Measuring the “Unmeasurable”

Most managers thrive when it comes to evaluating an employee’s success related to the hard skills of a role. Achieving measurable quotas, meeting quantifiable objectives, or directly contributing to profit or cost savings are black-and-white and leave little room for subjectivity or interpretation. The challenge most face is in evaluating the soft skills of every role; regardless of the behavioral profiling tools, the interviewing forms, or the qualification summaries utilized, the key is to define what those desired soft skills mean to you.

Put a group of individuals in a room and ask them to come to a consensus as to what ‘good communication skills’ look like or what makes someone a ‘dedicated employee’ and they will stay in that room for quite some time. However, imagine hiring a new employee who understands the expectation that they be a ‘hard worker’. One hiring manager may define ‘hard working’ as working ten hour days and fifty hours per week, and another manager may define ‘hard working’ as twelve hour days and seventy hours per week. While the person in the former example may be receiving an award for their work ethic, the person in the latter example may be getting fired for the same behavior.
Defining specific soft skills and expectations thereof can fall quite low on a priority scale when managers are tasked with much more urgent and critical responsibilities. However, the ability to measure and manage beyond more than performance expectations will not only help ensure the right strategic hire, but help avoid future frustrating evaluations and reviews. The premise of the bestselling book “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus” is a popular paradigm for this same issue; disconnects in both personal and professional relationships arise when two individuals have differing understandings of exceptional, average, or unacceptable behaviors and expectations.

The Spectrum of Soft Skills

The process of creating a comprehensive list of every possible personality trait, communication style, social grace, and interpersonal skill required to perform successfully within a role and within a team is overwhelming. Our suggestion is to start with those most critical to a new hire’s success; think of those qualities that you expressed to Sanford Rose Associates® when describing the ideal candidate to join your team. More often than not, what is important to you is easier to articulate than you may realize. If you mentioned qualities like ‘driven’, ‘high integrity’, ‘empathetic’, or ‘innovative thinker’, take a moment to process why those qualities are important to the organization. In most situations, those characteristics are important either because your existing team is strong in those areas, or because past hires have not been and it has caused issues that you would like to avoid with future hires.


Team Effort

There is tremendous value in the process of defining expectations for soft skill competencies being a process that includes a team effort. In service of allowing for both input and buy-in of the future expected standards, group participation is a must. Holding employees to newly defined interpersonal skills can be a much more successful endeavor when those employees have played an active part in the creation and explanation of those skills. Over the course of several weeks, take one or several soft skills and begin to put together a comprehensive “playbook” that can be referenced by a new employee, a tenured associate, or a manager.

If you think about any great athletic team, one of the hallmarks of a great coach is their playbook: the sacred diary that has decades of strategy, knowledge, and standards. Even for organizations outside of the NFL, NBA, or FIFA, this playbook is still critical. In the world of effective management, standards of performance require a single-mindedness of those standards; the entire team needs to know exactly what the plays are, or management boils down to nothing more than individual style and opinion. Not only does this cause a manager to lose credibility and impact, discretionary judgment calls will be made from one manager to the next which can result in inconsistent messages and frustrations within the team.

Where to Begin

Once the initial list of the most desirous critical soft skills to measure has been created, where do you begin? If we use the example of defining a ‘good listener’, it may be easier to gain universal consensus of what a ‘good listener’ does not look like. This list can be populated a little easier: multi-tasking during a conversation, does not maintain eye contact, interrupts or finishes sentences, does not ask clarifying or expanding questions, or does not take notes. Once that list of deficient characteristics has been created, take each deficiency and begin to define proficiency. What are all of the ways that multi-tasking can manifest itself in a meeting or conversation? The answers to this question can provide the first measurable definitions of a previously un-measurable situation: does not answer or check mobile phone during meetings (or keeps mobile phone in pocket during meetings), turns off computer monitor, does not accept incoming phone calls, closes the office door.


Questions to Ask

Most leaders responsible for hiring have experienced the frustrating situation of a candidate interviewing as one individual and showing up day in and day out as a completely different individual. It is not necessarily the candidate’s fault; many experts share a belief that an individual perceives both their “real self” and their “ideal self”. The “ideal self” is the individual who interviews well and believes in their potential; the “real self” is the individual who arrives at the office each day and follows through on commitments. In order to assist in the successful screening, interviewing, and onboarding of a new employee, be able to articulate answers to these types of questions:

  • How is “successful performance” defined or measured in this role?
  • What are the biggest challenges the candidate will face in this role?
  • What is the first project or assignment for which this candidate will be responsible? What are the expectations for timeline to completion?
  • What are the two most important problems that need to be addressed/corrected in the first six months by the individual in this position?
  • How will this candidate know whether or not they are properly performing their critical functions?
  • What has a past employee accomplished in this role that exceeded expectations?
  • What outcomes, or specific accomplishments, must be achieved through this position and within what timeframe?
  • Following that timeframe, how will the candidate be evaluated, and how often?

Waves of Trust

M.L. Covey, in “The Speed of Trust”, explores an interesting concept surrounding the various layers of trust to which successful managers must be attuned. This foundation must exist first, in every coaching and management relationship, prior to mentoring or directing behavior and objectives. Trust is about behaviors, not beliefs. The challenge is that very few individuals would think of themselves as falling low on the scale of integrity or character. To begin walking the walk and building on whatever level of trust is already established with your team, consider beginning the implementation of this exercise with yourself first. Select what specific soft skill you think would make the biggest individual impact, and publicly declare your deliberate measurable changes and request that your team or peers help hold you accountable to gradual improvement. If you would like to take this exercise even further, solicit input from your team or peers as to what they think your first initiative should be.

