Remuneration and Reward: One Person’s Meat Is Another’s Poison


I guess the saying “one person’s meat is another’s poison” dates back to Shakespearian times where both meat and poison were daily occurences in workplaces? (Possibly simultaneously? Spoiler alert.) I had to make it “person” instead of “man” so it dates back a couple of decades anyway. What I’m trying to say is that what appeals to some doesn’t sppeal to all. Chocolate fish aren’t for everyone but to me they’re the universal symbol of incentives. If there is a continuum with carrots and sticks, chocolate fish are way out beyond carrots. That’s just me. You might be more into sticks. Freak.

Employers (and tax lawyers) seem to think of reward and remuneration mainly in terms of money or cars or trips to Fiji. The whole raison detre of pay and bonuses and incentives is to drive, direct and / or curtail behaviours – carrots and sticks. At a biological level within human beings’ very bodies, human systems have had a range of microscopic rewards being granted and denied all the time for millennia that are incredibly powerful in driving and restraining our behaviour. Have you tried giving up sugar or even cutting down? Good luck. The chemistry rewards behind that are way more effective than reimbursing costs of study after proof of passing the course. Salaries and bonuses are great but we love that dopamine buzz when we check our email or FaceBook page.

I’m not suggesting we should be offering drugs to employees as a reward for performance (although that would make a great sci-fi screenplay.)

I have a manufacturing / sales client who are offering a major prize for all staff if targets are met. It’s value per person is around three thousand dollars. There’s a big colour-in thermometer graphic on the wall indicating progress towards target against time. Six months into the year, they are at 50.3% towards traget. Sound great? Sound effective? I should probably add the bit I’ve missed out. Everyone gets the prize if the target is met but, if even one department fails to meet their own individual target, then no one gets the prize. When I first heard that, I thought, “OK, there’s a couple of ways this could turn out…”

Last week a colleague was telling me of his friend who’d bought a rural property and was thinking about quitting the day job, leaving the commute behind and working from home. But she loved the work, liked the people and seemed to have some loyalty stored up to her employer. Then, last Christmas they had their usual staff gathering at the local tavern and, maybe, it seemed like their was a little less food and drink. Everyone got an envelope and inside everyone’s envelope was a single movie ticket. Not a double pass. Not a gold class ticket. A single general admission. Technically I guess that could be classified, at least for tax purposes, as an incentive. I don’t think it literally was an incentive – probably the opposite. It certainly removed any lingering doubts she had about her giving up the day job and it certainly soaked up her residual loyalty far more effectively than it could have soaked up spilled beer on the bar if she’d left it there and stormed out. Me, I didn’t even realise they still had paper movie coupons.

Remuneration is relative. The nature of people makes it so. Our perception of the absolute value of what we receive is impacted greatly by our perception of what we believe others are receiving. In studies where subjects have been offered the choice of a situation where they’re earning $60,000 while their peers are earning 70,000 or a situation where they’re earning $50,000 while their peers are earning $40,000, a significant majority prefer the latter. More people would rather earn less as long as they were relatively better off than the people with whom they associated.

At an HR conference I MC’d, a speaker talked of a group of scientists. They were in high demand and were sitting targets to be poached by high-paying, prestigious overseas employers. They’d like to stay here but money is quite magnetic (figuratively not literally – although I wonder if magnetic coins might be a cool thing for tourists at least.) It certainly wasn’t the sole attempted solution but one thing they tried was gamification. Or, as this speaker put it, scout badges. They created a matrix, effectively a skill matrix. As the scientists demonstrated competence in a range of pre-agreed skills, ranging from the technical and specific to leadership and customer service. (“That’s not science!”, I imagine them saying, but my impression of scientists is heavily influenced by TV’s ‘The Big Bang Theory.’)

I didn’t think that was gamification. I thought gamification was the use of game thinking and game mechanics in non-game contexts to engage users in solving problems and increase users’ sense of self-contribution. The scout badges seem more like FlyBuys but without any chance of getting a new toasted sandwich maker out of it. I’m not disrespecting the badges idea. They reported it was well received and effective. I think they might work as part of a portfolio of ideas because they leverage an age-old need that people have. It’s another word beginning with “re” that isn’t reward or remuneration. It also isn’t retirement, although that might loom as an incentive for some. Certainly it did for my 5th form history teacher Mr O’Leary who at the start of each lesson would inform us exactly how many days he had left until retirement. I think that’s OK when you’re a cop, you’ve just taken on a young and reckless partner, a case that isn’t what it seems lands on your desk and you’re two days from retirement. The word is recognition.











Career Transitioning: From Go To Whoa to No-Go To Just Go


A quirky new NetFlix comedy show is ‘The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.’ It’s a surreal farce from some of the people behind the show ’30 Rock.’ The premis of the new show is that a woman has been trapped in a bunker with a cult for fifteen years and gets rescued, then chooses to live in New York City, despite only knowing a pre-9/11, pre-ipad world. Classic fish out of water stuff. The closing line of the theme song says, “It’s going to be a fascinating transition.” But it’s not going to be a transition. It’s going to be a shock – a jagged, sudden, unexpected wrench sideways. And it’s the same for the most part with career transitions.

