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,

It wasn’t the manager’s fault

Someone whom I was coaching brought this to my attention. Her manager had rated her “Low” (he company’s scale is “High,” “Mid-range,” “Low”) when she failed to achieve a goal. In the write-up it stated (this is a paraphrase) that the employee was rated “Low” because while standards or timeline for completion hadn’t been defined, she failed to meet the standards for this project. A project that the manager acknowledged that no one else had been successful in completing either. Finally, it said that while the instructions about how the project was to have been completed were ambiguous, someone at her level should have been able to figure something out.

So in effect the employee was rated “Low” when:

  • she was given ambiguous instructions;
  • for an objective that no one else had been successful in achieving;
  • the manager had no idea how to do, and;
  • the manager never detailed what he wanted done or by when!

But I’m sure it wasn’t the manager’s fault…


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.

Need a little motivation?



Or a little inspiration on a Friday afternoon? Here you go. 120+ motivational quotes compiled by Carol Roth of Tough Love for Business.



There’s great quotes from Vince Lombardi, Albert Einstein, Mark Twain, Peter Drucker, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Yoda and yours truly. I’m in there at #65!

Take a look to see what I submitted as well as all these other great quotes. A great way to end, or start, your week!

One more reason to hate performance appraisals

Thank you Yahoo.

It’s not as if enough people didn’t already hate performance appraisals and blame them for everything from global warming to ankle warts. Now the management at Yahoo has given us one more reason to blame performance management for the erosion of trust, productivity and collaboration in the world of work.

As outlined in this article from the NY Times, light has been shed on how performance appraisals were done and used at what was once a premier internet company. Reviews were used primarily as a means to fire people and had no connection to employee development or performance improvement using a performance management method commonly known as “Rank-and-Yank” that faded from favor over 15 years ago. Using a forced ranking bell curve to rate employees has been abandoned by more forward thinking companies that formerly used this method. It was found them to have a “corrosive effect on productivity and employee morale.”

Pardon me for repeating myself but performance management must focus on the growth and development of the employee and the workforce to be effective and not seen as punitive. If it’s not a tool for improving performance then please don’t abuse it and your employees by simply using it as a rationale and cover-up for indiscriminate terminations. You’re not really helping yourself or your company and in reality, you’re poisoning the minds of others who might hope and plan to use their performance management systems for good not evil.

If all you want to do is cut heads, get yourself a guillotine, not an appraisal.


But will they “like” me?

That title may be the mantra of the as yet unnamed next generation. (Considering that we never fully agreed on what to call the last one, Gen Y or Millennials, this may be a moot point and whatever we call them they’ll probably resist it and come up with their own identity.) This hyper connected generation is having a huge impact on our economy, our means of communication and the frequency of communication. They are always in touch with their entire network and this is both good and a peril.

Mobile Gen

In a recent article in the NY Times about this mobile generation they were described as becoming more risk averse, more emotionally intelligent and possibly less innovative. They seem more dependent on the approval of others and more willing to “go along to get along.” Instant gratification plus less self assurance is a potentially bad mix. Will this generation that deletes pictures and posts if they don’t get enough “likes” in the first fifteen minutes be willing to go out on a limb for an idea that will require weeks or months of energy and investment if it will be ridiculed, or even worse, ignored by their network?

Their enhanced emotional intelligence is great but will this group be able to give constructive feedback if they’re so afraid of offending or being ostracized by their cohorts? As they mature and enter the workforce they can’t be asked to put down or turn off their phones. It just won’t happen. So how will this energy, these connections, this network be harnessed and used for good rather than evil? This is the challenge we and they face and will need to be resolved as the Gen Y/Millennials fade from being the hot, new generation to be understood and integrated and we address the needs and wants of the Online Gen. The App Gen? Mobile Gen?

If you’ve got an idea for a name I’d love to hear it. Post it in your comments for others to see and consider. I hope you get a lot of “likes!”

Managing, Motivating & Retaining Your HiPo’s

No, that’s not a typo about saving endangered large river dwelling creatures in Africa.

Just a short post to share this article that appears in the latest HRDecisions magazine. I was interviewed for it and quoted extensively. Thought you’d like to see these ideas for managing, motivating and retaining your high potential (HiPo) employees.

Key concepts include:

  • how managers can most effectively use their most limited resource, time.
  • no-cost ways to motivate your HiPo’s
  • the importance of constructive feedback and effective performance management of your HiPo’s

Just click on the article title, “How to Keep your HiPos Engaged, Productive and On Board” on the front cover.

As always, I’d love to hear your feedback.

Wishing you all a wonderful Thanksgiving surrounded by family, friends and gratitude!
Only the best,

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.