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    The Commodification of the Self

    I did not invent the phrase in the title of this post, it comes from a piece by Shalom Auslander called 'Meet the Happy New Me, Same as the Crappy Old Me', in the March 2010 issue of GQ magazine, (only available online to subscribers).Flickr - David Clow

    The article alternates between funny, insightful, depressing, and funny (again) as it depicts the author's own 'personal branding' journey from, in his words, 'miserable and pissed off' to 'shiny and happy'.

    After a series of assignments undertaken as part of an online 'Personal Branding' class, ('Develop a personal catchphrase' and 'Create a logo for yourself'), Auslander asks the question, 'Why didn't anyone seem to think that the commodification of the self was a problem?'

    I think it is a valid question.

    Has the ridiculously crappy economy and the widespread and persistent unemployment rate conspired to make us all little mini-moguls? Are we all getting overly obsessed with staying on message, carefully constructing our own tiny ad campaigns, looking for just the right post to Retweet, LinkedIn group to join, and event to attend (or vicariously attend). Are we trying too consciously to craft little marketing plans?

    Think about all the things we always said we hated, incessant commercials on tv and radio, rampant product placement in mainstream entertainment (quick, what is the 'official' beverage of American Idol? I am sure you know), internet pop-up ads, and maybe most importantly people that simply have to be the center of attention all the damn time.  At least in more traditonal entertainment and communication channels it is (mostly) easy to tell when you are being sold to.

    When Simon takes a swig of his Coke, we know what is going on.

    And I don't think I am confusing personal branding, which is more or less annoying, with individual entrepreneurship and initiative, which is inspiring.  They are not the same thing, but I can't help but get the feeling that in this age of openness, status updates ('Starbucks Quad Shot FTW!!!!'), and thousands if not millions of people having mostly the same idea, reading the same books, blogs, and advice that the good work (or lack thereof) is getting mixed up with the message.

    Some of the people reading this post are really active on social networks like Twitter and Facebook.  I wonder if you thought about the list of the 50 or 100 or so people you interact with the most and relflect on how much do you know about the actual work they do, compared to what you know or perceive about their 'brand'?

    I am guilty of all of this too.  It seems many people are to some extent and that is what makes the whole branding/packaging/selling of the self so frustrating. When every network for communication and transmission of information becomes a sales channel for companies and individuals at the same time, I suppose it is only to be expected that everyone is selling.  But selling Coke or iPods isn't the same as selling a person.  Product brands usually stand for just one thing, but people, at least the most interesting ones you know, are deep, multi-layered, and complicated. 

    Maybe we need a TiVo equivalent for all these networks as well, so that we could fast forward though all the commercials and focus on the content.

    And maybe I need some more coffee.



    Stars and Rockstars

    The other day on the Brains on Fire blog in a piece titled, 'Leave your ego at your feet', I read this:

    “We should lose the term “rock star” from our vocabulary.”...  if you create rock stars, you create an ego driven company (look at us, look at us), instead of a one that is driven by heart and soul. A company that promotes rock stars runs the risk of getting focused on themselves instead of their customers.

    The main point of the piece was that organizations and the 'stars' inside of them can get way too arrogant sometimes, can take on too much of air of 'we are the experts, we know everything'.

    And if that happens if becomes really easy to get lazy or complacent or out of touch to some extent.

    Customers, employees, partners, and the community at large all have incredible amounts of knowledge, insight, and value to add and that often can get obscured by the 'rockstar' glow.flickr - Kevin Cole

    There are 'rockstars' in every organization, surely. These people are of course necessary and indispensable, (and unless you are really fortunate, will certainly leave)  but at times the organization can come to over rely on them, and face a significant problem when (and it is when) these stars take their game elsewhere.

    Yes, the organization needs stars.  To use a (tired) sports analogy, it is generally understood that in the NBA a team can't win a championship without two bona fide All-Stars.

