What We Can Learn From the Elderly Woman Using a Walker…

This morning I watched an elderly woman with a walker make her way down the sidewalk. Her movements were very deliberate and it was clear that her limbs would no longer cooperate to move her with any urgency or speed. In fact she shuffled more than she walked – it was the best she could muster.

What I found fascinating through was the effortless manner in which she used the walker. With each step forward on her right foot she used it to help give her just a little bit of oomph. But it was the way that she swung the walker back into place for her next step that was notable. There appeared to be no deliberate movement at all to return the walker to the front of her stride – she instead allowed the inertia of her original movement to swing it back into place like a pendulum. She had figured out a way to achieve her intended result by exerting as little physical energy as possible.

Too often we fail to consider simplicity in the HR solutions we build. Instead we identify the problem and consider solutions but we do so without regard to the energy, effort, inconvenience or cost incurred to achieve the proposed fix. Instead there appears to be an unspoken mantra in Human Resources – make it big so people notice us. Our instinct is to flex our muscles just because we have the opportunity to do so.

Sometimes the most effective solutions are also the most simple. The walking woman correctly identified that any muscular effort to return the walker to its proper position was wasted. But I have to believe that she arrived at her destination as quickly and efficiently as she possibly could have. We in HR should heed the wisdom of her simple stroll.

(Originally published 4/20/10)

@ChrisFleek provides has over 20 years of experience in HR Management and Recruiting. Please visit https://www.linkedin.com/in/fleek for more information.

Advocates All Around

Think for a moment about people in your life that want you to succeed. Who are those people? Why do they want you to achieve your goals? How do you know they are wishing you well? How big is your list? Please take a few minutes to consider the list of your fans.

Now take a few minutes to think of people around you that hope you fail. Are the people you are thinking of childhood enemies? Classmates you’ve been competing against? Workplace rivalries? Why do they want you to fail? How do you know they are rooting against you? How big is this list?

The above is a valuable exercise as you evaluate the relationships around you, including your personal network and your professional contacts. What you are likely to discover might surprise you. Most people you know truly want you to be successful.

The problem, however, is that most people continue to behave as though others want them to fail. Do you get nervous when you have to give a presentation in class? Do you stress about upcoming job interviews? Do you worry that you’ll get ripped by the professor for the project you are working on?

While most people view their audience as an adversary, ready to judge and eager to rip them if given the opportunity, you need to understand the opposite is generally true. Your audience almost always wants you to succeed!

Your professor? He or she hopes you’ll earn an ‘A’. Your classmates? While some would think it funny if you crash and burn your presentation, most would rather see you knock it out of the park. And most importantly, in your job search, the recruiter and the interviewers sincerely hope to hire you! In each of the above situations, the audience is your advocate, not your adversary.

A job search is difficult enough on its own. If you head into the job search process with your fists up, ready to prove your adversaries wrong, you make things far harder on yourself than they need to be. Instead, flip your expectations upside-down and dive into the job search process believing that people want to help you at every turn.

Consider the following list of people that you might work with during your job search:

  • Your network of colleagues/classmates – they absolutely want you to succeed as it will validate their belief in you. Do not be afraid to ask these people for advice, for references, or for job leads (discretely of course). These folks may be your biggest and most helpful fans!
  • Your professors – Your career success is their success. Professors love talking about their former students who have gone on to great professional success. Whether you are asking your professor for a reference or for introductions to professionals in your field, they will be flattered that you asked and typically eager to help.
  • The college Career Center – It’s obvious that they are cheering for your success, but far too many students choose to fly solo in their job search. Doing so is a huge mistake. Not only can the Career Center help connect you with recruiters on campus, they provide valuable resume and interview preparation. According to the 2010 NACE student survey, 71% of college graduates receiving job offers worked directly with their Career Center.
  • The (Campus) Recruiter – Their charge is to locate talent and provide candidates to hiring managers in their organization. Many wrongly believe their job is to find reasons to exclude In reality, they are looking for reasons to include candidates in the hiring pool. The more qualified candidates they present to their hiring teams, the better they look to their managers.
  • The hiring team/interviewers – Like the recruiters before them, those conducting interviews sincerely want each candidate to nail the interview. If you are selected for an interview, know that the hiring team wants to be able to offer you a position. If you succeed, they don’t have to conduct additional interviews (and trust me when I say most managers have a strong dislike for interviewing) and they can rest easy knowing their job opening has been filled.

