Executive Level Hires…

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

Today’s Myatt on Mondays question comes from the president of a technology firm who asks: “I don’t have the best track record when it comes to making executive level hires. Do you have any specific suggestions that might help?” Since I have written often on the subject of talent management, and have covered the basics of recruiting in previous posts, I’m going to share a few secrets that can help separate the great talent from those that simply interview well…

We’ve all experienced the let down associated with someone who slipped through the cracks of the interview process and turned out to be everything except what they represented themselves to be. The reality is that most candidates interviewing for executive level positions will have strong resumes and will handle themselves well in predictable interviewing situations. This is why it is important to put potential C-level hires through a much more demanding interview process than management and staff level hires. While there are any number of interviewing nuances that can improve the odds of a successful hire, the following three suggestions will help you to quickly spot the posers from the players:

  1. Dispense with Typical Interview Questions: When it comes to executive level hires I tend to stray from the usual questions surrounding career history and job functions (hopefully this type of screening has been done long before a candidate reaches my office), and use questions meant to probe deeply for character, problem solving and leadership ability. I use situational questions that force them respond quickly to the toughest of real world experiences where there are definitely right and wrong answers…This is a no spin zone as you either get the questions right or you don’t…
  2. Conduct Interviews in Social Settings: Get the potential hire out of the office…Take the candidate out to a ball game, to dinner, for a round of golf or any other setting where they are likely to let their guard down and reveal their authentic self. While most people can present themselves well in a controlled environment, by switching things up on them you are likely to see signs of potential issues that may surface later as problems in the workplace.
  3. Include the Spouse in the Interview: Nothing keeps a person humble and honest like the presence of their spouse…If a candidate has embellished certain things in prior interviews you’re likely to see inconsistencies pop-up in conversations held with their spouse present.

Candidates that can pass the rigor of non-traditional interviews with flying colors are likely to become valuable members of your executive team that will thrive on the demands of real world business challenges. Lastly, remember to hire slow and fire fast…This is even more important with executive level hires.

Interview: Rebel Brown

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

Rebel BrownToday’s interview is with noted turnaround specialist Rebel Brown (@rebelbrown). Rebel has more than 25 turnaround engagements under her belt – she knows what it takes to be a successful leader in not just the good times, but in the toughest of times. I can tell you from personal experience, few things test your metal as a leader more than leading a turnaround.  Today also happens to be the launch day for Rebel’s new book “Defying Gravity.” As a bonus to our readers, I have included a link at the end of this interview that will allow you to purchase Rebel’s book and receive an 80 page workbook for free (today only) on how to defy gravity in your own company. On with the interview… 

Mike Myatt: For our readers not familiar with your background, could you give us a brief Bio?

Rebel Brown: I’ve been a consultant for over 20 years now, focused on helping international clients in areas of business and market strategy, positioning and market launches. My clients range from early stage start-ups to corporate turnarounds to small businesses.  I started out as a sales rep selling big systems against IBM- which provided me with an early, first-hand perspective on Gravity.  No one wanted to change the IBM status quo.

Mike Myatt: Today is the launch day of your new book Defying Gravity, what motivated you to write the book and what do you hope to accomplish with it?

Rebel Brown: I began to realize that regardless of my client’s size or market focus, from early stage to small business to enterprise, I was constantly having to deal with the same challenges in thinking and planning, before we could focus on the project objectives. Most of the issues I was seeing were caused by status quo thinking, the Gravity that holds us in the past.   As humans we are Natural Born Gravity Machines.  We get stuck in seeing things the way we’ve always seen them, doing things the way we’ve always done it – because it’s safe and comfortable and we like that. But that’s what gets us in a mess over time.

That’s why I wrote Defy Gravity.  I wanted to be able to take the same principles and processes that I used to help my own clients, packaging them to help everyone think differently about their business beliefs and knowns – to find and capitalize on new opportunities for growth. The book helps readers learn to release their Gravity – those beliefs that hold them down.  Once we release Gravity, we focus on finding our true value, mapping that to realistic market opportunities, create a flight plan (including waypoints to manage progress) and away we go! 

Defy Gravity is every person’s guide to challenging their status quo. Once we challenge our beliefs and knowns –the sky is the limit.

Mike Myatt: I love the title of your book and am curious to know what was your first recollection of experiencing defying gravity? 

Rebel Brown: I catch myself in Gravity all the time, especially since I wrote the book.  I’m the biggest Gravity machine I know!

