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May 2010

Organizational Kryptonite: Fear of Confrontation

When you talk about things that can damage organizational productivity, there's plenty to talk about.  Here's my short list:

1. PoliticsConfrontation

2. Crappy training

3. Bad operational processes

4. Drinking on the job

5. Facebook

6. Pandora


Add the negative impact of all those things up, and I'd bet the cumulative impact doesn't touch one particular factor that sucks more productivity out of organizations than any other.

What's that factor?  FEAR OF CONFRONTATION.

Fear of confrontation is pretty easy to describe.  It's when you don't want to tell someone the truth or be direct, especially if you think the news won't be well-received, or will make someone feel bad about themselves.

You think by giving direct feedback that contains information that might be perceived as negative, you'll turn someone into an enemy.  In an interesting twist, the opposite is often true.  Because the world is full of people who suffer from fear of confrontation, giving good, direct, honest feedback in a professional way is often the best way to stand out as someone who can be trusted.

The next time you avoid a critical conversation because you are afraid or dislike confrontation, fight through it and give the feedback/tell the truth.  Do it professionally and play to the recipient's vanity. Tell them you thought about avoiding the conversation,  but wanted them to have all the information and an honest assessment.  They deserve that, and even though the others won't break it down for them, you will.  You're their agent...

Man up.  Or woman up.  Give the feedback.

When the Star Fires the Boss...

"I did my best,
But I guess my best wasn't good enough.
'Cause here we are back where we were before"...

-James Ingram


Everything doesn't have to happen for a reason.  Take a boss getting fired for example...Sometimes you can do the right things, try really hard as a boss and yes, Dorthy - even be successful - and at the end, you still get fired. 

"They can't do that!", you say.  Sure they can.  It's a tough, market driven world.Brown and lebron

If you're a youngster (Gen Y) and below, you might not get this.  If you're Gen X or a Boomer, all you have to do is push your chair back for a couple of minutes and think about a high performing boss who was separated from a past company you worked for, and you'll say, "oh, yeah".  Now I remember...

Let's list some of the scenarios where a boss can get fired even though they've performed at a high level:

1. When goals are really, really high and the boss didn't meet them.  Perhaps artificially high, but maybe not.  Maybe they were true stretch goals that could have been reached had everything fallen into place. That's the job of the boss.

2. When the boss of the boss, the ownership, etc. is influenced by forces outside the company.

3. When there's a personality conflict between the boss and someone with more power than the boss.

4. When there's a poor fit between the style of the boss and that of the organization.

5. When you want to retain a key player and the key player wants the boss gone.

6.. When the team the boss leads is on the cusp of achieving the biggest goal, miss hitting that goal, and the easiest thing to do to send a message is to fire the boss.

Why's this on my mind?  Simple, the firing of Mike Brown, the coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers, and up until Monday, the coach of megastar Lebron James.  Brown had a lot of success, but didn't get to the goal everyone thought he had a shot at with Lebron - the NBA Championship.  From the Boston Globe:

Of the many reasons the Cleveland Cavaliers had for firing coach Mike Brown after five seasons without an NBA title, one mattered most.

"They can’t lose LeBron James.

Less than two weeks after their stunning second-round loss to Boston in the playoffs, the Cavaliers fired Brown yesterday, an expected move that perhaps indicates the team believes it can re-sign James, the two-time MVP and free agent-in-waiting.

Brown was the most successful coach in franchise history. In five seasons, he led the Cavs to the playoffs every year, to the NBA Finals in 2007 and to 127 wins in the past two seasons. But Brown failed to win a title, and after Cleveland’s second straight early exodus from the post-season — a collapse that included two blowout losses at home and dissension in the Cavs’ locker room — and with James about to explore free agency, owner Dan Gilbert decided to make a change."

So Brown wins the "Coach of the Year" award two years ago, and this year he's gone.  Is there any doubt that the Cleveland organization made a call to Lebron before squeezing the trigger on the change?  Mark this high performing boss change under #1 (high, high goals), #5 (retain key player). and perhaps #3 (personality conflict between boss and someone more powerful - Lebron).

Like Bob Sugar once said to a client - "It not show friends, it's show business". 


