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    Entries in work (155)

    Wednesday
    Jun292016

    Which questions are too personal?

    I am sure at least 50% of the folks who read this will think I am nuts, (and probably do think that anyway), but I have to break from the regularly scheduled fare to go a little bit off topic here.

    This post is called 'Which questions are too personal?' and was inspired by two separate but related interactions I had yesterday, both of which, (possibly because I am crazy), bugged me in a similar way. First the run down of what happened, then why it did get to me a little, and then tossing it open to you for comments/feedback.

    Scenario 1 - An introductory business call set up by a mutual contact with a person whom I do not know, but is in the same industry. The purpose of the 30-minute call was to learn about a new product/service offering from this person's organization and to get some context around some additional correspondence related to said product/service.

    Scenario 2 - A lunch time trip to a fairly busy local establishment to get some take out. A location I have been to many times before, but this time was being helped by a person I have never seen in the past. 

    Both of these scenarios are completely normal, run of the mill, and typical kinds of interactions that most all of us have all of the time, if not many times a day.

    Why did they both stand out from normal life and end up bugging me at the end?

    In scenario 1, the person on the call asked me where I lived, how long I have been living where I live, if I had a family there, and if so how many kids did I have? Again, this was a business call with someone whom I do not know and have never met before.

    In scenario 2, the person behind the counter asked me where I grew up, was I watching the Euro soccer tournament, and which team was I supporting.  Again, this was in a small, local take out place and a person I have never seen before.

    Now I know that many of you, perhaps most of you would think, 'What's the big deal? Those are just casual, small talk kinds of questions that people ask when they meet someone new. It's just being polite.'

    And at some level, I guess I would agree with those of you who feel that way. I am sure that both of the folks were just being polite, and were not trying to pry into the life of a total stranger (me).

    But some people, (me), are really private and almost guarded (for myriad reasons, none of which matter), about their personal lives and take questions like 'So, how many kids do you have?' as a question and topic they would rather not discuss with someone they just met, particularly in a business context like the two described above.  For some people, (again me), getting asked those kinds of personal questions by complete strangers is really uncomfortable.

    I know you may think that question, and others that are similar, are totally benign and mundane even, given the norms of civilized society.  

    But perhaps making the mistake of falling into the trap of 'If I feel this way, there must be plenty of others who do as well', I think that it's smart when in a business context to avoid wading in to personal questions when making small talk.

    If you have to make small talk, ask about something relevant or at least tangential to the purpose of the interaction - maybe the industry overall, or a particular piece of professional work the person did that you are familiar with. Again, this might just be my hang up, but 'I read what you wrote about XYZ, tell me why you think that' is a much more comfortable and proper conversation to have than 'So, what grade in school is your kid in?' when we have never met or spoken before.

    Ok, that's it. Rant over.

    Am I off base?

    Should I feel compelled to tell people about my personal life the first time we ever speak?

    Monday
    Jun202016

    Reunion

    Yesterday was Father's Day here in the US and I hope any Dads reading this had a fantastic day basking in the adoration of your kids and the rest of your family. I am sure you deserved all the gifts and accolades you received.

    I am a Dad myself, and I had a great day with my son even as he was applying a pretty comprehensive beat down on me in tennis. I chalk it up to a slightly injured shoulder. Let's not quibble about the fact that the injury is to my right shoulder and I play tennis as a left hander.

    Father's Day naturally makes you think about family, and the value and importance of taking time to get away from the grind and spending time with family, friends, and even just doing the things that make your happy, and that help you remain energized to come back to the office on Monday ready to kick some butt.Maesta - Sean Scully

    I don't think we, as individuals and as organizational or HR leaders think about that as much as we should. I mean consciously thinking about how what we do and how we spend our time outside of work (usually) matters far more than the 36 new emails we are going to have in our inbox by 8:40 Monday morning or whether or not we got invited to the 'big' meeting on Thursday.

