Wednesday, December 24, 2014

The Reason for the Season

Photo by DeAngelo Jones
Over the years, I have grown to dislike Christmas. I would even say that I dread it. Instead of celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ or, more accurately, the slow ascent of the sun toward the Northern Hemisphere once more, heralding the lengthening of the days and the renewal of life in the Spring, it is a commercial holiday where people use material objects as a surrogate for real connection.

I've gotten more emails from Amazon, The Tie Bar, and JackThreads than I have from friends and family members. Not unlike my family and friends, when I do hear from these companies, they want something from me. Often times, I succumb to the constant intrusion into the sanctity of my autonomous life, buying a new shirt, pair of shoes, or giving the few bucks that I'm asked to "lend". God, I need another shirt, sweater, or bill to pay like I need a hole in the head (lobotomy maybe).

However, the best thing about the holiday season is the spirit of giving the permeates the ethos. This year, my company (Norwegian American Hospital) decided to have a toy drive in lieu of our usual "Adopt - a - Family". I was put in charge of the project. Given the low morale of the workers as evidenced by our engagement survey scores, I didn't know what to expect. Armed only with my name and the reputation for trustworthiness and competence that I had engendered over the fast few years, I humbly asked our employees for donations (both cash and toys).

Many of our employees are themselves living paycheck to paycheck. They can barely make ends meet and have some tough choices to make on a daily basis in their own lives. However, when confronted with the needs of the community at-large, they rose to the occasion! Hundreds of toys flooded into my tiny corner office. Employees walked up to me with envelopes filled with cash, some of significant amounts. In the end, we collected nearly 200 toys and $500 in cash.

On December 19th, we had our toy drive. There are no words to describe how honored I felt to be a part of this event. The kids that received the toys didn't know that they were poor. Their level of scrutiny concerning what we had to offer them was evidence of that. However, the level of appreciation and gratitude that their parents expressed was enough to break even Scrouge's heart. There was a literal and figurative sigh of relief from the parents in knowing that their children would have something in their stockings this holiday season.

The other aspect of the toy drive that amazed me was the dedication and teamwork by our employees, who took time from their very busy schedules to volunteer to brighten the lives of a few kids. I think that if you asked any of the volunteers, they would say that the most important work done that day was not accomplished in an office or conference room, but in the lobby of our hospital at that event.

We have out the remainder of our toys at a coat drive that took place last night. Hundreds of families lined the corridor to get winter coats for their children, something that those of us that are fortunate take for granted as a given. Once again, the parents were so grateful that their kids would not have to brave a harsh Midwestern winter with a sweatshirt or layers under a spring jacket.

To me, this is the essence of the holiday season. Yes, it is to give material objects, but only those that are truly needed and greatly appreciated. Most importantly, it is about creating shared experiences, opportunities to work together and enjoy the fruits of meaningful labor and, most importantly, to increase the amount of positive energy permeating the cosmos.

Photo by DeAngelo Jones

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Are Leaders Born or Made?

Yesterday, I attended new student orientation at The Chicago School of Professional Psychology.

During my breakout session with my academic advisor Dr. Charmon Parker-Williams, she proposed a question to the group of other advisees that has stirred something immense in my very being.

Dr. Parker-Williams asked whether leaders are born or made. Of the group of 10 advisees, 7 sided with "made", while 3 sided with "born". I was on the fence because I believe that it is a hybrid. Agnosticism not being a choice, I had to choose a side. In the end, I sided with "born".

Leadership, in the first place, is contextual. A leader in one situation may be a follower, or even a non-participant, in another. Leadership skills can be taught and developed. If I didn't believe that, why would I be studying I/O Psychology at such a high level? However, it is my fundamental belief that the qualities that allow for the learning and, eventually, the expression of these leadership skills are inherent at birth.

Who we are, our personality, is a conglomerate of who we are on a genetic level coupled with our experiences over time. This is the old nature/nurture paradigm. Who we are changes over time because our experiences morph in that timeframe. However, how we are able to express those changes over time is hard coded into the very essence of our being. A few examples.

For as long as I can remember, I have been a dedicated learner. I vividly remember reading my grandmother's mail and reading the newspaper to my grandmother because she was functionally illiterate. Over time, this developed into academic excellence at every level, up to this day.

I have always taken learning into my own hands. My mom was a good student, and my dad was very intelligent by all accounts. However, I did not grow up in an environment where there were many books, and education was not a concept that was emphasized in my family. Where did this thirst and desire come from?

Well, I believe that it was a combination of the genes that I was born with coupled with the situation that I was born into. I had to have the mind to read a newspaper written for adults at the ripe old age of 5, whilst growing up in the situation of having an illiterate grandmother, who I loved and cared deeply for.

Let's look at elite athletes versus very good athletes. Hall of Fame wide receiver Chris Carter frequently talks about his induction weekend at the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Chris brought his childhood friends with him to Canton. All of Chris' friends played sports with him as a youth, yet he was the only one that played professionally and, eventually, was immortalalized in the HOF.

Chris' friends all said that there was just "something different" about him, even as a young kid. What was that "something different"? Yes, it was the fact that he grew up in abject poverty.

That experience pushed him to pursue a better life. Chris also came from a family that produced several pro athletes. This fact alone speaks to both having examples of athletic excellence around him and, most importantly, the genetics to express this talent.

There is a razor thin line that separates elite athletes, and people in general, from great, average, good, and mediocre people (in any walk of life). That line is defined by what we generally observe to be grit, determination, will, desire, resilience and the like.

