This article was originally published in Forbes on October 12, 2017.
We all do it. We settle for an OK candidate when trying to fill a job. Why? We see the cost of the unfilled position: an uncovered territory, a long customer service queue, an overworked team.
But most people don’t consider the cost of a bad hire. A study from CareerBuilder shows that hiring the wrong person costs real money: One-third of U.S. employers reported that a single bad hire costs more than $50,000.
How can you avoid this mistake? You need to see selecting talent as critical to your strategy — as critical as product design or capital structure. And you need to get good at it.
Here are four steps to increase your selection savvy:
First, start every interview asking your candidate to share what she knows about your company and what questions she has. It doesn’t matter if you’re interviewing her to be your office manager or your COO. Here you are looking for two attributes: Does she have a real interest in your organization, and is she professional enough to prepare for the meeting. If she has done her research, you can have some confidence that she’ll prepare well for meetings with your customers, vendors and other employees too.
Second, look for patterns. This step is easy for people who enjoy solving puzzles because that’s what you’re doing. Ask your candidate about experiences throughout her career — starting with what she studied in school, what engaged her, and what bored her — regardless of whether you think those experiences are relevant to the job. For each position she held, you want to understand what she was hired to do, what she achieved, the feedback she received, what she liked and didn’t, and why she eventually moved on. This takes time — you can’t get through it in a 60-minute interview. But when you’ve done it, you’ll have rich data points that tell you whether she’ll be a good fit for your company.
Recently, I helped a client select a new marketing lead. We found a delightful candidate everyone loved. He had the right set of industry experience, wanted to spend his time where we needed focus and lived in the right place. But when looking for patterns, I uncovered that he excelled in supportive environments with bosses who operated as mentors (my client has a sink-or-swim culture with a boss who isn’t big on emotional connection). I shared this observation with my client and the candidate and everyone agreed it wasn’t the right fit. If I hadn’t invested the time to really understand the candidate’s background, we all would have made a bad choice.
Third, find some way to test your candidate in the real-world of your business. Where possible, create a short-term consulting or contracting project so your candidate can do work for your company. Pay her for her time. I can’t count the number of great interviews I’ve had that were followed by the quick realization that my candidate didn’t have what it takes once we started working side-by-side.
It’s not hard to create a real-world test, but it does require you to be creative. When candidates aren’t employed, hire them for a temp-to-perm role. When they are, scope out a consulting project related to the job. If neither of these are feasible, consider a written interview where you send relevant tasks (a spreadsheet analysis, a sample client communication, an essay-format interview question) at an agreed upon time and your candidate responds an hour later with her work. Clear, written communication is so important that even if you default to the essay-format interview question, you’ll gather information about your candidate’s clear thinking and written communication skills (or lack thereof), which would be missed with an interview-only approach.
Finally, check references. The best method I’ve seen comes from Dr. Geoff Smart. Here’s the secret: After thoroughly understanding your candidate’s work experience, you choose who to call (because whoever your candidate suggests is sure to provide a great reference). Ask your candidate to assist with setting up the calls. Once you’re speaking with the right people – those who had meaningful experiences working with your candidate but who didn’t necessarily turn into friends – ask references to fill in details on the story you heard from your candidate.
Nothing you do is more important than selecting the right person for your company. So don’t settle for just OK.
This article was originally published in Forbes on May 5, 2017.
Want to make your business sustainable? Start by developing strong leaders who can anticipate and respond to the volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous environment in which we operate. One practical technique is to create meaningful opportunities for your board of directors to interact with current (and future) leaders.
Most organizations have spent little energy on this leadership development strategy — it is occasionally considered in the context of succession planning, but even succession planning is given little attention by most boards. According to a study by Ernst & Young, boards spend fewer than two hours per year on succession planning-related matters. I investigated how companies were using their boards of directors to develop leaders and found little evidence. One thing I did find: a study of high-performing organizations uncovering that just 21% used board exposure to accelerate employees on the path to leadership.
I surveyed HR leaders from 21 organizations of various sizes and industries in my network to understand the practices they use to introduce their high potential leaders to their boards. I found that while 65% share talent review data with their boards – including succession plans and biographies for high potentials – only 15% arrange for some kind of meeting between high potentials and the board.
Why is this practical leadership development technique overlooked? Perhaps it's because human resources leaders aren’t sure how to structure interactions between their boards and key leaders in a way that is meaningful.
First, you need to define "key leaders." This will be different for different organizations. If your most important leadership development priority is CEO succession, you might limit to those on the CEO succession plan. If you’re trying to develop a pipeline of future leaders who can form your top team, you should look one level down. In either case, you should limit the population to those who you think have the ability and interest to move to the next level.
Next, put leadership development on the board agenda. Before you can engage your board with your key leaders, you need to raise the topic with them. Share your desire to enlist them in developing key leaders, and solicit their feedback. Set the expectation that they’ll participate in discussions with key leaders and that they will provide feedback on those leaders.
