What’s the difference between an intern and an apprentice?

All careers start on a steep learning curve: doing new work in unfamiliar surroundings, often with entirely different vocabulary and social norms than we’ve experienced before. “Fake it ’til you make it” is a common survival mode for new hires — and for many professionals, this persists for years as impostor syndrome. Ideally, learning and challenges remain as positive aspects throughout our careers, while confidence and competence replace the new hire’s feelings of doubt and confusion.

“Actually, it IS rocket science…” — NASA/JPL intern

Many professionals start gaining experience as either an intern or an apprentice. What is the difference between an internship and an apprenticeship? Both are temporary positions or limited duration contracts. Both are entry-level roles with no prior experience required, beyond education in a relevant subject.

The key differences between interns and apprentices are the levels of support and expectations applied by the employer’s organization.

Interns and apprentices: different expectations of ability, different levels of support.

As the two-by-two matrix above illustrates, apprentices have both high expectations and high support. Apprenticeship is typically the first phase in on-the-job development of a skilled trade; popularized by the German manufacturing industry and often debated about its adaptation to the US labor market. The apprentice model, however, has expanded beyond skilled trades to tech job categories like software development. Regardless of the industry, employers invest in apprentices because the apprentices represent a valuable future labor pool. Competing firms are willing to invest in apprentices’ development to strengthen the industry without the fear of poaching: employers expect that individual workers are just as likely to join a company from its competitors as to leave. In a 2016 US Department of Commerce study, individual employers reported attrition rates in the single digits, while a broader study by NCEV in Australia showed contract completion rates in the 45%-55% range (slightly higher for non-trades). Performance expectations for apprentices are similarly high, including competency checks, either formal or informal, for apprentices to demonstrate the new skills they develop as they acquire increased responsibility and tackle assignments of greater complexity.

The typical corporate intern sits in the opposite quadrant: low expectations for performance with low levels of support. Employers generally give summer interns low volumes of low-risk, low-priority work, capping off the internship with predictably low-quality presentations. Individual companies, especially those who take pride in seeing their names at the top of ranking tables, might disagree with my categorization. A notable exception is Year Up: despite the title “intern,” the program follows a model much closer to apprenticeship. As a manager, I make the personal investment to coach and mentor interns that I host, and surely other individual managers are willing to do the same. Broadly, however, corporate internships are seen both by employers and interns as networking opportunities, resume padding, and the chance to earn some summer money (and generally to spend it just as quickly while drinking with other interns). 

Two other alternative scenarios complete the matrix. The low-expectations, high-support quadrant is “nepotism:” imagine the young, barely competent relative of an executive or high-ranking bureaucrat coddled and gently steered away from career ending blunders by infinitely patient staff. The high-expectations and low-support quadrant I’m calling “rookie draft pick:” imagine the high-pressure, fend-for-yourself environment described in countless athlete memoirs. Financial services interns might argue this quadrant characterizes their world more accurately.

So whether you are a young professional seeking career-developing experience, or a leader seeking to create a pipeline of high-quality talent, understand what levels of support and expectations are in place. The balance between these two factors will determine the outcomes for your interns, apprentices, princelings, or rookie draft picks.

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Alexis Drake

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To Improve the Leadership Training Experience, Think Like a Marketer

Marketers’ timeless obsession is “getting the right message to the right person, at the right time, through the right channel.” As a consumer who is bombarded by marketing messages on nearly every visible surface during every waking hour, you know intuitively that some messages resonate strongly and most are just background noise. Research backs this up: referrals consistently generate the highest conversion rates, while direct mail, email, phone, and display ads can be hundreds or thousands of times less effective (see Marketo, Marketingcharts, MarketingSherpa for details). When Carla (the happy customer) recommends a widget to Sam (the shopper), Sam is much more likely to make a purchase than if the same brand shows up in Sam’s mailbox or browser.

