Zoo-Zapped Dreams

Once upon a time, I had my heart set on being a teacher. All through my early twenties, that was the future I saw for myself. But then reality kicked in when I dove into teaching and realized it wasn’t the act of teaching that didn’t fit; it was the political chaos within the public education setup. One incident made it obvious.

There was this amazing exhibit at the local museum, perfectly syncing with my lesson plan by chance. I thought, “What luck! The kids would love this.” So, I proposed ditching our routine zoo visit for this exhibit.

“Can’t do that,” my principal said. “It had to be approved a year in advance, but you can do it next year.” “It won’t be here next year; it’s a traveling exhibit, only available this year,” I explained. “Sorry, won’t happen,” she replied. “What if I got parents to do this after school or on a weekend, and it wouldn’t cost anything?” I pleaded. “Nope, can’t let you do it. Don’t waste your energy on this,” she could see my rising frustration with something that made no sense. Guess where we ended up? The zoo. Same old tour, the same old caged animals, and the same lack of engagement.

Right then, it hit me hard—this system cared more about following rigid rules than genuinely educating kids. My dream of being an educator got a reality check.

But hold on, my dream didn’t vanish; it shifted. See, many think an unrealized dream equals failure. Nope. It’s about adapting when life throws a curveball.

The real grind isn’t just the pursuit; it’s in reimagining when things hit a dead-end. Time for a pivot!

We glamorize chasing a dream endlessly, but the truth is, sometimes dreams need an adjustment. And that’s okay. It’s not defeat; it’s evolution.

Let’s embrace the idea that dreams are adjustable. It’s about celebrating the courage to pivot, not just the pursuit. Chase your dreams fiercely, but know it’s equally admirable to adjust them when life asks you to. Adjustments don’t belittle dreams; they shape them, making the journey all the more vibrant.

A Christmas Present for Your CEO

This holiday season, you’ve got the chance to make your CEO’s Christmas wish list come true. It’s time to give them the gift of insights into what they really want from their HR and Talent Acquisition teams.

I created a short survey designed just for CEOs, all about what they wish HR and TA would do more of or start doing. It’s all about improvements, tech stuff, and making magic happen within your organization. They get to rate your HR team’s current performance, spot areas for improvement, and even prioritize the issues they care about most. Psst, CEOs, your secrets are safe with us – this survey is anonymous.

Spread the Joy

So, spread some holiday cheer and share this survey link with your CEO or hook me up with their email.

As HR pros, you have the power to make some serious magic happen. By getting your CEO involved in this survey, you’re not just boosting your own game but helping us all understand what makes CEOs tick across different industries!

I’m making this holiday season all about shaping killer HR strategies. Are you with me? Share the link with your CEO and let’s sprinkle some HR magic together!

Are you chasing shadows?

Ever heard of the “decline effect”? It’s this quirky psychological phenomenon where the more you try to improve something, the more it starts to decline. That’s what’s happening with Employee Engagement. You can always blame the economy or limited options for employees, but that’s not the full story. There’s a deeper reason behind the decline.

Let’s talk about the obsession with Employee Engagement in the last decade. HR departments went all-in, focusing solely on boosting engagement. We measured and implemented programs. We celebrated the uptick in scores. But then, despite our relentless efforts to push those scores higher, they started dropping again. Blaming managers, employees, or vendors didn’t solve it either.

It’s like buying a house. The first one was perfect. Then came the bigger houses with more space, more to handle, and more problems. Happiness didn’t grow with the size.

We’ve thrown everything into making employees happy—new perks, freebies, and fixes. But there’s a limit. Employees were engaged before this frenzy. Seeking more doesn’t always lead to better results; sometimes, it leads to worse outcomes.

Employee Engagement isn’t about more—it’s about balance. Don’t fall into the trap of endlessly chasing more. It’s a dead-end road that gives you less and less over time. Find a sustainable approach to engagement that doesn’t exhaust your efforts.

Reality check! Your candidate experience is probably fine

Here’s the deal about candidate experience: it’s often pitched like it’s some tangible product, but truth be told, it’s not.

