Posts tagged: career direction

Are You Managing Talent Or Herding Squirrels?

The owner of a business with several hundred employees once told me, “If it wasn’t for all these people, my business would be easy!”   Heck, if we could just sit in a nice office and watch products and resources get moved around by computer-controlled forklifts while getting paid - and not deal with all these pesky people (who want to be paid and take time off) - managing a business would be a snap, right?   But in order to operate any business, we need people.   And then, we must make some difficult decisions.     

After 25+ years of observing businesses, I think there are two basic models of ’people management’:

  1. ‘Herding Squirrels’ - attempting to do business in what you believe to be unpredictable and unplanned circumstances, sometimes referred to as Managing Chaos   
  2. Managing Talent – an intelligent orderly planned process which ensures that your organization has enough of the right people in the right places doing the right things at all times

 Most organizations, if asked, would say that they operate their organization using  model #2.  (Of course, a survey has found that 64% of people think they’re ‘above average’ drivers, which is interesting).  In my humble observation, however, the organization that actually uses model #2 is the exception and not the rule.

Most organizations are managing chaos with model #1.  They spend significant (unnecessary) time  ‘herding squirrels.’   These organizations see themselves as victims rather than the controllers of their marketplace, circumstances, policies and planning (or more accurately, lack thereof).  There is a kind of, general, sort of plan but it’s mostly seat-of-the-pants flying.  Rather than building their house with a solid foundation on high ground, they live close to the river and keep a lot of sandbags on hand just in case, planning to call friends over when the flood comes.  And then surprise! it always comes.  Darn it all, they just can’t seem to avoid problems, keep things under control and make a profit!       

Is your organization 1) Herding Squirrels, or 2) Managing Talent?   Based on your responses to these 10 statements, you can determine which model is present where you work:

  1. Your organization is recognized for its great people,  just as much as its excellent products and services.  Your customers are loyal advocates and raving fans who express strong preference for your brand over your competitors.   Y  N
  2. Every key position in your organization has a clearly defined, written job description, and every person has read and understands their specific job description.  It is used as a major criteria of regular performance reviews, and compensation, promotions and rewards are adjusted based on the individual’s performance to its criteria.   Y  N
  3. Employee retention and performance in every key position is high.  Key employees seldom leave, and when they do, other employees who have already been identified and trained are ready to take their place.   Y  N
  4. Employee turnover is low, and key positions in critical areas  (i.e.; sales, executive, IT, etc.) are stabilized.  Recruiting, hiring and turnover costs are quantified and closely monitored at all times.   Y  N 
  5. All managers and supervisors are trained and have the information necessary to understand and effectively communicate with the people they manage.  They are actively involved in helping their people develop their skills in order to advance in their career with the organization.   Y  N
  6. The organization’s goals and values are clear, written, understandable and have been communicated to all employees and stakeholders.   The goals and values are regularly reviewed by all employees, from CEO to front-line, and they are the standards of accountability for every employee.   Y  N
  7. All employees understand and are committed to the organization’s goals and values.  Every employee understands how their particular job and individual performance impacts the achievement of the goals, and is rewarded appropriately for their contribution.   Y  N
  8. A hiring and employee development process is in place which attracts top talent and ensures that your organization has enough of the right people in the right places doing the right things at all times.  Only those people who ‘fit’ with the specific requirements of open positions and agree with your goals, values and organizational culture are hired.   Bad hires and under-performance rarely occur.  Y  N
  9. Your organization has a positive reputation in your community and industry, and is recognized as an employer of choice for top performers in your industry.    Y  N
  10. Levels of employee engagement are regularly monitored and are consistently high.  Employees are committed and overall morale is positive.  Problems with employee discipline or motivation (absenteeism, conflicts, poor performance, etc.) seldom occur.   Y  N

If you answered ‘Yes’ to 8 or more of these questions, you are managing talent.  It is likely that your brand is strong, your organization is a leader in your industry, you have very few major problems and your financials are healthy.  You’re on the right track! 

If you answered “No’ to 5 or more of these questions, your organization’s financial statements should probably have a line item for nuts.  It’s probably the way you’ve always done things.  There are a lot of squirrels, but it seems…normal.   Until something goes wrong, and things do go wrong, at the worst possible times, and you have a difficult time understanding why or fixing the problems.  If all of those darned people would just do their jobs…  

But seriously, there is a better, easier and far less costly way of doing business.  In my recent blog entitledThey Are Your People – Not Human Resources“, I discussed talent management – a different and better way of being successful with your people.  