Can those qualities be taught? Yes, but on a superficial level. What causes those qualities to be hard coded? Do the precursors have to be present for the training to have something to attach itself to like a computer program must have a processor upon which to imprint the code?

Another good example is the psychological trait of sociopathy. Sociopathy has been proven by science to be a trait that one is born with. It is an inherited trait in fact. How sociopathy is expressed is the sum result of one's experiences over time.

Negative experiences coupled with improper training may yield a sociopath who becomes a rapist or pick pocket. Positive experiences coupled with more traditional training may yield a stock broker, CEO, lawyer, physician, or an elite athlete (all of these fields measure highly for the trait of sociopathy).

The quintessential example that I can elicit derives from the area of stem cell research. Biologist have discovered that stem cells are the basic building blocks of every component of organic bodies.

For example, scientist harvest stem cells from the umbilical cords of human babies, add a stimuli, and can then produce a liver, kidney, retina or other organ in the human body. Heretofore, scientists can not produce the stem cells themselves. Only God or nature, depending on your belief system, can perform this action.

A sculptor can chisel away at a block of granite or marbel, and create a beautiful statue, but they can not produce the stone itself. They harvest the block from a quarry. The quarry itself was formed by water and other elements shaping the base materials over eons. The base materials are organic materials that either fell from space or were formed from materials that are indigenous to the earth. Who or what formed those organic materials? Diamonds are another example of this analogy.

The question of whether leaders are made or born speaks to the very question that humans have asked since we became conscious beings. From whence came us?

As an I/O Psychologist, I am bound by objective data derived from observation and testing. I then use this data to create training & development plans that are tailored to individuals and that, ultimately, meet the needs and goals of these individuals and the organizations that these individuals work for and within.

To me, it is important to understand where a person comes from in order to facilitate where they are going in various contexts. A huge component of who we are, aside from our experiences, is how we are. This is the part that scares scientists to this day because it can't be explained through traditional scientific inquiry. We have mapped the human genome, but we can not explain the existence of the materials which compose it.

However, we can't ignore what we heretofore can't explain. Is this not the basis of scientific inquiry to seek answers where none appear to be? As I/O Psychologists, we must reconcile this seemingly unanswerable query in order to properly assist the people and organizations that we work for with becoming their best selves and institutions.

Such science has been used negatively in the past to justify the superiority or inferiority of certain races and genders. This misuse of knowledge can not scare us from reasonable inquiry because, in the end, we are the expression of our genes.

Our genes are the acorns that produce the evergreen. Our experiences, training, and education are the ornaments that adorn the fern, creating the Christmas tree. Let us not find ourselves in the abyss of valuing the ornaments at the expense of the tree.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Taking Initiative

I hate firing people. It's my least favorite part of being an HR professional. When someone gets fired, not only did the individual fail, but I can't help but to feel like the organization failed the individual.

I ask myself, what more could we have done to keep this employee? Did we effectively communicate the resources that the employee has at their disposal? Did we have them in the right job that accentuates their strengths and diminishes their weaknesses? Is our organizational structure conducive to success?

But, then, I remember this long lost concept known as Personal Responsibility. Yes, as an HR professional, it is my task to ensure that the organization is structured correctly, that training & development opportunities exist and are communicated, and to keep both the employer and the employee informed of and compliant with ever changing labor laws (to name but a few responsibilities).

However, the employee has to have some skin in the game as well. The employee has to make sure that they show up on time, are competent at their jobs (maintain licenses and certifications), provide excellent customer service to our patients and each other, and take an active role in shaping their own future in relation to training, development, and career advancement.

I'm afraid that, as Dr. Lovell alluded to in his quote, we have developed a society where people wait for things to happen instead of making things happen. In organizations, it may be a bureaucratic reporting structure that formalizes development at the expense of flexibility and creativity. But, what is it about people, as individuals, and society as a whole that breeds this lack of initiative? I'm not sure, but I'm guessing that allowing a 26 year old to stay on their parent's health insurance is a symptom of whatever IT is.

I encouraged the person that I had to let go today to take control of their life. They can create the future that they want if they are willing to make the sacrifices necessary. I encouraged them not to look at being fired as a sad thing, which is difficult to do when you're the one being fired, but as an opportunity to grow and become the person they are destined to be. I truly believe that everything happens for a reason, but you don't have to be a passive observer in your own life's journey.

As the sage Manly Palmer Hall once wrote, only those who live the cause can produce the effect.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Virtual Baseball, Great Organization

The one thing that I love about baseball video games is that it takes the spectator "behind the curtain" of what it takes to put a team on the field, Granted, it's in a virtual environment, but the games are so detailed, and the Artifical Intelligence so advanced, that the lines between reality and virtual reality are becoming blurred.

In the Franchise mode of most baseball games, you are responsible for everything from hiring coaches, to drafting players, to, ultimately, playing the game on the field. When you suck, you have no one else to blame but yourself. You bought the groceries. You cooked the food.

The parallels between being a baseball executive (real or vitual) and being the leader of any organization are not surprising. In both instances, you are establishing a foundation, and building upon that with talent. However, it's not about the quantity of talent you have, it's about the quality. In order to build a great baseball team (real or virtual) or a great organization, you need these building blocks.

