Bad Managers

Another of Ted’s LinkedIn Posts

Another good post by this guy here, I have some comments to offer, with quotes extracted I will comment on, but the gist of the post is that productivity has gone up quite a bit from the 1950s, but we’re still working minimum 40 hour weeks.

“So: what does all this mean?”

What does working the same 40 hours – and to be honest usually consistently way more – per week, and being dramatically more productive while getting roughly the same pay in real terms, mean? It means you’re getting screwed big time, because while your productive output has skyrocketed relative to the 50’s worker, your pay is roughly the same in real terms; buying power, or the standard of living you can afford.

“Why are we still so concerned with a 40-hour+ work week?”

Because it sets an arbitrary standard allowing for control over people corporations otherwise wouldn’t get, basically a holdover from the industrial revolution. Managing to performance and outputs would make more sense, but it’s way easier to make sure someone puts in their 40 hours – again, usually way more these days too – per week than it is to make sure they actually do their job well. Plus employers always think a productivity gain means more for them over a given time period. It never, or rarely occurs to them, that people have limits or that labor carries dis-utility, and as such their employees might prefer and expect a little more time for themselves as non monetary compensation, especially considering as their increase in output is almost never matched with an increase in compensation.

Basically when you look at stats and analysis like these, it paints a picture of a labor force that is increasingly robbed of the value of its output, which is usually redistributed to the famed 1%.  Of course, a decent economist will tell you a relative difference in wealth isn’t indicative of a problem in itself; why complain X has five yachts and you only have 1?  However, I think such people are too dismissive of the fact that these wealth differences matter to people.  When you see your boss pull up in a new BMW on the day of lay-offs, it makes an impression.  Plus, I feel people know inherently when they’re being screwed, or when the value they’re receiving is not necessarily in line with what they’re giving in return.

It’s my contention that via monetary, fiscal, trade, and other policies and protective legislation businesses have protected themselves from competition and produced what amounts to a permanent jobs shortage, forcing a devaluation of labor and what amounts to real wages that aren’t rising commensurate with the labor force’s increase in productivity over the years.  As labor gets more productive, it should become more valuable in real terms.  That is, nominal salaries may go up or down, but the buying power/standard of living received in return for work should have a secular trend upward along with productivity.  As that value received has, by most measures I’ve seen, stagnated or fallen, that’s a serious indication that something is massively fucked up with the system.  To the extent you can trust econometrics, George Carlin was right.  It’s called the American Dream because you have to be asleep to believe it.  In the waking world, people are working more and more for increasingly lower returns, and sacrificing their health and families and friendships on the altar of 60+ hour work weeks.

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The Broken Window Fallacy and Sales and Recruiting

The broken window fallacy is simple, yet most people don’t get it.  Most news anchors will commit this fallacy whenever there’s a hurricane, and in the aftermath they say something along the lines of, “But at least the rebuilding will lead to a boost in economic activity for the area…”  It goes like this:

A kid breaks a window, the glazier comes and repairs it, and everyone shames the kid, but one person says, “No, look at the money the glazier earned, so the kid actually committed a ‘good’ for the economy.”  This comes down to what is seen vs unseen.  People see the transaction between the window’s owner and the glazier, they don’t see the suit, or the computer, or anything else he might have bought if he didn’t have to repair his window.  At the end of what’s seen, he just has a window.  He had to expend resources to the simply get to where he already had been.  If the kid hadn’t broken the window, the guy would have had the window and something else; a suit, a computer, etc.  The opportunity cost, in other words.  The opportunity cost is always unseen.

This is somewhat applicable to sales people who perpetually go after bad accounts, a massive problem in the recruiting industry.  They always want to ‘get in’ to that account, as if it’s the end all be all of existence.  Sometimes this works, they get in, and one in a million times the account starts to generate revenue.  The problem is most times, this does not happen.  The sales person is perpetually trying to ‘get in’, and wasting time and resources that are unrecoverable.  And even if they invest thousands of man hours and untold monetary resources ‘getting in’ with that account, even one placement is enough to make the Sales guy say, “See?!  See?!  I told you we could get in there!”  They’re so fixated on the moment of closure that they literally think that erases all the previous losses. Now, imagine the resources spent ‘getting in’ with that one account were spread over accounts with higher response rates, or developing new accounts.

