Monday, December 22, 2014

The Thank You Note After the Job Interview

Maureen Dempsey has written an interesting article about job interviews for Fast Company.  She aims to debunk five key myths about the factors that drive success in the job application process.  While I don't agree with all her points, I think she makes a very strong argument about thank you notes after an interview.  Here's an excerpt:

Rather than simply thanking hiring managers for their time—something that doesn’t add value to the decision-making process—Hawley says to make sure your note contains meaningful information that proves you were paying attention and are still interested in the position.  "Think about the conversation, and write something both personal and business-related," she suggests. "Tell them how much you appreciated discussing a certain business topic, then thank them for sharing their insights about something personal."
I would agree wholeheartedly on this point.  Be specific in the thank you note. Show that you listened to the interviewer, that you learned something new about the company.   What should you not do? Try to make an expanded case for why you should get the job.  You don't want to be writing a long novel.  However, you can express your continued interest in the job.   If specific concerns arose during the interview process about your qualifications, you could politely offer to provide evidence to address those questions.   In a recent interview situation, my colleagues and I were incredibly impressed with a candidate who very politely offered some additional evidence that was quite compelling.  However, the person was concise and to the point, and most of all, expressed gratitude for the opportunity to compete for the position.  

Saturday, December 20, 2014

"Prove it!" - Two Words that Kill Innovation

Roger Martin, former Dean of the University of Toronto's business school, has a terrific new HBR blog post about innovation.  In this piece, Martin argues that two little words kill innovation in many companies:  "Prove it."  Here's an excerpt:

The great irony is that the managers who give this instruction — prove it before I agree to do it — think that they are simply being rigorous managers. They are sure that any innovation problem has nothing to do with them. Rather, it’s the people they’re managing who aren’t executing properly on their innovation program.  They are oblivious to the fact that they are setting a standard that’s impossible to meet. They will complain about their organizations failing to come up with ‘compelling innovations.’ They will hire innovation consultants to bring ‘new thinking’ to the organization — but later declare that the consultants haven’t brought any “winning concepts.”

Why do these two words kill innovation, specifically the truly creative, disruptive innovations that firms seek to bring to market?  In many cases, the early days of such innovation represent what some scholars and practitioners call the "fuzzy front end."  In those days, innovators find it very difficult to quantify the costs and benefits of a new innovation.   They cannot accurate estimate the size of the market or the revenues that a firm might capture.  However, a large organization's mindset often focuses on rigorous quantitative analysis of investment opportunities.  Proof means producing a very detailed spreadsheet with a return on investment calculation.   Small, incremental innovations sometimes can be approved through this type of process.   A manager can produce the kind of proof required, because the technology is established, the market opportunity well-known, and the historical data is available.   Breakthrough innovations stumble though, as managers cannot build upon existing datasets to produce the proof that is required.   

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Time to Celebrate Accomplishments: The Year-End Leadership Message

The holiday season and the end of the year have arrived.  Leaders should take this opportunity to reflect back on the work that their organizations have done over the past twelve months.  What were the significant accomplishments?  What key goals were achieved?  What lessons did the organization learn, perhaps even from some failures that took place?   What will be the key priorities in the year ahead?   Each leader should take the time to answer these questions in a thoughtful letter to the members of their organization, or perhaps in a brief recorded video.   Such a message helps celebrate the accomplishments, and it offers the opportunity to share the credit for the success of the past year.  Moreover, leaders can recognize key individuals or teams publicly.   People want to be recognized for their efforts, and simply paying bonuses for good work does not buy employee engagement.  Public praise and recognition goes a long way.   The message also offers an opportunity to show that the leaders of the organization are reflecting on lessons learned, and it provides the forum to encourage all employees to learn from their successes and failures of the past year.  Finally, leaders have a chance to build alignment, to get everyone on the same page regarding the goals and objectives for the year ahead.   How should the leader close such a message?  Yes, you want to thank everyone for their hard work and wish them a happy holiday season.  However, leaders also should take the time to ask for feedback and input.  They should encourage employees to send them questions or comments in response to this year-end message.   Leaders need to make this communication a two-way street, not a one-way broadcast.  That final step will further enhance employee engagement, and it might yield some terrific ideas on how to improve the organization. 

