It’s an Inspiration. Why You Can’t Motivate Anyone.

Present day culture often confuses motivation and inspiration, and this confusion spills over into the business environment. However, it is not an issue of motivation or inspiration. Rather, great business leaders know that exceptional business results require both motivation and inspiration and, equally important, they understand the different origins of motivation and inspiration.

How often have you heard some variation of the following phrase, “We need to figure out how to motivate this [insert the name of a team member, customer, supplier, etc].” In reality, it is impossible to motivate someone else to do anything. Why? Motivation is an internal driver. A wide range of factors motivate us. Some of those factors involve basic physical needs—food, clothing and shelter. Other drivers arise from our spirit. Some desires of the heart appear almost universally—gaining the respect of others, feeling loved, and aspiring for significance. Yet, other desires of the heart come from inherent character traits and vary from person to person. For example, crowds energize some of us and drain others. Lastly, spiritual drivers flowing from an intentional commitment to certain values inform and guide our behaviors—caring for the defenseless among us, beliefs about an afterlife, or the importance of learning.

Inspiration, on the other hand, involves an external animating force that draws out behaviors Inspiration is the province of leaders who seek to influence the behavior of others. Inspiration seeks voluntary cooperation not compulsory compliance.

What inferences and behavioral implications might we draw from these differences between motivation and inspiration:

  • Effective inspiration requires caring and curiosity. Is not about me. Skillful inspiration is very others-centered and requires cultivating a curiosity about what drives others.
  • Effective inspiration requires the expenditure of energy. If we hope to inspire others, we must often provide an input to produce the action we seek. We find in chemistry a complementary analogy where two substances require the presence of a separate catalyst to create the desired chemical reaction.
  • Inspiration cannot impose or inject from the outside an idea foreign or repulsive to an individual. We call that coercion. Rather, inspiration is about discovering and drawing out motivations already resident within the other person.
  • We can inspire through leadership, but if motivations arise internally, we must seek and hire people motivated by factors suitable for our team or business. Hiring for motivation requires that the organization explicitly understands its own drivers since you cannot hope to find what you cannot describe.

Part 2 (next week’s post) will convert these implications into 15 actionable methods that can inspire ordinary people to accomplish extraordinary things.

What Kind of Fool Am I?

None of us likes to be thought a fool, but fools we are. Hang with me on this one. I end with a constructively positive challenge, but getting there means we have to first wade through some, well… Foolishness.

We all know people who are generally fools. It seemingly is a habit they cannot break. We also know people (Including ourselves) who occasionally do foolish things. So, a gathering of fools is not an elite club, but rather a quite crowded room. Before you declare yourself free from the taint of foolishness, quickly consider the types of fools:

Rash fool – Plunges ahead without taking time to consider the costs or potential consequences of their actions. It is surprising even among supposedly smart business people how often this happens.

Lazy fool – Fails to musters the energy to observe and learn from the world around them, the actions of others, or their own life experience. Neglects to prepare for the future.

Undisciplined fool – Lacks the will to consistently act in accordance with wisdom

Stubborn fool – Refuses to adapt to changes in the world around them or knows the proper action in a particular situation but refuses to act on what they know is the prudent course of action

Intentional fool – Knows the proper action in a particular situation, but refuses to act accordingly, or, even worse, purposefully chooses to act in contradiction to prudent course of action

Stupid fool – Steadfastly ignorant, lazy, undisciplined, rash and stubborn. This combination is especially deadly.

Ignorant fool – Lastly, even if we are knowledgeable, disciplined, and prudent, we may yet act foolishly out of ignorance. No one person can possibly know everything; so at times our ignorance in certain areas leads to foolish actions. Nonetheless, our good intentions do not shield us from the consequences of our ignorance.

So, how does one minimize the self-inflicted damage of our own foolishness?

  1. Seek after knowledge and wisdom. No, they are not the same. Knowledge involves an acquaintance with facts or principles where wisdom adds the element of discernment that knows when, where and how to apply those facts and principles to achieve the best outcome for everyone involved in or impacted by a particular situation.
  2. Cultivate a heart of gratitude that leads to humility. See “Antidote to Pride” for more on this subject.
  3. Surround oneself with people whose knowledge complements our own gaps.
  4. Spend our time with people whose character inspires us to avoid rash, lazy or undisciplined behavior.
  5. Practice prudence. I love that word. Webster’s dictionary explains prudence as “wise or judicious in practical affairs; discrete or circumspect; sober; careful in providing for the future.”

