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Simplify Everything

My buddy Chris Ferdinandi and I chat throughout the day about what’s going in HR, social media and the world. Now I don’t know about anybody else but I work from home. So I’ve got a crew of co-workers, colleagues and friends that I keep in touch with throughout the week. Chris is on that list for sure.

We always talk about ways to simplify processes, explanations and solutions. The fight for simplicity is difficult though because you’re not only fighting against people who have skin in making things more complicated, you’re also fighting against your own natural tendency to make things more difficult than they deserve.

So I’ll tell someone that being great in HR is really simple. If you have great talent, get out of their way. If you don’t, fix it or get out.

And then someone will ask me how do they get out of their no-win scenario using these principles. Like it’s a game of stump me or something. Look, if you have a situation that is going to suck no matter what, pick a side and move on.

And people will ask me how to start a blog. So I’ll tell them pick a platform, write and connect with people who write about the same things as you.

Then someone will ask me about SEO and specific platforms and comment systems and how to set strategy?

Someone will ask me the best way to do a resume. I’ll tell them to compel the company to hire you by aligning your traits and skills with their need.

But then they will ask me about cover letters or typos. How many jobs or pages should it be?

Or someone asks me how to use Twitter. So I’ll tell them to start an account, start tweeting and following other people who you think are interesting.

Questions are asked about timing, how often, how much, retweets and…

Step back for a second.

Figure out what works for you and do it. If that doesn’t work, try something else. Or don’t.

There’s no set of “best practices” for your life. Stop over-complicating things and just live a bit.

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Hustle, Not Talent

I believe in hustle.

Hustle to me is a state of mind. It is a combination of working hard and working quickly. You make mistakes quicker, you make adjustments quicker and you have success quicker. Not only that but once you find success, you sustain that success through continuing the cycle.

Hustle doesn’t take a college degree or pedigree. You don’t have to be privileged to hustle. In fact, those with lesser talent, education or advantage can put hustle to better use and see a greater increase in results.

Why do I believe in hustle?

We talk about talent all day in HR and recruiting. Who has the most talent? Why does “B” or “C” level talent drag organizations down? How can you get rock star talent?

Early in my career, I was not talented though. I don’t think I was any company’s ideal candidate for any job. So how did an average student from a state school eventually get to where I am today?


I worked 40+ hours a week during school in management roles. When I went from management into HR, I didn’t have the skills I needed so I networked, researched and read everything about HR. When I started my blog, I tried to learn everything I could about the technology, how to attract readers and what to write about. When HR kicked me to the curb, I tried my hand at something completely different. I sent speaker proposals out even though I had very little real experience and had success booking them. Now again, I am doing something different and seeing some of the fruits of labor coming out.

I get both excited and anxious about the unknown. I know what a HR generalist does on any given day but I don’t know what a Community Director is supposed to do. Am I missing things? Should I be spending more time reaching out? Should I be spending less time moderating online message boards? Yet as I’ve continued to live in this hustle world, I’ve quickly found out that I will learn it quickly (and relearn it, and relearn it again).

In the end, this singular focus on identifying and cultivating “A” talent has driven me insane but I haven’t been able to put my finger on it until now. If everyone had a singular focus on talent, I wouldn’t have got my first management position at 19, I wouldn’t have gotten a break into full time HR at 23 and I wouldn’t have what I do today. I can say with certainty that I wasn’t “A” talent for any of those positions.

Finding talented people is important. There is no doubt about that. But how do you factor in other pieces of the puzzle that will impact performance (like hustle or passion for the job)? Pieces of the puzzle that might be more important to your organization than just the talent level.

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Eliminate the Highs and Lows

One of the all time college basketball coaching greats John Wooden died at the age of 99 this weekend. Since there is nothing really untimely or tragic about a man who had lived a full and successful life to the old age of 99, I thought it might be appropriate to talk about one of the lessons that I learned from Wooden.