Mission and Vision

Why does your team or business exist? What do you stand for? Stand against? What drives your passion for the work that you? The Mission and Vision of an organization is the foundation upon which the super structure will eventually be erected. The key to a good Mission and Vision is not the words on your website or signs in a locker room, but the ways that everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, live, breathe, and display the Mission and Vision everyday.

For example, when I think of Notre Dame, I don't think of a private, Catholic school known for its high academic standards, I think of:


The Mission and Vision can't mean one thing to executive management, and another to the janitor. It can't mean oe thing to the General Manager, and another to the lefty reliver out of the bullpen. All parties have to be on the same page, or you might as well not have a Mission and Vision at all. This is where Culture comes into play. Culture is how you LIVE the Mission and Vision of your organization. If a random person, who never heard of your company, walked into the front door, your Culture would tell you everything that you need to know about that company.

Colleagues have informal conversations by the water cooler, waiting by the clock to punch out, throwing impromptu dance parties, spreading negative gossip, and awarding extra days off for hard work are all signals of a organization's culture. How an organization lives and breathes its Mission and Vision in the form of Culture has a tremendous influence on whether people want to continue to work for you, come to work for you, or recomend you to someone.

If you have never heard of the Oakland Raiders, or even watched American football, the passion that the fans exude for their team resonates with you. The Oakland Raiders have established an organizational culture that transcends the doors of their facility.

Talent Selection

I've seen a lot of organizations (both in sports and in corporate America) try to attract talent before they knew what they stood for. That's like picking baby names before you've lost your virginity. If your organization has a Mission and Vision, and everyone has bought into it (Culture), then you're off to a good start. The next part of the equation is recruiting talent based on these principles.

If you're an organization that values quirkiness in your talent, then hiring a stuffy grouch is counterintuitive and antithetical to your values. In much the same way that a misplaced puzzle piece destroys the entire puzzle, having talent in your organization that doesn't fit the Culture can bring down the entire structure. Yeah, I know, it's not likely that one or two misplaced people will bring an entire organization to ruin.

Tell that to the 2012 Boston Red Sox...


...and the 2013 Boston Red Sox

Consistently compromising your values, as a person or as an organization, will bring ruin by a thousand cuts.

Training and Development

So, you've got your Mission and Vision. Everyone in the organization is on the same page, and actually live the values of the company (Culture). Your company is so awesome, that other people want to come and work for it. You're so committed to upholding the culture of the organization, that you won't just hire anyone. What now?

From an internal stability standpoint, employees want to get better. Some will take their personal and professional growth into their own hands, but most will need to have their hands help. It is imperative that organizations provide the resources that their employees need to get better at their jobs. On a baseball team, this might mean building a state of the art practice facility. For a corporation, this could take the shape of a Leadership Development program. Aside from compensation and management, the opportunity for growth is a key component of engagement and satisfaction.

From a market standpoint, your competitors aren't resting on their laurels. They're training and developing the hell out of their talent, positioning themselves to take advantage of opportunities in the market. A car is only as good as the engine, and the engine of most organizations are their people.

Some examples of this principle in operation in baseball would be the success of the St. Louis Cardinals, Boston Red Sox and (eventually) Pittsburgh Pirates minor league systems. They turned negatives (consecutive losing seasons, high draft picks, low fan support), and turned them into positives (Multiple World Series titles for the Cardinals and Red Sox; first playoff appearance in 20 seasons for the Pirates). Examples in corporate America would be Apple, Amazon, and Grub Hub (to name but a few)

Begin With the End in Mind

I heard this phrase at a seminar on Employee Immersion (New Employee Orientation is lame now). The speaker said that, in order to create an Employee Immersion process that is sustainable, you have to decide what type of employee you want the orientee to be at the end, when they are out on the floor without supervision, and work backwards.

This is not just an organizational principle, it is a life principle. You should determine what you want to make of your life, and then work backwards, laying the ground work to eventually attain your goals.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

The Importance of Observation

I play a lot of video games.

All of the experts say that the best way to deal with the stress of work is to do something that you love. I love video games. Specifically, sports video games.

In video games, you're God. In sports video games, you're the modern incarnation of God, the General Manager! You control the players on your team, their attributes and, since they're not real people, you can trade them indiscriminately without considering how the move will affect their school-aged children, spouse, or tax liability. Fictitious characters governed by artificial intelligence don't have tax liabilities.

I play a lot of Major League Baseball 2K14. I love the game of baseball more than sex and running, and I love sex and running. Any chance I get to watch or play baseball is like a combo spa day/psychotherapy session.

Like anything in life that's good, once you have a little bit of it, you want a little more. Positive reinforcement is amazing like that. Whilst playing 2K14 for several hours, putting up exceptional video game stats as usual, I began to think of ways that I could maximize my output as a batter (although my power stats are sick, I'd like to bring down the number of strikeouts).

Thinking back on my days as a real life baseball player, coupled with all of the coaching/analysis/opinions I've received or heard concerning this subject, I thought that the most effective way to increase my offensive output would be to see more pitches. What a novel thought.

