Wednesday, April 29, 2009

List of various lists for no particular reason in no particular order

When I started to dig deeper, to learn more about HR (and startups and technology). I came across Steve Boese's blog about the Intersection of HR and Technology - and his list of HR Who's Who to follow on Twitter. This was such a helpful list I saved it - #1. I know others would find it helpful. What else did I want to have handy - to refer to, to share?

I then started gathering lists of lists ... they even started to stray from a common theme (except they were lists). Here is my list of lists:

#1 Your First 100 Twitter Follow

The first 100 to follow for HR was so essential, I thought the Law equivalent would be helpful.

#2 The Law equivalent of getting started Twitter feeds

Job Seekers, Career blogs, Management, Leadership and Personal Development .... oh my.

#3 50 People on twitter job seekers should follow

#4 Top English-language Career Blogs

#5 Top 100 Management and Leadership Blogs

HR lists aren't always the most exciting, but I like these:

#6 50 Common Interview Questions and Answers - very cool.

#7 HR listservs (recruiting)

#8 Workforce Management's Hot List, with the top HR providers, produces and services

#9 Top 100 Human Resources Companies
#10 Highest paid HR executives listed in Securities and Exchange Commission filings.

#11 HR's Most Influential 2008

Now it's out in the open - I've become a bit of a lover of lists. Lists for lists sake. They not only say just one cool thing about an interesting topic, but a list of cool things.

#12 Top 10 ways career top 10 lists are like porn

#13 101 ways to annoy your coworkers

#14 100 free ebooks for business students and entrepreneurs

#15 Free online college courses - Holy learning batman

#16 64 Things every geek should know

#17 20 ways to discover new music

#18 100 conversation topics (intended for e-learning professionals but I think they are interesting for all)

#19 The List of Lists, the blog of Top Tens (wow .... the mother load, from beer, to birds and birding, to Chicago and green cleaning products)

#20 100 Ways to Succeed #157: Excellence = People first, second, third, and so on ..... ok, this is not a list but Tom Peters does not hate HR and I just had to include it.

All these lists mean something to me. I love them, and want to save them. And share them. I hope I don't hear from you with a list of ways I've wasted your time ...

Friday, April 24, 2009

My Go at ROWE

I've danced around ROWE (Results Only Work Environment) in the past (like my posts productive unproductivity and meetings that suck) because I really like the concept. ROWE is a radical, commonsense rethinking of how we work and live. In a ROWE, people focus on results and only results - not where you are sitting or how busy you look. ROWE companies claim to enjoy staggering increases in engagement and productivity. It's also a great way to attract new employees (especially the coveted Gen Y workers) and retain your top folks.

The approach is most notably credited with some significant changes at Best Buy HQ (where I believe ROWE was born) - this included average productivity increases of 35% and, in at least one department, improvement in employee retention by 27% with a 50% increase in cost reductions over two years. Ashley Acker, is excellent at explaining why it doesn't matter where/if employees are at work and how to get there.

You can find other companies giving something like this a go. Netflix salaried employee's have no specific vacation allotment, Motley Fool employees can take as many vacation or sick days as they want, Semco has a 7-day comp policy of sorts, and Ernst & Young has completely flexible holidays.

Awhile back the New York Times discussed how IBM is pulling this off;

"IBM doesn't mandate how many hours you work in a day or work week. And second, they don't mandate which days of the week you decide to work. Third, they don't mandate where you get the work done - at home, Starbucks, or in one of the "e-mobility centers" around the world.

Instead, for the past few years, employees at all levels have made informal arrangements with their direct supervisors, guided mainly by their ability to get their work done on time. Many people post their vacation plans on electronic calendars that colleagues can view online, and they leave word about how they can be reached in a pinch."

As awesome as all this sounds, the comments from employees participating in these programs aren't all glowing. Crazy, right? These plans sound so sweet it's surprising you don't hear people praising them left and right. Are they not all they are cracked up to be? In fact, it begs the BIG question: If it works so well, why isn't everyone doing it?

