Cool Thing #30: How do you become the person everybody wants on his or her team?

Listening to a podcast discussion among three successful sceenwriters (“Scriptnotes,” at, a member of the audience asked each one “what
sets you apart and what “makes studio execs, directors and actors want to work with you.”

Here’s what Lawrence Kasdan (writer or co-writer of “The Force Awakens,” “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” “Body Heat,” “The Big Chill” and many others) had to

If you want to be appealing, if you want to be the person that people want to go to, it helps if you actually see people and hear people.

That’s so rare in the world — you know, where a person feels seen and heard and understood. It’s kind of magical when it happens and people are drawn back
to that all the time.

Isn’t that remarkable? Most people go into a meeting to either (a) say as little as possible and get the thing over with, or (b) work at being impressive.
But what Kasdan is saying is parallel to what you hear about being a great salesperson: listen.

But to get to “magical” you have to go further: Don’t just listen; hear and see.


If you’re like me, you’ll make a remark and getting no reaction, say, “Did you hear me?” It sometimes happens that the person can repeat word-for-word what
you just said, but you remain frustrated, knowing that person got the words but not the message.

When you truly hear and see, you are doing more than taking in the words, you are in the midst of a full-body, heart-and-soul communication at the
intellectual and emotional levels. Implied in that is caring and a commitment to do something about it – to accept the suggestion or explain a
disagreement. That’s what makes “see and hear” rare and magical.

Who doesn’t want to work for such a person?
In your next meeting, give it a try. Work to figure out the motivations of everyone present. Search for feelings behind the verbiage, maybe even asking,
“How do you feel about that?” or “What are you thinking but not saying?” See if there isn’t some magic there. Let me know.

Cool Thing #29: How Do You Encourage the Right Kind of Risk Taking?

Recently I attended a seminar put on by Charles Schwab and the Chicago Board Options Exchange. The key presenter, Russell Rhoads of the CBOE, mentioned that he’d recently made a prediction of how one market would move. Nope: he got it wrong. It happens.

But what Russell said next caught my attention: “I put myself on the Wall of Shame.”

He then explained:

“What you do is put a photo of yourself standing next to a white board that says,


And then you tweet out the photo.”

Here’s a copy of the photo, and here’s the important lesson: HE RELATED THIS STORY MERRILY, EVEN PROUDLY.

SPX Shame


Mistakes. The great Dale Carnegie kept a file called FTD for Fool Things I Have Done. He considered writing down his mistakes a key to learning from them.

And when I interviewed uber-executive A.G. Lafley, the guy who turned around a lagging P&G, he came alive when I asked him about the list of failed projects that he’d worked on. He bragged about those mistakes.

I suppose there are people who are thinking, “But you’re just celebrating being wrong.” Those people are the ones who need the real moral of the story: If you can’t admit mistakes, all you can learn from your failures is to quit trying.

I’ve never met a great boss who didn’t delight in recalling all the things he or she tried that did not work.

Further, great bosses understand that most employees have learned to avoid the risk of being wrong and thus grows a culture of justifying and rationalizing: Avoiding being wrong is the default culture, which is to say…

Clinging fiercely to the status quo is the default culture,
and it will be
unless you prove it’s okay to take a chance.

Sending out a photo with “I WAS WRONG!” is a perfect place to start.

One change I’d suggest when dealing with experiments at doing something better:

It’s not a Wall of Shame;
no, experiments go on
The Wall of Honor
at the
Museum of Nice Tries.

Cool Thing #28: How Can You Upgrade Your Team with Every Hire?

I recently got to interview Jim Koch, the founder of The Boston Beer Company (the brewer of Sam Adams Beer), about his new book. Here’s his provocative
thinking on hiring…

Koch’s first principle of hiring:


Say you’re hiring a new salesperson. You start with a mental picture of your average salesperson. And then you ask yourself if your candidates have a strong shot at being better than that average employee.

To help him find great people, Boston Brewing’s twelfth hire was a recruiter. Koch gave her a mission: Hire just six great people a year. That’s a full-time person to find one great employee every two months. Do that, Koch said, and “you’ll be doing a wonderful job.”

Koch’s second principle:


If you really, really, practice principle #1, it can take a long time to spot a potential star. Koch has schooled himself to resist the pressure to just get someone in the job. Their record for slow hiring is the 18 months it once took to replace their Arizona rep.

Koch’s third principle:


Of the first sixty salespeople hired by Sam Adams brewing, only five had previous sales experience. Koch explained, “It’s hard to raise the average if you are hiring people already out there. We wanted better than the standard beer salesman.”


Compare GREAT bosses to GOOD bosses and where do you see differences?

After two decades of study, I can tell you:




You can’t just post a job and hope a star walks in the door for an interview. Sure, there are precedents, but odds are you’ll be looking at the people who
are left-over after the best bosses have spotted and recruited star talent.


