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    Entries in career (96)


    Those work/life balance heroes who leave at 5:30? Ask them what they're doing at 9:30

    A recent piece in Business Insider provides a glimpse into the philosophy and priorities of General Motors CEO Mary Barra with respect to protecting and maintaining a semblance of work/life balance while juggling an incredibly high profile and busy job with the normal demands any of us with families also face.

    First, let's check the key 'I want to have a healthy and normal family life and I want everyone at GM to have that too' quote from the piece:

    In the role I have now — even for the last few jobs — I'll say, 'You know what, guys? This meeting needs to end on time because I'm going to my daughter's soccer game. So we're going to be done at 5:30 because I've got to go then,'" Barra explained. "It gives everybody permission" to acknowledge their other obligations.

    Sounds good, right? When the CEO can shut down a meeting at 5:30 to head to the park to watch soccer (and hand out orange slices at halftime), then the other folks at GM feel empowered to do similar. And you don't have to be the CEO or some other big shot executive to appreciate these kinds of challenges and tradeoffs. In fact, I'd argue when you're not the CEO the challenges are even tougher, as 'skipping' work time to take care of personal matters often requires you to ask permission or demand forgiveness. That aside, it is still kind of refreshing to hear the CEO of one of the world's largest corporations at least acknowledge there is life outside of work, and that life is important too.

    But let's unpack the rest of the story, about what happens after the soccer game and the family dinner and the making sure Jr's homework is done. Once again from the Business Insider piece:

    (At a conference in 2013) when she was senior vice president of global product development, Barra said that while she may make time to see her daughter's game, "that doesn't mean that after we go home, and after we've eaten dinner and the kids go to bed, I'm not going to take out the computer and catch up on what I missed."

    It's about finding a balance that actually improves the quality of work output rather than detracting from it.

    Simple, then really. Work/life balance for Barra (and by implication anyone else like her with a super-important job, or just everyone that wants to eventually get one of those super-important job), is to make sure you take just enough time for the 'life' part, (soccer game, dinner), before making sure you jump back into work, (emails from 9:00 - 11:00) every night.

    And it's not a 'balance' plan that is all that unusual or unique to Barra - read any of the pieces about execs who make sure they have adequate family time. Every one of them ends up in the same place, with the exec continuing to work into the night to 'make up for' the time they missed while watching Mary Jane kick the ball around. There's two things from these stories I think are important for us to remember, particularly those of us who aspire to C-suite type roles.

    1. 'Work' is the default setting for these execs. Watch the way they use phrases like 'catch up on what I missed' when they refer to getting back online after the kids go to bed. When they are not working, like at the soccer game, (assuming they are not stealthily reading emails on their iPhones), they see that time as 'missed' work. Work is the constant. Things that are not work have to be 'made up for' with more work.

    2. People like Barra work much, much longer than just about all of us. If you are punching out (figuratively or actually), at 5 or 6 each night and not worrying about the job until 9 the next morning, you are losing the game compared to the Exec or anyone else who decides to grind away from 9 'til midnight on a Tuesday. I think most of us simply fail to accept the fact that in most circumstances the level of effort and commitment needed to hit the C-suite is ridiculously high. 

    Work/life balance is a touchy subject since it is so personal. But there are a couple of universal truths that the Mary Barra story reveals. It is all about choices after all. But to think that you will be substantially rewarded for choosing 'life' over 'work' is probably the most important one.

    Have a great week!


    In Soviet Russia, (and America), Job Finds You

    For a 'don't believe anything you read on the internet' April Fool's Day, I submit for your consideration a really interesting, (and totally not made up), conclusion about how people in the United States find jobs courtesy of a recently published Economic Letter from our pals at the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco.

    Let's start with the researcher's money line first, then we will try and unpack it a little bit:

    More than three-quarters of workers who switched employers did not report active job search in the previous three months.

    Did you take a second to process that statistic? 

    Of all the 'new hires' that the researchers examined, 77.6% of them had not reported being in an active job search in the previous three months. And we are not talking about internal job transfer types of moves here, these are employer-to-employer job shifts. So the vast majority of job-to-job transitions do not follow the standard interpretation of a labor market that matches workers who are actively seeking out job openings with the positions that are posted by employers.

    So essentially, according to this research, over three-quarters of hiring is coming from direct recruiting/poaching, referrals, and informal networks.

    Probably not a great surprise/finding for experienced HR/Talent pros, but a good reminder for folks who are still out there beating down doors in an active job search. Here's a summary of the data from the research, then one last point before we sign off.

    The researcher's data shows that while 77.6% of hires are coming from employed folks who were not searching for a new job, that still only constitutes about 2% of all employed people. Translated - your recruiting/poaching/referral processes are still only nabbing less than 2% of folks out there, underscoring how hard it can be to identify, engage, convince, and finally hire people out of existing jobs into new ones at your company.

