How Good Is Your “Saydar”?

Public Speaking

A key component of being a good leader is being able to speak to the team in a way that is engaging, informative, and motivating. Certainly, understanding the objectives, marshaling the resources, making good, timely decisions, and getting the job done are important aspects of leadership. But I was reminded yesterday how absolutely vital it is for leaders to be able to, often spontaneously, get up in front of the group and communicate effectively. This is far more difficult for some than others.

I’ve seen more than a few people who were technically competent, even brilliant, with deep understanding of the goals and how to accomplish them who simply fell apart when required to speak to the group. Most of them weren’t frightened by the challenge of public speaking, they were often even arrogant because they had such overwhelming command of the issues. No, they were just lousy at it.

And, as anyone skilled in public speaking will tell you, a major part of being a good speaker is knowing your audience and making sure you are talking about issues they care about, in ways they can understand. This is important not only for your preparations, in deciding what to say and how to say it, but even more importantly during the talk.

It is crucial that you pay close attention to more than just your talk, but also to your audience.

It is crucial that you pay close attention to more than just your talk, but also to your audience. You need to constantly ensure that you are engaging them, that they are understanding you, and that they are taking the journey along with you. This takes practice, and from what I can tell, it’s a skill not everyone has.

There was a continuing skit on NBC’s Saturday Night Live about a woman (played by Rachael Dratch) who had no “gaydar” — she couldn’t identify stereotypical gay men and flirted with them fruitlessly [oops, really bad pun].

Many people have a similar problem with public speaking, a problem I call having no “saydar”. They can’t say anything while also respecting their audience. And there are many flavors of this malady.

Some are so frightened that they simply want to make it through this horrible experience. They have shut out all thoughts that there might be people listening and they become the “little engine that could” of public speaking: “I think I can, I think I can…”

Others are so enraptured with the sound of their own voice that they are oblivious to all other input. You can even see them sometimes close their eyes and talk as if a singer lost deep in a ballad. “Don’t bother me while I pontificate.”

Still others ignore the obvious signs that they are losing their audience and press on regardless. It seems that nothing less than an “Animal House” level food fight would disrupt them from their mission of getting through the material. “I’m going to say this, and you’re going to listen, dang it.”

They aren’t paying attention to the target

They all share the same problem: they aren’t paying attention to the target. They just aren’t watching the audience to see if people are restless, bored, distracted, or following the material. It’s really not that hard, and if you can manage to pick out several in the audience you know you are connecting with, it can even make speaking a lot of fun. But it does take effort, and more than a little selflessness.

So, I ask you: how good is your saydar?

Driven to Work

Car in Shopping Cart

I had to buy a new car yesterday. Interesting that I said “had to”, isn’t it? Pretty much sums up the state of the car buying experience these days. Despite all the potential for fun — lots of new shiny toys, all the options in the world to choose from, flashy ads from the car companies, the ecstasy of driving home in that new car smell — car retailers work furiously to take all the joy out of the process.

I used to have a nasty new car addiction, about half of the reason I kicked the habit was the pain of dealing with the dealers. I’m just over it, and I’m now driving a seven year old car with 100,000 miles on it. The car I bought yesterday was for someone else, or I wouldn’t have been caught dead in a dealership.

Why is this the only retail experience like this?

You see, when it comes to bargains, I’m not much of a hunter, I’m more of a gatherer. I’ll do all kinds of research so I know what a good price is, but if I have to fight for the price, it’s just not worth it. This makes me a lamb to slaughter in a car dealership. And they seem to sense it.

The whole experience is just rancid, and set up to make it absolutely horrible for the customer. It begs a lot of questions:

  • Why is it considered OK that ten different people would pay ten different prices for the exact same item, based solely on their skill at this silly game?
  • What happens to people who either don’t understand the game or can’t play it at all?
  • Why is it that you don’t even negotiate with the person directly, but send your representative (the salesperson, who is on the other team) into a mysterious back room to negotiate on your behalf?
  • Why is it that you have to threaten to leave before you have a deal?
  • Why is this the only retail experience like this? You don’t buy groceries, or appliances, or even a house this way.
  • How did the process get this way? Who came up with this process that is exactly the same in every dealership?
  • Why can’t anyone really change this terrible experience? Companies have tried (Saturn, Lexus) but it never sticks, and just rots into this same fetid mess.

