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    Entries in work (197)

    Thursday
    May312012

    The skilled trades need a famous commencement address too

    May is commencement time in the USA, and in conjunction with the hundreds if not thousands of college and university commencements taking place across the country we are treated to reports and videos of numerous commencement addresses delivered by a wide range of speakers ranging from famous business people, media personalities, politicians, and more. And each year one or two of the college commencement addresses resonates in some way, whether from the message itself, or from the combination between the message and the speaker him or herself, perhaps making the story more powerful by virtue of their obstacles overcame and ability to reach and inspire the graduating students. Jaime Escalante

    My cynical nature tends to mostly ignore these commencement speeches each year, because to me, if you peel back the outer surface layers that differentiate the 'speaker life story/type of personal achievement' from each other and get to their core message, well, that message seems pretty much the same. Again I am a cynic, but after a while and the fourth or fifth re-telling, the admonition to 'be true to yourself, follow your dreams, everything is possible, follow your passion....' message seems to get a little bit stale. I spent enough time in higher education to understand why colleges hire, and make no mistake, most of the commencement speeches are highly paid gigs, a big time inspirational and famous speaker to give the same message the local public school principal gave in 5th grade, it's because the parents want to be entertained and feel like they are extracting the last shred of value for the hundreds of thousands of dollars they have shelled out for Junior's education.

    I'll tie this back to two college commencement addresses way back in the day to see if the point can be better made with specifics. When I was just finishing my Junior year in college I hung around to attend commencement as I wanted to take advantage of all the parties witness many good friends of mine receive their diplomas. The commencement speaker was the legendary actor Jimmy Stewart. Most of the parents were really excited to see Mr. Stewart, as he was one of the most famous actors of the parent's generation and the one just prior. I am sure he said some interesting things, he had a great voice and delivery, even at that later stage of his life, and I seem to remember people being pleased with the choice of speaker.

    The following year at my graduation the commencement speaker was the high school teacher made famous by the movie 'Stand And Deliver'. Not the famous actor, Edward James Olmos, but the actual teacher who inspired the story, Jaime Escalante, who was not very well known at the time, although via the moderate success of the film at least the story had some familiarity. Mr. Escalante's speech was excellent, and most importantly for then, as indeed for today, I think in many ways the choice of someone like Mr. Escalante more appropriate and relevant, (assuming you can make any kind fo argument for the value of any commencement speaker).

    I was thinking about this for another reason as well, the recent release of the Manpower 'What Jobs are Hard to Fill' survey, (I know that is not the real name, but you know which one I am talking about). In the survey we see that some of the Top 10 hardest jobs for companies to fill today are in skilled trades, sales reps, drivers, mechanics, nurses, and yes, teachers. The Top 10 list is mostly those kinds of completely necessary, important for a modern society to function properly, are unglamorous, and typically are not the populations from which fancy college commencement speakers are chosen from.

    And that is kind of too bad. While Mr. Stewart was a fine speaker and a good-natured guy, he, and most of the other commencement speakers don't really hold up too well as role models in the sense of graduates' career aspirations and plans.  The country doesn't really need many more aspiring actors or singers or Reality TV stars. 

    According to the Manpower report however, the country does need lots more tradespeople, teachers, mechanics, and accountants. Maybe we should be hearting more from these kinds of professionals at commencement time.

    Sadly, Mr. Escalante passed away in 2010, so he is no longer able to try and inspire young people to follow down this path.

    Edward James Olmos is still alive though. Maybe he can play that role made famous in Stand and Deliver again. He at least still has some name recognition.

    Tuesday
    May152012

    Regrets of the retiring

    There is a pretty internet-famous post titled, 'Regrets of the Dying', written by Bronnie Ware a long-time nurse who worked with serously ill and terminal patients. Her 'regrets' post was really a summary and distillation of what she had heard over the years from patients, most very ill and dying, when they talked about what they might have regretted in their lives.The article, and the five most common regrets are not that really surprising or hard to guess, ('I wish I didn't work so hard', interestingly made the list), and is worth a read.

    I'm not sure what led me to stumble upon the 'regrets' piece, but after reading it I had to wonder if there actually were some parallels to people's lifetime regrets and their workplace or professional regrets, besides the stated regret of wishing they had not worked so hard. After all, for many, work is such a massive part of life, and often, ones happiness or at least contentment can be profoundly influenced by their feelings (and regrets) about their life's work.

