Friday, December 28, 2007

Professional Resolution

The process of establishing a New Year's resolution is very similar to the goal setting process. Two key aspects of developing a resolution are writing it down and the fact that it is time sensitive. New Year's resolutions are typically personal in nature, but I have found that using this process in business can be an effective means by which to lead individuals to establish personal work-oriented goals.

If you are in a leadership position, you can resolve to mentor or work on the development of the individuals that you lead. You might also resolve to improve one area of your leadership skill set to a new level. This could include the improvement of listening skills, organizational skills, presentation skills, writing skills, etc. If you lead a sales team, you can use this exercise to have each member of your team establish a resolution that would be activity based. Agree to be your sales team's income coach throughout the year to keep each person on track to hit their personal income goals by measuring activity. This can be broken down into individual resolutions in the areas of increasing the number of sales calls being made, number of prospects being called or improving his or her ability to execute a sales call from the opening to wrapping up the sale, etc. This will not only demonstrate your interest in his or her success but your commitment to helping in the obtainment of their income goals. Weekly one-on-one meetings with your team can have a segment in which you analyze each team member's progress towards staying on track to achieve their income goal. This will mean establishing new activity-based targets throughout the year to act as a road map to success against the backdrop of, say, “If you do this you will be on track to hit your income goal for 2008.”

A side benefit of this process is in the fact that each member of your team has a vested interest in following your direction. Weekly coaching sessions do not include, "Your activity levels are too low...make more calls," which in my mind is a lot like a track coach running behind a runner yelling "run faster" (doesn't work). Instead, your coaching sessions now sound more like, "Your goal is to make $90,000 in 2008, and based on your sales and activity levels, you are not on track to hit your goal. However, let me show you that if you increase your efforts (here and here) you will get/be back on track." This is a great example for sales representatives, but this process can also be imperative in developing goals for those in leadership positions who (verses higher commissions, etc.) might aspire to achieve higher levels of responsibility. Therefore, developing a resolution that is focused on their professional development over the year could make this individual a better candidate for any promotional opportunities that might arise in 2008.

I have yet to finalize my own resolutions (professional or personal) for 2008. Professionally, I do know that I am going to continue to be a student of leadership and continue working on my own professional development. Reading a book each month on leadership is a good option and one that I am considering. Attending seminars on leadership is another good option. Personally, I am giving some thought to training for and running in a marathon. I completed my first half-marathon in 2007 and feel as though this could be the year that I could cross "run a marathon" off of that proverbial "life list." I only have a couple of days left to make a decision. The Chicago marathon in October could be the ticket...

What is your professional resolution for 2008? How about your personal resolution? Have you ever used this process in the establishment of goals for those that you lead?

Happy New Year!

Best regards,

Jeff Littlejohn
Vice President and General Manager
The Employment Guide

Friday, December 14, 2007

Finding Y-our Focus

In a changing business landscape companies are routinely challenged to develop new products to better meet the needs of their current customer base while continuing to expand their ability to acquire and retain new customers. Many businesses will tackle this process by adding new products or brands to the current offering. Typically these brands are overseen by a brand manager or business development manager while utilizing existing infrastructure and resources to deliver new products to market.

The recruitment advertising industry is not exempt from this process. Our business, The Employment Guide is also not exempt from this process. As we enter our eleventh year of business we are a much different and diversified organization than we were in 1997. We have added to our product offering through the development of our job fair business and our award winning website We have also added our targeted niche product offering to the transportation recruitment industry and as of yesterday just released our newest member of our product family All of this change is due to the changing needs of our customers and emerging needs within certain industries that are the fastest growing areas of within the recruitment industry.

So what does this mean to the leaders within our organization and the individuals that they lead including our sales personnel? What is or should be our focus? At first glance the thought of this question can appear overwhelming. How am I going to sell all of these products? How can I get my staff to sell this and this and this...? Where do I find the time? When do I spend time selling this or that? It can become a daunting task if not properly managed.

Realistically, from a leadership perspective, we are not asking our sales teams or leaders to do anything different. We continue to ask our sales personnel to focus on calling existing customers and prospects to discuss their needs and to match the best product or combination of products from our portfolio that will satisfy those needs while developing their overall skill set and knowledge base. Nothing new. The line-up of products that we have today affords us an increased ability to expand our total customer count by satisfying a wider array of needs. Once we earn a prospect's business and they become a customer; it is then up to us to work on retaining that customer by exceeding their expectations while providing award-winning customer service. Basically, our expectations of our sales teams and where they focus their efforts will not change. Do they need a broader range of knowledge and skills due the fact that they are talking to a more diverse group of prospects and dealing with new technology? Yes. Are we asking for these individuals to do something outside of their core responsibilities and focus? No. We cannot nor will we ever be all things to all people. It is important that we are the right things at the right time to the right people, which equates to providing the right combination of products and services to meet the need of the customer or prospect on whom we are focused at the particular moment in time.

Businesses can grow by adding products and customers or selling more to existing customers, or they can grow through acquisition (buying new customers). The way that a company stimulates progress and the ability to grow can come in a wide range of packages. We have expanded our product offerings, which in turn offers us as an organization to meet the needs of an increasing number of prospects and customers. The purpose of this expansion is to meet specific needs within targeted markets in the recruitment industry while adding to our overall customer count. We are working towards accomplishing this in a way that has allowed our business to remain true to our roots in the fact that all of our products are niche in nature and are in line with the core ideology of our organization.

In my opinion, customer acquisition and retention must always be the primary focus of a business. A successful company will always be customer oriented. How a business chooses to tackle this task should be based on their core values and purpose. The road map will always look different from business to business and leader to leader, but the goal of customer acquisition and retention will always be an underlying part of a "for profit" company's purpose.

What are you doing to increase the focus of the individuals that you lead in the area of customer acquisition and retention?

Have you found any specific time-management techniques that have worked for you or those that you lead?

Best regards,

Jeff Littlejohn

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Listen to Lead

Listening is a skill. Listening is 70% of all communication. In today's business climate of rushing and working at a fast pace while multi-tasking, listening can become an afterthought. People tend to speak over one another and even will finish each other's sentences. I even find myself doing the same thing at times and have to pull back, slow down and make sure I am giving someone my full attention or take the time to summarize what someone has just communicated to me to be certain that I understand what they are trying to tell me. Once you find yourself in a leadership role, the importance the skill of listening takes on is amplified. Through listening you find out what works and what will not. What the organization will buy into and what they will not. You also gain credibility with those that you lead because they know that you care enough to listen to their thoughts, ideas and concerns. Listening goes hand-in-hand with leadership.

In our company the most successful ideas always "bubble up" verses being pushed down throughout the organization. I can readily count off many such examples of projects that started at the local level and become successes verses a few that were forced down. It goes to show you that people like to innovate and be original. It is exciting to try something new or to take a new spin on an old idea. As a leader, it is important to listen to the ideas of your people and find out what is working and what is generating excitement and passion, to provide any needed tools or resources, and then get out of their way and let your folks execute.

The next time someone comes into your office to speak with you, listen. Truly listen. Then summarize your conversation back to that person before they leave your office as a way of saying, "Hey, I respect you, and what you are saying to me is important enough for me to make sure I completely understand what you are trying to communicate." Did you hear something more than you might have in the past? Did the person walk away from your conversation feeling good about the exchange? By slowing down and giving people your time and attention you will effectively motivate, have a better understanding of what is going on in your business and will be in a position to make better decisions. Listening is leading.

Try to do this with every one-on-one conversation over the course of a day. Let me know what you learn from the experience?

Friday, November 23, 2007

Booming Work Ethic

As a child of the late 60's, I would be classified as a Gen X'er. I grew up in a household with two brothers and a sister. My father worked full-time and went to school full-time for just about my entire childhood. He would also get up at 4 am every Sunday morning to prepare to teach the adult Sunday school class at our church. My father was a great provider for our family. He was also and still is a great role model. His incredible work ethic served as a great example for all of us in the Littlejohn household. I attribute my father's mentoring as to why I would consider myself to have a Boomer work ethic even though I am, as mentioned before, a Gen X'er.

