Consensus versus Leadership



Happy New Year. If you have ever dealt with the 4th quarter of an enterprise software company, you understand that chaos that ensues. Hence the reason I haven’t written since November … but I am still shocked that it’s been that long.

The battle between consensus versus leadership is something that I have come face to face with of late. They are really two fundamentally different things that can get very mixed up.

There is certainly no exactness to this definition but consensus is really about taking a group of people and identifying the mean. Weighing all opinions equally (even if they are not equal, or just plain not factual) and finding a mid point of agreement if not leadership. It is conflict avoidance.

Leadership is taking the road of conviction and strategy. Here is the main point of confusion … the job of the leader is to build consensus around the strategy, not to sacrifice or diminish the strategy to build consensus. Strong leaders understand that execution is all about communication and bringing that strategy alive so when consensus needs to be built, the long term goal is kept on the forefront. Weak leaders listen to all and find an unhappy average.

Too often decisions are made in HR this way. Hires are made “by committee”, technology is purchased by RFP even if the RFP misses the mark and processes are deployed based on the opinions of all, even if those opinions have no frame of reference to the long term direction.

Leadership is about listening and then taking strong movement down the path we believe we create the best performance. Some will agree, others wont. Build “consensus” around what is required and the right thing for the business.


The Case for Partisanship

The election is behind us finally. Now the trending topic is bipartisanship. Everyone wants to get along and compromise, agree somewhere in the middle and move forward together in harmony.

Why is this important? Is it even a good thing? Wasn’t this country founded on knock-down, drag-out battles (that occasionally ended in duels) over policy and direction? Just look at some of the elections and debates passed and see how they played out.

I’m not saying that we should fight for the sake of fighting or disagree simply because we are in different political parties, but leaders need to lead and be passionate about their beliefs. If they immediately cave to the middle course, what did we elect them for (or promote them for) to begin with?

Ever see a leader in your company that was without passion? They are swayed by every argument and waiver at the slightest breeze. It’s pathetic and ineffective, hurting everyone around them and never getting results. Compare this to the leader with a clear-eyed vision about what they intend to create. Leaders who lead with passion will have people who will follow. Be too quick to comprise and that leadership is gone.

Struggling companies need strong leaders and struggling countries need the same.  Being too quick to compromise on principle is a sure sign of a leader without a vision. And this stays constant whether you are a Romney or Obama voter.


A Tale of Two Candidates (Pick the Worse Scenario)

Here is an all too realistic failed recruiting situation … actually two of them and I am curious to see which one you think is worse.

New Hire #1

John is a top performer at your biggest competitor and, by all accounts, was a big success. You’ve been working him for a while and finally you land him. High fives all around and he starts. Unfortunately, after a couple months the rumbling starts. Then the rumbling turns into a rant … a loud, in your face, how could you hire this a-hole screech. John is struggling to reach the expectations goal-wise and he is just a complete dumba&* socially. He turns into an outcast and a couple months later eventually goes back to his original company, your competitor, with everything he just learned about you.

New Hire #2

Susan is a bit of an unknown in your industry but no matter. She has proven herself in sales roles outside your space and you think she will bring a fresh perspective. She starts and immediately clicks with the team. She falls into the social scene fast and gets along with everyone. But, she routinely fails to even come close to performance expectations. This fact is brought up occasionally but the discussion is a non-starter as she is “too well liked by the team” and “contributes in other ways.” This goes on and on and Susan goes no where. Your VP of Sales is struggling to meet his numbers and is under fire from the CEO. Finally, the VP of Sales goes, Susan remains and continues to struggle.

So, which is worse? Which situation costs you more?

Here is my take. Return on Hire means more than turnover. Traditional HR measures would ignore Susan and show John to be a bad hire. But John was only there for a few months. Yes, its turnover and costs you money. But try to measure the impact of Susan …it’s bad and just keeps getting worse. Remember, she is still there.

New hire flameouts suck. They attract all the wrong attention and, in talent acquisition, you probably only have a few of them before people wonder about you. But this is the wrong approach. Massive recruiting failures like John are just going to happen. We hire humans and we, as a bunch, are a hot mess of drama and unpredictability. But it’s the Susan’s of the world that, when left unchecked, break companies because we allow the walking dead to roam the hallways, never contributing in the way we expected.

That’s my take. Would love to hear yours.


Now it’s off to speak at the Garden State SHRM conference in Atlantic City and then HR Tech Europe in Amsterdam. If we are going to cross paths in either place, make sure to say Hi.


HR the Red Bull Way

A Facebook friend asked this morning if Red Bull has the best branding of any company in the world today. My immediate response was absolutely.

