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“I am Tired of Firing My Employees!”: The Single Most Important Reason Why Employees Don’t Work Out

When I looked at the caller ID on the ringing phone, I knew it was something important. It was from a client who almost never called. Outside of our weekly coaching sessions, she preferred emails and texts. I checked my watch: 20 minutes before my next meeting. “I can do this,” I thought, and answered the call. 

She plunged right into it. “Do you realize how many employees I have fired in my career?” she asked. I admitted that I didn’t have a clue. “16,” she said. “I would not admit this to anyone for the fear that they might think I am cold and heartless. I am not. Each and every time I had to let someone go, it was very, very painful.” 

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“You know what?” she said, with a tone of finality in her voice, “I am done. I am done with having to let people go. Isn’t there a way to stop this madness?”

It’s not unusual, I assured her. Many, if not most, presidents of growing and mid-size businesses face this challenge. They know that they have to let some people go. But they also find it agonizingly painful, not just because it’s an unpleasant experience at a personal level, but also because letting people go often carries a significant amount of risk to their businesses.


There Once Lived a Consultant…

One of the great American success stories was a Japanese success story - at first. 

There once lived a consultant named Dr. W. Edwards Deming. Dr. Deming proposed a very simple idea to the American manufacturers: The majority of defects in a finished product could be traced back to the beginning phases of its development. During the customer’s requirements clarification, for example. So the idea of factories making their products first and testing them later was flawed. The better thing to do, according to Dr. Deming, was to make sure that the defects don’t get introduced in the products in the first place.

It was a simple idea. The health-care industry had talked about it for centuries. Preventing a disease is much more effective than having the disease and treating it later. Nothing new there. 

But Dr. Deming’s idea appeared quite revolutionary to the American manufacturing industry. So revolutionary, in fact, that the American manufacturing industry did to Dr. Deming the only thing that’s worse than ridiculing him: They ignored him. 

Dr. Deming took his ideas of quality assurance to Japan where they were enthusiastically accepted. These ideas brought about a revolution in Japanese manufacturing. Japanese products became synonymous with quality. Honda motorcycles, reputed for dripping oil onto the showroom floors, slowly morphed into some of the best-selling-ever Japanese cars in the American market. Their electronic gadgets ruled the world markets for decades. Their “quality culture” became a benchmark for the rest of the world to aspire to. Ultimately, a tiny nation with an acute shortage of land and natural resources cemented its status on the world stage as one of the top economic superpowers. 

Dr. Deming was invited back to the American factories with the respect and adoration he deserved. Till his last days, into his 90’s, he imparted his wisdom to those who were willing to listen and ultimately helped bring about a “Quality Revolution” in American manufacturing.


What Would Dr. Deming Do?: The Statistical Science of Proactive Hiring

Over the course of my career, as I have worked with over a hundred businesses in helping them hire the right employees, one thing has gradually became quite clear to me: Dr. Deming’s ideas about quality manufacturing apply equally well to the hiring processes used by most businesses. 

The corollary of Dr. Deming’s basic idea, when applied to the hiring process, is this: Most of our employee problems could be traced back to the time we hired them. 

In other words, most of our employee problems stem from the fact that we had hired the wrong employee in the first place.

So why is it that we hire wrong employees in the first place?


To Be/Do/Have or Not to Be/Do/Have?

The single most important reason why we end up hiring wrong employees is this: We pay too much attention to “Do” and “Have” and little attention to “Be.” 

Let me explain. 

You can see a person in a job from three angles: 1) What that person has (Have), 2) What that person does (Do), and 3) what that person is (Be).

Most hiring practices revolve around the candidates’ experience, skills and educational accomplishments (Have) and what they are expected to carry out on a day-to-day basis (Do). But seldom do we look at what the candidate is naturally inclined to do: their talents, gifts and tendencies. In other words, what they are “hard-wired” to do. 

For the reasons unknown, it’s a bit of a touchy subject for many business owners I talk to. 

