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    Entries in management (13)


    Be proud of where you work: Talking points from the NSA

    An internal NSA memo leaked over the weekend, one where the good folks at the National Security Agency provide some tips for their staff to take home and use over the recent Thanksgiving holiday in case they were confronted with a drunk Uncle or angry Cousin who might not be totally pleased with having a member of the family a part of cyber spying, stealing personal information, or whatever else the NSA can be accused of carrying out.

    The 5-point document (with supporting examples) can be found here, and if you can overlook the source, history, context, etc., it actually provides a really useful outline of what employees can do to carry the brand message out into their personal lives.

    Here are the 5 talking points about the NSA that the agency wanted, or at least advised, it's staff to share while sitting around the holiday table, with some comments from me about how they might be more generally applicable to any organization.

    1. NSA's mission is of great value to the nation.

    Applicability for you?

    Probably some. Obvious if you work for a children's hospital or for Waste Management. Maybe less relevant if you are in some kind of management consulting group or work for one of the local car dealerships. In those cases you want to find someone (other than the greedy owner of the company) that benefits from the existence of your organization to speak up. There must be somebody, right?

    2. NSA performs its mission the right way.

    Take a page from the NSA, (as well as the example set by the local personal injury attorneys in your market), and stress it is not just what you do, but someone you do that thing with more integrity than the other guys that do that exact same thing as you. Don't worry about proving it, it is pretty much impossible for anyone to dispute your claim tom the moral high ground.

    3. NSA performs its mission exceptionally well.

    Probably the weakest of the talking points to rally behind. But I suppose in your context the fact that you are still (for the moment anyway), an ongoing concern that is employing people must mean you are doing something well. Don't grab for too much else here.

    4. The people of NSA are loyal Americans with expert skills.

    Drop the nationalistic bit if that makes sense for you, and go for the standard and universal 'We only have the best of the best here at ACME' take. We all know that to be the case. Everyone only employs top talent, 'A' players, etc. So what if it is not true. Unless you work for Yahoo, apparently.

    5. NSA is committed to increased transparency and public dialog.

    Your company has an official corporate Twitter account, right? And probably a Facebook page too. And whatever other associated social outposts that the last batch of summer interns set up for you. Forget that the last post was some inane blather last week about Black Friday, the fact remains that you are an open and transparent organization. And you will prove it the first time someone, anyone tweets at you or leaves a comment on your corporate blog.

    And there it is. The much-maligned and reviled NSA has just handed you the recipe for indoctrinating helping your teams share the good news about the work you are doing there at the Widget factory.

    Think of it this way, how hard can rallying the staff and goosing morale be if even the NSA thinks it can  do it?


    What if we had fewer managers?

    For a few minutes yesterday I dropped in on the always interesting #Nextchat on Twitter which was on the always popular HR and Talent topic of employee engagement. In the discussion most of the comments and observations around the topic of engagement were what we have come to expect, (and know to be true). Nevertheless, there were some excellent insights shared by many of the participants.

    But you know the story around engagement, right?

    Employee engagement is a reflection of the 'extra effort' people choose to make or not make, bad company culture drives much of the measured low levels of positive engagement, and most interesting to me, that managers are the prime drivers or enablers of engagement in the organization.

    If the organization has bad managers, or not enough good managers and then you will have an engagement problem, (and a retention problem and a recruiting problem, and on and on). Managers need to be engaged themselves in order to have a better chance at rank-and-file employee engagement. Managers are often the barrier to engagement, as they simply don't know or realize the importance of engagement in a broader organizational context. Managers are the devil's spawn and their mere presence haunts the hallways of the company headquarters.

    Ok, that last comment was not really stated, but you get the idea. The manager as the key to engagement, (and lots of other really important talent management practices), was beat to death.

    After watching the discussion carry on in that manner for a bit, I finally (at least to me), offered the only suggestion that might actually have an immediate impact, (not necessarily a positive impact, I admit).

    Here it is:




    I was kind of being a wise guy but not totally.

    If (bad) managers are truly such an important driver of engagement and talent management, and we have known this for ages, and at least according to the consistently poor engagement levels we see in many if not most businesses we are doing a terrible job of selecting and coaching these managers, then wouldn't it make sense to simply have far fewer of them?