It is necessary to be aware of opportunity cost when managing people and processes.  Sales people have no concept of opportunity cost, that is why they make such shitty managers.

Here’s the thing…

I’ve noticed something, something people don’t seem to get, and that is that there’s a compounding effect among the factors that make a bad job bad.  Put another way, as jobs get worse, they tend to get worse more exponentially than they do linearly.

For example, a place that stresses people such that they have increased needs for ‘mental health’ days, is also far less likely to offer enough PTO to allow people mental health days.  The same bad and incompetent management that causes the need strangles the cure, and this goes across the spectrum of issues at work.  Companies that tend to have bad pay also tend to be the ones who think they’re most entitled to good employees.  The same overvaluation of their own worth is what causes them to devalue the contributions of their employees; at once they assume people should be breaking down their door to work there, and so refuse to pay assuming the market is in their favor, when it isn’t.

And it really all comes down to one thing: poor management.  Sometimes it’s just vacuous people with no idea what they’re doing, sometimes it’s outright malicious people who, finally tasting some power, make it their life’s goal to spread the misery they themselves feel.  Most Americans are living lives of quiet desperation, being ground down into shadows of their former selves with no hope in their future, their bosses happily ignorant of the effects of their sheer incompetence on the mental and physical health of their down line.  And there is absolutely no indication that this will change, ever.

Yet Another Example of Incompetence…

So we have a client who came close to a hire, but since they put the date of hire off for two months for some reason, the person found something else to do.  They got a bunch of resumes, went through a bunch of interviews, and decided on that guy, and he left.  Now they’ve got another guy they want to hire… but they’re not going to.  My manager just asked me to find this moron manager someone else because, “He wants a comparison first.”  Oh, and he “totally understands” where this manager is coming from, because apparently the previous five people he interviewed no longer exist and count as viable ‘comparisons.’

This is the kind of shit that gets recruiters a bad name.  First off, this company has a shit reputation as an employer.  What’s more, from all indications their turnover is high.  Further still, the ‘process’ they have demands interviewees report directly to security upon reaching the site and giving the name of the person they’re to meet with, but under no circumstances are they to say they’re there for a job interview.  Why?  Because, according to the manager, “Rumors spread real fast,” there.

You couldn’t raise more red flags that this is NOT a company you want as a client, and that this place is pure poison to work at.  And yet, like a good Sales! person, my manager is going after this hire, no matter how much pointless time and money it wastes, no matter how many people’s lives get fucked so this moron incompetent manager can have his ‘comparison,’ it doesn’t matter.  All that matters is the fee.  And of course my choice is work on this or basically find another job.

I swear I have to get out of this shitfuck industry or find the one in a trillion company that actually has some common sense and ethics so I don’t have this kind of shit landing on my desk ever other minute.

A Recruiter.com Article I Commented On

There’s an article here at Recruiter.com that I decided to comment on.  Here’s the comment:

“‘It’s weird that we haven’t built any tools for team leaders at all,’ Buckingham says. ‘We have none – not even a few good ones. We have zero.'”

Team leaders themselves are employees, and at the root of this disengagement problem is the fact that companies do not actually value their employees. That’s why they don’t have the tools they need. Companies say they value their employees, they give lip service to doing so, but this value is not reflected in their actual actions; pay offered, benefits offered, work-life balance, having skilled managers, and opportunities for development and advancement. You have to actually have all those things to get people engaged, not just mention them in a speech every now an then but never deliver. Rhetoric is not enough, we are in the information age where reality trumps Sales! oriented rhetoric of promises with no follow through, and people can increasingly see through the BS on a shorter and shorter time scale. It takes them far less time these days to realize their CEO is full of crap.

As long as companies fail to deliver on the things that will create engagement, they can measure it all they want and it won’t get better. As mentioned in the article, you can’t make a pig fatter by weighing it more often. So, the message to companies who want to increase engagement should be, pull your heads out of your posteriors and start taking actions that will increase engagement instead of endlessly fussing about it, but not doing anything about it. Most will do nothing, because increasing engagement will mean addressing and valuing employees’ concerns which may not seem immediately tied to bottom line improvements, because few if any companies tally the cost of disengagement and factor that into their financial judgements. But, it’s an easy start.

