30 April 2010


Related to the post bellow, I have been involved in a project for a couple of days that already paid off supreme: I went yesterday to a get to know of the people involved in the project and it was in a school called Prosjektdesign, around the always trendy Grünnerloka. The school is not what you would imagine of a crowded school, but a house where 26 people divided in different teams. The purpose as I understand is to develop different leadership and management characteristics in the best way possible to develop: learning by doing - or, how they say, learning by burning. For those who know about Kaos Pilot, it is a similar concept.

But also very, very similar to AIESEC style, that's why I felt right at home. Almost one of them. The spirit and the sensation when you enter the house that hosts the organization is exactly the same feeling when you enter a bursting AIESEC local committee (or our dear national office): activity, fun, passion, friendship, work hard - in sum, a shiny place to be.

Besides the people from Prosjektdesign, I also met the other ones that are involved in the project and I couldn't have more fun: brilliant people. Including someone passionate about education that is currently doing something about it. I got very cool ideas for my future projects. I somehow was ignoring technology development in my "life school project".

I had tons of fun. I am very privileged that even after I leave AIESEC I will keep considering my job the best fun I could ever had. I am lucky.

How to get a job interview without a CV

I have been job hunting for some time now, since my term as President of AIESEC Norway is ending now in June 30th. In the best of Maslow's style, I was trying to get absolutely anything anywhere so I could survive, get some money and then try to find a place that is cool and a better position. I was practically a CV-sending-machine-gunner.

This didn't work well - or, well, putting in my own words: it failed supreme. I couldn't even get an interview. Are you serious? Do you know how much experience I have? How do you prefer a fresh graduate with no experience? I can't understand. 

Then in a spree of lucidity I decided to apply what I've learned in these 5 years of AIESEC and I decided to scrap all the sh*t out of the way and go only for the important stuff. I thought "to hell with it, if I am going to get rejected, I am going to get rejected by companies and jobs that I really wish to work!"

Then I sent 4 e-mails to 4 companies that I would love to work in - mostly because of the business they are in, such as leadership development, culture management consultancy and this sort of thing. The sort of thing that I am not only passionate for, but I am good at it - and, sincerely, I love it so much that I would pay people to work on this (if I had money, which is not exactly the case - or, putting in my own words: I am a serious candidate for the worst paid CEOs documentary). Ah, I forgot to mention: none of these companies had any job opening.

From the 4 e-mails sent, I received 3 answers in the same day asking me to have an interview, a lunch or anything. And one of these companies I didn't even send my CV, it was just a mail. 

What happened?

Here is the recipe (in order of importance - i.e. if you don't get the first, the 2nd will not help you):

#1 - Passion - I was not sending a job application, I was sending almost a love letter. I wanted to do it so much that I would do anything to contribute - I just want to be part of it and have fun. Just let me play with your toys! If you are not passionate for what you are applying for, you are just another guy. Passion is free and generates crazy commitment (like working until 22h for free just because you like it) - but no one can buy passion.

#2 - Add value first, then get valued - I just spoke from my heart that I was a talented guy wanting to contribute, even for free. This is quite obvious: I won't get any money anyway, I will be unemployed, so I can work even for free. It's much easier to get to know people that can give you a job when you are working and making the difference, than while sitting at home sending CVs. This paid off already: I met yesterday around 10 amazing people that was ultra-cool to work with.

#3 - Between big and agile, go for the agile - I know my mom would be proud of me if I worked in a huge well-known company. Good that I have self-perception enough to know that I am the one that I need to please, not my mom. Going to big companies you are just asking to be treated as a number from a boring HR person which has as the best tool to manage talent monetary incentives. Bypass the HR people, talk to the owners and CEOs of smaller and faster companies. They can smell talent and that's not a commodity largely available to smaller companies. If you have talent, stand out and talk to the boss.

And that was it. Of course most of these things you really cannot do if you are a fresh graduate that has no clue about your strengths, dreams and so on - but that's why you should join AIESEC and stand out, be Linchpin.

I am having fun as hell. Spring feelings supreme.

PS: hey, you got interested? Talk to me (sergio.schuler AT gmail.com) or check out my CV.

29 April 2010

Theory and practice of leadership

I am not very "forum-friendly", I find online discussions plain boring and full of fundamentalists everywhere and misinterpretations from all possible conceivable ways from all sides. But somehow I engaged in a leadership debate in LinkedIN. The questions was "How can there be so much written about leadership yet so little understanding?"

I don't really know the answer, but for me the question is not the most relevant, but what really strikes me would be "with so many trainings, books, theories and lectures about leadership, how there is so little PRACTICE of leadership in a daily basis?"

And to end my post, one quote that reflects a lot my way of thinking: "In theory, theory and practice are the same. In practice, they are not." - Yogi Berra

28 April 2010

Women versus men pay - a question of behavior, not sexism?

