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April 2010

A Simple Way to Recruit and Price Talent in Organizations....

From a guy I respect last year:

"The smartest thing I've every heard regarding running a company was to go out and hire the best, then figure out a product/service strategy to bill/price that talent at 2X the cost.  If you hire the best, the market will allow you to price accordingly..."

Damn!  That's a pretty good train of thought... Perhaps words to live by the next time you're dealing with a manager who wants to lowball someone on an offer...

What Would an HR Capitalist Do? She Would Not Talk About Fight Club...

Who are the HR Capitalists? They're a group of HR Pros who like free markets, pop culture, high performing talent and a business plan with upside. They look for the big win in every organization they serve, and if a big win isn't available or tolerated, they'll be gone in the next 180 days - even in a crappy economy.  They represent 9.2% of the entire HR population, and this series is designed to answer the question every HR Pro should ask when faced with a scenario that sucks and might threaten their career - what would an HR Capitalist do?


"Three can keep a secret if two are dead".  Benjamin Franklin

"I am Jack's complete lack of surprise".  Narrator from Fight Club


Secrets.  They're everywhere inside organizations, and let's just say that some people are better than others at keeping them.  To get you warmed up, let's run down a list of folks who are good at keeping secrets, then contrast it with thoseYou do not talk about fight club who can't keep a secret, otherwise known as the finks/tortured souls/mouth-runners:

Good at keeping secrets: Dick Cheney, Bruce Wayne's butler, Tony Soprano, anyone who worked for Dick Cheney.

Bad at keeping secrets: Tiger Woods (texting - really?), the mistresses of Tiger Woods, terrorists interrogated by Jack Bauer, Anakin Skywalker.

If you're working a gig as an HR Manager, chances are that you're exposed to a lot of confidential information, otherwise known in the business as "secrets".  If you've evolved to the Director or VP level, chances are you've learned the following lesson from Tyler Durden:

You do not talk about Fight Club confidential information.

Until you need to, or course.  Then it's your street smarts that tells you the Vinnie Barbarino (who, what, when, why and how) of sharing confidential information that keeps you alive in your organization. Of course, if you decide to share confidential information at any point in time, you do it for one reason and one reason alone: Leverage that results in a kick-ass outcome for your organization.  And you mask that information in way that protects the identity of the innocent, gives nothing of true value, but maintains the power/threat/plea that the disclosure creates.

Confused? You're an HR Pro that needs to read this series 4 times.  Nodding your head in agreement? You're part of the elite corp. Play on, player. 

PS: Your access to confidential information over the course of a decade will leave you jaded and sans the ability to ever be surprised by human nature.  Kind of like Tiger's limo driver.

I'm just sayin'...

Drinking at/with the Company/Co-workers: Let the Evolutionary Testing Begin...

Got a message from a friend yesterday.  A mutual friend had crashed an otherwise serviceable career (I know, not exactly a ringing endorsement..) by getting absolutely hammered at a company event, talking like Dr. Dre on a CD with two (not one, two) parental advisory stickers to some folks who worked for him, and generally making an #$# out of himself.

With that lead, you might think I'm against people drinking at company events or drinking with co-workersDos equis2 in general. 

You'd be wrong.  I'm for people drinking as much as they want at company events or with co-workers after hours.   AS MUCH AS THEY WANT...

Here's why: The decision to drink in any capacity involving your company is evolution at its best, regardless of your beliefs about God (I'm a believer, btw...here's my favorite t-shirt). Why is it an evolutionary test?  Because the decision to drink involves judgment.  You have to decide to drink at a company event or not.  Same with any situation involving co-workers.

Once you've made the decision to drink, you have to decide to stop at one.  Or stop at 10.  Whatever, you get the vibe. 

The decision to drink is about judgment - you can either handle a drink or you can't.  You can either make a good decision about whether to have 5 Miller Lites or you can't.  Somewhere in between, you can either sense whether things are going in your best interest or not and adjust accordingly.

This is where the evolutionary part kicks in.  If you can't make good judgments about whether you should drink or where to stop, your company probably doesn't want you handling all or some of a 100 million dollar line of business.  Or being on the customer service desk for that line of business, for that matter.

