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.


VIDEO: Using BHAGs as a Goal Setting Technique for High Performers...

Big, hairy, audacious goals, or BHAGs, are visionary, strategy statements designed to focus a group of people around a common initiative. They traditional differ from our other goal setting techniques because BHAGS are usually positioned toward by a large group (rather than individuals) and they typically span a large amount of time than any of our other goals. They’re huge.

Even though BHAGs are generally goals for companies and collective groups, smart managers are increasingly using them for individuals as well. I explain the merits of using BHAGs in this fashion in the following episode of TalentTalks from Saba Software.

Take a listen (email subscribers click through for video below if you don't see it) and hit me in the comments with a BHAG that's been useful in your career or managing a talented direct report!!! 


Working From Home: Can You Give Me Some More Energy Please?

We know that post-COVID, more work from home is reality. We'll still have offices, but it's going to be hard to get all the way back, right?

How do we know that Jenny and Mike aren't feeling great and maybe aren't giving it everything they need to on a random Monday?  

Simple! Emotional Recognition Software! One provider in this field has the following stats since call center reps went to mostly virtual work during COVID-19:

--Average Customer Experience Scores have fallen by 4% Hugs

--Prompts to call center reps from Emotional Recognition providers to show "more energy" have increased by more than 30% during COVID-19.

Think about that last note for a second. You're doing your thing at work, and a virtual agent pops up and asks you/reminds you to show "more energy."

You probably have two thoughts to that on a random Monday during the COVID lockdown:

1--"###k off, Siri"

2--"Hmm. I wonder what my composite approachability score is compared to the rest of the team?" (becomes a happier person on the next call intro).

Emotional recognition was making great strides prior to 2020, but in an environment with more remote work, rises in importance to business outcomes. More from Bloomberg:

Cogito’s software monitors every call agents make, analyzing metrics like tones of voice to see how the conversation is going. It’s found that since the start of the pandemic, average customer experience scores have fallen by 4%. It can respond by giving agents prompts to, say, be more empathetic to a raging caller. As virtually all call center agents shifted to work from home, Cogito’s prompts for them to show more energy at a work increased by more than 30%. 

This kind of technology, which Cogito calls “emotion recognition,” is controversial. The AI Now Institute, a research center at New York University focused on ethical issues related to artificial intelligence, questions its validity as science, and has urged governments to make sure the tech won't "play a role in important decisions about human lives.” 

Joshua Feast, Cogito’s president and chief executive officer, says he understands the trepidation, but frames the tool as a way to give employers insight into how to improve people’s jobs. “How are my people doing? I want to know. But I don’t want to surveil them,” he told me in an interview last week. When I responded that it seemed hard to argue that Cogito wasn't a surveillance tool, Feast offered a more nuanced take. “There’s a difference between surveilling the work and surveilling the human,” he says. “It’s fine to monitor the call—that’s what we do. That’s the work.” 

Few of Cogito’s clients allowed people to work from home before the pandemic, but Feast thinks that’ll change. This is a big opening for a tool like Cogito, which can be a stand-in of sorts for human management. As workers' stress levels increased, says Feast, Cogito changed the mix of automated feedback it provided to include more positive reinforcement. It also designed new alerts for managers, directing them to give workers attaboys when the tech determines they’ve done a good job on a call. 

Make no mistake - emotional recognition software exists to drive business outcomes. But, if used correctly, it can also drive the need to recognition and other positive interactions - more carrot, less stick.

But there's no hiding when Siri (or whatever they call the agent that pops up) tells you that you need to be more positive. #bigbrother

Another positive application of this type of technology is underscoring the need for broad deployments of mental health initiatives inside companies - note I said "broad initiatives" because eventually emotional recognition will be able to monitor remote comms of all types and tell you who is primed or a breakdown or has bipolar tendencies.

Welcome to the new world. Good luck, HR friends.


The HR Famous Podcast: E11- The Future is $99/Month HR Managers (and thy stripper name shall be...)