I guess that is why it is difficult for me to understand the mentality of folks when it comes to cutting out of work early without permission or taking advantage of certain work-related situations. This includes folks that are extended the ability to spend the company's money but yet do not exercise the same fiduciary responsibility as they would with their own pocket book. Individuals who operate in this manner typically think that they are "getting away with something." What they need to understand is that people do notice. People do talk. It will be these same people or co-workers who will culturally expunge these individuals from the organization whether or not their manager, supervisor or leader chooses to do so. From a leadership perspective you have to decide on whether or not it is worth the additional investment in these folks to correct their behavior verses replacing it. This behavior might just be what tips the scale in favor of replacing, although it has been my experience that it is always less expensive for the organization to correct behavior whenever possible.

To me it is the little things, the small extra effort, one more sales call, one last message or banging out one more email to a customer that separates the staff members of very successful companies from those that are marginally successful. Some of our biggest sales have come in the final hours of a day or week prior to a deadline. After all, if our organization has interwoven the principals of having high expectations and a low tolerance for poor performance into our core ideology then shouldn't we always maintain this philosophy? I believe the old saying "hire for attitude and work ethic and train for skills" is still applicable today.

All of this being said, it is still very important for a company to constantly work on building and maintaining morale. So it is wise for leadership in the organization to be mindful of the aforementioned issues and to make decisions that will improve performance verses increasing conflict. It is a delicate balance of effective leadership verses high levels of self-accountability that will eventually provide for a strong work-ethic friendly environment.

You, as a leader in your organization, can influence this behavior through a 360-degree leadership strategy. Or, just like my role model, you can also greatly influence this behavior by being a great example. After all, part of being an effective leader is being an example of what you expect from those that you lead.

Our limitations and success will be based, most often, on your own expectations for ourselves. What the mind dwells upon, the body acts upon. - Dr. Denis E. Waitley, author of The Psycology of Winning, Being the Best and The Joy of Working.

What are your expectations?

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Core Purpose

The second part of defining your organization's core ideology is in identifying your "purpose." The "core purpose" as defined by Jim Collins and Jerry Porras, the authors of Built to Last, follows:

Core Purpose - "The organization's fundamental reasons for existence beyond just making money - a perpetual guiding star on the horizon: not to be confused with specific goals or business strategies."

The purpose of an organization should be able to act as a guiding light to inspire an organization for a substantial period of time. It should be of a nature that it can never be fully achieved but yet continually pursued. You have to "get at the deeper more fundamental reasons for the organization's existence."

What is the core purpose of The Employment Guide? It is to provide information, tools and resources to help people find jobs and employers find qualified people within niche recruitment segments (i.e., hourly, health care, transportation, etc.).

The combination of your organizational core values and core purpose is what makes up your core ideology. It is important for the people who make up an organization to have an understanding of their responsibilities and how their efforts tie into the core ideology of an organization. This is also a good way to evaluate prospective employees. Do they "fit?" While this may or may not be uncovered during the interview process, an environment or culture that is self-sustaining or has a high level of self-accountability will quickly move to expunge individuals who do not share the fundamental organizational beliefs of the organization.

What is your company's core purpose?

Friday, November 16, 2007

Core Ideology

I recently had the book Built to Last by Jim Collins and Jerry Porras recommended to me by a business colleague as a must-read. One of the guiding principals throughout the book, which uses what the authors label as "visionary companies" as examples throughout the book, is that in order to set your organization apart from the competition, you must clearly identify your organization's "core ideology." While this is detailed out at great length in the book, I walked away asking myself the following questions in order to get to the answer for our business. What are the fundamental items that make up your organizational DNA? What are the underlying guiding principals of your company that will not waver in the face of economic or financial issues? Here are the results of our discussions:

  • Do what is best for our customers.
  • Be honest and ethical at all times.
  • Develop our future leaders and promote from within.
  • Have high expectations and a low tolerance for poor performance.
  • Run lean while maintaining a high level of fiscal responsibility.

Our original list of items was about 30 deep. We had to go through a series of eliminations as well as discussions among some of our key folks in order to chunk this list down to the five aforementioned items. While we are still in the refinement process of ensuring this is truly "the" list for our organization, I feel compelled to share what we find through this process and share my own thoughts with you along the way.

You could even do this from a personal standpoint. Ask yourself the same questions about your own person and you can identify your self-core ideology. Pretty interesting. If you are an entrepreneur, you could even incorporate your self-core into your business core. What a great way to keep your passion for your business alive and well.

What I like the most about this exercise is that makes it pretty easy to streamline the decision making process. If something goes against your core, you do not pursue it. While we all live in a business climate of healthy change, it is important for businesses to know why it is that they exist beyond the underlying concept of making money. If you want to build a "visionary company" as Collins and Porras mention in their book you have to exist for a "purpose beyond profit." This will provide for a much more "clear vision and sense of direction" while maintaining a "pragmatic pursuit of profit."

The next step in this process is for us to identify our core purpose as an organization. On the surface this seems pretty easy. We shall see, as I plan to open the issue up for discussion among some of our leadership folks here at The Employment Guide.

While I find these exercises especially intriguing as I just finished reading the book, I also see a great benefit in taking our leadership team through the BTL process. So far, we have benefited from the depth of the discussions and have a clearer sense of direction or vision for our organization.

Did you come up with a list of three to five items that make up your own personal core ideology? If so did you encounter any surprises?

Thanks for your time.

Jeff Littlejohn

Friday, November 9, 2007

The Changing Face of Distribution

As the publishing industry continues to evolve and become predominantly one that is electronic media oriented, so will distribution. The move towards changing the way in which publishing companies look and measure their distribution is being driven by the consumer. As more consumers switch to predominantly online sources for the news and information, publishers will have to follow. Newspapers are no exception to this change, especially given the collapse of the paid subscriber. The questions are: Are they willing to change and can their culture allow for this change quickly enough as to not lose the franchise?

Our organization, The Employment Guide, is a publisher. We publish 80 free weekly employment publications across the United States. Just like all other publishers, we are not exempt from the changing media landscape. Our website is one of the top ten job boards in the United States (according to the comScore Media Metrix for Career Resources & Development sites, September 2007). We are making a concerted effort and significant investments in leading our organization successfully into the future. One component of our future will include an electronic distribution network that is being constructed to support our print titles in how we are meeting the needs of our customers. We are in the process of constructing this network which will allow for our client's message to be delivered through an electronic means to job seekers in a way that will specifically match the job seekers needs. In addition to distribution directly to job seekers, we are continually building additional distribution channels for our customers' job postings. We currently distribute our content to a multitude of websites, as well as powering a job board for a variety of websites across the internet landscape.

Of note is the recent trend towards publishers communicating their total distribution to include their online distribution. It is about time! Most of these publishers, including us, have made significant investments into developing this side of their business. All of this hard work, investments and the results of the effort should be allowed to be an extension of their distribution. In fact, if you were to take the more than two million copies of our print publication that we are distributing across the country on a weekly basis and add the readership (averaging 2.5 readers per free publication picked up) of the job seekers picking up our titles to our comScore, we would rank as the number four job resource in the Untied States, only outpaced by the three largest general job boards/resources. As far as niche resources for the hourly non-exempt job seeker, we would rank number one.

That is exciting as we strive to deliver quality results for our customers. We will continue to work on the development of an online distribution channel that will be hourly, non-exempt job seeker centric. The results of this initiative will manifest in the upward trend in our traffic over the course of the effort. We love to compete. We are excited about the future. No doubt we are a publisher that is evolving, but we are on the right track to continue our progression as a dominant player online. The Employment Guide is an exciting place to be right now. We are having a lot of fun while working on our own professional development as we continue on our journey of organizational evolution.

How is your organization evolving?

Friday, October 26, 2007

Built with Passion

If you asked me to rank the things that I love about what I get to do for a living, working on and providing resources for professional and leadership development to those within our organization would be at the top of my list. Building our organization from within is our goal. Effective developmental programs and succession planning will afford us the opportunity to make this a reality, while constructing a solid organizational foundation of leadership.

