Archive: 2010

Business “Danger Zone”

December 21st, 2010

I love to coach youth soccer. The principles of leadership I practice in business extend very well to sports and coaching teenage boys. In fact, the boys are often more innocent and pure, which makes them easier to motivate and reach than the often opinionated and experienced professionals in the business world. On the flip side, life tends to provide a wonderful means to teach and coach business. As an entrepreneur, teaching and coaching are one and the same.
What is the danger zone? In soccer, it is the area of the field that extends out from the goal posts and is the part of the field from which most goals are scored. Danger Zone The size of the zone depends on the soccer players’ age. Generally, most goals are scored in the “center”, so it is much safer to clear the soccer ball down the sidelines than down the middle. To remain a step ahead of the kids (and the parents) in their development, we learned about the concept of the danger zone. In the early years, the game is all about skill development and tactics really come into play. But the game can be simple too. Get the ball into the danger zone if you are on offense, out of the danger zone if you are on defense.
What is the business danger zone? Where are you able to score most easily? In what areas are you most vulnerable and need to be more defensive oriented. Can you work on “scoring” more in business and reducing risk at the same time? If you asked my soccer team, they would say it is very hard to both. You can be become defensively oriented or offensively gifted. But it is difficult to do both. You have to choose your philosophy and stick with it. In business? Similarly, you must choose your priorities carefully – and stick with them.
In business, a leader enters the danger zone when he tries to accomplish too much. You have seen this happen. You have heard the speech; we all know this leader. The strategy is complicated and the list of to-dos are impossible to remember and even harder to relate to. Why does it sound like they are they reading directly from the business plan?
Great leaders choose simple priorities. These leaders clarify the rules of the business in a simple way and repeat that message over and over again. They learn that the business danger zone varies by the business and is not something to take lightly. Successful leaders also understand that they should not apply business tactics directly from a seminar they attended or an article that they read. Instead, those concepts can be incorporated over time. It is vital that leaders recognize the danger zone for their business.
So are you going to focus on defending your danger zone or will you work to attack your opponents? Offense or Defense? Your choice. I bet you can’t do both at the same time. Just ask the Klondike Express boys. In the end, we chose to concentrate on defense, yet the lessons ended up showing up offensively. Go figure…

The Powers of Observation

December 9th, 2010

As a talent acquisition organization we are constantly asked for the magic formula when it comes to making hiring decisions. Are interviews effective? Do you perform reference checks? What assessments do you use for sales people? There are progressive theories and best practices for just about every single part of the hiring process when you are evaluating talent. When asked for my favorite, I think I surprise customers.

Allow the talent to observe the job. All things considered, when someone has been phone screened, interviewed several times and evaluated, I find there is one step that strengthens the process. Sit them next to their new potential peer group. If they are a receptionist, put them on the switchboard. If they are in sales, have them attend a meeting or go on the road with someone.

This is an expensive and time consuming extra step, who has the time? I won’t bore you with a lot of statistics — we are all hammered with the costs of a bad hire and the time it takes to replace open slots on your organization chart. But to let a prospective candidate see your “warts” and learn all of your trade secrets before they are hired? How racy! So out there! Hiring is a two way street right?

Imagine if the candidate discovers that they would really hate the work. When I was in high school I wanted to be a stock broker and my parents arranged for me to spend the day with a family friend that was in the business. To my 16 year old eyes, at first I saw the glamor of the BMW and a great lifestyle. Then I went to see the work site and spending ALL day on a head set making cold calls seemed like nothing I wanted to be a part of.

Allow me to share a story from my past on this concept. A friend was hiring for a role in his firm and the two finalists had run the gauntlet; weeks were spent attracting, screening, qualifying and netting candidates for this important role in the business. I recommended that the finalists be allowed to observe the role and spend time with staff. My friend thought it was not necessary; there was a clear number one candidate. Why bother? They took my advice and during the observation time with “ideal” candidate, the applicant admitted to an employee that they had misrepresented their resume. See?

During an interview process people are always on their best behavior. During time in the office, they relax and get comfortable. They are themselves and you can see if they are what you really need them to be.

I know hiring can be fraught with (unforeseeable) mistakes, so why not do something simple to strengthen your process?

If you have another simple, practical point of view on all things leadership and talent related drop me a line.

