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Better than a MBA in Three Minutes?

By Marty Nemko

Many employees hold their breath when those oh-so-confident MBAs march in. Alas, the models, simulations, and case studies that worked so well in graduate school, rarely work as well in the real world.

MBA programs do teach some valid principles, but it’s easy to lose sight of those needles in the haystack.

I attempt to remedy that here. All these principles are real-world proven. At the risk of hubris exceeding that even of new MBAs, I believe that if you follow just these principles, you will improve more as a manager and leader than if you had that $100,000 sheepskin. And if, in your job application cover letters and interviews, you emphasize the points in this article, I daresay you’ll boost your prospects almost as much as with that piece of paper.

1. Hire Smart. The best managers hire wisely:

· Encourage your respected employees, colleagues, and friends to refer truly outstanding candidates.

· Generally, value intelligence and drive over experience and degrees.

· Rather than asking standard interview questions such as “What is your greatest weakness,?” put candidates in simulations of situations they’re likely to face on the job.

· Instead of calling three references, who rarely criticize a candidate, ask your finalist candidates for ten references. Call all ten at night, when they won’t be at their desk. Leave voicemail explaining that you’re hiring for an important position and want the reference to call back only if the candidate is truly outstanding. Unless you get at least seven callbacks, you probably should move on to another candidate.

2. Cut Your Losses. If within one to three weeks, you get the sense a hire isn’t excellent, and attempts at remediation or clarifying your expectations don’t quickly bear fruit, it’s usually wisest to let her go. She’s unlikely to become excellent. Great managers spend their time on higher-payoff tasks than remediating weak employees, for example, on developing strategy, acquiring resources, and supporting strong supervisees to do their jobs better (see below.)

3. Inspire; don’t micromanage. Develop a truly worthy agenda for your work group, if possible, incorporating your supervisees’ input, and inspire them to act on the agenda. That doesn’t just mean giving motivational speeches. It means being a role model—you gotta walk that talk. Also, be liberal with deserved praise, sending copies of attaboys to higher-ups. Don’t micromanage; do the opposite: free up your supervisees to do their job with a minimum of rules, policing, and accountability paperwork.

4. Communicate wonderfully. Most people think they communicate well but don’t. You must be so clear a junior high school student would understand and appreciate what you say. You must be so concise that someone with ADD would still be paying attention at the end of your utterance. You must listen more carefully than you ever have before. When you must criticize, do it in a way that allows the person to save face. For example, “I’ve noticed (Insert problem, stated very briefly.) Do you think that’s a valid concern? And if so, what you do think should be done?”

4. Master meetings. Meetings cost a fortune. Even assuming no travel costs, there’s the participants’ salaries and benefits, and that they’ll have to stop their work to attend. So, only call meetings when that cost is truly justified, for example, when a problem requires instant group brainstorming. Meetings in which people give non-urgent reports usually aren’t worth the money. That should be done by email.

When you have meetings, in advance, send a tight agenda to participants. Inviting only the few people likely contribute most not only saves money, results are better. You can always email the meetings’ results to others.

5. Be completely ethical. Ethics are crucial, not only because you and your supervisees will feel better about their work, but because unethical leaders lead to the devolution of civilization. We all want to feel like we leave the world better not worse.

Now, any of you feel like you need an MBA?

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