Adventures in Stupidity: HR and Passwords

What at first seemed to be an uproar has now seemingly fell below a whisper. Job applicants were being asked for their Facebook® passwords so that prospective employers could view their accounts to determine if the candidates were acceptable to hire. I will say this as clear as I possibly can so nobody can misinterpret my response. “Who on this planet thought this was not only a good idea but an acceptable request? Followed up with, “Who signed off on it, and are any of these people still employed, and if so why?”

This is what happens when HR (Human Resource) departments are left to their own devices. Does anyone with any sanity believe that the person who first thought this was a legitimate request think they would ever allow this demand on themselves? But what happens over and over and over again is that many HR departments live within their own universe. All one has to do is watch how quickly some meaningless training program that demonstrates little results will be accepted throughout an industry. If one HR dept. implemented it somewhere on the planet Earth, well then it must be unquestionably revolutionary! Hence my cynical view when I hear someone quote a new and improved version of “Left Brain, Right Brain Thinking.” These are designed and sold primarily for the HR genre. The thinking goes as such; If it’s “New and Improved” well then it must have been successful before or they wouldn’t make a newer version right? And now from coast to coast some meaningless or detrimental training program will sweep nation.

As tough as I might seem on the HR genre, they are by no means alone in their follies. I lay the blame just as hard if not harder at the so-called C level management that allows this to take place turning a blind eye to deaf ear on it.

One of the foremost considerations any corporation or business around has today is the acquisition or the retaining of talent. Talent is what propels companies forward. And if you want to start asking prospective talented people for such things as passwords to their private accounts as a condition to being hired by you, then you had better be allowing that same talent access to your own passwords and accounts to help them understand why they thought they should have applied to your firm in the first place. Because in every sense of the matter. They would be insane to supply theirs, even more so than it is as stupid for someone to ask them for theirs.

You just can’t make this stuff up!

© 2012 Mark St.Cyr

Enthusiasm Run Amok

To my niece or nephew I’m seen as old as Methuselah. To senior citizens, I’m still regarded as a kid. But to today’s sports fan I must be regarded as some form of Monk. It would seem that in this brave new world of sports celebrating by cheering, lifting a few bottles or glasses up on high to clink, or even those whom partake in the lamest of rituals the “belly bump’ is no longer acceptable to show how much you care about winning a championship. In today’s world you must overturn cars, tear down signs, riot, set couches ablaze, have multiple fights, multiple arrests, and I guess a shooting or two. I could list more but I’ll leave it there for the sake of brevity.

Last night The University of Kentucky won the NCAA Championship. It’s an absolute storybook ending to just a few years back seemed to everyone we were watching the slow motion train wreck of a great college franchise. Within 5 years this school went through coaches, controversies, and scandal that could rival a made for television drama series. And yet here they are National Champions. So how does a sports fan nowadays show their team some love? Read the above paragraph again. What a shame.

Personally I’m not a big follower of sports any longer. But don’t confuse that with my ability to jump on a bandwagon. I can hop on a bandwagon faster than most Olympic sprinters! But this seemingly blind eyed rationale of celebratory destruction I just don’t get. Call me old-fashioned but I just couldn’t see my Mother cutting me any slack in her disapproval or disgust if I were to use in a defense that the reason why myself or some friends were in jail, shot, or assaulted, was because our team won!

I watched it with the Red Sox back in Boston and was mystified on the rationale back then. The only place I ever remembered such hooliganism was when we would hear about soccer games running mad and out of control in Europe. I feel now as I did then. I just don’t get it, nor do I want too! And what’s really grating on me is watching or reading many giving hackneyed excuses why it’s not that unreasonable for crowds to act or celebrate in this manner. Excuse me but last time I looked most of these actions are listed in the penal code. I personally live close enough to the university that if it was my car they over turned I wouldn’t be thinking, “Hey we won, of course they ruined my car, Go Team!” Hopefully neither would you.