First off, I have never even had a sip of Red Bull. But, even I am thinking about giving it a try because, frankly, they are so freaking cool.

When your brand is associated with (actually responsible for in this case) getting a guy into space and jump back to earth with millions and millions watching, you’ve nailed it. You now are in the leagues of Apple and … well … Apple for inspiring their target market to think and be greater.

We forget these lessons in recruiting sometimes. It’s really easy to spend time talking to a candidate about the job. But what about the things that really matter … what your company represents to its’ buyers, its’ employees and its’ community. In short, what makes you inspire your team to think and be greater?

I think we overstate our mundaneness too often. We think that what we do can’t possibly live up to a standard of Red Bull or Apple. If that is the bar you set, you are probably right. But there is greatness in what your company does or you wouldn’t be doing it.

Start asking the question “How do we change the world?” It’s an odd one at first, but start asking the question and then look at the excitement that starts to build around simply the question, let alone the answer.

Then discuss it. Talk it up with candidates in interviews, on-boarding, review sessions and anywhere else you can. Will you put a man in space and have him freefall from 127,000 feet up? Likely not … that’s been done. But, find what makes your company great and use it. There nothing like a workforce trying to change the world.


International Growth Done Right

Think I mentioned this in a previous post, but spent the last couple weeks out the US. I was in Romania actually with our software development team. We work with a company called OFS. They are actually based out of Quebec City but most of their development is done in Romania and Ukraine.

As a CEO of an HR Tech company, a blogger and author on HR matters and just a generally curious guy in the recruitment and performance space, I am always on the look out for companies that stand out in these areas. Unfortunately, I find some stand outs, but memorable mess is usually what I remember.

OFS is certainly a stand out. Here is the first thing you should know. This was not a management meeting or some other elite team of their top brass and clients. This was their annual meeting and awards ceremony. All 300 of them from all of the world … Western Europe, Eastern Europe, US, and Canada and still growing. Just a couple years ago, this company was nearing 100. Some serious growth in a short time.

As a client of OFS, I was a by-stander to the action. The real event was a celebration of their achievement on an individual level. Awards were given out for so some many different categories I lost track. The party then followed until 5:30 in the morning (so I heard).

OFS is still a small company, at least by big company standards. But consider this investment made. They flew employees from all corners of the world to tiny Eforie Nord, Romania (located right on the Black Sea) for a weekend celebration. At this party, it was all about individual performance and not the success of the company. That was simply the by-product.

How many companies would make this kind of investment in their people? Not many.

How many companies would discuss doing something like this, but as soon as the budget impact is realized would balk. Most.

OFS continues to grow in the hundreds of percent annually and recognizes that performance is not some sort of a collective term. It is about the contribution made by each and every person on the team each and every day. Once this is realized, taking that giant leap to truly recognize personal performance just makes sense.


Hiring Manager Accountability

A very long trip to Eastern Europe caused a bit of a lag in blog posts. Rushed back to the US and had a great webinar with our friends at There was a ton valuable content, but one idea has really stuck with me the most which deals with creating accountability around the hiring manager.

There are some things that HR can do well in an organization. I firmly don’t believe that recruitment is one of them however. The most effective recruiters in your company are as follows (as least in my view) …

1.)  Founder

2.)  CEO (usually)

3.)  Hiring Manager

This is not to denigrate recruiters and HR, just a simple reality that the best recruiter will be those closest to the job and the long-range view of the company. HR plays a critical role in creating screening process, but not closing the deal.

Recruitment is often dumped into HR, with the role of the hiring manager typically being one or two interviews along the way. There is typically no real accountability for a bad hire, however nothing w

ill impact a manager’s ability to do their job successfully more than a bad hire. Quite a paradox.

It’s time to drive accountability into the process and begin measuring a manager’s hiring effectiveness (another great role in the process for HR). It doesn’t need to be complicated. Decide on a couple metrics such as …

1.)  Turnover (first 90 days)

2.)  Turnover  (1 year)


3.)  Return on Hire (A new metric that can help you measure overall quality of hire by looking overall manager and candidate satisfaction. Ultimately, you are identifying still poor hires who haven’t quit or gotten fired. I have a white paper for more info and a ChequedTV episode covering the topic.)

Create a dashboard and start measuring with each new hire. Develop a simple heat map to show you which managers are performing well in the hiring department and which are not. You will immediately see the problem managers and can take action.

Simple stuff here … let HR support the hiring process through tools, etc. and assisting the hiring manager with training, development and resources. Put the ultimately accountability on the hiring manager. It is there team, isn’t it?


