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Career Advice for College Students

13 Feb

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to speak with 20-25 college age boys about careers. The conversation was based on my own education and career path and what I have learned along the way. I won’t bore you with the details, but I did think there were a few things worth sharing though.

 What I learned:

  • Most college age students have no idea what they want to do as a career. About 50% of the students I spoke with, when asked, had no clue what they wanted to be when they grew up. I’m not sure what to make of this, or how to fix it, but I don’t believe it is necessarily a bad thing. I think many students today realize that they may not want to take a traditional path to a traditional career. The key is figuring out how to take a nontraditional path and what that career, potentially non-traditional, is.
  • Those who do know what they want to do for a career do not know what it takes to get there. Undergraduate and graduate education is still a mystery to most college students. There is definitely a lack of belief that most undergrad degrees will provide you with much more than a good opportunity to go to graduate school. That is sad. The students who felt they were getting the most out of their education were those who intended to go to graduate school. This does not say much for our post-secondary education system.

What I shared:

  • Go for what you are passionate about. Success comes from passion, not from trying to pick the perfect field/job. We live in an amazing era that has allowed people to create great companies from nothing and follow their passion instead of just getting a job. I encouraged the boys to figure out what they are passionate about and then turn that into a career.
  • If you are going to school make sure you know what the terminal degree is. As Stephen Covey would put it, “Begin with the end in mind”. Know what the last piece of formal education you will need for your career to never hit a ceiling. I shared my own experience of both my wife and I finishing our graduate degrees while working full time and having multiple kids. As hard as it was, it only gets harder later. You never want to reach a point in your career where you cannot advance because you do not have enough education. Know what you need at the outset, create a path and execute.

The session lasted about an hour and was very conversational. It was a great experience and I hope to do it again soon. The best part was that by the end of the session I had about 5 new LinkedIn requests.

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Why Great Feedback is so Hard to Give

5 Oct

FACT: THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS BAD FEEDBACK. There is feedback that is poorly delivered (we’ve all experienced that boss) but all feedback is good feedback, and definitely better than no feedback. There can, however, be positive and negative feedback. Both are equally important for high level performance.

Positive – Nice shirt and nice pants. Negative – But they don’t match.

Feedback is one of the most critical requirements for sustained high-level performance of any human. – Ferdinand Fournies

It’s pretty easy to understand why it’s hard to deliver negative feedback. You don’t know how it is going to be received, you don’t know how your employee will react and it makes you feel really awkward. However, any employee who has had even a modicum (look it up) of success will tell you that one of the secrets to their success is the feedback they received. Many employees I speak to tell me their favorite managers were the ones who gave feedback whether it was positive or negative, they just appreciated getting it.

So why is it so hard for managers to give feedback even when it is good feedback?

Here is my theory. Unfortunately, much of the feedback we get is poorly delivered. Even when it is positive many managers do an inadequate job of delivering it (Tip: they key to effective feedback is 1. timeliness 2. specificity). Therefore feedback generally has a negative connotation associated with it. The word and meaning cause a negative emotional reaction based on our own personal experiences. That sucks. It’s like we are doomed for a life because the first few times we got feedback someone did a crappy job. So, like most things we have a bad emotional reaction to, we choose to avoid it.

Avoidance is our #1 defense mechanism and we use it often.

So what is the solution? Simply put – change the pattern. Anytime you have a consistent emotional reaction to something it means there is an established pattern. You may not even mean to react that way, maybe there isn’t even a good reason, but it happens. Patterns are a killer to break, but they can be broken. Think about a food you never used to eat and now just discovered you actually like. For years whenever someone even mentioned the name of that food (i.e. spinach) you cringed. Then one day you were convinced to try it, and it wasn’t so bad. Now you probably still have the same emotional reaction when you hear the worked or see spinach but you have learned to overcome it with your positive experiences.

They key is to start by doing at least one thing differently whenever you are in the same situation again so that the pattern is disrupted. You have to recognize the behaviors you exhibit whenever you are faced with the situation and consciously change the way you react, even if it is only one little thing. If, for example, you typically push off scheduling a meeting to deliver feedback, change the pattern by immediately scheduling the meeting. You have not even delivered the feedback but already you are changing the pattern about how you deliver feedback. Sometimes something as simple as changing the location where you usually deliver the feedback can lead to much bigger change.

These small changes will lead to better experiences (or at least experiences that are not as miserable). Over time (sometimes a long time) creating positive experiences will create new emotional reactions. Soon you’ll be an expert at delivering feedback and gain a reputation as an awesome boss. Who doesn’t want that???

