Resources

Tools • Downloads • Helpful Articles

Tools for Individuals

Leadership Dimensions

Eight dimensions of reality that require relentless diligence to be successful as a leader.

Individual Jump-Start

A three-month plan to start strong in a new role or turn over a new leaf in an established one (formerly "90-Day Plan).

Career Strategy

Understand why you're where you are and what it will take to navigate to your next move.

Tools for Teams

Helpful Book Clubs

Helpful is the perfect book to be read and studied in lock-step with friends and colleagues.

Team Dimensions

Nine areas of focus that help a cohesive, collaborative team coalesce and thrive.

Team Jump Start

How a team that wants to work together can learn how to do so more effectively.

Strategic Planning

Demystifying strategic planning. It's really not that hard and it couldn't be more important.

Jump Start Worksheet (PDF)

The free version of the Three Month Jump-Start Worksheet. (Not editable.)

Helpful — Sample Chapters

The Table of Contents, the Preface, and the first three chapters of Helpful: A Guide to Life, Careers, and the Art of Networking

Annual Review and Planning Template

A powerful set of questions that will lead you through a planing process for looking back over the last year and looking forward to the next one. Available os both a PDF document and a Microsoft Word file.

Book Review Template

Book reviews are extremely valuable to authors as well as fellow readers. This handy questionnaire offers a template for writing thoughtful reviews. Just answer the questions and you'll have an excellent, authentic review ready for posting to Amazon, Goodreads, or wherever book reviews are posted.

Jump Start Worksheet (MS Word)

An editable, type-anywhere-you-want version of the Three Month Jump-Start Worksheet.

The Workbook of Helpful Exercises

The workbook companion to Helpful: A Guide to Life, Careers, and the Art of Networking.

Recommended Blog Articles

An introverted man on the left and an extraverted man on the right

Where Do You Think? A Key Difference Between Introverts & Extroverts

There are many contrasting and complimentary differences between introverts and extraverts: where we get our energy, what stimulates us, how we feel about small or big groups, to name but a few. The contrasts are rich and numerous. However, as a long-time Myers-Briggs practitioner, I find that the most defining characteristics of the introvert / extravert spectrum is where people think.

In general, extraverts tend to think externally; they need to verbalize their thoughts to think. Thoughts are actually formed as they are verbalized. They speak to think.

In a classroom situation, the extraverts are the ones with their hands raised before the teacher has even finished asking the question. They don’t know exactly what they are going to say at first, but they know their thoughts will take shape as they speak them. That is, an extravert will speak it to think it.

Introverts, on the other hand, prefer to have their thoughts more fully formed before they speak.

An introvert will sit quietly and ponder, mulling ideas over in her head, looking for the right word, and the best description of the ideas that are taking shape.

In class, the introverts are the ones who sit quietly, often at the back of the room. If they raise their hand at all, they will rarely be the first to do so. Teachers often misjudge “class participation” based on who raises their hands and speaks in class. Rest assured, the introverts are definitely participating — they’re listening and they’re thinking.

This dichotomy in where people think has interesting implications. I once had an extraverted friend ask me “What’s my favorite movie?” Certainly she knows her favorite movie, I thought. It turns out, she didn’t ask me because she expected me to tell her; she asked me because she needed to verbalize the thought in order to form it. I just smiled.

An introvert may look like they are not involved — or worse, not interested — when, in fact, they are busy processing away on the inside.

So What? Implications in the Workplace

In the workplace these different preferences manifest themselves in a myriad of ways. An extravert will naturally have a preference for phone calls and face-to-face meetings as the most effective format in which to communicate. An introvert, on the other hand, will have a stronger preference for email, which allows him to work through his thoughts and more fully organize them before hitting “Send.”

I once worked for a leader who had such a strong preference for extraversion that you could almost see the thought bubbles forming in front of his head as he spoke. He was smart and articulate and the words came pouring out of him a mile a minute as he verbalized to think.

In contrast to his style, my preference for introversion meant that I needed to “noodle” his ideas before I could give him a substantive answer. On more than one occasion I told him, “Kenny, I have a brilliant answer for you … and I’ll be back in two hours to tell you what it is.”