The word ‘transition’ in one of those dictionary things you sometimes read about online implies something planned and gradual. Actually, I just paused my writing and went to and looked it up and there’s no mention of gradual or planned. I started to worry that maybe there’s a whole bunch of words I add my little extra meanings to but then I saw that the word of the day was ‘collywobbles’ and that made me feel better. It’s such an adorable word. OMG, I just looked up the word collywobbles. It means a feeling of fear, apprehension or nervousness, intestinal cramps. This dictionary is a dangerous place.

From an employer’s or HR bod’s perspective, career transitioning sounds like a fine art, a managed process, intended to create and maintain an absence of feelings of fear, apprehension or nervousness, and especially an absence of intestinal cramps. Ideally yes I suppose but I’ve always been more of a ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’ kind of guy. I think most real career transitions are more like Kimmy Schmidt’s.

I’ve seen some employers try to be cool and non evil in their restructuring efforts by offering career transition services, often called counselling, outplacement or “going out for a pie.” Redundancies are happening, you…, sorry, your role, is being made redundant – given any thought as to what to do next? While operating your lathe for the past 30 years, have you thought about becoming a digital 3D rendering artist? You’d still be making different shapes so it’s like operating a lathe but with pixels.

It is always potentially interesting in a job interview when the interviewer notices some dates in the timeline and decides to chase the white rabbit down that rabbit hole.

“Couldn’t help but notice the two year gap between jobs on your CV?”

“Yeah, would’ve been four years without the good behaviour.”

An article in the Harvard Business Review suggested developing a “compelling narrative” to not just explain away such moves, but to make it look like a positive. As long as we’re weaving compelling narratives into our CVs why not make them even more dramatic? Let’s Tarantino them. Watch most Tarantino movies and you’ll see they start at the dramatic cliffhanger bit. A group of men in suits in a Mexican stand-off pointing guns at each other’s heads. How did they get into this dramatic situation. I bet there’s a compelling narrative. I want to know the story!!! Don’t format your CV in a boring standard, linear chronological timeline. Start with the action, fill in the backstory, building the tension, introduing a series of forceful characters. ‘Transition’ is, in fact, an actual technical term used in movie-making, so career transitions will fit right in.

Rather than the jagged and risky situations when folks are forced into changing jobs or learning entirely new skills in new environments, some other people make conscious and proactive choices to plan towards leaving one career and move into another. I’m of an age where I have a bunch of friends and associates who are chucking in their ‘real job’ and taking up the childhood thing they never did or even tried to do. Away goes the banker’s suit and in comes the potter’s smock. There was a former NFL player on the news who’d retired from profesional American football and taken up farming with zero experience or support. All he had for his career transition was his forty million US dollars of football earnings and youtube farming videos. He seems happy and donates his first crop to the poor of South Carolina.

I myself transitioned from a senior safe management role to whatever it is I currently do. The running gag in my industry when some muggle starts out is, “Don’t give up your day job.” In career transitioning, that is the best and the worst advice there is. I prefer the actions of Cortex the conquistidor who lead the invasion of South America. His troops were a bit iffy at attacking forward with the scary enemy natives ahead. He burned the boats so the only way out was forward. No boats. No plan B. No way back. That’s how you transition your career if you’re serious!









Family & Business = Oil & Water?


They say mixing family and business is like mixing oil and water. Or do they say it’s like mixing oil and vinegar? Depends what they mean I suppose. And who are ‘they’ anyway? Oil and water can’t mix so I guess those ‘theys’ are saying family and business can’t mix, as if it’s a rule of science like gravity or picking up dropped food off the floor within two seconds being OK. Even then, we can still find examples of oil and water being productively associated. For example, in many commercially produced chicken nuggets, oil and water are significant components and they can coexist due to the inclusion of detergents which prevent the oil and water from separating as they are naturally inclined to do. So, that’s good. Mixing family and business is like mixing oil and water – it’s OK in the presence of detergent. This simile seems like a lot of work.

No one says mixing family and business is like mixing oil and vinegar. I just said that because it seems like a much more practical piece of imagery. If you take terrible olive oil and mix it with terrible vinegar, you’ll get a terrible salad dressing. If you take a good olive oil and mix it with a good vinegar, you’ll get a good salad dressing. Now we’re cooking (figuratively.) Lousy businesses plus dysfunctional families don’t mix well, unless you’re their receiver or solicitor, in which case, they’re probably lucrative clients. It’s similar to manufacturing the drug ‘P’ – it’s all about the quality of, and chemistry between, the ingredients. Now we’re really cooking (different kind of figuratively.)

