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January 2011

Dealing With Workplace Bullies: "There are a Lot of Fake Tough Guys Around Here"...

Workplace bullies.  Whether it's the playground or the office, you've got to find a way to stand up for yourself.

You don't really have a choice.  Either you find a way to stand up for yourself in a politically correct way, or you have tiretracks on your back.   Bully

One of the top five skills in any role is to use the leverage you have (or what you can create) to get the bullies off your back.  Bullies come in all types of flavors in an organization, including but not limited to:

-The deadline bully (creates false deadlines and then pressures you to die on the hill attempting to accomplish them)

-The resource bully (sucks up all the resources for her own purposes, leaving you with not enough manpower to get things done)

-The attention bully (craves attention for himself and perhaps his team, to the point where there's limited recognition oxygen for the rest of the organization)

-The budget bully (also known as the sandbagger, budgeting so he'll hit his number by September, leaving you to deliver on real numbers and all the pressure that comes with it)

So what are you going to do?  Just accept it?  Play nice?  Or find a way to confront the bully?

Need some motivation? Try these two clips:

-This scene from a Christmas Story, where Ralphie beats the hell out of the neighborhood bully.

-This reaction from NBA Star Kevin Durant, when Miami star Chris Bosh dared to impose his opinion on a private conversation Durant was having with a teammate:

“I was talking to my teammate and [Bosh]  decided he wanted to put his two cents into it,” Durant explained after the 108-103 setback. “I am a quiet guy, laid-back guy, but I’m not going to let nobody talk trash to me. He’s on a good team now so he thinks he can talk a little bit. There are a lot of fake tough guys in this league and he’s one of them.”

LOL. There are a lot of fake tough guys and gals in your company.  The question is, what are you going to do about it?

Friday's Happy Term: "Pulse Zone"

I've been in NYC for the last part of this week at the "Position Accomplished" Summit at The Ladders.  More on that later, but for now, a little perspective.

The Ladders is a job board, albeit a specialized one dealing with high level jobs (positioned as 100K+ jobs), but the core of what they do is technology.  Features, workflow, innovation - you name it - it happens Freedom tower through the technology.

Of course, if you're doing technology, you need to host your solution.  So we're walking around the offices of The Ladders and the following question comes up:

Visitor: "Where do you guys host?  Do you host internally, or do you outsource that?"

Answer: "We host at a co-located facility in New Jersey away from the pulse zone"

Visitor: "Jersey City?"

Answer: "No, a lot farther out than that.  Jersey Citywould go down as well".

Visitor/Non-New Yorkers: "Ugh."

What's a pulse zone?  The radius in which a nuclear blast or dirty bomb would destroy everything within the zone and make the area inhabitable.  I'm writing this as I'm looking at the Freedom Tower being built in the distance on the south tip of Manhattan at Ground Zero.


"Pulse Zone" is a somber term, but a great organizational term at the same time.  A reminder that companies with headquarters in NYC have to think about the worst, but a great term to describe that minions don't want to be anywhere near a crazy boss when he explodes.

Good, Fast and Cheap: Tell Me Which Two of the Three You Want...

Short thought today - but a meaningful one.  If you're in the depths of depression regarding the expectations on you or your team and don't think the expectations are fair, ask yourself the following question:

"Are the expectations on me or my team related to delivering quality, speed and affordability, or two out of the three factors?"Fast-good-cheap

It's the classic project management triangle of constraints.  You can have it good and cheap (which means it will take longer/be slow), good and fast (which means it won't be cheap) or cheap and fast (which means it won't be as good as other projects/'performance/results).

Some proposed related examples from the real world:

  • College: Work, Sleep, Play – Pick two.
  • Men: Handsome, High-Earner, Faithful – Pick two.
  • Women: Single, Sane, Sexy, Smart – Pick any three. (also called The four S's of dating)
  • Operating System: Fast, Efficient, Stable - Choose two.
  • Bicycle Parts: Strong, Light, Cheap - Pick any two.
  • Opensource Software Development: Speed/Time, Inclusiveness/Openness, Quality
  • Schedule, Scope, Resources – Pick two.
  • Nation's populace: Ignorant, Free, Civil - Pick two

So, if you think you're being held to unrealistic expectations at work, break down your triangle to see if you're being held accountable for quality, speed and affordability.