As simple of a concept as this seems, when you're hitting the pixels off of the digital ball, your premises begin to change. You get caught in the proverbial "swing hard in case you hit it" mentality. Taking more pitches, even when you're going good, serves many useful purposes:
  1. If you're unfamiliar with the pitcher's repertoire, taking more pitches allows you to see what's in his arsenal.
  2. If you know what pitches he throws, you can gauge the velocity (speed + direction) with which he throws those pitches on that given day.
  3. With advanced metrics, pitchers can easily recognize and exploit the weaknesses of the batter. Inversely, watching how a pitcher works you yields insights into what the other team(s) perceive your weaknesses and strengths to be.
  4. Within the life cycle of an at-bat, especially in video games, the pattern of pitches, if plotted out like a dot graph, usually form a linear equation. If you're really, really smart, you can calculate the equation in your head to predict the location of the next pitch. If you're just normal, like me, you can take an educated guess on the location of the next pitch just based on the pattern laid out by the previous pitches.
  5. Over an extended period of time, usually 2-3 at-bats, a discernible pattern emerges. For example, if the pitcher started your initial at-bat with a cut fastball on the outside corner, chances are the pitcher will start subsequent at-bats with a cut fastball on the outside corner, until either you adjust or the game conditions dictate a change in strategy.
These observations are useful, in and of themselves, for the avid player of MLB 2K14. However, the Organizational Psychologist in me has this primal urge to draw comparisons between these insights and how they can be used to impact your career.

Taking Pitches

Taking pitches in baseball is analogous to "feeling out a situation" in the workforce. If you are new to a company or career, it is wise to sit back and observe your environment. Who's in charge (by job title)? Who's in charge (by personality)? How do your co-workers interact with each other? Are people waiting by the door at 5pm? Once you have as good of an idea as any human being can have regarding the behavior of other humans, then you can interject yourself into the fabric and culture of the company in a more strategic fashion. If you jump in full frontal, then you're no better than the hitter that swings hard in cases he hits something.


This is key when you're familiar with some of your colleagues on a personal (or informal) level, but aren't quite sure what type of work animal they are. A person can be joking and jovial in a non-professional setting, and a raging maniac at work. It's important to observe these variations in behavior, so that you're prepared to make adjustments as needed.


In much the same way that how a pitcher pitches you speaks volumes about how they perceive your strengths and weaknesses, how people treat you speaks volumes about how you are perceived. One issue that constantly comes up in my performance reviews is that I can be unapproachable. I perceive this me just being serious and stoic like I've been since childhood, but to people who haven't known me since childhood, I'm just an asshole. I've actively began to manage my body language, tone of voice, and hand gestures to match the affect of the person that I'm speaking with. No one likes receiving feedback, especially negative feedback, but its an invaluable tool for the person that wants to grow and prosper.

Patterns (Micro)

Our initial perceptions of people are remarkably accurate in predicting their likely behavior. People just are who they are for the most part. With a little information about the person (zodiac sign, Myers-Briggs inventory, list of prescribed medicines), you can predict who's going to show up late for that meeting, who stirs up trouble and, on a positive note, who to align yourself with for upward mobility.

Patterns (Macro)

Past performance is the best predictor of future performance. On the macro level, looking at patterns of behavior and performance can help you identify high performers, disengaged employees who, with a shot in the arm, could be top performers, and low performers who should be disposed of at all costs (as just one example).

It should come as no surprise that meaningful insights into life can come from an artificial reality. Human beings create these artificial environments as labs for experimenting with the human condition (with the potentially detrimental effects). One of the most important faculties to cultivate, for our personal as well as our professional lives, is the ability to observe your environment. The data gleaned from meaningful observation provides insights into how you should approach others and, in turn, how others perceive and make use of you. With this data, we can add some stability to what appears to be and, in some cases actually is, the seemingly random nature of human interactions.

Batter Up!

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Wednesday Witticisms

Tuesday night was a very interesting night in sports television. Here are the 5 events that grabbed my attention:

Looks like the Cleveland Cavaliers got a mulligan on their 2013 selection of Anthony Bennett. If he improves just slightly from year 1 to year 2, it will be like having 2 first overall draft picks (unless the new guy sucks, too).

Yankee living legend Derek Jeter played his last night game at Wrigley Field on Tuesday night. The Cubs presented Jeter with a piece of the iconic scoreboard. In return, Jeter gave the Cubs a signed picture of the Marlins winning the 2003 World Series.

Former NFL players are suing the league for prescribing pain killers to mask the pain of injury, getting the players back on the field quicker, and for withholding diagnosis of serious injuries. In other news, snow is white and heat is hot. No one forced guys to take a bunch of pills to play. Players took the drugs because they wanted to play. Now, the withholding diagnosis stuff - that might play. With all of the recent lawsuits, what's the future of the NFL as the nation's most popular spectator sport? If the ratings from the 2014 NFL Draft tell us anything, the future is still bright.

The Miami Heat beat the Indiana Pacers 84-81, evening the best of 7 Eastern Conference Finals series at 1 game a piece, heading to South Beach. LeBron and D. Wade are officially the Nasty Boys of team pro sports. Best Tag Team...EVER.