But even these aren’t the questions that got me to thinking yesterday. I wonder about the people who have to live in this festering boil of a work environment, and what it does to them.

I wonder about the people who have to work in this festering boil.

As I was pacing waiting for yet another deal volley over the net to be returned, I was asked by another salesman if I was “having fun, yet”. I replied: “I’d rather be at the proctologist’s. I don’t know how you can do this for a living.” He said: “It’s my third day.”

What struck me was the way he said it. It was a combination of shame, humiliation, and resignation. Although I can’t say from experience, I would imagine you’d get the same answer from a new prostitute. I immediately thought, how sad.

Now that I think about it, I’ve never met a car salesperson who didn’t aspire to something else. Well, there are those who take a perverse glee in this sick game. But they aren’t common. Most just seem to be there until they get something better, or just something else that doesn’t involve french fry oil.

The whole car buying experience is so wrong.

The whole car buying experience, and the people in it, is so wrong. Even the latest innovation of getting multiple bids on-line is just a mask for the problem, as soon as you enter the dealer’s lair, you’re meat. How come some creative company can’t fix the whole thing?

What Hath God Wrought?

Man Meditating

At the risk of venturing into a philosophical quagmire about various religions or value of faith in general, there is a trend afoot that makes me question the role of religion in the workplace. I am struck by the ascendancy of new Christian movements into various secular portions of society such as law, government, and business. I’ll leave it to others to question the rest, but I have strong views about the place of religion in business.

Before anyone begins by impugning my own faith, I probably should lay that on the table. I grew up in what could be called a mildly protestant family, neither zealots nor godless, and spent years in school where there were multiple mandatory chapel services each week. But little of that has permeated my business life, and I think that’s for the best.

Recently, however, as the world seems to be fragmenting along religious lines, it seems people like me are fewer and farther between. Somehow, in this world of Shiite vs. Sunni, Jew vs. Muslim, Protestant vs. Catholic, and on and on, it’s rarely simple enough to disagree but you apparently have to go to war over it. More and more people seem to think it’s OK to draw lines based on religion as if thousands of years of history haven’t taught us any better.

They feel the workplace is a fertile ground for spreading their gospel.

And now it seems that there is a tendency for evangelical christians, especially, to feel that the workplace is an appropriate, and even fertile, ground for spreading their gospel. There is even an organization called Christ @ Work that is trying to promote this kind of thing.

Created by Crown Financial Ministries, the organization and website of the “Fellowship of Companies in Christ” is eye-opening (check out the questionnaire, or the employee emails section). And like most similar organizations, Christ @ Work is deeply conflicted. For example, it claims to be “a non-denominational organization”, presumably as long as it’s Christian.

Various companies call themselves “faith-based”. An example you see everyday and probably haven’t thought much about is Covenant Transportation. This is a publicly-traded Tennessee-based trucking company whose trucks are seen nationwide.

I first noticed Covenant when I saw “It’s a child, not a choice” plastered on the back of a trailer. I wondered if it was simply one trucker expressing an opinion… until I saw it on every trailer. No, Covenant seems to think that expressing a controversial opinion in such a broad way is a good thing.

Regardless of where you stand on the abortion issue, their use of the company fleet to take a stand on a controversial issue has to be a bad thing. Do they have a litmus test for all employees (“are you pro-life”)? That would be illegal under EEOC rules. Do they turn down deliveries destined for Planned Parenthood? I believe, as a licensed common carrier, that too would be illegal. Does their business suffer to some degree because of this controversial stand? Do they not want a pro-choice stockholder?

Curiously enough, the only place Covenant mentions that they are “faith-based” is on the About page (oh… and the back of every truck). The rest of the site only talks about what a great place it is to work, with “great pay, and great values”. In fact they stress the individual:

We encourage individuality. We encourage you to be yourself. We encourage you to see our company in your own unique way.

Presumably as long as your way of seeing includes the pro-life sticker on the back of your truck.

I find this whole trend utterly offensive. I don’t really care what you do on Sunday, or Saturday, or during Ramadan, as long as you get along well with the other children and get your work done. I fully and completely support your right to hold dear whatever beliefs you have, and if those beliefs require you to dress, eat, or worship in a specific manner, please do so. But the minute your beliefs reflect on the organization as a whole or, worse yet, challenge those of others, that’s where I draw the line.

