Thursday, 29 December 2011

Babysitting Your Gen-Y Employees

As a Gen-Y professional in Human Resources, I’m often confronted with a lot of research on how I am supposed to be managed. A lot of this research is not written by Gen-Y researchers, and they make it sound like they’re babysitting. Chances are, if you start “babysitting” your employees, they’re going to hate you…in the face. I wanted to take a couple of minutes to explain what we’re looking for from our perspective.

Employee Recognition: As a Gen-Y, I will go ahead and let you know that most companies are terrible at this. We don’t need a little trophy, certificate or a coffee mug every time we do our job. We do like to be acknowledged for things we do that have a positive impact on the organization, and if we create something impressive, it would be nice to have our names on it. Don’t go overboard. “Hey Scott, thanks for doing that thing I said you had to do in order to keep your job. That was great of you.” This makes us feel more patronized than appreciated.

Feedback: I have been told that I’m a typical Gen-Y because of this one. We’re not asking for you to stand behind us and hold our hands. We don’t need constant supervision, but we are incredibly efficient and we don’t like to waste our time. Spending a week on a course of action that you are eventually going to shut down is not on the top of our to-do list. I just want to know if this is right before I do it 80 more times. Asking for feedback is not a genetic deformity. It means we WANT to do a good job the first time. Go ahead and be happy about that.

Flexible Work Hours: Do you expect your employees to clock out at exactly 5pm regardless of what needs to be done? If you answered yes, then by all means continue what you’re doing. One hour is not long enough to go out and eat lunch at a restaurant and come back. If there’s no operational requirement for me to be in my seat in exactly one hour, perhaps I could make that extra time up at the end of the day. Employees have varying schedules. If you’re trying to attract a super-ambitious employee who is part of an association, is learning a new language and plays a sport, you better be prepared to send some work home with them.

Also, some people are more effective at weird hours of the day. I have an efficiency burst between 10am and 12pm and another one between Midnight and 2am (That’s when blogs get written). Making me plow through a sluggish afternoon instead of letting me take a nap really only hurts you. If you need me to write something by a specific date, why do I have to sit in my office all afternoon to do it? … Oh yeah, and some people have kids or whatever.

Important: Avoid Unnecessary Rules (Like A Dress Code): We need reasons for why things are the way they are. “That’s the way they’ve always been” can’t be one of them. First think about why you have a dress code. Does anyone even see your employees?

“The company would like to project a professional image. Therefore, it is required that all employees dress in business casual attire.”

This is perfectly acceptable…unless one of your Senior Managers routinely shows up in pleated khakis and a tie that looks like he keeps it in his pocket. This no longer says “professional.” If people aren’t going to be required to iron, wash or coordinate their outfits, I should be able to pull off a nice pair of jeans and a dress shirt.

This also includes unnecessary rules regarding internet usage. However, I've already expressed my opinion on this one here:

Practice What You Preach: Culture is a top down thing. We see what you do. Don’t impose rules on your employees you wouldn’t want to impose on yourself. Like most people in the Fredericton region, I have worked in a call center. You are required to be plugged in and taking calls for your full 8 hours. You have breaks that are scheduled for you (normally not at the same time as your friends), and you have 10 minutes per shift of unscheduled breaks (to go do your business). There are operational requirements that merit treating employees like cattle. However, when one of the cattle sees the entire management team out having lunch together at a picnic table at the same time, they can’t help but time them. Commence job apathy and absenteeism.

The “problem” with Gen-Y employees is that we just don’t accept things at face value. “Because I said so” only works on children. If this is going to be your philosophy, be prepared to lower your standards, because the only employees you’ll retain are the ones who can’t function in an environment where they’re treated like adults. 

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Educational Requirements: Overrated

Isn’t it weird that you can’t prove to an employer that you are able to do something unless you pay someone to give you a piece of paper to make it real? Have you ever applied to a position where they asked you to be fluent with Microsoft Office? I can understand that this is a requirement, but when they ask you in the interview “what is your experience with MS Office?” don’t you want to patronise them a little? Um…I’m under 100 and I live on Earth. What if they required you to have a certificate demonstrating that you had taken a course in MS Office? If you needed a course to figure it out, you probably shouldn’t be applying for the job. There’s going to be a new version next year, and you may not have time to take a course on it.

For certain positions, it used to be kosher to step right out of high school into a company and learn how to do the job. We’ve developed so many different specialized titles and certifications that someone with no letters after their name might as well be deemed incompetent. Was everyone “back in the day” pretty much useless? Nope! What happened is we all got lazy. We don’t want to take the time to look into a candidate who hasn’t sunk tens of thousands of dollars into education to become our employee. Does spending too much money on a course of action make you more likely to want to pursue it? It sure does! It’s also called “escalation of commitment” and it’s a flaw, not a desirable attribute in an employee.

