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Woman thinking in the shower

How To Be More Innovative? – take a shower | Gary Dumais, Psy.D., SPHR

Have you ever heard someone say, “My best ideas come to me in the shower”, or experienced something similar yourself?

In my work as an Executive Coach, managers and business leaders often ask me how they can become more innovative, as their success depends on thinking creatively and generating “out-of-the-box” ideas.

So, I usually begin by reminding them that innovative thinking requires thinking, and thinking requires time, and time to think is something people no longer have in modern society…except, perhaps, for a few minutes in the shower.

For example, consider some of the most prolific inventors throughout history, such as Leonardo Da Vinci, Thomas Edison, and Nicola Tesla.  They lived in eras free from time-wasting distractions such as television, or time-sucking responsibilities like sixty-hour workweeks and responding to emails on nights and weekends.  In other words, they had time to wonder, ponder, tinker, experiment, and build upon their ideas.  -And that’s exactly what they did.

Now consider the everyday lives of most people today.  Especially when you add-in family obligations on top of work responsibilities, there isn’t even enough time left for sleep, let alone thinking and innovating.

And what do we do when we do get a moment to ourselves?  Scroll endlessly through social media?  Binge watch Netflix?  Whatever it is, it isn’t letting our minds wander freely while observing and contemplating our thoughts…until, perhaps, we take a shower.

Although with the advent of waterproof smart phones, it’s possible those precious few minutes to think in the shower will disappear as well.  Heck, cell phone use is already commonplace in the bathroom!

With all that in mind, the first step to becoming more innovative is to make time to think, free from interruption and distraction.  -Far easier said than done, given our busy lives.

Yet, in many ways, carving out time to think (and I mean literally scheduling an hour on your calendar to do nothing but stare out the window) is just as important as taking an hour to respond to emails, especially if people look to you to generate innovative ideas or new perspectives.

So, I invite you to give it a try after reading this article, even if only for a few minutes.  Turn off all distractions (like your cell phone and computer), relax comfortably in uninterrupted silence, let your thoughts wander freely, and simply observe them as they unfold…it’ll facilitate innovative thinking, and you may be surprised about what comes to mind!

Customer annoyed by complacency

Complacency Kills Customers | Gary Dumais | Select Human Resources

Remember your first day on that job you worked so hard to get?  Maybe you felt lucky to have the opportunity, or that all your hard work was finally paying off.  Either way, you probably aimed to shine by doing your best and going the extra mile to impress your boss and internal customers (i.e., coworkers).  A similar thing happens with business owners, consultants, attorneys, etc; when they first open their doors for business, they usually go out of their way to win-over and delight customers with exceptional quality, thoroughness, responsiveness, and so on.

Then time passes…and you get accustomed to working that “new” job that isn’t so new anymore.  You forget about how you had to contend with other candidates for the position, how diligently you prepared for the interview, and how you prayed for that “one shot” that would lead to your “big break”.  Similarly, you stop aiming to beat deadlines.  Rather, you feel making deadlines just-in-time is good enough, and lower your efforts accordingly.  The same thing can happen with business owners, consultants, etc.  At first, they may even question if they can be successful in the marketplace.  Then, as a result of their efforts (and perhaps a little luck) they start to gain customers.  Before long, they have more requests than they can easily deal with, profits increase significantly…

…and that’s when complacency sets in.  For example, business owners, consultants, etc., stop looking for opportunities to improve products or services.  As demand increases, they may even raise prices without offering anything more in return.  Worse, they may be less responsive to customer requests or complaints, especially from “smaller” clients with whom they do less business.

As a business-to-business consumer (I own a consulting firm in Philadelphia), I’ve personally experienced the impact of complacency from a few vendors (e.g., IT consultants, marketing professionals, accountants, etc.).  In some instances, it’s been enough for me to cease doing business with them and venture over to their competitors.  Here’s a few examples of the most prominent forms of complacency:

Broken promises – Once, when looking for a vendor to help my business with IT needs, I came across a firm that took the initiative to start resolving my issue before I even agreed to contract with them!  I was impressed, and they won my business.  However, over time, that initiative eroded into empty promises such as “I’ll get that to you by the end of the day”, which routinely required me to follow-up days later to ask, “What happened to that thing you said you’d do”?  Make no mistake, customers take note of what you promise, and you can be sure they notice even more when you fail to meet your promise.  If a client or internal customer has to chase after you to rectify a missed commitment, you have succumbed to complacency.

