Monday, February 25, 2008

Bureaucrats Get a Bad Rap

I recently received a phone call from a long-time friend who happens to be a Libertarian. I remember some of his long tirades about the evils of government and particularly how bad bureaucrats are. Well, Norbert just qualified for Social Security. With only a modicum of chagrin, he decided that he would indeed take the benefits. It seems that Norbert had fallen upon some hard times and his business endeavors didn’t work out and the Social Security check was a godsend.

But this isn’t the only change in Norbert. It seems that he now thinks that bureaucrats can be quite fine people. He said that the people at the Social Security office were extremely nice, helpful, and efficient. They helped him track down missing documents, helped him fill out the forms, and were very supportive.

Why is it that there are so many people like Norbert who like to bash bureaucrats? Many seem to believe if we could only get rid of the “bureaucrats” life would be better. They also ask “Why do we need bureaucratic regulation?” I can think of a few reasons such as the savings and loan debacle, poison pet food from China, lead paint on children’s toys, tainted meat, and the recent mortgage meltdown. What do you think? Maybe we should keep some of the firefighters and police who protect our streets and the foresters who fight the forest fires.

I agree with Alexander Hamilton and James Madison when they wrote, “If men were angels, no government would be necessary.” I wonder if I could design a politician’s version of the Workplace Attitudes Test.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

How Does One Get a High Warning Signal on the Workplace Attitude Test?

When a job candidate takes the Workplace Attitude Test it is possible to get a warning signal score on one or more of the nine attitudes tested. A high score or warning signal could indicate the type of individual that David Brooks of the New York Times refers to as “Mad, Bad and Dangerous to Know.”

Overall, it usually identifies someone who has difficulty getting along with others. I will explain how this is calculated after we look at the attitudes that are measured. My research has shown that all nine are relevant to getting along with others in the workplace

Judgmental versus accepting
Propensity to defend one's rights, a strong sense of right and wrong, may have a compulsion to intervene in a controversy.

Vindictive versus forgiving
Tends to keep track of obligations as well as perceived slights and insults, may
have the propensity to persist in the attempt to “correct” the situation.

Adversarial versus accommodating
Limited understanding of the needs and desires of other people and generally- accepted social obligations.

Egocentric versus people oriented
May be disinclined to assist fellow workers, limited obligation to customers, and a general unwillingness to make sacrifices for the good of the organization.

Entitled versus unassuming
May assume that they are not being rewarded sufficiently, tends to see work as an obligation rather than an opportunity, and may have a sense of entitlement.

Undisciplined versus self-disciplined
Limited commitment to finish projects without supervision.

Insubordinate versus respectful
Tends to doubt people in authority and the chain of command, may question that "rank has its privileges," oftentimes unwilling to seek help from a superior.

Risk-Inclined versus cautious
Generally unwilling to delay decisions in order to get more information, disinclined to check with others, and limited regard for record keeping.

Non-Traditional versus traditional
Oftentimes little desire to understand past events, rules and regulations, or work-related ceremonies.

Each of these attitudes can be assumed to exist on a continuum. For example, one’s attitude can go from very judgmental to very accepting. This is determined by asking five questions for each of the attitudes and providing three possible answers for each question. Here is an example of a judgmental question.

Q Overall . . . (select one answer)

1 Right is right and wrong is wrong and people should know the difference.
2 Rules should be enforced, but with some discretion.
3 Every situation is different and it is hard to apply universal rules.

For each question there is an extreme, average and moderate answer. In order to score high on the attitude being measured, the respondent must answer three extreme and at least two moderate answers. Our research has shown that extreme answers indicate strong negative attitudes that are not conducive to getting along with others.

It would seem to be quite difficult to achieve extreme scores but about one in twenty people do it. When they are interviewed concerning their answers, they tend to report that their answers accurately reflect their view of the world. This is, after all, what attitudes are defined to be. They are the filters through which we see the world. This reminds me of the Spanish expression “Cada cabeza es un mundo.” It translates to “each head is a world.” Our goal is understand those worlds so they don’t collide. I’ll have to admit that I might have carried this analogy too far, but if you really want to use your cabeza refer to

In an upcoming article I will discuss how to interpret the scores based on types of work environments.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Jack is Back or What Happened When I Hired an Embezzler

Now I knew Jack was an embezzler. In fact he had just spent about two years in the pokey for “borrowing” money from a Wall Street investment firm. Albeit, a friend of mine convinced me that everyone deserves a second chance and I decided to hire him “on a conditional basis.” At the time, I had a boutique research company in Denver, Colorado and Jack would be a sales rep. Frankly, there wasn’t that much to steal.

