Category Archives: Expectations

Put it on Paper

Here I go again, demonstrating to the world just exactly what sort of a business dinosaur I am. That’s ok. I don’t really mind. For those of you not exactly following what I am saying here, I would refer you to the title. I refer to paper. You know, that old technology, tactile foldable thing; paper. Most people don’t use paper anymore. If they want to take a note they usually type it into their omnipresent laptop or tablet, or if really pressed they will use their thumbs and try to tap it into their smart phone.

I remember attending a sales conference some time ago. For those of you who may not be familiar with sales conferences, these are events where the sales team goes to celebrate their previous year performance while also receiving their next year targets and objectives. I also understand that each day of the sales conference has a two drink minimum.

I am not going to discuss paper and its relationship to a sales team’s past performance. The paper that is normally associated with that is green, has pictures of past presidents (and others – Ben Franklin wasn’t a president, at least I don’t think he was) and is recognized as legal tender. In this case I am going to talk about paper and how it was used in relationship to the future targets.

Success in sales is a double edged sword. Do well and you are rewarded handsomely with commissions and recognition. On the other hand, do well and your next year’s targets will be raised so as to reflect your past success. They will usually be significantly increased. It is one of the basics of target setting. Beat them one year, expect them to be significantly increased the next. Such is the life and continuous challenge of being a top flight sales person.

At the sales meeting I was at, the Senior Vice President of sales had just finished congratulating the team on their past performance, when he turned everyone’s attention to the future. It was if he simultaneously and collectively hashed everyone’s “mellow”. He told them what their targets were for the next year.

The air left the room. There was an audible whooshing sound as the blood drained from the various sales leaders’ heads. What had been a celebration now sat precariously on the precipice of becoming an insurrection. The demanded growth was that large. It was impossible to achieve. It looked like it was going to get ugly.

This was when the wily sale vice president stood up and said.

“I don’t know how we are going to get to the number either, but the first thing we need to do is to put it on paper so that we can start working on it.”

He understood that while the goal sounded outrageous and unattainable, that the first step in generating success was to make the target real. Putting it on paper demystified it. It made the number real. And making the goal real, regardless of the perceived difficulty in attaining it is the first step in attaining it.

By putting it on paper you take something that may seem out of reach and reduce it to a number, or words on a piece of paper. Think about that for a minute. When it is on paper it is both bound and defined. It is no longer unbounded and undefined. It is real.

I thought this was a pretty spectacular way to regain control of the room. Sales people are not renowned for being the most forward thinking of strategists. Some of the really good ones that I have known are, but for the most part, maybe not so much. In any event, by telling the team members to write it down, and then taking a moment to pause in his presentation, which had the effect of adding more impetus to the request, he slowed the runaway new quota riot train before it could fully leave the last year’s performance station.

It took me a while to come up with that allegory. I am not sure that I fully like it, but I think I will leave it for now.

The simple fact of writing something down starts the planning and strategy process. Putting pen to paper. Once something is written invariably something else will be written next to it, or below it. Once the thought process starts other ideas will begin to evolve. Eventually plans and strategies will emerge. It won’t happen all at once. It will take time. But it all starts with just writing down the goal on a piece of paper.

6 Business Lessons from My Son Mowing the Lawn

I have a fourteen year old son. I am very proud of him and I love him dearly. But that does not change the fact that he is a teenager and as such is prone to many of the activities and attitudes that come with that age. Like most teenagers he has almost unlimited wants and desires and has almost no money with which to pursue them. On the other hand I have a significant number of activities that need to be done around our house that I am willing to pay him to do. These majority of these activities are called yard work. You would think that with my cash and a need for labor, and his labor and a need for cash we would be able to work out an equitable solution. You would think. The following are a few business lessons I relearned from my son in this situation.

1. Set a deadline for all work to be complete. Make sure there is clarity of when your staff’s deliverables are due. 
    It’s always nice to start the new week with a clean yard, mowed lawn and trimmed bushes. I don’t know why that is the case. Perhaps it is what I learned as a kid. Needless to say though, as I am the nominal boss around my house (with the possible exception of my wife who I refer to as “The Most Powerful Woman in The Universe”) I set the objective for my staff (in this case my son). I thought I was pretty clear on this.

