Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Giving You The Best That I Got

Personal excellence is not a lost art.  You know, we can work to be excellent at all that we do.  My wife shared with me that a friend stays motivated to fold laundry because she thinks about where the kids will be when they are wearing the clothing and the fun & learning they'll be experiencing.  She imagines this and is excited to be a part of it.  Wow.  I am "cranky pants on steroids" when I am left to empty the dishwasher.

At the workplace, many would just laugh at such a perspective.  Why would I be excited to make another widget for someone to use doing something that I don't really care about?  Engagement with the task at hand is not easy to maintain at a high level.  There are days when it's just not exciting to represent a company in service or production. My question, though, is does it have to be?

Self-fulfilling prophecies happen.  If you tell yourself that you'll fail, you will.  If you are sure that a certain person won't be attracted to you and therefore wouldn't say yes to a date, you're probably correct.  We believe the imposed hype much more than we should.  In physical exercise, this is referred to as unhealthy self-talk.  The exercise isn't the issue; it's the negativity that runs through your head that's a problem.  Isn't it possible that a reason you are not at the performance level you'd like to be or at the management level you'd like to be is because you don't really believe you can?

When a decision is made to accept a job offer, it is not common for the new employee to walk in thinking, "How can I do the least amount of work possible and still get paid?"  I'm not saying this never happens, but it is not the common approach.  Most will want to do a great job by giving great effort.  At what point did giving the best that you've got become passe?

Listen, even though I may not know you, I know you.  We all get hung up on lousy managers, lousy processes, lousy total rewards plans...I get it and I have belly-ached about those things, too.  But one thing I am more sure of now then ever before is that I allowed those things to take away my power to be excellent in what I do.  I settled for half-best rather than the best best I could offer.  I downplayed my talents in order to make room for the complaining.  I robbed myself of personal growth because I was frustrated, angry or fed up with the work I was doing or the company I was doing it for.  No more.

Let's walk into the new year convinced that we are awesome, convinced that we can be excellent at what we do.  Let's stop playing those negative tapes and make the decision, despite all of the reasons to complain, to excel at our work.  We spend so much time working, why not make it rich and valuable?  Why not change our perspective so that we pursue excellence?

I understand that some of you will read this and think I am being too sensitive or too Stuart Smalley-like.  I would have to come back to you and say I am not.  This isn't about feeling good, primarily, although that will be a by-product.  I am coming at this a bit more strategically.  According to the World Economic Forum, the United States has fallen to fifth in ranking; the US was last in first place in 2008.  Each year since has seen another step down the world business/economic health rankings.  

The US worker is one of the best in the world, hands down.  As such, we must reflect what we are.  To compete in the global market, which we ALL do to some degree, we must function at a higher level of excellence than our competition.  Giving the best that we've got is necessary more than ever; our country has to regain lost ground.  Product development, technology and innovation, and improved processes are crucial; however, without excited and committed human capital, these initiatives will fall flat.  We make the difference.

The new year is right around the corner.  Take some time to realign your enthusiasm and your commitment to the work you do.  You are in the role you are in for a reason.  Believe in what you know how to do.  It matters to your co-workers, your management, your company and your should matter to you.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

I Hear A Symphony

In my living room sits a piano that belonged to my wife's grandmother.  It's an upright and it sounds beautiful.  My wife dabbles on it from time to time.  What I wished for was that at least one of my three children would want to play the piano.  What I am currently dealing with are three children with little desire to do so and one bitter, Italian dad (can you guess which one I am?)

I had visions of being serenaded by my kids, you know, something similar to what the kids in The Sound of Music did.  I mean, am I asking for too much?

Simply, yes.  My vision for The New Partridge Family is not shared by the "company" I lead at home (please don't tell my wife I said I lead the company).  Forcing my objectives onto the group will not yield the product I desire, and even if I demand that they comply, what kind of music will I hear?  My expectation of soul-stirring singing with instruments in accompaniment will fall flat as the hearts of those performing will not be committed to the task at hand.