I’ll share a story that relates to the book itself.  I initially wanted to self publish Defy Gravity, so that I could keep control of my content. But then I listened to everyone around me who said I needed a New York agent and publisher to have a successful first book.   So I listened to their advice and secured both – only to find that they wanted to change a lot of things about Defy Gravity that I didn’t like.  They didn’t want this book – they wanted a tactical book on sales and marketing.  I could write that but, it wasn’t my passion. So I drew the line – and they fired me.  Wow, that was a shock.

After the shock wore off, I realized it was the best thing that could have happened.  I was stuck in the status quo, following the past rules – instead of challenging that same status quo that I wanted to write about.  A friend of mine, Scott McKain, introduced me to Clint Greenleaf and Greenleaf Book Group and the rest is history.  I loved my editorial experience with them and the book is the book I wanted to write. I had the chance to challenge the publishing dinosaurs and deliver a different kind of strategy book that offers applicable value to any business today – large or small.

Mike Myatt: What has been the most difficult decision you’ve had to make as a leader?

Rebel Brown: As a turnaround specialist – I have to make some tough calls about business futures and people’s lives.  Sometimes they aren’t happy calls – and that’s when it gets really hard.  For me businesses are as much or more about the people than they are about the products and markets …so those tough restructuring calls (or sometimes the shut it down calls) are the hardest things ever.  I don’t sleep a lot when we’re doing that – and even after twenty-five or more turnaround assignments, I still get sick to my stomach thinking about having to let people go.

Mike Myatt: What’s been most rewarding to you in your work in the leadership field?

Rebel Brown: Ah – when the light goes on!  When I see a client’s executive team start to let go of the Gravity and embrace the dynamic methods I’ve developed to help them think differently about their business.  It’s like watching a spark turn into a flame and I love it more every time it happens.  It’s amazing what we can do when we ditch the past and think out-of-the- status quo-box. That’s the best time of all – seeing people light up and get excited about seeing things differently – other than we reach the successful growth that follows that inflection point.

Mike Myatt: What do you see as the primary role of a leader?

Rebel Brown: I see myself as a coach and facilitator.  After working through over 100 client scenarios there’s not much I haven’t seen. My role is to share my applicable experiences and the dynamic processes I’ve developed to help people find their own ways of thinking differently.  I don’t use rote processes – those paint by numbers approaches.  I don’t think they work.  Every business is unique, so the way we think about our business must be unique as well.

I help people learn to think objectively and dynamically about their business, and I help them keep rethinking their business to avoid Gravity as they move forward.  Along the way – I also help them find their value, their markets, their best market entry strategy and then help them power into the market. 

Mike Myatt: What do you see as the single biggest stumbling block for leaders?

Rebel Brown: Getting stuck in Gravity is by far the biggest – that is, continuing to think and act based on the past. Another one I see often is when leaders want to be popular – and won’t make the tough calls.  You wouldn’t believe how many companies I work with that are in a mess because the leaders wouldn’t make the tough calls  – for example to lose a person, a division or a product.  That’s a specific form of Gravity that will send you into a tailspin every time.

Mike Myatt: Is it more difficult to be a leader today, why or why not?

Rebel Brown: I think it’s easier.  Think about the status quo of 20 years ago.  No open doors, no interactions between employees and executives – the Ivory Tower was a big barrier to communication AND collaboration.  We’ve broken down so many walls in that area. Plus, with the advent of the internet and social media , we have so many tools available to us to be better leaders.  We can listen to our teams, listen to our customers, our markets. What an amazing time to be able to evolve and adapt in the moment- based on the real needs we hear directly from those we are leading.

Mike Myatt: What’s the best and worst example of leadership you’ve observed in recent times?

Rebel Brown: Best examples would be any of the Zero Gravity Companies I profile on my website. From NetFlix, Nu Skin and Jet Blue to Southwest, Green Mountain Coffee Roasters and more.  The leaders of these companies are all flying in the face of the status quo and changing the way they think about their markets and their businesses – and they are being successful doing so.

The worst?  I’m gonna pick Mark Hurd’s decision to move to HP’s competitor – Oracle. Every business has huge amounts of Intellectual Property and Trade Secrets that are private to that business. And guess what? The CEO has all of that intellectual property and those secrets in his arsenal to guide the business forward.

If a CEO (or Board Member, senior executive etc) is able to leave a business and move to a competitor immediately – even if he or she was asked to leave by the previous business – then all bets are off. Forget corporate secrets, forget Intellectual Property, forget business as we knew it forever more.

