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Why I cringe when people say “hire for fit”

Companies are constantly looking for differentiators. In the first tech bubble, it was all about stock options and perks like kegs in the breakroom. In the second tech bubble, it’s been all about….stock options and kegs in the breakroom. Huh. I thought we’d come further than that. Moving on…

What you hear about more and more now, though, is “culture.” Culture is the great differentiator. It will make or break your company! It will make you productive! It will cure cancer! (Okay, I made that last one up.)

Listen, I’m a big fan of being intentional about the culture you’re allowing to develop in your workplace. It DOES impact the way people work, their ability to be successful, and how your customers view you. Whether or not you personally like Southwest Airlines (and I love them, so there), you can’t argue with their success in a tough industry. And they attribute it to their “culture” – from how they operate, to how they hire, to how they make, spend, and save money.

It’s the “how they hire” piece that I think people screw up all the time. (And I’m not the only one who thinks that!)

Too many companies who are concerned about their culture focus on hiring as the way to “fix it.” They think that by hiring the “right people,” they’ll magically get the culture they’re looking for. They focus on pre-hire assessments like personality tests and quirky questions and conversations about “passion.” And the next time the employee survey results come back, employees still say they don’t like the culture and turnover proves it.

At this point…I’m over “hire for fit.” Don’t get me wrong – I think it’s important that an employee aligns with core elements of the organization whether it’s the work they do, the people they work with, the values experienced, or what the company represents. But I think we’re going at it wrong. And here’s why:

ILLUSION #1 : Hiring for fit = a cure for all our ills: Every organization I’ve ever worked at that struggles with a “challenging culture” focuses on hiring as the fix. Why? Because it’s the easiest process to change. You add a couple of assessments, change some interview questions, and voila! All done.  

REALITY:  Hiring’s not your problem: Culture consists of EVERYTHING within your workplace, not just the people. It’s your systems, your processes, your location, your parking habits, the industry, your policies, your leadership practices, the behaviors of managers, communication….get the point. If you’ve got issues with your culture, it’s going to take more than just hiring people who SEEM to be part of the culture you want. You have to be willing to dissect the WAY you work. If you’re not wiling to do that, all those “new culture” people you hired are going to leave as soon as they can.

ILLUSION #2: Culture is about attitude, so we’ll ask about that: After all, we want to make sure people share our “values” so let’s make sure the questions are all about how they feel and what they like and dislike. That way we’ll know that they’re the right person to match our culture.

REALITY: Culture is about activity, not attitude: When you read about how Southwest (and other strong “culture” organizations – like Disney) hire people, you’ll see that they focus on BEHAVIORS, not feelings. That’s because behaviors are measurable and you can see how they impact work. Disney records how candidates interact with others, how they treat the receptionist, their inherent curiosity when sitting in a room…all behaviors. Southwest asks candidates how they handled a tough customer situation, looking for examples of the actions taken and the results of those actions. If you want a “culture fit” hire, find people who embody the culture through action, not words.

ILLUSION #3: Our managers are skilled enough to decide if someone is a good fit: We gave them a set of questions and told them to follow the law, they should be fine. Besides, these people have been here FOREVER and totally know what a good hire would look like.

REALITY: At best, they’re guessing. At worst, they’re using “not a fit” as an excuse for discrimination: If you don’t require interview training and calibration before a person is allowed to interview candidates, you have little to no assurance they know what they’re doing. Even then, you’ve got unconscious bias that no amount of training can overcome. By allowing “not a fit” to become the reason a qualified, promising candidate doesn’t get hired, you’re making it okay for managers to make snap judgments. If you can say “not a fit because of x,y,z examples of behaviors,” you’ve got a better chance. Also…DO YOU EVEN REALLY KNOW WHAT YOUR CULTURE IS? Probably not. You think you know. But unless you’ve done a valid assessment, you’re just describing what YOU think the culture is. 

ILLUSION #4: Same is good: Companies believe that if everything acts the same, thinks the same, and looks the same, then the culture will be fabulous and the company will be 100% successful.

REALITY: Diversity is good: You need diversity of backgrounds, thought, experience, age, race, gender…all of it. It breeds innovation. It pushes the company forward. It helps reduce that unconscious bias that gets us into trouble. It’s not the friction that’s the problem – it’s how you function with friction that’s hurting you. Include and celebrate differences and learn to leverage that friction in a way that’s beneficial to the organization.

In a perfect world, I would want companies to share openly enough of who they are and how they operate so that potential candidates can make the educated choice about whether or not they might be a “fit.” There are also tools out there that can help identify alignment with company values/behaviors in such a way that both allows the candidate to decide if they want to proceed AND helps the hiring manager identify questions that will get at the heart of whether full alignment is good or if the team needs that friction.

