Wednesday, March 27, 2013

You're the One That I Want

Remember being the "captain" of your lunchtime team?  You know, choosing sides for kickball.  I know the focus of this type of memory usually revolves around the kid that was picked last, but let's instead look at the first one chosen.  You know, that kid that was just the best at everything; he/she could kick a ball farther, run quicker and look cool while doing it.  The two captains would guess a number between 1 and 10 or draw straws or punch each other until someone cried "mercy" (yeah, it was tough being a kid in Philly) in order to determine who chose first.  And then, that miracle kid was chosen and the game was all but over before it began.

While I was not that kid, I was a captain at times.  When I could pick Richie (that kid), I knew we would win.  Nothing like a bunch of boys in Catholic school uniforms playing handball in the schoolyard or stickball on the street.  Nostalgic, yes, but a lesson in fighting for talent.

Workforce planning is a wonderful exercise and one that can help an organization chart out its future needs.  Being strategic in cost management and production output helps greatly in an organization's competitive advantage.  That company can operate leaner and meaner.  Perhaps you've gone through the exercise of developing a workforce plan for one of your business units or departments.  Deciding on a strategy to meet those future needs leads to a few conclusions.

My colleagues at DoubleStar do a nice job with outlining strategies.  Perhaps it's time to GROW internal staff through training and/or development to close the gap that future needs will certainly show.  Perhaps, instead, it might make more sense to BORROW workers through contractors or outsourced means.  Maybe it's abundantly evident that the future needs for the workforce can only be met by EMPLOYING external candidates to bring much needed competencies into the organization.  Rarely done, but still an option, is to PARTNER with other companies in sharing talent resources.  And the least popular strategy, but one that sometimes needs to happen, is to REDUCE the workforce in light of a business reduction or process improvement that will cause fewer workers to be needed.

These strategies will prove effective.  However, they will only prove to be when a thorough analysis of the business and its current workforce is done.  Throwing these terms around with your executive is not a great idea if you cannot deliver what they mean.  Be mindful of your approach.

Lest you think I have forgotten about "Richie," I have not.  What does your organization do with a "Richie" that lands on your doorstep?  Do you take a look at his/her credentials, KSA's, work history and then say, "Sorry, we don't have anything open right now, but I will keep your resume on file"?  If he/she is a superstar, will your organization really let him/her walk out the door?  Sadly, for many companies, the answer is yes.

Workforce planning is just that.  It's planning.  It's being responsible with the talent you have in front of you and with what you reasonably think will be needed over the next three years or so (maybe five years).  What you cannot plan for is the ace who walks in your front door.  This one person can change the course that some of the workforce plans were based upon.  So the question is not "do we have an opening?" but rather "where can I put this person today?"  This person may just be the one that's needed to open up new doors of business, to develop a new process for improvement, or to invent a new product/service for deployment into the markets.

Think of it this way, I am a huge Phillies fan.  Kyle Lohse is not a Phillie, but if for some reason he showed up on Ruben Amaro's doorstep looking for a job, the Phillies would be foolish not to make it work.  I know there are salary issues that would have to addressed, rotation schedules to be changed and plans to be revamped.  So what?  The Phillies organization, like any other organization, would have to evolve and re-calibrate to chart the course to win.  Isn't that what we are supposed to encourage in our companies?

Don't hold onto those workforce plans like they are infallible and unchangeable.  They are a chart based upon information from today.  If tomorrow, a "Richie" curve ball is thrown into the mix, then adjust.  Don't deny this talent a place in your organization.  Many years ago, I worked for a company that told me, "John, if you interview someone that you think is amazing and brings strength to our team, then let's find a place for that person."  That's a superb order.  We should fight to bring that kind of talent in when we can.

As I shared, when Richie was picked first, it was a guarantee that the team he was on would win.  The opposing team would just grit their teeth and play through their frustration.  They made plans for new ways to attack the situation and moved people around until the best use of talent was happening.  The other team adjusted to the situation.  And because of that, they were more open.  So when a new kid, Dave, came to the school, that team was more willing to have him join them.  They were open and eager to see how he could fit in to help them win.  And on that day, they did.  Dave was as good as Richie.  

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Life in One Day

We're in such a rush to grow up. When I was 9, I wanted to be 10. When I was 12, I wanted to be 13. When I was 14, I couldn't wait for 16, then 18, then 21. And then after 21, I realized that death was the next thing to look forward to (Don't even ask me about when I turned 30!).

