I travel for work. Not as much as some people but a lot more than most people. I’ll spend a month or two on the road per year.
I don’t have to travel as much as I do. I choose to travel most of the time.
I don’t have to do work that requires me to travel. I could choose to do work that I spend nearly 100 percent of my time at home.
I don’t have to speak. I don’t have to go to conferences. Most of the time, I don’t have to go meet clients in person.
So as I travel to Orlando this week to attend Globoforce’s WorkHuman, a neat conceptual HR conference that goes beyond what most user conferences try to achieve, I’m forced to examine why I chose the schedule I follow.
* * * * *
Every time I talk to people who don’t travel that frequently about my travel schedule, there are a few predictable responses:
Wow, that’s a lot
I couldn’t do it
How do you leave your family behind?
So I say, in order:
It is, but most of the time, it doesn’t feel like that much
You could but most people don’t have the decision to make
I kiss them goodbye and know I’ll talk to them on FaceTime while I’m gone
For that last one, it isn’t an either or decision. I love my family a lot and I love traveling for work. I don’t like leaving them behind. I listen to music to keep my mood strong, I text them, I get pictures from Jen and from school, and I focus on what’s between me and my trip home.
I don’t have an office I go to, I live in a place that’s a bit isolated, and I have a community of people I call colleagues who are scattered across the world. I wish I could bring my family with me when I travel but they would be bored most of the time.
Another wrinkle here is that people’s perception about my decision is driven by my gender. It’s easier for me to travel because I’m a man. I resent that point of view while acknowledging that it’s true, mostly because perceptions like that still exist. After all, when Jen travels, very little changes operationally in my household. Being out of town for me means Jen has to adjust her schedule significantly to do drop off and pick ups.
* * * * *
So I’m one of the lucky ones. I get to choose. And if my choice ever changed, I could probably find a career that accommodated that change. I’ve meticulously engineered a really good situation for our family that has compromises and fulfillment for everyone.
WorkHuman isn’t for me. Most don’t get that choice. They are thrust into careers and situations that may not be ideal. They probably don’t think about it much. They probably don’t even know what to ask for.
There’s an opportunity for organizations to do something about it if they want.
Can everyone find meaning at work? No, I don’t think so. But we can do a much better job at instilling meaning, whether it’s working at a great company or working with great people. That might be enough, or it might be a start.
Either way, I don’t think it’ll hurt to add some humanity into work.
My wife and I both work. We’re not alone, obviously. But since we had a baby last year, we’ve thought a lot more about our careers. There seems to be a growing group of people who look a lot like us: two people who want to not just continue working because they need to, but two people who would like to keep moving up in their careers.
After baby arrives, some couples choose to have one spouse stay at home. We’ve had a few friends who have done that and it’s seemed to work out well for them. We know others who spent some time away from work but ultimately returned. For us, we knew early on that we’d both be returning to work.
It’s not always a perfect arrangement, though.
A little backstory
Jen and I married somewhat young compared to most of our peers (23 and 24, respectively). We’re going on ten years of marriage. Since being married, we’ve moved a lot (almost as many moves as years together). Nearly all of those moves were due to Jen’s job.
You see, Jen works in wine production. She started off as an intern in Walla Walla, became a cellar master in Portland, moved to the lab in Seattle, and then finally an assistant winemaking position in Kennewick. She didn’t have to move. But, being able to move lets you consider more opportunities. We were young and we didn’t have any kids.
Meanwhile, I started off my career in HR but after our first move from Walla Walla to Portland, I started looking at alternatives. Since 2009, I’ve worked primarily out of a home office in six different zip codes. It’s worked out really well for everyone.
It didn’t make much difference where I was or if I was even home before a kid. Now, it definitely does.
Jen’s job is fairly predictable. Between Labor Day and Thanksgiving, we don’t have much of a life. Jen is working 70+ hours a week plus a 1.5 hour round-trip commute for wine harvest. When it was just us, I would schedule time for me to be away constantly. We barely saw each other, anyway. The rest of the year, she works 4–10s most weeks and has a fairly light travel schedule. As she moves up, her travel schedule increases.
While I don’t travel to as many conferences these days, I have other trips scheduled either out to clients, for business development, or to visit headquarters in Texas. These are less predictable but seem to typically happen most heavily around the spring and fall (+/- a month).
