Friday, October 29, 2010

Manager: Chief Motivator

A few years ago, Saturday Night Live's Chris Farley played the part of a Motivational Speaker, Matt Foley. I always smile when I think about how the guy living "in a van down by the river" was set up to help motivate others. Eventually, Matt Foley would fall over a piece of furniture, breaking it into peices. His efforts could be summed up in a single word: Fail.

One of a manager’s most important tasks is to motivate his people. Sales, production, customer service, everything about the business relies on the people being motivated to do the job. Here are 10 tips that will help a manager motivate his people.

#1 If you want more innovation from your people, they have to feel secure. Even when the job changes, the employee has to feel safe. If they are worried about losing their job, the tendency is to stretch out the work. This is so very contrary to an atmosphere of innovation.

#2 Avoid being a Demotivator. As the leader, your job is to get and keep your people motivated and working toward that common goal. Demeaning them erodes their motivation. Do not be dismissive. Watching your own actions will help you be sure you’re not planting the landmines to sabotage your own efforts.

#3 Any organization’s greatest resource is the people. With the best, high tech equipment available, if you don’t have the people, you don’t have the business. Treat your people with greater care as you would your most expensive equipment.

#4 Do you remember that fire you felt on your first week, your first month on the job? Over time that feeling tends to fade and the enthusiasm dulls. It is important to fan the flames of your employees’ enthusiasm. Keep that flame bright and hot and the output will continue to amaze.

#5 Listen. You spend all the effort to find and hire the best. It just doesn’t make sense to ignore them after they’ve started drawing a paycheck. Listen to your employees. They are your best resources (see #3).

#6 Don’t Spray the Monkeys! Early in my relationship with any employee I share this little anecdote to help them understand how I feel about continuous improvement. I think it applies here as well.

Imagine if you will a large enclosure with stairs going to the ceiling in the center of the cage. At the top of the stairs is a bunch of bananas. The cage is rigged with sprinklers. Place five monkeys into the cage and almost immediately one of the monkeys is going to go after those bananas. As soon as that monkey reaches for the bananas spray all the monkeys with cold water. Do this every time a monkey reaches for the bananas and soon they will all ignore them.

Turn off the water and replace one of the monkeys with a new monkey. That monkey is going to see the bananas and head straight way for a nice banana treat. But before the monkey can touch the bananas, the others will beat the monkey, preventing him from getting too close to the bananas. After the second or, if the monkey is particularly stubborn, third attempt the new monkey stops going after the bananas.

If you replace a second monkey with another new monkey, like the first replacement the new monkey is going to head straight for the bananas. This time the first replacement monkey is going to join in beating the new monkey – getting significant joy out of the experience. He doesn’t know why he is beating the monkey except that it is what everyone else is doing. The new replacement monkey is going to give up on the bananas after the second or third beating as well.

If you replace the other three monkeys one at a time, a similar experience awaits the new monkeys. Soon, there are five monkeys sitting a cage with bananas at the top of the stairs that none of the monkeys will touch. They will not know why those bananas are no good but they will leave them alone, never to touch or eat them.

Why won’t they? Because that is the way it has always been. This is how policy begins. It is also how we kill innovation. Blind devotion to old policies leads to stagnation and de-motivates the would be innovative employee.

#7 Do not treat your employees like they are mushrooms. If you’ve ever gone to a mushroom farm, then you’d know mushrooms grow well when they are kept in the dark and fed horse manure. People aren’t like mushrooms. They thrive when they are kept in the loop and given the information.

#8 Participation breeds acceptance. When employees have the opportunity to participate in the discussion, they are more likely to embrace the decision management makes.

#9 Listen. Actively listen to your customers, your employees, your suppliers and anyone who may come in contact with your business. Objectively evaluate what they have to say. You’ll learn a lot, maybe even something that will benefit your business.

#10 Respect, Value, Human Touch. The three essentials of effective customer service is just as applicable to how we lead our people. Interestingly, you can’t really apply these essentials to the customer until after you’ve successfully applied them to the way you lead people.

Monday, October 11, 2010

The Overqualified Candidate

The business climate today is something that has many of us a little worried. It is easy to just sit back and watch as events unfold, worried to make certain moves, concerned that making just the wrong decision will backfire and move you from the precipice right over the edge into the unemployment line with so many of your peers. Well, don’t take the easy way out just because things are tough. This economy, like so many other things, will not continue on into perpetuity. Yes, it will end. Now is the time to do things that will position your organization for success in the future. Taking things too safely will endanger future success.

