Leadership has never been an easy career pursuit but with today’s dynamic economy the challenges of being an effective leader are particularly acute, especially in those industries that are experiencing dramatic transformation with their business models. Healthcare, the news business, publishing and retail, for example, are all facing daunting challenges. Did you know that the US has lost more jobs in the retail industry than the whole of the coal industry? In the news business, where digital platforms have disrupted traditional advertising revenue and content distribution models, thousands of journalists have been laid off and hundreds of newspapers, including my former employer, The Houston Post, were driven from the market. In radio broadcasting, once a focal point for creating communities of similar interests, there are fewer live announcers, especially in smaller communities. Local disc jockeys and announcers are being replaced with programming computers that provide music, public affairs shows and weather information at lower costs than the old radio production model.
Every day, the Amazon delivery teams bring in dozens of packages to my building in Dallas. Several times a day they deliver everything from books and small appliances, to laundry detergent and paper towels and even items for the food pantry, all merchandise we once only bought at a retail store.
In healthcare, as reform realigns economic incentives, patients are being moved away from traditional acute care facilities — the big box hospitals — to more appropriate, less costly settings for diagnostic evaluation or even definitive care. This shift in care management will only escalate as controlling this nation’s enormous spend on healthcare services becomes an economic necessity.
These pressures on rural and community hospitals which are an essential part of the nation’s healthcare delivery structure, can be more intense, necessitating an acceleration in the pace of change to ensure survival.
Not only are these changes impacting the healthcare business model, but they also pose threats to those executives who are not sensitive to how these changes will impact their leadership style. Some executives talk about change but continue to operate as if change has no bearing on how they lead and communicate with their teams.
The truth is that executives rarely think about how they communicate. It is an automatic, something they do instinctively based on years of experience. In my years of interviewing executives, it is rare to find someone who has taken the time to create a communication structure and a plan.
While this may seem counterintuitive, leaders in smaller organizations like rural and community hospitals must be more adept than their colleagues who toil in larger corporate structures in metropolitan areas. They have to do so much more with less, and, typically, they have to do it faster.
One of the core competencies of leadership is communication; senior leaders must be excellent communicators.
Communication is about sharing information but it is also about seeking clarification when there are questions that are unanswered or when the situation is unclear.
Today I want to share my four pillars of effective leadership communication:
First, be strategic. You must always be thinking ahead. Leaders and managers cannot afford to take anything for granted. You cannot delay because the pace of change can, and probably will, overwhelm your ability to respond, especially if you have a habit of kicking the can down the road for a more convenient time to share information. To be an effective strategic communicator you must anticipate and understand how events will affect your team and those with whom you must collaborate. If this is not a natural ability you must plan in advance.
Second, you must maintain ongoing communications. In a fast-moving environment there is always the risk of management assumption — one or more of the parties in the project chain assume certain facts or make the wrong calculations based on inaccurate or poorly communicated information. Regularly scheduled communication updates with your superior and direct reports are critical, especially in times of intense activity — the roll out of a new service line, the change in a major vendor, or changes that produce a significant increase in activity.
Third, follow-up is essential. In mission critical scenarios, confirming the details of a meeting and the decisions made, especially highlighting action items that must be addressed, can sometimes make the difference between success or a mess. Even if it is a quick email, this can ensure that faulty assumptions are avoided and that action items are addressed in a timely manner.
And finally, be structured. Create a communications process and style that is consistent with a highly reliable leadership model. Your superior, your peers and direct reports will value that consistency. Always have an agenda with the goal of advancing the ball. Everyone hates meetings to discuss what happened in the last meeting. Afterwards, distribute the minutes of the meeting with action items and accountability specifically spelled out. In the end, effectively communicating information with clearly performance expectations is a bedrock of success.
One of the most important jobs of a governing board — whether it is a large corporation in a major metropolitan area or a small rural community hospital — is selecting a Chief Executive Officer. While finding the right fit for a CEO to lead a complex, multi-site enterprise is no small order, I believe the challenges facing board members overseeing a rural community hospital are much more daunting.
Big corporations compensate their members for their time. They are supported with staff resources to help them discharge their duties. Governing boards in smaller enterprises do not have that luxury. Most volunteer their time. They have full-time jobs and there are limited support resources available to guide them through the process.
There is a significant risk in hiring a new leader. If you are a board member looking at statistical success rates across all industrial sectors, at large and small companies, there is a stunning number that has remained about the same for the past 2o years: 40 percent of new executive hires usually leave within 18 months. The cost associated with that level of leadership turnover is staggering. Most studies conclude that the cost for a miss-hire or an early resignation, ranges between 100 and 200 times the executive’s annual salary. For a small business that is a terrible financial hit. In my 20 years of leading executive searches I have seen once successful community hospitals closing because of one poor hiring choice combined with an astounding reluctance by the board to admit they made an error, all evidence to the contrary.
So here are three concepts board members should consider when faced with making their most important decision:
References. There must a minimum of four — one or two former superior (bosses), a peer, and a subordinate. These individuals must be able to speak to the candidates’ performance at previous employers. Be sure to ask questions about the performance claims made by each candidate. Today, fabricating academic and professional credentials is a rarity. Exaggerating successes is much more common. In other words, follow President Ronald Reagan’s advice: trust but verify.
When deciding which firm to hire, ask about their process including how much time the recruiting who will be leading the search will spend on site, getting to know the board, the staff and community stakeholders. That is a function that cannot be done on the telephone or videoconference call. If the recruiter is reluctant to invest the time, they will not be able to understand your organization’s culture and that could very well lead to a very expensive miss-hire.