How to Create an Introvert-friendly Leadership Style

As leaders, it is important that you leverage both preferences in the workplace.

Introverts often do some of the best thinking in an organization and yet are often left in the shadow of their more verbose colleagues. As a leader, you can’t afford to pass up the wisdom and insights that are percolating in the heads of your introverts.

Here are 3 tips for helping to ensure you include input from the introverts on your team: 

  1. Provide agendas in advance of meetings so the introverts have time to absorb, digest, and “pre-think” some of the ideas that you need them to bring to the table.
  2. If you need information or decisions by a set time, give the introverts time to think before the decision is final. Allow people to circle back with you before you make your final decision — inviting the introverts to continue thinking about their ideas and bring you their more fully formed thoughts later in the day or week.
  3. Match your communication preferences to those of the sender / receiver. For example, if you are communicating with an extravert, keep the email brief and / or pick up the phone — an extravert is not likely to read a long email. If you receive a long email from an introvert, take the time to read their musings — it’s quite likely there’s gold in them there paragraphs.

A simple rule of thumb:

If you don’t know something about an extravert, you haven’t been listening.

If you don’t know something about an introvert, you haven’t asked.

The American workplace has a natural bias toward extraversion. As a result, extraverts often need to remind themselves to stop talking now and then. And the introverts need to step forward. Don’t wait to be asked—and don’t relegate yourself to the shadows.

So, where do you think? Internally? Externally? Somewhere in between?

To learn more about the introvert / extravert spectrum, and how to best leverage your style and preferences in professional relationships, check out Helpful: A Guide to Life, Careers, and the Art of Networking. I go into great detail on the differences and provide tools to leverage your strengths, wherever you find yourself along the I/E spectrum.

For an even more in-depth exploration, contact me about a full Myers-Briggs profile assessment. Over the course of several sessions, I will take you through a thorough discovery of your preferences along the four key Myers-Briggs dimensions.


Originally published September 27, 2013. Revised and updated July 5, 2019.

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Sonar rings radiating out in the upper right quadrant

A Quick Guide to Informational Interviews

How do you decide what direction to head next in your career?

Would you like to be more visible inside your company? Or is there another company you really want to work for?

Over the course of my speaking and client engagements I frequently find myself recommending informational interviews.

Informational interviews are a great way to explore opportunities, discover mentors, and get information about a field of work from someone who has firsthand knowledge.

When To Use Informational Interviews

I have conducted numerous informational interviews in at least three distinct scenarios. I am sure that you can think of other situations where they would be helpful.

1. Exploring and expanding career options
There are times in our lives when we decide that our careers need a definite shift in direction. For example, graduating from school is often one of those times.

In the early 2000’s, as I was finishing up my MBA, I took the opportunity to reach out to more than twenty people in three distinct fields that interested me: supply chain management, product management, and leadership and organizational development.

I ended up conducting twenty-four informational interviews with twenty-four wise and generous souls. Their insights and encouragement still echo for me to this day. I ended up making a pivot from IT leadership into human resources and leadership development. I have never looked back.

2. Inside networking
Building relationships inside of your current company is an essential component in job and career success. An informational interview is an ideal way to gain insights into how careers typically progress at that company and how the rest of the company works.

For example, within the first 90 days in a new role, I recommend that you conduct informational interviews with all of your manager’s peers. If you manage projects, develop products, or work in a support function, then you also have a broad list of key stakeholders with whom you support and influence. These people are great candidates for informational interviews as well.

Get an understanding of their role in the company, what they are working on, their drivers, and their constraints. Use this information to shape the work that you do and the results that you deliver.

3. Job Searching
Most career coaches will tell you that the best way to find a job that is right for you is to start by finding the right company.

If you are looking for a new opportunity, it is not enough to complete an application and submit a resume. You must also endeavor to connect with the hiring manager. This is no easy task. Informational interviews can help. Your goal is to understand how you might contribute sufficient value to cover what would be your salary.

