I'm up today as part of a post over at the Chairman of all things HR Tech - Steve Boese. Steve's got a great post up from the 8 man Rotation - Steve, Tim Sackett, Lance Haun, Matthew Stollak and myself - on the best sports movies in the opinion of that committee. Go check it out, lots of good stuff from the aforementioned gang. Here's my submittals as part of that post:
He Got Game: Denzel, Spike Lee, a backdrop of hoops and Ray Allen starring as “Jesus Shuttlesworth”. I love the story of a complicated father/son relationship as Denzel tries to parlay his way out of prison by encouraging his son (Jesus) to play at Big State U, which just happens to be the school of choice for the governor. Great music spanning a lot of tastes from dramatic orchestra scores to Public Enemy. Spike Lee perspective in Camera shots. Fun fact: One of my sons got asked at church at a young age what the last name of Jesus (son of god, not Ray Allen) was. That’s a trick question in a church setting. My young son didn’t miss a beat – he raised his hand like Horseshack in Welcome Back Kotter and enthusiastically said, “Shuttlesworth”. Welcome to the Dunn family, where everything has a hoops influence.
Bull Durham: You haven’t lived until you’ve had a son who’s played baseball and coached with another guy who knows all the lines to this movie. The game in front of you actually becomes secondary. You sit down next to a 10 year old in the dugout and say, “get a notepad, because it’s time to practice your cliches.” Two minutes later, the kid is repeating the wisdom of Crash Davis - “I just hope I can help the team” and “It’s a simple game – you throw the ball, you catch the ball”. After he has the cliches down, you bring the kid inside for senior level Crash Davis: “Anything that travels that far should have a stewardess” as an example. Then, the fun is suddenly over when he commits two errors in the field and you resume screaming at him to "man up”. Sports movies can only take you so far.
Any Given Sunday: A must for any sports fan who wants to think about talent from the lens of sports. While I agree with Tim Sackett that the Pacino speech is classic, I’m going deep in this movie and tell you that hall of famer Jim Brown is the hidden gem. Playing the role of Defensive Coordinator, he steals the movie from Pacino and Jamie Foxx with two scenes that are coaching classics. The first scene involves Brown going on a sidelines diatribe towards his defense and a player encouraging him to calm down before he has a stroke, to which Brown replies, “I don’t get strokes Mother#######, I GIVE THEM”. The second scene involves Brown addressing the team at halftime and using a chalkboard diagraming X’s and O’s, with the following gem: “Now you’re dumb enough, so we made it simple enough. We made this #### real ####ing simple (as he pounds the chalk against the board)”. Who among us couldn’t use that line at times in corporate America?
First up, let me say I believe in employee engagement. I really do. I believe in a simple definition of engagement, though, one that's too simple to really generate consultant revenue, books or anything else that might be of value in my professional life.
Having worked at 6-7 companies in my career, here's the cold hard truth. You can do a lot of stuff right as a company, and people are still going to bitch, to think that the grass MUST be greener somewhere else. That simple, yet profound strand of the human DNA is just too much to overcome to arrive at a place where you could say that you've maximized engagement.
Oddly enough, I've never seen that human need for despair characterized clearer than Agent Smith did when he was getting ready to break Morpheus in the first Matrix. For those of you not down, in The Matrix, machines had replaced humans in a future world and generated computer code to run the minds/imaginary lives of humans while they slept in pods and generated electricity. Here's what Agent Smith said to Morpheus about a failed attempt to generate code to run the human mind:
"Have you ever stood and stared at it, marveled at its beauty, its genius? Billions of people just living out their lives, oblivious. Did you know that the first Matrix was designed to be a perfect human world, where none suffered, where everyone would be happy? It was a disaster. No one would accept the program, entire crops were lost. Some believed we lacked the programming language to describe your perfect world, but I believe that, as a species, human beings define their reality through misery and suffering. The perfect world was a dream that your primitive cerebrum kept trying to wake up from. Which is why the Matrix was redesigned to this, the peak of your civilization. I say your civilization, because as soon as we started thinking for you it really became our civilization, which is of course what this is all about. Evolution, Morpheus, evolution. Like the dinosaur. Look out that window. You've had your time. The future is our world, Morpheus. The future is our time."
It was designed to be a perfect human world, where none suffered, where everyone would be happy. It was a disaster. No one would accept the program. Entire crops were lost.
That's your money quote on broad-based engagement efforts. Do them. I get it, you'll do some good. But never (never!) think that what you do, no matter how progressive/cool/upstream, is going to turn all the people.
We're conditioned to look for misery and suffering. Drama. That's called a +1 in real world.
Play the clip and look around you. I'm rooting for you. Don't let them drag you down.
If you're like me and following what happened last week in Paris, a lot of the dialog has turned to our approach to related items like Refugees - so let's talk about what causes that instability.