We’ve got these big shots in the industry telling us otherwise. They thrive on advising companies spooked about the fallout from a candidate having a bad experience. But let’s face it, that story’s made up. Sounds necessary, but it’s not.

Here’s how Candidate Experience probably came to be:

  1. Imagine this scenario: an exec’s relative applies for a job online. The system does its thing, rejects the unsuitable candidate, and sends the usual ‘Thanks, but no thanks.’ But here’s the twist!
  2. The exec learns that their bright relative got zero interaction or even a shot at an interview. Cue the family drama.
  3. To save face, the exec lays into the Talent Acquisition head about the treatment of candidates.

And voila! Candidate Experience drama unfolds—all because a relative got snubbed.

The exec, not wanting it to seem personal, drums up other reasons, and everyone just follows suit. “Treat candidates like our customers! Turn them into fans of our brand! Treat them better than ourselves; it’s a talent edge!” We start buying into this spiel, thinking our methods stink. But the fear that a sour candidate will boycott our products? It’s blown out of proportion. Only a tiny fraction think this way—just par for the course in Talent Acquisition.

For most Talent Acquisition leaders, what we’re doing is just fine. We treat candidates like regular humans, communicate whether they fit or not, and it works. Yeah, some of us might have some wonky processes, but we don’t have any huge issues. The biggest fib in HR? Making Candidate Experience out to be a big deal. Candidates aren’t asking for much—they just want to know we received their application and our thoughts on their fit. Treat them like people: a simple ‘thanks, but no thanks’ or ‘we’re interested, here’s what’s next’ does the trick. Be communicative.

It’s not brain surgery; it doesn’t need a ton of time or cash. You don’t have a real problem. I get it, everyone’s telling you otherwise, so it feels real. But trust me, it’s not!

Embracing Challenges on a Mission

Whenever someone mentions being “on a mission,” it reminds me of the Blues Brothers movie and their pursuit:

In our modern leadership landscape, openly declaring one’s mission is a powerful step. It makes complete sense, set a goal, sharing it with the world, now you’ve got some investment into making sure you truly do go after that mission. However, there’s a crucial aspect of missions that often goes unaddressed.

Acknowledging the inevitable bad days or rough patches within a mission is vital, yet rarely discussed. Many leaders shy away from admitting this reality. When challenges arise, panic sets in, and people begin to believe that the mission won’t be accomplished.

As leaders, part of our responsibility is to equip our team for the journey ahead. It’s not just about motivation; it’s also about presenting the truth. We must prepare our troops for the tough moments, the setbacks, and the muddy paths. Embracing the possibility that not everyone will emerge unscathed and there will be backwards steps is crucial. It’s in these moments that the real strength of leadership shines through.

The greatness of being on a mission lies not just in the endpoint but also in the journey itself. That has to be on a motivational coffee cup or something, right?

Maximizing Employee Referrals: The Key to Hiring Success

Referral hires often stand out as the cream of the crop in any company’s recruitment efforts. It’s a simple equation:

Good Employee + wanting to stay a good employee + employee’s reputation = usually good people they recommend to HR/Recruiting to go after and hire

I’m like Einstein when it comes to HR math! However, here’s the challenge: despite this equation, many companies struggle to receive enough referrals. We’ve analyzed our referral process, fine-tuned collateral materials, and even leveraged technology to automate referrals. Yet, the numbers remain short of our expectations and needs.

There’s a straightforward but often overlooked aspect: giving employees explicit permission to share job openings within their personal and professional networks every time a referral is needed for a specific position.

HR excels in roll-outs—we’re masters at initiating programs. However, where we often stumble is in the continuity of these programs post-roll-out. Brutal truth, but true.

So, how can you ramp up your referral game?

  1. Establish a program (surprisingly, not all companies have one).
  2. When in need of a referral, ask for it every single time. Assuming that employees will naturally share openings isn’t always effective.
  3. Specifically “give permission” to employees to share job openings on their social networks—Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok you name it!

