Trouble With Numbers

I once made myself a little unpopular with my statistics teacher with the Mark Twain quote: “There are lies, damned lies, and statistics.” Numbers don’t lie, but people sometimes lie about what the numbers are telling us.

Consider the possibility that the trouble with numbers often isn’t intentional dishonesty, but misrepresentation committed in good faith or through ignorance or misinterpretation.

The other day I was listening to a podcast where the speaker mistakenly used two statements interchangeably:

  1. Nearly 80% of people between 25 and 40 years old have tattoos.
  2. Nearly 80% of people with tattoos are between 25 and 40 years old.

If a person isn’t paying attention, these sound the same and it’s easy to see how a person could mistake them for the same thing, yet the statements are radically different.

Another example of this same type of error would be saying:

  1. 70% of all men make $300,000 a year.
  2. 70% of those who make $300,000 a year are men.

I made up those numbers to help highlight how two very similar sounding statements can be very, very different.

Or consider the difference between:

  1. 90% of new hires at this company are unhappy.
  2. 90% of the unhappy people at this company are new hires.

Statement #2 doesn’t mean almost all new hires are unhappy, just that of the unhappy people most are new hires. If you have 100 new hires the first statement suggests 90 are unhappy. But if statement #2 is the true one and you only have 10 people in the company who are unhappy, well then 9 of them are new hires. Those are very different situations, requiring different responses.

Be careful out there.


Better Communication with Dirty Rhetoric

Do you write? Present? Communicate with other humans? Need to persuade or share a compelling idea? (hint: the answer is “yes”). Read on.

It’s been said, “When Cicero spoke, people marveled. When Caesar spoke, people marched.” That’s how I want to write and present. I don’t want people to like my ideas, I want my ideas to inspire people.

If only… writing and speaking, communicating and persuading, are not easy. The difference between good and great, between marveling at a speech and marching because of it, is often subtle. Learning those nuances has been a bludgeoning task of trial and error for me. Hard knocks and underwhelming responses and I still have a long way to go.

So, I was stupidly, geekily excited to receive a set of Dirty Rhetoric cards in the mail. Yep, that’s actually the name and, no, it doesn’t come from an “adult” themed store. Rather, Peter Watts Paskale (@speak2all), a communications coach and analyst, and Gavin McMahon (@powerfulpoint), a communication and presentation consultant, created a card deck to quickly and easily teach the fundamentals of persuasive communication.

The cards are color coded into four categories – persuasion, scaling, description, and memory – and  each card describes one technique (53 in all). Along with the technique’s name in English and Latin, there are icons showing whether the technique connects to Ethos (belief/ideals/credibility), Logos (consistency/logic), or Pathos (emotions/imagination). Plus, each card has a rating system indicating the difficulty of the technique, a simple description, and two examples. Woof, that’s a lot of info on a card only slightly bigger than an average smart phone.

The instructions include six “games” to help incorporate the techniques into your messaging. For example, Aristotle’s Dilemma has you draw four cards from the color category matching the purpose of your speech (persuasion, description, etc.) and then find ways to incorporate those techniques into your draft. Writer’s Block focuses on learning the techniques and asks you to write a sentence or two, shuffle the cards, draw one from the deck, and apply that card’s technique to your writing. There are also games for four to six plus players.

Today is the first chance I’ve had to really open and look at the deck and I can hardly wait to really dig in. I love the premise of Dirty Rhetoric – a simple, practical way of learning and applying effective persuasive techniques to my writing and speaking.

Peter and Gavin were kind enough to send me a pre-production set for review. If you want to learn more or get your own set, check out the Dirty Rhetoric webpage, follow the #dirtyrhetoric hashtag on social media, or participate in the kickstarter campaign at .

An Open Email to HR Vendors

There are some great HR vendors out there in the world. And then there are the others. I am generally happy to talk to most vendors because I want to know what solutions are available. I want to know about changing technology and where my organization is falling behind or could leap ahead. I want to see where I could be doing better.

That said, I’ve also developed a low tolerance for vendors with bad salespeople. I received an email last week that just put my teeth on edge. Rather than deleting it immediately, I found myself brooding on it and finally wrote a response. But rather than chastise one misguided salesperson, I thought it better to turn it into an open message to all HR vendors. Who knows, maybe it will help someone with their sales approach. If any of us get just one less email or phone call like this one, I know the effort was worth it (ok, that’s a bit melodramatic, but you get the idea). I have not changed the original sales email other than striking out identifying information. My open response follows.

