Sunday, June 3, 2012

Six Keys to Being Excellent at Anything

six keys to achieving excellence
  1. Pursue what you love. Passion is an incredible motivator. It fuels focus, resilience, and perseverance.
  2. Do the hardest work first. We all move instinctively toward pleasure and away from pain. Most great performers, Ericsson and others have found, delay gratification and take on the difficult work of practice in the mornings, before they do anything else. That's when most of us have the most energy and the fewest distractions.
  3. Practice intensely, without interruption for short periods of no longer than 90 minutes and then take a break. Ninety minutes appears to be the maximum amount of time that we can bring the highest level of focus to any given activity. The evidence is equally strong that great performers practice no more than 4 ½ hours a day.
  4. Seek expert feedback, in intermittent doses. The simpler and more precise the feedback, the more equipped you are to make adjustments. Too much feedback, too continuously can create cognitive overload, increase anxiety, and interfere with learning.
  5. Take regular renewal breaks. Relaxing after intense effort not only provides an opportunity to rejuvenate, but also to metabolize and embed learning. It's also during rest that the right hemisphere becomes more dominant, which can lead to creative breakthroughs.
  6. Ritualize practice. Will and discipline are wildly overrated. As the researcher Roy Baumeisterhas found, none of us have very much of it. The best way to insure you'll take on difficult tasks is to build rituals — specific, inviolable times at which you do them, so that over time you do them without having to squander energy thinking about them.
By Tony Schwartz

Seven "Non-Negotiables" to Prevent a Bad Hire

To avoid that, when we make hires, we screen candidates using a list of personal characteristics we call the Non-Negotiables. First there were four. Ultimately, we've expanded the list to seven. These are the characteristics that have become the primary criteria for hiring decisions — things we value even more than skills and background. When we add people to our nearly 100-person company, these criteria are non-negotiable.
The seven Non-Negotiables are Respect, Belief, Loyalty, Commitment, Trust, Courage and Gratitude.
Ideal hires bring traditional and job-specific capabilities and high proficiencies in these seven core traits. However, in many cases, the Non-Negotiables have led us to make what others would consider "unusual hires." The result, for our company, has been near-zero turnover — and many employees express the desire and willingness to stay with us for life.
It took us a few years before we fully embraced the concept of the Non-Negotiables as an explicit hiring goal. We always sought individuals with high character strengths and strong work ethics. In HR parlance, we looked for "athletes," and we talked about assessing the right fit through a strong "gut feeling." Since January 2011, we've gone further: We've now articulated these traits as full and formal requirements for the people we hire. Granted, it is more difficult to identify and assess character traits than concrete skills — however, the strategy we are using thus far seems to be meeting success. We ask potential candidates to tell us about situations where they have exemplified each of the non-negotiable traits. Because each candidate is interviewed by multiple leaders, we compare assessments on each of the traits. Later on, we may also move to an actual scoring system as well.
We also ask the same questions of the individual's references — not the references they list on their resume, but of their former co-workers, associates and bosses that we identify independently, and who are in a position to speak open and candidly about the candidate's strengths (or weaknesses) in exhibiting these traits. Clearly, it's not an exact science — but we are finding the ways to become more precise as we grow.
At times focusing on this non-traditional hiring criteria leads us to hire people with unusual backgrounds. When Kevin Batchelor — now one of our two VP's of Engineering — came to work here, he was not a programmer at all; his degrees were in theater and anthropology. Now, eight years later, his software designs are winning awards. John David King — now our EVP of Sales and Marketing — had no prior background in leading a sales organization. He had heart, spirit, and character, coupled with a law degree and a bachelor's degree in communications.
We've filled our developer ranks largely through a partnership with Utah Valley University. We started by looking for interns — the right people with the right characteristics who wanted to learn how to code. One of them was a firefighter, one an electrician, and one was in the culinary program. Some were programmers by training, but only interested (or so they thought) in programming Internet games.
We have a strong community focus — of our near 100 employees, 40 are or have been interns working on flexible schedules to allow them to finish their degrees.
Our approach is contradictory to most conventional management wisdom, which suggests that hiring managers focus on relevant skills and experience. But it is working for us.
Our company has no shortage of talent because we've trained the people we bring in with care. Our employees are respectful of each other, and as a company we strive to be respectful of others as well. In a competitive $1 billion software market we are collegial — we list our competitors' offerings along with our own products on our Facebook page, and we applaud their successes along with our own.
Our hiring strategy has built a loyal base of employees during a time when the typical career path is to "keep the options open" and to be at least periodically shopping around. Our strategy will continue to be the right one for us. Perhaps it could work for other organizations as well. We look forward to your opinions and thoughts.
By David K. Williams and Mary Michelle Scott

The Paradox of High Potentials

To retain high-potential employees, the conventional wisdom is deceptively simple: Identify, develop, and nurture them. By paying special attention to the very best people, they will stay with the firmand eventually emerge as key leaders.
But translating this into action is much more difficult. As the former head of executive development at GE used to tell me, "There's a difference between doing it and really doing it." Many firms have trouble keeping their best people, despite their investments in talent management. In fact, a study last year by the Corporate Executive Board indicated that "25 percent of employer-identified, high-potential employees plan to leave their current companies within the year, as compared to only 10 percent in 2006."The study also found that 40% of the internal job moves for high potentials ended in failure.
So despite the focus on high potentials and the importance of effectively managing them, why do so many organizations struggle to do it well? Let me suggest two reasons.
Discomfort with Differentiation: In order to focus on high potentials, some employees need to be singled out. And, truth be told, most managers hate to differentiate. They would prefer to treat everyone the same, avoiding the uncomfortable process of sorting people by levels of performance. As a result, managers will identify certain employees as "high-potential" simply because they don't want to tell them that they're outperformed by their colleagues. And others, who are appropriately selected, are not told because it would create an uncomfortable two-class system. In other words, managers avoid declaring who the high potentials are, for fear of upsetting people who were not selected.
Discomfort with Developmental Dialogue: Even if high potentials are identified properly, bringing them to the next level requires a continual, complex dialogue. Managers need to stretch, challenge, and coach their high-potential employees and make sure their assignments push them beyond their comfort zones. To do so, they have to work with senior business leaders and HR to clarify assessments, identify opportunities, and coordinate possible moves. Without multi-dimensional dialogue about these issues, managers tend to hold on to their high-potential people instead of helping them along an intentional developmental pathway. High-potentials then may interpret this as a lack of company support and will be inclined to look elsewhere.
Unfortunately, engaging in this kind of developmental dialogue is foreign to many managers and can cause just as much anxiety as the need to differentiate. In fact most managers avoid coaching discussions, particularly with employees who have more potential in their careers than they do.
Taken together, the twin discomforts of differentiation and dialogue hinder high-potential programs, even when senior line and HR executives do a good job of centrally structuring assessments, rotations, and training. This may at least partly explain why so many company-identified high potentials don't remain with their firms.
To increase the odds of success, senior executives need to focus not just on the high-potential programs, but the underlying anxieties of managers who have to execute them. One way to do this, for example, is to require managers to mentor one of their high-potential direct reports. Not only will this approach be good for the chosen employees in the short-term, but also it will force managers to get more comfortable with performance differentiation and developmental dialogues. As anyone who has done it can attest, mentoring benefits the mentor as much (if not more) than the mentee.
By RON ASHKENAS managing partner of Schaffer Consulting and a co-author of The GE Work-Out and The Boundaryless Organization.