So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish


Goodbye

As Douglas Adams eloquently put it: So long, and thanks for all the fish!

This will most likely be the last post I post on this blog. I will start in a new (non HR) role at TOPdesk soon and decided to give up rambling about HR stuff for a while.

I do want to share 2 last updates with you guys before I leave. Firstly, I was interviewed by Raet for their HR benchmark 2018. The article turned out great and I received a lot of nice responses. You can request the benchmark document on their website. Reat even used my picture on their website and in their LinkedIn adds for a while. Check it out below.

Raet Linked In Campaign

The second and last update I want to share is my debut on the radio. The program People Power invited my to their show for a live interview. I quickly learned live radio can be challenging, as I didn’t expect all of the questions they asked. It did turn out OK in the end with a little help from the hosts. The interview is in Dutch and you can listen on their website.

Thanks for the feedback and encouragement I received through this blog and in person. I hope to see you all on another platform or in real life to discuss even more interesting topics!

Why generation labels are dangerous to your business

Thinking of changing your recruitment strategy to target generation Y? Adjusting your culture to accommodate to generation Z? Please, don’t. Generation labels have no basis in science and using them can even be harmful for your organization.

Generation X, Generation Y, Generation Z.
The Who knows all about generation stereotyping.

The use of horoscopes

In our HR team, it’s been a fun start of the day for years now. One of my colleagues takes the newspaper and reads the rest of the team their horoscope for the day. This is especially fun when one of the horoscopes describes that you might quarrel with one of your colleagues today. After a few jokes, it’s business as usual and we forget what it was the stars wanted to tell us.

Very few organizations base their recruitment strategy on horoscopes. After all, what does it matter which month your candidate was born in? However, when we talk about what year a candidate was born in, this suddenly seems to matter a great deal. Some organizations base their entire recruitment strategy on targeting generation X, Y or Z.

I find that fascinating. When you think about it, what’s the real difference between horoscopes and generation labels?

Generation X, Y or Z?

Whereas most people don’t take horoscopes seriously, generation labels are often referred to in popular science. There are loads of books on generations X, Y and Z. There are scores of consultancy firms that are more than willing to explain at full length how to change your organization in order to recruit, manage or motivate a certain generation.

Apparently, I’m part of generation X. Or Y, depending on which book you read. According to theory, I’m balancing between Generation’s X’s ‘work hard, play hard’ motto, and generation Y’s tendency to go job hopping. Luckily I limit my internet usage, otherwise I would have also qualified for generation Z, whose motto is ‘always online’. Then I would really have an identity crisis.

This is exactly the problem with generation labels. Each generation’s motto can just as easily be applied to any other generation. There are tons of young people who enjoy hard work, and many retirees who spends hours a day on their iPads.

But what about all that scientific research? Doesn’t that prove there’s some sense in analyzing generations? Well, nope.

This is what science says about generation labels

Ok, sit back. Here’s a brief summary of the science behind generation labels.

Since the 19th century, generations have been the subject of research, especially in the field of sociology. In the beginning, there was much discussion on the use of characterizing various generations. It was Karl Mannheim (born in 1893) who first concluded that generation labels are an oversimplification of reality, and that they can be quite misleading. When you’re focusing too much on birth year when explaining the behavior of a certain social group, you’re likely to spend not enough time on the critical investigation of other, more important factors.

In the 20th century, sociologist Norman Ryder developed the ‘cohort’ as a method to study groups of people. He researched groups who are born around the same time and grew up in similar circumstances. In this research, he took into account all kinds of other factors, such as background, gender, job and location. Time and again, his research showed that all these factors had a huge influence on someone’s social behavior. Someone’s birth year, however, proved to have little to no influence. Since then, lots of similar research has been done into generation labels, and all research proves Ryder’s conclusion was right.

Why can generation labels be dangerous?

Back to the 21th century. Of course there are developments that influence certain generations, and you should not ignore those. You should keep up with what’s new, and use any innovations you think might help you reach your target audience. But the notion that these developments result into generations that are entirely different form the previous ones, is misleading. Generations don’t differ that much. In fact, looking at your target audience through a ‘generation lens’ might even be harmful to your organization.

If you focus too much on generation thinking, you risk ignoring a big part of your target audience. Or worse: you might ruin your organizational culture by trying to cater to the latest generation’s needs.

An example. Say you want to attract young employees, who are just out of college. You decide to leave your 70s office building and move to the city center. You switch to flexible workplaces, start working in agile teams and provide free public transport passes for everyone. You even hire a barista to brew soy skinny lattes. How will your current employees react when they hear they can no longer drive their car to work? When they no longer have any fixed place for their kids’ pictures? They’ll complain. Maybe they’ll even start looking for another job. This will negatively influence the work atmosphere, which will have an negative effect on the employees you just hired. Instead of the hip and inspiring organization they hoped to join, they see disgruntled employees complaining in the hallways.

