Friday, December 13, 2013

Blame It On the Rain

Deflection is an art.  We can really get great at showcasing our ability to deflect responsibility and avoid consequences.  In my life, I have known people who were great at this.  Some might even say I know how to do this well.  Perhaps they are right, but it seems to be such a requirement in the workplace that likely I've adopted methodology.

Remember when Milli Vanilli were caught lip-syncing.  And then we found out they didn't sing the songs that they won Grammys for.  And then they were embarrassed.  And then they blamed the record company.  And then they blamed the pressure to succeed.  (And then they released a demo of them actually singing? Just awful, by the way)  Lots of blame being tossed around. 

And why?  Why is this the norm?  Maybe some of it comes from the overbearing nature of some moms and dads (it's always about mom and dad, isn't it?).  "Little Jimmy" could do no wrong in school ("it was that lousy teacher"), in sports ("the coach never gave him a chance") or in his first job ("it's the summer and they wanted him to work 8 hours in one day...the nerve!").  Mom and Dad could have meant well, but instead shut off the ability to fail, to stumble, to learn from his/her mistakes.

Maybe it's because our society doesn't want to hurt anyone's feelings.  I work with many companies that are corporately held in another country.  When those CEO's engage with US workers, they notice how quickly feelings are hurt.  It's an oddity to most of them.  Are we too sensitive?  Maybe.  I mean, just because I still cry at the end of every repeat episode of Touched By An Angel doesn't make me sensitive, right?  But I digress...

It's not unusual for an employee to blame another employee or a process as the reasons why something didn't work or why he/she was unable to complete a task appropriately.  There may very well be truth to what that employee shares, but does it excuse the employee from getting the job done?  Some companies that have stagnated find themselves making excuses along with employees as to why things aren't working.  We think that more policies, more parameters, more rules, more goals, more more more will motivated change in process, in employee attitude, in results.  OK, America, how's that working out?

If you don't like that your employees do it, have you checked to see if they are learning by example?  Of course, this is not going to be the case in all situations.  There is some tough love needed with some employees.  They need to know that it's not okay to just wait for everything to be fixed before they work harder, smarter, better.  They have to be accountable to their performance.  If something is not right, what have they done to bring it to the right channels or, even more so, to try to correct it?  We want to encourage innovation, critical thought and a healthy work ethic.

But sometimes, as I said, the company leadership has fallen into an excuse-laden mode of operation.  Once we find the right people, things will get better.  Once the new product line is tested, we will start to make money.  Once the economy changes, we will be in better shape.  I cannot tell you how many CEO's have said or thought that a new political party in power would change everything.  It's not Bush's fault your company isn't working out nor is it Obama's fault.  Of course there are things we wish they had done differently to help US companies, but regardless, it's the company leadership's responsibility to make things work in the context of what is, not in what's wished for.

Survey the environment, study the competition, take financial management courses, work with whatever it takes to make your company great.  If you are a business leader, take that role seriously and expect it to be hard.  If you are an employee, figure out ways to make your job work the way it ought to so that you can achieve the results expected. 

For all of us, life is not about waiting for things to work out.  You probably won't hit the lottery.  You probably won't retire at 40.  You probably won't get your way in everything.  So what does that mean?  Blame?  For our company?  For our spouse?  For our children?  For our parents?  Really, think.  What does that get us?

Be committed to excellence, not blame.  Be willing to own what you are not doing well and then decide to change.  Seek help.  Seek collaboration.  Seek ingenuity.  We're much better than blame.  Divert those energies into something remarkably positive.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Don't You Forget About Me

Comcast is pushing its new Streampix movie and television show catalog.  There are promos aplenty with much of it being TV commercials.  And its primary movie of choice to play in the background of the announcer's messaging is "The Breakfast Club."  This movie debuted in early 1985.  It's 2013 (barely).  A movie almost 29 years old is the primary movie of appeal for current streaming consumers?  Apparently.

This movie has been shown hundreds of times on TBS and the like.  It's sold thousands of VHS and DVD copies.  And it continues to sell.  So why?  For those of you familiar with my deep love for Molly Ringwald, I will leave that aside as a reason (hard for me to do).  Part of the appeal is the nostalgia of the 80's.  Those of us who hit their teens sometime during that decade find that this movie, perhaps more than any other, defines our generation.  The characters struggle with identity and their place in the world.  The peer pressure, the temptations of life, the masks needed to be worn, the inadequacy of self - all of these are themes, still relevant today.

It's brilliant, actually, that Comcast is using it.  The movie is a microcosm of life beyond the teenage years.  Many of us work in places where we have to mask ourselves and pretend that all is well when it very much is not.  And, to be clear, this is not necessarily an indictment on the workplace or company; it may be that your continued poor view of self haunts your everyday existence and causes you to maintain appearances using all of your energy.  Letting your guard down is not an option and perhaps there is no real outlet for it.

I am aware that counseling is available for the deeper issues; some companies have rather robust EAP's or even in-house professionals.  However, the reality is that most of us won't use those available services or seek outside help for what we would call "it's just how I am."  Going home after work and popping on "The Breakfast Club" while crying might be all the therapy needed.  I have experienced workplaces where the demand is great and the care for people is not.  I have also been at workplaces where the care for people is high, but the facade to be okay and participate with others is crushing.  Not everyone is the "kum ba yah" type to be okay with HR's latest and greatest team building program.  HR can encourage, albeit unintentionally, poor self-esteem (I can't do what these people can do), dishonesty (a lack of people being able to be genuine) or compartmentalization (I need to work a certain way and fit into a certain box).

Let's not be offended by this.  Let that go.  It's not about you.  It's about the companies we work for and the employees we serve.  So, ask yourself, what have I forgotten about people that I need to re-learn?  Take some time to consider your company to jar your memory.  Does peer pressure still exist at work?  Is it positive in that it's about performance and cultural health? Or is it about high school groupings all over again?  Who are the Cool Crowd and how do they keep the Dorks out?  How do people sit in the breakroom?  Look, this is just one stream of thought - there are MANY to consider.  But we ought to think about the Ally Sheedy's and Anthony Michael Hall's of our companies.  Where do they fit and are they fitting well?  Don't forget about them.