Why do referrals perform so strongly? Two main reasons:

  • The message is timely and relevant. Sam and Carla know enough about each other for Carla to understand what Sam’s needs are, why her experience with the widget would be meaningful to Sam, and when to bring it up so that Sam will listen and take action. This is the classic “why me, why now” message that sales and marketing experts like Jeb Blount and Mark Roberge reinforce. Perhaps even more importantly, Carla knows what Sam doesn’t need right now and doesn’t waste both of their time pushing irrelevant widgets.
  • The source is trusted and credible. Again this relies on a minimum strength of relationship between Sam and Carla such that Sam is more likely to act on Carla’s advice than another person’s. Right now, we won’t explore the psychological dynamic and value exchange going on between these two, but it’s fascinating stuff that Daniel Pink, Robert Cialdini, and the Heath brothers (among others) have written about in detail.

What does this have to do with leadership training? Let’s assume that the organization’s objective is to accelerate the leadership capabilities of their mid- and senior-level staff. This starts with the necessary and insufficient step of achieving high participation in training activities. So here’s how to map the two marketing principles above to your leadership training challenge.

Segment your leaders based on prior experience

Some training content is about compliance; this is mandatory for everyone. For the rest, each of your staff will have either high or low experience along these dimensions:

  • leadership skills: providing direction, inspiration, coaching/mentoring, etc. to a build a great team
  • management skills: prioritization and “load balancing” to enable a group of resources to complete their work on time, at high quality, and efficiently
  • navigating your company’s HR systems: understanding the processes and tools for talent planning, recruiting, performance management, compensation, etc.

By segmenting your leaders based on these attributes, you will find a better match between audience and content, which makes the message more relevant. Then, by scheduling the training events based on the events in the leaders’ lives (e.g., around hiring, performance review or promotion cycles, etc.) the message will be more timely.

Send the message from a respected, successful leader

Personal trainers who are less fit than their clients won’t stay in business for long. Yet many organizations tolerate leadership training to be run by employees who are not successful leaders, not effective training facilitators, or both. Ensure that the people in your organization who send the call to action for leadership training, and the people who deliver the training events, can “walk the talk.” These might be the senior leaders within your organization’s business lines, or from external non-competitive organizations. This ensures the message comes from a credible, trusted source.

The best marketers and the best leadership trainers have a common motivation: they are passionate about their widgets and believe their customers will be better off with the widget than without. So try thinking like a marketer to improve the outcomes of your company’s leadership training experience.

Everything I Know About Team Dynamics, I Learned From Cooking with My Wife

While this post’s title is patently false, curiously any sample of historical evidence from my life would backtest very well. I’m fortunate that my wife and I share that sliver of a Venn diagram representing couples who enjoy cooking together (if you believe me) and who cook delicious meals together (if you believe our guests).

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Well, we do serve cheese often, but… [credit: tylervigen.com]
This is not a cooking blog, so let’s focus on the principles that make us an effective team:

Be Accountable for Outcomes, Not Tasks

It’s possible to assemble perfectly prepared ingredients into a terrible meal. Rather than assigning responsibility for strictly defined steps in a process, delegate outcomes and give flexibility in the steps to achieve them. In our kitchen, this means we each take ownership of a course in the meal or a finished product on the plate, instead of the specific steps across the meal (chop, saute, sauce, etc.). In the office, the same approach ensures focus on the deliverables with space for innovation and learning in the method.

Separate Where You Work, and How You Work Matters Less

In our kitchen, one of us leaves a trail of dirty dishes, a cluttered and dirty counter, and a splattered stove top behind us, and the other keeps it relatively clean. When we are working in our own corners of the kitchen (or in the first kitchen we shared, our own ends of the tiny counter), there’s no problem. At the office, some people like to sit, others stand or walk; some spread papers over every inch of desk and leave ink on every inch of whiteboard, others…don’t. People have similar diversity in approaching a project: some prefer an intricate Gantt chart, others work best under the pressure of a looming deadline. It’s more likely that colleagues will have a differing style than identical ones, so find space in the office to prevent friction among team members.

