People Are Not Widgets

“Your people are not your greatest asset. They’re not yours, and they’re not assets.”

Rodd Wagner

In his book Widgets, Wagner refers to the many terms used to codify people for business purposes, like “full-time equivalents,” “headcount,” “talent,” “human capital,” “overhead,” “inventory,” or “aprons.”

“Once people are seen as widgets – as “human resources” – it’s much easier to apply to them the kinds of Operationspeak that should be reserved for raw materials. They are “downsized,” attributed,” “onboarded,” “blended,” “change-managed,” “diversity-trained,” “e-taught,” “force-ranked,” “matrixed,” “requisitioned,” or “made redundant.”

Wagner and his researchers developed the 12 new rules of engagement to counteract this dehumanizing influence:

  1. Get inside their heads
  2. Make them fearless
  3. Make money a non-issue
  4. Help them thrive
  5. Be cool
  6. Be boldly transparent
  7. Don’t kill the meaning
  8. See their future
  9. Magnify their success
  10. Unite them
  11. Let them lead
  12. Take it to extremes

To learn more about how these new rules of engagement work in business, join us for our Soundview Live webinar with Rodd Wagner called Managing Employees As If They’re Real People. Wagner provides a guide to better understanding human nature on the job and to understanding each of the New Rules that emerged from the team’s extensive research. It’s a guide for ferreting out and fixing all the ways your company treats its people like widgets.

Process versus the People

Today’s guest blogger is Linda Sharkey, author of Optimizing Talent. Dr. Sharkey is an HR Executive and Business Strategist with experience coaching and developing leaders and teams in Fortune 10 companies.

Is your Performance Evaluation System Helping or Getting in the Way of a Talent Rich Culture

Process versus the People

Are your year-end performance discussions more painful than they are worth and would most of your managers prefer to throw the system out?  Are you doing them merely to comply with legal requirements or to decide who gets paid what?  If so you are missing the mark on a very powerful system that can build your brand as a talent based culture and market leader.

We need to consider some key human resource systems to make sure that they are aligned with the culture you are creating and not working against it.

As we researched performance management systems in over 500 Fortune 1000 companies and talked with HR leaders in over 60 of them we discovered that the process was often more important than the outcome.  Checking the box once a year to make sure the employee and manager had at least one performance discussion seemed to be the prevailing outcome achieved.  Others focused on compensation alignment.  Few focused on creating a system where employees and their managers truly had a dialogue that actually helped employees understand how they could continue to grow and improve.  To quote several senior HR leaders “we are highly tactical in our approach and we don’t really use it to drive alignment to our culture and to our overall business strategy”.

Getting it Right

Here are ten proven steps that everyone can use to support a talent rich culture.

  1. Be crystal clear on the purpose of your performance management system.  What is the people philosophy that you are trying to promote through this system?
  2. Ensure that the system aligns with your values.   Make sure that these values are discussed so that everyone understands that what you do is as important as how you do it.
  3. Create a working profile of what the values look like in action.  State the values in terms of behaviors that everyone can recognize.  This way everyone in the organization understands the standard of the” best”.
  4. Train all you leaders and managers to recognize great behavior, assess talent and provide specific and actionable feedback.
  5. Teach managers and leaders how to effectively coach.  Agree on a coaching model and consistently apply it throughout the organization.
  6. Create peer coaching circles to help teams support each other in learning new skills and “grooving” new behaviors.  These circles enable employees to learn to ask each other for help when they need it and share suggestions and ideas.
  7. Create a simple form for year-end performance reviews that is 1 page – no more than 2 if you must.  Include specific business achievements, behaviors demonstrated, career goals and aspirations and finally what the employee needs to do to continue to grow in their current role or prepare for the next role.
  8. Don’t just reward for business outcomes; reward for expected behaviors as well.
  9. Measure and track the impact your system is having on the desired culture.  Examine your employee engagement scores to ensure feedback and coaching is happening through the year and measure your alignment to your culture so that you don’t lose sight of keeping your values on track.
  10. Link all your talent and performance discussions together to make sure you are sending consistent messages in the talent discussions as well as in performance calibration discussions.
  11. Communicate, communicate and communicate more about the impact of an effective system and how it is building a great place for shareholder value, customer loyalty and employee engagement!

