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March 2010

Why the Best HR Leaders Are Moderate Republicans...

You realize I’m baiting you Fox News and MSNBC viewers with that title, right?Clinton-thumb

Good. Because it’s quiz time today with the HR Capitalist! Look at the list below and tell me the presidential career that most resembles the arc of a world-class HR pro (at any career level):

1. Bill Clinton
2. Jimmy Carter
3. Ronald Reagan

Time’s up. Which one did you pick? If you only picked one, you’re either a single-lever-pulling Republican, or you’re telling me what I want to hear based on the title of this post. Or maybe you just wanted to make a Monica Lewinsky reference when talking about your HR team. (Have you no shame?) The truth is that two names on this list resemble world-class HR leaders at their best.

Read more about the intrinsic value of the HR moderate in my monthly Column at Workforce by clicking here.  And please... please...make sure you've got the Clinton thumb going when you are making a point to someone today...

Don't Like the Band at the Company Event? The Boomers Control the Checkbook...

Bands and entertainment at the company event - you know the drill.  Unless you're an ultra-hip company with an average age of 30, the entertainment will be - let's just say - free of risk. 

That sucks you say?  Do tell.  If you were in charge, you'd be making the same call.  There are a lot of Hall_and_Oates reasons that the entertainment at the next company party or get together is going to be vanilla.  Let's count the top 4 reasons down:

4. Hot acts won't play your company picnic.   You can get .38 Special at your next company gig.  I know this because they played last summer at the County Fair in the area I grew up in.  They were hot in the late 70's, not today.  You're not getting anyone of note to play at your company or organization function, unless you book a blast from the past as a novelty.  Which is what we currently mock, right?

3. Heroin addictions don't sell at your company well when your co-workers click through to the bio of the band you booked.  I know.  You think Everclear makes sense to book for the Christmas party.  Me too.  There's just this one little problem.  When Art brakes out into a rough version of "Heroin Girl", we'll lose our jobs - which is why if we were in charge we'd never book them.  It's easy to complain from the seats we're in.

2. Your taste is an outlier - which means you're the freak, not them.  I love the fact that you're sold on the coffee house alternative rock vibe.  You know the one, where everyone has an acoustic guitar and we all sit campfire style and talk about issues in between songs.  There's just this one problem - we could book that group, and everyone would sit on their hands and wonder where the granola buffet is.  Meanwhile, while the Indigo Girls are on break, someone would plug their iPhone and fire up Pandora to deliver "Baby Got Back" by Sir-Mix-A-Lot.  Everyone would go crazy and the Indigo Girls would refuse to come back out.   It's called "Pop" music for a reason - it's popular with the masses.  Your taste, while impressively cool, is a niche at best. 

And the number one reason the band at your company shindig is going to be a bit boring...

1. The boomers control the checkbook.  Let's face it, you're complaining about the entertainment being watered down.  SHRM just annouced that they'll have Hall and Oates as the musical entertainment at SHRM 2010, and the collective groan from the Y's and the X's was immediate. Now, I liked Hall and Oates back in the day ("whoa, here she comes") and always thought that Hall looked like Dennis Leary with a French twist, and Oates looked like Davey Lopez, but their presence at the show doesn't excite me.  But I get it - the people with the checkbook - the boomers - are down with the early days of MTV when they where in college and just getting started in their careers.

If you're critical of the music selection for a company or organizational event, just remember - you don't control the checkbook, the boomers do. 

So suck it up and lighten up, because every meaningful corporate event you attend over the next decade is gong to feature the music of the boomers.  You can only hope that ZZ Top is out there somewhere for rent and your boomer is 52 (which means ZZ Top is on their iPod).

Want to be a Linchpin? You Gotta Ship...

Let's face it.  We all have good days and bad days.  On the bad or average days, it usually feels like all you had time to do was put out fires or move email around.

Those days suck. I've tried to start GTD (Getting Things Done, a great time and task management system)Linchpin.JPG three different times.  Like a smoker who tells you he's getting ready to "quit again" (irony), I need to implement the GTD system again.  It's my best defense against the "whirlwind/vortex" of activity that sucks you up and prevents you for creating value.

I'm happiest when I have a chance to create what I call "product". Here are a couple of examples of how I learned to create product:

--When I was fresh out of grad school, I worked for IBM Global Services as a Project Manager for market research products.  One of the fun things about that job was staying up until 4am the morning OF the presentation, with a partner, pouring over my slides and generally being a huge @#$ about things that didn't matter.  Then I'd walk into clients like the Chicago Tribune and GM and present at 9am.  The partner had a reason for the grill sessions. As a research firm, I still remember him saying, "the only product we have is the intellectual capital on those slides".  He was right.  I was young and didn't now about life.  He taught me a lot. I know that now.

