Sunday, March 30, 2014

Finding the Ready, Fire, Aim Folks

From the March 30, 2014 New York Times and the Corner Office column by Adam Bryant and his interview with Tom Erickson, chief executive of Acquia, an open-source software company 
How do you hire?
I ask the person to tell me what they want to do, and what inspires them. When they have free time, what do they choose to do? How do they work with others in difficult situations? If you’ve had to fire people, how did you do that? How do they think about leadership, and how do they think that’s sustained?
In a fast-growth company like ours, you may come in with only one or two people reporting to you, even though you had 500 or 800 reporting to you in previous jobs. How are you going to deal with that? Your leadership skills and ability to influence people are much more important than your need to have direct lines of authority.
I also use a lot of behavioral interviewing techniques. I do believe that what people did previously is likely to be what they’ll do in the future.
What else do you look for?
One thing I preach a lot about is the importance of “ready, fire, aim.” There are people in the world who are ready-aim-fire types. If I sense from an interview that they are a ready-aim-fire person, I’ll tell them: “I don’t think this is the right place for you. You need to be in a place where precision matters and the ability to get the right answer will be valued. Because those won’t be valued here.”
How do you figure that out?
If it’s a college student, I’ll listen to the way they talk about their studies. How meticulous do they feel they need to be? If they’ve had other jobs, you can get a sense of where they were comfortable and where they weren’t comfortable. Some people are just very set in their ways.
I’m looking for people who are going to jump in and own their work, who are going to risk something, and risk failing. So you can ask questions about how often someone’s failed or how comfortable they are about failure. Then you decide, “Is this going to be a ready-aim-fire person or a ready-fire-aim person?” Because if you don’t accept failure from an emotional perspective, then you’d be a bad fit for us.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Looking for Fire in the Belly

From the March 23, 2014 New York Times and the Corner Office column by Adam Bryant and his interview with Don Knauss, chief executive of the Clorox Company.
What did you learn in the Marines about leadership?
I’ll tell you a story. I was stationed on Oahu. The first day I was actually in a line unit — after 15 months of school and training — was on Hawaii, the Big Island. There’s a big Army base there where artillery units train and shoot live rounds. They helicoptered me over and I took a jeep to join 120 Marines in this artillery battery. They’d been out in the field for several weeks, and the commanding officer had ordered hot food from the base camp because they’d been eating C rations [canned food] for several days.
I had been up since 5 in the morning, and I was pretty hungry. I started walking over to get in front of the line, and this gunnery sergeant grabbed my shoulder and turned me around. He said: “Lieutenant, in the field the men always eat first. You can have some if there’s any left.” I said, “O.K., I get it.”
 That was the whole Marine Corps approach — it’s all about your people; it’s not about you. And if you’re going to lead these people, you’d better demonstrate that you care more about them than you care about yourself.  I’ve never forgotten that, and that shaped my whole approach to leadership from then on. 
When you got out of the Marines, did you know what you wanted to do?
I learned in the Marine Corps that I really liked strategy. Every operation in the military is based on a five-paragraph order, and the acronym is Smeac — situation, mission, execution, administration and communication. It’s a very logical flow.
I decided to get into brand management, and Procter & Gamble was a great training ground, and they hired a lot of junior military officers. Procter was more of a written than verbal culture, and business initiatives were structured through short memos. It was almost an exact parallel of the five-paragraph order. I said, “I could fit into that culture.”
What were some other leadership lessons?
One thing I learned very quickly was that there’s a head part and a heart part. The head part was, how are you going to focus the organization? And it had better be simple, and it probably should not be more than three things. You’ve got to communicate it about 100 times and align your incentive structure to it. It’s about distilling the complex to the simple, and I’ve seen leaders fail because they do the reverse, by trying to make things into some intellectual exercise. Whatever business you’re in, there are fundamentals, just like blocking and tackling in football. It always comes back to the fundamentals. You cannot let yourself get bored with the fundamentals.
On the heart side, the lesson is that it’s all about your people. If you’re going to engage the best and the brightest and retain them, they’d better think that you care more about them than you care about yourself. They’re not about making you look good.  You’re about making them successful. If you really believe that and act on that, it gains you credibility and trust. You can run an organization based on fear for a short time. But trust is a much more powerful, long-term and sustainable way to drive an organization.
The other thing I’ve learned is that you’ve got to assume the best intent of people, and that they’re really trying to do a good job. I’ve seen organizations that are based more on fear than trust because senior management really thinks people are trying to get one over on them, that they’re just punching a clock. People really are trying to do a good job, and they want to be proud of where they work. Understanding that helped make me a bit more patient.
How do you hire?
First and foremost, I’m looking for fire in the belly. I’m looking for passion. I’m looking for energy. Is the person going to take a leading role and have an impact on the business? I will take passion over pedigree any day of the week. Second,  are they smart?  Can they think analytically, creatively and strategically? If you don’t have the intellectual horsepower, it’s going to be hard for people to follow you.  
Third, is there any pattern in the person’s career that shows they can develop people?  Did people move up through an organization because they were mentored by this person?  A fourth thing is, can they communicate? Can you imagine this person on a stage, inspiring a large group? Do they have an easy, informal manner? Or are they too formal, too focused on hierarchy? That doesn’t work. Formality slows things down in companies. Informality speeds things up. It is much more powerful to use authority than power.
One of the things I’ve learned is that as you move up in an organization, you’re given more power. The less you use the power you’ve been given, the more authority people give you, because they think: “You know what? This guy’s O.K.” Persuading people to do things — come along with me because we’re going in the right direction — is much more powerful over time. 
The last thing I look for is the values of the person. Do they tell the truth, but do they also stand up for what they think is right in the company?  It starts with integrity, which is really the grease of commerce. You get things done much more quickly when people trust you. 

