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August 2009

Dear Successful Middle Manager: You Didn't Get the Memo? You're Part of the Super-Wealthy...

It's rant time at the Capitalist.  Let's focus on the story of Janet and Mike.

Janet and Mike are two middle managers in corporate America.  Janet and Mike did all the right things  Superwealthy from a career standpoint and now are in their late 30's.  One's white and one's not, so in addition to gender diversity, they're diverse in other ways as well. 

Both Janet and Mike did what they were supposed to do in America.  They went to college, graduated with good grades and got their first job.  Then, they did something they didn't have to do.  They outworked every other person who was their peer.  Just simply outworked them.  They sacrificed weekends, late nights after the kids were in bed, you name it.  Did it with a smile on their face, because they believed that was how you got ahead in America. 

Only after the work was performed and their merit proven did Janet and Mike get the rewards.  They got promoted and they got more money.  Their hours increased as well, but that was OK because they were taking care of their families.

After the promotions came, Janet and Mike made an interesting choice.  They chose not to expand their lifestyle, meaning they had more ability to save.  The first place they looked to maximize their savings rate? The tool that had been widely recommended to the bread and butter of any American's savings plan - the 401K.  Both Janet and Mike maxed their contribution rates to their 401k, making the most of the opportunity to minimize their taxable income and increase their savings rate as a percentage of income.

Then, they got the news.  The Fortune 500 they work for had failed its 401k testing, meaning that complex tests showed that the company's highly compensated employees took greater advantage of the company 401k than did the average employees.   Only the highly-compensated classification wasn't reserved for the C-level folks.  Janet and Mike were included in that.  They both make 110K.  They're classified as highly compensated even though they don't have a bonus plan and live in a market with an expensive cost of living.

Janet and Mike looked around for other options, only to find there were no tax-favorable options for them to turn to in order to save for retirement.  The Roth IRA (post tax money, but growth of the Roth account is tax free upon withdrawal) wasn't an option since both of their spouses also work and as a result, they don't qualify (made too much as joint filers).

Janet and Mike did all the right things to earn and provide and purposefully didn't fill their lives with empty spending when the promotions came as a result.  Unfortunately, it doesn't matter.  Regardless of merit, sacrifice, relative cost of living and simply outperforming their peer group, Janet and Mike aren't allowed the same opportunity to save for retirement in a tax-favored fashion as the rest of society because the company failed its 401k testing.

Middle managers who have outworked everyone else - didn't you get the memo?  You're part of the super-wealthy.  Thanks for your efforts.

(written by an anonymous HR professional who resents telling the Janet and Mike's of the world they don't have the savings opportunity as other employees).

See this link for Background...

Ego-Stroke: What's the Song You'd Pick For Your Stadium Intro?

Two things have me thinking about intro music.  I've been to 3 or 4 Major League Baseball games in the last month, and I love the fact that the members of the home team get to pick the music that plays as they approach the plate - usually a 20-30 second clip of a popular, but rocking, tune.   As a result, we played my favorite game during and after the game - everyone got to come up with 2 or 3 tunes they would blast if they were the ones approaching the plate.  Team building at its best...  See notes on the intro songs used by players in the big leagues and the story behind their selections here...

Plus, DAXKO's getting a "cool place to work" award locally next month, and the organization running theAlbert-pujols show asked for the same thing - a clip of music to be played when one of our team members skips forward to accept the award for the company at large.

Very Cool...  So, what would your song be if you could blast music over the intercom as you were entering the conference room, or simply walking down the hallway?  Bring your "A" game, my brothers and sisters...

The rules for this game:

1.  Any type of music can be used - but it has to rock and pump up the blood of the people around you and let them know a little something about how you like to rock/jam/line dance...

2.  Leave your Top 3 on the comments to this blog entry along with an explanation of why it rocks and is representative of how you rock...

3.  Bonus points - if your arch rival was walking into the same conference room after your entrance and you wanted to deflate them, what would you play? (note - visiting players in baseball generally don't get to pick their music, it's provided for them with an intent to embarrass - think "Air Supply", etc.) 

If we get good participation, I'll rank them in a closing post in a few days.  To get it started, I'll give you a glimpse of where I am going - ACDC's "TNT" anyone?  EPMD's "Strictly Business"? Perhaps Nirvana's "In Bloom"?.....

Role Player vs. Star: Embedded Observations From the Field...