--This blog.  Back when I started the Capitalist 3.5 years ago, I made the somewhat obsessive compulsive pledge to write every day for a year and see what happens.  I kept that pledge and still do it daily, and it's taught me a lot about creating and delivering "product" ON TIME. Sometimes it's good, sometimes it's bad, but I'm there every day.  3 certainties in life:  Death, Taxes and a daily post at the Capitalist.

I'm writing this post as part of my review of Linchpin by Seth Godin.  One of the key elements of becoming a Linchpin at your company or in your life (according to Godin) is the ability to SHIP.  No excuses - you set the date, and you do whatever you need to do to get your product or service where you want it to be, but when the date comes - you ship and deliver.

Stop whining.  No saying it has to be perfect before you'll ship.  Set the date, then get the product out the door.  Or chances are, you'll never ship...

If you want to be a Linchpin, you SHIP.  Get it done and out to the customer, whoever that is.

Me? I still have way too many days where I don't ship anything, with the exception of this blog.  I need to change that, and so do you.

Ship something today.  You'll feel better.  And buy this book.

Like Bugs Drawn to a Bug Zapper - The Attraction of Unstructured Comments on Employee Surveys...

Capitalist Note: I'm at the Aberdeen Human Capital Management Summit in Manhattan this week, where I'm getting my professional development game on, as well as speaking and participating in a panel.  Check out the hashtag for the conference at #hcm2010nyc...

Employee Surveys:  You know them, you love them.  You gotta do them.  What's the one piece of theBug_zapper1 employee survey your executives turn immediately to upon receipt?

Wait for it...

No really...Wait for it...

That's right, the comments section.  You collect reams of data and if you're good and committed to the survey craft, you've got years of trending data on specific questions to check the pulse of your workforce.  Good work, quant girl/boy.  I'm sure it's pretty satisfying when your CFO turns first to the comments section and blurts out, "The marketing team is taking 3 hour lunches - says so right here (referring to an anonymous rant that's a half page long).  We need to fix that"...

Sigh... And so it goes with the employee survey.

Why is this on my mind?  I was taking in the first speaker at the Aberdeen Human Capital Management Summit in Manhattan this week, guy named Steve Church who serves as the Chief Operational Excellence Officer for Avnet.  One of Steve's first comments was this (paraphrased):

"you learn more from the comments of the employee survey than from the data, because that's where the emotion is."

No doubt that's true.  There's just one problem with that reality - lots of managers aren't capable of putting the employee comments in context.  When reading the employee comments, three things can happen, two of which are bad.  Let's break them down:

1.  Managers read the comments, mix it with the trends of the data and naturally make solid assumptions. 

2.  Managers read the comments, are immediately put off by the rants from 15% of your employee base, and tag the whole process as being overrun by jaded employees.  You never really get them back... especially if they are named...(yikes)

3.  Managers read the comments and form emotional calls for action on items that really aren't germane (that's right, I'm using the word GERMANE, look it up...).  See the CFO call for action on marketing lunches above.

So, I'm giving you a free best practice here.  Next time you distribute employee survey results to your management team, have two meetings - one to cover the data results and trends.  That one comes first, because you want them to trend the results and form their own top line conclusions based on what they see.  Don't give in to the call for comments, because you need their focus on data first.

Once you've got that in the bag, distribute the comments, allow the managers to soak on them, then get together to talk about how, if at all, the managers' view of the data trends changed based on access to the comments. 

Do this and thank me later.  You'll have a much more meaningful conversation, and you'll be less likely to focus an hour of your time on stuff that doesn't really matter in the big scheme of things.  You're after the big things when it comes to your survey...

After Your Second Job, No One Cares Where You're From - IF You're a Player...

March is here, and as I write this the first weekend of the 2010 NCAA Men's basketball is in the books.

That means one thing - your bracket is a complete train-wreck, and you're currently getting beat in the illegal but always entertaining office bracket challenge by Marge, the AP clerk who hasn't watched hoops since the shorts were, as she Northern iowa puts it... "hotter and tastier"... Good times...

