Interview Questions

mac-glassesI have always thought that as a Manager, that I was good at interviewing and was able to craft what I considered to be better than good questions.  But recent experience has led me to question myself and re-evaluate my approach.  In part because a new Senior Human Resource Specialist practice is to include the purpose of the question in our interview notes. This has been helpful for this applied scientist who skipped first year psychology at university.  I just thought they were good questions but now she can tell me (us) why.

As I prepare for interviews this week for a key position (essentially an executive assistant), I find myself not completely satisfied with the bank of questions that we are using for the interview.  They are questions that the team, including that Sr. HR Specialist I just mentioned,  says are good questions.  Yet I awoke this morning knowing something is missing (this is the Centre for Research & Innovation after all; and so …why not use some innovative questions?).

Another colleague (English Major) and I often talk about the use of words.  We both know that the words we use (which one we chose to use and how they are arranged within a dialogue) can 1) get us where we want to go/be, 2) are neutral (no meaningful response or intercourse – using a more original use of the term,  or 3) get us into trouble – i.e. take the person with whom we are in dialogue with into a place we either didn’t want them to go (sidetracked) or into misunderstanding that can be can be recovered from (with varying amount of effort and time) or relationally catastrophic (into a place of irreparable damage or harm).

Having said all that I will now fess up what started this muse.  I am somewhat competitive (my colleagues are laughing out loud right now).

Earlier this week our New Media Lead provided the interview team with a recent post via Linkedin from Lou Adler about the ‘one interview question’ that really counts.  While it was definitely a great question and as I suspected, while he offered it as you only need one question – it was actually the opening question to a dialogue that emerges with subsequent probing and leading (in a good way) questions.

happy interviewMy one good question?

I often thought it was – What is your dream job?  A few attempts to make that work in interviews led me to abandon it for what is now ‘obvious reasons’ to me (and so obvious to HR professionals and more experienced interviewers).

I have abandoned the attempt to find the ‘one good question’ for this latest attempt to find a series of questions that enables us probe into what makes the interviewee tick and or unlocks the essence of the person.  I also understand that these questions need to be asked by the person with the highest direct authority.

First – leaving:

I want to know why.  These questions are intended to obtain a sense of / insights into why the persons wants to leave / instigate a change from their current situation (what is their current situation?].

  • What is it about your current situation that leads you to look elsewhere?
  • Is there anything you are running/walking away from?; something that is missing and or unsatisfying about your current situation? If so, can you tell us about it/please tell us about it?

I understand that the second question(s) can be or can lead into highly personal matters but I am only curious about what that might be and what impact (positive or negative) that may have on our working relationship and or my organization (that’s all).

Second – seeking:

I want to know what this person is looking for; where s/he ‘wants to go’; and whether or not we are that place

  • What are you seeking? ….. in an employer; in an employment situation; a work environment; with colleagues; your supervisor?  [problem solving response].
  • Describe the work environment in which you could be your best contributing in a way that would be not just satisfying but in which you could thrive … could become the best you could be? [creativity response].
  • Finally, can you (please) tell us what it is that attracted you to this opportunity? What is it about this position in this department of this organization that makes you think you will find what you seek?

 Finally – details:

Yes we will continue to ask the other pertinent detail questions but I suspect I will be in a more robust position to interpret this person’s experience and skills relative to the position knowing what I now know about the individual.  Inconsistencies will emerge – that I can probe.  Sense of accomplishment can be squared with the person’s dreams and or situation.  The person’s skills can be aligned with my needs as a supervisor and the needs of the position (what we seek to accomplish).

Results?

Won’t know until I try.  I just know that I am not satisfied with my current situation.

To Do or Not to Do (sorry Shakespeare)

facilitator-toolkitIn a previous work life I created Rutley Ventures Ltd. with my son. I was passionate about working with not-for-profits and he was passionate about social innovation.  It was a time that I had no idea what social innovation was.  As it turned out, it was a perfect mix of business and social innovation.  While the company is quiet these days, we did develop a number of organizational decision and planning tools that I am dusting off and sharing because they work.

