Friday, December 24, 2010

Changing Your Life Starts Now

If you’re really going to do it, do it now. What’s stopping you? If you don’t have the focus to start changing your life the day you decide to change your life, then you can bet you won’t be able to do it a week from now. People who are serious about a goal don’t put the goal off. People who put off goals have the wrong goals in mind. Tell yourself you are going to make an improvement in your life right now. This minute. Then keep reading to figure out how to do that.

1. Pick one small goal.

Big goals entail lots of little goals, which is why big goals fail. If you want to wake up early, for example, the first thing you have to do is stop accepting invitations for stuff that will get you to bed late. Getting up early is relatively easy if you go to bed early, but going to bed early is relatively hard in a world where few people do it. And, you have to do it every night to train your body. Big goals need to be broken down into pieces and tackled this way. This is why the classic New Year’s resolutions — lose weight, exercise more, eat better — are guaranteed failures.

2. Give the self-discipline part of your brain a workout.

If you want to do something and you’re not doing it, it’s an issue of self-discipline, right? The good news is that self-discipline is something that snowballs. If you have a little of it, you get more. It’s sort of like “the rich get richer” — the self-disciplined become more self-disciplined. This is because self-discipline is like a muscle in your brain, and in many of us, it’s a weak muscle. It’s no wonder: It wasn’t a high-priority as people evolved. The impulse for immediate gratification (food) and the need to fight or flee (survival) were stronger than anything in the newer, front part of the brain where delayed gratification (self-discipline) occurs.

So you have to exercise the self-control mechanisms in your brain to make them stronger than the immediate gratification/fight or flight part of your brain. To this end, if you do one, very small thing (like, say, make your bed every morning), then other things will happen without trying. This is because it takes concentration (mindfulness is the buzzword here) to get yourself to change your behavior, even if it’s something seemingly as simple as making your bed. This small step-and the concentration that’s required-stays with you and begins to help you make other changes. So instead of making a big resolution, resolve to change one small thing about your day, every day.

3. Tell someone.

Private goals are excuses to not do them. If you don’t tell people it’s because you don’t want to fail. When you win a prize, you tell people, right? Because it’s certain. So why not act like your increase in self-discipline is certain, and tell people about it. Act like someone who is successful, and you’ll become someone who is successful. It’s oft-told advice, I know, but it works. So start believing in yourself. Note that telling people your big goal is actually detrimental to you. But telling friends the small things you are doing right now, on a daily basis, is useful.

Sure, your friends might wonder why you’re telling them you’ve started making your bed. But so what? It might open the path for conversations about other things you’re tackling as a way to achieve goals. And, ultimately, talking about these things, however little they are, will help you succeed.

4. Hang around successful people.

Successful people don’t need New Year’s resolutions. People who understand goal setting are successful. They have daily to-do lists and they prioritize their goals for their life. And, most importantly, they attack big goals by breaking them down. They don’t need New Year’s resolutions because they are making resolutions all year long. And keeping them. Find these people. They’re easy to spot. Hang around with them, and skirt the New Years resolution frenzy in favor of a well-examined life.

Technology Influencing Our Lives

there are five technologies - actually applications that utilize lots of different enabling technologies - that are already here today and have the potential to dramatically alter the way we live.

Smart infrastructure. Japan had smart highways decades ago and America’s just now getting around to digital power meters. Still, the world is becoming too complex to physically monitor everything. Wireless sensor networks that enable the remote management of assets, systems, buildings, even cities, are just beginning to take off. And they’ll make everything that matters easier and more efficient.
Robotics. From cleaning our homes to taking care of our rapidly aging population, from medical procedures to industrial factories, robots of every shape and size are slowly but surely changing the way we work and live. Yes, it’s an evolutionary process, but the core computing, communications, sensor, and mechanical technologies are continuing to advance at a rapid pace. There are robots in your future.
Motion sensing. It’s starting with video games, of course, but the applications for technology that allows us to control electronics without having to touch anything is virtually limitless. When combined with speech recognition and other related technologies, just imagine a world where you can interact seamlessly with computing and communications devices that are essentially invisible.
Smart cars. The technology for self-driven cars is being developed and tested as you read this, but its broad usage is still a long way off. In the mean time, however, cars are becoming more and more aware of what’s going on inside and outside the vehicle. In terms of keeping us safe from each other and ourselves, and making cars more reliable and efficient, there’s a lot of good stuff under the hood.
LED lighting and OLED display technology. One of the most consistent aspects of just about every depiction of a future world is amorphous lighting that seems to come from everywhere and nowhere. Not only can ultrathin LED lights be embedded in almost anything, but organic LED or OLED technology enables ultrathin displays that can, get this, be rolled up and formed into all kinds of shapes.
Put all this together and you may wake up one day in a world where our critical infrastructure is smart, safe, and optimized; robots make our lives easier; we can control everything through speech and motion; lights and displays become part of the walls and furniture, and you can get from point A to point B almost without thinking about it. And this isn’t future stuff. It’s here now.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Are You A Role Model For A Team Player?

Here, then, are five make-or-break questions for leaders who want to make a fresh start for the New Year.

1. Why should great people want to work with you? The best leaders understand that the most talented performers aren’t motivated primarily by money or status. Great people want to work on exciting projects. Great people want to feel like impact players. Put simply, great people want to feel like they’re part of something greater than themselves. It’s the leader’s job to keep everyone energized and determined in a business environment that remains lackluster and uncertain.

2. Do you know a great person when you see one? It’s a lot easier to be the right kind of leader if you’re running a team or department filled with the right kind of people. Indeed, as I reflect on the best workplaces I’ve visited, I’ve come to appreciate how much time and energy leaders spend on who gets to be there. These workplaces may feel different, but the organizing principle is the same: When it comes to evaluating talent, character counts for as much as credentials. Do you know what makes your star performers tick–and how to find more performers who share those attributes?

3. Can you find great people who aren’t looking for you? It’s a common-sense insight that’s commonly forgotten: The most talented performers tend to be in jobs they like, working with people they enjoy, on projects that keep them challenged. The trick is to win over these so-called “passive” job seekers. These people may be outside your company, or they may be in a different department from inside your company, but they won’t work for you unless you work hard to persuade them to join.

4. Are you great at teaching great people how your team or company works and wins? Even the most highly focused specialists (software programmers, graphic designers, marketing wizards) are at their best when they appreciate how the whole organization operates. That’s partly a matter of sharing financial statements: Can every person learn how to think like a businessperson? But it’s mainly a matter of shared understanding: Can smart people work on making everyone else in the organization smarter about the business?

5. Are you as tough on yourself as you are on your people? There’s no question that talented and ambitious people have high expectations–for themselves, for their team or company, for their colleagues. Which is why they can be so tough on their leaders. The ultimate test for people in positions of authority is to demonstrate the same values, attitudes, and mindsets they want to see from the people who report to them.

In other words, as we approach a New Year filled with new worries, problems, and difficulties, the biggest question is the one it’s always been: Are you the kind of leader you’d want to work for?

Friday, December 17, 2010

We Still Can Get Thinkgs Done At Our Offices

If you’re one of those managers who worries that people who don’t come in to the office aren’t being productive, ask yourself this question: where do you go when you need to really buckle down and get stuff done? Odds are it’s not the office during normal hours.

That’s just one of the provocative points raised by Jason Fried, who is the co-founder and president of 37 Signals. He recently spoke at a TED conference in Chicago and kicked up a lot of dust with the notion that “Work Doesn’t Happen At Work.”You can watch the entire presentation here if you’d like (and I recommend it). Many of the points he raises are valid. Some, I think, need to be tempered by a dose of reality, or at least understanding of the human condition.

Before you light the cubicles on fire here are some of the highlights, and a few thoughts of my own:

When you ask people where they go to really concentrate and get work done, they rarely say “the office”. This is absolutely true. Real inspiration doesn’t happen between 9 and 5 and rarely happens surrounded by cubicle walls. It also seldom happens when your dog is barking at the postman or your kid is banging on the office door because they’re late for soccer practice. Jason’s point is that people need to be able to work when the time is right and they are at their best, not be restricted to specific hours or places. No one is at their best 24/7 and few people’s jobs require top-tier inspiration every minute of the working day. This doesn’t mean that the office doesn’t serve a lot of mundane but critical uses.
Most meetings are an expensive waste of time, brain power and oxygen. You’d be hard pressed to find an argument from anyone except the people who sell doughnuts (who would shrivel up and go out of business if we all went cold turkey on this). I think, though, that this is an indictment of the way most people run their meetings and the politics involved rather than the actual act of human discourse itself. At his most didactic, Jason sounds as if actually talking to people is most often a waste of time. Unless you have coworkers hanging out in your home office this can be difficult to do without a central meeting point.
Work, like sleep, happens in phases and it doesn’t really work when constantly interrupted. A bit of a strained metaphor but the point is that you can’t do good, sustained work if you’re constantly interrupted. However, this again supposes that your job is primarily to sit quietly and create. Some people actually have to interact with others and be a resource to those who sit and think. Of course, it doesn’t have to be inside burlap-padded cubicles.
He has 3 ideas and I have a couple of gripes about them. Jason plays the gadfly and makes three radical suggestions to make the office a better place.
1) Instead of casual Fridays, how about “no talk Thursdays”. His idea is here is to make it okay to be quiet and not interact with people on command. You can do that now if you have the nerve to set and keep boundaries. It also presumes that all conversation is unnecessary (which reveals as much about the coder mindset as it does about the workplace). I am an auditory learner and I need to speak to other real live human beings in order to process information effectively. The office also provides social interaction which makes the workplace bearable for the majority of people who aren’t introverted knowledge workers.

2) Use more asynchronous tools instead of synchronous tools. Email, instant messaging, blogs and social network sites actually are great places to gather information and formulate thoughtful answers. We should not assume that the live event (telephone, videochat or, heaven forbid, actually getting together) is the best way to achieve your outcomes. On the other hand, we can’t just assume that it’s not. Input and feedback are the keys to any successful process and I’m not arrogant enough to assume that I have all the answers i need if everyone would just leave me alone. Please let there be someone smarter than me around I can talk to. Any workplace that runs entirely on email and electronic messaging without some human contact and conversation isn’t a place I want to be part of and a lot of people feel the same way.

