Dealing with the oversaturation of your inbox

Email

I get a lot of email.  Between the different things that I’m involved in with my kids, friends, work and random other things I’m engaged in, it translates into lots of mail. It also sometimes translates into important things that probably should be kept track of but due to the sheer volume of emails incoming daily, isn’t always the easiest task. I was brought face to face with this reality again, not because I missed something but because of the effect missing someone can have on somebody.  That person was me.

Recently I’ve been working on getting a meeting with somebody that is fairly important to a business venture we’re developing. I’ve been trying to set up a mutually agreeable calendar date for a while and then finally I got an agreement for today.  I told him that I couldn’t wait to get together and how happy I was that he was going to be in DC.   The only times I couldn’t get together today were from 9-10 and 10-11. So a couple more email exchanges go back and forth then finally an email comes back saying the time he could and wanted to get together was from 10 to 11.  I read it and I was really disappointed because my current 10-11 meeting was a meeting that I couldn’t move. So I sit there and I spend about an hour trying to figure out if I should I try to move my current 10-11 which was also a very important and hard to get meeting.

I didn’t want to cancel the meeting that I already had.  It’s something that I just really hate doing. I think it’s really unfair to do that especially considering this was late last night at the last minute. So finally after much deliberation I decided to just write back and let him know that I just can’t do it at that time. I asked if there was any way to do it at the end of my current 10-11.  So after I had spent the better part of an hour stressing out and going back and forth over this thing and I send it back. Two minutes later I get and email saying, “Ok great! Love to do it and looking forward to seeing you at 11!”  So I had spent all this time being very concerned about something that my guess is, the person on the other end of the line didn’t put a whole lot of thought into.

There are a couple things you can take away from this. One of which is that it reinforces the point that if you have something really important, maybe you should pick up the phone an call them. What didn’t come through in the email is the nuance of it. I thought that the person was making a very serious point that that was the only time they had today so it was then or never. In actuality as I saw by the reply that was not the case. Maybe I could have said anytime during the day today and it would have been fine.  So it highlights the fact that while email is great for a lot of things, you don’t get all the nuance that you get from a phone conversation, Skype, Facetime, etc.

The other takeaway for me was making sure that I don’t miss any important facts due to skimming or skipping when trying to deal with the massive influx of digital communications on a daily basis.  I know that over time, you get copied on things all the time. Maybe as that continues to happen you read less and less details than you would otherwise and the tendency is to do a lot of skimming.  I’m sure that I’ve missed a lot of important things due to this trap. Basically I think that with email, especially when you get to the point where you’re cc’ed on so many things, you need some way of making sure that you don’t miss the important things. One way of doing that is to reduce the amount of things that you’re copied on and try to get people to let you know some way if it’s important.  If I’m on an email to keep me in the loop and there’s something that I really need to read, I need some way of knowing its importance.

I think one of the problems that has occurred over time is that in a lot of organizations the easiest thing to do is to add people to the email and allow people to opt into conversations if they so choose. This way people are eventually able to keep themselves in the loop if they want to be. The problem that this causes is over time it becomes harder to separate the things that are really important from the things that aren’t.  So this is one of the areas where it’s really nice to have a sort of collaboration capability in place where you’re able to opt into things. This is something that Salesforce excels at. If you look at chatter, it allows you to opt into ongoing conversations that are coming through the newsfeed. At the same time if you really need to get in touch with someone specifically, you can direct an email or something like that to them. It helps creates another tier in your communications strategy that allows you to keep people from dismissing things that might be important because they assume it’s part of this large stream of communications. So I’m curious as always to hear about anyone else’s ideas for how to manage the everyday overflow of digital communications.

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.

Make somebody’s day and show your appreciation

Make soebodys day blog

No matter who you are I think it’s always nice to get a compliment especially if it comes out of the blue and you weren’t expecting it. Somebody says something nice and it can just change your whole day.  For the better part of the last week or so I’ve been working pretty hard on things and I’ve had my head down. So when I had somebody kind of unexpectedly say something really nice it just completely brightened up my entire day and it’s sort of carried forward the rest of the week. It’s amazing; you can have all the self confidence in the world, you can believe in what you’re doing, and it’s still nice to hear someone say, “Hey you’re doing a great job” or “I believe in what you’re doing.”  A simple compliment can make a lot of the time and effort that you spend worthwhile.

