problem there).
  3. Candidate is called for an interview (either on-site or by telephone). Hopes rise.
  4. Interview occurs.
  5. Candidate checks their e-mail/voicemail regularly … in vain. Hopes are dashed.

Collateral Damage

Here’s the part companies don’t see (or don’t want to think about).  If they’re like most people, the candidate shares their potential good news with family and Continue reading

Leading With Pride (The Good Kind)

Johan Santana waves to fans after throwing the first no-hitter in Mets history. (AP Photo/Kathy Kmonicek)

It is said that “Pride goeth before the fall” (Proverbs, 16:18).

There are countless examples of this maxim in the worlds of politics, business, and our own daily lives. At the same time, there is a spirit of pride (and determination) that can lift up and inspire.  That’s the kind of pride that this story is about.

What Happened

Last Friday evening, at Citi Field, in the working class borough of Queens, in the City of New York, Johan Santana threw a no-hitter. While a noteworthy accomplishment on its own (there have only been 275 no-hitters in the major leagues since 1875), it is not why grown men cried at the feat and an entire city was elated for days afterward.  To understand that part, you need to know the context.

Backdrop

Santana pitches for the New York Mets—a team nicknamed “The Amazins” not for their stellar play, but for their sometimes historic ineptitude punctuated by periods of break-your-heart, so-near-and-yet-so-far brushes with greatness (cue the song, “Ya’ Gotta Have Heart,” from the classic musical, “Damn Yankees,” and you’ve got the picture).  The past five years have been a microcosm of the team’s 50-year history:

  • They came within one pitch of the World Series in 2006 when they had the best team in baseball (losing in the bottom of the ninth of the seventh game of the League Championship Series with the bases loaded, a 3-2 count, and their best hitter at the plate).
  • They suffered two of the greatest collapses in baseball history at the end of the 2007 and 2008 seasons, missing the playoffs in almost inconceivably excruciating fashion. Continue reading

Honoring Those Who Served and Led

As Memorial Day dawns in the U.S., we pause to offer solemn tribute, deep appreciation, and thoughts and prayers to all those who have served and led, and to their families. You have our eternal gratitude.

Click on the picture below for a short video honoring our brave service men and women, past and present.

(Music from Saving Private Ryan)

Good HR vs. Bad HR

Can a fresh set of dry erase markers and a clean whiteboard really be tools for "good HR" (and bad)?

I had an experience this week that provided an “a-ha” moment for me about the power of “good HR” – HR support that helps bring ideas to life in ways that help organizations progress.

Scenario

I was helping a small team come up with a list of performance traits that denote excellence in their field.  They plan to use these characteristics through the full HR cycle of events, from interviewing and selection to performance evaluation and professional development.

The same group had gone through a similar exercise a few years ago.  At that time, they accomplished the task – i.e., they put words down on paper – but (and this part won’t be a surprise for anyone who’s spent any time in HR or organizations in general), the document then sat on a shelf unused for years, to the point where people even forgot it existed.

An Example of Bad HR

This is a good example of “bad HR” that we unfortunately fall into in many of our organizations from time to time.  Good people Continue reading

Advice for (New) Managers

 

Recently, one of our senior managers was considering promoting a long-serving employee to a supervisory position for the first time.  To help paint a picture of “management” for the employee, the senior manager drew up a list of “Things Managers Are and Do” and shared it with the prospective supervisor.  I thought it was a very good and thoughtful list, so I asked him if I might share it in this forum (adding a few thoughts of my own).