And yet, I would also submit that the Molly Ringwald's and Emilio Estevez's don't have it all together either. And sometimes, we in HR feed those roles and allow little room for them to say, "Enough!"  We build programs around the funny guys, rather than around significant content. so that we get a visceral response to affirm our own existence at work - close your mouth and don't pretend to be shocked.  I have seen this done numerous times and I am sure it will continue.  It's the same line of thinking around some who desire to be seen as "experts" or "thought leaders."  Posting and re-tweeting "smart" stuff doesn't really make you either an expert or a leader (ouch).

I am driven to always come back to the people we serve.  We have to consider all of them and how they fit together.  "The Breakfast Club" works well because we see the roles each one plays, the walls come down and true relationship emerges, but here's the reality - they went back to school on Monday and assuredly re-acclimated to their role.  They may hate it, but they do it.  Adults do it, too.  

Fitting in and finding your place means something to every person (don't even pretend it doesn't - even non-conformists hang out with other non-conformists).  Individual identity is precious and should be encouraged to be explored.  If you read biographies about some of the great business leaders, you'll see struggles dealt with in these areas for each and the way in which they were fostered through it.  We can consider this as we develop our programs and benefits, yes, but more so in our messaging and our recognition language.  

How do all of the pieces fit?  That's our job to study.  We are to create environments that will allow every person to be free to be the skillful, collaborative person we've hired.  That's what our companies pay for and that's what we need them to be.  And each person has a role.  Don't forget about any one of them.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Story of My Life

Thankfulness is not trite.  It can be portrayed as such, but in actuality, it is quite a bit more.  Being face to face with someone who wants to express his/her gratitude to you is humbling, heartfelt and, well, special.  When those in my lifetime have sat me down to express a sentiment of thankfulness or if I have received a note to say as such, I am always taken aback.

It reminds me that my life means much more to many more than I realize.  It's so very easy to be swallowed by duty and responsibility.  I have a family, a job, a church...I define myself by function.  And yet, what matters most is not those roles but the way in which those roles impact the relationships connected - the people who value the work I do, the involvement in my church programs or the love in action for my family.  I define my life by what I do.  Gratitude shakes me back to what my life should really be about - relationships.

The story of my life has been marked by incredible difficulty and incredible pain, but those things do not define me.  If it does, it takes my eyes off of the incredible beauty and incredible blessing in my life.  So many people, so much love, so much to appreciate.  Each one of us has a decision to make each day - am I going to be a benefit or a distraction to those around me?  I can control my behavior...I am not a victim.  I can rise above the pettiness around me, if there is any.  I can choose to be a beacon of positivity in my work culture.  I can be grateful for where I am.

Gratitude is powerful.  I am amazed constantly at the impact of being thankful.  I don't know why I am amazed.  I have seen it happen plenty.  But I forget so easily.

During this week where it's easy and convenient to be thankful, let's think about ways that we can be more grateful all year.  I know that I can raise high the banner for what it will do to the workplace or to the family, but I think it's more than that.  When a habit of gratitude is lived, a life is really lived.

The story of my life needs to be about being thankful.  This isn't about self-help.  It's not about being a great leader.  It's not about being a good employee.  It's about you.  All of those things mentioned will happen when you're grounded.  And gratitude is grounding.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Tell Me Something Good

Performance reviews always make me smile.  All of the preparation put into it by managers and supervisors is overwhelming.  The stress level is high.  The loathing of the review by the preparer sets in deeply.  Resentment over spending a weekend or two to get them done overflows into a negative reaction concerning other components of the job.  And let’s not forget the anxiety of the recipient of the review.  They hope for a good appraisal so that the raise they expect/deserve happens.

Isn’t it a great cycle?  Every year, six months or maybe even quarterly, a manager and a subordinate sit together to review that subordinate’s performance.  The process can be draining.  I was just asked to review a particular company’s performance review plan.  The actual review was six pages to complete (Yikes!).  One manager has 20 employees that report to him.  Wow!  No wonder his response is to hate these reviews.  They take an incredible amount of time.

And what about those reviews, especially if they are annual, that connect directly to compensation.  If you hit a 3.4 average, you get a 3% raise, but if you hit a 3.3 average, you only get a 1.5% raise.  How many managers have to alter scores so that the employee gets the raise?  Is that a real review of performance or just documentation to file so that a raise can be given? 

Part of the basis of philosophy on performance reviews has to be considered.  Why are they being done?  To justify a raise? To merely say they are being done?  Why?  If the reason is to actually honestly review the performance of the employee, then we’ve got it right. 

So many managers struggle to be honest about performance.  They know that a certain employee will flip his/her lid and make things really difficult moving forward.  Really?  That’s a reason to curtail a review?  It sounds like this person should be encouraged out of the organization.  I mean, who’s in charge?  If performance standards are not being met and the recipient is belligerent about it, then I don’t see why we’d waste time coaching someone who does not feel he/she needs it.  Move on.

The review is not only a time to tell someone what’s wrong, but also what’s been really good.  It’s more than okay to tell them something good.  Be honest about it, though.  Don’t make up stuff.  And don’t try to compare an innocuous “good” thing to a really bad performance reality.  For instance:

“Jim, thanks so much for being great during the holiday food drive.  You brought in more canned goods than anyone else.  Fantastic.  But you know, the financial analysis work you’re doing seems to be missing a few components each time and it has not improved.  We’ve talked about this before and I am not seeing much improvement.”

Are we really going to compare the holiday food drive participation (non-work essential) to a core job function (directly work essential)?  The employees we speak with are not stupid (I know, there are exceptions) and can see that there isn’t much good you have to share if the best you can come up with is that he brought more cans of creamed corn in than anyone else.  Let’s think critically on our part and provide dignity on the part of the employee.  If the best we got is creamed corn, then shouldn’t we try to move this person out of the organization or at least to a different area where his skills would better align?

Reviews are to be just that – reviews.  There should not be anything discussed in the formality of the sit-down that someone hasn’t heard previously.  Using the example above, the supervisor reminds Jim that they had discussed his missteps with financial analysis before – perfect.  Now, the review provides an opportunity to right the ship, if it’s not already happened.  Develop a plan and a range of results expected with the employee.  Use the sit-down to establish parameters. 