Step one, examine your salary structure and make sure people are making market wages, perhaps pay more if you think you need to compensate for things you can’t deliver, perhaps a bit less because of other perks you do offer, but there can’t be a massive disparity between your pay and the market mean, or you’re screwed.

Step two, examine your benefits and again, make sure they are on part with the market. This is an area where you can make a big dent because while time off is not very costly to offer, it makes a huge difference in people’s lives. Examine your health plans, time off plans, and work hours, and make sure they are all reasonable from an employee’s perspective. Try adhering to it yourself, and if you can’t do so without availing yourself of the perks of ‘flexibility’ offered to higher-ups, how the hell do you expect them to live on it? If people are working significantly more than 40 hours a week on a consistent basis, find out why and put a stop to it, or they will burn out and turnover, plain and simple. If your vacation plan is the standard plan of Go To Hell, Get Back To Work, revise it. Talk to a few brokers and see if you can get better health coverage if that’s a factor as well, it’s not hard.

Step three, start looking at your existing employees as resources and start considering advancement and succession planning. The institutional knowledge they have is often priceless, so capitalize on it and actually try to retain them proactively instead of waiting for their resignations and then wondering what happened. This can dramatically cut recruitment costs by shifting the need to back filling more basic positions. Always exhaust the internal pool of all possibilities before hiring outside.

These are not hard, and if done would correct most companies’ engagement problems. In many cases they’re not even costly, and yet companies still refuse to do them. That is an indicator of how much they actually care about engagement. In simpler terms, they don’t care, or it would be dealt with already.

More Corporate BS

Well, I’ve been absent for a while, the reason being I’m miserable and not in the mood to write much.  My current job sucks, we get near zero off time, and what little we get, I needed to use for medical purposes.  So, as with many Americans who work in this shit-fuck country where employers don’t feel any obligation to give people reasonable amounts of PTO, I will likely soon hit a conflict where it’s stay employed or go to that doctor appointment.  And for context, I’ve had to use five days so far, for the year.  That’s less than half of what the average US worker gets for vacation alone, with sick time added on, and I’m already through the majority of all the time my employer ‘allows.  But, I figured I’d drop a post for fun and to cheer myself up.

My current favorite corporate/recruiting bullshit phrase, “we want someone who has ‘lived in’ that world.”  You hear this when recruiting for all kinds of positions.  It’s yet another subjective, unquantifiable bullshit ‘requirement’ hiring managers throw at you to as a catch-all excuse to reject anyone and everyone they want for not having ‘lived in that world.’  Of course, why the fuck would you want someone who has lived in that world, in any function?  If they’ve already been in that world successfully, wouldn’t a good candidate want to move up and out of that fucking world, jackass?  And if they do want to stay in that world, do you really want someone with a complete lack of ambition or of such a narrow scope of experience working for you?  What value do they add?

The recruiting train of bullshit continues.  If you like my posts, a better way to get them is to check out my comments at Ere.net or Recruiter.com.  Sniping at all the bullshit written by many others in the industry is, right now, easier than coming up with original material.

New Year, Usual Shit

This past Friday I had a request from one of our clients for interview availability for two candidates.  Dutifully, I got availability from both for Monday and Tuesday, and of course never heard back from the client.  We all left for the weekend, I sent emails to both candidates saying that since we didn’t hear back to consider Monday off, and we’d aim to schedule something for Tuesday when Monday came around.  And of course the client emails my account manager at 10:30 PM on Friday wanting to set up interviews for early Monday.

To be frank, it’s this level of incompetence that is destroying the US landscape.  The assumption that people don’t have lives and are on call 24/7 has got to fucking stop.  Back in the sixties and seventies if you couldn’t get your job done in 40 hours, or for some reason insisted on working 70 hour weeks, people wondered what the fuck was wrong with you.  You were considered either inefficient, because it shouldn’t take 70 hours to do the job, or you were considered weird as fuck for not having enough of a life such that you could work 70 hours a damn week.  In Germany this is still the norm.  However, here in the US, ever since the silicon valley boom where the 40 hour work week was supplanted by the 70 hour work week thanks to a bunch of borderline Asperger’s types having nothing else they wanted to do but fuck around with circuit boards, that’s now considered ‘the norm’ in the US.