3) Just cancel any meeting that doesn’t look like it will be worth the time. I can get behind that. It also applies to remote workers in the form of painful webmeetings and conference calls that are held because you think you should hold them. Also, do you really need to send that email right now? Stop and think about what you want to accomplish and weigh the best options to accomplish it. Shockingly, you may find that dealing with other humans is actually a useful way to get where you need to go. Just go about it in a way that’s respectful of their time and their working process so that by solving your problem you’re not becoming someone else’s unwelcome interruption.

In fact, while much of what Jason says about the modern workplace is correct, I took away an unintended lesson. Instead of doing away with the office completely… how about we all actually think about what we need to do, make it possible for people to do it and work with people respectfully to let everyone be their best?

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Running Productive Meetings

We used to complain about all the useless back-to-back meetings and being copied on hundreds of unnecessary emails. Who knew it could get so much worse. We used to say there’s no such thing as over-communication. Now we’d do anything to make it stop.

Communication is out of control and it’s taking all the fun - and productivity - out of work.

Don’t get me wrong, communication is as important to business success and organizational effectiveness as it used to be. There’s just too much of it. For whatever reason, the old problem of protecting domains by limiting the flow of information has morphed into a new problem of hyper-collaboration where everybody’s included in everything.

If you ask me, the communication pendulum has swung too far in the opposite direction, although I’m not really sure why:

Is it simply the umpteenth fad, an overemphasis on communication, collaboration, and teamwork because that’s the way we’re supposed to do things now?

Is it an overreaction to the virtualization of the workforce, an attempt to control and reel in all those remote teams, telecommuters and flextime users?

Is it just because we can, now that we’ve all got smartphones, a million ways to message and chat, social media, virtual meeting and collaboration tools?

Whatever the reason, communication overload has reached epidemic proportions and it’s killing precious productivity and effectiveness at a time of economic strife and global competition, when our already overwhelmed and under-resourced management teams and workforces can least afford it.

Here are 10 Ways to Stop Communication Overload:

1.Every meeting - physical or virtual - must have an objective, an agenda, a start time and an end time; everybody who attends every meeting must have a specific and definitive purpose for being there.

2.Stop adding people to processes and groups. Every person you add to every process, group, communication, team, whatever, adds complexity and reduces productivity because people tend to say and do things, then others tend to respond, and so-forth. It’s always easier to herd fewer cats.

3.Question the broad use of predefined email distribution lists, reconsider every individual you cc on an email, and most importantly, don’t automatically hit “Reply to All.”

4.Reconsider internal meetings to prepare for other internal meetings, layers and layers of review meetings, the wisdom of “all hands” meetings, and panicked, kneejerk reactions to involve the whole damn world in a crisis.

5.Encourage and reward employee accountability, risk-taking, and initiative for resolving problems on their own.

6.If anybody out there is still trying to make matrix management work, stop. It’s a brilliant organizational concept that’s nearly impossible to execute without creating mass confusion and, ultimately, way more problems than it solves.

7.Be leery of noncritical management fads that are sure to create tons of meetings with amorphous results. Remember OD - Organization Development?

8.Question the ubiquitous “I want to be involved” and “keep me in the loop” micromanaging / controlling mentality.

9.Don’t use collaboration or communication tools for the sake of using them. If the net ROI isn’t clear, don’t do it.

10.Never forget that, now more than ever, time is everyone’s most precious asset.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Culture of Successful Organizations

Why do people cling to weak ideas even when they have such destructive effects? Because they often don’t recognize how ill-conceived the ideas really are. Below are ten of the most common, bad ideas I’ve seen at work.

1. Everyone should live by our values (except for a few prima donnas who bring in most of the revenue). There are two problems with this thinking. First, the assumption that people need to be challenged to live in accordance with their values is just wrong. The company values should be the values of the people you actually have, and so challenging people to live in accord with them is like challenging people to remain true to the color of their eyes. (It is true that people need to be reminded of their values, especially during times of extreme change.) Of course, in most companies, the values (which look like every list of values you’ve ever seen) were set on–high, and brought down from the mountain at the same time Moses brought the ten commandments. And so they aren’t “our” values; they are “your values.” Challenging someone to live by someone else’s values is both insulting and untenable.

The second problem here is that one set of people–you know the group, the ones that are rude, mean-tempered and get to do anything they want–get a free pass on being challenged. They are the ones who bring in the revenue, or are so high up, that like the monarchs of old, they get to do whatever they want and they are above criticism. They should meet a similar end to their monarch-ancestors: get their (career) heads chopped because we’re not series about values at all if anyone is exempt.

2. Great companies are built to last. I have enormous respect for Jim Collins and Jerry Porras, the authors of Built to Last. That said, our own studies didn’t find companies that were set on the “great” path and then were great forever. Instead, we found that greatness today predicts nothing about tomorrow.

Companies are composed of groups of people talking–in person, over email, in meetings, and in formal documents. This chatter isn’t something the company has, it’s what the company is. The discussion in a company can change in a very short period of time, and often does when tyrants take over, the market hands the firm a shellacking, or any mediocre ideas take hold.

A better analogy for companies is that of body builder. Ripped today? Eat donuts (the equivalent of embracing mediocre ideas for a few weeks) and you’ll be falling toward average. Out of shape today? Work out, eat right, and it will change. But no one checks off “worked out” and then is done with it–except for future candidates of the lap-band.

3. When times are tough, the company should temporarily suspend training and development. This one is tough. As an entrepreneur, I (and my partners) have floated company payroll on our credit cards when clients were slow to pay. We’ve had times of feasting and times of famine. I say this so the following won’t be dismissed as coming from an academic egghead who isn’t in the real world: you are judged by what you do during the hard times, not during the easy times. A company that’s flush with cash doesn’t prove its commitment to the employee by investing a little on training and development. But that same company does prove its commitment to shredding the culture and setting its principles on fire when it sacrifices these activities when times are tough.

During tough times, employees (and managers and executives) often don’t know what to do. This is exactly when training and development (done well, not the ultra-lame stuff that’s pre-packaged and devolves into simple and useless steps) can make the difference. Even more important, this is when company leaders are judged.

4. The main purpose of the company is to earn a profit, or conversely, the purpose of the company is to do good in the world. Zealots of all sorts are running companies these days. Some focus purely on financial performance, and some argue that a greater purpose must be served or the organization has no right to exist.

The problem with such single focused answers is that, well, they are single focused answers. A corporation has many of the same legal rights as a person. It can own property, it can hire employees, and it can enter into contracts. So let’s extend the metaphor further.

A person who says his sole purpose in life is to make a lot of money is a lot like the greed-is-good character, Gordon Gekko. And often the person that just wants to make the world a better place does so at the expense of ignoring his family, not working, and is wanted by the IRS.

The point is that we are citizens, and we have lots of responsibilities: To raise families, to keep up our health, to help our community, and to help run companies that make money. It’s the same for companies. (What if your family had a recycling manager take up permanent residence in your house?)

When we finally get this point through our heads, we won’t need groups like corporate social responsibility in companies, because companies will be socially responsible. As they also seek to make money, and make a positive contribution to the global community.

5. Management is the key to high performance. This one isn’t that hard to refute. Management is about systems, processes, checklists, and formulas. It produces, as John Kotter noted, predictability and order. If you want more predictability and order, then don’t let a leader around your company.

Leadership is about alignment, vision, setting direction (again, thanks to John Kotter here), and it produces change, often to a dramatic degree.

High performance requires reinventing what the company does (leadership, and change) and great management (steps, milestones, deliverables). Management alone produces wastelands of despair where people chase the numbers and try to make plan, and burn themselves and everyone else out. Management without leadership never produces high performance, at least not for long.

6. Just follow the recommendations of the latest management books. The problem here is that most management books provide simplistic solutions that are not up the complex challenges of running a company. What’s needed is thought, debate, and reflection, leading to a collective understanding of what to focus on, and then relentless execution. Replace the first part of that with what’s in the latest management book, and you might as well post your resume on now, to avoid the rush.

Photo courtesy Olando7, CC 2.0.7. Incentivize people to boost performance. “Do x and I’ll give you y” doesn’t make people do “x,” as least not for long. Adding more “y” only gives people a bigger badge of honor for not doing it. Some groups (like most salespeople) will respond to the “x” and then “y” formula, but that’s because the system plays to their values.

And that’s the point. Instead of approaching employees like hamsters who want more and more food, you have to get to know the people you work with as individuals, and discover what they value. Build jobs around their core commitments, and pay them so that its fair, and you’ll get good performance. Ask them to work against their values for lots of extra cash, and you’ll make them feel like prostitutes.

8. Streamline operations to make the company more competitive. Streamlining is great, and most companies can do much more of it than they are doing. But streamlining alone is not likely to make a company more competitive.

Greater competitive advantage requires knowing the market, the changing tastes of customers, the price points of products and services, and then finding a value proposition that’s good for customers and for the company. This is a tough process, and it gives some people a headache to try to figure out. So pop a Tylenol, get back to work, and find an offering your company can make that will make everyone happy. (And a little streamlining is a nice thing to do, sort of like a stocking-stuffer for investors.)

Photo courtesy Intersection Consulting, CC 2.0.9. Just create a new strategy, and employees will feel empowered to implement it. The fundamental problem here is that these two things–a plan for change and employee empowerment–are at odds with each other. Planned change relies on a command: Do this because I said so. Empowering employees means enabling workers to find their passion and act on it. So this whole notion of empowering employees to implement management’s strategy is just double talk. (Thanks to Chris Argyris for pointing out this disconnect.)

