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Allowing Space for Vulnerability at Work

I was reading an interesting article that popped up while researching another piece of content. It was about how our ideas about masculinity can harm the workplace. Here’s a quick excerpt:

“It’s not about succeeding at whatever the work mission is, it’s about me winning and me proving I’m the winner by showing these dominant traits,” says Peter Glick, professor of psychology at Lawrence University. “It becomes so much a part of proving you’re the ‘man.’ That becomes the central thing.”

Workplaces that promote “show no weakness” attitudes are usually the ones most susceptible to a culture of competition among its employees, Glick says.

It’s an interesting read but to me, it goes beyond just unhealthy competition and ways of proving that you are worthy of being called a man.

Help: How We Get to the Best Work

In many environments, asking for help can feel foreign. We might associate that with white collar, knowledge-based work where someone may know all the answers or feels like he needs to take on the weight of the work. That’s problematic, too.

In blue collar work though, asking for help or pausing work when something isn’t right has to be repeatedly trained and rewarded in order for the habit to stick. For instance, a man may feel like he needs to push through fatigue but in a manufacturing environment, it can lead to mistakes or even serious injury.

Now, I’m at very little risk of being harmed if I nod off at work but outside of safety concerns, throwing up a hand that you need help is the best thing you can do to product the best work possible. For many, including me, it isn’t always an easy thing to tell people that you can’t do something or that you need help.

That’s less about competition and more about vulnerability. Organizations need to make serious, intentional space for vulnerability.

When “I Don’t Know” Unlocks the Truth

Knowledge work is driven by more than just knowledge. It’s also driven by ego, assertiveness, confidence, and a little—or a lot—of hot air. In the right situation, like in a meeting that requires you to think on your toes, it’s the difference between building and eroding trust.

That can be helpful in a presentation or a sales meeting, but in a collaboration with peers? Or an open consult with a client?

It can be toxic. It can encourage a lack of genuine vulnerability.

It’s really simple in practice. If I’m willing to admit that I don’t know everything (true, unfortunately), it builds credibility. People are more likely to believe me and listen when I do know something to, instead of just assuming that it’s me blowing smoke… yet again.

At times, even if I am unable to utter the words I don’t know, a simple pause of silence and waiting—sometimes very uncomfortably—can help someone else speak up.

Strengthening Our Weaknesses

Finally, vulnerability is good for admitting when we’re not good at something and getting better at it with the help of your team. If you’re the type that gets nervous for a presentation, it is easy to internalize the nerves and stress and just try to power through it.

For example, I had a client presentation that I was nervous about because I wanted to push them outside of their comfort zone. I talked to one of my colleagues about it and essentially said, “I’m nervous about this part of the presentation. We talked about this and you had some good points, so can you chime in there to just support what we’re recommending in your own words?”

Not only was this helpful for me, but it helped the person I was presenting with prepare for that section and know why I’m asking for support. I could’ve pushed through and maybe I would’ve been successful, but I played for a more assured outcome.

If you work in an environment where you can’t do this, you are assured that there will be some major screw ups at some point. Even allowing space is no guarantee that you won’t mess up on occasion.

I’m sure there are some organizations that could also swing the pendulum so far toward vulnerability that there is no room for any sort of gritting it out or overcoming obstacles. In my experience though, the vast majority of organizations are already oriented toward sucking it up and getting shit done. Easing off that stance is probably not going to kill your organization — and you might find that better work and a better workplace is the result.

Photo by Alex Hockett on Unsplash

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The iPad Pro: A Welcome Relief From Multitasking

The New iPad Pros Can Help You Get More Done if You (And Whatever Software You Have) Let it

I’ve read a few reviews about the new iPad Pros that came out a couple of weeks ago. They seem to unanimously come to one conclusion: Great hardware, limiting software.

One of the lines I saw quoted on Twitter many times was one from Nilay Patel’s comprehensive review on The Verge:

I don’t think people should adapt to their computers. Computers should adapt to people.

The inflexibility of the iPad’s software to do what a person wants, most often in the way a person wants, seems to be a consistent refrain.

The problem is, we have spent decades adapting to our computers — either unwittingly or by choice. If you’re like me, a kid born in the late 70s or early 80s and later, you’ve spent the better part of your educational and professional career trying to get your computer to adapt to you. An objective look at this says we haven’t had a great track record. It takes practice or a willingness to try and fail to do the most basic things.

Take a simple copy and paste operation on a computer. It’s only natural to people because we’ve done it literally thousands of times. If you’ve spent time with someone learning how to work a computer for the first time, you know it’s anything but second nature. They’ll often use menus, hunting for the right command, rather than simple shortcuts and right-clicks of the mouse that we all eventually learn. Even things like mouse usage aren’t natural in the human sense, but simply natural in decades of computing.

My point isn’t to simply dive all in on Patel’s argument here. But I think the iPad’s limitations are actually a benefit to not just our relationship with technology, but with the way we do our work productively with the help of technology.

A multitasking myth

Humans don’t multitask. We’re very adept at switching between multiple tasks but there is a switching cost involved in all of those different changes. The cost of this multitasking is actually reduced capacity and productivity. People who claim to be good at multitasking are often as bad, or worse, than their more-aware counterparts.