Hard in and Easy out!

November 18th, 2010

Leadership is all about the “people side of the business”. It just seems as if the focus and importance of people issues ebbs and flows with the state of our business. For the last two years most “people” conversations have been exclusively about cutting costs, reducing head count or associated expenses, and/or plans to create efficiencies. Many businesses find themselves in a spot where they are lean and this means that many, many organizations find themselves panicking quietly about people and talent issues. I hear these questions each and every day with more urgency:

  • Should we hire to add headcount or use temporaries?
  • I do not have staff to conduct hiring; how do I get started again?
  • Should I have a long term strategy or simply react now?
  • How do I make hiring a core competency? What role should my managers and staff play in the process?

I will let you in on a little secret – HR folks of all kinds are now finding jobs at a steady, if not record clip. We cut them fast and hire them back just as fast. Perhaps a little too fast. Over the last twenty years I have operated within an informal mantra, “It should be hard to get into your company as a new hire, yet very easy to leave”. This statement of hard in, easy out is simple to remember yet profound in its significance to your business.

First the hard in. Your employees want to feel proud of how we bring new staff into the business. It is great if your process for hiring is effective and makes it exclusive. It should be difficult to get hired. Truthfully, it should be a process that never, ever stops.  How many of you regret that your stopped viewing talent over the recession? Most of us (if we are honest) know it to be true. We need cash and TALENT to win as opportunities continue to emerge!

The easy out is just as important. Trust me when I say that the workforce knows they will not work for you for a lifetime. They expect to have seven or so different roles throughout their career. This reality is reinforced every moment with a media frenzy of companies that make business decisions that impact their workforce! The workforce knows business can no longer afford to be loyal. And surprise! They won’t give it to you anyway. There is too much churn and reality in the business world for anyone to be lulled into a false sense of security. No longer do candidates call us and say, “I am just looking for a safe company that I can stay with for many years.”  That is no longer the reality for most employees.

My suggestion is to create an honest, open environment around this issue. Your culture must be capable of accepting the fact that you are “leasing” an employee for a period of time. You want their productivity, their creativity, their innovation and they in turn get fair market value in compensation and learning that makes them a more valuable asset to their careers.
Make it hard to get in to your company, yet make it very easy to leave. Do this and you will have the talent you need and the honesty that makes business simple, refreshing and a great story to share…

Visit CBI Group’s Career Page.

Outplacement Launch

November 2nd, 2010

Leading HR Recruitment Firm CBI Group and Barton Career Advisors Expand Strategic Alliance with Launch of Outplacement
HR recruitment firm CBI Group and career coaching firm Barton Career Advisors announced today an expansion of their strategic alliance into outplacement services.

Newark, Del. (PRWEB) November 2, 2010

HR recruitment firm CBI Group ( and career coaching firm Barton Career Advisors ( announced today an expansion of their strategic alliance into outplacement services. The two companies, which announced their partnership in June 2009, share similar philosophies for providing value to clients.

“This was the next logical step in our partnership,” said Christopher Barton, president of Barton Career Advisors. “CBI Group has a deep, credible market presence in helping businesses to craft innovative human capital solutions.”

The new flexible outplacement solution offered by the joint venture focuses on high-touch delivery and will be supported by CoachOnetoOne™, Barton Career Advisors’ career transition portal. A key component of the service offering will be an intense focus on individual client relationships.

“It became clear that the market was looking for an alternative to the current offerings in the outplacement industry,” said Chris Burkhard, president and founder of CBI Group. “We confirmed through several initial engagements that Barton Career Advisors’ model and technology have what it takes to deliver.”

Barton Career Advisors has added new outplacement resources and information on their web-site at

About Barton Career Advisors, LLC

Barton Career Advisors, LLC, is a relationship based outplacement and career coaching firm offering premier direct-to-client and business to business services. The company, headquartered in Newark, Del., employs a need-based business model, BCA One-to-One™, which is driven by experience and client outcomes. Barton Career Advisors has over 15 years experience in HR recruitment processes, people development and business operations.

About CBI Group

CBI Group is a Project/On Demand recruitment firm founded in 2001 by staffing industry leaders. CBI Group specializes in providing results-oriented solutions to their customers. Their depth of experience implementing single and multi-position recruitment strategies enables them to provide highly responsive and cost effective services. Through efficient management and quality consulting they ensure that their clients receive maximum return on their investment by managing projects to meet their current and future needs. Known for their trademarked Outside-In® culture, CBI Group’s workforce embraces change, competes through knowledge and takes service to the “nth” degree.


