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Posts tagged ‘Business’

IQ, EQ? Valid. How about CQ? (Curiosity quotient.)

A lot of times in job interviews, I would tell people that my main attribute — my real selling point – was that I’m a very curious person. That’s actually a bad thing to say in a lot of job interviews, because it’s not the precise language that the interviewer is really looking for, although that’s very flawed. It should be a really good thing to say in job interviews — because if you’re looking for a term like “a go-getter” or “a team player,” well, being curious rolls up with that kind of stuff.

Here’s a new post on Harvard Business Review that explains it a little bit, including this crucial connector: people who are more curious tend to be more comfortable with ambiguity. Can you think of a more ambiguous place than the modern workforce? Managers aren’t great, e-mails are coming from everywhere, no one really has any idea what’s going on, and everyone’s running around between meetings and telling everyone else how busy they are. It’s a world with a lot of ambiguity — so having a curious mind in there might be helpful.

Secondly, being curious leads to higher levels of intellectual investment and knowledge acquisition over time, which makes sense because (by definition) a curious person wants to “chase” information — to learn more.

Simply stated, a person who chases knowledge tends to have more options when it comes to breaking complex tasks into a series of simpler tasks — and at core, that’s all work where really is, whether you mop floors, fly planes, publish graphic novels, work on an assembly line, or whatever else.

So if you are a hiring manager and you come across someone who’s really, earnestly discussing their curiosity — give it a listen. It might not be exactly what you want to hear, or are conditioned to hear — but it might be exactly the type of person you need on the team.

If you don’t believe me (because who am I, really?), maybe you’ll believe Jack Dorsey, who started a couple of successful businesses (Twitter and Square) — and who we’ve talked about on this site before too:

Where can you get the cheapest flight from?

We have some science behind when you should book travel to get the best discounts, and now we have a little bit of science around where you should fly from. Of course, the latter is a little bit restrictive, as people tend to fly from, uh, where they live or are working out of. But it’s still kind of interesting.

This study is based on cost per 100 km; that’s about 62 miles. The cheapest place in the world to fly from is the Philippines, where it costs $7.86 per 100 km. That means if you wanted to fly the equivalent of NYC to Atlanta in that area of the world (about 761 miles), you’d pay about $96. If you try to get a flight from NYC to Atlanta on 30 days notice right now, the lowest shot you have is about $271. Thus, it’s much cheaper to fly around Asia than within the U.S. In fact, 7 of the 10 cheapest places to fly from in the world are in Asia: Read more

You can save two hours a day with this e-mail hack

EMail Hack

The average person receives 50 work e-mails a day (I guess I’m below-average, harrumph). A quarter of the workforce, give or take, receives more than 100. E-mail is all consuming — even on a day like today, the Friday prior to Labor Day weekend, close to 89 billion business e-mails will be sent worldwide.

Take the “50” number above, and take the “100” number for 1/4 of the workforce, and round ‘em off in the middle. Let’s say you get / have to reply to about 70-75 e-mails per day. If you’re a standard 40-hour worker (again, give or take), 70 e-mails a day accounts for about two hours of your workday, each day. (McKinsey, where probably a lot of e-mails are sent every day, has backed up that research.)

So, two hours a day x 5 days a week = 10 hours a week = 1/4 of your standard work week is spent answering e-mails. That’s a lot, right? (Here’s a different approach that probably wouldn’t work for most people, but eh.)

There’s a hack, though!

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Should Human Resources optimize the talent or the organization?

There is possibly no more discussed topic in the Human Resources world than “getting a seat at the table” or “becoming a strategic business partner,” (can be said in other ways as well) which essentially means “being thought to add value to the organization.” I have a whole category about this on my blog, and I’ve written about issues within HR a handful of times: check out here, here, here and here. You can take some of it with a grain of salt — I’ve had HR-type jobs, but I’ve never officially been under HR as a function — if you want.

I do think HR is really important, but we’re in a weird place in terms of generational shift. The (predominantly) men still running organizations came up in business during a time when the pre-eminent functions of HR were (a) personnel / paperwork, (b) recruiting, and (c) being an office cop. You can argue that for a lot of those old-school guys, HR isn’t even really tied to recruiting — usually people have “their guys” (from previous jobs, etc.) and they’ll try to bring them in without the full HR process (HR in these instances becomes a background check factory, which is another transactional — as opposed to transformative — role).