This can be where trust is strengthened or broken between management and employees, but spans beyond a professional partnership into a successful business, thriving economy, and influential organizational leadership.

Positive Change or Foundation for the Future

It is important to address a final challenge, which is an employee’s receptiveness toward being coached and consciously working on improving imperative soft skills and emotional intelligence. Even with the gift of a playbook, specific direction, and consistent positive reinforcement, not every employee will be an active player in this new game. The opportunity then exists to either impact those who are receptive and begin to shape the future generations of leadership within your organization, or to accept that there may be individuals within the team who are limited by their own desires and capabilities.

Regardless of the receptivity from your existing team, the exercise of beginning to concretely measure and manage beyond more than performance expectations will help create a long-term roadmap for successful professional partnerships. Most people are willing to grow and evolve; the key is to be able to provide a foundation of trust and universal standards of expected behavior and performance.

Finding People Who Make a Difference®

Once you have quantified these soft skills in the context of your office or culture, use them, along with the candidate’s background and technical skills, to create an ideal match. Sanford Rose Associates® can partner and serve you in both endeavors. “Finding people who make a difference®” is the goal of every search assignment conducted by Sanford Rose Associates®. Sanford Rose Associates® executive search consultants have in-depth industry specific knowledge and take the time to understand their clients’ needs and unique culture. Finding the candidate who not only possesses the requisite skills for a position, but is also a “cultural fit” is crucial. The proprietary Sanford Rose Associates® Dimensional Search® process allows our search consultants to drill deeper and match (1) the client’s expectations for the position with those of the candidate, (2) the technical requirements for the position with the candidate’s education and background, (3) the candidate’s experience and personality with the company’s culture, (4) the chemistry between the hiring manager and the candidate, and (5) the candidate’s experience and prior results with the client’s expectations for the major, measurable initiatives of the position. Engaged employees can play a tremendous part in the growth and success of a company, and for more than 50 years, Sanford Rose Associates® has been committed to “Finding people who make a difference®” for its clients.

—Karen Schmidt

The Next Generation of Leadership

The success of any organization is largely reliant on the strength of the leadership; conveying a vision, formulating strategy, and ultimately driving the direction of a company is no small task. Thus, having a sustained and committed leadership development program can be a key differentiator in the trajectory of a firm. Although bringing in talent from the outside has advantages including fresh ideas, competitive insights and diversification, there is nothing like a home-grown leader. Talent from inside the organization is well versed with the history, processes, systems, structure, and culture already in place. Home-grown talent is also aware of the organization’s strengths and perhaps even more importantly, weaknesses; this allows them to make better and more informed growth-oriented decisions.

How does one start to identify the next generation of leadership within the firm? Instead of relying solely on tenure, keep in mind that your future leaders of your company may be hiding in plain sight. How do you bring them out into the open?

Potential vs. Performance
Quite often, raises and promotions occur based on outstanding performance and the achievement of quotas or goals. Employee performance defines ability and expertise, which is important. However, place equal weight on an individual’s aptitude, desire to grow, and overall potential.

In other words, just because an athlete is one of the best football players of all time does not mean that individual can be an effective coach. Some individuals are not cut out to be leaders, although their performance is at the higher end of the scale. They don’t have the capacity to play leadership roles, they may lack the visionary ability required, or they enjoy the spotlight so much that they will rarely redirect it to others. This is why potential should outweigh performance as a factor when zeroing in on a possible future leader.

Rules of Engagement
Be on the lookout for those employees who have a natural ability to make things happen. They gravitate towards making decisions rather than waiting to see what the status quo will be. Specifically, look for individuals who take action and can speak to how they have tried as opposed to what they think someone else could, or should, do.

A future leader will have a tendency to make suggestions for overall process improvement, rather than asking questions to clarify what is expected of them. Future leaders will take the time to be overly prepared for meetings, projects, and responsibilities – take the time to identify individuals who take things seriously. They understand the importance of any task that has been entrusted to them, no matter how small, and seize it as an opportunity to perform.

Additionally, how does an employee act in a meeting; are they attentive and composed, or distracted and ready to “get back to work?” True leaders are too intensely focused to get restless, too engaged to be nervous, and too invested to be bored.

Necessarily Nimble
We tend to categorize multi-tasking as the ability to juggle several activities simultaneously. Think beyond multi-tasking with activities, and instead look for those who can multi-task with responsibilities. Leaders need to be agile as they can at times be relied upon to light a fire within one group while simultaneously putting out a fire with another. They must not be flustered by an abrupt change in direction or by seamlessly picking up balls that have been dropped – all while still delivering on the core functions of their role.

Put your prospective future leaders to the test and give them some extra responsibilities or perhaps an assignment with a quick turnaround time. Do not be afraid to throw them in at the deep end and keep tabs on how well they swim. Can they handle the extra tasks you have assigned, or are they finding it difficult to be nimble and adapt to the pressure? Do they have a “do whatever it takes” attitude and can stretch when pulled, perhaps even putting in extra hours or soliciting the help of others for direction and support?

Extroversion versus Emotional Intelligence
Particularly in a leadership capacity, one must have a genuine demeanor and a connection with those around them. Not all great leaders are extroverts, so do not make the mistake of gravitating to the loudest talker in the room. Instead, look for those who have a high degree of self-awareness and who take the time to interact with other employees outside of their immediate hierarchy. Future leaders will not be consumed by negative emotions such as fear or victimization, nor do they make excuses for subpar results by blaming a litany of extenuating factors that no normal human could possibly have overcome. When individuals with high emotional intelligence make a mistake and get criticized for it, it does not send them into an emotional tailspin; they view it simply as a fact to be noted, studied and corrected.