BEST PRACTICE TIP: Create departmental email groups. When a relevant position opens up, send an email to the group with standard referral language and an easily shareable hyperlink along with clear instructions.

Granting “permission” triggers action—it’s a psychological thing, and it works wonders. Think about it, like you were a 5 year old.  Your parents tell you, you can’t ride your Green Machine in the street.  Then, one day, Mom is out getting her nails done and your Dad sees you doing circles in the driveway on that Green Machine and he goes “Hey, why don’t you take that into the street?!”  What do you do?  You immediately take that bad boy for a ride in the street! Dad “gave you permission” and you ran with it!

Referrals aren’t quite the same, but it’s surprising how some employees question whether they’re allowed to share job postings with friends and family. Don’t assume—they might surprise you.

So, empower your employees. Give your employees permission to get you some referrals! Or what if you allowed anyone in your company to hire?

Life’s Tough, But It Evens Out

In the realm of motivational quotes, one has continually stuck with me: “It’s hard, but it’s fair.” An older football coach used it to fire up his players, but it speaks volumes about life today.

The coach’s son, Toler Jr., eloquently defines the meaning of the phrase:

“It’s about sacrifice. It means that if you work hard, at the end of the day, fairness aligns with your efforts. It’s about investing time and readiness for the opportunities.”

We all think our parents are hard on us growing up.  I recall stories I tell to my own sons of my Dad waking me up on a Saturday morning at 7am, after I was out to late the night before, and ‘making’ me help him with something, like chopping wood or cleaning the garage out.  He didn’t really need my help, he was trying to teach me a lesson about choices.  If I chose to stay out late at night, it was going to suck getting up early to go to school.  He shared with me stories of his father doing the same thing – one night my Dad had gotten home late, so late, he didn’t even go to bed, just started a pot of coffee and waited for my grandfather to get up, figuring that was easier than getting a couple of hours of sleep and then hearing it from my grandfather the rest of the day.

In my role as an HR professional, I witness this every day in the workforce. There are those who consistently dedicate themselves without expecting special treatment. Others will put in the minimum, then expect a cookie. It’s a tough life lesson for those folks. Often, they depart, perceiving unfair treatment, and move between jobs, slowly learning the importance of effort and time investment. In my three decades in HR, genuine hard workers rarely face injustice. Occasionally, undeserving individuals might receive promotions, but the hard workers usually secure the better end of the deal.

As a parent, I hope I can teach my sons this lesson: Life is inherently challenging, but commitment and hard work pave the path to fairness.

The Role of HR as Coaches

There’s an article by Atul Gawande in The New Yorker discussing the importance of “Coaching.” Gawande, a writer and surgeon, talked about coaches as not just teachers but as observers, judges, and guides. From the article:

The concept of a coach is slippery. Coaches are not teachers, but they teach. They’re not your boss—in professional tennis, golf, and skating, the athlete hires and fires the coach—but they can be bossy. They don’t even have to be good at the sport. The famous Olympic gymnastics coach Bela Karolyi couldn’t do a split if his life depended on it. Mainly, they observe, they judge, and they guide.

Gawande, A. (2011, October 3). Personal Best. The New Yorker.

In my HR role, I’ve always believed that HR can act as coaches across our organizations. But there’s often pushback, like “You can’t coach me in Marketing, Operations, or Accounting.” Exactly—I’m not here to teach you those things; I hired you for that. Building a coaching culture starts with hiring people open to being coached.

More from the article:

Good coaches know how to break down performance into its critical individual components. In sports, coaches focus on mechanics, conditioning, and strategy, and have ways to break each of those down, in turn. The U.C.L.A. basketball coach John Wooden, at the first squad meeting each season, even had his players practice putting their socks on. He demonstrated just how to do it: he carefully rolled each sock over his toes, up his foot, around the heel, and pulled it up snug, then went back to his toes and smoothed out the material along the sock’s length, making sure there were no wrinkles or creases. He had two purposes in doing this. First, wrinkles cause blisters. Blisters cost games. Second, he wanted his players to learn how crucial seemingly trivial details could be. “Details create success” was the creed of a coach who won ten N.C.A.A. men’s basketball championships.

