Transitions Are An Important Part


Again, it has been longer than I would like since my last blog entry; this is primarily due to my underestimating the amount of time that I would be committing to working on my degree.  Hopefully that will change once I complete the shortened winter semester, and get into the regular spring semester.  I will certainly be trying to get at least one entry a week here, and more if I can.  Thanks to those that continue to stop in!

One of the major school projects I just finished was an essay for my cultural anthropology class on the state of transition, or “liminality”, as shown through the comparison of burial rituals between three different cultures (I chose the Mongols, Kiribati, and Khasi).  While my paper was focused on the concept of transition as related to death and burial ceremonies, I think there are some very important conclusions that we can draw.

Overall, the concept of liminality is the transition phase just before a change.  This is true in coming of age ceremonies, weddings, birthdays, graduations, etc.  The purpose of these events is to show a definite change from what once was, to what will be.  Knowing that this happens in so many situations, I have to wonder why we don’t pay more attention to the transition phase in business.  It is a natural process that needs to happen, and can be seen around the world in many cultures and many forms, but for whatever reason when we get into business we tend to go against what is natural instead of using it to help us and our people be more successful.

The next time you are working to figure out how to motivate and engage your employees, ask yourself what natural transitions you have built-in to your processes.  Do you have levels of employment at each level to create goals and small wins, and do you celebrate those transitions?  (Both of these steps are necessary for a truly successful process.)  What lets people know that a project is at the end, or has completed?  How do you transition people from individual contributor to leader/manager?  If you have these processes, how do you celebrate these transitions?  Do you make it special and recognized?  People thrive on natural processes like this, and I truly believe that if you make these changes you will see improvements in the excitement, enthusiasm, and success of your business.

It may not be the first thing that we think of but we need to be aware of the natural tendencies of the crazy creature that is Homo sapien, and utilize those natural tendencies instead of fighting them.

Time on the front-end will save time and money later…Part Deux


So it has been about a week since my last post, which is slightly unusual, but believe me when I say there is good reason.  Some of the reasons have been somewhat negative, such as acquiring some type of stomach bug that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy and taking almost 3 days to recover.  Other reasons have been more positive, such as working on my Cultural Anthropology class and being inundated by interview requests.  As it is after the first of the year, I had a reasonable expectation that interviewing would increase.  With that being said, I think it’s important to add some further detail to my last post.

While it is certainly important to spend the time and money upfront to ensure that you are getting the right talent, and the process that you follow in achieving this is important, keep in mind that each time you conduct the process there are certain judgment calls that must be made.  In other words the process should have a certain amount of dynamics to it; it doesn’t need to be a static “do-it-just-because” process.  As you are going through the process and interviewing potential candidates and you begin make filter decisions of who goes to the next round, it’s helpful also to keep in mind the candidates who are going through the process.  I speak from personal experience when I say that if you think it is exhausting for you to conduct the process, imagine what it is for the person coming back for fifth and sixth interviews or having to wait weeks to get a decision.

As with anything in business you should be evaluating and re-evaluating your talent acquisition process on a constant basis.  This means before, during, and after.  As I discussed in my last posting, there is obviously quite a bit of work that should go into the acquisition process before even beginning, so let’s talk about making changes during and after.  Part of the process prior to beginning should be setting certain criteria that if met during the acquisition process, will stop the process and therefore have an identified candidate.  Having these criteria will help your process to have a certain amount of dynamic flow to it, and can save all parties involved from an unnecessarily lengthy process.

Something that generally gets bypassed is talking to new hire’s about the interview process after they begin.  When was the last time you can remember being asked about your opinion on the interview process?  What about the last time that you can remember asking anyone about the process?  This type of qualitative data is definitely necessary to continue to grow, develop, and refine your process.  Was it too long?  Too many interviews?  Unrelated skill testing?  How applicable were the questions asked?  These are all things that you can collect quite effectively by simply conducting a post-hire survey, discussion, or (dare I say it) interview.  Imagine what type of precedence this sets with a new hire as well; from the very first day you are saying that you value their opinion and experience, as well as open and complete honesty.  I have to believe that this does noting but pave the road to success.

Hopefully with these things in mind, you can create your own successful talent acquisition process and make things quicker and easier for both you, and those whom you are working to bring into your organization, while not sacrificing the ability to get the best quality and best matching candidate.

