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Tell Great Stories at Work and in Blogging

In case you haven’t noticed, I love telling stories. Something I will never forget about my late grandfather was his love of telling great stories. Whether it was from his childhood or from last week, you could always tell when a good story was coming. Some of what he said was so transparent and predictable but you still anticipated it as he told it. The cadence of the words increased, you started listening more intently and waited for the pay off. It was almost always something funny but there seemed to be a one liner after the story completed that had everyone in stitches.

I’m not going to attempt to reproduce his stories because I don’t think I could do them justice. That’s not the point anyway. The point is: great stories connect us to one another. We can relate to stories, they are emotive, they live and reproducing them (well) allows others to experience a part of our lives. That’s compelling.

The relation to blogging is obvious. If you are a great story teller, you can rely on your content to be the foundation of your site. Not to say that marketing won’t help you increase your audience substantially. If your content is great, you have one less worry though. It is also important that when you do tell a story, you are passionate about it. Some people think HR is boring. I couldn’t believe it either. When you write about something you are passionate about, it helps bring your voice to the forefront and helps you connect with your readers.

I am not going to lecture on what is best for blogging. Even I have short-comings in this area so I wouldn’t be very authoritative. This post is supposed to be about work after all.

Places that are great to work at generally have a great story behind it. Sometimes, this is an exercise in employer branding. You’ll see that at some places and it will be completely transparent and obvious that it is branding.

A great story has a consistent message. If you take General Electric (GE) for instance, their message has been broad innovations since its inception in Menlo Park, New Jersey. The founder of GE, Thomas Edison, has over 1,000 patents in all kinds of areas. Today, GE is known for it’s broad innovation (from medical to aviation to energy) consistent with their founder’s story. You meet people from GE and they understand this.

Newer companies work on this as well. Google started in a garage in Menlo Park, California based on their technological innovation and focus on usability and simplicity. They have used this humble story to grow into one of the best places to work for.

A great story isn’t an old or new company thing. It isn’t an east coast or west coast thing. It is what great companies do: they root themselves in that starting philosophy and grow their businesses on those principles. Those stories of the founding of GE and Google reinforce the mission of the company much better than any silly mission statement stuck in the policy manual on page 18. Why?

The story is compelling. It connects. It shares a piece of the company that is personal, emotive and that people can relate to. Everything else about a company may be cold and unforgiving but that story… There’s something special about that.

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Balancing Work, Another Job and a Life

As many of you know, I am big into work/life balance. I have also been lucky enough to work for employers that have valued that as well. Now though, it seems that I am running into a little conundrum because that work/life balance has turned into work/work/life balance and I didn’t even take on a second job! At least not deliberately. Let’s list the issues:

  • I have a day job. It runs 8–5pm with little (if any) overtime. Some travel involved but not enough to really get excited over. No the job isn’t super sexy. But yes, lucky me: I have a life.
  • I am now essentially moonlighting as a blogger. Two independent sites going (this one and HRM Today), a blog on, as well as exclusive sponsorship of a social network (HR Bloggers). My monthly income from blogging is roughly half that of my day job. It could be more if I worked harder at it (sponsorships, advertising, etc) but again, work/life balance.
  • Then life. My routine has been to come home and spend the first couple of hours focused on my wife, have dinner and talk about what is going on. Then she wants to watch a little TV or read and I get online and do my blogging. Until when? Sometimes 1am. Then to bed and up again at 6:30. The good? Weekends are intact. I rarely touch the computer on the weekend and if I do, it isn’t usually more than an hour.

How do I resist the urge to check my blog stats every five minutes or stay on my cell phone? How does my wife not want to kill me every night (she still may want to on occasion)? I think I do it by following some easy steps:

  1. Set your computer boundaries — I want to be either on the computer being productive or off it doing something else. No computer games, not much in the way of personal blogging, no chat, no twitter.
  2. Set your phone boundaries — I check my emails on my phone in the morning before work and after work on the way home. I can worry less about email when I want to spend time with my wife.
  3. Set your hours — I don’t want to be blogging at 1am but sometimes I am. I do very well on the weekends but I need to do a better job on work days.
  4. Set up an end game — Is there a breaking point with having essentially two jobs? I know there is because I’ve worked with employees who have dealt with it. It is critical to understand where your break point is and to have a plan to go one way or the other.