Those new to the workforce feel a sense of "wanting to grow up." They look around and see experience in management and in some of the co-workers on their teams. They are acutely aware of what they don't know and are just as aware that there are even some things that they don't know they don't know (follow me?). I respect this. I am giddy with excitement at the future they will experience. I often express my eager hope for them and encourage them to enjoy the ride and take everything in. Have fun with it.

And then, it happens. A manager and an HR professional get together to discuss the learning plan for this new employee. And while I am a big believer in outlining expectations and encouraging learning, I have been known to take issue with the manner in which it's shared. Management and HR want this new employee to know how valuable he/she is. We express our happiness at his/her addition to the team. We smile. And then, our "engagement" dialogue begins.

I have been in the room for some of these learning plan discussions. What is to start out with a simple probe into what this employee has observed so far and where he/she sees some gaps that need to be filled turns into interrogation. "Vee haff VAYS of making hyu tok!" hangs over the employee as he/she gropes for some more answers to the thinly veiled question of "how much don't you know?" I have felt so badly for these employees that I have stepped in and encouraged a different question to be asked, or in some cases, have all but taken over the strategy meeting.

In a learning plan, the idea is to highlight areas for development and create strategies to engage education, modeling and practice into the plan. What we forget is that everything can't be learned tomorrow. We're so driven by results (which are important!) that we leave little to no room for development. Do you remember Kevin from Home Alone? His parents "accidentally" left him home for the Christmas holiday as the whole family headed to France. In their absence, Kevin felt the pressure to learn how to be an adult quickly and was very resourceful in doing so. In one part of the movie, he says, "I took a shower washing every body part with actual soap; including all my major crevices; including in between my toes and in my belly button, which I never did before but sort of enjoyed. I washed my hair with adult formula shampoo and used cream rinse for that just-washed shine. I can't seem to find my toothbrush, so I'll pick one up when I go out today. Other than that, I'm in good shape." And as the audience, we laugh because that's funny.  Is it so funny at work?

When our new employees rush to impress because they are already feeling the pressure outlined heavily in our learning plans, they run through a list similar to Kevin's telling of all the great things they've done. They are validating their role, their existence.  Sure, some of us would see these employees as brown-nosers or over-achievers, but worse would be labels such as lazy, unmotivated, or in some companies, the worst label of all - Gen Y (don't get me started!). As professionals, we have to consider our presentation of information as much as we consider the information itself. Learning objectives are valuable; continuing or establishing a learning culture is absolutely vital to competitive market strategies and to healthy employee engagement. However, when the delivery of those objectives is done in such a way as to make it "Hurry up and grow up today," pressure builds and insecurities for the employee rise to surface.

There is a real difference between expressing expectations and overshooting abilities. Some employees in some roles will need to acclimate to parts of their job first. Some roles are tough, some roles are multi-faceted. For some of these employees, this role may be their first real job after college. Don't you remember what it was like transitioning from wearing pajamas/sweats to class everyday to having to really get dressed for work (No? Just me? Awkward).

I recall one manager of mine who let me grow into the role. He laid out his expectations for me and peppered in often his belief that I would be successful in them. His confidence in me was a driver. His belief that the expectations he gave were things I would conquer, even if I couldn't see it myself at the time, was huge. He did not hand me the list and then heap on the "you better get this done" language. He allowed me room to use my personality mixed with my competencies to grow into the role...and to own it. He knew that I would and he didn't need me to get it all solved today.

Let's be really careful about how quickly we are asking our employees to master their roles. Do an assessment of what some of your most recent conversations were like. Own any language that expressed an overdue amount of pressure and forced maturity in the role, even if was unintentional. Allow those new employees to be guided with expectation, but not made grow up from 21 to 51 overnight. Embrace the talent you have today and encourage the greatness that caused you to hire them in the first place. Let the learning be seen as an everyday practice, not just during ramp up.

Use language to encourage while being clear in expectations. We want to have our talent set up for success, grow into their roles and be productive. It just shouldn't be forced to happen overnight.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Destination Unknown

I can recall sitting in my freshman year psychology class at St. Joseph's University ("The Hawk Will Never Die") in Philadelphia and realizing that I may have chosen the wrong major.  It wasn't that I couldn't do the work (although, my professor had a different aesthetic than I when it came to writing), but rather I didn't really want to do the work.  What I thought I'd be passionate about turned out to not be the case.  And then I was left with that mild panic of: "Oh no, now what will I do when I get out of here?"