Things Managers Are

  • They are genuine (i.e., they know that admitting mistakes makes you human, not weak)
  • They are prudent (i.e., they balance the needs of all concerned)
  • They are thoughtful (i.e., they try to understand and consider the implications of their actions)
  • They are humble (i.e., they seek collegial relationships and use power with great restraint)
  • They are hopeful (i.e., they believe in others’ potential and work to help them fulfill it)

Things Managers Do

  • They manage (i.e., they take charge of situations, identifying solutions rather than complaining about problems)
  • They want  to manage (because they enjoy this type of work, not because of where it puts them on the corporate ladder)
  • They care about, and see (and come to know) their staff as individuals first, and co-workers second.
  • They understand and respect that people have a life outside of work and try to plan thoughtfully to help their teams balance business and personal responsibilities
  • They truly want their staff and co-workers to be successful and work to help them become so
  • They see this “role” (helping others succeed) as important as “doing their own job” – because it is part their job
  • They actively demonstrate support by being available, teaching, and offering tools and resources where they reasonably can
  • They represent/support the company in all matters – while maintaining their own individual integrity (i.e., when the company is wrong, they acknowledge it)
  • They continually seek to learn and develop themselves in order to become better managers
  • They don’t  have to win an argument because they’re the boss (i.e., they seek to let the best answer prevail)
  • They understand that they’re not “owed” trust and loyalty merely because they’re “the boss”; they have to earn it (day by day, action by action).

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how to help new managers thrive.  I’ll be writing more next week about observing two young managers as they strive to learn the art and craft of management. In the meantime, what key actions would you add to the list if you were advising a new manager (or as a reminder for long-time managers)?

Related articles

The Wisdom of Others

After trying and mostly succeeding to post once per week for most of the past eighteen months or so, I’ve hit a bit of a dry patch – letting more than two weeks pass since my last post.  It’s been somewhat of a tumultuous period in our office, which has left me a bit tentative regarding my reflections and observations.  This too shall pass, as they say, I’m sure.

In the meantime, though, I recall a wise person telling me, “When you’re struggling with something, it’s often helpful to go beyond yourself – to change your mindset by focusing on helping others.”  Very good advice, indeed.  To that end, I wanted to share with you brief notes on four fellow members of the HR/leadership blogging community from whose wisdom I have benefited greatly over the past few years.  They’re each deeply thoughtful and intuitive about different aspects of the human condition we call “leadership” or “management,” and it is a privilege to recommend them to you.

  • Young Leaders – John Demma is a young manager who writes insightfully about what it is like to be a young manager – the struggle to learn the craft of guiding and motivating others, balancing just-learned grad school lessons with the realities of the school of hard knocks that is the real world of business, and juggling it all with the pressures and joys of a young family.  Written with an authentic, earnest voice, John posts regularly at On Becoming A Leader.
  • Day-to-Day Management, Part I – As someone who struggles to write anything in less than 700 words, I greatly respect those amongst us who can get to the point and regularly share three or four helpful nuggets of advice in 300 words or so – and do it five days a week, to boot.  Experienced executive and blogger, Stephen Meyer, is just such a person.  With a been-there-done-that credibility, he shares immediately useful suggestions for managing employees, organizations, and HR issues at HR Café.
  • Day-to-Day Management , Part II – In a similar vein, Sharlyn Lauby, aka The HR Bartender, speaks with the authenticity of someone who has been through the wars and survived to tell the tale – but always with a upbeat, forward-looking take on things that is nothing short of refreshing and inspiring.  Similar in nature to HR Café in a number of ways (down to the food metaphor), Sharlyn somehow manages to offer her practical, eminently insightful advice and perspectives – without the world-weary skepticism or snarkiness that often infects other HR blogs — on a daily basis at HR Bartender.
  • Executive Leadership – For rising leaders, or those who advise and guide them, executive coach and leadership expert, Scott Eblin, is absolutely required reading.  A former Fortune-500 HR Vice President at a young age, Scott now advises leaders around the world who are striving to get to the Next Level (the name of both his book and his blog).  Scott has a remarkable ability to view current events through the prism of leadership and offer three or four insights you can use every time out.  He can be found at Next Level Blog.

Going Against the Grain: Sharing Interview Questions In Advance

Have you ever had an idea or theory that went against prevailing wisdom, but you knew it would work, anyway?  This is one of those ideas!

Today’s idea is sharing the bulk of your planned interview questions with the candidate in advance (i.e., when the interview is scheduled) — instead of springing questions on them under the “hot lights” of the interview setting.  The goal is to put the candidate in a position to tell you the most relevant information about their skills — avoiding a game of “gotcha” where the most quick-witted (but not necessarily most skilled) candidates beat out the reticent (but possibly more qualified) candidates every time.