Outside of wine harvest and some dates for travel that are set in stone for me, our work is pretty flexible. So, for a week I am out of town, Jen is able to get off early, grab the baby, and take care of business. When Jen travels, I’m able to mesh my schedule with the needs of the baby too.
So, last week and this coming week, I’m the primary parent. Jen went from a full week of out of town work, to a weekend class, to a week of out of town guests for blending and tasting. She said to me, “I’m feeling very work/life unbalanced right now.” No kidding!
The thing is, in June, we’ll be reversing roles. I’ll be out of town for a week early in the month and then on shorter trips over the rest of the month.
Work/life balance isn’t fair
When I look at some months, I know I’m relying on Jen a ton. She has to spend less time at work or the baby has to spend more time with someone else. Other months, I carry the torch. By the end of November, I’m spent.
It’s not fair. There are a series of compromises that take place every week to make it through successfully, though. Some weeks, it feels like I’m doing too much and others, too little.
We’ve made it work, just not always perfectly and fairly. But after more than a year at this, I can tell you the keys to success are pretty simple:
Good employers — When you think work/life balance, you probably think of flexible schedules, generous parental leave, and the like. Although a winery can’t be managed remotely (yet!), having an employer that is understanding of some of the issues that come with being a parent (in and out at flexible times, sick kids) helps take the stress out of that week to week management.
High level of awareness — Your workplace is just like any relationship, though. If you take advantage of understanding managers and coworkers without putting the work in yourself, you’ll find your career stunted. You have to be aware of what’s going on at work and at home, and make decisions based on that awareness. Sometimes, that means telling your spouse no or talking through and seeing who has the bigger priority.
Common goals — I want her to be successful, she wants me to be successful. We’ve been pretty good at simply raising the tide rather than one of us succeeding over the other. If you are honest with your spouse about your career ambitions, it’s much easier to figure out the types of jobs that will mesh well with that path as well as the awareness needed to help make him or her a success.
How to identify career compatibility
When I talk to other unmarried people who ask how you find out if someone might have a compatible career path, I shrug my shoulders. We got married in 2005, and we met and dated off and on since 2001. There is no way I would’ve been able to predict that we would’ve worked together this well. Essentially, we grew into the balance we found and the trust we have in each other to say yes and no at the right times.
The problem is, as you get older, your career becomes a bit more refined or nuanced and it’s more difficult to find someone out of the gate who might be close to perfectly compatible for your career. You add in kids, and it can become even more complicated.
Outside of a few jobs (like members of the military), I don’t think career compatibility is on the short-list of concerns for most couples. For us and many of our friends, having a spouse that takes a complementary career role when the kid comes has become one of those sneaky issues that can create a lot of stress when things are out of balance. It can create resentment from the spouse who gives up part or all of their career or from the person that would like to be spending more time at home.
It’s not just a one time conversation to figure things out, either. As careers change, priorities change as well. I don’t know if we’ll always be a two career family forever (even we both still work two jobs).
What companies can learn
What I do know is managing work/life balance is more than a slogan or a slate of benefits that an organization offers. It’s a posture that’s ever shifting to the needs of both parties.
For example, we go to great lengths to not tip over the apple cart during the fall for Jen. We try to keep her healthy, as stress-free as possible, and at work every single day. As work slows down there, her ability to flex in and out increases dramatically.
Having a manager who understands what it means to support a spouse in that situation is critical too. We’re both lucky to have smart managers who understand the demands of the job our spouse is doing. Only on the rarest occasions does a situation ever come to a head where we can’t find a solution and when she isn’t tied up, I can flex up into more work as needed and have her step in.
It isn’t always easy, perfect, or fair. But being on the same page as everyone else, with clear communication of priorities and expectations makes it about as easy as I think it can be without being independently wealthy.
When I started in corporate HR, I was pretty lost. I leaned heavily on my manager, a network of local practitioners I established quickly, a scattered, online group of talent professionals, and every resource I could find to read. It was haphazard and the phrase, “fake it till you make it,” rang through my ears loud and clear on my walk or ride home from work.
It was a different time. One that we shouldn’t have to repeat again.
Yet, time and time again, HR practitioners are starting the same things over again. They search forums and blog posts for things like:
How can we recruit better people?