I don’t pretend to be above this myth myself. I’ll answer emails at the playground with my daughter. I’ll be on Slack or chat during long conference calls where I’m primarily a listener taking notes. I have to fight against this learned instinct at every turn.

But, if I’m being honest with myself, I’m not doing any of these things well when I try to do multiple things at once. My primary attention is focused on one task but is being split in many different directions.

When I use MacOS, Windows, or ChromeOS, the only limit on multitasking is my monitor size, the capabilities of my machine to run multiple programs, and my ability to see everything. There is no gate on my ability to switch between email, chat, Slack, GoToMeeting, text messages, personal emails, sports sites, reddit, and more — all in the same screen.

These computers that boast productivity and power have the unique ability to hamper your ability to get stuff done, at least in an efficient manner.

The iPad: A singletasker’s dream

The alternative to multitasking is singletasking: Focusing on one thing, rather than impossibly dividing that attention between multiple things. Devora Zack’s Singletasking: Get More Done-One Thing at a Time gives you a framework for doing this by arranging your schedule and environment to make you more productive and sane.

There are all kinds of guides beyond Zack’s book that can help you create a system that works for you so I don’t want to create a primer on singletasking.

Three apps… kinda sucks. This is a good thing.

What I will tell you is that an iPad is uniquely capable of helping you focus this way, by design. Even on the largest iPad, you can only have three apps open and on your screen at once, two in split screen and one in pull over mode. In order to multitask on your iPad, you have to do so intentionally. You don’t accidentally get into multitasking mode.

Now, there’s one tweak that makes singletasking really shine on the iPad but I don’t think many will like it: Turn off your notifications. All of them if you can, but you can also use the do not disturb setting built into iOS to help you focus even more at the task at hand. My phone and watch do a better job of notifying me of truly important messages so I generally manage it through there. Outside of calendar notifications that keep me from missing meetings, I try to keep my notifications off or to a bare minimum.

There are apps that let you do similar things on Mac and PC to create a space for singletasking. But on a traditional laptop computer, you have to be intentional about going into singletask mode and the allure of multitasking is the default.

I’ve tried hard to be the boss of my schedule and technology. The iPad Pro is part of my strategy for reducing how many devices I have to switch between. Outside of productivity reasons, there’s another reason why traveling with my work-provided MacBook Pro has become even less and less important.

Better than a laptop in many ways

I’ve been on the iPad train for a long time, but until I got a cellular version of the iPad and a keyboard, I’d say my tablet use had been relegated to a couch or vacation device.

There are more than a few use cases where the iPad almost always gets pulled out, even if I already have my laptop.

  • Traveling: From tiny tray tables, to inconsistent hotspots, and the sheer versatility of being able to use with touch or keyboard, the iPad is fantastic. From quickly checking emails and travel schedules to downloading and watching movies from Netflix and Amazon Prime. Oh, forgot to download a magazine or a book on the Kindle app? No problem, even if you’re outside of the range of crappy airport WiFi.
  • Commuting: I just started commuting again after almost a decade of working from home. I already loved taking my iPad Pro to the coffee shop, but being able to work from a bus seat or the middle of San Francisco Bay on a ferry is great. I spend my commutes in looking at my calendar, my work tasks, and creating a plan for getting it all done. On the way home, I close up my day, archive emails, and maybe watch a TV show.
  • Meetings: I end up going to many meetings and an iPad not only keeps me connected but I am able to be more focused on the meeting and note taking. When we’ve dialed in other people, it makes a great speakerphone with its many microphones.
  • Around the house: My wife and I own a 15” MacBook Pro and an ancient Mac Mini that we share. The Mac Mini is basically a host for all of our backups, movies, and music and we share the MacBook Pro for when we need a computer. My wife also has an iPad Mini and my daughter a regular iPad. We both ended up selling our regular MacBook and MacBook Air because we would go weeks between using them. The iPad has basically stepped in for all of my personal computing outside of a few niche tasks (like our owned digital music and movie collection).
  • A second traveling screen: In the cases where I do need to bring my work MacBook Pro, the iPad gives me more screen real estate with the help of Duet (iOS, MacOS/Windows, $9.99). The problem with this I have less and less reason to bring a MacBook Pro with me. I generally leave it docked in the office except for the once a week I bring it home to back it up to Time Machine.

Not for every use case

Now, I will admit, I have an ideal case to use an iPad. My work uses Google’s G-Suite for productivity. Their apps are all more than fine for my use and we’ve built letterhead and slides templates to let me quickly and easily create new docs. The only other app I use a ton is Bear (iOS, MacOS, $15/year) for note taking and research compilation. I’ve used on occasion the Microsoft Office Suite (free with subscription), which seems to be pretty outside of certain functionality, particularly in Excel — an app I hope I never have to be a heavy user of.

In my work as a practice director for a marketing agency, document and slide creation are my typical deliverables for work and I’ve typed hundreds of thousands of words on my iPad. I’d love to have support for the mouse so I can plug the iPad into a giant screen and manipulate it, but not at the expense of the intuitive touch experience. If it’s a choice between one or the other, I’ll take the iPad as it is today.

My glowing review aside, there are some issues primarily driven by apps. For example, until recently, our project management system Workfront wasn’t available on iPad. Even now, tracking time against client work isn’t always so straightforward and seeing my Flash-based capacity allocation report simply isn’t possible (this will soon be fixed, I’m told).

