First Friday Book Synopsis

"…like CliffNotes on steroids…"

Joseph McCormack, author of BRIEF: An Interview by Bob Morris

Joe-McCormack00306-241x300Joe McCormack is on a mission to help organizations master the art of the short story. In an age of shrinking attention spans, non-stop interruptions, and a flood of information, the messages business leaders send out are getting lost in a sea of words.

An experienced marketing executive, successful entrepreneur and author, Joe is recognized for his work in narrative messaging and corporate storytelling. His new book, BRIEF: Make a Bigger Impact by Saying Less (John Wiley & Sons, February 2014), tackles the timeliness of the “less is more” mandate.

A passionate leader, he founded The BRIEF Lab in 2013 after years of developing and delivering a unique curriculum on strategic narratives for U.S. Army Special Operations Command. He actively counsels military leaders and senior executives on key messaging and strategy initiatives. His clients include W.W.Grainger, Harley-Davidson, USG Corporation, BMO Harris Bank, SAP, MasterCard, Heinz, Hoffman-La Roche and Jones Lang LaSalle.

He founded and serves as Managing Director and President of The Sheffield Company, an award-winning boutique agency.

Previously, he served as SVP, Corporate Marketing at Ketchum, a top-five marketing agency in Chicago. He received a BA in English Literature from Loyola University of Chicago and is fluent in Spanish. He, his wife Montserrat, and their children live in suburban Chicago.

Here is an excerpt from my interview of him. To read the complete interview, please click here.

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Morris: Before discussing BRIEF, a few general questions. First, who has had the greatest influence on your personal growth? How so?

McCormack: My dad. He was a very successful business owner. He raised a large family and had a strong desire to give me the best education he could. He was constantly teaching me. Being a former soldier, he was very disciplined. My affinity for doing work with the military and my comfort with senior executives come from my dad. He was a very intimidating guy, but an amazing person inside.

Morris: The greatest impact on your professional development? How so?

McCormack: Discovering my talent for helping organizations with their narrative message and helping them clarify their story. That came with my experience as media trainer for the chief spokesperson for the first Iraq War.

I was working at a big agency when I was called to do that. I knew they had other options within the military and the State Department, but they discarded those and used my approach to message development and my understanding of narrative instead.

It was a defining moment. It gave me a huge sense of confidence that this was something I had a talent for and a gift for doing. If the chief spokesperson of the Iraq War was using me for professional development, it’s like, “I can play at that level.” That pushed me to start what I knew was going to be a specialized agency — not just a general marketing agency, but an agency specializing in helping companies develop clear and concise messages.

Morris: Years ago, was there a turning point (if not an epiphany) that set you on the career course you continue to follow? Please explain.

McCormack: One of my turning points was in college working as a journalist. I loved being a journalist. I wrote a weekly column when I was at Loyola, and was always thinking about what topic people would be interested in it and writing in short form.

Writing a column gave me the freedom to explain different stories and topics that I felt the student body would be interested in. I knew that narrative and writing stories that people would actually want to read was something that I wanted to do.

Morris: To what extent has your formal education been invaluable to what you have accomplished in life thus far?

McCormack: I studied English literature. It was the most impractical thing I could have done. What do you do with an English degree? You teach. You go to law school, where you starve. You don’t go into sales. You don’t go into marketing. That was not a clear road. But it turns out that, from a formative standpoint, it became very important later on.

Morris: What do you know now about the business world that you wish you knew when you went to work full-time for the first time? Why?

McCormack: I wish I knew that people in business don’t always have the answer and a lot of times they’re just figuring it out. You think that the senior people have all the answers and when you start rising up the ranks you realize that many of them — though very prepared and very talented — don’t have a lot of the answers or any answers. They’re just making it up. There’s a lot more ambiguity and confusion than you think. Had I known that, I would have realized earlier that I had a voice just like they did.

Morris: Of all the films that you have seen, which – in your opinion – best dramatizes important business principles? Please explain.

McCormack: Titanic. When you’re running a business, you’re ultimately trying to prevent a colossal mishap from happening under your leadership. The poor guy that was navigating the Titanic in the dark got a lot of warnings and discarded them because he worked on the biggest ship that couldn’t sink. Nothing could take it down.

Look what happened to Andersen Consulting. Almost instantaneously it went away. Look at what happened to Enron. No matter how big a company you’re managing, something really bad can happen that could take the whole thing down. You have to be vigilant that something doesn’t happen on your watch.

Morris: From which non-business book have you learned the most valuable lessons about business? Please explain.

McCormack: I’m not a big fan of business books. A lot of business books practice a very narrow formula of creating a thesis and finding the evidence to prove their thesis. A lot of those books are for self-promotion because the author wants to become famous or wants to get on a speaker’s tour.

