Hiring the Star Wars Bar


We may be a good nine months removed from Star Wars mania but, cultural icon that it is, you can never get too far away from thoughts and comments on the series. But although I’ll save my thoughts on Rey’s real parents for another post, there’s one Star Wars scene that always sticks with me: The “Star Wars Bar.”

For the uninitiated, the Star Wars Bar – or Cantina as some call it – is depicted in the original Star Wars film. The scene opens up to trace across the room, revealing the assorted aliens and oddball characters that the Star Wars universe is known and loved for. But while all the characters are wildly different, they nonetheless seem to be enjoying themselves, reveling in the music and libations like most pub-goers would.

I’ve always used “Star Wars Bar” to describe the talented group of misfits and strangelings one often finds in a small companies.   Many times, these are people who just don’t check every box on the wish list (job description) or have some quirk that more persnickety companies in corporate America – where your pedigree, alma mater and “look” are as important as experience and talent – tend to use as disqualifications. But just like in the Star Wars Bar, good characters (and good talent) can come from anywhere and in many forms.

What I missed initially is that hiring misfits, strangelings or quirky aliens is not just a compromise small companies deal with because they can’t hire those picture perfect, made for TV candidates. It’s a differentiation strategy—a way to make your company stand out from the competition.

Daniel M. Cable, author of Change to Strange: Create a Great Organization by Building a Strange Workforce puts it even more strongly. “If your competitive advantage depends on your people creating something valuable and distinctive, then your workforce can’t be normal.”

But what qualifies as “not normal”? In my experience, strangeness comes in different flavors:

  • A non-traditional college education
  • A stint doing something unusual and not job-related for a period of time (like creating a business or living abroad or volunteering)
  • Against-type personalities (think bold, expressive accountant)
  • Those that need slight accommodations for quirks (e.g. many creative personalities do their best work late at night)

So don’t bypass the people who don’t line up to your mental picture of the perfect candidate. Many times “perfect” is more accurately defined as “vanilla.” Start filling your bar with the strange beings from different planets who will disrupt your status quo and increase your competitiveness.

The Rise of the Contingent Workforce

Startup Stock Photos

Startup Stock Photos

Keeping up with the changing times can be difficult, especially these days when changes seem to take place overnight. As a manager or business owner, even if you’re able to identify what cultural shifts are taking place, you then have to deal with the task of actually figuring out what to do with that information.

I think about this sometimes when I talk with my two sons, both millennials with somewhat non-traditional working situations. My younger son works 3rd shift, which, although fairly common, is still non-traditional by most standards. My elder son currently lives and works in Malaysia, favors using Uber instead of buying a car for his own, and earns extra income through side work he can perform remotely.

Situations like that used to suggest an under-employed person who cobbled multiple jobs together because they just couldn’t find full time work.

Now, at least for my sons, it represents the ultimate freedom. They found what worked best for them and acted accordingly, no need to fuss with unwanted schedules and extra costs. They get to do the work they like without taking on all the “other duties as assigned” that usually round out a full time job.

Working remotely has never been easier

Working remotely has never been easier

What this shows, I think, is that circumstances have changed enough to allow for a more customized working experience for employees. With recent developments in universal healthcare and constant upgrades to technology and the capabilities of the Internet, it’s much easier for potential employees to stray from traditional options.

While this trend may seem like a bit of a bane for traditional companies, perhaps it’s best to see it as a fresh opportunity to keep up with the times by investing in a contingent workforce. After all, access to people, and more importantly talent, has never been easier than it is now.

For instance, a 2015 Forbes article states that according to the U.S. Government, “…40.4% of the U.S. workforce is now made up of contingent workers—that is, people who don’t have what we traditionally consider secure jobs.” While this statistic is a bit surprising (earlier estimates forecasted a 40% contingent workforce only by 2020), with the proliferation of contingent workers for service providers like Uber and Lyft, should we really be so surprised?

The question, then, becomes how might one take advantage of this current trend? Let’s take the website Fiverr.com as an example. For the uninitiated, Fiverr is a site where individual workers can post a description of their skills and offer to perform a task for a reasonable price. Whether you’re looking for a graphic designer, copywriter, or a web developer you’ll be able to easily scroll through professionals who charge a minimum of $5 per project.

