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297: Encouraging Insight Through More Coach-like Conversations with Michael Bungay Stanier

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Michael Bungay Stanier returns to talk about become more coach-like by staying curious longer and giving advice a bit more slowly.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why we more naturally give advice rather than ask questions
  2. The questions effective coaches ask
  3. How to deal with the uncoachable

About Michael

Michael Bungay Stanier is the founder of Box of Crayons, a company best known for teaching 10-minute coaching so that busy managers can build stronger teams and get better results. On the way to founding Box of Crayons in 2002, Michael lived in Australia, England, the United States and Canada, his current home. He has written a number of books. His latest, the Wall Street Journal bestseller The Coaching Habit, has sold over 350,000 copies. It has been praised as one of the few business books that actually makes people laugh out loud. He was the first Canadian Coach of the Year, is a Rhodes Scholar, and was recently recognized as the #3 Global Guru in coaching. Balancing out these moments of success, Michael was banned from his high school graduation for “the balloon incident,” was sued by one of his law school lecturers for defamation, and his first published piece of writing was a Harlequin romance short story called “The Male Delivery.”

 

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Michael Bungay Stanier Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Michael, welcome back to the How to Be Awesome at Your Job Podcast.

Michael Bungay Stanier
It is lovely to be back. This is will be fun. I can just feel it in my bones that this is going to be a great conversation.

Pete Mockaitis
I feel it too. The last one was so fun and you’re too kind for coming back. I was but a newbie, only 55 episodes in back then. I misspelled your name. I kind of had some facts about you wrong. And you came back for more, what a sport.

Michael Bungay Stanier
It all made me sound much more interesting than I am, calling me Nigel Bungay Stanier is odd, but I flew with it.

Pete Mockaitis
Nigel, it’s among the most sophisticated and intellectual of options. I realized last time we never talked about the balloon incident in your high school. I think that’s important to get on the record over here.

Michael Bungay Stanier
You’re right. In my bio it says ‘was banned from his high school graduation for the balloon incident.’ Here’s my decision on this. I’m never going to tell what that is actually about. But I’ll tell you what, Pete. The truth is the story itself is actually less exciting and enticing than that awesome one-liner sounds.

It is true that I was banned from my high school graduation for the balloon incident, but I want to leave it up to people’s imagination, just what can one man do with some balloons that is significant that he is not allowed to then graduate from his high school, where, by the way, I won prized and I did this and I did that and they still wouldn’t let me participate in the ceremony. I’m just going to tantalize people with that.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m so intrigued and I am tantalized. In a way I can kind of relate. You’re a Rhodes Scholar, yes?

Michael Bungay Stanier
That’s right.

Pete Mockaitis
An impressive intellect. You’d think they’d want to honor one of their best and brightest during the big day. I’m going to just imagine that the balloon ended up destroying an expensive piece of equipment. That’s what I have in my imagination.

Michael Bungay Stanier
I can neither confirm nor deny that.

Pete Mockaitis
All right, well I’m going to roll with that for now.

We talked way back in episode 55 and we kind of got the basics of what your book The Coaching Habit is all about. It’s since become much more of a smash hit now than it was before.

Michael Bungay Stanier
It’s amazing.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Tell us a little bit about living that life. When you hit 1,000 Amazon reviews does Jeff Bezos come by your house or-?

Michael Bungay Stanier
He does, yeah. Exactly. In fact Jeff got my name tattooed on to his arm in celebration of the book. No, that didn’t happen.

The book is a little over two years old now. It launched February the 29th 2016 because February the 29th, why wouldn’t I choose that date. It has gone from strength to strength. It’s about 400,000 copies sold. It’s constantly in the top 1,000 books sold on Amazon, which is exciting.

In fact last week it got up to the number six book overall on Kindle books on Amazon. Number one in the business category. To all of your audience, they don’t care about this, but I was geeking out about this.

As you said, we’ve got over 1,000 reviews on Amazon. In fact, we’ve now got over 1,000 five-star reviews. It’s just a well-received book that we worked really hard to write and publicize and all of that. But somewhere along the lines someone sprinkled fairy dust into the mix and so it’s just going gangbusters. It’s very exciting.

Pete Mockaitis
That is so good. I’d like to maybe first get your take when it comes to –you say the word coaching, could you get us oriented a little bit in terms of what you mean, what you don’t mean and any kind of preconceptions you want to make it clear that you are not that?

Michael Bungay Stanier
Yeah, it’s a great question and I’m going to just tweak it a little bit and frame it up.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s so coach-like of you.

Michael Bungay Stanier
That is right. The purpose of this book, even though coaches love it, is actually not to make people into coaches. It’s to help people be more coach-like.

Because actually the person that I had in mind when I wrote this book, and I will say the people more broadly than this, but the person I desperately had in mind was you are a busy, engaged manager. You are doing the best you can, but you are a bit overwhelmed. You are a bit stuck. You’re not …. The one who got the next leap forward is for you to have more impact and find more meaning in the work that you do.

This is the person who I imagine, she goes up to the airport book store, she sees the book there, she picks it up, she goes, “I could read this”. It’s a short, interesting looking book and she finds a tool to help her be more coach-like.

What do I mean by more coach-like? Here’s the thing. I boil it down to a very simple behavior and it is this, can you stay curious a little bit longer, can you rush to action and advice giving just a little bit more slowly.

Now you can talk about coaching in different ways. In the book I talk about a coaching cycle and that’s a new insight typically generated by good question, an insight about yourself or about the situation leads to a positive behavior change. In other words you do something differently.

Positive behavior change leads to increased impact, hopefully positive increased impact, which in turn leads back around to new insight about yourself and about the situation. That’s kind of the dynamic of what coaching is.

I like John Whitmore’s definition of coaching more broadly which is helping people learn rather than teaching them, helping them to unlock their own potential. I think that’s really nice.

But all of that stuff is a bit abstract, a bit theoretical. I just love keeping it at a behavior change level, which is can you stay curious a little bit longer, can you rush action and advice giving a little bit more slowly because I think most people are advice giving maniacs. They love it.

They’re trigger wired to actually leap in with ideas, suggestions, solutions, ways you should do it even when they have no idea what’s actually going on. We’re just trying to shift that behavior just a little bit.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, that’s very handy. Then you lay out some excellent questions that are powerful and flexible. That’s where we spent most of our time in the last conversation. How about I take a crack at doing maybe a two-minute summary and you can tell me all the ways that I’ve grossly mischaracterized your opus.

Michael Bungay Stanier
I’m quietly confident you’re totally going to nail this, so take it away. The seven questions from the coaching heaven. Drumroll please.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, it’s on.

Michael Bungay Stanier
Pete, number one is.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, the opening question, what’s on your mind that enables you to focus the conversation and position your partner to do the thinking?

Michael Bungay Stanier
Perfect, and get into the juicy stuff fast. Sometimes it’s like… it’s like trying to chat somebody up at a bar. You know once you get into it, it’s going to be fine, but what’s the question that gets you into it.

We call this the quick start question, which is how do you accelerate into a more interesting conversation more quickly. That’s perfect.

Pete Mockaitis
Excellent. Then there’s the AWE question, which is actually a mini-acronym. It stands for And What Else. That helps you get into further depth and seeing really where they’re coming from with that.

Michael Bungay Stanier
Perfect. We call it the best coaching question in the world in part because it gives juice to every other question and you’ve got to know that their first answer is never their only answer and it’s rarely their best answer, but secondly, it is a self-management tool to help you stay curious a little bit longer because if you’re asking anyone else, you’re not giving advice.

Pete Mockaitis
Then there’s the lazy question, how can I help. Well, it’s lazy because you don’t have to figure out how you can help. You can just give up and let them figure that out for you. But that actually helps eliminate redundancy and make your contributions all the more on point anyway.

