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June 2010

Is Bathroom Etiquette Different for HR Pros than Regular Employees?

Capitalist Note: I'm currently at the beach on vacation, where it's raining and some dime-size tar balls just washed up in the Rosemary Beach area of the 30-A corridor of the Gulf Coast. Suck it, BP. In short, I'm depressed and trying to a) keep the content flow going, and b) not take anything too seriously.  I read this post by Steve Boese over at Punk Rock HR (does Laurie write these days?), and thought I'd re-syndicate this post on bathroom etiquette for male HR pros to contribute to his important dialog. Enjoy, and just know I'll stop wading in this area of the Gulf when small critters start washing up.  That seems a reliable warning sign.

I don't pretend to know how much females chat in the Lou.  What I do know is that men aren't real chatty at the can, and as a male HR pro who wants to come off as accessible, that can cause some problems.  My general rule of thumb is a quick greeting and some stage banter if someone is at the sink.  That seems reasonable, and you can't ignore people in that situation and be accessible at other times.  Too inconsistent.

Once you get away from the sink, however, the whole deal goes gray and becomes problematic.  FromClose%20talker-795654 the London Times:

"Last Wednesday I got out of my pajamas for the first time since 2007 to spend an entire day in the office. Initially, it was fun.

But then, at 3:42pm, something terrible happened. The worst thing that can happen to anyone at work, in fact. I was standing at a urinal, having, in my dedication to having an authentic office experience, mirthlessly consumed three coffees at my desk in the space of a few hours, when a senior colleague occupied one next to me, turned and inquired: “How's it going?”

Now, male readers out there probably don't need an explanation as to why this scenario was such a crisis, more stressful than having a bad career appraisal, getting caught stealing stationery and getting a foot stuck in a photocopier combined. But, given that nothing divides the sexes more profoundly than our respective approaches to the lavatory (as Psychology Today once put it, “women are far more social animals than men, exemplified by the fact they go to restrooms in packs while men always go alone”), elaboration is probably necessary for the benefit of the fairer sex.

(1) In doing what he did, the colleague in question had transgressed article 2.1 of The International Code of Male Restroom Behaviour, which states that “on entering a bathroom a man must always use the urinal furthest away from any other man already there”. Admittedly, he had a challenge on this front in that there were only two urinals available in this particular bathroom, but even Amazonian Indians who have never seen a modern bathroom would instinctively know that, if this is the case, then one should use the cubicle instead. What was he thinking? Did he not understand that such behaviour is a major cause of paruresis, or “bashful bladder syndrome”, which, according to the US International Paruresis Association, based in Baltimore, results in about 7per cent of the American population being unable to pee in public toilets?

(2) In doing what he did, the colleague in question had transgressed article 3.6 of The International Code of Male Restroom Behaviour, which states that “while standing at a urinal one must never, even in the event of a natural disaster, fire, or medical emergency, attempt to start a conversation”. If you're very close mates, a brief “alright” is permissible, or perhaps, if you're very drunk, a passing remark about sport (”bloody West Brom”) or your own inebriation (”God, totally hammered”). But an open-ended question like “how's it going?” is lunacy."

He's right. The "if there are 2 urinals and one is occupied, go to the stall" should be in the employee handbook.  Here's another rule of thumb for male HR pros who want to appear accessible - if you come into the Lou and someone's already at a urinal, it's OK and accessible to give a shout out from at least 10 feet away ("what up, Bob?") as you move to the stall.  After that, it's Bob's call whether the conversation continues in that situation.  If Bob wants to engage in stage banter, engage.  You're accessible, and the privacy effect makes it OK. 

But if Bob doesn't want to engage, don't force it.  And never (never!) stand next to him and talk. It's got that "close-talker" vibe that is illustrated above.

When You Want Your Employees to Get a New Drug...

Note: When I start talking about medical plan design, you should care.  Still not convinced? Just dream this post will make you seem all cultured the next time someone you know wants to drone on (in support of or against, doesn't really matter) about Obamacare....

It's almost July, and that means the uber-organized among you have your project management software set up to consider the design of your Medical Plan for 2011.Brain-on-drugs

If you're continuing to get slammed by medical costs, you're not alone - either now or in the past couple of years.  Your choices to control medical plan expense and stay cost-neutral on the same plan are pretty simple:

A. You can pass along costs to your employees by increasing employee contributions to premiums (impacts all employees),

B. You can alter the design of your medical plan to ensure that those who use the plan the most pay the most (impacts those who use the plan extensively), or

C. You can do a combo of A and B to control your cost line.

A smart thing to do if you're faced with cost increases is to focus on the top 5 plan design changes you could make that would save you the most money.

