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    Entries in workforce (77)


    More Data for HR Geeks: Wow, it's getting old around here

    Last week Kris over at the HR Capitalist ran a cool piece titled Economics for HR Geeks: The Quitter's Index, where he called out the BLS data indicating that more Americans are now quitting their jobs than being fired/laid off/downsized.  There are lots of possible reasons for this shift, but the takeaway for the talent pro is that more people are open to a voluntary move than in the last few, recessionary years. The climate for recruiting and retention is starting to shift.

    In the spirit of KD's piece, I thought I'd offer a similar, geeky chart for your perusal, first spotted over at Business Insider last week. Have a look at the below graph, that shows the total US employment level for two age cohorts, those from 25-34, and those 55+, and I'll make some (obvious) observations after the data sinks in. 


    Yep, really soon, and for the first time since anyone started keeping track, the number of workers 55 and older will exceed those aged 25-34, typically the next generation of talent that so many firms are trying to recruit, develop, and retain.

    Many workers north of 55 have seen their retirement plans put on hold, some for a few years, many for longer, as the combination of recession, slowly recovering equity markets, and lots of 20-something kids still living at home as they remain persistently unemployed or underemployed themselves.

    Have you walked around the office lately and thought to yourself, 'Wow, when did everyone start to look so old?'. If you haven't noticed, don't worry, you probably will soon. And after you take note, maybe its time to think about the makeup of your specific workforce, in total and in important segments, to see whether or not you are seeing this trend play out for your company, industry, and region.

    And then maybe take a few minutes more to think about what that all means for your 3, 5, and 10 year plans for recruiting, retention, benefits, work assignments, facilities, management succession, and more.

    Gettind old can be a drag. It can be a real drag when it happens to everyone at once.

    FYI - the chart was originally created on the FRED site, which is an absolute gold mine of information. Check it out sometime.


    It's hard to build teams when we secretly hate each other

    Quick observation for what seems like another 'No one is working so no one will read this post' kind of day. 

    First, two pieces related to teamwork and group dynamics that caught my attention, then some thoughts from me follow:

    One - Yup, Your Girlfriends are Purposely Posting Those Ugly Pictures of You on Facebook - the title sort of explains it all, essentially, we like making each other look bad on Facebook

    Two - Microsoft's Downfall: Inside the Executive Emails and Cannibalistic Culture that Felled a Tech Giant, the big point here, 'Stack Ranking', a performance management process that forces managers to rate employees into high, average, and low performance buckets, with set percentages of each, effectively crippled Microsoft's ability to innovate, as staff became obsessed with the rankings themselves, and competing with each other, instead of the company's real external competitors.


    Over and over again we read, think, and explore ways to make our organizational teams work with each other more effectively, efficiently, and simply better. It seems to be a common assumption that working well in teams, and the ability for organizations to harness and mobilize teams of disparate and often dispersed and virtual team members to meet the needs of a fast-changing business environment is one of the keys to long-term, sustained organizational success.

    I suppose I believe that is true. Certainly in larger organizations, in order for individuals to progress their ideas, to make important contributions, and to impact on a major scale the organization's efforts and direction will usually entail and require that individual to operate in a team concept. In large organizations, and even in smaller ones usually, significant projects don't advance much past the 'idea' stage without a pretty high level of team-based work.

    But the trouble with all this team-based work, and at least one of the reasons, (at least I am submitting this as a possible reason), why it can be so hard to keep the momentum from one person's great idea alive as the singular idea transitions to a collective or team goal?

    It's because we all secretly hate each other. Well, perhaps that is too strong. If not hate, then for many of us there exists a quiet, below the surface, but undeniable realization that business and life are often seen as a zero-sum game, or said differently, when you look good, I on the other hand, look a little bit worse. We know that credit, accolades, rewards, esteem - all the good stuff that comes from achievement, are usually not spread around equally. Even if we are on the same team, working towards the same goals, that for many of us we are certain that the honors will be parsed out individually.

    It's not an easy game for leaders, getting to the right balance of team players, who are happy to see the team succeed and hope the rising tide will lift them up as well,  and superstars, who think the team only wins because of them.

    It's easy in sports where we see this all the time, each team a mix of superstars and role players. It tends to work there because everyone knows who the stars are, or at least who are supposed to perform like stars.

    At your workplace I imagine it is a little bit harder. Maybe everyone there is a star. Or everyone wants to be a star and naturally sees the guy in the next chair as competition. And programs like stack ranking just ensure the organization is seen as sanctioning the internal competition.

    Good luck sorting that out.


    On Gates and Gatekeepers

    A week or so back I had a post titled, 'The Skilled Trades Need a Famous Commencement Address Too', in which I whined for 500 words or so about the prevalence of actors, politicians, ridiculously successful internet gazillionaires, and the other non-relatable types that seem to deliver just about all of the annual college commencement addresses, or at least the ones we hear about. My point was more or less that in a tough economic climate, and with an enduring and worsening need for talented people to enter fields such as the skilled trades, teaching, and other not-as-glamorous-as-acting-or-being-a-social-media-consultant, that the consistent set of messages stemming from the annual round of typical commencement speeches, ('Just go out there and be fantastic', 'You can save the world', 'Borrow $20k from your parents and start a business'), were all just getting tiresome.  If the nation truly needs more machinists or nurses or accountants, then could we at least start acknowledging that more openly and with more conviction?

    So as I said, I don't really give two shakes about 99% of the latest round of commencement addresses. But once in a great while there is a talk worth talking about, and worth sharing, even if it does bear some similarity to the hacky, same-old same-old advice that gets recycled each spring.  The speech I wanted to call out was given on May 17th at The University of the Arts in Philadelphia by the author Neil Gaiman, famous mostly for The Sandman, a series of comics written between 1988 and 1996.