On an eerily similar note to the NFL story, Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel profiled the widespread use of pain killers and masking agents on race horses, leading to horses breaking down mid-race, killing the horses and, in most cases, severely injuring the jockeys. Veterinarians say that giving painkillers to race horses is an easy way to supplement their income, especially since the practice is widespread. On the owners and trainers end, a horse isn't profitable unless they race. A horse breaks down, you put it down and move on. All of the comparisons between football players and race horses aren't just hyperbole.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Boys Kissing Boys on the Gridiron

Two admissions.
  1. I watched every single pick in the 2014 NFL draft. It was a bucket list item. I've become so enthralled with talent acquisitions, both in my career in Human Resources, as well as my second career as a sports video game General Manager. It was fun to follow along and strategize with the teams. I also got to compare the Bears draft to other drafts, minus the effluvia that the sports writers spew.
I don't know why I had the gut reaction that I did. In my lifetime on the north side of Chicago, I have seen many men kiss each other. I've kissed a few men myself, and enjoyed it. I understand that there are people who are sexually attracted to people of the same gender. I also understand that, for the rest of us who think that we're straight, sexuality is fluid. My crutch is that I'm not used to seeing it on tv. It's a very weak crutch.
No matter what team officials say, Michael Sam became the first SEC Defensive Player of the Year not to be selected in the first 2 rounds partially due to his decision to be brave, and live as an openly gay man. The NFL likes bravery, as long as it's between the white lines.
All of the draft "experts" on television and radio cite Sam's position (he was a pass rushing linebacker , or "tweener" in college), limited athletic ability, and inconsistent numbers sacking the quarterback as objective reasons why Sam was selected in the 7th Round. I have to admit, the experts almost had me until some guy from (insert Division II school in Minnesota) was drafted before Sam. Hell, the Bears drafted a punter in the 5th round.
Are you telling me that a straight punter is worth more than a gay defensive lineman...who played in the toughest conference in college football (the SEC)...and was the best defensive player in the toughest conference?
As brave as Michael Sam is for his revelations, he can't break the "macho man" veneer that the NFL has put over the imperfections (or rather reality) of their employee's private lives. We are naive to think that Michael Sam is the only gay player in the NFL. He's just the first to admit it. I don't know what Michael Sam hopes to accomplish with the podium that he now has, but if his hope was to help create an environment where gay athletes could be themselves, without repercussions, Mr. Sam got the same message that we all got from this weekend's selection meeting:
"It's okay to be gay in the NFL, just as long as you marry a woman while you're playing, and then come out once you retire."
Michael Sam's jersey is the 2nd highest selling jersey of all 2014 draftees, 2nd only to the draft's other darling Johnny Manziel. If it's one thing that the NFL knows, it's how to count money.

Change is always slow to come. Teams in multiple professional sports wouldn't draft or sign black players, until they realized that they were good and realized that, no matter what consumers say out loud, their money speaks louder.

The same will happen with Michael Sam and subsequent openly gay players in the NFL. Let the people on anonymous discussion boards and Twitter spew their hatred and vitriol. So far, the money says that the multi billion dollar LGBT consumer base is squarely behind Sam. I have no doubt in my mind that, when Sam adds his talents to an already fearsome defensive line in St. Louis, the very people that ostracized him will join in the cacophony of cheers.

So, back to my first question. Why was I so freaked out by Sam kissing his boyfriend on live television? I guess, deep down inside, I was jealous. Jealous that he was drafted by a NFL team, and jealous that he got to spend it with the person that he loves.

That's a me issue, not a Michael Sam issue.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Why Donald Sterling Had to Go

When I first heard the surreptitiously recorded audio of Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling imploring his mistress (who happens to be black and Mexican) not to bring "black people" to Clippers games or to publicize her affiliation with them, my first thought did not turn to racism.
My first thought was, here is an old man, with a much younger woman, who is tapping into deeply entrenched stereotypes regarding the prowess and libido of the black man. If the term exists, it appears that Sterling was suffering more from a psychosexual fetish with the black male body in relation to his relationship with his mistress. Not surprising since he owns a team in a league that is composed of nearly 70% black male bodies.
However, as the story unfolded, and articles written by the likes of Bomani Jones, Peter King, and Jamele Hill about Sterlings racially tinged real estate dealings began to resurface, it became clear that Sterling has some deep seeded hatred for racial minorities (Sterling is Jewish btw).
Newly minted NBA Commissioner Adam Silver delivered the harshest blow that the NBA Constitution and by-laws allow - banning Sterling from all NBA related activities for life, and hinting that he will push for the Board of Governors to vote to force Sterling to sell the team. Early indications (along with past behavior) point to a short, but virulent legal fight between Sterling and the league. In the end, the NBA will win, the Clippers franchise will get a new owner, and we will be back on track to achieving the post-racial society that everyone thinks happened in 2008.
The reason that Donald Sterling is no longer welcome in the NBA is not due to race, but to finances. A very small portion of the NBA's multi-billion dollar largess is due to ticket sales and concession. The rest of the pie, and the very existence of the NBA, is predicated on television contracts, advertising and naming rights, and the sell of merchandise. By making the comments that he made, Sterlings alienated the African-American community, and the folks trying to appeal to black people. Although African-Americans fall far behind whites and certain other minorities when it comes to wages, savings, and wealth, African-Americans SPEND a lot of money. If the NBA and its owners did nothing, they would be effectively alienating the largest consumer base for their products. Sterling had to go.
The second piece to the puzzle are the players. As I alluded to earlier, nearly 70% of the athletes in the NBA are black. Anyone who has ever had to deal with labor relations, or work on a  team of any sort, know that a team divided will soon collapse on itself. If the Clippers players refused to play last night's playoff game against the Golden State Warriors, the ripple effect would have permeated throughout the sports world, ending at the bottom of the lint filled pockets of the owners. Long term, players refusing to play for the Clippers franchise would've eventually crippled the team to the point of dissolution, taking a hefty chuck of the value of the 29 other NBA teams with it. Sterling had to go.
Lastly is the way that the audio of Sterlings comments went viral. 30 years ago, the only way that a tape like this would've gotten out is if the FBI was spying on you, you pissed the wrong person off, and the tape got leaked. Now, any citizens is a bonafide contractor for the NSA.
Once the tape was out, the Democrats on the left patted themselves on the back, saying "at least we're not Donald Sterling". Republicans on the right rushed to defend Sterling, defending his right to be ignorant to their xenophobic base. Meanwhile, the vast middle looked on wondering why this is even important. Whether what Sterling had to say is a pivotal moment in the Civil Rights movement can be debated. From a practical business standpoint, the cancer was out there and spreading, and the NBA had to cut the cancer away to keep it from spreading to their other business interest - both foreign and domestic. Sterling had to go.
While, on the face of things, it doesn't sit well with me that a person could lose ownership of their property because they make impolite statements in what is assumed to be privacy, I understand from a business standpoint why Donald Sterling had to be banned from the NBA. Yes, we do have freedom of speech in the United States. However, that doesn't shield you from the consequences of your speech. Just ask anyone who has threatened a public servant. The higher you go, the more you have to lose, and the harsher the consequences look.
What I don't want to happen is for the synchophants on the left to start glad handing each other , like they accomplished something in forcing the ouster of  Donald Sterling that years of protests, litigation, and deaths couldn't bring to Africans in America. The very people on the left that claim to be on the side of black people have served to handicap the independence of African-Americans by casting them children that need protection in perpetuity.
What I don't want to happen is for the right to use this as yet another example of the impending black caliphate that Barack Obama and other black people are trying to usher in here in America. If every right wing nut lost their job and property because they made a bone headed remark, the number of people on public assistance would increase exponentially.
The lesson here is a business lesson and a lesson in living in this connected world.
  1. Once you say something, you can' un-say it.
  2. Always assume that you're being recorded.
  3. If it sounds wrong in your head, it will probably sound worse out loud.
  4. Don't trust your mistress (she is your mistress).
  5. Related to # 4, don't talk bad about black people when your mistress is half black.
  6. In the end, people are going to cover their own ass, so don't be surprised when your friends scatter when you say dumb shit.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Why Wisconsin Sucks

