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January 2017

The Real Workplace/Economic Issue at the Core of the Trump Presidency...

Lots of polarizing stuff going on across both sides of the political aisle right now.  As always, I'm drawn to views that ponder the center - and to the ones that are all about the workforce we have in the United States.

With that in mind, I offer up the following from Joe Klein of Time (who conservatives view as a dangerous liberal and liberals don't seem to fully own - which makes him someone I'd like to listen more to).  In the February 6, 2017 issue, Klein painted Trump economic policy as a test to long held free market ideas in the following way:

"In addition to a loaded slogan--"America First"--and a questionable demeanor, it is now apparent that President Donald J. Trump actually has a governing ideology. His Inaugural Address, the strongest and most coherent speech he's ever delivered, was a clear statement of that Wal mart
philosophy. It may change the shape of domestic politics. It may overturn the international order that has existed for 70 years. It certainly deserves more than the "divisive" dismissal it received from liberals--and more than the puerile crowd-size diversion that its perpetrator stumbled into during the days after he delivered it.

The traditional argument against free trade is myopic and simple: American jobs are going to Mexico and China. The traditional counterargument is more abstract: the price of children's clothing at Walmart is much lower now that shirts are made in south China instead of South Carolina. Free trade, it is convincingly argued, has been a financial net plus for the U.S. But there has been a spiritual cost in a demoralized middle class, which leads to an existential question: Is the self-esteem inherent in manufacturing jobs long considered obsolete--think of those grand old steel mills--more important than the lower prices that the global market provides? Have we tilted too far toward market efficiency and too far away from social cohesion? Is there a middle ground? Trump's insistence on changing the equation brings a long-neglected issue to the center of our political debate. He may be wrong, but the alienation that seems like a by-product of globalization needs to be addressed. A happier people may be worth the cost of higher prices."

When you really start to think about it, having goods made in America - and they higher costs that would be passed along to consumers - is really just another tax.  With that in mind, I've written before that I'd love to see America's willingness to pay more for good made here tested in the marketplace.  Of course, I wrote that at a time before we had a president that seemed hell-bent of penalizing and tariffing goods made elsewhere.

As Stein asks, is the self-esteem inherent in manufacturing jobs long considered obsolete--think of those grand old steel mills--more important than the lower prices that the global market provides?  To me, that's a crazy interesting question that I don't know the answer to.  To hear a liberal ask it and note that the time has probably come to at least test whether the ultra free-trade is the best path probably gives a lot of conservatives pause.


And yes, Alice, I'm aware that robots are replacing people in factories all around the world. But accounting, engineering and countless other professions are increasingly being shipped to talent bases willing to work at fraction of the cost.

I have to agree with the liberal Klein.  We really don't know the answer related to free-trade vs higher cost American goods, and it sure seems like Trump is hell bent on providing the environment to test those ideas for the first time in 70 years. 

As Klein states at the end of his column: "These are crucial questions, without clear answers. It is good that Trump has raised them. It is unfortunate, however, that he is such a defective messenger."

Truer words were never spoken.

Should You Look For Children of Alcoholics to Work With Your Most Difficult Leaders?

That seems like a crazy suggestion, but bear with me.

Your most difficult leaders are complete a*ses. They're terrible people and they grind and use talented direct reports like commodities.  No HR leader condones that. Not you, not me.

But - and there is a but - at times, your most difficult leaders are entrenched for very good reasons from a business perspective.  They're uber-talented in small niches that make them super valuable. They get results with their style that no one has generated for the business in question. You know the right way to manage people, but you have no leverage to impact change related to this type of leader in your organization.

Which means you're left to help the organization cope with this management style.  One of the biggest ways you can help the organization cope is to find direct reports for the difficult leader who can take the punishment and abuse he/she is dealing out. Steve jobs

Your best bet in this situation? It might just be children of alcoholics.  

Stay with me.