I’m ecstatic that I was here to personally witness such a remarkable event. But I find it a little ironic that I might be seen as some form of party pooper because I didn’t get drunk enough, or vandalize something that would give reason as to wake up in a jail cell.

© 2012 Mark St.Cyr

Beware of the “Hit Men”

(My column as it appeared in Upmarket magazine week of April 1st)

No, this isn’t about some television series, game, or anything else encapsulated by the title. (Yet it is a chapter in my upcoming book) However the effect this has on the general public, and business as a whole demonstrates a misunderstood, and misguided approach to business. “Eyeballs means sales.” or “All passers-by are potential customers.” They’re not. When I say this at a meeting, it’s at this point everyone in the room turns their head and the room goes silent. (And the person whom invited me begins to sweat)

Usually what I respond with to break the silence is to ask a very simple question, “What’s the value of 1 million hits or visitors that don’t purchase, compared to 1 hit or visitor that does?” Some start talking about conversion rate and it’s value. Others begin raising the argument of credibility in the eyes of others, and so on. But what doesn’t get answered first is the question I posed, which is exactly the point I’m trying to instill. So many people will work more on what I see as a distraction rather than building a real business.

I understand the argument about eyeballs, and traffic, but if that were all there was to it downtown shops, mall stores, and every stand on a boardwalk would never have a sales issue. But they do. The argument for selling a rental spot in a brick and mortar model is sold using the same story you’ll hear from a “traffic” salesman. “There’s so much traffic that goes by here” was yesterday’s pitch. Today it’s, “You need to drive traffic.” No, you need to make sales. If your focus is skewed primarily to traffic, then you won’t be putting in the needed focus on building or improving a product people want to buy. After creating your website your next focal point should be in getting just one hit that actually buys, not getting 1 million of what I call “The look, like, and leave crowd.” The goal for 98% of business websites should be to allow someone who want’s to buy your product or service the place where they can make the transaction with ease of use, feel secure when they use their card, and have a reasonable feeling of expectation that if a problem arises it will be addressed in a reasonable time frame. The other 2% I reserve for the market players that do have actual first needs of “eye balls.” Magazines, television, and newspapers fall into this category. However I will also contend that product should still be first, followed by “hits.” Not the other way around.

When someone asks me how many “hits” my website gets they are usually stunned when I say, “I don’t know, nor do I care.” When they pick their jaw off the floor I like to follow-up with, “The only hit I care about is the one that purchased my services. Because as of this date, my bank doesn’t accept my hit rate as legal tender.”

I’ll bet neither do the “Hit Men.”

© 2012 Mark St.Cyr

The Prose Series: Episode 2

An enhanced Audio Podcast presented in Video format.

The quick hitting no holds barred series based on “Mr. Engineer, please hit the record button and let’s go!”  Unique for its forget about edits and retakes format.

This episode features Mark’s column:
Team Building 101, Dump the Committees

© 2012 Mark St.Cyr in Assoc. with StreetCry Media. All Rights Reserved

(Can’t see the player in your Mobile device? Click here)

Are You Building a Business That Can Stay in Business?

(My column as it appeared in Upmarket magazine week of March 25th)

What’s becoming apparent across the business landscape is many new entrepreneurs are building businesses for the purpose of not being beholden to any so-called boss. They see that the old model of a “job” is either dead or dying and rightly so are venturing out looking to take control of their own destiny. However what many are not realizing is they may be just changing one taskmaster for another without being aware.

In today’s world one of the unquestionable benefits we are currently enjoying is the plethora of tools that allow a business to start-up, augment, research, or just plain operate for absolutely free. It’s a time in history that has never been so rich with options and yet that list seems to be getting larger with even better tools, but there is a side that most pay no attention to. “What would happen to your business if tomorrow what was now free ended and you needed to now pay for it? Or worse, was no longer available.” Not some distance in the future but let’s say next week or month. What would you do?