So please….stop acting like all  you really need to do is “hire for fit.” There are bigger issues at stake. Tackle those and then MAYBE you can start hiring for fit.

Maybe.

 

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Use Your Brain #SHRM17

[This post first appeared on the SHRM Blog on June 20, 2017]

I’ve had the opportunity to go to a lot of different conferences, and I see a lot of keynote speakers who are considered experts in their fields. They are successful because enough people think enough of what they’re saying makes sense and support it. They’re also successful because they are engaging speakers who connect with their audience and make everything sound brilliant.

The thing is…you’re not required to agree 100% with what these speakers are saying. Some of them cite research. Some of them share what they’ve done that worked. Some of them just share what they think SHOULD work. Are all valid ways to share an idea.  All can either be right or wrong.

Whether it’s Laszlo Bock’s suggestion that hiring managers not have the final say of a hire, or Patrick Lencioni’s suggestion that if you REALLY want to know if a person is a good hire you should take them shopping, it’s up to you as to whether or not that suggestion makes a lick of sense.

I go into every session with the attitude that I am going to learn something, because nothing bothers me more than a conference attendee who claims they didn’t learn anything. I may not agree with the speaker, but I bet I learned something about WHY I didn’t agree with them. That speaker’s point of view triggered an internal reflection – “Does that make sense? No, that doesn’t make sense. Why doesn’t it make sense?” By questioning another’s point of view, I’m forced to critically consider my point of view.

Notice the words I’m using – “reflection,” “critically consider.” I’m doing this on purpose because there’s a difference between thoughtful disagreement and a kneejerk reaction against something new.

So as you finish up your conference sessions, or plan future conference attendance, I ask that you use your brain. Listen to what the speakers are saying – not necessarily how they are saying. Then decide whether or not you agree with it. Only then will you be ready to apply what you were exposed to at #SHRM17.

 
 

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Take a chance on talent (from #SHRM17)

[This post first appeared on the SHRM Blog on June 19, 2017]

The Monday of any SHRM conference is usually jammed packed and high energy. It’s the first full day of sessions. People are excited to check out the sessions they mapped out for the day, and they aren’t yet exhausted from talking to the 18,000 attendees at #SHRM17.

One of the themes I noticed in the sessions I attended – whether it was Laszlo Bock’s general session or Jennifer McClure’s excellent session on disrupting HR – centered around taking a chance on talent. They challenged HR to stop putting up so many artificial barriers to hiring the best performers; you know, barriers like degree requirements or minimum years of experience. These barriers only serve to weed out people who may have excellent potential, ensuring you hire people who were successful in one system but not necessarily in yours.

This concept most likely rubs a lot of HR professionals the wrong way. After all, minimum qualifications are the bread and butter of job postings everywhere (particularly in the public sector and highly regulated industries). But research is beginning to support this stance. Recently, Ernst and Young announced they would no longer require degrees as entry criteria because their research showed a degree was NOT a predictor of success at their organization. Other organizations, like Xerox, found that experience didn’t matter either. It was better to build than buy, because work will outpace skills at a faster pace and you better be able to train your folks up if you want to stay competitive.

I like this trend. I hate artificial barriers in hiring, and have often said some of my best hires were people I hired on potential rather than track record. One of these people is sitting on a panel at this very conference.  Sam joined my team with limited experience in learning and development. He had been working for a bank and had made some job aids…and that’s about it. But he clearly had an eye from problem solving, a creative mind, and a work ethic like no other. I always asked candidates to prepare a presentation on leadership for my hiring process, and Sam’s was incredibly well-researched, coherent, interesting, and definitely helped the audience learned. So I hired him. And he was amazing.  Today, Sam is the Director of Training at Chipotle – a role he created from nothing after starting with them as a contractor.

If I had followed the job description and minimum requirements, I never would have hired Sam. I shudder to think that I probably wouldn’t have been allowed to hire Sam if anyone really looked closely at his background. And that would have been a damn shame because I would have missed out on a chance to watch a person find their path and become a success. (As you can tell, I’m ridiculously proud of Sam and try not to embarrass him, but I did it anyway, so there.)

So if you take anything back with you to your workplace, take the idea that it’s time to stop putting ridiculous requirements on your job descriptions. Challenge your hiring managers on their desire for degrees, certifications, and years of experience. Point-factoring isn’t how we do comp anymore – it shouldn’t dictate how you define a job. If you don’t push back, if you don’t consider potential and growth, you risk missing out on some incredible hires.

Go out there and find your Sam. And prepare to be amazed.

 
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Posted by on June 23, 2017 in Conference Posts

 

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Not every hero wears a cape

Sometimes you hear a story about a person that makes you stop in your tracks and think, “Whoa. I could never do what that person is doing.”

