Attitude and Aptitude: What Combination Makes for the Best Hires?

When I was earning my BSEE from NJIT, then known as Newark College of Engineering, I was a member of an elite group of five top students. We all had high GPAs, but we all didn’t have the same IQs.

Bob and Jim (names changed to protect the innocent) were brilliant — they only had to attend classes, quickly read the textbooks, and finish their homework before driving home for the evening. (NJIT was a purely commuter college in those days.)

I paid my expenses by teaching the accordion, a business I purchased from my retiring instructor when I was a sophomore in high school. I also put in at least thirty hours a week studying. I wasn’t as brilliant as Bob and Jim, but by putting in the hours I was able to compete with them. Jerry didn’t have to work at a job, but he averaged the same thirty hours of studying to keep up with the rest of us.

Harry, on the other hand, wasn’t as smart as any of the four of us, but still kept up by studying fifty hours a week. He was an excellent student and went on to have an exemplary electrical engineering career, largely because he was willing to put in whatever number of hours it took to match the performance of others who were more brilliant.

Over the years, I’ve learned to put less emphasis on a potential employee’s resumé and current skills. I’ve found that I had success when I hired someone with a reasonable aptitude and the right attitude. With the right attitude, such a new hire might have to work over 60 hours a week to deliver the same results as a more seasoned employee. But such a person would be more than willing to invest the extra 20 hours to come up to speed. (Once up to speed, the new hire could deliver the same results in the same nominal 40-hour work week.)

Employees with the right attitude view the extra hours as their personal investment in achieving the goals they set out for themselves. While you may think that employees who on day one can achieve the desired results in the normal 40-hour week would be superior, they aren’t necessarily. Consider when there is a new challenge in your business. When there is a new skill set that’s required for a job, which employee is most likely to rise to the occasion because he or she already has the established habit of investing extra time to come up to speed?

Hire based on aptitude, i.e. having enough grey matter to master the skills, and attitude, i.e. the passion and commitment to put in the time to master the skills.

What happened to my brilliant colleagues? Bob went on to MIT for an advanced degree, but dropped out because competing with the other brilliant students required too many study hours. He had superior aptitude but had not yet developed the attitude required to succeed at that level.

Hiring strategy is one of the elements of a well-formed strategic plan. If you’re interested in having a facilitated strategic planning meeting that moves you from concept to tangible implementation, check out our service offerings online, contact us by email, or better yet, give us a call at (800) 207-8192 to arrange for a complementary consultation to determine if you are ready for strategic planning and if our program is right for you.

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Size Matters

How large do you want your company to be within five years? Why?

When you hire an architect to design a new headquarters building, the first question he asks is how many square feet you want. If you tell him that it all depends on how well the new products go, what the market does and what your competitors do, he’ll repeat the same question: “How many square feet do you want?” Once the building size is specified, the architect can move on to other design-related questions. Similarly, a company strategy must start with a sense of size. Size frames all the other elements of your strategy.

While revenue and profit are the most common measures of size, they are not the best metrics for all businesses. For many companies the key measures may be the number of contracts, employees, or customers.

Asking yourself what size you want your company to be in the future is not about fantasizing or wishing. Nor is it about forecasting or projecting. It’s about visualizing a company size that supports the answers to the following questions.

What size will you need to be, in order to continue to compete? As in a poker
game, the ante required for staying in the game increases over time. You need to be large enough to sustain the level of resources required to meet the customer’s growing expectations of the quality and scope of your products or services.

What size do you need to be to obtain the resources you need to sustain the
business? What will it take to attract the talent, capital, and partners you need to succeed?

What will your team require to remain engaged in the future? Company growth
creates opportunities for career growth. Key players will require greater compensation to support their lifestyles (children, school tuitions, bigger homes, travel, etc.). Key players also expect opportunities for personal and professional growth, so they can master new skills and increase their own personal market value.

What growth in ROI will it take to keep the owner’s capital in the business?

What size will you need to be to remain important to your vendors? In order
to get priority when there are shortages? To have orders large enough to get the favorable pricing required to remain competitive?

What size do you need to be to fully utilize your assets? Return on Assets
(ROA) is low when utilization of machines, people, and your intellectual property is low. What size do you need to be in order to have enough experience to drive your unit costs down through the learning curve?

What size do you need to be to support the owner’s ultimate exit strategy?

What size do you need to be to minimize risk? Depending on one customer
purchasing one product makes you very vulnerable. What size do you need to be to support a “safe” diversity of customers and products?