That’s what I think is hard. If you believe Big Data is the future (it may be), HR has a natural role there: it already houses an organization’s employee data. If you believe “talent strategy” is more than a buzzword, HR has a major role there: they’re typically directly tied to the recruiting of new candidates.

But this all brings up an interesting sub-set of questions: is the goal of Human Resources to focus on attracting, hiring and building individuals, or is the goal about building the organization?

You might think that’s just two ways of wording the same idea, but it’s actually not — while it would be logical to think that promoting and building individuals leads to promotion of the organization, that’s not always how things actually work (you’ve probably seen this in your own work in some ways).

Consider:

Obviously the tools, practices, and processes that create effective organization are substantially different from those that optimize talent. For example, If optimizing talent is the agenda, then an HR department will probably hire HR professionals with individual-oriented psychology backgrounds. If optimizing organization is the agenda, then a department is more likely to hire HR professionals with backgrounds in business and economics. The latter two disciplines are the ones that focus on making the organizational whole greater than the sum of the parts. To be truly effective, most HR departments need to balance the individual and organizational focuses.

From the comments section of that same article:

This post was music to my ears. Without the BUSINESS there is no HR. (I am an HR person, so I am on the team.) The difference between HR that has a measurable impact on the business versus ‘we ran so many programs this year’ is a clear link between how the business works and how the leaders lead. We (HR) have to start with the business and understand the economics of that business, in order to contribute to the business… otherwise, we are only spending money.

The best way to know be a positive contribution is to hire, grow, and retain the best talent for your company. There is a ton of talent out there that will never work in your company. We see it in sports when a superstar fails to make others around them good — the success of the team often falters. We’ve seen research in the financial industry that superstar investment experts at one company move to another company and never thrive again. People bring talent to the table. Our job, in HR, is to make them a success within our organization.

This sequence of comments is actually kind of a big thing: I went to grad school in a program with a lot of people who ended up doing HR / OD (organizational development). One thing that always struck me was this: no one really cared about any classes outside of the HR spaceNow, I get it to an extent: HR was their “major,” and that’s where they wanted the good grades, etc. But it is absolutely impossible to make a difference in a company if you have no idea how the company makes money. It’s just impossible. Otherwise you’re proposing things that aren’t ultimately tied to the bottom line — and after a while, people don’t listen to you.

I had a couple of people I knew from school sometimes tell me, “Well, we don’t need to worry about that. We’re HR!”

That’s the wrong attitude.

If you want HR to be successful — or, flip side, if you want to be successful within HR — you need to understand the business.

In terms of the argument above, then, I’d say the goal of Human Resources is to maximize the organization. If you focus too much on maximizing the individual, you run a couple of different risks — one is, you make a person great and they leave (happens all the time). The other one is, it’s not the actual goal. The goal of an organization is to maximize itself (the group) to deliver value, be that shareholder returns or whatever else. The individuals are part of that mission, but the mission runs through the organization itself.

I really do hope that in the next 10-15 years, you start seeing more companies really using HR as a “strategic partner.” There are smart, passionate, people-focused individuals working in that space — and bringing them “to the table” would be great for a lot of different types of organizations.

But the whole thing needs to start with people already in HR figuring out what their focus needs to be: on building the organization, and on understanding the business.

 

Organizations like to describe women as “abrasive”

The gender bias in performance reviews can be pretty ridiculous.

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Facebook eliminating clickbait headlines is a purely business move

You may have heard about Facebook’s attempts to eliminate / remove ‘click bait,’ or, essentially, articles that kind of tease you into clicking on them — bait you, in other words — with a controversial or attention-seeking headline or photo, then fail to deliver on the promise. In essence, it’s a situation where the entry point to an article — the photo associated with it, the headline, the description — way oversells what you’ll actually get when you get there. Google has been making moves to eliminate click-bait — and to reduce other SEO gaming techniques — for years, and now Facebook — Google’s pre-eminent rival, in some ways — is on the same train.

The thing you need to remember here, though, is that Facebook is now (has been for a while) a publicly-traded company and, as such, most of its decisions need to be business-facing.

This is another example.

Consider how Slate explained the move, for example:

Second, if people really liked clickbait headlines, Facebook probably would keep showing them to us. Facebook isn’t waging war on clickbait out of some paternalistic sense of responsibility. It’s doing it because Facebook’s own users have explicitly told Facebook in surveys that they don’t like clickbait. Yes, they may succumb to teaser headlines, but they usually end up feeling cheated and annoyed. That feeling, in turn, makes them less likely to spend time on Facebook in the long run. And that is the worst thing that could happen to Facebook’s business.