Time on the front-end will save time and money later


I was trolling around looking for new blogs to read, as I often do, and found an excellent one called “Cutting-Edge Leadership” by Dr. Ronald E. Riggio.  The article that caught my attention is titled “Learn the Right Way to Interview Job Candidates.”  Immediately I wanted to read further and see what thoughts and opinions were contained within, and compare to my own.  I was thrilled to find that Dr. Riggio hit the nail on the head with his synopsis.  As he explains, “Interviews only work if they are done right, and even then, they tell us little about a candidate’s employability.”

As most of us have probably been through at least one interview, the observations presented in the article are not that surprising.  What is refreshing is that this article isn’t simply bashing the practice of interviewing but rather giving the pitfalls and challenges of interviewing while suggesting alterations to make the process more effective.  As usual, I had some of my own thoughts that I left as a comment on the article itself, but I wanted to share them here as well.

Hiring is not a singular process, and needs to be viewed as one systemic component of a greater system.  In fact, hiring should be referred to as “talent acquisition”, which in turn should be viewed as only the very beginning of a much bigger picture.  How many times have you gone through the hiring process, brought someone on-board, trained them, and within a relatively short period of time had to let them go, had them walk away, or become a performance problem?  How much does that cost your organization in terms of time, money, productivity, and man-power?  Do the math on it, if you haven’t already, and it’s enough to make you queasy and potentially throw-up in your mouth just a bit.  So what is the alternative?  Start correctly from the beginning.  After all, the beginning is the best place to start.

Simple changes can make a huge difference for you, the organization, and the other people in the organization.  The first such change is take a strong look at how you are attracting talent.  Where are you searching for your next employee?  Where do most of your hires come from?  Are they looking for you, or are you searching for them?  How many referrals do you get from other employees?  These are the first types of questions to be asking because before you can even assess and acquire good talent, you need to have good talent available.  Once you have a good pool of talent available to select from, the process of sifting through them is just as important.  It must be standardized, objective, rigorous, and effective.

As Dr. Riggio suggests, using assessment centers is costly up-front but can be tremendously effective.  To be effective you should be testing for knowledge, skills, and abilities that have been identified (generally through competency mapping) as necessary to be successful in the position.  How can you do this?  Simulations and role-plays can work well in some cases.  For other positions it may be a written test, or a demonstration of ability.  In yet other cases it may be a combination of multiple methods of assessment.  And let’s not forget about actually talking with the candidate.  When conducting the verbal interview, whether by phone or in person, it is important to follow a standardized and repeatable process.  This means asking the same questions of each candidate which will create results which can be compared equally, as well as having a regular process to how interviews will be conducted.  This refers to utilizing multiple different stakeholders, and having set stages or phases to the talent acquisition process.  Multiple stakeholders involved in the interview process, both individually and in a group or pair scenario, can also help to get multiple different perspectives on a potential candidate and mitigate the silo effect of one interviewer.  If the person you want in the position needs to be good with multiple generations, have multiple generations of people interview the potential candidates, and see what types of reactions you get.  The same goes for male versus female; mix genders, races, ethnicities, departments…whatever you can to create a relevant cross-section and get a good feel for how the potential candidate will respond and react within the organization and even potentially outside of the organization.

While this is a rather high-level overview of an in-depth process, hopefully you can get a good sense for the time, effort, and value that should be placed on it.  Once you have put a candidate through a process such as this, you should have a strong picture of their knowledge, skills, and abilities and can make a well-educated decision on whether or not to bring them in to the organization.  And believe it or not, the person being put through the process will appreciate it once they make it as well because they should feel better about their fit with the organization and the position, just as you will.  Performance management doesn’t start after someone is hired, it starts before they are hired.  If you haven’t heard it before, please let me be the first to tell you: “Proper prior planning prevents piss-poor performance”.

Off Schedule = Low Energy


This weekend my wife and son and I are visiting family to celebrate a late Christmas, and of course there are always surprise changes to who will be here and when. In this case, it revolves around the main meal which is to be served at 1 PM. Everyone was informed ahead of time via multiple methods about the time, and everyone knows the location. Even with all of this, some family members decided to take a side-trip to Costco on the way, causing them to be late. This probably wouldn’t have been a problem, except that we didn’t find out until the last minute.

As I sat in the kitchen talking with family and waiting, it occurred to me that it felt as though the energy had practically been sucked out of the room. The excitement and joy died down to a very dull roar, and for me at least I felt as though I could take a long nap. That made me start thinking about other situations that could be affected in the same way.