If you are a board member and would like additional information on the CEO search process, email me at email@example.com.
That’s it for this week. Next week we will look the important role a comprehensive onboarding program plays in reducing costly turnover.
© 2017 John Gregory Self
“I am really not any good when it comes to selling myself.”
That is one of the most common admissions I hear when helping candidates prepare for their job search. Candidates with interesting backgrounds and obvious skills struggle to deliver answers that are focused, on point, and have relevant examples of their success.
Some executives believe their performance should sell itself in a job interview and they refuse to consider the alternative. Others associate selling their accomplishments with bragging, a trait they grew up believing was an unseemly character flaw.
In a recent coaching session, a dynamic individual with an unusual and interesting background spent more time talking about where she had worked and almost no time speaking in the language of “this is what I have accomplished.” She was anxious to return to the active workforce but seemed unable to distill down the process to a basic winning formula:
Experience + Relevant Accomplishments = Value
That candidates need to effectively communicate their value by answering questions with specific examples of their successes is an accepted concept, but there continues to be a huge gap for far too many of them between what they know intellectually and what they do when the interview actually begins.
In researching an article on onboarding that I am preparing for a national trade publication, I found an old post in Forbes Magazine from an acquaintance, George Bradt, Chairman of PrimeGenesis, a global executive coaching and onboarding advisory firm, that may help candidates put the whole idea of selling themselves into a different context. Mr. Bradt believes that there are three, and only three, “true questions” in a job interview:
Perhaps candidates who get bogged down in the whole notion of “selling themselves” should hit the pause button in their interview preparation and think carefully about how they would ace those three root questions. Of course the phrase “interview preparation” assumes candidates actually spend time preparing/rehearsing for their interviews. Comments from other recruiters, and my own experiences, show that interview prep is either not done, or is so off the mark as to make it valueless.
Bradt, the father of onboarding and a former front line manager for several Fortune 500 companies, offers these ideas on how to improve your interview performance. Even if the person who is conducting the interview hasn’t been properly trained, “take charge in a way that makes them feel good about themselves and what they uncover about you.” His straight-forward advice, issues we have previously discussed here, is built around three points: Think, Answer and Bridge.
© 2017 John Gregory Self
There is one sure-fire avenue for candidates to differentiate themselves in a job search process. The problem is that more than 95 percent miss the opportunity.
Not to sound like a broken record but there are two words candidates should understand if they want to be more competitive:
Value and customization.
I have written on this subject numerous times. I raise this subject in each candidate interaction because it is that important. Here is why. If you look at 20 resumes in connection with a specific search, only one candidate, maybe two, will make any effort to produce a resume that speaks to the needs of the client. Two in 20! That is stunning.
Many of my search colleagues are in agreement, most of the resumes we see are not that terrific. “When a candidate submits the same resume to every job opportunity, they are, in effect, saying this is about me, not the needs of the client,” explained Laura Merker, Dr.PH, RN, my search partner in New York.
Given that the resume is the first interview, it is no wonder that some of these executives and managers struggle in the job search process.
When my team reviews a resume, here is what they are looking for: does the candidate have experience in doing those things that the potential employer believes are critical to the selection process, and what were their results in addressing those issues? Of course there are other facets we will examine, but if the candidate’s resume does not address those issues, there had better be something pretty outstanding to grab our attention or the chances that resume will go to the bottom of the pile are pretty high. It may, or may not, get a second look, depending on the volume and quality of interest in the position.
Why would you as a candidate for a position want to blend in with the crowd? To begin with the odds are so overwhelmingly against you in almost every search — typically 20-30 to one for desirable positions. Blending in does not improve your chances.
If you change nothing else in your career management/job search strategy, please pay attention to these critical points…
Resume Customization Is No Longer An Option: No, you do not have to recreate your resume for every job you pursue, but you need to address the needs of the employer. As I have written in the past, adjusting your messaging in the Professional Summary at the top of the resume is an ideal way to accomplish this since most recruiting researchers almost always scan the Professional Summary first. If you target the employer’s needs you can lock in their attention and markedly improve your chances of not being eliminated in the initial desk screening. Sending the same resume to every potential employer is not going to differentiate you from the other candidates.
Your Value and Your Success Must be Apparent: You may be exceptional in the actual interview process but unless you are a marquee candidate, you may not make the initial cut if your resume does not connect your quantifiable record of accomplishment with the employer’s needs. In other words, you have to say it and prove it.
Where You Have Worked Is Not As Important As It Once Was: Candidates must learn to speak in the language of “this is what I have accomplished” more than “this is where I have been.” Ten years ago, candidates who attended high profile graduate schools and then worked for prestigious organizations almost always received more favorable attention than those candidates from lesser known educational programs or employers. That has dramatically changed over the past five years. Your resume must clearly define what you have accomplished in each of your previous positions and then you must be prepared for the potential employer, or their search representative, to attempt to verify that information.
Read Your Resume From The Employer’s Perspective: Most candidates are so secure in their experience and accomplishments that they cannot fathom that a recruiter or employer will not automatically understand their value. If you are not connecting the dots in a clear, easy-to-understand method, you are making a big mistake, one that could easily derail your candidacy.
Executive and management recruiting is a competitive, costly and risky undertaking for all the parties — candidates, employers and their recruiters. The cost of a miss-hire is astoundingly high and can cripple a business for years.
© 2017 John Gregory Self