Tag Archives: management

The Right Questions

I was watching the Dems’ debate last night. I’m pretty much a political junkie and this has been an interesting few months as the Democratic candidates sort themselves out en route to a nominee.

As I was watching, I was reminded that the next year is really a very long job interview for a very big job. Watching the debate in that context made me realize that the moderators weren’t approaching it that way at all. They were asking the wrong kind of questions, at least right up until the last one about “someone we’d be surprised you’re friends with.” Let me explain because if you manage a business, hiring is one of the most important tasks you have.

If you’re still asking lame questions such as “tell me about yourself” or “where will you be in five years,” you really should leave the interviewing to someone else. The purpose of an interview is to find out things that aren’t on a resume but which have a huge impact on a candidate’s ultimate success or failure. In my mind, “smart” is the main thing I’m looking for along with intellectual curiosity. I spend my time trying to get answers that demonstrate a candidate’s possession of those qualities or lack thereof. To you, some other things might be important. You need to hone your questions to shine a light on the areas that are critical to you.

Don’t ask “yes/no” questions. Do ask hypothetical questions that reflect the reality of what will be the candidate’s day to day job. I used to test the candidate’s knowledge of my company to see if they really wanted to work there or if they were just looking for a job. “What did you find in your research about us that surprised you?” “As you were finding out about us, what questions came up that I might be able to help answer for you?” If the answers are vague or focused on things like salary or benefits, this is a person who wants a job and not a career. That’s fine, but it’s not what I want.

Asking the right questions can make all the difference in assembling a team for the long-term or constantly having to replace people who either leave for a better gig or who aren’t really qualified in the first place. The right questions get you the right people. You with me?

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Filed under Helpful Hints, Thinking Aloud

The Dead Of Dining

I came up with today’s Foodie Friday topic this past week as I was dining out. Which of course leads to The Grateful Dead. If any of you are Deadheads, one thing you know is that when the band was on and in full flight they were magnificent. They could take you with them as they soared musically. Unfortunately, the odds of that happening on any given night were not close to 100%.

It’s the thing that frustrates most of us who listened to The Dead. You could go to a show never knowing if you were going to walk away uplifted or disappointed. The experience was inconsistent. They were the musical personification of the old Mother Goose nursery rhyme:

There was a little girl who had a little curl
Right in the middle of her forehead;
When she was good, she was very, very good,
And when she was bad she was horrid.

OK, back to food. I took a little mini-vacation this week to an island just off the North Carolina coast. It was lovely but because it is a relatively small island, there are limited dining options. One of these options was a place that serves Mexican food. The first time I dined there I had a lovely skirt steak but what struck me was how good the accompanying rice and black beans were. The beans were perfectly textured with a little smokiness coming from a piece of smoked pork tossed in the pot. The rice was billowy. I made it a point to return on another night.

The second night I dined there, the beans were bland and tough, as was the rice. In fact, the rice had a crunch to it, not like the lovely socarrat that forms in paella but from being undercooked and raw. Everything from the drinks to the entrees seems to have been tossed together with a minimum of care and thought.

It reminded me that one thing we need in business is consistency. Whether we’re serving food or figures, customers need to know that they can count on our product meeting a high standard each and every time. Employees and our team need to know that everyone is treated fairly and using the same standards. Unlike The Dead or this restaurant, we can’t miss the mark as often as we hit it. The only times we miss the standards we set should be those occasions when we move those standards up a notch. Make sense?

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Filed under food, Helpful Hints, Music

Teshuva 2018 Again

Yes, I’m aware it’s 2019 but this is what I posted last year on Yom Kippur and it represents my best take. Enjoy!

It’s Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish year.  This was a post from several years ago.  As I read it over, looking for inspiration for something to write on the subject of change and business based on the holiday, I realized that I had expressed my thinking pretty well in the earlier post.  Those of you who celebrate the holiday are probably not reading this until sundown (I scheduled this yesterday in keeping with the spirit of not working on the day). Whether you do or don’t celebrate, I hope you’ll take a moment to reflect.

Yesterday was Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish year. For those of you unfamiliar with the holiday, it concludes the 10 day period at the start of the Jewish calendarRosh Hashanah – head of the year – during which all Jews are supposed to reflect upon the past year and examine how they’re going to change their lives going forward. One also seeks forgiveness from those against whom he has transgressed – both those of this earth and higher powers. There is a lot of other imagery connected with the period – inscription in the Book of Life being a big one – but I think there’s something each of us can take as a business lesson in a non-denominational way.