It is the height of hubris for management to force its beliefs on the employees.

And I get truly incensed when a secular organization chooses to take an overtly religious position. It is the height of hubris to think that the management team somehow has the right to force its beliefs on the employees. Each and every person at Covenant is assumed by the general public to be pro-life. It’s not only a bad answer to WWJD, it’s certainly not supporting the individual, and it’s just wrong.

As an interesting side note, the title of this post: the famous saying “What hath God wrought“, was an example of religion creeping into business. It is a verse from the Bible (Numbers 23:23) but was most famously used by Samuel Morse as the first message sent by Morse Code. One can argue forever, perhaps, about whether this is a better line than Alexander Graham Bell’s “Watson, come here I want you”, but there is little doubt the latter is vastly less likely to spark a debate about the existence of a supreme being — unless Watson thought the voice was from the beyond…

Blog Flux Business Blog Directory

Blog Flux Business Blog Directory

Since you’re reading this site about business, perhaps you’d be interested in reading a number of other blogs on business topics. One of the best directories of this sort is the Blog Flux Business Blogs directory.

I find it fascinating to just troll through this directory looking for people with interesting things to say. Certainly it can be a chore to separate the wheat from the chaff, but there are some very unusual things to see.

The Secret Is Out

The Secret Logo

If you caught it on Oprah, or saw the spot on NBC’s Today Show, or have been blown over by any of the other noise, you’ve heard about “The Secret”.

The most hyped book / movie / phenomenon since “The DaVinci Code”, The Secret is (as the many web sites proudly announce) a “New Era for Humankind”. Subtitled “Law of Attraction”, this book claims to be the holy grail, the solution to all life’s problems, the answer to all your dreams. Oh, puleesee.

This book/movie claims to be the holy grail.

Based in some weird science where, because “everything is energy, including you, me, and the sofa”, it really is simply just a new way of taking the power of positive thinking to the heights of hype. By the “Law of Attraction” all you have to do is will your way into a better job, a new car, a new life, and presto, you’ll get it. You see, the story goes, all that positive energy you are imparting through your positive thinking is effecting the physical world.

Created by Rhonda Byrne, The Secret is supposed to be a legacy from years gone by shared by DaVinci, Einstein, and all the great geniuses of history. They have kept this a powerful secret, but Rhonda is the one to share it with the world. From her web site:

One spring day towards the end of 2004, Rhonda Byrne discovered a secret – the secret laws and principles of the universe. Almost immediately her life was transformed, as she began to put into practice what she had learned. It seemed to Rhonda that almost no-one knew the things that she had discovered, even though the concepts could be found in almost every religion and field of human endeavour throughout history. And in that moment her greatest wish, and mission, was to share this knowledge with the world.

Perhaps the most telling part is this later paragraph of the “behind the secret” story:

And on that spring day in 2004, when a small, old book called The Science of Getting Rich was put into her hands, and Rhonda’s whole life suddenly pulled into spectacular focus, she knew exactly what her mission was to become.

No clearer statement of this needs to be made. The secret is “How to Get Rhonda Rich”. You see, Rhonda wanted lots of money, so she conjured up all of this metaphysical horse pooh, wrapped it in some fancy packaging, gathered up a bunch of “experts” (who coincidentally all wanted to get rich), and sold the heck out of it.

The secret is “How to Get Rhonda Rich”.

In fact, the most impressive part of this whole thing is not The Secret, it’s the marketing campaign. The publicity campaign is breathtaking. Multiple web sites (just Google for “the secret”), a “world-first” rollout of the DVD across the globe, a series of shows on Oprah, and on and on, make this one of the most expert publicity campaigns I’ve ever seen.

I have to give the people responsible, Rhonda and her firm called Prime Time Productions, a lot of credit. [ed: that’s a very telling company name, no?] Just getting past the phalanx of producers at the Oprah show is impressive. To leverage that into the world-wide “phenomenon” class is quite a feat. Spend a few minutes trolling their sites if you want to see this effort in action, they expose it all right there, with the press releases, the web marketing programs, and all.

The world’s thirst for “the answer” never ceases to amaze me.

