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    Entries in career (127)

    Tuesday
    Feb022016

    We value hard work, but we reward natural talent

    Of all the phrases used to describe a candidate or an employee, 'He/she is a hard worker' is probably one of the most valued by employers, colleagues, and the people in general. We like people that work hard. We value the effort, the grind, the grit of folks who show up, dig in, plow through - day in and day out. Some even think that 'working hard' is actually a skill akin to other technical or practical kinds of aptitudes that are often harder to find.

    After all, 'hard work', even if it is a skill, is probably one that can be 'learned' by just about everyone. In many ways you just have to decide to work hard and there it is, you are a hard worker. Doesn't exactly work that way for other skills like coding, painting, or hitting 3-point baskets.

    But as much as we value hard work,  a skill that is readily observable, some recent research suggests that we value (and reward) something more intangible much, much more - the ore opaque notion of 'natural talent.'

    Researchers Chia-Jung Tsay and Mahzarin Banaji examined what has been called the 'naturalness bias', the tendency to choose and reward so-called 'naturally talented' people over the classic 'hard-worker' in a series of experiments that were recently described in FastCo Design. Here is an excerpt from the piece: 

    "We are likely influenced by concepts such as the Protestant work ethic, and the American dream, and ideals such as a truer meritocracy, opportunity, and social mobility that can be achieved with enough hard work and motivation," says management scholar Chia-Jung Tsay of University College London, via email. "We may subscribe to these ideas, but our preference for and fascination with naturalness still seem to emerge through our actual choices."

    Tsay’s research has documented this tendency—which Malcolm Gladwell coined as the "naturalness bias"—across creative fields. A few years back, Tsay and Harvard psychologist Mahzarin Banaji asked 103 professional musicians to rate two performers based on a written profile and clips of them playing Stravinsky's Trois Mouvements de Petrouchka. The two performers were actually the same person, with one profile tweaked to emphasize work ethic and the other made to highlight natural talent.

    In questionnaires, study participants claimed to value effort and practice over innate ability. But when it came time to rate the "two" performers, they gave the natural higher marks on talent, likelihood of future success, and value as a musical company hire, Tsay and Banaji reported in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. In a follow-up, the researchers found that seasoned experts favored naturals even more than novice musicians did—a finding with troubling workplace implications, given that veterans tend to make hiring decisions.

    Did you catch that? Two performers, who were actually the same performer, and the one that was pitched as having some higher level of natural talent was rated more positively and favorably than the performer who was portrayed as someone whose achievements were a product of hard work. Additionally, the more experienced and 'senior' the evaluator, the more likely they were to reward the 'natural talent' over the hard worker.

    Really interesting implications for this data, particularly in the world of talent evaluation and hiring. If the 'naturalness' bias does exist in organizations, then they could be overlooking or discounting individuals that are totally qualified and capable of performing at a high level, if their history of 'hard work' is somehow diminished in value in the eyes of the talent evaluators.

    More interesting still is that while this research appears to suggest the existence of a bias towards 'natural talent', it seems like 'hard work' is much more reliable in the long run. 

    Let's toss it back to my favorite metaphor for talent and workplace comparisons - basketball.

    'Natural talent' may account for a high degree of accuracy shooting 3-point baskets. But this 'skill' also can come and go in the course of a game, season, and career - sometimes inexplicably. 

    Playing tough, solid, and aggressive defense however, is usually chalked up at least primarily to 'hard work', which tends to be much more reliable, repeatable, and predictable. 

    It can be kind of hard to 'see' natural talent in all kinds of fields. Hard work is a little easier to spot.

    Thursday
    Jan142016

    Your annual reminder that LinkedIn is not where most people live and work

    Recently, LinkedIn released its list of The 25 Skills That Can Get You Hired in 2016, their assessment based on recruiter, jobseeker, and LinkedIn member activity and profile updates of the 'hottest' skills that their data suggest will be the ones that offer workers the best chance of getting hired or promoted in 2016. Here is the list of these 'hottest' skills as per our pals at LinkedIn:

    Pretty impressive set of skills indeed. From Data Mining to Cloud Computing to Mobile Development and User Experience Design - the list hits just about all of the current and certainly 'hot' trends in technology and business in the last few years. And as LinkedIn rightly state in their analysis of this data, these skills are likely to remain in demand for some time, at least a few years for sure.