1. Jim Koch’s founding partner, Rhonda Kallman, was an admin at his old employer, the Boston Consulting Group.

2. In their company’s early days, Kallman had rushed over to Kinko’s to get copies of a presentation for the next morning. She arrived at 9:03 PM and discovered that the place had closed at nine. But an employee spotted her and reopened and helped her get the presentation finished. She gave him her card and said, “If you ever want to be a beer salesman, give me a call.” He called and got the job.


Jim has a new book, a terrific one. I said this about it in the career advice column I co-author:
I put Jim Koch’s Quench Your Own Thirst up there with the great CEO books like Sam Walton’s “Made in America” and Howard Schultz’s “Pour Your Heart
Into It.”

Cool Thing #27: How Do You Turn Around a Struggling Department Manager (and get a 300% increase in sales)?

A few years back, Jim Potts told me one of my all-time favorite business stories, one about socks. Today I delighted that Jim has a new story for us, an
even better one, this time about shoes.

lc_logoBy Jim Potts,
Lewis & Clark Outfitters
(sporting goods retailers in Arkansas)…

We had a young manager who was struggling. His shoe department had the lowest sales per hour in the company, which is our key measure of performance.

I met with him in mid-March and told him that on March 31st he’d be turning his resignation. I also told him we’d arranged for him to apply for
a position in our company – the very position he’d be vacating. He said, “You have my attention.”

I added that while we were going to contact his previous employer for a recommendation, we were only interested in his work for the last couple of weeks.
So, what he did for the last two weeks of March was going to be very critical to his being hired for the job.

Jim Potts

Then, what we had him and his team do in the last couple of weeks was not discuss sales in dollars but rather focus on just those things that they did that lead to sales.

We had them put together a chart that showed execution of the opportunities they had. Each person who came into the shoe department was considered an
opportunity. We asked them to keep track of how often they were able to get a person to try on shoes, what we consider a “quality demonstration.” (We were
featuring a new line of running shoes, by Hoka.) And also to keep track of which demonstrations led to a sale.

What we wanted was to help them take advantage of every opportunity by getting to a quality demonstation. Now there is a lot that goes into a quality
demonstration and has to do with connecting the potential customer’s needs to the right product. The team’s goal was to improve each day and we supported
that with training on each aspect of their job.

The result? Sales of that shoe have more than tripled since putting the process in place.


“Sometimes we get so focused on the outcome that we don’t pay enough attention to the process,” Jim concluded, adding, “I guess when it comes down to it, I
am a “process-focused” individual.


What Jim understood is that no manager wants to fail or tries to fail. The struggling manager simply doesn’t know how to succeed. Here’s an important
question to ask about any failing employee:



If you know that, then the current person, properly motivated, can usually do likewise and become a star. In our example for today, Jim blamed the process,
not the person (and used the resignation/reapply ploy to get his attention). Then, boss and employee worked together on each step in the sales process.

Working on each step doesn’t need to be a fancy metrics or elaborate training – Jim had a chart where each employee put an X when they had a customer try
on the new line of shoes, then circled that X if the customer made the purchase. I can picture the employees sharing stories of their successes and
figuring out together what approaches work best.

Having studied both great bosses and great teachers, here’s my conclusion:

Think of themselves as

Think of themselves as

Think of themselves as

Great bosses are great teachers; that is to say, they are coaching employees to make a game of learning.

Cool Thing #26: How do you charge double and be thanked for it?

What you say after “THAT PRICE SEEMS A BIT HIGH” makes all the difference.

A few years back I needed to get the exterior of my house painted. I’d gotten an estimate for the work – I don’t recall the amount, but
let’s say it was $4K. Then I got a second bid. This one came in nearly double. I said to the man who’d handed me the estimate what anyone in my
situation would say, “That price seems a bit high.”

The painter shrugged and said,

I’ll be here with a crew of four true professionals. My least experienced painter has six years. If you hire something cheaper, they’ll
probably pick up some day labor guys, drop ’em off and maybe check in on them occasionally.

Then he gave another shrug and said this…


Oh, how I loved that. What did I say in reply?

I gave a shrug of my own and said, “When can you start?”


Business owners and salespeople are always telling me how frustrating it is that potential customers ignore all their swell benefits and go with the lowest


That means you have to be brilliant at proving your value, and doing so instantly. If it takes a video and a Powerpoint and two brochures, forget it. If
you can do it in 50 words or fewer, and throw in a double shrug along the way, then it’s “When can you start?

Cool Thing #25: How to Virtually Eliminate Sick Days

(Your opinion sought: Is this idea bizarre or brilliant or BOTH?)

