Tag Archives: people

5 Tips to hire great people

I am always amazed at how many companies really make a mess of hiring people.

What should be an opportunity to engage energetic and passionate people wanting to find an outlet for their professional talents instead becomes a meaningless game, usually won by diligent CV writing artistes willing to play the tedious charade of the recruitment process, or those with the means to pay someone to do it for them. 

The CV checking process will sift out the worst candidates, the inarticulate, the bad spellers and those too lazy to actually tell you that they can do what you are asking for … but it doesn’t help you in finding and hiring great people. It will never help you find those truly exceptional people that can drive your business forward, be a A+ contributor and most importantly make your company a great place to spend a great deal of your life.

Why is this?

Why does the hiring process find it hard to identify brilliant people?

To understand this we need to look at how people are hired in most companies.

The whole process starts with a ridiculously overstated and irrelevant job description. This usually bears little resemblance to the actual role. It sets a bar so high that few who actually do the job in the company today could apply for it. Hiring managers ask for every technology, skill and experience they can think of rarely considering whether this is really needed, or more importantly whether it is physically possible within the constraints of time and space to acquire these skills [and if it was, whether that person would take a role paying what you are paying].

Next comes the CV sift.

You now reject any candidate telling the whole truth (because we know that the job description is almost always unattainable) and instead find the candidate who lists the most skills they can physically fit on paper and can best panel beat their previous job experience (whatever it was) into what you are  asking for. At this point, a sanity check would help [is this realistic for someone age 22], but instead hiring managers start getting excited about how they can hire great talent at the low rates they are paying.

And then we move to the interviewSmart managers and HR departments know that much of the CV will be ‘polished’, so they adopt ‘competency questions‘. Instead of asking for an explanation of what is written on the CV (knowing it may be untrue and impossible to verify), they look for insight from previous employment … 

Can you tell me what you were proudest of?

What was your most challenging task?

How to you manage conflict?

Managers think they are finding the best candidate by doing this. What they are doing is finding the candidate best able to demonstrate their mastery of memorising stock answers from the interviewees bible. If this is what you want then fine, but don’t think a great answer means a great hire. It means a practiced interviewee. Nothing more.

Competency questions will provide additional information than just asking about what they did between 2008 and 2009, but in many cases will simply reinforce biases. This may help you identify a cultural fit (because they are like you), but not a great hire.

And then the final steps …

Intelligence and left field questions: such as ‘how many golfballs could you fit in a Boeing 747‘. Useful perhaps if you want to sell 747s to Nike or Calloway, but otherwise of limited use in assessing the fit for most roles. These questions say more about the arrogance of the interviewer. Instead ask ‘real world questions’, whether about the role of about life. These are the really hard ones and will tell you a lot about the candidate.

Personality tests : These have the same problems as competency questions. A few minutes researching your company and some time practicing these online will help capable candidates deliver an ENTP or INFJ result as needed.

References. Useless. The only value is identifying those applicants with no friends, no contacts or no money (to buy them). You would never list a poor reference, and most employers are too frightened of the legal consequences of a negative reply, so you risk wrongly interpreting a response such as ‘we cannot provide references’ anyway.

So if the old style processes are broken what can companies do to find the right people?

