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Archive for the ‘talent’ Category

Peter Diana / Post-Gazette

Mike Tomlin. Photo: Peter Diana / Post-Gazette

Mike Tomlin: The youngest coach to win a SuperBowl.

This is what I like to see: Management empowering dynamic new voices to lead.

To every football team, school district, board of directors, Senior VP, CEO and CMO: Next time you overlook the visionary kid with new ideas, remember this face.

Tell me he was the easy choice. Tell me he wasn’t the gamble. Tell me you wouldn’t have hired someone with more “proven” experience. Someone with a more impressive resume. Someone with a bit more seniority. Someone with more wins.

You would have been wrong.

Alexander the Great wasn’t a graying battle-hardened General when he conquered Persia.  Bill Gates wasn’t a Wharton MBA with twenty years of executive corporate experience when he started Microsoft.

Empower visionary leaders no matter how new and how young they may be. Mentor them if you must, but do not stand in their way. Do not tell them no. Do not tell them once you’ve been here twenty years, we’ll talk about it.

The Steelers made a choice. A difficult, risky choice. And it paid off.

In truth, these are the kinds of choices that almost always pay off.

So my question to you is… what kinds of leaders is your organization producing?

It’s an important question. One that could very well decide whether or not your company succeeds or fails in the next decade. Maybe even in the next year.

Give it some thought. Serious thought.

Welcome to a whole new work week. 😉

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unlearn

Yesterday, we talked a little bit about the value of talent vs. the value of experience, and we established, thanks to Shunryu Suzuki, that “in the beginner’s mind, there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s mind, there are few”. Today, let’s look at experience a little bit – particularly the concept of experts. Here’s a little something from David Armano:

If the “expert” label gets thrown my way, I don’t give it much thought. It’s just a label that helps people wrap their heads around something abstract to make it more concrete. Sometimes we need to categorize in order to make sense of things.

The thing is, I’ll never see myself as an expert.

You might think that’s humbling. I only wish I were that humble. I’ll never see myself as an expert, because once you’ve convinced yourself that you are one—that’s the moment your ability to see the world differently begins to decline. Expert eyes know what to look for. They can also be the eyes that miss the most obvious insights which lead to the most elegant of solutions.

Read Dave’s entire post here, and watch this killer presentation.

My kids aren’t experts at anything, yet the complete absence of bullshit inside their brains allows them to see things more clearly than industry execs with 30 years of experience, and spell out the obvious better than any contributing analyst on MSNBC, CNN and Fox News combined. Go figure. The wisdom of children, which we have a tendency to patronize a little too much these days, is often as surprisingly spot-on as their honesty is refreshing. This leads me to believe that perhaps the least valuable thing anyone can be is an expert. At anything.

Here’s more from David:

I believe that when you know too much—it takes away from your creativity and your ability to see things from different perspectives. I’ve been thinking about this quite it bit. I’ve been having mixed feelings regarding the specialized degrees that are being marketed to us, promising to turn us into design thinkers, creative strategists etc. Steve Jobs, the original design thinker was a college drop out. What does this tell us?

I’m happy to see the business world take creative problem solving seriously and I’m certainly not against higher education or any of the new programs. But I’m also wary of what happens when we perceive ourselves as experts who have been trained in the black art of [insert profession here].

The most brilliant ideas I’ve seen in the market, as well as some of the most inspired designs and solutions I have been fortunate to be a part of, didn’t come from a roundtable of experts with a century of combined specialized experience. They came from the most junior people on the team. They came from every day users. They came more from inspired play than nose-to-the-grindstone work. It’s almost a cliche these days, yet it is still the exception rather than the rule.

Don’t believe me? Okay, think about this: Ten years ago, the expert was Nescafe, not Starbucks. Look around. How valuable is expertise these days? The business world is changing so fast, anyone who takes the time to become an expert at anything is bound to be outpaced inside of 6 months. Unless you’re an expert in sub-Saharan survival or antique typewriter repair, you’re pretty much done for.

Ask me how many PR “experts” with decades of practical experience I know who have absolutely no clue how to use social media (or why this doesn’t bode well for their “expert” status).

How many very well paid “experts” thought they had it all figured out on Wall Street and Detroit just twelve short months ago?

Who are the experts now?

Why in the world would anyone want to be caught dead anywhere near that kind of label?

So… Again, the argument of experience vs. talent yesterday. Worth talking about with your friends and colleagues next time you’re out having drinks… or coffee… or croissants.

Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.

– Steve Jobs

Next time an HR manager tells you that you didn’t get the job because you don’t have enough experience I guess they would have preferred more “expertise”), do me a favor: Try not to laugh.