Alternatives to traditional training
Choosing a talent management system
What they get bombarded with are best practices, case studies, and other pieces of content — some more helpful than others.
How do you engage top talent? How do you increase learning in your organization? Follow these tips and you’ll be successful, they promise.
These resources might be okay. If you downloaded one I wrote, it probably kicked ass. I can’t vouch for anybody else, though.
But the limitation of best practices is that it doesn’t give you a true view of the problem, process, and solution (or especially, failure). It drops a problem and solution in your lap and let’s you figure out how to make it work.
That’s why I’m excited for HootSuite’s Open Source HR project. The Vancouver-based social media management technology provider is just up the road from me. The initiative is being driven by Hootsuite’s VP of talent, Ambrosia Humphrey and Amplify Talent’s founder, Lars Schmidt. Here’s an excerpt from what they say in their post announcing the initiative:
Over the coming months, we’re going to be experimenting with new approaches and platforms, like Periscope, and sharing ‘behind the scenes’ look at things — including how projects came together, how we executed the ideas, the intended outcomes and actual outcomes with metrics, what we got wrong, and what we learned.
If you know me, you probably know the part that I’m excited for: what they got wrong.
That’s not because I think it’s going to fail, either. Instead, I think sharing failures is something that best practices and case studies nearly always omit — and hopefully, how Hootsuite Open Source HR will be different.
You see, everyone reads a sanitized and simplified case study — or listens in on a conference session or webinar — from an organization that apparently went through some sort of change management initiative without any issues whatsoever and doubt creeps into their minds.
It’s bullshit, of course.
Normal people in HR who don’t have magical abilities to implement new ideas with little issue wonder what they’re doing wrong, why change is so tough, and if they should just give up. Unless you’ve been through it yourself, you never know about all of the warts that pop up when you’re bringing new technologies, processes, or ideas to the table.
Talk with someone like Mark Stelzner at IA for 15 minutes and you’ll understand the challenges that a lot of organizations face during change become strikingly similar when they are boiled down into core issues.
My hope for Hootsuite’s project is that there will be some moments that seem very familiar for anyone looking to innovate in HR: the good, the bad, and the “could be better but it worked.” Mostly though, I hope that at least one HR person doesn’t have to start from scratch and can iterate and improve on what Hootsuite is doing.
That’s what open source is all about and what HR should be all about. You can follow all of the action using the #HootHROS hashtag.
It’s one of the most common questions I get throughout my working day with clients. Places where people think I am include:
All of these make sense. Most of my colleagues work in Fort Worth. The partner I work under is in San Francisco. I usually say I live in Washington state but sometimes I leave off the state part so people think I’m in D.C. I used to live in both Portland and Seattle so people may just have some outdated information.
In reality, I live in Southeastern Washington state in an area called the Tri-Cities. I live here because my wife works in this area. And I’ll likely move again at some point.
To be candid, I’ve worked in many places. In hotel rooms in San Diego, in conference rooms in Chicago, or to the sounds of slot machines in the Las Vegas airport. Even at home, you’ll find me in a coffee shop once a week for a few hours. In between calls and work, I make lunch or I play with my daughter. I work early and late and a variety of times in between.
I like traveling for my job and I like the ability to work where I want. If I wasn’t good at it, I’d probably be doing something else — by choice or otherwise. But I don’t consider it to be something different than what anyone else does anymore.
If your job can be done easily from wherever and you can manage it, why not? And if your job can’t be easily done from wherever or you can’t manage it, why force the issue?
In a few years, people will wonder about the terms we use to classify where people work. Does telework as a term even make sense? What about telecommuting?
The biggest question for me is whether my device is on and if I have capacity to work. This week is one of the ones I’ve turned them off (for the most part). That’s what work is now. Maybe this idea of telecommuting or telework was hot five or ten years ago, but hopefully it will just be assumed that many people will be working where they can best flourish, at an office or not.
I just got back from NBA Summer League in Las Vegas. For those not in the know, it’s a time when rookies and those looking to make a team’s 15-man roster come to play for almost two weeks in scrimmages. The event is small and fairly inside. It was my second year going with the guys from The 8 Man Rotation.
