Whence cometh loyalty? For some reason this topic has come up a few times for me in the last week. Initially it was a conversation with a columnist at the Orlando Sentinel who was doing a story on whether or not young workers lack “professionalism.” Since then I’ve seen stories in the media about what new grads will need to do to maximize their success in a slowly improving job market (be professional, communicate, network, etc.) and had a conversation with an employer about how he only wants “hungry” students willing to prove themselves (in an unpaid internship). Then about a week ago I was sitting in a focus group for a colleague and the conversation turned to skills needed by young workers. Most of the employers at the table were adamant that Gen Y lacks the professionalism and drive needed to be successful, and that colleges of business should be teaching classes to address this. It was the same, tired argument about a lack of enthusiasm, drive, ambition, and enterprise that generally emanates from well-seasoned groups like this. During the conversation, the talk turned to employee longevity and the loyalty that goes with that. The older employers at the table said that younger workers job hop too much and they wouldn’t interview anyone whose resume didn’t show longevity.

I couldn’t keep it in any longer… In 15 years of HR experience I have been part of the elimination of almost 3000 jobs. Some were through reductions in force, some were location closings. But all had the impact of eliminating jobs and putting people out of work through no fault of their own. All were economic decisions driven by company leadership as either part of a strategy for cost reduction or in response to reduced demand for products and services. Now before you start calling me some kind of pinko commie one-percenter, let me say that I totally get the need to reduce staffing when you don’t have anything for them to do. I’m not saying keep unneeded resources the way my nutty neighbor hoards old newspapers and empty prescription bottles. That’s just dumb, in BOTH cases!

Funny that I feel the need to head off that kind of argument before I’ve even made my point. Must be watching too much cable news….

Anyway, I told the collected employers that my experience in the people business has shown that most companies operate in order to make a profit for their shareholders and that means that, if necessary, they will eliminate jobs and shed the associated costs. It’s not a good or bad thing, it just is. People are a resource that cost money and depending on the company’s philosophy, sometimes you have to eliminate jobs to cut costs.

However, I entered the people business at the beginning of the late-80s recession and since then have been in it in one form or another. In that time, most of today’s young workers were born and grew up (gad, it pained me to say that!) So, if I’m busy laying their parents off and shutting down where they work and sending them home sometimes with no prior warning, how does that impact their views of “company loyalty”?

One of the employers said that his company provided outplacement services to laid off employees. That’s great, I responded. But that’s not always the case. Out of all the layoffs I participated in, we only did that once with a small pool of upper-level employees. In most other cases we laid people off that day with no warning whatsoever. We also brought in security and did other things to protect company property from the ravages of a rioting hoarde…a hoarde that never rose up. But didn’t it look comforting to have the Pinkertons at the ready just in case some ne’re-do-well decided to get out of line. Looked really good on the Channel 9 news.

How did it really look to the people impacted? On one of those occasions I ended my job by laying myself off. In that case I knew it was coming. In another case my boss let me go with no warning after I had let half of my team go. I got to go home and tell my kid that the good news is we’d have more time to hang together. The bad news is that was about all we’d be able to afford to do! In another case, I saw my Dad retire after more than 30 years with his employer. This, you’ll want to say was the pinnacle of traditional employer/employee loyalty, right? A young man joins a company at its lowest ranks and rises to become a senior executive before retiring. Great story. Except for one fact. My Dad accepted an early retirement package. That’s a nice way of laying off old people who have been there a while. Was he ready to retire? Probably, my mom was sick and he wanted to spend time with her. But was retiring his choice? Was his time as productive worker at an end? Probably not. Then again, some older workers haven’t had the option to “retire.” In many cases I just told them that what they were going to do was up to them, they just couldn’t do it here anymore.

Not to get off track, but come to think of it, what do these folks retire on? It’s certainly not a company paid pension in most cases. Those are as rare as an Edward Cullen steak. No, they have to retire on a 401K that they contributed to and hopefully managed well. Over the past 10 years many companies (again, in the spirit of cost savings) have cut their contributions to this benefit, or stopped contributing all together.

