Saturday, May 31, 2008

Truth 50: How to Engage Hearts and Minds

So I’m meeting my good friend, Colleen Cayes, for breakfast this morning. She has to be one of the smartest people I know (she believes that my new book, The Truth About Getting the Best From People, should be in the hands of every people leader in the corporate world, so she has to be smart, right?). And our plan for breakfast today was to brainstorm ways that we can get the word out about the book and the one-day training program that goes along with it.

True to form, she’s there before me. And as I cross the parking lot, I see she’s already deep in conversation with the restaurant owner, standing in front patio. And I hear Colleen telling “Susan” all about the book. This is what “Susan” says in response:

“Oh! I could use that book! I need everything I can get to get the best from my people. See…I am really disappointed in the quality of my employees. It used to be that whenever I put up a help wanted sign, I’d have the most wonderful people lined up down the block applying for the job. Now, I can’t get anybody good. Now I consider myself lucky that I get people to even show up for work. Forget getting the best from them….” She went on for quite a while about how she’s constantly frustrated by the poor quality of her employees.

Okay, if that’s the way it is, fair enough. But can you guess what was wrong with this picture? Here it is: Standing right next to her was a member of her kitchen staff, standing silently watering her pots of geraniums under the morning sun. And taking in every single word. I wanted to catch his eye and smile, but he didn’t look up. Not once.

Colleen and I walked into the restaurant, exchanging mutterings about “can you believe what just happened?”, sat down and ordered a fabulous breakfast served by attentive and cheerful bus and waitstaff. Except for the interaction with the owner herself, it was a flawless dining experience.

So, of course, I’m thinking, what’s the lesson here? This is it: If you want to be an engaging people leader, respect your people’s feelings. What does that mean in terms of specific behaviors and interactions? I could go on for days, but here are a few ideas:

· Be careful of what you say about your people – especially when they’re standing right next to you.

· Never bad-mouth your people to the outside world – especially to your customers.

· Double-check your own beliefs about your people. Is it really true that you’re the captain of the Ship of Fools? Or is that just some belief that you picked up somewhere like stink on your shoe? Could one or two losers or weirdos on your staff have colored your perceptions of everyone? Could it be that what you think isn’t really what you think, when you think about it?

· Notice passion; notice brilliance; notice dedication. And then let your people know you notice. When I deliver my speech, “Sustain Your Flame!”, to groups of organizational leaders, I always open with this request: “If you love your work, raise your hand.” Hands shoot up wall to wall. Then I say, “If you can think of anyone at your workplace who loves their work, raise your hand” hardly any hands appear. If you’re a people leader and you can’t think of anyone who works for you and loves their work, that says more about you than your people.

· Get in the habit of noticing. We all know about that principle that just as you’re contemplating buying a certain make of car, you see that car everywhere you go on the road. When you get in the habit of noticing employees showing their passion for their work by the way to do their work, you’re going to see little sparkles of engagement everywhere in your company. Notice, celebrate, then repeat!

And then, maybe the next time you ‘re chatting with a customer you’ll have way more positive things to say about the people who work for you! And, believe me, the favor will be returned, and a whole new caliber of excellent candidates will start appearing with your next job openings. (You may not have noticed, but your people are talking too.)

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Confidential to Hiring Managers: Spank Alert!

Believe me, I totally get it. Being in the job market can be really unpleasant – especially for hiring managers. As much as job seekers are wondering if there is a place for them in the world, it’s no picnic being a hiring manager either. You have to interview a long line of candidates, most of whom fall on some point on the loser continuum. Perhaps you’ve heard your company’s leadership crow about “hiring for passion, training for skill” one too many times. You know the truth: If the candidate’s resume doesn’t connect the dots just so, you’ve got to spit that contender back out into the universe of yearning wannabes. It’s hard on them, it’s hard on you. It’s a big, fat drag.

Sorry, but that’s no excuse for some truly heartless behavior I’ve witnessed lately. Are we depressed? Too funky to function? Or have we just lost our Manual to Just Plain Common Decency?

The stories of rudeness – even downright cruelty – abound. For this particular posting, however, I want to focus on one specific behavior from hiring managers I’ve been seeing repeatedly: Insensitive lack of follow-up. To wit: The words, “I’ll call you.” Even worse, the words, “I’ll call you by the end of the week.” And then they don’t. Don’t they know how mean that is?

