Saturday, November 28, 2009

Organizing Principles

An acquaintance of mine, who used to be a Navy fighter pilot and now works in marketing, explained to me one night over dinner that the Air Force and the Navy have very different organizing principles. It was these organizing principles that helped him choose between the Air Force and the Navy way back when he decided to become a fighter pilot.

The Air Force gives you a very thick book of things you CAN do. Anything not specifically mentioned in this book is not allowed. This means that all of your actions are completely regulated, including how you fly your plane. By implication, the Air Force is more likely to attract talent that likes being told exactly what to do.

The Navy gives you a somewhat thinner book of things you CAN'T do. Anything not specifically mentinoned in this book is allowed. This means you have to rely on your own judgement to solve problems because someone realized that it isn't possible to anticipate all the problems you may face. By implication, the Navy is more likely to attract talent that is adept at solving problems creatively.

Now consider these questions:

1) Is you company more like the Air Force or the Navy?
2) What kind of talent do you want to attract and retain?
3) Is there a possible mismatch?

Friday, November 27, 2009

The 'I' in Team

"There's no 'i' in team."

I've never liked that phrase because I think it sells teams short by devaluing its members.

Successful teamwork requires collaboration, which means putting team success ahead of your own agenda.
But a key measure of team success is throughput. Efficient throughput depends on effective leadership and each team member doing his or her job efficiently, reliably, accurately and on time.

So, there may not be a small 'i' in team but there is a big 'I'. As in, 'Don't worry, guys, I have it covered.'

November HR Carnival is Here

And what a carnival it is, too! Thanks to Mike for hosting with style, class and compassion.

Check it out.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

It's in their eyes

If you haven't watched this TED talk on Music and Passion by Benjamin Zander, do it.

Benjamin Zander is a conductor. According to him, the job of a conductor is to make other people powerful. His measure of success is whether the eyes of the people he conducts are shining.

If you manage people, please think about this.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

It's Just Good Business

Our kids go to a Munich Kindergarten that is in house at a local business. The people who own the business, which specializes in IT firewalls, established the Kindergarten so that they and their employees would have good, quality daycare while they work.

No, we don't work for them but we were lucky enough to get a spot for our kids because the owners are friends of ours and the Kindergarten supports working parents.

Last night the Kindergarten celebrated the festival of Sankt Martin, a Roman soldier who was reknowned for good deeds. The children performed several songs and dances while waving the lanterns they had made. Several dogs could be seen running around inside and outside the building, including two beautiful Dalmatians and a big black collie, Harley, who belongs to the owners. While the children sang, employees leaned out the window and waved or came down for some hot punch.

I chatted with Magnus, co-founder of this great place to work, as we stood around the fire. He shared that he'd recently had a meeting with a major German IT company about listing his company's products with them. Although their company is already doing very well, such a deal could potentially put them in a new league of business.

When the executives from the other company arrived, Harley, who comes to work every day to hang with the other employee's dogs, ran to greet them. Stern faces relaxed into smiles. Harley, being a large beautiful well-behaved dog, has a natural talent for breaking the ice.

Then, as they walked into the building, they noticed the Kindergarten on the first floor. More smiles and a few nods of respect for the open, people-friendly, dog-friendly atmosphere.

At the end of the meeting the top executive said he wants to work with them because they have such a great vibe.

Our friends don't treat their employees well so they can get more business, they are actually good, socially responsible people. But strangely enough, it seems to almost magically bring more business to them.

If people want to work for and with you, well, that's just good business.



Wednesday, November 11, 2009

November HR Carnival

The November HR Carnival is here. Thanks to Ben Eubanks for putting together such an amazing list of HR goodness!!

Friday, November 6, 2009

Always Available, Always Broken

'Always Available, Always Broken' is the name of an article I read recently in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung.

According to a study of people working in the IT branch throughout Germany, there is a level of stress permeating the entire industry that can negatively impact health and productivity.

There are several predictable culprits, for example:


  • Fewer people having to do more work due to the current economic situation.
  • The expectation that one is available round the clock via several different types of media.
  • The ever changing nature of information technology, resulting in an overwhelmed feeling.
And one culprit that may surprise you: performance management, in particular goals.

The study cites 'new management techniques' involving the rollout of goals and frequent performance reviews. Sound familiar?

But wait, we like performance management and we sort of like goals. And frequent performance reviews are a plus for the employee, in fact some bold thinkers have even referred to timely and constructive feedback as part of employee compensation now that there's no money.

Plus, we all know that Generation Y loves regular reviews because they can't wait a whole year for feedback.

However, the researches who conducted this study warns that this can lead employees to feel like they have to permanently prove their right to be employed. And that can be unnecessarily - as in not value adding - stressful.

Because it creates a feeling of control and insecurity rather than trust.

And the results?

Well, for one thing, more people come to work when sick, which is not good for productivity or general workplace health. Or the national health care bill, come to mention it.

And of course team work tends to get shot to hell in this kind of paranoid, suspicious atmosphere.

But more importantly, highly qualified workers, who are expected to be pretty scarce in just a few years, are being systematically burned out.

This definitely raises some interesting questions about the level of stress of employees in other countries that have a less generous social net and vacation policy than Germany. Not to mention the possible social cost of stress related illnesses over the next decade.


In any event, it sounds like somebody's missing the boat on talent management. If done correctly, one doesn't expect big German men to cower in a corner weeping or laughing hysterically during a simple job satisfaction survey.

(This is why I always say you should talk to people, you don't get nearly as much depth from an online survey.)

What do you think, when does performance management turn into unhealthy micromanagement?

Thursday, November 5, 2009

I Want to Work for Diddy

I dislike most reality TV but I found myself getting sucked into 'I Want to Work For Diddy' because of its unexpected insight into HR topics.

The basic premise is that they pull a bunch of people together who admit they don't want to do any real work and one token achiever, then give them impossible and annoying tasks to perform as a team. People get voted off until one finally gets to work for Diddy.

I was watching this at the gym one day and found myself in complete sympathy with the overbearing team lead, who was also the only one on the team who was capable of getting anything done. She was also pretty open and obnoxious in her critique of the other people on the team but then again, they really weren't very good.

Not surprisingly, when it came time to vote someone off, the team voted unanimously against her because they didn't like her.

At first I thought this was kind of dumb because without her the others didn't stand a chance of buying a pack of cigarettes for Diddy and coming back with the correct change but then I thought about it a bit more carefully.

It's clear that their decision to vote her off the team was an emotional one, which is a good reminder to all of us that even if you think you're better than everyone else, it isn't wise to flaunt it.

But there is a subtle logic to voting her off the team that reveals itself if you think about the probable outcome of not voting her off the team: over time it would become more and more apparent that she was the one getting the work done. Her competence actually represented a threat to the collective, which protected its members from being negatively singled out with its uniform incompetence.

My respect for the dum-dums rose when I realized this.

What can managers learn from this, besides 'don't be a jerk or people won't work for you'?

Don't expect people to make decisions that promote the greater good of their employer if it conflicts with their own greater good. Smart companies bring everyone's greater good into alignment.

That, my friends, is talent management.

Diddy apparently realized this as well, because his factotum (a hard-faced girl who used to be his PA) ended up keeping the competent girl in the running, kicking the worst of the losers off, giving the competent girl a pretty stinging lecture about her unbearable personality and telling the other losers they better straighten up or get lost.

And that, my friends, is performance management.
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