That said, the one book that I really enjoyed the most was Permission Marketing by Seth Godin. He says that marketing is a series of asking people for their permission and them saying “yes” to you. It’s very differential and respectful. You say, “Can I do this?” And they say, “Yes.” Then it escalates to the next “yes.” Marketing is about asking people for their permission.

* * *

To read the complete interview, please click here.

Joe cordially invites you to check out the resources at these websites:

The Brief Lab link

Sheffield Company link

Sunday, July 6, 2014 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Don’t Lead Until You Have Earned the Right to Lead in a New Job

Conductor Michael Tilson Thomas prepares backstage (Getty Images)

Here is a brief excerpt from a leadership column posted by George Bradt at the Forbes magazine website. To check out a wealth of free materials, learn more about George and his firm, and sign up for email alerts, please click here.

About 40% of executives who change jobs or get promoted fail in the first 18 months.” As Anne Fisher points out in a recent Fortune article, this has been true for about 15 years.

A big reason for the ongoing failure rate is the inability of executives to determine the right time to pivot from converging (becoming part of the team) to evolving (initiating change) when they are onboarding, changing jobs or getting promoted – and the inability of others to help them get this timing right.

Let’s unpack that into three musts for executives:

1.  Must adopt a converge and evolve approach to onboarding

2.  Must make a conscious choice about pivoting from converging to evolving

3.  Must time that pivot right

Must Converge and Evolve

We use an ACES approach to onboarding, in which leaders make a choice based on the business context and corporate culture of the company whether to Assimilate in, Converge and Evolve, or Shock a system by making immediate changes.

Understand that while there are certainly some situations where it’s right to shock a system or simply assimilate in, in the vast majority of cases, converging and evolving is the right approach. New leaders cannot lead until they have established a working relationship with their followers.

Hence, converge and evolve. Ajay Banga did this particularly well when he went into MasterCard.

Must Choose to Pivot

Converging and evolving are different. The activities are different. The skills utilized are different. This is why a new leader can’t do both at the same time. This is why it’s so important to have a clear pivot point between asking/converging and leading/evolving.

QlikTech’s Lars Bjork used his first annual meeting to do this, and it worked so well that he pulls his whole company together every year to pivot from the learnings of the year before to the priorities of the year ahead.

This is a critical part of step 2 of The New Leader’s Playbook: Engage the Culture and Your New Colleagues in the Right Context

Be careful about how you engage with the organization’s existing business context and culture. Crossing the need for change based on the context and the cultural readiness for change can help you decide whether to Assimilate, Converge and Evolve (fast or slow), or Shock.

Please click here to read about each step in the playbook.

Please click here for YouTube videos highlighting each step.

*     *     *

To read the complete article, please click here.

The New Leader’s Playbook includes the 10 steps that executive onboarding group PrimeGenesis uses to help new leaders and their teams get done in 100-days what would normally take six to twelve months.

George Bradt is PrimeGenesis’ managing director, and co-author of The New Leader’s 100-Day Action Plan (Wiley, 3rd edition 2011) and the freemium iPad app New Leader Smart Tools. Follow him at @georgebradt or on YouTube.

To read my interview of George, please click here.

To read my review of The New Leader’s 100-Day Action Plan, please click here.



Tuesday, May 15, 2012 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Why it is imperative to hire for attitude

Mark Murphy

Here is an excerpt from an article by Dan Schawbel and featured online at the Forbes website. In it, Mark Murphy explains why a job candidate’s attitude is more important than talent, skills, and experience.  To read the complete article, please click here.

*     *     *

Mark Murphy is the author Hiring for Attitude, as well as the bestsellers Hundred Percenters and HARD Goals. The founder and CEO of Leadership IQ, a top-rated provider of cutting-edge research and leadership training, Mark has personally provided guidance to more than 100,000 leaders from virtually every industry and half the Fortune 500. His public leadership seminars, custom corporate training, and online training programs have yielded remarkable results for companies including Microsoft, IBM, GE, MasterCard, Merck, AstraZeneca, MD Anderson Cancer Center, and Johns Hopkins.

In this interview, Mark talks about why so many new hires fail so quickly, why soft skills are so important now, how the hiring landscape is changing, and more.

Why do so many fail within the first 18 months of taking a job?

When our research tracked 20,000 new hires, 46% of them failed within 18 months. But even more surprising than the failure rate, was that when new hires failed, 89% of the time it was for attitudinal reasons and only 11% of the time for a lack of skill. The attitudinal deficits that doomed these failed hires included a lack of coachability, low levels of emotional intelligence, motivation and temperament.

Are technical and soft skills less important than attitude? Why?