Michael Bungay Stanier
Yeah, I love that. The insight that people tend to leap in and start fixing things before they really know what’s going on, the lazy question is a great anecdote to that. Now I think the lazy question in the book is number five or number six. Can you remember what number three is?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, maybe I’m out of order.

Michael Bungay Stanier
The focus question.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Michael Bungay Stanier
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
The focus question is what’s the real challenge here.

Michael Bungay Stanier
Perfect.

Pete Mockaitis
Kind of focusing in on the main thing.

Michael Bungay Stanier
Yeah, and if you want to make that really powerful, you don’t just ask what’s the challenge here, you don’t just ask what’s the real challenge here, you ask what’s the real challenge here for you. That ‘for you’ on the end of it is a way of spinning the spotlight from the problem to the person solving the problem. It becomes a deeper, more powerful, more useful conversation right away.

Pete Mockaitis
Got you. Then – well, now my numbers, I don’t even know.

Michael Bungay Stanier
Number four, which is the foundation question.

Pete Mockaitis
What do you want?

Michael Bungay Stanier
You got it.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s like I’m in school. Praise me, Michael.

Michael Bungay Stanier
You nailed it. It’s classic. You’re amazing.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. That’s sort of that get after the primary goal and focusing your energy there. A lot of people don’t even know what they want.

Michael Bungay Stanier
Perfect. The next question is the strategic question.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s just sort of like an opportunity cost. If I say yes to this, what do I say no to?

Michael Bungay Stanier
Exactly. Where are you powerful? It connects actually to a previous book I wrote called Do More Brave Work, which basically says three types of work in this world. Everything you do falls into one of these three buckets.

It’s either bad work  mind-numbing, soul-sucking, life-crushing work. It’s either good work, your job description in short  productive, efficient, effective, getting things done, but also keeps you stuck in a bit of comfortable rut. Or it’s great work, work that has more impact, work that has more meaning.

When it comes down to it, the coaching question, the strategic question, what am I going to say yes to, if I’m saying yes to that, what must I say no to, is actually the core question that lies behind helping you and everyone do more great work.

Pete Mockaitis
Awesome. Then the final one is the learning question. What did I take away from this conversation?

Michael Bungay Stanier
You got it, exactly. There’s variations on that. The variation I use most often was what is most useful and most valuable here for you. Not only forces them to get … from the conversation and a … that they may well otherwise miss, but also beneficiary, it gets you feedback as to what went well in that conversation, so the next conversation is going to be even more effective.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, that’s good. There we are, we’re all on the same page in terms of what are the questions. Now I really want to know having lived it, worked with many, many clients, many, many readers, what are you noticing in terms of in practice what is really working well and what is not working so well when folks are trying to adopt a coaching habit?

Michael Bungay Stanier We picked seven questions. You can guess that I think they’re the best seven questions. I spent a lot of time adding questions, subtracting questions, putting more questions in, trying to do fewer questions. But I think these are seven really powerful, useful questions.

But in the end it matters less which question you pick and more about can you commit to staying curious a little bit longer. It’s worth looking at the things people struggle with, which is actually that behavior change. Why do people, when they’re rushing and give solutions, give answers, give ideas so quickly into the conversation?

Well, there’s an obvious answer, which is it’s habit. This is the thing that for your entire career basically your entire life because in high school and university as well, you’ve been praised and rewarded for having the answer. You have a pretty deep habit here of the way I add value, the way I get an A, the way I get a star, the way I get a pat on the back is by being the person with the answer.

It’s fair to say that on that kind of top level, the reason why being more coach-like is so hard is just that we’ve been practicing other stuff for years and years and years now.

But there’s a deeper level, Pete. I think that’s interesting to uncover. It’s where your question takes me is there’s a more subtle reason why people don’t want to become more coach-like, in other words, stay curious a little bit longer, rush to action and advice giving a little bit more slowly, is that it’s about power and control. Those two things that typically just below the surface in most relationships at work and at home as well.

Because when you’re giving the answer, it’s a pretty nice place to be. You feel like you’re the smart person. You feel like you have high status in the conversation. You’re the one with the answer; they’re the one with the question. You know what’s happening; they don’t know what’s happening. You feel in control of the conversation. You know how it’s playing out. You know how it’s going to end. You really go, I love giving advice.

Here’s the thing, even if your advice isn’t nearly as good as you think it is, which almost always is the case, even if you’re giving advice about the wrong thing, it still feels pretty good to give advice. However, when you ask a question – and questions are the portals toward staying curious a little bit longer – when you ask a question, it’s a much less comfortable experience.

First of all you hand control of the conversation to that other person. They’re going to take it some place that you don’t quite know where. By the way, this is what’s called empowerment. Nobody makes a strong case about I’m anti-empowerment. But the subtlety of empowerment is actually giving up power to the other person. That’s what’s happening when you ask a question.

When you ask a question, you actually move from a place of certainty to uncertainty. You step into this place of going, was that a good question, did that land, did they understand it, what answer are they going to give me, how do I handle that answer, what’s going to happen next. There’s all these uncertainties.

Part of our brain wiring is avoid uncertainty. Uncertainty is how you get eaten by a dinosaur or saber tooth tiger or wooly mammoth or something.

It takes practice and kind of overcoming some of your wiring to say, I’m going to ask a question, I’m going to give up control, I’m give up certainty, I’m going to stay in ambiguity for the longer game, the longer game of empowering those around you, increasing focus and productivity, and self-sufficiency, and accountability, and all of those good things.

It’s actually going to help me work less hard, but have more impact because I’m going to have a smarter, braver, more courageous, more focused team around me. But in the moment, it’s just really tempting to resort back to the advice giving.

When you ask kind of what’s worked, what’s not worked, the questions work. We’ve done this with 70 – 80,000 managers now plus the 400,000 people who bought the book. We know these are good questions but the struggle is the behavior change. That’s the thing for people to work on.

But actually, I’m just going to say one other thing, just one other things about, don’t tell anybody else, but we’ve just released kind of on stealth mode an app onto iTunes. It’s called Ask More. It’s only available for the iPhone.

Pete Mockaitis
We won’t tell.

Michael Bungay Stanier
Don’t tell anybody. But it’s a Tinder meets coaching. It’s a way of tracking your own commitment to being more coach-like. Swipe left, I gave advice. Swipe right, I stayed curious. You actually get to track your own practice like that.

We haven’t really made a big deal about that, but if people want to go and check it out, they’re welcome to kind of test it a bit for us and give us some feedback.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s really cool. Thank you. We’ll definitely link to that in the show notes. I’m intrigued. It’s about the behavior change and part of the behavior I guess is just doing it in the first place, like just choosing to ask the question instead of giving advice.

Then I’m also thinking about when you spoke to that notion of power, I guess I’m thinking about how you ask the question too. Because as you described it, it’s true, there are times I’ve asked questions and I was entering that vulnerable place of “Okay, what’s going to happen. I don’t quite know.”

There are other times I’ve asked a question and I’ve still felt very much confident and empowered. It’s just like, “I’m just segmenting you. You’re going to give me one of four answers and based upon that I will proceed to give you the appropriate advice.” They’re very different experiences.

Michael Bungay Stanier
I think you’re right. The thing that I think is the subtlety here and the thing to bear in mind is to go for who’s sake am I asking this particular question.

It’s one of the reasons why in general we encourage people to stay away from the idea of asking why questions. Obviously why questions have their place. If people … you start with why. It’s all about being a purpose-driven company. Fantastic. Some of you may know the ladder of inference. You ask why five times to get a root cause of a situation. Perfect.

