do you prevent great talent from applying?

road closedThere is so much being said about the “war for talent” right now. So much new technology. So many vendors out there ready to help. Plenty of snazzy tech solutions to automate much of the hiring process. Unfortunately, we often forget that even the best technology is a tool, not a solution. And like all tools, it can be used poorly.

The other day I spoke to a human resources professional who was “in transition” and looking for work without much luck. It wasn’t the difficulty getting a job that had her most frustrated; she was surprised and appalled at how badly candidates were treated by companies. She’s not alone.

I’m amazed there are so many companies that simply don’t comprehend: 1) there is a huge advantage from a great candidate experience; and 2) you build a great candidate experience the same way you create a great customer experience – by thinking about it from their point of view and making it as simple and painless as possible. It’s as though they have a 21 Century mindset for competing for customers and a 1930s belief that employees are completely interchangeable cogs and should be grateful the company would consider hiring them.

Great talent has more options. They generally don’t have to put up with a poor candidate experience. AND that candidate experience is their first look at what it’s like to work for the company. Difficult, arcane, indifferent, condescending, black holes? Cyabye!

I am a big fan of rigorous selection systems. I believe companies should hire as though their future success or failure depends on the people in the organization and their decisions and actions (hint: it does). Technology (theoretically) enables us to automate much of the drudgery and makes it easier to connect with candidates, simplify the application and selection process, and make communication a breeze.

Or, technology can be used indifferently to automate the wrong parts of the process, make applying complicated and difficult, and turn communication into a meaningless checkbox activity. Some examples:

  • The careers section of the company website is difficult to find, confusing, or has contradictory information about how to apply.
  • The position description is vague, confusing, or doesn’t provide enough information. This isn’t a fault of the technology, but can lead to other problems when the technology makes it difficult/impossible to learn more.
  • Expressing interest in a position and trying to find out more requires setting up an online account (because we all need another password to remember) and going through the entire application process. Which requires providing sensitive personal information. The potential applicant has to reveal birth date and social security number just to find out if the job is actually something they are interested in. No. Major fail. Great talent will simply move on and continue looking elsewhere.
  • If a computer glitch happens, there is no way to contact a human to get it sorted out. Locked out of your application? Too bad.
  • Otherwise qualified candidates are automatically screened out by the system because they don’t meet a rather arbitrary set of qualifications. Too often, the nice-to-have qualifications are turned into must-haves that reject otherwise outstanding candidates.
  • Otherwise qualified candidates are automatically screened out because their resume doesn’t have enough of the specific key words the system is looking for.
  • Generic communication is sent out in batches. This is a time saver. It’s also a great way to send rejection letters to candidates with an offer in hand or reject someone who bowed out of the hiring process a full month ago.

What else? What other candidate experience failures are out there? Failures that would be soooo easy to correct if someone thought about the process from the candidates’ point of view?

It’s easy to think this doesn’t matter because there are plenty of applicants. But, are they the right applicants? Is technology making it easier for great people to apply or is it driving them away? Fortunately, if you have a lousy hiring process and a miserable candidate experience, you’re not alone. So many companies fail at this that many just consider it normal. That’s a low bar and an easy one to hurdle.

The nice thing about so many companies being so bad is that it’s really easy to stand out.

[Photo Credit: Sarah Korf via Compfight]

(re)thinking the future of work

“Look, if you had one shot, or one opportunity to seize everything you ever wanted; one moment. Would you capture it or just let it slip?” ~ Eminem from “Lose Yourself”

“The future is scary when you don’t feel you have any control. The future is exciting when you feel you are creating it; it’s threatening when you want things to stay the same (or go back to being how they were); it’s liberating when you see how it could be even better than today.” ~ Participant’s comment from The Frontier Project: The Future of Human Resources


You have an opportunity. A chance worth taking. A moment to come together with others who are ferociously passionate, smart, curious, insistent, pioneering, wondering.

I’m fascinated by the FutureNow of work. The seeds and sprouts of the inevitable(?) changes disrupting how we’ve always thought about jobs and organizations are there taking root and starting to grow. Technology shrinks, twists, and alters “how we’ve always done it.” Socioeconomic schisms have been opened up by tectonic shifts in the economy. Organizational structures, once certain, are being shoved aside in the quest for something better. The curtain has been pulled back revealing the illusion of control. And us humans keep being humans in all our rule bound sloppy illogically rational educated ignorance. History repeats with a fresh coat of paint and a different pattern of wall paper. Change keeps on changing. Round and round she goes, where she stops…

It’s overwhelming. But what if you could get ahead of the curve? What if you could be a part of creating the future instead of wondering, worrying, and letting it wash over you?