The busyness of the daily workload can be prohibitive to formal objectives, but the review provides a dedicated time to develop those goals and objectives.  The employee should have a voice in the development of those goals, so use part of that time to do so.  It takes some of the pressure off of the manager if he/she can get participation in success.

I know that in one blog article, we can’t solve the world’s problems with performance reviews, but we can start.  Think through what you and your company are doing.  Is it working?  If not, what has to change?  Are you seeking help, if needed, to restructure?  If it’s working, why?  Keep those core truths close and make decisions that support them.  If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

The first performance review I received had all 5’s on it and one 3.  The three was for employee communications – how I spoke to other employees.  Two things, even in my early 20’s, struck me with this.  One, I knew I wasn’t a 5 in everything.  No way.  And the second, for me to get a 3 in one area that had never been spoken about to me previously, must mean that I really stink at it.  I was dejected that this was a reality that no one shared with me.  I would have addressed it in myself.  I was a little bitter towards the manager.  I was unhappy with this bomb (in my estimation) being dropped.  Oh, and by the way, I got my raise.  Effective?  Hmmmmmm…

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Freaks Come Out at Night

Multiple shifts often mean multiple sub-cultures.  The way things are done during the day shift, for example, can vary (sometimes greatly) from how they are done during the night shift.  An us/them effect can take over and the disparity in attitude can cost an organization in lost productivity and higher payroll due to paying more for the extra time it takes to get things done.  

In one organization I got to be a part of some years ago, the day shift thought the night shift was a bunch of freaks.  They would spend part of their work day and break time discussing how dumb, crazy, stupid, bizarre and idiotic the night crew was.  Sounds productive and helpful to the culture, right?

Management has one choice in this type of situation - Get up.  Get out of your ergonomic chair and get on the floor.  Engage with the sales teams, line workers and administrative staff.  OK, how?

  • Change the tone and type of conversation by being an example of healthy communication and encouragement towards goals.  Make the decision to not participate in smearing an entire team's or group's reputation.  If an employee thinks the night shift is filled with freaks, ask why?  Challenge the basis, not argumentatively, but directly. 
  • Consistently be seen.  This effort cannot be a "one and done" deal.  It cannot be a once per month which happens to fall during the same time each month.  It cannot be done daily at the same time.  Mix it up.  Catch people outside of habit or comfort.  Allow them to be affected by your presence.  Your mere presence should give cause for employees to pause and think about what they are about to say to someone else.
  • Don't allow comfort to get in the way.  You're going to have to do these things on all shifts.  Only engaging with the shift that is most convenient to your schedule will fall short.  Those workers on the shift you hardly come to see will know it.  It's not hard to amplify an us/them feeling when you're dealing with multiple shifts and teams.  The likely winners are usually the Monday through Friday day shift.  They are able to work with the bulk of senior management and administrators during the "normal week" schedule.  You cannot allow that to be the perspective; it will foster the feeling that any other shift is less than desirable.  Get up on a Saturday.  Go into work at 3AM for the overnight crew (just leave early from work the next day).  It's a little inconvenient but it's an appropriate message to those employees.

Simply, be present and persistent.  Set a tone that you would want others to follow.  Don't wait for someone else to start it (scary, I know).  You set the bar and start the momentum.  Don't look to the right or to the left for someone else to champion the cause.

The only freaks that ought to be named should be those who do not extend themselves for the betterment of the company.  What would it mean to your company if this were true?  The anomalies of the company are those who are not present fully and persistent in protecting culture.  Nothing scary about that!

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Holding Out for a Hero

It is easy to look to someone else to fulfill our needs or desires.  Talk shows are full of people who've chosen a mate to be someone's "all in all" and, for whatever reason, it doesn't work out.  People tend to want to find that magic in someone that will rescue them from their current situation.  We do it with people, but we also do it with stuff.  We want that lottery win so bad.  We think that will rescue us from our current situation.  Then how is it that 70% of lottery winners are bankrupt?  We don't find our hero to be what we expect it to be.

For those of us old enough to remember School House Rock, there was a song called "My Hero, Zero."  The point of the lesson is that by itself a zero is nothing but put it behind a "1" and you've got "10," an increase numerically.  The Zero finds itself to be heroic in that it's nothingness turns into value when used in conjunction with another number.

As "People People," we get so many chances to bring zeroes to heroic levels.  I am not talking about budgets (I've tried that before and some accountant always catches my "accidental" additional zero at the end of the HR budget), but rather finding value in all of those who work with and for us.  The quietness of a worker should not be allowed to signify his/her minor contribution to the whole while the boisterous worker seems to get credit for things he/she had nothing to do with just because of loudness.  Cultivating those "zeroes" into heroes is part of our strategic responsibility.

A hero is one who is admired for performing great and/or brave acts and has fine qualities, according to Webster's Dictionary.  Aren't there some people in our workplaces that have those qualities and others simply do not know or notice, including the hero himself/herself?  Give consideration as to how to cultivate heroes.
  1. Look for those who do exceptional work.  I'm not talking about the person who answers twenty calls a day whose job it is to answer phones; that is not a hero.  We cannot reward basic job responsibilities by calling that person a hero.  It has to be great or brave.  How about the worker who stays late to finish a project for three weeks without most people knowing?  How about the person who looks for ways to improve processes or technology for the good of the company even when it's not in his/her direct job description?
  2. Listen to others tell stories.  Set the tone for this, though.  Someone coming to tell you that Joe is a great guy because Mike, who sits next to him, is tough to deal with and Joe doesn't complain about him.  Really?  I mean, I appreciate that, but Joe is no hero.  What about those of us who have relatives who are annoying to deal with?  Where's my hero trophy (just kidding, Family, there's no one annoying in our family besides me)?  Cultivate a forum for people to cheer others on by noticing the great or brave work someone is doing.  We should encourage our employees to notice great acts from great people.
  3. Don't make this about gift cards.  I get that we want to reward people and I can appreciate the gesture, but the gesture can become the goal rather than things being done for true heroic reasons - rescue, encouragement, betterment, bravery, etc.  A $5 gift card to Starbucks is not equal to someone truly doing something marvelous.  And on this note, don't make each month a "have to" in finding someone.  Haven't you worked for those companies who have an Employee of the Month and wind up picking someone "who hasn't had it yet this year"?  Wow, that's stellar criteria.
Heroes are not those in front, per se, seeking the accolades.  We've got to look for them.  The humility coupled with the great or brave act is admirable and sets a tone for others.  The culture becomes attuned to the qualities in those being recognized.  It sets a pattern that we want repeated.

