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    Tuesday
    May122015

    A different view of 'Top' talent, namely that it is mostly a myth

    Caught this piece, The programming talent myth', over the weekend and if you are in the technology space at all (as a techie yourself, someone who has to attract and recruit tech talent, or simply just someone who is concerned/interested with the 'state' of technology today (particularly when it comes to issues of diversity and inclusion)), then you should carve out 15 or so minutes today or soon and give the piece a read.

    It is essentially a summary of a recent keynote speech at a developer's event called PyCon given by Jacob Kaplan-Moss, a well-known contributor to the programming language Django and the director of security at Heroku.

    In the speech Kaplan-Ross took square aim at the concept of 'Top' technical talent, (although I would argue his logic would apply to other disciplines as well), and how the dangerous myth of the 'Rock Star' programmer and the terrible programmer (with nothing really in between these extremes), is detrimental on all kinds of levels. It drives people out of technical careers and studies - if you are not a 'Rock Star' you might as well not even bother. It continues to foster and support less-than-healthy norms and lifestyles - 'Rock Star' programmers work 80+ hours a week and don't think of anything other than programming. And finally, it feeds in to what can easily develop into that 'Bro culture' that is common in many smaller startups and tech companies.

    Here is a little piece from the talk:

    Programmers like to think they work in a field that is logical and analytical, but the truth is that there is no way to even talk about programming ability in a systematic way. When humans don't have any data, they make up stories, but those stories are simplistic and stereotyped. So, we say that people "suck at programming" or that they "rock at programming", without leaving any room for those in between. Everyone is either an amazing programmer or "a worthless use of a seat".

    But that would mean that programming skill is somehow distributed on a U-shaped curve. Most people are at one end or the other, which doesn't make much sense. Presumably, people learn throughout their careers, so how would they go from absolutely terrible to wonderful without traversing the middle ground? Since there are only two narratives possible, that is why most people would place him in the "amazing programmer" bucket. He is associated with Django, which makes the crappy programmer label unlikely, so people naturally choose the other.

    But, if you could measure programming ability somehow, its curve would look like the normal distribution. Most people are average at most things.

    It makes sense if you think of programming as not some mystical endeavor that somehow one is innately born with the talent for or is not. If you see programming and other technical occupations as just ones consisting of a set of skills and capabilities that can be learned over time, (like just about every other skill), then the idea of programming talent and programmers existing on a more normal distribution curve seems the most likely outcome.

    One last quote from the piece:

    The tech industry is rife with sexism, racism, homophobia, and discrimination. It is a multi-faceted problem, and there isn't a single cause, but the talent myth is part of the problem. In our industry, we recast the talent myth as "the myth of the brilliant asshole", he said. This is the "10x programmer" who is so good at his job that people have to work with him even though his behavior is toxic. In reality, given the normal distribution, it's likely that these people aren't actually exceptional, but even if you grant that they are, how many developers does a 10x programmer have to drive away before it is a wash?

    How much does the 'Rock Star' mentality and assumption play in to toxic workplaces, less inclusive workforces, and unfulfilled 'Good, but not a Rock Star' people?

    It is a really interesting piece, and Kaplan-Ross' speech is also on YouTube here, and I recommend checking it out.

    Monday
    May112015

    Where in your job description does it say you're supposed to be happy?

    So I got caught up (again) in one of basic cable TV's ubiquitous Law & Order marathons over the weekend and (again) picked up a great little piece of workplace wisdom that I wanted to pass along. 

    In the episode, the actual details of which really don't make a difference, one of the Assistant District Attorneys laments to the District Attorney (the Boss), about how it was extremely difficult to prosecute a particular defendant, as that defendant was kind of sympathetic, had a tough life, and really didn't have a lot of good life options that culminated in his commission of some pretty serious crimes.

    After securing a 'guilty' verdict against the defendant, the ADA said something to the effect of 'Yes, I think the verdict was the right one, but I have to say that I am not that happy about it.'

    To which the DA, the Boss, replied, 'Get over it. Where in your job description does it say that you're supposed to be happy?' 

    That's a win right there. And a great reminder for anyone, not just folks like DA's or people in Health Care or in social work -but for anyone with any kind of a job, not just the ones where dealing with less than satisfying outcomes is a part of the job. 

