Opinions And Ramblings By Adam Kmiec On All Things

Category Archives: Business Lessons

The Changing Formula For Winning

Formula and Equations

Sometime in the near future, I’ll be publishing a deeper dive on youth sports, how programs operate, the politics, and more. But, for now, I want to focus on an interesting parallel between success in youth sports and success in the office.

My son, John (11), and daughter, Cora (13) have been playing sports since they were both 4. I’ve seen, what feels like, a million basketball and soccer games. I also grew up playing sports and played well into college. What’s very clear is that the winning teams do succeed because of:

  1. Tactics: Did the coaches put in place a winning game plan?
  2. Personnel: Were the right people playing in the right positions?
  3. Quality of Play/Effort: Did the players perform?

For the most part, I’ve avoided coaching my kids’ teams. As I’ve written about before, being coached by my dad was a tough pill to swallow. On occasion, I’ve filled in, and once I was an assistant coach. That one year as an assistant validated that tactics, personnel, and quality of play/effort are the 3 critical elements that drive a winning team.

These same 3 areas make all the difference in the office as well. We simply tend to label them differently. For example, tactics are often considered strategy. And the quality of effort is often called execution.

What’s fascinated me and inspired this post is how different the priority order of impact is for different sports and office/work environments. For example, in basketball, a single truly dominant player can trump tactics and the quality of play. Or, as my dad used to say, “Son, you can’t coach height.” I remember a basketball game when Cora was about 8 years old where they had a player that was a good 2 feet taller than the next player, and ~50 pounds heavier. Regardless of the tactics, or how hard the team played, there was simply nothing you could do about this player. She was unguardable.

Conversely, even a single dominant player on a futbol or football field can be completely stifled by tactics. This happens all too often in futbol, when managers employ tactics designed to “park the bus“.

When you step out of sports, youth, professional, or otherwise, and look at companies, things get even more complicated. The best “personnel”, could be trumped by a great set of tactics/strategy and vice versa. For example, see Snapchat vs. Facebook. Snapchat is routinely applauded for having brilliant product strategies, that are often quickly copied by Facebook and then scaled. In this instance, Snapchat might have a great strategy and the best people, but Facebook’s tactics of simply copying Snapchat’s ideas and then scaling them trumps Snapchat’s approach.

Additionally, few people would challenge the notion that at the time, Blackberry had some of the best and brightest engineers and a tremendous product. But, Apple’s strategy of making the phone a phone, an iPod, and an internet device was bold and ultimately, won them the day.

You can chase yourself in circles trying to formulate the perfect order or ratio of these 3 categories. If forced to rank or ratio these 3 categories, it would be:

  1. Tactics (50%)
  2. Personnel (30%)
  3. Quality of Play/Effort (20%)

But, here’s the thing I’ve come to realize after leading teams and developing organizations for the past 10+ years – you can’t blanketly apply a model consistently and to every scenario. For example, if you’re a mature organization, with the capital flexibility to make a mistake, you can afford to prioritize getting the “best” people, while you figure out the best strategy/tactics. But, if you’re in growth mode in a competitive category, tactics, and execution make a world of difference.

When Walmart was at the very beginning of developing its digital and e-commerce capabilities, it was clear they lacked the personnel and the quality of play/execution mastery needed to win. So, what did they do? They grew through a number of smart acqui-hires. Kosmix was the first big one, with Jet.com being the most recent significant acquisition. Their ability to constantly juggle the order of these 3 categories, over time, based on the environment is one of the major reasons they’ve been so successful.

Keep a watchful eye on the operating environment, so that you can adjust the priority order and emphasis of strategy, people, and execution is what top organizations do. And, yes, even when those organizations are sports teams! We’re seeing this play out during the pandemic, specifically in the restaurant world. The best chefs, at top restaurants, where the dish by dish execution was second to none are struggling as other eateries are changing their tactics to adjust to the environment.

David Chang, the restauranteur behind Momofuku, amongst others nailed the intersection of sports and business, as it relates to strategy, people, and execution in an interview with Bloomberg.

BG: Your thoughts about the difficulty of it all — I imagine they’ve been amplified by the coronavirus pandemic?

DC: Yeah, absolutely.

