Wanted – Team Player

What does being a team player in a business environment mean? It’s probably easier to describe the characteristics of a non-team player. In 1964, Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart wrote about a decision on pornography by saying that he couldn’t define it, but “…I know it when I see it.” Thus was born a new colloquialism that many hiring managers apply to the characteristics of the ideal candidate for a job. It’s frustrating for sourcers and recruiters because they are supporting someone who can’t communicate the exact qualifications needed, but are adamant that they will know the right stuff when they see it. Part of the problem with this undefined rule of decision making is that it is a marriage of two other misunderstood terms: culture fit, and ability. Both involve a sense of intuitive thought processes that in the current methodologies for hiring involve human bias and personal experience. We know how to spot a toxic environment, but deciding which potential employee will not lure us into that minefield is not something that can enter a decision tree to produce automatically perfect results. AI advocates take note.

One of the biggest problems with using sports analogies to describe business prowess is that there is no universal perception of what these terms mean. Being a team player in the office doesn’t mean bringing a bigger bat to the conference room for meetings. It probably does mean avoiding situations where two colleagues hate each other, lie for no reason, pursue a personal agenda at the expense of group goals, and otherwise metastasize the cancer of hostility throughout the organization. The dilemma from a human resources perspective is to monitor and administer hiring practices without making decisions based on personality, but with an eye slanted toward maximizing harmony. It’s not easy, but there is a logical progression through the list of desirable characteristics that lead us to the meaning of a team player.

A good place to start this definition of an undisputed team player is to take a look into the element of effective communication. Working alone or with others means an employee shares ideas, goals, and results. Despite some managers claim to clairvoyance, you won’t know without a conversation with the individual. The words used in an interviewee’s response to questioning can give a clue as to their ability to both share and learn from co-workers. An interview gives them a platform to toot their own horn, and they should not shy away from talking about their accomplishments, but there can also be hints to a degree of obsessive egoism in the language of “I” and “me” vs. “we” and “us.” Communication is a two-way process, and the ability to listen actively can be demonstrated in an interview as well. Being an active participant in group activities is closer to the definition of a good employee than calling for a team player.

The next link in the chain describing characteristics of an individual with an ability to play well with others is the unique application of expertise. Learning and experience allows an employee not only to have the knowledge to perform a skill but also use that ability to become an expert resource for others. Most people look to the concept of a sports team to highlight the ability to excel alone and with others, but most sports analogies fail because franchise players always seem to draw more credit for winning than their teammates. Being a talented specialist in a group setting doesn’t mean that there is never a need for individual effort. It is only when the a player in an orchestra specializes on one particular instrument that the ensemble can create the harmony necessary to make pleasing music. Harmony in the workplace is a most desirable condidion to maintain.

It follows that expertise can’t happen without a native intelligence to learn, absorb, and execute. There are ways to measure intelligence using structured testing, but most companies won’t go to the trouble or expense to do it. Validation and administration of such tests is daunting! Even if it were easy, intelligence alone doesn’t guarantee that it’s owner will use it to the benefit of others. Some very smart people can be socially inept and standoffish. The ability of a candidate to see themselves as others see them and adjust their actions for the best outcomes is applied intelligence in action. The willingness to contribute well thought out ideas for the mutual accomplishment of corporate goals is a key to success. In an interview situation, giving evidence of successful contributions to a team success supports the element of team play.

Another contributing factor is demonstration of a proven work ethic. Looking at the steps taken to achieve group goals that require selfless activity regardless of difficulty or personal sacrifice show evidence of good team play. Behavoral approaches to interviewing fall short when it becomes a routine question and then drilling down to believable answers. Interviewers who can provide real life daily examples of problems to be solved will be better equipped to determine if the potential employee will do the tasks required to meet deadlines and reach important targets. Working hard won’t overcome serious shortcomings in other areas, but not working is much worse. Working hard on the wrong thing goes in the wrong direction and takes the group along for the ride.

Finally, a look at team play means searching for a someone who acts in collaboration with others. Why focus on leadership in non-management jobs? It’s simple. Often the focal point in brainstorming shifts from person to person until the consensus finds a common best solution. Interim leadership is just as important as organizational leadership when teamwork is the desired culture. Another component of being a collaborator is the undefined but essential element, followership. Nobody teaches courses or offers seminars on followership, but occasional shared leadership means that the majority of people on the team must know when to follow and the best way to do it. Another way of describing good collaboration may be flexibility.

