What does the World Want from You?

September 19, 2012

Filed under: General — Luis A. Martinez @

Does this thought give you pause – the idea that you’re here for a reason? Have you reflected on your life’s mission?

Now, let’s not get too metaphysical. There are plenty of spiritual approaches to this question. But this is a business publication, so I’m taking the topic down a couple of pegs for this exercise. More specifically, my question is: what does the world want from you – in the world of work, of business, of entrepreneurship?

As you approach your job, profession or business, what stands out as your value proposition? We often think of what we are “pushing” out to our customers, or to our employer – pushing our competencies, our skills and attributes. But how about if we think about the “pull” rather than the “push”? As in – what exactly that they want from you? From me? Can we sort out the push, and the pull?

I believe in keeping a balance between the push, and the pull of our value proposition. It’s a balancing act, one that shifts over time and adjusts to ever changing circumstances – some external as caused by, say, disruptive technology while others are caused by our own personal circumstances, such as starting a family or ill health. Let’s look at two examples to illustrate:

Walter Elias Disney – Walt Disney knew his entire life what the world wanted – cartoons. Sounds trite, but he had a vision for family entertainment. He matched it with ingenuity and courage. Think about this: Disney and his small team produced a very popular cartoon character, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. Oswald became so well known that a rapacious film producer in New York maneuvered Disney out of the rights to the character and his design team. Undaunted, in 1928 Disney hopped a train to California and on the way to Hollywood he sketched a new character – a mouse. You know the rest of the Mickey Mouse story. Walter Disney went on to win more nominations and Academy Awards than any individual in history. By the way, Disney’s company, to settle an old score, bought back the rights to Oswald from NBC Universal in 2006.

Here in Rochester, NY, a towering figure comes to mind: Katherine Van Bortel. Kitty was fired from a well known Mercedes Benz dealership, because she was a woman, in spite of the best sales record in the showroom. She said to me in an interview, “I started with $500. I bought a used car, put it on my front lawn in my home in Victor, NY, and sold it for 6 times that, so I was on my way.” She launched what has now become Van Bortel Subaru, a top seller nationwide and often times the #1 Subaru dealership. Only 3% of all dealerships are owned by women. But Kitty knows what women want.

What does the world want from you? A great software app? A family pasta restaurant? A customer oriented CPA firm? You have it in you. But have you asked them, the world around you, what they want from you?

Stick Your Landing

August 2, 2012

Filed under: General — Luis A. Martinez @

McKayla on her way to Gold

Sixteen-year old McKayla Rose Maroney (aka “Air Maroney”) launches into orbit on her way to an Olympic Gold Medal for the USA Gymnastics Team. She is considered the best in the world on the gymnastic vault called the Amanar, the most difficult and dangerous vault in the world. It consists of running full speed, a round-off onto the spring board, then a back handspring onto the vaulting table and 2.5 twisting somersaults before sticking the landing. En route, she will be vertically upside down, midair, with her head about 10 feet from the floor at apogee. She then has to stick her landing – a “blind landing” at that. Her performance at the London Summer Olympics on July 31 left the judges literally agape – as they knew they had just witnessed a “perfect vault.”

As every gymnast knows, all the danger and pirouettes are pointless unless they can stick their landing. It’s the follow through to conclusion that makes all the difference in competition. And so it is in business. Do you follow through with your contacts? Have you circled back to your prospects to nurture the engagement? Did you return those phone calls from your client/boss/mother-in-law?

I meet many people every day, particularly when I conduct a business presentation or workshop. I know when I get back to my hotel room I will have a fistful of business cards – each from a person I just met in the audience. Many of them have indicated to me that they want to continue the conversation. Today, my Rolodex runneth over. I must maintain a discipline for following through. That is the benefit and hardship of speaking engagements. But I must stick my landing.

It amazes me, however, the many opportunities that I see squandered for lack of follow through. Not just those who don’t get back to me but opportunities presented to people that I work with and businesses that I frequent. Here are some data on the importance of following up and sticking your landing, from the National Sales Executive Association. Their data suggests most sales are made from the 5th through the 12th contact:
• 2% of sales are made on the 1st contact
• 3% on the 2nd contact
• 5% on the 3rd
• 10% on the 4th
• 80% of sales are made on the 5th-12th contact!