This post started out as a gripe post but I realized that it would seem silly to gripe about the opportunities I have and to complain about coping with it. I am grateful that I have abundant opportunities and I do get tired of people saying “Agh, I am so busy and life isn’t fair.” So turn it into a positive: being busy is either a function of having lots of opportunites (yay!) or inefficiency (something that can be easily fixed!).

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Your Blog Sucks

I hate to break it to you but your blog sucks. In other words, the reason you aren’t getting readers is because I know the answers and you do not. Even the most popular blogs on the internet aren’t getting it done because they suck too. I don’t know what the people who are reading those popular blogs are thinking. Perhaps they are insane.

I am going to give steps so easy to follow, even my readers will pick up on them. Here is how to write a kick ass blog:

  1. A Title That Will Tick Everyone Off — In the blogosphere, everyone judges your book by its cover so it better be one that gets your attention. The best way to get attention is to take something that many people believe and say they are incredibly stupid for believing it. Another way is telling people why they aren’t as smart as you.
  2. Content Isn’t Important — Having strong opinions and letting everyone know how smart you are for having them is the only thing that is important. Instead of focusing on content, focus on highlighting words with bolds, italics and underlines to prove your point: you believe something and it is 100% correct.
  3. Assume Your Audience is Dumb — Repeat things several times if necessary. Remember, these people are reading your blog for the enlightenment that you provide and using too big of words will scare them off. Use simple words that they can understand and explain core concepts that everyone should already know just in case. You never know with some of these people.
  4. Use Lists to Beat Your Point Out of Thin Air — There is no limit to your list but you should never have less than three points. In fact, longer is better. Try to argue against a hundred point list. You may find holes in 20 of the arguments but that still leaves 80 arguments unrefuted. “Nice try you door knob! Let me know when you refute all 100!”
  5. Don’t Use Sources to Back Your Point Up — You’re better than the sources you would cite anyway. For bonus points, use the ultimate sources to back up your points if you must: yourself and the blogs that agree with you. Make sure to make the links as hard as possible to follow so that nobody will check them out (see, I just cheated those last few links).
  6. Make Sure to Vilify People That Dare Disagree With You — Who has the blog? That’s right, you do. So now act like it! Make sure to mention the fact that Lee Harvey Oswald also disagreed with you in your original post. Anytime somebody tries to bring up a point against your post, make sure to mention the fact that they are siding with the person that shot Kennedy. Who do you believe: the guy who sides with a known assassin or the guy who is thoroughly against presidential assassination? Bulletproof I tell you!
  7. Encourage People to Comment That Agree With You — Make sure to recognize every comment in support of your point with a strong “THANK YOU! Finally someone gets it!!11” You only need a couple of these per post to convince you that at least some of your readers aren’t complete morons. Thankfully, because it is the internet, chances are someone will find a way to agree with you no matter what you actually say.
  8. Never Admit Defeat — It is unlikely that you’ll be bested but should it ever happen, you could do a couple of things. You could continue to admit that you are right in face of whatever evidence the person besting you is presenting. It may not win the argument but it will drive that person crazy enough to make it feel like you’ve won. Another one is deleting the post. After all, it is your blog.
  9. A Conclusion That Bails You Out — A way to avoid defeat is to simply have a squishy conclusion that you can point to that says the opposite of what your entire post implied (or even stated outright if you’re doing it right). For instance, if you have spent the entire time arguing that nobody knows how to write a blog that doesn’t suck, you can bail yourself out by ending with “While a majority of blogs out there do suck, there are some really great one’s out there that follow all of these principles routinely. It is nice to know that some people know what they are doing.”

So while a majority of blogs out there do suck, there are some really great one’s out there that follow all of these principles routinely. It is nice to know that some people know what they are doing.

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Generation X Doesn’t Like You

And who can blame them?!