This is all an interesting portion of a bigger picture. Social media may be approaching a tipping point. Here’s a personal example around me: I used to check Facebook literally all the time, and I mean to the point that it infuriated my girlfriend (now wife). In the last 10-12 months, I’ve checked it maybe once, twice a day if that. Some entire weekends I go without looking at it once. Why? There are a couple of reasons:

  • Ads seem to be everywhere
  • Videos seem to be everywhere
  • Their algorithms don’t even seem to completely work, because I get news on people I haven’t spoken to or thought of in six years
  • A lot of random, boring stuff near the top of the News Feed

As this started to happen more and more, it seemed to me that it was kind of emblematic of the tipping point going on here. Consider: when Facebook was still everyone’s darling pre-IPO (it’s still a darling, but in a different context), it could focus mostly on building relationships with its user base. Once it became a public company, though, the pressures mounted; when the pressures mounted and the focus became on money and quarterly results, more decisions became business decisions.

Here’s the thing: the decisions that organically allow a site to become a fun place where your friends share info are different from the decisions that you make when investors want to see value back.

Twitter got less cool for a while after its own IPO, rebounded with a strong World Cup, and now can sometimes feel the same way again — very corporate. I search for news on James Foley’s execution and I get three RadioShack sponsored ads before any real content tweeted out. That’s terrible. But at the same time, it’s something they have to do.

The point, after all, is to make money.

If you think that the click-bait removal is just about experience, it’s not. It’s about experience ultimately being tied to bottom line.

The ultimate concern here, besides the experience of being on Facebook eventually feeling less authentic, is that as Facebook adjusts its algorithms to do stuff like this — remove click-bait, for example — it might open itself up to other ways of people trying to exploit their system. After all, there’s 1 billion+ people on there. Marketers and advertisers are going to rush in to that space — oftentimes without a strategy, honestly — for as long as those numbers are there.

That’s where you’re going to see if Facebook really is the new Google — can it keep evolving to keep the experience of being on the site as pure as possible, or will it fall prey to a swarm of tricks from marketers/advertisers/developers/content producers/et al?

No one really understands the unemployment rate

There are actually six different “unemployment rates,” although predominantly when people use that term in cocktail party banter, they mean “the number of people looking for work who can’t actively find it.” But by no means is that the entire picture (I wrote about this a little bit when I was just starting this blog). First, you need to consider this — U.S. labor force as a percentage of population peaked in 1999 at 67.1 percent. Phrased another way, it’s like this: since these stats started being recorded, the highest percentage of the population actively in the labor force was never above 7 in 10.

Now consider this: after the 2008 downturn, essentially six million (6,000,000) workers straight up left the job rolls, and the largest sub-section of those six million was men aged 25-54 — i.e. men in their peak-earning years:

Where Did Jobs Go

You can read this a couple of different ways:

1. There weren’t enough people actively hiring after the downturn, so people who were laid off searched for a year or so, got frustrated, and turned to other things (freelance, taking care of kids, going back to school).

2. There simply aren’t enough jobs.

3. Americans have become frustrated with the job market, the hiring process, and the like and are just straight-up exiting the process (similar to No. 1).

The conclusion of the paper that produced the above chart — read the paper here — is more towards No. 2 above: there aren’t enough jobs. In fact, the author of that paper thinks that we would need 7.9 million jobs created (about 4.3 million for men, the rest for women) to reach healthy, pre-downturn levels. That’s a lot of jobs.

Biggest point here: it’s not really about the unemployment rate, per se — especially when you consider there are six different ones — but it’s more about job creation rate. We’re only adding about 209K jobs per month now, which means we have a long way to go for that 7.9 million.

Sometimes I think this is the bottom line on what happened with the recession / downturn of 2008:

  • Stuff blew up / fell apart.
  • People realized their jobs and investments and security weren’t Teflon and the US could falter.
  • People started to think more about themselves and their families.
  • This trickled down to management and hiring.
  • People don’t necessarily care about helping others find work, so long as they’re taken care of.
  • In sum, the downturn had a bigger psychological emotional impact than a purely economic one.

Maybe that’s naive, but that’s kind of how I look at these days.

Also in keeping with the “Eh, we care less and want to protect ourselves in case this all happens again” motif: pay is down 23 percent even as jobs get created.

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