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 EmploymentGuide.com 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?