If you follow these ten steps you will build a system that becomes part of your DNA, where people and leaders regularly help each other to succeed through effective feedback and coaching.  This was you will be providing performance feedback through the year and the end of the year “pain” goes away!  Try it you might like it.

You can hear more from Linda sharkey about optimizing talent at our Soundview Live webinar on May 7th: What Every Leader Needs to Know to Sustain the Ultimate Workforce.

Making a Career Among Multiple Generations

The time in which we live is unique in that this is the first time that four generations are working side-by-side in the workplace: the Traditionalists (born before 1945), the Baby Boomers (born 1945-1964), Gen X (born 1965-1980), and the Millennials (born 1981-2001). This is due in part to increased longevity and in part to people not wanting or being able to afford to retire.

Haydn Shaw, in his book Sticking Points, describes the 12 sticking points between the generations that must be worked through in order for inter-generational cooperation to take place:

Communication                                 Loyalty

Decision Making                               Meetings

Dress Code                                       Policies

Feedback                                          Respect

Fun at Work                                      Training

Knowledge Transfer                          Work Ethic

As younger workers seek to advance in their careers, they will need to learn how to work with those of older generations, and those at the top of companies will be more and more dependent on these younger workers for their success.

This coming week we have the pleasure of hosting two Soundview Live webinars relating to these issues. The first How to Climb Your Way to the Next Level of Your Career with Debra Benton, and then How to Get 4 Generations Working Together with Haydn Shaw.

How to Climb Your Way to the Next Level of Your Career

In this Soundview Live webinar, Debra Benton gives you the insight and tools to make subtle changes in your presentation, attitude, and leadership style that will dramatically increase your leadership effectiveness – and, consequently, help you enjoy work and life.

How to Get 4 Generations Working Together

At this Soundview Live webinar, Haydn Shaw shows you how to help the different generations at work or home stick together instead of come apart, and will help you move beyond these sticking points and get productive again.

Both of these conversations will be helpful for anyone seeking to move up in their career. So please plan to join us on June 17th and 19th and invite your colleagues as well.

Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers


Welcome to the Real World

“The hard thing isn’t setting a big, hairy, audacious goal,” writes Silicon Valley veteran Ben Horowitz, co-founder, with Netscape founder Marc Andreessen, of the venture capitalist firm Horowitz Andreessen. “The hard thing is laying people off when you miss the big goal. The hard thing isn’t hiring great people. The hard thing is when those ‘great people’ develop a sense of entitlement and start demanding unreasonable things.” In other words, most business and management books might offer some basic advice, but according to Horowitz, they don’t really help the “hard things” about a situation. “The hard thing isn’t dreaming big,” he writes, ending his litany of examples. “The hard thing is waking up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat when the dream turns into a nightmare.”

No Recipe

Horowitz, who was also co-founder of the software firm Opsware, knows a thing or two about nightmares. The stories of his Silicon Valley adventures can best be described as harrowing. There was the time, for example, that Opsware was about to lose its largest customer, EDS, which accounted for an astounding 90 percent of its revenue. The loss would have meant sure bankruptcy. The Opsware team transformed the EDS account decision-maker, a bitter man who thought life was against him, from a sworn enemy into an ally by responding to his personal needs.

The EDS rescue and many other cliffhanger experiences make Horowitz eminently qualified to write a book about how to take on the hard things. He is quick to point out, however, that The Hard Thing About Hard Things doesn’t offer a recipe for dealing with challenges: “There’s no recipe for really complicated, dynamic situations,” he writes. However, “there are many bits of advice and experience that can help with the hard things.” Horowitz intersperses detailed stories from his experience with straightforward advice on such topics as “when things fall apart,” “take care of the people, the products and the profits — in that order” and “how to lead even when you don’t know where you are going.”

