Tag Archives: Human Resources

A Big Fish in a Small Pond?

small business hiring corporate manager

Salmon Coming Home

Not long ago I read John Dini’s excellent blog post on importing a manager from a large organization into a small company. When I recently heard a tour guide comment on sockeye salmon migration, it brought to mind John’s exposition. Let me explain.

The tour guide had declared that as the salmon return from the vast ocean to the stream where they were hatched, they must make the transition from salt water to fresh water. He highlighted the fact that, as they entered the brackish waters near the mouth of the river or stream, they lingered – maybe days, maybe weeks – allowing their body to make some important adjustments to their new environment. [Although I have no empirical evidence to offer, I suspect the percentage of salmon making it all the way home has increased since the advent of those navigational apps for their cell phones. I mean, really, how do they find their way back? But I digress.]

It’s been my experience that a significant percentage of the Corporate Migrants decide to return to the sea, or are asked to find another body of water in which to swim.

As a business owner, you may have several good reasons for wanting to bring an experienced large-company person into your fold. Their background in systems, in planning, in structuring, and in thinking broadly about crucial decisions can be invaluable to a small business management team. If you are positioning the business for your own eventual exit, they bring an outside perspective and professional expertise that can be very attractive to a potential buyer. However, in the words of Paul Simon, “…a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest.” True of business owners, be they men or women. So don’t disregard the risk that the imported large catch can also be ineffective or even disruptive.

Like salmon, some who leave Corporate America are indeed returning home. They see small business as a better fit for them, for whatever their reasons, and they are correct. Others, however, are simply looking for a resting spot prior to returning to the sea. Your recruiting, hiring, and onboarding processes need to take this into account. Here again, you will likely be tempted to hear what you want to hear and disregard the rest because you consider the candidate such a valuable find. In truth, you may be flattered that they would even consider coming to work for you. Get past that. Dig deep to try to determine all the motivations for the candidate’s interest in your company.

Then, if you both agree to move forward, bring them aboard in a manner that allows them to acclimate. Both the migrant and the organization need time to make adjustments. They will probably see many areas where changes would strengthen your organization. But they also have the potential to damage a healthy culture in the process of pushing for change. You are the filter through which their initiatives must pass. It’s your job to help orient the new hire to a significantly different environment. If, after a fair amount of time in your brackish waters, they are not meshing, it becomes your job to return them to the sea. By that time, they have probabl come to the same conclusion, even if they haven’t yet admitted it to themselves.

I’m not saying you should never bring a Corporate manager into the fold. I’m saying be diligent if you do.

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What Will You Tell the Kids?

“So why did you fire Tricia, Dad?” Trevor knew Tricia’s son, and the story was already circulating at school. Pete didn’t respond immediately. When he did, he immediately felt that his answer was inadequate.

“She just wasn’t up to the job,” he finally said.

“I don’t know what that means” said Trevor as he headed out of the room.

That’s where the conversation ended. But Pete’s rethinking his decision had only just begun.

When you have faced a really tough decision in your business, have you ever considered how you would explain that decision to your kids?

A few CEOs find crucial decision-making relatively easy. Almost nobody finds making good crucial decisions easy.

If you want to not only improve your decision-making, but also improve your mood following a crucial decision, you might try applying “the kids test”. Regardless of the current age of your children, test your tentative decision by thinking through how you would explain the decision to your kids, once they have attained the age of reason (for some that’s about 12, for others, more like 42). Apply it to virtually all your tough business decisions. The circumstances surrounding my opening example drag the son into the conversation in a way that does not normally occur with your business decisions. That’s not important. Try forcing yourself to boil down your explanation of any decision to language that an innocent who does not work in your business would understand.

The reality is that your kids are not likely to ever ask you anything about your business or your career. OK, occasionally one will ask, but only when they think you’re on your deathbed. But that’s not the point. The mental exercise I’m suggesting can be an effective tool for you.

Try it right now. Pick a tough decision you’re in the process of making and implementing. Find a place where nobody except you can hear you, and explain – out loud – why you have made the choice you have made. Critique your own explanation, and do it over until you’re satisfied that your defense of the decision is fundamentally sound.

Let me know how it goes.

The Case of the Renegade Case

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I recently took a trip, several hikes, a brief leave of my senses and, finally, matters into my own hands. That’s a lot of “taking”, during which I learned a lesson about delegation. Lots of business leaders struggle with “the big D” and my sharing my personal experience might light a path or reduce some stress for you.