Antidote to Pride? It’s Not What You Think

Pride and humility. Mutually exclusive and polar opposite attributes of human character. But, do we conquer pride by striving for humility?

We all know prideful people and do not think highly of them. The inordinately high opinions of their own importance, merit, or superiority creates a discordant clash with reality. They annoy us. They frustrate us. They may even thwart our best intentions with their attention-seeking behavior.

Each of us also knows people who were genuinely humble. The humble do not seek status or rank. They may be meek, but they are rarely weak. The genuinely humble understand and leverage their talents and resources on behalf of others. The humble are not victims. Instead, they act with purpose. The humble are servants, but not subservient. These people are often gifted and giving in a modestly unassuming manner which garners the respect and admiration of those around them.

Our view of self lies at the core of these opposing behaviors. The prideful consider themselves more important and, therefore, worthy of elevation above others. By contrast, the humble consider themselves no more or less important than others and seek no benefit or advantage by their actions. The prideful have a high view of their own capabilities to influence people and events around them. The humble are quick to recognize the limitations of their own abilities and appreciate the contributions of others. And therein lies the secret antidote to pride… A grateful spirit that recognizes the value of others.

Allow me to explain by shifting attention to people who project false humility. These people know that humility is more valued than pride; so they attempt to counteract pride by acting humbly. However, fearing their humility will go unrecognized, they trumpet it at every turn, and in so doing, reveal the self-serving and ungrateful nature of their heart.

If we are brutally honest, we must each confess to at least the occasional prideful thought. Unfortunately, the naturally self-centered tendency of human beings also means that prideful thoughts sometimes pass unrecognized through our heads and even out of our mouths. Countering an unrecognized behavior is almost impossible. Fortunately, our best defense against pride is not consciously stamping out prideful impulses or striving for humble behavior. Instead, we merely need to establish an habitual spirit of gratitude to turn our hearts from self-centered pride to genuine humility. We may cultivate a grateful spirit if we start each day by expressing thanks for the blessings in our lives.

A shout out to Melvin Benson for the core concept of this post.

Love at Work. It’s Missing, and That’s Bad.

A recent blog post “Law. Liberty. Love.” argued that absent a constraining force the amoral nature of liberty destroys the peaceable and productive threads that bind together any societal group, whether a family, team, community, company or country. The choice to constrain liberty by an external force (law) or restrain liberty from an internal motivation (love) impacts societies and businesses in innumerable ways and results in vastly different outcomes.

Society of Liberty Constrained by Law

Liberty constrained by law and administered by imperfect human beings faces a continual and mostly losing battle to find the proper balance of prudence, reasonableness, equality and reliability.

Liberty constrained by law creates narrow spaces hemmed in by the boundaries of many regulations and policies and wastefully consumes attention and energy to understand and avoid those boundaries. This approach demands long lists of dos and don’ts that cover every conceivable situation. Consequently, we end up with voluminous regulations and policies; including bulging employee manuals that no one reads; except to determine, after the fact, whether an infraction occurred.

When we constrain liberty by law some people in the group will push those boundaries to test how far they may go without suffering harm. Consequently, the group consumes significant time, energy and money protecting those boundaries and addressing the people who flout them. On the flip side, more risk averse people withdraw in fear of breaching an ill-defined or unknown boundary. Both responses drain the vitality from a society.

Society of Liberty Restrained by Love

On the other hand, liberty restrained by love creates vast open fields of opportunity for creativity and risk-taking. When we know that others have our best interests at heart we trust (not fear) them. This freedom from fear unleashes the innovative spirit within each of us.

Rather than an energy-sapping focus on boundaries, we channel our resources on wide-open opportunity spaces. We shift our minds from the negative to the positive. We concentrate on opportunities not obstacles. We focus on constructive behaviors; not catching people doing wrong. We don’t spend money on compliance. Instead, we invest our resources on encouraging and developing people.

People began to watch out for each other and catch mistakes (not as a gotcha, but for the good of the team). The late Bob Galvin of Motorola was fond of saying, “Individuals make mistakes, but teams can be perfect.” People start compensating for each other’s weak spots and collaborate in ways that yield results far beyond the sum of their individual efforts. People feel better about coming to work in an environment that encourages and challenges to be their best. Consequently, attendance and attention improve and drive a safer work environment, better quality and higher productivity. You get the idea.