One of the first bits of advice in the “when things fall apart” section that Horowitz offers is to forget positivity. Like many CEOs, Horowitz thought it was up to him to shoulder all the bad news alone. Then he asked his blue-collar brother-in-law about a senior executive in the brother-in-law’s company. “Yeah, I know Fred,” his brother-in-law said. “He comes by about once a quarter to blow a little sunshine up my a**.” “At that moment,” Horowitz writes, “I knew that I’d been screwing up my company by being too positive.”

Other lessons in the “when things fall apart” section include the right way to lay people off, how to demote a friend, and how to fire an executive. Firing an executive, he writes, begins with the recognition that, with the exception of ethical transgressions, you are firing the executive because you have made a bad choice in the first place. “The reason you have to fire your head of marketing is not because he sucks,” Horowitz explains. “It’s because you suck.” He then lists a series of mistakes made in the hiring process and suggests paying attention to them for the next executive hire.

Many business books have quotes at the beginning of chapters, and this book is no exception. But don’t expect to find Sun Tzu or Winston Churchill; Horowitz draws his inspiration from hip-hop artists who “aspire to be both great and successful and see themselves as entrepreneurs.” And indeed, a quote from Kanye West captures the no-nonsense, grounded wisdom of this insightful read: “This is the real world, homie, school finished…”

What Highly Effective Leaders See, Say, and Do


See, Say, Do the Positive

For veteran consultant Kathryn Cramer, author of Lead Positive: What Highly Effective Leaders See, Say, and Do, the best way to inspire followers is to focus on the positive. Cramer developed a methodology called Asset-Based Thinking (ABT) based on this message of positive thinking, and describes in her book how leaders:

  • See the positive in the past, present and future;
  • Say the positive with communications with substance, sizzle and soul;
  • Do the positive by responding with intention (not reacting), leveraging their qualities, and driving positive change over the long term.

These questions will give the leader and his or her team a clear memory of how they leveraged positive “situational forces” and overcame negative ones to achieve success. Cramer’s force field analysis is both informational and inspirational.

One of the recurring approaches in Cramer’s ABT methodology is the Self-Others-Situation framework, in which leaders take into account themselves, others and the situation in question. For example, to help leaders “see” the positive in the present, Cramer writes that they need to consider what makes them feel strong and capable (self), how they develop meaningful connections with other people (others), and what gives them a sense of progress or achievement (situation).

Techniques and Strategies

The see-say-do framework is at the heart of Cramer’s Asset-Based Thinking methodology, which offers a comprehensive framework for leaders to respond to a wide variety of challenges and situations. In Lead Positive, Cramer describes a range of ABT techniques and guidelines for applying the framework. The “force field analysis,” for example, is a technique used to learn from a past situation that successfully worked, and is built around four questions or sets of questions:

  • “What forces were working for us?” With this question, you should identify five positive, accelerating forces, Cramer writes.
  • “What forces were working against us?” This question should lead to one or two negative forces.
  • What did we do to leverage the accelerating forces and eliminate or sidestep the negative forces?”
  • “What behavior do we want to repeat and knowledge do we want to carry forward? Which situational assets do we want to recreate, and which situational pitfalls must we avoid?”

The Message of St. Andrews

Cramer reinforces the lessons of ABT with real-world examples. One such real-world example involved St. Andrew’s Resources for Seniors System, an organization that provides a range of services for seniors, including affordable retirement housing and in-home health care. St. Andrew’s was looking to become more financially secure and a regional leader in its field. The organization looked to Cramer to help them create a vision for the future.

The first step was to develop a vision message of substance, which used an ABT structure that included what needed to be accomplished, what the executives needed to make the employees and staff understand, the call to action for employees and staff, and the benefits for all. To add sizzle to the vision message, Cramer helped Chief Operating Officer Diane Meatheany to use a narrative structure called the Hero’s Journey, based on the work of mythologist Joseph Campbell. The Hero’s Journey narrative follows a series of steps: the call, the resistance, the threshold crossing, the journey, the supreme ordeal and the return home. Meatheany crafted a story about the future of St Andrew’s and her role in it structured on the Hero’s Journey. The soul of the communication from Meatheany and the rest of the team — the all-important meaning of what is happening — was incorporated into the message through a series of answers to key “why” questions: why this is important to the bigger picture, our values and beliefs, and our organization; why it is important to me and my commitment; and why we need you involved.