BG: Will young chefs now have to find a very different path, because of the way you came up is no longer possible?

DC: Well, we all have to pivot. We can’t do what we did before, because what we were doing before wasn’t working that well. A lot of chefs are asking themselves very serious questions, because they signed up to express themselves through food in a way that’s no longer possible. Dave Beran is a chef in Los Angeles and he just closed down Dialogue, one of the most intimate, best restaurants in the country, an expression of himself. He trained his entire life to do that, and that no longer exists. There’s no guarantee that comes back.

I’d be lying, straight lying, if I said I have the answers. But before we start asking the questions [about how to cope with the crisis], we need to ask what was working and what wasn’t working before, so we don’t repeat the same mistakes if and when we’re going to start over again. If you have a three-Michelin-star restaurant and you’ve had to close down, would you reopen the same restaurant?

I’m just trying to figure a better analogy. Do you watch any sports?

BG: I’m a soccer person.

DC: Alright. Let’s just say there’s no more television footage of Chelsea, or any Premier League club. That’s going to have a dramatic impact on sponsorships. And that changes the players’ salaries and the club revenues. Everything has to be recalibrated. It doesn’t take away the people’s love for the game but players ask themselves, “Can I make a career?”

And that’s where we’re at.

It’s not just the player. Say you’re the owner of the franchise: You always wanted to own a soccer team, and now you can own it but you’re not going to have the guaranteed revenue. There might be new ways to raise revenue, but you don’t know. That’s where we’re at: we just don’t know.

I’m not sure there’s more I can add to that fantastic exchange. Sun Tzu famously said, “Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.” Over the years that philosophy was overtaken by Peter Drucker’s, the famed management consultant’s, quote, “culture eats strategy for breakfast”. I think we’re at a point where agility and adaptability are the driving forces to success. How you balance and emphasize strategy, talent, and execution is what will drive wins.

The Right Way to Leave an Organization

Office Space Quitting Scene

In November of 2010, I wrote a post titled, “The Line At The Door Is Always Long” that focused on some of the best work and life advice my manager at ConAgra Foods had imparted on me. A decade later the advice and stories from that post are as important as ever.

Change is inevitable. Sometimes we seek the change. Sometimes the change comes to us. Some change is welcomed. Some change is despised.

While we may not have control over change, we do have control over how we manage that change.

Several years after I wrote that post, without realizing it, one of my leaders at Walgreens extended the “Gamma One” story from that November 2010 post. She said, there are two things you can always control: how you enter an organization and how you leave an organization. At some point, I’ll write a post that outlines how to enter an organization the right way. Today, I’m going to focus on how to leave an organization the right way.

So – you think it’s time to move one. Fair play to you. We all eventually get to that point. I’ve seen some epic “goodbyes” that I wouldn’t necessarily recommend, and I’ve seen some text book examples of how to leave the right way. Let’s break it down.

First, are you clear on why you’re leaving and have you allowed the organization to address your concerns or requests? This is a major one and it’s pivotal to everything that comes next.

The best managers I know look to remove obstacles, barriers, and offer honest feedback. Let’s say you think you should be promoted. It’s a common reason why people leave organizations. A good manager should hear your request, understand it, evaluate it, offer feedback, and then take appropriate actions. For example, they might agree with you, but explain that A, B, and C must first happen before a nomination for promotion can be approved. Get A through C accomplished might take 4 months. Are you willing to wait? If you haven’t given your manager or the organization the opportunity to address your request, in my opinion and from what I’ve observed over the years, you’re doing it wrong.

But, let’s assume positive intent. You did your part. You explained your interest in a promotion. Your manager agreed you’ve earned it. Steps A through C were accomplished. But, for some reason, the promotion doesn’t happen or won’t happen in the time frame you believe is fair. It happens. It’s unfortunate, but it happens.