How do we develop liberty restrained by love?

Present society defaults to liberty constrained by policies and regulations to the point that “love” for others is rarely heard in the public square or board rooms. Why? In the English language the word “love” carries multiple meaning, and this creates confusion. Classical Greek used three different words for different types of love. Eros, or physical love, which often involves sexual expression. Phileo, or soul love, is most commonly associated with affectionate feelings toward friends or personal interests we enjoy. Agape is a mature sacrificial love that is intentionally and overtly others-focused; the expression of which almost always comes at a cost to the bearer of agape.

Unfortunately, the sexually charged nature of our society means that eros dominates the meaning of love in public discourse, and, thus, we rightly shy away from it in a business environment. Yet, we instinctively know that building and sustaining any collective effort requires expressions of affection (phileo ) and sacrificial caring (agape). Since we cannot use the distorted word love, we have sought a substitute in “respect.” Unfortunately, in an environment of liberty predominately constrained by policies and laws, respect is often just a bland and unemotional tolerance with no caring for the object of respect. We just put up with or ignore each other and our lives and businesses suffer for it.

How then do we change this dynamic and unleash the power of liberty restrained by love?

It starts with each of us individually. We must shift our mental and emotional focus from personal rights to personal responsibilities. We must change our mindset from what can I get to what can I give. Invest time in getting to know others beyond work (i.e. care for the whole person). Invest resources in developing people around us. Treat others as voluntary collaborators with us rather than “assets” we leverage only for what they are worth to us or the group to which we both belong.

Openly express our appreciation for others and their work. Openly praise expressions of sacrificial caring by others. Gratitude and giving are contagious, but they will not go viral if these behaviors are stealthy. We have a real live example from recent weeks where over 300 people in line at a Starbucks in New York City paid for the order of the person behind them.

Our place in the group’s hierarchy matters little. Anyone can be a catalyst for liberty restrained by love. Yes, it may feel lonely in the beginning, but others will notice and begin to emulate sacrificial selfless behavior.

Now What? Stop Doing > Return to Being

Now What? At the end of any intense period of life this question confronts us? You may have recently been laid off, completed a huge project, closed a big deal, sent your child off to college, or suffered any number of major life dislocations. The periods preceding these life events can often be so defining or consuming that their absence leaves a troubling void.

How should we react during these personal voids? This much is certain; how we respond during such voids determines the course of our remaining life. We can wallow in pity, or we can make them times of rejuvenation that restore and prepare us for what lies ahead. The key is using this respite from doing to return to being. Let me suggest three phases for responding to a void in our lives.

Remember — Return to your core purpose for living. Remind yourself of the guiding principles upon which you have chosen to order and direct your life, family or business. This will likely involve investing significant time in rereading and revisiting passages, people and places that have previously inspired you. Set aside a private space for this remembering time. This is a great time to write out (or update) a personal mission statement.

Reflect — Significant people reflect on the past to learn from it, not wallow in it. Condemnation is unhealthy. Convictions are empowering. Evaluate where your recent life/work aligned with or wandered away from your guiding principles. Identify triggering events or behaviors that helped you stay aligned or caused you to wander off the track. Examine each relationship in your life and ask whether that relationship challenges and encourages the fulfillment of your purpose or distracts from it. Reflect (and possibly even solicit input) on the impact my life has had on others. It is impossible to over emphasize the value of capturing your reflects in writing. Making time to write down what you’ve learned both crystallizes that learning in your own heart and mind and also creates an invaluable resource for Remembering during future life voids. On a personal note, this blog is one of the ways I am recording that thought process in my own life.

Renew — At this point in the thought process we should face forward and ask the following three questions in my core being and each major role in my life:

  1. What am I committed to continue?
  2. What should I eliminate, quit or stop?
  3. Where do I want to learn, grow or start?

Apply each question to your private world (body, mind and spirit) and every role in the public world; such as, spouse, parent, sibling, friend, neighbor, citizen, volunteer, student, profession, or employee/employer, etc.

I’d like to give a shout out to @JonStallsmith for his talk on Nehemiah 8-10 from which arose the core ideas in this blog post.

What Characterizes a Person of Integrity?

Integrity is one of those common words we may use without ever stopping to ponder what it means. We instinctively have a strong sense that integrity is a good thing; so it’s an attribute of human character worthy of effort, but how do I attain it.