Good salad dressings and good meta-amphetamines require good recipes. You can’t just chuck ingredients in the mix and trust dumb luck. Yet, that is what many people do when it comes to family and business. Any business benefits from clarity of roles, process and expectations – family businesses moreso. Yet many families hesitate to draw up some papers. Maybe it’s because it has the whiff of pre-nup about it? I’ve never been on either end of a pre marriage contract so I’m just speculating but I always assume it must be an interesting conversation to start. “Yes I’ll love you always forever but just in case…” Fifty percent of marriages end in divorce. We probably wouldn’t accept a toaster with that level of failure rate. At least you can return the toaster. Ironically, a common wedding gift is a toaster. Hopefully it’ll be one of those modern ones that allows for different settings because that’s one of the things you should found out before, “OMG, they have their toast on the lightest setting possible. That is effectively nothing more than warm bread. What else don’t I really know about this person? What else have they been hiding? My mother was right.”

If you try and Google search ‘families working together, you get a raft of results about how government departments can work with families to get them out of hospital, out of jail, out of debt or into jobs, into houses or into study. Government seems to focused on getting families into or out of things. It’s like all the government does is act as a huge doorman. (And just like a real doorman, you’ll find you get in and out a lot better, if you slip them a few sly dollars.)

A 2014 survey conducted by PWC internationally, and including New Zealand, assessed the state and intentions of family businesses compared to businesses generally. Eighty three percent had at least one conflict management process agreed in advance, This is good advice for businesses generally but essential for family members either in business together, working together, or just sharing a room. If you had a teenage daughter and a teenage son, and they co-purchased a car, they’d want a system pre-agreed for who gets it Saturday nights. Even when my kids were just out of car seats, they worked out an odd-numbered day / even-numbered day system for who got to sit in the front. (Those of you with multiple siblings from your own youth will have already raced ahead and done some maths, noting those months with thirty days and thirty one days. To ensure even more fairness, they did a six monthly switch on April 1st and October 1st. I don’t know what the future holds for my kids but that system of theirs fills me with some hope.)

That same survey raised hopes with the 83% then dashed them by revealing that only seventeen percent of family business owners had any kind of succession plan in place. There are plenty of issues arising when there is doubt and uncertainty over who gets what. The bible is full of them. What I found particularly interesting in the survey was that thirty six percent of current owners of family businesses intended to pass on ownership to the next generation but not management. Rightly or wrongly, and each case on its merits, I think all cases require forethought on the part of the elders and clarity on the part of the younger. It’s all academic to me – all I inherited from my forebears was terrible eyesight and skinny calves.










The Future Of HR?


(Reposted from my column In ‘Employment Today’ magazine Feb 2015)

I misread the topic suggestions from my editor. Apparently one of the themes of this month’s issue is ‘HR 2015’ and not, as I read it in a hurry, ‘HR 2115.’ It’s not a great excuse but it’s the best one John Key could give me in a hurry. I was in a hurry and I misunderstood the question!!! So, integrity issues aside, stand by for an indepth and scarily prescient overview of HR in the next century. Although, HR will have to take a step back to make room for the next genuinely flourishing corporate department RR (Robot Resources.) And no, the robots don’t like being referred to as resources either. They prefer ‘Cybernetic Capability and Development.’

They won’t all be biped, terminator-type robots (although your boss probably will be – seriously, who is going to beat a terminator for any job, except perhaps another even more aggressive terminator?) The terminator managers won’t be doing the heavy lifting but they will be exponents of MBWA – management by wandering around (albeit wandering around heavily crushing human skulls underfoot.)

Robots are a very broad church. Churches themselves are very open to new technology and were one of the early adopters of wireless EFTPOS in their collection plates. I’ll always remember smiling as one parishener took the EFTPOS handset out of the collection plate as it was passed to him, holding it so he could enter in his PIN, then using his other hand to shield the entry of his PIN. First from the side, then from above as if he was attempting to prevent God spotting his PIN. A lovely disconnect between archaic belief systems and modern realities.

I have one client today who even makes robots. I was MCing their conference, had a bit of time on my hands and was perusing their brochure to see if I could customise a joke or three. The index promised me robots on page 64 but what page 64 delivered was more of an ATM. It was for people who take so many meds that they can’t keep track of them over time or even within a given day. The robot / ATM was 300% more productive than a pharmacy assistant and 100% accurate. These will be things I’ll be looking for from my med supplier in 2115 when I’m 148. I’ll still be working as the retirement age will be 167 by then. You’ll be able to retire at 165 but the weekly amount will be proportinately less accordingly. You’ll still be able to ask Peter Dunne about it. He’s already a robot.

The term robot is short for robotnik, from the original Czech meaning ‘slave.’ Humans won’t be wage slaves in the future. Mere monetary remuneration will have expanded to include other more valuable credit such as life-units. You can treat yourself on payday by going to KFC and ordering a sugary thickshake with extra cookies crumbled up into it. They won’t be all nanny state up in your grill with patronising nutritional information. They’ll treat you like an adult. They’ll charge you ninety seven united earth dollars and take seven hours off your lifespan (as will the thickshake.)