    Net-net: At least according to this research, most jobs find people, not the other way around.

    Have a great April Fool's!


    Candidate Advice You Should Not Share With Your Candidates

    Back in the 1970s and early 1980s after a spate of run-ins with the law and arrests and general bad behavior amongst members of his Oklahoma University football team, then-coach Barry Switzer was asked by a reporter what he planned to do about better controlling player's off-field conduct. Switzer, probably out of frustration, and the fact that that morning another player had been arrested for assault, is said to have replied "Frankly I am not sure what else I can do, short of putting up a sign in the locker room that says "Committing a felony is against team policy"."

    Switzer's point was that he should not have to remind the players of really obvious things - things every decent person just knows to be true, regardless of who they are or how experienced they might be. I thought of that old story when I saw another version of the endlessly repeated 'Advice to job candidates' tips pieces, that includes, among other nuggets, a recommendation to 'Be nice to the receptionist' when showing up for a job interview.

    That advice is terrible. Not because candidates shouldn't be nice to the receptionist, rather because no decent person, yet alone candidate, should have to be reminded to be nice to the receptionist, or anyone else. In fact, as an employer you would not want to artificially inject fake 'niceness' into a candidate who otherwise would not be nice. It would be better to catch them being an ass and reject them up front, rather than get duped by some fake interview day charm and learn only later how much of a jerk they really are.

    So with that said, here are my Top 3 pieces of candidate advice you should not share with candidates:

    1. Be nice to the receptionist/security guard/limo driver - sort of covered above, but worth repeating. No one, once they are older than about 9, should have to be reminded to be 'nice.' In fact, 'nice', needs to be the default setting. You should expect more than 'nice' from people that you really want to be around for more than 3 minutes at a time. Translated - I can accept 'nice' from the Starbucks barista, people I am going to work closely with for 40 hours a week had better be damn nice, if you get my meaning.

    2. Show up on time, be dressed appropriately, take a shower before the interview - Everything that falls into the category of 'Basic rules of conduct in a civilized society' should not be repeated under the mantle of candidate advice. The only exception possibly being when advising students preparing for their first experience in an interview setting, where some coaching on dress/conduct might be warranted. For everyone else though, if a candidate needs to be reminded to skip the flip-flops for the interview, then you should just let that candidate flip-flop on out of your office.

    3. Research the company/industry prior to the interview - 'Normal' people will read 27 reviews on Yelp before choosing a lunch restaurant and scour page after page of Amazon ratings while considering which pair of earbuds to buy. So we have to remind candidates to know something about the company they are about to interview with? If a candidate turned up for an interview less informed about your company than they were about the last season of The Walking Dead, then again, you want to catch that lack of intellectual curiosity and conscientiousness up front.

    I am sure if we really wanted to we could dredge up several more pieces of 'Candidate Advice' that are really just 'How to behave like a decent human being' tips, but you get the idea. Not taking a cell phone call in the middle of the interview probably deserves a mention too, but I think you get the idea.

    You don't want to coach your candidates to be decent human beings, you want your process to allow those 'not decent' folks to reveal themselves before you make the mistake of hiring them.

    Otherwise, you could find yourself tacking a 'Committing a felony is against company policy' sign on the break room wall.


    Poker, dating, and responding to email - it's all about the timing

    Good poker players will tell you, at least I am pretty sure they will tell you, that no matter if your cards are good, bad, or somewhere in between, that a smart player will respond and react to the betting action in a consistent manner. If you call or raise a bet too quickly or eagerly, that might be a 'tell' that you are holding some great cards and can't wait to get more money into the pot. Similarly, waiting and belaboring a decision to call a bet could signal a comparatively weak hand, and embolden your opponents.

    So the smart play is to find and maintain a consistent rhythm or cadence to your reactions and decisions, good cards or bad, and eliminate at least one source of intelligence for the other players. Don't get too twitchy, don;t wait too long to move, and you maintain some control of both your emotions as well as the table.

    I suppose the same argument could be made in dating where guys have, for pretty much forever, had to figure out how quickly to call after an initial meeting and exchange of phone numbers, or a positive first date. Call too soon then you come off too eager and possibly creepy. Wait too long to call back and you might send off a 'I'm not really interested' vibe that inadvertently could short-circuit the relationship from the beginning. So it's a tough call (no pun intended), figuring out the proper 'wait' interval for the call so that you don't screw it up or send the wrong message.

    This kind of 'How long do I wait to react?' dilemma pops up in all kinds of workplace situations as well - in when to speak up in meetings, following up after a job interview, and particularly one that stands out for me, the 'How long do I wait to respond to this email?' conundrum.

