Man, HR Exists in the Future?

I have a startling confession to make: I like Star Trek: The Next Generation. I know. You’re shocked. While I was a big fan of the Star Trek movies, I wasn’t a big fan of the original series. But The Next Generation? Yeah, that got me going.

3u77klSo they have the entire series up on Netflix and I’ve been going through it a few episodes at a time. All of the campy goodness is just great. I watched an episode last night that made it clear that HR obviously exists well into the 24th century.

First of all, some context for all of you who aren’t Trekkies. In the 24th century, within the Star Trek universe, Earth is part of a utopian alliance of alien worlds called the United Federation of Planets. The series takes part during a relatively peaceful period where everyone’s needs are taken care of. Nobody is hungry, there aren’t supply shortages, and nobody worries about getting paid. Basically, the people who work on these faster-than-light starships are there because they just want to be there and they are enriched by their work.

In an episode in the final season of Star Trek: The Next Generation, Chief Engineer Geordi La Forge disobeys an order from Captain Jean-Luc Picard. Captain Picard takes La Forge into his office and reprimands him, telling him (and I’m not joking), “This incident will have to be filed in your permanent record.”

Here was my response to my wife while we’re watching this:

Me: @#$%&!# HR?

Her: What?

Me: HR! There’s HR in a utopian 24th century!

Her: (laughs)

Look, I love HR, but if Earth does turn into a utopian, peaceful society, I hope nobody has to be working in the HR office at the United Federation of Planets.

The Changing Face of Content Authorship on the Web

samsung chromebookLast fall, I bought myself a Samsung Chromebook for my birthday. Coincidentally, I also got one of the first units because I ordered it directly from Google when they initially released it and they shipped them from California so I got mine quickly. When I received it, I pulled it out and wanted to type something out on it (because I use my computers primarily for writing, that part is pretty important to me). I busted out a long review and posted it on Amazon as one of the first reviews and that was it.

Or so I thought.

The Chromebook has been one of the top selling laptops on Amazon for nearly six months (#1 as of this writing). My review has been reviewed as helpful by 4,842 of 5,048 raters (just shy of a 96%) and has been read by many more thousands of people. It has over 300 comments on it. I get web traffic and e-mails about the Chromebook several times a week.

I submit to you, quite humbly, that it is probably my most viewed writing on the web. It doesn’t exist on my site and I don’t get anything from it (other than the random visitor or e-mail).

I will tell you, I thought of writing the review here but it didn’t make sense. For one, it doesn’t really fit in with what I typically write about. So I was fine posting it to Amazon because I knew it would get read heavily by those in the midst of a buying decision. I was writing impartially, so I was trying to cover the device—warts and all—even though I was generally a fan of it from first boot.

As the comments started rolling in, I have to admit I was a bit disappointed that my own site wasn’t receiving much of any benefit. Even for those who found me, most wouldn’t be interested in being long term subscribers. The more I thought about it though, the more I was pleased. I don’t make a lot of money on this site but I really don’t believe most blogs generate significant income from advertisements (or any other creative, content-oriented approaches). Instead, I think most people who blog earn opportunities and an audience that would be tough to land otherwise. They may get an opportunity to write but more frequently, they get other opportunities to provide value.

I think if I was so focused on just building stuff on my own blog, I wouldn’t be able to do fun things like write a huge review on and wonder if there is anything to it. I would’ve wrote it here and it would’ve received three comments. I wouldn’t have wrote my article about purple squirrels for the Harvard Business Review blog.

With so many off blog alternatives for writing, it is easy to see why a lot of people abandon the blog concept altogether. One thing I am convinced of is that if you are serious about content creation, you need a hub. This is my hub. I may give out Twitter or LinkedIn sites on my bio as well but all roads eventually point back here. I may have spokes of content out there but if someone wants to get back to me, there is only one place that happens.

It’s not a new or unique idea but it is one that I have come to fully embrace. While I may not write as often as I’d like to here, I know I will always have something to write about and that keeping a strong hub is important. And while I’d like to see this site continue to grow, I know the bigger opportunities will come from outside of me writing a blog post here. That’s why posting externally and trying new things is still important.

You Kinda Have to be a Loner to Work at Home Every Day

I spent a week in an office for the first time since July 2009. I have spent days in coffee shops, co-working spaces, and other people’s offices but never a full week of that in one place and at one desk.

1024px-Crowd_04379I thought it was going to be mostly annoying but to my delight, it was mostly not that at all. I don’t know if that’s because of my great new co-workers or nearly four years of office sensory deprivation talking. Let’s just call it both.

