Vol. 12 No. 4 – March 5, 2012

The 8020Info Water Cooler

Highlights from the latest information
for managers, leaders and entrepreneurs

1. Distinguishing Between Talent And Prima Donnas

You want talent — people who make your organization succeed through their exceptional work. But you don’t want vain and temperamental prima donnas with an inflated view of their own talent or importance. Unfortunately, it can sometimes be difficult to discern the difference. 

On Human Resources IQ, executive coach Steven Berglas notes: “Early in their careers, both talent and prima donnas deliver the goods with no ill effects on those around them. Before too long, however, prima donnas reveal their true colors. These folks are insecure over-achievers who see life as one zero-sum game after another, with everyone in their environment posing a threat and representing a potential obstacle to their coveted achievement.” 

He sets out three tests to help differentiate between talent and prima donnas: 

  • Know them by what they want: Talent strives to succeed for the joy of succeeding. Prima donnas want both tangible rewards for doing well and also attention or public acclaim.
  • Know them by their influence on others: Talent will demand the best from others around them. Prima donnas can be saboteurs, humiliating or blaming others who are not up to par.
  • Know them by how they demand to be spoiled: Talent can be quirky, at best, or obtuse at worst. But prima donnas are upsetting, refusing to make their wishes known in more benign ways

“Once you can differentiate talent from prima donnas, you need to reward talent in ways that inoculate them against attempts to poach them while massaging their egos. The only way to do this is with heart-to-heart conversation,” he concludes. 

2. The Three Essential Job Interview Probes

You probably have a long checklist of questions you normally ask when interviewing job candidates, but you really need to find answers to only three core questions. On Forbes.com, HR specialist George Bradt says the specific words might vary, but your questions should probe strengths, motivation, and fit:

  • Can you do the job?  This isn’t just about technical skills but also about leadership and interpersonal strengths. Kevin Kelly, of Heidrick & Struggles, advises: “You can’t tell by looking at a piece of paper what some of the strengths and weaknesses really are… we ask for specific examples of not only what’s been successful but what they’ve done that hasn’t gone well or a task that they’ve failed at, and how they learned from that experience and what they’d do differently in a new scenario.”
  •  Will you love the job?  It can be hard to put your finger on what really motivates someone. As well, interview subjects want to come across as keen even if they aren’t sure they want the job — they are, however, generally motivated to get you to offer them the job.
  • Can we tolerate working with you?  You want to know about cultural fit — whether the individual will fit well into the organization. But you don’t want a chameleon. At a deeper level, you want to know whether the organization will be better off with the individual over time and will they change it for the better.

3. Two Tips To Improve Your Meetings

Running better meetings involves the courage to put some limits on proceedings. On Inc.com, consultant Tom Searcy suggests you limit the topics for a meeting.  That will tighten the attendee list, shorten the time commitment, and increase the potential for action.

“I have seen meetings that are laundry lists of reviews, discussions and feedback that do not lead to any real action. All of that can be handled digitally. If you are not doing something, don’t meet. If you are, then do it deep, get it done and move on,” he writes.

You also must limit people from repeating statements that have already been heard. Like a referee in sports, call a foul in such situations: “It seems that we have heard all of the ideas on this topic and we are now repeating ourselves. Does anyone have a new comment to make that is neither a repeat of a past idea nor a counter to one?” If not, ask for a decision. 

4. How To Sharpen Your Persuasion Skills

You can’t persuade someone until you truly understand them. So when trying to persuade a colleague, stakeholder or customer, blogger Donald Latumahina suggests you shouldn’t assume that you know what they want. Try to stand in their shoes, looking at the issue from their perspective.

Also, keep in mind the consistency principle: People prefer to remain consistent with their beliefs, feelings, and actions. You will face resistance if you are asking them to be inconsistent with how they view themselves and are more likely to be successful if you frame the request as something that keeps them on their path.