My boy, John Hollon, at Workforce had a great piece on the similarities between the NCAA Hoops Tourney and college pedigrees in the workforce:

"To me, so many lightly regarded schools surviving and going so far in the basketball tournament is proof of a workforce truism: It’s less about your pedigree and more about how hard you work and persevere. Yes, there are great employees who come out of big-name institutions and companies, but there are also a lot of people who coast on an organization’s reputation. I’ve seen it with people who came out of Ivy League schools as well as some who worked at places like Procter & Gamble, IBM or Microsoft.

You know the ones I’m talking about: the people who played their pedigree up as if it was handed down from the heavens. All too often, it got them not only through the door but into the job—a job they took for granted and didn’t perform particularly well in. You find out a year later, after you got passed over for the job, that the person with the gold-plated pedigree just didn’t work out. And it makes you wonder, “Why wouldn’t they take a chance on me?”

That’s how too much of the business world works. It’s based on shallow assumptions: a glib nature, an attractive personal presence, a gold-plated pedigree. How many people get hired or promoted based on those factors? And how many flop despite the advantage they have?"

John's comparison of hoops and college pedigrees is great.  I'll take it in a similar, yet slightly different direction - I tell people all the time who are slightly embarrassed that they went to Junior College or a C-list school the following:

"Guess what?  After your second real job in the workforce, no one cares where you went to school - if you're a player".

I tell people that because it's true.  To John's point, too much of what we value is where you went to school for your undergraduate.  I agree with John that it's still overvalued, but in the workforce as in college hoops, the great thing about America is that you still get to control your own destiny.  You went to a community college and then finished up at University of Phoenix?  Not exactly an Ivy-leaguer, are you?

Guess what?  I don't care.  Find a way to get the first two jobs doing ANYTHING in your chosen field and then do the following:  KICK @#@ and be exceptional.  Do that and no one cares where you hail from.  You're a player.  Just like the kids from Northern Iowa who knocked off Kansas in the 2010 tourney.

Of course, you have to be exceptional in order for me not to care.  If you went to a community college and are average at what you do, guess who wins the job selection battle 10 years into your career when you're looking to make a move?

That's right, the plodding, average performer with the Ivy League diploma on the wall.  When it's a tie, the vote goes to the rare sheepskin.  If you're up against that, there's only one way to prevent the bias.

Don't be average.  Word.

Is Glassdoor Going the Way of Yelp?

If you follow the space of workplaces and the employee experience, you've heard of Glassdoor - a portal where employees and former employees can provide feedback regarding their experience at your company - good or bad. Of course, that generally means that the memorable pieces of feedback are the ranting, negative reviews of your company. I've been wary of this type of review site (who hasn't seen the ranting employee who wouldn't take accountability for their own actions, right?), but I'm slowly coming around.

Transparency is good, and that ranting employee that you had to let go for all the right reasons? Turns out that candidates (the people who really check out a site like glassdoor to get the reputation of your company) have a natural filter Glassdoor when it comes to the big negative rant. They read the super negative review, then naturally discount and look for reviews that provide balanced feedback. Why? Because balanced feedback is more credible. Willing to share the good things as well as the bad? Your willingness to share what was good just opened my ears to your view of what needs work at that company.

So, I'm at a better place when it comes to sites like Glassdoor. But I can't help but think of Yelp when I think of Glassdoor. And vice versa...

For those of you not in the know, Yelp is a site that allows consumer patrons to rate their experience with a service provider (among other things). Yelp is similar in many ways to the concept of Glassdoor - but the primary users of the site aren't employees, they're restaurant customers, etc.

So why is Glassdoor in danger of going the way of Yelp? Because Yelp is entangled in lawsuits alleging that they've offered to remove negative reviews and provide preferred site placement to businesses that buy advertising. More from the New York Times:

"Two law firms filed a class-action lawsuit on Tuesday against Yelp, the Web site that lets users post reviews and recommendations for small businesses and restaurants. The lawsuit, which was filed in federal court in Los Angeles, alleges unfair business practices and accuses Yelp of running an “extortion scheme.”

The suit claims that Yelp’s employees “call businesses demanding monthly payments, in the guise of ‘advertising contracts,’ in exchange for removing or modifying negative reviews appearing on the Web site.”

The suit was filed on behalf of a veterinary hospital in Long Beach, Calif., who asked Yelp to remove what it called a “false and defamatory review” from its site. The lawsuit says Yelp refused and instead demanded “roughly $300 per month” in exchange for Yelp hiding or completely removing the review in question. The filing of the suit was first reportedby TechCrunch."