Don’t get me wrong.  Squirrels are cute, but spending your time, money and energy trying to herd them can drive you nuts.  If there’s a squirrel problem at your organization, contact me for a confidential conversation.  We can help you implement a talent management process that will make your organization more successful and your life much easier.   

A College Education Is Not Necessarily The Key To Success….

Job-seekers frequently ask me for career advice.  In this challenging economy and job market, a lot of career counselors and coaches (especially those associated with educational institutions) give young people and career-changers the same advice.  It goes something like this: “Gotta go to college, gotta go to college, gotta go to college!”  

To this, I reply, “Poppycock and horsefeathers!”  About 50% of people – those who are launching careers, under-employed or unemployed - will find no monetary value in further education whatsoever.  Really. 

The fact is that many people who earned college degrees are in a career that is completely unrelated to their college degree.  So, forgive my impudence, but given that inconvenient truth, of what monetary value was their post-secondary matriculation?  My conclusion: a college degree does not necessarily equal success or high earnings.

In the process of watching how the world actually works over the past 30 years or so, I have noticed that some pretty successful people do not possess college degrees.  Take for instance – Steve Jobs (Apple), Bill Gates (Microsoft), Michael Dell (Dell Computer) and Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook) as Hall of Fame ultra-successful drop-out entrepreneurs.  I would also include lots of other successful people like auto mechanics, carpenters, heavy equipment operators, salespeople, welders, homebuilders, plumbers, small business owners and miscellaneous entrepreneurs and tradesmen.    

That said, a person who is well-suited to the rigors of the college-level academic environment; who has the intellectual capacity, ability, drive and desire to succeed; and who has taken the time to determine the right major/career direction for themselves can certainly benefit from a college degree.  Companies need people like that.   There don’t seem to be enough of  them, whether the economy is booming or busting.   

Of course, there aren’t enough highly competent auto mechanics, carpenters, heavy equipment operators, salespeople, welders, homebuilders, plumbers, small business owners and miscellaneous entrepreneurs and tradesmen to go around, either!  And not one of these fairly high-paying jobs require a college education.   

I live in Boulder County, CO, a spectacularly beautiful area with one of the most highly educated populations in the US, and home of the University of Colorado.  I’ve lived here for ~36 yrs. now.  There’s a long-standing joke about college graduates here:  Q: ‘What does the MBA say to the other person at the drive-up window of McDonalds?  A: Do you want fries with that?’   In this market, where college degrees are plentiful and high-paying jobs are scarce, many people have much education and technical knowledge in their field – while working for minimum wage.  At many retailers and restaurants in this area, the person helping you is likely to have an advanced degree – and fading dreams of hitting the big-time.  This is sad but true in many college towns and major metropolitan areas across the nation. 

So, before you invest $40-100,000. and the next 4-6 years in a college education, consider a recent article in Yahoo! EDUCATION by Terrence Loose entitled “Don’t Bother Earning These Five Degrees.”

It completely busts the myth that every college degree is worth big bucks.   It just ain’t so.  (Please excuse my inarticulate prose, as I attended and dropped out of the U. of Nebraska, where people talk like that…).

So, here’s my advice for about half of all job-seekers and career-changers: consider the alternative degrees listed in the article - instead of these five dead-end degrees (if you still choose to attend college).  Consider some technical training or some courses at a community/junior college to sharpen up your skills.  Or instead, consider just learning how to do a job in some boring industry, or owning a business.   Really.   Chances are that your grandparents or parents (the people who make money, save up and actually pay for many worthless college degrees) worked for a living.  It’s not so bad.  And you just might make a good living while your friends with the fancy-sounding college degrees are at the unemployment office, figuring out how to pay off those college loans.  Hey, maybe you can hire a few of them, too!

At this point, some of you are asking yourself, “Should I go back to school, or just find a nice job?”  A new Profiles assessment called the Pathway Planner can provide you with some very specific answers to that question.  If you’d like more info, contact me.

Think about it.  When the world zigs, it can make a lot of sense to zag.   