The author of nine books and the founder of a consultancy that works with companies such as DuPont, Starbucks and Microsoft, Cramer knows that the deceptively simple message of positivity can belie the complexity of leading a diverse group of people in a constantly changing environment. Lead Positive transforms the principles of ABT into a practical workbook for leaders.

Know Your Talent Better Than You Know Your Customers


Using Big Data in Human Resources

What if companies knew as much about their employees as they knew about their customers? That is the provocative question at the heart of The Decoded Company — a book written by a group of entrepreneurs connected to a technology-driven health care marketing agency called Klick Health. Klick Health CEO Leerom Segal and his co-authors are great believers in the potential of big data — the myriad of information that is quietly and continuously collected from you as you go about your business as a consumer. Surprisingly, while companies have near-unanimously embraced the use of big data technology for their customers, very few attempt to find out more about their employees.

Three Principles

Using their own experiences as leaders of a fast-growing technology company, the authors describe in their book three fundamental principles for decoding your organization — that is, truly understanding in real time the individual skills, motivations and successes of employees, recognizing the challenges they face, and supporting each individual or groups of individuals as needed.

  • Principle 1: Technology as a Coach and a Trainer. According to the authors, most organizations use technology as a referee rather than as a coach. Technology allows companies to monitor what employees are doing and to whistle the fouls when they fall behind or fail. In decoded companies, technology is a      trainer and coach — preparing employees for the game (to continue the metaphor), then watching from the sidelines and jumping in to coach as      needed. One coaching idea proposed by the authors is the hiring of a “concierge” — someone who might use some of the traditional HR tools, such as career counseling or performance reviews, but whose one and only goal is to design a customized solution for each employee that helps them perform and grow. Technology as a trainer, the authors explain, means using “data and systems to watch blind spots, identify teachable moments, and proactively intervene with just-in-time training.”


  • Principle 2: Informed Intuition. The second principle is that technology does not replace but rather augments the intuition of leaders born from their      experience and knowledge, thus allowing them to make better decisions. The      capture of ambient data — ongoing information about what employees are doing or saying — is vital. (One example of the creation of ambient data is your Facebook activity. Facebook tracks with whom you communicate on their site, how often, from where and through which method, such as posting or chat message. This ambient data determines which Facebook friends end up on your newsfeed.) After analyzing a combination of ambient data and selected self-reported data, such as performance self-evaluations or monthly results, managers in decoded companies use their intuition to seek solutions to employee challenges. Bank of America discovered that the performance of call-center employees improved based on whom they talked to  during overlapping lunches. The bank thus decided to create more opportunities for employee conversations by changing a policy that had restricted overlapping breaks.


  • Principle 3: Engineered Ecosystems. The third principle is to use data to set up the culture and the environment that enables employees to work at their highest levels. Engineered ecosystems are both data-driven and talent-centric. For example, the authors describe how Google — which, as the company that tested 41 shades of blue for one of its toolbars, is notoriously data-driven — launched a major initiative to identify the most important traits for its managers. The results seemed at first less than earth-shattering: The eight identified traits included not micromanaging, expressing interest in employees’ success, having a vision and a strategy, and having the technical skills to advise the team. The data, however, not only identified the traits but also ranked their importance, and this is where Google’s leaders uncovered a truth about its culture that was contrary to everything they believed: technical expertise, once thought to be the keystone of a great Google manager, is the least important trait that a manager can have. Everything else comes first.

While Segal and his co-authors use Google and numerous other companies in a variety of industries as examples, it is their own success at Klick Healthcare that make The Decoded Company an authoritative, balanced and real-world exploration of the human resources potential of big data.

Who Needs an Office These Days?


