by Matthew Stollak on Thursday, May 31, 2012
One of my favorite concepts in management is salience - an event or a sign that readily attracts attention and makes the receiver react to it. As a professor, I always noticed it at the beginning of each semester. I meet a student for the first(?) time, and I suddenly see him or her 3 or 4 times around campus over the next few days. I may have seen that student before, but it had no resonance to me, so I ignored that information. Given we are bombarded with information, what gets our attention? What is signal and what is noise?
A different sort of salience occurs (and I am not sure it has a name) when I travel - on six out of ten trips, I randomly run into people I know. A couple of examples:
1. Several years ago, I was visiting my sister in Austin, TX. We decided to make a day trip to San Antonio and stop for some barbecue at Kreuz Market in Lockhart. Ten minutes into eating, in walks a former student. I've been teaching for 10 years at my current job, and have had a little more than 1600 students register for my classes in that time, with some registering for more than one (since I teach a variety of courses). What are the odds that I would run into someone I know in this tiny Texas town at that particular time? Oddly enough, I randomly ran into this same student at the Sweet 16 in Minneapolis a couple years earlier.
2. This Memorial Day weekend, Mrs. True Faith HR and I were in Minneapolis decided to grab a Juicy Lucy at the 5-8 Club. A couple bites in, a friend of Appleton walks in with a group of his friends. Again, what are the odds?
Is it a large social network? Is it a function of simply growing old, and the number of people you've encountered or impacted has grown so large that these random encounters are simply inevitable?
Louis C.K. has an old joke that goes, "Have you ever seen someone you don't know? Again? It's like God ran out of extras in the movie of your life"
What is capturing your interest right now? What are you paying attention to?
by Matthew Stollak on Wednesday, May 30, 2012
Last week, Victorio Milian ran a series on the future of HR from the perspective of those just graduating. He graciously asked for me to guest post from the perspective of the academic watching these excited men and women enter the workplace. In my post, "Learned Helplessness," I took a more Debbie Downer approach, arguing that the economy had taken an economic and psychological toll on the expectations of these Linksters. While I tried to end on an optimistic note, in the words of the Joker in "The Dark Knight, "Why so serious?!!?"
Perhaps it's because I've spent the last several Sundays watching "Girls" on HBO. Created by, and starring, 26-year-old wunderkind Lena Dunham, "Girls" comedically examines the lives of Hannah Horvath (Dunham) and her three friends as they struggle to find themselves after college. So, what insight can be drawn by a 44-year-old white male living in Northeast Wisconsin about 22-26 year old women? And what generalities can be drawn from a specific group of young white female twentysomethings living in New York City about the greater world and their cohort? You be the judge. However, despite its likely skewed cultural perspective, it is one of the few shows on TV exploring the work world at that age.
While the show is quite humorous (I usually laugh out loud at least twice per episode), Dunham paints a very interesting portrait of the work world. When we are first introduced to Hannah, she is at dinner with her parents where economic support from her parents is unexpectedly cut off. Hannah laments, "Do you know how crazy the economy is right now? I mean, all of my friends get help from their parents." She subsequently gets fired from her year-long unpaid internship to work on her sure to be successful memoirs, and refuses to take a job at McDonald's despite the pay and free fries. "When you get hungry enough, you'll figure it out," Hannah's boss tells her after he fires her. "Do you mean physically hungry or hungry enough for the job?" she asks. She confronts her parents and asks for $1,100 a month for support until she finishes her memoirs, which her parents blow off.
Now jobless, Hannah finds herself interviewing at a trade publication. The interview is going swimmingly well, with a lot of flirty repartee...it appears that she is going to land it and then....
Hannah: I read a statistic that said Syracuse has the highest incidents of date rape of any universityEpisode 4
Hannah: ...which weirdly went way down the year that you graduated
Hannah: That was a joke because I was saying that there was no more date rape because they figured out who was doing it and it was you
Interviewer: maybe you're not used to office environments like this but jokes about rape or rape and incest or any of that stuff, it's not office-okay...and so....I don't think this is gonna work out right now, but call us back 6 or 8 months down the road. We'll stay in touch.
Since Episode 2, Hannah apparently finds a job at a law office. Unfortunately, her boss sexually harasses her. When she talks to her co-workers, it turns out they condone his inappropriate "massages," ("you'll get used to it") as it means job security, and an iPod Nano on one's birthday.
Meanwhile, Hannah's friend Jessa has a job as a nanny (a common job amongst many of the students I teach). She takes the kids to a park, gets involved in a conversation with other nannies, and loses the kids (only to find them a few minutes later...the show is not that cruel).