When you don't know where you are going, a few key responses kick in.  Sometimes you'll get all of them or perhaps just one or two.  For starters, fear grips.  Fear of mockery by peers who seem to have their lives together and have a path to travel.  Fear of another bad move when considering what's next.  If judgement displayed didn't send you down a right path, how do you know if you'll decide better next time?  Fear of failing in life.  The lack of direction is unsettling and causes all sorts of possibilities, usually not good, to travel through your mind.

And then, get ready for some anger, frustration or numbness to settle in.  There will be a reaction.

Now, think of it collectively.  What if your organization has to change direction?  What if the path that everyone thought they were to travel down has now been detoured elsewhere?  What if employees think that the company's destination is unknown?  Over the past five years, many companies did not know where they were going or could be going in light of the economy.  Many workers found themselves without direction after some of those companies closed or had a major RIF.  Employees who put 15-25 years in an organization left with nothing except fear, panic and guilt.

Let's think of this as HR professionals (I know, some of us have to put on some major thinking caps for this one).  What can we do to display clarity of direction even when, at times, that may be difficult to do?

First, know the mission.  Trite, perhaps.  Crucial, always.  I still walk into companies and ask the executive team what the corporate mission is, and the times that multiple answers are returned from multiple people is mind-blowing.  If the C-suite doesn't show solidarity and consistency in what the goals are or purpose is, then it should come as no shock that employees would be concerned about direction.  Be the cheerleader for why everyone is there.  If it's to make the best widgets in the world, then get to shouting it from the rooftops. No doubt should live in the mission.

Secondly, design processes and programs consistent with a message concerning direction.  Look back at the training done, the performance reviews completed and the succession plans in place.  How much of that dealt with the core mission of the organization?  If you find yourself saying, "well, sort of" a lot, then that is a problem.  There ought to be clearly drawn lines to the main direction of the company.  Having great health insurance plans for employees, for example, is great; however, the reason for those plans is not to be nice (sorry to burst bubbles here).  The goal is to attract and retain talent that can perform the tasks and functions that need to happen in order for the company to be successful...bottom line.  When HR makes it too much about the peripheral and not about the core, we invalidate our business sense and reduce our voice within leadership.

Third, be bold in advertising the destination points.  "Where are we going?  Well, right here!" And then point to where we're going.  We hang legally compliant posters at our work locations so we know how to post something for the masses.  Why not make some laminated or framed directional and motivational signage?  Everyday when employees walk in, they can know why they are there.  But, let me be clear, hanging a poster does not drive direction; it should compliment the steps already mentioned.  Consistency and repetition is crucial.

The success of kids' shows is connected to repetition.  When my youngest daughter wanted to watch "Dora the Explorer," I would say, "Sure, Honey!" but inside I was thinking, "Oh, dear Lord, no, not again, please."  Why?  Because they repeat the same stuff over and over again.  I mean, just jump over alligator swamp already...stop telling me ten times that you have to do it, just do it!  However, the mental exercise for my child developed her sense of organized thought, understanding plans and belief in the mission at hand. All this and driving her dad nuts (don't even let me get started about "Elmo's World").

I have often heard it said that some workplaces are just like being in high school except everyone has some money.  Well, let's work from that concept to start.  Consistent delivery (repetition) of message will yield results beneficial to the growth and success of your company.  Everyone will know what's expected of them and how it will benefit the entire organization in meeting its goals.  They will know the destination.

When I had to switch majors in college, I didn't have all of the answers.  What I did know was that I wanted to make a difference in the world and I wanted to know that my efforts would matter.  As I sit with over 20 years of professional experience, I can see the path clearly.  I see the impact made and I can see the destination ahead of what's left to be traveled to meet more goals and successes.  Start small if you need to.  Work with your executive team to outline that consistent message of mission and direction.  Challenge the notion that everyone knows it so why might be surprised at how many aren't working towards it, even if they do know it.  I mean, Dora's Map doesn't just tell her where she has to go so that she knows, but rather so that she'll travel that path (see, I learned something, too).

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

What Makes You Beautiful

Stop screaming!  No, I don't mean because of your stress at work.  I mean, because I just used a One Direction song for the title.  Whenever One Direction is on at home, screams and full blown performances happen...I figured it must be the same loudness everywhere else, too!