In order to do that you need to interview people inside the company to get a better understanding of what the company does, the challenges it might be facing, and the kinds of people who are successful there.

Quick Tips to Improve the Interview and Make a Great Impression

Getting an informational interview is a good first step — but once you’ve got it on your calendar, you need to take steps to make sure you come off as professional as possible. Here are a few suggestions for scheduling and conducting successful informational interviews:

  • Approach the interview like a dress rehearsal for a job interview. However, don’t ask for a job. The point is to learn something.
  • Do your homework. Be prepared with good questions and a good understanding of the experience, background, and responsibilities of the person you are meeting.
  • Honor people’s time. Request no more than 30 minutes—then stick to it.
  • Don’t talk too much. Be prepared to answer questions, but your principal role is to ask them.
  • Be a good networker. Find out what they are working on and look for ways to be helpful.

Sample Interview Questions: What to Ask During an Informational Interview

There is no end to the list of great questions you could ask in an informational interview. Your list will depend on the person you are interviewing and your objectives for the interview.

Here are a few sample questions that might stimulate your thinking.

  • Which of your accomplishments or challenges were the most helpful for your career?
  • Which of your decisions have had the most impact on your career?
  • What are the nuances to being successful in this company? In this industry?
  • Who are the important people to know in this company? In this industry? Why?
  • What would you do differently if you were starting your career over?
  • What would you do if you were in my situation right now?
  • What problems have you solved? How?
  • What are your drivers?
  • What are your constraints?
  • How have you increased revenues, profits?
  • How have you improved processes?
  • How have you demonstrated creativity, innovation?
  • How have you reduced costs?

Further Reading

The web is awash with great information on informational interviews. Here are a few that I recommend:

Next Steps

  1. Schedule an informational interview with someone inside your organization who intrigues you. Learn more about their career and what they have done to be successful.
  2. As you navigate toward your next career, or carer opportunity, pick a company or an industry that interests you and find someone in your network to interview about their work.
  3. Check out Helpful: A Guide to Life, Careers, and the Art of Networking. It contains two chapters dedicated to informational interviews and the entire final section — Part IV: Networking at Work — goes in to great detail on building relationships inside of your organization.

How often do you go on informational interviews? What have you learned? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below!


Originally published October 31, 2013. Updated and revised July 3, 2019.

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Three Reasons You Should Keep Your LinkedIn Profile Up To Date

While LinkedIn has become the database of record for our careers, it is so much more than that. It is the one place on the Internet where we make our professional declaration of who we are and what we do. As such, it is extremely useful in building and maintaining a rich network of professional relationships. A current and complete profile makes it easy for friends and network connections to remember where you’ve been and what you’re working on.

But, you ask, “If I update my LinkedIn profile, won’t my boss think I am looking for a job?”

Possibly. Tell your boss that linkedIn is much more than a place to attract job inquiries. It is networking central, useful for both creating and freshening links in your network. These network connections are as valuable to your company as they are to your career.

Here are a few of the many uses I find for LinkedIn.

Make (Better) Introductions

Introducing people to each other is the at the core of great networking. In the early days I would make these introductions using the “brute force method.” I would decide if and when two people should connect. I would copy each of them on an email with an introduction and an explanation of why they needed to meet and then step out of the picture. I would leave it to them to complete the circuit and make the connection.

The problem with this “brute force method” is timing and readiness.

People have often (generously) made introductions for me that were premature. What I was working on needed a few more weeks or months before the introduction would be truly, mutually beneficial. Further, as a person who has a preference for introversion, I relish the time in advance to prepare my thoughts.

Now I take a different approach to introductions — an approach that relies heavily on LinkedIn.

When I discover two people in my network who should met, I send each of them a link to the other person’s profile with an introduction explaining the synergy that I believe exists. Then I add, If and when you would like an introduction, I will be glad to make it happen.

And then I leave it in their hands. I find that the connections are ultimately richer this way—but this only works if both people keep their LinkedIn profile up-to-date. So please keep your LinkedIn profile current and complete so I can introduce you to others in my network.