The McKinley Edge

October 28th, 2010

I have a dream to climb Mt. McKinley in Alaska – all 20,320 feet of it.  All of my friends and family know it, my mom begs me not to talk about it and my wife laughs a little knowing that I am all talk (for now).  I hike and backpack year-round and take several recreational hiking trips. There is always a peak involved, small east coast peaks that challenge us about as much as a normal day at the office.  To climb McKinley, you have to train ridiculously hard (see the sample workout that I have used) and work up to it by climbing one of the many “fourteeners” (14,000 ft. peaks) in Colorado, then you move on to Mt. Rainier in Washington.  This is standard mountain climbing play book stuff.

In training for such a difficult climb, one must train to the concept of the McKinley Edge – going beyond your training comfort zone.  When faced with a life threatening situation, no matter how tired or exhausted you are, there must be reserves left – a final gear to get you out of danger. The McKinley Edge involves training your body for that extreme or going to maximum heart beyond the point of exhaustion.  Each person has a different stress tolerance or pain threshold.  Everyone’s endurance level is different.  The key thing is you can train your body for extremes and that really got me thinking…

If you can find the McKinley Edge for you body, can you work on it for your business?  Can you find your leadership McKinley Edge?  I think you can.  As a young man while working at Placers I had many different roles and assignments.  As soon as I thought I mastered one office, I got two. When I learned to handle managing managers I got five direct reports.   Never managed the HR function or sales?  I got the exposure and it definitely did not come easy.  I would like to apologize now to those early employees that had to teach me to manage them.  I had the motivation and desire, good mentors and my work ethic was non-stop.  Still I had to get used to the stress and responsibility and grow into it. I had to want to grow into it.

The key was something that my father, Alan Burkhard, theorized and has lived everyday of his life: You can train for stressful situations in business by practice. It involves getting comfortable with change; you have to want to exploit it.  It can not happen to you; you must make it happen.  The McKinley Edge in business is different for all of us.

You can get there by:

  1. Seeking out special projects and additional responsibility at work. Gain an edge.
  2. Make a presentation in front of others.
  3. Start a business – SO MUCH TO LEARN! It is a constant McKinley Edge training session for years to come.
  4. Put yourself in new/uncomfortable business situations.
  5. Work from an entrepreneurial business!

My McKinley Edge at this point?  It never changes.  Every two weeks I have to meet payroll for my company.  This is one thing I will never get used to.  Take a moment and define your McKinley Edge for your role or your business and post your thoughts!  I have learned that most would send me an email in private instead of posting – find your edge and post….

The Journey of a Single Dollar Spent

October 21st, 2010

Lots of business folks think they understand business numbers. They know if they made money or if they hit their key performance numbers.  We even know by intuition when the business feels “okay”.  There is a certain hum and excitement level that permeates the hallways. One area of business that the typical leader knows little about is the “value of a dollar to the business”. We all know the old saying that “money does not grow on trees” or “do you think I am made of money?”.  Our families all said similar things when we wanted money or spent too frivolously.

Have you ever stopped to think of how long it takes to get a return on a dollar spent in your business? If the dollar goes into marketing you may get a great brochure or a better social media presence. Do you get the dollar back? No! You got marketing value. Value that represents the possibility of some future return, possibly. It might generate a lead or a proposal or a new customer. The new customer? If you are lucky they start quickly. Invoicing terms today enable you to get paid in 45, 60, maybe 90 days… So one dollar spent in marketing comes back to you in over 100 days? If you bet right. If you did it well, you get a return. This is business. Spend your money like it’s the last that you have.

This plays out across all of our businesses everyday. We have payroll. We pay our bills. We have operating expenses. All of this is paid from that $1! And the return? Always a matter of ones perspective. For me, managing a business today requires real insight into that value of a dollar.

  • I can keep it and I save it for a rainy day.
  • I can invest it but I expect a return balanced with the risk I take.
  • I can spend it and enjoy what I get in return.
  • I can invest it in the business but will I get a return? When?

Trusting risk again in the entrepreneurial journey!

