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    Tuesday
    Apr092013

    A simple culture question - How hard is it to get a new pair of headphones?

    What do you do if you are at the office and decide you need a new mouse or a keyboard or a new set of headphones because your cube mates won't stop taking conference calls on  their speaker phones? I'm thinking the kinds of items that are more costly than basic pens and paper office supplies things, but not as big a deal as a new laptop or the latest smartphone. You know the kind of stuff that might run $20 or $40 a pop? Is it hard for you or the average employee to get at that kind of stuff? Is there a formal process? Do you require managerial approval? Is there some functionary in IT that determines if you really need the headphones? Does it matter?

    Apparently it's not hard at all if you work at Facebook - check this excerpt from a recent piece at Business Insider - Facebook's Electronics Vending Machines Say A Lot About Its Culture

    The Facebook system is different. No person controls the supplies of the small items. For example, they have nice Sennheiser headphones inside this vending machine. Any Facebook employee can simply walk up, swipe his or her ID card, and grab a new pair. There's a nominal price listed, but employees don't see that number debited from their paychecks or anywhere, really, outside of the IT vending machine. For them, it's simply swipe and go. The system trusts them to use their own judgment about what they need.

    Seems pretty cool right? Kind of like those Best Buy mobile vending machines you see at airports except in your office or over by the break room and with all the stuff being 'free'. It's not really free, I get that, and there's no doubt in my mind that someone in Facebook IT or procurement receives and monitors the usage rates and dispensation patterns for these kind of supplies.  But the essential idea or the starting assumption is trust - we trust you know what you need to get your job done, we trust that you won't abuse the system, and that placing unnecessary barriers in your way doesn't help anyone.

    It is a simple, maybe dumb example and perhaps I'm reading more into it that is warranted. But I think it's a good question anyway.

    I'll ask you - How hard is it to get a new pair of headphones where you work?

    Oh and by the way - quit charging your employees for coffee and cokes. 

    Monday
    Apr082013

    You're on an interview, no I mean RIGHT NOW you're on an interview

    In the epic Book of Basketball by Bill Simmons,  legendary player (and failed executive) Isiah Thomas had the most compelling and profound observation about the sport. It was that the 'secret' of winning basketball wasn't about basketball at all - it was about the hundreds of other things like character, commitment, sacrifice, teamwork,  etc. that had to be present for a team to actually realize their true potential and become champions.  If you love basketball like I do, that concept sticks with you.

    Much like Thomas' view that basketball wasn't really about basketball, could it be that the future of job seeking and more specifically interviewing, won't actually be about interviewing at all? Before you ask 'What the heck is he talking about?' check out what is happening, or at least starting to happen, in the high stakes recruiting world for software developers.

    The San Francisco start-up Gild has created an algorithm that surfaces, evaluates, and rates software developers on the developers' public projects and code samples it finds on the web. The catch, that unlike every 'interview' or assessment typically conducted in the recruiting process, Gild is scoring developers behind the scenes. Programmers are not even aware it is happening, and don't have to give their permission.

    How does this work?

    Gild assembles profiles of individual developers from their contributions and activities in open-source forums and public websites. It can use formal APIs or simply “scrape” information from popular developer websites and communities. It takes all the data it can find and applies an algorithm to assign two scores, one for work quality, and one for influence in the software community.

    And don't think for a moment that this kind of algorithmic-based rating will be necessarily limited to software developers. Here's more on the ambitions and potential Gild sees in this kind of approach to dynamic, always-on 'scoring' of candidates, from a recent piece in MIT's Technology Review:

    For now, Gild is evaluating only software developers, whose work can often be freely found in repositories for open-source software, coder Q&A forums, and other online developer hangouts. But CEO Sheeroy Desai says that Gild hopes to bring its “talent acquisition technology” beyond the realm of software programmers, especially as more work products start to appear online.

    This kind of real-time, background assessment, while being perhaps invasive or even creepy for candidates, could certainly benefit HR and Recruiters, who can check if resume details, letters of recommendation, and even 'real' interview observations seem to jibe with the Gild score. And maybe they can even use something like the Gild score to surface potential candidates that their normal assessment process would exclude - say the lack of a college degree or the requisite '5 years of progressive experience.'

    Either way it seems like the approach Gild is taking is just the first step in what is to come - a world where every action, comment, blog post, tweet, etc. becomes an input into a algorithm and feeds a dynamic professional/personal profile that increasingly will be utilized as a tool into the hiring process. I'm actually ok with this, by the way.