On the basis of not getting what you want (the promotion), you decide to puruse other opportunities within and outside of the organization. That’s your right. It’s your call. My advice and the advice of others, let your manager know, based on the inability to drive planning to accomplishment, you’re going to evaluate other roles. But, while you’re consider other roles, you will remain a top notch team member. Why should you do this? Why should you offer that courtesy? There’s a few reasons:

  1. The honest dialogue may enable your manager to leverage that information to impress upon others the urgency needed for taking action.
  2. Good managers and leaders will want you to interview for new roles. It’s actually part of the development process.
  3. Your manager can plan for the future and in doing so, your team, your colleagues, the people you’ve worked with – won’t be adversely impacted.
  4. The likelihood you’ll cross paths with your manager in some way, shape, or form is high.

So – you’re still planning to leave, right? Got it! Ok, be clear about why you’re leaving and what you want in your next role. In my experience, the dominate reason for leaving should never be:

  1. Title: For the most part, they mean nothing.
  2. Patience: Or, rather, the lack there of. In soccer, “la pausa” basically means the ability to take a moment, before you take action. Have you taken that moment? Let’s use our promotion example, if your promotion will happen in 6 months (2 months later than the plan), and you want it now, is that really a good reason to leave?
  3. Immaterial Money: Only you can decide what is and isn’t material. My dad would often ask, “can you feel the difference on your life?” For example, a $5K increase works out to $192.31 each pay period, assuming a bi-weely pay schedule. However that’s before taxes, social security, etc. So reduce that by 30% and you get $134.62. I have no idea if that’s material for you. It might be. It might not be. But, if you’re leaving because of money, make sure it’s material.

So – you’re still leaving. You took that moment, the money is materials, and it’s not for a title. So now what? Well, be decisive, diligent, and decorous. Let’s start with decisive. You’ve decided to leave. You’ve shared those intentions, after doing things the right way. You’ve now been offered a great new role and you’re going to take it. Congratulations! Seriously. Don’t hedge. If your current employer throws a haily mary to keep you, don’t take it. This rarely works out.

Be diligent on your way out. Continue being a great team member. Remember, you’re still working for your current company. You have a job to do. You have a team to support. The expectations don’t change.

And, lastly, just because you’re dissatisfied doesn’t mean everyone else is. Some people like their role, their manager, the company, etc. Avoid an approach where you look to impress upon them your feelings. It’s toxic, not helpful, and creates resentment.

Remember, you might want to come back. You may work with many of the same people in a future role. You might work for your manager again. Seriously – all of these things happen.

Make no mistake, there is a right way to leave an organization. Google offers you millions of pieces of advice! While, every scenario is different, everything I included in this post is consistently represented by eperts and Human Resources leaders, in addition to being aligned with the experiences and observations I’ve had over 20+ years.

Speaking Up

Nike Ad from Twitter

If the tragic events of the past few weeks have shown us anything, it’s that there is value in speaking up. You can, in fact, make a difference by speaking up. You can drive change by speaking up. You can enable opportunities by speaking up.

It has also shown us, there will be retribution for speaking up. Speaking up is not easy. Some will seek to punish you for speaking up. People will tell you they’re right behind you and then when you look over your shoulder, you are alone and yet those who are committed, will continue to speak up.

I’m not qualified to ramble about the struggles so many have had for so long; despite being a person of color. I’m not an expert on criminal justice reform. I haven’t lived the same life like so many others.

However, I do feel qualified to ask – if so many are being so brave, by speaking up, knowing their lives are actually at risk; then why do so few people speak up about things in the office? When not looking for updates about curfews, the scale of the dangerous rioting, and how peaceful protests were being carried out across the country, I spent the last week researching organizational cultures and why speaking up rarely happens.

I wanted to start with this passage from HBR Ascend:

When employees speak up, companies benefit. Thus not surprisingly, lots of leaders say they want to encourage their employees to speak freely, whether it’s by offering creative new ideas, identifying process improvements, or even calling out unethical behavior. But several studies suggest that leaders often undermine their own efforts to get employees to speak up.

Research by Ethan Burris, for example, has shown that leaders generally react quite negatively to employees who challenge them, even when employees do so constructively. Employees trying to resist certain changes or demands in non-hostile and constructive conversations are more likely to be labeled poor performers by their supervisors.

The bolding for emphasis was my addition. Those parts of the quote stuck out to me.

Then, there was this passage from Inc.:

Your door isn’t really open: Asking people to give you feedback, and being available to take it are not the same. Make sure that when you say your door is open, you really mean it! Even better, don’t mention that “your door is open”, but instead that you’ll come to them!

