All posts by Michael J. O'Brien

File Under: Too Much Information

And a happy Monday morning to you all!

Thanks to the good folks over at The Associated Press, which brings us news this morning that Swiss bank UBS is changing its way-too-specific dress-code guidelines after it was recently mocked in business circles.

From the AP:

The bank said Monday it is whittling down its 44-page style guide to a more modest booklet that will concentrate on how to impress customers with a polished presence and sense of Swiss precision and decorum.

“We’re reviewing what is important to us,” UBS spokesman Andreas Kern told The Associated Press.

The existing code tells female employees how to apply makeup, what kind of perfume to wear and what color stockings and lingerie are acceptable. It advises them not to show roots if they color their hair and to avoid black nail polish.

“You can extend the life of your knee socks and stockings by keeping your toenails trimmed and filed,” UBS tells its female staff. “Always have a spare pair: stockings can be provisionally repaired with transparent nail polish and a bit of luck.”

While the old version of the dress code may be excessively granular about how its employees should present themselves, The Leader Board found at least one UBS rule that it hopes is retained for the new edition:

Both sexes were advised to avoid garlic or onion breath.

Buzzword Overkill

The good folks at LinkedIn recently combed through their 85 million profiles and found the top 10 most overused buzzwords of the year, including such gems as  “extensive experience” and “innovative.”

“We wanted to reveal insights that help professionals make better choices about how to position themselves online,” DJ Patil, LinkedIn’s lead data analyst, said in a statement on

Now, onto the list:

1. Extensive experience

2. Innovative

3. Motivated

4. Results-oriented

5. Dynamic

6. Proven track record

7. Team player

8. Fast-paced

9. Problem solver

10. Entrepreneurial

But with a national unemployment rate hovering around 10 percent, here’s one phrase that sadly hasn’t been overused in 2010: You’re hired.

Into the Crystal Ball

With the end of the year approaching faster than employees can run to a plate of free holiday cookies, a few organizations typically take this time to cull their collective wisdom in an effort to predict the coming trends for the new year.

Among them is Bersin & Associates, which this morning released their view into the 2011 crystal ball: Enterprise Learning and Talent Management 2011: Predictions for the Coming Year — Building the Borderless Workplace.

In a brief chat yesterday afternoon with Josh Bersin, the Oakland, Calif.-based firm’s president and chief executive officer, he said the main themes of the coming year will be globalization, collaboration and employee re-engagement, as organizations shift to a global, borderless workplace in 2011.

“Companies are significantly shifting their new investments towards China, India, South America, to the growing parts of the economy, and they don’t have their people enabled to fulfill on that,” he said. “This is forcing HR to globalize learning and development and HR programs, as well as its own operational structure.”

In fact, Bersin research found that 17 percent of all organizations cited “globalization” as one of their top three business strategies in 2010 — three times the percentage of midyear 2009.

In addition to pressing outwards, Bersin said companies must also turn the lens back on themselves to ensure proper engagement levels are met.

“We have found that HR needs to look at their culture, because there’s been two or three years of upheaval at companies, and you can implement social networking all you want, but there’s really cultural issues underneath it that still need to be addressed.”

In addition to engagement, organizations will be re-focusing their energies on creating more innovative processes in 2011, Bersin said.

That’s based on their research that found 34 percent of all HR and business leaders now cite “driving innovation” as one of their top three talent challenges, up from only 14 percent last year.

“How do we create a culture of collaboration and innovation? Those are problems that companies haven’t thought about the last two or three years,” he says.

For access to the full report, click here.

Can’t get work done? Blame the office.

CNN’s web site has an interesting post this morning from Jason Fried, co-founder and president of 37signals, which produces software enabling teams to work together online. He is also co-author of a new book entitled “Rework.”

Fried’s piece, entitled “Why the Office Is the Worst Place to Work”, takes a very interesting look at why so few people think of their office when asked where they’d go if they really needed to get something done:

I don’t blame people for not wanting to be at the office. I blame the office. The modern office has become an interruption factory. You can’t get work done at work anymore … .