For those of us who have ever been a part of a project, or initiative at work we have probably experienced the same type of event. Something somewhere is supposed to happen and doesn’t, and it feels like everything comes to a screeching halt, and trying to get back started after that can be a tremendously slow and painful process. Although it is generally accepted that schedule and scope will change (among other things) I think that more attention really needs to be paid to maintaining the momentum of a project with as few interruptions as possible.

Have some experience with this? Have some insights or opinions? Please leave a comment, I’d love to hear from you!

Organizational Teams Show Parallels to Facebook


I just finished an interesting article from Twitter called Deric Bownds’ MindBlog: You’ve got to have (150) friends…, and I have to admit that I use my Facebook for personal contact and to stay in touch with people that I can’t otherwise stay in face-to-face contact with.  I can also agree that I have people that at one time I was in close relationships with, but that over time they have become a part of the outside ring of my 150+ friends.  But even further I started to think about the idea that is pointed out in the essay referenced from Robin Dunbar: people can really only have “around 150 close, meaningful relationships both online and off.”  After reading that statement I can’t help thinking to myself that even 150 would be stretching it in most cases; I’m not sure that I’m even close to that number as I sit here right now.  I might have around that on my Facebook, but out of those I really only have a close relationship with about 25 of them.

So what do I propose this has to do with organizational teams?  Let’s look for a moment at the average business unit, division, or team.  How many people belong to that group?  200?  500?  1,500?  Is there any question that with teams and groups this large that there are feelings of being ignored, detached, unheard, or separated by employees, supervisors, and managers alike?  Too often managers and supervisors, and even in many cases employees are expected to build relationships and work together in an environment that is completely counterproductive to that end.  By simply changing the size of teams, I would propose that we could easily improve the functionality and success of teams and groups by simply evaluating the effective size of those groups and teams.  In order for people to develop the sense of closeness and relationship, and even more so caring, about a common cause it must be encouraged through the proper environment.  This is why quick, irregular meetings of regional, national, or international members of teams and groups, or of the leaders of a group or organization are generally ineffective in being productive.  Without regular contact and interaction (and not just by phone and email), you simply can not effectively build relationships and the necessary fight for a shared cause.

I can’t begin to say that this is something that could happen overnight, but I truly believe that this is a concept that needs to be viewed with as much urgency as sales skills and production rates.  Life within business is not so much different than the rest of it elsewhere, so let’s take these lessons and use them to be more productive, successful, and happy.  Along the way, maybe you can make some new close friends…just don’t try to add them all to your Facebook.

The “Someone Else Will Do It” Effect


I hope that everyone had a happy holiday and, for those that celebrate it, a Merry Christmas!  Just before the holidays I posted a blog entry about the “Law of the Few” and the “Stickiness Factor”.  I also mentioned that I in my next article I would be focusing on the “Power of Context”.  As I said previously, I think this topic is so profound that it really needed to be on its own.

When Malcolm Gladwell discusses the “Power of Context” he states that “epidemics are strongly influenced…by the circumstances and conditions and particulars of the environments in which they operate.”  As usual, I immediately begin to think about the implications in the business world.  It strikes me that so many times this point is missed when we set forth to affect change in the workplace.  Things move so quickly in the world today that we often forget that we really need to take the time and ensure that the time and environment are right for initiating a change; this includes launching a new product, a new learning initiative, changing culture, or other major change.  All too often I think we begin moving forward without ensuring that we have the right time and environment, and then cross our fingers and hope that whatever we are trying to accomplish is successful.  How much time and money is wasted with tactics like this?  Taking the extra time and effort initially could increase the chance for success exponentially.

As I think back to my time with a previous organization, I remember conducting interviews and focus groups trying to gain perspective on why things that we were trying to implement weren’t working.  On many occasions, there would be information coming out that would have been crucial for us and others in the organization to know about.  When asked why this information wasn’t brought forward sooner, the most common response was “everyone already knows, and nothing’s changing, so it must not matter,” or “I figured that someone else/my manager/so-and-so said/did something about it.”  Unfortunately I think this is probably a misconception among many employees in many organizations.