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Find the Voids and Fill Them

From the March 2, 2014 New York Times and the Corner Office column by Adam Bryant and his interview with Sheila Talton, chief executive of Gray Matter Analytics, a consulting firm for financial services and health care.
How do you hire?
There are certain people who love change, and some who don’t do well with change. And change is part of being in technology. One of the things I’ve learned in selecting people is to discern who will thrive on change and then put them in roles where the waters are going to be choppy.
One question I ask is, “Tell me about a situation, either with one of your former bosses or perhaps with a client, where it was really difficult and the outcome was not good.” What I listen for is how much ownership and responsibility they showed in trying to steer through the choppy waters. If they show leadership, that says to me that they welcome change. Another question I ask is, “Tell me about your successes and how you accomplished them.” I listen for words like “we” and “us.” If I hear a lot of “I’s,” that tells me a lot about their ability to collaborate.
I’m really looking for transformational leadership — leaders who actually drive transformation rather than just reacting to it. In the technology world, there’s a number of very successful, large corporations that are now finding themselves having to react to transformational change. Some of that is just because you get to a certain size, and it’s just so difficult to turn the ship as quickly as you need to. That’s why you have most of the innovation coming out of smaller, more nimble companies.
What advice do you give to graduating college students?
One of the things I say to them is: “Find the voids and fill them. There’s no shortage of things that are not getting done. In large organizations and small ones, there are always voids. Go fill them.”
Other mentoring advice?
One thing I’ve done a lot over the years is to push my stars out. I’ve had a number of people who worked for me who were really good at what they did. And many times, when I would be sitting in meetings with my peers and they’d say, “I’ve got to hire somebody to do this,” I often would offer up some of my people for them to interview.
Many of them would ask me why, and there are a few reasons. It’s very important that my team know that I’m invested in their career. Second, it’s the right thing for the organization. Third, it gives me influence in that other part of the organization.
But a lot of managers want to hold on to their stars because they help them look good.
Well, eventually you’re going to lose them anyway. You may as well be proactive, because people don’t forget that. Then, if you need anything in that part of the organization where they’re now working, they will help you.
But you’re right. Many managers actually try to hoard their people, especially their good ones. Then, with the ones they want to get rid of, they’ll say to you, “You know, I’ve got just the person for you.”


