Saturday, February 28, 2009

Interview style

Excited to see I regularly use 75% of the top 4 strategic interviewing styles mentioned in this INC article. Interview styles can tell you more about a candidate than any list of questions. A candidate can prepare acceptable interview questions, but interview techniques can show their true strengths and personality.

The styles are 'relaxed' (comfortable candidate, better dialogue), 'friend' (potential co-workers meet and see characteristics otherwise unseen), and the 'panel' (allows open dialogue of pro's and con's).

I'm glad I don't use the fourth style, 'intimidation', which reveals ability to work under stress and handle pressure. I don't think it reveals much about the candidate, except their willingness to work with jerks.

This is the one of the best job interviews I've seen to date - lots to learn from.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Cool Sunglasses

A survey in the most recent SHRM (HR industry mag) - hope I didn't lose you already - showed 60% of respondents planning to axe 'morale and team building' from the 2009 budget. There was already no money for fun employee things, right?

Celebrating is important. You know.....acknowledging accomplishments, team building, yelling, and calling attention to people (often awkwardly). It builds culture and reminds everyone we are all on the same ship. Anniversaries are especially important to acknowledge - that's a pretty sweet milestone. In the past, I've seen companies go out of their way to celebrate birthdays. I remember a great Seinfeld episode where Elaine flips out after attending dozens of birthdays and cakes. But come on - people have birthdays just for being born, there isn't much of an achievement there.

So anyways, with lots of reasons to celebrate and no money here is what I propose....get more crazy sunglasses. I'm sure my fellow Bug Lab buddies would question the value of glasses for their Anniversary, and maybe even tell you they didn't know we were celebrating. But I know they actually take their glasses home, show them off to friends and bring them to parties.

Truly, sunglasses are fun to have around the office. Aren't things you would never buy yourself kinda nice to have? Will, our new intern, got a 'welcome' with these sweet blue sparkly sunglasses.

Little, silly (ok 'junk') can be fun. Everyone loves the Fart Machine II (at least for the first 4 or 5 minutes. Bacon Band Aids or an A-team 'I pity the fool' talking key chain are perfect for just about anybody.

No one is saying these gifts have particular value to the employee. I think giving each employee just what they wanted would be pretty hard. But the gifts do say "hey, we are acknowledging you" or "everyone look". What's wrong with that?

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

How I'd job hunt

I should preface this post by admitting I now know I want to always work at a startup. I want a small, engaging environment where I need to do meaningful work in creative ways. I want flexibility, discretion, smart people, cool culture, etc. etc.... Doesn't everybody? You find this type of place by getting out and making a personal connection. (period). Let me give some details...

If you are out looking for a job, where do you normally start? An online job search - finding a favorite company and seeing a sweet looking job, taking an hour to fill out the fields on the company website, and hearing nothing back? Monster and Careerbuilder is dead for real jobs, right?

I used to suggest giving your resume to a search agency or recruiting company and hoping they find a job for you. They get paid if they place you and they have open positions waiting for a match. The right agency might be able to give you some interviewing practice and some good leads. But overall - yuck. The countless recruiters cold calling me have turned me off - I get a negative feeling about the candidates before even seeing their resume.

Some small communities can lead you to great jobs. In New York, I'd say places like Startuply and NextNY are great (and free for all involved). I'd know I'd catch myself frequenting these sites.

However, I'd like to put my money on the old 'networking' ticket. It sounds so cliche. It's true, you hear it all the time - but that's because it works. References from current employees get an audience, and often hired, before the oceans of resume submissions. It's more likely folks doing the hiring will recall someone they've met, before digging in and posting and sorting resumes. The confidence and competence actual people portray, make a visceral connection that paper doesn't.

Pick your dream job, your niche industry, and dig deep for events and avenues for personal interaction. You are not going to pass out your resume. Rather, you are there to meet people, to contribute, to share your knowledge, and to be part of the community.

Without even looking for a job, the perfect candidate wandered into Bug Labs this way. The third paragraph of this BusinessWeek article mentions how it happened.

