Blog is on pause, but please do enjoy my tweets :)

Skills can be trained, but not attitude

Attitude is more important in the job interview than skills claims Mark Murphy in Forbes article Hire for attitude.

Yesterday I had a chat in the bus with some youngsters pondering whether they will have sufficient skills for their summer jobs. I commented, that nowadays in most roles learning new and adapting constantly to new environments has become a skill. In my post What's your true profession? I referred to how organizational changes in Nokia made all positions anyway new and the speed of adapting to new environment was crucial. -It might be, that these guys willingness to learn new stuff is the key competence and ticket to new kind of roles that others cannot asses so fast.

I see Murphy's article also linking to my earlier discussion about tacit and explicit challenges in organization. Explicit challenges as known issues can be learned and trained, but how to train or even discuss something so tacit as an attitude?
-Murphy's answer is that you can't.

Are technical and soft skills less important than attitude? Why?

It’s not that technical skills aren’t important, but they’re much easier to assess (that’s why attitude, not skills, is the top predictor of a new hire’s success or failure). Virtually every job (from neurosurgeon to engineer to cashier) has tests that can assess technical proficiency. But what those tests don’t assess is attitude; whether a candidate is motivated to learn new skills, think innovatively, cope with failure, assimilate feedback and coaching, collaborate with teammates, and so forth.

Soft skills are the capabilities that attitude can enhance or undermine. For example, a newly hired executive may have the intelligence, business experience and financial acumen to fit well in a new role. But if that same executive has an authoritarian, hard-driving style, and they’re being hired into a social culture where happiness and camaraderie are paramount, that combination is unlikely to work. Additionally, many training programs have demonstrated success with increasing and improving skills—especially on the technical side. But these same programs are notoriously weak when it comes to creating attitudinal change. As Herb Kelleher, former Southwest Airlines CEO used to say, “we can change skill levels through training, but we can’t change attitude."

Personal touch

Today I received a letter from Gässling. First I had no idea about the reason, but I soon realized. Also pretty soon the letter made me smile. In the end I was laughing despite that they just had informed that their original ambitious design had failed in few cases and they were sending me spare buttons.

I have been writing about how an error in service or product should be mended for the customer.
Attached pic tells a story how personal touch can make a difference when something goes wrong.

Naturally personal touch requires actual use of personality leading big companies being hesitant with that kind of approach. Fresh exceptions can be found among recent web startups. They boldly use language that is both approachable and clear for users.

Mending an error smoothly is proved to create even more loyal customers. I cannot evaluate this case objectively, but clearly I'll be happy to change my buttons in case something really happens to them and will not hesitate to buy my next pair of underwear from Gässling =)

How to bridge research to development?

How to transfer insight from research to actual R&D?
While rearranging our bookshelf I ran into a research I have carried with me apparently ten years. It sure has been an interesting topic, but my friends theoretical approach for semi interesting topic just haven't crossed the reading threshold.

The other day I had a good chat with my old boss about an action to bring academical research closer to companies by recruiting a agent inside the company delivering the latest news into companies.
I don't want to say that this Tekes program will fail, but there has been several attempts to enhance the technology transfer from research to development. -In a way we concluded that so far the best method has been individuals that are that much interested on a certain topic that they become specialists and champion on an issue. This is also one topic where 10% of innovation dedicated working hours could be used.

What hit Nokia - Elop or mediocre Middle Managers?

I have been repeatedly asked that what killed Nokia. I thought I'd better do the analysis now, when I still remember something about it. Tomi Ahonen writes exhaustively how incompetent formal Microsoft executive ruined it all, but I have to disagree with Ahonen that much, that there were also other reasons than just Elop.

Accusations on the burning platform memo are valid, but Symbian had already been burning for years. It was like a fireplace that keeps the house warm, but must be watched. More or less the memo peaked the crisis both externally and internally. Despite the crisis, the issue of what was the pothole that caused the decline of the competitiveness and consumed majority of the R&D resources, has not been discussed. Here I name a factor that hasn't been accused before: middle management.

I have several posts where you can find me reflecting this very topic, but in very general level. Now to be more concrete, I'll list few major reasons why Nokia among other big organizations failed:

Culture of finding problems, risks and saying no.
Engineers are taught to find problems. Under pressure, stress can create impossible obstacles out of ordinary challenges. If company culture does not support positive approach of accepting both the challenges And the cruel facts which might follow, the Culture of No get's into speed and managers prefer to make anticipated setbacks easy for their teams and themselves.

Culture to support innovation.
Despite Elop accused his employees of failing to deliver innovation, good proposals never stopped flowing despite repeated setbacks. What explains these contradicting views could be explained by having a highly innovative employees and a middle management cutting the wings of the proposals. According to Johtopätkii, creativity consists of competence, motivation and commitment which were in order thanks to the good reputation of the company among earlier recruits.

Making good work.
Everybody wants to make a good work. It's a matter of what you measure. If project has multiple stakeholders, everyone of them wants to optimize their part of the project. Abstract example; if sourcing, project manager and finance do magnificent work, the result can be poor hardware, hasty design and lousy experience. The need to make good work is also connected to fear of mistakes and to the pressure of getting good results to keep your job.

Pressure and fear.
Before starting in Nokia I had experienced two lay offs and been part of terminating two contracts, but I still thought that it was a unusual situation. Lay off waves in Nokia came more often than once a year. Even a single wave has a huge effect to the motivation, self esteem and effectivity - and repeated more so. Also reorganizing, replanning and the mistakes along with the corrective actions consume a huge amount of time and resources. Further if management anticipates new waves, they try to do extra good work and to say often no, which leads paralyzing the other half of the company.

Lack of vision.
Before Nokia seemed to know what was it and where it was going. But during the great rush Nokia had around the time first iPhone launched, they had focused on money and productivity. When readjusting the organization and portfolio to face the new challenge, mission and vision was replaced by an internal disputes about whether to rely on it's true competences. (Competencies that had already producticed the first touch screen smartphone four years before Apple, but was cancelled due the lack of managerial trust.) Or to make fast correction move and glue the touch onto the existing platform and rely on the ridiculous services agenda.
After that the vision has been jumping from side to side, which enabled the next point.

Rise of the career opportunists.
The questionable character in humans is that when things seem hopeless, they face up and hope that some extraordinary force turns everything good again. In Nokia this meant getting new talent to lead things. Positions started to slide outside of Finland due to the appeal of London and Silicon Valley. What happened was that new people started repeating old stupid mistakes, but now their accent was sexy and their designs rocked - at least on paper. Unfortunately when the faith is strong and you made the hire, seeing the truth takes usually way too long.