Then, identify the methods you’ll use to create meaningful interactions between your board and your key leaders. Consider the following:
1. Invite key leaders to present at board meetings. Often, CEOs keep board meeting attendance to an extremely narrow group. This prevents the board from learning firsthand about leaders lower in the organization. It also eliminates a great development tool for up-and-coming leaders. Organize speakers around the board’s existing agenda to ensure content is meaningful and discussions are real. For each topic, consider whether a key leader from the organization could provide information to the board. Give the board information about the key leader prior to the meeting, and solicit their feedback afterward. Assign one member of the executive team (the CEO, HR, or the individual’s boss) to share any developmental feedback from the board with the key leader.
2. Enlist key leaders in new board member onboarding. Most companies already invest time onboarding new board members. Restructure this to allow key leaders to share information about the business with new board members. You could arrange for several key leaders to discuss different topics with each new board member, or assign one key leader to review all topics and serve as an ongoing resource for each new board member.
3. Design board meetings around opportunities to interact with key leaders. Perhaps you’ll hold a board meeting in a different location so board members can see a new facility and have dinner with key leaders from that location. You should provide the board bios for the key leaders (and vice versa) so everyone is prepared to make the most of the interaction.
4. Create a thoughtful, short-term mentoring relationship between a board member and a key leader. This works best when you have identified a specific development need in one of your key leaders (comfort with a new business model or geography) and a strength in one of your board members. Speak to each person individually and share the objectives and suggested timeframe for the interaction. Depending on the individuals involved, you may want to schedule the meetings and provide your key leader with some proposed talking points to help get the conversation flowing.
I am often asked about leadership development programs with “extracurricular” projects that culminate in presentations to the board of directors. I’m not in favor of these. In most cases, they create a lot of work for high performing leaders (most of whom probably have more work than they can do already) and rarely translate into real opportunities for the business.
Most boards already have responsibility for CEO succession planning, but few are engaged in developing key leaders lower in the organization. Boards can be valuable participants in leadership development. The key is thoughtful planning to ensure the approach is consistent with the culture and tenor of the board.
This article was originally published in Forbes on February 24, 2017.
In January I claimed that the gig economy isn’t just for ride-sharing services. Smart leaders are taking advantage of it to source top talent for their businesses, and motivated workers who feel left behind by globalization, outsourcing, off-shoring, and technology are turning to it for fresh opportunities.
From 2006-2016, the United States lost 2 million manufacturing jobs. If the recent election is any indication, many Americans feel their job opportunities have been materially diminished. For communities that lost a large employer, the obvious remaining jobs neither replace the income nor the security provided by the factory.
Technology and globalization were big contributors to the decline of the U.S. manufacturing sector, but they also helped create a new set of opportunities for workers unsatisfied with the jobs or education opportunities available in their communities.
According to Upwork, 55 million Americans are working as freelancers — that’s 35% of the nation’s workforce. If you aren’t happy with the traditional job or education opportunities in your community, consider what the gig economy has to offer. Here’s how:
1. Check Out Free And Low-Cost Ways to Build New Skills
Technology has created almost unlimited ways of learning new stuff. Consider massive open online courses (MOOCs). Available to anyone with an internet connection, MOOCs offer high-quality virtual courses from some of the world’s best universities — in many cases for free. Two great places to start are edX and Coursera. You’ll find courses in computer programming, engineering, graphic design, leadership and many other subjects. They even have integrated programs that build to certificates or degrees which can help you demonstrate your knowledge to others.
According to a study published in Harvard Business Review, MOOCs have a real impact on the people who take them: 72% reported career benefits and 61% reported educational benefits. Further, people with less education are more likely to report benefits. These courses offer real, practical ways for people to build the skills that are in demand today.
2. Investigate Your Gig Options
Consider Freelancer.com, the world’s largest freelancing and crowdsourcing marketplace (think eBay for work). Through Freelancer.com, employers hire people to do work in software development, writing, graphic design, data entry, and many other fields. Most jobs can be done from anywhere in the world (even your house).
Joe Griston, regional director for Freelancer.com, said there’s no “typical” freelancer on the site — people come from many parts of the world and many walks of life. From the young professional in New York City using the site to supplement her traditional job’s income to the worker in Vietnam who teaches himself software development and earns far more than he would in alternative local employment. These jobs are not low-quality work for low pay; 47% of projects on Freelancer.com are awarded to the median bidder or higher. Companies look beyond price and seek freelancers with strong profiles and a track record of successful projects.
If this sounds inspiring to you, spend an hour Freelancer.com or one of the other sites that bring together independent workers and the businesses that hire them (Work Market and Upwork come to mind). If you don’t feel qualified for the work that interests you, find a MOOC to help.
