It’s Really Hard to Judge People—Or Is It?

Welcome back to Re-Run Friday! This post was originally posted in June 2020.

It’s Really Hard to Judge People!

I was out walking with my wife recently (that’s what middle-aged suburban people do, we walk, it makes us feel like we are less lazy and it gets us away from the kids so we can talk grown-up) and she made this statement in a perfectly innocent way:

“It’s really hard to judge people.”

She said this to ‘me’!  I start laughing.  She realized what she said and started laughing.

It’s actually really, really easy to judge people!  I’m in HR and Recruiting, I’ve made a career out of judging people.

A candidate comes in with a tattoo on their face and immediately we think: prison, drugs, poor decision making, etc. We instantly judge. It’s not that a face-tattoo candidate can’t surprise us and be engaging and brilliant, etc. But before we even get to that point, we judge. I know, I know, you don’t judge, it’s just me. Sorry for lumping you in with ‘me’!

What my wife was saying was correct. It’s really hard to judge someone based on how little we actually know them.

People judge me all the time on my poor grammar skills.  I actually met a woman recently at a conference who said she knew me, used to read my stuff, but stopped because of my poor grammar in my writing.  We got to spend some time talking and she said she would begin reading again, that she had judged me too harshly, and because I made errors in my writing assumed I wasn’t that intelligent.

I told her she was actually correct, I’m not intelligent, but that I have consciously not fixed my errors in writing (clearly at this point I could have hired an editor!). The errors are my face tattoo.

If you can’t see beyond my errors, we probably won’t be friends.  I’m not ‘writing errors, poor grammar guy”.  If you judge me like that, you’re missing out on some cool stuff and ideas I write about.

As a hiring manager and HR Pro, if you can’t see beyond someone’s errors, you’re woefully inept at your job.  We all have ‘opportunities’ but apparently, if you’re a candidate you don’t, you have to be perfect.  I run into hiring managers and HR Pros who will constantly tell me, “we’re selective”, “we’re picky”, etc.

No, you’re not. What you are is unclear about what and who it is that is successful in your environment.  No one working for you now is perfect. So, why do you look for perfection in a candidate? Because it’s natural to judge against your internal norm.

The problem with selection isn’t that it is too hard to judge, the problem is that it’s way too easy to judge. The next time you sit down in front of a candidate try and determine what you’ve already judged them on. It’s a fun exercise. Before they even say a word. Have the hiring managers interviewing them send you their judgments before the interview.

We all do it.  Then, flip the script, and have your hiring managers show up for an interview ‘blind’. No resume beforehand, just them and a candidate face-to-face. It’s fun to see how they react and what they ask them without a resume, and how they judge them after.  It’s so easy to judge, and those judgments shape our decision-making, even before we know it!

Extra Credit Matters!

Remember back in school when a tough test knocked you off your feet? The best part was always the extra credit opportunities the teacher offered to help boost that low grade. Deep down, they probably felt bad for you.

Extra credit was a lifesaver!

But here’s the thing: you never got extra credit just for showing up to class.

Why? Because extra credit is for those who go above and beyond. You don’t earn it by just doing what’s expected; you have to do something extra!

At work, you can get stuck in a cycle where employees expect extra credit simply for showing up—and surprisingly, many companies give it to them! Your employees are doing their basic job, and yet they expect to be rewarded for it. This is common in places with weak leadership.

The problem comes from not clearly defining what’s expected and what deserves extra recognition. Once you make this clear, giving extra credit becomes fun and fair.

Don’t get me wrong—I love rewarding employees! While not everyone looks for extra credit, those who do should know exactly what it takes to earn it and what they’ll get for their extra effort.

This is called performance management. Good performance management means clearly setting job expectations and recognizing the extra efforts that deserve rewards. By setting these standards, you create a place where employees are motivated to excel and know that extra effort leads to extra rewards.

So, make extra credit a part of your performance management plan. Clearly explain what going above and beyond looks like, and reward those who do. This way, your employees will know how to shine, leading to a more motivated and high-performing team.

The Stuff They Leave Behind

One of the most unexpected parts of someone leaving a company is finding the stuff they leave behind in their desks. Obviously the situation isn’t great, but the things you discover can be pretty interesting.