    Here's the scenario I want you to consider. You send an important'ish email to a colleague - maybe your boss or a sales or job prospect, not one of your direct reports, the idea being the person you emailed does not have any kind of 'expected response time' commitment to your emails. But you are eager for a response nonetheless. Then this person sits on your email for a bit. Maybe a day, maybe two, maybe even a week. Again, they don't really 'owe' you a reply in any specific timeframe, but they 'should' get back to you at some point. So a few days pass, let's say about six, then you finally get a reply back to the email that for which you've been eagerly waiting. 

    And now the moment of truth, like the poker player having to decide how long to wait before pushing in your chips, you have to determine when to reply to the reply, to the message that you waiting six long days to receive. If you immediately hit back, say within a half hour of getting the message you are sending out a couple of signals that you may not really want to send. First, you come off as a little bit desperate or at least over eager. You waited six days to get a response and you're firing back in almost real-time. You may just be excited, but you also could appear weak. And second, and maybe this is just a hangup I have, you set yourself up as someone who is constantly, perhaps obsessively, monitoring your Inbox. Most productivity folks recommend checking and responding to emails a couple, maybe three times a day. Getting an immediate reply back tells me you never stop looking at your email.

    So what is the 'right' or best way to mange this situation? 

    Unless the subject matter is really urgent, or has some kind of hard deadline associated with it, I think you have to wait at least half as long to reply back than it took for you to get your original reply. So in our example if it took six days to hear back from your emailer, then you should be able to hold out for a couple, even three days to respond back. Waiting, at least a little, sends a couple of more positive messages. It shows you have other things going on besides waiting for that email. It shows that you took some time to actually think about your reply. And finally, it sort of but not quite evens the power dynamic between you and your correspondent.

    So if you want to play the power game at the poker table of in your Inbox, take a little time before you re-raise and before you reply. You don't want to show what you're holding but acting too fast.

    And to everyone waiting for an email reply back from me, I promise they are coming soon...


    The half-life of technical knowledge

    That thing you just learned about or acquired mastery of - it could be a piece of electronics or a programming language or a new HR or Talent Management system, or anything really - about how long would you estimate is the useful life of that newly acquired knowledge or expertise?

    One estimate,published in 1997, from the mathematician and engineer Richard Hamming suggests the half-life of technical knowledge is about 15 years. Since Hamming's conclusion was reached more than 15 years ago, the theory itself, as well as our own practical experience with the modern world, seems to indicate the 15 year useful life of specific technical knowledge is probably even shorter. It could be 10 years, it could be even fewer. You still (mostly) remember things, but as time passes the value of what you remember continues to diminish.

    Think about the device that passed for what you called a smartphone in 2005. Remember how that thing worked? And even if you do, does that specific knowledge help you much today? Or how about the expertise you developed to help you navigate through that archaic HR and Payroll system your company used a decade ago. Any of that training and learning paying off these days?

    While it is no great bit of insight to conclude that technology is progressing more rapidly than even in the recent past, the question that results from that conclusion, just how can you attempt to stay relevant and knowledgeable in such a fast-moving environment is the important matter. How can or should you go about becoming more accustomed to learning all of the time, since as much as half of the knowledge we have already acquired becomes obsolete, in a kind of continuous cycle of degradation?

    Well, our pal Hamming had some really good ideas about that, and they have been synthesized and summarized in this excellent piece Ten Simple Rules for Lifelong Learning, According to Hamming, on the PLOS Computational Biology site. (Please don't ask me what I was doing on a Computational Biology site).

    You should really read the entire piece, it is not that long, you have time, but since I know you won't I will highlight the one 'rule' that stood out for me the most, especially since it sort of contradicts a currently popular idea that we should be open to and embrace failure.

    Take a look at an excerpt Rule 6, Learn From the Successes of Others:

    As Hamming says, because “there are so many ways of being wrong and so few of being right, studying successes is more efficient, and furthermore, when your turn comes you will know how to succeed rather than how to fail.” In addition, he notes that “vicarious learning from the experiences of others saves making errors yourself.

    The best part of that observation is just recognizing the almost infinite number of ways to fail and the extremely rare ways to succeed or to be 'right'. Maybe we have gotten too caught up in the 'embrace failure' cult since it is just easier to spot and experience failure in ourselves and in others than it is to attain success. Learning from success, even other's success, might get you where you want to be faster than always trying to extrude the value from your own failures.

    There are plenty of other great nuggets in the piece, (especially Rule 8. No Matter How Much Advice You Get and How Much Talent You Possess, It Is Still You Who Must Do the Learning and Put in the Time), so like I mentioned above if you are someone that needs to be concerned and able to keep current and proficient in today's complex world of technology the entire article is worth your time.

    Have a great weekend - try to learn something new!