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July 2010

The Wisdom of Choosing 'Good-Enough' HR Over 'World-Class' HR...

I'm spending a lot of time thinking about keeping things simple .  I've written before about this article over at Wired focused on the competitive advantage of actually LIMITING features.

If it works for video cameras, why won't it work well for the services we provide in HR?  I'm exploring this in more detail in a column over at Workforce, here's a taste:Simple

"I love to watch friends and family members struggle with over-engineered products, especially if I already know how to use those products well. It just makes you feel a little bit superior to see someone struggle to use something you’ve mastered, doesn’t it?

You know the type of product I’m talking about and what happens when someone tries to use it. Consider the following examples:

--High-end HD video cameras that make dads look like Quentin Tarantino showed up at a youth baseball game, until they put the camera back in the bag five minutes later because it’s too hard to use. The suburban version of Reservoir Dogs will have to wait.

--Forcing a non-coffee drinker to order you a grande nonfat latte while you sit in the passenger seat and snicker at their confusion in the drive-through lane at Starbucks. Just say it, Mom. They’ll know what you mean—honest."

Of course, if it's hard or embarrassing to use your HR services, ultimately no one will use them and folks will just work around you.  Click over to the entire column at Workforce to read some HR examples of over-engineered products, and what can be done to fix them.  Drop me a comment over there about other examples you see.

Make something less complicated than it has to be for someone today.  It's the ultimate HR gift.

Cautionary Career Tale from Mad Men: "Who is Don Draper?"...

I read a couple of things this weekend that made me desire having candidates who know their own value proposition. What's your hook as a candidate?  What's your value prop?

You can't be all things to all people, so take a stand.  If you don't take a stand, odds are I'll find a candidate who's a better fit.  So will everyone else.  Nobody wants vanilla at Baskin Robbins.Don-draper

We can either talk for 90 minutes so I can figure it out, or I can lead off the interview by asking you - and we can see if you can articulate it quickly and concisely - and make me BELIEVE..  Then I'll grill you for the next 90 minutes and I'll tell you at the end of the interview whether I agree or think what you said was all smoke, no fire...

What's my motivation?  Seth Godin, Lance Haun and Mad Men.  First up is Seth Godin:

"What story do you tell yourself about yourself?  I know that marketers tell stories. We tell them to clients, prospects, bosses, suppliers, partners and voters. If the stories resonate and spread and seduce, then we succeed.

But what about the story you tell yourself? Do you have an elevator pitch that reminds you that you're a struggling fraud, certain to be caught and destined to fail? Are you marketing a perspective and an attitude of generosity? When you talk to yourself, what do you say? Is anyone listening?

Next up, I read what Lance Haun had to say in the recently released "What I Know About Getting a Job", featured over at Penelope Trunk's Brazen Careerist:

"If you understand what you do and how you bring value to organizations you work for, you hammer that every time you interact with people. When you network, when you’re putting together a resume, when you’re interviewing, when you talk to customers, clients and competitors… everything.

And it isn’t like this is easy. Or that I’ve figured this all out how to do this myself. But I’ve done better by focusing on what can I bring rather than trying to encompass everything I’ve ever done ever. That’s just a losing strategy.

I used to say I knew very little about getting a job. I knew what worked for me but I realized that many HR folks didn’t share my views on quite a few things. After two unexpected job losses in a year (and two total weeks of unemployment between them), maybe I know more about it than I thought.  Knowing something about yourself and not being apologetic about marketing yourself is key. Everything else is just details."

Finally, here's the description from Time on how Mad Men hero/villain Don Draper reacted to a question of career identity in this season's premiere:

"Yet the side effect of limitless choice is paralysis. At the beginning of Season 4 of Mad Men(AMC, Sundays, 10 p.m. E.T.), Don Draper (Jon Hamm) has made a clean break with the past, having ended his marriage and started his own ad business. Successful and in his prime, he can remake himself however he likes. But when we first see him, he's struggling to answer a simple question from an Advertising Age reporter: "Who is Don Draper?" He stares across the lunch table, blank, like a shopper boggling at 93 varieties of potato chip."

Who is Don Draper? More importantly, who are you?  If you're hunting for a job, you need to know and be capable of sharing.  Don't ramble, whine or evade the question.  Own it and don't try to be everything to everyone.

5% of the world being very interested is better than 60% being "kind of" interested.  Be brave, pick the lower percentage and answer the question.

Who are you?

It's Like Alanis Morissette Was Using Her iPhone in her Government-Issued Cube...

Why? Because it was IRONIC...

I'm strolling through the office of fine, employment-focused government agency one recent morning, and what did I see?