But in terms of every day interactions with people, asking why doesn’t work so well. Here’s why. The first is it’s actually quite tricky to ask the question why without it sounding a bit accusatory, a bit judgmental. “Why did you do that?” will typically be heard as, “Why the hell did you do that?” You’ve got that.

But the second thing and this feed to that more subtle reason about for whose sake are you asking this question. If you’re asking why, what you’re really doing is explain your motives, explain your thinking, explain what was going on for you. What you’re typically doing is you’re trying to gather data so that you are better able to then provide advice as to what the person should do.

Our approach in our corporate training programs is basically we’ve got three principles  be lazy, be curious, be often.

Being curious, of course, managing the advice monster, that tendency we have to leap to advice. Being often, understanding that every interaction can be a little more curious, a little less rush to action and advice.

But being lazy, is this piece about going how do I stop talking responsibility for that other person’s life. In that asking why, you’ve got somebody working out how do I figure out what’s going on, so I can give the better answer. I can jump in and fix you for you. As opposed to saying, “Hey Pete, big challenge ahead of you, but this is your challenge, so let me help you figure it out.”

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. I’d also love to get your take then when folks are having troubles with the implementation or making the shift. Have you encountered any other surprises like, “Huh, how about that? When people are doing this, this sort of thing keeps popping up.”

Michael Bungay Stanier
It’s a good question. I would say that one of the points of resistance to coaching is the fear that you will inverted commas ‘go too far,’ like I’m going to ask a question that will make this person reveal their dark, and terrible, and sad, and horrible past, and I won’t know how to handle that.

What happens in kind of subtle ways people go, “I’m not going to ask Pete this question because he probably can’t handle it.” But what they’re often saying is, “I’m not going to ask Pete this question because I probably can’t handle it. I don’t know where it’s going, I don’t know what this is going to reveal, I don’t know what this is about.”

We kind of make up this, “Oh, look how nice I am to protect this person from themselves,” when in fact it’s really just a justification to step away from having the courageous conversation.

It was a bit of a rambling answer, but I do think there’s something to say for people … who like, “I’d like to give this a go, I just don’t know,” is it’s an art, not a science. What you’re doing is you’re practicing staying curious.

What you’ll find is you can ask more questions than you thought and that will make more progress then you thought possible if you can just follow the discipline and ask a good question, be genuinely interested in what the answer is, and shut up and actually listen to that answer.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. And courage, I think yeah, that’s the word. I guess depending on your state of mind as you talk about some of these stakes that show up and what can unfold. I guess sometimes I’m thinking, “Oh, how exciting. Let’s see where this goes,” other times I’m like, “Oh, how terrifying. I don’t know where this is going to go.”

Michael Bungay Stanier
Exactly. Right. You’re pointing to it perfectly which is, “Oh my goodness, where is this going? Ah.” Okay, but if you’re in service to the person you’re having conversation with, I think of this as a classic example of servant leadership. If you’re in true service to this person, you’re going to go, “Right, how do I help? How can I be of service? How do I put my discomfort aside so that other person can find something valuable here?”

Pete Mockaitis
I heard you on Todd Henry show, The Accidental Creative. He was on our show recently. I’m using the past tense. I’m assuming it will air before this one airs. Awesome guy. I love the definition you shared about what is it to be an adult or to have an adult conversation.

Michael Bungay Stanier
This caters nicely to that fourth question, the foundation question  what do you want. You could say that Box of Crayons, we have this focus of teaching 10-minute coaching, so busy managers can build stronger teams and get better results.

But behind that is a commitment to help people build adult-to-adult relationships in the work place. How do you show up as a grownup in your own life knowing that institutions work really hard to overturn that dynamic? They much prefer a feel like a parent-child relationship rather than an adult-to-adult relationship.

Pete Mockaitis
Is that because folks will just do what they’re told and cause less headaches for everybody?

Michael Bungay Stanier
Yeah. I think they think it means about it’s about being compliant so we get forced into – do we get forced – the culture encourages us to sometimes be the parent, sometimes be the child.

But it’s harder to show up as an adult because with an adult – and I take this from Peter Bock, who taught me about this. He’s saying, “Look, when you’re an adult, you take responsibility for your own freedom.” You take responsibility for the choices you have in front of you and you take those choices.

When you make those choices, … experience of an adult is you have the liberation of owning your own life, but when you make choices it comes with both guilt and anxiety. Guilt about, “What about those other options that I turned down? What’s going to happen to them?” Anxiety about “Is this the right choice? What if this choice doesn’t play out?”

For me, talking about your question, a nice way I heard of defining an adult-to-adult relationship is can you ask for what you want knowing that the answer may be no.

I would say that for many of us, we often don’t know what we want. We haven’t done that thinking, that work, that kind of connecting to heart, mind, soul. We’re not good at asking for what we want even if we know it. We’re not good at hearing other people’s requests and knowing that we can say yes or no to those requests.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, it’s potent stuff there. I’m wondering about maybe the why and it’s I guess just fear. It’s like if you do know what you want and you don’t ask for it, what’s underneath that is probably the sensation of if I hear a no then this dream has been murdered. There’s no hope for it.

Michael Bungay Stanier
Right, yeah. I think that’s absolutely right. Then you find yourself trading away your life for the temporary comfort of not pushing for what you want.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, this got deep.

Michael Bungay Stanier
Exactly. It suddenly got deep. Come on everybody, lighten up for goodness sake.

Pete Mockaitis
I also want to get your take here to shift gears a bit, I’ve heard the term often when I was in consulting about how one should be coachable. It’s great to be coachable and “Oh, you know, she’s not so coachable. Oh, be coachable.” This is a word I hear a lot of.

What’s your take having done a lot of coaching, helped a lot of people be more coach-like? Are some people uncoachable? How does one become more coachable? What is to be done with this?

Michael Bungay Stanier
That is a good question. I’ve been wrestling with this myself. I think people are – there are some people who are in that moment uncoachable.

Pete Mockaitis
In the moment, okay.

Michael Bungay Stanier
I’m sure I’ve been uncoachable in moments myself.

What does that mean? I think it means that you’re – if you think of the outcome of coaching being new insights leading to new actions, leading to increased impact, it means that you’re unwilling to let in new insights. It means that you’re unwilling to try something new and try a different behavior; therefore that increasing impact isn’t going to be available to you, certainly not in a more mindful, deliberate way.

Yeah, I think it’s probably easy enough to be uncoachable.

You can frame it in another way, which is like if you think about the bell curve. In the one end you’ve got people who are the keeners, who are like, “Oh man, I love this coaching stuff. I’m all over it.” You’ve got people in the middle who are like, “I’m open to it, but I’m not sure.”

Then you’ve got people on the other end who you could call them the cynics. I think there’s some sort of Greek – the translation of what a cynic is. Is this right? It’s something along the lines of – and this is probably not suitable for work – but it’s like doglike, meaning like a dog you lift your leg and you pee on things.

The cynics tend to have already made up their minds about what’s going to happen and nothing’s going to convince them otherwise.

Skeptics on the other hand, I quite like. Skeptics are people who are like, “You know what? I’ve had my heart broken too many times, but secretly I would love this to work because if it works, I’m going to be a great champion for it. I’m just suspicious because I’ve heard the promises before.” But cynics like you’ve already decided this is going to be bad and it’s hard to work with cynics.

That answers part of your question which is are people uncoachable. I think some people are some of the time. I don’t think that means you’re uncoachable for the rest of your life.

