How to Identify Real Power

Power is a noun with four primary definitions:

1.) Ability
2.) Influence
3.) Energy
4.) Positional authority

The biggest problem in business today is that too often we ignore the first three definitions due to our preoccupation with the fourth, positional authority. We look to the top of an organization chart to learn where the power lies in any team or group. The first time this mistake became clear to me was over 30 years ago. It has stuck with me ever since.

Shortly after I was named Director of Marketing for Unisys’ State Government unit, I traveled to meet District Manager Richard Gaddy and his very successful team in Florida. Richard’s team had done a masterful job over many years working with varied departments in Florida’s State Government to earn a reputation of trusted advisor.

On the first day of my visit, Richard set up review sessions for me with each of his sales managers to talk about their sales teams, followed by individual meetings with each sales representative. With one exception, I met every sales leader in the group that first day. Richard told me, with a smile, that I would meet the last member of his team the next day when I was scheduled to visit one of the largest customers in the district.

I asked Richard if he would be attending the meeting with us. He said, “No, Mike can handle it with you.” When I asked if I could get a briefing ahead of time Richard said, “Mike is at the customer site today but left this account plan for you to review,” as he handed me a thick packet of information.

That night I read the detailed account plan and was very impressed. It provided a thorough update on everything I needed to know including people, history, applications, opportunities, threats, and current priorities. It clearly laid out who we would meet with the next day, likely issues that would be raised, and our responses. The document blew me away. I went to bed looking forward to our morning meeting.

The next day at 8:00 a.m. sharp, a car pulled up to the circular driveway outside the front door of my hotel and out jumped Mike Willenborg. A big smile on his face, Mike extended his hand and said, “Good morning Rick!” with such gusto that I am sure every bellman within 30 yards jumped. I was beaming as I headed for the passenger’s seat.

Mike immediately went on the offensive. “How did yesterday go?” he asked as we settled in for our ride to the customer site. He was questioning me to assess my priorities and reactions to a cast of characters he knew well. Though we had met only minutes before, our conversation was lively and rather meaningful thanks to the way Mike was using open-ended questions to learn more about the latest executive who would soon be introduced to his means of livelihood. He asked if I had any questions about the briefing package he had prepared. His line of questioning was meant to ensure I was ready. But it was clear he had done his homework on me too.

During the next 30 minutes, he made reference to everything from my education and prior assignments to my volunteer work. And as we went back and forth during the drive, Mike’s enthusiasm for his customer and his role in helping his customer succeed came through like a bright light.

“Did you know that we have been identified as one of the top departments in the State for consistently delivering on our plans and staying under our budget projections? And we have been asked to present again this year at the national conference to highlight our best practices for using technology? We’re on a roll!” Mike’s enthusiasm was palpable.

He loved what he was doing, that was clear. And I could feel my normally high morning energy level surge even higher to match his.

The customer meetings were successful. Perhaps from Mike’s perspective, another suit from headquarters had been successfully introduced to his client and had not made a mess of things. From my perspective I knew I had been given a gift. I had felt the power of someone who was all-in.

The day after I arrived back at the home office I called Richard to talk about the visit. He picked up the phone and we talked about how the customer visit went but the subject quickly shifted to Mike.

Richard laughed when I described the impact my encounter with Mike had on me. He said, “Welcome to the club.” He told me many others had the same reaction to Mike. “He lifts everyone in the office,” Richard said.

“About a month ago I asked each sales manager to nominate a member of their team for a District Sales Council,” Richard told me. “I wanted us to do a better job sharing best practices across teams. Mike’s manager sent Mike and we are still talking about what happened. It was like Mike lit a fuse under his peers. Not only did they share best practices between each other, but they decided to reach out to other districts as well. And I credit Mike. He started a chain reaction. It was great.”

The truth was it didn’t matter that the organization chart showed that Mike sat three levels down from where I sat. In this case, Mike had the power. His ability, energy, and influence showed it.