In retrospect this tool needs a new name.  In need of an acronym, I called it IPAT – for Idea, Problem, Activity or Task. But I have come to realize that it works best when the decision that is being made (or not being made) has significant opportunity or consequences for the organization.  So … it will remain nameless until one emerges (I am open to suggestions).  In the meantime, consider using it whenever you are wondering whether ‘to do or not to do’ something in your organization or business.

When to use

The decision/planning tool was developed to help determine IF becoming involved with a new something or continuing with an existing something (idea-project-activity-task-service) is in the best interest of the group or organization.

It is also useful when a significant decision needs to be made about getting involved with something (say an event).  Often organizations are asked to get involved with events, campaigns or activities just because it is expected of them.  This can lead to getting involved beyond ones capacity.  It can lead you into an area of activity that is not your primary focus (mission creep).   And yet – sometimes you simply cannot say no because of the negative impact it will have on your organization.  What to do, especially when time and resources are limited.

Group-facilitation-imageHere is how it works

Discuss until you have an answer for each of 10 questions.  We have developed a worksheet and process to help with that.  The process is straightforward and makes it possible for someone within the group or organization to lead the discussion.  The key criterion is that they have some facilitation skill.  Lead the group through the questions in a fair and unbiased manner through dialogue.  Have everyone keep the vision, mission, goals, resources and priorities of the group/organization in mind throughout.

Keys to Success

Use it when a significant (rather than simple) decision needs to be made.

Don’t underestimate the question – yet don’t over think them.

Ensure it is led by unbiased facilitation.

The Questions (categories)

1. Idea Project Activity Task

Name it.  It may be an idea, opportunity, project, collaboration, activity, event, campaign, or even to take on more responsibility.  This may not be that simple to do at first so write something down that describes what you are thinking about and feel free to come back to the name at a later time.  Consider Purple Shirting it (http://peaceregioninnovation.com/2014/02/03/purple-shirt/ ).  It may be best to do this last.

strategic-MFI2. Target Group(s) (Who Benefits)

Identify the group(s) or community sector that will benefit from the IPAT you are working on.  Be as specific as you can.  Also – it is important to categorize whether the identified group will benefit from the IPAT either DIRECTLY or INDIRECTLY.  Is it REQUIRED or OPTIONAL?  Be sure and don’t underestimate the importance of having this ‘right’.

3. What is the Benefit? the Risk? of doing it. Fit?

This can be a make or break question – if you cannot describe or derive a clear sense of a benefit – then why do it? What is the risk to the organization if you get involved OR if you do not get involved?  What level of involvement minimizes risk?  Does it even fit with your organizational vision and mandate? Do you have the resources to commit to this?

4. Role of Organization / Department or Group

What is the role of your organization in the IPAT?  Determine whether or not your role is the a) DOER, b. HELPER (Supporter or Partner) – and is that with Money; Coaching; Lending or Resources (building; piece of equipment, staff) or c. CHEER LEADER – a supporter in principle or is it an advocator role.  Take the time to be sure about your role at the beginning and then things will become less complicated throughout.  Also – take the time to put some detail around your actions as DOER, HELPER and CHEERLEADER – again this will lead to clarity of purpose.  What is the organizational ENERGY (a topic for another day) for this IPAT.

5. Description of (Tangible) Outcome(s)

Describe the outcome – my prompt is that it is a tangible outcome.  Don’t accept fuzziness.

6. Criteria for Success

Simply list them and be clear about what is meant by each.

7. Measurement and Evaluation

You need to be able to measure and evaluate your criteria for success.  Having said that, make sure they are right for the job.

8. Lead(er) – Champion

This is the name of the person who will lead this IPAT.  Please note that because a person has their name here that does not mean that they are the one to do all the work (while that may be true for facilitation21some things).  The leader-champion is the one who will ensure that the IPAT happens as the organization has described it (in the sections above).  This is your ‘go to guy’ on whatever it is you are considering.  Without a Champion – how will you be successful?  The greater the significance of the decision being considered, the more essential the Champion role is.