    In case you didn't click over to Bronnie's piece, here are the top five 'Regrets of the Dying':

    1. I wish I had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the one that was expected of me

    2. I wish I didn't work so hard

    3. I wished I had the courage to express my feelings

    4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends

    5. I wish I had let myself be happier

    In a way, most of if not all of these regrets can have direct equivalents to the choices we make, or feel we have to make, in our professional lives. How many of us took a college major in a 'safe' subject like business or economics, rather than what we might have been more interested or passionate about? It might have been the 'right' decision but it could have and often does send people down a path they never wanted to head. Or how often have we worked ourselves silly because we thought we had to, and perhaps missed out on fleeting moments in our families or children's lives? And if you are like me, no doubt you've lost touch with lots of your earliest workplace colleagues and mentors that sometimes you wish you could re-connect with today. And lastly, even though in these really tough economic times, being 'happy' at work can be considered a luxury and not a necessity, for how many of us is there nagging feeling that our best years that should be filled with our best work are slipping away just a little bit more every day.

    I don't mean this post to be such a downer, (after a quick scan it seems pretty darn depressing I think), but I would rather just draw your attention to the list from Bronnie Ware if for no other reason to make anyone who takes a few minutes to read the piece, and think about the list of regrets, to consider if there is something missing in their work lives, and if truly, something should be done to make some, even small, changes.

    I just think while it can be very hard, incredibly hard, it is probably even worse to call it a career someday and wish you had really been true to yourself, even just a little bit more.

    Tuesday
    Jan032012

    Volkswagen to BlackBerry Addicted Workers: We Know What's Good For You

    A couple of weeks back this story, about Volkswagen's decision to disable company servers from pushing email out to certain employee's BlackBerry smart phones outside of 'normal' working hours, made the rounds in the tech press and blogosphere. The reaction from analysts and commenters was decidedly mixed, with probably somewhat more observers coming down on the side of 'Good for the workers, they deserve a break from email when they are home at night, and on the weekends.'I am pretty sure it runs at night and on the weekends

    Leaving aside the practical exigencies of German labor law or union and work council regulations or contracts for the moment, (which certainly did have a role in the Volkswagen situation and that I can't be bothered to try and sort out), to me this decision by Volkswagen smacks of typical, classic, and old-fashioned thinking. The kind of mindset that leads organizations, (and more often individual managers), to issue edicts about where, when, and how work will actually get accomplished. The attitude that workers are generally not to be trusted, in this case not in that the employees can't be trusted to get their work done, but rather that they can't be trusted to know when to take a break, to decompress, and to disconnect. And this kind of decision or policy also can actually negatively impact so-called 'work/life' balance while trying to protect it - workers that have the need for more flexibility or have personal circumstances that don't lend themselves well to the 9 to 5 grind are hurt by such a policy.

    Interestingly, the reports of the BlackBerry email quiet periods have noted that the new rules do not apply to senior management, ostensibly because they are too important to be disconnected from corporate email when on the go after hours, but also subtly indicating that senior management can handle the tremendous responsibility of actually knowing when they need to read and respond to company email and when they should be resting, being with family, or actually having a social life.

    The great promise of advances in workplace technology is that the new technologies will enable us to be better at our jobs - to make better decisions, to develop better processes, to dream up and execute more fantastic ideas to progress our organization's mission and our own careers while simultaneously supporting making our non-work lives better as well. Smartphones, tablets, video conferencing, wifi pretty much in every coffee shop, bar, and airport in the world - all of these should be incredibly empowering and enabling. These tools and capabilities are different than the copy machine, the fax, and the employee workstation, and all the other workplace technology breakthroughs that came before. They were all about doing more while remaining in one place, on one schedule, and in lock step with everyone else. What will not work and will not be sustainable, is to apply to old ways of thinking to the new technologies.

    If employees can't be trusted, then they can't be trusted. That has been true for hundreds of years, the BlackBerry did not create that problem.

     

    Monday
    Oct102011

    On Being Radical and Making Choices

    Much of this weekend's free time was spent grinding through the ridiculous backlog of Google Reader items that had built up during the five days I spent in Las Vegas last week for HRevolution and the HR Technology Conference. Of the many thousands of items I at least title-scanned, and the hundred or so I actually read - this was by far the top piece of the lot, from the Scientific American 'Context and Variation' blog, a piece called 'The three things I learned at the Purdue Conference for Pre-Tenure Women: on being a radical scholar.'Old-school radical.

    At first glance I was tempted to pass by the piece, I am, after-all, not pre-tenure, nor a woman. But for whatever reason I decided to read the piece by Kate Clancy, and was immediately glad I did, because in the length of a standard blog post, Ms. Clancy manages to to touch on not one but two interesting and massively important ideas that transcend the purely academic context in which she writes, and are applicable and worth contemplating in the broader world of work.

    Take Number One - Lots of jobs require ridiculous amounts of time, effort, energy, and commitment to succeed.

