puddle and ocean

How to Avoid a Major Hiring Mistake

With baby boomers retiring in droves, organizations are rebuilding. As they do, hiring managers and strategic managers must choose their teams wisely to successfully weather the workforce transition.

When making hiring decisions, managers need to pay careful attention to the two types of candidates they’ll encounter: those with the character depth of an ocean and those with the character depth of a puddle.

In my experience, I’ve seen there are a lot of serious folks who aren’t looking to move around. They want to find something that is important to them and work where they’re appreciated and can build loyalty. I call these people “Oceans.” Sounds ideal, right? Except that, if a hiring manager has been told to focus on innovation and change, they may very well overlook the Oceans in favor of the charming up-and-comer who claims they’ve got some must-have innovation that the company needs. Of these candidates, I say “beware.” Their glitzy display may be cover for the fact that they’re as shallow as a puddle and will ultimately do no good for your organization.

How to Spot a Puddle

I bet you can think of at least one Puddle you’ve had the misfortune to step in during your career. Here are their typical traits:

Puddles are chameleons: Puddles are highly intelligent, exceptionally charming, and can turn their traits on a dime to please whoever they feel will benefit them the most. If they come across as the next leader in your organization, it’s because that’s exactly the persona that they’re carefully cultivating.

Puddles are driven by extreme ambition: They have goals in mind and do not care what they have to do to reach them. Once the newness of a job wears off, Puddles are looking for the next advancement. They tend to be job-jumpers or to create power struggles within the workplace—with the idea that the power struggle is to their advantage.

Puddles lie, a lot: Without depth of character, there’s nothing to prevent Puddles from lying to get what they want.

Puddles have no loyalty: They will turn on those who are closest to them in a heartbeat if they feel it will benefit them. They’ll express deep but insincere remorse afterward.

Puddles rely on appearances to get by: Puddles can appear to be good workers. Often, their goal is to please the person above them, all the while planning on how to get rid of that person. They’re nice to the people below them only when their behavior is visible. Otherwise they’re rude, dismissive, or discard the “underling” all together.

How to Get to the Ocean

Oceans are your great employees and serious leaders. When Oceans are in leadership positions, they bring excellence to an organization. Hopefully, you’ll recognize some of these traits in the people around you:

Oceans are not always so charming at first: An Ocean can seem boring or even misanthropic at first. It takes time to get to know them because, if they do allow you in their lives, it’s usually for a lifetime. They want to build a relationship, not have a superficial foundation.

Oceans are truthful and reliable: You can always count on the ocean, time after time, to be reliable and truthful, even if it’s difficult. They say what they mean and they mean what they say. You can truly trust them with your confidences and the assignments you give them.

Oceans are ambitious, too—but not destructively so: Oceans are capable of having great innovative ideas, but they come as the result of a deep, all-encompassing thought process, which takes time. They think through all of the issues in order to arrive at meaningful answers. The Ocean can also be ambitious, but not at the cost of others. They are the ones who lift up those around them as they’re on their way to the top.

Oceans are highly loyal: They are highly loyal, but they may appear a little stand offish at first because the ocean depth of loyalty that they give does not come easily. Once they feel they can trust you, there is no limit to that bond.

Oceans are amazing employees and leaders: These are the team members you want to build your company on. They will go out of their way for your company and your customers every time.

Oceans are deep: One last trait of the Ocean is the depth of their spiritual wisdom and insight. They make great mentors, and one of their joys in life is to share guidance and wisdom with others.

To Avoid Stepping in a Puddle, Do a Depth Sounding

Puddles get hired because they’re expert at creating the perception of being innovative. They’re flashy up-and-comers, but they may not care about the consequences and the human cost of their ill-conceived ideas. Oceans, on the other hand, are innovative, but their priorities are long-term thinking and team-building. As companies rebuild their workforces, they’ll undoubtedly find their Oceans are still producing long after their Puddles have dried up.

So, the next time you’ve got a flashy candidate in the interview process, do a depth sounding. By which I mean, test that person’s character and take careful note of their behavior and history. Ask them questions and see if their responses are “we”-focused or “me”-focused. Can you count on this person for their honesty? Do others feel they can be comfortable with them? In what ways have they proven themselves loyal? How do they behave under pressure and stress? Apply some heat to them and see what happens–a puddle boils much more quickly than an ocean.

Depth sounding isn’t difficult, but it must be done. And if you find you a Puddle in front of you, step around it.