5 Tips to hire great people

  1. Define what outcome you want, don’t only focus on the skills you think you need. Beware of long lists of skills and experiences. Keep it short, focused and open. Allow the candidate to shape the application if you can. Allow passion and energy to shine through. Ask yourself whether your process would allow a great candidate to be identified. A less defined role means more potential applicants, but also a better chance of finding a brilliant hire.
  2. As far as possible allow the applicant to demonstrate their ideas and value throughout the application process. When you meet and interview people, don’t be afraid to challenge the candidate. Put them on the spot. A great candidate will love this because it is an opportunity for them to shine, to show you what they can do and tell you why you should hire them.
  3. Keep an open mind and be aware of your biases. Would a 30 year old who has travelled around the world and volunteered be more valuable than a 22 year old ‘never worked’ Ivy League graduate? What you hire someone in their 40s who was changing careers and wanted a chance? Would you hire someone in their 60s who wanted a new start? Constantly think about who you are hiring for – you? your company? for your customers? What matters most? Remember diversity means you are reflecting the real world.
  4. Be respectful. Applying for roles takes time. Attending interviews costs money. ALWAYS respect this. Thank candidates who apply. All of them. This is a cost of business. Don’t be cheap. Never use ‘if you don’t hear from us’ in applications. Show respect. Only advertise for roles you are going to hire for. Don’t lie, don’t cut the salary to a lower level, don’t  promise what isn’t there. If you want to have an extensive process, then consider paying expenses for candidates as they progress. This cost is a fraction of the cost of picking the wrong person, and a tiny fraction of the cost of firing a bad candidate.
  5. Remember that hiring is a two way process. Never forget this. Great candidates are always interviewing you. Average candidates want a job. Great candidates want a company worthy of their time and efforts. Keep checking that you are answering questions that they may have. Before making the job offer, allow the new hire to spend some time in the company with people in a similar role to what you want to hire them for. Allow the candidate to ask questions to those in role, perhaps over lunch or a coffee without you being there. You want the candidate to know the reality of the job and willingly sign up to this. If you don’t, then you are simply a holding place until they move.

None of this is a recipe for success, and there are whole books dedicated to this, but getting the basics right, showing respect, being honest are great starting points.

And one final tip you should follow if you pick just one.

Hire passion

Work has days when everything goes wrong, clients cancel, projects fail and delivery is missed. When the chips are down you want to be with someone who stands with you, holds out a hand and starts to fix things, not someone who tells everyone what is wrong. Think carefully about how you identify that person, because when it really matters, character is what counts, make sure you are looking for that. 

Design to evolve

If you are ever asked to design any technological solution/product/service, here is a quick tip …

Assume that what you design is wrong.

That is not to say you are wrong.

You may design a great solution, but if it includes technology, it will be a solution for today; a solution designed with today’s mindset, today’s products and today’s expectations from services. The more technology included, the greater the risk of premature ageing.

Instead of defining a solution for today, think about how you can design for the future.

How can you design a solution that can be adapted, upgraded, changed, replaced?

The way to do this is to assume that things will change. If you had to replace or upgrade key parts, whether software or hardware could you easily and cost effectively do this?

Can users do this? Can end users modify the solution to improve it or do you want to maintain complete control?

If you can do this, you start to change the solution from a single standalone solution to a system. An upgradable, living system that can evolve. If you do that, you start to change the economics of the solution or product too. If you can extend the lifespan, you can positively impact the cost of ownership and start to potentially justify a higher price. More importantly you can quickly respond to competitive changes, avoid retooling factories for minor improvements  and ultimately and lower costs. If you can engage users, you can start to build a community of supporters who can create on top of your work and evolve from having a system into having an ecosystem and ultimately a platform.

Before you get carried away though, never lose sight of one vital question – how do you maintain quality? If your name is on the box, if you are taking the money and selling the service, then quality is your problem. So the decision is not simply about opening up everything, it is about allowing managed evolution. It is a balance between having inflexibility which you have ultimate control over (but which could be poor), or ultimate freedom, which could mean that you are left selling a product or solution that others are deriving the majority of the benefits from.

If in doubt over any area, one quick tip: Focus on human needs. Not sanitised artificial segmentations, but real human needs. These are the enduring attributes of people; their behaviours; their relationships; their wants; their loves. Though technology has changed, these attributes haven’t.





Freedom, education and the failure of politicians

Part 2 of a two part series on debt and freedom.

Part 1 is Freedom vs. debt and the dangers of financial heroin.

Is all debt bad? Should you never buy things?

I’m not arguing that you don’t buy things, but flip this around.

Instead of saying,’how can I borrow to buy this now?’ instead ask, ‘how can I increase my income to buy this sooner’.

If you can’t increase income, then wait.

Are there exceptions to this?

