Mind the gap

Sometimes, we’re so heads down working in our little fiefdoms, we fail to notice that the moats around our stone towers have grown together.

And that makes a huge gap.

So why not pick your head up and see where those gaps are?

Chances are you could fill that gap and expand your expertise. Create something valuable. Or maybe just make your job a bit easier.

The gaps are there. You just have to look for them.

Posted in Career, Growth | Leave a comment

Happenstance

Bumping into your future leaderDumb luck. Fluke. Blue bird.

How are you finding your future leaders? Are you leaving it up to blind chance, pulling candidates off monster or pushing recruiters’ picks through your interview process?

Some of the best hires I’ve met of late have been for a company in a little out-of-the-way town, responding to ads placed by a functional manager (rather than HR). These are people coming from Fortune 500 companies to work in this quiet corner of the world. When I’ve asked about the attraction, they shared:

  • I’m from the area, and have wanted to get back, closer to family
  • I have been looking for an opportunity where I can make a larger impact
  • I’m excited about what the company does
  • I liked the people when I started into the interview process

Are you giving potential hires a compelling reason to say yes? Do you appreciate why someone would leave a secure, stable job to come work with your organization? To do over, would you leave your last job to come?

Posted in Career | 1 Comment

Performance Reviews for Experts

Do you employ experts? Do you wish you did? What’s the hold up? A review of some past rants on Pride and Workmanship have me wondering,

Does the conferring title of “expert” on members of your team result in a higher quality of work?

I’m inclined to think it does.

Right or wrong, when I am invested in a piece of work that resonates at a being level, where I’m emotionally invested and finding real satisfaction in my work, I am certain to ensure each T is crossed, each corner is square. It can be a presentation for a client, or a bit of painting around the house. I want to be proud of this work that others recognize as mine.

Accountability is a by product of ownership. To increase ownership of results in your team, increase the level of expertise.

Getting expert talent in house is simple – set an expectation for people to operate as experts. Most folks will rise or slump to the expectations set for them – so set high expectations. Use discussions of performance to acknowledge good work, and challenge your team to reach higher.

Performance reviews should be first and foremost about Performance. Not compensation. Communicate your expectations of what an Expert does in this role, and contrast performance against this metric.

Developing experts is good for you, and good for your brand when they move on to new challenges. An expert manager understands what it takes to turn potential into concrete deliverables. And everyone – everyone – wants to work for managers that create strong reputations and accelerate (or launch) careers.
Working with experts elevates your game. If you love what you do, this feeds your own development.

Management loves to promote those that can manage AND deliver. Those capable of transforming talent into expert contributors. Professionals that make themselves dispensable at one level so they can move on (and up) for broader contributions. Good managers can combine opportunity, talent, and training to create professionals that render high quality results – that take pride in their work.
Be a Talent Transformer.

Posted in Accountability, Career, Develop, Execution, Pride, Reputation | Leave a comment

Breaking News: Want ads still suck

Apparently, they still haven’t fixed the job description/want ad problem.

Mr. Peabody, could I borrow that thing for a sec?

In light of Guy Kawasaki going off on want ads and 37signals going off on want ads, we’ve gone back in time to pretend we didn’t publish this, this, or this, until now.

Posted in Criticism, Hiring | 1 Comment

Valuing Consulting Services versus Contractor Labor

Sharing the wealthRick and I were recently having a conversation about the value of a consultant or contractor’s time, and how the concept of consultative value may or may not translate into a meaningful bill rate. Rick observed that too often the line of tactical versus strategic advice is backwards, with “strategic” insights being given away for free to secure “tactical” contracts.

This coincides with a tale I had just heard of a woman that is going into consulting for her first time, and has decided that her rate will be $500/hr, based on encouragement and discussion with a life coach. (She has not yet secured a contracted engagement at this rate, but this is the rate she is quoting). I know nothing about this woman otherwise, but can imagine what I would expect of her performance at this rate. Without having met her or knowing anything about her ability, I find this rate to be astonishing – but maybe I shouldn’t. Is she a widely recognized expert in her field, with a track record for successful execution? Is she a dynamic speaker that can inspire and motivate the most burned out personnel? Depending on how your consulting story begins to get around, decisions will be made about the value your can deliver, even before you get your chance to begin bidding projects.

How much is an hour of your time worth? What should a client expect of a professional at different price points? Will you likely get referrals from people that know you at this rate?

If you begin scoping the work at too high a price point without qualifying your expertise, the client will likely begin considering alternative bids. Come in at too low a rate, and you will get bucketed with all the other tacticians being directed and herded.

I view this as the “contracting” versus “consulting” rates. Contractors have technical expertise, contribute as part of a larger endeavor, and are expected to be managed. Consultants have technical expertise AND strong management skills, define and or lead projects with a defined outcome, and are expected to be self-directed in fulfilling their obligations.

