Thursday, September 30, 2010

I need a drink

I thought of it first!

Recently I saw an add for a new phone application called 'Rescue Me', which sends you an urgent text message to get you out of boring meetings.

Which is a fine idea but I thought of it first back in May - here's a reprise of my idea:

I've had the greatest idea that I can't wait to patent: a cell phone that rings on command.

I am positive that my invention will change the world. It will help people escape boring meetings, wriggle out of awkward situations, or even flaunt one's newfound happiness at one's ex.

How many times have you prayed in vain for the phone to ring? For example, at work:

Boss: Do you have some time right now? I wanted to discuss how to convert our 6,529 escalation requests to a new format. I'm afraid it'll have to be done manually but the new format is much better. It has blue column headers, which are way nicer than orange, so we really need to do it and I'd like you to be in charge. I'll expect status reports every half hour and if you have any ideas about how to work more efficiently, run them by me first.

ring, ring

You (pretending to answer the phone): Hello? Grandma? Grandma!! Are you OK?? Oh my God! Don't try to get up, I'll be right there!!


Colleague: Hey, I was hoping to meet with you for a few hours today to discuss new naming conventions for effective dating. I've got some great ideas about this but we need to do a detailed impact analysis and of course survey all of our customers. We wouldn't want to just pick a name at random, ha ha. Do you have some time right now?

You: That sounds awesome, thanks for including me. Let me just...

ring, ring

You (pretending to look at the incoming number): I have to take this one. (pretending to answer the phone) Talk to me. What? When? That's not good. He did? You gotta be kidding me. The Big Guy wants me to handle it? OK, then I need you to forward me ALL the paperwork, yesterday. Great, thanks, I'll take care of it. (to your colleague) Sorry, I gotta run but let's definitely catch up about this later.

There are useful non-work applications as well. For example, what if you run into your ex on the street, the one you stalked for 6 months after he dumped you as an embarassing prelude to spending the next 6 months hiding out in your apartment eating Ben and Jerry's.

Him (embarassed): Uh, hi.

You: Well, hi! Fancy running into you here. You look, um, really great. I was just...

ring, ring

You (giggling self-consciously): Oh, excuse me just one second. Hello? (in a lowered voice) Hi, darling, I was just thinking about you. No, I'm not busy. Yes, I did, that was so thoughtful. They're my favorite. I didn't have enough vases so I had to donate some to the senior home. I hope you don't mind. What? Yes, of course I like jewelry, why? A surprise? When? Paris?? Oh, darling, that sounds wonderful. I can't wait. Me too. I love you more. No, I love you more. OK, see you tonight. Mwamwamwa!

Am I a genius or what?

Monday, September 27, 2010

The Gleeful Workplace

Glee is a musical comedy about high school students, a clear departure from the shows about computer geniuses and spacetime anomolies I usually prefer. The kind of show where people burst out into song with syncronized choreography.

Which I don't mind per se but also don't find nearly as believable as saving the universe by travelling back in time or creating a clever computer virus.

Glee is about a team of talented individuals who want to achieve something and be recognized and appreciated for it. Like any of us, they are capable of jealously and taking action that hurts the team for personal gain. They are also capable of incredible teamwork and loyalty.

The Glee Club is managed by hunky Mr. Schuester, who wants everyone in his team to feel like a winner. He tries to let everyone shine while creating a safe, supportive team environment. Unfortunately, even with the best of intentions, there are only so many solos to go around and in order to win they need to go to the best singer.

Mr. Schuester experiments early on with spreading the solo opportunities and alienates Rachel, his star performer who has no intention of sharing the spotlight. She ends up (temporarily) leaving the club and taking with her their only chance of winning at nationals.

Selfish? You bet. But also correct when she observes that it's unfair for her to take a back seat to someone less talented and risk blowing her chances at a musical scholarship.

The Glee Club offers an amusing contrast to the Cheerios, the popular cheerleading squad that consistently wins competitions. The Cheerios are coached by Sue Sylvester, who is tough, unscrupulous and mean. She hurls abuse at the Cheerios and demands absolute perfection from each team member. The Cheerios win but at a high personal cost.

