Institutionalized Insanity

Consider the following scenarios:

1. A teenager comes to parents and asks for a new car. The justification is that the current car is old, doesn’t go fast enough and costs too much in maintenance. The proposed solution is to buy a brand new Ferrari. It’s expensive, but will go more than fast enough for any foreseeable situation and the dealer will include the first 3 years of maintenance with the purchase.

2. A woman goes to her pharmacist to pick up a prescription. The pharmacist provides the medication and informs her that the drug company skipped most of the testing in order to meet their market release date. However, if she encounters any severe side effects, the drug company will make sure that she’s first in line for any corrective medications or required surgeries. He also provides her with a 1 month supply of disposable undergarments as a “workaround” for the known gastrointestinal issues.

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A Failure to Communicate

What is the biggest problem with leadership? What is the solution?

I’ve been working through some new ideas on leadership. Everywhere you turn you hear the experts talking about how, “We lack the leadership needed to carry us into the future.”

That’s a problem.

After considering it for the last six months or so, I think I have some of the answers… things that I don’t see anyone else talking about.

Before sharing my ideas, I’ll put it out there and let our readers share their opinion. What do you think…

What is the biggest problem with leadership? What is the solution?

I’ll share my ideas next week!

Doyle Slayton

Sales & Leadership Strategist – Professional Speaker | Author | Social Media | Web 2.0 |

A failure to communicate.

In small organizations, you can’t help but develop shared context, goals and objectives. As an organization grows, it becomes a bigger and bigger game of “telephone” where the message gets distorted and people are forced to develop their own (often conflicting) agendas. Leaders need to dig down into all levels of the organization and learn to listen, understand how their message is being perceived and adjust accordingly. If the message is clear and you have good people, the next step is to get out of their way, clear any obstacles for them and trust them to execute.

Age Discrimination

So I am 50 plus how do I get employers to take me seriously?

Jacqueline Ann Mc Kenzie

Independent Human Resources Professional

“One thing that I would suggest is taking a step back and making sure that it’s a real issue and not your own insecurity. If it’s a real issue, again, check to see if there’s anything that you’re doing to make the situation worse. I started contract programming when I was 13. I was in a management position before I was 20 and I’ve always been very conscious of the exact opposite problem that you have. Now that I’m pushing <mumble mumble> I should be feeling the young bucks nipping at my heels, but instead, I still feel like the 17 year-old having to prove myself. The odd part of this is that this is somehow coming through in some subconcious behavior and I generally find myself connecting more with the younger employees than with the people my own age. On the flip side, I had a person younger than I was that was continually complaining that he was being discriminated against because of his “advanced” age. We sat down together and started documenting the issues and then had some open conversations with the team. It turns out that the “young people” felt that he was discriminating against them because of their lack of experience and they responded by treating him as the “old dude”. Once we all got on the same page, it was easy to see where the disconnects were coming from and how some subtle little turns of phrase, ways of responding and just ways of working were contributing to building walls between them. Both sides had a part to play in the problem and it became a really nasty feedback loop. In this case, simply breaking the cycle pretty much corrected the problem. I’m not suggesting that you run out and hop on the latest trends or try to act younger than you are. Just be yourself and look past age. If you expect to not be taken seriously, there’s a very real risk that you’ll create a self-fulfilling prophecy. Take the time to document what you’re seeing and how you’re responding. Then try to review it objectively when you aren’t “in the moment”. If, after taking that into account, there is still a problem, involve HR and see if you can get some dialog opened to address the issues. Good luck!”

Coaching for Sociability

Which exercise you suggest for improve sociability?

If you would improve sociability, especially for people that are tendencially introverted, what you suggest? which exercise can help? what else?

Daniele Carnicella [LION]

Instal Base Administration Manager at Philips

What a great question. I’m a social introvert (my wife would say “sociophobic”), but a business extrovert. I know others that are the life of the party, but can’t form a coherent sentence in a meeting. It’s a very personal thing and everyone needs to work through it in their own way. The only general advice I would offer is 1) Find out if they *want* to improve their sociability and 2) If so, help them with opportunities to *gently* expand their comfort zone.

If the problem is being in a large group of people, then let them know that you’ll stick with them and play “anchor”. If the issue is engaging in conversation, reel them in and engage them. If it’s public speaking, put them in charge of an agenda or assign them a 2-3 minute status update every week. Start with small doses and help them work through whatever they feel is a problem. If they don’t see it as a problem, then don’t mess with it. Not everybody wants to be an extrovert and you may do more harm than good.

