NY Times: Interview of Kon Leong: Interviewing for Brains and Drive

NY Times Interview of Kon Leong Interviewing for Brains and Drive

Brains and drive are the real prerequisites of future successful hires

The New York Times had a great interview with Kon Leong co-founder, president, and chief executive of ZL Technologies, an e-mail and file archiving company. One of the things that really struck me in the interview was the way that he spoke to his interviewing process. I know that in my line of work we spend a lot of time trying to identify people who are “great fits” for the job. In our case, this often means Systems Engineering and other technical backgrounds. I thought it was interesting that he never once mentioned this in his coverage of his interview process. He was truly focused on what that person wanted and where they wanted to be. Basically, he said he was looking for people with “brains and drive” because those are the real prerequisites for the job. I don’t know that we will completely do away with our vetting for technical skills but the interview definitely made me re-think some of what we emphasize.

We have lucked into some great people that only made it onto our team because they came recommended by someone we respected or we had a chance to work with them before hiring them. It makes me wonder how many great candidates we miss because they don’t fit the precise technical background we are looking for in most of our positions. In fact some of our positions do require very specific technical skills. However, we look for these technical skills across a far broader number of roles than we probably need to and for every role in our company the most important skills or prerequisites are really those he mentions, drive and brains. As long as you have those we can probably teach you the rest, without them it doesn’t matter what type of technical chops you have—you won’t be successful.

In short he asks a lot of soft skill questions, which makes me think of the blog post I wrote about the “5 skill areas needed to transform your organization,” which includes personal productivity as one of those areas of focus. Kon Leong broadens the lens to focus in on the core beliefs, work ethic, and raw materials a person is bringing to the job. He also focuses on their ability to think outside the box and make their own judgments. These are critical skills in today’s business world because so much of the work that we do is fluid in nature. Technical experts and other specialists are becoming rarer except in the largest organizations as middle management shrinks and the day-to-day business of doing business changes to accommodate the rapid pace of innovation and evolving operating environments. Kon Leong seems very focused on getting people who can evolve, scale, and make their own decisions—perfect for the rapidly changing environment I describe in Why do I need to “Transform” my organization?

Here are some of the specific questions Kon Leong mentions using in the NYT article in interviews:

  • I would want to know your goals for the job. Is it money? Learning? Fulfillment?
  • How willingly do you accept stuff, and how willing are you to question things?
  • How creative are you in finding your own answers?
  • Are you willing to learn from your mistakes? Do you do that automatically?
  • Are you willing to set the bar higher?
  • Are you able to deal with failure? Can you bounce back from it?

What do you think about this sort of open ended approach to interviewing? Where do you focus your questions within interviews?

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.

Jiu-Jitsu at the Office

bjj2

Over the past year I’ve spoken specifically on “Dealing with Executive Stress” and more generally on personal performance. In today’s blog I’d like to talk about something I feel has been exceptionally helpful in dealing with stress as well as helped me develop skills that have enhanced my personal performance in the workplace. About four years ago I got started doing Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, I’d played basketball for years in an attempt to stave off weight gain, relieve stress and get some exercise but my body was breaking down on me. My knees hurt, my back ached and I generally worried that my body was going to give out. I have loved playing basketball since I was a kid even thought my career ended when I stopped growing as freshman in high school. My wife pushed me to try a class at NOVAMMA where she was taking a boot camp for crazy mom’s willing to get up at 5AM and get yelled at to run faster. I did and fell in love with this low impact sport that combines physical and mental execution. So how does this map to personal performance or organizational transformation? Well…

There is no doubt that Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) is great for the body. Over the past four years I’ve dropped 50 pounds and I feel better than I’ve felt in 20 years. But I also feel better prepared mentally to be able to engage at the office. Here’s why:

