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Bill Catlette

Bill Catlette

Bill Catlette, @ContentedCows is an executive coach and business author who helps clients build lasting competitive edge by eliminating blind-spots and improving leadership habits.

With employment markets in the U.S. continuing to tighten, labor-intensive businesses are seeking candidates on the margins, and in some cases outside the mainstream, in an effort to fill current openings without getting into an all-out bidding war for talent. Recently, there has been considerable discussion around H1B visa hiring strategies, increased PT to FT conversion, and the growing number of employers who are now willing to hire non-violent criminal offenders, some of whom are still behind bars.

There is another, even larger market available, which is essentially untapped, and that is the strategic use of retirees and alumni as a source of candidate referrals or contract labor.

I got fairly snarky recently with a colleague who runs HR for a large (400,000 employee) company and was whining a bit about having a dearth of candidates.We discussed the fact that they have about 40,000 employees who leave the company annually, probably 80% of whom are classified as retirees or other regrettable turnover. When asked what measures they use to maintain contact with those people, the answer was. “none.” So, “You’ve got about 100 people with whom you are on perfectly good terms leaving here every day, and you do nothing to maintain a relationship or goodwill with them?” Sadly, the same is true for many of us. Yikes!

As but one example of how this can pay off, consider the case of 71 year-old Tom Coughlin, the original head coach of the NFL Jacksonville Jaguars circa 1994 who rejoined the team this season after a 15-year stint with the NY Giants, where he picked up two SuperBowl rings. The guy clearly knows football, and he knows leadership.

Though Coughlin likely wanted to resume a head coaching role with the Jags, team owner, Shahid Khan managed to convince him that his best role, both for him and the team, would be to sign on as EVP, Football Operations where his coaching would mainly be with head coach Doug Marrone and the team’s young GM, David Caldwell. As evidenced by the fact that the Jags made it deep into the 2018 NFL playoffs for the first time in a long time, it’s apparently working.

A few ideas from the cheap seats:

  1. Expand your base of applicant sources. I continue to be amazed at the number of otherwise well-run companies that rely almost exclusively on passive, single-source recruiting via walk-in, type-in sources for non-executive roles. That is akin to being in a sales role and waiting all day for customers to come find you, unaided by any effort whatsoever on your part! Aside from mining referrals from incumbent employees and alumni, consider doing things like co-sponsoring recruiting activities with business partners, taking on a larger presence in schools and colleges (I do b-school guest lectures as a way of getting a sneak peek at the talent farm), and sponsoring student activities.
  2. Use Longer Lead-times and Always Be Looking. Unless you’re just incredibly lucky, recruiting that is done purely on an as-needed basis is a terribly inefficient process. You’re much better off keeping your nets in the water, and establishing a relationship with viable candidates in advance of an actual need, or preemptively hiring them in some cases.
  3. Get More Adaptive With Women and Graybeards. Already this decade, about 4% of prime working-age women have removed themselves from the American workforce, and, as we speak, about 10,000 people “retire” daily. In each case, that’s not necessarily what people want to do. Rather, it’s often our clunky HR policies and methods that drives them prematurely from the workforce. Let’s get better at listening to these folks, and adapting to what they are trying to tell us.

In April, 2008, as part of a Fortune Magazine segment in which notably successful people were queried about the best advice they had been given, Pepsico Chairman and CEO, Indra Nooyi volunteered a nugget given to her by her father: “Assume positive intent.”

At its core, Mr. Nooyi’s knowing advice to his daughter capitalizes on the positive expectancy  theory that we get what we expect to get. Good expectations seem to beget good outcomes. Conversely, if you go  thru life, as I did until my mid-twenties, fearing that if I didn’t effectively wall myself off from strangers, I would most assuredly be taken advantage of, you miss out on a lot of opportunities and relationships with those who don’t particularly enjoy being frisked upon first meeting.

To be sure, there are times when it’s necessary to keep your distance or display a clenched fist, but experience suggests that, far more often, a warm smile and an extended open palm win the day.

As leaders, we’re expected to win new business, build relationships, and to get the daily wash out without fail. Given that charge, I’m betting on three little words that have profoundly impacted Ms. Nooyi’s life, and when faithfully executed, can similarly improve the arc of our own careers… Assume. Positive. Intent.

Becoming a Two-fer Leader

As managers we are responsible for seeing to it that the right things go well. That involves keeping extraneous things off our team’s plate, putting more W’s than L’s on the scoreboard, and finding ways to identify and correct (or prevent outright) the things that contribute to team losses.