Seminary professor J. Carla Northcutt once stated, “The goal of many leaders is to get people to think more highly of the leader. The goal of a great leader is to help people to think more highly of themselves.”

A mark of a future leader is someone secure enough personally to help others advance in their careers. They are confident without being arrogant. They are humble but have a high sense of self-worth. They are comfortable in their own skin without being blasé. They are good listeners but do so with purpose and intention. They can deliver a tough message with a soft hand. They care not about wealth or fame, but about achievement and potential.

-Karen Schmidt


The beginning of the year represents a timely opportunity for employee reviews and providing feedback regarding performance and development. This is a cherished time for most leaders; it is the chance to reflect on the milestones achieved in the past year and the creation of new objectives for the new year. Annual reviews allow managers to praise positive behaviors, award well-earned promotions, and continue to bring out the best in each team member. In organizations around the world, the New Year brings revived optimism.

As a manager, creating a well-rounded and high-performing team is one of the most fulfilling aspects of leadership. Seeing and helping superstars develop, watching individuals become more confident with their unique abilities, and grooming the next generation of leader within the organization is incomparable.

“B” and “C” Players
A less enjoyable component of management is the act of working with and coaching the perpetual underperformers. Every department has them, every leader has struggled with them, and some may even have a few who come to mind immediately. They are the few who we try to encourage, who we try to train, and for whom we hold out hope that change will come, but it can seem like an endless cycle of performance management and frustration.

We all recognize “A” Players. These are the star performers, with the highest potential, and who can step up to and handle any challenge or new scenario. In his book, Leading Apple with Steve Jobs, former Apple senior vice president Jay Elliot details his former boss’ strategies for hiring “A” Players. “I noticed that the dynamic range between what an average person could accomplish and what the best person could accomplish was 50 or 100 to 1. Given that, you’re well advised to go after the cream of the cream … A small team of A+ players can run circles around a giant team of B and C players.”

So where does that leave the “B” and “C” Players? “B” Players are competent, steady performers who balance their work and personal lives while still performing a significant amount of tasks that need to be done. They stay in their lane, don’t require a great deal of attention, and they get the job done.

On the other end of the spectrum, “C” Players sometimes make up the smallest segment of the team yet require the most time and attention. They are the employees with a constant litany of excuses – a vehicle is broken, someone is sick, excessive days are missed, and the workload either gets passed to someone else or delayed altogether. They walk the fine line between “good enough to get by” and “fireable offense worthy of termination.” They are granted continual employment primarily because the act of hiring, training and managing someone you don’t know is sometimes more intimidating than continuing to deal with the perpetual issues of the presently employed “C” performer.

Most would agree that the ability to recruit and retain the top talent that exists in the industry is paramount to the success of an organization. In Topgrading, industrial psychologist and global consultant Bradford Smart expands on the three levels of contributors within an organization. “Simply put, topgrading is the practice of packing the team with A players and clearing out the C players,” Smart writes. “’A players’ is defined as the top 10 percent of talent available at all salary levels–best of class. With this radical definition, you are not a topgrader until your team consists of all A players. Period.”

Thus, again the question is raised: where does that leave the “B” and “C” Players? Smart writes: “Topgrading does not necessarily mean that you must fire every B player in your company; however, if you currently have less than 90% A-player employees, then you will likely engage in a painful, uphill battle.” Smart advocates that all companies should strive to hire 90% A-players, promote 90% A-Players, and eventually achieve 90% A-players in management.

Proactive vs. Reactive Topgrading
Achieving a team comprised of 90% “A” Players might be a significant leap for most teams. Instead, keep one foot firmly planted in present day reality while making immediate and proactive efforts to improve the future bench. Evaluate those on the team who would score less than a “B+” grade for competency, reliability, and consistency. With those individuals, provide concrete feedback and opportunity for measurable improvement. Negative performance issues should be validated by at least two or three specific examples, and collaborate on a plan to move forward with a resolution.

Consider focusing on proactive hiring that improves the strength of your bench – not just hiring that fills empty seats. Spend less time addressing reoccurring performance issues and instead craft a hiring plan that proactively attracts the “A” or “B+” contributors to the team. Will 100% of an organization be comprised of “A” Players? Not likely. But be proactive in hiring replacements that will create a topgraded bench for 2015 and beyond.

Finding People Who Make a Difference®
The Sanford Rose Associates® Executive Search Network is comprised of independently-owned firms who are committed to “finding people who make a difference®”. Executive Search Review has recognized the totality of the Sanford Rose Associates network as being one of the Top 11 Search Firms in North America. Sanford Rose Associates has 60+ offices worldwide and is a member of the International Executive Search Federation (IESF). To learn more about how to create a bench of “A” Players, please reach out to your Sanford Rose Associates® executive search consultant today.

—Karen Schmidt

Embracing the Entitled

Be honest; when you read the title of our SRA Update, did it immediately conjure up an image of a selfie-taking, social media addicted, text-obsessed millennial? Before we go any further, let us first take a moment and apologize to the recent generation entering the workforce. Turns out, there may not be any increase at all in narcissism over the past few decades. In a scientific analysis of approximately one-half million high-school seniors over three decades, Brent Donnellan and Kali Trzesniewski of the University of Western Ontario argue teens today are no more egotistical (and actually, just as happy and content) as previous generations.

“We concluded that, more often than not, kids these days are about the same as they were back in the mid-1970s,” said Donnellan, associate professor of psychology. They also stated that their findings show that entitlement changes dramatically with maturity in comparison to nominal generational changes. In other words, it’s not that people born after 1980 are self-absorbed – it’s that young people are, and they get over themselves as they get older.