Dealing with Millenials in the Workplace

8 Sep
This is a copy of an email I sent to my executive team a few weeks ago. The goal was to help them better understand a majority of our workforce and what makes them tick.
  • Millenials don’t see themselves as needing money in a traditional sense. For many; food, rent and basic necessities are not as important as the opportunity to focus on personal goals. They are willing to live at home or crash with friends to pursue dreams. Money is a sign of progression, but not an end all.
    • Manifestation: Will leave a job for not getting the raise they wanted, and potentially even take a lower paying job, on principle. May go back to school if education is what interests them.
  • Have many friends who are successful in non-traditional ways (start ups), therefore do not see a need to follow a traditional career path. Many of their friend’s will not start careers until they are in their 30’s. Are likely to make a complete pivot career-wise if they feel that personal success will come through a different avenue.
    • Manifestation: Unpredictable behavior in terms of thinking about their careers. See requests as “need to haves”.
  • Expect rapid career advancement, this is non-negotiable. In elementary schools today, children advance levels within a grade multiple times a year (a 4th grade student is expected to advance 4-5 reading levels within the year).  Our current interns were in 4thgrade when Undertone started.
    • Manifestation: Will leave for a title change even if it means less money. Expect career change or advancement at least every 2 years.  Expect to be at the executive level by early 30’s.
  • Expect recognition for each success, not just the end result (remember, they are part of the “everyone’s a winner generation”). Need to hear praise weekly if not daily. Lesser failures are also considered successes in their eyes.
    • Manifestation: Performance reviews or bonuses paid bi-annually are not enough, they need to see/feel something much more regularly. Will leave or performance will drop if they don’t feel recognition.
  • Their respect is earned and lost easily. They are not easily impressed by others and value their own opinions as much as the opinion of someone with many more years of experience.
    • Manifestation: Don’t assume that they accept what you say just because of who you are. They will accept if they believe. Sincerity and empathy often outweigh facts. They expect to be listened to and responded to immediately. They hear “I’ll get back to you soon” as “I’ll get back to you within the hour”.
  • Are comfortable with failure. They grew up in a generation where failure was acceptable. Have a high level of comfort with risk.
    • Manifestation: Never want to be told they did not do a good job, but are ok with being told they can do better. Want the bar set high, but want their efforts to be recognized even if they do not achieve the top level.
  • Are incredibly dedicated to things they believe in. Emotional connection is a critical part of working for or staying with a company or manager.
    • Manifestation: Always want to know about strategy and direction so that they can decide whether or not they are on board. Being “on board” is a key motivational factor.
  • Expect communication in real time, particularly when it affects them personally. And everything affects them personally.
    • Manifestation: Will always complain about lack of communication. This will continue until executive communication flows in a twitteresque fashion. It doesn’t have to, that’s just the expectation.
  • Are overly socially aware. Are constantly looking at others and comparing themselves to others. Very little is kept private between millennial’s.
    • Manifestation: Will ask for career advancement or compensation based on the fact that someone else got it. Know everyone else’s compensation information. Follow each other’s careers and decisions on LinkedIn and Facebook.

Hey HR, Wanna Influence? Change the Way the Game is Played

3 May

What do Zappos, Netflix and Amazon all have in common? If you guessed cool, new companies you wouldn’t be wrong, but their is something even more fundamentally amazing about them. They have all changed the way the game is played within their respective industries.

Look at Netflix for example. Netflix shares are up 130% (Over $100 now!) over the past year while Blockbuster is down to over 50% (now trading at $0.40). Netflix did not look to just get into the DVD rental business, CEO Reed Hastings set out to change the way the game is played! His company is now worth over $5 Billion while Blockbuster is worth under $100 Million. Netflix continues to focus on innovation by now working on streaming video through multiple platforms.

When you look at most HR organizations, processes and systems today they look a lot like they did 50 years ago. Recruiting looks the same, performance management looks the same and little has changed in the way that training, compensation or benefits. HR, unfortunately still looks a lot like Toby on The Office, outdated and out of touch.

If HR really want to become influencers we need to innovate. We need to come up with a better way to recruit, develop and retain people. We need to find better ways to develop talent. We need to work in real time as the last few years of economic uncertainty have shown that long-term planning has little value.

I love to hear and read about innovation in the workplace, but the last few conferences I have gone to have been disappointing. The presentations I am seeing today the same things I was seeing from HR pros 7-8 years ago. It’s time to innovate.

If you are innovating or have seen some innovative HR initiatives that work drop me a line, please!