    But as I wrote on this blog about 12 months ago when LinkedIn published their list of 'hot' skills for 2015, it is pretty easy to be beguiled by these kinds of lists, particularly when juxtaposing the LinkedIn set of hot skills with the Bureau of Labor Statistics data about what kinds of jobs people actually do, (at least in the USA).

    From our pals at the BLS, here is a chart from May 2014, (the latest period when this data is available), which shows occupations with the largest employment in the USA. Take a look at the data, then a few quick FREE comments from me after the chart.

    Did you catch some differences between what gets people hired, at least people who are on LinkedIn, and the kinds of jobs that are held by the largest numbers of people in the USA? These Top 10 occupations make up about 21% of overall US employment, in case you were wondering, down only 1% from last year in case you were wondering.

    Wonder how far down on the BLS list (and you can check the full list of occupations as defined by the BLS here), you have to go before you run in to 'Cloud and Distributed Computing' and 'Statistical Analysis and Data Mining', the top 'hot' skills for 2016 as per LinkedIn?  

    I will save you a click and let you know that all the occupations that the BLS rolls up into 'Computer and Mathematical Operations', (where most of LinkedIn's Top Hot skills would likely map), account for about 3.8M workers, that is just under 3% of all the jobs in the country, just about the same as it was last year. Sure, it is trendy to think that the LinkedIn skills represent the future of work, and perhaps they probably do, but they don't really represent the 'present' of work, not in a substantial way anyway.

    LinkedIn is a fantastic business, a staggering success, and not at all like the real world where the overwhelming majority of workers reside.

    Have a fantastic day. And don't spend so much time on LinkedIn.

    Monday
    Jan112016

    It's probably too late to panic

    Do you follow the financial markets at all? If you do, then you would know that at least in the USA the first week of 2016 set the mark for the worst first week of a New Year for market performance, with most major indices down anywhere from 5 - 10% from the 2015 year-end closing. The Dow Jones, NASDAQ, the S&P 500 - pretty much all showing steep drops in the frst week of the New Year - driven lower by some combination of declining economic conditions in China, a lower and lower crude oil price, and various and sundry manifestations of 'uncertainty', which no one can define exactly, but generally spooks folks who control lots of money.

    But as we all know financial markets rise and they fall - and they rise and fall again, forever and ever as they always have. The reason why I wanted to write about this today was an almost offhand comment I heard from one of the financial commentators on CNBC i think, (I can't remember the specific person, I was in a bit of a Nyquil haze this morning), who said this when asked by the show's host about whether or not investors should 'panic' due to these highly volatile market conditions. His reply:

    "It's probably too late to panic."

    And then he went on to talk about various scenarios and strategies that he felt like would be the most successful given the current conditions. The specifics of his financial/investing advice don't really matter, the key to why what this one gentlemen said and why it stuck out to me through the Nyquil hangover was just how much sense it made in its simplicity, and how applicable it is to just about every 'crisis' at work.

    Almost always when you have enough information in order to make the conscious decision to 'panic', it is probably too late for that 'panic' to do you or anyone else any good. It's kind of like throwing gasoline on the already burning fire, and doesn't help you even start to get to solutions or at least stabilization of the situation. The right time for 'panic' is probably just before things really spiral out of control, not after. Or as is the case of financial markets, perhaps the right time to get really worried and to take defensive actions is after a 5% drop, not after a 15% drop.

    Whether it is investing, dealing with a difficult colleague, or trying to rescue a deteriorating customer (or even personal) relationship, 'panic' is probably almost never a great idea simply because most of us are not at all good at reading the signals well enough to accurately time our panic. Better of taking a few deep breaths, think about what signs we missed on the way, and then set to being as calm and rational as possible to make things better.

