Adventures in Interviewing: Shoot Straight or Not?

 

will telling the truth help or hurt in an interview

Just how candid should you be in an interview?

Ever wondered if you should bite your tongue in an interview?  Is it ever a good time to say “Wow, that sounds like a really bad plan?” (It is assumed you don’t follow that up by rolling on the floor laughing).

I’m usually hired to fix things or start them up. This means companies tend to seek me out when they’ve got a vision of some new business line they want to open or when they know something is wrong, have tried lots of things, it’s not working and they need someone else to fix it so they can get on with their main mission.

Now when someone seeks me out, they usually know my reputation. I’m a very straight shooter,  I don’t sugarcoat things, but can take a balled up mess or a really sketchy vision and turn it into something really great. I will also point out very quickly if the glass is half empty and leaking fast. I can fix that too, but not if you’re only seeing sunshine and rainbows. I’m direct because I am going to be responsible for driving results almost immediately, and if there is a blind spot about the problems or hiccups in the plan, it will affect my work. Telling the truth can also let you see how open the company is to adapting their plan.

Sometimes, however, the hiring company doesn’t know me, as I’ve been referred to them by someone else. Hilarity generally ensues.

A personal favorite was the interview with a large bank that wanted to open boutique banking centers in underserved markets throughout the United States. I had been referred to the hiring manager, a Californian, to cover the Southeast. I was the fifth interview in the Atlanta airport lounge, out of five. As this very senior manager sketched out the plan I felt the backs of my eyes beginning to roll. Sure enough, just as every other financial institution headed into the Southeast before had done, they had used census data to select the “perfect” areas for these branches.

The data told them that Location X was an opportunity rich area, moderate, but not too low, income, with a diverse population that was historically under-served by banks. Many were the perfect age for first time home buying.  They were sure they had found the mother lode of an untapped market.

Now there was just one problem. For those of you who can remember the joys of “mean” “median” and “mode” in basic statistics, you may remember that the median is the middle number of all the data in a list. The mean is an average.  The problem with good old Location X was that almost no one in the area was actually making the mean income.  Mode, the number that appears most often, would be the more appropriate measure here. Due to the wild vagaries of the drawing of census tract lines and the strange nature of the city, the residents incomes looked like this (pretend it’s a census tract of 10 people):

1. $10K

2. $10K

3. $11K

4. $170K

5. $10K

6. $ 7K

8. $120K

9. $11K

10. $90K

Wow kids! we’ve got an average (mean) income of $87K!. We’re going to do great! Break out the champagne and the “Grand opening” signs!

Umm, not so fast.

In reality the area was a large cluster of public housing units, surrounding a small college center, with a small area of mid-level housing, mostly occupied as rentals by students (they would be the folks represented# 6, who also helped pull the average age down) or owned by a handful of professors and college administrators ( #10 above) and three gracious streets of grand homes that backed up to another census tract that was much more affluent (that would be #8 and #4). Problem was, the majority of the residents were in public housing (#1, 2,3,5, and 9) and making the income associated with that service. Most were nowhere near ready to make a leap to homeownership.

The gentleman from California was no doubt tired, having been subjected to a long flight, four earnest applicants earlier in the day, and repeatedly mentioned he was catching a plane in 45 minutes, as he hit the highlights of the master plan.

As he listed the areas, I thought for a minute, almost stopped myself, and then said very quietly, “Have you signed the lease yet on Location X?”

I guarantee that was a question no one else had asked that day. I then spelled out why Location X looked good from 10,000 feet up but had never been successful for any of the other lending institutions that had tried similar things in the area.  He looked at me oddly, and wrapped up the interview quickly.

I drove home, cell phone accidentally tossed in my briefcase in the trunk of my car. I may have even lectured myself on the advisability of opening my big mouth.  After the 3o minute drive I had a message. A call from the gentleman’s boss, asking me to call her to talk about the lease, (yes, they had signed it) and explain why I didn’t think it would work. She was about to go into a 6 hour meeting but wanted me to call her as soon as possible, any time, day or night.

