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    Entries in career (69)


    Even 'great' places to work never forget who is in charge, (Hint: It's not you)

    By now you've probably heard something about the several year Department of Justice investigation, corresponding civil class action lawsuit, and various reporting surrounding an almost decade-long series of unfair and anti-competitive labor practices alleged to have occurred among Apple, Google, Intel, Adobe, Intuit, and Pixar.

    To make a (very) long story short, the DOJ, and the claimants, (a group of people that worked for these companies from around 2005 - 2010), hold that these tech industry titans, with their C-level executives full backing, support, and as many, many emails reveal, the knowledge that what they were doing was likely illegal, colluded via a series of 'non-call' agreements to artificially reduce many currently employed staff the ability to seek opportunities at the other firms in the cartel.

    The bare bones of the cartel's structure was pretty simple - Company 'A', say Google, agreed not to cold-call employees from Company 'B', say Apple. Apple, supported from the late Steve Jobs on down, agreed to similar recruiting restrictions in kind. So for many employees at either of the two firms, their ability to fully and freely 'test the market' was constrained by one. If these 'non-call' agreements remained as limited in scope as in the example above, it might not have blown up in the fashion, (DoJ involvement), that is has. But these tech leaders didn't stop at these one-off kinds of reciprocal agreements that we all know are more common than we like to admit.

    No, as the original reporting (and legal documents back up) revealed, what seems to have started with Google getting on Steve Jobs' bad side, then extended to involve a series of other, mostly Silicon Valley tech companies, and as a weekend piece on Pando Daily reports, extended even wider than that - allegedly including companies and employees from dozens of companies all over the world.

    From the Pando Daily piece:

    Confidential internal Google and Apple memos, buried within piles of court dockets and reviewed by PandoDaily, clearly show that what began as a secret cartel agreement between Apple’s Steve Jobs and Google’s Eric Schmidt to illegally fix the labor market for hi-tech workers, expanded within a few years to include companies ranging from Dell, IBM, eBay and Microsoft, to Comcast, Clear Channel, Dreamworks, and London-based public relations behemoth WPP. All told, the combined workforces of the companies involved totals well over a million employees.

    Although the Department ultimately decided to focus its attention on just Adobe, Apple, Google, Intel, Intuit, Lucasfilm and Pixar, the emails and memos clearly name dozens more companies which, at least as far as Google and Apple executives were concerned, formed part of their wage-fixing cartel.

    A closer examination of the paper trail that set up and helped to define and enforce these agreements paints an incredibly unflattering picture of the actions and motivations of the executives involved, particularly revered business leaders and tech rock stars such as Jobs, Google's Eric Schmidt, and the then CEO of Ebay, Meg Whitman. A look at the documents reveals company recruiters being fired on the spot for violating these (likely illegal) deals.

    Back when these probably illegal 'non-call' agreements started, Google was on a expansion tear - snapping up talent from wherever it could, driving salary requirements up across the valley in the process. The other companies, naturally, did not like this, and rather than try to compete with Google on a level playing field, at least in the case of Apple, took to issuing threats of 'war', if the talent poaching continued. Google, probably sensing that the compensation acceleration that they themselves were driving must have figured it made more sense to try and play nice in the Valley, appease some of the other powerful industry companies, and maybe use that artificial constraint to keep some more of their own employees from jumping ship to a competitor for more money.

    You really should take the time to read the Pando Daily reporting on this case here and here, it helps to paint a different picture of what we normally get from those typical darlings of modern, progressive talent management.

    Even these companies, many of them regular winners of various 'Great Places to Work' lists never forget that at some point if employee compensation, (and relative power), shifts too far towards the side of the talent and away from management that they have a problem. Remember that when you read another fawning piece about how miraculous their talent management seem to be.

    They might have been, and still might be, 'Great Places to Work' but they didn't get that way by playing nice all the time. And at least some of the time, it seems, they got that way by illegally colluding to reduce the market for the very talent that makes them such a great place to work.

    Final thought, it might be easy to laugh this off as a first-world problem. Highly paid workers at these kinds of firms are doing just fine, so what that there were a few 'non-call' agreements going on. They are all making six-figure salaries so what is the harm?

    I will give you two reasons:

    1. For many tech workers, their careers are turning out to be not that much different that pro athletes - the length of time when their skills are in demand (and their compensation can be the highest), can be extremely short. Just do a search for 'technology ageism' some time. Tech workers have to maximize earnings over a shorter time horizon than the rest of us. Keeping wages artificially lower for them hurts just as much as the rookie scale hurts talented pro football players.

