Saturday, May 24, 2014

To Be a Rock and Not to Roll

“What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” Ecclesiastes 1:9

There is Classic Rock Music and then there are Classic Rock Songs. Any Mount Rushmore of Classic Rock Songs includes Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven”. The other three on my “Rushmore” are “Nights In White Satin” (Moody Blues), Comfortably Numb (Pink Floyd) and All Along The Watch Tower (Jimi Hendrix). My wife has vetoed the playing of these at my funeral, but if I outlive her…watch out.

However, a problem has arisen with respect to “Stairway to Heaven”, a problem which I thought had been resolved long ago. Another band from back in the day, Spirit, had a song titled “Taurus” that starts out a lot like STH. I thought everybody knew this. Then I realized that a lot of people who used to know this are now dead or can no longer remember much of anything; certainly not Spirit or Randy California. (He did vocals, played guitar and was one of the band’s founders. He actually got his name from Jimi Hendrix. But that’s another story and also involves a Randy Texas. Randy California’s real name was Randy Craig Wolfe which should have been cool enough if you ask me.) Spirit’s instrumental “Taurus” was written and recorded a couple of years before STH. In fact, Spirit was a pretty hot band in the late 60’s and Led Zeppelin actually opened for them a couple of times. They no doubt heard “Taurus” and I guess the tune stuck in their head. They tweaked it just a tad, but it’s basically the same music used in the “Stairway to Heaven” intro.

So when Stairway to Heaven came out, those of us fortunate enough to have Spirit’s first album, creatively titled “Spirit”, immediately recognized the intro music as being essentially the same as Taurus. However, by this time the mainstream was starting to get on board with what would become Classic Rock. In addition, Spirit’s second album had come out with their biggest hit, “I Got a Line On You” (had nothing to do with drugs…or did it?). Spirit became known for that one hit and Led Zeppelin turned out to be one of the greatest rock bands ever. Spirit, the band was forgotten and Taurus, the song, became a footnote in Rock N’ Roll history.

Then this week we hear that Spirit’s founding bassist Mark Andes and the estate of the late Randy California are planning to file a copyright infringement lawsuit and seek an injunction that would prevent Zeppelin from re-releasing the album containing the song, which the band has plans to do this summer. I guess someone forgot to tie up a loose end somewhere. I always figured that some 40 odd years ago Spirit quietly got a check under the table and agreed to keep their mouth shut. And no one was going to pay attention to their handful of burned out fans who were mumbling something about Taurus and those English bastards ripping off our guys.

It’s still hard for me to imagine that this music is over 40 years old. That it’s being re-released and that someone would file suit over it is even more incredible. The cynic in me thinks that the lawsuit is just all part of the promotion. Once again Spirit is getting a check under the table along with a wink and a nod for helping out.

(Randy California died in 1997. He drowned in the Pacific ocean at the age of 45 while rescuing his 12-year-old son Quinn from a rip current near the home of his mother, Bernice Pearl, at Molokai, Hawaii. He managed to push Quinn (who survived) toward the shore.)

And if you listen very hard
The tune will come to you at last
When all are one and one is all, yeah
To be a rock and not to roll

And she's buying a stairway to heaven

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Talent or Skill or Something More Part II

Last time we talked about the importance of talent and skill, the differences between talent and skill and how to evaluate them. We noted that while talent and skill are critical to success, they are not enough. The application of talent and skill requires a strong work ethic as well as the right attitude. We’ve all seen talented and skilled people who lacked the work ethic to be successful. And, then there are those who have the talent, the skill and the work ethic; but their attitude is so negative or downright poisonous that it negates everything else. We proceeded to conclude that if you hire a person who has talent, skills, a strong work ethic and the right attitude; you would expect to have a winner. We noted that organizations go to great lengths to evaluate candidates with regard to these key factors. And then we asked the question: Why do we see so many poor hiring decisions?

Before addressing that question, we need to clarify what we mean here by poor hiring decisions. Just because a hire does not work out, does not mean that it’s a poor hiring decision. Sometimes an organization is so far gone, that even the most capable and qualified candidate cannot succeed. What we’re talking about here is the case where the strategy and resources are such that it is reasonable to expect a successful outcome. Under those conditions, how could a talented, skilled, hard-working professional with a great attitude not be successful?

We alluded to it last time. I called it the “situation”. A better term would be “relevant background”. Specific industry knowledge and experience are critical in certain sectors. In service industries the required knowledge and experience is very critical. And the smaller the organization, the more critical that knowledge and experience becomes. Time and again I have witnessed companies hire executives who lack the “relevant background” to succeed in their organization. It’s risky for me to give specific examples. They know who they are. But, let’s be honest we’ve all seen it. Some of us have had the painful experience of working for one of these companies. Some of us have even been hired for positions we should not have been hired for just because we could check off four out of five boxes: Talent-check, Skills-check, Work Ethic-check, Attitude-check, Background/Experience- meh…close enough.