I never found a definition that satisfied all the elements central to a full understanding of integrity; so a number of years ago I wrote my own:

“Integrity is the reliably consistent alignment of what I believe, think and do and the highest objective standards of morality”

Let’s unpack that definition starting with the back “…what I believe, think, and act and the highest objective standards of morality.” There are four elements to integrity:

  1. External. What I do. My public life. Observable words and actions both in terms of commission and omission in various situations; after all, sometimes the right thing to do is nothing.
  2. Internal. Who I am. My private life. My mind, will and emotions. Some call this the human spirit. This includes all the doubts and fears with which I may wrestle but not expose to the outside world.
  3. Metaphysical. What I believe. This may be an explicit and conscious set of beliefs, or it may be your subconscious internal compass of right and wrong (your conscience). Some call this the human soul.
  4. Supernatural. What is Right and True. This standard exists apart from me as an individual and serves as an arbiter of right versus wrong. [As an aside, this fourth element may make some of you uncomfortable. You may believe it inappropriate to pass moral judgments across peoples and cultures and struggle with the notion of an objective right and wrong. Consider this…Absent this fourth element, one could claim that the individuals who planned and executed the 9/11 attacks on the USA were individuals of integrity. The incredibly tight alignment among their beliefs, thoughts and actions led them to sacrifice their very lives. They made this fateful decision based on a powerful belief in the rightness of their position. Attempts to argue that their actions were wrong starts one down a logical path of right versus wrong.]

Random or occasion alignment of these four elements do not produce integrity. We must combine all four elements in a “…reliably consistent alignment… ”

Without a reliably consistent alignment among these four elements I will experience the draining and damaging effects of internal turmoil. I am weakened emotionally. The pressure erodes my passion and siphons off my stamina. Sustained internal misalignment will eventually damage my physical and emotional health.

Externally, an unreliable or inconsistent alignment among these four elements produces collateral damage to my relationships. Not only does my inconsistency hurt others, but the rebound effect makes my life a bigger struggle. The blowback also shapes my reputation as someone unpredictable and inconsiderate. The multiplying effect of my reputation makes every subsequent interaction more difficult than necessary.

On the positive side, a reliability consistent alignment unleashes and leverages the power of alignment.

When we nurture and exercise our own inherent talents we act in concert with who we are as a person. We naturally and more easily perform at a high level. We feel joy in our labors, because we are doing work we were designed to do. We receive invigorating affirmation from others that inspires us to greatness and sustains us through difficult times. We experience a wholeness that breeds contentment.

If we take integrity to the ultimate level and align ourselves with “the highest objective standards of morality”, we place ourselves in alignment with God-ordained Natural Laws. We suffer less heartache and harm. Our behaviors yield fruitful outcomes. We enjoy mutually fulfilling relationships. We are producers (givers) and not solely consumers (takers); yet we can humbly receive without guilt.

At a practical level building integrity involves regularly expose your mind to Truth (for me that’s the Bible) to erase errors that creep into your life from the imperfect world and renew your mind around right thinking. Consider writing a personal mission statement that reflects Truth and your uniqueness as a human being. Regularly assess and realign your beliefs, thoughts and actions to your mission statement.

Plants & the 5 E’s of Building Effective Teams

Seeds contain the information necessary to germinate, grow and reproduce. However, absent the amounts of soil, air, water, and sunlight most appropriate for that species, the seed may fail at any point along its maturation cycle. We can reduce the risk of failure and multiply the eventual yield by preparing the soil, planting at an appropriate time, cultivating the field during the growth phase and harvesting at the most opportune time. These external factors do not change the basic capabilities of the seed; however, they will heavily influence the quality and quantity of the harvest.

This intelligent design from nature provides us a wonderful example for building effective teams. Akin to the information encoded in seeds, the people on your team bring to any effort certain raw talents and capabilities. Similarly, certain external environmental elements of the organizational culture will influence whether individuals flounder or flourish.

My leadership experience has distilled five environmental elements leaders must provide to build effective teams.

1. EXPECTATIONS. At the broadest level, we establish expectations by painting our vision and defining the mission for the organization. At the project or team level, we define success in terms of desired outcomes. In other words, we identify where we’re going without getting into “how” the team should accomplish those objectives. Equally important, we set boundaries for acceptable behaviors in terms of the values and culture which will define the character of the team.