I'm not really into politics, but the dialog that's going on reminded me of a conclusion that I reached a few years back about our involvement in the middle east in a post 9/11 world.
My conclusion - sometimes dictators are the best option and just make business sense.
Work with me on this. Post 9/11 was full of emotion for America, and to a lessor extent, the world. We did what we thought we needed to do, a reaction that included taking down a dictator in Iraq's Saddam Hussein. We cleaned house in an imperfect way (because that's all that's possible), lost a lot of American lives in the process and did what we thought was right, handing over a more democratic government to the people of Iraq.
Just one little problem - Iraq wasn't and isn't ready for democratic rule. The result has been that the government we've tried to turn the country over has been unwilling or unable to govern. Enter into that vacuum ISIS, complete with beheadings, brutal rule of large tracks of the middle east, the attacks in Paris, etc.
Would the world be better off - in net/net fashion - if Saddam Hussein was in power? Of course, I understand that's a mixed bag as well. But still - the middle east if full of non-democratic leaders for a reason, and the United States has a long history of propping up questionable leaders if it's the best option from a security and economic perspective.
I think it's the same thing in the business world. There are companies and environments that aren't ready to be managed in a semi-democratic style. Sometimes the dictator is the best option to run your business.
Do you like it? No. Does it go against every management book you've ever read? Yes.
Is the dictator the best option in many company cultures? Without question.
Sometimes the evil you know is better than the evil you don't know. Real talent pros aren't afraid to admit that the best management option in some situations isn't the guy who wants to hug it out.
Let me start by saying I really don't know what racism feels like. The only time I've ever felt like I was in the neighborhood of being the subject of racism was when I played college basketball (I was the minority in that situation). But was I the subject of real racism? Nah...
White people problems, indeed.
But everything that's transpired in the last week at the University of Missouri? If you're a leader who just happens to be white, there's probably some lessons there for you - but probably for all leaders as well. In case you missed it, here's a basic rundown from ESPN:
"The president of the University of Missouri system stepped down Monday, and the flagship Columbia campus' chancellor announced he will "transition" into a different position at the end of year amid criticism of their handling of student complaints about race and discrimination.
The race complaints came to a head over the weekend, when at least 30 black members of the football team announced they would not participate in team activities until Wolfe was gone.
For months, black student groups have complained of racial slurs and other slights on the overwhelmingly white flagship campus of the state's four-college system. Frustrations flared during the homecoming parade Oct. 10, when protesters blocked Wolfe's car, and he did not get out to talk to them. The protesters were removed by police.
Black members of the football team joined the outcry Saturday night. By Sunday, a campus sit-in had grown, graduate student groups planned walkouts and politicians began to weigh in.
Until Monday, Wolfe did not indicate he had any intention of stepping down. He agreed in a statement Sunday that "change is needed" and said the university was working to draw up a plan by April to promote diversity and tolerance.
The Tigers' next game is Saturday against BYU at Arrowhead Stadium, the home of the NFL's Kansas City Chiefs. Canceling the game could have cost the schoolmore than $1 million. Players have confirmed the game will be played as scheduled, and they'll practice Tuesday.
"The athletes of color on the University of Missouri football team truly believe 'Injustice Anywhere is a threat to Justice Everywhere,'" the players said in their statement Saturday. "We will no longer participate in any football related activities until President Tim Wolfe resigns or is removed due to his negligence toward marginalized students' experience. WE ARE UNITED!!!!!"
Football coach Gary Pinkel expressed solidarity on Twitter and posted a picture of the players and coaches locking arms.
Now - onto the lessons. First up, we don't really have any information that tells us the university president had any issues with race on an individual level. Let's assume for purposes of this post that he's a straight up guy that way.
If that's the case, here's what I think leaders can learn from the Mizzou race situation:
1. When you see low level hate activity with no names or individuals to attach to it, it's not enough at times to say we're "looking into it" or "we're going to work on that". You have to take action, and if you don't, you may be held accountable in a way that is career-threatening and embarrassing to you.
2. You can't be stand-offish to small interest groups that form. You have to engage, or the problem is probably going to get worse.
3. Social media can blow any situation through the roof.
4. All it takes is one group with over-weighted power to take a stand and you'll be out. Let's face it, the deans of the various schools came forward and recommended the president stand down. Crickets. The football team came forward and it was all over for that president in less than 48 hours. Money and viral pressure from social media, the kind that maybe only sports can deliver in our country, reigns supreme.
Take action when you see bad stuff. Bring the special interest groups in and make them part of figuring out the solution when it comes to race. You can't afford to wait around and hope that everything calms down.
Then Pinkel has a team meeting last weekend on the race issue at Mizzou, takes a couple of photos to tweet and indicates the team won't play until the situation with the president and the hunger strike is resolved.