Was at lunch with a friend recently and they shared a conversation they had with someone at Apple during the Steve Jobs glory days.  One of the things they learned from that Apple executive was that over time, Apple came to the realization that the best people to work and thrive under an abusive Steve Jobs were children of alcoholics.  Why children of alcoholics?  Consider the following rationalization that person provided:

Children of alcoholics:

  1. Are used to explosions from people they are around and subservient to ALL THE TIME.
  2. Are used to receiving NO LOVE from the alcoholic parent in questions.
  3. Are used to cleaning up messes.
  4. Are used to covering up bad things that happen as a result of the alcoholic.
  5. See glimpses of good in the parent in question that make them want to hold on, even as the blowback is distributed on many different levels.

Add it all up and it makes sense - children of alcoholics are probably best suited to deal with your most difficult leader and thrive where others can't.

Of course, to make the connection you've got to dive deeper into the interview than you normally would.  You can probably only afford to interview in this way for the highest positions in your company with a difficult leader, not for line management positions.

Also, you don't have to ask directly about alcoholism in the family.  You can instead ask about dealing with difficult people in the workplace and then tie it back to what they learned from their family that helped them learn those workplace lessons.

Ask broad questions, probe back to the family days and be an active listener. You might find the perfect direct report for your most difficult leader.

The Heisenberg Rules: What HR Can Learn from Breaking Bad (#2 - Affiliation Matters)

Capitalist Note - I finally got around to binge-watching the former AMC hit Breaking Bad on Netflix, which follows high school chemistry teacher Walter White's journey through a lung cancer diagnosis and his subsequent turn to becoming a world-class meth producer.  This series (The Heisenberg Rules) represents what I was reminded of as a HR leader by Breaking Bad.  If you haven't seen the series, you can view a synopsis by clicking here. Spoilers abound in this series.

Rule #2 in the Heisenberg Rules is AFFILIATION MATTERS:

One of the best things about Breaking Bad is the time it takes to develop the primary characters Pinkman in the series.  In my last post in this series, we talked about the emasculation of Walter White. Would he have turned into the monster he became if those around him could/would have acknowledged his high performance?  We'll never know.

Today we move away from Walter White and take a look at my favorite character in the series - Jessie Pinkman.  Here's a description of Jessie: 

Jesse Bruce Pinkman is the deuteragonist of Breaking Bad. He is the former partner of Walter White in the methamphetamine drug trade. Jesse was a small-time methamphetamine user, manufacturer, and dealer. He was also an inattentive student in Walter White's chemistry class, leading to his dropping out. In his mid-20s, Jesse became Walt's business partner in the meth trade. Before his partnership with Walt, he, operating under the pseudonym "Cap'n Cook", added a little Chili Powder to make his methamphetamine stand out in the market.

Walt insisted on making a pure product, however, and thus eschewed the chili powder altogether, patronizingly teaching Jesse how to make "proper" meth. Walt often treated Jesse like a foolish son in constant need of stern correction. Jesse's own family kicked him out because of his drug use. Despite the friction between them, he and Walt have a deep bond of loyalty. Like Walt, Jesse is horrified by the brutality at the higher levels of the drug trade, but does what he thinks is necessary. He wrestles with feelings of guilt about the deaths, all drug-related, of people he's been associated with, especially his girlfriend Jane Margolis. He often attended Narcotics Anonymous meetings to help deal with these feelings.

Jessie's my favorite character because he actually struggles to cope with all the things he sees in the drug trade.  Still, he's a simple kid making a load of cash with few other options available to him professionally.  

Walter White and Jessie are "partners" only in finance.  As the subject-matter expert, Walter has all the power in the relationship.  The green shading above accurately outlines how Walter patronizes Jessie throughout the series, only appealing to him as an equal when there's a murder to be completed to ensure their safety. 

As a result of that treatment, Jessie is what I call, "gettable" for anyone who wants to take the time to drive a wedge between him and Walter.  

Jessie knows that Walter doesn't consider him a true partner.  That means people willing to treat him better than Walter have a chance to turn him to their side. That ultimately happens when Gus, a drug load who Jessie and Walter work for, instructs his henchmen to take Jessie out of the meth lab to run various organized crime errands with them. They even go to the trouble of setting up a fake robbery that Jessie can save others from, which results in praise, deeper connection and - you guessed it - Walter going crazy that their bosses have Jessie doing work other than being his patronized assistant.

When Walter displays his paranoia to Jessie about the new relationship he can't control, it pushes Jessie to trust his new friends more, not less.