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Innovating Through Pyramid Search

You would like to innovate, and you have heard that bold innovations often come from outside of one's particular domain of expertise.  We derive breakthrough ideas by tapping into expertise from analogous fields.  I've blogged about that topic previously on this site.  However, you may find yourself asking:  Where do I begin?  How do I find an expert in an analogous field?  Which analogous field should be explored? 

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

How To Disagree With Your Boss

Kathy Bloomgarden, CEO of Ruder Finn - a public relations and communications agency, has written a short column for Fortune about how to disagree with your boss.   I've written extensively about how leaders need to encourage dissenting views.   Often, I'm asked how subordinates can express dissent constructively and effectively.   I n this article, Bloomgarden offers a few tips.  First, she argues that one should stick to the facts.  Avoid making your case based on intuition or emotion.  Provide a sound analysis of the situation with data to support your argument.  Second, identify the costs and benefits of your proposal, as well as the costs and benefits of your boss' proposed course of action.  Try to look at both scenarios in an evenhanded way.  Finally, she says that you should "own what you're suggesting."   In other words, be specific about your willingness to take responsibility for the alternative solution, but be transparent and realistic about what you promise.  Set expectations clearly, but realistically. 

I would add a few other recommendations.  First, you have to know your audience.  How does your boss make decisions?  What types of arguments are most persuasive?   How does he or she like to see data presented?   Second, study the history of the issue.  Understand what has been tried in the past, and if it failed, examine why it did not work.  Third, seek allies and build coalitions. Don't go it alone.  Try to persuade others first, before you turn to your boss.  There's strength in numbers.  Fourth, identify and work through key gatekeepers.  Who has the boss' ear and trust?  How can you work through that person to persuade and influence the boss?  Finally, focus first on divergent thinking before trying to persuade people that their idea is not well-suited to address this particular problem. In other words, ask questions before proposing your solution.  Try to encourage the boss to think a bit differently about the situation.  Encourage them to explore other options.  That inquiry-based approach may be more effective than listing the deficiencies with their proposed course of action. 

Friday, December 12, 2014

More Interpersonal Conflict in Virtual Teams

Stanford Professor Lindred Greer has conducted research on conflict in virtual teams.  She has found that virtual teams are more likely to see task-based disagreements become interpersonal in nature.  According to Greer, 

“They can’t see the context or the nuance or even the facial expressions of the person who is engaging in this task conflict.  When people lack information — when they are uncertain about why someone disagreed with them — they are much more likely to take it personally.  This means they are going to be more emotional and their response is going to be more aggressive and more likely to escalate the conflict than what would happen with face to face teams.” 

 Greer has some tips on how to improve the functioning of virtual teams. She advocates a face-to-face kickoff of a team project whenever possible.  She argues that it can help people understand where others are coming from, and it can help prevent a knee-jerk reaction to attribute negative motives to those with whom we disagree.  Here's a video with more information from Greer on this topic:

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Ed Catmull: Let Your Ideas Suck

Fast Company has a great feature describing Pixar President Ed Catmull's views on innovation and creativity.  I had the chance to interview Catmull several months ago, and he has a terrific perspective on how to develop a highly creative work environment.   Here's an excerpt from the Fast Company article:

Let Your Ideas Suck

Pixar movies have multi-layered, compelling stories and are beautifully put together, but they don’t start that way. Catmull shared the process that the beloved movies go though, starting with a story that bears no resemblance to the final product. He said, "All that anyone sees is the final product and there’s almost a romantic illusion about how you got there. When we first put up something—these stories suck." For example, he shared that the first version of the movie Up included a king in a castle in the clouds. They threw everything out from that first idea except a bird and the word "up," from there it went through several other iterations with a little more of the final story emerging each time. They had to make a lot of mistakes and have a lot of failures along the way to get the final product, he said.

Speaking of Pixar, they have released the trailer for their upcoming movie, Inside Out.  It sounds like it could be another hit (14 Pixar movies in a row have achieved #1 status at the box office).