Excuses – Broken promises are usually accompanied by excuses.  For example, an advertising professional I used to do business with would often cite personal reasons for delays.  “I’m moving this week”, “It was my birthday this week”, etc.  It was as if the vendor forgot that I had paid for his service and the promises he made were business commitments (rather than favors).  If you find yourself making excuses with clients or internal customers, complacency has probably set in.

Low priority – I recently had a vendor cancel a call with me about thirty minutes beforehand, stating, “I’m working on a big deal right now, let’s talk this evening or tomorrow”.  By doing that, the vendor inadvertently conveyed that I was not a big deal.  Similarly, I often did not receive responses from the vendor until nights and weekends, which made me feel like a side-project.  Unfortunately, I see this type of complacency all too often with businesses who have a wide range of client account sizes (e.g., law firms that work with individuals as well as large corporations).  If you’re not treating each customer as if they were your most important client, then complacency is probably an issue.

Interrupting – Talking over a customer is one of the best ways to convey that you do not care about their needs or perspectives.  I once did a real-time experiment by continuing to talk when a vendor interrupted me.  Can you guess what happened?  The vendor kept talking over me; we were literally speaking at the same time!  To push the experiment further, I disconnected the call and waited for the vendor to call back.  When he did moments later, he simply stated, “I don’t know what happened there”, and then continued with his one-sided discourse!  It was apparent that, in his mind, whatever I had to say was not important.  If you find yourself interrupting your clients or internal customers, you may have become complacent.

Neglect – Business relationships with clients and internal customers require ongoing maintenance; if you don’t give them attention periodically, the relationship usually withers away.  For example, a contract my business had with a vendor was nearing the end of its term.  As the end of the contract drew near, and eventually passed, I was surprised to see that the vendor made no mention of it while we still conducted business.  I let an additional week pass to see what would happen…and still nothing.  Finally, when I raised the issue, the vendor responded with a gamut of complacency (excuses, low priority, interrupting, etc.).  Then, to top it all off with a broken promise, the vendor stated they would get the contract renewal over to me the next day, but it arrived late.  Discussions about renewing the contract should have been initiated by the vendor well before it was due to end.  If you find you are no longer taking actions to maintain relationships with clients, you have likely become complacent.

In summary, the saying that the best employees are the ones who “apply” for their job every day rings true.  Likewise, if you’re a business owner, consultant, etc., you should be working to win-over your clients every day.  Otherwise, complacency creeps in and customers are lost.

How to Handle a Behavioral Interview | Gary Dumais | Select Human Resources

Gary Dumais' employees at Select Human Resources interviewing

I’ve interviewed thousands of job candidates as a Business Psychologist and Human Resource professional.  In this article, I’m going to share some advice about how to prepare for and respond to behavioral job interview questions.

What is a Behavioral Interview?

Behaviorally based interviewing is also known as situation based interviewing or the “STAR” method (Situation, Task, Activity, Result).  Basically, it means the interviewer will ask you to describe examples of things you’ve done on the job, and most of the interview questions will begin with something like, “Tell me about a time when you…”.  The interviewer then listens and probes for details about the who, what, when, where, how, etc. in the examples you provide.

Asking what a person did do in certain job situations is different from traditional interviewing methods that ask people what they would do.  The behavioral method is used because what a person did do tends to be more predictive of what they will do in the future, in comparison to what they say they would do.  For example, if a candidate was asked what he would do if he had a conflict with a colleague, he might say that he would confront his coworker to discuss the matter.  However, when asked to describe what he did do during a recent time he had a conflict with a colleague, the same candidate might share an example in which he ignored the conflict in hopes it would fade with time.

How to Prepare for a Behavioral Interview

Behavioral interview questions are usually designed to match the competencies needed for success in a role (e.g., problem-solving skills, project management skills, relationship building skills, etc.).  For instance, if a job requires a person to think strategically, an interviewer might ask them to describe a recent time when they had to define a business strategy.

With that in mind, it’s useful to identify what competencies a job requires so you can prepare accordingly for related interview questions:

  • Sometimes formal job descriptions will list the competencies required for a position. If not, Human Resources or the hiring manager for the role will likely share the competencies if asked.  It’s certainly OK to ask about the competencies required for success in a role when applying for a position.
  • You may also be able to discern the required competencies by closely reviewing the job description and “reading between the lines”, so to speak.  In my experience, most job competencies fall into three broad categories: Thinking (e.g., problem-solving, innovating, etc.), Results (e.g., accountability, time management, etc.), and People (e.g., networking, influencing, etc.).  Those categories can be used as a guide for deciphering the competencies underpinning a job description.  For example, while reading the job description, you could ask yourself, “What thinking-related competencies seem needed for this role?”, “What results-related competencies seem needed for this role?”, and so on.

