The Rise of the Super Star Employee

Artificial Intelligence is changing the future of work, but there’s one thing that AI won’t be able to do. AI will not be able to create more ‘geniuses’.

A recent study by MIT professors found that as the digital versions of labor grow and will continue to grow, and labor will be able to reproduced cheaply in a number of industries and positions, but the one thing that can’t be duplicated by digital technologies are genius employees. Those employees who are your truly lift your organization to another level.

We all know those rare superstar employees. The one person who has built a product for your organization that will be the future of what you do. The one person who sells 40%+ more than any other person on your team, consistently, year after year. The one person on your team that consistently attracts A players to your team and great talent from other organizations want to work for.

These aren’t your 20/80 employees. 20% of your employees do 80% of the work. These are your employees who are above that. They would rank as your number one employee out of that top 20%. These are the employees that if you had an employee draft on who starts a new company, these folks would always be number one pics.

Our reality as HR leaders, TA leaders, organizational leaders is we will have to start focusing on how do we keep and attract superstar employees. Right now we really work to fill roles with solid hires. Basically, that’s the goal. With the rise of AI-driven automation of transactional work, it will be critical for us to hire a few superstars, more than a bunch of rank and file.

I have a feeling the future of TA team design will have a component of superstar recruiting. In college athletics, the superstar recruit is a 5-star kid. There are very few 5 stars. If you get one, you hit a grand slam in recruiting. Very few schools get 5-star kids. Most schools will be fighting for 3-star and 2-star kids.

I had a feeling that Sourcing automation was going to kill sourcing as a function, but I now see this design where really high-level sourcers will continue to have a very valuable role in finding not just ‘a’ person to fill a position, but finding ‘the’ person to fill a position. Where it will be the job of a part of the TA team to discover who are truly the superstars in certain skill sets across an industry and then work to attract those few potential 5-star employees.

AI will take away a big subset of work that can be easily automated. It won’t be able to take away genius-level, superstar work because those individuals create the future and make things work that aren’t working. They solve unsolvable problems. They predict the unpredictable. You need them more than most of your other employees.

The future of TA is your ability to find, attract and hire superstars. Not everyone will get one. Some will get more than one. The real value of great TA in the world of AI is your ability to hire 5-stars.

@SHRM Making a Stand for Hiring Candidates with Criminal Record!

When it comes to hiring bias in America we HATE hiring 3 types of candidates:

  • Old People
  • Fat People
  • People with a Criminal Record

SHRM decided to try and make an impact and help those with past criminal records get hired with their new initiative called: Getting Talent Back to Work. 

GTBW is an initiative launched by SHRM to get employers to join in and take a pledge that their organizations will work to put people with criminal records back into their hiring pools. Koch Industries, a multi-billion dollar corporations with over 120,000 employees was SHRM’s launch partner, which drew some eyre from some of the HR blogging community.

When I first heard of the program, and HR blogging blow back, the first thing came to mind was the quote:

Misery acquaints a man with strange bedfellows” by William Shakespeare from the Tempest

There are millions of American workers right now who are miserable because they have a record and we will not allow them to pay their debt to society.

This was the same language used by Torin Ellis and Julie Sowash on their entertaining podcast Crazy and The King. Where Julie was really upset by the Koch relationship because of their conservative political stance, and Torin saw it a little less so, which I thought brought great balance to this discussion. Not blind at all to what is going on, but also hopeful and realistic to how difficult this issue really is to change.

So, what do I think about all this?

Making change is messy business. Getting people with criminal records real jobs isn’t something we’ve done really well in our society. 1/3 of Americans have some sort of criminal record and we can’t just throw all of these people away. We have to start truly believing that a debt paid, is actually paid.

Johnny Taylor has a giant association to lead. Some of those SHRM members are ultra liberal. Some are ultra conservative. Some are socialist. Some are religious zealots. Some are atheist. While some HR bloggers hate him for allowing Koch Industries to be apart of this program, I find this view to be exclusive and not inclusive of all.

