Wednesday, December 29, 2010

A Short Lesson About Opportunity

I'd like to ring in the new year with a reprint of "Where is Opportunity" from August 2004.

Monday, August 23, 2004

Where is Opportunity?

On Sunday we went to hear a friend sing and play guitar at a private club. We were introduced to a very friendly gentleman who looked like he had been planted in the lounge for several weeks. After he bought us a couple drinks, he pulled out a slip a paper and said to me, "Dear, tell me what this says." The paper said


I wasn't sure what the trick was so I read what I saw.

How would you have read it?

Opportunity might be nowhere but opportunity might also be now here.

Beth C.

Monday, December 27, 2010

$80 Million HR Technology Project Gone Wrong - Very Wrong

It's being called an "$80 million information technology fraud scheme" against the New York City government. The technology, known as CityTime, is a custom made time and attendance system which includes online timesheets and biometric devices.

The story begins in 1996 when the city contracted with Science Applications International Corp (SAIC) to build a timekeeping system that would track schedules for 165,000 employees in 5000+ job titles. The city comptroller at the time estimated that the project would take 2-3 years to complete. The city budgeted $63 million. This alone sounds like a hefty price tag but we can give them the benefit of the doubt since newer technology was not available in 1996 that makes projects like this much less complicated and time consuming. (Though one wonders if they would ever realize $63 million dollars in savings from such a system.)

In 2003 SAIC put their hands in the air and said they would not be able to complete the project. But the city wanted to finish and offered to up the budget to $114 million. (Now one really wonders about the ROI. Throwing good money at bad?)

SAIC still balked but made an offer to scrap the project and start from scratch. The new project would be delivered to the city at cost -- based on hours worked by the contractors to complete the project. No cap was placed on the number of hours and no one could say how many hours would be likely.

Uh oh. The project designed to make sure everyone is on the up-and-up with their work hours just created a blank check for the contractors. Seven more years and $722 million later, the mayor abruptly stopped payments this year when the fraud came to light.

(Now we're REALLY beyond any possibility of ROI for this system.)

Six people have been indicted for $80 million fraud and $850,000 was seized from one of the consultant's bank deposit box.

The responsibility for overseeing the project fell to Joel Bondy, the current Executive Director of the Office of Payroll Administration. Bondy had been the lead on the project prior to being tapped by Bloomberg for the position in 2004. Bondy managed over another contractor Spherion, whose role it was to monitor SAIC for quality assurance. On performance reviews, Bondy rated Spherion (who happens to be his former employer) as excellent. “The contractor’s work has consistently exceeded expectations.”

Unfortunately, criminal charges suggest the opposite.

Investigators said that from 2005 through this December, Mark Mazer, Spherion’s lead quality assurance consultant on CityTime, awarded lucrative contracts to people he knew who then kicked back about $25 million to him. Prosecutors said these individuals also billed for work that was never performed and hid the money in shell companies that were in the names of Mazer’s mother and wife."

Bondy is reported to have links to Mazer as well. According to news reports he worked with Mazer in the past in another city office. Bondy was placed on unpaid suspension. He has since resigned effective December 31, 2010.

With the complexity of HR technology contracts it's hard to imagine such a thing happening. Perhaps it's a good reminder to everyone who purchases HR technology that your contracts are only as good as the people involved in carrying out the work behind the contract. That means good, trustworthy managers internally and impeccable vendors who are committed to exceeding your expectations, not your budget.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Two Very Simple Techniques for Innovation

I read a lot about "Innovation." Classes on innovation, books on innovation, b-school programs on innovation. Creating cultures of innovation. There is currently a huge mystique around innovation as if it's something terribly complex that must be studied and learned.

Here's a secret. Being innovative is incredibly simple. We are built for innovation. We only need to open our minds and look and listen to the things around us.

Here are two simple techniques that I live by everyday:

1) "I wonder if...."

For everything you see throughout the day, you should always be thinking about how things could be better. This applies to every store you enter, every service you engage, every interaction you experience, every thing you see as you walk or drive down the street.

"I wonder could see the products better if this store had better lighting? I wonder if... LEDs would work better? I wonder if... a different color lighting might work?"

"I wonder if... I would feel better about this company if the customer service person had a smile in her voice?"

"I wonder if... I'd be more likely to buy this product again if the @#$% package was easier to open? I wonder if they could seal it with a different kind of material so that it would still be strong but easy to open?"

