Dan Neuburger Featured

8:00pm EDT July 26, 2007
When Dan Neuburger worked at American Express, he was seen as the entrepreneurial guy in a strategic company. But when he went to Cendant Corp., where a year was considered a long time, he was seen as the long-term, strategic guy. He hadn’t changed his leadership style; it was just a matter of working in two different cultures. Those different experiences help him now as president of the $152 million staffing firm Todays Staffing. Neuburger spoke with Smart Business about how he makes difficult decisions when he doesn’t have all the information he needs.

Be decisive. Making a good decision and making progress is better than making the perfect decision and taking too long to make it.

E.L. Doctorow is a famous American novelist, and he once said that writing is like driving a car at night — you only see as far as your headlights go, but you can make the whole trip that way. It’s a great visual that reminds me that you can make progress by capitalizing on the small amount of forward vision that’s exposed by your proverbial headlights.

It is better to make decisions that require midcourse corrections, knowing it will require midcourse correction, than it is to not make a decision because you’re looking for all the facts so nobody looks over your shoulder and says, ‘Ooh, you made a mistake!’ I’m OK with making mistakes. I don’t know about the rest of you guys, but I’m human.

Small actions can be the steppingstones that eventually get you to where you want to go. Sometimes you need to be moving from one small milestone to another instead of trying to jump across the ocean.

Be guided by principles rather than just business goals. You give yourself more latitude to make mistakes because you’re still operating consistently with those values.

Fail intelligently. Encourage people to try new things and have intelligent failures. Some organizations are petrified to fail. It’s important to fail because it shows that you’re stepping out of the box and trying new things.

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over again and expecting a different result. If you make a mistake, figure out what went wrong so you don’t make that mistake twice. Celebrate the breakdown. Let’s figure out what went wrong.

We’ll make plenty of other mistakes. We’re human, but let’s make sure we don’t make that same mistake again. That is not intelligent failure.

There’s stuff that you know, stuff you don’t know and stuff you didn’t realize you were going to learn along the way. When you try new things, you learn the things you otherwise wouldn’t learn, and when you do that, you create competitive advantages.

Lead change. As a leader, you can’t say, ‘We’ve been good in the past, therefore, we’re always going to be good.’ You’re not. Talk to people in your organization, get their ideas, create the burning platform, and then communicate with them often to keep them involved in the changes you’re contemplating making.

Years ago, we changed the comp plans. We were going to pay people more money if they performed well, but they freaked out. We could sit there until we were blue in the face talking about it, but they didn’t see it as a positive as much as they viewed it as a change. Even when people understand the current situation isn’t working, they hold on to the past because it’s more comfortable to deal with a known situation than an unknown.

Have a healthy degree of respect for the past, but you also have to drive change. Tony Blair has been quoted as saying, ‘I’m proud of my country’s past, but I don’t want to live in it.’

Hire for will instead of skill. The will is the passion to do something, the desire to do something, the motivation. The skill is the obvious piece — the expertise.

If you lack the desire to put forth the effort to differentiate yourself and your company, you’re never going to be the best you can be, and the company will never be the best it can be. The technical stuff is the least important.

Ask a lot of questions when you’re doing reference checks. And not just the people that the individual says, ‘Call Billy Bob and Mary Sue, and they’ll tell you all about me.’ Call that person, but ask them who else did you work with? I’ll ask around in my network and see who else may know them. You’ll get the real scoop.

Never accept at face value what somebody’s referrals say. There’s a saying I’ve shared with my folks and it’s, ‘Don’t accept your dog’s admirations as conclusive evidence that you’re wonderful.’

Take your time hiring. It’s like getting married. The person you’re hiring, you hope will be in a long-term relationship with the company.

I’ve seen people say, ‘I have this opening. I have to get it filled.’ They quickly find candidates. They interview them. They pick the tallest dwarf, meaning they pick the best person on this sheet of candidates. Then, six months later, when the person isn’t performing, and they’re going through the brain damage of having to fire the person and start the process again, they’re going to end up in the same situation.

Take the time to go through the process the right way, and never hire someone unless you’re absolutely positive it’s the right person. If you don’t have the skills to do that, you’re better off raising your hand and asking for help from a leader in the organization who does have that skill set or going to (a staffing firm).

Make people care. Learn how to motivate other people. If a leader can connect people to the importance of what they do, then they’ll have passion. Then you’ll be able to accelerate whatever it is you ask them to do. It’s like adding rocket fuel to gasoline.

We showed a video of candidates talking about how Todays helped them find a job and now they can support their family. ... People said afterward, ‘I forgot what I do for a living. I don’t just fill jobs. I help people with their lives. I really do something important.’

Figure out the common cultural bond of the people, and that’s why they should do the things I’m asking them to do for our short- and long-term plans.

HOW TO REACH: Todays Staffing, (877) 586-3297 or www.todays.com