Most of the problems I’ve encountered look like this one: A particular piece of web-based software is difficult to run or incapable of running on iPad. Or, an app that only runs on Windows or Mac and has no web-based alternative.

The reasons why people are still using these pieces of software or sites are usually for both good and bad reasons: They run some critical piece of their business and it may get updated, some day. In enterprise software, mobile capability is often dumbed down rather than gracefully made easier to use.

Even consumer apps, like Google’s Gmail app (iOS, free), don’t always play nicely with features on the iPad, such as split view

As a consumer, we can make decisions to use software that works nicely with our devices but most of us aren’t lucky enough to do so with work applications.

If you’re in that unfortunate case, and that software is the center of your world, you’ll certainly get less value out of an iPad. But, I think for many casual home computer users with minimal niche software needs, an iPad (or even Chromebook) is a better choice than a full featured operating system.

Changing yourself is tough

A full operating system might feel more familiar but let’s not pretend that we have been trained by our computers to do things in a certain way.

For those who never felt at home on a computer or might never have to be at home on a computer, an iPad can feel like a more natural experience. I can jump right into my iPad and read a book where I left off or watch a show. Similarly, I can pick up this post where I left off in three taps.

Retraining my brain to prefer the get in, get out approach to iPad to the world of multiple apps on the laptop that I could open all at once, always at the ready for me was the toughest part about the transition. There are some things that are slower, like copying and pasting from other apps, or moving documents from one place to another. I’ve learned some shortcuts that make it easier, but ultimately, you have to decide if the savings a few seconds when you’re going back and forth copying and pasting between docs is worth the time lost in a multitasking black hole.

That said, it feels good working on my laptop — even if it might not get my work done faster or better on it. But singletasking feels good for how much I can complete and how good it feels to focus, especially on ideas. The versatility to turn from that into a device that is as easy to enjoy live sports, movies, games, and music on as well makes the iPad my favorite computing device since my first smartphone.

Can you get real work done?

This question has popped up again and again in thinking about the iPad’s place in a person’s tech stack. While it’s an individual determination, I can say with full confidence that yes, real work can get done on an iPad. I’ve researched, outlined, created, and delivered reports and presentations with my iPad as my primary device. I got paid real money to do this work, too.

Here’s the thing: I couldn’t imagine getting this work done as well without it. The fact is at the bare minimum, it stands in for significant portions of my work — especially researching and outlining — makes it a key piece of how I can get work done at a reasonable quantity and quality.

It’s enough that I’m happy to bypass other upgrades to my technology to keep my iPad up to date, and spend $20 a month to keep it connected to my unlimited cell plan.

Can the iPad Pro do the same for you?

It does depend, but in looking at the way many of my friends and colleagues do work, I would bet that many of them certainly could replace their use of laptops and may even find themselves getting more done by eliminating another source of multitasking. What’s seen as a shortcoming of functionality can actually boost productivity. Intentional or otherwise, the iPad’s limitations have made me better at focused work.

Disclosures: Other than this section, I used my 11 inch iPad Pro with Smart Keyboard Folio to write the entirety of this article. All of the things I’ve written over the past 18 months personally have been written on the iPad Pro 10.5 inch I had before. I wrote this post in the Medium iOS app but had to come to the Medium website (in desktop mode) to add tags and schedule the post. So, why did I have to come here on my Mac? Because Medium’s app and desktop site on Safari do not support the ability to resize the header and body image in this story. That’s it.

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The Present of Work at #HRTechConf

Being a human resources leader can be a slog. I know this on an intimate level, but to be fair, I haven’t experienced it personally for nearly a decade. Instead, I’ve spent a lot of time talking with some of the best (and yes, worst) HR leaders in the world.

For all the scorn that HR gets from everyone, I end up speaking to a lot of leaders who give a shit about their people and their organizations. They relish their role, something I could never square up with my own ambitions. On the flip side, when you’ve seen a leader run an organization in the ground on the people front, you appreciate the good ones even more.

So, I had a little patience when a vendor confidentially told me that the people he talked to at the HR Technology Conference didn’t get what he was doing to change the future of work for good.

They Just Don’t Understand

This vendor rolled out trope I’ve heard thousands of times: That talent acquisition is too advanced for an HR conference, that even recruiting leaders outside of the most progressive have issues understanding their vision for the future, and that in a perfect world, recruiting would never have to exhibit at an HR conference ever again.

I paused. There were a few things to untangle there. And there’s a whole post on whether talent acquisition belongs in close alignment with the rest of the talent management function (they do, by the way).

Here’s was the crux of my concern about this whole line of thinking:

  1. They had to have HR on board with their solution: Even they told me this. They were imagining a future that didn’t exist, and probably won’t exist for at least a decade or more.
  2. They didn’t understand HR buyers: They assumed they were idiots, yet I knew of a number of CHRO’s that had accomplished much more complex projects in recruiting, workforce planning, alignment, and development than what they proposed. We’re talking multimillion dollar initiatives. Their teams were there in spades.
  3. If people don’t understand your solution, that’s your problem: Look, most of the people you’re talking to are college educated. They can understand words if you string them together the right way and we’re not talking about quantum string theory or the multiverse here.

But maybe the biggest aha moment I had was that he — along with many other folks I spoke to on the trade room floor—were actually too future-focused.