Escalate Early, Prioritize Often

Surprises are inevitable in our kitchen; that’s part of the fun. What helps us navigate these surprises as a cooking team is keeping each other informed as the facts change, and based on the implications, constantly evaluating the plan. Half of the peaches in the farmer’s market bag are rotten? If we don’t get more fruit, we won’t have a dessert. Ok, add cherries and change it from a torte to a cobbler. In the office, many people fear that sharing “bad news” means admitting weakness or incompetence. They worry this will distract or irritate the boss. Instead, treat unexpected events as an opportunity to practice risk assessment and prioritization skills. Even if the new information doesn’t change the plan immediately, the entire team knows the current situation, which could change the outcome of the next decision.

Never Let a Customer Be The First To Test Your Final Product

I give extra respect to pastry chefs because they have to get the dish right the first time. Once the cake comes out of the oven, there’s no going back to tweak the batter. Whenever possible, our dishes come out best when we are constantly tasting each other’s food and adjusting flavors. In the office, test your ideas with colleagues, especially those with a different point of view. Let them help you find bias in your perspectives, or weak links in your reasoning. Leave an idea on your whiteboard and practice your elevator pitch with people who stop by. Find areas of concern or resistance to change in the organization in a non-threatening way. Not only will your work product improve, but when it comes to that “big kickoff meeting,” many people in the room will be familiar with the ideas and share a sense of ownership–because they helped develop the concepts along the way.

In the end, there is only one chef

Amidst the emphasis on collaboration, let’s not underestimate the need for leadership on a team. Especially in stressful or unfamiliar situations, teams perform better under decisive leadership. So don’t forget why you get paid the medium-sized bucks, and step up to lead when required. My wife knows how to do this in our kitchen, much to the benefit of our dinner guests.

Transferred? Four Steps To Get In Sync

The traditional “up or out” career path, where an employee’s only option is a promotion to her direct manager’s position, is a relic of the past. Companies adopting a talent strategy to develop future leaders from within can achieve higher productivity and lower talent acquisition costs. Among other juicy tidbits in Oracle’s Talent Retention white paper is the statistic that nearly 40% of all full-time positions are filled with internal transfers and promotions. If the SuccessFactors Australian benchmark study is representative of global trends, the ratio of transfers to promotions is more than 8:1 for top quartile organizations.

airport-sign

So if it’s likely that your next career move is lateral, how can you be prepared to get in sync quickly with your new team? Try these four steps:

  1. Understand each other’s personalities. It can take months to learn the communication style and motivations of a new co-worker. Take a shortcut by reviewing and discussing each other’s personality profiles as described by an external test. The best option is to see if your HR department can provide Predictive Index (PI) results, however, freemium options like CrystalKnows can provide a solid basis for a meaningful conversation.
  2. Build a current project list and backlog. Dropping into a new team means that you will have to get familiar quickly with the in-flight projects, recurring deliverables, and upcoming work. If your new team doesn’t already use a project and resource management tool, spend an hour together to create a Trello board to list out the active, ready to start, and backlog projects. Note that you can get to the same level of understanding with sticky notes or a whiteboard, so don’t let technology impede the information exchange.
  3. Load up the calendars. A boring but important step is to ensure all of the recurring team meetings, 1:1 discussions, and upcoming vacations are visible in each other’s calendars. And don’t forget to cancel that meeting series with your old boss!
  4. Build relationships through informal channels. As you climb the steep learning curve with your new team, don’t forget to get to know the person behind the co-worker: take the team out for coffee, lunch, or drinks. Find out their favorite foods and surprise them with a snack or treat. Ask about their favorite vacations. Anything that builds rapport (in a non-creepy way) will strengthen your working relationships, too.

Internal transfers are nearly unavoidable in the modern career path. It’s my intent to make your next transfer a smoother one by offering the steps above. Feel free to leave a comment with any other advice on the topic.

image: global-goose.com

Key Concepts: Sales EQ by Jeb Blount

Key Concepts from the book Sales EQ by Jeb Blount

51kGfoyWJJLRecently I published a Quick Take on the book Sales EQ by Jeb Blount. Below is a table listing the key concepts that Blount introduces in the book.