What size do you need to be to keep a competitor from preempting you in the
market? One big-company strategy is to identify products that are successful and swoop in and “steal” them. Big companies like to reverse-engineer a small company’s winning product and then use their own well-oiled distribution system to roll it out nationally or internationally.

What size do you need to be to take out your competition? You can do this
either by acquiring your competitor’s customers or acquiring your competitors directly.

What size do you need to be to manage government and customer certifications? It takes resources and time to obtain and sustain certifications from ISO, TSO, FDA, OSHA, EPA, mil-spec and the like.

What size do you need to be to satisfy your vision and ego? What size do you
have to be to make the kind on market impact you desire?

Everyone in a company has a future size in mind as they prioritize their daily actions. Lacking any formal planning, everyone’s number is different. Developing your strategy starts with getting everyone’s number on the table, sorting through their reasons for that number, and agreeing to a common number that will harmonize everyone’s daily actions.

Having a common visualization of the future everyone is working toward is key. Agreement on the future size the company is working toward creates a framework for answering the next set of strategy questions. (These strategy questions will be the focus of future blog posts.)

Creating a strategy that captures a visualization of the future everyone is working toward is a key element of strategic planning. If you’re interested in having a facilitated strategic planning meeting that moves you from concept to tangible implementation, check out our service offerings online, contact us, by email or better yet, give us a call at (800) 207-8192 to arrange for a complementary consultation to determine if you are ready for strategic planning and if our program is right for you.

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First things first – the lesson of rocks, sand, and water

Author Steven R. Covey inspired today’s retelling of a time management classic. Covey’s story starts with a speaker showing a group of business students a large glass jar and a box of large rocks. The speaker pulled rocks from the box and placed them in the jar until no more rocks would fit.

“Is the jug full?” he asked. The students reply “yes,” and the speaker pulls out a bag of sand, pouring it into the jar so it fills the spaces between the rocks. “Is the jug full now?” he asks.

The students are so sure this time. The speaker pulls out a pitcher of water, and pours over a quart of water into the jar. “Now it’s full,” he said. “What’s the most important lesson to be learned from this demonstration?”

One student piped up: “You can always find time to do more things!”

“Wrong lesson,” replied the speaker. “The right lesson is that you can’t fit the rocks in the jar if you’ve filled it with sand and water first.” This is an illustration of the principle of “first things first.”

In strategic planning, your team determines what the “rocks,” or first things are, after visualizing the future they want to reach. These “rocks are the four to six strategic goals that will literally change the company’s status quo, and which must be the company’s focus over the next 12 to 18 months.

Once the goals are set, next comes a set of four to six Key Result Measures (KRMs) for each strategic goal. When these KRMs are achieved, your team will have achieved the company’s strategic goal and changed the status quo.

Finally come the action steps, which are tactical, fluid actions to be completed over the next one to 90 days.

Strategic goals are the rocks. They need to go into the plan’s jar first. Key Result Measures are the sand. They fill out the space around the goals. Action steps are the water. They utilize small blocks of time to implement.

The impulse is for teams is to jump to action steps. Fill a plan with water and sand and there won’t be any room left for the big rocks. Filling a plan with action steps and KRMs without the big strategic goals in place will keep everyone busy but won’t likely change the status quo.

Strategic planning is the best process for determining what the “first things first” should be. If you’re interested in having a facilitated strategic planning meeting that moves you from concept to tangible implementation, check out our service offerings online, contact us by email, or better yet, give us a call at (800) 207-8192 to arrange for a complementary consultation to determine if you are ready for strategic planning and if our program is right for you.

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Learning marketing tricks from bowerbirds

A common marketing challenge is getting prospects to take your company seriously. Your company may in fact be the perfect partner for a specific prospect. This will be a moot point, however, unless your prospect perceives you as such.

Unfortunately, for many companies, size matters. “How could that small company help us? We’ll focus on the vendors who are obviously big enough to earn a second look from us.” The first task when searching for a new vendor is winnowing down the list of potential vendors to a manageable number. Company size is a simple way to reduce the field.

Even if you’re a large company, you may be a small player in an expansion market that is new for you. What’s a company to do?

An answer can be found in nature. No matter how accomplished a male bowerbird may be, he still has to get through a female’s perceptual filters to get a fair consideration as a mate. Successful bowerbirds have developed a way to make themselves appear larger than life, according to new research published in Discover magazine. The male bowerbirds arrange their nests with smaller stones at the base of the nest and large ones at the rear. This creates an optical illusion, so that the female looking into the nest perceives the male as being bigger than he actually is.  This “trick,” augmented with a sparkly object held in the male’s beak, is enough to catch her interest. He may not close the deal every time, but at least he gets considered.