It’s episode 11 of The HR Famous Podcast, long-time HR leaders (and friends) Jessica Lee, Tim Sackett and Kristian Dunn kill some more time by recording a new episode on the pod (of course trying to flatten the curve in their respective isolation pods) focused on what virtual HR looks like today – including what kind of HR services you can get for $99/month. Plus there’s some stripper name talk too.

Email subscribers click through if you don’t see the player below or click here for a direct link or hit iTunesSpotify and Google Play - please rate and review!

Show Highlights:

1:42 – Jessica calls Tim sexy, or at least she calls his voice that, while he proceeds to completely pass on the compliment and instead complain about back to back conference calls followed by hating on Kris’ deck, which he sure seems to be jealous of. Not the first time he’s talked about Kris’ deck. Sounds like it’s gonna be a really good episode.

3:13 – The crew takes a cue from John Krasinski of The Office fame and channels some of his Some Good News goodness – at which point KD shares that his house looks more like Lord of the Flies with nearly grown children fighting over Corn Nuts. Just kidding. The real good news is that his boys are home and bonding. Sacks meanwhile shares that his team is finding the purple squirrels. They exist. They can be found.

6:06 – JLee humbly admits that she has finally – nearly 20 years into her career – mastered VLOOKUPs in Excel and shares that she and hubby have come to an agreement to FINALLY allow for some food delivery to start happening in their household.

7:46 – On to the real topic. Wait for it. JLee gets an ad on her FB feed and it’s for… drumroll…  get your very own HR manager for $99/month via an L.A. based startup, Bambee.

10:26 – Tim reveals the truth about Bambee. These aren’t HR managers who are on the other end of the phone line providing consultation to Bambee’s clients. (And no, they aren’t strippers either.) These are life insurance sales people disguised as HR relationship / account managers.

12:40 – KD breaks down the model. They start with offering a baseline of HR services targeting SMBs that maybe just to start have an HR coordinator who can also do payroll. At 100+ employees, bigger needs obviously develop and that’s when you can’t leverage Bambee anymore. But Sacks thinks there’s no way there’s any value to be gained from a service that’s $99/month regardless of your company size.

15:15 – JLee gets more curious about who exactly these HR managers are that Bambee is hiring and finds a single job posting for the job. It turns out you have to manage 200 clients at a time in addition to the upsell work they do on the life insurance and training services the company also offers. But look, they have a really good Glassdoor rating as JLee finds. People are happy to work there.

19:29 – The crew exposes the fallacy of Bambee, especially in this era of the Rona – virtual, remote HR services yet they require their HR managers to work on-site.

23:00 – KD prophesizes that virtual is the future and the world will be moving to being employed outside of your metro area. Which gets the group talking about what the true value of HR is, and what it then means to deliver HR in a remote environment.

27:50 – A new business idea emerges. It turns out the crew actually not-so-secretly loves the Bambee model but just with higher end remote resources. They struggle with what to call it though. There’s got to be an available stripper name out there though. JLee quickly moves away from sharing too much about their next business venture and seeks out some advice from the guys.

31:22 – Kristian Dunn the life coach offers JLee some advice on how to influence and lead in these times when we’re virtual and remote. He also proceeds to pronounce “Marriott” the right way. It rhymes with “chariot” folks. And Sacks comes back around to Bambee again and the value of the service and wants in on the biz.

37:00 – The guys land on a stripper name that they’ll call their next biz. Wait for it. Welcome to the stage… (you have to listen to hear it).

39:00 – KD wisely shares that he knows enough to not ask what’s for dinner. Especially if it’s chips and dip again.


COVID Lockdown Netflix Recommendation - "American Factory"

I know, you're burned out on streaming. You've worked through a bunch of things during the COVID lockdown - you whipped through Joe Exotic, Ozark and Bosch - and you found yourself working through a 3rd tier series like Last Chance U.

I see you America. That's why I'm here with a Netflix Recommendation that only a professional manager or HR person could get excited about. American factory

AMERICAN FACTORY.

Let's get started with the description of this two-hour documentary from Wikipedia:

American Factory (美国工厂美國工廠) is a 2019 American documentary film directed by Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert, about Chinese company Fuyao's factory in Moraine, a city near Dayton, Ohio, that occupies Moraine Assembly, a shuttered General Motors plant. The film had its festival premiere at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival. It is distributed by Netflix and is the first film produced by Barack and Michelle Obama's production company, Higher Ground Productions. It won an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature.

Filmed from February 2015 until the end of 2017, Reichert and Bognar were granted filming access by Fuyao at both their Ohio and Chinese plant locations. They were inspired to make this film as the events they aimed to depict were taking place in the same Moraine Assembly plant once occupied by General Motors, which was the central topic of their 2009 Oscar-nominated documentary short The Last Truck: Closing of a GM Plant.

I know what you're expecting: China bad, plight of the American blue collar worker miserable.

Turns out, it's more complicated than that.

GM closing the plant follows this script.  But then a Chinese company, Fuyao Glass America, shows up to reopen it. Chinese companies buy American companies all the time. Big deal, right? But Fuyao let the filmmakers film everything.

And so American Factory isn't 100% about the plight of American industry or the workers it left behind as globalization occurred . The part that is astonishing about American Factory is that it shows it all through the eyes of Chinese factory workers and managers arriving to reopen and restaff a plant in the rust belt - as well as through the eyes of the Americans. 

You'll be rocked when the crew travels to China for company celebrations and you see the attitudes of the Chinese workers and the whiplash cutaways to the American plant and team (spoiler alert - the USA team has about 20% of the urgency of the Chinese team).  The Chinese team doing the same work as the Americans are standing on marks for quick team meetings before the start of their shift. They're celebrating the company through skits, song and other group activities that would make 99% of Americans cringe.

You'll also be rocked as you see young Chinese managers and Chinese workers in the Toledo plant (brought over to help launch the plant) come to grips with the limitations of the American workforce they've hired.

If you haven't had great exposure to globalization yet in your career, I can't recommend American Factory enough. 10 out of 10. As a manager of people or an HR pro, you'll find the contrast between cultures fascinating and the HR and management issues in this culture mashup fascinating.

Globalization is full of gray. I'm 100% on team USA, but American Factory keep you honest about what it takes to compete in global economy. 

Trailer below (email subscribers click through to view):


The Origin of the Executive Compensation Industry...

From a book I'm reading - The Firm: The Story of McKinsey and its Secret Influence on American Business by Duff McDonald:

"A small number of McKinsey consultants did manage to stand out from the rest. In 1951, Arch Patton became the first consultant since the founder himself to Arch pioneer an entire field. General Motors had hired Patton to do a study of executive compensation, and he did so by surveying 37 major companies. The results, published in Fortune and the Harvard Business Review, showed something remarkable. Worker wages had risen faster than management wages. Management tool special note of this development, and demand for Patton's help on executive pay packages went through the roof.  Once started, this demand became a perpetual rotation machine, with Patton writing more than sixty articles on the subject over the years."

I'm only 50 pages in, but I've got a highlighter out for this book. Many things we take for granted in American business and management emulated from early McKinsey practices. 

As for the Arch Patton story above, it's a cautionary tale for giving the people what they want, as well as for giving people in power what they want. It's fair to say that this development at McKinsey created a whole segment/industry (executive compensation) that has a lot of implications for where we find ourselves today - regardless of your belief system.

When creating work product, it's always best to create something that more than one person has a need for. Create something - a process, a service, a product - and be capable of marketing it to many.

That's the gold standard. 

What can you create that could be repurposed multiple times in your job or help you get your next job (or two)?  That's the question all of us should be attempting to answer.


If You're Pointing Me To Your Automated Calendar to Pick a Time, You've Already Lost Me...

Stop me when you've felt one of these before:

1.  You and Person B are friends and/or business associates and have a relationship that is beyond the initial stages.

2.  Person B (without the relationship listed above) has asked you for help/assistance via a meeting where they can have some your your (valuable?) time.

3.  Person B works for a company you're paying for some type of service.

So imagine one of the forms of Person B has reached out to you.  All of those forms of Person B are a bit different, but one thing is for sure - you're at least equal in the relationship, and in #2 and #3, it's fair to say that at least for now, you're the more important party in the 2-way relationship.

Which is neither good nor bad.  Until Person B does the following to set up a meeting with you after you've agreed to meet:

PERSON B SENDS YOU AN AUTOMATED LINK TO THIER CALENDAR AND ENCOURAGES YOU TO SELECT A TIME THAT THEY ARE OPEN.

PERSON B IS VERY BUSY.  THEY'VE AUTOMATED THEIR SCHEDULING.

PERSON B NEEDS YOUR TIME.  BUT RATHER THAN WORK A COUPLE OF EMAILS WITH YOU TO FIGURE OUT WHAT'S GOOD FOR YOU, THEY'RE TELLING YOU WHAT'S GOOD FOR THEM - VIA TECHNOLOGY.

Goodbye relationship.  Hello automated future!

Here's what you signal to me when you are Person B and you send me an automated process that "invites" me to select a block on your busy calendar:

1--You're treating me like the cable company does.

2--The cable company doesn't really give two shits about making me feel like there's a relationship.

3--The last time I checked, you didn't provide HBO (game of thrones) or Showtime (Billions) as part of our relationship.

4--It's fair to say since you aren't the distributor of Game of Thrones, I'm less willing to feel like a transaction related to our relationship and your unwillingness to spend a little time to make me feel like we're connecting when asking me to spend time with you.

Hey Person B (which is all of us from time to time, right?), watch the transactional nature of the scheduling services you're using when you ask me for time.

Or as an alternative - find a service that will easily look at my calendar without setting up an account or will automate the process of you having a brief conversation with me.

Isn't that the promise of AI?  How about automating the process and making me feel like I'm having a conversation with Person B?  That would be cool and acceptable.

Or you can just treat me like the cable company does and see how that works out for you.

Related: Get off my lawn.


HR Capitalist Definitions: "Bespoke" (as Used in Corporate America)

I'll start you off with the regular definition, which is what you know:
 
--------------------------------------------------
be·spoke
/bəˈspōk/
 
--made for a particular customer or user.
"a bespoke suit"
 
--making or selling bespoke goods, especially clothing.
"bespoke tailors"
--------------------------------------------------
 
Sounds awesome, right? You're going to customize it to fit me? Could not be better! Thank you!
 
But there's a slippery slope going on in the corporate world. Providers, especially of technology solutions, are increasingly referring to implementations that aren't supported or standardized as "bespoke".
 
Which is code for, "this could go horribly wrong and cost much, much more in both time and expense than you're ready for."
 
Here's how you'll see it referred to:
 
"Our solution has a standardized integration for iCIMS and Workday. For bespoke implementations, we offer webservices SOAP API to utilize the functionalities of integrated ATS systems".
 
Translation: This is going to hurt you more than it hurts us.
 
But we're using the word "Bespoke" to make it sound like you're getting a custom suit from a London tailor.
 
If someone uses the word "Bespoke" with you to describe an integration, they're talking down to you and downplaying the level of sh#t you're going to deal with.
 
Proceed with caution. 

MORE MUSIC TO WORK BY: Anna Meredith

Who out there likes to work to music?

When you're working on your laptop, music can either help or hurt your attention.  For me, Anna it's always felt better to have the TV in the background as music has generally interrupted my flow.

I've found exceptions to that rule - most notably, the soundtrack from the movie "The Social Network", created by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross.  You remember the movie from 2010, chronicling the rise of Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook. 

What makes for good music in the background to work to?  One word - "ambient".  Here's the definition of ambient music:

"a style of gentle, largely electronic instrumental music with no persistent beat, used to create or enhance a mood or atmosphere."

Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross created great ambient music for work with the soundtrack from "The Social Network".

Good news - I have another recommendation for music that's great for the background while you work - Anna Meredith.  Here's a description of who she is:

Anna Howard Meredith MBE (born 12 January 1978) is a British composer and performer of electronic and acoustic music. She is a former composer-in-residence with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra and former PRS/RPS Composer in the House with Sinfonia ViVA.

In 2016, Meredith released her debut studio album, Varmints, to widespread critical acclaim. An electronica-based release, the album won the 2016 Scottish Album of the Year Award.

Meredith first came to widespread public attention through her work froms created for the 2008 BBC Last Night of the Proms which was broadcast to 40 million people. She has since written another BBC Prom commission, her first opera (Tarantula in Petrol Blue – with libretto by Philip Ridley) and collaborated with the beatboxer Shlomo – writing the Concerto for Beatboxer and Orchestra. Meredith has been a judge for BBC Young Musician of the Year, a mentor to Goldie for the TV show Classical Goldie and is a frequent guest and commentator for the BBC Proms and other BBC Radio 3 and 4 shows.

As an alt rock/hip hop guy, Anna Meredith would not ordinarily be on my radar , but I caught a fragment of one of her songs - Orca - in the background of the Paul Rudd Netflix series "Living with Yourself", which I also recommend.

Link to the Anna Meredith cut "Orca" here, spotify player below (email subscribers click through to see player). To check out the catalog of Anna Meredith, use this Spotify link.


Cards Against Humanity Buys Small Company, Makes It Employee-Owned...

Interesting pull from the news for you today with a little Capitalist analysis.

You've heard of Cards Against Humanity. Have you heard of a acqui-hire?  It goes a little something like this: Clickhole

ac·qui·hire
/ˌakwiˈhīr/
noun
noun: acqui-hire
1. an act or instance of buying out a company primarily for the skills and expertise of its staff, rather than for the products or services it supplies.
"this would appear to be a straight acquihire to pick up an engineering and product design team"

The art of the acquihire is alive and well for companies like Google with unlimited resources, who often buy companies strictly for a key group of talent - often 10-20 key employees - even though they think the product of the company they are buying is trash. Put some wealth in the pockets of the targeted talent, lock them in with employment agreements and slowly push them towards projects/lines of business you think have more value.

Back to Cards of Humanity - they're in the news with an acquihire, but with a twist - they're giving a large part of the acquired company to the employees of the company. More from BuzzFeed:

Cards Against Humanity, the card game company, purchased ClickHole.com from its owners at G/O Media on Monday for an undisclosed amount in an all-cash deal, BuzzFeed News has learned. ClickHole’s employees will become the majority owners of the site. Although terms were not disclosed, the Wall Street Journal reported in November that the sale price was likely to be less than $1 million. The Onion, which created ClickHole, will remain a part of G/O Media.

Max Temkin, the cofounder of Cards Against Humanity, told BuzzFeed News that the deal will allow ClickHole to bring on additional staff — it currently has only five full-time employees — and explore new revenue streams. He also said the site would operate independently, with financial support from Cards Against Humanity. ClickHole staffers will not be involved in writing any Cards Against Humanity content.

“We’re giving them funding, and if they ask us, we’ll be an advisor,” Temkin told BuzzFeed News, saying that the ClickHole team will operate independently, with financial support. “We just want to give them a chance to do their thing. They’re really capable — really smart and innovative. And I don't know if they’ve had that opportunity before to try all these creative [ideas for the site].”

The Onion launched ClickHole in 2014 as a send-up of sites like Upworthy and BuzzFeed. It moved on to satirizing online political discourse with PatriotHole and ResistanceHole. Yet it has consistently transcended mere parody and created its own sublimely absurd universe. Quizzes like “Which One of My Garbage Sons Are You?” or its running series of fake banal quotes from celebrities earned it a loyal, independent following.

Cards of Humanity is doing an acquihire with a twist with this acquisition - they found a troubled company for sale, and believed in the talent that existed. BUT - this form of acquihire transfers wealth to the talent not directly to their bank account, but by giving them ownership in the company.  That's a powerful retention tool, and if for some reason they can't make it work, the talent is sure to remember that Cards gave them a chance to save the company and turn it around through their investment and subsequent transfer of ownership.

Moving acquired talent to ownership positions is a powerful play.  And by "talent", I mean people that make up quizzes like "Which one of my garbage sons are you?" It's 2020 - quizzes like these matter!

For great point of view on all things employee ownership and ESOP, follow who I do - Jennifer Briggs.