Wooden told his teams to eliminate their highs and lows in their attitudes and play to stay consistent. When they won, they stayed humble and didn’t go over the top in their celebrations. When they lost, they kept their heads up and didn’t get down on themselves for losing games (even heartbreakers). Similarly, Wooden tended to stick with consistent players rather than ones who could get hot (and subsequently cold). It was his belief that consistency was key to success at basketball (and, like many other things Wooden taught, life).

Now saying that to 18–22 year old basketball players is one thing, but having them do it is another. And many players would later admit that at the beginning of the season, they would be giggling about Wooden’s life lessons, poetry or simplistic drills used to emphasize consistency in attitude and in play. When game time came and they saw Wooden on the bench with his legs crossed no matter if they were ahead by 20 or down by 20, they were puzzled. When they won 10 straight, 20 straight and 30 straight, they believed.

What was the end result? The most dominating 12 years of basketball any team has accomplished in college basketball. Ten national championships including four seasons where they went undefeated the entire regular and postseason.

Consistency in attitude, play and achievement. Wooden understood that if you wanted consistently great results, you also had to be consistent in all of the areas that backed that up. And what sets him apart from his contemporaries to this day is that he communicated it, got buy in from his players and executed it consistently for a dozen years of terrific success.

Are you expecting consistently great results without being consistent in all of the other areas that lead to success?

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You Want to Die on an Airplane? It’s a lot Easier Than You Think

I’ve been traveling quite a bit and people always ask me if I can relate to the movie Up In The Air. I don’t know if you’ve seen it but it basically follows the travels of this guy who helps companies across the country layoff people. He flies thousands and thousands of miles a year. His home looks like an empty suite that is provided for relocating employees. He isn’t close to his family at all.

That’s not me. When I’m on the road, I am doing interesting things. I am not out for weeks on end either. Other than the whole traveling part (flying, uncomfortable hotels and eating out), when I get to my destination, time goes way too fast and I always find I enjoyed myself. That’s just the nature of my job.

I think people ask me about Up In The Air because I fly more than they do. I fly more than 99% of people probably. Sure, I’ve got a system, preferred seats, cheats and tricks but in the end, I sit in coach like the rest of you and snack on peanuts and ginger ale. I save my miles to go visit my sister or go on vacation, not purchase first class upgrades.

Airplanes can be some of the more depressing places though. Last week, I sat next to a guy who looked like he had to stay an extra day on the road without a change of clothes. I looked at his left hand and I saw a tan line where a wedding ring used to be. I hear conversations with mothers on the phone with their kids as they are shutting the door saying they’ll promise to be back quicker than last time.

That’s why I end up writing on planes. It is easy for me to focus on what is in front of me, to set a challenge for myself and then knock it out. When I told the folks at #HREvolution that I wrote six posts in a four hour plane ride, I wasn’t joking.

But today, I sat across the aisle from perhaps the worst case I’ve seen in a long time. A guy in his late 30’s or early 40’s who was overweight and sweating the entire plane ride. He typed on his Blackberry non-stop until the doors closed. As soon as we were able open up our laptops, he did so and furiously typed for our entire five hour plane ride on what looked to be the third or fourth revision of what seemed to be a million page document.

He was well dressed with a monogrammed Brooks Brothers shirt and cuff links that I could have traded for an iPad. For food, he ordered a Red Bull, Pringles and a package of Peanut M&M’s. And between the eating of junk food and the furious typing came the most unpleasant thing: occasional cursing under his breathe about what he was working on.

I was scared for the guy. Between all of those factors is a man in crisis. He was not in control of his whole person. He could easily die in an airplane (just not the way most people think).

I don’t know the back story or anything else about the guy. What kind of life is this? The guy that is on the nonstop from Philadelphia to Portland and feels it necessary to not just work on the plane but to wear himself down with stress and food that will kill him.

We always talk about work/life balance from the perspective of what companies control and how it impacts working mothers. How about this guy? Does this guy’s company want him to be stressed out, working on this document and digging his grave in the process or is this his own doing? Does he need a different company or does he just need to be educated about his choices?