Dale Carnegie also offers a number of courses and programs that may be valuable. But they’ll only have value if the person actually wants to change.


Getting past “No”

How do you engage a prospect who originally tells you, “I’m not interested”?

I often run into prospects who at first tell me they don’t have an interest or a need… but once I get them talking… it’s a whole different story. Sometimes, they turn into my best clients! How do you engage a prospect who originally tells you, “I’m not interested”?

Doyle Slayton

Sales & Leadership Strategist – Professional Speaker | Author | Social Media | Web 2.0 |

Turn it into an opportunity for them to be the expert. Ask them if you can buy them lunch and pick their brains to help refine your approach for the next customer (be careful about walking the line between listening and selling). Get them talking. Ask lots of questions. Try to demonstrate knowledge and insight by asking the *right* questions and try to be complimentary about the things that seem innovative or well executed. If it’s relevant, talk about what you or your other clients have done that might be helpful (but not in the context of a sale. This is a “meeting of minds” and not a sales pitch) People love to be the experts and the valued for their knowledge (just look at Linkedin 🙂 A lot of people also react positively to the “Help me, Obi-Wan!” approach that they’re in a unique situation to be able to save you. If you also get someone who’s passionate about their business, you’ll develop a bond and rapport through this approach that you’ll never get by trying to directly sell to them. At the end of the session, *don’t go in for the kill*!!!!! If they perceive it as a sales pitch, you’re dead. Just thank them profusely, ask if they have any additional leads and try to keep the door open for followups. Then look for opportunities to hook up again (a new product or service offering, some new set of questions or ideas, etc.) Treat it as networking rather than sales and build your reputation with the client before jumping back in for the sale. It’s more difficult once you got the “Not Interested”, but it’s certainly not impossible

Answering Difficult Questions

Difficult Questions…

……sometimes in my life I have come across very difficult questions. As a leader, people expect my answers to be clear, concise and to meet the standard expected of me.
I have hesitated in answering them before, or deferred them to another time.
We have the power to articulate and think deeply before answering or asking a question but when faced with very difficult questions.

How should we handle It.? What is your experience with difficult questions?

Thank you very much.

Mariéme Jamme- MBA

Social Entrepreneur- Speaker- Founder of Iconscience- Emerging Markets Strategist- CEO at Spotone Global Solutions.

People ask questions because they want answers. I find it very disrespectful when someone “doesn’t answer” a question. The more that they talk around it and pretend to answer, the more disrespectful I find it (since you’re essentially assuming that people are stupid and can be fooled onto thinking that you’ve provided an answer)

Answer the question with honesty and integrity. If you don’t know the answer, say that you don’t know, but that you’ll find out. If you need time to think about it, tell them that and indicate when they can expect an answer. If you can’t answer for some reason, explain and indicate when you might be able to answer. If the answer will cast you in a bad light, get it over with and try to indicate how you intend to turn the situation/answer around.

As an individual, your only true asset is your reputation. If you habitually avoid answering difficult questions, mislead people in your answers, or just brush them off, that will have a much greater impact than your answers likely will. If you address the difficult questions proactively and do so with honesty and integrity, that will help to develop trust and will improve your reputation as a leader and as a coworker.

Fact vs. fiction in resumes

How do you determine facts vs. fiction in resumes?

With massive lay-offs in almost every industry sector, people are busy finding jobs! Resume writers and career coaches advice applicants to be specific (What was the problem and how you solve it?) and not to give job descriptions or list of positions. One thing they strongly recommend is to “quantify” your achievement.

I like to read patents and resumes. I read resumes posted on-line and find people to do exactly that – “quantify”. We all know that industrial achievements do not come from a single individual but from efforts of many (along the entire value chain). When a sales manager claims to have increased sales by 300% – what S/he exactly means? From $1000to $3000 (easy to do) or from $3 million to $ 9 million (difficult to do). When an egineer or mid level supervisor claims of designing a process/ product/ method which saved company $x millions or cretaed $ x million market, who provides those figures and how do you verify that? We know that changes in industry comes at costs and benefits. I also see, people giving almost a page long achievements for jobs lasting 6 to 9 months, and some are quite astonishing. Either the yard stick for success has shrunk or people have become really good at what they do ! I see people claiming to create market for 100s of millions but were let go!

