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September 2013

When Good Leaders Get Asked to Leave: Steve Ballmer's Goodbye at Microsoft...

Some times leaders get ###t-canned because they weren't good to people.  More often they're neutral on people and just simply couldn't get results.  THEN they get ###t-canned.

But - sometimes there are good leaders that simply reach the stage in their shelf life as leaders where it's in everyone's best interest for them to go.  These leaders aren't bad in any aspect - they've just been in place to long and new blood is required.   

For those leaders, how much more humane would we be as companies if we allowed those leaders (good leaders, just time to go) to say goodbye and tell everyone what the company has meant to them, and how much they've loved serving the employee base in question?

Steve Ballmer, #1 at Microsoft, is out.  His shelf life is up, and new blood is desired and needed.  Microsoft is a great company regardless of what you think of Windows, how much Apple Kool-Aid you're drinking, etc.

Need proof that Microsoft is great? Check out the exit message opportunity they gave Ballmer and how he used it.  Must see video below (email subscribers click through for video): 

Wow.  You see a video like this, with Ballmer in all his "I'm a normal guy you can love" real talk and slightly sloppy dress and appearance, and it makes you wonder... Are they really asking Ballmer to leave?  How could you not rally around this guy?

Then you remember it's a results based society and like coaches in professional/college sports and performers in the entertainment world, it's always "what have you done for me lately".

But back to the message - how much more humane would your company be if it offered good leaders who just couldn't get it done (perhaps at all levels) to say goodbye respectfully?  On a smaller scale, of course.

Good luck with your billions, Steve Ballmer.  My favorite type of leader is the one who has billions in the bank and looks like he could greet me at Best Buy.  #hadmeathello

CAPITALIST BOOK REVIEW: The Gum Thief by Douglas Coupland...

I'm mostly a reader of non-fiction.  When I read fiction, it generally better focus on something I can relate to and have an interest in, like the workplace.  Is that lame?  Maybe, but it's just who I am.

If you're looking for fiction that takes a relective look at the workplace in modern times, I've got The-gum-thief two authors for you - Max Barry and Douglas Coupland.  

My latest read is a fictional tome call The Gum Thief (Coupland), written back in 2007.  I'm recommending it to anyone who likes a nice mix of workplace, pop culture and "what the ### does it all mean" vibes.  Here's the storyline from Wikipedia, which I found to be an accurate description:

"The primary plot of this novel involves two characters, Roger and Bethany, employees of a Staples in North VancouverBritish ColumbiaCanada. The two characters come from very different walks of life. Roger, a middle-aged alcoholic, is coping with an ugly divorce from his wife and the loss of access to his child. Bethany, a goth girl, is dealing with coming of age and working in what Coupland referred to in his 1991 novel Generation X as a McJob.

What brings the characters together is a journal that Roger has decided to keep. In the journal, Roger begins to discuss his issues and his pressing thoughts, including a novel he would like to write called “Glove Pond." Bethany finds this journal, and writes a letter to Roger. In the letter, Bethany says they should continue to write to each other, but to pretend that they know nothing about each other outside of the letters themselves at work. After writing letters back and forth, Roger and Bethany strike up a friendship in the letters.

Interspersed within the main text is the novel within the novel: Glove Pond. As Roger begins to write Glove Pond, different characters in the novel respond to his writing in their letters. The Glove Pond sections are interspersed within the other letters."

It's not a love story between a 50-year old dude and a 25-year old goth girl.  No romance is involved, just a friendship that involves through the writing in the diary.  Things I got out of The Gum Thief:

1. People almost always have some type of creativity in them.  It's just beaten down by society.

2. If people had an audience to give them unfiltered feedback on their work mixed with encouragement, the sky's the limit.

3. People to provide unfiltered feedback in an encouraging way are hard to find in the workplace, because they're mocked for caring by the people around them.

4. Staples, even with low wage hourly jobs, is a microcosm of any workplace, regardless of the average salary of that workplace.

