Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Who Says?

In case you don't know, I'm cool.  I took my two daughters to see Selena Gomez in concert.  That's right, me and two tweens, along with hundreds of other screaming tweens.  As I looked around the venue, I saw them.  Dads who were as cool as I am.  I wanted to ask for the microphone after the opening acts were through to announce a meeting for us "Cool Dads."  We should celebrate our coolness, right?  As Selena was singing "Who Says?" this is what I was thinking.  I had to put my mind elsewhere because I realized that the throngs of screeching girls were driving daggers into my, maybe I'm not so cool.

On a practical matter, I have been privileged enough to bear witness to both sides of the coolness equation for corporate interaction in regards to employee relations and training sessions.  I have seen people dress up, dress down, dress in costume, dress in a get the idea.  The dog and pony show gets pulled out when certain topics have to be covered or certain compliance points have to be met.  I mean, really?  How many times can I watch a video on sexual harassment?  Part of me worries that if we have to spend so much time defining it, aren't we losing our audience? I, also, think that if we have employees who don't know what sexual harassment is by now, perhaps we should really consider whether their aptitude is at an appropriate level for the company.

To combat this, some HR professionals spend more time planning to introduce engagement programs than actually preparing for the meat of the program.  We want to be cool.  We want the employees to love it.  We want the employees to ask for copies of the presentation.  We want our egos stroked (ouch!).  The Internet is full of stuff for HR folks to use, and unfortunately, as HR professionals, we spend time looking at all of it.  Listen, I am all for updating the repertoire (and I will cross that bridge in a moment) but I don't think we should swing the pendulum so far the other way that the latest and greatest is what we look for constantly.  There is something to be said about tried and true learning methodologies.

Engage your employees based on valid and reliable adult learning and adult interaction principles.  Having dock workers make balloon animals in an icebreaker exercise to prep for a session on appreciating your co-workers might not be the best idea.  Think of the balloons, for Pete's sake!  Know the audience; know your employees.  If, as HR professionals, we are to relate policy, procedure, mission, and vision to the employees we serve, then shame on us when we use trite, non-thoughtful ways to engage those employees.  Aren't we delivering a message that we just don't understand them?  

Take an informal pulse of communications, culture and creativity in the workplace.  Set up a few skip-level interviews and allow them to be causal for both the senior executive and the line worker.  Get feedback from both or sit in on some of them.  You might be amazed at the insight.  The needs of the company may actually be different than you had originally thought.

As promised, however, the other end of the spectrum deserves recognition.  I mean, haven't you seen that FISH video enough?  Are you still pulling out that tape?  First of all, if you've purchased the DVD of it, I can tell you that you've been using it too long - you've had to order the DVD after the original VHS issuance.  It's old!  Some of the guys in the video have mullets (if you have one, I apologize, but it's time to let it go - Billy Ray did!)  Love the message, but those Pike Place fish stink by now.  Look for something newer.  And don't just do it because new is better, but rather do it because new may be more relevant.

The messages in some newer product will use language that is more current and the product of more recent research.  Old data in a presentation will be a distraction to the audience as they try to figure out what the new info might/should be.  It, also, delivers a message that you are just going through the motions, even if you are not.  Don't allow aged material to damage your reputation to employees and to senior management.  Both groups can think you don't have your finger on the pulse.  In 2007, I sat in a meeting where someone shared with the CEO to not worry about social media because it won't be around in a year or two; "there's no money in it" is why he said it would be gone.  So, as many of you follow me and Humareso on Twitter, Facebook, Google + and get it.

Relevance is crucial in talent acquisition and in talent engagement.  What I am sharing is not just about Gen Y.  Model technology usage, model fresh approaches, model competitive market analysis and do so in a way that shows investment of time, talent and resources on your part.  The employees we serve are selling and interacting in a culture that is all about those items.  Show the executive team how they can be used internally with employees and show employees how they can be used externally with customers.

