The Multi-Generational Workforce: It Takes A Village To Raise A Workforce


There’s a growing trend, probably originating in some happy, progressive, Scandinavian country, to build retirement villages and early childhood centres next to each other. As well as physical proximity, the organisers of both centres work together to plan cooperative activities so, in a planned and managed way, the people at one end of a lifetime interact meaningfully with people from the other end. Results so far are positive and encouraging. The younglings benefit from the wisdom and experience of their elders, whilst the retirees are re-energised in the presence of youth. This is probably that whole ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ mindset people throw around that we all use to lean on back in our tribal times so the middle people in their peak productive years could go out and hunt, gather and pillage depending on their skillset and testosterone levels.

This synergy born of close physical proximity has a name. It’s called propinquity. Look it up in a dictionary. If you don’t have a dictionary, google where to buy one. (Hint – you could google propinquity directly). Drop it into dinner party conversation. Apparently, studies have been done on effective working relationships and lifelong personal friendships. The studies sought to identify what the drivers of such successful relationships were. It turned out that simply being next to each other at some crucial point in time was the single most influential factor. You’d be amazed at how many best buddy friendships were formed with the person in the chair next to you on the first day of primary school, simply because everyone was seated alphabetically and Craig’s surname also ended in W.

This principle of propinquity comes into play in the workplace, and its potential benefits escalate if managed wisely, when you have a multi-generational workforce. I was MCing an HR conference recently and saw an eye-opening presentation on diversity. There were the obvious cultural and racial declarations and statistics such as Auckland being the 2nd most racially diverse city in the OECD behind Toronto. Quite apart from that was information about age diversity. It’s becoming increasingly normal to have workplaces with five generations of people working there.

I guess if you got a school leaver at sixteen and someone in their 70s, you could probably divide that into five generations. I did chat with someone at that conference who spoke about handing a bunch of letters in pre-sealed and stamped envelopes to their fresh, teen employee and asked if she could post them on her way home. He reports that she just stared at him and asked what he meant. There are actually people in fulltime, adult, paid employment who don’t know what a letter is or how to post one. I had a conversation myself with some other people about analogue clocks and how you can throw the odd young person with a phrase like, “Quarter past”. I’m sure young people are having the same conversations in reverse when we completely misunderstand invitations to, “Netflix and chill”. (Google it if you need to – probably NSFW. Google NSFW if you need to…)

Can New Zealand workplaces generate benefits with multi-generational workforces in the same way that those Scandinavian retirement village / early childhood centre combos do? Just randomly letting it happen and hoping for the best will not garner those benefits, unless by accident. The reason the retirement village / early childhood centre combos work is due to planning and management. It’s deliberate, it’s monitored constantly, and interventions are done as and when required. Some things happen that weren’t anticipated but lessons are learned with structured debriefing processes. Some things are easily anticipated and they’re planned for in a flexible way. For example, the traditional notion of retirement as switching the work switch to ‘off’ and going from fully employed one day to gardening / fishing / recreational vehicle-ing the next day is becoming less clear cut. Smart employers have a range of options and are open to innovative suggestions from those impacted.

Talent may want to cut back a bit and have a transition period, maybe over months or even years, working less hours or days and maybe even cherry-picking projects, whilst still being on-call if their institutional memory suddenly is needed on an ad hoc basis. If they’re truly talented and productive, they’ve probably earned it and it’s probably worth it. But, just because someone is old doesn’t mean they’re wise and just because someone is young doesn’t mean they’re an energetic go-getter. A much more individualised approach to managing personal retirement options and transitions is the way of the future.

While all this is happening to those people at the retirement end of their working lives, bearing witness to it are those starting out or in the middle. How you treat those people isn’t just about those people. It sends a powerful message, positive or negative, to upcoming talent on just how disposable they might end up being themselves.

Not every workplace should have employees bringing in their preschoolers though. Some people really need to focus on their air traffic controlling duties.










Diversity: Survival Of The Most Adaptable


 I just finished MCing a conference for an industry association of holiday park owners. They were a really down-to-earth group of people who got on really well because they had much in common – as people, not just by virtue of the nature of the work they did. Most were owner-operator couples. For the sake of simplicity, albeit probably not accuracy, let’s say husband and wife teams. They all had serious ‘skin in the game’ with massive personal investments in their businesses and many with significant debt-based investment. Many were carrying on a legacy from generations past of holiday camp ownership and management. Apart from being business owners, their choice of vocation was also very much driven by lifestyle choice with many camps in remote destination locations next to beaches, glaciers, etc. As a result of all this commonality, they got on well, had shared values and common goals, and it was a hell of a final night award dinner party.

