Employment Branding for Passive Candidates? | HR Examiner with John Sumser

First rate thinking on what’s going on before companies begin thinking about it. This aspect of branding carries significantly more weight in a skills-based hiring environment than all the other branding efforts.

Employment Branding for Passive Candidates? | HR Examiner with John Sumser.


80% of today’s jobs are landed through networking – RecruitingBlogs.com

Another entry on the importance of networking to finding a job. The article cites an ABC News study’s finding that 80% of jobs are landed through networking.

What many seem to miss, is the emphasis on “landing” the job. It’s not that networking will find you an opportunity (although it might), or that it will ensure you get the job (although it might), or even that you’d want to work for the company (although it might). The key is, that networking can influence a broad  range of factors that lead to securing a job. In a job search, the importance of tools like LinkedIn as an electronic rolodex is unprecedented.

See the full article:  80% of today’s jobs are landed through networking – RecruitingBlogs.com.

Why Working More Than 40 Hours a Week is Useless | Inc.com


Good points in the article. It looks like another instance where our culture has lost some of the understandings gained in previous generations. That said, it’s hard to wrap it up at “quitting time”. As a self-employed person, I never feel like there’s a convenient stopping point. It was much easier to do when I was in corporate roles.

Why Working More Than 40 Hours a Week is Useless | Inc.com.



The Case For Progressive Taxes

Why do we have progressive taxes?

The despised Marxist slogan “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need” is frequently used to criticize progressive tax programs. Anything with communist overtones is anathema to many capitalists, who believe the idea behind progressive taxes is to redistribute wealth. This is a staple of anti-government politicos. But, conspiracy theories aside, it seems unlikely that the United States Government has taken inspiration from Karl Marx for it’s tax policy.

In truth, progressive taxes were conceived as a way to support public structures in proportion to how much one benefits from them. Meaning that if you are successful, it is partially due to the environment in which you operate, and so you pay more. Conversely, when you do not thrive, you pay less. Put another way, there is a basic level of public service to which all citizens are entitled. But beyond some threshold of success, one is expected to foot more of the bill.

So Who Needs Government?                                                                 Some people claim they don’t use government services. Coincidentally, many of these same people feel government is bad, and that less government is always better. When asked how many government services one uses, many of us come up with one or two. But when you start to list government services, its clear we use a lot more than we think. For example, if you drive on roads, attend public schools, call the police or the fire department when needed, or get a driver’s license, collect unemployment, walk through TSA screening at the airport, enjoy safe commercial air travel (courtesy of the FAA), or appreciate an environment that is free of terrorists (thanks to the military and Dept. of Homeland Security), then you are utilizing government services. And we haven’t even mentioned programs like social security or socialized healthcare (aka. medicare).

You see, this is what it means to be born in America. We have the greatest society in history in which to raise a family and conduct business. We’ve heard that freedom isn’t free, but neither is the collection of government services which combine to make it so. We have a safe, healthy, educated populace, and a marketplace that is secured by institutions of law protecting property, copyrights, and the rights of private citizens to pursue their own personal vision of happiness. This only happens with a government committed to providing these entitlements. Our government is supported by taxes, and it very effectively (if not always efficiently) creates an environment where someone with ambition, work ethic, and an idea can thrive.

So, what about the self-made man? The one who raised himself by his bootstraps, who exerted great force of will to overcome odds and make his own fortune? Is it fair to ask him to pay more taxes than the rest of us? Yes, it is. If his fortune is made in America then he is not self-made. If he attended a public school, relies on the authorities to enforce laws that make it safe to live and do business, or if he benefits from living in a country with a strong military, protecting his rights in such ways that enable the making or keeping of his fortune, then his tax burden should reflect it. Taken one step further, if in the making of a fortune, one benefits from the inputs of a society of educated workers, who also live in safety and security, and who contribute to the earning of another’s fortune, then the self-made man benefits from this as well. Financial success is rarely a lone endeavor. It tends to resemble a pyramid, where the fellow on top benefits from the contributions of others. And the magnified benefits at the top mirror one’s obligations, since without those contributions, his benefit would be less. There is an additional obligation to support the community for this, too.

Alternatively, one could try being ‘self-made’ elsewhere – where costs would surely be higher in countries that do not provide similar benefits. There, he might have to build the roads to transport his goods, educate his workforce, ensure the safety of transactions for his customers, arrange for the safety of his suppliers, and hire a private army to protect his family and community. Nothing makes a self-made man more pro-government than having to foot these (and many other) costs himself. In fact, throughout the world, aspiring self-making men and women flock to the USA where citizens take these services for granted.

Of Wasted Man

Jobs are the engine of our economy. And during hard times, many people would be grateful just to be working again. The quality of working life isn’t a big topic. Still, we have a problem.

We have a giant, inefficient engine that leaks oil and belches steam. It’s hungry and every day we struggle to feed it. While it’s noisy, slow, and loud, it runs every day without fail. It’s been there all our lives. Since our first day on the job we learned we must feed it. Since then we’ve learned we don’t harness more than 30% of it’s energy. But we accepted that long ago. We stopped questioning it’s inefficiency. More fuel! The engine is constant. It’s just a fuel shortage. We need more fuel.