Linchpin: An OD Intervention that Gets Your People to Think...

A while back I did a couple of reviews on Seth Godin's new book, Linchpin.  My takeaways from the book were many - including the following facts:

-Linchpins are artists - they're really into their craft (sounds like passion, doesn't it?)Linchpin.JPG


-Linchpins give gifts freely with no expectation of return - they're confident that if they give gifts, the pay it forward vibe will be in full effect and it will come back to them, somehow, someway.


-Linchpins refuse to let their Lizard Brain talk them out of taking chances and setting out to do things differently.  They don't give in to the peer pressure of conformity.


-Linchpins SHIP- they don't wait for the product to be perfect, they set a deadline and then hit it.  The discipline to ship is one of the key things that makes Linchpins different from others.


Another interesting point to the book is that you don't have to own your own business to be a Linchpin.  You can do the things above and more within a company, working for the man, and still be a Linchpin.  That's been a key point for me, and as I've gotten a few months away from reading the book, I keep coming back to the following question - how can you take the best parts of the book and make people think about the big concept of being a Linchpin where they work?


Fortunately, Tim Sackett, who helps run HRU Technical Resources and writes with me over at Fistful of Talent, read Linchpin as well and decided to have everyone in his company read it and participate in some breakdown exercises.  Here's what he experienced and learned:

"Had our group Linchpin discussion yesterday and it went very well.  20 people, broke into 3 groups and had 3 primary discussion topics that we would come together and discuss findings after meeting in small groups. 


We actually started out asking the group to write down one name, of another employee who they thought was a Linchpin and why.  Gave them like 1 minute – first thought that came to you – and then shared with everyone in the group. Boy! It was very powerful, emotional and motivating to hear teammates talk about other teammates in such a positive manner.  Also, I was surprised at the number of people who were called Linchpins by their peers – I was afraid the same person would get named over and over, and that didn’t happen.


From there we talked about Linchpin behaviors and what resistance we face in terms of barriers to success – which was primarily the learning of all of our barriers are primarily personal ones we put on ourselves.  We then discussed this concept of generosity and giving and how do we incorporate our clients and employees in the field.  Some great brainstorming on things we should be doing that don’t cost anything, but would really build and solidify stronger personal relationships with our clients and field employees.  Ultimately in our business – about 80% of our business is repeat business, so it’s huge to be continually focused on client service.  Finally, we talked about action steps in creating a culture of Linchpins and what can we start doing right now as an organization.


Very motivating meeting and great culture building meeting – I think the team left feeling one company, one direction, everybody wanting to be successful personally and professionally.


Just wanted to share because I know you were thinking of what to do with it – this worked for us – not the most creative exercise, but 2 hours I would do again in a second!


The 5 who were viewed as Linchpins had some common traits:

1.    Great work ethic

2.    Had knowledge across multiple disciplines

3.    Specific examples of how they drove revenue or drove margin in our business

4.    Made personal connections across departments

5.    Confidence to speak their minds"

Organizational development is a big word, and it's easy to get lost in the whitepapers and academia of the OD scene.  That's why I love what Tim and the folks at HRU did - took a book about a big, stretch concept, read it (or at least reviewed it), then spent a few hours talking about what it meant and how it applied to their business.

Welcome to an OD intervention that actually matters and connects people.  How much better would our companies be if we took the time to do the same?

No question there were some cynics in the room during that exercise at HRU.  Guess what?  There were some Linchpins as well.

More importantly, there were some fence-sitters who weren't sure whether they should be cynical or open up to the concept and conversation.  If just one of them did open up and thought about the concepts in the days that followed, HRU wins.

Well played.

If Andy Griffith or Jay-Z Owned a Manufacturing Business, Here's How They'd Test Candidates....

Deep thoughts on a Friday...

We try to keep things strategic on the Capitalist.  But as a protector and champion for the line HR Manager, we also realize that there are tens of thousands of HR pros that help manage blue collar businesses in America - the manufacturingAndy griffith plants, the cable companies, the air conditioning service firms, etc.

For those folks, being smart on your feet in dealing with recurring problems is as much of the game as thinking about a better way to do performance management.  I know, I've been there.

