Stephen Yasko

Hire Slow-Fire Fast

Ok, This is not an original idea

If you've ever managed a team of more than two, and been responsible for recruiting, interviewing, hiring, evaluating and firing then you've been through the most challenging part of being a "boss" as well as a "Manager" or, in reality, a "Leader."  It's the toughest and most impactful responsibility you'll ever have.

I once had a key opening, in fact, this position was really the second in command role.  It managed a significant part of the organization's public face.  The staff who reported to this position asked me to act quickly since the organization had grown and I wouldn't be able to give the position's day to day tasks the attention they need.

This was in the middle of October and I quickly posted the position and did phoners with several applicants.  One local candidate impressed me on paper and our meetings went well.  He hadn't worked directly in our industry but professed a great love our values-based way of doing things.  This was October and he came on board in December.

By February I went to my boss and confessed that I had made an error in judging their commitment to our editorial integrity and, worse, their personal integrity.  The morale around the office plummeted and toxicity set in.

I terminated their employment in May after going through a series of HR processes to ensure I was not misreading the situation.  The HR service we contracted with assessed the situation and agreed that termination was appropriate.

But the damage was done.  I took five years for the organization to recover.  Some other staff members needed to leave because this one employee had poisoned the well so deeply between staff members and between some staff and managers and even between managers.

Eventually we did become the trusting and cohesive organization we needed to be.  I hired the right person into the job after several months; someone I could trust and have a great amount of respect for their work.


So here are my suggestions for leaders who do a lot of hiring in small to mid-sized organizations.

Wait three weeks before you start writing the job description.  You'll need this time to observe the staff and ask them what qualities and skills they would like to see in the new hire.  Watch what they do-not what they say when they don't have a manager guiding them.  You'll learn a lot.

Listen to your gut; not the staff's.  You know the needs they didn't talk about and the and skills you want in the new hire. You're the boss; your needs come first.

Nix the committee. I've sat on both sides of the fence on this one and I can tell you hiring committees do not give you the results you want most of the time.There are generally three kinds of committees.

The most common is made up of the hiring manager, some reporting staff, some peers and maybe some others. Then there's the Staff Only committee and the worst one of all: The Hiring Manager, their boss and their peers with no staff on the committee.

The last is the worst because each member is voting or assessing based on their own internal agendas and do not have the best interest of the department at heart.

Have a list of people you know that you would like to work for you. Sure, you may have HR or Industry EEO hoops to jump through.  I can tell you from experience that networking for staff will bring you people who fit culturally in your organization.I once waited 10 years  for an individual I admired to become available.  I knew they would fit in our organization and I would have a great relationship with them.  It was worth the wait.Even though I had to reorganize a department to bring them in, they nearly doubled the department's revenue in 12 months.

 The second interview should be rigorous.  If I don't have a person in mind for a position, or even if I do, I bring three applicants in for an all-day interview.  I ask them to arrive at 9:30 am and plan on being there till about 4:30.They first spend an hour to 90 minutes with me in my office with the door shut talking about many of the things we've talked about in the phoner.I have a set of questions that I asked in the first interview and I ask again in the second interview.  I'm  looking for inconsistencies or more expansive answers.  All the others rules about the candidate being prepared  apply too. You'll Get to see how they react to stress and a long day too.

Next they spend 30 to 60 minutes with each staff member they will be peer with alone.  I ask each manager to ask them questions about how they have interacted with a similar department in another organizations.  I also ask them to look for signs and cues about how their relationship with me and others would shape up.  Your direct reports will have a fresh eye and should be made to feel comfortable giving you direct feedback.  I once passed on a candidate that I really liked but one staff member pointed out three things I missed.  Again waiting paid off.  The person I hired into that position did gangbusters.They  spend the last 30 minutes with my supervisor.  You want your boss in agreement with you in case things go south.  In the case of the first anecdote in this post, my boss alerted me to the fact that I would have to work with them to acquaint them with values.  I had a great boss who supported me, but knew that I to make and take responsibility for my decisions.