I got the gig five minutes into that call. I am certain that no other applicant questioned the wisdom of the plan. And yes, Location X, despite a ton of effort and energy and cash infusions, never delivered as planned, for just the reasons I had mentioned.

On the other hand, lots of people don’t want to “look at the whole picture.” Several years ago I was approached about becoming the regional manager for a large sales team. The hiring manager pointed out that they were currently at 50 people, hoping to move to 90 by the end of the year (it was June). I politely said, “I’ve reviewed your team and by my estimate you have 18 keepers and 32 people who won’t make it, they haven’t made it anywhere else. Which means you have a rebuild on your hands.”

The previous manager had been incented on bringing in bodies without any qualifications tied to the incentive, and bring them in he did. Every single person who had failed at every other sales group in town.  Just by looking at the list of the names it was easy to see who would not be there in 3 months when their guarantees ran out.

The hiring manager hired an out-of-market friend of his, without a sales background, and sure enough, most of the 32 I marked were gone six months later. And the headcount is still nowhere near 50, or 90.

So, do you tell the truth or spout the party line? I think it’s a matter of just how badly you need the role and how much “singing the party line” may cost you individually if you can’t perform at the level expected.  Many companies will lower their expectations as they realize the plan has holes in it, they just don’t want you to be the one to point them out. But if 100% of your compensation is tied to delivery, you can sugarcoat the truth a bit, but YOU need to know what you’re getting into. And maybe, so do they.

What do you think? Tell the truth and shame the devil? Or shut your mouth, get the gig and do what you can once you’re in? What have YOU done? Share in the comments below…

book by Jeanne Goldie

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How the Election Cycle can Affect Your Success, Even if You’re Not Running for Office

graph of the election cycle's impact on innovation and new product development

Are you trying to sell something to a government agency or contractor? Better know where you are in the election cycle!

Not running for political office this year? Then what does the election cycle have to do with you?

Whether you are a multinational corporation, a lean startup, a tiny mom and pop store, or a non-profit agency (NGO), election cycles can have an impact on everything from funding, regulation and licensing, and sales of your product.

If you’re trying to pitch a business product, service or concept to sell to the government, (or an agency closely related to the government) the timing of your pitch and its position in the election cycle can dramatically affect your success.

“But Jeanne, I don’t sell directly to the government or get government funding, so what are you talking about?” Most people don’t realize how connected to government election cycles their client’s purchasing cycles may be, even if they themselves are not selling to the government. So humor me and follow along.

Who are the decision makers in “The Government?”

The first thing to remember is that in most governments there are several types of employees. There are the elected officials, appointed officials (appointed by the team that won the election) and the “civil servants,” more long-term permanent employees that generally do not change with every election.  Civil servants may, or may not, owe their original position to having been connected to a winning party in the past.  The civil servants have usually been through numerous waves of administration changes which makes them somewhat cautious in their approach to contracting with new services or committing to new projects.

For example, a U. S. state might have a “Tax Commissioner” who actually won an election to get their role. The Tax Commissioner might appoint 1-2 “Deputy Tax Commissioners,” usually close connections or political party allies.  Then there are the actual tax assessors, clerks, accountants, appraisers, evaluators etc. who work for the commission. These are usually permanent employees who do not change with every election. Depending on where you live, however, new openings for these jobs may tend to be filled with allies/friends/relatives of the current ruling political group, so sometimes a great deal of political connection is at play. At other times, there is no connection at all, the person just got their job by applying and having the right skills at the right time.

You will generally not get a “quick sale” when you’re selling to the government sector. If you have one meeting to pitch your product and you get an immediate “Yes!”, you’re either sitting down with the President/Prime Minister/Grand Poobah or you’re having a meeting with the wrong person and will be getting a call saying there’s been a “bump in the road” as soon as they get back to the office and tell someone what they promised.