The Future of Work Doesn’t Address the Present

Forever — is composed of Nows —

—Emily Dickinson

While I haven’t always beaten the drum of the future of work, I’ve been as guilty as the next guy of talking it up when I have, usually for the sake of eyeballs.

And look, it’s a lot of fun to talk about the future of work — the same way it’s fun to talk about destinations that you want to visit at some point in your life. It’s a lot less fun to research plane tickets, hotels, excursions, and the like to make one of those dreams happen. Travel shows are escapism for people who long for exotic vacations the same way listening to the future of work is for talent leaders longing for an easier way to get their job done.

No matter where you are in the workplace technology ecosystem, anybody with real budget has to get shit done today. There’s a lot to get done, too. It can be compliance or productivity. It can be development or planning. It can be inclusion and culture. It can be managerial. It can be strategic. It can be tactical.

If you’ve plotted yourself too far ahead, it’s easy for organizations to say not yet. In fact, it’s probably the responsible thing to do. There are a lot of problems for organizations to fix. Where does your solution fit and why should they care? Even if your message is about the future, how do you stop the escapism and get them thinking about how this actually happens in the workplace of today.

It’s More Than Buzzword Hate

Buzzwords are so easy to diss on. But it goes beyond that. These buzzwords are often thrown out there with no context for how they work, why it’s better, and why it matters.

In some cases, it’s not simply a language problem—it’s a function problem. When you dig into some of these “all too advanced” innovations, you find something more akin to vaporware. An AI solution only takes you as far as its creator’s ambition and talent.

Most buyers have done enough to see through that charade and it becomes problematic for anyone who latches on to the hot buzzword of the year. That’s not just bad marketing but it’s damaging to your organization if you do have a solution that actually has promise to impact organizations today.

Own the Present of Work

When I see an industry zig, I want a brave soul to zag. There are a lot of companies out there chasing the dragon that is the future of work. I saw companies talking about 2025 or 2030, just like they talked about 2010 and 2000 in years past. I don’t think I saw anyone talking about 2020, which is good since that’s a little over a year away.

I’d love to see a company that’s rooted in today with solutions for today. Some of those may not be sexy, but they may actually fix issues that exist right now. Ignore all the future proofing bullshit, after all, there is still a large contingent of buyers with software hosted on-premise.

And they are happy with it.

(That’s pretty weird)

Anyway, I’d love to get some organizations up to 2018. If I’m being realistic, I’ll take even 2015. There’s a market there that would be way more appealing than being just another buzzword has-been. Fixing problems of the present? That never goes out of style.

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#CultureFirst: The Labels That We Share and Wear

“Pick three.”

I scanned a table full of one-inch buttons with different labels. It was supposed to be a lesson in being vulnerable and honest — getting beyond job titles to talk about ourselves. Most of the descriptions didn’t fit me: Religious, middle child, conservative, queer… So I picked a description that may be obvious at first glance (straight white male), one that is not so obvious (introvert — though I tend to be more of an ambivert), and one that might provoke a reaction (carnivore).

The second person I met in the morning was wearing a vegan button. Of course.

We introduced ourselves and both of us somewhat uncomfortably laughed about the carnivore button. It was a weird description: I mean, no human is actually carnivore. I certainly wasn’t, I was eating a scone and some fruit for breakfast.

I told her why I picked it: My family has been in the meat business for three generations. I told her about Walla Walla and what its idyllic pastures and landscapes looked like, cows grazing next to vineyards. Okay, I embellished a little. She told me about her own struggle with becoming a vegan and the challenge of living that way in the south. She loves it there, though.

I’ve had conversations like this at conferences before but they usually involved alcohol as a truth serum. This one was happening before a 9:00 a.m. keynote. All thanks to a label that I chose for myself and pinned to my lanyard.

That was my introduction to Culture First, the first major conference put on by Culture Amp. Culture Amp has been putting on many smaller meetups for years and cultivating a community of over 40,000 members through their People Geeks initiative.

I’ll be honest, at times it felt like I was transported back to WorkHuman, an event that Globoforce, another technology company in HR, runs. It’s heavy on thought leadership and community, less on product — at least on the main stage. It doesn’t look like a user conference that a tech company would run.

That’s not a bad thing.

The refreshing honesty of the Culture Amp team—a willingness to tell people where they’ve failed and where they’re unsure of the evolution in this strange category that they play in—is to me a sign of enlightenment instead of weakness. Other companies substitute a lack of crystal ball clarity about the future with empty bravado and false promises. Culture Amp told their story, laid out a vision that was humble and open to change if and when conditions shifted. It felt true and it wasn’t limited to just their product.

And employee engagement, culture, feedback: It’s all changing.

That brings me back to the buttons and labels.

Categories in any market sector are necessary. Sometimes, they are a necessary evil, especially as a segment changes or evolves.

Culture Amp today describes their product as an employee feedback software. That’s the label that they share and it’s really a category that fits the market today. If you know Culture Amp, you probably know about things like surveys and reporting and all of that other fun employee insights. They’ve told you this. The same way I would tell you about what I do or my job, or maybe even the city I live in. But in a few years, that label may change or shift— or buyers can expect something else entirely.