I’ve written about this kind of scam before, and the world’s thirst for “the answer” never ceases to amaze me. But this one is especially virulent. I hope Rhonda and company ride this one hard, because it will be gone in a flash.

If you read much here on my site, you’ll know I’m pretty much a “power of positive thinking” kind of person. Just read the article here, or look at any of my constant preachings on the value of good visions for projects, and you’ll see that I believe strongly that you have to envision a future goal to get there. But this whole mess about scientific proof of positive energy, or that somehow Rhonda Byrne has a magic that you don’t have is simply hype.

To quote Dorothy:

If I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t look any further than my own back yard. Because if it isn’t there, I never really lost it to begin with!

There you have it once again, The Wizard of Oz lays bare all of life’s problems.

Persistence, Patience, and Profits

Toyota Logo

The New York Times Magazine had a wonderful cover story yesterday about Toyota and their path to world dominance. This is a great read for most of corporate America, a modern day tale of the tortoise and the hare.

There are many interesting parts of this wonderful article, from the discussion about the creation of the new Tundra full-sized pickup to the parade of companies that try to learn from Toyota’s methods. But to me the most interesting part is the discussion of the company culture and how their consistent drive for improvement (kaizen) is pervasive.

It seems to me that most of the truly great stories of organizational success are not ones of meteoric rise, they are the result of long slow burns that finally pay off. As in the world of Hollywood, it seems to me that most “overnight successes” really have decades long histories of pain, tribulation, and persistence.

Even in the rocket-ship ride of the .com era, where most rockets tumbled into the sea, or exploded on the pad, and yet a few hung on to achieve greatness, I can’t think of a truly successful example that didn’t have a long, painful gestation. The two most oft cited examples of Amazon and Google in fact had their rough childhoods, and painful adolescences, and neither has yet existed long enough to know whether adulthood will suit them well.

We used to refer to ourselves as the world’s best “tail-light chasers”

In my own experience at Microsoft, the best and most venerable products were ones that were definitively not successes in their first iterations. Be it Windows, Excel, Word, Internet Explorer, or SQL Server, virtually all Microsoft products of any note were born of a desire to patiently chase down the competition and do what they did better. The dogged and relentless pursuit of the competition was a key aspect of the company culture, and resulted in version 3 (or 4, or 6…) eventually overtaking the rival. This happened so much that we used to refer to ourselves as the world’s best “tail-light chasers”.

Which gets me back to Toyota. The company recognizes, like few do, that developing and nurturing a culture is a key part of making an organization hum. I talk a lot about mission statements, and how valuable they (and visions) are to organizational success. Toyota sees that almost instinctively. To wit:

Toyota’s overarching principle, Press told me, is “to enrich society through the building of cars and trucks.” This phrase should be cause for skepticism, especially coming from a company so adept at marketing and public relations. I lost count of how many times Toyota executives, during the course of my reporting, repeated it and how often I had to keep from recoiling at its hollow peculiarity. And yet, the catch phrase — to enrich and serve society — was not intended, at least originally, to function as a P.R. motto. Historically the idea has meant offering car customers reliability and mobility while investing profits in new plants, technologies and employees. It has also captured an obsessive obligation to build better cars, which reflects the Toyota belief in kaizen, or continuous improvement. Finally, the phrase carries with it the responsibility to plan for the long term — financially, technically, imaginatively. “The company thinks in years and decades,” Michael Robinet, a vice president at CSM Worldwide, a consulting firm that focuses on the global auto industry, told me. “They don’t think in months or quarters.”

I love their mission statement (“to enrich society through the building of cars and trucks.”), and will discuss that more soon, but what strikes me most is that last part: “they don’t think in months or quarters”. Neither do most successful organizations. They think in terms of what’s right in the long term, and let the current quarter and stock price fall where it may.

“They don’t think in months or quarters”. Neither do most successful organizations.

When Microsoft was most successful (under Bill Gates and Frank Gaudette’s leadership) it did too, offering essentially no “guidance” to the market. It seems they may have strayed lately from this view, when a comment from Steve Ballmer sends the stock reeling, and that’s a shame.

The point here is that Toyota and most other great companies, didn’t get there overnight but over decades, don’t plan for tomorrow but forever, and don’t try to justify their actions but rather their philosophies. This seems to be an anachronism in this go-go, always rushing, instant gratification world. Bummer.

