Thursday, July 2, 2020

The Most Important Ingredient to Successful Leadership

Guest post from Brad Chase:

No business subject garners more attention than leadership.  There are endless leadership books, classes, websites and more.  Everyone is searching for the essential qualities of a successful leader.  But what if you had to pick just one quality?  Think about it for a moment.  What would you choose as most important to the success of a business leader?  Do you have your answer yet?  Don’t read on until you have one.

I have done countless speeches on strategy over the years at companies, conferences, and business schools. I always begin my speeches by asking attendees this very question.

The answers I get are all over the board. Values, judgement, trust, inspiration, compassion, knowing your competition, vision, intuition, power, charisma, culture, being tenacious, hiring good people, empathy and many more have been proffered as most important.  

Ironically, what I believe is the most important component of a successful business leader has never been mentioned.

No great leader succeeds without a great strategy.  Often the strategy is thoughtfully forged. Sometimes, it comes from trial and error, and sometimes a successful strategy is dumb luck, but a winning strategy is the business success imperative. You can be charismatic, you can know your competition, you can have good judgment, you can hire the best people, and so on and so forth, but if your strategy fails, you will fail as a business leader.  

Strategy, your plan to compete, is all about making the right bets to achieve your goals.  For most companies, there is one fundamental bet.  Originally, Microsoft’s big bet was on the personal computer itself.  Steve Jobs turned Apple around when he made a big bet on digital devices and consumer entertainment.  Marie Kondo bet people care about tidying up.  Costco bet on the concept of a membership warehouse.  Big or small, profit or nonprofit, companies you know and companies you have never heard of, no matter where you are in the world or what industry you’re in, it all comes down to making the right fundamental bet. If you make the right bet, you still must do many other things right to be successful. And that includes the other critical components of great leadership.  But if you make the wrong bet, it doesn’t matter what else you do; your business will fail, and you will fail as a leader. 

As a leader, how do you decide what bet to place, what plan to make, and what strategy to pursue? To help figure that out, I created the Strategy First model. It’s s a twist on Einstein’s famous E = mc2 equation:  Strategy = E × mc2.

E × mc2 is an acronym for the three key components of strategy.  The c stands for customer value.  Sometimes, when used in the vernacular, value means price, but in my model, customer value is much broader. It is the worth or the usefulness of something—that is, the perceived benefits in comparison to what you paid.  In most strategies the value you provide your customer is most important, which is why it is squared.  The second component is market potential, how much profit can be made in your business.  Third is execution, how you run your business every day.  Some people try to argue that execution is not strategic, but if strategy is your plan to compete, then execution must be central to strategy.  It won’t matter if you make the right bets if you don’t execute well on those bets.

Strategy success does not happen in a vacuum.  A key part of the Strategy First model is to remember that the effectiveness of your strategy depends, not on the quality of your strategy independently, but on the quality of your strategy relative to your competition’s strategy.

Strategy is never fixed in time.  Great leaders must adjust and reset their strategy as they learn and conditions change.  Netflix first bet that users were frustrated with late fees and going to a store to pick up a DVD, so the company created a subscription service with the now iconic red envelope.  But the company recognized that streaming was coming (hence the name Netflix) and made an early successful bet on streaming.  Then Netflix recognized, that to stay competitive, it could not rely on other companies’ content, since these companies would start their own streaming services over time. Again, the company adjusted its strategy and made a new huge bet on original content. Today Netflix is still in a leadership position even though it faces new major competitors like Disney, and it seems like every media company has a dream to stream. 

Whether it is Netflix or Microsoft or Apple or any other company, strategy, more than anything else determines the success of a leader.  Without a first-class plan you can’t be a first-class leader.  Strategy for any business leader must come first.

About the Author:
Brad Chase is a veteran strategy, leadership, and marketing consultant to CEOs and senior executives. He spent 14 years at Microsoft leading businesses, including MSN and Windows marketing, and finished his tenure as a Senior Vice President and Executive Officer. He has served on many for-profit and nonprofit boards, including his previous role as chair of the board of directors for the King County Boys and Girls Club. Strategy First: How Businesses Win Big, due out in June, is his first book.

Thursday, June 25, 2020

7 Musts When Engaging in Healthy Conflict

Guest post from Mike Robbins:

The ability for you and your team to effectively engage in conflict may not be all that easy or fun, but it is fundamental to your performance, both individually and collectively.
As important as engaging in conflict is to the culture and performance of your team, there are both healthy and unhealthy ways of doing it.

Here are seven things to remember when dealing with a conflict or disagreement—one-on-one, within a group, or within the entire team:

1. Take responsibility. This is not about pointing fingers or figuring out who’s at fault; it’s about owning up to the situation and recognizing that we’re a part of the issue. It’s also about owning our emotions and reactions in an authentic, healthy way.

