Completely Biased, Unscientific Learning from Potential Job Candidates

At 12:25 p.m. on Wednesday, February 26, 2014 I just finished my first experience judging the #MNcollegiateDECA state competition in Mankato, MN. Between 8 a.m. and 10 a.m. I judged six students on their ability to read a case study in the restaurant and food service management area and present their solutions to an ethical and operational dilemma facing a fictitious restaurant chain. The details of their case is not important. That students chose, at such an early hour of the morning, to let their skills be judged — that’s the important point.

When I brought Rasmussen students to the competition two years ago my focus was on the top students. I wanted to make sure my students were among the top ranked: confident, well informed, professional, able to problem solve and think on their feet. My focus is different today. I want to talk about the students who lacked confidence, need more experience, and still pepper their speech with “like” and “stuff.”

The existence of these aforementioned students at the DECA competition lead me to be hopeful for employment candidates in the future. WHAT? How can that be?

These students took a risk and opened themselves up to true feedback. By title I’m judging them, their performance, and their ability at this point in time. Asking for feedback is never easy. Asking for feedback from strangers and intending to improve from that feedback shows true commitment to growth.

As business leaders, we have something to learn. Based on the example of these inexperienced, but dedicated, potential candidates, I recommend the following actions for our personal and professional growth.

  1. Let your business and your contribution be “judged.” In DECA you are not approaching someone who will be judgmental. There is a different. Reach out to customers with whom you have the best relationships. Open yourself up to review from business peers, coaches, and mentors whom you trust to give you an accurate assessment delivered with love.
  2. Review the feedback carefully, then put it away for a day or two. Our businesses are wrapped up in our identities. It’s understandable that we’d feel defensive or emotional over the feedback we receive. Don’t reject the feedback immediately or rush to make changes. Instead, let the emotions fade for a couple of days. Then review the comments again with a trusted mentor. Really discuss the merits, opportunities, and challenges of each point.
  3. Create an action plan. What will you change, by when, and why? Make sure any changes are intentional and add value to your most important stakeholders. By the way; you are one of those stakeholders.
  4. Set your action plan side by side with your business and personal mission statements. If there are areas that don’t align one of two things may be true: 1) your mission has evolved since you’ve looked at it last and needs updating, or 2) you need to revisit your action plan.

The steps outlined here go far beyond creating a to-do list. It’s your opportunity to transform yourself and your business. How often should you go through this process? I would recommend once a year, but if your business is in a state of rapid growth you might go through the steps more often.

The bottom line: Not everyone is at the top of their game at all times. The ones that will break through to success are the ones that will put their assumptions at risk.


Giving and Receiving Feedback – A Process for Growth

Use Feedback as a Teaching and Development Tool

Frequent and specific feedback is critical to learning. It’s even more important than when you’re coaching an intern, new employee, or employee with performance issues. Depending on the length and intensity of the training needs, weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly scheduled feedback is necessary for growth and development. Don’t underestimate the power of impromptu, positive feedback as you notice your intern/employee doing work or behaving in a way that meets or exceeds your expectations. Catching someone doing the right thing is far more effective than jumping on errors.

When corrective action is necessary, use this quick process to make sure your feedback is focused on the development of your intern’s/employee’s skills.

  1. Begin by describing the behavior you’d like to see. How should the report look? How does a professional employee act and dress?
  2. Follow up with the behavior you have observed. Try filling in the following sentence(s), “I’ve noticed ________ and it’s important to ____________ because it will help you _____________.”
  3. End by discussing (not prescribing) how to bridge the gap between what you’d like to happen and what you have observed. Make sure to include the intern/employee in the problem solving by asking for input.

It’s also important to open yourself to feedback. Coaching your intern/employee to learn to give feedback is as valuable as teaching them to receive it. Modeling the appropriate behavior is essential.

  • Listen without interrupting and without defensiveness. Take the opportunity to receive feedback as a growth opportunity for yourself and your business.
  • Ask questions to clarify the feedback. Guide the intern toward the example above. What did the intern expect to see and why? What did the intern observe?
  • Discuss what could account for the gap.
  • Thank the intern for providing feedback.

As managers and business owners we often develop tunnel vision. Using a clear process to coach an intern or employee is a great way to encourage an open flow of communication. Who knows what heights you’ll reach with a new set of eyes.

Lifting the Lid on Leadership

It’s poignant to remember the stages we went through as children and young adults. As infants, children, and teenagers we are expected to hit certain stages where we redefine our relationship to our world and our selves. What I’ve found is once we graduate from college or some advanced degree, we work as through we’re done developing in stages. Suddenly a plateau hits and I wonder – is it just me? Is this natural? How do I develop my leadership effectiveness?

Recently I read John Maxwell’s well known book 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership (PDF) and the first law, the Law of the Lid, summarized where I am at this point in my career. I’ve hit my leadership lid. Now, I could continue on and be perfectly effective, but to truly transform my relationship with my employees, my peers, my friends, and my family, I need to lift the lid.