I disagree. We have an engine problem. We need a better one. If this were an article on engines, I would call this an engineering problem. But it isn’t about engines. It’s about business and our woefully inadequate use of human capital. There wouldn’t be a labor shortage if we didn’t waste the human capacity we already have. The fuel has evolved; it is the richest, best educated, and most knowledgeable fuel the world has ever known. It has the capacity to shoot for stars undreamed and undiscovered. We’re pouring rocket fuel into a crude, leaky, rusty pile of scrap metal. The engine has not evolved, it is outdated and inefficient. Wastefully consuming valuable fuel is not a long term solution.

Quiet Lives Of Desperation

Remember the assembly line? Of course you do – you live it. All work in America is based on this model. Learn to do something and do it well. Now, repeat it as often and as fast as you can so we can make money. Bored? Not a problem – you’ll find a way to rationalize your need for a paycheck and buckle down. Eventually, you’ll just go through the motions. You’ll remember your daughter is counting on you to bring home the bacon and stop dreaming about a better job. You’ll live for the weekends, listen to country music and to mentally check out  Monday through Friday. This is the assembly line mentality, a universal by-product of the assembly line. If we harnessed what people are capable of contributing we would not be worried about a labor shortage. If we leveraged our investment in people instead of systematically demotivating them, we wouldn’t even think about a labor shortage. But when we break work down into simple and repetitive components, then plunk someone into that job, we are asking for trouble. They might be challenged at first, but not for long.

The fact is, most people are disengaged and less productive because they are not challenged appropriately. Most people spend the bulk of their careers underemployed. Just for fun, form a focus group and ask how many people love to go to work in the morning. Ask how many have felt this way before, and find out how long they experience this. You’ll find it doesn’t happen to everybody, and only lasts for short periods of time. Compare that amount of time to the length of a career. Even those who experience real engagement only do so for a small percentage of their career. This widespread disengagement is not the goal, but a very real by-product of business today. To spend so much time severely underutilized is an indignity. When you picture it on a grand scale you understand why it is said that most men lead quiet lives of desperation.

To address the labor shortage solely through recruiting is to accept the premise that the existing business structure sufficiently captures the energy people are willing to give to a job. Finding cheaper labor offshore is another way of propping up a flawed system. But not every industry can outsource. For many, learning to utilize their people more effectively is critical. Yet they tend to do so within the existing system. I don’t hear anyone questioning the system itself. Anyone? Anyone? …Buehler?

A Terrible Thing To Waste

What if we realized we had plenty of fuel, but we were wasting it. How might we  redesign the human condition at work. Instead of dividing the workplace into a cube farm with turf wars, politics, and narrow job descriptions, could we pursue business goals from a context of inspiration, growth, and maximizing the human energy we invest? It’s as fundamental as how we divide work, what we expect from people, and for how long. They say we only use 10% of the brain. Hiring someone today might capture 30% of that over the course of a career. So much for leveraging human capital. Remember that ad that said “A mind is a terrible thing to waste”. They were right – how about wasting a whole person? Business does it on a grand scale, but employees need to wake up and realize a career is a terrible thing to waste too.

Lately, we’ve found ways to celebrate this situation – reality television’s biggest hits, ‘The Apprentice’ and ‘Survivor’ give us voyeuristic pleasure in watching people struggle in situations that parallel our own work environment – complete with cutthroat competition and mind -numbing boredom. Everybody gets dumped except a winner. Hooray for business! Who wants to work in a  situation like that? Doh! We already do. Sure, it’s great entertainment, but it’s no way to spend your working life. Yet most Americans spend their careers in an assembly line. Failure – even on the TV shows – is attributed to the individual, not the system, because we have accepted the business context. On both shows, people are chewed up and spat out. The ‘rejects’ disappear – along with all their talent. We need to rethink this. I consider the continuous exodus of bright talented people from companies a failure. And, failure on such a widespread basis suggests a systemic problem. It’s the system, stupid.

What’s funny is that Mentally checking out is a learned behavior – it’s a survival skill – and not anybody’s first choice. People prefer to be engaged. It’s our nature to be curios and creativite. We’ve learned to squelch these traits in exchange for repetitive, unchallenging work. And, the same system systematically eliminates this energy gives us executives telling everyone to ‘think out of the box’ (the one we put you in) and ‘be creative’ or ‘look for synergy’. Even with inspirational leaders, it’s just lipstick on a pig. Dress her up all you want, she’s still a pig. Even good leadership won’t consistently overcome bad structure. The bottom line is that companies today lose bright talented people every day due to their inability to challenge them effectively. It is a management challenge brought on by the business structure – how work is divided and people are managed. These same companies complain that they can’t find enough good people. 

A New Century

Using human capital more efficiently requires a different model. The assembly line was based on scarce financial capital and abundant labor. Finance is the center, humans are adapted around it. That was last century. Today, these factors are reversed. Financial capital is abundant, human capital is not. We need a model organized around modern conditions.