Yes, there was commonality but there was by no means homogeneity.

I haven’t got the latest census figures to hand and I’m not gong to rattle off the stats around what proportion of the general population is young / old, male / female, and by whatever other criteria we can be distinguished from each other. My general belief is that it’s helpful if your team can represent the population of customers it serves. If this applied to holiday parks, they’d need to have half of their employees being Aussies. Nevertheless, they were a diverse group, especially on a gender basis, which warrants some applause even today (sadly). As I hosted the awards, I noticed with striking regularity how often a couple would take their prizes, look sheepishly at the microphone as they suddenly realised an acceptance speech was expected, and the woman would step forward (or the guy would step back – hard to tell in that light).

They were super diverse in terms of age too. Some recipients had to be helped up the steps to the stage due to their advanced years, whereas others had to hand a baby across to tablemates so they could stride to the stage. This is where diversity doesn’t need a Government-imposed programme to make people do it because they have to. This group of practical, salt-of-the-earth people know it is necessary to ensure the viability and survival of their industry. Succession, corporate memory and collective innovation are enabled and strengthened when the group has different points of view. Young ones starting out are all keen, scared and focused on surviving, not stuffing up and improving on what they’ve taken on. There seems to be a middle group who have gotten past the death-defying business stage and are consolidating and growing a mini network of parks. And those coming out the other end are thinking about exit strategies, legacies and supporting those coming through whilst maintaining standards. If they were chronologically all the same, there would be a dangerous lack of different perspectives which could dramatically impact their industry’s planning and results. Diversity is a strength in organisms and it is a strength in organisations. Lack of diversity is not just a weakness; it is a threat.

Oddly, they haven’t got a policy or a plan to create something called diversity. It’s just naturally developed and self-maintained over decades. They’re well ahead of the curve as I see it in my travels. In other events I work at and organisations I work in, I see individuals or teams and sometimes leadership deliberately and proactively trying to catalyse and nurture diversity programmes and so forth around gender, age, race, culture, even personality type. Some are doing well and others face entrenched opposition either institutionalised or via inertia, or even sometimes conscious and equally deliberate opposition to anything perceived as ‘positive discrimination’ or ‘affirmative action’. These terms almost carry negative baggage in the eyes of people who deride political correctness as the worst thing to happen to society in the past forty years.

I got into a brief twitter kerfuffle with an American of Indian ancestry who’d carved some infamy by applying as himself to a medical school and being rejected, then reapplying with exactly the same application except adjusted to make himself an African-American who got accepted. He tossed around terms like fairness and merit and I get that. His use of them was fairly selective and self-serving but I get his point. Merit and fairness are nice ideas and sometimes promoting diversity conflicts with those concepts.

An organisation / organism increases its chances of survival and success if it can adapt. Darwin wasn’t about survival of the merit or fairness. He was about survival of the most adaptable. The external society and economy is changing and a strategic, deliberate and proactive  approach to diversity is how smart, future-thinking employers will ensure the survivial and success of their workplace.












Productivity: You Say Tomato, I Say Pomodoro


 I’ve taken a real shine to podcasts recently. Whilst walking or driving or at the gym, I’m plugged into my bluetooth wrap-around headphones doing two things at once. For most guys, multitasking is microwaving a pie whilst having a shower. Sometimes my phones goes and it automatically cuts the podcast and brings on the call, which is inevitably an offer of easy, high-fee work. I’ll accept the work, the caller will compliment me on the high-energy music in the background, the call ends, the phone brings back up the podcast and I go back to my workout. Such multitasking must surely be a shining example of productivity. (This happens to me all the time and isn’t a made-up example for this article in any way).

People talk about multi-tasking and being productive all the time. I’m not entirely sure everyone shares the same understanding of what it actually means. Technically, it’s a measure of the ratio of outputs to inputs in a production process. You know, a genuinely measurable thing you can track against a baseline and assess the effectiveness of changing variables. Probably my podcast at the gym example isn’t really about productivity, although my vertical leap has increased ten percent in the past three months and surely that’s a kind of productivity?