If I die in an airplane, it is going to be the old fashioned way. This whole thing about stressing yourself to death? That doesn’t work for me.

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Addressing Your Fear: Public Speaking

I hate public speaking.

I know a few people that have told me in all honesty that they really love it. I have a feeling that these people have something wrong with them.

One of the first public speaking disasters I was a part of was in high school. We did this competition called We The People and the culmination was this event where you’re supposed to testify in a simulated congressional hearing. So here I am, a cocky 11th grader going up to Olympia to do this competition and I told my group that I would take our opening statement.

When it was our turn to present, I sat down and said “Good afternoon.” And that’s all I said for about 30 seconds. I just sat there sweating and blanking my lines over and over (that I had memorized by the way). The judges of the competition acknowledged my uncomfortableness and asked if I needed some notes. I grabbed them and slaughtered the opening and then sank back into my chair.

It was a humiliating experience (one that I am still razzed about from time to time).

I’ve improved since then and do some speaking engagements on occasion. While I wouldn’t want to do it full time, the opportunities I’ve had to speak professionally are generally enjoyable because of the pre and post speaking opportunities to network and grow. How can you improve your public speaking skills?

Know Your Subject Matter

Most of my time isn’t spent on the presentation itself but on the researching aspect of it. If you want to speak and give people something to take away from the presentation, you have to know the subject matter in and out. This has two side effects. For one, your presentation material is simply going to be better with that research. Secondly, your ability to talk naturally and off-the-cuff about the subject matter is going to improve dramatically with more research.

This isn’t college either so start weeks ahead of time.

Tell Stories

One of my favorite techniques to help a presentation run more smoothly is to tell stories during them. Stories are easy to remember for both you and the audience so you give them a takeaway right there. The other nice thing is that stories are easy to practice. I don’t need slides to practice telling stories. I can do it in front of my wife, family or even my cat. Repeating the story several times lets the delivery come off smooth and makes sure you get all of the detail in.

Take Every Opportunity to Speak

If I can speak somewhere, I will. If I turn down a speaking opportunity, it is because of cost of travel or because of a scheduling conflict. Sometimes I do very well, sometimes I … uh, don’t. It generally doesn’t matter in the long run as long as it isn’t an unmitigated disaster. Someone who does public speaking quite a bit told me to aim for ten speaking events per year. At the end of the year, regardless of how good or bad you did speaking, you will be significantly better, more consistent and more easily marketable.

Review Videos or Anonymous Written Reviews

Reviewing videos is PAINFUL but has actually helped me a bunch when I go to prepare for my next public speaking event. Watch it twice: once to get over how stupid you sound and twice to get down notes. And review the feedback from the people you are presenting to as well. Sure, some of it may not be related to the speaking but you can see how things like technical difficulties, room conditions and other uncontrollable aspects of the presentation can impact it. You can take steps to prevent that in the future.

How have you addressed your fear and improved your public speaking skills?

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Five Not-So-Easy Steps For Smooth Career Transformation

So last night I was finishing up my taxes for 2009 (I know, I know, procrastination) and I was looking back at my income for the year. I came to the conclusion that it is going to be hard to beat the up and down of 2009 (to which my wife happily applauded). I know that Jason Seiden would say that a career path is a myth and given my path (or lack thereof), I am inclined to believe him given that…

  • I started off the year gainfully employed
  • I was let go unexpectedly mid-year
  • I was picked up a couple of weeks later and worked as a contractor
  • At the end of the year, I was told I needed to find steady income
  • In between all of that, I did consulting, web work, writing and sold a social network on eBay

Where have I ended up? At a great company, with great people, doing amazing, challenging things.

My cool little HR career track was derailed and I’m now pursuing another career altogether. What’s that career called? I call it marketing for my parent’s understanding but it is obviously very different than a traditional role. How’d I get here?

1. I started doing what I wanted to do

I know I wanted to write more about HR but I didn’t wait for someone to tell me to start blogging. When I was interested in collaborating with other likeminded HR folks, nobody told me to start a social network. When I started building relationships and communities around ideas and people that I knew, nobody told me to do that. I just started doing it. And I kept doing it. And then I asked internally what I wanted to do next. The skills that I work with today are ones I developed on my own outside of the clock.

