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Monday, December 12, 2011

Enjoy the Holidays

We'll be taking a short break from blog postings through Christmas and New Years.  Check back on January 2nd for a post on the good ole New Years' Resolution.

We wish you and your family a Christmas and New Years that is filled with joy.

Monday, December 5, 2011

The Value of a Mentor

My professional mentor, Dr. Jim Cashman passed away last week.   He was the head of the Management Department at The University of Alabama, a thought leader in management strategy of the auto industry and a student-focused professor. He was the kind of professional and person I aspire to be.

I’m embarrassed that I’ve never quite told him what all I’ve learned from him, so this post is devoted to a list of things that I’ve learned from Dr. Cashman.
  1. Integrity matters.   Big time. 
  2. Get to know, love and learn from people who are different than you.
  3. Find someone you can talk to about ideas.  Not people, not things, but ideas.
  4. Call your mother. 
  5. Learn from your kid(s).
  6. If you are going into business, find a market that is blue ocean and not red ocean- bloody because of all the sharks and competition in the water.   I think he borrowed this from Dr. Dulek at the Business School, but he made it make sense to me when he looked my business plan and told me 2 of the 3 areas I wanted to develop were red ocean- get out of the water!
  7. Solid leadership principles are timeless, regardless of advances in technology or changes in the world around us.  
  8. The oldest continually operating company is a vineyard and winery.  If you want to last in business, find and sell something people can’t seem to live without.
  9. Stay current on what’s going on in the world around you and in the industry you’re in.  Management 300 with Dr. Cashman started EVERY time with a 5-10 minute review of “What’s New in the News”.  Some students thought it was pointless because we weren’t tested on it,  but most of us learned more from current events related to management principles than we did from the textbook or the lecture.
  10. Passion for your work matters and that passion should be tied to helping others through your profession.
  11. Listen to the market.   The market economy works and in most cases, less government interference in it is better. 
  12. Unions are bad (at least this day in age).
  13. Don’t sweat the small stuff. 
  14. Be honest with people, but do so with tact and compassion.   Just telling people what they to hear doesn’t help them in any way.
  15. Reach out to others- you never know when and where lasting, valuable relationships can be formed.
My relationship with Dr. Cashman started through the Faculty Scholars Program in the Business School, but mentoring relationships can be found in cultivated in a variety of ways. Some of the best ones are the ones formed by informal means. If you don’t have a mentor, I would encourage you to seek one out.  If you do have one, make sure they know the impact they have on your life- don’t wait like I did.

What have you learned from your mentor?

Monday, November 28, 2011

Results Resumes

Many of the questions I get from job seekers are about resumes.  They typically ask questions like, “Should I put my education at the top or the bottom?”  or “Should I have an objective?”  or “I’m over 50, if I list all my dates of employment, will the employer think I’m  too old for the job?” .

All of these are valid questions in the job seekers mind, but the question they really want answered is, “What is going to make me stand out and get my foot in the door?” and trust me, it isn’t whether or not you have an objective listed.

What makes you stand is listing results instead of just job tasks or skills.  For example, if you are in sales, don’t just list that at your current job you “make sales calls”.  What did those sales calls lead to?  Hopefully, a certain increase in customers and thus revenue that you can quantify is what it led to.  Why would you not put this on your resume?  If you are an administrative assistant, tell them that the filing system you implemented led to a reduction in lost orders (and by how many) not just that you have experience filing.  That employer can probably find thousands of people tomorrow that have done filing.

And if they are team results, then all the better.  Tell them about the team results in a way that shows you can 1) Work with a team and 2) Achieve results through and with others.   There is not a job today that doesn’t involve some type of teamwork.

I will admit, it is hard to shift thinking from tasks to results when it comes to work.  The majority of resumes are task based (as are the majority of ways we define jobs). But this is all the more reason to think and put results on your resume.  It is a way to distinguish you from other job applicants, and that is what is going to get your foot in the door for an interview.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Getting Caught up in Competencies

A client I’m working with to implement a performance management and development program for his production team leaders has been having trouble with the word “competency”.  It’s a big word with little meaning to most people, so why do I keep saying it?

I talked a few weeks ago about job modeling the “superstar” in order to develop performance standards for this client.   Basically, I’ve been calling the areas we have identified as critical to performance as “competencies”.

I have tried to stress that what I mean, at least, by “competency” instead of “task” or “job duty” is that a competency is not just simply what the worker does, but what defines excellent performance.  (More information on the distinction between competency modeling and job analysis as well as how to successfully develop competencies can be found in the article, Doing Competencies Well: Best Practices in Competency Modeling).   Competencies should be driven from organizational strategy and be linked to behaviors that distinguish average from excellent performance.