I think the biggest reminder in that for executives and managers is that sometimes you got staff that work really hard all the time. It’s not that they’re not doing anything extraordinary they’re just doing the great things that they do all the time at all times. It’s easy to forget that what they’re doing really is exceptional.  So I think you almost have to file a reminder away somewhere to make sure that you don’t overlook the everyday excellence. You need to take time to compliment people for the great things they do every day.  I know I’ve talked about it a few different times on here about making sure that you give credit and provide feedback both positive and negative. Particularly making sure that you provide positive feedback where it’s applicable but I think it’s something that’s really easy to forget the power that a quick little bit of positive feedback or compliment can have on a person.

Having that occurrence the other day just reminded me of how important that is to everybody, no matter who you are. It makes a difference, raises your performance, re-energizes you, and I think it’s something that everybody should try to do on a regular basis. So if you haven’t done it recently and you’ve got people sitting in your office today that really deserve a compliment for all their hard work, make sure you take the time to walk by, pick up the phone or get on a conference line and say thanks for all the hard work. Make sure to shoot them a quick note because it really makes a difference for people to be recognized for all the hard work they put in every day. Anyway I’d love to hear back from people and get their thoughts on things and if you want to call out somebody in particular for all their hard work and effort feel free to here.

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.

Closing in on Crunch Time: 3 Things to think about

crunch_time_colour_skin_riproarrex_by_sr71abcd-d4vskt1

As your projects get down to deadline there are three things that can cause major problems as you get down to the wire. If a team has problems delivering at some point, they can probably trace back some of the issues that they had in achieving their goal to these things.

  1. General time wasters – By this I mean all the conversations at the front end and back end of solutioning activities. It’s the hallway talk that’s more interesting than staying focused on the task that you’re trying to grind your way through.  I think there’s a tendency in crunch time to reward small victories with the type of social interaction that most healthy working environments have on a day to day basis. It’s the 10 minutes here, 10 minutes there, snippets of conversation.  Certainly you can’t pull all of the social out of the sprint to the finish because then it just becomes a miserable death march but I think you do need to be careful about trailing into things that are counterproductive that are ultimately going to set the whole team back. It’s really easy to do because oftentimes when you’re working in those sprints within a project team you’re required to have more interaction. This is because you’re having to solve more problems faster so you get this sort of cumulative effect.
  2. You need to be more focused on how you pursue your communications – This one is directly related to the first in the sense that you need to schedule your communications explicitly and better. One of the things that falls apart as you charge towards the finish line is that the framework for project execution that may have been sustaining progress for weeks and months prior to the deadline can sometimes start to fall apart. As people take on individual challenges that need to be run to ground in order to get them finished in time, they can become so wrapped up in them that they become hard to access by other members of the team. All the sudden you’re creating choke points because you aren’t enabling the types of solutioning activities that need to occur person to person.  So as each person tries to complete their piece they’re effectively holding up everyone else’s progress on their pieces by virtue of not participating in answering a question that somebody has or whatever other type of interaction that is required to get it to the finish line.  So I think making sure that productive team wide communication is kept up is crucial.
  3. Perfect is the enemy of the good – This is all too common with teams of high performers and the types of cultures that are often found in high performing environments. You end up with a collection of people, each of whom is focused on delivering their piece to the absolute best of their ability, and sometimes what the team would really benefit from is if that person would sacrifice their personal standards just a little bit to deliver something that’s good enough to achieve the requirement that the team has.  This is something that you see all the time. Someone will obsess over a detail, specification, piece of a writing, or presentation in a way that is completely out of line with the value that that piece has to the final product. This is an absolute project killer because you need to, particularly as you’re trying to function against a deadline, have a common understanding of what good enough looks like. This gets back to what things needed to be identified at the beginning of the project but are really important in crunch time. You need to be able to identify: What are we focused on achieving here and how does what I’m dong play into the big picture?

So those are the big three things that I think get project teams in crunch time.  Two of them are very clearly social communications sort of things and I think the third one is related to that as well. There’s oftentimes a sort of self-imposed social pressure to deliver these exceptional work products when maybe what the team needs is just to get an acceptable work product across the table.  I’m curious what other people think and love to hear more.

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.

