How to Hire Beam Holders

This is part two of a two-part series on beam holders. Read on to find out what that is, and how you can find them.

In my last column, I wrote about the value of beam holders to your business. In the words of Sharon Sloane, chief executive of Will Interactive, a company that makes training videos, a beam holder is “Someone who feels personally responsible for the welfare and growth of the company and will do whatever it takes.”

I refer to these folks as Super Stars in Game Breaking Positions. These are the people you want working for your company at any time, and especially when your business is in dire straits.

So how do you find them? For higher-level positions, I recommend spending the money for a search firm. While you may need to shell out big bucks, it’s a wise investment in your business to find the right person. Particularly if you are in a hurry to fill a position. Please read more about it in my column, “How to Search for Superstars.

If you have adequate time to fill a position and want to hire someone yourself, determine what attributes you would like in that person and set those as criteria for hiring.

Here are examples of criteria others look for. An article I read on, “The Top 5 Traits All Top Performers Share” by Morton Mandel and John Bryne listed these five traits:

  1. Intellectual firepower
  2. Values
  3. Passion
  4. Work ethic
  5. Experience

Another article in, “The Five Attributes of High-Performing Employees” by Laura Stack, mentions these:

  1. Looks good on paper
  2. Has a Yoda attitude, personified by the saying, “Do. Or do not. There is no try.”
  3. Has sharp, well-defined goals
  4. Ambitious
  5. Has excellent time-management skills

And yet another article on, “5 Attributes to Look for in High-Performing Employees,” by Ryan Caldbeck, lists these five:

  1. Horsepower (intelligence)
  2. Ownership and pride
  3. Work Ethic
  4. Integrity
  5. Teamwork

I wouldn’t argue with any of these qualities. These are all excellent traits to look for in an employee. And despite all these articles, you don’t have to stick with just five. Select which qualities are most important to you and look for those when hiring. That should lead to you building an A team of beam holders and super starts.

Let’s say your business is going along just fine and you don’t have any available positions. I recommend you always keep your eyes and ears open for the next beam holder. If someone you meet at a party or networking event particularly impresses you, get his or her business card and file it away for when you do need someone. You always want to keep your A team well staffed.

And one last point. Once you hire these people, you need to compensate them well to ensure they will stick around. Always keep them ahead of the curve on compensation. You aren’t the only one always on the hunt for beam holders.



Why You Want Beam Holders in Your Business

This is part one of a two-part series on beam holders. Read on to find out what that is, and how you can find them.

I love it when I come across a new phrase in business. Especially one that describes someone or something that I encounter frequently and can then use myself.

I recently came across such a useful phrase as I was reading an interview with Sharon Sloane, chief executive of Will Interactive, a company that makes training videos.

Her interview was in Corner Office, the weekly NYT column by Adam Bryant. He asked her what she looks for when she hires people.

She responded that she looks for “beam holders.” By that she meant, “Someone who feels personally responsible for the welfare and growth of the company and will do whatever it takes.”

She explained that she wants people who are personally invested in the success of the company and are willing to go the extra mile.

You know the type she is talking about. The ones who stay late for days to make sure a deadline is met. The manager who picks up trash off the warehouse floor when he is walking around or steps up to help a customer when the line is too long. The customer service rep that stays on the phone after her shift has ended to make sure a customer is satisfied.

You will never hear a beam holder say, “That’s not my job.” If it helps the business succeed, a beam holder will take care of what needs doing at that moment, whether it falls within her job duties or not.

This person will also not say, “I don’t time to do that.” If time is an issue, the beam holder will take responsibility for finding someone who can handle the task or project.

I look for those types of people too when I go into an organization because they are the ones who will help me pull it out of trouble. I refer to them as Super Stars in Game Breaking Positions. They aren’t hard to spot. In fact, I can generally tell within just a few minutes whether I’m talking to a beam holder or not.

These are the folks that have taken on additional responsibility for no extra pay when the company was downsized. These are the people who still show passion for the company they work for. Despite often being mistreated, unappreciated and expected to do more with less, they are still loyal to their companies and want to see them succeed.

I’ve encountered beam holders at all levels of an organization. Sometimes the CEO has pretty much thrown in the towel, but he has people in the warehouse who are still busting their butts every week to make the delivery schedule and customer service personnel who still do their best to handle the increasing customer complaints.

Sometimes beam holders may be the silent ones, initially hesitant to talk to me. It’s because they have been punished for speaking out before, or labeled difficult when they pointed out problems with the way the company was run. These people are sometimes the unhappiest because they know how the company could and should be run better. It bothers them immensely to see how far off track it’s gotten.

