Thursday, August 15, 2013

Price Tag

What does talent really cost?  That's a great conversation starter with a CEO or CFO.  "Too much" may be the simple answer.  But after the off-the-cuff response, how do we consider talent's worth?

One of my favorite examples is Don LaFontaine.  You know, Don.  Well, you know his voice.  He did movie trailers and some television voiceover work for years.  He famously used the opening phrase, "In a world," many, many times.  If you're not readily familiar with his work, please allow me to illuminate - - (I already see many of you nodding your heads, "Oh, that guy").  For the movie producers and television executives, Don was sought after as the premier talent for this type of work.  He was paid handsomely and had the ability to pick and choose the work he would do.  But don't think Don was a slacker.  There were days where he would work on 35 assignments...yes, in one day.

When Don started doing this work, I don't imagine that he thought he'd make millions doing it.  He worked because he needed to earn a living.  Those executives early in his career recognized his talent and were willing to pay more to have him voice their television openings and movie trailers.  The price tag for Don grew over the years and he understood that what he could do with his voice had value.  Don also recognized how he could use his talent for good in donating it to charitable endeavors until his death at 68 in 2008.

Don is a great example of the cost of talent.  Was Don worth the cost?  Well, since I am writing about him, I am saying yes.  He was someone who served consistently in his role and became sought after for his excellence.  Don was guided by those who saw something more than he did initially.  "Voiceover work is voiceover work" could have easily been Don's mantra, but he was able to see more by the way those around him responded, including the increase in pay.  How are we encouraging growth and optimization of talent?

One of our traps is that we fight hard to hire someone who we think will become invaluable to our organizations.  We just know it and we push for it.  When it happens, we're elated.  What often happens afterwards is the issue.  Where is the plan for growth and expectation?  Who is holding the process accountable?  How will success be determined and does everyone know that?  Watching this prospect leave after one to two years, having never really hit the mark for the organization, is a waste of money and a poor use of time and resources.  It will cause those to whom you pleaded at first to not look with favor upon your next fight for talent.  

Our job includes the initial recognition of what could be.  Like our friend, Don LaFontaine, a path has to be drawn to communicate vision for what a person could bring to the company.  Dream a bit and set the bar.  Don't apologize but rather cause someone to feel as though he/she could rise to the occasion.  And the stack of money isn't all that needs to be communicated.  Dialogue about impact and reformation.  Consider how many well-paid executives leave their jobs and why?  Often, someone is whispering in their ear a better laid plan for how he/she will bring value to another organization.  We need to offer insight into how we see someone's talents benefiting our company today.

Create those plans.  Work with management.  Met expectations will show value, to the organization and to the employee.  Even the "small" roles to the executive are pivotal to the overall success.  Consider again, Don LaFontaine.  What was it that he really brought of value?  A nice voice?  Good tone?  Yes, but one greater thing.  He could use those talents to bring anticipation.  A movie executive wants people to come and pay to see a movie.  Don could create the desire to want to see a movie.  That is pivotal.

Recognizing the worth that talent brings will require money to be spent.  But the price tag for it all is worth it when you align need to expectation.  When people work without a charted course, dissatisfaction sets in and a lack of motivation takes hold.  And senior executives get frustrated.  And HR people and recruiters have to back-peddle as to why this talent that they fought so hard for isn't working out.  Redirect those energies by putting it into a healthy plan of expectation and recognition.

Hear Don's voice in your head talking about you and your company. "In a world where talent is cheapened and left directionless, one company has the courage to take a stand."  Chills, baby, and I can't wait to see that movie.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Blurred Lines

You had to know that I would want to use this song for a blog.  I mean, it's the song of the summer.  It's all about having a great time dancing and trying to get a woman.  You know, even though she's a good girl, it's a man's goal to get her to know "she wants it."  Healthy stuff.

Where is Alan Thicke to counsel his son, Robin?  He did such a great job as a psychiatrist on Growing Pains...didn't he pick up some skills to use at home?  Respect for women is not shown by having them prance naked while you sing, "you wanna hug me? What rhymes with hug me?"  And we pay money for this?  I lived this in middle school fantasies.  Is this our adult audience now?

While the beat is dig-able, for sure, the lyrics/message, not so much.  I am no prude, but maybe it's due to how aware I am of what HR gets to deal with on a regular basis.  Sexual harassment is not a once in a while thing for many industries.  I have worked and do work with companies in the restaurant/hospitality, distribution, manufacturing and banking/finance industries.  Ridiculous amounts of sexually-laced communication occur.  And the majority of it is assumed to be welcome and conversant, so therefore okay.

Really? Guess what happens when one of the two participants in "just" inappropriate dialogue gets upset with the company for an unrelated issue?  I hope you guessed!  Everything that once was jovial and understood to be kidding is now represented as unwelcome and forced.  Yes, even language - jokes, innuendos, "you knows."  The liability is great to the company and the risk for the employee's professional future is off the charts.

Again, it's not about being a "stick in the mud" HR person.  I cannot tell you how many holiday parties or summer barbecues I've walked into and saw shoulders slump down upon seeing me.  You know, "Uh oh, here comes the HR cop."  Typically, to throw them off, I ask the DJ to play "Hot in Herre" by Nelly and stand in the middle of the dance floor to see who will join me (it's really funny).  

HR professionals have to keep the company's best interests at heart and in mind.  We have to do that, even when we have to protect the company from the CEO or other C-Suite folks.  If we have to engage with employees to keep them from proliferating sexist language or stereotyping, then that's what we do.  What's the alternative?  To allow it to go on and wait for the company to be sued out of existence?  How does that help?  

I know that some of you reading this are thinking, "Seriously, John? Everyone is just too sensitive."  While I might not disagree with a bit of that sentiment, I do know that something that often helps people to re-focus is to replace the subject of their crudeness or inappropriate language to someone they care for.  I have counseled many men to talk to me about how they would feel if another man were speaking of their wife or daughter in the way they had been speaking about a female co-worker.  Simple, yes, but often really eye-opening.  Many men will tell me that they would not appreciate another man referring to a daughter's body, for example.  Well, guess what?  Every woman is someone's daughter.  Further, they could be someone's wife or mother.  The perspective gets real when this is challenged...the lines are not as blurry.

And I know that women are sometimes the offenders, not the offendees.  I realize this, but I am also aware that the statistics point to us guys more as being the ones committing the infractions.  We can proliferate the stereotypes of women merely being objects rather than equals.

Look at recent events in San Diego or one of a thousand other places.  And while we can joke about the blurred lines, we know they really aren't.  If you have to look around before you're going to share what you are about to share, just shut up.  Don't say it.  That's your conscience telling you not to open your mouth.  Obey it.

If you are a married man, think about the conversation you'll have to have with your wife to explain why you've been fired.  Imagine sitting at the kitchen table sharing that while you and a couple of buddies thought it was really funny to try to get "Susan" to bend over often, it didn't end up funny after she proved harassment.  You lost your job and she is now suing you in civil court.  Makes you re-think things a little bit, right?

Don't fear, HR.  Be the "Stick in the Mud!"  You're not, but own it if it falls to you.  Our lives are not music videos and we are not pop stars.  We work in the real world, with real people and real feelings...and real lawsuits.  Protect the company and protect the people in the company.  Respect is more productive than disrespect.  There's nothing blurry about it.