If you're being held accountable for two out of three: shut up and deliver. If you're being held accountable for all three, you've got a choice: either be a victim or re-frame the expectations by engaging who you work for. WARNING: Expectations may be evaluated differently by different humans.  Wear a helmet.

PS: Hit me with your triangle examples from the real world while you're at it...

HR Empathy: "I Understand Why You Took the Money From the Company Safe"...

You're a skeptic. I'm a skeptic. But is being a skeptic in and of itself enough for HR success? Could you question things and then just leave it be?  Probably not. Getting people to talk is one of the keys to being a great HR pro, and Marisa Keegan captured that perfectly in a recent post at Fistful of Talent:

I’m not going to lie, my favorite moments at work come when I’ve gotten someone to say something they wouldn’t normally have said; something they were thinking but knew they should keep to them Interrogation_room_ self. A co-worker recently complimented my ability to get people to ‘spill their guts without realizing what they’re doing’

Translation:  The best HR people have empathy that others can feel, even if the others in question are in the crosshairs of a company investigation into theft.  One of the hardest things to learn as an HR pro is the art of running an interview with someone you know probably committed an act against the company that's going to result in them being fired.

Still, you need the confession.  You know it.  They know it.  They don't want to give it.

The average HR Director/Manager doesn't get the confession.  The great ones do.

What's the difference between the average ones and the great ones when it comes to this part of the job?

Empathy.  Patience.  Acting.  Perhaps even an open mind going in, which translates into empathy that's believable and authentic.

Spend enough time with the target of the investigation, and you may see why things in their life are so messed up that they took money from the company. Which leads to the following key example of an empathetic statement that nets confessions:

"I understand why you thought you had to take money from the company safe"

Empathy.  You don't agree with what they did, but you've listened long enough to hear about their troubles.  You've had a conversation, and you can frame a statement of understanding that makes them as comfortable as possible...

The great ones take the time and channel empathy.  As a result, they get information that average HR pros can't.  If you work in any environment with a lot of employee relations issues, these skills are gold.

And the great HR pros want confessions.  They need confessions.  It's one of the things that makes them great.

Don't Be Soft: Protect the Boss From Stuff That Can Hurt Him...

A brief but important thought for the start of this week...

You're smart, you're talented and you care.  Don't get sloppy and allow things to get on the plate of your boss that can hurt him.  Be his agent.  Stop the bleeding before it happens.

Case in point: This demonstration for the Pope (shown below).  It doesn't matter how you feel about all the issues surrounding the Catholic church, about gay rights, or any other related topic.  If your organization has gone through what the Catholic church has gone through related to their field organization, and you're a handler of the pope, you don't let this happen.

You stop things that can make your boss look foolish before they happen.  You stop them aggressively.  You make sure the guy or gal you work for doesn't get embarrassed because they've got too much on their plate to deal with the details.

Wow.  See below for the news report, then you can check out the related "moment of Zen" from the daily show by clicking here.

Protect the boss, people...

More than Jack Welch: Should We Fire Everyone Who's Doing an "Adequate" Job?

Up and out.  Fire the bottom 10%.  You know the drill: the Jack Welch rules...

Henry Blodget asked a similar question at the Business Insider, a Wall Street digital publication:Superstar-superstar-9913716

"Should we strive to find only "A" players and quickly release any "B" players to make room for more potential "A" players?)

Netflix does this. 

Importantly, Netflix believes in paying "top of market" for all of its A players.  In other words, it pays them as much or more than any of its competitors would pay them.  To its credit, Netflix also tries to pay its A players top dollar BEFORE they get an offer to leave.  So Netflix is using both carrots and sticks: If you can earn and keep your place as an "A" player, you'll be handsomely rewarded for it.  If you can't, then you'll be free to work somewhere else.