2. I didn’t limit my choices

Losing my HR job in the middle of last year was like getting thrown off a lifeboat during a rainstorm. Swimming with unemployment is difficult enough but with the economic conditions last year, I didn’t know what would be available for my niche. Whenever I threw my name out there, talked to people or asked for introductions, I was clear that I was open to alternatives outside of my seven year career path. This allowed the MeritBuilder opportunity to come at me. It was far from my career path but it was one where I had skills and contributions I could bring to the table.

3. I had enough budget to take risk

The opportunity to make the jump to a new career is a risk. Even riskier when it is an early stage startup. We looked at our financial situation and decided to make the jump. We didn’t ever resort to ramen noodles or anything like that. Some months were uncomfortable. We never got a second car. And when word came down that I’d have to find an alternative to working for MeritBuilder, we were comfortable taking some time and working on a couple of projects for companies that I had put off and then continuing my career journey.

4. I outworked and out-networked everyone

When you don’t have the skills that years of experience brings you, it means you get to work twice as hard until you figure things out. I’ve gone over my ridiculous minute limit on my cell phone twice and it was when I was unemployed. And it wasn’t even that long of a period either (three weeks total) but I was on the phone a lot. I e-mailed almost everyone I had a tight connection with and followed up with a phone call. When I got jobs, I e-mailed and called people who were doing the jobs to get help and ask questions.

5. I changed my own mindset

The hardest part for me is this whole idea that I am no longer taking a break from HR or trying something else out because of the recession. Everyone always asks me if I ever miss HR or if I ever want to go back. Of course I miss it (I miss parts of it I should say) but I don’t know if I’ll be back. If you would have asked me a few years ago if I would leave HR, I don’t think I would have thought so. I’m enjoying what I am doing right now. I’m used to have a most of the answers at my finger tips and now I have to research or call people.

I don’t know how this would have turned out if I had actually been more thoughtful but I do think following this method ended up helping me significantly shorten the process.

What’s your take? How have you weathered career transformation?

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Don’t Be Stupid: Buying a Fake Degree Online is a Mistake

I honestly can’t believe I have to post this in 2010 (Update: It’s 2019 and this is still one of my most popular posts) but after running across another LinkedIn profile that pointed to a degree mill for their MBA, I’ve got to tell you this with all certainty:

  1. You’re wasting your money
  2. You’re wasting your time
  3. You’re killing your credibility
  4. Recruiters will catch you

What’s crazy is that this happened frequently when I was hiring. If I didn’t recognize the name of an institution, it took all of five seconds to figure out it was a fake. You know how?


Yes, your degree mill may say they will act as your registrar, provide transcripts and have a semi-legitimate looking web presence (well, sometimes). What they can’t do is kill the power of Google to strike through the heart of their scam and bring your ridiculous investment to light.

The state of Oregon even made it easier for me by providing a list of such institutions. Glad my tax dollars are going to something helpful.

Now when I’ve called to contact a candidate about their fake online degree, you know what usually happens? I get hung up on. Or I get some lecture about how accreditation is bogus or that the educational system is a scam or that employers have ridiculous requirements for education. It’s the system, man. The system!

Listen pal, just because you were scammed by some diploma mill doesn’t mean you’re going to rip on hundreds of years of non-faked education. That’s bush league. And yes, some employers have out of touch policies regarding required education but guess what? You don’t combat that by throwing a fake degree on the old resume.

Want a clue for next time? Go to your Microsoft Word templates and pick out a nice award template and write yourself a degree. Give yourself whatever you like, go to the store to grab some nice paper and a frame and print it out. Sure, you’ll still be a liar but at least you haven’t spent hundreds of dollars on something that is only worth the paper it was printed on.