This is Gonna Hurt!

26 Mar

Deere Says New Health Care Reform Law Will Increase 2010 Expense By $150 Million After-Tax

In case anyone was trying to figure out what some of the short term ramifications of Obamacare might be, here you go. John Deere just increased their expense forecast by $150 Million dollars. On my back of an envelope math this could potentially eliminate 2000+ jobs just this year alone. And this is just John Deere. Expect many more similar statements to come out from companies over the next few months as they plan to incorporate various aspects of the law.

We may see some benefit from this in the long term, but in the short term it’s gonna hurt bad!

Just found this now: Caterpillar is going to take a $100 Million hit THIS QUARTER!

Social Media for Recruiting

3 Dec

Let’s face it, job boards are basically useless at this point. I recently read, but can’t find it now, that job boards only account for about 3% of all hires. This SHRM article states that networking and in-house references are the best source of candidates.  The big buzz these days is using social networks for recruiting, but as I look at some of these examples (Twitter and FB posts) I still think recruiters are only scratching the surface of social networking’s real potential.

Recruiters use Twitter to post positions or redirect candidates to their recruiting site. That’s not networking, that’s posting. All you have really done is extended your job board out a little further. It only goes to those currently following you on Twitter. The odds are if they are following you they also know how to find your job board already. You really haven’t extended your reach much.

Here is what recruiters need to do. Send an email to all of your employees with each job opening separately worded for different social mediums. Ask the employees to cut and paste the openings they want to share with their network, using the appropriate message created for the medium they are posting it on. In other words, email out a Tweet that you ask all your employees to post to their Twitter accounts. The same for FB and LinkedIn.  Now your building a network! If 25 employees Tweet the opening and each employee has 100 followers even if only 5% of followers RT but also have 100 followers, you have now hit 500 people, most of whom you don’t know. They key is making it easy for the employee and not asking them to come up with the Tweet or FB posting. This is one HR/Recruiting should spoon feed.

Want to track back which employee was the source of the referral so you can reward them? You could have a numeric code that each employee could attach to their tweets and posts that the candidate is asked to submit with their application. This way you know where the candidate came from.

Bottom line, if your going to use social networking make sure your making the best use of your social network!

So, Did we Ever get a Seat at the Table? Part II

23 Oct

So, I have had some great conversations over the past day or so with some colleagues who read my post and had some interesting feedback (auto tweet posting has increased my readership by 700% dod). I will try to summarize them here as they all had value.

1) HR people tend to treat their career path as “HR”. Meaning that they do not specialize in any industry in particular. They might work in manufacturing for a few year, move into advertising etc… They can do this because their area of expertise is HR, not an industry. Other organizational roles tend to be industry specific. Therefore it is not unlikely that the head of HR sitting at the “table” with other execs does not have the insight and knowledge into the business that they have, having worked in the industry (finance, media, manufacturing) for 20+ years to get to where they are. For an HR person to get an equal seat they would have to show their expertise in the industry they are in that could match any of the other execs. A HR head with a client facing or finance background would be a huge asset and would easily “get a seat”.

2) Thanks to Ben for his comment about HR needing to recruit from the business. Very true and gives some critical insight into the HR world. HR people don’t want to work on the business side. We like our work/life balance, what we do and the freedom we get. It would take a heck of a lot of money for me to move into a sales or client facing role that would totally disrupt my life. I like to think I am good at what I do and that’s what keeps me employed, but I don’t necessarily work as hard as others do (in my HR role that is), which may prevent me from getting an equal seat.The down side is that it also could prevent me from moving forward. Which is why I get involved with customer service and strategic planning, the business side. Which leads to point 3.

3) HR is not that hard. It really isn’t. I could outsource 75% of what I do. Sure, that might not be cost effective, but it also means that completion of my responsibilities is not solely dependent on me. In growing companies it is the last “new” role hired because up until that point someone has been doing it as a part of their job. To be really good at HR you can’t just do your job. You need to be innovative and indispensable. How many HR people are really indispensable?  To get equal say you need to be adding tremendous value to the business. Not just keeping costs down, but increasing revenue and profitability. How many HR people can claim that they can do this. Do it and you get a seat.

The 3rd point is something I keep stressing to my interns, don’t worry about HR you can learn that pretty easily, learn about the business so that you can figure out how to add value to it through your role. I think anyone wanting to get into HR should intern in finance in the industry they want to get into, that way they truly get the business. It is the only way you can become innovative and indispensable. Current HR metrics (time to hire, lowering costs, training hours) are nice, but they don’t make you indispensable. Sorry.