Then what does it take to be coach-like. Well, if you come back to that definition of insight, action, impact, I think, in general, it’s a willingness to allow insights to show up and it’s a willingness to move to action and try something new.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. That’s good. I’d love to hear, when you’re sharing this with folks, because I imagine listeners are all excited like, “Oh yeah, we’re to do this in our group. It’s going to be great.” Then if they do encounter a cynic or a wet blanket or those who say that is very – “That coaching stuff, that feels very touchy feely. That feels very California. You know what? We’ve got a lot of tasks we’ve got to knock out now, now, now. There’s urgency.”

I’m sure you’ve heard all the resistance points as your team is selling the good stuff How do you – if folks are feeling like they’re not feeling it, sort of entice them with a little bit of curiosity and openness, so we can take a little bit of a step?

Michael Bungay Stanier
Part of it is a bigger approach to coaching, which is we rarely try and push coaching on people because people are too busy, people are skeptical, people have baggage around coaching which I totally get.

The metaphor I offer up is it’s a little bit like trying to feed a two-year-old spinach. One of the options is you put a lump of spinach on the two-year-olds plate and go, “Hey, eat the green, slimy vegetable.” For some reason the two-year-old is going to go, “You know what? I’m just not eating your spinach. Sorry about that.”

I’m not a parent, but I’ve heard it said that smart parents take the spinach and they blend it into the spaghetti sauce and they actually eat, so the kid doesn’t even know that they’re actually eating the spinach.

I think my approach to being more coach-like, which I’m differentiating from coaching. Different to stay curious than it is to say, “Alright Pete, come into my office. I’m going to coach you now,” which is slightly terrifying for everybody.

Being more coach like means staying curious a little bit longer. Really it’s just another way of having a conversation. If you can just slow down that rush to action and advice, stay curious a bit longer, you’re going to have a coaching experience whether you want to particularly label it being more coach-like.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, got it. Cool. Anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your latest favorite things?

Michael Bungay Stanier
No, I think we – I mean we’ve gone to some interesting places already.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. All right. Can you share with us then a favorite quote, something that’s been inspiring you lately?

Michael Bungay Stanier
My quotes all tend to circulate around the giving a strong yes or making a no. The – oh, I’ve forgotten his name. The guy who created CD Baby. He says, “If it’s not a hell yes, it’s a no.” In terms of thinking about commitment, I think that can be great.

I’ve got a quote on my desk from Charles Bukowski, who’s a poet, something similar it says, “If you’re going to try, go all the way. Otherwise, don’t even start.” I’m like exactly that. That’s a quote that’s … in Box of Crayons we’re writing strategic planning moments, so we’re thinking what are big gambles are for the next couple of years.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool, can you share a favorite study, something that you find quite insightful?

Michael Bungay Stanier
Well, I’ve just had the luxury of coming back from the TED conference in Vancouver. Part of what TED is about is to both in kind of equal parts inspire you and terrify you as to what’s happening in the world. One of the studies that could be see business leaders and educators talking, but sometimes it’s scientists and engineers as well.

One of the guys who got up and talked, and I’m sure this will be released eventually as a TED talk, was basically saying, “I’ve just –” you know how DNA has four letters to it  G, T, C, and A and that’s the alphabet that makes up our entire life. What he’s done is found two additional letters to add to that so that there are now six letters rather than four letters.

Very engaged and he’s all sorts of and this is how it gets contained, but he’s actually showing us slides of synthetic life that he’s made in this tweaked DNA. I have to say that’s a pretty amazing thing to reflect on. How’s that going to work?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. That just sort of stretches the brain into whole new places it’s never been before.

Michael Bungay Stanier
Yeah, it totally does.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, thank you. How about a favorite book?

Michael Bungay Stanier
I am going back to a book that I read some years ago, but I’ve just pulled it out again recently. I’m just reaching over to my bookshelf there. It’s by Carl Honore and it’s called In Praise of Slow.

It kind of talks about the slow travel movement and the slow food movement and just a reflection that so much of our life and our pace and the complexity of everything is only ratcheting up. Somebody said to me today, your life will never be less complex than it is today. I’m like, “Oh, that’s depressing.” It feels pretty complicated already. That book, In Praise of Slow, I think is an interesting read.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. How about a favorite tool, something that helps you be awesome at your job?

Michael Bungay Stanier
I’m not sure if you’d call this a tool or not, but it’s my attempts to shut down my technology, so it’s like an anti-tool. I don’t have the discipline I would love to have to not check my phone as much and not check my laptop as much.

On my phone, I’ve recently removed a lot of the key apps. I have removed my email app and I’ve removed the Facebook app, and I’ve removed my Asana to-do app. It just means that my phone is now useful for a few things and useless for much of things. I’m trying to remove all the areas where I get easily seduced into behavior that is I feel less useful.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, any other favorite habits to speak to?

Michael Bungay Stanier
The only habit that I can consistently maintain is making myself an espresso coffee every morning. All sorts of like meditation and journaling and stuff, it ebbs and it flows a little bit, but my main habit  drink two good espressos early on in the morning. Not very useful to most people I’m afraid.

Pete Mockaitis
It had its purpose. It has its place, its value. Is there a particular nugget that you’ve been sharing that’s really been connecting, resonating, getting note taken, retweeted, etcetera?

Michael Bungay Stanier
Well, the conversation within Box of Crayons, I’m not sure of this is echoing beyond that. Most of the stuff that tends to be repeated and resaid around social media tends to be around The Coaching Habit book at the moment. People have heard about that.

This comes a part of being in TED again and watching Peter Diamandes who created the X Prize, the thing about trying to get a private company to land a machine on the moon. He is very much about the bold scalability of things. It’s like what’s the 10x version of that.

The thing that is kind of echoing around Box of Crayons at the moment is how do we imagine what 10x’ing some of the projects that we have on the go might be. We don’t really have good answers to any of that, but it’s making us think really hard.

Pete Mockaitis
Awesome, thank you. Michael, if folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?

Michael Bungay Stanier
If you’re interested in the book, The Coaching Habit book, TheCoachingHabit.com is the place for that. You can download the first two or three chapters and get podcasts and tools and other kind of stuff to pillage from the website, so you’re welcome to go there. Obviously the book is available in Amazon and elsewhere.

If you’re interested in our program for your organization, need to do corporate training, so that’s BoxOfCrayons.com.

If you’re interested in just a little bit more about me and what I’m up to and some tools outside practical coaching skills, my full name MichaelBungayStanier, my surname is Bungay-Stanier, .com is the place to go for there.

Pete Mockaitis
Awesome. Do you have a final challenge or call to action for folks seeking to be awesome at their jobs?

Michael Bungay Stanier
Yes. What’s the bottom 10% that you’re going to eliminate?

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Now 10% of I guess, of what?

Michael Bungay Stanier
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
Percent of people, of activities, of-

Michael Bungay Stanier
People can go any way they want with that, but there’s a bottom 10% in some area you could pick which is limiting you and the courageous act is to eliminate that bottom 10%, so what do you want to do?

Pete Mockaitis
I’m thinking about the bottom 10% in my refrigerator.

Michael Bungay Stanier
Well, there you go.

Pete Mockaitis
That would be a courageous act to get in there.

Michael Bungay Stanier
Exactly. That thing that was formerly known as lettuce probably isn’t anymore.

Pete Mockaitis
Awesome. Well, Michael, this has been a great deal of fun yet again.

Michael Bungay Stanier
It has.

Pete Mockaitis
Please keep doing the great work you’re doing for the world.

Michael Bungay Stanier
Thanks man, it’s been a pleasure. Thanks for having me.

296: Working with a Recruiter 101 with Korn Ferry’s Julie Forman

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Korn Ferry partner Julie Forman shares how to leverage recruiters and executive search consultants as you manage your career.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Pro-tips for becoming more visible to recruiters
  2. Do’s and don’ts when speaking with recruiters
  3. When a pay bump isn’t worth it

About Julie

Julie Forman is a Partner with Executive Search Firm, Korn Ferry International where she is a member of the Firm’s Global Industrial practice and Marketing Center of Excellence.