    But the teams that actually do win also have several complimentary or role players on the roster that perform those essential tasks that may not be glamorous, may not lead them to huge contracts, and may not make them household names, but are absolutely necessary to have a winning team.

    So yes, your company needs a few 'rockstars', but you likely also need support, input, and solid day-to-day contribution from regular 'stars' and likely even some role players for long-term success.

    Professional sports like the NBA are about winning right now, so giving the ball to your star player at the end of every close game really is the only strategy that makes sense. But when that player decides to leave for the big money or bright lights somewhere else (please LeBron come to New York), the team can easily be left lacking, without having invested energy or commitment to building the next star player.

    Think about it this way, if your very best employee walked out tomorrow would you be prepared to give the ball to someone else at the end of a close game?


    HRevolution 2010

    The American Revolution lasted for 8 years with Colonial soldiers enduring atrocious conditions and hardships.

    The French Revolution lasted 10 solid years and helped popularize the guillotine.

    Luckily for you, the HRevolution 2010 will not be (nearly) as long and as dangerous.

    The only things in peril are tired ideas, same-old same-old concepts, and the notion that you are just one little cog in the machine and can't make a big impact in your job, your organization, and your profession.

    So here is the real scoop:

    The HRevolution2010 unconference is coming to Chicago on May 7th-8th!

    Cutting edge HR social media thought leaders and practitioners from around the country will be converging for 24 hours+ of mind-bending, trend-setting discussions, yet space is limited to only 110 people, so... SIGN UP NOW!

    3 reasons why this year's even will rock:


    First and foremost, it's the people. And the crew coming together for this year's unconference is fantastic. With about twice the capacity of last year's event, HRevolution 2010 will blend old faces with new in an intimate setting where networking and relationship building can happen the way it was meant to.


    We've locked up a phenomenal and highly professional space for the event that could not be more perfect for an unconference. HRevolution will take place at Catalyst Ranch, which is one of Chicago's premier event locations and—bonus!—is centrally located with easy access to hotels, restaurants, and night life.

    Catalyst Ranch is known for bringing a level of fun and sophistication to events that is unparalleled—no other space provider so naturally blended expertise on white boards, afternoon snack service, stereo systems, and the amount of Play-Doh they recommend for 110 people into a single conversation. Rest assured, HRevolution is happening in Chicago for a reason, and we want you to leave the event loving Chicago hospitality.


    The beauty of the unconference format is that it is designed to leave you with practical, useful knowledge. When you get back to work on Monday, and when someone asks you, "What did you get for the money," the answer that flows oh-so-naturally from your lips will blow them away. And you, too, maybe.
    So if you're in HR, if you're dabbling with this social media stuff and thinking "Should I or shouldn't I... How do I...," then get here on May 7th-8th. You will meet the people and learn the stuff and be in the place that will help you put it all together.

    Things you need to know:

    The event registration page is here - HRevolution registration.

    More information about the event can be found here - Official HRevolution2010 Site.

    Storm the Bastille of 'old' HR and join us in Chicago this May!



    Culture Can't be Wrong

    On the way to trulondon last week I read Chuck Klosterman's excellent book titled 'IV: A Decade of Curious People and Dangerous Ideas'

    One of the articles 'Cultural Betrayal', contained the observation 'Culture can't be wrong'. The main point of the piece is the idea that if 25 Million people watch 'American Idol' each week, and you can't see the point and despise the show, that the 25 Million people are not 'wrong'. You may not share their tastes or affinity for pop singing, or karaoke-bar style performances, but in a way you are the one that is 'wrong'.

    What does all this have to do with technology, workforce, or anything remotely near what we typically cover on this site?

    Not much probably, but let me take a crack at what I see as the connection, a take on technology and perhaps even social media elitism. At times in the new media echo chamber there is a kind of self and mutual reverential society happening.  Like we are all in some cool, elite clique and boy the folks that have not jumped on board, or don't 'get it' are somehow not in our cool kids group.

