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Two Leadership Guru-Speak Terms That I’m OK With


I talk / preach about ‘behaviour-based core values’. I’m not generally a fan of leadership guru-speak but two terms I think that deserve keeping are that and ’employer brand’. I once got headhunted for a job and subsequently discovered the organisation would never use their name, logo or any identifiers in their job ads as “it would put people off”.

That’s probably a sign of a problematic employer brand and disconnection from desirable core values. So, yeah, I think they’re valid and timeless concepts. Even if an employer doesn’t know the meaning of the terms and has never done anything about them, they’ve got them…

I got booked to present to a conference of hirers. Blue collar, grass roots business people. I gave the booker three options for topics. He ran the options past a selection of his people and the chosen topic was unanimous – building a positive and productive team culture. It seems they had a shared problem and that problem was people. Except, of course, the problem wasn’t people. It was their lack of a plan. And THAT was my key message to them.

Part of what attracts and retains talent is behaviour-based core values and employer branding. Both are components of the team culture whether it’s positive and productive or not. With a plan, you have a chance of getting to where you want or at least moving in the right direction. I do not particularly care if they remember or use the terms behaviour-based core values and employer branding, as long as they draft a plan to deliberately develop their behaviour-based core values and employer branding.

You can keep your leveraging, go-forward and so forth, but I’m sticking with the these two concepts. They’re magnetic and like magnets, they can both attract and repel.


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Robotic Recruitment


At the risk of taking a defence from racists, I’m not a recruiter myself but some of my best friends are recruiters. I dabble on the edges of a number of overlapping industries so my LinkedIn network is awash with recruity foks and they seem to be quite prolific on the posting front. Online and IRL, I’ve observed one particular trend with concern: automatic applicant filtering systems. I get it; I really do. And I know, for the most part, it’s not actual recruiters driving this approach. It’s bean counters or time poor execs who view people as interchangeable commodities. My recruiter buddies are actually pleading for some humanity to return to the hiring practices of the primarily large employers employing robot recruiters.

Applicant Tracking Systems is one term. There are others. (SkyNet is one I suspect). I’ve been an employer. I appreciate that time is money and it may seem a super low-value use of time to have a human or humans look at early-stage applications. Even the time-old tradition of farming out the early-stage grunt work to recruitment agencies is diminishing. The latter’s argument, often true, was that they added value by having an expertise and an appreciation borne of specialisation. But that ain’t free or as cheap as a robot. And what most of these systems do is not added-value triage or assessment or filtering – it’s culling.

I’m not a tree-hugger, bleeding-heart type. Time is money. Open vacancies are a cost and a burden. Online job ads have created an influx of highly unlikely applicants. The obvious, instant and superficial benefits of robots is clear. But, I’m not sure their users appreciate the costs and risks. Babies and bathwater.

It’s even gotten to a point where a mini industry has mushroomed coaching potential applicants on how to write CVs and letters and tick boxes in online forms so as to cheat the test. I bet there’s an automated system you can pay to do your automated application for you.

One filter might be 5 years relevant industry experience. Humans might have that filter too but they can see a CV from someone who is a superstar in every other respect but they only have 4 years experience in a relevant industry. A human might toss that CV on the yes or maybe pile. A mindless, soulless robot culls without hesitation or appreciation of the consequences. A talent is lost to the employer, plus that system rarely replies in any meaningful way to the culled applicant, if at all.

My view is that one of the major attractors of genuinely top level talent to an employer is that employer’s ’employment brand’. I know there’s a lot of consultant-speak and management gobblegook terms but this one I like. If you’re an employer, even if you don’t know what an employment brand is, and you haven’t done anything conscious or deliberate to create one or mantain one or change one, you’ve got one. If you advertise a vacancy and a couple of talented potential applicants discuss it as follows, you’ve got one type of employment brand:

Talent 1: “Have you seen that job ad for ABC Limited? Are you going to apply”?
Talent 2: “I’d rather stick rusty fish hooks into both my eyes”.
Talent 1: “Yeah they talk a big game and dangle money but we’ve got choices and I hear they treat people like crap”.

Or words to that effect. Or the opposite of that. Or somewhere inbetween.

Would any of your current employees recommend you as a place to work to anyone they cared about who wasn’t absolutely desperate for any job? On a scale of one to ten? You don’t need to hire a consultant. This is pretty lightweight DIY inhouse research. Just like you might do some net promoter score research for your products or your brand-brand, how do you do with your employer brand? And, if it’s less than a nine on that scale of one to ten, what can you do about it?

There’s lots you do or don’t do (or say) that can nudge you in either direction but one that hits early on and one that affects more people outside your business who’ll tell their networks about you is that application process, especially that automated one.

A lot of manufacturing processes are automated and for logical, obvious reasons – efficiency, cost, time, etc. But you know what, they don’t trust those factory robots entirely. They have human intervention and assessment and quality control. They can’t affod to have a messed up Toyota make it past the robots or a perfectly fine Toyota get rejected by the robots.

