Thursday, April 25, 2013

Loves Me Like A Rock

I had lunch this week with a pretty smart business owner.  He shared his perspective on his company and the ways he hopes to see the company grow.  He shared a perspective I don't always hear- All of the policies and procedures in the world won't make our employees want to excel in their jobs.  He recognized that he is seeking a culture of excellence in a tough industry and one in which it's easy to be negative.  What he desires is that each employee will not only feel protected but proud to work for this organization.

I love that.  I love to hear business owners see a bigger picture for their companies as it relates to their people.  His words were not trite or trendy; they were passionate and heart-felt.  

A sense of belonging and pride is not easy to cultivate.  Think of what it means to have employees really want to "own" where they work.  Don't start with the glass is half-empty - We understand that the reality is they don't own it.  You start by investing in clear expectations and the competencies needed to perform well.  The time spent on this helps each employee to know that what he/she brings to the table is valued and focused.  It is time-intensive if you've not done it before, but those efforts will come back to the company exponentially.

Create job descriptions that make sense and work to the business bottom-line - from administrative assistant to line manager to CEO.  Design and share expectations and allow performance to be measured against it.  You will enable your employees to be proud of their accomplishments when you allow them to know what their focus is.

Companies put in huge initiatives to create this environment and it falls flat.  Why?  Because they do it in a vacuum and clinically.  A company's personnel are not a lab experiment.  Creating expectations and setting goals separately from engaging with current employees will only create policy not culture.  There are employees that can talk to you about the heartbeat of a company and what really drives performance.  This is not the same as just taking their input and creating a job description from it, but that perspective ought to influence the process.  

When this business owner and I walked into one of the restaurants he owns, the staff was happy to see him and to engage with him.  His tone and demeanor through the years helped to cultivate this reaction.  Bear in mind that the company owns restaurants across the country.  It is not that he's in charge of one place or only has one place.  He and his team take the time to know their people and to set them up to succeed in the roles they have.  Every manager gets it, every server gets it, every bartender gets it, every host gets it, every busser gets it.

But this leads us to the second step: cultivating this to understand its scalability as growth occurs.  Another 150 employees are about to find out about this wonderful world, but how can that culture be developed with such expansion and more to come?  The way to work in creating such an attitude of positive efforts given and appreciated is to continue to pour into a few.  Work with those senior managers who then can work with those managers who can then work with their staff.  They will tell two friends and so on and so on....

Granular, grassroots has validity as long as it's couched in behind the scenes process.  The alignment of those job competencies along with strategies for effective communication to build up and push success is the ideal marriage.  And it can be done.

However, it takes commitment, work and time.  I know, annoying, right?  Unfortunately, there is not a way around it if you want true success.  Again, throwing an initiative or software at this will not make it happen, and honestly, it will just perpetuate the disconnect that some business leaders see in HR.  There they go again, developing programs that require training and time with no results.  We would want to serve as the support structure to such an initiative, but we would need drivers like the business leader I've mentioned here.

The rock is the C-Suite.  They know what their expectations are; they know what the profitability needs to look like.  If those folks could know that creating such an atmosphere would meet those objectives, then you can bet they'll be cheerleaders for it.  They will gladly show corporate-love to all.  So, how can you help?  Bring some metrics to the table and show how increased cultural ownership creates positivity in attitude and in results.  Employees will be proud of what they've accomplished and seek ways to cultivate more.

One final thought - this is not hearts and flowers.  It's not about walking into the office "loving" everyone and holding hands while you recite the mission of the company.  The truth of the average worker's tenure today is about 4 years before he/she leaves to find another job.  And while we can talk about retention another day, what we should decide is the get the maximum out of each employee as he/she was hired to do for as long as we have that employee.  Results, baby!

Wednesday, April 17, 2013


I can remember the actual conversation where, as an HR professional, I told an employee that he was replaceable.  I gave him a dose of truth and challenged him to share with me who had told him otherwise.  The mess he was making in his department was not acceptable, he had been told on previous occasions and there was no more patience for his nonsense.  I escorted him to get his things and lead him out.  Sounds okay, right?  Maybe?  Some context - it was my first firing.