Many of these concepts will be familiar to readers of other books on the subjects of personal development and effective communication. What makes Sales EQ such a compelling read is the way Blount introduces these potentially complex or intimidating concepts in a concise manner, all within the context of the unique relationship between a seller and his or her stakeholders.

Concept What it means Why it matters
Emotional scripts Patterns of communication between two people in familiar situations, reinforced by subconscious signals Buyers and sellers will repeat previous experiences, even when the individuals have never met, unless the seller can disrupt the conversation by using language that forces conscious engagement instead of reflexive response
Cognitive dissonance Discomfort felt when a person’s words and actions don’t align Reversing the micro-commitments made throughout the buying process is emotionally uncomfortable
UHP ultra-high-performance Blount’s term for the successful group of sales professionals who apply the book’s techniques
Heuristics Mental shortcuts that reduce the cognitive load in decision making Buyers make irrational choices, and instead use logic in hindsight to justify their emotional decisions
Cognitive bias Thought patterns that support people’s irrational choices Understanding how patterns like hindsight bias, attribution bias, and egocentric bias work can help sellers avoid direct challenges and increase engagement with buyers
Sales Intelligence Blount’s framework to describe what enables UHPs to outperform their peers Helps sellers identify areas of personal development for themselves and their sales teams
Innate intelligence (IQ) Raw cognitive capacity (“mental horsepower”), as determined by genetics, not trainable Behavioral traits common in sellers with high IQ can also make forming relationships difficult
Acquired intelligence (AQ) Knowledge acquired through training, study, and learning experiences Whether applied to the seller’s own capabilities, the deal, or the industry, working hard to increase AQ provides a competitive advantage
Technological Intelligence (TQ) The extent to which sellers use “adopt, adapt, adept” toward new technology in their roles Remaining open to the role of technology in sales, and learning how to use it effectively will give sellers an advantage over their peers who label themselves as “not savvy”
Emotional intelligence (EQ) Adapted from Goleman’s research; Blount’s definition includes empathy, self-awareness, self-control, and sales drive Sellers will positively differentiate themselves and gain a competitive advantage when they invest in developing high EQ
Locus of control Belief as to whether a person’s success or failure in life is his/her own hands (internal) or determined by outside factors (external) Internal locus of control often enables people to achieve high EQ
Win probability Likelihood that a seller will successfully close a deal Headline metric that UHPs focus on, which motivates their behaviors when prospecting, qualifying, and developing opportunities
Dual process Balancing relationship building with sales outcomes (i.e., winning deals) Sales-specific EQ means making equal investments in these objectives
Murder boarding Objectively evaluating win probability of opportunities in a seller’s pipeline by a peer or manager By removing biases caused by overconfidence or desperation, a seller can focus on the right deals
Micro-commitments Small steps forward in a deal, demonstrated by investing time, emotion, or action A buyer’s small agreements throughout a deal create positive psychological patterns and reduce the effort to close in the final stage
Take-away Seller makes a sincere offer to stop deal discussions based on a perceived lack of buyer engagement Stops wasting effort when the buyer is truly unengaged; creates scarcity effect in a buyer who is bluffing or following subconscious scripts
Next step Mutually agreed action or scheduled follow-up meeting Absolutely essential for a seller to secure a commitment to a next step in each buyer interaction, otherwise the win probability plummets
Self-disclosure loop The act of sharing personal information releases dopamine in the brain, causing pleasurable feelings and lowering inhibitions, which continues the cycle By asking open questions, using active listening techniques, and becoming comfortable with silence, the seller can gain control over the conversation and learn about the true needs and intentions of the buyer
Dual process discovery Questioning technique that builds empathy while revealing important details about the deal UHPs develop their own repertoire of questions that move from broad open-ended, to probing, to clarifying questions, while maintaining positive intent and empathy
Bridging Messaging technique that links the buyer’s stated (or implied) problem, to a personalized recommendation, to a planned result Avoids “pitch slapping” and increases buyer’s affinity for the seller, which positively influences decision making

