Sunday, December 11, 2011

Recruiting: The Dating Game

It seems the recruiting scene is bubbling in New York. Recently, I hear much more of people offering jobs than looking for them.

Technical co-founders are particularly in demand. A recruiter friend said they don't even attempt technical co-founder hires. It's not just about screening for skill sets and relevant experiences. Co-founders can be like spouses - with personalities, emotions and motivations all being major factors. It can get very complicated. You have to be a million dollar matchmaker to pull this off - it's just not worth it.

It's certainly not new. The last couple years top medical schools have started looking beyond just grades and scores and placing a huge on interpersonal and communication skills. As part of this, applicants must participate in a 'speed dating' process, rotating through a serious of 10 minute interviews. The financial services industry did their own invite-only 'Minute to Spin It' recruiting event. This type of event puts applicants in a social setting. It also showcases how companies are open to new and creative ideas.

There seem to be some good advantges to this format. If you thought of recruiting more like dating, what would you do differently? Flowers on the first date? Would you tell them about your crazy parents, or wait till the second or third date? Would you be more attuned to personality fit than you are now? Is it something you are willing to try?

Monday, November 14, 2011

You are what you learn. If all you know is how to be a gang member, that's what you'll be, at least until you learn something else. If you go to law school, you'll see the world as a competition. If you study engineering, you'll start to see the world as a complicated machine that needs tweaking. A person changes at a fundamental level as he or she merges with a particular field of knowledge. If you don't like who you are, you have the option of learning until you become someone else. There's almost nothing you can't learn your way out of. If you don't like who you are, you have the option of learning until you become someone else. Life is like a jail with an unlocked, heavy door. You're free the minute you realize the door will open if you simply lean into it.
Scott Adams in

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Scheduling 2012 Holidays

There is interesting stuff in this post, I promise! But first, The Basics: how many Holidays should you give and which ones?

For the first piece of the puzzle, I would consider eight (8) or nine (9) days as the average number of paid Holidays given in the U.S. I like nine as an average because it seems more companies I've worked with fall here, but a more recent report lists an average of eight. Obviously, there is room for interpretation and you can find lots of different stats, and variances across industries.

Next, I'm usually guided by the 2012 Federal Holiday schedule.

Monday, January 2*New Year's Day
Monday, January 16Birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr.
Monday, February 20Washington's Birthday/President's Day
Monday, May 28Memorial Day
Wednesday, July 4Independence Day
Monday, September 3Labor Day
Monday, October 8Columbus Day
Monday, November 12*Veterans Day
Thursday, November 22Thanksgiving Day
Tuesday, December 25Christmas Day

* Typically, when the legal public holiday falls on Sunday, the following Monday is treated as a holiday for pay and leave purposes. Boom.

The Intermediates:
Your Holidays are part of you total benefit package. Consider your employee population, and other vacation, sick and benefits as you set your Holiday schedule.

And dude, don't forget to give the Friday after Thanksgiving off! Eating all that turkey and then having to come into work the next day when your friends don't have to would be memorably bad!

Consider the concept offering Floating Holidays, extra paid leave days to be designated by the employee. They're cool! Some folks would rather not recognize Columbus Day and might instead like to have their Birthday off or a Religious Holiday.

If you go this route, I'd start with at least the big six holidays (New Year's Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. (Big seven if you add the day after Thanksgiving). Many private business often observe only these days, and most everyone else has them, so they are good days to start with.

Floating Holiday Warning: Employees can be bummed that they have less official days off than their peers. It's easy to forget they have a Floating Holiday instead of Columbus Day, for example. At these times, it makes the benefit of Floating Holidays feel more like a lack of benefits. Communication, like sharing a Benefits Summary Sheet could help this. Floating days might pose a burden to schedule or productivity, if people are out at random days, instead of all at once. You might also be obligated to track floating days as earned and accrued time off.

Overall, keep in mind that paid Holidays is not something that is required by law, but rather is something offered by the employer to attract and retain employees. So, as much as your business can bear, be generous. Are your Holidays in accord with your overall HR strategy? Is your Holiday offering appealing? Do employees have related gripes? Frequently review your policy and change it if you need to.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

A Great Recruiting Program

There are many ways to grow your team quickly, or simply to attract great talent. Let's take a quick look at Atlassian for some tips. Atlassian is a fast growing software development company planning to grow from 250 to 500 in the next few years. They've ramped up the team before and they know how to put some love and care into a recruiting program.

