Relevant Skills and Job Roles

How a job is designed — the role of the job, essentially — is extremely important to how a person performs, and we need to understand and discuss this more. First? A quick personal story.

I recently got laid off from a gig I started back in July 2014. In June of 2014, I had flown down from Minneapolis — where I was living at the time — to Fort Worth — where the job was based, and where I currently live. I had lunch with the lady who would be my boss and her boss. During that lunch, I asked them about day-to-day responsibilities of the role. Both couldn’t really answer the question. At that point, I probably should have realized it was a bad fit. Thing was, I needed a job and my wife and I wanted to leave Minneapolis. I ended up taking it, and here I am now, 16 months later, looking to commence a brand new search.

It’s a shame, but it happens more than we think. In fact, it’s a dirty little secret of most workplaces that no one really knows what many of their co-workers actually do. This happens for a couple of different reasons, best I can tell from my working years:

  • Assumption of Busy: Many managers feel busy themselves — pulled in many directions — so they assume their whole team is that busy. Then, rather than looking at how actually busy their team members are, they rush to hire.
  • Headcount: Because headcount is more of a gift in some organizations than a bonus would be, it creates a lot of analysis paralysis for hiring managers — and ultimately it’s all subjective anyway, so they end up making the wrong pick and taking too long to do so.
  • Applicant Tracking Systems and the Recruiting Process: It’s all based on “easy-to-implement!” technological solutions, which is essentially killing recruiting by removing any human element from it.
  • People Analytics: Any role that’s been held a couple of times has seen successes and failures from the people who held it. So theoretically, a manager has a set of data points such as “This job really needs this skill set, but this one over here is less relevant.” That’s the micro-level of People Analytics, or applying some data science to hiring. Seems logical, since you’re about to bring in a person who will spend 1/3 of their time at your offices, right? Thing is: we’re not there yet with People Analytics. We may never be.

I’m just one person with theories, though. Is there research on this?


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Priorities and the 5 Balls You Juggle In Life

I think there should be much more of a robust science and research underpinning to the idea of “How people set priorities.” That’s somewhat everything in life, because I mean, you need to determine what’s important and what needs to be focused on first — and in issues of work and family/friends, most people are uniquely bad at doing that. Isn’t that awkward? Shouldn’t we study this more? I don’t mean “time management” or “productivity” because eventually, those are both just a series of “hacks” that work for some brains and not for others. I mean getting right down to the nitty gritty and trying to figure out, “OK, these things matter. These things do not.”

James Patterson (famous author) has said there are five balls we juggle in life:

  • Work
  • Family
  • Health
  • Friends
  • Integrity

There’s a broader context, though.

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Attracting Top Talent Can Be Simple

Back in June 2014, I sat in a Starbucks near Copley Square in Boston and wrote this post on whether recruiting should even be a function of Human Resources anymore. At the time, I was applying for jobs — I was in Boston interviewing for two — and I was thinking a lot about the recruiting process as a whole. That was probably 18 months ago, and my thought processes have evolved on it even more since then. No, I don’t work in HR. No, I don’t spearhead recruiting practices. But yes, it is something that seems confusing to a logical person.

Think about it along two perspectives:

  • Hiring processes are static; it’s typically a list of skills you need to have, and then you can advance in the process. A couple of interviews, which don’t often yield a ton of insight, and then the hiring manager makes you an offer based on “feel,” probably. Problem here? Jobs are dynamic, because companies change strategy and revenue models all the time. So you could come in with 12 skills over here, but a year later, you need 7 wholly different skills. So in reality, you want curious and adaptable people — CQ, baby! — but companies don’t hire that way.
  • Companies spend a lot of time — or should, at least — on their branding, messaging, value proposition, and “go-to-market” strategy. In the process of all that, they’re defining a number of things about themselves, and all of that ultimately faces consumers or clients. OK. But what about when you attract new employees? How are you phrasing that value prop? Companies almost never think about that process, which is part of a broader framework whereby all the focus is on customers and none of the focus is on employees.

This brings me back to my point at the top of this post: what if recruiting came from, let’s say, Marketing? I know a lot of marketing people would grouse. “This isn’t our jobs; we got targets to hit!” But marketing is theoretically responsible for the positioning of the brand. Shouldn’t that apply to how a potential new hire sees it too?