I read recently of an HR / recruitment expert / consultant who dramatically reckoned that you only need to ask a single question in any job interview. “Walk me through your professional career from the very beginning until now.” I get what he’s saying and I think it’s a strong point. By 2115 though, the makers of the casual sex hook-up app ‘Tinder’ will have monopolised the world’s HR industry with their recruitment app based on Tinder. For those of you who don’t know, the GPS in the app can sense that there is someone else in the neighbourhood who has made themselves available and you are presented with a pic and mini-bio of various potential hook-ups. You swipe left to reject them and swipe right to accept. Very, very few people are murdered as a result of hook-ups using this app. Common sense and morals aside, you can see the obvious use for filtering CVs. Gone will be the three piles of paper CVs – yes, no, maybe. (Yes, we all know you print them out. The complete absence of trees in 2115 is mostly your fault.) Gone is the kidding yourself that anyone in the ‘maybe’ pile will ever get a chance, or even acknowledgement of their existence. Lots of swiping left will mean lots of HR folks will develop repetitive strain juries but they can have that arm replaced with a robotic one, although the marketing team will refer to them as “bionic arms.” While they recuperate in private day clinics, they can watch the top holo-tv show of the day in which young people battle for the 6 entry level jobs a year still available to humans. One of which will be writing this column for Employment Today magazine. There will be a televised fight to the death. I’m quietly confident; You don’t get to 148 without being able to win televised fights to the death.

So, yeah, good times.



###END### (Reposted from my column In ‘Employment Today’ magazine Feb 2015)






Feedback: The Human Touch



I’m a basketball fan. More specifically, I’m an NBA basketball fan. Kiwi Steven Adams is doing some amazing things for the Oklahoma City Thunder at the moment. There have been a couple of psych studies conducted involving basketball that I think have some application for the topic of work environments.

Basketball is full of players high-fiving, chest-bumping and butt-slapping. One researcher spent a whole year watching games and tapes of games. He concluded (Obviously it was a ‘he’ with that kind of time on his hands) that there was a positive correlation between ‘high-touch’ teams and success. That year, the highest of the high-touch teams was the Boston Celtics and they won their first title in 30 years. Now, I’m no expert in human resource law but in general terms, I’d anticipate that any workplace that prided itself on being literally ‘high-touch’ probably isn’t a great place to work. (Unless you’re a male panelbeater in 1975.) Supposedly, human contact releases within us small amounts of the hormone oxytocin – the drug our bodies use to trick us into loving our children. This might be a positive feature but to avoid harassment risks in the work environment, I’d advise getting a puppy.

Nonetheless, the principle behind the high-fiving and human touch is that of recognition, reward, inclusion and feedback at a personal and individualised level. A goodly amount of that leads to a better place to work. And who doesn’t love puppies?

I remember once when my daughter was little. One day from school, she brought home a book called ‘I Love Puppies.’ The next day she brought home a book called ‘Looking After Puppies.’ The third day, she brought home a book called ‘Puppies Puppies Puppies.’ We could take a hint. So, we got her a library card. She really loved books.

The other piece of basketball research involved the somewhat churlish tradition amongst home basketball fans to try and distract and put off visiting free throw shooters. Mascots will make offensive or suggestive gestures in line of sight of the shooter. Fans will scream and wave towels. Another researcher, and good on them for getting the funding, analysed various strategies by a huge range of teams’ fans. Most strategies were loud and frenetic but generally not that effective. The one outlier that was rare, hard to achieve but quite effective was for every fan to wear the same colour, sit silently and motionless as the shooter prepared to take the shot and, just as they were about to release the shot, the crowd as one, shifted a little bit to the left.

Our brains notice big disruptive distractions and are pretty good at treating them with the disdain they deserve. What dilutes our productive efforts at work are lots of little distractions, each barely noticeable by itself but collectively highly impactful in a bad way.

All the talk earlier of high-touch and positivity may have made you think I’m a tree hugging liberal hippy who thinks that everyone at work needs a statue and parade to motivate them. I’m not a tree hugger but if I was, I’d hug ponga trees. They’re practically furry as long as you caress them with the grain. Always, with the grain. As you’ve probably been hoping, a psychologist has indeed studies the right amount of positivity for a truly productive workplace and it’s not all beer and skittles and rose petals and fluffy bunny rabbits. The Losada ratio is another piece of research I’ve discovered recently. (In fairness, Losada actually discovered it. I was just recently made aware of it. A bit like Columbus ‘discovering’ America.)

Losada’s quest was to find the sweet spot between positivity and negativity in the workplace. Obviously no one likes being criticised or negged all the time but is it really all that productive where everything is seen through rose-tinted glasses, no one is ever wrong and everyone gets showered with rose petals just for showing up? Losada concluded that the magic ratio of positive to negative feedback was 5:1. Everyone gets their nourishing feedback but also get steered constructively back on track when needed. The often-overlooked aspect of Losada’s research though is that it wasn’t just looking at interchanges between bosses and the bossed. It was looking at the environment generally, including conversations amongst peers and in social situations such as coffee breaks.