One of your primary goals in marketing is to sustain a “larger-than-life” image. A quality website, responsive customer support, and product or service “sparkle” can create and sustain that image. One the best lessons I learned in business was “sell the sizzle, deliver the steak!”

Marketing strategy will map out the sizzle you’ll need for selling, but to successfully deliver your product or service to a customer, your company will need a strong strategic plan. If you’re interested in having a facilitated strategic planning meeting that moves you from concept to tangible implementation, check out our service offerings online, contact us by email, or better yet, give us a call at (800)207-8192 to arrange for a complementary consultation to determine if you are ready for strategic planning and if our program is right for you.

 

 

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Why vision is key to successful implementation

….. Typical Bicycle Cab …..

My wife Mary and I were on an anniversary trip to take in a couple of new shows in New York City. One of the challenges we faced as theatergoers was finding a cab to get back to the hotel or train station when the shows let out. Hundreds of theater patrons flood the streets, all looking for a ride at the same time.

We walked a couple of blocks away from the theater but a dozen apparently empty cabs passed us without stopping. As I stood out in traffic with my hand raised, the driver of a bicycle cab, also known as a pedicab, stopped and offered to give us a twenty-block ride to Penn Station at a very competitive rate. He explained that we had just experienced not only the flood of matinee patrons but also a shift change for the cab drivers.

As he zipped us through Times Square, we commented on his fitness. “I’m training for the marathon,” he said. “What other job could pay me to work all day at getting fit?” When we asked what his ultimate goal was, he quickly replied, “The New York Triathlon.”

It wasn’t hard to reconstruct his planning. He started with a visualization of where he wanted to be within a specific time period — in his case, entered in a very competitive triathlon. He then established a goal to reach within a shorter time frame (eighteen months), running in the New York City Marathon. He then created an action plan to get himself there. His action plan included getting fit through daily exercise as a pedicab driver.

Whether you’re striving to achieve individual goals or company targets, Yogi Berra’s observation about planning is true. “You’ve got to be very careful if you don’t know where you’re going, because you might not get there.”

Do you and your team know where you are going? Can everyone on your team answer “yes!” when asked if what there’re focused on today is consistent with where the company wants to be within five years? If not, consider investing a couple of days in strategic planning to make sure everyone is on the same page regarding where you are, where you want to be, and how you intend to get there.

For more thoughts on strategic planning read my Business Strategy Series article A Rolling Stone Gathers No Moss: Prevent Your Strategic Plan from Stagnating or my how-to book on strategic planning Where the hell are we?

If you’re interested in having us facilitate a strategic planning meeting that moves you from concept to tangible implementation, check out our service offerings online, contact us by email, or better yet, give us a call at (800) 207-8192 to arrange for a complementary consultation to determine if you are ready for strategic planning and if our program is right for you.

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The business power of social engagement in planning for success

When Rome was the power to reckon with, a Roman soldier could legally require anyone else to carry his pack for a mile. (In Matthew 5:41 Jesus suggests carrying it a second mile in part to have a greater understanding of another person’s lot.) Native Americans have been credited with the proverb that you can’t really understand someone else unless you walk a mile in their moccasins.

Back in 1976, I walked into my first strategic planning meeting with a bias — no, let’s call it by its correct name, prejudice — against salesmen. As an engineer and confirmed nerd, I viewed salesmen as obstreperous, obnoxious, and oleaginous. As far as I was concerned, they were evil and only concerned with themselves.

The stereotypes I carried in my mind about other non-technical professionals were similarly negative. The folks in the accounting department were bean counters who knew the cost of everything and the value of nothing. The CEO may have been a nice man, but he didn’t appear to be adding any real value to the company.

One of the most valuable take-aways from that first strategic planning meeting was the realization that each member of the team was in fact passionate about the company’s success. Their actions were informed by their worldviews, which were shaped, as were mine, by their narrow day-to-day activities taken on behalf of the company.

Each department’s worldview was shaped much in the way the old story explains how the six blind men formed differing opinions of an elephant’s appearance by feeling different parts of the animal’s body.

I left that strategic planning meeting understanding that salesmen weren’t intrinsically evil, they were just focused on revenue and the customer’s satisfaction. The operations people weren’t sitting on their hands to slow things down — they were just focused on how to reliably deliver a new product that met the company’s quality and on-time delivery standards. Accounting wanted to make sure we generated enough cash monthly to make payroll.