But wait – why worry? You’re not a salesperson.

Oh, yes, you are. Whether you are vying for a promotion working in a corporate environment, a member of a Board of Trustees, or selling homemade jewelry – you are in sales. Following through on personal or business commitments requires discipline, focus and efficiency. With social media, one can argue both sides of this coin – it exposes us to many more people than ever, but it also makes it much easier to respond and follow up with virtually anyone, at virtually any time.

After all your hard work – can you stick your landing?

She Needs for Me to Lose Her

May 1, 2012

Filed under: General — Luis A. Martinez @

I was having coffee with my friend, Deb, who works for a well known regional enterprise. Deb was telling me about her own career, and about one of her direct reports. She surprised me when she said, “She needs for me to lose her!” She was referring to Sue, who reports to Deb, and is extremely well qualified and anxious to move to another position. Problem is, the organization is not large enough to accommodate a promotion of the sort for which Sue is qualified. That’s the bad news – that eventually Sue would have to leave in order for her career to blossom. But there’s good news in here: Deb, unlike many other managers whom I’ve come to know, is more interested in Sue’s professional welfare than in her own temporary inconvenience of having to replace her.

How refreshing.

I can think distinctly, in my 30 year career in corporate human resources, about the many times that I had to approach a manager who kept holding on to their best employees, choking their career growth, in order to satisfy their own agenda. The conversation would go something like this:
“Harry, I’ve been approached by several engineers in your group who complain that you’re not signing paperwork so they can do exploratory interviews in other parts of our company.”
“That’s right! I’m not letting them go until we deliver this project!”
“Okay, I see what you mean. One in particular, Jaime, is wanted for a promotion in another group.”
“Look, I need him here, so he can’t go.”
“But Harry, what paperwork does he need from you so he can interview for positions with our competitors?”
Harry would give me a cold stare.
Many talented young people would leave the company unless I could persuade managers, like Harry, to release them for promotional opportunities within our company. And, of course, in the process I became persona non grata to Harry. He saw himself as the victim – and me as the perpetrator. What’s the answer?  I would turn to the engineer.
“Jaime, you’ve been in your position for three years, and in the company for five. Do you know any other good engineers, like yourself?”
“Sure I do! There’s Keila, Letty, and Diego.”
“Great! Can one of them step up and take your place if you transferred to another department?”
“Yes, I think Keila is ready.”
“Good, I’ll talk to Harry.”
I would then propose to Harry that Keila could backfill for Jaime, then backfill Keila with a new graduate engineer. That way there was one addition, two promotions – and no loss of talent.

Sometimes all that is needed is a broader view, a non-parochial perspective. Harry wanted to retain Jaime, for good reasons, but at a significant risk of talent loss to the company. By getting Harry and Jaime to collaborate on a mutually satisfactory solution we broke the logjam.

Back to Deb and Sue.  Are you a Sue?  Or are you a Deb?   Or are you a Harry?

Let Go of the Steering Wheel!

January 25, 2012

Filed under: General — Luis A. Martinez @

Approaching 140 mph in his 2004 Ferrari 360 Challenge Stradale at Watkins Glen Raceway, I sense that my student driver has a death grip on the steering wheel.

“Let go of the steering wheel!” I direct him via our inter-helmet communicator.

“What?” He shouts back, a brain surgeon probing the limits of the projectile he just purchased.

I tell him, “Release your death grip on that wheel.  You can’t sense the car when you’re so tense.” This is more information than Dr. Joel can handle on the fly.  I ask him to park the car so I can demonstrate.   We switch sides and strap in.  Engine on, I pull on the right paddle shifter of the fastest car that doctor’s money can buy.  Shifting up through the gears I carefully blend back into traffic on the racetrack.  I goose it going up the esses (entering a fast right hander at 90mph, then uphill left at 110, then right again exiting at the top of the curves at 130).  Dr. Joel observes and comments: Your hands hardly move!” Thank you. Perfect compliment.  Object lesson delivered.

Driving up the esses should be sheer poetry.  Driving on rain, ice and snow is done with a light touch, with smooth transfers left to right, gas to brake.  Race car steering wheels are thick, providing more feedback to the driver. But the tighter you hold the wheel, the less you feel the car. It’s counterintuitive, but it’s fact.