I once had to pack up the desk of a guy who got fired for poor performance, and I found an almost full bottle of vodka. That was a surprise! Probably explained his work issues. Besides the rare finds, you usually get a lot of pens, staplers, tape dispensers, and office supplies. What else am I missing?!

Food is another common thing left behind. From microwavable soups to candy and chips, departing employees almost always leave their snacks. Instead of being thrown away, these items quickly disappear once put in the break room, snatched up by hungry coworkers in no time.

Business books are often left behind too. Titles like “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” and “Good to Great” stay on the shelves, suggesting they weren’t quite as life-changing as hoped. My own office has a bookshelf full of such books, now more for decoration than actual use. I also have textbooks from my HR master’s program that I’ll likely never open again.

The stuff left behind often gives clues about why someone was let go, especially if they were fired. Things like crossword puzzle books, magazines, video game consoles, and workout bands show exactly how the employee spent their work hours, not working. These items give a peek into their daily routines and distractions.

Half-used calendars are another common thing people don’t take with them. I could make a display of past employees with their old cat and muscle car calendars, complete with motivational quotes from every month. These items reflect the personal tastes and quirks of their previous owners.

But out of all the things left behind, the stories are the best. You can really tell how much someone impacted the office by the stories people tell about them long after they’re gone. If coworkers still talk about you at lunch or office parties a year later, it shows you left a mark. Good or bad.

More, More, More!

Welcome back to Re-Run Friday – this post originally ran in May 2019!

The Future of Work, is More Work!

I’m sure you’ve read an article or listened to a podcast that had something to do with “the future of work”. It’s a hot topic to talk about, primarily because it’s all just a big fat guess and the best content is content where I just get to tell what I think will happen, but really have no idea for sure.

When I take a look at the HR technology landscape and see the tech that is hitting the market around work and performance, I think the future of work is actually just more work!

When I say ‘more’ work I really mean “More” work! Much of the technology that is being created and launched around HR Technology falls into a few buckets:

  1. How can we make workers more efficient at what they are currently doing?
  2. How can we monitor workers on what they are doing (tracking)?
  3. How can we leverage A.I. to do certain tasks workers are doing right now?

Don’t get me wrong, the technology doesn’t scare me in the least, I think it’s amazing, but the reality is much of it is designed to help us humans reach our full potential. If my couple of decades in HR has taught me anything it’s that very few of us humans want to reach our full potential!

Reaching your full potential means you are working really hard!

I have a great story about working in a union job the summer I first got out of high school. My Dad got me the job working in a grocery warehouse picking orders to be delivered to supermarkets. The warehouse just implemented a new software system that tracked the productivity of each worker.

Basically, I would be given an order and the system had estimated how long that order should take for me to complete. If the order was complex I got more time, it is was simply pulling a full pallet of one type of item, I might only get ten minutes or so to complete, some orders were estimated to take 75+ minutes to complete.

The union had negotiated that I only had to work 77% of the time. Yes, you read that correctly! If you added up all of my order minutes, in theory, to keep my job, I had to be 77% efficient. So, in an eight-hour shift of 480 minutes, once I reached my 369.6 minutes of work, I could actually just stop. In fact, I was encouraged very strongly by my union brothers to stop at the exact point!

Now the “new” computer system didn’t account for extra effort. So, if I had an order that was supposed to take 60 minutes, but I worked really hard and completed it in 45 minutes, I just earned myself an extra 15 minutes. By the end of the summer, I was efficient enough in getting orders completed that I spent about three hours a shift playing cards with my union brothers in the back of the warehouse until my shift was done!

The new HR Technology that is in play right now, based on AI and machine learning, would have made these corrections individually within a few shifts, knowing I could do that work more efficiently than another person and soon my orders would have been adjusted. The technology would have ensured that my ‘extra’ effort turned into my normal effort.

We already know that my warehouse work will be replaced by robots, so my example is already dated. But what about that office job? Will a robot replace you? No, not right away, we are a ways off from that, but that same AI/Machine learning technology will track and measure everything you do and soon you will feel as busy as ever, because ‘down time’ is unproductive time and the tech can compute that!

The future of work is more work.

Please! Help me turnaround our employment brand!