Vanilla Ice had it right: STOP, Collaborate and Listen

Vanilla Ice

One of the things that I’ve realized over the last few years is that despite the fact that I’ve gained more experience, I’ve done more formal educations, taken trainings, and built a lot of personal capabilities, I seem to have trended towards more collaborative decision making. I now spend more time talking to people about decisions before I make them then I ever had previously. On some level I think that this is counterintuitive. You would think that as you gain more skill in something and you begin to understand some things better that you would probably spend less time speaking with others before you make a decision. My assumption would be that you have the expertise to make those decisions yourself but that hasn’t been the case.

What I’ve found is that as I learn more, I’ve also learned more about what I don’t know. I’ve come to value other people’s perspectives a lot more. As you get into making complex business decisions, I think you have to fight continually against your own biases. I for one thing know that I have a tendency to be extraordinarily optimistic about everything. If I don’t have other people there to balance me, I might make decisions that are based on my tendency to look at the big picture and make a decisions that maybe doesn’t take into account some of the things that might go wrong. So I need people to help balance me in that sense.

It’s amazing to me sometimes how differently someone will look at a problem just based on their past experience and I think that’s something that people really need to recognize. So much of our own decision making framework is influenced by decisions we made in the past and the results of those decisions. I think it’s important to be really careful about the lessons that you’ve learned from past decisions because you don’t really have the scope of experience to understand if you’re taking away the right things. If you, based on a set of factors, decided to invest in a project and that project turned out poorly, you might say that if presented with those facts again you won’t make the same decision. The problem with this is that the last time could have been a unique set of circumstances where things didn’t work out. It could be that in most cases those same set of circumstances would have led to a smashing success. So I guess what I’m saying is that you’ve got to be careful about the lessons that you’ve learned  from the past because they’re based on very unique sets of circumstances and not always going to lead to the same destination.  This is where having a strong collaboration base comes in handy.

You have a very strong tool at your disposal if you maintain a network of people that you can talk with about things and you’re able to bring in their lessons learned and their decisions making frameworks. I know that when I look at a problem or decision that I’m making I immediately begin to narrow down the field of approaches to solving that problem or addressing that decision. Again this process is based on the things that are in my personal tool kit, what my experiences have been, and the types of approaches that have been successful for me.  I don’t narrow down my approaches by explicit decision, but simply because I don’t have them. So I end up leaving out a whole host of possibilities that otherwise would have been there had I spoken to people who had a broader experience. So having the opportunity to collaborate with more people has allowed me to take in a much greater set of possible approaches than I would have otherwise considered.

So all of those things have pushed me to develop this more collaborative decision making process than I previously had. Even though on the surface at least with my growing experience and expertise I should be able to make more of those decisions without outside help, I’ve actually trended more towards that collaborative process. I really do think that there are a lot of great things that come with experience, a better understanding of situations, and issues but one of the things that you can lose if you’re not careful is that broader spectrum of experience. I think that’s a real trap that senior executives need to avoid.  They need to be careful on how heavily they weight their own experience because you may be closing off a world of possibilities that otherwise you’d be able to take advantage of.  So I’m a big believer in reaching out to your personal network, establishing a group of trusted advisors within your circle of friends, and colleagues so that you can have somebody to bounce things off of and get access to that broader range of experience. As always I’m very interested in what other people’s experiences are in this area and what they think.

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.

Context: Looking beyond the obvious

One of the things that is pretty interesting as you spend some time talking to people about how they look at information to make decisions and what are the things that are really important is you hear about the power of context.  So to give a great example we’re working with an organization to create comprehensive security assessments. We want a way for them to understand, across all of their facilities, what are the critical factors in ensuring they were as secure as thy could be. This means what are all things that were directly related to the security of the facilities themselves like:

  • Are the fences in good condition?
  • What kind of fences do you have?
  • Do you have closed circuit televisions and where do you have it?
  • What type of policies do you have for people entering the building, background checks, and security planning

All of these different factors and an immense number of other things go into securing a facility. While those things are all important and this particular organization had specific standards, policies, and all these different things it had to adhere that went into how the organization was supposed to secure these facilities, it wasn’t taking into account some critical factors in how secure those facilities really were. So it was the contextual data that as they looked to plan what they were going to do in terms of shoring up their security, it couldn’t just be did they meet all of the standards alone.