The biggest names in the NBA aren’t there. There was no LeBron James. Nor was there Kevin Durant. Instead, you had rookies getting their first taste of team action and free agents and walk on’s looking for a shot at riding the end of the bench (or just making the roster) because there is usually better money in trying to make it work in the NBA than going overseas.
The basketball can be ugly at times and while these are — by any objective measure — some of the best basketball players in the world, most of them are not the top players in the league and a vast majority won’t see significant time as even a starter.
It got me thinking a lot about this pursuit for top talent. Everybody wants “A” players. Any team in the league would’ve welcomed James onto their team this offseason (yes, even the Spurs). With the collective bargaining agreement with the NBA Players Association in place, any team that signs him gets a great deal. There are only a handful of players like him ever, much less playing at any given time.
For the 26–28 teams a year that can’t snag a once a decade player like James or Durant, they figure out ways to remain competitive. Most teams have a great player or two, a few good ones, and then a long tail of flawed players in one way or another.
You take a look at the San Antonio Spurs and you see that method. Tim Duncan may be the best power forward to play the game but he wasn’t the best power forward this year. You see a lot of players who are great to good to flawed, in one way or another. You look at Miami’s successful title runs and see the same line of players. Some great. Some not-so-great.
Identifying the top players in the NBA is easy. If you have the salary and they have the desire to join your team, you make it happen. Convincing them to come to your team over the 29 other options? I’ll give you that.
But no team wins on top talent alone. The Spurs had nine guys who averaged at least 19 minutes game over the full season last year. There are probably a few names a casual fan wouldn’t recognize in that list too: Belinelli, Splitter, Diaw, and Mills.
These aren’t the top players in the league. They are good role players, with some great strengths and some significant weaknesses. And they were available within the budget they had to work with.
While everyone will talk about the stars in the NBA, especially when it comes to winning a championship, what it really comes down to is who can step up from your supporting cast. Even the best and most fit players need to spend time off the court. Who can give you those 10–15 minutes off the bench every night and keep you in a tight game in Memphis on a Tuesday night in January?
The difference between good teams and great teams is that talent identification didn’t end with just figuring out who can be your “A” talent. They went down the line and looked at who best fit in “B” or even “C” roles on the team. Every team has a budget they need to stay in and you can’t fit more than two or three top paid players on your team. With five guys as starters and at least three regular rotation players, that means every team out there is playing a lot of non-top talent night after night.
You won’t see their highlights on SportsCenter. Their contribution is critical, though. And smart teams have spent time and significant money finding better ways to identify who will be the role players and backup talent needed to win.
When you’re talking about the “War for Talent” and hunting purple squirrels, just remember one thing: successful hiring is more than just finding the best talent, it’s about finding the right talent, for the right price, that fits with the current skill set of the organization. Anybody should be able to identify the best and if you have the budget to afford hiring the best in every position, you are welcome to try.
Smart teams make strategic moves to find the right A, B, and C talent to fill a roster without going over their cap. The best ones can spot B and C talent and knows where they fit in. Let your competitors figure out where they can find a LeBron James of your industry, while you figure out how to fill your team with solid contributors who can make a difference at the right price.
This week, I read a story on ESPN about how Mack Brown, coach of the University of Texas football team, is going to resign this week:
The source reiterated Brown would not be coaching at Texas in 2014.
“By the end of the week, that will be the outcome,” the source told ESPN. “That will happen. It’s a shame after 16 years he’s not able to do it on his own with dignity and grace.”
I have no idea if it will actually happen, but that part about doing it on his own terms, with dignity and grace? Yeah I’ve heard that song and dance before.
Coaches get fired and hired all of the time. In fact, Brown’s case is an anomaly. 16 years at one school, as head coach, is damn near impossible. The guy they want to hire — Nick Saban — has had four jobs in that same time period. It’s also not the first time people have probably wanted him gone, either.
The idea that Mack Brown deserves the grace and dignity to part on his own terms (or should have come to the conclusion on his own and fallen on his sword) is a mythology rooted in faux “We Care” corporate double-talk though. Here’s the real deal: when you’re the second highest paid coach in the country and you perform worse than many of the guys making half (or less) of your salary, it’s probably time for the college to cut you loose.