So, why the comparison between Yelp and Glassdoor?  Employers are starting to report that Glassdoor is directly contacting them.  Polly Pearson of EMC recently wrote a post indicating that Glassdoor had reached out to her regarding services for employers. See the connection?

Sites like Glassdoor are built on the concept of transparency related to the employee experience at your company. It's next to impossible to be credible in that regard AND work with employers at the same time.
Just ask Yelp. If you've got salespeople calling on the target of your product, even the perception of a conflict is a problem, and those salespeople are under pressure to make quota, to talk to potential advertisers, etc...

It'll be interesting to see Glassdoor's approach as they seek to develop the holy grail - multiple streams of revenue - out of their basic business plan - which is a good idea.

They won't be able to dance on both sides (employees and company) of the aisle without eroding their primary mission - corporate transparency.

It's Sad When You Love the Company More Than You Love the Candidate...

I know, I know - you're the consumate HR pro, no bias.  You're a straight shooter, the model of fairness, and you never make a call on who to hire based on:

1. What the candidate looks like;Microsoft-vs-google

2. What company the candidate has worked for in the past;

3. The clothes the candidate wore and the proximity of those duds to the styles where you like to shop (WalMart is the new Target people); or

4. Who they know, or what their spouse does for a living.

You're perfect.  Of course, if we did the blind candidate taste test, you would have no shot, you imperfect fool.  From the Wall Street Journal:

"During regular “blind taste tests,” in which Microsoft asks randomly-selected consumers to score the quality of results from various Internet search engines, the quality of Microsoft’s search results have so improved that people can’t tell the difference between Microsoft and Google search results, says Mr. Mehdi, senior vice president of Microsoft’s online audience business group. But when Microsoft slaps the Google brand name on the results from Microsoft’s own search engine during another portion of its tests, users invariably score them highest.

“Just by putting the name up, people think it’s more relevant,” he says.

Just got a new laptop with XP.  First thing I did?  Changed the search default in IE7 to Google.  Gotta keep it clean. 

And the candidates I interview?  I bring no bias to the table.  Wait a second - if I'm imperferct and I'm not aware of the bias I have, am I accountable for that?

I'm interviewing an Enron candidate this week just to look progressive...

Famous Cop-Outs In the Talent Game: "My Boss Won't Let Me"...

Let's talk about why you don't have more upside at work.  Whether you know it or not, you're playing it safe.  You're either waiting for permission to do something innovative or rationalizing that your plans to be innovative would never be approved.

And it's lame.  For you and your company. And your family.Linchpin.JPG

"It's just too risky for this company", you say. "It wouldn't be supported".

Who cares whether it would be supported or not? Oh yeah, I forgot. YOU'RE the one who cares, because you're comfortable playing it safe.  Status quo, maybe you complain/whine/bitch about how things are and if you were only appreciated, you could make a difference. 

Lame. The people you complain/whine/bitch with? They don't want you to do more. They want to packed in with you from a performance standpoint, with everyone average. Like a union, where everyone's the same unless you have more tenure.

The problem with that is it's all rationalization so you don't have to put yourself out there and do something different.  I was reminded of this humanity play as I read Linchpin by Seth Godin.  Check out Seth's quote from this volume on how to make yourself indispensable:

"My boss won't let me" - Of course she won't. Why would she? You're saying, "I want to do some crazy thing, and if it doesn't work, I want you to take all the blame.  Of course, if it does work, I'll get the credit. Okay?".  No, not okay. Nothing in this book argues that you need the perfect boss to become indispensable.  I'm saying that if you become indispensable, you'll discover that you get a better boss."

That's a brilliant piece of writing.  The problem isn't the boss, it's you.  I'd go a step further and say that conversation with the boss never happens.  95% of the time, you make that rationalization before you talk to the boss, when the reality is that most of the stuff you're thinking about wouldn't cause a problem.  You want to experiment?  Most companies are fine with that as long as the regular work gets done.

So stop rationalizing and whining.  The next time you find yourself in whine/bitch mode, do the American economy, your family and you a favor and stop - and start a project on your own time that will make a difference if you deliver.  Then deliver it.

If you're company doesn't appreciate that, I know a couple that do. 

He Said/She Said: Apple Genius Dorks and HR Dinosaurs...