The last person standing gets to meet their staff.  I ask the person I am going to give the offer to come in for one last meeting and to a lot two and half hours.  They spend about 30 minutes with me or our HR person to go over benefits, but not salary.  Then I introduce them to their staff over a lunch or some other food to create a relaxed atmosphere.  I hang in there for about 20 minutes then slip out and let them have it.  I then ask them for their reactions immediately after the candidate departs.  Hopefully this last step happens on a Friday so both the candidate and I can reflect and firm up our mutual priorities.  I call them on Monday and negotiate the salary and hopefully they'll accept on Tuesday or Wednesday.I've found that if you give reporting staff a menu of candidates you risk fermenting dissension in the ranks.  They will end of "voting" on who should be recommended and each group will blame the other over small things the new manager implements.  If they are not unanimous and enthusiastic then think twice before you make an offer.  Starting the process over is less problematic than six months with the wrong person.

Your results and style may be different from mine, but I can honestly say that my last three outside hires were my best decisions.  They've carried the organization on greater heights and grown in our industry.

So How Did I Come This Way Of Thinking?

My favorite management book is Essentialism: The Disciplined Art of Doing Less and you'll hear me quote from this manual many times.  The author spoke at a professional development event I attended several years ago and it's stuck with me along the way.

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

Not Everything on Netflix is Worth Watching

Just about every Sunday afternoon we find a movie on Netflix or On-Demand to watch.  Many times we pick a comfortable classic like the Towering Inferno; often we just pick one based on the stars that we haven't heard a thing about.

That's what what happened this past Sunday with Extinction with Libby Caplan and Michael Peña.  We loved Libby in Masters of Sex and Micheal is one of the more under rated actors we like to follow.  I'm also a fan of dystopian apocalyptic films so we gave it a whirl.

Despite several cinematic cliches, the film is pretty basic and Libby should most likely stay away from action movies even if they're paying big bucks.

In this version of future earth, everyone is even, but alive, they all walk in the crosswalks on the way to work. They have families.  But something is a miss.

Cliche #1
Peter (Peña) is having prophetic nightmares that affect his family and work life.  He's late to family night, he messes up at work.  Everyone is concerned.

Cliche #2
Forced to seek help, Peter meets another sleep deprived raving maniac in the doctors waiting room that convinces Peter to leave before treatment.

And then the invasion begins.

Cliches #3-5 and the "Big Twist"
Sorry, you might just want to watch this movie and I don't want to spoil it too much.  But lets just say you've seen everyone one of these cliches in any action/sci movie you've seen.  The big twist is reveled subtly, so subtly in fact we figured it out with 30 minutes left in the movie.

But it was fun enough and a very pretty movie to watch.  The art direction, costuming and sets were the most deceptive part of the film.  You really thought you were looking a really nice version of future earth  where everyone lives in an apartment with floor to ceiling windows, balconies, quartz countertops and stainless steel appliances.

I think I saw an apartment like Peter's and Alice's (Caplan) on Million Dollar Listing NY for like $8.7M.

Should you watch it?  Sure.  Should you get upset if you miss it before it disappears from Netflix? Nah.

Stephen Yasko makes a dang good Burnt Orange Martini

The New Italian Sunday Dinner

I grew up in one of those stereotypical Italian Families in NJ.  Even worse, we had shore house in Seaside Heights.  Yep, Home of Jersey Shore.  In fact, my husband and I have been to the bar where Snookie got punched out.  But I left that all behind me when I ran away to DC for college at 18.

Oh… Did I mention that my Cousin owned a deli in West Caldwell about a mile from the Soprano’s house?

There are a lot of things about growing up Italian in NJ that don’t translate well to today’s lifestyle.  However, I’ve adapted one very proudly!

Anyone whose family comes from Newark knows Sunday Dinner is an event.  It starts with Grandma sneaking a snort from the bottle under the sink at about 10 am while she peels the eggplant and starts the gravy.  Sundays in the Summer in Seaside were a crapshoot.  You never knew how many people were going to show up.  After all, Grandma was one of nine and Grandpa was one of six. At last count, I had about 68 second cousins.  We could have anywhere from five to 25 people for dinner.