I am holding out for a hero in each of your companies.  You need one.  And lest I forget to say, you may actually be that hero for your company.  And if your company hasn't recognized it yet, keep doing what you're doing.  It's not for you to determine what management ought to do for you.  You just keep doing what you're doing because it's the right thing to do.  We are still allowed to do that; no federal or state law requires us to change that practice (yet)!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

This Used to be My Playground

For 10 years, I have to admit, I have loved What Not to Wear.  I didn't really love Season 1, actually.  There was a different male host and the show was a little predictable.  But Season 2 turned the corner.  Men and women (okay, it's been all women for the last six seasons) with varying fashion dilemmas are nominated by friends and family for a makeover.  Seems classic, right?  In many ways, you would be correct.  So why with all of the other makeover shows that have come and gone, did #WNTW (oh yeah, I'm down with the hashtag) last for ten years?

In part, the hosts are hilarious.  Stacy and Clinton, bravo.  In part, too, it's because there is the understanding that the clothes don't make you feel something, but rather, who you are is highlighted by the clothes you wear.  Personality, professionalism and passion all pour through your outfit.  Silly?  What does it say to you when someone highly qualified shows up to an interview with ripped jeans and a graphic T?  Unless it's Urban Outfitters or a company in your mom's basement, you might be disappointed that this person did not think it worthwhile to dress accordingly.  Clothes do make the man (or woman, as it may be), but the tactic of #WNTW is to do so as an output of who the person is.

The hosts spend time talking to family and friends.  They ask the contributor what life has been like, where they want to go in the future personally, professionally, and how those around him/her can know those desires just by the contributor walking into the room.  It's not a clean shirt, trendy haircut and new lipstick kind of engagement.

We can do the same thing...not the wardrobe makeover part (I've seen what some of you wear and you're lucky there won't be an 11th year of What Not to Wear!), but a talent makeover.  Some of the issues for our long-term employees are that they've done work a certain way for years and it's tough to get them to try new ideas or new processes.  Perhaps they used to try and it didn't work out or the plans were too all over the place, so they don't "waste their time."  They have gotten used to playing on the same swing set and don't want to hear about the latest and greatest stuff.  It's very much like some of the contributors on the show.  They are still wearing clothes from the 80's and don't know why they can't get a date or that the dates they do get are psycho.  They're comfortable in what they know; "it's worked for me" is a common phrase.  

Let's show them how valuable their experience can be in light of new understandings of production, marketing and technology.  Let's get them into a new "outfit" not because we want to make them look hip, but because it will allow people to engage with them quicker and find out what they know.  Take the time to look at how things work in your place of employment.  Do the seasoned employees hang out with each other exclusively?  How will the younger ones feel okay to engage?  What about knowledge management?  What if some of those seasoned employees retire...where will that know-how go?

Assess the environment.  Not just the physical attributes, but the cultural attributes.  What is it the company values and how is that upheld?  Just like the contributor is encouraged to let his/her inner passions and interests shine through the deliberately chosen wardrobe, so too should our companies shine the mission and values through it's outer markings.  And that is largely seen in our employees.

We ought to be the experts at recognizing competencies in our people.  We should look for ways to accent and highlight those KSAs in ways that others in the organization will take notice and want to engage.  Think of it like dressing someone up for a date.  He/She may look good when they walk in the door and cause the date to be thrilled at the sight, but the conversation throughout the date will determine how likely this relationship is to continue.  So many companies have thrown thousands at image and surface tactics only to come right back to square one once the hoopla is over.  We know better than to fall for that (I hope).

The territory we're in charge of is our organization.  Allow talent to speak through our talent.  How can we facilitate the recognition of such talent?  How can we get our talent to go deeper and express more?  It's our primary job in human resources to manage talent fully (that's a lot of "talent" usage, isn't it?).  We don't get a $5000 gift card per employee to get it done, but we do get to use the resources at our disposal, which includes our smarts, to make it happen.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013


I am a sucker for a good come-back movie.  I love seeing the underdog win over the well-funded or obnoxious favorite.  The storyline of hard work, honesty, faith and little bit of luck stir something real deep inside of us.  Sports-related plot lines especially seem to captivate.  Think about movies like Rudy, Hoosiers, Remember the Titans, Rocky and Invincible.  Are you feeling good?  Smile on your face?

These movies show us that skills, bravery, teamwork and willpower can come together around a common goal.  Even for those superstar athletes depicted, the concept of team is learned and he/she realizes that winning cannot be done alone.  Years ago, I worked for an organization that would show a movie on Fridays for the sales department.  The movie would play on all of the televisions in the sales area, which normally showed CNBC, for about 2-3 hours in the afternoon.  The idea was to play movies like this to inspire teams of people.  I loved walking through the department during the last 10 minutes of the movie.  As much as people were working during the majority of the movie, they could not help but stop cold for those last 10 minutes.  Eyes fixed, slight smiles on their faces and the occasional fist of victory lifted (of course, Boiler Room was shown often, too, and that doesn't quite have the same effect).

People want to be inspired.  They want to know that their efforts matter.  They want to be valued and encouraged in those success areas.  They want to see how they fit into the whole.  They want to know that they can win.  

Since we all are people-people, what is our role in building upon this natural inclination?  We know that those employees we serve seek success in effort.  How can they see how what they do matters for the team?  Can this be deepened or better defined?  How can you make the pathway clearer?  This is not existential in questioning (some would say I am not that deep to go there anyway), but rather practical in nature.  I would submit a couple of ideas.