Discover the Hidden Talents in Your Workforce

In the most recent newsletter from Profiles International, a brief case study of IBM’s Tom Watson, Jr. is presented.  Read it here:

Tom Watson, Jr. became president of IBM in 1952. He recruited electronics experts and invested billions of dollars to develop new technology and planning. As a result, IBM was one of the most successful, innovative corporations during the up-and-coming computer age.  To this day, IBM is one of the most recognized and admired brands in the world.

So what made Tom Watson Jr. so successful?  He focused on the development of research, technology and, most importantly, talent.

In light of Tom Watson Jr.’s exceptional focus on talent development, there are four steps to develop your employees to reach their full potential and succeed:

  • Assess
  • Find Gaps
  • Challenge
  • Mentor

Read this excellent article for more info.  Employee assessments are excellent tools for helping you make the most of your people by discovering their hidden talents.  Need some help?  Give us a call for a free consultation.   Let us show you how talent development and management can make all the difference in creating an exceptional organization and a market-dominating brand.

Why Some People Succeed…And Others Don’t

In a recent Profiles International blog, 5 Lessons From The World’s Most Brilliant Minds, some traits of ultra-successful people are discussed.  Read this excellent blog here:

The blog’s author Christine Krenek discusses’s founder Pete Cashmore, the successful business legend Warren Buffett, NBA star Jeremy Lin, famous entertainer Chelsea Handler and MIT professor Donald Sadoway.  Each one is incredibly successful in their field, but all are very different and unique people.

Why some people succeed and others don’t has always fascinated me.  Some people overcome great challenges and achieve much, while others begin with every advantage and accomplish little or fail.   

At the age of about 10 or 12, I made a conscious decision to be different than my family.  Not better, just different.  Raised in a lower middle class home, the idea of becoming successful in business never occurred to me.  None of my family or relatives, nor any of my friends parents were ‘successful.’  But something in me wanted more, a better life, a bigger world with greater opportunity, the fulfillment of dreams.  I had no idea what that would be, or where to start.

Like most people, I sought opportunities and worked at many different jobs.  I succeeded with a few, and failed at many.  I sought the advice of mentors who were more successful and wiser than me, and surrounded myself with positive people.  I discovered the power of faith and submitting to something greater than myself.  I was willing to drop negative, unproductive behaviors and change almost anything that wasn’t working.  There has been, and will continue to be, a lot of hard work and struggles.  I’m not at the summit, but I’m making progress and will get there. 

As a long-time manager, coach and mentor, I’ve seen a lot of people succeed and fail.  And I think it usually comes down to one thing: ATTITUDE. 

Motivational speaker and author Earl Nightingale has always inspired me.  He said, “A great attitude is not the result of success; success is the result of a great attitude.”   

To some, that seems trite and simplistic, or even harsh.  But to those who will succeed, it is a gold nugget. 

The fact is that you can’t control what happens to you.  You can’t control: who you are; how you look; your race/color/culture/gender; where you were born; how smart you are; who your parents were; how you were raised; how poor or wealthy your parents were; how well or poorly your parent/s (if you had any) raised you; how tall or short you are; your IQ, how others treated (or mistreated) you when you were growing up; tragedies and accidents that may have occurred in your life, etc.  And on and on. 

Life happens to every one of us.  We all have that one thing in common. 

But, your attitude is the ONE THING you can control.  It is a choice.  And that choice may well be the difference between success and whatever else happens. 

There’s one more thing that is required for success: ACTION.  Hockey legend Wayne Gretzky, known as ’the Great One’, said, “You’ll always miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” 

The lesson here is that a great attitude combined with action will often lead to success.  Why not start now?  If you’d like some help in setting the right direction with your career or your life, or if you need a capable coach – give me a call.   



The Real Bottom-Line Value of Mentors

Top performers want to work for organizations that will give them a little ‘extra.’  They want a guide in the organization, an experienced person who will help them excel in their position and navigate around the pitfalls that might cause them to fail in their career.  They want mentors.

So, why do your BEST employees – your top performers - stay with your organization?  Or more importantly, why would certain people – top performers – want to go to work at your company, and why would those same certain people continue to work at your organization for a long time?

In many organizations, mentoring is scoffed at as a waste of time.  They say, “With employee tenure at an all-time low, why go to the time and expense of developing a new employee?”   It’s a good question.  After all, why would you take a high value, productive, experienced employee away from productive work in order to mentor a new, unproven employee?  They’re just going to leave as soon as they’re fully trained, right?  Not so fast there, my old school management style friends.