We’ve got this little series at DAXKO called the TMD program.  TMD stands for “Team Member Development” (I know, it’s a sexy branding statement, isn’t it?) and the concept is that you bring your lunch, and we’ll provide a speaker (could be internal or external to DAXKO) to get you up to speed on a topic that should matter to you.
It’s a brown-bag series, and it’s been around for years at DAXKO with approximately 2 sessions a monthSuperstar-superstar-9913716 being staged.  I like the concept, but the challenge is trying to keep it fresh.
With that in mind, I did a TMD session this week entitled, “8 things you should know about Role Players and Superstars”.  The goal?  To get people talking about what defines someone as a role player in an organization, and what it takes to become a star.   Slides appear below, although I'm using more and more image-only slides these days, which means you may have no clue what I'm saying over the slides....

Focus points of what we talked about:

--Employees nearly always overestimate their own performance.  I cite the research that appeared in BusinessWeek a couple of years back that 90% of the workforce considers themselves to be in the top 10% of all performers.  Get your head around that one for a minute.

--Next up, we talked about the reality that most managers would rather do a termination than go through the steps of giving critical feedback via a coaching process.  It's called CONFRONTATION people, and most of us don't like to tell someone they need to improve.  Especially if they think they're in the top 10% of all performers.

So, that sets the stage for a conversation about Role Players vs. Stars.  If most of us think we're already stars and those who manage us would prefer not to tell us we're not, how do we really expect that we're going to improve the performance of the organization and our own individual contributions?

It's a nasty combination.

What I love about throwing up a presentation like this, with actual team members, is the conversations that result.  I'm usually the big winner, because I always learn stuff from the folks to whom I'm presenting.  Nuggets from the sharp group I had with this presentation:

--The term "Role Player" isn't a negative to most people.  When asked to define a role player, most team members spoke in positive terms.

--Stars were thought by this group to be driven by passion and to be naturally curious, which leads to them gaining knowledge about other areas that complement their current role in the organization.  That additional knowledge and expertise can either make them a star, or cement their status as one.

--There's some natural suspicion among general team members on the motivation of stars.  Are they just naturally driven, or are they attention hounds who want all the glory.  I thought this line of thinking was pretty interesting and got me to thinking - even if Stars are driven by ego, should it matter?  Doesn't the organization still benefit?  In any event, I can see the ego-driven point that was made. 

--Team members generally think that someone can't become a star without putting in more hours than other people.

-THE CRAZY STAT:  Over half the group in attendance thought that 60% or more of the team members at our company thought they (self-identification) were stars.  But, when asked to provide a % of team members who were ACTUALLY Stars (the raters looking at the team member base), over half the group in attendance thought 25% or less of the team members in our company could legitimately be identified as stars.

Get your head around that last bullet.  That's pretty interesting. At that point, my head exploded.

Final thought from the presentation.  I had our number two person in attendance as a participant, and I asked him to define one thing that separated role players from stars in his experience.  I'm paraphrasing, but here's what he said:

"The day job is what you get paid to do.  Everyone expects that.  Stars get the day job stuff done, but are always working on "game changers" - things that, if executed, can make a real difference to the business.  They get the stuff you expect done, but always have a game changer in the hopper".

The stuff I learn from leading sessions like this one is why I love what I do for a living.  Slides below if you are interested...

Hey Twitter: Do You Want to Be MySpace or LinkedIn? Choose Carefully....

Twitter has been a good tool for me.  I've connected with many people in a way not supported by blog technology, and the link sharing part of the Twitter culture is replacing some of the power of Google Reader in my life (I get enough good content in my line of work - the Talent game - from Twitter links that my need for a RSS Reader is on a slight downtick).

There's just this one little problem, and the issue is big enough that Twitter needs to get control or riskMm_twitter their service losing credibility in the business world.

They don't control the spammers well enough.  Otherwise known as the Twitter users trying to build a business by following as many people as they can, in an effort to get people to follow them back.  You know the type - you get an invite from LAJenny or DrMike, so like you always do, you take a look at their profile, and they're following 3,000 people and only being followed by 134.  

Why do they do what they do?  They've read stories about the power of twitter, and they're convinced that a raw number of followers will give them credibility as a "social media expert" (which is actually the bio description of at least 40% of the spammers on Twitter).

Like any good social media tool, Twitter works best when you know the people you follow, and they know you - at least on a semi-deep level.  My rule?  If I've had interaction with you on some level (face-to-face OR in a digital fashion) where I would give you a business card (whoops - I don't have one from my new job) or accept yours, we can connect. Unfortunately, that standard doesn't apply when many people start using Twitter - it's all a game to get as many followers as possible.

