The base-level case for training your employees

Train Your Employees

Here’s what we do know: the companies that regularly appear on “best places to work” lists have one major thing in common, and that’s training their employees.

Here’s what we also know: budgets are tight, margins are slim, and most top dogs at companies are probably worried about 2008 recession V2. In those types of economic climates, training tends to fall by the wayside; often the argument is “Why would we spend to train people who might leave, and thus enrich a competitor on our dime?” I get that, although it’s pretty narrow-minded — although in reality, most management theory tends to be.

All jobs (and organizations) are different, but retail is a core industry, at least for America. So what if we analyzed retail research to see if it could teach us anything about the value of training employees?

Thankfully, UPenn did just that, baby!

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Stop purporting to solve a problem simply because you have a number in the headline

Numbers in Headlines Don't Solve Problems

8 Ways To Live The Life You Want!

7 Tricks To Eat Less When Eating Out!

10 Ways To Make Your Bulletin Boards POP!

11 Ways To Bring More Play Into Your Life!

17 Ways To Immediately Improve Your Website Traffic!

This is the new normal in content/editorial spaces, honestly. Everyone chases this. There is documented research that numbers — and especially unique numbers, like 17! — in headlines will get more clicks, but we may have gone a little too far with it, honestly.

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Better time management: Don’t wait for permission

Why do you keep waiting for permission?

This attitude will probably mess with a lot of people’s heads, because waiting for permission is often seen as a crucial part of hierarchy, and when hierarchy collapses, a team/department/organization can collapse too, right? (Right, and that may never change.) But think about it in a slightly different way. I’ll start with a story.

I used to work with this girl at ESPN The Magazine. I was very infrequently busy when I worked there. She seemed to be busy a lot. We would often drink on Fridays together, so one time I asked her, “Hey, are you really busy?” (I, at the time, couldn’t see anyone being super busy in this job.) She was like, “No, I’m actually not. It’s all hurry up and wait.” You’ve probably had a few jobs/roles where you feel that way too. You rush to get something done, then send it along to someone for review/approval, and they sit on days. That’s the intersection point of hierarchy and professionalism, right there.

So anyway, this girl and I get into this philosophical discussion about “being busy” — which clearly I’m still thinking about years later — and “hurry up and wait” and a bunch of various things. We were not sober. At one point, we got to this central question:

Is it better to shoot first and apologize later, or wait for permission?

I actually feel like that’s a central question of how work is done in the first world. As long as hierarchy factors in, you typically need approval from others on things you work on/your “deliverables.” But as you rise up a hierarchy, people have more to do — as such, it can take longer to get back to people on projects that need to advance. (In short, middle managers can tie up progress, which I don’t think surprises anyone.) At the same time, work moves faster than ever — or so we think — so if you were to shoot-first-and-apologize-later, people would probably kind of forget about whatever the issue was 15 minutes later (they’d probably scream at you then forget).

(The other tangle here is that most managers have 1-2 areas they actually care about — typically those that drive revenue — and mostly lip-service everything else. Soooo…)

So … do we really need to wait for permission?

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Today is my wife’s birthday. If you want the story of how we met, click here.

Ted Ximena 1

Let me start here: I promise I’ll make this somewhat funny/entertaining. Otherwise, why would you want to read the story of how two people you potentially barely know got together? If you get about halfway and it’s not funny or entertaining, then I’ve lied to you and you should click away and silently curse my name under your breath.

Second thing: at my wedding, about five minutes after my wife and I spoke to the guests and as people were filing towards dinner, my man Matt Witmer — one of my best friends — comes over to me and says something like, “I had no idea how you guys met each other. Isn’t it weird that you can talk to people all the time and really have no idea about some of the biggest things in their life?” Indeed. It is pretty weird. People never think about that. I’m about to digress, so let’s get this back on the rails.

Logistical point: I’m gonna say “wife” in periods before we actually got married, as opposed to saying “future wife” all the time or whatever. Deal with it. Her name is Ximena, if you’re interested. I didn’t include other actual first names of people mentioned because I don’t control how much of this narrative they want Google-able access to/from.

Here’s the story.

———-

If you want to go to the first point of connection, that would be a random Georgetown party probably in 2001. My wife is best friends from HS with one of my best friends from college; in short summation, that’s how we know each other. She visited Georgetown (I went to school there) sometime in 2001. We’ve had a few convos over the years and figured out we were at the same party for about 15 minutes. Didn’t speak, didn’t interact, but likely overlapped there.