Odds are there are as many people who love that SHRM has Koch Industry as a partner, as there are people who hate that SHRM has Koch Industries as a partner (with 300,000+ members the stats will play out like America in general). By the way, SHRM also has over 500 other organizations that have stepped up and taken the Pledge! Which is what this is really all about!

Like the ex-criminals we are trying to help get them back to work, why is it we believe that Koch Industries can’t help in this situation? We all have things in our life, in our past, that some wouldn’t agree with, and things that people would love, no matter our political persuasion.

Our reality is almost every organization is or has probably done some crap we all can’t agree on, but they probably are smaller, or keep a lower profile, or believe in what you believe in, so we give them a pass.

I have many friends who lean very heavily liberal. Also, some ultra-conservative. Also, some socialist, and Libetarian, and who knows what else! I don’t agree with their politics and they don’t agree with my moderate politics, yet we can work together to help others and solve problems. It’s not all or nothing. That’s not how our country works. If my neighbor views the world differently than I, I don’t watch his home burn down with him in it, I run in and save him.

We are intelligent beasts that have the ability to separate one ideology from another, and while we won’t always agree it doesn’t mean we can’t find value in one another. We are HR! We own D&I. We need to stop making Inclusion, exclusive to one belief and not all beliefs.

So, kudos for SHRM in launching this initiative in getting organizations to really dig into this issue of hiring people with previous criminal records who have paid their debt to society. Kudos to each and every company that has taken the pledge to help these people who desperately need it.

I encourage you to go take a look at the site and decide if taking this pledge is right for your organization!

2019 Transform Recruitment Marketing Conference

Recruitment Marketing is on the hottest trends and functional areas in talent acquisition right now! I hate even calling it a trend, because the conference is in it’s 5th year, so five years ago it was a trend! Now it’s a must have in your talent strategy!

What I love about Transform is it’s less about “thought leadership” and more about actual in the weeds TA leaders giving the tools and insight to do great Recruitment Marketing on your own. I’m always inspired about how freely they share their knowledge with this community!

The Transform Conference will take place on June 20-21st in Boston and the lineup is a who’s who of RM leaders and strategist including:

  • Holland Dombeck – Delta Airlines Head of Employer Branding & Recruitment Marketing
  • Julie Levy – Global TA Leader at Fiserv
  • James Ellis – Former Head of Employment at Groupon
  • Torin Ellis – Diversity Strategist & Author
  • Erik Qualman – Digital Futurist
  • Leon Logothetis – creator of the Netflix show Kindness Diaries
  • A couple of idiots that call themselves Chad and Cheese! 😉 (fyi – the run the single best podcast in the HR & TA Tech space)

Oh, and me! I’ve Emceed every Transform conference because early on they saw I was a super geek for this stuff, so they let me geek out both days and ask the speakers all the dumb questions that pop into my head as a practitioner trying to figure this stuff out!

So, come join me and hundreds of others in the EB and RM space who are trying to get smarter. The space is extremely limited, so don’t delay your decision to attend (No, really, I mean it – this will be a tight group of smart folks at a cool venue that has limited seating capacity)! 

You can register by clicking on this link for Transform 2019! When you register use the code: Sackett for an extra $100 off your registration fee. 

Guerilla Recruiting Marketing

All I know about marketing I’ve learned from friends. Brilliant people like William Tincup, Michael Carden, Laurie Ruettimann, Jamie Gilpin, Bret Starr, Leela Srinivasan, etc.


I remember sitting in front of William Tincup and Bret Starr when they were partnered up and running Starr-Tincup (which is now the top marketing firm in the HR Tech space – Starr Conspiracy). I was overwhelmed by how smart and creative they were. You got this feeling like they could solve any marketing challenge within seconds.


Michael Carden came to the HR Tech Conference to market, at the time, his new startup (Sonar6) with a giant cardboard box and markers where people could come into the booth and start drawing on the box which was basically their booth.

All of the people I’ve listed have had the courage in their career to do and try stuff others weren’t willing to. Maybe it wasn’t always Guerilla Marketing, but it was definitely out of the box (pun intended!).

When you think about where we are at with Recruitment Marketing right now, we are still, mostly, in this mode of trying to figure out the automation of the martec stack as it relates to recruiting. 