Example from the street last week.  A friend of mine made a change to the Rx plan at his company.  This company had your standard 3-tier Prescription program, with generic/preferred/non-preferred tiers coming in at a $10/$30/$45 co-pay respectively.

They changed the co-pay cost of preferred to $35, and changed non-preferred to $100.  The result on cost projections was, let's just say, shocking.

Taking the more aggressive stance on non-preferred drugs saved the plan 5.1% in total cost based on last year's medical utilization (how much the plan was used).

5.1% on the total cost front!!  That's more than pocket change.  That's a real number, and in the spirit of who should bear the costs, the increase in cost is passed along to those who use the plan the most.

The moral?  Ask your broker for the top 5 things you can do from a plan design perspective to save costs.  If they don't talk top tier on the Rx plan, make them talk about it.

Stuff the Capitalist (aka KD) Likes - The Middle-Tier Option....

Who am I?  Who cares?  Good questions.  It's my site so I'm going to tap into Fridays once in awhile by telling you more about who I am - via a "Stuff I Like" series.  Nothing too serious, just exploring the micro-niche that resides at the base of all of our lives.  Potshots encouraged in the comments...


-He was raised a middle class white boy from a small town in the midwest.

-He was taught that you don't show off and money doesn't grow on trees.

-He routinely saw his parents drive cars into the ground rather than take on debt to buy new ones and his family rarely took vacations. His father drove an International Scout for what seemed like 15 years.

-Where he grew up, cable didn't come until he was in his teens.  Even then, there were 16 rather than 900 channels.

-Once he grew up, consumerism was all around him in the suburbs of a metro area.  While he had the means to buy many things, he still felt guilt when he purchased something he didn't see his parents own growing up.

With that background, is there any doubt that one of the things I like is the middle price point option when making a purchase? In today's revved-up consumerist society, most of the products we buy have at least three tiers - the low-end (bare bones), the middle option and the luxury option. 

9 times out of 10, I'll take the middle option.  It's where quality and price intersect to provide the best deal.  Some examples from consumer life:

-Any consumer electronics product- you'll find a lot more than three options, so you have to spend a lot of time identifying the middle.

-Cars.  I'm a Toyota 4-runner and Sequoia guy, so there you have Sport, SR5 and Limited.  I like the SR5.

-Any service-related package.  Cable, phone, etc.  Everyone's trying to squeeze some more revenue out of you by adding easy to deliver features to the middle option and charging you more.

With how I grew up, the middle option usually still makes me feel like I'm swimming in luxury.  And it also makes me feel like a smart shopper, which is probably how those bastards on Madison Avenue want me to feel.  They probably have a buying persona with my picture on it.  Puppet-masters.

The middle option is alive and well in the HR talent game as well.  Examples include:

-You can't afford the best candidate or aren't sure the value is there.  You go with the "good enough" option who has 80% of the skills for 65% of the price.

-You need a HR system.  You take the SaaS-based solution that has 70% of the features and is easier to maintain for 30% of the price.

-You are having a hard time finding candidates for a tough to fill spot.  You elect to grease external networks with a 3K referral bonus rather than paying 20K for a headhunter.

My name is KD, and I always like the middle option from a quality/price perspective.  I can hear the Madison avenue product/ad guys laughing at me now.

Being A Strong HR Pro Means You Give Candidates Nicknames...

Here's a strategy for you - when you're trying to fill a spot in the organization, you need to brand the process.  Case in point, discussing candidates with VPs or C-level folks who have seen a lot of candidates and have a hard time remembering/discussing them on the spot.  That's always an issue for me - so many candidates, you say their last name and the leader you're talking to can't place them because she's seen so many candidates this month.

That's OK - we're all human, right?Serpicocolhead_02

My strategy?  Help the busy leader remember what's good about the candidate by giving them a nickname.  You can't throw every candidate a nickname, but once you've brought them in, they've interviewed with the team and they're being compared and contrasted for days/weeks after they've left (after all, schedules demand that most of us bring candidates in over weeks, not days), your candidate deserves a nickname, if they're still in the game.

What type of nickname, you ask?  One that illustrates their most memorable, positive strength.  Need some examples?  Consider the following:

-Floorburn - Candidate that has a history of grinding his way to success.  He's talented, but really outhustles those around him to be successful.  Great trait, so Floorburn becomes the nickname.  Not afraid of diving headfirst into something when necessary.  <used as follows in the field: "You remember  Floorburn?  He'd be great in that situation. No one's going to take the business away from him".