Have a great Thursday, everyone. 🙂

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WALL-E is so good, I might have to pay to see it again on the big screen. (That very rarely happens.)

1. The first act of WALL-E is so photo-realistic (down to textures, tight depths of field, camera angles, slightly shaky zooming in and out and shadowing) the only thing that reminded me that I was watching CG effects was the cockroach. What an unbelievable technical achievement. Wow.
2. This is one of the best love stories in cinema history.
3. Somehow, the Pixar team managed to inject more human emotion, depth and life in a character that happens to be a) a complete computer graphics creation b) a robot, c) one without the capacity to speak or deliver any lines than any combination of writer, director and actor in Hollywood or elsewhere.
4. E.V.E. is pretty damn cool too.
5. This film is SOLID.

Even if you don’t like sci-fi, even if you don’t like CGI movies, even if you don’t know what WALL-E is, trust me on this: Grab a friend, your spouse, your kids, your parents – whomever – and go see it. It won’t change your life or anything, but there is no way you won’t fall in love with WALL-E, E.V.E. and even their little pet roach.

On my all time Top 10 as of this weekend.

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From Tim Coote‘s always brilliant and enjoyable blog:

“When people ask me how do you make it in show business or whatever, what I always tell them — And nobody ever takes note of it ‘cuz it’s not the answer they wanted to hear. What they want to hear is here’s how you get an agent, here’s how you write a script, here’s how you do this — But I always say, “Be so good they can’t ignore you.” If somebody’s thinking, “How can I be really good?”, people are going to come to you. It’s much easier doing it that way than going to cocktail parties.”

Steve Martin.

All of the strategies and marketing angles will be trumped by this one piece of advice everytime – “Be so good they can’t ignore you”. If you’re catching balls in the end zone week after week or motivating people to do their best and it works week after week you will be noticed. People want to notice you because it’s why the world spins. It’s why people are able to get out of bed and go to work. Aspiring to greatness is the honey in the lion.

Damn, Tim. Well put.

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I’ve never been a huge fan of Ironman. When it comes to superheroes, I’ve always had a bit of a soft spot for Frank Miller’s work with Batman (The Dark Knight, for starters), Spidey, and the X-Men (mostly Wolverine). Ironman though… eh. He was kind of a secondary superhero in a lot of ways. Not much of a point. Billionaire genius builds metal rocket suit, fights crime for fun. Bleh.

But that changed when I saw the first trailer for the motion picture version – which finally came out this weekend. Score #1: Casting Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark. Score #2: Letting fans/geeks make the movie. Score #3: A great set of trailers. (In sharp contrast with Indiana Jones 4, which so far has a horrendous trailer.)

Anyhoo. The trailer started getting excited about the movie, and I have been anticipating it ever since. I excitedely took the family to see it over the weekend, and… well… I was a bit nervous about it. It’s Ironman, after all. How good can it be? I bought my tickets with a mixture of excitement and apprehension: What if it sucked? What if even Robert Downey Jr. and director John Favreau couldn’t save a second-rate superhero in his first attempt at becoming a big screen success? (Remember Daredevil? Nuff said.)

But from the very opening scene (great editing), my fears evaporated into thin air. Ironman was rock solid, and yeah, Robert Downey Junior is without a doubt one of the coolest actors in Hollywood. Always has been. He shines so brightly as Tony Stark that he singlehandedly takes what could have been (should have been) an okay Marvel superhero flick into one of the best Marvel movie franchises to date. Don’t believe me? Check out these review snippets from Rotten Tomatoes:

“Robert Downey Jr. nails Iron Man. More apropros, change nails to welds. For it is Downey who most significantly raises the quality bar of ‘Iron Man’ to the classic level of fellow comic book heroes Superman, Batman and Spider-Man. Welcome, new franchise.”

“Move over, Superman. This lush, high-octane playboy never tasted so good. Iron Man has not only etched itself the mark of one of the best-reviewed films so far in 2008 but also one of the highest-rated superhero movies of all time.”

“Robert Downey Jr., full-swing back into his acting genius, is exceptional as Iron Man. Life for Tony Stark is cool, and you can almost image him doing the Charlie Chaplin waddle across his workshop.”

“This might be the most relevant superhero tale we have yet seen.”

“Robert Downey Jr. delivers a knockout performance that alone is worth the price of admission to watch.”

“It’s Robert Downey Jr., having triumphed over his substance abuse battle, who puts the pedal to the metal and scores the freshest new franchise going.”

“The best superhero movie since Spider-Man 2. Robert Downey Jr is the film’s best special effect.”

