Let’s get critical
My first serious girlfriend in high school was Cathleen and I’ll never forget my first meeting with her father. Since I was older than Cathleen and I had my driver’s license, her father took extra time to “interview” me when I picked her up for our first date.
In a carefully staged one-on-one conversation, he toured me around their country farmhouse room by room while asking me detailed questions. In almost every room of the house, he took the time to point out where he kept a firearm. It was a not-so-subtle message that certainly motivated me to bring Cathleen home on time that night. In fact, I think we were home a little early.
But who can blame any parent of a teenager from protecting their child from a bad influence?
Especially someone that could ultimately end up sitting at the family table.
In business, we often have the need to hire new team members, and our first instinct is to search for superstars. But we should take the same approach as Cathleen’s father (without the firearms) and focus on protecting the team from a bad influence. The ability to recognize a negative quality in a person is easier if you’re on the defensive.
Bad influences can be toxic
Harvard Business Review released a working study done by Dylan Minor and Michael Housman that looks at the financial impact of a bad hire compared to hiring a superstar employee. What did they find?
“Avoiding a toxic worker was worth about $12,500 in turnover costs…”
The study also revealed certain traits that were consistent among “toxic” hires, including overconfidence, self-centeredness, high productivity and rule-following. On paper, these don’t seem like the worst qualities an employee could have, but do these traits yield successful teamwork or innovation, or even exhibit emotional intelligence (EQ)?
Just as parents encourage their children to avoid relationships with “bad influences,” businesses need to keep a safe distance from employees that exhibit toxic tendencies!
Don’t go on paper alone
Pat Lencioni, best known for “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team,” was a keynote speaker at Fortune Magazine’s Growth Summit this past October, where he discussed his new book, “The Ideal Team Player: How to Recognize and Cultivate the Three Essential Virtues.”
His suggestions for hiring are to identify if a person is humble, hungry and smart.
Words that do not directly refer to output, technical skills or productivity but instead refer to personal skills, likeability and emotional maturity. He explained that possessing all three qualities is essential, and when someone only displays one or two of those qualities, it can be detrimental to the workplace environment.
Example: A parent doesn’t care if a child’s girlfriend/boyfriend plays golf – but if it turns out that he/she golfs in charity tournaments or coaches kids at the YMCA on weekends, parents see beyond the activity and recognize qualities like community, ability to work with people and concern for others.
Look out for bragging
If someone constantly brags about participation in charity, look out — it could be a big red flag. Pat Lencioni refers to this behavioral pattern as a “skillful politician.” He considers this the most dangerous type of team member because this person can fake humility and work the system.
Not a team member that you want at the annual holiday party, much less working with your team every day.
In business, we can get caught up with the measurable or technical skills on a résumé or in an interview. But it’s how these skills are cultivated and utilized that give the bigger picture – even further, how will they fit in with the team.
Hiring the best
As Pat Lencioni said, “Hire for culture first.” Within most companies there is likely a strong group of people who already work well together. Management’s job is to make sure all new employees fit within the existing culture.
Don’t let a toxic employee bring down the entire team.
How top performers work smarter, not harder
(EDITORIAL) People at the top of their game work less, but with more focus – learn how to replicate their good habits to get ahead.
Practice, practice and more practice will get you to be more competent in what you do, but working smarter isn’t always about competency, at least in business. Productivity expert, Morten T. Hansen’s studies indicate that multitasking is detrimental to working smarter. But it’s only half of the problem.
Hansen discovered that the top performers did not try to do thousands of things at a time. He’s not the only one.
Earl Miller, an MIT neuroscientist outlines why humans cannot multitask. As he puts it, “our brains… delude us into thinking we can do more.” But this is an illusion. When we interrupt the creative process, it takes time to get refocused to be creative and innovative. It’s better to focus on one project for a set amount of time, take a break, then get started on another project.
Hansen also found in his research that the top performers focused on fewer goals. He recommends cutting everything in the day that isn’t producing value. As a small business owner, you have to look at which tasks bring in the most profit. This might mean that you outsource the bookkeeping that takes you hours or give up being on a committee at the Chamber of Commerce that is taking too much time away from your business.
