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    More proof that lots of us are horrible people who haven't grown up

    The things we did at the age of 12 or 14 or even 18, while potentially cringe-worthy when thinking back on them, we like to think are safely left in the past and can be chalked up to and rationalized away by some combination of youth, peer pressure, insecurity, and simply not knowing better. We all did dumb or cruel or even borderline criminal things at some point. But most of us, we think, have left that nonsense behind as we've grown up, become educated, pursued our careers, and maybe even had kids of our own, (who surely, won't make the same mistakes we did).

    And I think that is mostly true. Even if you were a part of the 'cool kids' group in school and made fun of or hassled, or even just ignored the 'non-cool' kids, ('cool' and 'non-cool' being completely elusive and situational concepts, but I am sure you know which group you were a part of), you've moved on. Because the things or attributes that defined 'cool' and 'non-cool' when you were 15 are certainly not really relevant or meaningful in the adult world, and particularly in the workplace.  How someone dresses, their hobbies, even their physical attractiveness - all pretty important things in the social order in high school - don't really factor in to the day-to-day at work. Or at least they shouldn't.Ready-to-wear, Stuart Davis 1955

    But perhaps they still do, in more ways than we care to think about, and in ways we'd prefer to ignore. 

    Check the details from a recent study on the influence of attractiveness on what is termed as 'Counterproductive workplace behaviors' by professors at Michigan State and Notre Dame:

    People who are considered unattractive are more likely to be belittled and bullied in the workplace, according to a first-of-its-kind study led by a Michigan State University business scholar.

    “Frankly, it’s an ugly finding,” said Brent Scott, associate professor of management and lead investigator on the study. “Although we like to think we’re professional and mature in the workplace, it can be just like high school in many ways.

    ”While plenty of research has found that attractive students tend to be more popular in school, the study is the first to link attractiveness to cruelty in the workplace. The results appear in the research journal Human Performance.

    The study surveyed a group of workers at a health care facility about their experiences with counterproductive workplace behaviors like being made fun of, being treated cruelly, or having hurtful things said about them. Then a set of unrelated people evaluated the worker's 'attractiveness' on a sliding scale. Mashing up the data the researchers found that "the unattractive workers were treated much more harshly than attractive employees even when other key factors were taken into account, including age, gender and how long they had worked at the health care facility."

    Not all jobs are fun. Most jobs are not all that noble. Not many jobs pay as well as we'd like. That's life and that's work. And there isn't much we can to to make a cashier job at the Walmart all that more appealing.

    But every job, or rather every person that shows up to work, deserves an environment where they won't be subject to the kinds of cruel treatment that more and more we are not even tolerating from teenagers or kids.

    Take ten minutes this week at your shop - once you get past the transactions and documents and emails and all the stuff that seems to keep coming at you in relentless waves - and think about this one point - if people in your organization are being treated poorly at work simply because of the way they look, you can be sure it didn't suddenly start when they came to work for you.

    No, it is a pretty safe bet they have been picked on, pushed around, and belittled for a long, long time. Maybe even their entire lives. Maybe they thought, or hoped, that once they 'grew up' that the jerks would grow up too, or at least they wouldn't have to be forced to deal with them.

    Maybe they thought or hoped that 'going to work', while no picnic all the time, would at least be somewhere safe or maybe even pleasant.

    Is it 'your' job to protect or at least stand up for these people?

    Yes it is. It is all of our jobs. 


    The bumpy road from HR to the CEO chair

    If you are an HR leader that aspires to move up and potentially out of HR one day to sit in the CEO, COO, or some other 'C' chair that doesn't end with 'HRO', then you really should take a few minutes to read this piece on Bloomberg BusinessWeek titled - "Mary Barra, the Contender: GM's Next CEO May Not Be a 'Car Guy'", about current General Motors Chief Product Officer, (and potential future CEO), Mary Barra.

    Ms. Barra has come up through the ranks in a long (33 year) career at the auto manufacturer to hold an incredibly powerful and high-profile position - as the GM leader of the $15B vehicle development operations group, she sits in a position where the success or failure of the entire company rests pretty squarely on her and her team's ability to deliver. This is the kind of role that is the logical 'last step' before assuming the CEO chair, where if she were to make it there would be distinctive for a few reasons. One, Ms. Barra would be the first female CEO at any of the US-based auto makers, and two; she would be one of the highest profile CEOs that had a prior stop as the Head of HR along the way.

    That is fantastic, right? The former CHRO becoming the head of Product, then CEO? What could be a better path. Well, it may not be that simple.