And so it is in life.  If you’re too intense about what you’re doing, you’ll miss crucial data points.  If you have a death grip on your function, choking the life out of your team, or supplier, you’ll lose sight of your own ‘vehicle’ (your career).  Are you oblivious to ‘track conditions’ around you (your superiors, peers, subordinates – customers)?  A lighter touch is needed.  At 140 in nose-to-tail racing traffic, staying alert to surroundings is critical to safety.  Are you getting a sense of your current situation, being alert to inputs, to people around you? Their moods?  Their view of circumstances?  When you sense that you belong, that you’re in the zone, you’ll experience what we racers mean when we say, “the track is coming to me.”

But there is also time for intensity.  Seven years later another track student brings a 2011 Ferrari 430 Scuderia, a red rocket with license plate: SCUDMSSL.  It’s Sunday afternoon. He’s been on track since Friday morning.  His instructor left; the driver is reassigned to me.  We go out on track.  I observe how he drives one lap, then I tell him: “Okay, I see what you’ve got.  Let’s work!  GAS, GAS, GAS!  BRAAAAAKE! Turn in! Now GO, GO, GO!, BRAAAAKE! Turn in! GO! Go for it, now! GAS, GAS! NO BRAKE HERE, NO BRAKE – TURN IN! GAAAAS!”

We did two sessions like that.  He had never gone so fast in his life.  When we stopped at the paddock he literally jumped out of the car – delirious!  He was so happy.

Soft Skills? What Soft Skills?

January 18, 2012

Filed under: General — Luis A. Martinez @

I guess I take umbrage at the notion that personal attributes and EQ are generally referred to as ‘soft skills’.  The reality, however, is that we screen for IQ.  We rarely screen for EQ, or we do so only as an afterthought.  But I suggest that as a hiring manager you want your candidate to have both IQ and EQ.  As a candidate, you want to deliver both. It’s not an EITHER / OR proposition.  It’s BOTH / AND.

On one side of the interview table, when I coach an executive as a candidate for a position, or on the other side, when I coach a senior leadership team screening candidates to fill a key position, it strikes me that they primarily dwell on the IQ (by this I mean the cluster of education, skills and experience in a specific discipline and industry).  They relegate the EQ to a casual conversation, if at all.

I would dare anyone to say that determination, resourcefulness, tenacity, flexibility and high tolerance for ambiguity are soft skills.  Anyone who has had to learn to be more assertive, or become more collaborative, or more detailed, or more strategic would tell you that there is nothing soft or easy about learning those characteristics. They are as difficult – no, more difficult – to master than any “hard” skill, such as writing software or passing certified public accountant boards. Granted, EQ can be characterized as interpersonal skills, different from, say, clinical skills or engineering skills, but referring to EQ skills as soft creates a delusion that they are somehow less important, if not irrelevant, which is definitely counterproductive.

Some corporate recruiters will emphasize interpersonal skills, including leadership and teamwork. Alan Breznick, of Cornell University, asserts in the university’s Johnson School of Business Magazine that “such intrinsic qualities as leadership and teamwork are difficult if not impossible to teach on the job.” Recruiters must find a way to elicit EQ from the candidates through the interview.

Karin Ash, director of Cornell’s Johnson School Career Management Center, says, “Recruiters want candidates who can clearly articulate who they are, where they’re going, and who can persuade other people around them.”

Try this, Google-search this term: assertive.  Yahoo-search confident.  Bing-search collaborative.  Wikipedia-search diplomatic.  Okay, now you know what those things are.  But how difficult is it to acquire those traits – if you are lacking them?  Very.  Difficult.

Now Google-search: lean six sigma, or social media marketing, or petroleum refining.  You can become conversant on the most difficult technical topics if you spend enough time reading and researching.  But how do you go from aggressive to collaborative?  How do you go from arrogant to humble?  How do you go from compliant to competitive?  See my point?  There is nothing soft about acquiring EQ skills.

Your IQ?  You bring that along, almost from birth.   But your EQ?  Your EQ is something you work on to develop, to hone and finesse during your entire life.

And that, as they say, makes all the difference.

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