I just read an intriguing article that suggests that women earn less than men not because of gender inequality, but because women tend to have a more "soft" and less "Machiavellian" approach then men, which are more prone to be aggressive, lie, cheat and do whatever to raise profit. The article concludes that for a better pay equality between the two genders would be to punish more bullies and cheaters.

Does this make sense? I don't know, but I have a twist for this logic: we are (slowly) walking to the path of sustainability, thinking on consequences, CSR and more compassionate way for business success. Would this mean that, when this trend is on its highest, women would earn more than men  because they are much more prone to thinking like this?

Instruction manual for life - or theory is just theory

23 April 2010

How to fire someone that is not performing according to the standards set?

In AIESEC Norway in the past months we had a drastic reduction of the amount of people recruited and a drastic increase in the amount of people that we had to "let go" because they didn't fit the performance standards we were looking for. And, yes, we are a volunteer organization. Volunteer? Yes. Firing people? Yes. We have a saying around here "you are volunteer to join and volunteer to leave. In between you work your ass-off". And I am proud of this and the people who made it happen - because it was not me who was on the frontline, firing people, it were the courageous leaders on the local level that had to have difficult conversations.

Lots of them asked me "but how do I fire someone?" And I had no clue how to do it, I just tried to support them as I could.

But this doesn't happen only in a volunteer organization, in "normal" companies that's the same dilemma, no MBA will ever teach you to fire someone, you will only learn when you actually do it in practice. And here is a copy paste of the article about it:

When I teach MBAs, we talk about firing people with the cold and academic clichés of "down-sizing," "right-sizing," "letting someone go." But have you ever fired someone? As a construction superintendent, this was a major part of my job. These terms are bloodless and fail to capture the true intensity and anguish that goes with looking someone in the eyes and telling him he's out of a job.
It wasn't until I had fired fifteen people in 12 months that I began to see things differently. One carpenter had made a costly mistake on a master bedroom porch; it was one of many costly mistakes. I caught a second carpenter finishing the last of his whiskey nip. The third had been coming in late and his effort on the job was weak. Some of the carpenters had complained when they were teamed up with him.
Within 15 minutes, all three were given their final paychecks and told to leave. And yet, despite my clear justification in making the moves, I was still filled with doubts. I invited one of my trusted carpenters, Benjamin, for a beer after work.
With a full mug in front of me, I poured out my feelings. "Benjamin, I don't know how many more times I can do this. I don't even know if I did the right thing."
"Andy, you had to do it. Those guys weren't carrying their weight."
"But now they're out of work. I can't help thinking about that."
Benjamin agreed, "Yup, that's true. Some people are out of work today. They're not getting a paycheck. But this is happening at other job sites around the state too. It's not your fault."
"So you mean I have no choice in the matter? No say? I'm simply carrying out what needs to be carried out?"
"Well, sort of."
"That doesn't make me feel better. I made the decision to fire these people. If I decided not to, they'd still be employed. I wonder if the other guys live in fear that I'm going to fire them?"
"Now wait a minute, Andy," cautioned Benjamin. "You're making it sound like your decisions were arbitrary. Were they?"
"Right, you made these decisions for a reason. Don't you think the guys that got fired know that? And," he paused, "Don't you think the guys that are still on the job know that too?"
"Yeah, I guess so. But I wonder what they see?"
"They see someone who's trying to hold a high standard of work. Stop thinking about the guys you fired and start thinking about the guys you still employ. They're the ones who deserve your attention."
Benjamin's lecture was a turning point, a watershed in my thinking about what I was doing and why. The pain of telling someone that he was fired would always be difficult, but the pain lingered less if I focused not on who left but on who stayed. My notions of building a crew took on new meaning. The idea of one stable and permanent crew was dispelled, replaced by the idea of a constantly evolving crew.
That's not to say that it stopped being painful to let someone go. And in fact, that pain should never go away. You're severing a relationship and creating hardship for someone. But you have to look at why you are doing it, how you are doing it, and what you are creating in the process.
In some cases, I learned that everyone knew a person had to go and they were waiting for me to do it. And by letting the person go, the people I left behind felt better about working for me. They saw that I had high standards and they were meeting them. They worked harder, with more pride, as long as I held the whole crew to the same high standard and did my job by weeding out those who didn't meet it.
The key here is building a culture of quality and pride. And I, as the leader, was responsible for establishing that culture both by deciding on its membership and also determining the rules of maintaining that membership. This goes far beyond the formal processes of recruiting and training. This puts the human face on a human process.

22 April 2010

Making a newly hired/promoted to perform instantly

Organizations tend to believe that you can't get value for newly hired people. The concept is simple "they need to understand first how to get things done in the organization, then they can get it done". Even though this mentality is changing in AIESEC Norway, still some local committees have this attitude too, letting their newly recruited into "learning mode" for too long.