Last night, I saw a story on the news about Darius Matsuda, a soon-to-be sophomore in high school who is visiting local middle schools to tell his story about growing up with autism. He shares with the students his experiences – including being forced into a circle with another boy while the others chant “Fight! Fight! Fight!” He explains what it’s like to live with autism – how it impacts your sensitivity to sound, light, and your ability to make friends.

It’s a powerful, personal story, and he’s already told it nine times to kids not that much younger than he is. All in the hopes that kids learn a little compassion for their fellow students, and understand that just because someone is different doesn’t mean they’re lesser than. Darius is going for Eagle Scout, and this is his service project.

This kid is amazing. Talk about putting yourself out there.

I bet that if we look hard enough, we all have someone like Darius around us. Someone with a story to tell, who has learned lessons in their life and are willing to share them. Not because it will help them…but because it will help those who come after them.

These are the heroes in your community and in your workplace. Listen to their stories. Learn their lessons.

Nice work, Darius.

 

If you want to learn more about autism and how to get involved, visit the Autism Society website

 
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Posted by on May 17, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

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Fight the good fight

Let’s face it – no matter what our aspirations, most of us leaders will never ascend beyond middle management. That’s because unless we are a CEO of a company without a board (or we are ALSO the board chair), we all answer to somebody.

This perpetual state of “rock, meet hard place” means that leaders are constantly being asked to implement ideas, policies, projects, and other shenanigans they absolutely do not agree with. And even more, they know their employees will not agree with them, either.

The challenge is always knowing when to fight and when to support. In general, the rule of thumb has always been “fight up, complain across, support down.” Which…mostly works. It’s important that leaders know how to pick their battles and when to gain and spend political capital.

On the other hand…

There are times when your team really needs to see that you’re fighting for them. They need to believe you, their leader, has their back when they aren’t around to see it. They need to see that you are human, that you recognize when a policy from the higher ups seems contrary to the organization’s stated values, and that you are willing to stick your neck out for something that’s important.

Leaders, you won’t win on these. Most of the time the decision has already been made and you’re basically just fighting a whirlwind. You’ll be told you have your marching orders and that it’s happening with or without you, so it might has well be with you.

How you decide to react to that statement is up to you.

What I can tell you is that your team notices when you fight for them and with them. They know most of these issues are a losing battle. They know you’re putting your neck on the line. And because of that, they will be in that battle with you.

That means you have to be smart. That means you fight when it matters, not when you’re feeling petty. That means you explain why you’re fighting – so make sure the reason is worthy.

Being a leader means finding a balance in that gray area of supporting the organization’s mission and purpose and railing against anything that seems to be against the mission and purpose. Being a leader means knowing you will fight many times, and you will lose.

But being a leader also means showing your employees that with power comes responsibility, and being a manager sometimes means pushing back on authority now and then when the issue is important. It shows your employee you support them…and you expect them to also push back when the issue is important. Because informed dissent breeds innovation, and permission to dissent respectfully builds trust.

Yes, leaders. You will lose the occasional battle. But you just might win the war.

 
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Posted by on April 30, 2017 in General Rant about Leading

 

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Survivor: Meetings Edition

If you clicked on this link because you thought it would be a thoughtful look at how to structure a meeting to ensure success, then you have come to the wrong place.

I am at the point where I no longer think it can be done on a consistent basis. Yes, you will have the occasional meeting where decisions are ACTUALLY made and people leave feeling like they accomplished something. But let’s be honest…those are few and far between. And do we REALLY think one more article reminding everyone to have an agenda and desired outcomes is going to make a difference?survivor

I didn’t think so.

And so, for your edification and general sanity, I present the following tips for surviving meetings:

  • Bring your smartphone: Seems pretty basic, right? But how else are you going to stay occupied during the update you’ve heard in 4 other meetings? And besides, if someone calls you out, you can say you were just pulling up the email with the attachment the person was talking about. (Hint: have that pre-loaded. Just in case.)
  • Bring a notebook: This is essential. It’s low tech. It doesn’t rely on good signal. And no one can accuse you of not paying attention because it looks like you’re taking notes…even if you’re just doodling, jotting down a grocery list, or finally writing that novel you’ve always known you had inside you.
  • Choose your seat carefully: It’s good to sit next to someone you like so you can exchange meaningful glances when something goofy is said. If that’s not possible, then sit across from that person so you can silently laugh when appropriate. There’s always an opportunity to text that person from afar as needed. (See “bring your smartphone.”)
  • Pretend the person who drones on and on is monologuing: This is straight from The Incredibles. At some point, the villain ALWAYS monologues. This is your chance to dream up your amazing escape! I’m sure lasers will be involved somehow. There should be lasers. But not capes. For obvious reasons.
  • Play Devil’s Advocate: This one is more about amusement than survival, but whatever. Some people believe the Outlook meeting is the required time to hold the meeting, so they’re not going to end early if they can help it. Why not spice up the festivities with a little, “Just playing devil’s advocate?” For example, the group is talking about ways to increase customer service. You can pipe in with a, “Just playing devil’s advocate here, but is the customer REALLY always right? I’d hate for us to go down a certain path on a false premise.”
  • Fake a sneezing fit: Coughing works, too. Anything that requires you to inarticulately point at your face and make a beeline for the door.

