For our Foodie Friday Fun this week we’re having eggs. I love eggs. I also have a daughter who gags at the mere mention of them, so I’m well aware that my admiration of them isn’t universal. Too bad, because in addition to being part of many of the great dishes in the food world, eggs also provide a few insights into hiring.
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Think for a second about the role an egg can play. A fried egg placed on a burger certainly isn’t meant to be the star of the show and often the burger is just fine without it. The egg, however, adds a richness and provides a secondary sauce, almost transforming mayo (if you use it) into a hollandaise. The egg is in a supporting role that makes the entire production better.
Then there are the dishes in which the egg is an equal player. A bacon, egg and cheese sandwich (one of the world’s great dishes, IMHO), plays the various flavors and textures off against one another and weaves them into a harmonious whole. No one flavor should dominate, and in this context we see the egg holding its own but playing nicely with the other components. Huevos Rancheros or Chilaquiles are other examples.
Finally, we have the egg as the star. Deviled eggs, egg salad, or some perfectly cooked scrambled eggs are dishes in which the egg must be front and center and in which lesser eggs means a lower quality dish. As it turns out, a few studies have found that it doesn’t really make a difference in taste or quality if you buy regular old supermarket eggs instead of from your local farm stand (but you should support your local folks anyway – it may not taste better but you’ll feel better).
What does this have to do with business? I want to hire employees who are good eggs, and I mean not just in temperament. I want people who can play any role from supporting to leading. I want people who work well with others. I want people who are versatile. I want them to be of high quality. In short, I want people who are as wonderful as an egg. Don’t you?
One summer when I was in college I found myself without gainful employment. I had spent many other summers as a camp counselor but I had decided not to spend 8 weeks locked in a bunk with a slew of six-year-olds and hadn’t really found anything to do that didn’t require an investment of cash (like an ice cream truck route). All the “good” jobs were taken, and while a buddy and I were offering our services out to paint houses, I really needed to do something to generate cash. That’s how I ended up with a crappy job for which I am still thankful.
My crappy job involved going door to door selling encyclopedias. I’m not kidding. For the younger readers out there, printed encyclopedias were pretty popular (think analog Wikipedia) nearly half a century ago. Every day I would drive my car into some neighborhood and walk the streets knocking on doors. The case I carried was not light, even to my younger, in-shape self. I got rejected nearly every time, at least when someone was nice enough to actually open the door, hear my spiel, and not threaten me with a dog. I also made a few bucks in the process, but calling it a crappy job is an understatement.
I learned a tremendous amount from my crappy job. First and foremost, I learned patience and what is commonly called sticktoitiveness. I didn’t quit; well, at least not until my painting partner convinced someone to let us paint their house, which was 8 weeks into the summer. I learned cold-calling and how to qualify leads. I learned not to fear speaking to strangers. I learned that, just as is baseball, it’s possible to fail 6 times out of 10 and still be an all-star. Most importantly, I gained perspective. Nearly any other job seemed great by comparison, and I could mentally return to knocking on doors any time things got bad at some subsequent job.
Many years later, “tell me about the worst job you ever had” became one of my standard interview questions. I looked for people who had a crappy job at some point and we always talked about why it sucked and what they learned. I always leaned toward candidates who had done the worst jobs.
What crappy job have you had? How did it change you?
I mentioned the other day that we’re getting Rancho Deluxe ready for sale. Part of that process is choosing a realtor. It’s a very important part of the process since the realtor is your guide. What work should we do on the house prior to listing? How much is a reasonable but aggressive asking price? Where is the local market and are the offers we get worth considering? It’s a job interview, even if the job is temporary. I thought some of what we found is applicable to any form of hiring, and that hiring might be personal (a job) or organizational (by a client).
We got the names of three realtors from friends who had worked with them. Each walked through the house and scheduled a second meeting, the purpose of which was to give us their thoughts on the questions I mentioned, above. It was also a chance for them to demonstrate their thinking and competence.
Two of the three came back with folders containing listings of comparable houses to help us price. They gave us a good overview of the marketplace and described the buyer they thought would be looking at our home. The third showed up with nothing. When asked about comps she scrolled through her phone looking for some while we sat and waited. While she could talk about the market, her conversation was very general and not specific to our situation (location, the age of our home, etc.). Had it been a business meeting, I would have tossed her out of my office after 15 minutes. The point is preparedness. While Woody Allen may have said that 80% of success is showing up, I think showing up prepared is far better. Needless to say, she was disqualified from consideration.
The choice between the other two came down to a few things. Personality (with whom dd we feel most comfortable) was a big part. How hard we felt they would work on our behalf was another. While they each told us what they thought needed to be done to get the house ready, one of them offered to help us make those things happen by offering to hook us up with some reasonably priced contractors/handymen. She didn’t just identify our issues; she offered to help us resolve them. In addition, she described what money she would invest, putting her own skin in the game. It means that if the house doesn’t sell she is not just out the commission she won’t receive but also some funds she has invested herself. That was the tie-breaker.
Each of those points – preparation, personality, problem-solving, and commitment – is something that should come up in any vetting process, whether you’re hiring or being hired. How does each candidate stack up? How do you?
Part of what I do for clients from time to time is to help them hire.
(Photo credit: bpsusf)
I’ll often help write the job specs and do preliminary interviews for them. One thing they sometimes ask me is what I’m looking for in a candidate. I’ve written before about how I think “smart” and “curious” are must-haves but there are other more subtle things I’m after as well.
One thing I don’t focus on too much is the technical stuff. Unless I’m intending to grill them on the minutia of using a particular thing (everything from Excel to ad operations systems to code writing), I won’t get much of that in an interview anyway. The bigger point is that whatever it is can be taught. So what am I after?