At each step in the job search process understand that those around you want you to succeed. When you view your contacts as advocates, rather than adversaries, you can go confidently into each interaction knowing that everyone in the room shares the same goal – your success!

(Originally published 9/14/10)

@ChrisFleek provides has over 20 years of experience in HR Management and Recruiting. Please visit https://www.linkedin.com/in/fleek for more information.

Better Coaching

The five-year-olds on the baseball field deserve better. At least that’s what I told myself as I walked off the field last night. The game ended in a tie, of course, as all games at this age do given we don’t count outs and runs, but my feeling of failure last night as a head coach had nothing to do with the game result. Looking back on the game the kids had fun, we avoided any significant injuries, the players generally understood where to be and what to do, and the flow of the game resembled an actual baseball game (sometimes the biggest challenge with this age group).

So why the feeling of failure? As always, we didn’t spend any time developing the foundational baseball skills of the kids. As coaches, we have to spend all of our time and energy managing the tasks required during each game night and that leaves no time or energy for doing what would be most helpful to the players long-term. Each player gets to hit and likely makes some plays on the field each night but we don’t get to spend time with each child individually to really work on the skills that can help them have long-term success playing the game.

Does this sound familiar? As a manager do you spend more time going through your task checklist each day than you do with skill or team development for your players? Or as an employee is your manager working hard to develop your foundational skills for long-term success or just trying to get through each project/task as assigned?

Managers have accountabilities beyond the coaching and development of their team members just as I have accountabilities every Tuesday and Thursday for one hour to get the kids safely through a baseball game. Perhaps I take my role as the coach of a little league baseball team a bit too seriously but I hated feeling like a failure last night. Is your work manager unable to spend time on your skill development? Don’t you deserve better? Do you as a manager feel empty when you can’t effectively coach your team? Don’t we all have to find a way to do better?

(Originally published 6/16/10)

@ChrisFleek provides has over 20 years of experience in HR Management and Recruiting. Please visit https://www.linkedin.com/in/fleek for more information.

Pitch Perfect?

Colin Hay (of Men at Work/Scrubs fame) was in Minneapolis this weekend and I was fortunate enough to see him on Saturday night. Rather than write a blog post about how great he is live (trust me – go see him in your town) I want to share an observation made during one of his songs.

Artists will often ask the audience to sing along or to provide backing vocals during a song and Colin Hay asked for this kind of participation as well. Personally I’m not a fan of the group-sing but I was impressed with how good the audience at the Cedar Cultural Center sounded. I was led to believe that Colin Hay fans, or more specifically Minneapolis-area Colin Hay fans, can really sing!

The more I thought about it, however, the more I realized my snap judgment of an uber-talented audience was likely inaccurate. In reality, there were likely many horrible singers in the group. Had I been able to listen to each singing audience member individually I’d have likely heard many on-pitch vocals and a good number of folks who shouldn’t even sing in the shower.

Work teams function, often at a very high level, despite having poor performers on board. Imagine how a team could function if everyone was pitch-perfect?

(Originally published 5/24/10)

@ChrisFleek provides has over 20 years of experience in HR Management and Recruiting. Please visit https://www.linkedin.com/in/fleek for more information.

A Tale of Two Businesses

There are two small businesses that I frequent near my Minneapolis suburb. The first I do so out of loyalty – they rock. The second I visit because my family wants to – despite my ongoing objections. Let’s quickly examine the difference between the two customer experiences and see what they can teach us.

Von Hanson’s Meat Market – http://www.vonhansons.com/ – feels like an old-fashioned butcher shop, despite being a chain. The product is excellent and I cannot remember ever having a bad experience with their food. But more noticeably, the customer service they deliver is outstanding. The folks they hire behind the counter are fast, always friendly, courteous and consistently professional. I’ve never asked a question they couldn’t answer and every single employee I’ve encountered there appeared to take ownership for their store and the products they sell.