Of course, they're all criminals, so what's the point?

The point is that in any organization, AFFILIATION MATTERS. 

Walter's the best at what he does, but Jessie is treated as manual labor, not a partner.  When the drug lords involved need to make Walter feel unstable and at-risk, all they have to do is show Jessie Pinkman the love he doesn't get from Walter:

--come work with us.

--come hang with us.

--seems like you're doing well - nice work!

It's the same blueprint whether you're developing software, running a restaurant, or yes - cooking Crystal Meth.

If you're treating someone valuable on your team like a commodity, just know this - if there's a market for their skills, all it takes is for someone who needs them (or needs to hurt you) to show them love, affiliation and respect.

Once that happens, they're probably gone.  Or as Jessie Pinkman would say, "YO, MANAGING PEOPLE 101, B***H".


Today is Tim Sackett Day. It’s the day when HR bloggers honor someone who works in human resources and doesn’t get a ton of press. In the past, we’ve praised people like Kelly Dingee, Paul Hebert, Recruiting Animal and Victorio Milian.  

It all started because my friend Tim Sackett was upset because he couldn't get on a list of the top HR Bloggers.  He was always 26th in top 25 lists.  He'd move up to Lisa R#18 and they'd only do a Top 10.  We gave him his own day, here's the first post.

At the time, it was complete tongue-in-cheek, but it's actually become serious. It's now no longer about mocking vanity, it's about celebrating HR/Talent pros you don't know enough about.

Today we are honoring Lisa Rosendahl.  I first became aware of Lisa back in 2008 or 2009, when she was early to the scene as one of the first HR bloggers.  Here's where you can find her:


Go check her out and follow her.  She's a good one.  

Lisa is a former U.S. Army Officer, current acting Associate Director for the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs responsible for HR. Lisa is also a writer at heart, and you can read her stuff on her blog at LisaRosendahl.com, where she writes about HR and Leadership. 

Lisa is an active advocate for HR in Minnesota and beyond. One of the original Women of HR writers, wife, mother and more.  Go check her out and follow her!

At FOT: "He's a Good Guy, Except for the Jihad" (Musings on The Burden of Action within HR)...

In case you missed it - I was up at FOT earlier this week with the following post “He’s a Good Guy, Except For The Jihad”… (The Burden of Action in HR)", which weaves things that organizations like the FBI hear with the crazy things people drop on HR all the time.

You hear something crazy - do you investigate or discount as an HR pro?  Drop over to my FOT post and we'll discuss.

Click the link to get the story - “He’s a Good Guy, Except For The Jihad”… (The Burden of Action in HR)".

The Empire Just Bought Luke Skywalker (Also Known as ADP Buying the Marcus Buckingham Company)...

The Empire in the Star Wars series had it wrong.  You don't need to fight the rebels. You just need to pull out the checkbook and buy the rebel who is most representative of the cause.

In Star Wars, that was Luke Skywalker.  Hell, you could also make the case that at one point it was Anakin Skywalker, but the empire didn't need to buy Anakin - they just needed healthcare technology that the rebel movement/jedi couldn't provide.

But I digress.  Luke Skywalker just cashed out in the world of HR - to the Empire. Darth

Translation - Marcus Buckingham just sold his company to ADP.  Here's the standard yadda/yadda from the press release, we'll talk about what it really means after the jump:

ADP has acquired The Marcus Buckingham Company (TMBC), an innovator in human capital management (HCM), to bring to ADP clients a more scientific approach to employee engagement and performance. TMBC, and its founder Marcus Buckingham, are pioneers in using data and research to drive talent management practices that help managers build engagement and increase performance in their teams. Their unique approach empowers managers to coach employees based on their strengths and custom-design teams based on those strengths.

TMBC's cloud-based performance and talent management solution, StandOut, couples applications with coaching and education to give team leaders the tools, insights and data needed to turn talent into better employee performance. Built on decades of groundbreaking research that has uncovered the factors that differentiate high-performing teams, this solution will now be offered as ADP StandOut. TMBC has a global client roster that spans a broad range of industries from professional services to hospitality and includes many companies in the Fortune 100.