Others are noticing the fake Twitter gold rush.  From Jason Seiden:

"When I followed and was followed by about 500-600 people, Twitter was great: the “timeline” of updates was nearly always manageable (of those 500, not all of them would be tweeting at once), there was a sense of community because I had a sense for who these people were and who knew whom, and I had time to do a bit of research on them when I didn’t. When I sent out blog updates, people responded. Now, however, with another 1,000 followers or so, it’s already a different world: fewer people click on my links. Recently, I threw a question out to the world via Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, and my blog. I received zero responses through Twitter.


1,500 followers at the time, and zero responses. By contrast, I sent the note out to about 300 people with whom I’m connected on LinkedIn and had a response rate of about 8%. Plus, I had a handful of people who answered the question who didn’t receive an email. Now, it’s not quite an apples-to-apples comparison, but the point is, for getting others to engage, Twitter utterly failed me. All those connections I had made, when I went to move them up a notch in the engagement ladder, proved to be worthless. What’s worse, all those tweeple just in it for the links are creating noise in the system: whereas once upon a time, I knew DMs (private messages) were guaranteed to be spam-free, not so anymore. And as with phone calls and emails, it’s sometimes difficult to discern the legitimate requests from the pure spam. (People, on the whole, aren’t great communicators.)

My actual community of people I connect with on Twitter is no longer expanding… at least, not nearly as quickly as it was. And a quick look at my followers shows why: many of them follow 000’s and 000’s of people… which means their timelines are a blazing fast waterfall of random. It also means they themselves don’t care about the content: they’re in it for the #s, not the links. A quick perusal of their names shows many of them to be consultants, companies, and others with something to sell. You think they’re reading my stuff? No, me neither."

Jason's analysis is spot on, and reflects the reality that Twitter needs to think about.  Does Twitter want to be MySpace (a wild-wild west of social networking) or LinkedIn, a respected place for people to connect in ways that are mutually beneficial?

One of the wacky things about Twitter is that unless you lockdown your updates (which looks lame in the Twitter culture), anyone can follow you.  And the spammers who follow you?  They're hoping you'll do what was long an accepted part of the Twitter culture - automatically follow them back so they can build up numbers.

Of course, the auto-follow on Twitter is now a sucker's play.  Why would you follow a 21-year old social media expert following 3,000 people and being followed by only 134?  While the spam has created noise in the system, I've still got one thing going for me.  At this writing, I've got 1,644 followers, but I'm only following 652.  I've got standards - I'll only follow you if you are in Birmingham OR you're part of the Human Capital industry anywhere else.

That means while the responsiveness of those who follow me is at an all-time low (what Jason describes above), I still learn lots by reading the Tweet stream of those I follow.  So it's still "advantage KD", but I've lost half the functionality due to the noise in the system that Jason describes.

So, what's it going to be Twitter?  Do you want to be MySpace or LinkedIn?  When it comes to making money, the answer should be obvious.

Telling the Boss He's Crazy - Why Instincts Are Different Than Reactions....

Heard on the street a couple of weeks ago from a friend in another industry:

"My boss is pushing the team too hard for results.  I've got the most experience on the team, and my instincts tell me I need to step in and let her know the effect she's having".

I don't do advice for employees much in this column, since my target audience is HR pros and managersMr_burns who serve as their own HR Managers (which is what every progressive HR pro wants).  Still, HR pros are faced all the time with timing issues on when to challenge bad stuff, so talking about the difference between instincts and reactions seems pretty relevant.

First up, let's lay out some definitions on what instincts and reactions are.  These aren't scientific definitions, just my observations from a decade plus in the trenches:

-INSTINCTS - Your internal compass that tells you what you should do.  This embedded advice barometer is based on your collective professional and personal experience, and also takes into account what you have observed as well.  Instincts can tell you the best way not to get killed or harmed, and can also serve as your Jimminy Cricket, telling you what you should do to be a nice and serviceable human being in any situation.

-REACTIONS - Reactions are often based on emotions, and can be offered up before you have a chance to consider your instincts in a given situation.

So, here's my point.  Instincts are usually pretty solid, but they aren't always served up immediately.  Reactions are based on emotion.  Maybe you've been embarrassed, are being protective of others, etc.  In any situation, if you feel a reaction coming on, it's always best to stop and consider your instincts in a given situation.  What's the right thing to do?  What's the best way to get to the end goal?  How can I accomplish those things and not be harmed professionally or personally?

It's great when your reaction and your instincts agree.  When they don't, it's always best to stop and ponder before proceeding.

In the case of my friend, he thinks he has the obligation to speak on behalf of the team since he's the most tenured.   That's a reaction.  After listening to him, it was pretty clear that the new boss was a change agent challenging the team he inherited to see what they could do under fire.  It wasn't necessarily unprofessional, just very direct for a team that wasn't used to the style.