If you’re a regular Oprah (or Sex in the City) watcher like I am, you may remember the whole concept of “He’s Just Not That Into You.” Hearing the words “I’ll call you” at the end of a date may or may not mean that you’ll actually get called for a second date. So you shrug, think to yourself, “whatever,” and just get on with your life.

It’s an annoying, infantile behavior on the dating scene, but it’s positively unacceptable in the job market.

At the moment I have two friends in the job market, both talented, smart, passionate people knocking themselves out to find a great job that can make the best of their considerable skills. I’m proud to know them both, and any company who hires them will do themselves a big favor. But both have heard, “I’ll call you by….” And then…wait for it…nothing.

One friend never heard from that hiring manager at all, ever – even though the interviewer told her she was on the short list of candidates, and would call her “by Friday.”

The other friend, on an extremely short list for a high-level executive position, invested three solid days of her extremely valuable time in the interview process (not to mention a total of over 300 miles of driving distance – and we all know what that means in terms of a gas bill). She was told by her prospective boss, “I’ll call you Thursday or Friday with an answer.” Thursday and Friday came and went. So did the weekend. So did the following Monday – well most of it. At 4:20, the phone rang. It was the prospective boss saying, “Sorry I forgot to call you on Friday. We’ve decided to continue our search.”

The boss forgot?? How do you forget about a promise you made on something so important as a job the candidate is totally passionate about? You don’t forget. You keep your promise.

Just when I thought I’d heard it all, I heard a new riff on the similar theme. Yet another friend (I seem to have a lot of friends in the job market right now) was flown by the hiring company cross-country for a series of panel interviews. It was a lively, exhausting day. She left feeling cautiously optimistic (one of the panel members actually wanted the job in question…don’t get me started on panel interviews).

Weeks came and went. She heard nothing. Phone calls and emails went unreturned. And so she did what any sensible person would do: She shrugged, thought “whatever,” and went on with her life. Then one day, out of the blue, the hiring manager’s assistant called to request a phone appointment a few days hence. Hmm…maybe they’re interested after all.

So my friend waits with rising optimism. And then the conversation begins thusly:
“We have decided to continue our search. But I thought you would like to hear feedback from your interview.”

This is what I would call a one-two punch. To my friend’s credit, she heroically endured a half-hour’s worth of negative feedback. Thanked the hiring manager very much for her time and then called me. True…sensible job candidates are open to feedback on interviews but not like that. Don’t put candidates on a yo-yo of hope and despair and then wait until they’ve released all hope to then call them for one last parting roundhouse across the jaw.

Again, let me repeat: I know it’s hard to be you, if you’re a hiring manager. You have to interview a whole bunch of people – every single one of them – except one – will receive disappointing news. And that has to be hard on your own spirit.
But so is treating candidates callously. It’s tempting to put off making those difficult phone calls. But that helps no one. You’re prolonging your own agony as much as you’re prolonging theirs.

And you’re wrecking your company’s reputation when you behave that way. Remember my first friend in this article? As coincidence would have it, she’s been invited to apply for a job in the last company I mentioned. You can be very sure that I told her all about the third friend’s experience with them.

Is she going to go ahead with the interview? Sure. Will she go into the process whole-heartedly, passionately, and hopefully? Nope. She’ll be holding back – which is completely against her nature.

All over this country, we have a cadre of fabulously talented, but dispirited, candidates who have given up bit by bit. I gotta tell you: In a very large part, hiring managers have themselves to blame.

Be a mensch! Keep your promises! Make those calls!

Friday, May 9, 2008

Confidential to Job Seekers: Talk to Strangers!

Okay, I’ve got a very cool story to tell, but forewarning: It’s going to sound like I’m bragging. I swear I’m not. It’s just this is an amazing story and I just happen to be a player in it. Okay? Okay, here goes:

About a month ago, a brand new client of mine was flying me to their Connecticut HQ from Albuquerque. This part is noteworthy only in the sense that it was a rare opportunity for me to fly First Class (I didn’t ask for it, they just gave it to me). Only problem: It was stand-by First Class. So you can imagine what happened next: On the ABQ to DFW leg, I’m trudging down the aisle along with everyone else, trying to not shoot envious big-eyed orphan glances at those comfortably settled in the big leather seats up front, already happily grasping their drinks on their broad armrests.

As I’m consoling myself down the aisle, the little voice inside my head says, “Something really good is going to come out of this.” (I may be codependent but that’s nothing compared to the codependency of the little voice inside my head.)