What has the collective impact of all this been on young people just entering the workforce? Well, I haven’t studied all the empirical evidence, but I have a hunch based on conversations and observations of this group. Their experience is that companies, in general, are not loyal to the employees who work for them. We have created an environment where, instead, employees look out for their own best interest. If that action benefits the company (and many times it does) then cool, but if not, so be it. And if it be, then I’ll take my ball (knowledge, skills, connections, program, Illudium Q-36 Explosive Space Modulator, etc.) and go play elsewhere.

This isn’t to say that layoffs and plant closings are the only factors contributing to a demise in perceived loyalty. It’s more the product of an increasingly self-absorbed society. Heck, if you want to be a sociologist about it, what impact has free agency in professional sports, musical frontmen “going solo,” and the inability of anyone who wins The Bachelor to get married and have a normal boring life had on society’s views of loyalty. Private equity firms rape and pillage the countryside! Sports teams pack up and leave town under the cover of darkness! Sammy Hagar replaces David Lee Roth only to have the Van Halens kick him out and bring Diamond Dave back! I’d say it’s anarchy, but it has become such the norm that it can’t be anarchistic.

Josiah Royce writes, “There is only one way to be an ethical individual. That is to choose your cause, and then to serve it, as the Samurai his feudal chief, as the ideal knight of romantic story his lady, — in the spirit of all the loyal.” To him, loyalty was the product of serving one’s cause, sometimes forgoing individual needs, and continuously honing in on one’s core mission until you surrounded yourself with people and resources that support that core mission. When you’ve reached a level of full commitment to the cause, you are loyal. Loyalty, then, is something directed to “things” more than it is to people. In today’s terms, young people are committed to causes more than they are to people. To them, people come and go, but the cause can remain constant. Through this we see a rise in social activism, possibly fueled by equal doses of naivety and enthusiasm, but the level of dedication is greater than seen in previous generations. We also see a rise in entrepreneurship, a desire to be in more control of one’s own destiny and less subject to the whims of leaders and strategies they don’t control.

So what happens when that cause is ill-defined? Take the rise in corporate gobbledygook known as “Mission Statements.” These useless code phrases dot the landscape like so many vacuous billboards. “We change people’s lives.” “Driven to be the best.” Give me a freaking break. In both cases the core mission of both enterprises was to deliver maximum return to shareholders. Period. Again, it’s not a bad thing, it’s just a thing. But because we muddy the water by believing our own bullshit and insisting that these half-baked catch phrases are really what we do, we cloud the true mission of the firm and, in Royce’s view, fail to clarify our cause. No cause = no loyalty.

What was interesting to me in that focus group was the reaction of one of the employers to my hypothesis. An older gentleman responded politely saying he heard what I was saying, but still wasn’t going to hire anyone who jumped around. That’s fine, I thought, most of the best ones are doing their own thing and won’t want to work for you anyway!

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Learning to Fail

May 3, 2012

So, how many times have you screwed up? How many times have you misunderstood, misinterpreted, or just misjudged? How many times have you been wrong? How many times have you failed?

As they say in motorcycle racing, crashing sucks! And if you’ve seen the way they go down, you’d have to agree that wrecking while wrenching a 300 pound machine just inches from the ground at 120 miles per hour is pretty much the apogee of failure. Nothing like racing forward at full speed with your desired end result in mind, possibly even in sight, and having it all go to hell with one miscalculation. Most times it’s easier to handle, though more disappointing, when it’s your screw up. If it’s someone around you or even someone on your team, it can send you into freakout mode because their mistake caused you to fail.

Failure sucks for a bunch of reasons. Mostly it sucks because, well, you failed! You didn’t accomplish what you wanted. But it also sucks because there’s usually negative consequences associated with failure. The bridge falls, the car won’t start, dinner tastes like a wet sock, you lose money, your CUSTOMER loses money, your girlfriend splits with half your stuff…the list goes on. If it’s a work-related failure there’s usually a butt-chewing that follows. Might even be a documented butt-chewing. Might even be a FINAL documented butt-chewing. Might be a smile and a wave as you pack your box.

