Tuesday, July 19, 2011

What are Your Advantages?

Humans have always been intrigued by individuals who have done extraordinary things or achieved elite levels of success. How did they attain the seemingly unattainable? I recently read Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Outliers, which gave me quite a few ideas to consider about individuals that have achieved amazing success in their lives or careers. These individuals are not so different from the intelligent, motivated, hard-working people that many of us are. In his book, Gladwell discusses that the situation that some people are born into, plays a great part into what they are able to achieve. One example sited in the book was that while attending a National Hockey League event, Gladwell’s wife noticed in the program that most of the players had birth dates in the months of January, February or March. After doing research on this phenomenon, Gladwell learned that this was a result of the age cut off in youth hockey programs. Kids born in these months were bigger than their team members. They won more, and through the years, had more opportunity for practice. A greater number of kids with this advantage, advanced to the NHL.
Gladwell studied may professions and learned that the individuals that were experts in their field had practiced their craft for 10,000 hours. He noted that 10,000 hours generally took an expert 10 years to achieve. If you are a seven year-old hockey player born in January, with better opportunity for practice, you could reach 10,000 hours by age seventeen.
Gladwell discovered and researched other types of advantages as well. He learned why so many of the top lawyers were Jewish males born in the Bronx in the mid 1930’s to immigrant parents and that the construction of Asian languages gives an advantage to the speakers when learning mathematics. These are just a couple advantages that Gladwell presents.
I started to contemplate my own circumstances beyond my control. Do I have any advantages that I can capitalize on? Generation X, mid-west raised youngest child of middle class conservative parents are circumstances that have played a part in determining the person that I am. With reflection, I realize that this background heavily influenced my well-grounded, common sense approach to life and the fact that I am quite open to trying new things or adventures. From the point of view of my HR career, openness to change is a very useful trait, since the ability to change, and facilitate change in others is essential for an organization’s success.
What are your circumstances? What were the challenges or benefits you experienced that made you who you are today? How can you translate this information into strengths that employers are looking for? Showcasing who you are to employers could be just what sets you apart from other candidates. From an organization’s point of view, it is much more effective to hire for personality and train for skill.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

My Favorite Views from the Ice

The first photo is from our visit to the observation tube, which goes underneath the sea ice. The water is amazingly clear and we saw crill swimming.

The next photo is Paul on our Christmas Day hike around Hut Point.

The other photos are both from the pressure ridge area, where the sea ice meets the ice shelf.

Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Time to Re-Evaluate

Often times, a new year is cause for reflection and reevaluation. With reevaluation comes looking at areas of our lives in a different way. After this thorough scrutiny, we usually see things we wish we could do better, qualities we want to change or areas to improve. Change can be so incredibly hard because we are genetically hard-wired to resist it.

For the past few months, I have been deployed to Antarctica, where hard work and harsh conditions are the norm. Small inconveniences have been stripped away; life down here is inconvenient. With this inconvenience comes a unique level of clarity. Reevaluation becomes easier and I count myself lucky to have this experience.

What are you reevaluating? ~ Your career goals? Your engagement level at work? Your technical abilities? Your management approach? The skill levels of your staff? the direction of your business? Your communication style? Really, the list is endless. Down here on the Ice, I find myself reflecting on a quote from Abraham Lincoln. "Whatever you are, be a good one." In the midst of holiday festivities, find some time to reevaluate. What "good one" are you going to be?

Happy Holidays!

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Expanding Horizons

This is my first blog post from McMurdo Station, currently where the sun never sets. As a result of necessity, Antarctica in many respects is a self-contained universe. There are all types of jobs and positions here at the bottom of the world from scientists, weather observers, firefighters, IT personnel, hair stylists, cooks, janitors, heavy equipment operators, pilots, physicians and an array of other support departments. This unique culture brought to light the unintentional limits I have imposed upon myself. What other experiences might I like to have? What other jobs might I like to try? In my opinion, there are only two things in life that matter: our experiences and the relationships that we have. When it comes to these two concepts, quality is better than quantity. In a harsh environment, it interesting what you can learn about yourself. Our occasional shipments of fresh fruit and vegetables are quite valuable here. I have not watched T.V. since my arrival. I have adjusted to the colder temperatures, cramped quarters due to higher station populations and even going downstairs for communal shower and restroom facilities. I sure could go for a Diet Pepsi, though. So far, I am enjoying the learning process.

From a human resource practitioner perspective, I have been contemplating the benefits of rotating through and experiencing other functions within an organization. There are substantial benefits to the employer and employee when an individual can gain an understanding of another piece of the business. As an HR professional, I would be intrigued by the idea of being able to directly apply development and recruiting skills to a particular business unit, while helping other leaders in the division do the same. The knowledge HR folks can acquire about their organization by working in a different department is invaluable when they return to an HR function. Human resource professionals can use that first hand experience to more fully understand the skills their company needs to recruit for and develop. They also have a better grasp and appreciation of employee issues and concerns. It is critical that HR understands how the company makes money and what their value is in the process.

My excitement grows as I reflect upon the limitless opportunities that are available. The only limits are those that we place upon ourselves. What experiences do you want to have?