My wife (call her Karen, since that’s her real name) and I took several days to relax at a resort 130 miles from our home. The morning of our return trip, we packed the items we would be bringing home from the condo, hopped in the car, smiled at the blue sky, and had a series of really good conversations over the next two-and-a-half hours. Got home, unpacked, and then…are you familiar with that sudden realization that you’ve overlooked something really important? For my body, it manifests itself north of my neck. Kind of a numb feeling as my face flushes with reality setting in. Kind of warm too, but not in a good sense. I realized I had left my packed briefcase in the dining area on the floor next to the table and invisible from the front door.

I always travel with a briefcase. Always have. Can’t stand to be without useful files and magazines – not to mention my iPad – on any trip. Suffice it to say that this briefcase on this particular trip had not only interesting stuff inside, but also important and sensitive information…and did I mention my iPad?

Within minutes, I was on the phone, confirming that Housekeeping had recovered my briefcase. I quickly made up my mind to retrieve it the next day. Karen looked at me like I had just volunteered to cook dinner (i.e., in disbelief). Why would I travel 260 miles the next day, knowing I am still rebuilding my body from a back injury that can be exacerbated by sitting for long periods of time in the same position, only to personally pick up a briefcase that could easily be overnighted to me?

At first, I couldn’t explain (at least not clearly) why I had already decided to personally retrieve the briefcase. She ignored me, called the resort, talked with Guest Services, and got them to agree they could retrieve the case from Housekeeping and get somebody to take it to the Post Office. When Karen persuasively told me this, it made some sense. I really wanted some of the contents ASAP, and if the resort reacted quickly, I could have them in my possession within 24 hours. So I called Guest Services. Kelsey explained that she was trying to reach the lady who drives the van to pick up and deliver guests as well as the mail, and that she was hopeful that Cathy would return her call soon. This was about 3:30PM on a Friday and I was aware that most small town Post Offices did not stay open all night. Long story short, within 30 minutes I learned that the briefcase could be delivered to the Post Office the following morning and I was advised I could call the Post Office directly to discuss overnight delivery or other special handling for returning the runaway briefcase.

What had started to seem like a sensible approach less than an hour previously now gave way to my overwhelming feeling that I had to personally get this thing done.

Can you identify with that?

I have worked with several hundred small business owners over the past dozen years, and the tension between Control and Delegation is almost always a stress point. Very few find it easy to delegate important tasks, even though they are aware that a successful, growing enterprise requires lots of delegation.

What I realized in “the renegade briefcase” caper is that, whether it be a personal or a professional challenge, the decision to delegate rather than maintain personal control involves more than simple reason and trust. It also involves instinct…your gut. And, as any nutritionist worth her weight in tofu will tell you, your gut is very important. Going against your gut can cause extreme discomfort.

My instinct that Friday became overwhelming. The world would not end if I did not have that briefcase back in hand for three or four days. But it would have been VERY inconvenient, and my world would have been filled with stress until I got it back. I would be counting on at least three different people, more likely five or six, to get the communications straight and to protect the contents of that case.

This episode caused me to reflect on a number of discussions with CEOs regarding their resistance to delegate certain responsibilities that seemed to me at the time to be no-brainers. For example, I once had a client who ran a $50 million business who insisted on opening all the incoming mail, every day. I now have a better appreciation for his gut.

This story is not a plea for you to delegate less and work harder than ever to grow your business. Rather, it’s intended as a stress reduction aid. You don’t have to justify driving 130 miles one-way to your wife, to pick up your briefcase. You don’t have to justify opening all the mail every day to your business coach. If you gain significant peace of mind, in addition to the certainty that the job will be done in the best possible way, then it’s OK to maintain control and do it yourself. Heck, if you simply enjoy writing software code or installing systems or stocking shelves, allow yourself some time to do that fun work occasionally. It’s your business, and it’s not supposed to be 24/7 stress.

Once you pick your spots, once you select the task or tasks you will personally handle, allow any ancillary benefits to accrue to help justify your decision – and provide additional peace of mind. In my case, seeing an April sunrise in Central Oregon was a big plus, in addition to the fact that 90% of my drive time was either through piney forest or up and down high desert buttes. I’m not used to that type of scenery, and I hope I continue to hold it in awe.

If you are willing to share your own thoughts on Control versus Delegation, please do.

It Takes All Kinds

There is no "right" behavioral style for a CEO

Checking the Day’s Skiing Performance Stats

Does your management team share common behaviors and talents? Should they?