No discussion of the concept of a team player would be complete without looking at both sides of the hiring situation. Even though employers should offer precise definitions of the desired characteristics of a prospective employee, they don’t always follow that rule. How does the job seeker show they meet the criteria of being a good team player? It does not meaning throwing around that term without thinking. Claiming attributes such as being a people person or working well with others is just as open ended as calling yourself a team player. Following the thought progression uncovered here, the evidence rests with communication, expertise, intelligence, work ethic, and collaboration. Concrete examples of accomplishments demonstrating these skills may indicate a high degree of being a team player. Is it important? Absolutely! Prove it even if they don’t ask.


Photo Credit: ©Denisismagilov via Dreamstime.com (modified)

Good Enough Is Not Enough

We are at war.

Mediocrity is winning so far.

I went shopping for shoes in one of those stores that advertises designer shoes at discount prices. I asked a mature looking woman wearing a store ID badge what happened to all the Brannock devices they used to have in every aisle. Blank stare… an unusual reaction for someone managing a shoe store. That may not be a common word to many people, but it’s like asking a writer about a keyboard. Is it any wonder that the shoe salesperson has become the prime example of jokes about incompetence, suggesting visions of Al Bundy characters with bad attitudes? Shoe sizes are important to overall health as the wrong size can cause skeletal problems, joint pain, and even blisters. Today the standard sales paradigm is to promote “This is what we have to sell” instead of “This is what you want and need.” Size D width for men is all you find on display shelves because average is good enough even if you do happen to need narrow or wide sizes. The conspiracy theorist living in my brain tells me this is the reason they don’t want you to know what size truly fits.

But it’s not just about selling shoes.

Look around at hundreds of other examples of mediocre attitudes that are pervasive in our daily lives. We have to go no further than where we work to see it in action. Despite claiming: “We only hire the best and brightest!” there is an unspoken alternate reality that it may be more cost effective to hire someone who simply applies for a position than to seek out a perfect cultural match or someone with proven problem-solving prowess. Like loose fitting shoes, a wrong hire can injure an organization and cause pain to the business and the other employees who have to pick up the slack. The eventual surgery to correct the organizational deformity not only removes the bad employee, it also leaves a visible scar and may create permanent damage to the employment brand, a.k.a. the company reputation. Studies have shown that the cost of firing and rehiring is greater than getting it right the first time. Doesn’t anybody care about that?

But this is not a lesson we learn, apply, and remember.

It isn’t corporate recruiters, human resources, or even company managers that create situations of hiring misfits. The problem is much worse than that. It’s a matter of everyone caving in to acceptance of societal norms that believe “good enough” is a benchmark of success. On the other side of the hiring dilemma, we see people making career choices that tend toward the status quo without looking beyond known horizons. Thinking outside the box has become more of a motivational poster theme than a mindset. How many times have you heard people who are blatantly dissatisfied with their current employment express concern about leaving their comfort zone? How many job seekers have you heard saying they will take anything offered as long as it’s a job and not what they are doing now. Fear and desperation prevent us from escaping the gravity of mediocrity and finding our best.

But if you want to give up completely, place more value on money than people.

Third party recruiters can choose to make money the old-fashioned way by hard work, or by spamming so many job seekers and companies that the process gets murky and the whole field gets a tarnished reputation. Hawking jobs to people who are marginally qualified reeks of mediocrity. Earning a living is not a bad thing. Making lots of money is a good thing. Dehumanizing those who are touched by the effort says something about the depth of the mediocrity of the individual doing it. Painting a broad brush picture of the search and hire industry should reveal some true leaning toward excellence instead of just enough to get by. Our parents tell us that a D average in school is not good enough, so where did we get the idea that good enough to pass is enough? Could we be complaining too much that the bar is set too high rather than aspiring to find better ways?

But even with help we only seem to set goals that are the easiest to reach.