Why is this? Because the number one question on everyone’s mind in a government role, one which often directly or indirectly colors their actions, decisions, and plans, is:

“Who will be in charge, NEXT YEAR?”

Take a look at the infographic above. Election cycles can vary, here in the U.S. most last from 2-6 years, but in other countries the timing may vary. Unless you live in an absolute dictatorship, you probably have some variation on this cycle, but the phases I’ll be talking about tend to be the same. (The US tends to be a two political party system but in other countries you may see coalitions form the “ruling” party, or multi-party systems.)

Here’s how the cycle works:

1. A new party takes office. During this first phase, the newly elected officials will be making appointments to the senior level positions. In a national election, this may take the form of appointments to national cabinet positions, followed by those appointees making leadership appointments at  regional and local levels. If you are trying to pitch your product at this time, it may be a frustrating period of “no decision” despite having many meetings or discussions with various department heads.  Consider the possibility that they are “auditioning” your idea, hearing you out to see if your idea might be worth pitching higher up the “food chain” once they have a clear idea of the priorities of the new officials.

2. The next phase is a period of high activity, purchasing, and innovation. This is the time period after the appointments have been made, and the goals and priorities of the new administration are going to be executed. If your product serves those goals in a way that can advance the work of the administration, this is the best time to have it gain traction. This is the time when many purchasing decisions will be made, and many government contracts are awarded for services, funding, grants etc.

3. Phase 3 is the pre-election period. This generally takes place about a year before the next election. At this point, every project, plan and purchasing contract is re-evaluated to see if they will help or threaten the ruling party’s chances of getting back into office. Projects and products that advance the goals of the administration and have measurable benefits will generally be expanded or promoted. Projects and products with a high chance of public perception of failure will be cut back or hidden from view. If you are pitching a product that has any possibility of public failure, one that requires a long time to drive measurable results, or is very costly, it is highly unlikely that it will be adopted at this time. Generally this is a time of scaling back, with high focus on certain key activities, and low adaption of new partners, products or processes. There are rare exceptions to this, they are usually tied to exceptional events, such as a terrorist act, a natural or man-made disaster or an economic crisis of extraordinary proportions, such as the one that began in 2007. If you are pitching something new at this time, you may encounter a similar feeling as we saw in phase one, “lots of meetings, no decision.”  You may have a great deal of difficulty even getting the meeting. Just prior to, and during this period, it is not unusual to see many appointed department heads depart for the private sector, able to use their expertise to negotiate a lucrative package with corporations that do business with the government. If your product or service is at all controversial, this is NOT the time it will get taken on.

4. It’s Election day again! At this point we enter one of three phases (I like to call it the gray zone).

  • Possibility one: This is the “Lame Duck” scenario. The current party or coalition is NOT reelected. Nothing will get done, and there will not be any major expenditures until the new team takes office.
  • Possibility two: Current Party is re-elected with the same leader. Thee will be some changes of appointees as many will opt to move to the private sector or to think tanks, and there may be a slight refocus of priorities based on discoveries made during the election period.
  • Possibility three: Current party is re-elected but with a new person at the top. Go back to the beginning of phase one.

As you can see, the timing of your approach can greatly affect the speed of your success. Remember when I mentioned that even if YOU don’t sell directly to the government your clients might? If you run an office supply store and a large portion of your customers are receiving government subsidies for their work, ebb and flow in election cycles can really affect your sales. You may not even realize how many of your customers are direct government suppliers, or one step away from the government. In this case, the office supply store owner is one step away.  His/her declining sales may affect his suppliers, truckers or even his/her ability to pay rent. On the other hand, a new government regulation requiring every government file to be in a purple folder will spur a spike of purple folder sales that might just get that office supply store owner a nice tropical vacation this year.

