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January 2012

PHOTO: Never Put Your CEO In Line to Be Embarrassed Publicly By a Wildcard...

Look at this photo.  This is a CEO being embarrassed in a very public way by a loose cannon that could have been avoided, if only the CEO's handlers had cared enough to determine the probability (hint - it was waaay too high) that the person in question would try to show up the CEO.  Which in this case is the President of the United States.

Obama and brewer

The picture shows Jan Brewer, governor of Arizona, wagging the finger at President Obama.  Here's the details from the New York Times:

"President Obama’s visit to Phoenix got off to a rough start on Wednesday afternoon when Air Force One was met by  Gov. Jan Brewer of Arizona — she of the book “Scorpions for Breakfast,” in which she accuses the Obama administration of turning a blind eye to illegal immigration because migrants will help Mr. Obama register more Democratic votes.

Mr. Obama stepped off the plane and was greeted by Ms. Brewer, who handed him a handwritten letter in an envelope that she later said was an invitation to discuss the “Arizona comeback.” The two had an intense exchange for several minutes; at one point Ms. Brewer pointed her finger at Mr. Obama.

Afterward, she told reporters that Mr. Obama “was a little disturbed about my book.”

OK, let's do the math.  She wrote a book that's critical of the president.  The title of the book underscores her "scrappiness" and willingness to take on the big issues, regardless of risk.  She's willing to discuss their conversation on the record after the photo opp of her wagging her finger at the president.  She had a prop that she could talk about to the press after the meeting.  The CEO in question, confronted with the randomness and aggressiveness, tried to shake her and get her off his pants leg.  Which just gave her more ammo.

At what point did the president's handlers not understand that if this meet-up could not be avoided, they should just change the schedule and come to the state under the cover of darkness, in a private way based on security concerns, etc?  What possibly made them think that this wouldn't happen?

I'm on the record as a moderate Republican.  With that in mind, the odds are long that my vote goes Democrat in November.  But seriously - this is what it has come to?  Grandstanding and co-opting our president into your PR campaign? 

If it was corporate America, someone would be fired for allowing the CEO to ever get in this situation.  Protect your leader from BS that is beneath him in your role as an HR leader, folks.  It's a great way to make yourself indispensible to your CEO.

And it's obviously needed, even at the highest levels.

WHAT HE SAID: Celebrating Apple While We Draft Negative Press Releases About Great American Companies...

A reader writes in to respond to my post on Friday related to working conditions in China for the iPhone, and the inconsistency of celebrating Apple while you crush or wag your finger at American companies who come under EEOC scrutiny:

"Excellent point Kris, if I understand it correctly. Everyone's goo-goo ga-ga over Apple, even though people died to make those cell phones. Now I highly respect Apple, and you can't blame Apple for a societal/cultural issue. And like Richard points out they're changing lives and having a positive impact in China net/net. But the irony is that an isolated situation at Pepsi happened with regards background checks and they have to pay over $3 million, thanks to the EEOC, and people are acting like Pepsi isn't a diversity leader or hasn't made more women and people of color executives than almost any other organization. On top of that, I doubt the same people who preach about Pepsi needing to be held accountable would be willing to give up their i-phone to hold Apple accountable."

What he said.  I'm not preaching when I asked the question "Do You Keep Your iPhone if People Died to Make It?", and I'm not an activist for change in China.  What I'm saying is that everyone needs to keep American workplace struggles in perspective related to the global scene.  I own an iPhone, and changing to Droid wouldn't matter - it's made under similar conditions and circumstances.  

But - I'm more than a little jaded with an EEOC process that's now drafting press releases celebrating their victories over corporate America, and what this reader says is absolutely correct.  Pepsi's done a lot for the careers of ten of thousands of people across all Title 7 designations.  Yet we get a press release that celebrates none of that, inviting us to wag the finger at a great American company while we use technology that's built on the back of a society that's nowhere near as enlightened as our own related to building a progressive workplace.