Once we get the technology figured out, we can begin to start being more creative in marketing our jobs and our organizations to the marketplace. We can start having fun!

Imagine partnering with a food truck or two and having them show up across the street from your competitor on a Friday lunch, and you just sit and wait for your competitors employees to walk across the street to check it out and get lunch.

You don’t even have to pay for lunch. People love food trucks and will come buy their own lunch. Just give a few bucks to the food truck to put your branding on their vehicles and show up and eat lunch, network, be different. Put out your big cardboard box!

I love the concept of being the one employer in your marketplace that is willing to be different. If you are just trying to be similar to everyone else, you have little chance of truly standing out as an employer people want to come work at.

What’s the most luxurious benefit you can offer an employee in 2019?

I read a bunch of article about what’s the next greatest benefit to offer employees. I read one the other day that tried to make it seem like now offering food at work is normal, like everyone is giving away breakfast and lunches, like you give away health insurance.

It’s the one thing I hate about reading mainstream media HR articles. Apparently, the only employers in America are located in the 50 square miles around Silicon Valley. Do you really think I believe that the majority of companies in America are giving away free food to their employees?

Come on, that’s not happening!

If you are lucky enough to work for a place that feeds you, great you won the job lottery, enjoy it! If they offer you Kombucha as well, then I’m just sorry for you, because that means they hate you.

What’s the #1 luxury benefit to offer in 2019?

It’s Time.

Time is the one thing every single one of us needs more of. For many it doesn’t even have to be paid time off! Just allow me some time to do some of the stuff that impacting my life, so I can better focus on work when I’m at work.

But of course Paid Time is always appreciated.

I know some employers have gone to unlimited paid time off and studies have shown that when organizations go to this their overall use of paid time off actually goes down. This is a sad commentary on our society.

I know a lot of HR friends of mine argue this can’t be the case because it seems so contrarian to what you would think would happen. “If I had unlimited time off I would never come in and just be on vacation every day!” Okay, Betty, and you would be fired!

The reality is unlimited time off is the answer, because psychology it doesn’t work. Some have the self control enough to use it appropriately, but most people fear that taking time off will somehow impact their performance, so even when they do take their unlimited time off, they still are connected, working in some way.

I know of a few organizations that completely shutdown for a week or two completely. Notice out to clients – “hey, it’s our annual refresh the batteries, 100% of us will be off and not connected, we can’t wait to come back fully recharged to rock your world”. I like the idea but get it probably impractical for so many organizations.

I think the best thing we can do as leaders is to ensure our people are actually taking their paid time off and when they do they know that it’s okay to completely disconnect. That we’ll have their back and to enjoy themselves.

I wonder how many of your leaders pull quarterly or annual reports of PTO to see if their team is taking time for themselves?

When Did Causal Friday Die?

I love the fact that at some point almost every industry decided that it was mostly stupid to wear suits and ties and dresses to work. Even more, Business Casual has mostly died out as well.

I can’t tell you how many F500 organizations I go into where the head of HR or head of Talent is wearing jeans. At my company we went casual pretty late, primarily because we are a service organization and we match that dress of our clients we go to visit.

You’ve probably seen some of these sayings going around social media:

  • There was a day when you picked up your child for the last time. You didn’t know it the time, but you’ll never pick them up again.
  • There was a day when you went outside to play with your friends. You didn’t know it at the time, but you never went out again to play.

We do a ton of stuff then one day we stop doing it and we don’t even realize it. I like to think that’s what happened to Casual Fridays.

For the longest time Casual Fridays were the thing! Some companies used them as motivation, some used them as charity vehicles to raise money for great causes, etc. Then one day, every day was casual and we no longer needed Casual Friday.

I’m not 100% sold that being casual at work all the time is the answer and there is some growing research that says the same thing. There are certain times when dressing up puts you in a better psychological state of mind!

In the study, The Cognitive Consequences of Formal Clothing, researchers found that when a person puts on formal clothing (business formal, not wedding formal) our brain gets us to believe we are better than maybe we really are! 