    In what might be classified as ironic, I spent a decent amount of time over the weekend reading and thinking about a recently published study titled Overworked America, by Heather Boushey and Bridget Ansel. In the paper, Boushey and Ansel report that average working hours, particularly in many higher wage, professional occupations continue to climb, at the same time as hours for many lower wage and hourly positions are falling.

    You really should read the entire report, but here is the overview so you can get a feel for the research:

    Hard work is part and parcel of the American Dream, but at a certain point, working excessive hours can be detrimental to families, businesses, and the U.S. economy. While there are federal laws that govern work hours, these legal protections have slowly eroded, and some Americans are putting in more time at work than ever before. What's more, the United States has seen a polarization in working time, meaning that some segments of the labor market have seen a rise in work hours and others are working much less.

    This report looks at the rising number of employees working long hours—sometimes earning high salaries or overtime pay, but too often not—and the implications for individuals, families, businesses, and the U.S. economy.

    There's a lot to take from the report - not the least of which is the really interesting theory that the job roles where people tend to work the longest are also the one with the most supply ready, willing, and able set of lower-paid replacement workers. But the big takeaway from me as I read the report was that we all probably should be doing more to find better balance - as individuals that often should be more available and present for our families and friends, and as organizations who should realize that working people excessively is bad for business and for employees too.

    I have to admit I did not think about or do any 'real' work on Father's Day. 

    I hope you didn't either.

    Have a great week!

    Monday
    Jun132016

    Signs of the corporate death spiral #3 - Fifteen years between new products

    Some death spirals are shockingly abrupt, (the 'Secret' app, Theranos), and some others are so slow, and play out over such a long time horizon, that at times it must seem like the organization really isn't in a death spiral after all.

    But then something happens to reassure and remind everyone that indeed the organization is on the decline, just a little bit slower and a little harder to detect unless you're watching closely. Submitted for your consideration a recent announcement from the good folks at General Mills, a company you probably have not thought much about, if at all, in ages.

    From the piece 'This is General Mills' first new cereal in more than 15 years'

    General Mills the creator of iconic cereals like Cheerios, Lucky Charms, and Trix, is adding a new brand to its fleet. The cereal is called Tiny Toast, which the company describes as “tiny pieces of crunchy toast covered with even tinier pieces of delicious fruit.”

    It’s available in two flavors, strawberry and blueberry, and it’s made with whole grains and flavored with real fruit and other natural ingredients. According to a press release obtained by Fortune, the cereal contains no artificial flavors or colors.

    Though the food giant has consistently released new versions and flavors of its already-existing brands, this is the first all-new cereal that General Mills has launched in more than 15 years.

    To be fair to the folks at General Mills it isn't as if they have not introduced any new variations of their products in 15 years. After all there are at least 14 different varieties of Cheerios, many of which have been launched more recently. So it's not like the General Mills folks have been doing nothing over the years and have been just sitting back, contentedly counting those great Lucky Charms profits.

    General Mills is kind of in a rough spot for a few reasons. Cereal sales have been in decline for a decade or more, and folks that eat cereal tend to be loyal to one or two brands. So from General Mills perspective, it probably has not made a ton of sense to invest too much in new product development and market research in order to launch new brands of cereal into a declining market. 

    But still, nothing truly new, (and the 15th variety of the Cheerio isn't really 'new'), in over 15 years is definitely a sign of the death spiral, even if it is a long, slow, and hard to notice decline.

    What is the larger message that we can try to take from the General Mills situation?

    Probably that if you are thinking about your career, and the kind of organization you want to be a part of, taking a close look at the pattern and cadence of new product/service development and innovation is an important consideration. 

    Would you be happy sitting in a brainstorming session discussing what other fruit flavor you can sprinkle on top of a Cheerio? How about Pineapple Cheerios?

    Or would you rather be a part of an organization and an industry that is constantly looking to create, to invent, and to re-invent?

    Have a great week!

    Thursday
    May262016

    RECRUITING OPPORTUNITY: The Hotel Gym at 6AM on a Wednesday

    Quick take from the road on a busy Wednesday, (note to self, this should have been a 'Notes from the road' post, but I digress). 

