New York Times “oppresses” workers worse than Apple

Today’s Sunday New York Times used two and a quarter pages of its front section — including the top-left quarter of its vaunted front page — to blast Apple for oppressing its workers. Which is ironic, because the New York Times Group is even worse to its employees, using the paper’s own metrics.

As it often does, the Times launches its attack on the most successful company in the world by focusing on how much revenue it takes in:

Worldwide, its stores sold $16 billion in merchandise.

But most of Apple’s employees enjoyed little of that wealth. While consumers tend to think of Apple’s headquarters in Cupertino, Calif., as the company’s heart and soul, a majority of its workers in the United States are not engineers or executives with hefty salaries and bonuses but rather hourly wage earners selling iPhones and MacBooks.

But the most interesting twist in this particular harangue is the use of a blunt-instrument metric, revenue per employee, to show how unfairly Apple treats its workers. According to the story, Apple took in $473,000 per Apple Store employee. When you consider that Store employees only take in about $25,000 a year, the conclusion is inescapable: oppression. Amirite?

Glass houses, New York Times. Glass frakkin’ houses. Turns out that according to its own reported numbers (from its 2011 Form 10-K), the New York Times Media Group had 3,056 serfs employees toiling for it in 2011 and made $1.554 billion that year. Yes, with a b. Whipping out my favorite iProduct (note my obvious fanboy bias), that works out to to a revenue-per-employee figure of $508,507.85. Oh, the humanity!

(Curiously, the David Segal article quotes Apple blogger Horace Dediu, who has written about these metrics before. Dediu says that revenue-per-employee ratio is like that of a consulting company. Given how incredibly reasonable and intelligent Dediu’s writing is, I have to think that his quote is taken out of context.) (Update: Read Horace’s excellent piece explaining the job growth at Apple stores.)

The truth is that no one goes to work for the Times or for Apple for the money. (Yes, I realize that Times CEO Janet Robinson got a $23 million severance package late last year, but that’s for leaving her job. Totally different.) People work at these two institutions to be a part of something bigger than themselves. The Times used to be the most respected newspaper in the country. (Sorry. Too soon?) And Apple keeps changing entire industries. Even Segal’s article recognizes that an hourly wage is not what makes people work in Apple Stores:

But Apple’s success, it turns out, rests on a set of intangibles; foremost among them is a built-in fan base that ensures a steady supply of eager applicants and an employee culture that tries to turn every job into an exalted mission.

“When you’re working for Apple you feel like you’re working for this greater good,” says a former salesman who asked for anonymity because he didn’t want to draw attention to himself. “That’s why they don’t have a revolution on their hands.”


Trash your social-media policy

Terrific advice from HR Examiner‘s Heather Bussing on what to do with your company’s social-media policy, especially in light of the NLRB’s continuing war on these policies.

The best way to prevent employees from saying bad things about you is to hire the right people, give them the resources they need to do their work, and let them do it. When problems arise deal with it based on what happened.

When you fire someone, it should be for their actions, not because they violated a policy. If employees are constantly violating policies, you have a serious management problem. And more policies won’t fix it.

I agree wholeheartedly with Heather’s advice, and not just because she cited my two-word blogging policy. Along the same lines, here’s an approach for how companies should handle having a Facebook policy.

Passion at work

Writer Paul Alofs gives his “8 Rules For Creating A Passionate Work Culture” in Fast Company. Here’s the first one:

1. Hire the right people

Hire for passion and commitment first, experience second, and credentials third. There is no shortage of impressive CVs out there, but you should try to find people who are interested in the same things you are. You don’t want to be simply a stepping stone on an employee’s journey toward his or her own (very different) passion. Asking the right questions is key: What do you love about your chosen career? What inspires you? What courses in school did you dread? You want to get a sense of what the potential employee believes.

Read the other seven here. They’re from his new book, Passion Capital (affiliate link).

How trusting an employee can create an Ace

The Boston Red Sox got off to a horrible start this season, and no one sputtered worse than their quirky ostensible closer, Alfredo Aceves. Just two days into the season, fans and sportswriters were calling for new manager Bobby Valentine to remove Aceves from the closer role. Valentine himself was wondering, and met with the pitchers as he considered what to do.

Later, when Valentine returned to his office, a clubhouse attendant handed him a note from Aceves. Only one word was written on it.