Hi Broc,

My name is XXXX XXXXXX and I am a Strategic Accounts Manager at XXXXXX. We met at the XXXXXX SHRM Conference in XXXXXX a couple weeks ago and talked briefly about your background screening program. I’m reaching out to see if you’re still interested in XXXXXX ‘s services. We are currently the #1 ranked employee screening company and have the industry leading client services team.

If you’re available for a call this week or next I would be happy to discuss your current program to see if you would be a good fit for XXXXXX’s Screening Platform.

I look forward to speaking with you!



I’m not sure what to say other than, I’m pretty sure we didn’t discuss my background screening program and I never expressed interest in your company or service so I find your approach misguided at best and dishonest at worst.

Also, I’m not at all interested in finding out if I’d be a good fit for your product. When I look to vendors, I look for solutions to problems I’m responsible for solving, not trying to join an exclusive club. The question is not whether I am a good fit for your product; the question is whether your product can solve my problems. The implicit arrogance in this approach makes me fear your company’s customer service would be horrific – I want to work with companies who want to help me, not ones wanting me to hope I’m good enough.

I share this because I suspect you’re merely using the tactics your company insists on. I am seeing more and more vendors using both of these approaches and am completely baffled by them. Perhaps they work for some people, but it makes me never, ever, ever want to do business with your company (or any other company using these approaches).

My response would have been completely different if you’d simply said, “I see from the attendance list you and I were both at the same conference. I work for a company with a very good background check service and would love to set up 15 minutes to explore how we might be able to help you do faster and more accurate background checks.”



What thinks you?

The One Thing Worse Than Buying a Car

Quick. What’s the single most painful purchase process? Gotta be buying car, right? Nope, but you’re on the right track.

Now, buying a car is tremendously painful, I’ll give you that. It’s a big decision and a huge financial commitment. It seems impossible to have a simple transaction without the “I have to talk to the manager” games and even when you have the car negotiated out, the finance person will make your life miserable using techniques banned by the Geneva Convention until you agree to extended warranties, service plans, and maybe a life insurance policy or two. At the end you’re so mentally frazzled, worn down, and desperate for escape that you’ll agree to anything if it means you can go home. It’s hard to imagine any other purchase being so antiquated, cumbersome, and antagonistic. It’s almost as though the entire process was designed from the start to be as difficult as possible – sort of the opposite of’s one-click purchase.

Except, it’s easy to imagine how to make it worse by modeling another process involving a major life decision. Let’s have a bit of fun here.

Note: This was originally published at Performance I Create. Click to read the rest. [Spoiler alert: It’s about recruiting and the candidate experience.]

the first step to better leadership

Like many people, I’m trying to get back in shape and it’s a dangerous process (bear with me – this is actually about leadership). Obviously, I don’t want to waste any time, money, or effort so I want the best diet and exercise program possible. That should be easy to figure out, right? After all, the number of fitness experts are legion so they should have worked out the best program years ago.

Except they haven’t. Not even remotely close. The fitness magazines all tout this month’s latest and greatest exercises and fast results diet plans. These “best practices”, if you will, differ from magazine to magazine, from issue to issue, and even article to article in the same issue.

If I’m honest, not only do I not need an Olympic level program, but I know that different people are different and what works for one person doesn’t necessarily create the same results for another. Even athletes on the same team have highly customized programs. Plus, I’m not looking for the level of sophistication required to move an athlete from national caliber to global competitor. I just want to not be terrible.

There’s an old saying: when you find yourself in a hole, stop digging. This is beautifully illustrated by the photo above. If things are going bad, the very first step is to stop doing things to make them worse. Rather than finding the best program ever, I’d be light years ahead to just stop doing the things destroying my fitness. It’s not a mystery why I’m not in the shape I want to be in: I eat too much, I eat too much of the wrong things, and I don’t exercise enough. How’s this for a first step fitness plan: stop eating so much; realize the beer, chocolate, and peanut butter aren’t helping matters; and stop being so sedentary. Eliminate the obviously bad, start small, build as I go, and improve incrementally. It’s pretty common sense and I don’t need the diet and fitness industry telling me what’s right. I just need to stop doing what I know is wrong.