    Find the 20 or 30 percent of the managers that actually are really good at engaging teams, guiding career development, challenging employees to reach their potential, etc. and just let them manage everyone.  Take the rest of the managers that aren't good at those things and either let them focus on the actual work they are good at or let them move on.  Or make them sort of 'technical' managers that don't have the messy 'people' manager side of things and can focus on the work, sort of like how football teams have offensive and defensive coordinators that set strategy and tactics but don't really have to deal with the players on an individual and personal level.

    I don't know, it just seems like after years of lamenting about the shortcomings, disinterest, and general imperfections of 'managers'  that at least some of the problems could be solved by having fewer of them.

    What do you think?


    ECON 101: Comparative Advantage: Or, why it still can be ok to be worse at everything

    I was talking with a friend recently, the kind of person who is just good (and often really darn good), at just about everything. Successful in their career, well-respected in their industry, good-looking, model family life, knows how to cook/fix/find just about anything.... you get the idea.

    We probably all have a friend or colleague that fits that description, maybe even going back to childhood perhaps where the memory of our high school nemesis that was just a little better than us at sports and in class and with the ladies (or guys), always just ticked us off to no end.

    No matter what the activity or subject or context, this person was just better.  At everything. And it can easily be pretty annoying.David Ricardo - 'He amassed a considerable personal fortune'

    Until you recall (or learn for the first time as in the case of the high school me), the Law of Comparative Advantage. Let's do a quick ECON 101 review:

    In economics, comparative advantage refers to the ability of a party to produce a particular good or service at a lower marginal and opportunity cost over another. Even if one country is more efficient in the production of all goods (absolute advantage in all goods) than the other, both countries will still gain by trading with each other, as long as they have different relative efficiencies.

    The idea of comparative advantage has been first mentioned in Adam Smith's Book The Wealth of Nations: "If a foreign country can supply us with a commodity cheaper than we ourselves can make it, better buy it of them with some part of the produce of our own industry, employed in a way in which we have some advantage." But the law of comparative advantages has been formulated by David Ricardo who investigated in detail advantages and alternative or relative opportunity in his 1817 book On the Principles of Political Economy and Taxation in an example involving England and Portugal. In Portugal it is possible to produce both wine and cloth with less labor than it would take to produce the same quantities in England. However the relative costs of producing those two goods are different in the two countries. In England it is very hard to produce wine, and only moderately difficult to produce cloth. In Portugal both are easy to produce.

    Therefore while it is cheaper to produce cloth in Portugal than England, it is cheaper still for Portugal to produce excess wine, and trade that for English cloth. Conversely England benefits from this trade because its cost for producing cloth has not changed but it can now get wine at a lower price, closer to the cost of cloth. The conclusion drawn is that each country can gain by specializing in the good where it has comparative advantage, and trading that good for the other. 

    This Business Insider piece from the weekend spurred me to think about Comparative Advantage (and what can happen when really powerful and attractive companies like Google are powerful enough to essentially ignore the 'law' in many respects), a look at some of the worst aspects for working for such a desirable employer.

    Among the chief complaints raised about life at Google was that their hiring standards are so high and that fact, combined with seemingly everyone wanting to work for them, that many, many sort of mundane positions are staffed with over qualified, exceptional, and often wasted talents. 

    Here is an example of how that plays out:

    There are students from top 10 colleges who are providing tech support for Google's ads products, or manually taking down flagged content from YouTube, or writing basic code to A|B test the color of a button on a site."

    Adam Smith's law of Comparative Advantage, if Google cared about such things, would probably tell them that it was relatively inefficient for them to try to be the best at everything, that more or less, they should focus on those elements where their advantage in the market (for talent in this case), was the greatest compared to their competition, and let the wanna-bees fight it out over the rest.

    But I don't really care about Google, I care about you, (I am a giver that way). We both know what it's like having to deal with that person who is just better at everything than we are.

    It is tiring.

    It is frustrating.

    And often, we will simply give up and move on to something else when we really should have stuck with what we loved.

    Everything is comparative. If you get a job at Google you are probably going to feel dumb much more often than you are accustomed to feeling.

    Note: I had a recent piece over on Fistful of Talent that looks at this topic a little more as well. 

    Have a great week!


