Focus on Ability

I can’t program. I can’t code. I’m impatient with bureaucracy and hypocrisy. I get bored doing the same thing all day everyday.

If a recruiter only looked at the things I don’t do well, I’d never get hired to do anything.

Fortunately I’ve had the good fortune to meet people who looked beyond what I couldn’t do to focus on what I could do (Thank you Pat Licata) and what I do well. EY is taking an innovative approach to filling jobs that are hard to fill by accessing a frequently overlooked group who are particularly well-suited for this function. As reported in Workforce magazine they’ve piloted the EY Neurodiversity Program in their Philadelphia office, hiring individuals with high functioning autism to fill jobs that require the ability to compile and analyze data. Focusing on a specific and possibly repetitive task would drive someone like me crazy but these individuals are particularly talented at crunching the numbers, recognizing patterns and paying close attention to detail.

By looking at what this group of talented individuals do well, they’re able to fill these jobs with employees more likely to stay in them than job hop and fill a need that others might find less fulfilling. More organizations need to follow EY’s lead and tap into a vastly underemployed  population of talented people with disabilities. The way to do this is to focus on what people can do and not what they can’t.

numbers

People make a difference

airline seatMore and more it seems that the more you pay the less you get. On a recent flight, if I wanted to pick my seat before I arrived at the airport on the day of the flight, there was an additional charge. I’m not talking about getting an upgrade or extra legroom; I’m just talking about picking a seat. Really? It sure seemed like coercion. “Oh, yes, you’re paying to get on our plane but without a few more dollars we get to decide where you’re going to sit. How about row 39, middle seat?” Now it all turned out okay and it was a lovely flight but not because of the airline. It was because of the people.

flight attendantsWhen you get right down to it, whether it’s Delta, American, United or any other airline, the plane is pretty much the same. What differentiates one airline from another is the people, the service you get on board and at the gate. That’s why so many people are fans of Southwest. Some Southwest patrons actually look forward to their flights!

Sam Walton famously said, “Treat your employees the way you’d like them to treat your best customers.” Okay, that may have been a long time ago and I know that Wal-Mart has made the news lately over the way their employees are treated at some locations. But let’s look at the underlying philosophy.

Employees look to their managers and leaders as role models for how to behave. What are you showing to your employees? We’re no longer in a manufacturing or agricultural economy. Everything today is about customer service and information. Bill Gates said, “Whoever has the best information, wins.” I believe that the best service wins, assuming that everything else, like which plane you’re on, is relatively equal. Every person in your organization must be a superior customer service representative of your company. I’ve heard people in some functions say, “I’m not customer facing.” Here are two things I know. One, if your employees aren’t serving the customer, they’re serving someone who is. Two, if employees are not giving good service to their customers, internal or external, then your external customers will go elsewhere to get the service they want.

Just about everyone has heard, at one time or other, some senior leader pontificate that, “People are our most important asset.” It’s been repeated so often it’s become a bitter punch line in some organizations. But people really are the key differentiator between you and your competition. The companies that find, retain and develop the best people are the ones who reap the greatest profitability per employee. Companies need to invest in developing their people rather than spending their resources on churning through staff. When I was a recruiting manager, I never complained about filling a position. I did get annoyed at having to fill it repeatedly because the manager had driven away another good employee.

Training managers in how to treat their people is one of the best investments an organization can make. The organization will save on staffing and training because your managers won’t just be managers.  As they model the behavior they want staff to demonstrate, they’ll also be trainers developing their people. And that’s where it all begins and ends.

They Replaced Horses

That was the lead in this column by Eduardo Porter in the New York Times. Thirty-five years ago people debated whether machines, technology, would ever replace humans in the workforce. Many respected economists dismissed the idea until the great economist Wassily Leontief made his analogy regarding equines.

