Tuesday, December 30, 2014

What to do when someone gets laid off

Every business will regularly go through reorgs. Some are as predictable as the changing of the calendar, others will be completely random, lurching from a sense of blissful security to a sudden slap in the face.

In some ways, you can't fault the business. It is a cold, calculating machine. As we all should be doing in our personal and professional lives, a well-run business will, on a regular cadence, self-assess. Are we on the right track? Are we still aimed at our goal? Are we spending in the right areas? Are our investments and bets paying off? Or do we need to trim our sails and adjust our course? This isn't a place for heart, this isn't a place for warmth and herein lies the rub - in the end, these human "resources" are people and when dealing with people, it can get messy. But this is no place for heart, this is no place for "family" and no one should ever allow themselves to be lulled into a false sense of security, that the machine cares about you. Because it doesn't. It cares about itself and its self-preservation.

A well-run organization will have clear goals, clear objectives and everyone from the top to the bottom will understand the goals and vision and understand how they play a part in that. And it will be clear if they are core, or if they're at risk because they aren't aligned to the core or aren't pulling in the same direction as everyone else. You need to be able to understand the strategy and whether or not you are helping that strategy, and be able to clearly and regularly articulate that to anyone who will listen.

Unfortunately, reorgs do occur. In a strategic, well-run organization, these are regular, tiny, like two tectonic plates gracefully sliding past one another. When things don't run so smoothly, it's more like an earthquake. The regular, tiny adjustments keep an organization aligned, and often means being able to redeploy high quality, high performing resources (people) to other strategic areas. Those kind of reorgs (more like "evolutionary adjustments") go unnoticed, rarely involving layoffs. There's less need to move (or remove) people because everyone understands their place and they've already made the move (or removed themselves). It doesn't mean no one ever finds themselves without a job, but it does mean it's never a shock to the person let go or the people left behind. (And it often means the work the person was doing was eliminated at the same time.)

For those who are "materially impacted" by such reorgs - surprise or expected - whether it's small or large from the point of those left behind - it's a big deal. For them, life has come to a screeching halt. All around them, life goes on but for a moment, they find themselves on the edge of a very large precipice, failing their arms, unsure if they're going to regain their balance or go flying over the cliff.

Most regain their balance.

But most who aren't impacted don't know what to do. They feel guilty, they worry they might be next, they worry about any added work they might have dumped on them. They might be relieved because it's not them or sad because they are going to miss seeing the person.

Often, a combination of all those feelings plus the fact that their full, messy lives are still proceeding (possibly with a little more uncertainty), they don't act. "The person who got laid off will reach out," they think. The person who got laid off will let us know when they're ready to talk. They've got all this free time now. They're in mourning. I'm in shock. For a million reasons, we don't do much, if anything, to reach out to those who are no longer with us in our daily march.

But it's exactly the wrong thing to do. If someone you know gets laid off, they need you to reach out to them. People, especially men, identify heavily with "what they do." So when they're told they're no longer needed, that cuts to the core. Friends who reach out let them know they are still needed, they do still have value, to offer hope and commiseration. When someone's asked to hand in their keys, they no longer feel "welcome" so very few are going to feel comfortable reaching out to colleagues at their old job - those people need to be the ones doing the reaching out.

I haven't always done a great job of this in the past, I've been on the side of "well, they'll reach out when they need something." Or, I've sent a short note on Facebook and then when they agreed to lunch or coffee, I left it to them to schedule, they have all the free time, right? That was a mistake. Now having been on the other side, I know it's the person still employed who has to push the other person to commit to the meeting - otherwise they might sit around at home in their pajamas thinking about looking for work.


Until recently, my experience was from the other side, seeing friends leave unexpectedly and doing less than I, in retrospect, should have to encourage them. They'd propose a meal, I'd agree and wait for them to set it up. Now, from the other side, I've seen how painful and how alone people can feel at times. When I was laid off, I had to buy a phone and a laptop, but I went to my home office every day from 8-5, worked on my consulting business, worked on the job search, but it still felt lonely. Some people suggested lunch and I agreed and waited for them to follow-up, and others suggested lunch or coffee and made sure it happened. Others looked me up on LinkedIn (I got the "so and so visited your profile") but otherwise didn't reach out. I haven't known what to make of that.

But I'm committed - I will be a better friend to any friends of mine who find themselves cast aside in the future. I had no idea how much it's needed.

Lastly, if you don't know them too well, but you know their spouse, reach out to them - they'll need comfort, hope and a distraction as well - even if it's just coffee or lunch - but make that personal connection beyond Facebook.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Quote: Prayer

Prayer isn't preparation for the greater work, it is the greater work.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

@Saddleback Airlines

Family illnesses have kept us home a few times recently from church.  The first time, we intended to gather in the kitchen and watch our church's live stream, only it turned out that they weren't broadcasting that morning.  So we thought we'd try Overlake, dragged the laptop into the living room, connected it to the TV but it kept buffering and stuttering.  So had the idea to look to see if Saddleback was on Roku.  It was, and it streamed great with no interruptions.