Jack looked good, chiseled Grecian features, five-hundred dollar suits, alligator shoes and a really nice brief case. I hired him on a Friday and by the following Monday he had read all of our reports and promotional material and was quite well informed. Jack did a very good job and I was, frankly, impressed.

As I mentioned, there was very little opportunity to misappropriate funds. Our small research company did have an asset which would seem to have only moderate value. We had done some work for trade-out with a local airline. Trade-out is where a company receives sort of a promissory note that can be used for other services. This could include airline tickets, restaurant meals and hotel accommodations.

Soon Jack learned about our trade-out account and he came to me for a “small” favor. He said that he had a girl friend who had helped him when he needed a friend. When he was on probation, she had let him stay at her house. He said he would like to take her to a local ski resort for the weekend to reward her for her generous help.

I mean, how could I refuse? How much could one spend on a single weekend? The trade-out account had $14,000 in it, nevertheless Jack and his friend were able to have a $14,000 weekend. Of course, I didn’t know this until I tried to use the account and by that time, Jack had another job with a large advertising agency. Apparently, it is easier for a person with a job to find another job when he already has one. This is probably especially true for an embezzler. On the plus side, it did provide inspiration to develop the Workplace Attitudes Test. See Now if I would have had the Workplace Attitudes Test, I suppose I could have still hired him. Nah, I’m not that dumb.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

People Can Seem To Be So Darn Nice

I have come to the conclusion that I am a lousy interviewer. I have hired some real turkeys. I remember thinking what nice people they seemed to be. In future blog entries I’ll tell you about some of the worst but the person that I am thinking about now is a drama queen named “Gloria.” Of course, at the time, I didn’t know that she was a drama queen. After all, she made it obvious that she thought that I was clever and intelligent and that counts for a lot.

Later, I developed the Workplace Attitudes Test (WAT) and she agreed to take the test. The results showed that she is - well, a drama queen. She tested very high on entitled, undisciplined and insubordinate but what did I know? Now I consider the WAT the best darn bad-attitude screening device available today and Gloria deserves some of the credit for inspiring me to develop it.

Gloria did some part-time work for my company and then moved on when she found a full-time job. Gloria makes a good first impression because she has seemingly good social skills which are important in an interview. On the job, she is a disaster. She cannot focus because she prefers to socialize, and she quickly ignores the chain of command. She often fails to do her job or finish a project and always blames someone else. In other words, her survival skills are highly developed and she has a tendency to scapegoat people.

Supervising Gloria became a Herculean task for her new boss. Picture this, she was on several committees, interacted with almost everybody, especially the higher-ups and to her, work was party time. Several of her colleagues and her immediate boss became fed up with her but by then she had friends in all the right places.

It took over a year but after countless intrigue, much of it orchestrated by Gloria herself, she was finally encouraged to move on. And if you don’t want to fire someone like Gloria, you give her a good recommendation to make sure that she moves on. Did I mention that one of the people that Gloria befriended was the organization’s legal counsel? He thought a good recommendation might be wise. Of course, one can’t outright lie but everyone agreed that Gloria has great people skills. Take a look at and see what Gloria helped inspire.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Is It Easier to Hire Good Workers During a Recession?

Dare I say the word “Recession?” In the late-1970s, Alfred Kahn who was Jimmy Carter’s chief economic advisor used this word in one of his discussions with the press. He was quickly summoned to the White House for a wood-shed moment and abandoned the word. He replaced it with the word banana even singing the song, “Yes we have no bananas, we have no bananas today.”

Now assuming that we could be in for one big banana, how does this affect the hiring process? It would seem that with more people looking for work, good people would be easier to find.