Hannah decides the best way to confront the situation at work is to offer to sleep with her boss (in part, for a story for her memoirs). When he refuses, she replies, "I could sue you, you know." The boss laughs at her veiled threats, and despite her protestations, he still wants her to stay. Hannah subsequently quits.
Hannah returns home to East Lansing, MI (my hometown). Her mom asked her to pick up something at the drugstore, and she meets a former classmate, who has a stable job as a pharmacist. She also meets up with a classmate who wants to move to L.A. to be a dancer. When she tells the story to the pharmacist, Hannah notes, "Heather is moving to California to become a professional dancer, so that should all make us feel pretty sad and weird ... And nobody is telling her. She's going to go to L.A., and live in some shitty apartment, and she's going to feel scared and sad and lonely and weird all of the time." Ironically, she would like Heather's life. "Maybe I should move here. I wouldn't have to worry about rent all of the time, so that I can finally work on my book."
though when we see her routine,
From her perspective, work appears to be a scary place. There doesn't appear to be much competence for her cohorts to emulate. Meanwhile, 7 episodes in, we haven't seen her produce anything from her writing, and it doesn't appear her and her friends have any real aspirations. There's no desire portrayed to be successful at work, or even rich. Its all stasis.
Yes, its television, and, yes, it is a comedy. Competence doesn't produce drama or laughs. In the first episode Hannah states, “I think I’m the voice of my generation,”and then self-consciously recants. “At least I am a voice. Of a generation.” Again, we are hearing Dunham's voice, but it its one of the only ones in this media-saturated environment that is looking at the lives of post-college adulthood. I only wish there was a little more to cheer for.
by Matthew Stollak on Tuesday, May 29, 2012
Over the Memorial Day weekend, I had the time and opportunity to read Warren Littlefield's new missive "Top of the Rock: Inside the Rise and Fall of Must See TV." As the title suggests, it details through interviews with many of the major players, the phenomenal success NBC had on Thursday nights with such TV shows as Friends, Frasier, ER, Cheers, Will & Grace, Mad About You, & Seinfeld.
Reading it, William Goldman's famous rule about Hollywood came to mind - NOBODY KNOWS ANYTHING.
A telling quote in the book was from John Wells, executive producer and showrunner for ER, about the show:
The camera caught the camaraderie and the sense that they were in the trenches together. There's a lot of kismet that happens in these things. The cast just jelled. (emphasis mine).Kismet is right. Littlefield highlights many decisions that would have radically changed the trajectory of the shows America came to love. For example, look at casting:
- Imagine Fred Dryer and Julia Duffy, or William Devane and Lisa Eichhorn, instead of Ted Danson and Shelly, playing Sam and Diane on Cheers
- Imagine Steve Vinovich as Kramer, Larry Miller as George, and Megan Mullally as Elaine, instead of Michael Richards, Jason Alexander, and Julia Louis-Dreyfus on Seinfeld
- Imagine Teri Hatcher instead of Helen Hunt on Mad About You
- Imagine Lisa Kudrow as Roz instead of Peri Gilpin on Frasier
- Imagine Eric McCormack as Ross instead of David Schwimmer on Friends
- Imagine Nicollette Sheridan as Grace instead of Debra Messing on Will & Grace
Littlefield often called Thursday night, "the Night of Bests." The phrase "Must See TV" was coined at random from a guy who worked at NBC named Dan Holm. No research. No focus groups.
Over 100 artists were invited to create a version of the NBC peacock. John Miller, advertising and promotion czar of NBC, opined, "You have to end with the correct peacock. How you get there, we don't care." Similarly, he changed the credit format from full-frame to the side to not block the action on the screen.
Lots of decisions that could have had disastrous consequences if they went in a different direction.
John Wells was also quoted as saying, "There's an alchemy to TV, like anything else." Three examples from ER, Friends, & Will & Grace highlight the magic that happens when the right group of people are brought together.
Anthony Edwards notes,
Because the material was so good, we had to keep our game up. All of us. The writers, the actors, the art department, all of us.Similar, Noah Wyle said
I got spoiled on ER. I think all of us have gone in our careers and walked onto sets and said, "This is grossly inefficient, or this is very unprofessional, or I can't believe nobody has the esprit de corps like we had on ER," but the world doesn't work that way.
