#Talent42 and the Value of Focused Conferences

logo“Some of my closest friends are technical recruiters.”

That was my response to someone who asked me why I showed up at Talent 42. And for a guy who doesn’t do conferences, who doesn’t report news, and who doesn’t interface with practitioners on a day to day basis, I can see why my attendance was perhaps a bit odd.

In reality, there was much more to why I showed up:

  1. It was in Seattle
  2. It was put on by two of my favorite people in Seattle
  3. A bunch of people I like were attending and speaking
  4. There was valuable content, even for a guy like me out of the trenches
  5. I’m always interested in trends

That last one really struck me about Talent 42. The idea of these focused, niche events is what I was interested in being a part of. Would it continue the tradition of last year’s great event? Would it fizzle, either by doing stuff that was already done or trying to expand beyond its original scope? Luckily, it did not disappoint.

And really, when you compare it to the last show I went to (SHRM), the difference is night and day. The sessions were smaller but the content was picked through with a fine-toothed comb. It was clear that when they picked content, they asked themselves one question: would this help technical recruiters bring more people into their organizations?

If the answer was no, it didn’t make the cut. That’s an important distinction.

At larger shows like SHRM, you can have anything. Anything. Like Dave Ramsey giving a clearly stock speech to a room of HR practitioners. I’m sure he is a good guy but he didn’t belong at any HR conference. But somebody made the argument for him to be there and since the subject matter was so broad, you could include him and most people wouldn’t blink an eye.

Talent 42 is miles different. It’s full of real advice from people who have done the work. Building in-house coding academy? Dude, I think I could figure this out myself now. Mark Tortorici teaching about the technology these guys and gals are recruiting for and Marc Hutto on how to do telephone research for people who don’t answer their phones.

I wish I could have made it to the second day because I heard the roundtable discussions were really a hit (alas, I was moving). I also missed Glen Cathey completely which made me a sad panda.

This is also why I’m looking forward to this fall’s SourceCon (in Seattle as well). Again, a niche conference that you can ask yourself a simple question when programming the agenda: does this help source new people into organizations?

If you are a technical recruiter who missed out on Talent 42, I’m sorry because you’re going to have to wait another year for the next one. If you want a conference that you’ll get some actionable items to take back to your office tomorrow, Talent 42 is the best one for those who recruit technical talent. If you want to network with a bunch of HR practitioners who have no idea what you even do and pick up some swag, well, I have a few conferences to recommend. Just don’t miss this one because I will see you there next year!

Owning My #SHRM13 Experience

I just got back from SHRM’s annual conference.

That’s what I wrote a week ago on my flight home before turning off my computer and getting some much needed rest. Thanks to a pending move (yeah, again) and some backlogged work, I’m just now getting back to thinking about the conference.

I spent very little time in sessions (only hitting a few), I spent a little more time in the social media lounge and press room (mainly to catch meetings), and I spent most of my time on the expo floor hall. I’ve been to SHRM annual as a practitioner, a speaker, and a member of the working press, but never someone deeply interested in the marketing side of the industry.

I’ll spare you the whole marketing fails that happen at every conference I’ve been to ever other than to say that this is the lowest hanging fruit in the whole world. If you can find the people in your organization who can work a booth and get a half-decent location in the hall, you’ll win.

Between swag grabs, ultra-aggressive dudes that scan your badge, and running into people who are stopped looking down at their phone, there was actually a lot of interesting things going on.

I know us bloggers like to get cynical about things like trade shows. Believe me, being to one like SHRM encapsulates and magnifies all of the bad shit that everyone in this industry complains about. And by everyone, I mean everyone: practitioners, vendors, organizers, and press alike.

But I had more than a dozen meaningful conversations with people I probably never would’ve met if not for SHRM. When you wear The Starr Conspiracy shirt, HR ladies (and some dudes) will approach you out of nowhere and ask you about it. Once I told them about what we do and my background, I ended up directing more than my fair share of people looking for particular solutions. I stuck around and listened to pitches by sales reps who were 60 days into their stint at a vendor. I wandered and criss-crossed the expo floor looking for something that stuck out.

