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Book review: The effective hiring manager

February 17, 2020

Hiring is one of the most crucial tasks in any organisation. It can have devastating results on the company if not carried out carefully. Bad hires cause havoc and can ruin a perfectly well functioning organisation and company culture in no time.

The first principal of hiring is don’t do it. If you can avoid adding more people and become more efficient instead that’s the best option. If your competitor does not need more staff that will show up in your performance at some point. They can do more with less. Usually higher productivity shows up in better profit margins.

The second principal is to set the hiring bar high. Quality attracts quality and it shows in your company culture, too. Setting standards and running a planned and measured process is something that you can get better at. Ad hoc routines stay as they are, ad hoc.

The biggest mistake in hiring is to look for reasons to say yes for candidates. Often there’s a rush to fill the position and FOMO of good candidates kicks in. This is the default behaviour but it does not make any actual sense. The worst outcome is to hire a wrong candidate for the position. You want to avoid this outcome at any cost.

This is the purpose of effective interviewing – saying no. The process is there to rule out people that are not a good fit for the position. It’s better to have a longer recruitment process than get it over with quickly and settle with a sub-bar quality candidate with all the unintended consequences down the road.

When you look for strengths you will find them. It’s easy to like some candidates more than others and subjective judgements bias the hiring process anyways. Saying no is the default answer, and the recruitment process takes care of the rest.

The old saying hire for attitude and train for skill is widely used as a thumb of the rule guide. Yet, the best way to screen people for the job is to figure out whether they have the behaviours required for the position. Behaviour is something that is known and it can be measured. If you have done it before you are likely to do it again.

The behaviours that matter in the recruitment context are the words we say, how we say them, facial expressions, body language and the work product (i.e. quality, quantity, accuracy, timeliness, documentation and safety). The screening and interview phases are planned in a way to reveal these.

The book walks through the whole recruitment process and gives enough practical guidance to plan and execute hiring in detail. It takes the view of hiring manager who’s responsible of the new recruitment and provides tips how to involve and handle the HR department if the company has one.

Overall the recruitment process is about marketing and sales as much as making the organisation work and carry out the functions it is supposed to do. How you handle the candidate communication and overall process leaves a lasting impression of your professionalism and quality as an employer. Ad hoc recruitment process is easy to recognise when you’re involved with it. Companies that set high bar improve and get better in recruitment. Prepare yourself to say no.

Book review: Supertrends

January 29, 2020

It’s hard to imagine and take into account changes that happen slowly but surely. Their overall impact can be radical for our lifestyle yet we tend to either ignore or underestimate the signals along the way.

Supertrends reminds us to look into those lingering things that barely move when you focus on them but are huge when compared to the already happened historical changes.

The book covers large topics and introduces 50 rule of thumbs to crystallise their impact on us. Probably the biggest message is that the world is overall a way better place than general population and even experts believe. Hans Rosling used to quiz various audiences, and pure chance deals better odds (more optimistic) than his sample audience ever achieved with their knowledge of the facts.

One of the change factors is productivity that is moving from manual work to mechanical and finally to digital. The latter enables exponential growth compared to previous linear and static. When we include the fact that the still growing (but slowing) global population has more resources available to each person it is no wonder that there is no limit to the innovation potential we can achieve (provided that the laws of physics allow them).

Accenture has predicted that AI can double the economic growth rate in rich countries. This is huge, and it results large societal changes in all aspects of our life. The lower levels of Maslow’s hierarchy will be occupied by automatised machines that carry out commodity production, administration and distribution tasks.

Experience economy and labour-of-love type of work will increase and shift the focus of people’s work and consumption preferences.

The nature of work will also transcend from permanent one employer type of relationship towards continuous learning and flexible work arrangements. Last decade was the rise of social media. Individual voices have become so strong that showing your full identity will become acceptable in comparison to the still prevalent work-life separation (see also Category creation where Anthony Kennada talks about human-centric approach to business).

Frederic Laloux divides organisations into five category types ranging from impulsive, conformist, achievement to pluralistic and evolutionary. Public services are mainly based on the conformist management style: hierarchical, fixed roles and processes, authoritarian and formality/status driven.

Many companies have moved towards the pluralistic management that is culture and value driven with inclusive, fair and broad impact focused. Yet, the future seems to move into direction where self-organisation, -management, -motivation and decentralised planning are the norm. This decentralisation provides greater flexibility but required more trust and individual responsibility.