Building an organization that has strong leadership requires daily involvement through active mentoring and coaching as well as structured developmental programs. The leadership within your organization has to be devoted to the practice for it to become ingrained within the organization's culture. Those of us in a leadership role know that it can be a battle to find the time to make this commitment. My opinion is that leadership's involvement in the developmental process is so critical that organizations can only become successful at the practice when their leader's routinely demonstrate their passion for the process. I know I have written the following statement in previous blog entries, but people truly do "emulate their leaders." A leader's actions, or lack thereof, will create cultural drivers that will lead to a business having strong leadership and good succession planning or not.

From my perspective, it is of great joy to reflect on the times I have had the opportunity to be directly involved in an individual's professional development process. It should be a great source of pride when those that you work with on development embrace the principals that they are taught and utilize those skills to achieve higher levels of success and responsibility. I am exceptionally proud when these folks are recognized and rewarded for their contributions. One of the best feelings in the world is to watch individuals with whom you share your own personal thoughts and lessons, which you have learned from experience and mentors, achieve his or her professional goals. That is how you build and leave your professional legacy. Pretty cool stuff!

What has been your most rewarding experience when serving in a mentoring role?

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Apples to Apples

It is extremely helpful and potentially humbling when you get to hear feedback from your customers and those who are in positions or roles to support your customers. One recent such experience created an opportunity for our business to better educate our sales representatives on how to ask questions about our customers results given the nature of our product verses that of the competition.

In the vertical space of transportation recruitment, most publishers (both print and online) typically only offer a national presence. One unique factor of our product, Careers in Gear the magazine and, is that it is published regionally as to give national, regional and local recruiters a better means by which to target their message based on geographical needs. We do not force a national buy. A lot of our customers do not recruit for drivers on a national scale. In fact, we have customers that recruit on a national scale, but may only be using us in one regional zone. This is where we have to be very careful in how we educate our customers to view our results and their ROI when using our product compared to the competition. It is our responsibility to work close enough with our clients to have a better understanding of how they are measuring their results. In the end, meeting our customers needs is ultimately our goal as to earn their business in the future. That means we have to accurately know how our customers define their goals and expectations as far as our ability to live up to their expectations. Just as important is our ability to have the knowledge of what other products and services our clients are utilizing to meet the same need and how they will be comparing results. With regards to our Careers in Gear the magazine and, we have learned of examples where customers have been comparing our results within one region to those of other products that only offer a national presence. While we outperform these competitors within a region, they might have delivered a greater response, just not within the specific area of need. ROI within the area of need was better using our products. It is our job to point this out to our customer and to educate our customer on looking at our products and services on an "apples-to-apples" basis.

The transportation industry is a terrific industry in which to be conducting business. While attending the 2007 American Trucking Association's Management Conference and Exposition, I had the opportunity to speak with many leaders within the industry. I appreciate the time and feedback that everyone gave me and others within our business. We look forward to working closely with our current customers and those that we will be serving in the future. We will continue to invest in the ongoing research and development of our current suite of products and products that are future-focused in nature to meet the dynamic needs of the driver recruitment industry.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Core Values

What are the core values that define your organization? As a leader your actions and decisions should support your organizational core values. Our core values, which are all in support of our ability to meet our customers' needs and to provide award winning customer service, are to always be devoted to the professional development of our people, to maintain a high level of fiscal responsibility and to grow revenue. All three of these items add up to providing excellent products and services that are of great value to our customers. It is important that those in leadership positions within our organization focus on these attributes as they lead their teams towards accomplishing our goals in a local market in any of our 55 offices across the United States. While the path to accomplishing our goals might be different in each market, the road on which each leader in our organization travels is paved with the same asphalt.

I strongly believe that the core values of an organization define the leaders of that organization. Our core values can also be attributed to the individuals who were involved in the professional development of our current leaders. I for one am reminded of the lessons I have learned from those who have been in a mentoring role over the course of my career on almost a daily basis. It is easy for an organization or leadership within an organization to proclaim that it is devoted to the ongoing professional development of its people. It is much harder to actually execute this philosophy and to keep it ingrained into an organization's culture. I have a high degree of respect for those who are successful in making this a reality. A good barometer is in the number of folks who have been promoted from within an organization. A good leader always promotes the need for ongoing professional development to his or her folks so these individuals can get promoted. One way a leader can make this happen is to never stop working on his or her own professional development. An organization will take on the personality of its leaders. If you, as a leader, continue to work on your development, those that you lead will be more receptive to emulating this practice. Likewise, if you routinely show up late for work, it will become less important to those who work for you to be on time. People emulate their leaders. This is extremely important for those in leadership roles to remember whether at the office, after work, on the weekend, etc.

Every action that you do is, in some sense, like a ritual that celebrates the values that you hold.- Dr. Matthew Basston, Ethics Instructor

What are the core values of your organization? If you cannot answer this question quickly, make time to answer this question. Use your answers as a guide to make better decisions that will always be in support of what your organization is trying to accomplish.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

A Leadership Must

There are certain things leaders need to remain mindful of on an ongoing basis that impact the mental well being and culture within their operation. Subtle and common sense things that at times can prove to be very elusive including...

  • Always saying "thank you."
  • Always using the word "please" when asking someone else to do something.
  • Not playing the "boss card" unless it is absolutely necessary.
  • Giving recognition for a job well done.
  • Treating everyone fairly even in the most difficult of situations. (This particular item is of just as much importance to the folks that are in your office and not directly related to the issue at hand because they know however you treat the current situation could be reflective of how you might handle any future situations including theirs.)
  • Never using unprofessional language.
  • Being honest with people even if it means telling someone something they do not want to hear but communicating it in a tactful manner.
  • Stopping whatever you are doing to actually listen to what someone is telling you.
  • Summarizing back to someone what they just told you to ensure you fully understand what they are saying.
  • Introducing people by name to your superiors.
  • Always following through on what you tell someone you are going to do.
  • Catch folks doing something right, verses something wrong.
  • "Coach" your people into becoming the winners you perceive them to be.

People emulate their leaders. Follow these guidelines and you will improve the morale, culture and effectiveness of your entire organization. A business is only as effective as the mindset of its greatest resources, its people.

"A coach is someone who can give correction without causing resentment." - John Wooden

"Leadership is practiced not so much in words as in attitude and in actions." - Harold S. Geneen

What are you currently doing that could be added to the above list?

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Our Strengths

I was recently forwarded a couple of links to comments on a competitor's blog that referred to our organization in a negative fashion. When you are the leader in your industry, you are going to be criticized, especially by your competition. If you were not the leader, you probably would not have anyone making any comments about your business because no one would really care that much. Being out in front of your competition means that you are the one with the target on your back. It is obvious, however, that if your business does not have a lot of strengths or positives things going on, your only way to attempt to build value in the eyes of prospects or to garner attention is to speak poorly of your competition. When secondary businesses within industries try to use this approach, clients either quickly lose interest in their message or are quick to identify a fleeting effort by a struggling business to nip at the heals of an industry leader.

I have always advocated and will continue to advocate taking the high road when it comes to addressing questions or speaking directly about our competition. As a business, we teach our folks to focus on talking about our strengths. Conducting a thorough needs analysis with a client or prospect will uncover specific requirements to which we can match the features we offer as a business (our strengths). This will result in our being able to quickly ascertain and then satisfy those needs to the benefit of that prospect or client. This approach followed by quality customer service has proven to be a recipe for success over the last ten years. We entered this industry with the approach of being a long-term recruitment solution partner for employers within each of the local 77 markets that we serve with print, online and job fair solutions. Ten years from now our products will have changed because the need of the job seeker and employer will change, but our purpose and focus to meet the ongoing needs of our clients (both job seekers and employers) will remain constant and our passion. As products continue to quickly change via emerging electronic media recruitment solutions, our approach of being focused on meeting our customers needs of today and tomorrow will remain the foundation for our success. We will make this a reality through the combination of quality products in the form of online, print and job fair recruitment solutions. (Did you know that The Employment Guide conducted its 1,000th job fair earlier this year?)

"In matters of style, swim with the current; in matters of principle, stand like a rock." -T. Jefferson

My advice is to always position your business based on your strengths. Know your competition and address questions as they come up while having conversations with your customers or prospects in a way that once again allows you to focus on the value proposition your organization brings to the table in meeting their needs. This is always a combination for success. Who wants to spend time talking about their competition? Especially by name! Leave their branding efforts up to their marketing department. Quite frankly, if you find yourself talking negatively about your competition, it might just mean that you don't have a whole lot of positive things to say about your own business or organization.