How’s It Going Out There?

Sam
“Sam”

I was involved in a small business for a time. It wasn’t tiny, with $4+m in revenues and about 30 employees, but it was small in that it was started by a young entrepreneur and still had plenty of headroom for growth. The young leader was full of passion for the business but had a lot to learn about leading a team. It was fun (for a while) to watch and help this company and its leader grow.

The young owner, who I’ll call Sam, had never worked for anyone but himself, having literally started the business in his parents’ garage and grown it from there. As such, he hadn’t experienced what it felt like to be lead by someone he respected, to be mentored and supported, or to win as a member of a team. He also didn’t know what it feels like to have a jerk, an egotist, and/or a hypocrite for a boss.

Oh, he read a lot, and took great pride in the undergraduate business degree he had earned at the local college, so he thought he knew a lot about running a business. But having never really seen or felt good leadership put him at a real disadvantage. And reading the latest hot business book has sent more than a few inexperienced managers down a dark alley. Sam was no exception.

Having never really seen or felt good leadership put him at a real disadvantage.

One of Sam’s worst problems was the “do as I say, not as I do” syndrome. It’s not uncommon for young people thrust into leadership roles to have this problem, and it certainly is an issue for people without much management experience. And Sam had it bad.

You see, Sam was a stickler for the clock. People were supposed to be there from 8:00 to 5:00, and they had better be there. He instituted grave penalties for being as little as five minutes late without an “excused absence”. Employees were regularly singled out for punishment even though they had simply been at the mercy of Seattle’s notoriously unpredictable traffic. One employee even quit after several such episodes because he just couldn’t justify to his family tacking on 20 minutes of cushion to his 90-minute (one way) commute, just to avoid the silly penalties and threat of termination.

Now, I’m all for good and consistent work rules. And I think that letting some people get away with always coming in late is more than a little unfair, to both the organization and their co-workers. But the problem here was not with the rule, it was with Sam himself.

Sam just couldn’t be bothered with setting an example.

The issue is that Sam showed up whenever he wanted to. Rarely in before 9:00, and not infrequently wandering in at about 10:30, Sam just couldn’t be bothered with setting an example. He would swoop in long after everyone had been toiling for hours, demand to know when so-and-so showed up, and then fume over “what to do about that guy”. He never saw the irony in that, even when it was pointed out. And if he did, he was quick to remind you “who owned the place”, as if that somehow changed things.

Worse however was his end-of-day behavior. Sam was on a tight leash at home, with strict orders to be there by 5:30. Perhaps it was revenge for years of growing a business, with its late nights and weekends, or perhaps it was just the newborn at home. I don’t know the cause. But he was out of there like a shot before 5:00, even though the business was open until at least 6:00, and many stayed well into the night to catch up. Woe be the soul who stood in his way before 5:00, as wild horses couldn’t keep Sam in the office late, important company-wide projects notwithstanding.

And to take make it even worse, Sam was a micro-manager. He saw to it that everything in the company was under his thumb. So on the ride home, he would call each and every sales person on their cell phone and quiz them about the day’s activities, and to pressure them to do better. “How’s it going out there?” he would ask. And then poke and prod into every minute detail of the person’s day — until Sam rolled up into his driveway and the conversation would abruptly end.

Everyone dreaded these HIGOT calls.

Everyone dreaded these calls. Soon they got to be called the “HIGOT” (pronounced hig-gut) calls, for “how’s it going out there”. It was used as a noun, as in “did you get the higot today?” and “oh, my word, my higot was horrible!”. It became the talk of the company.

The irony of the higot was completely lost on Sam. That he would call and micro-manage people who were still hard at work while he was on his way home to his family rubbed people raw. It was made even worse by his insistence that certain things “get done before I get in there in the morning”, since everyone knew they would be in long before he was (whenever that would be). And he repeatedly went over the top by promising to stay late or show up on the weekend to work on some critical project, only to fail to show with no warning whatsoever.

The lesson I take from the higot is not that the leader has to be the first in and last out (although that doesn’t hurt), and it’s not even that you shouldn’t micro-manage (although you really shouldn’t).

The lesson is that everything you do as a leader sends a message.

