Bad employee! Down, Boy!

We don’t often talk about employee relations — so let’s do it more. A troubled reader submitted this:

How do you get people to stop making negative comments about other employees? I worked for a company last year and had several employees on my project who I discovered were trashing others — and they were really going after one employee in particular. I feel that these individuals are really doing damage as their actions could not only put the company in jeopardy of being sued but will also (and unfairly) hurt others’ chances of getting re-employed. (There has been a layoff at this firm).

Is making an example of a few of them the best way to handle the situation? What about company policy? Can that be used as a tool to get employees to understand that making negative comments about former and current employees will not be tolerated?

Some HR departments are so busy perusing job boards that they seem to have no time for their employees. Who is going to reprimand the bad dog?

Have you taken this to HR? Filed an anonymous complaint? Dropped a line on the culprits? Nothing changes unless someone acts. You can’t just wonder what to do next. First, follow policy and file a complaint with HR. Second, go around the structure (HR) and go directly to management. If you wonder whether it’s the right thing to do, ask yourself, If I were running this company, would I want to know?

If you believe your management does not want to know, either live with it or move on.

Let’s open this up. What should this troubled employee do?

How to manage your career in a recession

In my last posting I criticized The Wall Street Journal for its history of producing sophomoric and self-serving career advice. The newspaper publishes advertorials masquerading as articles. They are largely intended to drive readers to the Journal’s job listings. So much for editorial integrity.

But there is good advice to be had in lots of business publications. As I’ve pointed out, it’s not usually career advice. It’s guidance about business that can be readily applied to job hunting, hiring and career success. You just have to read between the lines and think.

An article in the January 19 edition of Fortune, How to manage your business in a recession, could easily have been re-cast as advice for managing your career in a recession. I won’t cover all 10 suggestions offered by Geoff Colvin, but I’ll try to show you how to translate some of them into useful career strategies. Read more

Meet your competition, Stupid

Recently we talked about how companies mouth the words, People are our most important asset!, while feeding  assets into the hamburger grinder. Your comments have made me more aware of articles on related topics, and I’d like to share a couple of good ones. One will make you grind a fist even harder into your palm, and the other will make you take stock of the supplies you’ve laid into your career bomb shelter.

Over at Networkworld, a guy who’s recently been through the grinder — Ron Nutter — shares 20 Ways to Survive A Layoff. I like the article’s fresh-out-of-the-trench smell. Nutter doesn’t pull punches, and he sticks to what matters. There’s no career-expert drivel here. Nutter shows that getting fired is a state of mind — not the end of your life.

Computerworld‘s Mary K. Pratt delivers Five Ways to Drive Your Best Workers Out the Door (as if you couldn’t give her 20 more), and — like Nutter — nails the bigger point in her article’s subtitle: Employees don’t quit the job; they quit you.

The problem of corporate productivity is lost behind corporate PR about “our people.” The solution to being out of work is hidden by news stories about the pain of unemployment. Whether they’re employed in smelly corporate trenches or busy climbing back up out of the smelly trench of unemployment, people in America stand up to downsizing and they move on because Yankee ingenuity kicks in and reveals we’re all built to survive.

If only employers could find and harness that talent for survival and put it to profitable use rather than stupidly drive people away, only to watch them re-surface working for a competitor, we could all get on with driving our economy a little bit faster and a lot more smartly.

It’s the people, Stupid. Whether you dump them, lose them, or ignore them — they clean themselves off, find the next place to plant their foot, survive, and thrive. They are the seeds of new businesses, new companies, and new innovations.

Sorry to sound like a rah-rah American, but my money is on the individual with a brain, an aspiration, a hunger, and a need to pay the bills and feed the family. Keep dumping on them, but they’ll come back every time. Meet your competition, Stupid.