    In the speech, (text here, embedded video below, email and RSS subscribers will need to click through), Gaiman, speaking to a graduating class from an art school, offers advice and wisdom gained over his career as a working, and certainly, highly successful creative. While the entire speech is interesting, I wanted to call out two passages that speak more broadly to issues about career planning and management, and to the pace of change impacting not just the creative industries, but almost all organizations these days.

    On career planning and management:

    When you start out on a career in the arts you have no idea what you are doing.

    This is great. People who know what they are doing know the rules, and know what is possible and impossible. You do not. And you should not.

    Value in the real world - In your organization, the people making the rules, setting the boundaries, (maybe that's you?), are inherently limited by their tendency to fail to envision a world outside those boundaries. Having a job setting rules, well it seems that is a path to a long career setting rules and enforcing boundaries. Maybe you are ok with that, maybe not. 

    On organizational and business model change:

    I've talked to people at the top of the food chain in publishing, in bookselling, in all those areas, and nobody knows what the landscape will look like two years from now, let alone a decade away. The distribution channels that people had built over the last century or so are in flux for print, for visual artists, for musicians, for creative people of all kinds.

    Which is, on the one hand, intimidating, and on the other, immensely liberating. The rules, the assumptions, the now-we're supposed to's of how you get your work seen, and what you do then, are breaking down. The gatekeepers are leaving their gates. You can be as creative as you need to be to get your work seen. YouTube and the web (and whatever comes after YouTube and the web) can give you more people watching than television ever did. The old rules are crumbling and nobody knows what the new rules are.

    Value in the real world - In the arts, and probably your business too, the landscape two, five, ten years out is entirely unpredictable, and it is likely what works today will not work tomorrow. The gatekeepers are leaving their gates. 

    Don't allow yourself to use that as an excuse to over-analyze or hesitate. The winning organizations are not waiting to 'see how things play out', by that time, it's likely that you'll be too late to adapt once the new landscape is revealed. Better to set off on the course you think will be successful than wait for some kind of signpost from beyond.

    Anyway, that's it for me on commencement speeches, at least until next Spring. 

    The video of the full speech is below, and I think definitely worth your time over lunch, or at night when you have a spare 20 minutes or so.


    Take the month off. Just report back with what you did

    In a new spin of Google's famous '20% time' or the now commonplace 'hackdays' in many technology companies that both, (in different ways), provide free and unstructured or loosely structured time for employees to devise, experiment, imagine, and build new things, the software company 37Signals announced via a blog post last week that it is giving most of its employees, in June, an entire 'hack month'. What's a 'hack month'? Details here:

    From the 37Signals blog post announcing the project:

    This June will be a full month of free time to think, explore, mock up, prototype, whatever. People can go solo or put together a team – it’s entirely up to them. This is a month to unwind and create without the external pressures of other ongoing projects or expectations. We’re effectively taking a month off from non-essential scheduled/assigned work to see what we can do with no schedule/assignments whatsoever.

    The culmination of this month of free work time is Pitchday – the first Thursday in July. That’s when everyone will get a chance to pitch their idea, mockup, prototype, or proof of concept to the whole company. The better the pitch, the more likely the project will happen.

    Some people have already paired up and recruited others to work on an idea together. Some are going solo. And some are taking the time to work on a combination of smaller things they’ve been meaning to work on for a while.

    I love the idea of companies letting go, even if it is for one day a quarter like many hack days, one day per week like the 20% time scheme, or even something more bold and potentially impactful as 37Signals' month-long experiment.  The key to these programs being more than just nice perks for an overworked and over stressed staff is the 'pitch' that happens at the end of the hack time. The pitch, since it typically has to be delivered in front of all their peers as well as company leadership places extra responsibility in the employee's and can serve to illustrate some really useful elements for company leadership in both staff skills and capabilities, as well as motivation and engagement.

    Some of the benefits for company leadership of these kind of hack day programs that are often harder to come by during the course of 'normal' business:

    Figure out who is all in - some people and teams will push really hard in these programs, will exert extra time and effort to make something great, to 'win', and to be recognized. Others, well, not so much. And the good thing is in the pitch meetings, all this plays out in public.

    Figure out the untapped or unrealized talents in the organization - the inherent freedom to choose your project allows staff to experiment with skills and technology that they might enjoy, or at least be very talented with, but for some reason the 'real job' does not utilize. You will almost always be surprised what someone is really good at.

    Find out which people are willing to learn new things - the jury may be out on so-called stretch goals, but observing which employees seem to embrace new things, to try and take advantage of the free time to learn new skills can be an important and illustrative predictor of who might be ready for a new project or a more challenging type of 'real' assignment. 

    Sense where natural teams form and whether or not they work - A great aspect of hack day programs is that they allow and encourage teams to form across the organization often where the normal course of business does not require. Seeing where teams and groups form, and also who decides to work solo, can give leaders some clues towards project team composition, and creates opportunities for people from different functions to offer different insights in areas they usually would not see.

    You can probably tell I am a huge fan of the hack day idea. Maybe extreme examples like the 37Signals hack month are not reasonable, or even wise, for most organizations, but certainly just about every organization could benefit from taking at least some time every few months to open up, let go of the reins, and see what the employees can really do. And the pitch day with the entire team assembled? That is money all day.

    What do you think - does your organization have similar hack days? And if not, why not?

    Happy Monday!



    Off Topic - The Flames of Discontent

    Spotted from the always inspiring 'If Charlie Parker Was a Gunslinger, There'd Be a Whole Lot of Dead Copycats' blog:

    Are you fanning the flames of disconent today?

    Contributing to them?

    Will you win?

    Have a Great Weekend!