Many job candidates in 2008 may be looking for a new position because they are facing serious financial problems, some may be facing foreclosure, and some may have less than excellent credit reports. A lot of times candidates are automatically disqualified because of their credit rating. The truth is that many people are in trouble because of circumstances, not irresponsibility. For example, it could be the housing meltdown, it could be a serious illness in their family, it could be that they started a business that didn’t work out. It is better to judge applicants not by their credit report but by their work-related attitudes.

Are they entitled versus unassuming?
Are they adversarial versus accommodating?
Are they egocentric versus people oriented?
Are they judgmental versus accepting?
Are they vindictive versus forgiving?
Are they insubordinate versus respectful?
Are they undisciplined versus self-disciplined?

Overall, there is not much good about a recession but there are tools to help the interviewer in these challenging times. The Workplace Attitudes Test looks at several of the attitudes listed above, and more. See:

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

A Tale of Two Employees

This morning I received a phone call from Blockbusters, it was a recording saying that I failed to return one of their movies. I had returned it to the store a few days earlier and since the message did not include a return phone number I decided to stop by the store to explain the situation. It was not a store that I normally use but it was near a fast food restaurant that I like so I thought I would try the single stone-two bird gambit.

Now, as you may know, Blockbuster does not give you a receipt when you return a movie. It’s sort of “On the honor system” and one has to hope for the best. When I returned to the store I waited patiently while the solo employee finished a phone conversation on the merits of various ski resorts. I thought my patience would be rewarded with a modicum of empathy. After waiting at the cash register for a time, the employee looked at me with a trace of annoyance and asked “What can I do for you?” I explained that I had received a phone call saying that I had not returned a movie but that, in fact, I had. This explanation was rewarded by a blank stare and the words, “Your card.” This I immediately interpreted as meaning my Blockbuster card and I handed it over.

A quick swipe of the card into their computer system indicated that I must be a kleptomaniac with a tendency for mendacity. I was told “Our records show that the movie was not returned.” I said that I returned the movie a few days ago. He repeated, “Our records show that the movie was not returned.” It appeared that we were in a bit of a loop.

I asked, “Could you check the shelves?” He said, “You could.” After two minutes of frantic looking, I found the movie and brought it to the counter. In a moment of contrition only found in some prison cell blocks, the clerk said, “Lucky you.” The clerk then turned his back to make another phone call.

I would suspect this person would score quite high on more than one of the warning signals of the Workplace Attitudes Test. But I got to thinking, how much money does this type of employee cost Blockbusters?

In the future I don’t want this kind of surprise. I like to know what to expect. Unless they embrace truth in advertising and they change their name to Ballbusters, I won’t be back.

Now I’m not a very good movie rental customer. I usually rent a movie once a week but when I’m in the store I often buy a snack or something so I drop about six bucks. Multiply this by fifty and it adds up to about $300 a year. Not a lot of money but if it happens often it adds up for them.

Contrast this with another shopping experience. I was waiting in line at McDonalds to purchase and scarf down one of their vaulted chicken snacks when a rather disheveled octogenarian lady cut in front of me. She asked for a coke and the cash register rang up $1.06. She took out a shabby coin purse and counted out 76 cents. Alas, she had no more and looked up expectantly at the Hispanic cashier who smiled sympathetically. The cashier said “No, no, that’s okay” and gave her a cup for her coke. After the lady had left, the cashier was obviously concerned that I had to wait and said “I’m sorry.” I said “That’s all right” but before I could give my order, the octogenarian was back. Looking confused, she said, “I want ice cream.” The ice cream machine was broken and I could see my snack wrap fading into the sunset. The cashier said “Ma’am we have apple pie, would you like apple pie?” Now you may have heard the expression, “No good deed goes unpunished.” The old women said, “I’d like two.” The cashier replied, “Two it is.”

When the cashier got back to me she again apologized. I got my order and gave the cashier extra change to make up for her loss. I did this because I can be very generous when it comes to small amounts and someone was probably watching. I am reminded of one of my favorite expressions, “There is no greater pleasure than to do an anonymous good deed and then to get caught.”