So, a form of natural selection/herd thinning kicks in.  If you make poor judgments about when or how much to drink in a company social setting, it can and will be held against you.  You might not get canned, but trust me, people will remember.  It's fair, don't whine.  Otis wasn't given a lot of career opportunity on the Andy Griffith Show, and YOU won't be on the succession plan.

Tagline in the HRMS (if it held all the information that was real in your company): "Can't hold his liquor. Acted like a fool after hours on multiple occasions with co-workers, and hurt team chemistry and trust as a result.  Do not promote".

Who moves forward in the corporate world (think of it as natural selection in office towers) is based on many things, including decisions with booze.  Drink responsibly.

And stay thirsty, my friends.

High Fives: Do Too Many Cheapen the Motivational Impact?

Paul Hebert had a great post the other day at Fistful of Talent related to Simon Cowell of American Idol fame. I thought Paul's questions regarding the impact of negative feedback in a generally positive environment were thought provoking.  

Included in Paul's thoughts?  The theory that since Simon is a beacon of negative feedback in a sea of generally positive, nice thoughts - his feedback is actually the most important of any of the judges.  I agree with that thought - who doesn't wait to hear what Simon has to say?  I also believe that because Simon is usually negative, the rare occasions when he has something positive to say are among the most important in the show.

Go read Paul's post if you haven't already.  Like now.

Paul's thoughts begged another question in my eyes.  If a person is consistently, overwhelmingly positive in very real way, is the impact of positive feedback cheapened?  Case in point, I was out in Phoenix in March for a Suns game, and after seeing it live, I can tell you that Steve Nash (guard for the Suns) is probably the most positive person I've ever seen.  Even when he's not in the game, he's a cheerleader, laying out high fives everywhere.

Take a guess how many high fives Nash lays out in a game.  Then, watch the video below to get the answer.  Then, hit me with a comment if you think the elevated praise Nash lays out cheapens its affect. (thanks to TrueHoop for the tip to the video).

Interviewers: When Question Immunity is Built, Go Negative Young Grasshopper...

Let's face it - it's an ugly world out there when it comes to interviewing.  While companies don't spend enough on interviewer training (training HR pros and hiring managers to become more effective at interviewing), the reality is that companies DO train a good bit on how to interview.  Plus, there's lots of self help resources out there to help the hiring manager who doesn't work for a company that provides that training.

It's not enough. It's still a hard knock life out there. Way too many managers whose go-to line is "what 24-B would you say your strengths are".  Cue the candidate responding, "I've been told I work too hard and want to win too bad".


Answer the following question - who's more motivated to do well in an interview: the candidate or the hiring manager, especially in a down economy?

Right - the candidate.  So much so that the candidate is much more likely to study to beat the game that is interviewing.  More from John Zappe at ERE:

"“Interviewers haven’t changed their techniques,” says the CEO of Hire Authority, a recruiter training firm. “But the job seekers have. They’ve been studying. Applicants have beefed up their ability to really look good.”

It’s her feeling that over the last couple of years, as recruiter ranks have been thinned by the recession, those left behind have had neither the time nor often the budget to improve their interviewing skills. On the other hand, job seekers, with nothing but time, have gotten better.

“There are so many sources catering to these hungry job seekers looking for a paycheck that they don’t have to look very hard for help,” says Quinn. As a point of illustration, Quinn told me that several months ago she came across a tweet pointing to a collection of videos of recruiters using behavioral interviewing techniques with a candidate. The candidate’s responses, she says, “were spot-on.”

The downside to that reality?  Even if you are a solid interviewer, it's harder to get the most valuable insights from a candidate who has drilled on the most common 20 behavioral interviewing questions.  That puts you in a tough spot.

That's why you should do more of one interviewing technique that's not commonly used - you should go negative.