9. Helpers (and their Roles)

Name the people that will help the Lead(er)-Champion.  Describe their roles – thumbnail job descriptions essentially.  Again be clear now so that there is success, less confusion and minimal hurt feelings.

10. Timelines & Work plan

Simply state the dates and outcomes associated with each identifiable step along the way.

In closing, I think the value of a process is not so much about how well-crafted the worksheets are – but how well it leads the group into consideration of the key questions.  That is, actually helps them to take the time to think through the implications of their actions before acting on impulse.  I remain convinced that this process I describe (which needs a new name) works as well as it does because it can be done in a relatively short period of time (within the one hour meeting).  That doesn’t exempt the group for taking longer when needed, but when time is short, resources are scarce and the group has a habit of acting first thinking later, then the process will help.

Layers of the Mind

what-is-meditation

Recently I was reviewing some notes to self and musings that I had documented while in Victoria and filed away when I returned to the Peace Country in 2008.  I went looking for my notes because we were discussing the difference between life on the BC Coast and in the Peace Country at a Fairview workshop last month.  My conversant was bemusing the fact that on the coast groups (read – his clients) often got bogged down and could never make a decision to go forward.  My rejoinder was quick ‘we don’t have that problem here, in fact we have the opposite, we tend to go forward with the first good solution that comes to mind’.  So… I thought revisiting the concept – what I called then and still call ‘Layers of the Mind’ is timely as the region continues to outpace the rest of Canada in its economic developments.

Reprising a concept from 2007

I have come to think of the mind as having layers.  This thinking came from some of the reading I have done about meditation and more specifically out of the work that I was doing helping inventors get their ideas developed and into the marketplace (when I was leading The Innovation Network).  One of the workshops that we developed for this purpose focused on marketing.  One of the key points of marketing new ideas is that research has shown that it takes about 1000 ideas for every one product that is successful in the marketplace.

That also got me thinking about how busy the modern North American culture has become and the push for ever more productivity and output.  It has become so much a 24/7 world that most Americans are foregoing their vacations thus virtually eliminating downtime altogether.  We all know (or maybe you have been) one of these people that are so busy that they hardly have time to talk with you and when they do they are totally distracted.  I wondered how many ideas that person could contribute if they were sitting in a meeting with their Blackberry or iPad, thinking about the fifty other things that they were supposed to be doing.

 

flock-wallpaper-960x540So, this is what emerged.

For the person that is totally distracted, you may be lucky to have them contribute one meaningful idea.  For busy people who were accepting of contributing ideas within a short meeting you may obtain ten ideas.  For people who practiced quieting their mind and were able to focus one might expect that they could contribute upwards of one hundred ideas.  Then in the right setting over a period of time with people that were practiced and focused, we could tap into the deeper creative mind and possibly reach the one thousand ideas that it would take to bring forward the one idea that could be developed into the one that would be successful in the marketplace.

Further to that I was thinking about myriad (which literally means ten thousand); and so would the meditative or deep thinking mind be able to embrace ten-thousand ideas.  And the more one was able to enter into the depths of the mind, the more ideas or possibilities they would be able to embrace.  I refer to this deeper mind as the inner mind.  There may be further layers after the inner mind before one reaches the infinite mind but I think it is meaningless to extend it that far.

 

Number of ideas Descriptor of the mind
1 Preoccupied
10 Busy
100 Quiet/focused
1000 Creative (innovative)
10000 Myriad
100000 Inner
Infinite

 

Back to 2014

Since that time, I have come to think that what I did not articulate well is the quantity – quality dynamic.  Here’s an example of using a quiet mind to gain quality solutions.

A small group of us that practiced this form of quieting our minds, seeking the root of problems, were exploring opportunities in an innovative manner. Actually we were utilizing Action Learning as modified by the MHA Institute and originally developed by Reg Revans.  One meeting that has stayed with me was the day we left the meeting room, went into the gardens at the University (Royal Roads) and sat in the gazebo.  After half an hour or so of working on Sally’s (name changed) opportunity we just reached a point where we sat in silence.  This was not unusual for us but that day the silence was went on longer than usual.  It was now approaching 10 minutes with no one intent on breaking it.  A few moments later, the silence was broken by Sally herself.  She stated quietly and assuredly, “I have an answer”.  And she did.  And she implemented it successfully.