That's why the following note to me this week rang so true.  It's a great example of an owner of an industrial company having a problem and using street smarts, not strategic thinking, to solve it.  Street smarts are as important to the Talent Pro as strategic thinking, and this email is proof.  Read it and weep/rejoice:

"I had a drink with a friend last night that owns a nice little industrial company. He has trouble getting job candidates that can pass a drug test so his testing costs were getting excessive. Here’s the solution he came up with:
If he wants to make you a job offer he sends you to the bank with instructions to return with a $50 bill. He writes your name on an envelope and puts the $50 bill inside. He then sends you for the drug test. If you pass you get the job and the $50 bill back. If you fail, he keeps the $50. Needless to say, he seldom pays for a failed drug test any more. Many people leave to go get the $50 and never come back – imagine that.
You’re the only HR person I know that I think will appreciate this policy (that’s a compliment)."

Classic.  Whether your version of street smarts plays more like Andy Griffith or Jay-Z, the leverage it creates is exactly the same.  It's just packaged and delivered differently, but BOTH guys would get to a solution like this - just like the owner of that industrial company did.

Deliver the street smarts in a way that's consistent with your identity.  But deliver and leverage!



Job Description Syndrome and the Case for Fewer Goals...

You're the Talent pro.  You develop a performance system that allows your managers to establish performance goals for their direct reports. 

But did you lock down the system to prevent your managers from entering too many goals?Plug_ears

If not, you should probably do that.  Like now.  It's important.

Humans are "stackers" and "hoarders".  Left to our own devices, we'll hoard things because we don't want to make choices about what's most important.  That's OK when we're filling our garage up with consumerist junk (did I mention you are not your khakis?).

But stacking and hoarding is poison when it comes to setting performance goals for the folks who work for you.  The science behind the performance scene tells us that if you give someone two goals, they'll do pretty good making progress towards both goals as long as they have the talent and resources to get it done.  Give them five goals and they'll probably be able to make progress toward 2 or 3, or if you're lucky, 4.  Give them more than five goals and they'll be lucky to make progress towards 1 or 2 of the goals in question - too much noise.

If you leave the decision, of how many goals, up to your managers, you'll get a behavior I call the "job description syndrome".  Left to their own devices, managers will write a job description for you that includes about 40 responsibilities to post when you have an opening.  What's most important?

I have no clue. Imagine how the candidate feels. 

The "job description syndrome" seamlessly transfers to goal setting in performance management if you allow it to.  What do you need to measure regarding the team member's performance?  The manager can't stop themselves.  They list 10 things. The team member just wants the review to be over.  Did I get 3%?  Please make the noise stop...

Just say no to "job description syndrome", both in your job postings and your goal setting in performance management.

Be brave.  Lock down the system to a maximum of 5 goals.  I'd say three, but I don't want you to get run out of your company like Captain Queeq in the Caine Mutiny.  So we'll start with 5.

Do it and you're not crazy.  You're crazy smart.  Make people talk about what's most important. 

That's why you're the talent pro.

Measuring Curiosity in Talent - The Holy Grail of Hiring and Performance Management...

I had the good fortune of serving as the chairperson for ERE's Social Recruiting Summit at the Best Buy HQ in Minneapolis on Monday.  I'll be posting some thoughts about different speakers, the conference as a whole, and the social scene in general here at the Capitalist and over at Fistful of Talent over the next couple of weeks.

The first ah-ha moment from the conference is pretty simple and has nothing to do with social media.  Here's the big thought - the smartest people confirm that the candidate has skills to do the job, then start looking for behaviors and world viewsCuriosity-killed-a-cat that are rare to find in people who can make the biggest difference.


Here's how the topic came up.  Our first segment at the Social Recruiting Summit was a panel from Best Buy including some leaders who are really making a difference in driving social strategy at the dominant retailer, including Joshua Kahn, John Bernier, Brian Kohlbeck and Robert Stephens.  It's a smart, smart group that tries a lot of stuff, readily admits they don't know everything - but - is curious about everything.

I kicked off the Q&A with the group by asking this general question - "How does everything you're doing with social media influence how you hire?  What do you do to ensure you get hires who are capable of using the tools, both the ones we have now and whatever it becomes 5 years from now?