The rest of the very interesting column discussed universal income and other aspects of the economy. I kept thinking about jobs.

work-horsesBecause horses were replaced. Their jobs went away. And they never came back. Oh sure, there are a few horses still in use today. Under two million, down from over 20 million at the time when the automobile and the tractor pretty much put them out to pasture. Over 90% of their jobs went away in the span of just a few decades.

Sound familiar?

What we need to learn from our hard-working, four-legged co-workers is that when jobs go away, whether it’s because technology has automated the work or the demand for a product shrinks, those jobs aren’t coming back. So you have a choice. You can hang on dearly hoping that somehow you won’t be affected (you will be), you can mourn the fact that your job no longer exists (you won’t bring it back) or you can adapt.

You’ve really no choice but to adapt. Figure out what you will do next. Because as certain jobs exit, others come along and replace them. There are no SEO specialists with 20 years experience. Ten years ago no one had a job monitoring tweets. The skills, the people required for those jobs were found in other industries and were adapted to the needs of these new functions. The people who filled these newly created jobs were the ones willing to adapt rather than mourn what was lost. And they’ll have the last laugh.

laughing horse-head

 

My Journey to the Top

Mt EverestI saw a blogpost recently titled, “Your Career Path Isn’t a Straight Line – So Stop Getting Upset When Things Don’t Go as Planned.”  In the post it said that, “Careers these days aren’t so much about climbing the ladder, but about bouncing around a jungle gym.” I like the image and another idea in the post stating that it’s okay that the path isn’t straight or even always appearing to be headed in the right direction. Often it’s when we veer off the obvious path that we learn new things, experience obstacles and develop the GRIT to overcome them.

I spent my twenties working at a non-profit arts organization, making very little money but gaining incredible managerial experience. When I shifted into human resources and started my career in Corporate America, lots of those lessons were both applicable and helpful.

When I was promoted during my first year on the Corporate job, of course the first thing I did was call my wife to tell her the good news. And the first thing she did was call her mother to prove that marrying me hadn’t been a colossal mistake. Her mother’s response was, “If only he hadn’t wasted all those years in non-profit just think of where he could be today.” My quick-thinking and brilliant wife replied, “If he hadn’t spent all those years in non-profit getting valuable experience he never would have gotten this opportunity in the first place.” I’m a very lucky man.

The takeaway is that there is no wasted experience. Take the opportunity that’s in front of you. See where is leads. Be prepared to meander, just remember what your ultimate goal is and where you think you want to be someday.  There are 18 named routes to the top of Mount Everest and several others that are as yet unnamed and unclimbed. Maybe you’ll forge your own path. Maybe you’ll follow in the well-worn footsteps of others. Either way, my advice is to take some chances and enjoy the journey.

 

Employees with GRIT

sandpaperI saw a piece in CLO magazine about grit. That companies want people with grit. People who’ve been able to make it through tough times. The article defined grit as passion and perseverance with long-term goals. Now that doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue for me. I like acronyms. So here’s what grit means to me.

Goals, Resilience, Insistence, Tenacity.

Goals: you have to know what you’re working toward. As Yogi Berra once said, “If you don’t have a goal, how will you know when you’ve arrived?” It’s pretty tough working toward an ambiguous, amorphous goal. You have to define, and if you’re a manager define for others, what it is you’re working towards.

Resilience: this, in my opinion, is the key difference between success and failure. You will have setbacks. It’s how you deal with them that sets you apart and will make you successful. Sheila Wellington said it best. “It’s not how far you fall, it’s how high you bounce.”

Insistence: everyone else says it can’t be done and you keep going. A belief and a willingness to go in the direction you believe in spite of the naysayers. A saying attributed to George Bernard Shaw says, “People who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those who are doing it.” People with grit get things done.

Tenacity: stick with it. If resilience is bouncing back from adversity, then tenacity is the toughness to keep slogging along because you believe in your goal. Oprah Winfrey said, “Whatever your goal, you can get there if you’re willing to work.” I promise it won’t always be easy, but people with grit keep going.