Work like a 15-year-old

There’s a wildly-successful TV show that will pit your intelligence against that of 5th graders. I’ll tell you, when it first came out I said it would flop — but the number of adults who fail to keep up with 5th graders is a little frightening. So is the nervous laughter from the audience…

Which leads me to ask, is your work ethic worthy of a 15-year-old? The Evil HR Lady offers young burger-flippers simple advice on How to Avoid Being Fired.

I smirked at some of her suggestions, but then I realized something. If I didn’t learn everything I needed to know in kindergarten, the rest of my work-world savvy was cultivated by a job I had in a diner when I was 15. Simple, boiled-down advice like this has little flavor but, like comfort food, it will take you a long way.

The Evil HR Lady’s suggestions for success at work aren’t just for kids, so pay attention. My favorite is this gem: “Work while you are there.”

Now, there’s something to think about while calculating your value to an employer. Woody Allen was wrong: 90% of success is not “just showing up.” It’s about doing the work. Getting the job done. Producing what you’re supposed to produce. Few 15-year-olds get that, but their bosses grind it into them. Don’t let us forget it, especially in a job interview, when the employer asks, “Why do you want this job?” The answer is not, “So I can show up… and get paid.” The answer is… well, you figure it out.

Remember that Woody Allen is a comedian. While you laugh at humanity’s foibles, he gets paid. When your name has the value that his does, you might get paid just for showing up and standing aroundDo what you say you’re going to do. Do what the employer expects. Work while you are there.

Those pesky women in the coal mine

Women just keep causing trouble. You can’t figure them out, no matter how much you try. They just wanna have fun. They want a degree. They want a good job. They want respect. They want to earn as much as men. They want kids. They want to break the glass ceiling. They want corporate life to not suck. They want power. They want mentoring. They want time for their families. They want men who make a lot of money so they can hang loose. They want to go back to good jobs after having kids. They want equal treatment. They can’t stand stupid men. They can’t stand stupid women. They cause a lotta trouble. Jiminy, you can’t live with ’em and you can’t… make sense of the corporate world when you realize women are the canaries in the corporate coal mine, and we’re all being gassed

Every couple of years somebody (usually a woman) does a study that shows women are leaving the corporate world for some reason. Duh.

Computerworld recently reported on the Athena Factor, a Harvard study about women at work. Even better, after readers chimed in, Computerworld editor Don Tennant laid into Sylvia Ann Hewlett’s study in an article titled, The Bigger Question. (Kudos, Don.) And, jumpin’ Jehosophat, I was taken back to the same topic — different studies, different names, same women — that I covered in Are Maverick Women to Blame? a few years ago.

Gratuitous Harvard studies with gratuitous conclusions offered by gratuitous Female Spokespersons For The Fair Sex are about as useful as Crap Written by Men to Justify Corporate Crap. Gimme a break.

What’s the most fun stuff in Tennant’s article and in Maverick Women Fire Back? The comments from women writing in: the canaries in the coal mine. Except these canaries flew the coop.

Does someone have to wipe your hiney?

There’s dirty work, dirty code (ask any good programmer), dirty logic, dirty clothing (urgh, you smell — no job offer!), but perhaps the most pervasive dirty is dirty talk and dirty language. Healthy words exhibiting bad behavior. Foul usage. Incorrect grammar. Poor spelling. Wrong pronouns when nouns just wanna be right.

It all makes you look stupid, inept, less than stellar (who wants to hire anyone less than stellar?), mediocre, on the fat part of the curve where imbeciles, lousy writers, and sloppy speakers dominate the business world.

And Lordy help you if your boss blunders through the English language like your superior.

The worst is the manager who swears, “It’s the quality of your ideas that counts, not the way you say it!” And maybe the worst manager is the principal at my kids’ school who told me, “We don’t bother with spelling here. Nobody can spell. That’s what the world has spell checkers for.”

Every time I’ve had to re-write a co-worker’s report, or clean up the run-on sentences in a business proposal my boss wrote, or apologize to a client when my employee misused some pronouns (“Her and me went to the meeting last week.”), I feel like I’ve gotta wash my hands because I just wiped somebody’s hiney.

