Archive: March 2011


Guest Post: What does it mean to be entrepreneurial?

March 30th, 2011

Chris, the Outside-In Guy: I often talk about what it’s like to be an entrepreneur or offer my advice on entrepreneurial endeavors, but today I’d like to offer another view. Let me introduce Kelly Hocutt, an employee of mine who has always had an interest in entrepreneurship and came to CBI Group because our culture encourages everyone to be entrepreneurial.

I have had the unique opportunity of not only working for Chris at CBI Group, but also working for his father, Alan Burkhard, a serial entrepreneur. Alan has long been a mentor for me and I thank him for fueling my interest in entrepreneurship. At a young age I would bounce my business ideas off him and as I got older, I started to ask questions and request more stories about his work and philosophy. Then one day in 2009, Alan asked if I would be interested in shadowing him for a week to see what the life of an entrepreneur is like.
 
I was honored, grateful, excited, and most of all, unsure how the experience would unfold. Well, that was a year and a half ago and now I work for Alan’s son Chris. During the time I spent with Alan, I did everything he typically does in a week: went to management meetings at his companies, met with his lawyers, looked at P&L’s, attended lunch meetings, was introduced to his friends and colleagues, volunteered at the hospital, had dinner with his wife… you get the idea.
 
What I learned that week answered a lot of questions and offered me a clearer path forward, but also “ruined me,” as Chris says. The Burkhard men frequently say that “you can only control your own career when you are your own boss“. So, while what I learned from Alan “ruined” me at the start of my career, I was fortunate to find a place at CBI Group because it offered me a chance to be entrepreneurial, make decisions for myself and be a leader, but also learn about business before jumping in to be my own boss.
 
I’d like to share a few quotes from Alan Burkhard that were brought to life for me at CBI Group.

    “What’s the value to you? That’s the value to me.”
    “My business philosophy is the same as my personal philosophy.”
    “Culture is defined by what we do and how we act. You must live it. Be it.”
    “It’s all about relationships.”

What I learned is that an entrepreneur’s work is a lifestyle. Work doesn’t start at 9 AM and end at 5 PM. For an entrepreneur, work is life and life is work. “You are your own boss,” is true when taken literally. But what is also important is that when it comes to work, you should be able to be yourself, make your own decisions, challenge and enjoy yourself. That is what I get at CBI Group, the chance to be entrepreneurial, even though “I’m not my own boss.”
 

Duck, Duck, Goose Leadership

March 23rd, 2011

The other day I was running around the office with a lot of things on my mind, trying to get too many things done at the same time, when I realized that I wasn’t being very efficient. Instead, I was unloading incomplete, out-of-nowhere thoughts onto any employee that crossed my path — as if they can read my mind and successfully complete the task that I never explicitly asked them to do.
 
I realized that when a leader’s to do list gets too long and their schedule is overbooked, it is only natural to compensate by a Duck, Duck Goose style of leadership. Today, organizations are very lean, which means leaders must produce along with their team and they have little time to lead. Leaders race through their day in pursuit of crossing things off their list. A Duck, Duck, Goose leader is that manager who never gets deep. One that doesn’t gather information and analyze it before they dole out advice or tasks. They race on and on — catch them if you can! They compensate by “touching” each employee or project, falsely confusing a quick interaction with real progress. So that is the “duck” part.
 
What is the “goose” part? The “goose” is the one that gets tagged by the leader. Has this ever happened to you? You get too little information and not enough time to manage whatever you were asked to do. It is when a leader simply engages and solicits involvement in the work at hand without explanation as to why the work is important or how it values the employee’s goals or development. This is an example of a drowning leader who is willing to take everyone down with them in attempts to keep afloat one more day!
 
We all have Duck, Duck, Goose days. Sometimes weeks. Periods of growth and decline will do that to the best of us. The most important thing is that you are able to recognize when you are simply going through the motions. When you do, take a step back and make the hard decisions. Prioritize the issues to tackle and be prepared to focus a considerable amount of effort on the things at the top of your list and skip the others for the moment. The best leaders don’t just say hello and make the rounds (duck) in the morning and unload the work (goose) to get through their day. Instead they prioritize, dig in to the major tasks at hand and delegate appropriately to generate real, meaningful progress.
 

Outside-In®: The Eternal Focus Group

March 16th, 2011

Although Outside-In is a regular topic in my blog, the definition tends to elude some readers. By definition, Outside-In is when a business is customer-centered. It is a philosophy, a culture, a way of thinking that impacts the way a business and its employees operate. When you’re Outside-In, you are always listening to your customers’ needs and wants for opportunities to improve, drive change, or try something new for your customers.
 
I know many leaders that pride themselves on focusing on the customer exclusively — kudos to them. But how many leaders truly turn outward first, then build a company that does the same? A leader’s focus on the customer does not necessarily translate into every employee. Outside-In suggests that leaders don’t have to hold the customer’s wants and needs on their shoulders alone. In a world that is moving faster every day, isn’t it better to have everyone in the organization listening and reacting to customers, instead of just one or a few?
 
Outside-In companies should and can run like one, big, constant focus group. Imagine a focus group that never ends, where employees get to ask the questions and observe the customers’ behavior. What if these observations were collected and cherished every day and that company decisions and plans were driven based on all the customer insights collected? In an eternal focus group, every employee sees the impact the company has on the customer and when that impact is negative or unproductive, each employee has the opportunity to recognize how the issue could be addressed.
 
What if I told you that that the eternal focus group mindset can even work for the Federal Government! The second annual SAVE Award is accepting submissions starting tomorrow, March 17 through July 22. Federal employees will be able to rank the submissions entered by colleagues, and the general public will be able to vote on the top submissions later in the year. The contest winner earns a meeting with President Obama, who will include the winning idea in his fiscal 2012 budget proposal.
 
