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    Thursday
    Oct132011

    No, let me see YOUR references

    We have heard it time and time again - top talent always has options - they can play off one company against the other, play the counter-offer game to score additional pay and benefits, and particularly in hot technical fields, seem to remain immune from the tough employment climate. For the most part, talented technical workers, with skills in the 'right' areas, are in demand and will likely have many more options to consider than the one you are trying to recruit them into, or if they are currently on your staff, are probably getting weekly overtures to make a jump.Kandinsky - Title Unknown (someone knows it, just not me)

    So in an environment where this sliver or subset of the employment market seems to be playing by a different set of rules that the broader world, it is quite likely that strategies, tactics, and candidate expectations also are unlike 'normal' and traditional processes. And in the recruiting/assessment process, no step is no more 'normal' than the good old fashioned reference check. Of course you know the drill - candidate makes it past the phone screen and rounds one or two of the interview process, and then it's time for some diligent HR pro to call in those references that are always 'available upon request'. Where the reference check goes from there depends mostly on your belief in the importance of such things and the level and scope of the position you are hiring for. But either way, the candidate is almost always the one on the hook to provide some level of external validation of how wonderful they are.

    But for super-talented and in-demand technical and other folks is this model beginning to shift? Take a look at an excerpt from an interesting piece on the User Interface Engineering blog earlier this week:

    The advice I’m giving to senior, more experienced folks is not to think about their next project as much as they think about their next manager. What traits should that manager have? How do they support their team? When things get rough, how do they deliver guidance? Do they regularly give out praise? Do they take a deep interest in the work and in their employee’s future?

    I recommend folks interview the entire team and learn what it’s like to work for that manager. What happens when the going gets tough? What examples are there of team members growing, learning, and getting encouragement? Do team members talk about how the manager exhibits the desired traits?

    My good friend, Amy Jackson, who works as a talent agent for wünderkind UX designers, suggests you take it a step further and ask the hiring manager for his or her references. Amy says to tell them you want to make the right decision and you need to check them out. Her thinking is that if the hiring manager isn’t secure enough give out sound references, they may be sending a signal.

    Nice. A good old fashioned 'reverse-the-heat' scenario that some hotshot young, (ok they don't have to be young, but it reads better that way), one day soon is going to call you out, Mr. or Ms. hiring manager and ask you to hand over that one-pager with three of your references. The names of three people, that you managed or mentored that would stand up for your ability as a leader, manager, mentor, and someone that should be entrusted to the next step of the candidate's career, and likely much of their day-to-day happiness and engagement at work. Sure, many interview processes have the candidate 'meet the team', but the existing team members that are currently under the manager's control are not likely to be too forthcoming, particularly if the 'reference' would not be all that positive.

    Interesting spin and a challenging one at that. Now I have never actually heard of this happening in the wild, but I bet it has.

    What do you think? Has a candidate ever asked you to pony up some names of past employees they could run references on? 

    Could you hand over three names on demand?

    What might your former staff say about you?

    Wednesday
    Oct122011

    It's quite possible that I might be wrong. Or maybe not.

    It can be really easy to see people, not you of course, since you are wise enough to be reading this post I know you get it, but all those other, silly people that might not possibly agree with you or insist of thinking or acting in ways not necessarily aligned with your genius as not getting it, or worse, having a disastrous lack of vision or even some shady morals.

    We're seeing this constantly here in the USA in the spectacle that currently passes for political discourse these days. Mostly, philosophical disagreements or even simple policy impasses are escalated to massive proportions, and eventually result in, (or rather degrade to), a schoolyard style round of name calling followed by a 'I am taking my ball and going home' deadlock. Case in point from outside of the political sphere, and one that hits much closer to my heart - the ongoing National Basketball Association labor negotiations. This train wreck so far have been notable only for a lack of progress leading to the cancellation of the first two weeks of regular season games, and the slightly more interesting but also unfortunate dalliances by current NBA stars with leagues and teams in Europe and Asia. How are the locker rooms in Turkey, D-Will?

    Maybe it is a by-product of the 24/7 news cycle, the explosion of online outlets for everyone and anyone to get on their soapbox, and the milliseconds after anything happens reaction, and re-reactions on social media, but the frequency and intensity of arguments seems more prevalent and acute than ever before.