From the top on down, the crews don't really hustle like they did on ER, the writers don;t push the envelope, and they don't have the support from the executives and the network to take those risks and those chances anymore.Friends
David Schwimmer on the miracle of casting:
Having been on the other side of it now in terms of directing and producing, to find one magical actor who is just right for the role is difficult enough, but to find six and then to have them actually have chemistry with each other is just kind of a miracle. I think we were just lucky. I looked at the five of them (the rest of the cast of Friends), I watched their work, and I thought, "Everyone is just so talented and perfect for their character." And they grew into their characters and enriched them and deepened them.Will & Grace
Debra Messing recalls:
I remember the cast going over to Max (Mutchnick)'s house to do the very first reading of the script, and we were crying we were laughing so hard. I remember just looking around the table, looking at this Sean Hayes. It was like, "Who is this Sean Hayes guy? He is a genius."
To this day, I think Sean might be the most talented person I have ever worked with in my entire career. He is really touched with magic. And then Megan (Mullally). She literally can't say anything without making me laugh. Then the warmth between Eric (McCormack) and me. It felt like this best friendship had been in place for years. We didn't have to put any effort into it.HR IMPLICATIONS
We may write the best job descriptions, put together the best recruiting ad, and place it in the best locales, but nobody knows anything. Our recruiting pool is subject to the whims of those who see it and apply. The choice we make at the end of who to hire is a crapshoot. We hope to get Debra Messing and not Nicollette Sheridan or Ted Danson instead of Fred Dryer. We hope that the hire(s) we make can find he chemistry to those felt by the casts of ER, Friends, & Will & Grace.
Nobody Knows Anything!
by Matthew Stollak on Wednesday, May 2, 2012
Like many, I was saddened to learn about the death of Junior Seau, who allegedly committed suicide by shooting himself in the chest at the age of 43.
Much will be made about the possible connection between his death and the recent emphasis placed on the deleterious effects of the multitude of hits football players take, and, of particular concern, the rash of concussion-related impacts. Similarly, much will be made of the similarity to former chicago Bears Defensive Back Dave Duerson. According to Boston.com, "Duerson shot himself in the chest on Feb. 17 -- a method used so that his brain could be examined for symptoms of CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy), a trauma-induced disease common to NFL players and others who have received repeated blows to the head."
However, a little less emphasis is placed on the transition from work to post-work, aka retirement. Junior Seau had significant difficulty making that move. In August of 2006, he announced his first retirement from the San Diego Chargers. Four days later, he resigned with the New England Patriots. In January, 2010, he retired for a second time; this time for good.
Junior Seau isn't the only one. In a New York Times article a couple of weeks ago, former New York Jet Trevor Pryce describes his post-NFL life:
Pryce goes on to say:During my 14 years in the N.F.L., my favorite day was Monday. As long as I wasn’t preparing for surgery or being released, Mondays were special. They signified that I had made it through another week and was ready for another opponent. Even the soreness was oh, so sweet.How I miss those days.Now my Mondays go something like this: Work on my tennis serve; take a conference call with a Hollywood executive; get my three children to school; browse my favorite Web sites, none of them involving football; check my Words With Friends; and take the dog to day care.By then, it’s only 10:30 a.m.Welcome to the life of the secure and utterly bored former professional athlete.
Having retired way before my time, I have started to lose focus and drive. I’m retired from the game I loved. I’m retired from the perks, like getting a table instantly at my favorite restaurant. And I’m retired from the N.F.L. brotherhood. Passed by. At times, I feel ostracized....
“Early retirement” sounds wonderful. It certainly did that cold night in Pittsburgh. I was going to use my time to conquer the world.....
With millions of Americans out of work or doing work for which they are overqualified, I consider myself lucky. But starting from scratch can be unsettling. If you’re not prepared for it, retirement can become a form of self-imposed exile from the fulfillment and the exhilaration of knowing you did a good job.....
My guess is Seau faced the same cadre of issues as Pryce did. But, unlike Pryce, he found the lack of support, the missing adulation, etc., too hard to handle (Significant armchair psychologist going on here)During the six-month off-seasons, I pretty much educated myself, dabbling in music, Hollywood, journalism, real estate and everything in between, with varying degrees of success. I was able to do a lot in so little time. Now that I have all the time in the world, it’s amazing how little I accomplish every day. Sometimes, that’s a good thing. Most times not.
As Pryce noted, many are looking for work. Others want to retire, but cannot afford to. But, the economy is starting to improve; 401(k)s are growing (crossing fingers), and many will finally decide they have had enough with work and are ready to move on.
What are you doing as an HR manager to assist employees in this move? How could we avoid having more Junior Seaus in our own life experiencing?