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    Monday
    Jun282010

    New territories

    Whether it is teaching a class, coaching a sports team, or taking on a new professional responsibility, sometimes I think there are two main types of challenges out there.

    One - the kind that you are extremely well prepared for, the processes and outcomes are clearly defined and reasonably predictable, and success is to a very high degree linked to effort - the harder, and to some extent longer that you go at it will determine the results.  

    The other kind of challenge is new or uncharted territory for you.  The long-term result may be known, but it is certainly more intangible. You may have some kind of understanding of the 'how' part of the task in front of you, but you quickly discover that there is not a set pathway to follow. And long-term success may not at all be tied to how 'hard' you work, it could be that some new type of insight and creativity is necessary.  That may come in ten minutes, or it may not come at all in five years.

    But ultimately it seems like the most rewarding kinds of challenges contain elements of both types. With enough predictability and process to support making steady and incremental progress, coupled with a nice batch of uncertainty and excitement that can make the task more challenging and fun.  Some folks will naturally gravitate towards one type or another, but it is pretty unusual for someone to always prefer routine and repetitive assignments, or always choose complex, challenging, and unpredictable jobs.

    I am thinking about this blend, and the best way to ensure that organizational job design can be flexible enough to support both kinds of people, and both kinds of roles, while meeting the needs of the organization and people's desires for meaningful work.

    Sunday
    Jun272010

    Tactics and Technology

    The climax of the American Civil War Battle of Gettysburg that took place in July 1863 was a Confederate Army attack that has come to be well-known as 'Pickett's Charge', named after General George Pickett,General George Pickett one of the Confederate leaders on the field that day.

    Pickett's Charge was essentially a direct frontal assault by the Confederates, across an open field, uphill, against an entrenched Union Army enemy force that was supported by artillery on even higher ground.

    Part of The Conference Board's Leadership Experience program at Gettysburg has the participants walk the same path across the field and up the hill that Pickett's (and many others) men traversed that day. The well-documented history of the battle tells us that the Confederates suffered horrific casualties, were unsuccessful in breaking the Union Army lines, and were forced to withdraw and retreat.  Twenty-one months later the war ended, with the Union Army victorious.

    As the leadership experience attendees traced the path of Pickett's Charge, it was seemingly obvious that attempting such an attack, covering almost a mile of open terrain, with the enemy dug in and holding the superior position, was absolute insanity. As we marched up the path towards the high ridge where the Union Army was aligned, one of the class questioned the 'march in a straight line in the open and approach the enemy' attack formation, that in 1863 was still the most common attacking tactic. This was troubling, since advances in technology and weaponry had improved the range, accuracy, and deadly force of the various artillery pieces, rifles, pistols, and ammunition.

    The technology of war had dramatically improved to such an extent that it began to render the traditional tactics, if not essentially ineffective, certainly more costly in terms of casualties.  And the crazy part is that one of the event facilitators indicated that the basic attack strategies continued all the way until World War I.  But even then it required another technological breakthrough, (the tank), to significantly alter the accepted tactics.

    I know the corporate world is not the same as the 'real' battlefield, and getting too comfortable with military metaphors risks oversimplification of what are usually complex issues. But in this case I think the comparison is appropriate. 

    New and better technologies are being created, improved, and being brought to bear with increasing frequency in a wide range of traditional human capital functions.  Whether it is in recruiting, performance management, learning and development, or internal collaboration, the rate of advancement in capability and potential is accelerating.

    But advances in technology, without an appropriate and complementary shift in the strategy and tactics to better leverage the new and more powerful technologies will only result in partial victory at best, and a significant loss at worst. Your competitors are likely to have the same access to these technologies as you go, simply 'owning' them will not be enough, being smarter and even bolder in their deployment will be the difference.

    If you deploy fantastic new tools and technologies, but continue to execute in a 'march in a straight line across the field' manner, then history may be as unkind to you as it has been to General Pickett.

     

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    Thursday
    Jun242010

    The Most Important Job on the Boat

    This week I am attending, as a guest of The Conference Board, their excellent Leadership Development Experience at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. 

    The experience is just that - an experiential learning program that educates on the important historical aspects of the Battle of Gettysburg and the important leadership situations and decisions that were made and applies them to some of today's modern business leadership challenges.

    Last night at the welcome sessions and dinner one of the attendees, shared some of his prior background with the table.  He had served for a number of years as a submarine officer in the US Navy. He was not allowed to share many other details about the specific of the service, but did share this anecdote, about the training and development of skills of submarine crew members.

    He asked us - What is the most important job on a submarine?  While we offered some meek guesses, he gave us the real answer - steering the boat while it is underwater. You can't 'see' anything, you have to know how to read instruments, interpret data, make fast and vital decisions, etc.  

    So yes, he continued, steering the boat is the most important job on the submarine, and it is the first thing that we teach every new crew member, and everyone on the sub needs to know how to do it the right way.

    Love it.  The most important job, taught to every member of the team, and taught as the very first development experience for new team members.

    Think about your new employee onboarding - do you make sure that the most critical skills and capabilities are taught right up front like that?  And that every team member is capable in these critical skillls?

    Love the story and what it suggests to those of us that have to bring new team members on board.

     

    Wednesday
    Jun232010

    Monsters under the bed

    Well, not literally under the bed, but on Ebay, Pandora, The Weather Channel, and hundreds of other sites where millions of potential candidates goof off, I mean research important information online. 

    What the heck am I talking about?

    The Monster.com Career Ad Network.  The Career Ad Network is a (relatively) new offering from the online job board leader Monster.com that gives the ability to extend the reach of the traditional job board advertisement to literally hundreds of sites, generating millions of exposures.

