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    Monday
    Feb202012

    If it isn't urgent, skip the dramatics

    We've all heard them at one time or another in our careers, the overly dramatic 'inspirational' speeches, often peppered with military metaphors, from executives and leaders that are meant to get the troops (dang, I just did it myself), charged up and ratchet up the energy and enthusiasm in the office. While we all know, at least most of us know, that these kinds of speeches, whether delivered live or in an email, are generally not taken all that seriously by said troops, there doesn't seem to be any sign of them going away.

    One reason I think that these kinds of fake, shallow, and sort of silly communications continue is the fact that rarely if ever will the boss get any feedback informing him or her just how much the rank and file are secretly laughing to themselves while listening or reading to these kinds of messages. Certainly, job security and a general desire not to make waves requires and makes prudent the decision by most folks to simply keep the giggles to themselves and nod in agreement as the brave leader exhorts the team to greater heights.

    So while it might be difficult for anyone to actually speak up, occasionally you'll find an amusing rant about how these dramatics are actually interpreted by the team, check out a recent post from a terrifically funny, (and almost always NSFW), blog called Pound the Budweiser that helps spell out what the average employee thinks in response to typical and common leadership histrionics:

    I'm an office drone. I live and work in a hive of cubicles. We have no deck. We have staff meetings. So when the new boss scheduled an All Hands on Deck Meeting for last week, I metaphorically circled it on my Outlook calendar.

    The morning of the All Hands on Deck Meeting it was postponed for three weeks. Our first ever All Hands on Deck Meeting will now take place in March.

    I am not a sailor but when the captain tells the bosun to pipe "All Hands on Deck" I think it confers a sense of urgency to the proceedings. Something like, there's a pirate ship on the horizon, lets put up more sail and get the heck out of here or, we've got a German U-boat on the scope so we're going to need your best effort or, there's topless Playboy bunnies off the port bow, who has my binoculars?

    Can an All Hands on Deck Meeting be postponed for three weeks and still be called an All Hands on Deck Meeting?

    Classic. And a good reminder of how even the small things, like the name given to a staff meeting, can actually have an impact with how you are perceived as a leader.

    I am not trying to say that leaders can't or shouldn't try to rally the team and inspire the staff, but I think it a good idea to keep in mind that there while there probably is in most organizations a time for dramatics and urgency that time is probably not as often as you think. Second, when you really do feel like there does need to be some urgency, don't wait three weeks to let the team know what you felt was so important. And third, and you may or may not care, there is a chance that your 'troops' are really only following out of fear and contemplating launching their own anonymous blogs to goof on your leadership style.

    What do you think? Do leaders sound the air raid signal too much?

    Friday
    Feb172012

    WEBINAR : Early Adoption: Against HR's Nature?

    I'm really pleased to announce that in a few weeks I will be joining the great China Gorman for an upcoming Webinar titled 'Early Adoption: Against HR's Nature?' on Wednesday March 7, 2012 at 1:00PM ET.

    .Go ahead, register, it's free!

    The Webinar is sponsored by a very cool company called Achievers, (you might still remember them by their former name, I Love Rewards), the leading provider of social recognition solutions in the market today.

    What is social recognition?

    You know that time your boss stuck his or her head into your office and said, 'Nice job on Project XYZ?', (ok, so if that never happens to you just pretend for a minute), well imagine if that little gesture was posted on a social platform that the rest of your colleagues could see, and perhaps even 'like' or add their own words of thanks and kudos. Then imagine further that you could share this recognition with your friends on Facebook or your professional network on LinkedIn. And one last thing, imagine all these accumulated thanks and kudos would earn some rewards points that you could exchange for some great stuff.

    Sounds pretty cool, right?

    Achievers provides solutions that let companies do all of that and more, helping to support and build a culture of recognition, openness, and well, I have to say it - achievement.

    But in addition to making a great product, the team at Achievers are really active and supportive of the HR community overall, and have sponsored a number of events and webcasts that are designed to share insights, spur conversation, and add to the body of knowledge for the industry. So I am really pleased and honored they asked me to join China in presenting the webinar on March 7.

    The central idea behind the topic, 'Early Adoption: Against HR's Nature?', is that while tradtionally HR has been reluctant to be on the leading edge of technology solutions and innovative strategies, that now that time has passed. In the critical areas of employee engagement, the adoption of new technology solutions for talent management gives today’s HR leaders opportunities to recast their function as forward looking rather than history- and compliance-bound. We will also talk about the great results organizations that are on the leading edge are seeing, and how social rewards and social recognition fit in the overall picture.

    It should be a really fun webinar, and I hope you will join China and I on March 7th. 

    Register, (it's free!), here.

    Thursday
    Feb162012

    Notes From the Road #6 - Accountability in the Air

    The scene was the start of the cross-country Delta Airlines flight from Atlanta - San Francisco. As the last few passengers were getting settled, the head flight attendant commenced her normally familiar and standard set of pre-flight announcements. You know these standard flight safety announcements, you tune them out just like I do - I mean what person alive is actually not familiar with how a seat belt is fastened?

    But on this flight - the announcements were different and distinctive. No, not for being all that clever or funny, like sometimes are found on Southwest Air flights, but for being more real, personal, and accountable that most. 

    Before launching into the speech about the faster seat belt light and turning off cell phones, the flight attendant said something along the lines of this:

    'I know that you many of you may find air travel frustrating or stressful or too expensive. I know what people sometimes write or say about flying on our airline. I understand that feeling sometimes myself. But I want to let you know that it is my personal responsibility to make this flight an enjoyable one for you, and to take some of that stress and frustration away. So if and when you need something, you let me know, and I will take care of it.'

    What I loved about the speech, apart from the sincerity from which it was delivered, (you kind of had to be there to get that sense), was that the flight attendant talked in first person, using 'I' and 'me' in her statements, rather than the softer and more general 'we' or 'us'. She was not suggesting that the other flight attendants on the flight did not share her desire to make the flight a successful and enjoyable one, but rather she was taking personal ownership and accountability for results. It is a small thing, but I thought it stood out, and to me it was pretty refreshing.

    And as the 5-hour flight passed, from what I observed she backed up that statement with her performance. Cheerful, attentive, professional all the way. I think demonstrating some of the best leadership I've seen in action in a long time. 

    Recognize the issues, take ownership, have a plan, be personally responsible, and then follow through.

    Very cool and a definitley helped make a Sunday night cross-country flight much better.

    Have a Great Weekend!

    Wednesday
    Feb152012

    Creating great mobile experiences, accessed from the sofa

    I read a super piece over the weekend on Stephane Rieger's site titled, 'Mobile Users Don't Do That', a short, but spot-on and important reminder of the importance of thinking critically and specifically when designing and deploying applications or solutions for use on mobile devices.Source - Yahoo!

    The main point of the piece - is that often mobile or tablet design projects get too caught up in bad or at least inaccurate assumptions, namely mobile users are typically 'on-the-go', and lack the time, focus, or ability to maneuver around complex applications or complete multi-step processes because they are hopping in and out of taxis or marching up Seventh Avenue. Rieger correctly points out, and cites several recent studies, that mobile and tablet users are just as likely to be sitting on their sofa, accessing data and applications in a slow pace, often while consuming other content on a PC or a TV. In those 'multi-consumption' scenarios, the challenge for mobile designers is not so much streamlining functionality and navigation due to the user actually being mobile, but to maintain user attention and focus when they are likely doing two or three other things.

    I saw a quote online the other day, (not sure who was the actual originator), the posited that the term 'social media' ought to be dropped. The take was that in 2012 all media is social in one fashion or another, and all social networks have inherent in them some kind of media component. If you think about it, that makes perfect sense. Turn on CNN or any of the other major TV news channels and I'll be within 5 minutes you will see and hear calls to 'Find them on Facebook' or 'Post us your questions on Twitter and we will read the best ones on the air'. And obviously the social networks themselves are mostly morphing into media outlets, just look at what happens on Twitter and Facebook when major national or world news breaks.

    I mention this because I wonder if the same merging or blending around the edges is going to happen to workplace technologies - i.e. that to users it will start not to matter if their applications and tools they need are accessed on desktop computers in the office, laptops at a client location, tablets while sitting in the airport, or on iPhones while sitting on the sofa. Delivering solutions that work for them wherever, however, whenever they want to need to work, and using whichever device they prefer, (based on lots of factors, only one being their location and mobility), will become the primary design challenge for the next 5 or 10 years I think.  And as Rieger reminds us so well, making erroneous assumptions of what people want to to and what they expect from all these access methods and potential experiences is certainly a trap that has to be carefully avoided.

    It certainly isn't an easy problem to solve, but it sure is interesting. And the best solutions will eventually arrive at the point where it doesn't matter to the users where they are and with what device they are using, the solution will simply work.

    Tuesday
    Feb142012

    Some applicants ARE awesome and can do lots of pull-ups

    Recently another 'clueless applicant' tale bounced around the interwebs, this one centered around what was described by Business Insider and Forbes as 'The Worst Cover Letter in the World', so bad that the applicant was 'laughed at by everybody on Wall Street.'Give me 35

    If you missed the story, and don't want to click through to the linked pieces above, here is a quick summary:

    An unnamed student at New York University, applying for what was described as a summer analyst position with JP Morgan, included a cover letter that was a bit over the top, a bit long, had a couple of really kind of stupid mistakes, but mostly seemed, (at least to me), to be coming from a hard-working, positive, ambitious, and eager individual that is determined to get his career started.

    You can read the full, (with personal identifiable details redacted), cover letter here, and I am sure you'll be as equally amused as Forbes, BI, and most of Wall St. was with the applicant's references to his bench press progress, 'double my bodyweight', and ability to pick up computer programming languages quickly, 'I learned a year's worth of Java in 27 days on my own.'

    And if you do read the full cover letter, and the corresponding article ripping the kid for mistakes, bragging, length, and overall lack of polish and professionalism in communication, you'll probably agree with the conclusions and comments in the Forbes and BI pieces.

    Ha-Ha-Ha. What a joke, what a doofus. What in the heck are they teaching kids at NYU anyway. Let's all have a good laugh at this kid who clearly doesn't get it that no one cares about how much he can bench press or how many pull-ups he can do.

    Here's what I think. If I were looking to fill spots for one of these summer analyst programs, I'd bring the kid in for an interview. I know the cover letter was not technically perfect. And yes, the kid probably needs a refresher course in some basic rules and mores here. But that doesnt' take away from some important considerations as well.

    Assuming the kid's grades and program of study checked out, (easy to verify), I would look at the bragging and the posturing in the letter as an indication of a kid that has drive, that had goals and set them, and is probably the kind of kid that has had to work hard to get as far as he has.

    Bench pressing double your body weight is hard. No, make that really freakin' hard. I have known maybe 3 guys in my whole life who could make that claim. And 35 pull-ups? Good luck passing ten. So maybe I am overvaluing the level of effort, sacrifice, and commitment it takes to make those claims, but to me, they show some character. And that I think would make me want to meet the kid.

    On a broader level, I sort of get really angry and frustrated when I read these kinds of pieces, and read the smug know-it-all comments and insults lobbed towards job seekers who in an attempt to make their credentials stand out from the pack, fail to execute in just exactly the way we 'professionals' want them to. I am not defending spelling errors, shaky grammar, and sloppiness, but I am standing up for making a claim as to why you're awesome and why you deserve consideration.

    So yes, if it were me, I'd bring the kid in to interview. And I'd probably ask for some workout tips.