Once you’ve identified the competencies required for a job, the next step is to recall instances from your work experience when you evidenced those competencies:

  • Recall examples that occurred within the last year or less (the more recent, the better). They’ll be easier to remember and share details about.  Further, behavioral interviewers usually require examples to be relatively recent.
  • Avoid getting caught-up in trying to identify the biggest, best, or most elaborate example you can think of. I’ve interviewed many people who had difficulty giving examples because they didn’t feel the example was sophisticated or spectacular enough to share.  Behavioral interviewers tend to focus more on the how than the what in the examples you provide.  For instance, you probably take a similar approach to delegating work whether a project is large or small, but it’d be easier to convey the details of the smaller project when the interviewer asks.
  • Don’t let an undesired outcome keep you from sharing what would otherwise be a good example. I see this often, for example, when asking people to describe a time when they had to influence upward (e.g., gain buy-in from senior leadership, change their boss’s opinion, etc.).  They hesitate to share an example because they were unsuccessful at influencing upward.  However, once they share the example it’s clear (to me as a behavioral interviewer) that their approach to influencing was sound, despite senior leadership choosing not to buy-in.

How to Respond to Behavioral Interview Questions

Now that you’ve identified the competencies required for a job and some examples from your work experience that illustrate those skills, the final step is to refine how you’ll communicate those examples:

  • Answer the question the interviewer asks. Seems intuitive, but I still come across candidates who give examples they believe will make them look good, rather than examples that fit the questions asked.  The behavioral interview method requires clear examples from candidates that match specific competency areas, and so it’s not the time to respond like a politician.  For instance, if the interviewer asks you for an example of how you dealt with a customer complaint, you won’t be able to get by with an example of how you exceeded your sales goals for the year.  Similarly, if you find yourself falling back into the traditional interview habit of responding to questions with guesses about what you would do in a hypothetical scenario, be prepared to be asked again about what you did do in an actual situation.
  • Center your responses on describing your actions and involvement in the examples you provide. Remember, in most instances, the interviewer is seeking to understand what you did so they can draw conclusions about your skills, abilities, and fit for a job.  For instances when you were part of a team, you can start your example with, “As part of a team I… (and then talk specifically about what you did or the role you played on the team)”.
  • Be concise. Interview time is limited, and interviewers typically have several competency areas to cover.  Communicating only the essentials of each example (e.g., the who, what, where, when, and how) will help ensure you don’t run short on time.  Keep in mind that interviewers can ask you for more detail if they need it, but in contrast, it’s difficult to make up for time lost on longwinded examples.  Moreover, interviewers are likely to be gauging how well you communicate, as many jobs require strong verbal communication skills.
  • Practice to ensure examples are fresh in your mind, but do not over-rehearse or read from your notes during an interview. Behaviorally based interviews are not like school exams that can be “passed” by giving certain “right” answers.  As alluded to previously, interviewers will likely be evaluating how you communicate, think on your feet, handle pressure, etc., while you are responding.  Having a few notes (such as bullet points to jog your memory) is usually fine, but coming across as scripted, robotic, or rigid during an interview is not.
  • Finally, don’t be shy about taking time to think before responding (especially if you’re asked a question you weren’t expecting). It’s much better to take a few moments to recall an example that is fitting and straightforward than it is to respond quickly with an example that’s mismatched or convoluted.

I sincerely hope you found this article to be helpful.  Please visit Select Human Resources or my website at garydumais.com for more useful articles and contact information.  You can also connect with me via LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/garydumais/

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How to Give Negative Feedback | Gary Dumais | Select Human Resources

Gary Dumais giving feedback

What’s the most important thing to keep in mind when giving negative feedback?  Well, to fully experience and understand the tip I’m about to share with you, I invite you to think about a time when somebody really helped you out.  Maybe recall an instance when your car broke down and a friend picked you up, or a team member helped you meet a deadline, or someone gave you support during a difficult time.  Now think back to how you felt when that person helped you out.  Feelings of gratitude, appreciation, and even relief probably come to mind.