Here’s where all this is about leadership:

If you’re trying to get better at leading others you know it’s a dangerous process. Obviously, you don’t want to waste any time, money, or effort so you want the best leadership information and techniques possible. That should be easy to figure out, right? After all, the number of leadership experts are legion so they should have worked out the best methods years ago.

Except they haven’t. Not even remotely close. The business magazines all tout this month’s latest and greatest approaches and fast results techniques. These “best practices”, if you will, differ from magazine to magazine, from issue to issue, and even article to article in the same issue.

If you’re honest, not only do you not need a world class executive development program, but you know different people are different and what works for one leader doesn’t necessarily create the same results for another. Even top leaders in the same organizations have very different styles and approaches as well as very different strengths and weaknesses. Odds are, you’re not looking for the level of sophistication required to move from mid-level manager to C-level executive. Today, you probably just want to not be terrible.

There’s an old saying: when you find yourself in a hole, stop digging. If things are going bad, the very first step is to stop doing things to make them worse. Rather than finding the best leadership program ever, most people would be light years ahead to just stop doing the things that cause others to shut down and stop caring. In fact, the one secret to leadership is there is no secret – good and bad leadership is always on display. For most people, the most bang for the buck in becoming a better leader is to simply identify the top five commonalities of their worst leaders and commit to never doing those things (bonus points for doing the opposite).

What are those top five? It’ll differ a bit from person to person, but experience shows there’s quite a bit of overlap. It’s more important that you identify your own top five bad leadership behaviors. The ones you hate the most are the ones you’ll be most motivated to not do.

Eliminate the obviously bad, start small, build as you go, and improve incrementally. It’s pretty common sense, but too often we focus on trying to be great without first eliminating the bad. The first step to being a good leader is to simply stop doing the things that make you a bad leader. It won’t make you the world’s greatest leader, but it’ll get you far ahead of the game.

What would be in your top five to eliminate (or make sure you never do)?


[Photo credit: Chris Wimbush [CC-BY-SA-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons]

never too late

Do you remember when it mattered? When your dreams burned within and it was painful to not accomplish them right then.

Do you remember when your entire life was potential? When you thought you could go anywhere and do anything and you wanted to go everywhere and do everything.

Do you remember when you had ideas? Ideas for businesses you wanted to start or ideas to save the world or ideas of the kind of life you were going to live.

Do you remember when creativity was at the center of your dreams? The books you were going to write, the songs you were going to play, the art you were going to make.

Do you remember when the world was fascinating? So many things to do, people to meet, and places to explore.

Do you remember when you couldn’t wait to get started on your life? When the wonder of who you were going to be and what you were going to do had you anxious and impatient to get going.

Do you remember when you were going to be bold? When the thought of living a life of resignation and quiet desperation was what scared you the most?

Do you remember when you were going to be great? When your career was going to shine and you would be revered for your incredible talent.

Do you remember when work was fun? When you couldn’t wait to get up because every day was exciting and different and you were learning at a ferocious pace.

Do you remember the day all that went away? Do you remember waking up one day and wondering where it had gone? Or had you forgotten all about it?

Do you remember when thriving became surviving? When standing out became hanging on? When hopes and dreams became reality TV? When the life you were going to live became the life that never quite happened?

Bigger question: what are you going to do about it? Your life looks different now, of course. Security, stability, and comfort pushed aside passion, desire, and excitement. You have constraints and responsibilities and obligations you never had back then.

You also have resources you never had. A sense of who you really are, not just who you thought you wanted to be. Wisdom, judgment, and patience to know what needs to be done and see it through. People you can count on as much as they count on you. The foundation and options a steady income provides. A sense of mortality pushing you to get things done today rather than waiting for “someday when.” The toughness that comes from getting through the downturns of life. The awareness you won’t be the next superstar or change the entire world and that’s ok – you just need to be the best you and make a difference where you are.

I don’t know what your dreams were or where they went, but I know it doesn’t matter. Yesterday’s dreams are for yesterday. Today’s dreams are what matters.

note to self: play bigger

It’s difficult to get to middle age without learning a few things. Of course, I often forget the lessons and sometimes have to learn them over (and over) again. Now is one of those times and I find myself (re)learning several things at once. Maybe you can relate.

