leadership dot #684a: ideal

I’m on the road again, so for the next week, you can enjoy some of my past favorites…

I found myself in the unenviable position of needing a new administrative assistant. The person that I hired six years ago when I was just weeks into my new job, has tendered her resignation. And so the search begins for someone who knows my nuances and preferences and has the ability to address both with a smile on her face.

As I did before beginning any search, I sat down and wrote out a list of characteristics that I would like the ideal candidate to possess. Such an activity keeps me focused on what is important (not what can be dazzling in an interview) and helps me know how to write the job description, advertisement, and interview questions. I have done an “attribute list” for almost every search I have conducted and it always serves me well.

It also helps me identify where my desires and reality may not be in sync. For this job, I am looking for someone with a high degree of accuracy (to do spreadsheets and lots of detail work). Yet, I also wish for (need) a great amount of flexibility as this person services all the departments in our division and is often called in to be a pinch hitter for an immediate need. Often accuracy/focus and flexibility can be in conflict — it’s hard to keep your nose to the grindstone and happily leave that project when an unplanned project arises.

Doing an attribute list also allows the key skills to surface. For this job, the person must be experienced with Excel. Thus, a good resume with an “I am a quick learner on new software” will likely not be interviewed. To me, it’s like a carpenter candidate saying “I can easily learn to use the hammer.”

The next time you find yourself with an opening, take an extra few minutes to write up a list of what the ideal candidate will possess. I guarantee you’ll be more likely to hire the right person than if you rely only on an undirected friendly chat.

Originally published in modified form on April 16, 2014

leadership dot #3897: portable

As I prepare to go on a week-long work trip, it still gives me pause as to how portable the “office” has become. When I first started working, we were tethered to the physical place because of the stacks of pink message slips with information to return the phone calls we had received, our incoming mail that was delivered by the postman, and of course the pile of inter-office envelopes — those reusable manilla envelopes with dozens of lines and the string to re-close them around the paper loop. You had to be there to function.

Now, between my laptop and phone, I have my entire office with me. All the documents are there. The messages and phone calls. Directions and instructions. All in one place. All able to continue uninterrupted from Iowa or Boston or Paris.

Certainly, there are advantages to this portability and seamless ability to stay connected. And, as with every upside, there is a downside that makes it hard to dis-connect. Work is always there, just a click away.

While we might have stressed over what awaited us when we returned from being away, there was little we could do about it. Work had to wait until we were back at work. It’s not a bad practice. If you are out, be out. Keep the laptop closed and let the emails mount. Work can wait.

leadership dot #3896: platitudes

The old Field of Dreams movie slogan “If you build it, they will come” seems to have morphed into an organizational mantra of “If we say it, it must be true.”

I hear it espoused when talking about organizational culture and when organizations boast about a great work environment when I know the reality to be different. I hear bosses say that they welcome feedback and have an open-door policy but I privately hear their staff members are afraid to speak up. I see organizations proclaim their commitment to diversity and inclusion but continue to take actions that are the opposite of support.

Just because you put a nice saying in your lobby or orientation packets doesn’t make it so. The real evidence shows up in behavior, not platitudes.

leadership dot #3895: conductor

It’s a tough transition to go from a “do-er” to a supervisor — trading in your hands-on tendencies to instead focus on oversight and motivating others. For those who struggle at the prospect of “telling” others what to do while in a supervisory role, I use the analogy of a one-man band and a conductor.

Before you have supervisory authority, you play all the instruments. When you’re a supervisor, you’re a conductor where you don’t directly play any instrument at all. The conductor doesn’t order the artist to play the violin or demand that the drums come in on cue; they have outlined clear expectations up front (the sheet music) and can play a role to direct and inspire the artists to join in when needed. It’s better music when the conductor is there helping everyone contribute in the best way possible,

Conducting looks easy, until you have to do it. Only then do all the nuances and intricacies show up and you realize that while you were pretty darn good at juggling all the instruments, this new role will take some practice. It’s a scary leap, but also a rewarding one.

If you’re in a junior position and haven’t yet been given the responsibility of supervising, practice your “conducting” skills in any way possible — heading a committee, a volunteer group, leading a neighborhood event, or organizing the family reunion. The more you can become comfortable in helping others succeed, the better prepared you will be to orchestrate your own team.

leadership dot #3894: extraneous

My washer and dryer have a handy feature that allows the machines to notify me when a load is finished. It worked well for months, but then LG decided that it needed to give me laundry lessons in addition to the notification. For example: “Your wash is complete. Here’s a tip — the next time you need to sanitize items try using citric acid during the rinse cycle.” While some might find these tidbits helpful, I found them annoying and shut off the messages completely.

Sometimes, too many bells and whistles can turn into nothing but noise. Your message will have more impact if it is delivered with brevity and clarity. Leave out the extraneous.

leadership dot #3893: yard tags

Start with the good news first. If it’s bad news, soften it with a context-setting introduction. It’s a practice that works well for business communication but apparently, our city didn’t get the memo.

