Sunday, May 29, 2011

How is your memory?

Memorial Day is a United States federal holiday observed on the last Monday of May. Formerly known as Decoration Day, it commemorates U.S. Service Members who died while in the military service. First enacted by former enslaved Africans to honor Union soldiers of the American Civil War – it was extended after World War I to honor Americans who have died in all wars.
Memorial Day often marks the start of the summer vacation season, and Labor Day its end. Begun as a ritual of remembrance and reconciliation after the Civil War, by the early 20th century, Memorial Day was an occasion for more general expressions of “memory” as ordinary people visited the graves of their deceased relatives, whether they had served in the military or not.
Memorial Day has also become a long weekend increasingly devoted to shopping, family get-togethers, fireworks, trips to the beach, and national media events such as the Indianapolis 500 auto race, held since 1911 on the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend. When I was at Purdue, going to the Indy 500 was a big deal, and I remember those days like they were yesterday.
Now at age 50, here is what I now get out of Memorial Day.  Everything that we are, everything that we will ever own, and everything that we cherish – is enjoyed only because of the hard work and sacrifices made by others. Our parents, our teachers, our relatives - from generations of the past - have made everything that we own and enjoy (and sometimes take for granted) possible. Don’t let your ego kid you – every one of us are nothing more than the byproduct of a long list of unsung heroes; military and non-military alike.
My father served in World War II.  My wife’s father served in the Korean War. Both of our parents would never speak of their time in the service of their country, as the memories were too painful. They came home from the war (with all of their limbs intact) and they were able to start a family.  They came home and enjoyed the American Dream of home ownership, entrepreneurship and the pursuit of happiness.
Everything that I am, and everything that I will ever be, is due to the hard work and the incredible sacrifices made by all those who have come before me.  This is what I now think about during Memorial Day weekends.
Maybe we should rename the holiday.  Maybe we can call it “Be Humble” day or “Get down on your knees and be thankful” day.
Memorial Day reminds me that we should make every day count, and we should live each day like it was a gift. Because that is exactly what it is - a gift from those who have come before us.  A gift that we must never squander nor take for granted. Hopefully our children and all future generations will one day feel the same way.
Have a safe and Happy Memorial Day. 

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Bring Back Simon Cowell

I’m not a big fan of American Idol since Simon Cowell left the show, but I am interested in the competitive aspects of taking a group of talented people and publicly narrowing it down until you have a single “winner.”
This got me to thinking: what can we take away from this kind of competition? Have we learned anything after many seasons of watching a singing champion chosen this way?
Well yes, there are some pretty big lessons we can take away from American Idol — especially if you run a business.
At its core, American Idol is all about finding and promoting the very best talent — something that a leader does every single day. But, how the show ultimately goes about finding and promoting the best talent leaves a lot to be desired, and it raises some issues that everyone should think about in their own talent development process.
The highly-competent-but-safe candidate doesn’t always make the best hire.
Are you satisfied choosing someone who is “safe” and won’t get you into trouble, or, do you go with the flashier choice that may have not only more upside, but perhaps some downside too?
Safe but unexciting choices yield safe but unexciting results. If that’s what you are looking for, then go to it. But, if you want to push the envelope and stretch for something better, you need to work on overlooking the flaws and quirks that many highly talented people bring to the table. If you don’t, you end up with someone like Taylor Hicks — the safest and most forgettable American Idol winner ever. How hot has his career been lately?
A committee approach to hiring doesn’t always yield the best candidate.
Lots of organizations like to have candidates get interviewed and evaluated by a slew of different managers before everyone weighs in with their opinion. It’s a “safe” talent acquisition approach.
American Idol works this way, too, with the judges and nationwide voters all weighing in on who they believe is best. It’s a time-honored approach, of course, but hiring by committee rarely yields the best candidate. For every superstar like Carrie Underwood and Kelly Clarkson, you get a slew of middle-of-the-road winners like Ruben Studdard, Chris Allen, David Cook, and Hicks.
Idol would do well to limit the nationwide voting until late in the season, letting a smaller group of smart and insightful talent managers — the judges –whittle down the group until the final four or five are left. Doing this would surely help keep more of the highly talented but less traditional candidates in the candidate pool longer, and maybe, give one of them a chance to win.
You would also be better served by limiting the vetting of candidates to a smaller group of four to five key decision-makers rather than running potential hires through a gauntlet of managers up and down the food chain. I bet you’ll find this approach not only leads to making better decisions about talent, but is less stressful on the candidates and your organization.
You need to ask yourself — do I hire for competence now - or for growth potential down the road?
In most seasons, the American Idol winner reflects someone chosen for solid competence right now over someone who may have more upside in the years to come. 
Except in very rare cases, high potential tomorrow is always preferable to solid competence today, but many leaders don’t agree. Making the safe choice won’t get you in trouble and may help the organization immediately, but going with the high-potential candidate is likely to yield a lot more if you can afford to be patient. In other words, you won’t build superstars taking the safe road, but isn’t building an organization of superstars what it is all about?
Yes, American Idol is all about top talent winning out, but like a lot of things in life, it’s less about finding the very best talent and more about finding someone who is highly talented and acceptable to a large group. It leads, in the end, to all-too-many vanilla choices, and while that may be acceptable for American Idol, it’s not the optimum way for you to get the very best talent into your organization.
In other words, you need to find people (contractors or employees) like previous judge Simon Cowell. That’s a tougher way to go, but in the end, you’ll have a lot better bottom-line results to show for it.
American Idol is just not the same without Simon, don’t you think?

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Listen to your Mother!

My mother passed away when I was 23 years old. Among other things, I remember her as the most honest and authentic person that I will most likely ever meet in my life.  My wife’s mother Patricia was cut from the same cloth; very honest and authentic. And now, I am quite confident that my two sons will one day say the same about their mother, my wife Dianne.