While the standards are good and they help you get an understanding of how prepared you might be in a bad situation or if your existence is in a perennial troublesome state, it didn’t really give you a complete picture. To get a complete picture you had to understand the contextual data. You had to understand crime statistics. So if a facility that is in an area where, compared to the national average, there are an extraordinarily high number of homicides, violent crimes, assaults, thefts, and things like that, well all the sudden those physical security assessment characteristics take on a whole new meaning. It becomes a much more critical thing to have fences when those fences are the only thing separating you from an outside world that is very scary. So as the organization looked to prioritize where it was going to spend its physical security resources, the most critical factor wasn’t just the status of the assessment itself but it was the context at which that status existed.

Similarly it’s not just about the facilities themselves but also about what the value of the things in those facilities is. It’s hard to say that a facility with four people requires less security infrastructure than one with a hundred because everybody is important. On the other hand I think that for most people if you look at a facility that’s got 300 people, a daycare facility, a bunch of other high value assets, or just a mass of people, those are places where you might want look to secure them earlier. Other factors might be things like the age of the facilities themselves, the age and time of the last security assessment, or the last building upgrade. These area all factors that go into helping you understand just what the real status is as opposed to simply looking at do they meet the criteria or not. It just doesn’t give you enough information to make decisions.

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.

Why we built ExAM (our Salesforce.com based Facilities Operations & Security application)

This is the story of how we got involved in developing the ExAM application for Salesforce and the problems it solves for facilities managers, security personnel and executives. Below is a transcription of the above video:

Yesterday’s Salesforce event at the Mandarin in DC got me excited to talk about Salesforce but I also wanted to talk a little bit what got us engaged in working with Salesforce. A few years back we were faced with a really difficult problem to solve. We had a client that had facilities all over the United States that had to be maintained, managed, and assessed for security. Unfortunately, the cost to fly to all those places, put staff on the ground, and get it all done in the time that was allocated was just not going to be feasible in the long term. So we started working with them and the first thing that we did was help them do a better job of capturing the data. We then helped them standardize it, looked at best practices around facilities management and security assessments, looked at the various guidelines that were out there within federal and commercial best practice, and began to develop an assessment that would enable them to understand how each of those facilities was being protected ad secured.

The next step was to figure out how to get the information to the right people. We had already figured out how we want to get the data in and we understand the information that we need to make decisions about physical security across these 200 facilities nationwide. Now we need to figure out how do we get it out to these people? How do we ensure that everyone has the access that they need, that they are able to do reporting across all of the facilities but yet still be able to understand their security posture on a facility by facility basis? So what we did was go out to the marketplace and we found Salesforce and salesforece.com. We realized this was really an incredible solution for the problem that we had. It enabled us, through a secure web interface, to deliver all over the United States. It allowed us to rapidly build value for the client because we were able to, in 90 days develop an enterprise application. Something that previously with the similar requirements had taken almost a year to develop. So it was just a very exciting discovery and we didn’t have to give up anything.

We were still able provide it to them in the exact look and feel that they wanted. It looked like the rest of their organization’s user interface. There wasn’t anything that they really had sacrificed to get there. Now they had this really incredible ability to understand their facilities nationwide in a way that they never had before whether it was looking at a map and understanding scoring at any particular school or just being able to glance at a map and see regular green and ask how am I doing and focus in there. It’s just a very easy way to accomplish that.

We were also able to tie in all that best practices and manage all the documentation that goes into one of these types of engagements. There’s always the why and not just why but how do I work with other people, so collaboration and understanding what other people are doing was also important. This tool gave us the ability to have teams be able to follow each other and understand that even if they weren’t geographically connected, you could understand what somebody else was working on. If they made a change to their assessment of a facility, added pictures, documents, or anything changed in their report, we were able to know about it. It was really groundbreaking when you think about it.

It wasn’t just us delivering a solution, it was us empowering those users to build reports for themselves and for them to be able to do their own mining of the data. You come in and you begin to understand this platform and yea, there’s some effort that goes into getting the information in and understanding what information you want to look at, but there really is an opportunity rapidly create value. You create this value not just at an enterprise level with analytics that mean something to the one group at the top that came in and helped work with us at the beginning of the project but for people to come in on their own. They can create their own analytics and make something that works for the way that they want to do their work. That’s the part that came out of the box with the Salesforce platform and we just leveraged it. So we were able to drop in all this expertise and subject matter expertise around facilities management, security, and BI but it was all enabled by the platform. So we were able to take what we knew and get there very rapidly and it’s an ongoing process.