Dinner started with eggplant rollatini defrosted from the freezer and put on the table at noon.  At three, the Antipast was put out (no one made better stuffed mushrooms than my Grandma Edna).  The wine, often homemade and in Tropicana quart Orange Juice Jars, was on the table at the same time.  Then came the pasta course.  Sometime Cannelloni, sometimes Lasagna, sometimes Ziti–with Pot Cheese.  And always accompanied by the gravy pot full of sausage, meatballs, pig skin, pork bones.  Heaven!

After all that might come some meat. A steak, a broccoli, or a pork roast. Then the cookies, the espresso and  the sambuca.

An how I miss it.

But times change.  I’m married with no children and live hundreds of miles from my brothers and sisters and mother….more on that in another post.

But a few years ago my husband and I decided to get into classic cocktails as the speakeasy craze started going.  We decided to have Sunday Happy Hour.  Which has now transformed into my version of the the traditional Italian Sunday Dinner.

Around 2 pm I put out a cheese board that full of the small pieces of expensive cheese from Whole Foods.  You know, that basket of the ends they keep on the salad bar.  Some figs if they are in season, some olives.  Expensive Crackers.  You get the idea.

Then around 3:00 I shake the first of the cocktails.  We’re partial to Corpse Revivers #2 and Last Words.  I’ve come up with a few creations like the Burnt Orange Martini.  Oh, and there are specialty ones like the Sharknado when there’s something fun on TV.

We sit and sip the first one and spend quality time talking about our lives, our dreams, our plans and, in true Italian tradition: what ticks us off about each other.  It’s the best couple of hours of the week.

If we decide to invite the neighbors to share in our Sunday, they come after this first drink.  Oh, and by the way, no one leaves the house sober if you come for Sunday Dinner.  If friends are coming, I do get a bit more creative with the apps.

If we’re alone, I shake the second round and we watch a campy movie.  If friends are here, I move to cooking a big bowl of pasta with gravy and less heart attack inducing meats and fish.   The wine these days comes from a bottle with a cork and costs $20 a bottle.  Or less…we’re partial right now to Apothic Red.

Then we settle in for the night for Sunday Night TV like Billions, The Walking Dead, Madam Secretary and we fill in with House Hunters International.  And maybe a glass of Port.

Steve Yasko makes a Shape of VodkaAll in all, I have to say, Sunday Dinner, now and then, has been an important time of my life.  It makes me value my chosen and my biological family and gives me a chance to pretend my Grandma Edna is still with me, watching over my shoulder telling me not to cook the calamari too much or to use a little more garlic.

You can take the boy out of NJ but you can’t take NJ out of the boy.

Hobby Time is Important time

Having a hobby, especially in this digital age, is very important to your creativity.  Hobbies are creative, refreshing and switch your brain off of work and into the endless possibilities of life.

 

So what are hobbies anyway?

So Wikipedia gives us this declaration: 

A hobby is an activity, interest, enthusiasm, or pastime that is undertaken for pleasure or relaxation, typically done during one's own time.

So it would seem so easy right?  Just do it! Right?  Well I have found that picking a hobby, especially for a man--and especially for a person who has a family and is living in a city--it can be really hard to just pick a hobby let alone execute one.

 

Years ago I made soap. Yep, Fight Club innuendos aside, I got really good at and had a whole studio in the basement.  The house stunk to high heaven. Now though, I live in a townhouse in the city and don't have the space for a full on craft hobby.

I will tell you that all that pop psychology stuff you read about the benefits of a hobby are absolutely true.  When I was making soap, I felt creative, I was lost in the moment but still could think reflect on the issues I was facing in real life. It was an exhilarating feeling really, and one that keeps you in check.

 

So now I'm searching for the next big hobby.  My little or Passive hobby is raising orchids. I get a great deal of satisfaction out of seeing the blooms but it's not an active, get out there and go hobby.