First is a growing sense of mortality. Though I’ve yet to die, evidence suggests that I will at some point and time is precious. Anything I’m wanting to contribute to the world before shuffling off the ol’ mortal coil better get done sooner than later.

Second, is that comfort zones are complete and insidious [FILL IN YOUR OWN FAVORITE NSFW DESCRIPTOR HERE]. Our brains are hardwired to seek pleasure and avoid pain and there’re a whole lot of ancient mental circuitry dedicated to preventing physical or psychological discomfort. That’s good when it prevents us from doing something potentially fatal. The problem is, the deep down scared-of-lightening-and-loud-noises part of the brain can’t distinguish between true threats to our well-being and the risk, discomfort, and pain required to learn and improve.

My most important lesson has been simply this:…

Read the whole post over at Performance I Create.

presenting like a rock star

Rock and roll2Does anyone else go to concerts and try to figure out how to do your job better? No? A side effect of being a presenter and facilitator is that I cannot attend any training, speech, or event without noticing what is done well, what could be better, and what I can learn from it.

Eighteen months ago I wrote a post called “Rock and Roll Presentation Skills” after seeing one of my favorite European bands perform. As a presenter, this band inspires me more than any other with their stage presence, energy, and connection to the crowd. By sheer coincidence the same band was performing in Dallas the same weekend I was there to attend HRevolution and I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to see them again.

Reflecting on what I took from this performance, the presentation lessons hold true with what I learned from their last performance.

1. There is a huge, gaping chasm between “pretty good” and “great”. Three local bands opened up and they were pretty good. But there was a big contrast between the opening and main performances and, oddly, it had little to do with musical skills. Some of the local bands had outstanding musicians, but it wasn’t enough to close the gap. They did a “good” job, but not one that made me want to hear more from them.

That has me wondering what I need to do to leap to the next level. Obviously, a presentation has to be well written and delivered with reasonable skill. But, content and technical skills only get you to good. What are the components that move it to great?

2. ALL presentations matter.Although largely unknown in the States, the main band headlines festivals in Europe, playing to tens of thousands of people. In stark contrast, the show in Dallas was in a bar that held maybe a couple hundred people. They could have viewed Dallas an unimportant show and just gone through the motions.

Instead, they played as though it were the most important show on the tour. Full out, completely committed, pouring sweat, not an ounce of energy held back. Even with their relentless schedule of touring around the world they showed no signs of boredom, exhaustion, or the sense that it was just one more gig. Instead, they radiated joy and enthusiasm.

For me the big question is: How do I structure my life and mindset so I have the energy and focus to be at 100% for every presentation? How do I ensure I’m always treating every presentation as though it will define my career?

3. Engage the crowd. Rather than being the untouchable rockstars up on a pedestal, they interacted with the audience at every opportunity. The headlining singer continually and sincerely referred to the crowd as “friends”, showed off signs held by audience members, offered choices of what songs they’d play next, celebrated the energy of the crowd, and thanked the audience for coming out to see them. Sounds obvious, but the local bands did little of this.

What are the obvious things to connect with my audiences and classes that I’m not doing enough or at all? How can I better create a feeling where I’m speaking with the audience rather than at them? How can I connect with as many people as possible on as individual of level as possible.

4. Make it about the audience, not the presenter.The local bands kept mentioning the CDs they had for sale in the back, reasons they weren’t at their best, where they were playing next, blah, blah, blah. Any words between songs were few and focused on the band. In contrast, it would have been easy – almost expected – for the headliners to show up with rock and roll egos completely unchecked and gripe about the venue or small crowd. They could have bragged about the shows they normally do or made it clear a bar gig was beneath them. Yet, everything the headliners said – every single word– was focused on audience and how fun and great they were. It was clear the band was thrilled and grateful that everyone had showed up to see them.

Our words reveal our focus – as a speaker, is the concern for the audience and participants or for ourselves? This is a subtle, but really powerful difference. The audience knows and responds accordingly.

5. Keep it simple. One would think that less experience performers would keep it simple and focus on walking before they run, but it was the opposite. The local bands had five and six string basses and seven and eight (!) string guitars, using sophisticated techniques to play complex lines. The headlining musicians used a traditional instruments, straightforward techniques, and played comparatively simple songs.