Other than a few clever booth constructions, nothing really did though. That’s a view of a guy who has been to a lot of shows though and pays ultra-close attention to the leading edge of HCM. Take it with a mountain of salt.

What stuck out to me about this SHRM is that I made it my own. I set out with particular goals (to meet certain people, to meet new people I didn’t know, to talk to vendors I’d never spoken to, and to learn more about buyers and the people who influence them). I had a great time. And I told my colleague Emily that I want her to come with me next year. Not just because she’d be fun to go with but also because it would be great to experience SHRM through someone else’s fresher eyes. I got a taste of that with some new friends I met wandering the halls and that’s what I’ll take back with me.

Fad Diets and Facing Reality

If you follow me on Facebook, you know I’ve been on a long, slow journey to becoming a less chubby dude. Last fall, I topped out at 260+ pounds. This wasn’t the heaviest I had been but it was pretty close. Prior to hitting my max, I had tried every fad diet that allowed me to continue eating meat (and tangled with a few that made me reduce meat input significantly). They all seemed like sound approaches. 10-20 pounds might come off, but in a few months, the diet would collapse.  I would end up traveling or visiting some place that made strict diet requirements impossible to follow and would fall back into old eating habits. I would be back to square one soon enough.

I’m not a dietician or a medical doctor but that’s not good for you.

So when I posted a while ago that I had lost significant weight (as of this writing, down 43 pounds over 8 months), it seemed surprising even to me. I had three holidays at various families in the winter, a vacation to Hawaii, and I traveled for work. I managed to continue losing, on average, 1-2 pounds a week.

What changed? A couple things:

  • I kept track of how much I ate and how I felt — I committed to doing this using an app called MyFitnessPal to let me easily track calories. 
  • My brain was reprogrammed pretty quickly — Using this app consistently, I could estimate most meals pretty easily in my head after a few months. Proof being, I didn’t use the app at all in Hawaii and afterward? I lost about a pound. Same with travel and the like.
  • I started moving — I tried couch to 5k but I’ve been sedentary for so long, it was pretty pathetic and painful. Slowly, I’ve been able to jog longer and further distances while increasing my stamina. Hiking distance and hills has helped the stamina as well.
  • I started lifting heavy things — Since I work from home, I spend conference calls where I’m not required to take notes lifting up random things. My stool and heavy things within easy reach of my desk are all targets. When I make it to the gym, I slowly build strength doing that though it hasn’t been a huge priority at this point.

The whole goal has been to simply slowly adapt my habits so that I know things like: how full I should feel, what foods give me energy and help me think, and how often I need to be active and what sort of things I can do. It seems like basic stuff but when you’ve been ignoring it for more than a decade, it is a new feeling.

When people ask my secret, that’s literally it. Listen to real science on the issues, keep track of what you do, and listen to how your body feels. Eat well and exercise regularly. Also, clean behind your ears. It works.

Yet, I still drink coffee and energy drinks. I still eat bacon and cookies. I still like beer, wine, and some good rum or bourbon (though, not as much anymore). Now, I surround those things with mostly good choices while avoiding overindulgence.

The toughest challenge hasn’t been the diet or getting back into exercising though, it was the realization that there is no real shortcut for this. I could go faster, if I cut more calories, or ran more, or lifted more. But there is no shortcut to losing 80 pounds. There is no shortcut to getting back into running, hiking, or playing basketball after so many years out. It’s humbling and motivating to know how long it took to get to this place and how hard I’ve had to work at it. The rewards and regrets of easing off a decade of unneeded weight (and everything associated with that) is finally hitting home.