I sit next a guy who is flipping through the pictures in his digital camera, and being a chatty kinda gal who also happens to live in one of the nation’s top vacation destinations, I ask him, “Going home after a vacation to Santa Fe?” Nope. Wrongo. Come to find out his wife and children live in Albuquerque but he works in Tennessee. “Oh? Doing what?” He gives me one of those highly technical, exotic foreign answers that would make anyone say blankly, “ohhhhh, how nice for you…say where is that beverage cart anyway?”

Turns out, it wasn’t so nice for him. Every time he went home for a visit, it meant that he would have to wrench himself away from his family, and his heart would be going crack, crack, crack, all the way back to his dismal bachelor life back in Tennessee. He was leaving Albuquerque this time freshly determined to find a job within a pillow’s throw of his cherished wife and two adoring sons. And so he told me all about it.

Now remember: His expertise is highly specialized, highly technical, and to make matters worse, highly manufacturing. The kind of job that would make elicit the response, “Well, good luck with that.” But not me. Oh no. I said, “Send me your resume and I’ll see what I can do.” Not like I know anything or anyone in manufacturing. But, hey, you never know, right?

Long to short: He starts his new job in Albuquerque tomorrow. And now his two sons quite rightly think: “Dad has the coolest job in town.” And he really does. And it’s in town!

Here’s a quick summary of what happened between then and tomorrow: That night I got to my hotel room in Stamford. And there was his resume emailed to me. I was a) tired; b) on major chocolate withdrawal and c) thinking, “what are the chances of anything coming this? What’s on tv?” But that darn inner voice chimed in, “Larry King can wait. You promised, now get cracking.”
Yeah, but I promised then. This is now. I’m tired. And besides what are the odds that anything could come of this?

Now there were only two companies that came to mind as possible employers for this guy. But really, what could possibly be the chances that they would have an opening that would exactly fit his skills? I looked up the first company, and discovered that they are hiring out of San Carlos, CA, and looking for a svp/hr. So I figured they probably wouldn’t be hiring someone like this guy right now. I totally didn’t even bother with them.

Then I looked at the other company, found the svp/hr, figured out what her email address would probably be, and sent her an email saying, “You don’t know me but there’s this guy I met on the plane today who….” I attached his resume, detaching myself from any residual interest in the outcome. And then went about scaring up some chocolate and finding CNN on the tube. I spent the next several days working with this new client and thinking about myself.

Back in New Mexico, this lovely svp/hr took the time to open an email from a stranger, opened the attachment, and discovered a possible match for a position long open and needing attention pretty darn quick. (I just love email, don’t you?)

Next thing I hear: The guy comes back to Albuquerque upon their invitation, surprises his sons by picking them up unexpectedly at school, goes to a series of interviews at this company the next day, is offered the job of his dreams before he even gets home. (I just love cell phones, don’t you?)

From my perspective – and from the perspective of anyone even remotely involved in HR – life is full of happenstance matches that make for happy career stories. So for me, it’s a nifty story that makes me smile.

But can you imagine what it must have been like for this guy? Of all the flights between ABQ and DFW, and of all the seats on the plane, he has to sit next to this chatty woman. And then guess what? She’s the opening conduit to a dream come true.

It is actually his doing that makes this a story with a happy ending. He was willing to talk to a stranger. So there’s a tip for you: Talk to strangers; tell anyone who will listen who you are and what you want.

It will improve the odds.

A special note from Martha: If you’re a manager, your company is counting on you to be an engaging leader. But what exactly does that mean? And how do you do engagement? Just because you’re brilliant at your technical skills, that doesn’t mean that you’re a natural at people skills. New managers need a book that can help them figure it out in simple, straightforward ideas.

What do you speak? Boo Hooo? or Woo HOOO!

I’ve been playing with the title of this posting over recent days. And to be honest with you, a couple of titles I have been especially fond of are as follows: “What Am I, Your Mommy?” And “No One Wants A Whiner.” But that would be mean-spirited, wouldn’t it? But I’ve got to tell you, based on, like, 85% of the emails I’ve been getting from job-seeking readers recently, I wouldn’t be hiring those people either! In fact, based on the boo hoo factor, I don’t even bother to respond to most of them (and you know who you are…that response email that you didn’t get? That’s me.).

Believe me, I’m not pointing the finger at anyone without pointing three back at myself. I know what it means to be completely at sea, not knowing where my place is in the world. I’ve even been accused of self-pity, but that was just because the accuser just like the rest of the world didn’t understand me – or appreciate me or hire me or get me or….. Get the idea?

