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    The Answers are Different

    I have to spend the better part of this weekend preparing materials for the next session of my HR Technology course at Rochester Institute of Technology as part of the Master's program in Human Resource Development. Flickr - michael.heiss

    The course, one of very few in the country with a 100% focus on HR Technology, has been in existence for about three years, and each time I prepare and deliver the course I try to change and enhance the content, structure, and assignments to keep the course fresh and interesting, and to attempt to provide to the students an accurate and relevant overview of the current set of technologies and the latest thinking of how Human Resources professionals can better leverage technology in their organizations.

    Or I could roll out the same set of content as the last time and rely on the old Einstein line alluded to in the title of the post.  Short version - Professor Einstein gave the same exact final exam two terms in a row, a student asked him if that made sense, since savvy students would always connect with kids in the prior class to learn about the exam content.  Einstein responded with 'Yes the questions are the same, but now the answers are different.'

    Anyway, we cover the basics, Core HRMS, payroll, time and attendance stuff.  We then spend quite a bit of time on Talent Management tools, like performance management and succession planning.  Finally, we wrap the course with a look at new collaboration technologies and ways that technologies and social networks can be used to further organizational objectives. We do quite a bit of hands-on work and get to try and test several really cool technologies.

    And do you know what my past students have consistently wanted me to focus on in much greater detail?

    Helping them with their personal LinkedIn profiles.

    The second we start discussing LinkedIn in an organizational context, its power as a corporate recruiting tool, and the importance of groups, answers etc. in employer branding efforts, at least two thirds of the class will ask for advice and guidance on completing, (and in some cases creating), their personal LinkedIn profiles.  Many of the students are in an active job search, or will soon be in search mode once they complete the program, so this kind of personal and practical knowledge is way more important to them than me waxing philosphic on the benefits of SaaS deployment of HR Technology.

    So when that happens, I will carve out some time to spend on LinkedIn profiles, as well as some other places where students can consider for building up an online identity and reputation that can benefit them in their job searches.  I am certainly not an expert on this, but I give it a shot.

    The whole 'LinkedIn' discussion though takes me to a more interesting question though:

    As the instructor should I be talking about and stressing what is 'important' or what the students really need to know?

    Postscript - Since I know I will have to have the 'How to make a better LinkedIn profile' discussion again soon, if you have some tips or links to good resources, tutorials, etc. please let me know in the comments.






    The Logo

    The National Basketball Association's (NBA), league championship series commences tonight, with the Los Angeles Lakers facing the Boston Celtics.  It should be an epic series, matching the league's historically most successful franchises.

    The picture on the right is the official NBA logo, an iconic image that has represented the league since 1969. Even casual fans probably recognize the logo, but many don't realize that the silhouette in the image is actually based on a real player, the legendary Jerry West, one of the best players to ever wear an NBA uniform.

    In addition to West's original nickname, 'Mr. Clutch', given for his uncanny capability to perform at a high level in the most important games, he is perhaps more widely known, at least to the generation of fans that never actually saw him play live, as 'The Logo'.

    The image of West, purposefully advancing the ball was meant to represent the real essence of the NBA game, fast paced, athletic, and highly skilled.  In the 1990's the league got away from this essence and style of play when the pace of the game slowed remarkably, the emphasis was placed on punishing and physical defense, and scoring and excitement waned. 

    Fans and observers generally hated this slow, plodding, and overly physical style, as it ran contradictory to what the NBA always stood for and the dynamic and exciting type of play that is suggested by 'The Logo'.

    Over time the league began to realize that changes needed to be made to try and inject more open and exciting play back into the game, to play to the long term strengths of the league and the brand, and frankly to try and bring the game back, at least philosophically to its position when the logo was created. The just-concluded NBA Western Conference Finals between the Lakers and the Phoenix Suns was evidence of this shift in approach, the games were high scoring, energetic, and not marred by excessive physical play that can detract from the flow of the game.

    The larger issue in all of this is I think, how did the league, and organizations in general, allow themselves to stray so far from their essence, those defining characteristics that they were founded upon, that distinguish them from their competition, and define the types of talent that will be attracted to their ranks? How did the NBA let the game deteriorate so far that the lingering memories of that era are 72-63 playoff games and bench clearing fights?