Taking on less work will help you work smarter, but Hansen found that it goes hand-in-hand with obsessing over what you do have to do.
When you have fewer burning fires, you can dedicate your time to these tasks to create quality work. According to Hansen, this one thing took middle performers at the 50th percentile and put them into the 75th percentile. When someone is competent in writing reports, for example, and can focus their energy into that, the work is much better.
Top performers also take breaks to rest their brains. One of my favorite analogies is the one where a lumberjack is given a stack of wood that needs to be cut down. He starts with a sharp ax, but over time, as the ax gets dull it becomes harder to chop the wood. By taking a break and sharpening the ax, more gets accomplished with less effort.
Your brain is like that ax. It works great when you first get to work. You’re excited to get started. In a couple of hours, your brain needs a break. Go outside and take a walk. Get away from your desk. Do something different for 15 minutes. When you come back, you should feel like you have a second jolt of energy to take on tasks until you break for lunch. Science backs the need for breaks during the day.
By taking breaks, obsessing over what you have to do, and laser focusing on fewer goals, you’ll be outperforming your competitors (and even coworkers). Work smarter, not harder.
The real key to working smarter, not harder
(EDITORIAL) We’ve all heard that we should be working harder, not smarter, but how does one go about doing that aside from a bunch of apps?
I know you’ve heard the phrase, “work smarter, not harder,” but what does that mean exactly? How do you work smarter?
A new book by Morten T. Hansen attempts to answer the question. “Great at Work: How Top Performers Do Less, Work Better, and Achieve More” was released at the end of January. Hansen found 7 different behaviors outside of education levels, age and number of hours worked. I’d like to take a look at a couple of the things he recommends. Read the book if you want to know more.
Let’s continue on by addressing the 10,000 Hour Theory of Expertise. Under this principle, it’s thought that if you spend 10,000 hours in deliberate practice of a skill, you’ll become world-class in any field. The Beatles are thought to have used this theory to become one of the greatest bands in history. But it’s not just about practicing until your fingers bleed or you can’t stay awake any longer, it’s really about pushing yourself in an area.
Although it has been argued that this theory doesn’t necessarily apply in business or professions, there’s something to be said about deliberate practice.
When it comes to working smarter, no, you don’t need to spend 10,000 hours in the workplace to get better at your job. But you can put some of the principles of the theory in action:
- Pick a skill that you need to develop. There’s no way you can work on every skill at the same time. Just choose one to focus on for three months, or six months. Review your performance now. Have a benchmark of where you want to take that skill.
- Carve out time to work on that skill. Spend 15 minutes a day doing something that helps you get better. You know the old joke? How do you get to Carnegie Hall? “Practice.” You’re going to have to find ways to practice.
- Work on specific elements of a skill. Typically, the skills we want to improve involve a lot of smaller things. Take a good presentation. You need connect with people, have a good outline and learn to have diction and tons of other things. Work on one thing at a time. ?I used to have a real problem with looking at people when I was giving a presentation. For quite a few months, I made it a priority to be conscious of making eye contact. No matter who I was talking to, the cashier, a patron at the center where I volunteer and even my neighbors. It’s much easier now for me.
- Get feedback. You may believe you’re making progress, but others may have a different vantage point. Find a couple of good mentors who can really evaluate your performance and offer constructive criticism.
Repeat until your skill-set grows.
To get better, you need challenge and practice. Believe me, you’re going to make some mistakes along the way. Get up, dust yourself off and keep practicing.
Competence in a particular area goes a long way toward working smarter.
But wait, there’s more – the discussion continues in part two of this series, keep reading!
How I pitched the CEO of Reddit onstage at SXSW with no notice
(EDITORIAL) This is the story of how luck, networking, preparation and being at the right place at the right time got me onstage at SXSW with no notice, to pitch Steve Huffman, the CEO of Reddit and co-founder of Hipmunk.