2. Address the conflict directly. Conflicts are always handled most successfully when they’re dealt with directly and promptly. Be real and vulnerable when you disagree with someone, or when you have an issue to address, but make sure to do so as soon as possible. Don’t let it fester.

3. Seek first to understand. As challenging as it can be, the best approach in any conflict situation is to listen with as much understanding and empathy as possible— even when we’re feeling angry or defensive. If we can understand where the other person or people are coming from, even if we don’t agree, we have a good chance of being able to work things out.

4. Use “I” statements. If someone does or says something and we have a specific reaction to it, that’s real. If we judge someone, make a generalization about them, or accuse them of something, not only is it factually untrue (it’s just our opinion), it most likely will trigger a defensive response (because we’re usually being self-righteous in that scenario). We must own our opinions as ours, not speak them like they’re the truth. Using “I” statements allows us to speak from a place of authenticity and ownership, ideally without blame or judgment. There’s a big difference when we say “I’m feeling frustrated” versus “You are frustrating.”

5. Go for a win-win. The only real way to have a conflict resolved authentically is when it’s a true win-win for everyone involved. This doesn’t necessarily mean that each person gets his or her way. It does, however, mean that everyone gets heard, honored, and listened to. And, when and if possible—we make compromises that leave everyone empowered and in partnership.

6. Acknowledge others. Whether it’s a one-on-one conversation, a situation that involves a few people, or a discussion that includes the whole team, acknowledgment is essential to resolving conflict effectively. Thank the other people involved in the conflict for being willing and able to engage. Thank them for their courage and their truth. Acknowledgment isn’t about agreement; it’s about honoring and appreciating the willingness to have a tough conversation, which is brave all the way around.

7. Get support and have compassion. Conflicts often bring up fear and cut to the core of our most vulnerable insecurities. Therefore, it’s critical to reach out for authentic support (not necessarily agreement on the topic) from those who can help us work through the issue and resolve it in a healthy and responsible way. It’s also important to have compassion with ourselves and others as we attempt to engage in these conversations. Usually they aren’t fun or easy, but they are necessary for us personally, for our relationships, and for the success of the team.

Mike Robbins is the author of five books including his latest, We’re All in This Together: Creating a Team Culture of High Performance, Trust, and Belonging (April 14, 2020).  He’s a thought leader and sought-after speaker whose clients include Google, Wells Fargo, Microsoft, Schwab, eBay, Genentech, the Oakland A’s, and many others.

Friday, June 19, 2020

What’s the Secret to Strong Leadership?

Guest post from Alain Hunkins:

Over the past two decades, I’ve worked with thousands of teams, and tens of thousands of leaders in twenty-five countries around the world.   I’ve worked with every industry you can think of, as well as some industries you probably don’t know exist.

On the surface, each team and company’s situation and issues were unique. However, over time, I started to see patterns emerge- patterns of behavior.  It’s been said that success leaves clues, and it’s true.  Great leaders operate using similar principles to guide their actions.  What’s less well known, as equally as true, is that mistakes leave clues, too.  Poor leaders rely on a set of “shadow principles” that keep them mired in mediocrity.

So what separates great leaders from the rest?  Mastering three fundamentals:  connection, communication, and collaboration.
At its core, leadership isn’t about control, power, or a job title. Leadership is a relationship between two people. The quality of their relationship is built on the quality of their connection.  Connection provides the spark that gets others to willingly follow your lead. It’s the main ingredient in trust. There’s a reason we say, “people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care”: it’s the root of humanity.

Connection comes with a price—the investment of your time and attention.  It also takes a willingness to put your ego aside.  Demonstrating empathy towards others means being courageous enough to be vulnerable from time to time.  However, these upfront costs pay dividends on the back end—that of engagement and commitment.

When leaders are asked, “What is your biggest challenge at work?” communication is usually at the top of the list. This makes sense: leaders spend 70-90% of their time in group or team interactions every day.  Communication and leadership are joined at the hip.

Effective communication is harder than it looks. For the most part, it’s taken for granted.  We treat communication like a basic utility. Just like the electricity in your home, it’s expected that it’ll always be there for you. Not until the blackout do you notice you have a real problem.

The challenge with communication isn’t one of quantity -- it’s a quality issue.  Great leaders know that the goal of act of communication isn’t communicating, it’s to create shared understanding. The best leaders don’t assume that getting to understanding just happens.   They know that the nature of transferring meaning from one person to another is rife with challenges. They accept obstacles as part and parcel of the process. They just happen to know what those obstacles will be in advance, so they can proactively deal with them.

If there’s one constant in 2020, it’s change.  This year we’ve taken VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous) to a whole new level.  People, companies and entire industries have had to pivot and reinvent themselves.  Technology has connected more people in more places at more times than ever before. Leaders need to harness the power of these connections. 

Today’s leader can’t stay stuck in a silo, relying on the antiquated model of top-down command and control. Instead of commanding, they need to become skilled facilitators.  Instead of being in charge, they need to focus on helping the people in their charge.

