Saturday, September 20, 2008

Intelligent Hiring for Clueless Managers

I used to have a rule that I wouldn’t hire anyone to do a job I hadn’t first done myself. It was a good rule. It's become more difficult, though, as our company has grown and lately I’ve found myself interviewing candidates for jobs I could never do. Accurately assessing a candidate’s true abilities is difficult enough. It’s even harder when you don’t possess them yourself. Here are a few things that have helped me.

Go to “School”. While you may not be able to fully learn the job itself before filling it, you should still learn as much as possible about the job. Quiz friends and colleagues with experience in that job. Ask them what you should be looking for in strong candidates and what to watch out for. Probe deeply into what they really do every day, and have them help you flesh out exactly what elements of it would be most important to your company’s needs. Solicit their help in writing the job description. And of course, get their recommendations for possible candidates.

Don’t Fake It. When interviewing candidates for jobs you have little or no experience with, don’t pretend that you do. If the candidate uses a term you don’t know, stop them and ask them to define it. Trying to appear smarter than you are will only ensure you remain in ignorance. Be sure they explain exactly what they did day-to-day in each of their previous jobs, and that they do it in language you understand. This will also help you hire a candidate who can speak your language and communicate what they are doing clearly to you. Hiring an “expert” who can’t communicate on your level will only lead to frustration down the road.

Hire Experience. For some positions, it simply makes good economic sense to hire young, energetic candidates that can be easily trained and motivated. This is NOT one of those times. If you need to fill a role that you do not have extensive experience in yourself, hire someone who does. A novice (that’s you) managing a beginner is a recipe for disaster.

Look for “Manageability.” During the interview, and especially when checking references, pay particular attention to how easily the candidate got along with their bosses and management. Watch out for big egos. Dealing with big egos is hard enough with people who think they know more than you. It’s next to impossible when they really do. When going through their work history in the interview, ask the candidate to describe each of their bosses in detail and assess for you both their technical ability and their overall management ability. Pay close attention if the candidate seems to only really respect the bosses who had strong technical ability in their particular field, since you obviously don’t.

Of course, none of this gets you off the hook for learning as many of the job functions in your organization as possible – especially the core functions. There is simply no substitute for first-hand experience. Work the numbers. Work the phones. Work the warehouse. Go on sales calls. Do tech support. Handle service complaints. Yes, hire well, delegate, and empower – but never, ever abdicate your responsibility to know what your people do. Too often “empowerment” is simply code for abandonment.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Introducing Learn & Master Drums

It's official. Learn & Master Drums launched today! We've been working on this course for nearly two years, so we're incredibly excited to be releasing it. We really believe there is no better home training course for learning drums available anywhere at any price.

Thanks so much to Dann Sherrill and the huge team that made this course possible. You have invested countless hours that I pray will ultimately be a blessing to many. I am in your debt. And of course, an advanced apology to the neighbors, roommates, and family members of our future customers... I suggest earplugs!

We have a little tradition around here of honoring our first buyer of each new course. This time, the distinction goes to Alan Peden of Glaskow, U.K. Thanks, Alan!

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Legacy Days

One downside to marketing your products online is that you rarely get to meet your customers. That changed for me this weekend when Legacy Learning customers from around the world (seriously) descended upon Nashville, TN for “Legacy Days.” The irony is that we never asked them to come...

It’s fair to say that our customers are fans. They love Learn & Master Guitar in particular. I’ve been asked countless times whether we’d ever plan an event where our students could come to Nashville to meet us, each other, and their beloved guitar instructor, Steve Krenz. My answer was always “someday – not this year.” As usual, I was a bit slow to get it.

Our customers had enough of waiting, so they planned the event themselves. Honest! There was no input or prompting from us. Through our student support discussion board, our customers began talking, planning, and ultimately creating the entire event. They booked hotels, planned activities and even made t-shirts. Invited or not, they were coming. By that point, we’d gotten the message. If our customers wanted to meet us and each other that badly, we’d be ready!

The weekend was a fabulous success. We had guitar workshops, guest speakers, fun events, a charity auction supporting Musico a Musico, and a concert. It was so much fun meeting this eclectic group that makes up our core customer base. What fine folks!

On Saturday, we asked for volunteers for interviews. I wanted to hear their guitar learning stories and we filmed them for promotion and inspiration pieces. Wow! Hearing over and over again how our course had touched their lives was so gratifying. I heard one tell about how he used learning guitar to keep his mind off of the intense pain he was enduring as part of a long recovery from back surgery. An older man talked about how learning to play guitar was the last big goal for his life. Another talked of how it helped during a painful divorce. And on and on. The term "bucket list" came up often. We were impacting lives.

Getting promotional material was easy too. We didn't have to coax anyone into saying how wonderful the course is. Every time our customers talked about it, they simply gushed. On and on about how there’s no better way to learn guitar. There could be no doubt that they genuinely loved our simple course.

The real highlight, though, was the student showcase on Saturday night. One by one, the students got up on stage and performed. It was amateur music at it’s finest. Compared to the professional music you would have heard on any other Nashville stage that night, it was awful. Beautifully, heart-warmingly awful. True beginners who’ve dreamed for years of playing, finally stepping up on a stage for the very first time.

I’ve never applauded so loudly in all my life.

Thank you to all who came and made the weekend so special. YOU get the credit for learning guitar and capturing your dreams. It is our honor to simply have been a part.