Monday, December 19, 2022

Top 5 - 2022

Well... the pandemic albums have found their way to the back of the vinyl collection and music as we knew it has returned (at least for the moment). In 2022, sleepy bedroom records gave way to celebratory "escape from the bunker" romps and a whole lotta live music. 

Post Malone and Bartees Strange brought forth some bangers, while we may have seen the last of Machine Gun Kelly's glimpse at punk pop greatness. Billy Talent, Mom Jeans and Pup created punk adjacent records with plenty of flare and Dan Andriano reminded us there is no replacing Alkaline Trio. Pedro the Lion and Damien Jurado's melancholy persists despite the state of the global social experiment and Yumi Zouma gave us reason to breath easy once again. Charlie Hickey and Christian Lee Hutson established themselves as this years Phoebe Bridgers and Lucy Dacus. Kae Tempest laid down vocal flow to narrate the journey of transformation. Fontaines D.C. made a soundtrack to the apocalypse. Regina Spektor revisited waltzes with a little less hope. Death Cab for Cutie and Band of Horses made records that were just OK. Turns out, the girl from stranger things who has famous parents is actually an incredible song writer. Wilco and Walter Martin sang some lovely laments to nap to. We are now aware that The 1975 are just really annoying while Joyce Manor proved their virtue on the emo mantel with a near perfect record.

Where we see festivals like Coachella giving mainstage priority to pop acts and octogenarians, so now, even the beloved All Songs Considered podcast has abandoned indie rock for world music, hip hop and mainstream pop acts.

Let's hope the new year keeps venue doors open and reveals some new acts to shout about this time next year. Here are the Top 5 albums of 2022:       

Nothing Special by Will Sheff

"When I was thin as a scarecrow getting up only to go to bed"

The Okkervil River front man seemed to be hiding in Appalachia for a while but the emergence is worth the wait. "Nothing Special" presents the familiar Sheff vocal distinction, but the song structures are more open giving the listener space to dig into the lyrical content; each listen taking us deeper into stories of desire, loss and (ultimately) hope. Like The Last Time creates a psychedelic, sun soaked, narrative that brings hope where all seemed lost. Where Marathon Girl realizes an unrequited rock bottom then cracks the door open with an invitation to move on.           

Middling Age by Tim Kasher

"the guests all ashamed they've forgotten the name of the host's lovely wife but oh what a site she is"

I never loved Tim's acclaimed Cursive project, but he being the Obi-Wan to Conor Oberst's Luke has finally been revealed obvious. Middling Age seems to be a divorce record, Tim Kasher's mid-life crisis an excuse for him to bring forth his greatest document to date. These songs hit hard with metaphor of every day living smashed with contradiction; the one most loved a stranger. Glasses broken, uncomfortable social affairs and looks back where the end advanced to the inevitable. 100 Ways to Paint a Bowl of Limes seems a mid-afternoon barroom wave goodbye under-toned with a tip of the cap to good times forgotten.        

11:11 by Pinegrove

"I want to be a part of it, I'm not ready to die yet"

Pinegrove's triumphant debut album paired with it's almost instant collapse seemed might file them away in the category of quick shimmer indie darlings. Six years later, their 4th full length album seems to hint that hard lessons learned have produced a resilience ideal for creating ever-thoughtful music. The signature Pinegrove soundscapes and under-stated story telling remain (a little worse-for-wear, a little wiser). 11:11 spans regret with apology turning into self-awareness. Each song more aware than the next, regretful, reflective and hopeful. I guess at some point beating one's self up gives way to renewed focus. Swimming the pentacle of reflection giving birth to new hope. This record is a revelry, resound in a simple principle, "I'm done feeling sorry for myself". A soundtrack for a morning fraught with self-doubt.    

Break Me Open by S. Carey

"your eyes are starless ponds, I'd dive in with the frogs"

S. Carey, known mainly for his percussive work in Bon Iver, has certainly learned from his time close to Justin Vernon. Break Me Open is a towering (if not meditative) work that would fit comfortably amid the aforementioned auto-tune purveyors catalogue. Each songscape wide-spanning with strings, keys, harmonic vocals and Carey's signature percussion. Dark starts the record with a tone-setting lament tackling love not lost but the fear of what would happen if it was. Throughout, the listener may drift away only to be catapulted back into the frame by the words hung out over the ocean or the instrumentation that has flown it out there.       