What’s the better idea? Anne Mulchahy got it right in the dark days of Xerox. Start by listening to what everyone wants–customers, employees, suppliers, and partners. Then put it all together so that when you announce the new strategy, people say “that’s right!” Of course they say it’s right–it’s their idea, packaged with other ideas and weighted against what makes sense for the business. Then you don’t have to ask people to be empowered, because empowerment is baked into the strategy. For people who say “that takes too long,” the response is: It takes less time than launching a strategy that has no chance of success. And for people who say “but people don’t understand the marketplace,” either you’ve done a rotten job of hiring, or maybe your view of the market is a tad limited.

10. Companies need to focus on doing what made them successful in the first place. This is the death wail of a company just before it stops breathing: We’re not succeeding, so we’re going to return to what made us successful a decade ago (or more), only we’re going to redouble our efforts to get it right this time. One of the more famous examples of this mediocre idea at work is when People Express executives believed what made the company great was training and passion, and so they trained and trained and trained–while the industry adopted a new pricing model that put them out of business.

What a company should never change is its core identity. Apple shows what happens when a company gets this right, and the years before Jobs’ returns shows how bad it can be when we get it wrong. Its operations, strategy, and everything else needs to not just change but radically reinvent itself every few years, or else the competition will put it out of business.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Confessing Your Mistakes As A Boss

Suppose you thought to send a letter to your old team of colleagues after you have been promoted to become a boss, what would you say?
Lately I’ve been thinking about everyone who used to work for me, in particular those of you who were my first direct reports. I’ve spent the last year writing a book for new managers, Suddenly in Charge: Managing Up, Managing Down, Succeeding All Around, and I’ve had plenty of time to reflect on what it must have been like to work for me early in my career. I realize that at the ripe old age of 24 (can you believe they made me HR director?), I may not have been as strong a leader as I thought. I owe you all an apology. In making amends, I hope that others will learn from my past mistakes and limit the damage that so often occurs when we think we know it all simply because we’ve been given a title.
A day doesn’t go by when I don’t think about our time together as a team. My intentions were good, but my nerves, ego and lack of experience got in the way of becoming the type of boss you deserved. Please accept my apologies for:
Being a know-it-all. I should have listened to you when you were trying to prevent me from making a huge blunder, but I thought I knew more than you because I had the corner office and you didn’t. I recall how you warned me about certain people in the organization — specifically the way they tried to take my predecessor down. I was naïve, and these people were nice to me — at least in the beginning. In the end, you were right. You were the ones I should have trusted, not them.
Rolling my eyes when you called in sick to care for your child who was ill. I’m writing this while home with my sick child. Who knew kids really got sick so often? I remembered thinking, “What’s wrong with these people? Can’t they make other arrangements?” Meanwhile, many of you were thinking, “How am I going to pay my bills? I don’t have any sick pay left.” In retrospect, I could have and should have been more sympathetic.
Failing to manage up. I was so focused on learning how to manage you that I forgot to manage those above me: the people who controlled the resources for our department. I realize now that had I done a better job of managing those relationships, I would have been able to provide you with the rewards you so deserved. Instead, that money went to the very same department heads you warned me about, which explains why their administrative staff were sporting nice cars while you were driving clunkers.
Thinking that just because I didn’t have a life, you shouldn’t have one either. I was a young single manager who couldn’t possibly understand the challenges of balancing work and family. I never thought twice about asking you to work late or come in on the weekends. That’s what people do to get ahead. But I never bothered to ask you if getting ahead was even something you wanted to do.
Trying to be a friend rather than being the boss. I should have provided you with the feedback you needed to improve your performance, but instead I avoided addressing performance issues because I feared you would take this feedback personally, which might mess up our friendship. I now know that relationships are built on honest feedback, something I really didn’t give you. If I had the chance to do it again, I would have been a coach rather than a friend.
Being a micromanager. You were right: I really didn’t trust that you would get the work done to my specifications, so I hovered over you, ready to land the moment you moved off course. In retrospect, I should have placed more trust in you. When you’re young and inexperienced, you think you’re the only person who can do things right. I now know that you have to give people the freedom to fail in order for them to succeed.
Being more concerned about my image than your paycheck. In my efforts to be a team player, I may have dimmed your light more than I should have. After all, how could I have more than one person on my team who exceeded expectations? In retrospect, I should have done everything in my power to make sure that your light shown brightly for all to see. My political aspirations took me to a place where my need to succeed trumped your needs. I know now that leadership is about making others look good. In turn, you’ll get what you deserve, and so will your team.
They say time heals all wounds. I certainly hope so. The lessons you have taught me have stayed with me for life. And for that I am grateful.
Sincerelyh Yours,

Reaching Our Managerial Maturity?

Everyone goes through the same stages of human development on the road to adulthood and maturity. Unfortunately, lots of us get stuck in one stage or another, stunting our growth and rendering us dysfunctional. We look just like ordinary adults, but we actually behave a lot more like children, acting out, throwing tantrums, and generally making life miserable for everyone around us.
Well, believe it or not, it’s pretty much the same thing with managers, executives, and business leaders. The rub is that, instead of just screwing up their own lives and maybe a spouse and some kids, dysfunctional managers have a far broader impact by influencing the lives of hundreds or even thousands of employees, coworkers, customers, and investors.
What percentage of managers are dysfunctional? Well, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, about one in four adult Americans “suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder.” I don’t know about you, but judging by the people I’ve worked with, myself included, that percentage seems low to me.
Just think about that for a minute. You’re sitting in an executive staff or a board meeting. Look around the room. One fourth of the people there have a diagnosable mental disorder. Not only that, but you’ve got a 25 percent chance of being one of them. Sobering thought, isn’t it?
In all seriousness, I’ve identified 5 Stages of Management Development to help each and every one of you determine if you’re stuck in one stage or another. Yes, I know, you’re reluctant to upset the applecart. Well, that’s entirely up to you, but don’t come crying to me when you self-destruct.
1.Sponge. You listen and learn from everyone and every situation as you try to figure out how things work in the real world. Although you’re prone to saying dumb things and making stupid mistakes, you’re not in a position to cause any real damage. So, every time you fall you pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and try it again until you get it right.
2.Proof-of-concept. Believing you’re actually capable of accomplishing something besides making a complete idiot of yourself by promising the world and delivering squat, you set out to prove yourself worthy of the management title that, in all too many cases, you’ve already been granted. It’s sort of like being thrown into the deep end of the pool before you can swim. Cruel, but effective.
3.Delivery. Congratulations, you’ve somehow managed to deliver the goods and succeed in doing something that can credibly be viewed as a business success. In other words, you made money for somebody and, for that, got a pat on the head and a gold star. You’ve arrived.
4.Reset. A little full of yourself, you try a repeat performance using the same tricks that worked the first time and realize, too late, that you’re going to need a bigger playbook to consistently make it in the big leagues. Failure doesn’t sit well with you. In fact, it sucks. So you set out to make sure it never happens again.
5.Maturity. After a few iterations of the third and fourth stages, you finally get reality and realize that you’re just like everybody else. You succeed at some things, fail at others, and learn from everything. In fact, it’s not that much different from the first stage, except that experience has given you confidence and stability, for all that’s worth.
So, think it over. Are you stuck in one of the stages? Just in case you haven’t figured it out, success as a manager or leader - reaching maturity - means having the perspective and humility to look at yourself and actually see what everyone else sees, the genuine you. If you can do that, you’ll make it, guaranteed.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

تجربة رائدة : معهد علوم الإدارة وتنمية الموارد البشرية

حلم ظل يراودنى سنين طويلة : أن أنشئ كيانا تكون رسالته تبسيط علم الإدارة بحيث يفهمه عامة الناس ويطبقون مبادئه على حياتهم وفى تعاملاتهم مهما كان بسيطة ، إلى أن تقابلت مع شخصية آمنت بالفكرة وتحمست لها ووعدت بوضع كافة الإمكانات اللآزمة لتحقيقها وتم اعتماد المشروع الذى تقدمت به فى جلسة عمل واحدة .. ومن هنا كان مولد معهد علوم الإدارة وتنمية الموارد البشرية والذى يهدف إلى تبسيط علم الإدارة بيحث يفهمه العامة ويجعلونه أسلوبا لحياتهم يساعدهم على وضع أهداف محددة ويمدهم بالوسائل المتاحة والممكنة لكى يسعون لتحقيقها ومعها الوسائل التى تمكنهم من الإستثمار فى أنفسهم ومعرفة مواطن قوتهم وضعفهم والمصادر التى تساعدهم على زيادة مهاراتهم وقدراتهم . إنشاء هذا المعهد إذن ترجمة واقعية للمسئولية الإجتماعية وماينبغى ان يكون عليه المثقفون والعلماء من التزام بتنمية المجتمعات وتطويرها من خلال الإستغلال فى رفع مهارات وقدرات الناس . هو مشروع للتنمية الذاتية القائمة على اساس علمى يحدد الإحتياجات ويحسن اختيار قادة التغيير ويستثمر فى إعدادهم فى حضانة يخرجون منها قادة للتغيير . أتمنى أن تنجح الفكرة وأن تصبح نموذجا للإدارة بالواقع تقتبسه المجتمعات العربية وتعتبره حجر زاوية فى معالجة الفجوة المعرفية التى نتجت عن النظم التعليمية الفاسدة وبالذات فى مصر

Surviving Our Worst Mistakes

Yes, work is high-pressure, especially these days. At all levels and all departments, companies need execution (though not necessarily via verbal guillotine). Sometimes people come up short and sometimes others respond badly to that. The question is: What can you do now that your words and bold acoustics are now not just a matter of public record but etched in the annals of water-cooler lore, as well as in the minds of your superiors? Your course of action depends on certain variables:
Variable #1: You’re normally a nice person. If you have heretofore been a swell person to work with, your meltdown will stand out. “You could have been the most charming colleague for 20 years, but blow up on just one day and that’s all people will remember,” says Mark Jeffries, international management consultant and author of The Art of Business Seduction. “You can’t put lava back in the volcano.”
Your move: A public tantrum deserves a public apology, and you need to make it quickly so the gunpowder smell from your explosion doesn’t hang in the air for days. And people will respect that because the public apology is the hardest to deliver. “Blame yourself openly,” says Jeffries. “But also give them something that recalls the nice you, a shot of humor like ‘I’ve been watching way too much Hell’s Kitchen.’” After that, have an immediate sit-down with your boss and offer the same mea culpa.
“If it’s an isolated incident, most organizations won’t go to termination on first offense,” says Dick Grote, human resources consultant and author of the forthcoming Harvard Business School book Performance Appraisals. If your boss does decide to discipline you via a suspension or probation, take your sentence and behave with class from then on. Don’t mention your wig-out again and people will move on from it. After all, everyone is entitled to one bad moment.