A forced resignation, an encouraged resignation, or a resignation that Texas allows Brown to do on his own terms? It’s a transparent attempt by a weak organization to shirk their decision-making responsibilities.
I’ve been a part of conversations where I’ve encouraged people to look for a new job (after, obviously, many months of working with them). I’ve also been a part of conversations where managers want to let legacy employees hang around while they look for new digs (or, even worse, await retirement). They deserve it, they’ll say. In reality, they don’t want to have the tough conversations or take responsibility. They hope the employee will feel enough guilt to leave on their own or they’ll find something new.
There’s nothing noble in forcing a resignation to keep your own slate clean. Own your decision and make it.
I’ve been out of day-to-day HR for four years. It was one of the best decisions that was ever made for me. That’s not just because it set me on my current career path (whatever that may be), but it opened up a space for someone who liked doing HR.
I’ve obviously stayed close to the space in that time. This week though, I got a little closer than comfort to the function. HR software provider Silkroad invited me (and, for full disclosure, paid my way there) to their users conference in Florida.
Those who know me know I don’t go to most conferences for pure education. Usually it was either my conference (so I was working), I was speaking, or I was covering the conference as a journalist (so I was focused on reporting what I saw).
That wasn’t the case here. This time, I was at the conference like an attendee for the most part. Outside of a lunch with Silkroad executives, I was focused on experiencing the conference like a normal HR person would. So I listened to the keynote speaker on the first day (Dan Pink) and there were some parts where I saw some uncomfortable laughs from my pseudo-colleagues:
When he suggested that performance reviews were simply CYA’s
That to get the most out of white-collar, knowledge workers, you had to start first by paying them fairly and well
I won’t play armchair psychologist but I’ll tell you what I heard from attendees:
“I love the ideas, Dan. We’ve tried to convince our executive team for years on this. It is hopeless. We’ll drive engagement the best we can within our constraints.”
The theme transpired in other areas of the conference too. New social tools within Silkroad’s product are great but scary, as these HR pros imagine the worse case scenarios. They imagine how they sell this to an executive team that is probably thinking the same as they are.
And that’s fair. I’ve seen what a little bit of openness and social in an inappropriate and immature workplace looks like.
I’ll tell you what I saw: I saw a product that got out of its own way, allowed HR pros to do their job better, and to push employers toward a more progressive and engaged workforce. What I saw were HR pros driven by compliance, efficiency, old-school executive thinking, and squeezing value out of the product without making things uncomfortable at their job.
Let me be clear: I don’t think this is a problem with Silkroad, or with their HR customers. I’m sure the same story gets played out at other user conferences, regional SHRM meetings, and happy hour get togethers among HR pros.
When you follow the bleeding edge of HR like I do, you might assume that everyone is going the way of progressive HR. I love that part of HR. It keeps me fired up and it is something everyone can aspire to.
In that same vein though, we should also acknowledge the uncomfortable reality of HR as it largely exists today. Should we be happy with it? Should we think that’s all we can accomplish? No. The answer is clearly no. But let’s acknowledge that we need tools that not only help HR pros move forward but also tools that help them deal effectively with the present.
There’s a lot of people out there who don’t have a passion for their chosen career. Maybe there is limited emotional fulfillment from it or maybe it is just completely soul crushing. There’s a lot of in between.
I’ve learned from Laurie Ruettimann that the answer to your career crisis is not to change jobs and follow your dream of becoming whatever it is you think you want to do. The answer to your career crisis is to do something with your life that is fulfilling and find something in your career that you can live with and pay the bills.
That’s basically what I told people in this podcast for ReadItFor.Me but I’ll take it one step further and tell you that if you’re good at your job, you’ll be happier overall.
Take this from someone who has done career changes thinking that following my passion was going to be an awesome experience, fulfilling in its own right. It can be but if you’re not good at it or you’re constantly struggling, you can actually start to hate your passion. That’s not good.
Now I used to work in Human Resources as a practitioner and manager. I really believe that good HR is the difference maker in all organizations. That without good, foundational HR, your potential reach as an organization is limited. It is so foundational that when it is done correctly, it doesn’t even seem like HR, it just feels like it is the secret sauce that keeps everything moving. People are on the right page, they enjoy working together, and there is a culture that supports and enables a higher level of function.
Oh, and everybody is good at what they do.