And, of course, this will reopen my employer’s repeated ‘requests’ I put work email on my private phone.  Because, of course, they want you to be available twenty four hours a day, seven days a week, but won’t provide you the tools or infrastructure to make that possible of course.  Oh no, use your own stuff which you pay for to do that, of course.  And since the ATS system we use is a relic from the 90s with no web access, it wouldn’t even really matter if I had access to email because at most I’d have past emails from the candidates, but no access to alternate contact info, unless of course I doubled up and created my own damn database from scratch in Excel to store information – twice – which is already in the work database but not accessible because it’s an antique piece of shit.

In world were people have no boundaries and more and more people are these lifeless fucks with no families or friends to spend time with, so they insist on making work their life instead of letting work support their life, it’s getting harder and harder to be a normal damn person.

Myths That Need to be Busted

If there were two myths in hiring I’d say absolutely need to be busted, I’d say it’s these two:

1) Employees are a Cost.  This is utter bullshit.  In any exchange, it happens because of a reverse valuation; which means each person wants what the other has more than what they’re giving them in exchange for it.  If you value two things equally, there’s no need to exchange because it doesn’t matter.  In the context of employment, the employee wants the salary more than the time spent on the job, and the employer wants the work product more than the salary paid for it.  As such, employees are an addition to a company’s revenue stream.  When any individual trades something they have for something they want more than that thing, they have made a return, or a profit.  Same goes for employers.  So companies need to stop acting as if employees are a cost and see them for what they are: additions to their revenue stream.  They need to start realizing vacancies have a cost, both in lost revenue from that position, but also lost revenue for everyone who has to pick up the slack and so potentially not performing their primary duties to the best of their ability.  Over staffing is certainly possible, but as long as employees are seen as a cost, all companies are always over staffed, because at least on an accounting level, they would be better off without everyone.  Of course, if that happened then the company is gone too.

Newsflash for employers: you’re not doing anyone a favor by employing them.  It’s a mutual exchange that benefits both parties.  Pull your heads out of your asses and start treating your employees as what they are: revenue generators.

2) There’s a labor shortage.  Pure bullshit.  There’s a documented labor surplus, and I and other recruiters have routinely seen multiple instances of tens, hundreds, and sometimes even thousands of applicants for an open position where the hiring manager claims none are qualified.  It’s not the candidates, it’s not a labor shortage, it’s not the recruiters.  The problem is no accountability for hiring with the managers.  There’s plenty of qualified people out there, your hiring managers are not accountable, nor do you have an honest, realistic assessment of what you offer as an employer.  Every employer thinks they deserve the Fabulous 5%, the top performers in any industry.  Horseshit.  You’re an average company with average salaries and average managers, you’re going to get average people.  Fucking deal with it.  You’re not Google, you have no benefits, you offer mediocre to no time off, who the fuck do you think is going to want to work for you?  You had better do an honest assessment of where you stand.  Think of yourself as a manufacturer of employment opportunities.  And then realize that, if it were any other product, that if your market strategy was to bitch and moan about how inept your customers were for not being willing to buy your clearly superior product for the ridiculously high price you charge, you’d be out of business in a heart beat.  In this case the high price you’re charging is the ridiculous discount to the mean salary offered in the area that you expect people to take for the ‘privilege’ of working at your company.

It’s time for employers to pull their heads out of their asses and start taking ownership of the hiring process.  If employment at your company isn’t attractive that’s your fault, and you need to correct it.  Control bad managers, up your salaries to something more reasonable, and start holding people accountable for getting positions filled.  And for those places with screaming, abusive owners, have the balls to be the one who explains to them how pathetic that behavior is and how horrible it is for their own business.

And if you aren’t willing to do those things, then don’t blame everyone else for your problems.  You aren’t serving your customers right, and that’s your fault, not theirs.

Donald Sterling Article

This Donald Sterling stuff I find interesting.  Not that he’s a racist, I mean you’ve got a super old dude with a mistress and a billion dollars, it doesn’t surprise me he’s off the rails mentally.  You looked under a rock and found an idiot, congratulations.  No, what interests me is the implications for recruiting and HR.  Specifically, see this article and my comment.

