Human Resources Today

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Why Do You Care What's Next?

downloadIt started as early as eighth grade. Field hockey tryouts came and went, and we gathered around the team lists like crazed Madonna fans (the Bieber of my day). I was a decent athlete, and I made the A team. The season passed, and everyone wanted to know whether I was going to try to make the high school team. Ninth grade found me playing softball. At under five feet, I was the smallest girl on the team, but also the fastest. That meant a sometimes-bump to varsity as backup for second base and the designated pinch runner. Everyone asked, “Will you make varsity next year? I did. Then it was, “Will you start at varsity next year?” I was cut. I’d been good enough to play varsity my freshman and sophomore years, but too many bigger, stronger girls rose through the ranks.

It was embarrassing — not even because I didn’t make it, but because everyone kept asking what the next milestone was. I was out of milestones. We’re so achievement-oriented, we can’t handle defeat (let alone appreciate the moment we’re in). I’ve learned that it hasn’t gotten better as I’ve gotten older, either.

Everyone wants to know where you’re headed next.

Fast-forward to college. I was constantly asked about my post-graduation plans. Same with graduate school. And my personal life? That was even worse. My husband and I dated for seven years before we got married. It made people crazy that we dated for so long. I know, because many told me so.

But what made me crazy was the constant questioning about our engagement timeline. And that was just the beginning. Now that we are married, people want to know when we’re having children. (For my friends already blessed with children, it’s: “When are you having another?”)

This phenomenon isn’t limited to our personal lives. The constant milestone madness is everywhere. A good friend of mine is on the partner track at a well-known consulting firm. People can’t stop asking if she’s up for partner this year. For my fellow entrepreneurs, the what-next question is constant too. Everyone wants to know your growth plan, your exit plan, your plan to go public.

Are you as exhausted as I am?

I get it. When people ask these questions (personal or business-related) they’re trying to be nice, interested in your work, or are genuinely curious (if they want to promote you or invest in your company).

But we’ve created a world where no one is happy where they are. No one stops to ask how you’re doing in the moment or what interesting work you’re accomplishing. And the repercussions of this what-next syndrome? We’ve forgotten how to mine the moment for what it is: a chance to appreciate the good and learn from the bad.

Study after study show that Millennials want to be promoted quickly. They expect raises and conversations about what’s next on a regular basis. And they’re not to blame for that attitude. We are (their managers, leaders, GenX-ers and Baby Boomers who have come before them). Instead of focusing on the best lesson an employee learned this year in performance reviews, we have conversations primarily focused on getting to the next level. Instead of asking someone what cool thing they’re working on right now, we ask them what job they want next....

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Susan LaMotte is the founder of exaqueo, a workforce consultancy that helps startups and high-growth companies build their cultures, employer brands and talent strategies. Contact exaqueo to learn more about how we can help you build a workforce strategy that’s aligned with your company culture and develop an employer brand that will allow your business to scale the right way.




Why Start-Ups Matter to HR

Last week, my colleague Rajiv wrote about why start-ups need to care about HR.  Newsflash--that sentiment goes both ways. HR needs to care about entrepreneurs too. If you're in HR, you've heard of SHRM--the Society for Human Resource Management. You might even be a member. While I'm certified as a Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR), I've let my long-time SHRM membership lapse even though my home office is only a few blocks from SHRM. Here's why--I'm an entrepreneur. My company, exaqueo, is in the business of talent. And yet I still decided the value from SHRM wasn't worth it for me personally. Or anyone on my team.  We're in the business of helping start-ups and high-growth companies solve the talent problems that impede their growth.  They need advice. They need HR. They need help. And right now, SHRM isn't the answer.

As I prepared to write this post, I turned to my colleagues in the Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC), an invite-only membership organization comprised of hundreds of the world’s most successful young entrepreneurs. I asked if they struggle with HR issues.  "Who doesn't?" one answered. "Talent is everything," said another.  When I walked around the entrepreneurial event Day of Fosterly, a few weeks ago, I asked if the founders and entrepreneurs had heard of SHRM. Few had. And those that did weren't members. Fellow members in my DC Tech Facebook group were mixed on whether they'd heard of SHRM, but all saw HR as hugely important to their business growth.

It doesn't surprise me.

This morning's rotating flash on the SHRM page touts the conference and a webcast on HR departments.  The emails I keep getting throw the carrot of a tote bag if I join. I'm an entrepreneur. I don't have time for a weeklong conference. I don't have an HR department. And I certainly don't want or need a tote bag (NPR, I'm talking to you ,too.)

But, it does scare me.

In HR and recruiting we've become a content nation of boring. We cater to the middle man, the average HR gal. We talk about the same companies over and over. We rely on lists and rankings that mean nothing beyond a fluffy press release. We write the same articles over and over (with the same advice). And we do all this without regard to our audience -- small company, large company, hourly, managerial, tech, union -- it doesn't seem to matter.

The most popular articles on SHRM will make any entrepreneur's eyes glaze over. Today's "most popular" list included HSA, pension, e-Verify, FMLA...most entrepreneurs don't care or want to care about these things. It's up to us as HR professionals make them care in a way that matters to them--money, risk, talent, growth. A Q&A on social media policy? Entrepreneurs don't have time for that. They don't even have or need policies.  Content needs to cater, to be specific to this audience.

They are HR's future customers.

Entrepreneurs need to care about HR and we need to both make them care and show them we can actually help them. I did find a few entrepreneurs getting value from topics like training and employee relations with SHRM:  "I like HR people who like to do lots of training and education. So they get a good resources from SHRM," said one founder. Yes! Many start-ups hire novice or neophyte professionals who want to learn HR and can do it on the go as the start-up grows. But they have to be drawn in.

One entrepreneur shared her perspective on SHRM this way: "Keep in mind, they tend to take the most conservative stance on HR matters so it may or may not be relevant to start-up issues." This is the perception in the marketplace among entrepreneurs who do know SHRM.

HR organizations like SHRM need to think more deeply about the future of the profession and not just coast along appealing to vanilla audiences. There's a place to support entrepreneurs and their work style. Content channels? Sub groups? Communities? Places to show the value of HR to entrepreneurs so they don't ruin their businesses over talent issues.  Believe me--this is more common than you think. (A client recently told me: "I don't understand how I ended up with a group of employees who are incredibly smart but all hate each other.")


Don't you want to be relevant to organizations in the early stage of the organizational life-cycle? If you don't, you should. Ask me how. I'm just down the street...I'll even buy you a Misha's. In the meantime, our little boutique consultancy will continue our mission to build cultures, employer brands and talent start-up at a time.