Thursday, May 5, 2011

Up in the Air and On the Way to V-WISE

Air travel in and out of Syracuse isn’t the easiest thing in the world, but traveling to speak at the V-WISE conference in San Antonio gave me the chance to read through the current issues of Fast Company and Inc Magazine. As usual, both issues carried lots of interesting articles for entrepreneurs. My favorites were in Fast Company, The Cure (by Russ Mitchell) the story of a journey of a new CEO for a hospital in Oakland. The leadership and team issues were particularly interesting.

From the article:

He quickly began building a new management team, including COO Bill Manns, who was hired from Providence Hospital in Southfield, Michigan, near Detroit. At Manns's suggestion, they immediately commenced a grassroots money hunt, which Lassiter now calls "the foundation of our success." The pair gathered the top 85 managers, formed them into a dozen teams, and gave them 16 weeks to find $21 million in cost cuts and new revenue. Lassiter says he told them: "It's up to you. We barely know where the restrooms are, so we're not going to solve this problem. You're going to solve it."

To encourage fresh thinking, Lassiter and Manns devised "odd-couple arrangements," putting together doctors, nurses, techs, and other managers. The teams drilled into vendor contracts and challenged their own habits. Take the kit used to test newborns' umbilical-cord blood, a $96.50 item. A simpler tool does the same job for 29¢. Is the more-expensive device better? How much better does it have to be to be worth the extra $96.21? ACMC had been choosing the premium option, at a cost of $322,000 a year. Now, the teams decided, ACMC could not afford it.

While I’m always a bit leery of articles providing corporate lessons from the playing field, Lessons of LeBron (by Chuck Salter) was nonetheless interesting and a fun read as well. Knowing that I always read articles on the food industry, I enjoyed Inc Magazine’s piece, Toughen Up Cupcake (by Burt Helm) on the Washington DC cupcake wars. I also thought Jason Fried’s piece How to Hire an Assistant, about how he and his partner hired an assistant particularly intriguing. I mention that because in it he mentions that when they were hiring the assistant, rather than drafting the typical boring job description, they instead the things that the assistant would have done over the last day had then been on the job. He said based on the ad, they were flooded with applicants. It still took time to find the right person, but in part that was because they neglected to include a key piece of info in the ad. But despite that misstep, it seems their approach has merit and should be considered. Here is how they described the position:

Instead of a boring list of skills—this software, that many years of experience, "team player," etc.—we wrote a list of 26 things that this person would have done in a week had he or she been working here.

The list included things such as "Booked two hotel rooms and two flights for out-of-towners"; "Packed up and shipped out about five copies of Rework to various people"; "Coordinated with
Abt Electronics to schedule installation of four flat-panel TVs"; and "Researched and recommended local floral arrangers for weekly flowers for the office." This way, whoever was applying would know exactly the kind of work he or she would be expected to do. (You can read the job posting here).

What drew me to the piece was that right now in the Entrepreneurship Department we’re in the process of hiring three professors, two of which will spend a considerable amount of time mentoring student businesses. I find myself wondering if rather than drafting the usual ad, we should have said that if they were on campus, in the last day they would have taught a class, mentored a student, talked with an alum, attended a couple of meetings with student startups, and met with the E-Club on a new business idea.

Oh well, maybe next time.

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