But in times of uncertainty and change, business leaders need to look past RFP checklists and product roadmaps. Here’s what I want to know as a buyer of any software in this category: Do these people get me and what I am trying to accomplish and do I get them and their approach to solving these issues? Those are the labels that every company wears. It’s rarely stated but always there. Culture Amp focused heavy on wearing their labels on their sleeve.

Is it an emotional connection? For sure. Can it feel irrational? Of course! However, it also manifests itself in the way tech companies design and prioritize product development and releases, or how they offer services surrounding their product. That part is tangible and very rational.

A day with Culture Amp helped me understand the labels they embrace that don’t always translate to marketing messages or product sheets. It gave me a peek into a nuanced worldview and vision of the future of work and engagement that’s rare. Engagement and culture doesn’t begin or end with their product. They’ve embraced their role as a key piece that every organization must solve: How do you understand and embrace the employee voices at your company?

The broader market category they play in, employee engagement, is changing rapidly. Culture Amp clearly has the technical pieces in place to compete and evolve into whatever this category will become. But they also have the, in the words of Patti McCord, spirit to compete. I have a point of view about those shifts as well that I’ll be sharing at InfluenceHR.

It also gave me insight into myself and even forced me out of my comfort zone, at least for a little bit. Even if it made me a little hungry and hyperaware of my need for space.

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Hire by Google is the Actual Game Changer Recruiting Needs

Today, Google announced the launch of Hire, a new recruiting product that is built into G Suite, their enterprise productivity offering.

Unlike most recruiting product announcements, this one truly means something. Why?

First of all, Google is one of the largest software companies in the world (well, and one of the largest companies, period). They have a huge customer base and a large, recognizable brand. And they’ve made significant progress in the SMB market—they have over three million paying customers on G Suite in the U.S.

Nothing is a sure thing, but here are a few reasons I think this will be pretty great and one way it could fail:

1. The product looks pretty good out of the gates

I’m still waiting on a demo but this looks like an actual product. It’s way better than the typical small business ATS (an e-mail inbox) but it keeps the simplicity and familiarity of Google products.

Update (July 24, 2017): I got a demo of Hire today and it’s pretty complete. Not only that, it’s fully integrated with Gmail and Calendar, so it’s capturing a lot of that communication and scheduling natively. Hard to believe this product wasn’t public a couple weeks ago given its maturity.

I’ll be curious to see how it integrates with the Google for Jobs product launched just a couple of months ago.

2. Google already has access to their best possible customers

The SMB is criminally underserved by enterprise technology companies. They either try to screw them over with expensive, overly-complicated software suites or dumb it down too much with basic, hardly-worth-the-trouble systems.

A simplified, but powerfully integrated system that doesn’t require you to pay two different software bills is an advantage few companies have — having three million current paying customers is something almost nobody has outside of ADP.

3. Google wants to own the SMB enterprise

Google (and its parent company, Alphabet) get most of their revenues from ads. They must diversify and they see G Suite as one way to add steady, recurring revenue. They’ve found a niche serving small and medium-sized businesses with G Suite. Hire and applications like that (they are already working on collaboration with Jamboard, Meet and Hangouts and they even have instructions on how to set up time cards with Google Forms) can be a key factor in taking over a segment that has huge market potential. In fact, you add something like an HRIS and accounting software (perhaps like ZipBooks) and there wouldn’t be a lot you couldn’t run on Google’s cloud.

How it could fail: Low investment or interest from Google

Even with the tremendous potential of Hire and other enterprise products from Google, it still makes up an incredibly small proportion of their overall revenue. If they don’t get enough traction, they could eventually sunset it or reduce the offering significantly. When Google has done this in the past, they’ve given plenty of notice and have typically offered the data for easy-ish migration. No guarantee that happens here but that’s the same for almost anyone.

What’s next?

We’ll get to see how the market reacts to Hire in the coming months but if I owned a recruiting software firm that was aimed at a non-niche SMB buyer, I would be looking at how to differentiate our offering and retain our base of customers. There’s no reason to be scared, at least not yet, but I would be prepared for Google to push this. One thing to consider is if AdWords is still a major lead generation strategy, you might want to look at other options, given how easily Google could dominate both paid and organic search.

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Generation Lance

If you’ve been around marketing long enough, you hear something about generational differences once every few seconds. Ditto for HR.

There’s all kinds of studies that generally seem to separate our current population into six big groups of generations:

  • Greatest generation
  • Silent generation
  • Baby boomers
  • Gen X
  • Gen Y (or Millennials)
  • Gen Z

Lots of people have heard about these.

Now, there’s even more precise micro-generations. There’s Generation Jones, a sort of in between group of Baby Boomers and Gen Xers.

There’s also now The Oregon Trail Generation, which is special because it covers when I was born, the cusp between Gen X and Y.

But you know, it’s not a perfect description of me. Yeah, it’s closer than Gen X or Gen Y but let’s really nail this.

I’m creating a micro-micro-generation that more accurately describes my qualities. I’m calling it Generation Lance. It’s a micro-generation of The Oregon Trail Generation which is a micro-generation on the cusps of Gen X and Gen Y.