Why a Recruitment Brand is Nonsense

Been traveling a bunch lately and had a chance to stop by the offices of a pretty cool company, Evviva Brands, in San Francisco. This is not intended to be a plug in any way but the conversation got me thinking. Evviva does employment related branding for some seriously big companies like Marriott and HSBC. They actually do it in some really innovative ways … through games.

“Recruitment branding” has become a buzz-word de jour of late. Having an image as a great place to work or an innovative environment or whatever is all good. But I think the entire conversation is pretty misguided.

There can be only one brand and that belongs to the whole company. “Who are we or what do we want to be in the minds of a candidate” is the wrong question and yields a lack of authenticity. “What about our company and its brand can we leverage to attract top talent” may be a better approach. (For the record, this is the approach Evviva takes.)

Companies attract top talent when there is a brand alignment to customers, employees, candidates, and any other stakeholders. It’s probably the most over used analogy in HR but consider Southwest Airlines. If SWA was not a fun airline to begin with, would a brand that promotes them as a fun place to work ever have impact? Maybe for a little while until the truth came out.

Recruitment branding exercises often focus more on brainstorming appealing statements to candidates and less on communicating the natural advantages of the business. The next time you are thinking about your recruitment brand, really consider your overall corporate brand. What makes is special, different? Why did your top performers choose you over other companies, why do they stay and excel? Need a place to start? Ask them. Chances are it will say far more about your company as a whole than any inauthentic “recruitment brand”.


Are HR & Tech Just Beginning to Collide?

Just did a new guest blog for our friends over at HrRemix as part of their Future of HR Series. Here is an excerpt and be sure to have a look ….

When people ask about the future of HR technology, it’s difficult to paint a crystal clear picture because we can never be positive of what the coming days will hold. Yet, while complete certainty is unavailable, experience and understanding lead us to some well-informed, and thus very likely, conclusions about the impact of modern science on some of the most fundamental aspects of our field.  In essence, the collision between HR and technology has only just begun. READ MORE


Why Turnover Doesn’t Matter (a.k.a “So? What if they sucked?”)

For decades, HR organizations and executives throughout the company have fretted over turnover metrics. “Our turnover is increasing … what are we going to do?” was a refrain heard constantly.

But, just once, another question needs to be asked …

“So? What if they sucked?”

There are probably more tactful ways to get to the same issue but it’s a legitimate question. The fact is turnover is only a bad thing if you loose a good performer. It can be a great thing if finally that deadbeat of an employee takes a walk.

We need to be looking for a new metric that can focus on “good turnover” and “bad turnover”. Of course “good turnover” would mean that you made a bad hire in the first place but shouldn’t that go into a successful hiring metric?

Here is my proposal (right off the top of my head) to begin a new set of metrics with the resulting outcome …

1.)  Good Turnover: Crappy employee quits or gets fired. Commence party, flog the recruiter.

2.)  Bad Turnover: Good employee quits or gets fired. No party, flog the manager.

I’m sure that you can come up with far better ideas but I would challenge you to really rethink the entire turnover metric as it’s dated and tells us nothing about the state or health of our operation.


How Much Do You Experiment?

Love, love, love this article in Fast Company about 37 Signals. If you aren’t familiar with them, you may be with their popular project management software Base Camp.

37 Signals CEO Jason Freid discusses how his company has become “somewhat of a laboratory for innovative workplace practices.” Mundane things like a 4-day work week in the summer. His rationale? “There’s a shortage of talent out there, and if there’s a shortage of resources, you want to conserve those resources.” For those environmentalists reading, he likens it to a “peak people theory”.

How much experimentation goes on in your organization? Unfortunately, far too many HR and legal departments have gone the opposite direction and are focusing far more on risk avoidance than anything else.

Here is a personal experience in my company, We are a software company that hires a lot of very bright, very motivated and very … um … demanding employees. They can be … they are very smart and very motivated. We really try and cut against the grain of traditional HR practices as much as possible. Some experiments work and some don’t. When we began, we refused to put a vacation policy in place. Our

rational was if you need a day or week off, take it off. Of course, this requires your manager’s approval and you must be meeting your goals. It’s all about personal responsibility and clear accountability / performance. We hire adults, entrust them with millions of dollars in client relationships and try to treat them accordingly.

We get stung by this policy from time to time. Even HR technology companies can make a bad hire every once in a while. But, the good far outweighs the bad and the experiment paid off. Like I said, not experiments have worked as well (more on that in another post).

How can you experiment? When was the last time you focused on the upside and ignored the risk in eliminating an old-fashioned process or launched a new, slightly outlandish initiative.

We all need to experiment more … isn’t that really where the fun is?