After all, I didn’t observe the worst performer or even the average performer to develop the model for this client.  I observed the one(s) that got results.  Many would say it should be more complicated that than that, and maybe if I described all the steps to develop a valid model, you may think it is.  But it’s not.  The bottom line is what contributes to your business bottom line is what you use.   Maybe I should start calling it a “bottom-line model” instead of a “competency model”.    Do you think this would make more sense to us all?

Monday, November 14, 2011

A Wise Investment

Last week, the Morgan County Business Leaders’ Summit on Early Childhood Education was hosted by the Decatur-Morgan County Chamber of Commerce.  The purpose of the summit was to focus on making young children a top economic priority.
One might begin to wonder, how on earth is Pre-K tied to business or economic success?  The workforce development panel argued there are two reasons:
1.       It matters to the current workforce.  In Alabama, 63% of children from birth to age 5 have both their parents in the workforce.  So access to childcare (and one would hope quality, learning based childcare) is a necessary support for working families. 

In addition, 90% of women and 80% of men reported that childcare was important to them in terms of changes or improvements in jobs or employment according to a 2009 Ask Alabama Poll.  Working parents can be more productive at work if their childcare needs are met.

2.       It matters if we want to have a future workforce.   A staggering 38 out of 100 of students don’t graduate from high school in Alabama.  It is even higher in some areas of the state.   In a  working world that increasingly requires at least a high school diploma to be hired,  we’re losing more than a third of the potential worker pool due to lack of education.

High quality Pre-K has been proven to close the educational achievement gap.   Over one-half of the gap in school achievement is present at school entry, and if a child is not reading on grade level in 1st grade, there is a 90% chance he/she will not be reading on grade level in 4th grade.  Pre-K can help eliminate these gaps, especially for children living in poverty.

                If someone told you that they had an investment for you that guaranteed a 16% rate of return would you invest?  We’d all be stupid not to.  In comparison, the stock market’s annual real rate of return from 1871-2010 was 6.72%.   Well, a study by the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis determined that annual real rates of return on public investments in the Perry Preschool Project (high quality preschool) were 16%.   My question is, as businesses, governments, and individuals why aren’t we all investing?
                Many individuals and companies see the connection and have a dream of investing.  But like Jim Fincher, Site Manager at 3M Decatur said, we need the dream, but we also need the plan to make it happen.  We need a mechanism for interested parties to invest.  If you are interested in creating such a plan for Morgan County, email Jim Page at to join the Education Task Force at the Chamber.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Retirees as Trainers

Part of the work I do in economic development involves interviewing manufacturing plant managers to see how their business is going and to gain insight from them on what the community can do to help them maximize their success.
One area of business that we ask about is workforce training and development.  In speaking with Jim Fincher, Site Manager at 3M Decatur, he said that one of the things that he is excited about is their implementation of retired 3Mers becoming their go-to trainers.    With the influx of new production operators and industrial maintenance staff, Jim said many of which didn’t grow up fixing things (they played video games instead) like the retiring generation did, these baby-boomer retirees are helping teach the new workforce the skills they need to be successful in a production environment where troubleshooting, problem solving and fixing things is a part of the job. 
It’s also a win for the retirees, Jim said, because they get to earn a little extra money.  More importantly, however, the retirees enjoy having the opportunity to teach and share with others not only the skills they possess, but also the wisdom that they have accrued over time.  
Today there is so much talk about succession planning in business.  How are we going to make sure we have the bench staff to replace the baby boomer workforce is a concern I hear frequently.  But why can’t we think outside of the box like Jim at 3M has done?   We don’t have to lose the talent and wisdom of individuals just because they reach their 60s. It doesn’t have to be a stay on full-time or retire choice. People don’t just reach retirement age and become useless to the workplace.  We can offer flexible arrangements to give those at or after retirement age the opportunity to come off the full-time payroll while maintaining what we need from them the most- their experience and expertise.
The Manufacturing Institute’s Skills Gap Report  points to other ways to close the skills gap.  You can find these in the blue box on page 11.
What have you done to think outside the box to meet your training needs?  What ROI have you seen as a result?