Is “Only Extraverts Need Apply” A Good Plan? (No).

My good friend and colleague, Bill, is fond of saying, “We stand from where we sit.”  I’m not sure if this is really a southern expression or just something he made up — but the truth of the statement rings true.  That is, we all see the world through the lens of our own life experience.  I fully acknowledge that this holds true in terms of my views on interviewing.

Having conducted dozens of interview training courses over the years, I’m very comfortable training managers on writing “behavioral” interview questions (e.g., “Tell me about a time you experienced such-and-such — and how did it work out?) … and considerably less comfortable answering such questions. Having 20 years experience in HR, having stories to draw from isn’t the problem — but picking stories that perfectly fit relatively random questions is a problem for me.

For the longest time, I thought this “disability” was unique to me.  Then I read a brilliant new book — Quiet: The Power of Introverts In a World That Can‘t Stop Talking, by Susan Cain.  In this compellingly written and deeply insightful book, I learned that this problem not only isn’t a dysfunction, it isn’t at all rare.  It turns out that introverts (including yours truly) tend to prefer — and function better — in situations where they are able to give thoughtful, well-considered answers to questions, and tend not to excel in situations where time for thoughtful reflection isn’t permitted.

Putting An Idea Into Practice

This revelation helped thrust forward an idea that had been forming in my mind for a number of years.  That is, what would happen if we gave candidates a number of the questions we intended to ask … in advance?  For the extraverts amongst us, this would likely have no impact one way or the other (they don’t need the advance warning and do just fine thinking on their feet).  For the introverts, though, this might set them up for success to the benefit of all involved.

As candidates, they would have (and appreciate) the time to reflect on and formulate answers that provide the best and most relevant information about their skills and experience.  And we, as the interviewers/hiring managers, would benefit by getting information about the candidate that is most indicative of their true skills and experience — rather than having to make hiring decisions (already an inexact science) based on information that may not reflect the candidate’s full experience and capabilities because they couldn’t immediately come up with a snappy answer to an out-of-the-blue question.

Reality Check

Admittedly, I don’t know of any companies or organizations that currently provide their interview questions to candidates in advance … but I truly do believe it would work and help companies (and candidates) reap the benefits of a more substantive, reflective process.  What are your thoughts?

Lin-sanity, The Kid, and the Value of Connectors

Jeremy Lin -- the "connector" -- celebrates with teammates and fans

Two of the biggest stories in the sports world in recent weeks have been the emergence of Jeremy Lin and the passing of Gary Carter.  Though unrelated, these two events have re-emphasized for me the value of “connectors” –  those people (in both sports and all organizations) who somehow “connect” the people and change the game (and the atmosphere) in  important ways.

“Lin-sanity”

Jeremy Lin, the New York Knicks’ new point guard, has gone from an unknown reserve on a faltering team to literally a worldwide sensation in less than two weeks.  When the season began on Christmas Day, Lin was sleeping on his brother’s couch.  By Valentine’s Day, Lin – an undrafted free agent from Harvard, who had recently been cut by two teams and was hoping for a spot on a minor league roster when signed by the desperate Knicks – was serving as an inspirational role model for children around the world (he is one of the few NBA players of Taiwanese descent).

How did this happen? As a point guard, Lin’s job is to get the ball to his teammates in places and at times when they have the best chance of making plays and scoring.  Simply put, he “connects” his teammates – a skill that is vital for successful teams in sports as well as in business.  Add in his can-do spirit, the energy he brings onto the court, and his humility, and you have something very special in the works.  End result:  The Knicks have gone from an 8-15 record and sports writers openly betting on when the coach would be fired to a team focused on the playoffs (with some giddily speculating whether a championship run might even be possible for them).

“The Kid”

Gary Carter's ability to connect teammates led to a dramatic World Series victory in 1986

While post-steroid era baseball may not be “America’s Past-Time” in quite the same way it used to be, there’s no doubt that Gary Carter was an All-American sports hero.  A Hall of Fame, power-hitting catcher for 19 seasons, Carter’s position enabled him to serve as a “field general” behind the plate, and his upbeat personality and strong will to win enabled him to be a leader off the field.