Lion roar

Excellence and Expansiveness in Leadership (Even in the Lion’s Den)

Think of your absolute favorite boss, president, or character from history. One of my favorites is Daniel from the Bible (yeah, the one who spent some time in a lion’s den). He lived in Corporate Persia and was third in charge of the nation. He was so excellent at his job that his peers hated him enough to lie and deceive the king to try to get rid of him. But Daniel never took action against them. They created a law that if he bowed before his god, he’d be breaking the law and they’d kill him. Nonetheless, Daniel just kept being open, full of character and excellence, and, in the end, won the day.

Today’s corporate workplace can sometimes feel like a lion’s den. But I encourage leaders to keep striving for excellence and expansiveness—it’s the only way to creating true greatness within themselves and their organization.

Two Hard Truths about Excellence

While it’s easy to give lip service to excellence, it’s a lot harder to do the hard work of consistently growing in excellence. It’s worthwhile to acknowledge the hard truths:

1. Excellence Isn’t Cheap
Whole books have been written about excellence, but often people want excellence without realizing there is a cost. Most do not want to pay the cost. Being excellent can create waves in your personal life. People might not like what you’re doing. It takes more time and effort and self-analysis to be excellent. This can run counter to our quick-fix society where we want everything now. If excellence isn’t costing you, it isn’t excellence.

2. Real Excellence Can Offend Others
When you are a person of excellence, you will not compromise. You’re not willing to say, well, it’s below standards for now but we’ll make it up later. You choose to pay the price up front, every time to not compromise. This is across the board in relationships, with customers, how you do your work.

Yes, Excellence Is Hard, but You Should Pursue It Anyway

Excellence obviously isn’t easy. So, why would a leader want to push themselves toward excellence? Well, likely, if they’re a truly great leader, they won’t be able to help themselves. People with integrity and a growth mindset are innately motivated to work to their own high standards. Beyond that, there are great benefits to leadership excellence—one of them being that leaders who’ve cultivated a habit of excellence can graduate to becoming an expansive leader.

Three Traits of the Expansive Leader

Expansive leaders are the ones who project a well-deserved sense of confidence and are able to create a great workplace atmosphere. How do they do it?

1. Expansive leaders have the ability to create a relaxed environment.
These are the leader who makes every one of their team feel like they’re relaxing at a coffee shop every time they’re with them. They lean back, they open their arms, and they’re totally present. They have a very relaxed feeling, even when they’re presenting.

2. Expansive leaders are open.
The expansive leader is confident in their excellence and their character and is open to really hearing, seeing, and embracing the people they interact with. They’re genuinely engaging to be around. Because they’re genuinely confident, they don’t feel they have to prove anything and they never come off as defensive.

3. Expansive leaders are highly discerning.
These leaders are uncompromising and highly discerning, although someone with less excellence will mistake their expansiveness for weakness or gullibility. Oftentimes, the expansive leader will allow that misconception to persist for a short time just to see what the deceiver is up to—and then stop them cold in their plans. Expansive leaders are discerning at all times, keeping a watchful eye on the motivations and actions of the people around them.

Leadership Is Never Easy, But…

Though it can sometimes seem like there’s a lion around every corner, leaders who cultivate excellence and expansiveness can have a tremendously positive impact on workplace culture and relationships.

Ostrich

I Forgot Something…Oh, Wait, It’s My Team!

Recently, a colleague of mine attended a meeting where there were eight managers and only one worker—him. There were plenty of leaders to create the high-level strategy, but when all was said and done, guess who came away with all the task assignments?

This is obviously not a balanced situation, but it’s not unusual. Companies all over the country are overflowing with leaders and short on the team members who actually do the work. We’re in the midst of a cultural phenomenon where companies have created so many leaders that they have no followers.

The question is, why has this become the new “business as usual”? What’s going on?

As I see it, there’s a cascade of problems. And it starts with the Boomers. According to AARP, “boomers [are] turning 65 at a rate of about 8,000 a day.” That’s a lot of people—with decades of experience—aging out of the workforce, and yet their positions aren’t being refilled quickly enough—if they’re refilled at all.

Of the positions that are being offered, many of them are dead-end entry level jobs. Even then, they typically require a college diploma, which means that hard-working high-school graduates are being locked out from the professional arena altogether. Effectively, the college degree has supplanted the high-school degree, which makes the bachelor’s degree seem run-of-the-mill. As a result, more college grads are getting MBAs to try to stand out and move up the ranks. According to Fortune magazine, “the number of MBAs issued has jumped 623% since 1970.”