Monday, October 31, 2011

Constant Connectedness

Today, we are constantly connected.   With the ease in which we can send and receive information, I wonder if we have fostered a culture of ADD, never fully concentrating on anything and therefore, never really doing anything well.
So what problem does this cause?  First of all, it severely limits productivity.  Secondly, it causes us to never fully engage in the task, or the meeting or must importantly, the person right in front of us.  Ever sat in a meeting and had no idea what was said because you were constantly checking your email on your blackberry?  When did this come back to bite you at work?  Ever had a co-worker come to talk to you about a work-related issue and you constantly kept looking at your computer at emails or your facebook page? How did this hurt your relationship with that co-worker or actually hurt your work outcomes?
What do we do about this constant connectedness? 
1.        Check your email, two- three times a day.  No more.  The Executive Briefing in HR Magazine suggests “e-mail free” times to help workers deal with information overload. Check your email at the beginning of the work day, before or after lunch and finally about an hour before leaving the office or end the workday.  
2.       Don’t take a device that allows you to be connected into a meeting if you can’t resist the urge to log on. 

By doing these two things, the majority of the day you aren’t connected because your email system is not “engaged”.  Therefore, you aren’t distracted when trying to complete other work.  Important tasks get completed and you can give meetings and people you’re with full attention because you aren’t constantly checking your inbox or the internet.

1)      If an email isn’t important or urgent, but needs some attention at some point, classify it as a task on your to-do list, assign it a date and forget about it until it pops up on that to-do list.  Attach important information you need to that task so you can be prepared with the information you need when you go to complete it, which also helps information overload.  In my next post I’ll talk more about considering urgency.

What do you do to manage your connectedness?  Where do you find it hardest to disconnect? 

Monday, October 24, 2011

Information Overload

An executive briefing titled “Too Much Information” in HR Magazine’s January 2011 issue stated, “62% (of workers) admitted that the quality of their work suffers at times because they can’t sort through the information they need fast enough.”  
“Some U.S. Professionals said they spend half their workday receiving and managing information.”   I am working with a company now that has a process for everything.  Because of the sheer multitude of information in the processes and the pace at which business is moving, when a process needs to be referenced to figure out how to perform a new task or operate a machine correctly, they don’t turn to the process because of information overload. Production workers feel like it takes too much time to find what they need to answer their question.  What took someone lots of time and thought in order to draft  standardized processes gets abandoned because it is simply what the workers see as too much information to deal with.   The Executive Briefing goes on to state, “to cope (with information overload), 91% of U.S. workers admit to deleting or discarding work information without reading it.”
The HR Magazine briefing goes on to state that “Nine of 10 U.S. professionals say they need to search for old e-mails or documents at least once a week and not being able to access the right information at the right time results in a huge waste of time.”
So in this age of information overload, what can we do to cope?  I suggest a few things:
1.       Have a mechanism for organizing your information.  For example, use your email system as a filing system to catalogue and store information that is easily accessible.
2.       Subscribe to services that condense relevant information to your industry or line of work into one email or publication instead of trying to read 7 newspapers, 8 blogs and 10 magazines related to your line of work a day.   For example,  because of the economic and workforce development work I do primarily in the manufacturing sector,  I’m a member of a group that sends me a Manufacturing News Daily that condenses relevant news.
3.       Set aside time to “unplug” everyday.  More on this in the next post, but in short, put your blackberry or your iphone or ipad and/or computer away so you aren’t checking emails constantly causing you to deal with information input constantly.

Please suggest more ways you have or can manage information overload!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Constant Connectedness and Information Overload

I had a realization the other day, I think I have work ADD.  I was frustrated that I couldn’t put my hands on the information I needed to complete a task.  I was constantly referring back to my inbox to find information I needed and with my Outlook open while I was working on the task, every time an email came in, what would I do?  Well open it and read it of course although none of them had anything to do with the task I was striving to complete!   
What is the problem here?  Bottom line, my productivity was being sabotaged.  As a result of:  1. Information Overload and 2.  Constant Connectedness.  The next two posts will address these issues separately by framing each issue and suggesting ways to deal with the problems.
But before these posts come, have you ever felt like you have work ADD because of these issues or others? What do you do to cope? 