Related to this topic:

1 Lean Startups in Government agencies 

2. Presentation on Lean startups in Government agencies: YouTube 1, You Tube 2, You tube 3.

3. What does a Government Shutdown mean for you? What if the government is your biggest customer?

4. Are you selling what they need to hear? Be sure you’re pitching what the government needs at the right time!

5. Need some great questions to ask to help you size up any business environment? Go here. And get your FREE COPY today!

book by Jeanne Goldie

Speed Read an Organization with our Easy Guide

What are YOUR tips on pitching the government on a business idea or project? Share in the comments section.

 

 

 

Can you Make it Simpler?

Kiss graphicSometimes you need a fully designed, perfectly branded, heavily tested, peer reviewed and approved solution or product. (Highly recommended if you’re a brain surgeon or drug manufacturer). But if you’re not risking lives with your solution or product, what would happen if you kept it simple?

Lean Methodology uses the concept of a “Minimum Viable Product”, primarily as a way to test market response. Have you considered trying that approach on your next proposed business project?

You should consider all the angles and implications of a change strategy. But once you have, if a simple solution will increase efficiency and revenue for 95% of your core business, and not materially damage the rest, wouldn’t it be best to put your efforts there?

Start simple.  Start today.

book by Jeanne Goldie

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Postcards on Change from Belgium

Jeanne Goldie, Organizational Strategist

Jeanne Goldie is a “Start it Up” or “Turn it Around” plug-in strategist for businesses. For the past twelve years she’s worked in the Financial Services industry leading organizational strategy after doing similar work in the government and non-profit sector.

I’m in Belgium this week, getting ready to present Anarchy and the Acco™ Clip:  Lean Startups in Government at the Lean Startups Brussels meeting.

Can you imagine preparing a presentation in one language and then, on a moments notice being asked to present in another language? Yesterday I attended a workshop of Agile experts (an approach to building products and software) explaining the best uses and applications for Agile and XP which was hosted at Sirris.be. The meeting started off in Dutch, and five minutes into the meeting, an audience member requested they switch to English (no, it wasn’t me!). The panel then switched to English, offering 8 presentations in rapid fire succession (similar to the “sprint concept” in Agile) with each presenter offering an aspect of working in Agile in 5 minutes or less. It was a fascinating “deep dive” into an area I haven’t spent a lot of time in, and the experience and enthusiasm of the panel was obvious. After the presentation, the audience was divided into smaller break out groups to discuss challenges with executing and adapting Agile to the workplace, proving some issues are universal. Most of the areas involved the challenge of managing product development in a situation with diffused authority, something not uncommon in any change project. From the discussions led by the presenters it was obvious that the flexibility they had demonstrated flipping languages was also repeated in their project management. An amazing workshop, with lots of great insight and strategies.

The second event was a pitch program at Beta Group Brussels where several entrepreneurs had 5 minute to pitch their products in a way to test their marketability, similar to giving an “elevator speech” for venture capitalists. Over 300 people watched and voted on different applications, it was exciting to watch people passionately pitch their ideas. One interesting note was that sometimes the best, most marketable idea was often buried or missed in the “pitcher’s” enthusiasm for their original concept. One team, creating an online shopping site glossed over their best attribute, creating a routine, simplified, glossy marketing approach for small business owners who were NOT technically savvy, basically letting the business owners subcontract that work inexpensively to a group that would ensure that the their marketing would meet all current technical standards, and marketing for them on a consistent basis across multiple platforms (a huge issue for a frazzled small business owner). It was a great reminder that sometimes we’re so close to our creations that we miss the forest for the trees.

On a side note, much like the US there were very few females in either group, and often the females offered more “service concept” type products rather than application development or strict product development. The females had good insight into the how and why a product would or wouldn’t work, clearly we need to get more women in STEM professions!

Many thanks to my hosts from Lean Startup Brussels who are ensuring I get a great whirlwind tour of the technology community in Brussels. There’s tons of food for thought that has been shared, and I hope to be able to share it with all of you in a slightly more coherent fashion once I get some sleep!

book by Jeanne Goldie

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Five For Friday! Business Development Expert Julie Fleming

The Building Blocks of Business Development

The Building Blocks of Business Development

Ever landed your dream job and then found you had to raise the funds to get yourself paid? Some of us are natural entrepreneurs; while others may have had business development added their job responsibilities along the way.   Julie Fleming coaches lawyers  (many of whom entered law school never fully understanding the “rainmaking” aspect of attaining partnership level) to new heights of business development. I asked her to share some of her thoughts on business development best practices for this week’s Five for Friday!