But failure teaches us so much. For starters, it teaches us what NOT to do. Ever stuck a penny in an electrical outlet? Ever did it again? I didn’t think so. I remember getting my first ten-speed bike (yea, I’m that old…). Grabbed a handful of front brake and went tumbling over the front wheel. Did it right in front of a pack of kids from school who thought it was so funny as I tumbled through the air and across the asphalt. My pride was bruised, my back and shoulder were scraped, but my brain was smarter. Note to self, don’t try to stop quickly using just the front brake…especially with people around!

Failure also teaches us how to fix stuff. As a manager, I don’t want people who can just come in and do stuff. I want people who can come in and do stuff BETTER. I want people who can look at what we’re doing and say, I have an idea on how to improve that. And then I want them to shut the hell up and do it! I want people who can take responsibility for something and make it awesome. I want people, who can fix things. And how do you learn to fix things? Well, most times you learn by having broken it at some point. My Dad told me this awesome story about when he was a teenager and learning to work on cars. He pulled the distributor out of my grandfather’s 1958 Chevy. His uncle looked at him and said, that’s nice. Put it back. So Dad did. And the car wouldn’t start! Seems you have to have the distributor lined up just right, you can’t just shove it back in. Took my Dad the rest of the day and most of the night to figure it out so my grandfather could go to work the next day. I can identify. As a new HR person I was given the task of planning an employee picnic. It was an unmitigated disaster. After that I knew everything I should do to make it better. Still can’t stand employee picnics, though…

But more importantly it teaches us that we are not infallible. In an era of participant ribbons and no scoreboards and over-complimentary parenting sometimes we have to learn that we aren’t as freaking wonderful as we think we are. Sometimes we do dumb stuff and when we do there’s a negative consequence. The truly brilliant man is not the one who can tell you everything he knows, it’s the one who realizes there’s so much more to learn! Sometimes it’s a skill we need to learn. Sometimes it’s the application of the skill that we need to learn. Sometimes we just need to stop believing our own bullshit. Most times we fail because we don’t know something about ourselves.

So what’s the difference between messing up and learning from one’s mistakes? Well, first is a level of awareness. You have to be able to recognize situations where your actions, or the actions of those around you, have lead to failure and be able to quickly dispense with the excuses and get to the mechanics. Many times getting past the excuse phase is hard because we want to focus on WHO failed rather than WHY we failed. And in most of these cases, everyone played a role in the failure. Healthy self-awareness is being able to admit our own role in the failure then quickly get past that and on to the repair.

So, next is the competence to fix whatever it is that contributed to the failure. This shouldn’t be mistaken for fixing it yourself. Going back to self-awareness it’s important that you know your limits and seek out expert advice. If I’m sick, I go to a doctor. I know people who like to self-medicate. They take herbs and roots and berries and all that stuff when what they need to do is go see a doctor. Call me when WebMD has taught you out how to carve out that brain tumor and I’ll say it’s a good idea. Until then, I know what I know and I know what I don’t know. I’m gonna get help with the stuff I don’t know.

Finally is the support structure that not only allows, but encourages periodic failure. I remember my son tooling off down the street on the little trail bike I bought him. I almost threw up….. I knew he was going to run into a car, or a tree, or a dog, or just fall and break some random body part (going back to the top, that’s why crashing sucks!). But, he wasn’t going to learn to ride unless I let him ride. He still rides today. Does pretty good. But I’ve also worked in HR long enough to know that everyone is just one screw up away from getting canned. With that in mind we sometimes work harder to cover our ass or set others up to take the fall for our mistake (for reference, see the lyrics to, “You’re Gonna Go Far, Kid”).