Realistically, it can be virtually impossible to find candidates who check off every box at the optimal level. My advice to clients is to set REASONABLE REQUIREMENTS for each for these five key factors. Obviously, those requirements will vary by the level and responsibilities of the position. As a general rule, for lower level roles where you have the time and resources for training; you should focus more on talent, work ethic and attitude than skills and background/experience. But when you get to management and executive level positions, especially those closest to operational and commercial activities, you better be CHECKING ALL OF THE BOXES. Don’t get blinded by exceptional candidates who lack the relevant background and experience to succeed in the position. Set reasonable requirements for ‘background/experience’ and do not compromise.

There is a tendency, especially when “non-industry” people are involved in the hiring decision (you know who you are), to hire for the board room not for the business. While I think it’s good to have the outsiders’ perspectives on hiring, just remember…they are outsiders. Sometimes you have no choice other than to go with their decision. But, you can tilt the odds in your favor by starting out with the right specs for the position. And those specs should include industry background/experience that is clearly relevant to the position.

If you happen to be the candidate in one of these “beauty contests”, you should do your own “box checking” . If you lack the relevant background and experience, ask those with whom you interview about the importance of these key factors. And if you get short, empty answers or different answers from different interviewers, those are big red flags. Park your ego at the door and be honest with yourself. Lacking the background and experience in this specific industry segment, can you succeed in this position in this organization?

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Talent or Skill or Something More

Talent: A special ability that allows someone to do something well. Innate ability or aptitude.
Skill: The ability to do something that comes from training, experience or practice. Developed talent or ability.
-Merriam-Webster Dictionary

Every company wants to hire the best person for the job. And every person wants the job that is best for them. Seems simple enough. So why are there so many hiring mistakes? Why do so many companies hire the wrong people and why do so many people take the wrong jobs? People are involved and that always makes it messy. I have certainly come to understand that there are no “sure things” when it comes to hiring. One thing that is “sure” is the difference between TALENT and SKILL. What is not so sure is how one determines or measures talent and skill levels? And, when it comes to doing a specific job, which is more important, talent or skill? And are they even enough?

I have a number of clients who test for talent. These tests tend to measure a candidate’s intellectual capacity or critical thinking ability. They may also use assessment tools to identify work behaviors and management styles. I am actually a big believer in the use of testing and assessments to determine if a candidate has “the required” talent and personality to fit the position (and/or the company). And clearly there are positive correlations between test/assessment results and job success. But, I see some employers setting the bar so high or the specs so tight on their testing that they unnecessarily eliminate candidates who have developed exceptional skills for the position. Or they try to use the one size fits all approach to testing. News flash: Safety people have different profiles than Operations or Sales people. So if you’re going to test and profile candidates, make sure that you are using the right tools in the right way. Otherwise, you will end up eliminating some of the best candidates and selecting from a very small pool of candidates who “pass the tests” or “fit the profile”. You may even end up hiring someone who has the “talent” but lacks the skills to do the job. The old saying “Hire for talent, train for skills” is great advice as long as you’re prepared to “train”. And, oh by the way, can you afford the time and missteps that come from placing a talented, but “unskilled”, person in the job?

Ideally, you want to hire people who are talented AND skilled. And for management and executive positions, you absolutely need both talent and skill. In addition to “testing” for talent, past performance can say a lot about talent level. It can also be a strong indicator of skill. It is often said that past performance is the best indicator of future performance. It’s a simple formula right? Person has the ability (talent) + person develops the ability (skill) = positive performance. Well, not exactly. POSITIVE PERFORMANCE IS NOT ONLY A FUNCTION OF TALENT AND SKILL. It is also the result of application (work), orientation (attitude) and situation (industry, company, location, economy, etc….not the Jersey Shore guy).

So, we can test, assess and interview in ways that help us determine a candidate’s talent level. Education, certifications and past experience/performance also tend to reflect talent and some level of skill. They also give us a sense of application (work) and orientation (attitude). Therefore, if we hire someone who is talented, skilled, possesses a strong work ethic and positive attitude and all of this has been demonstrated with a successful track record of performance, we have a winner. Maybe, maybe not.

The most over-looked and under-estimated variable in the “performance” equation is the “situation”. I call it Ego’s blind spot. And the further up the organizational food chain one travels, the bigger the blind spot. Smart, successful people like to hire other smart, successful people. Self-made birds of a feather flock together. Give a hiring committee a talented, skilled candidate with a record of accomplishments and “executive presence” and you have the proverbial “slam dunk” placement.

So why do so many “slam dunks” hit the back of the rim? We’ll talk about that next time.