A Legacy of Rentals by Craig Finn

"I had a suspended license and a court case coming up and the judge said he was seeing some patterns"

Craig Finn once recognized as the mad man fronting The Hold Steady with all the rock n roll glamour of a substitute science teacher (in a very good way), has certainly established new ground. Where the Steady hosted beer-soaked anthems, the author behind the stories has remained prolific in a more subdued manor. There still exist stories of youthful innocence (and the cost of it), small towns with big problems, drug transactions gone wrong and cold Minnesota winters spent elbow-to-elbow in warm bars. As Finn gets older in age his story telling remains rooted in what it's like to be young; for better or for worse. A man who has moved beyond his home town without for a minute forgetting the spirit that makes places where no one wants to live so charming. Finn, a lover of all things rock, has a ear for prose that somehow continues to blend nerd-culture with unapologetic debauchery. Messing with the Settings serves as a cousin of God in Chicago if not a bridge from All These Perfect Crosses stringing together the grace of Finn's last five solo narratives like Christmas lights on a beat up duplex. There are worn out heroes, insightful drunks, misunderstood junkies, lost souls, survivors... and there always seems to be a fish tank; all within a metaphorical mile of a dive bar somewhere adjacent to Hennepin..... and the cops are always right around the corner.  

Thank You for Listening.... See You Next Year!


Saturday, August 13, 2022

Employee Value Proposition Revisited

“You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.’ … You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”
- Eleanor Roosevelt​

As new CDC guidelines relax isolation constraints, there is a glimmer of hope that a reprieve from the COVID 19 Pandemic is nigh. A call for return to office policy, amplified hiring efforts and emphasis on employee retention tactics will now fill the Human Resource megaphone. After so much adaptive work, we've been rewarded with a whole new set of responsibilities. The question as to whether HR leaders will get their own "time out" can only be met with the promise that a new day creates new opportunity.

So, as the new normal becomes the old normal again, it's time to focus on taking the learnings from the pandemic to lead us into a new tomorrow.

Pre-pandemic saw many organizations focusing on defining their Employee Value Proposition (EVP). The COVID derailment sidelined the focus on EVP. As opposed to picking up the aforementioned rough draft, why not start anew (more educated and better equipped)?

It's time to redefine your organization's EVP!      

There are three levels to an all-inclusive Employee Value Proposition:

1. Practical

2. Tactical

3. Measure of Inclusion

Mission, Vision and Values

Maybe your organization began in 1920 and the original vision and values continue to serve as the foundation for responsible business practices. Other organizations may feel a need for a reset to better address the current state of their employee population. 

Whether you are seeking a re-brand or a reminder of your organization's founding principles, the company's EVP should be grounded in your mission, vision and values. 

Audience Adjacent Objectives

This is where the theoretical meets departmental goals. Here, it is imperative that your EVP has open objectives that can be applied directly to specific goals: The ability to scale ideology directly into the elements that make performance specific to one's personal gain. 

Too often, we see executive speak float above the trenches with an inability to have a real impact on engaging employee perspective. The second rung on the EVP ladder has to feed systematic performance responsibilities (individually and for each group). 

The ethical perspective now feeds the core elements of each job function.

Redefining Culture

Where organizational culture was once defined by ping pong tables and napping pods, the extension of the professional collective has taken on a much different significance. The emergence of social justice awareness, attention to employee well being and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion mandates have created a cohesive work identity that is not left at the office.  

Passing one a beer is no longer a meaningful act of inclusion. Teams are being built through diverse skillsets and mindsets to create well-rounded approaches to project completion and revenue production. Not only is respect for fellow employees forming a more legitimate employee experience, the strategic relevance of work has reached an amplified dynamic. 

As companies remain in hybrid mode we've seen a strong emphasis on collaborative technology that serves as the backbone of production while allowing in-person interaction to compliment progress.

Indeed, your organization's Employee Value Proposition is the focal point of what employees value.

In simple terms, core values are just words on a wall unless they have divine meaning to an employee's ethical compass. The company mission needs to scale to performance objectives unique to each employee. Employees are no longer concerned with happy hours; true inclusion is driven by professional interaction with merit in one's social perspective. 

As we seek to define the next phase of workforce engagement there is a massive opportunity for Human Resource leaders to author objectives backed by systems to support and track progress. This is the only way to truly engage everyone!

