Cues From Career Day

This past Friday, I participated in La Granada Elementary’s Career Day festivities alongside fifteen other working professionals. There was a pilot, a judge, a pediatrician, a counselor, a firefighter, an entrepreneur. We spoke to children – grades 1st through 5th – about our career paths, educational backgrounds, critical workplace challenges, among other topics.

I cannot express how meaningful it was to speak with the keepers of our future. What’s more, is that these future members of our workforce will likely encounter a workplace landscape unlike any we’ve witnessed to date.

Mercer anticipates 65% of current primary school children will be in jobs that don’t exist today.

The World Economic Forum conducted research that found current leading companies believe skills like complex problem-solving and creativity will be most valued as companies’ human capital needs shift and evolve.

What are the implications?

For education, we need to revisit how our educational institutions are set up, and consider a structure that invites opportunities for students to build these skills. Does this require a complete overhaul? Not necessarily. But it does require the foresight to incorporate adaptability that aligns with the dynamic nature of today’s and future workplace. This Huffpost article investigates this idea in greater detail.

For the current workplace, we need to begin to shift our expectations for our workforce and what they might bring to a job. For mid-level employees and above especially, it’s unlikely they will have the “experience” we have based our hiring processes on in recent memory – simply because many newly created jobs have not existed before.

Take a Social Media Director, for example: a very small percentage of the workforce has upwards of 10 years of direct social media experience, as social media has hardly been a primary medium for communication for that long.

This requires a mindset adaptation in how we source and screen for employees. Now, more than ever, it’s crucial we consider the whole human – an individual’s natural behaviors, skills, habits, and experiences – when evaluating candidacy. Potential for success will outweigh past performance.

How do we measure candidates for potential? An HBR explores this idea here.

Exposing our youth to the professional world will always be important. In fact, I’d argue it should be a requirement that working professionals visit a classroom each year to share their work experiences. There are, however, modifications that should be made – to educational curriculums as well as current hiring practices – especially as we move towards a business environment that has heretofore never existed.

When Failure is Necessary

In today’s world, we are inundated with information from every which way. One estimation says we encounter 11 million bits of stimuli per DAY.

Oftentimes, we don’t know how to grapple with this reality; it’s not something people were physically built to manage. Our biological capacity to deal with this volume of information has simply not caught up with the interconnected world we live in – a product of the last 30 years or so. That’s a blink of an eye in geologic time.

This reality manifests itself in different ways. One of them is our tendency to avoid things that are scary or risky – feelings that are certainly human nature, but their effects are exaggerated by the volume of stuff we must sift through to make a choice.

Peter Bregman describes the fear of failure as a means of self-preservation, a form of avoidance – protecting ourselves from feeling something unpleasant.

How do we shift our thinking from managing our world and preventing paralysis, to managing ourselves and fighting for our own goals and objectives?

He offers the analogy of a surfer paddling out to the break, scoring a ride, and ultimately ALWAYS falling thereafter. And, thereafter, getting back on the board and paddling back out:

And when you fell — because if you take risks, you will fall — you’d get back on the board and paddle back into the surf. That’s what every single one of the surfers did.

So why don’t we live life that way? Why don’t we accept falling — even if it’s a failure — as part of the ride?

Fear of failure manifests itself in different ways for different people. However, it often shows up as avoiding experiences that challenge us in ways that are uncomfortable.

What if you have that scary conversation you’ve been avoiding and it ends the relationship? It would hurt.

What if you follow through on the business idea and lose money? It would feel terrible.

What if you submitted the proposal and you were rejected? It would feel awful.

What if you practiced these feelings? What if you made these leaps and invited those unpleasant feelings?

You’ll become familiar with those feelings and, believe it or not, you’ll start to enjoy them. Even the ones you think of as unpleasant. Because feeling is what tells you you’re alive.

Which you get by taking risks, feeling whatever you end up feeling, recognizing that it didn’t kill you, and then getting on the board and paddling back into the surf.

So let’s challenge ourselves to embrace failure and learn from our experiences, be they positive, negative or neutral. Let’s focus on our own goals and not let excess of choice and information interfere with our goals and visions for a better tomorrow.

Read Bregman’s full article here.

Hope, Fear & The Power of Choice

We live in a chaotic world, often ruled by the duality of hope and fear.

At times, our human experience is a balancing act between what we want most, and what we are afraid we’ll need to sacrifice to get it.

Our choices are often informed by the environment we live in, and the variables (real or imagined) that govern our futures, and for better or for worse are instilled with the power to decide what that future looks like.

In the workplace, we experience this dilemma when considering a job change, asking for a promotion, raising an important issue, and the like. The boss, the institution has all the power.

But what happens when our choices are derived from within?

In her acceptance speech of the Cecil B. DeMille Award during Sunday’s Golden Globes, Oprah said, “Speaking your truth is the most powerful tool we all have.”

Our truths are embedded in our experiences, our behaviors, our values. Sharing those truths, whether it be as a victim of sexual harassment, or being passed up for a promotion, or challenging the status quo and being treated differently because of it, lends to building a greater narrative, one whose power can illuminate past wrongs and most importantly, encourage the rights.