When wearing formal business clothing we tend to do certain things better, like negotiating. If you were going to close a deal with a big client, it’s best you don’t show up in jeans and a hoodie, even if those you’ll be negotiating with will be. In fact, you’ll have an advantage over them if you did show up fully suited up! 

Billionaire, Mark Cuban, owner of the NBA Mavericks recently shared a post he wrote in 2007, doubling down on his belief we should never wear suits and he says he only does, to this day, for weddings and funerals. 

Mark doesn’t believe in the psychological impact of wearing a suit and tie (despite what the research says) and believes letting your employees be casual is the way to go. Since his post in 2007, I would dare to say 100% of tech companies are casual! 

I’ve worked in a business that went from a formal dress code, to a business casual dress code, to a casual dress code. I’m not sure I can tell you one made a difference over another.

I know from a client relationship standpoint when I was in formal clothing, clients felt a little uncomfortable when I was dressed up and they weren’t. But, those same clients when I was meeting them for the first time knew I looked at their business with the utmost importance. Once the relationship was established, I’m sure they felt more at ease when I showed up looking like they did.

From an employment brand standpoint I never understood the large organizations where they executives still wear suit and tie but the rank and file are casual. But I feel the same way about coaches on sidelines wearing suits, or even politicians. There is definitely a psychological power play with all of these.

So, raise one up for Casual Fridays or pour one out or whatever it is you do when something you’ve known for so long dies. Casual Fridays, you’ll be remembered well, or at least remembered as ‘why the hell did we do that?”

Employee Holiday Gift Guide

It’s usually HR’s job to come up with the annual employee gift. Most companies are lame and will do the exact same thing every year. If they don’t give a turkey on Thanksgiving, they’ll definitely give out turkeys at Christmas. If they did give a turkey at Thanksgiving, you’ll likely get a ham or a fruitcake for Christmas.

Can I just say Christmas, instead of the “holiday season” or list all the possible options? My family is Jewish, but we get it, almost no company will ever recognize Chanukah, and if they do, it’s usually insulting, “Oh, isn’t that the Jewish Christmas?!” Ugh. Most of the American workforce follows some Christian-based religion that celebrates Christmas, so it’s just easier to play along with the majority.

At some point, usually, right around the pagan holiday of Halloween, someone in HR will raise the question to leadership, “Hey, what are we doing this year for ‘Christmas’ for the employees?”  What they really are asking is, “How much money are we spending per employee for some gift that looks more expensive than what it really is?”  Depending on the organization, it’s a wide range!

Here are the worst holiday gift ideas to give your employees:

  • Company Logo Portfolio – you know those fake leather bound binders with a legal pad inside. Twenty years ago those were so hot! Now, they’re sad. If you give this out as a gift you should be shot. “Oh, great, thanks, a pad of paper I can’t wait to take a picture of this and post it on my Snap making fun of the lame company I work for!”
  • Company Logo Bag – Any bag really. Duffle. Messenger. Backpack. The only time this isn’t lame is when it’s a really nice bag. Meaning the bag, minus your stupid logo, better cost at least $100 per bag. Your $12 limit per employee just makes any bag you choose, sad. Oh, it’s a Herschel bag, okay, you’re good, send me one to!
  • Any Company Logo Item Your CEO Wouldn’t Buy For Themselves – Let’s face it no one wants a crappy polo shirt, or cheap hoodie, or water bottle made in China. If your leadership team wouldn’t buy this on their own and use it, don’t buy it for your employees. If your CEO is a cheap SOB, ignore what I said above and just skip logo items altogether!
  • Any Mass Pre-packaged Food Items – You know what really sucks? Getting a gift basket of elf-sized trial-sized food items made to look gourmet that were probably made seventeen months ago.
  • A Charitable Gift in “My” Name – I love being charitable. I hate when some tries to be charitable on my behalf. You don’t know what I support! I might hate sick puppies and I don’t want money going to them. That’s not your call. My favorite charity is my kid’s college fund! Are you giving me money for that?

Employee gift giving, especially the bigger your organization is, is a tough game.  You don’t want to be cheap, but if you have 10,000 employees, that one endeavor becomes super expensive! The best thing to do is just stop it all together!

