Diversity Works

diversity

Diversity works. I know this from personal experience, I’ve always sought to hire people from a range of backgrounds. I know I don’t have all the skills needed in my team so there’s no point hiring more of me. To be specific I’m not great at fine detail; I can go through massive ugly spreadsheets but it’s not my strength. I hire people into my team who have those skills and I value them – partly because I admire the skills and partly because I’m so grateful. In addition for me it’s more fun to hear about Romanian culture, Spanish idioms and Turkish cuisine over lunch than all Dutch stories.

But you don’t have to take my word for it. McKinsey’s research reports a “diversity dividend” of 15% for companies that are gender diverse, and a rocking 35% for companies with ethnic diversity. Correlation does not equate to causation; it may be that high performing companies choose diverse workforces and executive teams rather than diverse teams causing improved performance.

Harvard Business Review unpacks behaviours around diversity a little further and reports on some behaviours that point to diverse teams being smarter. Apparently diverse teams focus more on facts, which contributes to better decision making. Diversity also contributes to innovation.

The studies mentioned so far focus on gender and cultural diversity, but we should look at other personal characteristics such as national origin, age, gender identity, sexual orientation, and ability/disability. I’ve also heard one argument that the NASA team responsible for the first moon landing was more diverse than today’s team; back then there weren’t specialised astronautical studies programmes so the team was the best they could find from a range of fields. Which suggests we should be open to different training and work experience backgrounds (when the role allows it; don’t hire a plumber to a medical team!)

Global PillageFor a very light-hearted look at diversity, in fact an experiment in diversity, listen to the Global Pillage podcast. Each episode takes on a theme and opens with contestants identifying the ways they are diverse – gay, transgender, brown, immigrant, multi-lingual, vegan, left-handed all get a mention. The format is then a quiz between two teams of two people, with the audience able to give their answer. Spoiler alert; the audience (a bigger and presumably more diverse group) usually wins.

To get a more diverse team you have to change how you hire and how you work. Here are some ideas to get you started.

  1. Writing the vacancy notice
    Use gender neutral words, define the role in human language, state your diversity policy (don’t have one? write one). More tips here.
  2. Place the vacancy where it will be visible to diverse groups
    Look for publications, online communities and organisations associated with a range of groups. Reach out to Women in Tech groups for example.
  3. Interviewing across cultures
    Take some time to understand what cultural differences might exist between you and your interviewees. Habits of eye-contact may differ, some cultures show more deference which may seem like a weakness through an anglo-saxon filter.
  4. Flexible working environment
    Are you ready to accommodate someone with disability needs? What about someone who observes Ramadan? Or who celebrates Easter a week later than your company does? Are you able to allow people flexible hours and working from home options? The more you can answer “yes” to these hypotheticals the easier it will be to hire a diverse team.
  5. Culture of inclusion
    It’s not enough to just hire a cast of diverse colleagues, you need a workplace culture that is inclusive – where, as a colleague put it, “everyone can be their best selves”. The more widespread this is, the better. But you can have it in place in your own team, after all, you’ve got to start somewhere.

I’ve lived in several different countries, I’ve learnt several languages, my influences are from different sources. For me diversity is an important part of the work environment and yet from the outside I appear to be of the majority. Maybe diversity practices are good for us all.

 

Image: WOCinTech Chat  |  WOCinTech  | CC BY 2.0 

 

How Dumb are Those Rules?

Law books - company rules

I’m not a fan of bureaucracy, I try to avoid, reduce or eliminate it when it’s in my power to do so. However I’ve also worked for large companies where a certain amount of bureaucracy is inevitable and I’ve worked in regulated industry where the regulation is there there for a reason; to protect the health or the finances of customers.

So when I came across and article that talked about 10 dumb rules that make your best people quit I was initially cheering.  But some of those rules are there for a reason; sometimes the reason is the law and sometimes it’s a real risk and sometimes it’s just that not everyone is honest. So I decided to unpack the rules further think about the reason companies put such rules in place and discuss how there might be a different way to work with such rules.

1. Dumb rules for hiring.

This is a lament about the black hole a resume goes into when you apply for a job. I absolutely agree with this, the process used by many companies is so disrespectful. It is not difficult to make a humane process for handing job applications, whatever the size of your company.

  • Respond to every application; since applications are made online this is an email. It can be a standard email for those who don’t make the shortlist.
  • When people make the shortlist or the short-shortlist and have been unsuccessful at the interview stage send a personal email saying what was missing.
  • Be clear about the decision timeline and stick to it.