Of course, there are potential issues to consider when hiring someone from a site like Fiverr. For example, it’s probably unwise to hire a Fiverr user for a big, complex project. Large projects can be too involved, require working closely with full-time team members, and aren’t really the point of Fiverr in the first place. However, if you have a few simple tasks to accomplish, like creating Facebook posts or drawing a Christmas card (see below), Fiverr could be a great place to find talent!

So what advantages can a contingent workforce offer? For starters, when used strategically, small companies can find opportunities to cut back on permanent staffers and reduce costs. If your company occasionally needs someone to make Facebook posts and run errands, it might be better to use Fiverr (or something like it) rather than add to staff. Secondly, it helps you find people who are genuinely skilled at performing the tasks you need. Rather than hoping your web developer is also good at graphic design, why not temporarily hire someone who has the proper experience?

Contingent workforces may or may not end up being the wave of the future, but it’s certainly what’s happening at present. Of course hiring contingent workers could pose flaws and drawbacks, but if used strategically it can be a boon for businesses. But regardless of whether or not sites like Fiverr will work for you and your company, the most important takeaway is that in order to stay ahead of the curve you need a finger on the pulse of contemporary society, an innovative touch to take advantage of changing trends, and a willingness to take chances.

Beware of PRAS (Performance Review Avoidance Syndrome)


“I haven’t had ______ in over 9 years!”   In the workplace, the most common way to fill the blank is “a performance review”.   It’s sad to say, but when I’m getting to know a new client, this statement comes up frequently.   And disappointingly, the higher up in the organization, the more frequent the complaint.   In fact, CEOs are the number one offenders.

So why is this the case?   I hear similar comments from leaders I’ve worked with directly:

“I gave the increase, but I never got around to writing the review.   He got the money, so why should he care?”

“I got so busy with the budget, sales plan and year-end, I just didn’t get to it.”  

“I give feedback all the time. She knows what I think about her performance.”

Based on the feedback I get from employees, I can tell you they do care. Additionally, if they are managers themselves and go through the work of getting their own reviews done, it’s doubly frustrating to have the person at the top not holding him or herself accountable. Getting a merit increase is important too, but if it’s not tied to performance feedback, the recipient is in the dark about how the amount was determined.

“Boss, I really do care about getting a review and every year you avoid giving me one is sign that you don’t care about me or my performance.”

Reviews do tend to come at a difficult time of year. For many companies, closing the books, setting sales plans for the year and finalizing budgets all coalesce in December and January.   Throw in a couple of holidays, and it’s no wonder reviews don’t get done!

I admit, the thought of writing reviews on top of all the other stuff you have to get done is daunting, but you’re probably spending more time worrying about it than it would actually take to do the task itself. Set aside an hour or two a day of uninterrupted time to do just one review.   You’ll find it’s not as difficult as you think.

Finally, you don’t bother with a review because your direct reports know exactly what you think. You tell them all the time. Even if you do give frequent feedback, it’s probably not as specific or meaningful as you think. “Nice job, Chuck” is not performance feedback. It’s a compliment.   Showing your employees that you took the time to think through what they did and how they did it is just as important as what you say. Additionally, it’s human nature to want it on the record. Compliments are nice, but a report card can be hung on the bulletin board of your heart.

It should only take you an hour or two to write a review. Get to it!

The Candidate Experience



Recruiting is no easy task and when there’s heavy competition for top talent, companies need to realize just how much the candidate experience matters.  From the time they apply for a job, to the interview process, to the period between offer and first day, candidates are not always treated as well as they should be, which can be a big mistake.

Of course, the job search can be a tumultuous time for a candidate too, and getting prepared for a new position can be even more stressful. Making the hiring experience easy and reassuring for the candidate can go a long way, and getting it done can be simple.

A few things to remember in treating your candidates right:

  1. Get back to them

Even an automated email that says, “Hey, we got your resume and are considering it,” is better than the black hole of waiting for a response.