    2. If relatively well off, educated, talented, smart, and powerful employees like the ones at the firms that were in this cartel can be taken advantage of and have their wages depressed in this manner, then what does that say for the millions of workers that are not so powerful and advantaged? With union membership and influence at an all-time low, one of the few things that can at least try to protect workers is the free market for their services. If high-tech companies like Apple and Google can change that dynamic at the high-end, what would stop a few firms where you live getting together to do the same on the middle and low end for jobs in retail, service, or in back offices? That does not sound any crazier an idea to me than Steve Jobs and Eric Schmidt emailing each other angry messages about cold-calling.

    I'm going to stop here, (bless you if you have made it this far), and just say that no matter what accolades that any company receives, we'd all be wise to remember that their are always two kinds of people - people that work in the factory, and people that own the factory.

    Have a great week!


    The new rites of passage

    Dads and sons have always had some kind of rite of passage, when the son proved that he was ready to be more of an equal, more of a grown-up. The old rites of passage for little boys used to be mostly physical, i.e. the son would finally defeat the Dad in one-on-one basketball or in an arm wrestling contest. Now it seems more and more that these rites of passage, or at least these more casual acknowledgements of a son or daughter moving up closer towards adulthood involve technology. Now these rites are likely to have as much to do with a parent, (like me, for example), breaking down and having to ask my son to explain how to adjust and align the apps on my new iPhone.

    And it doesn't stop with the iPhone - I have asked my middle schooler to help me with sound editing the podcast and music files on the HR Happy Hour Show, to use photoshop to fix some images I needed for a presentation, and even as my 'one-kid-focus-group' in my totally unscientific attempts to think about where technology might be heading and what kinds of tools and interfaces the next generation of workers might prefer. These, at least to me, are pretty serious, and kind of important things.

    But when I look back, just one generation, I can't imagine a time when my dad would have asked a 13-year-old me to explain anything important or help him with anything that really mattered in his professional life. 

    I helped by cutting the grass, shoveling snow, and performing various and sundry menial labor kinds of tasks that certainly helped my Dad out, but were not really meaningful or important in the larger sense. Sure, you can go on about teaching kids the value of hard work, of the value of dignity in that kind of work, and I get that. But it's just that I for one never have looked longingly back at my childhood and thought, 'Man it was great training for life, all that grass cutting and weed pulling I did back then.'

    I thought about this last week when the area where I live was hit with about one foot of wind-driven snow.

    Snow drifts the next morning were up to 3 or 4 feet in places, (including much of my driveway), and I had to spend a few hours digging out. My son was out of town on a school trip (Convenient!), so was not available to enlist in forced labor be taught the lessons and values of hard work.

    The entire time I was working on clearing the driveway I noticed exactly zero other kids out and about in what is normally a busy neighborhood. No kids shoveling their own driveways or walks, no kids or teenagers working the neighborhood with their shovels trying to earn a few dollars by helping residents dig out, no kids even outside playing in the fresh foot of snow.

    Back in the day an enterprising kid or teenager could have and would have tried to earn $50 or even $100 if he/she busted it all day with a shovel. But those days are long gone, I think.

    Today I bet all the enterprising kids and teens decided to stay inside on that snowy day - making their videos, learning to code, building apps, working on the next generation of amazing stuff that we will have to ask their help with in learning how to use one day.

    Have a great week!


    It's pretty easy to be a bad interviewer

    I've never been a recruiter and have not spent a significant amount of time doing candidate interviews over the years. I have, however, done about 175 HR Happy Hour Shows/Podcasts that are (mostly) centered around asking questions of guests and trying to evoke interesting answers. So I like to think, like most people do probably, that I somehow 'know' how to interview well, and that in fact, interviewing isn't really all that hard.

    And even if I didn't think that somehow I'd cracked the interviewing secrets, a simple Google search on 'Interview tips for the interviewer' reveals about 1.7 million results - surely with all that content available it should not be all that tough to become at least competent, if not proficient, at conducting interviews. Then fold in the usual familiarity with either the subject matter, (in the case of interviewing someone for a position in your organization), or the subject him or herself, (as in the case that I want to mention, talking to one of your family members).

    Here is the scene, (edited slightly for clarity and due to my failing memory), starring Me as 'Me', and my 13 year-old as 'P'.

    Me: So, P, do you have any concerns about your class trip to Washington D.C. that is coming up?

    P: No.

    Me: (after a pause). See, I made a mistake in the way that I asked you about the trip. I asked you a 'close ended' question. Do you know what a close ended question is?

    P: No.

    Me: I did it again. A close ended question is one that can be correctly answered with either a 'Yes' or a 'No'. What I should have done is asked the question differently, with an 'open ended' question. With an 'open ended' question, you can't just answer Yes or No. You have to give a little more information and hopefully share more of what you are thinking. Do you see what I mean?

    P: Yes.

    Me: Ok, let's try again. 'What concerns you about your upcoming class trip to Washington D.C.?'