“Downey could have taken a tragic tack. But he has fun just figuring out how to make the armor suit work. His sarcasm and almost drunken Tony Curtis body language transform the scenes of Iron Man.”

“In the proficient hands of Jon Favreau, abetted by a magnificent performance by Robert Downey, Jr., not only does Iron Man pay off, but it raises the stakes for comic book movies to follow, as well as the entire summer film season.”

Yet here it is. The cold hard truth that Hollywood studio execs need to read and re-read and learn from:

“Dangerously dependant on Robert Downey Jr. for entertainment. He throws a one-man party during every scene. But when he’s off-screen, the film wilts. (Yes, even with Jeff Bridges’ anti-Dude.) Re-cast, it would only be a shade better than Daredevil.”

Sure, the cgi is impressive, but without the superb casting and directing of Downey, the movie would not have been worth the $10 admission. Something Marvel must have figured out over the last year, when they decided to completely recast the “Hulk” Franchise for the upcoming Hulk sequel (The Incredible Hulk). Not that there was anything wrong with Eric Bana as Bruce Banner, but casting Edward Norton in the role for the sequel is pure genius. Too bad the cg design couldn’t have been overhauled too.

Point: When first rate writers, actors and directors start lending their talents to movies based on comic book/graphic novels and take them seriously (as in “not just a mindless popcorn blockbuster cash cow) they raise the bar and wonderful things happen.

Spiderman 1 and 2.
300
Sin City.
And now Ironman.

Take my point and transpose it onto your brand or your agency’s work: Are you really taking your latest campaign as seriously as you should? Are you really hiring and developing the very best talent you can? Are you as passionate about getting it right and making a splash as you should be? Are you really the brand development geek you could be? Should be? The design geek you should be? The wordsmithing geek you ought to be? The first rate art director you once dreamed of being?

Even if you aren’t being paid like the A-list talent you hope to be, even if you don’t have the fancy title and the cool business card and the cool office, are you really working it like Robert Downey Jr.? Taking an average movie script based on a silly second rate comic book superhero and elevating it to something remarkable, lasting and cool?

Or are you letting the source material, the client, the market or even your paycheck justify an half-assed effort on your part?

Half-assed efforts like Daredevil, Elektra, The Incredible Hulk (1) and X-Men 3, may make money, but they only serve to hurt the Marvel franchise. It’s interesting to see how a studio, director, team of producers or a casting director can impact a brand so quickly: Botch a Marvel superhero movie, and the sum of its franchises starts slipping. Get one right, and the entire portfolio of Marvel franchises suddenly goes up in value. The same is true of Starbucks, Hyatt hotels, Volkswagen, Delta Airlines, or whatever brand or business you can think of: Every customer experience either erodes the value of your brand or elevates it.

Nobody gives a crap if you’ve worked for Miramax, Fox, Disney and Marvel if your projects have all been crap. Professionals rise to the top of their professions by taking even mediocre ideas, products, campaigns and projects, and elevating them to new heights. Period. Nobody is going to hand you a golden egg. They’re going to hand you a heaping pile of steaming crap, and it’s your job to turn it into a work of art. (And a lasting one at that.)

Some might call this alchemy. I call it my job. You call it your job. And that’s what sets some of you apart from the rest. You can actually do this: Turn crap into gold. And people around you know it. (If they don’t, what the hell are you waiting for? Show them!)

What you want to hear from your clients, bosses or audience EVERY SINGLE TIME you deliver a project is this: “I had no idea it would turn out this well.”

And their next breath should sound a lot like a “wow.”

Like many of you reading this blog, Robert Downey Jr. has always had the talent to rise to the very top of his profession. Unlike many of you, however, he didn’t always have the right mental attitude, the right focus, the right amount of professional fortitude to put his tremendous talent to good use. Yet here he is, cleaned up, ready to make up for lost time, making a hell of a comeback, and handing a movie studio (and pop culture) a hell of a gift in the process. If he can pull that kind of comeback, knowing what hell he crawled out of, so can you. Stop half-assing. Stop hiding behind your “company culture,” behind red tape, behind someone else’s crappy work or behind an obtuse boss or client. Just kick ass. Period.

Just

kick

ass.

And go see Ironman. You’ll have fun. Trust me.

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I was browsing Upstate Magnet yesterday (a small local business publication), and came up on this great little one-page article written by Jack Smalley (SPHR with Express Personnel).

Having seen top performers leave organizations time and time again, Jack’s points seemed sadly familiar. I have encountered them all myself, and I have to admit that each one of these can consitute a good reason for even the most talented, hard-working employee or manager to go seek greener pastures. Combine any two or three – or all five – and you can expect to spend a whole lot of your HR department’s time searching and hiring top talent to replace the folks you weren’t savvy enough to hold on to in the first place.