"A leader is one who sees more than others see, and who sees before others do." -Leroy Eims

How does your staff handle conversations with your customers about your competition?

Monday, August 20, 2007

Change and No Change

Let's face it, most publishing companies that operate in the classifieds business or within one of the classified verticals are undergoing a transformation from being traditionally print to electronic media oriented (at least the ones that hope to still be around in the future). We at The Employment Guide are no exception to this transition. As we become more knowledgeable about what the future of our business will look like and what that means to us as an organization, we have a better idea of how to navigate the directional waters to realize increased levels of success. It is through the acquisition of this knowledge that we will continue to differentiate our products and services from the competition and excel at meeting the needs for our customers (both job seekers and hiring managers/companies).

While the change that we are experiencing as an organization is fascinating and is a very exciting journey that everyone is embracing, there are still certain aspects of our business that need to remain the same, primarily our ability to execute. Proper execution is one of the best competitive advantages for us as an organization (coming in a close second behind the talented folks that make up our employee complement). The process of unifying our direction from the field level up to the senior management team has given us a profound competitive advantage in the past and will continue to do so in to the future. Our best ideas inevitably come from the field, our local employees on the front lines or even from our customers. A quick look back over our history reveals this to be true. We got into the job fair business via a customer's request. Here we are more than 1,000 job fairs later still reaping the benefits of following that suggestion. Another thing I like a lot about our organization is in the ability we have to adjust to the current business climate. This is an exceptional trait for any business but is critical when you operate a business that is cyclical in nature. Let's see: labor industry - employment advertising - cyclical in nature? DUH! This is also a great place to insert that we do not utilize this as an excuse for lack of execution but as another factor in determining our next best course of action.

It is my opinion that you can take quality leadership skills, sound decision making and quality operational skills and apply that across just about any industry and you will have a recipe for success. The secret ingredient on achieving a high success factor is in the passion and individual desire to be successful (not only for an individual, but for an organization as a whole). This is something that definitely starts at the top, and I am not exempt. I for one am very excited about the direction we are heading as an organization. I enjoy greatly talking about this with new recruits and current employees. As a former field general I can tell you that the thing I enjoy the most is getting back out in the field and speaking with our talented group of folks all over the country. It was, is and will continue to be the strength of what makes The Employment Guide successful, as well as truly differentiated from the competition, in fact all competitors! The journey that we are on is exciting. The transition we are experincing as an organization is one of the coolest things I have professionally been in a position to oversee.

So, as we experience organizational change and explore new directions, some things will not change. Mainly, our ability to properly execute will continue, which includes maintaining a strong bias towards the ongoing development of our people (who remain our greatest strength).

Do you embrace change, new concepts and ideas, or are you more of a traditionalist?

Friday, August 10, 2007

Looking Ahead

As our business begins the budgeting process for 2008, we are starting to focus some of our attention on what is in the cards for all aspects of the employment industry that directly impacts our performance. The Employment Guide is focused on the non-exempt, hourly workforce or the service industry side of the labor economy, which now represents close to 80% of the entire workforce in the United States. Given that we are so closely aligned with the labor economy, it should be no surprise that we pay particular attention to job growth projections and related statistics. Some of the more interesting statistics as far as the labor economy goes is in the fact that in 2006 the US labor economy added 2.26 million jobs verses projections of up to 1.5 million in 2007. All reports that I have come across from multiple resources indicate that 2008 should hold steady and be a close mirror of 2007. The economy will continue to grow, there will be a steady decline in the national unemployment rate, seasonal hiring trends will remain in tact and businesses will have an increasingly hard time staffing their companies as more boomers decide to exit the workforce.

Older workers are the key to satisfying many of the needs of businesses that are feeling the pinch of the tightening labor market. Just like the economy has been fueled by this great American generation, so will the next five to ten years of the labor economy (barring significant immigration reform or increased automation through improved technologies). What can an older worker bring to your organization? Experience for one thing, which in and of itself has a great value. Not to mention is professional maturity and potentially a new perspective.

Due to the majority of the readers of my blog being employees of The Employment Guide, I am sure most of you are well aware of the initiative that we have in place in partnership with the Department of Labor's upcoming Employ the Older Worker Week, as well as our corresponding job fair series of more than 40 job fairs in 26 states to help hiring managers and companies tap into this great labor resource. The AARP Foundation is also a major sponsor of this event. This is a significant event that represents a new opportunity given that in the very near future one out of every three employees will be 50+ years old. While a lot of time and effort from a multitude of folks in my organization have gone into putting together the logistics of this event, I must give kudos to Amy Hoster, regional marketing coordinator in our Phoenix office, for leading our efforts and ultimately bringing this to the forefront of our efforts. Great job, Amy!

So back to the economy and looking ahead a bit into the future. What else can we expect? A couple of positive items are that inventories are going to need to be replenished, which will place increased pressure on the transportation industry as freight demand increases steadily throughout the rest of 2007 and into 2008. It is also projected that one out of every four jobs that will be created in 2008 will be in the healthcare industry due to the increased needs of the boomers. Both of these projections fit well with our plans as a business as we continue to position our organization for higher levels of success by placing increased focus on serving both the transportation and health care verticals.

"The economy will add about 1.5 million jobs both this year and next, or an average of 125,000 per month -- enough to sustain income growth and consumer spending. Unemployment is likely to stay below 5% through 2008 -- quite low enough to keep the labor market tight. Many employers, particularly those that depend on skilled labor, will continue to face challenges finding new qualified candidates." ( June 1, 2007)

We as a business are not immune to the tightening of the labor force. I am interested in hearing what you are currently doing to keep your staffing complements at desired levels that might fall outside of the normal recruiting and hiring protocol. Obviously for my folks, you will first need to maximize your presence and utilize the opportunities that exist in our suite of recruiting products. What tools do you use and what methods do you employ to keep your hiring funnels full of suitable candidates?

Friday, July 27, 2007

Chemistry 101

One of my first professional mentors made an analogy of how running a business should be like playing around with a chemistry set, and just as fun. As he described how it was fun to tinker with mixing a little bit of a product, person, practice, etc., with a different person, product, practice, etc., the analogy started to makes sense, sink in and stick. I still think about this approach to business and in fact heard myself using these words with one of the fine folks on our team this morning as we were discussing how to overcome challenges within various aspects of our business.

While I was not an enthusiast of the subject of chemistry in school (although I did blow up a few mail boxes in my day), I sure do enjoy this approach as it applies to what we do as a business in finding new business opportunities, the creation of new ideas and identifying opportunities through a unique blend of talented people. It also makes it fun. In fact, while a group of us were in the "lab" (better known around here as the conference room) the other day, I had an epiphany which has me focusing on a neat new business opportunity for our organization simply through the blending of people and ideas.

The practice of blending people and ideas works well in the creation of new ideas or business opportunities. It can also increase excitement levels among those that you lead when you take the time to shake things up a bit through the implementation of change. There is a book about this subject that is appropriately named A Technique for Producing Ideas authored by James Webb Young. It is a small digest-sized book of only 48 pages, but what a powerful read. A member of our senior management team gave me this book at one of our meetings, and I still take it off the shelf from time to time just to get fired up again about the thought of finding new business opportunities and improved ideas for higher levels of success.

I think it is good to remind ourselves occasionally that we do not have to continually do things in exactly the same manner, especially just because that is the way things have always been done. Trying new ideas is what breathes life into an organization and brings higher levels of energy and excitement as a result. This is especially true when the idea bubbles up in the organization verses being pushed down. Our 55 field offices are a great resource for new ideas and positive opportunities for change. I like to look for opportunities to change things. This is especially true when there is no history of change in an area of the business that has grown stagnate or when there is an opportunity to create new dynamic relationships within our organization.

Have you tinkered with your chemistry set lately? If so, what did you do and what were the results?