At one point two Glee Club members, Mercedes and Kurt, decide to join the Cheerios squad, which means they no longer have as much time and energy to devote to Glee. Mr. Schuester is put out by this but as Kurt puts it, "This is our chance at the spotlight."

In a recent episode, Rachel gives a new student with an amazing singing voice the wrong directions for Glee try outs because she fears the competition. Which sounds awful but people suppress knowledge in the workplace every day to stay ahead of the competition. Rachel doesn't have less integrity than everyone else, just less talent for subterfuge. (Although sending the poor girl to a crack house is probably further than most of us would go.)

There are some lessons here for leaders or would-be leaders:
  1. Sue's harsh style of leadership may work if the only goal is to win consistently. But Mr. Schuester's style is your best bet when you have to go up against a team that is coached by someone like Sue... and win. Sue achieves perfection, Mr. Schuester achieves miracles.
  2. You don't bring out the best in teams by penalizing your stars but you also can't afford to act like they're the only people in the universe or you'll lose your supporting cast.
  3. Everyone is capable of both petty selfishness and compassionate self-sacrifice. Great leaders help people to succeed by cooperating rather than acting like weasels.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Compensation in the Membrane

I love compensation. Although I don't think compensation is the only or best way to motivate people, I adore complex, global, multi-faceted compensation programs.

I... just do.

I used to be a software developer for a large, global software vendor. My job was to manage the design and development of the Japanese HR requirements in the global product.

My work involved adding "local" features to the existing global application, which essentially meant slogging through other people's code trying not to break anything with the new stuff.

Did you know that code has personality? For example, French code tends to be brilliant and erratic with cryptic (if any) comments. German code is orderly and concise, with over-capitalized comments that imply the reader is stupid. American code is sometimes brilliant, sometimes sloppy and rarely commented.

It was mostly fun although I sometimes fantasized about blowing up the old code and building something from scratch.

Fast forward, glossing over several jobs, life events, and international moves.

A few years ago I was recruited to design the compensation solution for a new product line at another company. The company was in the process of developing an HRMS solution based on a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) delivery model.

At first the 'compensation team' was just me and one developer. That seemed small to me after transitioning from a large global team, but on the upside, fewer schedules to coordinate.

We ran around like Benny Hill that first year, only mostly without the slapstick.

I wrote product designs, marketing collateral, white papers and user documentation. I tested each new feature. I trained the sales people and consultants. I presented our product vision to analysts, prospects and customers.

My development partner was just as busy on the technical side, developing the product, testing the limits of new tools that hadn’t even been QA’d yet and working weekends to squeeze in just one more enhancement.

We followed a few simple design principles:

1. Compensation is core, not something you do in a separate system.

2. The solution must be flexible enough to work in any country.

3. Information to make a decision should be available where it's needed.

4. All processes should have a consistent look, feel, set up and behavior.

5. Don't build features no one will use.

One of the great things about SaaS is you can deliver a lot of product in a short amount of time. Our rapid progress helped us attract customers, who shared their passion about compensation and helped us refine our business requirements.

The product grew. The team grew. The company grew.

Today the product is used by more than 100 companies worldwide and growing.

Want to see it? :-)

Click HERE to watch a short product preview.

International Carnival of HR

This HR Carnival on Jon Ingram's Strategic HCM blog is special because it includes such a great mix of global voices.

Click HERE to check it out.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Poor Working Moms

Recently there’s been a fair amount of discussion around gender inequality when it comes to compensation. It turns out that on average, women earn as much as men with one notable exception: working moms, who on average earn less than men and childless women alike.

Now they tell me.

The disparity in earning power has as much to do with career choices as salary. There are several forces at work here:

Availability – Working moms are available at odd times and in an era where promoting work life fit is still pretty cutting edge it makes them stand out. The burden is usually on them to set expectations and find ways to make it work with individual personalities.

Flexibility – Lack of flexibility also plays a starring role when it comes to a working mom’s reduced earning power. Working moms are more likely to have limited ability to travel, relocate or live away from home during the week, all of which may deny them access to higher paying roles.