I learned the lesson of setting a hard deadline the hard way. I initially I just told my son that I would pay him at the end of the week to mow the yard once a week. I didn’t think I would need to specify when the week ended and when it began. He came in on Sunday to ask for his wages, and informed me that he would then mow the yard in “the next couple of days”. I informed him that Saturday and Sunday did in fact constitute the “Weekend” and that he would have to have the job complete by then before he was to get paid. He seemed surprised by this stipulation and development.

2. If it needs to get done, do it early. The job will just get more unpleasant the longer you wait to do it. 
    We live in Texas. In case you have not heard, it does in fact get hot here in Texas in the summer. It gets very hot. When my son agreed to mow the yard in return for money I suggested to him that he might want to mow early in the morning when it was only warm, instead of later in the day when it would be hot, or later in the afternoon when it would be approaching blast furnace status.

Mowing the yard early in the morning on a weekend would mean that he would have to get up early in the morning on a weekend. For those of you who do not have teenage children, you would not understand the absurdity of that last statement. Teenagers do not get up early in the morning of their own volition, ever. Weekends especially. This left the hotter part of the day and the blast furnace of the afternoon. To make a long story short, he procrastinated till the later afternoon, when the day was at its hottest (close to or above triple digit temperatures) and was miserable as a result.

3. Make sure your staff knows how to use the tools needed to get the job done. Just because you know how to do it doesn’t mean they know how to do it. 
    I showed my son where the tools were that he would need to do the yard. I was also pretty sure he already knew where the yard was. What more would he need? His objective was to take the tools, apply them to the yard, and then to let me know when his objective was complete. I would then applaud his ingenuity.

By my third trip out to the garage to show him how to start and operate the trimmer, the edger and the lawn mower, I suspected that I might not have set him up for success in his initial attempt at the yard. I had assumed that he had seen me performing the task often enough before that he would know how to do it. Perhaps if he had not been so engrossed in his video games he would have been better prepared, but I digress. It was my responsibility to make sure he knew how use all the tools. I also should have shown him when it was cooler in the garage.

4. We are paid for the job. It doesn’t matter how long it takes to do it. It is the completion of the job that counts. 
    Mowing the yard is not a difficult task. I have done it for years myself before I hit upon the idea of paying my son to do it. It doesn’t take an overly long time to do it. We live in an area where the lots are standard size for a suburban subdivision. It doesn’t take a lot of physical effort. Over time I have acquired all the automated and motorized tools (including a self propelled lawn mower) needed to accomplish the task. In short, I had a reasonable idea of how long it would take and how much effort would be required to get the yard done.

I had not however expected an underly-enthusiastic approach by a fourteen year old teenager (my staff in this instance) who would have much preferred to be inside out of the heat doing something else and just be given the money. By the time all the struggles and complaints were accounted for he took roughly twice as long to do the yard as either of us anticipated. As such he immediately asked for a raise. I reminded him that I was paying him to mow the yard, not paying him by the hour to mow the yard. If he worked at applying himself a little better to where it did not take so much time to mow the yard he would be much happier and realize a better return on his time investment.

5. Set the expectation of the quality of work to be delivered. Standards of performance differ and what may be acceptable to one may not be acceptable to another. 
    When I mow the yard I try to do the best job mowing the yard that I can. I try to take that approach with just about every job I take on, either at the office or in the yard. I like to know that I have not shortchanged myself or anyone else with my effort. Again I thought that since he had seen how the yard looked after I had done the work; my son would understand how I expected the yard to look when he was done.

He finished, came in, asked for his pay and then went upstairs to cool off and play more video games. All was good, or so I thought. Later my wife came in and asked me if there was anything wrong with me. I said no and wondered why she would ask. She said that the yard did not look the way it normally did after I mowed it and wondered if there was something wrong with me when I had been mowing it. It seemed it was time to actually go out and look at my son’s work product.