Of course you won’t change your organization as drastically as this. But keep in mind that even small organizational changes can have a huge effect on your current employees and on your company culture.

Base your policy on horoscopes?

I admit, analyzing generation labels may be slightly more insightful than reading horoscopes. But only slightly. Your own company culture should always the basis of your recruitment policy. You’ll find you’ll attract people from all kinds of generations. Sure, you should use the channels that best fit your target audience, be it newspaper ads or Instagram posts. But the core of your story should remain the same.

And horoscopes? Well, they might be more useful than you think. I can recommend everyone to start your day by reading horoscopes to your team members. For us, it’s a fun start of the day. Which may be worth more than all generation labels put together.

Describing jobs destroys them

A traditional HR advisor is triggered by job descriptions, competence matrices and documents in which these are all extensively described. And you know, I understand why. Job descriptions were meant to structure and explain pay schemes. But they have become obsolete. Job descriptions have become a restraint on the talent in your organization.

Policies prevent freedom
A warehouse full of (X) files determining how you should act

Why job descriptions were created

Job descriptions were created a time long ago, when everyone had a boss. The main responsibility of HR departments was providing the correct salary on time, and they had as little to do with the actual employees as possible (not unlike the boss). Some people had the same job their entire life, and you were not expected to think about possible improvements for the company – the boss obviously knew better what the company and its employees were supposed to do.

In order to explain differences in salaries, HR was tasked with creating a system with different levels of responsibilities relating to competences. This complicated system was provided to the employees, telling them it was fair with the added bonus of showing what the possibilities for growth were.

Times have changed

Fortunately, organizations have realized their mistake and have adopted a more pleasant and modern way of working. Instead of using people as resources which you have to put at the right place at a conveyor belt, organizations have realized people are actually the most valuable asset of the organization, who can help make everything better.

A world without jobs

We don’t have job descriptions at TOPdesk. Never had them. We believe it is important that all colleagues are considered equally important, no matter their (lack of) experience or responsibilities. Everyone is different and excels only when you take their personal talents into account. That’s why we do not force them into a job description with associated competences. There isn’t even a job title in your contract. It simply states you will do things for the company TOPdesk.

One of the main advantages of this is that it stimulates initiatives. Whether you are the director or a software tester, you can share your ideas. And if people like the idea, you are actually made responsible for making it a reality. We want to remove any obstacle that prevents people from excelling at their work. Do you think something is useful for the organization, but you are not hired to do it? Just do it anyway!

Another advantage is that it stimulates internal growth and exchange. At TOPdesk, you can always change your main responsibilities without actually having to adjust your contract. We have even simplified our entire salary system to facilitate this: everyone starts at the exact same salary. That way you are not stuck in a certain job you don’t like anymore, just because it pays more than the job you would actually want to do.

An agile organization

Our lack of job descriptions makes us more agile. When we wanted to implement a more agile way of working, where people from different departments work together in a team in order to better service customers, this was no problem from an HR perspective. We had no policies, competence matrices or salary systems that prevented this change. Colleagues could simply sit together and start working in a new way to see if it worked, and expand that way of working afterwards.

A necessary evil?

Unfortunately, it is hard to organize your company without any form of policy or system. A small number of rules can give clarity to your employees and stimulates their growth. For example, we at TOPdesk still have quite a classic way of organizing our departments, even though the people in the departments work across the boundaries.

What is most important is that you should try to think from your colleagues’ perspective. HR should be about people. How will they perform best? Not by trapping them in a web of rules, but by agreeing on a set a basic rules and give them the freedom to do what they think is best.

Which obstacles do you create?

Are you brave enough to throw away your old-fashioned way of organizing if you notice that it is counterproductive? Why don’t you try a new way of working on a small-scale, learn from the test, and expand on the good parts. Policies and systems can be a good thing, but happy and excelling employees are best.

Personality tests are bogus, but you can use them anyway.

personality tests

The debate on the value of personality tests is the HR equivalent of the OS or browser debate for IT people. Some swear by the tests and believe they can improve performance, while others cry out charlatan or humbug the moment they are asked to participate in one. Can personality tests be of any use?

What are personality tests?

Personality tests originate from the phrenology part of psychology. The very first tests (late 18th century) aimed to deduct a persons personality by the measurements of their skull. This evolved over the 19th and 20th century into tests mostly based on many questions which require a person to score statements and questions on a (Likert) scale. In order to interpret the results, they are compared to the norm of other test subjects. The result will then put the person in 1 of 3/4/8/N types of personalities and show the associated characteristics. Famous examples of tests are:

  • MBTI – Myers-Briggs Type Indicator
  • MMPI – Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory
  • FFM – Five Factor Model / Big Five personality traits

Other famous tests which are not true personality tests but are often used in the same context:

What are personality tests used for?

