Employee Engagement : No Silver Bullet


This article in the UK’s HR Magazine makes the great, obvious and yet sadly-ignored-for-convenience’s sake point that having engaged employees won’t magically solve all your people problems. They are people after all. It’s human nature, I suppose, to look for that one thing. Eat the superfood blueberries and you’ll live forever. You won’t, but if you live on blueberries, it might seem like forever.

I was a teenager when the teenage mutant ninja turtles were teenagers. They are my age. They’re not teenagers anymore. They’re no longer fighting crime and living in a sewer. They’re mortgaged in the suburbs, fighting their own teenage kids and teaching Splinter their sensei rat a lesson of his own about how to adapt to living in a retirement community not of his choosing.

“We first started getting into trouble in this country when we started seeing engagement as a box ticking exercise,” he said. “Managers had all these targets to meet that on paper looked impressive, but in reality did nothing to change the workplace. We have made a mistake in HR of seeing engagement as a silver bullet that fixes everything else.”

And, whilst employee engagement might not be a magic bullet, as long as you specifically define it as the observation of discretionary effort, it does have a proven return on investment with greater productivity, revenue and profitability. And whilst blueberries aren’t magical, if you eat them instead of gulping sodas, maybe you’ll delay diabetes and that retirement community a while longer.

More ideas at http://gettingbetterbuyin.com/

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Non Political Political Statement


People in new democracies, often poor countries coming out of conflict, cherish their right to vote. They walk, they queue, they face threats. They lack infrastructure & technology. To try and keep it to ‘one person one vote’, officials stamp their hands to indicate they’ve voted.

We’ve had democracy for a while and the novelty has worn off. I say we do that stamp thing but with an ink that lasts 3 years. And if you ever feel at any point like criticising any party or institution of Govt or any person actively involved in the process, pause and look for your hand stamp. If you don’t have a stamp, shut your trap.

For more life advice for young people and those young at heart, wrapped up in purposeful jokes, check out my book ‘The Guide: How to kiss, get a job & other stuff you need to know’.

Episode 32: Structured Behavioural Event Interviewing

Much time, effort and expense is wasted on hiring the wrong people. Job interviews are critically important, yet the vast majority of people conducting job interviews have received zero training at job interviewing. Here is a walk-through a simple but consistently effective approach to conducting job interviews, either solo or as part of a panel. From defining the role to drafting effective and purposeful questions to the mechanics of the face-to-face interactions to the post-interview work – this ep lays it out for you. And there’s a handy tip sheet too.

Terry Williams Brain-Based Boss PodCast – latest episode

The Smoke & Mirrors Of Tech Promises


Before my days as a trainer, speaker and author came along, I served some time on the periphery of the telecommunications industry and in some Information technology projects. I was usually the non-technical guy who acted as translator for the customers / users / muggles. I’d facilitate meetings, co-draft specs, and draft user documentation and training. I learned a lot, not the least of which is that I did not wish to do that ever again.

I can be overly keen sometimes. I’m that guy. An executive recruitment firm once reported on me as being “infectiously enthusiastic”. I’m taking that with all the good graces and positivity of a description that includes the term “infectious”. But I get it. One of the things into which I launch myself with enthusiasm is tech. And, one of the learnings from my time in the tech trenches is that there is a lot of smoke and mirrors. To temper the odds of any future disproportionate or unwarranted enthusiasm on tech or any subject, I like to look back in time on the internet. In 2007, what was being touted as the next big thing, is it big now, or is it even an actual thing at all yet? What was the much-hyped HR tech of ten years ago? Is it here now and is it kicking digital butt?

I feel like I want to draw up a bingo grid and include terms such as ‘big data’, ‘UX’ and ‘disruptive’. Were they on the cards ten years ago or are they just around the horizon? If you’re ever lost in a desert, you’ll know that the only thing just around the horizon is another horizon. We’ve all been there. I only do it for the hallucinations. If you’re ever lost in a dessert, well done.