On the other hand, aren’t we all working alongside some select individuals who haven’t “gotten over themselves?” In nearly every professional environment, it is not uncommon to encounter those who have an inflated sense of their own importance, a deep need for admiration and an occasional lack of empathy for others. These individuals can range from recent college grads to the most tenured of staff, and some could even be some of the most valued players on the team! An effective leader needs to be able to lead, manage and inspire all personality types, including how to embrace the entitled.

Memory Lane
Although tales that start with “back in my day” typically fall on deaf ears (or are met with an eyeball roll), it may be meaningful to take a trip down memory lane at times. Newer employees may not know the sacrifices that their company was built upon; consider creating a milestone wall or worksheet documenting key turning points in the history of the company. Reviewing a company’s past can help emphasize the sacrifices that were made, the noteworthy accomplishments along the way, and a common understanding of where the firm started and how it evolved to where it is today.

Special vs. Appreciated
Words matter. Consider the difference between “you have a face that makes time stand still” and “you have a face that could stop a clock.” Entitled individuals believe themselves to be more special than others; frame your vocabulary to play against this notion. Instead of “you are the best hire we have ever made in this department” or “we would be lost without you,” focus instead on expressing appreciation for a job well done. Statements such as “I appreciate the hard work you put in to meeting your quarterly numbers” or “I am incredibly thankful for the leadership role you played in retaining our key clients” focus more on the work being done as opposed to the uniqueness and rarity of the person doing the work. Call attention to the specific action or behavior, and then offer up genuine thanks and gratitude.

The “I” in Team
To encourage self-absorbed individuals to look outside their lens of individuality, add some components to their set of responsibilities that require the success of others. This could be accomplished by tying a portion of compensation or bonus to the success of new hires, the team, or organization as a whole. Alternatively, the individual could be assigned as a mentor to up-and-coming associates, where praise is given to the collective and expectations are set for cooperative achievement.

Great Expectations
Be exceptionally clear (and when at all possible, measurable) with any and all expectations. Consider going beyond “pass or fail” and instead communicate clearly what deficient (failure), competent (good enough to get by), and proficient (exceptional) behavior or results look like. Then, stick to them firmly. If you don’t, you can actually create a deepened sense of entitlement as employees learn to manipulate your rules. The expectations could include things like desired behaviors, time in office, work ethic, required results, or any other guidelines that allow an employee to know they are meeting or exceeding expectations. Resist the urge to simply say “I’ll know a job well done when I see it” – if you can’t articulate expectations clearly, employees will never know if they’ve achieved them. This is when a disconnect happens, ambiguity sets in, and the foundation of the relationship begins to crack.

Set Them Up to Fail
Gasp! Before you scramble for your Leadership 101 Handbook that says a great leader would never do such a thing, many would acknowledge that it was through their greatest struggles that their greatest achievements were born. More often than not, those who history best remembers were faced with numerous obstacles that forced them to work harder and show more determination than others.

Entitled employees tend to stay within their comfort zones and take few risks. Set a stretch goal for those who feel they cannot fail, but do not chastise for shortfalls or lack of success. Instead, allow for the individual to embrace the mistakes made, the skills that are not yet developed, and the opportunities for growth that lie ahead. In fact, many great leaders would say they don’t just accept failure, they encourage it!

Perhaps even more important? Deep down, we all want to be involved with an important project that challenges us. When we give a tough objective and let an employee know it will take everything they’ve got, it communicates that we actually take them seriously and give them permission to take risks that result in growth – either due to failure or due to success.

—Karen Schmidt

Letting Go

Think about your personal path to achieving the professional success you have experienced thus far. What attributes or characteristics are you most proud of that got you here? What abilities do you have that allowed you to separate from your peers over the years?

Second question: Is there a chance that those very same characteristics that rewarded you so well are the same characteristics that can hold you back in the future?

Some examples:

You are quite patient and empathetic, and others rely on your guidance and council throughout the day. However, your fear of being unavailable causes you to work late nights and weekends because the days have been spent solving other people’s problems.

You are incredibly detail-oriented and meticulous, and your dedication to perfection has served you well. However, if you aren’t willing to relinquish some control, you will never be able to handle other responsibilities because nobody can do them as well as you.

You are a “do-er” and complete more work throughout the day than some do in several. You don’t have time for small talk, which allows for a high level of efficiency, but true leaders need to build personal relationships and connect on a non-work level with others.

You are a gifted orator and can inspire a crowd, sell to the masses, and have an intrinsic ability to create a path that others will naturally follow. However, you are so comfortable hearing yourself talk that you forget that others may simply need you to listen.

Self Awareness
It is not realistic for a person to be all things to all people, or to be perfect in every facet of life. But sometimes, we sense deep inside that there is something else waiting for us. We just need to be courageous enough to create a little space to discover what it is.

Sometimes, you must release your grip on your current identity in order to allow yourself to transform. You simply cannot be the person you want to be and the person you currently are at the same time.

You have to determine for yourself whether you’re willing to let go of who you are to become the person you want to be.

What holds most back from creating this space is that it will result in change, and most people react to any change with fear. Change shifts our comfort zones, where we find security and stability, so fear is a naturally occurring reaction. Fear gains strength when you focus only on the negative possibilities of a situation or event. The answer is to concentrate on just two or three changes at a time – perhaps only just one! As your new habits embed themselves into your personality and habitual behaviors, you can add additional changes to your routine. This creates a managed process of change.

Letting Go
It is okay to change, grow, and try new things that you will not be as good at as the things you have done for years. The key to freedom is allowing yourself to crack open and evolve.