Going negative is pretty simple.  You ask your standard behavioral interviewing question ("Tell me about a time where you had to turnaround a project in a very short timeframe"), then work through the details of what that candidate did to generate the result in question (Note: The reason many HR pros and hiring managers are weak behavioral interviewers is due to the fact that once they ask for a scenario, they don't probe enough for the details of what and why the candidate did what he did).  Once you're satisfied that you've mined all you can, you go negative by asking the following:

"Thanks for walking me through that Jim.  Now tell me about a time you had to turn a project around in a short time frame and it went bad".

Boom.  I'm no longer interested in your brag book and your prep work for this interview.  I want to know about when it all went to hell.   

And I'm not letting you off the hook, because you and I both know it's gone to hell at times, and I want you to tell me about it.  The advantage in this technique is that in the big scheme of interview prep for candidates, no one preps for the negative interview question.  Keep in mind, you can still win with this question as a candidate - if you're insightful about what happened, how you could have done things differently and are willing to compare and contrast with the positive outcome.  That's what I'm looking for with the negative question.

If you interview for a living, you need to go negative.  Go ahead, it's OK - you don't have to be nice all the time...

Family Dysfunction: Why Internal Candidates Sometimes Get Screwed...

It never ceases to amaze me that while we know all candidates have strengths and...uh...opportunities, we're most hypercritical of the performance of those we spend the most time with - our co-workers/internal candidates.  Why is this on my mind?  My friend Trish McFarlane riffed a nice post yesterday on evaluating the severity of the baggage every candidate brings to the table. 

More from Trish at HR Ringleader:Brady bunch

"When we’re hiring, we know that every candidate that walks into the door has baggage.  We ALL have baggage.  The question is whether we can get any of that to come out during our interviews so that we can determine if that baggage is a match with our organization, right?  It might be fun to have this game show at work.  Let’s imagine you have three candidates that you’ve narrowed it down to for a certain position.  Now they all have to show you their baggage. In the suitcases you see:

  1. I can never seem to make it to work on time.
  2. In the past some co-workers have said I wear too much perfume.
  3. I sometimes play music too loud in my cubicle. "

Trish is right, and I'm going to riff on it a slightly different way.  The baggage Trish refers to above (there's more examples in her post, which you should read) is rarely uncovered in a normal interview process, but it's information that you almost always have on internal candidates. It causes what I refer to as the internal candidate bias.  Your organization has spent months, if not years, with a team member who applies for an open position.  Everyone knows the dude is weird.

But that's the wrong question, isn't it?

So what if he has a weird obsession with Megadeath?  You would think that's cool if it was Metallica.  But Dave Mustaine?  Internal candidate, please...

Can he do the job he's applied for better than the external candidates in question?  That's the question you should be asking, and you should be putting all the other stuff away in a secure, Al Gore approved box. Because your internal bias and that of the managers you serve is alive and well.  Families are dysfunctional.  People have hang-ups and things that make them different.

And you, HR pro/hiring manager, have the most perfect information on internal candidates.  Or maybe not. You know what makes them weird to you, but how much do you really know about their skills and performance?

You might want to really ponder what they can do with all that company knowledge (they've been working for your company, remember) before you discount them because of their laugh/perfume/communication style/likability.

Even if they wear the same Megadeath t-shirt every Friday.


Performance Management in 3 Simple Freaking Steps...

I'm leading a Leadership Academy session at our company today on Performance Planning.  I had a big old participant's guide ready to go for this session, and let's just say I was.... attempting... to... control...the... conversation....

Lots of detail related to what to say when.  Scripts so you can't mess it up.  Do the robot.Vader

I threw it in the trash.  I want quality, but I want quality with authenticity.  With that in mind, I came up with three things that managers have to do related to performance:

1. Develop a Big Five (that's what I call the most important objectives) that’s good for your company and engages the team member developmentally.

2. Push for more performance, but be able to specifically describe what you need and why it’s good for the team member's career (verbally and in writing).

3. Perform in conversations with the team member (planning, lock-in and review session).  You gotta be able to perform, whether you like doing them or not.  You're a thespian whether you like it or not.

If you can do those three things, you’re at the intersection of a) getting more for the company and b) developing your team member.  YOU’RE A COACH.  If you do all the above, push hard for results, and your team members still say you’re a good coach, you win.  You’ve arrived.