She joined Korn Ferry following a 15 years career with GE where she’s held senior roles on both the Industrial and Capital sides with her last position being Head of Strategic Marketing for GE in Canada.

She focuses today on recruitment and leadership consulting mandates for industrial organizations going through critical inflection points requiring upscaling of strategic capabilities, shift in focus and transformational leadership. She is a certified Six Sigma Black Belt and Change Management Coach.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Julie Forman Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Julie, thanks so much for joining us here on the How To Be Awesome At Your Job podcast.

Julie Forman

Thanks, Pete. It’s a pleasure to be here.

Pete Mockaitis

Well, I’m so excited for this chat. And I’m curious to learn, first of all, since you’ve hunted many heads, recruited many people, how did you end up finding me?

Julie Forman

Well, it is through the beauty of LinkedIn. I was looking for some various leadership experts and your name came across. And I thought you had an interesting background, and just sent you a request to connect to keep you in my network. And you had started a conversation, which I happily took part of.

Pete Mockaitis

Well, yeah, it’s so fun because usually LinkedIn connection is just like, “Okay, cool”, and then maybe they sit there for a long, long time. But right away, you were so interested in engaging and shared some great tips. And I’m eager to dig in and share them with the broad world.

Julie Forman

Excellent. Well, I’m looking forward to that.

Pete Mockaitis

Well, and I understand you’re often asked so I’ll ask as well. What made you leave GE where you were for quite a while and go on over to Korn Ferry?

Julie Forman

Well, so as a lot of people in the executive search business, sometimes some of them, they’ve grown up in the industry, others have come from management consulting, and others, like me, have had an executive career before. And in my case, although I loved GE and spent many years and had an awesome time, at one point, I live in Montreal and with the company’s evolution, there just weren’t anymore roles that I thought would be my next stop here. And so, I had to take the leap of faith and follow one of my ex-colleagues who I happen to love, and who sometimes knows me better than I know myself, and thought that this would be a perfect job for me, a perfect follow-on career. And he is right. It is great. It leverages a lot of the skills that sometimes I think I didn’t even know I had myself. So it’s a lot of fun every day, and I get to work with one of my great friends, so that’s an added bonus.

Pete Mockaitis

Absolutely. And I have great respect for Korn Ferry, and we had your CEO in episode 273. And I’m excited for our conversation because it sounds like you have shared a lot with people in terms of working with a recruiter 101.

Julie Forman

Yeah, for sure. One of the aspects of having had a corporate career before as myself when I switched careers, I didn’t realize how little I knew about the industry and how invisible I actually was. And so, as I go through working with different people, obviously I tend to work with C-suite and above, but I love working with up-and-coming talent as well and telling them how to leverage recruiters and executive search consultants, and how to think about it as you manage your career.

Pete Mockaitis

Well, maybe let’s start real basic from the beginning. You said “recruiters” and “executive search consultants” or “headhunters.” Are these terms interchangeable, or how would you orient us to the words themselves?

Julie Forman

So the industry’s pretty wide, and it’s one where there aren’t a lot of barriers to entry. So I think one of your previous guests had mentioned 16,000 executive recruitment firm placement agencies. Basically, when you look at the ecosystem, there’s two different models. There is the contingency model – basically being paid when you place a candidate, which tends to cater to more staff-level positions. And then you have the executive search group that is a retained model, so more closely aligned to management consulting, where we are tasked with building specific strategies, solving talent challenges for our clients. And so you will find different firms that focus on the different types of recruitment. Now, obviously there is overlap, but typically, the more senior positions will be on the retained model.

Pete Mockaitis

And when you say “retained model”, that’s just how folks get paid a flat monthly fee for your ongoing services?

Julie Forman

Well, as you can imagine, there’s a lot of different variation to that.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay.

Julie Forman

But it’s more like consulting. So, when you hire a consultant and you have them redesign your whole plant, whether or not you implement those changes, you still owe the consultant for the work. So it’s the same way we do, it’s the same thing in recruitment – there is that notion of upfront work. Now, obviously we wouldn’t be in the business if we didn’t end up placing people, so we tend to be very successful at finding what we’re looking for. But the idea is there.

Pete Mockaitis

That’s cool. And so, maybe we’ll start really basic. So why would a typical professional maybe not yet at the executive levels choose to use a recruiter? They might say, “Oh, we’re just putting another middleman in between me and the job.” Is that helpful, and why?

Julie Forman

Well, so typically, a recruitment, let’s say we talk about search consultant.

Pete Mockaitis

Alright.

Julie Forman

So search consultants — they work for the client, and that’s something that’s very important. So often, we get calls about candidates saying, “Well, I’m trying to work with a search consultant”, but actually, the model is where we’re hired by a client and we will find you in a sense.

Pete Mockaitis

Alright.

Julie Forman

When you are more earlier in your career, more of a professional level, then it is worth it to think about who I want to work with, because at a contingency level, a lot of the value that these consultants bring is knowing the candidates and being able to present them quickly to the clients, because there is that element of speed.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay, and so then I’m thinking if I am a professional and I am getting some inbound requests or information from a recruiter, how do I know how to sift through that a little bit and know, is this someone who has really cool opportunities or not as cool opportunities? Or you just have to kind of get deeper into the conversation to know.

Julie Forman

Well, the first mistake that I always see people make, or most people make, is that they are on a search mode only when they are actually looking for something, when there are not happy, when they want to move. When in reality, the conversation about your career should be ongoing. So when you get these calls, when you get these opportunities to have a conversation, you should take them. Have a conversation, learn what is out there, learn what these firms are working on, get a sense for what clients are looking for in candidates. And always make sure that you know the market in which you are, so knowing which firms are the ones that you definitely should strike up a conversation when they call, and that you should get to know.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay, and so there is a nice listing in a Forbes article that I’ll put in the show notes. Any other kind of resources you might recommend to get oriented a little bit to, who are the names, who are the players? And you said, “They’ll find you”, but if we want to find them, what should we do?

Julie Forman

Well, you mentioned it. So there is a list there, and those lists, and I think on the website you’ll share, there is both the professional recruitment and also the executive recruitment. Most of these firms will have an area where you can upload your information so that you are on their radar. So that is something that’s very important. The other part is also looking around you. So when somebody has a new role, ask them was there any headhunter involved, any placement agency, and try to get their feedback for the level of service that you felt, the experience that you felt as a candidate. And that’s something that’s really important – using your network.
But most of all, I think it’s about being receptive. Sometimes people feel that, “If I dare to answer a recruiter, I am breaching this loyalty I should have to my employer, and I will be tempted to do something that I do not want to do.” Well, that’s kind of not true, right? This is just about talking about your career opportunities that may or may not appeal to you. And it’s important to have those conversations.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay.  Well then, how would one make themselves more findable? I understand there is a LinkedIn feature that explicitly says, “I’m open to chatting with recruiters.” Or what do you recommend?

Julie Forman

Well, LinkedIn certainly is something that a lot of people use, so making sure that you have a very professional LinkedIn profile. And there are tons of resources out there that explain how to do it, but that’s certainly a number one. And not just listing the title; it’s really giving an idea of what you’ve done, what you’ve accomplished – that’s really important. That’s certainly a first part. Making sure that your resume is up-to-date and ready, not just as though I’m going to write up my resume because you want to find a new job, but because you’re ready to, if you want to engage in something, that you have it ready and at hand.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay. And so, you said there’s a number of these LinkedIn resources. I’d love it if you could name one or two, and maybe just a couple of quick do’s and don’ts that you see all the time.