The nice thing about this is it allows us to continue to tailor really rapidly. So when it becomes about more than just security assessments and you want to track visitors or you want to do something that is operational you can do that. You can have people come in, register through a kiosk, and then report out. You’re talking about something that was developed in three hours after a client conversation. Again it’s just a very simple way to get access to this so if you want to learn more about this go to exam4schools.com. That is exam, 4 the number, schools .com and take a look at some of the work we’re doing. This is specific in this case to the school environment but this is something that is applicable across all facilities. You could do this if you’re a large retail organization or a large federal organization. A lot of this is drawn directly on federal security standards. It’s all best practice so I hope you’ll get out and take a look at it and please share back what you think.

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.

Following through:The difference between a pop fly and a home run

Following through blog

I think everyone’s been there. Where you get off the phone, you’ve just run through a big meeting, or a long conversation and after going through a bunch of different issues you get to an agreement. Once you get resolution or you’ve figured out how to move forward, the weight of the world has been lifted off your shoulders because you’ve sorted through all these things. Then you go back, you do the rest of your work and you’re feeling pretty good about yourself. Then a day goes by or maybe a few days go by and the things that were resolved on the call or meeting don’t get done. Then, if it was a big issue before it’s even worse now because now time passed. You have finished whatever you needed to get done and now you’re in a really bad spot because the other person isn’t holding up their end of the bargain. So for me, one of the things that I really try to focus in on is following through.

I’ve written blogs in here with regard to having better meetings, about making sure you take notes of action items, and things like that but if you focus in on it from just a general perspective on life, following through is invaluable in moving you forward. I think it’s because it provides a lot of insight into who people are or insight into how you are perceived. Following through is critical because almost everyone knows the right things to say.  So saying the right thing doesn’t hold that much value because everyone can do that, it doesn’t mean anything without the actions to back it up.

I feel like you get on a call, or you’re in a meeting, or you’re talking to someone, and they’re quick to agree. They say things like, “We can do that. No problem. We’ll get that done tomorrow,” and if it doesn’t get done it’s a huge factor in shaping your impression of that person. It’s huge especially if it happens to be someone you’re in business with or you’re going into business with them; it shapes that relationship. If it’s a client, it can be an enormous roadblock to moving forward. If your client is paying you to engage in a certain fashion and you don’t follow through, if I were that client I’d be prone to move onto something else. To me, that lack of follow through would be indicative of everything else. If I can’t get you to do the things that I directly tell you to do, why would I expect that you’re going to do things that maybe we haven’t discussed but are just the right thing to do? So I think it’s a critically important thing and it’s something that I think a lot of people fail at. I don’t think they fail because they don’t want to do what they said they’re going to do, but because they don’t keep track of the things they said they want to do or the things they said they were going to do.

So I think it’s critical to make a note of what your commitments are. You verbal commitments and the things that you’ve written down in an email to somebody are just as important as financial obligations that you’ve incurred. While people normally keep really good track of how they spend their money and where they’ve obligated their money, they don’t keep very good track of how they obligated their time, their promises, and the things that they’re signed up to do. I think it’s critical to how you’re perceived out in the world. The importance of honoring your commitments is why I’m a big believer in the “Getting things done” methods and part of that is keeping track of all the things that you’re committed to. I just think there’s such a huge cost to making mistakes in this area that I think everyone should consider taking the time to manage their commitments. So I’m curious what other people think, what their experiences have been, and if there are great examples of this out there I’d love to hear them.

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.

Share the love, it’s Valentine’s Day

valentines day

Well today is Valentine’s Day and it’s generally a time when you show appreciation for those you love and those you care about.  A lot of people will probably be leaving work a little bit early today to go out with the folks they care most about and share some time together. I don’t believe it’s a bad time to think about showing some appreciation to those you work with too and not in a way that will get you in trouble with the handbook, but it’s always good to remember how much people sacrifice on a day to day basis for their jobs.  Any opportunity you get to remember that and more importantly let them know that, the better off you’ll be, especially as a manager or as an executive.  People put a lot of time and effort to making the organization successful, to making your team successful, and to being successful themselves on an individual basis.  Just taking a little bit of time to recognize that goes a long way.  I know that this is true where I’m concerned at least. I know that a little bit of encouragement or a compliment is all it takes to get me to do just a little bit more.  As silly as it seems, a few kind words can do wonders.  For instance, every once in a while when I remember to do the dishes or clean up a little bit and my wife recognizes it, it makes me happy or excited to do more.  I probably perform better and get more of my honey-do list done in the next few days then I did in the 6 weeks preceding it. I think it shows you the power of affirmation and just what a little bit of recognition can do for somebody.  I know it works for me but I’d be curious how other people feel about it; if they’ve recognized a difference in themselves in how they perform and how much effort they put forth when they’ve received a compliment.  Do you make a conscious effort to compliment others and what’s your perception of how that affects performance?