I received a flyer in the mail that starts out: “Free yard waste pick-up days will no longer be offered this year.” What?! Why?! But if you read further, it says: “Instead, property owners are allowed 24 FREE yard waste tags per season, per property.” It’s a far cry from the 40 bags we had previously been allowed on the free days but it’s the good news of this message. Why bury it?

And why spend the money mailing a flyer but making residents now go to City Hall to pick up the tags during the inconvenient hours of Monday-Thursday 7:30 am – 4 pm? It would have softened the blow if the tags had been mailed instead of just the announcement.

When creating your message, consider it from the perspective of the one receiving it. If you must make a change, do all you can to mitigate the impact on those affected. Mail the tags with the message!

leadership dot #3892: loop

I was in the car for about five hours this week and I sipped on my favorite Diet Coke for the whole trip. While it kept me hydrated and entertained, it also kept me up into the wee hours of the night. And what’s the “cure” for feeling groggy after a fitful night of sleep — why caffeine, of course, so more Diet Coke it was. And so the cycle goes.

Think about the behaviors you have in your life that are self-defeating like this scenario is. One thing leads to another and causes an infinity loop that is difficult to break. You don’t have money so you borrow at high interest rates so you have less money. You fire some people because of attitude leaving you with vacant positions and even lower morale. You claim you don’t have time to onboard staff and outline their expectations so you spend more time dealing with discipline problems caused by your lack of clarity.

It’s easy to take the easy way out in the short term. Expand your time horizon before you act and consider if what seems good now will still quench your thirst later.

leadership dot #3891: sought after

I just conducted a seminar for supervisors of college student employees. As part of the program, participants listed out the skills that students gain from working in their departments. The list included traits such as communication skills, accountability, time management, and teamwork.

I then shared a list of the soft skills (also called human skills) that employers are seeking. For example, Zip Recruiter reports that the most in-demand soft skills were: communication, customer service, time management, analytical thinking, the ability to work independently, and flexibility.

Unsurprisingly, many of the skills the participants listed were also on the list of sought-after traits, but the realization did not move much past intuition. Rarely did employers make the explicit connection that working for them would equip the student with valuable, marketable, and sought-after skills that are hard to learn in a theoretical environment. Too often, they focused on the pay rate or job duties rather than the intangibles that actually have greater value.

The same scenario occurs in many other environments. The “seeker” shares factual information about the opening — whether they are seeking volunteers, temporary help, or full-time employees — but they fail to leverage the culture, sense of belonging, learning opportunities, and other outcomes that can accrue from the position.

To be successful in this hiring climate, reframe your ask to make it more comprehensive and compelling. People can earn money at dozens of places these days. Saying “help wanted” puts the focus on what you want. Be explicit about what they want by sharing what you offer beyond the buck that entices someone to join your organization.

leadership dot #3890: garden

A colleague was dealing with some naysayers who were causing a ruckus about a policy they did not like. The question before them was whether to address the negativity or press on anyway.

We likened the situation to a garden, where those against things were like weeds. You can spend all your time pulling the weeds and focusing on that — OR — you can spend your time planting more flowers so that the beauty becomes the focus and the weeds are overlooked by most who view your garden.

Especially in this climate, there will always be people who don’t like what you are doing (see dot 3889). While it’s important to listen to credible input, at some point you need to move forward and do what you think is best for the organization even if some are against it.

You will never be rid of all the weeds, no matter how diligent you are. Even if you can’t see them, roots are forming beneath the surface ready to break through at any moment. But the same is true with seeds, with goodness that lies dormant until it blooms. Keep focusing on the hope that seeds bring and let the beauty outshine the beast.

leadership dot #3889: autonomy

In the “Ask Amy” advice column this week, a nurse noted that when the pandemic started, people who were forced to work from home complained about how difficult it was, and now that employers want staff to return to the office, those same people are complaining about going back. As a health professional who never had the choice to work remotely, she was asking for advice on how to deal with the whining.

I don’t think the complaints are about being in the building or not. People were uncomfortable with the first change in part simply because it was a change, and now they are uncomfortable with returning because it too is a change. It’s so easy to get into a routine (aka: rut) and any attempt at disruption is met with resistance.

Working from home has also provided people with a higher degree of autonomy and flexibility than they have in an office or cubicle. Autonomy — freedom to choose when you do the work — is one of the key levers of employee satisfaction, and there is admittedly more of it at home sweet home.

Another key driver of engagement is understanding why. If the work itself or the policies that surround it have a purpose and make sense, people accept them more readily and without complaint.

Everyone understood why the offices closed in 2020. If employers are receiving pushback about a return, it would help if the employer would articulate why in-office is being reinstated and what advantages they expect to realize from the shift.

Employees want meaningful work and choices in how they go about accomplishing it. Whether from home, an office building, or some combination, employers benefit when they provide both.