So, should we sack everyone who is just doing an "adequate" job?

I find Netflix's logic very persuasive (especially the part about being a team, not a family), but I do have some lingering doubts.  On the one hand, I absolutely want us to build the strongest team we can--one composed entirely of "A" players.  I want to reward the A players by making them feel appreciated and rewarded, and I don't want to demoralize them by having them feel like they're carrying the "B" players' dead weight. (We don't employ "C" players for long).

On the other hand, unless this policy is spelled out clearly ahead of time (which it certainly could be) it seems harsh to inform a dependable if uninspiring B player that they're doing an "adequate" job--and, therefore, that they're done.  We therefore try--probably for longer than we should--to help the "B" players become "A" players.  Unfortunately, as companies like GE and Goldman Sachs have long known, it doesn't always work. (GE and Goldman fire 5% of the workforce every year, just to keep strengthening themselves)."

It's sexy to think you can achieve what Henry is outlining, but let's think about this for a second.  The much discussed GE policy of firing the bottom 10% is the BOTTOM 10%.  What Blodget is describing, and what many of the Netflix presentations allude to, is that we shouldn't tolerate "meeting" expectations.  That means a WHOLE bunch more employees than the GE policy of the bottom 10%.

Of course, it all depends on your Bill Clinton-like "definition" of meeting expectations (I did not have... never mind).  And a bunch of other factors you can find people talking about by clicking through to read the comments of Blodget's post and looking at this discussion over at the HR Technology Conference LinkedIn group.

You want to fire your adequate performers because they're not stars?  Random thoughts:

--Your best people are the stars, and those below their performance level are "adequate".  How's that compare vs. what you'll find in the marketplace of candidates?

--Your job is to migrate adequate performers to star status.  How ya doing on that?  How are your front line managers doing on that?

Whoops.  Maybe you're not ready to fire the solid - but not star - performers after all.

It's tough when a theory that's cool doesn't transfer to what you can use.  I wish the real world would just stop hassling me.

Lessons from Kinect: White People Can't Dance, and Learning Is About To Change Dramatically...

I'm on record as being a Microsoft fanboy.  I have an iPhone and an iPad, but I gave back the MacBook Pro.  I like Windows for business, which isn't really a popular position these days...

But the boys and girls at Redmond have given me something to be proud of.  It's called the Kinect, and my boys got one for Christmas.  Kinect is an add-on to the Xbox platform from Microsoft, featuring a 3-D Cant-dance camera that tracks body movements and games that take advantage of that ability.

As you might expect, there are Kinect sports games where you have to move, which are fun for those of us who are sports fans.

But the most striking thing I've learned from the Kinect is this:  My boys can't dance.  Not one lick.  Kinect has a great game called Dance Central, where, much like Guitar Hero, you have to match the movements of the hip-hop dancers on the screen.  It tracks how well you can keep up.  My boys are struggling to get to the level where they can dance as well as Elaine from Seinfeld.  It's hilarious to watch.  And painful.

But the real promise to the Kinect isn't teaching suburban white kids to dance.  It's the promise of Microsoft allowing open source movements to use the Kinect platform as a teaching device for anything that requires movement, and more to the point, muscle memory to master that movement.  Need an example?  How about robotic surgery?  More from New Scientist:

"A group of students at the University of Washington are using a hack of Microsoft's Kinect controller to help give robotic surgeons a greater sense of touch when they are performing operations. It's like a giant, high-tech version of the classic 1980s game Operation, in fact. 

While robot-assisted surgery is far from new, what robots lack is the ability to tell their human counterparts when they have grazed a vein or are scratching bones. The team have changed all that by hacking the Kinect and combined it with gaming force-feedback - or haptic - technology to create a 3D model of a human body which tells them when they might be too close to a vital organ.