Weak and an invitation for deeper thought and balance.  That's all I'm trying to say.  I don't expect anyone to give up their iPhone, but I think everyone ought to think critically about the comparison and at times, the irony.

As usual, my readers are smarter than I am.

RATIONALIZE THIS: Do You Keep Your iPhone if People Died to Make It?

I'm "up with people" today on a Friday.  I'm going to wave the flag a bit, because there are plenty of bashers related to the situation in the US on a variety of fronts.  Times are tough.  Companies don't treat workers the right way.  The EEOC is running active PR campaigns to publicize the companies they sue.

As a result of tough times, lots of people like to rage against the machine that is America.  Companies suck.  There's not fairness, no equity.

You know what I'm saying to the haters?  If you really believe that America doesn't do things the right way, you need to give up your iPhone.  Probably your Android as well.  

Why?  Because for all the drama in America, people generally don't die in our workplaces.  And why you're sniffing the marketing juice of companies like Apple and thinking they're above the fray, the bottom line is it's a lot more complex that we care to admit.  From the New York Times:

"In the last decade, Apple has become one of the mightiest, richest and most successful companies in the world, in part by mastering global manufacturing. Apple and its high-technology peers — as well as dozens of other American industries — have achieved a pace of innovation nearly unmatched in modern history.

However, the workers assembling iPhones, iPads and other devices often labor in harsh conditions, according to employees inside those plants, worker advocates and documents published by companies themselves. Problems are as varied as onerous work environments and serious — sometimes deadly — safety problems.

Employees work excessive overtime, in some cases seven days a week, and live in crowded dorms. Some say they stand so long that their legs swell until they can hardly walk. Under-age workers have helped build Apple’s products, and the company’s suppliers have improperly disposed of hazardous waste and falsified records, according to company reports and advocacy groups that, within China, are often considered reliable, independent monitors.

More troubling, the groups say, is some suppliers’ disregard for workers’ health. Two years ago, 137 workers at an Apple supplier in eastern China were injured after they were ordered to use a poisonous chemical to clean iPhone screens. Within seven months last year, two explosions at iPad factories, including in Chengdu, killed four people and injured 77. Before those blasts, Apple had been alerted to hazardous conditions inside the Chengdu plant, according to a Chinese group that published that warning."

Tim Cook replied to this article with the following letter.  Go give it a read.  That article says what I've known for awhile, but most people are unaware of.  The conditions in China are horrible.  Apple and everyone else takes advantage of that supply chain with limited human rights.  It makes the American workplace look like heaven.

My point?  Fairness and equity in the workplace is complicated.  Hate the way things are going in America?  Like to hate how much power companies have?

Cool.  You ought to give up your digital device when you compare that to what goes on in China out of protest.

Last time I checked, that American low wage manufacturer or hourly retail shop that has low-end jobs didn't have suicide nets.  

Be consistent.

HR CAPITALIST/FOT WEBINAR: Figuring Out How to Recruit Using Facebook....

Marylin Delpy: The site got twenty-two hundred hits within two hours? 
Mark Zuckerberg: Thousand. 
Marylin Delpy: I'm sorry? 
Mark Zuckerberg: Twenty-two *thousand*. 
Marylin Delpy: [to herself] Wow. 

That's a line of dialog from the movie "The Social Network", which details the rise of Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook from the campus of Harvard to its ultimate position as the leading social play in the world today. Facebook webinar art

With a little under a Billion (that's right, 1 Billion, not million) members, it's pretty obvious that most of us need to know more than we do about how to recruit using Facebook.  So, with the help of my friends at Fistful of Talent (my multi-contributor blog), we've put together a great webinar Webinar on how to recruit using Facebook.  We call it: Social Recruiting MacGyver Style! No Money, a Paperclip and Facebook – all a Real HR Pro Needs to Recruit.