October 1st, 2010

Most entrepreneurs hate to take risks. In fact, the more we take the more we try to mitigate the risks we can control. We scrimp and save and have conservative investments in our stocks and 401k’s. When we borrow for the business, we avoid borrowing in our personal lives. When we invest in our business, we reduce our expenses at home any way we can. Entrepreneurs know how hard it is to get one dollar that is spent back into their business.

When we started our business, we were real believers in the American Dream. We bought into the notion of being your own boss. We wanted to take our idea, build a great place to work, grow it and have it create a “lifestyle” that few ever achieve. Many want this but will not attempt it because of the risks and sacrifice required.

Over the last two years we have seen the “entrepreneurial dream” fractured for many. There are countless examples of good businesses that could no longer support themselves and their owners. We’ve all heard stories of homes in foreclosure, loans called in and bankruptcies filed. This is the really dreadful bottom line that many have faced. There are those that have to go find jobs in a marketplace that will not even pay them unemployment (one of the risks of being your own boss).

There are also the stories of those companies that survived through the recession. They have made their payments and negotiated to lower their business costs. They have lowered employee head count and strategically executed plans to squeeze out more top line revenues. Yet they have little left to invest, cannot borrow and probably would not if they could get it. They cannot hire. They cannot grow. They are wounded….The question that comes to mind is, “When can we trust that risk taking might be rewarded again?“.

This is not intended to be all doom and gloom. In fact, my message around all of this is that there is real hope. I have learned many important leadership lessons through this recession that helped me survive and thrive with CBI Group.

My risk taking list:

1. You really have to be willing to canabilize your business. No sacred cows here please. Times change. We must launch new offerings all of the time. This life cycle is critical.

2. Balance. Gone are the days where business is like a constant happy hour! Get your life in order. Stay in shape. Have a life. Take a simple day off or vacation. Your staff and your business will thank you.

3. Business is an ultra-marathon. Not a marathon. Or half marathon. Many of us start our businesses like a short sprint and attempt to do it forever. I have been doing this for nine years and have come to understand that one must pace themselves for a long run. When a great runner runs a 100 mile race, they run 16 minute miles. A snails pace compared to what they can do in a short run and more than twice as slow as a training pace. What does this mean in business? That recessions happen; there is a cycle to business and one must plan for the ups and downs of the business race!

4. Know when to get back in the race or stock market or whatever metaphor you like. Everything evolves. This market is improving. Many of us are making good things happen.

When will you trust the entrepreneurial dream again?

Get out from behind your desk!

September 14th, 2010

Today’s comments may sound a little a bit like ranting and raving. I am on various Boards; I lead people; I coach a bunch of teenagers in soccer; I coach small business owners for a living, sometimes just for the sheer joy of it. I end up hearing about a lot of problems and opportunities and am thrust into negotiations – essentially, I hear it all.

There is a common link between my experiences in all of the situations I am involved in. As leaders we tend to coach from our seats, stay behind the desk and dole out our wisdom. We tell people what they should do and what they should be thinking. You know what? People don’t learn this way. They can’t act on your advice completely. They will miss parts of it and forget important details.

Are leaders lazy or uninformed? I am not sure. We like to have people to work with and to help. We “graduated up” and are glad we do not have to do the job our staff does – at least sometimes… The main observation I have? Leaders simply need to learn to think differently. We need to get our hands dirty. We can and will see the real world if we roll up our sleeves and go see what our staff is doing. Currently there is big network television show that sends its CEO out to do the line work and see how hard it is to meet the very productivity standards they may have put in place for the business! This show points out what I knew long ago. If you get close to your business and ask your people what needs fixing, they will tell you.

In small business? We have no choice but to work side by side. However, there are still tremendous opportunities to teach and set an example by doing.

Imagine a business world without rules and legislators.

August 27th, 2010

Mastering the Rockefeller HabitsThe summer is reading season for many of us, that rare time when “the tower of guilt” on my nightstand gets reduced to a manageable inch or two. I have always been a huge fan of Verne Harnish, Mastering The Rockefeller Habits. This is an incredible book for small business owners, chock full of tools and ideas that unleash your inner entrepreneur without limiting you. The “tower of guilt” euphemism is in fact borrowed from Verne!