Time Out – In addition to missing salary raises and bonuses while on maternity leave, working moms lose months or even years of work experience. And not just the actual experience but the whole ‘being there’ factor that forms such an important part of human relationships. It's sad but true that corporate life moves on without you while you’re at home changing diapers and trying to fit back into your skinny jeans.

Perception – People who work long hours may resent people who knock off at 3 to pick up the kids, which is understandable to a point. Working moms also miss out on office social life, which can be even more damaging than missing meetings.

Note that none of these things involve people trying to put working moms at a disadvantage, although I do think there’s a tendency to focus on the superficial rather than the real. The reality is that although working moms have availability constraints, they are also highly efficient. Not all of them, of course, but the ones that were efficient before they had kids tend to be amazingly efficient after.

Now, you’d think in a company where ‘doing more with less’ is important this would bring them lots of success but it can actually have the opposite effect, as we will see below.

There are two kinds of working moms,* the plodder and the work horse. The plodder does her work, has a smile for everyone, and goes home after lunch. She’s well-liked but not on anyone’s radar for advancement. The work horse cranks out high quality work at high speed and could easily take on more responsibility but rubs people the wrong way with her relentless productivity and acting like her time is more valuable than anyone else’s.

Which is OK if you’re an executive but don’t try it with some lame-ass excuse like raising a family.

*There’s actually a third kind, the player, who has a full-time nanny at home and spends as much time networking as doing actual work. However, the player is rarely salary challenged and is therefore irrelevant for this discussion.

The financial disadvantage of working moms is not a legal problem, it’s a mindset problem. Even in Germany, where women can take up to a year of paid leave to have a child and two additional unpaid years, working moms suffer from the missed time. And companies are reluctant to hire women because they can legally go on extended maternity leave at any moment.

But the way we work is changing whether we like it or not. People are focusing more on work life fit, more people work remotely and social media tools are re-defining how we interact and collaborate. Today’s workforce is dominated by people who prefer face-to-face meetings (and lots of them!) but that is already changing on the heels of new technology, new economic reality and a new generation entering the workforce.

In this new world, the focus will be on output and quality rather than 'being there.' Relationships will still be important but they won't be based around the water cooler.

In this new world, the smart money's on the working mom.

Monday, September 6, 2010

How Social is Your Social Marketing Strategy?

When pioneer social media tools such as Facebook and LinkedIn first became available, they weren’t all that 'social' by today’s standards. Early adopters were people who wanted to network with others like themselves and you could only connect with friends or colleagues who accepted you.

Blogs were more social because they enabled people outside of one's immediate network to read, comment and join the discussion. Early bloggers laid the foundation for the creation of myriad online communities.

Twitter was an important next step in the ongoing social revolution and has evolved into one of the leading tools for sharing ideas and one of the fastest growing mediums for employer, personal and product branding.

One of the things that makes Twitter seem like catnip to marketing professionals is that it’s the perfect vehicle for selective disclosure to a target audience, i.e., a tweet that costs nothing leads people interested in a particular topic to a website offering a product or service related to that topic.

Follow me home, baby, come to mama!

Ah, but laying a trail of bread crumbs back to your website in the hopes of inspiring a sale is not what social marketing is all about. Sure, if you sell a product or service you want people to visit your site and become customers so, yes, in that sense, it is what social marketing is all about.

But that’s not how it works.

If you view social media as a new platform for traditional marketing, you’re basically just doing advertising in a new (albeit cheaper) medium. And while the cost savings are nice, don’t expect your social media campaign to go viral with that approach unless you’ve got the Old Spice guy on the payroll.

One of the keys to effective social marketing is that it isn't social if it's all about you. Effective social marketers listen more than they talk. For example, they pay attention to what their customers and target interest groups are saying, which allows them to respond in a way that is responsive, timely and relevant.

The challenge, of course, is time. Building social communities takes significant time investment. Let's face it, one person in marketing is unlikely to have sufficient bandwidth to reach a wide enough audience to capture the benefits of social marketing.