The tight labor market is a perfect example of opportunity knocking on your door. You can benefit from this and hire better people so you will come out ahead when the recovery starts. HR might try to deprive you of these candidates since they are “overqualified”. Your own doubts about your own skills might stand as a barrier between you and these better people. Using these highly talented people will place you in a far better position in the future. Think of “overqualified” as just a new moniker for the best choice.

Many of the current displaced workers are more willing to put forth efforts you’ll not find under any other circumstances. People with great backgrounds and exceptional skills are willing to put that talent to work in places they would never have considered only a few years ago. The benefits these individuals can bring to the table are significant.

An “overqualified” candidate is simply someone whose resume is more extensive and more impressive than the hiring manager expected. That’s it. Since the Human Resourced department doesn’t know how much additional qualification is acceptable, the “overqualified” candidate is filtered out before the hiring manager even has a chance to see his resume or the candidate is given the opportunity to show he is the best for the position. This leaves the manager wasting resources training and developing less qualified personnel when another could have jumped into the position ready to work nearly from the start.

Some reasons for not hiring the “overqualified” candidate are valid, while others are not. They are too expensive, hard to train, skills are not up-to-date, they may suffer boredom, or leave when things improve.

Probably one of the more common reasons for not hiring an “overqualified” candidate is the cost involved. With more experience comes the higher demand for compensation. Sometimes, this is true. Most of the time, however, it is not. When posting the position, including a salary range provides enough screening to weed out most candidates who expect to be paid more. Certainly, the more experienced worker will probably seek a higher salary but might be willing to work for the lower pay knowing that it may be the best you can do. They will do it and do it well.

A manager may worry that those whose experience exceeds the minimum might come to a job with some very ingrained responses and unwilling to change. This should be cleared up in the interview. If the candidate expresses they are not willing to change, dump them and move on to the next guy. Do not use the resume as a screening device based on this criterion, though.

The manager should ascertain how recent the candidate’s skills are in the interview. An overqualified candidate’s skills are probably broader than the less experienced worker. He is probably significantly more advanced technologically and interpersonally. Taking advantage of this, the manager will have an easier time training this candidate and be able to rely on his ability to multi-task and work across functional roles.

Worry about boredom is hardly a proper screening technique. Covering this possibility in the interview and seeking the candidate’s response to what their tendencies are in such situations might provide insight into how much more the candidate can help the organization. Boredom can spawn improvement if it is the right candidate.

An overqualified candidate might leave when things improve but that is not any different than any other candidate. After the new hire begins working, retention becomes part of a good manager’s skill set. A good manager helps their personnel feel appreciated and motivated so they will remain with the company.

The overqualified candidate might just be your best option. Reviewing the candidate’s experience and skills, seeking answers to your concerns in the interview process, and weighing that against potential gains for the company will lead the manager toward making the best decision for the long-term benefit for the organization while quite possibly saving significant costs short term.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Be A Hot Dog!

High Performance Driving Factors

High performance cars do it. High performance boats and motorcycles do the same. High performance is showing off. It isn’t about bragging or arrogance. Showing off is simply bringing your best to everything you do. It’s being focused. It’s working with the intention of creating results that benefit the stakeholders for every situation. It’s about creating value through accomplishment.

Here’s a list of four keys to “showing off” through high performance:

1. Stupidities, Braveries and Innovation

Interestingly, top performers are those who seem to act with incredible stupidity and the bravery that rivals that little dog going up against a mad grizzly bear. They are the ones making choices other’s fear to even consider. They’ll try things without knowing the outcome. They don’t settle for safety, doing that which seems ridiculous and just outside of sane.

This is the flagship of an innovator. To put it out there, making the bold and brash decisions. If you were to ask anyone about the importance of innovation for an organization to stay competitive, the answer will always be positive. That’s generally where it ends – lip service to innovation.

Innovation is not about waiting to see someone else test the waters for safety. It’s about trying things out without knowing success is sure. You’ve got to let go of what used to work, or the “it’s always been this way” attitude. It’s letting go of those things that have made you successful up to this point and striking out into unknown territory. It’s acting with an attitude of grand stupidity – your mantra: “Let’s find out if this will work.”

Mark Twain posited, “I knew a man who picked a cat up by the tail. He learned 40 percent more about cats than the man who didn’t.” Although you might get a little scratched up, sometimes you’ve got to pick the cat up by the tail. That extra bit of information might by your edge in a competitive environment.

2. High Performance: The Need For Speed

Customer loyalty used to be all about the “what have you done for me lately.” It’s not about that so much anymore. The interest in “lately” has moved to an fascination with what’s going to happen next. The advent of faxes, email, instant messaging and texting has brought with it the attitude of “I want it yesterday”. It’s about getting it now – instant gratification.

