When to ask Why

In school, I would have pulled a stunt like this.  Actually, one time in college, I had to write four or five papers in one class.  I liked the professor, but I was certain he did not read any of the papers required.  Ok, maybe he read the first two and last two pages, but no more than that.  I had traditionally done very well on papers in his class, making an A every time, maybe a couple of points off for a poor reference or such.  For my last paper, I thought I would be a little daring and attempt to prove my point.  So, about halfway through the paper, mid paragraph, I inserted the following line: “And I know you’re not reading any of this,” before continuing the paragraph as normal.  I just knew I had done it.

The point to my story is, sometimes in a job, a project, or a proposal, I still find myself thinking, “Why am I doing this? They’re not even going to read it.”  Or sometimes, the statement might be said by a leader: “I know this is stupid, but we have to ask that you _____.”  This has always baffled me.  In essence, you acknowledge the stupidity of what your requesting someone to do, but still demand it?  Why?

Companies who enjoy the tediousness of their processes often do not enjoy great margins.  One company I consulted not too long ago explained their process of approval for a specific area.  They drew flow charts and showed me all of the pretty forms they had made that went into this massive binder with a pretty little cover sheet.  So after sitting through that meeting which lasted about 35 minutes (35 minutes of my life I’ll never get back), they asked me what I thought.  My reply?  “What are we talking about again?”

No, seriously, I went up to their great little flow chart and began simply asking “Why?”  For instance, why do three people have to sign this form authorizing an expense?  Answer: “To be sure it’s really needed.” Question: “Are these managers who have to sign it?” Answer: “Yes, three managers up the chain have to sign it.  Do you think we could make it easier?”  Answer from me: “Yes, fire the one who’s stupid or inept.”

Ok, I know that was pretty harsh but think about it for a minute: You have three people signing off on something that at least two people should be able to do.  Why the 3rd?  Granted, there are some instances where, depending on an expense amount or credit amount that there needs to be some extra checks and balances, but in this case, it was for something fairly nominal.  This sneak peek into the business model showed me a larger problem.  Why was I there?  To help accelerate the sales process.  What was the problem?  This company loved to make X very hard to find!

One question you as a manager can ask to drill down to the essentials of just about any function within your company is “why?” In fact, as a leader, you should ask more questions than give answers.  If you are consistently providing answers, you are doing two awful things to your company.

#1. You’re wasting your future time.  The old adage regarding a horse and water has a lot of truth to it.  If you are consistently giving answers out, you are, in essence, training your team not to think for themselves.  They know if they run into a question, rather than seeking the answer, they can just come to the great think tank who will spit out an answer or better yet, fix the problem all together.  This wastes your future time because you are not eliminating future questions.  If your team is anything like those I’ve managed in the past, you get asked the same questions time and time again.  Asking the question why can be as simple to start as, why am I answering this question?  Direct your associate to the answer, but let them figure it out on their own.  This will free up future time when they have another question.

#2. If you don’t ask why, you will never make great leaps in your company.  If you have a process in place, ask yourself and your team why you do it that way.  Is there a better, more cost effective or more efficient way of doing it?  Can you make it easier for your clients?  Also, in turn, you create a culture of excellence on your team because as time progresses, your team will begin to ask why and think outside the box.

Now, it should be said you will not get a lot of friends going this route, but, who needs friends when there’s progress to be made right?  Always seeking excellence sometimes means you will have to ask the occasional question, “Why?”

Oh, and about the paper I mentioned earlier in the article… I got it back and made my first B.  I got some points knocked off for trivial things.  I got 12 points taken off with a note from my professor, “I took 12 points off for assuming I don’t read these.”  He was a great teacher!

Trent Cotton has spent a number of years in management and business consulting. After spending some time in the field, he joined the HR department, beginning in recruiting and eventually serving as the Department Head of HR for one of the major lines of business. With such a varied background, he works to bring all of these together to help organizations incorporate best practices into their business to help them succeed. In his free time, he also writes a lot on his other blog, Christian Men, Christian Warrior.