First, train directors, managers and supervisors to assess talent.  We have to show these managers what to look for and how to determine the skills and abilities on their teams.  Often, we just let them figure it out, but most times, they don't.  Who taught you how to know what you truly have to work with?  No one?  Well, then, learn first.  Seek a mentor or coach of your own and then pass along what you are learning to a director.  Inspiration for your teams will settle in deeply if those team members know that you know them.  You will be thinking of ways to set them up for success.  They will rise to the occasion because you knew, sometimes even better than they did, where to put them and how to use their competencies.  

Management will be proactive in this posture, which may also be a complete departure from how it's worked to date.  So what?  Show flexibility and effort.  If we seek this in our staff, we should represent that.  We can share with the executive team what it means to inspire based upon lasting criteria rather than a flash in the pan.

Secondly, celebrate.  The successes, the wins, the records set...all of it.  Pizza on Fridays is not celebrating anything proactive.  That is a reactive gesture.  "Aren't you glad the week is over?"  "Thank God we only have two more hours of work after this pizza."  "Pizza, again?!"  Is this what we really hope to send as messaging or hear in return?  I doubt it.

Celebration is not just about the past.  When we celebrate a birthday, we appreciate all that a person is and has done over the past year and further back.  But also, the fact that he/she is with us today and what we wish for and know this person will be about as the next year progresses.  Wouldn't it be sad to say, "Happy Birthday! We know that this past year was okay and we really don't expect more from you, but we're celebrating your mediocre life" (that has a bit of a greeting card flow to it, doesn't it?).  We choose to celebrate to reflect on success and to establish a future plan of building upon it.  It sets a tone and creates a vision of what success should look like.

People want to have impact.  The movies mentioned early on resonate because of that basic premise within people.  It's why a song like, "Roar" by Katy Perry means something.  We want to be recognized for our strength, for our contribution, for our relationship-impact, for our value.  It is something we can do for our teams.

Get in the frame of mind.  Close your door.  Stand on your desk.  Play this video at a loud volume.  Get inspired and roar.  Really.  Out loud.  Roar like a lion.  Okay, I can't swear that this is exactly what you should do to get started, but I am loving the visual...

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

For the Love of Money

Is money the only reward we push?  I have had the consistent message of money in my face all week.  Money is all over the place and is a constant source of stress for individuals, couples, families and businesses.  Just look at the US Government; the shut down is all about money.  Who has it and who does not.

Everyone wants to make more and spend more.  Powerball and MegaMillions are national stories every week.  We want so much to make "bank." We regard success as based upon how much you make and what that gets you.  As I sit in Miami today, I see tons of Maseratis, Porsches and beyond.  The status behind the stuff has value here and elsewhere.  

Remember the first season of The Apprentice?  A bunch of people gathered together to learn from Donald Trump as to how to be successful (dysfunctional) business people.  It was a hit and we were glued.  And the main push for each "employee"?  Money.

And the rub is that most surveys show that compensation is not the primary driver for employees.  How can this be?  If we all want stuff and need cash-money to make it happen, then that should be tops, right?  Instead, we see recognition, efficiency, loyalty, purpose and effectiveness as tops on various reports and surveys.  Money cannot buy these things (the Mob tried to do this and it didn't work for do we expect it to work for us?).

So, why the intense efforts around compensation as opposed to these other higher scoring characteristics?  Two realities seem to jump out to me.

First, putting the time into efficiency and effectiveness, for example, takes more time.  We seem to be okay to throw money at a problem or situation, sometimes even without a plan.  But, the thought of putting efforts into strategizing and being deliberate about enacting change is exhausting.  Here's the deal, though, if we don't start doing it, these same people will continue to leave our companies and take the knowledge, skills and aptitudes that we need.  As much as the effort costs, in terms of time and prioritization, we need to do it.

Set aside time to sketch out the framework of strategy around talent management.  Consider opportunities to influence recognition and purpose.  How can employees have some input in these areas?  Generate buy-in through inclusion.  Ask for ideas around efficiency and then recognize those great ideas.

But the second issue could be the executive team.  You may be on point with the planning component  and put together a framework, but when you presented it to senior leadership, they said "oh, thank you."  And after that, it went to the bottom of a pile never to be shown the light of day again.  So, what to do?  Build a business case.  Use real numbers around engaged employees versus non-engaged.  Use benchmark data to show stats behind your perspective.  Make it real to the bottom line.

Measure what productivity has been like over the past five years.  Is it down?  Up?  Why?  Just lucky?  More demand?  Great talent?  How do you know?  Answer those questions and you can start to lay a foundation for the business case.

Let's be deliberate in our business partnership in this arena.  We know what is ultimately driving employees and money is not the top answer.  By the way, I am not saying it doesn't matter because it does (it kinda helps to be able to pay your mortgage, you know?).  However, from a percentage standpoint, we spend more time on comp analysis and related issues than we do running after the real top answers.  Money is important, but it is not the primary motivator. We know it so let's act on what we know.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Woman's World

You might want to watch the video and listen to the song first.  Get the blood pumping.  A techno-dance beat with vocals from Cher might do the trick.  Can you believe that Cher, at 67, has the #3 album on iTunes?  She has had the power to reach audiences since the 1960's, and it doesn't seem to be slowing down!

I enjoy power.  Power to create, to teach, to inspire.  I am not a fan of the dictatorial or bullying type.  Having a voice to engage with a variety of people for a variety of causes because of the power to captivate, to educate and, yes, even to entertain is a gift.  To this end, power is about service.

HR professionals have, at times, become caught up in the desire/need to have a "seat at the table" (do you hear me retching at the overuse of that phrase?).  In doing so, our eyes become incredibly self-focused and we dwell on ways to show ourselves to be valuable and necessary.  We attend seminars that tell us how to get our executive teams to welcome us in with open arms; we listen to webinars geared towards personal advancement.  Now, understand that I am on-board with the truths in these things, but I would like to submit that the best leaders I've worked with have served their companies/peoples by example and lead the charge as a result.
Servant leadership seems to come easier for women.  It's not weakness to those who observe and understand.  Take Mother Teresa, for example.  She had the ear of many world leaders.  She created an entirely new religious order of nuns.  She spoke and wrote about the issues of poverty, healthcare and hunger to the world who wanted to hear what she had to say.  And she earned the right to be heard by caring for thousands of impoverished and diseased people.  