Don't Forget to Remember,


Thursday, May 26, 2022

The Inevitable Great Resignation

The LinkedIn network is run amuck with people posting new career adventures. I had questioned whether the Great Resignation was a theme more than a reality. I also questioned if mass professional exodus was a sign of disengagement or simply a trend to bolster individual empowerment. Make no mistake about it, the Great Resignation is here. 

There are a few distinct things that drive people from their job:

1. Bad Bosses

2. Lack of Upward Mobility

3.  No Alignment with Company Values

4. Ineffective Products/Solutions

What seems to have been over-looked in the malaise of the Great Resignation is that most of the above is avoidable through individuals taking ownership of their professional progression. Having a boss who seeks to limit your potential is of the worst part of professional existence. If you are passed over for multiple promotions your tenure is probably limited. To work for a company with a questionable commitment to elevated social worth can render your effort pointless. If you are bringing a product to market that doesn't work it is difficult not to feel like a fraud. These prompts to consider sharpening up the resume have always existed. The time tucked away in the COVID bunker has amplified the things that make work difficult, enter the Great Resignation.

As the COVID19 pandemic spotlighted the long ignored need for work/life balance, so now the Great Resignation has turned all heads in HR to enhance workforce engagement. How? What can we do to bring the tools to our workforce that will keep them engaged and keep the resume in the draft folder?

Carrots Not Sticks

There is a historical narrative that states: that which you which you wish to see repeated should be recognized. Not only is the sentiment of being thankful ever-important but the strategy behind rewards systems has evolved into driving performance. Through the COVID19 pandemic, companies had a built-in excuse to discard rewards. Those who made the sacrifice to prioritize employee well-being during the down times have seen sustained retention and improved engagement. People will always remember how they were treated in times of downturn, those companies who put "thank you" on-hold during the forced work-from-home experiment have seen mass-exodus in the return to office rebound.  

To be recognized by one's peers drives intrinsic motivation and can amplify the profile of more-reserved superstars. Here, we see qualitative work emerging by recognition from those in the trenches where overly-consumed managers may have failed to see the potential in their direct reports. What's best is peer-to-peer recognition need not carry a fiscal value but can serve to bolster cultural engagement (especially in virtual work environments).

Where is manager spend allocated? Let's say each team lead is given $2,500 a quarter to serve their employees. They use a portion for team dinners, happy hours or pizza lunches. There might be contests that reward winners with a gift card for their effort. There are two issues that arise in this scenario: We are unsure of who is being recognized for what.... and budgets are disbursed to disparate programs. Employees have a slice of pizza over here, a gift card there and a bit of cash directly deposited to their bank account. 

With a comprehensive points-based system, employees can combine their earning in each of the above mentioned categories. Now, a person can set goals to purchase a trip to Las Vegas as opposed to having unrealized rewards in fragments.      

Intentional Career Development

There was a time when even HR Leaders were apprehensive about the amount of training they were bringing to their employees. The thought being that if they learned too much people would leave for other opportunities. Times have changed! These days rewards, incentives and upward mobility are tied to performance as well as behavioral dynamics. We all know that top performers don't necessarily make the best leaders so the question remains: how do we determine who our future leaders might be? The answer is fairly straight forward.

You can measure performance to objectives through quantitative initiatives (i.e. revenue improvement). If you develop modules for recognizing qualitative behaviors alongside quantitative measures you can corelate corporate citizenship scores next to revenue components to find the leaders of tomorrow. 

Ownership Sharing    

Some companies give out stock options, others participate in revenue sharing, certain places give a healthy 401k contribution and others simply have robust compensation packages. What one is paid is a baseline qualifier. There is always a company that will likely pay you more but a pay check is, now more than ever, only part of the deal. Culture, upward mobility, flexible work and corporate citizenship are equally important to pay equity among the current workforce.

To have your opinions heard and applied is a form of influence sharing. Knowing the work you do contributes to making the world a better place gives one the energy to jump into work each day. If your CEO proves to be a genuinely caring person it is unlikely you would leave her workforce to chase more money. These concepts may seem divinely simple, but in times of chaos, simplicity wins.

It feels like the world is in the midst of a restart. What an opportunity to recreate your organizational purpose and establish the Human Resource function as the driving force behind making the world a better place. 

So what are you waiting for?

Thank You for Reading!

- Dave

Wednesday, February 23, 2022

Our Time Is Now!