Since that memorable event, I’ve seen many other extroverts like Mike—and just as many introverts—demonstrate enthusiasm and confidence from connecting what they do to who they are, each in their own unique way. I refer to these powerful leaders as Chiefs.

What could happen if your organization recognized where true power comes from?

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10 Reasons to Be All-In at Work

Surveys indicate that more than 70% of workers are not fully engaged at work. You may be one of them. This pervasive problem costs business billions and often costs employees their health. The culprit most often cited? The boss. Survey after survey places the blame for poor engagement on supervisors who don’t know how to effectively lead employees.

But how can this be? Particularly when there is a nearly endless supply of readily available leadership podcasts, blogs, courses, and other training material? One source cites the 1.5 trillion books and articles written on the subject in just the last 10 years. The problem stems from a lack of effective material that does more than supply information. Leaders at ALL levels need information that helps them apply concepts to drive engagement.

If you are one of the millions of workers who don’t have a boss who gets it, what do you do? Consider following the All-In Roadmap to increase not only your engagement but also the engagement of everyone around you.

Here’s why. The All-In Roadmap is:

  • Simple – five key focus areas make it easy to apply the Roadmap.
  • Flexible – the Roadmap changes as you and your needs change.
  • Practical – case studies help you apply the five key focus areas to your own situations.
  • Applicable to companies of all sizes – from startups to multinationals, the Roadmap works.
  • Trans-industrial – the Roadmap works for product or service businesses, non-profits, or government.
  • Research-based – road tested and backed by research, the Roadmap is well supported.
  • A professional and personal tool – the Roadmap works in every area of your life.
  • Resilient during tough times – the Roadmap is proven even in market crashes and war zones.
  • Result-driven – the Roadmap has been used to triple the growth rate of million and billion dollar organizations.
  • FREE – you can sign up for the All-In Roadmap here.

Using the All-In Roadmap will help you and those around you engage, and drive sustainable growth.

What do you have to lose, other than the excuse that your boss is keeping you from being your very best?

It’s time to be All-In!

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The Future of Business

The future of business, simply put, is making the future its business. And where better to look toward the future than to the business schools currently training our future leaders? Those of us looking for confidence in the future can take comfort in the great work being done by the worldwide network of PRME (Principles for Responsible Management Education) colleges and universities established in 2007 by the United Nations.

The idea to create PRME was officially introduced by the UN’s Global Compact Office at the Global Forum “Business as an Agent of World Benefit” at Case Western Reserve University, where I serve as a Strategic Advisor, in October 2006.

PRME’s mission is to “inspire and champion responsible management education, research, and thought leadership globally.” The Six Principles of PRME, inspired by internationally accepted values, are:

  • Purpose – working toward an inclusive and sustainable global economy
  • Values – global social responsibility
  • Method – creation of educational frameworks, materials, processes, and environments
  • Research – researching the role, dynamics, and impact of corporations in the creation of sustainable social, environmental, and economic value.
  • Partnership – exploring jointly effective approaches to challenges faced by corporations in meeting social and environmental responsibilities
  • Dialogue – facilitating dialogue between all interested parties and stakeholders

Sustainable growth is the only way forward for business today. Being Chief means making choices that move business in this direction. PRME is on the cutting edge of integrating sustainable business standards from the ground up—beginning with tomorrow’s leaders. More than 600 leading business schools and management-related academic institutions from over 80 countries comprise the PRME, many of which are also a part of the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB), the “longest serving global association dedicated to advancing management education worldwide.”

In addition to Case Western, U.S. PRME members include leading business schools ranging from Bentley, Cornell, Notre Dame, and Texas A&M to University of California Berkeley as well as strong international representation ranging from Auckland University in New Zealand, Bangalore University in India, Cheung Kong University in China, and INSEAD in France.

Organizations such as PRME and AACSB are directing the future of business toward sustainable growth, and not a moment too soon.

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For Business Success, Use the Force, Luke!