It's not to say that this is only something women can do.  As men, we're often not raised to serve others well.  We are taught to serve only in as much as you can be served by doing so.  And women are not exempt from this thinking either.  The workplace has forced this thinking upon both sexes and pushed the boundaries for self-centeredness and self-indulgence.  There is a need to return to an air of humility in service so that the cultures we seek to create are founded on lasting principles.

Talent to lead is a skill.  It's not all natural.  There are those with a natural inclination to lead, but refinement is necessary.  Service to others most often helps to refine with lasting results. 

Lasting results.  Now, there is a concept.  So much of what we hope to do is short term.  Hard work is needed for all efforts, but consistent approach sustains.  In this case, leadership that is focused upon those to be served keeps us honest, impassioned and humble.  We should want to get better in the ways we can be effective, not only by attending self-help workshops, but by practicing what we preach by serving those to whom we're delivering the message.  Mother Teresa didn't decide to do what she did because someone told her to be a great leader.  She did what she did because she was driven to serve.  The more she engaged with the people she was to serve, the more she wanted to get better at leading the charge for change.  She didn't "serve" for a while (you know, put her time in) and then move on to the speaking circuit, distancing herself from the passionate purpose.

We need to keep our heads in the game.  We are some of the most incredible professionals to walk the earth today.  We have an opportunity to be impactful and engaging, and thereby able to lead effectively.  And we can maintain and expand these truths by serving well those with whom we've been entrusted.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

She Bop

Do you remember trying to fit in?  You might still be trying now!  Our school years most often represent the times where this was a reality.  We wanted so much to be liked, to be popular, to be wanted, to be so much more than we saw ourselves as.  We desired people to seek out our presence.

As we've aged (so hard to write that...), we still look to fit in.  Often, however, it may not be as much about being popular as it is being relevant.  We don't want to be our dads or moms of a generation ago.  We don't want to go "gently into that good night" and we shouldn't.  We should want to remain engaged and informed.  We should maintain a voice within our organizations that still speaks to the pulse of the markets, the competition, the corporate philosophy.

But I would be delinquent if I didn't mention priorities.  In our quest to be relevant, we sometimes lose our way in keeping the priorities of our organizations first.  Some of you are already shaking your heads in agreement (thanks!), but let's get some perspective on this, as it's not a new phenomenon.

We know that sex sells.  It has done so since time began.  Men and women have both used it to be desirous and to achieve goals.  Advertisers and marketing executives understand this and regularly use sex as relevant to the generation watching and listening.  The philosophy for some major organizations has shifted due to the use of sex to sell product.  GoDaddy has had some beautiful women in its advertising and this has been successful for them.  Oh, and by the way, they sell website domains and services...very sexy, hence the relevant advertising.

OK, in HR, we can't use sex (if you are, wow) to sell our relevance.  So, what do we use?  What is the latest and greatest product, series of lectures, technology?  The first component is to remember what the mission of the organization is.  All messaging should be tied to that, and if there are messages that don't fit, we should remove them, regardless of how "relevant" it is.  Secondly, relevance does not equal appealing.  These words have become overlapped in organizations.  Think about school for a moment.  There were days that school seemed boring, tough, annoying, overwhelming and stupid.  The appeal of school was not always there, but it's relevance remained.  Education is vital to the health and growth of people (we can argue about Algebra later).

And finally, the method of achieving relevance may not be popular. In fact, sometimes it may be polarizing. When Miley Cyrus performed at this year's VMAs, she delivered what she believed to be a relevant performance. She was talked about for days after the performance, clips were shown over and over again, celebrities were interviewed, etc. The response was divided - some loved it, some hated it. Is she relevant because we were talking about it or is she relevant because her messaging is consistent with the goals of her organization?

The dictionary defines relevance as "closely connected or appropriate to the matter at hand." What does the messaging we deliver in our companies say about our relevance? Are we "flash in the pan" messengers? Meaning, we deliver the latest and greatest, and as such, we have employees who pay little mind to it. They know that if they just wait a bit, the message will change again, so why commit? Better use of our time is to remain consistent in the ways in which we deliver product and services to our customers and to relay that consistent message to employees with enthusiasm and openness. Relevance can be enhanced by better connecting it to the matter at hand.

If we are Brother and typewriters are not what people want any more, then what are we doing to continue to deliver products and services in keeping with our mission of providing office solutions? Understand what's going on in the markets and maintain relevance through offerings. Simple to say, I know, but necessary to unpack with the executive team. Brother, for example, still employs 1100 workers in the US. They care to know how the company plans on remaining consistent in mission in light of changes in technology, usage and competition.

Sometimes our problem in HR is that we like the shiny new toys. New programs, new tactics, new videos are great, but if they don't contribute to the overall mission of the organization, then they are not relevant, regardless of how much fun they are. To be taken seriously as a true business partner, we have to be able to show how what we do, suggest and implement is driving our company to its mission and related goals. Some of you are doing great work in this vein and should keep sharing your great ideas. And for those of you not doing so, cheer up! Listen to "She Bop" (with which I have forever scarred you), re-energize and review the mission. Relevance takes thought...just like Algebra.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Ribbon in the Sky

Success stories are a standard in marketing.  In the health and wellness industry, for example, weight loss companies like Jenny Craig, Weight Watchers and NurtiSystem spend millions on celebrity testimonials.  And some of these celebrities have seen a resurgence in their careers as a result, like Marie Osmond, Kirstie Alley, Valerie Bertinelli, etc.  We love to see the dramatic difference in the before and after shots.  Those photos inspire and amaze us.  We celebrate the victory with that celebrity (like we know them or something). 

Victory is a great achievement.  It's worth celebrating.  Losing weight is a great accomplishment, but it is not the only accomplishment worth celebrating.  In our organizations, we have employees reaching and exceeding goals.  Are we celebrating?