Beam holders are the people you want in your business — in good times and in bad. They will devote themselves to the company and do their best to see it succeed.

Come back for part two when I discuss how to find and hire beam holders for your business — how you can get those Super Stars in Game Breaking Positions.



What Kind of Intuition Do You Have?

Financial reports, pie charts, spreadsheets — all the numbers in the world will only tell you so much. Like me, turns out a majority of people rely on their gut instincts when making a decision.

A survey done by The International Association of Administrative Professionals and OfficeTeam of 1,300 senior managers and 3,500 administrative professionals found that a whopping 88 percent of them make decisions based on gut feelings.

I’ve written before about the value of trusting my gut. I have found that if I make a decision that goes against what my gut tells me to do, 99 percent of the time it turns out badly.

I trust in my gut to connect the dots in the future, as Steve Jobs referred to it, because, “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards.” As he said, “This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.”

It seems the higher up the corporate ladder you are, the more important your gut instincts can be, according to an article in the Harvard Business Review, When to Trust Your Gut.

“Over the years, various management studies have found that executives routinely rely on their intuitions to solve complex problems when logical methods (such as a cost-benefit analysis) simply won’t do. In fact, the consensus is that the higher up on the corporate ladder people climb, the more they’ll need well-honed business instincts. In other words, intuition is one of the X factors separating the men from the boys.”

It can be helpful to understand what type of intuition you generally rely on. If you know which skills serve you best, you can hone them and bring them to the forefront when faced with a big decision.

So what type are you? There’s a quiz for that, developed by OfficeTeam, an international staffing service. Take the 10-question quiz, What’s Your Intuition Style? to find out.

The five possible types, according to the quiz are:

  • Adapter. With this type of intuition you have the ability to use multiple strategies, including asking a lot of questions, observing people’s behavior and researching the situation. Don’t take it personally when your own needs are overlooked and let others know what you need.
  • Analyst. You are good at digging up facts, doing research and coming up with logical and well-reasoned insights. Use those skills combined with instinctive abilities when making decisions.
  • Empathizer. While you are good at anticipating other’s needs and identifying with their problems, be careful not to rely too much on emotion when making decisions. Remember the value of research and analysis.
  • Observer. This type of intuition relies heavily on visual cues based on other’s demeanor. Be sure to make sure you engage them in conversation as well to better anticipate the needs of others.
  • Questioner. Rather than rely on assumptions you ask the parties involved directly and you are good at getting people to talk. Learn to rely more on your observational skills to find out what people aren’t telling you.

This type of quiz can be fun and informative, but remember that it’s called gut instinct for a reason. We will never fully understand human instincts but knowing when they can be helpful can make the difference in your career.

The Willingness to Be Unpopular

I believe in always conducting business with integrity and treating everyone with respect. I’ve quoted Henry Kravis before, with whom I’ve had the pleasure of working. “If you don’t have integrity, you have nothing. You can’t buy it. You can have all the money in the world, but if you are not a moral and ethical person, you really have nothing.”

But despite the fact I play fair and treat people well doesn’t mean I’m universally loved — far from it. In a career as a Turnaround Authority, you have to make many unpopular decisions. If you want to be everybody’s friend, you’ll never make it in this business. It’s like that quote by Harry Truman, “If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog.” The same goes in the turnaround business.

To be an effective leader, you have to be willing to be unpopular at times. I’ve been so unpopular at times that I’ve been shot at – twice! When you catch people not doing what they are supposed to do or need to reduce staff or benefits, people get unhappy.

But good leaders often have to make decisions that upset people. Take a look at Abraham Lincoln, considered one of our finest presidents. He was also one of the most unpopular. The press hated him and characterized him as a buffoon. He received death threats, one of which was printed in a Mississippi newspaper with a reward of $100,000 offered for his “miserable, traitorous head.” Members of his own party hated him. There is even a book called “The Unpopular Mr. Lincoln: The Story of America’s Most Reviled President.” When he died, a paper in Texas said,  “The world is happily rid of a monster that disgraced the form of humanity.”

A truly great CEO will make unpopular decisions for many reasons — to save the company, to ward off competition, to prepare for future changes in the marketplace. In 2004, the industry thought Verizon CEO Ivan Seidenberg was bluffing, and even worse, crazy, when he unveiled his unpopular plan to lay down fiber-optic cable across the country to the tune of $24 billion. Verizon is now the nation’s top carrier.

When Howard Schultz came back as CEO of Starbucks in 2008, he took responsibility for the bad situation the company was in, despite the fact he hadn’t been at the helm during the previous eight years. The share price was down 50% with news sources claiming Starbucks was no longer relevant and would be killed off by McDonald’s.