I recently spoke on leadership to a group of franchisees in the restoration business (experts sent in by insurance companies after a fire or flood). That’s where I met Craig Campbell, the witty and charming leader of an restoration operation in Dallas. I got him reminiscing about his management and he told me a story from his prior job, one where he had 40 employees. That story startled me and I still can’t decide if it’s this is a cool idea or not. What do you

(Your opinion sought: Is this idea bizarre or brilliant or BOTH?)

I recently spoke on leadership to a group of franchisees in the restoration business (experts sent in by insurance companies after a fire or flood). That’s where I met Craig Campbell, the witty and charming leader of an restoration operation in Dallas. I got him reminiscing about his management and he told me a story from his prior job, one where he had 40 employees. That story startled me and I still can’t decide if it’s this is a cool idea or not. What do you

Craig Campbell has never been fond of days off. He once went ten years without a vacation, and then, when he finally went off on a church trip, his first day out his manager left and took two key employees. So it makes sense that he’s reluctant to leave town. But sick days?

He says, “I’m not big on calling in sick. I know that in my own case, if I make the effort to shower and get dressed and make it into the office, I usually feel better. Just making the effort to come in usually makes the difference.” And Craig felt that was true for him should be true for his

With that in mind, Craig came up with the
Perfect Attendance Bonus.

Here’s how it worked: If you had perfect attendance for six months, you got a $100 bonus.

Do it again, another six months with perfect attendance, the bonus increased to $200.

Do three six-month periods in a row and the bonus increased to $300.

And so on.

However, any day you missed, the bonus went back to zero and you started over.

Craig said, “I had one employee who’d gone so long without missing a day that her bonus was over $2000 for the year.”

BUT, here’s the rub: Do you really want people staggering in sick, bringing the flu or whatever to the entire team? Of course not. Here’s Craig’s solution: “If people came in and were really sick, I’d send them home. That didn’t count against their perfect attendance. If they’d make the effort to come in, that was enough.” The upshot was that sick days virtually disappeared.

So what do you think?

My first reaction was that it was cruel to drag the sick out of bed and into the workplace, but then again, Craig’s system stopped rewarding people for
being sick (or pretending to) and instead rewarded those who were healthy and stalwart. Over time, I can see the Perfect Attendance Bonus creating a
spartan culture of putting work first.




Cool Thing #24: Choose the Choosy

or Getting great employees is not HIRING or RECRUITING – it’s WOOing

When I did the research that became the book The Gifted Boss, my biggest surprise was how much effort the best bosses devoted to hiring great employees. The most extreme case was a young entrepreneur who courted a prospective hire for 10 years.

Today we have a different example of what it takes to hire a great employee. This comes from a company I’ve worked with for several years, Scientific Technologies Corporation, a leader in health information run by the visionary Mike Popovich. Every week Mike sends out a letter to all employees called “Beyond the Bar,” where clients and colleagues brag about one another. (Consider that a bonus One Cool Thing.)

Here’s what Mike had to say about one of his HR folks, Diane Stava…

Here’s the deal. We found a Business Analyst far and away tops of all we interviewed. He accepted and then along came Amazon with a job offer.
Who doesn’t go to Amazon, Google or Apple these days? But then

Diane sent this note to the young IT candidate:
——-Per my voice mail this morning, we are very much hoping that you will reconsider your decision to rescind your acceptance of our offer. We believe that you will find an enormous opportunity in joining STC that just doesn’t exist elsewhere!

In addition to working for a health informatics leader and getting into the healthcare domain in which you are interested, we know that it is important to you to work for a company that is making a difference in the lives of others. You would absolutely feel that here, and would have that sense of personal accomplishment and satisfaction right off the bat.

Your work with us will make a direct impact in keeping our population healthy and saving lives. You will have the opportunity to not only make key contributions, but also be entrusted with the freedom that will enable you to provide guidance and set the direction for solutions that will impact the lives of hundreds of thousands of people every day.”

Take a guess where he is going to work?

What can we learn?

Never forget that the best employees have plenty of choices. (If they don’t, you don’t want ‘em.) Even if you can’t argue that your team is saving lives, you can argue that working for you will offer more chances to learn or grow, more freedom, more influence, more meaning.

Notice what Diane did in our example: She made an offer and lost. Then, she didn’t just make another offer; she made the case. That’s our lesson:



Cool Thing #23: What Stands Between You and Success?

KENNETH COLE: (From a CNBC interview)

What I do, metaphorically, is

I wake up in the morning and look in my closet and say


Then I go into work and make it.

Later, he added,

Fill the void.
Be the void.

“Be the void.” Don’t you love that? Very Zen. And, like much of Zen wisdom, both deep and practical.

Stare into the void with me and these geniuses:

Hearing “be the void” from a fashion guy like Kenneth Cole made me think of Alfred Taubman, the legendary mall developer who died last year, and who called
his autobiography Threshold Resistance. In retailing, that’s figuring out what keeps a potential customer from stepping into a store.