Looking back over my career, and at the habits of some of the leaders I’ve coached, there have been unmistakeable periods when we’ve allowed ourselves to get too mired in the mud, concentrating on errors of the past, present, and future.

It’s easy to understand how we get in that mode. Mistakes and losses sting, sometimes a lot. A couple of really big ones, or a long losing streak can take us out of the game, or at least bring beatings from on high. Yet, when we get stuck in “Loss-Prevention Mode”, we’re often doing so at the expense of clear and present opportunities to get some things right. As importantly, when we get stuck for too long in firefighting mode, it has a negative impact not just on our own outlook, but the people around us as well. They don’t want to be in the same zip code (never mind the same boat)  with us.

Here are four suggestions for maintaining an appropriate sense of balance:

  1. Always be looking for opportunities to create a win, even little ones.
  2. Don’t become a negative person, and don’t let negative people (or thoughts) take up rent-free residence in your head. As Australian businessman Robert Tew, put it, “Raise the rent...Kick them out.”
  3. Make it a point to always have some truth-tellers on your team, people who care enough about you and the team’s mission to come in, close the door, and level with you… to tell you, for example, that you are in need of some attitude adjustment.
  4. Become a two-fer leader by trying, as a general rule, to always be feeding at least two opportunities or identifying things done well for every problem you’re working to smother.

If you've got more to add on this subject, or care to take the discussion further, we would be glad to hear from you.

Make This Your First Business Conversation in 2018

 

Lots of people are now deep in the process of resolving to do a few things differently over the coming New Year. Many are resolving to join the growing crowd of Americans who are quitting their jobs (about 100,000 daily) and taking their talents elsewhere. A few of them perhaps work for you. The question is, which ones? Rather than waiting to find out, my suggestion is that you take a proactive measure to let some of your very best people know that you truly appreciate them. Try this:

 

Make a list of the three best people on your team. Do it today. Then, adjacent to each person’s name, write the answer to the question, “Why does this person stay… with me, with our organization?” If you’re like most leaders, coming up with the three names is the easy part. Figuring out what keeps each person where they are is a bit more difficult.


Having done that, quietly have a conversation with each person individually to let them know that they mean a lot to you and to the organization. Tell them that they are special - not privileged, special. Then, go ahead and ask them what makes them stay with you, and the organization. (This wouldn’t be a bad time to take a few notes.) Ask them what, if anything, they need more or less of in order do their best work every day, and to feel appreciated for doing so. Listen, really listen, then, as best you can, make sure those things happen. 

This just might be the most beneficial thing you've ever done to start a New Year. Godspeed!

***

Make this the year that you take solid steps to improve your leadership skills, by working with a coach. I would be happy to hear from you.

I read with interest a recent NY Times piece about the growing Brexit-inspired labor shortage spreading throughout Britain, as foreign workers across the breadth and depth of the workspace are deciding in droves to take their services where they feel more welcome.

Something similar is happening in the U.S., as borders are tightened, nationalist interests are rising, and key talent reservoirs are shrinking in the face of a warming economy.

My business partner, Richard Hadden recently keynoted for North American dairy farmers gathered in Las Vegas for the MILK Conference. How cool is it that a guy who has spent the last 20 years writing and speaking about “Contented Cows” gets an entire room full of dairymen and women, as an audience?

Guess what their #1 concern was. Not unlike the Scottish fruit farmer profiled in the aforementioned piece, they were concerned about the shortage of labor, and the concomitant difficulty in getting the wash, ‘er milk out daily at a cost they can afford.

You’re Fired

by Bill Catlette

12/9/17 Memphis

Everyone who accepts a role with responsibility for providing leadership to others must accept the reality that it will eventually be their duty to tell someone, “You can’t work here anymore.” Let’s accept the notion that doing so is a solemn but necessary part of the deal, and if you can’t or won’t do it, you need to find something else to do for a living. Similarly, if the day ever comes when this stops being gut-wrenching for you, get another job.

Following are four premises that I have worked my way to over a forty-some year managerial career and more corporate executions than I care to think about.

About forty years ago, before anyone had heard or even contemplated the term, “FedEx”, Federal Express marketing guru, Vince Fagan worked with the company’s ad agency to create one of the most effective brand tag-line’s in history:  Absolutely, positively, overnight. In just 3 words, they focused like a laser on the very essence of what the young, startup company meant to convey to the world:  Speed, reliability, and Commitment with a capital “C”. This tagline was used successfully in a series of hilarious commercials that brought the firm out of the shadows, and created a new term and an idea: FedEx.