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Why Super Committees ALWAYS Fail…

“With insects most of us know that bees are called swarms, and ants are called colonies. Among ocean life, I was aware that whales are pods, and fish are schools. Cattle are herd, birds are flocks, and if you watch Lion King, you know a tribe of lions is a pride. If you grew up in the country, you might know that crows are murders. Maybe the most unnerving one is an ambush of tigers.” Brace yourself…….

“I was surprised to learn that a group of buzzards waiting around together to feast on leftover carnage is called a committee. Just this one insight is worth the price of the whole book. This explains so much of what’s going on in churches – a lot of committees waiting around to live off human carnage.”  Erwin Raphael McManus

I would daresay that this doesn’t just apply to church committees but now, in the ever so evident present, it applies to government and stretches into the private sector.  Undoubtedly, you’ve been part of one.  In case you’re wondering, take a look at these questions to help you decide:

  • Have you ever sat in a room with colleagues who you may or may not agree with to discuss a topic, only to arrive at no solution?
  • Have you ever been assigned to work on a particular issue with a group of people and found yourself beating your head against a wall to at least make some type of an impact?
  • After a three hour meeting, have you ever walked out and found yourself having had an out of body experience where you temporarily went to your happy place to deal with the lack of progress?

If you answered “yes” to any of these, you’ve been a part of committee.  So why do they not work?  There are too many reasons to discuss.  It can be wrapped up in two words: pride and ego.

If you’d like to learn some ways to avoid the carnage associated with a committee, check out these posts:

The New KISS: Keep in Simple Strategy

Calling in a Threat During a Meeting

Getting the Pit Crew Involved

Why Most Corporate Meetings are Like NASCAR-Part II

Most Corporate Meetings are Like Nascar

Trent Cotton has spent a number of years in management and business consulting. After spending some time in the field, he joined the HR department, beginning in recruiting and eventually serving as the Department Head of HR for one of the major lines of business. With such a varied background, he works to bring all of these together to help organizations incorporate best practices into their business to help them succeed. In his free time, he also writes a lot on his other blog, Christian Men, Christian Warrior.

The New KISS: Keep in Simple Strategy

Yes, I was one of those kids.  Actually, I don’t think I’ve graduated from the sarcastic approach to live in the least.  I was one of those that would do something similar to the picture on the left.  Why do they make things so complicated?  I remember getting in trouble in my pre-algebra class for asking what I thought was a pretty obvious question at the time, “And when did we start using the alphabet instead of numbers?”  I went on to Calculus III and did fine, but still never got over why in the world everything had to be so complicated. Have you ever found yourself sitting in a meeting or a “strategic planning session” asking yourself the same question?

One of the primary reasons Apple dominates the IT world is for its simplicity.  Recently, my wife needed to upgrade her phone and after having a Droid, she wanted to go back to the Iphone.  Why?  For its simplicity.  Far too many businesses try to make things all so difficult when in reality, the common consumer (and employee for that matter) wants things simple.  No complex thinking, no 50 point flow chart, no two hour meeting that only accomplishes raising the blood pressure in the room.  Enter, KISS.

So, simplistic strategy… what does it mean you might ask.  Well, of course you would ask that because, already, you are trying to make it more complicated than it is.  In this equation, X stands for the destination.  What are you trying to accomplish and create a line to that point, remembering that a line is defined as the shortest distance between two points.  Here are some thoughts:

  • Keep Meeting Attendance Limited:  I know transparency is important, but unfortunately, when you add more people to a meeting, you add more opinions.  More opinions usually find themselves tied to more egos which in turn, adds the number of minutes you find yourself in a strategic-less strategy session.  Think of who absolutely needs to be in the room and on the call.  Who will bring the most “bang” or ideas to the strategic planning?  Invite those people, keep the others out.
  • Time your meeting: Have a designated time limit and stick to it.  Sometimes the best ideas come out of deadlines, use this to your advantage.  Additionally, a time limit helps keep people on task.
  • Have strategic session OUTSIDE the office: Have you ever needed a break and walked around the building or run an errand?  How did you feel when you got back?  Exactly!  Do the same for your team.  Do it away from the office, even if you have it at a Starbucks in a very informal format.  Having the freedom to relax and plan provides ideas and approaches to problematic situations exponentially quicker.
  • Send an agenda out ahead of time:  One caveat to this one, don’t make it a four page agenda.  Have on one page the items needing to be discussed.  Sending out the agenda ahead of time allows everyone to have the evening or the day to think about ideas, even allow them to begin collaborating with their colleagues on solutions or ideas.  Furthermore, it will help you keep to the time limit suggestion above.
  • Don’t be afraid to call it off and reschedule: The worst thing you can do sometimes is keep on strategically planning when there is not a strategy to be had.  If you find yourself hitting a wall or the group cannot agree or come up with a solution, break the meeting, reschedule it.  Sitting there arguing for forty more minutes to say that you had a meeting is an utter waste of time and energy.

I am not sure why strategic sessions have become so planned and lacking productivity.  Actually, I think that the business world has determined “having meetings” is a form of productivity, but that is not always the case.  Break the mold.  Keep inline with a simple strategy.  Who knows, you might actually enjoy it!

Trent Cotton has spent a number of years in management and business consulting. After spending some time in the field, he joined the HR department, beginning in recruiting and eventually serving as the Department Head of HR for one of the major lines of business. With such a varied background, he works to bring all of these together to help organizations incorporate best practices into their business to help them succeed. In his free time, he also writes a lot on his other blog, Christian Men, Christian Warrior.

Stop Fishing in the Wrong Lake- Creating a Recruiting Strategy

In the previous draft Top Talent Acquisition: Stop Fishing in the Wrong Lake, we spoke about the importance of broadening your recruiting strategy.  Today, we are going to talk about developing a recruiting strategy, or as I would prefer to title it, “How Not to Kill Your Recruiter and the Recruiting Strategy”.  (Decided that one wouldn’t be as marketable of a title.)  So, here are some basic steps:

1. Job Description:  There is nothing I detest more than having an ambiguous job I am expected to fill.  If you are looking for a java developer with a certain certification, have that in the job description, don’t add it later as a filter through which you will grade all candidates provided to you.  Job descriptions should have the following:

  • Something about the company.  So many times companies forget this portion.  Sell your company in a couple of lines.  Create an interest not only in the job itself, but the organization it supports.  Many people would look at an HR Generalist role and see something pretty bland, but what if it was for Google?  That would change things wouldn’t it?
  • Paint a picture of the job. Don’t only talk about what you are looking for in terms of qualifications, but talk about the scope of the position as well.  Help a candidate be able to see themselves in the position.  Remember, a job description is a form of marketing, use it to its max capacity.
  • Requirements.  This is the sticky portion.  According to several regulations, you will want to make sure this section is sealed tight but not too tight.  Have your requirements listed, but include a range.  For instance, if you are looking for someone who is bilingual, but it isn’t a deal killer, you can state something along the lines of: “Fluent in English, fluency in Chinese is highly favored.”  This allows the candidate (or at least the ones who read the job description) know that if they do not speak Chinese they can still apply and for those who do speak it, well, they just got a gold star!

2.  Follow UP!  One thing that can kill a recruiter’s drive is when they identify a candidate for you, after some painstaking conversations, and you go dark on them.  Understanding things happen and take priority over talking with your recruiter, however, if you start to show a lack of interest in the position, the recruiter will most likely do the same.  Most good recruiters are sales people at heart and aim to please the client, but also aim to “make a kill.”

On the flip side of that, be sure to honor appointments with candidates.  It amazes me how managers will blow off phone interviews or miss appointments with candidates who are interested in the position.  There are no words for what type of impression that leaves with a candidate.  And when you have met with them, provide feedback to both the candidate and the recruiter about next steps.

3. Pull the trigger. So, you’ve interviewed several candidates, narrowed it down to the one you want… so what are you waiting for?  Many times, I will have had to endure constant requests for updates and hounding about a particular position only to have the offer negotiation process drag out for weeks.  If you know what you want, then you should know what you want to pay for it, therefore, you should be able to pull the trigger.  This is the last place you want to appear indecisive.