    I think there's also a bit of the instant expert phenomenon at play here as well.  I loved how this week on social media 'I once rented a DVD' equated to 'I am expert on Netflix' business model and am fully qualified to tell them how to run their business via Twitter.'

    I am sure it is naive, (and boring), to write about by-gone days where we could disagree without questioning each other's fundamental being or integrity or where we could have honest differences of opinion absent the passive-aggressive character assassination we see sometimes (maybe more than sometimes), online. But we can, and should do better I think, and try and compartmentalize these disagreements into the typically smallish buckets where they usually belong.  And even if the disagreements are kind of big, well as the great songwriter/philosopher Sting so eloquently suggested so many years ago, even the Russians loved their children too.

    But  I don't mean that phony, politician-style faux-respect that usually starts with, 'I am sure Jim-Bob is a really good family man', but then proceeds into a lengthy and scathing rebuke of everything Jim-Bob has ever said, all the things he stands for, and how every single decision he has ever made in his life is foolish and wrong. I am thinking about the kind of honest disagreement that can really only come from having just a bit of perspective and at least the sliver of empathy. The kind of thinking that can only be present if we can be big enough to admit we might possibly not have all the answers. And the kind environment where we feel reasonably safe from attack if we take what might be an unusual stance or an unpopular position.

    The kind of place that allows me to freely admit that in fact, I do still like Sting.

    Tuesday
    Oct112011

    Love, Peace, and Technology

    The other day someone I don't really know 'circled' me on Google+, and while that is not a particularly interesting or attention grabbing way to kick off a blog post, (I must have been absent the day they taught, 'grab their interest early' section in blogging school), I was struck by their tagline, or headline, or whatever the heck it is called on Google+.  It reads, simply:

    Love, Peace, and Technology.

    Kind of unusual, no? I mean the Love and Peace bits, well we've all seen them before, usually listed with Peace before Love I think, but somehow it seems to make more sense having the Love part first I suppose. But the third part about Technology? That is pretty out there. Do a quick Google 'look ahead' type search for Peace, 'Love and...' to see what pops up. 'Peace, Love, and Understanding', the old Elvis Costello song simply owns those results. Way to go Elvis.A meta 'Metta' reference.

    Force the Google search to return hits for 'Love, Peace, and Technology, and the closest thing to interesting that hits on Page 1 of results is a blog called, oddly enough, Peace, Love, and Technology. It appears to be written by a technology teacher, or a teacher interested in technology, but either way, it doesn't seem to be too active, with the last post over four months old.

    So it is a little disconcerting to the idea that peace and love and technology can, uh, peacefully co-exist when from what I can tell the definitive blog on the subject seems to have run out of inspiration some months back.

    Perhaps it is an indication that the concepts can't really co-exist - that advances in technology can make us more efficient, save money, help us process things faster, better, more accurately and so on, but that technology doesn't really belong in the same conversation with Peace and Love. Technology has traditionally been the domain of the engineer, the builder, the craftsman - not typically the types we'd think were all that preoccupied or even concerned with ideas around love and peace. And of course so much of our most significant technological advances of the last two hundred years or so went toward technologies to help us get better and more efficient at blowing each other up on the battlefield.

    The point of all this? Again, a fail on my part from Blogging 101 class. 

    I suppose I think that I am disappointed that I founde the Google+ user's tagline of Love, Peace, and Technology so striking and unusual. It seemed so contradictory given our typical relationship and experience with technology as cold, efficient, and uncaring. I guess I want something much more meaningful than a well-intentioned but mostly barren teacher's blog to come up on Page 1 when someone Googles 'Love, Peace, and Technology.'

    I think technology, and technologists can do better.

    I have been thinking of a blog re-branding, maybe I will see of lovepeacetechnology.com is available.

    Monday
    Oct102011

    On Being Radical and Making Choices

    Much of this weekend's free time was spent grinding through the ridiculous backlog of Google Reader items that had built up during the five days I spent in Las Vegas last week for HRevolution and the HR Technology Conference. Of the many thousands of items I at least title-scanned, and the hundred or so I actually read - this was by far the top piece of the lot, from the Scientific American 'Context and Variation' blog, a piece called 'The three things I learned at the Purdue Conference for Pre-Tenure Women: on being a radical scholar.'Old-school radical.