Clearly for many environments it doesn't make sense (retail, manufacturing, etc...). But for the others, I think it's too big a step, even if it might sound like a good idea. I've seen more studies than you can count showing napping at work is a great idea and awakens productivity, but generally we aren't ready to make the pro-napping step. We don't have enough of a handle of our business (and job) goals to feel ok about employees going on a Tuesday morning hike.

ROWE doesn't quite work, and we don't have confidence it can work for us, because we aren't doing HR and business well enough. We don't have good job descriptions, we don't always understand what outcome we want, we don't measure/or know how to measure success, there are no consequences (or follow up), and we don't communicate. You need to have excellent management and engaged employees for it to work.

The idea of ROWE isn't going away. It's a hugely powerful idea, with some workable real applications. It can work if we all (read 'employees, managers, executives') get way better at what we are supposed to be doing - knowing what success is, being accountable for it, being passionate about it, and communicating.

What do you think? Do you want this at your company? Why would it work? Are you doing something like it and it's working? Failing?

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Productive unproductivity

I think you should strive to have a company culture where it's ok when people leave work early. Right? It's also ok when they browse the email or the latest lolcat at work. It must be ok to do. I want it to be ok. Then why do I need to convince myself?

We should enjoy coming to work, we should be passionate about what we do, and we should produce results (regardless of coming in later than normal because its parent's day at school ... or because we're looking at non-work emails). Hey, this is idea of ROWE (Results Only Work Environment) and the idea is beautiful - it feels real nice.

In fact, whether you like it or not, I think you have to embrace some aspect of the ROWE concept. A primary reason to do so is this article from the New York Times, by Lisa Belkin. It seems we don't actually do that much work at work.

The article points to a Microsoft study - stating Americans spend 45 hours a week at work, but describe 16 of those hours as “unproductive.”

America Online and found workers actually work a total of three days a week, wasting the other two.

And Steve Pavlina (a “personal development expert”) keeps incremental logs of how he spends each working day and finds we actually work only about 1.5 hours a day. “The average full-time worker doesn’t even start doing real work until 11:00 a.m.,” he writes, “and begins to wind down around 3:30 p.m.” We all try to cover it up, but now we've seen it in writing. It must be true.

But wait .... good news! Just today I saw this New York Times piece. 'Workers who spend as much as 20% of their office time leisure browsing actually get more work done than workers who don’t'. Yes! So perhaps those folks browsing all day are your best workers?

And 'the longer you work, the less efficient you are', says Bob Kustka, the founder of Fusion Factor, a productivity and time-management consulting. Maybe realizing a work-life balance will bring a boost in productivity.

So, there you have it .... the moral of the story (though no easy task) is to get over when and how people work and focus more on the outcome.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Be nice to wifey

I had a couple days away with the wifey and it made me remember how important it is to keep her happy. Rather ... it reminded me of how smart it is for excellent employers to keep their employee's significant others happy. It will help to retain your best folks, and keep them focused and happy!

It was my wife, several years ago, that encouraged me to quit my job at a boutique HR consulting firm. She could tell even better than I, that my work-life balance was heavily tipped to the work side - and that work wasn't always so good. Even though I had worked hard to get the job, and generally speaking liked it, wifey sees a different perspective, she is persuasive, and she has a great deal of power. It wasn't difficult for her to convince me that I wasn't as happy as I could be, and that I wasn't utilizing all my potential.

In a following job (which the wifey helped convince me to do a 1+hour commute), I saw the head of HR send nice packages to the homes of employees. Not only did the employee enjoy it, but so did their spouse and family. It's the spouse, you realize, who suffers when your employee works late ... and has to listen to complaints about this meeting or that project not going just right. Imagine how nice when they also get to partake in a special meal delivery, or gift basket, acknowledging an important anniversary or achievement. In addition to enjoying themselves, they see their loved one's hard work appreciated.

This goes a long way. Whether they admit it or not, it's often the wife, or the husband, or the family calling the shots. They influence your employee - to leave, to by unhappy, to feel unappreciated ..... OR to support them, and foster a satisfied, productive employee.