In 2010, the contest generated more than 38,000 submissions from government employees and more than 84,000 votes, according to the Office of Management and Budget. “The basic premise here is that many of the best ideas exist on the front line”, said Jeffrey Zients, OMB deputy director. “Those doing the work on the front lines have the best ideas on how to make changes. We want to reach out [to get those ideas.]”
 
Last year’s winning idea came from Nancy Fichtner, a Department of Veterans Affairs employee from Colorado, who suggested that VA medical centers should permit patients to take home extra bandages and medication when they are discharged. The OMB expects this change in policy to save the Department of Veterans Affairs at least $14.5 million by 2014.
 
The Federal Government is certainly not an example of an Outside-In company every minute, every day, every week of the year. But for a few weeks a year they are practicing Outside-In behavior. Imagine your company living with a customer-centric mindset 24/7! Wow, think of the money you could save. Or how much your company could make with new ideas?
 

Talent Acquisition — Fact or Fiction?

March 9th, 2011

Oh, what a difference a year brings. Last year recruitment departments were hopeful for any marketplace news that might influence hiring at their organizations. Just how many “special projects” can one do anyway? Compliance and reporting can only carry us for so long. Eventually, Talent Leaders needed to manage the down cycle by reducing talent acquisition head count (albeit at least temporarily). And we did just that. Whether corporate, outsourcing or third party, we trimmed.
 
Now that the world of recruiting is coming back strongly, I propose that as leaders, we take our experiences to heart and not let traditional corporate experiences influence our fiefdom building tendencies. It is only natural that we all want our own stuff — we want our own teams and for our people to direct and mold our own people. This is the old, easier way right? Not if you were the one who had to let “your people” go. Even if you’ve tried hard to bury the experience, the memories of the recession linger. We all will remember for a long, long time.
 
So I propose that talent acquisition is all about twisting the facts into fiction. Here are my favorite “facts.” You decide if they are fact or fiction.

Talent acquisition fact or fiction #1. Every organization follows a predictable cycle with their hiring. Busy spike, leveling off, down time. The distinct cycles of growth, maturity, and declines influence both the complexity of the work and scalability of the recruitment organization!

Talent acquisition fact or fiction #2. Most organizations do not have great workforce planning tools and resources. Hiring needs can be like a surprise birthday party. Surprise! 50 new reqs for the first of next month!

Talent acquisition fact or fiction #3. Despite the pain experienced during the recession, leaders have egos that trump their memory and still feel inclined to build teams of their own.

Talent acquisition fact or fiction #4. A Leader’s decision to outsource or insource is based on experiences and the approach of companies they have worked for in the past.

Talent acquisition fact or fiction #5. Culture is the only determining factor on recruitment strategy. To outsource or insource is a cultural decision.

Regardless of your view of my “facts,” all of us in talent acquisition have an obligation to think differently today. The “facts” acknowledge that we are in for a turbulent, wild ride. Everything is changing and we must change as well. We need to anticipate and build a talent acquisition strategy that is flexible, technical and scalable enough to address the ups and downs associated with the cycles of corporate recruitment.
 

Best of Breed or a Blank Sheet of Paper?

March 2nd, 2011

A few weeks ago I discussed the maturing of the recruitment outsourcing industry and the role it can play in your business. RPO can be a terrific way to address the complexity and volatility that most companies experience today when dealing with overall recruitment strategy. But what is it that RPO providers are selling and what are companies buying?
 
To start, the RPO industry promised reductions in the costs of hiring. Today companies expect much more, such as improvements in compliance or more quality talent for your business. Beyond these expectations, I find that more and more of our clients are looking to find a staffing partner that tells them how to implement and dictates the recruitment solution. Unfortunately, too much is operated by the recruitment partner’s way of doing things and there is too little customization. Sure, customers want a global solution, but not if they lose control and input. We’d like to think our staffing partner creates a solution for our problem by starting with a blank sheet of paper, right? If we are Nabisco we don’t want a solution built for Kraft. No, we want our own.
 
The RPO industry builds best of breed recruitment processes. Providers have built the strongest recruitment outsourcing product they could with the latest in technology and the best recruitment talent that does the proper task at the right time with the right price. All RPO providers run their recruitment process a little differently but with the same goal – on time, in budget delivery of recruitment services. But getting to know your business, culture, and unique business needs are often not part of the solution. Custom built RPO programs? Unusual. CBI Group calls this starting with a “blank sheet of paper.” How often does this happen? Almost never.
 
Over time, most industry products become very similar as the industry gets commoditized. The difference comes down to providers applying their expertise in a unique and custom way for their customers. In the quest to sell more, we lose something in transition. I don’t brag very well but I was in this game before the industry had an acronym – or even the name. RPO started with great recruitment talent, excel spreadsheets and strong customer relationships. My customer relationships let me in on their staffing challenges and they allowed my company to innovate and try new things. We built a company on that very premise – custom recruitment solutions.
 
The industry finds itself at another turning point. One-size-fits-all is, well, fitting only for the customer that wants one-size-fits-all. But as the song says the times they are a-changing. I see requests for partial RPO. Partial meaning outsourcing one skill set that is critical to business success or a few steps in the recruitment process to improve organizational capability. Customers may like new and shiny objects, but they come back for results. Frankly, we find that what most customers want are old fashioned things; flexibility, relationships, and a partner that will both listen and respond. Not one-size-fits-all solutions.
 
Customers want to know that you differentiate in the right areas. So, if you sell RPO – do you sell best of breed or Blank Sheet of Paper? And if you are looking for a staffing partner – what are you looking for? A custom solution or the best in breed option?
 

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