  1. Human Chess: BJJ forces you to think, react and act while you aren’t at your best. It forces you to push your body through aches, pains and physical exhaustion all while thinking about the next move or how best to deal with the current position you are in. This ability to focus under pressure has a direct relationship to my work.
  2. Physical Endurance: Executives live grueling lives occasionally. Being physically fit is an advantage. I’ve heard a lot of people say that they don’t have time for exercise but I think maintaining a certain level of fitness enables you to push harder when you need it and helps you to have a physical reserve you can draw on in order to push through a particularly tough negotiation, proposal or other on the job emergency.
  3. Stay in the moment: Success in BJJ is often predicated on your ability to make decisions in the moment. I think this is very important in business where so often the temptation is to create an ingenious plan that extends too far into the future. I believe in planning, but I also believe in staying focused on the moment so that you give yourself the best possible opportunity to achieve each step of that plan in turn.
  4. Always have a plan B (and C): I talked above about the ability to stay in the moment, however BJJ also rewards planners and succeeding often means being able to chain together several movements that will entice your opponent to counter until you have put yourself in position the to win.
  5. 1% Everyday: This is perhaps the greatest thing I’ve learned from BJJ. Our instructor is constantly telling us to find a way to get a little bit better everyday. If you can’t attend class then you should watch video, if you can’t watch video then you should work on visualizing technique. No matter what there is something you can do every day to get a little bit better.
  6. Enjoy the Grind: Getting better at BJJ and work can both be a grind. If don’t enjoy what you are doing you probably won’t end up being that successful in doing it. I enjoy the grind and hard work that goes into getting a little better at BJJ everyday the same way I enjoy working to improve the skills I bring to the office. I believe one of the keys to being successful in any endeavour is either figuring out how to enjoy the process of improving or figuring out how to do something where you will enjoy the process of improving. It takes a lot of hard work to get good at something as I mentioned in “5 keys to mastering anything.” If you don’t enjoy it you probably won’t put in the time necessary to succeed.

 

I certainly don’t think Jiu-Jitsu is unique in providing this type of benefit to work life. I’ve talked to plenty of friends that play golf, hockey, chess, and many other endeavors outside of work and many report a carryover effect from their hobby or activity to their work life. For me Jiu-Jitsu has become something that gives me a physical release from the stress of work, provides a real health benefit by helping me stay in shape and has helped me to continue to refine habits around hard work and mental focus that pays real dividends in the office. I think the real take away here should be that I believe it is important that people have things outside the office that provide a healthy break from that part of their life while still building good skills, habits and enhancing their ability to execute in the office. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve walked into a Jiu-Jitsu class feeling the incredible stress of a hard day at the office and walked out feeling relaxed and ready to take on the world the next day. What do you do to relive stress? Do your hobby help you on the job? How?

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.

SAAS and a tropical vacation- Their surprising similarities

SAAS and a tropical vacation

SAAS-Like a trip to the beach without the travel headaches

Over the past few years Software as a Service (SAAS) and cloud offerings have become more and more prevalent in our recommendations to our clients, particularly when clients are coming to us to help them look for cost savings. In both the public and private sector cost has become the single most cited reason for clients requesting our services.  However for clients, particularly those coming to us from the “business” side of the house as opposed to the technology side of the house, there is something especially scary about capabilities that reside “off-site.” I think for many people there is comfort in knowing that they own the hardware, software, and even the building in which their capability resides. To my mind, this is representative of old-world thinking that simply won’t be sustainable as we move forward. The economics of multi-tenancy “where a single instance of the software runs on a server, serving multiple client organizations (tenants),[1]” is simply too powerful to be ignored for long. I’ve told clients that it’s like taking a vacation to Jamaica without having to endure the travel time. You get the same results. You end up in a nice sunny, warm place with great beaches—but you get to avoid the travel time, skip the long lines and bypass the cramped seats. SAAS and cloud offerings give you all of the benefit minus many of the headaches. You don’t have to procure and manage the hardware/software, in fact you avoid most of the “other” distractions and costs that come along with owning your software capabilities.