That's action vs inaction, folks. (see photo of football team after Pinkel's meeting below, click on it to make it bigger)
Go ahead and try to remove Pinkel after his next 4-7 season, Mizzou. I double dare you.
"Have you every heard of the scorched earth policy? No? Look around - everything you see is about to die."
How about that for an uplifting note to go into the weekend with? That quote is attributed to hall of fame coach Bill Parcells (professional football) as he talked to a veteran on the Dallas Cowboys shortly after he had become the Cowboys coach years ago. That story was told on the Russillo and Kanell show on ESPN earlier this week.
It underscores a brutal reality. For new leaders trying to get true cultural change in negative situations, employee turnover is probably necessary.
We talk a lot about progressive people policies. Engagement. Puppies. Apple Pie.
Sometimes, people just gotta go. Average leaders try to get people on the bus even when they're signaling they think the new bus sucks.
Great leaders in new situations understand they have a small window where the organization will accept harsh change.
In case you missed it, the University of Louisville and head basketball coach Rick Pitino are locked in an extreme controversy - A graduate assistant (member of the coaching staff) has been accused of bringing strippers into the dorms at U of L during recruiting visits and paying the dancers to have sex with recruits. Tim Sackett wrote about this earlier this week.
Here's a taste of the allegations for those of you that haven't seen it - From ESPN:
“Five former University of Louisville basketball players and recruits told Outside the Lines that they attended parties at a campus dorm from 2010 to 2014 that included strippers paid for by the team’s former graduate assistant coach, Andre McGee.
One of the former players said he had sex with a dancer after McGee paid her. Each of the players and recruits attended different parties at Billy Minardi Hall, where dancers, many of whom stripped naked, were present. Three of the five players said they attended parties as recruits and also when they played for Louisville.
Said one of the recruits, who ultimately signed to play elsewhere: “I knew they weren’t college girls. It was crazy. It was like I was in a strip club.”
This one is interesting to me, because I started my career in college basketball. The reasons I got out were as follows:
1. I thought I was going to be poor longer than I wanted.
2. Most importantly, I thought there was a 50/50 chance I would be 35 years old and left holding the bag for a recruiting violation that EVERYONE in the program knew was the reality.
Let me unfold that second point. When I was a Graduate Assistant and a young Assistant Coach in college basketball, one of my peer-based mentors (a guy who was 33 to my 24 at the time) took the fall for recruiting violations at a Top 20 program. He was out of the game for 2 years, and he eventually found his way into the NBA where he's thrived as a scout, assistant coach and has even served as interim head coach.
Everyone in his program knew shortcuts where a part of the process. But, the head coach took careful methods to ensure he wasn't to close to the action.
It's called plausible deniability. I didn't directly know, so I shouldn't be held accountable.
Sex to recruits isn't the right thing to do. But load a Graduate Assistant up with cash and instruct them to make sure recruits have a good time, and you get what you get.
But you didn't tell them to bring hookers into the dorm, right? Perfect. Maybe you could have set a few boundaries?
Pitino's big play as this has broken was to call on the former graduate assistant to come forward and tell the truth. He doesn't mean it, and he doesn't want that kid to be interviewed by anyone.
Real leaders don't rely on plausible deniability as their fall back position. Real leaders describe what's acceptable in broad terms, then trust their people to execute the plan with autonomy.
If you manage people in any business, there's some form of plausible deniability available in your role. If you're a real leader, your job is to eliminate that, then own the actions of your team if and when they fall down. That's leadership.
There's a difference between failure and growing. Notes:
1. Failure means that you didn't get it done. Whether failure means someone is growing or not depends on what comes after that.
2. Failure that's followed by no other attempts on the skill in question means it's failure - forever.
3. Failure that's followed by other attempts and gradual improvement has a purpose - it's growth, and as long as you can tolerate the path, it's a good thing.
Overall, you'd rather have growth through failure than simple failure.
Video below (email subscribers click through) is of young blood failing at the 360 on a wakeboard. Props to him for trying. Is it growth? We'll see - he's got to nail one before we can categorize it as that, right?
Second video is related - "Send the Pain Below" by Chevelle (one of my top 100 songs EVER) with an extreme sports failure theme...
Got a good play for you on the way home today - embedded below (email subscribers click through to see player) is a cool NPR podcast called Planet Money - the episode I'm sharing is with Patty McCord, former CHRO at Netflix.
The hosts do a nice job of tracking the build of the Netflix culture, of which one of the cornerstones is that "hard work is irrelevant", which seems a bit of a stretch.
Take a listen and see if you agree with the premise. Here's some notes on what I thought about the stance that "hard work is irrelevant":
1. We all want unbelievable people. However, most of us can never aspire to have all "A" players.
2. While mortal talent is ramping up, we'll most certainly accept hard work as a proxie for great performance.
3. Most of our companies have positions that don't require top talent - we just need someone to plow through some transactional work with excellence that a robot hasn't replaced yet.