There is one prediction I found most often from back in 2007 that seems to have played out solidly today. I’ll quote it directly, “Fear automation not outsourcing”. It’s kind of tech-facing, although not specifically relating to HR tech. Unless you work in HR, which as readers of this publication, you almost certainly are.

There is a pill bottle today that has enough tech in its lid to verbally remind people to take their meds. Convergence is a thing. It happened with TVs and computers, with phones and everything else, and, according to some political spokespeople, with microwaves and spy cameras. With HR tech, the time is now or soonish for talent management to hybreed with ERP. I’d also like to copyright my word “hybreed”. Another key battleground for tech folk generally, including HR, is UX or User eXperience. Finally, users are no longer the doormats we were back in 2007. Now, the people poking screens matter. Now, poking screens actually does something. I’m not sure why anyone would’ve been poking their screens back in 2007?

Taps are replacing clicks as mobile devices are the means by which we all do our thing. When Bill gates first mooted “a computer on every desktop”, that was seen as a boon. Now, computers on desktops are a hassle unless you’re a power gamer. Most HR professionals shouldn’t be power gamers. Least not at work anyways. Especially don’t recreate your organisation’s people using Sims or some kind of role play gaming software. The last thing we need is HR folk getting all ‘Game Of Thrones’ with their talent management. I got my hair cut yesterday by someone talking about their kids at school and “achieved, merit and extinction”. I think she meant “distinction” and it probably should’ve been “excellence”. We don’t want HR tech driving extinction but we probably do want HR tech driving distinction. This is where big data analytics comes in.

Big data is definitely a reality but the next thing of note is the analytics to make finessing it and extracting value from it viable, practical, ethical and efficient.

My favourite HR tech is in the L&D space and it isn’t MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) although they are great. It’s micro-learning – what you need, where you need, when you need it. People forget things they don’t use much so having a ‘library’ of resources online available via mobile devices is an excellent adjunct to traditional training. I had an outside lightbulb that had shattered with no way to grip it to twist it out. Via YouTube, I found a ninety second video from Bosnia with the solution – stick a potato in the broken bulb and twist. I lived to tell the tale and that is useful L&D tech.

My main worry with tech is that they have developed software (and this is real, although still in the early stages) that can detect sarcasm in the written word. Wow, it looks like they were right in 2007, I do have to fear automation.




Career 2.0

volcano lightning

Taking photos of volcanos in action must be scary. That’s probably part of why they do it. Changing careers for many of us might be the scariest thing we ever do, or, more likely, contemplate doing but never actually do.

I threw myself into the internet to glean a bit of inspiration for this post. Not literally, we can’t actually throw ourselves into the internet… yet. Online research is fine but some sort of Tron-like immersion within the ethereal plains of the worldwide web seems impractical and risk-prone. If you think you have a problem now spending a lot of time ON the internet, just wait until you can spend a lot of time IN the internet.

I found one article about career transition and it used the metaphor of the software upgrade: Career 2.0. I think that’s part of the problem. Going from career 1.0 to 2.0 is blunt and quite a leap. Why not take an incremental leaf from Apple’s upgrade strategy and have career 1.1, 1.2, 1.3, etc rather than one substantive chasm-leaping transition straight to 2.0 when it’s thrust upon you? I know it’s a freakin’ pain every three days when those upgrade messages splash themselves across your screen or interrupt your other activities. Maybe this software upgrade imagery doesn’t stretch too far with career upgrades? For a start software can “live in the cloud,” whereas your job cannot. That said, I do have a guy on fiverr.com who does all my illustrations for me.

The term seems to have a bit of baggage and mixed perceptions too. One Forbes article seemed in favour of transitioning to something more in line with your values after slaving away for a while, having built up your CV, garnered some experience and contacts, and built up some reserves just in case it all goes south. (I don’t know why “in case it all goes south” is an expression for something going horribly wrong? I’m from the south. It’s awesome. If you want horrible, I’d go west). With a positive outlook, Forbes proffered some tips that I’ll share shortly.