Yesterday, Milwaukee Brewers fans showed why Wisconsin is the worst state in the Union. They gave a standing ovation to 2-time PED cheater (and character assassin) Ryan Braun. For those of you who have missed baseball for the past year or so, Braun initially came under suspicion when his B urine sample tested positive for PEDs. Braun Summarily attacked the character of the urine sample handler. Braun dodged that bullet.

Then, in the middle of last season, Braun was found to have a relationship with the now infamous Biogenesis Lab in Miami (where Braun went to college). Biogenesis was found to have supplied numerous MLB players with undetectable PEDs and testosterone laced lozenges. Braun was suspended for 65 games.

Now, Braun makes his triumphant return to the sound of cheers from his sycophants. Brewers fans, and any person riding the fence on the PED issue, you can't have your cake and it it too. You can't boo Sosa, McGwire, Peralta, and others that were suspected of using PEDs and then turn around and give arguably the second most notorious PED offender (behind Alex Rodriguez) an honor usually reserved for returning war heroes and great Broadway performances.

But that underlines the very fanatical and irrational nature of the fan. As long as the guy or gal is wearing the laundry of my team, I'll absolve that player of anything, even murder. However, if it's another guy or gal in another team's laundry, and God forbid it's a heated rival like the Cardinals, then that player becomes the worst person in the world and the very embodiment of evil incarnate in the world.

I myself have gone back and forth on this issue. I became an invested baseball fan in the summer of 1998, when Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire had the entire sports world held captive with their seemingly (and suspected) super human feats. I am also guilty of yelling "A. Fraud" when Alex Rodriguez comes to the plate or "Fraud, Fraud, Fraud" when Braun steps into the batter's box at Wrigley Field.

I finally came to the conclusion that I don't care either way. Clean or not. PEDS or not. The hardest thing in all of sports (other than playing quarterback in the NFL) is to hit a 95 MPH fastball or spot a slider right on the outer third of the plate all while, I don't know, playing more games than any other major sports league in the world! If there was a pill out there that could unlock even 3% more of my brain capacity, thus insuring me fame and fortune in my career, I'd take two!

Professional sports on the macro level, and baseball on the micro level, is a multi billion dollar, highly competitive venture. A professional athlete has a very narrow window of time to cash in on their talents. Couple this with the fact that young, talented players are always on your heels, I can understand why a professional athlete would do everything they can to get a competitive edge. Let's not forget that MLB and the MLB player's union weren't too concerned with PEDs in their sport when the turnstiles were spinning like the Wheel of Fortune.

Scenes like the one depicted in Milwaukee essentially show the fickle nature of people in general. Whether it's a disgraced athlete, corrupt politician, or a family member or close friend accused of a serious crime, there's nothing a well developed PR campaign can't combat.

And when you're talented and the fans are on your side, you don't even need PR. You have everything that you'll ever need. A blind, unthinking herd of sheep looking to be amused.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Time for a Career Change

I take the Ashland bus to work everyday. On my way to work, I notice people performing various jobs. In years past, I wouldn't have given a second thought to a guy selling newspapers or someone washing car windows. However, as a Human Resources professional, I am on the front lines of the skills deficit that has the potential to lower America's economic standing in this Brave New World of global markets.

Rather than being yet another talking head, writing a eulogy for the death of American exceptionalism, I''d like to talk about how we can give some of the low-skill jobs that I see everyday a 21st Century makeover.