    Whether your job is cooking burger, designing bridges, or creating advertising campaigns, (or anything else), there is almost no chance that being 'happy' is a part of your job description. Sure, most employers would like you to be happy in your job, and certainly most workers (and more importantly perhaps, most families and friends of workers), would like you to be happy with your job, but for the most part you actually being 'happy' is not something your boss or her boss or the company customer or shareholders are all that concerned with.

    Your happiness with your job, and probably with just about every other part of your life, is mostly only important to you. That doesn't mean it isn't important, I think it is, but the sooner you realize like the ADA in the TV show had to realize, that the machine isn't (primarily) concerned with your happiness the better.

    Wow, re-reading this and it seems like kind of a downer post. Fitting it is running on a Monday.

    Have a great week! 

    Be happy.....

    Friday
    May082015

    HRE Column: On the HR and Marketing Connection

    Here is my semi-frequent reminder and pointer for blog readers that I also write a monthly column at Human Resource Executive Online called Inside HR Tech that can be found here.

    I kind of liked this month's column, (I suppose I like all of them, after all I wrote them), but felt like sharing this one on the blog because it touches upon what has been in the past a pretty popular topic with readers here - the connections and synergies between HR and Marketing.

    Here is a piece from the HRE Column, HR and the Marketing Mind-set:

    There are four important stages that marketers should traverse when building relationships with customers and potential customers. I think these stages can also be highly relevant and applicable to HR leaders, and they can also be supported by HR technologies and thought of as one way to help guide and organize your thinking if your goal is to “think more like a marketer.” Here are the four stages and some ideas of how they might fit into an HR leader’s program:

    1. Collect and Analyze Data

    While marketing has embraced data, data analysis and using data to make investment decisions for quite some time, it is only more recently that HR leaders and organizations have joined their marketing colleagues in this mind-set. But, since HR has embraced data at least conceptually, it is probably time to think about data more strategically—much like marketers do.

    A big part of the Oracle marketing presentation was not just about how collecting data itself is the goal, but about what the data empowers you to do once it’s been collected. More specifically, the marketing technologies that enable increased understanding of customers and prospects for the purposes of targeted communication and messaging suggests HR leaders consider similar segmentation and targeting with their own outreach efforts.

    Unique and more specific messaging that “fits” your audience more specifically is much more likely to get noticed, read and acted upon. Think about how your next “All Employees” email blast can be segmented and made more individually meaningful for the people in your organization, based on some defining criteria or past behavior that makes sense....

    Read the rest over at HRE Online.

    Good stuff, right? Humor me...

    If you liked the piece you can sign up over at HRE to get the Inside HR Tech Column emailed to you each month. There is no cost to subscribe, in fact, I may even come over and wash your car or cut the grass for you if you do sign up for the monthly email.

    Have a great weekend and Happy Mother's Day to all the Moms out there!

    Thursday
    May072015

    Learn a new word Thursday: The BATNA

    I will admit when prowling around for ideas for the blog that I sometimes get lost in the weeds of Wikipedia. Sort of reminds me of how back in the day a 9-year old me would page through volumes of the Funk & Wagnalls Encyclopedia late at night when I should have been sleeping. Note to the kids out there, that is just one example of how miserable life was before the internet, and smart phones, and Snapchat. When I have some more time I will tell you about the 13-inch TV I had to watch in college. 

    But back to the point, (such as it is).

    While reading about a pretty interesting article on a Game Theory principle called the Nash Equilibrium, I came across a slightly less interesting but probably more relevant for the HR/Talent pros, an idea called the BATNA, or in the realm of negotiations, the 'Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement.

    From the 'Pedia:

    In negotiation theory, the Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement or BATNA is the course of action that will be taken by a party if the current negotiations fail and an agreement cannot be reached. BATNA is the key focus and the driving force behind a successful negotiator. A party should generally not accept a worse resolution than its BATNA. 

    The BATNA is often seen by negotiators not as a safety net, but rather as a point of leverage in negotiations.

    So the BATNA is kind of the fall back plan, the Plan 'B' so to speak if you are unable to reach a negotiated agreement - whether it is for the price of a new car, the starting compensation package for that new job, or if you are unable to convince your significant other that eating at Chili's does, in fact, constitute a 'night out.'

    But the idea that the BATNA isn't a safety net, or a 'bottom-line' is key to the entire concept.