If working with a computer isn’t your thing, the gig economy may still be for you. TaskRabbit matches people who need household help with people who can do the job. As a “tasker” you could hang shelves, run errands, paint, spread mulch, or assemble furniture. If you like to work with your hands and that doesn’t spark your interest, consider what you might build and sell on Etsy. They have over 40 million people buying and selling on their site, and some of the sellers live off their income.
Choosing gig jobs over traditional employment is not without risks. Income and workload can both be unpredictable. Gig jobs don’t come with benefits like health insurance, disability or workers’ compensation. But organizations like the Freelancers Union can help you navigate your options for these and other benefits often provided by traditional employers.
Gig working has several upsides: control over day-to-day work schedule, the ability to lean in (or out) to accommodate life, and the chance to develop a niche expertise which might not have been possible in a traditional job. And for workers unhappy with job opportunities in their communities, the gig economy together with technology-enabled education offers a real way for them to reskill and change their lives.
One more reason the gig economy isn’t just for rides.
This article was originally published in Forbes on January 4, 2017.
The gig economy isn’t just for ride-sharing services and odd jobs. Smart leaders are taking advantage of it to source highly qualified knowledge workers — and, with a little preparation, you can too. Here’s how.
The first step is to learn a bit about the gig economy.
The freelance economy grew to 55 million Americans this year — 35% of the nation’s workforce. This trend doesn’t just exist among service workers. We also see it among professionals who have been trained at tops schools and firms. Why? There are a few reasons:
The second step is to ask yourself: What’s in it for me?
The most immediate benefit is to shift labor costs from fixed to variable. But there are other less quantifiable and possibly even more valuable benefits:
The third step is to prepare your organization to effectively use freelance labor.
There are several aspects to consider, ranging from the pragmatic (budgeting) to the emotional (organizational culture).
The final step is to access the freelance labor market.
Historically, this market has been opaque and fragmented. If you didn’t already know someone, the cost of finding, vetting and contracting with a freelancer was high. Fortunately, this is no longer the case. There are a few strategies you can use to make it easier:
This article was originally published on Forbes November 29, 2016
Traditional leadership models no longer work. While most everyone has a boss, most bosses no longer have the power to get things done on their own. Why?
Companies have complex structures where power is distributed. Engaging employees (which we know is important for results) requires that people understand and buy into decisions. Work is increasingly done through short-term project teams and not through static organizational hierarchies.
Recently I spoke with my friend Julie Williamson, chief growth enabler for Karrikins Group, and we considered how to make sense of leadership in this context. Like me, Julie studies organizations to understand why things happen the way they do and how we can do it better. We identified three questions today’s leaders should ask themselves to increase their impact.
1. Are you influential?
Your positional power is no longer enough to be successful. Hierarchical teams with a positional leader are less prevalent than they were before. Virtual, matrix and temporary teams without a positional leader have become much more common and are, in fact, the way lots of important work gets done.
We see three main reasons for this.
2. Can you adapt your leadership style for different situations?
Leaders who depend on positional authority and command-and-control behaviors are often unable to adapt to situations that require a different type of leadership. Today’s leader must be able to access and engage different leadership styles.
Rather than expecting dispersed members of virtual, matrix, and temporary teams to adhere to traditional leadership paradigms, leaders must be highly flexible and adjust their approaches to fit the conditions and objectives of any project. Nick Petrie of the Center for Creative Leadership conducted a study about future trends in leadership and concluded that the attributes most valuable to future leaders are adaptability, self-awareness, boundary spanning, collaboration and network thinking.
These are very different than the leadership competencies we were talking about five to 10 years ago. Leaders may still be called upon to manage tasks and make decisions, but those skills are different than the agility that’s required of leaders now. One simple strategy to build your leadership agility is this: At the end of the day, ask yourself where you could have led better and why. And, tomorrow, try it differently.
3. Do you know when to follow?
Professor of Finance John S. McCallum defined followership as the ability to take direction well, to get in line behind a program, to be part of a team, and to deliver what is expected. We spend tremendous money, energy and rhetoric on leadership, which signals to people that leading is better than following. But in an environment where no one and everyone is the leader, and an environment where people move in and out of leadership roles, the ability to follow others is increasingly important.
A good leader can see when someone else is leading in a positive direction and make a choice to follow effectively, without taking over. A compelling example of this is the shirtless dancing guy interpreted by entrepreneur Derek Sivers, who emphasizes that being the first follower is an underappreciated leadership role. It requires humility and it requires confidence in others. When positional leadership is less relevant, followership becomes increasingly important, because without followers, there are no leaders.
Positional leadership is still valid and useful in certain environments, but in hyperconnected, complex, interdependent, transparent and collective environments, positional leadership is no longer enough. Today’s effective leaders will operate in ambiguity, make sense out of nonsense, and apply different leadership styles quickly and comfortably. They will move fluidly between leading and following as objectives shift, projects emerge, and teams form and dissolve. Our environment requires a new paradigm for leadership because it no longer comes with the position.