Collaborative leaders call on a variety of skills. They need to know how to build a common vision and unifying purpose. They need to inspire others to bring their whole selves to work. They need to create a climate that draws out the best ideas. They need to know how to flex their decision-making style for each situation.  If that wasn’t enough, they do all these things while making it easier for their people to do their best work.

These efforts bring rich rewards. Leading effective collaboration is a win/win. Not only are employees happier, creative and energized, but companies that promote collaboration are five times as likely to be high performing.

Connection, communication, and collaboration.  These fundamentals are the foundation for leadership success. They’re not complicated to understand, and they don’t require a great deal of sophistication. However, there’s a big gap between knowing and doing.  Practicing these principles consistently is what separates the great leaders from the rest.  If you call yourself “leader”, the true challenge is making connection, communication, and collaboration an everyday habit.

Building Strong Leaders (Wiley, March 2020) is a sought-after speaker, consultant, trainer, and coach. Over his twenty-year career, Alain has designed and facilitated seminars on numerous leadership topics, including teambuilding, communication, peak performance, innovation, and change. His clients include Wal-Mart, Pfizer, Citigroup, IBM, General Motors, and Microsoft.

Thursday, June 11, 2020

How to Build a Team of Innovators

Guest post by Chuck Swoboda:

As increasing competition, new technologies and evolving customer expectations
to disrupt nearly every industry, business leaders are turning to innovation as a way to keep their companies relevant. The standard solution is to create teams that focus explicitly on innovation. The problem? Most of these teams struggle to innovate, often delivering incremental improvements at best.

Why is that? According to McKinsey, many CEOs struggle to identify people good at innovation -- the “intrapreneurs” within their organizations who possess the rare mix of skills, motivation and attitude to successfully bring new ideas to market. Simply telling a team to focus on innovation won’t suffice. You need to thoughtfully select people with the right mindset for the team.

This problem fundamentally begins with how most companies evaluate talent. They have well-established processes for assessing employee competence in their current jobs, but those same tools can’t determine an employee’s capability for innovation. In fact, the skills that are valued in traditional roles often get in the way of the behaviors needed for innovation.

Most organizations reward employees for their ability to manage. Their job is to follow known processes and best practices to limit risk in order to deliver a predictable result. The people who are best at this struggle with risk taking and trying new ideas in search of unpredictable results, which are the behaviors required for innovation. If you’re building a team of innovators, you have to focus on a different set of qualities.

Here are some of the qualities to look for:

1. Unafraid of failure. The fear of failure prevents most people from taking the risks necessary for innovation. If you only do things that you know are going to work, you’re going to leave the best opportunities on the table. There’s no innovation without risk -- they’re fundamentally related. When building a team of innovators, you’re looking for people who are unafraid of failure, yet unwilling to fail.

2. Found on the fringes. When Brad Bird was hired at Pixar to develop a new animated movie, he recruited the supposedly disgruntled and “misfit” workers from within the company. These people were dissatisfied with the way things were and believed there was a better way of doing things. The result of their efforts was “Toy Story,” which set a new standard for animated films. To do something that’s never been done before, look for those talented employees who are unsatisfied with the status quo -- people either so frustrated that they’re looking for a new job or are stuck on the edges of the organization because they’re viewed as too difficult to work with. These are the employees most likely to succeed at innovation.

3. Deals well with uncertainty. The traditional interview process tends to focus on someone’s technical qualifications. It identifies what they’ve done in the past, when what you really need to know is how they think. Whether you’re building an innovation team from internal candidates or hiring from the outside, you need to see how someone reacts to uncertainty. One way is to ask them to solve a Fermi question. If you want to see how they react to a new problem, ask them, “How many barbers are there in New York City?” Have them use things they know, or can deduce, to develop an estimate while you watch them work out their guess. If the person insists on more information or is uncomfortable trying to find a solution to this problem, they’re not right for your team. You don’t need to worry about their specific answer -- in fact, their answer doesn’t matter. What you’re seeing is how they deal with uncertainty and how they leverage knowledge from other domains to develop an estimate. Innovation is about embracing challenges to develop new insights.

4. Actions, not words. When building a team, you need people that can actually be successful when the pressure is on. It’s tough to get at this by just talking with someone. You need to see the person in action. Here are a few tactics you might try:

- Play a game with them. The basketball court is a very effective place to evaluate someone under pressure. It’s not about skill, but how they react when you pass them the ball. Do they pass it right back to avoid making a mistake? Do they evaluate the situation and adjust to opportunities as they evolve? Do they try to score by themselves? Innovation requires people who are able to adapt under pressure to dynamic changes in responsibilities, and who truly believe the team is more important than the individual.

- Take them to a bad restaurant. People tell you a lot about themselves when they’re put in an uncomfortable situation. Take them to lunch at a restaurant that you know has terrible service and average food at best. When things start to go wrong, see if they get frustrated. If they don’t get frustrated, let yourself get frustrated and see how they react. Innovation requires that people deal effectively with tough situations. You need to know if they can stay focused and help the team stay focused on what really matters.