If you start adding educational requirements you could eliminate entire generations from the workforce. Why would an administrative assistant need to spend two years at college to learn how to be a receptionist?  I know you have 30 years of experience, but where’s your piece of paper? If you talk to someone in the IT industry, they’ll tell you that when it comes to programmers, it doesn’t matter how much or little education they have. Learning how to program out of high school doesn’t make you any less qualified than someone who took computer science. Remember, Zuckerberg didn’t wait until he graduated to create Facebook, and people didn’t wait until he got his degree to think it was awesome.  

We use education as a heuristic. Basically we say someone with a degree in something, should have “entry level knowledge” about that topic. For example: Someone with an Arts degree should have the ability to do research, and think critically about things. Isn’t it possible that some people learned to do research and think critically about things on their own? Also, if you graduated from a Bachelor’s program with some of the people I did, you would not make this assumption.

Educational Restrictions Can Come Back to Bite You

Scenario: You have an account manager who goes out on sick leave. Your receptionist is the only person who knows enough about the accounts to effectively take them over for the time being. You put the receptionist in charge of the accounts (watching her closely) and hire a temp to help with the administrative work. Your former receptionist turns out to be a genius. Your clients are very happy with her and she has shown she is ready to be a full account manager. The new receptionist is also working out well. After six months the account manager on leave ends up quitting because….well….he secretly hated you and found another position. Don’t take it personally…it happens.

You look at the resumes of your two employees. Your former receptionist has high school equivalency and 10 years working as an administrative assistant in marketing firms. Your new temp has a 2 year community college degree in marketing including a 1 year marketing internship and this is her first job since then.You check the classification specs for this position.

Account Manager: 2 year marketing degree or related field plus 1 year experience.

….do you see where I’m going with this? Your brand new receptionist qualifies for your newly vacant position, but your superstar employee that all your clients love does not. Here’s how this plays out if you stick to your classification specs. Your new employee gets the account manager position and your receptionist poisons your coffee. I wanted to point out (again) that you died in this scenario.

If there’s no legal reason why someone needs a specific degree or designation (like an accountant would) then adding educational requirements to a position’s classification is basically like shooting yourself in the foot (or poisoning your own coffee). Obviously if you are running a competition for a position and don’t have any mind succession planning in place, you could add the educational requirement for the sole purpose of reducing the amount of eligible applicants to a manageable number. Just keep in mind that when you create your job description, the educational requirements should be somewhat flexible. 

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Stirring It Up With Cocoamotion

When I showed up to Leo Hayes High School to interview the staff of Cocoamotion, I was certainly not expecting a group of enthusiastic students working hard on a Wednesday night. (Having watched Mean Girls four times, I consider myself an expert in teenage culture.) The room was full of mugs in the process of having a chalkboard surface applied, and the atmosphere put most corporate cultures to shame. They were genuinely excited about their product, and even over the course of the interview they were coming up with new (good) ideas.

Cocoamotion is one of four companies from the Junior Achievers Company Program in Fredericton. Junior Achievement is a Not for Profit Organization that provides youth with experiences that promote financial literacy, entrepreneurship and work readiness skills. The Company Program teams high school students with professional volunteer consultants to design, organize and operate a real business. It basically blows your typical high school entrepreneurship class out of the water.

The team sells $7 specialty mugs with 2 mugs worth of hot chocolate and marshmallows and a stick of chalk. The face of the mug has a rectangular chalkboard surface that allows you to doodle, erase, and re-doodle.

When asked about the idea, the team responded that they wanted to “make” something versus buying an assortment of things, repackaging them and selling them for a profit. Mugs had been done by teams in previous years, but no one had ever made it possible for the consumer to personalize them.

Cocoamotion could have appeared to be somewhat of an underdog in this competition. They have the fewest members AND the fewest number of consultants. They also have a fairly young team. Of the 22 members there are 2 in grade 11, 1 in grade 10, the rest are in grade 9 and none of them have ever taken part in the Junior Achievers program before. When asked about how they feel their numbers affect their sales, they noted that they all have to work harder, less people can slack off and everyone has to pull their weight. However, they did note that it might make it a little easier to coordinate amongst the group. In addition to the three hours per week they dedicate to the project, they’ve added a few extra hours to keep up with demand.

In week 10 of an 18 week project, the team has already broken even. Out of 14 teams across New Brunswick they are one of three who have been able to accomplish this. They also noted that while other teams’ sales appear to be slowing down, theirs are picking up. When asked about the pricing they noted that they wanted to charge $5, but they wouldn’t be making much off it. Most teams were charging $10, but at $10 people start thinking more critically about their purchase, and so they settled on $7. They also had the foresight to purchase a food license so they could sell their products at the market, exclaiming that their product fit well with the market clientele.

