Advice on hiring from The Onion’s CEO

SAN FRANCISCO - MAY 05:  A copy of the Onion i...
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Do you know what The Onion is? If not, it’s a satirical newspaper and website that is hysterical…you should read it.

I’ve been a big fan of The Onion for years…but I didn’t know it was a 160-employee company…that’s huge for what I thought was just a funny website/newspaper.

I ran across a NY Times interview with the CEO of The Onion…I had to read it because, well…its an interview with the CEO of The Onion for goodness sake.   Gotta be some funny stuff there right?

Well…I was surprised.  Nothing funny about it….there’s some excellent leadership tips here.

The CEO, Steve Hannah, has a hell of a head on his shoulders.

The interview, published in Business Day’s Corner Office series under the title “If Plan B Fails, Go Through the Alphabet“, is wonderful.

My favorite part of the interview was the 2nd & 3rd question/answers:

Q. How do you interview job candidates?

A. I have two basic questions in mind: “Can you do the job, and would I enjoy spending time with you?” I want to know where you came from. I want to know how many children are in your family. I want to know where you fit in and what your role was. I want to know what your mother and your dad did, what influence they had on you. I find that, without overstepping my boundaries, most people like to talk about themselves.

Q. What is it you want to know?

A. I want to know whether you were a kid who was entitled, whether you worked hard, whether you excelled at school, whether you held summer jobs, how hard you had to work, whether you got the jobs yourself, whether you got promoted. I want to know if you’ll work hard. I’m hopelessly old-fashioned. I want people who really want to work hard. And I absolutely loathe a sense of entitlement.

Excellent stuff.   Nowhere does he say that he wants to know what school they went to or how much margin they made their last company.  He wants to know who they are and what they can do.  Period.  My kind of hiring approach.

Jump over and read it for some extremely good leadership insights.

Links for April 25 2010

Can you do it all? – The New CIO Series

The New iStock_000001401101XSmallCIO is a weekly article about the challenges facing today’s CIO as well as what can be done to prepare for future challenges.

I just read a ‘call for papers’ from Cutter IT Journal with the title “The Great Recession Fallout: Will CIOs Be Elevated or Exterminated?”  It doesn’t look like they’ve posted this latest call for papers on their website, but you should be able to find it there sometime soon.

While I’ve already been thinking about this topic for some time (an example can be seen in last week’s post titled “The Future of IT & The CIO“) it’s good to see  there are other folks thinking about the same thing.

A passage in the email really made me stop and think about what we (industry, IT & CIO’s) are doing.  Here’s what caught my eye:

No longer singularly pursuing either an innovation or an efficiency agenda, CIOs may now need to pursue both as their firms are driven by both the need for efficiency and the fear of having an obsolete business model. While CIOs have for some time been asked to contribute in strategic and tactical ways, has this recession pushed them too hard down both paths?

Take a look at that last sentence and think about it. We’ve been pushing (and been pushed) to do ‘more with less’ for quite a while now.  We are being asked to be strategic and tactical.  Our IT Staff are being asked to be both technical and business savvy at the same time.  This is a fact of life…but is it a reality?  Are we really able to do everything asked of us?

Can you really focus on the strategic and tactical at the same time?  Can you really expect your technical staff to interface with the business?  Have we cut our staffs and budgets so far that we’ve cut out ability to deliver real value? Are we running on empty these days?

Great questions (I think anyway).

Can you (or your team) really do it all?

There is a point at which you and your team become overloaded.  In a normal economy, this overload could be offset by hiring new staff, but in this recession there’s no new staff and many organizations aren’t bringing in new contractors either.  At some point, the overload becomes too much and you and/or your team need to pull back the effort or you’ll overload your circuits and burn yourself or your team out.  Just like the fuel gauge shown above, you and your team will be running on empty.

The New CIO needs to know when they can take on the extra work and responsibilities and when they need to push back at the organization to ensure proper staffing levels.