I have an even bigger issue than the business side.  I believe that this kind of behavior demonstrates low integrity – way low. How can a CEO who took a leadership responsibility with one business (and in this case falsified company documents and was fired) move to a competitor and believe in any way that there is a shred of integrity in his actions? 

 Without integrity – there is no leadership.

 Mike Myatt: What should leaders today be focused on with regard to the future?

 Rebel Brown: Ditching Gravity every chance they get, focusing forward and listening to the real Keepers of the Truth – their customers, prospects, partners and market visionaries. What we think internally about our markets really doesn’t matter a hill of beans.  Value is in the eye of the beholder and our beholders are NOT inside our companies.

So often we get stuck inside the walls – holding meetings, listening to our experts tell us what the market (our customers) want.  That’s a sure invitation for Gravity. Get out, get your executives out and learn from your markets.  And don’t just chat with the same old comfortable customers.  They’re stuck in Gravity right along with you. Learn from the new blood – that emerging space.  They hold the key to your future success.

Mike Myatt: If you could give our readers one piece of advice on leadership, what would that be?

Rebel Brown: Question everything you believe is true.  Some of your knowns will in fact be valid – so hold onto them. But ditch the beliefs whose time has come. Be open, constantly think out of the box – look for ways to do things differently and better. And above all else – outlaw two phrases:

“But that’s the way we’ve always done it.”

“But we can’t.”

Ditch those and you’ve taken a huge step forward out of Gravity!

Mike Myatt: What’s next for Rebel Brown?

Rebel Brown: So many exciting things are happening.   Now that the book is available, I’m back to helping consulting clients apply my strategies and dynamic processes to their own businesses.  I’m also creating a broad range of turnkey systems for small business and entrepreneurial endeavors to help them apply the lessons on their own. I’m delivering a series of webinars and training solutions for Defy Gravity, plus a series of eBooks that will drill down into specific focus areas. These eBooks apply the lessons of Defy Gravity to specific business situations, for example, turn-arounds, small businesses and mature companies that have leveled off.   I’m starting two communities that will also serve small businesses and entrepreneurs – The Rebel Nation rises! Of course, there’s the speaking engagements and the next book, and a book on the side that’ s more personal in nature.  Plus I’m focusing on showing my working cow horse, Pearli Girl and then ski season is coming up.  I love my life!

defy-gravity-the book You can purchase Rebel’s book here: 

http://www.rebelbrown.com/defy-gravity-launch-day/

Buzzwords & Business-Speak

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

Buzzwords and Business-SpeakToday’s rant is going to be short and sweet, but contrarian and politically incorrect as usual. Buzzwords and Business-Speak…it’s so difficult to spend even a few minutes in conversation without hearing a litany of the most popular catch-phrases, that many have taken to trivializing anyone who utters these buzzwords as an incompetent, uneducated, and completely inferior corporate citizen. While you may find it hard to believe, I don’t have anything against buzzwords, techno-jargon, colloquialisms, acronyms and other forms of business-speak with the following caveat…that they are used in context, and by someone who possesses an underlying knowledge of what the phrase de jure actually means. I know that for many of you, what I’ve just espoused is nothing short of sacrilege, but I encourage you to read the text that follows as I think I can actually make the business case for becoming accepting of the use of buzzwords and business-speak…

While I doubt too many of my academic followers made it past the opening paragraph, for those who did decide to endure, I want you to know that I’m not advocating for the degradation and demise of the English language with useless, watered-down business slang. However, I am very much in support of adding value, increasing clarity, and infusing brevity into our communications and dialogue. You see, buzzwords are birthed from the necessity of human beings to simplify the complex…they are in fact useful in describing, informing, and educating.

I have found that business-speak can be particularly beneficial in using just a few words to explain situations, scenarios, processes, trends, attitudes and any number of other ethereal and esoteric concepts that might have otherwise needed several sentences or paragraphs to describe. While I could cite many examples of this, a particularly good one is the use of the phrase “Web 2.0.” A person could either take several minutes to explain the evolution of technologies, mediums, shift in content paradigms, and market dynamics that came together to make the Internet a more valuable and efficient space, or they could just utilize Web 2.o as a descriptive aid to make the connection. The latter is much more efficient than the former.

It is the desire for this type of increased efficiency in our communications that creates the irony of needing to expand the total number of words contained in the dictionary in order to simplify our communications, and reduce the number of words we actually use. In fact, look no further than the current business innovations to seek validation for my assertions. Tools like email, instant messaging, texting, blogging and micro-blogging are all examples of shortening our communications to leverage speed and time to our advantage. 