On that note, ever been stabbed in the back? It sucks worse than crashing, but it’s a special kind of failure. It’s a failure in trust and judgment. You put your trust in someone else, and they violate that trust for their own self-interest. I wrote about inconvenient truths a few blogs ago. Here’s another one. Some people are just assholes. Learn to deal with it.

To new grads I say, get out of your seat and go fail. To their future bosses I say, don’t be a jerk. Let them fail then man up and support them when they do. Failure doesn’t make either you weaker, it makes both of you stronger!

Shoot me a note at UCF_OCC@yahoo.com if you think I’ve failed in my reasoning. Send me a note if you think I’ve succeeded. Whatever the reason, get out there and talk to folks. Peace!

“Hate” is a bad word. Beyond the obvious issues, it’s also abrupt and rigid. It’s an absolute. Not much more negative than hate. But people throw it around easily these days. They hate this TV show, or hate that politician, or hate someone’s behavior. We even use say, “I hate it for you” as if we are obliging someone and doing them a favor by lending them our hate. People also say, “I hate to be a ____,” but… Guess what, if you were so negatively pre-disposed to being that, you wouldn’t. Be honest with yourself and just say, “I’m a _____” and be comfortable with it. Or change your behavior and don’t be it.

But there is one thing I hate….”have to.” It’s just like hate, it’s an absolute. You have to pick up your clothes, you have to behave a certain way in public, you have to eat turkey at Thanksgiving or you’re a booger-eating pinko Commie bastard. Remember President Bush (the first one) saying he didn’t eat broccoli because as a kid he “had to” and now he was President of the United States so he wasn’t going to eat broccoli. Good stuff! When you get to be President, there aren’t a lot of “have to’s.”

You know where else there are a bunch of “have to’s”? When you look for a job! Here’s a brief list of our favorites:
You HAVE to go buy an interview suit
You HAVE to get an interview haircut
You HAVE to take all that crap out of your face…yes, the nose ring too.
You HAVE to cover up your tattoos
You HAVE to take the color out of your hair
You HAVE to shave your legs and wear pantyhose
You HAVE to wear socks and a tie…..no, not a bolo tie Woody
You HAVE to arrive at least 10 minutes early, just not too early. Twenty would be too much. And you BETTER NOT be late!
You HAVE to know what you want to be for the rest of your life even though you haven’t really worked a freaking day in your life, have no idea what it’s like to deal with office politics and the break room fridge, have no idea what “corporate culture” is and have never really publicly failed at anything and been held accountable for it……PHEW!!!!

What the hell is up with all the “have to’s”??? I remember when I finished grad school. I had a ponytail that reached the middle of my back. It was my calling card. People referred to me as the “guy with the pony tail.” Who do I have to go see about renting equipment? You can go to that desk and ask the guy with the pony tail. Who has the keys to the truck? The guy with the pony tail took them. Then school was over, time to grow up again. With one well placed snip I re-entered the herd. Why? No one’s going to hire me looking like that, I thought. You HAVE TO get a regular haircut if you want to get a job.

Last week an older student (i.e., closer to my age) came to my office for help. He’s in a career transition phase. He has over 20 years of sales experience and is just now getting his MBA. He’d like to get out of sales and in to the operations side of hospitality, an industry he’s served but hasn’t worked directly in for a while. Hospitality is big here in Touristland. He’s not working now, a casualty of the recession and getting his MBA was part of his recovery plan. That said, he’s willing to take a few steps back if that means moving laterally into hospitality. One of his concerns, rightly so, was if employers will be hesitant to hire him for a lower level job because of his age. The HR guy in me gets indignant about that and wants to say, why no! It’s ILLEGAL to disqualify someone because of their age! We have laws, good laws, that make it a crime to pull that crap! But it happens all the time. Companies find other ways around it and middle-aged unemployed workers are finding their recession may last a lot longer because of it. So what did I tell him? Yes, it could be an issue. Are you married to the beard? The guy was sporting a full on, mostly grey, Dan Haggerty special. It seems like an innocuous bit of advice, but are we telling people to homogenize for the sake of “fitting in”?