    Does panicking sometimes feel good? Feel like the right and only thing to do? Sure.

    Does it ever really help? 

    Probably not. 

    Unless you win the $1.5B Powerball this week, then it is perfectly fine, acceptable, and expected to panic.

    Have a great week!

    Tuesday
    Dec222015

    Best of 2015: I don't want to work with companies, I want to work with people

    NOTE: As 2015 winds down, so will 'regular' posts on the blog. For the next two weeks, I will be posting what I thought were the most interesting pieces I published in 2015. These were not necessarily the most popular or most shared, just the ones I think were most representative of the year in HR, HR Tech, workplaces, and basketball. Hope you enjoy looking back on the year and as always, thanks for reading in 2015.

    Next up a piece from February, I don't want to work with companies, I want to work with people, a take on one of 2015's enduring themes - 'free agent nation/The Gig Economy' 

    I don't want to work with companies, I want to work with people

    The hard thing about blogging sometimes is that for various and practical reasons you often can't write about stuff that actually happens in your actual life, personal or professional. Sometimes you have to change names, change details of a story, obscure some elements that might not be terribly important to the overall point, but at least give you some plausible deniability, (and protection as well, for the most part, most bloggers are not independently wealthy, i.e. we still need to make a living).

    That disclaimer serves two purposes really; one, as an acknowledgement and reminder that there have been plenty of really interesting and potentially really very good posts that I and lots of other HR/workplace type bloggers have to quash in the interests of personal protection/employability. And two, as a preface to what I wanted to really write about, (getting to that next, I promise), which is based on some actual events with real people, but with the specific names left out and some details slightly changed. Ok, here we go...

    One of the interesting aspects of the transforming nature of work and workers from corporate lifers into more entrepreneurial, flexible, contingent, and more or less free agents (who may affiliate with a company for a time for mutual benefit), is that customer/partner loyalty is now much more often tied to people and not organizations. Said a little differently, buyers and potential business partners are more and more drawn to the actual people involved in the project or transaction, and not so much, (if at all), their current, (and likely temporary) corporate affiliation.

    The specific circumstances that caused me to think about happened last week, in two separate discussions I had with some HR industry folks. Both of these were concerning projects and initiatives where I had been working with, or at least working on collaborating with specific individuals that was interested in working with again. And in both cases, as these potential initiatives became socialized inside the corporate meeting rooms of the organizations where these folks are aligned, the geometry of the deals began to alter.

    Suddenly, more (or different) folks needed to be involved. Now more higher-ups from these organizations had to have their opinion heard, (even when I had not talked with any of them previously). There was at least some reluctance in one of the cases by management to 'allow' their person to work with me on the project, as they wanted to have their other, preferred person, (who I did not ask for), leading the effort.

    As more professionals see themselves as free agents, who affiliate with companies in more fluid, shorter, and transitory arrangements while simultaneously building their personal networks, professional portfolios, and reputations independent of any corporate overseer, these kinds of tensions will only increase. In the examples I cited above, I was led to and wanted to collaborate with specific individuals based on past experiences (prior to them arriving at their current roles), and personal conviction in these individual's ability and competence. Quite frankly, their current corporate affiliation does not really matter. At least to me.

    But it does matter, naturally, to the folks that are the executives at these places, whose job it is to build, protect, strengthen, and make more valuable their company brands. But this will be increasingly more challenging, in many relationship-driven kinds of businesses anyway, when the company brand is really only comprised of a loose affiliation of individual brands, who are going to move in and out of the company umbrella more or less on-demand, and who have many more outside connections and relationships than in the past.

    This 'free agent nation', this new world that is sometimes referred to as the 'Uber-ification' of work where most workers are essentially carving out their own personal careers, less dependent on organizational support (and protection) than before is one that puts not only these workers under more pressure than before, as they shoulder more personal risk than ever, but it also will stress their company brand owners as well. I don't think my perspective as a potential partner/customer is all that unique; I am interested in collaborating with the best people I can, and often, (and maybe soon always), I am not that interested in their 'official' titles or what their current company leadership believes how I should interact and engage with them. As sometimes I like to say, that is a 'you' problem, not a 'me' problem.

