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January 2017

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. 

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.


The Heisenberg Rules: What HR Can Learn from Breaking Bad (#1 - Acknowledge High Performance)

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 #1 in the Heisenberg Rules is ACKNOWLEDGE HIGH PERFORMANCE:

The biggest transformation you'll find in Breaking Bad is the growing confidence of Walter White (WW). Once a high school chemistry teacher working a Walter_Whitesecond job where he's routinely berated by a car wash owner with a unibrow and 3 fewer degrees that what he holds, Walt's transformation into a capable meth producer delivers one important outcome - he's now good at something the world values and will pay for - even if it's highly illegal.

As WW explores how to best make meth, the following things occur in a pretty rapid fashion:

--He learns that his background in chemistry makes him uniquely qualified to produce the product, including a purity level unmatched by any other producers.

--The world displays that it will pay large amounts of money for his product.

--He learns that the people who know about his talent treat him with a form of respect that has rarely felt since college.  Of course, they're criminals, but that respect has been something that's been missing in WW's life for years.

Breaking Bad goes to great lengths early in the series to show Walter White as an emasculated man.  He doesn't earn a great living, his family takes him for granted and a key relationship - his DEA brother-in-law "Hank" - is cast as an alpha male to show the contrast.

As a result of WW's emergence as an expert, his confidence grows, but so does his frustration.  His new identity is hidden from his family for much of the show, which results in him having to do things like provide a cover for how he pays for his top grade cancer treatment - relying on a lie that former college friends (now rich) are paying the bills rather than disclosing that his earnings from meth production are the source of payment.

Through it all, Walter White smolders at the continuing emasculation.  He's treated as a bit player by his own family and an object of pity as he earns hundreds of thousands of dollars - in secret.

Eventually, Walter's wife becomes aware of his new life as America's top meth producer. While that's a story arc of its own, it's an important contributor to WW's frustration.

Skyler (Walter's wife) is rightfully fearful of what's going on.  But she never really turns the corner to acknowledge what's in front of her - that the emasculated man that's been the object of pity actually has skills that will result in a ultimate stockpile of 10 million dollars.

What's the tie in to the world of HR and talent?  It's pretty simple.  We routinely error in our companies by failing to do the following:

--recognize what individuals are best at and what makes them unique from a performance perspective.

--use references to what people are best at when we are coaching them on things they need to improve on.

--understanding the need for recognition - about true high performance, however small it may be in some cases - provides a deep connection that will deliver many managers through difficult circumstances with the employees who report to them.

I was reminded by Breaking Bad that failing to stop and acknowledge when someone really kicks ass (not in a public way, but 1-on-1) is a missed opportunity and is probably at the core of a lot of relationship dysfunction in the workplace.

I'll leave you with a final thought.  Let's say you have a problematic employee you're coaching in a lot of areas.  The one thing she's good at is being aggressive towards people who aren't getting things done and forcing them to act.  She's a bit of a bully, but damn - she get get results in that circumstance.

Of course, what makes her great there serves as a relationship noose everywhere else.  She's a one-trick pony, trying to bully everyone all the time.

Why not acknowledge her super skill in getting people to get things done (only using in limited circumstances) while coaching her on her crass, abrasive personality everywhere else?

Acknowledge high performance where you can, even if some view it as negative.  It's the bridge to coach the same person where it really matters.

UI Design: Do Amazon Echo and Google Home Have Anything to Teach Us About The Power of Being Nice?

I ordered a Google Home a few months ago.  It's an interesting if not life-changing first step into the intersection of AI and digital assistants.  I'm a big user of the Google suite of products, and I smiled when I found out that I had to say "OK Google" or "Hey Google" to activate the digital assistant.  Google has a nice way of making a lot of their products softer than they have to be.

That softness makes them less threatening when you realize Google has a lot of your information.  Like when I got into my car a few weeks ago to drive 2.5 hours to Atlanta, and Google told me what the traffic on my route would be - before I told it where I was going.


But back to that implied soft side - which makes Google products seem "nice".  Johna Paolino recently wrote a piece on Medium where she compared Google Home vs the Amazon Echo, specifically on how each drove a different type of vibe/interaction with her and her boyfriend:

"A year ago, my boyfriend got an Amazon Echo. I remember first using the product, dazzled at its ability to process requests from across the room. Alexa, play us some music. Home vs echo

As the year progressed, the wow factor faded quickly.

The product features continued working to their full effect, but I felt very unsettled. I found myself constantly agitated as I observed my boyfriend bark commands at this black cylinder.

Alexa, turn off the lights. Alexa, set my alarm for 8am.

This declarative speech was so incongruous with how he interacts with me, with how he interacts with any human.

Was it how he was asking?

Was it that she was female?

Was I jealous?

Paolino goes on to describe her reaction is driven by two factors - the name of the Amazon product and conversational triggers.  The echo is driven by a female name, and Paolino was taken aback by hearing her boyfriend bark orders at a female voice.  Commenters on her post rightfully let her know that you can change the trigger to the name Amazon or Echo.  That problem can be solved. 

But the use of conversational triggers is interesting to me.  Using "OK" and "Hey" as softening factors is meaningful. It means that people are going to approach communication with Google Home in a softer fashion than they will with the Echo, and that's an important factor when the technology is far from perfect.

That same conversation tone transitions to the messaging we use in HR.  If you're an HR leader and have allowed your teams to use the default messaging that was provided with your ATS and/or Performance Management system, you've missed an opportunity to sound human.  We're rolling out a system right now and the stock messages sound like a mix between Mussolini and the worst HR Manager you've every encountered wrote the default messaging.

If Google Home tells us anything, it's that it's pretty easy to put a human side on your brand.  If you're not perfect, it probably matters more than you think that people like you in HR and are willing to cut you some slack when you mess up. 

Try making HR communications sound like normal people talk.  


KNOW YOUR HR STUFF: The Difference Between U3/U5/U6 Unemployment Rates

The economy is hot and the 2008/2009 recession feels distant, right?

That means now is a pretty good time to review the types of unemployment rates that are available out there for consumption. As it turns out, the one we usually hear about is an incomplete picture.  Here's a primer on unemployment rates that are available from the government and a chart that shows where we've been since 1995:

U3 is the official unemployment rate.

U5 adds on discouraged workers and all other marginally attached workers. These people are still unemployed, but not in the market for a variety of reasons.

U6 adds on those workers who are part-time purely for economic reasons.  

The U6 unemployment rate counts not only people without work seeking full-time employment (the more familiar U-3 rate), but also counts "marginally attached workers and those working part-time for economic reasons." Note that some of these part-time workers counted as employed by U-3 could be working as little as an hour a week, but they prefer full-time employment but haven't landed it yet. And the "marginally attached workers" include those who have gotten discouraged and stopped looking, but still want to work. The age considered for this calculation is 16 years and over

The current U6 unemployment rate as of December 2016 is 9.20, almost double from what's normally reported as the official U3 rate.  See historical chart below:

Unemployment rates

If you consider U6 "real" unemployment, it reached almost 18% post recession in 2009-10.  Damn.

I'd expect the gap between what's reported (U3) and the U6 rate to grow in the future, as the gig economy forces people to become part-time in an increasing variety of ways.