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Entries in business (97)

Monday
Mar172014

Why You Won’t Find the New Hire You Seek

Reality check, employers: You won’t find a person for your open position who has already done everything listed in the job description. Likely, you won’t even find someone with all the qualifications you seek.

Here’s why:

Switching from the status quo to a new company—with new people, new processes, new policies, new workflows, new perspectives, new dynamics, new office equipment, new routes to and from the office and, once there, to and from the bathroom—makes for a huge life change.

As people don’t like change, you can bet they don’t make that many adjustments all at once in an important life area without serious motivation.

Further, you can bet they don’t make such momentous changes for things they’ve done before or already do. People move jobs to gain skills, expand horizons, assume challenges, access opportunities. To switch, they must believe the benefits of the new position outweigh the stress of changing roles.

So stop seeking unicorns.

Instead, reassess your expectations. What qualifications must the new staff member truly have before she joins the team—and what can she gain relatively quickly after arrival? What characteristics or experiences would you readily relinquish in favor of someone perfect at another aspect of the job?

Further, what soft skills might trump hard skills and experiences? What characteristics of current team stars would you like to find in a new staff member? For me, soft skills have sometimes trumped hard skills. I can teach a motivated person a skill, but I can't easily teach someone the right attitude. I’d rather find a new hire with the right gumption and spirit who is driven to excel than someone for whom the role will seem like a cake walk. In fact, when I’ve found a candidate seemingly perfect for a certain role, I’ve found him too nonchalant in the position—as though he’d planned the job as a career way station, a nice break.

Remember: Hiring means embarking on a relationship. As with relationships in all life facets, you won’t find absolutely everything exactly as you’d wanted or expected. But sometimes, by widening your perspective, you find something better than you could have believed.

Keep your eyes—and your mind—open.

Tell me about your most recent hiring experience.

Thursday
Mar132014

What Living Abroad Taught Me about Americans

I may never have truly understood what makes someone from the United States “American” without having lived abroad.

I don’t mean the superficial traits you can notice when traveling: Americans wear baseball caps, white socks, and shorts. Americans talk more loudly than necessary. Americans take up too much physical space, sitting with leys splayed, standing with arms akimbo, and swinging bags around with little regard for other people. Americans tend to weigh more.

Instead, I refer to the mindset, the mental approach, the baked-in aspects of any culture that we rarely realize don’t mirror the way people in other cultures think. Our basic assumptions.

Sometimes, we need contrasts to see something.

Even to see ourselves.

Convenience

I should easily get what I want, when I want it, and with a smile.

This shop closes at unpredictable hours—or has open times that don’t accommodate my schedule? Why can’t I find a twenty-four hour anything around here? The bistro’s house-made cassoulet takes an hour to reach the table? I have things to do, for pete’s sake. And why do these people act like they’ve done me a favor by exchanging my money for a train ticket?

How can anyone get anything done in this country?

Distance

Me: “Wow! I can get to Paris in less than three hours?”

Europeans: “They live in a different city, twenty minutes away. Too far.”

Work

If we work hard enough, we can achieve anything. With enough will for something to occur, we’ll find a way to make it happen.

This deeply ingrained belief?

Our most defining Americanness.

American through and through, my core loves our country’s optimism—and frets at the possibility that it may no longer prove true. Though I recognize that it sometimes hamstrings us as a nation and people, I love our belief in the future, our hope for our possibilities, our bullheaded notion that we can make anything better if we just put our backs into it and use a little elbow grease.

And so felt quiet dismay when I encountered its opposite abroad.

Yes, Americans, some cultures believe more strongly than we do in fate, class, futility—forces they don’t see worth fighting and may even value in their own rights. If your dad worked as a plumber, why shouldn’t you feel perfectly happy to work as a plumber? You think you’re better than your dad? The gall. Anyway, you just ask for trouble by sticking your neck out. You tempt fate by trying too hard. And striving just seems strident. Gauche. Relax a little.

None of these mindsets is wrong—just different.

What American characteristics have I missed?

Sunday
Mar092014

Things I Love: March 2014

Do you wonder, like me, where the first quarter of 2014 went? To distract us both, I present a list of a few of the things keeping me happy so far this year:

Matcha

Matcha, delighting me and fueling my writing session at Te House of Tea in Houston. March 8, 2014.

I’ve enjoyed matcha for years, but this month I’ve craved it more. Maybe the dregs of gloomy winter have called for its intense green vibrancy, the feeling of drinking nature and springtime, the hunger for actual leaves.

Yes, I said leaves:

Matcha is powdered green tea, which means you drink the finely ground leaf. (Hey! Fiber.)

And the ritual of making matcha—scooping the kelly-green powder, shaking it through hot water with a special whisk—offers the comfort of process and evokes the beauty of the Japanese tea ceremony.

What wouldn’t someone like about that?

Skype

Slow to the video-chat party, me. Until recently, nothing sounded worse than a video call. Would I need to worry about my appearance? How would I pace while talking, which I tend to do on calls?

And then.

I have a very close friend—someone I have known since freshman year of high school—whom I rarely see. He lives in Connecticut. We chat on the phone occasionally and e-mail and text.