And, lastly, this quote, pulled from an article by Cosmos, one of the leaders in enterprise compliance:

One of the major challenges in business ethics today is creating a safe environment where employees can raise concerns about possible misconduct and wrongdoing. Despite the proliferation of helplines and ethics offices, creating a safe environment where employees can raise concerns about possible misconduct without experiencing retaliation is still one of the least well-developed elements of most business ethics programs.

Throughout my career, I’ve consistently spoken up. It hasn’t always been met with open arms. I’ve certainly been penalized for it. I was once “downsized” 4 days after speaking up about a possible significant breach of our company’s ethics policy. Despite that situation, I continued to speak up throughout my career. Why? Well, it goes all the way back to my first job at Fallon. I hadn’t even graduated from college yet and I was working at Fallon’s Minneapolis office. One of my mentor’s Katie McGough and I were in a tense creative review meeting. Some things happened. There was a heated argument between the creative director, designer, and account director. Pat Fallon always pushed for a healthy debate and wanted to make sure only the best work left the office. But, this debate blew my mind as someone who had only had a job for ~7 months. After the meeting, I asked Katie was that common, and weren’t these people afraid of losing their jobs by pushing back so strongly and with the language used? Her answer sticks with me to this day:

Adam, if you want to make it in this industry, you have to believe that you can get fired today and get a job tomorrow. Your very best is in high-demand and the minute you stop bringing your very best, you’ll be let go anyway.

I think her point was that you have to have confidence in your convictions. Today, I see that as speaking up based on facts first. Facts are real, they’re objective, and they’re substantive. But, facts alone, are generally worthless. So, those facts must be coupled with a point of view built upon experience. When you can say, “in a previous role”, or, “I encountered this same challenge last year”, or something similar, those facts take on added credibility.

Speaking up can have consequences and often we only consider negative consequences. But, there’s also the possibility of positive consequences. Change can happen. You can make a difference. But, it does start with speaking up.

There are people speaking up right now, protesting on city streets, and demanding change. They could be physically injured, or worse. Sorta puts things into perspective, right?

3 Reasons You Should Encourage Your Top Performers to Interview

Office Space

I know what you’re thinking. Wait, what? You want my best performers to interview for other jobs? Are you crazy? What if they leave?

All fair questions. You have to first start with the premise your role as a leader is not to keep your best talent. Your role is to develop them. If you don’t believe in that premise, let me spare you the next few minutes. Feel free to hit the back button or close the window.

But, if you do believe that your most important role as a leader is to make your team better and help them achieve their career ambitions, then here are 3 reasons why you should encourage them to interview.

  1. It’s Unclear What They Want to do Next: It’s hard to know what you want to do, let alone helping someone else figure out what they should do next. A good development plan should touch on what’s next. Now, what’s next doesn’t mean the next title, the next job, or even the next role. But, when you consider “what’s next” could be so vast, it’s difficult to narrow the focus. Interviewing for other roles helps open up what’s possible, while also helping to drive a clear interest.
  2. An Incremental Gap Analysis would be Helpful: Maybe I should have listed this first. It’s probably one of the most beneficial aspects of an interview. Whether you get the job or you don’t get the job, you’ll receive constructive feedback, from a completely different source, about what to work on. Sometimes a different voice is needed. We need to hear feedback from someone else for the feedback to make an impact. This happens all the time in the office, at home, in between the lines, and elsewhere.
  3. The End of the Line has been Reached: Org designs should always trump most anything else related to an organizational structure decision. Theoretically, a natural progression for a role might be Specialist, Manager, Director, Vice President, Sr. Vice President, and Chief. What happens if the org design doesn’t call for a Director of X, but you have someone who’s ready for that role and responsibility? First, take a 2nd look at your org design. If that role really doesn’t fit, it’s your responsibility to let your team member know and encourage them to evaluate other roles. Holding on to that team member, because they’re a top-performer while holding them back from the recognition they deserve isn’t just bad leadership. It’s also selfish and mean.