What does Forbes’ list of the world’s most powerful people have in common with ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’? Much more than you’d think. Both rely on our fascination with power and with those who wield it. And while Forbes and Star Wars offer very different views of power, your own business success could hinge on your ability to realize the Force—more specifically, your workForce.

Here’s why.

How do we define power? Forbes poses that four criteria determine the powerful:

How many people do they have power over?
How much money do they control?
Does their influence extend across multiple regions, industries, or aspects of life?
Do they actively wield their power?

This view of power is based on external, objectively identifiable elements. This year, Forbes editors determined that 73 individuals, representing one per 100 million people on Earth, were the most powerful. A significant 41 of the 73 (56%) are from the business community.

2015 represented the seventh year this list was published. Over that period, Forbes has identified 147 individuals, with only 22 appearing each and every year. Is it a surprise that 15 of these 22 (68%) are business leaders? Probably not.

Business success has always been all about influence and external power. Until now.

The Star Wars franchise offers a very different view of true power. Back in 1977, Obi Wan Kenobi offered the first description of an incredible power called the Force. “It’s an energy force created by all living things. It surrounds us; penetrates us; it binds the galaxy together.” Obi Wan offered no objectively identifiable criteria.

The Force is internal. In Star Wars, true power comes from inside an individual and exists only because of one’s relationships with others and life around them. Master Yoda explains, “A powerful ally the Force is. Life creates it, makes it grow. You must feel the force around you. Between you and me. The tree. The rock. Everywhere. Yes.”

Those who learn to be with the Force are the most powerful. They become Jedi warriors. At one point in the Star Wars series we learn over 10,000 individuals have become Jedis through the study of discipline and meditation.

Star Wars asserts that success comes from the internal power realized through harmony and by training to be one with the Force. Jedi warriors fully engage in their surroundings and serve others around them. And when needed, they wield the Force expertly.

But how can the Force help us in business?

Today, CEO surveys show their #1 concern is around people, culture, and engagement. Current estimates indicate that only a third of U.S. workers are fully engaged, costing business a whopping $370 billion annually.

The good news is that research shows engagement can be positively influenced by anyone in an organization. If you commit to increasing the Force in your workforce, growth will follow. Future Forbes lists will be increasingly populated by business leaders who understand the need to support this different type of power, growth, sharing, and harmony. In many ways, it’s the key to the sustainable growth movement that is on the rise.

There are many ways to increase the power of your employee group. The first step is to recognize that as an objective. Then you can incorporate discipline, creativity, support, insight, and values.

Naysayers in business would be wise to remember Darth Vader’s warning, “Don’t be too proud of this technological terror [the dreaded Death Star] you’ve constructed. The ability to destroy a planet is insignificant next to the power of the Force.”

Cynics might also be reminded of Yoda’s wise counsel. Luke said, “I don’t believe it.” Yoda responded “That is why you fail.”

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What Makes Chief Lars Sørensen #1 Worldwide?

In a recent Harvard Business Review article Chief Executive Officer Lars Sørensen at Novo Nordisk was selected as the best performing CEO in the world. Why?

The simple answer is truly sustainable growth—and ranking methodology.

The ranking was based on a brand new HBR rating criteria that attempted to balance sustained financial performance (weighted at 80%) with a mix of environmental, social, and governance (ESG) measurements (weighted at 20%) for the first time. While many other publications offer CEO scorecards, ESG factors are typically left out of such rankings.

In the article Sørensen notes the true linkage between these factors, “Corporate social responsibility is nothing but maximizing the value of your company over a long period. In the long term, social and environmental issues become financial issues.”

While many could argue for a higher ESG weighting, simply adding a 20% factor had a big impact on several notable CEO’s.

For example, in 2014 Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos earned the #1 ranking on this same list when HBR excluded ESG factors and used a solely financially oriented mix of total shareholder return and changes in market capitalization. This year, Jeff dropped to #87. Others were not as impacted.

Notably, John Chambers at CISCO made a small move from #3 in 2014 to #2 in 2015. And this year’s superstar Lars Sørensen moved to the top from his #6 position last year. That’s quite a jump.