If you’ve got $600–1,500 burning a hole in your pocket, use that money to arrange networking meetings for coffee and lunch. With $600, you could have 20 coffee meetings and 10 lunches (and that’s assuming you’re buying). $1,500 could buy you several real courses through a public university too. Those meetings and courses are going to be worth a lot more than anything you’ll spend on a fake degree.

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The Useless Goal of Perfection

Do you want to be perfect? Go for it. In fact if your goal in life is being perfect, it should be fairly easy. Here’s the process:

  1. Don’t do anything
  2. Repeat

If you never want to get married, have kids, start a business, change careers, or take even the simplest of risks in life, perfection may be for you.

If perfection is your pursuit though, do not under any circumstances start a blog.

Blogging is for the imperfect

I’ve never worked this hard (for this little money) to be as imperfect as I am on this blog every single day. Not only that but my imperfections here are displayed for everyone to see and dissect. A whole database of searchable imperfections for all of the world.

When a wave of spelling and grammar police hit my blog, I know it. My spelling and grammar skills aren’t perfect.

When I make a factual mistake in a post, I know it too. People are there to call me out on it.

When I have dumb ideas or I don’t think all the way through on one, I know it as well. People love shooting down dumb ideas.

I wish I could sit down and thank every one of these people. Thank them for reminding me how absolutely imperfect I am as a human being. How incredible it is that I could be so fantastically imperfect in every way. And that, in spite of all of my ridiculous imperfections, I am able to make a go at it and be successful anyway.

Turning imperfections into strengths

When someone swoops in to remind me that I messed up the spelling of a word or that I made a grammatical goof, it is a reminder about how much content I pump out. I’ve written approximately 250,000 words for this blog over the course of almost four years. To put that in perspective, I’ve written and self-edited about three to four novels worth of information. If I would have waited until perfection, I would have written zero words. Even the most careful single blogger couldn’t expect that. I choose to leave those mistakes in place because it is a reminder that perfection is the enemy of quick to market, interesting content.

When I make a factual mistake, it is a reminder about how much information I consume on a daily basis. I read so many pieces of information during the day that I sometimes get my wires crossed. For most of the posts I’ve written, I’ve probably read at least ten times the amount of words I end up writing about the subject. If I was scared about throwing out a bad fact, I would have posted zero times. I don’t get facts mixed up that often but when I do, I make sure to leave the original and add the correction to show that recovery from imperfection isn’t fatal.

When I throw out an idea that everyone hates, it is a reminder about how my ideas ebb and flow between very good and pretty bad. I always have a hunch but I rarely know for sure how new ideas are going to fly on this blog. Some ideas that many people have liked have taken me by surprise. Others that people hated (sometimes quite a bit) really take me by surprise. In any case, the fear of being wrong would have prevented not only some of the dumb ideas but also some of the really great ideas. I’ve never gone back to delete or rework my writing from the past because imperfect ideas are what drives you to generate better ideas.

Life is for the imperfect

David Rendall makes the point of emphasizing side effects instead of weaknesses in your business life. Using his model, most of my readers don’t mind if I have a typo or grammar error as long as I continue producing great content. My wife doesn’t mind if I don’t vacuum as long as I split cooking with her and fold laundry. Your employer may not mind if you work from home as long as you get the job done.

Perfection isn’t an end goal. I don’t think that has ever been the intent. Being the very best and brightest depends highly on your tolerance for imperfection. It is balancing the need for perfection with speed and innovation. And if there is any balance at all, your product (no matter what it is) will be decidedly imperfect.

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Are You Sure You Want To Resolve Conflict?

Because I’m not so sure you want to.

As someone who has taken conflict resolution coaching classes and been party to hundreds of employee conflicts in the workplace, most of the advice that you receive in order to resolve conflict is garbage. Do you use a five step method? Do you use an eight step method? Enough already. That stuff is for amateurs.

Here is my alternative answer to conflict resolution:

Resolve Problems

Conflict, in and of itself, is not always a problem. It can be but that isn’t anywhere close to being the norm.

