HR Book Review: The Office (The Untold Story of the Greatest Sitcom of the 2000s: An Oral History)...

On my summer reading list is The Office: The Untold Story of the Greatest Sitcom of the 2000s: An Oral History. I originally grabbed the book because it presented an opportunity to connect with my youngest son, who like a lot of kids, has consumed the entire series 3+ times on Netflix. It quickly became a primer on team-based creative process, where ideas have to come in volume, then be culled down quickly to the point that only the best idea makes it, and everyone on the team is OK with that.

One example of lessons from this book is how the writer room was structured and how they blended ownership of ideas from individual to team. Here's the explanation from Office Aaron Shure, co-executive producer and writer for The Office:

"During my tenure [seasons five, six, seven, and eight] we had around fifteen writers, usually three rooms going, and we had inherited the Greg Daniels style of idea generation, which focused on manifesting and externalizing ideas in a physical way, usually in the form of three-by-five cards that came to festoon the walls of the writers’ room if they were worthy enough by Paul and Jen’s estimation. We also had a process called “blitzing” where the writers would hunker down in their offices for an hour or two and come up with as many ideas as we could on a given topic. For instance, a few blitz topics I have in my notes: “Obstacles to Erin and Andy dating.” “Ways Andy and Kelly can try to subvert Gabe.” “What happens with Hay Place?” We’d come back with as many ideas on those topics as we could, read them aloud, and put the promising ones on the wall.

Out of those ideas a few would be selected to move closer to a storyboard. It was a big bubble-sort played out on the walls. While writers would campaign for and champion various cards, it was hard for there to be specific ownership of any given idea, with plenty of duplication and accidental repitching. Similarly, stories were broken in rooms with five or so writers all working on the beats. We’d come back to the room and pitch those boards. There’s a lot of working in a writers’ room that’s similar to improv, where it’s like “Yes, and . . .” You want to be able to keep your mind incredibly open and think of all the possibilities.

Greg actually called it “blue-skying.” Let’s take an example: “Michael is being broken up with and he’s going to handle it like a fourteen-year-old boy because he’s at the emotional level of one. What does he do to process it? How does he deal with something like that?” Sometimes there’s a tendency to just go for the first good idea, but we would spend a lot of time trying to find the best version of something. We would send people off to think and say, “Let’s keep in the blue-sky zone. Don’t put restrictions on yourself. How would a person deal with that?” And every once in a while, something just brilliant would come”

Translation - traditional brainstorming followed by team activity to further develop ideas not only lead to a strong creative process, but it removes the sting of your idea not being chosen - you have ample opportunity to contribute to other idea streams, and when the whole thing is done it's hard to remember the originator of the idea in question.

Recommended book if you liked/loved the office and need a summer read.

PS: The Office probably couldn't be made in 2020.

When New CEOs Onboard, CHROs Are Often Gone...

One of the biggest reasons I wrote my new book (The 9 Faces of HR) was the sheer number of friends and colleagues I have in HR who have lost their positions, at least in part, to organizational change. 9 Faces

A recent report puts a number to how at-risk HR is when C-level leadership changes out. From The 2018 CHRO Trends Report from The Talent Strategy Group:

"There is a strong correlation between CEO and CHRO turnover. Within twelve months of a Chief Executive Officer appointment, 43% of Chief Human Resources Officers at that organization turned over. An additional 9% of CHROs came into the role three months or less prior to a CEO transition. Less than half (48%) of CHROs retained their seat for more than 12 months following a CEO transition."

Those numbers are staggering, but I believe them based on the experiences of my friends inside and outside of the Fortune 500.

When a new boss comes in, it's test time. Your new boss is really evaluating who you are as an HR pro.  For best results, you'll need to understand who you are and make sure your new boss understands you have the ability to connect, pivot and change as part of your personal identity.

The 9 Faces of HR is a perfect companion for that prep - a career guide of sorts, but not the boring kind. Change is coming, you may as well dig in and get ready now.  Order my book here.

The Top 100 Movie Quotes for HR Pros: #73 is Owen Wilson: "Scariest Environment Imaginable. Thanks - That's all you gotta say"...

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

"Scariest Environment Imaginable. Thanks -That's all you gotta say. Scariest Environment Imaginable"

--Owen Wilson in Armageddon

As HR pros, we'll often interview people to find out how bad a situation is.  Think an imploding employee relations situation, or an intake call on the recruiting side to figure out what we'll be sending a candidate into.

The clip below says it all.  When the person we're asking for information opens up and tells us it's awful, we need a response.  Owen Wilson gives us the quote - "Scariest Environment Imaginable. Thanks -That's all you gotta say. Scariest Environment Imaginable"... 

It's bad, we get it.  Let's move on.  (email subscribers click through for video clip below)...

THE BIGGEST LIES IN HR HISTORY: I've Read the Book "Topgrading" From Front to Back...

Lies. You've told some whoppers in HR. The biggest ones are always designed to make you look more with it than you have time to be. Topgrading

Here's a favorite of mine - "Topgrading?  Oh yeah, I've read that - loved it. (shows fist to indicate "it's strong")

This lie is not limited to HR pros.  Business leaders of all types indicate they've read the book.

Maybe it's not a total lie.  But here's the reality:

Topgrading is 600 pages long.

You didn't read it, you skimmed it.  You know it's about long interviews and really digging in to determine if someone is an A player.  If you're a good interviewer, fine - just tell me that.  If you're trying to move out some mediocre talent and get better, hit me with that.

Just don't tell me you've read Topgrading and subscribe to all its .  You've read about Topgrading. But it looks great on the shelf behind you, doesn't it?

I see you.


What The Capitalist Is Reading This Holiday Season....

Reading.  It's fundamental.  Yo. 

Here's a pic of the books I'm reading over what I'll call the "postmodern industrial complex holiday period".  That's a insider's way of saying that I get a little bit of vomit in my mouth when I see holiday lights up before thanksgiving like I did last night.  But that's me.

I'm not a big fiction reader, but most of what grabbed my attention to read this holiday season was fiction.  Here's the stack, descriptions, links and why I've decided to read them below:


The rundowns:

The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand - I'm pitching this one as true, uncompromising creative mind vs. all the #$#t the world wants to tell you is important.  Click on the link for a better description, but this is our holiday book at Kinetix.  It's a pure play talent book, so that's the reason we selected it.  That and the fact it makes our clients and friends of Kinetix look smart by putting it behind their desk.  They are smart, BTW - we're just helping them market that to the world by giving them this book.  #looksmart

Postmortal by Drew Magary - This one was recommended to me by a Capitalist reader to be our holiday book.  Not even sure what it's about (everyone can stop aging in the future but surprise, surprise, they're hidden downsides to that), but the author is a writer at Deadspin, which is actually a model for everything I've tried to do from a writing perspective.  So there's that.  #snarkysnarky

Machine Man by Max Barry - OK, Max Barry is a genius.  Start with Syrup, then come back to this one.  Barry's a former HP guy who writes fiction that's funny, smart and built around the workplace.  +2. #corporatelife

The Gum Thief by Douglas Coupland - I'm a big Coupland fan through great novels like Generation X and JPOD.  Coupland has a lot of workplace and generation stuff built into his novels, and this is a story about 2 disaffected workers at your local Staples wondering what it all means in a snarky, edgy way.  Ever wonder what Kurt Cobain would write like if he would have changed careers?  I think he would have written like Coupland.  #frustratedincorporated

That's it.  Hit me with what you're reading in the comments, an email or a tweet.