I have 2 good reasons for not doing this, but instead put the person in deep water from the first day:

#1 - training is overrated, no one can truly learn the work without practicing the work. Even though most organizations still put more money in theoretical learning than in anything else that should generate learning.

#2 - because Halvard Business Review said so. See part of the article bellow:

Case Study #1: Working within the first five minutes on the job
Michelle Pomorksi, started her job as a contract programmer at the software design and development company Menlo Innovations after an intensive hiring process. Within five minutes of walking into the office in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Michelle was working on a project. This wasn't an "onboarding project" but a real one for clients. She was "tripled" (that's company lingo for teamed with two other people) and sent off to a client site to do interviews. Rather than observing, Michelle actively participated and was expected to contribute by asking questions.

Rich Sheridan, founder and CEO of Menlo, thinks he has created a unique process to get new people productive faster than at other software companies. Every new hire is immediately paired with a current employee to do design and development work, in what the company calls "paired programming." Pairs are switched every week so by the end of the first three weeks, a new person has three mentors to rely on for advice and help. Even better, after the initial three weeks, she is ready to mentor someone new. "The real power is in the pairing," Michelle says. "There isn't one day I've gone to work that I haven't learned and taught at least one thing."
The process is facilitated by an open work space: Menlo doesn't have offices, cubes or doors. Rich thinks his hiring and onboarding strategy gives him an advantage over competitors because he can seamlessly expand and contract his work force according to client demand. It also makes employees enjoy a task they might otherwise dread. He acknowledges that onboarding this way requires careful attention to how pairs are put together and a good deal of orchestration. But he does not see it as a loss to productivity. "I probably get four times as much work done with two people pairs than most people get with two individuals," he says.
Case Study #2: Start early and see the whole picture
Pat Lee, a top Marketing Director at Johnson & Johnson Asia, happily received a promotion to Vice President of Marketing. But, she was not fully prepared for the suddenness of the promotion and all that it entailed, including relocating to a different country. She immediately began planning the logistics of the move: deciding which town to live in, exploring job prospects for her spouse, investigating schools for her children. She expected to have all these details worked out in advance so that she could "hit the ground running" on her first day in the new job.

However, Joe, her HR business partner, urged her to begin the transition to the actual job before she made the move. He suggested she take a "transition risk assessment" to help her better understand the challenges she faced in the new role. This helped Pat to fully see the situation she was getting into and better understand herself. It uncovered several issues: she had never worked in another country before; she had never taken on a regional role; she had minimal understanding of how her company did business in other countries; and she had little knowledge of the people on her new staff, the office politics, and how things got done. She also didn't know what her new boss expected of her and what phase of operation her businesses were in — start-up, turnaround, downsizing, optimizing on-going, etc. She realized she needed to address these problems and so with Joe, developed a Transition Acceleration Plan and started working with a coach, who helped her by interviewing her boss, direct reports, and colleagues to get honest feedback about their expectations. Doug Soo Hoo, former Director of Learning and Development at J&J, explains that this intense process is "a good way to get out of 'sink or swim mode' and an investment in the company that also shows a caring for the success of the individual."
After three months on the job, Pat's boss and her peers gave her rave reviews on how quickly she had mastered the "ins and outs" of the new situation and taken actions to address them. One of her new reports said it was almost as if she had been in the division for years.

To read the full article, click here.

What I want to say with it? Simple: put your new executive board to work now and make sure that the new members joining are not expected to stay in "learning mode" for long time. Start working now!

15 April 2010

What NGOs need to do to gain respect

They need to:
  • Make an honest assessment of their core competencies, competitors and consumers so that they understand and can articulate where they fit in the marketplace -- and make a market play if they can deliver a competing service more effectively. The end goal is to solve problems, not get along, right?
  • Take more risks in how they deliver solutions and how they fund them. The status quo is not enough, so think big and act accordingly.
  • Say no to funders who demand new programs or changes to programs that detract from the organization's theory of change or core competencies.
  • Diversify revenue streams so that they are not beholden to any one funder or funding stream.
  • Demand that board members invest significant time and money in the organization, or get out.
  • Fire under-performing staff. This is such a taboo in the sector, but with limited resources and mounting social problems to be addressed, do we really have time to invest in people who can't deliver?
  • Be brutally honest with funders, board members, others about the true costs of running operations effectively and don't apologize for, or hide, administrative expenses
  • Create a bold strategic plan that will drive the organization toward social impact and sustainability, not mediocrity.
From Change.org.

That's exactly what we have been trying to do in AIESEC Norway - and we are beginning to see the successes of it. I still love one of the quotes from one of our members "AIESEC is volunteer? Yes, volunteer to join, volunteer to leave, but while you are here you work your ass off".