The example used in “The Tipping Point” to explain the “Power of Context” is that of Kitty Genovese.  For those that may have forgotten, or never previously heard of it, this is the story of a lady, Kitty Genovese, who was stabbed on two separate occasions inside of a thirty-minute period on her own street, where supposedly 38 people heard and/or saw the incident without anyone calling the police.  The details of this story are highly contested, however I believe that this event was itself the “tipping point” for further study into diffusion of responsibility and the bystander effect.  Essentially this says that people are less likely to help someone in trouble while in a group situation, either because they believe that someone else will better know how to help or they will be embarrassed to help in front of others.  I believe that the same premise happens in our business organizations today.  As I said before, it is my experience that the people on the “front line” of our organizations who are closest to our customers, and those who are closest to the many different issues facing our organizations today, often believe that someone else must have a better solution, or that if it really is a problem or something that should be known it is already known by the right people, or they don’t want to be embarrassed by suggesting something that has already been thought of or for being seen as over-zealous.

Creating an environment that is open and encourages suggestion and communication is important, but based on examples such as this it could be even more important than first thought.  To truly change how we create change in our organizations, we must make it possible to gain real-time, first-hand information and must find some way to encourage that information transfer.

Change must be pandemic…but how?


Continuing on my path through “The Tipping Point” by Malcolm Blackwell, I came upon some information that gave me a great idea: change must be pandemic, not epidemic.  While the premise behind Gladwell’s book is that there is a Tipping Point where things become epidemic it would seem that what we really want, especially in business, is a pandemic.  To understand this I think it might be best to define the difference between an epidemic and pandemic a bit more first.  Essentially they are the same thing and have much the same meaning, which is to be an outbreak of something.  The biggest difference between the two is that an epidemic is more localized, while the impact of a pandemic is more broad (generally speaking, globally).

Two of the things that Gladwell talks about in his book to help create a Tipping Point, or the moment when everything dramatically changes at once, are “the Law of the Few” and “the Stickiness Factor.”  The third is “the Power of Context.”  For this particular article, I will only be addressing the first two (I plan to have another article dedicated solely to “the Power of Context”).  All of these concepts are extremely applicable in every change that happens, and I believe that if we can understand them and be aware of them then the likelihood of a change being successful could more than double.

The first concept is “the Law of the Few.”  The way this is explained in “The Tipping Point” is that a a major change can happen from just one person, or one small group of people and still have a far reach.  This is often something that I believe is overlooked.  Imagine for a second that you have an organizational change that needs to happen in the organization.  Depending on the size of the company, it may not be feasible for one person to “infect” everyone.  But let’s say that one person takes the change, both message and actions, into one work group, team, division, or unit.  It is completely possible for that one person to make a true impact on that group of people!  Once that group has been “infected”, then they as a group can be used to “infect” others with the change.  Thinking back to change initiatives that I have been a part of in the past, I have to believe that this could certainly be an effective way of spreading a change relatively quickly, and keep everyone on the same page as it spreads.  While this is an important piece, I think it’s obvious that this can’t be the only thing to drive the success of a change, nor could it possibly be the only thing that takes a change to the Tipping Point and reach the pandemic level.

The second factor to reach pandemic level, would be “the Stickiness Factor.”  This is something that I have heard from leader’s and mentor’s through the years: you have to find a way to make the message stick.  A message must be quickly and easily remembered, as well as illicit a feeling, thought, and/or action.  This is one of the mistakes that most organizations make in some of the most important messages, such as mission and vision statements.  If no one can remember them, and they don’t illicit a response, then how in the world do you expect them to mean anything?!  Gladwell says, “The Stickiness Factor says that there are specific ways of making a contagious message memorable; there are relatively simple changes in the presentation and structuring of information that can make a big difference in how much of an impact it makes.”  To me, this says that we need to simplify our message, make it repeatable, and make it something that creates a desired response.  Just as it is suggested in the book, I think an advertisement or slogan is a perfect example.  “Where’s the beef?”  “Gimme a break, gimme a break…”  “Theeeeeerrrreeeee Grrrreat!”  “Subway, Eat Fresh!” “It keeps Going, and Going, and Going.”  These are all examples of messages that I think we can all agree are memorable, and either have or still do influence reactions.   When was the last time that you used that type of message to influence change in your organization?

Being able to harness this type of power for use in organizational change could be the difference between a change being forced to happen, versus it happening on its own.  As I’m sure most of us have experienced, a change that happens organically (that is, because all parties supported it and it naturally happened) versus being forced, generally tends to happen more quickly, effectively, and efficiently (and seems to stick and spread better too!).

In my next article, I’ll take a look at the last component to keep in mind for change, “the Power of Context.”  Obviously for me it created a lot of thought, so I look forward to sharing with you then!