A government worker hitting Facebook from her iPhone within her cube.  So I did what any visiting HR pro would do - I asked her if the agency blocked Facebook and other social sites.Alanis-Morissette----Ironic

She said, "Mmm hmm. All of 'em. And Hotmail too".

After fighting off the urge to ask her if people still use Hotmail, I went back to my conference room and thought - How many things that organizations try to control are actually the illusion of control?   Employee handbooks the size of phone books.  Wellness programs designed to control medical claim costs.  Headcount budgets when you know the freeze will come in October.

Social media is just one example, but it's easy, so let's take a closer look.  Many companies still block some or all social media outlets from employees, and the reasons generally circle around one of the following themes:

1. There’s too much liability related to opening up access for everyone; and/or

2. We can’t open up access for everyone, because our overall productivity would take a huge hit.

Note to employers: As you were providing this rationale to a person like me, at least 15 of your employees were bent over in their cubes, openly accessing their smart phone to transact the social business you believe you are preventing them from performing at their will.  Just like [email protected] who works at the government agency.

"It's a traffic jam when you're already late
It's a no-smoking sign on your cigarette break
It's like ten thousand spoons when all you need is a knife.."
And isn't it ironic ... don't you think

It seems wireless networks trump corporate will when it comes to an employee’s use of social networks in the workplace. Ironic. At least I think.

If you’re still blocking access and patting yourself on the back, remember the image of your employees dialing their favorite social network up on their smart phone. You’re not managing liability, you’re transferring it to a network that you don’t control.

The illusion of security. It's a black fly in your Chardonnay. Well played, my friend.

Ownership of Ideas: As It Turns Out, Maybe That IP Policy Does Matter...

As HR pros, we often get in the rut of shuffling around the IP agreements our companies ask new team members to sign and wonder if it really matters. 

As it turns out, it does.  Consider current events at two tech companies you might have heard of: Facebook and Hulu.  First, more on the Facebook situation and a guy named Paul Ceglia from the Huffington Post:Ideas

"New York web designer Paul Ceglia, who has filed a suit against Facebook and its CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, claims he owns an 84% stake in Facebook.

Ceglia asserts that a 2003 contract signed by Ceglia and Zuckerberg awarded Ceglia $1,000 and a 50% stake in the social networking company, along with "an additional 1% interest in the business for every day after Jan. 1, 2004, until it was completed," as compensation for his work designing and developing the site.

Yet as the Wall Street Journal points out, Ceglia's claim to 84% of the still privately-held company, valued at between $12billion and $22 billion, predates the actual formation of Facebook: "Zuckerberg built a predecessor to Facebook called Facemash in October and November 2003, but Mr. Zuckerberg didn't register the domain thefacebook.com until January 2004."

Ceglia won a restraining order that blocks both Facebook and its CEO from "from transferring, selling, assigning any assets, stocks, bonds, owned, possessed and/or controlled by the defendants" until the case is heard, which should be around July 9"

Next up, consider the case of Errol Hula, who claims Hulu stole his idea in launching their poplular video site:

"Errol Hula, founder of technology company Hulavision, sued media giant NBC Universal and the Hulu joint venture four months ago, saying Hula shared trade secrets and a business plan with an NBC executive in 2006. The following year, NBC Universal announced plans to team up with Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. to create a website, which blossomed into a venture named Hulu that now is the second-most-popular video website, behind Google Inc.'s YouTube.

But before Hula would relay the information to NBC, in an effort "to explore the possibility of a business arrangement," Hula required that Vergel de Dios sign a nondisclosure agreement. A contract was struck in May 2006, and Hula provided NBC with an 18-page PowerPoint presentation which described his strategic plans, marketing strategy and technology.

"At no time did Mr. Vergel de Dios inform Hula of any potential plans NBC had of its own for the development of any project similar to Hula's or that it had any interest other than possibly to form a business relationship with Hula," the lawsuit said. The two men discussed the plans for several weeks. Then, according to the suit, in June 2006, Vergel de Dios stopped returning Hula's calls."

Interesting name Hulu choose for the site.  Hulu, Hula.... hmmm... That's not going to help the case...

Regardless of what you think about the merits of these cases, both prove that ownership of ideas is a big deal.

Get the IP agreements signed.  Pronto.

How to Tell if a Business Owner is Crazy (or couldn't care less about what you think)...

And when I say "business owner", I mean "OWNER".  Someone who owns 100% of the enterprise.  The man. Or woman, as applicable.  I got a call today from a person I interviewed two years ago, and she asked me my advice for dealing with some crazy behavior from the sole owner of a company she's employed by.