The Harvard Business Review (HBR), on the other hand, took a dim view of career transitions. Their first article was about having to explain it when someone called you out on it, as if it would be an embarrassing blip. I know we could all use some tips on explaining gaps in the timelines of our CVs when potential employers ask about our unrevealed years in prison or that time we faked our own death. Any employer who claims to want to employ someone with problem solving skills, initiative and learning flexibility should realise that career transitioning is an absolute finishing school for that sort of thing. So, I wouldn’t worry too much about this, unless you ever get interviewed for a job as a reporter for the Harvard Business Review, in which case, you have been warned.

Let’s get back to those tips from Forbes. If anyone knows about career transition tips for mere employees, it’s the media outlet that relies on their listings of the 500 richest people on the planet in the same voyeuristic way that Sports Illustrated relies on their swimsuit issue. Now, I was primarily drawn to the Forbes article as their first example was that of a Navy Captain who became a circus manager. Possibly not that much of a lateral shift but definitely the adult version of running away to join the circus. Their key tips: know the underlying reason why, get fit, do it in stages, find a mentor, prepare for setbacks, volunteer or moonlight first, have some ‘rainy day’ money set aside, and do something every day to move towards what you’re after.

I MC’d an HR conference a while back where one of the speakers demonstrated a very useful technique I’ll call ‘Timelining’. You scribble an X/Y axis on a sheet of landscape paper – the bigger the better. The horizontal axis (X – c’mon team) is time, so mark out the years of your career. The vertical axis (Y) is satisfaction on a scale you’ll have to imagine yourself. You then mark out the various highs and lows and milestones on three timelines – career, personal and relationships. The second part is self-analysis – when were the sweet spots of mutually-intersecting highs and, vice versa, the lows? Then you ask yourself for both, why, what was happening in each type of scenario? I was coaching a forty year old man once with this activity and he had the epiphany that he hated working indoors. It had never occurred to him, then he transitioned on a dime and now he never met a grapevine he didn’t like. It’s a great technique – google a book called ‘Taking Charge’ by Chris Johnson.

I’m not going to completely dismiss HBR’s advice. How can I ignore phrases like “compelling narrative” or “professional reinventors”? If working for a living doesn’t pan out for me and I end up a crazy old guy in a shed, I’ll be an inventor working on my compelling narrative. And a time machine.


Leadership – leading from down under

Cherri Holland Blog

It is Leadership Week in New Zealand. http://sirpeterblaketrust.org/leadershipweek

How apt. A week when we have welcomed back Emirates Team New Zealand with the oldest sporting trophy – the Auld Mug (a.k.a. The America’s Cup). It is time to consider what leadership is and to draw inspiration from that great New Zealander: Sir Peter Blake.

When asked (back in 1995 when we first won that elusive trophy) what on earth made him think New Zealand could compete for (and actually win) The America’s Cup, Blakie said: “When people say something is impossible, that is when I want to do it.”

There is more to it, of course. Not only have our teams got further on fewer resources than any other winning syndicate, but they have insisted on playing nicely, “sharing our toys” (actual quote from the ‘95 team’s playbook) and building a challenge that “New Zealand can be proud of –…

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The Stuff That Bubbles Are Made Of

whale hopping

If you use services like online retailer Amazon or music streamer Spotify, you’ll be familiar with the concept of recommendations. Based on your previous consumption patterns and those of consumers similar to yourself, an algorithm (or algorithms) instantly suggest to you other products or music you might like. Based on my photo, you may be surprised to learn that I am disproportionately fond of 70s funk. Spotify is not surprised. More than that, it seems positively delighted to be able to inform me that if I liked Earth, Wind & Fire (the band, not the elements of nature), I might like The Meters. And you know what? I did like The Meters. You would too. I was unaware of their existence but the modern magic of technology connected us and now I’m a fan. Moreso, I feel educated as I can trace the genealogy of the sound from the 60s through to the music of my actual life. This kind of ‘screening’ is a boon to my life and soul. Their tight melodic grooves and highly syncopated New Orleans second-line rhythms under highly charged guitar and keyboard riffing get me through some days. Let’s don’t forget James Brown.

