The importance of doing career due diligence

A little research and a few hints are plenty when you’re looking for your next job.

Geoff Wilson

Picture it: You’re thinking about joining a new organization. You just so happen to know a few people with very solid inside knowledge of the organization. One of them gives you this pearl: “On a scale of 1 to 10, the leadership team you would join is a solid 8—but the leader is a 4.”

What would you do? You might say “8, wow. That’s pretty good. I could do much worse.” Or you might say “Ugh, a leader who’s a 4. Back to the drawing board.”

Here’s what I’d tell you …

KEEP SHOPPING!

Any leader who has engendered enough bad will to have innocent observers rate them a 4 probably deserves elimination from your solution set. Of course, I write this with the assumption that you have other options; if you’re desperate, take your chances with a bad leader. After all, bad leaders deserve to have teams of desperate people.

Why does this matter to your career? Because a little due diligence is a good thing.

I’m actually wary of people who take jobs without asking questions. Like, really wary. Scary wary. Why? Because a person who will take a job with you without a question asked is probably just looking for a job. And you know what? There are lots of jobs out there.

People with purpose ask questions that relate to their purposes. I’ve had people ask questions about firm strategy, the career path, and even faith in the workplace. None of them were off-putting; these people showed sincere curiosity about where their own skills, purposes, and beliefs fit. But people without purpose just ask for offers; they don’t do any due diligence.

And those candidates deserve no offers when it comes to professional roles. “Ouch,” you might say. “What about junior people who don’t know any better?” Yep, they get a pass. But anyone who’s been around the block even once should know better.

I know of an executive who left a role with a firm after years within it, and the particular role he left was open and advertised for months and months. He constituted what I would consider a juicy due diligence target. Why? Well, he was there for all the world to see, regardless of what he could or couldn’t say about the role. He did, in fact, receive dozens of calls about the role and the organization. While I’m not sure how he talked about the role to those who were interested, I do know one thing: The person who actually took the role never called him. That would be a glaring red flag for me if I were filling the role. It says a lot about the depth of curiosity of the person who took the role, doesn’t it?

It’s not a sin to ask questions about a role that might be offered to you. And if you encounter resistance from your potential future organization when you do ask questions … run away! Any team that questions your motives for doing due diligence on them, particularly if you’re a very senior executive, doesn’t deserve to attract top talent.

Go ahead and look them in the mouths. Gift horses, they ain’t.

What do you think? Have you ever encountered resistance from an organization when you asked about it during an interview cycle? 

“I did my job” and 9 other career-limiting mindsets

These attitudes are great indicators of your career ceiling.

Geoff Wilson

I’ve spent much of the past 15 years navigating complex organizations and talking to people at various stages of their careers. Combine that experience with my standing as an amateur social scientist (kind of like the old adage about crazy: You don’t have to be a social scientist to be a consultant, but it helps), and you get my ability to write lists of insights about a lot of things in organizational life.

Here are 10 mindsets that are career-limiting to anyone who wants to do great things in modern business management. They’re also toxic to organizations when they become the norm around the lunch table. Try them on, and if they fit you … change.

  1. I did my job – Said by a world of downsized and rejected managers. And totally focused on the wrong thing. Doing what you’re told is only a fraction of being a successful senior manager. Your job is to find out how to do what’s necessary. “I did what you told me” is a defense mechanism, not a rationale.
  2. I don’t have the resources to be successful – OK, then why are you keeping the job? If you think your job is impossible, at least have the integrity to walk (or raise the issue). In today’s economy, resourcefulness is at a premium. How do you show it?
  3. I’m on vacation – Yes, and so are your chances for accelerated promotion. I know of very few professionals who can deploy this mindset without it having a very long half-life in their colleagues’ memories.
  4. It wasn’t my fault – Sure, you can articulate the reasons for a failure, and even your role in the chain of responsibility.  That’s fair game. Just don’t start with defense.
  5. It wasn’t my job – See points 1, 2, and 4. I’ll bet that a lack of accountability wasn’t something you highlighted on your resume.
  6. I don’t know how to do it, so I didn’t – See points 1, 2, 4, and 5. Inaction is a great way to show a glaring lack of initiative.
  7. I deserved that promotion, not him/her – We can never sweep politics aside, but in many if not most instances, a person who has this mindset hasn’t really examined the situation well. Any attitude that starts with “deserve” ought to raise big, flapping red flags.
  8. I’ve had a really tough time at home – I’ll let you in on a little secret. Individuals may care about this and say so. Your company does not. I could be even more harsh and say that, in reality, nobody cares, as Ben Horowitz said best.
  9. I took that promotion/relocation for the money – If that’s why you did it, you’ve already received the reward. Stop complaining about it being hard, unrewarding, or a career dead-end.
  10. My boss was unethical – Usually said by someone who has just been passed over or fired by that boss. Where was that sense of ethics while you were in favor? How often did you raise the issue? Most companies have plenty of ways for you to get the word out. How many did you use?

