August 5, 2010
What's My Motivation Here?
Many years ago I was talking to a freelance proofreader who was several weeks late getting a project back to me. She chronicled the various issues in her life that were keeping her from completing the job. She concluded by saying, "I really want to get this done. I feel extremely guilty I am so late."
I replied, "Well, that just proves what a poor motivator guilt is."
There was a very long, very silent pause at the other end.Continue reading "What's My Motivation Here?"
July 8, 2009
When I was a new manager, and one who avoided conflict like a cliché, I had a very hard time telling people when some aspect of their performance was poor. So I'd delay and delay until the annual review, and then disgorge all the problems at once to the unsuspecting reviewee. Needless to say, the conversations did not go well.Continue reading "No Surprises"
Posted by Andy Le Peau at 7:38 AM
April 6, 2009
He was livid.
I hadn't been on the phone for thirty seconds before the president of the firm we had been working with was giving me a generous piece of his mind. I had been unresponsive and unprofessional, he said . . . and more. Much more.
I was trying to get a word in, but he didn't let up. He kept going at me for at least another five minutes without adding any new information. This actually worked to my advantage. It gave me time to think.Continue reading "Forced Empathy"
December 16, 2008
Get Them Talking
Senator Joe Biden famously monopolized the time allotted to him in the 2006 confirmation hearings for Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court. In the fifty minutes allotted to Biden, he spoke about 5,600 words to Alito's 2,000.
Biden was not alone. Of the fifteen senators questioning Alito at the hearing, only two (both Democrats) let Alito talk more than they did. When there is a desire to get as much information about Supreme Court nominees as possible, what the majority of senators did is certainly a counterintuitive approach. No doubt Alito was happy to let the minutes tick by without having to say anything that could potentially get him into trouble.
There are lots of wrong ways to interview a prospective employee and a few right ways. One wrong way is to talk too much. The goal of an interview is to get candidates to talk and talk and talk.
So here's point number one: The point of a job interview is to get a window into what kind of person this is you are thinking about hiring. Within limits (some of them legal), I think it's fine to get candidates talking about almost anything. Resist the temptation to talk about the company, the nature of the job, your own pet peeves or anything else. Your job is to get the candidate to talk.
On to point number two: Focus the discussion. Obviously, at some point in the conversation you want to zero in on the job. Since not all questions are created equal, how can we stay on task?
Assuming customer interaction would be an important part of the job, "How would you handle a customer complaint?" is pretty good. But a better approach is, "Tell me about a time you received a customer complaint and how you handled it." With the first question, candidates can imagine ideal scenarios. But the second request is more revealing. What did they actually do? What strategies did they use? What attitudes did they show?
What people say they actually did in the past is a better predictor of the future than what they imagine they will do in the future.
If you want to hire the best person to fill a position in your department, let the candidates do the talking. If you want to talk, maybe you could go into politics.
Posted by Andy Le Peau at 8:30 AM
September 2, 2008
Observe, Don’t Explain
“Show, don’t tell.” That advice has been given to writers as often as laptops have been turned on. Robert McKee repeats the advice in Story, his classic text on writing screenplays. Following Aristotle's advice in Poetics, he says, “Why a man does a thing is of little interest once we see the thing he does. . . . Once the deed is done his reasons why begin to dissolve into irrelevancy” (pp. 376-77).Continue reading "Observe, Don’t Explain"
Posted by Andy Le Peau at 7:55 PM
July 7, 2008
20,000 Staples. How Do You Measure, Measure a Career?
Today I used my 20,000th staple here at IVP. It's taken thirty-five years to reach this milestone. But I have achieved in my career what few others ever dreamed--or ever thought worth keeping track of!
How do I even know this? When I first came as a lowly assistant editor, I was issued a phone, a bunch of blue pencils, a stapler and a box of 5000 staples. After eight years or so, the box of staples was empty. So I went to the supply cabinet and grabbed another. Four empty boxes later, the record was reached. (And that doesn't even count the times I've used someone else's stapler or the automatic stapler in the photocopy machine!)
I'm not sure how many different offices I've occupied (five, I think) in those years, how many commas I've deleted, how many airplane flights I've taken, how many emails I've sent (though I save them all, so I could add them up if you really want to know), how many times someone has interrupted me with a question, how many stories I've listened to in the hallway, how many cups of coffee I've consumed, how many meetings I've been to, how many lame jokes I've laughed at or how many phone calls I've made. (I'm not a nerd after all!) But for some reason the staples stuck.
As I've mentioned here before, large quantities of J course through my veins, which no doubt explains a lot. But why staples? I have no idea. I do know, however, that they've connected pages of memos, letters, reports, forms and faxes representing the birth of ideas and the death of dreams, the routine of standard procedures and the one-of-a-kind reply, the affirmation of a job well done and the diplomatic response to a complaint, the mass dissemination of information and the individual offer of an answer. In this way staples are a metaphor for what editors and publishers do--connecting people and ideas and actions.
All that gets closer than do staples to answering the lead question of how you measure a career. One ancient writer struggled with the same sorts of issues and did a tad better than I have here. He said that rather than counting staples, we should instead number our days. When we do, the first thing we notice is that they are limited, finite. Whether a few or a lot, we only get so many.