I can't recall where, but I recently read some advice to 'interview' the spouse when bringing in a new executive for your start-up. Do you get the idea she'll be supportive? Will she quickly get fed up with the long commute? Perhaps she is as infectiously excited about the new business as well?

However you do it, try to go out of your way a bit for the wifey.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Be a storyteller

I can confirm some people, sometimes, speak in a way I can understand them more clearly than normal, that motivates me, and allows me to easily remember and relay crucial points of what they are talking about. They use storytelling - and it makes them engaging, persuasive and likable.

Leaders are storytellers.

Our start-up sells a complicated technical gadget - an open source modular system for building devices. I've long noticed our CEO telling the story about how the idea was conceived: 'It was after 911, and was unable to get a hold of my wife. I wanted to know where she was and that she was ok. I called her cell phone over and over.....I thought, wasn't their an easier way? We have all the technology - GPS gadgets, wi-fi networks, etc..., to solve this problem, why is this so hard'? Why shouldn't I be able to snap these available technologies together to do what I want them to do? Ok - these aren't exact quotes and I think I've even heard the story change. But the reason the company and product exist become personal, I can relate and there is even an emotional reaction.

Anecdotes - tell a little story. The story doesn't have to be emotional, or even a good story to have impact. (I'm not saying our CEO's story isn't good :-). Just have a sequence of events, one fact leading to the other. I was driving my car, I got horribly lost, I had no idea what I would do - it feels like something is happening, or will happen. Saying 'bring a map', for example, isn't as powerful as an acedote of getting lost and finding your way again. Converting the story to meaning in our brain makes it stick.

Metaphors - I find a friend of mine managing via metaphor all the time. Instead of lecturing on process he'll say something like 'not logging the project with a Trac ticket is like a ship at sea without a map'. Ah, of course, I think. I MUST make a Trac ticket. We don't want to be lost, we need a map! Voila, this tiny story motivated me to follow process.

Do you believe you can be more persuasive and interesting using stories? I imagine it takes practice. What do you want to say? Why do people want your product? Why would this person want to work here? Tell a story. Raise questions. Create a moment of reflection.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Size does matter

A small start-up is fun. We know the people we work and we share the same jokes. Folks are passionately engaged in their work and there is freedom to create much of the work environment ourselves - what we wear, the music we listen to, when we come in, and what the office looks like.

At some point, the number of employees grow and functional areas become more segmented. Not only do the ways we interact, get information and achieve our goals change, but physical location and office cliques also have the potential to start shifting the corporate culture.

At what point are there too many employees in the office? When should we worry about the cultural tides turning and the start-up 'cool' factor beginning to recede? And can we do anything about it?

I'm sure the layout of the office and type of work you do matters a good deal, but if I was to guess, I'd figure this magic 'too many employees' number is right around 25. At this point, the days are long over that everyone can just pick up and go to the corner watering hole or play a game of Nerf darts in the office. The same jokes aren't shared by all and deciding on a type of food for the Holiday party that everyone likes is just about impossible. Small group and flexibility are lost past this number. The rules are different. In fact, the rules for start time, for working from home, for listening to music too loud all emerge as actual issues to address. Noooo.

I am NOT saying you can't be a kick ass culture in bigger companies, just that the unique start-up vibe you've grown fond of changes.

If we wanted to, is it possible to prevent this? One idea is to physically break up the team before getting to this number. Or rather, break up the team before losing the soul of the start-up. To proactively nurture the spirit and culture through change. Separating the team would be a great test of your understanding of the business (i.e. should we sit all engineers or project teams together?). 'Owning' a different space would force new ways of communicating, maybe foster friendly competition - it would allow different jokes, rules and office environs to evolve. Keep the culture.

I don't know..... I've just started thinking about this but find it interesting. What have you done?