I asked him to put the reaction to the side and consider what his instincts told him about the best way to handle the situation.

We'll see what happens....

The Biggest Organizational Talents of All - Confidence and the Ability to Fake It...

You probably read that title and thought I was going to rant about those who take control, even though they don't know what they're doing.  It sucks when that happens in organizations, but to me, the bigger point is this - if you waited to lead until you thought you were perfectly qualified, would you ever speak up?

I think the answer is a resounding "no".  If everyone waited until they thought their knowledge, experienceLumbergh1  and ability was air tight, no one would ever take charge, and no one would ever lead.  That would be more damaging than those with imperfect knowledge or information actually trying to get something done.

As you might expect, society and organizations reward those with the moxie and courage to step forward and not be afraid to take charge.  And yes, that also applies to those who take charge but are wildly unqualified and not very smart. 

More on faking it for fun and profit from Time:

"If you have ever suspected that your boss isn't actually good enough at what he or she does to deserve the job in the first place, a new study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology suggests that you might be right.

Social psychologists know that one way to be viewed as a leader in any group is simply to act like one. Speak up, speak well and offer lots of ideas, and before long, people will begin doing what you say. This works well when leaders know what they're talking about, but what if they don't? If someone acts like a boss but thinks like a boob, is that still enough to stay on top? (See the best business deals of 2008.)

To determine just how easily an all-hat-no-cattle leader can take control of employees, researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, devised a pair of tests. Cameron Anderson, an associate professor of organizational behavior and industrial relations, along with doctoral candidate Gavin Kilduff, recruited a group of 68 graduate students and divided them into four-person teams. To eliminate the wild card of gender, the teams were either all-male or all-female. Each group was given the task of organizing an imaginary nonprofit environmental organization; the group that did best — as determined by the researchers — would win a $400 prize. While the prize was real, the purported goal wasn't. What Anderson and Kilduff really wanted to see was how the alpha group members would emerge. (Read "How to Know When the Economy Is Turning Up.")

After the teams performed their work for a fixed amount of time, the members of each group rated one another on both their level of influence on the group and, more important, their level of competence. The work sessions were videotaped, and a group of independent observers performed the same evaluations, as did Anderson and Kilduff. All three sets of judges reached the same conclusions. Consistently, the group members who spoke up the most were rated the highest for such qualities as "general intelligence" and "dependable and self-disciplined." The ones who didn't speak as much tended to score higher for less desirable traits, including "conventional and uncreative."

When Anderson and Kilduff checked the participants' work, however, a lot of pretenders were exposed. Repeatedly, the ones who emerged as leaders and were rated the highest in competence were not the ones who offered the greatest number of correct answers. Nor were they the ones whose SAT scores suggested they'd even be able to. What they did do was offer the most answers — period."

It's easy to get caught in the trap of opining that your boss doesn't have all the information to make the decisions he or she makes.  That may be true, but acknowledge the following - they've got the moxie to lead, and if they didn't lead, you'd be complaining about something else.

Then there's this - what if they're right about the decisions they're making (gasp!)

HR people generally aren't risk takers.  Lead, follow, or subscribe to the Journal of Personality.  Your choice...

Entrepreneur to HR: You're Stupid...(This one's ironic)...

Picked this one up from the boys and girls over at ERE.  Too damn interesting not to share here.

SnapTalent was a startup in the Human Capital space, described as an "Adsense-like ad network for recruiters that positioned ads on contextually related content pages of its participating publishers".  When that business plan didn't get traction, the company abandoned the ad network concept in favor of a college recruiting platform. It was introduced in the spring — too late, even in a good year, to interest many corporate recruiters. And 2009 is anything but a good year, as the Snaptalent team admits: “Market timing couldn’t have been worse … most calls to potential customers indicated that they wouldn’t be willing to spend or focus on this area for at least another year.”

But of course, that's not their fault for not understanding the market, right?  Of course not.  Let's blame someone else.  Anyone hanging around this sector with purchasing power that the boys from Snaptalent could blame?   How about HR?  Let's blame them - everyone's always accusing them of being lame anyway. 

It's sad, but true - the failed web startup guys didn't look inward.  They blame HR's lameness. From the Blame final message on SnapTalent's website:

"The truth is that there are barriers to adoption of newer technologies which come down to the position of HR in an organization. Since HR isn't directly revenue generative, HR decision makers aren't as empowered to drive change required by revenue generative functions like marketing or sales. This creates a unique enterprise sales environment where companies that innovate too radically are too early to market/phased out despite those innovations being commonplace in other enterprise markets. You can't change behavior too radically for HR, which as entrepreneurs super excited by changes in the consumer web we felt incredibly frustrated by."