Variable #2: You’re normally an intense person. Some very positive traits can lead to anger — intensity, a competitive nature, a strong drive for excellence. Rage can simply be a symptom of passion. If you’ve cultivated that reputation, you may get some latitude here.
“I get very loud, very passionate, and I have a very high standard for excellence,” says
Larry Winget, career/management guru and bestselling author of It’s Called Work for a Reason. “I’ve chewed out a lot of people in my time and I’ve done it the right way and the wrong way. What I’ve learned is you can be loud and passionate and have a standard of excellence and people will expect that from you because it’s part of your style. But that’s never an excuse for bad manners.”
Bad manners in this case would be making a public example out of a person while distracting from the legitimate story: We, as a team, need to perform better and get the job done.
Your move: Remember that intensity is okay, but crossing the line into abuse or personal attacks destroys your credibility as a person who wants the best performance from yourself, your colleagues, and the entire organization. “Anyone who loses control like that demonstrates to everyone around them that there is an element of their personality that they do not master,” says Jeffries. Again, the public apology is in order and make it fast.
After that, march to your boss’s office and explain yourself. By now everyone who works with you knows your intensity level, but after an outburst like this your boss needs reassurance that crossing the line won’t become a habit. Re-emphasize that your motivations come from a need and expectation of excellence — bosses surely understand that.
And here’s a test: If she decides to discipline you, how does that make you feel? If you know you have it coming and take it, you’re probably on solid psychological ground. But if you think it’s unfair and/or unwarranted? If it makes you angrier? Time to take a closer look at yourself. Is this a pattern — and a problem? If you notice a pattern of rage, don’t simply try to control it by counting to ten every time you get mad; instead, consider getting some counseling. Further outbursts like this will transform you from someone people want to please into someone people want to see fail.

Variable #3: They deserved it. While most would argue that Meg Whitman crossed a line when she went roller derby on her underling, what no one knows is whether or not her gripe with the employee was legitimate. And therein lies an area as gray as battleship paint when it comes to losing your temper at work. “Let’s be honest,” says Winget. “Sometimes people deserve to be ripped new orifices.”
Your move: You need to see this person in private, says Winget. “Get humble quick. Admit you were wrong — not about the chewing out, but about the public nature of it. Go to the person and say “I shouldn’t have said what I said to you out there. But privately, you need to know I’m not happy.”
From there, “move forward from getting mad about it to actually doing something productive and changing that person’s ability to do their job,” says Alison Doyle, a job search expert for and author of Internet Your Way to a New Job. Did they have the resources they needed? What was lacking? Ask the person: What can I do to help you do your job better? The fact is he or she simply may not be up to the task. But that shouldn’t be your decision based on one bad day.

Variable #4: The company culture. The overall tone of your workplace may well be high-tension, high-pressure, and governed by screamers. Jeffries, a former stock broker, has seen Type A management first-hand. But he points to the aforementioned TV show Hell’s Kitchen — where top chef Gordon Ramsay abuses chef wannabes — as a prime example of how this kind of corporate culture functions.
“I guarantee that it’s in Ramsay’s contract to call people donkeys, throw food, and toss people out of the kitchen,” Jeffries says. “But if you watch, an interesting thing happens. The contestants all start off meek and mild. By the end of it they’ve all started shouting at each other because Ramsay sets the tone.”
Your move: Measure the viciousness of your attack versus the usual employee flesh-tearing. “If everyone shouts, what have you got to apologize for? It’s expected,” says Jeffries. “However, if you break the norm, if you shock and surprise people, you must ask yourself, ‘Have I gone too far? Have I set a standard for myself that I’m not happy with?’”
At that point it may not just be about an apology. Then it becomes about who you’re becoming. “The hotheads may be the most successful there because that’s the culture the leadership fosters,” says Doyle. “But for you, decide: Am I okay with a culture of fear or tension? Can I keep my sanity and stay in this work environment?”

One Last Thing to Think About We become locked into the present moment very easily, especially when dealing with the immediacy of failed projects and bad tempers. Consequently, as Winget notes, we start to think, “I’m working with this a—hole; I can be an a—hole back and it won’t really matter.” But it always matters — which is why you need to think about the future. “In 10, 12, 15 years, that a—hole’s your boss,” says Winget. “I’ve watched this happen too many times and it’s happened to me. I lost a deal because of it. So watch your tongue and be forward-thinking.”

The Most Common Bosses Types

A lot of studies have tackled the personality of bosses trying to provide subordinates with keys to deal successfuly with those bosses; Meanwhile, a number of psychological tests also tried to categorize personality types based on temperament that predicts behavior in different situations. The following proposition of the 5 commonest bosses types, is a simplification of a complicated issue that would remain subject of further studies based on boht science and observation:
1-The Authoritative Boss (Don Draper, Mad Men) — The authoritative boss is the ultimate risk-taker and has a flair for drama. On the downside, he can be a poor communicator. He’s creative and perceptive, but he’s also suspicious of others. Sylvia Lafair, the author of Don’t Bring It to Work, says, of this boss type, “Most important is to acknowledge how clever they are, how they seek justice, and how they find really good shortcuts to get the work done.” Lynn Taylor, the author of Tame Your Terrible Office Tyrant, suggests you should “get specific” and allow little room for misinterpretation. She also suggests putting communication in an e-mail–this can help prevent miscommunication.
2- The Narcissistic Boss (Miranda Priestly, The Devil Wears Prada) — The narcissistic boss is hugely self-entitled–often justifiably so. She puts herself on a pedestal far above subordinates, of whom she is ruthlessly critical. She does not welcome feedback and has little empathy. Taylor recommends using something she calls the “C.A.L.M.” method with these bosses: “Communicate frequently, honestly, and regularly, so you understand what’s behind all the blustering. Anticipate problems before they occur or become more stressful (don’t encourage a tantrum with bad timing, either). Laugh: A little levity goes a long way when tensions are running high. Manage up by being a role model of good behavior.”
3- The Everyman Boss (Michael Scott, The Office) — This boss is likable enough, but he’s sometimes inappropriate. He manages “from the gut,” and he’s just too wish-washy to lead effectively. Vicky Oliver, the author of 301 Smart Answers to Tough Business Etiquette Questions, says, “try to view his lack of leadership as an opportunity for yourself. … Take the lead in the discussion, but stay detached from any particular outcome. Use logic, rather than unbridled passion.”
4-The Autocratic Boss (Vito Corleone, The Godfather) — Regardless of his physicality, this boss is large and in charge. He is cruel (even a bit of a bully) and sometimes very frightening. Lafair advises, “The best way to handle these bosses is to let them know you appreciate how they have situations under control. [Demonstrate that] you’re willing to be another pair of eyes, so that when chaos and anxiety are stirring, you can be available to help find ways to calm situations down.”
5- The Pace-Setting Boss (Donald Trump, The Apprentice) [OK, he's not fictional, but he is larger than life] — This is the boss who creates a competitive environment at work. He sets very high goals and standards–and is very demanding of employees. Kanefield advises that, with a boss who sets very hard-to-achieve goals, you ask for as many details as possible: “Ask for details about what it means, what the steps look like, who they’ve seen that have done it well–try to get a picture of what success looks like.”

Building Followers

I guess it’s obvious that in order to be a leader, you need followers. But much of what I read in terms of popular management advice seems to treat leadership as something akin to filling up a toolbox. If you can create a vision, give killer PowerPoint, radiate more energy than the sun, fill out a SWOT matrix, develop strategy and motivate like Gen. George S. Patton, you, too, can be a leader.
But these attributes don’t really get to the heart of the issue, do they? There are plenty of managers in possession of these capabilities, but they aren’t leaders. They may have people reporting to them, but no one is following out of a sense of inspiration or commitment.
So how do you get people to follow you with their hearts and minds? A recent newsletter from Harvard Business Review listed these four qualities as essential. The tips come from HBR’s 10 Must Reads on Leadership:
1.Humanness. Nobody wants to work with a perfect leader. Build collaboration and solidarity by revealing your weaknesses.
2.Intuition. To be most effective, you need to know what’s going on without others spelling it out for you. Collect unspoken data from body language and looks given across rooms to help you intuit the underlying messages.
3.Tough empathy. Care deeply about your employees, but accept nothing less than their very best.
4.Uniqueness. Demonstrate that you are a singular leader by showing your unique qualities to those around you.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Motivating For Loyalty Rather Than Performance

Marshall Goldsmith
Author Bio.BiographyMarshall Goldsmith Marshall Goldsmith is an executive educator, coach and author. His books include What Got You Here Won't Get You There and Mojo. His specialty is helping successful leaders achieve positive, lasting change in behavior. ..Kelly Goldsmith
Author Bio.BiographyKelly Goldsmith Kelly Goldsmith is a recent Ph.D. graduate from the Yale School of Management and a member of the faculty at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management. Her specialty is research in consumer decision making. ..More from Leadership
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.View more ..Almost every company — and every leader — claims to want employees to honestly express their opinions. Almost everyone claims to hate “suck-ups” who just provide hollow praise to their bosses.

It’s a puzzling situation. If everyone hates suck-ups so much, why does so much sucking-up go on? The simple answer is that people tend to create an environment where others learn to suck up to them.

You’re probably thinking, “The Goldsmiths are making a good point. I see other leaders encouraging suck-ups all the time. Of course I find this to be disgusting!” It’s incredibly easy to see other leaders encouraging suck-ups. And it’s incredibly difficult to realize that you (without meaning to) may be doing the same thing.