Feedback can have a similar impact, even if the feedback is “negative”.  Just like how you’d feel if a friend quietly let you know before attending a big meeting that you had a piece of salad stuck in your teeth; you might be slightly embarrassed initially, but overall, you’d be very thankful for the helpful feedback.

And that is the most important thing to keep in mind when giving negative feedback.  Our thoughts have a strong influence on how we behave.  For example, if you’re thinking about the happiest moment in your life, people will likely notice a smile on your face and a spring in your step.  Likewise, if you’re thinking about helping someone with feedback, your tone, choice of words, and mannerisms will reflect that, and the person you’re speaking with is more likely to be open to what you have to say.

It may sound simple, but it’s much easier said than done.  In my experience as an executive coach, I’ve noticed that many managers have difficulty giving negative feedback because they get caught-up in thinking about how others will become upset, disappointed, or even volatile.  Those thoughts are then unconsciously transmitted through the managers’ tone, mannerisms, and so on, and the people receiving the feedback sense it and become defensive.

With all that in mind, before giving negative feedback, I recommend you take a moment to get in the right frame of mind by recalling an instance when someone truly helped you, and remembering how good that felt.  Then, think through how your feedback will be helpful to the person you’re delivering it to (e.g., make them more effective, help them to advance, etc.) so you can be sure to explain and emphasize those points (e.g., by using the “What’s In It For You” principle).

Finally, if you ever find it difficult to identify how a piece of feedback would be helpful to a person, that’s a clear indication to reexamine if the feedback really has merit or is truly worthwhile to share.

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How to Influence and Persuade People: The WIIFY Principle

Gary Dumais gaining agreement

What’s the best way to convince others and gain their buy-in?  Like many, you might believe that providing facts and rationale are the best way to win people over to your point of view.  But even a quick look at recent politics shows that facts and reason do not necessarily sway people.  I’m sure you can also recall instances when you were “right” or had the best solution, but just couldn’t get people to support your idea.  Similarly, as a Business Psychologist, I have seen many meetings where exceptionally smart people just couldn’t get others to agree with them, despite having the “right answer”.

Why do “convincing” facts not convince people?  Well, put simply, as human beings we’re often motivated most by seeing the “what’s in it for me” or how things can benefit us.  For example, listing only facts and figures in a PowerPoint about how an idea is good for your department or the company will likely put your audience to sleep (no matter how “right” you are).  However, your audience will give you their undivided attention the instant you begin to explain how your idea will help them, solve their problems, and so on.  In other words, people are more likely to buy-into your ideas when you leverage the “What’s In It For You” (WIIFY) principle.

So, what steps can you take to utilize the WIIFY principle?  I suggest first making a list of the people you routinely have to influence (e.g., your boss, colleagues, customers).  Then, define in a few words what matters most to each of them (e.g., being seen as an expert, being well-liked, advancing in their career, etc.).  Making the list will cause you to deeply consider who you need to influence and what matters most to them (likely in greater depth then you have before).  While it may sound simple initially, many find making the list to be very challenging. You may even discover that you’re not sure what matters most to certain people, which will hopefully encourage you to get to know them better.  Finally, briefly review the list before meetings as a reminder to emphasize the “what’s in it for you” to win people over.

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The Difference Between Recruiters and Business Psychologists

Gary Duamis Recruiters and Business Psychologists

When I tell people I’m a Business Psychologist that helps companies choose the right people for key roles, many respond with, “Oh, you’re a Recruiter”.  Recruiters can play an important part in the hiring process, but what Business Psychologist do is very different.

To make a simple comparison, Recruiters are like Real Estate Agents, and Business Psychologists are like Home Inspectors:

Anyone who has searched for a home knows about Real Estate Agents.  They’re adept at understanding what’s available on the market and providing properties to choose from.  The best Real Estate Agents understand your needs and find homes that meet your criteria (while the worst agents are “salesy” and try to convince you that whatever homes they have are what you really need).  Recruiters work in a similar way.  They’re usually well-networked and provide a variety of job applicants for you to choose from.

In contrast, Home Inspectors are adept at appraising a property and evaluating if it has any problems (e.g., cracks in the foundation).  They have special training, tools, and techniques for testing the home and objectively assessing its value so you can “know what you’re getting” when making a buying decision.  Business Psychologists work in a similar way.  They use psychological assessments, interview techniques, and other methods (e.g., Assessment Centers) to provide an objective evaluation of a candidate so you can “know what you’re getting” when making a hiring decision.