I’ll BYOD if You BYOB

Bring your own device (or BYOD) is all the rage. Device policy and administration is beyond my pay grade. For that, you can talk to Steve Boese. What I can tell you is that there are a couple schools of thought when it comes to thinking about employee wants and technology from the HR perspective:

  1. Screw these guys. We pay them good money, they get to heft around an eight pound ThinkPad and a locked down Blackberry.
  2. Screw these guys. We don’t pay them good money but they are still our employees and have to do what we say. Drop that three year old tech on them!
  3. BYOD stands for buy your own device, right? It can’t cost more to administer these different devices than it does to purchase them.
  4. We should subsidize the purchase? Hell, for that why don’t we just buy them what they want (within a certain group of choices) and retain ownership of it?
  5. We bought brand new computers in 2009! We don’t have them budgeted for replacement until 2014.

This conversation drives me crazy. This is the raging debate about bringing your own device to work?

How about this: why don’t you pick the policy that actually increases the performance and satisfaction of technology users in your organization?

Maybe this seems like a common sense thing to you. I hope it does. But too often, HR (and management, or finance, or whoever you want to assign blame to) break it down to a straight cost discussion or a political power discussion. This is dumb and I’ve dealt with it in the past, too.

For example, we had well paid developers doing programming on single 19″ CRT monitors (those big, boxy, tube monitors) when 22″ LCD panels were available for under $500 a pop. Why? Because buying new monitors was too expensive.

Ignore the stuff out there about huge productivity gains with multiple monitors. Or, take it with a grain of salt. The fact is, you don’t need huge productivity gains (or losses) to gain back an ROI. A very modest increase in productivity (we figured in our calculations to be about 5%, studies said that it could be much more) meant we were getting a return on our LCD purchases within a couple of months. Over the life of a decent LCD panel, it would pay itself off 12-fold in productivity gains. The same could be true of any device you purchase or subsidize so that the employee can be as productive as possible.

Even if it isn’t about performance, shouldn’t employee satisfaction also be a consideration? I’m not saying you have to change to a BYOD policy or a corporate owned, personally enabled (COPE) policy either. Some employees are just going to dig the equipment you provide and mandate they use (and sometimes, that equipment does kick ass). Some of them won’t care. But if it does matter and it does impact performance or satisfaction, isn’t it worth a more thoughtful consideration than disregarding out of hand an additional cost that is likely a pretty small fraction of the total cost of employment?

I don’t really care what you choose in the end. At all. But if you haven’t thought through more than just raw costs on it, I would urge you to consider all of the factors in play here.

What’s your policy on devices? Do you do BYOD or COPE? Is your CIO the tech overlord?

Out of Fresh Ideas for Seven Years Running

This week, my blog turns seven. My first post? It was about a candidate that showed up with booze on his breath.

After that post and the one right after? I got my first writer’s block.  I was already out of ideas and I just started.

I’ve mentioned before that this blog wasn’t my first step into blogging. I did the LiveJournal thing for awhile. I even resorted to updating static HTML before blogs were a thing. One thing is for sure, though: this blog has been more productive than any of those other things.

Some people hit a wall with writing. I get it. I can say that other than the last month and a half, I’ve been writing pretty consistently (3-4 times a week) for this entire time. It hasn’t always been here, of course. But it’s been somewhere.

I’m still here and I still have stuff to write about. Why? Because I unabashedly believe that proper talent management is the most important thing organizations can do to succeed. Everything else flows from that. Good HR, recruiting, management, and training practices make a huge difference and great organizations appreciate that. My views, my position in the industry, and my career has evolved which make it fun to continue writing about but the industry is changing as well. Sometimes slowly. Sometimes recklessly. I’m cool with both.

Do you know how to explain that slight obsession to someone who doesn’t get it or doesn’t care? Why I view sports through a prism of management? Why I can’t help but overhear interviews at Starbucks or one-sided phone calls in airports talking about the person’s formal performance review? I haven’t figured it out yet.