We all get off track.  Sometimes it’s in little ways like eating badly or drinking too much.  Sometimes it’s in big ways like alienating our families or hurting friends who love us.  The concept in Judaism of repentance is called Teshuva which means “return”.  I love the notion of coming back to one’s self as well as to the basic human tenets that are common to all religions and peoples.

We can take a period of reflection and “return” in our business lives as well.  The most obvious way is for us as individuals. Who have we alienated this year?  What client have we taken for granted?  But it a bigger opportunity.  How has the business diverged from the mission?  Why have we stopped getting better and are just marching in place?  What can we be doing to grow our people but are ignoring?

We ask those kinds of questions from time to time, but I guess I’m suggesting that it become a more formal process.  Set aside a period every year for “return” thinking.  A period of repentance?  Maybe, in some cases.  But in all cases a chance to change.  A chance to regret past bad actions and to vow not to repeat them.  Most importantly (this is true in the religious sense as well), to correct the transgression.  To apologize.   To make restitution.  Whatever is right and lets everyone move forward with a clear conscious and a vow to do better.

Sound like a plan?

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What A Waste

In addition to it being Foodie Friday, it’s also trash day. Every Thursday night I wheel the trash and recycling bins out to the curb to await their pick-up Friday morning. That also means that each Thursday I go through the fridge and toss any food that has reached its expiration date or any leftovers that didn’t manage to get consumed after they were cooked sometime in the previous 5 days. In all candor, it’s one of the more frustrating things for me since I absolutely HATE to waste food.

Yes, I was of the generation who had parents that reminded us that children were starving in Europe (which they actually were as the continent rebuilt after WWII) and elsewhere but I don’t think that’s really what bothers me. It’s also not the feeling like I’m tossing cash money into the trash bin although that in effect is exactly what I’m doing. I just don’t like to waste anything. That’s one of the many reasons I’ve always admired Jacques Pepin who would always demonstrate how to make use of every scrap of food on his cooking shows.

This from a Food52 piece:

The average American ends up throwing away a full 103 pounds of spoiled food each year, according to a recent survey of 2,000 people conducted by OnePoll for Bosch home appliances. That works out to an average of 4 items a week, or the weekly equivalent of $53.81. All told, per the survey results, the average American adult will waste 6,180 pounds of food in their lifetime.

Food isn’t the only area where we waste perfectly good things either. Plastic bags are a plague, for example. I’m surprised stores still offer them or don’t hand out reusable bags. My supermarket sells big reusable bags at cost and will replace them for free if they rip. Trader Joe’s does something similar. It’s good for the customer, good for the environment, and good for the business since they don’t have to purchase as many single-use bags.

There is a lot of waste in business, of course, and I don’t just mean single-use bags. We produce reports that no one reads just because the report has always been produced. We don’t look at the analytics of what we’re doing on the web and in social media to understand if the bang is commiserated with the buck – the time and effort – we spend making those platforms hum.  We waste time in endless group email chains to solve a problem when one brief meeting would serve to fix the whole thing.

Be waste averse. Not just in your fridge but in your office as well. Your wallet and your CFO will thank you!

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Filed under Consulting, food, Helpful Hints

Cooking With Kids

What could be more fun on a Foodie Friday than cooking with kids? Mine are grown, of course, but I always loved the weekend because that was when we’d often find the time to get in the kitchen and cook together. As it turns out, there is something to be learned about business from this.

I think one benefit of getting children in the kitchen at a young age is that they begin to learn another language. While English was the language in our home, the language of food and cooking was another that the kids learned early on. Understanding what terms like simmer and boil meant and how they were different taught them precision. Learning the difference between dice, chop and even chiffonade helped them with knife skills, spatial relationships, and relative size.

Improving small motor skills is another benefit that kids get as they learn to use a knife or to crack an egg without shattering it or even to measure a cup of flour properly. Then there are the obvious benefits of learning what things taste like and being able to describe what they were tasting as well as what they liked and disliked. Finally, they were learning some science without thinking they were in class. Understanding, for example, that pancakes rise because of baking powder bubbles. Did I tell them it was because of an acid-base reaction that released carbon dioxide? Come on – they were kids! But they knew it made bubbles and the bubbles popped leaving the little holes they’d see in their pancakes.