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Needle in a Haystack

Why are good people so hard to find? Is it due to leaders setting their expectations too high? Is it a matter of modern day economics? Could it be more related to the emergence of a sense of entitlement among the professional workforce? More than likely all of these things are contributors to not being able to keep businesses staffed at a desired level of employee complement.

So what are some of the things successful leaders are doing to ensure their company has the employee fuel it needs to make a push to higher levels of success? First they are making sure that their message is the right one to attract the best type of candidates, as well as those who are most qualified for the position. (If this is currently a challenge for your business, you can contact one of our 57 Employment Guide offices across the country, and we will work with you to make this a reality for your business.) Leaders are also taking advantage of social networks and building a community that can aid in their ability to reach out to talented folks with their opportunity. It is keeping your hiring managers engaged in the process of constantly building their teams and not just waiting until they have an opening. It is also being on the lookout for talent no matter where you are at any moment over the course of the day. When was the last time you handed out a business card because you came across someone with a highly transferable skill set that could translate well into your industry or occupation? The organization, more specifically the leadership within an organization, that has the responsibility for staffing their operations with those skilled individuals who can do all of these things will be the one that sets itself apart by finding the best talent (often referred to as the proverbial "needle in a haystack").

In my opinion, no matter how automated, electronic and avoidance-natured our business culture becomes, the most successful organizations will always point back at their people as the primary reason for their success or demise. Leaders who understand this will make sure their organization will have the greatest opportunity to always possess and attract the talent needed to drive results. What tools are being used to accomplish this goal all come down to the specific needs of the business and leadership that is is steering the organizational ship.

What are you dong to attract the talent you need to drive your results?

Friday, July 13, 2007

Be The Best

What makes the difference between organizations that are successful during tough times or times of change? Is it work ethic, the people, the product or the culture? You can point to many different reasons as to why someone is successful in the face of adversity, but the common denominator will always be the people. Products change due to people. The work ethic in an organization is determined by the people. The culture is determined by decisions that are made and the direction taken that ultimately points back to people. An organization will be successful or not based on their people. In fact, in this competitive world there are many companies that are basically putting out the same products and providing similar services. So what differentiates one from the others? It is the people!

Most organizations have a focus on attracting talent and retaining that talent. This constant flow of prospective new employees is going to be most critical moving forward into the future as the labor market continues to tighten and the economy becomes one that is passive job seeker driven. You and your organization can get ahead of the curve today by making sure you have quality succession plans in place, have your talented folks on a clear career path and are constantly recruiting for talent. Even if you are comfortable with your current staffing levels, you need to be actively recruiting and hiring. When you come in tomorrow you might find that you have two new openings that could immediately place a bottleneck in front of you and make it difficult for you to obtain an acceptable level of productivity and performance. Even living and breathing in the recruitment industry and possessing this knowledge does not make our organization exempt from feeling the impact and needing to follow these sames steps. The good news is that we are actively working on this and have already felt a positive impact as a result. Leaders have to take an active role in this process and influence the execution through the effective casting of their vision. This will aid greatly in making your organization one that attracts talent.

How are your recruiting efforts going? Are you missing an opportunity to grow your business due to not having enough talented folks working to accomplish your vision? What have been the most creative ways you have utilized to recruit quality people?

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Be a Talent Magnet

Leadership is going to take on an increasingly important role in one of the most critical components of being successful as we move into the future. This critical component is recruiting and hiring. As the national unemployment rate continues to dip towards sub 4% and has already been as low as 2% in some places, the recruiting and hiring process will become a "make it or break it" proposition for some organizations. Barring unforeseen, radical immigration reform, we are on course for employment shortages like the ones we currently are experiencing in nursing and in transportation across the entire labor industry. The emerging passive job seeker labor economy is going to mean that leadership will be put under the spotlight due to individuals wanting to go to work for someone who is talented and can offer professional development beyond just earning a paycheck. Organizations such as the Society of Human Resource Managers (SHRM) have been pointing to this pending shortage for years. SHRM has research indicating that by the year 2012, there will be three million more jobs than there is people to fill these vacancies. Can you say "labor crisis!"

Companies that are going to thrive during these times are going to be the ones who can differentiate themselves from the competition by being a talent magnet. I am sure you are familiar with the saying that you are only as good as the people with whom you surround yourself. Surrounding yourself with talent is going to become increasingly difficult. It is going to take a talented leader to attract top talent. Prospective job seekers are not going to just come to work for an opportunity, they are going to come work for a leader who personifies the organization and is one in whom they have high confidence in in terms of developmental and advancement opportunities.

Put yourself as a leader through a hard self-examination. Would you come to work for yourself? Take a good look in the mirror. If you cannot honestly say yes, you need to immediately get busy on your own professional development and become a more effective leader. It will be the leader who is the talent magnet who will have the means to turn their organization into one that is truly world class. Be a talent magnet!

Monday, July 2, 2007

Define & Refine

I have been the beneficiary of being able to work for some excellent leaders and mentors over the course of my professional career. A common thread that has been passed to me is that a leader will define his or her legacy through the folks that they develop and you will define yourself as a leader by dealing with the tough times. These two issues can be inter-related in that if you are investing in the the professional development of your people on an ongoing basis your organization will be better prepared to deal with the tough times.

While we will not all achieve some of our childhood dreams and leave our legacy by becoming a U.S. Open tennis champion, etc., we can still leave our footprint on the world (and will) through the people with who we interact and develop. An ongoing commitment to the professional development of people can be a difference maker in an organization becoming a talent magnet. Arguably, every organization has room for improvement in this area. I am, however very pleased with the current programs that are offered through our organization. The most prevalent (from a leadership perspective) is our Manager In Training (MIT) program. This program is comprised of 12 individual modules that go into detail on the specifics that a top-performer will need to round out their skill set to successfully move into a leadership role. How many individuals have you mentored or have been involved in their professional development on an ongoing basis? Better yet, how many of those individuals have been promoted as a result of your mentoring? This is a great way to measure your ability to leave your mark, knowledge, legacy on the world through your leadership. In essence, this is a form of immortality as the knowledge gained through your teachings lives on in those that you have professionally developed.

"The best executive is the one that has sense enough to pick good men to get what he wants done and self-restraint to keep from meddling with them while they do it." Theodore Roosevelt

While the folks that leaders develop will define that leader's legacy, it is how they deal with tough times that will refine their legacy. No one ever remembers how a leader took over an organization that was firing on all cylinders and kept it firing on all cylinders. It is when a leader find their business dealing with adversity or a new threat such as conditions that are in essence "new waters" that a leader will refine their leadership legacy. One such challenge that I am dealing with is the education of everyone in our company on how think like an electronic media company. This means learning new skills, teaching new skills, and leading our business in new ways. Traditionally, things we did not have to worry about as being important to our business are now critical. One example of this is in the content we create as well as how and where we place it on our websites. Not only does this take into consideration the words we use, but the number of words we use. Interestingly enough, we have made strides in how we are utilizing these tools in just a short period, although, this is a journey. The ship is turning and as we do so I am confident that we will remain a formidable organization as we stay the course. The coolest part of this journey is that it involves both the professional development of everyone in our organization and it offers a unique opportunity for those in a leadership role in our organization to refine their legacy.

How would you define your journey? Does it involve developing your people or your "inner-circle?"

Friday, June 22, 2007

Small Stuff

Have you ever wondered what makes the difference between individuals with equal levels of skill in determining who is going to be more successful. In some cases it can be a team or an individual with a lesser amount of talent winning or outperforming a group or an individual with great talent. What is it? What makes the difference? John Maxwell published a book that I recently read in preparation for a meeting called "The Difference Maker," in which he refers to the "difference maker" as attitude. This makes logical sense in terms of deciding between two equally skilled individuals when making a hiring decision or in similar circumstances, but I personally believe there is one more attribute that truly separates leaders or performers from one another. In my opinion, and in addition to attitude, it is the effort that is put forth in seeing to the details that will truly differentiate between performers. It is like the old saying goes, "The small stuff always makes the difference." This can reveal itself in various forms such as who is conducting and participating in training on an ongoing basis, who is putting forth the extra effort in perfecting their skill set outside of "game-time" and in many other forms. When I was an outside sales representative in my first job at a group of local community newspapers in Southern Illinois I was asked by my manager at the time why I was able to take a territory that had been traditionally the weak spot for the organization to a top-performing territory. My answer was that I make sure I am seeing to the details and putting forth the extra effort to do what it takes to be successful. Even when it was in the high 90's and the humidity was at 100 percent (the kind of day when the steering wheel burns your hands) I was making my final four calls of the day. Managing my own performance was a big part of my personal success as a sales rep and it was the effort I put forth in executing the small stuff or the extra effort that it took to accomplish my own personal goals that truly made the difference.

