7 ways to avoid a hiring failure.

7 ways to avoid a hiring failure.

The small and medium businesses I work with are usually pretty wary of the recruitment consultants that chase them, promising to deliver the ‘Perfect ‘ hire for just 20% of their annual salary. They are usually seen, usually rightly, as just short term  ‘body shops’ that add little lasting value.

As a result I often get to have some input into the hiring decisions they make, as the ‘go-it-alone’ strategy using one or more of the on line job boards is becoming more common.

Taking on a new employee is a significant decision for a modest business. When it is a senior management decision it can be a make or break choice, and more often than not, once the gloss of the interview and enthusiastic references from the candidates friends masquerading as referees wears off, there are holes.

Making that right choice has two parts:

  • You need a realistic and detailed understanding of the job you are filling, its frustrations and challenges, along with the technical skills necessary to get the job done.
  • You need a good understanding of the underlying emotions, attitudes, and perspectives of the person you are considering.

Sounds simple, but we all know it is  not.

Over the years I have developed through experience and observation a set of personal criteria I look for when involved in this exercise. It is important for me to help get it right, as my clients rely on me for  the advice that is improving their businesses, so making a mistake can badly damage my position with them, and more importantly, compromises their efforts to change, and evolve the business.

The list has 7 elements, after the technical parameters of the job have been adequately addressed. All are hard to assess in an interview type Q&A, but can emerge in a more casual conversation, that is less about the role, more about the person.

  • Curiosity. In a world changing as rapidly as ours, domain knowledge cannot be static, so being curious about what is going on around them, about other people, technologies, environments, is a core part of a person who will continue to learn by absorbing new information, and keep being able to contribute.
  • Absorb blame while passing on praise. We have all seen the destructiveness of someone who does the opposite.  The ability to give credit for success, while making others feel ‘safe’ to experiment, think laterally, and risk failing is a powerful leadership quality.
  • Action oriented. There are those that talk, and those that do, and we all know which is the better. Being prepared to take decisions, often without perfect information, recognising not all decisions will be right, but doing something, learning as a result, and adjusting as necessary is way better than waiting for perfect information. Mixed in is a recognition that due diligence in risk assessment is crucial, the widely accepted ‘failure porn’ is to my mind destructive.
  • We all want leaders, but we usually hire managers, to get stuff done, to exercise organisational power. Far better to have a group who are able to lead without the authority, who inspire performance, and create an emotional commitment.
  • Prepared to prepare. Generally, the more preparation that is done, the easier things look. Playing football (Rugby, the heavenly game) in my youth at University, we had a coach who used to drive us into the ground at training. He used to say at least 10 times a session, ‘train hard, play easy’, a lesson that has served me well.
  • ‘CUR’. My personal acronym for ‘Cock-Up Recovery’. Everyone makes mistakes, except perhaps those who do nothing, so the measure of the person is the manner in which they recover, address the situation, and as the saying goes, ‘get back on the horse’.
  • Operate well under pressure. Let’s face it, life is a roller coaster of deadlines, demands, and crises, so being able to operate optimally under pressure is critical to good and consistent performance.

Keeping the conversation casual is important, and I usually end by asking something like, ‘what have you accomplished that makes you proud?’ In most interviews, no matter how casual, people default to what they do, or have done.  ‘Accomplished’ is a bit different, the word elicits a more personal response, something that may offer an insight into the person, and what is important to them.




Leveraging the flip side of an elevator pitch

Leveraging the flip side of an elevator pitch

Honing an elevator pitch is something we all should do, and many spend hours writing and practising a pitch, following one of the many templates around, most of which are similar.

Grab attention.

Describe the product.

Articulate the benefit.

All in 30 seconds.

We fantasise about catching that mystical perfect customer alone in an elevator, enthusing him/her to such as extent that they rush out and buy.

Rarely happens.

More often, you get the opportunity to deliver your pitch at a networking meeting, or some semi social gathering.

Still rarely happens that your perfect customer is there, listening, but we are happy to be delivering a pitch perfectly in that hope.

However, most people, somewhere in their networks, will know someone who will be the perfect customer.

The question then becomes how do make the pitch sufficiently memorable, that they are able to recite it back to their networks.

Do this successfully, and you will have  a host of sales people out there pitching for you, and we all know  the most effective marketing is still person to person, word of mouth endorsement.

It comes down to being able to articulate your differentiator and value proposition, in one sentence, in simple words.

It must be memorable, simple, and describe why they should be interested beyond any apparent alternative.

In the early days of Uber, founder Travis Kalanick described Uber as “Push a button and in 5 minutes a Mercedes picks you up and takes you where you want to go”

Nothing about platforms, technology, marketplaces, or any of the other buzzwords we slip into so easily, just the benefit. More recently it has been further simplified into ‘Push a button, get a ride

One of my clients in Sydney, Planet Press  that I met after I was ‘constructively rude’ about a botched elevator pitch delivery has a rare differentiator. It is a medium sized printing business with a highly experienced and skilled design function, combined with digital and offset printing, a wide range of die cutting, perforating and assembly options, along with a slick distribution service, all under the one roof. How do you make that lot sufficiently memorable that someone hearing the pitch will be able to relate it to their networks?