Keep Links Fresh: Let LinkedIn Refresh My Memory

Good introductions require knowing what each of the parties are working on, so that you can point out why the meeting would be mutually beneficial. I try to keep up with all the people in my network. However, it’s a monumental task. I can’t always remember where you went to school, what you studied, where you’ve lived, or your current job.

I turn to LinkedIn to refresh my memory.

If I’m lucky, LinkedIn will notify you that I have peaked at your profile, letting you know that I am thinking about you. Please keep your LinkedIn profile current and complete so I remember the important things in your career.

Use LinkedIn for Better Meetings

As an introvert it is important for me to prepare and collect my thoughts before I meet with people — especially people I do not know well.

LinkedIn is a great tool for reconnaissance in advance of meeting with people.

These are just three of the eight ways I advocate leveraging LinkedIn in my book on networking and careers. Check out the rest in chapter 15 of Helpful: A Guide to Life, Careers, and the Art of Networking.

In the meantime, please keep your LinkedIn profile current and complete so I can get a better picture of who you are. This will enable us to engage in much deeper, more productive conversations much more quickly.

Next Steps

When was the last time you updated your LinkedIn profile? Take some time now to look over your currently profile and set aside time over the holidays to refresh it.

Then see my follow-up article on “How To Create A Stronger LinkedIn Profile” for my ‘3-Pass’ method of updating your profile (or resume) with useful and meaningful content in each entry of your job history.


Originally published December 17, 2013. Revised and updated June 29, 2019.

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Four Questions For Your Direct Reports

As you grow as a leader you find yourself spending more time developing people and less time knee-deep in the weeds. Here are four questions to ask your direct reports on a regular basis. If you do so, they will evolve in their ability to deliver results and you will develop as a leader.

1. What things are you doing that require less of my time?

What are you getting from me that you don’t need? You are empowered. You do not need to bring every question to my attention nor every decision to me. Further, help me to micromanage less. Tell me to let go of the little things if you know you are fully capable of handling them.

2. What things are you doing that I should be more involved with?

What are you not getting from me that you need? Am I giving you enough attention on the right things? Are you waiting for a decision from me?

Assign tasks to me. I have responsibilities, visibility, and relationship at a level that you should leverage for the success of your projects. Can I help with insights or connections? Can I make an introduction? Is there something that I can escalate to move the needle faster?

3. What am I doing that I should do less of?

Beyond just micromanaging, from your vantage point, do you see me doing things that are not the best use of my time? What do I do that I could delegate to you or to someone else on our team?

4. What could I be doing more of?

What am I missing? Where do you and the team need me to spend more energy and more time?


Related:

Updated June 26, 2019. Originally published May 2, 2011.

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Cartoonish line drawing of a male eagerly raising his hand.

Five Questions To Ask Your Boss

Want a better relationship with your boss? It’s easier than you think to create a great working relationship. The secret is effective communications and a mutual understanding of what you expect from each other.

Some time ago I wrote a short article on Four Questions For Your Direct Reports. Today I wanted to share the corollary to those ideas for managing up.

Ask these questions on a regular basis, ensuring that you and your boss are on the same page. Try inserting one or two of them into your one-on-one meetings with your boss — in the most open-ended way you can. Let your boss surprise you!

  1. How can we best work together? Learning to work together is an iterative process. Ask this question on a quarterly basis. Be prepared with your own answer if your boss turns this around and asks you.
  2. How do you prefer that I communicate with you? People have different communication styles and preferences. This is especially true on the introvert / extravert spectrum. For example, introverts generally prefer email, extraverts generally prefer telephone and face-to-face encounters.
  3. Am I providing the right amount of detail? As you rise higher in an organization you should generally be providing higher level overview information. (Technical organizations, where senior leaders may want more detail, can be the exception to the rule.) 
  4. What are you expecting from me and in what time frame? Maintain a list of your priorities and invite your boss to reset expectations as often as needed. A good list of what you are working on, taken into your one-on-one meetings, can serve as both a way to have this conversation and a template for any status reports you might send your boss. 
  5. What should I do more of?  What should I do less of?  These are particularly useful to invite “coaching in the moment” when you are updating your boss on projects and deliverables. Tell your boss your status and then ask the “What should I do more of / less of?” questions. Your boss will have examples right in front of them that can serve as the basis for feedback. Do this every month or so, and your annual performance review is practically written. 