I often wonder why we value surface characteristics in our employees.  Don't act so outraged!  We do.  Our culture loves good looks, well-dressed, well-spoken people.  Business Insider, along with a number of other articles, reveal statistics about compensation for attractive versus non-attractive people (  Earnings can be up to four times higher for pretty people.  Is that just a coincidence?  I don't think so.  We are the HR professionals that are involved in the hiring process.

But, even deeper, those pretty people are more likely to advance up the corporate ladder over the unattractive ones.  I have not seen nor created succession plans with attractiveness quotients, but somewhere our biases are creeping in.  How?  Well, what makes something beautiful?

Herein is the rub.  What are the criteria?  Nice smile/teeth, wavy hair, strong chin, great figure?  Uncomfortable, I know, but somewhere someone is making the decision as to what is pretty.  Many moons ago, I worked for a national restaurant chain.  I was "encouraged" to hire "the pretty ones" as hostesses and don't hire guys for those roles.  Um, really?  By whose criteria is pretty?  Mine.  No problem.  Needless to say there were all kinds of hosts and hostesses hired in those roles...I saw lots of pretty people. 

Often, our interaction with beauty is not as obvious as that example shows.  Mostly, it's a psychological affinity to a certain look or feature.  It may have no impact on the skills, abilities or knowledge that the employee or candidate has (obviously, if the role is that of a model, then it does!).  There is no real performance appraisal box to check on how pretty someone is (but there may be one on hygiene).  And yet, again, we're paying pretty people 3-4 times more than average/unattractive people.  

Bias is a tough thing to address internally.  Most biases are not egregious.  If an employer does not want to hire someone in a protected class because he/she is in a protected class, then that company opens themselves up to lawsuit, penalties and a host of other issues, not to mention how incredibly ridiculous that is.  The government has seen to it to address those groups of people that need protection, and rightly so.  However, as far as I know, there is no pending legislation concerning the protection of unattractive people.  I know that may be shocking, considering the amount of bills under review, but perhaps part of the issue is classifying who is unattractive.  I mean, do you want to be the congressperson from "x" state to say "I ain't pretty?"  Those of us who may consider ourselves average or unattractive remain unprotected.

As HR professionals, we have to be conscious of this.  What makes someone beautiful in our organizations? Think of qualities like production, teamwork, leadership, work ethic, loyalty, etc.  Aren't they beautiful qualities?  Wouldn't you rather have an "unattractive" employee that makes a real difference in the productivity and positivity of the organization rather than an "attractive" person who brings little excellence to the job?  Of course!  So, let's be sure that our systems align appropriately.

I know you may be thinking "why is he talking about this?"  Well, two reasons.  First, upon doing a simple Google search of the topic, I came across at least 10 pages of results with different articles and studies for each page.  Wow.  And secondly, I like to spend time instructing and coaching college-aged students.  Last night, in fact, I had the privilege of presenting to a group from Rowan University.  There were so many great ideas and such good energy that it was invigorating to me.  After doing some of the research I did in prep for this blog, I thought about companies that might not engage with such bright individuals due to some surface-reaction to attractiveness.  Now, I'm not saying that there were unattractive students in that class last night, but rather, I thought about the personal preferences of the hiring managers that will interview these seniors preventing them from being hired.

It's silly, really, but we are a society obsessed with looks.  We value people based on this.  Despite the fact that we fight the Miss America pageant and the like, we still tune in to see who wins.  We say we don't allow something so superficial as looks to impact business decisions, but the actions show differently.  Check your biases.  Check the biases in certain departments.  Check the cultural biases - beauty, age, sex, clothing, etc.  There are real ways that we unintentionally discriminate based on non-skill-related characteristics.

When I sit with my children, I share with them how beautiful they are.  What I make a point to do is to share why I think they're beautiful.  I talk about their kindness, compassion, excellence as a student, obedience, friendliness, service...things that will matter in the long run rather than looks which are fleeting.  I believe that my children are physically beautiful, too, but that can't be the emphasis.  I want them to use their brains, their hands, their feet to be recognized and to show accomplishment, not their looks which did not require much effort on their part (showering is an effort, according to my son). 

We should want our employees to know that the basis for their participation in the success of the company is based on their contributions.  We should want them to know that their value is based on real data and impact.  We should want them to know that's what makes them beautiful to the company, not their looks.  After all, what has Brad Pitt done for your company lately?