The entire process has been a learning experience for the whole team. They admitted they didn’t really know what they were doing at first and a lot of what they know now came from trial and error. When I asked about the communications strategy they noted that it kind of developed on its own. They knew they were going to use Facebook, and they created some posters to put up around the school. Since then, they have added a kijiji ad that has received almost 200 hits since December 10th. All of the members have been using their own social networking sites to promote the product as well. Also, in the near future they plan to launch a twitter site.

I know what you’re thinking …and you are correct. The bovine steroids in our meat have mutated our children into successful capitalists much faster than previous generations. I would have loved to have sat there and listened to them continue to come up with new ideas, but they kicked me out at 8pm so they could spend more time working.

Cocoamotion will be at the W.W. Boyce Farmer’s Market this Sunday from  10am to 3pm. If you can’t make it to the market, track them down on Facebook 

Or respond to their kijiji ad 

I want to thank all of the members of Cocoamotion who met with me.

Katarina (Co-President)
Amber (Co-President)
James (VP of Production)
Juno (VP of Marketing)
Alec (VP of IT)
Kyusung (VP of Finance)

See you at the market on Sunday!!!

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Dude Where’s My Job? Episode 1 – Where to Look

Congratulations on completing your post-secondary education that was supposed to make you super-employable. Now forget your government-issued GenY sense of entitlement and realize that you are at the absolute bottom of the food chain. Unless you somehow managed to accumulate three to five years of experience in your desired field you’re about to be super-disappointed. When you begin the job hunt, it can be slightly overwhelming. There are so many different ways to be rejected. Which do you focus on?

Applying to Vacant, Advertised Positions

Identify the job sites that are most used by businesses in the geographic location you are looking. Also, find sites that focus on career opportunities in your industry. This is your primary source of vacant, advertised positions and is where you will spend most of your time. Be ready to fill your days writing cover letters and sending resumes that never get answered or possibly even read. The job market is a touch awful, and overqualified candidates are applying for the positions you just qualify for.  The people running competitions for positions you are overqualified for are hesitant to look at you, because they’re scared you won’t be around long. Job banks are pretty much a graveyard for the resumes of the inexperienced. Remember, rejection is part of the process. It’s like dating, but you don’t waste time sending drunk text messages to businesses that didn’t call you back… if you did, that’s probably why you’re unemployed…wait….is that why you’re single?

Filling Out Online Profiles

Larger companies, like the Irvings and McCains of the world, will want you to fill out online profiles on their websites. These will be the most frustrating things you will EVER fill out! I understand that it makes it easier for the company to organize their competitions, but it’s a serious pain in the ass for the job seeker. It’s never an efficient system for the user. Especially when there’s a glitch in their software or when your letter head was fine for the resume, but the cover letter exceeds their maximum size (KB) and you have to delete the graphics from it so you can upload it to their system. When you’re reading a job ad that looks interesting and you get to the bottom where they tell you to apply on their website, you WILL want to kill yourself. Take a deep breath and look at the closing date to see if it needs to be filled out now. Try and limit these to one per day to stave off urges to hurt yourself.

Side Note: Dear Staffing Companies. You are the worst offenders. Especially when you release multiple Ads and I have to start all over again every time! Yeah I’m talking to you David Aplin Recruiting.

Go Back in Time and Start Networking

What you should have done, like forever ago, is join a relevant association or special interest group that is directed at professionals in your field. If you’re in a small city (like Fredericton) most of the jobs are not advertised. You get them through connections. Now that you’re kicking yourself for not having been proactive, start networking. In addition to attending physical networking events, you should also be reaching out to people online.

First go through your Facebook account and delete (or ask friends to delete) all of the pictures of you in compromising positions. You “could” attempt to leave them up and manage the privacy settings, but even Zuckerberg can’t keep that stuff private. Develop a wholesome online presence and start following (stalking) all of the companies you want to work for on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn,  and whatever other networking site becomes popular in the future. (Seriously guys... Google+ is gonna be awesome as soon as everyone gets it.) 

Make sure you have updated your online resume or LinkedIn account and have the link displayed prominently somewhere accessible to potential employers. Then start interacting with these companies by retweeting , sharing and commenting on their posts. Not only does this introduce you to important people in the companies you would like to work for, but it creates the delusion that your afternoon on Facebook was productive. (I got all kinds of high scores on Bejeweled!)