That ‘outputs to inputs’ stuff must just be about companies and countries though, right? Let us just fret about personal productivity. Let us all read about four hour work weeks, attempt four hour bodies and outsource our low value activities to some kids in Kazakhstan via As a self-employed person, I do outsource much of my, for want of a better term, work. I have an accountant. I have a graphic designer. I buy their time and outputs as and when required. Those aren’t low value activities but they’re areas where my skill levels are amateurish on a good day with the wind behind me. Other tasks that are low value, I might assign to one of my low-skill non-Kazakhstani kids at low but not rates. I probably shouldn’t be in charge of running a country but it seems to work for us. To be fair to Nahir my Fiverr guy, his work isn’t low skill. He is a skilled creative and I could never have drawn that cartoon myself of a desert scene made up of popsicles and cupcakes to go along as a background image with a comedy song I’d written about how I’m annoyed when people confuse the words ‘desert’ and ‘dessert’.

One technique worth considering, to the extent that you find it do-able, is performing different types of activities at different times of the day. I once met a professor of chronobiology (look it up) and she told me of circadian rhythms and such. People are different but the average person has two peak periods of alertness in a given day – around 8am to 10am and 6pm to 8pm. Our droopiest period of non-alertness is 1pm to 3pm. She argued that, if you can, you should schedule high value / high thinking activities in your peak alertness periods and your mindless, low-value tasks in your trough alertness periods.

Gloria Mark is one of the world’s leading experts on workplace interruptions. If I was to ask you what you thought were the primary causes of workplace interruptions, you might say things like phonecalls, emails, pop-in visitors or meetings. Mark did a videoed study of many workplaces where they’d had time management training and knew at a conscious level that they should be working on one task at a time until completion and that the tasks should be done in priority order according to agreed high-level goals. It’s fascinating to watch as the number one workplace interruption isn’t any of those you would’ve thought of. Our number one workplace interruptor is… ourselves. You watch the videos and people are working studiously on their high priority task, then, for no overtly obvious reason, they stop, shuffle sideays and do something else briefly, and finish by sliding back to that high priority task they’d just interrupted themselves from doing. And they’d do this repeatedly. Every time you interrupt a task and return to it, there is abundant opportunity for errors, duplications, ommission and so forth, nevermind the inefficiency.

One option to deal with the ill-disciplined, unproductive, troublemaker that is yourself is the pomodoro technique. When faced with any large task or series of tasks, break the work down into short, timed intervals that are spaced out by short breaks. This trains your brain to focus for short periods and helps you stay on top of deadlines. If you gradually increase the duration of the working periods, you can even train your brain to be more focused. The guy who invented the technique used a wind-up timer in the shape of a tomato and pomodoro is Italian for tomato.

Sorry, that last paragraph was a lot funnier in its original Kazakh language. It lost a bit in translation.










Workplace Environments (Neuro-Surgeon Wanted: Must Like People)


In the past few weeks, I’ve worked at a vineyard, at a luxury hotel and inside a water tank. Admittedly, it was one of the larger watertanks available on the market but it was underground and accessible only via a narrow manhole. I have to say each work environment had a significant impact on my attitude, engagement levels and productivity. I guess when you’re reading a magazine themed around the work environment, perhaps your mind’s eye envisions an office, a factory, a warehouse or a shop. I’d be fascinated to see what the research says is the ranking of the most worked-in workplaces. These days, with so many people starting their own internet companies, or plying their trade as a hacker, or storming the international stage as a professional player of video games, that high up the list of contemporary workplaces might be your mum’s basement. (Seriously, Sky Sports now features video game playing. I saw them show darts, ten-pin bowling and hot-dog eating and I said nothing…)

I’m a trainer, speaker / MC and comedian so I travel and I’m not locked into one particular geographic location as my workplace. For a lot of years, I was. I’m in a reasonable position to assess the relative merits of each. It’s pretty subjective. I reckon when we’re trying to nudge young people into making smarter career choices, this is a conversation worth having early on. Forget the money, status or promotion prospects, what physical environments do they like being in and doing stuff in? The first choice is indoors versus outdoors. That’ll filter out a lot of options that could make them very unhappy on a daily basis. The second choice would be stationary versus moving. The prospect of being desk-bound would be soul-destroying for some whereas it might be a welcome anchor of security for others. The third choice is with others or solo. I think it was John Paul Sartre who said, “Hell is other people”. (I think he said it, therefore he did).

So, I’ll let others argue over work environment meaning the intangible workplace cultural aspects, or the stapling up of cartoons by the water cooler. For me, it’s a bit more visceral. Workplace environment to me is that set of triage filters we apply when thinking about where we want to work. I’m pretty relaxed on indoors versus outdoors. Generally, I’m more indoors. After my watertank experience, I definitely prefer above ground, but after my rope course experience, not too much above ground.