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Managing Up and "What If?"

One of the hardest things for most people at the low/middle arc of organizations to do is “manage up,” which I think means “stretching yourself” and/or “having a better relationship with your boss.” I had a bit of a mental breakdown last weekend when I realized that I’ve had really good relationships with a bunch of managers, but usually my direct boss isn’t always a massive fan at the two-to-three-year mark. I think that’s because I try to throw new ideas into the ether, and most organizational cultures are set up to get along — which is very different than embracing new ideas.

So … if you want to manage up — which would seem to be the key to getting a promotion, more money, and more responsibility over time — how do you do that?

Here’s one idea.

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You're not nearly as busy as you think

Here’s a thing I’ve literally never understood in the period of time I’ve been working: everyone runs around all the time talking about how busy they are. OK. So maybe they are. There is this idea that we live in a period of time where business is “moving faster than ever,” so maybe it’s possible that everyone is so busy. OK. Deep breath.

But then my lack of understanding starts to creep in. You see, everyone is different. So if you give two people the same project or task, one of them can probably finish it in 1 week. The other person might need 4 weeks. So isn’t how “busy” you are in part a function of your job skills, time management skills, and personal choices about what to focus on?

Right. Right?

The ‘busy trap’ stuff confounds me so much that I write about it all the time, including:

And now, we have some new research to throw into the fray.

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The holidays are when family means more than work

Ah, Monday. But this is a specific Monday! It’s the Monday of Thanksgiving week! (At least in the United States.) So you probably work today, maybe tomorrow, no more than half of Wednesday, and then you’re likely off for the rest of the week. You come back and it’s basically December, and if you’ve been in the workforce for at least a year, you know ‘the period between Thanksgiving and Christmas’ is pretty much done and done at work in terms of anything actually happening. People will race around screaming about ‘EOY’ and ‘Q4 deliverables’ and the like, but no one is really giving it their all — it’s a time for family, parties, reconnecting, and taking stock of the year gone by.

Of course, this all varies by industry, yes. If you work at an Amazon fulfillment center, I’d assume this period of the year is fairly busy for you. I’m mostly talking about standard white-collar, offices-and-cubicles type deals.

We love to throw ourselves on the cross worshipping at The Temple of Busy and talking about how much we have to do — although I’m still unclear why the quantity of your work actually matters — but this is a slightly-simpler time of year, one where work can take a backseat (even if a slight one) to more essential priorities. This is important.

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The psychology of discussing terrorism

Consider this simple situational example:

A boy notices his mother shut the door, and the room becomes less noisy; the correspondent inference is that she wanted quiet.

Edward Jones, a social psychologist of the 1960s and 1970s, called that “attribute-effect linkage.” What does that mean? The objectives of the actor — in this case, ‘wanting quiet’ — are encoded within the observable outcome of behavior — in this case, shutting the door.

This whole thing is called “correspondent inference theory,” and it’s a huge deal if you really think about: our brain interacts with hundreds of people and situations per day. Some are familiar, but some aren’t. It has to put everything in context and attempt to infer motives or behaviors from limited, potentially superficial, interactions.

This only gets exacerbated with social media, Muslim, ISIS, terrorism, etc.-type discussions.

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What's the ROI of business travel?

In my life, I’ve worked with probably 90-120 people who were true ‘business travel road warriors,’ meaning they’re basically gone Sunday to Thursday every week. This confuses the hell out of me. If you live in Pittsburgh and you’re always flying to San Jose for client work, why not just go live in San Jose? Wouldn’t that be easier for the company, as opposed to constantly paying for cross-country flights? And if you’re staying in Pittsburgh because you’re tied to something there — i.e. your family or friends — then why are you so content to leave them for over 60 percent of each week?

There’s one absolute basic answer, buffered by a lot of other, smaller things: namely, ‘business’ in the way most people understand it is still very much individual-to-individual and face-to-face. Phrased another way: even if we have amazing technological tools that let someone from Tokyo be on a direct video chat with someone from Zurich and someone from Pittsburgh at the same time, most organizations won’t hand over cash to another organization without some face time. That’s how business is done, frankly. And that’s why there are people who travel all the time, in all industries/verticals (not just consulting).

Is there any documented ROI on this, though?

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