After graduating from Austin’s Capital Factory accelerator earlier this year, Shep, my travel tech startup was in need of our first office. The team had grown to more than seven people, and while coffee shops had sufficed for product meetings when there were only four of us, we’d started getting dirty looks when we began putting tables together and colonizing entire corners. We looked at dedicated offices, office shares, and coworking spaces like WeWork. When it came down to it, at this phase, Capital Factory was the right choice for our company.
We’d already raised our seed round with Capital Factory with several of their partners as major investors, so we decided that, as a startup in Austin, we had to be where the press, investors, and partners were most likely to show up. Past visitors to Capital Factory have included Barack Obama, Apple CEO, Tim Cooke, Microsoft CEO, Satya Nadella, and many more. We knew that we might be able to get a space for less, but the community, education, and flow of people through the space optimizes our startup for serendipity.
Fast forward to this year’s SXSW and I was meeting with team members on the fifth floor when I received a text telling me that Steve Huffman, the CEO of Reddit and co-founder of travel startup Hipmunk, was downstairs and he had just said that creating a travel tech startup is the most difficult thing he’s ever done.
“The CEO of Reddit is talking right now and saying that doing a travel startup is the hardest thing he’s [e]ver done. You should tweet at him.” said the first text. “Baer just told him about Shep,” came the next one, referencing Josh Baer, the founder of Capital Factory, who was conducting the interview downstairs.
So, being in the right place (or at least four floors above) at the right time, I rushed downstairs and made eye contact with Josh before taking a seat in the back of the room. I planned to wait until after the talk and fight the crowd to introduce myself as the person Josh had mentioned and hand Steve a business card.
SXSW had other plans for me.
“So, we only have about three more minutes, and because SXSW is all about doing things on the fly and taking opportunity as it finds you, I’m going to ask Daniel Senyard from Shep, who’s just joined us, to come up and pitch Steve for 90 seconds,” said Josh from the stage before getting up and giving me his seat. I proceeded to tell Steve how Shep allows smaller businesses to set up and track travel policies and team spending on travel websites like Orbitz, Expedia, and Southwest through a free browser extension. My hands were shaking, but I got it all out in about the right amount of time, and he immediately responded by saying, “I love the Premise.”
Steve asked some questions about customers (closed Beta) and target market (companies that spend less than $1M in annual travel) before enquiring whether Shep had to have relationships with online travel agencies (OTAs) like Expedia and Orbitz or Meta Searches like Kayak. I said no, but that through our strategic investors, I’d spoken to many of them.
“I’m trying to grill you, but I honestly think they would love this,” he said, stating how OTAs and other travel sites lose lots of bookings when companies grow and move from letting their team book on their favorite websites and instead mandate bookings be made on enterprise booking tools like Concur or AmEx Travel. Now Steve knows this world better than almost anyone, having co-founded an OTA that was actually acquired by the very company he says OTAs lose business to, Concur!
After a few more comments, I thanked him and took the opportunity to slip him a business card before heading back to my seat.
Now, to some, this may seem like pure luck but these moments of serendipity take years to create.
While there are several factors at play, it all essentially boils down to just showing up every time. As Josh said to me afterward, “Luck is when preparation meets opportunity,” and I’ve been preparing and pitching non-stop (albeit within three different businesses) for seven years. Over those seven years and three companies, I’ve slowly built up a vast network of connected people who will text me when my name is mentioned and will invite me onstage when they see an opportunity.
While I didn’t nail it, I didn’t flub my pitch because I’ve rehearsed various forms and lengths of pitches in mirrors, while driving, and to every family member that can stand it. I’ve taken my bumps and done my reps while probably pitching 200 times. I even won a contest and was sent over to Oslo to represent Texas at Oslo Innovation Week back in 2015. But even after pitching at every chance I’m given, I still get nervous, and my hands are still a little shaky while writing this, an hour after it all happened.
It was an amazing opportunity, and I’m very thankful to Henry for texting me, Josh for inviting me onstage, and John and Henry for recording the whole thing. While cool moments like this are certainly highlights, it’s just a step towards building brand recognition for our solution. Now I need to follow up and see if I can get Steve to join our advisory board…
Also read “Why your being the ‘Uber of’ or ‘Netflix of’ is bad for your business” by Daniel Senyard.
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