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Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Giving Away my AA

Three weeks ago we hired an outstanding young woman to be my part-time Admin. Her name is Nubia and she has done a wonderful job very quickly. She will also leave my area in two weeks to take a full-time job at Grupo Nelson.

Early on we identified this young lady as a unique talent; bi-lingual with a degree in International Business and an intense curiosity about our business. An outstanding positive attitude didn't hurt either. I gave her an early version of our strategic planning materials to shred and she did, after reading them and coming back to ask really good questions.

When the Grupo job was posted a couple of weeks ago it became clear: she was a great hire for us, but fit the Grupo job perfectly. It was a tough decision, but we waived the six month waiting period for new-hires to post and offered her the position last Friday. In the end, the company is best served by having the right people in the right places and my job is easier to fill.

We're parting on great terms, even though this puts me back looking for an AA, part-time through the rest of this fiscal year and possibly/hopefully full-time thereafter. Candidates who speak Spanish or Vietnamese go to the head of the line so that HR can better communicate with non-English speaking groups within our company. Candidates should complete our on-line application at www.thomasnelson.com/employment. Meanwhile, if you see Nubia congratulate her for attaining her new role. She played her way onto the roster the old fashioned way.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Sometimes We Just Stand There and Take It

One of the bedrock values that we live by in our HR department is the sanctity of confidential information. Whatever we know, we don't talk about. Anytime someone asks me if something is in confidence I always say the same thing, "If I hear in our conversation a violation of the law or significant violation of company policy I have to put on my "Agent of the Company" hat; otherwise what you say here, stays here."

That applies not only to information we know about employees, but also candidates and former employees. We adhere to this value because trust and confidence are the currency with which we do our business in the company. We never forget that and this is mostly a good thing.

I say mostly because there are times when it really bites us.

Not everyone who leaves us tells the truth about why they left. Not everyone who fails to get hired tells the truth about why they didn't. Sometimes an employee with an unfavorable outcome needs a face for their disappointment. Oftentimes that's us and we know that it comes with the territory.

So when this happens we have a choice to make; defend ourselves and reveal facts that are confidential, or stand there and say nothing. We choose the latter, because if we'd release their information to make us look better you could rationally reason that we'd release your information if it benefited us. We just don't do that.

So if you hear some horrible story about how someone was treated terribly by the Bible Company just remember this: the fact that we're not talking has nothing to do with the situation and everything to do with who we are as professionals.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

The Thin Line Between Experience and Age

Occasionally older team members leave your workforce involuntarily. That's a sensitive issue when it happens. Other older members of the team become unsettled because they probably worked with that person for years, and some wonder if they're next. There are legal issues involved as well. Age discrimination laws give disgruntled ex-staffers a tool with which to strike at your company even if no discrimination is involved.

We've had some older people leave our workforce in the past few years. At the same time we also recently celebrated a milestone birthday with one of our most revered and respected colleagues. At 80, Jack Countryman is producing some of the finest work of his long and legendary career. In his late 60's, Larry Downs Sr. is doing great work in selling Spanish products. So if we're welcoming of some and not afraid to dismiss others, where's the line between when someone has excellent experience and when they become a candidate for termination? I mean, at 50 this is something I have to know myself if I'm to continue to be relevant to this or any other company.

The answer is simple and elegant.

Are you still open to new information and are you willing to innovate.

The business world is changing daily. You can know practically everything about your profession but stop taking in new information and become obsolete in a breathtakingly short amount of time. You can know a little less but be a perpetual learner and never run out of career.

Some would say passion is the main ingredient, and I don't disagree. But I find that people who stop taking in new information and take the "we've always done it this way" attitude get bored with their profession and lose their passion. It is the willingness to learn no matter how long you've done the job, and the willingness to always look for a better solution, that keeps your profession fresh and your passion in place.

I've know 30 somethings who were totally inflexible. Given the choice, I want to be like Jack.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Job Skills You Need Now

In the spirit of the Seth Godin, Tom Peters piece on YouTube, I'm going to keep this post to the point.

When you think of job skills you usually think of things you can do, like design a book cover or balance a spreadsheet. Those are important and will get you in the door. The keys to longevity, however, are the behavioral skills of coping with an ever-changing post-recessionary business landscape.

1. Adaptability to change - Change once came like an occasional tidal wave every few years and reset the landscape. Now it's like standing on the beach watching wave after wave after wave wash over your feet with no end to the waves on the horizon. You don't stand on the beach and bitch about the waves; don't stand in the office and complain about change. Its the business life you chose.

2. Resiliency in the face of change - Many bright, young talents start strong and burn out or become cynical when they see repeated changes. They blame management for poor planning or impulsiveness, or they just become weary and negative. The ability to stay strong and recognize change as an unrelenting business environment is critical to a long career.

3. Response time - The stakeholders around you are also having to respond rapidly to change. You don't have the luxury of responding tomorrow. With 15 million people out of work, chances are your customers or supervisors can find someone who'll respond quicker.

4. Positive Communications Skills - Get your point of view or progress report or marketing plan out for comment now. With free social media outlets there's no room for hermits in key business positions. Again, if you don't communicate your stakeholders have almost unlimited sources of information and will choose another.

If you want to have a long career, accept constant change and respond quickly and effectively to it. Professional chops and a great education may get you in the door, but it takes nimble, positive handling of change to stay there.