FAKE IT: Acting Interested in Corporate America Is a Succession Factor

Who's to know if your soul will fade at all
The one you sold to fool the world
You lost your self-esteem along the way
Yeah

--"Fake it" by Seether

One of the biggest things that separates contenders from pretenders in Corporate America - across all functional areas - is the ability to fake interest and attention.

You're in a 7-hour training class.  Next week you're in a 3 hour ops review.  Boredom happens.

 If Darwin were a noted OD thought leader in business, he would write that an adaptation that allows some to survive and thrive is the ability to fake interest and attention with body language, eye contact and just enough participation to make it seem like they're engaged.

Does it matter?  Competition is fierce. Only if you want to get further than you are now.  The real players in corporate America look engaged - at all times - even when they aren't.  

Look around at your next meeting.  You'll know what I'm talking about.  Some people have this type of opposable thumb, some don't.

Of course, faking it leads to learning because you're dialed in juuuuuust enough not to miss important shit. 

Seether video below, people.  Worth your time but a little NSFW. Happy Friday... (email subscribers click through for video)


Saying "No" Helps Train the Recipient What "Yes" Looks Like...

If there's a big problem in corporate America, it's that we say "Yes" too much at times.

Yes to that request..

Yes, I can help you..

Yes, I'd be happy to be part of your project team...

Yes, your response to my request is fine...

There's a whole lot of yes going around.  The problem?  Only about 1/2 of the "yes" responses are followed up with action that is representative of all of us living up to the commitment we made.

That's why you need to say "no" more.

Of course, simply saying no with nothing behind the no positions you as jerk.  So the "no" has to have qualifiers behind it:

Say "no" more to peers asking you for things, but then qualify it with how the request could be modified to move you to say "yes".

Say "no" more to your boss, and qualify your response to her by asking for help de-prioritizing things on your plate - which might allow you to say "yes" to the new request.

We say "yes" in the workplace when we want to say "no". We do it because we don't like to say no, and because we are horrible at negotiation.

Say "no" and tell people how the request could be modified to get to "yes".

Or just say "no" and walk away.  Either way, you've helped the organization's overall performance by providing more clarity. 


The Trap of Non-Specific Feedback As a Replacement For Coaching...

If you look around long enough in your life - especially if you have kids - you'll see a pattern emerge.

People are trying to coach others as much as they can, but they default to non-specific feedback that is unhelpful at best and counter-productive at worst.

Want some examples?  Sweet!  Here you go:

"Try Harder"

"You Just Need To Work More"

"Focus"

"Be Patient"

"Give Them What They Want"

Read that list.  Odds are that you've used most, if not all, of these in the course of your day to day life coaching someone - a friend, a kid, a parent, a team member at work, and yes - someone you manage.

Those non-specific words feel like coaching, but they're not. They're proxies for you actually taking the time to figure out why someone is failing (big and small), as well as analyzing how they could help themselves.

Most coaching tools engage the person who needs coaching to ask them what they can do differently.  That's a start for getting to specifics that might make a difference.

But in the corporate world as well as non-work life, it's easy to be prescriptive and tell the person what to do in order to get better results.

That's failure #1 if you're responsible for coaching someone.  You didn't engage them, you told them what to do based on what you see.

Failure #2? Using any of the phrases above or anything similar.

You gotta really try harder.  Focus on it.  Be the ball, Danny.

Non-descriptive feedback sucks.  Stop telling people to focus and try hard. 

Lead them in a conversation about what they can do (specifics!) to get better results in any circumstance/scenario you're coaching them in.


Join Me at Recruiter Nation Live (June 5-7) and We'll Dig Into Hiring Manager Batting Average!

If you're like me, you'd love to have more control over your relationships with hiring managers.  That's why I spoke last week at SHRM Talent on 7 Ways Recruiters Can Win With Difficult Hiring Managers

One of those ways to win was to get data driven - but not through time to fill, cost per hire or turnover. 

Turnover positions you (HR or TA) as the owner of turnover, which you and I know is false.

The next time you report turnover, create a supplemental slide that shows what I call Hiring Manager Batting Average (HMBA).  HMBA simply shows the percentage of people hired by a manager who are still around after one year.  You can roll this up to the departmental level to make it less personal, but its impact is simple - some departments are better at hiring than others.  The ones who are bad have the biggest negative impact to your turnover issues.  Find out more about this by viewing these slides.

I love this metric so much I'm creating a new presentation around it for Jobvite's Recruiter Nation Live (click this link for details and an early bird special).  If you're in the Bay area or looking for a reason to get there in in next 6 weeks, register and join me.  