I also question value of references applicant provides. Everyone will provide references of people they have good raport with. Employers are concerned about legal problems and always ask managers to be careful when they give their name out as reference.

So, my question is – what is the meaning of quantifying achivements for sake of quantifying? How do you screen resumes with such bold claims?

Amit Dharia, Ph.D.

Owner, Transmit Technology Group, LLC, TX

This comes back to a recurring issue that I have with the recruiting industry. It used to be that there was a rapport between a recruiter and a candidate. The recruiter would work as an agent for a group of people and as an agent for a group of companies. They’d come to know the strengths and weaknesses of candidates as well as the cultures and unwritten requirements of the companies. The two of you would work together to determine how best to present your qualifications to the hiring manager. Now it’s just “send me a resume and I’ll forward it”. There are a few of the “old school” recruiters out there. But they’re becoming fewer and farther between.

Recruiting is now such a commodity industry, that it’s created this “tooth-and-nail” approach to resumes. People state accomplishments in the hopes that their “60%” improvement will get them ahead of the people with only a “50%” improvement listed on their resumes. Completing a project 3 months ahead of schedule pushes those meager “completed on schedule” people into the circular file. It’s all about marketing. No product goes to market saying simply “it does exactly what you’re looking for”. Similarly, very few resumes get considered if they simply list skills and experience. They have to have that “Cleans 50% whiter than white!”, “Delivers 20% better than brand X” feel or they end up in the bin.

What makes this worse is that there are so many recruiters that expect you to have a “one-size-fits-all” resume. You have to somehow cram every possible contingency into a single document. For someone like me who has worked in multiple industries, across multiple disciplines and successfully built and run consulting practices (which requires a lot of cross-functional knowledge and skills), my resume ends up reading like a complete work of fiction. Is it too good to be true? No, not really. I consider myself slightly more skilled than the average bear in a wide number of disciplines, but I know that there are a lot of experts who could blow me away in any single area. I also know enough to know what I don’t know and how to surround myself with talented people to fill the gaps.

So, when I have to second-guess what a recruiter may be looking for without knowing anything about the possible job opportunity, company or even industry, the best way to get their attention usually ends up being to bandy around a lot of numbers and accomplishments without a lot of focus on specific skills or expertise. Honestly, I’m more proud of rescuing disasters by the skin of my teeth than I am of pulling off great numbers in a supportive, mature environment. But it’s the big flashy stuff that usually engages the recruiters in conversation. It’s that conversation that allows me to present myself in a more focused manner.

If a resume gets your attention, I’d be more inclined to call the individual on the claims. They should be able to back them up with specifics. How they respond and what skills and knowledge they have to back them up is really what’s important. Selective background checks should be the last step before presenting them to your client. At that point, you can ask specific questions about roles, responsibilities and accomplishments instead of “did they really generate 100M of business?”

The Value of Virtual Teams

Are there any advantages of virtual project teams to the project or the team?

Other than benefiting the individual does the project or the team benefit from virtual operations or virtual team members?

Dan Light

Win More Federal Business

Most definitely. Virtual project teams allow you to pick the best people for your team regardless of geography. The benefits to the individual generally make for happier and more productive team members and you often get unique insights and perspectives that you wouldn’t get from a co-located team.

The challenges, of course, are the lack of personal contact. The camaraderie and team dynamic that comes from co-location and the non-verbal communication and nuance that comes from a face-to-face team. I’ve found that the best way to deal with that is to bring the entire team together on some neutral ground for a kick-off meeting. Use the opportunity to do some immersive team-building and force the awkward socialization with exercises and assigned seating at meals to mix the team up a bit. If you have an opportunity to do some brainstorming around your project or initiative, that’s also an excellent way for team members to get to know each other personally.

Once you have that “personal connection”, the virtual team tends to work much better together than a group of semi-anonymous voices on the phone or in a web-meeting.

One other “gotcha” to be aware of (and one that most organizations overlook) is that if you have a co-located group and a bunch of virtual team members, meetings will often have an underlying “us vs them” dynamic. People in the room will have side conversations that don’t carry through to the virtual team. Virtual team members will IM each other or exchange background emails and it’s easy to divide the team. I generally use an “all or nothing” approach. If the team is virtual, meetings should take place entirely on the phone or online (even if some of the team sits next to each other). Make extensive use of online whiteboards and other information sharing tools. It’s too easy to exclude virtual team members if you have a group of people physically meeting in a room.