6. Hold a brief review at the completion of the project. When the project is done understand what went wrong and what went right. There may be differences of opinion. 
    Whenever a project is presented to you as complete, review it, then review it with the person that presented it to you. I had just assumed he would do the yard the way I did the yard. I had not gone outside to look at the yard because it was hot. If I had wanted to get hot I would have mowed the yard myself. When I did go outside I could see that my son’s objective was not to do the yard the way I would do it or to my standards, but rather to get it done to a level where he could in fact claim that it was indeed (mostly) mowed and that he should be paid.

I had neither properly set the expectations for the job, nor immediately reviewed the final project upon completion. I assumed that since he lived in the same house as me he would have the same pride of ownership and in his work product that I had. Needless to say we did go back outside (in the heat) and note the areas that needed to be edged and trimmed, and in some instances actually mowed since the objective was to mow the entire yard, not just the parts that are only visible from the street.

My son will get the opportunity to mow the yard again next week since I expect the grass to continue to grow. I hope he has learned what is expected of him and is aware of the ef
fort that the expectation will entail if he hopes to delight his management. I have relearned that just because I have done it and know what it takes to deliver a high quality work product, that not everyone else will know how to do it just because they have seen me do it. Management always needs to be clear about their expectation, guidelines, training and reviews.

Now if only these ideas would work with my daughter and her driving habits.

Automatic Default Setting

I have a friend Leif, who lives up in Wisconsin. He used to live in Texas and moved BACK to Wisconsin of his own volition. This fact in itself should provide some insight into the type of individual that Leif is. Be that as it may, I still consider him a friend. We stay in touch via electronic means. I keep track of him in some small way because Leif loves to post on Facebook. He posts a lot more than I do. Sometimes he posts things that I wish I had posted. I don’t post much on Facebook. Many times he posts things that I am proud to say that I had no input into, no contact with and would not have posted even if I did. It could be said that Leif swings at just about every electronic pitch. When you do that there are going to be a lot of whiffs and foul balls, but on occasion you will make good contact and knock one a long ways. Leif recently posted a Facebook link to a Youtube video about a speech given by David Foster Wallace at the 2005 commencement at Kenyon College called “This is Water”.

This was one of Leif’s home run posts.

I have a tendency to look at the interconnected nature of things and how information that may be applicable in one realm is actually also applicable in another. This may provide some insight into what type of an individual I am. The realm that I usually end up trying to apply this interconnected information to is the business environment. Sometimes I see the hyperbole and Monty Python-esque absurdity of what is going on. I know I am dating myself here, but sometimes there just is no other theater of the absurd that can fit the reality of business like the Pythons with their “Minister of Funny Walks” and “Lumberjack Song”. Sometimes I get what I hope is a real flash of insight into something that may be useful in actually continuing to navigate the difficult business waters. I am hoping that David Foster Wallace, via Leif might have provided me a flash, along with a little absurdity, that I will try to apply to our business world and pass along here.

Mr. Waters in his speech discussed the fact many times in life we will find ourselves on what he called our Automatic Default Setting. He described the automatic default setting as the way we deal with things when we are not consciously thinking. This idea struck a chord with me. The idea that we have an automatic setting in how we deal with the world around us seemed to me to be pretty applicable to how we deal with the business environment as well.

The idea of automatic default setting was used primarily in addressing the mundane such as driving in traffic or standing in line. The net of this approach was that it leads to viewing people in these instances as obstacles slowing you down and being in the way. Is this beginning to sound familiar to anyone’s work environment?

I am going to pause here a moment and note that in business I have found that occasionally…okay, more than occasionally, in fact pretty often this automatic default setting is so accurate that it is painful. What I found particularly interesting and applicable is that Mr. Wallace did not dispute this in life either. What he looked at and brought forward was that people have the ability to be aware of their default settings and instead of perceiving the world through them; they can choose to instead to be aware of them. This will affect how you think. This is always a good thing.

Now this sort of discussion of self awareness is usually reserved for some sort of existential high-brow literary artifice. That is not going to happen here, mainly because I don’t think I know how to act high-brow. People who know me can probably corroborate this statement. One of the points that Mr. Wallace did make was that being aware of your automatic default setting and choosing not to operate at that setting takes effort. It takes a will and a willingness to not to just go along without thinking. You have to be able to consider possibilities that are outside the standard way that you think. However, if someone asks or tells you to think outside the box, you can probably be reasonably assured that they are operating on their standard default setting.