I recently had the good fortune to spend three days and four nights with five other adult males skiing in Colorado.  Lots of guy talk and guy smells and guy consumption of unhealthy foods along with a small amount of alcoholic beverages.

I took the photograph shown here during an afternoon après-ski gathering.  My friend of some forty years is in the process of studying his day’s skiing statistics (number of runs, vertical feet skied, top speed) through slightly bloodshot eyes.  Every day, he and one other from our group (who has the same ski app on his cellphone) compared data, mainly to determine who skied the fastest. Some really lively dialog ensued regarding who posted the top rate of descent. (Clarifying note: Only two of the six in our group kept the stats and competed for the land speed record among six old farts.)

As I listened to the third day of competitive comparisons, I snapped this photo as a reminder that it’s OK when personal behavioral differences exist among cooperating groups of humans.  The freaks who compete on skiing speeds are no righter or wronger than the freaks who are slightly anal making sure we show up on time for a dinner reservation. Our group comes together annually for a few days of skiing and camaraderie, and we certainly have some common values and interests; but we’re far from clones when it comes to behavioral styles or attitudes.  Is there ever friction?  Sure.  Is it a more effective “team” because of some differences?  I think so.

As CEO, have you intentionally put together a leadership team with very similar styles?  How about similar perspectives?  Common behaviors and values normally lead to increased harmony.  But ask yourself whether your business has a greater need right now for harmony or for great strategy and execution.

Assembling and working with a “team of differents” can be taxing. Every time Kevin becomes confrontational, Laurie shuts down. Mike is so laid back and slow to react that it drives Julie nuts. Emmet looks at everything from a return-on-investment perspective, while Jules is committed to providing jobs and support for the local community at almost any cost. Blending this type of team together for weekly staff meetings or quarterly strategic reviews is exhausting. But is it likely to produce a stronger business than a “team of similars”?

I’m sure you have some thoughts on this. Let me know where you stand on the traits of a strong management team.

(By the way, the top speed recorded this ski trip was just over 50 mph.)

Managing Managers

The accomlished CEO must be excellent at managing managers

It may look easy, but it’s not.

“I shouldn’t have to manage managers, and this really honks me off!”

That comment, from a business owner, was an expression of utter frustration upon discovering a major oversight by the manager in question – one that was quite damaging to business performance the past year.

When your business reaches the stage where you manage managers, how does your job as CEO change? In one sense, it does not change. You are still responsible for setting the company vision, for recruiting and onboarding the best managers possible, for establishing corporate strategies, for protecting corporate assets, and for integrating operational activities across department lines where necessary. Although your key accountabilities have not changed, how you achieve those accountabilities has changed.

Continue reading

Do You Hear What I Hear?

In the holiday season just past, I often heard one of my favorite Christmas songs. The lyrics incorporate three questions:

  • Do you see what I see?
  • Do you hear what I hear?
  • Do you know what I know?

While the poetry and melody surrounding the three questions are lovely, my mind occasionally drifts to the application of these questions to the life of the CEO. With regard to your employees, be aware that they do not see what you see; they do not hear what you hear; they do not know what you know.

This is an especially relevant point at the beginning of a new year. Continue reading

Hunting in a Farmer’s World

I just read John Dini’s latest book, Hunting in a Farmer’s World – Celebrating the Mind of an Entrepreneur. If you are a business owner or leader and you pick this book up, you won’t put it down.

John draws a line of distinction between what he calls “hunters” and “farmers”. He treads along that dangerous slope of stereotyping, but with good cause. It allows him to explain in a compelling manner some of the reasons why certain private businesses struggle, while others blossom. Let me share with you just a few reasons why I am not really summarizing the book here, but rather encouraging you to read it for yourself.

He provides a mirror for the business owner to reflect on whether they own a job, a lifestyle business, or a legacy business.

He deals effectively with that nagging question, “How much should my company be making?”

He provides thought-provoking insight into the philosophical quandary, “What is rich?”

He even touches on the alternatives for selling a business, and some rules of thumb for estimating the value of a business.

Most importantly, John highlights the significant behavioral style differences between a “hunter” and a “farmer”, and how those differences can be successfully combined in a business organization.

A summary, by me or anybody else, does not do this book justice.

Full disclosure – John is a colleague of mine in The Alternative Board® network. More important disclosure – You don’t have to be a colleague of John’s to fully appreciate this very practical, experiential, straightforward, soon-to-be classic, on the mind of the entrepreneur.