When you’re in the office you’re lucky to have 30 minutes to yourself. Usually you get in, there’s a meeting, then there’s a call, then someone calls you over to their desk, or your manager comes over to see what you’re doing.

These interruptions chunk your day into smaller and smaller bits. Fifteen minutes here, 30 minutes there, another 15 minutes before lunch, then an afternoon meeting, etc. When are you supposed to get work done if you don’t have any time to work?

Fried then goes on to uncover the striking similarities between work and sleep:

I believe sleep and work have a lot in common. I don’t mean that you can sleep at work or you can work in your sleep. I mean sleep and work are phase-based activities. You don’t just go to sleep or go to work — you go towards sleep and towards work.

You aren’t sleeping when your head hits the pillow. You start the sleep process. You have to go through phases to get to the really beneficial sleep. And if you’re interrupted before you get there, you have to start over.

The same is true for work. You don’t just sit down at your desk and begin working effectively. You have to get into a groove. You go towards good work. It takes some time to settle in, clear your head, and focus on what you need to do.

I don’t think anyone would expect someone to get a good night’s sleep if they were interrupted all night long. So why do we expect people to get a good day’s work if they are interrupted all day long?

He concludes by suggesting a few options to increase productivity and uninterrupted work time, including “no-talk Thursdays” instead of casual Fridays, and using passive communication, such as instant messaging, instead of popping in on a colleague’s office.

But he saves his best bit of wisdom — at least in this over-scheduled writer’s opinion — for last:

3. Cancel your next meeting. Or just don’t attend it. I’m not suggesting you boycott all meetings — just the next one. Life will go on. And all that stuff you thought you had to talk about with eight other people around a table will get worked out some other way. You’ll gain an hour of time you can spend on more important things. And so will those eight other people. Work can happen without that next meeting. Once you recognize that meetings aren’t as necessary as you thought, they’ll become a last resort instead of a first resort.

Now go enjoy your Monday staff meetings! (Or not.)

HR Secrets Revealed!

In a new post entitled 10 Things the HR Department Won’t Tell You on the Yahoo! front page this morning, Woman’s Day scribe Kimberly Fusaro attempts to drop the veil on the tightly held secrets of the human resource profession.

But before reading it, be forewarned — especially if you live under a rock or haven’t read a newspaper in years — because this information may just shock you.  

Fusaro begins by saying it’s HR’s “responsibility to make sure you’re doing your job well. Which means they know a lot more than you might think.”

Sounds ominous. But informative? Not really.

Among the many gems of wisdom Fusaro and her gathering of experts offer are the following diamonds in the obvious:

“Smelling like cigarette smoke can work against you, as can having body odor.”

“If there’s something on the Internet you wouldn’t want your boss to see, it’s probably in your best interest to take it down.”

“If you’re applying for a work-from-home position, you need to present yourself as a ‘home professional’ from the get-go. This means that when HR first calls to express interest, there better not be crying babies or barking dogs in the background.”

“You need to continually impress your employer in order to stand out as an exceptional employee. Bad behavior and negative experiences, on the other hand, can linger in an employer’s mind for years.”

After reading the list, it strikes me that the reason HR probably wouldn’t tell you most of these things is because, if you need to be told, then you probably shouldn’t be hired in the first place.

Disabled Workers Lose Advocate

The New York Times is reporting on the death of Paul S. Miller, a long-time advocate for disabled workers who was also born with achondroplasia, or dwarfism.

The paper reported the cause of death was cancer.

Miller was a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania and Harvard Law School, but was rejected by law firms more than 40 times, according to the piece, because of his physical stature:

One time, he said, he was told the firm feared that clients would see his hiring as a “circus freak show.”

Despite those setbacks, Miller was hired by a law firm, and eventually became a professor at the University of Washington in Seattle, where he was director of the university’s disabilities studies program. According to the NYT:

For 10 years before joining the faculty in 2004, he was a commissioner of the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. At the same time, he was the Clinton administration’s liaison to disability organizations, a role he reprised in the first nine months of the Obama presidency.