- Do a test run. Hire the person for one day to work with your team on a real problem that you’re facing. At the end of the day, ask the person to spend the evening coming up with a plan as to how they might overcome the current challenges, and then have them present their proposal to you and your team the next morning. You’ll both learn pretty quickly if the person is a good fit. Innovation requires you to embrace the brutal truths. To be an effective team member, they can’t be afraid to call things out that are going wrong, and to be able to receive critical feedback and use it to learn.

Building a team of innovators requires time, patience and a bit of creativity. Instead of normal hiring practices, identify people who effectively solve unexpected problems, are excited by dynamic roles, stay focused on what really matters when things don’t go as planned and are willing to speak up when they see something is wrong. When you get the right people in place, you can actually achieve innovation instead of just talking about it.

Chuck Swoboda is Innovator-in-Residence at Marquette University, President of Cape
Point Advisors and retired Chairman and CEO of Cree, Inc. He is co-inventor on more than 25 patents covering LEDs and lighting technology, and has over 30 years of experience in the technology business. Additionally, he is an author, speaker and host of the “Innovators on Tap” podcast. His new book is The Innovator’s Spirit: Discover the Mindset to Pursue the Impossible (Fast Company, May 5, 2020). Learn more at

Thursday, June 4, 2020

Hiring in the World of HyperGrowth

Guest post from Beth Armknecht Miller:

Recently, I was working with an executive who shared a job description for a new IT
position. He leads a rapidly growing company so there were going to be multiple hires for
the same position in a short period of time. As he spoke about the position and the next steps in his hiring process, I became uneasy.

Why was I concerned? Because of the things I didn’t hear him say. As he continued to describe his hiring process, it became clear to me that his process was flawed and without adjustments, he would end up with an individual that would probably depart in less than a year. A very costly mistake, when the salary for position was $120K.

As I questioned him, the first gap I identified in his hiring process was a high opportunity for bias. The interview team was comprised of three “old guard” employees none of whom had been trained in screening and interviewing candidates specifically around bias. We all have unconscious biases, yet many hiring managers don’t understand the risk bias brings when hiring an employee. Using validated hiring assessments, is one technique that can help decrease hiring bias. If you are using an assessment, make sure it is validated for hiring. And if you aren’t using one, find one!

This company had big growth plans and had been quickly hiring to meet their growth needs, yet their process wasn’t consistent. Today with the shortage of talent, a consistent process can provide companies with a more expedited hiring process, a critical component to attracting and hiring top players. In addition to an inconsistent process, none of the managers had been trained on behavioral interviewing techniques.

High growth companies have a unique challenge, and that is identifying new employees who can grow and develop with the company. Too often employers hire for their current needs and don’t evaluate a candidate’s potential. This is especially important for a fast-growing company. Now, measuring potential can be difficult when you don’t have any historical information from a candidate sitting across from you. So, what questions can you ask that would uncover a candidate’s potential? From my experience, high growth companies need people who are competent in embracing change, emotional intelligence and continuous learning.

And finally, have an onboarding process that starts the minute a candidate accepts your offer. Get them engaged with you and your team before their first day. This will decrease the likelihood of them having “buyer’s remorse” and not showing up for their first day of a work, a phenomenon which has been increasing the last few years.

So, if you are a high growth company with multiple job openings, take these steps to speed up the hiring process, increase hiring success and talent retention. When you follow these steps you will decrease the time to hire and retain talent that will grow with your company.

1. Identify a validated hiring assessment and develop job profiles using the assessment. Then measure each candidate against those assessment profiles. Also train your managers on how they can decrease their bias during the hiring process. Both assessments and training will decrease your hiring bias.

2. Train your hiring managers on how to conduct a behavioral interview. This requires understanding the related actions and behaviors that will demonstrate future success. It also increases consistency in the hiring process.

3. Decrease the timeline of the hiring process. Evaluate your current hiring process, is it ready for hyper growth? This Hiring Process Checkup can serve as a start to your evaluation. Panel/team interviews is one method to decrease the time to making a hiring decision.

4. Focus on uncovering a candidate’s potential, not just their skills and experience. Understand the core competencies of the specific position and include these three competencies critical to companies with high growth: emotional intelligence, learning mindset, and embracing change.

5. And finally, review your onboarding process and make sure that it starts BEFORE the employee’s first day. A study from the Aberdeen Group found that 83% of high performing organizations started onboarding employees before the first day. Our Onboarding Plan Questions can help you with your review.

