leadership dot #67a: the other side of the coin

I have two new staff members starting work this week.  Several people here have been busy planning training for them — lots of meetings, readings, and things to do to help the new employees to learn their job and get acclimated to our culture. To be sure, learning what is serves a critical purpose and is vital to success in the position. When you’re new, you clamor to learn everything there is to know as soon as you can.

Harder to learn, but perhaps more valuable, is learning what isn’t. Sometimes it is a struggle for people at all stages to think beyond what is on the page to what should be there. They proof a document and point out that a comma is missing, but fail to note that a paragraph to set the context or to explain something important is absent. They learn every detail of the process but don’t stop to question why it is that way in the first place. People become experts at what exists, but forget to be strategic about what should be happening.  
Whether you are brand new or a seasoned veteran, the real difference makers are the ones who ask “what isn’t” in addition to mastering “what is”.

Originally published in modified form on August 7, 2012

leadership dot #3645: relinquish

It’s tempting, and maybe even prudent, for a manager to form a search committee and allow others to do the time-consuming task of interviewing candidates. For many reasons, involving multiple people in the hiring process makes sense.

But too often, with the invitation for input comes a (false) expectation that the committee’s evaluation is the final word. If you’re the hiring manager, never relinquish your ability to make the ultimate decision. Selecting your staff is too important to leave to others.

One way to avoid awkwardness is to be clear upfront regarding the role of those asked to participate in the search. A better technique to eliminate any false expectations is to ask the search committee to outline the strengths and weaknesses of each candidate, but never to ask them to rank the candidates. With this system, the search committee can provide you with valuable insights regarding areas where the new hire may need coaching or allow you to ask references about perceived deficiencies, but it leaves the final judgment to you.

Ultimately, if you’re the manager, you are responsible for the performance of the person you hire. You should be responsible right from the start.

leadership dot #3623: streamline

One of the highlights of last summer was working at the Major League Baseball Field of Dreams event. I was so hoping that I would be chosen to repeat the experience this year.

When I first was hired, we were required to complete an application, background check, and interview. Yesterday, I received an email: “Hello Field of Dreams Staff Alumni! We would love to have you back on our team for 2022. If you are a returning team member, there will not be an interview — the job is yours!” Yeah!!

Not only is this exciting for me, but it also makes so much sense from their perspective. Why take the time and trouble to put people through a process when it is very likely that they will pass it? But we do it when we require internal candidates to interview even though we plan to hire them. Or when we make people repeat information that is already in our system instead of just asking if anything has changed. Or when we have blood donors go through a lengthy intake questionnaire even if they are regulars.

Before you implement a process, consider whether there is a way to streamline who needs to use it. Give those you know the benefit of that knowledge with an intentional walk to first base.

leadership dot #3601: more than

I attended an appreciation dinner for people who had ushered for the university’s performing arts series. As part of the program, door prizes were drawn for students, and comments were made about how few students were working for the facility this year. The director lamented that they were only able to pay minimum wage and lost many students to Target and other retailers who were paying double that. He encouraged those students who were there to recruit their friends and hoped that next year there would be more students on staff.

Only the thing is that the room was primarily full of ushers who had volunteered to do the exact same job — for free. It was an opportunity to see the whole arts series without cost. Many ushers are couples, making their 2 hours of service a cheap payment for a lovely “date night.” And think about the hundreds of people who come to these shows and pay for the privilege of doing so.

It’s not just about the money.

It’s selling an on-campus job for its convenience, flexibility, time off during breaks, relationship to an arts or hospitality management or technical major, ability to cultivate relationships with people you will see throughout your time on campus, opportunity to learn new skills, a chance to work with friends, and a way to feel belonging and connection to the university they have chosen as their home. It’s not just the paycheck — and if that’s how it’s promoted, it’s no wonder the students are working at Target.

If you promote your next job opening strictly based on salary, you had better ensure it’s a generous one. Yes, people work for the income, but there is oh so much more to be gained from a healthy work culture. Sell that.

leadership dot #3544: note

A friend shared an article advocating that candidates stop sending thank you notes after interviews. “It’s an archaic, ridiculous practice,” one comment read. Call me a dinosaur, but what harm could it do? I have evolved from insisting the note be handwritten to making peace with email, but I still think that not doing them is forfeiting an opportunity.

A post-interview thank you note, in my opinion, should include something that could not have been written before the interview. You could reference a specific exchange that occurred, highlight additional skills that relate to what was discussed or comment on a specific project/aspect of the work that was shared with you in the interview. I think it gives you another chance to share something about yourself, shows you have manners, and keeps your name top of mind. Why wouldn’t you do one?

Yes, the job market favors the candidates right now, but if you’re interviewing, presumably you want the job. Take advantage of every avenue to impress, including with a well-crafted and timely follow-up note.

Thanks, Emily!

leadership dot #3502: apply

Yesterday, I wrote about using humor as part of a branding strategy to help mitigate temporary product shortages (dot #3501). A similar principle can apply when acknowledging staffing challenges.

I have seen many signs asking for latitude or consideration toward the skeleton crews but one of my favorite signs comes from Dunkin’: If you run out of patience, please ask for an application.” It’s a targeted way to remind customers that places are open to hiring — but unable to find candidates at this time.

You could say nothing and let people come to their own conclusions about why the line is slow but better to be explicit about what’s going on. People in line want the output but don’t want to be part of the input. The reminder is good for everyone.

leadership dot #3499: brand new

There are so many things you take for granted when you move into a house: towel racks, doors with knobs, countertops, toilet paper holders, cabinets, a driveway, and a road to lead to your door.

I was the first house in a new subdivision and they literally had to use a satellite to see where to run the cable and internet fiber — there was no address. I had to pick up mail from the Post Office for a month until the community mailbox was installed. City Hall had to call the garbage service each week because they kept forgetting me on their route.

When you build a new house, a zillion things become decision points. It forces you to see things in a new light and to become conscious of the components instead of the whole.

The equivalent is true when creating a new position instead of just filling an existing one. You’re starting from scratch with a job description, phone, computer, desk, office, reporting structure, supplies, and support. There is no routine, no history, no resources to refer to, no report format, no performance measures — everything has to be decided as it occurs.

It’s a great opportunity to create something for the first time but those involved need to realize that it takes much longer to ramp up because everything has to be figured out. We forget how much we rely on fundamentals and make assumptions about what we are starting with. If what you’re involved in is brand new (not just to you), factor in more time and emotional bandwidth to get yourself settled. All those choices are exhausting!

leadership dot #3496: missed shot

I shook my head when I read about the University of Nebraska’s men’s basketball coach, Fred Hoiberg. He was hired in 2019 and has since earned over $10 million to lead the Cornhuskers — to a grand total of 20 wins. Big Red is 20-55 overall, 5-39 in the Big Ten, and has a staggering 1-28 record on the road.

Hoiberg attributes this to “the circumstances of what we’ve gone through” citing a host of challenges: late hiring, inheriting a weak lineup and recruitment legacy, injuries, and, of course, Covid interruptions. “We started from scratch, so it’s going to take some time,” he told the Associated Press.

It reminded me of one of my favorite sayings: “Not doing something plus a really good excuse does not equal doing something.” (see dot 794) He was hired to win, not just to win when conditions were favorable, and he hasn’t gotten it done. Hoiberg came to Nebraska with a lot of fanfare given his previous coaching with the Chicago Bulls and Iowa State, and I wonder if amidst that excitement and expectation there failed to be clear accountability standards for what was considered acceptable performance.

How much time is “some time” to get it done? It’s tempting when you hire someone with a great track record or substantial experience to assume that their success will translate to your organization. But, with the superstars and rookies alike, there should be clear expectations mutually agreed upon upfront. Don’t drop the ball with your onboarding.

Source: On the cusp of winning by Eric Olson for the Associated Press, in the Telegraph Herald, January 9, 2022, p. 2B

leadership dot #3422: dinosaur

I have a friend who has been interviewing for the same job since August. He went to multiple in-person interviews plus had to do a presentation but still has not finished the process. The company is a 9-5, in-person only, formal dress kind of place — and that, combined with their antiquated interviewing process makes me think that they are less than progressive with their culture and way of operating.

And yet, in the latest interview, the vice president commented on how they were a fast-moving company that was able to pivot quickly. The misalignment between how they see themselves and how they act is a red flag. It’s one thing to work at a place that follows traditional practices, but worrisome when the leadership doesn’t realize that their human resources are anything but cutting edge.

It’s easy to get so used to the culture that you can’t see it from an external perspective. Counteract this by capitalizing on your new hires or using external groups to get a reality check on how you are perceived by those who aren’t ingrained in the organization. It’s ok to be a dinosaur, but not ok to be one and think you’re a cheetah.

leadership dot #3413: otherness

There is a sweet spot between hiring people who are different from the norm but not so different that the culture does not accept them. One clear example comes to mind where I hired someone who pushed the envelope — just what we needed — but was ultimately let go because his “otherness” was seen as a negative by the wrong people. Previous employees and professional association colleagues also have played a contrarian role or brought a perspective that was outside of the rest of the group but were dismissed because of this.

To ensure that the differences are an asset instead of a liability, it helps to be clear from the start what you are looking for in your hire. If the hiring team (and those above them) agree that the organization needs someone to shake the status quo, ask the tough questions, offer perspectives that will be uncomfortable to hear, it’s helpful to return to that agreement when the new hire actually does those things.

People often say that they value someone who is different than they are but in the end, many revert to someone like themselves as it is often easier to dismiss the “other” rather than to integrate them into the culture and learn from the view they bring. Be intentional that it’s not the case with your organization.