-Hollywood - The guy who's going to look great in front of customers.  He's got all the other tools to do the job, but he really looks the part and that's been perceived as a positive by the manager you're talking to. <used as follows: "That's a big revenue prospect.  You'd probably send someone like Hollywood for the first call, right?">

-Serpico - Your leader loved Pacino in Heat, and noted candidate #3 looks a lot like Pacino with long hair.  Bam - your candidate will be referred to as "Pacino" moving forward, or Tony Montana or Serpico if your leader wants to go more specific. <"Frank Serpico called to follow up.  He says he'll be doing surveillance on our organization from the parking lot until he gets the job.">

Note - nicknames aren't given to mock.  They're given to help the candidate, and remind the leaders making the call about what was good about the talent they've seen. 

Got a good candidate you want to get hired?  Give a nickname that will make the hiring manager smile.  The hiring probability increases 10% as a result...

The Best Quote Ever On The Need for Talent to be Humble...

Here's a great quote on the need for superstar talent in the business world to be humble:

"When management with a reputation for brilliance tackles a business with a reputation for bad economics, it is usually the reputation of the business that remains intact".Firing-squad

--Warren Buffett

Which is to say - you and I aren't Lebron James.  I write a lot about the contrast between sports and the talent economy in corporate America, but for all the similarities, the quote above is a great reminder of a humbling fact in our work lives: We need a lot of help to be all-stars, especially in a complicated, matrixed company.

It's easy to be critical of others who look like they're not having a lot of success elsewhere, but look deeper, and you'll see it's often complicated. 

Relationships.  Agendas.  Personality types.  Outright headhunting.

All of those things (and more) add layers of complexity to any performance situation in the American workplace.  So you gotta control what you can in your current lot in life.

And perhaps - just perhaps - you need to be more reflective when judging the performance of others.  Whether it is a business with a reputation with bad economics, a messed up department with messed up processes, or a service department strained with the burden of a decade of bad products, maybe you shouldn't default to being judgmental.

Maybe you should ask yourself if the individual has been proactive in improving the situation.  Have they done things you consider reasonable to dig out of the situation?

When management with a reputation for brilliance tackles a business with a reputation for bad economics, it is usually the reputation of the business that remains intact".  Brilliant. And a call for you to be reflective when evaluating others in difficult situations.

After all, you might be managing that Hardee's location six months from now.

New Game at the Capitalist: Dude, Does This HR Video Suck?

New game today at the HR Capitalist called, "Dude, does this HR video suck?"

Today's video was emailed to me from a good friend who thinks it sucks.  I'm not sure.  She says it does the HR profession a disservice, it doesn't position us as strategic, etc.

Take a look and tell me what you think in the comments.  I'll give you my take after the jump...(email subscribers click through for video..)

Me?  I'm torn.  I give props for this HR org using a theater company to do quality acting and the writing isn't half bad.  They could have easily worked in a couple of barbs about succession planning in the mob and even had the HR pro tell the gangsters what their business strategy should be and they would have been golden.

My verdict - it could have been more, but this HR video definitely does not suck.

What about you?

PS - I'm assuming the skirt length is a limitation of the theater company's wardrobe, so don't go there.  Actually, go there if you'd like.

Cage Match for the Future of the HR Generalist...

I'm an HR Generalist by trade, and I've always been proud of that fact.  A good generalist can do it all, with style, grace and a street smarts attitude that's almost impossible to replace.

Of course, some people have periodically said that the generalist role is dead or in the process of dying, withJoan-jett-bad-reputation Jack Kevorkian in the next room.  I've always said that's not true, since there are literally hundreds of thousands of businesses, both large and small, that run on the back of generalists from an HR support perspective.

Here's the bigger problem - world-class generalists hear the buzz, look inward and wonder if they're involved in something sexy enough to invest the rest of their careers in.  I've got a couple of examples, first with my friend Jessica Lee writing on topic at the HR Examiner:

"During the course of that discussion, the audience was informally polled on the kinds of roles they were aspiring to. “Show of hands for folks who are looking to grow into an HR Generalist role?” You could practically hear the crickets in the room. Can you imagine? Of 230 recruiters, only one person raised her hand and said she was looking towards the role of HR Generalist. One person! All of a sudden, being an HR Generalist seemed so ugly to me.

Sure, you might argue that it was a recruiter’s conference – what else would I expect? But that sentiment – of very few people wanting to become HR Generalists – it’s everywhere. I promise. From deep in the HR trenches, I promise you this is true. No one wants to become an HR Generalist. People don’t want to be called HR Generalists. You could repackage it and call the role an HR Business Partner yet still, the reaction is more of the same."