This concept isn’t foolproof nor can it exist in isolation. Just because I like working indoors, I generally like being stationery and I like people doesn’t mean I should apply to be a neuro surgeon. You should probably also ask for references. (And check them out).

I was MCing an event recently and ended up engrossed in conversation with a group of people who worked for a health insurer. (I’m not sure what the collective noun is for a group of people who work for a health insurer – an ‘excess’?) They were waxing lyrical and positively about their workplace environment. One had turned down a much better deal to stay because he so liked the workplace environment. Much of this loyalty seemed to stem from being given a free fitbit. Further questioning from me drew out more reasoning. A ‘sticky’ employer that talent becomes attracted and loyal to needs to have a physical and cultural environment that is consistent with its supposed values. It took us a while to get to this supposition but it makes sense.

A health insurer should promote health and be consistent in that with its employees. The free fitbit is a symbol of that. The opposite is jarring. When my son was much younger we were in a sports store – one of a large well-known chain. The décor was very sporting themed. TVs played sports channels. Basketball hoops hung from the walls. A scale replica of an actual running track painted out with lanes formed a circuit around the entire interior of the store. My son, being of an age where logic and habit took precedence over social conformity, saw an exact facsimile of a running track and ran! A employee, who job title I can only presume to have been ‘team member’ stopped him and told him off. I’m not the greatest parent in the world. I may be a better watertank cleaner than I am a parent, but I don’t think he or I did anything wrong in this scenario. Unlike in that supermarket with the child-sized trolleys and the unwisely located pyramid of cab sav bottles.












Diversity Is Changing


The thing about reminiscing is that we’re always so sure that we’re clear in our memories of that storied period in our past. Our brain’s memory bits are right next to our brain’s emotional bits so our most vivid memories are often ablaze with emotion of one sort or another. They’re vivid but they’re not necessarily accurate. Memories are not like videos on a shelf in your mind that get replayed exactly over and over again. Memories are reconstructions and are ripe for, and rife with, editorial input, director’s cuts and selective editing. Even if they’re accurate and honest, often they’re memories of perceptions and who knows how accurate our perceptions were at the time? This is all too true of nostalgia for time periods generally, not just personal recollections. How many people in the 60s were really at Woodstock, Vietnam or Martin Luther King’s speech?

People are now nostalgic for the 90s. Me too. I loved working in offices where anyone could smoke anywhere anytime and being powerless to do anything about soaking up all those second-hand carcinogens. (Sorry, ‘pre-loved’ carcinogens.) As a rookie workplace trainer, the 90s were when I first encountered efforts at workplace diversity. [Spoiler alert – this paragraph will finish cynically.] We were developing a training programme for some software that was going to be used in stores throughout a national network of franchisee outlets. The organisation was technically a Government organisation but was one of the most commercially-oriented ones (when it suited.) Accompanying the training was a workbook. We were at the draft stage and the text had all been tested and approved. To dolly it up a bit and appeal to those visual learning types, we were going to add some illustrations. I forget the order of things and who said what but the conclusion was that we needed to be sensitive to the variety of races and cultures in the network of trainees.

Who could have a problem with that? Not me, then or now. What delights me looking back is how that intended sensitivity manifested itself. One option might’ve been to have a range of photographs, perhaps actual images of actual staff from the network, or even stock photos. Photo shoots took time and money so that was abandoned fairly early on. The subsequent debate over stock photos included whether we should include the best diversity photos we could find even if they had African Americans in them as you don’t get a lot of African Americans in Tuatapere. In the end, we were told to get an artist to sketch a group of raceless, genderless, anthromorphised balls to act as the characters in the workbook. We solved the diversity conundrum of the melting pot of humanity by leaving out humans entirely. Easier, cheaper, safer.

Flash forward and we’ve come a long way. No more workplace smoking, rap has hardened up a tad and socks are much less fluorescent. We have a Sky Tower now. Do we still have a diversity conundrum? Or has it become a dilemma? A conundrum is a confusing problem whereas a dilemma is a choice between two equally bad options. Let’s take a management technique from the 90s and call our dilemma / conundrum an opportunity!