Beards, tats, hair color, fashion; people use all of these things to express their individuality. We usually attribute most of this to traditional students (translation: twenty-something Gen Y’ers.) But everyone looks for that thing that makes them…them. And when it comes to looking for a job, there’s a tendency to mute one’s individuality and idiosyncrasies. In this age of behavioral disorders brought on by the pressure put on young people to conform and fit in, it almost seems counter intuitive to tell someone who has discovered a vehicle for self expression to mute it and look like that line of kids falling into the meat grinder in “The Wall.” On top of that, you WANT to stand out and make employers remember you from that vast, undulating sea of dark power suits and frothy white dress shirts. But it’s a Catch 22 (thank your English teacher for making you read that book!) To be noticed you have to stand out, but we (society) tell you to mute what really makes you an individual.

So, do you HAVE to take out the nose ring? Well, if you want to get an entry-level job with a big employer, move up through the ranks, and eventually be a member of the leadership then, yes. You have to ditch all the frosting and just be cake. But, if you plan on wearing it when you go to work and you feel like it makes you who you are, then no. Leave it in. Focus instead on finding an employer that doesn’t think a nose ring is a big deal. Focus on a trade or occupation where you see others sporting their little silver rings of individuality. And be ok with the impact your individual expression will have on your career. As long as you are cool with all that, then there’s only a few things you HAVE to do:

You have to know what you want to do
You have to pay your bills and support your family
You have to be comfortable with…strike that…LOVE who you are
You have to be ok with the consequences and rewards of your decisions

Oh…and you HAVE to figure out how to stop hating. Seriously, it sucks.

Why Your Resume is Killing Your Job Search

Conventional wisdom says to get a job, you need a resume. Conventional wisdom says employers will hire you based on the skills and experience you possess. Conventional wisdom says your resume is a snapshot of your skills and experience. So…the sum of this wisdom would lead you to believe that if you write out all your experience on a piece of paper, name it “resume” and send it out, you’ll get a job. Right? WRONG!

Most applicants don’t get past the first screening. Why? Their resume suffers from one of Lonny’s “Deadly Resume Sins.”

Blandness
Bored, bored, bored, bored, bored…… That’s how I feel when I read most resumes. Send me your “generic” resume and I start looking out the window at the kids playing hacky sack. Yay, the universal diversion! EVERY time you reply to a job posting you need to alter your resume to fully meet the requirements of that position. Met someone at a networking event? Find out what they do or what they want to do with your resume and tailor it again. I heard someone advising a student the other day saying that’s what the cover letter is for. POPPYCOCK!!! No one reads cover letters. Ok, maybe some people do. But like a collection of rural Louisiana liberals, collectively they could fill a phone booth. The 70s are over, no one buys an album to get one or two hits. Every song you put out needs to stand on its own merit, every resume needs to target a specific opportunity.

Objective Statement
I need you to sit down and take a deep breath. Ready? I don’t give a rat’s a$$ what you want to do when you grow up. I want to find someone to fill this job who is going to be a rock star and eventually let me retire to a small tropical island with Herve Villechaize and a dozen employees of the month from Hooters. I’m going to read maybe the top half-ish of your resume. You better hit me hard in that first few lines with what you bring to the table and how that relates to my business. When you read a good book, the author hits you from the first paragraph in a way that keeps you reading. Makes you want to continue. An Objective Statement does nothing to hook me because in the end, your only objective is to get a job. If you wanted to do something else, you’d be starting the company yourself.