They would accept that if they were coaching a tennis team, they would not dare hire a tennis player who is not gifted in playing tennis. 

If they were putting together a musical production, they would not work with a singer who can’t carry a tune or a dancer who can’t move with the rhythm.

If they were a professional basketball coach, they would not bet their coaching career on a basketball player who can’t dribble the ball, much less get it through the hoop.

If they were conducting an orchestra, they would not work with a violinist who breaks out in hives when she sees a violin.
But they will happily pay big bucks to someone who looks good on the resume without having a clue as to whether they are a natural fit for the job they will be doing day in and day out. 


Why We Don’t See People’s Hard-wired-ness

A part of the reason why we don’t look at “Be” when we hire people is because we really have no training in doing it - or in doing it well. Except for a gifted few who seem to have the knack for always hiring the right talent, most of us really don’t know how to look for people’s hard-wired-ness for a given job.

The whole industry of personality tests was created for this specific reason: To help managers identify people’s inherent tendencies. But turns out that, in and of themselves, most personality tests are not any real help in choosing people.

The biggest problem with personality tests is that they are computerized tests that pretend to take away human intelligence from the process of choosing the right employee. 

But, ultimately, the best judgment is made not by computers but by people. 

A better way to use personality tests is to get to the most basic of the fundamentals of personality testing and use those fundamentals in helping us make the right hiring decisions.


Back to the Basics of “Be”

The easiest way to include the “Be” in a job description is to go to the very basics of the modern “personality testing” but remove all the fluff. The ancient knowledge that started out with the Chinese system of I-Ching provided three basic scales of human tendencies. These three scales form the basis of most of the modern personality assessments such as DISC, Myers-Briggs and Enneagram.

These three scales define how we interact with our world and make decisions and judgments about life and living. 

These three basic scales are: 

1) Intuitive vs Sensing

On one end of this spectrum are people who view the world from their “internal compass,” sometimes referred to as intuition. On the other end of the spectrum are those who interact with the world around them through their five senses: sight, sound, touch, smell and taste. Intuitive people seem confident and self-assured. Sensing people often are analytical and reflective.

2) Thinking vs Feeling 

On one end of the spectrum are those who think through life. They seem preoccupied with things, objects, data and other such “dead” things. (No wonder they often seem “cold” to the other extreme of the spectrum.) On the other extreme are those whose world is made of feelings. They seem preoccupied with people, feelings and relationships.  

3) Introvert vs Extrovert

Introverts are those who find their life energy through their own internal resource. They don’t need an external source of energy to move through life. In fact, they often perceive their internal source of energy as a finite quantity and protect it from others. That’s why, they seem internally tuned and, in extreme cases, aloof and dismissive. Extroverts are those who seek energy from external sources, both from other people and other things. They are more expressive and up-front with others than introverts. 


A Simple Template for a “Be”-centered Job Description

With that as a background, the rest becomes simple. Think of a position you are trying to fill in your organization and answer the following questions as best as you can:

1) Does this position require more of an intuitive person or a sensing person? 

2) Does this position mostly require the person to behave based on their feelings or their thoughts?

3) Does this position require the person to be able to energize more through their interaction with other people or by being to themselves?

As you answer these questions, you will begin to get some clarity about what kind of person will most likely succeed in the position. 

You can include these qualities in your job description, describing them in everyday words and make that description a part of the job posting. You can also develop your interview process around a series of questions to “test” the candidates on whether they have these qualities. One of the best things you can do is give these questions to each of the interviewers who will interview the candidate. After each interview, you can get together and compare your notes on whether these qualities exist in the candidate.

Once you develop the basic skills to look for hard-wired-ness in candidates and employees, you can build on them and develop finer skills and observations. As you become more confident in thinking in these terms, personality tests take on a whole new meaning. Now they are a tool to help you make the decisions, not making the decisions for you.