“Just one word. That was it,’’ Aceves said. “Everything comes back to trust. I wanted him to trust me.’’

Boston Globe beat writer Peter Abraham chronicles how Valentine did trust Aceves and how that trust paid off when the pitcher turned around his season and anchored a now-solid Sox bullpen.

The takeaway for employers and managers is that good things can happen when you trust an employee who really cares about doing a good job.

11 things you should do before firing someone

Firing people is the hardest thing a manager or employer can do. Here’s a checklist to help you make it just a little bit easier.

  1. Don’t fire when angry. Take enough time to make sure that you’re not making the decision for emotional reasons.

  2. Choose the appropriate day and time to minimize additional pain. For example, don’t do it right before Christmas, or on the employee’s birthday, or when everyone else is going to be milling around.

  3. Choose a location in the workplace that offers privacy, with the door closed.

  4. If you’re concerned about an angry or violent reaction, have security or another coworker nearby and ready.

  5. Have the employee’s final paycheck ready for the meeting. Include pay for the entire day of the termination, as well as any other money owed. Make sure your payroll people keep the termination secret.

  6. Make sure you include pay to cover any accrued but unused vacation.

  7. If the employee has computer access, make arrangements to have her locked out of the system while you’re in the termination meeting. Not before and not after. And make sure the computer person keeps
    the termination secret.
  8. Prepare what you’re going to say in the meeting, but don’t write out
    an actual script.
  9. If appropriate, prepare a severance agreement to give to the employee. (There’s an example agreement in the book.)
  10. Gather up any material that your state requires you to give to terminated employees. Often, this includes information on unemployment benefits and health-insurance continuation (COBRA).
  11. Decide how much notice you want to give, and how much transition
    time you need during which the fired employee will stay on. Hint: the answer should almost always be “none.”

All of these tips come from Firing at Will. If you ever deal with employees, this book will make your life easier. To order your copy, click any of the following links:

To read Chapter 1 for free, click the link at the top of the page.

Why arbitration sucks — even for employers

In the wake of Major League Baseball’s firing of longtime arbitrator Shyam Das after he ruled against it in the Ryan Braun case, I thought it might be a good idea to examine why this fashionable alternative-dispute-resolution mechanism is deeply flawed.

Arbitration has long been the norm in labor cases (that is, cases between unions and management). And baseball arbitration is of the labor-law variety. But increasingly, nonunionized employers are choosing to subject themselves and their employees to arbitration. Which is dumb.

“Why?” you may ask. I’m glad you asked. Here is my jeremiad on arbitration, from Chapter 12 of Firing at Will: A Manager’s Guide:

Arbitration is much less common in employment cases, and usually only happens when there is a preexisting contract providing for it if there is a dispute. In other words, the employee would have signed an agreement — often at the start of employment — waiving his rights to go to court or an agency and instead having the dispute resolved by an arbitrator.

The arbitrator is chosen by both sides from a list of potential neutrals. In effect, he acts like a judge. Unlike a mediator, his job is to make a decision at the end of the case.

Many employers and management lawyers think it’s a good idea to have mandatory-arbitration clauses in employment agreements. They think arbitration is a good idea because it tends to be cheaper and faster than the agency-and-court system. They believe that arbitration ends up favoring the employer.

But they are wrong.

Arbitration is a terrible idea, for four reasons. First, the less-formal approach to litigating the case, dispensing with the evidentiary rules, means that the employee can bring in evidence that never would have seen the light of day in court. As I said before, rules of evidence are a good thing if you have a lawyer who understands them. Ignoring the rules turns the case into a free-for-all.

Second, there is no precedent in arbitration. In the court system, the judge generally has to abide by past decisions of earlier court cases, especially higher-level courts. Our legal system is based on the authority of precedent. But in arbitrations, there’s no such thing. Yes, lawyers can cite to past arbitration cases for examples of what arbitrators have done in similar cases. But the arbitrator is free to ignore it.

Third, there is almost no ability to appeal a bad decision. I don’t want to overstate this. While you can almost always appeal a bad decision at an agency or in a court, appeals typically have little chance of success. But it’s even worse in the arbitration world. Yes, you can file the equivalent of an appeal in court to prevent the enforcement of an arbitration award. But you shouldn’t bother: there’s next to no chance of it succeeding.