You know those wonderful moments when the right words at the right time hit you right between the eyes? A subtle suggestion that you consider the same things but through a different light changes your perspective forever. That happened to me about 10 years ago when I was holed up in a borrowed house on Cape Cod in the depths of one of the snowiest, coldest winters on record. I was flat broke. The few people I knew in this small town shunned me like existential life confusion might be contagious. (One of the shunners is a writer too. And I found myself as an unpleasant character in one of her published short stories a few years later. She didn’t even bother changing my name. Now that was a bummer. I have the last laugh, though. My Amazon sales rankings are always much better than hers. Not that I’m holding a grudge or anything.)

The previous summer wasn’t much better either. I spent it on the basement sofa of a generous and way patient friend who took me in after I was stranded in Columbus, OH, after a client refused to pay me a desperately needed (and much earned fee) because I turned him down in regarding, shall we say, another matter. See? I can go there with the best of you!

Anyway, back to the Cape Cod house and those right words. It was definitely one of those times that Judy Collins calls the “fallow time.” But one weekend a friend of mine came up from New Haven to spend a few days on the blustery beaches. And in the evenings we’d sit wrapped in afghans, talking about life, and basically why I thought it, well, sucked. (Normally, I don’t like to use that expression, but in this case, it’s the only one that works.)

I whined (I mean, said): “I know I need a job, but I can’t bring myself to go around the Cape pleading with people to give me a chance to show what I can do.”

To which my friend, Patricia, said, “It’s not about what you need, it’s about what you can give.”

Thwack! Did you hear that? It’s the sound of an arrow of break-through brilliance leaving its bow and aiming straight between my eyes, which slowly crossed as I said, “ooooohhhhhh.” And suddenly, indulging in my mopes seemed actually selfish.

Did I happen to mention that Patricia is a coach? I think she’s one of the few true coaches who are actually born to the work. Just being around her makes you inspired to lose weight, do a The Firm dvd all the way through, and add another six digits to your annual salary.

Her right time/right words words changed my life (well at least my perspective – my The Firm dvds only get my attention when it’s time to dust. And often not even then).

And I suddenly started thinking of my search for meaningful (i.g., paying) work as being an intersection where I can introduce my passion and abilities with real market need out there. How selfish of me to keep holed up and scared in my (well, someone else’s) house when there are people out there who actually need what I can do. And what I can do would actually make them happy.

All of which is to say: It’s completely understandable how in your pain it’s easy to lose sight of who you really are, what gives you true joy and how you can benefit the planet. And suddenly you start talking about yourself in high, squeaky, whiney tones in terms of what you need and your long litany of frustrations. And my all-time favorite expression starts to surface in your mind and escape your lips: “Yeah but.”

Another arrow between the eyes happened last fall. I was Randy Pausch came on to deliver his now-famous Last Lecture on Oprah. If you haven’t seen it, where have you been? Do it now. No, really, stop reading and do it right this very minute. We'll wait for you.

You’ll see that among the many brilliant things he says, he says that we each have the choice to be Eyore or Tigger. TIgger spends his life bouncing for joy (a friend of mine has a Tigger cartoon on her fridge that says “no bouncing before breakfast.” Cracks me up every time). Eyore looks at life through one big self-pitying monocle of mope.

Now I ask you, which one would you like to hang out with? Which one would you prefer to hire? I’m guessing Tigger. Tigger speaks in Woo Hoo! And, not to rhyme or anything, but if it rhymes, you know it’s gotta be true: Tigger speaks in Woo Hoo, and so you should too!

Even if things are way crappy, there is always something to bounce about. Even that little smidgeon of joy is something you can give. And eventually you’ll be able to figure out a way to sell it, because people will want to have a piece of you and your passion.

(Here’s another link to lift your spirits…it comes from The Secret, and it’s a minute of amazing images to make you really glad to get up in the morning and be standing on this particular planet. )

And so in closing, allow me to just say: Woo HOOOOO! That is, as they say in the Hoky Pokey, "what it's all about."

A special note from Martha: If you’re a manager, your company is counting on you to be an engaging leader. But what exactly does that mean? And how do you do engagement? Just because you’re brilliant at your technical skills, that doesn’t mean that you’re a natural at people skills. New managers need a book that can help them figure it out in simple, straightforward ideas.

That’s why I wrote The Truth About Getting the Best From People. It’s a book made up of 49 short, simple truths designed to help new managers understand how their beliefs and behaviors directly impact their employees’ passion factor on the job.

Click on the title and check it out! I hope you’ll enjoy it!