Office Not Required

How am I going to know my employees are really working? Won’t those in the office be jealous? What if I need an answer now? These are just some of the excuses that opponents of remote work advance as they resist what Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson argue is the most effective and promising way to manage people. Fried and Hansson should know: As co-founders of software company 37Signals, they have 36 partners spread around the world serving millions of users. In their new book, Remote, they clearly advance the advantages of a virtual workforce while forcefully responding to those who can’t let go of the traditional office.

Are They Really Working?

For many leaders and business owners afraid of remote work, the main objection is that workers will “slack off” if not supervised. According to the authors, this fear reveals a much bigger problem. Specifically, it reveals that the manager sees him- or herself as not much more than a babysitter – which does not portend well for the organization. To put it bluntly, if managers act like babysitters, employees will respond in kind, the authors write. “People have an amazing ability to live down to low expectations. If you run your ship with the conviction that everyone’s a slacker, your employees will put all their ingenuity into proving you right. If you view those who work under you as capable adults who will push themselves to excel even when you’re not breathing down their necks, they’ll delight you in return.”

In fact, as the authors argue in a later chapter, managing remote employees increases the focus of the employee’s performance on the actual work for which he or she is responsible. Performance measurement in traditional work environments can be diverted by factors that don’t involve the true productivity of the employee. Did the employee arrive at 9:00 or 9:30 a.m.? Is he wearing appropriate attire for the office? These are not the questions that managers of remote employees ask. Instead, they are focused on the employee’s work results: Did he finish the report on time? Is her sales team improving their closing ratios? Remote work doesn’t enable slacking off – you can’t disguise lack of productivity; but it does refocus the manager’s attention on what’s important.

Some Trade-offs

The authors aren’t starry-eyed zealots about remote work, nor are they academics examining the virtual workplace as a theoretical construct. They recognize the advantages and potential of remote work but also recognize that there can be some trade-offs. Sometimes it’s nice to talk to your manager in person or sit in a room with your colleagues brainstorming on the next big idea.

Discipline is a big commitment, more than you realize. And interruptions are going to happen – it’s hard to say no to your child showing you the “A” on his homework.

But with technology and the right management – for example, holding weekly virtual meetings where people can give an informal report on their week – the tradeoffs can be mitigated, and the full benefits of virtual work can be enjoyed by employees and organizations alike.

Of course, there will always be some bosses who steadfastly believe remote employees means total loss of control. In such cases, the employee looking for virtual work employment has but one choice: to look elsewhere. In the end, it’s the company that loses.

Emotions in the Workplace

We’ve all heard the news stories about the employee or former employee who, in a fit of anger, shoots up the workplace, killing or wounding those they used to work with. While this is not a common occurrence, the damage caused by emotions in the workplace is. The tensions and dysfunction directly affect the bottom line of the company.

Dr. Vali Hawkins Mitchell cautions C-Suite Executives and Line Managers that ignoring the impact of employee emotions in the workplace is a recipe for disaster. Dr. Mitchell’s important work in the rising field of Emotional Continuity Management (ECM) clearly outlines how emotionally-charged situations, when mismanaged or unaddressed, can have a calculable, direct impact on the fiscal bottom line. She also offers clear steps for a company to take to train all employees for dealing with emotions in an appropriate and effective way.

We have invited Dr. Mitchell to join our Soundview Live webinar on December 3rd to provide guidance in dealing with the inevitable emotions that occur when people work in close quarters over an extended period of time. If you would like to avoid this kind of disaster in your workplace, then please join us for this important event.

As always, Soundview subscribers attend for free, and for all others the cost is just $49 for a full hour of analysis and advice on this important topic. Please register today for The Cost of Emotions in the Workplace.