My final reason is the most important (and why arbitrators want to smack me in the nose). Remember how I said a few paragraphs ago that arbitrators are chosen by the parties? That’s the whole problem. If an arbitrator doesn’t get chosen for cases, he can’t make money. And if he gets a reputation as being too pro-employer, plaintiffs’ lawyers will stop agreeing to use him. (Likewise, if he gets a pro-employee reputation, management lawyers will stay away.) Trust me: this happens. At our firm, we had a list of arbitrators that we would never use because we felt that they were too likely to side with the employee.

In court cases, judges are assigned, not chosen. So the judge needn’t worry about acquiring a reputation of favoring one side or the other. But an arbitrator has some pressure to avoid that sort of reputation. This pressure naturally moves an arbitrator to try to come up fairly even-steven over time, with a rough balance of wins for both employers and employees. Sounds fair, right?


Coming out more or less fifty-fifty sounds like it evenly benefits both employers and employees, but in fact it drastically favors employees. Why? Because employees don’t win half of the cases filed. At the various antidiscrimination agencies, the percentage of cases where probable cause is found tends to run in the 5- to 15-percent range. (There are no reliable figures from court cases.) There are a number of reasons for these relatively low success rates.

For example, discrimination claims are inherently difficult to prove; it’s hard to get inside a manager’s head and find a discriminatory bias. Also, many cases are merely disgruntled employees’ weapons of last resort. Many fired employees bring their cases because of anger instead of an honest belief of having suffered discrimination. So a low success rate is to be expected. That’s why a success rate approaching 50 percent, which is more typical with arbitrators, dramatically favors employees.

So if your employment lawyer tries to talk you into arbitration agreements, ask her if she’s thought about these points.

To order your own copy of Firing at Will, which is a wicked-good idea if your ever have to deal with employees, click any of the following links:

To read Chapter 1 for free, click the link at the top of the page.

Pitchers, PA announcers, and passion

Two very different stories have dominated Red Sox Nation this week, and both contain lessons for employers everywhere.

The first story is a true tragedy, where 59-year-old Fenway Park PA announcer Carl Beane was killed in a single-car accident after he suffered a heart attack. In the rash of stories that followed his death, Beane was portrayed as a gentle man with a distinctive, booming voice. He was successfully able to parlay his radio background into what he always described as his dream job. He certainly didn’t do it for the money; when he began announcing games in 2003, he was reportedly paid $50 a game. But nearly every story written about Beane following this tragedy focused on how much he loved his job. Devoted Red Sox fans would hire Beane to perform at weddings and bar mitzvahs, or to record outgoing voicemail messages for them. His work was his passion, and it showed in his performance. (For more on how much Beane loved his job, see this terrific article by ESPN Boston’s Godon Edes.)

The second story is a sports tragedy, in that it’s not a real tragedy but sports fans see it as one. It involves Josh Beckett, an arrogant, petulant starting pitcher who used to be the Red Sox ace. Beckett helped lead the Florida Marlins to a World Series championship in 2003, and then did the same for the Red Sox in 2007. But since then, he has lost his elite status and begun pitching like he doesn’t really care. So far this season, Beckett has pitched poorly, owning the second-worst ERA in the American League.

On Wednesday last week, new manager Bobby Valentine announced that Beckett had an issue with his lat muscle and would be skipping his Saturday start against the Orioles. That weekend, because of poor starts and two extra-inning games, the Sox bullpen was called upon to pitch 27 innings. Even an outfielder had to pitch two innings. But Beckett was unavailable to pitch, presumably because of his lat.

A few days later, it was revealed that Beckett had played golf on the Thursday before the Orioles series — the day after Valentine announced that Beckett would skip his Saturday start. The Boston sports media had a field day, and Red Sox fans were livid.

Beckett finally returned to the mound this Thursday and got only seven outs while giving up seven runs on seven hits. When Valentine pulled him in the third inning, the Fenway faithful booed heartily, and one fan behind the dugout was caught on camera mimicking a golf swing.

Then in his postgame press conference, Beckett poured gasoline all over the place and lit it on fire. Metaphorically speaking, of course. Showing incredible tone-deafness, the pitcher defended his golf outing despite his inability to pitch that weekend.

“I spend my off-days the way I want to spend them,” Beckett said to the reporters assembled. “My off-day is my off-day.” He then went on to point out that players only got 18 off-days a year. Which is true, if you don’t count all that time off from October to February. Or all the days during the season when he doesn’t pitch. As he put it, “I think we deserve a little time to ourselves.” (Another Edes story here for more on Beckett and golfgate.)