Newspaper Salesman

In the age before there was wide use of radio, television, and before the Internet was invented, newspaper salesmen were an integral part of the communication infrastructure of our burgeoning nation.

Now, with newspaper sells in a free fall, the move towards online content, and the prevalence of news from alternative sources such as Twitter, seeing a newspaper salesman in like watching a walking, talking, dead end career

Alternative Career: I envision a day when newspaper salesmen will be at kiosks on street corners and in airports. There will be little to no paper. There will be nothing but newspaper and magazine covers, with bar codes. Patrons pay scan the bar code of the newspaper or magazine that they want to read, the cashier is paid electronically, and the patron walks away with their reading materials.

Car Window Cleaner

We've all been in traffic when "that guy" rolls up on our car with his bucket, window cleaner, and rag. Before you can hit the gas and get out of this situation, the guy has sprayed your windshield, wiped all of the dead bugs off, and comes around to the driver side for payment. You throw him a couple of bucks and zoom away.

How a person gets into a situation where they are washing windshields in the middle of the street is a topic for another post. With drive-in and do-it-yourself car washes, as well as the ever present window cleaner at most gas stations, the random street window washer is not a sustainable career in the 21st Century.

Career Alternative: On demand car washing. Americans are sooooooooo busy these days, that we can't be expected to wash our own car, let alone drive somewhere just to have someone do it for us. Let's meet in the middle. How about a business model where you download an app, schedule a car wash and cleaning at your residence by a trusted "Car Beautician", all pre-paid. The only thing you have to do is leave your car outside and have a reliable source of water. All the car washer has to do is show up and collect his or her money.

Grocery Store Clerk

Ah, yes, the Grocery Store Clerk. That friendly, smiling face that manages to miss the bar code on your loaf of bread, so they squeeze the whole loaf so that the bar code "emerges".

The grocery store market is already one with low margins, high overhead, and fickle customers with an ever increasing array of products to separate customers from their dollars.

To increase these margins, and to improve the customer desire for a fast, accurate experience, grocery store chains are going to self-service kiosks, where customers scan, bag, and pay for their own groceries. In the much the same way that ATM machines are making bank tellers extinct, self-service kiosks will eventually make grocery store clerks a thing of the past (remember when you didn't have to pump your own gas?).

Career Alternative: Personal grocery shoppers. Yeah, I know, services like Peapod and Amazon's new grocery delivery service are already in the market. Not so fast! You tell Peapod and Amazon specifically what groceries you want. What about a person that knows your diet and your tastes, and does your grocery shopping based on these preferences. They do the shopping, drive the groceries to your residence, and load them in your refrigerator.

Whether it's the guy by the Dunkin Donuts that knows that you always get a iced coffee and you always pay with cash, or the guy at the bus stop, with a 40 oz. beer in one hand, and a cup full of $1 bills in the other, we've all had the experience of making the acquaintance of a random person using empathy to separate us from our hard earned dollars.
From the perspective of the panhandler, it's an unenviable place to be in when you depend on the kindness of others for your survival. With unemployment at an all time high, empathy on the decline, and fresh new crop of homeless veterans set to return home from America's latest ventures in nation building, the average person will encounter more and more people in need of assistance. This will be unsustainable, for the individuals that depend on our charity as well as for the future prosperity of our nation.
Career Alternative: Crowd Source Funding
I know, you're like, "DeAngelo has officially lost touch with reality." Have I? Look at how many people walk past the StreetWise guy or the homeless woman on the street, but they are more than willing to give massive sums of money to a random family in a Third World country, to build irrigation wells or mosquito nets to prevent malaria.
I think that a savvy homeless person could use the power of the Internet to raise significant sums of money around a cause, such as training and education for returning vets, clean needles for intravenous drug users, or blankets and warm clothes for the homeless during the winter months. Take 10% off the top to cover your "overhead", and now you've got a career that helps those in similar circumstances to yours.
As you can tell by now, the vast majority of this post was written tongue in cheek. The people that I described above annoy me just like they annoy anyone else. However, they are human and they weren't born into that situation.
As a society, both domestically and globally, we have to begin to find creative ways to meet our most vulnerable citizens where they are, gauge their skills and talents, and transform those skills and talents into careers that can move the poor and unemployed into gainful employment, and move the working poor into jobs where they don't have to choose between health care and food.
In my opinion, bureaucratic job programs are a part of the solution, as long as these programs foster independence and self-sustainability in the people who benefit from the program. Many of the people that I mentioned above already have business acumen, all be it in a non-traditional sense. Let's cultivate this latent business acumen and bring these folks put of the shadows of our society.
If we can successfully do this as a nation, America will continue to be a dominant economic and military power on the globe while nations such as India, Russia, and China continue to carry the yolk of a society where all people are not allowed to pull their own weight, and the benefits and responsibilities that come along with this freedom.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Interview with an Aspiring Human Resources Professional

Below is the transcript of an interview that I did with Elizabeth De La Torre, a Human Resources student at Roosevelt University. In the interview, Elizabeth and I discuss the traits that a student looking to go into Human Resources management should have, what their expectations should be, and how Human Resources professionals can leverage their skills to become leaders in their organizations.

EDLT: How did you get to your current position?  What was your career path?

DBJ: I got my current position after being an HR Representative at United Way of Metro Chicago for 2 years. I majored in Organizational Psychology as an undergrad as well as a grad student, so a career in HR is on my career path.

EDLT: What skills or knowledges did you find most helpful when getting started in the HR/HRD field.  What academic courses did you find most useful in preparing you for a career in HR/HRD?