    And since we are soon approaching a world where we are ALWAYS on a job interivew, I feel I better start publicly answering some of the most common interview questions. I'll start with an easy one:

    Interviewer: So tell me, what is your biggest weakness?

    Me: I simply work too hard, care too much, and demand perfection out of myself and my team.

    That ought to pass me on to the second-round I think.

    Friday
    Apr052013

    Spring Break Rewind #5 - 'I will get in there and mix it up'

    Note: It is Spring Break week here in Western New York, (for the school-age kids anyway), and while I will still be working and traveling to New York City to present at a conference, this week will be busier than most. So this week on the blog I'll be re-running some pieces from the last 12 months or so. Yes, I am being lazy. Cut me some slack. Anyway, if you are on Spring Break this week, I hope you have a great little vacation!

    This piece - 'I will get in there and mix it up', originally ran in October 2012.

    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    What?

    Another sports-themed post!

    That's three this week!

    Write what you know, or at least what you can reasonably pass off as knowing, some smart person once said, so yes I am wrapping up a tremendous week on the blog with a little Friday diversion, and once again it is taken from the world of sports. If you don't like it, ask for your money back :)

    This story is about sports, but it is also about chasing a goal, making a commitment, and not letting other people define you, and perhaps more importantly, what you are capable of achieving. And no, it is not about the 'jump from space' guy, that guy is just crazy.

    Submitted for your review, the story of 76-year-old Don Wiberg, and his attempt to land a coveted roster spot for the basketball team the Santa Cruz Warriors of NBA D-League, (the 'D' stands for 'Developmental', think of the league as a minor league feeder and place where raw talent can refine their skills to be better prepared for the NBA).

    Catch the video below, (Mr. Wiberg enters at about the :50 second mark, email and RSS subscribers click through), and see if you caught the most imporant line in the clip.

     

    So did you catch that? Here's the important part of Wiberg's assessment of his own skills:

    'I can't say that I can run or jump or shoot because I can't, but for a guy who can't run or jump or shoot, I'm a decent passer, and I'll get in there and mix it up.'

    Think of every job interview you've participated in, and whether as the interviewer or the interviewee, I would bet either way you'd be lucky to have such an honest presentation and assessment of a candidate's skills to be considered. It hits the 'What's your biggest weakness?' question, and simultaneously presents what the candidate will bring to the table.

    And in this case what Wiberg offers may be more important to long-term success than any job-specific skills you are looking for.

    Sure, in professional basketball there is only so much willingness to 'mix it up' that can compensate for a lack of basic, essential sports skills and physical requirements that a 76-year-old will just not be able to produce, but for the vast majority of the roles in our organizations those same physical skills are either not relevant, or can be learned.

    And for those, that willingness to 'mix it up', might be more important than all the other skills combined.

    I'm out - have a great weekend all!

    Thursday
    Apr042013

    Spring Break Rewind #4 - I'm not really properly motivated

    Note: It is Spring Break week here in Western New York, (for the school-age kids anyway), and while I will still be working and traveling to New York City to present at a conference, this week will be busier than most. So this week on the blog I'll be re-running some pieces from the last 12 months or so. Yes, I am being lazy. Cut me some slack. Anyway, if you are on Spring Break this week, I hope you have a great little vacation!

    This piece - 'I'm not really properly motivated', originally ran in August 2012.

    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Most readers who are parents would likely agree with me when I say that of all the challenges we face in various parts of our lives, that convincing a stubborn kid to do something, (or more likely, to continue to do something so as it becomes a habit), is probably right up these on the frustrating and maddening scale.

    When the kids are really young, say less than 5, logic and reasoning are (mostly) useless as negotiating tactics, and once they get a little bit older they develop a pesky ability to apply their own forms of logic and let's say unique world views to bat back most of your well-reasoned and completely reasonable demands. Never mind that as parents we almost always give up really fast trying to actually see the problem from the kid's perspective, after all, it is the one time in our lives when we have (pretty much) absolute power in the negotiation. And breaking out 'Because I said so' or 'Because I am the parent and you are the kid' might both be fully valid, accurate, and successful ways to put an end to any discussion around behavior modification, they also feel kind of hollow and depressing to have to rely upon, at least too frequently.  Dilbert.com