Here’s a guy making nearly $500,000 a start who apparently doesn’t care enough about his job (which is secure through 2014), his employer (both the team and the fans who pay the bills), or his teammates. Contrast that with Carl Beane, a man who adored his job, even when he was making one ten-thousandth as much per start as Beckett.

When people work for money — even a lot of money — they’ll usually (but not always) show up when they have to and do just enough to keep that job. But they won’t show you the passion that excellence requires. Beckett used to have it back when he was an ace pitcher. Five years, 30 pounds, and 80 strokes per round later, that passion appears to be gone, and with it, any hint of excellence. On the other hand, Carl Beane left us and the job he loved too early, and he left at the top of his game.

Employers: hire passion first and talent second. Passion can turn talent into outstandingess (which may not be a word, but whatever), but talent without passion will eventually land you in the bunker.

How to get people to do what you want

Here is the six-minute “LexThink .1” speech I gave in Chicago in March at the ABA TechShow. In it, I explain the three simple steps you need to take to get someone to do what you want. LexThink follows the “Ignite” speech format: six minutes, 20 slides, 18 seconds per slide, advancing automatically with no control by the speaker.

Enjoy. And if you want the free Result Triangle worksheet, it’s right here. You can print it out and use it right now to help solve whatever problem you’re facing.

This guy’s walking down the street when he falls in a hole

An old Lifehack post called “10 simple ways to save yourself from messing up your life” has excellent common-sense advice on how keep yourself from falling into an emotional hole. Since lawyers are 3.6 times more likely to suffer from depression than other workers, I know a lot of people who could benefit from the advice. Here’s the first of the ten:

1. Stop taking so much notice of how you feel. How you feel is how you feel. It’ll pass soon. What you’re thinking is what you’re thinking. It’ll go too. Tell yourself that whatever you feel, you feel; whatever you think, you think. Since you can’t stop yourself thinking, or prevent emotions from arising in your mind, it makes no sense to be proud or ashamed of either. You didn’t cause them. Only your actions are directly under your control. They’re the only proper cause of pleasure or shame.

The other nine are just as good. Click the title above and read them.

By the way, this post’s title refers to the story Leo McGarry tells Josh Lyman.


From the Boston Globe‘s Extra Bases blog by Peter Abraham:

The Red Sox have nine players on the disabled list to start the season (Andrew Bailey, Chris Carpenter, Carl Crawford, Rich Hill, Bobby Jenks, Ryan Kalish, John Lackey, Daisuke Matsuzaka and Andrew Miller) who are making a combined $57,246,000. That’s more than the entire payroll of the Athletics ($55,372,500) and Padres ($55,244,700).

Cheaper than an ad saying “Don’t work here”

Nice piece from HRLori about how the CEO of OMGPOP took to the Twitter to bad-mouth an employee who chose to leave when Zynga bought the company. Lori writes:

This is such a poor example of leadership. The high road would have been to wish the employee the best and be on his merry (very merry) way. It is up to any CEO to lead the company into the future, not look back with disdain. People come and go. Those who stay want to be there. It is evident that Shay Pierce didn’t want to be there. And that was his choice.

The CEO later apologized and deleted his tweet, but the damage to the company is done. You think they’ll have any trouble attracting talent in the future? I sure do.

The Result Triangle: Getting people to do what you want

You know how hard it is to get someone to do what you want them to do?

It’s pretty hard. And you know what? We make it harder. We get lost in the details. We fuss about incentives and penalties and policies. We overcomplicate problems.

So if complexity is our problem, then it stands to reason that simplicity is the solution. We need to figure out exactly what we’re trying to do and how best to do it. Well, that sounds fine. But how do we actually make simplicity solve our problems?

To find out, I went through nearly two decades of case files, looked at thousands of business interactions. Where had I messed up? Where had things gone smoothly?

And a pattern emerged, where complexity caused problems and simplicity led to success.

That same pattern appears in hundreds of business books, in all kinds of business interactions. This pattern teaches us the best way to get someone to agree to do something. It comes to down to three simple points. And these three points make what I call “The Result Triangle.”