I was not trained on how to do it.  I was not encouraged to check my feelings at the door.  I was not given a trajectory to follow.  I just marched into the conversation saddled with my attitude and my righteous conviction.  Honestly, it was lots more about bravado for me than it was about using this as an opportunity to teach.

While the reality is that there are some roles that have high turnover and replacing employees is standard protocol, does that mean the individual is replaceable or just the role?  I can hire someone to fill the role of telemarketer, for example, but can I find another "Joe" to be that telemarketer?  Maybe not.  Maybe I should be happy that Joe is out the door and I don't want anyone like him in the building again.  Perhaps.

One of my professional credos is to leave a place better then when I got there.  There are many arenas to do this in, but an exit strategy for terminating employees?  I had not given it any thought as to how to leave employees better than when they got there until later in my career.  Think about those last words you share with this employee, even in difficulty.  Can't a deposit for his/her betterment be made?  This is not about being altruistic or sugar-coated, but rather a collective effort to improve the workforce.

Not every firing will turn into Jerry Maguire.  You know, good-looking, self-centered sales person fired in a public place so as not to make a scene, who then finds beautiful woman who believes in him, and he finally realizes how much he needs others in order to be truly successful.  Let's count on one hand how many times that really happens.  Most encounters just end a business relationship.  "Joe, as you know, you've not met our standards.  We've talked about this before and unfortunately, we have to let you go.  Today is your last day.  Please get your things."  The facts may be true, but where is the take-away.

With litigation and fear gripping companies, we are afraid to say more.  If the employee has not met standards and he/she knows about it, then bringing it up should not be a surprise.  "Joe, as you know you've not met our standards.  Here at ACME Company, we expect 250 calls to be made per day and you average only 150 calls.  To be successful in this role, those calls are necessary for you to make."  Feedback along with the termination gives the employee something to walk away with and consider.  "If I'd have made those calls, this termination might not have happened.  Why couldn't I make those calls?"

Now, listen all you nay-sayers, I get it.  What if the person doesn't have that conversation in his/her head?  My answer is simple - that's not your problem.  If a terminated employee cannot take the time to be introspective as he/she pursues a new position, then there is nothing you can do about it and it's likely to be repeated in the next role.  What I am suggesting is offering the feedback clearly.

I understand that roles can be filled, sometimes easily, but we should do what we can, even in small parts, to encourage people to not see themselves as easily replaceable.  Each person has value and needs to focus in on the competencies he/she possesses.  

Beyonce sings "go ahead and get gone" in this blog's title song, but there are parts of the song where feedback is given.  While I would welcome the opportunity to be Beyonce's new man (don't worry - she's not asking), the fact is that she has someone she feels fits the role of life partner.  I'm sure there were others who tried, but if she sang "Irreplaceable" to them, I gotta believe they had lots to mull over and perhaps they are better husbands/boyfriends now.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

She Works Hard for the Money

With all of the talk of the Yahoo flexible staffing changes, much conversation has been had about measuring productivity.  Some have argued that working from home means that there is no supervision and therefore less work is really being done.  Some have said quite the opposite - freedom in flexibility drives people to work harder.  Both sides have presented stats to support their position.  So how do you decide?

In some ways, I'm a bit old school.  I believe in hard work for great results.  I believe in an honest day's wages for an honest day's work.  I believe no one owes you anything.  Most of this perspective comes from my family.  I was raised with a work ethic that was without excuse.  My dad was out of work for over a year in the mid to late 70's and he tried to find a job in his field while he was remodeling kitchens and hanging Sheetrock/drywall on the side.  He worked weekends and evenings.  He knew he had a family to provide for and that was his mission.  He wasn't too proud to lift a phone, a frying pan, a hammer.