    At first glance I was tempted to pass by the piece, I am, after-all, not pre-tenure, nor a woman. But for whatever reason I decided to read the piece by Kate Clancy, and was immediately glad I did, because in the length of a standard blog post, Ms. Clancy manages to to touch on not one but two interesting and massively important ideas that transcend the purely academic context in which she writes, and are applicable and worth contemplating in the broader world of work.

    Take Number One - Lots of jobs require ridiculous amounts of time, effort, energy, and commitment to succeed.

    And to get ahead you often need to 'beat' the other person that wants that title/money/prestige just as much as you do. But if the 'external' demands on your time and your competitor are unequal, (in Ms. Clancy's case she is a parent of a young child), then you are heading into the competition with constraints and pressures that can make the battle seem not worth fighting. I know the whole 'kids vs. career' tradeoff is not a new issue, but Ms. Clancy does a great job of recognizing the issues without asking for sympathy or special treatment. From the piece:

    We sit some more. We talk some more. About how we can’t compete against people with kids but a stay at home spouse, about how we can’t compete against our peers without kids at all. He is in a department where people show up early and stay late. You can find a third of the faculty in the department at any given time on the weekends. I’m in a department where folks work from home as often as they work from the office, but they are still getting stuff done. And it feels like they are all getting more done than me.

    Pile the ubiquitous Mommy Guilt on top of this, the culturally conditioned guilt that says not staying at home hurts my child despite the intellectual knowledge that good daycare, and the kind of quality investments I make with my daughter, are hugely beneficial, and there are few hours in my day to sleep.

    It's the grind most of us, even those of us not chasing a major career objective like academic tenure, but simply trying to do more, better, more innovative things have run into. The more commitments and obligations you have outside of work, the tougher your fight to the top, (or even the middle), is going to be. Neither Ms. Clancy nor I have this figured out yet by the way.

    Take Two - On traditional measures of success and influence.

    In the Human Resources/Talent/Recruiting space we've had our share of navel-gazing debates about influence, and the challenge of assessing online influence compared to more traditional forms. Lance Haun led a popular session at HRevolution about this topic. While the debate continues, there seems to be little doubt that blogging, social media, and even non-traditional and 'unconferences' like HRevolution and others are chipping away at the established ideas about influence and perhaps even authority in our industry.  In the Scientific American piece that focuses on the world of academics, Ms. Clancy wonders about the continued reliance on publication in academic journals as the standard of relevance, achievement, and influence in her field.  Again from the piece:

    But are peer-reviewed publications, read and cited by only by a select group of those peers, the best way to assess influence and importance? They are certainly no longer the only way. My 2006 paper on iron-deficiency anemia and menstruation has been cited by six other papers; my 2011 blog post on this paper has been viewed tens of thousands of times and received almost sixty comments between its two postings.

    Boom. The entire 'old school vs. new school' measures of influence argument summed up in two sharp sentences. Again, neither the Scientific American piece nor I profess to have all the answers for this, but it is clear that even in the stodgy world of academia there appear to be calls for change, or at least dialogue about how these newer (they are really not all that 'new' anymore), can and should impact the industry in more significant ways. Ms. Clancy want to be, as I suspect many of you do, to be more 'radical', and more true to their interests and passions in the face of slower-moving organizations of power.

    I hope you take a few minutes to read Ms. Clancy's entire article, for me it represents some of the best and most thought-provoking content I've run across in quite some time.

    Have a great week!

    Thursday
    Oct062011

    The HR Technology Conference: Everything's Amazing But...

    Thanks to the Internet's irrevocable laws of virality, you've probably seen, (or at least heard of), a clip from the comedian Louis C.K. titled 'Everything's Amazing and Nobody's Happy', (I'll embed the video at the end of this post for those that care to take a look. It is quite funny).

    Louis' take is essentially that the incredible advances in all kinds of technology and levels of utility and convenience that these developments have enabled quickly progress from 'Wow! Isn't this amazing!' to 'Is that it? I'm totally bored.' in shorter and shorter cycles. In the video Louis compares our perceptions of modern air travel, which still should be considered a magical invention, (five hours from LA to NYC), to our still fairly recent history where a similar journey would take '30 years and some of you would die'.