Register Today by Clicking this link and completing the form…

Join your hosts (Tim Sackett and me) on February 2, 2012 for this one-hour webinar and we’ll hit you with the following Facebook-centric items:

  • Where is social recruiting heading, and why do you need to care as the HR rep of your organization?
  • How a 1-2 person shop can compete in social recruiting (with no money, a paper clip and Facebook…)
  • Understanding the difference between Facebook Pages vs. Profiles and how it drives your Facebook recruiting strategy
  • How to use rarely understood tools like Facebook Marketplace and Facebook Pay-Per-Click Ads to drive Facebook candidates to your open positions
  • How to use Facebook search features to locate candidates on Facebook and contact them without looking like a stalker

Still not convinced this is worth your time?  Register today and we’ll send you a special FOT toolkit – “How to Find and Contact Candidates on Facebook without Looking Like a Stalker” once the webinar is complete.

Facebook.  The Capitalist. FOT.  MacGyver.  What could go wrong?

Register today by clicking here!!

Don't Send Me Your Kid and Expect Me to Fix The Big Problems....

Let's start with a quote:

"Baseball's hard, guys. I mean, it really is. You can love it but, believe me, it don't always love you back. It's kind of like dating a German chick, you know?"  Name the movie and win a free subscription to the Capitalist (wait - you already have one)

I have kids.  Those kids play sports.  I serve as a volunteer coach and board member for the local baseball league because I'm community-minded and a masochist.   It's sign-up time, which means that the parents Bears are signing up their kids and using the registration process to make requests and generally try and fit the kid's baseball schedule into their schedule.

Common requests:

-"Please try and put Jimmy on Tyler Durden's team.  We know the Durdens and will be car pooling with them.  Thanks!"

-"We had a bad experience with Coach Ditka last year.  He seemed a bit too intense for 8-year old baseball.  Please make sure that Jimmy doesn't end up on Ditka's team."
-"We love Coach Dunn.  If there's any chance Jimmy can play on Coach Dunn's team again, that would be great."  (My Favorite!)
But... Every once in a while, a request sneaks in that makes you go "wow".  I saw one of those this week.  Here it is:
-"Please put Bobby with a coach that will be firm with him and also gets results."
I read it a couple of times.  It bothered me more each time I looked at it.  Here's what it said to me about the parents, their responsibility related to their son's behavior and their expectations related to their son's skills.  All have workplace tie-ins:
1.  I know our son has some problems.  We can't control him with the 24 hours we have with him, but we expect you to.
2.  If things go horribly wrong on the field, we expect you to deal with it.  We won't help.  We'll be watching, but don't expect us to snatch him off the field for acting like a fool.
3.  Our son's never been held accountable at home.  Good luck sucker.
4.  By the way, we haven't done everything we need to as parents, but we expect results from you as a coach.  We'll be the first ones to be critical of you losing a bunch.  That's part of our results orientation.  Not for our family, but for others.
How do you think it's going to go for Bobby in the workplace?  
Right....  Pass on Bobby in the draft.  I am Morris Buttermaker.

Tim Sackett Is Most Definitely Rocking The Suburbs (#timsackettday)

"I got sh*t running through my brain 
So intense that I can't explain 
All alone in my white boy pain 
Shake your booty while the band complains 

I'm rocking the suburbs 
Just like michael jackson did 
I'm rocking the suburbs 
Except that he was talented" 

Those are select lyrics to "Rockin the Suburbs" by Ben Folds Five.  They're also my setup to introducing what today means to me. Tim sackett 

Today is Tim Sackett day.  Tim Sackett IS HR.  He's done HR for a hospital and Applebees.  He runs a recruiting shop now.  He's got a blog that's aptly named The Tim Sackett Project.  Problem is he can't make a list of the most influential people in HR.  So a bunch of bloggers are getting together and dedicating this Monday to him.  It's kind of like the SOPA protest, except the stakes are incredibly low.  We just want the world to know that Tim counts.  

Tim's wife sent me a photo of him awhile back for a post on his birthday.  Let's examine the photo to the right and break down why Tim has influence in the world of HR:

Hair - Tim's gone to the buzz cut.  He's clearly given up, like my late Grandpa Harry, who used to take a nap on the floor during a lunch break from work due to his bad back.  I used to rub that hair as he tried to sleep on the floor and I would marvel at how bristle-ly it was.  If I ever meet Tim face to face, I'll be reminded of Grandpa Harry.  Cool.