Of course you don’t really avoid the costs, they are simply bundled into the solution you are receiving. Ideally this is happening in a manner that enables the vendor to take advantage of large economies of scale resulting in better performance at the same or a lessor price point. Of course it isn’t all benefit. It does require some reskilling for IT professionals in order to enable your organization to get maximum value. You need to be able to “shift from delivering IT solutions to brokering business capabilities.[2]” You also need to be able to understand the security, data implications, access and other factors that will affect your corporate data. This area deserves a much richer treatment than I can give in this blog post but for those interested a great place to start is with the recent MIT Center for Information Systems Research (CISR) paper “Embrace the Inevitable: Six Imperatives to Prepare Your Company for Cloud Computingby Mooney, Ross and Phipps. For the purposes of this post, suffice it to say that the concerns most people have center around security, access to data, and flexibility. These are all real concerns, which is why you still need great technologists available within the organization in order to help you develop solutions that meet your specific business requirements. However, I will say that sometimes these concerns are overhyped.

I will use security as my example. I believe that with many SAAS and cloud vendors capability in this area probably far exceeds what you may currently have in house simply because the impact of a breech would have such negative consequences. Salesforce CEO Benioff talks about the importance of security to his offering because companies like Dell and Cisco are putting some of their most important data, their customer data into the solution. The ripple effect of a loss of confidence in their security model would have enormous ramifications for the business. Therefore they are incredibly focused on delivering in a secure fashion. I personally find it hard to believe that given the combination of the reduction of the importance of security to the business model and the more standardized technology architecture that SAAS and cloud vendors don’t have an easier time securing their solutions. Think about it like this—the Department of Agriculture has more than 700 applications all with different architectures. How much more difficult is this to secure than a SAAS vendor with 700 clients all using the same application on a standard architecture and with an overriding business imperative to be secure or risk losing all of those clients in rapid fashion. I’m not saying the SAAS vendor will be more secure, I just think the design forces favor them. What do you think? Most of us have gotten used to the SAAS service delivery model in our personal lives and transact business and interact via social media using these services everyday. Are you ready to make the leap to take your organization there?


[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Multitenancy

[2] Embrace the Inevitable: Six Imperatives to Prepare Your Company for Cloud Computing, Mooney (2012)

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.

How to sweat the small stuff without ending up stinky

how to sweat the small stuff without ending up stinky

Small steps can be just as important as the big ones

Business process re-engineering doesn’t have to be a boil the ocean approach to transforming your business. I don’t have any scientific evidence to support this but I believe that the most missed opportunities to improve are the little ones we have in front of us everyday. I’m not advocating against “Thinking Big,” I’m just saying that you shouldn’t be so focused on enterprise transformation that you miss the 1% improvements that add up over time. I believe that many managers miss out on maximizing their value proposition to the organization because they aren’t able to execute on small change initiatives in a meaningful way. These smaller 30, 60 or 90 day initiatives include re-engineering internal workflows, automating internal processes, and course corrections to major programs. The dollars are generally small and the rewards for any one won’t get you an award at the annual holiday party, but over time these are the types of improvements that move the needle for an organization as a whole. Here are 5 things to think about before you decide to move out on that small change effort you’ve been thinking about.

  1. Take the big picture or system view: I know this post is all about little improvements—just remember the big picture and try not to work against it. Thinking big picture helps you ensure you don’t miss the really important thing that happens just before the process you are focusing on.
  2. Think about the data: In most organizations, everything else changes faster than the data. People, technology, and processes—they all change fairly quickly. Understanding information requirements around a process improvement opportunity often gives you a chance to think about it without the confusion of technology and other factors. In the end, many of the improvement opportunities you will find in any organization center on more effectively moving, manipulating, or otherwise acting on information that has been used for years to support the business.
  3. Remember the human factor: Ever sat in a place and wondered how it was possible that nobody had fixed problem “x” yet? You’ve been on site for five minutes and you can tell right away what’s wrong. Most of the time there is a reason that obvious improvement opportunities go unexploited. Many times it’s a people issue. Many times an unwillingness to change comes from a fear or uncertainty about the effect of change. People are often the biggest obstacle to change and you often need to be prepared to sell people on why they should change, even when the existing process seems so obviously broken to you.
  4. Beware scope creep: Little improvements have a way of morphing into massive programs over the course of a cup of coffee. The temptation to keep pulling on the thread of an improvement opportunity until you have completely re-organized the company is hard to resist.
  5. Remember you still need to manage change: Little improvements can go a long way, but one of the downsides to smaller improvement efforts is the costs of change management isn’t anticipated and the effort falls short because there is no money to update the SOP, provide training, etc. The bells and whistles that get included with major transformation efforts often get left out. Informal or small programs still need planning to ensure that there is documentation, training, etc. Without these, the value of these small changes is severely limited.