    If the organization believes in something - a philosophy, a strategy, or a  set of values strongly enough to imbue them in your organizations' logo, then it is probably a good idea to take a look back at that logo from time to time, especially when things seem to be straying.  Are the decisions we are making, the behaviors that we are rewarding, and the messages we are sending to employees, customers, and the community consistent with 'The Logo'?

    Jerry West confidently gliding up the court to hit a winning shot is a much more telling image than Jeff Van Gundy clinging to the leg of an enraged Alonzo Mourning.

    Oh and by the way - my pick for the Finals is the Lakers winning in seven games.





    Strange Creatures with Amusing Names

    In the 1930s a British tobacco company, the W.D. and H.O. Willis Company issues a series of illustrated animal cards, that comprised a kind of matching game.  Each card contained a portion of an illustration of an animal, a rhino, leopard, or platypus, etc.  The cards could be 'matched' to assemble the correct entire animal, or, more interestingly, be combined to discover new creations like in the image at right.

    From the official instructions on the cards:

    The complete series comprises 16 animals, each in three sections, and by mixing the sections you can produce a large number of strange creatures with amusing names.

    It is natural when playing this kind of game to want to build the 'correct' creature, to align the front, middle, and back of the armadillo or the alligator - to get the 'right' answer. 

    But it is much more interesting to mix up the cards to build something new and unique and totally original. And likely much more exciting and scary than the 'right' animal. 

    I think that analogy carries over to what can happen in the organization as well.  We create, as a matter of tradition and I suppose necessity, roles and job descriptions like 'programmer', 'analyst', 'recruiter', that are the functional equivalent of the 'right' animal in the card game.  But the problem is that most people, likely the most talented and interesting people, don't really fit those roles and descriptions, at least not totally.  Like in the card game, they are maybe one third a 'programmer' and one third an artist, and maybe one third a community leader. Or a combination of accountant, bowler, and glee club singer.  

    While I don't think organizations can or should attempt to create that try to formalize these odd combinations of traits or characteristics, at least perhaps some more awareness of and recognition of the diversity, complexity, and 'interestingness' of the people that comprise the organization's talent pool would be beneficial.

    What could some of the benefits be?  Perhaps to better tap internal talent for new ideas and innovations, to gain increased knowledge of some of the drivers effecting workplace health and wellness, to find or discover ideas and opportunities for enhanced community outreach and volunteerism, and even possibly to unearth new marketing and business development opportunities in underserved market segments. Heck, maybe just to make the office a little more 'fun'.

    The truth is all organizations are made up of 'strange creatures with amusing names', and mostly we try to fit them into classifications and roles that are better described as 'mundane creatures with common names'.

    What seems more interesting to you?


    You can 'play' the animal matching game online - here.





    Sex, Religion, and a Colossally Bad Hiring Process

    Let's say you have an important, executive level role to fill in your organization.  It is the kind of job that does not come open all that often in your organization, or even among your competitors.  Legendary Marquette coach Al McGuire

    It is a really attractive position - internally and externally prestigious, well-compensated, remarkably stable and secure, and offers the right candidate room and opportunity to materially influence outcomes at the organization and quite possibly in the industry at large.

    The type of position that you have to hire for very carefully, since it is in the kind of field that while there may not be hundreds of qualified candidates, there will be quite a few, and all of them will bring long histories of achievement and success with them, and many if not most will also possess reams of background material for potential review.

    You quickly realize the the complexity, importance, and visibility of this hire requires you to take some 'extra' precautions - you engage an external search firm to assist in the identification and screening of potential candidates, you enlist a large internal hiring committee to gather input and advice from a wide set of perspectives,  and at one point, after the search was about one year underway, essentially scrap everything and started all over, having determined that the 'perfect' candidate had not been identified.

    So finally after about a two-year vetting process, you finally find the 'right' candidate.  A candidate that brings the background, experience, and (hopefully) the right blend of 'soft' skills, you know that intangible but essential blend of attitude, initiative, and collaborative spirit that would make him or her absolutely the best possible choice. The candidate passes the external screening process, gains the support and recommendation of the internal hiring committee, and ultimately is blessed by the highest leaders of the organization and receives and accepts an employment offer.