I must, however, show love for those HR professionals who are balancing this well.  Adult learning, modern business interaction and relevance is an art to manage and combine appropriately.  I have been in sessions with some superstars.  Part of this week's blog is based on the awesomeness I have seen and the conviction that it can be done well.  Employees were inspired and engaged; they left the room ready to tackle their work differently.  Many left the room confident in the company they work for, confident in the company's approach in the marketplace and confident that they could contribute to that effort.

Who says you can't incorporate accurate appropriate adult learning methods for engagement with modern technology?  Nobody.  Who says you aren't able to invent new modes for your company that show clarity of mission while encouraging updated methodology?  Nobody.  Who says you can't be cool?  Nobody...except your kids.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Pretty in Pink

I was a teenager in the 80's.  I had Z. Cavaricci's (look it up).  A very good friend of mine called me "Duckie."  I had multiple Swatch watches (OK, I still have them...don't judge me).  I loved Molly Ringwald.  When the queen of great 80's movies appeared at the end of Pretty in Pink in her prom dress, that she made, while the Psychedelic Furs sang in the background, I fell even deeper in love.

But guess what?  That love was futile.  It didn't last (plus the restraining order she had against me prevented me from getting within 100 yards of her...but I digress).  The truth of the matter is that I was enamored with the facade.  There was no substance to our relationship.  I didn't really know her and she didn't know me.  Our relationship was one-sided; Molly entertained me and I enjoyed it for a bit.  Was my life really impacted, other than a bit of nostalgia and a couple of correct answers in Trivial Pursuit?  Nah.

It reminds me of training today.  A trainer prepares a session which entertains (maybe) those required to attend.  The attendees may enjoy the time out of production; they make like the lunch provided to "learn" something; they may nod in approval to a new idea.  Yet, what happens after the session?  Many times, employees leave and have little opportunity to engage deeper in what they've heard.  Substance is difficult to maintain in the training relationship.

Part of the issue is defining things as training.  From the part of the HR forest I live in, training is job-related and skill-related.  It is shorter-term in nature and it should have measurable results.  Learning a new software process, a new packaging procedure or a new return policy should be able to be handled in a training session.  In training, a learner should be able to see quickly and clearly WIIFM - what's in it for me.  They should be able to understand how it will make their tasks done quicker, more precisely and more easily. 

For some companies, training is done often.  Management training, new hire training, sales training, etc. are all facets that can be done in the manner described.  However, what some companies think they have are development programs.  Development is long-term.  These programs are just that - full programs.  For example, investing in people to develop leaders is not a training session once a year or even once per quarter.  It is a mindful and intentional commitment to develop specific qualities and perspectives in those deemed able to handle this.  As I am brought into a variety of companies, I see much more training going on rather than development, even though they call it development.

But let me be fair!  Many companies don't encourage development because it doesn't help the immediate bottom line.  And the bottom line matters.  These types of true developmental programs can take a couple of years before significant fruit will be seen.  Companies are not that patient, nor can they afford to be.  They are not mean, but they cannot be that altruistic.  Pepper in what the global economy has been like over the past few years and, like, totally, no way (please read this in your best valley girl inside voice).

And look at the stats on where our educational training puts us.  In the most recent studies, the US school system ranks 25th in Math, 12th in Reading and 20th in Science in the WORLD! (OECD,  With those numbers, we've got take a look at what we're modeling based on what we've seen.  I am not saying teachers can't teach (believe me, I know some exceptional ones), but there has to be a gap in delivering material to encourage learning rather than to encourage meeting some standard.  We have fallen short in challenging people to think critically and analytically which is key to true learning.  If this is the first system that those of us who train and develop see, then it stands to reason that we can easily fall into similar patterns in creating educational sessions for our companies.

Be critical about your delivery methods and the programs created.  As HR professionals, we have to be aware of "flash in the pan" sessions which may entertain but provide no lasting benefit.  If we really are a product, at least in part, of the type of exposure we've been given to teachers and trainers, then make sure you're emulating what works.  Seek out those substantive, exceptional trainers and learn from them.  Study, practice, study and practice again.  