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.

Battle Royale: Talent vs. Determination

Battle Royale

I think everyone has heard the saying, “Hard work will always beat talent when talent doesn’t work hard.”  In my experience, this statement holds true.  I know that personally, I’ve always felt confident that I could outwork the other side through sheer force of determination and will alone. Whether it is athletics, academics, or work, there is almost always a way to get through a problem.  As I look back at the times when I was hiring somebody, especially when I first started looking at different people, I was hiring a lot of people based on talent and potential alone which hasn’t always worked out as well as it seemingly should have.  I recently addressed this conundrum in a blog post after I read a great interview in the New York Times with Kon Leong. He mentions that one of the things he most tries to identify in the interview process is not only smarts, but drive too.  He wanted people that were going to work hard because with those two things you could solve almost everything else.   It really changed the way I think about things.  Have you spent a lot of time being frustrated with people who you just know better than their performance shows? You know how talented they are, how smart they are, but you just aren’t seeing the results you expect from them.  I’ve sat there and wondered why this is.  Maybe they just don’t have the tools you thought they did, but I don’t think that’s the case.  I think the tools are there and maybe it’s just a lack of drive. Maybe it’s my failure to motivate or find the right way to get through to them but either way, as a manager you should position yourself to recruit for drive as well as intelligence in hopes of alleviating this problem.

I know that this may seem obvious but I think the part that we often miss is asking the questions that let you evaluate their drive.  That’s something that I’ve changed a lot and is going to be a much bigger focus in terms of trying to determine how to elicit those responses that give insight into whether people are truly driven.  I don’t know if everyone has a general drive to succeed.  Ideally, you want to find people that are passionate about solving problems and the things that you do at a minimum.  So it’s important to figure out what the right questions are and how do you make that determination early.  It’s never going to be a perfect evaluation. You have to recognize that you’re going to end up with some folks in your organization that are really smart and really talented but no matter what, you’re just not going to be able to get them to perform the way that you feel they should.  At some point you’re going to have to move those people out because if you’ve got a collection of people that have that drive and that ambition and you have a couple folks that aren’t on the program, you will not reach your potential as an organization.

This is just like being on a team when you’re a kid and your coach would say things like, “Everyone is a team here and we need to pull together,” or “We’re only as strong as our weakest link,” and I think these clichés among others are just as applicable in your work life as they were in athletics as a kid.  If you have somebody that doesn’t have the desire or the drive to push, they’re not there for the same reasons, or they’re detracting from everybody else’s efforts then you need to really question how long you want to wait for that drive or ambition to appear; and how many times are you going to attempt to motivate them before you make a decision that you are going have to part ways. If someone isn’t living up to the set standard and you can’t get them there fairly quickly, I think you need to make a decision about their future in your organization.  You can be as kind as you possibly can be about it but after I’ve tried a few things such as having a discussion with them about level of effort and it’s still not working out, it’s time to let go or otherwise you’re jeopardizing your whole team.

I’ve also come to the belief over time that it’s a lot easier to teach technical skill or soft skill, or interacting with the client than it is to teach drive.  So if you get somebody and you start to wonder if the effort just isn’t there or maybe something is distracting and it persists over a long period of time, you are never going to get that person out of that behavior.  At least that’s my general belief with the rare case that is the exception to the rule, but that type of behavior casts a pall over the rest of your organization and is just not worth whatever talent that one person may have.  I’d be very curious to hear what other people’s experiences are.  Have you had a happy ending to a story where you had somebody with a lot of talent but you just couldn’t get them to work and you found a way to motivate them?  I certainly don’t want to discount a manger’s ability to motivate or find the right way to get somebody to do things but I sometimes think there is too much emphasis on mangers and leadership getting people to excel.  Sometimes you just need to understand that you will not be able to motivate that person and you have to just cut them loose, but I’d love to hear other people’s takes on this issue.

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.

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.