What, then, do we do with those days? Will we be wise or foolish with them? In my mind, we have each been given gifts or a gift, some ability in what we do or say, or how we think or see things, that is true to ourselves and that usually stands out to others. It may be the ability to drive a truck safely over hundreds of thousands of miles. It may be the ability to bring healing to the hearts or bodies of people. It may be making numbers into disciplined soldiers. It may be anticipating the needs of others even before they themselves are aware of them.
We begin to measure a career by identifying these gifts. But then we go further. We don't just ask "What am I good at?" but "What gives me pleasure, joy or satisfaction when I do it?" Then we can ask if we have been faithful to the gift we have been given and to the Giver of the gift.
How do you measure a career? Perhaps that's how you do it.
June 9, 2008
Minimizing the Annual Review Fear Factor
It's annual review time here. We operate on a July 1 to June 30 fiscal year, so this is the time each employee gets a performance review for the year. There's always a certain amount of trepidation in anticipation of such a review--both for the employee and the supervisor. One of the best ways, I think, to minimize this on both sides is to make sure there are no surprises.
An employee should not hear about a problem or area of poor performance for the first time at an annual review. Supervisors doing their job should be giving continual feedback to employees throughout the year either at regularly scheduled meetings or on an as needed basis. As I've said here before, keep short accounts with folks. Don't let something simmer and stew. Be timely. Problems that fester don't go away. They just get worse. As Max De Pree says, a leader's job is to define reality and say thank you. Clearly communicating problems is one way reality is defined. You don't do any favors by being vague.
Another manager here also had a helpful suggestion when dealing with problems. He calls it making the charitable assumption. Give people the benefit of the doubt. Start by asking questions, not by making accusations. See what their perspective is first. People want to be judged by their intentions. After hearing their side, then it is appropriate that they hear your side.
Reality and charity--two good things to keep in mind together throughout the year so that the annual review is as constructive as possible for both parties.
Posted by Andy Le Peau at 9:17 AM
March 18, 2008
Good News, Bad News
When Chris got the report back about the manuscript, he knew it wouldn’t be good news for the author. While there was much to commend, the end result was that the whole manuscript would have to be rewritten. It had simply been done from the wrong perspective and wouldn’t work for the intended audience. And it wasn’t just one report that came to this conclusion. It was three.
So as the editor, Chris knew what he had to do. He called the author and asked if they could meet and talk about the reports. A time and date were set. When they got together, Chris was able to smile warmly and genuinely express what he appreciated and then deliver the no doubt unwelcome news that a large amount of work yet remained. He closed with appreciation again for the author’s hard work already.
The editor was following a principle I heard many years ago that applies well beyond the realm of editing: The worse the news, the more personal the communication should be; the better the news, the more permanent the communication should be.
So if you’ve got bad news to deliver, do it in person or (if that is not possible) on the phone. If it is good news, do it in e-mail or (preferably and if time allows) a handwritten note.
The message of good news offered in writing allows the receiver to reread it and come back to the compliment, word of praise, comment of thanks or report of good results more than once. It has a lasting, tangible quality that makes it feel more permanent. If it is spoken, it can easily fade from memory. Certainly we often want to--and it is appropriate to--get good news to people quickly, and in person is often best for that. But following that up with a note is a good idea.
With bad news, it is tempting to fire off an e-mail or letter and not have to face the unhappy recipient so directly. That may help you not feel so bad, but it won’t help the person you are contacting. With the personal touch, people are more likely to be responsive to what you have to say. At the least, one hopes they will feel they were treated with some respect.
The personal meeting between Chris and the author made all the difference. Certainly, that was not what the author wanted to hear. But because it was delivered in a personal, human way, the message was palatable. Work on revising the book began very soon.
March 12, 2008
Hiring Haste Makes Workplace Waste
It’s always a challenge when an employee leaves unexpectedly. She finds another job. He moves because his spouse took a position out of state. But when that employee was especially excellent or in a particularly critical role, it makes things even tougher. There’s work that needs to be done--important work, work with crucial deadlines looming and no one else to fill in. The pressure to hire and hire quickly works on you, gnaws at you, weighs on you. The temptation is to find the first warm body you can and throw that person at the work. I have one word for you: Resist.
One of the easiest and most common hiring mistakes is to hire a candidate you have doubts about just because you are desperate to fill a position. I don’t think I have ever seen this work. As a manager, you are trading a seemingly short-term fix for a long-term problem.
It’s hard, but the best thing you can do is wait until you have found the right person. It will be hard on you and the rest of the team to be short-handed for a while. But it will be easier on you and on the team if you find someone who is able to pull his or her own weight in the long run.
Otherwise you’ll have team members who resent having to pick up the pieces for the new employee who just can’t seem to get the job done or get it done right. And you will spend an inordinate amount of time trying to get the new employee up to speed, correcting the deficiencies and working through tensions in the team. As a result, the work might even be done as slowly as if the position were still vacant.
Ultimately, you will probably have to work through a way to help this person move on to another job, voluntarily or not. That is never a happy prospect, nor is it quick. Once again, you’ve lost time and effort on the important work that needs to be done.
Take the time to hire well the first time, and save yourself time, money and grief.Continue reading "Hiring Haste Makes Workplace Waste"
November 29, 2007
Getting on the Bus
My friend Steve worked as a school bus driver to help pay his way through seminary. His first year on the job was the horror story you would imagine--chaos, unruliness, insolence, anarchy. His second year on the job was a model of order, civility, respect and humanity. What made the difference?Continue reading "Getting on the Bus"
Posted by Andy Le Peau at 12:27 PM