My best recruitment experience was one where I did not get the job.  Since then I’ve tried to follow that example – that might be a separate post for a later date.

2. Dumb rules for performance reviews

“Performance reviews are a waste of time. Brilliant and talented people deserve better than being slotted into some bureaucratic five-point scale once a year.” begins the complaint on performance reviews. I agree, but performance reviews aren’t about feedback.

In a large company you need to find a fair way of distributing the rewards, aka pay rises, and the performance review system is what has evolved to fulfil that task. I have written about performance management before and agree that it’s a flawed system; it’s not always fair, and even when people get good reviews they don’t like the process. Some companies are testing other methods, moving away from rigid review and stacked ranking systems. However all companies need to find a fair way to judge the performance of employees.

I think it needs to change. In the meantime managers can improve the process for teams by giving feedback throughout the year, and by being honest about the purpose of the dreaded performance review.

The article ends this subject with “Trust them to produce, and if they are not producing let them go” it’s not that easy under EU law to just let people go, and I think if you’ve hired someone and they are not performing you have a duty to coach for improvements.

One last reason to have a system that attempts to be fair; lawsuits.

3. Dumb rules for onsite attendance.

Agree. With the tools we have available now onsite attendance can be optional in many jobs. I’ve always agreed to work from home agreements for team members. That trust has been more than rewarded; it’s meant that one team member avoided 6 hours of commuting per week, another could extend time with his family in his home country, and a colleague could help a sick relative. I have never seen any decline in work delivery – if anything the team members feel more dedicated.

I have often connected with the team member via some chat app. Not to “check up” on them, but to emulate the office situation and maintain a connection.

This came easily to me, perhaps because I’m used to working online, for many managers new skills might be needed.

4. Dumb rules for approvals

“Do you really want your best workers to spend their time chasing people for rubber-stamp approvals?”

Oh man. This is one of my biggest complaints. At one company I had authority to make spending decisions on items in the tens of thousands but would have to get a 20 euro expense invoice approved before it was re-imbursed. In another I had a team member based in another country – the CEO of that country organisation had to approve her expenses that were being paid from my budget. (He did, and after the first time it was no issue).

This comes down to regulation. If you’re in a publicly listed company accountancy rules come into play and the company has to double, or triple check expenses and spending to ensure there is no fraud. Even though the company knows you’re trustworthy they can’t actually trust you.

Although I understand the need the approval request systems make me grumpy.  my team used to make jokes and take me out for coffee after I’d been filing expense reports. Perhaps the answer is coffee vouchers for every approval request?

5. Dumb rules for time off

“If a dedicated employee doesn’t feel good enough to come to work, what’s the point in making them drag themselves out of bed to get a doctor’s slip?”

Here’s a win for the European way! I think it takes six weeks absence before a doctor’s note is needed. Absences are monitored, repeat absenteeism is a sign of stress or longer term health issues. But the Dutch system is sensibly generous about this.

6. Dumb rules for frequent flyer miles

The article assumes that this is a reward for work travel, and should accrue to the employee doing the travel. That’s the system I’m used to here, but I have also worked for a government department where we could not legally accept frequent flyer miles. But then no-one could which is annoying but fair. I also know of one company that collates them and reshares them across all employees. Work travel in that company is usually only by senior people and is widely seen as a benefit and the idea that should only accrue to senior managers seems unfair to them.

I’d stick to it as a reward for work travel if I were making the rules, but it’s not a deal breaker in the grand scheme of things.

7. Dumb feedback methods

“I have worked with companies that put complete faith in employee engagement surveys, but frankly I believe they’re a sham.”

Agree. Having worked for a financial services company right through the financial crisis and seen the outcome of annual engagement surveys I noticed that the engagement scores trailed the fall and rise of the share price.

screen-shot-2016-10-18-at-15-10-03Few companies consider the cost of conducting an big scale engagement survey. In a company of 100,000 employees it could be 15-20 full time employee equivalents to complete it (assuming 70% response rate), do you get a commensurate value of improvements?

I’ve worked through the feedback process numerous times, and it becomes so complex and unwieldy that little is really achieved. I think you could do more by talking to people, using smaller targeted surveys, asking for feedback on your sites, and making smaller – more useful – changes.

8. Dumb rules for cell phones

Apparently some companies make staff check their phones in as they enter the company. I haven’t encountered this, although I have been asked not to photograph or record in certain areas of a company. I can understand the need in, for example, the design lab at Apple. But it’s not a rule that shows trust in employees, for most companies it’s overkill.