That's a lot of words.  Buzzwords. Strategery!

Here's the most valuable thing that ADP just bought.  The concept of StrengthFinders from Marcus Buckingham.

I know, I know.  TMBC (which sounds like a liberal news channel, by the way) is much more than StrengthFinders.  I got it.  But let's be real, there's nothing that turns HR pros into gooey mush quicker than the concept of StrengthFinders as presented by Buckingham.  And it certainly doesn't hurt that Marcus is younger and better looking than Dave Ulrich and our profession is 70% female.

StrengthFinders is the conversation starter that most HR Pros can't resist. It's THE FORCE, and the ADP (the Empire) just cornered the market.

Terms of the deal were undisclosed.  Did ADP pay too much?  Could the Evil Empire in Star Wars have paid too much for Luke Skywalker?

No.  No they could not.

ADP just bought THE irresistible conversation starter for every rep in the ADP Salesforce.  Observe:

--You're Enterprise HR? "Let me tell you about TMBC.  No - not the channel that has Morning Joe.  The Human Capital innovation company...  Nevermind... Every heard of StrengthFinders?  (bell rings in everyone's ears)"

--You're SMB HR?  "StengthFinders" (rep says one word - SMB HR proceeds to disclose entire budgetary spend).  

It's hard not to like the acquisition for ADP.  As for anyone who's critical of Buckingham for selling out - you can still get your Marcus keynote fix - you'll just need to attend a large-scale ADP customer conference to do it.

Final note.  I'm not an expert on TMBC, I'm assuming all rights to StrengthFinders is included.  If it is, ADP got value for their money. If it is not included, a future post will have Buckingham's head photoshopped on Robin Hood or a Somalian pirate's head. 

UPDATE - A capable PR professional reached out to me with the following update - "StrengthsFinder is a Gallup product, and ADP did not acquire the rights to it. Rather, ADP did acquire a product from TMBC called the Strengths Assessment. ADP did acquire all rights and research underlying and supporting the Strengths Assessment product."  So that's the reality.  My take really remains the same, the real intellectual capital across all HR people with Buckingham lies in that original book he did with the StrengthFinders title. So ADP has the rights to "Strengths Assessment".  Got it.  Still feel the same, and if they have "Strengths Assessment" and Buckingham for a period of time, I like the deal.  No photoshopped picture of Buckingham's head on a Somalian pirate will be forthcoming.

3 Ways to Brainstorm and Reserve The Right To Tell Someone Their Idea Sucks....

If you're responsible for leading a team through change, you ultimately need ideas about what you should do given challenges your company or team are going through.

That means you're going to ask for ideas - usually in the space most often described as brainstorming.

When we lead our teams through brainstorming, we like to say "there are no bad ideas". Ideas

Of course, that's wrong.  Often times, most of the ideas aren't great, and a few suck.

Which begs the question:

"How do you lead a team through brainstorming and keep your ability to tell people their idea IS NOT A GOOD ONE?"

That's hard, right?  Here's my list of 3 ways to do this:

  1. Do a better job of describing the problem/issue and providing a couple of key features the right solution will deliver. This one's on you. You not only need to define what the problem is, you need to define the pain that problem causes, which allows you to provide simple features any solution has to deliver.
  2. Put all ideas on a visual medium.  It's called peer pressure.  If you know your idea is a throwaway, you're less likely to give us a half-baked thought before you flesh it out a bit. Team members that go through a second and third level self-evaluation on any initial idea (often times in under 1 minute!) before sharing provide better ideas and don't hijack the groups.  Putting the ideas on a visual space creates the pressure you need for people to troubleshoot their own ideas for a minute before sharing.
  3. Use a form of Idea Evaluator to guide the team through an assessment of ideas.  I didn't create this, I've seen in multiple places.  Use a evaluation space to talk about the Cost vs. Value each idea provides.  Guide a process where the team - rather than you alone - evaluates each idea and places it on the right spot on the X vs Y of Cost vs Value.  Let the team do the work of evaluating the idea and putting it in the "unlikely to be implemented" category.

You don't have to be the bad guy/gal when it comes to telling someone their idea is average at best.  Define the problem deeper (most of us aren't good at this), make the brainstorming process visual (most of us do this part), then use a Cost/Value chart to guide the team in a conversation to identify the best ideas.