That’s where the 'social' part comes in.

Some ideas to consider when developing a social marketing strategy:
  1. Define your objectives for social marketing: Drive sales? Engage with customers? Establish thought leadership? Attract qualified employees? Improve brand awareness?
  2. Create a social media handbook for employees outlining communication guidelines. Many of them are already active in some form of social media - are you prepared?
  3. Identify employees with relevant expertise who blog or tweet, or are interested in doing so. Review any existing employee blogs for content, appropriateness, style, tone, writing skill, etc.
  4. Establish a ‘champions’ team of employees with an interest and talent for social media. Communicate regularly with the champions team to share information and ideas around themes, product messaging, upcoming campaigns, etc.
  5. Identify areas of responsibility, which might include blogging, commenting, tweeting, joining conversations in expert forums, etc. Some people may engage in multiple channels, others may specialize.
  6. Encourage employees to have their own blogs where they can promote key themes in their own voice to their own followers.
  7. Champions should also be encouraged to support each other, with blog links, re-tweets, etc. Extending individual reach helps extend organizational reach.
  8. As you establish your social media footprint, reach out to customers, partners and thought leaders and invite them to be part of the team.
In other words, harness what's already there. People want to be heard. And don't forget to measure which channels drive traffic and lead to real conversations - you'd be amazed by all the ways people find you once you go social.

On a final note, if you're still wondering how 'social' your social marketing strategy is, take this short social marketing test:

Have you assembled a passionate team of evangelists who can’t wait to tell the world how great your product or company is?*

A. Yes, the synergies are amazing!
B. We're working on it but we don't have executive buy in yet
C. We're trying to hire a social media guru
D. Our PR team handles all external communication
F. Er... no

*The corresponding letter for your response is also your social marketing grade.

Picture courtesy of Fred Cavazza.

Friday, September 3, 2010

It's Time to Break the Cycle

Times are tough. We all feel it. Friends have been laid off. The economic climate is still uncertain and growth is slow. Too many companies have changed from dynamic places where people shared opinions to stagnant organizations where people are afraid to say what they really think.

And the worst thing? The current business climate lacks basic compassion toward others. With countless good people out of work recruiters and hiring managers fail to return phone calls and leave people hanging. People hoard information that could help others or fail to give credit where credit is due.

It's human nature to hoard when resources become scarce and lately resources such as capacity and opportunity are pretty thin on the ground compared to the good old days where someone could walk into a job in a matter of weeks and every position was double-staffed.

People are tired, worried and preoccupied with numero uno. And it's contagious.

So we can talk about teamwork, strategic recognition, career development, succession planning,etc., but none of that matters as long as real human beings in the workplace view management with distrust and others as obstacles or potential threats.

It's time to break the cycle. Some people have become more compassionate during trying times and I challenge you to become one of those people. You don't have to plant trees or sponsor a child in Bolivia - we'll start with baby steps - but there are smaller acts of compassion that each of us can perform daily.

Toward the Earth:
Don't buy that bottle of water - get a thermos.
Use your old iPhone another year.
Work from home.

Toward your family:
Hang your worries on that tree outside before you come in the house.
Have a movie night with build-your-own pizza or fajitas or fondue.
Play a cheesy board game.

Toward colleagues:
Show someone how to do something.
Praise someone behind their back.
Offer to help someone.
Let someone help you.
Be a mentor.

Toward your team:
Don't leave people hanging.
Help people pursue their interests and career goals.
Take an interest.

Toward strangers:
If you're a recruiter, manager or decision maker, respond to polite email inquiries.
Smile at someone.*
*But not in a creepy way.

Hopefully you're at a great point in your life right now - all the more reason to help others - but surveys show that most people feel frustrated in their current job. And maybe right now there's no good way to change that.

If only someone would help you. . .

But in the meantime, maybe there's someone you can help. Someone less well off than you. Someone going through a difficult time or overwhelmed or just starting out.

Can you listen? Or pitch in? Or speak up for someone? Or provide an opportunity?

Together we can make the world a slightly better place.

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