In teaching classes, we’ve often ask leaders, “How many of you own a dog that you love?” Invariably these leaders smile, wave their hands in the air, and share the names of their ever-faithful mutts. Next we ask, “What family member gets the most unqualified positive recognition at home?” The possible answers are: A.) my husband, wife or partner; B.) my kids; or C.) my dog. More than 80 percent of the time the clear winner is … the dog!

We then ask these same leaders if they actually love their dogs more than the other members of their families. The invariably say no (although some appear to be lying). The next question is, “Then why is the dog the family member who gets the most unqualified positive recognition?” The answers always sound the same: “The dog never talks back!” “The dog never criticizes me!” “The dog is always happy to see me!” “The dog gives me unconditional love!”

In other words, the dog is a suck-up.

Here is a simple test that may help you avoid encouraging suck-ups in your own work environment. Rank-order your direct reports (or, if you don’t have direct reports, use co-workers) in three ways:

1.How much does this person like me? (You may not know the real answer, but it doesn’t matter. How much do you think this person likes you?)
2.What is this person’s contribution to our company and our customers?
3.How much positive personal recognition do I give to this person?
If you’re honest with yourself, in some cases you may find that your recognition is more highly correlated with No. 1 (liking) than No. 2 (contribution). You may be falling into a trap that you despise in others: creating an environment where people learn to suck up to you.

Think of your own experience in observing suck-ups. The ones that we all hate are obvious or embarrassing about it. These people’s problem is not that they suck up — it’s that they’re bad at it. Subtle suck-ups who don’t obviously look like they are sucking up do much better. They’re much more skilled in their tactics.

Challenge yourself as a leader or co-worker. Make sure that when you give recognition, you’re giving it for the right reason. Don’t assume that you’re too enlightened to fall into the “encouraging suck-ups” trap. Anyone can make this mistake.

That's What Stupid Organizations Do

Most organizations are so incompetent that they’re best described as flat-out stupid. Does this label apply to the place where you work? Take the Logan Organizational Stupidity Exam (LOSE) and find out. Every time you say “Yep, that’s where I work,” give your company a point.

1. In the last five years, at least one senior manager has sent out many copies of a small business book with big type and a catchy title that is painfully devoid of thought. Now, some business books are of value. I visited a company recently where the CEO sent all employees a copy of The Essential Bennis — the antithesis of the bad business book I ranted about a couple of posts ago. He asked people to read it carefully and with personal reflection. Not surprisingly, that company is doing well. Replace Bennis’s great book with any text about cheese, and you’re at Stupid Inc.

Bonus: In a related move, if people boast about having attention deficit disorder, give your company a bonus point. Stupid thrives when people brag about not being able to have complex conversations.

2. When someone at the top royally screws up, it’s never discussed, but when someone lower down makes a mistake, it’s fodder for endless root cause analysis. Stupid is most incapacitating at the top.

3. Every executive speech follows this format: things were bad when I took over, I’ve worked hard to turn it around, and now the future is rosy. This statement is stupid for two reasons: (1) it repels any lessons from the prior regime other than it was incompetent, and (2) focuses on the action of the leader rather than the group. “I,” “me,” and “my” talk is a sure sign of organizational stupidity, and an inability to think past the tenure of the current leaders is a sign that the stupidity is here it stay.

Bonus: If the executives routinely use “we” instead of “I” but clearly mean themselves, give your company two stupid points instead of just one.

4. Organizational learning is seen as nirvana. With deep respect for the pioneers of organizational learning, my two year old learns a new word every day and recently figured out how to work my iPod. Learning is simply a prerequisite to thinking, and organizational thought (mass innovation) is the real key to growth. If your company aspires only to do what a two year old does naturally, it’s high on the stupid scale.

5. Managers follow standard HR advice and get in trouble if they don’t. This advice includes:

Hire for skills, not for values. Standardize interview questions to drive out any chance you might actually get to know the person.
Give out salary increases to people according to a bell-shaped curve, telling people that an extra 1% is proof that they are deeply, deeply valued.
Measure employees against pre-determined criteria rather than other results they produced. We don’t want our employees distracted by opportunities we didn’t plan for.
Bonus: The need to hew blindly to HR advice makes for a nifty-looking employee handbook that will be blessed by corporate counsel. And that will make stupid spread like mosquitoes in summer. If you have this handbook on your bookshelf or accessible over your intranet, give your company an extra point.


Organizational stupidity is more than fodder for Dilbert cartoons. It’s the reason our country is lagging behind in competitiveness and why American wages are declining. If your company scored 4+, the place you work is part of the problem.

The Richard Branson Prescription to Success

I am often asked if I have found a secret - or at least a consistent answer - to successfully building businesses over my career.

So I’ve spent some time thinking about what characterizes so many of Virgin’s successful ventures and, importantly, what went wrong when we did not get it right. Reflecting across 40 years I have come up with five “secrets.”

No. 1: Enjoy What You Are Doing.
Because starting a business is a huge amount of hard work, requiring a great deal of time, you had better enjoy it. When I started Virgin from a basement flat in West London, I did not set out to build a business empire. I set out to create something I enjoyed that would pay the bills.

There was no great plan or strategy. The name itself was thought up on the hoof. One night some friends and I were chatting over a few drinks and decided to call our group Virgin, as we were all new to business. The name stuck and had a certain ring to it.

For me, building a business is all about doing something to be proud of, bringing talented people together and creating something that’s going to make a real difference to other people’s lives.

A businesswoman or a businessman is not unlike an artist. What you have when you start a company is a blank canvas; you have to fill it. Just as a good artist has to get every single detail right on that canvas, a businessman or businesswoman has to get every single little thing right when first setting up in business in order to succeed. However, unlike a work of art, the business is never finished. It constantly evolves.

If a businessperson sets out to make a real difference to other people’s lives, and achieves that, he or she will be able to pay the bills and have a successful business to boot.

No. 2: Create Something That Stands Out.
Whether you have a product, a service or a brand, it is not easy to start a company and to survive and thrive in the modern world. In fact, you’ve got to do something radically different to make a mark today.

Look at the most successful businesses of the past 20 years. Microsoft, Google or Apple, for example, shook up a sector by doing something that hadn’t ever been done and by continually innovating. They are now among the dominant forces.

No. 3: Create Something That Everybody Who Works for You is Really Proud of.
Businesses generally consist of a group of people, and they are your biggest assets.

No. 4: Be a Good Leader.
As a leader you have to be a really good listener. You need to know your own mind but there is no point in imposing your views on others without some debate. No one has a monopoly on good ideas or good advice.

Get out there, listen to people, draw people out and learn from them. As a leader you’ve also got to be extremely good at praising people. Never openly criticize people; never lose your temper, and always lavish praise on your colleagues for a job well done.

People flourish if they’re praised. Usually they don’t need to be told when they’ve done wrong because most of the time they know it. If somebody is not working out, don’t automatically throw him or her out of the company. A company should genuinely be a family. So see if there’s another job within the company that suits them better. On most occasions you’ll find something for every single kind of personality.

No. 5: Be Visible.
A good leader does not get stuck behind a desk. I’ve never worked in an office - I’ve always worked from home - but I get out and about, meeting people. It seems I am traveling all the time but I always have a notebook in my back pocket to jot down questions, concerns or good ideas.

If I’m on a Virgin Atlantic plane, I make certain to get out and meet all the staff and many of the passengers. If you meet a group of Virgin Atlantic crew members, you are going to have at least 10 suggestions or ideas. If I don’t write them down, I may remember only one the next day. By writing them down, I remember all 10. Get out and shake hands with all the passengers on the plane, and again, there are going to be people who had a problem or have a suggestion. Write it down, make sure that you get their names, get their e-mail addresses, and make sure the next day that you respond to them.

Of course, I try to make sure that we appoint managing directors who have the same philosophy. That way we can run a large group of companies in the same way a small business owner runs a family business - keeping it responsive and friendly.

When you’re building a business from scratch, the key word for many years is “survival.” It’s tough to survive. In the beginning you haven’t got the time or energy to worry about saving the world. You’ve just got to fight to make sure you can look after your bank manager and be able to pay the bills. Literally, your full concentration has to be on surviving.

Obviously, if you don’t survive, just remember that most businesses fail and the best lessons are usually learned from failure. You must not get too dispirited. Just get back up and try again.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Yes, We Can Get Much More Of Our Employees

Have you ever thrown money at a problem? It always seems like a good idea at the time, and it’s easy to do, but usually a terrible mistake. We almost made this error twice in the last few weeks but, fortunately, we came to our senses before spending needlessly.

Before I explain how we solved the problems, here’s what we were up against in each case:

Problem #1: At our quarterly planning meeting where representatives from each department come together to prioritize short-term objectives, everyone came up with the same conclusion: We didn’t have enough resources to accomplish all of our agreed-upon goals. My CIO said we’d need two full-time contractors to make it happen. He constantly reminds us of what he calls the “Triple Threat” (scope, time, and money). You usually can’t have all three, and in this case something definitely had to give.

Problem #2: A few weeks ago, a confluence of factors doubled the number of in-bound calls to our customer service call center. We were ill-equipped to handle those calls, so customers were understandably upset with extraordinarily long hold times. My VP of sales asked me if he could hire more people as it appeared the number of calls was not going to subside, and the data he analyzed seemed to mandate it.

Both situations seemed to require more money. Or did they?

As the CEO, I believe two of my major roles are to (a) make people the best they can be, and (b) create a culture of effective execution. The question was whether I could do both in these situations. Would more money really solve the problems and improve the quality of our team, or were we not being creative enough with the resources we already had?

I took a chance and decided it was the latter. In the first scenario, I told the planning group that I would not authorize more contractors. Period. This was somewhat of a shock because we had all agreed on a list of priorities and must-accomplish goals. I asked the group to look at the list again and identify what they could not live without. Our senior programmer told our CMO that if we postponed one of the bigger, less critical projects, it would free up enough time to obviate the need for the extra programmers. Enough said. Case solved.