In the 2011  SHRM Employee Job Satisfaction and Engagement Survey Report, the top 26 factors related to job satisfaction among American workers are listed.  Now, we ALL know the top factors, especially among young under-35 workers are pay and benefits, right?  Wrong.  The most important factors identified in the most recent survey were: 1) ‘job security’ and 2)  ’opportunities to use your skills and abilities in your work.’  But here’s the gold nugget.   Number 3 on the job satisfaction list:  Relationship with immediate supervisor. 

The takeaway: providing high potential employees with an opportunity to work with a mentor or manager who will give them the best possible opportunity to succeed is critically important for hiring and retaining top talent in this ultra-competitive market. 

But what about your current top performers?  Are you paying attention to the good people who are already making things happen for you?  Are they feelin’ the love? 

Study after study shows that people don’t leave companies; they leave bosses.  Most people have a horror story to tell about working for a jerk in some previous job.  A mis-match between a high potential employee and and their manager is a costly mistake just waiting to happen.  When a high potential employee walks away to join a competitor, the opportunity loss, recruiting and replacement cost and management headaches are great.  So, remind me again.  Why is it that we don’t manage our managers, expect high performance from them – and remove those who have unacceptable turnover rates?   

I apologize for using so many sports analogies, but please bear with me on this one.  Teams with lots of talented players tend to win, right?  However – if the coach is incompetent – that’s another story.  The best players poorly coached will not win games.  But, put talented, proven players with a brilliant, experienced coach and you have a winning combination.  Great coaches understand their players, they build personal chemistry with each one of them, and they help them play to their absolute peak performance.           

The lesson here is quite simple.  First, pick employees carefully.  Then, match the employee with the right manager.  Then, once the employee has proven themselves, provide them with a capable mentor to help them develop to their full potential.

By the way, only top performers who have proven themselves qualify for this ‘perk.’  It must be earned. 

In a recent article (Matchmaker, Matchmaker, Make Me a Mentor Match) in, Gary Kranz described a mentoring program at Covance which employs about 10,000 people.  In order to receive mentoring, employees “must meet three main criteria: they must have worked at Covance for a specified period of time; achieved a ‘meets performance’ rating; and have a well-defined objective in mind.”    Kranz also says that, “Managers also must give their approval before an employee is able to participate.”  These are reasonable criteria for any organization to use.

At the beginning of this blog, I asked why your top performers stay with your organization.  My bet is that they stay with your organization for 3 reasons:

  1. They have a good relationship with their supervisor and don’t feel the need to look for another boss who will make them feel good about themselves
  2. They have a good ‘fit’ with their job and use their skills and abilities frequently in their work in a way that is significant to them, they like that, and as a result they are productive and feel engaged and committed
  3. They produce results, are low maintenance and you like having them around – which equals job security for everybody at your organization

Good mentors are just like good coaches.  They’ll build a winning team and a winning organization.  They’ll help your best people create extraordinary results.  They’ll make your organization more attractive to the best people.  They’ll duplicate themselves by modeling the kind of attitudes and behaviors you want in every employee.  And they’ll help you retain the best people – your top performers – longer. 

If you’d like some help in identifying your mentors or coaches, or in building a mentoring/coaching program at your organization, just give me a call.      


Is A College Degree Over-Rated As A Job Qualification?

For those of you who value higher education, today’s blog will border on heresy or apostasy.  As a college educated business owner, hiring manager or HR professional, it may go against everything you believe and have been taught in your educational past.  But empirical data suggests that it is true.

A college education may not be an important pre-requisite for success in many careers.  In fact, it may be irrelevant to success in many careers. 

“But college makes us ‘well-rounded’ and prepares us to be successful in a chosen career!,” you say.  Really? 

If that’s true, why do so many college graduates want to change careers?  According to a recent poll, only 39% of people would choose the same career if they could do it all over again.  And why do so many college students change majors during their college years?  Why do so many college students fail to earn their degrees?

For many people, college will create a huge debt and much discouragement, but not much more.  For many others, it is simply not an appropriate choice.  (A lot of entrepreneurs and happy employees will tell you that, by the way).             

In March 2011, The Atlantic printed an essay – - that stated college is perilously oversold, and demanding large amounts of money from often immature students is unjust.  Written by “Professor X”, the essay titled “In the Basement of the Ivory Tower” actually was written by an anonymous professor of English at two Northeast U.S. colleges that are on scenic parcels of land.