In addition, the New CIO must ensure that they have the right mix of IT staff.  If we’re being asked to be both strategic and tactical, you better have some folks who can do both.  If you have to interface with the organization, you better make sure you have IT staff who can interface with the business.

Lastly, as I’ve said before, in this age of doing more with less, the New CIO has to lead by saying no as much as they can.  The organization has to understand what the IT group is capable of and what will take additional staff and/or budget.

Keep your eye on your team and make sure they’ve got a bit of fuel left at all times.  Keep working hard and moving closer to your goals…but make sure you aren’t killing your staff.

Take a few minutes and ask yourself and your team: Can you really do it all?  If the answer is no, start building a business case for what needs to change, how it needs to change and why. That business case needs to land on every leader’s desk within the organization and you’d better drive hard to make the changes necessary.  If you don’t you might just find yourself looking at a staff who’s running on empty and an economy that has just moved out of the recession…and you’ve got no way to do what needs to be done to take advantage of the changes.

That said, if your organization was working right, the recession would be the time to invest in additional staff and projects…not cut staff and projects.  But that’s a topic for another post 🙂

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The Dangers of Hidden Talent – New CIO Series

TalentThe New CIO is a weekly article about the challenges facing today’s CIO as well as what can be done to prepare for future challenges.

Do you know the full capabilities of your team?

Sure…you know what their resume’s said.  You think you know their backgrounds and their experience…but do you really know your team?

Do you have a developer who, in their free time, is extremely active in the blogosphere and the social media world?  Do you have a project manager who really wants to make a lateral move into service management?

Do you really know your team?  If you don’t, you may be leaving a lot of talent, skills and passion on the table.

Dangers of Hidden Talent

Leaving talent untapped is unforgivable to me and should be unacceptable to you. We live in a world where we’re expected to do more with less and rely more heavily on people’s knowledge & skills to make our businesses work.

Knowing this is the case, why do we hire a person, train them (do you train your people?) and then forget about them?  Why do we ignore the idea of talent management and human capital? Read more of my thoughts on those topics here and here and if you’re looking for a great book on Talent & Competitive Advantage, check out Talent : Making People Your Competitive Advantage (amazon affiliate link) and/or Talent on Demand: Managing Talent in an Age of Uncertainty (amazon affiliate link).  Both of those books are excellent.

Do you have regular meetings with your team?  Do you talk about their careers?  Do you know that your star programmer is a widely read blogger?  Can you use the talent and passion of that programmer to more than just develop the next application?

Hidden talent doesn’t just sit within your front-line teams.  Did you know that your Director of Technical Support is working on her Masters of Fine Art in Creative Writing?  Are there things she can do to provide more value to the organization than just leading the service desk?

Hidden talent is hidden profit, hidden revenue and hidden advantage.  Hidden talent can also be the death of your team if it isn’t uncovered.

Uncovering Hidden Talent

Do you know what drives each of your team members? What really gets them excited in the morning?  I’d bet there are a few people on your team that aren’t that happy in their current role and who are looking for something else to do.  Rather than lose them to another company, why not help them find something more interesting within your team and/or organization?

What can you do to help them become happier and more engaged? Could you get your programmer / blogger to work on more projects where he can use his writing skills?  What could your Tech Support Director provide to the organization now that you know she’s extremely interested in creative writing?

Of course you can’t make everyone 100% happy all the time.  People still have jobs to do…but if you take some time to talk with your team about the career ambitions and do what you can to help them reach their goals, you’ll be amazed at the response you’ll receive from them.

What can you do to uncover hidden talent?  Simple…talk to your team.  I mean really talk.  Try to understand their aspirations and what drives them.  Look for their hidden passions & skills.  Work with your team to uncover the hidden talents and you’ll see new vigor from your team.

Finding the Talent – A New CIO skill

So…time to add one more skillset to The New CIO’s job requirements…that of Talent Miner.  Of course, this role can be fulfilled by any member of the IT staff (and anyone else in the organization), but as the top dog in IT you’ve got to lead people in this area.