    P: Nothing


    There you have it. Even though I think I am pretty clever, even though a big part of what I do involves talking to people and getting them to share information, even though there exists almost unlimited resources from which to learn, and finally, even though I was familiar with the subject matter, (the class trip), and extremely familiar with the subject, (my 13 year-old), I still failed as an interviewer.

    He still was able to tell me just about nothing, I failed at coaxing him to elucidate, and I don't really know anything more than if we never had the conversation.

    What is the point of telling the story?

    I think it is this - that we probably don't spend enough time thinking about getting better at interviewing because we think that one; it is easy, and two; we are already as proficient as we need to be.

    It is kind of like driving. Everyone thinks they are a good driver, yet the roads are full of lunatics.

    Ask around your HR shop sometime, I bet everyone thinks they are good at conducting interviews. That can't possibly be true, right?

    Ack - that was another close ended question!

    Happy Thursday!


    You will be corrected (if you're wrong)

    The alternate title to this post is, 'It's just about impossible to BS your way to the top, or even into the bottom any more.'

    If you haven't checked it out yet, I would recommend the latest Malcolm Gladwell book titled David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants, a fascinating look at how we think about (apparent) disadvantages and obstacles in business and in life, and how, often, these kinds of challenges prove not to be disadvantages after all.

    One of the 'underdog' examples in the Gladwell book is from about 20 years ago and tells the story of a guy who during a shared cab ride from Wall St. out to LaGuardia Airport in New York, talked his way into an interview (and was a few days later, hired), to be an options trader at at a big financial services firm. The catch was that in fact this guy had zero job experience, no industy connections or references, and did not have the kind of educational background that would have gotten him past the first few knock-out questions that the bank would have had in place (had there been such a thing at that time). But he was able, in that one hour in the cab, to pitch and present himself as a sharp, experienced person that was worth pursuing.

    Long story short, he went on to be really successful in that job trading options, (he essentially taught himself, was smart, and a bulldog that out worked everyone), and has gone on in his career to become a rich and powerful executive at one of the big Wall St. powerhouse firms. Great story of someone who was able to overcome some disadvantages, turn at least a couple of them into assets, and succeed where it might have seemed that a middling and non-descript career was probably his most likely outcome.

    Great story for sure, but what I almost immediately thought about after reading it was how there is probably no possibility of it happening today.

    The 2014 equivalent of the 'Guy conning a busy manager in off the cuff conversation to give him an interview for a position he has no education/experience to qualify for' might be something like a guy hitting up a hiring manager with a well-crafted and interesting LinkedIn connection request, (because LinkedIn is now so big and out of control they have a couple of shared connections), but that shows a profile with thin, and not relevant job experience, an educational story that doesn't 'fit' the candidate profile, and no meaningful recommendations or endorsements. If the hiring manager even noticed the request, and this is a bigger if, forwarded the profile over to anyone in HR or Recruiting to review, there would be little to no chance of the guy getting a second look, much less a call in for an interview or a job offer.

    And I totally get why that makes sense, it is hard enough for many jobs to find people that are qualified or nearly qualified so they can hit the ground running (as your hiring manager demands), and there are a raft of other kinds of jobs where you are turning away really good candidates, so in either case chasing after any kind of 'No way he is a fit, but what the heck, he's got charisma, let's call him in for an interview anyway' type of candidate is kind of a long shot no one has time for.

    I'm not saying if this is bad or good, really, it's just how it works today. Today, the guy in Gladwell's book almost certainly would not get hired at most established firms. You would check his story first, and you'd find it lacking. LinkedIn is the new scoresheet.

    He'd have to find another way in to the industry (or start something on his own).

    Thanks to the social net (and more advanced technology), we can now know just about everything about anyone who wants a shot at working for us.

    I wonder if that has made hiring easier or harder.

    Have a great week! 


    Choosing your benchmarks wisely and the legacy of David Stern

    Real quick 8 Man Rotation style take for a travel Tuesday. Aside, I am heading out to Oracle HCM World in my favorite city in the world Las Vegas, if you happen to be out there be sure to say 'Hi'. 

    Over the weekend I had a brief Tweet exchange with the HR Capitalist, Kris Dunn, and another Fistful of Talent colleague the very underrated R.J. Morris about the legacy of the very recently retired after a 30 year run Commissioner of the NBA David Stern. One of the tweets is embedded below to give a little bit of context, and also because I find embedding tweets to be kind of fun, (I know, i need to get out more).



    The gist of the conversation regarding Stern was this: By most measures of internal comparison, i.e. taking where the NBA was in terms of hard metrics like revenue, franchise values, player salaries, international growth, etc., Stern presided over a long and sustained period if incredible growth for the league. By every internal standard, the NBA is in a far, far better and more financially successful place today than it was when Stern became commissioner. 