DBJ: As a professional in HR in the 21st century, it’s important to have good analytical skills and be able to effectively use programs, such as Excel and SPSS, to provide leaders with meaningful HR metrics. It is also helpful to have good customer service skills. HR is a people industry, so you have to be able to talk to different people across an organization. Think of the times that you have received bad customer service. Did it make you want to go back to that company or recommend it to a friend?

The courses that I found most helpful were Statistics, Organizational Psychology, Consumer Psychology, and Marketing.

EDLT: What are some obstacles that I should be prepared to face when getting started in HR/HRD?  How might I overcome these obstacles?
DBJ: The main obstacles that you will need to overcome are:
  • Being the point person for every HR related law, policy, or procedure in the organization. You become the expert on these subjects when you work in HR.
  • Being patient with employees, many of whom will be older than you, who will look to you to explain their benefits, paychecks, tuition reimbursement, and other employee relations issues.
  • Be prepared to find creative solutions to problems, due to a lack of funding. The more you can do with less, the better prepared you will be for a career in HR.
  • To overcome all of these obstacles, learn as much about employment law as you can. Also, set your vision high, but set your expectations low. In corporate America, you will quickly learn the difference between being an optimist and a realist.
EDLT: How would you describe a “typical day” in the life of an HR/HRD professional within your organization?  What are the routine assignments in your job?

  • Typically, I come in about an hour before my scheduled start time, to catch up on emails and voicemails.
  • I typically have 2-3 projects that I’m working on outside of my day-to-day job duties.
  • I answer phone calls and emails throughout the day, from employees who need assistance with a system that HR manages or who have questions about HR related functions.
  • I make it a point to take lunch every day. This provides the fuel that I need to maintain peak performance all day.
  • I also use my lunch period to read the newspaper, magazine, and journal articles pertaining to HR related functions.
  • I try to speak to each member of the HR team at least once a day, because we rarely have time to speak when it gets busy.
EDLT: What are some of the things that motivate or inspire you about your work?

DBJ: I’m inspired by the employees that I work for and with. Many of the employees live in Humboldt Park, where my hospital is located. Many of the employees also receive their healthcare services here. This is truly THEIR hospital, and I want to do as much as I possibly can to make sure that THEIR hospital is the best in the nation.

I’m also motivated by the work that needs to be done. It is challenging work and, in my opinion, that’s the only work worth doing. If I can find a way to make my work in HR more efficient, maybe it will save the hospital money that can then be used to increase pay for our employees.

EDLT: What are some of the things that you dread or dislike about your work?

DBJ: I dislike the bureaucracy in the organization. It seems like you have to go through several layers of management just to get a poster approved. I understand that every organization needs leadership, but I would also like the autonomy to produce work on my own, especially work that doesn’t cost anything to create, but could potentially yield more revenue for the organization.

I also dislike employees that just show up for a pay check. I understand that nearly 70% of all U.S. workers are dissatisfied with their jobs. However, there are many more Americans who don’t have a job. Get out of the way and let the people who want to work, and who appreciate working, work.

EDLT: What are some of the typical entry positions in HR/HRD in your organization?

  • HR Specialist
  • Recruiter
  • Administrative Assistant
EDLT: What are some of the short-term goals that you have in your career?

  • Complete Masters of Arts degree in Organizational Psychology
  • Gain more advanced understanding of HR metrics
  • Obtain PHR certification
  • Enhance skills in Training & Development
  • Gain managerial experience
EDLT: What are some of your long-term goals you hope to obtain?

  • Obtain Ph.D or Psy.D in Organizational Psychology
  • Become VP of Human Resources or Chief HR Officer
  • Become a consultant and thought leader in the areas of organizational development and leadership
  • Retire with enough money to live on, with enough left over to pass on to my descendants.
EDLT: Any career advice or guidance you can give me?

  • Do what you love to do. Don’t study something just to get a job. Do what you love, and the money will follow your passion.
  • Build your social network.
  • Use tools like LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter to connect with like-minded people, even if they’re not in your chosen profession.
  • Also, use social networks to build your brand. Become a thought leader in the area(s) that you’re most passionate about.
  • Don’t forget about in-person networking! Go to committee meetings and social events, both related to your profession and related to your interests, if the two differ.
  • Cater your resume to accentuate what you’ve done, not what you hope to do. Use specific details and metrics to paint a picture of your previous contributions.
  • If you have limited work experience, accentuate your volunteer experience.
EDLT: There is a general definition of what HR/HRD is. How would you define HR/HRD?

DBJ: My definition of HR is providing the best service, to all employees and applicants, in a respectful and courteous manner, in support of the mission and vision of the organization.

EDLT: If there anything I didn’t ask that you would like to share? Something important you feel all future HR/HRD students should be aware of?
  • Make sure that you have a passion for people before entering a career in HR. If you don’t like people, you should choose a different career.
  • Wear as many hats as you can in HR. Learn recruitment, employee relations, compensation, and counseling.
  • But specialize. Once you’ve worn all of the various HR hats, find a specific area that you’re passionate in, and become an expert. Experts get paid, not generalists. For example, I’m passionate about HR metrics and technology, so I am positioning myself as an expert statistician and HRIS administrator.
  • Look for crossover opportunities. Many of the skills that you learn as a HR professional are transferable to other jobs. Don’t box yourself into HR. Instead, use the expertise that you learn in HR to make paths to other areas of the organization.