I’ve seen it happen more often. The corporate world is about having meetings about the new ideas. We’ll study the ideas, have more meetings about the ideas, table the ideas in favor of newer ideas. We’ll talk about it until they’re not relevant anymore. Our meetings are the death of innovation. Top performers do it now. Innovation requires it.

The most effective organizations are set up around speed. Action. Do it now. If it’s a good idea, the responsibility for implementation is assigned, guidelines for accountability set, funding arranged, GO! There’s no dillydallying around on this one, baby.

The top performer fears being stuck in the mud on the road – indecision. They do not fear making a wrong turn. Indecision is the mud holding back the organization. Wrong turns can be corrected, standing still in the constantly moving traffic of the marketplace can be fatal.

Action meet speed. You’ll get back to me tomorrow? That gives me plenty of opportunity to find someone else to do the job now – you’re out. Returning that call within 24 hours just doesn’t cut it anymore. Your customers, co-workers, or vendors are more interested in the speed of their second hand than the open spaces on your calendar.

3. The Relentless Pursuit Of Improvement

Who’s the greatest boxer of all time? OK, that question is one that will cause many boxing fans to start debating about this guy or that guy. Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr. Sugar Ray Robinson. Henry Armstrong. Joe Louis. Some might even suggest Sugar Ray Leonard, Mike Tyson or Evander Holyfield. The arguments are plenty with strong supporting facts.

Who’s the greatest professional golfer in the world over the past ten years? I bet almost anyone reading that would answer Tiger Woods.

What commonality do all these boxers and Tiger Woods have? They all have a coach. Although they were all considered at one time in their careers to be the best – not just one of the best – they all had someone to help them improve. This is the fact we should all come to understand. No one should ever be as good as they’re going to be. Inside every top performer is a higher performer trying to break free.

Every company I know of has something, some policy about constant improvement. They all have given the lip service. What they know to be true about the competitive nature of innovation and what they put into practice aren’t necessarily the same. What steps did you take today to make things better tomorrow?

I’ve attended more than one continuous improvement meeting that started off with some kind of attention-getter with the intent of getting every attendee to “think outside the box.” There’s a good reason for that kind of innovation. Do not ignore what’s inside the box while you’re focusing on the outside. Some of the best innovation can be focused on the basics of your business. Some of the greatest returns are realized when investing in improving the customers’ basic expectations.

Think about the hamburger stand that sells the best tasting hamburger. The menu will probably be rather scant. The frills aren’t there. Hamburger, fries and a drink or two. They aren’t interested in inventing a new, outrageous fad. It’s about making that hamburger the best it can be. Simply serve a better hamburger fast so it’s hot. Basic.

4. Next Stop, Normal.

Yeah, I know. That is a name of a book but I lived in Normal, Illinois for 10 years, where the Texas Eagle stops on its way to San Antonio. What is normal? Here’s the essence of normal: We don’t always know what’s going to happen next. Show offs thrive on the unexpected. They perform well when under pressure. They plan carefully. They research, forecast and consider every contingency. They are completely at ease with the reality that something totally unexpected will happen. That’s normal. Embrace the unknown.

Although making the right choice was once the way to succeed, today it’s about making that choice quickly enough. It’s about ignoring what that choice will do to your world right now, being ready to switch gears because the situation just changed. If you can’t perform under those circumstances, you’re in trouble. There’s not enough time to understand everything that might happen.

Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was something of a poet when he told the Whitehouse press core the following:

As we know,
There are known knowns.
There are things we know we know.
We also know
There are known unknowns.
That is to say
We know there are some things
We do not know.
But there are also unknown unknowns,
The ones we don't know
We don't know.

Too much analysis impedes innovation. We’re just not going to know everything. The difference between the person who easily and gracefully handles the unexpected and the person who crawls under the desk and assumes the fetal position: The Normal Factor. Whatever happens is normal. Although it may not be acceptable, it’s still normal.

Stuff happens and the top performer understands. However carefully you plan your work and work your plan, the unexpected will happen. The proverbial wrench will drop into your well-constructed plan. The one thing we need to remember when creating opportunity from change – always expect change. What happens might not meet exactly with your expectations, but it is normal. Respond appropriately.

Show Off

It’s a good thing. It’s a mindset. The true show off is often the quiet one who consistently performs with a sense of style. Remember the old saying about the duck: Above the surface, be calm and elegant. Below the surface, paddle like hell.

Executives and managers rate “consistency of performance,” “performing under pressure,” and “delivering results” as the top three employee attributes. Achieving these attributes is not a matter of rocket science. Choose how to respond to each and every situation, challenge and opportunity.