    What could possibly go wrong at this point, with all the time, effort, smart people involved in the process, and 'public' nature of the position and search?

    Exhibit A - Marquette University (a Catholic, Jesuit university 'dedicated to serving God by serving our students and contributing to the advancement of knowledge' (from www.marquette.edu), and the search for a new Dean for the College of Arts and Sciences.

    In this search, only after the offer was issued did things get interesting.

    Here is the quick recap from what I could piece togther:

    1. Marquette spends two years searching, screening, vetting, interviewing, and finally finding the 'right' candidate for the Dean position.  A long time for sure, but not completely out of the realm of possibility for these kinds of searches. 

    2. The candidate, and now the prospective new Dean, is Seattle University Professor of Sociology Jodi O'Brien, a scholar whose research focuses on gender and sexuality issues. 

    3. After some external pressure and influence (allegedly) - Marquette rescinds the job offer citing the sudden discovery of some candidate writings the are 'inconsistent' with the Marquette culture. So sudden in the fact that the expensive, two-year long search process either did not uncover the writings, or even more troubling that they were not actually considered prior to the offer being given.  

    We are not talking about random Tweets or blog posts here, but published scholarship that is incredibly easy to find and in fact, are documented on Professor O'Brien's resume. Some Marquette students express their outrage.

    4. Marquette now has entered what appear to be settlement talks with Professor O'Brien in hopes that the negotiations will (according to O'Brien), "take into account not only the harm done to me personally and professionally, but also acknowledges this situation as a learning opportunity for the Marquette community". 

    And the cynic in me thinks the 'learning opportunity' may involve cutting a nice-sized 'we really messed this thing up, please now go away' check.

    Forget if you can the sex and religion angle to this, and think about the more universal lesson from the Marquette debacle.  If you need two years, have to spend buckets of cash, and engage dozens of internal and external experts and you still can't figure out the candidate does not match your culture, then you either don't have any idea what you culture is (or want it to be), or you do know what it is and you just don't care. 

    But being unable to accurately screen and hire for cultural fit will come back to get you, maybe not in as public and embarrassing a way as in the Marquette example, but perhaps at least in an embarrassing 70s leisure suit kind of way.






    Weekly Wrap Up - May 24-30, 2010

    Another week another collection of posts!  Please contain your enthusiasm :). 

    I thought I would start posting each Sunday the summary of the week's posts in Tabbloid format. As you might recall from an earlier post, Tabbloid is a free service that lets you create a custom PDF format 'newspaper' from your selected blogs and other sites RSS feeds, and have that newspaper delivered via email on whatever schedule you choose.

    Here is this week's collection of posts, in handy PDF format - Steve's Blog : May 24-30, 2010.

    I hope making content accessible in this way is a help to someone out there, I will continue to post these collections on Sundays for the time being.  I hope that if you find them useful, or actually download the PDF and give/send it to someone that otherwise would have never seen these posts, you would take a second and let me know in the comments. 

    This is one way to try to break out of the echo chamber, but it is certainly not the only way, and if you have other and better thoughts on how to do this, I would love to hear them.

    Some other highlights from all the great posts and articles I read this week that I recommend:

    Handmade Hoops put the Clang into New York Courts - From the New York Times - a look at the blacksmiths that still hand craft the famous and unforgiving New York City playground basketball hoops. Nothing like an unforgiving solid steel rim to make you take it to the rack.

    Use What You Have to Get What You Need - From Jason Seiden - a great piece about taking smaller and more direct steps to better take control of outcomes .

    Handy New Gmail Labs Feature Shifts Attachment Icons to the Left - From Web Worker Daily.  A simple and effective way to put Gmail attachment icons in a more prominent and convenient position on the left hand side of the display.

    Culture is Hard to Define - Do it Anyway - From Jason Lauritsen - just because something like culture, leadership, or attitude are 'hard' to define, doesn't mean we can simply shrug our shoulders and give up.

    What's the Deal With Not Following People Back On Twitter - from Clue Wagon - Kerry asks and the commenters discuss some of the reasons why like minded people seem to think the 'return follow' is a big deal.

    Have a great Memorial Day weekend, give thanks to the men and women of the military who made the ultimate sacrifice.