    The basics of the process are as follows:

    1. Company purchases Job posting on Monster, say for a Java Developer in Milwaukee.

    2. Company opts-in to Career Ad Network syndication for a fixed duration

    3. Targeted and optimized job ads are syndicated across the Monster network and affiliated sites targeting folks likely to be interested in Java Developer jobs in Milwaukee.

    4. Monster helps track not only the sheer numbers of impressions and click throughs, but also how many applications were generated via the career ad network syndication.

    How does the Monster technology know just when to serve our example passive candidate a Java Developer job in Milwaukee while they are listening to Radiohead on Pandora? Some little bits of internet surfing magic called cookies that quietly sit in the computer's memory and tell every system smart enough to process them just what the heck you have been up to online.

    So if this example passive candidate got ticked off after the last staff meeting and perused a few openings on Monster at the lunch hour this information gets registered in the form of a cookie.  Later that week when said disgruntled java pro tries to unwind with a little Pandora - wham - how about this great new opportunity near where you live and in the field you are in?

    What I like about the Career Ad Network is that it provides a way for companies with limited reach outside of their own jobs site to potentially get their openings to a really wide audience, potentially in the millions.  Which ironically, is the same thing I don't like about it, there is no way to ensure that the increased exposure won't be more trouble, in the form of an increase in volume of unqualified candidates, than simply relying on more traditional job advertising.

    This week Monster is announcing some improvements to the service that will allow companied to opt-in to Career Ad Network syndication without having to buy 'regular' Monster postings, and improved analytics to track campaign effectiveness.

    Overall for companies looking to extend the reach of their job ads, at a reasonable cost, and with no special technical skills required, the Career Ad Network is worth an evaluation. And it is also kind of cool and refreshing to see Monster looking for ways to innovate and improve their basic offerings, as the way people look for jobs changes over time, Monster has to find ways to evolve beyond the traditional job board, in order to better navigate these new waters.

    You never know, one company's slacker engineer listening to Pandora all day just might be your organization's next hotshot superstar.

    Thanks so much to Kathy Reilly and the team at Monster for giving the great Kevin Grossman fromHRMarketer and I a sneak peak at the new offerings.

     

     

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    Monday
    Jun212010

    Cleaning off the bookshelf

    I have been getting a ton of books lately, mostly sent by publishers or PR folks looking for help to spread the word about their latest works and even occasionally to pitch their authors as guests on the HR Happy Hour show.  

    I spent quite a bit of time in the last few days trying to work through some of the growing pile of books that have come in, and since no one (including me) wants to read a week long series of book review posts, I am going to rip off some mini-reviews of the last five books that have been sent my way.

    Must-reads

    Get Rid Of The Performance Review - Samuel A. Culbert with Lawrence Rout

    Culbert offers a no-nonsense evisceration of the traditional employee performance review as a one-sided, boss-dominated, ineffective, and emasculating process that serves almost no positive purposes. Rather than take the common position of 'performance reviews themselves don't suck, rather badly done performance reviews are the problem', Culbert recommends their total abolition, to be replaced with what he calls the 'performance preview'. The performance preview stresses looking forward, eliminating barriers to performance, and shared accountability between boss and employee. 

    The Why of Work - Dave Ulrich and Wendy Ulrich

    In 'The Why of Work' Dave and Wendy Ulrich describe the importance of understanding the deeper motivations of employees and by extension organizations in crafting jobs, strategies, and structures that will lead to more meaningful and enduring success. This is a almost a kind of spiritual take on traditional workplace issues like job fit, teamwork, and even performance management. Dave and Wendy attempt to offer proof of the importance of organizations and leaders as 'meaning makers' and not just 'profit makers' and offer a roadmap to build those capabilities. 

    Good reads

    Get A Life Not A Job - Paula Caliguiri

    The most important message in this book is simple - there is no more loyalty between employers and employees, the 'psychological contract' between the two is forever broken, and you and you alone are responsible for your own career trajectory and satisfaction.  Since no one is 'looking out for you' any longer, you have to look out for yourself, and subsequently need to craft a series of what the author refers to as 'career acts', defined as 'simultaneous and stimulating profitable activities'. There are plenty of practical recommendations for discovering motivation, professional development, and personal security.  

    What I did not like about the book is that is comes off a bit elitist ' I teach, I write, I consult, I give paid speeches, see I am living this story', and it also tends to send a message that the things we do for fun and leisure (hobbies, travel, blogging, whatever), now all need to have an element of 'profit' in them, or they really aren't worth pursuing. Maybe in a terrible economy that may be true, but it still is a hard pill to take.

    Multipliers: How The Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter - Liz Wiseman with Greg McKeown

    In 'Multipliers', the central thesis is one that is easy to agree with - some leaders get the best out of their teams, making everyone feel able and willing to contribute their best, while others tend to actually diminish the motivation and capability of the team, mainly due to a relentless pursuit of personal power. I think most of us have encountered leaders and managers on both ends of the 'multiplier/diminisher' continuum, with most people falling somewhere in between.  The book offer some solid advice for managers to better self-evaluate their own behaviors to assess their performance as leaders that need and should strive to 'raise the game' of all the team's performers. 

    Best Book of the Bunch

    The Killer Angels - Michael Shaara

    You know the story of Gettysburg, a devastatingly brutal and important battle in the American Civil War. Perhaps you have seen the movie adaptation of the book.  The Killer Angels puts context and insight into the leaders and men that fought in the battle, one that holds such significance in American military and political history.  A classic book, a fast and compelling read, and lessons that all Americans should understand.

    Well that's it for now, until I get through the next batch of books comes in!

    Note : I did receive free copies of all the above mentioned books.  In exchange I promised nothing - good deal huh?  Seriously, many thanks to the authors and publishers. 

     

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