I still think the Idea-Descriptor Table is an interesting musing.  I once thought it would be useful to discuss at length the number of ideas/state of mind concept, but I now recognize that that would have little practical value because no meaningful outcome is likely.

But what I do understand is that practicing and training your mind to be proficient at both focusing and exploring unlimited possibilities; and engaging in quantity of ideas as well as being open to quality, is an effective use of one’s time.

It worked for our small Victoria based group then.  It works for us now at GPRC–CRI (I think it is one of the reasons that we are as successful as we are).  It is also one of the techniques that we make available to our clients.

PS – To further illustrate my point about the busy-ness of our culture – I wanted to include a photo of people sitting quietly in a group but my search came up empty.  So I hope you enjoy the scenery pictures and this short quiet time video of the Chilliwack River.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tt-A6yC6b7U

Innovative Thinking about Business Growth: 3 things to help you grow

compass - innovation

How many times have you wondered ‘how do I grow my company?’ If you are like most start-ups or regional SMEs I suspect it is numerous.

At our first Innovation Week conference in 2004, after a prolonged search, I found a speaker willing to talk about business growth. His thesis for business growth ‘shameless self-promotion’ was hardly satisfying.

In 2008 when I started as the Director of the Centre for Research & Innovation (CRI) at Grande Prairie Regional College, I was still asking the question. But this time it was personal – ‘how do I grow this organization?’ and it was pertinent. I wanted to take an approach that would work for our clients.

Now after 6 years at the CRI; many years of searching for a simple explanation and gathering insights and embracing techniques that worked for others; and achieving #1 in Canada for applied research growth for Community Colleges; I still don’t have a definitive answer.

In hindsight, this is the approach that worked for me. I offer this hoping it will also work for you.

compass - growthGrowth is about the pieces, fit and focus. And, yes it does matter how you do things.

Pieces: You must know what pieces are needed to make it work, if you are going to grow an organization. What do you need to produce the results you desire? While this may seem obvious for most of the pieces (i.e. space to work, production equipment, employees, marketing staff) it is critical that you have all of the pieces. You cannot grow into a strong organization with pieces missing or not functioning well.

Keep in mind that operating systems are big part of the needed pieces. The systems needed for a 150 employee company cannot be the same as the systems that were used when there were 5 or even 50 people. Put systems in place that match the company size that you want to become. I contend that if you are still using the same human resource, financial and or contract management systems as when you were in start-up or a very small company, that your growth will be constrained to that level.

Fit: the pieces must fit together. How well the pieces fit and work together will either contribute to or constrain growth. Be intentional about organizational structure and choose what fits best (i.e. network vs. hierarchical). Be intentional about structuring along function (production, market, business systems) or along value chain. Without conscious decisions, you may end up creating ‘silos’, or chaos, or both.puzzle and team

Focus: on what do you focus your energy? Are you spinning not knowing what to do next? Are you focusing on the tasks at hand just to get through the day or are you focused on your strategic priorities? Are you clear about when you are “making money, spending money or saving money” to quote a former farm business owner and neighbor. Are you focused on outcomes or going through the motions?   And yes it does matter how you do things.

Matter: How you do things is critical, is important, and can be significant – essentially the definition of matter. Obviously, the quality of work you do or the products you produce matters. And we have heard for decades that it matters where you locate (location, location, location).

But it also matters how resources are allocated: How much money you spend on infrastructure vs operations; what you pay for your money; whether you start small and expand only after there is no more room, or if you over build at the start.

It matters who you hire (skills, experience, attitudes, fit) and who you promote (or overlook). It matters how you treat your staff – think coaching or discipline. It matters how creative and productive your staff are. It matters how much responsibility you give them (or don’t give them) – think WestJet vs. Air Canada. And so it matters what their priorities are – because they better fit with your companies priorities. It also matters what you tolerate – bad behavior or practice will not only prevent the company from growing, it can destroy it.

team and gearsHow risks are taken matters. How decisively you act (or don’t act) matters. And most definitely, it matters how you treat your customers.