Julie Forman

Sure. So the first one is making sure that when you describe your position or the positions you’ve had in the past, you are not generic. A lot of people, they write their accomplishment or their responsibility in such a generic term that it could be anyone. And so it’s important that you think about, what is my value proposition, what have I done that is valuable to an employer, and how can I create, I’d say, the feeling that somebody wants to call you and learn more about you, because that’s what LinkedIn’s all about.
The other thing, make sure you have professional pictures. That’s always very important. Make sure that you have – if you’ve done any major transformation, any major initiatives you worked on, things that are very relevant in your industry, make sure you highlight it in your LinkedIn profiles because those are the things that are picked up. And never forget that LinkedIn is a keyword-based search engine, so make sure that whatever keyword you would see in a position spec that you would be interested in, that that is somewhere in your resume, so somebody can find it.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay, so then it sounds like – we talked about generic versus specific, and the initiatives and transformations – that there could be a fair bit of content, a pretty hefty word count then on your LinkedIn profile. Any thoughts on how much is too much?

Julie Forman

Well, I think you need to put enough to be able to create the curiosity. You have to bring enough to distinguish yourself from others. Obviously, you don’t want to have a five-page LinkedIn profile, but you want to put enough. Most people do not put enough. It’s not clear the scope of their responsibility, it’s not clear what they’ve done. And it’s just not, I’m going to say “salesy” enough, right? But I would certainly advocate to put more than less, especially if you’re looking for a role.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay.  So maybe, I don’t know, just to frame it a little bit – two or three bullets or accomplishments per role, or is that about the right amount?

Julie Forman

About two or three where you… And it’s important as well to say if you are leading a team, how many people are you leading; if you have a sales responsibility, give me a scope of how much; if for example you’re working in a specific vertical or industry, what is that experience; if you’ve worked with major clients, what are the types of clients that you’ve worked with; if you’re working in sales and you’ve done through channels, which channels do you know, because those are the aspects that clients often will ask for.

Pete Mockaitis

That’s great. And I have advised many clients when it comes to, say, working on a resume, that numbers do really work wonders, in terms of if something is significant or large – what do you mean by significant or large? Can you put the millions of dollars or numbers of people?

Julie Forman

Yeah, exactly. Or somebody in finance that says on the resume, “I was responsible for closing the books every month.” Well, yeah. Whether they were closed properly or not, that tends to stay out.

Pete Mockaitis

Certainly. Well, and I think that specifically for a moment, folks in accounting roles, I think, sometimes those resumes are kind of tricky to showcase some real results in terms of like, “We kept things moving well, and appropriately, and sensibly, and according to GAAP, and nothing broke.” It kind of doesn’t have as much of a flash or an enticing element as, “Discovered acquisition opportunity that yielded $200 million of transaction”, or something. So I’d love to get your take there, if that is the nature of your role and responsibilities, like you’re responsible for keeping things moving and operating and humming, as opposed to generating new explosive initiatives that are game-changing – any pro tips on that?

Julie Forman

Well, you probably hurt the feelings of a lot of accounting people out there.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m so sorry, accountants. I love my accountants, and you have skills that I often do not. And I value your contributions, all accountants out there. I want to make sure these accountants are getting their credit, their props in any way possible.

Julie Forman

Absolutely. I’m just kidding. But what may not sound exciting to somebody that is not in finance can be very exciting to somebody in finance. I think finance is one of those areas where nobody is looking for somebody who just stamps paper or closes the books. We’re always looking for people that add value, that are business partners. That’s what we’re looking for. Just calculating numbers and presenting them and making sure they add, it’s not value anymore.
So it really is about, when you think about your role, is how do I add value, how what I do every day distinguishes me from somebody else, and why would somebody want to hire me and not somebody else? And if you have no answer, I would say, change it. Do something. Think about how you can change it up. Challenge yourself to go above and beyond. And find those bullets that are going to go on LinkedIn and make a recruiter say, “Hey, I’d love to get to know this person because they’ve just done what my client is really looking for.”

Pete Mockaitis

I really like that turn of phrase there, “Find those bullets”, because that is powerful both in terms of representing yourself to the outside world, but also the internal representation for promotions and performance reviews and those kinds of things, is to proactively seek them out. And in college, I was a little bit of a… I was maybe a little bit of a prestige hound in the pejorative kind of interpretation of it, or a very shrewd strategic career planner in the kinder interpretation, because I was. I was thinking, “Okay, what is this bullet going to be that is going to sound awesome to impress McKinsey, or Bane, or BCG?”, because I was hungry and focused. That’s what I wanted post-college.

Julie Forman

No, managing your career is certainly about creating those experiences that are going to impress people. But more and more, managing a career isn’t something that’s linear. Before, it used to be you need to impress your boss, you need to impress your boss. But today, those people who are going to help you along and accelerate your career are all over. They’re everywhere. They’re your colleagues. They are your direct reports. They are everywhere. So it’s important that we stop seeing it as such a, “I need to impress my boss”, because that’s not what cuts it anymore.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay, I’m with you there. So let’s say you’ve done some smart networking, you found some recruiters, or you’ve been found by recruiters by having an excellent LinkedIn profile that has the great keywords and great distinguishing accomplishments. What are some key things to think about, or goals to have in mind when you start having the conversations with these folks?

Julie Forman

So, it’s important to know what you’re all about, what you’re like, what you want to do, what you have been successful at, and what you want to develop. When you enter in a conversation, that’s the really important part. Too many people, they don’t think about it, and then they get pinged on an opportunity, and they’re just like, “Hey, it sounds fun. I’m just going to go there and explore it.” And they really don’t have the control of the conversation. So thinking about what you want to do is really important.
Another thing as well is what you want in your career, what you want in life. Every so often, you hear these conversations on, “You should not have your email during the weekend. At 6:00, close everything down.” But the reality is some jobs, you cannot do that. Whatever people say, I can guarantee you that does not exist. It doesn’t mean that you should do it. It means that if that’s a value, a preference that you have, then maybe those jobs aren’t for you and you should look elsewhere. And you could be successful doing something else. But understanding who you are and what you like is something that’s really, really important to find the career success that you want.

Pete Mockaitis

I think that’s a really good point there. It’s not just having a clear understanding of what you want, but also what you don’t want. And I have had some conversations with guests about establishing boundaries and that can take you so far. But as you said, in some roles that is just not going to fly, no matter how diplomatically brilliantly you engage in that discussion.

Julie Forman

Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay, cool. So then you’ve got some goals in mind, you’ve got some clear self-knowledge, and then you’re entering into the conversation. What are some maybe particular do’s and don’ts to think about as you are having conversations? You’ve got a relationship with a recruiter, and you are having some back-and-forth. Are there some things that people do that just are delightful to search consultants and just dreadful, like, “Oh my gosh, I hate it when people do this”?

Julie Forman

Well, so I’m going to talk from the perspective of a search consultant. It’s probably a little bit later in your career, although these apply to any level. The first part of it is really to engage in a conversation. You mentioned LinkedIn, and the reality is most of our sourcing, most of the way we find candidates isn’t LinkedIn. Most of it is our network, the network of consultants of the firm, and also, a lot of executives that we know and we ask them, “Hey, who do you know and how? I have this particular challenge. How would you tackle it? What kind of person do you think could tackle it? Do you know anybody?”
And so one of the things when you get into these conversations is to think about, first of all, “Is this something that I am qualified for, interested?” That obviously is the first question. And then if the answer is “No” to either of those questions, “How can I help the person? What do I know about the industry? How can I help, maybe with a contact, with an idea, with a place I would look?”, because that’s really important.
The other thing that’s really important is as a lot of management consulting happens, we’re not alone. So although I don’t do a lot of the work, the work is done by senior associates and research associates – all these awesome people who reach out to folks and who are often the first entry point.  And so make sure that you network with these people, that you are very kind and nice, and take their call and return their call. So that’s really important. Another point that is also something that we talk about and there’s a lot of different points of view, is salary. Do you answer when somebody asks you how much do you make?