In the tech scene this might mean participating in install fests, Ignite style speaker showcases, becoming active in open source and user communities, attending (or speaking) at industry lectures, and doing cocktail mixers. Garysguide lists tons of networking events - daily in multiple cities. Meetups, like the New York Java Meetup, often have gainfully employed folks that know of jobs. I have talked with the recruiters hovering around the back of these meetings - they (like me) don't understand the meeting topic and technical jargon and have stiff shirts an obvious 'approachable' demeanor. In New York City there are more events than you can shake a stick at - you'll get plenty of ideas, often with a chance to drink beer.

Don't get me wrong. This approach is hard - you'll need lots of persistence and you'll have to talk to plenty of strange folks. Stay active and positive. Let people know what you do, let them discover you are a nice person, and maybe you can slip in the fact that you want every lead they have for any cool job that might be a good fit for you.

Especially in small companies and start ups, this happens all the time. Tell me your networking stories and good luck!

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Appreciation a significant motivator

Watson and Wyatt found only 15% of employees called expectations of financial reward 'very significant' influences on performance. In contrast 66% named appreciation as a very significant motivator.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

I reject your rejection

Due to recent events (economic horror show and skyrocketing unemployment), it feels nice to pull out this ultimate rejection letter again. It might feel even better to actually use it. If I received it, I would definitely look over your resume again.

Dear Mr. Rich Higgles,

Thank you for your letter dated February 17, 2009. After careful consideration, I regret to inform you that I am unable to accept your refusal to offer me the position of Sales Manager and Dynatrode.

This year, I have been particularly fortunate in receiving an unusually large number of rejection letters. With such a varied and promising field of candidates, it is impossible for me to accept all refusals. Despite Dynatrode’s outstanding qualifications and previous experience in rejecting job applicants, I find that your rejection does not meet with my needs at this time.

Therefore, I will initiate employment with your firm immediately following my Hogs on the High Seas Mexican Riviera cruise on March 15th. I look forward to working with you.

Best of luck in rejecting future candidates.

Sir Matt Ch0lly Esq.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Firing with class

Is it possible to get fired with dignity?

I saw this sign of the times blog called tracking layoffs. That's a lot of folks. Too often, I hear about these layoffs done via email, by security badge deactivation, or fed-ex pink slip delivery. How about finding a new, smaller organization charts (without your name on it) left on the copier so you can figure it out for yourself. I am hoping I hear about this type of behavior because it stands out - because it's insane! WTF? That is not only cowardly but it's bad business.

  • Increased liability. If someone exits the company feeling like they got screwed over, it's much more likely they'll try to 'get back'. Perhaps they recall something they thought was discriminatory and take some legal action.
  • Bad press. There is such a thing as bad press. Companies pay buckets of money for goodwill and positive exposure. Angry ex-employees airing dirty laundry and talking telling others that the company is horrible is a bad thing.
  • Loss of morale and productivity. When you sit next to someone who exits in nasty fashion, your thoughts are not on working hard. More likely, you are checking your email for a termination note whilst searching for a job.
It was a couple of years back, but when Radio Shack made news by canning 400 via email. My problem with this is it appears they got very generous packages - three weeks pay for each year of service. Hourly employees got up to 16 weeks, while workers earning more than $90,000 a year will get 36 weeks. A generous and thoughtful payment is canceled out due to poor implementation.

I think this boils down to another case of crappy supervisory skills. It takes effort and isn't always pleasant to be a good supervisor.

GOOD FIRING: Wouldn't it be better if you already have a good relationship with your employees? You were open and honest about the company and communicated regularly (i.e. they knew the company was in tough financial times). You sat with the employee, in a comfortable private place and explained why the layoffs were necessary, and listed what the company was trying to do to make it a bit easier (i.e. payment of 3 weeks, help finding a new job thru outplacement agency or career counseling, offering to serve as a reference, giving time and help packing up and saying goodbye if the employee wanted).