With all of the turbulence in the market and in every industry, excellence in recruiting can sometimes take a back seat.  I would urge every leader to be wary of this common mistake.  Remember, once you get them on, sometimes, it’s hard to get them out.  Be sure you have a strategy so you don’t find yourself fishing for a trout, only to find you’ve hired a murderous shark!   Happy fishing!

Trent Cotton has spent a number of years in management and business consulting. After spending some time in the field, he joined the HR department, beginning in recruiting and eventually serving as the Department Head of HR for one of the major lines of business. With such a varied background, he works to bring all of these together to help organizations incorporate best practices into their business to help them succeed. In his free time, he also writes a lot on his other blog, Christian Men, Christian Warrior.

Don’t Abbreviate Follow Up (F/U)- Part III

Ah, the last of the trilogy.  In movie series, this is where I want the author to so desperately put everything together for me.  Well, I won’t make any promises here, but let’s get to it anyway. My final H in the list of follow up fowl ups that chap my hide is quite simply, the “I’ll promise, but I won’t do it.”

Let me just get it out of the way, I hated dating.  Did you?  I mean the games, the nights wondering, “she said this but did she mean something else?”  As if that was not brutal enough, there was the, “I’ll call you.”  I can’t tell you the number of times I would do my best to treat my date right by bringing flowers, planning a great evening, taking time to talk with them to get to know them and all of that, only to be put on the “Do Not Call Back List.”  Then, there’s the awkward moment where you see the person three weeks later in a public place and have to ask yourself, “Do I run and dodge them or just act flakey?”

In my business, follow up is king.  If I promise someone I will do something and do not follow up, it is a major strike against my company.  As a talent consultant, the first four dates with a candidate are all about setting the stage for a great movie and convincing the candidate they are the next leading star.  If I forget to call them back, or don’t email them when I tell them I will, it spells death for any actions I did leading up to that point.  Especially with the market today, people are a lot more skeptical than before.  If you say that you will do something, be sure to follow through because you might surprise your candidate, prospect, client, or end-user by doing something other companies promised they would do.

At the risk of sounding contradictory, doing either number I or number II would be better than doing nothing at all.  Here are some final tips for ways to avoid abbreviating Follow Up and taking the route of F/U:

  • Be intentional: If you are going to follow up, write it down and follow through.
  • Be specific: Don’t promise something if you can’t follow through.  For both party’s sakes, be specific with the time of the follow up. “I will follow up with a call on Friday.”  Specific, Friday.  Not so Specific, What time?  No need for a time, you’ve given yourself a day.
  • Be present: Make sure you are “there” when you’re talking to them and not simply going through the motions.  The worst you could do would be making someone take the time to listen to you when you’re just going through the motions.  If you do this, you’ve killed your brand.

If you’re reading this and thinking, “This is common sense,” I would agree with you.  Unfortunately, if you are exposed to any business outside of your own, chances are, you will fall prey to the culture seeming to be rampant.  This is the culture of…. Well, abbreviate Follow Up.

Trent Cotton has spent a number of years in management and business consulting. After spending some time in the field, he joined the HR department, beginning in recruiting and eventually serving as the Department Head of HR for one of the major lines of business. With such a varied background, he works to bring all of these together to help organizations incorporate best practices into their business to help them succeed. In his free time, he also writes a lot on his other blog, Christian Men, Christian Warrior.

Don’t Abbreviate Follow Up (F/U)- Part II

In “Don’t Abbreviate Follow Up Part I”, we talked about the importance of knowing when to and when not to email as a follow up action.  This time, we are going to talk about another tactic commonly used today.  The “Generic Thank You Letter.”

Nothing says love like the generic thank you letter.  I love knowing that I visited a church, company, or service and that my time was so valuable to them, they thought they make best use of their time and add me to their “mail merge” list.  Wow, really?  If I were neurotic, which I am, I would sit down and figure out my hourly wage, add a 15% premium just for fun and take that times the number of hours I was at your establishment to really evaluate how important I was to you.  So, as an example, let’s say you make $20 per hour and spent two hours at a company’s event.  That’s $40 worth of my time and you can’t take the time to send me something outside of a mail merge letter?  Really?