Beth Miller is an accomplished author, speaker, and solution provider; her insight and expertise make her a sought-after leadership influencer. A serial entrepreneur and executive coach as well as a former Vistage Chair of 13 years, Beth is featured in numerous industry blogs and publications including Entrepreneur, Leadercast, and Her book, “Are You Talent Obsessed?,” compiles her best practices for business leaders.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Change Your Paradigm

Guest post from Luis Pedroza:

Don’t be complacent. Always challenge your assumptions, especially when entering a new market or consumer segment. History is filled with examples of successful brands that became too complacent and then obsolete. Underwood, Kodak, Walkman, Blackberry, Vertu, and Blockbuster are just some of the brands that now cease to be relevant.

It’s well accepted that you can extend the product lifecycle of a brand and return to growth through innovation. Innovation expands usage occasions and helps reach new users, but remember, humans like to take shortcuts. We all create heuristics for solving problems and systems for managing existing businesses. We love to drive on autopilot, but all these shortcuts form a lens through which we view our worlds.  

Constant Change
The problem is, our world is continually evolving and changing, and when the environment changes, we need to take the time to reframe our perspectives to correctly identify new opportunities. We need to do this, especially when entering a new market.

Reframe your Perspective
I once worked for an American brand that believed it had a leading market share in Asia. Viewing the business through that lens, led to a specific strategy. When I helped the company realize that they were competing in a much broader category that included many other brands, their approach and plans changed accordingly. By merely viewing the business from a new perspective, the company was able to unlock double-digit growth for many years to follow.

Validate your Assumptions
Unfortunately, changing your paradigm can be difficult for some people. In general, people don’t like to change. So, I developed a list of questions I try to answer whenever I enter a new market. My goal is to gain a fresh perspective on the environment. First, I list out all the significant assumptions I am making that underpin how businesses operate. Then, I try to validate those assumptions to judge their accuracy.   

1) The Target – Who are your target users, and what needs does your product solve for them? Do consumers in the new market have the same needs?
2) Market Size – How many target users are there in your new market, and what percentage of them will buy your brand? What is the potential size of the prize?
3) Competitive Environment – Who are your direct and indirect competitors? Are there barriers to entry? What attributes and benefits do they compete on?
4) Consumer Purchasing Power – Do your target consumers have enough money to purchase your product the way it is currently designed? Realistically, how often can they afford repeat purchases?
5) Pricing – Should you position your brand as a premium or everyday product? Is the price per use aligned to the average income level?
6) Demographics – Is the target population growing or in decline? Do factors like age or ethnicity play a role in shaping consumer needs?
7) Category Lifecycle -- Is the category lifecycle at a different stage of development? If so, how will this affect communication and the appeal of your product’s benefits? 8) Value Chain – How will your product get distributed to the end-user? Who are the key stakeholders involved, and what are their expectations?

It’s all in your Mind
What I love about reframing your perspective is how inexpensive it is to implement. At least initially, you won’t have to invest in new assets or technology. You just have to force your mind to start thinking in a new way. Albert Einstein said it best, “The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.”

Luis Pedroza is a global brand builder and author of LEAN BRANDS: Catch Customers, Drive Growth & Stand Out In All Markets. He has held leadership positions with iconic global brands and has worked in many international markets. For more information visit

Thursday, May 21, 2020

How Leaders Can Fix a Negative Company Culture

Guest post from Chris Dyer:

When company culture fails, it’s usually on one of two planes: the work environment has gone rotten, or the way in which work is transacted has deteriorated. The two realms are linked, though, so once one aspect has been infected with negativity, the other one may well catch the disease.

Business leaders have two choices. We can build or rebuild culture from the ground up. Or we can address the most glaring symptoms first and make improvements from there. If you’re already suffering from an adverse cultural situation, here are some quick ways to regain control and turn things around.

Supportive Atmosphere

The purpose of workplace culture is to support employees in their quest to do their best. And culture is not “out there.” It comes from the top. Leaders should be directly involved with untangling workplace snarls. If your environment is not supportive—or doesn’t feel that way to your staff—you may need to take one of these steps:

Say yes instead of no. Negative responses are often the default when a boss wants to maintain power, or a direct report wants to avoid hassles. Instead of automatically denying requests for a raise or flex time, for instance, let your first instinct be to agree ... with strings attached. Condition the perk on something you want from the employee, such as reaching certain objectives or adding skills that increase their expertise.

If it’s managers or staff who tend to reject requests or new policies, take some time to set firm boundaries and expectations: We expect you to accept new assignments, protocols, or crunch-time duties. Create consequences for noncompliance. And add incentives for going with the flow or above and beyond typical demands.

Bridge divides with team bonding. Harmful gossip and hostile cliques can’t take hold when your workforce feels like a team. If those problems already exist, go all out to remind your people that you all bat for the same side. First, make sure that you and your top leadership don’t indulge in backstabbing or blame games.

Then, use transparency and other trust-building measures to bring everyone together. If you are transparent about the company’s financials, for example, every staff member will understand how their actions affect the organization’s viability—and, by extension, everyone’s job security. Make sure your employees know each other professionally, by sharing individuals’ roles and goals, and socially, by including ice-breakers in meetings or company get-togethers.

