Thursday, April 26, 2007

Image: Business is change by Hugh MacLeod. Bravo Hugh & thanks!

"One cannot manage change. One can only be ahead of it...A change leader sees change as an opportunity. A change leader looks for change, knows how to find the right changes, and knows how to make them effective both outside the organization and inside it. To make the future is highly risky. It is less risky, however, than not to try to make it. A goodly proportion of those attempting to will not succeed. But predictably, no one else will." Peter Drucker

"There are always two parties - the party of the past and the party of the future, the establishment and the movement." Ralph Waldo Emerson

"Agility is great, but if a company is no more than agile, it will be a perpetual follower - and in the age of revolution even fast followers find few spoils. Companies fail to create the future not because they fail to predict it but because they fail to imagine it. It is curiosity and creativity they lack, not perspicuity. So it is vitally important that you understand the distinction between 'the future' and the 'unimagined,' between knowing what's next and imagining what's next." Gary Hamel

In my salad days as a music director and talent at RKO's WFYR in Chicago I learned an important lesson. Having worked hard to earn the respect of my superiors I wanted a promotion to program director. Going on the record with my station and corporate bosses seemed the right approach. When word reached RKO president Dwight Case he called and said "Once you train or recommend a qualified replacement we'll consider promoting you."

Succession planning is difficult but important work. It remains the single most vexing task at every level of the organization. The identification, recruitment and retention of creative people should always be on the manager's agenda. The time to look for people is before you need them. Until you have found replacements for every member of your team identification should remain a daily priority. Begin the recruitment process after identification and before the job offer. Cultivate the relationship while getting the book on your candidate and selling the person on your organization. Having identified, vetted and cultivated the best candidates you will be in a position to act as soon as circumstances dictate or needs require.

In the near term this is months of thankless hard work. In the long term you and your organization will be ready for the inevitable change you can not now imagine. One evening our very talented and effective sales manager gave me his notice. No one saw it coming. His father-in-law had developed serious health issues and his wife had convinced him that their immediate relo to be with her father was the only acceptable course. We were riding high in April and seriously shot down in May.

Hiring is a process not an event.

When you begin looking for the best person the day your top performer gives notice the odds are against you. The pressure is on to hire. You have lost any opportunity to cultivate a relationship. The majority of the time you will be speed hiring. Chatting up strangers from scratch, hoping for the best. Often you will "settle" for the person available rather than the ideal person you have not had the time to find.

Write a detailed description of the ideal candidate.

More than simply skill sets. Who is the ideal person? Attitudes, character, values, beliefs, dreams. It is sometimes easy to overlook the obvious. Once, under the gun to hire in a couple of weeks, we went after a great talent that was in the southwest. We brought him and his wife up to Chicago during a beautiful September weekend. We had picture perfect Chamber of Commerce weather. Everyone got along and had a terrific time. The offer was made and accepted before the couple left for the airport. Things went very well until winter arrived. At the company Christmas party his wife joked that they had finally gone to Marshall Fields and bought their first ever "heavy winter coats." Six weeks later our great talent was asking me to release him from his contract. I had failed to do my homework. The performer's wife hated the cold Chicago winter weather. It turned out he was not the ideal candidate and it was my mistake. The big market, big call letters and big contract were less important than the weather. Performers tend to do their best work when they are happy. Each performer has their own unique and very personal set of "be happy" requirements.

Look for people that want to come home.

One of the lessons learned in retaining the best people is to hire people who have some reason to be in love with your market or, in the least, your neighborhood (e.g., upper midwest, southeast, et al). Over the years there were some gifted performers that we knew could not be hired away to any other town, we worried only about losing them to the guys across the street. They had their own reasons but they had no interests whatsoever in living any place else. This also applies to folks who believe your market is somehow very special to them but they are working elsewhere. Perhaps the most effective job ads we ever ran always used the name of our town in the headline (a trade secret we still use, it works!)

We have an excellent opportunity for the right person.

Sometimes we find people who vacation every year in our town. They may be coming home to family for the holidays and sometimes we discover they just have dreams of living in the market. No matter, these are the people you want on your team. You don't have to sell the market, later others will have a harder time selling them on leaving their market and you. Start by looking for people who believe you are living in the neighborhood if not the city of their dreams.

NEXT: Part Two - Birthday cards, timing and term sheets

Doing the right thing: Creative Commons is conducting a special two-week iSummit 2007 Scholarship Funding Campaign. The goal is $50,000. Please join me in giving what you can to this important cause. More info here. My thanks to Lawrence Lessig for the heads up.

Congrats & cheers: AllThingsD debuts. Kudos to Kara Swisher and Walt Mossberg.

Bonus: We spend too much time hiding illness - "I ain't a pretty boy no more." Roger Ebert writes from the heart here. Thanks to Dan Kelley for the tip.

Bonus 2: Christopher Lydon talks with Dr Dave Weinberger about Dr Dave's very cool new book Everything is Miscellaneous. Highly recommended. Check out the podcast here. Bravo Christopher! Kudos to Dr Dave!