That Sterling is an asshole is a statement for which there is abundant evidence.  From a recruiting HR perspective though, we have to consider what it must have been like to hire for this guy, and for people to work for him.  He is a prime example of a less than stellar personality getting to the top of an organization and dribbling his poison on the whole thing.  He is a case study of the fact that sometimes the boss/owner/CEO, or whatever, is the fucking problem.

We live in a society, and I’m talking about the US here, that is essentially fascist at heart.  It’s soft fascism, we’re not dealing with Mussolini here.  But our economy is highly managed and for the most part in favor of businesses, generally medium to larger ones, with some small scale businesses also benefiting.  Labor has been manged into a perpetual surplus, and various other aspects of the economy, such as anti take-over legislation like Williams and Sherman and various state statutes, that make it easier for mediocre to incompetent C level execs to stay in charge.  I recall a talk show once where I believe T. Boone Pickens was on a panel with some such execs, and I believe the host asked one of them what they would do if they knew Pickens was checking out their company.  Their answer was of course that they’d look at their company and make sure it was operating as efficiently and as well as possible.  To which the obvious retort is: why the fuck weren’t you already doing that?

By choking off opportunity at home the re employment of the unemployed is delayed, and a permanent labor surplus results, driving down the cost of labor from where it would be in a less managed market.  This lets people like Sterling stay at the top in regular corporations because the employees are not in as strong a bargaining position as they would otherwise be.  They can’t demand the pay, benefits, time off, etc., that they would otherwise command.

However, people adjust.  They will, if they feel they are under compensated, adjust their output downward as much as possible while still maintaining their job.  In the end the market rules, and you get what you pay for.  And there is a limit to the amount of shit the US worker will take before he collectively tells the entire economy to go fuck itself.  C level types beware, information gets out and people know what your company is like now, they don’t have to rely on your marketing hype.  Simply saying your company is A Great Place To Work! doesn’t cut it when your Glassdoor and Indeed scores are below 2 stars.  The era of bullshit is over, the era of information has begun.  Get your act together and treat your employees well, or you run the risk of being the next, somewhat less sensational Donald Sterling.  You may not make the evening news, but people will know you’re an asshole, they will know you run a shitty company, and they will not want to work with you.

General Tips for Companies – Example of Poor Management

Poor management is one of the main reasons people report for leaving their position.  If you want to keep your employees you will manage them well.  Most don’t, which is why they lose them.  Most ‘managers’ have no training or even aptitude for management.  They were simply the best at what they did in the company, at least in someone’s estimation, and so one day someone came around and said, “Good job, kid, you’re running the department now.”  Often they will now be in charge of implementing policies they neither have the experience, brains, or courage to question, and they will often not be able to judge their own policies as per their effectiveness.  Here’s an example of such a policy that persists at a company I’m personally aware of.

At this recruiting agency the recruiters are expected to provide sales leads.  When they scour resumes they’re supposed to notice consulting opportunities, when speaking to candidates they’re supposed to ask who they’ve consulted with in the past.  Then, at the end of the day, they are supposed to deliver their results, along with the results of their recruiting efforts.  Are there standards for how many leads they’re supposed to deliver?  No, but they are criticized if their leads seem ‘low.’  Are they supposed to track these leads to make sure they don’t submit the same ones twice, which is a distinct possibility?  No, that would take too much time, but if they do submit the same one, they’re told not to do that and to pay better attention to what they send over.

So in others words these people are in a no-win scenario.  There’s no standard to measure them against, so they don’t ever know if they’re spending too much or too little time on the process, they just get critiqued when someone decides to on a whim.  Their primary function is recruiting which means they shouldn’t be devoting time to tracking leads, but if they don’t track the leads they will inevitably send the same leads over more than once, and this will be held against them.

It takes no more than ten seconds of thought to realize why this is a stupid situation, but it persists.  Why?  Well the company owner and one of the VPs thought it up and it sounds barely plausible so long as you don’t think about it too deeply, and no one has the guts to question it, so employees continue to be put into no-win situations where they are specifically told not to do what would be necessary to perform better.  It is impossible to succeed, it is guaranteed you will fail, and there is no standard to measure yourself against to see if any criticism is justified or not.