The time-honoured tradition of MBWA (Management By Wandering Around) has lots of upside. One of those is that you get to hear some of that peer-to-peer workplace environmental commentary and get a feel for your own workplace’s ratio. That is, until they put a bell around your neck like cat owners do to warn the birds that the cat is coming. I feel there have been a lot of cats and puppies and bunnies in this article. It is the Christmas edition after all.











Learning The Hard way

never stop learning concept on blackboard

A recent survey found that a third of New Zealand teachers didn’t understand basic fractions. The irony of this is that third are the very people who don’t know what “a third” is. On average, teachers are wonderful people, only a third of whom you might need to explain what “on average” means. They’re also passionately committed, two thirds are really well educated and they’re collectively really well organised. So, I hope they’ll be forgiving after being the butt of a cheap joke at the start of my article. (OK, three jokes but only a third of which was cheap. OK, four.) They’re also fantastic people to be in a committed relationship with. If you ever fail to satisfy them as a lover, it’s not that you’ve failed, it’s that you’ve ‘not yet achieved.’

There’s a ratio that gets trotted out in workplace training. (And by ‘training’, I mean ‘building workforce capability.’ And ‘ratio’ is another term for a ‘fraction.’) 70:20:10. 10 percent of learning by workers is courses and reading. 20 percent is from bosses or co-workers in semi-formal efforts to upskill a newbie. The 70 percent is from “tough jobs.” The research is generally accredited to the Centre for Creative Leadership (CCL) and “tough jobs’ was their phrase. The ratio sounds about right to me. As a trainer, I used to be precious and disproportionately enamoured with training – out of self interest as much as any interest I had in my trainees. I was lucky in that I had a 20 and a 70 experience that flipped my perception. The 20 experience was some very specific and useful feedback from a boss. The 70 experience was a tough job I endured as a result of initially not heeding that boss’s advice.

I flipped on a dime really from being me-centric and training others to a mindset of being learner-centric facilitating an optimum learning environment. It seems a small thing but it is not and it is not just semantics. CCL identifies one of the benefits of their “tough jobs” approach is that the pain of the failure or feedback drives a motivation to improve, part of which is addressed by learning – a learning that is self-driven by the learner, which is the best kind.

Workplaces vary wildly. They vary in their support of their people who want to do the 10 percent and read and attend formal courses. But the good ones acknowledge the importance and try. The good ones develop their leaders and performance management systems so the 20 percent can be managed systematically and effectively, linking that learning strategically to organisational goals. The wildest variation, in my experience and observations, comes in the 70 percent. If it is true that the vast majority of workplace learning occurs during tough jobs, how many workplaces plan and prepare for that? And upskill the team leaders on delegation and providing feedback? Traditionally the focus may have been on the 10 – listing courses and ticking off attendance. Now I’m often super impressed by the number of workplaces with competencies dripping off simple but effective skill matrices that everyone understands and sees the benefits of. Identifying gaps in current skills needs and development opportunities for individuals and collectvely, and planning to fill those gaps. Organisations need to put as much effort into planning the 70 and the 20 as they do on the 10.

This is a great time and opportunity for e-learning. To me, the number one advantage of e-learning as a delivery method, regardless of its shortcomings, is that it can be delivered just in time. It can be created in anticipation of tough jobs – both before and after. It’s never going to replace an effective team leader’s coaching before and during, or feedback after, a tough job but it usefully augments it in a timely way. If the learner genuinely gets some motivation out of the tough job in anticipation or experience and a useful e-learning resource is easily available, why wouldn’t that self-motivated learner take advantage of it?

Other words to describe CCL’s 70:20:10 ratio might be experiential, social and formal. Tell me and I hear. Show me and I understand. Involve me and I remember – that’s experiential. Social is interesting. I read some research recently advising that a powerful lever of behaviour change for these millenials entering the workforce is social nudging. What we might’ve called the buddy system in our day. For all the use of closed inhouse FaceBook groups, the principle of social learning remains the same. I saw a electronics chain use this method far more effectively than any intranet, memo or newsletter. Create and manage a closed group, advise staff that it exists and they start sharing – asking questions o rrevealing discoveries about new products. For them it worked.

Maori have a principle called Ako in which learning is a two-way street between teacher and student. One thing those in charge of workplace learning could learn from students is that there are new ways of learning.











Do You Want Conflict With That?


I was buying my daughter a six-inch chicken sub on italian herb bread, toasted, with cheddar cheese. The ‘sandwich artist’ asked the lady in front of me if she wanted avocado on hers. The lady said, “Yes.” Usually, I’m happy to be the quiet, non-provocative consumer in these situations, especially as I had to get my timing right to pick up two other takeaway types from two other locations on my way home. I noticed the avocado situation because the question is usually accompanied by the statement, “That’d be an extra fifty cents.” Tonight it was not.

