Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Are Leadership/Management Skills Portable?

The May 2006 issue of the Harvard Business Review has an article titled Are Leaders Portable? by Groysberg, McLean and Nohria. They studied a bunch of ex-GE trained/indoctrinated (I'm not saying that in a bad way) managers and their ability to produce results once they moved on to fairer hunting grounds.

They break the managers' skills and experiences down to what they refer to as the Model of Human Capital. It is the HBR, they can't just call them "skills". There are five of them:

  1. General management skills
  2. Strategic skills
  3. Industry skills/experience
  4. Relationship skills
  5. Company-specific skills/experience

General management skills involve the ability to find and use financial, technical and people resouces. It also includes basic leadership and decision making ability. These are all portable according to the authors but new skills must be acquired when the manager moves into a more senior role.

Strategic skills (cutting costs, driving growth, etc), gained from situational experience are highly portable but ONLY to companies experiencing similar situations. Cost cutters will do well cutting costs in other organizations.

Industry skills are defined as the "technical, regulatory, customer or supplier knowledge unique to an industry." These skills are portable within an industry. But performance will wane if say, a telecom manager tries to run a company in the medical industry. Makes sense.

Relationship skills are key. Managers in their survey, that could bring colleagues along with them, did much better. If you can't bring your people with you, make sure you can build relationships and social capital in a hurry.

Company-specific capital includes knowledge of the ways a particular company does business. Its culture. Its processes. Its mores. Etc. This is the least portable of the five but "CEOs...are uniquely positioned to capitalize on this knowledge by implementing familiar systems and processes."

This article has allowed me to reflect on my own career path. When I look at my own experience and the skills I have developed along the path, I see the insights from this article. I have always had a common thread of "customer service" and I have been fortunate to translate that across three industries: financial services, high tech and telecom. I have had the ability to bring along people that I trust and am familiar with in prior work situations. I expect that to happen again in my current role. It is just easier to bring in people that you know. Know their work ethic. Know their abilities. And can tell what they will do.

I have also been fortunate to develop strategic skills as well. I am good in a turnaround. I am good in a startup. Both are very similar yet different in many ways as well. I have gone from startup to turnaround to startup to a hybrid in my current role. Launching a new 500 seat site is more like a startup than business as usual.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Hiring for the Customer Experience

I am sitting in a hotel room in Brentwood, TN (outside of Nashville). I am in town for some training. It gives me a break from bringing up a 500+ seat customer contact center in DeLand, FL that has me commuting 3 out of every 4 weeks to Daytona Beach.

It's giving me some time to catch up on reading. I am not in the thick of the battle. I miss it to be honest. It is hard for me to sit for 7 hours in a room while someone talks at me. Made even harder because I am hooked on the rush of 13 hour go! go! go! days.

But I just finished reading an article in the lastest Fast Company about Danny Meyer, who owns 4 of the top 20 restaurants in NYC. He talks about hospitality versus service. Which is a theme for this edition of the magazine. No links because it is not online yet.

You must NAIL service before you can even start thinking about the customer experience. This is something I am heavily interested in...we are at a turning point in the 100+ year history of the company I work for...we are opening a new call center. We have the opportunity to build it RIGHT from the ground up.

Meyer talks about what he looks for in new hires. There are, of course, the technical skills. But then he talks about emotional skill sets. And he breaks them down into 5 areas:

  1. A natural warmth and optimism. (You either feel it from someone or you don't.)
  2. Intelligence and curiosity. Passion about something.
  3. Work ethic. ("You would be surprised at how many people show up late for an interview, or don't shave.")
  4. Empathy.
  5. Integrity and self-awareness. ("...somebody who is thoughtful about who they are and where things fit into their lives. If they are not accountable to themselves, it's unlikely they'll be accountable to the people they are working with.")

I've probably interviewed at least 200 people in the last couple of months. I am not surprised about people showing up late for interviews, or in flip flops, or with thongs showing, etc. I am not surprised about integrity. Who accepts a job offer and then doesn't show up on the first day? (We have a 20% no show rate. We haven't cracked the code yet on how to identify this type of person. We use a testing suite that gets at attitudes toward work. We keep setting the criteria higher. )

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Push Play to Polka

Seth Godin's latest ChangeThis manifesto is an attack on the status quo. I hate the status quo so Godin works for me. He has a section about products and quality. He demands MORE! $18 CDs are ridiculous!

He recommends we lose the shackles and attempt greatness. He asks us to make some assumptions:

1. Hard drive space is free.
2. WiFi-like connections are everywhere.
3. Connection speeds are ten to one hundred times faster.
4. Everyone has a digital camera.
5. Everyone carries a device that is sort of like a laptop, but cheap and tiny.
6. The number of new products introduced everyday is five times greater than it is now.
7. Wal-Mart's sales are three times as big.
8. Any manufactured product more than five years old in design sells at commodity pricing.
9. The retirement age is five years higher than it is now.
10. Your current profession is either obsolete or totally different.

Now what?

Welcome to the Machine

I've been crazy-go-nuts with work. I'm sitting in a hotel room in Daytona Beach, FL at the moment. We are bringing up a new center in a nearby community. I am on the Monday through Friday commuting plan. I'm not finding a lot of time to read/research/etc career/management/leadership related material. I'm either pre-gaming on the flight down, reading something for fun to try to clear my brain of the cobwebs, or post-gaming on the way home.

Seth Godin has a new manifesto posted at ChangeThis. Two pieces jump out at me. He talks about "cogs".

Since you were five, schools and society have been teaching you to be a cog in the machine of our economy. To do what you're told, to sit in straight lines, and to get the work done.

Seth joins the Thomas Friedman train. He is also on the path of Rajesh Setty who tells us we need to be distinguishing ourselves. Friedman tells us [see commentary]that we need to be constantly improving/increasing our skill sets. We need to be "special", or "specialized", or "anchored" or just super-adaptable. Otherwise...we are just cogs in the giant machine.

Godin goes on to define cogs further:

1. Cog labor is a lowest-common-denominator activity.
2. If cog labor gets expensive, companies now automate it.
3. If a company can't afford to automate, they move the work somewhere where it's cheaper.
4. If the competition moves, companies figure out how to measure and semi-automate their cog labor to make it cheaper still.

And then here is something to ponder. Read it, let it sink in, process it, put it in your brain as you drift off to sleep and when you are good and terrified...start doing something about it...

The end result is that it's essentially impossible to become successful or well-off doing a job that is described and measured by someone else.

Sleep tight.