Recognize routine and extraordinary efforts. They don’t call work “the daily grind” for no reason. A little acknowledgement goes a long way toward showing your people that you appreciate all they do. From personal gifts to annual bonuses, gestures reinforce thank-yous and demonstrate sincerity.

It’s important for leaders to acknowledge performance in front of coworkers, and it’s a good idea to let employees broadcast their kudos to their peers as well. You might hold an award ceremony, or reserve meeting time to name names. In my company, we designed a special emoji that staff can use in company-wide chats to thank someone who helped out or saved a big client.

Unrestricted Work Flow

If we ask employees about pet peeves, a top choice will be that leaders make it more difficult to do their work. Sometimes this is a control issue; sometimes just poor planning. Removing the obstacles to accomplishing daily goals and solving problems—and giving employees the leeway to make their own decisions—turns this negative into a positive.

Ask for feedforward, not just feedback. Whether you’re setting new policies or monitoring the status quo, ask your people for their opinions frequently. Don’t limit questions to past activities. Go all out and ask what would make it easier to do their work—then act on it.

In your usual project debriefing sessions, take what you learn and apply it to the future. Pair off and have team members ask each other what they need from one another going forward. This is a way to unite teams and get an instant dose of positivity.

Redefine problem solving. Break the cycle of putting out fires by treating trouble as a learning opportunity. Use positive approaches such as appreciative inquiry, which identifies what works when parts of initiatives fail, and which uses brainstorming and strategic planning to arrive at an ideal solution.

It also helps to get out in front of a crisis by proactively setting up alternative paths before things go wrong. It’s much easier to envision plans B and C without a deadline or domino effect clouding your judgment. Include this tactic in project team meetings and larger management planning sessions.

Hire to innovate. Business and HR leaders can cover all the bases by keeping innovation in mind as they select new hires. It may feel good to have a homogeneous staff, but this stifles innovation. To avoid forced consensus, take generational and background diversity in job candidates into account.

A staff of mixed ages and personal backgrounds brings with it a healthy mix of viewpoints. Different thinking styles strike more sparks, providing more and better ideas to help face challenges and improve workflow. Broad diversity also discourages clique-forming by a majority group, actually strengthening the bonds of your teams.

Even as you address the negative aspects of your company culture, you are entering a positive zone of opportunity. As a business leader, follow the golden rule to restore or enrich your organization’s work environment: model the behavior you want to see, and then remove any obstacles toward achieving it. Good culture will follow.

Author Bio

Leadership speaker Chris Dyer is a recognized performance and company culture expert, as well as Founder and CEO of PeopleG2, a leading background check company. He has channeled what he has learned in his business and research into his best-selling book, The Power of Company Culture (Kogan Page, 2018). Chris is also the host of TalentTalk on OC Talk Radio and iHeartRadio and speaks at events around the world on company culture, remote workforces and employee engagement. He is a regular contributor to Forbes, Inc.,, the Society for Human Resources Management and many more business publications.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Brands, Leadership and the Climate Crisis

Guest post from Sean Pillot de Chenecey:

Innovation, on which any organisation is so reliant, is about to become more dynamic and challenging than ever.

Whilst hyper-relevance, ultra-personalisation, collaboration, ethics and sustainability are the crucial foundations of success; those tasked with creating that innovation are now faced with the challenge of the environmental crisis. This meaning that society and business alike are confronted with an existential dilemma.

It’s one that has, in the majority of cases, effectively been ignored. That dilemma has in fact become a ‘climate and biodiversity emergency’.

Indeed, and as we heard at the World Economic Forum, the risks that the environmental-crisis poses to business have moved from ‘potentially problematic’ to ‘potentially catastrophic’.

Major action is needed, with businesses in every industry, including the ever-widening area of innovation, having crucial roles to play.

So, the catalytic times we live in have profound implications for businesses and organisations of all varieties. Indeed, the Governor of the Bank of England, memorably declared a few months ago that “firms ignoring the climate crisis will go bankrupt”.

In the context of my new book, Influencers & Revolutionaries, the issues concerned have been epitomised by Greta Thunberg’s call for systematic change in her speeches at the UN, and via the global protests organised by the Extinction Rebellion movement. XR use nonviolent resistance to protest against climate breakdown, biodiversity loss, and the risk of human extinction and ecological collapse.

Meanwhile, despite the warning of an array of respected public figures, backed up with solid scientific evidence, it’s been staggering to observe many in the mainstream media, and the upper echelons of “yesterday’s businesses” still attempt to dismiss XR. However, it was interesting to see The FT, an early mover in understanding the movement, noting that “the word ‘extinction’ in their title isn’t just referring to plants, insects and animals. It means us.” * Green 2019

From a business-futures perspective, and standing at odds with “yesterday’s organisations and yesterday’s leaders” it's fascinating to observe how modern management theory has shifted away from the one apparently set in stone by the economist Milton Friedman, for whom the responsibility of business was purely to increase its profits.