Technology is a big factor in allowing us to raise the bar if we choose to do it. Artificial Intelligence will someday be ready to aid us in improving our lives, but often that which claims to be artificial thinking is an automation tool with a speedier way to process buzzwords for robotic decision making. Some companies are making real inroads in working out the bugs toward true AI. Unfortunately, many more are jumping on this “better mousetrap” bandwagon to peddle solutions that only allow us to keep making the same mistakes faster than we were able to do it before. The key to recruitment and human resources systems is to look for products that improve the lives of everyone involved. Selling or buying an off-the-shelf vanilla package with a one-size-fits-all mentality will be mediocre at best.

But can we do better? Wouldn’t that mean a total paradigm shift away from our current way of thinking? Polishing up our mediocrity only gives us shining mediocrity. Not losing is not the same as winning.


Photo credit: © The Brannock Device Company


Safety Nets and Backup Plans

Plan BIntelligent decision making requires the use of all weapons in our arsenal. Careless decision making is far easier. Except for a situation that is of so little importance that anything works, or is so simple nothing fails, the route to a less than a stupid decision must always follow a critical path to a goal. You can’t fix stupid, so where do you go next? A successful outcome comes from a carefully chosen sticky methodology that forces us to go from a starting point and end with an inescapable completion of the mission. The path to career success depends on choices at the beginning and dealing with pop-up obstacles. Deviations happen because the distance between two points is only a straight line in geometry books.

“I have a Plan B” is what people say to others when they want to convince others there are available alternatives. The transparency of this threat becomes obvious when lack of action pokes holes in reality.

“I have a Plan B” is what people say to themselves when they want to convince themselves that somewhere there is a better way. Failing to muster up the courage to do anything differently shows it wasn’t a plan after all.

“I have a Plan B” is what thinking people think when they want to want to sit down and consciously examine the current situation, evaluate their goals, and plot a new course. Reason prevails over emotions for those who are not risk averse.

“I have a Plan B” is what confident people know when they actively go after their goals and find a way to arrive where they are supposed to be. There is no pay if you don’t play.

Passive voices are pushovers for procrastination. No amount of sitting around can move us toward where we ought to go. It should be intuitively obvious that risk takers will get there while others fail. Wire walkers who stop mid course will fall into an abyss or a net. If only we could remember to build that net.


Photo Credit – Copyright: flynt / 123RF Stock Photo

Life and Career Analogs

In a recent impromptu interview with award winning movie writer/director Edward Lyons, a story I hope he will someday allow me to record and promote, something clicked in my brain. My career in talent acquisition in a corporate world is not so different from his. Even though he could have been a great actor or teacher of actors, he has a calling to lead talented people through his craft from the other side of the lens. I don’t think I am unique in recognizing that anyone who makes a conscious choice to fulfill a lifelong destiny, regardless of the environment, at some point in time becomes acutely aware of the impact of their actions on other fellow travelers on our planet. If that choice is because of misplaced loyalties, misunderstood motives, or merely money, we are likely to overlook the primary reason we are here. It’s about them. It’s also keenly about ourselves.

When actors audition for a seemingly endless trail of parts, are they so different from unemployed or unsatisfied corporate ladder climbers who can rationalize rejection and turn obstacles into excuses? When opportunity finally rings up, and there is a life altering decision at hand, how does anyone ever dig up the courage to take the path that is best for them and everyone else? When we are holding others from success instead of pushing them, or they hold us back, where is the escape to a better place? So many questions… so many questions… not enough answers.

The answers to life come from faith. There must be a faith in a power outside of ourself, a faith in those we trust, and most importantly a faith in self. Those simple things are not the cure for all ills, but to clear the brambles from our paths, to make courageous decisions, to truly be a help to others, it takes more faith than we can often find. We also have to know that it’s OK to ask for help. Knowing who to ask for help is critical to creating, building, or restoring faith. If you don’t have a director for your life script, find one.

Another key point analogous to people of all callings is that of forgiveness. Without forgiving that thing often called fate for tampering with our lives, the forgiveness of others for real or imagined wrongs, and forgiving ourselves for past mistakes, we can become our own worst enemies. We need to own all of our actions. Without hindsight, there is no foresight. Some would call that simply learning from experience rather than constantly reliving it.

This epiphany of mine isn’t all that special or unique. We have to be aware of the forces around us, tailor it like an off-the-rack suit until it fits perfectly, and then wear it proudly. If it doesn’t fit, it’s our fault. That is a universal truth. We may never find that proverbial meaning of life, but we can get closer to understanding our purpose and recognize our value.