    Tried to do the 'stay relatively healthy' bit early this morning by hitting up the Hilton gym at about 6AM or so today and walked into probably the most packed facility I think I have seen in weeks on the road. There were easily 40 or so folks already grinding out a run on the treadmill or faking their way through some pull downs on the lat machine.

    In fact, the place was so crowded, I noticed six or seven folks enter, look around, and then leave since pretty much every available piece of cardio equipment, (and most of the weight machines), were being used. This was at 6:19AM on a Wednesday.

    Now this may not seem all that remarkable, the hotel is pretty large and there are three or four different events and conferences going on here this week, so packing 50 people into a gym may not be as big a deal as I am making it out to be.

    But if you subscribe to the notion, as many folks do, that industry meeting and conferences like the ones going on at this hotel this week are great places for networking and recruiting then it stands to reason that at least some of the 'right' kind of folks you might be looking for can be found in the gym at 6 in the morning.

    The 6AM gym folks are (at least trying) to go the extra mile (pun intended), to keep their s%#% together while on the road - which isn't easy at these kinds of events where the overwhelming tendency is for folks to spend hours and hours sitting in hotel meeting rooms, hitting buffets for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and hitting up the endless open bar each night.

    There are almost certainly recruitable and desirable candidates at every event.

    It could be the most recruitable ones are on the treadmill at 6AM. 

    Are you going to be there to meet them?

    Tuesday
    May242016

    The most important relationship on any team

    The most important relationship on any team (work, school, sports - any of them), is the one between the leader (boss, coach, manager), and the best or most talented performer on said team.

    Want some context?

    Check the comments from a recent interview with former Cleveland Cavaliers head coach David Blatt when asked about his relationship with the Cavs' top player, the legendary LeBron James:

    “The role of the coach is much larger as far as impact and persona,” Blatt said. “It’s much more of a coaches’ show. In the NBA, it’s a players’ show.”

    He also said: “You better be on the same page as your best player. If not, you’re going to be in trouble.”

    Pretty savvy observation from Blatt, who was actually hired by the Cavs prior to LeBron's decision to leave the Miami Heat and return to his hometown club. Once LeBron made his decision to re-join the Cavs, Blatt's job quickly changed from one of developing a young team for the future to one of molding a more veteran club to compete for a championship right now.

    And the key to all of this was LeBron, and how (or if), LeBron and the new to the NBA coach would be able to co-exist.

    Fast forward about 18 months later and we know how things turned out. Blatt, LeBron, and the Cavs lost to the Golden State Warriors in the 2015 NBA finals and midway through the current season, and despite a stellar won-loss record, Blatt was fired by the Cavs.

    Ultimately, Blatt's undoing was his inability to find the optimal common ground between himself and LeBron, the best, most talented, and most charismatic player on the team. On paper, Blatt was 'in charge', but in reality, and by virtue of his talent, track record, and sustained contribution, LeBron was and is the most important member of the Cavs organization. When the organization, (and LeBron), determined that the relationship between Blatt and LeBron was not salvageable, well, Blatt had to go.

    It is probably tempting for managers and leaders to take an approach of treating everyone on the team more or less the same. It seems logical and equitable to spend equal amounts of time and energy on all the team members - making sure no one feels slighted or left out. We are all one team after all, right?

    But as sports in general, and the Blatt - LeBron story in particular remind us, not everyone on the team is actually 'equal'. Some team members contribute to overall team success much more than others. Some team members would be much, much harder to replace should they leave than others. Some team members exert significant influence over the rest of the team, much more than the average team member.

    Any leader's role is at least in part to be fair and honest with every member of the team. But the best leaders also realize that some team members play an outsized role in the overall team's success. And the very best leaders recognize that their relationship with these star performers is likely the most important one that they will have in the organization. 

    That is if they want to succeed, and if they want to ensure they won't end up like our pal David Blatt, on the outside looking in while the Cavs chase the NBA Championship yet again.