In HR and talent management discussions, I feel like I get asked two main questions:

  1. Which ATS do you recommend?
  2. How can we turn around our bad employment brand?

Let’s save the first question for another blog. Now, addressing the second question—it’s not always easy, but it’s definitely doable with some effort.

The first step is figuring out why your employer reputation is suffering. Sometimes, it’s a complex issue; other times, it’s more straightforward. For example, if your reputation took a hit due to how you treated employees in the past, rebuilding trust will take time. On the other hand, if it’s because of a recent negative news story, you can recover more quickly. I guess depending on the facts of that news story, though…

Start by pinpointing the root cause of your employer reputation challenges.

While some issues might be obvious, conducting employee surveys can provide helpful insights. I recommend alumni surveys among employees who left voluntarily—they often give constructive feedback.

The second important step is getting your entire leadership team on board.

HR efforts alone won’t be enough if leadership isn’t aligned. It’s not just about the CEO; all leaders need to acknowledge the problem and commit to fixing it. Once leadership is on the same page, the path forward becomes clearer.

The third crucial step is making your current employees believe that real change is happening.

Consistent communication is key. When employees see meaningful changes internally, they’re more likely to speak positively about your company externally. Consider identifying and rewarding employees who truly believe in the changes for referrals—this can drive positive change from within.

Lastly, work on changing the external perception of your company.

Don’t focus on external marketing before addressing internal issues. Fixing internal problems first will significantly strengthen your external branding efforts.

Remember, the initial steps require the most effort. Getting everyone in leadership to agree can be tough, especially if the root cause is ineffective leadership. There’s no quick fix for a damaged employer reputation. External marketing alone won’t solve it—it’s like putting a band-aid on a deeper issue.

What it Really Means to Be a Partner

In our little world, being a “partner” carries weight, right? But, serious question. Does anyone really know what it means?

I operate a staffing firm, where I end up working for free quite a bit. Staffing involves providing services up front, hoping to get paid when the right candidate is found. To succeed, you have to minimize the unpaid work as much as possible. I also speak and write in the TA and HR space, I do free work there too. A lot actually.

Often, I’m asked for “favors” – which translates to free work. Despite being called a “partnership,” it’s usually one-sided—I give, they take. I get it, though. Sometimes, giving something for free can lead to future benefits. It’s like a “loss-leader” strategy.

In my experience, this strategy succeeds about 20% of the time. People generally like helping when asked.

In real business partnerships, it’s similar. While you don’t want to work for free, you should always get something in return. Always.

For example, if you partner with a hiring manager, they should provide valuable feedback or help with networking. If they give nothing, it’s not a partnership—it’s a one-way street.

Genuine partnerships involve support, respect, and mutual benefit. Just calling yourself a partner isn’t enough—you have to act like one too.

Improving Diversity in Your Engineering Team

Struggling to diversify your technical hires? You’re not alone if most of these hires are men, but by now you probably know the value of having diverse teams. So, how can you attract and keep more female and minority engineers? It’s tough, but doable!

Many of our clients quietly express interest in hiring female or minority engineers. Some HR folks worry about appearing discriminatory, but actively seeking diversity is not only smart but legal too. Look at Etsy – they boosted female engineering hires by 500%. It’s not about the numbers alone; it’s about meaningful change. Etsy revamped their interview process to be fairer to women, resulting in more female engineers joining them.

Here are three practical steps you can take:

  1. Publicly Commit to Diversity: Don’t keep it a secret. Let everyone know you’re actively seeking to hire women and minorities – add it to your marketing, careers page, all of the above. Transparency matters.
  2. Maintain Standards: Don’t lower the bar for just diversity’s sake. Stick to your hiring standards while actively seeking diverse talent. They’re out there!
  3. Involve Female Leaders in Hiring: Representation counts. Have female leaders lead the hiring process for engineering roles. They can bring valuable insights and help attract top female talent.

Remember, fostering diversity takes time and effort. Start small, but start now. Your engineering team’s future depends on it!

Getting Recruitment Right

Sometimes we get so far into the weeds in recruiting that we forget what is actually important.

We have to have a brand!

We have to have an ATS!

And now, a new ATS!

We have to have a CRM! What the hell is a CRM!

Our job descriptions need a refresh, and let’s face it, our career site could use some work too.

And don’t get me started on the employee referral program.