You don't have to do anything with your wonders. The act of curiosity develops your mind to always be creating ideas and innovations for improvement. Soon you'll be able to "wonder if" for every facet of your own business as well.

Plus some of your wonders about other interactions will translate over to ideas for your own life or business.

2) Connect All Dots to You. Every time you read a book, study an article, listen to a podcast, watch a video, or sit in on a webinar keep your mind open for a kernel of wisdom that can be applied (in a completely new way) to you. Even if the topic seems to be absolutely unrelated. Always be thinking, "How could this connect to me? What could we do with something like this?"

For example, some years ago I was speaking at a Conference Board conference on Recruiting and Retention. In between speaking I sat in on a couple of sessions. There was one interesting session conducted by a Sr. HR Manager for a major corporation. He was talking about various recruitment techniques his company was using successfully.

I was no longer involved in recruiting but as a former practitioner it was interesting to hear what the big companies were up to. At one point the speaker talked about their "rebounding" efforts. He talked about how they had been very successful in bringing back high performers using a postcard campaign. The postcard had a field of grass and asked, "Is the grass greener?" (Love that!) It invited the high performers to re-explore opportunities with the company. I can't recall the details now but it was very successful. A large number of high performers returned and their metrics showed they were even better and more loyal employees the second time around.

Interesting. But what did this idea have to do with me? I was no longer involved in recruiting as I was earlier in my career. I was now running an HR technology company that automated the exit interview process.

But wait ---

Could the exit interview process be used to facilitate this "rebounding" effort? If the exit interview is the last place we "talk" to the departing employee, could we could find out if high-performers would be open to the company keeping in touch to see if the grass is greener? Could we use the system to automatically schedule a follow-up so HR didn't have to keep track of when to send out postcards? And thus the idea for our innovative "Rebounding Module" was developed.

In 2003, I watched the HR Talk online bulletin board for SHRM members as the members were attempting to match newbies in HR with more senior HR mentors. People were making posts with their background and desire to be a mentor or mentee. Some of the old-timers on the board were attempting to match people together. It was a great idea to match members up in 1 to 1 mentorships. Watching this though I couldn't help but notice how slow and cumbersome the process was. It was a lot of work for a handful of volunteers. There had to be a better way.

At the same time, we were seeing that many of the problems being identified on our clients' exit interviews could be solved or minimized by Mentoring. The spark was lit and Mentor Scout was born. (And subsequently donated to the SHRM HR Talk group.)

In 2006, MySpace was all the rage. Every where I looked, everything I read had mention of MySpace. I wasn't a teenager and I'm not all that into music -- but could some of the concepts of MySpace be borrowed to solve problems or enhance my field of Human Resources? The result was Mentor Scout's Talent Networking Edition, one of the very first internal corporate social networking platforms for employee collaboration, information sharing, recognition and retention.

How do you know if your ideas are innovative? One of the amazing things about how our minds and bodies work is that when you get a truly inspiring idea, it comes with a burst of energy. (Lucky us!) I don't know the biology behind it (adrenaline?) but presumably the energy is a way to help us immediately begin implementing the idea. Be forewarned, the energy may fade by the following day so when you get the idea and the energy burst, write the idea down right away with as much detail as you can. More ideas will continue to flow for a few hours after the initial idea.

Once you get into the innovation habit, you'll have many more ideas than you have capacity to achieve them. I wish I could give you advice on how to handle an overload of ideas but my idea notebook is overflowing right now. We'll have to save the post on prioritization for another day.

Related Posts from the Archives:
1.Mind Your Own Business
2.Does Birth Order Influence Acceptance of New Ideas?
3.Are you LDD? Why We Are All Becoming Listening Deficient
4.Thinking Strategically
5.Ten HR Ideas to Beat the Year End Blahs [Dec 2008]

Saturday, December 11, 2010

HR in da Office - Hawaii Style

You think you have Employee Relations challenges?
Hilarious short story about office life in Hawaii written in Pidgin English. It ain't easy being in HR in Hawaii!

Check out this excerpt:
We jus rag on poor Michelle. But das how, ah? Pretty much, once you make one mistake at da office, you going forevah be reminded.