I’ve never been to an Everything Wine in Vancouver but the way that Fast Company describes them – http://www.fastcompany.com/1598020/the-surprising-secret-to-breakthrough-customer-service – leads me to believe that Von Hansen’s is their Butcher Shop equivalent.

On the other side of the customer service equation is a local bakery that sells Maple Long Johns to my wife and children. They bill themselves as a European bakery, and by all accounts they do make a mean Boule or Scone. But of the many times I’ve been in the establishment, I can only think of maybe one or two times that left me with the impression they appreciated our business. The counter-service is distracted and often rude, the employees have not handled product questions well, and they appear to take zero ownership in the business or the service they deliver.

So what am I to assume about the employees or owners of these two establishments? Can I laud the customer service focus of the Von Hanson’s teens while lamenting the attitude of those working at the bakery? Or is it fair to believe that the front line employees learn and espouse the attitudes and priorities of their leaders?

I’d like to think there are two things going on at Von Hanson’s that is making them consistently great. First, they are hiring the right young talent. There are plenty of young folks looking for work but they clearly have a knack for identifying and selecting new hires that will dedicate themselves to delivering top notch customer service. As important though, they clearly train their new hires that serving their customers in the “Von Hanson’s way” is priority number one.

So is the bakery guilty of bad hiring or poor training? Both? I guess the only way they’ll be prompted to figure it out is if enough customers stop allowing sugary goodness to trump basic customer service standards. Or maybe that is the lesson (be it good or bad)…that if a product is of high enough quality it just won’t matter to people how it is delivered! I’m going to hold out hope that customers can expect both a great product and a great customer experience.

(Originally published 5/4/10)

@ChrisFleek provides has over 20 years of experience in HR Management and Recruiting. Please visit https://www.linkedin.com/in/fleek for more information.

Contrary Evidence

On opening day, Minnesota Twins center-fielder Denard Span struck out three times in five at bats (in an 0-5 effort). If that is the only time you ever see him play, you might draw the conclusion that “Span can’t hit the curve ball” or “Span can’t hit against right-handed pitching”. Based solely on the first game of the 2010 season, you might write him off as a terrible hitter with no future in the big leagues. Only if you either a) continue to watch him over the course of the season, or b) look back at his last year’s statistics, would you realize that he’s a good hitter (.311 batting average last year in 578 at bats). In other words, you need to seek out context to know if what you have seen is truly an indicator of future success.

Conducting an interview is a lot like watching only the first baseball game of the season. If we don’t work hard to see the complete picture of a candidate, we can easily allow ourselves to jump to conclusions that are inaccurate at best, or unfair to candidates (and hiring teams) at worst.

Human nature dictates that when we begin to form an opinion of something, or someone, we attempt to prove ourselves correct. For example, if I meet someone and find them to be somewhat rude, I will likely subconsciously try to find more examples of that rudeness to validate my initial judgment. We like to believe that our initial judgments are correct, but this natural path of attempting to prove ourselves correct is a dangerous one during a job interview.

I’ve seen far too many managers pounce on a less-than-perfect answer during an interview in an effort to validate an initial opinion of “this candidate won’t succeed here based on that single response”. They’ll jump on that “bad” answer and then ask another question in an attempt to bury the candidate based on that single negative. Instead of attempting to railroad the candidate into “proving” an inadequacy, I believe it is absolutely required of effective interviewers to instead seek out “Contrary Evidence”.

Rather than hearing something that seems negative during an interview and then trying to prove it is a negative, interviewers should instead give the candidate a chance to demonstrate that it isn’t a negative at all. Did the candidate just tell a story that included a negative outcome? Ask him or her about a similar situation in which there was a positive result. Did the candidate just “miss” on a question you’ve asked? Give them another chance with a follow-up question.