Here’s the next step; I detailed it a little bit in this “Hey, I’ve been married for two years” thing I wrote: late junior year of college, I decided to try and apply to be “Senior Class Committee Chair” at Georgetown. That’s kinda like senior class president. Weird it’s not elected, right? Anyway, I apply to do that. At the time I applied, I have no belief I’ll get it. I was an involved student or whatever, but I’m pretty rough around the edges and this is a semi-big-deal job to have as a senior in college. I apply and I get it. (Ha.) There’s a “board” (leadership team) of 9 other people. I became good friends, even great friends, with pretty much all of them — even the ones I didn’t know. One of those girls (women) was the girl who went to HS with my wife. So basically, had I never applied to this random thing as a junior in college, I’d probably be single and living under a bridge, or married to someone else, or what have you.

That’s where life gets weird: you do one thing for one reason, and it creates 5,000 other things. I think that’s called Butterfly Effect or something. More on that further down.

Alright, so after college I go teach with Teach for America. I’m from NYC, I went to college in DC, and I ended up teaching in Houston. I currently live in Texas, yes, but that’s also moderately random (see below). At the time I did TFA — 2003 — I had been to Texas once, and that was a 2-hour layover at DFW where my friends and I pounded Shiner Bock en route to Phoenix. Life at 22, you know? I moved to Houston and I made some good friends there — I even dated a girl there for most of the time I was in TFA — but most of my friends were still back in the NYC/DC corridor.

I went home probably four times/year from 2003 t0 2005 (the time I was doing TFA): usually both big holidays, once in the summer, and one other time. In this ’03 to ’05 span, my wife was living in Miami (she’s from there), but again, most of her friends were NYC/DC area. I’d say maybe twice in this span, I saw her at parties/gatherings somewhere in NYC. We would talk but we weren’t friends, and definitely not good friends. It was, at best, casual acquaintanceship or baseline facial recognition.

I was in NYC in March 2005 and watching the NCAA Tournament at a bar with some people; four-five years later, I’d end up being a regular at this same bar. (Random.) My wife shows up with some other friends, and a bunch of us got drunk. That was probably the first time we had a conversation longer than 5-10 minutes. She seemed cool, but at the time I still lived in Houston, had no idea of next steps, was still dating some other girl, etc. Related: I think my cousin — the first great-grandchild of my grandfather, who is a patriarch-type dude on my mom’s side — was born that same night. (Random.)

I left Houston/TFA in June 2005; I started working for ESPN in Connecticut. To this day, I might be the only person in human history who moved from TFA to ESPN. I’m proud of that.

I worked in CT from June 2005 to September 2007; this was a mostly off-task period for me where I broke up with the girl from Houston (she broke up with me would probably be a more accurate way of describing what happened there), I went on an EHarmony date with a girl from Yale Med School and then had her e-mail me that she was getting back with her ex, I did some good work at ESPN and got promoted but most of my co-workers hated me, and I worked basically every weekend for two years with Tuesday/Wednesday off.

That whole ’05 to ’07 period, my wife was living/working in New York City (going to Columbia for grad school). I saw her at parties/gatherings probably four-five times in this arc. Thing is, most mid-20somethings party on weekends. I worked then. So it’s a challenge. Here’s a funny story I won’t get into that deeply right now: the night that Georgetown won the Big East Tournament in 2007, I basically cock-blocked my future wife at a bar on the west side of NYC. Then I had to drive back to CT at 2am. That’s a two-hour drive. It wasn’t a fun night.

If you want some visual context on my life deal at the time, here:

Ted Bauer Wreck

Not ideal.

OK, so … September 2007 I move to New York City. August 2007, the month before? My wife leaves New York City. Back to Miami, yo! She was going to run a community foundation. At this point, we’re still maybe mid-level acquaintances. Nothing more.

In NYC, my main friends were probably (a) my ESPN co-workers, which meant we went to happy hour and somehow got home at 2am instead of 7pm and (b) some Miami transplants, including the HS friend of my wife. Because of that latter group, I ended up going down to Miami in probably March 2009 to work on my wife’s largest event for her foundation.

