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    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.





    Open Door Policy?

    Come by any time, you know I have an 'Open Door' policy.

    I mean, unless I am in one of my 8 standing weekly meetings, or 10-12 ad-hoc meetings that pop up every week.

    Or if I am on the phone.  

    Or if I am intently responding to one of the 79 e-mails in my inbox marked 'Urgent'.  

    Aside - if you send e-mails and mark them as 'urgent' and the subject matter does not involve  bodily injury, hospitalization, or natural disaster, then you are half a jerk.

    Or if I am setting the roster for my fantasy sports team.

    Or if I am actively monitoring our employer brand on the Social Networks playing Mafia Wars.

    Come to think of it, I am not sure I really have an 'Open Door' policy after all.  

    In fact, I had better close the door and enact a new policy :

    Sign outside Frank Sinatra's residence circa 1965

    If that is the 'true' policy, better to be upfront about it, don't you think?





    The Vernon Farm Calculator

    For the last few years there has been much said and written about the importance of accurate, timely, and relevant workforce data to support and guide managerial decision making and to ensure that human capital strategy is aligned with and can enable the execution of business strategy.

    It is an easy argument to make, but certainly a much more difficult promise to deliver. In large organizations workforce data tends to be scattered across a wide set of disparate systems, from ERP, to ATS, to possibly Talent Management tools. Not to mention the scores of offline spreadsheets and databases maintained by HR and and line managers.  How many mid-size to large organizations out there are still calculating and processing employee annual salary updates on a slew of manually distributed Excel spreadsheets?  Go ahead and admit it, you are certainly not alone.

    And even if the organization does have the technical capacity to collect and begin to analyze this information, it can be a challenge to present, communicate, and deliver the data in a meaningful way to the people that the information benefits the most - the line managers, supervisors, and front-line in the trenches folks.  Their need to make better informed decisions about how to leverage existing capability and how they may need to develop new capability to deliver customer service, create opportunities, engage employees is essential, and all the best data collection and and analysis tools will fail if the delivery mechanism does not resonate with these key users.

    The image at right is something called The Vernon Farm Calculator.  It was manufactured in the 1940s as a tool to provide farmer's with ready access to important information about crop sizes, unit of measurement conversions, yield calculations, and a host of other important data points that the average out in the trenches farmer would need to analyze, assess, and then execute his or her strategies to arrive at the best possible outcome.  Sounds a bit like what today's managers need to do as well, just substitute mares, bushels of corn, and the combine's last service date with employees with a certain skill, production schedules, and historical sales data.

    I think as designers and implementers of information systems we can learn a few things about the delivery of essential intelligence to our users from the design of the Vernon Farm Calculator.


    The calculator is designed to be a portable, carry along with you or toss it on the front seat of the truck kind of tool. When the farmer is out at the barn or in the fields and needed to do a quick calculation about pigs, or wheat or whatever, he or she did not need to stop what they were doing, drive back to 'Farm HQ' or even worse, put in a request to the Farm's HR or IT department to run a report.  And as an added bonus, the calculator was made of tin, not cardboard, which ensured it would stand up to the rigors of the farm environment, and not need to be 'upgraded' or 'maintained' all that often.


    The calculator did not just serve one purpose, it informed the farmer across a wide range of important data types that all taken together were going to be critical to the overall success of his enterprise.  He or she did not need to carry around one 'tool' for assessing crop amounts and another tool to calculate the expected marketplace value of the new set of pigs.  The folks at Vernon had to have consulted with real farmers and gotten to know the wide range of information that they would need to make the calculator a useful and practical resource.


    The Vernon Farm Calculator came with a one-page user guide.  Sure, the print was kind of small, but all the essential information for the average farmer to be able to get information and insight to help run the farm was on one page.  And better still, important operational instructions for some of the more complex features of the tool were printed directly on the face of the tool itself.  So in many instances there was no need to refer back to the one-page guide.  I think that this kind of simplicity in operation, the ability to distill the important features and instructions to their base level, and the capacity to put the most needed 'help' information in plain sight are all lessons in design that can be taken from the farm calculator.