A People Centered Blueprint for Business-Building

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Copyright 2014 Bhavesh Naik. All rights reserved.
Bhavesh Naik is the Founder and Creative Director of Awayre, LLC, a management consulting and human resource development firm specializing in activating the hidden power of a business process by engaging its people’s awareness. Awayre, LLC is a pioneer in bringing human awareness to the field of management and human resource development as its structural and fundamental component.

The Slowest Way to Go Out of Business

Friday afternoon. I was catching a connecting flight back home from an airport in the middle of nowhere. The airport lounge was almost deserted. Not a soul as far as the eyes can see.

Finding out that my connecting flight was delayed by 3 hours, I loosened my tie, picked up the novel I had in my briefcase and started reading it. 

The woman who walked through the doors was in her late 40’s. She seemed a bit intense but was friendly, perhaps because she also had 3 hours to kill at that deserted airport. She smiled and said “hello” as she took the seat next to mine. We started chatting. Soon, I was surprised to find out that she was the woman I had tried to get hold of many times from list of prospects I was calling. She was the majority partner in a successful, mid-size law firm with about 40 lawyers and over 100 employees. And I had her all to myself for the next 3 hours! 

Image: Sheep herd in Ede, Holland. Is your business built around your unique identity? Click on the image to take Business Health Check, AQ. For the next 2 hours, she talked and I listened. As we began to get into some of the technology issues that her firm faced, I started asking some questions about their Information Technology investments.

One thing led to another and we decided that it made sense to draw up a preliminary contract to implement a software package I was representing. When I mentioned the price-tag, $200,000 over the term of 2 years, she didn’t even flinch. When I showed her the contract that I always carried in my briefcase, she said, “Where do I sign?” (”Is she really a lawyer?” I remember thinking to myself.)

“Here,” I said, pointing to the “X.” Then it happened. She said something that caught me completely off-guard. She didn’t have a pen. “Do you have a pen?” she asked. In a moment of panic, I realized that I did not have a pen with me either. 

I looked around. There was only one store at the airport, a news-stand with a built-in coffee shop. I walked over and asked the store-keeper if I could buy a pen. “Sure,” he said and pointed to a cup with some pens stuck in it. Nothing fancy, just your regular “BIC” brand pens that you could buy at a local Target for 50 cents each. Each pen had a white price-tag tied to it with some hand-written numbers. I looked at the price tag. $5 each!!

“You must be kidding me,” I mumbled under my breadth and, without missing a bit, handed him the credit card. Once I had the pen, I went back to my prospective client, joked about being glad that we were at a deserted airport otherwise she would be gone and asked her if she still wanted to sign the contract. She laughed, took the pen and signed the contract.


Monopoly vs Commodity

Let me ask you a question: Would you have paid 10 times its “fair value” for an object, a pen in this case, because it was key to getting something that was 40,000 times what you paid for it? Of course, you would.

The next question is: Did the store-owner “price-gauge” me? Being a capitalist that I am, I would say, absolutely not. He provided what I needed, when I needed it, at the price I could afford and to solve a problem that would have cost me many multiples of what the pen cost. There is a good chance that I would have paid $50 or even $500 for that pen if I had to. 

At that store, in that situation, the store owner had a monopoly on pens. Because he had that monopoly, he dictated the terms of the contract and would be able to charge me the price he wanted to charge me. 

Now, think about the situation above but with a twist. Pretend that there were two stores side by side and the second store sold the same pen for $2. There is a good chance that I would have bought my pen from the second store, provided that the store-keeper delivered the one thing in this case that was most important to me: Speed. 

If the second store was selling the pen for $2 but was unmanned and I had to ring the bell and wait for someone to show up, I still would have gone to the first store and paid $5 for the pen. However, if the first store was selling the pen for $50 and the second for $2, I would have perhaps gone through a little bit of discomfort to buy the cheaper pen. 

If both of them sold their pens for a very high price, say $50, I may have even gone to one store and tried to lower their price - bargained - by threatening to go to the other store if he didn’t lower his price. 


Is Slow Death Better than Quick Death?