As a presenter it’s tempting to show off with technology, complicated materials, fancy language, credentials, etc. But that’s all about the presenter. Complex is the lazy route. Simple is difficult, it takes more time to do, and it often feels unprofessional to the novice. What beginning presenters often miss is simple requires expert level judgment, effort, and refinement. Simple keeps it about the message connecting with the audience.

6. Have fun. It’s hard to travel day after day, connect with the audience, be grateful for any opportunity to get your message out there, and have a blast while doing it. Despite near continual touring schedule and the small venue the headliners were smiling, playing, joking around, and giving full effort like there’s nothing else they’d rather be doing. The headliners seemed to be doing their dream job, the local bands seemed to be showing up for work.

The differences between good and great are small, but significant.

It’s funny how the things that set us apart are often not all that big on the surface. Notice how none of this is about their musical ability. The gap between the opening bands and the headliner was much more about approach, attitude, and connection. Could the local bands have done all this? Yes. Did they? Not really. They were more than skilled enough, but in the end were no more memorable than the background music the club played over the PA between the sets.

It’s a nice reminder to continually step up my intention, focus, and connection. I need to make sure I’m creating a great user experience and not getting between my message and my audience.

For you, what’s the difference between a great presentation and one that’s merely good?

HR, it’s time to get bold

boldhrBold HR matters.

Bold is a lot of things to a lot of people. At a session I recently led on boldHR atHRevolution, the participants defined bold as: risk taking, unexpected, courage, gutsy, decisive with preparation, forward thinking, positive, out of context, change, flashy, powerful, large, and loud.

One participant quoted Robert Greene, pointing out “Everyone admires the bold and no one honors the timid.” That line resonated deeply for me because there are so many people who want to have an impact, who want to do meaningful work (doesanyone want to do work that doesn’t matter, work no one cares about?). Yet, too often we try to make a difference while playing safe and that rarely happens. No statue has ever been erected, no biography written, no career celebrated about the person who was just another anonymous face blending into the crowd.

The field of HR is at a crossroads. There is much discussion about dislocating, redefining, and overhauling what HR is and does. I think these are crucial conversations and I jump into every one I can, but they often fail to account for a crucial paradox: to the individual just trying to get a job done, revolutionizing an entire field seems impossibly overwhelming, but the field will never move forward and improve until individuals more forward and improve. No one individual can do it, but nothing will happen until individuals make things happen.

That’s where boldHR matters. No matter who we are, no matter where we are, no matter job title or career stage, we can all be even more bold. Whether you’re a senior VP of HR who wants to completely reinvent the HR function at your organization or you’re just starting out in your career and trying to learn the fundamentals you can be bold. You can be the person who makes things happen and gets things done, you can be the person who “steps into the conversation” (as one participant put it – I love that!), who doesn’t wait for permission, who is open and sharing, who attaches your work to the business needs, and who simply chooses to “get uncomfortable” in order to get things done. This is not simply my opinion, these are the words and ideas of participants.

The beauty of boldHR is it recognizes there is no one-size-fits-all. What might be an insane leap past the outer comfort zones for one person might be a slow day at the office for another. Rather than prescribing what everyone should do to be bold,boldHR looks to the individual to determine how boldness will show up in their life.

So what’s it mean for you? Here are a few questions to help you determine where you would benefit from being bolder and playing bigger in your job (and these apply to ANY job, not just in HR):

  1. What do you really want to do in your job but keep putting off because you’re too busy?
  2. What are you hesitating about asking for permission to do because you don’t want to be told “no”?
  3. What do you want to be remembered for at your company or in your career? What additional decisions or actions are necessary to make that happen?
  4. What do you need to say “no” to that would make a huge difference in your job?

Pick any one of your answers and decide on doing the smallest action that will make it possible. Even if it’s just a phone call, email, or quick conversation, do that one action. Then do it again. Then add another action. Keep going.

You don’t have to reinvent the field and you don’t have to change who you are. Keep doing what you do, just do it a little bigger, a little better, a little bolder.

What are your thoughts? Where can the field of HR be bolder? Where do you want to be bolder in your own job or career?

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[Photo Credit: Kellee Webb (@PurposefulHR)]