We get down there — it’s me and three other girls — and she (my future wife) is sick as a dog (100+ fever), but still has to run this event. So me and these girls kind of spring into action. I have a (very low-level) ability to write, so I wrote the descriptions for the silent auction part of the event. (Someone auctioned off a bike ride, and the event was on Key Biscayne in Florida, so I made it “Ride, Ride, Ride Your Bike Gently Down The Key.” To this exact moment, that’s the most creative thing I have ever done.)

This was the weekend I also met my now brother-in-law for the first time; we talked about the Miami Heat for 10 minutes in our first conversation. Remember: I still worked at ESPN at this juncture. We all ended up helping her run this party, and at the end, all the guests got this little plant. (My future wife and I had bought all the pots for this when I first got to Miami.) I had to be upstairs at the venue handing out the potted plants. I was also not 100 percent sober. I ended up dancing with this old Floridian woman when she came to get her plant. Apparently a lot of people at the party thought that was endearing.

I get back Sunday night to NYC and I’m 3/4 passed-out in bed watching probably some low-level sporting event (my life at the time), and my wife calls me to tell me how thankful she was/is that I helped out with the event.

Probably around this same time, we started talking more on GChat during the day. Her job was off-task (she was essentially a staff of one) and my job was kind of boring (no one really understands what a “print-to-digital strategy” is, least of all ESPN in 2009).  We talked a lot on GChat, about a lot of different stuff. We became better friends. This is how this stuff really happens.

April 2009, three of us go to Vegas and Stagecoach (country music festival in southern CA); here’s visual rep:

Stagecoach 2009

That’s a San Diego Padres hat, if you care. I’ve never been to San Diego. I also lost that hat in a cab about three weeks after the photo was taken.

That was a good trip, and around the same time, the three peeps in this photo and one other girl — same friend circle — started planning a trip to Spain. At this point in time (spring 2009), I had never left the United States. (Ironically, I work for a travel company now; it’s only six years later, FYI.) When we first planned this trip, I didn’t even have a passport. So I had to get on that, then book it, and then we all went to Spain in July of 2009.

Here’s where the story basically closes up. We were there Wednesday to the next Friday (9 days or so), and on the Tuesday of that span, we’re all staying at this apartment (me and 3 girls), drunk and watching Saved by the Bell in Spanish at 2am. My friend from Los Angeles calls me (I have no idea how my phone had service; then I got my phone bill eventually and realized I’m a total fucking moron) and I take it downstairs from the apartment, because he was having girl issues. I’m on the phone with him for probably 30 minutes, and then my wife comes outside and I tell my friend “Yo, I gotta go.” We talk for a while, then go back upstairs.

Our other friends had passed out in one room, so there was another room available and we go in there and like ….

I’ll pause it there for a second. First thing first: if you really and truly care, all we did in that context was make out. Second thing: for a while (the remainder of this trip, at least), our friends didn’t know. It was cool at the time. Sometimes I look back and am mixed on it, but you know … youth is for chasing some kind of dream.

Alright, so here’s the final part of the arc. Let me toss this grenade out first:

We get back to NYC on a Friday night, and my wife lived in Miami at the time, but she’s staying in NYC with her friends through Sunday. One of our friends convinces us to go to this bar party after we got off a 7-hour flight, so we go over there and I’m tired, I’m not feeling this party, I live super-far from it (it was in Manhattan, and I lived in Queens), and I decided to bounce. I go to hug my wife, and she’s all like “Eh, don’t touch me.” So at that moment I’m like, “Well, that was a Europe-only deal…”

I got home and I had 535 e-mails from ESPN I hadn’t checked in days. Interestingly, only four of them were relevant. That’s how that cookie often crumbles.

Next day I’m at the gym and my wife texts me and is like “Hey, do you want to meet up around 2pm?” I thought she had plans with other people, so I’m like “Uh, OK.” So she came out to Queens where I live and we go to this bar and then like …

I’m gonna hit the pause button again there, except for this one: we end up going to a bunch of parties that night (two birthdays or something) and then we end up back in Queens. We go to this bar with this couple — my wife’s college roommate and her then-boyfriend. Both of these people I had never met at this point and now they’re two of my really good friends. They’re not together anymore in that way; both with other people (also good friends of mine) — the guy is actually getting married in two weekends. Basically, here’s what I’m saying here: every person that comes into your life, regardless of the way in which they enter, can be super-valuable. That’s the dream, writ large.