We need a new model for both social and economic reasons. When people engage, their energy, creativity, and productivity create a higher quality of life. While the idea of reorganizing our way of work my be new to you, recall that there were employment models before the assembly line – slavery, for example. That went away for social reasons. How about indentured servitude (if you have a family and work in a corporation, you might argue that it’s alive and well). The point is that inventing a better employment model is incredibly worthwhile. This is a new century. We have different dynamics. In order to move forward we have to question the existing framework. It’s not hard. Abolishing slavery was hard. This is just socio-economic engineering.

As any good MBA candidate knows, innovation comes from the margins. Corporate America won’t figure out how to use their people better. They will strive mightily to prolong their ‘success’. Innovation will come from disaffected corporate dropouts, or a smaller company’s rocketing growth will attract attention. Observers will wonder how they come to their success, learn the innovations and follow the model. Once a new model is seen as a strategic advantage will it spread like wildfire.

Herman Cain – he’s touched so many women…

I have to admit, I’m enjoying Herman Cain’s candidacy. If he fails to get the Republican nomination he should get his own reality show. His reality has genuine entertainment value.  Clearly, Herman has touched women everywhere. And, while that’s usually a handy skill for politicians, Herman’s version of the Midas touch has women lining up to tell the world he’s a schmuck. The first game on ‘Herman TV’ could be a betting pool on when the next woman will come forward with a new set of allegations. This kind of entertainment appeals to a broad segment of Americans and may encourage bipartisanship.

Ironically, Herman says he’ll stay in the race as long as his wife is behind him. Given the steady stream of women going public with Herman’s offenses, it appears that spending time with him helps women conclude he should not be president. Apparently, the Mrs. feels differently. At least for now. A few more weeks, a couple more women coming forward, and who knows? Maybe his wife will agree.



Thoughts On a Reunion

Recently, we celebrated our High School Reunion. As part of the planning committee we met regularly throughout last year. Most of our work was reaching out to former classmates to invite them, update contact info, and track how many were coming. It got me thinking about why we attend reunions. Everybody is busy, and most of us aren’t in close contact any more. So, why do we go to high school reunions?

High school is an odd time for everyone. It’s an artificial world that doesn’t exist in nature. No other species collects their young, stratifies them by age, ships them off to factories five days a week and expects them to emerge as functioning adults a dozen years later.

Toward the end of this period, as we stumble toward maturity, we become acutely aware of our social context and spend a lot of energy trying to fit in. At the same time, we try to stand out. Finding a balance between fitting in and standing out turns out to be an important theme in life.

As Americans, we live in a society of individuality. We celebrate the individual and we are taught to stand out – whether making a fashion statement, seeking a promotion, or just trying to get noticed, we’re a culture focused on differentiating ourselves. And in competitive activities we take it to another level. For example, consider the  Vikings/Packers rivalry. Twice a year everyone puts on their team’s colors and taunts the other side. The rivalry is great, but we could swap colors and you wouldn’t be able to tell the sides apart. They are just like us.

When we were in school, our arch-rivals in Farmington were probably the people most like us. If you looked down from thirty thousand feet, you could see that we lived in the same place, shared the same seasons, and prayed to the same God. They were just like us. But, while we saw each other as rivals, we were different.

Congress follows the same lines – there are no political parties on earth that are more similar than Republicans and Democrats. Both swear an oath to uphold the constitution, believe in the rule of law, and consider themselves American patriots. Yet, their focus on differences has created such dysfunction they’re collectively playing the fiddle while Rome burns.

Historically, I think our darkest periods have happened when we focused on what divides us rather than finding common ground. The Civil War, prohibition, the McCarthy era, Vietnam, and today’s political polarization, are all examples of our country unable to manage its differences.

On the flip side, I think we are at our best when we focus on what we have in common. And when you think about our greatest moments– victories in WWI and WWII, the moon landings, the period of national unity following 9/11. These moments have come when we’ve focused on what we have in common.

Now, its ironic that we struggle most with those closest to us, those most like us. Not with people who are obviously different – with them we can see that we’re different. But we knock ourselves out to to differentiate ourselves from our classmates, our neighbors and our siblings – people who are just like us.

When you visit a place where no one speaks English, its amazing how someone who does speak English feels like a friend. That little commonality brings you together right away. While we focus on our differences, a gulf widens. But emphasizing commonality brings us together.

And that’s what the reunion is about. There’s a part of us that belongs. Many years ago we were a group. And whether we were having a good time or not, we knew we were part of this group. We had the same teachers, we got our driver’s licenses, started dating, went to the same dances, played on the same teams, and shared our formative years. In that time, each individual was uniquely the same.

After high school, we went our separate ways, out into the world. We’ve travelled different paths and tried different things, succeeded and failed. But a reunion is an opportunity to revisit people whose lives intersected with ours, in a small-ish town just south of the Twin Cities. To recall what it was like before we knew better, and to see how we’ve turned out.

And whatever tomorrow might bring, the reunion offers this moment – together – when we celebrate what we have in common, catch up with old friends, and renew acquaintances with people who used be just like us.

I want to thank you all  for sharing your lives, then and now.