    More on Ms. Barra's time in HR and what it may mean to her prospects as future GM CEO from the BW piece:

    Barra’s most high-profile moment came in 2009 after then-CEO Fritz Henderson put her in the HR role to help groom a new generation of leaders as the company worked to come out of bankruptcy. She allowed employees to wear jeans. “Our dress code policy is ‘dress appropriately,’ ” she announced in a memo. Barra had been attacking GM’s bureaucracy, slashing the number of required HR reports by 90 percent and shrinking the company’s employee policy manual by 80 percent. But loosening the dress code drew a flood of calls and e-mails from employees asking if they could, in fact, wear jeans. One manager was upset about the image this might send to company visitors. “So you’re telling me I can trust you to give you a company car and to have you responsible for tens of millions of dollars,” Barra responded, “but I can’t trust you to dress appropriately?”

    The anecdote reveals quite a lot I think about Ms. Barra and the lingering perceptions of HR as a corporate function. It seems like she was doing 'good' HR - slashing rules, working to empower employees and managers, and encouraging people to think and act independently. But even that kind of 'good' HR (along with all her other accomplishments as an engineer and product leader), might not be enough to elevate her over and past the typical 'car guy' model that GM and the like have always had for their highest execs.

    One more shot from BW:

    When (current CEO Daniel) Akerson appointed Barra senior vice president of global product development in 2011, though, she had just spent a year and a half as GM’s head of HR, which did not sit well with the car guys in the company and around Detroit.

    “She had a difficult time getting credibility because she was in HR before, even though she is an engineer,” says Rebecca Lindland, an industry consultant. “It’s sexism, and I think it’s the HR title.” Her vanilla style probably didn’t help, either. Bob Lutz, the swashbuckling former Marine pilot and legendary car executive, used to fly his own helicopter to work.

    The path to the CEO chair at a massive company like GM is a tricky one, but there are a few rules of thumb that are typically followed. The person would have deep industry experience. Would have a demonstrated career progression and documented success. They would have lots of contacts and allies. And they would have served in leadership roles in more that one discipline - some operations, some sales, some finance, maybe marketing - you get the idea.

    On the surface, it seems Ms. Barra possesses all these qualities, and indeed, one day she may well become the CEO of GM. But if she does not, I wonder if she and others will look back on the (fairly brief) stint as the Head of HR as a mistake. 

    I wonder if she will think that having to spend more than five minutes talking about the gosh darn DRESS CODE as something that tainted her just a little, and reinforced the traditional thinking of HR as the 'rules police' and any head of HR, no matter how enlightened and progressive, as not really a true business leader.

    It will be interesting to see how this plays out and whether a former 'HR lady' can become one of world's most powerful 'Car guys'.

    Have a great week!


    Off Topic: Infographic - Just shut off your stinkin' car already

    What a week.

    SHRM Annual for the first half of the week, then a really gripping and emotionally wringing NBA Finals Game 7 last night. I am pretty much done I think.

    But not so much that I can't spare 5 minutes to share the infographic below courtesy of iturnitoff.com about the costs, and really wastes, of excessive automobile idling.

    I can remember back in the day being told something about how starting a car uses as much gas as a couple of minutes of idling the car - a calculation certainly invented to justify a few Dads of those times wanting to keep the heat or air conditioner on while sitting in the car listening to the end of the ballgame on the radio.

    Check the below inforgraphic for the details of the costs of idling, then I have some comments after the jump:

    From iturnitoff.comThe one element of the infographic that really stood out to me, and the only reason I decided to post it today, is the call-out of the Drive Thru lane as a leading cause of engine idling, and the corresponding pollution, cost, and wastes associated with the practice.

    I hate the Drive Thru lane.

    You have to talk into a clown's mouth, there is almost no chance the person on the headset is paying any attention to you, and chances are pretty good your order will be messed up - but you won't be able to do anything about it because by the time you realize the error you'll be 5 miles down the road.

    I often stop at a local Bruegger's shop near where I live to get coffee and bagels in the morning. Invariably, there is a line of cars snaking around the shop, clogging up the Drive Thru lane. 

    I always park and actually enter the shop, where there is never more than one or two folks in line ahead of me, and since I know all the workers in the shop so well, (from actually going in the store and talking with them so frequently), my order is often already being assembled before I even have to ask for it.

    I am in and out of there in a couple of minutes and meanwhile the line of SUVs and Minivans has maybe, collectively, inched forward a car length or two. Look, I get why people like the Drive Thru. We sometimes have kids in the car, the weather is nasty, or parking is not convenient. But most of the time it is just an excuse to stay in our little cocoons by ourselves a little longer.

    And that is cool, that is a valid reason. I don't always feel like talking to the guys in Bruegger's either. But that decision, that choice to remain tuned out, well that comes with a price measured in wasted gas, wasted time, and wasted opportunity to get to know the folks that live and work in your neighborhood.