In the second scenario, I took the same tactic. “Figure it out,” I said. And that’s what they did. Our VP of sales had originally said he and his direct reports “had thought of everything.” But this time, he brought in more people — some of whom had never been asked for their ideas — to brainstorm a solution. Within two hours they came up with 11 ideas, implemented seven by the end of the day, and the other four by the end of the week. Not one more person was needed.

Here’s what I learned from the experience, which you can apply to your own business:

1. Necessity is the mother of profit. If you force employees to think harder, they normally will. Setting limits and asking penetrating questions encourages people to think through all of their decisions and come up with work-arounds that will both help the company and themselves. It’s a classic leadership development lesson I learned in Larry Bossidy’s and Ram Charan’s best-selling book Execution.

2. With diversity comes more perspective. Involving more people in the process helps bring a fresh way of thinking. It also puts pressure on those who’ve already given the matter a lot of thought. Even if the new people don’t have the answer, they normally say things that catalyze ideas in others.

Before throwing money at a problem, throw the question right back at a larger, more diverse set of people. Pushing your staff to think more critically has two advantages: You’ll get a more creative solution out of them, and they’ll improve their problem-solving skills. Everyone becomes better that way.

Is An MBA Sometimes A Waste Of Time and Money?

MBA applications always go up during a bad economy. That is because business school generally attracts people who are lost, and more people who feel more lost when the bad job market is lousy.

But let’s be clear: This is not the type of recession where there are no jobs for young people. This is a recession where there are no GOOD jobs. McDonald’s is hiring in management. There is a bank teller shortage and a shortage of actuaries. There is a shortage of insurance agents. It’s just that people don’t grow up dreaming of these jobs. So they don’t take them. Instead, people who are early in their career - in that time when an MBA sounds like it might work - those people are determined to have only a good job. And if they can’t have that, they get an MBA.

The problem is that an MBA makes it worse.

Here are seven reasons why you should take a bad job instead of getting an MBA.

1. Business school won’t help you be a good entrepreneur.

There is no correlation between being a good entrepreneur and going to business school. In fact, according to Saras Sarasvathy, professor at University of Virginia’s Darden Business School, the most important skill for an entrepreneur is that you know your weakness and you can find people to fill in your gaps. So you pay a bundle to go to school to learn what you don’t and how to find people who can do stuff you can’t? Sorry, that doesn’t add up. The ultimate irony: entrepreneur programs are booming at business schools.

2. You likely don’t need an MBA for what you want to do.

There are some jobs, very few, where you cannot land if you don’t have an MBA. These are mostly high-level officer-type positions in the Fortune 500. Even then, though, you probably don’t need an MBA. In fact, Forbes reports that CEOs without MBAs bring more value to investors than CEOs who went to business school.

3. MBAs who are not from a top 10 school don’t increase their earning power.

So if you’re not one of the elite, the degree won’t help you earn more. According to the recruiting firm Challenger & Gray, the degree simply does not separate you from other people in any significant way; it’s too easy to get an MBA from a second-tier school. The cost of the degree is so much more than the combined cost of taking two years off of work and paying for the degree that you are better off taking a job you don’t particularly like and getting a night-school MBA after work hours.

4. It’s pointless after a certain age.

Let’s say you do get into a top-ten school. Don’t go if you are older than 28. You are too far along in your career to leverage the degree enough to increase your earning power enough to make up for the sticker cost of the degree. In fact, it is so important to get the degree early in your career that Wharton and Harvard have started accepting women earlier than men because the biological clock truncates a woman’s ability to leverage the MBA early enough in their career to make it worth the money.

5. An MBA is too limiting.

You can’t take an entry-level job after you get an MBA, so you had better know what you like to do. And can’t take a job in a low-paying industry because you have to pay back the loans. So not only is an MBA useless for most jobs, but it also makes you unqualified for more jobs that it qualifies you for

6. An MBA makes you look desperate

Top ten business schools will not accept you unless you have a clear plan for what you will do with the degree after you graduate. You need to have shown that you have a propensity for some sort of business and that you need the degree to get where you want in that business. Unfortunately, most other schools will take you if you don’t have a plan even though it’s been shown that people who go to business school with no plan for their career graduate with no plan for their career. And then you look not just lost, but desperate.

7. Business school puts off the inevitable.

Look, it’s really hard to be an adult. You go to school for twenty years being told what to learn and what to think and when to show up, and then you get tossed into adult life and there is no one telling you what’s right for you. You have to figure it out, but you didn’t go to school for that. In fact, school is the opposite of that. So it looks fine to be lost in your 20s. This is when everyone is taking time to figure things out. It does not look fine to spend $150,000 to go back to school just to put off the hard knocks of figuring out where you belong in the workforce. Face reality. Join the workforce.

Dealing With Bad Bosses

Having a bad boss could be the worst thing ever when you are starting your career. U may either tolerate in silence the psychological impact and pressure of going to work in a nasty environment, or get in a head-on crash confrontation with the boss who had turned your work-life into a miserable experience.
Here are some tips to help you deal with a bad boss:
If you go head-to-head with your boss, you’ll lose. In What They Don’t Teach You in Harvard Business School, Mark McCormack describes a situation where an employee got into a heated exchange with his boss and got himself fired. “No matter how wrong or intemperate his boss might have been, that, unfortunately, was now a nonissue. The situation did not reflect well on this particular employee’s boss — but his boss still had a job.”
You actually have choices; exercise them. That’s right, you can’t pick your boss, but if you don’t like him, it’s a free country, you can quit. If you like or need your job, on the other hand, then get over yourself and suck it up. The choice is yours. But if you decide to go over your boss’s head or to HR, don’t be surprised if it ends badly for you. You may not want to hear this, but from the company’s viewpoint, you’re just a thin-skinned troublemaker who they’d just as soon not have to deal with.
Did it ever occur to you that it may be you? I’m not trying to burst your bubble here, but maybe you’re not god’s gift to bosses. Maybe the boss would be more relieved to get rid of you than you are to get rid of him. Sure, nobody thinks he’s a rotten employee, but they’re out there, and in far greater numbers than rotten bosses. So, if you actually like or need your job, you might want to take a long look in the mirror before you do anything drastic.
Burned bridges have a way of piling up. Maybe you’re young and carefree now, but the choices you make and the behavior you exhibit today will follow you throughout your career. More and more, employers are checking references you don’t provide, and a few little red flags can add up to one big red flag that says, “don’t hire this guy.” The truth is, if you burn enough bridges, you may very well find yourself all alone on an island somewhere with nobody else in sight. No bosses, and no jobs, either.
Bottom line: Look, I’ve had more than my fair share of dysfunctional and abusive bosses, so I don’t mean to appear insensitive to what employees of crappy bosses really go through every day. Still, if you act subjectively without gaining some perspective, you may end up making things even worse for yourself. Just remember, you always have a choice. You can always quit.

Business Books Can Be Bad For You

I stumbled upon this interesting article of an expert and thought I might share with my readers:

I read more business books than anyone I know, which is ironic because I can’t stand most of them. That’s not to say I hate all business books — after all, I’ve written one — but 95% go on one of two lists: “if you don’t know this already, you should be working at the DMV” and “if you do these things, your company will become the DMV.”

A cynical view? I don’t think so. Here’s why.

First, most business books use stories to cover over their complete lack of insight. This week, I read a galley of a book that I hope will never come out. After some catchy anecdotes about hero CEOs, it advised, among other things, that leaders figure out what’s really important, then do those things. It went way out on a limb by saying that great leaders are remarkable at forming relationships. And (are you sitting down?) the best leaders are honest when a strategy isn’t working.

Are you kidding me? How about we add that true leaders can dress themselves, use full sentences, and bathe before work.

Second, the stories themselves often highlight the wrong message. Here’s an example. I mentioned Zappos in a talk I gave, and Tony Hsieh, the CEO, was kind enough to endorse my work. Now I get lots of emails asking for an introduction to him. I almost never pass them on. Why? Because Tony, like me, is tired of repeating what no one ever hears: the Zappos story isn’t about Tony. It’s about a group of people that aligned on the same vision of what that company could become and pulled it off by sacrificing, working hard, and participating. If people copy only Tony’s actions, they won’t end up with a Zappos; they’ll end up bankrupt.

Business success isn’t a checklist, and that’s the implied message from many business books: do these things and you’ll be the hero. Business success is a dance: with the market, employees, investors, customers, landlords, and creditors — not to mention spouses and kids.

Third, most business books are air sandwiches: empty in the middle. One of my mentors told me to read the first and last chapters of a book, because everything in the middle is either stories or takeaways so simple that watching Mr. Rogers is a better use of your time. I’m too obsessive-compulsive to follow this advice, but in 95% of cases, it would be better if I had.

Business leaders need a reboot on the ideas that make organizations run. Is your time best spent reading business books, or talking with people with radically different ideas? Put down the business book and go interact with ideas that challenge you, frighten you, or piss you off.

People often ask me what the best business books I’ve ever read are. Here’s my list: The Odyssey, Atlas Shrugged, and Ender’s Game. None are about commerce or strategy. Read The Odyssey to understand character, purpose, and discovery. Read Atlas Shrugged to clarify your own position on how the political economy should run. And read Ender’s Game for how genius and leadership pull people in opposite directions. (Two of the three are well written — you can figure out which is the outlier.)

None of these books have takeaways, or to-do lists. None preach. They will make you think.

Anyone brave enough to venture into these waters with me? What are your favorite non-business books that teach you a lot about business?