Many believe things like this would never happen and brush it off as crazy talk, but I contend if you’re brushing it off you could find yourself at the edge of a very scary black hole when you least expect it. Just ask any Amazon® affiliate caught in the tax debacle that happened in California. In the blink of an eye thousands found that they were basically out of business with no recourse. What would happen if Google® decided tomorrow to charge for their mail service, or their doc’s platform? What would you do? Don’t say it would never happen. Google has a history of deleting or changing them. The latest example of this can be found if you don’t like their new privacy policy that affects all of their widgets. Do you stay as your customers leave or vice versa? Would you pour more of your resources and energy in Twitter® if next month you had to pay per word but could use as many as you like rather than limited to how many you’re allowed for free? Would you even use it at all if that were the case?

There have been some recent cases where Apple® has arbitrarily pulled some very popular podcasts from their service for what they deemed “unauthorized” Apple logos or pictures. Even a picture of a real apple was questioned. Pleading your case and trying to get reinstated is an arduous process and still may not be enough to resume. These courts answer to themselves not to anyone else. Rightly or wrongly, “It is what it is.” But just how would you continue if you no longer had access to the service is my point? Would you continue? Could you? You need to think about these scenarios if you want to be a business. Just because you may not operate in the old world of bricks and mortar does not mean you can escape a fundamental principle of business.

People scoffed at similar notions when I expressed and wrote about what businesses in the brick and mortar realm should contemplate when Greece first showed signs of unrest, months before anyone even heard of the Occupy movement or the mayhem that followed. (So much so I re-posted it when OWS troubles first appeared.) Businesses suddenly found themselves closed, unreachable, or worse. So I ask you to contemplate the most fundamental business principle.

What’s your plan to stay in business? Because anything can happen, and usually does!

© 2012 Mark St.Cyr

These Birds Don’t Flock Together

These day’s no matter where you get your information you’ll hear metaphors, and analogies thrown around with seemingly no concern how they’re really used in describing a given situation. If it sounds good, well then, it therefore must be appropriate. Not so fast is what I have to say.

Analogies and metaphors help make the complex more understandable in most cases. They can be more than just helpful when trying to get a complex idea or give unknown variables some measure of light. However if used incorrectly by using the wrong one to describe a situation the results can be not only messy, but down right dangerous.

Today’s financial channels are currently a buzz with more lines recited from what seems like a Kinder Gardner’s book rather than a Wharton graduate. The economy is currently “Not too hot, not too cold, but just right” is heard when trying to describe dismal GDP numbers, and anemic gains in employment.

What I have noticed more and more is if you begin to reference a bird with yellow feathers you are immediately chastised as “Crying Wolf” before you are even able to finish your thoughts. What comes next is one of the so-called “Smart Crowd” talking over every point while expressing that “They’re just being Chicken Little.” Actually if they would listen instead of talking over everyone, they just might become aware that although the discussion contains a bird, it’s not a chicken, it’s a canary. And the two represent far different implications.

No one wants to listen to someone everyday say “The sky is falling” but paying attention to someone watching a canary day by day is quite another. Canaries were as most know brought into mines to alert them in case of undetectable toxic gases. Canaries are far more vulnerable and would either show distress or be out right dead well before anyone would have issues. So all eyes were on the canary at all times. Today it seems like one just yelled blasphemy from the pews if they state there might even be canaries, never mind watch any.

I’ve always found that the people whom shout down anyone that seems to have a contrarian viewpoint are usually the ones that can’t back up their own argument with data or statistics that can be honestly judged. This is not to say that every contrarian viewpoint is correct. But to venture into unknown territory such as we are currently with unemployment numbers so high for so long, GDP rates well under projections needed to sustain recovery, monetary policies in uncharted waters, and too many others to list.  For anyone to say that keeping an eye on the yellow bird for warning signs is akin to shouting “Fire” in a crowded theater is not only crazy, but nuts!

But on the other hand, maybe they’re more afraid of someone “Huffing, and puffing that can blow their house (of cards) down.”