We here at the Leader Board salute Miller and his efforts to lead more disabled workers to their rightful places in the working world.

Pay Scales and Weight Scales

Thanks to the good folks at, who ran a very interesting story today about some new research from the University of Florida that finds skinny women and overweight men earn more, on average, than their average-sized colleagues:

According to the study, women who weighed 25 pounds less than the group norm earned about $16,000 more per year. A woman 25 pounds above the group norm earned about $14,000 less. Thinner men, on the other hand, made almost $9,000 less than their average male co-worker. 

Now, I get the idea that women who weigh less than their counterparts would make more than their average-size or overweight colleagues. After all, we all live in a society that praises puny and castigates corpulence.

But I admit I was shocked to learn that men who weighed less than the group norm actually made less money than their average-sized colleagues.

And, as a man who has always weighed in on the lighter side of the scale, I’m now wondering if, instead of working harder, I should just start eating more if I want to get a raise.

Read the University of Florida researchers’ paper, which was published in the journal for the American Psychological Association, here.

Funny You Should Ask That

And a happy Monday morning to the blogosphere!

The New York Times site runs a great blog called You’re The Boss, designed for small-business owners, but they sometimes touch on issues that also can affect executives at larger organizations.

This morning’s post takes a look at job-interview questions and how to determine the right questions to ask a candidate:

I’ve learned that different questions work for different jobs. The manager of my picture-framing business, for example, hires people to do “pick-ups” — they retrieve finished framed pictures from a room full of racks for customers. She routinely asks interviewees if they have ever thought about becoming a librarian; those who say they have thought about it tend to do the job best and to stay around the longest.

 Take a look and have a great last week of September.

Oliver Wyman Takes 7th Place?

The good folks at have just released their list of the top ten firms for human resources consulting, which was based on the input of 4,500 consultants and ranks firms by their “perceived prestige” in the field, rather than by size or revenue, according to a company press release.

And while the overwhelming majority of the names on the list are well-known to anyone in who has spent at least a single day wandering in the broad field of human resources — with Mercer, Towers Watson and Hewitt Associates among those listed — one name in particular elicited looks of suprise at a recent staff meeting since we had never had any previous contact with the No. 7 firm: Oliver Wyman.

A quick search of Hoover’s database finds that the No. 7 name on the list does not, in fact, refer to Oliver Wyman, a partner at Cambridge, Mass. -based On The Rise Inc.; nor to Oliver A. Wyman, president of Atlanta-based Rug Hold National Service Center Inc., but rather Oliver Wyman Inc., the New York-based consulting firm that was founded in 1972.

This from Hoover’s: Diversified consulting firm Oliver Wyman Group is led by its Oliver Wyman unit, a management consulting specialist that operates from more than 40 cities in about 15 countries worldwide. Oliver Wyman draws clients from a variety of industries and offers advice on business transformation, leadership, marketing and sales, operations and technology, risk management, and strategy. Other Oliver Wyman Group units include Lippincott (branding and identity) and NERA Economic Consulting. Oliver Wyman Group is a unit of insurance giant Marsh & McLennan, whose subsidiaries also include Mercer, a human resources and benefits consulting firm.

According  to its own site, Oliver Wyman has 35 years experience serving Global 1000 clients, with a staff of 2,900.

So congratulations to Oliver Wyman, the company, and all apologies to the other two Olivers who were named here and who may soon be receiving a Google alert referencing their name as a result of this post.


Don’t Be Late

According to the good folks at the Associated Press, at least one African nation’s government (Nigeria) is taking a stand against an internationally known productivity thief: tardiness.

As part of a push to end tardiness, a number of federal offices in the nation’s capital Abuja locked out hundreds of tardy workers Tuesday. The move is part of an ongoing government effort to end chronic late arrivals among employees in Africa’s most populous nation.

The offices opened their doors an hour later to let the late employees in.

While it makes sense to discourage tardiness at the workplace, we’re not so sure that locking employees out for an hour will do anything to boost productivity rates.