Couple of posts that I caught over the weekend that made me go hmmmmm:

She Said: Heather Hamilton at Microsoft has a great post over at One Louder about the insanity of style over service at the Apple retail store:

"Apple does a lot of things right and I really respect their design discipline and marketing. Their ability to build a loyal following is impressive, even if that following has cartoon-style swirly eyeballs and walks all zombie-like to the beatApple store of anything that Steve Jobs says. Ah, I joke, fanboys. I absolutely appreciated my iPod for many of the years I owned one and before I got a Zune. And there's a place for both in the market. Anyhoo.

I was in an Apple store to buy a gift card for my friends' kid. And for some reason I cannot even begin to fathom, all of the Apple employees were on the sales floor doing all of their business. So the person that wanted to buy a gift card (me) had to wait in the same line as the people that had questions...lots of questions. The only employee that wasn't four deep behind a line of customers/inquisitors was the gal at the front who was, like, greeting people.  And when I asked her who could help me (ring up a freaking gift card), she sent me back to the line because she could totally not help me. Not at all. Because she was awesome at "Hi, welcome to the Apple store," and she was also awesome at "How can *they* help you? Because I'm not a *genius*."

He Said (that's me):OMG. I know there are tons of apple fanboys out there, but let's face it, it's nearly impossible to get service in a quick fashion on a transactional item in an Apple retail store. All Heather wanted was a gift card - she either had to wait for one of the roamers to get free from a rambling 30 minute discussion or... wait for it...set up an appointment.

My wife has a great story on this.  iPod stops working. Dead. She takes it in to the Apple store (her first time in the store).  Goes to to the same person Heather's writing about and says, "hey, this is dead, I just want to drop it off to have one of your folks look at it.  Greeter: "You'll need to make an appointment for that.  My wife: "No, I'm cool with just dropping it off".  Greeter: "We don't work like that, you have to make an appointment for that". My wife: When's the next available appointment?" Greeter: "Tomorrow at 5:30 pm" (thus a return trip to the store at peak traffic time). 

Picture smoke coming from my wife's ears.  Which is why there will always be a non-Apple alternative in every market there are in.

She said: HR Maven on HR pros not caring or having time to be bothered by social media:

"Back to my (local SHRM)chapter meeting. I inquired about speakers for the year. Great topics on the calendar -employee relations, benefits, COBRA.  Good stuff. But no one is scheduled to talk about SoMe this year.  In fact the person putting together the agenda actually said that she didn't have time to learn this stuff. I recounted a story of a candidate I interviewed for a job. I asked her if she needed a copy of the job description.  Her response?  No, I have a copy on my phone."  
He Said (that's me): That's the best line/story I've heard as a retort to a HR person who doesn't have time to learn about social/mobile for their little world.  No, I have a copy on my phone.  Priceless, thanks for sharing Maven...

The Second Biggest Lie in HR: All "A" Players is Possible Outcome...

I’m here this week not to give you the normal PR spin about how strategic the HR function can be, but instead to call BS on the biggest lies in HR. It’s not that HR people want to lie. It’s just that we’ve created our own prison: the urban myths that have developed over the last 20 years as the HR function has matured.

And so we’re trapped. We’ve spawned narratives that make the HR function seem like a cross between Mother Teresa and Stuart Smalley, while the team members—aka employees—we serve actually need more tough love, a cross between Jack Welch and Dennis Miller. They need that little thing called the truth, effectively washed down with a bit of leadership, personality and, at times, humor.

Let's roll...

The Second Biggest Lie in HR: We want only “A” players. I gave Neutron Jack some love earlier this week, but now allow me now to take a Tonya Harding-like whack at his kneecaps. Like many of you, I love the sexy GE thought leadership and the Netflix slides that say you’re either up or out. I’d love to say that our companies should be on a quest to fill our ranks with nothing but “A” players. There’s just this one little problem with this theory.

The truth: “All ‘A’ players” doesn’t work. We can’t find enough of them, and even if we could, the world needs ditch diggers too. The interviewing process is still more art than science, and even the best interviewers misfire in hiring on a frequent basis. We need steady people who come into the office and crank out a solid day’s work, don’t bitch and don’t act like divas when the company doesn’t stop the operation to thank them personally every Tuesday and Thursday. Granted, we still have the little issue with 90 percent of team members thinking they’re “A” players (that includes HR pros too, by the way...), but that’s a puzzle to solve another day. For now, we appreciate the fact that some employees just understand where to put their noses: to the grindstone. 

If you’re a good HR pro and don’t feel like you actively pitch the lie above, do you actively preach the truth?

If the answer is no, you’ve got work to do before you’re part of the solution.

See the whole list of HR Lies at Workforce here, or wait - I'm previewing them all week long.  Lucky you..