Sunday, February 23, 2014

Hiring By Listening to the Narrative of People’s Lives

From the February 23, 2014 New York Times and the Corner Office column by Adam Bryant and his interview with David Rosenblatt, the Chief Executive of 1stdibs, an online marketplace for high-end goods including art, antiques, jewelry and furniture.
(Tell Us About) Other important lessons you’ve learned over your career?
When I was first promoted to C.E.O., the hardest thing to figure out was, how do I spend my time? On any given day, a C.E.O. could do almost anything or nothing, and it would likely have little or no impact on the company, at least in the short term. So I had to develop a set of rules to figure out how to manage my time.
I learned Rule No. 1 from Irv Grousbeck, who teaches an entrepreneurship class at Stanford Business School. And that is, very simply, “You can hire people to do everything but hire people.” Rule No. 2 that I think about every day is, “Only do the things that only I can do.” So if it’s someone else’s job to do it, I try not to do it. If I find myself doing too many of those things that are actually someone else’s job, then it relates back to Rule No. 1 — I probably don’t have the right person in that role.
But just like anyone in any role, it’s important to understand, where is my comparative advantage? What am I better at than almost anyone else? To the extent that there is something you’re better at than most other people, you should do it, and then you should just make sure that your team complements you. The hard thing for many C.E.O.’s, because this job requires a certain level of confidence, is to figure out what you’re not good at and acknowledge that, and then hire to offset your own limitations.
What else about your leadership approach?
I try to invest quite a bit of time in developing chemistry and sense of team among my direct reports. Generally my feeling is that companies are like families, in the sense that if the parents get along, then it’s likely that the rest of the family will be relatively harmonious. But if the parents don’t get along, it’s highly likely that there’s going to be conflict in the rest of the family that, to some degree, mirrors the conflict between the parents.
And if the executive team is talented and unified in their approach, treats each other with respect and communicates openly, their behavior will be mirrored by everybody in the company.
How do you hire? What questions do you ask?
My approach is pretty straightforward. I like to ask people to walk me through their lives from the time they were young through the present. I pay particular attention to transitions, because I think that says a lot about people’s values and judgment, and the basis on which they make decisions.
Why did you pick this school instead of that school? Why was this the right first job? Why did you take two years off? When you left that company, what choices did you have, and why did you pick Door No. 1 instead of Door No. 4?
I find that if you listen to the narrative of people’s lives, you get a better sense of them as people and as professionals than any other approach I’ve taken. It can also uncover whether there might be problems. People are creatures of habit, and they tend to repeat patterns, even in different contexts. Do they have a pattern of job-hopping? That is a particularly deadly characteristic, in my point of view.
It’s O.K. — in fact, it’s a positive — to make mistakes in judgment at some point in your life. But did the person understand it? Did they take the time to figure it out? Did they then repeat it? It’s not really what they did that is important to me. It’s how they reached those decisions.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

It's Not 'Gotcha' Time!

From the February 2, 2014 New York Times and the Corner Office column by Adam Bryant and his interview with Jody Greenstone Miller, co-founder and C.E.O. of the Business Talent Group.

How do you hire?
Most people I interview have demonstrated that they’re successful at something. It’s my job to figure out what they’re good at, and that’s how I approach it. So it’s not a “gotcha,” but instead trying to understand, “Where are you going to succeed, and where are you going to be happy?”
I don’t believe in talking someone into a job. I spend a lot of time trying to understand where the person will thrive and what they want. They have to want to do the actual job we’re hiring for. So I like to paint a granular picture of the job — “Here is what you will do, and here are the hard parts and the parts that may not be so much fun.” I don’t want anyone to come in and say, “I didn’t realize I had to do this.”
A favorite question is, “Tell me the things that you didn’t like about your last job.” When you learn the things that get under people’s skin and make them dissatisfied, you can make the judgment about whether they’re going to work in your culture.
I think you want optimistic people who are problem solvers, not problem spotters. It’s easy to analyze what’s wrong, but if you come in and say, “I have an idea; here’s something we can do,” that’s so wonderful. You want people who give you energy, and not take energy from you.

Monday, November 4, 2013

On Leadership...from David Cote of Honeywell

From the November 3, New York Times and the Corner Office column by Adam Bryant and his interview with David Cote, chairman and chief executive of Honeywell,