Diversity in nature is a strength and a protection. Diversity has an evolutionary purpose of diversity.  If a species of organism was entirely homogenous and they suddenly encountered a potentially fatal virus then the entire species’ survival is at risk. But with diversity within organisms, there is a greater than zero percent chance than some will survive. Organisations and, workplaces, are the same. Homogenous is great for milk, not so great for groups of people. If an executive team is made up entirely of one ilk (let’s pick one at random – white males over fifty) and that organisation encounters a business challenge that they don’t have a frame of reference for, then the organisation’s survival is at risk.

Even for the genuinely cynical – you know, the ones who shriek “political correctness” every time something like diversity gets a mention – would find benefits in a more diverse workforce. The country is more diverse. Your organisations customers / clientbase is more diverse. Even if all you care about is profits or keeping your job, you are more likely to when the decision-makers and the people doing the work more proportionately reflect the people they’re serving.

I regret using the word “ilk” a couple of paragraphs ago. I was in the USA recently and walked into a conversation of parents talking about their feelings towards their teenagers’ choices of boyfriends and girlfriends. I said I did have concerns that maybe mine had chosen the wrong ilk. Two days later, someone finally told me that with my kiwi accent, they thought I’d said “elk” not “ilk.” Yet no one seemed concerned that I had said that my daughter was dating an elk, and not only an elk, but the wrong elk. I guess they weren’t really my friends because friends don’t let friends daughters date moose-like creatures.











Employee Retention: The Retention Intention

A namtag sticker with the words Hello I Am Here to Stay to symbo

The authors of business-oriented internet articles will often use the tried and true technique of titling their article with a finite and numbered list. For example, who hasn’t wondered what are the seven things successful people do before breakfast? What are the nine steps to scoring that big promotion? What are the five most over-used internet click-baiting techniques? What happens next will amaze you.

I did a quick search (is there any other kind?) on employee retention. It resulted in many such articles – and seven seemed to be the magic number. Seven tips for better employee retention and so forth. A summative and provocative stock photo seemed to grace most of the articles. This is obviously one of those five most over-used internet click-baiting techniques I keep hearing about. I wonder what simple graphic you would think of first when prompted by the phrase ‘employee retention’?

Hands reaching out, large groups of professionally-attired and incredibly diverse groups of people with their smiles out and thumbs up, and magnets featured pretty heavily. I didn’t see any glue. The term “sticky” gets banded around a bit these days. Bungee cords or Marlon Brando from ‘The Godfather’ have some potential. Certainly, in the movies at least, organised crime has very effective employee retention strategies. I’m thinking Tony Soprano probably only had one employee retention technique rather than seven.

I like the magnet as an icon of employee retention. Implicit in the magnet symbolism is both attraction and repulsion. An organisation wants to attract the right number of the right type of people, hang onto them whilst they’re productive for a period that provides an economic return and stimulates a healthy amount of churn and turnover to bring in fresh people with fresh ideas.

Some turnover is desired. Some is not. Some turnover is expected. Some is not. If no one ever leaves an organisation, then fewer vacancies are created and fewer new people join.

I did some work recently with a team whose least experienced member had been employed with them for twenty-five years. They didn’t so much need a workshop on employee retention as they needed to rent a copy of the movie ‘Logan’s Run.’

Common amongst the employee retention tips are to recruit people who fit, provide a development path, allow some autonomy, give tailored recognition, be flexible as an employer, promote from within, conduct ‘stay’ interviews not just ‘exit’ interviews, don’t be a jerk to society or the environment, and communicate openly and often.

I like the idea of the ‘stay’ interview. It would seem logical if you wanted to know the answer to the question, “What do I have to do or provide to keep my best talent around for longer?” to directly ask those people that question. They might answer that you should triple their salary. That would be fair enough if they were to triple their productivity. People might not truly know what motivates themselves or might encourage them to stay. They might not want to say it out loud or publically declare it if they did. They could be open, honest and accurate at the interview and, even then, their personal circumstances might rapidly change and they’re off to Oregon to throw clay with their spirit sister. If they say, “Give me a car park,” and you give them a car park, keep some measures as to how effective that is.

I think a useful primary application of the ‘stay’ interview after about their first three months is to try and mutually validate something you should have tried to achieve in the recruitment process – to get a close fit between the personal values of the employee and the organisational values of the employer. If you get that right or close, you’ll bump up the desired retention numbers. And, from a qualitative perspective, get more motivated and engaged employees while they’re there, regardless of how long they’re actually there. That might sound a bit woolly if you’re a panelbeater in a small town with three employees. I try not to sound like too much of a tree hugger but values-fit has a practical real-world relevance. Values like honesty and punctuality work both ways. You want them to show up on time and they want you to pay them on the day you said you would. And so forth. The fewer value clashes, the fewer doubts they get about sticking around. They may still keep an eye out for a better gig but you’re improving your odds.