There are two areas where I’ve begun to define what this means at this later point in my career; there’s no question I’ve been successful, but my growth requires a redefinition of terms.

Networking redefined:

  • Used to mean meeting people in order to expand my circle. I offered my skills and expertise in hopes of making connections with others.
  • Now networking means offering my skills and expertise in order to build my influence. Who can I count on to support my vision of both my personal growth and that of the organization for which I work? My networking must focus internally as much as externally to develop this influence.
  • You’ll notice I still offer my skills and expertise first. That has not changed.

 Branding redefined:

  • Used to mean developing a personal brand. I needed to articulate my value in the context of organizational and needs. The focus was on my contribution and competitive advantage.
  • Now branding means develpoing a platform of ideas – a vision – that illustrates a future for my organization and its people in the context of internal and external competition. I’m particularly good at articulating my personal brand. Where I now need to focus it the development of my organization’s future.
  • My personal part in this vision is both forward facing (I’m literally the face) and secondary to the needs of others.

Value redefined:

  • I’m struggling most with this one right now. Personally I’ve tended to define my value by how others see me. As an instructor and manager I’ve fought this impluse in order to be effective. If I want to be transformative, I must let go of this definition all together.
  • My value, with this redefinition, would be constructed not by other’s opinions of me (do they like me?) but by how valued my employees, friends, and family feel. I am not the primary source of delivering this value to them, but encouraging others to see the value they offer in the best light.
  • In a nutshell it doesn’t matter if people like me…do people express thanks to my employees for the value they’ve offered up?

In print these definitions are neat and tidy. In practice I feel like I’m in a game of dodgeball. As many of us know from our childhoods; dodgeball is both frightening and fun at the same time.

Please, join the discussion.


The Absent Leader

Soma Jurgensen "talking"



With all honesty, that’s what I’ve been the last six months or so, absent. I choose to let the circle around me that included my home, family, work, passions, all contract a bit to allow me to focus on the foundation of my life and work.

I believe leaders need to do this from time to time, however, when we do we are not leading consistently in all areas of our lives.


Where I’ve shown leadership:

  • With my kids: This is where my focus has been the last year due to personal priorities. I desire that my kids see that re-prioritizing and focus are good things. They saw me deal with considerable challenges and come away feeling that I’m not lost but renewed in my efforts to climb the right ladder to the right window. (If you’re unfamiliar with this image I highly recommend the book “First Things First” by Stephen Covey.)
  • With myself: I have some work to do personally so I can lead others well. A well-known principle of emotional intelligence is being able to delay gratification. For someone who has worked hard to shine at all times, it’s hard to admit that there is more work to do before I’m able to effectively lead others.

Don’t get me wrong, my business is healthy, my kids are thriving, I love my work, and my relationships are growing. It’s time now to take the next step. I’m fortunate to have mentors around me that will support me in that next step.

Here’s what I’ll commit to over the course of the next year. I’ll share with you what I learn as I journey toward the next stage of leadership.

I hope you’ll engage in dialog with me about leadership through comments as our journeys are not separate but interdependent with one another.

Please, engage.

Solid to Liquid: Organizational Redesign

It’s not easy to move from a mechanistic business structure to the more fluid structures that are needed to compete in today’s global economy. What are the barriers and the techniques needed to get changes made?

Why do people resist?

  • Concerns over losing their jobs during restructuring
  • When you restructure, you may get a new boss or new responsibilities
  • Often the changes are not made transparently resulting and confusion and distrust
  • Contemporary structures lean toward flatter, more team based structures threaten employees’ hard earned authority
  • Incentive programs and individual performance evaluations would need to be redesigned to incorporate group goals

Don’t expect restructuring to be successful without the buy-in of your people. Structure exists only so far as it is recognized and reinforced by the people in it.

How to redesign the organization

  1. Streamline – flatten the organization and spread out decision making. One area can then be responsible for more than one strategy to increase efficiency.
  2. Start over – take a look at what is important to your customers and where your company is going in the future. From there, design a company that fits the direction from a blank slate. Of course, this will be the more costly solution, but your company will transform the organization rather than make only incremental changes. Take time planning this one as it would be smart HR planning to figure out where you can retrain employees for your new direction.
  3. Stray across boundaries—strategic alliances don’t have to be between two different companies. What about two different business units or functions? The same principle applies to bringing in strengths and innovation from another “partner.”
  4. Self –Managed Teams—become a collection of entrepreneurs by using self-management teams. All the functions of management are done within the team. Coordinating the teams becomes the role of a few executives, reducing the weight at the top.

Each of these techniques has different goals and intentions. Which is right for your organization?

Setting Goals Leads to Success

Have you ever said to yourself, “I need a new ______.” Let’s say in this case it’s a new computer that you need. “I need a new computer.” Three months later and you might still be making do with the one you have. Now, consider this statement, “I need a new laptop, that I can afford with at least 3-4 hours of battery life and a webcam before school starts in the fall.” Which statement will lead to you achieving the goal? If you said the second one, then you understand the benefits of Goal Setting Theory.