Even while you’re working, if your intent is to move up, you should be doing something outside of work. Chances are your current employer is more focused on making sure you have the tools to do your current job than developing your skill set so you can move into higher positions. The right volunteer positions will allow you to develop leadership and project management skills that will be necessary for management positions. While completely satisfying, walking dogs would not provide that opportunity. Choose wisely.

Part Time / Temporary Work

If you’ve spent four to six years in University and tens of thousands of dollars in tuition, you might think that temporary work is beneath you. Unless you saved several months’ salary so you could comfortably look for your dream job, it’s not. Working part-time in an office that has some relation to your desired field is an excellent networking opportunity. Try contacting a local staffing firm and letting them know your intent. No! Don’t fill out their stupid online profile. I’m pretty sure they just throw those in the garbage. Call and make an appointment to go talk to an actual person. Then follow them on every social networking site available and start interacting with them. They need to remember you exist.

…Stay tuned for future episodes

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Financially Illiterate: What is Wrong With Us?

Did anyone notice a slew of new shows on television surrounding debt reduction in the past few years? Were people always this terrible with money or is it a new thing? Our parents grew up thinking you were supposed to have the money in the bank before you purchased something with the exception of a car and a house. Some of our grandparents grew up not ever needing a loan. They paid for everything with cash and stored it in a mattress. We don’t have that option anymore. Not ever having any debt or credit to pay off is actually a hindrance now. Try getting a loan from the bank for a house without any actual credit history…go ahead, I’ll wait.

Our current problem is the availability of credit regardless of how irresponsible we are. You have to get into real trouble before people stop giving you the opportunity to destroy yourself financially. Much like our obesity problem, we have issues with short-term and long-term results. Instant gratification generally overrides long-term goals. This can be corrected by changing the way we socialize with each other around the topic of money.

How Do We Counteract The Purchase High?

We need to assign some non-financial accountability to purchases. Apparently, it’s taboo to talk about money with anyone but your spouse. If you’re single, no one even knows you’re financially retarded unless you have to ask them for money. We’re not allowed to ask people how much they make or how much they spend on things. This is what we need to change. We get the instant gratification from purchasing something we can’t afford, and the additional gratification of having other people compliment us on our things. The messy business of severe debt doesn’t become a problem for at least a month, if not longer.

Example: When you walk into someone’s newly constructed home and see a large flat screen mounted on the wall with brand new furniture being dusted by a cleaning service, we automatically think “Hey, this guy doesn't really make a lot of money. I am super impressed that he has these things.” Instead of “Hey, this idiot makes minimum wage, what the hell is wrong with him?”

Then we ask them questions like “how big is that TV?” and “What’s the definition on that?”

Then they reply with all of the enthusiasm of someone who’s cured cancer.

“65 inches” and “it’s a new form of HD that’s actually clearer than real life.”

He has now been rewarded for his irresponsible behaviour.

Changing the way we talk about money will make this guy think before he makes a purchase like this. His current thought process can be mapped out as follows:

Step 1: I would like a big TV

Step 2: Decision made, TV purchased. I’m gonna watch Nickelback videos on it as soon as I get home.

Next time you see a TV this size ask “How much did that cost?” and “How did you pay for it?” and “How long until it’s paid off?” This will eliminate any positive feelings this person had about his purchase unless he purchased it responsibly. He will respond “way too much” and “well I put it on my credit card” and “probably never as I always carry a balance on my card” or “I’m leasing to own it. I only end up paying three times as much as it costs.” Don’t worry about offending or embarrassing these people. They need it. You’re helping!

Look at his new thought process after we fix the way we think about money.

Step1: I would like a big TV

Step 2: How stupid am I going to look when people ask me about the price and they compare it to my income and debt level?

Step 3: Math

Step 4: Frowny-face

When people walk into my apartment and see my mismatched furniture and tiny entertainment system, they think “Oh look at the little twenty-something with his little tv/dvd player combo…adorable.” Instead of “Wow, I bet that guy has a credit card with a zero balance.”…then of course they would see the shoe boxes and tie collection and those thoughts would dissipate.

This shouldn’t be merely related to purchases either. We should be able to ask people how much they’re putting in their retirement funds and savings accounts for trips and toys. It’s going to be uncomfortable at first, but I think we can do this. Imagine if someone had been able to ask your parents how much they were putting away for your college fund. If the accountability aspect doesn't do it, the shame of admitting to their friends that even though they can afford it, they’re not planning on supporting their child’s post-secondary education could result in a lot of new accounts being opened. 

I know a lot of you think that educating people on their personal finances would solve these problems, but convincing them to save money takes more than showing them what they will have accumulated in 25 to 30 years. It's not that we don't know it's good to save money, we just don't care. Remember, guilt and shame are more powerful than education.