To begin to impact change, think about what got you here:

  • What has contributed to your success so far?
  • How do you compare with others within your organization or industry in similar roles? What separates you from the average performer?
  • How have your responsibilities changed and evolved as you’ve grown in this past year, as opposed to a year ago?
  • When you are working, what activities make you lose track of time? Why?

Now, where do you want to go?

  • What strengths do you have that can also at times be a weakness?
  • Think of others within your organization or industry you respect; in what ways do you want to be more like them?
  • What are the differences in responsibilities or strengths/skills between yourself and the person you report to? How can you start to take on those responsibilities or learn those strengths?
  • Is there anything in your life that you should walk away from completely?
  • What of your habits are you truly prepared to change?
  • There will be some things you won’t be good at for a while; what are they?
  • What do you finally need to delegate to others?
  • What issues are you prepared to tackle now?


The next question: Why don’t we do it? It’s simple: the rewards of these changes are in the future, when the discomfort and discipline are right here and right now. When there’s an absence of a compelling reason, or drive, you will be a thermostat. You’ll work as hard as necessary to keep the temperature comfortable – and when it reaches that temperature, you’ll turn off until needed again. Discussing change and goals can be inspiring, energizing, and stimulating! Yet it feels tough, awkward, annoying, frightening, and completely unpleasant to discuss the discipline needed to reach those goals. There is no shame in being average or competent if you are unwilling to pay the price of excellence! Simply ask yourself if you are willing to pay that price, and what the price looks like for you.

Finding People Who Make a Difference®
Executive Search Review has recognized the totality of the Sanford Rose Associates network as being one of the Top 11 Search Firms in North America. Sanford Rose Associates has 60+ offices worldwide and is a member of the International Executive Search Federation (IESF). To learn more about achieving professional excellence both personally and with those on your team, please reach out to your Sanford Rose Associates® executive search consultant today.

– Karen Schmidt

Allocating Your Attention

“I just find myself with too much time on my hands throughout the day!” Is it safe to assume that this statement has rarely, if ever, been muttered by leaders and managers in today’s professional environment? In fact, “being busy” is often worn as a prideful badge of honor. It is a popular statement in part because it is an admirable one. Having free time, on the other hand, makes you look dispensable and irrelevant

In a time when we are accessible every moment of every day, when organizations are lean yet expectations are high, we have largely failed to address a skill that must be developed – both within an effective leader and within those who are being managed.

The skill? Attention allocation.

Commonly, we focus on time management – an oxymoron! Time cannot be reined in, slowed down, or controlled – yet how we choose to allocate our attention every moment of every day can be.

Educate your Environment
One of the biggest challenges of being a parent is that whether you like it or not, there are eyes on you at all times! Children watch, process, and mimic the behaviors modeled to them regardless of if those behaviors are productive or damaging. Similarly, those on your team are constantly observing the way you manage priorities, react to deadlines, and allocate your attention. Therefore, we must remember that if we want to engrain effective attention allocation skills within an organization or department, it must first start with modeling those skills from the top. What can this sound like?

  • “It sounds like what you want to talk about is important to you, so I want to be able to give you my dedicated attention. Let’s schedule a time when it works for both of us so we can discuss this at a time where I will not be distracted like I would be right now.”
  • “I am in the middle of a priority project; is this an emergency? If so, I am happy to stop what I am doing but if not, please send me an email and I will respond by the end of the day with a time for us to meet personally.”
  • “That’s a great question; give me an idea of what you’ve done already to try to find an answer.”

What can this look like? Consider closing out email with the exception of several pre-set times throughout the day or late evening. The team will learn at what times you are engaged in administrative activities, keeping other times sacred for forward-motion activities or primary responsibilities. A doctor does not check emails in the middle of surgery, and a lawyer is not accepting incoming calls while the opposing counsel is grilling his client. What makes the critical responsibilities of your role less deserving of your own concentration? Very rarely is anything so urgent and critical that it cannot wait for a reply within an hour; you may even find that issues solve themselves without you having to!

Practice Being Fully Present
In our “information overload” society, learning how to stay fully present can certainly be challenging! In fact, “nomophobia” is a term jokingly used by psychologists to refer to the 40% of the population now addicted to their smartphones. What is the habit you need to break in order to be more fully present in your personal and professional interactions?

As an example, if you are in a meeting with someone on the team, be in that meeting. Put your desk phone on “out,” silence your cell phone, turn off your monitor if it may be a distraction, and position your body to fully face the other individual. Give your full, undivided attention. Watch how they respond over time, and realize the impact that being fully present can have on those with whom you work.

An added benefit? This actually trains your brain to be more effective. When working on administrative work, it is easier for you to be fully focused in that work because your brain is slowly reprogramming itself away from the compulsive need to respond to over-stimulation, dings, clicks, and alerts coming from all directions.

Value of Time
How do we know which activities, initiatives, and emergencies are deserving of our attention? Know the value of your time, and train those within your team to think the same way. Take how much you will earn (or would like to earn) annually, and divide by the number of work hours in a year. Now, take that hourly billable rate and double it, because that will give you a “prime time” amount that you should strive to spend at least a few hours per day engaged in the highest “billable rate” activities possible. When you are aware of the value of your time, suddenly spending 30 minutes reorganizing your desk in the middle of “prime time” seems like a waste. The peripheral colleague who wanted to catch up on the weekend? Those 15 minutes may have cost you several dollars or several hundred based on your billable rate. Getting caught up on emails and admin may be important, but prioritize several dedicated hours per day to be actively engaged in surgery or the courtroom.