    Ok, that's it. Rant off. Time for more coffee.

    Have a great weekend!


    Your Top Ten Most Wanted Recruits

    Earlier this week the FBI announced the capture of one of the fugitives on its 'Top Ten Most Wanted' list, a man named Walter Williams, who had been sought for a number of accused crimes and interestingly had only been named as a 'Top Ten Most Wanted' person one day prior to his capture.  The surge in attention and interest in Williams' case once he was placed on the Top Ten list was considered the primary reason for his rapid arrest, but even at one day, he doesn't get the distinction as being the 'fastest to be apprehended after making the Top Ten' - back in 1969 a man was captured a mere two hours after being named to the list.

    Overall, including the now in custody Williams, a total of 500 people have been on this list over the years, with 94% of them eventually getting captured. And while not all of that success can be directly attributed to the attention and following upsurge in tips and calls from the public that generally stem from a case being featured on the list, it certainly has become an extremely effective tool and mechanism for the FBI to bring widespread attention and focus on individual fugitives, and does in most cases lead to their capture.Excellent.

    The Top Ten Most Wanted list is successful as a policing tool because it is well known, it rallies the public behind an important cause, there are often monetary rewards attached to successful apprehensions, and finally, and I think most importantly, it is extremely precise in what it asks. The FBI asks the public for help in finding specific, named individuals. They provide the most recent picture of the fugitive that they can. They publish the relevant details of the fugitive's back story to help paint a more full picture of what citizens should be on the watch for.

    Simply put, the FBI  asks for help in finding this very person - not someone like him or her, or someone that might have a similar background as someone else unrelated to the case but may be more familiar, or even to find someone who would have been likely to do the same kinds of things that the Top Ten fugitive is accused of doing.

    What's the point you might be wondering? (If you have hung on this far, and thank you if you have).

    It's that when most organizations go about hiring, and particularly when they try to engage their exisiting employees in the hiring process via referral programs, they are usually not at all precise about what they are looking for. They ask open and murky questions like, 'Do you know anyone who might be a good fit here?' or 'We need to add a few more engineers - here is the job description - do you know anyone who has that kind of background?'

    Only in pretty rare circumstances do we or can we engage the organization's current employees to help in finding and attracting specific individuals or can provide candidate profiles that are so precise that employees themselves can more easily identify potential candidates on their own. It would be pretty cool if instead of asking employees to do the kinds of mental and historical exercises that are required to actually succeed at providing hireable referrals, we instead could post a list of Top Ten 'most wanted' recruits like the FBI does.

    HR or Recruiting could then slap the list up on the break room wall next to the minimum wage laws poster with a big sign that reads 'Know any of these people? Help deliver one of them to XYZ Corp and a $10,000 reward is yours'.

    Could you even create that kind of list do you think? Or maybe you have it already - the Top 10 dream recruits you'd love to convince to come to your organization. And if you do have that kind of a list, is it tucked away in a file on your PC or in a folder of your ATS or is it plastered all over the company in hopes of enlisting your 'public's' help?

    Happy Thursday.


    Everything Zen #1 - The obstacle is the path

    Way back when I wrote about one of my favorite books that I've ever read called Zen Lessons: The Art of Leadership, a collection of Zen stories about leading people, organizations, and personal development. I've carried that little book around with me for ages, and even after all this time still occasionally leaf through the lessons and am usually surprised both by how simple and on-point most of the ancient lessons remain today.

    So on a sluggish Wednesday where I'm still shaking off the after-effects of the SHRM Annual Conference, I figured I needed a little inspiration to dive into the Inbox and voice mail, so of course I turned to a little Zen. And then I figured since I dig these Zen sayings and stories so much, (and I need some more 'theme' series around here for these kinds of days), let's call today's post the first in the Everything Zen series, a semi-occasional look at how these lessons can help us to get over on what seem like modern problems, but mostly are pretty much the same ones the ancients wrestled with themselves.

    So here goes, Zen Lesson #1 is simple - 'The obstacle is the path'.

    The obstacle isn't something standing in the way, it is the way itself.

    That's it. 

    I know, not very profound. But if you think about it a little, and open up to the concept that the barriers that exist between you and where you are going or what you are trying to accomplish aren't distinct from the task or journey itself, that they actually are the task and journey too, then it kind of frees you and empowers you to approach and attack them differently.

    They become less daunting, less intimidating, and maybe your attitude towards them can subtly shift from fighting with them, (and getting angry or frustrated or bitter), towards seeing and dealing with them as just another part of the path you're already on.

    I know, deep thoughts.

    So that's it from me today, time to face the unread messages in the Inbox, (takes a deep cleansing breath).

    The obstacle is the path...