The lesson is that everything you do as a leader sends a message. It’s far less about what you say than it is about what you do. If you want people to treat time as important, you should treat it as important too. If you want people to behave with integrity, you need to model that behavior. And if you want peoples’ respect, you have to earn it by what you do, not by what you say.

I’ll have a lot more on this aspect of leadership, but for the time being, simply remember it’s a great deal better to ask how it’s going when you’re standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the team.

How important is a résumé?

Resume

I get asked this question frequently. Why is my résumé so important? Why can’t I just impress the hiring person in the interview? Why can’t people see past my rough résumé, and see me for who I really am? In this internet day and age, does a silly old, outdated piece of paper truly hold that much value?

When I get this question, I tell them that building a great résumé is the single most important thing you can do when searching for a new job. Here’s why:

It takes four basic steps to get a new job: finding the right opportunity, getting considered seriously by the hirer, selling yourself, and closing the sale. I will have a great deal more to say about the first and last of these, but right now let’s consider the middle part – the “sales process” of getting the job. It helps to put yourself on the other side of the desk and consider what it takes to make you the top prospect for the opening.

Assume for a minute that you’re the one doing the hiring. You somehow get out the news of the opening (more on that here), and sit back and wait for the prospects to roll in. They invariably come in the form of a résumé, or CV (curriculum vitae) as some call it. [Side note: why is it that the two names for this document are French or Latin? Why don’t we have a good English word for this thing?] Yes, you may get some emails, and certainly you’ll get a few referrals from friends and associates. But even these will eventually end up coming down to looking over the résumé.

Why? Because we all need some kind of shorthand way to represent who we are, what we’ve done, and most importantly, why we’re a great fit for the job opening. Certainly the hiring manager could do a long parade of auditions like the American Idol circus. But even there, some filtration happens. Some lowly producer sifts through the tens of thousands of people and decides who among the throng will get their chance to be embarrassed on national television. Simon Cowell and company simply can’t be expected to see thirty or forty thousand applicants.

The same is true for most jobs. Some level of filtration happens at every step. Perhaps it’s some HR person or recruiter who takes the first cut at the pile of applicants. Perhaps the hiring manager themselves goes through them looking to separate the wheat from the chaff. Or perhaps the software that the hirer is using allows them to do some filtration.

Building a great résumé is the single most important thing you can do when searching for a new job.

As another aside, don’t kid yourself, the use of software to filter résumés isn’t just for huge corporations. It’s being used more broadly with every passing day. If you use Monster, they filter your résumé to prevent clearly unqualified people from clogging the mailboxes of hiring managers.

When I led Microsoft’s HR world we got over 30,000 résumés a month, and we had two, sometimes three, shifts of people who did little but scan them into sophisticated software to build an extensive candidate database. There is simply no way to handle these kinds of volumes without some assistance. And as this software comes down in price and is more accessible to smaller companies, you bet they are using it.

In any case, the first step in hiring someone is filtering out the high-quality prospects from among all the candidates who apply. You have to come down to a manageable list (perhaps 5-15) that you can seriously consider, and perhaps interview. There is no better way to do that than by reviewing the résumés.

This means that, to most hiring managers, you are really little more than that one piece of paper. (Yes, it needs to be one piece of paper, more on that when I get to telling you how to create a great résumé, stay tuned.)

If you really want to be one of the people who gets that precious interview, this one piece of paper better be the best it can possibly be. It is the first step in selling yourself into the job. You can’t get to the interview, where you are so sure you’ll shine, without getting out of the pile and onto the short list. The thing that drags you out of the hoard is that lowly piece of paper.

I will carefully discuss each of these steps (finding the opportunities, getting on the list, selling yourself, and closing the sale) in future articles. But right now, get to work on your résumé.

Your résumé is probably the single most important element of your job search, and as such it deserves a great deal of your time and attention.

Mulally Has At Least One Better Idea

Alan Mulally
Alan Mulally

I asked the question back in September: Does Alan Mulally (the new Ford CEO) have a better idea? Recently, he has answered the question definitively, and the answer is a resounding yes.

I complained a while back that Ford had just given up, lost creativity, and was basically flailing. In that post (here), I pointed out that Ford had had blatantly stolen the name of the Five Hundred SEL from the Mercedes Benz 500 SEL. This kind of lack of creativity just eats away at companies.