We now see leading businesses around the world having a very different overall ‘accountable capitalism’ stance, with the ‘purpose of business’ being viewed as one that has improving society as a central aim. That is a hugely important shift, and these modernised principles reflect a very different business world than that inhabited by Mr Friedman. 

This is where, for instance, the building of trust by brand’s evidencing their ongoing actions, are of such importance. (They relate to what I termed ‘reputation capital’ in my first book ‘The Post-Truth Business’ regarding whether a brand is ‘trustworthy, reliable and competent’).

In the context of the climate crisis, the issue of why we should trust ‘the organisation behind the brand’ regarding their environmental credentials, is vital. For companies that are seen, by their behaviour, to be meeting the challenges set by the climate emergency in an effective manner; then on purely consumer-engagement and brand differentiation levels, this will enable them to achieve greater business success.

Which is where ‘real purpose’ as opposed to often vague notions of ‘brand purpose’ are highlighted by those like Extinction Rebellion.

A well-known industry saying has it that the most successful companies achieve their ongoing success by preparing for change, rather than simply attempting to adapt to that change when it appears. And movements like Extinction Rebellion have clearly acted as the ‘canary in the coalmine’ in an array of critical contexts.

The responses must be a transformation of the way in which businesses are led, strategies are developed, products are created, and of the overall approaches to be taken as we move towards a circular and more ethical economy.

In each case, creative thinking and collaborative approaches help to illuminate the way forward, and will help to ensure that, as the saying goes, ‘good business is good business’.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey has over 20 years’ experience as a brand expert, combining marketing consultancy with ethnographic activity and trend research around the world. His new book is INFLUENCERS & REVOLUTIONARIES: How Innovative Trailblazers, Trends & Catalysts Are Transforming Business.For more information, please visit:

Thursday, May 7, 2020

4 Questions to Ask to Select the Best Executive Search Firm

Guest post from Atta Tarki and Gustav Brown :
Selecting the right executive search firm can be almost as difficult as finding the right candidate for the job. As insiders in the recruiting world, our friends have often asked us to help them select a hiring vendor when we were not the right partner for them. By and large they’ve been surprised to see how differently we evaluate their potential executive search partners than they would.
The problem is: many hiring managers just don’t know how to evaluate external recruiters. Here are a few common pitfalls we’ve observed and a few questions you can ask to make a more informed decision.
The Common Approach – and Why it Doesn’t Really Work
When evaluating external recruiters, most hiring managers start by asking: “how many placements have you made in our industry?” The assumption here is that an agency that gets what you do will be more likely to find someone who fits your needs.
On the surface, this makes a lot of sense. If the agency has worked in your industry, presumably they understand what companies like yours value. They should have a network in place and a positive reputation among potential candidates. But it’s not as good a question as it seems on first glance.
First, the roles (or needs) of those previous searches may have been significantly different from yours. Put it this way: just because an agency placed a technical Project Manager at a software company doesn’t mean they can find the right Chief Financial Officer or Director of Marketing in the same industry. In many cases, placements by function or title are a better predictor of recruiter’s ability to understand your needs than by industry.
Second, what you are trying to understand is how repeatable their success rate is. How often does their process end up with clients hiring someone they are happy with? The firm might have relied on their rolodex to place a CFO  in New York City, but this doesn’t mean they can do the same and find you a candidate in Chicago.
This is why it’s important that you take a look under the hood and try to understand how they intend to find you a great candidate.
A Better Approach – Understanding How your External Recruiter Works
In the old days, external recruiters kept their methods opaque; their main bragging point was the size of their rolodex. Don’t get us wrong, the rolodex approach used to be valuable, because it used to be extremely difficult and time consuming to find people with the right skillset. After all, this information in most cases was confidential or difficult to access. But access to candidate data through LinkedIn and other platforms, as well as advances in the use of data analytics, have transformed the game.
Building off of these digital revolutions, the best recruiters have transformed their value proposition. These recruiters rely less on their own rolodexes, and instead create value by helping hiring managers understand how they can structure a search to increase their chances of success. These recruiters also use repeatable methods for finding candidates, engaging with them and evaluating them. And finally, savvy recruiters will help hiring managers stay on top of the hiring process and create a positive candidate experience – which increases the likelihood that desired candidates will accept an offer. 
In this context, HR managers have unprecedented options - but also, potentially, unprecedented insight into how recruiters do business. The choices may seem dizzying at times, but if you ask the right questions, you can make a more informed decision than ever before.  
4 Questions to Ask to Select the Right External Recruiter
1. What resources are they dedicating to your search?
The first question you want to ask a recruiter is how much of their time you are getting. Some search firms will fully dedicate a recruiter to your search. Others will split a recruiter’s time across 6-12 searches. This is obviously cost effective to the search firm, but comes at a cost in what they can deliver. We’ve seen a number of recruiting firms dance around requests from clients trying to understand how much of the recruiters’ time is dedicated to their search. These recruiters will say things like “it’s not about quantity, it’s about quality” or “we know everyone in this space, so it won’t take us long to source these profiles.” What makes these statements powerful is that there is some level of truth in them. However, in the end of the day if someone is splitting their time across too many searches, either the number of candidates they reach will drop or the quality of the profiles they source will decline. Either way, you are worse off.
As a company that has a database with over 100,000 management consulting resumes, we know that it’s not just about pulling up a list and mass-blasting them all with an email. Each recruitment search will require a customized approach that can only be achieved if your recruiter is dedicating enough of their time to you.
So ask your recruiter: “how many searches are you (or the person you are staffing on my search) running?” and “For how long do I have X% of your recruiter’s time on the search?” While it’s normal for senior level recruiters to split their time on a few searches, you want a significant amount of one of the team members’ time to be dedicated to your search.
2. Are they a valuable thought partner?
The role of the recruiter in talent acquisition has changed in a similar way as that of a good medical doctor. Both professions previously often used a black box approach and their advice was taken at face value. Now, a good doctor will inform you about your choices and give you the pros and cons of each choice. Patients can then make an informed decision that’s right for them.
Similarly, a good recruiter will help hiring managers understand what the expected outcome of various recruiting strategies are – but let hiring managers choose the strategy that’s right for them. Of course, you can still get lucky and find a great candidate by following a less viable strategy. However, as in any other field, you want to make the decision that is most likely to produce the desired result.   
This is why it’s important that you select a recruiter that can be a valuable thought partner to your talent acquisition strategy. Does this recruiter understand your needs? If so, can they help you (a) define the role mandate and (b) understand how that mandate translates to the skills and traits you want in a candidate? From here, you can ascertain whether this translates to a clear search profile.
3. How are they sourcing and engaging talent?
You aren’t hiring an external recruiter just to come up with strategy, but to help you execute on strategy. How do they plan to do that - will their recruiting team search for this profile systematically and thoroughly in a scalable way, or do they employ a “black box” approach? If you ask a recruiter how they find and engage candidates, and they respond with “we know everyone in that industry,” you’ll do yourself a favor by politely thanking them for their time and keep looking for another recruiter.
The black box approach can work sometimes, but it’s extremely hard to evaluate effectiveness if there’s no clear hiring methods. You can’t understand what has gone wrong when things don’t work out, and you can’t replicate success when they do.
As a general rule, transparent and replicable models are extremely valuable. That way, if you don't get immediate results, you can collaborate to understand what went wrong and how to expand the search strategy going forward. 