The Result Triangle works in every business context: negotiations, sales, customer service, management, litigation, pricing. Whatever field you’re in, you can use the Result Triangle to simplify your problem and get someone to do what you want them to do.
The three simple points are:

  1. clarify the goal
  2. show you care, and
  3. address the fear

The Result Triangle

These three points help you figure out what you want … and how to get it. Let me give you 3 quick examples to show how they work in real life.

Clarifying the goal

I usually fly Southwest Airlines. And many of you know that on Southwest, you have to check in early so that you don’t get stuck with a middle seat. Southwest doesn’t do seat assignments. Instead, you check in and get assigned a number. Get a lower number, get a better seat.

Why does Southwest do this? Because their goal is to keep their planes in the air as much as possible. Open seating, flying only one type of jet, and even “bags fly free” all lead to more time in the air. And more airtime means more profit.

Planes make money in the air, not on the ground. Their planes spend 30 percent more time in the air than their competitors’, and they’re the only airline making a profit. By clarifying their goal — “planes in the air” — Southwest gets their people to focus on doing what’s most important.

We tend to take our goals for granted without giving them a lot of thought: To close the deal. To win the case. To make the sale. But a goal needs to be more precise. Clarifying your goal — boiling it down to its essence — is the first step to achieving it.

Show you care

The second point is “show you care.” Let me give you an example:

My dad had this winter coat that he loved and he wore it until it finally fell apart. Turns out my brother was planning a trip up to L.L. Bean in Maine, so my dad asked him if he could pick him up a new coat while he was there.

So my brother brings the coat to try to exchange it and of course he has no receipt because my dad bought it so many years ago. And the folks at L.L. Bean can’t find the same coat. So instead of sending him away, they give him a different one, brand new, without any hassle. Because L.L. Bean cares so much about customer satisfaction.

So my brother gets back and gives the new coat to my dad. And my dad says, “Thanks. But I didn’t get it at L.L. Bean!”

And you know what? L.L. Bean must have known that, but they gave him a new coat anyway. Because they were focused on showing how much they care.

Showing that you care makes people want to do what you want them to do. Because of the coat, my family keeps coming back, and we’ve told this story to hundreds of people. By showing they care, L.L. Bean gets people to keep shopping there and tell others how great they are.

Address the fear

The third point is “address the fear.” I was at a Denver steakhouse recently. Great food, fantastic service. This place focuses on a great experience. When it came time to order, we picked out our steaks and we were trying to settle on a side dish to go with the steaks. The waiter recommended this fancy Brussels sprouts dish.

Now, I like Brussels sprouts as much as the next guy, I really do. But this dish sounded a little too daring for me. The waiter said, “Why don’t you just give them a try? If you don’t like them, I’ll whisk them away and replace them with anything you want, no questions asked.” So we tried them, and you know what?

They tasted like feet.

But even so, we didn’t ask him to replace them. We just moved them around on our plates. Because we didn’t want to ruin the experience. The waiter had addressed our fears about not liking the Brussels sprouts, and that made us happy, even though our fears actually came true.

People’s fears are what keeps them from doing what you want. By addressing those fears, you help people get past them. Even if you can’t prevent those fears from coming true. Simply addressing the fear helps make them want to do what you want them to do.

And that’s the Result Triangle:

  1. Clarify the goal
  2. Show you care
  3. Address the fear

You can start using it today. Anytime you need to get someone to agree to do something, whip out your trusty Result Triangle. You’ll be amazed at how this focuses your efforts.

When you do these three things, you simplify the problem you need to solve and you improve your chances of success. People will want to do what you want them to do.

Download a handy PDF of the Result Triangle Worksheet that you can use right now to help solve whatever problem you’re facing.

Are social-media users less ethical?

A recent study suggests that they might be. HR Bartender’s Sharlyn Lauby explains on Mashable:

One of the most fascinating conclusions in the report is that “active social networkers show a higher tolerance for activities that could be considered unethical.” But Harned says the findings are not an indictment about the character of social networkers: “It appears that they are more willing to consider things that are ‘gray areas’ — issues that are not always clear in company policies as wrong; and that’s an area for further study.”

I have some issues with the premise of the study, and Sharlyn kindly included some of my thoughts in her piece.

Encouraging social media at work

In the March 11 Sunday New York Times column “Corner Office,” Jim Whitehurst, CEO of Red Hat, tells how his company’s open culture includes using an internal social-media platform (the “Memo List”) to allow employees to be heard:

Engaging people in how decisions are getting made means it can take forever to get decisions made. But once you make a decision, you get flawless execution because everybody’s engaged. They know what you’re doing and they know why you’re doing it.