Somebody asked me if I liked working from home and I responded enthusiastically that I do. When asked why, I said something along the lines of, “I’m kinda a loner.” It felt like a loser, cop-out answer. The more I thought about it though, the more it felt right and not at all like a weird response that a guy who doesn’t interact much with people in person would say.

Okay, maybe it is a little like that.

I’m not going to get into the introvert/extrovert thing because it is out of my pay grade, but I will tell you that some people are fueled by having activity that surrounds them and some people are fueled by having calm around them. Some people like a mixture of both environments.

I’ve worked with all of them. I worked with a lady who would jam her earphones in and blast some Enya or whatever New Age music she had on her playlist so loud, I could hear it from where I sat. Interrupting her meant certain death. Similarly, some people pulled themselves into meetings and conversations and then would rush back to their desks and pound keys or make phone calls.

I could deal with both. I liked a certain amount of social time but if you put a gun to my head and ask me what I preferred, it was probably that time to myself that keep things moving along for me.

So when I say you kinda have to be a loner to work from home every day, I really mean the kinda part. You don’t have to be anti-social to make it work. But without thinking about it, you have to fall on the side of being powered by internal forces rather than feeding off the energy of people close by. Otherwise, those coffee shops are going to make a killing off of you and fellow customers won’t always be appreciative of your desire to chat.

I’m Not Going to Sign Your Social Media Policy

John_Hancock_Signature_DOIFor a little context, a few years ago, I wrote a post about how you shouldn’t have a social media policy for your organization. In it, I said:

My point is that however you’d treat the employee in a similar real life situation is how you should treat them when it comes to social media. There are very few truly unique situations when it comes to social media and then it goes back to my point about not making policies for a handful of employees or possibilities.

And about a year ago, I wrote a post about how these social media disclaimers (i.e. “My views do not represent that of my employer”). In it, I said:

I’ll tell you what that disclaimer means in the real world: jack squat. Only, at least on Twitter, I never can tell people how ridiculous the whole disclaimer actually is in 140 characters without sounding like a jerk. And also because this statement is ridiculous for a wide variety of reasons, all of which need to be further explained.

Trish McFarlane asked me if my views have changed on social media policies in the last few years. Succinctly, the answer is no. I’m not going to go all, “let’s fight the man” on this one but I, for one, will not be signing any social media policy. I would recommend most people do the same.

Now that’s a bit tougher if it is embedded into a handbook, obviously. As a former HR head, I also wouldn’t necessarily advocate just breaking those rules because social media policies are dumb.

Then again, you should probably break those rules anyway.

I don’t know if anyone has ever been fired for a pure social media policy violation. I have to believe it is pretty rare. What policies like this help with is:

  • Getting people with hard-to-pin-down performance issues onto a performance improvement plan with greater ease
  • Firing people who probably needed to be fired anyway for a variety of reasons
  • Getting people on the boss’ shit list closer to the firing line
  • Firing people who were egregiously awful on social media (who – policy or not – would have been fired anyway)
  • Firing people who violated other guidelines already covered (NDAs and confidentiality agreements)

If that’s how you want to operate, you can do all of that without a social media policy. In fact, many organizations pull it off with great frequency. But can we be real?  If you’re having issues with people using social media in your organization, a policy is a super ineffective prescription. As I said in my social media post, education should always be the top priority for those who want to be a visible presence online. And you should stop hiring people that you would be worried about getting online and actually saying the words that come into their minds.


The Short Goodbye

You remember that, right? (RSS/e-mail subscribers may have to click through) If you had AOL back when dial-up internet was still the hottest thing on the block, this cheery but brief “goodbye” meant that you were signing off. You couldn’t chat with your friends, receive e-mails or access the storehouses of data that existed on the internet without dialing back in. That sounds great, other than the whole speed issue. We’ll get to that in a bit.

The big news is that today is my last day at ERE Media. I start a new job with The Starr Conspiracy next week (I didn’t even take a long weekend!). It has been a weird few weeks. I know new routines will settle in with time and new co-workers will become more familiar but I’ve been with ERE for over three years.

I’m a huge fan of what ERE does for the industry. The team is great and they’ll continue to move forward. There have been no sour feelings from me during any part of the process. I stayed on longer and worked harder than any other exit I’ve done. I still care about their mission and I cared enough to know when it was time to pass the reigns to other capable hands.

I don’t want to single out anyone but I can’t say enough about ERE founder David Manaster. In an industry that can seem full of egos and outright bastards, he’s a great change of pace. I trust, respect, and, most of all, thank him for allowing me to come on, break things, and make a mess. If he starts working on something new, you better be paying attention.