Monday, August 23, 2010

Lessons from the Ice

Although I will not be deploying for Antarctica until mid October, in some respects, I feel that I am already there. As the first flights depart for the ice during winfly (winter fly-in), employees come through Denver for orientation training. Whether it is someone’s first or fourteenth season, the same excitement is in the air. As I have conducted training sessions for these groups who will arrive at McMurdo Station under the cover of darkness on C-17’s, I have learned quite a bit. These folks are not your typical employees. The vastness and uniqueness of their experiences are impressive. Many are highly educated world travelers driven to adventure. Some tend to live nomadic life styles. Where do you have your mail sent? Is more pertinent than where are you from? One thing they all have in common is that they love to talk about the U.S. Antarctic Program as much as I do.

From a human resources perspective, there are many more interesting challenges. At each station, employees are living and working in a tight knit community 24/7. There is no leave or going home for the holidays. Extreme conditions necessitate a higher focus on safety. Fairly strict medical and dental (and psychological in winter) requirements set this type of employment apart from other jobs. Performance evaluations are much more thorough and taken seriously. Problems are addressed quickly. Continuous feedback helps to boost morale.

I feel lucky to have this career experience, which has changed the way I look at work. I am truly re-engaged with a tremendous sense of freedom. I can’t wait to find out what is next.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Are You a Mind Reader?

It would sure be helpful to completely understand the intentions of others. Whether deliberate or not, often folks’ actions and words don’t match what they are truly thinking. How good are you at reading people? I can think a million situations where I wished for psychic abilities and a crystal ball. Who hasn’t tried to comprehend the feelings a significant other has for us? It would also be very useful to have mind reading abilities when it comes to fully understanding what the boss wants when she assigns you a project or what her comments really mean about your job performance during your annual review. Understanding the motivations behind the questions an interviewer asks you could be career altering.

What if it was actually possible to read the minds others? Maybe it is. I recently read Blink, By Malcolm Gladwell. In his book, Gladwell explains the instincts that influence how we make decisions. He describes two amazing scientists who had an intriguing discovery. Silvan Tomkins and Paul Ekman have done extensive research into facial expressions. Tomkins believed that faces hold valuable clues about our inner emotions and motivations. It was said that Tomkins could look at Wanted posters in the post office and say what crimes the fugitives had committed. Their research showed that the common set of rules guiding the meaning of facial expressions transcended cultural differences. Ekman traveled to Japan, Brazil, Argentina, remote tribes in the jungles of the Far East and discovered that peoples’ expressions meant the same wherever he went. They created an entire taxonomy of facial expressions by identifying facial muscles and every distinct muscular movement that the face can make. Ekman and his colleague Wallace Friesen determined that there were over 10,000 different facial expressions, 3,000 of which had a specific meaning. They catalogued the meaningful expressions and assigned them numbers based on what combination of facial muscles were involved.

Ekman recalled the first time he saw Bill Clinton during the 1992 primaries. After categorizing his facial expressions, he said, “This is a guy who wants to be caught with his hand in the cookie jar and have us love him for it anyway”. Ekman also said that “the information on our face is not just a signal of what is going on inside our mind. In a certain sense, it is what is going on inside our mind.” They determined this on accident when generating the facial expression for sadness and anguish. After doing this expression for most of the day, both Friesen and Ekman actually felt terrible.

I took away a couple lessons from this excellent read. Smiling more is actually scientifically proven to improve your outlook and level of happiness. Also, we need to pay close attention to those instinctual reactions we have when communicating with others. There is often more relevant meaning for us in these expressions than the spoken words.

Check out the book if you want to learn more!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Decisions, Decisions

I recently started reading the book Blink, by Malcolm Gladwell, which got me thinking about how we go about making decisions, particularly decisions about others. As a human resource practitioner, I think about how we can make better decisions to avoid a poor hire or promoting someone lacking leadership ability into a management position. We make decisions about people in all aspects of our lives. How do we decide if a candidate would be a good fit for an organization? Do we believe a particular doctor’s diagnosis or get a second opinion? Do we have faith that our co-worker will follow through with their part of a project? Do we feel our tax preparer is saving us the most money?

Blink talks about how we make some choices in an instant , seemingly without thinking. It is subconscious and instinctual. Some folks have a gift for making the right decision quickly, while others stumble. People with a knack for quick thinking, have a way of looking past the “noise” or things that get in the way. For example, they can look beyond the actual words that are spoken and concentrate on the way they were spoken and the speaker’s intent.

This idea reminded me of the famous quote by Maya Angelou. “When people show you who they are, believe them”. How many times have you realized that after you have made an incorrect decision about someone, there really were clues along the way? How can we pay closer attention to those subconscious thoughts?

As HR practitioners, how do we make a split decision on a resume in our inbox? Or 500 for that one position we advertised? With such a small snapshot of a person, it is a challenge to decide who to consider and who to weed out, especially when a diligent employer hires for character and trains for skills. Character is difficult to express in a resume. What if they didn’t use spell check on their “sales pitch” to us? Does that mean that the candidate has no attention to detail? General George S. Patton had dyslexia, and battled it every day he was alive. Look at what he managed to accomplish, even though not every letter, order, or communication was spell checked. How do we know that applicant won’t work out or be a good fit. Altruistically, we should interview each candidate that applies, but of course who has time for that. If our job is to really find that diamond in the rough, can we trust our split second guessing to serve us (and our employer) well? So as a job seeker, look for creative ways to display your character. At the very least, research the organization and tailor your cover letter accordingly. Then follow up with us.

We humans are complicated beings. Our personalities are unique and we all have different experiences which influence the way we see the world. Understanding and working with each other is a constant learning experience.