Saturday, November 10, 2012

Six Must-Ask Interview Questions

Interviewing can be a gut-wrenching process. Most books on how to interview list hundreds of interview questions you need to be ready to answer, but few talk about the questions you need to ask.    

Take more control at your next interview by asking some pointed questions of your own. Here are six must-ask questions and why you should know the answers.

1. What happened to the person who previously did this job? (If a new position: How has this job been performed in the past?)

Why You Need to Ask: You need to know any problems or past history associated with this position. For instance, was your predecessor fired or promoted? Is this a temporary position or brand new? The answer will tell you about management's expectations and how the company is gearing to grow.

2. Why did you choose to work here? What keeps you here?

Why You Need to Ask: Although you may like this company, you're an outsider. You need to find out what an insider has to say about working there. Who better to ask than your interviewer? This also forces the interviewer to step out of their official corporate role and answer personally as an employee and potential coworker.

3. What is the first problem the person you hire must attend to?

Why You Need to Ask: You need to be on the same page as your new manager, as well as be clear on what the initial expectations are and that you can deliver. What you don't want is to allow yourself to be misled about the job's requirements and end up overwhelmed and over your head after the first week on the job.

4. What can you tell me about the individual to whom I would report?

Why You Need to Ask: It doesn't matter how wonderful the company might be; your time will be spent working for a specific manager. You need to find out who this person is and what kind of manager he is -- earlier rather than later, before personality clashes develop. If you're an independent type used to working through solutions on your own, for instance, you'll chafe when you find you're being supervised by a micromanager.

5. What are the company's five-year sales and profit projections?

Why You Need to Ask: You need to know about the future of the company you plan to spend several years of your life working for. It doesn't have to be this exact question. For example, you might want to ask about the company's future plans for new products and services or any planned market expansion. Of course, you've done your own research, but nothing can beat an insider's observations and insights. This also shows you've done your homework and are serious about this company.

6. What's our next step?

Why You Need to Ask: This is your closing and the most important question to ask at the end of the interview. You need to know what happens after this point. Many books advise asking for the job now, but most people may feel too intimidated to bluntly do so. And with more candidates already scheduled for interviews, the company is not likely to make you an offer yet. You may also need to do some additional research on the company, making it too early to ask for the job.

A good compromise: Take the lead and set a plan for follow-up. You'll also be able to gauge the company's enthusiasm with the answer. Don't forget to ask for your interviewer's direct phone number and the best time to call.

What to Remember

As a job seeker, the key to a good interview is to find out as much about your potential employer as possible. Asking these six questions will not only make you appear more committed as a candidate, but will also give you better insight into both the challenges and opportunities that may lie ahead for you.

[As a recruiter, Joe Turner has spent the past 15 years finding and placing top candidates in some of the best jobs of their careers. He makes it easy for anyone to find and land the job they really want -- all on their own in the shortest time possible. Discover more insider job search secrets by visiting Job Change Secrets.]

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Why Are Presidents Less Effective than Prime Ministers?

Using game theory to model political systems leads to surprising insights

As the 2012 presidential election draws near, Barack Obama—like any incumbent president up for re-election—will try to draw voters' attention to his administration's record of accomplishments. An administration with a high level of "legislative success"—that is, proposing or endorsing bills that the legislature passes and turns into law—is rightly seen as an administration that "gets things done." And yet a common lament among even casual observers of U.S. politics, regardless of party, is that an administration that "gets things done" is hard to come by. Indeed, in the period between Dwight Eisenhower's first term and George H. W. Bush's first term, the average legislative success rate of U.S. presidents was a mere 68 percent. Meanwhile, prime ministers in the parliamentary system of the United Kingdom enjoyed an average legislative success rate of 94 percent from 1995 to 2003.

It seems that the American presidential system of government may be institutionally ill-equipped to "get things done" as effectively as a parliament. But why should this be so? In a recent paper, Daniel Diermeier, professor of managerial economics and decision sciences at the Kellogg School of Management, and co-author Razvan Vlaicu of the University of Maryland propose a model that offers an answer.

"We are trying to figure out how legislative decision making in these two systems actually works," Diermeier says. "If you were asked to create a new constitution that would ensure effective government, what would you write into it? It's not obvious."

"If you were asked to create a new constitution that would ensure effective government, what would you write into it? It's not obvious."