    But Stern has his critics too, and rather than dig into all the specific and sometimes subtle elements of his stewardship of the NBA, let's focus on just one. Namely, that while Stern did, by most accounts, a superb job of growing the NBA, it is still far, far less popular and financially and culturally massive (at least in the USA) as the National Football League. The NFL is the proverbial 300lb gorilla of modern American sports. It has widespread appeal, its game telecasts rank among the most popular TV programs week in and week out, the the culmination of the season, the Super Bowl game, has become such an important and ubiquitous event that there are fairly serious proposals that the Monday following the game be designated as a national holiday.

    The NFL is #1, by every measure that matters, and when holding up the NBA to that mirror, well then the Association falls short, a distant second really, (and possibly even third behind Major League Baseball), and consequently then Commissioner Stern must be judged as not having really been such a transcendent sports business leader.

    But I think that comparison is a little unfair, and perhaps even a little premature, (even as Stern retires). I think if we let the evolution of both American professional sports, and societal and global trends play out a little longer, I think this kind of comparison, or benchmark of basketball to American football will end up looking quite a bit different, and Stern, long gone from the scene, will have to be credited for at least some of these developments.

    To me, the NBA is like Apple Computers, in the latter part of the 90s. The NFL, the behemoth, is Microsoft of that same time.

    Back then, Microsoft was the undisputed leader in personal and corporate computing technology, was led by a legendary and visionary Bill Gates, and simply dwarfed everyone else in its space with its vise-like grip over almost every interaction you had with a computer. Apple was still interesting, quirky, made a different kind of computer that had its adherents, but never was seen as a serious threat to the MSFT ecosystem.

    And then something called the iPod came out and things started to change. You know the story and I don't need to go into all the Apple innovations and the subsequent (or concurrent) missteps from Redmond, but suffice to say the technology world in 2014 does not look anything like it did in 1998 or so.

    So back to my NBA and NFL take, and the need to give Stern some room before we all start deciding about his legacy.

    I submit that about 15 years from now the NBA will be almost, if not more popular (in America and globally), than the NFL for the following reasons:

    1. Basketball, and by extenstion the NBA, is largely an urban or city game. The game is mostly played and celebrated, in America's big cities - New York, Chicago, Boston, L.A.. And America (and the rest of the world) is becoming a more urban place as well. As more people migrate to the larger cities, the city game, basketball, will continue to thrive, often at the expense of football, a game that requires expansive grounds on which to play, lots of expensive equipment, and the type of space not easily found in a big city.

    2. Basketball is a global game, played all over the world, while American football is played (seriously) pretty much only in America. As the world shrinks, cultural and sporting phenomena like the NFL, that have only single-country relevance, will eventually become somewhat marginalized over time. While the NFL dominates the American sporting landscape, it hardly registers anywhere else in the world. The NBA, with its global reach, and high number of non-American players is far ahead of the NFL in this regard. Just witness the growing popularity of English Soccer here in the US as a small example of this trend.

    3. The talent supply chain is constricting for the NFL. Due to its violent nature, more and more parents are electing to keep their kids out of full-contact football. Every football player gets injured at some point in a season, and as the NFL has learned, many of these injuries can have incredibly serious and devastating repercussions. The recent concussion-related lawsuits, settlements, and high-profile former players revealing their stories of traumatic brain injury are beginning to cast a longer and longer shadow over not just the NFL, but the beginnings or feeder systems for their talent. This will play out over time, surely, but even today if you were the parent of a very talented and gifted athlete, would you steer him toward a violent sport like football where he is likely to have at least a few concussions over time, or a sport like basketball where the injury risks are much less?

    4. At the top, I said this was going to be a 'quick take', turns out I was wrong. Sorry about that.

    5. The NBA understands social media and new media in general. This is certainly subjective, but if you look at how the league and its teams have embraced digital and social over the last few years, you see an organization that is more forward-thinking than most others. This is a by-product of the NBA's long time strategy that elevates and promotes its star players and personalities. Think about it, only the most ardent NFL fans can name more than a handful of players on their favorite team, and even less would be recognizable. If the new world of media and commerce is about engagement and connection, then the NBA is in a much stronger place than the NFL, where the vast majority of players are faceless and anonymous.

    I probably could keep going on this, but I think I have made enough points for now, and besides, I have to get on a plane. But the bottom line to me, taking us back to the question of David Stern and his legacy I think we have to let some of these cultural and global trends play out a little longer before we dismiss Stern (and the NBA) as being somehow inferior to the NFL. Compare the NBA of 1984 to the NBA of today and then no question, Stern was a great leader and executive. Compare the NBA of 2014 to the NFL of 2014 and sure you could say he fell short, but I say we need to let these shifts develop.

    Apple wasn't Apple back in 1998. But the world changes, sometimes faster, sometimes slower than we like or anticipate. And being on top of the food chain, even if you have been there awhile doesn' guarantee you that spot forever. Just ask Microsoft.

    <post typed on Chromebook>