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Archive for October, 2007

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I’ve never really thought of myself as someone who is good at hiring people. I tend to listen for what I want to hear, and I really want to like job candidates, which gets in the way of serious evaluation.When it came to hiring a nanny, I did a pretty poor job the first time, mostly because I didn’t know what I wanted. I was a new mom of 3 month old twins, knew nothing about parenting, and tried to hire someone who really knew what she was doing. Little did I know that by the time my boys were 6 months old I’d consider myself the expert in their care, and resent our nanny’s tendency to try to tell me what to do. When it came time to hire nanny #2, we interviewed three candidates and I immediately had a great feeling about one of them. She’s been with us for almost two years now, and we consider ourselves incredibly lucky.Our wonderful nanny will be leaving soon, taking off to travel with her fiance, and I’m worried that I won’t be as lucky a second time. But I’ve recently read First, Break All the Rules for work, and there’s a nugget of wisdom that I think will help our search be more successful.One of the premises of the book is that people who are most successful and happiest in their jobs have innate talents that lend themselves to the role. There’s an entire section in the book titled “The Art of Interviewing for Talent.” Basically, the book suggests that you ask open ended questions and then believe the first thing that candidates say. So no fishing for the answer you want to hear. No asking the question a few ways until you get an answer that you’re satisfied with. It’s about taking people’s initial responses at face value, and making decisions based on what you hear. There’s more in there about asking for specific examples of behavior and finding out what parts of the job are most satisfying for people.Hiring a nanny is such a stressful experience. There are so many different things that I am looking for: someone who will care for my children with love, help them learn to explore the world, have fun with them, feed them a healthy diet, handle any emergencies, be nice to our dog, etc. On top of that, there are issues around what kind of relationship the nanny wants to have with our family, and me in particular since I work at home. Whether she’ll be on time on a regular basis and if she’s not, whether she’ll blame the bus or take responsibility for herself.I like the idea of applying the principles from First, Break All the Rules for a few reasons. One, if I’m looking for talents, I’ll hopefully be looking for elements of her personality and her approach to the job that will address many diverse aspects of the job. And two, it gives me a framework for the interview, a way of approaching it from a structured perspective that I trust will get me good results. I’ll let you know how it turns out.

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One of the things I’ve learned from work is around setting expectations. The work that we do is often ambiguous and we often take our clients through a process is is scary, uncontrollable and unlike anything they’ve ever been involved in before. And we need to get through that process so that we can generate ideas that are both truly new and really good business ideas. (It turns out its easy to come up with ideas that are new and bad, but that’s a whole different post.)

One way that we address the issue of clients calling in a panic about the process is to set expectations as soon as the project begins. We share a document called The Emotional Rollercoaster that gives them a sense of what they’re likely to feel, when. It highlights ups and downs that we’ve seen clients go through time and time again. This is a great opening into a conversation about the emotional side of innovation. It also provides a tool for us to talk about during the moments when people really begin to panic. Reminding them that it’s common and necessary doesn’t ease the pain, but it makes the pain more bearable.

The conversations I have with my kids are, of course, a little less heady. But kids require the same kinds of expectation setting so that they can be emotionally prepared for what’s coming next. That applies to little things: I always have to warn them in advance when I’m about to cut a bagel in half and give them each half a bagel instead of a whole one. And it applies to the big things: their nanny, grandmother, father and I talked a lot about what would happen when they started school and developed an entirely new routine. While helping them anticipate what they’re going to experience and potentially feel doesn’t always mean I can help them avoid feeling it, it does leave the door open to helping them make sense of their emotion and, ultimately, get past it. Which means we can spend less time focusing on the emotional cost of an activity and more time doing it.

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I spent a few years before having children worrying about how I was going to be able to continue to do the engaging work of research, strategy, design and innovation and also have a rich family life in which I’m very involved in raising my children. To be honest, I’m still trying to figure it all out, but it’s gone from an acute concern to an understanding that it will always be a work in progress.

A critical element driving that shift is knowing that there are things that I learn at work that are very useful to me as a parent. And there are things I learn as a parent that help me at work. I’m writing this blog in the spirit of sharing those moments when I am reminded that my life isn’t about a battle between the work me and the family me, rather it’s about how work, family and other interests combine to create a life. Initially, I decided to write Office Meets Playground as a weekly column in another blog. But it became the part I was most interested in writing about. So now it has its very own home. I hope people don’t just read it but also add their comments and share their own experiences.

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