The first person who posts a sincere excuse or rationalization for poor use of language on this blog is gonna find 30 pounds worth of Webster’s Unabridged in their bed when they wake up… Read more

Coveted, lucrative, and rare

The question on every job hunter’s lips is, “How do I make myself stand apart?” It’s a good question because it seems every joker and his sister apply for every job posted on the Net. The competition isn’t just stiff — it’s voluminous. How does a good worker rise above the sea of mediocrity?

You won’t like my answer, because it’s not an instant solution. It takes time to become one of the precious few who stand out.

How would you like to be known as coveted, lucrative, and rare? That’s the title of an Electronic Engineering Times article by R. Colin Johnson, and it reveals three important guideposts for how to make employers beg you to work for them.

Johnson’s article discusses analog engineering. This discipline was the core of the electronics field for decades. The circuits engineers designed prior to the 1980’s were primarily analog electronics. Think about volume controls and tubes in old FM radios; heaters in toasters; the motor driving a table saw. As digital technology exploded on the scene in the 1980’s, college engineering programs started cranking out digital engineers, and there has been a dearth of analog engineers since. The result is that good analog engineers are now almost priceless. So much for “not being cutting-edge,” eh?

Like I’ve always said, it doesn’t matter what’s hot; what matters is how hot you are. Read more

Advice for schools & students

I was recently interviewed by IT Management, a publication whose focus is self-evident. The title of the article is provocative: The Failure of Universities. The gist is this: Do colleges prepare students for jobs? Good question, and one that education and industry don’t do a good job of grappling with.

I’m a big believer in education for its own sake. Anyone will benefit from a college degree, just because it will make you a better thinker and a more well-rounded person. But, preparation for a job is not mutually exclusive from an academic education. In fact, I believe it’s a necessary component of a complete education. I won’t repeat myself here; it’s in the article. My aim in doing the interview was to challenge schools with some advice about how to help their grads be better workers. What do you think?

Students need advice, too. An “old regular” (though he’s not so old!) Ask The Headhunter reader recently shared with me some advice he was asked to give to a young college student. I liked it so much that I asked Vinh Pham to let me publish it — pretty much as-is. He graciously agreed.

I like the conversational tone of Vinh’s advice in Advice to a young college student, and the earnest encouragement he offers. Vinh’s message is simple and profound: Explore. I believe the kind of exploration he recommends helps students make the critical connections between education and work — and helps lead them toward the right kind of work.

See what you think.

H-1B or not to B?

Having covered the information technology and electronics industries for a long time, I’m very sensitive to the H-1B visa controversy. This is the government program whereby foreign nationals can be hired by U.S. employers under a special visa.

H-1B exists because industry claims there’s a labor shortage in the world of technology. On April 1, the 2008 allotment of H-1B visas will likely be used up in a matter of hours. Bill Gates says more H-1B workers should be allowed to work in the U.S. because industry needs special skills that domestic workers can’t always deliver. Many tech folks believe this program siphons valuable jobs away from U.S. workers, and that companies use H-1B mainly to cut labor costs. H-1B opponents say U.S. companies should focus more on talent and less on skills. The controversy rages on. In the current InformationWeek, Rob Preston takes the most responsible view of H-1B that I’ve read to date. Read more

Linked into the haystack

Relationships make the world go ’round, and it’s wonderful to make new friends and contacts. And it’s really great when you find that needle in a haystack — a new contact who changes your business or your life. Such an encounter might be a once-in-a-lifetime event. No one’s been able to figure out how to reliably trigger the unique circumstances that bring two people together, or even how to identify the special characteristics that combine to make a valuable new relationship.

Here are the last five messages people sent me when asking me to join their LinkedIn networks, in the hope that we might make magic, or even that we might just enjoy hanging out together: Read more