However, despite my sense of betterment from the screening software, or perhaps because of it, I’m not immediately aware of the downside. As I was trying to use this Spotify feature as an analogy for employee screening in workplaces, I had to squeeze on a DeBono-esque negative thinking hat and force myself to think of a downside. How am I ever going to experience new music or genres if I only ever sample music that is like what I already like? That’s the stuff that bubbles are made of.

I get a sense of uneasiness from this. Partly it’s because I sometimes train in business writing and I know that sentences should not end with a preposition such as “of”. That sentence should have read, “That’s the stuff of which bubbles are made”.

The uneasiness also comes from thinking, why can’t I just like what I like and things that are similar to what I like? It’s quick, logical and low effort. Surely everybody wins. Who does it hurt? And aren’t bubbles simply a whimsical delight, even for an adult, to return to childlike fascination? No, the type of bubbles I’m talking about are those self-imposed blinkers that turn into silos and insulate us from seeing the world as it really is beyond our ivory towers. (If you’re keeping score on the liberal elite scale, that last sentence had five bits of figurative language. That’s a personal record. I was going to say personal best, but I think we all know that’s too many).

Let me get back to my analogy with employee screening. I used to half-seriously talk to workplace leaders about “cloning their stars”. Through recruitment, induction, training, coaching etc, create a model of what you’re after based on existing or previous top performers and seek to attract and re-create that. It’s not a bad idea but is it the best idea? Isn’t that approach effectively the same as Spotify telling me that if I liked that, then I’ll like this? What about diversity and innovation? Aren’t they diluted or diminished when all you do is re-hire the people you’ve always hired?

Maybe my life and soul would be even further enhanced if Spotify suggested to me that I might like to try Norwegian trance music? (It didn’t but I tried it anyway and it wasn’t. But it might have and I never would have known if I didn’t make up a style of music that I guessed I would never otherwise have encountered, then Googled it, found out it did actually exist so I sampled it. It’s quite deflating but at least now I know. Imagine if they’d taken early Donna Summer music, removed all the interesting sounds, changed all the chords to minor chords, then slowed it down).

I suppose the Spotify analogy isn’t perfect. You can test-drive a song at almost zero-cost. Click the play symbol, give it thirty seconds and never worry about it again. You don’t have to worry about hurting the feelings of DJ Splash from Trondheim. You can’t do that with a new hire (nor should you want to, or try to).

I was going to base this article around some legislation being proposed in the US that could impose hefty penalties on employees who decline to participate in genetic testing as part of workplace wellness programmes. That’s a level of sci-fi Gattica (look it up) screening that I found depressing so I didn’t. I wrote about Norwegian trance music instead. That is slightly less depressing. And it is really depressing.

Here’s one last suggestion: If you liked DJ Splash from Trondheim then you’ll love Finnebassen from Oslo or perhaps Boom Jinx from Bergen. But if you ever work where I work, you do not get to choose the radio station.


The Youth Workforce Is Wasted On The Young?


I’m prepared to hold myself up as something of an expert on the youth workforce. When I was young, I used to actually work, as opposed to whatever pen-pushing it is I do now. Plus, as a parent, I have personally produced two members of the youth workforce. So, if that doesn’t make me an expert I don’t know what does. I’m also reasonably adept at sarcasm. I wouldn’t describe myself as a sarcasm expert; I’m more of a sarcasm enthusiast.

There’s an image of a particular newspaper clipping doing the rounds on FaceBook at the moment. (By which I mean, I shared it this morning). It has subheadings: Maths in the 1950s, 1970s, 1980s, 1990s and 2000s. Each asks a maths exam question with descending level of difficulty. The 1950s question asks about a forester cutting and selling trees for $100 and the costs being 4/5 so what is the profit? The 2000s question ends up asking how you think the trees feel and advising that counselling is available after the exam.

