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Archive for April, 2011

In the late 90’s fueled by the rapid spread of the internet, companies were quick to adopt internal portals to share information, extend brand and build culture. During that time I worked for a great company that did an outstanding job of managing an intranet. It actually was most employee’s desktop front page. Why? Because they found value there starting at the front page. It was not uncommon to find picture and messages from the leadership, an accessible calendar of company events, current and archived versions of the company newsletter (also a stellar product), an interface that was easy to navigate and chalked full of resources based on categories of need and functionality. They even had their own internal version of Craiglist so employees could swap items, get new puppies or search for a babysitter. This all went a long way in making us more productive and to feel more “part” of something.

Since then I have worked for several firms and I have come to learn that few firms do this, or do this well. As corporate belts have tightened, companies have discontinued their focus on making their Intranet a cultural watering hole, and have opted for static, life-less document storage and have discontinued the resourcing around building community, they still demand it, they just refuse to invest in it.

In my mind there’s a high ROI on this kind of spend that comes in the form of increased engagement, productivity, discretionary effort and loyalty. I think it is time to rethink it value.

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It is very common for employers today to ask employees to sign documents that have them acknowledge that the information they come accross working there is proprietary to the firm, that upon exit it is not to be shared. I am fine with this as the company who’s paying you does own that intellectual property.

But here is the sad thing, the very companies that ask for this protection and confidence, oftentimes ask newly hired employees to spill the beans on a competitive employer they just left. In some cases this is casual with requests coming from a direct manager, in other cases the efforts are quite institutionalized with the organization asking the stool pidgeon to participate in company-wide webinars to unveil competitor practices and intellectual property.

Am I the only one who sees a contradiction here? Is this not hypocrytical? I am a firm believer in placing organizational efforts in improving your own offering, developing staff to be able to articulate and deliver better than anyone else, spending time understanding the customer and their needs better than anyone else is the greatest competitive advantage, not asking a new employee to walk through a stolen proposal in front of their new peers.

I may be naive, but I do think this is a higher principled approach and one that sends a message of confidence and integrity to the culture. The other option, oftentimes leaves employees feeling like also-rans, and hacks. My opinion of course.

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When I was growing up my mother used to tell me that if you lay down with dogs, you wind up with fleas. It was a metaphor to guide me to choose my friends and associates wisely. For the most part I have done pretty well by this in my personal life and even in my business dealings.

Recently though I sought guidance from someone I thought could help me, and despite the nagging feeling that they had fleas, had lunch. Since then I have wrestled with whether that was the right thing to do. On one hand I thought this person could help me, on the other hand, I knew I did not respect them, knew they were not the person I would choose to be anything like, but still felt I could get some information and get out. In short, I’ve come to the conclusion I sold out.

I am still seeking assistance, but will do so while being true to my character and convictions. The path may be longer to where I want to go, but I will go there a better man. We all leave our jobs and this planet at some point, and although hard to see the tangible value of leaving a reputation of intergity and a brand enriched by those we chose to spend time with, it is something I am committed to and surely my kids will benefit from that.

We all meet a variety of people as we work our way through life. Some are role models, some have position and money that we don’t. The question in life always is, how far will you go to get what you want? Hopefully that is always metered by your values, of which whom you choose to associate with says a great deal.

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Ideally, when filling a role at your company, you find the people that have highly relevant skills and all the other behavioral intangibles that make people successful. In real life though that can be difficult to pull off. So my question is, as talent becomes scarce, who’s the wiser choice, a candidate with apparent skills but without some of the intangibles, or the one with less understanding of your company and job, but passing scores on the behavioral intangibles? In short do you prefer to bet on the right athlete and their ability to grow into the role or make what you believe is the safe choice?

It has always been my experience that when things don’t go well for a new or existing hire, it generally has little to do with their lack of ability to understand our company, its products, or its mission. In most of the companies I have worked for new or exisitng employees could do well with a base-level of prior related experience, and really don’t need to be a veteran of having done the “exact” same job at an “exact match” competitor. Furthermore, when employees fail, it may look like they are failing on metrics we measure, but when the onion is peeled I discover that the falling metrics are symptoms not causes in themselves. Generally I find problems around responsibility (it is the firm’s fault not mine), around ability to buy-in (it will never fly Orville), self esteem issues (no sign of a “if it is to be – it’s up to me” mentality), general focus and work ethic (some people are far to committed in other areas of their lives to be successful in their role, and when they do have time, lack ability to focus) and finally collaboration (they lack the “rising tide raises all ships” attitude).

Nowadays work has gotten increasingly specialized and fewer and fewer skills deemed transferable, but is that really the case? Isn’t one’s ability to passionately learn one of the great skills you would want in your workforce?

In my opinion, the current state of change and the guarantee of acceleration in the future, steers me toward an agile, and passionate candidate first,  one who sees the glass half full, one who believes in themselves, wants to be part of building something and enjoys new experiences, the “best athlete” if you will.

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I continue to be facinated by the fact that with the constant need for more money, greater career stability, a great recession, and hyper-competition for jobs, no one is reading.

I have always found the great minds and countless hours of research done by the likes of Jim Collins, Daniel Pink, Seth Godin, Guy Kawasaki, etc., to be really helpful in helping me solve business problems. But time and time again, I find that I am in the minority. Sadly when I find others who are reading, they are not operationalizing the acquired knowledge. The world is changing, ever changing, and at a pretty good clip. Shouldn’t this be a time for leveraging the work and experiences of others to one’s benefit?

If you want to make more, take in more value, you must be more valuable, the learning never stops. Do you read? If so what? How are you using it?

Always looking for a new book. Thanks.

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