Robert Stephens, founder of the Geek Squad (which he started with $200 as a college student, see his bio here), immediately went to the thoughts of Netscape founder Marc Andreessen and identified Curiosity, Drive and Ethics as the behavioral marks of someone who can make it at Best Buy.

I remembered the post by Andreessen he was referring to and was immediately struck on how important curiosity is in a knowledge economy.  Here's what Andreessen wrote a year or two back related to the value of being curious and how it drives so much good stuff for companies that hire for it:

"Curiosity is a proxy for, do you love what you do?

Anyone who loves what they do is inherently intensely curious about their field, their profession, their craft.

They read about it, study it, talk to other people about it... immerse themselves in it, continuously.

And work like hell to stay current in it.

Not because they have to.

But because they love to.

Anyone who isn't curious doesn't love what they do.

And you should be hiring people who love what they do.

As an example, programmers.

Sit a programmer candidate for an Internet company down and ask them about the ten most interesting things happening in Internet software.

REST vs SOAP, the new Facebook API, whether Ruby on Rails is scalable, what do you think of Sun's new Java-based scripting language, Google's widgets API, Amazon S3, etc.

If the candidate loves their field, they'll have informed opinions on many of these topics.

That's what you want.

Now, you might say, Marc, that's great for a young kid who has a lot of spare time to stay current, but what about the guy who has a family and only has time for a day job and can't spend nights and weekends reading blogs and staying that current?

Well, when you run into a person like that who isn't current in their field, the other implication is that their day job isn't keeping them current.

If they've been in that job for a while, then ask yourself, is the kind of person you're looking for really going to have tolerated staying in a day job where their skills and knowledge get stale, for very long?


Damn.  Now I remember it all and you should go read the whole post as well.  Why wouldn't we work like hell in the interviewing process to figure out if people are curious?  Why wouldn't we overweight that as part of the process?  Why wouldn't we make that part of the performance management process in a big way?

Curiosity = ability to innovate, ability to change, to be different from the pack.

Relearning that, based off of what the Geek Squad founder said on the fly, was worth the trip to the Social Recruiting Summit alone.

And I've got work to do.  Thanks for reminding me of that, Best Buy team and ERE.

Be curious.  Don't accept being flat.  Don't accept it around you.  Don't suck.

Faking Bereavement - Worst Employee Relations Moments for Humanity...

Work in a high volume HR shop long enough and you're bound to run into some bad human behavior.  Lies... Deceit... Job Abandonment... Dress code violations involving Spandex...

As you might expect, the worst behavior is often saved for the times you would least expect it.   Case in point - our company is refining our bereavement leave policy, and the question came up - "Do we really need that part in the policy where we say we might require docmentation?

I thought about it for about 20 seconds and immediately recalled a story that suggests while asking for documentation is necessary, it won't stop human nature at it's worst:

Player - Customer Service Rep, Call Center

Issue - Poor attendance, was out on bereavement leave at least monthly, seemed to be fromCasket550pix_2 a family with a lot of aunts and uncles...

1st Step of Increased Scrutiny - We asked him to bring in a funeral program for the funerals in question, which he promptly and consistently provided upon returning from the days off associated with the funerals.

Brainstorm by HR Manager - Call the funeral home in question to make sure we had the spelling of the name right.  Side benefit - see what happens when we give them the name.

Unbelievable Outcome - Customer Service Rep in question had a family member on the "inside" at the funeral home.  She mocked up a new program for each fake funeral, complete with funeral home logo and pictures of the deceased.  It was a scam!

Outcome - Termination.  Awe of the employee's nerve.  Nausea.  Uneasiness for the future of human race.

Human nature exists, and HR pros get to the see the downside in employee relations issues that involve anger, ambition, lust, lies, etc.  But faking funeral programs to get a couple of extra days off?  That's taking your game to the next level.   The escalator's going down, and you won't be needing that fall jacket.  It's warm where he's headed....

As for me?  I've got my cynicism to keep me warm, complete with a mission of ensuring every employee handbook I work with has the "we may require documentation" clause in the bereavement policy - and the reality that even that doesn't mean much.   