These young MBAs have the education, but they don’t necessarily have the work experience. Yet, because they’ve just shelled out big bucks for advanced degrees, they feel both entitled and obligated to become high earning, high-level management—ASAP!  An MBA graduate joins an organization and then—jump, jump, jump—they’re cycling through a string of jobs until suddenly they’re in a management position. With very little on-the-job experience, they’re leading without context.

As a result, workplaces end up with a two-fold problem:  too many inexperienced managers and not enough seasoned technicians. Not exactly a recipe for success.

How can a company avoid this fate? With the upsurge in Millennial MBAs and the continued retirement of the Boomer generation, the quality of leadership will continue to degrade and the imbalance between leaders and technicians will only grow. Companies must be proactive in creating hiring and promoting strategies to right the ship. Here are three commonsense strategies:

Open the door to entry-level applicants without college degrees. The corporate world needs to let go of the stigma against high-school graduates. Culture tells us that people are lazy if they don’t go into college after high school. But for many, it’s the exact opposite—they’re eager to get to work, and they’d rather earn money than accrue student-loan debt. Instead of asking, “Are you a college graduate?” we should be asking, “Are you a great worker?”

Make sure your entry-level truly IS a starting point. You could have a future manager in your midst. Instead of hiring from outside, look at the people in your lower-level positions, identify the talent there, and bring them up in your company. Let those entry-level  positions really be what they should be—an entrance, not a dead end.

Nurture your people and their career goals. Set a career path for the technicians in your company—your customer service agents, your administrators, your call center workers. There are plenty of people who like to work in teams. They don’t necessarily want to become managers, but they still want the opportunity to gain seniority, learn new skills, and make more money. Treasure those workers and nurture their career paths, and you’ll cultivate a motivated workforce with the right blend of managers and team members.

Time to Listen 698

There’s No “Ignore” in Team: Great Sponsors Make Sure Workers Are Heard

by Terri Carbone

Team input is crucial for the success of a project. Before making any promises to stakeholders about deadlines or deliverables, an effective project sponsor will consult their team—and make sure their project manager (PM) does the same.

A well-managed project includes certain critical documents—a project charter, project plan, and risk list. To ensure that these documents are rooted in reality, project sponsors must make sure that their PM goes straight to the source: the team members who are actually accomplishing the work. If team members aren’t consulted in their making, these documents are little more than wish lists and speculation. If you think that doesn’t sound like a recipe for success, you’re absolutely right. When teams are ignored, projects fail.

How do you, as project sponsor, make sure your PM is effectively engaging the team? You review their work.

Typically, the review process has been deemed too “in the weeds” for most project sponsors, since most have been taught to lead from afar. Please do not make that mistake. It takes only a modest amount of time and brainpower to do a great assessment of a project charter, project plan, or risk list. And there’s no telling how much stress and hassle you’ll save yourself and your team by catching potential problems at the start and nipping them in the bud.

Your first question should always be: “Who put this document together? Was there input from the team?” If the PM says, “I put this together” or “I talked to the resource managers,” your response should be: “Go back. Get input from the team.” You must require—not simply recommend—that your PM go to the team, or else they might not do it. Not because the PM is sneaky or lazy, but because they  might presume it would take too much time to consult everyone. They might presume that they (the PM) or the team members’ managers will simply set the deadlines and the project team will hustle to make it work. Or they might be operating from a place of wishful thinking, and the resulting plans are based on optimism rather than realism. Maybe “this is the way it’s always been done.”

Whatever the reason, your response has to be: “Go back. Get input from the team.” The people doing the work are the only ones who can give an accurate accounting of what all is involved in completing a task, how long it will take, and what risks are involved. They know their workload, their schedule, and the challenges they face. If they’re given the opportunity to review the project plan and provide feedback, then you’ll know that the project plan is solid. If they’ve had an opportunity to air their concerns in a risk workshop,  you’ll know that your PM has uncovered all the risks and made a plan for mitigating them. Anything less and you’re setting the team up to fail.

You’ll find—especially at first, as you set new and higher standards for your employees—that when you ask critical questions, the answers will be unsatisfactory. For instance, when you review the project plan, you might ask, “Did your team agree to these task deadlines?” And the answer may very well be, “Err…no, but I know they can meet them.” If this is the case, you must say, “Well, ask the team, and bring this back to me for a second review when you’ve updated it based on their input.” And then, make sure that the updated plan is delivered.

To make follow-up as painless as possible, you can ask right then and there that the PM report in on a certain day. Set a clear deadline and note it in your calendar. And when the day rolls around, make sure to check in. It won’t take long before your team realizes that you are serious. The more faithfully you stick to your review and follow-up processes, the sooner your team will start delivering acceptable documents on the first try.