5.  It sucks to be an underemployed middle-aged professional America.  True, these are first world problems, but it sucks nonetheless.

I'm recommending The Gum Thief for your reading list - workplace themes and the untapped potential of your daily grind employees.  It's a book HR leaders can love.

What Breaking Bad Tells Us About the Power of Deep, Narrow Expertise...

OK kids, how many of you are familiar with the AMC series "Breaking Bad"?   It's a critically acclaimed show about an Science teacher with cancer who turns into a psycho Meth drug dealer to provide for his family after he's gone.  It's on my Netflix list to move through (5 seasons?) once I no longer have kids in the house, which is when I'll have time.  Click here for the full narrative on the series.

But I'm familiar enough with the story line that the following caught my attention - 5 Career Lessons from Breaking Bad by Kelly Gurnett (hat tip to Holland Dombeck, who puts together 5 things you need to know this week every Monday morning over at Fistful of Talent).  One of the five lessons hit home:

1. It all starts with quality Breaking-bad

There wouldn’t have been a show if Jesse and Walt’s early days in the RV had resulted in only mediocre product.

Would they have made some money? Sure. Would international drug cartels and super meth lords like Gus Fring be desperate to get their hands on that product (and its creator)? Nope.

Walt would have just been some middle-aged chemistry teacher cooking drugs in his skivvies in the middle of the desert. His rise to mythological levels of power and notoriety started off with the one thing all wannabe entrepreneurs have to have: a solid, high-quality product. Walt’s meth was the purest in the marketplace, and his customers (and competition) recognized that — and that’s what gave him the leverage to build an empire from nothing.

Would-be business mavens, take note: unless your product or service is top-notch, all the advertising strategies and killer branding in the world won’t take you very far. It all begins with offering something consumers or clients can’t get enough of.

The whole premise of the show is based on the fact that the former Science teacher (Walt) turns into a Meth dealer and gets market success because his Meth is far superior to that which exists in the marketplace.

Of course, the whole premise is repulsive, because Meth wrecks havoc on many, many communities.  But if you look closely, there's a talent lesson in what's written above.

The takeaway? In the digital age, where distribution has never been easier, a great career path is to develop expertise that's a mile deep and an inch wide.  It's why a science teacher can apply what he knows about chemistry and create a marketplace.  It's why a recruiter can go deep and long in recruiting the same type of scientists for reputable companies (and do those types of searches only).  And that type of career path is available to all of us in the digital age, without mixing up a vat of Meth like Walt.

Develop deep enough expertise in a single area, and the market will find you.  It's one way that people can actually get results with that age old cliche - chase your passion in what you do for a living.

CAPITALIST WEBINAR: 5 Easy Ways For HR Pros to Engage Talent Pools – Without Looking Like Complete Stalkers...

Talent is key, right?  There's a war for talent?  Talent is your number one resource and priority?  It's all about the people at your company?  Blah. Blah, Blah. Blah.

I know. Lots of glittering generalities out there, but it underscores an important point - you're only as good as the talent you can attract and sign to your company.  So it makes sense to engage the talent you might need in Jobvite-webinar-registration-badge the future before you need it, right?

Enter the concept of a Talent Pool.  My definition of a talent pool revolves around candidates and prospects you're aware of (either broadly or in a specific funtional area/specialty) that you might want to recruit - either now or in the future.

Defining a talent pool is the easy part.  The hard part is what to do in order to make talent pools part of your talent strategy.  Lots of people talk about talent pools, few people ever do anything about it.

That's why my next webinar is up over at Fistful of Talent (sponsored by the incredible folks at Jobvite) entitled '5 Easy Ways For Recruiters to Engage Talent Pools – Without Looking Like Complete Stalkers' to be presented on October 3, 2013 at 1:00PM EDT.