Talent Anarchy is at it again, shouldering their way to the forefront of disruptive thought with The Frontier Project: The Future of Work. Jason Lauritsen and Joe Gerstandt have set aside some space and time near Houston in November for a diverse group of folks to come together and think, consider, wonder, and debate the Future of Work. Jason and Joe will be setting up the framework, then poking, prodding, and asking questions, but the real work and the answers will come from the group.

So here’s your opportunity. The Frontier Project is a “think tank on steroids” (in Jason’s and Joe’s words) designed to push buttons, challenge assumptions, get past the here and now, and play with what could/should/will be. It’s a chance for you to look to the future and (hopefully) come away with some very real ideas for what to do right now.

This isn’t a training, conference, or seminar. If you crave certainty and finely crafted bullet point lessons this event is not for you. There are no foregone conclusions, inevitable solutions, guarantees where the discussion will go, or certainty where the answers will come from.

As a reader of this blog you know I’m a friend and fan of Talent Anarchy. They’ve asked me to help get the word out about the event – something I’m more than happy to do because I’m excited to attend and looking forward to what comes next. I’m inspired by Jason and Joe’s intensely thought provoking irreverence, rejection of business as usual, and the challenge they’ve laid to the world to embrace our authentic humanness. They are continually thinking bigger and have extended an invitation to join them.

I hope to see you there. The future’s coming fast and we all have work to do.

that’s why they pay you

You know the drill. Someone complains about how tough their job is or how much they dislike their work and the immediate response is: Duh! Of course it’s not fun. That’s why they pay you. They know you wouldn’t show up otherwise. We snicker and think: Yeah. Get back to work, slacker. You’re not paid to have fun. Suck it up and cash your check on payday.

What a load of bassackwards crap! (to use the technical term)

On the surface it sounds right and it’s kind of humorous and I’ve certainly bought into it before. Dig deeper and we see it’s a kneejerk response that gets everything backwards and wrong.

It is true that if we didn’t pay people they wouldn’t show up. But it’s not because we’re compensating them for the opportunity to inflict misery on them. It’s because of opportunity costs. People need to feed, clothe, shelter, and take care of themselves and their families and they have only so many hours in a day to do it. Waaaayyy back when, they did all this themselves through hunting, gathering, and whatnot. Today people provide specialized skills in exchange for money to trade with others for the goods and services they need. Even if they absolutely loved, loved, loved their jobs we’d still have to pay them. Otherwise, they’d have to: 1) learn to hunt and gather; 2) starve; or 3) find someone else who will pay them for their skills.

We don’t pay people to endure us, we pay people because they bring knowledge and skills that we can repackage and sell through the products they create or the services they provide. In effect, the company becomes the middle man between the employee and the consumer and hopefully adds some value along the way by combining the talents of the employees to produce more/better/faster than they could do on their own.

If it were true that we pay people because we knew they wouldn’t do the job otherwise then the most miserable jobs in the worst working conditions should (by this logic) earn the most money. So, people become fieldhands and work in slaughterhouses for the money??? Um, no. Conversely, how often have you heard of someone getting a cut in pay because they are too passionate about their work?

The idea that pay and misery are directly correlated makes no sense yet we cling to it. How many employees think that their mere presence is enough to justify a paycheck? How many managers think that their employees would be happier and more productive if they could only pay them more? How often do we justify subjecting employees to unnecessarily rigid work conditions, nanny policies, or toddler-tantrum leaders with a dismissive, “Well, they get paid…” At best, it’s a lousy excuse for pathetic, apathetic, lazy leadership and really bad business decisions.

And employee engagement is down? People are dreaming of working elsewhere? We’re afraid of what they might say about us on social media? Huh, weird. Probably just coincidence. I once heard someone say, “People don’t leave because it’s difficult. They leave because it’s not worth dealing with anymore.” Seems pretty true from my experience and observation.

People aren’t compensated for occupying desks, their difficulties, or as a license to abuse them. People are paid for the value they provide through the problems they solve and the results they create. That’s not revolutionary, just too often forgotten by both employees and the company.

So why do people keep showing up for work? Hopefully, they’re getting appropriately compensated for working on the problems and results they enjoy, find fulfilling, and inspire them to do their best. Ultimately, leaders need their employees more than employees need their leaders. Over time leadership gets the employees they deserve.

What thinks you?


flashback friday: why hierarchies? the pizza and beer syndrome

[this was my most popular post of 2012. enjoy!]

Why do organizations look the way they do? Why are command and control hierarchies so popular? They seem like relics from days gone past. We spend a lot of time complaining about all their sins and proposing alternatives so why don’t we see flatter, collaborative, and self-directed organizations? They should be more adaptable, create more engagement, and be higher performing. Yet we keep perpetuating the command and control hierarchies that we spend so much time railing against. Why do we say we want one thing and make the choices and actions that lead to another?