I've had a fascination with Saddleback but never attended a service there.  I was there once for a conference that featured Rick Warren (but he was oddly enough, simulcast from Texas for his part) and another time my boss and I were supposed to meet with the IT team from Saddleback but we drove separately and when I got there I couldn't find my boss and he wasn't picking up his cell or wasn't getting coverage or something so after an hour and a half of wandering around and driving around the campus, I went home.  At that job, some of us felt like Saddleback was something to aspire to, something we could learn from, so we regularly visited their website and observed how they were approaching different online elements.  So, never had attended a service there, but have always wanted to learn more.

So now we've "attended Saddleback" twice recently via Roku, sitting on the couch in our living room.  This morning as it started, there was a welcome video.  Two personable people appeared in front of a white background in a well-planned, rehearsed, scripted short video.  It welcomed people to the church, explained a few things and then spent a few minutes introducing one of the ministries: Counseling.  It first explained how it worked and how you could take advantage of it if you needed counseling or someone to talk to.  And then it shifted gears and talked about how it was only possible with lots of volunteers and the training they'd receive and stuff.  And then the two were back on screen to wrap up the welcome and it struck me: I was watching a pre-flight video. It wasn't about how to operate a seatbelt or oxygen mask or tray table, but it was the same effect - a quick way to put people at ease and orient them to what was going on if they'd never been there before, while at the same time, being brief enough and interesting enough so as to keep people who attended regularly from tuning out or thinking it wasn't for them.  They didn't actually end with "Now, on with the show!" but they might as well have - their energy levels matched so well with the music that started as the video ended.  It was all real well done.

Does your first interaction convey who you are?

You may not handle operations or service planning for a church, but the way you introduce yourselves to new visitors (to your store or website or your call center) and how you welcome your repeat visitors and regulars can't be overlooked, left to chance, or put in the hands of someone who's not trained - they must be the living embodiment of your esprit de corps - they get it, they're empowered, they're passionate, they're celebrated.  If we're talking about people, don't make them the factory you churn through with low pay and harsh regulations (timed bathroom breaks? average call times?) and if it's your website, don't assume you can always identify the new visitor from the regular.

This made me think of the quote from Tony Hsieh, founder of Zappos "Zappos is a customer service company that just happens to sell shoes." There's a lot packed into that statement, more than I can go into here.  I will once again point to Simon Sinek's awesome TED Talk (18 minutes) or his book Start with Why.

If it's been more than 3 months since you took a critical look at what your initial customer/prospect experience looks like, it's time to schedule some time to (a) get reacquainted and (b) form a new team to make sure it's never again more than a few minutes since you've taken a critical look at the totality of your experience - online, offline, social, incoming, outgoing - marketing, public relations, earned media, etc., etc., etc.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Bad user experience, @foxnews

I noticed a trending article on Facebook about a soldier that wasn't being allowed to stay with his wife.  Turns out that some landlord in South Carolina has decided he wants to win some Grinch of the Year award.  The soldier is home on leave - two weeks ago his daughter (his first child) was born.  The landlord says that because his name isn't on the lease, he's a "visitor" and visitors can't stay for more than 7 days.  He's threatening to charge the soldier with trespassing and double the woman's rent for violation of her lease if the soldier remains.  (Is the baby's name on the lease?)

Anyhow, what struck me right away was that FoxNews said it was a solder who was being evicted. If he's an electrical engineer, perhaps he's a solderer but they probably meant soldier and how has no one caught this yet?  (Even in Chrome when I typed solder in the sentence above Google give is a gray wiggly underline as probably wrong.)

I saw that no one else had yet suggested the landlord evict the baby I mean, she must cry a lot, right?  I bet the other tenants are probably saying "Let the dad stay. It'll help mom and it's another person who can help comfort the wee one so there's less crying. (They say "wee one" in South Carolina, right?)  Anyhow, I thought I had a clever and amusing thought to add to the general discourse, so I tried to do so.  But I was foiled.

There is a required field where you are forced to enter your political view.  It's an open-ended field, but there's no suggestions about what's appropriate. But I can tell you that the following aren't just from my trying to get past this screen:

  • this is stupid
  • no
  • independent
  • libertarian
  • agnostic
  • hostile
  • gop
  • republicane
  • moderate
  • demecrat
  • green
  • dnc
  • unsure
  • undecided
  • I miss Ronald Reagan
  • Obama when he delivers
  • fiscal conservative
  • compassionate conservative
  • socialist
  • Donner (OK, I guess that's more party than view)
  • Blitzen
  • marxist
  • marxism
  • communist

I tried to examine the page's source to see if there was an acceptable list of choices, but I couldn't find one.  It is FoxNews, though, so I assume the choices are probably Republican or (something insulting).

In all seriousness, it is a really bad idea to offer an open text-entry field and then limit the available choices without telling someone what they are.

There are several better ways to get this information:

If it's absolutely necessary at the time of sign-up...

However, I would argue that this is not necessary.  Every item you demand (they also demand date of birth) will cost you in attrition - people who will not complete what they consider to be overly invasive or onerous.  It's important to weight the value of some information against no information.  Best practice: ask the minimum necessary to identify the person.