“Beneath the surface of this serene and scholarly mise-en-scène roil waters of frustration and bad feeling, for these colleges teem with students who are in over their heads,” the essay states.

The writer states a tipping point, or “the bursting of our collective bubble,” typically arrives within weeks of when the semester begins, when students write and professor grades.

“Despite my enthusiasm, despite their thoughtful nods of agreement and what I have interpreted as moments of clarity, it turns out that in many cases it has all come to naught,” the essay states. “Remarkably few of my students can do well in these classes. Students routinely fail; some fail multiple times, and some will never pass, because they cannot write a coherent sentence.”

Need more evidence?  A recent Rutgers University study that only about one-fourth of U.S. adults are graduates of four-year colleges.  The median starting salary for those who graduated between 2006 and 2008 was $30,000. For the 2009 and 2010 grads, it dipped to $27,000. And women graduates continued to make less than men.  Nearly half the graduates say they’re working at jobs that don’t require a college education. And many of those who left those first jobs didn’t find a better situation.  Seven in 10 said their educational background had some relationship to their first job. But for those who are now working elsewhere, only about 6 in 10 say their work is in the field they studied.

So, if a college education is NOT important, what IS important?  Job-Fit. 

This means having a job description for every position, and putting each person in your organization in the job that is right for them.  And in order to do that, you’ll need to use different tools and think in different ways than you have in the past.  In order to determine job-fit, you need to look at the candidate’s match with the thinking style (like language and math problem-solving abilities); behavior and personality traits; and occupational interests. 

The Profile XT assessment is an excellent tool for determining job-fit in potential employees.  My website is full of information about this assessment and many others. 

Don’t get me wrong here.  Some jobs require a college degree.  I wouldn’t see a doctor, dentist, lawyer or accountant who didn’t have a degree from a reputable institution of higher learning, in addition to a lot of other specialized training and professional certifications.  But a liberal arts, psychology, sociology or art history degree is not required to work in retail, or to sell things, or to perform many other jobs that provide a good living, self-respect and job satisfaction for a lifetime.

If you’re an employer who has been placing a high value on college degrees without looking at job-fit, I encourage you to try a different and better way.  This may just be the solution to your high turnover problem, or the way to creating a highly engaged workforce.        

Alas, many stuck in the dominant paradigm will resist this factual presentation, and will not even bother to read the linked articles above which present the very real and compelling supporting evidence.  You’re getting what you’re getting because you’re doing what you’re doing.  Status quo reigns eternal. 

But for those who want to try something different?  Contact me.  I can help. 


I’ve had lots of Jobs

In this tough economy, there’s plenty of bad news – but this short article should lift your spirits and give you a chuckle about your career. Enjoy!

  1. My first job was working in an orange juice factory, but I got canned. Couldn’t concentrate.
  2. Then I worked in the woods as a lumberjack, but just couldn’t hack it, so they gave me the axe.
  3. After that, I tried being a tailor, but wasn’t suited for it — mainly because it was a sew-sew job.
  4. Next, I tried working in a muffler factory, but that was too exhausting.
  5. Then, tried being a chef – figured it would add a little spice to my life, but just didn’t have the thyme.
  6. Next, I attempted being a deli worker, but any way I sliced it… couldn’t cut the mustard.
  7. My best job was a musician, but eventually found I wasn’t noteworthy.
  8. I studied a long time to become a doctor, but didn’t have any patience.
  9. Next, was a job in a shoe factory. I tried hard but it just wasn’t a good fit.
  10. I became a professional fisherman, but discovered I couldn’t live on my net income.
  11. I managed to get a good job working for a pool maintenance company, but the work was just too draining.
  12. So then I got a job in a workout center, but they said I wasn’t fit for the job.
  13. After many years of trying to find steady work, I finally got a job as a historian – until I realized there was no future in it.
  14. My last job was working in Starbucks, but had to quit because it was the same old grind.

Does this sound a little like your career? Could you use a little help, some specific direction – or a big change?  An experienced advisor using quality assessment tools can provide you with the specific information you need to make more informed decisions and wiser choices about your career, your education and your life.

Looking for a coach who can help you rev up your career and hit the next level in achieving the goals that are really important to you?  Give me a call.   

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