Good questions and here’s the answer (you might want to write this down):pizza and beer.

No, really. Call it the “Pizza and Beer Syndrome” if you like. We can learn a lot about organizations by looking at human behavior. After all, organizations are a reflection of the philosophies, strategies, and approaches of individuals.

As much as we might wish otherwise, us humans are pretty good at choosing what’s easy and pleasurable over what’s best. Consider what most people choose when given the long-term, day after day after day choice between:

1. Eating super lean and healthy, drinking only water, exercising vigorously every day, having regular tests and check-ups at the doctor’s office, getting the proper amount of sleep, etc.


2. Staying up too late, sitting on the couch, watching movies, and eating pizza and drinking beer.

It doesn’t take a 10-year study or deep statistical analysis  to figure out what most people choose. Look around: people are getting heavier by the day. That’s the Pizza and Beer Syndrome: we know what we need to do to create the results we want yet we choose the opposite. When given the choice we tend to choose easy and good enough over best; the ok over the exceptional (Yes, there are exceptions. Yes, you’re a superstar. Keep it up. I’m talking about the other 95%.)

Oh man, that answer chafes. I hate that answer. But when it comes down to it, we can argue all day why open, flatter, collaborative, and self-directed approaches are better. We can loudly proclaim that we hate hierarchies and we want – must have – flat, collaborative, and self-directed organizations. Then we choose hierarchies. Perhaps because hierarchies are easy and good enough rather than the best. Consider:

1. Command and control hierarchies work ok across a wide range of situations.

2. Effectively creating open, flat, collaborative, and self-directed organizations is really, really hard.

3. Us humans like to stick with what we know works, even in situations when what we know doesn’t really work.

Wait a minute. Am I actually saying that command and control hierarchies are the best solution? Nope. I don’t think they are any more than I think pizza and beer are the cornerstone of a high performance diet. I’m saying that to most people, in most situations, hierarchies are good enough compared to the effort required to create and maintain a flatter organization. I personally prefer the open, self-directed organizations, but I get why companies are slow (resistant?) to adopt a different structure. Let’s take a look at these three reasons in a bit more detail.

1. Command and control hierarchies work ok across a wide range of situations.

We want and seek the one universally perfect solution, but it doesn’t exist. Different situations and problems call for different answers and solutions. All organizational structures have their advantages and disadvantages and, like it or not, hierarchies are a valid option. Hierarchies have limitations, yet can (and do) work.

Hierarchies have a built-in organization and structure that is easy to set up and understand: do what your boss says and tell your employees what to do. Simple. This simplicity makes hierarchical structures robust and durable in most situations. They may not always be the best answer, but tend to work good enough. Hierarchies are very tolerant of dysfunctional culture, poor leadership and disengaged employees (truly – just look around).

Also, I suspect that most of the complaints about hierarchies are more about lousy companies than the organizational structure. Quick question: when we look at the alternatives, would you rather work in a hierarchy with great leadership and top notch peers or a flat, collaborative organization with dysfunctional relationships, mutually exclusive and competing goals, no feedback, and no support? A poor idea done well is often superior to a great idea done poorly.


2. Effectively creating and maintaining an open, flat, collaborative, and self-directed organization is really, really hard.

Creating and maintaining open, self-directed organizations is difficult. Hierarchies are a known model. We know how they work and how to think about them. Effectively using alternative structures requires thinking about leadership, direction, structure, and work differently and playing by a different set of rules. That’s not a bad thing, but it is more challenging.

Whereas a hierarchy will survive dysfunction with little effort needed to maintain the structure an open organization requires much, much more of the leadership, people, culture. It also requires diligent and ongoing maintenance.

Valve is a software company that caught several bloggers attention when its employee handbook surfaced a little while back. I discussed it here, but the gist is that it is a completely flat and collaborative organization. How collaborative? Check out their current job openings and you’ll see one of the options is: “Have a better idea?” Asking candidates to suggest a new job doesn’t work in a check-the-box organization with a rigid structure and top-down-the-boss-is-always-right management. Read their employee handbook and you’ll either get excited by the possibilities it suggests or completely freak out and declare it an impossibility.

To go flat is hard because it creates ambiguity. It requires people who are self-managing and self-driven AND who are able to work with others, accepting of different perspectives and styles, and willing to design the future instead of waiting for the boss to define it for them. In my experience that’s a relatively scarce combination. There are a lot of exceptional people out there who would not do well in that kind of environment.