    So here is my take:

    You are not 'better' or smarter than your buddy who has never heard of Twitter while you are sitting feeling cool about hitting the 1,000, 2,000 or whatever follower mark that is currently consuming your thoughts.

    You are not of more value to society simply because you refuse to play 'Farmville' on Facebook. Something like 60 million people play Farmville.  Some of those people are your friends, co-workers, nurses, firefighters, teachers, and coaches.  60 million people!

    How many of your suppliers, customers, and shareholders are in that group? How many of the people that can directly and impactfully influence your organization's success are in a group that participates in a game that you may have shown public disdain for?

    Failing to understand that group shows a marked lack of awareness and appreciation for what is actually happening in the world. Ignoring that group will result in missed opportunity.  Insulting that group (and you know some of you do) could be a disastrous error.

    Stop acting like a smart-aleck social media smartypants.  Don't be an elitist. Don't be that person.  Don't.

    Culture can't be wrong.


    The Talent War Room

    One of the highlights from Day 1 of The Conference Board's Talent Managment Strategies Conference was a session lead by Ed Colbert, Global Director of Organizational Effectiveness for Dow Corning Corporation.

    Ed framed the entire session by sharing a story about how shortly after he was given his role as the Director of Organizational Effectiveness, with responsibility for Talent Acquisition, Learning and Development, Succession Planning, and Workforce Planning, he read an article about how the Director of Player Personnel for a major league baseball team went about his talent management duties.

    The Pro Personnel Director's office had one wall covered with pictures of all his team's current starting players, with additional sections describing each players strengths and weaknesses, and some statistics indicating trends in the player's most recent performance. An adjacent area on the wall contained the same information for all the team's substitute players on the current active roster.

    The next wall of the office contained pictures and player profiles of the organization's top prospects in the various affiliated minor league teams. These pictures and profiles were organized by role (pitchers, catchers, etc), readiness (players closest to be ready to contribute to the major league club higher on the wall), and color coded by overall 'potential' rating.

    Finally the back wall of the office had pictures and profile information of players on other teams (both major league and their affiliated minor league teams) that this Director of Player Personnel was monitoring or tracking for as potential acquisitions for his team in the future. These players represented or had demonstrated both potential targets for filling current needs on his team's active roster, as well as more long-term prospects that seemed to match the team's philosophy or style of play.

    As Ed from Corning read the article he came to the conclusion that this Director of Player Personnel had the very same job as he did. The goal of both roles was 'To put the best team on the playing field today, and ensure continued success in the future'.

    Assessing the current players was performance management, identifying the strengths and weaknesses of the players was talent profiling and development, examining the capability in the minor league teams was succession planning, and evaluating the external markets for players was talent acquisition and workforce planning.

    In fact, Dow Corning has taken the sports metaphor so far as to title the internal communications leader their 'Sports Information Director' and some of their corporate recruiters as 'Talent Scouts'. The Talent Scouts are not just handed open Job Reqs to fill, but rather they are assigned an organization, department, or capability (similar to how the Director of Player Personnel manages the team's talent), and asked to understand the strengths and weaknesses of the current people on their 'team', assess the likely pools of internal successors, and understand and engage the external community of potential talent to further develop Dow Corning's capability to put the best team on the field. It is sort of a 'mini' Player Personnel role, a more active and proactive approach, rather than simply reacting in classic 'search' mode when a position comes open and needs to be filled.

    Finally, Ed made the point that while managing the player personnel for a 25-person baseball team is quite a bit more manageable than what most organizations have to grapple with, that the fundamental concepts are really the same. Keeping the process simple, even to the point of using the walls of an office, or even a 'Talent War Room', to keep abreast of the organization's key talent, and most critical roles are keys to a successful talent management strategy and the execution of that strategy.

    I knew all that time I spend watching, thinking, and talking about sports would pay off.