Sign up for this FREE webinar and here's what I'm going to cover:
  • A simple definition of what a talent pool is, how you organize it in your ATS, and how to manage the concept of “opt-in” to the people you include in that talent pool.  The definition of who gets included and “opt-in” is important, because you’re gong to broadcast a bit over time– which will feel different (in a good way) to candidates included in the talent pool.
  • A checklist of information you already have access to in your company that those passive talent pool candidates would love to hear about.  It’s a checklist!  All you have to do is go find the info we list and you’re golden.
  • Data on best practices in thinking like a marketer (do you use email, LinkedIn, snail mail, text, etc.) to engage your talent pool – without looking like a stalker.
  • As the Grand Finale, we’ll deliver the top 5 ways to engage talent pools – and for each engagement method, we’ll list what the communication looks like, where to find the information and why doing it the way we recommend is the best practice

And as a Special Bonus, we'll give you a monthly calendar of what to do and when to do it related to our list of 5 ways for you to engage your talent pool. It couldn’t be simpler than that.

It’s time to make the talent pools you’ve built in your ATS or LinkedIn actually want to work with you and for your company.  Join me, FOT and Jobvite on October 3, 2013 at 1pm EST for “5 Easy Ways For Recruiters to Engage Talent Pools – Without Looking Like Complete Stalkers” and they will show you how.

Just hit the simple form below and you're in! (email subscribers can click through for the form or simply hit the link!)

The 3 Types of Reference Checks You Meet When You Get to Heaven...

Lame title? Maybe.  But this week, I was in the audience listening to a pretty damn good HR leader tell his company-wide HR team how to get better results out of the reference checks they make on behalf of the company.

The message?  I know there are laws and we're careful about what we give out on people - with good reason.  BUT - when you do reference checks on behalf of our company, I expect you to get better information than you give.  I'm summarizing, but that's the implication I heard. 

Which should serve as a wake-up call to every compliance focused HR pro out there that thinks "name/rank/serial number" is all you can get or expect when you make a reference check call on behalf of your company.

Your job - and the expectation of the C level - is to get deep information on the candidate you're reaching out about.  That means not accepting the minimum they're prepared to give you.

How do you know if you did your job on a reference check where you got in touch live with someone?  Here's your guide:

--You underperformed if... all you got was name/rank/serial number.  Find a way to get more - stop whining and getting only what's offered.  If you're talking to someone who will only give that, odds are you're calling the wrong person.

--You performed "OK" if... you got past the minimum most people want to provide and got a wealth of positive information that you can use to compare and contrast to what you already know from the interview.   But you really didn't knock it out of the park until you get the result outlined below.

--You crushed your C-level's expectations if...You not only got the positive information outlined above, but you got some negative information/challenges the candidate struggles with to really put you in a great position to think about the candidate's potential in your organization and the role in question.

By the way, all candidates have...um...developmental opportunities.

Stop acting like a paralegal and get the goods.  The C-level - CHRO, CFO, CEO and more - expect you to figure it out.

Hang up with the details, or keep dialing.

3 Reasons the NLRB's New App to Promote Union Organizing Will Fail...

It's true.  As I've reported in the past, the NRLB and EEOC are becoming more aggressive from a marketing perspective, with the EEOC putting out press releases on big wins and even suits filed against companies where guilt or negligence hasn't even been proven yet.

Wait - is that the government publically going after companies that help drive the economy?  Yes.  Next question. Screen Shot 2013-09-19 at 10.05.07 AM

Next up - the NLRB has released an app to help promote the right to organize in the field.  Note that creating healthy workplaces is not a part of this - it's all about the employee's right to organize.  Good call NLRB.  Why spin it from a neutral perspective?

See the app by clicking here - you have to love this.

Still, the NLRB won't make a dent just because they are putting out an app.  Here's 3 reasons why this app won't make a difference:

1. Bad products don't sell.  Organizing is a bad product and the central features are flawed.  An app can't cover that.

2. There's no gamification to have fun with.  They could have done Angry Birds and smashed some managers, but they are a governmental agency, so they've got to keep it mellow.

3. Video promotion won't work. because 98% of the time, employees central to organizing campaigns are low performers.  You can mask that, but to really market organizing, you need video of people inside companies leading it.  Those people are almost always low perfomers and troubled in a variety of ways.  Even if you mask that, it still comes down to "us against the man", and high performers never lead that charge, because they get treated differently than lower performers who lead organizing attempts.