(1) Offer a selection of options or a list of choices to select from.

(2) Accept any option and create rules in the backend to attempt to interpret responses.  New responses can be flagged for human review and classification. Once classified, if someone else enters the same response in the future they'll be classified the same way.  (We did this on a project where we tried to reconcile search terms on a website into meta-categories without any AI behind-the-scenes.  Slightly manual but people tended to repeat the same things others did with little variation and soon we had critical mass.)

If it's not absolutely necessary at the time of sign-up...

(3) Require the field at a later date.  They've already invested enough to sign-up, answering one more question later (on their third visit, after a month, etc.) will be better received.

(4) Place it in the Profile Center and explain why providing the information will improve the experience (recommend specific articles or authors or viewpoints).

(5) Use Behavioral Analysis to guess (where do they go on the site? If we present story A and story B, which one do they click on or spend more time on? What kinds of articles do they click "like" or share? When they post comments, are the responses positive and negative? And what is the political viewpoint of the people they are interacting with in the discussion?)

(6) Use Progressive Profiling - through instant (one-question) surveys, ask innocent questions that help you refine your understanding or assumptions about who a visitor is.

(7) Use Data Augmentation/Append - there are companies out there that have data on people.  You can buy that data to fill in the gaps in your own data about people's political views, shopping habits, credit history, browsing habits, etc.  (Most of my readers will think this is creepy and get mad at me for even mentioning it, but it is an option.)

Bottom line, reduce friction.  If the goal is to build a community who contribute to the discourse (increase page views, ad views and time spent on the site), make sure you're not preventing them from participating.  You want to make sure you're reasonably protected from trolls (and your community can help self-police) but you don't want to shut-out legitimate people who want to participate.  (Ok, so my funny comment... legitimate? Maybe not a great contribution the discourse but you almost had all kinds of information on me and the license to email me in the future.)

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Quote: Intent

If you want people to think - give them intent, not instructions.
-- David Marquet

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

New Now

It has been awhile since I've just sat down and posted. Surprisingly, it hasn't even really been on my mind.  But, it's long overdue. If I'm not careful, my end of the year summary of events isn't going to really have anything for December.

So... hi.  It's been awhile.  And this is going to be brief.  So, it's December.  I've in the past been concerned about "missing Christmas" - lamenting that I didn't feel Christmasy, that I didn't slow down, that I didn't cast aside enough stuff to make things more about Christmas.  In some ways, this is more true than ever this year.

So, new job, into the fifth week of it.  Week one I worked from home three days and from Seattle two. Ever since then, I've been in Bellevue every day.  That means an 65 to 75 minutes to get there and 70 to I-am-never-going-to-get-home-and-might-as-well-just-die-now minutes to get home.  I've found the best results by getting up at 5:30 and getting on the road as close to 6 as possible, and leaving work by 4:30 each night.  When I'm lucky, that gets me home before it's time for one or both of the children to get started on their bedtime routine.  (Ben because that means he'll be going to bed, Rachel because it means she'll be reading quietly in her room by herself.)  I've had to set a number of things aside, had to be a lot more picky about what I can do.  It does go back to what I was saying earlier this year about "not all time being created equal."  There's a number of things I can do *while* watching Netflix (like clean up after dinner, make the children's medicine, fold laundry, clean catboxes, etc.) but a lot I can't.  Also, I've found myself playing video games in my down time instead of reading. Fortunately, I've been getting some "reading" done with audiobooks during the drive.

Means trying to get to bed earlier, praying for a good night's sleep and then making sure I have enough caffeine to make it through the next day.  I wouldn't call it a grind - quite the contrary - but it sure is packed.  I'd love to have a shorter commute, but I can't retroactively go back eight years and choose to live somewhere else (plus, right now we're comparing 20 long commutes against 8 years of really, really short commutes) and I can't convince this city's only major employer not to leave just because of what it will do to the value of this house.

So I'm sitting here longer than I'd intended, but it feels good.  It doesn't feel like I'm writing anything all that interesting, but I'm writing, and I guess I'm glad for that.  It's also interesting that I haven't had any work-related things to write about.  I may be marveling at this new environment, I may be too engrossed in all that I'm pleased with, not sure.  I've captured a few things to write about, but haven't really felt all that compelled.

Still working on my consultancy as well.  Just have the one client.  I've had to adjust some of the ways and timing of the work I've been doing for them and they've been gracious and really encouraging, sticking with me during the transition and had some nice words for me when I made my news public about the abrupt ending of the last job.   I intend to eventually write about what happened but I'm still under a gag order.  There was no specifically identified term to what I signed but I'm pretty sure they can't indefinitely quell my freedom of speech.  Don't worry, I'm not sitting on anything incendiary, there's just some things I want to process through at the keyboard in a couple of months' time.

So, we're doing well, it's not exactly a "new normal" yet, but it's kind of like when you're coming out of an earthquake.  You know it's over and you've dusted yourself and you're taking inventory.  Life is resuming, but we're not sure yet, what all is different.

Yep, way too long.  Felt good.

Thursday, December 04, 2014