Basically my wife leaves to Miami on Sunday, and then we started talking on the phone, then we met up in NC for a weekend, and then we were “official,” and then in October 2010 we started living together. In NYC for a bunch, then Minneapolis, and now Texas. Life is random. It progresses in random ways. That’s kind of the broader point about this story above.

Hopefully you somewhat enjoyed this. If you didn’t, go to hell. (I’m just playing.) If you’ve got one and want to drop it in the comments or write your own post and link it back, go for it. If you have no idea why I wrote this all out, well, I like telling stories, this seems like a big story in someone’s life, and hey, who are you to ask me questions like that?

Onward and upward.

The power of asking good questions

Asking Better Questions

Got a million words I could write on this topic, but I realize no one would ever read that, so … let’s keep it a bit tighter, no?

I was just reading this article on the power of harnessing employee ideas; here’s the final paragraph of it:

Social and collaborative tools alone do not create a flow of ideas and innovations. But they can be effective in getting people to put their minds to problems and offer ideas for consideration. To access a wealth of untapped employee potential locked up in departments and functions, all you have to do is ask the right questions.

Yep. Couldn’t agree more there. We consistently think we can build employee engagement through technology or software; the truth is, we can’t. Engaged employees is a people issue. You can’t solve people issues with new tech or algorithms. You actually have to go talk to people.

But when you talk to them, what do you do? (“Oh God, I have to talk to the rank-and-file?”) Well, to get information, you usually need to ask questions. And now we’re down a brand-new rabbit hole.

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The dirty little secret about communication at work

Dirty Little Secret of Communicating at Work

This isn’t going to be a long or well-thought-out post, so I apologize in advance. It’s just something I was thinking about recently and wanted to articulate; one of my ideas going forward is to actually do a post where I get four or five people from different walks of life (spouse in a marriage, therapist, business leader, blue-collar worker, etc.) and talk to them about communication in their space. Maybe if I can get off my lazy ass and launch a podcast, that could be the first edition. (** Makes note to self**)

Here’s my basic philosophy here, before we get going: effective work communication is not balance-sheet ROI, and that’s where it dies in terms of anyone actually caring about it. It’s a soft skill. That means it’s something that’s nice-to-have, but it’s not a need-to-have; need-to-have skills in the business world are things tied directly to revenue and growth. Of course, we totally screw that up and think revenue-chasers have to be extroverts or something, when in fact that that’s not even true and introverts might run the business world in 15 years because with so much digital noise out there, the true key is going to be listening.

Point is: we have all these preconceived ideas about what and who is successful in business settings, and most of it is wrong. Communication is an apex predator form of that. Everyone bangs the drum on how important it is, but no one truly cares. I think I figured out the potential reason.

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Future of work: balancing cohesion and diversity

Future of Work

I was just poking around the Internet on Sunday AM and found a few articles on holacracy, which is a concept that intrigues me. (If you’ve never heard of it before, it’s essentially a looser, more informal management structure where traditional hierarchy is replaced by a series of interlocking circles. It’s in use at companies like Zappos and Medium, and it has a bunch of pros and cons.)

Specifically, I found this Harvard Business Review article by Greg Satell of Digital Tonto. It mostly talks about getting the benefits of holacracy without fully adopting the system, and it makes a lot of interesting points. Here are but a few.

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How can you create business urgency with limited resources?

Create Urgency in Business

If a business has been around for 5-10 years and it’s generally making money, there’s usually an established series of “cash cows” within the org — i.e. the things that actually make it the money. (Insert something about 80/20 rule here.) This is both a good and bad moment for a company; it’s good because hey, you’re making money. It’s bad because once you have cash cows, the idea of innovation or creating new projects/pipelines/etc. becomes limited. People want to focus on what’s working, and resources are limited.

For example, I worked at ESPN for years. ESPN is a big place and has a ton of money; it’s part of an even bigger place (Disney) that also has a ton of money. It’s not necessarily hard to get a new project going there, but … most people know the true money is coming from the cable subscription fees, so there’s a prioritization of resources towards all that, sure. This happens, at some large/small level, probably everyplace you’ve ever worked.

But how do you create urgency around a new idea in this situation? Well, thankfully there are a few approaches out there.

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