You go through one negative year of people complaining they didn’t get their lead-based painted candy corporate logo candy dish, then the next year no one remembers. Instead, let your hiring managers throw potluck lunches and have some fun. People will remember those, have more fun, and they might actually interact with each other!

Why Did Amazon Decide on Having 3 Corporate Headquarters?

So, the biggest news of the week is Amazon finally made a decision on where they were going to build HQ2 and come to find out instead of just one location, Amazon is splitting the job lottery into two prizes and both Washington D.C. and New York will get an Amazon Headquarters. Okay, it’s probably really about 4 Headquarters since they’re really focusing a ton of the supply chain talent in Nashville, but who’s counting!?

I never really thought Washington D.C. or New York City had a chance because I was thinking about stuff like the ability to actually move around! Turns out Amazon’s real decision point came around brain power. Now, I know what you’re thinking! There are absolutely no brains in Washington D.C.! Hello, is this mic on!? Also, have you been the urine-scented streets of New York!? Joking!

If you look at the U.S. and did a heat map around higher education institutions you would find a gigantic section of the Eastern seaboard is shaded a bright red! From Boston to New York to Philadelphia to Washington D.C. you can’t find a more concentrated area of higher education in the world! Amazon’s newest HQ2 and HQ3 will be strategically located right amongst those areas!

The largest employers in the U.S. look like this:

Walmart is stupid big, but almost all of their employees are onsite at stores.  Accenture is huge, but again their employees work in every medium to large city in the country, not a one big headquarters. FedEx is basically the US mail service. Go down the list and you’ll most of the largest employers are not headquartered centric, but location-centric.

Amazon is the lone giant employer who has most of its employees in office buildings. Knowing they were going to have to hire 50,000+ employees, there was really no one location in the U.S. that could have handled that need for talent in such a short time. Washington D.C. and New York are probably two of the places that can handle 25,000 new jobs, each, without crippling every other employer in the market. And, this will still cause a giant disruption in those cities as people will be moving around like crazy.

An additional 5,000 white collar jobs in Nashville will be an incredible amount for that market, especially in the key skills they’re looking for which are desperately needed everywhere in the U.S. right now. Better dust off your employee engagement strategies and update your compensation models, Nashville employers! 2020 is going to be a tough year!

This decision signals one other potential massive shift for IT. Washington D.C. was already a pretty big IT hub with all the government work, but now moving this many IT related jobs to the East Coast could begin a big shift away from organizations believing you have to be in Silicon Valley to hire IT talent. Amazon will bring and grow IT talent for the entire east coast and strengthen those cities as large IT hubs worldwide.

Amazon definitely didn’t help workers out from a quality of life standpoint. Both D.C. and NYC are awful in terms of cost and commute, at least in California you get sunshine in your closet of an apartment!

The decision for me showed that Amazon truly looked at labor markets and demographics (and some giant tax breaks – which, let’s be honest, everyone was willing to give) as the major decision points in the location of the new headquarters. The U.S. demographics over the next decade should be a major concern for large employers. More workers will leave the workforce than are coming into the workforce, so you better be close to where we tend to grow white collar, educated workers.

This is a win for higher education as much as it is for Washington D.C. and New York City.

Back to Human! @DanSchawbel

Dan Schawbel‘s new book, “Back to Human” launches today and he was kind enough to send me a copy months ago since he rightly assumed I’m probably a slow reader! If you don’t know Dan, you should! Dan is a New York Times best-selling author and he’s one of those guys that cares about our industry in HR and Talent Acquisition.

Dan was named to Inc.’s 30 under 30 and he might be the most influential voice of the Millennial generation. He wrote his first book, “Me 2.0” to help his generation land their first job. He wrote his second book, “Promote Yourself” to help lead them up the career ladder. Now, with his third book, “Back to Human”, Dan is helping them become great leaders of people.

I’ve known Dan for a number of years. He basically pisses me off, because he’s who I think I should be twenty years ago! He’s smart, motivated, and he gets it!

So, what’s “Back to Human” all about? 