Now, I understand that nostalgia is just that.  It's a sentimental remembrance of a time gone by.  Time moves on and things change.  I know that there are numerous people in an unemployment line today that feel that same passion to provide.  I am heartbroken for the families that are struggling today and searching diligently for work.  What I, also, know is that each week, I hear from a different person who brings up the feel of the workplace today and the air of entitlement that is pervasive throughout.  Nostalgia aside, somewhere we've lost drive.

Where did it go?  Are we lazier?  More tired?  Stretched too thin?  Burned out?  Disenfranchised?  No longer hungry?  You tell me.  I have read the "experts"; I have read books by some smart people.  I have read countless blogs telling me what's wrong.  So what do we do?  I am practical in my business sense.  In human resources, I don't believe in programs for programs-sake.  Everything that HR does should point to the business bottom line.  If it doesn't, then stop it.  Time and resources are too precious.  We've got to create an action plan to get motivated and get working again.

As some of you have learned, you can only control what you can control.  I didn't learn that from a fortune cookie (although, I should look into starting a business making them...side note!).  I learned this from experience.  When I was in my 20's, I was going to change the world.  In my 30's, the world crapped on me.  And now in my 40's (man, that's still hard to write), I have become laser-focused in the ways I can make change happen.  I do have control over behaviors and actions; I don't have control over the world or all of life.  The action plan we can create to conquer should be based on behavioral and attitudinal change along with clarity in mission.

We should be on a mission to get back to hard work.  The turn-around is not going to be easy.  We are living in a country that is falling down the list as measured against other countries.  We're 12th in GDP, 6th in innovation and technology and 7th in overall global competitiveness  (And if you're in HR and you don't know what some of these measurements or terms are, then you had better get an education quickly.)  It was not that long ago that the US was 1st in everything.  To lose this much ground is unsettling and it should cause us to want to roll up our sleeves and work hard.  

We're in a war for talent.  Yahoo is implementing the changes to flexible staffing and schedules because they want to know that the talent they are investing in is returning a profit for the company.  Measurement is telling them otherwise, hence the changes.  I would argue, though, that we're not in a war for talent...we're in a war for GREAT talent.  The pool of people who really fit the bill for what an employer is looking for has shrunk. Companies wind up settling in hiring because they just cannot find the superstars needed.

Some of this can be remedied by expectation from the employer.  Not everyone can be the verbose sales manager that wins over a room with his/her personality and charisma.  Not having those traits does not make someone a less desirable candidate.  Can you imagine an office full of Michael Scotts or Chris Varicks or Joe Isuzus? (Google them if you don't know).  It would be way too much.  Superstars run the gamut of personality and approach, but can still produce results.  Dig deeper in interviews; be situational and behavioral in questioning.  This is where the work should happen in bringing the right people on board.

Another part of this can be remedied by each and everyone of us.  We've got to work harder.  I'm serious.  There are millions of us who've been infected with the entitlement bug.  Take some antibiotics and move on.  We deserve what we really work for.  One of my favorite business biographies is about Hershey's. Milton Hershey failed seven times in business creation and went bankrupt a couple of times.  And yet, he awoke each day determined to make what he knew would work.  He refined candy making processes, he sought out better ingredients and he went door to door and in every venue he could to showcase his results.  He worked hard for his success.

I know that there are some of you reading this who are already traveling this road and have this perspective.  I see the work you do and I know the results are measurable and real.  Allow me to say "Bravo" for not only your work, but for your example to others.  You are most appreciated and very much needed in our businesses.

For those who will take the time to reflect on this, perhaps it will inspire you to take some action steps.  Have you gotten a bit lazy in your work ethic?  Is there an entitlement issue at the core?  Identify, create a remedy process and seek out accountability in a trusted business friend.  Hold yourself to the highest standard you can; forget about what everyone else is doing or isn't doing.

I believe in working hard.  We work hard to earn a decent living.  We work hard to set an example for future generations so they'll know what it takes to maintain and surpass.  We work hard to influence societal greatness.  We have done it and we can work to do it again.