9. Dumb rules for internet use

I’ve seen Facebook and LinkedIn banned, and in fact blocked from company computers out of a fear of what employees might post. Well it just shifts the problem to out of work hours. A better solution is to talk to employees, make it clear what can and can’t be posted online. Employees can understand that discussing client information, sharing company results early, or dissing their manager might be a problem. Even better give them some good news to share!

10. Dumb probationary rules

Many organizations still have the throwback rule that employees have to be in a position for six months before they can transfer or be promoted”

While I’ve never come across a defined limit I can understand that in general as a manager you want people in the job you hired them for, it’s a pain in the neck to re-hire people all the time. My personal attitude is that if a person wants to move then it’s time for them to move – regardless of my assessment of their abilities or performance. I’m far more likely to recommend someone who has performed well for 18 months, than someone who’s been in the role for 3. But the roles I’ve managed have expertise levels that require a bit of learning. I might feel differently about managing wait staff in a restaurant for example where the skill set is simpler and success is more a question of personality.

I don’t love the bureaucratic rules, but having worked in regulated industries I grudgingly admit that I can usually understand the business need. That makes it possible for me to adapt and find the smartest process that will work for everyone – most of the time. Of course I still get frustrated, but then I take a coffee break and move on to the real work.

Image:  Law books  |  Waikay Lau  |  CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

More than a Tweet; People

sharingpeopleIt takes more than a tweet to make a company social. This is part 5 of a 7 part series.

There are two aspects to explore in relation to people, one is finding the right people, the second is creating a culture that supports your strategy. There will be some links to help you go further, and we’ll see how the NewArt Museum faced the people questions.

Inspired team

I have this weird idea that when people like what they’re doing and are inspired about it they’ll do a much better job. This is even more important on social media – after all it’s increasingly where our customers first meet us. For the team working on social media there is a diverse set of skills needed. Here are my top five;

  1. Communication skills
    The social media team will be talking, albeit in text form, to customers and stakeholders. They need to be skilled communicators, able to understand online comments, and react in a productive way.
  2. Writing skills
    Someone needs to create all that great content, that person needs strong writing skills.
  3. Design skills
    Increasingly social media is a visual medium, with images used on many tweets and almost all Facebook posts, so you’ll need some design skills in your team (note; installing photoshop on your computer doesn’t make you a designer).
  4. Analytics
    Improving your performance in social media relies on someone crunching some numbers. Major platforms give you feedback on likes, shares etc, but you will want to analyse which posts perform best.
  5. Company knowledge
    Your social media team need to know your company, the history and the brand (beyond the visual identity). They need to know your audience and what will work for them, and they need to understand how the social media strategy connects with the company’s vision and strategy.

You’re unlikely to find all of these skills in one person, but equally I’m not suggesting you need to hire five people. If you have the luxury of a bigger team look for people with a mix of skills that overlap. If it’s just one person – you –  then focus on the first two skills, force yourself to learn enough analytics and outsource the design. If you cultivate a good relationship with a freelance designer they’ll soon understand your brand and deliver great graphics. Even larger companies often end up outsourcing a chunk of the design work.

Hire interns. In the past I’ve seen excellent contributions from interns as designers, content creators, and community managers. I would advise against simply handing over social media accounts to interns and giving them free rein – interns new to the company are unlikely to have the company knowledge needed. But equally the interns I’ve seen have come with great ideas and given solid input, so don’t assume they’ll just be posting automatons for your social media plans.

Personally I want to work with people who are self-motivated, interested in what they do, forward looking and positive;  I do recruit for attitude. In addition for social media roles I look for an opportunist mentality, someone willing to experiment.

In my experience the good ideas for content creation and use cases for new platforms don’t come out of long meetings, they come out of a conversation that sparks and idea.  The good ideas and the exploration of new platforms comes naturally to those who are inspired by working in social.  I accidentally caught two of my team making a vine about the circular economy; it took about fifty post-it notes and an afternoon but no out of pocket costs. Just their willingness to try something.

Committed Leadership

It’s almost impossible for a project to succeed in an organisation without the support of the leadership.

Commitment is different. Think of a plate of bacon and eggs; the chicken was supportive, the pig was committed.