As employees we all have strengths and weaknesses that will be apparent on a day to day basis. We don’t get everything right the first time. Imagine if our co-workers just assume that an error we make means we’re terrible at our jobs? Thankfully they are typically willing to consider our failures in the greater context of our successes. We should afford interviewees the same opportunity. If they give us a glimpse of a weakness, we should dig deeper to find the context that might actually show greater success. In other words, we need to make sure we’re making an accurate read of the candidate’s ability to contribute (or not) to the hiring organization. We cannot do that if we allow initial answers/reactions to dictate our overall evaluation of their abilities.

A year in the life of a career is like a baseball season – it’s a long grind. We should not let one bad answer in an interview lead us to believe the person is a terrible fit. Instead interviewers MUST work hard to seek contrary evidence – to see if the candidate really might be a great fit despite a swing-and-a-miss during the interview.

(Originally published 4/9/10)

@ChrisFleek provides has over 20 years of experience in HR Management and Recruiting. Please visit https://www.linkedin.com/in/fleek for more information.

Deep or Wide?

Not so long ago I had a conversation with an HR colleague that was looking for a new opportunity. We were talking about resume strategy and I asked her the following question:

What is your goal? Do you want to look like everyone else in the candidate pool and hope you stand out based on your skills? Or can you risk being uniquely you in the way you present yourself? That question completely derailed our resume writing efforts, of course, and forced us to tackle a fundamental question in the way we approach many things in life, including the job search. That question is, “Go Wide or Go Deep?”

My favorite singer/songwriter, David Wilcox (www.davidwilcox.com), perfectly frames the idea of going wide vs. going deep in this video (taken from a documentary about the Canadian Island Music Fest) – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=786oilGgfc4.

The following is a quote from David taken from the 1:10 mark in the video: “…instead of trying to go wider with what you do, go deeper. Be more uniquely yourself and know that the people you do reach, you’ll reach at a deeper level.”

Think of the person who gets glasses for the first time. Many get the safest pair of glasses possible in an effort to try not to be noticed – “Who me? What glasses?” But a smaller number go the other direction…they get the biggest frames or the coolest or most colorful pattern and they embrace their new outward identity. Those folks have an inherent understanding that by accepting and being true to who they are, the glasses are just another part of what makes them unique – “Yes, I do have rocking new glasses, thanks for noticing!”.

The same is true of social media and it will be a challenge I face here as I settle into my blogging identity. Should I write to engage as many readers as possible? Or is it more important (and ultimately more fulfilling) to be more uniquely myself in hopes of more deeply impacting a smaller niche of readers while I might miss many others? And if I do miss some, won’t another blogger connect with them instead as David Wilcox suggests?

“And the people that you miss? Don’t worry about ‘em because there will be somebody there to catch them…somebody whose music is just right for them.”

(Originally published 4/7/10)

@ChrisFleek provides has over 20 years of experience in HR Management and Recruiting. Please visit https://www.linkedin.com/in/fleek for more information.

Behind the Scenes

How many people does it take to give a presentation? If that presentation is given by a C-Level leader, I’m guessing it takes at least 8 people to make it happen. Someone handles the scheduling and logistics, someone prepares the PowerPoint slides, and at least 5 different employees (minimum) supply information that will go into the presentation. When all are added to the presenter him or herself, you’ve got at least 8 people on board in some capacity. So why is this fascinating to me?

– It means that hiring the right people in ALL levels of an organization is crucial to its success.
– It means that keeping a large number of people moving together towards one common goal is inherently difficult yet crucial.
– It means that the leader giving the presentation has to have a great deal of faith in the other folks contributing to the outcome.
– It means that a successful outcome should be shared by all involved; and all should be involved in any learning that can be taken away.
– It means that it is very easy to take for granted the work of those behind the scenes in the course of daily work.

It in turn means that any project or task or production requires strong leadership. That leader must hire the right talent and then motivate them to continually produce great work. That leader must trust his/her team and then share the praise and learning opportunities with all involved (not just a select few). And finally that leader must find ways to recognize and reward the work of those behind the scenes….those that do not see the camera or the audience or the accolades. If all do not feel recognition, all will not feel compelled to create a successful outcome in the future.

(Originally published 5/24/07)

@ChrisFleek provides has over 20 years of experience in HR Management and Recruiting. Please visit https://www.linkedin.com/in/fleek for more information.