Pete Mockaitis

Yeah, let’s hear that.

Julie Forman

That’s a big one. And there’s certainly a lot of different points. Salary, it has changed a lot. 30 years ago, 40 years ago, your salary – the salary you got from your job – often was your only source of revenue, and that kind of dictated where you were on the ladder of life. Today, you have people that have side jobs, and they create apps, and they have this, and they have that, so salary becomes one of the ways that you create wealth. And so I think that as a lot of things in these days, transparency becomes more and more, that you should find a way to figure out to test, how much do I make and how much does this job pay? And benchmark where you’re at, and think about it that way.
So, it really is a matter of personal preference and where you’re at, but obviously when you are in search and you call someone and you want to know, “Are we in the right ballpark? Does this make sense? Could we create an opportunity that would be compelling for this person?” So when people are super cagey, it’s not the best. And they don’t have to tell us, but they have to tell us what they want. And that’s the problem. The reason we ask for salary is people don’t know what they want. So it’s like going to a store and saying, “I want this. How much is this?” “Well, I’m not going to tell you how much.” It’s like, “Okay.” So it just doesn’t work. So either you say what you make, if it’s actually allowed, because a certain US state now prohibits it, or you say, “You know what? This is what I’m looking for. This is the range that I’m looking for.” And you have to have the confidence to say it.

Pete Mockaitis

Certainly. I’ve heard that tip shared and it resonated with me. When asked the question, “What are you currently being paid?” the appropriate answer is, “I am targeting a range between X and Y.” So it’s a little bit of a dodge, but I think it still accomplishes the goal you spoke of, is, “I need to know what works for you.”

Julie Forman

Absolutely. And you need to know how do you relate. And when you have these conversations, it’s a good time to ask, “Hey, I’m at this point. Does it make sense? What do you see?” Not obviously with everybody who calls, but when you’ve established that relationship, when you have this person you spoke to two or three times, and you’ve met them, you can ask. It doesn’t change anything. At the end of the day, whatever offer you get, you can say “No”. But the problem is people think that whatever is put in front of them, they just have to take it.

Pete Mockaitis

I think that’s very wise. And I want to dig a little bit more into – you said people don’t really know what they want. Could you be a little bit more specific, in terms of maybe precise questions within that realm of “What do you want?” that you often see people just don’t have answers to?

Julie Forman

Well, I think a lot of people, they start in a career, they get paid a certain amount, and they don’t talk about it at all. And so they have no idea whether or not they’re fairly paid for what they do. So, it’s about knowing, getting a little bit more information, educating yourself to know, “Okay, so what does an average role pay?” And sometimes getting a $5,000-$10,000 raise is not worth changing the job. But sometimes having that information helps you think about, or gives you the confidence the next time you’re in front of your boss and you need to negotiate that raise, knowing what is it that you’re worth out there, what are similar jobs paying. And it doesn’t mean you’re going to leave, but it means that you have at least that information.

Pete Mockaitis

Oh, that’s good. And I’d like for you to speak a little more to that. You say sometimes a 5 or 10K bump is not sufficient to exit. And I can think of many such reasons why that’s the case. Could you elaborate on some of the biggies?

Julie Forman

Well, so especially when you’re earlier in your career. This isn’t a sprint; it’s a marathon. So you need to think about what is it that you want to develop, where do you want to go, and what is the best environment to develop that? And is it worth $10,000 if you just leave what you have and go? Sometimes you’re not in the right environment and you need to leave, and you’re not going to reach your goals where you are, but saying that just money is enough to motivate a move is rarely the right decision. It needs to be a package.
So, getting back to your question – you have a support environment in your role, where they are coaching you to get to the next level, you’re in an industry that you’re passionate about, and you’ve worked many years to develop, let’s say a clientele, and it’s just starting to work out for you. That would be too bad to let that aside to go to something else. So there’s a lot of reasons, but typically, people know. You get that good feeling on whether or not you’re doing it for, really, the holistic value of changing, or really if it’s just the appeal of a little extra cash.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay, understood. And I’d also like to get your take when it comes to, you said we’re looking at keywords and does it seem to have a fit based upon distinctive experience. I also want to hear from you in terms of, are there some things associated with attitude or demeanor or some sort of other universal things like, regardless of I am trying to find someone in marketing or finance or if it’s in airlines or high-tech, everybody loves a candidate who, blank. Could you fill in some of those blanks?

Julie Forman

So the number one attribute, I would say, is somebody who’s agile. And agility is about the ability to take everything you’ve learned in the past and kind of rearrange it to deal with a new situation. The reality is the world is unpredictable. Nobody knows what’s going to happen. There are shocks every day, and so you can’t be prepared for everything that is going to come in front of you. But you can be prepared in developing a lot of different skills and having that ability to put them together to face whatever situation’s in front of you. So that’s definitely one.
The other one that’s very popular, and for good reason, is authenticity. So the ability to really embrace who you are and who people are, and find your real strength, and knowing what you’re good at and what you’re not so good at. And that has a lot of different flavors, you can call it self-awareness, but that’s really important – knowing what it is that you can do and being upfront and honest about it.

Pete Mockaitis

And I can see how the authenticity piece, you can kind of get a quick gauge if you’re talking to someone, if they seem to say that they are great at everything, it’s like, “Maybe, maybe not.” But we’re not maybe getting the whole story or the full truth, in terms of seeing that self-awareness or that authenticity. I’m wondering from your vantage point, how do you get a read on if someone seems agile?

Julie Forman

Well, so that’s a good question. I think it’s when you speak to somebody and they talk about their background, there is a lot of creativity in how people approach problems and create solutions, and they’re always on the lookout for something new, something different. They’re not afraid of trying different things, and they’re not afraid of changing industries, or changing roles, or they see more of the positive than the potential challenge.
So that’s typically when somebody is very agile. Now, there is a scientific measure taken from it, and we could certainly measure it. Each time we do interviews and we meet with candidates, it’s really something that we measure. But on a high level, it really is that ability to be creative on how you tackle problems.

Pete Mockaitis

Well, you got me so intrigued now. Scientifically measuring this agility, I know Korn Ferry has some tools, instruments, assessments along those lines, but from a mere conversation you’re getting a gauge and taking that into a number. How does that work, to the extent that you’re not disclosing super proprietary things here?

Julie Forman

No, so to get into levels and numbers, those are very complex assessments that are done, and so we certainly don’t do it by just a conversation. But I mean you get a feeling. I think it’s the feeling of when you think about those contests around the world and you’re a team of two and you have these challenges that you’re not too sure about. I think it’s Amazing Race. Well, who would you like to be on with Amazing Race? Who would you feel that whatever’s thrown at you, you will kind of manage it through? And it’s that feeling that we tend to look into in candidates, somebody who you would feel very safe in whatever situation, you know they’ll figure it out. And so we don’t come out of an interview with a number, I’ll tell you that much. It’s more of an impression.

Pete Mockaitis

That is a nice image there with the Amazing Race piece. Well, I guess now I’m thinking about in the consulting case interviews, in terms of we say, “Okay, we’ve thrown several business scenarios at you, where you’re able to crack them again and again.” And so, I’d be curious to hear in terms of, not to go too deep into interviewing, but when it comes to questions posed, are you seeing any kind of mistakes happening again and again that candidates can just easily avoid?