1. What are the key activities of a great rainmaker?

To bring in new business, you should focus your time on four key activities:

    • Client or customer service is your top priority, because great service can get you repeat business and referrals… Plus it keeps your customer base happy.
    • Lead generation calls on you to identify the kinds of people you want to meet and where they spend time, and then spend time in those meetings or places regularly.
    • Developing your professional reputation will give you the credibility you need to demonstrate that you can solve your client’s or customer’s problem.
    • Building relationships is the activity that links the other four. No matter what else you’re doing, ask how you can use the opportunity to initiate or deepen a relationship.

2.  What are the most common mistakes?

I see two common mistakes: lack of persistence and mistaking luck for success. It takes time to build relationships, and visiting a networking event once is unlikely to pay dividends. Select your activities strategically, and stick with them long enough to see results—usually three to six months at a minimum. Random actions lead to random results, not repeatable success. Don’t give up too soon, and don’t judge overall success based on one or two lucky breaks.

3. How should someone prioritize their targets?

First, divide your contact list into A, B, and C priorities. Who’s most likely to deliver business to you, either directly or by referral? Those are your A-list contacts, the ones you should be courting most regularly, with contacts every 4-6 weeks at a minimum. Your B list merits contact about once a quarter, and your C list gets contact twice a year, usually through holiday cards and one other touch. (Note that having a content-rich newsletter or blog allows you to stay in front of all of your contacts on a frequent basis by delivering useful information.) As you meet new contacts, categorize them in the same way. Make sure that your A list doesn’t get too large for you to keep those contacts’ specific needs and interests in mind as you craft your follow-up communications. Most people max out around 12-15 “A” list contacts.

4.  Why do people resist taking on the responsibility of business development?

Most of us receive no training on business development. We know what to do, but we don’t really know how to find the clients or customers. Some people worry that great rainmakers are born with some secret skill or attribute. No one wants to fail (and many take any setback as a sign that they’re missing the golden touch), and resistance is natural until you discover that sales and marketing are a personalized combination of a finite group of skills, not a golden touch. There’s also a negative connotation to sales, and no one wants to be perceived as manipulative or unscrupulous. Both of these short-circuit and stop would-be rainmakers in their tracks.

5.   What are some great resources to learn about rainmaking very quickly?

One of my current favorite books is Daniel Pink’s To Sell Is Human. It dispels the myths I mention in point 4 and offers easy-to-implement steps toward making a sales, whether you’re selling products or services. I also like Harry Beckwith’s Selling the Invisible for professional services sales.  Most importantly, find a successful rainmaker (preferably more than one!) and ask how they succeeded, then get a mentor to help you put your unique strengths to work.

Julie Fleming

Julie Fleming

Julie A. Fleming, principal of Lex Innova Consulting, teaches lawyers and other professional services providers to use innovative and effective measures to build a strong book of business and a lucrative practice. A former patent litigator, she is the author of The Reluctant Rainmaker: A Guide for Lawyers Who Hate Selling and Seven Foundations of Time Mastery for Attorneys, as well as numerous articles focusing on topics such as business development, practice management, work/life balance, and leadership development.  Before launching her consulting business, Julie practiced law for over a decade in firms of 3 to more than 2100 attorneys, specializing in patent litigation. A graduate of the Emory University School of Law, Vanderbilt University (B.A.) and Georgia State University (B.S.), Julie is a Fellow of the American Bar Foundation and currently serves as Vice Chair of the ABA Section of Science and Technology Law. Her website is at www.lexinnovaconsulting.com

What’s your biggest challenge around business development? Share in the comments box!

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© Jeanne Goldie 2015