If you find yourself relying on one or more of these on a regular basis, your company has a problem with meetings. Now you have a choice – either perpetuate the issue or take a stand and stop going unless you know why the meeting is taking place. It only takes one strong voice to question the recurring meeting, and it only takes one smart question to find out why 10 people are sitting in a room.

Or you can fake sneeze. Because that makes you look like an adult.

What have YOU done to liven up your awful meetings? I want to hear from you!

 
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Posted by on March 1, 2017 in culture, Teamwork

 

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Questions about your culture? Check your travel policy

Okay, it doesn’t necessarily need to be your travel policy, but I think it’s particularly useful for this exercise.

Allow me to explain.

Culture has lots of different definitions. Feel free to Google them if you’re a completist. For me, I look at culture as how work gets done in an organization. That encompasses a lot of stuff, and many tend to think solely of the people component – attitudes, values, behaviors, etc. Those are all part of it, so I’m glad people consider it!  Some also think about culture in terms of reward and recognition, employee perks, stuff like that. Also part of it, so keep that on the list!

The piece that is often missed, though, is process and policy. You know, the nuts and bolts of how you enable (or disable) work to be done within your organization. We forget this part of our culture because it’s in the background. Shit gets done regardless, and we fail to think about the mechanisms that we put in place unless legislation forces us to take a look at it. But it’s having one hell of an impact on your corporate culture whether you realize it or not.

In the FABULOUS book Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnus Nutter, WitchCrowley (“An Angel who did not so much Fall as Saunter Vaguely Downwards”) ruminates on some of his greatest accomplishments of demony on Earth. He’s frustrated by the old school demons who think one soul at a time. Crowley puts in place entire systems that ratchet up stress just enough for a person to take it out on another person who would then take it out on another…well, you get the idea. Traffic jams from a poorly designed highway is one example. The resulting negative psychic energy from poorly designed systems poisons the world and primes it for the appearance of the AntiChrist.

Which brings us to the travel policy.paperstack-292x300

If you could design the optimal travel policy, what would it look like? Let’s assume that you have to cap spending and all that fun stuff. Good chance that you might say, “Okay, you can get a flight that works for you and your family – as long as it’s not unnecessarily pricey (e.g., first class all the time). And go ahead and book it on the airline’s web site and use your corporate card so it’s not too complicated. Pick a hotel that comfortable, safe, and near the facility where your visiting. You know, don’t stay at the Ritz, but you don’t need to hit the Motel 6. Oh, and for your food and transportation? Here’s a per diem. You spend that as you see fit.” Doesn’t that sound lovely?

I sort of doubt you’d create one with overly complicated rules about which flights you can book, or require you to use a centralized travel site that doesn’t work 40% of the time, or make arbitrary cutoff points about how long a flight has to be in order to pay for early seating or business class. You wouldn’t set a spend limit on each meal ($10 breakfast, $10 lunch, $20 dinner), or require use of public transportation. You certainly wouldn’t limit the amount of tip someone was allowed to leave for a waitress. And surely you wouldn’t then force your employees to spend hours entering receipts into an overly complicated and antiquated computer system.

Now, if reading the previous paragraph made your blood boil or scoff in disbelief, imagine working under that sort of policy. Because that is a real thing. This policy exists in the world today. (I won’t say where. BUT YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE.)

No matter how much you talk about the value of people, or how much you want your culture to be one of trust, or how much you want to be an employer of choice, a policy like the one above undermines all of it. It tells your employees that saving a little money is WAY more important than your employees’ time. Or that you don’t trust them to spend money like it’s their own.

It’s hurting your culture because sometimes, employees want to spend $25 at breakfast and then eat a protein bar for lunch. Or sometimes, they just want to take the 2 hour earlier flight to see their kid after a long trip. Or they want to stay an extra night in the hotel because they want to be able to visit their internal customers without feeling like they have to sneak in a key meeting. They don’t want to feel like their work is overly burdensome.

Before you get all, “But, Mary…” on me, yes, I know you need to have some controls in place – not just to ensure good spending practices, but for risk management compliance. I’m not saying you get rid of everything. Just get rid of the stuff you don’t need. (And you don’t need a lot of it.)

So if you’ve got “culture” in any form on you list of organizational initiatives this year, don’t forget to look at your travel policy. In fact, look at all your policies. And your systems. And your workflows.

You may be surprised at how much impact you can have on that always elusive “culture improvement.”

 

 
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Posted by on January 11, 2017 in culture

 

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