leadership dot #2812: assistant

One of the consequences of budget reductions and automation is the elimination of layers of middle management. Many places have tightened operations by squeezing out the “assistant” director roles, leaving a “director” with no one to direct.

A challenge for those whose organization still has junior-level positions is the willingness of younger people to take the roles. The stereotypes would suggest that Gen Z and Millennials want a title and autonomy from the start without working their way up the ladder.

Both scenarios converge to create negative implications down the road. Middle management serves as a hands-on training ground for people to become senior leaders. Assistant roles provide opportunities for “grasshoppers” (see dot 377) to become masters themselves. Deputy positions allow a buffer zone for people to make mistakes before they have wider ramifications and allow people to serve as professional apprentices, able to be groomed by mentors.

Organizations may be saving money in the short run by reducing “number twos” but I believe they will pay more for their choice in the long run. Whether you create the organizational chart or are the one looking for a position to take, embrace the learning that assistant roles provide. Direct experience is an amazing teacher.

 

 

leadership dot #2737: ingredients

During a delicious Greek meal, the owner came out to chat with the customers. After we lavished him with praise for the cuisine, he shared his secret: “It starts with the ingredients,” Angelo said. He imports feta with 70% sheep’s milk and Greek yogurt from Greece and uses virgin olive oil in making his pitas. It makes a difference!

The Naughty Greek certainly isn’t the only restaurant of its type in the Twin Cities but it does a thriving business because of Angelo’s attention to the inputs. I think the same thing is true in organizations: it starts with the ingredients – aka the hiring process.

If you have great people and a strong onboarding process, you can distinguish yourself from other organizations producing the same product. Taking the time, and often the expense, to thoroughly interview and train staff pays untold dividends in the long run. These employees can contribute value in ways that you did not initially imagine and seize new opportunities to enhance the organization.

Shortcuts are always available, but in cooking and in hiring it’s best not to take them.

Angelo of The Naughty Greek

leadership dot #2716: the driver

If I was teaching a human resources class, I would use the movie Ford v. Ferrari as a case study. It’s a fantastic film, about so much more than cars or racing, as it tells the story of the Ford Motor Company’s quest to win the Le Mans car race in the 1960s.

One of the central tension points is deciding who will be the driver of Ford’s car. The project leader, Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) wants Ken Miles (Christian Bale) who is known as both incredibly skilled and equally unorthodox. The Ford executive in charge wants “a Ford Man”, someone else who can portray a more mainstream image for the brand.

I think the movie brings to light the frequent tension in organizations as to what is valued more: innovation or conformity; tradition or experimentation; mavericks or team players. So much of work today involves teamwork and playing nice with others is a necessary trait, so organizations must decide where they draw the line for those who do not fit the standard mold. Do you go with the perceived best driver to win or do you opt for someone more conventional who aligns closely with others? How much independence can you grant without sacrificing the effectiveness of the whole team or project? What is driving your decision: short-term winning or the long-term culture you are creating?

In the 5 Dysfunctions of a Team, Patrick Lencioni argues that it only takes one person to negatively impact an entire group. I myself recently wrote that being a member of a team is part of everyone’s job description these days. And yet, the movie highlights the dilemma of defining exactly what that team is – is it the team of driver and leader only, the race team or the entire Ford organization – and weighing how much latitude you give individual brilliance when deciding that answer.

Take a few hours this weekend and just enjoy a great film – then come Monday you can ponder the implications it may have for what drives hiring decisions in your organization.

leadership dot #2680: debatable

Thank goodness that they don’t interview executives the way they do presidential candidates! Can you imagine applying for your job – standing next to 11 others vying for the same position – and being given 75 seconds to answer questions or 45 seconds to respond to others – all while on national television.

Primary debates are the ultimate balancing act. You need to stand out from your opponents, yet not too much because you’ll need those supporters in the general election. You need to distinguish yourself from the others who are members of the same party, presumably meaning they share the same essential core values even if you differ on how to enact them. You need more of a message than “beat the other guy” but aren’t really given any time to deliver it.

And all of this leads to soundbites and pithy statements about what you’ll do if elected – conveniently ignoring the fact that you’ll need Congressional support (or at least budget allocation) to get much of it done and glossing over that how those elections go could seriously impact your plans.

Eight million people (including me) thought it worthy enough to watch last Tuesday but I can’t say that it swayed my vote. What it did do was cause me to wonder what the point of the spectacle really is.

If you find yourself producing a program – any program, let alone one the magnitude of the primary debates – take more than a moment to pause and consider what you’re hoping to achieve. Then produce a format that allows for those objectives to be met. It’s debatable whether the debates accomplish the goal of sharing the values and differences of primary presidential candidates; in fact, I’d vote for a better way.

 

leadership dot #2674: help wanted

I went to return bottles at the redemption center and it was closed – due to lack of workers. The same thing happened at Sam’s snack bar and at Popeye’s Chicken – the employee didn’t show up so they shuttered the operation for the day.

Liz Ryan (@humanworkplace) offers this perspective: “The ‘talent shortage’ myth is a simple case of employers refusing to acknowledge that the cost of talent has gone up.”

I don’t think she is referring just to minimum wage. The cost of talent, in my opinion, refers to the intangible contributions that employers need to make to create a desirable culture – to provide meaningful work for employees, to treat them with respect and dignity, and to create a sense of belonging and purpose that makes showing up for work worthwhile.

How many times have you volunteered to do hard work for free? Of course, you can’t pay the rent with altruism, but volunteering serves as evidence that you can have experiences that transcend what you are paid to do them. As older generations retire and younger generations are looking for incentives to trade leisure for work, an organization’s culture is going to be as valuable as its salary pool. The time to pay attention to it is now.

leadership dot #2660: contribution

When interviewing a potential employee, managers often look for a “cultural fit.” This makes sense as the new employee’s values need to align with those of the organization and they need to be comfortable operating within its environment; however, design firm IDEO’s founders encourage a different lens with which to view candidates: that of “cultural contribution.”

Instead of hiring people who are similar to everyone else, they suggest considering what differences a person can add to the organization and how they can make everyone uncomfortable in their thinking. Hiring someone with a varied background, nontraditional experience, or characteristic new to your organization can allow them to contribute creative perspectives, challenge assumptions and raise questions that others may not think to ask.

If you’re looking to stimulate thinking in your organization, hiring for cultural contribution instead of fit may be a good first step on this journey. Consider what you are missing and seek out candidates who bring you something new.

 

leadership dot #2643: what matters

A sign on a semi-truck trying to recruit drivers boasted: “No East Coast Driving.” Think about that. The number one perk the company boasts about does not involve money at all — rather it outlines a distinction that matters to their clientele.

Too often we think that money is the key driver (ha ha) of what recruits and motivates an employee. It isn’t. Reassess what you have to offer through the lens of non-financial benefits. You may find that what is important to others already exists in your organization.