Maybe it was because it was Friday night and I was tired and hungry. I’d earlier been on the phone sorting out my own meal choices, wavering between ordering for myself a prawn fu yung or fish and chips so I ordered both. So, clearly, I wasn’t thinking straight. I drew the lady’s attention to the sign which declared, in not small print but not overly big print either, that avocado was an extra fifty cents. I wasn’t actually wearing a Robin Hood hat at the time which would’ve been appropriate. Not only because it would have been avocado-coloured but because I took the side of the little person against the big.

And conflict ensued. Not Syrian scale but more than anyone really needs on a Friday night. And all over fifty cents. But it wasn’t really over fifty cents. There was a principle. I assume there was. I was long gone and they were still trucking. Whether it was innocent or not, the seller needed to advise the buyer of the extra cost for the extra fruit / vegetable. (What the hell is an avocado anyway? I’m guessing fruit. Wikipedia tells me the original meaning of the word translates as ‘testicle.’ That’s probably inappropriate for this article. It’s certainly inappropriate for a sandwich. If you’ve learned nothing else today… )

If you think fifty cents is silly to get into a conflict over, many workplace conflicts arise over much less, certainly much less tangible origins. One of the breakast radio shows even has a recurring bit where people ring in and reveal anonymously specific instances of workplace irritations. In fairness, the radio show hosts took turns revealing their primary gripes with each of their own co-hosts, albeit using one of those voice-disguising apps. I only had the car radio on that station because the kids had left it there. I switched over to Radio New Zealand National like a proper grown-up, only to hear a politician and an interviewer yelling over the top of each other about a topic that wasn’t important and was a deliberately controversal grab for headline-seeking attention. And the media was happy to play along. I turned off the radio preferring to listen to other drivers swear at each other. All this conflict can’t just be over avocados, although the politician in question would probably be suspicious of foreign avocados.

I’d like to go back to my use of the word ‘irritation.’ Sometimes irritants serve a useful purpose in nature. The stone in our shoe that forms a callous toughening us up for the future. Grit in oysters give us pearls. Hecklers make comedians better. (That last one isn’t true and if you ever heckle me when I’m on stage, I’ll throw stones and shoes at you and see if that toughens you up for the future.) I’ll ask people sometimes to list words they associate with conflict and 80%+ of the time, the descriptors are negative. A bit of questioning from me though and people quickly self-discover many positive aspects of conflict. Certainly addressing most conflict situations is better than not dealing with it promptly, assertively and directly, ending up seething with repressed anomosity and venting out to a radio station who really can’t help you and don’t even give you a free CD anymore.

The co-workers at the radio show were bugged by one person adjusting the thermostat, complaining of being tired and being blunt. The recipient of that feedback put on a brave face of laughing it off for the sake of entertainment but I doubt many people would genuinely be that responsive. The answer in the real world lies somewhere inbetween, picking the most critical behaviours and ‘going ugly early.’ Better to deal with a pimple than a volcano. Describe the behaviour, outline the effects it has, state the need for change and specify the preferred behaviour, outline the benefits for all concerned and get some agreement. Then check back in, to keep it on track if change isn’t happening and to reinforce the person if it is.

Psychologists have studied the influence of reciprocity at length in preventing, mitigating and avoiding conflict. Give and take. With the dinner special of two foot-longs for $15, you can bang on as much avo as you like. Let’s talk bacon.






Activity Does Not Equal Productivity


Technology has had an amazing impact on productivity over the years. For example, manufacturing has roared ahead in recent years, especially when you include the manufacturing of tweets.

Sarcasm aside, technology has enabled those with a view to being productive the tools for being so. Equally, technology enables those more into goofing off the tools for doing so. In my own efforts for a work-life balance, computers and networks have allowed me to pack so much more productivity into the hours where I’m capable and inclined to being so. And my goofing off efforts are off the charts. If there were charts for goofing off. Which there aren’t. Who’s going to make them?

There’s also that grey inbetween time where we’re doing stuff that’s not necessarily economically driven but could be worthwhile. Now technology allows us to measure this. Go to a store that sells smartphones and the like – one of the bigger outlets – and you’ll notice a whole aisle dedicated to a type of product that didn’t exist even five years ago. It probably could have but the people marketing the concept had to catch up with the technology. Broadly, they’re called ‘wearables’ and mostly they’re about fitness. The great grand children of the pedometers from the 1990s when all we thought we needed to know was whether we more or less than ten thousand steps a day. They connect via bluetooth to your smartphone, or via wireless broadband to a cloud and monitor and track your pulse, blood pressure and, possibly in the not too distant future, your attitude.

These are consumer items for personal use for customers who care about improving their health and fitness but it cannot be to far before employer apps can be developed. Already GPS apps tied to vehicles increase productivity by making personal love afairs during working hours using company wheels unviable. Patients prone to wandering from institutions are similarly tagged. Call centre workers for years have been tied by electronic umbilicals into measurement systems that assess everything they do and say, and control and record their work, as well as limit their non-work goings-on during work time.