And don't label something as development when it is really training; it will diminish the punch when you really do have something developmental.  Assess whether something is long-term or short-term; determine whether what you want to present is skill needed for the job today or aptitude/ability/attitude-related for down the road.

We've got to be serious about development and we've got to be serious about training.  Both are required, but each is to be approached differently.  Measure success in the short-term with training and use that as you meet with the executive team to encourage developmental programs to start.  Show them that you have the tools and the results.  The C-Suite can also believe that what HR does is just provide touchy-feely sessions and there is no backbone to it; you've got to show them differently.

In my life, I have spent about 6-8 hours with Molly Ringwald.  She presented information that I enjoyed and was necessary for the job I had at the time - to be a teenager.  When I watch those "sessions" now, I can smile for what once was, but it no longer applies.  I have been developed by some significant mentors and through some long-term programs.  Molly can't hold a candle to what those investments meant to and for me.  Not even if she had sixteen of them.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Can't Get There From Here

My son wants to play baseball professionally.  Yeah, I know, get in line.  But he's really good.  No, really.  Wait, did I mention that he pitches, fields and bats both left and right-handed?  Ha, now I got your attention.  He's really amazing at it.  I can hardly write with my left-hand (as a right-handed guy) so to watch him play first base left-handed and then switch to right-handed shortstop in the same inning is crazy (by the way, if any MLB coaches are reading this, yes, we are open to talking salary and Triple A teams now).  What also should be known is that he works at it.  He is learning how to be better at baseball.  He works with baseball trainers and attends clinics.  He is motivated to want to know because he sees what it can mean for him (I, also, know what it will mean for my retirement plan!).

We know that many employees have to have a willingness to learn.  Most realize that if they are to move ahead in an organization, they need to expand their skill set and be open to new veins of interaction.  Furthermore, it makes employees more marketable should they desire to move from one organization to another.  Being willing to learn shows an employer that team-player attitude.  Managers feel that more than half the battle is won when they are dealing with such a positive commitment from an employee.  Often, this trait is measured, to some degree, on performance appraisals and used to assess certain succession plans.

What about switching the perspective, though?  What about appraising an organization's willingness to learn?  Can't an employee expect his/her employer to demonstrate the same level of desire in learning as the employee is supposed to have?

"Strategic growth" is over-used (even by me...guilty as charged).  The intent behind it is to help companies figure out where their paths of improvement and profitability are and where they could be.  The problem with the terminology now is that companies tend to think that having a gym in-house counts as their strategic growth initiative.  Listen, I'm all for working out (I do it regularly myself, honest!), but that alone is a far cry from what the concept is really meant to be.

When I am privileged to be called in to meet with the executive team, it's often because the company is trying to maintain what it has and figure out how to use it to grow.  We have great conversations about competition, innovation, technology, people and marketing.  And it's in those conversations that I hear leadership talk about how much "others" have to do.  "If we could just get employees to do this better" or "If we had the money to buy that, things would improve" might be shared by the executive team.  I take my notes physically and mentally.

Companies need to start with what they can control.  What do they have right now that can be built upon?  Learning this approach helps to clarify mission and vision rather than re-hash wish lists and missed opportunities.  You can't get to the level of excellence desired if you're held down by what didn't happen or what can't happen.  There is plenty of what can happen today, in the short-term, to focus upon to meet the long-range goals.  

I met with a company that wanted me to help them grow by engaging employees at a richer, more inclusive way.  The company said it wanted to have employees involved in directing some of the goals of the company to help create buy-in, but also to create collaboration.  For years, apparently, employees had complained that the executive team did not understand life on the production line.  The company wanted to move forward in a healthier direction, which they believed would increase production and profit.  When I had conducted an employee survey, which included the items mentioned, the results were not surprising to me.  Employees were very specific about initiatives that they thought would help the company grow.  The survey was completed thoughtfully and challenges were expressed; the employees were extending themselves as part of the solution in the initiatives they were suggesting.  As I shared the first employee-suggested initiative for growth, the CEO said, "See, I knew this would happen.  They ask too much of us.  There's no way we can do that."