I believe this is what young people refer to as a ‘slam’. I’m pretty guilty of this inter-generational faux mocking and banter. I’m reasonably confident I don’t intentionally mock people based on race, gender, physical ability, body shape, sexuality, etc but I apparently have no qualms about slamming my kids and their chronological cohorts. This reflects poorly on me and it’s lazy.

I’ve been in the training game for closer to three decades than two. A good proportion of the people I meet are at the earlier ends of their careers. ‘Experts’ can blather on about millennial this and boomer that but my observation over the generations is that people are people and people are different. Yes my kids use their phones more than I did and faxes less. Yes, they’ll have a harder time affording a house than me. This isn’t about people as much as it is about technology, systems and politics. No doubt a statistician could show that employees under 30 change jobs more frequently or something like that. If you divide any group up by age, you might find that under 30s are taller on average than those aged 30-40. Correlation isn’t particularly helpful for employers assessing applicants or planning workforce strategy.

George Bernard Shaw or Oscar Wilde or some other old guy wrote, “Youth is wasted on the young”. Anyone with any degree of objectivity should see that as less a deserved slam on youth than a revelation of regret and bitterness. When I re-post jokey memes hassling young people’s maths, rest assured I’m limping to my keyboard on a stuffed Achilles tendon that’s never going to get much better.

Each generation has its advantages and disadvantages. We’re not having to deal with a world war or its aftermath. That generation didn’t have to deal with an obesity epidemic. My kids have all these robots taking their jobs to worry about. Swings and roundabouts.

If you’re looking at people coming into your workplace, regardless of age, you’re going to need people with learning flexibility. If there’s one thing this particular wave of the youth workforce is going to need to be aware of and ready for, it’s change. Having that one skill that’ll see you through to retirement has gone the way of blacksmiths, stagecoach drivers and perms. (Yes you can still find all three but they’re no longer mainstream). It’s not the frequency of job changes that experts should be measuring and addressing, it’s the frequency of skill obsolescence and acquisition. Good workplace are probably already onto this and looking to hire learning flexible people. Excellent workplaces are the ones not only hiring it but nurturing and supporting it beyond mere lip service.

I’ve resolved to make fewer snide remarks about jobs like Instagram Stylist and focus on spotting and celebrating the young people I meet in my training events who are potential gems. Maybe it’s good marketing or the exposure of social media but doesn’t it seem like New Zealand has a lot of super talented and successful young people right now generally? Steven Adams, Lydia Ko, Lorde are smashing it on the world stage. They were ‘spotted’ at an early age and nurtured and supported.

Referring back to that meme earlier in this article about the declining challenge level in maths exam questions, I want to make it absolutely clear that this was in no way meant as a slight towards teachers. Teachers are great and I would like to draw everyone’s attention to the upcoming celebrations and recognition of World Teachers’ Day. I hope you’ll all join me in appreciating them on that day – especially as it is only a half day.



Taking The Ball And Leaving – The Business Of Family In Business

Not a sports story but a workplace story. A superstar is leaving a workplace and one of his primary gripes is that the coach hired his son and gave him preferential treatment to the detriment of the team. Assuming this is true, how can this happen. I can see it happening in a tiny operation but in a multi-million dollar enterprise owned by a software billionaire under the media glare, this is both predictable and preventable, yet it was allowed to happen. The odds of them winning fell from 40-1 to 100-1 with this guy leaving and the very measurable cost of that is massive and longterm. All ‘family’ businesses need to have plans in place and over-the-top transparency to avoid this and the perception of it.


The Future Of HR: Around The Working World In 80 Days


Years ago I read a book by a futurist named Faith Popcorn. That was the author’s name, not the book, though I could understand any confusion. Grammatically, I should have said that “is” the author’s name, not “was.” I presume it’s still her name? I’m guessing that it hasn’t always been her name. Things change. I think the book was called ‘Clicking’ and it was about things changing.

