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Of Course, He Would Like to Make Marbles

I spent my summer holiday with my parents in Wisconsin. I enjoyed myself.

My stepfather is great but he and I are absolutely nothing alike. Opposites in fact. We don’t agree on food, news channels or political parties. We have different sentiments about the role of government, health care, and car brands. This often puts us on opposing sides of discussions around the dinner table, yet in the end, it’s all a wash. It is because we have at least one powerful connecting point, his garage.

My stepfather is a tinkerer. After retirement, he expanded his garage to have space for his hobbies. There’s all sorts of stuff in there–wood filler, glass, spray paint, stain, sandpaper, brushes, cement, knobs and doohickeys, molds, clamps, bits and parts and vice grips. He even has an old air compressor. This is the space where he and I get along best. I have a lot of fun there, even if I don’t know what I’m doing, which is often. When I go there, I only need to have an idea. Chances are I find the rest in that room.

Many of my family members go to the cottage to work on projects. In his space, you are responsible for your project, but he will help you. He typically has all sorts of a doodads you didn’t know about that will make your project look better. Basically, you lead but he mentors.

This brings me to the title of this story. While on my recent visit, his friend Tom came over. I like Tom. He’s also retired. Tom stopped by to show him some marbles he’d recently purchased. Tom wanted to know if my stepfather had the equipment to make marbles. (Well of course, he did).

Tom’s wife asks my mother if she thought my stepfather would like to make marbles, and my mom replied, “Well, of course, he would like to make marbles”. This made me laugh out loud and I immediately wrote down the expression because it drove home a point.

In another week or two, there will be fresh marbles.

I am not a recruiter by trade, but I want to give some advice to people who are… when you find these types of people, the ones that enjoy trying new things, who aren’t flustered when something doesn’t work and like sharing a work experience with others, HIRE them.

I see time and time again that there is an over-emphasis on fitting to certain molds; to gravitate toward compliant people in the recruiting process. When you do that every time, you end up with a workforce who can’t adapt when their documents won’t print, or the internet is down. If you hire people who have ingenuity, who have a natural ability to make things, we all achieve so much more.

And no, I didn’t stay around for the marble-making project. I’ll settle for pictures.

Is Your Organization “With It”?

Your company is bent on developing its next generation of leaders.  You want to select the best and the brightest young grads.  But are you ready for the expectations that these best and brightest walk in the door with.  This new generation of graduates (or Generation Y) are used to operating from a very different playbook. What do I mean by that?

  1. All ideas are heard. Gen Y are used to putting out an idea out on the web and getting quick feedback on it, both good and bad. But most organizations follow a formal process to submit ideas or have a lot of “yes butting…” which will frustrate this instant generation.  Recommendation: Grad onboarding should include an in-depth understanding of both formal and informal cultural norms so that Gen Y can more easily navigate and be successful.
  2. Contribution counts more than credentials. Gen Y are used to choosing what they are going to participate in based on their interests and perceived strengths.  However in most organizations people’s title and credentials (and the managers perception of an employee’s capabilities) will determine the tasks they get to be part of. Recommendation: Keep grads engaged by flexing their role and leaving space for volunteering and cross-functional projects.
  3. Power comes from sharing not hoarding. Most Gen Y believe  in the benefits of open and transparent information sharing. However in most organizations (build around hierarchy and job boxes), people are incented to hoard rather than share information.  Recommendation: Always give the context and “why” of new work and projects.  Share as much as you possibly can and get the grads fresh perspective on organizational issues.  Their unique perspectives may help break old thinking.

If organizations want to retain a new generation of workers, they need to re-think their work practices and create more engaging ways to motivate people.

Keep Your Stick On The Ice

Ladies and Gentlemen we are in the midst of one of the wildest NHL postseasons ever!  Intensity is at an all-time high!  So is scoring, so are penalties, so are suspensions, so are injuries, so is controversy…  In the first round playoff series between the Philadelphia Flyers and the Pittsburgh Penguins, a series eventually won by the 2012 version of the Broad Street Bullies, the two teams tallied a record 45 goals in the first four games alone.