Bottom line…While I can appreciate eloquent and detailed word pictures, they are not always needed. Not everyone who allows a buzzword to cross their lips is evil…they may just be pressed for time, and/or desire to be efficient in their communications. So I would ask that rather than dismiss someone solely on their use of buzzwords and business-speak, you first evaluate whether said use added value, was contextually appropriate, or whether the instance was born out of laziness or a lack of substance.

Related Post: Clarity Matters  

Seth Godin gets it wrong

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

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Knowledge Matters...Seth Godin authored a recent post (“When data and decisions collide“) in which he cited a few examples in which data proves not only to be counterintuitive to our natural instincts in decision making, but he alleges that data is also more accurate as the basis for sound decisioning. While this may be true in certain circumstances, it is clearly not the case in all, or for that matter even most circumstances, as not all data is good data.

Put simply, data is not the same thing as information, and information is not as highly evolved as knowledge. Moreover, as a leader you will often find yourself in circumstances where timing may simply force your hand into relying solely upon gut instincts. In the text that follows I’ll put forth a bit more detailed look at decisioning filters that constitute what I refer to as the hierarchy of knowledge…

While I tend to agree with Seth on most things, I think he gave the issue at hand short-shrift, and perhaps broadening the topic of Seth’s post is necessary to give a more valuable framework on what considerations should by applied to decisioning. The question most people should be asking themselves is ”what is the best way for me to synthesize the overwhelming amount incoming information I receive while making the best decisions possible in a timely fashion?” While I have written often on the subject of decision making, it never becomes a dull topic, as it remains one of the single largest contributors to both personal and professional success or a lack thereof…

Understanding that a hierarchy of knowledge exists is critically important when attempting to make prudent decisions. Put simply…not all inputs should weigh equally in one’s decisioning process. By developing a qualitative and quantitative filtering mechanism for your decisioning process you can make better decisions in a shorter period of time. The hierarchy of knowledge is as follows:

  • Gut Instincts: This is an experiental and/or emotional filter that may often times have no current underpinning of hard analytical support. That said, in absence of other decisioning filters it can sometimes be all a person has to go on when making a decision. Even when more refined analytics are available, your instincts can often provide a very valuable gut check against the reasonability or bias of other inputs. The big take away here is that intuitive decisioning can be refined and improved. My advice is to actually work at becoming very discerning.
  • Data: Raw data is comprised of disparate facts, statistics, or random inputs that in-and-of-themselves hold little value. Making conclusions based on data in its raw form will lead to flawed decisions based on incomplete data sets.
  • Information: Information is simply an evolved, or more complete data set. Information is therefore derived from a collection of processed data where context and meaning have been added to disparate facts which allow for a more thorough analysis.
  • Knowledge: Knowledge is information that has been refined by analysis such that it has been assimilated, tested and/or validated. Most importantly, knowledge is actionable with a high degree of accuracy because proof of concept exists.

Even though people often treat theory as knowledge, and opinion as fact, they are not one in the same. Making executive decisions in today’s world has never been more complex, and when under extreme pressure I have seen many a savvy executive blur the lines between fact and fiction resulting in an ill advised decision. Decisions made at the instinctual or data level can be made quickly, but may offer a higher level of risk. Decisioning at the information level affords a higher degree of risk management, but are still not as safe as those decisions based upon actionable knowledge.

Another aspect that needs to be factored into the decisioning process is the source of the input. I believe it was Cyrus the Great who said “diversity in counsel, unity in command” meaning that good leaders seek the counsel of others, but maintain command control over the final decision. While most successful leaders subscribe to this theory, the real question in not whether you should seek counsel, but in fact where, and how much counsel you should seek. You see more input, or the wrong input, doesn’t necessarily add value to a decisioning process. Volume for the sake of volume will only tend to confuse matters, and seeking input from sources that can’t offer significant contributions is likely a waste of time. Two other issues that should be considered in your decisioning process as they relate to the source of input are as follows:

  1. Credibility: What is the track record of your source? Is the source reliable and credible? Are they delivering hunches, data, information or knowledge? Will the source tell you what you want to hear, what they want you to hear, or will they provide the unedited version of cold hard truth?
  2. Bias: Are there any hidden and/or competing agendas that are coloring the input being received? Is the input being provided for the benefit of the source or the benefit of the enterprise?

Good luck and good decisioning…