In leading a team to higher levels of success it is important for the leader to demonstrate that they are willing to exude this trait in terms of their commitment to the team's success. The best way to breathe life into this quality is to invest personally in the development of your people. Invest extra time aiding in the improvement of a skill, talking about your experiences, guiding, coaching, and mentoring your folks to higher levels of success. Your efforts will be repaid with higher levels of performance, loyalty, and (in the presence of a quickly emerging passive job seeker labor economy) retention.

There is another saying that goes... "Don't' sweat the small stuff." This might be true if you can live with less than the best in terms of your results, and while I am all about prioritizing time and efforts, you simply cannot afford to ignore the small stuff if you are going to build a "world-class" organization.

What "small stuff" will make the difference in your leadership or your teams, or in your team's ability to execute at higher levels of performance?

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Leadership and Concensus

There is a school of thought that tends to relate consensus with leadership. While you could define this as a completely democratic way of utilizing leadership, it typically increases bureaucratic issues and the time it takes to make decisions. This is especially true given that any one individual doesn't assume the responsibility for making a decision.

In my opinion a more effective approach is to utilize group discussions to uncover concerns, ideas, or opportunities for improvements prior to the final development of an initiative or making a decision. This way you can include ideas from your team when and where it makes the most sense in order to gain higher levels of buy-in. The rest of the process is in the leader's ability to effectively lead his or her team to the right conclusion by asking a series of leading questions. This way the group can come to their own conclusions via the path that is carved out by the leader. If done effectively your people will ultimately end up at the right destination.

While democratic leadership models have flaws, so do those that are autocratic in nature. I personally believe the right model is somewhere in the middle of the two extremes. I like to define our leadership culture at The Employment Guide and as "controlled autonomy." While this is an oxymoron, this terminology does a good job in defining the way we give our leaders definable parameters by which to make local decisions within the breadth of their authority. Anything that falls outside of this scope will ultimately need senior manager approval. This provides balance while keeping our organization nimble and flexible as to better deal with current and emerging competitive threats. You can use our leadership style at all levels in order to better improve performance while remaining engaged in your business.

Consensus can also work against a leader if they allow themselves to be lead more by their team than leading. If a manager becomes to dependent on their team to direct the business the leader then becomes more of a facilitator verses a true leader. Once a leader is removed from the navigation and ownership of the business they are likely to fail. The line between leading and being lead can occasionally become fine in nature. My advice is when you, as the leader feel that these lines are about to cross be sure to quickly review your objectives and the need to make decisions based on the needs of the business verses what is best for the individual. The most effective leaders have a way of creating the perception that both of these objectives are parallel and intertwined into an organizations culture.

How would you define your leadership style?

Friday, May 25, 2007

Bench Strength

A common trait among effective leaders is in their ability to attract, retain, and surround themselves with talented people. What happens when one of these most-trusted folks leaves? Well, another trait, although not as common is in the ability to successfully execute succession planning. While some companies live and die with this practice and make it a bureaucratic process, others leave this up to the individual managers to properly execute. Let's face it, if you are not developing your replacement you are going to make it a lot harder for the company to move you into a position of greater authority or responsibility. Yes, succession planning is key to one's professional growth.

Our company, The Employment Guide, has a structured MIT (Manager in Training) program that is executed through senior and local management but is administered or measured by our training department. This has proven to be effective since it frees up our leaders time to focus on the actual teaching part of the program verses the related paper-work. We are also very close to the introduction of a new senior manager developmental program which will allow for a more formal developmental process to aid in the future development of our most talented folks. These types of programs are key in setting a cultural direction for the entire organization to be open in embracing the development of our people. This is and will continue to be a critical element in the success of our organization. We understand that our people are what truly differentiates us from the competition. We have great pride in knowing that we are committing resources to aid in the professional development of our people as well as their overall knowledge level about the changing landscape of our industry.

Succession planning is very important to me personally. I have been the benefactor of some great mentors in my professional life that successfully instilled this practice into my core personal leadership philosophy. I, like those before me, will do my best to continue to be an active part of the process and steer our organization in a direction that is people development oriented.

Are you currently working with someone on their development into a leadership role. There is not a better way to gain a greater understanding for a subject than to take on the responsibility of a teaching it. You put yourself in a position to learn more just to stay one step ahead of your student. In fact, by focusing on the development of others you end up truly focusing on your own development. That is a great gift to give yourself, your people, and your organization.

Put yourself in a good position to compete for that next promotion. Get busy developing your replacement. Better yet, develop 3 or 4 people who could step in and do your job tomorrow. This way you can easily move on to assume greater responsibility.

Who on your team is your replacement? Is it a "no brainer" in terms of your boss making the same decision? What about their boss? If you cannot answer that question with certainty you have some work to do. If you do not have someone that is stepping up in terms of being your replacement you best get busy with the recruiting and hiring process.

Good succession planning is good for you as the leader, your people, and your organization. Take it seriously and it will set you apart from the crowd.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Leadership Repair

When times are tough leadership is more closely scrutinized. Once a staff or team feels the impact of a change in a local or office market, for whatever reason, it is up to the leader to lay out a course of action or alternative solutions to get their team back on track in obtaining success. Lack of such action by a leader results in a continuation of negative performance trends and ultimately loss of key personnel. Ultimately, this leads to a loss of confidence among personnel in product, company, and leadership. Once all three of these issues have been allowed to come to fruition it can be impossible to reverse negative trending and performance without new leadership.

By being completely engaged in their business effective leaders avoid these types of situations. Although it is true that some circumstances can be outside of a leader's ultimate control (economy, weather, etc.), quality leadership finds or create ways to overcome obstacles without allowing excuses to replace confidence or productivity.

How is the confidence level of your team? Do they believe in your cause? Do they believe that you can lead them back to being successful? Are they confident in the products and services, or suite of products your company is offering? Let's face it, especially in a sales oriented business, if you as the leader have allowed the confidence level of your sales team to become shattered your leadership ability will rightfully be called into question and might even be beyond repair.

If you are int his situation, my advice is to have regular meetings and discussions with your team to stay plugged in to what is and what is not working. Demonstrate that you will not allow current obstacles to overcome your success by working on the exploration of alternative solutions until you find the one that works. Work harder and smarter than anyone else in your organization. Become the example of how to deal with a difficult business climate. This could even lead to higher levels of recognition within your company. True leadership and legacies are usually defined when times are tough. When is the last time you read a best selling business book on turning around an already top-performing operation? Always be working on a plan to overcome any obstacles while incorporating the the thoughts and ideas of the leaders on your sales floor to elevate the confidence level of your team. Repairing the confidence level among your team will also repair the greatest obstacle to your success, and ultimately will restore your ability to once again effectively lead your team to success.

Monday, May 7, 2007

The Team Member

As you have been reading through Jeff's daily blogs, I thought it would be interesting for you to hear from one of his team members. Working with Jeff and then directly for him for the past eight years in an administrative capacity, I feel I have a keen insight into what it really is like working for a true leader. First of all, there is the absolute joy of working in an environment that acknowledges extra efforts and new ideas. You relish new projects and always enjoy those "extra-mile" efforts because you know your endeavors are appreciated. Leaders know how to express what they want and then will get out of your way so you can do it; they greet you with a smile, lean forward when they’re having conversations with you as if your every word was important, frequently ask your opinion and often inquire as to how you’re doing, laugh with you, empathize with you, give you those friendly, all-knowing looks that affirm that you are in their inner circle, praise you first and then give you their constructive criticism, allow you to fly like an eagle while still being able to rein you in so that your project stays within feasible parameters, increase your self-confidence, and instill in you such a passion for what you do for a living that each day in their employment is received by you as a gift. Each senior manager in this company to whom I have given administrative support has been such a leader. Why, because leaders at the very top raise up others to have the same leadership skills. What is not naturally ingrained in the team member is taught and personified by the leader. Work becomes fun and the stress and timelines of large-scale projects are alleviated by a cohesive effort, an old-fashioned team spirit and a little humor.