Hey Snaptalent gang - are you serious?  Let me get this straight.  You come in with a plan.  It doesn't work.  You quickly switch to the next plan, which is based on college recruiting and make exploratory calls after you make the change, only to find out then that the vast majority of the college recruiting spend is done for the year at that point.  All in a complex, hyper-competitive world known as recruiting?

I'm an HR pro.  I get what you were trying to do.  I just didn't want to buy your product because you didn't know what you were doing.

How's that for empowerment?

Twitter Nation - Who Would You Recommend a VP of HR Follow on Twitter?

I had a great time last Sunday doing a workshop for HR Pros at HR Florida on how to use social media.  Nice session, great attendance and we covered how to use Google Reader and Twitter in-depth.  I think it went well, but as I picked up Twitter followers from the session, I felt compelled to ask the following question via Twitter to help the peeps out:

"Who would you recommend that a VP of HR read on Twitter? I'm helping a friend I met at #shrmfl. Tag it #followrecsforvpofhr


My Position on Brett Favre: This is Why You Put Expiration Dates On Offer Letters...

Brett Favre?  Again?  Really?

I have one stance on this.  Brett Favre is the poster child for why you put expiration dates on offer letters.Favre rodgers   Let me count the ways:

1.  So Candidates Don't Flip and Flop.  And Flip.  Make up your mind Charlie.  If you don't want it, I'm going to Plan B.  Whether you're an accountant with a CPA (nice) or a 42-year old quarterback.  Either way, if you don't want to sign on the line that is dotted, I gotta go another direction.

2.  To Force a Decision by a Certain Date.  Related to #1, but in some cases you're OK with flipping (and possibly flopping), but it can't go on forever.  Thus the date.

3.  So Candidates Don't Come Back After You Thought the Answer Was No.  The accountant said no, then he came back with the offer letter a month later and thought he could pimp you into hiring him after other things fell through.  I'd laugh at that, but there are a lot of people who think that's a legal issue.  So put the date in.  Do you really want a helicopter wife like Deanna Favre walking into your office demanding you hire her husband?  "I've got the offer letter!", she'll say.  It was six weeks ago.  Just put the expiration date in.

4.  All the Flip-Flopping is Bad For Morale.  Duh.  Really?  Having someone reject you, then say yes/no/no/yes/maybe/do I have to practice?/yes/no/no/YES messes with the minds of your current employees who are already committed?  Really?  I never thought of that...

The Vikings go 8-8 this year.  Shoulder separation for Favre by October. 

Make sure you get him to sign the handbook, Minnesota.  At least do one thing by the book...

And You Thought The HR Bartender Was Only Here to Mix Drinks... <#SHRMFL>

One of my favorite things about going to a conference is to walk the exhibit hall and watch the humanity. Exhibitors - who's meek? (you're standing behind your table)  Who's aggressive? (you're in front of your booth).  Who's killing their ability to sell by pitching polarizing views without being asked? See below)

True story from #SHRMFL (that's the twitter hashtag for HR Florida) - We walk up on a booth and JLee, trained in a mixture of HR and PR, proceeds to ask a guy what he thinks about nationalized healthcare.  The guy starts ranting and spitting a little bit (this is a vendor, by the way) and I'm trying to work him into some middle ground.  Our friend Michael VanDerhort (the Human Race Horses) is trying to do the same thing with me.  Somewhere along the line, I try to smoke the peace pipe with him by offering up the following - "you know, Fred, I'm a moderate republican".

Fred - "Moderate Republican?  I don't even know what that means!!" (with a little bit of spit landing on my polo)

Fred, I was ready to buy my reinsurance coverage from you.  Then you refused to hold my hand and sing "kumbaya".  Sucks to be me.  Or you if you miss quota this month and you're already on a plan.

But, I digress.  The most enjoyable time on the floor?  Catching up with Sharlyn Lauby, aka the HR Bartender, aka president of Internal Talent Management (ITM Group, Inc.), a human resources consulting firm located ITM Groupin South Florida. JLee took some time to interview Sharlyn and figure out what makes her tick, what her goals and aspirations are, and whether she would trade all that freedom in for another gig in Corporate HR.

Sharlyn - come on back!  Thanks for tolerating our camera as well....

Sharlyn Lauby/HR Bartender + FOT @ HR Florida 2009 from Fistful of Talent on Vimeo.