    PODCAST - #HRHappyHour 170 - Driving Performance with Technology

    HR Happy Hour 170 - Driving Performance with Technology

    Recorded Thursday August 15, 2013

    This week on the HR Happy Hour Show, Steve Boese sat down with Tom Porter, Director of Human Resources and Administration, Kawasaki Motors Corporation, U.S.A, and David Ludlow, Global Vice President of Product Marketing, HCM Solutions for SAP and SuccessFactors for an interesting and informative conversation about how HR Technology can help transform organizational performance, and impact and change the actual culture of the organization as well.

    At Kawasaki, Tom led an ambitious project to drive consistent performance management, goal setting and alignment, and more broadly - to get the organization much more focused on demonstrable and measurable performance measures.

    Tom shares some of the project drivers, the organizational imperatives, and perhaps most importantly some of the lessons learned and critical success criteria that need to be in place for any HR Technology projects to truly deliver on their promises.

    You can listen to the show on the show page here, on iTunes, (just search in the podcasts section for 'HR HappyHour'), and using the widget player below, (email and RSS subscribers will need to click through).


    I won't spoil it for you, but rest assured that openness, transparency, and true partnerships between customer and supplier are key, and both Tom and David offer some excellent pieces of advice for any organization on the path towards technology implementation and transformation.

    It is a really informative and 'front lines' kind of conversation that sheds some light on an organization that has done and continues to do what many others only aspire towards.

    Thanks to both Tom and David for taking the time to share their insights!


    My resume is spotty and I don't interview well, but...

    Everyone in HR/Talent/Workforce land has bee ALL OVER the recent piece in the New York Times that featured a conversation with Google's head of people operations Laszlo Bock and dug into some of the data-driven insights about hiring, management, leadership, and overall talent management at one of the world's most innovative companies. 

    By now you've seen or read the headlines, or 'tweetable' moments from the piece. 

    College GPA doesn't matter. College degrees may not matter as much as we've always thought. The classic Silicon Valley 'brain teaser' type interview questions like 'How many golf balls would fit into the Empire State Building?' serve the interviewer's ego much more than they serve to help identify talent. And finally, with rare exceptions, most managers are really bad at interviewing, or said differently, at 'spotting talent.'

    Everything in the Bock/Google piece seems kind of intuitive, and kind of validates what probably lots of HR/Talent folks have thought all along - but were or at least felt kind of powerless to to butt up against. 

    Posting job specs that say things like 'Bachelor's degree required, MBA preferred' or 'Ten years progressive experience in exactly the same field/industry/discipline that we are currently hiring for, culminating with five years performing exactly the same job somewhere else that we want you to do here', are much more the norm that the exception. Most of us can't, like Google seems to have been able to, 'prove' that college GPAs and specific degrees are not that relevant and predictive of performance so we are kind of forced back into what we feel, or think, or what is most easily defensible when a 'bad hire' occurs.

    "Well, he had a 3.7 from MIT in Electrical Engineering - he should have been able to hack it here." You get the idea.

    Create rigorous (and potentially exclusionary) enough job requirements and then you're covered - anyone who actually meets those specs and for some reason doesn't turn out to be successful in the organization - well that is their fault not yours. I get why that is comforting to organizations but in the long run, and as eloquently described by Google's Mr. Bock, really doesn't help the organization in finding (and unearthing) the talent they need to thrive.

    Recently, I had a conversation with an old friend - an accomplished professional, the holder of an advanced degree from a great institution, but who has had some career ups and downs over the last few years.

    While we were talking, one thing specifically stood out to me. He said, 'Sure my resume has a couple of gaps, and once I had to take a job that I was really overqualified for just to keep the bills paid , but I tell you, my main problem I think is that I am just not great at interviewing. Let me in there, give me a chance to show what I can do and I will be fine - but the show, the performance, the song-and-dance that interviews seem to be, well, I just don't do that well at them.'

    Our pal Laszlo at Google, for all the data-driven insight that he is applying towards the hiring process isn't advocating scrapping interviews, and my friend here probably wouldn't benefit too much from ditching the kinds of criteria he'd always relied upon - like the 'right degree'.

    But I do think the key take away from the Google experience is that questioning long-held beliefs about what makes for a good candidate (and a good hire), is more important than ever. 

    For your shop it might be degrees, or years of experience, or 'nailing' the interview. Whatever criteria you have, maybe it's time to take a closer look to see if that criteria does more than simply week people out, but rather actually helps to identify people who will succeed, while not unnecessarily casting people aside.