    And to get ahead you often need to 'beat' the other person that wants that title/money/prestige just as much as you do. But if the 'external' demands on your time and your competitor are unequal, (in Ms. Clancy's case she is a parent of a young child), then you are heading into the competition with constraints and pressures that can make the battle seem not worth fighting. I know the whole 'kids vs. career' tradeoff is not a new issue, but Ms. Clancy does a great job of recognizing the issues without asking for sympathy or special treatment. From the piece:

    We sit some more. We talk some more. About how we can’t compete against people with kids but a stay at home spouse, about how we can’t compete against our peers without kids at all. He is in a department where people show up early and stay late. You can find a third of the faculty in the department at any given time on the weekends. I’m in a department where folks work from home as often as they work from the office, but they are still getting stuff done. And it feels like they are all getting more done than me.

    Pile the ubiquitous Mommy Guilt on top of this, the culturally conditioned guilt that says not staying at home hurts my child despite the intellectual knowledge that good daycare, and the kind of quality investments I make with my daughter, are hugely beneficial, and there are few hours in my day to sleep.

    It's the grind most of us, even those of us not chasing a major career objective like academic tenure, but simply trying to do more, better, more innovative things have run into. The more commitments and obligations you have outside of work, the tougher your fight to the top, (or even the middle), is going to be. Neither Ms. Clancy nor I have this figured out yet by the way.

    Take Two - On traditional measures of success and influence.

    In the Human Resources/Talent/Recruiting space we've had our share of navel-gazing debates about influence, and the challenge of assessing online influence compared to more traditional forms. Lance Haun led a popular session at HRevolution about this topic. While the debate continues, there seems to be little doubt that blogging, social media, and even non-traditional and 'unconferences' like HRevolution and others are chipping away at the established ideas about influence and perhaps even authority in our industry.  In the Scientific American piece that focuses on the world of academics, Ms. Clancy wonders about the continued reliance on publication in academic journals as the standard of relevance, achievement, and influence in her field.  Again from the piece:

    But are peer-reviewed publications, read and cited by only by a select group of those peers, the best way to assess influence and importance? They are certainly no longer the only way. My 2006 paper on iron-deficiency anemia and menstruation has been cited by six other papers; my 2011 blog post on this paper has been viewed tens of thousands of times and received almost sixty comments between its two postings.

    Boom. The entire 'old school vs. new school' measures of influence argument summed up in two sharp sentences. Again, neither the Scientific American piece nor I profess to have all the answers for this, but it is clear that even in the stodgy world of academia there appear to be calls for change, or at least dialogue about how these newer (they are really not all that 'new' anymore), can and should impact the industry in more significant ways. Ms. Clancy want to be, as I suspect many of you do, to be more 'radical', and more true to their interests and passions in the face of slower-moving organizations of power.

    I hope you take a few minutes to read Ms. Clancy's entire article, for me it represents some of the best and most thought-provoking content I've run across in quite some time.

    Have a great week!

    Thursday
    Sep222011

    What is the Future of Work? Good Question...

    Tonight on the HR Happy Hour Show, I will be joined by Human Resources Technology legend Naomi Bloom to talk about work, the future of work, and have an open and participatory conversation about how the massive changes in the nature and notion of work will affect us in our careers, and certainly our children and grandchildren in the coming years.

    You can listen to the show live tonight at 8:00 PM ET on the show page here, or by calling in to the listener/guest line - 646-378-1086

    There has been no shortage of attention and energy spent in the last few years by various experts, authors, corporate leaders, and lowly bloggers attempting to make sense of the massive changes in work and industry brought on by worldwide recession, the emergence of high-speed internet connectivity, the prevalence of super-powered smartphones, and rise of social networks. While there might not be consensus among the experts and pundits about what the true 'future of work' will look like; one thing seems certain - it won't look or feel like anything we have known before.

    No, with technology and robotics capable of automating and improving even more higher value functions and processes, with the rise of what is for many industries and professions a truly global competition for capital and opportunity, and the continuing 're-thinking' of the modern organization; it seems a given that work, the nature of 'employment', and the skills and capabilities required to remain relevant and successful simply have to change to meet these new challenges.

    But while it is easy to say that work is changing,and the old 'employer contract' is long dead, it is quite a bit more challenging to determine what strategies and actions should be pursued by workers today, and the ones to follow, to best prepare and brace themselves for these changing conditions.

    Is it the pursuit of entrepreneurship?

    The willingness to embrace a series of consecutive or even simultaneous short-term gigs?

    Acceptance of the fact that where you are now in your career is not at all likely to be a good predictor of where you will end up?

    Or realization that in today's do-more-with-less-always-connected-smartphone-enabled world that you had better be prepared to work ridiculous hours, be always available, and give up what passes for your pathetic social life in order to not just get ahead, but to fend off the robot that wants your job?

    Or something else entirely?

    Tonight on the HR Happy Hour Show we plan to have an open and honest discussion about work, and what work might look like in the future, and talk about some ideas around how best to prepare for and survive.

    Sure, we don't profess to have all the answers, but maybe you do, and I hope you will listen in and even consider offering some of your insight and advice as well.

    It should be a fun and lively show, and I hope you can join us tonight!