Julie Forman

Yes, definitely. So the biggest mistake that people tend to do is, they are not prepared. And they haven’t really been thoughtful about, once again, what is their value proposition, what are those great examples in their career that really showcase who they are and what they can do. And so what that creates is that when you’re in an interview, somebody will often spend too much time explaining the context, and then they get in the weeds, and there’s too many details. And they forget that this isn’t about the price of oil in 2012; this is about, what did you do about it?
So if you think about a minute, let’s say, or two minutes to answer a question, you don’t want to spend a minute and a half talking about context. You want to give it quick, have that elevator speech of, “This is what happened, this is the gist of it, and now I’m going to tell you what I did about it and that why I was amazing in this situation, why you want to hire me.” But most people haven’t practiced it, and that really shows in an interview.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay. Well, I also want to get your take here – you’ve recruited at multiple different levels of seniority for clients. Can you share some perspective in terms of what do you see those who are rising, they’re flourishing and seeing a really cool career progression. What sorts of, I don’t know, knowledge, skills, abilities seem to come up again and again? We mentioned the authenticity and the agility. Is there anything else in terms of themes you’re spotting?

Julie Forman

Definitely the ability to learn, and also the confidence of knowing, of being able to come out and meet with us, and have the conversation, and take the information, and really have that level of gravitas that we look for. So, gravitas is something that’s really tough to define. It’s tough to define, yet it’s so easy when you see it. And I think that one of the ways that you develop that is often by being surrounded by people who have great executive presence. But executive presence really is when you meet someone, and they have a good background, and they know how to conduct a conversation, and you feel like this person can handle a lot of challenges. That’s certainly something that we look for.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay, beautiful. Well, tell me, Julie – anything else you really want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Julie Forman

Well, I think it’s really going back to trying to develop the best that you can be. Many years ago, developing your career was about being the best. So if there were five vice presidents or five directors or five managers, you wanted to be the best manager to get the promotion to director, and then the best director.
Now things have changed. People come and go, there are no long-term careers anymore. So you need to make sure that you work on yourself to be a director, whether or not it’s a director in your company, whether or not you get your boss’s job, all you need to do is make sure that you are director-level. And if that position is not there, then you’ll get another position. And I think that really is a shift in mindset, where you need to work collaboratively with your colleagues, you need to make sure that everybody gets to be the best they can be. And at the end of the day, everybody’s going to win by doing so.

Pete Mockaitis

That is a nice final note there. So now, could you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Julie Forman

Well, one of my favorite quotes is actually by a great Montrealer who died last year, Leonard Cohen. And he sang in one of his songs a verse that says, “There is a crack in everything. That is how the light gets in.” And I think that Leonard Cohen wasn’t somebody who spent a lot of time explaining how he came up or what anything meant, so it’s open to interpretation. But to me, it really means that there’s nothing you can’t crack, there is really an opportunity everywhere, and that once you find that little piece of light, that’s when everything gets better. So it’s the continuous pursuit through imperfection that you get perfection.

Pete Mockaitis

Oh, excellent, thank you. And how about a favorite study or a bit of research?

Julie Forman

Well, study – I would say at Korn Ferry, as you mentioned, we have a ton of research. We have lots of information on executives that are successful and what makes them successful. So we’ve been looking at studies on what makes great Chief Marketing Officers and what distinguishes customer-centric leaders. And so we’re in a lot of that analysis right now, so certainly, if your listeners go on our website, shortly you’ll have all those findings.

Pete Mockaitis

Oh, so it’s in process as we speak?

Julie Forman

It’s in process, definitely.

Pete Mockaitis

Oh, cool, alright. And how about a favorite book?

Julie Forman

Well, I read so much for my job that I don’t think I have a favorite book recently, but what I’m going to suggest is a favorite podcast. I assume everybody listens to podcasts. It’s actually an HBR limited series called Women at Work. It is a six-episode that they ran about, I’d say, six months ago. And it’s a conversation between Amy Bernstein, who’s the editor, Sarah Green Carmichael, executive editor, and Nicole Torres, a younger associate editor. And it talks about issues that women face, but it is done in such a pragmatic way and away from the conciliation work and family that basically a lot of us are sick of hearing about. But it really goes into really more interesting and useful subjects, so I definitely recommend listening to those.

Pete Mockaitis

Alright. And how about a favorite tool?

Julie Forman

So a favorite tool, I would say… So I bought this nifty little whiteboard peel-off that I stuck on my desk, and tons of dry erase pens. And every morning I do my to-do list, and then I have the pleasure of just wiping it off as it goes through. And it’s great. At the end of the day, when you take that eraser and you just wipe it clean, you have a feeling of accomplishment. So hey, you take what you can, right? [laugh]

Pete Mockaitis

Oh, I like that. I think that Caroline Webb of How to Have a Good Day, in a previous episode, really kind of emphasized that, in terms of when you are getting the pleasure of checking something off, maximize it. If it’s digital, it should have a big swoosh, or an “oink” noise, or a gray strikethrough, or a disappearing animation. And if it’s paper, it should be a big thick line through it. And you’ve taken it farther with the erasing – that’s cool. So you say a “peel-off.” What exactly does that mean?

Julie Forman

Well, so it’s a whiteboard material but it looks like a big sticker. So it’s the size of a sheet of paper, and you just stick it on your desk. So there is no way… I tried the notebooks, but then the notebooks, you forget. Papers, you have too many of it. This is just in your face, so if you decide not to strike something off your to-do list, then it’s on you.

Pete Mockaitis

Understood. And does it actually stick to the desk?

Julie Forman

It does, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay.

Julie Forman

Well, it’s removable, so if there’s any furniture-lovers out there, it’s not going to damage it. But it’s like $10. It’s actually really cheap on any place where they sell stationery.

Pete Mockaitis

And it’s held up. One peel-off has stood the test of time.

Julie Forman

It does, definitely. Absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis

Cool, alright. And how about a favorite habit?

Julie Forman

A favorite habit, I’d say, is going paperless. So I have my iPad and Apple Pencil, which I absolutely adore, because I can’t get into the habit of typing everything, I still love to write. And going paperless is something that’s really great for me. It allows me to carry all my notes everywhere, it keeps them confidential. And I think that’s really something that takes a little bit of getting used to but now makes for a much cleaner desk.

Pete Mockaitis

And can you write with an Apple Pencil and iPad as fast as you can with a normal pencil and paper?

Julie Forman

Absolutely. It’s even better, though, because you can download some documents and then just mark on them. So it’s great when you have resumes and you want to keep that for posterity.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay, yeah, that works. And if folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?

Julie Forman

I would certainly point them to connect with me on LinkedIn. So I love building my LinkedIn profile with great people. Also Korn Ferry, our website. Korn Ferry’s coming out with great tools for even people at all career levels, so it’s certainly worth it to go and have a peek. It’s called Korn Ferry Advance, so that really is a great tool that’s coming out. And that’s it. And watch out for Korn Ferry Institute, where we have tons of great research paper that’s backed from our experience, both on the research side, but also the pragmatic part of being in search and seeing talent every day.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay. And do you have a final challenge or call to action for folks seeking to be awesome at their jobs?

Julie Forman

Yes, make sure you’re visible. Be out there, network. Even if you’re super happy in your job and you think this is the best in the world and you couldn’t be better, you never know what changes and you never know what’s out there. So be confident, know what you’re worth and what you can do and where you can go, and make sure that you can test that regularly on the market.

Pete Mockaitis

Perfect. Well, Julie, thank you so much for sharing this. I think that many folks have finally had this question demystified. So, very much appreciated, and keep doing the great work you’re doing.

Julie Forman
Excellent, thank you so much.