This sort of process is exactly the one good managers need in business. New employees have to learn the language not just of business generally but of your specific company. Working alongside them, demonstrating and explaining as you go, is the only way they will get properly informed. Letting them do simple tasks, just as you might have kids stir and pour rather than dice and saute, lets them get a solid footing and the confidence to take on more complicated endeavors. It was always a mystery to me why some managers just sat new employees at a desk and then wondered why they weren’t being especially productive several months later. Unless you “cook” with them, they will probably never become all that they could be.

I think the main thing I got from cooking with my kids was a bond. Not only had we done something together but we’d made something together that we and others could enjoy. It’s the same in the office. Think back about the last time you were the new kid. Wouldn’t it have been nice to have someone take the time to build that bond with you as well as to help you produce your first great work?

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Filed under food, Growing up, Helpful Hints

Back To School Again

It’s the time of year when the kids head back to school. I wish I could join them. Knowing what I know now, and more importantly, what I don’t know now, I’d make better use of my time there. Of course, like the quote commonly attributed to Mark Twain, I tried not to let my schooling interfere with my education.

I’ve written before what I think the only two things one needs to learn while in school, but to sum them up it’s the ability to:

  • Acquire pieces of information, figure out which pieces are accurate and synthesize your own ideas or opinions based on them;
  • Express those ideas or opinions clearly both verbally and in writing.

Does that make you smart? Not exactly although you certainly will sound a heck of a lot smarter. It does make you well-educated in the sense that you’ve obtained the most important skills education can provide. Smart, however, is an entirely different deal and I want us to think for a few minutes today about the different kinds of smart one can be regardless of education.

I’ve never made it a secret that I have a deep affection for smart people, especially those smarter than I am. I always tried to find job candidates who were, above all, really smart in every sense of the word. What do I mean?

First, there is the kind of smart where one is able to synthesize information and develop great insights. Yes, that kind of matched the first part of being well-educated. I’d couple that with intellectual curiosity, however, to make one smart.

Second is what many people would call educated. This is being full of information, what some might call book-learned. However, just because you can puke back a lot of facts, which might make you great at Trivial Pursuit or the trivia contest at your local tavern, you can’t really fool me that you’re smart unless you couple it with the other two parts.

The third part is being emotionally intelligent. As Wikipedia defines it, this is

the capability of individuals to recognize their own emotions and those of others, discern between different feelings and label them appropriately, use emotional information to guide thinking and behavior, and manage and/or adjust emotions to adapt to environments or achieve one’s goal(s).

In many ways, this is the most important of the three “smarts” in business since it’s the one that helps you behave optimally in areas like customer service, employee management, and partner relations. I know there are other kinds of “smart” – street smart that is probably the personification of Twain’s statement, IQ-smart, which is just raw brainpower to name just two, but I think my three are the ones most critical to business – and life – success since they can be learned and developed while most others one either has or doesn’t.

So as the kids head back to school, maybe this is a good time for each of us to think about how we can get smarter too. What do you think?

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The Fundamentals

I was watching the College World Series the other night. My Wolverines are in the final with a chance to win a very surprising national championship (they weren’t supposed to get this far). Go Blue!

Many of the articles attributed their success to great pitching and that’s something whose importance you can never overstate in my opinion. However, there is one other factor I noticed in watching this team that’s applicable to any business. This team has been well-coached in the fundamentals. Let me explain.

Bunting is a lost art in baseball. It’s attempted in many of the major league games I watch and is rarely executed perfectly. Maybe I’m yearning for the age when Phil Rizzuto would school the Yankee teams on bunting (he was among the best ever at it) but I’ve now seen Michigan lay down several perfect bunts on the correct side of the plate based on the situation and the defense. That’s knowing and practicing the fundamentals.

They run the bases well and don’t make bad decisions. Sure, a coach is involved in the decision, but if you don’t hit the bases in stride and run with your head up you’ll miss the “stop/go” signal. They are not too anxious at the plate, often running the pitcher deep into the count. Over time, that has an impact and the more pitches you see, the greater the likelihood that you’ll get one you like. Again, these are fundamentals.

The same holds true in your business. How well schooled is your staff – or are you – in the fundamentals of your operation? Does everyone understand how you are creating value for your customers and your enterprise? Since, as Eisenhower said, the plan may be useless but planning is essential, is everyone involved in that fundamental process? You probably use a lot of industry-specific terms in your office. Does everyone fully understand them and speak your language fluently?

As managers, our job is to make sure that the team has the skills to perform and that skill almost always relies on some fundamentals. Teach them, practice them, and make sure that they’re executed perfectly every time. Like this Michigan team, you’re probably going to overperform and get unexpectedly great results. Make sense?

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Filed under Consulting, Thinking Aloud