© 2012 Mark St.Cyr

Forget the Forest…They’re Stuck in the Shrubs!

As the saying goes…“They can’t see the forest through the trees” most people won’t even pick their head up to see if there is actually a forest. But they’ll tell you without looking up why “you” have no idea of what’s beyond the tree line. It’s within this lexicon I feel it necessary to enlighten these self-appointed arborists that before they decide to pick out their chain saws so they can get a better view, they might do themselves a favor and start mastering the hedge trimmers first.

There are times I find myself in a state of pure awe at the way people who have no experience in actually running a business begin to state facts and ideas as if they co-authored one of Jack Welch’s books regarding business management. It’s one thing to have an opinion, it’s quite another to state that opinion in a tone and manner as if they pioneered these complexities by trial and error at their own hands.

Viewing the business landscape with a myopic eye can be detrimental. However there are times that you need that laser focus to work your way through difficult terrain. At times you needn’t quantify every danger, pitfall, or species of tree within the forest. What’s needed is the knowledge that there are dangerous animals, rugged terrain, possible swamps, and alike that you may or may not have to navigate through. This understanding comes from spending time in the woods. There is a knowledge to be learned that no book or television show can impart. You have to venture into the forest even if that means you’ll have to make your own tools as you go.

The reasons most self-appointed business arborits feel the need to express what they believe to be factual for anyone listening is because they themselves can not see. They see green everywhere, and they can’t seem to move without becoming entangled within the stalks and roots of their world. Next they’ll go on ad-nausea to express that all one needs is a chainsaw to get a better view. They’ll start quoting brands and specifications they’ve meticulously read. What they fail to realize is they’ve never themselves been in the forest. They’re stuck within thick shrubbery or hedges and don’t know the difference.

Books and television can enlighten you to the dangers and pitfalls that may be encountered within a forest or what might await beyond the tree line. But it’s the understanding that there is a forest that’s critical. Not how many trees there are within a given acreage or what brand of chain saw rated highest by some review magazine the arm-chair arborist feels the need to site.

Just because they’ve watched someone carve an ice sculpture at a party, doesn’t mean by osmosis they’re now ready for a spot on TV’s “Axe Men.” Sounds harsh? Just listen to someone who watched a financial channel more than once. Different field, same conclusions. Because after all…

It’s a jungle out there!

© 2012 Mark St.Cyr

The Prose Series: Episode 1

A new edition to titled: “The Prose Series”

An enhanced Audio Podcast presented in Video format.

The quick hitting no holds barred series based on “Mr. Engineer, please hit the record button and let’s go!”  Unique for its forget about edits and retakes format.

This episode features Mark’s column:
Remembering a Sentimental “KISS” in Business

© 2012 Mark St.Cyr in Assoc. with StreetCry Media. All Rights Reserved

(Can’t view the player on your mobile device? Click here.)

Lessons We Can Learn From Wall Street

(My column as it appeared in Upmarket Magazine week of March 11th)

Everyone today wants to rant and rail about anything related to “Wall Street.” Doesn’t matter if they have money at work or not, they have an opinion. But what really intrigues me is the human condition in relationship to it. I contend if you know how to look at things you can gain insight that will bust many myths about people we hold dear. And many myths that might be holding you back in business. Here’s a quick point to ponder:

“People are more informed, rational, and will only pay for value.”

That is a myth and is shattered everyday the markets are open. People will pay on what they “perceive” is value. Not whether it is or not. To use basic numbers that are for demonstration purposes only, use the following example. The S&P 500 was worth $1,500 per share at 20 times earnings. Now it’s worth $1,300 at 10 times earnings. If it’s making 1/2 the earnings why not 1/2 the price? Or better yet tell me what the real price is supposed to be? You can’t because there is no “real” price. It’s what someone else thinks it’s worth and what someone else will pay. The final value is a perceived value. (You really need to read that last line again and let it sink in.)