If your billable rate seem low, you may have succumb to being positioned as a contractor instead of a consultant. Selling your time as directed, not application of your unique expertise.

When setting rates, it all seems to be a matter of what you are consulting on, and how you manage your client’s perception of your value. If you are seen as temporary staffing, then your rate will most likely parallel the costs of finding a similarly experience resource through a staffing agency. If you are seen as a subject matter expert brought in to deliver a specific solution, your rate should likely reflect the market-defined value for similar professionals that deliver results under a defined methodology or implementation framework. Understanding how you will interact with the client organization is perhaps the most critical part of setting the rate.

Before you start pushing for the $500/hr rate, consider:

  • Self-directed performance is highly correlated with rate. Just like an employee, client companies will be thinking about how much oversight and attention you will require to get the work done. At a lower price point, the client will be comfortable providing direction, oversight, prompting, and a bit of rework. As you begin to push your rate up, be prepared to act more as a consultant than as a contractor – executing with a confidence that reflects expertise, professionalism, and high quality standards.
  • Your rate is all about your reputation – Reputation, Reputation, Reputation. Most folks will land their first few consulting gigs with people they have known from past efforts – and should recognize that they are being sought out based on their reputation. When you take these gigs – and if you’ve done well, you should get a few – be sure to communicate what your reasonably targeted rate is, even if you give them a discount on the face of the billing. Setting your rate too low early on will make for a long slow climb, and you may likely find yourself locked into long term obligations that are well below where you’d like to be billing your time.
  • Past results ARE an indicator of future performance. Be prepared to talk about what you’ve delivered – this is your story, and should be an integral part of your sales strategy. No one knows your story quite like you do, and likewise, only you can effectively describe how your experience can uniquely deliver the client’s project. While big-name employers and clients help, a personable, confident professional with a verifiable track record can find their way into some fantastic opportunities.
  • Credentials are a billing cornerstones. If there is an industry standard credential in the space you are choosing to consult in, be sure to get it on your resume. These independent certifying bodies add to your reputation, in that your earning of the credential effectively positions you as competent in this body of knowledge. Growing your brand should include developing a strong track record coupled with good credentials.
  • You need to be prepared to sell yourself. Which watch is a more valuable time keeping device – the $5 or the $5,000 wrist clock? Just like any product, you need to think about the components of marketing and positioning yourself before you talk about an engagement. You need to be versed in the marketable value of your simple time keeping tasks, but also be aware of when you and you alone can deliver the stunning impressions that only costly bling delivers.

Do you have data points that guide your rate setting practices? I’d love to hear them.

Posted in Entrepreneur, Execution, Experience, Insight, Perception, Reputation | 4 Comments

Evolve Your Brand

Today is the first day of the rest of your jobDay One at a new company – who will you be here? What will your work say about you?

Not that you can’t be the same person you were yesterday – that person got you hired after all. But how will you be more of who you are? The best version of what you can be?

Remember, as of Day One, everyone that meets you begins their relationship with you HERE. You define the reputation you will come to be known by, for good or bad.

Everything you are today – all your learning, your blunders, your hard conversations, success, failures and learning – all this is combined to be the mature professional you are today. You should have taken this new job for a good reason, now be sure you seek to live that opportunity.

Spend a few minutes considering how you want to present yourself, given that you effectively have a clean slate with which to work.

Posted in Branding, Career, Perception, Reputation | 3 Comments

37signals highlights some recent mistakes

Making mistakesHere are good ol’ More than a living, we like to think we’re pretty upfront about our mistakes.

It’s not that we like making them.

But once they’re made, there’s a certain amount of catharsis in delving into the causes and results of the mistake. Especially when it helps us see the correct path for solving the problem.

Why not use a mistake as a lesson to make yourself, or your team, better?

Those folks who hide from mistakes or sweep them under the rug are simply deluding themselves.

In fact, you may not know this, so I’ll let you in on a little secret: everyone makes mistakes.

So why not revel in it?

That’s our attitude. And that’s why it was so nice to see 37signals take a similar tact, describing some recent mistakes they made when building an import tool for Highrise.

If you have a few minutes, it’s well worth the read.

Posted in 37signals, Accountability, Management, Mistakes | Leave a comment

Recruit Mediocre or Learn to Reward Performance

Are you anchored to mediocrity?When was the last time you sought the most average potential candidate for your next employee? When you said, “competent is great, but a solid C/C+ candidate is the real sweet spot?” Are you hiring for the tasks that need addressed, or to meet the bell-curve of your pending performance reviews?

I hope you haven’t been thinking the latter. “Good enough” isn’t a strong recruitment approach. I hope your organization sees the future of the company in the passion and potential of your employees.