Good relationships — including those with your boss and your company — don’t just happen. They take effort and deliberate intention to make them great. We often talk about continuous improvement in our processes. Such determination applies to our relationships as well. When you strive for continuous improvement, not just in the way you work, but also in the way you work together, you rise to another level of effectiveness and job satisfaction.

What’s Next

Take a moment to look at the relationship with your boss and pencil in some time during your next one-on-one to ask these questions. Let me know how it goes.

Adapted from Your Next Move by Michael Watkins


Update June 25, 2019. Originally published October 25, 2013.

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Inside Networking: How and Why to Build a Network Inside Your Organization

Networking recap: ‘Networking’ is the deliberate activity of creating, freshening, and strengthening links between you and other people. It’s relationship building with the intent of leveraging who and what you know to help other people be successful. Strengthening links — i.e. turning a select subset of network links from weak connections to strong bonds — is an art that involves the constant exchange of favors and information.


How visible are you at work? Chances are good that you’re making a very common career: pouring a disproportionate amount of effort into doing good work and not taking enough time to get to know other people.

I frequently give talks on careers and networking, and I’ve found many people fail to recognize one of the most powerful opportunities for networking that exists: networking within their own companies.

Stop wearing a cloak of invisibility!

Networking inside your company is some of the most important work that you can do — and not just for yourself. A broad web of relationships within your organization engenders trust, creates a vibrant work environment, and empowers you with a wealth of information. The goodwill you establish within your network serves as a lubricant that not only enables you to get stuff done, but super-charges the organization to get stuff done well! How cool is that?

The key thing to remember is that networking is not about you. And networking is definitely not about finding a job (I call that ‘net groveling’). Networking is about leveraging who and what you know to help other people be successful.

Not only is this okay to do inside a company, it’s darn near an imperative. If you apply the how-can-I-be-helpful approach to networking inside an organization, you have an almost textbook definition of collaboration.

Who Should I Network With?

Look for key players anywhere you can find them in your organization.

  • Start with your peers. Network horizontally across your team.
  • Connect with stakeholders. Look at your responsibilities and projects. Who are the people who have interests or concerns for the work that you are doing? Network with them.
  • Look for people in cross-functional organizations. Build relationships with people in sales, finance, HR, IT, etc.
  • Your boss’ peers. Get to know the people who work at your boss’ level and report to the same manager.
  • Your boss’ boss — and his/her peers.
  • Any movers and/or shakers inside your company.

Conversation Starters: What Should I Say?

My go-to networking question is always a good place to start when networking inside a company. Simply ask, “What are you working on?”

That question is usually pretty easy to answer in a work context. As you are listening to the answer, continue asking yourself, “Who do I know, and what do I know that might be helpful to this person?”

But networking inside a company offers the opportunity for even deeper and richer bonds. To get at those connections you need to ask a few additional, more powerful questions. My favorites are:

  1. What are your drivers?
  2. What are you constraints?
  3. What are your challenges?
  4. Who are some of your best people? What makes them great?

A Word About Drivers and Constraints

Drivers are those things upon which you are measured. Senior leaders are often driven by revenue or market growth. In my days of old in IT, we were driven by system availability and server up-time. Recruiters might be driven by the number of candidates in the hiring pipeline and the digital marketing people might be driven by things like website hits or the number of retweets.

Understanding other people’s drivers helps you understand how they see their world. Their drivers shape how they make decisions. Often times, internal politics come about, not because people are malicious and don’t like each other, but because they have competing or conflicting drivers.

Insider’s Tip #1: Whatever you do, don’t get in the way of someone else’s drivers.

Constraints are those things that limit growth. Often it is money — aka budget, or funding. People constraints are common — some organizations can’t hire the right people fast enough. Time is almost always a constraint — is there is ever enough time? Growth and scale can be constraints. Most leaders, wisely, meter and control their growth. Everybody has constraints.