Just Say No
Does it seem impossible to get it all done in a day? It is. You can no longer fit everything in, no matter how effectively you allocate your attention. The moment you embrace that truth, you instantly reduce your stress and feelings of inadequacy. Learn to say no; perhaps this is no longer volunteering for certain committees, or hiring someone to do lawn maintenance or handle “to-do’s” at home. Create boundaries on how and where you allocate your attention.

—Karen Schmidt

Inspiring An Ownership Mindset

As a leader, you are responsible for making sure your team has the necessary skills to perform well in their roles. Training likely revolves around concrete and definable abilities that link directly back to the expectations of acceptable performance in the role. Concrete training is valuable, but training should not stop there. What can be done to impact not only an employee’s skill set, but their mindset as well?

Organizations and teams that inspire an ownership mindset, where ideas are encouraged and initiative is commended, are more successful than those that don’t. However, you shouldn’t expect behavior that you haven’t asked for. How do you train a mindset of entrepreneurial thinking and individual responsibility?

Learning to Think
One of the best ways to help your employees assume an ownership mindset is to help them understand your own mindset – what you think about, how you prioritize, how you make business decisions and how you solve problems. You are their best teacher, but you must be transparent about how you operate.

Remember to provide access to pertinent information. Share historical data and context, past cases of failures and successes, and even confidential information if it will create a more insightful thought process and outcome. It is impossible to withhold relevant information and still expect profound thinking and deep insight.

It is certainly desireable for employees to be able to look around, see what needs doing, and proactively step into those tasks. If they do not, it might not be because they can’t or don’t want to. It may be because you have not made clear to them that this is what you want and expect on a regular basis.

Ask more questions and give fewer answers; the best leaders ask more questions than they answer. Thinking is a developmental activity, and tough questions stimulate thought. Instead of immediately responding to a problem or issue voiced by an employee, start with:

  • You sound frustrated; what do you think could be done to address this issue?
  • I certainly understand that this is a problem; what do you think could be done to solve it?
  • What are some approaches we might not have thought of yet?
  • What additional information do you think you need in order to formulate an accurate opinion or to recommend a solution?
  • In hindsight, is there anything that could or should have been done differently to avoid this manifesting into a problem?

Foster the Right Environment
If you ask for feedback or opinions, create an environment in which employees are comfortable sharing their feedback and opinions. Defensiveness by a leader is the genesis of apprehension and insecurity from employees. Even if you do not agree with their thought process, ask questions to lead them to a more appropriate conclusion – one that they arrive at by themselves.

Similarly, employees can’t be expected to take risks if failure isn’t tolerated. Good employees make mistakes, and great leaders allow them to. Give people the opportunity to learn from mistakes, own them, fix them, and then put safeguards in place to ensure the same mistake will never be repeated. Give employees room to fail – within reason – and they will step up more readily.

Be comfortable delegating. Fear of losing control is what stops most people from delegating; as a leader, you will ultimately be held accountable for failure. It can be intimidating to hand over the keys to the car if you don’t fully trust the person driving.

Hire Employees with Proactive Track Records
Hiring proactively-minded associates can be difficult. Instead of relying on job titles or skill sets, look for signs of proactive behaviors and accomplishments. In the interview, be aware of language choice. In The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, author Stephen Covey claims that “our language is a very clear indicator of the degree to which we see ourselves as proactive people. The language of reactive people absolves them of responsibility…whereas the language of proactive people embraces responsibility.”

Reactive Language

  • He/she told me I could/couldn’t…They wouldn’t allow me to…If I had the time, I could have…

Proactive Language

  • I looked for alternatives…I chose to…I prefer to…I took the time to…


Proactive language demonstrates an ability to choose and take action, while reactive language tends to be more focused on removing responsibility. Keeping this perspective in mind when hiring is key to developing a team inspired by an ownership mindset.

Finding People Who Make a Difference®
For more than 50 years, Sanford Rose Associates® has been committed to “Finding people who make a difference®” for its clients. To learn more about how we can coach you to inspire an ownership mindset with your current team while hiring like-minded individuals in the future, please reach out to your Sanford Rose Associates® executive search consultant today.
—Karen Schmidt

Interviews: Traditional or Transparent?

It is commonly known that all individuals should put their best foot forward throughout the interviewing process – both applicants and hiring managers alike. Offices are tidied up, everyone is polite with introductory small talk, and professional game faces are on.

“My greatest weaknesses? I work too hard. I sometimes care too much about the work I do. I don’t know when to quit; some have even told me my tendency to over-achieve makes others in the department second-guess their value on the team.”

Sound like a familiar iteration of an answer you have heard before, perhaps a time or two? Many would liken a first interview to a first date, which begs the question: when do you really get to know what is underneath the surface?

When the right talent is working together as a team, miracles can happen – but assembling that talent is an ongoing challenge all leaders face. The truth is that hiring is hard. No organization has perfected the process as to how to exclusively hire the right people, but our SRA Update shares some of the bold, quirky, and unique best practices that may be incorporated into your own evaluation system.

Cultural Connections
After a successful first interview, digital music giant Spotify takes candidates out of the office and into…the bar? That’s right; this non-traditional setting allows candidates to mix and mingle with potential co-workers where guards are let down and the atmosphere is more relaxed. Alcohol is of course not required, but this environment allows managers to evaluate how the candidates interact in a group setting and with their potential peers. Spotify has sought to create a culture where employees are friends who get along, and this step in the interview process aligns with that objective.