For example, ask how are they sourcing – from a pre-defined “rolodex” of vetted contacts or systematically across a broad pool of candidates that fit the agreed-upon search profile? How many candidates can you expect them to source in a given week? How are they engaging with the talent and what conversion rates can you expect, i.e., how many of the candidates they reach out to typically express interest in the role?
4. Can the agency help you predict on-the-job success?
The hardest thing to do in recruiting is predict on-the-job success, but a good external recruiter can help you do so with much more accuracy. The questions you need to ask are: how do they plan to do so, and are they capable of delivering on that promise? How do they help you screen candidates in a more transparent way?
Again, you want your recruiter to help you understand their recruiting method so that if you were to follow the same process and ask the same questions, you’d come to the same conclusion as them. Screening questions should have a clear right and a wrong answer.
Watch out for recruiters who don’t use a standardized approach to screening candidates or who tell you “there is no right or wrong answer” to their interview questions. These recruiters screen candidates using “I’ll know it when I see it” type intuition. You want to listen to their advice as much as you want to listen to the advice of a doctor who just relies on their intuition as opposed to trying to follow an evidence-based approach.  
There’s no silver bullet when it comes to choosing an external recruiter. On the one hand, even the best, most carefully chosen firms sometimes fail to find the right candidate for their clients. Meanwhile, fly-by-night operations can sometimes get lucky – as they say, even a broken clock is right twice a day. But by asking the right questions and making informed selections, you can greatly improve the chances of a hire – ultimately driving value for your company.

About the Authors:

Atta Tarki is the founder and CEO of ECA Partners, a 120 person data-driven project staffing and executive search firm, and the author of upcoming book Evidence-Based Recruiting (McGraw Hill, February 2020). Prior to starting ECA Partners, Atta spent 6 years as a management consultant at L.E.K. Consulting.
Gustav Brown is an Engagement Manager with ECA Partners, where he helps private equity, consumer goods and entertainment companies identify and fulfil their talent needs. Prior to ECA Partners, Gustav was a Fellow with the National University of Singapore's Asia Research Institute - where his work focused on the hiring practices and community outreach protocols of international NGOs. Gustav received his PhD in Sociology from UCLA.