Let me know if you need a controlling participant's manual, because I've got one available for a reasonable price.  You have to buy your own Darth Vader helmet though...

Trading Down On Talent...

The NFL Draft is upon us this week, and if you watch/listen to sports coverage at all, it's impossible to miss the endless coverage of who's going where, who needs what, whose draft stock is on the rise, whose draft stock is going down, etc.

What the NFL Draft and others like it provides is what makes it perfect to contrast with HR and Talent topics - 30 teams, each with the same money to spend on talent, trying to become the best they can be.  It's a Darwinian test tube forLeaf the Talent game as a whole.

Every time the NFL draft rolls around, I'm reminded of a talent strategy that works when you need more than one star in your business to be successful.

Trade down. Get more quantity while holding on to as much quality as you can.

The trade down strategy is pretty simple, whether you're in the NFL or semi-conductors.  You've got a fixed budget for talent, and you need multiple players to make it work.  Your competitors, who love talent as much as you do, recruit and sign the best possible individual.  As a result, they have fewer resources and less time to sign other players, which impacts the decisions they make with their 4th, 5th and 6th hires.

You, the trade down talent executive, see a gap.  You don't think the gap between the most talented individual and your 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th hires is as great as the money required to sign the best suggests it should be.

So you trade down.  Instead of signing the best available talent (and maybe getting into a bidding war - because we don't have protected draft status in business), you drop down to the 2nd and 3rd round of talent and focus your recruiting efforts there.  You sign two in the theoretical second round of your talent market, and find the effort easier - the second rounders are happy to have the attention, and the talent gap isn't nearly as big as you expected.

As a result of trading down, you've got more resources, money and time to keep acquiring talent in the 3rd of 4th rounds of your business.  You just signed two second rounders, then you sign two third rounders in your business as a result of your crafty decision to pass on the first round.  You need 10 total players for your department and so do your competitors in theory - so it's a forced choice game that everyone has to play.

Trade Down. It's a counter-culture play to what we always tell ourselves - we have to have the best talent in order to have a chance to win in our business. Maybe getting what the market tells you is the best is way too much of a dice roll for the duckets.

Maybe you do need the best.  But if the best is overpriced based on the results he/she can provide to your business at their position, getting the best might be a suckers play.

Trade Down.  It's the talent lesson I'll be thinking about this weekend when I start wondering if my son is going to grow up and have Mel Kiper Jr.'s hair.

Praise to Employees - The Matrix Chart From Hell...

Big idea for the day...  Why do companies talk a lot about employee recognition and praise, but employees get so little of it?  2 reasons in my book below:

1. Managers don't know how to give it (they're not actors, and most are uncomfortable in thisHows_my_driving role).

2. It's REALLY HARD as a customer to get praise to the right employee in an organization.

Let's focus on #2 in this post.  Why is it so hard to get praise to the right employee in an organization?  Let's say you just had a great interaction with a call center rep who did amazing things to take ownership, calm you down and resolve your issue, even though you were irate at the beginning of the call.  Does the company make it easy to share that feedback?  Most of the time, the answer is no.

More notes on this from a Made to Stick column at Fast Company:

"Imagine you're in a Tex-Mex restaurant, eating an awe-inspiring quesadilla. You may rave about it to the waiter, but chances are, your praise will never make it to the person who counts: the cook. Or maybe you appreciate the extra-deep cup holder in your Toyota, which holds your venti latte snugly. Where do you send the thank-you note? If you're lucky, it'll be read by corporate communications, who'll write a soulless acknowledgment. But the engineer who designed it -- and the product manager who fought for it -- will never know how you feel.

That's a tragedy on multiple levels, first for the employees who never receive your warm fuzzies. Pick any non-customer-service employee at random from your company. When was the last time that person received positive feedback directly from a customer? If the answer is "never," that's as cruel as an unwatered plant. Or an ignored Madonna."

The lesson for HR people, in my eyes, is to be more than cheerleaders when it comes to praise.  It's fine to preach to the world the benefits of praise as a HR pro, but from a business standpoint, what are you thinking about from a systems/communications/customer standpoint that can facilitate praise directly to the employee?  Can you develop those types of systems with the proper amount of recognition to the company/manager/team about the employee's performance?