Monday, April 6, 2009

Meetings suck

Hey, typically I like meetings. They provide a bit of a break in the day, you can enjoy a cup of coffee and see some faces from the other side of the office. But it's not worth it when you come out of the meeting with nothing. Lately I've heard a lot of yucky yuck about meetings - and it's true. Meetings are usually unproductive and seem to suck (to be time suckers that is). Are you with me? Are you the one doing this to me?

Why have a meeting blocked on your calendar (and blocked in your mind) if it is frequently canceled, changed or unproductive? Ashley Acker, a recent cyber-friend (can I call you that?), found meeting participants are frustrated - meetings are often devoid of content and structure, they leave participants without action items, and nothing gets accomplished. Ashley proposes to make meetings optional on her WorkStyleDesign blog. Yum yum, oh sweet ideal workplace.

We both agree this does not mean their are no more meetings. Just less sucky meetings. If a meeting invite lacks a result oriented role for you to play, then push back in a nice way. Ask for clarification or suggest proceeding in email before scheduling a meeting time.

Meetings happen. I won't go into the exhaustive list we've seen before about turning your phone off and preparing properly. But please:
  • Be there on time (and end on time).
  • Make sure there is an agenda - and stick to the agenda. In fact, the agenda needs a dealer like a poker game needs a dealer. If the meeting organizer isn't the dealer, maybe you can organize the meeting and keep folks focused, and make sure people are staying on point and following rules (giving appropriate information, noting take-aways).
Do you call meetings that are lame and unfocused? Are you late and cancel meetings? Stop that. You are more likely to admit you been hurt or disgruntled by meetings recently? Have you had it up to HERE? Tell me about it - it feels good to let it out.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Communicate better

Focus more on sharing information and listening, and improve your bottom line. That's my story and I'm sticking to it. That's right, I'm talking about frequent, actual human face to face interaction.

I've seen inside plenty of companies - and it seems too often they are full of frustrated and inefficient employees. Employees don't know the direction of the company, unsure which of their efforts matter, or if their efforts matter at all .... eventually they lose their passion.

Communicating is a hard task. Often, leaders don't know fully how each role contributes to the business - or they haven't established goals or the business direction simply changes. Not communicating is often the easier route to take. "We are all (too) busy," "its complicated," or "it doesn't matter for them to do their job," I hear. In other situations leaders think they already communicate enough (they gave everyone 2009 sales goals for god sake) or they just think doing anything more is uncomfortable and necessary.

Well, ugh. It isn't enough. And if its uncomfortable to communicate then you are doing it wrong (do it more often and get better at it). Think of a truly healthy personal relationship and how much talking and sharing of information happens. We agree with our spouses about where to watch money, when we should arrive home on important days, or what to bring to dinner. Our babysitters aren't just told to keep the kids alive, but when its best to feed them and put them to bed. A lot of communication happens in healthy and successful relationships.

What got me thinking about communication woes, is what I've heard called HR's 'necessary evils' - Job Descriptions, Goal Setting, Performance Reviews. We do Orientations and Trainings. These are all just ways to improve communication. To increase, rather force, the chances that essential information is shared.

I think smaller companies don't think the 'necessary evils' apply to them. "We don't need Job Descriptions, our folks have to do everything. Performance Reviews? blah - we give feedback all the time." So folks end up not knowing exactly what's important, how their work connects to the work of others, what they focus on that is good and what is bad. Communication FAIL.

Enter the necessary evils. The often not-so-exciting forms that attempt to stand in for a missing human interaction. It's no wonder these forms and processes aren't liked - they weren't meant to be the sole or primary communication method. They should support, and reference, other communication. It's something along the lines of saying you the city bus doesn't offer the acceleration and enhanced suspension of the high performance BMW you'd prefer to be riding in. Well something like that....

Communication is essential, and it doesn't happen enough - so processes and tools (like Job Descriptions and Reviews) help increase basic info sharing. If it forces information sharing then it is better than nothing. The bus isn't great but it at least allows you to get uptown, to keep with my silly metaphor.

So CEO's, haters of HR, and disgruntled employees - make communication better and make it happen more often before complaining about the tools of HR. Or embrace and appreciate the ride.