Also, I hate to say it, but I suspect that the average person would prefer a hierarchy if given the choice. Going flatter requires more individual responsibility and results focus while hierarchies often allow individuals to give up their personal responsibility and let others direct and control them. Many (most?) people don’t like or want responsibility, are not driven, and just want to do a consistent and certain job and then go home. They want to know EXACTLY what is expected, do it, and get on with their lives. They want a clear, visible career path and routine (mundane) expectations. It sounds like a private hell to me, BUT it is a common attitude. Flatten an organization containing a large number of those folks and you’ll see frustration, mayhem, and chaos. Or maybe just bewilderment and complete inaction as they sit down and wait for someone to tell them what to do.

Likewise, a flat organization creates places additional demands on leadership. It requires people who can lead but don’t want or need the glory, status, and control that is so natural in a hierarchy. It requires more influence and less command and control. Someone who can and wants to lead and influence others without making it about themselves is a rarity. Collaborative and self-directed requires giving up a lot of certainty and control for the possibilities that the group can create. That’s far beyond scary for many, many people. They’ll stick with the known, thank you very much.

Further, we just don’t do a good job training people to be collaborative and self-directed, to thrive in ambiguity, give and receive feedback, to be autonomous and self-directed, etc. We don’t yet develop the skills required to move away from hierarchies. That doesn’t mean we can’t, just that it’s one more step.

So a flat organization requires exceptional people, leaders who think bigger than themselves, and an organizational tolerance for ambiguity. We can forget bureaucratic box checking and that right there will prevent many HR groups from ever getting behind changing the organization. Easy and good enough trounces best. Known evil is welcomed over unfamiliar good.


3. Us humans like to stick with what we know works, even in situations when what we know doesn’t really work.

We have very few examples and role models of flat, collaborate, etc. organizations and there is tremendous comfort and safety in doing something the way everyone else does it – even when it’s not the best way. There’s the old trader’s saying: “No one ever got fired for buying IBM.” It may not be the best possible choice, but it gets the job done and no one will fault you for sticking with the tried and true even when it underperforms. They will, however, dismiss the unconventional success as a fluke and absolutely nail you to the wall for trying something unusual if it doesn’t work out. Better to fail with the known than risk success with the unknown.

Also, thinking back to pizza and beer, when faced with a change that requires effort, discipline, and a different way of doing things, we tend to quit when it gets difficult OR we go back to our old habits after initial success. For example, a new exercise and diet program is painful and we often give up before we start seeing results OR we lose some weight but then slack on the discipline and drift back toward our old habits.

*           *           *

In many ways, I think that the majority of folks ultimately want hierarchies. Sure, we say we don’t. We gripe and complain about them. But it’s like diet and exercise. We say we don’t want to be overweight and out of shape. We complain and talk about alternatives. But, we don’t make the choices and take the actions that would create a different outcome. Flatter orgs, like being in shape, appear to require higher levels of commitment, diligence, and discipline. AND, I suspect that, like being in shape, the perceived benefits far exceed the perceived cost of the effort required.

That said, the difficulty in getting it right leads me to believe that those organizations that do get it figured out have a distinct and difficult to copy advantage. If you truly want to win, if you’re willing to risk being different to be the best, take note. If you’re ok with the status quo then carry on.

The Pizza and Beer Syndrome. We know what we need to do to create the results we want yet we choose the opposite. Sure, I’ll exercise in the morning. Or maybe tomorrow afternoon. Wonder what’s on TV tonight?


quick career advice #1

For those just starting out in their careers Woody Allen gave the shortest and best career advice when he said, “80% of success is just showing up.” You want success (or even gainful employment)? Show up in body, mind, and spirit.

It’s common sense, but the power in it is that every knows it but not everyone does it. Be one of the few who does it.

In any job, but especially entry level jobs there is a ton of competition. There are lots of people out there who can: a) do your job better; b) do your job cheaper; or c) both. Here’s how it works when a manager is deciding who to keep and who to drop: Proven person gets some grace, person who looks like he/she has potential might get a little slack, and new person/warm body is first to go. We all have to start out as new person and the key is to show potential and become proven ASAP. First impressions make a HUGE difference. Gotta kick butt from minute #1.

do you have a job or a career?

I was watching Chris Rock’s “Kill the Messenger” the other night and was really struck by one of his comments. I’m paraphrasing, but he basically said that you know you have a career when there’s never enough time. You look at your watch and it’s already after 5pm so you plan on coming in early the next day. With a job, there’s too much time. You look at your watch and it’s just after 9am and the day stretches out ahead.

Absolutely brilliant! It doesn’t matter if you’re overpaid or underpaid, hourly or salaried, educated or uneducated, or what field you’re in or company you work for: if there’s never enough time to accomplish all that you’re excited about getting done, you have a career; if time is your enemy, you have a job. There’s a lot of people with college degrees in high paying jobs and there’s a lot of people just getting by (for now) who are forging their career.

So, what’s the scoop. Do you have a job or a career? If you have a job, what would it take to get a career?