      2. Tell them what to expect

On interview day, let the candidate know important details like the dress code, parking instructions, expected length of interview, and who they’ll meet. Getting on the same page helps to manage expectations on both ends.

     3. Be clear on all the steps

Make sure to explain the entirety of the candidate process up front, so candidates will be ready for multiple interviews, panel interviews, expected hire date, the offer process, etc.

     4. Don’t haul people back for 3 or 4 interviews

Asking them to take off work that many times is inconvenient and risky to their current job. Don’t blow their cover.  

     5. Explain the Offer Process

The offer process should be clearly articulated before an offer is ever presented. Letting the candidate know the process early on will make everything clearer when an offer is made.

     6. Manage the Pre-onboarding experience  

After the offer is accepted but before their first day, make sure to send them some form of correspondence to keep them in the loop. Something like,“We’re excited to have you…..on your first day you can expect your schedule to look like…” will work just fine.

Remember: Good folks are hard to find.  Don’t screw it up by not being polite!



Photo Credit: www. northeastern.edu

Saturday Morning at the Dog Park



I spend a fair amount of time each week at Muttland Meadows dog park in Grafton with Jake and Rosie. I’m amazed at how different the experience can be, depending on the mix of dogs and owners there at the time. Fortunately, both dogs and owners are creatures of habit, so it’s easy to predict.

My favorite time at Muttland Meadows is Saturday morning at about 7:15. That’s when the cool dogs are there. They’re not just cool because they’re good-looking, although some of them are beautiful.   They have great personalities, they get along well with others and they listen relatively well despite the distractions. There’s Finnegan and Flannery, the lovely collies, friendly and dignified. Sam, the Welsh springer spaniel is there with his owner Robert who generally has a small treat for the rest of the gang. Captain, who can be a little naughty, but is good-natured enough to get away with it, and of course Duncan, the cap-stealing Airedale who is a piece of work, but always there….as predictable as the sunrise. And of course, Rosie and Jake, the coolest dogs on the planet—happy to see everyone, but polite enough to give everyone a little space.

Shouldn’t your workplace be like Saturday morning at Muttland? Cool people with their own personalities and purpose who are respectful, listen well and add to the overall vibe. Keep it that way by hiring carefully. It’s not enough to have a set of skills and a list of applicable experiences. Consider whether your candidates will not only fit in your culture, but add to it. Figuring that out takes time and a number of data points. Contact me for help with a careful hiring process. End up with the cool dogs.

Designer Employees


One of the easiest ways to validate your fashion choices is to choose a designer label. It’s not a particularly well-made or attractive purse, but hey, it has those big letter “C’s”, so it must be stylish, right?  St. John’s knit suits, 7For All Mankind jeans, Louis Vuitton bags—own them and you’re styling.  Right?

Employers do the same thing. Hire that woman from GE. Snag the guy from Coke. Make the offer to the consultant from McKinsey. Employ them and you’ve unquestionably upgraded your staff. Right?

The truth is that hiring a designer employee can be a mistake as often as it is a success for a number of reasons:

• Skip the process. If you jump at the candidate with the good credentials without going through a careful hiring process– or any process at all — you’re likely to be surprised with what you get.

• Different environment. What made them successful at the designer company won’t work here at XYZ. I worked at a company that decided to bring in a team of Six Sigma Black Belts from GE. Unfortunately, without the infrastructure and a culture that understood the general charter, they failed miserably and the positions were eliminated within a year.

• Good companies have bad people too. I worked at a bank that was intent on hiring people from a competitor that had just been acquired by an even bigger bank. The executives asked my recruiting team to put together a list of any candidates that came from the competing bank. NOT hiring those candidates required an explanation to senior management. Unfortunately, many of those candidates were either victims of early downsizing or were seeing early indications that their new employer, the acquiring bank, wasn’t terribly impressed.  My employer became the easy option to the unemployment line for many, many under-performers from our old competitor.

This isn’t a wholesale indictment on designer jeans or designer employees. Some work out just fine, but that’s usually for a reason beyond just the logo. Other times, it makes you look like you have (or are) a big fat ass.