    But the nature of technology and of progress has always been such - once a standard is set, and the near term benefits of new invention are realized, (or at least generally understood, kind of an important distinction when it comes to enterprise technologies), most of us wonder what's next? Where, how, and from whose wisdom will the 'next big thing' spring from? It doesn't really matter if we, (sort of a collective we in this case, so don't get all 'I understand this space' on me. Thanks.), have not really completely or ecven adequately processed last year's set of 'next big things.' In the context of the recently concluded HR Technology Conference, we can talk for some time about this year's 'Cool New Technologies', but can you name one or two from last year? Can you name any from just two years ago?

    We are driven in the technology field as participants, commentators, consumers, and leaders to continually search for the ideas and certainly the supporting and enabling solutions that can help transform our organizations and turn these great ideas into accepted enterprise practice, to better facilitate connection and innovation from our teams, and provide organizational leadership the information and insights derived from a more complete understanding of the performance and potential of the firm's people, (whew - I almost referred to 'people' as 'human capital', it was a close one), to achieve our organizational goals. I'd also be naive and optimistic to hope that one of those goals is to 'help our people be happy', but I'll leave that for another time.

    So in the chase for 'what's next', it's easy to forget, or at least choose to not remember many of the things that led us to this place. And beyond that, we can often fail to appreciate and come close to extracting the potential of even 'older' technologies and solutions, caught up in the game of the latest gadgets, UX's, or smart marketing slogans. 

    All this really long (apologies) preamble was inspired by some things I have read or heard about the HR Tech Conference, and by proxy, the HR Technology market as a whole. Because if you feel, as I do, that the conference represents a kind of State of the Union event in the space, then what happens there, and what is said about it in the ensuing weeks probably represents an accurate and full assessment of the industry at a point in time. So when you catch the odd comment or blog post or two about people not being really blown away by any new solutions they saw, or that perhaps too many of the vendors are chasing each other's functionality around in circles, resulting in a mess of non-differentiated solutions, or even that some of the sessions seemed to present the same ideas from prior years, just packaged a bit differently - then I'm left to wonder and question if we've lost a little perspective of what is really happening inside most organizations, and the truth of the struggles many of them face with HR technologies every day. Never mind the fact that there were over 50 product announcements, some really exciting and interesting, presented at the show.

    Why the HR Technology Conference is, as John Hollon at TLNT.com points out, one of the HR industry's two essential events to attend each year, is because it is much more than just fancy and showy displays of a new application or of the announcement of some new features added to an older application. The event is about taking measure of trends and ideas that are developing on a much broader level, cross-industry, global, and large in scope, but with the added advantage for attendees to start to think about how to apply and take advantage of these trends in almost real-time.

    How can they manage this? Because the concurrent sessions present real stories of actual success from which to draw. Because their current vendor partners are almost certainly attending and exhibiting at the show, usually with many of their most senior executives on site. Because all of the top industry thinkers and consultants are there, most of whom are accessible for a conversation and exchange of ideas. This confluence of educational content, solution provider presence and attention, thought leadership, and top-caliber social and networking opportunities simply happens nowhere else in the industry.

    Last point on all this is that many if not most of the benefits of attending the show for HR leaders and practitioners are not at all about the so-called 'latest and greatest'. Sure, the flashy new application that hits all the current buzzwords can be fun, interesting, and can even be really important, but remember - next year there will be another crop of 'latest and greatest', and we'll have to think hard to recall this year's winners. No, the real value of this gathering is far more enduring and important than making a bit of noise at a booth - it's about the rare opportunity to walk away from a three day event armed with new ideas, closer relationships with important partners, new and reinforced connections with peers and experts, and finally the chance to make positive and lasting impacts on your organization.

    And we all know to do that takes time, great tools, insight, good ideas, and lots of help. The HR Technology Conference scores on all those measures.

    Congratulations to Bill Kutik and the entire team at LRP for a fantastic event.

    FYI - Here's the Louic C.K clip I mentioned at the top - email and RSS subscribers will need to click through - Have a great weekend!