Employee Resigns - Walk Them Out the Door Or Let Them Work a Notice?...

It's a morality tale that's played out countless times across corporate America every day.  Employee resigns, and manager and HR figure out whether they'll honor the two-week notice or send the employee packing on the same day. 

Playbook as follows for most of us:

Employee stays to work out a notice if:  Transition needs are high, limited risk exists for them staying inExit the environment, company's feelings aren't hurt regarding them going to work for a competitor, employee won't spend two weeks telling everyone how cool the new gig will be compared to where they are...

Employee is walked to the door if:  They were a conduct/performance problem on the way out anyway, they're going to work for a cometitor that troubles the company, history suggests they'll be mailing it in, they're in a position where company policy/protocal is to walk them immediately.

You're not alone in trying to figure it out on a case-by-case basis.  Even Microsoft has to figure it out, especially with Google picking off their talent.  From last year at Valleywag:

"Stuart Scott, Microsoft's former CIO, is not the only Microsoft employee unceremoniously being shown the door. Some staffers who are putting in their notice are being escorted off campus immediately. Why? Because they've put in their notice to join Google. In Microsoft's eyes, Google is Enemy No. 1. Anyone leaving Redmond for the search leader is a threat. Not because they'll scurry around collecting company secrets -- as if Google's interested in Microsoft's '90s-era technologies.

Departing employees, however, might tell other 'Softies how much better Google is. If an employee is leaving for Amazon.com or another second-tier employer which doesn't make Microsoft so paranoid, they'll probably serve out the traditional two weeks of unproductive wrapping up. So if you're planning on leaving Microsoft for Google, pack up your belongings and say goodbye to friends ahead of time. There'll be no cake and two weeks of paid slacking for you. And, Microsoft, don't expect former employees who are treated like security threats to ever want to come back, even after their Google stock options have vested."

Of course, as a HR Pro you know where it REALLY gets interesting, if you decide to walk the employee out on the same day you receive the notice - the decision on whether to pay them for the two weeks notice you are waiving.  My experience suggests this is primarily a cultural call, and if you want the majority of your employees to work a notice when they resign, you don't want to withhold the notice pay.  If you have a history of doing that, ultimately folks will simply resign same day with no expectation they are going to work a notice.

But you probably have a provision in your handbook that withholds vacation pay if employees don't give a notice.  That's why employees call you Catbert...

Employee Surveys and The 360 Review: Great Unless You Really Don't Want to Be Transparent (or want Feedback)....

Two things are worse than not asking for feedback via an employee survey or a 360 degree review as a manager.  Those things are:

--Not attempting to do anything with the results.  You let it lie on a shelf and never ask questions, self-reflect, etc.

--Being high and mighty when you are going through the motions of interacting with people who might have additional feedback, context, etc. on the results.

If you're not going to reflect, don't ask for feedback.  And please, please - don't interact with your employees if you're going to act self-righteous if they try to participate, and you don't want to hear what they have to say.  Just don't meet, because you'll do much more harm to your reputation by being cranky when they try to participate than you would have by doing nothing.

Case in point - a thriving suburb in my city (Hoover, affluent suburb in South Birmingham), recently had a school board meeting where they were going through the results of a self assessment they did across all board members.  I'll let John Archibald, columnist at the Birmingham News, take it from there:

"The Hoover School Board is ... awesome!

Just ask the Hoover School Board. After a vigorous round of self examination, board members gave themselves top marks in all categories, from the way they handle board meetings to leadership and "community collaboration."
They assessed themselves, and found themselves ... super!

Every grade -- compiled in April, sent to the Alabama Association of School Boards and unveiled Tuesday night -- was an improvement over last year. Because the Hoover board is good at everything. According to the Hoover board.

It's not so cut and dried for those looking in. Those like Arnold Singer. Singer, of Hoover, sat in the second row Tuesday night when those grades were unveiled. He asked a question, and got an answer that says more about the Hoover board than any self survey ever could. "Excuse me," Singer said. "It's a little hard to hear back here. If you could project ..."

That was it, before Board Member Bill Veitch responded with a disdain now immortalized on YouTube (thanks to Hoover's Trisha Crain).