Gawande, A. (2011, October 3). Personal Best. The New Yorker.

In working with adult professionals, coaching isn’t about teaching new stuff but helping them analyze and improve what they already do well. Instead of fixating on weaknesses, HR can help make employees’ strengths even stronger.

Coaching has become popular lately, with various types like leadership or life coaching. But coaching for professionals is less common. I believe in HR professionals acting as more hands-on coaches, working daily to improve skills that directly impact the business, not focusing on personal challenges.

One big challenge for HR transitioning into coaching roles is that many employees lack self-awareness, just like us! A great coach helps someone see things in themselves they didn’t notice before.

If HR can build this self-awareness in organizations, it could lead to some amazing changes.

What does it mean to be a male leader in today’s business world?

This is a complex subject to write about because it’s a hot-button issue for so many. Men still make up 2/3 of Congress. There have only been male US Presidents. Roughly 90% of the Fortune 500 have male CEOs. All that being said, over the past few decades women have made some tremendous strides professionally, and those strides are accelerating.

For every 74 males who receive a college degree today, 100 women receive their degree, and the gap is growing. Men account for 70% of the decline in college enrollment. 50% of women now outearn their male partners. That number was 4% in 1960. Women now hold 50.04% of all jobs in the US (Women in Canada hold 61%). Pay equity is still an issue. In 1980 women were paid 40% less than men. Today that number is 15.5% in some fields, like Software Engineering, pay equity has flipped to favor women over men.

As I said, this is a complex issue because so much work still needs to be done to elevate women. A successful female business owner raised me. When my mother started her business is was rare for women to own businesses. Today over ten million women are business owners.

All of this also doesn’t change the fact that the role of men in work is also drastically changing during this time. Both of these concepts can be true at the same time. The Washington Post recently had an article discussing the issue of these changes to men: Men are lost. Here’s a map out of the wilderness by Christine Emba. Here are some takeaways from the article:

It is harder to be a man today, and in many ways, that is a good thing: Finally, the freer sex is being held to a higher standard.

Even so, not all of the changes that have led us to this moment are unequivocally positive. And if left unaddressed, the current confusion of men and boys will have destructive social outcomes, in the form of resentment and radicalization.

The truth is that most women still want to have intimate relationships with good men. And even those who don’t still want their sons, brothers, fathers and friends to live good lives.

The old script for masculinity might be on its way out. It’s time we replaced it with something better...

…for all their problems, the strict gender roles of the past did give boys a script for how to be a man…People need codes for how to be human. And when those aren’t easily found, they’ll take whatever is offered, no matter what else is attached.

What is a good definition of new masculinity?

The phrase “toxic masculinity” gets thrown around too much in today’s world. Yes, there are traits of men that are historically toxic. But it’s also a mind-f*ck we are throwing on heterosexual young men who still hold the majority of roles in our society as men. Don’t act like a “man,” but women are only attracted to you if you act like a “man.”

More from the Washington Post article:

This is especially compelling in a moment when many young men feel their difficulties are often dismissed out of hand as whining from a patriarchy that they don’t feel part of. For young men in particular, the assumption of a world built to serve their sex doesn’t align with their lived experience, where girls out-achieve them from pre-K to post-graduate studies and “men are trash” is an acceptable joke...

I’m convinced that men are in a crisis. And I strongly suspect that ending it will require a positive vision of what masculinity entails that is particular — that is, neither neutral nor interchangeable with femininity. Still, I find myself reluctant to fully articulate one. There’s a reason a lot of the writing on the crisis in masculinity ends at the diagnosis stage…

“Where I think this conversation has come off the tracks is where being a man is essentially trying to ignore all masculinity and act more like a woman. And even some women who say that — they don’t want to have sex with those guys. They may believe they’re right, and think it’s a good narrative, but they don’t want to partner with them.”