Coming to the main point of this article. The way to die a slow and painful death in business is to be exactly like your competition, so much so that your prospective clients can’t decide why - and why not - to choose you over your competition. When your product or service is so similar to your competition’s that they can’t tell you apart from other similar products or services, your products and services have become a commodity in the marketplace. 

If you are exactly like your competition, one of you is not needed in the marketplace. And the marketplace will find a way to weed out those who are not needed. This “weeding process” is not pretty. Businesses fight hair-and-nail in that marketplace until a winner emerges. The rest have to fold their tents and go home or - worse - hang by their nails as long as they can, which is probably worse than quickly going out of business.

At the end of this weeding process, the successful business would have figured why they remained standing still - what was their Meaningful Difference - and then build the next phase of their success deliberately around that Meaningful Difference. 

But such success does not have to be accidental. A business can deliberately choose to build their business around a meaningful difference at any time and avoid having to live through the stressful experience of being a commodity provider in the marketplace. 


Pricing Pressures

Back to you. Think about your business. Under what situations and circumstances would you have a monopoly for one of the products your business offers? Remember, no matter how “commodity” your product or service may be, it can’t get any more “commodity” than a pen. Any business, and I do mean any business, can find situations in marketplace where it’s more of a monopoly than a commodity. 

One of the most deadly side-effect of for a business to be a commodity presence in the marketplace is that they get price-shopped by their prospective clients. This happens because businesses don’t do a good job of positioning themselves as a monopoly or a near-monopoly in their chosen sub-set of the marketplace. 

Ultimately, there is only one reason why there are pricing pressures: You are perceived as a commodity in the marketplace. In other words, your products and services are perceived as exactly like those offered by your competition. Another way to look at it is that the perceived value of working with you is not higher than either doing it themselves or hiring your competition. 


The Foundation of a Long-Lasting Business

The good news is that you don’t always have to overhaul your entire product or service offerings to prove your value-add and stand out in the marketplace. After all, the fact that you have been successful thus far shows that value-add exists. In most cases, it’s just a matter of communicating your value-add to the potential customer in a way that she finds valuable. 

It does require, however, that you know your products and services from three angles:
  1. What is it that your customer gets by doing business with you in concrete, specific terms?
  2. Why should they believe that you can deliver this value-add (and not your competition). 
  3. What makes you different from the other options that your customer has in getting this value. In other words, what’s your meaningful difference?
The better you can answer these questions, the clearer you are about your unique identity in the marketplace. The clearer you are about your unique identity, the better positioned you are to build a successful, long-lasting business.

Here’s an article I wrote that helps you go through this process step-by-step. 

Is your business built around your unique identity? You can find out here by taking Business Health Check AQ. It’s free and comes with a strategy guide to help leverage your strengths and compensate for your weaknesses. 

Copyright 2014 Bhavesh Naik. All rights reserved.

Bhavesh Naik is the Founder and Creative Director of Awayre, LLC, a management consulting and human resource development firm specializing in activating the hidden power of a business process by engaging its people’s awareness. Awayre, LLC is a pioneer in bringing human awareness to the field of management and human resource development as its structural and fundamental component.

Strategy vs Tactics: Slow Route to Victory or Noise Before Defeat?

On a hot summer day on June 30, 1963, a Union cavalry officer named John Buford happened to ride through a town in Pennsylvania called Gettysburg with his cavalry of 2500 men. One of his soldiers came running to him and reported the strangest thing. The soldier thought he had caught the glimpse of someone in gray uniform: A confederate soldier! If there was a confederate soldier in a town in the Union territory, it could mean only one thing: He was not alone. And it made no sense for a small team of confederate army to be inside an enemy territory. There must have been more, many, many more. “Something is about to happen,” thought Buford, “something big.” 

Image: Monument on Cemetery Ridge overlooking battle site at Gettysburg National Military Park. How well does your business utilize the intellect of its people? Click on the image to take Business Health Check, AQ.He looked around the little town and did something that almost certainly decided the outcome of the battle of Gettysburg three days later. After sending off a soldier to inform the higher ranks of what was to come and get reinforcement, he directed his remaining men to occupy the tallest hills he could find in the town - including the now-famous Cemetery Hill - that were connected by a ridge, forming a high ground. 