"We're talking to ourselves, really," Veitch said, somehow managing not to choke on his irony. "We're not speaking for you."

Which is just what you want to hear from your public officials."

Watch the video below of the proceedings.  Turn up the volume so you can hear the statement.  Watch the facial expressions of all involved.

Then think about what % of your managers are like Bill Veitch when it comes to letting your employees have a voice and give the gift of feedback.

Two Steps Back: China Gorman is Leaving SHRM...

Without question, we've all gotten news of a resignation and uttered the following words, or something like them:

"Oh, Crap". (usually stated stronger)

That's how I feel today about the news out of SHRM.  China Gorman, formerly the COO of SHRM and the acting CEO during the interim period between Sue Meisinger and Lon O'Neil, is leaving SHRM.  I was originally going to call China and ask if the timing of this post was OK, but then the crosstalk on the email interwebs got to the point where I felt like I wasn't actually breaking news. 

The question is, do the folks at SHRM feel the way I do?  Do they really know what they've lost?

It's a valid question.  Gorman was a visible, energetic agent of change for SHRM, an actor on the stage that SHRM really hadn't had before.  I can't really describe the fresh take she brought to SHRM better than a post I did in 2009 called "The Great SHRM hope":

"Things might be changing at SHRM.  The great SHRM hope is China Gorman.

China Gorman is the COO of SHRM.  Whether or not she was passed over for the CEO spot vacated by Sue Meisinger is SHRM's business (China was COO under Meisinger's leadership).  What's important is that she's emerged in the new leadership structure at SHRM as an engaged leader and active face of the organization - even though she's not the CEO.

Need proof? Watch China go toe-to-toe with a clueless legislator on capitol hill, defending the big (our legislative interests) and the small (how to pronounce "SHRM").  Watch China out-tweet the so-called HR bloggers on Twitter(present company included) during the SHRM Conference in an effort to promote what's going on.  Watch China look for new ideas that can freshen up the mix at SHRM (sponsoring broad coverage for bloggers) while staying true to the needs of the organization (warning said bloggers not to curse during a blogging panel to be held on Wednesday - which was outright funny, but crafty smart on her part).

I've had some brief exposure to China, and here's the true value of what's going on.   Pros like China have always had the capability to engage customers in different ways that help their organizations grow - regardless of the line of business.  The problem is that the culture of the organization they're in doesn't always support it.  However, once an engaged pro is released at a high level in any organization and starts doing stuff not ordinarily tolerated, the culture can change.  People below that leader start taking risks, and everyone figures out that engagement is good.  Nobody dies when mistakes are made or opinions are shared.  Pretty soon, the organization becomes a lot more open and the customers start raving.

That's my hope for SHRM - that lots of SHRM staffers start engaging members the way China does.  Because if 20% of them do and SHRM embraces it, SHRM could be scary good compared to its past.

China Gorman is the great SHRM hope." 

Sadly, the great SHRM hope is leaving.  Have no idea why, but it's easy to see that China will be successful wherever she goes.  Whether she does her own thing or takes a leadership position elsewhere, China will do great.

For me, I track back the beginning of the end to a restructuring that happened at SHRM sometime in the last year.  China was the COO, and in the restructuring she lost the #2 title and became one of a group of five, picking up the title "Chief Global Membership Engagement Officer".  Seemed like a backwards track, and one unfitting of the leadership she had shown to that point.  China's so classy she'll  probably post a comment to this post and talk about how great SHRM is and how her leaving has nothing to do with any of that.  That's China.  She's a classy, strong HR pro.

You know, the type you like to see in a leadership position at SHRM.

For SHRM, who knows if they truly understand what they lost with China leaving? So, I'll tell them.  You know the Dave Ulrich books you sell, folks?  Ulrich has a competency called the Credible Activist.  It means you have to have all the other competencies in a deep, deep way, then you have to become an activist.  That means you have to be out in front more than the average HR Pro, have opinions, use the new tools to advance the profession, force your will.

You no doubt have tons of credible people.  But, it's clear you don't have enough activists, at least ones who are visible.  The role model in your organization for the credible activist is leaving.

Good luck, China; I have no doubt you'll do great things wherever you land...