I, a heterosexual woman, cringed in recognition.

“And so men should think, ‘I want to take advantage of my maleness. I want to be aggressive, I want to set goals, go hard at it. I want to be physically really strong. I want to take care of myself.’”

Galloway leaned into the screen. “My view is that, for masculinity, a decent place to start is garnering the skills and strength that you can advocate for and protect others with. If you’re really strong and smart, you will garner enough power, influence, and kindness to begin protecting others. That is it. Full stop. Real men protect other people.”

I like Galloway’s definition of “real men”! Real men protect others because it positively shapes behavior. It’s easy for men to follow.

Many people don’t see this as a crisis. Being a dad of three young men, I try to see the trends before it’s too late. A friend of mine is keen on saying “Idle men are bad business for America.” We are heading down that slippery slope.

Society has gotten comfortable in not supporting men. The view is women need support, but men have had such a historical headstart they don’t need support. All of our young people, regardless of gender, need our support. We should not diminish any of them and their potential in our societal structures. The world needs men who are masculine and care for others as much as the world needs strong, feminine women. These are not competing forces. They should be complimenting forces.

I tried not to make this a gender issue, but it’s complex. In our world today it’s not just male and female anymore. My intent for writing this was to share an insightful article by a really good writer, Christine Emba. I encourage you to read the piece as it goes much deeper than the few pieces I shared here. In the end, we are quickly going down a path that ignores men. While men still hold so much power, we can see a horizon where that won’t be the case. My hope is that women will do a much better job in the next century in holding that power than men did previously.

I identify as Age-fluid!

I would love to take credit for coming up with “Age-fluid,” but I’m stealing it from Chip Conley, who I saw speak at Transform a few weeks back. Chip was talking about age diversity and how only 14% of the F500 actually measure age diversity and how this is becoming a major issue in corporate America.

Now, if you would talk to my wife, she would tell you I’ve identified as “age-fluid” most of my life. I’m 53, but my humor is mostly that of a 12-year-old boy! Also, I refuse to believe that I still can’t do most of the stuff I could 20 years ago. While my body feels like it’s 80 some days, I still think I hang on the court with folks half my age.

For hundreds of years, we’ve known of this phenomenon where you have a mental age and a physical age. I’ve already said my “mental” age is way lower than my physical age, but it’s important to truly understand the impact this has on the diversity of our organizations. Because we also see the opposite. I’ve met many young people who were wise beyond their years and seemed to have an “old soul.”

Most organizations and hiring managers are biased toward those of a higher age. I don’t think that is shocking to anyone. Old people are still the ones we can be biased against, and no one thinks it’s wrong. We make jokes in meetings about someone’s advanced age all the time, and no one thinks anything of it. But in reality, this is no difference from someone making an old person’s joke than if they were making a similar joke against someone’s gender or ethnicity.

I actually love the concept of being Age-fluid.

If someone in our society can be gender-fluid and decide from day to day which gender they believe they are, then I can decide what age I believe I am. I mean there are advantages to every age. Being young is cool, but it also sucks because you don’t know what you don’t know. Being old can suck physically, but usually you’re also more confident in where you’re at in life. You know who you are and you’ve come to grips with it. Being a child is magical, but you don’t understand that.

Today I feel like I’m 36.

Why 36?

Hmmm…well, at 36, you can still feel great physically, but you also have enough time on this rock to have a bit of learning. I won’t call it wisdom, but you’ve made enough mistakes to mostly know how not to make them again. Doesn’t mean you won’t, but you know the path you’re going down and how it will most likely end.

At 36, you aren’t looking at the end yet. You also aren’t looking back at the “good old days.” You feel like you still have more life ahead of you, than behind you, and you’re still young enough to truly feel like you haven’t written the script for your life yet. You still have promise, and you’ve made a bunch of progress on where you want to go.

Yeah, today, I’m 36. I’m also about 12 for a few seconds at at time, depending on what memes my other 12-year-old friends are sending me!

What age do you want to identify as today and why? Hit me in the comments.