2. EQUIP. Provide the resources necessary to achieve the expectations. These resources commonly fall into four buckets

  • Talents – Staff the team with the necessary blend of talents; identify other resources (such as subject matter experts) available to the team
  • Tools – Allocate suitable amounts of money, equipment, space, software, etc.
  • Techniques – Define and inculcate reusable standard methods and processes into the daily habits of the organization; particularly around problem solving and reporting
  • Training in the skills needed to effectively leverage the available tools and techniques

3. ENABLE. Emotionally prepare the team for the challenge. This emotional element is crucial for building self-reliant teams that are not constantly running back to you for guidance or encouragement. Effective emotional preparation addresses at least these three components:

  • Define success so people know it when they see it. Defining success establishes a built-in course correction mechanism that allows the team to adapt to the inevitable surprises of any human endeavor
  • Clarify why it’s important to get there. Understanding not just “what” (the expectations) but “why” equips the team to deal with ambiguity which arises in the course of the journey. Whenever possible anchor “why” messages to the broader organization’s vision and mission.
  • Explain the challenge (“what will it take”). Understanding the scope and scale of the challenge prepares team members to mentally and physically calibrate themselves for the journey. This is especially true if the challenge will impose upon their private lives. Anyone who’s done open road running or cycling knows the frustrations of struggling to reach the crest of the rise only to discover the hill continues.

4. EMPOWER. The crucial element of empowerment is transferring ownership for the objective. Ownership involves two elements—transferring authority and establishing accountability. Transferring authority to accomplish the objective(s) means transferring relevant decision-making. If you’ve effectively defined expectations, the team will already know the measures of accountability, but also establishing the method of accountability (when and how the team reports on its progress) creates a healthy transparency and makes interventions an exception. If you find your team frequently seeking guidance or clarification, look first to your ineffectiveness in enabling, equipping and setting expectations.

5. EMBRACE. Once you have empowered the team be available but resist the natural urge to jump in and start dictating solutions. These disempowering actions will rapidly deflate the team and make you the chokepoint. Remain resolute. Adversity will come. Expect it and commit to remain in a coaching mode. Spend more time questioning and listening than talking (take a lesson from the LEAN leader practice of going to the gemba). It is important to display consistency in your behaviors, because unpredictability will undermine your credibility.

10 Transformative Acts of Human Dignity

I find it an interesting dichotomy that some social ideas can be both widely known and widely misunderstood.

Turn the other cheek. “Not me,” you say. “I have no plans to let someone else take advantage of me. I won’t tolerate any mistreatment.” But, is allowing someone else to abuse me and then ask for more what Jesus meant?

In His famous Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught a series of transformational behaviors; including this one “…if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.” As with any illustration, it is important to understand the social context of the example. In the society of Jesus’ day people used their left hand for unclean acts associated with daily care and therefore never used their right hand in public. So, in order to smite someone on the right cheek, the offender delivering the blow had to strike the other person with the back of the right hand. This act was a power move designed to communicate or force submission. The act of turning the other check says to the offender, “I’m here. I’m ready. If you want to go any further, you will have to treat me as an equal.”

In the same passage from the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus used another illustration, “And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.” According to the laws of the day, the soldiers enforcing Rome’s rule could require local inhabitants to carry their armor for a mile. That second mile meant, “You can make me carry that load for the first mile, but I’m going this second mile by an act of my own will. My sense of self-worth is intact.”

The Civil Rights movement in this country provides a more recent illustration of this transformative power where non-violent expressions of human dignity forced the culture to accept blacks as equals.

One of the sad legacies of the Industrial Age is the dehumanizing nature of modern corporations. These larger organizations force people into increasingly narrow and repetitive roles that dull the mind and sap the spirit. Large organizations also give rise to bloated bureaucracies and a stifling conformity imposed by reams of rules and policies. We can either respond to these unhealthy environments by descending into the petty mindset of a victim or react from a well-spring of self-dignity.

Many articles and books on organizational or cultural change focus on the role of the leader. I don’t want to minimize that vital responsibility, but always waiting for the leader is a victim mindset. The transforming power of human dignity compels us to ask, “What can I do to change this situation.”

One of the distinguishing elements of the lean enterprise philosophy is respect for people. This is not just about managers respecting employees or employees respecting those in organizational authority but a culture of multilateral respect. We cannot have a healthy and genuine respect for others unless we first respect ourselves. Absent self-respect our thoughts in any circumstance quickly turn toward our own needs and hurts. We evaluate every action in light of its impact on us. We harbor resentment from slights that offend us. We respond with a vengeful spirit that destroys respect and relationships.