Insider’s Tip #2: Do what you can to help colleagues minimize their constraints … and never do anything to exacerbate them.

There is nothing magic about a great career. You just have to work at it. If you want to increase your odds of success, ramp up your inside networking. You won’t be the same … and neither will your organization. What are you waiting for?

Next Steps

  1. Check out my new book, Helpful. Part V — Networking at Work — elaborates extensively on the ideas merely outlined above.
  2. Create a plan to systematically broaden your network inside your company. Start with your peers and stakeholders. Then connect with your boss’s peers. Keep going until you run out of people. Then start over. Create – freshen – strengthen, repeat.
  3. Start holding at least one networking meeting a week. Ask for 30 minutes. Tell them that you just want to get a better understanding of what they do and how things work around here. Learn about their drivers and constraints.
  4. Refresh your memory on how to do informational interviews. They are particularly useful when networking inside an organization. My Quick Guide to Informational Interviews will be helpful here.

I wish you success.


Updated 05-Jun-2019. Originally published 18-Apr-2014

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New Job starting day or date circled on a calendar with a red pen or marker

How to Search for a Job

Nick Corcodilos is one of my favorite sources for advice on job hunting. Leveraging his experience as a best-in-class headhunter, he lends his considerable talents to pulling back the curtain on the absurdity of corporate hiring — and the job-search industrial complex that has risen around it. He doesn’t pull punches and he’s almost always good for a smile or two as well. His weekly newsletter is a never-miss for me.

This week he continues his insightful critique of LinkedIn with illuminating examples of how people commit career suicide in a futile attempt to find a job. Buried in the article is a succinct recap of his method for how to find a job the right way:

You search for a job by identifying companies that make products or deliver services you’d like to work on. (See Pursue Companies, Not Jobs.) Then you figure out — figure out — what problems and challenges those companies face in running their business.

Most important, you carefully and thoughtfully pick a handful of your skills that you could apply to those problems and challenges, and you prepare a brief business plan showing how you’d use those skills to make the business more successful.

(Note that this does not involve reading job postings.)

Then you hang out with people who have business with the company, for as long as it takes to make friends with them, until they get to know you well enough that they’re happy to refer and recommend you personally to the manager whose department you could clearly help.

I couldn’t agree more. That’s how it’s done.

Follow Nick on Twitter at @NickCorcodilos. And don’t hesitate to subscribe to his newsletter — it’s always a gem regardless of where you are in your career and what side of the hiring process you find yourself.

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Rugby players during a rough play

Play Hard. Play Fair. Nobody Hurt. Simple rules for great meetings and teams

Rugby players during a rough play

Working together is hard. Running an effective meeting can be even harder.

One of the challenges is that everyone wants to be heard. To make it even more challenging, not everyone speaks up.

Setting a few ground rules is one of the surest ways to get everyone engaged while producing amazing results. Let it be known that you expect full engagement and expect everyone to be pulling in the same direction.

My favorite set of ground rules comes out of the “New Games” movement from the 70’s. Their motto was Play Hard. Play Fair. Nobody Hurt. I can’t think of a better set of guiding principles for great meetings and vibrant teams.

Play Hard

Bring your A-game. Come prepared and engage fully when you get there. This is serious business — our company and our livelihoods are at stake. If you do this well, it’s not only serious business, but it can be serious fun as well.

Speak up. This is a good time to remind your team of the differences in how introverts and extraverts think. Introverts need to process their thoughts internally before they articulate them.

Introverts, take the time you need to get your thoughts in order, but then bring them to the table. Don’t hold back and don’t wait to be asked. Circle back as your ideas become more cogent — even an hour or a day later, if necessary.

Play Fair

Success is a team sport. No politics and no dirty pool. Put the team first, ahead of your own goals and ambitions. Keep your eye on the team and never lose sight of the client or customer. In the end what matters most is that the team performs at its very best.

In order to have a fair game, everyone needs to understand the objectives. To keep people focused on the goal, they have to know what the goal is. Make sure the purpose of the meeting is clear from the outset. Why are we here? What is the desired outcome? What are the expectations and time frames for next actions?