Not ready for the group happy hour quite yet? Southwest prides itself on a culture that finds funny, outgoing people. Generally, the first interview is a group interview, so screeners can see how candidates interact with each other. Don’t limit yourself to thinking of just pilots and flight attendants when you think of Southwest; this group interview can be a phenomenal opportunity for evaluating roles involving customer service, sales, or any situation in which the majority of time will be spent interacting with others.

Most candidates know to be friendly with everyone they meet the moment they walk in the door, but some organizations take it to the next level when interviewing out of town candidates. Sedan drivers are a part of the process, providing feedback to the hiring team as to how they were treated by the candidate, their demeanor, and overall genuine and positive interest in the prospective opportunity.

Get Creative
As generations evolve, so can the preferred means of communication. Organizations such as Zappos are keeping up with that evolution by eliminating job postings. Instead, candidates must create a profile on Zappos’ social media site, including a video cover letter designed to showcase their true colors. Pizza Hut has mirrored Twitter in their approach to hiring talent for their digital media teams: each candidate is given a 140 second opportunity to showcase their skills. Although certainly not appropriate for every role, this method shows that Pizza Hut understands what they want in a candidate (expert micro-bloggers who can capture attention immediately) and how to creatively screen for that skill set.

Pattern Interrupt
Disrupting the expected course of conversation can be an effective method to digging beyond the surface answers that a candidate has mentally prepared. Off-the-wall questions purely for the sake of jarring a candidate are unnecessary and may leave the individual feeling turned off from the opportunity, but questions designed to achieve a certain objective can certainly be incorporated. As an example, if the objective is to understand how much of an active learner the candidate is, asking about the most recent book read can reveal a more accurate answer than simply the direct question of “do you view yourself as an active learner?” If trying to assess for personality fit, questions such as “one time my sense of humor helped me was…” or “my personal motto is…” One organization wants to assess how willing a candidate is to pitch in whenever asked, so the question posed in the interview is “the newest hire in our organization is tasked with taking out the trash each night, until the next new hire starts. How do you feel about that?” The bottom line is if you ask the same interview questions asked by every other firm, you will likely get the same surface answers candidates have become comfortable giving. A pattern interrupt is a way to change a person’s state or strategy; consider incorporating into your search process for more in-depth answers.

Paint a Picture
Take a look at the “join us” section on your website; first, do you have one? If not, get going! If so, take a deeper look – does it do little more than list open positions, or does it tell a compelling story of your organization’s culture, your value proposition, and what others who have joined your firm have accomplished since joining? Although listing vacant positions seems logical, consider the opportunity this page holds for talking less about what you need in a hire and more about what you offer to someone and their career. Consider sharing testimonials from recent hires who can attest to the significant differences now that they are with your firm. Consider creating a video with clips from around the office, community, and spotlighting superstars – this can be an effective way to share “why your firm” to any prospect considering applying to your organization.

—Karen Schmidt

Who, What, Where, When, How…But Why?

There are two simple words that have the power to completely change one’s approach to work and life forever. These words have the potential to evoke fulfillment, enhance productivity, and create daily peace of mind.

You may have found yourself saying some of these already today:

  • I have to go to this team meeting.
  • I have to get this proposal to our client.
  • I have to get caught up on emails.
  • I have to take the kids to practice.

We act as if we don’t have a choice, as if we are imprisoned by people or a system forcing us to do things we don’t want to do. In reality, we do have a choice. We have the freedom to choose our actions, our profession, our financial needs, and the path of our life. Each day is not about what we have to do. It’s about what we get to do.

So, besides having a renewed sense of gratitude for being alive in a free world, why does this matter?

If you start to realize that your employees don’t have to come to work each day but instead choose to, there must be a reason for that decision. That reason is their “why”. As a leader, understanding each employee’s “why” will enable you to create a meaningful career path for them, empower them during times of burnout, and help them stay engaged. As your own leader, knowing your own “why” is essential for each of those situations as well.

The How

Start with a simple exercise. Take out your pen, and write down your answer to this question: “What is your why?” It sounds like a big esoteric question, but why is it that you choose to go to work each day? Why do you choose this profession, instead of something else? Why do you choose the role you are in, as opposed to others?

Encourage yourself and others to press beyond the obvious answer of “I need to make money”. There are countless ways to earn a living; why have you chosen this one?

Once you begin to list all of your why’s, you will notice they fall in two categories. The first category is similar to Maslow’s lowest hierarcy of needs – food, water, shelter. “I’d like to be able to pay my mortgage.” “I want to send my children to college.” “My elderly parents will rely on me to provide for them.” “I have always dreamed of buying a vacation home.”

The second category recognizes that there is a bigger purpose, a desire to make a difference, and a need to higher meaning behind the choices we make. It’s these things that are connected to your overall purpose, your sense of contribution, and the most important aspect of your “why”. Both categories are important and not mutually exclusive. An individual who only cares about money will likely live with a void in their life, while an individual who is all about the big picture has their head in the clouds but lacks feet on the ground.

Having a deep understanding of your career’s purpose is equally as possible as meeting and exceeding financial goals. This exercise is around understanding both. If you, or your team, has a hard time articulating this purpose, give some additional guidance:

  • When you were first drawn to this industry, what compelled you? Why did this industry or vocation strike you as being the calling for your career?
  • At what point in your career were you most challenged? What circumstances created that challenge?
  • What circumstances push you to be more, learn more, accomplish more, take on more, and grow more?
  • Who or what inspires you most? What qualities inspire you from those individuals or factors?
  • What do people compliment you on professionally?
  • What are you chasing? Why are you chasing it?
  • Given your talents and passions, how could you use those to serve, or to help, others or your organization?
  • When you retire, what do you want to be remembered for? What legacy do you want to leave?