If you’ve made it this far, hopefully it was worth the read. Remember, your role as a leader is to develop talent. Developing that talent means eventually they will move on to new roles. We shouldn’t look at someone interviewing as a risk they might leave. Quite the opposite. We should look at it as an opportunity to make the overall organization stronger placing the right team members in the right roles.

The Soft Edges of Evaluating Success

From YouTube.com

Have you ever watched competitive figure skating? What people can do on skates is nothing short of amazing. In watching, have you ever shook your head at a low score and yelled at the TV, “how could that only be a 4.7???”

Well, did you know, there’s a very complicated scoring system – broken into 2 parts? The first part is simple, straight-forward, and mathematically sound. It’s called the “Technical Score.”

Each element of the program is assigned a base value, which gives skaters credit for every element they perform. Some elements, such as spins and step sequences, have levels of difficulty on which the base values are established.

Judges grade the quality of each element using a grade of execution score within a range of -5 to +5, which is added to or deducted from the base value. GOEs are proportional to the base value of each element.

The highest and lowest scores for each element are thrown out, and the remaining scores are averaged to determine the final GOE for each element. The GOE is then added to or subtracted from the base value for each element, and the sum of the scores for all elements forms the technical score.

Like nearly all rule books, it took 3 paragraphs to basically say, a skater earns points for the actual technical skills they execute. Each skill move has a definition. Those moves have specific point values attached to them. Here’s a great example of how this plays out.

Each row is a skill move that’s been executed and you can clearly see the points earned. Simple, or as simple as it’s going to get.

In business language, let’s think of each row as a type of ad you’re running, and each column as a metric with the “Base Value” column being the industry benchmark/average for that ad unit. For example, the industry benchmark for an ad’s click-thru rate might be 0.05%.

If this was the only evaluation criteria, it would be incredibly easy to know who performed well and who didn’t. It would also be very difficult to cheat.

But, alas, like life and the workplace, figure skating doesn’t stop at clear, well-defined, and consistent evaluative metrics. The second part of the scoring system is called “Program Components.” Here’s how it works according to the U.S. Figure Skating Association:

The judges will award points on a scale from 0.25 to 10 (in increments of 0.25) for five program components to grade overall presentation. As with GOEs, the highest and lowest scores for each component are thrown out, and the remaining scores are averaged. The final program components scores are then multiplied by a set factor to ensure the technical score and program components score are balanced.

The five program components are:

Skating Skills – Overall skating quality, including edge control and flow over the ice surface (edges, steps, turns, speed, etc.), clarity of technique and use of effortless power to accelerate and vary speed.

Transitions – The varied and/or intricate footwork, positions, movement and holds that link all elements.

Performance – The involvement of the skater physically, emotionally and intellectually in translating the music and choreography.

Composition – An intentional, developed and/or original arrangement of all types of movements according to the principles of proportion, unity, space, pattern, structure and phrasing.

Interpretation of Music – The personal and creative translation of the music to the movement on the ice.

That’s a lot. Wow. Basically, rather than just let objective, clearly-defined, and measurable scoring criteria be the only method for scoring a performance, they added in 5 elements that basically equal subjectivity.

In the business world, this would mean rather than look at clicks, downloads, and views – things that can be quantified – we would treat with equal weighting, things like look, feel, tone, and voice.

By every piece of objective logic, this is insanity. And yet, time and again, we see bad decisions made for these bad reasons. Marketers and Communicators hate “ugly” creative…even when it performs. Think about it; there’s a reason that despite the relative inability of Super Bowl ads to drive sales, companies still spend $5M+ for a 30-second spot. These decisions are often made on “feel”, not data.

The simple truth is, content that lacks the tone, voice, personality, look, or feel that we prefer, may actually perform better. The box office is a great example of how this plays out routinely. No one would ever credibly argue that Armageddon was a better movie than The Shawshank Redemption. Acclaimed movie critic Roger Ebert had this to say about Shawshank, after giving it 4 out of 4 stars:

It is deeper than most films; about continuity in a lifetime, based on friendship and hope.

As for Armageddon, a movie he awarded only 1 star, he had this offer:

The movie is an assault on the eyes, the ears, the brain, common sense and the human desire to be entertained.