It is my experience that there may be some people who may not be able to operate on any setting other than automatic default even if they wanted to. I am not trying to invalidate Mr. Wallace’s supposition here. I’m just saying.

With this rejection of the automatic default setting, we may need to revisit our beliefs that the Sales teams are a bunch of over promising, money driven, lying swine. We need to realize that they may not in fact be lying all the time but probably only when they are talking. We need to reject the setting that all finance and accounting team members are slow moving, detail oriented, conservative, money driven sloths. We need to understand that we only see them in the business environment and that at outside of the office they may not be entirely conservative, particularly when it comes to decisions regarding their footwear and whether or not they get the oil in their cars changed before, after or exactly on the recommended mileage.

All joking aside, I found David Foster Wallace’s approach to being more aware of the everyday items and thoughts that we take for granted, that we utilize our automatic default settings on, to be scarily accurate. It takes effort and will to think of each event, person and process as a potentially new experience that should not be treated to the same default setting response. If we ever wonder why we, our business or our company seem to continually be asked to solve the same problem multiple times, it could be because everyone has their default settings on and we provide the same responses to what we perceive as the same stimuli.

Changing gears just a little here, we come to Albert Einstein who said something along these same lines. Einstein said:

Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

Is it possible that we seem to do the same things over and over again because we have our default settings on and don’t bother to take the effort to consider the possibilities associated with something new? We have already seen it, or something like it and it is just easier to revert to our default setting, respond and move on. I don’t know if Mr. Einstein and Mr. Wallace would appreciate me correlating their works, but like I said, I do have a tendency to look at things inter-connectedly.

I have already taken the opportunity to put Mr. Wallace’s ideas into practice. We have all had business issues that seemed to have a circular nature to them. Group A was dependent on Group B for an answer. Group B was waiting on Group C for input. Group C could not get the information it needed from Group A. I am sure we have all been in more than our share of these types of solution merry-go-rounds. They seem to becoming more the norm than the exception. They can go on for weeks. By taking the step back and not accepting that these issues were the norm and by relooking at the “standard responses” we were able to break the cycle and start making progress toward a solution. We took the process off of autopilot, required something other than the default setting response, and started to make progress.

I don’t know if Leif will ever be able to provide another post that will resonate with me the way “This is Water” did. After all, the previous several hundred did not. Just since I started work on this topic he has already posted two more items regarding opportunities and drinking. It is interesting in that both of these later posts seem to have several “Likes” whereas “This is Water” did not get that sort of appreciation. Maybe some of these people need to change their automatic default settings too.

Thanks Leif. I thought “This is Water” by David Foster Wallace was excellent.

Low Maintenance Employees

I once heard a very senior executive asked what type of employee he appreciated most. I thought his response was most telling. He said: “A low maintenance one.” I didn’t quite understand at the time what he meant, but as I have gone though the various management ranks, I think I might have picked up on it some. I think what the executive meant was that it is not the management of the issues, problems and crises that are the greatest challenge to managers; it is the management of the people that takes the most time and effort.

Business is conducted between people. Whether it is providing services to the customer or responding to an executive request, it is individual people that do it. And when individual people interact there can and will be issues. It is my position that in general all employees want to do a good job. They want to succeed in their assignments. They want to advance in their careers. The want to be recognized for their contributions to the progress of the business. The issues start to arise when different employees start to utilize differing approaches to working on and attaining these objectives.

Any time you start discussing people, the behavior of people and the management of people you can be treading on very thin ice. I am sure there are claxons, sirens and all manner of warning lights flashing in all sorts of Human Resource departments across the web based on the fact someone outside of HR would have the nerve to address this type of topic. Fortunately I am speaking only for myself and from my own experiences so there really isn’t anyone for them to call. If there are truly any issues, I will look forward to the comments.

I have come to interpret the executive’s low maintenance employee response to mean that he prized an employee that did not require, or seek an inordinate amount of his time to manage. It is a key point to understand the two aspects of this issue.

There are employees that due to any number of issues require extra management intervention in order for them to be able to do their jobs. They may be new and untrained and hence need the incremental leadership. They may be “personality challenged” when it comes to working with others and may require incremental intervention and direction. The point is that there are inevitably employees that require more time and attention from leaders than others in order for them to achieve their goals.