    I guess I will leave with this - the free agent nation has delivered exceeding benefits to company brands - less fixed costs, less regulations, more flexibility, and even more profits. But there are some risks too. Some of your free agents don't really need the company brand as much as the brand needs them. And some of your best customers and partners want to work with people, not with companies. And as the ties between people and companies continue to loosen, (almost always at the behest of companies by the way), the company's hold on talent and opportunity and profit will loosen as well.

    Have a great week!

    Thursday
    Dec102015

    More on the performance curve

    About a year ago I published a piece called 'The Performance Curve', a quick look at how in professional baseball decades of analysis of player performance reveal a very typical average performance curve. Player performance, (hits, home runs, wins for a pitcher, etc.), almost universally 'peaks' at about age 29 or 30, and almost always begins to decline, sometimes steeply, at about age 31. The chart I used in that post is below:

    The specifics of the Y-axis values don't really matter for the point I am after, (they represent standard deviations from 'peak' performance', but simply looking at the data we see for both the original study sample (veteran players with 10+ years of data), and 'less restricted' players, (more or less everyone else), that performance peaks in the late 20s and declines, predictably, from there. Keep this data in mind the next time your favorite team drops a 7-year, $125M contract on your best 31 year old slugger. 

    Last year my point in running the post was that these kinds of performance curves likely exist, and are becoming more discoverable, in all kinds of jobs due to the increase and improved capability of tools and technologies to better manage, track, and analyze performance. I still think those conclusions to be true a year later.

    But what got me thinking about that post from last year was yet another chart I saw this week, this one excerpted from the bank HSBC on the macro-impact of changing demographics, particularly in the workforce of industrialized countries. Take a look at the chart below, on the generalized productivity (as defined by output), across the typical worker's life-cycle:

    According to HSBC, and unlike the data we see with baseball players, 'performance', (again, in this case limited to a measurement of productivity), continues to climb during a worker's life, peaking at around age 50 or so. And worth noting, even though the productivity peak hits at about 50 and this average worker still has about 15-18 more years of work ahead, that the relative productivity in that last decade+ is still relatively high.

    Said a little differently, HSBC is saying that a workforce made up of 50 - 65 year-olds would be, on aggregate, more productive than one made up of 30 - 45 year-olds, all other things being equal. Obviously, this is data that should be taken in a very general sense, as we have seen from the baseball example, there are many roles whose physical requirements negate the increased productivity effects of age/experience have on other roles. So while a 55 year-old first baseman will never be able to compete physically with a 28 year-old one, change the role from 'first baseman' to 'accounting manager' and we may have a very, very different outcome.

    Last thing I want to leave you with on this, and the thing to take away and really think about is what is happening, (again, in a general way), in labor forces across the industrialized world, and what will continue into the next 10 years or so. Here is another chart that shows how the workplace and workers are skewing older, courtesy of Jed Kolko:

    The combination of more rapid population growth and increasing labor force participation among older workers are expected to result in about one-quarter of the workforce by 2024 being aged 55+. That is a huge increase from only 20 years prior, (1994), when the percentage of workers aged 55+ was only about 12%.  And workers 65+ are expected to make up almost 10% of the workforce by 2024, up from less than 3% just 20 years prior.

    There is plenty to think about here for sure, and as usual, no simple answers. The workforce is certainly skewing older, that seems to be indisputable. But what that means to organizational performance is not as clear, unless you are managing baseball players. For the rest of us, thinking about how these changes will or at least should impact how we hire, develop, coach, train, and mentor employees in the next 10 -15 years is probably one of the most important human capital challenges we will face. Think about it.

    Ok, that's it - I'm out. I need to get back to being super-productive (judging on where I sit on the curve).