Analysts and insiders posited that the explosion of scoring was due in part to the reckless style of play by both teams.  For example, a Pittsburgh player in his own zone would line up an opponent for a big hit against the boards, hoping to make a big impact and send a big message. He would do so at the expense of fundamentally-sound defence, and therefore give up scoring chances.  Both teams strayed from the fundamentals of playing hockey, and I can’t tell you how many penalty minutes the teams amassed in this series, because my calculator only has so many digits…  In short, they did not keep their sticks on the ice.

When someone tells you to “keep your stick on the ice” they are using an expression with two meanings: 1) remain alert and vigilant; 2) calm down and stick to the basics.

In workplace management, as in hockey, as in life, it is often wise to keep your stick on the ice.

You may have heard recently that a certain Police Service got itself into some hot water and bad press for requiring a job applicant to disclose their Facebook username and password during the recruitment process.  In response, the Ontario Human Rights Commission has published an opinion that “Employers should not ask job applicants for access to information stored on social media or other online sites and that doing so could leave an employer open to a claim of discrimination under the Code.”  A prominent and well-respected professor from York University in Toronto has publicly stated his opinion that by requiring a job applicant’s login information, and accessing their Facebook page, a prospective employer could collect information disclosing an applicant’s traits and characteristics protected by the Ontario Human Rights Code, and in the face of a complaint, would have the burden to prove that the decision not to hire was in no part based on the protected grounds of the applicant.  Of course, the Commission’s stance is an opinion, and is not conclusive or necessarily binding on the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario.

To say the least, this is a contentious legal issue of which even the lawyers in our firm have differing points of view.  I can only speak for myself, but I understand the Commission’s opinion to state that potentially running afoul of the Code would not be due to requiring the username and password of an applicant per se, but rather actually snooping a Facebook page using the login information.  Does that mean looking at a job applicant’s open Facebook profile disclosing their religious affiliation, disability, family status, and age also violates the Code if an employer cannot establish that they did not rely on such information to reject an applicant?  I think that taken to its logical conclusion, the Human Rights Commission would seem to say, yes.  So too then would engaging in a discussion with an acquaintance of the applicant who says “my wife is good friends with Bob’s partner Jim.” Or “Bob was going to enter the NHL draft but then he permanently injured his back.”  Does an employer violate Ontario’s Human Rights Code simply by stumbling upon information regarding a protected ground in this manner?  Is an employer burdened with the onus of disproving a claim of discrimination under the Human Rights Code any time they become innocently informed of an applicant’s protected characteristic?  I think not, and as a lawyer, I would be interested to see the Facebook login issue argued in front of the Human Rights Tribunal.

But I highly doubt that the issue will reach that point.  Why?  Because employers should know to keep their sticks on the ice!  For most employers, requiring an applicant to disclose their Facebook login information so you can snoop them out before (or even after) hiring strays so far from the basic principles of safe hiring practices, that it is the human resources equivalent of lining up your opponent for a big hit in your own zone, at the expense of fundamental defence.  It’s a battle you could potentially win, but weigh the potential benefits against the potential costs and you’ll see it’s just a bad idea.  High risk, low reward.

Keep your stick on the ice!

If I’m right and requiring a job applicant to disclose their username and password is not, strictly speaking, a violation of human rights law, it would still likely constitute a breach of privacy law that could result in a complaint to the federal or provincial Privacy Commissioner, or at least make the employer seem intrusive and overbearing.  There are other, less risky means by which an employer can keep its stick on the ice and still achieve the same goal of ensuring they are hiring an acceptable candidate.

Employers ought to be aware that they can safely comply with Human Rights legislation by carrying out their accessible and fair hiring process, extend an offer of employment to the suitable candidate, and in appropriate circumstances make the offer of employment conditional on such further terms as receipt of references, background checks, or medical clearance for a physically demanding job, etc.

So when your company is hiring, keep your stick on the ice.  Be guided by proper hiring practices, respect your applicants, and when in doubt, talk to your lawyer before taking unnecessary risks.