Didn't that CEO ask the employees to share in the collaboration process?  What did collaboration mean?  Just share things with me that I think the company can do today?  Weren't the employees allowed to be free in the brainstorming process?  Wasn't part of the goal in including employees to create buy-in?  What I left with that day was an understanding that the executive team had much more to learn and work through in order to really see growth, sustained growth, in their organization.

Intentions from a company only go so far (and it's not very far, by the way).  A company has to see where it wants to be first.  Create that vision board, dream and design a bit.  Once you know where you want to go, count the costs.  If it didn't cost anything, then all companies would be walking that path already.  The executive team needs to make a decision as to how much they are willing to invest - in time, publicity, relationships, training, etc.  Effort counts, but only if it's towards something that can be measured.  Companies don't make money by feelings (good or bad), but only when the health of an organization produces results in service and profit.

A company can't get to success (there) from the same approach (here).  Please know that I am not saying that everything has to be thrown out; if a company has tread water over the past five years, even that is saying something is working.  Yet, there are processes, markets, innovation and the like that should be explored for further growth.  An organization can learn.  

Companies should be ready to learn a new approach.  A desire to succeed means action plans that will stretch knowledge and skills.  So, get in the game, all you executive teams!  A swing and a miss is always better than watching the ball go by.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Because of You

When Kelly Clarkson belts out this haunting tune, my heart breaks.  I can honestly feel her pain.  Allowing someone into your life so that he/she can just rip you to shreds...awful.  Sometimes, however, you don't really get to choose who gets to be in your your boss.  The person you interview with at a company seems lovely and (if there is one) the RJP - real job preview - goes swimmingly as everyone is on their best behavior to try to impress you.  It's like a first date, really (I am trying to remember that far back).

Over the summer, I read some unbelievable statistics.  The World Health Organization stated that it costs American businesses $300 billion per year in employee stress-related medical issues, including increased healthcare insurance costs (  On top of that, USA Today reported that 75% of employees surveyed stated that their immediate boss is the most stressful part of their job (  Ugh!  What a horrible indictment of management.  How can such a truth not be more addressed in the workplace?

But my focus on this is not for the manager, but for the employee.  When I was very young in my professional career, I was tasked to create a culture of learning in the organization for which I was working.  I studied up on what a learning organization is like, what kinds of strategies should be used to roll that out and surveyed employees to find out how some deficiencies could be addressed.  The roll-out was better than I could have hoped, and even better, after 90 days of initial implementation, there were real metrics that showed improvement and cost-effectiveness.  I was super-psyched!  And that all came crashing down when my direct supervisor caught up with me at the end of a workday to let me know that he did not approve of the style of font used in some of the internal marketing.  Excuse me?  Did you just say "font"?

Well, needless to say, I was sick.  Worse yet, the supervisor documented his comments on my performance review.  Now the word "font" was on my permanent record.  But, to remind you, I was young in my career.  I was so stressed by his critical nature that I made myself sick, to the point of contracting mono due to how worn-down I had made myself.  So, now, I got to spend three weeks resting and stewing over how much criticism I would receive when I returned to work.

So, why do I tell you this?  Because of him, I allowed myself to get sick.  My employment contract had become my life contract.  What it did to me was rob me of professional growth in some areas, but it also robbed me of my life outside of work.  I allowed it.  I gave power to that manager that he did not deserve.  You see, I finally realized that I was to do a great job at work for me.  I needed to impress myself first.  That manager was allowed to mess with my head, and I let him do it.  I allowed font styles to override metrics of success.  Opinion overruled fact.  And I let it happen.

As an employee, there is no denying the need to learn.  You've got to know what you don't know and find a way to learn it.  Seek out experts, watch the good habits of those who've been at the company for a while, ask a manager for suggestions for improvement, be vigilant in excellence.  You have the power to be successful in your role and it can be measured.

A Human Resources professional can work with management and their teams to enjoin appropriate expectations to output.  The HR manager can help employees understand how their work ethic and effort should align to corporate mission.  Management can be trained in developing performance indicators to share with their team.  These tools will help to balance preference with data.  