If you don’t care about yourself or others, please disregard this.


Image Credit: Copyright Elnur / 123RF Stock Photo



Go Forth and Spam No More

The debate rages on at conferences, meetings, online media, and in just plain gossip. Why does everyone say they hate spam and then engage in the same practices they deplore? This is especially puzzling when the spaminator is a recruiter who is not only supposed to know better, but also needs to woo a target audience… not turn them off. Is it the fault of the individual generating the spam or the people that encourage them to do it? Probably a little of both, but it’s complicated. We live in an age where people record TV shows so they can skip commercials, screen caller IDs to blow off telemarketers, and have email filters to prevent all but the chosen few to reach us. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to be aware of this environment, so either spaminators are misled by the people who manage them or they are simply flailing about in totally ignorant bliss. Which is it? Many factors are in play.

  • Ironically, the prerequisite for being a recruiting manager doesn’t necessarily include prior experience working in the trenches of recruitment. Without first-hand knowledge, it can be flying by the seat of the pants… making it up as they do it. Part of their job should be discovering innovative approaches for the acquisition of talent, but often it becomes a matter of trial and error using their subordinates as the guinea pigs. Blame like other smelly stuff rolls downhill. Giving these bosses the benefit of the doubt, they are between a rock and a hard place. The measure of their success means they must measure recruiters’ performance using some made-up rule. It’s easier to measure quantity than quality and autospamming helps with the bottom line. It becomes worse when they assign quotas to recruiters and plant the seed that people are just numbers.
  • There is often an overall management mentality that encourages short term profit before relationship building. Success may be only a small percentage of the total number of robotic attempts to hire, but measured against nothing it is still misinterpreted as success. Casting a wide net to catch a few fish is better than no fish at all. There are often no real benchmarks for the quality of people hired through mass marketing methods, so the easier measure of short-term income is accepted as the norm. Organizations that figure out how to measure quality of hires are less likely to resort to spam sourcing. Unfortunately for spam haters, things like turnover rate, time to productivity, cultural fit, engagement level, and error rate can be elements totally independent of the recruiting function. Training recruiters and hiring managers to recognize future potential would seem to be a better way.  
  • Without arguing either side of the argument about locating the corporate recruiting function under the HR umbrella, some human resources managers are more involved with internal people problems without thinking about how those could have been prevented through better recruitment. Dealing with a recruiting function that needs real data and metrics to satisfy their customers’ needs is not seen as a big priority. It would be easy to be cynical about the competence of the HR professionals, but for the most part they belong to organizations that do not see the value of budgeting for their inclusion. They will supply the caliber of support requested by upper management because they are empowered by them. Without pools of data and expensive software, the humble spreadsheet rules. Justification of applicant tracking is based on cost reduction rather than efficiency and capturing defensive EEO data rather than developing a viable talent market.
  • Companies that refuse to acknowledge the value of candidate experience don’t invest in its success. Quick turnaround and speed of hire become the prime factors in recruitment. Auto-hiring, AKA spamming, is used to lure and reel in prospects to achieve short-term results. Satisfying instant gratification in hiring is like a sugar rush that fades with time. Long term success in achieving company goals requires something else. Choosing to switch the focus to initial relationship management and long-term employee development reduces push back, improves quality of hire, protects the recruiting brand, and eliminates the need for spamming. Measuring the value of the candidate experience can be difficult to do, so many just choose to ignore it. Incorporating a reliable NPS metric can show value and justify positive investment in resources.

While we believe that people are not all stupid, the fact remains that many are willing to settle for the easy way out instead of doing the work necessary to do it correctly. It is easier to email blast without regard for a correct credentials match than to fine tune a human dialog methodology to engage according to skills and interest. When the objective is to nail a hire rather than ensure the right person is in the job, cultural fit and competency rules become less important than a quick fix. Maybe the question we should really be asking is “What’s so bad about spam anyway?” What if tolerance for robotic unthinking monolog is a matter of personal taste instead of some abhorrent practice? If the ultimate goal is to achieve mediocrity, it works just fine. If we set a standard that is a bit higher, it calls the practice into question. Ask any recruiter forced to defend the reputation of an entire profession because of the bad apples what they think… if you believe that there really are bad apples in the barrel.      

Image Credit: ©doctorblack / 123RF Stock Photo