Clarification added August 28, 2008:

I would also like to note that I find virtual teams to be better at communicating issues than face-to-face teams. (at least once they’re established). People today are much more aware of the need to communicate clearly and effectively when it’s in an email or IM. Verbal communication is much more fraught with nuance and interpretation. There are advantages to both approaches, but I find that once a virtual team gets over the initial hurdle, the communications are generally more efficient and precise than face-to-face teams. Your mileage may vary.

Documentary Obfuscation for Titillation and Pecuniary Augmentation

Why do we write policies like this?

Dear friends,

Maybe you understand this – I don’t. Here is the opening paragraph to a prototype Employee Handbook, provided to free for all on the SHRM website. It reminds me of something from the Broadway spoof of corporate America, “How to Succeed in Business (Without Really Trying).” It was provided to SHRM by a law firm. Here goes:

Whether you have just joined our staff or have been at XYZ for a while, we are confident that you will find our company a dynamic and rewarding place in which to work and we look forward to a productive and successful association. We consider the employees of XYZ to be one of its most valuable resources. This manual has been written to serve as the guide for the employer/employee relationship.

WHY do we write employee communications in such a stilted, demeaning way? Does anyone talk like this? For one thing, “the employees of XYZ” cannot be “one of its most valuable resources.” “A dynamic and rewarding place in which to work” is one of those say-nothing, just-had-to-fill-the-space phrases that knock you over the head with their emptiness. You should see the rest of the manual! Do you know why otherwise smart people who can write killer marketing materials and compelling copy for the media and other audiences, almost always write this vapid crizzap when writing for employees?

Liz Ryan

Workplace Expert: Career Advisor, Speaker, Author, HR pundit; Yahoo! Hotjobs Networking Expert; BusinessWeek Columnist

Somewhere along the line, the general public has bought into the idea that verbal obfuscation is somehow synonymous with eminent prerogative and meritorious intelligence. (trans: If it’s hard to understand, it must be official or written by someone very smart 🙂 Along the same lines, a 500 page manual is somehow more valuable that a 10 page flyer (even if they contain essentially the same information)

As part of a process re-engineering initiative that I led, we went after documentation that had a low “signal to noise ratio” and had people rewrite them using the simplest wording possible (while maintaining the meaning, of course). In one case, we had a 50+ page manual reduced to a 3/4 page checklist. Even our legal department bought into the idea and reduced a huge software support agreement to a single page written in plain english instead of “legalese”.

I’m sure that if someone took a critical look at most of these “on boarding” manuals, most of them would reduce to a single page welcome letter with a bullet list of expected conduct.

Imagine the energy, fuels, time and resources that could be saved by removing all of the communication of “non-information”.

While I have a great respect for wordsmiths and authors, Corporate communications generally aren’t the place to flex your literary muscles. This is especially true in the age of globalization. Many people reading your memos and manuals may not be fluent in the language. Using flowery language and less common words will certainly lead to misinterpretation.

Check out the Campaign for Plain English:

The Value of Instant Messaging

What is the most compelling reason to use “Instant Messaging” or “Texting” technologies in your professional or personal life?

Why do you use IM or text? Do you see these technologies spreading in the coming years?

Bill McDade

President at Arcella Global Corp.

I use IM for a number of purposes:

1) Quick information gathering in real-time. I can pull together a group of people in an IM conference for a 2-minute discussion in a matter of seconds. Usually without interrupting what they’re doing (much). The same goes for 1:1 exchanges.

2) Multitasking. When on a conference call or working in a room with another group, I can receive or pop-off a quick IM to keep on top of issues without leaving the room or breaking the flow of a conversation.

3) Supporting remote work. I work with a lot of geographically diverse teams. IM is the online equivalent of calling over the cubicle or leaning over to the person next to you in a conference room for a side comment/discussion.

All of these things require a particular mindset and discipline to stop them from becoming disruptive. But once the culture is well established, it’s difficult to understand how you ever survived without it.

One thing that I find particularly valuable is that IM forces people to think about the question that they want to ask or the response that they want to provide. Instead of listening to someone blather for 5 minutes with irrelevant “filler” information, you get nice concise questions and answers. You can also forgo a lot of the social pleasantries of a phone or face-to-face conversation. (not sure if that’s a good thing, but it’s certainly a time saver)