4. It's one thing to say that hard work is irrelevant, but what do you do with the average performer that's clocking in at 9am and clocking out at 4:59pm? You ask for more work. Hard work would be nice.
5. At the unbelievably talented companies (those with the highest % of "A" players), you need a combination of great talent and hard work. Just ask the people at Amazon if it's enough to be incredibly talented - the answer would be no - hard work is extremely relevant at those companies.
Take a listen to the story of Netflix from the lens of Patti McCord and hit me in the comments with your thoughts. One thing I learned that I didn't know is that ultimately Netflix grew and the CEO called McCord up with the thought that it was time for her to leave. Which means at the best companies, "Ask not for whom the bell tolls - it tolls for thee."
There's a happy tale that we've all grown used used to in the HR game. It goes something like this:
The best way to build a company is to build a Great Place to Work.
Most of us believe that, right? I'm not her to debate that. A lot of what I know is aligned with everything we think we know on the GPTW front, especially on the OD side of the house - not on the benefits, cool work space and catered meals part of GPTW.
But if it's raw performance you're looking for at the corporate level, there are some different cultural stories being told that are too big to ignore.
Let's talk about Amazon and Netflix.
The New York Times just ran a long piece about the hard knock culture that exists at Amazon. Most of you know that Amazon's been a rocket ship of corporate performance for a decade plus. I'd encourage everyone to go dig into the article, because it's straight up Darwinian compared to the GPTW narrative we're used to seeing. Here's one little taste - multiple it by a factor of 20 and that's the article:
"On Monday mornings, fresh recruits line up for an orientation intended to catapult them into Amazon’s singular way of working.
They are told to forget the “poor habits” they learned at previous jobs, one employee recalled. When they “hit the wall” from the unrelenting pace, there is only one solution: “Climb the wall,” others reported. To be the best Amazonians they can be, they should be guided by the leadership principles, 14 rules inscribed on handy laminated cards. When quizzed days later, those with perfect scores earn a virtual award proclaiming, “I’m Peculiar” — the company’s proud phrase for overturning workplace conventions.
At Amazon, workers are encouraged to tear apart one another’s ideas in meetings, toil long and late (emails arrive past midnight, followed by text messages asking why they were not answered), and held to standards that the company boasts are “unreasonably high.” The internal phone directory instructs colleagues on how to send secret feedback to one another’s bosses. Employees say it is frequently used to sabotage others. (The tool offers sample texts, including this: “I felt concerned about his inflexibility and openly complaining about minor tasks.”)
Most of the NYT article is about the white collar workforce at Amazon - but you have to love this snippet from the blue collar side:
Amazon came under fire in 2011 when workers in an eastern Pennsylvania warehouse toiled in more than 100-degree heat with ambulances waiting outside, taking away laborers as they fell. After an investigation by the local newspaper, the company installed air-conditioning.
Good times on the reg.
Amazon's a rocket ship of performance. Let's just assume that they're Darth Vader of Great Place to Work cultural theory. Welcome to the dark side - now get to ####ing work. Orientation is over. An ambulance is waiting for your convenience - remember that when the GPTW survey comes around.
If Amazon is Darth, then who's the Han Solo of GPTW? You know, the player that's a little bit dirty, but still has enough goodness to make you trust they'll get it done?
We celebrate Netflix for these things, but consider this from that same iconic cultural deck (email subscribers, click through for the picture below):
Up or out, you rat bastards. Is is possible that the best way to drive corporate performance is go give people max freedom, give them a chance to be great and then pluck them from the herd the ones that aren't stars?
There are a lot of Great Places to Work that allow B and C players to remain.
Amazon doesn't sound like a great place to work. Netflix sounds like the place you want to be. If you're amazing.
If you aren't amazing, you should interview well, land at a GPTW and hunker down for as many years as you can. It's safe for you there.
Big Data - It's coming for you. But you don't have to wait for a system that can spit out every answer.
With a little work, you can become a dat- driven HR pro. You just need to think outside the box, do a little work and then be willing to use the data to force people into interesting conversations.
I was up last week over at Fistful of Talent giving you an interesting metric I learned from Tim Sackett. Like me, it's something you know, but it took Tim to point it out to me. Here's a piece of that post:
"You know what gravity is, right? It’s the force an object holds that pulls other objects closer. As it turns out, leadership has gravity inside your organization. Leadership gravity is the extent to which any manager in your organization gets more transfers in than transfers out.
Let’s dig in a little bit. Discard all new hires and terms that happen when employees voluntarily leave your company. Only think about internal transfers within your company. Now run reports on where those transfers went. Tally up the plus/minus for any manager, department or executive and you’ve got the relative Leadership Gravity of that person within your company."