On the other side of the management attention coin, there are those employees that actively seek incremental management attention during the normal course of conducting their job functions. They are the employees that always ask questions during any open forum information session. They will continually come in and seek intermediate approval for each incremental step in the solution process to each of their assignments. In short, they like to spend a lot of time in their manager’s office. It may be due to a true sense of insecurity regarding what they have been asked to do, or it may be from a desire to be perceived as more visible in the execution of their duties. Either way it takes up management time.

There may be some business managers that like and or seek this kind of business activity. Managing the people or managing the process can sometimes be confused with managing the business just as in many instances it can be made to appear that activity can be confused with actually making progress. Most business leaders do not like or seek this type of management situation.

Business leaders are looking for employees whom they can trust to perform their assignments to the same high level that they themselves would perform it. They are looking for employees that are self motivated and understand that there is a distinct value in their being able to perform their roles without incremental management attention, either required or desired on their part, and without other interpersonal difficulties.

That doesn’t mean that good employees must be prepared to work in isolation of their management. I was once in an assignment where I literally had not had any significant time or interface with my reporting executive in several weeks. We had been extremely busy and successful in the market and had several different projects in various stages of development and completion. Still I had not had any time with him. I scheduled a half hour with him through his administrative assistant for the following week.

The meeting came around and I went into his office. He thanked me for setting up an appointment, as he said most people seemed to just barge in on him when they wanted to talk with him, and he then asked me what my issue was.

I told him that I really didn’t have any issue that I needed to escalate to him, but that it had been several weeks since we had had any communications and that I was just closing the loop. I asked him if there was anything else I needed to be doing on his behalf or for the business. He just looked at me for a few moments.

He then said that he had not realized that it had indeed been so long since we had communicated, but he had in fact been focusing on the people and issues that required his attention and since I nor the business I was responsible for needed his attention he had not been in contact with me. He went on to say that this was a good thing in that it freed up valuable time for him to focus on other issues that did require his attention.

I then understood. I thanked him for his time and told him I would not take up any more of it. I learned that I didn’t need to have, nor should I seek a lot of feedback or attention and that even if employees don’t need a great deal of supervision or attention it is still a good idea to periodically touch base with them and provide feedback. I think I only used about fifteen minutes of the half hour allotment.

Leaders recognize those employees that go quietly about doing their jobs, and who do the job to the same high standards that the leaders would do them. They appreciate those who do the work and don’t allow any people management issues to reach a point where they require management intervention or time.  Leaders know what their team members are doing. They don’t need to be reminded by each team member what that specific team member is doing. They also don’t want to have to solve specific issues for specific team members either.

In business a leader wants an employee that they can trust to execute their responsibilities so that they are where they should be in their job and on their assignments at each appropriate time. They don’t need to be doing things to garner individual incremental attention. They should not be doing things that require individual incremental intervention. If they can perform their roles and duties in a manner that requires only a modicum of management supervision or attention and achieve the assigned goals, they will be sought after, recognized and reward by business leaders.

Expect What You Inspect

I was thinking back to some of the sales and revenue meetings that I had attended. These are normally meetings where the top line is the focus of management’s attention. This is arguably step one in any business process. One of my favorite phases is to state that in order to have a good bottom line you need to start with a good top line. This sounds pretty logical, but you might be surprised by some of the directions that some of these meetings have taken.


Top line review meetings invariably go in one of two directions; if the top line is below the objective, you stay focused on sales and revenue and what steps must be taken to achieve the targets. If the top line is at or above the targets, the meeting will almost immediately begin to focus on the margins that the sales are contributing. The focus of the sales meeting then becomes margins.


You are inspecting sales, but are expecting margins.


This got me thinking further about some of the operations reviews that I have attended. The idea of these reviews is to see if the operations and service level objectives are being met. Again I recalled that these meetings invariably went in one of two directions, depending on the measurement attainment. If the operational and service objectives were not met, they stayed focused on service. If the operational and service levels were met, the meeting changed focus to profitability.


They were inspecting service levels, but expecting profitability.