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

More Tips To Have a Successful Job Interview

The interview process nearly always includes a sit down with human resources as well as your potential future boss and colleagues. The folks in HR don’t know the most about the day-to-day requirements of the position being filled and they’re unlikely to have to deal with whoever gets the gig on a daily basis, so what exactly are they looking for and how do they determine whether you’ve made the cut? Here are some few tips that work anywhere in the world:
Never badmouth anything or anyone. This applies to your former employer, coworkers, or Osama bin Laden. We’re trying to screen out whiners and troublemakers. I don’t care if your last supervisor was a tyrant. Be kind and magnanimous about everything and everyone.
Make sure your appearance is in order. Fair or not, you are judged based you based on how you look. Check your fly and make sure your eyebrows are smooth.
Don’t smoke on the day of the interview. We can smell it. We don’t like it. There is an unconscious bias against smokers, and let’s face it, you have a reputation for being lazy. Smokers are more expensive to insure, too. Why would we want you on the payroll? Help me help you. Don’t smoke.
Don’t be too aggressive and tell us how awesome you are. You’re here, aren’t you? A little humility, and some self-deprecating comments, will go along way with HR professionals. Trust me.
Don’t tell us your life story. We hate it when you confuse HR with your mother, your therapist, or your best friend.
Don’t expect us to have a timeline for the interview process. We have no idea how long it will take to fill the position. Ideally, we want to fill the opening tomorrow so we can get back to online shopping. Realistically, it will probably take a few months.
Be prepared to talk about your strengths and weaknesses. Don’t ever tell us that you struggle to delegate. You care too much. You take on too much responsibility. An interview is a conversation, not a bad eHarmony profile. Show some self-awareness.
When you take us through your resume, don’t gloss over the mistakes. We like it when you stop and tell us about an experience that taught you something. It shows character. Address your flaws outright and tell us how you learned something.
Compliment us. Seriously. We are human beings, too. Scan our offices and look for awards, photos, or something noteworthy. Make a connection. This is what salespeople do, and it works. We will remember your praise.
Make it easy for us to hire you. When you give us examples during the interview process, frame those examples in a way that relates to the job description, the issues in the industry, or the company’s mission. Be relevant and you will be remembered.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Don't Make the Tail Wage The Dog

When animals misbehave, most owners blame the animal. Well, I’ll let you in on a little secret. Animal training is really about training the owners, not the animals. Seriously. Ever see a really good trainer meet with an unruly dog for the first time? She can take command and get the dog to do whatever she wants almost instantly.

Sure, breeding is a factor, but aside from that, a well-trained owner can get a dog to do its bidding, just as a dog can manipulate and have its way with an untrained owner who doesn’t “get it.”

Well, get this: management is no different. Employee problems are almost always management problems. In fact, most organizational, business, product, even technology problems are actually management problems. That means that, not only is it up to management to solve them, but in most cases, management caused them to begin with.
Here’s a great example about a company that had what it thought was a unique problem.

It had developed a proprietary technology that had great performance, but was expensive and difficult to implement. As a result, customers largely opted for an alternative technology that was cheaper, easier to use, and offered by a number of competitors.

Well, the division that offered this proprietary technology developed a “bunker” mentality, meaning the pervasive view of its management and employees was that the alternative technology, as well as the customers that chose it, were “the enemy.” Morale in this division was terrible.

Surprisingly, the company had the ability to offer the alternative technology, but because it was viewed as “the enemy,” that was out of the question.

Instead, the company chose to develop new proprietary technology that was cheaper and easier to use. But, in order to keep the bad morale of the “bunker” division and the negative customer perception of its technology out of the picture, the company used a separate division to develop and market the new technology.

To the company’s leadership, this made sense at the time. But in reality, the configuration was dysfunctional and perpetuated bad morale and negative customer perception. In a sense, the company’s leadership allowed the bunker mentality to dictate how it organized and went to market.

The solution was to merge everything into one business division that offered three alternative solutions to customers: the “bunker” technology, the “alternative” technology, and the “new” technology. The company marketed this as a one-stop-shop where customers could choose what they wanted. In time, the bunker mentality, bad morale, and negative customer perception vanished.

Anyone who owns or trains dogs will immediately see the parallel. The bunker division was like a dog acting out because it felt threatened when its owners introduced a new dog and perhaps gave it more attention and food. But the same dogs can live happily in exactly the same environment if they’re not pitted against each other and don’t view their owner’s affections and food, for that matter, as a zero-sum game.

The same parallels exist in parenting, as well.

The point is that most problems within companies are actually management problems. But, like poorly trained dog owners, managers blame the dog. Unfortunately, the dog can’t solve the problem and, ironically, didn’t even cause the problem to begin with.

The message for managers at every level is simple: take responsibility for problems and get trained to solve them. Otherwise, you’re likely to end up with the tail wagging the dog.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

A "Knock-Off" Approach to Successful Management

If there’s one big workplace lie that any new manager should wise up to fast, it’s “There are no office politics here.” Higher-ups may do their best to discourage gossip and to foster a schmooze-free meritocracy, but let’s be honest: There’s no workplace on the planet where fostering good relationships isn’t key to getting things done.

And now that you’ve become a boss, it’s even more important that you “get” the political environment of your office and learn how to work effectively with higher-ups, peers, and direct reports. Here are five lessons to master in your first 90 days.
Things you will need:Take these steps within your first 90 days. The sooner you establish your authority with your team and prove your competence to your boss, the easier your job will be.
Boundaries: If you’re managing former peers, now’s the time to put up some walls and keep the socializing to a minimum.
Support from your new team: Set aside time during your first week to meet with all of your direct reports individually and ask for their advice on their current projects. You won’t build trust overnight, but this will help.
Self-awareness: It’s your first management job. You’re not going to know everything. Your best move is to know what you don’t know and learn fast.
My BNETTwitterdel.icio.usGoogleStumbleUponNewsvineFacebookLinkedInDiggMy YahooTechnoratiRedditPrintRecommend56 .Understand How Your Role Has Changed
No matter how close your friendships with your officemates have been, it’s time to put up some walls. “If I were managing a colleague I once hung out with, I’d stop doing it,” says Caroline Ceniza-Levine, co-founder of Six Figure Start, a career coaching and consulting firm in New York City. Harsh as this may seem, if you don’t establish professional boundaries, you won’t have the objectivity to supervise effectively.

Patrice Williams, 39, a management consultant from Vallejo, Calif. learned this the hard way. In her twenties, she moved up to team supervisor at IBM, where she found herself managing a salesperson with whom she socialized on weekends. Soon after, her pal began coming to work late, skipping meetings, and neglecting clients, dragging down her sales in the process. Williams soon realized she needed to fire her friend, but she just couldn’t. Ultimately, her boss had to step in. “I lost points,” explains Williams, who says it was hard for her to recover professionally. From that point on, she changed her relationship with direct reports — “I’m personable, but not personal” — and learned to talk to them immediately about performance problems.

A few tips on how to head off awkwardness with former peers:

From the outset, tell everyone on your team how you will evaluate performance. If anyone in the group slacks off or breaks the rules, it will be easier to raise the issue in an objective way. “If it is very clear what you are measuring, you can say, ‘This job requires x, y, and z. I’m not seeing z,’” says Ceniza-Levine.
Confront poor performance head on. If someone — friend or not — is failing, act decisively, says employment attorney Chad Shultz, a partner in the Atlanta office of Ford & Harrison and author of “Manage Your Employees or Get Out of the Way: Ten Rules for Preventing Lawsuits.” Give formal warnings, recommend how to remedy the problem, and keep a written record of your conversations. If the situation reaches a point where you have to let him go, you don’t want him to be surprised.

Voice of Experience
My mistake: ‘I failed to set expectations.’
“All I ever wanted to be was a staff nurse,” says Mary Parker, now a nurse manager. Her early days in management were rocky. Because she values independence and self-direction, she figured her direct reports (nurses and nurse assistants) felt the same way. Parker assumed they would understand their responsibilities, work cooperatively, and mentor each other. But that’s not what happened. “Instead, staff members complained to me about the quality of their co-workers’ documentation and care,” Parker says. “Policies weren’t being followed and we had close calls with medication errors.”

Know What You Don’t Know
Many companies fall short when it comes to training new managers, says Shultz. Your bosses won’t expect you to know how to tackle every aspect of your new job from the outset, but they will assume that you will ask for the help you need. So, if your company wants you to take on a legally sensitive task such as giving performance reviews, and you’ve never done it before, don’t try to wing it. Ask for coaching from HR or higher-ups. “Without training, it’s easy for a new manager to overlook the implications of what one wrong thing said can do,” says Shultz. If you can’t get the level of help you need internally, sign up for one of the educational programs at the Society for Human Resource Management, which runs educational programs in many cities, he advises.

Voice of Experience
My mistake: ‘I didn’t know my staff’
Engineer Charlene Burke was a star in the field. “I was exceptionally good at short-term relationships — my customers loved me.” But soon after receiving a promotion to a customer service call center manager, Burke no longer felt the love. She barely knew her staff when she implemented a thank-you program that rewarded top-performing employees with a small gift card. Burke presented the first gift card to a woman who had been with the company for 19 years. The effort backfired. The woman was embarrassed to be singled out and praised for merely doing her job. The staff was tight, almost like family, which Burke hadn’t taken the time to understand.

Master the Unwritten Rules
If you’re new to a company, understand that no matter how similar the culture seems to others you’ve experienced, it is going to have its own unique and sometimes bizarre quirks. “Learn how things get done — both the rational and irrational aspects of it,” advises Nat Stoddard, chairman of Crenshaw Associates, an executive coaching firm in New York City, and author of “The Right Leader: Selecting Executives Who Fit.” Listen carefully when colleagues volunteer tips on, say, the best time of day to approach a senior manager, and pay attention when they tell stories about the office. At the same time, says Stoddard, don’t get too inquisitive. “If you are overly interested in learning something, they will wonder, ‘Why? What’s your motive?’” As you build your new colleagues’ trust, they’ll volunteer more details.

It’s easy to cut yourself off from a vital pipeline if you always eat lunch alone, a common rookie mistake. Curt Braverman, a veteran manager who worked for 25 years at Pitney Bowes, realized this early in his career, when a colleague finally pushed him to grab a bite and proved to be a font of useful information. “If they’ve been around a while, they’ll give you a hint of what’s coming up and can give you some tips that will make your job easier,” says Braverman.