Here's what I'll tell you works for me in choosing one.

First, it has to be something that makes you learn as you go along.  Even photography, really all the fine arts, make you 'learn as you go.'  Good hobbies for me are something you never really master no matter how much time you devote to it.  That's stimulating to me.

Second, it has be something you do in solitude. Not alone per se, but something that even if you're doing it in a group, you're focused on you.  So that leaves out team sports and other social oriented activities.  

Third, it's something that makes you proud of yourself.  That's a pretty rare thing in this digital world. Somehow, whatever you do digitally has a lower sense of pride than something you can hold.  Maybe it's the fleeting nature of on-line.  Even You Tube stars are fleeting and their work gets buried farther and farther down the digital pile.  A tangible hobby doesn't really fall down that path. Painting, photography, knitting, etc all stay with you as move through out your home or when you visit folks whom you've given the fruits of your hobby to for their, hopefully, enjoyment.

Can You Name Your Impact?

The arts can sometimes be hard to quantify. After all, it is art! The Arts are personal, subjective, ephemeral. But you need to be able to articulate your value in just a few short sentences when you're asking for financial support.

Most donors want to know why your organization is important. What impact do you have on the community. Don't worry if you can't do it off the top of your head right now, it took me a very long time to narrow down WTMD's impact sentence.

Think about the financial impact you make. How many performances did you do last year, how much did you charge per ticket? What's the total amount of art did you sell? How many artists sold work through your gallery?

Then think about what those transactions did for the people who attended or made a purchase. How did it affect them?

One day I was fundraising on a Saturday Morning at WTMD. One of the most effective pitches I used was to picture my adult listeners taking their children to music lessons or marching band practice. Every parent knows that music education and experiences helps give their children a well rounded education. We want them to explore everything, weather they have talent or not.

I would come to a part of the pitch where I appealed to their inner most dreams. Something they wouldn't ever say to a friend and rarely allowed themselves to think. "What if my kid does have talent? What if they could make it as a musician?" You know you thought about that when you heard them strum Smoke On The Waters' iconic chords for the first time. But you may not know how to help them turn that talent into fame.

WTMD is central to the Baltimore Music Scene. The station plays Baltimore music nearly every hour of every day. There are events featuring Baltimore musicians and even a Baltimore Music Coordinator on staff. WTMD is there for them.

And that's when WTMD's impact statement hit me. "WTMD helps the musicians living in our city realize their dreams. When you support us financially, you're ensuring we're here to make the next talented kid a success."

Sounds simple and kind of trite huh? So I tried it out on some parents and at first the looked at me kind of funny. But then they got it. They understood it in the context of their own lives. That's the other thing about impact statements; they change slightly depending on the person you're talking to. Obviously this statement doesn't work with younger listeners and you have to have these short conversation starters stacked like a deck of cards.

So why should I give you money? I'm looking forward to your answer.

The Secret Ingredient for Perfect Pizza Dough

You'd be surprised just how personal I take a Bad Pizza Dough recipe.  I used to own a pizza restaurant (we'll tell that story later--No, it wasn't called the Yasko Pizza Shoppe!) and that's where I learned how make a dough that's elastic, easy to work with and tastes great.

Even worse, I get all worked up whenever i see a Food Network post on Facebook for pizza dough I just think they way they do it isn't exactly helpful for the inexperienced.

So here's Stephen Yasko's Perfect Pizza Dough Recipe:

Yields two Steve Yasko's Perfect Pizza Dough Balls.

3 cups bread flour, though all purpose will do
1 package yeast (if you can get the one for Pizza Dough great..but not required.
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
2 tablespoons olive oil.

And here is Stephen Yasko's Magic Ingredient:

1 cup ICE COLD WATER (put some water in a measuring cup with some ice.  Stir till half the ice is melted. Remove the ice and measure out a cup.)