The When

When is it important to go back to the “why”? Most of us get entrenched in the day to day routine of work, family, and life. We go through most days on auto-pilot, knowing what is expected and performing to that expectation. Connect the routine of your daily performance to the fulfillment of the “why” of your life purpose.

As a leader, when you know the “why” for members of your team, you can connect that “why” to their daily responsibilities and broader performance milestones. Every job has mundane or less desired tasks, but when the “why” is strong enough, there is meaning connected to even the most tedious of activities. Then the paradigm shifts:

  • I get to go to this team meeting because I have team members dedicated to learning and living up to their fullest potential.
  • I want to get this proposal to our client because they trust us to solve a problem they cannot solve on their own.
  • I want to get caught up on emails because I have knowledge and insight that others are relying on me to share with them.
  • I get to take the kids to practice because I am fortunate to have a family and resources to help them live a full and varied life.

There is an opportunity to connect purpose and meaning to each daily activity, and a choice to connect it. When the “why” is strong enough, there is no limit to what you, and those on your team, can achieve.

Finding People Who Make a Difference®

Executive Search Review has recognized the totality of the Sanford Rose Associates network as being one of the Top 11 Search Firms in North America. Sanford Rose Associates has 60+ offices worldwide and is a member of the International Executive Search Federation (IESF). To learn more about bringing out the best in your team, please reach out to your Sanford Rose Associates® executive search consultant today.

—Karen Schmidt

Small Lessons in Leadership

Within many industries, the success of a business relies more on the people you pay than the people who pay you. In other words, your people are your most important asset. In some industries, people are your only asset.

As such, many SRA Updates have covered the topic of employee retention. Creating clear and quantifiable career paths, providing consistent reviews and feedback, and crafting an environment of ongoing learning and perpetual growth are all huge pillars in the foundation of retaining the superstars you want to retain. But once that foundation is poured and the framework is in, any builder knows that the devil is in the details. The finish-out of any building makes the difference between a standard home and a custom one. How do you go beyond building simply a solid foundation within your organization, and instead create a custom home where nobody would ever dream of leaving?

Simply put? Words matter. Consider the difference between “you have a face that makes time stand still” and “you have a face that could stop a clock.” Do not underestimate the importance that words have when either strengthening bonds or fracturing them. Regardless of whether the words are spoken or written in a casual interaction, in a frustrating or disappointing situation, or during a critical review, be acutely aware of the power of your vocabulary.

“Employee” has a different connotation than “team member” or “key contributor,” and “I’m going to need you to” comes across differently than “are you open to some feedback.”

Instead of “as your boss, it’s my job to make sure that you…” try replacing that with “I know you are trusting me to make sure you succeed on this project; can I offer an alternative perspective?” When creating a culture of inclusion, take a statement that starts with “you should have” and instead focus on the future with “I know this was a frustrating outcome; with similar projects in the future, perhaps we could try…”

This doesn’t mean one cannot be direct, or deliver a tough message, or operate with authority. It simply means that a strong leader knows that words have power, and is aware of the responsibility that exists to use them with an awareness of the impact they may have.

Simply put? If you say you are going to do something, do it. If you say you are going to be somewhere, be there. If you initiate a new business process or initiative, follow through. Stay consistent about being consistent. Why is this important? Every team needs a rock. Without consistency, it is impossible to be that rock. Ineffective leadership happens when an indivual is moody, passive aggressive, or having a “bad day.”

This does not mean that one has to be eternally optimistic, but simply means a leader needs to be relied upon to be the stable anchor of the team or organization. Instead of giving abrupt, one-word answers when someone interrupts your day, consider instead: “What you have to say is important to me, but I cannot be pulled away from this project right now. Why don’t we set up a time to meet tomorrow at 3pm?” Remember that not only is this important to build healthy professional relationships within a team, but you are also modeling the behaviors that you want a future manager to develop themselves for when they start to lead others. Focused and unavailable is acceptable, while rude or moody is not.

A transparent culture is one where employees are given meaningful insights that build trust with leadership. A transparent culture is one where an environment exists where people can give honest and direct feedback, knowing it will be heard and shared with the right people. A transparent culture is one where egos are removed, and ultimately the leaders take full responsibility for the success but also the failures of the organization. There are very few ways to build trust, but one of them is to be transparent. The opposite of this is secrecy, which only serves to erode trust. As long as there is a professional reason why an individual would like information to be shared, is there any reason why that information shouldn’t be? Quarterly or semi-annual Town Hall meetings are a great place to move this from a concept to an actual manifestation. All employees are allowed to ask any question that is professionally relevant unless it is personal in nature, in which case they would be asked to go to the individual directly instead of asking in a public format. For some, this might be a daunting scenario, but it actually allows the leader to be in control of the message instead of speculation within the ranks of those not privy to the dialogue. The irony is that the more you allow people the freedom to ask questions, the less they feel the need to ask them.

This doesn’t mean that you need to have the comedic skills of Jerry Seinfeld, but it is imperative for a leader to have a sense of humor both when things are going well and when things go wrong. A study by Bell Leadership Institute found that the two most desirable traits in leaders were a strong work ethic and a good sense of humor. Humor gets people to listen, humor increases persuasion, humor increases your likability, and humor increases employee engagement. Simply put? Be someone others want to be around. These leadership lessons may seem small, but can have the most profound impact on building lifelong professional relationships.

Finding People Who Make a Difference®
Executive Search Review has recognized the totality of the Sanford Rose Associates® network as being one of the Top 10 Search Firms in North America with 70+ offices worldwide. To learn more about achieving professional excellence both personally and with those on your team, please reach out to your Sanford Rose Associates® executive search consultant today.

 —Karen Schmidt