Ouch. Got it. Shawshank is a better movie from a taste perspective. But, by every measure, Armageddon was a far more successful movie – especially where it matters the most. Movies are a business. Their creation is funded to create revenue. The Shawshank Redemption made $16M during its initial theatrical run, against a budget of $25M. You don’t need a calculator to see that’s a $9M loss. But, Armageddon, while costing $140M to make, generated $553M+. That’s a 4X return.

The last time I checked, I’d rather have a 4X return on my investment than a 36% loss.

The Shawshank Redemption is a better movie than Armageddon, but let’s be clear – it’s not more successful. If your organization favors the soft edges of success, you might have content that looks prettier and words that seem like poetry, but is it actually more successful than ugly content?

Coaching Trees and What to Look for in a Leader, When Making a Career Change

My pitch to candidates who might join my team is generally fairly simple. Yes, I talk about the team. And, yes, I talk about the organization. And, yes, I talk about our culture. But, for those who are going to be my direct reports, I also tell give them a version of this monologue.

Making a career change is daunting. There’s a number of unknowns. There’s a number of promises. I don’t want you to join based on my promises. I want you to join based on my track record. Over the last decade, my direct reports have gone on to lead, develop, and grow organizations. If you join my team, I will make you better. And when you leave, because we all eventually leave, you will leave to run a team, a department, or an organization. And while I may not be able to teach you certain things that improve your technical skills, I will teach you how to navigate organizations, drive change, and transform teams.

That’s it. That’s my pitch. And, as the kids say, I have the “receipts” to prove it. I tell them, in the same way we conduct reference checks on them, they should conduct reference checks on me.

Roughly 10 years ago I started to change what mattered the most to me in my role. It wasn’t money. It wasn’t a title. It was how much I was learning and how much time my leader was investing in me to make me better. That’s it. All I want to do is get better.

This isn’t a new concept. Sports calls this the “coaching tree” and the most famous coaching tree is Bill Walsh.

When people debate the best coaches they can look at championships, rings, wins, losses, memorable seasons, and a number of other points of criteria. But, more and more, the strength of the coaching tree matters. As a coach, and let’s be honest, so much of being a leader is being a coach – your ability to develop others is critical. It’s how you build depth, how you stop trying to do it all, and how you make organizations better.

As a job seeker, I would urge you to give more weight to the quality of the manager you’ll be working for, than you probably currently are. Ask them, “what’s your approach to developing leaders?” Implore them to provide examples of the leaders they’ve developed and what they’re doing now.

Ask for the receipts. It’s your career. You deserve to see them.

Vanity Projects


Vanity Projects are creative works that are, ostensibly, showcases of ability, but fail miserably to achieve their goal.

The book and subsequent HBO miniseries, ‘Band of Brothers’, was a remarkable example of rich, honest, and thought-provoking storytelling. The characters were well rounded, the recollections were vivid, and the lessons were profound.

Episode 8, titled, ‘The Last Patrol’, takes us toward the end of the war. The i’s still need to be dotted and t’s need to be crossed, but there’s an inevitability of what will happen – the Allies will win the war. The soldiers are burnt out. They’re exhausted – physically and mentally. With a clear conclusion in sight, everyone, the Germans included, simply want to avoid any risk that might prohibit them from coming home. 

But, leadership has determined that a visit across the river, into enemy lines, for the chance that some additional intel that won’t change the outcome of the war, is needed. Needless to say, the soldiers aren’t thrilled. But, orders are orders. That evening, they go across the river. What do they gain? A handful of prisoners that offer nothing of tangible value. What do they lose? One of their own dies during the firefight.

You would think, a lesson would have been learned here. But, alas, leadership dictates that another patrol will take place. The soldiers are disgruntled to the point where a mutiny seems likely. But, orders are orders, right? Not this time. Their direct manager, Captain Winters meets with the men and tells them that they will not go on the patrol. They will not follow the orders of leaders in love with their own ideas who simply want to demonstrate activity, even if it provides no actual accomplishment. Nope, they won’t do it, but Captain Winters will issue a report indicating they, in fact, did go on the patrol and were unable to bring any prisoners back.

Winters, yes, defies orders. He ignores the culture of a chain of command. But, Winters lacks vanity and has the ability to see the bigger picture. Could they have executed another patrol? Yes. Might it have yielded some intel? Perhaps. But, at what cost, when the outcome was already determined?