I also suggested that Alan Mulally was a super choice for the CEO. He’s a man who turned around Boeing’s Commercial Airplane Group and could do wonders for Ford. In the post here, I noted how he had hit the ground running. Well just the other day he took another great step forward.

Ford Mustang
Ford Mustang

One of the things that has just gnawed at me about Ford is how they have simply killed off brands for no apparent reason. They stopped making the Mustang for about 20 minutes earlier this century. This is the car that had the biggest start of any car in history, had a great following among the now aging and wealthy baby boomers, and yet some genius wanted to kill it. Well someone got smart, they reintroduced the current retro model, and it’s one of their strongest selling cars. Duh…

They also killed the Taurus. In case you don’t remember, the Taurus was a truly ground breaking car in the 1980s. It was the first car of the “bar of soap” aerodynamic shape trend at the time. In an era where cars were quite angular and edgy (literally), the Taurus shocked the automotive world with its wind-tunnel smooth design. The car was a huge hit, and at one point was the top selling car in the world.

Ford Taurus
Ford Taurus

But… like so many things seem to at Ford, the car atrophied. By the mid-1990s they had let the car wallow, refusing to choose to make the occasional radical redesign car lines require. Few people wanted to own a car with a decade old design. It faded into the oblivion of the rental fleets. Eventually Ford, seemingly mystified by languishing sales, killed the car just a few months ago. No one inside the company knew what to do with it, and no one outside the company appeared to notice.

Well Alan Mulally knew better, and he just announced that they are renaming the Five Hundred to be the Taurus. From what I hear, this was Alan’s idea and he pushed it through. And what a marvelous idea: capitalize on a brand name that was very strong and at the same time right the heinous wrong of the obvious plagiarism of the Five Hundred SEL name.

This appears to be just the start of Alan Mulally’s better ideas. You go Alan!

Testing Really Doesn’t Work

Lisa Nowak
Lisa “Robochick” Nowak

I have all kinds of anecdotal evidence that personality testing doesn’t work, but I’ve never had a case that I could talk about publicly, or that was so widely known that it would prove the point for me. Today NASA came to my rescue.

If you haven’t read my thoughts on the subject of testing of employees, please take a minute to read my FAQ article on it here. [Go ahead, I’ll wait.] The gist of the article, at least as far as personality testing is concerned, is that it simply doesn’t work. The tests are usually gamed, and the results are little better predictors than fortune tellers at the county fair.

Today, NASA (or at least one of their finest) proved me right. NASA has, for years, put their astronaut candidates through huge batteries of testing, including the obvious physical testing, drug testing, and numerous mental and psychological tests. The theory here is that they want to prevent a crisis in space where a nut case would make for a pretty interesting crisis miles from earth and the nearest shrink’s couch.

While there is little public acknowledgment of whether NASA actually makes assignments based on these tests, there is plenty of lore surrounding it. From Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff to Ron Howard’s movie Apollo 13, there are numerous dramatic cases where people were supposedly denied space flight because of these tests.

At the very least, you have to assume that NASA goes to all this trouble to test candidates with the expectation of learning something about the people. One could reasonably assume that they would, if the tests showed potential issues, gently steer the person toward non-mission critical positions. Well, today we have evidence that they “missed it by that much” (with a nod to Don Adams)…

Nowak's Booking Photo
Nowak’s Booking Photo

In case you missed it, today a NASA astronaut was caught up in a truly bizarre love triangle. Lisa Nowak (aka “Robochick”) was charged with attempted murder and kidnapping after she traveled the 900 miles from Houston to Orlando wearing a diaper. Apparently she was just barely stopped from going all wiggy all over the rival for her imagined lover (also an astronaut).

Clearly this is the kind of behavior one would hope personality tests could predict. And equally clearly, Nowak passed the battery of tests, as she rode the shuttle to the international space station last year aboard mission STS-121. But, here we are today, with her obviously not in a particularly sound mental state.

Finally I have the definitive case study. An organization that tests more rigorously than any private employer could ever hope to, has a clear and obvious failure of these silly tests. Can we all just admit it now that they are worthless and stop wasting time, energy, and future employee goodwill on them?