One of the intriguing quirks of humans is our ability to behave our way into a new way of believing. So, rather than attempting to determine what motivates me and the others around me, I encourage you to begin behaving with human dignity. The power of the following ten simple acts to transform a family, a team, a company or a community will amaze you.

  1. We fulfill our responsibilities
  2. We volunteer to help others
  3. We identify and solve problems
  4. We defend the weak
  5. We give of our time and money to help others
  6. We show up on time out of appreciate the value of others’ time
  7. We resist the urge to lash out in revengeful responses
  8. We honor our commitments
  9. We take care of our bodies with proper nutrition, rest and exercise
  10. We acknowledge the limits of self-reliance and associate in community for a richer and more productive life experience

10 Signs Your Capital Investing Strategy May Be Upside Down

Since the design of the first tool, men and machines have experienced a dynamic interplay characterized at various times by harmonious synergy and contentious strife.

The Middle Age craftsman was both owner and laborer and oversaw the manufacturing process from start to finish. The craftsman viewed the manufacturing process and the machines within that process from a holistic perspective. He decided to build or buy machines based on the impact to both the machine and his labor; not the machine or his labor. He also considered how any machine might better leverage his time and talent to improve the quality and/or quantity of his finished product (not just any particular step in the manufacturing process).

The Industrial Revolution severed the relationship between owner and labor and also introduced a new layer into the decision process, the professional manager. The Industrial Revolution also disaggregated the craftsman’s role across multiple individuals who only performed discrete steps of the entire manufacturing process. These narrowly constructed roles separated laborers from the output of their work with adverse consequences for everyone. Laborers felt stymied in their ability to contribute and stopped thinking (“just do what you’re told”). Unsurprisingly, managers began viewing laborers as low-value, interchangeable elements in the manufacturing process and used people only to perform work which they had not yet figured out how to automate. This disrespectful mental framework sank to such a depth that for much of the past few decades some industries chased cheap labor all over the world. I call this the Human Capital Paradigm.

In attempts to improve manufacturing some firms turned to an alphabet soup of new techniques and tools — 5S, TQM, TPM, PDCA, QIS, DMAIC, SPC, DOE, etc. Most of those efforts failed, because manufacturing leaders continued to apply those tools from the mental framework of the Human Capital Paradigm. What’s needed is a Human Capital Paradigm, which is best explained by comparison to its failed predecessor in the table below.

Financial Capital Paradigm Human Capital Paradigm
Improvements achieved by investing financial capital (money) Improvements achieved by balancing investments of human capital with financial capital
Discipline/repeatability for high quality sought through machines; managers do not believe people can be disciplined Discipline/repeatability for high quality achieved by people using reliable processes (as the late Bob Galvan of Motorola was fond of saying “People may make mistakes, but teams can be perfect.”)
Machines designed for high repeatability, but offered low flexibility (hard automation) Machines designed for flexibility (easily reconfigurable and capable of performing a range of tasks)
People perceived as highly flexible (able to perform a wide variety of tasks), but with low reliability People are highly disciplined without losing flexibility
Managers think; Laborers do Every team member expected to think and contribute toward continuous improvement

 

In the Human Capital Paradigm machines provide flexible discipline and people contribute disciplined flexibility. The challenge of building such a culture has implications that touch almost every aspect of designing, staffing and running an organization of any size. That challenge is too large for this post. However, I will close by sharing a sample list of attributes you might use to assess how your organization stacks up against the capital investment paradigm? While not an exhaustive list, these behavior-based markers can provide clues to your progress along this journey. I encourage you to use the list below to expand or jump start your own list of markers:

  1. Expectations and related consequences established by agreement, not edict
  2. Accountability for meeting expectations belongs to individuals, not managers
  3. A focus on what we want, not what we don’t want; managers focus on catching people doing things right and recognizing them for it; not discovering and punishing wrongdoing
  4. Team members measure themselves, rather than a manager or third-party
  5. Indicators of performance visible to everybody; most notably those performing the work
  6. Opportunities for improvement often identified by people doing the work not just engineers or managers
  7. Customer-driven variety, not changeover considerations predominately influence production scheduling
  8. Disciplined adherence to standard work procedures facilitates reliable outcomes
  9. Processes highlight abnormal process variations and trigger corrective action
  10. Repeatable processes used to test and verify the efficacy of ideas before widespread implementation

Stop Staring Out the Back of the Bus

Why don’t they position the driver’s seat facing out the back of the bus? You can see the road. You can even tell whether the bus is between the lane markers. Of course, we all know that’s silly. Seeing the past does not allow us to anticipate or respond to what is coming down the road at us. Yet, that is what most managers do when they base a hiring decision on someone’s resume and inappropriate interview questions.