Persistence, Passion, Productivity

Setting and communicating a clear goal that is specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely (remember SMART goals?) increases persistence, passion, and productivity. These characteristics are crucial for turning an idea into reality.


When specific goals are set, people will prioritize those actions and behaviors that allow them to succeed. In other words, “what gets measured gets done.” Employees will work longer toward goals that will get them clear rewards. Timely deadlines lead to a faster pace than loose deadlines. SMART goals make people strive for success. To increase persistence, try the following:

  1. Have employees make their goals public.
  2. Set SMART goals to show trust in the ability of your employees.
  3. Make the vision of the project, effort, and/or company clear to employees so they know how their goals impact the success of the organization.
  4. Provide feedback to employees throughout the process as it allows them to adjust their efforts and keep working toward their goals.


Where goals are absent, establishing SMART goals as a goal intervention can energize people. The American Pulpwood Association was trying to find ways to motivate independent logger. These loggers, although paid on piece rate, had considerable room to increase their productivity, measured by the number of cords per employee. The results were impressive. Crews who were given high, yet realistic goals and a tally to measure their progress bragged to other workers and their families about their effectiveness. Productivity for these crews far outpaced the crews that were instructed to “do their best.” Now that’s passion.

Keep in mind these loggers were unskilled and uneducated. The question arose whether applying Goal Setting Theory would work in more complex jobs where knowledge was the muscle needed to get things done. What’s the answer? Yes, it does, but with a few conditions.


There are some conditions for effective goal interventions that increase productivity.

  1. The person must have the ability and knowledge to reach the goal. If not, the leader’s job is to make sure he/she gets the needed training and resources.
  2. When people are learning a new job, industry, or skill, output goals should be replaced with learning goals. An example of this condition is to set a goal like, “discover five new ways to reach a new market with a current product.” This would be more effective than setting a goal of increasing market share for current products by 10%. The lesson here is that when learning is occurring, a learning goal prioritizes attention on problem-solving.
  3. If a stretch goal is quite a way in the distance, set sub-goals for quick successes to keep people committed. Especially in times of change, sub-goals allow people to gauge their efforts against what is required of them to attain their goals.

What’s the “bottom line?” Ensure your people have what they need to succeed, and if there are obstacles in the way of their success, work together to find a way around them.

Adapted from the article:

Latham, G. (2004). The motivational benefits of goal-setting. Academy of Management Executive , 18 (4), 126-129.

An Integrated Approach to Change

Victor and Franckeiss, experts in change management, introduced a model of change called “The Five Dimensions of Change” in 2002. This post is a summary of their article.

Change management does not follow a neat line from start to finish. In fact, while an organization is going through planning for change, it is also dealing with change at all management levels. Due to this dynamic environment, a cyclical model is necessary to understand and evolve toward successful change practices.

Although the model set forth by the authors is similar to the 5 stage O.D. processes discussed in module two, there is an important enhancement. The process is directed to organizations and gives them more direction on how to institute comprehensive, integrated, change.

The Five Dimensions of Change

D1 – Direct

This stage ensures the overall direction and purposes of the business. At this stage, the organization should consider their vision, mission, and value statements in relation to the external business environment. The resulting strategies should be well defined and communicated to all stakeholders to ensure they are internalized.

D2 – Describe

At this stage management is responsible for translating the aspirational statements defined in stage one into strategies (or plans of action) for achieving goals. The strategies need to be customized to the functional level, with the vision in mind. Victor and Franckeiss assert that there are four principle strategies that ensure integration of constancy of purpose and consistency of approach.

  1. Resource strategy—the design and structure of the business and HR planning
  2. Performance management strategy – ensures that all  functions, teams, and individuals understand their roles and requirements
  3. Reward strategy – pay structure, benefits, and bonuses that are in-line with the company’s vision
  4. Communications strategy – internal and external communication, employee relations, employee attitude surveys

D3 – Define

This is the part that is less glamorous, but critical to the success of change efforts. Defining involves business processes, policies and procedures that support business strategies. Clear and straightforward communication helps ensure that the organization doesn’t slide back into old ways.

D4 – Deliver

Now it’s time to deliver the change consistently as defined in the preceding sections. At this point, managing by example is essential. The management team must consistently demonstrate the behaviors expected of employees during and after the change in order to ensure them that the changes are sincere and there to stay. Any inconsistency can be exploited by those resistant to the changes. All employees must understand what behaviors are expected and successes should be defined and measured to reinforce the changes.

D5 – Develop

The fifth stage is about more than evaluating and feedback, it’s about keeping the communication system open. This stage presents the opportunity for continuous learning. Feedback should come not only from internal processes, but from the external environment through such common analyses as SWOT and PEST. If the environment warrants it, it’s time to start the process again.

As evidenced by this process, communication and leadership are critical characteristics to successful change processes.

Victor, P., & Franckeiss, A. (2002). The five dimensions of change: an integrated approach to strategic organizational change management. Strategic Change, 11(1), 35-42. doi:10.1002/jsc.567.