Nobody Hurt

It’s not personal. We’re wrestling with ideas here. Address ideas, not people. Pick apart things that don’t make sense and build on the things that do.

On the flip side, don’t let anyone make you feel like you are being attacked. People say things. Sometimes they will say things that hurt, that strike a nerve. It can sting to have your ideas criticized. Try to get over that — they’re just ideas. Healthy dialogue and criticism are a crucible that makes ideas — and teams — better.

Whatever you do, don’t take it personal. Mahatma Gandhi said, “Nobody can hurt me without my permission.” Don’t give people permission to hurt you. Engage in the arena of ideas and leave it there.

Next Steps

  1. Write these three simple ground rules on the board at the beginning of your next meeting: Play Hard. Play Fair. Nobody Hurt.
  2. Briefly explain each rule.
  3. Watch the creativity fly and the engagement soar.

May your meetings be filled with vim and vigor, and may your results be outstanding.

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Man trying to work out how to get a square peg into a round hole.

Have we been looking at 'cultural fit' all wrong?

“We’re looking for someone who’s a good fit for our team.”

Hiring managers say this all the time. But what is fit? What does fit look like? 

Man trying to work out how to get a square peg into a round hole.

Most of the time — especially when we are looking to hire someone — we put a lot of emphasis on cultural fit. We’ve got a round hole and we go looking for a round peg.

We have this sense that fit is about finding a match between the candidate and our team. Experienced hiring managers will ask a candidate questions and surreptitiously listen for clues in search of a match between the candidate’s personality and the culture of the team. They’re trying to decide if someone fits without ever talking about what fit looks like.

It will come as no surprise that fit is closely related to culture. But what is culture anyway? Culture is simply the personality of the group. It’s the attitudes, beliefs and behaviors that animate the organization, bring it to life, and and guide its actions. Every collection of two or more people has a personality. Every group has a personality, ever group has a culture.

And yet, all of us are active members of a wide variety of groups which demonstrate a wide variety of “personalities”. We can be frolicking with our children at breakfast only to be deeply engaged with our colleagues before lunch. We can be laughing with our friends on Friday night, and singing along with the choir on Sunday morning. Human beings are highly adaptable creatures

We’ve got fit backwards. You don’t go looking for someone who fits. You start by articulating what fit looks like on your team and then go looking for someone willing and able to adapt.

Most of us are very adept at moving smoothly between wildly disparate situations. In each context we adjust our attitudes and behaviors to match those of the current situation. So it is with our teams and our organizations. ‘Fit’ is less about matching a set characteristics or personality traits and more about adapting to the personality of the group. 

The best way to ensure fit

Most candidates are capable of fitting into most organizations — if they want to. All it takes to fit into an organization is to:

  1. Understand and align yourself with the attitudes of the group.
  2. Honor and reflect the beliefs of those in the company.
  3. Engage in the behaviors of the team.

That’s it! If someone can do those three things, they can fit into the team.

In other words, we’ve got fit backwards. You don’t go looking for fit. You start by articulating what fit looks like and then you look for people willing and able to adapt — to ‘fit in.’

What if someone just doesn’t fit?

This is not to say there aren’t situations where people don’t fit — where we don’t fit. But 80%1 of fit is simply understanding what fit looks like. Once we know what is expected, we generally can — and do — adapt. Usually, it’s a matter of choice, not character.

You may be able to adapt to the culture but find yourself unwilling to do so. No problem. You don’t fit in that case. Move along. But if you’re willing and able to adapt to the attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors, then you can probably fit.

And yes, there are also occasionally exceptions, a small subset of people who do not fit — the 20% who cannot (or will not) adapt to the norms of the group. In that case fit is not possible and it’s best for everyone if they just move along. But the majority of the people people can fit as long as they know what fit looks like.

Next steps

Fit is about awareness and choosing to belong. It is not something that is hard-coded into our personalities. I propose that we rethink what we mean by fit.

Let’s be more clear on what fit looks like in our relationships and our organizations. Let’s articulate what fit looks like and then give people the opportunity to align and adapt. The results might astound us.