The drift between last century top-down rigid structures and requirements for more dynamic and customised solutions become very apparent in the public sector. It continues to hoard more resources without increasing productivity and efficiency to justify the ever-larger societal tax burdens. This results that the future winners will be countries that adapt to the pluralistic and evolutionary managerial styles in their provision of public services for their residents. Government as a platform is something that some leading countries in this field are already experimenting with (e.g. Estonia). The main challenge is to institutionalise agility and innovation.

It’s humbling to consider that our scientific activity increases 100-fold in 100 years. How much has the world changed since the 1920’s? The challenges of the future are rarely solved with the technologies of today (rule #4). Our current non-sustainable practices will become non-issues and replaced with something new and different.

Future is non-linear, often exponential in change and based on continuous human innovation and productivity.

Practical business books

January 16, 2020

Much of business is about to-do items and practical steps to follow. The below books belong to this category of getting things done but no point re-inventing the wheel. They are more about doing and less about thinking. So get your hands dirty and make it happen.

Testing business ideas is a concise yet colourful way of shaping your business from an idea to revenue generating value proposition. The book flows from designing your team and idea towards testing and experimenting, and finally keeping the relevant pitfalls and other considerations in mind. If you like the Strategyzer series this goes nicely together with the other books.

Storytelling with data – Let’s Practice! builds upon the bestseller Storytelling with data that is widely used as a textbook in universities. The book is not your boring statistics treatise but easy to thumb thru guide for finding the best ways to get your message across based on your audience, context and the core message. There are practical examples and exercises that guide into deeper understanding of data visualisation for business purposes.

Dynamic Digital Marketing walks you through your first 90-days of creating and building your digital marketing plan. It all starts from research and basic decisions involving customer journey, value proposition, digital channels and key metrics among others. Altogether the book shows in concrete steps what is relevant, where to focus and how to do it in practise.

Vision to Value focuses on software companies from the perspective of a growth company COO. It introduces the vision to value framework that is gearing the organisational structures towards delivering quality products with feedback mechanisms to enhance the overall processes along the way. Growth companies are dynamic in nature and all the processes are more or less in constant need of change, improvement and adjustment. The framework aims to keep the end-user value in mind so that the processes are arranged towards delivering value to customers and not for the organisations own sake or just being efficient with all the processes and compliance.

Book review: Category creation

January 13, 2020

When you’re building something new it may appear that you don’t easily fit into any clearly defined category. The existing players and analysts may want to box you in and give you a label of a better mousetrap of one or two categories. Yet, they may not really describe your vision and understanding of the future, and the problems you’re trying to solve.

Category creation is something that takes courage but as well might be the only really good option available. If you don’t find many (or any) competitors, nobody is covering your space in media, and there are only a very small number of people who get what you are doing but they are passionate about it the good news is that you might be onto something.

Salesforce is a classic example of a category creation company. In their early years they were really loud and clear about the coming cloud revolution. Their marketing was about the “end of software” to the extent that they used “no software” in their branding. At the time cloud computing category was as widely used as Amazon in the mid 90’s.

According to Kennada category creation is a business strategy where the company is focusing on marketing the category by focusing on the new problem in the industry more than the actual solutions for it. In practise, this means a choice where the company is educating the market and building a community and ecosystem around the new category.

This is a daunting task taking a lot of company resources for the public good that often at the outset seems to be used at the expense of the actual product marketing efforts. The upside is that a successful category building brands the company as the market leader with its share of the total market revenues. Google, Uber, AirBnb are examples of category builders.

A disruptive business strategy is the opposite of category building. It is executed towards an incumbent in the industry and positioned as something better than the existing solution to the problem in question. It uses the analogies and compares oneself to the existing status quo instead of creating a completely new paradigm in the market. Zoom vs. WebEx and Google Docs vs. MS Office are examples of this challenger positioning.

One of the oxymorons might be a category creator in an industry with one or more incumbents. Category creations can be recognised as a de facto strategy later but at the time it was just the obvious choice to build the market place and create the proper demand for the solution. Yet, sometimes fast followers are the ones taking the leading market position from the first movers, and history is full of examples of this behaviour.

Most of the content is about practicalities for building and getting inspiration for category creation. It also introduces business-to-human (B2H) as an approach to marketing and sales where the main focus are the people behind the companies and logos. Kennada sees that B2B and B2C marketing are merging towards unified B2H and customers are gravitating towards companies they admire and trust.

The philosophical aspect of B2H marketing concentrates on the individuals and helping them to solve problems and build relative connections among peers and mentors. The practical aspect can use many of the existing tools and means for targeted content and marketing.

Values, purpose and overall human-centric approach to business building is one central theme overall in the book. It may very well define this new business decade as well.