Quality printed communication from under one roof’?

Perhaps not quite there yet, but closer.



Budgeting: The crappiest time of the year

Budgeting: The crappiest time of the year

It is that time of year again, budget time.

In most businesses around Australia, at least those that will be around in a year or two, people are wondering where they will find the time to do the budget preparation for the coming fiscal.

To make it easier, following are some simple guidelines to apply to your thinking.

Where are you  now.

Before you set out on the planning of any journey, it is useful to know the starting point. This tends to avoid a lot of wasted effort and cost, and unnecessary frustration. Having a very clear picture of your current position is vital, but if you have left the development of that picture to the planning sessions pre budget, it is probably too late. Developing a deep understanding of your current situation, and most importantly the drivers of that outcome, needs to be an incremental and inclusive process that is happening in real time, all the time.

Where is it you want to go.

Again, obvious, but often overlooked. Good businesses have a strategic framework in place that delivers clarity and priority to the long term outcomes being sought, so the annual budget is just another step along the path. However, in the absence of a strategic framework that makes sense, a disturbingly frequent situation, set yourself some goals to be achieved, and the annual budget is the operational plan to get there.

How will you know when you get there.

Measurement for measurement’s sake is dumb, but having the few key measures of performance that really tell the story of your progress towards the end point is essential. Knowing what ‘success’ means is a core part of the planning process, but again, when that is left to the planning sessions, it is too late.

1/10 is not enough.

Another of the mumblings of my old Dad who used to say, ‘Son, you get 1/10 for  the talking, the other 9 are for the doing’. In a business context, the planning is essential, but of no value unless it is implemented. Just like a holiday, you can have some fun planning it, but the real fun is when you are actually on the holiday.

Profit is a two way street.

To make a bob, you have to sell something to people who really want at a price that is more than it costs you to produce and deliver it. Pretty sensible, and pretty simple, but understanding your costs and really understanding the value your product delivers to the specific target markets is a touch more complicated.

Everyone is in marketing.

The days of marketing being relegated to the back office are gone. Customers now have all the power, and they are exercising it in all sorts of ways not contemplated just a decade ago. Highly sensitive, fragmented, and focussed communication channels are being used by everyone, and amplification happens at the stroke of a social media pen. Everyone who comes into contact with your products can have an influence, and everyone in your business  is an agent of marketing. For heavens sake do  not leave it to the kids who have marketing in their title, thinking they have it under control, because nothing could be further from the truth. The most valuable asset you have is the position your product holds in the minds of your customers and potential customers, commonly called your ‘brand’. It is not normally listed on the balance sheet, as the accountants cannot agree how it is to be valued until a business is sold, when it is called ‘goodwill’ but it is the leverage that enables you to be able to stay in business.

Count outcomes before dollars.

Financial results are just that, results. Dollars are just easy ways to count the outcomes of more complicated stuff. Spending time understanding the drivers of the outcomes being counted is a far better way to invest your planning time that just manipulating the variables in spreadsheets. What is it that persuades someone to buy from you and not the opposition, how can you reduce the hidden transaction costs in your business, how can you increase your stock turn and reduce your working capital, and thousands of other questions that need your time and attention before the budget profit and loss is locked away.

The smartest people are not in the room.

No matter how big you are, and how much money you spend on expertise, the vast majority of the smartest people, and those who could influence your outcomes are working somewhere else, some of them for your competitors. This simply means that you have to find ways to be sensitive to the competitive, strategic and regulatory environment in which you are operating, and feed that intelligence back into the way the business is run. From going to local networking events, to travelling to leading markets and suppliers, to hiring expensive consulting knowledge, to ensuring the operators in your business have a voice at the table, all serve to add to the store of ‘education’ the business has to call on at budget time.

When you have done all that, it becomes time to go and punch the spreadsheets, not before. One last point, seems to be a common last point in my various musings, look after the cash. It is the lifeblood of the business, if you do nothing else, look after it as you would your first born.


Consider the moment of Opacity

Consider the moment of Opacity

We are all familiar with the ‘lightbulb’ moment, that time when suddenly, all seems clear, the idea that has been buried in the depths of your brain, unable to be born, suddenly sees the light.

Ever thought of the opposite?

The moment of Opacity?

That moment when you suddenly realised that something you had accepted as the norm, the way things were, a certainty, was suddenly revealed as a Furphy?

This is not something many of us think about much, if at all.

Perhaps it is not fashionable, but the moments of opacity are as important as the lightbulb moments.

My job is working with businesses to facilitate change, to move from the status quo, to something new, something that is almost always considerably outside their comfort zone.

To do that, I have to create those moments of Opacity, when my clients recognise that the way forward is different to the way they have followed to date.

Usually they are not moments, that is just a convenient metaphor.

Change is normally a process of recognising and revising the assumptions and behaviours that drive activity and priorities to accommodate a new reality, small bit by small bit.