Often, in the organizations we serve, we are tasked with fitting "square" employees into "round" jobs.  We have become accustomed to by-passing talent and ability in order to meet basic skills requirements.  When I was working for the major distribution center for a national retailer, I could and did perform the tasks of sorting, re-packaging and tagging that took place.  I met the basic skills requirements, but would that have been the best use of my talent or skill?  Couldn't there be people in your organization that are misaligned?  Are you listening to the music and reporting on what you hear?  Who's out of tune?

I very much enjoy classical and operatic music.  When I hear those instruments working together to tell a story through music, my mind is transported.  I know I am hearing greatness, but not because the players are playing their instruments well.  Rather, it's because the players love playing their instruments well; it's what they were made to do.  Do we ever ask in a performance review - What do you think you were made to do?  OK, un-cringe.  It's not about religion or personal belief systems necessarily, but more about aligning talent to the best possible role.  Isn't that a responsibility in HR?

Mentoring programs and coaching sessions are great; I do them, I know.  However, those things will just be meetings if the other person involved does not see purpose and passion in what he/she is doing.  My kids aren't playing the piano because it's not what they are passionate about.  Baseball, soccer, dance, art...those things get my kids excited to perform and to do it well.  What a miserable existence to force someone to do something they don't want to do.  Why would it be any different for the employees at our companies?

Sometimes, the answer may be that an employee does not fit with the organization.  It is okay to realize an employee is not performing to the level needed and with the passion required.  Fit matters.  Often, the employee is already aware so the conversation about fit should go smoother.  The ability for our organizations to achieve greatness is, in part, a product of our strategic interface with all personnel and in understanding the KSA's involved.

Look for where the organization is out of tune and address it.  Don't just grit your teeth at the awful sound and hope it passes soon.  Be proactive.  Our role in human resources allows for our expertise to shine in such a capacity as this.

By the way, you may have asked yourself whether I can play the piano.  As long as playing the two keys needed for the Theme from Jaws counts, then yes, I play.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Bend Me, Shape Me

Flexibility in the workplace is not a new concept.  For years, we've heard about it from both the employee and the employer perspective.  There have been books and articles written about the 5, 8, or 10 steps in workplace flexibility (I know that there are other numbers of steps, but you get the idea).  Lectures have been given, speakers have been paid and enthusiastic companies have implemented short-lived flexibility plans.  SHRM has resource after resource of material and case studies for review.  So what more can be said?

How about this question: What is the business case for workplace flexibility?  Too often the goal seems to be flexible people with flexible schedules working for flexible companies.  What the heck does that even mean?!  One thing I do know is that profitability is not supposed to be flexible.  It's supposed to increase and move along a trajectory of growth.  I don't want the success of a company to be measured in its constant ability to reinvent itself at the cost of its core product or service all in the name of flexibility.  What if Apple decided that since being flexible is the latest rage, it would add a restaurant chain and a apron manufacturing subsidiary to its business?  Silly and over-the-top, right?  However, the point is that many of us in HR forget about what the company we work for is really about.

The company is about making money.  Every person working in the organization is in sales (just ask Todd Cohen).  What the company is selling is its product or service to the global market.  We don't want to take our eyes off the ball for the sake of being flexible.  What if it won't work to have flexible staffing for your organization?  What if you really need people to work the manufacturing equipment from 9AM to 5PM?  Those employees cannot telecommute.  They might not be able to have "fluid hours" (a new phrase I've heard).  Sometimes, the work has to be done in a certain time and in a certain way.  So, I ask you, are we to say that company is not flexible?

Sometimes being inflexible is just what's needed.  Sticking to what you know the business is about ought to be protected by the C-Suite and HR.  There is a vast difference between studying markets and preparing for changes in production, assembly and marketing compared to putting programs in place to make employees happy at the destruction of the work itself.  Some of those companies have granted their employees the most flexible schedule imaginable...the companies closed their doors.

Please hear me clearly, I am flexible.  I am a pretzel.  In HR, we have had to walk into each day ready to conquer whatever comes our way.  However, that is to be done to protect the core steady belief in the mission and vision of the organization.  We have to take hold of those non-negotiables and refuse to apologize.  The company's success will depend on someone somewhere making a decision and sticking with it.  We cannot be flexible about everything.  You're not a bad HR person if you cannot be flexible all the time.

Re-read those mission statements.  They are matter-of-fact and unapologetic in what the goal of the company is.  Inflexible?  Nah, right on the money.