Over the past twenty years, I’ve had the opportunity to work not only with companies but also with various non-profits dedicated to improving society’s view of specific minority groups. One of the most effective ways to break down stereotypes is a process called “social engagement” – essentially, spending time with actual living, breathing members of the stereotyped group.

A team-driven strategic planning process is an excellent way to build trust and respect among your executive team members. For companies, it is the easiest way to utilize social engagement to dispel the harmful stereotypes that get in the way of successful strategic planning, execution, and achievement.

If you’re interested in having a facilitated strategic planning meeting that helps you navigate from concept to tangible implementation, while building trust and respect, check out our services. Contact us by email, or better yet, give us a call at (800) 207-8192 to arrange for a complementary consultation to determine if our program is right for you and your organization is ready for the program.

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Chance favors the prepared mind

One might think that the Greeks, who sustained a central role for mathematics, would have discovered the laws of probabilistic thinking. The evidence is that they didn’t. Greeks considered matters of chance to be the exclusive purview of the gods. According to this world view, any attempt to understand what happens and what should happen was a infringement of God’s territory. It was none of man’s business.

It wasn’t until the mid-1600s that “modern” probability theory was developed. Today it’s obvious that when you toss two dice the  likelihood of the dice adding up to 12 is a less than the probability of adding up to 7. The ancient Greeks, however, put money on the line assuming that every outcome was equally likely. With a world view that the Gods controlled the outcome it didn’t occur to them that the Gods appeared to favor some combinations over others.

In my decades of facilitating the development and execution of strategic plans I’ve encountered  more than one executive that saw the process of visualizing the future as a waste of time. “I can’t predict what I’ll be doing this afternoon, how can I predict where the company will be in five years?” Framing planning this way relieves executives of responsibility for the future.

It isn’t about predicting the future, that’s all but impossible. It’s about making choices today consistent with your visualization of the future. The Gods will grant your wish when a company’s executives make their daily decsions based on a clear, shared, visualization of where they want the company to be within five years. The future is more likely to be what you want when everyone asks themselves “is what I’m doing today consistent with where we want to be within five years?”

Creating and sustaining a shared visualization of the future should be an essential part of your annual strategic planning process. If you’re interested in having a facilitated strategic planning meeting that moves you from concept to tangible implementation, check out our service offerings online, contact us by email, or better yet, give us a call at (800) 207-8192 to arrange for a complementary consultation to determine if you are ready for strategic planning and our program is right for you.

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Unconscious decision making can be detrimental to your company’s health

Late one Sunday evening I pulled a couple of frozen yogurt bars from the freezer we keep in the garage. Earlier in the week, my son had mentioned that we should defrost that freezer, a task I’d been putting off.

When I got back in the house, it was obvious that the frozen yogurt bars were not frozen at all, rendering them too soft to eat. Something was wrong. I put the bars in the kitchen freezer and told my wife Mary that we’d better defrost the garage freezer the next day. Without doing so consciously, I had associated the failing freezer’s performance with my son’s observation that we should defrost it.

The next morning, before starting the defrosting process, Mary suggested we first verify that there wasn’t something else wrong with the freezer. An inspection of the rear of the freezer quickly revealed that the compressor had burned out. Defrosting the freezer had nothing to do with the appliance’s poor performance, and wouldn’t have solved the problem.

In his book Thinking, Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman discusses recent research on how we make decisions using two systems. System 1 operates automatically and unconsciously to come up with an answer by associating what we are observing with past experiences. The more recent the experience, the greater the weight System 1 places on it. System 2 analyzes data to rationally come up with an answer. (It usually just rationalizes the System 1 answer unless System 1 can’t provide an answer, as when you are asked to multiply 57 times 234.)

System 2 thinking uses up substantially more mental energy, specifically in the form of glucose, than System 1 thinking. Most people have used up their available mental energy by the end of a busy day. At that point, lacking any outside pressure, we all just accept the “easy” answer — in my case, “defrosting.” System 2 thinking works best in the morning or just after a meal.

System 1 thinking is a great way to get through the day and the many decisions that have relatively low risk. These might be when to brush your teeth, where to go for lunch, or how to respond to the typical customer request. System 1 thinking is a dangerous way to make major decisions about things like restructuring your company, hiring a CFO, or “firing” a customer.

If you are making high-stakes company decisions, you should rely on System 2 thinking, fed with a diversity of input. Structuring strategic planning meetings in a way that requires every participant to utilize System 2 thinking is essential. A successful planning process balances the power and efficiency of System 1 thinking with the enervating utilization of System 2 thinking to validate and/or expand on it.