    The farm calculator was only about one thing, providing the farmer with easy access to information that would help him or her have a better chance at succeeding in their business.  That's it.  There is no extraneous functionality, no clutter, nothing that detracts from the design and the ultimate delivery.   I think we can also take a lesson here, it the information or the hot new feature that we think, as designers or implementers think is wonderful, if it truly does not directly assist the managers in making decisions needed to execute their business, then it surely is superfluous.

    That's it - the end of a too long post about a 1948 Farmer's tool.  Those farmer's were on to something for sure.





    Note - The Vernon Farm Calculator is an example of what is called a Volvelle.  Volvelles have been around for hundreds of years, you can learn a bit more about them here.


    The best side of who we are

    Tomorrow on the HR Happy Hour show we will welcome Kaya Oakes, the author of Slanted and Enchanted: The Evolution of Indie Culture, and a writing instructor at the University of California, Berkley to the big show.

    Kaya also writes a cool blog at her site - Oakestown.

    The show can be heard live from the HR Happy Hour show page, or via the call in line at 646-378-1086.

    I picked up 'Slanted and Enchanted' a few months ago and once I had finished the book, I knew I wanted to try and book Kaya on the show. I wrote a blog post referring

    When I told Kaya a little bit about the HR Happy Hour and asked her to appear on the show, she graciously accepted but had to wonder, I think, why a show that (allegedly) focuses on Human Resources and Talent Management would want to talk about indie culture.

    A good question, but after thinking about the topic some more, I thought there were some really interesting and relevant parallels from the development and evolution of indie, and what is happening in the workplace and especially in the changes in traditional views of work and employment.

    Networking - The pioneering indie artists relied on their strong personal networks of peers, fans, and friends in adjacent fields for support, promotion, and even basic survival at times. Indie and punk bands relied on each other to such an extent, and there was a strong culture of reciprocity that developed. 

    What is every recent graduate, job seeker, or for that matter experienced professional told these days? Networking, giving to your community of peers, and promoting the good work done by others are all seen as absolutely essential for long-term career and professional stability and success.

    Entrepreneurship - A frequent theme of the book, and perhaps the single most important driver of indie culture is the belief that art that is created independently, for its own sake, and representing the personality of the artist alone while having little to no regard for its commercial viability possesses a purity and value that elevates it from mass produced and mass consumed junk.  Kaya observes that 'art that evolves outside corporate America can and does make a difference in the way people think.'

    Who hasn't been touched in a personal way by the deterioration of the American economy in the last two years? The traditional bonds between corporations and employees have probably never been weaker.  In an economic climate that smacks of 'it's every man/woman for themselves', the idea of collecting your ideas, talents, and personal drive and trying to package, promote, and sell them to the marketplace has become so much more resonant and important.  So maybe you are not out there 'selling' two-minute songs and T-shirts, but the mindset and drive needed to make it as a professional entrepreneur are not at all unlike what is needed to pack up the van with instruments and amps and hit the road.

    Creativity - The indie artists, mostly by virtue of the lack of restrictions and influence of outside interests like big record companies or major publishing houses, were free to unleash their creativity and passion as they saw fit.  Exploration into new sounds, sources, and inspirations were all common, they did not ever feel compelled to follow the rules and stay within the lines. It values the contribution and creativity of each individual.

    This week the results of an IBM study were released that indicated the most important leadership quality for success in business is creativity. More important than integrity or global perspectives, creativity is seen by CEO's themselves as essential for their own, and their organization's success. How does the organization find more creative people, and encourage the development of more creativity from it's existing ranks?  Could it be that a better understanding of indie and the people that are motivated to create would be high on any executive or HR leader's list?

    I hope I have made the case for the link of indie to HR and the workplace.  I hope you can join us on the show tomorrow night at 8PM EDT.


    Note - The title of this post comes from the below video, where Dale Dougherty of Make Magazine describes the Maker Faire festival, and talks about this culture of creativity as demonstrating 'The best side of who we are'.