Monday, October 10, 2011

80/20 Rule

In my last post, I identified key behaviors that a stand-out team leader at a production facility demonstrates.  One of these is the ability to get rid of the poor performers.   In an AIDT (Alabama Industrial Development Training) class I facilitate, one of the principles that seems to resonate most with participants is the 80/20 rule.  This rule, stemming from an economic principle developed by Pareto, emphasizes that 80% of your problems as a leader at work come from 20% of your people.  In essence, we end up leading by exception by spending all our time focusing on the “slackers” which, in turn, demotivates the 80%.  
Many find it hard to deal with poor performers.  Confrontation isn’t enjoyable for most, so we avoid it.   This avoidance leads to increased performance issues in the 20% because we don’t fix it when it starts, or even before it starts, and we end up neglecting those that deserve our attention the most- those that deserve to have their positive performance developed and rewarded.
So, how can we deal with this issue? The AIDT class emphasizes several things:
1.       When someone demonstrates a performance problem (showing up late to work, not meeting performance goals for example) address the problem immediately in private with that person individually.   Don’t bring it up to the entire team and don’t overlook it.
2.       View the progressive discipline process in place at your company as a way to actually motivate good performers by using it as a mechanism for getting rid of poor performers.
3.       Spend time rewarding and developing the 80% 80% of your time.  When you deal with the 20% immediately, you have time to do this.
Questions to consider:
1.       Is 80/20 accurate for your organization, or is the percentage of slackers less?  If it is less, what have you done to foster this? 
2.       How have you dealt with your “slackers” and what are results you have seen in doing so?

Monday, October 3, 2011

Job Model the Superstar

I’m working with a manufacturing company that is focused on developing its Team Leaders.  These Team Leaders are responsible for a particular unit of production work.   Recently, a team leader left, and the “best” team leader was given responsibility over the area that was left without a lead while continuing to maintain responsibility for his own area.   He doubled production in two weeks for the new area while maintaining strong production levels in his primary area.
In working to develop a way to measure, monitor and develop performance in these team leaders, we’ve decide to start by examining what makes this superstar team leader so successful.    After all, why would you want to develop performance measures for selection, training, and evaluation based on the mediocre? 
After some observation of this lead’s work here are some keys to his success as demonstrated through his behavior.
1.       He listens first and talks only when necessary.  When he does talk, it is positive.  He doesn’t complain. 
2.       He carries a small notepad around with him where he makes lists of work needed to be done and prioritizes accordingly.
3.       He stresses both quality and production to his people.  Some of his peers are so focused on getting production out the door that they sacrifice quality and are constantly plagued with re-work, thus facilitating the cycle of feeling like there isn’t enough time to get it all done.   In the superstar team leads world, there is enough time to get it all done and get it all done right because it is done right the first time.
4.       He assesses and coaches his subordinates as individuals.  Where one needs to be yelled at to motivate action, another needs to be quietly praised.  He figures this out and responds accordingly to drive results.
5.       He is specific in his instructions without being overbearing or micro-managing.  You won’t hear him say,  “I need you to try to get this done.”  He will say,  “This is to be done by Friday at Noon.”
6.       He asks questions and solicits feedback.  He will follow up with the statement,  “This is to be done by Friday at Noon” with, “What support do you need from me and our team to make sure this happens?”
7.       He gets rid of the poor performers (more on this in my next post).   After he has evaluated performance, worked to drive improvement and not seen it, he isn’t afraid to show them the door by firing them or helping them realize that this is not the right job for them.  Again, more on why this is important in my next post.
We’ll be taking these behaviors along with others and developing a competency model for team leaders.  We will then be using the competency model to drive the development of a performance evaluation and development matrix for the leads.  This will aid the company in selecting, evaluating and developing their talent.
To help us, what behaviors do your superstars demonstrate that drive performance?