This well-conceived and developed article serves the business community well in offering a fresh report card methodology for consideration.

The key points to take away have less to do with who ranks where and more to do with changing the definition of what success looks like.

To those who would prefer to continue using solely a short term financial report card, Sørensen offers the last word, “The business of business is business—but with a long-term perspective.”

Disclaimer: As a type-1 diabetic, Novo Nordisk products keep me alive. But my admiration for Lars goes beyond my personal need to my belief that with an ESG focus Novo Nordisk will help all of us thrive in generations to come.

In my view, Lars Sørensen will remain at the top of the rankings independent of the methodology chosen.

He is a true Chief.

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Business Education on the Right Track

In a recent New York Times op-ed, David Brooks reminds us that many of the original American universities were founded as religious institutions explicitly designed to cultivate students’ spiritual and moral values. Over the course of the 20th century, many institutions moved away from that mission.

But today the pendulum is shifting back in schools that lost this focus.

Brooks points out: “On almost every campus faculty members and administrators are trying to stem the careerist tide and to widen the system’s narrow definition of achievement. Institutes are popping up—with interdisciplinary humanities programs and even meditation centers—designed to cultivate the whole student: the emotional, spiritual, and moral sides and not just the intellectual.”

Educating the whole student offers high-impact benefits to society in many areas, perhaps none more than in business education. Here’s why:

  1. When businesses are poorly led, we all suffer.

Enron, Worldcom, and the Wall Street institutions responsible for the economic collapse of 2008 offer recent examples. Much of the country has yet to fully recover. And, unfortunately, too many people in power still believe unethical behavior is “just business.” We need more ethical leaders.

  1. Business is becoming the place where social problems are solved.

Fortunately, more businesses are stepping up to a new definition of sustainable success. Companies like Aetna are setting a new pace. Minimum wage increases are occurring at retailers like Walmart. Netflix is setting a new standard for paid family leave as Starbucks is investing in employee education. But the pace is too slow and we need more enlightened leaders.

  1. Business collaboration will accelerate much needed progress.

We need new business leaders capable of collaborative capitalism. These Chiefs can ensure that by working together more people are included as the economy grows. Working together, companies led by whole leaders can create a business alliance for the future.

As a graduate of both Bentley University and Columbia University, I have benefitted from curriculum that always included a focus on the whole student. More recently, I’ve had the privilege to work with other leading business schools where such a focus is clear, including U Penn/Wharton, Emory/Goizetta, Penn State/ Smeal, Weatherhead/Case Western, USC/Moore, and FDU/Silberman.

As more of the 517 US members of the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) step up to the challenge of educating the whole student in a secularized yet morally and emotionally integrated manner, they will accelerate progress already made to create a better future for us all.

Just in time.

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Learning Clarity from a Chief—Spencer Johnson

As a newly minted manager at Sperry Corporation in 1982, I got clarity on what to do and how to do it from Spencer Johnson. To be accurate, I also got it from Spencer’s co-author Ken Blanchard in their best-selling book The One Minute Manager. In three simple steps the authors offer the key to success in what others describe as the most challenging job around.

The book was instrumental in helping teams of Chiefs (including me) drive sustainable growth in million and billion dollar organizations. I still keep a first edition copy of the book on my desk at all times. Fifteen million others have purchased the book. Earlier this year, Spencer and Ken partnered again to produce a completely updated book, The New One Minute Manager, a must-read for all managers.

Among other gifts, Spencer has an amazing ability to simplify the complex. Called “the king of parables” by USA Today, Dr. Johnson is often referred to as being the best there is at presenting complex subjects as simple solutions that work. His brief books contain valuable insights and practical tools that millions of people use to enjoy more happiness and success with less stress.

Facing one of the largest turnaround assignments of my career as President of AT&T Global Services at the end of 1998, I again got clarity from Spencer—this time on how to best handle change. Who Moved My Cheese? provides seven powerful principles that enable people to thrive amid rapidly accelerating change.

