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.

leadership dot #2538: outlining

I spent my three-day weekend writing an 80-page federal grant. The hardest part? Creating an outline of what I was going to write.

We had been talking about this project for weeks and I had input from numerous collaborators on what content should be included. The government provides a proposal outline of course, but my challenge was synthesizing all the ideas into a cohesive outline to follow when writing. It took four sheets of flip chart paper with two columns each and a full day to compile but in the end, it made the writing process so much easier.

By outlining, I don’t mean a rigid sequence or the use of Roman numerals, rather a bullet list of points to make in the anticipated or approximate order. It becomes liberating instead of restrictive.

When faced with a large project, it’s often tempting to jump right in. That may work for some people, but my time is better spent investing in the front end. Once you have an outline, it’s like punching in the GPS coordinates to your destination – much faster to follow a route than to get lost on the way.

leadership dot #2516: small stuff

I had an interesting conversation with someone who has just made a career change to become a Realtor. She described the extensive training that went into the process – courses online and in multiple cities, several tests and licensing in different jurisdictions.

I asked what surprised her and she had two answers: 1) that there was a lot of math, “as in a lot” and 2) when she finished, she still had not been taught how to do a listing. She could calculate the area of a plot of land and been tested on zoning regulations but was never shown how to put a property up for sale.

I think that our onboarding processes are sometimes like this – we get so caught up in explaining the big picture that we forget that new employees need to know the most mundane set of details as well: where do I get a key and ID, who do I call if I can’t make it into work, how do I buy things, what is the password for the computer, where do people eat lunch, etc. It is by understanding these small tasks that a new employee feels like they belong and are less of a rookie.

Even before they arrive, anticipate the questions a new staff member will have for Day 1: when should I arrive, where should I park, where should I go when I arrive, what is the typical dress code, what type of HR paperwork do I need to bring, do people eat lunch out or bring theirs in, etc.

If you find yourself in a new situation, the details are what help you build a solid foundation from which you can do the higher-level thinking. Don’t overlook the small stuff when welcoming someone new to your organization.

leadership dot #2266: user manuals

After you have worked for or with someone for a while you learn their work style – and the quirks and preferences that comprise it. But why make people wait or make your colleagues guess how you do your best work?

It is becoming more popular to provide a “user manual” as part of the onboarding or transition process to help others know how to most effectively work with you. User manuals are frequently compiled with information from someone other than you – by asking current people who report to you what it is really like as one of your direct reports or colleagues. A user manual shares information about how you prefer to work with people and preferences that may help new staff to know about your style right from the beginning rather than after months of experience.

An example of some of the comments from a direct report that are included in my user manual:

  • She believes that nothing is sacred…meaning that just because we’ve done something a certain way, it’s encouraged to ask why or offer a new solution.
  • She makes decisions…sometimes too quickly, which can be frustrating when it’s not the decision you want. However, you can make your case and she will listen. 
  • She is extremely organized, and always follows through. I have NEVER met someone who follows up like she does. If she asks you to do something, she will hold you accountable to it.

Wharton professor Adam Grant wrote about compiling a user manual and suggests asking others these questions when you are gathering information:

  • What brings out the best in me?
  • What brings out the worst in me?
  • What do you see as my strengths and weaknesses?
  • What are my blind spots?
  • If tomorrow was your first day working with me, what information about my personality would help you work with me more effectively?

 Overall, compiling a user manual is an enlightening experience – it’s both fascinating to hear how others describe your style and illuminating for new colleagues to have their expectations more closely aligned to the reality of working with you. Take some of the guesswork out of your working relationships and share the good, bad and even ugly up front.

For additional information and examples, click here.