Conventional economic wisdom explains the "effectiveness gap" between presidential and parliamentary systems by pointing to the fact that prime ministers tend to exercise superior "agenda control" (that is, the ability to introduce favorable proposals to the legislature) and also control legislative majorities through disciplined partisanship. However, if satisfying these criteria were all it took to ensure high rates of legislative success, any U.S. presidential administration whose party held a majority in Congress (as the Obama administration's did before the 2010 midterm elections) should be able to enjoy parliament-like effectiveness. "That doesn't actually happen, which creates a puzzle," Diermeier says.

Diermeier's model proposes a new explanation for this effectiveness gap centering on the "confidence procedure" characteristic of the executive branch under the parliamentary system. The model builds on early work by Diermeier and his colleague Timothy J. Feddersen. The confidence procedure is one of the most salient structural differences between presidential and parliamentary systems. In the United States, which has no confidence procedure, the president and the legislature are elected separately; if the president loses the support of the legislative majority (as President Obama did after the 2010 midterm elections), his administration nevertheless persists until the next election.

But in a parliamentary system like the United Kingdom's, "you elect the legislature and they elect their executive, like a board of directors picking their CEO," Diermeier explains. "And they can remove the executive at any point through a vote of 'no confidence.' But this also means that not everyone in the legislature is part of the government; you get these coalitions to form a majority. And being part of the ruling coalition is very valuable: You don't want to risk being kicked out of the government. The prime minister knows this, and because of this confidence procedure, they can link the fate of any bill they propose to the fate of the ruling coalition itself. Since there's more at stake, you're more likely to vote yes."

Diermeier says that this model accurately explains not only the higher legislative success rates of parliamentary systems but also the anomalous fact that merely controlling the agenda through a partisan majority does not instantly turn presidential governments into legislative-success machines. "The type of sometimes-ugly bargaining between Congress and the president, and the fact that many of these bills fail, is an entirely predictable feature of this constitutional system—it's just set up that way," Diermeier says. Without a confidence procedure binding the political fate of an executive cabinet and a legislature together, the incentives for cooperation between them are fundamentally weakened, which results in a lower average legislative success rate.

Diermeier uses the Obama administration's battle to pass its healthcare reform bill as an example of this "baked-in" difference in legislative effectiveness. "In the U.S. presidential system, even with a majority in both houses of Congress, the administration proposed the bill and then there was all this back-and-forth to address all the competing interests," Diermeier says. "In the United Kingdom or Germany, here's what would have happened: The cabinet would introduce the bill to the legislature; everybody in the coalition would vote for it because everyone's main interest is to keep the coalition together and stay in power; and it would pass. The whole thing would be over in a few days."

So if the parliamentary system undeniably affords more opportunity for legislative success, why put up with the vagaries of a presidential system? "There are real trade-offs," Diermeier says. "If you want to have more broad-based support for your policies, a presidential system is better, even though lots of stuff will simply not get done because of gridlock. Parliamentary systems will be able to act more quickly and decisively, but the underlying support will come from narrower constituencies. And it's much more volatile: When the regime changes, they can easily dismantle what the previous government has done. 'Legislative success' cuts both ways.

"The differences between these two systems are like the differences between an SUV and a Ferrari," Diermeier continues. "Each one has its advantages in certain situations. But you can't be an SUV and a Ferrari at the same time." He cites the European Union, currently floundering through a fiscal crisis, as an example of the consequences of attempting a hybrid approach to designing a constitutional system. "The EU consists of states with parliamentary governments, but the EU itself is not parliamentary," he explains. "It's like the U.S. system but without a president. It's the worst of both worlds."

The somewhat counterintuitive insights generated by Diermeier's model come from game theory, which Diermeier has applied to other political systems as well. In another recent paper, Diermeier and Pohan Fong of the City University of Hong Kong used game theory to model legislative scenarios that contain a persistent "proposer"—that is, a party who maintains agenda control over the other legislators. In this scenario, the proposer is trying to introduce changes to a "default" policy that persists if those changes do not get approved. An example of this, says Diermeier, "is allocating entitlements like social security. Unless I can successfully change something, it all stays the same and doesn't go away.

"You'd think that in this situation, the proposer has all the power: He can set the agenda and play other parties off of each other to maximize his own benefit," Diermeier continues. "But this intuition is wrong."

Instead, Diermeier's game theory model shows that other parties in the system will act in each other's collective benefit as a check on the power of the proposer. "One nonproposer will not allow himself to be 'bought off' by the proposer at the expense of another," says Diermeier, "because that would only leave himself vulnerable to similar exploitation when the proposer decides to change the default policy again. Nonproposers have incentives to protect each other's assets, or else the proposer can pick them off one by one."