We utilized these principles to help drive record levels of employee and client loyalty while doubling our growth rate in a complex $12B business, despite major internal disruption and rapidly shifting market forces. Time magazine called the book “the best-selling business book of all time,” with 26 million copies sold. It remains a critical resource for leaders today, at work and at home.

Most recently, I’ve been working toward my own book. Having self-published two traditional books and an e-book, and contributed to yet another book with partners Jack Canfield, Deepak Chopra, and others, I didn’t consider myself a newly minted author. Already four years into the project, I thought I was close to the end of the process—until I sat down with Spencer and gained yet more clarity.

Spencer kindly spent time with me up at his New England home and asked me great questions. As a result, my book’s focus got a lot sharper. BEING CHIEF became BE CHIEF. Sections were cut, and whole new ideas have been generated. The book offers choices in five key areas and pragmatic tips to help anyone step up to the power of being a Chief.

I am currently following the checklist that Spencer has used to deliver thirteen New York Times best sellers and over 50 million book sold. Publish date for BE CHIEF is now 2016.

One book on management, one book on change, and one book on power—two by Spencer Johnson and one greatly influenced by him. Thank you Spencer. Clarity is a beautiful thing.

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An Employee-Employer Contract that Works

LinkedIn Chief Reid Hoffman is right when he says that employers and employees are not honest with each other. Specifically, Hoffman is referring to the misleading commitment between the two whereby employers offer continuing employment and build career paths for their “family” of employees and employees in return offer employer “loyalty.”

The truth is this contract hasn’t existed for years. The far majority of workers are “at will” employees that have no real job security. Similarly, an increasingly mobile workforce has learned that the best career move is to eventually find work elsewhere. Old style loyalty no longer exists. But the fact that many organizations continue the family-loyalty charade no doubt contributes to the low employee engagement scores that are estimated to cost U.S. businesses in excess of $370B each year.

What’s the answer?

In my experience with running organizations ranging from a startup to a multinational, rebuilding trust  starts by establishing a new contract between employees and employers. Here are some ideas on how to get started.

First, openly acknowledge the moose on the table and engage in frank conversations about the current state of affairs. For example, LinkedIn prospective employees are informed that the company plans to have a huge impact on their career; under this light, they are asked what job they want after LinkedIn.

Second, include a broad range of participants to build a new contract that reflects today’s reality. Set clear expectations in each of three areas:

  • Employees must commit to constant performance improvement, continuous learning, and to increasing their market value.
  • Employers must commit to employee retention programs, market-based pay, adequate skills training, and to increase the value of each employee.
  • Both must commit to the values of the organization, and to open and honest communication.

Third, each side needs to step up to new behavior to make it work. Employees must develop new self-advocacy skills as they think of themselves as market free agents. They need to be willing to build skills outside of work. And employers must do a better job listening to employee feedback, committing to more training, and beginning to manage human capital with the same rigor as they do financial capital.

Overall, the myth of life-long employment has been gone for years. It’s time we stepped up with integrity to an updated contract between employees and employers—an employee-employer contract that works.

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Real Chiefs

Conventional wisdom about Chiefs is all wrong. It says Chiefs are special. Chiefs are chosen. Chiefs have titles. And only those with the power and influence at the top can truly be Chief. Fresh out of business school, I aspired to be Chief. I worked hard to move up the ladder in the hope that I could eventually earn a job as a Chief Executive Officer.

For years, I trusted that wisdom. It guided me into and through bigger and bigger roles where I was responsible for generating results for companies in many difficult situations, developing plans for success that focused on a clear vision and a winning strategy to meet customer needs. Those plans often required raising capital, controlling costs, beating competition, and building positive community relationships in order to succeed.

But as I worked my way up through these assignments, and I had the privilege of working with many strong individuals at all levels who possessed a power and influence that had nothing to do with their title or position, my views shifted. I came to understand that real Chiefs are people who connect what they do to who they are. Their power and influence comes from inside and includes any number of attributes. Here is a starter set. What would you add?