Hurst says that three-quarters of his 4,000 employees spend time on the forum every day. Most companies would worry about employees’ spending too much time online. Red Hat encourages it, and then enjoys the benefits from having engaged employees.

Why HR might not want to read Firing at Will

Book authors want everyone to read their book. It’s a universal law. They spend a year or longer typing and retyping words, and when they’re done, they want as many people as possible to read what they’ve written. And I’m no different.

But it occurs to me that some people may want to avoid my book.

Firing at Will is listed (and intended) as a management book. My publisher (Apress) even included a handy little instruction on the back cover: “Shelve in Business/Management.” But so far, in every Barnes & Noble store I’ve checked, they’ve filed it under “Human Resources.” And I get that, because as much as it is a book for managers, it’s also a book for HR professionals.

But HR professionals who read it may be in for a surprise. Because the book takes on many of HR’s long-held beliefs, showing how some common practices harm employee morale and business profitability.

Many of the rules and policies that well-meaning HR professionals and employment lawyers put into place lead to toxic, dysfunctional workplaces. These rules are designed to protect companies from bad employees, but they instead drive away good employees.

Instead, the book promotes doing away with outdated management tools that end up becoming crutches for managers and take away their independence and discretion. For example, instead of sticking with these outdated tools, the book advises employers to:

  • Throw out your personnel handbook (the title of Chapter 16)
  • Abandon annual performance reviews (“the dumbest managerial tool”)
  • Dump progressive-discipline policies
  • Avoid performance-improvement plans (PIPs)
  • Stay away from arbitration agreements
  • Treat employees differently

That last one might be the biggest surprise. Employment lawyers are always telling companies to treat everyone the same. But when you do that, you end up treating everyone equally badly.

HR pros who have grown comfortable with these conventional notions may be put off by the shots taken at accepted wisdom.

On the other hand, there are things in the book that many HR people will appreciate. The book advocates for more responsibility and autonomy for human resources. It favors changing “human resources” to “talent” and elevating the role to the C-suite level: “Every company should have a chief talent officer reporting to the CEO.”

If you’re a human-resources professional, or any kind of manager or employer, and you’re thinking about reading Firing at Will, please proceed with caution. Some of what you read might be upsetting to you.

And some of it might just change your mind.

To order your own copy, click the following links:

To read Chapter 1 for free, click the link at the top of the page.

The 10 most important traits for job candidates

Here’s an excerpt from Firing at Will: A Manager’s Guide, Chapter 17, “Hiring to Avoid Firing”:

How do you know the right talent when you see it? Remember: past accomplishments and skill sets are merely table stakes for candidates. Without those, a candidate shouldn’t even get through the door. Instead, what you’re really looking for is a culture fit, which is the best determinant of a successful employment. You want candidates who truly want to work there, and who will want to spend time with you and your coworkers, and with whom you will want to spend time. If you’re just looking at work experience and qualifications, you’re missing the opportunity to bring in the right people.

Here are what I think are the ten most important traits to look for in a job candidate:

  1. Differentness. You don’t want an office full of cookie-cutter duplicates. Instead, your team will be stronger when you have a truly diverse workforce. And not just race and gender, but also background and life experiences.
  2. Sense of humor. You’re more likely to enjoy working with people with a good sense of humor, who know when to laugh and who can bring the funny from time to time. They don’t have to be comedians, but they do need to know how not to take life — and themselves — too seriously. A good sense of humor is also a leading indicator of intelligence.
  3. Optimism. I’m not talking about Pollyanna-ish types who are naive and unrealistic. I’m talking about people who have positive attitudes, and can help lift coworkers up instead of bringing them down. Life’s tough enough without someone telling you how tough life is all the time.
  4. Eye sparkle. This is a Tom Peters term. It’s that look you see in a person’s eyes that shows that they’re alive and thoughtful and engaged. It shows warmth and empathy and fun. It says that the lights are on and someone is indeed home.
  5. Connectivity. Look for signs that the candidate knows how to interact with other people. Ask about his or her friends and family. This is why going out for drinks or lunch is such a good idea. Someone who connects well with people will be an asset to your team.
  6. Creativity. Even if the job isn’t what you would normally consider a “creative” position, it’s better to have creative people. They tend to be more positive and engaged, looking for better ways to solve the customers’ problems.
  7. Perseverance. The workplace should be a marathon, not a sprint. You want to find people who will stick with it, even when it gets dif- ficult. Look for signs that they follow through with things that they start. Someone who jumps around a lot from job to job might be deficient in this area.
  8. Initiative. Few things are more frustrating than having an employee who sits around passively and waits to be told what to do. I’d rather have someone who oversteps his or her bounds and needs to be reined in than someone who doesn’t show any initiative.
  9. Self-confidence. This is a critically important trait. It’s difficult to teach, although it can be developed and fostered. You’re better off hiring a candidate who believes in herself. Then she’ll also be more likely to believe in your company. Self-confidence is contagious.
  10. Passion. If you know that the candidate is passionate about something — anything — then it’s easier to believe that he or she will care about the company, the customers, and their problems.