Finally, it’s important to consider the difference between how Recruiters and Business Psychologists are incentivized.  Recruiters get paid for placing candidates.  Just like Real Estate Agents, they get a commission for getting you to say, “Yes, I’ll take it” (sometimes equal to as much as 20% of a candidate’s starting salary).  However, Business Psychologists get paid for correctly screening candidates.  Just like Home Inspectors, they don’t get paid any more for swaying your decision one way or another.  Rather, Business Psychologist get repeat business by being objective and providing the information you need to make wise hiring and promotion decisions.

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The Costs of Bad Hires; getting senior leadership to take action

Rising costs of a bad hire by Gary Dumais

What’s a company’s greatest expense?  Many might guess it’s the cost of producing products, research and development, or marketing and advertising.  However, for most companies, their greatest expense by far is employees.  Just think about the costs associated with paying salaries, benefits, etc., multiply them across all the employees in a company, and then it’s easy to understand how Human Capital is a company’s greatest investment.

With all that in mind, what’s the best way to quantify the cost of a bad hire?  And how can managers and Human Resource professionals help senior leadership understand the gravity of those costs so they’ll invest in better recruiting and selection processes?

In my experience as a Business Psychologist, I’ve found the following questions to be especially helpful.  First, I ask members of senior leadership teams to think about one of their best employees and one of their worst employees.  Once they have people in mind, I then ask them to describe the impact those employees have had on the company.  -Their responses are usually quick, passionate, and visceral.  People can readily recall the sizable benefits a high-performing employee has brought to the company (e.g., increasing profits, making wise decisions, solving problems, championing change, etc.).  Likewise, senior leaders can also quickly recall the damage a bad employee caused (e.g., costly mistakes, decisions that led the company down the wrong road, low morale, higher employee turnover, etc.).  Recalling those first-hand experiences is often far more powerful and convincing than calculating a specific dollar value associated with the cost of a bad hire.  For example, while it’s impactful to cite that $100,000 was wasted on hiring and training a manager who underperformed anyway, helping senior leadership to recall that the same manger made a decision that botched a new product launch and cost the company millions is even more impactful (and provides deeper insight into the issue).

Once senior leaders fully recognize and “feel” the costs associated with bad hires, it’s much easier for them to see the huge return on investment that can come from improving recruiting and selection processes.

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The Drawbacks of Using “Big” Consulting Firms

Big Consulting Firms by Gary Dumais

Human Resource professionals, executives, and other important decision-makers within companies are often tasked with choosing a consulting firm to help them with pressing Human Capital needs (e.g., recruiting, selecting, and developing people, etc.).  Too often, I see these busy professionals using the “bigger is better” rule-of-thumb, signing expensive contracts with large consulting firms and ending-up very disappointed with the results.

With about fifteen years of Human Capital consulting experience, I have worked for small consulting firms, large consulting firms, and completely on my own.  I’ve also been a Human Resource Manager responsible for choosing consulting service providers.  Here’s a few lessons I’ve learned:

    • Smaller consulting firms cost less.  Those multiple offices around the world that big firms boast are very expensive to keep open, not to mention the huge amounts of staff, advertising, legal expenses, etc. required.  And those hefty expenses get passed down to you as a consumer.  Your company’s money can go farther when it’s paying for service rather than keeping an office’s lights on.  Also, like many large companies, big firms have to consistently show profit increases to keep investors and other stakeholders interested.  However, many smaller firms are content with making enough profit to pay their consultants fairly.
    • “Boutique” consulting firms care more about you as a client.  Consultants at smaller firms are more likely to feel the impact of their success and failures.  -Losing a client can seriously impact their bottom line.  Moreover, much of their new business comes from current customer referrals (e.g., being recommended for doing great work).  With all that in mind, consultants at smaller firms are usually much more customer service oriented and willing to go the extra mile (e.g., complete urgent projects over the weekend and holidays) and ensure you’re satisfied as a client (e.g., customizing processes, giving discounts, etc.).
    • You’re not getting better consultants (or better results) by “going big” and paying more.  Big consulting firms subcontract work to smaller firms.  That’s right, when those big firms get big contracts, they often reach out to independent consultants to help deliver the goods while saving money.  So, that big firm consultant you’re paying top-dollar for may be a small firm consultant anyway.  Moreover, many of the best consultants nowadays start out at large firms, learn they are effective and can do consulting work on their own, and then go off to work independently or start their own small firms.

In sum, choosing a smaller consulting firm can save your company money while getting better results.        

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