The New CIO needs to get things done with the resources given to them…but those resources might be able to provide  more value than originally thought…if you look for the hidden talent. “Doing more with less” is the mantra these days…find those folks on your team who are passionate about something and find ways to let them bring that passion to their job.

Uncover the hidden talent within your team/organization and watch the growth that occurs.  Fail to uncover that talent and you’ll fail to reach the potential of your people and your team.

Join me next week for another article in The New CIO series.

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Links for July 19 2009

Get Ready As Corporate Sites and Social Networks Start To Connect by Jeremiah Owyang on Web Strategy

Why Authenticity is More Important Than Ever by Aaron Strout on Citizen Marketer 2.1

Is Free The Future Of Enterprise Software? Yes And No. by Aaron Levie on TechCrunch

Trust and Integrity Build Careers by Scot Herrick on Cube Rules

Is It Really Just About Strengths? by Steve Roesler on All Things Workplace

Some companies are like 8 year-old boys by Martin Proulx on Analytical Mind

Mr./Ms. CIO, Tear Down This Firewall by Steve Rubel on The Steve Rubel Lifestream

Employability by John Bishop on Leadership is a Verb™

Using Social Media in a Major Library System by Kevin Palmer on Social Media Answers

Learning To Listen by Jono Bacon on [email protected]

Leaders Should Strive for Clarity, Not Transparency by John Maeda on

When Strategic Planning Gets Locked in the Basement by Paul Barsch on Marketing Profs Daily Fix

How to Stop Micromanaging Part 1 by Rosa Say on Talking Story with Say Leadership Coaching

How to Stop Micromanaging Part 2 by Rosa Say on Talking Story with Say Leadership Coaching

Laying Out Your Online Experience by Chris Brogan on

Signs of weak management by Mark McDonald on BLT: Business Leadership & Technology

Why Managers Should Care About Employee Loyalty by Timothy Keiningham and Lerzan Aksoy on Blog

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A milestone – 3 years old (not 4 like I thought!)

Update – My original post was titled “A milestone – 4 years old”. Apparently I can’t count 🙂  I started the blog in 2006 so it’s my blog’s THIRD birthday! 🙂

I started this blog on July 14, 2006 with a blog post titled “The Strategic Use of Human Resources“. My first post was an excerpt from a paper I wrote for my MBA program of the same title….not exactly the most exciting stuff in the world but it wasn’t bad.

When I started this blog, I didn’t have a plan. I still really don’t. Many people tell me to pick a topic and focus…perhaps they are right. But that isn’t me. Sure, I can focus….but why should I be forced to do so on my own blog? I see this blog as a place to share my thoughts and help people understand who I am.  I write about what I want but try to remain within the Technology, Strategy, People & Projects arena.

I have found a few topics that are of great interest to me. Specifically the intersection of marketing & technology and how enterprise 2.0 (and 3.0) is changing and will change business in the future.  I’ve also started off The New CIO series where I’m planning on taking a look at the role of the IT group and CIO from a different perspective. So far, I’ve written 3 The New CIO articles and have plans to write one article per week (released every Thursday).  The published articles so far are:

So I’ve finished up 3 years and I’m entering the fourth year and I’m going strong.  I passed the 400 posts mark in June (~2 posts per week) and 1000 comments that same month. I also bumped over 1000 RSS subscribers sometime in 2009…but never really saw when it happened. Twitter and friendfeed have helped grow traffic but at the end of the day, this blog isn’t about traffic…its about delivering good content to those that like to read it.

Top 5 Commented Posts

My Top 5 visited posts

Would you be surprised if I told you that the top 5 keywords from Google had to do with the these top posts? 🙂  Probably wouldn’t be. What are the top keywords?

  • linear thinking
  • factors affecting productivity
  • bludomain
  • blu domain
  • sitecore review

So…those are the most visited and commented posts on my blog after 3 years…but what about my favorite posts?  Here’s a few (in no particular order):

Hope you’ve enjoyed the time like I have.  And I hope to be on here for much more time to come.

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