That doesn't feel good to a new world HR Generalist like JLee.  And I agree with her on one thing - the best people in the talent space aren't generally longing to be generalists.   I think they're wrong.  But the problem isn't them, it's us.

Another example - I got a call from a strong HR Director who had lost faith a bit in the HR Generalist model.  She felt it wasn't working for her, and she didn't have the talent she needed to move to the strategic space.  As a result, she was actively looking at Talent Management models from people like Josh Bersin and contrasting them to things included in the traditional Ulrich models as she understood them.

As you would expect, the Talent Management model was sexier than the traditional models that are built around the path of the generalist.

What I told the HR Director who called me is the same thing I would tell anyone who thinks the HR Generalist model is dead.  The problem isn't the role of the HR Generalist at the manager, director and VP level, the problem is the feeder groups that we use to populate the Generalist role.

Use feeder groups from roles that are more transactional in nature (HR Coordinator, etc.), and you're going to end up with Generalists that like to do transactions and migrate to that.  It's not going to appear strategic, because we've pre-ordained that the DNA of the HR Generalist will be strongest in transactions due to the primary feeder group.

The answer is pretty simple in my eyes - mandate that your HR Generalists always have recruiting as part of their role - even if it's a couple of open reqs.  Then, if you're big enough, mandate that the recruiters in your organization take a rotation as a HR generalist.  Some will hate it, but more importantly, some will love the action on the employee relations front and the light OD exposure they get.  They'll also love being the head talent pro in charge of a client group.

At that point, your feeder group/reputation issue for the HR Generalist role will be solved.  The HR Generalist role (with 100s of different titles) will be attractive,

Kids out of B-School don't want to do transactions.  Fix the feeder groups, and you fix the problem.

First Interviews: The Game Within the Game...

There's a battle going on in every first interview, but it's not the battle you're thinking of...

It's not the battle for the candidate to prove she can do the job, or prove that she's not overqualified in a down economy.  It's not the struggle for the hiring manager to sell the company to the candidate he really, really wants.  Shut_up-thumb-200x200-1405611

The real battle is much simpler.  It's the battle to see who's going to shut up and let the other person talk.  Because whoever shuts up wins from two critical perspectives:

1. Information - if the other person is talking (candidate or interviewer), the person not talking is getting more data.  Which is good.

2. Flow and Vibe - a funny thing happens when we're allowed to talk through the entire interview (especially if we're the interviewer) - we think it went great!  Advantage candidate if the hiring manager dominated the conversation.

What the #*#$ is KD talking about?  Allow me to explain.

Laurie riffed over at Punk Rock HR last week that candidates need to shut up.  She's right.  In every interview, there's a battle going on to see who's going to dominate the airtime.  Laurie gave candidates the advice in her post that they need to stop talking so much.  If I'm the agent for the candidate (which Laurie is more than I at this point), I have to agree.  Coax the hiring manager to talk about himself.

If you're a candidate and the hiring manager spends 45 minutes of the interview talking about himself, the company or his Harley, there's only one reaction.  Let him.

The hiring manager that dominated the conversation (and it happens a lot, lot more than you might think) is going to come out of the interview saying you're a great candidate.  After all, he just got to talk about what's important to him for 45 minutes and you agreed with him on every point.  You clearly have what it takes to move to the next steps in his eyes. 

Well played, player.

While Laurie reps candidates more than I do (Sackett told me it's unethical to coach candidates in my VP of HR role, after all), I can clearly coach hiring managers.  Here's the coaching - after your next interview, ask yourself the following question - "Did I structure the interview and set expectations where the candidate understood that 80% of the time he or she would be talking?  Did I execute on that plan?"

If you're a hiring manager and even go close to a 50/50 split in talking when compared to the candidate, you've lost the battle.  You're going to think it went a lot better than it actually did.

Why?  Because we love to hear ourselves talk as interviewers.

Because clearly, you're an all-star, so get your game on, go play....

Stay thirsty, my friend.  And stop domineering interviews as a hiring manager.

Performance Coaches - Real or Bogus? Only Metallica Knows...

One of the things I've never spent a lot of time writing about here at the Capitalist is the concept of the Executive Coach or business/professional coaching as an industry.  I suspect I haven't dealt with it because of the following "truths" I've observed in my own career:

--The need for coaching is real, at all levels.Metallica coach

--There are some great coaching models out there that are steeped in behavioral evidence and to the extent they can be, science.  That means the concept is legit.

--I know a few good professional coaches, and I use some of the concepts of professional coaching in my own practice.

--I'd like to know more about professional coaching.

All my points have been complementary to this point.  Here's where I start ranting:

--The industry seems so unregulated that at times, it makes a hedge fund run by Bernie Madoff seem like a governmental agency.