    Usually, a bottom line signifies the worst possible outcome of a negotiation that you are still willing (or are forced to), accept. The bottom line is meant to act as the final barrier after which a negotiation will not proceed. It is a means to defend yourself against the pressure and temptation that sometimes exists to simply end a negotiation, even if the conclusion is self defeating. Although bottom lines definitely serve a purpose, they also inflexible, can eliminate more creative solutions, and decrease the likelihood of long-term satisfaction with the agreement.

    Let's go back to the salary negotiation example to see the difference between the BATNA and the 'bottom-line'.

    Candidate: I am looking to start at $125,000 with 5 weeks vacation.

    Employer: Our offer is a starting salary of $105, 000 plus 3 weeks vacation.

    Candidate BATNA - $115,000 with 4 weeks vacation

    Candidate 'Bottom Line' - probably something like $110,000 with the 3 weeks. 

    Notice the difference between the BATNA and the Bottom Line though. The BATNA gives up a little on the salary number, but represents a gain on the vacation number. It really is a 'Best Alternative' scenario for the candidate, and not just a surrender. The 'Bottom-line' however, is more or less a total loss from a negotiation standpoint. The candidate might be able to live with that outcome, (say if their current salary was $95,000), but if they accept the bottom-line deal they are going to be immediately dissatisfied with the outcome. But if they have the BATNA defined walking in to the negotiation, then settling on it will still represent a good outcome.

    It is a small, maybe even a subtle difference, but understanding the difference between the BATNA and the Bottom-line could be the key to drive better overall outcomes.

    So there it is, your new word of the day - BATNA - The Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement.

    Happy haggling.

    Wednesday
    May062015

    Your culture is defined by who you're willing to re-hire

    First the news on how owner and Class A jerk, James Dolan continues to destroy my single, favorite sports team, the New York Knicks.  From the Deadspin piece The Knicks and their Owner James Dolan, Are Shameless Garbage:

    Earlier today, James Dolan announced that Isiah Thomas, who once sexually harassed one of his co-workers while he was head coach of the Knicks, was going to be named president of the WNBA’s New York Liberty. To most people, putting a sexual harasser in charge of a women’s basketball team is a bad look, but the Knicks would like those people to know that they don’t care about bad looks.

    For those who might not be familiar with the entire back story, the facts of the case are these.

    1. Isiah Thomas was once the Head Coach and President of Basketball Operations for the New York Knicks from 2006 - 2008

    2. In October of 2007, a Federal Court in Manhattan, in response to a claim by a female former team executive, Anucha Browne Sanders, ruled that Thomas had sexually harassed Sanders, and that Madison Square Garden, the owner of the team, improperly fired her for complaining about the unwanted advances.

    3. Sanders was awarded $11.6 million in punitive damages from the Garden and James L. Dolan, the chairman of Cablevision, the parent company of the Garden and the Knicks. Of that figure, $6 million was awarded because of the hostile work environment Mr. Thomas was found to have created, and $5.6 million because Ms. Browne Sanders was fired for complaining about it.

    4. After finally being fired by the team in 2008, Thomas has drifted in and out of several basketball roles, serving as a college coach at Florida International for a bit, and recently as a TV commentator.

    5. And now, yesterday, the aforementioned James Dolan, who still presides over the Knicks and their Women's NBA team, the New York Liberty has not only re-hired the sexual harrasser Thomas, he has also placed him in a position of authority for the WNBA's Liberty. If you were a player or coach on the Liberty you can't be feeling really happy about reporting to a confirmed workplace sexual harasser like Thomas.

    I think if I had to pick one, singular data point from the sea of human capital data and information that is available to organizations today that reveals the most about an organization's culture and what it is they believe in (if anything), it would be which former employees that they are or are not willing to re-hire. 

    Initial hiring is kind of a crap shoot, even the best shops make 'bad' hires every so often. And really great organizations are sometimes guilty of waiting too long to pull the lever on a termination, even when it is justified or the person is just not working out. It happens.

    But the bad hire on a re-hire? That should NEVER happen. The people you are willing to re-hire and who you are done with forever tells anyone what kind of an organization that you want to be. You know exactly who these people are, what they can do, and whether or not you would be proud to have them represent your organization.

    The Knicks, it seems, want to be an organization that no one can take pride in.