And we could probably get written up by Human Resources for doing dis all da time, but whenevah somebody makes one mental error we play da race card and we blame ‘em on top their ethnicity even though we know dat their ethnic backgrounds nevah have nahting for do with their screw up. Like if Lisa Kim forgets for put da ting she Xeroxing underneath da cover of da Xerox machine and makes 246 copies of nahtingness before she realizes her mistake den we say “Eh, you stupid Yobo,” cuz Lisa’s Korean. Or if David Hiromoto files one folder under da first name instead of da last name, cuz sometimes people get confusing names like Parker Bryan where dey get one first name dat sounds like one last name and one last name dat sounds like one first name, and so eventually when da missing file turns up undah P instead of B we tell “Eh, you stupid Buddahead.” We do dat for everybody at work. You stupid Buk Buk. You stupid Pa-ke. You stupid Popolo. You stupid Haole. You stupid Kanak. You stupid Potagee. You stupid So-le. For little while dat new girl Debra Miyashiro had immunity cuz nobody knew what for call one stupid Okinawan, until finally somebody came up wit “You stupid Chewbacca” and so it stuck.

In our office get people who is of da kine mixed race ancestry too, so we usually jus go by dominant ethnicity. Or if dey hapa, if dey half half exack, we be nice about it, we let dem choose which of their ethnicities is da more stupider one.

Da Boss, she ej-u-ma-cated, but I no tink she catch on dat we only making fun. She jus tinks she surrounded by one office full of racists. Das why no one in da office has dared for tease her yet. We dunno how she would reack. Plus nobody knows what her precise ethnic background is and everybody too sked for ask. She no catch on we only fully tease da people we know good. But I guess no can blame. I tink she extra nerjous cuz when she first came ova hea had dat parking space incident in Waikele dat wuz in da news. So now everytime she hears somebody in da office calling somebody one stupid someting, she automatic tink going get beef. But ironicallies if had one beef she might not even know, cuz I no even know if she know what one beef is. One day people in da office might start yelling “Beef, beef” and she might jus very well tink we all celebrating da deliciousness of da new McDonald’s McTeri Burger. I gotta remembah if anybody starts fighting I gotta yell, “Altercation, altercation.”
You can read the rest of "Some Kind of Jedi" by Lee Tonouchi at Hawaii Business here.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Where Are The Bathrooms and Other Things New Hires Need to Know

One of the secrets to successful onboarding and socialization of new hires is to make sure they are fully informed on everything that they need to know. Let me amend that. New hires need to be informed on not just what they need to know but also what they want to know.

Most companies fall short on this one because we rarely stop to think from the newcomer's perspective. Instead we focus on all the goodies that we think are important.

A few years ago we put together this list called the 5Ws. It includes all the Who What Where When Why and How questions that your new hires want and need to be able to answer.

To whom do I report?
Who reports to me?
Who else does what?
Who can help me?

What are the job priorities?
What should I accomplish daily, weekly, monthly?
What are my goals; what is expected of me?
What is the department's role in the company?

When do I need to be at work?
When do I take breaks?
When is lunch?
When do I leave?
When can I get help from my manager?
When is my work due?

Where do I park?
Where do I sit?
Where do other people sit?
Where are the resources I need?
Where are the bathrooms?
Where are the conference rooms?
Where do I get lunch?

Why is my job important?

How do I do my job?
How do I use the equipment?
How do I handle questions?
How do I handle mistakes?

Pass this list along to your Managers. Getting them answered may involve a combination of direct supervisors, the former incumbent in the position, senior peers and/or a new hire buddy or mentor.

Having a good grasp on all the various items helps an employee move from feeling like the lost newbie to being an important member of the team. This kind of socialization and embeddedness is directly correlated with satisfaction and employee retention.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Lessons from The Amazing Race: Building Successful Teams

Never mind The Apprentice. We have learning lessons galore from another reality competition The Amazing Race. If you want to learn about winning teams, this is the place to go.

Race 17 has three top contender pairs whose team dynamics are very different from one another. Let's take a look.

Team: Thomas and Jill

Thomas and Jill, a dating couple, have been strong contenders from Race One. He, the Ad Sales Director and graduate of Notre Dame. She, the very fit hair stylist whose spelling Thomas feels compelled to correct. They don't yet seem completely comfortable with each other and one might question the degree to which Thomas respects Jill. Though we may worry for the longevity of this relationship, this imbalance may be exactly the catalyst that propels this team to success. For Thomas and Jill, winning is partly about proving themselves to each other. Thomas has to succeed because he has presented himself to Jill as the one who knows all. She on the other hand is determined to show Thomas that she is as good (and better) than he. Thomas, the self-established leader, pushes Jill hard and she (though perhaps frustrated) responds well his verbal barbs. As an added dimension to what drives this team to success, it would go against Thomas' self image to perform less than Jill. So while he's externally pushing Jill, he's internally pushing himself to make sure he performs as well or better than her.