--I've met some pretty questionable characters who pitch themselves as professional coaches.   I don't see the same characters swimming around HR, or for that matter, anywhere in the business world where they would have to work for someone else.

Why's this on my mind?  I had a meeting last year with a practicing high-level Leadership Development pro, and she alluded to the fact that she was functioning as an executive coach for her large organization as part of her role.  I was intrigued by that, since she's credible and I've had interest in the past.  She gave me a couple of books to go get that she likes from a coaching model/practice standpoint, which was great.

What did I give her?  My reservations about the external/consulting industry, that has sprung up around the coaching industry as a whole, and a link so she could order the Metallica documentary "Some Kind of Monster."  Here's a link for you and why I cited it to her:

"With voyeuristic intensity, Metallica: Some Kind of Monster explores the intricate connections that are created, nurtured, and challenged between members of a long-lasting band. That this intimate odyssey of group therapy and self-discovery involves Metallica--the most successful heavy metal group of all time--is just one reason this film is so uniquely fascinating. Having proven their documentary skills with Brother's Keeper and Paradise Lost (which included Metallica in its soundtrack), filmmakers Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky spent two years with Metallica as the band survived the defection of long-time bassist Jason Newsted, struggled to record St. Anger, and recruited $40,000-per-month "performance enhancement coach" Phil Towle to counsel members James Hetfield, Lars Ulrich, and Kirk Hammett as they confronted alcoholism, creative obstacles, and themselves in an effort to determine the viability of Metallica's future. Like the ultimate backstage pass, Some Kind of Monster is a healing journey into the hard-beating heart of rock & roll."

Go to 4:05 in the video below where the performance coach comes in.  When one of the first things out of his mouth is "Are you guys free enough to risk being seen by other people?", I'm rolling my eyes... It's that way the rest of the way with Metallica, until they finally get to the point where he's so connected with the  group that he feels comfortable handing them proposed lyrics (from him!) in a recording session.

That's when they fire him...

It's the psycho-babble ("Are you guys free enough to risk being seen by other people?") that always turns me away from the low end of the professional coaching industry.  If you're a real coach reading this, hit me in the notes with the best way for someone like me to get involved in the professional coaching profession AND distance myself from the snake-oil salespeople who have coaching practices but no background in the human capital industry.

I want to like the industry.  I may not be "free enough to risk being seen by other people".   <ha!>

Don't Wrap Our Meeting Up with Your Non-Verbal Cues: I'm MISTER WRAP-UP!!!

Some humble pie from the recruiting trail....

There's some non-verbal cues that I call the meeting wrap up signals. If you meet with people for a living, you probably know them well, even if they're involuntary on your part.  Non-verbal meeting wrap-up signals include the following, from least to most demonstrative (most demonstrative means you're trying to send the strongest signal "we're done here"):

1. Going from a slouch to an upright position in your chair when you've slumped like Kurt Cobain all meeting long...

2. Closing your notebook - the faster and harder you close it, the more the meeting is over...

3. Gathering your tools (laptop, notebook, pens) and ordering them like Rainman so they are easy to transport when the meeting you wish to escape is finally complete...

4. Now that you're in an upright position and organized to bolt, you square up to your partner in the meeting and proceed to position yourself at the edge of your seat - the kind of position where a 2.5 earthquake would cause you to fall on the floor. 

5. If your meeting partner still doesn't get it, you combine it all - you're upright, notebook closed, tools organized and on the edge of your seat, and you bring the notepad and organized junk pile to the base of your knees, showing that you'll be fast out of the blocks if only the person on the other end would see that the meeting is done.

6. Last resort - you slowly stand.  Only 1 out of 100 don't get this one..

I run you through that for a simple reason. When you interview for a living, you have what others want - jobs - and it's rare that someone you're meeting with is going to display the non-verbal "this meeting is over" cues.  That means you are insulated from the real world.  People get the non-verbal "this meeting is over" cues all the time, but you probably don't.  You probably wouldn't know them if you saw them.

It's like the background music starting on a talk show to indicate to the host that a break is coming up and they need to get out of the conversation they're in - and wrap it the $#$% up...

I share for the simple fact that I was in a meeting a couple of weeks ago - and started getting cues #1 through #3.  First time someone had done that to me in at least a year.  I'm usually in control of that and, of course, I use the wrap-up tools all the time.

I looked at my meeting partner and said, "Hey - you're wrapping me up, aren't you?".  She got embarrassed and tried to change the topic. 

In my mind, I was flabbergasted.  After all, I'm MISTER WRAP-UP.  That's my role, not yours.  I'm just sayin...