Union organizing - there's an app for that.  Thank goodness it's not very good.

First Strike in Salary Negotiations and The Use of Ranges...

Some of you are aware that I run another blog on HR and Talent called Fistful of Talent - check it out if you haven't.

Anyway - I did a post over at FOT last year entitled, "How Candidates and Recruiters can use First-Strike Advantage in Salary Negotiations".  Here's a taste, hang with me because there's a point:

"OK – let’s get this out first – you’re a star.  You’re trolling the web for ways to get better at the Talent game and interact – that’s why you’re here.  As Eddie Vedder once said – “This is not for you.”  Then again maybe it is. Mo+money+mo+problems

Tim Sackett and I did a presentation at SHRM.  It had a fancy title about influence, but I’ve presented the deck elsewhere as “How to Raise Your HR Game by Thinking Like a Money Hungry VP of Sales”.  Which is not to hate on sales pros – it’s actually to push some love their way. HR pros (and recruiters) can learn a lot from how a sales pro uses negotiation tactics to get to “yes”.

Topic/problem number one in the presentation is the following:

“Dealing with Unrealistic Expectations”

The way a sales pro would deal with this?

“Make sure to deliver the first strike in any negotiation.”

I went on in the post to outline a reasonable way that an HR leadership candidate who approached me after the presentation could deliver a first strike with a company she was doing a final interview with.  As luck would have it, the recruiter and the company had made no effort to block and tackle where she needed to be related to $$$.  Check out that advice here.  

One additional thought on that - a commenter on the post pitched in that a good way to approach this type of negotiation was with ranges.  Here's what he said, then I'll give my 2 cents after the block:

"I have to disagree about the First Punch theory. Clearly a candidate has to know up front what he/she needs to earn in order to meet the financial demands of his/her life as well and warrant a move or transition. In addition, if there is going to be a discrepancy, it’s important to be prepared. However, in an article I wrote recently, I discussed the benefits of leaving the number discussion in the hands of those hiring. I’m sure that makes it seem like they have all the power, however, that is untrue.

If a candidate does the work up front that I suggested- researching comps, calculate our “3 Numbers” and, if asked for a preferred salary, offer a range. Companies tend to allow for 10-20% wiggle room when negotiating. Offering a range allows for both sides to feel they are getting their needs met. And if negotiations are necessary, dialogue is possible when no one is married to a specific number."

So - I agree with the merit of using ranges when talking about salary, but let's make sure we're honest.  If you use a range to communicate salary to a candidate, which number in the range does the candidate hear?  The highest one.

If you use a range as a candidate to communicate what salary it would take to land you to an employer, what number does the employer hear?  The bottom of the range +2K. Ranges are effective at times, but understand the game and the psychology that's in play.  

Back to the point of the original FOT post.  Find a way to strike first in the negotiation, whether you're a candidate or an employer.  He who gets his number out first in a classy, professional way.... usually wins.

Managing People Is Performance Art... So Why Doesn't Training for Managers Reflect That?

Quick food for thought today - we all think our managers struggle.  Most HR leaders understand we're not doing enough to prepare our managers for success in the role.

The conventional wisdom is to promote the best widget-maker into the widget-maker manager role.  Because she's got the knowledge, skills and abilities to command the respect of the people she manages in the same function.

Because she surely won't command their respect through her skill in managing people.

So what do you look for in a training/development track designed for managers of people to address this?  I think the right managerial skills training package includes the following things:

1. It provides simple tools for a manager to maximize their performance in 8-10 conversations that really matter.  These are specific conversations, not broad platforms.

2. It acknowledges that managing people is performance art.  When it is time to talk, you've got to perform as a manager.  You're an actor. 