There’s always a million things to do in recruitment, and it’s hard to keep up.

But here’s the thing: recruiting isn’t rocket science. It’s just about finding people to join your team. There are plenty of potential candidates out there; you just need to let them know you’re hiring.

That’s the golden rule of recruitment: Spread the word that you’re looking for new team members.

It’s pretty straightforward, yet so many good candidates slip through the cracks because they didn’t know there was an opportunity.

Recruitment is all about getting the word out. Sure, you might get some applicants who aren’t quite the right fit, but that’s part of the process.

To find the right people, you need to cast a wide net and let everyone know you’re hiring. Cast that net people!

It’s not just about posting on job boards or your career site; it’s about creating a culture where everyone in your organization understands the importance of spreading the word about job openings.

Unfortunately, many companies miss the mark on this. Whether it’s because they’re too proud or they think it makes them look desperate, they don’t make enough effort to let people know they’re hiring.

This is a big mistake that can sink your recruitment efforts.

Recruitment isn’t about showing off; it’s about being humble and inviting talented individuals to join your team.

Say Goodbye to the Employee Handbook Snooze Fest

Updating an employee handbook is like doing your taxes – it’s a necessary chore that nobody looks forward to. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

There’s two types of companies when it comes to these handbooks:

Option #1 – We’ve had the same employee handbook since the beginning of time. It’s written on stone tablets.

Option #2 – We rewrite our employee handbook each year because it’s the most important document on the planet.

The problem is both options usually end up writing an employee handbook that reads like a welcome packet to prison. If you forced candidates to read your employee handbook before actually accepting a position with your company 99% would decline your offer!

Your handbook can be more than just a boring document; it can be engaging and reflective of your company’s culture. Here are some tips to make your handbook more appealing to people like me:

  1. Tell a Story: Instead of listing rules and regulations, try to tell a story. People are more likely to read through something if it’s presented in a narrative format. Work with someone in your organization who has a knack for storytelling to craft a more engaging handbook.
  2. Explain the ‘Why’: Many rules in handbooks seem arbitrary. To make them more understandable, explain the reasoning behind them. Even if the rule itself remains unchanged, transparency helps employees understand its purpose.
  3. Add Visuals: To make your handbook more visually appealing, bring in a graphic designer to add some color and simple illustrations. This can help break up the text and make it easier to read.
  4. Communicate Your Culture: Your real culture. Don’t have a funny and engaging handbook when you have a buttoned-up culture, it sends a mixed message. Also, don’t write this boring legal document of a handbook if you have “No Pants Wednesdays” in your office. It doesn’t fit your culture!

Does anyone have a good employee handbook story? What’s the longest handbook you’ve seen?

Are All Employment Brands the Same?

I’ve always thought that 9 out of 10 employment brands are basically clones. If you asked candidates to tell the difference between them, they’d probably draw a blank.

Employment Brand #1 claims to hire top talent, treat employees well, value diversity, have a fun work vibe, and actually listen to staff.

Now, Employment Brand #2? They do the same as #1 but their logo is blue!

Then comes Employment Brand #3, doing the same as #1 and #2, but adding the twist of exclusively hiring top-tier talent.

And, of course, Employment Brand #4 follows the pattern but sweetens the deal with pay-for-performance.

Everyone’s saying, “We’re just like them, but better because we say so!” So, what makes some brands stand out from all the spam? The only answer that clicked with my limited marketing brain is a genuinely transformative leadership vision.

Sure, any company can offer more money, better perks, and all that jazz. But having a clear, inspiring, and unshakeable vision is a rare gem. Think Elon Musk, Steve Jobs, Henry Ford, Oprah Winfrey – leaders with a vision that stands out and makes employees follow without question.

If a transformative vision is the only thing that sets organizations apart, and the rest of us are pretty much the same, what’s the real message to candidates? Are we just serving up more spam? If so, is employment branding just a waste?

We’re living in an Instagram world, where good design and a smart media strategy are seen as ‘better’ – even if they don’t make you a better employer. Let’s not kid ourselves; we all play the game. And that’s okay, as long as you’re not playing without that transformative vision.

It’s even cool if you truly believe your company is great! Because, let’s be real, belief is what makes employers stand out. It’s the basis of a transformative vision.