A Must-Have Handbook For Human Resources


Hiring, Firing, Performance
Evaluations, Documentation, Benefits, and Everything Else You Need to Know

One of the core challenges faced by human resource managers is a constantly changing regulatory environment that requires vigilant monitoring. In addition to the notifications and news from government and professional websites, books such as the second edition of Max Muller’s The Manager’s Guide to HR can be invaluable in updating you on the latest HR developments as well as providing a comprehensive overview of the human resources function. This new edition of Muller’s book now includes:

  • Information on amendments to the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).
  • An overview of the differences between the IRS’s definition of a contractor and the different definition, based on the “ABC Test,” that is followed by 23 states.
  • A new section on using the Internet for background checks.
  • Updated recordkeeping requirements related to the Genetic Information      Nondiscrimination Act (GINA).

From Hiring to Privacy

As evidenced by the sample of updates listed above, this book is a comprehensive manual that dives into the specific laws and regulations governing 21st-century human resources. Muller also takes apart each function of HR (hiring, training, benefits, compensation, firing and separation), carefully explaining in detail the tasks and responsibilities that must be carried out.

Muller’s first chapter on hiring is typical of the book. It begins with a discussion on creating a complete job description, which he says should be based on interviews with incumbents — people who have held the job before and who know better than anyone what’s required. Muller includes a chart listing 26 core competencies that should be covered in these incumbent interviews. Once the job description is created and the job is posted, Muller tells his readers what to look for in the applications received from candidates — from the overall appearance of the application (are there misspellings?) to gaps or overlaps in employment. Another chart in the chapter covers 16 topic areas that can fall under the bias rules governing job interviews. The chart differentiates between what is acceptable to ask and what is not. For “national origin,” the guide suggests it’s OK to ask what languages a candidate speaks, but not about the national origin of the employee, his parents or wife.

In addition to the standard HR areas mentioned above, Muller dedicates a chapter each to sexual harassment and workplace violence, employment laws, privacy issues, and documentation and record retention. One of the most difficult areas for employers to deal with involves privacy issues. Muller notes there is no single definitive set of laws that delineate the boundaries of privacy. His chapter on privacy issues offers some guidelines based on laws governing consumer reports, criminal and social media background checks, medical information collected during the hiring process and email and Internet monitoring. In many cases, acquiring consent from the employee is recommended. One important takeaway from this chapter is the tendency for companies to implement overly broad social media policies — such as (but not limited to) prohibitions against disparagement, the use of logos and photographs “depicting the company in any way” — that would be considered unlawful by the National Labor Relations Board.

Despite the overwhelming complexity of its subject, The Manager’s Guide to HR is not only balanced and authoritative, but it is also concise and clearly organized — a valuable manual for HR directors and personnel in any organization.

The Keys to Leadership and Innovation

It’s always a challenge to find, train and keep good talent. In our current economic climate companies need top-notch leaders to provide vision and keep things moving, but they also need really creative people to instill innovation in the very fiber of the company.

Next week’s webinars promise to deliver on both counts. Emmanuel Gobillot will be talking about how to develop leaders that people want to follow, and Nolan Bushnell and Gene Stone will be discussing how to attract and keep creative people.

What Great Leaders Have that Great Followers Want – Emmanuel Gobillot

Most leadership models start with trying to identify what great leaders do. Instead, leadership expert Emmanuel Gobillot answers the question “what do great followers want?”

In this Soundview Live webinar, What Great Leaders Have that Great Followers Want, Gobillot will identify the key elements of leadership success and the proven pathways to developing the charisma we all seek in the leaders who truly inspire and motivate. He will break down charisma into eight critical elements, explaining how each component works and offering practical development steps for each. Getting these steps right will transform good leaders into magnets for great followers.

How to Find and Keep Creative Talent – Nolan Bushnell & Gene Stone

The only way to handle the constant change in today’s business world is to have a staff of wildy creative people who live as much in the future as the present, who thrive on being different, and whose ideas guarantee that your company will prosper when other companies fail.

In this Soundview Live webinar, How to Find and Keep Creative Talent, Silicon Valley legend Nolan Bushnell and author Gene Stone will explain how to find and hire employees who have the potential to be the next Steve Jobs. Their advice is constantly counterintuitive, suprising and atypical.

So whether the current staff challenge in your company is around leadership or innovation, you’ll want to join us for these two excellent webinars. And bring along you questions for the live Q&A.