3. The simplicity of the tool set should ease a manager's fear at confronting things that need to be confronted.

4. The tools should position the manager as a coach, not an authority over the employee being managed.

5. The package has an on-demand element that eliminates the biggest problem with any type of training - that it's an event in time and it's usually weeks if not months before the manager uses the skill.  An on-demand element eases this issue by providing easy follow up tools - hopefully through the use of video - that give the manager a quick refresh on how to perform in the situation in question.

That's my wish list.  I don't think it really exists.  If I'm wrong, hit me in the comments and tell me where to find it.

Learn From the Masters: How to Slot Speakers for Your Next Corporate Retreat...

You've got that big off-site coming up and either have budget or no budget for speakers.  It really doesn't matter, because your goal is the same - bring outside speakers in who will be interesting to the attendees.

Repeat after me:

-It doesn't matter if your attendees learn anything as long as they are entertained.

Let's say it again:

-It doesn't matter if your attendees learn anything as long as they are entertained.

Got it?  Great.  Of course, you'd love them to learn something while they are entertained, but it's not mandatory. Here's your formula for corporate retreat/conference keynote success:

(Ms + Na + Df = Meeting/Conference Success)

Here's your key of what you need to go find to meet your goal of entertaining your attendees:

Ms = Motivational speaker.  You know the type.  Guy is stuck and has the choice of being eaten by wolves or chewing his arm off.  Or you could go with a pilot if that's your thing.  Low budget?  No problem, go find the local equivalent of the guy from the Pursuit of Happiness.  You're looking for Wow factor here, with a tug to the heart.

Na = News Anchor of some type.  They're almost always more attractive than average people and they get credit for being well informed, even if they simply read the teleprompter.  You can go CNN of Fox News if you have budget, or if expenses is all you can provide, your local Ron Burgundy is probably available. He's got great hair and a informed take on Obamacare.  Sort of.  Did I mention these people look great?

Df = Disruptive force.  You need a s***-stirrer for this speaking slot. Someone who's going to make 20% of the crowd love them and 20% of the crowd absolutely hate them.  This is the person who's not afraid to tell you what's going on in your industry or the outside world and entertain why they do it.  They'll take chances and mix it up.  

That's it.  If you have a budget for your conference or retreat, these personas are available at a wide range of price points.  If you have no budget, local versions are generally available, although the polish factor goes down significantly if you have to look local.  But the formula still works.

Me? I'm the Df option when people bring me in, and it's a fun role to have.  Good luck lining up the talent.  I hope your retreat goes great!

Quality of Hire - The Simple Way...

Spent some time with a member of the HR Capitalist community over the past few days to talk about one of those simple concepts - Quality of HIre.

I kid - Quality of Hire is an elusive concept.  The biggest problem with any type of QoH metric is that performance of the candidate in question usually has to be taken into account.  And most companies are really, really bad at measuring true performance.

So I'm here to give you a simpler way to get at Quality of Hire.  Here's my back on the napkin thoughts:

1. Define the baseline related to QoH as someone who sticks at your company for a year.  After all, if you fire them or they leave voluntarily in a year, it wasn't a quality hire.  Note that I'm not saying who's responsible for that "fit".  Ultimately, everyone's responsible, including and probably most importantly, the hiring manager.

2. Survey your hiring managers and ask them to rate their satisfaction of the new hire according to:

    -Overall quality of the hire, 

    -Quality of hire for the money they could spend in salary, and

    -Quality of the hire for what was available in the marketplace for all the "must have's" they listed.

3. Survey the hiring managers on the questions above on the new hire's first day and then at the one year mark.  Bring the stat geeks in to help you analyze the difference.

So my definition is pretty simple.  It's not a quality hire if they're not there in a year.  Once that's been established I'm interested in the hiring manager's opinion, but I'm not going to be boxed in by what they think overall - I'm going to make them give me how we did for the money they could spend, and for what the reality is related to the actual presence of the perfect candidate in the marketplace.

If you do a good job as an HR pro/Recruiter with educating hiring managers about what the market looks like (comp and skills/experience available), you should get a more realistic quality rating.

Quality of Hire - it's subjective.  Like porn style, you know it when you see it.