Most recipes want you to use warm water.  Not me.  Pizza dough in pizza shoppes is made in advance using this method because the dough they use on Saturday has to be made on Friday or even Thursday.  Since yeast grows faster in warm water, if you make it the day you use it then any you don't use will be 'blown' the day after.  Blown down is loose, sticky and hard to handle. It rips.  Use this method and the dough you get will be perfect.

So... You need to make the dough the day before you're going to use it--That's the Steve Yasko Rule.

To make the dough you should use a mixer with a dough hook.  You can knead by hand, but it's going to take you an hour of kneading to get done what the mixer will do in 20 minutes.

Put the water in the mixing bowl

Add the yeast. Wait 3 minutes till dissolved.  You can stir any that doesn't dissolve quick enough for you.

Add the salt, sugar and oil.  Give a stir.

Add the Flour. 

Start the mixer slow till the flour mixes in enough not to make a mess when you turn up the speed.

Turn up the speed to about 3/4 power and let it go for about 20 minutes.  The dough should crawl up the hook and be silky looking. You might have to let it go longer depending on how your mixer works. Steve uses a Kitchen Aide.  The bowl should be clean too, with no flour sticking to the side of the bowl.

Turn out onto a kitchen counter with a little flour and knead by hand a few times.  then divide in half.  Form into two balls and twist the bottoms using your thumb to seal.

Place the balls around the end of an 11 x 13 pyrex baking dish. NO OIL IN THE DISH. push down to form a disk.  Cover TIGHTLY with plastic wrap so the dish is sealed.  Try to do this with one piece of wrap to form a tight seal.  This keeps the dough moist so a dry crust doesn't form while resting and rising.  Place in the fridge.  Yep, in the fridge.

Let rest/rise for at least five hours.  Now if you double the recipe to make four balls, don't double the yeast, just let the dough balls sit in the fridge for 10 hours.  The yeast will work, it will just take longer and the longer the better.

Take out of the fridge about 1 hour before using. 

Let me know how it works for you.

 

Photo by Fancycrave on Unsplash

Aretha Franklin Dies—How Did Radio Respond?

I was in my car listening to CNN on XM when they announced Aretha had finally passed. Yes, I am one of the few public radio folks with Sirius/XM in their cars and The Queen of Soul's death is an example of why I have it.

I began scanning the FM dial looking for the expected musical tribute to one of the most important musical forces in American History.  What I found was a bit disappointing.  In addition to Baltimore stations, I can pick up about half of the DC stations.

WEAA immediately announced and started doing call ins to memorize this icon.  WXPN via their Eastern Shore repeater was the only station I could find playing Aretha.

Let that sink in for a moment.  The only station between these two major markets playing a tribute to Aretha Franklin music the moment she died was from Philadelphia.

Her death was anticipated, even promoted.  With this long lead time, stations had more than enough time to figure out what to do when the time came.

It was a full 20 minutes before another local station began playing her hits.

So upon arriving at my office I started checking in with the other stations around the country that I listen to for music. Very few were into Aretha hits before a half hour had passed.

Here's why it matters.  I have a Smart Speaker at home.  All I had to do to create my own Aretha tribute was to say: "Alexa, play songs by Aretha Franklin."   That's all....six little words and I didn't need to tune into my local or even many national stations I look to for community when these major events happen.

Speed matters these days.  When you know something is going to happen we should all be prepared to provide that sense of community our listeners look to us for immediately... no waiting or Alexa will do it for you.

PS: I scanned live shows on NPR.....Kudos to 1A for honoring her and acknowledging her death at the next available break with her music.  Fresh Air was ready with a tribute interview and stations had the promo to read asap.

PPS:  Very few of the station's websites that I went to had any online content about her life and passing.  This is content that could have been prewritten and posted when the time came.  WXPN had a great tribute up right away. EDIT AT 11:03 AM ET--KEXP had a great tribute just posted to their site-MPR News had a short piece too.

I write this because I listen as a listener these days.  And I listen to multiple platforms more than I ever thought I would.  How would I have handled this event?  While I don't know what I would have ultimately wanted to see happen... I do know I would have advocated to be ready on a moment's notice.

 

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