The book was published in 1998, the same year my son was born. I was enthralled at the prospect of the trend spotting and changing world outlined in the book and how to prepare for them. I was less enthralled by the early years of raising a child and I wasn’t changing the world nearly as often as I was changing nappies. (Although, they both needed changing for much the same reason.) Gweneth Paltrow won an Oscar in 1998 which, if nothing else, proves that anything is possible so there is cause for optimism. And the whole ‘raising a child’ thing distracted me from the top song and album of the year being by BoyZone and the BeeGees. The BeeGees – in 1998! Damn it New Zealand, c’mon.

To be honest, I haven’t gone back and read the book. I was just reminded of it by the topic of this month’s issue – the working world in 2016. Not wanting to ruin the magic of magazine publishing but this article’s deadline for the February issue was last December. So, in a way, I had to wear my ‘futurist’ hat. Although, if I was genuinely a futurist, I’ve had known two years ago that hats and beards would make a huge comeback and I’m both hatless and beardless. Trendiness-aside, I’m OK with that. One trend I do recall, even now, from Popcorn (not her real name) was ‘cocooning.’ Even before the internet really kicked in and the terrorism / media combo made everyone scared of their shadows, she projected that people would go out less often. Bigger houses, wider TVs, home delivery of food, and so forth were clues. Almost two decades on, we have to give her a big tick on that one.

What I liked about her style was / is that she then outlined her thoughts around the implications. I see she now runs a web service, no doubt prognosticating on the implications of drones, big data and printing our own food and pancreases. (Is that the plural of pancreas? I never thought I’d need to juggle multiple pancreases.)

I like movies set in the not too distant future. Bladerunner had a hyper-present Asian culture and some pretty bleak climatic consequences. Minority Report has Tom Cruise running from the authorities, only to have a sentient vending machine scan his retina without him opting in and suggest he purchase his favourite beverage whilst at the same time reporting him to the cops. Elysium had Matt Damon working a terrible job manufacturing the robot security guards that would oppress him and protect the pampered elite living in the clouds.

Malcolm Gladwell in his book ‘The Tipping Point’ wrote about ‘Coolhunters’ – marketing people whose job it was to trawl the streets and clubs to observe the hippest people, what they were drinking, wearing and doing, then projecting that into the next big thing on a scale. That’s a real thing and now big data makes it all the more rapid and accurate.

So, how does all this relate to the world of work in 2016? We’re past the 2015 date Marty McFly and Doc went forward to in ‘Back To The Future.’ Technically, we do have hoverboards but they’re $15,000 and they only work while over a sheet of copper. They do come with a sheet of copper but it’s only a metre long, so if you’re into remaining motionless about four inches about the ground, this may be next year’s Christmas gift for you. (Assuming you’re into Christmas or allowed to even say that word at work. You might have one of those “Season’s Greetings” situations. Or should the apostrophe in seasons go after the s if we’re incorporating every culture’s shindigs and shenanigans, then we’re probably in for more than one season of festivity. Frankly, I’m also OK with that. Better than hats and beards.)

Work 2016 – look for big data or a lite kiwi version of it impacting recruitment. Think Tinder but for workers. (If you want to hire me, you have to at least buy me dinner first.) Look for greater entrepreneurship amongst young people. It’s dangerous for society to have swarms of directionless under-employed youth without structure. That’s how gangs, terrorists and acting schools recruit. Look for European Governments initially to finally tackle that problem creatively, provoked by the refugee and terrorism situations. Eventually we’ll try some of those ideas that we were probably doing before 1984 anyway. Look for new jobs that you cannot believe exist. Faith Popcorn is spotting a trend for hot sauce sommeliers in restaurants. (Syrians could do that?) Look for whatever the next ridiculous fashion trend that supercedes hats and beards.










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