Team: Nat and Kat

Nat and Kat are two female doctors and close friends. Their success is the opposite of Thomas and Jill's. They succeed by mutual respect and support. Both of them are equal in terms of smarts, fitness and willing to do what it takes to win. This kind of long term close friendship pair is risky in teams. Research has shown that as team members get comfortable, they are less likely to rock the boat by challenging each other. (See link 1 at the bottom of this post which includes the following statement, "congeniality taking precedence over the introduction of ideas that might prove unpopular.") This can lead to mistakes, lack of creative thinking and/or laziness. Luckily for Nat and Kat, each member of this duo is individually self-motivated. They remind me of the slow and steady wins the race concept.

Team:Brook and Claire.

Brook and Claire. The Home Shopping Co-Hosts. Their success is clearly a function of the overwhelming, never-ending energy and enthusiasm (and fitness!) of Brooke, the exuberant blond and the tireless do-what-it-takes-to-please-Brook persistence of Claire. Brooke is a tough but loving coach. Claire can be fainting or vomiting and Brook will shout out, "You can do this, Claire Bear" and do it she will. They both deserve a lot of credit; Brook for her contagious excitement over each little win and Clair for hanging in and succeeding against the odds.

Our lessons on creating winning teams

1) Members who are not yet comfortable with each other often strive extra hard to succeed.
2) Long term teammates can be successful if each member is individually motivated for the team to succeed and are mutually supportive
3) When skill levels are unequal, unbridled enthusiasm can propel each member to give more than they have to give for the team's success

Who am I cheering for in The Amazing Race finale? I'm hoping for one of the two-women teams to win. I like Nat and Kat a lot but it would also be fun to see Brook and Claire go wild at the finish point.

More on Teams here:

1)The Power and Challenges of Group Wisdom

2)1954 Psychology Experiment Provides Clues for Cooperative Work Among Distributed Work Environments

3) Managing Remote Employees

4) Group Mentoring: Keys to Success

Friday, December 03, 2010

Apprentice Lessons - How to Sell Yourself in the Boardroom (Job Interview)

The Apprentice boardroom provides an excellent lesson for job applicants in selling themselves to their prospective employer.

In this week's episode, Donald Trump had to decide which candidate of the final three to fire. Liza and Brandy had just come off from a winning task. Clint was the favored candidate and survivor from the opposing team.

Donald asked each candidate, "Why should I hire you?" Brandy gave a comprehensive overview of her accomplishment, experience and education. Clint did the same listing his credentials. When it was Liza's turn, instead of selling herself she took the losing strategy of focusing on how the show was about helping people during the recession. Like many applicants in job interviews, she talked about how much she wanted the job rather than why she is the best person for the position. It's true that Liza's qualifications may not rival Brandy's and Clint's, but she did have one ace up her sleeve.

Let's rewind and try another tactic.

Donald: Liza, Why should I hire you?

Liza: Mr. Trump, you seem to hold Clint in high regard. Is that true?

Donald Trump: I hold all of you in high regard.

Liza: So it would be reasonable to say that you think Clint is very good then, yes?

Donald Trump: Yes

Liza: Then what would you think of a candidate who beat Clint in a head to head task? In fact the ONLY person to beat Clint Project Manger to Project Manager. Would you think that person is worthy of your consideration?

Donald Trump: Well. That's a good point. But Liza, throughout the whole competition. No one seemed to like you. Shouldn't I be concerned about that?

Liza: I understand your concern, Mr. Trump. But let me ask you one more question. What do you think would happen if I called up all of your competitors - Some of the people who you have competed with -- and won against -- for major projects? Do you think they would all say that they like you?

Most likely Donald had already had his mind made up to go with Clint and Brandy (probably why Stuart was fired). But wouldn't it have been a lot more difficult for him to fire Liza had she focused on her major selling point - having just beaten Clint?

You might not be able to go into a job interview and come on as strong as the above conversation. But you can make sure that you are prepared to talk about your unique selling point. It's important to focus on what you can bring to the company, rather than what the company can do for you. Unfortunately because you really, really want the job doesn't mean that much to the company.