So the leadership not only need to support the execution of the project they need to be visible on social media as well. This could be a small role – eg short video interviews onto Facebook and twitter, or it could be a highly visible role – eg; Richard Branson. But their presence on social media removes a lot of internal discussion, and it is a credibility point for the organisation externally.

Organisational Culture

The organisational culture needs to support the use of social media. There needs to be a culture of openness and sharing with collaboration as the norm for the “social” part of social media to really fly. The social media manager cannot create content in a vacuum, and the community manager cannot respond to customers without the support of the organisation.

This means as few rules as possible, make it easy for people to share content within the company, celebrate and reward great uses of collaboration. Find some ways to cultivate the building of a social media presence – it’s probably going to change how you work inside the company.

NewArtMuseumCASE STUDY; NewArt Museum

So far the social media accounts have been looked after by the communications manager with a little secretarial support. For a relaunch and the campaign they’re planning this is clearly not going to work.

Two interns are chosen; one from a design course to focus on visual elements and developing assets for social media, and one from a journalism course to focus on the written content and doing some community management work. The interns are both avid social media users themselves and the designer has a reasonable following on instagram already. Some analysis of the accounts of other museums and the NewArt Museum’s own accounts gives them ideas to share and their enthusiasm energises the other content developers who have struggled to see how social media content can be developed.

They start brainstorming about running events; supporting “wiki loves Art“, holding a “Night at the Museum” event with instagrammers, inviting influential instagrammers to curate the museum’s instagram account, children’s art classes, a “child artist” lecture series. They’re looking forward to the next content development meeting to discuss all these ideas.

Image; Sharing | Andy Woo | CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Tips for your job interview

interviewThe basics of interview technique are pretty well covered; arrive on time, dress appropriately for the job, research the company, don’t take calls during the interview (wait – people need to be told that?).  These are the things that you need to get right to stay in the running for the job. I’ve just been through a round of recruiting and found a great person to hire. Here are some of the things candidates did that made them stand out.

  1. Show Some Personality
    In how you dress, how you speak, how you behave, and in the stories you tell.
    One of the questions we asked related to working with people resistant to change.  Most people gave a textbook answer about change management. The stand out answer was from the person who began “It cost me a lot of pizza” with a laugh.
  2. Be Enthusiastic
    About the company, the role, what you can bring to it, what it can bring you.This goes beyond research the company, find a way to connect something personal or from your work history to the company. And for goodness sake know which products or services you use. We asked everyone we interviewed what products they had in their home from our company – I didn’t have a predefined “perfect answer” for this, but the guy who recalled seeing an old radio from our company at his grandfather’s house scored bonus points for showing some knowledge of the company’s legacy
  3. Interview the Company
    Think of an interview as a date in that both sides need to learn about each other – you both need to know that this is a relationship worth pursuing. I was at an all day interview a while ago, half way through the day I realised that this was not the right company for me. Frankly it was a relief when they turned me down. Ask questions about work expectations, career advancement, company  values by all means. But ask more, ask your future boss how she (or he) likes to work, ask about the company’s most recent success, ask how they correct mistakes. As about the ambitions of the company, the department and the team you’ll be joining. You’ll learn more about whether this is a match for you from those answers.

You’re going to spend a lot of time with the company working with the people there, it needs to be a match.

Tweet: Go beyond a professional confidence – Dare to be yourself (http://ctt.ec/423yc+) #jobinterview

As the candidates had been screened based on their CVs and an initial phone interview the people I met were all strong candidates. Following the interviews there were several I would have been happy to bring on board, and one outstanding candidate who starts next month.

The candidates who stood out in the interviews I’ve conducted in the last six weeks showed something beyond a professional confidence – they dared to be themselves.

Image; Beast of a Job Interview / Mike Licht / CC BY 2.0

 

 

Hire Slowly; Fire Quickly

That’s a direct quote from Loren Becker from Zappos, speaking at the International Social Media and PR Summit here in Amsterdam.

20130523-204841.jpgHire Slowly

Zappos’ hiring process includes multiple meetings, including informal meetings with groups of colleagues. Part of the company culture includes socialising together so for them it’s important to know that new hires are good to socialise with.

There were some tweets of concern; seeing this as a step too far into the person’s private time, and perhaps disturbing the work/life balance. But I think most people on the hiring side of the equation have a similar test; we’re all looking for “fit”, will this new person work well in our team, and fit the company’s culture.