In the absence of these stories of choosing to share their internal visions, there is no voice. There is no movement. Socrates said change does not come about by fighting the old, but on building the new. This change comes from within, not from without.

Oprah also said there’s one thing she’s seen in common when sharing these stories as an interviewer and actor: they share “an ability to maintain a hope for a brighter morning.”

Nelson Mandela once said, “May your choices reflect your hopes, not your fears.”

When our choices reflect our hopes and our visions for a brighter tomorrow, that’s when we’ve turned a corner, that’s when fear is in the rear view.

That’s when we feel safe and empowered in pursuit of our dreams.

How do we define hope? Every person has their own vision of hope, based on their own truths, which may inevitably conflict with others.

As human beings, we must commit to sharing our hopes and our fears, without fear of victimization or retaliation, in a space free of victimization and retaliation.

True or False: Employees Are Like Consumers

How do companies market to their consumers? Using today’s sophisticated technologies, they use strategies like segmentation, targeting, positioning, and messaging. (This is what shows up in the first Google search for “How do companies market to their consumers?”)

What if we thought about employees as consumers? After all, employees make the largest investment of time and effort in their company and its brand than anyone else, and by extension are its most knowledgeable ambassadors.

As it turns out, some companies are doing just that. For example, given the gravitas of the virtual social community concept, one of the world’s leading oil and gas companies uses a social customer service app to answer employee questions about using outside vendors:

By consulting the company’s community, employees are able to get answers quickly from HR members, who can discuss policy, and from coworkers, who have previously sought outside vendors themselves. Because this particular customer service app plugs into the company’s customer relationship management (CRM), employees can also pull down statistical data on topics such as the most popular vendors at any given point in time and what they’ve been charging.

Professor Nick Kemsley, Co- Director of the Henley Business School Centre for HR Excellence,  outlines 5 key ways employers can change their behaviors towards their employees and engage them in a consumer-minded way:

  1. Look outwards – change your HR approach to look outwards towards the employee, not inwards towards ‘Core HR’. Ask yourself how many major initiatives in the last three years were really providing value to employees, versus value predominantly to your HR department (yes, that recent HRIS implementation, too).
  2. Get transformational, not transactional – if your engagement practices are a set of activities or targets as a result of a survey, then it is reactive and transactional. To be transformational there needs to be a deep belief in the power of people to contribute and that employees are integral to deliver business strategy.
  3. Your strategy must impact employees daily – consumers are fickle and expect great products and service, instantly. Your annual initiatives and programmes won’t work. Employees work in days and hours, not quarters or years.  
  4. Engage managers – managers often get overlooked, but they’re employees too. Too often, they’re not ready for management and don’t have the skill set or experience. Make managers part of the process of developing the strategy and enacting it with employees.  Managers have more impact on changing the organisation positively than leaders or executives.
  5. Get ‘employee-specific’ – ‘one size fits all’ doesn’t work for consumers and it won’t for employees either.  Think about the time you’re being mass-marketed to and you ignore it – your employees are no different.  There needs to be a genuine interest in the individual employee.

Consider Simon Sinek’s idea of the Golden Circle: people don’t buy WHAT you do, they buy WHY you do it. Many companies make similar products or perform similar services, but they don’t all do it for the same reasons. The same concept can be applied to employees: they don’t work for you because of WHAT you do, but WHY you do it.

Give employees a reason to stay and treat them like your best customers. They’ll keep coming back for more. Just like your best customers would.

HR: Employer OR Employee Advocate?

Human Resources, aka People & Culture, aka Employee Experience, aka Partner Resources, has evolved as a function of business over the past few decades.

At the end of the day, HR departments are still subject to the decisions and methodologies of their C-suites. Despite this, the inferred mandate to act as the people’s ally and voice is also bestowed upon the HR function.

So which is it: employee or employer advocate? Who should HR teams ultimately support, the company or the people?

We’ve seen a lot of news lately involving scandals in workplaces: names like Travis Kalanick, Harvey Weinstein, and Matt Lauer are at the center of these controversies.

Elizabeth Segran of Fast Company pointedly recognizes:

“If the leaders of the company are themselves misbehaving or not taking employees who bring up problems seriously, HR departments are probably not going to be empowered to set the company on the right course.”

Because, at the end of the day, HR people are employees of the business and subject to leadership’s power and decisions, just like everybody else.

In my own experience, it’s very difficult, near impossible, to be both employer and employee advocate in today’s workplace. In fact, the inherent conflict within the function led me to reevaluate my own contributions as a HR professional – specifically, how I could best help companies align their people strategy with their business goals, so that both entities are happy and productive. Read more about my experience here.

For organizations to effectively derive value from HR as a business partner, they need to assess what their HR function is and is not responsible for. This will vary from company to company, but the overarching theme is this:

“Ultimately HR is not responsible for creating a positive culture: That is the job of leadership. HR can help perpetuate this culture and rid the company of people who do not embrace company values.”