Additionally, here's an interview I did with the folks at SHRM on Hiring Manager Batting Average to wet your appetite (email subscribers click through for the video):

Hope to see you at Jobvite's Recruiter Nation Live June 5-7 in San Francisco!


Some Thoughts on Recognition for Blue-Collar Workers...

Recognition. We've been trained to believe that everyone needs it.

Do they?

I think so, but something that's lost in the recognition/engagement market is that for many blue collar workers, getting recognition in front of their peers actually makes them feel Blue collarlike a dork/brown-noser.

Some notes from my life follow...  My dad, Kent Dunn (RIP CKD), was a lifetime telephone/telecom lineman. One of the greatest things he gave me was a work ethic.  The memory of hearing his boots hit the floor and go out the door while I was still in bed before school are riveted in my mind.  He had a bunch of positive qualities you'd want in anyone you hired from a pride of work prospective.

But one thing he never would have been comfortable with is public recognition.  Here's some things that are widely talked about today related to recognition he wouldn't have been comfortable with, with his likely reaction in parenthesis to whoever was trying to reward him with any form of praise:

  1. Recognition in front of his peers in a team setting (Don't ever do that again)...
  2. Recognition 1/1 from his boss (So what? That's my job. That wasn't special)...
  3. Recognition in a company communication (Nobody reads that stuff)...

Kent Dunn would have been uncomfortable with many of the recognition strategies we take for granted in white-collar America.  I think many blue-collar workers we have today in America are a lot like Kent.  When I think about alternative/best ways to do recognition to those folks (mostly older males in blue-collar jobs focused on making a living, not changing the world), I came up with the following two strategies:

  1.  Rather than recognize in front of the group, tell some of Kent's friends the feedback you got on his work when he's not around. Hearing that the boss was talking about your great work in a casual way among your co-workers is a passive, low impact way for the Kent Dunn's of the world to feel good.  It saves them the public humiliation (in their eyes) of praise, but the message is still delivered.
  2. To make sure the Kent Dunn's of the world hear the praise, share what the customer told you directly with him.  The strategy here is this - you praise Kent in the normal way and it feels like you are expecting to hug him, which repels Kent.  You tell Kent that 81-year old Mrs. Adams praised Kent, he knows you don't expect to hug it out and you talk about how Mrs. Adams is a hoarder and has 30 cats, but she's a nice lady.  Trust me, he heard the work context of the praise. 

In both scenarios, the recognition is still there.  The macho blue-collar worker still hears it, but based on how it's provided he doesn't feel like you expect him to come in contact with his feelings.

Feelings are scary for blue-collar employees, especially those of the male variety.

RIP Kent Dunn.  I still hear your boots.


Use This Quote When Convincing Someone to Decline An Offer From a Big Company...

"It's better to be a pirate than join the Navy."

-Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs was brutal in many ways, but with his brutality came moments of pure clarity.  This quote is one of those moments. Johnny-depp

The stale way to make the same point is obvious - "Why do you want to go work for that big company?  They're going to bury your talent. You know all those ideas you have?  You won't get to chase any of them at IBM.  They'll just pod you up in the matrix and suck your energy over the next decade, leaving you a husked-out former version of yourself."

Wait - that's actual pretty good.  A more standard version is "You're going to there and be bored immediately."

Still, I like the clarity of the Jobs quote.  If you're working for a smaller firm, you need every competitive advantage you can get as you fight for the hires you need.  This quote, while not perfect, is a good tool to have.

It just so happens that the only people that it works on are the people who are actually inclined to believe that they're more than cogs in the corporate wheel.  Use this quote on a person who's happy being a cog, and they might dance with you a bit - but ultimately they're going to grab for the security that only thousands (often tens of thousands) of employees can provide.  Doesn't make them bad people or not talented - it's a preference for security and risk management.

But they're looking to enlist with a big entity like the Navy - not roam the seven seas on that cool, but rickety boat you call a company and wonder if you'll be around in a year.

If you're at a smaller firm, the best hires you will make are the people that don't look like pirates - but have it buried in their DNA.  If you think you have one of those people, I'd talk in broad terms about the pirate-like things you're going to do at your company.

Pirates like Johnny Depp, BTW - not Somali pirates.

Go buy some eye patches for your next round of interviews. Dare a candidate to ask you why you're wearing one.


Degrees Measure Resilience In Employment...And That's Why We Require Them...

Do you have to have a degree to get hired at your company? 

Maybe.

Do you need a degree to be one of the best in any company?

Hell no.  That's probably why Ernst and Young decided to drop the degree requirement.

Then why do we require degrees?

I think for the most part we've progressed past the point where we think a degree means anything related to job performance. For the most part, degrees are used as a requirement by Neighborsmost companies because it's a test.