Stanley Marcus began leaving open the doors to his store, eliminating one barrier to a customer stepping inside.

Jeff Bezos insisted that his programmers make shopping at easier and easier until it was simply “Buy Now with 1-Click” – a process so
revolutionary it received a patent.

Steve Jobs was obsessed with the time it took for Apple computers to boot up, and with making functions and processes so elegant that they were obvious to
the user. (I think we could say that Steve Jobs killed the instruction manual.)

John Muir, founder of the Sierra Club and the Audubon Society, wanted to create parks without signs – good design makes signs irrelevant.

These are not the things that Kenneth Cole searches for in his “void” – he’s looking for what else the customer might need or want – but I want to suggest
taking away everything that gets between you and success, which is to say, between you and your customer.

Here’s my suggestion:

Create a detailed list of everything a person must do to become a customer of yours and a second list of what he or she must do to use your product or
service. Then work your void…

One less door to open.

One less click.

One less minute.

One less instruction.

One less manual.

One less sign.

Don’t just be the void. Work the void.

Cool Thing #22: Creating a Winnable Game

Roy Vallee was frustrated. Despite a string of 45 acquisitions, and despite dramatic growth in revenue and profits, Avnet’s stock price was flat. Why? Why didn’t their stock price reflect the good work he and his people were doing to grow the business?

Roy eventually understood that he had to go beyond his focus on revenues and profits—he had to figure out what else drove stock prices. He worked until he could summarize a new approach in one measure: ROCE or Return on Capital Employed.

Roy and his team knew that they had to create a new focus in such a way as to get the 14,000 Avnet employees to share it. He wanted everyone to pay attention to where assets were getting tied-up or tied-down, such as in inventory or in waiting for payments. He wanted everyone to understand that a dollar wasn’t a dollar – that is, a dollar of profit from a one-dollar investment was a lot different than a dollar profit on a two dollar investment.

So he set out to make the new standard into a winnable game. Roy and his team built a change plan that included…

(a) education and collaboration on how to balance revenue and profit growth with the need to manage working capital,

(b) tools to enable quick calculation of returns on capital on sales opportunities, and

(c) compensation changes that would reward new behaviors and achievement of the new metrics.

Said another way:

(a) Teach everyone the rules of the new game

(b) Make it easy to figure out how to win that game

(c) Put up a big scoreboard

The combination of these changes resulted in a “driving value culture” that became the foundation of Avnet’s success and Roy Vallee’s legacy.


Here’s how Charlie Tombazian sums up the experience…

All of this began with the notion that Avnet’s leaders did not feel like they were winning because they were not driving the stock price higher. People must be able to imagine success and feel successful— both critical precursors of achieving success. So architect a winnable game. Engage people to collaboratively envision success and develop strategies to win. Then recognize and reward their victories consistently over time. Success is certain to follow!!

Cool Thing #21: Never Hire Grunts, Rookies or Entry-Level Employees

Justin Knight is President and CEO of Apple Hospitality REIT, which recently became publicly traded as APLE. The company owns nearly 200 Marriott and Hilton hotels, but it has just 50 or so headquarters employees.

Justin says of those employees, ‘Everyone of them we hired was overskilled – we have no grunts or assistants.’

Of the management structure, he says, ‘Our organization is so flat that we spend 95% of our time running the business and almost no time in managing employees.’ Justin adds, ‘We have eliminated from the definition of advancement and success the number of people working for you.’

Here’s where it gets even more intriguing:

‘We have NO ENTRY-LEVEL JOBS. We have no transients – people who don’t know what they want. Everyone we hire has 3-4 years of experience, or more.’

(It’s not hotel experience, by the way – all of the employees come from outside the hotel industry. They learn the hospitality business from inside, as everyone who interacts with hotel managers is required, as part of training, to go out and work the front desk, housekeeping, laundry and food service at one of the company’s hotels.)

Justin learned this philosophy from a memorable hire back when the headquarters staff was 15. In keeping with the ‘flat’ philosophy, they had no receptionist – the phone rang on every desk. So Justin had a headhunter seek out someone to answer the phones. They got someone so talented that she ended up becoming head of HR and Office Manager. When asked how they got someone so skilled to be a receptionist, Justin said, ‘Nobody told her it was a receptionist position, and because we paid more than a typical receptionist, she never asked.’


I hear from plenty of veteran executives who are frustrated with employees who are on their first job or two, saying that far too many rookies have expectations they can’t meet, or who have a work ethic that doesn’t match their culture.

Given that it can take years for young employees to sort out what really want, why not just skip over that process and let it happen somewhere else?

What we can learn from Justin’s philosophy is that you can you opt out of the crapshoot of rookie employees. You can hire known qualities and talents by adopting one simple rule: No entry-level jobs.