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Posts tagged ‘U.S. Issues’

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

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.

Read more

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


How old and experienced is an average CEO?

In the fall of 2012, I had a semi-interesting conversation with a kid I was going to graduate school with. At the time, I think I was 31; the other person in question was 24. We were both males. The topic was, essentially: when is our career peak? I try not to think about this too much, because while I like most of the jobs I’ve had to some extent, I still ultimately view work as a means to an end — as in, I don’t necessarily like to professionally define myself by it. Anyway: I’ve heard a male’s career peak starts around 47 — some have argued it’s much younger — so in this context, I was 9-16 years away from it and this other kid was 16-24 years away from it. Big difference in how you look at things if you’re really into work as a defining element, right?

I don’t think I’ll ever become a CEO, nor do I think I’d necessarily want to ever become a CEO, but … I do find some of the data around when people make that big career push interesting. There are obviously a lot of different ways one can become a CEO, and a lot of different-sized companies at which this can happen, so it’s hard to generalize across a wide variety of situations. That said, this is interesting: the CEO of Burger King is 33 right now. (He was a partner at 3G Capital Partners, which was a private equity firm that already owned about 70 percent of Burger King; he moved over to BK in 2010 and became CEO last year.) In the same article, you learn that — for the S&P 500 — the average CEO age is 57.

In Britain, an FTSE 100 (one public exchange) study saw the average CEO age at 55; for the FTSE 250, it was 52. Globally, an average CEO is 54, and probably went to Harvard, Cambridge or Oxford with a degree in economics or engineering. (Remember, that’s a global average.)

Interestingly, that same British study last year saw an average age of 46 on one exchange, meaning that are leaders are seemingly getting older — or the stats are being misread.

Think about this broadly, then: if your average career is from about 22 to 70 (let’s say that in the most generic sense possible), that’s 48 years of working. (Shudder.) If you are in that CEO boat and you get there around 54 (the average globally), that means you’ve been working 32 years before you get there — assuming you didn’t go back to school or anything (globally, many CEOs do have advanced degrees). Let’s say, then, that in an average global context, it takes about 30 years of work + 2-3 years of additional education to grab the top rung of the corporate ladder.

Well then:

  • 30 years is a long time, meaning that whether you’re job-hopping or sticking it out across 1-3 organizations, you need to play it pretty close to the vest for about three decades so as not to politically slip up.
  • Across 30 years, there’s a huge body of work on a person — which leads you to wonder what the central characteristics leading to promotion really are.
  • If you become a top dog at 54 and don’t intend to relinquish it, that means you might hold the post somewhere on order of 11-15 years. (That almost never happens; average CEO tenure is rising, but it’s still under about five years.)

I guess the biggest thing I took away from this statistical picture is that your career is ultimately a marathon and not a sprint; you have a lot of people you interact with (and need to impress / kiss the ass of / step on / etc.) over the arc of a career between the starting point and the potential peak point, and you basically need to contextualize yourself as rising throughout that entire period. That can be challenging, even for the very career-focused.

Here’s a final thing I wonder about: performance reviews are mostly a train wreck; at higher levels, they’re not even really done (and if they are, it’s more of a ‘scorecard’-type system). You could argue that people receiving performance reviews are probably still kinda down the chain — so another study that would be interesting is this: how many years after your start date are most future CEOs out of the general pool that gets evaluated annually in a haphazard way? I’d bet that no future CEO is still getting standard performance evaluations by 33; they’re probably onto something much bigger or being handled in a different way, etc.


White attitudes on African-Americans in prisons are a never-ending circle

The whole topic of racial attitudes around incarnation is very fraught — and also very complicated, as entire bodies of research are penned on it across people’s careers. I can’t begin to scratch the surface. I do know this, as does seemingly everyone: African-Americans are 12 percent of the U.S. population, but represent 40 percent of those incarcerated. That flat-out seems wrong (is wrong). Again, it’s a very complex issue, but it seems to be a never-ending circle as well, per this new research from Stanford University (paper link here):

Although African-Americans constitute only 12 percent of America’s population, they represent 40 percent of the nation’s prison inmates.

But informing the white public of this disproportionate incarceration rate may actually bolster support for the very policies that perpetuate the inequality, according to a studypublished in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

Stanford psychology researchers Rebecca Hetey and Jennifer Eberhardt found that when white people were told about these racial disparities, they reported being more afraid of crime and more likely to support the kinds of punitive policies that exacerbate the racial disparities.

So … let’s get this straight.

If you try and use really imbalanced stats (the 12-40 split above) to inform white people about how imbalanced it is, instead you scare them — and they want black people (or any violent offenders, I guess) to go away even more.

Phrased another way:

“Many legal advocates and social activists seem to assume that bombarding the public with images, statistics and other evidence of racial disparities will motivate people to join the cause and fight inequality,” Hetey said. “But we found that, ironically, exposure to extreme racial disparities may make the public less, and not more, responsive to attempts to lessen the severity of policies that help maintain those disparities.”

So … you can’t fight racial disparity with information, because information can lead to more fear. What options do you still have, then?

There’s an additional context here that’s relevant; you can make the argument that one of the big problems with reforming the criminal justice system — which is also a problem with reforming anything else, really — is that so many different people have so many different approaches to what needs to be done, as summarized by Vox:

As depressing as it is that telling white people about structural racism makes them support the structure more, what makes this study particularly interesting is that the criminal-justice reform movement isn’t just made up of people concerned about racism. Some fiscal conservatives want to reform the system to spend less money on prisons; some cultural conservatives are motivated by Christian notions of mercy and forgiveness. And some of the states that have most successfully worked to reform their prison policies are red states.

I do think it’s a little depressing that we’ve gotten to a place in American history where it’s nearly impossible to use actual information to solve problems (this goes into some of the issues around Big Data truly being a revolution). I wonder why that is often. Some theories:

  • We’re too partisan (people listen to what they like/understand)
  • Our attention spans are completely shot (we can only focus on one thing for so long)
  • We’re all so busy with our own stuff that it’s hard to really stop and think about these broader, bigger issues
  • We assume we’ll never have connection to/with inmates in our own life, so this isn’t something we really need to consider
  • Everyone, at the end of the day, likes to prioritize their gut feeling/passion over actual information

I’m honestly not sure of the answer — but it is sad that if you present information about a major racial disparity in incarceration rates, rather than inspiring action against the inequality, it actually can make Caucasians support the inequality. Awkward.

That said, I guess if you went around the streets of a major city talking about CEO pay and how many weeks it takes the average worker to make what the CEO makes in an hour, I’m not sure suddenly everyone would line up and start trying to re-do the American corporate compensation system; rather, they’d probably get their lunch and go back to their own job, focusing on their own stuff. So maybe information isn’t the key — maybe it’s connecting around human stories and thinking about different ways to get people to listen to you.



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.



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