Here are six things your company may be doing to chase away top talent:

1. There is no link between pay and performance.

High performers expect to be rewarded for their effort. They also expect to be rewarded regardless of where they stand in the “pay scale” for their position. These people expect to be better compensated than someone who is not performing at their level. If you want average, stagnant performers, give them average, stagnant compensation. If you want to retain high performers, find ways to make them feel that they aren’t wasting their time providing you with superior work.

Several years ago, a friend found out that a co-worker whose job was exactly the same as hers was making significantly more than she was. This co-worker spent most of his day checking his stocks, surfing the web and talking to his friends on the phone. While her work exceeded expectations, his lagged – but their boss liked him better. Her decision to go work for someone else was triggered by the realization that there was no correlation between pay and performance.

2. They don’t perceive advancement opportunities.

Top performers are usually looking over the horizon. They may be well compensated, have great benefits and like what they do, but if they ever come to the conclusion that there is nothing to strive for, or that management is holding them back (either for selfish department reasons or personal resentment) they will seek and find the opportunity they desire… elsewhere.

I have seen the personal resentment factor ruin many an organization, and I can’t help but shake my head at this kind of nonsense every time. If I had a dollar for every manager who purposely held back top talent because they felt threatened by their success, I could… well, I could probably fill up my gas tank. Advancement ceilings – whatever their reasons may be – are never a good situation if you plan on holding on to top people.

3. Their contributions are not recognized.

Some of the greatest rewards are those that don’t involve money. Recognition among co-workers and industry peers is a super motivational tool for performers who exceed expectations.

How difficult is it to say thank you, give someone an ataboy and brag someone up from time to time? I mean really. Is it so hard? These things are all simple, easy, painless and free.

4. Management has unclear or unrealistic expectations.

The best performers want to know what they are supposed to do, how they are supposed to do it, and most importantly, WHY they are supposed to do it that way. When any of these conditions becomes unclear, the best of the best will want clarity and accountability. If management is not a resource for the top performers, they will start to lose respect for management. Once this happens, good luck trying to hold on to that great employee much longer.

This is probably the biggest killer of good will within companies. If I can’t respect my own boss, chances are that I am not going to feel super motivated to jump through hoops for him/her. Respect, trust and admiration are essential to any boss/employee relationship from the battlefield to the corporate world. Period. Once a manager loses the respect of their employees, you might as well draw the curtain and stop the clock, because the play is over.

Clarity is also super important. A leader who isn’t able to communicate to his or her people exactly what they want needs to learn how to do so. Quickly.

5. They will no longer tolerate abusive managers.

Recent studies have shown that an employee’s opinion of the company he/she works for is a direct reflection of their opinion of their immediate supervisor. If a top performer does not respect his or her supervisor, they will have a corresponding lack of respect for their company.

Nobody likes a bully. I’ve seen top talent walk away from jobs they otherwise loved simply because their bosses were abusive. Nothing sours a job faster than a jerk taking his frustrations or insecurities out on his staff.

As an aside –

Typical traits of lousy managers:

– Excessive demands & personal sacrifices.
– Placing their department in a continual state of crisis.
– A demand for employees to be available at all hours.
– Setting unreasonable deadlines.
– Pony Express management style (Ride ’em till they drop), causing burnout, stress and depression in their people.
– Risk-aversion.
– Abusive treatment of employees.
– Being too busy to make themselves helpful.
– Acting annoyed at requests for help, advice or insight.
– Nepotism.
– Making last-minute unilateral decisions that make absolutely no sense.
– “Big Stick” management. (Screw up, and I will hit you over the head with the big stick.)
– A complete lack of trustworthiness

Okay. Here is the last one from Jack’s list:

6. Constant reorganization of management.

If you want to keep your best performers, don’t let them become part of the flood waters of reorganization. While reorganization or a sale of a business is just part of life for most people these days, top performers are still looking at things in the long term. If they are convinced that a reorganization is a good thing for their career AND management communicates well, top performers can become some of a company’s greatest advocates. If management fails to help top performers negotiate these changes in a way that will fall in line with their long term expectations, and they will walk.

Uncertainty sucks. Top performers love challenges, but if thry feel that their work or careers are likely to suffer as a result of an unstable professional environment, they will jump ship faster than you can learn to spell “denial”. It’s that simple.

One of the conclusions from the article was as simple as it was astute, and it is this:

Most employees don’t quit their jobs. They quit their managers.

That’s pretty powerful… and absolutely correct.

I know it’s pretty obvious for many of you, but it is well worth bringing up from time to time.

Have a great Tuesday, everyone. 🙂

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