  • First, take note - their website's career page and job descriptions are approachable, casual, and fun. It looks like they value the page and put some time and thought there. They list being 'open and transparent' as the #1 reason why people would want to work. That is significant by itself. To me, it signals they recognize why people really work: to really be part of something bigger, to be engaged in work, etc...
  • A beefy referral program. To ramp up the team, they will shell out $10,000 for an internal referral and $2,000 for referrals from outside the company.
  • They have parties and beer carts and that stuff.
  • How about a weeks vacation before you start? Yeah. they do that. Sounds nice.
  • Having a limo pick you up at the airport when you arrive into town, sending you on a hiking tour, and out to a nice lunch with your partner to start things off.
  • Make staffing agencies work for you efficiently! Atlassian came up with a very clever idea to drive better performance from staffing agencies while significantly reducing the amount of time involved managing the process. They created a 'bounty'. Any agency can submit resumes for open jobs, but they can only send in 4 candidates. IF Atlassian hires one of the candidates, they will continue to do business with the agency. If they don't use any of the 4, they won't work with the agency again. You can imagine the agencies scrutinizing candidates before sending them along. Brilliant. Good for the company and good for the (good) agencies.
  • When the new employee starts, they get a T-shirt, some chocolate, pen and paper, computer and chair set with workstation and user accounts set up in advance. And a welcome card. That's enough to make them brag to friends.
There are lots of different ways you can attract great talent. What are you doing?

Monday, October 24, 2011

Don't Forget Your Daily Impact

Startups face crucial decisions everyday. What projects will you take, who will work on them, where should resources be allocated, and when is it alright to stray from previously agreed upon strategy?

During all of this, many of us forget the impact each employee can have. It's easy to see the CEO's decision making power. We might see a how a project manager tackles a problem. But we don't always see the power every person brings with them each day to work.

Understand your daily impact and foster employees to bring their power to the organization.

Creating an environment where each person knows they change the course of business is exciting. There are new ideas and new momentum. It increases the chance people will step up and deliver.

As a leader, do you find easy opportunities to allow people to speak up? How often are your actions squashing new ideas? How are you harnessing and directing energy and ideas?

Friday, September 23, 2011

Your Employees Work Magic You Don't Know About...

I always listen to This American Life on NPR. Not long ago they reran a story that reminded me of people and process and how easy it is to under-appreciate all the dynamics that makes your business tick.

The story was about the Vienna Beef sausage company of Chicago, who made an excellent product and were a company on the grow. To handle their growth, they even moved to a bigger and better facility on the Northside.

Once they moved, the sausages weren't the same. It was the same recipe and the same process, but they didn't the same deep red color nor the snap and smokiness that made the dogs so popular.

Everyone knew it. For a year and a half after the move people pontificated about the reasons - was it the water? The new equipment?

No. It was Irving. Employees at the new plant remembered Irving, who did not move with the company to the Northside. His job, at the old plant, was to transport the sausages from the cold room, through a maze of hallways, through the boiler room, up the elevator, and to the smokehouse. Turns out, the sausages would warm up in the half hour trip. The new efficient facility didn't allow for this step. But it was the secret sauce! They have since fixed the issue, with a high-tech Irving Room to replicate his walk.

Are you sure you know what makes you successful? You usually don't get to see it as clearly as Vienna Beef. Don't forget the forces working beyond your spreadsheets, your process, and your equipment. Take some time to Manage By Wandering Around.

Monday, July 25, 2011

HR with an Iterative Approach

Too often, human resources initiatives are seen as locked in stone. Policies are set and often forgotten. "That's how we do things around here." HR practices become blockades to how people can operate in the organization - and how effective the human resources function is. Sure, there may be reasons why you have stifling policies and procedures in place - but you should be able to easily explain these reasons, why they are important to employees and the organization, and embrace the opportunity to change them.

Software improves with each release. Product offerings, financial targets, and customers profiles all seem to be more dynamic than human resource initiatives. They change with new pieces of information. With each failure and success.

So should your HR practices.