A test of what you ask? Of polish. Of the ability to put up with a process that has good days and bad days, but if you keep plugging away, eventually something good happens. You know, kind of like your career.

You don't have to have a degree - but people should never be able to pick you out as someone who doesn't have a degree. And that's the rub, right?

Google and Facebook can hire people without degrees who are exceptional and have been exceptional in their field since they were teens - or pre teens. It's clear to everyone they're brilliant. 

The rest of us? We tend to still want a degree - unless the candidate has plugged away for a decade with work experience that's directly related to the position we're considering them for.  Then and only then, we'll think about forgoing the need for a degree.

Does a 25 year old have the polish necessary to be a marketing coordinator (name the relevant position) at your company? We're really bad at evaluating that. Even when the interview goes great, we still have doubts.

A college degree is the ante, the chip that gets you to the table.

I'm willing to hire someone without a degree in positions that traditionally require a degree, but they need one of two things:

1. 5-10 years of relevant experience, directly related to the job in question.

2. Proof that they're exceptional in the field in question, which is usually confirmed by unusual accomplishments for their age that show passion and drive.

Don't have one of those two things? Then I'm going to rely on the degree to tell me something. Anything.

You made it through college - I know you have some ability to stick with the plan. To persevere. To accumulate debt.

Want to get hired without the degree at a young age? Have some passion and chase expertise that's directly related to the job. 

Unless you have that, you're just another sharp 25-year old. We're not smart enough to tell who's a baller and who's not. The college degree is the default.


Understanding Your Audience Is the Key to Great Onboarding...

I'm up over at CareerBuilder talking about how understanding your audience is the key to great onboarding, with some generational twists.  Here's a taste:

As with anything talent-related, generational differences should be considered as you are building your onboarding platform at your company. Here’s what you need to know about generations as it relates to onboarding:

  • Millennials/Z – Hopeful that you don’t absolutely suck as an employer, but actively scanning for signs that you do suck. This group is most likely to make a quick change if their BS meter goes off and their needs aren’t met. For best results, you need to automate the transactional (signing paperwork) part of your onboarding process (they won’t respect you if you’re analog) and consider having follow up sessions that are delivered on-demand. Those two things will go a long way with this segment (as will goal setting and mentoring programs), but you won’t maximize your street cred with this group without talking about corporate social responsibility. Knowing your company cares about something other than itself is huge toward this group sticking with you when the path becomes rough at work.

Head over to CareerBuilder by clicking this link to get the whole article!  Including notes about Boomers and Gen X, which is clearly the best workplace generation that exists today... 


McKinsey Report: Managing Others and Influence Safe From Next Wave of AI/Automation...

McKinsey has a pretty good report out about where machines/AI can replace humans, and where they can't. I'd encourage all in the talent space to take a look - here's the link.

What you learn from the report is that AI and other forms of automation aren't new related to their ability to destroy jobs and cause dramatic restructuring of workforces as we know them.  A recent HBR article shows that between 1900 and 1990, the population of farmers in the United States went from 30 million to 3 million all while the country’s population more than tripled. In other words, 97% of the farmers disappeared, 3% of the jobs were kept but changed dramatically, the cause: automation.  

Smaller examples - the large-scale deployment of bar-code scanners and associated point-of-sale systems in the United States in the 1980s reduced labor costs per store by an estimated 4.5 percent and the cost of the groceries consumers bought by 1.4 percent.  Huh...  Check out kiosks don't work now because humans are generally helpless to learn new things on the fly - once we can scan you walking out the door without you finding a bar code, we won't have check out counters. 

So automation is a fact of life.  The decision you have to help your kids (as well as grown relatives and friends) make is what careers will be viable in the next wave of automation.

If you look at the McKinsey report, you have to be careful when it comes to Skilled Trades.  We'll have those for the foreseeable future, but there will be pressure on these areas for sure. Look at the chart below from the report and we'll talk about it after the jump (email subscribers, click through if you can't see the picture):

McKinsey Work Automation Chart

What the chart says is this - the more predictable the physical work, the more jobs stand to be eliminated by automation.

Self-driving car technology is going to replace truckers.  Low-end recruiters are gong to be replaced by AI technology.

What's safe for right now?  Any position that manages others or requires influence (stakeholder interactions and applying expertise).

Managing others and influence have a lot of overlap.  They're also among the hardest things to get good at in Corporate America.  Unpredictable physical work is much less likely to be automated that predictable physical work.  It stands to reason that predictable work using your brain is much more likely to be automated than unpredictable work using your brain.

You know what's unpredictable work using your brain?  Dealing with those pesky people. 

Which tells me the HR generalist (jack of all trades, master of some - across all career levels) is going to be around for awhile.