If you’d like to see this in action, consider sponsoring a facilitated strategic planning meeting that moves you from concept to tangible implementation. Check out our service offerings online, contact us by email, or better yet, give us a call at (800) 207-8192 to arrange for a complementary consultation to determine if you are ready for strategic planning and if our program is right for you.

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Reading the market

As an electronics enthusiast, I started tracking videotape recorders in 1956, when Ampex introduced its first unit, which sold for $50,000. By the early 1970s, the arc of enabling technology suggested the feasibility of a consumer device within five years. I told my family that we would purchase a video recorder as soon as there was one on the market that met three key requirements: color recording with built-in tuner, at least two hours per tape, and available for less than $1,000. (Early recorders were black-and-white without tuners, and most movies on TV were more than one hour but less than two.)

In 1976 I asked the local electronics store manager if he would sell me the Quasar “Great Time Machine” for $999. He said yes, and we became early adopters of VCR technology. At the time, Sony had introduced their Betamax VCR but its recording capacity was limited to one hour. The Quasar was our VCR through early 1980, after which we shifted to a VCR based on Panasonic’s four-hour, market-winning VHS format. (Curiously, the history of VCRs never mentions the Quasar or its unique technology.)

Every product balances four factors: quality, quantity, timeliness, and cost. I may have been more explicit than most people in articulating my VCR-buying criteria, but every consumer has a mix in mind that will lead them to purchasing a new product.

It appears that Panasonic studied the market and set a target for their engineers – selling price under $1,000, color with built-in tuner, four hours of recording time, and a release date that didn’t allow Sony to lock up the market. (Panasonic felt that a major part of their initial market would be sports fans recording televised games, which would require four hours of taping capacity.)

Whenever you develop new products for your market, make the four factors – quality, quantity, timeliness and cost — explicit to your development team. Hewlett-Packard’s TouchPad tablet computer failed in part because it was too little, too late for the price point HP tried to maintain. The developers of the Apple iPad, on the other hand, learned from the myriad of early attempts such as 2001’s Microsoft’s tablet PC. They got inside the “firing box” with screen size, weight, memory, battery life, user interface, and application environment.

Over the next three to five years, what new products will your market and technology enable? Can you set a “firing box” for your development team that will lead to the creation of a winning product? “Reading” the market successfully is easier when your company has a solid strategic plan.

Answering these questions should be an essential part of your annual strategic planning process. Your senior team should be prioritizing today’s actions based on a clear visualization of what products and markets they want to be part of the company’s future within five years.

If you’re interested in having a facilitated strategic planning meeting that moves you from concept to tangible implementation, check out our service offerings online, contact us by email, or better yet, give us a call at (800) 207-8192 to arrange for a complementary consultation to determine if you are ready for strategic planning and our program is right for you.

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Commit, explode, recover – a winning strategy

Bill Walsh, who coached the San Francisco 49ers to three Super Bowl championships, had a simple strategy for winning. He felt that his football team needed to follow a cycle of “commit, explode, recover.”

To win in football or in business, a team must commit to a plan of attack, execute it, and then react to the results. A team crippled by indecisiveness will just cause individual efforts to flounder.

Winning starts with a process of listening, understanding, and considering input from diverse points of view. The next step – deciding and committing to a plan of attack — comes after everyone on the team understands every point of view and the issues, their relative importance, and potential responses.

Once the team commits to that plan of attack, they develop specific action plans, the plays in football. Commitment includes clear, personal accountability for specific actions and results.

The team then explodes — everyone executes with passion, without hesitation, with full personal commitment. Individuals and teammates hold each other personally accountable for execution.

The next step in the cycle is to recover, i.e. to respond and react. As German military strategist Helmuth von Moltke is often quoted, “No battle plan survives contact with the enemy.” For a football team, every play is a learning experience because it provides an opportunity to refine the plan.

The same holds true in business. Strategic planning is the process that enables companies to sustain a winning cycle of commit, explode, and react. Establishing an aggressive implementation process is an essential part of your strategic planning. Your senior team should be prioritizing today’s actions based on a clear, shared visualization of what products and markets they want to be part of the company’s future within five years.

If you’re interested in having a facilitated strategic planning meeting that moves you from concept to tangible implementation, check out our service offerings online, contact us by email, or better yet, give us a call at (800) 207-8192 to arrange for a complementary consultation to determine if you are ready for strategic planning and if our program is right for you.

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