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Posts tagged ‘Human Resources’

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:

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).


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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Here’s another reason meetings are awful

Meetings Are Terrible Part 1

I’ve written about this topic a couple of times before — for example, in this post. I was thinking about a new angle on it recently — essentially “Why are meetings typically awful?” — and I came to a different line of thought. Bear with me.

A couple of years ago, I worked for ESPN. I switched roles a few times while I worked there, so towards the middle of my time there, I was pretty low on the totem pole in a new role. (It was one of those jobs whereby no one really knows exactly what you do.) Because the job lacked definition, I would often do one or two things repeatedly and then, on days where I had a lot more motivation, I would schedule meetings with people looking for more clarity on my exact role, etc.

Here’s what happened, often: people with more clout (those who could be defining my job role more directly) would be coming from another meeting. I wouldn’t have had any meetings all day. One time, my boss — my direct boss – came to a meeting I had scheduled with attempts to get some more clarity / responsibility and asked me, “Hey, what’s this meeting about?” (At the time, I was heartbroken.)

But think about it like this: let’s say there are five to eight people in a given meeting, if you follow the ol’ Jeff Bezos “two pizza rule.”

Out of the — let’s say — eight people, they can fall into different buckets:

  • Meeting leader (owns the content and pacing)
  • People that will execute what happens after the meeting
  • People tangentially connected to the ideas
  • People invited for political purposes
  • Other

Out of those categories, you have these other categories:

  • Is in 5+ meetings that day
  • Doesn’t view this meeting as related to their primary job
  • Has stuff going on at home
  • Is focused on another project primarily at this time
  • Other

Here’s the bottom line: the investment in a given meeting is almost never at the same level for all people in the meeting.

Let’s say you had a workout group, right? Let’s say the workout group had eight people in it. Let’s say three were focused intensely on fitness and getting stronger, etc. Let’s say 1 couldn’t care less, 1 just wanted to text in the class instead of doing cardio, 1 showed up late, etc. Do you think this would be an effective fitness group overall? Probably not.

But that’s literally what happens 100s of times a day, all over office buildings.

The solution is pretty basic but not a lot of people embrace it:

1. Less meetings — replace them with more “organic” check-ins or shorter, fixed-format concepts

2. Only call a meeting if a meeting is the absolutely necessary format for it — could it be something else? Like an e-mail?

3. Only invite (initially) the people who the project directly affects — avoid the political and tangential invites at the beginning

4. Figure out other ways — that work for your organization — to organize and transfer knowledge from group to group


55 percent of employees are eating during conference calls (and more fun stats)

One of my least-favorite expressions in the cubicle world is “hop on a call.” Anyone that’s been on a series of conference calls knows that they’re pretty off-task affairs, in general: it’s highly probable that over 60 percent of the people on the call aren’t totally focused on the call at all. If over half the people doing something aren’t really there, does the thing even matter, from a philosophical sense?

Harvard Business Review has a post based on data from InterCall about what people really do during conference calls. Here’s the breakdown:

Employees During Conference Calls

On the HBR post, there’s a couple of different scenarios people admitted to doing a conference call during — the funniest is probably “chasing my dog down the street because she got out of the house.” I’ll fully admit that I’ve done 2-3 in my life in bars. I took one on a Friday two summers ago while walking to a bar, had a drink, ordered an app, and the app came (ordered second drink), and then the call ended. Funniest thing about that one? I was leading the call.

The data here probably isn’t surprising to anyone who’s had an office call in a conference call-laden environment, but the underlying aspects of this research speak to something bigger. Predominantly, conference calls are done to link up with clients/customers in another place, or co-workers in another place. I am all for people working where they want to work — i.e. not necessarily relocating to the HQ of a company they work for — but these numbers speak to the challenge inherent in a remote workforce. People aren’t really paying attention — and they’ve convinced themselves they’re tremendously busy with their own stuff – so they look at conference calls as a kind of down-time. It’s almost like a break in the day.

Remember in HS where you did homework in some class and then periodically looked up and made eye contact with that teacher and nodded, hoping to never get called on? Conference calls are like the professional equivalent of that.

That makes it harder for a “remote workforce” to be a thing, at least in a standard, top-down company: there’s always going to be the assumption that someone not sitting around the other people (i.e. the remote worker) is slacking off in some way (the irony is that out of the people sitting together, there’s a good chance many of them are slacking off too), and there’s no real way to connect with someone not in the same office / physical space as you effectively. E-mail isn’t necessarily great, clearly conference calls are a way to focus on other things, and “virtual meetings” — heck, any type of meeting — isn’t really that effective either.

In fact, in that last vein, here’s a great quote about the central problem this study from InterCall gets at:

For Rob Bellmar, InterCall’s Executive Vice President of Conferencing and Collaboration, the problem is largely about how technology has changed the way we communicate, and thus, the values we attach to it. “Part of the problem comes from too many meetings,” he says. “This leads people to confuse activity with productivity.”

Agree with that about 150 percent. Activity and productivity are different. If you’re walking around living and breathing, you’re active. That isn’t the same thing as being productive for an organization. This confusion point causes a ton of people to deify being busy — i.e. essentially turning it into a cultural currency for our era. It’s sad.


Lowe’s has a good answer when people don’t think employee engagement is tied to revenue

I’ve written a lot about employee engagement on this blog — such as here and here — because it seems like a major topic of the next few years. Millennials will become the primary part of the workforce, and they want experiences instead of jobs – or so the narrative goes — and being able to do interesting, creative things that tether employees back to your org will be of increasing value.

The problem is this: there’s a collision of old school and new school. What I just described above is closer to new school. Old school says that jobs are jobs, organizations are organizations, and the point of business is to make money — employees? Pfft. They come and go. This is, psychologically, what happened to working, corporate ethos when “time with one organization” started coming down from 10 years to 3 years in the 1970s. It’s like when you get dumped by a girl. Pfft. She wasn’t that nice or attractive anyway. That’s how corporations started to view employees as employees stopped staying at places for a decade.

So a lot of times if you talk to an old-school manager about employee engagement, they think it’s a fad. (In some ways, they might be right. That’s not the point of this.) A big reason they’ll cite for the fad nature is “… it’s not tied to revenue.” Well, in fact it is tied to revenue — when people leave because they don’t like their job (i.e. aren’t engaged), that’s a hit to you in numerous ways — but let’s put that aside for a second.

How can you directly tie the idea of employee engagement back to revenue?

It’s hard, but Lowe’s — which actually has a fairly good track record around employee engagement — did just that. There’s a whole white paper-type thing around it, but consider this one simple part:

Screen Shot 2014-08-22 at 3.26.37 PM

See? The difference between the highest and lowest engaged store — conservatively — was $1 million. That’s for a single store, across 365 or so days. That’s like $2,740 a day! That’s a lot of nails and wood.

Simple theorem here, then:

Focus on employee engagement models (the best ones for your org) =

Happier employees who want to work harder =

Upselling, going the extra mile =

More money for all on the back end.

A bit simplistic, but not completely off-base.

Embrace the idea, friends. It’s the challenge of our time. 

People really love to deify the internal culture of tech companies

Everyone seems to want to work in Silicon Valley (to some extent).

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