During the first world war the US military used personality tests to see whether soldiers were susceptible to shell shock. During the forties and fifties they were used to scientifically discover the basic traits of human personality. Nowadays personality tests are often used to see whether a someones personality matches a certain job or will fit in a team. There are even companies whose sole product is providing personality tests during job selections for big organizations.

What’s wrong with personality tests?

The tests aren’t really the problem here (although some of them really shouldn’t be labeled scientific); it’s the people using them. People have the tendency to view the results of tests as the absolute truth. In their minds, the tests results are a fact just like gravity is, and they act accordingly. While I strongly believe in the added value of social sciences, I also strongly believe that results from social sciences should be used correctly. There should be room for interpretation and in the case of personality tests people should be aware of biased test taker interpretation, social factors  and respondent faking influencing results. That is why I think you should not use a test as the main way to determine ones personality in order to see if you should hire a person for a certain job or not. I believe having a decent job interview (using the STAR method for example) with multiple people will have a much better result in finding out whether a person fits a job or team.

personality test meme

So you have just taken a personality test, and the results clearly show you are a pink-purple-with-gold-flakes personality type. This is by no means an excuse to explain all your actions based on this result. Nor is it a decent way of forcing all your colleagues to approach you in a certain way. And it is certainly not something which you should bring up in every conversation remotely related to how you act.

Results from a personality tests are not absolute and should not be used to determine everything you do.

Why you should use them anyway.

If you have read all of the above, we can proceed to the useful stuff. Personality tests can be a nice tool if you would like to give people a better understanding of different types of people and how they work. It can broaden peoples perspective and help in explaining the added value of each person.

I think it can be especially fun and useful to do a certain test with your entire team in order to learn people are different. Evaluating the results together and learning each others preferences can help improve the cooperation within the team. We occasionally do a test in our HR team and find them both entertaining and insightful. As long as you keep the dangers I mentioned above in mind, they might be of use for you or your team as well.

 

What’s your stance on the use of personality tests? Can they be of use to an organization, or are they an insult to science and complete waste of time?

Since my previous blog on Catbert was well received I leave you with another great Dilbert comic.

dilbert personality tests

5 tips from an evil HR director

Dilbert Catbert HR director

Can a comic be educational? Dilbert shows you can improve your HR and management in three simple drawings. Please meet Catbert, and learn from the most evil HR director in the fictional world.

Who is Catbert?

Catbert is a character in the Dilbert comic. For those of you who don’t know the Dilbert comic: it is a comic based on the (working) life of Dilbert. He is a engineer/developer who works for a company which excels in all the bad parts of capitalism, bureaucracy and management. Catbert is the HR director of the company and is mostly designated as the evil HR director.

What can you learn from an evil HR director?

The good thing about Catbert is that he is honest about his evilness. He lives to make the lives of of his employees as unpleasant as possible. While doing so, he shows you the things your employees dread the most about HR and management. If you pay attention, and prevent things that resemble some of his practices, your HR work will be better.

5 Catbert strips you should read

Please read these 5 strips and try to see if you can learn what to do (by seeing what not to do 😉 ) The answers can be found below the strips.

Unfair pay

Dilbert Catbert SalaryHave a honest and fair pay scheme. Don’t offer new people more than your current employees because they negotiate better. Try to pay everyone what they are worth based on objective facts when you hire them. Don’t fool yourself into thinking employees won’t find out you overpay a new employee…. because they will find out and be very unhappy the moment they do. Broken trust is hard to repair.

Mandatory unpaid overtime

Dilbert Catbert OvertimeWork-life balance is important! I know the term is hyped, but that doesn’t mean there is no truth to it. Employees that have enough time for their personal lives will perform better at work as well.

Random policies

Dilbert Catbert PolicyTry to prevent making new policies. I sometimes think the most important part of my job is to prevent and remove useless policies. Only create those that are truly necessary, and explain why the company needs them. Leave the rest open to your employees, who probably know best what to do during their day anyway.

Untrain your employees

Dilbert Catbert TrainingTrain your people! In order to grow your company, you need to grow your people. Stimulate them to learn and develop and it will have a positive effect on your company.

Unhealthy

Dilbert Catbert HealthStimulate your colleagues to be healthy. Healthy people tend to be less sick and perform better.

 

There are a lot more Catbert strips on the Dilbert site; and it has a great search option as well. Just remember; Catbert is always wrong when it comes to HR (except in the very first picture at the top of this blog post 😉 ).

Can you find more funny Dilbert strips which are educational at the same time? Do you know another comic which we can learn from? Please share!