Travel Preference- Let's just say Tim's not cosmo enough to have a Eurorail pass.  He's in Vegas in this picture, like every other 40 year-old you know, so that's not Paris in the background.  If we swung the camera to the right, we'd probably see his Entourage-like posse, except the recruiters who work for him would be standing in for Eric, Johnny Drama and Turtle.  They didn't have a choice, Tim made them come, and he calls the shots at HRU.   That's what you do when you're old, Gex X style.  You find some Gen Y types to boss around; that and wonder when boomers Bill Kutik, John Sumser and John Hollon are going to retire so you can take your rightful place in the talent world's Hall of Superheros. 

Camera-Strap - Seriously, can you get any more white, 40 and midwestern?  Again, he's given up.  Why even bother to hide you're a tourist when you are 40+ and visiting the Strip?  He'll have the strap in the same place when he hits the $5 tables downtown later.  He'll tell you that's the "real" Vegas, to show his Mikey from Swingers sensibility.  He'll soon be playing alone at those tables, since he'll repeat the six Oceans 11 quotes he knows repeatedly, even driving off the grandmas who think he looks like their son.

Buffet-Pass- Look at his left hand.  He's bought a 3-day buffet pass so he doesn't have to deal with the stress of trying to get comped at the $5 tables downtown.  Not before he went to check out the buffet visually, however, just to make sure there was banana pudding on the bar.  He's adamant about that. That's why he's the boss.

Happy Tim Sackett day, Timmy.  God bless the saint known to the world as Kim Sackett.

Uncle John Sumser: Please end our national nightmare and make Tim Sackett #25 on a future list.  We beg you.

Did Heartbreak Ridge Teach Us Anything About Low Performing Teams?

Do low performing teams aspire to be more or are they just a bunch of slackers?  Capitalist reader Scott chimed in on a comment thread with the following observation:

"There are two movies that kind of touch on this subject. "12 OClock High," which is an old WWII movie about bomber pilots, and Clint Eastwood's "Heartbreak Ridge." They kind of have the same plot -- under-performing group is perceived to be of lesser quality than another group. Demanding manager moves in. Temporary chaos and disgruntlement is replaced by sense of pride in ones work.

I think even among slacker business units people want to be successful. They aspire to more. In my experience people are more interested in "fair" than "nice." Though you don't have to be mean to be fair. You may see slacker's vote for perceived slackers in unskilled jobs (I'm guessing 16 year old movie theatre ushers aren't as interested in being driven to excellence as someone with a mortgage and a family may be), but I'm thinking you will consistently see the interactive managers who expect and deliver favorable results from and to their teams getting the winning votes once you get beyond that level."

For the kids reading this blog, check out the movie "Heartbreak Ridge" for a primer on what Scott's talking about.  I've added a clip for you to take a look at at the bottom of this point (email subscribers click through for that), but here's what I learned about low performing teams from watching Gunny Highway (the new leader) and the platoon in Heartbreak Ridge:

1.  Low performing teams initially try and drive away any leader who expects more.

2.  It takes a tough SOB to fight through that and not give up as a leader of a low performing team.

3.  The work units around the low performing team want the low performing team to suck.  It makes them look better.

4.  The new leader has to show a little compassion for the personal lives of the low performing team to really break through.

5.  The new leader has to fight for his team, and at times fight his team, to break through a culture of "sucking".  

6.  The new leader has to box in his team constantly, consistently and in many different ways to get a breakthrough.

7.  Once the team has success, the leader has to do a lot less.  The breakthrough means the formerly low performing team will start policing themselves.

The movie is an interesting take on acquiring a low-performing team.  It takes leadership to pull a low performing team out of the funk, but it can be done - it just takes tons of focus.  

Take a look and rent the whole movie sometime soon.  Lots of leadership lessons from Gunny Highway.