I don’t think I was good to bringing the nuts and bolts to this overarching philosophy to fruition in the workplace. I was impatient and when things slowed down, I eschewed collaboration, and dropped buy in. I was discouraged and I actually started to doubt everything.
By the end of my HR career, I was done. I wasn’t sure that I’d be done with HR completely but I knew it wasn’t going to be me going back into the same position I was in before. I’m sure there were improvements I could have made but I also knew what I wasn’t going to be good at in the long term.
When you’re good at work, you have more opportunities to get paid fairly for what you do and you have more control of where you live and where you work. Those are important things. If you’re really good at work, you aren’t devoting all of your mind share to fighting through work issues and you can devote it more to something you are really passionate about. If you want to play in a band that has weekend gigs or you want to hike the Pacific Crest Trail, these aren’t things you’re going to be getting paid for but they are things you can pay for with a job that you’re awesome at.
If you have a job you’re passionate about, that’s awesome. But if you don’t, that shouldn’t necessarily be the goal. Maybe you’re not crazy about sales but you are crazy about taking three week trips to Italy in the summer. Getting very good at sales makes that happen. Then you’ll see your job for what it really is: a vehicle for making your passions happen, whether it is in or outside of your chosen career.
I have a startling confession to make: I like Star Trek: The Next Generation. I know. You’re shocked. While I was a big fan of the Star Trek movies, I wasn’t a big fan of the original series. But The Next Generation? Yeah, that got me going.
So they have the entire series up on Netflix and I’ve been going through it a few episodes at a time. All of the campy goodness is just great. I watched an episode last night that made it clear that HR obviously exists well into the 24th century.
First of all, some context for all of you who aren’t Trekkies. In the 24th century, within the Star Trek universe, Earth is part of a utopian alliance of alien worlds called the United Federation of Planets. The series takes part during a relatively peaceful period where everyone’s needs are taken care of. Nobody is hungry, there aren’t supply shortages, and nobody worries about getting paid. Basically, the people who work on these faster-than-light starships are there because they just want to be there and they are enriched by their work.
In an episode in the final season of Star Trek: The Next Generation, Chief Engineer Geordi La Forge disobeys an order from Captain Jean-Luc Picard. Captain Picard takes La Forge into his office and reprimands him, telling him (and I’m not joking), “This incident will have to be filed in your permanent record.”
Here was my response to my wife while we’re watching this:
Me: @#$%&!# HR?
Me: HR! There’s HR in a utopian 24th century!
Look, I love HR, but if Earth does turn into a utopian, peaceful society, I hope nobody has to be working in the HR office at the United Federation of Planets.
I spent a week in an office for the first time since July 2009. I have spent days in coffee shops, co-working spaces, and other people’s offices but never a full week of that in one place and at one desk.
I thought it was going to be mostly annoying but to my delight, it was mostly not that at all. I don’t know if that’s because of my great new co-workers or nearly four years of office sensory deprivation talking. Let’s just call it both.
Somebody asked me if I liked working from home and I responded enthusiastically that I do. When asked why, I said something along the lines of, “I’m kinda a loner.” It felt like a loser, cop-out answer. The more I thought about it though, the more it felt right and not at all like a weird response that a guy who doesn’t interact much with people in person would say.
Okay, maybe it is a little like that.
I’m not going to get into the introvert/extrovert thing because it is out of my pay grade, but I will tell you that some people are fueled by having activity that surrounds them and some people are fueled by having calm around them. Some people like a mixture of both environments.
I’ve worked with all of them. I worked with a lady who would jam her earphones in and blast some Enya or whatever New Age music she had on her playlist so loud, I could hear it from where I sat. Interrupting her meant certain death. Similarly, some people pulled themselves into meetings and conversations and then would rush back to their desks and pound keys or make phone calls.
I could deal with both. I liked a certain amount of social time but if you put a gun to my head and ask me what I preferred, it was probably that time to myself that keep things moving along for me.
So when I say you kinda have to be a loner to work from home every day, I really mean the kinda part. You don’t have to be anti-social to make it work. But without thinking about it, you have to fall on the side of being powered by internal forces rather than feeding off the energy of people close by. Otherwise, those coffee shops are going to make a killing off of you and fellow customers won’t always be appreciative of your desire to chat.