Employers know not to look at things in isolation. Retention is part of a suite of issues needing to be looked at in conjunction with each other. Job design and recruitment determine the people coming in. Get that right (or at least – less wrong) and more of the people you take on will be ones you do actually want to retain. Same goes for orientation, performance management and training. But one thing employers definitely know is that you have to be realistic. Sooner or later, everyone (even themselves) is going to leave. Even Tony Soprano knew you had to have a succession plan.










Employee Screening – Not Just For The Unsexy

Jumping Through Hoops

I don’t know what responses we’d get if we asked one hundred people to tell us the first thing they thought of when we mentioned the term ‘screening.’ They might think of screening as in airport security or preventative health check-ups – keeping the dangerous out. They might think of screening as in letting your phone go to voicemail or checking caller ID and answering for only for the sexy callers – keeping the timewasters and unsexy out. Screening is also a gold mining process – keeping the valuable in. They might think of a movie screening. The difference between a movie screening going badly and employee screening going badly is that the movie screening will just spoil one night. Poor employee screening could mess you up for years. Employee screening is probably a combination of all these different perceptions of screening – except for keeping the unsexy out. That’s illegal and also clearly not working. Where would the unsexy end up working – in any department of a radio station other than sales?

My uncle, now in his 80s, and my son, now in his 18s, were talking about getting their first jobs. My son’s first job was with a supermarket in the seafood section. He made a written application and went through several written interviews and assessments before winning his role. My uncle spoke of showing up on an Aussie building site, saying he was from New Zealand, demonstrating which end of a hammer was up and that was it. (He got the job.) Times have changed. I’m not sure they still use hammers, I think the internet does that now? And now, no one in their right mind would screen an employee so poorly and perfunctorily. Actually, applicants are often screened to make sure they’re in their right mind. Even leaving aside things like skills and attitude, there was no screening for previous work injuries, criminal records, financial shenanigans, child-molesting, non-child molesting, drug use, bringing employers into disrepute in well-light Christchurch offices across from pubs, being a jerk on social media and all the other things you need to screen for now.

I should probably call it pre-employment screening. It might be the smallest part of the phrase but that ‘pre’ is awfully important. Anything you find out ‘post’ is too late – someone’s potential problem has now become your actual problem. Pre-employment is to employment as dating is to marriage.

There’s forensic CV analysis too. That’s a thing now. That exists. In an age where there is software to compare a student’s essay via a search engine that compares it to anything else written ever for familiarity without accreditation, there would have to be forensic CV analysis. I see ‘forensic’, I think CSI. First there was CSI Las Vegas, then CSI Miami, then CSI New York. Now we have CSI HR. Which song by The Who should be the theme song to that show? I think all the good ones are gone.

I found one New Zealand company online offering polygraph testing as part of their pre screening process. I’ve seen too many movies with the cliché lie detector scene to take that process seriously (cue sound effect of heightened heart beat.) In fairness, it was quite an impactful marketing technique to list a series of headlines beneath that offer highlighting the dangers of not taking up their services. Examples of these headlines included: ‘Former insane mass killer unknowingly hired by Wellington school’ and ‘Convicted arsonist gains job as fire fighter.’ Although, in fairness, the latter could actually be a really good news story – a story of redemption about which movies are made (movies like ‘Backdraft,’) I checked the mass killer one. He’d killed six people, described as “friends, family, neighbours and complete strangers.” No teachers or students, so it’s questionable as to whether it’s relevant to his role working in a school but their point is still a powerful one. Frankly they shouldn’t limit their services just to employers. Remember my previous “Pre-employment is to employment as dating is to marriage” remark? I’ll take someone on their word that they like long walks on the beach but I’d sleep a little easier with greater certainty on the non-former insane mas killer front.

There are few risks and many benefits in conducting a systematic and thorough pre employment screening process. You reduce risk, increase certainty, lower costs, enhance productivity and profitability and minimise your chances of being murdered.

Obviously in this modern age of internet hammering and privacy legislation, you need the permission of the applicant to conduct any screening. Although a quick Google could be legal, illuminating and disappointing very quickly. A refusal to provide permission is the easiest and cheapest screening of all.










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.










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