I know some people are wishy washy about the HR space. They come and go from the scene. I’m all about cashing paychecks at the end of the day too. I like the ones that have stuck around and have invested their careers in it, even if I don’t always agree with them. Even if they sometimes hold us back. Even if that sometimes describes… gulp… me.

Here’s to another seven years of writer’s block, staring at a blank screen on my couch for hours, and massaging pop culture, sports, and my cat into posts about HR systems, performance management, recruiting, training, bad managers and anything else I come up with. And thanks for sticking with me.

The Uncomfortable Reality of HR Today

1024px-RGS_13I’ve been out of day-to-day HR for four years. It was one of the best decisions that was ever made for me. That’s not just because it set me on my current career path (whatever that may be), but it opened up a space for someone who liked doing HR.

I’ve obviously stayed close to the space in that time. This week though, I got a little closer than comfort to the function. HR software provider Silkroad invited me (and, for full disclosure, paid my way there) to their users conference in Florida.

Those who know me know I don’t go to most conferences for pure education. Usually it was either my conference (so I was working), I was speaking, or I was covering the conference as a journalist (so I was focused on reporting what I saw).

That wasn’t the case here. This time, I was at the conference like an attendee for the most part. Outside of a lunch with Silkroad executives, I was focused on experiencing the conference like a normal HR person would. So I listened to the keynote speaker on the first day (Dan Pink) and there were some parts where I saw some uncomfortable laughs from my pseudo-colleagues:

  • When he suggested that performance reviews were simply CYA’s
  • That to get the most out of white-collar, knowledge workers, you had to start first by paying them fairly and well

I won’t play armchair psychologist but I’ll tell you what I heard from attendees:

“I love the ideas, Dan. We’ve tried to convince our executive team for years on this. It is hopeless. We’ll drive engagement the best we can within our constraints.”

The theme transpired in other areas of the conference too. New social tools within Silkroad’s product are great but scary, as these HR pros imagine the worse case scenarios. They imagine how they sell this to an executive team that is probably thinking the same as they are.

And that’s fair. I’ve seen what a little bit of openness and social in an inappropriate and immature workplace looks like.

I’ll tell you what I saw: I saw a product that got out of its own way, allowed HR pros to do their job better, and to push employers toward a more progressive and engaged workforce. What I saw were HR pros driven by compliance, efficiency, old-school executive thinking, and squeezing value out of the product without making things uncomfortable at their job.

Let me be clear: I don’t think this is a problem with Silkroad, or with their HR customers. I’m sure the same story gets played out at other user conferences, regional SHRM meetings, and happy hour get togethers among HR pros.

When you follow the bleeding edge of HR like I do, you might assume that everyone is going the way of progressive HR. I love that part of HR. It keeps me fired up and it is something everyone can aspire to.

In that same vein though, we should also acknowledge the uncomfortable reality of HR as it largely exists today. Should we be happy with it? Should we think that’s all we can accomplish? No. The answer is clearly no. But let’s acknowledge that we need tools that not only help HR pros move forward but also tools that help them deal effectively with the present.

When it Comes to Recruiting Innovation, Candidate Experience is Top of Mind

I was asked to chair this week’s Recruiting Innovation Summit, put on by my former employer ERE Media. At it, we explored some of the leading edge ideas from people who are as passionate about making recruiting better as I am.

It was also the first time I ever emceed an event. That experience is probably another post altogether.

As part of my new position as part of The Candidate Experience Award council, I paid special attention to recruiting trends and technologies that will improve the candidate experience. The event did not disappoint on that front. There are some really cool ideas that are bubbling up from early adopters, entrepreneurs, and people that build products at some of the big boys. Here’s how it shook out from my perspective.

Making the application process better

A couple of the newer solutions we saw at the Recruiting Innovation Summit really tackled some ways companies could improve the application process for candidates.

iMomentous talked about their mobile apply. Talent Board Member Ed Newman really dove deep into the idea that a mobile apply approach isn’t going to be just a nice thing to have, it is going to be a must have. There are a lot of companies out there trying to crack this nut and it is going to become a reality (though it isn’t going to happen overnight).