Thousands of soldiers gave their lives in the fierce battle that ensued in the next 3 days, many of them defending Cemetery Hill and other high points in the battle and many more trying to take them. It was an uphill battle for the Confederate Army, quite literally, as it was much harder for them to attack a heavily defended row of hills that had a much better vantage point, not just of the attacking soldiers but also of the entire battleground. 

It’s said that everything that you do before the engagement begins in a battle is called “strategy” and what happens after the engagement is called “tactics.” Both strategy and tactics were important in the great battle of Gettysburg. Both sides had the talent, the courage and the resources to fight a good battle. (It could be argued that the Confederate side had better leadership as both of their top generals, Robert E. Lee and James Longstreet, were present on the battlefield.) But because it captured the high ground early, the Union army ended up with a strategic advantage that tipped the scale in their favor, resulting in a decisive victory for the Union and a devastating defeat for the Confederates. 
Note: The above account is largely based on the book “Killer Angels” by Michael Shaara and my own visits to the battleground, which happens to be an hour’s drive from my home in Maryland. Although the book was based on actual events, some of the factual details are hotly debated by historians. I don’t claim to be an expert on the subject, only a curious student. 
Both strategy and tactics are necessary to win a battle. By capturing the high ground early, John Buford gave the Union army an enormous strategic advantage. However, the Union army wouldn’t have been able to hold the Cemetery Hill without tactical, one-on-one engagement that often came down to hand-to-hand fighting.

Same is true for business. A business requires a unique combination of both strategy and tactics to be successful in the marketplace.

How Human Intelligence Relates to Strategy and Tactics

Both strategy and tactics require a level of thinking ability and intelligence. 

It’s been well-documented that our intellectual capacity has two aspects: One relates to the “left-hand side” of our brain and other relates to the “right-hand side” of the brain. The left brain helps us think in a logical, step-by-step fashion so that we can plan, forecast and manage things in a linear fashion to achieve a particular goal or objective. The right brain helps us think laterally so that we can consider multiple possibilities at once and create options to help accomplish our goals.

Another way to say this is that the left brain helps us think tactically and the right brain helps us think strategically. Of course, both are important in running a business. 

My experience in working with business leaders indicates that most businesses have an affinity to one aspect of the intellect while the other does not get as much attention. In other words, a business is either strategically dominant or tactically dominant. 

A tactically dominant business is efficient, disciplined and focused, which allows the business to take disciplined action towards a given goal. However, a tactically dominant business often behaves as if it has blinders on. It only sees what’s directly in front of it. It ignores what’s around it and what’s in its long-term interest. 

A strategically dominant business has big ideas and a panoramic, 360-degree vision that allows it to see many possibilities to achieving its goals and objectives. But it is not so good at putting those big ideas into action and making a positive, efficient forward movement towards its goals and objectives. It acts a bit like a “head-in-the-cloud” person who is good at dreaming up big things but is all over the place when it comes to execution.   

Being in either state causes many businesses to get stagnant, even after many years of success. What it often needs is to bring the missing dimension - either strategy or tactics - to its operations. A good business finds a way to bring these two faculties together in a way that’s meaningful to that particular business. 

In which category does your business fall: Is it strategically dominant or tactically dominant? What can you do to bring the other aspect of the intellect into your business? 

Perhaps a good place to start is to find how well your business leverages the intellectual capacity of your people, which can be done by taking Business Health Check, AQ

Copyright 2014 Bhavesh Naik. All rights reserved.

Bhavesh Naik is the Founder and Creative Director of Awayre, LLC, a management consulting and human resource development firm specializing in activating the hidden power of a business process by engaging its people’s awareness. Awayre, LLC is a pioneer in bringing human awareness to the field of management and human resource development as its structural and fundamental component.