Does the incentive plan drive cooperative behaviors? Does your health plan provide good utility to employees and make financial sense? Do performance reviews impact performance and do you use them to guide decisions down the road? How do you post jobs and interview? Can employees work from home?

Whenever appropriate, examine the purpose of the policy and the behavior it produces. Is it reinforcing the beneficial behavior? Does it produce negative outcomes? Is it necessary? Can it be simplified, clarified, or improved?

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Get Out of the Office

I, like many people, have an unhealthy fancy for Zappos. More than two years ago, IreadthisInc. article with, Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh. , and learned Manager's at Zappos "are now required to spend 10 percent to 20 percent of their time goofing off with the people they manage". Fantastic!

This doesn't have to be anywhere near 20 percent (we can't all be best in class like Zappos). "It's just kind of a random number we made up," Hsieh concedes. "But part of the way you build company culture is hanging out outside of the office."

A requirement to spend time away from work is not only fun, but provides the essential building blocks of better business. It's a chance to build team cohesion, share what's going on (in work and personal lives), casually brainstorm, share aspirations, and openly recognize and appreciate.

It sounds a good deal like Management By Wandering Around (MBWA), suggested by consulting heavyweight, Tom Peters. Unstructured get-togethers provide a way of staying directly in touch with the folks who do the work - it's an essential aspect of 'excellence' in organizations.

So, with the goal of improving your business and productivity, focus on getting out there and enjoying the world. Go to a major league game, go river rafting, paint balling, visit a museum or sit at a beer garden.

Employees will appreciate a space between stretches of working. They might find inspiration, relaxation, or perhaps learn something that can positively affect their work. It will also become a perk of the job and a positive part of your culture.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Plus One for Telecommuting!

I've seen great, and not-so-great, work from employees working away from the office. Actually, I've seen the same from employees working from the office. Telecommuting in and of itself is not the issue.

This means it's time to take another look at your applicant pool, without the focus on working from the office.

I know I've gone different ways on this in the past .... I do feel there are real merits to sitting in the same space, hearing what people are kvetching about, seeing how people react when certain projects or deadlines are mentioned, and seeing who is getting what information, for example. People connect in a visceral way in meatspace.

However, especially in this job market, its time to consider that the problem might be more about management and less where people are sitting.

Current applicants shouldn't all now expect to work from home! But, we do walk the walk. We have an employee that physically comes into the office just 2 days a week. Another that works in the office weeks at a time, and then will work from another state for a couple weeks. Still another works full time from Japan.

Fact: these employees are very talented and can deliver value with this relationship.

Instead of focusing on finding people who can work out of your office, focus on finding the best person for the job. Yes, some jobs need to be done in the office. But, keep an open mind. Try to focus on connecting to remote employees in new ways. It's easy to have employees attend meetings virtually. Set up a monitor and speakers for a virtual head. Concentrate more on communicating and setting and managing expectations and deliverables.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Share Information

An easy way to massively increase ownership (a recent theme for me) is to share information - to communicate more and communicate better. Share information about the company, where it's headed, current and future challenges, customer prospects, product direction, and your thoughts about how employees' efforts fit in. insert link

When people feel part of the bigger picture, they feel more valuable. It creates meaning to see how their work contributes to a better result for customers or a better product. Seeing where they fit in something bigger drastically increases the effort and creativity of employees - they see what needs to be done and own a piece of the puzzle that is needed to get there.

On the flip side, a lack of information is the same as saying "There's no need for you to know this. Your work exists in isolation, and doesn't matter that much."

In a void of information employees speculate - they fill in the blanks. Chances are very good their imagination is worse (or better) than reality. In both case, they are not focused on your vision and are being set up for disappointment.

Enough of the gloom and doom. 'If I take more time to share information, what's in it for me?' you ask. In the process of sharing information, you get information back. Your team is the front line troops with a granular look at problems and solutions. You see the company as if you are looking at a city from an helicopter. Your employees are in the streets amongst the buildings. They are the ones with insight and awareness of the side streets and back alleys, the pros and cons of your vision and direction, and the ones who will be doing the hand-to-hand combat needed to get you to the next step. Sharing information from each of your viewpoints works in a complimentary fashion.

Take the time to share information. Do daily chats, maybe weekly group meetings, off-site strategy discussions, and have public customer/product whiteboards. Make it part of your everyday process. Make it a priority.