I certainly can’t. I would be irritated as hell with the work environment if I were a Gen X’er because they are supposed to be entering the earning years of their life (the one where you bank your retirement, put your kids through college and pay off your mortgage) and it is getting turned upside down by a variety of factors. Harvard Business Publishing throws some of these out:

  • Most corporate career paths narrow at the top
  • And then there are those pesky Gen Ys.
  • Xers are the most conservative cohort in today’s workforce
  • Boomer colleagues are annoying
  • Your own parenting pressures are at a peak

And this is why I am so indifferent about generational differences.

Wait, that’s not a good enough explanation.

Let me try this:

Every generation goes through relatively similar career steps. The fact that Generation Y is starting their careers differently than Generation X, the Boomers, and the multitudes of generations before that is not remarkable. It is something we should be aware of the same way employers were aware of issues with previous generations. The paradigm shift isn’t ever going to be to cater to Gen Y until both recruiting and retention of Gen Y becomes a major priority. And catering to Gen Y right now is only really helping on the recruiting side (not necessarily on the retention side). I really think a lot of corporate policies will start focusing on retaining Gen X people. This will be good for Gen Y but it won’t be focused on keeping them happy yet.

Okay, that probably isn’t adequate either. Let me try this:

My great-grandfather didn’t finish high school. He spent his entire life in agriculture.

My grandfather finished high school, went to the military and stayed in the same industry as he was trained in for most of his life.

My father finished high school, took specialty classes, and tried several careers before settling in his industry.

I finished high school and college, and have tried several different industries so far. I am married and we are talking children so at some point in my future, settling down (whether in job function or industry) is inevitable for almost all generations.

And when generations settle (and Gen Y generally will), their needs become much more similar to previous generations. People get more conservative, crave more security, have a distrust for both older and younger generations and ultimately their families and their well-being takes priority over freedom, movement, and flexibility. Obligations are the great equalizer.

This is the road ahead Generation Y and the road you have just traveled Boomers. I would advise you to not throw these concerns to the wayside for some sort of short term gain. Because it will all come back to this.

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Your toilet business revealed

I read an interesting article on CNN. I think I’ll just let it speak for itself.

It reminds me of a more entertaining article from The Onion regarding a subject very close to this.

Now before you think this blog has devolved (evolved?) into toilet humor and poorly suppressed, junior high inspired giggles, let me just shut that down right now. That isn’t what this is about at all. There is nothing humorous about either story. It is sick, disgusting and simply uncalled for in the modern work environment.

Okay, so there may be a tinge of humor there.

Still, the very fact that the first article was featured on the front page of CNN (below the fold but still…) is a bit disturbing and borders on inane. Especially when you realize that there isn’t some sort of lesson to be learned about dealing with this kind of situation in the article at all. It was simply intended to be a somewhat humorous look at a situation that is disgustingly common and makes me yearn for the days when I worked from home. Maybe the author wanted to just blow some steam off about the situation? I don’t know. But I do know that situations like these make me regret the day I picked HR as the field to work in.

There is a right way to handle this (just like almost all office interactions) and it usually doesn’t involve human resources. I don’t say this because I don’t want the work, but because human resources isn’t your mommy or daddy, it isn’t the babysitter, and if you feel you need one of those sorts of people to deal with the petty problems of the world, then you’re not cut out for the business world.

If you want to know why I think HR gets the shaft in a lot of organizations, it is because we have agreed to be party to this sort of crap (yes, pun intended). In some organization, this would involve a note on the doors of the stalls, or a company memo, or even a formal investigation. Ugh. No! Here is what I need to solve the problem:

  • Regular janitorial service
  • Paper toilet seat covers
  • Paper towels
  • Can of Lysol

Oh wait, I have all of those things. Problem solved. The janitor will clean up any mess within 24 hours (or less if requested). If it is that big of annoyance, I have given you all of the tools to solve it in less than a minute. Here is how:

  1. Shake can of Lysol vigorously
  2. Spray on surface to disinfect
  3. Wipe clean with paper towel

Now that was certainly less grief than writing an article for a national magazine griping about it. You can all thank me later.