A good firing is possible. I've heard Zappos (a favorite company to follow) let 8% of the company go, and some employees even wrote the CEO a letter thanking him for the opportunity, and the humane transition out.

Did you get fired in a good way? What made the pain a bit easier to deal with?

Monday, February 16, 2009

Why we hate HR

A couple years back I read a tasty article in Fast Company by Keith Hammonds, called 'Why We Hate HR'. It inspired me (and the title of this blog).

Hammonds nails it on most accounts (but not all). It's certainly true from my anecdotal evidence that ambitious business school grads don't set out for a career in HR. Who chooses HR? In fact, I think I've only met one person whom intentionally entered the HR field. It's also true that HR is full of "administrivia of pay, benefits, and retirement", and is often seen only as this. There are too many useless appraisals and too little strategic involvement. Many HR folks seem complacent with the low expectations from the top and lack of involvement in meaningful matters.

This is the inspiring part.

While there are some parts of HR you just can't get away from, the wide range of stuff dumped into HR gives all kinds of opportunities to provide a competitive advantage. "In most companies, this opportunity is utterly wasted".

It's probably not healthy but I find pleasure, or a sense of security, in the incompetence of others - the utterly wasted opportunities. If I see that Bob is gainfully employed posting crappy job openings and interviewing from his list of stock questions, I know I will forever be employed. I see security and opportunity in why we hate HR - I can do better.

I'm less than impressed with what Hammonds sees as 'hope' of HR success. Betty Lou Smith at Hunter Douglas won Hammonds over because she connected turnover with quality. Wow. That's it? The acceptable HR fix was a longer than 10 minute orientation and having mentors. Libby Sartain, at Yahoo, also did a good HR job by initiating an Operations meeting (at the end of the meeting, they mull over individual development decisions). Am I missing something? I see these folks were able to bring the bottom business line into the HR functions, but is everyone else really doing bad enough for these to be good examples?

While I don't think we will ever stop hating HR, there seems to be plenty beyond the 'necessary evil" parts and legal obligations to have fun with and make an impact. I'm with you Hammonds - we need to understand the business, know how our people are connected to it, and deliver value. We also need to think out of the box a lot more. How much do we need work hours, 2 hour handbook orientations, or lengthy 5 point appraisals? What are real ways to deliver value, to actually engage and reward our smartest, and to attract and retain real talent?

Thursday, February 12, 2009

It's all about culture

When you enjoy what you do and where you do it, then you are more productive. It's simple. Maybe this means flexible hours, free food, choice of work projects, work from home, dress how you want, or Razor scooters (uh, hope not).

Zappos gets it. They were #21 of the Fortune's 100 best companies to work list and they are successful, says CEO Tony Hsieh, due to a focus on company culture. "Long term we want Zappos brand to be about the best customer service and company experience. We do that by focusing on company culture. We believe if we get that right, then company culture great customer service and building a brand will happen on it on".

Every comment I have heard about Zappos' customer service (which really is their product) has been more than glowing! Not just good customer service, but unexpectedly exceptional.

I know ..... it's even hard for me to stomach some of the encouraged zanniness and quirky office themes (ala pirate themed sales cubes) - one of the 'cultural' element at Zappos (and Google). It looks annoying and contrived. But it still has a positive impact - "it's not mundane and it's inspiring". I would bet this unique environment is envied by visitors and isn't it nice when you hear other folks talk about how cool your work is?

You create and maintain your culture in everything you do. How and who you hire, what and how you recognize accomplishments, how you treat attendance, and assign projects (or don't assign projects). Zappos has a four-week training period that immerses them in the company’s strategy, culture, and obsession with customers. After a week or so, they offer the new employees $1,000 bonus if they quit! If you’re willing to take the dough, you obviously don’t have the sense of commitment they are looking for. About 10% of the new employee's take the offer - my guess those same 10% would be the clock watchers. The 10% where you'd likely be making up culture killing rules, like start times. Very rarely do you see a direct dollar exchange for cultural fit. Kudos Zappos.

How much do you value culture? How does it change your business?