Yes. If you follow business school logic, then you should borrow money to finance asset purchases to increase income. I’d agree to a point. For me, it is about the level of the investment vs. the loss of freedom. Prudent borrowing for significant increases in income make sense. Large unproven investments don’t. This is common sense. Betting a company using borrowed money  (we often call these mergers) is dumb. Most mergers fail, most don’t deliver promised value, so again, minimise risk and buy smaller assets at a pace you can assimilate them. This worked for Cisco, and hundreds of other leading companies. Big takeovers are painful, risky and divert attention from being a great company.

Personal finance writers say that mortgage debt is good debt. I agree to a point. It is debt, but you need somewhere to live, but the basic rules of evaluating debt vs. freedom still apply. Be prudent. Big debt reduces freedom. Very big debt is stupid. House prices may rise, but not for a while. You may see the price rise, but we are more likely to see inflation rise and you lose the house. Better have a smaller house and be confident you can keep it, then a large one that you risk losing (big houses cost more to run, so the total cost of ownership is much higher).

For me though, there is one other type of debt that is OK. One type that individuals, companies and countries should borrow for:


It doesn’t matter whether you are an individual or a country, investing in your capability to be better at what you do, to raise the level of what you do is a great thing. The benefits for you personally, for society and ultimately for humanity are all positive. The challenge here is not the absolute value (education is rarely a wasted investment), it is the timescale of the payback period. Longer is better, it gives you time to earn and pay back without risking freedom. Shorter payback periods risk freedom (which is bad), so the right decision can be to not invest. This means that the decision needs to favour the decision to invest, but at a level where the loss of freedom is managable.

When I see application levels in 2012 for Universities in the UK falling, then we have the mechanism wrong. People are making the decision that the debt is not worth the loss of freedom (in many cases they are correct). What we should see in times of economic austerity (and by the way, this is here for a generation), is the foresight from politicians in particular to take the long view and change this equation so that investing in yourself, in raising the bar for the individual, for society is a good thing. The introduce mechanisms and payment models (business models in the commercial world that incentivise this). Today, they don’t.

Why does this matter?

Because this is how you increase income and total value. Whether as an individual, a company or a country. If we want to fix the finance problems personally and as a country, we need to be able to increase our income. This requires investment. For people this means education. We still need to cut expenditure, so most of the cuts are right, but NOT in education. It is education which raises our ability to generate income. There are a host of other factors too such as removing red tape, reducing the cost of running businesses, and these are also correct, but they are essentially the same thing – increasing freedom. Don’t focus on micro-policies, look to bigger ideas which shift the equation.

Reducing costs for businesses, reducing red tape all increases freedom. This is good. If debt and freedom are linked, then changing one side impacts the other.

Should we prioritise education over health spending, over defence, over social security, over any other demand on government?

My view is simple, yes.

All of the others are costs. Costs should be cut, the only thing you should invest in is assets, that is things that grow in value – and people are the ultimate asset.

Investing in education is the best way to grow personal and national income. Cutting spending reduces outgoing (debt), but has a number of other consequences, namely a reduction in demand and a reduction in confidence. Not just consumer confidence, but ambition. It is the loss of ambition and confidence that is the problem. People can live with cuts and austerity and falling service if they can see the long term end goal is better, and worth it. We put up with house renovations, painful exams, visits to gym, diets and all other personal sacrifices because we focus on the end goal.

Once we lose ambition, we don’t seek to grow, we seek to minimise our losses. We accept where we are and we make this best of it.

This is the complete opposite of what is needed.

The same principles apply to people as they do to a country.

The problem this time is that if we don’t have the long term positive vision, it is hard to see the benefit of the cuts, and this is why cutting without a vision of a long term positive goal is wrong. Reducing debt is good, no doubt about it, but this should be to meet a long term benefit. Simply cutting without defining the benefits, or making any investment will make our problems much worse. It should have balance in this. We are not saying cut this to protect that. We cut everything, we cut across the board. The result as I said is a loss in confidence and opposition to the cuts. This  worsens the effect of the cuts as the loss of confidence at a consumer and business level amplifies the impact.  At a human level, for the poorest and least educated in society (the most vulnerable) the impact is crushing. Not painful, not challenging, but crushing.