Why we decided to use Skype the first time, I don’t remember. What I do remember: The comfort of seeing him in motion, the feeling that the call didn’t differ too much from sitting across a table at a coffee shop. I felt more satisfied—content, connected, even happy—after talking with him via Skype than I did after our phone-only chats.

Not long after, a business contact in New York City suggested we connect over Skype—and I had the same feeling. The difference between an in-person meeting and sitting together over beverages through the magic of Skype seemed far more minor than I would have expected. And what advantages, to interact via two senses—visually as well as aurally—over just one.

Unlocked: A whole new set of business possibilities, especially with Skype’s ability for screen-sharing and group video conferences.

Levenger Lap Desk

My well used Levenger lap desk on the porch, where I put it to good use on nice days. Typically, I remove the elastic bands to the top right and left. March 8, 2014.Lap desks had a brief period of vogue when I was in elementary school. All my friends and I had them; we decorated the tops with paint pens in multiple colors. My grandmother used one to write letters in front of the television while she watched basketball.

So when I decided I wanted to get a lap desk in graduate school, I felt almost retro. But, goshdarnit, how else to easily read heavy tomes away from a desk?

Decades later, I still use my Levenger lap desk and, though I’ve managed to beat it up a bit, the wear and tear hasn’t changed its utility. Though I have an office cubby at home, lengthy work periods compel me to change scenery—to the couch, say, or the porch, or to a fireplace-adjacent blanket or bean-bag chair.

Using my laptop in my lap without a buffer requires me to sit just so. Over time, sitting just so becomes uncomfortable—and the edges of the laptop dig into my flesh. My Levenger lap desk has a nice, detachable, cleanable velveteen cushion that saves my legs and the desk is wide enough to allow me to sit—or lean—however I like.

A top view of my Levenger lap desk, showing its lightweight portability and detachable cushion. March 8, 2014.

What do you love this month?

Tuesday
Feb252014

The Review: Accountability and Objectives

Everyone likes to know where they stand in life, whether at work, in relationships, or in that 10K she ran last weekend. (Though, as a midpacker, I can fairly easily find my name on the list without knowing my bib number.)

On the work front, I set A&O sessions.

In accountability and objectives meetings, I sit down one-on-one with each direct report to outline his objectives for the quarter ahead and review how he performed against the objectives set three months before. Although I guide the goal-setting process to ensure it aligns with company needs, I let the employee direct the conversation. I want to ensure that the objectives we determine fit his desired career progression.

Full-time staff members establish approximately ten objectives for each three-month period. Objectives may focus on company projects, improvement in trouble areas, and continuing education efforts. If one objective requires extensive effort, we may set fewer than ten.

When holding him accountable to the past quarter’s objectives, we celebrate the accomplishments and discuss the reasons for any misses.

Sound time consuming?

No question: A&O meetings take more time than single annual reviews. However, providing formal feedback more than once a year

  • helps keep everyone on course;
  • shows team members improvement, accomplishments, and issues more clearly;
  • makes end-of-year reviews easier and less of a surprise for both parties; and
  • gives leadership more direct feedback more often from the team.

If we wait until the end of a twelve-month period to know how each other think and feel, we miss opportunities to improve more quickly.

How do you or your employers do reviews? What do you like or dislike about the process?

Wednesday
Feb192014

We Broke the Employer-Employee System

Once upon a time, a person went to work for a company and stayed there. For his entire career.

This arrangement had positives and negatives.

To keep people, companies promised sweet retirement packages, which they then had to maintain and manage long after employees retired. Pension structures and commitments to keeping people employed for the long-term outside significant changes in circumstances (large-scale staff downsizing or employee malfeasance) meant employers kept many nonperformers.

For staying, employees received increasing pension funds, outlined career paths, continuing education, and mentorship. They had a home for their careers and could breathe more easily as a result. However, to vest their pension funds and grow them sufficiently for retirement, employees got locked into jobs at companies they may not have loved and in fields that may have grown uninteresting over time.

And then it changed.

Exacerbated by recessions, the old employer-employee status quo dissolved. Employers stopped offering pensions and instead increased pay, desiring greater flexibility with managing funds and people. Employees, no longer tethered by vesting pensions, fearful of future economic instability, unsure of employer intentions, and comfortable with moving companies and roles now that they’d frequently done it and seen it done, started moving.

In turn, feeling betrayed by employees who take what they can get over a few years and leave, employers stopped investing in staff development and began looking outside their organizations for experienced candidates. Seeing this shift from employers further increased employees' impetus to hop jobs regularly for career advancement.

Today, each side holds each other at arm’s length with a wary, distrusting look.

This cycle hurts us all.

Turnover dearly costs companies in onboarding, lost productivity, and recruitment. And leaving after two or three years stunts employees’ development. Continually starting over—on both sides—significantly hampers growth.

As I’ve argued elsewhere, employers and employees need to change:

  • Employers need to develop internal team members, provide career paths, and promote from within their organizations.
  • Employees need to commit for the long term, provided the employer commits in turn.

Who starts this process? Perhaps the employer takes the first step, outlining career paths for employees and providing training that helps them grow in their desired directions.

Or perhaps employees start the process, finding employers that will develop them and provide opportunity not just immediately, but over time. Eventually, when the best employees stay at the best employers long enough, other companies will pay attention.

However it happens, it needs to happen.

Ideas?

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