Oddly though, I have so many conversations with folks about their review process, and invariably we talk about how managers are asked to rank order professionals across a horizon. Someone has to be average, someone less than average.

I would get this, if I ever had met an organization that actively sought the very best, and then in turn managed out the average performers. But I’m not talking about companies in general, but rather, those pockets of excellence where real change is expected to be occurring.

A manager is charged with delivering superior results. They actively recruit inside and outside the firm to find the most competent, flexible, execution-oriented change agents they can find. The team works like the devil to hit dramatically accelerated timelines, and then at closure, the manager is asked to describe performance in a way consistent with the rest of the organization “we can’t all have teams of ‘superstars’.”

Really? Is it inconceivable that an entire team could have been organized of exceptional talent?

God, I hope so. I aspire to. I try every time. I hope you do too.

If you can’t get your head around this, prepare to watch good hires move on to other opportunities – you should know what talent is demanding.

Posted in Mediocrity, Performance, Recruiting, Results | Leave a comment

Cultural Messaging – Stop Neglecting It

Ignoring your responsibilityWhen you cast about your organization, who epitomizes your organization’s values? Do you see it just in the executive suite, or do you see it in the line (or in walking among the cubes)? How is your messaging reinforcing the definition of success at your company?
Who actively communicates what your organization stands for, inside and outside the company? If you aren’t the mouthpiece – and can’t identify who is – your organization is probably missing one of the most significant opportunities for gaining time and emotion investment within your community.

“Organizational culture” and “cultural values” are often thought to simply happen organically, magically emerge. Just like high-performance teams. Just like breakthrough innovations. Just like fiscal responsibility.

Uh – right.

I often see the clearest messaging being communicated by the recruiting staff from HR. These are the folks that are seeking to “sell” the company to future employees, to help them see their future within the context of the company’s opportunities. But where are they getting their talking points? Are they describing a culture that folks will actually experience, or just pimping a promise of what could be? And who carries on this communication after a recruit becomes an employee?

I recently had a conversation with a senior manager about his first day on a new job. He had picked up his family, relocated several hundred miles, and was getting ready to make a change. But after all the love, all the courting as a candidate, this leader as employee sat in the lobby when he showed up, waiting for someone to buzz him in to begin his career here.

A very low-key reception. Grasshoppers, folks.

No agenda, no planned meetings for introductions, no opportunity to begin meaningful conversations when his excitement was at it’s highest. Missed opportunities to roll out this new leader to the masses, where his early energy could have really started to infect those folks that have maybe gotten a little soft on the organizational mission. Does it make sense that energy levels should be less after the first day of work than they were when first signing on the dotted line as a new employee? Gulp.

Is this how your organization on-boards new leader? Is this how you help new hires ramp into meaningful results in the first 30/60/90 day windows so critical to gaining credibility and setting change in motion? How do you measure alignment and performance of this new recruit if you’ve done nothing to set their talents to task in alignment with the organizational needs.

This isn’t just about the missed opportunity of a single hiring manager – this is about setting a cultural tone that emphasizes contribution, accountability, and active change management. If you aren’t setting expectations, communicating the alignment to organizational objectives and values, and monitoring delivery of results, you’ve missed out on the energy and “new guy sparkle” of your new hires.

If your organization doesn’t have a Cultural Evangelist, start squawking. Someone needs to be actively talking up organizational objectives, cultural norms and practices, and a process for managing ongoing change. Be it a lead in HR, internal communications, or just a social butterfly that loves to speak at new employee orientations, make cultural communications a defined task for which someone has clear accountability.

There is a lifecycle to be managed, and the lifecycle is employee awareness. Aware of cultural values, or the company mission, of the future direction and passion of the leadership team. For companies of 10 and 1,000 alike, the only risk in over-communicating is failure to deliver on the commitments made. We all want to be part of something great, to do more than just earn a check. We want to be part of the winning team, overcoming long odds to do amazing things (in ways great and small).

Clarify your corporate vision, articulate the alignment of values and opportunities, communication your passion, and lead your internal communications with cultural messages that reinforce your objectives.

Posted in Branding, Change, Communication, Culture | 3 Comments

You're special

You're specialYou’re special.

And I don’t mean that in a touchy feely way. Although if you feel like you need it, go ahead and take it that way.

But take it this way, as well:

You’re special. You’re not general.

You’re special in what you demand. You’re special in how you present yourself. You’ve  had your share of ups and downs. And because of your special experience, you’ve gained special talents.

You are not a generalist, so stop thinking, acting, and broadcasting yourself that way.

You are a specialist.

Figure out what makes you special. And work to make it the primary selling point for your talents.

Because you generalists are downright boring. And there are millions of generalists.

There’s only one specialist with your talent.

Posted in Experience, Honesty, Inspiration, Pride, Reputation, Talent, Value | 5 Comments