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    Entries in career (70)

    Wednesday
    Apr232014

    It's tough to succeed a legend

    From the sports world yet another enduring and timeless lesson in talent and career management. Here is the headline - Manchester United sacks manager David Moyes

    Some backstory.  

    Manchester United is one of the most well-known and successful soccer clubs in the world. They are the defending champions of the English Premier League, (arguably the best league in the world), and regularly compete at the highest levels of European club soccer in the Champions League. At the end of last season, Manchester United's longtime and legendary manager Sir Alex Ferguson stepped down, capping a stellar managerial career with his 13th Premier League title in 26 seasons at the helm.Farewell Mr. Moyes

    Ferguson was (and will probably will always be, given the nature of English soccer), by far the most successful club manager of the Premier league era. For USA readers who might not be familiar, think of Ferguson as some kind of combination of John Wooden, Vince Lombardi, Phil Jackson, and Red Auerbach. Except even more successful and globally famous.

    The kind of legend with the track record of exemplary performance that is tough, if not impossible to replace. No matter who stepped in for Ferguson, even Ferguson's hand-picked successor Moyes, it was going to be an almost impossibly difficult pair of shoes to fill.

    When someone has been so astronomically successful, over such a long period of time, and achieved legendary status in the organization and industry, then no matter how prepared and talented the successor is, it is going to be almost impossible for them to match (or even approach) the standards that have been established before them.

    Succeeding a legend, in sports or in any business really, is such a risky, dicey proposition that it makes sense for super talented people to avoid it at almost any cost, tempting and enticing as it may seem.

    Again, taking it back to the sports angle: Can you name the coaches that succeeded John Wooden, Vince Lombardi, Phil Jackson, or Red Auerbach?

    The answer is, 'Of course not.' No one remembers them because the combination of almost impossibly hard to match performance standards and the huge shadow that their legendary predecessors cast proved to be a combination even previously successful and competent performers, (like David Moyes), could not overcome.

    Trust me, you DO NOT want to try and succeed a legend.

    You want to be the person that succeeds the person who succeeds the legend, just after they fail.

    Postscript: This isn't just a sports phenomenon. Ask Tim Cook how things are going at Apple these days.

    Monday
    Mar242014

    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!

    Monday
    Mar172014

    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!

    Thursday
    Feb272014

    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

    <scene>

    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!

    Monday
    Feb242014

    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!