The point I am making here is that you should only expect what you inspect. If you are only inspecting sales, then sales are all you should expect. Too many times we have seen the volume of sales go up in accordance with the attention it has received, only to see a change or reversal of course when the lower margins associated with those increased sales come to light. The same sort of events seems to occur when the incremental expenses associated with increased service levels come to light. Again too many times we have seen the service levels go up in accordance with management attention, only to pull back when the costs associated with those higher service levels come to light.


If you are going to inspect both the volume and margins on sales, you will need to make the sales team responsible for both sales volumes and margins. If you have a sales team that is only responsible for, and compensated on volumes, then margins will continually be an issue associated with sales. If you are going to inspect both the operational levels and profitability then the operations team needs to have responsibility for both the service capabilities and the associated profitability. If the operations team is only measured on their operational performance levels, then the costs and profitability associated with those functions will continually be an issue.


When metrics are provided to any team as a means of inspecting their performance, expect that team to focus on the actions required to attain the goals associated with the metrics. There are always tradeoffs in business. Lower margins may be required in order to increase sales. If the sales teams do not have the responsibility to evaluate those sales volumes to lower margin tradeoffs, they won’t. You can continue to have sales inspections with the sales team, but you will need to have a margin inspection with some other team.


The same goes for operations. If service levels are the only focus that the operations team is to be measured on, they will do whatever is necessary to meet those service levels. If they are not required to evaluate the tradeoffs between desired service levels and profitability, they won’t. It will be left to someone else.


Individual, team and business unit inspections need to be aligned with overall business expectations and requirements. If you only inspect one aspect of a desired performance, then that will be the only aspect that receives focus. If you only inspect the volume of sales, expect good volumes. If you do not inspect the margins associated with those sale, do not expect good margins. The same goes for operational goals and profitability.


I suppose the same could be said for just about any function within the organization. If you are going to expect multiple facets of behavior and performance, you will need to measure and inspect each of the facets and behaviors collectively. If you inspect them individually, don’t expect them all to be met.

Show Them the Data First

I went out to visit some customers recently. I learned, or should I say I relearned some basic tenets about dealing with customers. Our customers were concerned about the performance level they were receiving. We were concerned about the incremental work that we were doing that was not in scope that we were not getting paid for. With this kind of a build up, we were all expecting an interesting and potentially spirited meeting.

I was prepared to go into the meeting with a strong review of the contract and definition of the agreed scope. We wanted to make sure they understood our issues and concerns regarding our out of scope functions. It sounded like the right approach to me. It would provide the basis for our future discussions about who would do what going forward. It would provide all the basic groundwork for our positions and planned negotiations about how we would both go forward.

I am glad we didn’t conduct the meeting the way I was planning on doing it.

When we met the night before the meeting to go through the slides and plan our meeting strategy, the sales team was almost apoplectic when they saw the slides. I should say that they were not entirely against the content of the slides. They were against the order of the slides.

The sales team’s position was that the customer understood what the scope of the agreement was. The customer was unhappy with our performance regardless of what the scope of the agreement was. If we were to start off with reminding them of what we signed up to do – meaning worrying about our position, instead of worrying about what the customer was concerned about (our performance) we would have set up a significantly adversarial situation.

Let me repeat that. We wanted to address our issues before we addressed the customer’s issues. That is always a major mistake. I think we would have failed.

Fortunately, we didn’t do that. We changed the order and focus of our slides away from what we wanted to talk about (scope) to what the customer wanted to address (performance).

We started the meeting by going through the metrics, performance measurements and demographics of the types of functions we were performing for the customer. Robert McNamara in his book “The Fog of War” stated that the first thing you do was “get the data”. He was right. We got the data out in front of the customer first. We set the stage by telling them what we were doing for them.

We listed it out by function and quantity/effort. We also made sure to show our performance measurements, both the good and the bad. The customer was right (as usual). We were not meeting our performance commitments. However, the data showed that we were doing so much more than we (or they) had planned on us doing, there would have been no way for us to meet the performance targets.

The customer then understood the issues.

By approaching the contentious issues from the perspective of the customer, and providing the data on how we were trying to do measurably more that we were supposed to do for them, we were able to defuse the customer’s performance issues, while also delivering the message (indirectly) regarding our scope issues. We never even had to review the agreed scope.