In the many eulogies offered on his passing last week at the age of 57 from brain cancer, there was constant reference to the role Carter played as the “last piece of the puzzle” (literally, a “connector”) when he came to the New York Mets in 1985 – leading them to a World Series championship a year later. He was recognized as the glue that held a very talented but rowdy bunch together, from guiding a young pitching staff through rough spots with patience and care, to – determined not to make the final out – getting the hit that started the Mets’ miraculous game-winning rally in a contest known simply in New York sports lore as “Game Six.”  In short, he “connected” his teammates and helped the whole become so much more than the sum of the parts.

 Business: Connectors and Dis-Connectors

It strikes me that in thriving organizations of any size or scope (from 6-person departments to major divisions of global corporations), there is often a person (or persons) who serve as connectors – who through their skills, presence, and personality serve to bring the group together and help everyone “raise their game.”  Two examples (one positive, one negative):

  • Dysfunction — I once interviewed with the HR department of a division of a Fortune-500 company where – strikingly – there seemed to be absolutely no connection (business, emotional, or otherwise) between any member of the HR team … so much so that the word “team” could scarcely be used.  This extended to the HR VP – an otherwise affable and bright person who was proud to share that he had absolutely no idea what anyone on his team was doing at any point in time (no joke!).  Boy, did that team need a “connector”!
  • Connection — I currently work with a colleague who is absolutely, intuitively brilliant in her ability to bring people together.  With very little fanfare and no one really noticing until after the fact, she regularly brings teammates into her projects in ways in which they can add the most value, expand their contacts, serve the client’s best interests, and play to their strengths – win/win scenarios, to say the least.  (In basketball parlance, she gets people the ball in positions where they can score).  She is a true “connector,” and the team – and the organization — is truly strengthened for it.

Implications

In hiring for, coaching, and developing teams at all levels of our organizations, it seems to me that “connectors” are vital for success.  What are your thoughts?

Coaching Lessons from Super Bowl XLVI

Maintaining his principles while adapting his tactics was one of the key coaching lessons that enabled Giants Head Coach, Tom Coughlin, to reach the pinnacle of his profession.

On Sunday evening, the Giants and Patriots treated more than 110 million fans to a classic Super Bowl game, long on intensity and down-to-the-last second drama.  Innumerable sports writers and football experts have analyzed the many key moments in the game.  I wanted to share today four lessons that stem from the weeks, months, and years leading up to the game – focusing principally on Giants Head Coach, Tom Coughlin, and quarterback, Eli Manning.

Coaching and Leadership Lessons

  • Maintain your principles, adapt your tactics – Throughout his long college and NFL coaching career, Tom Coughlin has been known as an “old school” disciplinarian.  When his teams have won, this has been seen as a virtue; when losing, a vice.  Early in his tenure with the Giants, Coughlin’s approach was feared to be too intense and inflexible to reach today’s players.  He re-thought his approach during that off-season and started the next year more flexible, while still retaining his trademark intensity and focus.  A few years later, Continue reading

Asking Too Much (or the Wrong Things) of Employees

"The Office's" Michael Scott was a talented sales person but a comically awful manager, to his employee's eternal dismay. Are similar mis-matches of skills and responsibilities causing tension and frustration in your organization?

In the age of the Great Recession, it is common for managers and employees to be asked to “do more with less.”  When this is pushed to the extreme – i.e., employees  forced to run beyond capacity for too long with insufficient relief —  it is easy to predict the results: burned out managers, demoralized employees, declining product quality, disenchanted customers, and vanishing profits.

Situations like the above are fairly easy to discern, if difficult to correct. What about a related circumstance, though – where employees aren’t asked to do too many things, but the wrong things?  I encountered such a situation this past week.

The Discouraged Sales Manager

A good friend is a sales manager with responsibility for a team of field sales representatives.  Over the past year Continue reading