Be alive
Be authentic
Be creative
Be all-in
Be a winner
Be your hardest critic
Be loving
Be peaceful
Be curious
Be thoughtful
Be deliberate
Be sincere
Be considerate
Be interested
Be resourceful
Be respectful
Be awake
Be smart
Be focused
Be mindful
Be honest
Be kind
Be generous
Be grateful
Be present
Be still
Be accepting
Be calm
Be loud
Be enthusiastic
Be courageous
Be diligent
Be yourself
Be strong
Be quiet
Be the fullest manifestation of who you are

Be Chief

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Business Lessons from Chief Educators

The media is full of stories about business Chiefs and the pressures they are under to perform. At every turn, Chiefs are faced with changing requirements, inadequate resources, technology shifts, limited time, high stakes, and even higher expectations. These challenges parallel those of a less touted yet equally important group: educators.

In my view, business Chiefs would do well to take a page out of the notebook of leading Chief educators. I have a specific group in mind: the educators supported by the Griffin Regional Educational Service Agency (RESA) outside of Atlanta Georgia. Recently I had the privilege of offering a keynote at their 6th annual summer meeting of education leaders. The theme of this year’s conference was Improving Performance Through Effective Leadership.

The conference was conceived by Dr. Stephanie Gordy, Griffin RESA Executive Director, with the intention to share best practices among leaders in the agency’s targeted eight counties. Over 200 amazing teachers and administrators were in attendance, including many from the other 151 counties in Georgia as word has spread about the conference’s value.

The two-day conference provided a framework for success that would provide a positive impact for any company. In this case, the balanced focus was on teachers (think: employees) and students (think: customers). The similarities to business practices were apparent. Among the sessions offered were:

Engaging Your School Community to Improve Results
Leadership Doesn’t Always Come from the Front Office – Cultivating Your Teacher Leaders
Changing the Culture of How Children Learn
Strategies to Regain Teacher Time
Tech Tips for Timesavers
Strategies for Successful Mentoring
Improving Performance through Impactful Communication
Increasing Achievement via Support Systems

Many of these topics are aligned with my own views on what it means to be Chief. Spending time with these committed professionals was a reminder in servant leadership, discipline, teamwork, life-long learning, perseverance, walking the talk, values, and kindness. It was an honor to keynote their conference, and it reinforced my belief that we have much to learn from educators.

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A One Minute Solution to the Biggest Issue Facing Business Today?

What if you could solve the biggest issue facing your business in just one minute?

In my experience, the biggest issue facing business today has been highlighted by Gallup’s research, which indicates that only 13% of employees are giving 100% on the job. That’s a lot of unhappy people and lost profits.

But it doesn’t need to be that way.

In fact, Gallup just released its list of 40 Organizations That Lead the World in Employee Engagement. Collectively, on average these organizations earn the enthusiastic support of 64% of all employees. That’s almost five times more engagement than the average company.

The question is how do they do it?

Gallup’s research shows that 70% of the variance in employee engagement scores across business units is related to management. Clearly, these 40 organizations have figured out how to hire and develop managers who can make that type of a difference.

But what do you do if you don’t work for one of the top 40?

My answer: read The New One Minute Manager by Ken Blanchard and Spencer Johnson.

This new book was just released and is based on the latest research in both medicine and behavioral science while offering an ease of readability that few books can match. It is a completely updated version of the all-time #1 bestseller on managing your work and life that has sold more than 13 million copies.

The book’s power is evident in its simplicity. The New Minute Manager offers 3 simple keys (goal setting, praise, and re-directs) to becoming a great manager. The book’s power is also found in its approach, offering an easy-to-read story to help everyone apply these important concepts. The authors do a fantastic job demonstrating how to have direct, open, and supportive conversations that deliver results.

What could happen if your company matched the top 40, where two-thirds of all employees give 100% each day? Imagine the possibilities.

The original One Minute Manager has been integral to my personal experience working with great teams that tripled the growth rates of million and billion dollar organizations. The New One Minute Manager will not only give you three powerful tools to help you succeed today but it will also help you apply these tools using stories that you will remember. It will be integral to your work, too.

