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.”


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