5. Zingers

  • IT engineer Nathan Zeldes says most people don’t read emails carefully, which is why you often get replies that don’t address all the issues you wanted discussed. He suggests giving the message a subject line like “Three Questions For You”; starting the message by stating how many queries you have; and also putting every question in a separate paragraph, prefaced with, “Question 1,” “Question 2,” and so on. (Source: Information Overload
  • A clearly written goal and carefully thought out action plan is not enough. Thomas Nelson Publishing Chairman Michael Hyatt says you also need a list of “internal motivations” — why you want to achieve this goal — that you can use as a regular reminder to keep the fire boiling. (Source: MichaelHyatt.com
  • If you have a suggestion box, consultant Paul Hebert suggests you put it in the garbage: The implicit message is that if people have an idea, they should put it in the box and somebody else will decide if it’s any good and what should be done next. Instead, tell your people that, if they have a good idea, take the initiative to make it happen and advise their manager it’s one of their goals for the year. (Source: www.i21-align.com
  • Distractions come not only from your environment; they also come from your mind, notes blogger Ali Luke. When you’re distracted, label it — “I have an urge to check email” — since recognizing the tendency to go off-track may, oddly, help you stay on the rails. (Source: Dumb Little Man
  • Some people read business articles and books looking for confirmation. Entrepreneur Seth Godin reads them in search of disquiet. Confirmation is cheap; the real gold is new ideas that show you what’s wrong and how to change things for the better. (Source: Seth’s Blog)  

6. Q&A with 8020Info:  Managing Your Luck

Question:  Do you need to be lucky to succeed?

 8020Info Associate Harvey Schachter responds:

It often seems as if successful people have the benefit of luck — a lucky moment, when they are in the right spot at the right time, and then everything snowballs. It’s luck that makes them, not skill.

That belief may be fuelled by envy, of course. Certainly there are signs it’s misguided, from recent writings by some well-known authors.

In Great By Choice, Jim Collins and his collaborator Morten Hansen looked at organizational success in the volatile last decade. In the usual fashion for Collins’ research, they compared some particularly successful companies to similar organizations that weren’t. One of the factors examined was luck — how much did luck account for organizational success?

The researchers admit that analyzing luck is difficult (certainly novel), but they did it rigorously, using a sensible methodology. They found that both sets of companies had roughly equal amounts of good luck and bad luck. They also checked timing, to ensure the early occurrence of good luck didn’t favour certain corporations, and it didn’t. And there was no big spike of luck.

Their conclusion was that the successful companies were more skilled at capitalizing on luck. Unlike the other companies, they could manage their luck better.

That’s for organizations. What about individuals?

In Outliers, journalist Malcolm Gladwell looked at the 10,000-hour “rule”, that it takes an investment of about 10,000 hours of focused activity to become proficient or expert at world-class levels. He also looked at how certain people or classes of people seem to be in the right spot at the right time.

Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, for example, were born in an era when young people with access to new technology could lead a computer revolution. But there were lots of people of their age who had access to technology at excellent high schools and universities and computer clubs, but not many were as successful.

In one way, compared to people born 10 years earlier who also had a facility for technology, Gates and Jobs were lucky. But in another sense, they capitalized on their luck, putting in 10,000 hours of focused effort (and more), along with their ability and drive to succeed.

So luck may be less important than our doggedness and ability to make the best of good or bad situations.

7. News From Our Water Cooler:  Tools To Make Your Case

From time to time we hear clients express frustration in persuading others to their point of view — “we provided them with all the statistics, but they just don’t get it!”

(This week’s instance involved getting provincial government bureaucrats to appreciate regional issues and solutions foreign to their Toronto-centric way of thinking.)

If you’re facing similar frustrations, you might consider using this list to assess whether you’re depending on just one type of persuasion when others might be more effective. In his 2006 book Changing Minds, leading psychologist Howard Gardner identified seven levers of mind change:

  • Reason (logic)
  • Research (data, evidence proof points)
  • Resonance (emotional appeal)
  • Redescriptions (often known as reframing, e.g. the glass half full, not half empty)
  • Resources and Rewards (incentives)
  • Real World Events (trends or events that influence thinking — 9/11, for example)
  • Resistances to Change (and managing it)

 From our own experience, we would add three other tips:

  • Frame your case in a way that connects with your audience’s way of seeing your world. Some call it audience-centred presentation. Others do it by translating their point: “What this means to you is …” 
  • Change is driven by motivation, which is fuelled by feeling. If your audience merely appreciates your points intellectually, without “feeling” the impact of your case at some level, you haven’t really persuaded them. 
  • Keep it going. So often a great first hearing is left to stand on its own — sustain your communications effort, consolidate your first win with follow-up to confirm the wisdom of adopting your position, and continue building the relationship.

 We tend to underestimate the effort required in persuading others to adopt a new point of view. These tips may help focus your task and make it a little easier. 

8. Closing Thought

“There is nothing which we receive with so much reluctance as advice.”  — Joseph Addison


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