So I’ll agree with the author, I like employees with GRIT, especially resilience. Because if you’ve never come up against any resistance, you’ll never know exactly how much you can achieve,

Ignoring Sadie will cost your company money

Today is February 29th, Leap Day! There’s all sorts of superstitions, traditions and myths around February 29th and one anachronism hanging around from (take your pick) the 5th, 12th, 19th or early 20th century is a phenomenon that’s come to be known as Sadie Hawkins Day.

For those of you unfamiliar with Sadie, she was alleged to be the homeliest girl in the lilabnerfictional town of Dogpatch but it was determined that on one day of the year (here’s where the legends and myths collide) she was allowed to propose to an eligible bachelor and he couldn’t refuse. It was so successful for Sadie that it was decided that this would become a regular event for all single women in Dogpatch. And I guess to protect the single gents that day was set as February 29th so it would only occur once every four years.

So what’s all this got to do with HR? Well, the way the men in Dogpatch treated Sadie  reminds me of how many eligible corporations today treat candidates. Sadie had a lovely personality, was strong and fast and although she was over a certain age (the ugly word “spinster” was tossed around) she was, I presume, absolutely capable of fulfilling all the necessary requirements of a spouse. Think of all the candidates who have lots of business knowledge, pleasant personalities, loads of experience and are ignored by companies because of their age or some other reason that has nothing to do with the work to be done. And yes, this happens more to women over a certain age than men.

Ageism and sexism run rampant in today’s workplace despite decades of legislation. Too many companies seem to want the newer, younger models. Well, that’s fine if you insist on that. Just be prepared to pay more and fight harder to get and keep them. The Millennials are the largest generation since the Boomers to enter the workforce, but they can’t make up for the number of boomers leaving the workforce and the fact that Gen X fell far short in terms of the number of people in the workforce.

Graying boomers (and soon X’ers) will be staying in the workforce a lot longer by choice or need. Companies ignore them at their peril.

Happy Sadie Hawkins Day.

Updates are available

I got a reminder to update my phone last week. Wouldn’t it be great if we all updated our updates imageresumes as often as we update our phones? Wouldn’t it be great if there was an app to remind us to do this every couple of months, or whenever we complete a new project that warrants inclusion?

We’re all tied to our mobile devices. The need to run the most up-to-date software or version is obvious. So why don’t we make the same effort to keep our resumes in the most up-to-date version. Usually it’s because we don’t think about updating our resume until we need it. It’s the same with our networks. Most of us don’t invest the time into keeping our network of contacts fresh and current until we need them.

And then it’s often too late.

Now I’ve been known to say, “It’s never too late to start doing better.” and that’s the good news. You can start doing a better job at both these critical tasks. The truth is that you always need an updated resume because you never know when you’re going to be the one invited into the conference room or your manager’s office and told that your employment status with the organization has changed, the organization’s going in a different direction, there’s been a restructuring of the internal workforce and we’re going to be eliminating redundancies. However they put it, now you know it’s time to dust off the old resume and start networking.

If you go to your laptop, open the most recent copy of your resume and get a message that it’s in an older version of your word processing software, that’s the first sign that you’ve overlooked keeping the resume up to date. The longer you wait, the harder it is to update the resume. It’s easy to forget projects you’ve completed and the quantifiable results you produced.

Updating your resume is something many people have on their To Do lists and it’s usually the one that falls to the bottom of the queue or right off the page. Here’s your reminder. Update your resume before the end of next weekend. Make a call or two to a network contact you haven’t spoken with in the past month (or six!). Keep your network and your resume current. You never know when you’re going to need them.

Maybe They Cut Too Deep?

Note: This post was written and posted the day before the horrific attack on the Marine Recruiting Center in Chattanooga, TN. It is in no way meant to demean or make light of the terrible suffering of the U.S. Marines or the family, friends and comrades in arms of the fallen.

There was a three-plus hour outage at the New York Stock Exchange last week.