The code written for the Kinect lets it react to incursions by the robotic surgeon's scalpel into restricted areas of the body and sends information back to the joystick used to control the robot, stopping it from moving.

The Kinect's relatively poor resolution would need upgrading for the hack to work in real operations. Still, the university team say that a piece of hardware to do the same job would normally have cost as much as $50,000. By contrast, the Kinect costs a scant $150, so it could be modified extensively to get it ready for surgery while remaining a comparative bargain."

In short, people are hacking the technology for all types of entertaining, as well as educational purposes. The potential of the Kinect platform is enormous, and Microsoft has already shown a willingness to back off the legal threats and allow people to hack a little bit to explore the possibilities, which is different from the stance of Microsoft in the past.

As the technology advances/improves and the applications come to market, odds are that your grandchildren will be able to go the batting cage without leaving the house.  They'll also get 200 virtual surgeries under their belt in their medical career before they ever cut someone open for real.

But if they have no rhythm, the Kinect can't help them.  Trust me when I tell you that...

The Myth of "Always Candid" Candidate Feedback...

Heard on the street this week: "I always give my candidate great feedback on why they didn't get the job"...

I know, I know... You're the brave recruiter/HR Pro and you always give candid feedback to candidates.

Except you don't.  You tell the truth when it's convenient for you, but let's face it - you know when to Truth shut your yapper and not say too much.  It's a fact of life that sometimes you can't share everything with a candidate.

And so the dance continues...

Unless the candidate in question has a skills gap, most organizations don’t share the real reason for rejection. As a candidate, you had a personality quirk and seemed a little angry at the world during the interview process. Did the company provide you with candid feedback? Of course, they didn’t. We’re already trained on what not to say that might present liability in the feedback process.  Additionally, what's the upside to sharing the entire truth?  Is the candidate going to stop being angry?  

Will they be better at hiding how they really feel in the next interview?  Does that do the world any good?  I'd rather my friends at other companies get the same window to the candidate's soul that I got.  Why would I want to make them less transparent over time?

Stop me when you’ve heard this risk reducer: “We’ve elected to make an offer to a candidate who was a better fit for the role in question.” The statement is true when you don’t think someone can get along with the hiring manager, and it’s true when they’ve blasted people they've worked for and with in the past.

It's a true statement, but it's not the whole truth.  

It's OK to use that statement, at times.  Play on. 

Rationalizations On Why HR People Shouldn't Seek Change....

I try to use this blog to talk a bit about things going on in the business world and why HR people should care about them.  One thing I've talked about recently was the emergence of Groupon, the digital coupon people, and how they've used a competitive advantage based on writing better offers to generate buzz and results that recently generated a 6 billion dollar offer from Google to buy them. (Yes, that's six billion.)

One of the effective comments I received went like this: Change-or-die

"Kris, interesting take, however, I think your argument may put too much basis on the potential value of written job postings. I agree it's a great opportunity to differentiate yourself, but I'm not convinced the effort:return ratio will be there. But that's also dependent on the effectiveness of other channels, I know. Here's an interesting article on Groupon http://www.pehub.com/91225/depressing-thoughts-about-groupon%E2%80%99s-model/ that's worth keeping in mind. 

The lesson I take away is differentiate now, before everyone is doing their version of it, and the "noise" again becomes deafening for candidates."

Jim was fair and balanced in his comment and while he questions the sustainability of the competitive advantage that Groupon has, he recognizes the need to differentiate in what you're doing in recruiting or HR.  The problem with the comment is that the article he cites gives the average HR pro a rationalization for doing nothing to improve.  From the PE Hub article referenced above on Groupon:

"A great deal has been written about Groupon’s rejection of a supposed $6 billion offer from Google. Most of the reports breathlessly describe the explosive revenue and customer growth the company has achieved in two short years and what a breakthrough the model represents. With over 40 million email subscribers, Groupon’s success is based on consumers responding to their daily deal emails, and sourcing high-quality offers that compel readers to respond. The story CEO and founder Andrew Mason told in his interview with Charlie Rose last week was that when they offered helicopter flying lessons in one of their daily email blasts, they sold 2,500 in one day. This compares to a business that had acquired only 5,000 customers in its 25 year history.