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The ROI of Gender-Balanced Leadership

Many strong arguments have been made by authors Gerzema, Sandberg, Grant, Herman, and others for an increase in the number of women in business leadership roles, including at board, C-suite, and general management levels.

But here are the simple, research-based facts:

Leading global companies like Alibaba make gender-balanced leadership a top priority.

The clear bottom line is that an investment in gender-balanced leadership has a compelling ROI.

Learn more about gender-balanced leadership and do the smart (and right) thing for your business.

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Recruiting Wisdom

The last time the NASDAQ index hit 5,000 I was celebrating my one-month anniversary of leading operations at Opus 360, an internet startup with a compelling vision for the future, a great brand, and plans for an initial public offering (IPO) in the near future. Optimism was everywhere until the index began a slide that it would not fully recover from until earlier this month, one week shy of 15 years later.

There have been many articles written about the lessons learned when the bubble burst, but from my perspective—sitting in the middle of it—I can tell you the biggest lesson I learned was the critical role of employee support in a crisis and the value of recruiting wisdom. As a recent New York Times article points out, certain mental faculties increase with age. Tapping into this wisdom by recruiting experienced Chiefs can make all the difference when markets are under duress.

Background

Ari Horowitz and Carlos Cashman founded Opus 360 to provide innovative workforce solutions. Both entrepreneurs were visionaries who agreed with a view offered in Daniel Pink’s book Free Agent Nation: full-time employment will decline rapidly as companies increase their temporary workforce. These project-based workers act as free agents, capable of filling the needs of an organization by arriving just in time to begin a project and leaving the company’s rolls when the project was completed. Opus 360 had registered the domain FreeAgent.com.

This new view of the world created several business opportunities. First, an exchange, or marketplace, needed to be created to bring together buyers with specific projects (companies) and individual sellers with specific skills (free agents). Opus had initiated a major software development effort with the assumption that descriptive skills standards could be established among many constituents.

Second, the opportunity was created to attract free agents and to market products and services directly to them, supporting their independent lifestyle. Opus had already begun an aggressive advertising campaign to publicize this opportunity to a dispersed, independent community across the country.

Third, increased reliance on traditional staffing companies and temporary agencies created an opportunity for automated solutions to handle the increased workload and improve the quality of the matches. This would require another major software development effort.

Supporting Chiefs

When I arrived at Opus in February, the startup company was severely stretched as it tried to address all three markets. To their credit, Ari and Carlos had attracted a very talented but inexperienced team of Chiefs who were committed to changing the way the world works but who were also lacking discipline and focus. While prioritizing projects was essential to gaining control of the situation, another important part of our strategy was a recruiting plan to bring in experienced Chiefs who could help our existing Chiefs grow. We were in need of some real wisdom.

When the bubble burst and the NASDAQ crash began in March, it was clear we needed to accelerate our plans to support our team.

The plan worked. We were successful in recruiting a number of amazing Chiefs including:

  • Mary Anne Walk from AT&T to support our Chiefs in Human Resources
  • Pete Schwartz from Computer Associates to support our Chiefs in Finance
  • Jeanne Murphy from Cendant to support our Chiefs in Law
  • Tom Plunkett from ADP to support our Chiefs in Information Technology
  • Ram Chillarege from IBM to support or Chiefs in Development

These experienced Chiefs each brought wisdom in addition to critical skills, including the ability to coach and the willingness to learn. Our reliance on a cascade of Chiefs at Opus enabled us to convince our board to go ahead with an initial public offering.

Importantly, the team at Opus achieved the quarterly revenue and cost projections that Ari and I made during our IPO roadshow for the first year in spite of an economic climate in which a majority of our competitors went out of business. We continued to develop products and attracted a merger with Artemis a year later.

The blend of wisdom from our recruited team along with the innovative energy that already existed in this burgeoning young company created a diversity that drove our resilience in a volatile market.

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