I also realized that some of these things are easy to overlook when I was ‘up to my neck in alligators’. Some were too hard to do – either because I didn’t have the skills that I needed (or thought I needed) or because I didn’t have the energy to tackle it right then. Finally, I realized none of this is possible without action.

While there is much more to be said about organizing and operating your business for growth, I was seeking the essence of what worked for me. What simple thoughts could I bring to the forefront of my mind that I could share with my staff, as we went about our day-to-day work. These three things are what I kept coming back to – focus fit and the pieces. And yes it does matter how you do things, how you manage your energy, and yes you must act – procrastinators need not apply.

So … focus on the pieces ensuring they fit together. Remember: you must take action and it does matter how you do things. And if you manage your energy (so you have the energy to do the critical things when needed) I think you can’t help but create the practices and systems needed to grow.

Want more information?  www.thecri.ca

Purple Shirt

purple shirt‘Purple Shirt’ is what I understand Dr. Edward de Bono (www.edwdebono.com) would call a prototypical word – to be used when a word does not currently exist to describe what one is attempting to describe: a new concept, a new way of looking at something or a subtle change in the existing.

Using a word (or descriptor) that is completely unrelated or ‘off the wall’ helps prevent people from using existing understanding and or biases when considering the new concept being described. To emphasize its use as a prototypical descriptor in this blog, I will continue to write it capitalized and in italics.

Recently, we used ‘Purple Shirt’ to describe what we felt was a new way of using and applying “social media” “web based” online digital communication tools.

Why this was important, was that I was completing a position revision and I needed to explain to others what our ‘Purple Shirt’ person would be doing, why this position needs to exist and how we felt it was different from a typical social media or new media positions.

Let’s see if I can explain. Note all definitions are from www.wikipedia.com.

First, why didn’t the existing definitions of social media, new media or website language capture what I was meaning?

Social media refers to interaction among people in which they create, share, and/or exchange information and ideas in virtual communities and networks.

While”exchanging information and ideas” is important and would be a critical part of what we do at the CRI, ‘Purple Shirt’ involves more than “interaction among people” and “sharing and exchanging”. What remained missing was the “application” piece because we wanted ‘Purple Shirt’ to be about working towards specific outcomes in addition to information or idea exchange.

New media refers to on-demand access to content anytime, anywhere, on any digital device, as well as interactive user feedback, creative participation.

While the “interactive user feedback” and “creative participation” and “‘any digital device” are pertinent this definition did not capture the effective use of the tools and platforms component or the job that we wanted to articulate. And again, there was no sense of application.

Website is a set of related web pages served from a single web domain.

Website has been around long enough that defining it almost seemed redundant and everyone knows that webmaster is “the person who maintains a particular website” but as we know, website implies static while both “social media” and “new media” convey dynamic. The new position was being designed to use the website as the “library” with the social media tools the “classroom” (we are a College after all).

We stuck with ‘Purple Shirt‘ until something else emerged. A few weeks later, it eventually it did.

Here’s how it went . . .

What I really wanted was to combine this convergence of all of the social media and new media tools and practices, with existing more static forms of digital communication tools and platforms. But I did not want to abandon offline forms of communication, because I still believe that “innovation is a body contact sport” and that offline forms of communication are still highly valuable. And I wanted all of that led by one person because we are a small unit within the organization; and I need that person to be able to apply it not only within the department but to extend that to the benefit of our clients. Sounds like a practitioner.

I liked the sound of practitioner. I liked the way it implied that there is an art to the way someone applies knowledge and practices. It also implies that while practicing, one gets better, learns and then applies new techniques. That’s important to me and what I believe we are about at the Centre for Research & Innovation.

What’s in a (position) name?

What has emerged at the CRI is a person who understands how to integrate both static communication tools (e.g. website, e-newsletter and offline tools like magazines/ news features) with dynamic tools (Blog site, Twitter, Linked-In) in a way that enables her to communicate in real time and pastime in a coordinated manner. Sounds like a coordinator.