You've got to think like a systems designer to pull it off.  One example pointed out at the Made to Stick column on praise is the "How's My Driving" signs on the back of millions of company trucks on the roads of America:

"For more inspiration, consider Kelmar Safety, which manages those How's My Driving? programs for trucking fleets. Ever wonder if the drivers hear the comments you make when you dial the 800-number? Absolutely, according to Kelmar's CEO and president Christina Kelly. Every single time. At least one company has figured out how to get the right comment to the right person.

We know you're thinking that gratitude may not be foremost among the sentiments expressed on those calls. But take heart, cynical one: 18% of the calls are compliments. (Actual compliment: "He was great. He blinked his lights at me to let me out.") Maybe one out of six isn't such a great hit ratio, but think how much better your organization might perform on this metric if it's in an industry not known for road rage."

You already know praise is important as an HR pro.  You'll have to think like a business person to figure out how it can have an actual impact in your organization.

The HR Capitalist Heathcare Stance: Cover All, Make All Accountable...

I've had more than my share of emails wondering why I haven't posted with opinions on what's going on in healthcare.

How about because the topic is as thick as an Encyclopedia Britannica to fully understand (look it up kids - big book chock full-o information before the web), and a powder-keg of emotions to boot!  Is that a good excuse?  Because it's the truth.

So, here's my stance, simplified beyond belief.  I like the big provisions of the bill that are good for all.  Coverage for all.  No pre-existing conditions that insurers can turn you away due to.  Good stuff for everyone, and a noble goal that our society should strive to attain.

Now, here are the two things I don't like - simplified beyond belief:

1. Government running the show.  Check out the DMV for more details of why this is a bad idea.

2. No personal accountability, either through the bill and also through prior legislation.  We're on a clear track with some Genetic Discrimination laws that you can't be penalized for what's in your DNA.  I agree with that stance, but it's the slippery slope of making everything a genetic condition that bothers me. 

You want healthcare, but let's say your blood pressure is an outlier that makes you a candidate to blow up next week.  You refuse to deal with the situation through medication, diet and exercise, and get offended when someone mentions you could do more.  I'm no expert, but blood pressure runs in families, which means it would be protected under genetic discrimination laws.  You refuse to do anything, and 11 months later you blow up with a major stroke, which costs your company/government 100K.  You get the treatment, but again refuse to help yourself and your family by changing your habits to prevent another stroke. 

And of course, if you refuse to help yourself, you're also refusing to help impact the risk/cost curve you present to your company/government. 

Personal accountability.  The time-bombs don't want it, won't accept it, and in the current/future legislative climate, you really can't do much about it.  Which means you, the rule follower, pay more.  Either at your company now or in the future via a higher tax load. 

That's why I think mavericks like John Mackey of Whole Foods are interesting.  Mackey launched a Team Member Healthy Discount program at Whole Foods designed to reward team members who don't smoke, keep their cholesterol and blood pressure in check and have BMIs in the non-outlier range.  Check out the program below but be warned.  Mackey is taking a lot of heat for including BMI in this program, because that goes directly to the topic of someone being overweight, which is the ultimate powder-keg.  I think if I was on his staff I would have encouraged him to drop that one, because it's an argument you can't win.

But carrots and sticks to encourage people with issues with smoking, cholesterol and/or blood pressure to improve?  I think that's the type of accountability that makes sense if taxpayers are going to pay the bills. Check out the program below and remember - Mackey's not asking people to strive toward an unattainable goal - the program is tiered so people with a problem in any area can see progress and lower costs as they go along.

What would happen if future taxes to support the healthcare bill were approached in a similar way?   I don't like government being in my business in this way any more than you do, but you get to pick two of the following three items when it comes to healthcare if the government's going to be involved:

1. Control Costs
2. Coverage for All
3. Limit intrusions on your government having access to your data and asking you to improve.

That's the simple equation you have to figure out to know where you stand. Read the Whole Foods thing below, dream the dream, then pick the two things that are most important to you out of that list of three items.  

I'm out.

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Whole foods 2