CONVENTIONAL WISDOM: Be Willing to be Fired as an HR Leader for What You Believe In...

Here's an interesting snippet from a conversation I had recently.

My Friend:  "Wanted to get your take about the following.  I've heard people say that if you are not willing to be fired as an HR Leader for what you believe in, you're probably not doing your job.  Thoughts?"

Wow.  That's loaded.  First up, having courage to say what you believe in, point out what's wrong and walk if you don't get your way isn't a bad thing.  I get it.  It's good to say and if laws are being broken, it could certainly be someone's reality.

But... A big part of me believes if it comes to that, you may have been lax in your ability to build your influence in the organization across time.  Do you simply say what's wrong and demand change?  What about the 1000 other gray-area things that came up with your business partners over the last couple of months?  Did you find a way to be flexible and get their needs taken care of without being a bureaucrat? If you would done more of that over the last year, wouldn't you have the influence necessary to leverage those in question to get change without threatening to quit?

Good to say you'll quit when things look wrong.  Sadly, you've got some responsibility in the lead up to that inflexion point.  

It's never that simple.  I'm out.

More on "Questions to Ask To Figure Out Who Owns Your Culture"....

Yesterday, I posted on How to Figure Out Which Managers Are Net Positive to Your Culture in 1 Question...

Pretty good challenge or food for thought came in from David in the comments of that one.  Check it out:

"Kris - Won't the answers to this be dependent on the existing culture? If the organization is filled with "slackers", aren't they going to pick someone who they perceive will allow that to continue?

And also somewhat subject to the halo effect? Human nature attributes positive factors to successful performers, whether they actually have those attributes or not. I think this bias would enter into the results."

My take - bias is always at play, but in my experience using this question, employees will tell you what they aren't getting enough of with their answers, and it almost always centers around things you and I consider to be critical in building a strong organizational culture - items like the manager taking the time to deliver feedback, spending time on the development of the employee, standing up when necessary for the employee/department, shooting straight and being honest with the employee, limited political game playing on the part of the manager, etc.

You know - things that show leadership and empathy, all with an employee-centric approach.  The employee is really saying what they don't get enough of with their current manager with this question.

I thought David's question was good, but I've always seen it go the other way - the employees tell you who's doing things very, very well.  People talk, people know.  If you have more than 15-20 managers in your unit, ask the question - you'll almost always get some surprises....



How to Figure Out Which Managers Are Net Positive to Your Culture in 1 Question...

Capitalist Note - re-running this favorite since many of us are still in the planning stages for the new year regarding the best way to evaluate and improve lots of things - including culture.  Don't overthink the questions and tools at your disposal... see comments for more gold....

There's lots of talk about how to build the best culture possible at your company.  Regardless of how you define your culture, you can figure out what your team members really think, and what they want culturally by asking the following question:

"If you could pick any manager (other than the one you're working for) in the company to Mirror work for (regardless of functional area), who would it be and why?"

It's a no BS question on what people want out of your company. Culture isn't defined by workspace, by free lunches/soda or by the stuff you put in the onboarding packet.  Those things help to attract and are nice to have, but they quickly become entitlements.

You are not the car you drive.  You are not your khakis.

You lose control of your culture once your managers take delivery of talent in the new hire process.  At that point, an employee's experience with your culture is heavily influenced by their day to day interactions with their manager.

"If you could pick any manager (other than the one you're working for) in the company to work for (regardless of functional area), who would it be and why?"

Ask the question.  My bet is if you do it and review the results in a group of manageable size, you'll find some common names popping up all over the place.  Employees talk.  They know who's good with people, who's fair and who has a nice balance between business results and development of team members. 

Ask the question, and then look at the names that come up repeatedly.  Look at their style and philosophy, then figure out how to push, prod and train your other managers to embody some of the qualities you identify.

The question doesn't lie, and it releases the employees responding from saying, "I'd take my manager"...  Because we all know that's the politically correct answer.

Ask the question.