Integrity, a standard of personal morality and ethics, is not relative to the situation you happen to find yourself in and doesn’t sell out to expediency. Its short supply is getting even shorter, but without it, leadership is a joke. Learning to see through exteriors is a critical development in the transition from adolescence to adulthood. Sadly, most people continue to be taken in by big talk and media popularity, flashy or bizarre looks, and expensive possessions. They move through most of their years convinced that the externals are what count, and are thus doomed to live shallow lives. Men and women who rely on their looks or status to feel good about themselves inevitably do everything they can to enhance the impression they make – and do correspondingly little to develop their inner value and personal growth.

The paradox is that the people who try hardest to impress are often the least impressive. Puffing to appear powerful is an attempt to hide insecurity.

In the Roman Empires’ final corrupt years, status was conveyed by the number of carved statues of the gods displayed in people’s courtyards. As in every business, the Roman statue industry had good and bad sculptors and merchants. As the empire became ever more greedy and narcissistic, the bad got away with as much as they could. Sculptors became adept at using wax to hide cracks and chips in marble and most people couldn’t discern the difference in quality.

Statues began to melt under the scrutiny of sunlight or heat in foyers. For statues of authentic fine quality, carved by reputable artists, people had to go to the artisan marketplace in the Roman Quad and look for booths with signs declaring sine cera, which translates in English to mean, without wax. We, too, look for the real thing in friends, products, and services. In people, we value sincerity, from the words, sine cera, more than almost any other virtue. We expect it from our leaders, which we are not getting in our political, media, business and sports’ heroes for the most part. We must demand it of ourselves.

Integrity that strengthens an inner value system is the real human bottom line. Commitment to a life of integrity in every situation demonstrates that your word is more valuable than a surety bond. It means you don’t base your decisions on being politically correct. You do what’s right, not fashionable. You know that truth is absolute, not a device for manipulating others. And you win in the long run, when the stakes are highest. If I were writing a single commandment for leadership it would be, “You shall conduct yourself in such a manner as to set an example worthy of imitation by your children and subordinates.” In simpler terms, if they shouldn’t be doing it, neither should you. I told my kids, “clean up your room,” and they inspected the condition of my home office. I told them that honesty was our family’s greatest virtue, and they commented on the radar detector I had installed in my car. When I told them about the vices of drinking and wild parties, they watched from the upstairs balcony, the way our guests behaved at our adult functions.

It’s too bad some of our political and business leaders don’t understand that “What you are speaks so loudly that no one really pays attention to what you say.” But it is even truer that if what you are matches what you say, your life will speak forcefully indeed.

It’s hardly a secret that learning ethical standards begins at home. A child’s first inklings of a sense of right and wrong come from almost imperceptible signals received long before he or she reaches the age of rational thought about morality. Maybe you’re asking yourself what kind of model you are for future generations, remembering that people are either honest or dishonest, that integrity is all or nothing, and that children can’t be fooled in such basic matters. 

We learn from our parents - especially from our mothers. Have a Happy Mother’s Day everyone.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Osama bin Laden Is Dead - Now What?

As you all know, Osama bin Laden, the mastermind behind the 9/11 terror attacks that killed thousands of innocent Americans, was slain in his luxury hideout in Pakistan early Monday in a firefight with U.S. forces.

Hundreds of jubilant New Yorkers gathered at Ground Zero, the site where the twin towers of the World Trade Center stood before bin Laden's terrorist group flew two planes into the building, and reveled through the night, chanting "USA! USA!"

While there's much to celebrate about, there is also much to be learned from this undoubtedly historic moment.

First and foremost, success never occurs without proper planning, focus and effort. It took a solid decade of intense work for the United States to finally reach their goal of eradicating Osama bin Laden.

What does that mean for all of us working to make it in the world of business? When it comes to succeeding in business, the attributes of planning, focus and effort are absolutely crucial.

The remarkable growth of Wal-Mart didn't happen in a day; it took years of strategic planning to accomplish that feat.

Apple didn't gain legions of loyal followers by chance; it was by focusing directly on their vision that enabled it.

Zappos didn't blossom into a premier online footwear retailer accidentally; it required a tremendous effort to create an outstanding corporate culture that propelled it into a category of its own.

Here are a few Practical Pointers that can be applied to the internal operations of your business for maximum success.
  • Plan For Success - Have a clearly defined goal in your mind. The American military's goal was to eliminate Osama bin Laden. What does your business goal involve? To boost sales by 25%. To attract 10 new customers each week. To increase customer satisfaction levels by 30%. Be precise and have a defined goal outlined that will enable you to map it out and achieve success.
  • Focus, Focus, Focus - It's very easy to lose focus when things aren't going well. Had the United States decided to call it quits a few years back, Osama bin Laden would still be living in his lavish compound and actively planning more terror attacks. The military remained focused on their goal to capture bin Laden and ultimately came through. Likewise, when things are going rough in business, keep your primary goals in mind and ride them through until the end. It's not always easy...but it's the only way to truly achieve success.
  • Keep On Going - While the chief goal of eliminating Osama bin Laden has been realized, America's work is not nearly done and the War on Terror will continue to eradicate those seeking to destroy our country and the democratic values it stands for. In the world of business too, accomplishing a goal doesn't mean all the work is done - it simply means that the next level can now be reached. There are always more improvements that can be made and additional ideas that can be implemented.

The demise of Osama bin Laden constitutes a major setback to terrorist organizations around the world. It also allows us to publicly offer thanks and recognize the brave soldiers for unflinchingly putting themselves in the line of danger to ensure the world remains a safer place.

And, for showing us how to make the world of business a better place as well.