"The great leaders are like the best conductors - they reach beyond the notes to reach the magic in the players." -Blaine Lee

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Leading Up

Leadership responsibility is typically associated with leading followers. Two less discussed aspects of leadership is in the leading of peers and leading up (leading your boss). John Maxwell goes into depth on each of these subjects in his book tilted, The 360 Degree Leader. This blog post is based on my interpretation of his ideology.

In my opinion, the most difficult of the aforementioned three leadership propositions is in leading up. This requires effectively earning a very high level of trust and respect from your superiors as to gain greater influence over the decisions that are being made that will directly impact your part of the organization. Leading up is the equivalent of taking your thoughts and ideas and making them the thoughts and ideas of your superior. The way to pave the road to this high level of trust as to gain influence on our leader's decisions requires continued excellence across multiple areas of your performance including the following.

  • You must be completely performing your professional responsibilities.
  • Be a problem solver, not just the identifier.
  • Don't be a "yes man." Give your leader the type of feedback that will allow for better decision making.
  • Demonstrate an excellent work ethic (be a heavy lifter).
  • If privately you disagree with your leader's decisions (behind closed doors discussions), publicly you must present these thoughts and ideas as if they are your own.
  • Always, without conditions and in all situations, be supportive of your leader and never, ever speak negatively about who they are, what they do, or decisions that they make.

When you give your leader respect, even when you might not fully agree with their decisions you earn higher degrees of trust and respect from your leader. This in-turn will increase the amount of influence you will have over future decisions to be made that directly impact the direction your business is headed.

"I learned that a great leader is a man who has the ability to get other people to do what they don`t want to do and like it."
Harry S. Truman 1884-1972, 33rd president of the U.S.

How much time are you investing in effectively leading up? Are you regarded as a "heavy lifter" by your superiors?

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Confidence Counts

"Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great."
Mark Twain 1835-1910, American Humorist and Writer

An important aspect of leadership is in the building of confidence among the individuals that you lead. This could be relative to their product knowledge, ability to successfully perform the responsibilities of their job, or in their ability to become a future leader within your organization. As a leader you can never, (figuratively) "knock someone down without picking them back up, brushing them off, pointing them in the right direction and giving them a nudge." You have to remember to rebuild the confidence of your people to go out and not only execute but excel. Leaders have to come to work each and every day with a goal of leaving the business in better shape than when walking through the door that morning. This includes the building of the confidence of your people. In fact, the more time you spend building the confidence of your people the more confident they will become in you as their leader. A perfect example of this would be in the ability of a sales representative to effectively sell a product that he or she knows inside and out verses one in which the emplyee has limited knowledge. The more confident your folks are the more successful they become. As a leader, you can build confidence.

How high is the confidence level of your staff? Is it equal to yours? Do they have a strut in their step, or are they less confident in you and your products today than they were a year ago?

Monday, April 30, 2007

Get Out of Their Way

Can you over-lead or be so engaged in your business that it is to a point where your leadership becomes a hindrance? I personally believe that there is a time when a leader must get out of the way and let their people perform. You cannot be permanently perched over the shoulder of an employee and expect him or her to perform at optimal levels. This has been likened to a track coach running behind one of his or her athletes yelling "Run Faster!" This approach to leadership simply does not work. If you have surrounded yourself with a team of talented folks that have a successful track record, you have to reward these individuals with the autonomy to execute.

"Don't tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do and let them surprise you with their results." - George Patton

The time that leaders are removed from the immediate execution process needs to be invested in the development of new initiatives and business strategies. This time can also be invested by increasing focus on a struggling area of your business as you "measure what you treasure." Getting out of the way can be difficult for those in leadership positions that typically enjoy being in the role of field general. A benefit of this action is that you start to see people shine in roles of increased autonomy. You can convey this process in a positive fashion by defining your culture as autonomous and one in that if you need direction you seek it verses having it forced upon you. This is a very enticing proposition when recruiting those with advanced leadership skills. Not only will this build value in your organization, but in you as the leader. Give your people the room to perform and they will, more times than not, reward your trust with positive results.

What were the circumstances the last time you over-managed? How lasting was the negative impact of your actions?

Thursday, April 26, 2007


Have you ever noticed how a business will take on the personality of its leader? Another example is when a leader truly takes ownership over an initiative and his or her staff members follow suit. I see examples of this everyday in our business. What is important to the leader of any given piece of our business is also important to those that report to the leader. Is it due to the anticipation of inspection of results or efforts? Maybe in some cases this applies, but in most it is due to the elevation of the level of passion for a particular piece of the business that the leader has embraced that causes the increase in revenue, income, activity, etc.

Understanding this can give a leader an advantage when dealing with their teams. You can increase the overall effectiveness of your people by not only keeping your message consistent but by the manner in which you deliver the message. Even if you are having a bad day, you need to deflect or filter your inner frustrations from those that you lead so you can keep the environment positive and productive. All too often leaders fail in this regard. An example of this would be if traffic was bad on the way into the office and the leader gets upset, lets this spillover into the workplace and allows it to set the tone for the entire day. Be cognizant of your mind set, body language and verbal communication to your team. This is especially true early in the workday. Sometimes leaders derail their operation without even realizing it. Being keenly aware of the completeness of the impact you can have on your people will elevate your leadership skill set.

Always remember that people emulate their leaders. This can be great if the leader is confident, capable and always able to deliver the right message at the right time.

Start your day tomorrow in a unique way that would be completely out of character. What kind of impact did that have on the rest of the work day? Did anyone else on your team step outside of the norm? People emulate their leaders....

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Failing Forward

Leaders have to know and understand when it is acceptable to allow people to fail. Failure is a part of the professional development process. As long as all related risks to the business are low, leaders can afford to occasionally allow their folks to experience personal and professional growth via "failing forward."

Proper management of the failure experience on the part of the leader will help ensure the desired development is attained. A leader has to make the time to have a discussion with his or her team member on what caused the failure, how to avoid the same mistake in the future, and finally to ensure that the individual completely understands the cause of his or her failure. If each of these steps is accomplished, there is a much higher probability that there will not be a repetition of errors or failure. This process also aids in furthering the team member's professional growth and is quite necessary in developing heavy lifters as well as the future leaders of your business or organization. When having this discussion with one of your team members, be sure to begin by explaning the failure in logical terms at the beginning of the discussion. Be direct in your coaching; you have to make certain that there is a complete understanding not only of the failure but also of the implications it is having on your business. Once that is accomplished, you can start the process of pointing the person in a new direction and give him or her a nudge down the right path.

Everyone (leaders included) must be open to learning from their mistakes or bad decisions. If you are in a leadership position, it is likely that you comprehend the process of allotting the amount of time you should give to each decision based on the long-term implications it will have on your business. Obviously, the more critical and long-lasting the impact, the more time, thought and investigation is warranted. The ability to make effective decisions is part of the reason you are in a leadership position today. This talent can be taught and developed in others and is part of the "failing forward" process. By helping your employees learn how to make better decisions you will elevate and lead your organization to higher levels of performance. A big part of this developmental process requires giving employees the room to fail. This requires the leader to not only be receptive of some failure but also (and this is sometimes the tougher part of the process) requires the leader to get out of the way and let people do their jobs.

How comfortable are you with allowing your people to develop by "failing forward?"
"Failure is instructive. The person who really thinks learns quite as much from his failures as from his successes." – John Dewey
"Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently." – Henry Ford

Monday, April 23, 2007

Under-Promise, Over-Deliver

The title of this post is a well known phrase with regards to the sales process and customer-service side of business. If you over-commit yourself or your services to an initial customer, you are at great risk of losing their business in the short-term. More importantly, you will most likely never regain their trust or their business.