Resunate had something really interesting: a way for candidates to optimize their resumes depending on the job description. Imagine if this was on the front-end of your application process? Helping candidates putting their best foot forward could be the ultimate candidate experience play.

Making the candidate experience fun?

Two different types games impressed people at the summit this year.

ConnectCubed created a couple dozen games that actually help employers determine if someone will be a good fit for a job. What they found is that people played the games and enjoyed them, even if they weren’t necessarily going for a job. It was one of the more fascinating ideas presented and I wished that they would’ve shared more of the games.

RMS embedded their employer brand into an actual game. They got a lot of eyeballs from a lot of people who might have not otherwise seen them. Best of all, it came to you in a fun environment of trying to prevent a world disaster (right up their alley, if you know what RMS does).

Monitoring the candidate experience

Last year’s startup competition winner Mystery Applicant came back to talk about what they have been working on since they won the award last year. It was fun to understand just how much data they are pulling in now about the candidate experience. The deeper we dive into the data, the more we know we need The Candidate Experience Awards.

There are many more companies (new and old alike) out there taking on the candidate experience either directly or indirectly. Whether that means a smoother apply process, better communication, or understanding and relieving the pain points in your process, the level of importance is only going to continue to grow.

Do Work That You’re Good At And You’ll Be Happier

Don't_worry,_be_happyThere’s a lot of people out there who don’t have a passion for their chosen career. Maybe there is limited emotional fulfillment from it or maybe it is just completely soul crushing. There’s a lot of in between.

I’ve learned from Laurie Ruettimann that the answer to your career crisis is not to change jobs and follow your dream of becoming whatever it is you think you want to do. The answer to your career crisis is to do something with your life that is fulfilling and find something in your career that you can live with and pay the bills.

That’s basically what I told people in this podcast for ReadItFor.Me but I’ll take it one step further and tell you that if you’re good at your job, you’ll be happier overall.

Take this from someone who has done career changes thinking that following my passion was going to be an awesome experience, fulfilling in its own right. It can be but if you’re not good at it or you’re constantly struggling, you can actually start to hate your passion. That’s not good.

Now I used to work in Human Resources as a practitioner and manager. I really believe that good HR is the difference maker in all organizations. That without good, foundational HR, your potential reach as an organization is limited. It is so foundational that when it is done correctly, it doesn’t even seem like HR, it just feels like it is the secret sauce that keeps everything moving. People are on the right page, they enjoy working together, and there is a culture that supports and enables a higher level of function.

Oh, and everybody is good at what they do.

I don’t think I was good to bringing the nuts and bolts to this overarching philosophy to fruition in the workplace. I was impatient and when things slowed down, I eschewed collaboration, and dropped buy in. I was discouraged and I actually started to doubt everything.

By the end of my HR career, I was done. I wasn’t sure that I’d be done with HR completely but I knew it wasn’t going to be me going back into the same position I was in before. I’m sure there were improvements I could have made but I also knew what I wasn’t going to be good at in the long term.

When you’re good at work, you have more opportunities to get paid fairly for what you do and you have more control of where you live and where you work. Those are important things. If you’re really good at work, you aren’t devoting all of your mind share to fighting through work issues and you can devote it more to something you are really passionate about. If you want to play in a band that has weekend gigs or you want to hike the Pacific Crest Trail, these aren’t things you’re going to be getting paid for but they are things you can pay for with a job that you’re awesome at.

If you have a job you’re passionate about, that’s awesome. But if you don’t, that shouldn’t necessarily be the goal. Maybe you’re not crazy about sales but you are crazy about taking three week trips to Italy in the summer. Getting very good at sales makes that happen. Then you’ll see your job for what it really is: a vehicle for making your passions happen, whether it is in or outside of your chosen career.

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.