Next up on leadertainment.com will be a downloadable summary of the major sections of the book Sales EQ by Jeb Blount. Looking for more great books? Check out the essential reading list.

image: amazon.com

Quick Take: Sales EQ by Jeb Blount

Quick Take on the book Sales EQ by Jeb Blount

Yes, this is a psychology book: it helps you understand human emotions, cognitive patterns, and communication styles in order to build more effective relationships. Jeb Blount’s book, Sales EQ, explains these concepts in the context of the very specific relationships that exist between a seller and his or her stakeholders.

51kGfoyWJJL

Most popular sales books focus on the sales process, qualification techniques, and the mechanics of closing (Sales EQ adds a few of its own, also). Let’s call these “the what” of selling. Other sales books define common personas, found in either buyers or sellers, exploring the attributes of each persona and how they lead to higher or lower win rates (Sales EQ also contributes to this category. Let’s call these “the who” of selling.

What sets Sales EQ apart, and what makes this such a unique and profound work when compared to other sales books, is how concisely and comprehensively it covers “the how” that sits behind both the what and the who of sales effectiveness. Blount takes the framework from Daniel Goleman’s research on Emotionally Intelligent Leadership (HBR, 1998-2001), and expands it to include concepts on decision making and communication introduced by authors spanning Cialdini, Pink, Heath, Carter, Ekman & the Dalai Lama, and more.

  • Has your team burned through a stack of sales methodology books and acronyms, from SPIN Selling, to The Challenger Sale, BANT, DISCOVER, MEDDIC, WOLFE, and everything in between, yet still struggles with low quota attainment and high turnover?
  • Have you sat in the room with a top-notch seller–either as a peer or a buyer–and been mystified with how effortlessly they get to “yes”?
  • Even more acutely, have you listened to a recording of yourself on a sales call and wondered “who is that monster and why in the world did he/she say that?”

For anyone who nodded to the questions above, or would simply like the convenience of finding 12 books on human emotion and communication condensed down in one volume, Sales EQ is a must-read.

Interested? Review my list of the key concepts from the book Sales EQ by Jeb Blount. Look for a downloadable book summary soon, here on leadertainment.com. In the meantime, check out other highly recommended books on the essential reading list.

image: amazon.com

Why do so few employers check references?

This isn’t going to be a post in which I pose a deceptively simple question in the title, and then blow your mind with a concise, insightful, yet counter-intuitive answer (ha!), like I’ve attempted with interview questions, career choices, or long hours. I am genuinely stupefied, mortified, and mystified, as is Jackie Chiles.

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Personally, I have not given a job offer without calling references. I have, however, been offered a job without having my references called. And, much more often, I have been asked to stand as a reference and not received a call from the candidate’s employer–even when “my” candidate received an offer. That pattern leads me to believe that very few employers are like me and follow through with reference checks.

But a sample size of one is weak, so I did some quick research. I found a good piece from SHRM describing how to perform background and reference checks, that references a CareerBuilder survey from 2014 revealing that in many industries more than half of applicants falsify their employment history or qualifications, among other statistics about the problems unearthed during checks.

That CareerBuilder survey got a lot of mileage on other sites describing HOW and WHY to check, but even top-of-the-funnel marketing guff from recruitment automation vendors like SkillSurvey (in Fortune) and Checkster (on their blog) didn’t provide any more primary or secondary research about HOW OFTEN employers actually follow through with checking references.

So I am sticking with my original conclusion that employers are not checking references often enough, and exposing themselves to huge financial and productivity risks. While you’re at it, why pick up a pack of cigarettes and leave your seat belt unbuckled during the commute home?

The authors below have done a fantastic job explaining how to perform effective reference checks, while reinforcing why you must be either indecisive or bad at hiring if you don’t:

If you can answer or refute my original question, “why do so few employers check references?” with some convincing data, please do! Otherwise, I hope the resources above enable you to join the proud and effective minority of employers who do.