Einstein is reported to have said something like ‘The most powerful force in the universe is compound interest’  and the legend of the chessboard is a well known example of just how powerful compounding really is.

Change is no different.

Small changes, compounded over time make a huge difference in time. The hardest bit is getting started, generating some momentum, but when that has happened, compounding can become an unstoppable force.




The 70/25/5 rule of business turnarounds

The 70/25/5 rule of business turnarounds

Most of my time is spent working with medium sized manufacturing businesses that for one reason or another, and usually many reasons combined, find themselves struggling.

The people running these businesses are often reluctant to spend money on consulting. Understandable, not just because it can be expensive in a cash challenged environment, but because they have been burnt before.

They became successful by being good at what they do, the product manufactured, the service delivered, and the admin and ‘soft’ management stuff just took care of itself.

Unfortunately, those days are gone.

In a variation on the Pareto 80/20 rule which holds true in every case, I find myself using what has become the 70/25/5 split in the things that receive attention.

Having done the analysis to determine the 20% of things that will deliver the 80% of the value,  and be able to leverage from the effort to be made, the improvement task is to focus the effort where it will turbo charge the results.

This is where the rule comes into play.

70% of the effort goes into improving the current operations.

20% goes into spreading the current, and now improving operations into related, or adjacent areas.

5% goes into new stuff, experimenting, going right outside the comfort zones.

It also tends to follow that sequence.

Let me give a generic example.

My point of engagement is usually a perceived problem with sales and/or marketing. They need to generate more revenue, and usually quickly, so call in an expert.

Typically I find a tangle of current practises and issues that are sub optimal, that are not generally seen as ‘Sales’ issues. There are poor delivery lead times, inconsistent quality, poorly understood costings, lack of cash management, a reactive and undertrained sales force, poor customer service, and so on. All current activities and processes that require work before much that is ‘sexy’ which is what consultants usually sell, can be implemented. For example implementing a sales training package will not deliver value if the product quality is questionable, or the lead times longer than customer expectations.  It will just be an expensive holiday for the sales staff.

This is the 70%, the early grind of improving the existing  processes and priorities. It is usually a process of planting a nurturing a variety of improvement seeds in all sorts of corners of the business, rather than applying a silver bullet solution, and it does take time.

When the seeds are becoming seedlings, and some improvement is becoming evident, and often it is anecdotal, as the accounting systems typically look behind, rather than in front so the numbers are usually lagging, it may become time to apply the next 20%.

Continuing the Sales analogy, you can now reliably manufacture and deliver products that stand up competitively, you know your margins and capacity constraints, so you can start to focus more effort on increasing your share of wallet, engaging new customers in your priority markets, and entering adjacent markets perhaps with a marginally altered product to better meet the specific needs.

By the time the  20% gathers some momentum, the business is usually becoming prosperous, so can afford to start investing some resources in the really new stuff. The 5% effort spent on new products, the next technological development, and perhaps building scale by merger or acquisition.  It is here that the exciting stuff happens, the next breakthrough in performance, and the payoff for long suffering managers, staff, and shareholders.

Decision time for manufacturers of ‘disposable’ items.

Decision time for manufacturers of ‘disposable’ items.

I have used the term ‘disposable’ to mean that the consumers investment is low, so purchase risk is limited. Buy one and find it does not deliver, and little is lost.

Over the weekend I had a casual conversation with an acquaintance who runs a small business selling such a line of disposable consumer products into a niche via specialist chain retailers, many branches being franchised, so are somewhat independent.

His problem is that he is being overrun by the scale of the retailers who take his ideas and have them fabricated in China under another brand at prices he is having increasing trouble matching.  In any event, they also control shelf space, so he is at their mercy.

Not an uncommon problem.

My rather glib response was that he was trying to sell to the wrong people. His current customers, the retailers, were not actually his customers, in fact they were more like adversaries. His real customers were the ones who had a need that his products fulfilled, and the retailers were just a logistical barrier to be managed and overcome.

The retailers see the only value in his products as a range they should carry as an occasional addition to the customer basket  at the cheapest price that meet their margin requirements. For them there is no investment in the success of the product, and little downside.

To the real consumers however,  the question of whether they outlay $8 or $11 for the items is largely irrelevant once the buying decision, often impulse, has been made. There is little brand awareness or preference involved, there has been only modest marketing investments made, the sales come from demonstrating the utility of  the product.

My advice: Set up an online shop, and actively market to the identifiable groups of customers who would benefit from using his products.

As he has a limited budget, and little brand recognition, this is potentially a make or break decision, not to be taken lightly.

Retailers will be even more disinclined to stock his products when they see him actively competing with them on line, but on the other hand, his sales volumes have been dropping steadily for some time, and the costs of doing business are increasing, so the end game is in sight.

The flip side is that the product is ideally suited to selling on line, the value is demonstrable, it is easily sent via the post, and the margin freed up by selling direct would be considerable.

A change of this nature would be uncomfortable, but I suggest the only way the business will continue to prosper, and have any value when the current owner decides it is time to retire.

Does yours fit the consumer definition of ‘Disposable?”

If so, what are you doing about it?