  • If you are a leader: Define fit for your team. Stop looking for round pegs to fit into your round hole and start looking for diverse and interesting people who can and will chose to adapt to your culture.
  • If you are a member of a team: Get with the program — i.e. get with your team. Align yourself to the attitudes, embrace the beliefs, and demonstration the behaviors of your organization. If this doesn’t resonate for you, or costs you too much of your soul, begin looking for an organization where you can more easily adapt.
  • If you’re job hunting: Get a read on the culture of the organization. Ask questions that draw out the attitudes, beliefs and behaviors of the organization. Before you accept a position, decide if you are willing to adapt to the culture of that organization.

What does fit look like in your organization? What are some of the more prominent attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors that define your culture? How do you adapt? Join in the conversation in the comments below.


1 The 80 / 20 split comes from twenty-five years of observations in a broad range of organizations and contexts. Further research may yield more refined results. 😉

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Silhouette of backpacker looking over trees

How To Take Stock And Plan For A Breakout Quarter

I love to hike. There is something deeply satisfying in loading a few provisions into a backpack and heading off into the hills. I have had the good fortune of hiking in the Colorado Rockies as well as the Smokey Mountains of North Carolina and Tennessee.

Silhouette of backpacker looking over trees
Licensed iStockPhoto

Hiking is both an exhausting and exhilarating activity. The pack is heavy and rarely comfortable. The trail is often steep, the terrain rocky. There are times when each step is a slog. You make progress by keeping your head down and putting one foot in front of the other again and again. You find your stride.

Eventually, it’s time for a break. You reach a vista where you loosen your pack and refresh yourself with water. And then you look up. The view is amazing. Looking back, it’s hard to believe how far you’ve traveled. Looking ahead, you see the path clearly in front of you. You catch your breath, revel in your progress, affirm your course, and don the pack for another march.

The rhythm of productivity follows a similar path. Once a quarter it is good to loosen your pack — set it down if you need to — and take stock. Where are you now? How far have you come? Are you still headed in the right direction? Where do you want to go from here?

Will you join me?

It’s time for a break — a ‘vista check,’ if you will — a quarterly review. Such breaks are an integral part of managing a successful career.

The quarterly review is a two-part activity. The first half is spent looking back; the second half is spent looking forward. You can do the exercises in a single day, but it works best spread over two partial days. Personally, I have already blocked two half-days in the first week of January for my own review.

Will you join me in setting aside some time over the holidays to take stock? Take the time to plot a deliberate course for yourself and your team for months ahead.

Looking Back: Are you moving in the right direction? 

Here are some sample questions to consider as you look back. Make them your own. Don’t limit yourself to these.

  1. What have I accomplished in the last quarter?
  2. Where am I today compared with where I was three months ago?
  3. Am I happy with where I am? What would I like to change?
  4. How well am I keeping up with all my duties and obligations?
  5. Is everything I’m doing contributing to my advancement toward my goals? What can I do about the stuff that isn’t?
  6. What went right over the past quarter? How can I make sure more of that happens?
  7. What went sideways over the past quarter? What lessons can I learn from that?

Looking Ahead: Planning for a breakout year

Here are questions to help you look ahead.

  1. Who do I want to be?
  2. What are my goals for the next week? Month? Quarter?
  3. Where would I like to be in three months? What would I like accomplish in the coming three months?
  4. Given where I would like to be in three months, how will I get there? What steps / actions will I take?
  5. What kind of help do I need?
  6. What is coming up that I need to be prepared for?
  7. What new projects would I like to get started in the next quarter?
  8. How do I want to present myself to the world this quarter? What energy, attitudes and behaviors do I want to project?

Next Steps

  • Set aside some time over the holidays to do your review. A few hours may be enough. Block some time on consecutive days if you can.
  • Find a space conducive to thinking and planning. You might want to go somewhere not associated with work.
  • Download the Quarterly Review Guide from the Free Downloads page. It contains all of the questions above, along with some general guidelines for conducting the review sessions. Add or subtract questions as necessary for you.
  • Dream big! Have fun!
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