What are some leadership lessons that you’ve learned over the course of your career?
I have a reputation for being decisive. Most people would say that being decisive is what you want in a business leader. But it’s possible for decisiveness to be a bad thing. Because if you’re decisive, you want to make decisions — give me what you’ve got, and I’ll make a decision. I’d say that the lower you are in an organization, you can get away with a lot of that and you’ll be applauded for it.
But with bigger decisions, you can make bigger mistakes, so you have to really think about the kind of decision you’re making. Is this the kind that’s easily reversible? Or is this one where, if I make a decision and I’m wrong, there can be significant ramifications? Then I’ve got to think about it a little differently. As itchy as I might be to make a decision, what I’ve taught myself to do is to tell everybody that this is a preliminary decision, and we will go through it again in 48 or 72 hours, or however much time I think we have. It’s important to get it right.
I’ve also had to think about the kind of people I put around me. If I’m very decisive and I surround myself with people who just want me to make decisions, then we’ll go off the cliff at 130 miles an hour, because at some point I’ll be wrong. What I need are people who want to come to their own conclusions and are willing to think independently, and can argue with me in the right way so that I will internalize it and keep it objective as opposed to emotional. There’s this phrase I use a lot when I teach leadership classes at Honeywell: Your job as a leader is to be right at the end of the meeting, not at the beginning of the meeting. It’s your job to flush out all the facts, all the opinions, and at the end make a good decision, because you’ll get measured on whether you made a good decision, and not whether it was your idea from the beginning.
What are the most important points you try to convey in those leadership classes?
We have 12 behaviors that we talk about at Honeywell, but people often ask: What’s the most important one? They’re all important, but I finally said: “O.K., I could pick two and say that these two drive everything else.”
The first one is you have to get results, and you have to get them the right way. Because I don’t want to just make the numbers this quarter at any cost. I want to make the quarter, but make it with the right kind of disciplines in our processes so that we make the quarter three years from now and five years from now.
The second one is that you have to be self-aware and a learner. I’ll tell them that as you go from one job to another, there are usually two failure modes. One is “this is what I did in my last job, so this is what I’m going to do in my new job.” The other is “boy, this is all new, I don’t know anything, and I’ve got to build consensus and just get everyone to agree.” The trick is in the 80-20 rule. Eighty percent of what you did is still right. With the 20 percent, you have to adjust. But figuring out which part is the 80 and which is the 20 is the tough part. You’re going to have to adjust, and you’re going to have to figure it out for yourself.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

On Internships...

I wrote the following for the Huffington Post, which was published on October 14, 2013:

In today's job market, a college degree is not a guarantee of a good job. Today's graduate needs every advantage and a good internship can give them that edge. It's a wonderful way for a student to experience the real world of business, a "practice run" before they begin their actual careers. For many, it's going to be a wake-up call when they discover that their job isn't going to be at all like what they've seen on TV sitcoms. Many of our young undergrads are shocked when confronted with the realities of the business world.

I once had a concerned sophomore come to my office with a pressing question, "Professor Kruczek, is it true that in the business world you are going to work 40 hours a week?" I couldn't help but chuckle when I assured him that was not the case. But before I could elaborate, he replied in obvious relief, "I'm so glad, because I can't imagine what you could do in a job for 40 hours!" He was shocked when I informed him that there would be plenty to do for 40 hours, and that the reality was that he would more likely be working 50 or 60 hours per week when he began his career. That student would have benefited from an internship.

I am a strong supporter of internships for undergraduate and MBA students. In almost every case it turns out to be a win for the student, and a win for the employer. This is in line with Lynn University's philosophy that emphasizes experiential learning and a real world education in addition to the traditional classroom. We require all of our undergraduate business students to take at least one internship course and depending on the business major, the student might be required to take more than one internship.

These internships are offered to our students in tandem with an educational course, which means that our students earn 3 academic credits plus the work experience that they gain. We know that these internships are an integral part of their business education. For some of our young undergrads, this might be the first time that they've actually worked in a real business other than a minimum-wage summer job .

The benefits to the student are fairly obvious: they gain valuable hands-on experience and get an inside look at what the real business world involves. In many cases, they come back from an internship excited about their future career path--they have found their dream industry and are energized to study even harder to get ready for graduation. Sometimes though, it's equally valuable when a student comes to the decision that this is not the career choice for them. The reality of their internship showed them that they need to change focus.

Whatever the outcome, we want our students to begin their internship experiences as early as the summer after their sophomore year. They need the first two years of classes to give them a good academic foundation and the additional discipline and maturity to appreciate their internships, but then the sooner they get an internship the better. It's good for the students, and the businesses like that approach, as it gives them the potential to have students intern within their organization for two summers.

Another benefit to the student is the fact that these internships are often times the pathway to full-time employment. I can't tell you the number of executives who told me that they landed their first full-time position as a result of an internship, myself included. The benefit to the employer is that they can "test drive" a possible future employee without a long-term commitment, and during that internship period they have an eager and enthusiastic worker with a fresh perspective.

Additionally, having completed an internship will really help a graduate stand out in the job hunting arena. Potential employers will be impressed with previous experience, and there will be the possibility for a great reference.

We value internships so much that the Lynn University College of Business has launched a Center for Career Preparation and Internships. We have a full-time director who reaches out to the business community to recruit companies that can offer excellent internship opportunities to our students. We vet the internships, match the students to appropriate placements, and then help prepare our students through one-on-one counseling to get them ready for a successful internship.

Ultimately, our goal as a university is to prepare our graduates for a successful career. When they leave school with diploma proudly in hand, we want them to have more than just a solid academic education. We want them to be prepared with opportunities and experiences beyond the classroom, and internships do just that.