How do you know if you’re in Generation Lance? It’s easy:

  • Born in late October in 1981 between 11:04 and 11:06 AM
  • Grew up in a small suburb and then moved to a bigger suburb of Portland, Oregon
  • Went to a state school that was about as far away from home as possible without leaving the state
  • Got married between 23 and 25, had a kid at 33
  • One cat
  • Homeowner with two TVs
  • Gym member but goes inconsistently
  • Works for a marketing agency after working in HR and writing
  • Most frequently reads Deadspin, Reddit, and Slate
  • Name is Lance Haun

I feel really confident in this profile I’ve built for my micro-micro-generation, but if you have more questions about it, I’m happy to do some consulting work for your organization for a few hundred dollars an hour. After identifying member(s) of this generation, I can help you build a more complete persona through surveys and personal interviews.

This is really the next big thing in marketing and HR. Get on this train now so you don’t miss it.

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The Gig Economy Problem

If people want the gig economy to succeed, we have to create infrastructure that actually supports it

Being employed today is a pretty good deal if you can swing it. At least in the U.S., it generally means getting paid predictably, some sort of benefits (including the all important health care coverage), and a semblance of stability. For most people, it involves one job. It’s fuel for our economy. I think it’s a good thing.

Over the last decade in particular, the gig economy has taken hold. In its best case, the arrangement is simple and benefits everyone. Instead of pseudo-permanent employment, you work in and out of organizations as needed. You set your rate as you need and the work is negotiated. At the end of the project, you go along your way or maybe there’s something new and you can continue working together.

At its worse, it exploits workers and takes advantage of legal gray areas, increasing regulatory burden, taxes, and critical costs like health insurance, placing it onto the laps of vulnerable individuals. Choosing to venture into the gig economy on your own volition and being placed into it by circumstance will probably dictate your feelings on it.

In the U.S., people in the workforce used to be pretty strictly divided up into employees and business owners/entrepreneurs. The gig economy—a sort of gun for hire—was rare and for the privileged. Household employees and workers, often paid under the table, could be considered some of the earliest gig workers. Independent business consultants could be another one.

Now, sites like TaskRabbit help bring the gig economy to almost anyone—buying or selling. Craigslist has done the same informally for years. And of course, apps like Uber package the sharing economy into a familiar package for buyers.

There are a lot of advantages and disadvantages of this change. I’m not in a position to do a full piece on ways it can work and ways that it doesn’t but I it’s not going away. If you really want to get into it, a recent piece by The New Yorker can give you a long glimpse into this world.

What I worry about is that we are setting up gig workers for failure.

Our economy and regulatory system is built for the paradigm of either a legitimate employer with a business or employees who get paid by those employers. If we want a gig economy, we should do it in a way that doesn’t further marginalize vulnerable workers and shrink the middle class.

Health care costs

The biggest burden for those in the gig economy is often finding affordable health care. For older workers, it can easily clear $1,000 a month. A cool grand before you make a dime is a tough pill to swallow.

Complain about the Affordable Care Act all you want but at least it was trying to address this issue, even though it was toothless to ultimately tamp down costs. Whatever reversal Congressional Republicans and President Trump are seeking will not fix this. In fact, any health care reform that doesn’t result in more accessible and affordable options should be a non-starter for anyone who supports the gig economy.


Again, our entire system of taxation was created for businesses and individuals working for them so guess what isn’t so great when you work in the gig economy? No shock, gig workers get raked over the coals—even if they end up not technically overpaying. Most overpay or end up missing something and getting audited down the road.

When you think of reducing corporate tax rates, you probably think of companies like Apple or Exxon that don’t really need a tax break. But taxation in this country is incredibly complicated and it hasn’t caught up with the gig economy. When you make an Uber driver pay a higher tax rate than an oil giant, there’s a big problem with that.


One of the ways companies that are building apps and business models around the gig economy, somewhat ironically with regular salaried workers instead of gig employees, is by finding regulatory white space. Great for the gig companies but they aren’t often the ones who end up paying if that regulatory white space gets inked.

In fact, Uber fighting worker misclassification is a rarity. More often, gig workers end up paying when their work bumps up against regulations.

We don’t need to feel bad about the regulatory burden we place on huge organizations but we have to be more thoughtful about the way that trickles down into the gig economy if we’re going to support it.


Ten percent of people in the U.S. lack access to basic broadband internet. The divide is to the extreme in rural and poorer areas of the country, where it is almost or essential to be connected in a gig economy.

As the FCC moves to dismantle net neutrality, it doesn’t bode well for this divide. The lack of choice coupled with little incentive to develop in areas most needed will certainly mean that people will continue to live with either more expensive wireless options or with little option at all.


Maybe most importantly, as we look to the future, we have to ask how you prepare the kids growing up to work in a gig economy? For the last 70 years, our education system has been oriented toward producing job-ready workers for employers.

As we look at opportunities like reviving trade schools, we should also remember that the people that have been able to sustainably succeed in the gig economy are people that have a diversity of skills and interests. Increased specialization can actually lead to less opportunities in the future if you don’t continue to learn and pursue new skills and pay attention.

That’s an entirely different skill set than the one that predates the gig economy.

Maybe the gig economy will make us better. Maybe it won’t. If you’re a proponent of it, you can’t advocate for structural changes to regulations and costs that also actively do harm to the people doing the work in the gig economy. We need to make investments in our infrastructure and initiate changes to the way we take care of people and pay the government’s bills.

It’s probably too much to ask to do this before it really takes off, but at the very least, we should try to be responsive to these changes. So far, we’re not there yet.