I’ll be writing a bit more here and for The Starr Conspiracy. And I’ll still be obsessed with HR, recruiting and sports. I get to still work on cool things. I feel completely dumb when I tell people how I got where I am right now. I’m a lucky dude.

It will be weird logging out of my ERE accounts today, though. I’ll imagine that short but cheery AOL “goodbye” as I click logout. I won’t be completely disconnected this time but I will feel a certain end to all I’ve done here. That’s both the best and worst part about that short goodbye.

Reducing Turnover is Not the Goal

Athletics_tracks_finish_line“Our goal is to reduce turnover by 25%.”

No it isn’t. I hope not, at least.

Having reduced turnover as a goal leads to all kinds of strange, short-term thinking that lead to deranged organizations. A counter-offer when your 325th best salesperson decides to take another job? Lengthening the corrective action review process? Pushing beyond the budget on labor costs because your team is too expensive? Ploys and programs designed to cater to middle and low performers who may be a flight risk? Yep, yep, yep and yep.

You may even have an executive who is looking at some dashboard in a system and she is instructing you that you have to get control of turnover. She may want to build some goals around reducing that number. Nod your head and then walk out of her office and ignore that.

Reducing turnover may be an okay outcome but it is never a goal. And even if it is an outcome, it is a lousy, broad measuring stick. 2% turnover sounds great until you realize that your organization is bleeding only high performers and high potentials.

So can we agree that reducing turnover is a stupid measuring stick and that it shouldn’t be used as a goal or outcome?

Maybe? I’ll take it. If you are using it for an outcome, make sure what you’re measuring is meaningful.

If someone in your organization is complaining about high turnover and reducing it isn’t a goal or outcome, what’s the proper response? The proper response is finding out what the real issue actually is:

  1. Our labor costs are too high. How are we investing labor dollars? Why can’t we do a better job of doing that?
  2. Our recruiters are spending too much time on replacements. Is there a resource allocation issue or are we short on recruiters?
  3. We’re losing people after 6/12/18 mos. What are we doing in our hiring process that sucks so bad?
  4. A top performer left. Yeah, his boss was an asshole. Maybe we should get rid of him?
  5. Our culture needs to be changed. Guess what? Culture change will cause massive turnover too.
  6. We aren’t performing well as a company. And you found a metric that may or may not have to do with that? Really?
  7. The company isn’t well managed. Trying to blame general management issues on turnover is like blaming In-N-Out for your gut.

Turnover is a symptom like body aches. Body aches can be really bad when you’re sick because it can indicate the flu but body aches can be fine if you’re getting back in shape. Should you keep track of turnover? Sure, and if you can, get as granular as you can (who is leaving and why?). Does reducing turnover take precedent over increasing profit, value, and company performance or reducing costs, administrative burden and culture issues? No, never. And don’t forget that.

When it Comes to Media Consumption, Bloggers are Weird

Weird_Comics_01Back at the first HR Technology Conference I attended in 2009, Kris Dunn took a picture of my badge and made fun of me. It said, “Lance Haun – Blogger”. And I have to admit, walking the floor at that conference (my third as a blogger) was a little weird, too. I would tell speakers, vendors and attendees, “I’m writing about some of the interesting things happening in HR technology.” They would tell me they never heard of me. Huh? Are you on Twitter? Do you read blogs? Are you part of any LinkedIn groups? Have you heard of Kris Dunn? Or Laurie Ruettimann? How about Steve Effing Boese?

No? Okay.

It was a good lesson. I was different from most of these folks. If you look at my desktop setup, you see two monitors. I barely even look at the second monitor because that has five Twitter streams going simultaneously. Sometimes it feels like the matrix. I’ll magically see when someone who doesn’t tweet that much cut through the static because I haven’t noticed their avatar stream by for a long time.

My brain is full of really stupid crap.

So bloggers are different. And a piece from Andrew Sullivan which links to this outstanding piece by Jonathan Bernstein lays it out:

[T]he more important lesson that really can’t be repeated often enough is that reporters, columnists, bloggers: we’re not normal. Even worse: of the not normal — the people who pay a lot of attention to politics — we’re not even normal in that group.

Which, if you replace politics with HR and recruiting, you pretty much have me nailed.

My dependence on Google Reader and Google Alerts used in concert with it is astounding. I’m not going to PR sites to search for news that somehow hadn’t made it to my inbox. I cut through, on average, 200+ unread items before I get out of my PJs. And that’s after clearing it out at 6pm the following night.