And this is one thing I thought might be generational in nature. That is, until I got into heavy employee relations positions and finally understood it: people really don’t deal with conflict well in the workplace. More specifically, a large proportion of people think that people should be more agreeable and reduce conflict wherever possible.

I don’t buy that. Not for a second.

Take a manager who is annoying an employee by checking in on them all of the time and asking that all work go through them before it goes out to customers. He has an issue with the manager micromanaging his work. Sounds like a perfect opportunity for your rock star conflict resolving skills, right?


You talk to the manager and she says the employee has managed to mess up two critical communications to clients over the course of a week. The employee said it isn’t an issue anymore but she wanted to monitor the next couple weeks of communication before letting him go out on his own.

You came in trying to solve the conflict instead of the problem. The problem was the bad client communication. The conflict was because the manager had to create conflict to solve the problem and prevent future ones.

Encourage Conflict

There are three instances where I think conflict is absolutely essential to the strength and ultimate success of your company:

  1. Planning
  2. Problem Solving
  3. Innovation

When you are doing one of those three things, just allowing conflict and debate isn’t enough anymore. You have to encourage it either through coaching the leader of the exercise or through leading by example. Conflict leads to more thoughtful planning, more thorough problem solving and more creative innovation.

Final Thought

At some point, we are going to have to encourage healthier ways of dealing with conflict. I certainly have conflicts with the people closest with me on a frequent basis. We somehow manage to survive it all too. It seems that as soon as you enter the double doors of your office though, the rules change and suddenly that conflict is tantamount to workplace war.

What are your thoughts on this?

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Business Lessons From Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Like every other leader of a powerful movement, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. has become a mythical feature of American history and widely renowned for a few short phrases and speeches. People put words, thoughts and hopes into his mouth. People speak on his behalf. Certainly, he is someone that not too many people (especially in politics) don’t want to be positively associated with.

While the “I have a dream” speech is iconic, “Letter from a Birmingham jail” is more powerful to me personally. It is a passionate display and defense of his way of thinking and operating. I was re-reading it today and thought I’d share an excerpt from it (full text available from the University of Pennsylvania):

Then, last September, came the opportunity to talk with leaders of Birmingham’s economic community. In the course of the negotiations, certain promises were made by the merchants — for example, to remove the stores’ humiliating racial signs. On the basis of these promises, the Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth and the leaders of the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights agreed to a moratorium on all demonstrations. As the weeks and months went by, we realized that we were the victims of a broken promise. A few signs, briefly removed, returned; the others remained. As in so many past experiences, our hopes had been blasted, and the shadow of deep disappointment settled upon us. We had no alternative except to prepare for direct action, whereby we would present our very bodies as a means of laying our case before the conscience of the local and the national community.

You may well ask: “Why direct action? Why sit ins, marches and so forth? Isn’t negotiation a better path?” You are quite right in calling for negotiation. Indeed, this is the very purpose of direct action. Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored. My citing the creation of tension as part of the work of the nonviolent resister may sound rather shocking. But I must confess that I am not afraid of the word “tension.” I have earnestly opposed violent tension, but there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth. Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myths and half truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal, so must we see the need for nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood. The purpose of our direct action program is to create a situation so crisis packed that it will inevitably open the door to negotiation. I therefore concur with you in your call for negotiation. Too long has our beloved Southland been bogged down in a tragic effort to live in monologue rather than dialogue.

Despite the obvious political and cultural ramifications of these actions, isn’t there an important business lesson in there somewhere? Tension is necessary for growth and crisis can prompt negotiation. I think that we get caught up in the idea that we can talk away all of the issues and problems we face. Direct action is sometimes the only thing that can prompt negotiations. When you don’t have the luxury of time or you’ve been waiting on a pile of broken promises, direct action is it.

Later on in the letter, King says “Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct action campaign that was ‘well timed’”. There is never an easy time to take action that will create tension and precipitate a crisis.

Obviously much of Dr. King’s work was outside the realm of business (as was needed) but make no mistake, there are gems of decisive leadership throughout much of his writing and speeches. I hope you can take a moment to sit down and read some of it on the holiday that honors his work.