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Encourage Jury Service

You want a simple way that HR can change the world? Encourage your employees to participate in jury duty.

I’m thinking about it this week because my wife got called into jury duty. Now, it’s inconvenient. Her work is ramping up for the busy season. I need to go out of town tomorrow.

The good thing is her work is understanding. She had previously postponed because she would’ve needed to reschedule two important trips.

There are a litany of articles out there about getting out of jury service, most of which are bullshit. As I was looking for a way to bail her out, I got to thinking about the times when coworkers or friends told me about getting out of jury duty because of work obligations or because their boss put pressure on them.

That’s too bad. If I ever got in trouble with the law, I’d want people like my wife on the jury. Busy, employed people are the types of people we need to serve on juries. The people that make smart decisions at work and are invaluable are also likely to be very capable jurors.

I don’t know if there is any way to measure the possible injustice that having a less capable jury in place results in. Maybe my assumptions are off and we’re doing just fine. But I don’t think it would hurt to have more people willing and able to serve on a jury.

Regardless of the possible legal ramifications of employers dissuading jury service or the ethical questions about duty, if HR wants to make a small mark on the world, don’t be an employer that tries to steer employees clear of jury service. A great employee can be a great contributor to our justice system.

I coincidentally also got called to serve on a jury earlier this year and had it postponed until December. If called, I do plan on serving for those same reasons.

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Repeat to Yourself: My Glassdoor Rating isn’t my Employer Brand


No matter what anyone says, your Glassdoor rating isn’t your employer brand.

First of all, Glassdoor has some really smart marketers. They created a summit, which focuses on employer branding, and invested in the right speakers to make it one of the best events for people interested in the concept.

That doesn’t mean Glassdoor is actually a solution to employer brand woes, but we’ll get to that in a bit.

The company, which is winding down the level of financing they can obtain (they are on their Series H, which puts them at 200M raised and an estimated value of just under a billion dollars), needs to find a buyer or go public. In the next 18 months, it seems like a pretty safe bet that they are part of a company or they are going to drop an IPO.

For most organizations, the niche that Glassdoor serves doesn’t have a line item on a budget sheet outside of job postings. And the site thus far has done just that, subsisting on job advertisements and on-site reputation management through premium employer accounts. That’s nice, and the latter is unique, but it doesn’t really make them part of any solution that doesn’t involve solving problems that Glassdoor created (or, at least, illuminated).

But for large organizations, employer branding is a line item on a budget sheet. Granted, we’re probably talking good portion of the top 5,000ish companies but there’s a real need there.

But is Glassdoor an essential (or even a significant part) of most company’s employer brand efforts? With few exceptions, I’d say no. At least, not today. If you have a dedicated employer brand function, you only get an upgraded account if the price is really right.

I think there are two primary problems, both of which will be tough to fix.

1. Glassdoor Isn’t Yelp for employers

I really like Yelp (and TripAdvisor, and Amazon reviews, and any number of rating sites that Glassdoor has alternatively fashioned themselves after). When I travel, I use it to find great restaurants and it rarely steers me wrong.

Why Yelp (and consumer rating sites in general) works is that people eat out a lot. Before we had a kid, we would go out several times a week. Even now, we’ll go out a few times a month. Over a few years, you will start to find norms about the dining experience taking shape. Capture those normalized experiences in aggregate and you’ll know why Yelp works so well, at least as a restaurant rating site.

Compare getting dozens of sample points from different restaurants every year to your career. Now me, I feel like I’ve changed jobs more frequently than most people I know. I’ve had four proper jobs in the last ten years. Four experiences, over a decade? How can I insert any level of context or normalization into that equation? Most of us don’t have enough variety of employment experiences to give an accurate, comparative rating.

The risk factor is huge as well. Changing jobs is a disruptive event. If Yelp steers me wrong, I get a bad meal. Glassdoor? The consequences are on a completely different level.

Those aren’t the only problem.

For companies under a couple hundred people, which make up a vast majority of the employers in the U.S., the sample size is going to be too small to be of any value. Of course, Glassdoor won’t tell you that there’s a serious problem in drawing any conclusion about the employee experience from three reviews of a 100-person company. They hope you’ll look at it the same as you would a Yelp restaurant that only has a handful of reviews.

Well, what about large organizations?

It seems like it would be more reliable and maybe it is. They only have three aggregate measures that a prospective employee can look at: Recommend to a friend, CEO rating, and overall score. So when you read through a company profile like Amazon’s, nobody is going to hit 6,000+ reviews and the filtering capability seems pretty crude at this point. I’m more likely to look at the coverage from Amazon’s feature in The New York Times than anything I’ll get from Glassdoor.

In fact, it would be tough to imagine any case where I would consider a company’s Glassdoor reviews without a massive grain of salt. As a prospective employee, if I sit down and think about all of the shortcomings of anonymous employer reviews, it would be difficult to make the case that it should be any serious part of my consideration.

2. Reputation Management isn’t Enough

So, that just addresses what prospective employees care about. What about employers?

Large organizations that Glassdoor should be targeting are investing money in employer branding. Many of them run them through marketing while others do it as a standalone department in talent acquisition or human resources. Many of these companies invest their resources into branding activities that should be familiar to anyone in marketing — from traditional advertising, events, and in more innovative ways to reach prospects in the digital space.