Opinion does matter and it should be given some consideration. You do want to perform well and meet expectations, but be sure to know how much of it is to meet someone's esteem issues or fear.  The manager I described was threatened by the success.  A 22 year-old kid should not have had such a winning roll-out, but I did.  My manager was not ready for that, but it didn't change the truth of what had happened.  

For those of you struggling with your managers, take a step back and figure out why.  Is the answer as simple as "well, he's a jerk" or something similar?  Even if he/she is a jerk, what does that do to you?  Can you really not do your job because of it?  Couldn't the people in the organization I was with still be set up for success in learning even though my manager was a jerk?  You bet.  My job was to do a great job.  I had to answer to myself first for the work I was doing.

And in my experience, when you answer to you first (not only), you will meet, if not surpass, the expectations of management.  Then, those who've benefited from your work will share their success with you.  And they might even tell you it happened because of you.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

If You Asked Me To...

Believe it or not, there are managers who care.  Managers in the workplace who want to do a great job.  Managers who want to invest in employees and be a hero for the company.  What these managers need to meet those objectives is exhausting.  

They need to be diligent and focused.  They need to remain positive when it's tough to do so.  They need to be able to handle change well and be productive in every situation, whether good or bad.  Attitude is crucial and skills need to be varied and high.  This manager has to believe in what he or she is leading, not just managing.

The one component that they cannot manufacture is the employee.  There need to be employees who are eager to work, to excel and to learn.  Sounds easy, right?  Towers Watson has recently done a study showing that almost two-thirds of employees are not fully engaged in their work.  A big part of the reasoning behind these results has to do with those employees surveyed doing more with less.  The five to ten year old theme of having employees "multi-task" has gotten old.  Job enlargement and job enrichment tactics have been exposed as cover for "we're not hiring anyone else."  They no longer want to hear: "Just hang on until the economy picks up" or "The recession is almost over, be patient."  The concept of waiting five years or more for something is not easy nor is it popular in the US (good or bad, it isn't).  

So what happens with these employees left to work for a manager?  They function, but that's it.  The spark is gone for two-thirds of them.  Now, the manager, seeing what is before him/her, also begins to experience a waning.  All of the enthusiasm he/she begins with is eaten up by merely keeping people moderately productive.  Happiness is desired, but a chore to create.  And engagement strategies are still on vision boards hanging in the manger's office.  

What my experience has shown me is that the simple task of asking works wonders.  Managers, are you asking your employees how they are doing?  I know that there may be complaints, but your head needs to come out of the sand.  Ignoring the issues makes them fester and spread to others.  Just because you know (or think you know) what your employees will say doesn't mean that they know you know.  Ask them.

And then ask them what ideas they have for improvement.  Yes, ask them.  Ask them how they would fix an issue, create better processes or enhance innovation strategies.  Seek out their opinion, but be clear that all of the ideas may not be able to be implemented.  Employees understand that there may be other issues at hand that they know little about or that the cost of some options may not be doable at the time.  What's more important is that the employees know that they are being asked.

But wait, there's more.  What about the employees?  Employees, are you asking your manager how you can be more involved?  I know there may be frustration at all the employees have been doing to date, but perhaps the conversation can move towards skill improvements and new learning objectives.  Your asking is not to be rude, insulting or full of attitude (you know what I mean by attitude. I have a teenager and a tween in my house...I know attitude).  Ask for the sake of knowing and growing.  

What if you, as an employee, are not interested in your job?  Well, that is a different conversation, but it's one that you must have.  You want to be productive and useful.  If you're part of the two-thirds, then only you can change that.  Find your motivation.  Recapture that joy for the company, if you can.

Asking seems like such a simple strategy, but many times, the simplest is the most effective.  Regardless of the side of the employment relationship you are on, you can ask for clarity, for involvement and for improvement.  The better the company does, the more likely you'll have a job.  It's to everyone's benefit to ask and to act.

It's a new year.  Make a decision to just ask.