You might not agree with everything on this list, and you might list other traits that are important to you or to your company or industry. That’s fine. Just make sure that you go into the hiring process with a strong idea of what you’re looking for in a candidate. It will make your task much easier, and it will improve your chances of getting the right people for your team.

Simplicity at Reader’s Digest

Here’s Dan Lagani, the (relatively) young (he’s 48) president of Reader’s Digest North America on how he learned how to keep management simple. From the excellent Sunday New York Times column “The Boss.”

I feel as if I’ve spent the last 25 years getting ready for what I’m doing now. During that time, I’ve found that simplicity is crucial in running a business, from keeping your mind open to ideas that present themselves in everyday life to ensuring that your processes are straightforward. It’s a matter of paring complex problems to the essentials.

A Facebook policy for grown-ups

Our Facebook Policy

We have no Facebook policy.

FAQ on our Facebook policy

Say what?

That’s right. We don’t have one.

Don’t we have to have one?

Says who? Employment lawyers? Been there, done that, got the t-shirt. No, we don’t have to have one.

Why not?

Because we only hire grown-ups to work here. And grown-ups don’t need to be told how to behave.

But isn’t Facebook different?

Why? Because it’s on a computer? Time to let go of the twentieth century, Orville. Yes, sometimes things are on computers now. Or phones or tablets. Things like books, movies, TV shows, music, mail, phone calls, funny cat pictures, snarky comments, and other social interactions. Deal with it.

I don’t know. I’m dubious.

I’ll say.


Oh, nothing.

There can’t be any harm in having a little Facebook policy. Just to keep the employment lawyers happy. Please?

No. In fact, a Facebook policy can cause harm. The National Labor Relations Board, which is trying to expand its role in the nonunionized sector, is actively going after companies with dumb Facebook policies.

Oh. That seems uncool.


Still, without a Facebook policy, how do we know what we can and can’t post?

Look: somehow you managed to figure out that it’s a bad idea to yell on a street corner that your customer is a moron. Yet we have no Street-Corner-Yelling Policy. And you accurately deduced that you probably shouldn’t shout in a crowded theater that your coworker sleeps with farm animals (or shout “Fire!”; I think I learned that in law school). Yet we are completely bereft of a Shouting-Slanderous-Statements-in-Theaters Policy. Facebook is no different.

So nothing will happen to me if I post on Facebook that my coworker sleeps with farm animals?

No, dumbass. We’ll fire you faster than the Red Sox can blow a nine-game division lead in September. The fact that you’re thinking that means we probably shouldn’t have hired you in the first place.

But there’s no policy against it.

Now you’re catching on. That’s right: there’s no policy against it. We know you’re a grown-up and we trust that you’ll be professional and respectful of others. If our trust was misplaced, we’ll fix that.

Got it. Thanks.

Have a great day.

A twitterable Twitter policy (updated)

This is a post I wrote nearly three years ago over at Gruntled Employees. But it keeps getting rediscovered and passed around in social-media circles. Since simplicity is at its essence, I figured it was worth republishing here. I’ve updated some of the facts. Feel free to adopt it as your own company’s policy. Just tell people where you got it when they ask about its awesomeness.

Twitter_logoYou know that something new has gone mainstream when the employment lawyers get involved. So it is now with Twitter, the microblogging service that is currently taking over the universe.