It all starts from the top. HR departments can’t create company culture; they don’t inherently have the power to do so. Leaders create culture through their vision, their decisions, and their behaviors. HR teams are ambassadors of the vision.

When leadership and HR walk in stride of the vision and hold ALL people, leaders included, accountable to their culture standards, that’s when HR as an employee and employee advocate are aligned.

Read more from Everyone Knows HR Is Broken: Here’s How To Fix It

Learn How Your People Learn

Every person has their own way of interacting with and consuming information. Given the overload of information available to us in today’s world, our workplaces now grapple with how to efficiently and effectively communicate information so that their people can do their jobs and do them well.

To drive business results, companies need to take an evolved approach to teaching and sharing relevant information in a way that is productive and meaningful for their people.

In a recent HBR.org article, John Barrows, CEO of his own firm, explains how he has renewed his approach to training, given how the pace of business has changed, as well as learners’ expectations.

“Each individual has different strengths and weaknesses. People aren’t looking to waste their time sitting through long explanations that don’t necessarily apply to them.”

One size does not fit all, especially when it comes to how individuals process information. Each of our brains are wired differently, which affects how we interpret and experience the world. Therefore, each employee needs different things in order to be successful.

It’s up to our leaders to figure out what their people need and get it to them.  

Barrows has begun to adjust his style accordingly:

“I’ve been evolving my approach and trying to answer each of their questions in a targeted way without alienating others in the room. I’m also starting to tailor the content itself. For one trainee, that might mean providing a structured process to follow. For someone else, it might mean sharing a technique that addresses a specific challenge they face.”

As leaders, we need to build our awareness around what our people need to be successful, and set them up for success from the outset. 

The Job Seekers’ Dilemma

The Situation

In the past, the status quo approach to hiring has more or less worked. Companies focused on hiring for competencies: knowledge, skills and experience, or the briefcase. Mind you, the workplace during this time, we could say, was relatively stable and jobs relatively consistent.

Today’s business landscape is arguably more dynamic, complex, dare I say chaotic – creating a complicated challenge for job seekers and leaving a greater margin for error for employers in making hiring decisions.

Today, out of necessity, the conversation demands a shift from whether people not only have the right skills to do a job, but also consideration for whether people have the capacity to learn new ones, or how people think and make decisions in their head.

The Challenge

Mercer anticipates 65% of current primary school children will be in jobs that don’t even exist yet.

How can companies continue hiring using this strategy knowing past experience will be all but irrelevant for our future workforce not 15 years down the road?

In a 7-minute interview with Harvard Business Review, executive search adviser Claudio Fernández-Aráoz explains the inherent challenges we face today as people making hiring decisions (i.e. having the wrong brain, the wrong software, and the wrong focus) and why hiring for potential over past performance is critical to the future of business. If you’d like to read more from HBR on this idea, click here.

The key to matching talent with the right job hinges on determining what about the job can and cannot be taught, and assessing accordingly. It’s a 2017 version of the age-old nature versus nurture conflict.

The Science

The rub is this: while we are all human, we are each unique in our brain biology and our behaviors, and how they translate into the workplace. As our brains develop through our teen years, our neurons make connections to create mental pathways that eventually shape the way we think and view the world. This is how we create our sense, our unique network of connections specific to our individual experience of how we understand and interact with the world.

The Job Seeker’s Dilemma

Therefore, we each have something different to offer, to share, to teach – and the issue in the workplace is that many employers don’t know how to figure out what that is BEYOND using past experience as a reference. That’s what a resume is, after all. Don’t they exist for a reason?

However, studies show recruiters today only take 6 seconds to review a resume. Furthermore, a candidate could give the best 30-minute interviews, a very short period of time where they will be on their best behavior, whether it’s their true self or not. How can we base hiring decisions on these fleeting factors?

We need to be intentional about matching the best person to the job by also bearing in mind how their natural behaviors align with the behaviors of the job. Skills and knowledge evolve over time and can be taught, but you can’t teach someone to be who they are and how their human shows up in the workplace. We should embrace an approach that assesses the whole self, not just what we see at first glance on a resume.

What should we do?

Employers should consider the long term (5, 10+ year) goals for their organization, and given the changing landscape of the business world, reassess how human capital will contribute to and impact the goals of the company. From there, plans for a shift (or shifts) in people resources can be designed, and positions can be repurposed and realigned.

Companies can design templates around their jobs and seek candidates that match those profiles. And job seekers can pursue the roles that best align with their whole human.

For job seekers, I ask you to consider 2 things: your natural and innate traits (behaviors, motivations, drives), and your nurtured and developed traits (skills, beliefs, knowledge, values). What jobs out there can you pursue that align with these 2 things?

For employers, what do your hiring practices look like? Are they set up so that you get to know a whole person – what’s natural and nurtured – or one of these things? Do you match them up with the profile of the job? If not, perhaps evaluating what information asking from candidates so that the information is more in line with the scope of the role and how it matches with a candidate’s whole human is the way to go.