So when I talk with people about how I get my news and how I follow what’s going on in our industry, their eyes glaze over in 2.3 seconds. Honestly, I don’t even think about it anymore. It’s a habit, like getting my caffeine intake for the day. There’s nothing exciting about it but it has taken dozens of hours to perfect and spotting interesting stuff is easier because of that.

So when some blogger tells you how to use Twitter (like I have, over and over), be just a tiny bit skeptical. It’s not that they are necessarily a superuser. In fact, I’ve seen a lot of blogger Twitter usage and it, at times, is fairly primitive. But it is very focused on one thing typically: dissecting and discerning interesting stuff going on in the space. Between who we choose to follow and how we list people, these feeds are amazingly useful.

If, you know, you spread information for a living.

Bernstein’s bigger point is that bloggers have to remember the bubble we operate in. What is old news within our circles might not hit mainstream people in our industry in a year. That’s a common issue and, outside of the most critical, need-to-know issues, I don’t really have a problem with that.

For bloggers, it is probably safe to do two things: never assume knowledge and never forget that you’re weird.

New Ideas Come at a Price: Your Old Ideas Have to Die

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI’ve thought a lot about ideas. Especially over the last couple of months, I’ve been bombarded by them.

Talk is cheap, though. It is easy to talk about new ideas and new ways of doing things. It is another thing to get through the 523 excuses, roadblocks and challenges that stand in the way of them.

When I look at new, exciting technologies (or processes or ways of thinking), I think about adoption curves and the entrances into new organizations. But it is more than that.

I think a lot about human nature when I think about new idea adoption. In order to take on a new idea, you either have to kill the old one or you had no idea to begin with.

Hey, sometimes it’s both.

I think about it in the context of the marriage equality movement. No matter what happens with the Supreme Court decisions, there is a long road ahead for people’s viewpoints and ideas about marriage to change. The landmark civil rights act in the United States is almost 50 years old and there are still a lot of people who would gladly return to before that came to fruition.

It is frightening to give up something you’ve believed in for a long time. While you can talk a good game about being open-minded, when the rubber meets the road, I’ll bet you flinch. Killing familiar ideas is tough and it takes patience, whether it is the idea that paper-based payroll was somehow superior or personal feelings on important legal, cultural and political issues.

There’s also a point where you don’t necessarily want yield to new ideas either. It is hard to understand whether the reason you’re hesitant is because it is the right thing to do or because yielding to new ideas is uncomfortable in its own right.

One thing is clear though: if you were more comfortable with murdering your own dumb ideas or at least did it on a more frequent basis, you’d be able to tell the difference a lot easier.

Manage or Lead? It is Okay to do Both

If you’ve read any business blogs over the past few years, you’ve probably seen some sort of stock “Leadership is better than management” post. It always seems to be an either/or proposition, too.

In that post, you’ll invariably read the author extol the power that leadership brings to typical management challenges: workers who don’t perform well, don’t always do what you ask them to do, or engage in behaviors that discourage their colleagues.  Becoming a better leader, they say, will help you avoid these challenges more easily because people will be inspired to do what you ask them without you have to be a big bad boss. And who likes bosses, right? We like leaders.

Of course, I’ve never written about that. Not because I don’t think leadership skills have value (indeed, they do) but because rarely have the people I have seen manage employees exhibit one trait or the other singularly. The pure leader and the pure manager are as common as a unicorn.

Thank goodness, too.

Can we admit to ourselves that the great recognized leaders of our time also had some fantastic management skills as well? Can we also admit that had they chosen to shun management for pure leadership, they would have been seen as abject failures?

Okay, probably not. Yet.

If you take an example from the sports world, coaches have to be good at both leadership and management to be successful in their field. If you’re in a basketball game with the game on the line with the final possession, you have to both inspire your team to be great (even after a brutally long game) and know that you have the right game plan that your players will follow to the end.

Basketball players, even great ones, question their coaches (even, yes, great ones). With limited time to brainstorm possibilities with your team though, the coach is the focal point of drawing up this final play. Whether or not you question the coach on his decision, you are going to follow through on it because you know there are consequences for not doing so.

That final play outcome is going to be driven by authority and by good management. If a coach can’t do that, they aren’t going to win consistently.

Take an example from politics. A president can be great at leading and inspiring people without being super effective at their job because they seem unwilling (or unable) to drive results through authority and managing people and results. Is that an unfair jab at President Obama? A bit, sure. But every time I hear about our obstructionist Congress (which, they are), I hear about it from someone who doesn’t want the President to do the same things his predecessors did to drive their agendas.

The point is: you need leadership and management. The best leaders, the ones we laud, do both.