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On being paid less than your subordinate

From the mailbag:

Dear HR Guy –

I started work at a fortune 50 company just over 2 years ago, with a fresh MBA in hand, and 5 plus years work experience. My starting grade level was a 13, with a salary of $64k. After 18 months I was promoted within position to the next grade level (15), and my salary increased to $77k.

I’ve just taken a lateral move to my first managerial role, and my new pay is $84k. The position has the flexibility to be promoted to the next level (17), which would get me close to, or over, the $100k range.

I felt very happy with this until I learned that one of my direct reports who is a level 13 earns $85k per year. She was hired just 3 months ago, is my same age, has a similar background to when I was first hired, and is also a fresh MBA (from a lesser known school).

My manager has told me that her hands were tied when she offered the $84k salary due to pressure from HR (they felt an 8% raise was enough).

My manager is planning to retire or move within the next 9 to 12 months, and I have been told that I am the successor. My manager’s manager is thrilled to have me in our department, and has pretty much told me that I’m on the fast track. So, the question is….how much do I let this inequity bother me?

I have some great long term potential at this company, but isn’t this just a matter of principle?

Benjamins in Need

I have to admit, whenever I started reading I was firmly in the “the principle” camp but I sort of floundered when you talked about the future potential. Under most circumstances, the boss should make more. It didn’t sound like it was one of those exceptions where I could see it.

Still, there are certain situations where it is perfectly fine to have a subordinate make more than a manager. That includes:

  1. More education or experience in a field that pushes their pay at the top end of the range while a manager with little management experience is stuck at a lower level of an upper pay range.
  2. The employee is in a field where the pay rate is much higher. For example, a middle manager who also has responsibility over a programmer might be paid less depending on their skill level.
  3. It is a particularly tight labor market. Either for that position, the region or just an overarching problem.

I don’t think your situation is addressed there so I will give you a couple different options.

One: You can approach a compensation specialist and figure it out. At a company your size, these things are pretty standardized. Going at your manager again probably isn’t the best approach and if you do decide to go that way again, you will be armed with more information.

Two: Suck it up and put in your time and it won’t matter in a year.

I think the route you take depends really on your level of comfort with your current salary (independent of comparisons, how happy are you at that level). If you are happy at that level and you can put away your principles, then you should be happy to be on such a great path. If not, then pursue it but don’t bang your head against the wall and try to figure out what basis your salary was computed as.

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If you want to be good at something, do it

Do it over and over again.

Do it until it hurts. And then get up and do it again.

The first thing I ever wanted to get good at was playing basketball. My Dad had put up a hoop on our garage and he would play out there with his friends. And I knew I wanted to be a good basketball player. So I went out there and played and played and played. I played before I could throw the ball high enough. There was no little hoop or little ball. So I just kept trying until I could get the ball that high. Then I got in the hoop. Then I could shoot from 5, 10, 15 feet away. And I got confident. I could make baskets from wherever. I wanted to play my dad.

And he whooped me. 11–0.

And so I played against him more. Every day after work. Every weekend. 11–0, 11–0, 11–1!

And we played for three years before I beat him. This wasn’t a “he let you win” or “he was tired.” This was a Sunday afternoon game he initiated. And I remember it being the greatest day.

I continued getting better until I could beat him consistently. And I went on to play on teams and in leagues. No, I didn’t end up being the greatest, I just ended up being good at basketball. I didn’t make the NBA, or college, or even high school. It was about being good for the sake of being good.

People who succeed in life do so because they find what they love and they do it to be good at it. And if they can’t get there today, they keep trying over and over. They will not be denied. I can’t count the number of times I missed a shot in basketball. But I picked it up and shot again. And it hurt. I broke bones for playing the game. I was so sore, I never wanted to move. But I played again.

I played again. I picked up the ball and took a shot hoping that this would be one that I made. And if I made it, I knew I would have to make it again to be satisfied.

People hate sports analogies because of their simplicity (and their ease). From the age of four to fourteen, all I ever really cared about was playing basketball and being good.

Now life is more difficult and complicated you might argue. Maybe. We make it more difficult and complicated though. How do I know this? My dad’s motivation during my basketball loving days was making sure he was there for a game of one on one. During that time, he went through a job change, divorce and remarriage. Life was more complicated but he made it simple: he wanted to be a good dad, so he did it. And he missed shots, lost games and not just on the basketball court to me. He woke up, like I did, and whatever reality faced us that morning, we were going to continue trying.