Hackers? Terrorists? No, greed.

In an article in the NY Times today it was reported that one of the first things that the Intercontinental Exchange (ICE) did after they bought the NYSE in 2012 was cut hundreds of experienced managers and staff from the New York location. The remaining staff, less experienced and no doubt less expensive,  was wholly unprepared to deal with the crisis. ICE staff from Atlanta was supposed to be able to handle situations like these but clearly were unable to, as traders languished outside the exchange receiving precious little information about what was going on.

trader outside NYSEThis seems to be another example of a distant corporate parent failing to recognize the need for talented people to run the business. Sure it seemed like there were more staff than necessary but to start cutting heads before you fully know how you’ll keep the doors open seems insane. One of the rationalizations for the layoffs was that ICE was to install a new system that would be managed and maintained from Atlanta. However three years later that system is still not fully functional and when the existing system went down they didn’t have the staff or know how in place to quickly bring the system back up.

So we don’t need to worry about threats from far off lands. The greed that exists in the boardrooms of too many corporations is the greatest threat to our economy.

 

Do we want Clones?

I saw a job posting today that I think was a new form of typo or misguided thinking. The heading was for a “Clone of Media Supervisor.” I can only imagine the meeting in the recruiting or manager’s office when they were trying to come up with the requirements of the position to include. Finally, someone, sounding rather exasperated, blurted out, “Can’t we just clone the Media Supervisor we just lost?” And, boom, a new title was born.

Nowhere in the posting did the word “clone” ever appear. What did appear was a vague, generic description of the requirements of the position. Things like, “Become actively involved in projects”, “Serve as the main point of contact for vendors”, “Present recommendations”, “prepare reports, day-to-day administration,” and other terms that conveyed nothing about the true expectations of the position. This same organization will wonder why they’re having trouble filling the position. They’ll likely be swamped with inappropriate resumes. Or they will fill it quickly with a completely unprepared or soon-to-be bewildered applicant.

Too many organizations still think of recruiting as “entry level HR”  and fail to recognize the importance of carefully reviewing every vacancy before trying to fill it.

Do we need to replace this person? How has the position changed? What new skills are required to be successful in the role? These and many other questions must be asked each and every time we have an opportunity to add a new team member. We can’t just clone the previous incumbent because then we doom the organization to “same old, same old.” And the acronym for that is So-So and that’s something no organization can afford to be.

Are you stressed yet?

We’re coming up on Halloween so here’s a scary story for you.

In the past few months I’ve seen numerous articles about the effect of the workplace on worker’s mental health. This is a serious problem that’s spiraling out of control with no end in sight. And it’s costing organizations big bucks. According to the article in HR Magazine, “The indirect cost of untreated mental illness to employers is estimated to be as high as $100 billion a year in the U.S. alone, according to the National Business Group on Health.” In Workforce it’s estimated at over $80 billion. Yet rarely in any of the articles do they talk about the root cause of all the stress and anxiety. The focus was more on how organizations need to address this erupting dilemma.

I think the cause is the ever present strain on workers to produce more with less.

The fear of losing your job, especially for those over 50 years of age. The stress to keep up with every emerging technology, the fear of falling behind even a millimeter.

I’ve seen skilled employees thrust into manager roles with virtually little or no training on how to manage a team.

I’ve seen managers have their staff size cut in half or worse with the expectation that they will continue to produce at the same volume with no drop in quality.

I’ve seen people given manager titles without staff. And these “managers” are told to lead projects with borrowed resources whose allegiance and interests are elsewhere.

I seen recognition programs slashed. Increase budgets frozen. Senior management treating employees with an HTHJ (Happy To Have Job) mentality.

Until management realizes that its workers really are their most valuable assets, the prime differentiator among organizations, and stop treating them like interchangeable parts, the cost and frequency of days lost to mental health issues will surely continue.

So look around. How many of the things I described above have taken place at your office?

Your thought, comments or horror stories are welcome.