I recently watched Christopher Nolan’s movie, ‘The Prestige.” It was one of dad’s favorite movies. Midway through the movie the following exchange takes place.

Nikola Tesla: Mr. Angier, have you considered the cost of such a machine?

Robert Angier: Price is not an object.

Nikola Tesla: Perhaps not, but have you considered the *cost*?

And that is the problem with a vanity project. It can surely be done. But, at what cost?

Are You Where You Should Be?

Lost in the desert

Careers are a funny thing. You’re given an idea that there’s some set of hurdles to clear, boxes to check, and hills to climb – and if you do them, you get to the next step. But, what is the next step? If you look to the left and to the right, you’ll see peers, colleagues, and friends. And they’re running the same “race” you are. You might be tempted to compare yourself to them. Do they have a better title? Maybe, more scope? Higher budget?

But, this a game you can’t win. Took me a while to figure it out. How did I arrive at this epiphany? I figured out what losing looks like. So, let me tell you what losing looks like and then you’ll know if where you are is where you should be.

Are You Learning?: If you’re not learning something new, something that makes you think differently, something that teaches you a new skill, something that makes you reconsider what you think you know, or if you’re not learning how to problem solve differently…you’re not where you should be.

Are You Appreciated? If you don’t feel a sense of gratitude from those you work with or a sense that what you do matters and makes a difference, you’re not where you should be.

Are You Miserable?: When you come home and talk to your spouse, significant other, mother, father, friend, dog, or pet rock, are the first words out of your mouth, “today, you’ll never believe what my boss did”; or, “I hate my boss…”…well, you’re not where you should be.

That’s it. Simple. Well, as simple as it’s going to get. Why those three? No clue. This isn’t a McKinsey deck, where I’m going to show you how I looked at 1,000 different models and arrived at this one. These three came about over time. After 20+ years of great companies, great managers, and great opportunities; and more importantly bad leaders, mean leaders, narrow opportunities, rudderless organizations these rose to the top as constant reminders of when I was the most lost.

But, while not a Big 6 Consulting model, every person I’ve mentored, career-counseled, seems to think it works. It’s also helped me stay objective. Maybe, you don’t like the work you’re doing or the initiative you’re being asked to lead. But, are you learning? Is the work you’re doing appreciated? Are you miserable?

To be clear, bummed is not miserable. Disappointed, is not miserable. Irritated, is not miserable. Getting into a disagreement with your boss, is not miserable. Miserable goes beyond all of those.

So, again, I ask you – are you learning, are you appreciated, and are you miserable? Because, if you are, you aren’t where you should be.

Managing Mistakes

Spilled Coffee on Keyboard - Image Source, ReadersDigest.com

You will make mistakes. Your teams will make mistakes. This is going to happen. It happens to everyone. Making a mistake often fills people with anxiety and angst. But, it doesn’t have to. Once a mistake has been made, you can’t undo it. There is no placing of a genie back into a bottle. But, how you manage the mistake can change everything.

Let me start with the 3 critical things that must happen when you make a mistake:

  1. Speed: Information about mistakes should travel faster than information about successes. You shouldn’t have to provide all the details. There will be time for that. But, ensuring the right people are aware of a mistake, quickly, is critical to navigating what happens next.
  2. The Truth: Be 100% honest about what happened, when it happened, and why it happened. The “what” helps everyone understand the potential impact. The “when” sets the clock for how much time there is to mitigate the mistake. And, the “why” frames up if it was avoidable, how to fix this instance, and how to ensure it doesn’t happen again.
  3. A Plan: You’ve made the mistake. You know what happened. You know when it happened. And, you know why it happened. So, how do we make sure it doesn’t happen again? Proactively bringing this to the table shows you’ve taken accountability and you’re committed to ensuring we don’t repeat avoidable mistakes.

Mistakes happen for a number of reasons. There needs to be accountability from the person or team that made the mistake. But, there also needs to be accountability from managers, leaders, and the organization. The very first question I ask myself when a mistake is made on my watch, by my team is, “Were they placed in a position to succeed?” It’s a simple question, but it changes the course of everything moving forward and how you address those who made the mistake.