I want them to tell me how they made something complex into something simple. I want to hear how they avoided doing something by making something else more efficient. Can they make one report wipe out two or three others without losing any information? Can they turn a 20 minute sales pitch into a 3 minute piece of elegance?
I want to test their confidence in their own knowledge. I might ask them a question and try to talk them off their answer. How firm are they in their beliefs and is that firmness irrational stubbornness or is it confidence that is open to new ideas?
Do they listen? Do their questions and answers demonstrate that they have been listening while we’re together?
I might ask them for examples of when they had to convince others that their solution to something was wrong even when a bunch of people were agreed it was right. I love when they tell me that they argued against using some new tool because they spotted a flaw and turned around a bunch of people heading in a wrong direction.
Finally, I look for people who look for solutions. For people who don’t have “can’t” in their problem-solving vocabulary. Can they grasp problems at their core and not get focused on any one solution since many roads lead to the same place?
That’s my general list. What’s yours?
I’ve written a number of times on the subject of hiring smart people.
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Raw intelligence and a natural curiosity about the world are two qualities I’ve found to be universal in the great executives I know and I always spent a lot of time when I was interviewing new hires trying to uncover those qualities in the candidates. As I thought about the search for that brilliance the other day I realized that it’s just not enough. No, I’m not retracting my statement. I do think, however, I’m doing you folks a disservice by not providing context. Let me do so now.
Suppose you knew a really smart ten year-old. He is constantly asking questions about the world and more often than not can hold his own in a discussion with adults. His logic is impeccable; his ability to express himself is superb. Would you hire him? Of course not (although you might tee him up for an internship in five or six years). While he has two of the skills one can’t teach, he lacks many critical skills for success. Emotional maturity is probably first on that list; the ability to contextualize (or not) is the other.
What do I mean by that? When we get too caught up in a moment we need to have the ability to stop, take a step back, and see the forest as well as the trees. That’s contextualizing. Math teachers would explain it as probing into the referents for the symbols involved – I like that. Great businesspeople can also do the opposite – decontextualize – maybe even at the same time. That’s the ability to abstract a situation and think about it symbolically without all the immediate pressures of what’s going on. These abilities – as well as other critical thinking skills – take time and experience. It’s why older executives such as me have value that our younger peers don’t: we’ve made the mistakes already and have learned.
Smart people can be stupid. They need experience, a grounding in facts, and the emotional maturity that comes with time to be successful in business. We all know the brilliant jerk – the very smart executive who everyone respects and very few like. They can crush a company. Our challenge is to find the qualities in addition to smart and curious that make for greatness. You up to it?
We’re down to The Final Four (Go Blue!) and so what better place than the Golf Channel to have a chat with a great college coach? That’s exactly what aired last evening as part of Feherty, one of my not so guilty pleasures. David Feherty interviewed Bob Knight, best known as the coach of Indiana University. He’s the sort of coach that many people love to hate – they respect his accomplishments but can’t understand the screaming, chair-throwing, and general misbehaving that he did. The interview helped me to understand it – and him – a lot better.
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Early on in the show, Coach Knight said something that really resonated with me as a businessperson and it’s our topic today. It seems kind of simple but it often gets lost:
The role of a coach or the role of a teacher is to get the player or student to be the best that they can be.
Exactly. Not “to get them to achieve some impossibly high standard that even professional athletes can’t reach.” Not “to win a championship at all costs.” It’s centered around understanding each kid and the potential for greatness that’s in each of them to whatever degree it exists. Even if the kid doesn’t get it. Then the challenge is to fulfill that potential.
Think about it in a business context. How many managers are focused on “winning the championship” and not on getting each employee to be the best that they can be? Instead of using the initial interview process to determine what that potential might be, many managers think about it as filing a box on the org chart. They don’t think about complimentary skill sets, the potential to advance, or how well the candidate will fit into the group. Instead, they assume the people are fungible. Big mistake.
If we take the time to think carefully about Coach Knight’s standard, it becomes obvious that the key to success lies in looking hard for potential, especially if that potential is untapped to a great degree. After all, if we’re focused on getting people to be the best that they can be, we want that bar set pretty high so the organization as a whole is elevated.
What do you think?
For our Foodie Friday Fun today, let’s spend a moment on seeds.
Sunflower seeds (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I realize that seeds probably aren’t the first thing on your radar screen when you’re contemplating snack foods. Too bad. Seeds are nutrient-dense and are filled with phytosterols, these things in plants that are as effective as many of the prescription drugs a lot of folks are taking to lower cholesterol. I’m a fan – pumpkin seeds are the best thing in my book about carving those gourds around Halloween, and no baseball player has gone through their career without chomping in a bunch of sunflower seeds at some point. I’m not sure many of them think about how they’re full of antioxidants to protect against UV damage from playing ball in the sun, however. I also don’t think many of us consider hummus as ground sesame seeds (well, the tahini used to make hummus is exactly that) and we tend to throw seeds from fruits such as papaya away when in actuality they’re really good for us.
Here’s the thing about eating seeds – they can, in some cases, be a lot of work. After all, pumpkin seeds (if you’re making them yourself) need to be extracted, cleaned off, roasted and seasoned. Sunflower seeds have to be extracted from their hard, inedible shell. Maybe that extra bit of business to get them ready is why I find them so satisfying to eat.
The business point is pretty straightforward. As managers we tend to focus on the fully developed plants when in fact the seeds might be better for us. I focus a lot on potential when I’m hiring or promoting, and that’s not just on junior people. I’m looking to see if there’s a seed somewhere that might even be better than the plant I’m seeing. It’s not jut solving the immediate need (hunger) but looking to the future as well (health).
What seeds are you eating?