It destroys people. It destroys their ambition; it destroys their confidence in themselves and it destroys their health.

And this is where politicians are failing us.

Cutting is easy. You see where the expenditure is going and cut it. Simple as that.

It really is that simple. Start with the big numbers, cut these.

Find lots of smaller ones that are less visible and cut these harder.

For contentious cuts, simply promote those as policy changes over the longer term. They are still cuts.

The skill is not cutting, but reducing expenditure whilst not harming our future, and in this we are failing. Falling growth rates (second recession is predicted), plummeting consumer and business confidence and a loss in applications to University (and a host of other indicators) show this.

Cutting is one side of the equation. The other side is being completely missed.

We are not defining our end goal, we are not defining what we are cutting for. We are not investing in our ability to grow income and get out of this position.

If confidence remains low, then continued cuts will not only reduce expenditure, but will impact our ability to generate revenue. This decreases income – the very opposite of what is needed. For companies, it commits them to a slow and painful decline. For people it locks them into poverty and low-wage incomes.

Take any job, any field and think about this:

Doctor, mechanic, designer, teacher, driver, builder, telephone sales, writer, engineer …

  • Don’t invest, don’t learn, don’t grow = static income, then falling income. Ultimate end goal can be unemployability.
  • Invest in yourself, be better at what you do, produce better goods, deliver better services, increase quality = sustained, then growing income

This is the same for businesses.

It is the same for countries.

So don’t simply argue against the cuts. They are needed, but challenge politicians to do their job and lead. To show how we will prosper over the long term, how we will increase personal and national income and attain a sustainable, then secure position. Cuts alone will not work.

If the politician is  devoid of ideas, then share yours. Contribute. Share ideas at online forums, policy groups, consultations, surgeries, anywhere your voice can be heard. Challenge them not to cut, but to grow. Challenge the logic and challenge the vision.

And if none of this works, stand against them. Nothing is as effective in getting the attention of a politician than the prospect of an informed candidate with ideas and popular support standing against them.

Consumer technology needs to enable human ambitions to be of enduring value

Consumer technology needs to enable and empower human actions and ambitions to be valuable.

If you cannot clearly articulate the human value proposition for any given technology go back to the drawing board because you have not designed useful technology but unnecessary junk. It may be functional, it may even be aesthetically pleasing, but it is still junk. If it has no clear human benefit, it is junk. The benefit may be fun, it may be practical, but it still needs to exist.

Every piece of enduring technology from the Braun alarm clock to the Hoover vacuum cleaner; from the biro pen to the iPod can be expressed in terms of human benefit.

When the value of a technology is expressed solely in self referential terms, with the product describing what has, not what it can do for people, there can be no judgement other than failure because it is unnecessary to the buyer.

Far too many technology companies set the bar too low and forget about the most important factor in the product, the person.

Not the buyer, not the user, not any one of a dozen personas, but the human.

Not a demographic, not a segment, not a persona, but a human.

They express the description in functional terms, list features and detail technical attributes.

Successful consumer products don’t focus on the function, they focus on the human value.

If you want to be successful at consumer product or service design, don’t start with what you can do, start with why someone will care.

5 rules for surviving Work 2.0

Seth Godin gets it spot on, again.

An article on Business Insider says it all …

If You’re An Average Worker, You’re Going Straight To The Bottom

Welcome to the New Reality. Welcome to Work 2.0.

Or perhaps, welcome back to Work 2.0, because we have been here before. We are here everytime economies tighten.

And for most people, it isn’t fun.

There are going to be two groups of people in most companies – stars and everyone else.

Guess which one you NEED to be in.

We have seen the Jack Welch 10/70/20 model around for a while and several companies are using this (with varying results), but what Seth points to is a more simple model. Star or not. You are either someone a company values, someone who is a key player or you are a hired hand.