It’s not that technical skills aren’t important, but they’re much easier to assess (that’s why attitude, not skills, is the top predictor of a new hire’s success or failure). Virtually every job (from neurosurgeon to engineer to cashier) has tests that can assess technical proficiency. But what those tests don’t assess is attitude; whether a candidate is motivated to learn new skills, think innovatively, cope with failure, assimilate feedback and coaching, collaborate with teammates, and so forth.

Soft skills are the capabilities that attitude can enhance or undermine. For example, a newly hired executive may have the intelligence, business experience and financial acumen to fit well in a new role. But if that same executive has an authoritarian, hard-driving style, and they’re being hired into a social culture where happiness and camaraderie are paramount, that combination is unlikely to work. Additionally, many training programs have demonstrated success with increasing and improving skills—especially on the technical side. But these same programs are notoriously weak when it comes to creating attitudinal change. As Herb Kelleher, former Southwest Airlines CEO used to say, “we can change skill levels through training, but we can’t change attitude.”

How will the hiring landscape be different in 2012 and beyond?

Between the labor pool from China and India and the fact that there are so many workers sitting out there unemployed, we can find the skills we need. The lack of sharp wage increases in most job categories is further evidence of the abundant supply of skills. Technical proficiency, once a guarantee of lifetime employment, is a commodity in today’s job market. Attitude is what today’s companies are hiring for. And not just any attitude; companies want attitudes that perfectly match their unique culture. Google and Apple are both great companies, but their cultures are as different as night and day.

As the focus on hiring has shifted away from technical proficiency and onto attitude, it’s precipitated a lot of tactical changes in how job interviews are conducted. For example, the new kinds of interview questions being asked are providing real information about attitude instead of the vague or canned answers hiring managers used to get. Smarter companies are less likely to rely on the old standby questions like “tell me about yourself” and “what are your weaknesses?” Companies now have answer keys by which to accurately rate candidate’s answers. Interviewers can listen to candidates’ verb tense and other grammar choices and make accurate determinations about someone’s future performance potential.

*     *     *

Dan Schawbel, recognized as a “personal branding guru” by The New York Times, is the Managing Partner of Millennial Branding, and the author of the #1 international bestselling book, Me 2.0: 4 Steps to Building Your Future (Kaplan, October 2010). Dan is the founder of the Personal Branding Blog, the publisher of Personal Branding Magazine, the youngest columnist at Bloomberg Businessweek, and has been featured in over 450 media outlets, such as The New York Times and ELLE magazine. He’s spoken at Harvard Business School, MIT, Time Warner, IBM, and CitiGroup. Dan was named to the Inc. magazine 30 Under 30 List in 2010, and Bloomberg Businessweek cites him as someone entrepreneurs should follow on Twitter (@DanSchawbel).

Wednesday, January 25, 2012 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Robert W. Selander in “The Corner Office”

Robert W. Selander

Adam Bryant conducts interviews of senior-level executives that appear in his “Corner Office” column each week in the SundayBusiness section of The New York Times. Here are a few insights provided during an interview of Robert W. Selander, chief executive of MasterCard. He retired from the C.E.O. position on July 1, after 14 years in the job. To read the complete interview, please click here.

Bryant: Let’s say you’re interviewing me for a job reporting directly to you. How does that conversation go?

Selander: Beyond the discussion of what you’re going to do for us, I want to know two or three of your strengths and weaknesses. And then I’m going to ask you about those two or three things that you’ve acknowledged are flat sides, and how you think we should work on those, how you think we should ensure those don’t become barriers to success.

I think probably the final thing is that I’m going to try to ensure — and I’m going to ask you if you feel good in your gut about it — that there is going to be some chemistry here, that you’re not out in left field and I’m out in right field from our respective positions, that we’re in fact sort of more or less in the center of the infield together.

Bryant: What qualities are you looking for in hires?

Selander: What I’m looking for is always the same. The more senior a person, the richer I expect them to be in these attributes.

The top two are leadership and results. From a leadership standpoint, I would expect you, as a more senior executive, to be able to talk about where you’ve provided strategic leadership. It doesn’t mean you’re a brilliant strategist, but you’ve been able to get a team together to agree on who the target customer is, what products and services you’re going to offer them, and the value and competitive advantage you’re going to create.

Tell me about what you’ve done in bringing along talent. Tell me about difficult things you had to do in terms of reconfiguring a team, or whatever. Talk to me about successes and all the net talent you provided to other parts of the companies you worked in.

The second would be results. At the end of the day, I want to have people who have been able to, and will continue to be able to, deliver results. That can mean starting with a clean sheet of paper and having a very credible business three or four years later. It can mean going in and taking over something that’s already very big and making it better, whether that’s revenues, expense management, bottom-line profitability.

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To read several of Bryant’s more recent interviews of other executives, please click here.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , | Leave a comment



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