I post this because I heard someone give an excuse as to why they couldn’t try to do what they wanted to be good at. Talking is easy. Making excuses is easier. Doing is difficult. Failing is more difficult. And getting up and trying after failure is the most difficult.

No more excuses. No more talking. If you want to do something, do it.

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Why passion can’t come easy…

Everybody wants to be passionate about what they do but they have a hard time finding what they are passionate about in the first place. It seems that all sorts of people are having a hard time figuring out exactly what they want to do in life. Even people that shouldn’t know what they are passionate about yet are concerned about it.

It may seem weird but I haven’t ever worried about it. Why?

I already know what I am passionate about. I am passionate about my wife. I love her. I am passionate about being outdoors. I love fishing. I love camping. I love playing electric guitar. I love single malt whiskeys.

I know what being passionate is all about. So am I passionate about my job? Yes and no.

What you say! I know, I am writing an entire blog about HR issues and I am on the fence about if I am passionate or not?

The parts of my job I am really passionate about aren’t HR specific though. HR gives me better access to the thing I like most about business: people. Sounds corny, I know, but give me a shot. Landing a key person in an area where they are passionate and it meets a significant business need is a feeling of euphoria. Convincing an employee to stay with it, help them develop into better people and see success could drive me for months.

Employment law? Not so much. FLSA interpretation? Hell no. Those are parts of my job that I do because it is necessary if I want to do everything else.

What about your current job are you passionate about? How do you translate that into finding that next step if what you do isn’t all that?

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Retaining Older Workers More Important

Forget about Gen Y/Millennials for a second, how about retaining the older generations?

Unfortunately, we can’t all work for a dot com where younger workers and older workers can enter the industry on essentially the same footing. There are many industries where the wealth of experience an older person brings to a company actually does make a real significant difference. And with early retirement being offered in many of those industries (and early retirement being a voluntary option), the time to strengthen your retention strategy is now. Canada focus says:

The study showed mature, large companies to be at greatest risk from the demographic shift, due to their hiring history — rapid growth through the 1970s, followed by downsizing in the 90s that left them with few mid-career employees today. Leadership, sales and technical positions will be the hardest to fill.

The cost of losing older workers is high. Replacing an experienced worker can cost 50 per cent or more of their annual salary and the cost is higher in jobs requiring specialized skills, advanced training or extensive experience — all more likely in 50-plus employees.

Employers often complain the generation now entering the workforce lack core competencies — which can be counterbalanced by older employees. Many 50-plus workers have experience, dedication, focus, stability and enhanced knowledge.

So not only are people more interested in the older generation, they suddenly find worth (and aren’t anchor weight) in the corporations of today. Couple this with the fact that older workers need some serious help in the job hunt and there is opportunity screaming all over it. Some have taken advantage of this opportunity, will your company?

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Being a mentor is just as good as being mentored

…if not better, says a CNN/Money article I read today.

I have always found mentoring to be a worthwhile venture for both me as a mentor and me being mentored. I don’t know exactly what the cause of this worthwhile feeling is but for me at least, it stems from a couple different things.

  1. Face to face contact with the same person and the subject matter isn’t about necessarily improving work but improving yourself. A person who can be a check and monitor your progress over a period of time. And, when structured right, the lack of obligation to do so.
  2. Being a positive part of a non-reporting employee’s life. I had a fellow mentor who persuaded a person to stick with a job when they were growing tired of it. With that mentors help, instead of taking a path with lower pay and in a totally different industry (starting from the ground up), they got their foot in the door of an internal leadership position. No mentor = that person is gone.
  3. It gets results. I see time and time again where mentoring results in positives for both parties. And it boosts productivity for both workers. Sitting down for a cup of coffee a half an hour each week and being a mentor. For that 15–30 minute period, you gain more than 15–30 minutes of extra productivity.

Great leaders can make a big difference by mentoring other employees and with such a small investment, can make a big impact not only on your own performance but the performance of others.