Greatness?

How many times in your life have you witnessed true greatness? That greatness may have been an accomplishment, a lasting remark or observation, or just a person known for being great at something…so think back…when have you been in the presence of greatness?

I’ve been fortunate to have seen many great people along the way; people I’d consider to be among the best at what they do (or did): The Three Tenors, Bo Jackson, Eric Clapton, Dick Schaap, Jim Collins, Michael Jordan, Harry Connick Jr.,

Steve Ballmer and Jerry Seinfeld…. Each name is easily recognizable and their awe-inspiring abilities typically unquestioned. With their name, their aura and their reputation, just being in their presence and marveling at their abilities in action was, in each case, memorable.

When watching such superstars showcase their talents, I find myself sitting back and just soaking it all in. Whether “it” was the unbelievable fret board work of Clapton, the centering and motivating message of Collins, or listening to Schaap tell sports stories, it was easy to get lost in the moment understanding that I was witnessing something very few people could do at that level of quality. But what about the times when we are a part of greatness and do not realize it? What about the amazing people and experiences we’ve shared that just failed to register as anything but ordinary at the time? Unfortunately, it often takes distance or time to realize the quality of some of the not-so-obvious greatness in the people we’ve worked with or the accomplishments we’ve witnessed or even participated in.

Lee Johnson, Rudy Stoehr, Bonnie Robertson….three names with little meaning to most people but, to me, each represents greatness. Johnson was my Manager when I recruited for

Concordia College and I continue to be amazed at the recruiting lessons I put into practice today despite not having worked with Lee for nearly 10 years. Stoehr was the most passionate, energetic, empathetic and unique teachers I had in all my years. I’d venture to guess that hundreds of students from Lincoln East High School might call him their favorite teacher over the years but I’m guessing most, if like me, didn’t realize just how great he was until after we left school. I worked with Robertson at Great Plains (Microsoft) in Fargo, and while she would have no idea she had any impact on me at all, she re-affirmed my desire to maintain a career path driving results in the People side of business. Her skill, business acumen and value-driven work ethic remain a great motivator for me today.

It’s this second type of greatness that I’d encourage you to think about. Who are the people in your past who touched you with his or her greatness? As important though, I’d ask you to wonder if you’ve ever been considered great by someone else? If so, do you know what you accomplished to earn that respect? While it isn’t always comfortable to do so, I hope you’ll take the time to consider times when you have been great…what created the situation? What motivated you to perform? What did you bring to the table that those around you did not? And perhaps most important, have you been able to repeat that level of quality?

I truly believe that everyone has the ability to be great…it might be a fleeting moment of greatness, impacting someone in a way that you aren’t even aware of…or it might be an obvious greatness easy for all to see. The challenge for all of us is to find a way to create those moments of greatness just a little more often and to encourage those around us to achieve that greatness as well. Very few people possess the worldly talent of a Jordan or a Clapton…but I’d like to think that we each have some Robertson or Stoehr in us just waiting to be noticed.

(Originally posted 4/16/07)

@ChrisFleek provides has over 20 years of experience in HR Management and Recruiting. Please visit https://www.linkedin.com/in/fleek for more information.

R Stands for Requirement

Educational Requirement:  Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science or Engineering is required.

Clearance Requirement:  A current Secret Clearance is required.

Skill Requirement:  Demonstrated experience with Java programming is required.

Not preferred….not desired….not hoped for….not wanted….required.  Every job posting lists all kinds of things that the Hiring Manager is hoping to see in a qualified candidate.  As a job seeker, you’ll see those things listed throughout the basic position description.  But sprinkled within most job postings, you’re going to see that R word – Required.

As a job seeker, I encourage you to take that word at face-value.  Unfortunately, many job applicants pay no attention to firm requirements in a position posting.  It’s hard to blame them really.  I recall that while working in a college Career Center, we routinely told students to go ahead and apply for positions for which they were not qualified.  “If nothing else, it’s good practice,” we’d say in our most upbeat voice.  “It can’t hurt to give it a shot.  The worst they can do is say no!”