As some of you know, I am big on expectations and measurement.  I believe that it's necessary to set clear expectations and goals and then follow up to measure how those things are being implemented, reached and if there is a need for change in approach.  We need to set our staff up for success right from the start.  I am, also, a believer of celebrating with those who meet or exceed those expectations and goals.

In ancient times, the act of erecting a monument to recognize a victory was commonplace.  Great kings and conquerors took pride in the work they were doing (however terrible it might have been now that we look back) and as such, wanted every traveler who came into the territory to know.  While building a monument out of stone and marble might not be practical or cost-efficient, we can recognize those achievements in public and lasting ways.

It's also okay to recognize types of accomplishments differently.  Someone who meets the quota they were given might not deserve a huge fanfare in comparison to the one who superseded his/her quota by 50%.  The type of recognition might vary, but the act of at least throwing a ribbon in the sky is what matters.  Motivation from the recognition is a fact.

The Maritz Institute encourages use of a BET technique.  

  • B - State the Behavior.  Let employees know what's expected of them and how it will be measured.  
  • E - State the Effect.  The employees can handle understanding how what they do will impact the whole.  Let them know what difference they are making by performing the desired behavior.  
  • T - Thank you! Recognize what an employee does out of a spirit of gratitude.

And I know the other side of it. I know that we're inundated with gift cards and online point-earnings that can lead to fabulous trips.  I know that we're not interested in one more initiative to manage.  I know that we're promised the world by technology providers but, at some level, we've got to manage it.  I get it.  And what I, also, get is that the CBA (cost benefit analysis) around recognition is worth the time and effort.  Employees who get to raise their hands in victory by the encouragement of their managers are more likely to learn new skills, to creatively think through current work processes and to lead those around them to a higher level of output.  Those are some pretty good reasons to build a monument.

Grab a couple of employees this week or next and test it out.  Recognize goals met or exceeded.  Share it with teams and divisions.  Throw a few "atta boys" out there in public.  The time spent will be well worth it if it's done consistently and with genuine enthusiasm (not an over-the-top-obviously-not-heartfelt attitude).  

And now, I am going to take some pictures with the current monument to unopened ice cream container in the freezer that's been mocking me since it's been brought into the home.  Yeah, baby, willpower!

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

I Wear My Sunglasses at Night

Tear in my eye for another end to another summer.  Kids are heading back to school, traffic increases again, school supplies will cost me $10,000 (OK, I exaggerate but pretzels, tissues and disinfectant wipes...really?).  Weekends will be full of soccer, baseball and football games.  And of course, we move into Pumpkin Spice season where everything produced now must have that flavor for two months.  There's no way around the transition; we've got to embrace that time marches on.

Within our organizations, we should find such transitions.  Business has a life to it.  There's an ebb and flow.  It doesn't mean, necessarily, just in terms of profits, but also in terms of talent, creativity, ingenuity, design and development.  We have watched great talent come and go.  We have had peaks of incredible and energetic design and then valleys of "writer's block."  Those of us in the trenches have witnessed these seasons, especially the longer we've been with a company.

What we may have also witnessed is denial.  Denial that this can occur.  Denial that the company needs to change and to evolve in order to keep up with the changing seasons, let alone lead the charge in the change.  Some of us have experienced our companies putting their shades on and hoping for the best.  Hope is a valuable commodity and it sets a tone, but hope does not pay the bills.  Action is needed and a plan must be developed.

Avoiding a reality does not make it go away.  As people, we may struggle with this.  Our personal lives may contain areas that we don't like; instead of addressing the problem and creating a solution, we may stick our heads in the sand and hope it goes away.  How's that plan been working for ya?

Companies are no different.  They are run by people.  People who in their personal lives may use avoidance as a coping mechanism.  Those people then use similar techniques as they lead organizations or manage departments and teams.  They do what they are used to doing.  Someone has to jolt those people back to true reality.

When companies like Singer, Brother and Kodak kept their heads in the sand too long, they missed the boat.  Technology and business development moved on without them.  How sad would it be for Samsung, Apple or Google to find themselves in similar straits in ten to twenty years?  I know that seems unlikely, but I am sure those admirers of Singer, Brother and Kodak would have felt the same.

HR professionals should be able to have the honest conversation with their leadership.  If you cannot, then you might want to start with that dialogue.  How can I represent the company effectively in managing talent without having an outlet to debrief, discuss and correct?  You've got to have a voice.  If you've got that voice, then your company needs you to use it.  Examine what can be done better, differently.  Look to see what the competition is doing, what the market is doing.  Look to see where those things are going.  Study your piece of the pie and the pie as a whole.

Avoiding the necessary changes and the seasons of development will not set you or your company up for success.  Wearing sunglasses at night will not change reality once the glasses are removed and the lights are turned on.  Speak with passionate intensity around where the company is to go.  Have a plan, not a complaint list.  Have data, not just a feeling.  Have solutions, not just problems.

And if wearing sunglasses for those conversations makes you feel a little bit cooler, tougher and stronger, then go for it.  I have my Wayfarers on right now...

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Price Tag

What does talent really cost?  That's a great conversation starter with a CEO or CFO.  "Too much" may be the simple answer.  But after the off-the-cuff response, how do we consider talent's worth?

One of my favorite examples is Don LaFontaine.  You know, Don.  Well, you know his voice.  He did movie trailers and some television voiceover work for years.  He famously used the opening phrase, "In a world," many, many times.  If you're not readily familiar with his work, please allow me to illuminate - - (I already see many of you nodding your heads, "Oh, that guy").  For the movie producers and television executives, Don was sought after as the premier talent for this type of work.  He was paid handsomely and had the ability to pick and choose the work he would do.  But don't think Don was a slacker.  There were days where he would work on 35 assignments...yes, in one day.

When Don started doing this work, I don't imagine that he thought he'd make millions doing it.  He worked because he needed to earn a living.  Those executives early in his career recognized his talent and were willing to pay more to have him voice their television openings and movie trailers.  The price tag for Don grew over the years and he understood that what he could do with his voice had value.  Don also recognized how he could use his talent for good in donating it to charitable endeavors until his death at 68 in 2008.