Fatigue. That seems to be the word of the moment. Everywhere we are hearing stories of deteriorating mental health due to isolation and uncertainty. The COVID19 pandemic has prompted the practice of flexible leadership and workforce adjustment. Right when things seem to be returning to "normal", they revert to stagnation. All of this weighing on employees, managers, executives and (especially) Human Resource professionals. Per usual, HR is called upon to play middle (wo)man in connection with the news of the day and how it effects organizational strategy. Each day a new challenge. Each processes implemented half way and then adjusted.... rinse and repeat. 

As the sun peeks over the mountain and the bunker doors open are we actually going to get back to more predictable function? Time will tell but ever-evolving change seems now to be an expectation more than a forward-thinking strategy. Assuming we are bound for better consistency, what can be learned from our three years of adaptation? 

Humanity has been embraced in the workplace since the onset of the pandemic. Simply put, we all hit a point of fatigue at one point or another. Where once instruction would be to adapt, we've all thrown up our virtual hands without answers while working in silos. It turns out our forced acceptance of emotional intelligence may have taught us all to be a bit more logical in our expectations (and the asides that temper them). 

So here we are. New badges being printed, rotating desk schedules published and the security team back on site. It's time to get back to work! We know the new normal will not be business as usual and the great return to human interaction will pose a new set of challenges. 

All of us will need a bit of time to adapt. Mental health challenges will persist, management directives will have to be flexible and compassion from leadership is an expectation. So, what can HR do to position resources that may have been lost in the COVID shuffle? Instead of a return to the "same old, same old", I'd like to propose a few ideas that might help us learn from the past and endure for the long haul.


Ending an employment cycle comes with it's fair share of challenges. Companies are focused on growth so terminations and voluntary leave seldom garner a ton of attention. That said, knowing why employees leave or dismissing them with grace can mean a lot to a company's hiring and retention strategies. 

Here's the first of a few potential enlightened strategies: Offboarding

We put tremendous focus on hiring and onboarding but do little to nothing for our company Alumni. Many departing employees leave due to poor relationships with their manager. Said relationship is often an offset of a manager keeping direct reports in silos. During the exit interview process, HR plays a critical role in understanding where toxic leadership exists. With the collection of feedback comes the responsibility to action plan. The Human Resource function is key to turning voluntary leave into a data set for retention improvement.

Terminations are a more difficult process. Employees tend to leave companies after being terminated with an unkind feeling toward their employer. What if we could make that process a little more graceful? By simply giving departed employees a trusted referral to a hiring agency you can turn an unfortunate fit into a course correction. This is a win/win for individuals and companies. Would you rather your employees struggle to perform in silence or help them rediscover their professional purpose?    

Feedback Ecosystem

Employee surveys can be tricky. Acquiring candid feedback through surveys may fail to produce the desired result. Those taking the survey may be hesitant if the survey comes from HR (even if deemed confidential). Sharing feedback with managers can create a defensiveness that sends them back to their team to find out "who said boo" about them. Using surveys simply for the sake of company praise may miss an opportunity to find gaps in organizational performance. 

Too often we see disgruntled employees taking to social media or chat rooms to slander their employer. This action might be taken as a last resort when employees don't feel heard. Employees tend to feel ignored when they provide feedback that is held against them or goes without action.

Here is another opportunity for HR to create a real time feedback ecosystem in which employees can submit an idea (or complaint) confidentially and have it addressed without judgement. To collect information, acknowledge the input and take action would drastically effect employee morale and improve retention.  

Accountability Boosters

You may be familiar with The Office episode when Dwight deploys an accountability booster to help "fix mistakes" in the office. The premise absurd... or is it?

The past three years have been a time of employee empowerment across organizations. Individuals are celebrating their civil freedoms and their individuality across the collective. It is important, however, to differentiate empowerment from entitlement. 

Many people have left companies to participate in the gig economy or to start their own business. What happens if the sprint to greener pastures turns out to be a miscalculated stumble? 

In order for companies to re-establish a healthy market position, individuals may have to take on opportunities for which they are over-qualified. People may have to start at the bottom. Teamwork, collaboration and selflessness will be essential to helping the economy rebound. We are all going to have to roll up our sleeves and dive in together to support the company mission.

Your ideas will be respected, your performance will be aided and we will all win together.

Our lives have been obscured since early 2020. No one could have imagined the immense responsibility companies would have to shoulder. Every individual has experienced mental health challenges while sheltering in place. As usual, Human Resources took it all on with grace and professionalism. Let's use the forced change management of the past few years to strengthen our strategic relevance. Let's keep moving forward!

The Time Is Now!

- Dave       

Thursday, January 20, 2022

Bold Leadership Through Strategic Resources

The COVID19 pandemic has propelled many into involuntary leadership action over the last 2 years. Navigating daily regulation inconsistency while addressing changes in work-from-home policy along with tempering the hiring and retention challenges of the Great Resignation has made Human Resources the busiest department in every organization. SHRM's Cause The Effect campaign is bringing attention to these unforeseen adjustments in the profession. Barely having time to catch one's breath is enough to keep any HR professional on the defensive. Today, I'd like to offer a few thoughts that might strengthen our long game strategy to lead organizations through this tumultuous time.     

It seems every day is a moving target. Where can HR intervene to formalize a plan toward predictability? This means allocating the appropriate tools to drive strategy with data output to defend our strategic decisions. 

It comes down to three principles: Training, Recognition & Performance Development.

Knowledge is Priceless 

Most exceptional leaders have adopted a "never stop learning" ethos. This need to pull knowledge from the trenches is the lifeblood of any forward-thinking organization. The approach to employee training often side-steps voluntary knowledge attainment for the sake of mandatory information transfer. Much in the way certain college courses drive a "memorize and test out" format, training for the sake of training can fail to engage employees. We need to rethink the learning process.

Certain groups will need to develop product knowledge to bring to market, there are times when we'll need to demo/test drive technology and there are always the HR Policy videos that fall in the mandatory risk mediation category. These are the nuts and bolts of professional comprehension. But, after they are aware of how to plug in the toaster in the breakroom, many employees are seeking personal development that will lead to leadership ascension. It's pretty simple: what can we provide in order for our employees to become their greatest professional self?

There are a ton of TED Talks that can be added to your Learning Management System, how about giving your employees the opportunity to view these theories and to report on them in short form essay? One of the most impactful events I've heard of was an intern shark tank competition used to bolster product development. How about a company book club? Any and all of these voluntary exercises can serve to engage your employee's personal passion to further expose their hidden leadership potential. 

The more we make training a stale requirement, the less employees will feel empowered to participate.

People Still Like Being Complimented

The world of Total Rewards has been second guessed over the last two decades. Large Global organizations may have a much more systematic employee rewards deployment than a company with ten employees. But, one constant remains: People like to have their achievements recognized! 

In a time when economic consistency is ever-under scrutiny, qualitative behavior change initiatives are of paramount importance. Rewards for incremental development can no longer be ignored. Here, we have the ability to develop behaviors that will aid in long-term organizational development. As opposed to micro-managing short term results, the time to build employee behavior based in cultural development is nigh. 

Recognition can encapsulate your organizational mission, vision and values or organically promote Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. Recognition can incorporate Well Being (mental, physical and spiritual) or similar comprehensive behavior change initiatives at each step in development. 

Be mindful: people will always perform better when they know a Thank You will dovetail their effort!

Calling Out Failure Does Not Drive Performance 

HR professionals are called upon to walk the tightrope between policy and engagement practice. As such, performance management has always been a messy part of the Total Rewards model. Employees enter into a contract that may be performance based, contradicting legality with motivational initiatives can land your company in a lawsuit. This is why the call to terminate performance reviews that erupted within the last decade largely failed. Simply put, contracts need to remain in place. 

Our greatest opportunity exists in the ability to put management aids in place that guide excellence as opposed to being a fall back to approve terminations when merited. 

Being a middle manager is a difficult job. Individuals are called upon to set team goals while side-barring performance metrics for individuals. The often over-worked manager may default to micro-management guided by negative review of performance as opposed to frequent course adjustments. At best, manager-to-employee meetings can be driven by the intrinsic path of completing goals as opposed to looking for (and addressing) shortcomings. 

Managers can use the SCRAF methodology to understand individuals preferred path or simply start and end each one to one meeting with a compliment. We don't need a 78 category job function assessment to steer employees to promotion. What we do need is recognition of effort and guidance toward strength. Too often the simplicity of focusing on the good takes a back seat to cautionary discipline so as to provide employees warnings of potential pitfalls.

There has never been a more important time for leadership in the Human Resources profession!

Cause the Effect!

- Dave