This post is the last in a three-part series on Hiring for Talent. The first post (“Too Many Corners on the Box“) exposed the fallacy of over constraining a hiring search by relying on long lists of experiences and skills. The second post (“I Hired Your Resume, But Unfortunately I Got You”) revealed the pitfalls of focusing on the past and made a case for concentrating more attention on forward-looking talents. This post discusses some methods for hiring talents.

You will never find what you have not first defined. As a first step we must identify the talents we are seeking to hire. Consider first company-specific talents. Since individuals frequently change jobs or roles within the same company the vision for the organization’s culture should overwhelmingly determine the talents you seek to hire. Yes, that means you must have first reduced your vision for the culture or company values to writing and, second, take that plaque, picture, or poster off the wall and really use it. Second, consider job-specific talents with your view out the front of the bus. Think in terms of the talents needed to tackle the challenges facing the person you hire.

But, that still leaves a question of how do we uncover a candidate’s talents? Resumes may provide clues, but almost never reveal answers. Poorly written resumes compound the problem by making isolated and unsupported claims of talent (usually in an overview section); such as Creative, Highly disciplined, Responsible, High integrity, Quick learner, High achiever, etc.

Here are three methods for uncovering and confirming a candidate’s talents:

  1. Trials. This method discovers talents from first-hand experiences during previous interactions. The most effective use of this method is when a manager hires someone they already know well from working together in a professional setting. However, this try-before-you-hire method is rarely suitable for hiring to fill most professional positions when the hiring manager and candidate do not know each other. Most candidates with exceptional talent will not assume the risk of a probationary hire.
  2. Testing. There exists a wide assortment of assessment tools; including instruments such as Myers-Briggs, DiSC, and Wonderlic to name a few. I have mixed opinions on assessment tools. These tools often reveal interesting and potentially helpful insights. However, they can get pricey and present logistic challenges to administer them. More importantly, the broad nature of many assessment tools can make it difficult to zero in on specific targeted talents. In my opinion, too many assessment tools attempt to provide a be all to end all solution and end up providing so much information that properly interpreting them requires a level of training and expertise that makes them impractical or unaffordable. Nonetheless, I know there are fans of various assessment methods…please feel free to share your views in the comments on assessments you’ve found effective.
  3. Talking. Not casual chatting about the candidate’s favorite food, team or vacation spot. Not surface-level conversation about where the candidate has worked and what they’ve done. Not a flag-waving recitation of the candidate’s amazing results. But rather, a structured and deep-level dialogue about what drives the candidate and fueled their accomplishments. It’s free; although it takes some work.

Using Interviews to Uncover Talents

A word of caution…Contrived or hypothetical scenarios shed less light on an individual’s talents and traits and may actually mislead the interviewer (in a hypothetical scenario I will always leave that last chocolate cookie on the plate). Google developed a reputation for off-beat interview questions, but has recently abandoned it (read more here). As a hiring manager I care little about what the candidate might do. I learn most from what they have done.

Since talents are innate or hardwired into our character as a toddler, the exercise of them rarely requires conscious thought or action. Consequently, our actions (human doing) indirectly reveal our talents (human being). In other words, a person’s behavior in real-life situations provides us a window to identify their talents. Consequently, we must use inference and pursue lines of indirect inquiry to uncover a person’s talents. Hopefully, you are now getting an appreciation for clearing understanding what you’re looking for in a new hire.

For illustration purposes, here are some behaviors for which you would listen if initiative were one of your target talents:

  • Identified a problem, trend or unexploited opportunity
  • Researched and presented potential solutions
  • Recruited an ad hoc team to pursue an opportunity
  • Got involved in a project outside their immediate work area
  • Volunteered time in nonprofit organization(s)
  • Founded a group or organization to address an unmet need in their local church, school or community

Finally, a few additional practical suggestions:

  • Use the same question set with each candidate to create a basis for meaningful comparison among the various candidates
  • The book “ Who” by Geoff Smart and Randy Street provides the best structured interview process guide I have ever used
  • Another great starting place is “The Most Important Interview Question of All Time” by Lou Adler