I’m not saying to cull the culling systems. They have obvious efficiencies. But within the system’s electronic pathway needs to be a human element to the applicant’s journey. That’s not hard. There’s probably an AI robot that can write the code and you can play chess with them afterwards.


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How Many People Hold Themselves Back Professionally Because They’re All About Themselves?

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If you’re an actual reader of LinkedIn posts, you may have noticed a recent trend. Clearly some social media guru made a pronouncement and folks are following suit. Have you noticed the deliberate extra line spacing and single sentence paragraphs? The hope must be that their first sentence is so intriguing and so compelling that readers simply must click the ‘see more’ and scroll and scroll. Here’s my opinion – the only time I’m into multiple scrolls is at Bakers Delight and it involves cinnamon icing. (Confession – I needed three attempts to spell ‘cinnamon’ correctly. I’m not better than you.)

I was intrigued by two recent posts in my LinkedIn timeline. Both were effectively on the same topic. One was an unsuccessful job applicant slamming the employer for not getting back to them with feedback on why they didn’t get the job. The other was a tech company director slamming a potential client they’d spent 10 hours preparing and pitching to, only to again never hear back after not getting the gig.

I’m not going to slam the two posters with a ‘Harden up and move on’ retort. I did actually comment on their post (in a non NZ Herald commentor kind of way, you know, positive and constructive) and they ‘liked’ my comments.

To both I said something like, look you’re right, that feedback would have been useful to you and they would have been great employers / people if they had given it you. And, sometimes, it’s a lazy and shortsighted move on their part if they don’t. The world’s an increasingly small place and ’employer brand’ is important to attract talent. If you got an interview and you came 2nd, then you clearly are talented and probably would’ve been great at the job but someone else was better or fit better or had something extra of value or it was political. In all those scenarios, you can’t do anything about it and while it may be interesting to you and you might get closure, it really isn’t performance-enhancing feedback. But it does give you closure and does leave you with a less bitter taste in your mouth and you’re more inclined to speak positively about that employer and not slam them on social media posts. That stuff adds up and sticks.

And, if it was an internal application then definitely they should have given specific feedback and had a conversation around the whys and the what nexts. If that was the case, and they didn’t do that, well that too is a kind of feedback – one that suggests maybe they’re not the best outfit you could be working for, so start researching where else might be.

The above situations are the top part of the pyramid. Sales pitches and job applications are a numbers game and most are instantly rejected. If you came 2nd, you deserve feedback and it’s in their interest to give it to you and become known as someone who does. If you came 214th, harden up and move on. Recruiting is a cost that is measured. Time is a big factor in that calculation. You either are or are not worth it. If you’re not sure, then the onus is on you to convince the employer / client that even if you’re not successful, you are worth the feedback on why you weren’t.

For the sales pitch people, they could have qualified the opportunity better to make sure they weren’t being used by tyre-kickers to squeeze an incumbent or just get free ideas. They could have stipulated early and formally in the process an expectation of feedback and a definitive mechanism for how it should occur. If you’re not confident enough to do that or they’re not willing to accept it, then you’re not worth it.

For the job applicants, they could play the sentiment card. Or, they could as a parting remark, make a specific request to the interviewer. making eye contact and acknowledging they know their time is valuable etc and they might (might) convince one person at a personal level to commit to calling them afterwards and sticking to that commitment. The key part is acknowledging their time is valuable. The upside benefit of the feedback is entirely to the applicant. The downside cost is entirely to the interviewer. There has to be something in it for them. What’s their WIIFM. ( The applicant can’t offer much if anything tangible. The very least is acknowledging their time is valuable and you’d appreciate it and the difference it would make to you. My experience as an interviewer, employer and reader of Linkedin post comments indicates the vast majority of applicants don’t do this small, simple thing. They just expect it, don’t ask for it, and act surprised when it doesn’t arrive. I get it but it’s a self-centricity that will probably hold them back in their careers generally.

I want to finish by getting back to the headline of this article – people holding themselves back because they’re all about themselves. I do a little interactivity with my audiences at my presentations. It’s short, fun, safe and makes a great point on this topic. It’s from a piece of research by Northwestern University / Columbia Business School led by Adam Galinsky. People stand and are paired. They click their fingers on their dominant hand 5 times. I ask them to imagine their index finger is a marker and to write on their own forehead the capital letter E 3 times. Whilst they do this, they observe their partner doing it on their forehead. Everyone sits and we debrief the activity. As you can see in the header picture of this article, there are two ways of doing it. Crudely oversimplified, and by itself it means nothing, but the general idea is that there are two types of people in this world and neither is right or wrong. It’s just useful to know which your natural default is – self-oriented or other-oriented. Many of those LinkedIn commentors certainly made theirs obvious.

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