    Whether it's a reluctant kid who can't see the inherent wisdom in simply doing whatever it is you want him/her to do, or a pesky colleague, manager, or subordinate at work that for some reason is having trouble seeing the brilliance (or at least the logic) in whatever fool idea you are pushing, it seems to me it is getting more important all the time to appreciate the absolute value of being able to have your ideas, if not adopted wholly, at least understood and maybe, maybe even supported by collections of folks that have their own ideas about how things should go. Like the kid who does not seem enthused about mundane activities like 'room cleaning', the truth is most folks won't naturally or willingly see the value to them of listening to you, making the 'I'm the boss/parent/teacher/coach' your all-too-frequently uses fall back position, and discussion-ender.

    I know all contentious debates do need to come to an end for any progress to be made. The kid's room has to be cleaned, homework has to get done, the TPS reports have to go out, and on and on and on.

    But how the debate ends I think is important, and how the accumulation of these endings over time begin to impact the ability of any type of leader, be it a parent, manager, or coach, to get people around them working towards mutually beneficial ends matters.

    As a parent, if you keep pulling the 'Because I'm the Dad' line, it is probably a sign of some other kind of problem, perhaps a little bit of a lack of seeing their point of view. As my 11 year old explained to me recently, 'It's not that I don't want to, it's just that I'm not really properly motivated'.

    Sure, I could have trotted out the 'Tough luck kid, I am the Dad', (I actually think I did), but there certainly was the feeling that I should not have had to go there. That the kid should have intuitively understood the wisdom/logic/importance of whatever it was I wanted him to do. And the fact that he did not, well, that was completely and totally his problem or failing, not mine.

    That's how it works when you are the boss, right?

    Wednesday
    Apr032013

    Spring Break Rewind #3 - How many ways can an object be moved?

    Note: It is Spring Break week here in Western New York, (for the school-age kids anyway), and while I will still be working and traveling to New York City to present at a conference, this week will be busier than most. So this week on the blog I'll be re-running some pieces from the last 12 months or so. Yes, I am being lazy. Cut me some slack. Anyway, if you are on Spring Break this week, I hope you have a great little vacation!

    This piece - 'Fun with job requirements: How many ways can an object be moved?', originally ran in June 2012.

    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    I have a friend in a job search and last week he forwarded to me an online posting for a position he was considering applying to, and wanted some feedback from me about the job, the organization, and whether I felt it was a potential fit for him. I took a quick look and it mostly seemed pretty standard, a technical system admin-type job working on company systems, some different programming languages they were looking for, working on-site in the company offices, etc. Again, nothing really noteworthy or quite frankly interesting about the listing until I got to the end.But can you do this?

    This 'requirement' is taken word for word from the job description in the 'Physical requirements' section of the posting:

    "Primarily sedentary work with the need to exert up to 10 pounds of force occasionally to lift, carry, push, pull or otherwise move objects."

    For some reason, this requirement just about made me spit coffee all over the keyboard, if nothing else for its surface absurdity, but also the thought of someone sitting down, perhaps even having a conversation with a colleague or the hiring manager, when it came time to draft the language for this requirement.

    Perhaps it went something like this:

    HR/Recruiter -Ok, we have the skills, education, job duties down. How about any special physical requirements for the job?

    Hiring Manager -  Well, it is a computer admin job. Just normal work on a computer, you know, typing, working a mouse, that kind of thing.

    HR/Recruiter -Would the person have to lift or carry anything?

    Hiring Manager - Not really, I mean the occasional report or print out. Maybe a technical manual now and

    then.

    HR/Recruiter -Ok, so lifting and carrying are needed.

                             How about pushing or pulling? Any pushing or pulling involved?

    Hiring Manager - Uh, I don't know. Maybe. Sometimes we move the chairs and tables in the conference room around for meetings. 

    HR/Recruiter -Ok, I better add pushing and pulling too.

                              Anything else?

    Hiring Manager - I can't think of anything. I mean, how many different ways can an object be moved?

    Classic. Maybe I am being too hard on the HR person here, maybe the conversation went the other way around and the Hiring Manager insisted the nonsensical requirement made the copy. Either way, the idea at some point, a conversation like the above might have actually happened was enough for me to take notice. Good times.

    I'll sign off with this question - Lift, carry, push, pull - what other ways can an object be moved? 

    Have a great Tuesday!