What they didn’t envision was the impact that having those 3 words plastered on television screens everywhere would have internally on the purple-clad FedEx workforce. You see, what people inside the company knew was that our still meager assets and operating systems were capable of doing the overnight thing usually, but with seemingly uncontrollable factors like weather, mechanical breakdown, and shipping capacity, the Absolutely, Positively part was a real push.

For Better Leadership Communication, Put a Different Device in Your Hand

The fact that each of us has continually at hand, if not in hand, devices that practically beg to announce our every thought or emotion immediately upon conception represents one of the greater latent dangers to our reputations, if not careers. Put simply, the fact that we can emote nonstop doesn’t mean we should, particularly if we occupy a leadership role and have others looking to us for guidance and good example.

Though we have more communications capacity at our disposal than ever, most of us do a poorer job of actually making meaning. This occurs at a time when institutional knowledge is leaving our organizations at an unprecedented rate. (According to the BLS, about 100,000 Americans quit their jobs daily!) And it shows.

For a small proof of concept, ask a representative sample of your workforce to list the organization’s three (3) top priorities. Then, compare their answers. They won’t match!  To wit, how are you ever going to accomplish those things if people don’t know what they are? Your people want to read mysteries, not live them! We can, and must do a lot better.

Good Leaders Delegate Into Their Weaknesses

At the risk of adding fuel to a fire that’s burning pretty much out of control already, I will submit that, for those interested in learning, there are a plethora of leadership lessons currently being taught daily on the national stage. Some of the lessons come from good examples, while others involve some pain, ‘er tuition. One of the more recent ones involves the President, and it relates to areas where managers (any of us) lack skill, or perhaps sufficient interest in a given aspect of our job function, even a vital aspect.

It’s no secret that President Trump frequently runs into difficulty when he ventures anywhere near tragedies, people who feel aggrieved, or nationally sensitive moments, and the need to console or be appropriately respectful of people who are hurting. There are often live wires just beneath the surface of those situations, and he has demonstrated a remarkable propensity for finding and stepping on them through poor word choices, bad optics, poor preparation, or the felt need to add too much value to the situation.

Before anyone gets their red or blue knickers in a knot, let’s stipulate that we ALL have our own demons and shortcomings. In fact, this happens to be a shortcoming that I share with the President. Lucky for me, my job doesn’t require regular presence near disaster scenes, Gold Star families, or flag-draped coffins. If it did, at an age that is within a pitching wedge of the President’s (that’s two things we share), and some pretty well-worn habits, I likely would lean a lot harder on my Vice President to represent me / the Nation in such matters, not just because he’s available, but because he’s better at it than I will ever be.

Making No Decision Is a Decision, and Usually the Wrong One

Last week I spoke for a group of college students in a management course. Corresponding with a chapter of the text currently being studied in class, the subject of my remarks was,  “You Get Paid to Think.” 

As a contemporary template for encouraging the class to do exactly that, I challenged them to assume the position of the San Francisco 49’ers head football coach, team CEO, and NFL commissioner at the precise moment in the 2016 season when the team's quarterback, Colin Kaepernick first chose to sit rather than stand for the singing of the National Anthem. Despite a somewhat nervous look from the professor when I lit this candle, the students took the challenge in stride and put forth a variety of fairly thoughtful options ranging from talk, make that listen to the player (AFTER the game) to discussing with the team potentially more effective and less incendiary ways of making the point.

The most impressive part of their response was that no one argued for doing what the team, and subsequently the league have essentially done over the last year… nothing. As a result of this inaction, the demonstrations have spread to other teams, sports, venues, causes, a good portion of the league’s fan base is inflamed, @VP saw fit to fly 3200 miles round trip this past weekend purely to do his own demonstration, and you-know-who is practically wetting his pants.

Borrowing a lesson learned thirty years ago from FedEx founder, Fred Smith, we then discussed the fact that leaders don’t just get paid to think, we also get paid to decide, and we must bear in mind that the failure to decide is in itself a decision, and quite often the wrong one. All in, it was a great experience and, as usual, I probably learned more than the students did. (Thanks, Dr. T)

One thing I would ask you, our readers, many of whom hold pretty senior leadership positions to do is to encourage your teammates to thoughtfully react to episodes like this in a timely manner, pursue a reasonable decision process, and, in a work environment already too beset by fear, to pull the trigger, knowing that if they’ve done all those things, you will support them regardless of the outcome.

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