A researcher recently ran a study on how people might interact with robots in the workplace. The robot in question was described as looking like, “the maid from The Jetsons.” (Disturbingly, that was all the reference I needed.) Several variations of the study were conducted, as two human workers worked with the robot on a task to erect a complex construction using building blocks. The most productive scenario was the one where the robot was in charge. The researcher surmised that this was because it was a complex task and most people are happy enough to let someone else make the tough decisions. I can see myself in many future situations rolling my eyes and muttering something like, “#@%* this, let the robot do it.” (I’ve been using Google for most of my parenting tasks for years.)

Until the robot boom comes along, we’ll just have to rely on LinkedIn articles with titles like, ‘Seven Things Successful People Do Before Breakfast’ to get us up to speed on being more productive. (I’m hoping one of the seven things is ‘prepare breakfast.’) I’m not a complete luddite – tablets and smartphones and broadband have let me make tremendous strides in my personal and professional productivity. That said, I still reckon getting our organic brains into an optimal state for work is far and away the first thing we should do if we want a productive day: Have challenging and specific goals and a plan for each day; keep your workspace tidy and organised; sleep properly; take breaks and get away for a lunch break even if it’s quick. Stop consuming sugar.

I visited the Department of Statistics website for some info around productivity in New Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. I then went to the Treasury website and found a presentation on productivity. Apparently, New Zealand has been doing better over the past decade than the OECD countries we like to compare ourselves to but only because we were so bad to begin with. It would take another 10 years at our current rate of productivity growth to catch up to the United Kingdom’s, if their productivity didn’t change at all. The presentation’s author from treasury must be an expert on productivity – he produced 146 PowerPoint slides. (I’m assuming it was a ‘he.’ A ‘she’ would’ve done away with half those slides and communicated much the same thing with her eyebrows.)

The Zeigarnik Effect is a psychological phenomenon that makes humans very umcomfortable with unfinished things. A great way to drive yourself productively is to start. Be it that university essay, the kitchen shelves that need putting up or the drafting of that marketing plan at work, just starting is a powerful tool. Well, that’s what I found when I wrote this article fifty minutes from deadline.







Employee Screening: Big Brother Is Watching You


How much employee screening is too much?

It was said back at the height of the cold war, that everyone in East Germany had their own spy. Kind of like a social worker with a bad attitude, even the spies had spies. Trust no one and no one trusted you. Germany reunited in 1990, the spy agency Stasi ceased to be and I guess everyone just got along awkwardly for a while, not talking about stuff. Any child conceived during that time would now be old enough to drink, vote and soon get discounted motor vehicle insurance. It was a while ago. There was no FaceBook. I know, crazy.

Back in 1990, it was probably relatively simple to concoct a CV crammed with generous over-achievements. A Commonwealth Games swimming bronze medal here, a Masters degree there. It was a hassle because there were no word processors and you had to type up multiple copies of your fraudulent qualifications but it was very do-able. And even if prospective employers thought to bother to check, it was no simple matter to do so. No Google. I know, crazy.

It was generally bad luck getting caught out. People would make their lie on their CV, they’d get the job and they’d truck on quite happily and maybe even quite successfully. Then something would happen. Maybe there was an accident or event which caught the media’s attention and in their muckraking they uncovered some facts which revealed the original falsehoods. Look it up in the Dictionary under ‘Icebergs: tips of.’ Or, you’d get invited to speak at a function and discover that a chap in the front row also served in the S.A.S. Afghanistan at the same time and in the same village that you claim to have done, yet he has never heard of you. New Zealand is a small town. Never burn a bridge and keep your lies away from computers and microphones.

As it is with insurance claims, exaggeration was probably more commonplace than outright total fabrication. I know I myself often refer to my DBA as “half an MBA.”

Employers who used executive search consultants were indignant that the mega fees didn’t include a thorough screening to ensure that the new CEO did actually have a law degree from Harvard University’s Rio de Janiero campus.

That was then and this is now. There are internets everywhere. Over half of your prospective employers will search you out on FaceBook, LinkedIn etc and see how that synchronises with what you’ve been claiming about your qualifications, achievements and personal morality and hygiene. I’m surprised the figure is only half. It will certainly grow. There are many websites where you can check out a hotel, movie or restaurant before you go. gives ‘Dallas Buyers Club’ an 8.0 and RoboCop a 6.7. You have the feedback and can make a more informed choice. How long before we get the same feedback aggregating services for us as employees? They already exist for trades people – plumbers, sparkies etc. The wisdom of crowds online. Or the logic of pitchfork-wielding mobs. Tomayto, tomahto.

Screening employees has become quite the industry. I remember Pinkerton as a private detective agency from the movies as much as anything else. They didn’t track down Zorro in the 2005 movie, nor Butch and Sundance, so now they’ve turned their skills to perhaps easier prey – they have an entire division dedicated to employee screening. No disrespect to employees but Zorro was self employed and they do tend to work a lot harder.