How many of you are pricing your goods or services based on what you believe the perceived value is instead of what the market place wants or is willing to pay? I would contend most are struggling on their bottom line because they are under charging and over delivering. Many entrepreneurs make this classic mistake. However, it is correctable — it’s just when you decide to correct it will be the difference whether you stay in business or not.

The first sale you have to make is to yourself. You must be able to state your value unflinchingly. That goes for whether you are selling a widget or selling you. Don’t make the mistake of reasoning that your time is free and whatever you charge by the hour is gravy. It’s not! Time is irreplaceable and a diminishing resource. Start viewing and treating it as such.

If you can save someone $1 million dollars by advising them to do or not do something that no one else either is or can what should be the final value that you charge? Do you charge them by the hour? And if you did at what rate per hour would you use? $100…$500…$1000…$10,000? There’s no widget involved just your brainpower, so it’s all free right? All gravy, correct? Some of you are thinking, “Well how many hours would it have taken? If I have that equation I could figure out what the bill should be.” I say to that…wrong! If that was entering your mind then what I’m trying to express just was manifested by your own thinking. You would be looking for a figure you are comfortable asking for, not what the real value of what you should be charging. Think I’m off track? Fair enough. Here’s how long it took: Under 45 seconds and it was all said in nearly one breath. Now what’s the answer? Now what would be your bill? How much would you feel comfortable sitting down right now and writing out an invoice with your letterhead, submitting it, and if it weren’t paid for within terms would sue for collections of non-payment? Answering that exercise while being honest with yourself in your answers will tell you volumes about what you are doing and where you are going.

Want a widget-based example? Apple’s iPhone® makes more in profit per phone than the total selling price of its nearest competitor.

Think about it.

© 2012 Mark St.Cyr

Only the Best Need Apply…Yeah Right

For many this sounds like heresy. Usually the first ones to visibly demonstrate their contempt at this line of thought is anyone within an HR Department in any corporation today. Problem for most is when I begin to use their very department as my first reference to validate my thesis. (This is also where the gnashing of teeth begins.)

Let’s look at the economy as a whole today. Whether you are currently employed, seeking employment, or self-employed, you should always be on the lookout on how others are trying to attract talent. In today’s world talent, and innovation aren’t merely buzz words. They are imperative to sustainability or growth especially in today’s economic climate. Yet, how are most corporations dealing with attracting or hanging out the welcome sign to this finite resource? Well, one glaring example can be shown in one of the most important positions any organization can hire, sales! Many companies desperate for sales will openly state don’t apply for the position unless you have some alphabet soup letters after your name. If you don’t have an MBA or a BA don’t apply regardless of your track record. What a bunch of BS is all I can say. And if you dare apply they spent hundreds of thousands of dollars (or more!) on the newest technology where a computer will just delete your resume to trash. I have been shaking my head at this idiotic way of thinking for decades. If there was an award for blatant foolishness as this, I fear we would run out of marble.

The thinking that allows this to take place and continue comes from the “corporate culture” mindset. HR gets to argue that if they didn’t apply filters then they would be over-run or burdened with the stress of having to actually read resumes and evaluate them. (Oh the horror!) However no one ever questions how or what they do in order to ensure a salesperson with a proven track record of sales at a competitor but has no degrees doesn’t slip through the cracks? Or a salesperson that has quantifiable results on being one of the best ever in their field, yet has no degree? There’s usually a lot of “ah, um, well,” at this point. But they have the answers at the ready to rationalize why they are extremely busy, and need to spend time sifting through the best of some new or improved  “Left Brain-Right Brain Hiring Procedures” to ensure they are attracting “qualified” resumes. All the while the very people who can’t get an interview contemplate starting their own company to become their greatest competitors.

It would be ironic if any contemplating that turned to starting found their competitive edge was to jettison any HR department for outside recruiters. But that’s off the top of my head, not left or right.

© 2012 Mark St.Cyr