And to a certain extent we were right.  There was no harm in giving the student practice in applying to jobs and to encourage them to reach beyond the obvious limitations of their lack of experience.  Unfortunately, I’m afraid our positivity should have been tempered with a dose of reality.

The reality is as follows:

1)  If a degree, clearance, or specific skill is listed as a requirement within a position posting, most companies will refuse to hire anyone not meeting the listed criterion.  This certainly applies to large companies with well-developed HR policies (and legal teams) but should apply universally to companies of all sizes.  If any particular requirement is ignored in the hiring process, the company is then exposing themselves to litigation on the basis of unfair hiring practices.  If a candidate is hired that does not meet a listed minimum requirement then another applicant that was not hired may make an EEO claim, or worse, sue the company.  I think there’s a good chance they’d have a case. [Note: I am not a lawyer nor do I claim to dispense legal advice.  These are my opinions only.]

2) While there’s no harm in trying to get a position that is “above your abilities”, at least no harm to you, there is harm to the company doing the hiring.  Time is money and reviewing resumes takes time.  Every resume submitted for a position gets looked at by a human (or sometimes by a computer but that’s an entirely different article) and reviewed for relevancy.  The initial screen is often only to see if each candidate meets the minimum requirements of the position.

Here’s a simple example of a position I recently worked with:

The company posted a position with three firm requirements.  First, the candidate must have earned a Bachelor’s degree in a Business-related field.  Second, the candidate must have earned that degree during the last two years.  Finally, the candidate must have earned a 3.0 or higher grade-point-average.  Simple enough requirements to follow right?  There were 487 total applicants. I personally reviewed all 487 only to determine that just 158 met all three requirements.  Only 32% of the applicant pool was eligible for hire.  Subsequently, only those applicants that did meet the requirements were sent on to the hiring manager for review.  All other resumes were immediately taken out of the mix.

So if time is money, how much money did it cost the hiring organization to have someone review the resume of 329 unqualified applicants?  While there may be no cost to each individual unqualified applicant, short of the time it took to cut and paste his/her resume online, there is significant cost to the recipient of the sum of those resumes.  Even if the most seasoned recruiter can scan a resume for those factors in, oh let’s say 30 seconds, that means nearly three (3) hours were spent removing the chaff from the wheat.

3)  It used to be said that one benefit of applying for a job that is over one’s head is that perhaps the resume will be considered for some other opening within the organization.  While that may have been true when all the hiring was done at the department manager level, I do not believe that is true today for many organizations as the initial resume review is conducted within HR.  Most initial resume screening is done by an in-house recruiter or by running electronic resumes through a keyword search.

In theory the in-house recruiter would be able to identify talent in a resume and then be able to link that candidate to another opening within the company.  The unfortunate reality is that most in-house recruiting teams deal with such a high volume, and are generally so overworked, that such linking that sounds so great in theory is rarely executed in reality.  Only if an organization has tremendous processes and/or an amazingly talented staff, would you be able to count on the in-house recruiter to keep his or her eyes and ears open on your behalf.

In summary, I encourage candidates to be realistic in their career aspirations and apply for positions accordingly.  There is little to be gained by “over-applying” for positions on a regular basis.  In turn I encourage companies to craft their position descriptions carefully and make sure that when they use the R word, they mean it and are willing to abide by it.  There is little to be gained by opening the door to potential litigation.

[While I typically will refrain from using this forum to pitch the services of either organization I work with, this particular topic has brought up a number of challenges that employers currently face.  These include the crafting of accurate and legal position descriptions, the time spent screening large numbers of resumes, the difficulty in viewing organizational hiring with a global vision (linking candidates to positions throughout the organization) and the importance of proactively working to avoid litigation in the hiring process.  If you would like to discuss any of these issues and how I may be of assistance to your organization, please contact me directly at fleek@octanerecruiting.com or visit www.octanerecruiting.com for more information.]

(Originally published 3/14/07)

@ChrisFleek provides has over 20 years of experience in HR Management and Recruiting. Please visit https://www.linkedin.com/in/fleek for more information.