Because the cost was so high at a tough time in the company’s history, his decision to fly 10,000 store managers to New Orleans for a conference was an unpopular one. But he credits that conference with turning the company around. “If we hadn’t had New Orleans, we wouldn’t have turned things around. It was real, it was truthful, and it was about leadership,” he said in an interview in the Harvard Business Review.

And let’s talk about one of the most unpopular CEOs of this century: Steve Jobs. He was fired from his own company at the age of 30. Rather than wallow in defeat, he created a new company, Pixar Animation Studios. In 1996, he returned to Apple, became its CEO the following year and created products like the iPod, iPhone and iPad.

Think about those examples the next time you have to make an unpopular decision. As the former prime minister of the UK Tony Blair said, “Leadership can be an unpopular business. The art of leadership is saying no, not yes. It is very easy to say yes.”

And look at it this way, odds are you won’t get shot at.

The Leadership Model and Vital Skill that Turned Around Home Depot

I have some idea how Frank Blake felt when he took over as chairman of Home Depot eight years ago. Employees, the board and investors were all unhappy with the previous chairman, Bob Nardelli, who had downplayed the importance of customer service and expanded in inadvisable directions.

Blake inherited a whole mess of problems to deal with when he took over. That’s pretty much what I do for a living as the Turnaround Authority. In fact, I’ve referred to myself as a janitor. I clean up messes.

Blake recently stepped down as CEO although he will continue as chairman for several months. He is credited with turning the troubled company around, and putting the focus back on customer service. He even kept his cool when the company suffered a massive security breach this September, immediately taking responsibility for the breach and issuing two apologies in five days, one from him personally.

He obviously did a lot of things right to get the $78 billion-dollar company back on track. He sold stores in China. He changed the bonus system to reward customer service and greatly increased the bonus pool even as earnings were collapsing. Last year he increased profits by $5 billion, without adding new stores, and during his tenure the company’s share price increased 127%.

I believe a major key to his success was reinstituting a leadership model that the co-founders Bernie Marcus and Arthur Blank had used – the inverted pyramid. According to an article on, less than a week after he took over, he said, “The right way to look at this is me on the bottom. My job here is to clear away the things that get in your way.”

And how did he clear the way? By not shying away from conflict and listening to people to determine where the problems were. As Carol Tomé, the CFO, said, “He invited conflict into our decision-making. We were conflict-hesitant. Frank asks a ton of questions that make you say what is working and not working.”

He was interviewed in the AJC this week in the column “5 Questions for the Boss” and said, “one of the toughest things in the job is having people speak candidly to you, telling you what’s going wrong.”

He learned the right way to ask a question — by assuming there is a problem, “which gives license for people to be more forthright. You can start the question with, ‘Gee, I understand we’re having real problems with the new process we’re rolling out.’ If you ask it that way, you can start to understand the issue.”

You have to give people a license to say what is going wrong. Otherwise, everyone is smart enough to realize that their career isn’t made by identifying problems. Listening is an active process and requires effort. Follow-up questions are important.”

When Blake took over Home Depot, he had little retail experience. I often become interim CEO of businesses and industries I have just passing familiarity with. But I do as Blake did, as pointed out in the Fortune article. “What Blake lacked in experience, he made up for by listening.”

Stories of Unbelievable Fraud for Fraud Awareness Week

I’ve written a lot about fraud, as I’ve dealt with millions and millions of dollars and merchandise being stolen from companies I’ve worked with. This week, November 16-22, is Fraud Awareness Week, a good time to review your fraud policies as they can cost your company a lot in lost money and time.

To celebrate the occasion, here are a few get-rich schemes that didn’t work out exactly the way they were planned.

This first story starts in 1993, when a con man convinced investors that he had found gold in Borneo. Michael de Guzman, a Filipino geologist, fooled investors and his employer, Bre-X Minerals, by filing down his wedding ring to “salt” the gold samples sent to a lab. At the discovery of “gold” the value of Bre-X, a penny stock, soared on the Alberta Stock Exchange. He and his partners eventually sold off a portion of their options for $100 million.

Enter the Indonesian government, which wanted a piece of the action. Concerned about his fraud being uncovered, de Guzman did the logical thing: he set fire to his office to destroy the files.

But it wasn’t over yet. The Indonesian government took over 55% of the mine to be run by Freeport McMoran, and Bre-X’s market cap went down a billion dollars. Ever resilient, de Guzman just added more gold flake to the samples, which he bought from local miners. The stock soared again.

Gregor MacGregor, winner of the Creative Fraud Award. He invented an entire country.

Gregor MacGregor, winner of the Creative Fraud Award. He invented an entire country.