What does that question really mean though? Here’s a few examples:

  • Resourcing: Did they have the right resources? Maybe your team has been requesting resources for 6 months and they’ve been unable to get them. A mistake due to lack of resources is as much your mistake as a leader as it is the team who made the mistake because of a lack of resources.
  • Process: Was the process followed? Maybe in a desire to do something quickly, the team was asked to skip or accelerate certain steps. When that happens, mistakes are more likely to happen. If you requested that change in process or you elected not to follow the process, you are just as accountable as the team who made the mistake.
  • Timing: Was the timing realistic and necessary? There’s nothing worse than an accelerated timeline born out of an arbitrary reason. Got it – your CEO wants X to happen immediately. But, you know it takes 8 hours to do X. You have two choices here. You could protect your team and ensure flawless execution by managing up to the CEO. Or, you could simply do as asked and in doing so increase the likelihood that mistakes will happen. If you choose to do as asked, you have to own the mistake as much as the team that asked.

Everything stems from that one question. If you didn’t place them in a position to succeed your first words when notified about a mistake should be, “Thank you. I’m sorry I placed you in a position to not be successful. I bear as much responsibility for what happened as you did. Let’s work together to figure out how we avoid this from happening in the future.”

A core tenant of leadership is accountability. Before casting blame, pointing the finger, and getting angry, you must first evaluate what you could have done better.

What I Look For When Interviewing Candidates

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So, you’re interviewing? Not happy with the current job? Don’t like your boss? Recently let go? Just time for a change? There’s a myriad of reasons you might be looking for a new job.

I was on a phone call recently, offering some advice to a colleague getting ready to interview for a new role. Midway through the conversation, he exclaimed, “you should be selling this advice!” My response was straightforward, “I’ve done a lot of hiring over my career; I’m just telling you what I would be looking for.”

My LinkedIn feed is full of friends, colleagues, and connections all looking for their next role. Most of them would have preferred to stay with their previous employer but were recently impacted by COVID-19 decisions. Given that, I felt there was no better time to offer some advice to current job seekers.

  1. Are you running toward “this” role, or are you running “from” your current role? The former is far more appealing to me. I want to know why this role is the role you want. Don’t tell me about how bad your current boss, team, role, or company are. Tell me why my role is the only role that’s motivating you to look for new opportunities.
  2. Beyond the job description and resume, what makes you uniquely qualified for this role? Are there things you bring to the table that no one else would? This is wide-ranging. It could be you’ve served in the military or you were an athlete. It could also be that you’ve worked for a key competitor in the past or maybe you’ve lived in 10 countries and had to learn 6 languages to navigate new experiences.
  3. Make your questions self-validating. “From reading the job description and from our short discussion, it sounds like this role requires someone who’s comfortable with ambiguity. Would that be a fair assessment.” If the answer is, “yes”, you have a window to now explain how you are adept at dealing with ambiguity.
  4. Ask, “what haven’t you found in the candidates you’ve met with so far?” This is the single best and most revealing question. It will offer you a wide range of knowledge. Let’s say I offer an answer like, “Good question. We’re at the beginning of this search. I can’t really offer an answer.” Now you have some great insight. You can set the pace. You can start to forecast how long the search is likely to take. You can ask a follow-up question like, “Thanks. What would the ideal candidate look like?” If the answer to the original question is a list of traits, characteristics, and requirements, you now have an opportunity to frame yourself as the person who checks all those boxes.
  5. The resume itself is mostly irrelevant, but how you map what you’ve done to what I’m looking for is priceless. If you’re meeting with me, you’re qualified. You submitted an application. Someone reviewed it. Someone else shortlisted you. If I’m the hiring manager, I’ve already reviewed it and deemed, on paper, you’re a fit. When we meet, skip the biography, but use our time together to interject examples from your experience that speak to what I’m looking for in a candidate.

If you’re looking for a new role, I wish you success. I hope my pieces of advice are helpful in your search. The job search process is taxing, often lengthy, and usually lacking in transparency. I’m sure it’s an even more stressful process right now. Good luck and never hesitate to reach out to me directly for some coaching, advice, or feedback.