The end result was that we were able to turn a contentious and possibly negative customer perception into a positive. By providing the data, both the good and the bad, we were able to set a stage that addressed both the customers and our needs for the meeting. We also ended up getting an up-scope commitment from the customer to cover the cost of the incremental work that we were doing.

I have to remember that customer first thing in the future.

Interviewing and Closure

A while ago I had an opening in a group I was leading. I did what anybody who has a need for staff (and budget to pay them) does: I interviewed people to fill the position. I went through the standard progression for hiring people. I requested and gathered resumes, and then went through them and made the first cut of people who had the minimum / desirable experience and expertise for the position. I then contacted this “long” list over the phone and had a short conversation with each candidate to ascertain their histories and capabilities as they had detailed in their resumes. After this conversation I again made another cut to the “short” list of candidates.

I then scheduled and had a more in-depth phone conversation with these candidates to understand how they would recognize, approach and solve problems associated with the position. I also wanted to get a start at understanding their various management styles and how they might fit into the existing team. At this point it was relatively clear that all candidates had the technical and hard skills required to perform the work associated with the position, and that the final decision criteria would come down to soft skills and which candidate would fit best into the existing team. The “short” list was then cut to the finalists.

The finalists were then requested to come in and meet face to face for a more in depth discussion on strategies, directions, tactics and methodologies that the candidates would use in performing the work, and interfacing with the other members of the team and other teams.

I was fortunate in that a clear choice emerged, and that it enabled me to make a good selection for the position.

That was the standard progression for the interviewing and hiring people. I think we are all familiar with it, and have probably gone through it at least once and probably several times in our careers. The point that I want to make here is not about the selection process, but about the communication that was then conducted with each prospective candidate who was NOT chosen at each stage of the process.

I had begun to think back to various times that I had interviewed for positions. I recalled that many times the process just seemed to end or go dormant with no feedback or reason given. After a while I would call to ask to understand what the next steps in the process were (after all they had shown interest in me), only to be told that they had already selected someone else. They hadn’t had the courtesy to let me know that I wasn’t selected.

I understand that due to the variations in positions and interviewing leaders no one will be selected for every position they interview for. The point is, that while no one likes to bring people the bad news that they were not selected, the hiring manager has the responsibility to see to it that the unsuccessful candidates are told if and when they are removed from consideration, and if possible to provide a short explanation of the basis of the decision. If you invited someone to the party, you need to stand up and tell them when the process is over for them.

The information needs to be straight forward, simple, and on a par with the position that they were at in the hiring process. If it is at the resume review or early in the process, then a short note thanking them for their time should do. If you have had significant discussions with them either over the phone or in person, I would think that the courtesy of a person to person phone call would be appropriate. I don’t think a detailed discussion or review of the candidate is called for, but at least hearing from you that while the decision was difficult, it was made, and that their participation in the process was appreciated.

I guess there were times in my past career where I would have appreciated that kind of closure on the interview process. Because of that I try to make sure that I provide that kind of closure to people who have gone through the interview process with me.

The Dallas Cowboys Are Starting to get it Right

I think there is a very good lesson to be learned from the recent success of the Dallas Cowboys football team. Much had been made about their poor record and poor performances in “December” in the past several years. This year they have done well by winning some of their high profile December games.


All of the sudden all the analysts and critics are back on the Dallas Cowboys band wagon. They are riding high. The team is riding high. The fans are riding high. Success makes life good. I too am impressed by their recent performance, but I also remember the words of one of their previous and most successful coaches, Jimmy Johnson.


He said to enjoy the success, but to remember that you were only one week from humility.


What he was saying is that past performances and successes would not guarantee future successes. You had to continue to work hard, and continue to perform at the levels that generated your success if you wanted to be a success in the future. The competition is always going to try and beat you.


The challenge for you and your business is going to be to look forward and continue to try and step up your performance, and fight the urge to look back and bask in the glory of previous victories.  You have already been paid for those.


As for the Dallas Cowboys, we’ll see how they do. They may have found the key to improving their December performance, but they still have not won a playoff game in 14 years……..