Thursday, June 03, 2010

Interview With Ed Muzio Part 1

Today we are bringing you part 1 of an interview with Ed Muzio, author of the new book, Make Work Great. The book is a 2010 Award Of Excellence Winner from the International Society of Performance Improvement and is the follow up to Four Secrets To Liking Your Work.

We are very excited to have gotten a few minutes from Ed to answer some questions on job seeking, corporate culture and his crystal process. Below is part 1 of 2 in this series.

Carolina JobSpot: As a new hire, how can you make an impact on company culture without being that "know it all new guy?"

Ed: One of your greatest advantages as a new hire is that your coworkers expect, and even welcome, your questions. It’s not appropriate for you to come in and tell everyone how things should be done, but it is absolutely appropriate for you to ask why things are done in certain ways. This ability to “ask the difficult questions” allows you to surface unquestioned assumptions and processes, even those that long-time employees may be unable to talk about without you.

Remember the “difficult question” advantage as you train, and build up to it. Pay special attention to all the questions you ask, and be selective. If you need information about a business process, for example, can you find an answer for yourself and check it with the expert, rather than asking him or her to do the work for you? When you do ask for your trainers’ time, take good notes to avoid asking the same questions repeatedly. Make note not only of the information you need, but whether there are ways for you to find it on your own next time. If you can establish yourself as someone who asks intelligent questions readily, but not someone who asks unnecessary questions all the time, you will be well positioned: when you’re ready to consider a “difficult” question, your credibility will be solid and you can proceed, albeit with caution.

How?

Let’s say, for example, that something bad happened with a customer a long time ago, and now nobody wants to talk about it. You recognize from hushed conversations with just a few people that there may be lessons for everyone to learn, and that the group would benefit from a “post-mortem” or “key learnings” close out process. But emotions are running high. It might not be productive to blurt out in a meeting, “I need you all to tell me what happened with Customer X, it’s important!” Perhaps instead you could wait for a smaller group setting, over lunch, and say “look, I have a feeling this is a sensitive subject, but I have to ask what happened here because I don’t want to make the same mistakes.” If your initial query works out well, maybe you follow up with “in my last position, we used to have close-out meetings in which we identified lessons learned from difficult situations. I’m just wondering how something like that might work here?”

Nobody wants you to tell them what to do, especially when you’re the new guy. But if you establish yourself as a credible learner, and use that position to gently open doors of inquiry that would otherwise be left closed, you can have a positive influence on your new workplace culture even as you’re still learning what’s going on.

Carolina JobSpot: How do you see hiring practices changing to adapt to internal culture changes as well as external factors like social media and trust issues due to the impact of the economy?

Ed: In the last decade we’ve seen an explosion in the use of pre-hire assessments, measuring everything from hard and soft skills to behavioral and motivational preferences. This, to me, is the first step: the employer, recognizing the influence of satisfaction on performance, trying to maximize alignment between position and performer. The next step, in my mind, is the realization that both position and performer will grow and change over time, and that the alignment needs to be maintained.

Both sides have responsibility for this; hiring practices will grow to reflect that fact, and I suspect that assessment usage will streamline toward that goal. Employers will seek employees who know how to recognize and develop work that keeps them engaged, rather than simply following scripted advancement paths. On the other side, employees will seek employers who demonstrate socially and financially a commitment to encourage workers at all levels to incorporate that type of initiative into their advancement paths.

It may not make sense, for example, that a senior technical contributor automatically become a manager of others like herself. Perhaps a lateral move into the financial part of the business would be a better fit. Both parties will be looking for the other side to support such ideas, in principle and in their own history.

As social media allows employer and employee ever greater visibility into each other, and as economic pressures reduce the tolerance for mistakes and increase the cost of failure, both sides need to encourage each other to take ownership. It’s up to employer and employee alike to make and keep a “Great” workplace –one with maximum output and minimal stress – and a failure on either side is a failure of the whole.

Carolina JobSpot: I love your chapter on You As The Seed, showing people that they need to take responsibility for their happiness and state at work and in life. For job seekers who are constantly hearing no, or nothing at all, what do they need to do internally to grow and find a company that has an opportunity that matches their needs?

Ed: There can be many reasons for a lack of offers, some of which have nothing to do with the job seeker. Sometimes it really is just the economy. Having said that, since job seekers can never know for sure how much of a “dry spell” is of their own doing, it is logical for any prospective employee to take as active a role as possible in his or her own success.

This doesn’t mean beating oneself up over past failures, but it does mean looking with an objective eye at what’s happened so far.
  • Is there anything to learn from past interviews? 
  • Could the resume be updated? 
  • Could the job search be expanded? 
  • Could the objective be sharpened? 
  • Could declining employers be approached for feedback? 

As Albert Einstein reminded us, one definition of insanity is to repeat the same actions and expect different results.

One possible tactic is to use a version of what I call the Verbalized Summary Output statement, or VSO, modified for the job search. The VSO is simply a 90 second statement of one’s purpose – which, in this case, is to find work. If a prospective employee can articulate the type of position he or she is seeking and why he or she is qualified for it in no more than 90-180 seconds, with specificity, then friends, colleagues, and social media can be used to “ask around” for possible opportunities. This process may open fewer doors than a more general “who is hiring?” query, but those doors will be more likely to contain appropriate opportunities.

The balance beam – taking ownership without faulting oneself – can be difficult to walk. Talking in the present tense about one’s purpose may help, because it will lead to a social network of others willing to support the search, rather than only those who will worry with you.

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If you enjoyed this interview with Ed, please visit the Orlando JobSpot for Part 2.

I also encourage you to check out "Make Work Great" the new book from Ed Muzio. There are so many practical tips, strategies and exercises that you can use to literally "make work great!"

(Interview questions by Greg Rollett)

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