Brainstorming on problems is good. You being Darth Vader and killing the ideas/hope of someone on your team alone is bad.  Broaden your approach and make your stormtroopers evaluate the ideas of their peers.

May the force be with you, my dark prince/princess. 

5 Rules for White Guys Talking About Diversity...

Capitalist Note - Rerun for MLK day.  Topic: White Guys engaging on their beliefs related to diversity in the world of work. Hashtag: #complicated...

Full disclosure - I'm a white guy. 

There's lots of angry white guys out there who feel that all "this diversity talk" has made them a protected class. I'm not one of those, but I'm interested in the dialog.

First, let's take a look at the video below of Matt Damon attempting to tell a diverse group what diversity is and is not (email subscribers click through for the video):

Here's the money quote from Jason Bourne: "When we talk about diversity — you do it in the casting of the movie, not in the casting of the show," he said, insisting that the selection of directors must be based on merit.


With that in mind, here's my 5 Rules for White Guys Talking About Diversity:

1. Never talk about what diversity is or is not. You have good intent, I know. Nobody cares.

2. Never talk about the need for raw talent to supersede the need for diversity. This happens without you pointing it out. All the times you think a quota hire robbed someone of a job they deserved are blown away by the numbers on the other side - when someone hires a person they're comfortable with. You know, the one who looks like them.

3. Never say the words token or quota when referring to a hire. Doesn't matter the intent, these words will be viewed as code for what's really going on in your mind. You're deeper than that.

4. Don't brag about the diverse hire you made. Let people figure it out. You get less credit if you talk about it. Be bigger than that. 

5. Don't talk about diverse candidates in special terms to the influencers in your process who are interviewing. You think you're helping, but you're actually not.

Actions, not words is probably the appropriate wrap up of this post.

Oh, and stop telling people you have Drake in your Pandora rotation. If you're a Nirvana guy, just own it.

NOTES ON CHANGE MANAGEMENT: Google's Biggest Competitor in Search is.....

How was your 2016 work-wise?  Mine was good - not great, but when you really stop and look back at the accomplishments, there's a lot to be proud of.  I'm sure you're in the same boat - the world moves so fast it's easy to feel overwhelmed and small.

One of the things I got done was the creation of a Change Management training module for managers of people.  It's called Change Agile, and weaves traditional change management theory with Agile software development principles to create an approach to change that allows managers to engage their teams to brainstorm and come up with ideas on the best path forward given a challenge or problem.

Check the course out here as well as the Boss Leadership Series we've developed at Kinetix.

Why is change on my mind?

As part of that course, we have a factoid on Google - who seemingly has an insurmountable lead in the search business, right?  Well, change happens and smart people in great market positions are paid to be paranoid.  Here's what former Google CEO Eric Schmidt had to say about potential threats to Google's search business in 2014:

"But, really, our biggest search competitor is Amazon. People don’t think of Amazon as search, but if you are looking for something to buy, you are more often than not looking for it on Amazon . . .

If you are looking to buy something, perhaps a tent for camping, you might go to Google or Bing or Yahoo or Qwant, the new French search engine. But more likely you’ll go directly to Zalando or Amazon . . . last year almost a third of people looking to buy something started on Amazon — that’s more than twice the number who went straight to Google."

That was part of a speech in Germany, and undoubtedly was PR based as Google has had a lot of problems with European regulators in the past couple of years.

But OMG - was he right about Amazon being Google's biggest threat to the company's search business.  Check out these stats from Business Insider:

"According to a survey by the financial services firm Raymond James, more than half of people start their search for online shopping on Amazon now, while only 26% use search engines like Google as the starting point.

Perhaps what's more concerning is that the search engine's share has been cut in half compared to 2014, while Amazon's share has significantly increased over the past two years."

Wow.  Here's a chart that shows the decline over a 3-year period:

Google search

And since most of the money from search comes from ads on the side of your search results, this would seem to be problem.

If you're an HR leader, being progressive about threats and change needed to deal with the threats - even when you don't know the answer - is a great way to look like the leader you are.  

If it can happen to Google, it will happen to you.