Hired hands get utility pay (not average, you get what they can get away with paying you), no security, no perks and no enjoyment. You are a warm, living breathing machine. If the work could be automated cheaper than you, it will be.

Stars get perks. They have to work hard, probably harder than the average pool, but they get the benefits as well. And before you think about trading work/life balance, this is only a choice if you are a star. If you are Mr Average, in the everyone else pool, then you have no choice.

Doesn’t sound like fun, it isn’t. Review time will be painful, and you know that several of your colleagues will get the chop. That is the way the model works. Don’t expect fairness. Don’t expect respect. That is reserved for the stars.

So now you know how this works, you can do something about it.

So take control, get a plan, and WORK that plan:

5 tips … I could list hundreds, others have, so go find them. Start with ‘personal productivity’, ‘personal brand’, ‘blah blah blah’. You know the score here. The game is changing though and so are the rules. Some of the options are disappearing. So here are some ideas to help you get out of that average pool.

  1. Get seen. Don’t be anonymous. Think about your personal brand (Tom Peter’s has written loads on this, so go read it). Be the go-to guy for something. You can be a star janitor, a star cook, a star teacher. Stand out from the rest by being the best. Being average = being last. Nice? No, but this is the reality of Work 2.0. You decide where you set the bar. Set it high. Set it higher than everyone else. Yes this means more work, but that is life now. Do the work = keep the work.
  2. Be proactive. Don’t wait for the world to come to you. It won’t. Get out there. Network, go to meetings. Not invited? Be polite and ask to join.  Look for a group that shares your passion. If you reach a dead end, then volunteer your time to help others. Got an excuse for why you can’t? Write it down, then write 5/10/50 ways to get past this. Giving an excuse is like writing a sick note to yourself.
  3. Invest in yourself. Soak up knowledge. Know your domain better than anyone else. Have the answers, know how to get things done. Buy/borrow/download books AND READ THEM. Don’t just read blogs, read books. Understand the detail. Make sure you know what is happening in your domain. Don’t read content online aimlessly, CONTRIBUTE to it. Write your ideas down. This forces you to think through the logic of them and test with others. Find your voice. Writing helps you discover your passion, because no one wants to write about something they don’t care about. The world’s best teachers are online. Watch TED, go to local Universities to watch visiting speakers.
  4. Over-deliver. You know the maxim. Under-promise and over-deliver. Well here is the new one: Under-promise, over deliver, and do this before the next guy. This means that you need to focus. It probably means that you need to give up some of your free time, maybe work a bit extra on the weekend, in the evening. So do it.  Not for everything, but for the work that matters. Work/life balance will take a hit, but losing your job is a bigger hit. The same applies if you are self-employed. Go that extra mile, particularly when you are starting out and building a client base. And a quick tip. Work for the boss/client is your top priority. Always, no exceptions. Never, ever disappoint your boss/client. Good managers will remember this and support you, bad ones will take advantage. Don’t do it and lose the job/client. That is worse. When you have the boss wanting your work, the client demanding your time, then you get the power to negotiate – but not until that happens.
  5. Stay healthy. I know, you are looking at this and saying, ‘what’??? A health message. Yes. Absolutely. Work today is hard. I might like it to be different, but for every great employer with a gym, complimentary massages and free food there are a million average companies, but that is what it is. Get over it. In the current economic climate it isn’t going to change soon. Whether you work for someone else or yourself, hard work is the order of the day. So look after your most valuable asset – your body – both physically and mentally because if you don’t, you will get ill. If you get ill, you lose. Simple as that. Can’t work = no money, no business. So you need to stay healthy. Restrict TV time, limit online activity and make time for your body. Cook fresh food, don’t eat junk, only drink water (never soda/fizz). Keep the alcohol sensible. Walk/run/bike, whatever you want. Get the heart rate up and keep moving about.


So you read this and think, this Work 2.0 thing sucks. Absolutely. It does until you take control of it, get out of the average pool, and either become a star, or run your own business because the one thing you don’t want to be is average.