How do you tell if a business owner is crazy?  Simple.  Watch how they deal with people issues in thePointy hair boss organization they've built. 

The good ones still deal with people issues according to GAPP (not the accounting version, but "Generally Accepted People Practices").  You expect people to deal with other people a certain way.  With respect, dignity and a hat tip to how that person might feel after you deliver tough news to them.  The business owners who don't feel they transcend the world around them still treat people like the world expects them to.  Whatever the influence (good parents? A cosmic sense of how fortunate they are?  A sense of responsibility?), the good owners get it.  And it shows.

The crazy business owners?  They do unto others any way they feel like because they can, and it shows in how they deal with the people issues in their organizations.  Erratic behavior.  Public firings.  Acting like the king/queen and doing what they want, regardless of the opinions around them (by the way, the opinions are generally offered up less and less as they show they'll do what they want anyway.)

Want examples?  George Steinbrenner in his prime.  Paul Allen today

Of course, they're likely the owner because they've been successful for years before they've reached this point.  But, in many cases, positive talent practices were part of the success on their way up.  Then, having reached the pinnacle, something changed, and they stopped caring and generally giving a S#$* what other people think.

When you see it, run.  You're just wasting time you don't have if you don't.

OUT: Buzz on the 4-Day Work Week. IN: Discretionary Effort...

The four-day work week.  A sucker's play.

Lance Haun revisited the topic of the 4-day work week late last week over at TLNT.com.  Lance remembersOffice_hours_007 that Utah ushered in a 4-day work week policy a few years back, with the move getting a ton of hand-wringing and pontification that other states and even (gasp!) private industry would follow suit.

What happened? Public sector employers have continued to make the 4-day work week grab.  Lance points to Winston-Salem, NC, Effingham County, GA, and Franklin (VA) City Public Schools as having recently implemented four-day work weeks. Lance also identified more cities like Westminster, CO and Indio, CA as considering using the four day work week.

Of course, that tsunami of 4-day work week adoption never came in the private sector.  Why not?  Lance thinks in government offices, even exempt employees work fairly rigid schedules, and in most of the white collar, exempt employee world, that rigidity doesn’t exist. 

He's right, but I'll shoot to kill with my observation - many exempt government workers act like hourly employees.  Rigid schedules is code for "not inspired to provide any discretionary effort whatsoever".

How sad is it to work in a job that doesn't inspire you to give more freely (this post written at 10:20 on a Sunday night)?  By all accounts it sucks.

Want to rob your workforce of the willingness to provide discretionary effort (effort they could give but don't have to)?  There are many ways to suck the motivation out of a worker, but counting hours has to be among the top ways.  I'll leave you with the following breakdown of how the four-day workweek plays into that from a post I cranked out back in the day (I count 2008 as back in the day):

"I get that most businesses have office hours, even for exempt employees.  I also know that manufacturing environments have to hard-code hours from a production standpoint.  I get that.  For the purposes of the rest of the rant, I'm going to address your exempt level professional worker who is not supervising a production/manufacturing environment.  You know the type - they have decision making authority about when and how they work on their responsibilities and objectives.

By moving to a 4 day work week, you just told them the job was about hours - not about meeting the objectives, not about helping the company hit its plan, and certainly not about dreaming up an innovation through their engagement level with their job.  You may not know it, or be willing to agree with it, but by moving them to a 4 day week, you just told them their objective was (shudder..) 40 HOURS." 

The four-day work week.  Launch it and watch the discretionary effort go down.  Here's an idea - give up the evil kung fu grip on office hours and give a telecommuting day per week.  See how much discretionary effort you get as a result of that move vs. the four-day work week.

Do what's hard vs. what's intellectually lazy. Now that I think about it, that's a great t-shirt.

What's Up, Double Thumbs? Bad Stuff Happens When You Don't Pay Attention To Your Blackberry Screen....

If you haven't been there, then you aren't the email machine I expect you to be.  You known what I'm looking for... Email skills so mad that every once in awhile, you go so fast that you screw up and you guessed it - send an email to someone you didn't mean to.

There are many ways this manifests itself in the world of work.  Sometimes you send a simple email toObama bb someone who doesn't have a clue why you're sending them the email, and they certainly don't know why you're calling them "Shirley".  Their name isn't Shirley.

YOU ARE WORKING TOO FAST. Stop with the volume play.  We're impressed.  You work fast.  Slow down and enjoy your food email.

Because if you don't, you're going to make a mind-numbing, career-impacting mistake.  Like Chris Albrecht.  From the Los Angeles Times:

"Here's a cautionary tale about writing e-mail on a BlackBerry courtesy of Starz President Chris Albrecht.