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.

Look Good, Play Good

look good, play good

Sometimes all it takes to get in the successful mindset is the right suit

I was getting ready to go to the office this morning and was putting a tie on in my bedroom while my oldest daughter watched TV. She looked over at me fussing with my tie and asked a pretty normal question, “Daddy, why do you wear a tie?” Without even thinking I said, “It lets people know I’m in charge.” To which her response, which I’m sure her mother, has already put on Facebook was “I thought Mommy was in charge.” I of course replied, “At work—Cameron—so people at work know I’m in charge.” Besides realizing that my five year old has figured out who is in charge on the home front it got me thinking about why I do wear a tie. The fact is that I wear a suit and tie to work about 90% of the time with jeans and a sweater reserved for really sloppy days with no meetings. So why do I do it? Washington, DC is a bit more formal town than many and there is certainly some peer pressure to look “professional,” but I’m not doing it for external reasons. I do it because it makes me feel like I’m ready to go, kind of like when superman hits the phone booth and comes out wearing tight fitting jammies and a cape, I know that when I walk out my front steps in a suit and tie I’m ready to take on the world.

So, do the clothes make the man? I really don’t think so, but they do make you feel a certain way. I had a baseball coach in college that was adamant that we wear practice uniforms. We all wanted to shag flies in shorts and t-shorts and he had us just short of game ready every day. He would sit in the dugout with his too tight coaching shorts on and scream at us for “looking slack” or “not looking like a ball player.” “Look good, play good” was his mantra and he hammered away at it whenever he felt we hadn’t lived up to his standard—not just of play but of looking ready to play. Looking back on it, I think he wanted us to look like ball players because it made us feel like ball players, which hopefully translated into us playing like ball players. It didn’t always work but he was a pretty successful coach over a lot of years. I think he was on to something. How you look contributes to how you feel and gets you ready to be successful. I’ve talked a lot about mental preparation and the importance of visualization as a means of preparing yourself to be successful. For me, getting “dressed for success” is just a part of that process of getting in the mindset to be successful. Whether I have a big meeting or I’m just working in teams, I like to look ready to succeed.

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.

Immodium for the Mouth: Three questions to ask before you speak

Immodium for the mouth

Blindly leading conversation can create awkward and sometimes painful blunders

There is nobody that loves to hear me talk more than me. I’d love to say it is the effect of years of working as a consultant, but the fact is that even as a kid I was a talker. In fact, one time I got off an airplane and when I met my mom at the gate the lady that had sat next to me came up to my mom and said, “I had a nice time speaking on the flight with your son, I think I know everything there is to know about your family.” As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned to semi-control my tongue and listen and it has paid dividends. In fact, I now make a very conscious effort to let other people talk first whether it’s a chance meeting over coffee, casual conversation at a dinner party, or a business negotiation. In addition to being polite it also gives me a chance to gain situational awareness, understand the other person’s point of view, and gain the advantage of getting a bit better understanding of the person’s current emotional state before I start speaking. It turns out that a lot of people like to be the person doing the talking and by being a good listener you not only give yourself a chance to learn, you are also giving them a priceless gift—caring.