But haven’t we seen this movie before in the world of direct marketing? History has shown nearly every major new direct marketing paradigm sees impressive initial response rates, but depressing response rates over time. For example, when display advertising was innovative in the late-1990s (imagine websites without ads?), publishers saw click through rates in the 1-2% range, allowing advertisers to be charged a high cost per thousand impression (CPM) in the range of $35-40. Today, iMarketer and MediaMind report that display advertising click-through rates are 0.10 - 0.20% and CPMs of $2-3 – less than one tenth what they were ten years ago. Email has shown a similar sharp decline over time. Average click through rates for the early years of email campaigns in the 1990s were as high as 30-40 percent. Today, they range from three to five percent, again, a 10x drop.

Groupon conversion rates, supposedly, are now in the three to four percent range. What will those same response rates to the same consumers look like in five years? Will daily deals follow a fundamentally different model than every other new direct marketing medium? The benefit of being only two years old is that you don’t have a lot of vintage data to analyze. "

The good news, I suppose, is that any recruiting or HR pro who just took the time to read the data on Groupon from PE Hub above is exactly the type of professional who would understand Jim's point - the differentiation you're attempting may not last, but you still need to find a way to differentiate your HR or recruiting practice.  And they'd try to do it...

Still, I worry that the average types would read the data on click through rates above and say, "See - any positive impact you get from thinking differently about job posting/descriptions won't last.  So, I'm not going to bother even thinking about it..."

And those are the people in the profession I worry about most.  Which, in an interesting turn of events and logic, is exactly the reason any differentiation you achieve in HR or recruiting is likely to last longer than you expect...

The Top 100 Movie Quotes for HR Pros: #88 is The Bourne Supremacy: "Get Some Rest, Pam, You Look Tired"..

New series at the Capitalist: The Top 100 Movie Quotes of all time for HR Pros.  In no special order, I break down the 100 movie quotes that resonate most for me as a career HR pro.  Some will be funny, some will be serious... Some will tug at your heart like when the Fox voice-over guy said, "Tonight - a very special episode of 90210"... You get the vibe... I'll do it countdown-style like they're ranked, but let's face it - they're ALL special..

#88: "Get Some Rest, Pam, You Look Tired"...

--Jason Bourne from the The Bourne Supremacy

You know Bourne... In this scene, he's talking on the phone with CIA op Pam Landy (Joan Allen) who believes he is still somewhere globetrotting. She tells him his real name "David Webb" and asks him to come in from the cold so she can give him more information. He declines, remarking instead on her tired appearance. That's when Landy realizes Bourne has been talking to her the whole time from an adjoining rooftop watching her through a scope.

Why is that a quote for HR pros?  It's really a quote for any professional in the workplace who needs to influence others.  You can be world-class from a technical perspective, know your stuff cold... But at the end of the day, you need to have the ability to influence others.

Ways this quote can influence others when used by HR pros:

1.  To show you care.  A good person you know looks and sounds tired.  You show you care by making that statement.

2.  To be empathetic.  Different than caring.  Use when you know someone is not really cutting it.  Maybe it's not their fault, maybe it is.  Still, you can show empathy by offering up the Bourne statement.

3.  To manipulate.  You're locked in with someone who's done everything in their power to undermine and hurt you professionally.  You tell them to get some rest and make the judgment that they look tired at the end of a standoff that you appear to have won.

        Is there a harsher way to plant doubt in someone than to have a meaningful conversation with         them, but at the end, give them advice that they look and act like they need to get some rest?  

But I digress.  Use the Bourne statement often to those who look like they need to know someone cares or need some empathy in any way.  Pull it out of your pocket every once in awhile if you've locked horns with a borderline enemy, and you're up for a little psychological warfare that says "don't mess with me again".

Clip below.  Remember, use your powers for good, not evil.