On July 1, Albrecht touched down in Majorca, Spain, for a vacation. Like any good executive, he checked his BlackBerry. He read an e-mail from two senior Starz executives concerning the future of Chris McGurk and Danny Rosett, the chief executive and chief operating officer, respectively, of Overture Films, a unit of Starz. The fate of Overture has been in question for months as Starz and parent Liberty Media are assessing its viability.

Albrecht tapped out his response to the two executives, suggesting that upon his return July 12 they should discuss removing McGurk and Rosett. However, instead of responding to the e-mail that he'd received from the two executives, he mistakenly replied to a different e-mail about letting Starz employees work half a day on Friday, July 2.

As a result, his note went to approximately 400 Starz employees and senior executives -- including McGurk and Rosett."

Dude... That's a bad one.  He should thank the lord that he's running the show, because if the roles were reversed (with McGurk and Rosett sending the email about Albrecht), they would be on the street pretty quick.

Email - it's a great tool, but it's humbling to think that you're only one "send" away from being toast. 

Another good reason to send less email, especially if it holds very sensitive information.  You're always one "FW:" away from the scrap heap as well.

The Artist and Employment - Best Buy Offers to Bring Suspended Employee Back, Kid Declines (Welcome to Thunderdome)

If your not aware of a Best Buy employee named Brian Maupin, you should go get the rundown over at TLNT.  John Hollon does a nice job of running down the story, which basically goes like this. 

-Maupin works at Best Buy as a blue shirt selling cell phones.

-Maupin created videos away from work that openly mocked iPhone buyers as unsophisticated. Those videos don't reference Best Buy or Maupin.

-Maupin was tabbed as the creator of the videos, and Best Buy suspended him and started making moves to fire him.

Here's one of the videos - analysis after the jump (email subscribers click through for the video - you'll want to see this - warning, lots of language):

Most of the conversation at TLNT and outlets like TechCrunch have centered on whether Best Buy has the right to suspend and fire someone for activities that don't identify the company or the employee in any way.  I think Best Buy can do what it wants to do under employment at will, but let's be clear - Best Buy is a company that clearly has engaged customers and employees alike via social media, which is to say they're more progressive than most.

But when it comes to the combination of artist (Maupin), social media (his youtube page) and company (Best Buy), Run-DMC was right: It's Tricky. Why is it tricky?  The latest on this case is that Best Buy has looked at all the factors involved in the situation and has offered reinstatement to Maupin.  Maupin has declined.

That's right.  A 25-year old, snot nosed kid DECLINED reinstatement.

Whoops.  It's not supposed to work like that.  Employees are supposed to take a suspension like a (wo)man, then come back when the company deems they've finished the investigation and the employee is clear to return.

Unfortunately, the artist has other choices.  In the situation of Maupin, let's assume that he's in the 1% of Best Buy employees who can create content like the video shown above (which by the way, is debatable since he created the video by typing in text).  Some friends rat him out, Best Buy reacts like you would react when you find out an employee has created a video that disparages a preferred vendor and customers in general (regardless if he or your company isn't identified).  Which is to say they act like a traditional company and suspend him, with the intent of firing him.

If you are Best Buy (lots of media scrutiny and visibility), suspending the artist actually gives the artist 1000x more distribution for his work than he otherwise would have had.  The artist goes from snarky employee to thought leader, or at the very least, more employable outside of Best Buy.  Which is why Maupin, a 25-year old kid, has declined reinstatement.  My take is that he'll parlay this situation into work at an ad agency or related play, somewhere appealing to the artist side of him.

Welcome to the new Free Agent Nation.  Good luck.

Command: The Most Important Performance Factor You Can't Describe...

Command (k-mnd)

What is command?  The dictionary defines command as "To exercise dominating, authoritative influenceJedi mind tricks over". The definition is easy, but identifying what contributes to whether you think someone has command is much more complex.

Command is what makes you believe someone is in control, is great at what they do and has the ability to influence people, environments and events around them.  It's like style, you know it when you see it.

Command is the secret sauce that gives you confidence that someone is going to get it done.  Period.

Lots of stuff goes into whether you think someone has command in a professional situation.  How they speak, how they look, whether they really know their stuff, the ability to relate to others from a variety of backgrounds and perspectives, etc.  The list of things that go into having command is endless.

It's art.  You know it when you see it. And when you don't feel it.

Command is the most important performance factor that impacts every position in your company.  Good luck with that, because it's hopelessly subjective.