According to Diermeier, this theoretical model can be used to shed light on the dynamics of eighteenth-century European monarchies such as France or Spain or modern autocracies such as China and Russia, in which a powerful leader needs to maintain support of a coterie of elites. "Our simplistic understanding is that someone like Louis XIV or Vladimir Putin can do whatever he wants," Diermeier says. "But on certain issues like taxation, the king is actually able to do a lot less than you'd think."

Thanks to Daniel Diermeier, Pohan Fong And Razvan Vlaicu / Insight Kellog Northwestern Edu / Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University


Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Change Is A Process, Not An Event

Five Tips for Successfully Navigating the "People" Side of Change
Is your organization rolling out a major change? Restructures, mergers, acquisitions, new systems, and new business lines are the norm as companies move to respond to a more challenging and increasingly fast-moving, unpredictable business environment.

When launching a significant change initiative, one of the biggest mistakes leaders make is to view the change as an event that happens at a single point in time. Accepting and then embracing change is a process not an event. No matter how well you craft your initial announcement to employees, this should be viewed as just one of many conversations to generate employee buy-in, not the end. People naturally have resistance to change; for many, buy-in is a process that may take days, weeks or even months to achieve. Expect immediate buy-in at your own risk: at best you may achieve compliance without lasting commitment.

Here are five tips that can help you increase your odds of success by focusing on the people side of change.

1. Don't judge individuals by their initial reaction. Give people time to come on board and process the change before judging their willingness to accept the change and be a team player. When making a big announcement on a major change, recognize that the shock of the news will instantly start minds spinning over the personal ramifications. It is people's natural survival instinct to immediately focus on the fear of loss or loss of control rather than to appreciate the potential benefits of a change. Don't be surprised if some initial reactions are quite negative. Some individuals may need several weeks before going through the Kubler-Ross stages of grief: shock and denial, anger, depression, bargaining and acceptance. You may falsely judge that an employee won't come on board with the change if you observe them while they are in the early stages. However, keep in mind that this does not mean that they will not eventually accept the change once they are able to process it.

2. Realize that much of what you say immediately after making the announcement may not be heard.  The shock of learning about major change can start people's minds spinning. Lost in their own thoughts, people may not be clearly hearing and absorbing important details that you may be communicating. Leaders are always surprised to learn, after making a major announcement loaded with helpful and important information, how little was actually heard. Keep in mind that, as the leader planning the change, you have had weeks or perhaps months to process the change yourself during what typically involves weeks or months of planning meetings.

3. Ask your staff how they feel about the change. When you ask employees what they think about the change, what you are asking is, "Is the change logical from a business perspective?" You may get a very positive response, which may fool you into believing the staff member is emotionally on board. However, one can think the change is a rational one and yet personally feel very threatened. Asking the staff member what they feel about the change may elicit a very different answer regarding their emotions, allowing you to better understand and address concerns.

4. Allow your key managers to have time to process and accept change themselves, before they meet with their staff. Change needs to be cascaded down the organization. Executives need to bring their managers on board and then managers need to bring their staff on board. Because of legitimate fears about controlling news about change, managers often hold meetings with their staff before they have had a chance to process and accept the change themselves. If managers are working to convince their staff that the change is positive, yet they are not fully committed themselves, messages from the manager will be perceived as disingenuous.

5. Identify and bring key opinion leaders on-board first. In every team, there are opinion leaders outside the ranks of management who other staff members take their cues from. There also are staff members who more quickly accept change or perhaps even embrace it. If you can early on enlist the key people who both embrace change and are opinion leaders, they can help set the tone for the group's reaction to change.

Paradoxically, moving too fast can make your change initiative take longer. When you don't take the time to build commitment, people act out of self-interest and fear, resulting in decisions and actions that can slow down or even sabotage your change efforts. By recognizing that change is a process, you will be in a better position to successfully manage the "people" side of change, significantly increasing the odds of creating successful change.

About the Author(s):- Curt Wang is an executive coach at Make the Leap! Coaching.  He coaches smart, creative, and successful executives and professionals to reach higher levels of performance and achieve their business and career goals. He is also an expert and professional speaker on the topics of change leadership and organizational change.

Thanks to Curt Wang / AMANET / AMA—American Management Association