When has a concerted effort of sharing information paid off for you? When has it failed? What is the best way you've found to give and get company info?

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Make the Naysayers Own It

I was just thinking how powerful it could be to give ultimate ownership to someone that shows initiative and passion for their job. It still sounds like a good idea. But how about giving ownership to someone who doesn't like how things are operating?

Recently, a mom at my kids preschool caused a ruckus. She thought parent-teacher conferences should be held in the early am, felt the music was too loud and lights too bright at nap time, and was upset that her toddler wasn't spoon-fed. The mother did not address any official at the school about these grievances, but instead created an online group for concerned parents to discuss.

The leaders at the school soon learned about this mother and her concerns. First, they asked her to discuss her issues with staff and allow a chance for them to be addressed as an organization. Then, in what I see as a mature and innovative move, they asked her to join the school's Board.

Why not take the biggest critics, the most vocal opponents, and make them the owners of the very process they have a problem with? Wouldn't a fox know best how to protect the hen house?

A leader would still have to provide guidelines, support, resources, and (maybe a bit more than normal) monitor as they would for any 'owner.' But I see a questioning of the status quo that might be helpful and a possible resolution that could be supported unanimously.

My guess is this mother would argue her child won't get nourishment unless they are spoon-fed. And my hope is that others would help her see that preschool is a time to learn to grow up. A time to learn that if you are hungry you can't always rely on being spoon-fed.

For someone who finds problems, making them responsible for a successful resolution could drive the best results. Maybe this means changing what is accepted. Maybe this means this person discovers the path to success is different than they imagined, becoming a new advocate and eliminating resistance. Maybe they don't like these options and leave. All good results I say.

What problems to you see with this plan? I don't know yet what will happen with our school board, or with music at nap times - but my kids seem to be eating fine by themselves.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

How to Give Ownership

My last post talked about the value of making your employees 'owners'. It's clear why this is good for everyone, but how do you give ownership?

Agree on the tasks/functions to be passed off. Hire smart people and maintain real connections with them. Find areas of their work and of their interest and officially relinquish 'authority' in that area. Give them real guidelines for what you consider them responsible for. Don't fake giving ownership. Pass along real concerns, real parameters and authority to control the situation.

Demonstrate commitment and support. Create a simple owner board in the office or use an online tool. Direct others to these owners - until people go to them on their own. Defer to the 'owners' - listen and consult with owners who make it happen. Don't get involved in making it happen. Finally, deliver the resources necessary to be successful, like budgets and new hires.

Regular feedback. Meet regularly to hear the plans of your owners, to guide and to ensure their activities are connected to company goals and priorities. Give them feedback and suggestions. This takes work - planning, time and real thought, but should pay for itself many times over. Follow up again, encourage and correct. Ask for regular progress reports and ask for impediments to their success. Intervene and arrange for training where it is needed and wanted.

Hold these owners accountable. Have time frames and expectations for your owners and stick to your guns. If an owner doesn't get the job done, move them out of ownership gracefully. When your employees demonstrate successful ownership, reward them with praise publicly and financially wherever appropriate.

BOOM. I think that sounds easy. People thrive when they have a sense of purpose in their job and a feeling of accomplishment. Giving employees true responsibility and ownership lifts them, and ultimately helps you get things done, too! Have you been successful at wholeheartedly delegating? Had any trouble with it?

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Make Employees Owners

It's likely your start-up has work to be done than there are employees to do it. It's time to delegate big portions of your business. Transfer the time you spend doing tasks to empowering your team to OWN these areas. Find an owner for everything.

Have you ever gone down to the drugstore to buy a light bulb to replace the one that burned out in your hotel room?

Or washed and waxed a rental car before returning it?

As Jim Haudan points out in the The Art of Engagement,
people don't take care of what
they don't own.

Ownership engages employees, creating more self-motivated, willing, committed and satisfied people than their (non-engaged, non-owner) counterparts. It's an obvious productivity boost. Ownership will enable more quality work to get done, build the foundation your company needs to scale, and will free you from needing to get your fingers in everything.

I realize this post does not offer instruction of how to make owners of everything, but rather is a philosophical call to arms. Do you see the value of empowering your employees? What steps do you take to make them owners? What stops you?