This concept is also important when it comes to leadership. A leader has to stand behind his or her word and deliver on what is communicated. If you over-promise and under-deliver to your people, you will lose their respect while simultaneously extinguishing their enthusiasm. Leaders cannot get caught up in trying to please everyone all of the time or in winning popularity contests. Leadership requires the ability to make the tough decisions. Sometimes these decisions can negatively impact an individual while being in the best interest of the business. Effective leaders will always make sure to take whatever time necessary to have those tough discussions with their clients or staff members when necessary, and they will take the extra step to keep their folks informed as to why certain decisions are made.

Leaders have to be just as aware of over-promising and under-delivering to the individuals they lead as sales executives must be when walking a prospect through the buying process. As a leader you can set yourself up to be successful by doing the reverse (under-promising and over-delivering). Make this a general rule in how you interact with others and you will always do well in establishing your credibility as an effective leader.

What commitments have you made recently? Have you lived up to your "promises?" If not, are you still committed?

Friday, April 20, 2007

The Run

Have you ever noticed how true leaders will run towards a problem, not from one? The most effective leaders are the ones who have their senses so in tune with the business that they can smell smoke before there is a fire. Problems will exist in every business. There are even people in leadership positions who will ignore problems in hopes that they will dissipate or go away on their own. Typically, what they find out is that the problem or conflict will expand quickly and will end up impacting multiple personnel and departments.

A leader who runs towards problems and spends time seeking out these types of issues will earn high levels of trust and respect from his or her team. If the people that you lead know that you are on the front lines removing bottlenecks and are willing to fight the good fight when needed, they will inevitably charge the hill for you when it's their turn.

When hiring for leadership positions, I will always delve into the reasons why an individual left their previous employers. This is a great way to determine if there is a pattern or history of behavior that demonstrates a willingness or unwillingness to deal with problematic issues. Individuals in leadership positions have no choice; they will have to deal with problems (sometimes severe). In the end, a leader's success or lack of success can be solely determined by his or her ability to sense problems in the making, and by his or her willingness to make "the run" for the resolution.

Smell any smoke today? Is the issue resolved?

Wednesday, April 18, 2007


Clarity is always important in terms of the communication you have with others, but is magnified when in a leadership position. All too often leaders walk away from conversations with a strong belief that there is a clear understanding of their goal, strategy or initiative without gaining confirmation form those that are ultimately tasked with execution.

This can be quickly rectified with a summation of the conversation and the main points conveyed back to you as the leader from those to whom you have just communicated. This goes one step beyond the typical use of, "Does that make sense?", to end a conversation and supposedly gain assurance on a complete understanding of a message. I have found that this practice can lead to a deeper conversation on certain points of the intended message to achieve complete understanding. This can be critical when you are dealing with delicate situations such as a progressive disciple process. This extra step also removes trepidation on the part of the recipient of your message to nod in agreement that they understand you, when they truly do not have a complete comprehension of what it is you are asking or communicating.

Reflect on the last two to three conversations you had with your folks today. Can you say with 100% accuracy that you accomplished complete clarity? Now go back and find out. How did you do?

Tuesday, April 17, 2007


How much ownership do you have over your business even if you are not the outright owner? Now ask the same question with regards to your staff. Ownership derives high levels of self-accountability and responsibility, which are both qualities that exceptional leaders possess and strive to instill in teams.

Our company, The Employment Guide and is very autonomous and entrepreneurial in nature. There is a lot of decision making ability left to those that are leading our local efforts. This gives our business a unique ability to be nimble in how we are dealing with real threats to our business units. The more responsible a leader is with their autonomy the more autonomy they are given. This process builds the ownership factor in our leadership group and further differentiates our business from competition that may or may not have a local operation or local leadership championing their efforts.

Going about the creation of ownership among your team is a worthy investment. The building of responsibility through the assignment of task and the inspection of results is a great way to get the process rolling. Individuals who display higher levels of ownership are good candidates for succession planning. Keep these individuals close, they are the ones that will be able to help position you for an easy transition into a role of increased responsibility.

What does ownership look like and how is it identified? Looking back at my own personal experience I think first and foremost this trait is easily identifiable in people who who are problem solvers or who are defined as "heavy lifters." Do you have people on your team who are your "go-to" folks? Is someone taking on additional responsibility or making a conscious effort to go above and beyond your expectations without you personally having to lead that person to that level? Is someone a "clock-watcher" or do they commit to a job and get the job done on time and with the desired results?

Here is a very simple test to measure the level of ownership in your office. Crumble up a piece of paper and put it in a somewhat obvious place on the floor in a general work area. Now sit back and without being obvious, observe. How long does it take for that trash to find its proper home? I know this might seem a little corny (did I really just use that word?) but it might open up some eyes, mainly yours. A reverse practice or exercise of like kind could be allowing your folks to see you picking up trash out in front of your building, in the parking lot, etc. People will emulate their leaders. A public display of ownership in its simplest form can go a long way in developing the culture you need to be successful.

What percentage of your team is made up of "owners?" What are you going to do differently to build this quality among the remaining members of your team?

Friday, April 13, 2007

What is Your 20%?

Most individuals in that are in leadership roles have an understanding of the 80/20 rule. Just for the purpose of this post I will quickly summarize it. The 80/20 rule is the rule that 20% of your actions, efforts or work will result in 80% of your success, results, etc. From a sales perspective this could mean that 80% of your sales will come from 20% of your customer base. At a higher level it could mean that 80% of your throughput will come from 20% of your operations. Obviously, clear identification of your own personal "20%" is going to have a major impact on your success as a leader. As a leader, it is important to continually (if not daily) ask yourself, "What does my 20% need to be today?" Once these items are clearly identified, you will know where to invest your time and efforts to generate the greatest impact towards the accomplishment of your goals.

Given the hectic pace and speed of today's professional environment it can be easy to lose this focus. I can tell you from my own personal experience that staying on course and focusing on the "20%" can be a tough assignment when you are in a role that requires having a lot of balls in the air at the same time. I can also attest that if done successfully, focusing on your "20%" will have a very positive impact on your own personal productivity and your ability to lead the individuals who are on or support your team. Another important piece of the 80/20 rule that I like to utilize, but is not often attached to this theory is delegation. If a task falls into your 80% and could potentially be completed by someone who reports to you, delegate the task. This is especially true if the assignment will result in that individual experiencing professional development.

When was the last time you completed a personal 80/20 assessment? Try this out over the course of a few days and let me know if it aids in your ability to have a positive impact in your leadership role.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Attitude Change

In order to increase the ability of a team to accomplish a goal, the leader must first gain the all-important "buy-in" factor. The one consistent barrier to achieving the goal of having a team working as a cohesive unit is that perceptions and attitudes of team members might have to be altered prior to execution. In my opinion, possession of, or the development of this skill and the ability of a leader to execute this task is the first step in the process of becoming an effective leader. Leaders put focus on cause and effectively build advocacy among their team in order to produce long-lasting perception changes and desired results. How does this process take place? Here is a chart that I found online that I think does a pretty good job of displaying the process that individuals go through in determining whether or not they are going to change their attitude about a subject.

Chart originally from -

The ability of a leader to accomplish a change in attitudes comes down to their individual leadership skill level. You might know people in leadership positions who do not have to work very hard at this or to whom this skill comes naturally. On the other hand, and good news for all in a leadership capacity, is the fact that this skill can be learned, practiced and professionally developed. Yes, leadership is a skill and can be developed through studying, practicing and developing one's own ability. I have yet to come across a subject matter expert who thinks otherwise. Maxwell, Blanchard and others all agree on this topic. I have even been an eye-witness to some amazing transformations and professional growth in some individuals who are within The Employment Guide and organization. These experiences add weight to the argument that leadership skills can be developed. Have I changed your attitude about that yet?

Prior to setting out to achieve a specific task or goal, a leader must have a clear understanding of the perceptions and attitudes on his or her team. Even if a leader does not gain 100% buy-in from their team from the beginning, this process will allow for greater clarity of internal obstacles. This knowledge is very powerful and should give the leader more control of the guidance of their organization as they navigate towards exceeding his or her goals. Start the leadership process at this point and you will focus up front on what could become your biggest obstacle to success. By-pass this process and you are likely to end up with conflicts in opinions that give way to doing battle internally verses with the competition.

What has been your experience with this issue?