Thursday, February 12, 2009

Passion as a Predictor of Success

A business friend asked me today to comment on the idea that passion (for one’s business or vocation) could be the number one predictor of success. I disagreed. I have seen dozens of entrepreneurs present their businesses to investor groups ( I belong to TCA in OC). The investors get excited when the entrepreneurs are enthusiastic and demonstrate passion about their companies, products, potential, etc. There is a hitch though. Many of the most enthusiastic entrepreneurs, the ones that appear most passionate, have a couple of personality issues. In fact, I’d say that I’ve met many who have Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

There was a book written in the early nineties, (still available through Amazon), called The Productive Narcissist, which describes how these not-so-together people are incredibly charismatic, draw people to them, and often (but not always), succeed wildly, despite the negative traits that impact their relationships with others. See who the author gives as examples! So, my conclusion in this thesis about passion is that you must dig a little deeper to determine who the person really is, before you can judge a superficial pattern of passion as the best predictor of success.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Job Hunting Tips - #1 “What is Your Biggest Weakness?”

Since there are so many people looking right now, I’ve decided to start offering job hunting tips. Today’s blog is the first in what will be a periodic series. Subscribe to the blog to get the rest!

Employers often ask job candidates to cite a weakness, a shortcoming, or an area that needs improvement. Most interview books advise creating an artificial weakness, such as “I’ve been accused of being a workaholic”, or, “I can sometimes be too driven to succeed.” Those aren’t really weaknesses, and giving that kind of pat, prepared answer can seem a bit insincere.

I recommend finding a true weakness or shortcoming from your past, that you have worked to partly or completely overcome. Then describe what you discovered about yourself, what actions you took, and what the outcome has been. Here’s an example:

“I was told in a review that I could be stronger with my team in driving them toward results, so I took a closer look at what was preventing me from doing that, and found that I had some concern about being too much of a taskmaster. I then discovered that helping my people understand how their individual goals tied into the organization both empowered and encouraged them, and made them more productive. It was a paradigm shift for me that helped me to be better at getting results.”

This comes across as self-awareness, self-revelation, sound personal insight, growth, etc., and these will be perceived by the interviewer as strengths, even though you have discussed a genuine weakness.

Job Hunting Tips #2 – The “Informational Interview”

Many job hunting coaches advocate trying to get “Informational Interviews”, where you aren’t specifically aiming at a job, but just gathering information, getting advice, networking, etc. What can you try to accomplish in this meeting to improve the quality of the discussion? Here are some tips:

  1. Treat it as a customer visit - what is the "benefit to the buyer" of having this conversation with you? Maybe they just feel better, at having given back. Maybe you give them specific value too, in the conversation.
  2. Find the pain - what is this person's biggest business issue right now? What keeps him/her up at night? How could you offer a solution?
  3. Be a resource - offer to help them network to find the things and people they need, now and in the future. Then really do it – send them info on things that are relevant to their needs; ask how you can help periodically.
  4. Ask questions, don't "tell" or “sell”: Ask questions, use the two ears, one mouth ratio (2:1), let them talk. Gain insight. Don't sell yourself. The more you hear from them, the more you can find the way your background might fit, the way you could help, then you can close rather than sell: "If I could help you solve that issue, would that be of interest?"
  5. Find the referral. Be prepared to state your benefit to your next employer (not a recitation of your resume), and ask "WHO do you know that could use that skill?"

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Super Bowl Commercials

There were several commercials played during Sunday’s Super Bowl related to the workplace. Monster and CareerBuilder both showed versions of dissatisfied workers, with Monster sitting a support person under a moose’s behind (while his boss is under the head, in a paneled office), and CareerBuilder showing all the reasons, over and over, why someone might want to change jobs. They both offer a solution: Come to our site, and find redemption in the form of a better job.

A more interesting sociological phenomenon is the high popularity of the Doritos’ “Free Doritos” commercial, which initially shows a somewhat crazed office worker irrationally breaking the snack machine for “Free Doritos”, then his forlorn co-worker, who hopelessly hopes for a promotion, throwing the “magic” crystal ball (really a snow globe) into his boss’s unmentionable region, thereby dashing his slim hopes of a promotion forever. At the end, he doesn't even have any Doritos! The fascinating thing to me is why this commercial with no redemption, with a tragic outcome, is the more popular. First, let’s take the escapism route – people love action movies, even though they probably won’t be involved in a car chase with a machine gun. So, seeing someone “act out” is cathartic. But this Doritos commercial as the most popular?! I guess people are so frustrated with their jobs, so cynical about the future, that seeing these angry guys detaching from reality and demonstrating anger and violence, can actually make some of us feel better.

Several ad critics have mentioned that there wasn’t much real humor this year overall in the commercials, but I laughed at many of them. Maybe our mood and what feels funny shifts with what’s going on in the world. I hope next year’s commercials reflect a more light-hearted state in the world of work!

Monday, February 2, 2009

Valuation of Human Capital

How much are your people really worth? In dollars?! On your books?
Employers often say “our people are our biggest asset,” but do corporate actions reflect this philosophy? Headcount is usually cut before hard assets like buildings and equipment. Often, employers lay off their highest paid, longest tenure (and perhaps most valuable) workers first. The P&L improves short term, but should that really equate to higher value on the balance sheet?

Much has been written about “valuation of human capital,” but it is challenging to specifically assess a dollar value of people for accounting purposes. Accenture, Ernst & Young, Taleo, and others have proposed various ways to value people, talent and contributions. However, the average CEO, when asked “What are your people really worth” would probably say “I have no idea.”

Every key employee has the potential to either save money or make money for his/her company. Such savings and profits represent tangible value – at the multiple that applies to that company. So, someone who saves $200,000 for a small, privately held company might be worth 3x, or $600,000 as an asset to that company. At a larger, publicly traded firm, that same $200,000 might be worth 12x, or $2.4 mil. in asset value. Other factors that could translate into tangible value are customer relationships, creation or advancement of the company’s “brand”, productivity improvement of the executive’s team, etc. Many of these things are part of what is often referred to as “good will”, the intangible assets of a company, which can run as high as 35% for established firms. I submit we as leaders have to know the value of all our so-called intangible assets. Here’s a challenge to the financial wizards: Figure out a simple formula that even a small business could use. Shouldn’t our equity go up when we have selected the most valuable people to hire and retain?
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