Monday, September 26, 2011

The Strengths “Fad” vs. The “Dark Side” of Personality

While at the SIOP (Society of Industrial and Organizational Psychologists) Annual Conference a couple of years ago, I attended a discussion on the Problem with the Strengths Fad.   Several books and different versions of the StrengthsFinder assessment that Gallup, Inc. markets and sells have come out of the strengths psychology movement primarily led by Donald O. Clifton. The basic premise is that you need to discover your strengths and focus on them in order to succeed in the workplace.  Likewise, companies should take time to match employees with positions that play to their strengths (person-job fit) in order to drive company success.
A key panelist in this discussion was Robert Hogan, a major figure in personality assessment and owner of a large personality assessment firm, Hogan Assessment Systems.   Hogan is known for his research on the  “dark side” of personality and argued that focusing only on our strengths is counterproductive.  One of Hogan’s assessment offerings is the HDS (Hogan Development Survey) which seeks to identify personality “derailers” and is used in leadership coaching and development.  The dimensions on this assessment may actually manifest as strengths (none of the dimensions would strike you as strongly negative), but under stressful situations, they may manifest themselves as huge performance risk factors.
Although I think there is obviously room for both schools of thought in the marketplace (both Gallup and Hogan are laughing all the way to the bank on the money they are making off the assessments they have developed), I think what is important to consider is whether strengths and derailers or the dark side of personality actually come from the same key personality dimensions inside us.   McCall and Lombardo (1983) speak to this curvilinear relationship between strengths and weaknesses in studying success versus derailment in upper-level management.   Basically, when we maximize one outcome, through a behavior manifesting itself as a strength tied to our personality, we are minimizing the chance of the opposite outcome of that core dimension of our personality manifesting itself as a weakness or derailer through a negative behavior.
To illustrate, I use an exercise as a part of a 360° evaluation process where employees of the leader being analyzed are given a list of words that would describe desirable characteristics in a leader.  I ask them to pick the top two strengths and weaknesses of their boss.   This is also a consensus building exercise where I sit and listen to the employees discuss what they see as key strengths and weaknesses of their manager.   The last time I conducted this exercise, after much discussion, the employee team decided on the same two words for both their choice of the two strengths and two weaknesses in their boss.
Odd you may think, how can a strength also be a weakness?  Well, for example, some of the best speakers who inspire action through their words are also the worst listeners- both, however, are communication dimensions.  Some of those that are most energetic in the leadership style can manifest both positive and negative energy depending on the situation.
So what’s the point?  The point is, what we need to be doing is not arguing over whether we  need to focus on strengths or weaknesses, but make sure that individuals’ key personality characteristics manifest themselves in positive ways-  they come out as strengths in behavior instead of weaknesses. 
A couple of quick ways to do this for yourself:
1.       Seek input from the people who are around you the most- your family, your co-workers, etc. and ask them to help you identify examples of behaviors you demonstrate when you’re at your best and at your worst.
2.       Then, I bet you can boil these “angel” and “devil” moments down to one key dimension of yourself.
3.       Once you’ve identified your key strength/weakness, focus on making sure your behavior demonstrates the strength side of the equation.  You can do this in several ways, but I would suggest asking those that around you the most to again call you out when you are showing both the good and the bad. 
For example, when you’re in a conversation with someone close to you, ask them to help you identify when your strength of communication is getting in the way of you listening. If your strength is discernment about other people’s character and motives, make sure someone close to you calls you on it when you start to be overly critical of someone you’ve “figured out”.
 Also, when you see yourself about to “derail” by showing that negative behavior that really is one of your strengths, remove yourself from that situation.  For example, if you are easily excitable and you know of stressful situations that make you excitable in a way that honestly freaks your co-workers out, take a break from that stressful situation and come back to it before you make a-you-know -what out of yourself.

After all, when you’re being true to who you are (your personality) all you have to do is make sure it shows itself in a positive way.  When you do, you succeed at work and in life.

When have you caught yourself about to derail and flipped the switch to make sure your behavior was actually positive?

Monday, September 19, 2011


In my last post, I briefly introduced the company.  We have three key areas of business.  One that focuses on helping students and parents determine the right college and career fit.  Another that seeks to support passive or active job seekers with their career search, and finally a focus on leadership and performance management services for businesses.  
The primary purpose of this blog, however, will not focus on issues related to all lines of our business.   Horizon Point’s blog will focus on workplace issues, more specifically performance management and leadership issues.    If you would like more information and advice related to career development, whether you’re a student, parent or adult, but sure to check out our Horizon Point Consulting, Inc. Facebook Page
Each blog will strive to:
1.       Describe and discuss a performance management or leadership issue
2.       Provide insight for addressing the issue that is behavior driven.  Why behavior-based? My core belief is that people are a business’s greatest asset and the best way to maximize the people asset is through behavior-based development.
3.       Ask for insight from blog followers about the issue being addressed.
Posts will occur at least every Monday morning, so start your week off right by reading and participating in this blog that seeks to maximize people development in the workplace!

Friday, September 2, 2011


One of my favorite songs is Sara Bareilles’ “Uncharted”.   Leading up to the high point of the song, she states, “Compare where you are to where you want to be and you’ll get nowhere.”  Although I love the song, I couldn’t disagree more.   

Figuring out where you want to be and then charting a course to get there, in other words, goal setting, has been proven to lead to results.   Whether you’re a high school student lost in the shuffle of what to do after you graduate, a job seeker who just plain hates your job or has found yourself out of a job , or a company who has no plan for developing your talent, charting your course is actually where you need to start.

Our newly formed company, Horizon Point Consulting, Inc., helps individuals and companies do just this through career and leadership coaching.  We help you find the optimal point on your horizon and help you chart a course to get there.

After listening to “Uncharted” again, though, I’m led to believe that Sara actually agrees with me.  “Compare where you are to where you want to be and you’ll get nowhere” is followed by the high point of the song, “I’m going down!”   I think she realizes that going uncharted, or rogue, although often appealing and possibly exciting, actually leads you “down” when it comes to the important things in life.

When have you gone uncharted and found yourself nowhere?