I understand companies are busy and they are trying to make the best use of their resources and their time, but the prospect and clients are the ones getting short changed.  I know in my business, if I tell someone I am going to follow up, I don’t send them a generic letter.  I might send them a brochure packet as a follow up, but I would not do so without at least calling to be sure they received it and using that opportunity to better delve into their needs.  Come on people!  It’s basic customer service.

So, while I’m on a soap box about the generic letter, let me go ahead and address the robot that calls me after I call into an organization to evaluate my “client experience.”  Ok, let me get this straight.  You want me to evaluate whether the environment was “warm and friendly” and you have me talking to a robotic menu?  Have you taken the time to think about just how stupid that is?  If you truly value the advice and comments from your clients, hire someone to do it.  You’ll not only have your actions and words matching, but who knows, you might actually get some great ideas out of the process too!

Don’t forget to tune in for the final clip of this three part series!  In the mean time, don’t abbreviate Follow Up….

Trent Cotton has spent a number of years in management and business consulting. After spending some time in the field, he joined the HR department, beginning in recruiting and eventually serving as the Department Head of HR for one of the major lines of business. With such a varied background, he works to bring all of these together to help organizations incorporate best practices into their business to help them succeed. In his free time, he also writes a lot on his other blog, Christian Men, Christian Warrior.

Workaholics Suck

I can say that because I am a recovering workaholic.  Although I still have very far to go, I have made a lot of strides in balancing work and life so that the two are not synonyms anymore.  Unfortunately, most of America is plagued by the Workaholic Kool-Aid drinking offices.  I know there are times were you just have to punch the pedal, but for the most part, this article will address those who enjoy the stigma of being a workaholic because it’s part of their identity.

The workaholics we will look at are not those who are the creative geniuses who truly enjoy their work.  I know there are times when I put in a long day because I have had one of those energy streaks or just been really passionate about what I was doing that particular day.  Again, these are not our subjects for today.

Our subjects for today are those crabby people who love staying at the office all day so they can be the eternal martyr in the office.  No one really knows exactly what is accomplished in the 22 hours they work a day, but they are there.  Normally, these workaholics love looking and being busy, they just don’t have a lot of production to show for it.   That’s why they suck.  They suck:

  • The life out of the office-Normally, they like to be the pitiful mule on Winnie the Pooh of the office saying typical martyr quotes like, “I’m so tired, left here at ** last night and got here at ***” or “I wish I had a weekend to enjoy, I was here at the office getting caught up…”
  • Counter Creative (in most cases)- If you think about it, when are you the least creative?  For me, when I am drained, run down, and burned out, creativity is the last talent I tap into.  For those workaholics who work just for the sake of working, this can be a common symptom exhibited.  Creativity not only brings about great new ideas on a product or a process, but it can also help address a potential problem.  Have you ever been working on a roadblock and walked away from it for a little bit?  I have and it amazes me how many times I am able to free my mind a bit and see the answer in plain sight.  If a workaholic does not have this opportunity, not only are they coagulating their workflow, chances are, they are slowing down or even botching the workflow in your organization.

Helping a workaholic is much like helping any other addict.  You need to be cognoscente their self concept is wrapped in their job.  Help them balance that out.  Also, spend some time with them to really understand why they have a need to stay so long during the day.  You might find some inefficiency that could be addressed fairly easily.  Additionally, you, as a leader, should challenge your team to keep work in perspective.  It seems to be a cultural shift recently that the more successful you are depends on how long you stay in your chair during the day.  Not the case in most lives of the more successful people.

Trent Cotton has spent a number of years in management and business consulting. After spending some time in the field, he joined the HR department, beginning in recruiting and eventually serving as the Department Head of HR for one of the major lines of business. With such a varied background, he works to bring all of these together to help organizations incorporate best practices into their business to help them succeed. In his free time, he also writes a lot on his other blog, Christian Men, Christian Warrior.