There was a local case recently where an unsuccessful job candidate was subsequently successful at convincing a judge to compel the employer to release the CVs of the other applicants. The employees are now screening the employers. I have mixed feelings about this particular case but the principle of 2-way screening is only fair.

Methodical pre-hire screening can significantly reduce poor hires. Drug screening and background checks often filter out the worst hiring mistakes. But really, the worst aren’t the drug addicts, fakers or those with criminal backgrounds. The largest volume are those sneaking by even the sharpest hirers are applicants who lack the skills necessary to do their job or attitude to fit the organisation. Screen by all means but of greater importance is a robust and systemic approach to recruitment generally.

Employees get screened during recruitment for crimes, debts, health and on the veracity of their CVs. Once employed, they can get screened for drugs, stolen goods, whistle-blowing or confidential information. They can even be screened after their employment ends if any restraint of trade type arrangements were made. The common element in all this is a lack of trust. My favourite quote regarding trust came from that cold war era I wrote about earlier. Reagan and Gorbachev were signing nuclear arms reduction treaties and Gorbachev talked about trust. Reagan quipped on what must have been one of his lucid days, “Trust… but verify.”












The Future Of Work (Where Is My Flying Car?)


The future is uncertain and predictions are often wrong. Life is not like the Jetsons, although many bosses act like Mr Spacely.

What will the workforce of the future be like? What will the future be like? If there’s one thing I knew in the past about the future which is now the present, it’s that we were all supposed to have flying cars. Where is my flying car? The problem with crystal ball gazing is that we tend to extrapolate more and slightly better versions of what we already know. Anyone surveyed in 1887 about better personal transport might’ve asked for bigger, stronger or sleeker horses. The concept of an automobile probably didn’t come up and an airborne one certainly didn’t. The same limitations subvert and constrict our predictions about future workforces.

There’ll be robots of course, obviously.

Back in the 1950s, Ford had refitted one of its factories with the first machines as part of a pilot programme to automate the car manufacturing process. The machines didn’t shout, “Run Will Robinson!” nor have any awareness of Asimov’s laws of robotics but they were certainly predecessors of workplace robots. A union chief and a manager who may or may not have been Henry Ford’s grandson were touring the factory. Jokingly the boss quipped how unlikely it would be if any of these robots would ever pay any union dues. The union boss quipped back, not so jokingly, how unlikely it would be if any of these robots would ever buy a car. Point well made sir. That future is now our present.’s proposed airborne drones delivering their packages would mean less drivers and logistics staff. Although, there may be an increase in jobs repairing drones when they’re shot down by teenage boys and more jobs in healthcare when drone rotor blades start injuring customers.

In the future, the truly talented will have more options. They don’t have to work for you. They could work for themselves, work overseas, trade online… They could work for themselves, work overseas, trade online AND work for you at the same time but how engaged would they be with your work? I think the employers who can figure out a simple and effective way of managing those people in that messy network will have some really motivated and talented people making some amazing things happen. Those who let it happen but don’t manage it will have some burnt-out and conflicted zombies on their hands.

So, the future will have robots AND zombies, obviously.

The fortune tellers of carnivals and psychic mediums on television have their little tricks, starting with fuzzy universal generalities then narrowing down as more specific info is fed from naive and subconsciously collusive marks. So too do futurists.

A popular pick for the near future for employers amongst business futurists is the rise of ‘Social HR.’ How can everyone being up to their armpits in social media be leveraged by employers? The seeds of this lay in simple checking of potential employees on the FaceBooks to see what percentage of their time was spent comatose, naked and / or fixating on kittens but, according to the futurists, you’ll need to do more in the future. Next meeting you have, suggest to the team that you mustintegrate social technologies into our recruitment, development and engagement practices!” I’m not entirely sure what that entails but I’ve got you started, I’m sure you and the team can firm up the details. Unless you’re a “digital immigrant” struggling to fit in. 47 percent of Millennials now say a prospective employer’s online reputation matters as much as the job it offers. (A “Millennial” is a “young person.” They are digital natives.”)

If you are talented and you’ve got your online act together, the “Big Data” future means potential employers will be able to find you specifically before you even knew you were looking for a job you didn’t know existed. It’s like how when you change your FaceBook status to single, suddenly the ads change to dating sites and antidepressants. It’ll be the same with jobs except you won’t have to change your status, the cloud will already know. In the future, breakups won’t be “It’s not you, it’s me,” they’ll be, “It’s not us, it’s Google.”

A common form of futurism are those billboards near the sites of prospective construction sites and building developments – artists’ impressions of what it will all look like when it’s finished and no longer a messy, noisy moonscape. In those artist’s impressions, the sun is always shining, the grass couldn’t possibly be greener, the people are all energetically happy consumers and racially and socially diverse. Traffic is perfect and there is plenty of parking. I think the same artists also produce the pictures of hamburgers in the big brand burger outlets. Structurally sound, gigantic and shiny with nary an asymmetric sesame seed to be seen. Your odds of actually receiving a burger that looks like that are the same as me getting my flying car.










%d bloggers like this: