Where Did The Time Go?

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The leadership skill of managing your time and the time of your team is critical to success. I want to reveal to you one of the worst "black holes" that suck time away from you...meetings.

Meetings are the life's blood of a business, but only if they help move work forward. How many meetings do you waste time in? A lot I'll bet.

An excellent leadership skill to develop is determining which meetings are really worth your time and which one's you should avoid. Be discriminating with your time, it is valuable. Only spend it in meetings that add value to your results.

 

Maintaining Priorities Year-Round

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I'm often drawn into conversations about productivity around this time of year.  People are looking for tricks on how to maintain momentum during the holidays or re-establish momentum in the new year. 

I think the answers to both are found by using the same disciplines.  In fact, my advice works year-round.  It just seems like we notice the need more during this time of year.

There are three things you can do that will help you and your organization.

First.  It is absolutely crucial that you get and stay focused on the critical few priorities that are most valuable and important right now.

I once worked with a CEO who had the belief that since he did not really know how much could be done, he would get the most out of his people by loading up their lists way past their maximum capacity.  He just figured that good people working hard on an impossible list would get done the largest quantity of items. He thought he would get more output this way than if he just guessed at what the right capacity load should be. 

This didn't work very well.  It went wrong on a number of counts.

Emphasizing quantity so directly had a negative impact on quality.  Items got checked off the list, but the work was often not done very well and had to be re-worked.  Busy but not productive.

Since people figured out they could not do everything, they often guessed at what was most important.  Or they worked on what was most fun or easiest.  The result was near impossible integration with everyone working on uncoordinated tasks. 

If they received a follow up on something they were not working on, they would drop everything they were doing and start working on the new item.  Their people felt jerked around and after a few of those it became clear that not much of anything ever got completed.  It didn't take many of these fire drills to completely ruin the team's productivity. 

This approach also resulted in an unnecessary increase in stress levels in an already high stress organization.

What eventually helped this CEO and senior team was very, very precise agreement on which projects were first…. Yes, prioritization!

Second.  It is absolutely critical that capacity be understood and managed. During times like holiday and summer periods original planning must be reviewed and re-set to allow for the time that people will be away.

In the case mentioned above, the solution would be only partly successful by setting the priority list if the CEO still would expect his list of 55 prioritized items completed without respect to rational capacity management.

This team had to learn to fight it out and to agree on not only what was first or second, but also where to draw the line.  They all had to agree on what would be worked on and what would wait until later.  Doing this once at planning or budget time is not enough.  It has to be done over and over, and especially at those times of year when time is taken away from the job.

Once the team figured it out and practiced it year-round, they saw a big reduction of stress and an increase in momentum.  When holiday and summer time rolled around they learned to schedule special sessions to address capacity taking into account vacation times and travel.  More got done, no one had to feel guilty about being away, and stress was reduced because expectations were realistic.

Third and Last.  Eliminate perfection assumptions in your planning models.

Whether it is financial planning, product development, strategic planning, recruiting, merger integration savings, capacity planning or your own work planning, I have found that organizations fall into the trap of assuming perfection in their planning cases.

It’s probably not as important to dig into why this happens than to recognize it does happen and to work very hard to make our planning assumptions realistic.

If we do our prioritization work well, and try very hard to apply rational capacity management, it can all still come apart if our planning assumes that all elements will go perfectly and exactly as planned and in the optimum time and at the optimum cost.  Nothing ever goes perfectly.  Emergencies come upon us.  Customers present immediate demands.  Stuff happens.

I'm not suggesting easy plans, nor am I suggesting not reaching for big outcomes.  I'm just suggesting that you face reality when you predict how long something will take, how much it will cost, how many people will be needed, and how much time they really have to contribute to your tasks.

I remember in our unnamed example above that a vice president was being pushed very hard about a project completion date.  He tried very unsuccessfully to persuade senior management why more time would be needed.  The interchange was an almost one-way conversation about how long each project element ‘should’ take.  Eventually, I remember hearing something like… “If you can’t get this done by then, I’ll find someone who can.”  He was removed from his job.  I also remember the replacement candidate saying that he could deliver the project on time because he agreed the planning assumptions were ‘sensible’.  The result was that the project missed the deadline and came in exactly when the original vice president said it would.

Obviously that was an extreme example, but it is meant to jar you into thinking about how much perfection you place or demand in your plans.

Difficult periods do not have to result in more stress, missed deadlines, and lost momentum.  Remembering these three simple keys will help your organization stay on track.

 

Leaders Must Be Charismatic

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This is perhaps the misconception about team leadership that is the most damaging. It is damaging because so many people believe it and it discourages people from taking on team leadership roles.

Any type of personality can be an effective team leader. You do not have to by funny or confident speaking in front of people. You do not have to be tall and handsome or beautiful.

Effective team leadership is not about those types of things. Effective team leadership is founded on your honest efforts to help those around you be successful. You can do this no matter what type of person you are.

There is a common phrase about team leadership that I think does not get the respect it deserves; “He/She leads by example."  You absolutely do not have to be charismatic to lead by example, yet it is one of the most powerful ways to lead.

 

Leaders Must Have All the Answers

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Most management training teaches that the leader must have all of the answers. They are the “go to” person to solve all problems. This is a misguided belief about team leadership.

The leaders with the best team leadership know that no single person can always have the best answer. They instead hone their skills in asking the right questions. They ask questions that allow people to open their minds to more effective thinking. This is effective team leadership.

Doing this allows people to solve their own problems which is much more effective team leadership than being told what to do.

 

Be Your Own Guru

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One of our blog readers once shared that his number one leadership challenge is properly implementing what he learns from leadership “gurus.” 

I think this is an important  issue to discuss.  It is so common for leaders to read a book or attend a seminar on leadership from a team leadership expert, but then be unsure or overwhelmed when they try to implement the concepts in their own organization.

Here are two useful tips on how to implement what you learn about leadership.

Tip #1 - Implement one thing at a time.   Take your time to learn it well.  Implement it slowly.  Be patient with yourself and your team.  It takes time for new concepts to become the “natural” way you do things.   

Tip #2 – Be your own guru.  I have done leadership consulting, management training and strategic planning in hundreds of organizations and this is what I have learned; every one is different.  Everything I know about leadership and management training has to be adapted at least a little bit to fit a given organization’s unique circumstances.

So, be your own guru.  No guru will ever know your situation as well as you do.  Do not be afraid to adapt the expert’s concepts and make it even better for your organization.  If you have a question about how to implement an expert’s concept ask them.  Any leadership consultant worth their salt must be willing to help you implement their advice.

Get as much perspective from the experts as you can.  Read books, attend seminars, take courses.  But always keep in mind the need to implement slowly and the fact that you are the best guru you will ever meet!

 

Removing Barriers to Performance

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Every organization is filled with projects and processes. Left untended these always become cumbersome and convoluted. This wastes your and your staff’s time and hurts everyone’s morale.

Management training rarely addresses this. But, those with the most effective team leadership styles take accountability for removing the barriers that block effective performance. There are many facets to meeting this responsibility.

One of these critical leadership qualities is collaboration.

Start by asking your people what they need to do their work effectively and efficiently. Listen closely. Ask questions to clarify your understanding. Also, seek out the perspectives of people from outside of your department. Your objective is to gain broad and deep perspective on the circumstances that affect the issue you are dealing with.

This simple act of collaboration is one of the key components of a highly effective leadership style.

Open Minds.... and the Right Questions

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I often run across senior executives who think they alone know the answer to their organization's problems. They usually want help in masterminding an approach to team leadership that gets their lower level people to do just what they want. Sometimes they ask for the magic bullet of management training with the mistaken hope that it alone will create all the change they want. Well, I have to confess I don't have a very successful record of helping these types of senior executives very much.

But thankfully I also run across another kind of senior executive. I find some with wide open minds. I find some whose leadership style emphasizes getting the best thinking out of the people that they lead. I find some who seek the answer from those closest to the problem and where the actual work really gets done. I find some who have become very skilled (or want to be) at asking the right questions in order to unlock the wisdom of the team.

Instead of just trying to show how smart they are or deciding every crucial issue, this second group of executives display leadership qualities that allow them to combine their own experience and knowledge with that of the people they lead.

Can you guess which group consistently gets a higher percentage of successful outcomes? Ask yourself today where you stand. Consider building your leadership style to include a wide open mind and asking the right questions.

 

The Secret of Motivation in Team Leadership

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A while back I sent a survey to Linn Leadership readers asking what their biggest leadership challenges are.  I received many answers about strategic planning, decision making, communications and so forth. But, a challenge that many people expressed is how to motivate their team.

I am going to make this easy for you. To motivate your people you do not have to be “motivational”. You do not have to be charismatic or even a particularly skilled communicator.

Just do one simple (but incredibly powerful!) thing. MAKE THE LIST OF THINGS YOUR PEOPLE ARE DOING MATCH THE TIME THEY HAVE TO DO THEM.

This is a leadership skill that most managers do not have. It is a skill that is rarely, if ever, taught in management training programs. But, it is the most important aspect of team motivation.

People are motivated when they feel like they are making progress. If their task load is always more than they have time to do they will feel like they are spinning their wheels.

As the leader you can fix this and tap into the power of a motivated team.

 

Are You Rigidly Flexible?

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Years ago I was with a large corporate client and the VP of Facilities was talking to a group of managers about project planning. He told them that as they worked on their management training they needed to strive to be “rigidly flexible” as they planned and executed their projects.

This caught my ear. What he was talking about is the fact that plans never unfold exactly the way you planned them. Circumstances change. New opportunities and challenges present themselves.

What you want to do as you further your leadership development is to be rigid in your resolve to accomplish your most important objectives. But you also want to be flexible to adapt your approach as you adjust to new circumstances.

Keep alert! Being “rigidly flexible” requires that you pay attention to what is happening around you so you will know when to make adjustments to assure that you reach your goals.

 

Team Leadership and Communications

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One of the most common challenges leaders have shared with me over the years is communicating effectively. I was recently thinking about a situation that happened to me when I was a very young consultant.

I was working on my first merger integration. Two large healthcare organizations were coming together. I had just completed a series of focus groups with front line staff. One of their biggest concerns was that they believed that senior management was lying to them about whether there would be any layoffs as a result of the merger.

I am sitting in the Board Room with all of the senior executives. I told them about the staff's concern. The executives looked at each other, but no one said anything for several seconds. Then the Chief Operating Officer said something that stunned me; "Of course we're lying to them. If we told them the truth they would cause us all sorts of problems!"

What happened next stunned me even more. Nothing happened next. No one said a word. They just moved on to the next topic. No one cared that leadership was lying to the staff. There were layoffs, of course. Once they started the staff lost all trust for management. The best people began to leave the organization.

The communication lesson here is to tell the truth even when it is hard. If you tell the truth even when it is painful to hear people will begin to trust you. When people trust you they will listen to you. If they listen to you they will follow your leadership.

Team leadership requires trust. Build it by telling the hard truth.


Time Management and Leadership Development

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A much overlooked element in leadership training is time management.  Sure, most leadership development programs touch on it, but the facts are that most managers are not good at it.  I can only surmise that time management training is not working.

I want to make time management simple for you.  Don’t concern yourself right now with complex programs that teach you how to juggle A priorities, B priorities, urgent vs. non-urgent, strategic vs. non-strategic, etc.  We can talk about those things later. 

The single most important thing you must do to better manage your time is to really KNOW HOW YOU SPEND IT!

Sounds pretty simple doesn’t it?  It is, except so few managers understand it.  Recently I was working with a management team helping them find the time needed to do the most important things.  I asked each of them to tell me how they currently spend their time.  This was a very difficult question to answer for every one of them.

It is not because they were not smart.  All of them were very bright accomplished leaders.  But, we all get going so fast that we lose any sense of what we are actually doing.  You end your day and have no clear sense of what you actually did. 

Until you get a full understanding of how you spend your time you will never manage it well.  Slow down.  For the next week write down everything you do and how much time it takes.  Review what you have done with your time.  Are you doing the things you want to do?  I'll bet not. 

Armed with this new knowledge of how you actually spend your time start making the necessary changes that will allow you to spend more time on the most important things. 

This is hard to do at first, but keep at it.  It gets easier the more you do it.  

Real time management is about taking control of your time.  You cannot control it if you do not understand it. 
 

The Vice President of Wisdom

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I've spent a lot of time facilitating senior executive teams as they develop strategic plans and solve big organizational problems. A big hole in the leadership skills of many leaders is a willingness to take risks in these sessions.

Specifically, too many leaders are too quiet. They are afraid to take the risk of stating their opinions.

This is a big mistake. A willingness to share your point of view is vital to effective leadership. Even if you are naturally shy you must take the risk of speaking. You may just have the idea that unlocks the answer.

Let me tell you about Esther, the Vice President of Wisdom.

I was leading a planning session at a large international foods company.  I had met with all of the team members individually before the session. When I talked with Esther she told me she was very shy in groups and probably would not say much.

I told her I understood, but that at some point in the process her perspective would be vital. I encouraged her to try to share when that time came.

For the first two days of the sessions Esther said almost nothing. On the third day the team was at a tough point and was having a hard time deciding what to do.

Esther tentatively raised her hand, took a deep breath and said; “Rob told me there would be a time I needed to talk. This is what I think is causing our problem and here is what I think we should do…”

Esther went on to share an insight that completely unlocked the answer to the team’s problem. Her teammates nicknamed her The VP of Wisdom. To this day, more than 10 years later, every team member goes to Esther for advice when they are dealing with a tough issue.

That day Esther provided a breakthrough for her team. She also provided a breakthrough for herself as a leader.

Be brave to take a risk like Esther. Be your organization’s “VP of Wisdom”.

What is Your Organization’s Mission?

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Just about every leader talks about their organization’s “mission statement.” It is common for teams to spend hours, days or even weeks developing one. There are management consultants who make entire careers charging lots of money to help clients create them.

Don’t do this!

Nearly every mission statement I have seen is uninspiring and says nothing unique about that organization. They provide nothing useful to guide the organizations effort. Mostly, they all look alike. Boring and wasteful!

Here is a leadership secret about how to get a mission statement right.

Let the mission statement flow from your strategy not the other way around.

When you develop your strategy you will spend a lot of time thinking about the needs of your market. Meeting those needs becomes your mission. Write down in a few simple sentences what benefits your market will get from doing business with you. That is you “Mission Statement.”

Simple! Powerful! And, something that your people can get behind and use as guidance for their work.

Think Like a General Manager

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A member of our newsletter reader community wrote to me the other day. He said he had a strong desire to become a CEO someday and asked for some tips on how to make this dream a reality.

Of all the leadership qualities that you eventually want to acquire, the single most important leadership skill that will lead you to more senior positions is the ability to think like a general manager.

No matter what your current role is you want to start thinking and acting like you are responsible for the success of the entire enterprise.

The CEO is the general manager of the entire business. Their entire mind is bent towards a single purpose…maximizing the organization’s success.

You want to put your mind to this purpose. Every time you are faced with a decision ask yourself what will benefit the entire organization the most. Take that action. Do not do what is best just for your division, department or team. That is not how the best senior executives act.

You will know you have this skill mastered when you make decisions for the benefit of the organization that actually sacrifice some aspect of the part of the business you are responsible for. You make a program cut, a headcount reduction or re-prioritize a departmental project to make time to work on something that has a greater impact on the whole.

This may sound easy to do, but it is not. To really act like a general manager you have to consciously think differently. Remember to always test your decisions by asking if it is really the best thing for the whole organization’s success.

The Value Of An Open Mind

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A new CFO joined one of my clients. He and the former CFO (who was now running one of the main divisions) were continually having strong disagreements on the strategic direction of the organization. They both thought the other was doing great damage to the company.

I was working with the senior team to develop a new strategic plan. One of the things I often do is something called a “Turning Points Analysis.” In brief, the team identifies certain major events in the organization’s history that they considered a turning point (performance either radically improved or declined.)

As this senior team worked together to analyze their Turning Points the former CFO did a lot of the talking because he had been there longer than anyone else. He had detailed recall of those times and circumstances.

As the organization’s history came to life in that conference room an interesting transformation took place. At one point the new CFO stood back and looked at several walls filled with flip charts describing the organizations past circumstances and decisions. He looked at the former CFO and said something that I will never forget:

“You know that I have strongly disagreed with nearly all of your decisions. But, now that I clearly see the circumstances that you were faced with I have to tell you that I would have done the exact same things you did.”

From that moment they began to work more effectively together. While they never became great friends, their improved working relationship allowed them to make a difficult joint decision to shut down an under-performing division that was sucking profits from the rest of the organization.

If the new CFO had not kept an open mind and been willing to change his opinion of the former CFO and his decisions they would have kept fighting and never been able to work together for the benefit of the whole.

Natural, Intuitive Leadership Qualities Will Only Take You So Far

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I was working with one of my clients the other day.   She had been in a very senior position for a few years. However, recently the organization had really stepped up its pace and the CEO was intent on extensive growth. Everyone’s leadership was being stretched through an intensive leadership training program.

In our conversation, she said that up until now leadership had come pretty easily for her and that all she had to do was act like herself and everything worked out pretty well.

But that now the bar for team leadership had been raised and she realized that she needed to be more conscious of what she is doing. That she must think about the probable impact of her words or actions before she speaks or acts. She understood that to advance at this senior level she needed to make changes to her leadership style from some of the things that had allowed her to reach that level to begin with.

This is a great insight. The higher up you go or the more complex your organization gets, the greater the demands on your leadership. You do not have the luxury to keep doing things the way you always have. The executives that maintain highly effective leadership are all “lifetime learners". They never stop working on their team leadership.

Keep at it. Read about leadership. Engage other leaders in discussion. We can all learn from each other.

As a matter of fact, that is the primary purpose of this blog; to learn from each other.

Please post comments on your experiences with leadership development. I know you have valuable insights and experiences that will help other leaders in their leadership development efforts.

The Most Amazing Team Leadership I've Ever Seen

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I can rarely tell this story without a tear in my eye. It shows incredible team leadership. But that's not the story. This happened without this manager getting any management training whatsoever!

A hospital client of mine had just completed a merger with its largest competitor. There were many challenges. The senior team developed a set of leadership skills unique to this newly merged organization. They implemented a management training assessment process for all leaders.

The challenge was how to use the leadership skills to effect change at the most fundamental operational levels. The CEO knew it had happened when the manager of housekeeping told this story about how he used the organization’s leadership skills of Patient Service.

He said, “I tell my people to always look for nurses in need. Of course we can’t provide clinical care, but we can go get a blanket, make a phone call, run to summon a doctor. Basically, I tell them to help in any way they can.”

Then the manager hit the essence. He paused and said; “and if nothing else, we can always just hold the patient’s hand.”

This story illustrates that it is really possible to create a team leadership culture that is evident at the most tactical levels of your organization. Here are a couple of things that you can do to make it happen:

  • Working in collaboration with your team, get down on paper the most important leadership qualities that you want people in your organization to exhibit. What behaviors do you want all of your people to exhibit every day?
  • Use management training to teach those team leadership styles to everyone in the organization. Have every department head collaborate with their teams to determine how these team leadership qualities can be exhibited within that department. This will make the skills very practical and easy to understand on the floors of your organization.

 

Do you have a story to share about amazing team leadership that you've seen?

Team Leadership At Speed

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A client sent me an email a while back asking; "What's the trick for going fast, doing the right thing and actually succeeding in my business and in my team leadership?"

Great question. This calls on some important leadership skills. The essence of the answer is in "...doing the right thing." This comes from being clear about your objectives. What really defines success for you? What are the right things for you? What do you want your team leadership style, your business and your life to be like?

You want to invest some time to clarify these things so when an opportunity presents itself you can quickly evaluate it relative to your objectives. Does it move you towards them? If so, then act...now! If, not, let it go.

Here are some specifics:

  • Put your objectives in writing. What do you intend to accomplish? The discipline of putting them in writing will help you be clear on what you want.

For example, if "Becoming the CEO of the company" is one of your objectives don't be shy, write it down. Think big!

By the way, I have found that for me, doing this with pen and paper works better than a keyboard and computer. Feels more real and committed.

  • Develop a short list of criteria (six or seven) that define a valuable step towards you objectives.

For example, a few of my criteria are: 1) the opportunity furthers my progress towards more than just one of my objectives. 2) The opportunity furthers the leverage of my personal time. 3) The opportunity has a low cost of entry. I have a few others, but this gives you the idea.

  • Evaluate each opportunity against your criteria. Does it still seem like a good idea?

This next step is critical. Without it you risk getting nowhere...and spending a lot of time doing it!

Develop a short list of what we call Probability of Success (POS) criteria. These will help you determine how likely it is you can successfully capitalize on a given opportunity.

A few of my POS criteria are: 1) I have a strength in this area or I can easily pay for that strength at a reasonable price. 2) It is simple to manage. If it is too complex to stay on top of...I won't! 3) I am interested in it. This is a big one for me. If I'm not interested I will not stay focused even if it’s profitable. A lesson learned the hard way...many times over!

  • Give a rating (1 to 5, 1 to 10, whatever you want) to each Value criteria. Do the same for each POS criteria.

Obviously, you want to act on those opportunities with both high value and high POS. There are some subtleties of what to do if you have something with high value and low POS, perhaps I’ll write about that in a future post. Once you have your criteria set you can do this analysis very quickly.

  • The final issue to consider is time. Do you have the time necessary to work the opportunity?

Time as a zero-sum deal. Everybody I know is as busy as they can possibly be. Therefore, to do something new you have to stop doing something you are currently doing. Or you have to streamline your processes to take less time to do what you are currently doing.

Time cannot be manufactured. You only get it in trade.

You can spend 100’s, even 1,000’s, of dollars on management training and not pick up secrets like these. I have seen this approach work unbelievably well for individual leaders and their teams and for entire organizations.

With preparation and discipline it is possible to go fast, do the right things and have fantastic business results!

 

What's Flowing Out Your Open Door?

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I was working with a management team a while back helping them find ways to be more productive. I asked them what wastes their time. One of the time wasters they raised was frequent interruptions from staff and peers.

I asked them if this happened even when their office doors were shut. They said, “Yes, people just knock and walk right in.”  I figured the solution was simple, tell people that when your door is shut that you are busy and not to be interrupted except in true emergencies. The shocked and uncomfortable looks on their faces told me that my “simple” solution was not so simple.

They said, “You don’t understand. We have an open door policy in our organization. It is expected that we are all available to everybody at all times.”

I have seen this before and have a strong opinion about it. An open door policy seems great in concept. It conjures images of the free flow of information, ideas and collaboration. But, applying it in your real executive world hurts your productivity and the productivity of your team.

One of the best CEOs I have worked with was famously frugal with his time. You knew not to knock on his closed door or call his direct phone line unless there was an absolute emergency.

Instead of a flow of random interruptions, he proactively blocked time to meet with selected people on the most important issues facing his organization. He blocked time to respond to emails and voice mails.

If you bumped into him in the hallway and ran an idea past him instead of taking the time to discuss it right then he would say, “That’s interesting. Let’s both think some more about it and schedule a time to discuss it in more depth. Please call my assistant and she will put some time on my calendar.”

In short, he was the master of his time. His discipline and focus allowed him to accomplish a lot within a reasonable number of hours. He required this discipline and focus from his people. They were all highly productive executives. The organization grew exponentially and thrived through some difficult times in their industry and market.

If you currently have an open door policy or if you simply allow yourself to be interrupted too often I advise that you begin to rethink how you view your value as an executive. Your value is greater than your ability to be constantly available to all those around you. Instead, set your value on the level of your productivity and your organization’s productivity on the issues that are most critical to your organization’s success.

I encourage you to take control of your time. Turn off any email alerts. Respond to the most important emails on your time frame not when they “ping” you. Let calls go to voice mail, return them when you are ready. Schedule the majority of your meetings and phone calls. Keep extemporaneous meetings to a minimum.

I do not mean that you insulate yourself from others. As a senior executive it is critical that you have a lot of interaction with others. What I advocate is maximizing your control of what you do and when you do it.

So, what is flowing out your open door? A lot of productivity! Time is the ultimate commodity. Do not give any of it away.

Your People Are Your Success - Choose Wisely

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Your organization is unique and so are the job requirements for each position. Most job descriptions end up being relatively generic and lack the very important, specific qualifications a person must have to be successful in that organization. I call these specific qualifications “unique success requirements”. Combined these make up a position’s “Unique Success Profile”.

I begin by asking the big question…what is specifically required here, right now, at this stage of our development, in this role, working for our individual leaders, etc… to be viewed as successful? These requirements are not just the job description, the job specification, nor abstract behavior or personality traits. Let's be honest, it takes hard and disciplined thinking outside your conventional wisdom to come up with these requirements. Once you have these practical requirements, the next step is to rate them (on a scale from 1-5, 1 being desired and 5 being completely mandatory) based on their how critically important they are. The applicants then get rated against these requirements and you’ll be able to see how they line up against the profile.

One CFO that I worked with several years ago was looking for a Director of Financial Planning and Analysis and asked for my help in finding the right fit. It was more urgent than usual because the previous two incumbents had been terminated. I started by asking him what the unique requirements were for this particular position that wouldn’t normally show up in a job description. He thought for a moment and then began to tell me about his 100 person Board of Directors who were all heavily involved. So involved, in fact, that the Finance department would get about 15-20 calls per day from Board members. The CFO usually handled these calls, but he was going to be spending half his time away from the office over the next year renegotiating bonds. He thought it critical that the new hire have the capability and good judgment to answer Board questions and give enough information to please Board members without giving away too much or saying the wrong thing. Upon reflection, he also thought that this issue was very heavily involved with the lack of success of the previous incumbents. The CFO then interviewed for that specific quality and found someone who had had experience and skills to deal with a very involved Board.

Unique success profiles are a great instrument not only for hiring, but for making sure you currently have the right people in the right positions. Sometimes we become enamored by people for the wrong reasons. We think they are superstars at some things, but when it comes down to it, those aren’t the things that are most important for that position. When lined up with the unique success profile, people can fall short of the most critical success criteria. Sometimes it is necessary to take a closer look every so often to make sure you have your people in the right place with the best chance of success.

I worked with a large hospital that was going through a merger integration following the acquisition of a major competitor. One of the unfortunate consequences of this combination was that there were 150 current managers for the 75 new leadership positions in the merged company. I suggested and they agreed that they were going to have to conduct interviews for all of them. 75 people were going to have to leave the organization. The senior executives used careful thought in creating the USPs for each position. They then let all applicants know ahead of time what the criteria were and that they would be interviewed for each of the unique success requirements. At the end of the hiring process several people who didn’t get the job they had interviewed for said that it was the fairest process they had ever been through. The Board chairman looked through the USP book and said that the process was unassailable. No lawsuits were brought against the organization.

Consider how different their experience was from conventional practice. Usually the managers of the acquiring organization are the ‘winners’ and the managers of the acquired organization are the ‘losers’. Usually selections are made based on comfort and relationship rather than necessary skills against a well thought out requirements list. Usually it is every man for himself rather than a process that put the good of the organization first and treated each candidate as fairly and as honestly as possible. In the end everyone agreed they had done the right things the right way for the right reasons. Most importantly, the process almost ensured that the participants would accept the outcome.

The value of this approach and tool are in direct proportion to the quality of the USP and your willingness and discipline to apply it. Considering how challenging it can be to remove a person from their job for being the wrong fit, it is worth putting in the time beforehand to make sure that your organization and your people have the highest probability of success.

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