 It turns out that what many people want is to be listened to and to have their ideas valued. By listening to them you are showing that you respect them and their thoughts. This is an incredibly powerful thing that can really change the tenor of a relationship, particularly in the early stages. I think the following three things should be going through your mind before you rush to fill the next lull in a conversation:

  1. Is my foot headed for my mouth? I think most people have had the horrifying experience of sticking their foot directly into their mouth during a conversation. Whether it’s telling a the joke that really isn’t funny because their sister had that problem or just hitting a little too close to home, this can end a friendship before it begins or kill a business deal. Listening first gives you a chance to know what not to say.
  2. Do I fully understand the conversation? When you talk first, you are providing all of the information and feeding the other persons awareness at the expense of your own understanding. Sometimes there is an advantage to speaking first because it allows you to claim a particular position, but I have found more often then not that you get more from letting others speak first. It gives you a chance to add their understanding of the situation to your existing understanding of the situation, which hopefully puts you in the position of having an informational advantage.
  3. Am I missing a chance to learn? There is a great quote from the playwright Wilson Mizer who wrote The Deep Purple where he says “A good listener is not only popular everywhere, but after a while he gets to know something.” The simple fact is that it is hard to learn while flapping your gums. By taking time to listen you have time to learn.

If you think of these before you speak you will learn more and have more successful conversations. Most people believe the most important thing that will be said in any conversation is whatever they are going to say next. Giving them the opportunity to say it will build your relationship at a minimum and most of the time it will ensure you are as well prepared as possible when it is your time to speak. I think it is pretty rare that the “First mover advantage” that is so sought after in business is a factor in conversation where going second often means having better information.

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.

Thinking in the Moment: Three things you should drop everything for and do right now

stopwatch-60204_640 (1)

Recognizing when and what to drop everything for and just do it is a valuable skill

In my blog post on “Getting Things Done: Three key takeaways that will change your performance,I mentioned that one of the biggest takeaways that I had from the book  Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress Free Productivity by David Allen were his thoughts on getting anything you can get done in under two minutes done now. Months later, I think this may be the single biggest takeaway from the book. One of the things it has done over time is help me realize just how much waste there is in delaying most things. You almost never have the same sense of a matter hours later that you have when the thought struck and if your memory is starting to get dicey like mine, you may never get a second shot at what you thought of in the moment. I realize that you can’t do everything in a stream of conscious fashion and being structured yields real and tangible results. In fact, most people don’t realize just how much of their success is tied up in the slow grind of working on something a little bit at a time with fierce regularity. As Americans, we live a lot of our lives at a sprint, but it is incredibly difficult to really build a skill in a sprint. So I’m not advocating that you simply throw out your calendar or chuck your to-do list and live in the moment, however I do think it is important to recognize when you have something that might be best accomplished by doing it right now—in the moment.

For me, there are three things I’ve found it’s useful to drop everything for and do right now:

  1. Big Ideas: I’m the type of person that gets big ideas in weird places and strange times. It is almost a given that if I’ve been trying to figure something out all day, I’ll get my great idea right after I’ve laid down to go to sleep at night. I’ve taken to keeping a notepad next to my bed so that I can write the idea down now. Too often if I sleep on it, the idea just isn’t there in the morning. If I’m in the car, I’ll dictate a voice memo and on the rare occasions when an idea comes and I’m at the office, I go sit down and write it down right way. Big ideas are important; don’t let them slip away.
  2. Stuff I don’t want to do: As a reformed procrastinator (with the exception of doing dishes), I have really pushed to do the things I don’t want to do as quickly as I can. Making a painful phone call, having a difficult meeting, or doing whatever horrible thing it is that you are avoiding on your to-do list won’t get better—but it may get worse.
  3. Anything I keep thinking about: This one is a little more difficult, but I know that there are certain things that just nag at me. Even if I’ve followed GTD best practice and written them down they still keep following me. I’ve decided to take this as a sign and just get them done.

Basically if I can do it and I’m thinking of it I try to do it now, even if it breaks my regularly scheduled routine a little bit. I’ve found that I’m usually more excited about doing something I’m thinking about now and who knows, maybe my sub-conscious is better at prioritizing activities than my conscious self.

 

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.