Maybe the Zappos approach is too extreme for your company, how about the beer test? I recommended this to a colleague who was recruiting a while ago. When you’re interviewing someone ask yourself “on a random evening after work would I have a beer with this guy?” He applied the test, the answer was “no”, and he hired anyway on the basis that he rarely goes for drinks after work so it didn’t matter. But it’s not whether you will actually have that beer, it’s how you feel about doing it. By the way, in his case the hire was a mistake.

Screen Shot 2013-05-26 at 11.01.30 AMFire Quickly

If you know you’ve made a mistake hiring someone, fire them quickly.

This is easier to put into effect in the US where the principle of “at-will employment” is used, and harder in Europe where there is a stronger social contract between the employer and the employee. But that’s all the more reason to hire slowly, and to use a probation period. It’s important to communicate with the new hire what you expect in the probation period and to make a fair assessment before taking the step to fire someone.

If you don’t take steps to fire someone who doesn’t perform or who really does not fit the culture (I’m not talking quirky, but major behaviour difference) it’s a drain on the team. They see that low performance is tolerated which reduces their motivation, they can also find it difficult to cope with the different behaviour. A highly co-operative team may absorb a highly competitive colleague – until on a bad day she shouts demands at a junior colleague.

So fire quickly, remove what will otherwise become a festering problem in your team. but the best way to avoid having to fire someone, is to hire slowly.

 Images;
Snail snail /Aleksandar Cocek/ CC BY-SA 2.0
Cheetah Cheetah Run 4 /Gary Eyring/ CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Tips for your CV

There are thousands of books and websites out there advising you how to write your CV, I want to give three practical tips and explain why they’re important to the person who handles your CV.

1) Put your name on every page
Most CVs of professional mid-career people are more than one page, if that’s true of your CV please add a footer with your name and page numbers in it.

Usually CVs get printed out for the assessors to read, it’s easy for papers to be shuffled around and then it’s a pain to sort out the pages. I’ve even resorted to reprinting CVs on occasion just to be sure I have it organised. I do own a stapler-but I’d rather be able to spread papers out and compare them.

2) Add all your contact information
Please add both your email address and your phone number.

In these days of mobiles with voice mail there’s no reason not to add a mobile number. You may want to use a personal email address, but take care – wildsexthing69@mail.com is not going to prove your professionalism in most occupations.

As the recruiter I will want to contact you quickly and easily, by phone is fastest, by email means I can send you more detailed information.

3) Save file as your name
I’m still surprised when applicants don’t do this, it shows a lack of thought regarding how their CV will be handled.

Usually there are several applicants, and I save their files to the same folder. If your name isn’t in the file name it’s harder for me to figure out which is your CV. Of course I can rename the file, but why would you as an applicant want to make me do that.

These might seem obvious, but I’ve just been reviewing a set of CVs, and apparently they’re not.

Image Curriculum vitae del muro di Berlino /Brava la vero/ CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Job Applications via Video

If companies could use videos as part of the job ads, couldn’t they also use it as part of the recruitment process? As an employer would you believe a CV stating “Proven Sales Skills” or a video clip of the candidate giving her best sales pitch?

Actually this isn’t at all original – it was done 50 years ago by Milt Grant. See if your candidates can beat this pitch.

Wouldn’t it help you in the selection process if you could see people in action before hiring them for certain roles? You could watch a chef, view a presenter, see a sales pitch, an interview, a demonstration of their motor repair skills, a sample of their film direction work…. I’m sure there are others. It could be time consuming so maybe it’s for your shortlisted applicants rather than the hundreds of applicants.

If Milt Grant didn’t inspire you, surely the muppets will.

Using Videos to Recruit

What if companies used videos to recruit?

Most recruiting sites are pretty boring. Even the world leader monsterboard is all about function rather than attracting talent. Yet recruiting talented people is tough.

The standard process consists of a CV casting the best possible light on the candidate being sent in response to an advertisement written by HR for a job they may not understand.

If the candidate is lucky enough to proceed to the interview a big part of the assessment – on both sides – is whether there’s a ‘fit’ between the candidate and the team. Or more particularly the candidate and the manager.

So what if the job ad included a video?

Hi I’m Chris Smith, I could be your next manager, I’m looking for someone with a background in finance, who speaks English and French, who’s attentive to detail…. These people here could be your new colleagues…. and this is where you could be working.

Assuming the manager has some personality (which might be the big downfall in the plan!) this could be a more appealing way of marketing your company to potential talent – rather than the generic videos seen on HR sites.

Employers need to market to the YouTube generation. I haven’t seen it started anywhere yet.