We also wanted this person to craft the strategic plan for both the department as a whole and the units within the organization consistent with the digital plans of the College. In addition, this person needed to organize the training of all staff who currently understand and contribute through pastime communications but are not participating in real time, or at least, current time communications. Sounds like management and leadership duties. More importantly, this person must do the work – be a practitioner (a person actively engaged in an art, discipline, or profession . . . ) as well as a leader.

I brought the ‘Purple Shirt Practitioner’ forward during the organization’s review process. It did what I intended it to do. It made the committee members stop and really listen to what was really different about what the ‘Purple Shirt Practitioner’ was doing relative to what others in the organization working in this realm are doing. Once they really listened, they understood the need relative to our Department, how it was different from the other positions within the College, and most importantly, they recognized the level of creativity and responsibility this position would have and they placed it well on our pay scale.

One more thing:

We all recognized that ‘Purple Shirt Practitioner’ was not going to work on the business card. So . . . we settled on New Media (rather than Social Media); we agreed Lead more adequately captured the leadership component of the position.

This is how we used a prototypical word and an excellent process to help our former Innovation Facilitator become our New Media Lead. And that works for me.

WANTED: Talent Amplifier

“What would you do if you knew you could not fail?’

talent 3I know you have heard this before and I am sure you have thought about it.  I came across that question again recently when I was searching the Royal Roads University website for professional development courses.

I didn’t think much of it at the time but later that night while I was totally engaged in the WiL concert at the Demmit Hall – this idea came to me.

It isn’t so much ‘what I would do’ as ‘who I would hire’.

I then found myself thinking about a position for someone to amplify talent.

I remembered that imaginer was crafted by Disney in order to describe the people he hired to create and then turn images into cartoons (engineered them into animations).  And I recalled that organizations are now advertising for and hiring ‘Chief Creative Officers”.

So . . . the Talent Amplifier would be the title.  Quite simply the Talent Amplifier would be the person who would come into the organization to troll for and then amplify talent.  These would be people who are outstanding at what they do and who could be doing way more than what they are currently doing.   I think that is what is happening on The VoiceTM or Canadian IdolTM – the coaches amplify the talent of the contestants.

I actually drafted a job description – it goes something like this:amplifier

Wanted: Talent Amplifier.

Our organization is infused with latent talent that we know is locked in people, place and time.

We seek a person (or team) with the ability to evoke the transformational change that we know will come as a result of unlocking this latent talent.

Come, meet, talk, encourage – draw out the ‘what could be’ in our people so that we can transform people, place and spirit.

We have been constrained by time, place and money.  Come and show us who they are and how we can break free.  Then coach the transformation.

This will be a one-year initiative.  Start date is flexible.  Feel free to make us an offer we can’t refuse.

So . . . this may be one of those ideas that isn’t worth the time it took me to write this blog.  Then again, imagine what could happen if someone with the ability to transform even a handful of people within your organization arrived and did exactly that.

I think it’s worth a try.  It’s exactly what I would do if ‘I knew I could not fail.’

By the way . . . that’s how I stay on the lookout for new ideas.

PS – if you try this . . . . please tell me so I can watch.

Insights on Growth

bruce blog picYears ago while I was developing The Innovation Network and working with innovators who were wanting to grow their business, I didn’t have an answer to their simple question: How do I grow my company?

In fact when we held our first Innovation Week conference in 2004 I did an extensive search across Canada for a speaker.  There were few recommendations and even fewer willing to talk about the subject.  At the end of the presentation we did have, it seemed that ‘shameless self-promotion’ was the speaker’s key message.  I knew there must be more to this than that.

When I came back to the Peace Country in 2008 as the Director of the Centre for Research & Innovation (CRI) at Grande Prairie Regional College, I found myself still thinking about the question.  But this time it was personal – How do I grow this organization?

After 5 years at the CRI, I now have an answer – not the answer but an answer to both questions. Continue reading “Insights on Growth”