Healthy strategic management must often start with a healthy examination of a company’s dominant mindsets. If these or related mindsets rule your water cooler (or your pillow talk at home), you’ve got a problem.

What mindsets either help or hinder your own professional growth?

It’s All About the Experience

Why a great customer experience matters, even if you’re selling widgets

 

With the advent of digitalization, our experiences as consumers have reached a whole new level.  You know exactly when to turn on the porch light for the pizza guy, you can have Fluffy’s kibble delivered to the same porch the next day and you can even get insurance quotes from a cockney reptile from the comfort of your favorite arm chair.

 

Yet when you look at the customer experience in business-to-business, especially for industrial products and services, it’s like stepping into the dark ages.  Websites often function as a product brochure, with a white paper thrown in here and there.  While it’s true that decisions in this area are more rational, decision-makers are still humans and they still appreciate a great experience.  They are the same individuals watching their pizza progress from the oven to the delivery guy and this shapes their expectations of a great customer experience.

 

I’m not just talking about digital experiences, either.  eCommerce platforms can come with a hefty price tag and steep learning curve, but there are other elements of the experience that don’t. For instance, good old-fashioned analog elements, like following up with a customer to see if they are happy with their solution.

 

In my role as an insights expert, I interview many business decision makers.  If I had a dollar for every time poor customer experience came up as a pain point, I wouldn’t be typing this from the middle seat at the back of the plane.  This includes the basics like not returning phone calls, messing up billing and not communicating when there are lead time issues.  It’s all about being easy to do business with.

 

The good news is that there is a lot of upside potential.  So if you are looking for a differentiated value proposition, take a good look at the experience at every customer touch point.  Your customers will thank you.

Painting Pictures of Egypt

Wanting what you had won’t get you what you want. 

Have you ever been stuck looking backwards?

You look at the past, and it looks so easy. Perhaps this is because it was easy. Perhaps you were lucky once. 

This is a post about working the problem–any problem–forward. If you take nothing else away, take away the knowledge that hindsight is not only 20/20, it’s viewed through vanity-tinted lenses. 

Now, if that hasn’t captured your imagination, I don’t know what will. So, here it goes: 

There’s a lyric from a Christian artist named Sara Groves that goes something like:

I’m painting pictures of Egypt
And leaving out what it lacks
The future looks so hard, and I want to go back.

The reference is, of course, to a hypothetical point of view of a member of the Jewish nation, just freed from bondage under the Egyptians, and now facing an uncertain future.  

I imagine a person, flooded with trepidation about wandering in the wilderness, painting portraits of Egypt that showed it “wasn’t as bad as we thought.”  

The future looks so hard, and I want to go back.

For those of us who think about the past and the future a bit too much, it’s a very comforting lyric, in some ways. 

 When I talk to executives nearing the end of their careers, I find it interesting to hear about their “best job.”
It’s often fun to realize that, contrary to conventional wisdom, their best job is rarely the highest paying or most prestigious one. 

It’s the one that came with purpose. 

But a hallmark of successful senior executives is that they work the problem forward. They focus not on how great things were last year or how to maintain the status quo, but on what the current state of play is, and how to make it work well. 

They don’t paint pictures of Egypt. They look for the promised land. 

How does this work for you, today?  Maybe you are sitting and thinking about how great you had it in that sales role in the ’90s. You forget about the steady harangue of the regional Vice President, though, don’t you? 

Maybe you are leading a company that had a much easier competitive environment 5 years ago. You might be forgetting that it was easier simply because you were big and the competition were dying in the GFC.  

Are you working the problem forward, or trying to re-set to simpler times?  It matters. 

Companies die when their leaders try to do old things in a new environment.  If your leadership team is running the cost reduction play that got them through the GFC, and it’s 2016 and the world has moved on, your team might not be working the problem forward. 

We all do it.  We all look back on some level. 

But, wanting what you had won’t get you what you want. 
Maybe painting pictures of Egypt isn’t all that productive after all. 

What do you think?