Irrelevance
If I post a job or I tell you I’m looking for someone with ____ skills, don’t send me a resume that shows you don’t meet those qualifications. If I say I need someone with sales experience then you need to have sales experience. If I say I need someone who can grow new business then you need to show what you can do in business development. If I say I need someone with a Bachelor’s degree, then you need to have a Bachelor’s degree. People don’t go to the grocery store saying, I’m making spaghetti so I need pasta, tomato sauce and meat then feel like they have what they need by picking up the ingredients for apple pie. A recent survey conducted in Central Florida listed “unqualified applicants” as one of the major impediments to hiring in this area. Recruiters and employers feel they are spending more time looking through more resumes that are less qualified. Annoying an employer is no way to build a relationship. Just because you WANT to do that job, doesn’t mean you CAN.

Focusing on the Past
Someone tell me what other marketing media focuses on the past? Beer commercials tell you about all the fun dudes and hot chicks you’ll meet. Insurance commercials tell you how much money you’ll save. Chew this gum and you’ll have white teeth; take this pill and your sweetie will think you’re Captain Morgan straddling a cannon shouting, “Yo ho ho!!” Want to be a lady’s man? Just color your hair like Emmitt Smith….oh, and be an all pro Running Back with big muscles and Super Bowl rings and a padded checking account. That helps too. Your resume is your primary piece of marketing collateral. It needs to create an image of the kind of future the employer can expect from you, not just what you did in the past. You raised $1000 for charity. Good. Your mother is proud. What will that do for me? Don’t assume I know. I’m already consumed with other stuff. Create a vision of the future for me.

Coming Before You
I’ll give you that when you apply via a job posting, the first thing the employer sees about you is your resume. But, if that’s your ONLY approach, then you’re in trouble. Find a reason to put on pants. Get out and mingle. Talk to people. NETWORK!!! I was talking to a student the other day who is getting his MBA at night because he’s an engineer with 12 years of experience and has discovered he doesn’t want to be an engineer anymore. He wants to be an accountant. So he asks me how he finds accounting jobs. How did you decide to change careers, I ask. A test at work that the HR department did. Really? Did you talk to any of the accountants at work, maybe speak to a manager, maybe talk to the HR person about your test results and see if there are lateral opportunities. You, personally, are a better piece of media than a piece of paper. You can answer questions. You can ask questions. You can smile and be charming. You can show interest. You can be humble and thankful. Get out there and talk to people and let your resume FOLLOW you for a change.

Errors (Real or Perceived)
A real error would be employment dates that don’t make sense. A perceived one would be leaving your email as BigBootyDADDY@yahoo.com. It’s still your email, but it sucks. Change it. Other errors include mis-spelled words, formatting errors like unaligned borders or mis-matched bullets, fonts that don’t match, or simply making statements that the employer may know to be false. This one is simple, don’t stretch the facts and check your work. Finally, anything you do that makes it hard for a recruiter to read your resume is an error. Make sure sections like Experience and Education are clearly identified and easy to read as are dates of employment, contact info, and key qualifications. This is your first assignment, the first sample of the quality of your work. Mess it up and how can I trust you to do anything else right?

Dumb Stuff
This is a very broad one. Dumb stuff is basically anything else that I haven’t already listed that the recruiter / employer doesn’t care about and isn’t pertinent to the position being filled. How much space did you dedicate to a job that has nothing to do with the position I’m trying to fill? Are you listing school projects that, though interesting, aren’t tied back to what makes you qualified for the position to be filled? For example, this is more of a personal pet peeve, but I’d rather you pick ONE phone number where I can reach you and stick to it. Don’t give me your cell number, home number, and mom’s number. Unless your name is Stifler… It can even include using distracting fonts or colored paper. One time I was on a search committee for an Outdoor Recreation Coordinator and an applicant put their resume on paper with dolphins and undersea life all over it. BLECH!!! Then there was the hot pink resume I got with a big flower at the top. DOUBLE BLECH!!!

Despite some rumblings here and there, resumes aren’t going away anytime soon. A few larger companies are taking the resume upload option off their career sites and making all applicants fill out an application and some executive search firms are using candidate profiles rather than sending out resumes of their clients, but for the most part, there is still a need for job seekers to have a synopsis of themselves ready for distribution. Be smart about what you say and don’t let your resume kill off your opportunities!