Blog post June 2012
Working on my second mojito as we watch the surfers catch the late afternoon waves off the Southern California coast gets me thinking about why we like beach bars.
Sure, there are the views, the music, the people, the drinks, the staff, the décor, the this, the that …
But what we really like about beach bars is how they make us feel. Carefree, relaxed, comfortable, warm, content, good. The more those other things – the views, the music – help create the feelings we like, the more we like the beach bar. The more we like being at the beach bar.
It’s the experience. It’s all about the experience.
How do you want your customers to feel when they use your products and services and when they engage your people? What do you want them to experience?
Think I’ll experience another mojito.
You act quickly. So are you decisive, or just impatient? You act deliberately. Are you patient, or just indecisive?
Is it that you empower your people or abandon them? Do you give them clear and detailed direction or do you micromanage?
The same management principles can be interpreted in different ways. And they can be correctly applied, misapplied, over-applied or under-applied. So how can you be sure that you’re always applying the right principles to the right extent?
You can’t. The reality of management is that you’re constantly trying to determine the right course of action in a dynamic environment. So what principles can help you select and apply the right principles?
1) Walking a fine line. Sometimes it’s a matter of walking a fine line when applying a principle. You want to be patient, but not too patient. Decisive, yet not impulsive. You want to be consistent, but not inflexible. Flexible, yet not inconsistent.
2) Finding the right balance. Sometimes it’s finding the right balance in applying opposing principles. You want to be task-oriented but also people-oriented. Process-oriented and results-oriented. You want to rely on information but also intuition.
3) Understanding the situation. And sometimes it’s knowing which principle to apply when. There are times for autocratic decision-making and times for democratic decision-making. Times for rules, times for guidelines. Times for reason, times for emotion.
You can’t know all the answers in a complex, ever-changing environment (and don’t pretend to know). That’s why it’s important to wrestle with the choices. The art of leadership is managing the dynamic tension you face with these choices.
Manage the dynamic tension. Start now. Because as we all know, he who hesitates is lost. But then again, haste makes waste.
One of my favorite principles is converging evidence. The idea that when evidence from different sources points toward the same conclusion, you can be confident in that conclusion.
Take selecting a new hire. How confident are you with your selections? Ideally, you want converging evidence from different sources that tells you a candidate is a winner.
What you want is multiple interviews by people at different levels including a candidate’s prospective boss, peers and direct reports.
2) Role Plays
Effective when the position requires exceptional interpersonal skills, like in sales or customer service.
3) Job Simulations
If technical skills are important, give the candidate a chance to demonstrate them. Put a CFO candidate in a room with mock financial statements and have them come back with their assessment and recommendations. Have a welder weld. Assess their speed and quality.
4) Assessment Profiles
There are a number of well-established instruments that reveal things like a candidate’s work preferences, interpersonal style and values – things that may be hard to extract from an interview.
Generally not that helpful although if the right questions are asked (“If there was one thing you wish you had known about Joe when you hired him, what would that be?”) they can help to uncover red flags.
6) Online Searches
Almost everyone has left breadcrumbs on the web. Just be careful how you interpret all that personal information you come across.
7) Substance Abuse Testing
Certain positions inherently involve such a level of risk to others that pre-employment substance abuse testing is desirable.
8) Verify Credentials
Don’t set false barriers (see my June 4 blog), but if a position legitimately requires some type of degree or certification, obtain a valid copy of that document.
Many leaders are finding that despite the quantity of talent available in the marketplace, there is a shortage of quality. Applying the principle of converging evidence can help you find the nuggets in the stream.
I’m all for education. I should be, I have a PhD. But I’m not for organizations saying a degree is a hard-and-fast job requirement when it’s not.
The best boss I ever had was Arthur at FedEx. Arthur was focused, bright and committed. He had impeccable integrity. He gave his people direction and support, and then let them do their jobs. He recognized people’s successes and held them accountable if they weren’t successful. Arthur got results.
What Arthur didn’t have was a university degree.
My Dad was a great boss. His people loved him. He was a savvy businessman and outstanding communicator. He was motivated, dedicated, confident and successful. His was a classic front-line-employee-to-senior-executive story.
My Dad didn’t graduate from high school.
I’m not against education. I’m not saying it’s useless, I’m not saying it isn’t important. If I ever have to have brain surgery I’ll feel a lot better knowing the surgeon graduated from Med school.
What I am saying is don’t make education a false barrier for a job. Say that a degree is preferred. Say that it’s strongly preferred. But unless it’s an absolute necessity to capably execute a job, don’t make it one.