Not surprisingly, the miners from the other company couldn’t find any gold and asked de Guzman for an explanation. So he hopped on a helicopter to travel to the site to talk with them. He never made it. According to the pilot, he turned around at one point and de Guzman was gone. It was assumed he had jumped and days later the Indonesian army found a body, eaten by animals, which they identified as his.

The stock plunged to zero. Many people think de Guzman is still alive somewhere, having paid a small sum for a body to be identified as his.

The Antar family committed fraud for almost 20 years, from 1969 to 1987 at the retail store chain ironically called Crazy Eddie. The company underreported taxable income by skimming cash sales, reported fake insurance claims and avoided payroll taxes by paying employees with cash.

This story involves another disappearing act. After the company went public in 1984, it initially scaled back the fraud to get a higher valuation. But motivated by a desire to increase stock prices, it devised other schemes to infuse cash like moving funds from secret bank accounts into the company.

After a hostile takeover, the fraud was discovered. Eddie Antar, the CEO, went into hiding for three years but was caught and convicted, along with two other family members.

But the Creative Fraud Award goes to Gregor MacGregor. He created an entire fictional country in Central America in the 1800s. While serving in the British army, he visited the areas now known as Honduras and Belize. After returning to London, he said he had received a land grant and announced the nation of the Republic of Poyais.

After getting the requisite flag, currency and yes, even a coat of arms for his new country, MacGregor began to sell land, issued debt and attracted settlers by regaling them with stories of the wonderful capital city and the quality of the soil.

Imagine the surprise of those first settlers when after a long ocean voyage, they found just jungle and old wooden shacks. MacGregor was arrested, but fled to France where he tried the scheme all over again. I guess that was easier in the pre-Internet days.

He then made his way to Venezuela, ending up with a pension and the title of general after he helped the country in its fight for independence.

While some stories of fraud like these are entertaining, fraud is a serious business. It’s a good idea to review your fraud policies. For tips on how to prevent fraud in your company, please see some of my previous posts


Job Burnout: Tips for Treating It

This column concludes a three-part series on dealing with job burnout. In the first post, ”Dealing with Job Burnout,” we provided resources for you to determine if you are experiencing job burnout. Part two covered the causes of burnout, and part three offers some solutions for job burnout.

 The stories in last column, “Causes of Job Burnout” may have scared you a bit. Heart attacks and suicidal tendencies should not be part of your career. And the statistic that job burnout is associated with a 79 percent increased risk of heart disease is a sobering one. The reality is that job burnout can be extremely dangerous. So what can you do about it?

To address many of the causes of burnout, you just need to get rid of stress, right? Not exactly. In addition to being a completely unrealistic goal, a certain amount of stress is a good thing. It can spur you on to greater achievement; it can be a powerful force to drive you to accomplish great things.

The best way to deal with job burnout is to recognize when it’s approaching and take time for a break. Head it off at the pass. If you began to feel some of the symptoms I mentioned in part one of this series, such as trouble sleeping, feeling disillusioned, increased irritability, take action to give yourself a break. If taking a few vacation days is not possible, at least take off an afternoon and engage in an activity that relaxes you.

I deal with a stress every day with my clients and their complicated stressful issues. However, I get up each morning with a smile and anxious to go to work. I cycle 50 or so miles and workout in a gym for several hours a week to break the stress cycle. We each need to find what works. Yoga, hiking or long beach walks might work for you.

You can also explore new ways of clearing your mind. News broadcaster Dan Harris was filling in on “Good Morning America” when he suffered a major panic attack on air. As he says of the most embarrassing day of his life, “I freaked out in front of five million people.”

Initially a total skeptic, he tried meditation. He had such success with it, he wrote a book about it, “10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works—A True Story.”

Here are two other tips from Harvard Business Review from the article “Three Ways to Beat Burnout.”

  • Manage Your Work. Some things to try include delegating, prioritizing better and getting more resources to handle your job. Maybe you say yes too often, and need to let others handle some of your responsibilities.
  • Do the “Right Work.” Burnout is sometimes not about how much work you have, but the type of work you are doing. If your work is just not fulfilling for you, tips for managing your time or reducing stress aren’t going to work.

Sometimes the only answer for job burnout is to switch jobs. Or careers. If you are suffering from job burnout because you are unfulfilled, bored, under-challenged or in a job that just isn’t a good fit for you and you are unable to change the situation at your current company, it’s time to start looking.

Just remember to take the lessons you learned from the causes of your job burnout and make sure the situation at your new company will be different. For example, if you suffered from job burnout because there was limited upward mobility or your values weren’t in line with those of your company, gather as much information as possible on the new employer in those areas.

The main thing to remember about job burnout is that it can be a serious condition. So don’t ignore it — deal with it.