On Leadership: Gilbert's Letter to Lebron - Leader or Looney?

By now, you know Lebron James (NBA megastar in pro basketball) has left Cleveland for Miami. This post isn't about Lebron.

It's not about how a hometown boy (Lebron grew up in Cleveland) leaves his economically depressedDan-gilbert hometown city on the side of the road, like the carcass of a raccoon that made the wrong choice when it saw the headlights come around the corner and had to make a quick decision about which way to run.

It's not even about the fact that the star in question produced a media frenzy that culminated with product placement of Vitamin Water while he claimed to be doing a incredible favor for the Boys and Girls club of America (unbelievable).

Because, after all, we live in a free agent nation from an employment perspective.

I'm obviously not bitter.

This post is about leadership.  More to the point, this post is about what you do when stars leave and your organization seems like it's reeling with self-doubt and uncertainty.

Let's define the players in this retention/leadership morality play. Dan Gilbert, owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers, is your CEO (or manager, however you want to term it).  Lebron is the star that just left.  The employee base left reeling in self doubt is the city of Cleveland.

Gilbert had three choices to reassure his base.  He could:

1. Ignore it and hope everyone would be OK;

2. Do some soft communications to his base designed to reassure, but scrubbed by PR (or the next level manager if you're thinking about this occuring in the trenches) to make sure he didn't screw up; or

3. He could turn that mother out and push the send button, telling everyone how he really felt without any kind of filter.  Transparency rules above and all else with this option.

Which option is the right one?  As with many things in life, it depends.


Dan Glibert chose option #3 as a leader in Cleveland.  The result was one of the most bombastic letters to an employee base (really fans, but work with me) in the history of man.  Go read the letter in it's entirety here. Go read it now.  It's that good. Or bad. I'll wait for you to come back.


You're back.  Wasn't that amazing?  Whatever your reaction, the letter has elements of a playbook for reassuring your base as a leader.  You just have to decide how far you want to go.  Here's a rundown of the elements that matter in the letter, and how you could use them to reassure a team, a company, or a city once a star has decided to leave:

1. Acknowledge the specific person who's left.  Gilbert did this through the quote below.  Now, you might not want to burn the former employee like Gilbert did, I get that.  But mention the person by name. You'll get credibility points for being direct and real and not talking a bunch of PR smack that doesn't matter.  You could also wish him well instead of being crazy aka Gilbert below.

How Gilbert acknowledged the specific person leaving:  "As you now know, our former hero, who grew up in the very region that he deserted this evening, is no longer a Cleveland Cavalier. This was announced with a several day, narcissistic, self-promotional build-up culminating with a national TV special of his "decision" unlike anything ever "witnessed" in the history of sports and probably the history of entertainment."


2. Tell your base what you think they deserve.  Doing this shows you give a damn and show's you're connected to how they feel.

How Gilbert told the fans what they deserve: "Tomorrow is a new and much brighter day.... I PROMISE you that our energy, focus, capital, knowledge and experience will be directed at one thing and one thing only:  DELIVERING YOU the championship you have long deserved and is long overdue..."


3. If you're feeling a bit chippy, and the star left to join a competitor, take a pot shot toward the competition.  Go ahead, it's good for morale.

How Gilbert acknowledged addressed the competitor: "The self-declared former "King" will be taking the "curse" with him down south. And until he does "right" by Cleveland and Ohio, James (and the town where he plays) will unfortunately own this dreaded spell and bad karma."

4. Close big with a statement that, regardless of the defection, you remain confident that your company is going to win, and that you'll do what it takes to provide the resources to win.

How Gilbert acknowledged the future of the company/team/fanbase: In the meantime, I want to make one statement to you tonight: "I PERSONALLY GUARANTEE THAT THE CLEVELAND CAVALIERS WILL WIN AN NBA CHAMPIONSHIP BEFORE THE SELF-TITLED FORMER 'KING' WINS ONE" (caps from the actual letter). You can take it to the bank."

Dan Gilbert was a leader in the face of one of the most visible employee retention issues ever.  Some of you read that letter and think Gilbert's crazy.  You might be right.  Don't forget that regardless if you think he went too far, he's a leader.

Cleveland as a city is an organization.  The employee base is down.  Gilbert took a shot at leading and went extreme. You may call him crazy.  I might agree with you. But he's a leader.  Who in Cleveland didn't on some level appreciate that Gilbert was standing up for them?


That's what leaders do.  They speak transparently from the gut and take chances.


PS - If you're really mad about something, write the Gilbert letter and then wait 24 hours.  If it still feels good after that delay, THEN you can push send... You're not a billionaire.  He is.