If we’re using the Yelp example, large, formal dining chains do have internal initiatives to respond and improve their experience based on the reviews. There are people that are paid to respond to one-star reviews, offer comps and discounts, and, in general, be responsive to these types of sites. For most organizations, that falls under the auspices of a customer service department and their budget, at best, is a fraction of their overall marketing spend.

Right now, most — if not all — of the analytics and tools Glassdoor provides is for managing your presence and reputation on their site. That might be enough to bring in clients, but I don’t think that’s an attractive business to acquire or invest in for a long-term play outside of someone like LinkedIn — at least before they were acquired by Microsoft.

There’s an opportunity for Glassdoor to do more. Combining managing reputation with analytics that measure employer sentiment from data sources outside of Glassdoor would be a smart first step. Acquiring or building technology that allows for more granular brand management, especially as it relates to social is another avenue. Bringing in referral tools would be another opportunity, as would taking the approach of the Smashfly’s of the tech world and embracing the marketing role of talent acquisition with tools that are helpful across candidate marketing landscape.

That stuff may be in the cards. I haven’t taken a briefing with Glassdoor since I was with ERE and they hold their cards close when they do talk, especially about future plans.

* * * * *

Beyond the marketing hype and their PR brilliance is the truth: Glassdoor doesn’t have the right platform to address the key challenges facing employer brands. At least, not today. The score that some obsess about is largely irrelevant to a large majority of companies and job seekers.

That’s without mentioning things that always seem to come up in discussions with talent acquisition pros about Glassdoor, like gaming the review system, fake reviews from former employees and competitors, or Glassdoor’s incentive to properly moderate either one of these when review volume is so important to their business. These are all charges that Glassdoor always denies and there seems to be no hard evidence to the contrary. Not yet, at least.

Today, Glassdoor is a dissatisfied, largely former employee resolution solution and an okay job board, looking for a bigger problem to solve. And for once, I’ll say it: It’s not about marketing this time, it’s about product.

Maybe we’ll see the potential of Glassdoor at some point. Maybe they’ll turn into just another recruiting product pivot down the road when they need to actually start making money. I don’t know. But tooling along with what they are today isn’t going to cut it.

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It’s Okay to Kill Your Company Culture, Especially if it Sucks

The title of this post may sound like the most obvious advice in the world.

In the land of employment branding and Silicon Valley startups, it’s not.

The party is over for Zenefits. Once the golden child of the HR technology scene with a funding round that valued them at $4.5 billion, they are on the wrong side of the roller coaster right now. They sacked their founder and CEO, laid off 17 percent of their workforce, and the fun’s not over yet. They’ll likely still have to pay massive fines for alleged compliance failures and see their workforce depleted and turned over.

Founder and former CEO Parker Conrad’s ouster has been in the cards since that massive funding round closed, though. Conrad’s inexperience in scaling and operating a company in a highly-regulated industry like insurance felt doomed to fail. Venture capitalists don’t like to see their investments get pissed away, either. I assumed he’d be out within a year and that Zenefits would be better off for it.

I might still be right about the latter point but it’s going to take awhile to clean up the mess made by Conrad and his cronies. New CEO David Sacks has a lot of work to do and the first thing he is doing is rewriting Zenefits’ culture.

Entertainingly enough, this is a move that’s not universally applauded. Grumblings of anonymous Zenefits employees have made their way to a few news stories and comment sections as the company has attempted to curb office drinking and sex in the stairways (for reals). Even as Zenefits tries to fix the issues from their alleged institutionalized cheating and reinvent a culture on the fly, some worry they will lose their mojo and bleed talent in a very competitive Silicon Valley.

They say that like it’s a bad thing.

Zenefits has moved so far off the reservation, it might take a complete employee turnover cycle to turn the company around. If you loved the day drinking, (alleged) cheating, reported compliance miscues, and using manual data entry as a way to overcome lacking technology, you probably won’t love a compliance-focused company that needs to improve their offerings make its investors happy before it blows through all that dough they gave them.

As part of my job, I do a lot of discovery and research to learn what makes an organization tick. It’s not in my nature to do value judgments on culture. There’s a lot of companies I wouldn’t work for that make for good clients, do great work, and are otherwise outstanding.

But Zenefits’ culture sucked. Its recklessness was destined to fail in an industry where precision and compliance are table stakes. While the tech press lapped up stories about disruptive HR technology, they failed to take a critical look under the hood to catch any red flags.

It’s safe to say the company won’t get that benefit for a long time. And it’s hard to see a path forward that doesn’t look bad, at least in the short term.

Of course, it’s easy to play the hindsight game but I’ve been down on Zenefits for a long time. The agency I work for had a scathing post that was written right after their funding round closed. I’ve heard too many stories from former Zenefits clients about their shoddy work. Meanwhile, everyone else was losing their shit over how Zenefits was going to make HR obsolete.

This isn’t to highlight that I’m brilliant. You already knew that (I kid, of course).

Shaking up Zenefits is the right thing to do. Killing their crappy company culture was step number one of 546 to get on track.

The moves from Zenefits and their new CEO so far gives me more confidence in the company going forward. Who knows if Zenefits will eventually become a bust? A lot of things have to go right in any case to make back that sort of investment. But, one less failure point can’t be bad, right?