Don is a great example of the cost of talent.  Was Don worth the cost?  Well, since I am writing about him, I am saying yes.  He was someone who served consistently in his role and became sought after for his excellence.  Don was guided by those who saw something more than he did initially.  "Voiceover work is voiceover work" could have easily been Don's mantra, but he was able to see more by the way those around him responded, including the increase in pay.  How are we encouraging growth and optimization of talent?

One of our traps is that we fight hard to hire someone who we think will become invaluable to our organizations.  We just know it and we push for it.  When it happens, we're elated.  What often happens afterwards is the issue.  Where is the plan for growth and expectation?  Who is holding the process accountable?  How will success be determined and does everyone know that?  Watching this prospect leave after one to two years, having never really hit the mark for the organization, is a waste of money and a poor use of time and resources.  It will cause those to whom you pleaded at first to not look with favor upon your next fight for talent.  

Our job includes the initial recognition of what could be.  Like our friend, Don LaFontaine, a path has to be drawn to communicate vision for what a person could bring to the company.  Dream a bit and set the bar.  Don't apologize but rather cause someone to feel as though he/she could rise to the occasion.  And the stack of money isn't all that needs to be communicated.  Dialogue about impact and reformation.  Consider how many well-paid executives leave their jobs and why?  Often, someone is whispering in their ear a better laid plan for how he/she will bring value to another organization.  We need to offer insight into how we see someone's talents benefiting our company today.

Create those plans.  Work with management.  Met expectations will show value, to the organization and to the employee.  Even the "small" roles to the executive are pivotal to the overall success.  Consider again, Don LaFontaine.  What was it that he really brought of value?  A nice voice?  Good tone?  Yes, but one greater thing.  He could use those talents to bring anticipation.  A movie executive wants people to come and pay to see a movie.  Don could create the desire to want to see a movie.  That is pivotal.

Recognizing the worth that talent brings will require money to be spent.  But the price tag for it all is worth it when you align need to expectation.  When people work without a charted course, dissatisfaction sets in and a lack of motivation takes hold.  And senior executives get frustrated.  And HR people and recruiters have to back-peddle as to why this talent that they fought so hard for isn't working out.  Redirect those energies by putting it into a healthy plan of expectation and recognition.

Hear Don's voice in your head talking about you and your company. "In a world where talent is cheapened and left directionless, one company has the courage to take a stand."  Chills, baby, and I can't wait to see that movie.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Blurred Lines

You had to know that I would want to use this song for a blog.  I mean, it's the song of the summer.  It's all about having a great time dancing and trying to get a woman.  You know, even though she's a good girl, it's a man's goal to get her to know "she wants it."  Healthy stuff.

Where is Alan Thicke to counsel his son, Robin?  He did such a great job as a psychiatrist on Growing Pains...didn't he pick up some skills to use at home?  Respect for women is not shown by having them prance naked while you sing, "you wanna hug me? What rhymes with hug me?"  And we pay money for this?  I lived this in middle school fantasies.  Is this our adult audience now?

While the beat is dig-able, for sure, the lyrics/message, not so much.  I am no prude, but maybe it's due to how aware I am of what HR gets to deal with on a regular basis.  Sexual harassment is not a once in a while thing for many industries.  I have worked and do work with companies in the restaurant/hospitality, distribution, manufacturing and banking/finance industries.  Ridiculous amounts of sexually-laced communication occur.  And the majority of it is assumed to be welcome and conversant, so therefore okay.

Really? Guess what happens when one of the two participants in "just" inappropriate dialogue gets upset with the company for an unrelated issue?  I hope you guessed!  Everything that once was jovial and understood to be kidding is now represented as unwelcome and forced.  Yes, even language - jokes, innuendos, "you knows."  The liability is great to the company and the risk for the employee's professional future is off the charts.

Again, it's not about being a "stick in the mud" HR person.  I cannot tell you how many holiday parties or summer barbecues I've walked into and saw shoulders slump down upon seeing me.  You know, "Uh oh, here comes the HR cop."  Typically, to throw them off, I ask the DJ to play "Hot in Herre" by Nelly and stand in the middle of the dance floor to see who will join me (it's really funny).  

HR professionals have to keep the company's best interests at heart and in mind.  We have to do that, even when we have to protect the company from the CEO or other C-Suite folks.  If we have to engage with employees to keep them from proliferating sexist language or stereotyping, then that's what we do.  What's the alternative?  To allow it to go on and wait for the company to be sued out of existence?  How does that help?  

I know that some of you reading this are thinking, "Seriously, John? Everyone is just too sensitive."  While I might not disagree with a bit of that sentiment, I do know that something that often helps people to re-focus is to replace the subject of their crudeness or inappropriate language to someone they care for.  I have counseled many men to talk to me about how they would feel if another man were speaking of their wife or daughter in the way they had been speaking about a female co-worker.  Simple, yes, but often really eye-opening.  Many men will tell me that they would not appreciate another man referring to a daughter's body, for example.  Well, guess what?  Every woman is someone's daughter.  Further, they could be someone's wife or mother.  The perspective gets real when this is challenged...the lines are not as blurry.

And I know that women are sometimes the offenders, not the offendees.  I realize this, but I am also aware that the statistics point to us guys more as being the ones committing the infractions.  We can proliferate the stereotypes of women merely being objects rather than equals.

Look at recent events in San Diego or one of a thousand other places.  And while we can joke about the blurred lines, we know they really aren't.  If you have to look around before you're going to share what you are about to share, just shut up.  Don't say it.  That's your conscience telling you not to open your mouth.  Obey it.

If you are a married man, think about the conversation you'll have to have with your wife to explain why you've been fired.  Imagine sitting at the kitchen table sharing that while you and a couple of buddies thought it was really funny to try to get "Susan" to bend over often, it didn't end up funny after she proved harassment.  You lost your job and she is now suing you in civil court.  Makes you re-think things a little bit, right?

Don't fear, HR.  Be the "Stick in the Mud!"  You're not, but own it if it falls to you.  Our lives are not music videos and we are not pop stars.  We work in the real world, with real people and real feelings...and real lawsuits.  Protect the company and protect the people in the company.  Respect is more productive than disrespect.  There's nothing blurry about it.