If you would like to hire the second employee rather than the first, maybe you would like to look at

Sunday, February 3, 2008

The Greatest-Generation, Baby-Boomers, Gen-X’ers, Gen-Y’ers and Gen-Me: Who Are These People?

There is an interesting, and possibly apocryphal, story concerning Pompeii that was buried during a catastrophic eruption of the volcano of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD. It is reported that graffiti on a bathhouse wall said, “What is happening to the younger generation?” Whether this story is true or not, every generation seems puzzled and bemused by subsequent generations.

Newer generations are equally critical of the previous generation. This reminds me of the old bromide, “The grandson wants to remember what the son wants to forget.” Suffice it to say, generations are different and they approach life and work differently.

Tom Brokaw wrote several books on the “Greatest Generation.” This is the generation that grew up during the Depression, won World War Two, developed the suburbs and spawned the “Baby-Boomer” generation. Mr. Brokaw drew so much attention to that generation and did so many interviews that one wag was inspired to quip, “The Greatest Generation has just delivered a cease-and-desist order to Tom Brokaw!”

Now it is the Baby-Boomer generation that is retiring from the workplace to be replaced by Gen X, Gen Y, and/or Gen Me. It is these generations that are receiving much attention from HR experts.

Gen X was born in the 1960s and 1970s, Gen Y was born between 1980 and 1995. Gen-Me tends to be a more pejorative term and overlaps Gen X and Gen Y, and they were born after 1970.

In an article entitled “Generation Y: They’ve Arrived at Work With a New Attitude” appearing in “USA Today”, columnist Stephanie Armour describes a 22 year old young lady in flip-flops at her desk listening to her i-pod and saying that she doesn’t want work to be her life. “This is Generation Y, a force of as many as 70 million, and the first wave now embarking on their careers –taking their place in an increasingly multigenerational workplace.” Armour goes on to describe Gen Y as having been pampered, nurtured and provided with a multitude of diverting activities. Since toddlers they are both high performance and high maintenance.

Bruce Tulgan of Rainmaking Thinking, who co-authored Managing Generation Y with Carolyn Martin states “If you thought you saw a clash when Generation X came into the workplace, that was a fake punch. The haymaker is coming now.” Tulgan gave a recent example of a young woman who just started a job at a cereal company, “She showed up on the first day with a recipe for a new cereal she’d invented.” Conflict?

Jean M. Twenge wrote a book whose title seems to say it all, Generation Me: Why Today’s Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled and More Miserable Than Ever Before. Would I be too cynical to ask, if they are going to make the rest of us miserable it’s only fair that they’re a little miserable themselves?

K. Henderson wrote a book review of Generation Me (mentioned above) and called her review “The Self-Esteem Movement is Setting Our Kids up For Failure.” Not one to mince words, she says, “Instead of creating well-adjusted, happy children, the self-esteem movement has created an army of little narcissists. Narcissism is a very negative personality trait linked to aggression and poor relations with others.”

Oh boy. Here are a few more. Mike Kraus, offers strategies to retail store managers who are faced with the statement, “Pay me more or I’m quitting.”

Rebecca Mazin authored an article called “How Many Employees Will Have the Flu on Monday?” This refers to likely absences after the Super Bowl. She suggests that employers track absences after weekends and three day holidays. http://allbusiness/medicine-health/deseases-disorders-infectious/6611264-1.html.

In the latest (Dec 2007) Junior Achievement/Deloitte Teen Ethics Survey, “Thirty-eight percent of the teenagers surveyed believe that it is sometimes necessary to cheat, plagiarize, lie or even behave violently in order to succeed.” No wonder Tom Brokaw misses the Greatest Generation.

Well which is it? Is that graffiti on the Pompeii wall accurate in that older generations will always disparage younger generations, or are Gen X, Gen Y, and Gen Me really going to hell in a hand basket?

Referring back to Aristotle’s Golden Mean, I think that the answer is a decisive yes and no. The point is that all generational labels are generalities. Useful if they are correct more than 50% of the time. But the problem that I am concerned with is whether the next person I hire will be disruptive in the work place. Who is to say which generation has the most jerks or turkeys? Maybe the proportions are different. Therefore, I recommend that you assess everyone as an individual. You might even want to consider using the Workplace Attitudes Test.