Twitter has grown rapidly and enormously. There are approximately six million users right now. (Update Feb. 2012 It’s now estimated at 462 million users. That’s a little bit of growth over three years.) This is much smaller than Facebook or MySpace, the older members of the social-media set. (Update Feb. 2012 What’s a “MySpace”?) But the pace of growth has been incredible; one source pegged it at 1,000 percent in 2008 alone. (Update Feb. 2012 Over the last three years, it’s like a jillion percent, which is one followed by a wad of zeroes, or ten to the wad.)

By most accounts, the demographics of Twitter users skew older and more professional than Facebook. For example, 83% of Twitter users are 26 or older, compared to 60% of Facebook users. (Source: this cool 2011 infographic.) That makes sense, since Facebook began as a college-oriented site. (There are also far more teens on Facebook than on Twitter.) Also, it is said that “Facebook is about people you used to know; Twitter is about people you’d like to know better.” (The widely repeated quote is from a Globe and Mail article by Ivan Tossel, but you have to pay to read it.)

Some of you may still be asking, “What is this Twitter thing, anyway?” (“And don’t say microblogging again, because that doesn’t help.”) (Update Feb. 2012 Are people still really asking this?) Twitter is a free service that allows users to send very short messages (called tweets) over the web to people who (in theory) care. How short is very short? No more than 140 characters, including spaces and punctuation. In fact, they even have a name for a tweet that is exactly 140 characters long: it’s called a “twoosh.”

According to the site itself, the point of the site is to “Find out what’s happening, right now, with the people and organizations you care about.” And of course, to tell the people who care about you what’s happening with you. To be sure, most people don’t care to learn about the humdrum of your daily life: “I’m still in line for my venti nonfat extra-hot latte.” Or “Mr. Biddles rolled over again. Silly cat. LOL.” That sort of tweet is of value to exactly no one. (Even Mr. Biddles would cough up that hairball.)

Where it does become valuable to businesspeople is where people answer the question, “What are you thinking about?” Or: “What is interesting to you?” Then you try to find other people who might share your interests, and you “follow” them to learn what they’re thinking about. Often, they will reciprocate by following you. Done right, people can use Twitter as a powerful networking service to get in front of potential clients or colleagues within their industry.

As often happens when employees start doing something new, companies soon want their lawyers or HR people to create policies to restrict it. This happened in the Nineties, when employers got nervous about email and internet usage. More recently, companies have instituted blogging policies, and guidelines for the use of MySpace or Facebook. So it’s no surprise that we’re starting to see requests for Twitter policies.

Longtime readers of Gruntled Employees know how I feel about the hyperlegislation of the workplace by zealous policymakers. Well-meaning HR professionals and employment lawyers tend to throw the baby out with the bath water when it comes to policing employee behavior, whether online or not. I generally advocate a simpler approach that involves treating employees as grown-ups who have judgment. See, for example, “A two-word corporate blogging policy” and “The world’s shortest employee handbook.”

With that said, here is my take at a corporate Twitter policy that has the extra added benefit of being itself twitterable:

Our Twitter policy: Be professional, kind, discreet, authentic. Represent us well. Remember that you cannot control it once you hit “Tweet.”

(Feb. 2012 update The “Tweet” button used to say “Update.”)

And yes — that’s a twoosh: exactly 140 characters of pure employment-law goodness.

By the way, you can follow me on Twitter at @jayshep — as long as you follow the policy, too.

[By the way, without realizing it, I totally boosted the cat-rolling-over bit from Guy Kawasaki’s excellent post, “Looking for Mr. Goodtweet: How to Pick Up Followers on Twitter.”]

The wrong question

Question mark road signToo often, when managers and HR professionals get employee requests for special treatment, accommodations, or departures from policy, they ask themselves the wrong question:

What if another employee finds out, and then asks for the same special treatment, or accuses us of not treating everyone equally?

This question is common, understandable, and well meaning. HR pros and good managers know that different treatment (or as the lawyers say, disparate treatment, which means “Look at me: I went to law school and learned how to talk different. I mean, disparate. D’oh!”) can potentially lead to discrimination lawsuits. The problem is that when you treat people uniformly, you end up treating them uniformly badly.

So this is the wrong question to ask.

The right question to ask is this:

If I was requesting this special treatment in the same situation, would I think I deserved it?

If your being-honest-with-yourself answer is yes, then you should try to find a way to grant the request. Of course, don’t discriminate (there are, like, laws against doing that). But don’t disgruntle one employee just because other employees might not get the same treatment.

You’ll end up with the wrong answer.

Want to learn more?

Get in touch with Jay today