Dan, in conjunction with Virgin Pulse, did a huge research study of over 2,000 leaders and employees around a rather new concept of isolated workforces in the age of remote work. The research showed that remote work actually doesn’t help keep employees long term, in fact, remote workers are more likely to leave your employment because of the lack of connection with other workers.

Only 5% of remote workers could see themselves working in their employers for their entire career, compared to 33% of workers who work in non-remote work environments. That’s substantial! Especially when you think about how much we (HR, TA, Leaders) have pushed our organizations down this path of remote work environments because we felt everyone wanted to work remotely! Turns out people don’t want to work remotely! People just like being at home and getting paid! (that’s my assessment, not Dan’s!)

While remote work promotes flexibility and eliminates commuting costs, it has made employees more isolated, lonely and less committed to their teams and organizations. Technology has enabled us to work remotely, but at a huge cost!

I really like Dan’s new book because he gives practical advice for leaders to help foster human connections amongst employees and their leaders. What Dan’s research found out is that we as leaders can’t think about meeting the needs of our employees, especially remote employees, if we aren’t willing to get personal and really work to understand them in a one-on-one level. The problem is most leaders actually do the opposite with remote employees!

Another cool piece about the book is the amount of information around young leaders in how they think and how we can help them develop into better leaders faster.

If you’re looking for a great book to get your leaders and aspiring leaders for your organization, go check out Dan Schawbel’s Back to Human. Well worth the read!

The Most Used Business Expenses by Vendor! Let’s talk travel policies!

The pic above is a fun exercise in tracking business expenses over the years to spot trends in employee behavior! Recode started doing this in 2013 and it makes you wonder what this might look like in 2023!

What do employees expense the most? And how it’s changed in such a short time is fascinating to me!

1. Ride Share came out of nowhere in 2015! 

Uber is number one three years running, and while Lyft has risen super fast, no doubt to a lot of the #MeToo issues Uber faced in 2018, I would think we probably won’t see that change much in 2019. When the tracking first started in 2013, Taxis were in the Top 10. Taxis will never be in the Top 10 ever again!

2. Starbucks has become a business travel staple! 

I’m not a coffee drinker and I still have the Starbucks App on my phone with like $38 in credit burning a hole in my pocket! McDonald’s has been in the top 10 each of the last 6 years, and I have to assume, like Starbucks, it’s a quick, available, and easy cup of coffee or quick meal in the hurry of business travel. As airport vendors and other options become more healthy and more readily available it’s easy to see how McDonald’s will fall off the list very soon.

3. Airlines and Hotels won’t go away, but brand loyalty can change quickly!

American Airlines has the most planes, Delta has the most assets, and in business travel, Delta consistently beats out American. I can only assume that’s because Delta treats frequent business travels better. Road Warriors are super brand loyalist! It pays to be loyal when you travel all the time, and this ranking shows me Delta treats road warriors better on average. It’s crazy to me that we don’t see more hotel chains rank higher? Hampton Inn made it a couple of times. Marriott a couple of times. What does that say? Hotel chains can probably do a lot better in pampering road warriors!

4. Amazon and Walmart as business expenses! 

Where do we buy our stuff for business? Basically, two places and Amazon is trying to make it one place! Whether we are traveling or buying stuff at our desk, we basically buy from Walmart and Amazon, I’m guessing because of price and selection. This is the death of retail as we know it, where it’s basically two vendors selling us cheap crap, indistinguishable crap.

So, do these most used vendors speak to your Travel Policy? 

It seems like, over the years, Peggy in payroll has gotten a little less Nazi-like when it comes to expense reports. Are you feeling that? Maybe that’s just me, or maybe our accounting departments are eased up a bit.

Business travel is hard enough without getting yelled at by someone in the home office who never gets to travel and believes your business travel experience is like going on one non-stop vacation! I get we need rules and boundaries, but for the most part business travel sucks, and it’s taxing on your personal life. As HR leaders we should be developing travel policies that take this into account.

I find that HR leaders who have to travel a lot get this at a really high level and find great ways to develop travel policies that get what the organization needs without putting heavy burdens on those traveling. Those who don’t travel for business, develop policies that make employees hate HR and Accounting!

What is the one business expense your organization allows that we would find the most interesting or amazing?