This summer I decided that if my favorite business book today is about Rockefeller and his habits that I would go right to the source and read about John D. himself through the book, Titan. (Yes, it is seven hundred pages.) Rockefeller was, well, quite a force as a businessman, father, philanthropist, investor, etc. He gave more money away than any man alive. His family started colleges, medical research and national parks. He also made more money in his day than any other Robber Baron or business figure in modern times!

I thought it might be fun to share what I think our John D’s top few “habits” and how they might apply to your world today.

  1. First and foremost know the numbers. John D. started his career as a bookkeeper. He always knew his figures for his companies and for any business deal. He always did his homework and had the information to make informed business decisions because of it.
  2. Demand excellence. John D. was ruthless in many ways and his reputation legendary in how he did anything to gain market share and hurt a competitor. The greatest impact his story had for me was to expect excellence from your people. John D. expected his staff to work within his culture and to win. If you were into many of life’s vices, he had no time for you. If you did not do your job, you were asked to leave. This is easy to read and understand. By today’s business standards I see many business owners and managers struggle with something so basic. Establish expectations. Inspect what you expect and be direct in your feedback about it.
  3. Always having a contingency plan. With staff, in an acquisition, in a negotiation – John D. always worked many chess moves ahead. He had backup plans. He had strategies. Most importantly he was in control of the details with his business.
  4. Be adaptable. John D. was the world’s original change agent. Well before “who moved my cheese” sentiments he was able to adapt to the changes around him and use them to his advantage. For 60 years John was a fiercely private man and ran the world’s largest business that way. He protected all trade secrets fiercely; only a handful of top executives really knew about his broad reaching plans. Yet later in life he became more comfortable and learned to use media to his advantage. His company started the first Public Relations Department ever in business.
  5. Never be “owned” by your funding source. John needed bankers early on to fund his business and thousands of acquisitions in the oil business. He built great relationships yet always detested the process of needing them. Over time Standard Oil became their own bank keeping high cash reserves on hand to do their own lending to the business! John D. was in advocate for running a business in a conservative fashion; he would be “fashionable” today.

There is so much more to say about John D.! Send me your notes and emails on what books have captivated you this summer!

Open Source Leadership

August 12th, 2010

If you like technology or have had to buy it for your business, you know there are two camps. Camp one: pay for a license to use the software and have the privilege to leverage it for business gain. Camp 2: the world of open source software. There are pros and cons to both. Software choices can also be applied as a metaphor for styles of leadership.

There are those that “license” leadership. They keep information close and use it as a source of power and ultimately control. These leaders believe in traditional social mores in business. They see teaching as a job for a trainer, not a leader. Learning and knowledge are not “free” nor encouraged, unless it helps the employee make more widgets. Structure and process trump organizational speed and creativity. For a license leader things like salary, bonus, and other perks act as strings to be yanked to demand and expect high levels of performance. For the employee, performing for the license leader often requires a compromise on who they are and who they want to be. I have often heard they are corporate actors expected to perform in scripted corporate ways.

Now contrast this with my concept of “open source leadership”. The great thing about open source software is that the masses make it better — all that contribute own it. In most cases it is very equal for users and contributors. You can pay to use it or simply make it better. Innovation and problem solving can excel here. For an open source leader this means that you can have the “source code” as an employee. There are no secrets and information is always available; control and responsibility are given out to all. It means that as a leader you embrace that business is complex and the way to manage it is by getting all to be an equal part of the business. You really have the most control when you hand it out to your employees. When you give up control, will the end result be exactly what you wanted? Probably not, which is most likely a good thing. New thinking, more folks involved, more eyes and ears paying attention are a benefit to everyone.

Now let’s lay out the truth — it is really, really hard to be an open source leader. It is hard to change just for the sake of change. There most be a compelling business reason, such as better results, more profit, more of something. Guess what? It will happen for you. Just not right away. And not every day. All Leaders have bumps in the road. It is how you smooth them out that really matters. And open source leadership is not for all. It is a challenge to trust and hand it out all of the time. It is amazingly hard to get the company communication thing just right.

It probably would not surprise you that my company utilizes open source software products. I was an early adopter as they say. I can tell you it is not perfect. Far from it. Just like any chosen leadership style. Yet for me it is the tool of choice. Fast, fair value, transparent, adaptive. These are things I want to be as a leader everyday.

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