Voice of Experience
My mistake: ‘I didn’t consult my staff on a key decision’
As the new director of operations at a now-defunct software development company, Stephen Balzac was tasked with managing engineers. He noticed right away that each week the team wasted a full day in a marathon meeting where they tracked software bugs using a primitive system. Everyone hated the meetings. So Balzac did some research and bought a proper bug-tracking system. He thought everyone would be thrilled. No more meetings! Instead, he met with passive resistance. Balzac was baffled until he realized that his unilateral decision had offended the engineers. They wanted to be consulted and made a part of the problem-solving process.

Be Loyal, to a Point
Be careful about seeming too closely aligned with any one person — even your direct boss, says Stephen Viscusi, CEO of the New York-based executive search firm Viscusi Group and author of “Bulletproof Your Job.” The best job-protection insurance, especially as a newbie, is to remain as neutral as possible on controversial issues, he says. If your boss asks for a point of view, run through the pros and cons of a decision rather than answer directly.

Should your manager ask for your support at a meeting, offer it, but remain as neutral as possible when you’re at the conference room table. If the boss buttonholes you later to ask why you didn’t speak up more, you can say something diplomatic, like “Maybe I wasn’t emphatic enough,” Viscusi suggests. Remember that your boss could be gone tomorrow — and you could be working for the person whose point of view he opposed. “You have to be a little Machiavellian,” he says.
Build the Support You Need to Get Things Done
Showing your bosses that you’re ready to take on new projects isn’t just a matter of stellar performance or demonstrating initiative — though these things certainly help. You also need to prove to the top brass that they can trust you in subtler ways. Many new managers over-explain to direct reports why they must take on a particular task and in doing so, pass along information from their bosses that was better kept confidential. To establish trust with your supervisor, err on the side of keeping your conversations quiet and, when in doubt, ask if the content is for general consumption. “You’ll be on the hook for sharing that information,” says Ceniza-Levine.

You’ll also gain points by acknowledging that your bosses are privy to certain information that you don’t have. Say, for instance, that you ask your boss if you can hire two more people but she says “no.” Rather than step up your lobbying, ask if there is a reason for her opposition that she can share, or, perhaps, one that she can’t disclose to you right now, suggests Stefanie Smith, principal of Stratex Consulting, an executive coaching firm in New York City. You never know — the company could be considering an acquisition that will fulfill that requirement, says Smith.

Even with solid backing from the top, you won’t be able to get anything done if your team isn’t behind you. This often means building support among longtime or more senior workers — including some who wanted your job and didn’t get it. You won’t win any allegiance by reminding them that you have an MBA or that your last gig was at an even bigger company. Meet with each member of your team individually to learn about his background and ask for advice on upcoming projects. “Let them know you’ll be relying on their expertise,” says Andrea Nierenberg, principal of The Nierenberg Group, an executive training and consulting firm in New York City. You don’t have to act on the advice they give you, but listening carefully will go a long way toward building the good relationships you will need to succeed.

Voice of Experience
My mistake: ‘I hid in my office’
Looking back on his days as a rookie manager for a contract staffing firm, Ken Wisnefski recalls spending most of his time in his office with the door closed. “I only came out to criticize or discipline the staff,” he says. “I wanted to avoid getting caught up in issues that were really my job to correct and prevent,” he explains. Not surprisingly, his staff soon resented him, whispering that he probably wasn’t even working while holed up. Now a business owner, Wisnefski says he goes out of his way to lead by example. “While I want them to respect me, I also want them to view me as a co-worker.”

Friday, June 04, 2010

Saving Time On Job Hunting

It now takes almost as long to get a job in the U.S. — seven and a half months — as it does to produce your next of kin. That’s the longest slog since the Labor Department began tracking job search duration in 1948. Looked at another way, there are currently an average of six people vying for every job that you are, each of them doing exactly the same things — combing job boards, networking, prepping for interviews — as you. Is there a way to speed up the job search and stand out from your competition?

Recruiters and other experts say that the only way is to put in the extra work to present yourself so that employers realize they absolutely need you, and that they need you right now.

Mary Berman managed to do it. After interviewing last fall for a job she really wanted in event management and marketing, the 56-year-old Berman decided to ditch the typical thank-you note and instead spent the whole night after the interview creating a detailed action plan for her first 30, 60, and 90 days in the job. She described to her future boss how she would learn the job, build rapport with employees and customers, contribute to the company’s bottom line, and fulfill every function outlined in the job description. And it didn’t hurt that she had already sent the person she first interviewed with, as well as the office receptionist, a chocolate-dipped apple to go with her thank-you note. Three days later, Berman heard back with an offer — just two months after she started her job search.

Here’s how to copy Berman’s success and stop wasting valuable time:

1. Forget
In fact, forget CareerBuilder, HotJobs, and all the other mass job sites. While these boards seem like a good place to start, how many people do you know who actually found a job that way? Even hiring managers don’t want to sort through the hundreds and hundreds of resumes they get for each position they list on these sites, so they’re increasingly turning to industry-specific job portals, says Debra Yergen, author of Creating Job Security. So if you’re looking for a job in the food and beverage industry, you’d likely be better off searching or You can find these more focused job portals by simply Googling the name of your industry and the phrase “job boards;” industry associations also often have job boards on their Web sites.

Another tip for making your job searching more efficient is to sign up for alerts for specific positions at sites like SimplyHired and that aggregate job listings from a variety of good sources. “You set it and forget it; you never have to go to another major job board again,” says David Perry, managing partner of recruitment firm Perry Martel International and co-author of Guerrilla Marketing for Job Hunters 2.0.

2. Borrow from Headhunters’ Tricks
Headhunters use a variety of ploys to get information and find candidates, and you can learn from them. One trick that Perry uses to get intel about a company’s vulnerabilities and hiring needs is to target people who have recently left a given company by using a smart Google search. These folks are usually more willing to talk about the company than people who are still working there and don’t want to jeopardize their jobs. The search that Perry does is “[name of company] + resume + experience -apply”. The “-apply” at the end weeds out most of the employment ads, Perry says. You can also find former employees of a given company by searching for that company on LinkedIn; you’ll get a list of current and former employees there that are within two degrees of you.

Once you find people, call them. This might sound like the type of thing that will get you mostly angry hang-ups, but it works, says Perry. “You say, ‘I’m doing research on XYZ company and I’d like to ask you a few questions.’” Or be less cagey and simply tell them you’re applying for a job at XYZ and want to ask them a couple of quick questions. In this economy, many people are willing to help others if they can.

That was Jeff Kruzich’s experience. Now a district sales manager for an industrial supply distributor in Chicago, Kruzich, 44, used Google searches and LinkedIn to search for former employees of companies he was targeting, then called and told them he was trying to get a job there. “I asked about their experience at the company where I wanted to work, and if they could connect me with anyone else that might be able to tell me more. Most people were really good about it,” he says.

Sure, this advice might force you outside of your comfort zone. But if you want a leg up on the other five [or 55] people just like you who are applying for that job, you’re going to have to stretch.

3. Dump the Timeline on Your Resume
One crucial thing Steven Hirchak did to get a job quickly was change his resume. Hirchak, 42, lost his job at an online retailer in November and was having limited success in his job search. He knew from experience that hiring managers are most concerned with return on investment these days, so he made sure his resume was focused on what he would bring to the bottom line, as opposed to the standard chronological job history, which had a lot of redundant information. He sifted through his performance reviews from the four years he had spent at his previous job, pulling out every project he led that generated revenue for the company.

“I highlighted some big ones I thought would impress prospective employers and also wove those into my talking points during interviews,” Hirchak says. As soon as he changed the format, he started getting more calls back from companies. And in January, he landed a job at an online education provider in Utah.

4. Get Ready for Your Close-Up
More than anything else, an interview is an audition, so you had better rehearse. In fact Shira Furman, 23, now a paralegal working for the federal government, had been looking for a job for months and getting plenty of interviews — but no offers — when she did a mock interview with the help of career coach Christine Bolzan of Graduate Career Coaching. Bolzan says one reason it often takes so long to get a job even if you’re getting interviews is that many people don’t know how to hone and articulate their message in an interview setting. “They aren’t aware of problems like using filler words, distracting hand gestures, and poor posture,” she says.

Furman did a mock interview with Bolzan, who videotaped it, and was shocked that she came across like she was chatting with a friend, her posture too relaxed and her answers too vague. Furman began preparing for her next interview by writing out specific and detailed answers to every conceivable question she might be asked, and also changed things like her posture, intonation, and amount of eye contact. “I don’t think it was a coincidence that the first interview I had after the mock session, I was offered the job,” says Furman.

You don’t need to hire a coach to do this, just a helpful friend or two and a Flip cam or digital camera. Have one of them ask you questions you’re likely to be asked during your interview and the other tape the whole exchange. Afterwards, all of you can watch the interview and critique it. Yes, it can be a somewhat humiliating experience, but consider the options: You can embarrass yourself in front of your closest confidantes, or in front of a hiring manager who has the power to hand you thousands of dollars every two weeks. It’s a fairly easy choice.

5. Push the Envelope
What these success stories have in common is that the job applicant went above and beyond the usual pavement pounding to land a new gig. For Bill McCausland, a former national sales manager at an auto finance company in Dearborn, Michigan, it was detective work that did the trick. McCausland, 39, had been nonstop networking since he lost his job last June, and although he was getting interviews, there were no offers. So in September, after landing an interview with a marketing communications company he liked, McCausland decided that he would show up prepared to discuss concrete ways to improve the firm’s customer experience.

To do this, McCausland went to competitors’ Web sites to find their customer lists. He called, gave his name, and said he was doing some independent research about their service provider (which, in fact, he was). He let them know his questions would take less than five minutes to answer, then asked why they had chosen that particular provider. He also canvassed current customers of his target firm to find out what was being done right. During his interview, McCausland discussed what he had learned and made recommendations for improvement. “I knew the company’s strengths and that of their competitors, and they were very interested in what was being said about them,” McCausland. “This was actionable information they could use. I think they thought if I approached the interview this way, imagine how I would approach the job.” Two days later, McCausland had an offer.