Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Desperately Wanting

Professionalism is not passe.  I am not sure who started this rumor, but that person is wrong.  The business community still regards appropriate engagement in conversation and the written word to matter. 

For instance:

  • If you're applying for a job and the phone number you put on your resume is not the right number, please correct.  How do you expect to be reached?  Just via email?  Sometimes that's not enough.  Update your resume to reflect how you want to be contacted and remove any information that is wrong.
  • When you work for an organization, it's not smart to share with others why you hate your boss.  It's not smart to do that at work and it's really not smart to do that online.  Facebook and Twitter do not need to know that your boss's bad habit of biting his/her nails is leading you to look for another job.  They don't care if you're working 60 hours a week but only being paid for 40.  They don't care that Swedish Fish have been replaced in the vending machine with low-fat Fig Newtons.  Burning a bridge is never a wise, professional decision, especially one that's now in annals of the Internet for all of eternity.
  • A meeting time is just that - a time.  When you say that you will meet someone at 3:00, that does not mean 3:15.  It actually means 2:50.  And don't laugh it off once you arrive.  Apologize.  The occasional traffic issue will happen and is completely understandable; that's the exception, not the rule.  Professionally, look to show your appointment you care by respecting their time.
  • If you use your own cell phone number for work purposes or as you search for a new role, please get rid of the "please enjoy the music while your party is being reached" feature.  Let the phone just ring, for Pete's sake.  I don't want to hear a scene from Scarface, music from Tupac as you voice-over a declaration that you know he's still alive or your child saying "Wait for Daddy" over and over again.  This is your business line; treat it as such.

This is not a rant (alright, maybe a little) but rather a reminder to respect yourself enough to know how to engage and behave as a professional.  I went to college a while ago.  I did not have a class that taught me how to be professional when I left college.  I was the guy who wore PJ's to class on occasion, challenged classmates to name the full cast of Love Boat (both character and real names) while instruction was going on and left a drool ring on most of the notebooks I had for class.  I needed to be more professional than that once I left college, and I knew it!

Do we know that today?  This is not about age.  It's about consideration.  Entitlement has swept through our culture like wildfire.  We expect others to acquiesce to us.  "This is how I am" is a mantra of freedom that we embrace.  The problem is that when you have to collaborate with others and rely on others, you cannot always just be who you are. 

It may be your right to answer a phone saying "'Sup," but is that the way you want to be known?  Is that the way you want your company to be known?  Let me say that the answer may be yes.  But what I do know is that we don't ask first how what we do will reflect the company; we hope that it won't be a big deal as we think about it afterwards.  Professionalism takes forethought.

The workplace is not home.  You have to think about how what you do will impact others and what message it will give about the organization.  And if you are not working, your potential employer is thinking about how you will fit within the culture.  Your entitled perspective, though your right, might keep you from being hired.  Humility is a lost art in the workplace and it's one we should display.

Think about your demeanor.  Think about your understanding of professionalism.  What do you know versus what do you show?  Are they the same?

Our companies are desperately wanting those who will set the tone for engagement.  It is about skill sets.  It is about education.  It is about abilities.  It is, also, about professionalism.  We can present all of what the company has and knows in a broader way if we know how to appeal to a broader audience.  Professionalism takes knowledge, thought and practice.  It's just like how I worked on knowing the full cast (both character and real names) for Eight is Enough.  Ah, college... 

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Shake Your Groove Thing

I can recall winning a dance contest when I was 8 years old.  It was at a birthday party for a friend.  There were what seemed like 50 kids crammed into a small South Philadelphia row home.  We all had been sufficiently sugared up - candy buttons, small wax bottles filled with candy liquid, pixie stix and more.  There were games of all sorts being played and prizes awarded - jump ropes, hula hoops, that paddle and ball on a rubber band infuriating torture toy, etc.  But for the dance contest, there was a cash prize of $5.  For a kid in the late 70's, that represented 500 Red Hot Dollars (back when they were actually cinnamon and hot rather than raspberry like now) at Lou's Variety.

The music came on and my body began to show off some pretty dynamic moves.  Kids were all smiles as they watched in amazement (or maybe they were laughing at me, but I like my version better).  After it was over, I secured my $5 and received compliments from friends and the parents of the birthday girl.  Everyone knew at that moment that I could dance,  including me.

In our organizations, I believe that our outlets of creativity and expression have a place.  While I would not jump on my desk and bust a move (yeah, I just said that), I use those creative opportunities to prep me for engagement at work.  Energy levels are up when I dance or workout or have an opportunity to cook a great meal the night before or read a great book or swim in the ocean get the idea.

Look to what you love and channel that in the work you do.  Focus on the energies and levels of health it gives you.  Our companies do well when we encourage staff to find and embrace talents and outlets.  Employees show increased engagement scores when companies encourage these outlets.  Organizations like Starbucks, Harrods and Pixar bake into their mission language commitment to creativity in their employees and fostering any opportunities to participate.  The investment of encouragement does not cost a company very much - some time in conversation and affirmation.

One of the truths from such creative pursuits is that it gives us a chance to do something in freedom.  The rules aren't seen as rules but rather parameters for us to be free.  Think of boxing, for example.  Gyms are offering forms of boxing as an exercise alternative.  To box, you have to have an opponent, a ring, some gloves and timed rounds.  Those rules are not burdensome but serve to surround so that the participants can focus their efforts on boxing with style and form, with paced breathing and movement and with concentration on his/her opponent.  The rules aren't seen the same way that the rule about not eating at your desk at work is seen.  We enjoy the freedom.

However, one point that presents difficulty for some is the identification of such interests.  For some folks, knowing what makes them energized is not so apparent.  They have hobbies, but sometimes those hobbies have become chores.  Scrapbooking is a great example.  When you start a hobby like this, the joys might be in the organization of the area to work, reviewing tons of photos and the memories recalled and the completion of the first book.  Nice.  By the 8th book, people start to think about "just getting it done" because it's taking too much time and the creative outlet it was supposed to be is now a mess on a desk.  

Suggestion: take an assessment.  Just what you'd expect from an HR guy, right?  Well, right.  We believe in assessments for work improvements, right?  Please be nodding your head yes.  We use skill inventory surveys, compatibility exercises, personality testing and the like all to improve our culture, the fit among our people and to explore new veins of growth from within.  Why would it be a shock to encourage the same testing usage for passions?  If we want to develop people, it cannot be in a vacuum of work.  Who they are is who comes to work.  By providing some tools to help those who don't know what they love or how to use what they love to energize their lives, we are helping to impact the whole person, which includes the one who comes to work!

Do a little research on these tools.  There are many out there so be careful.  Look for data and responses from people who've used it.  Take some of them yourself.  Maybe you'll be reminded of passions that you've long since laid aside for some reason.  Dancing, singing, working out, painting, cooking, sewing, playing sports, fixing cars...find out what makes you alive.  And then, do it.  Shake that groove thing.

I still dance (much to the dismay of my kids).  I can wobble, dougie, slide, gangham style and some party rock anthem moves.  It's funny to watch me do the running man, pop and lock and bust out some Kid 'N Play moves from back in the day.  It's a great release and always makes me smile.  And so, at work, when someone walks over to me to complain about the choices in the vending machine (again!), I can keep a right perspective and a healthy mental outlook because of the outlets I have and am using.  I might be swinging my hips back and forth while he/she is talking to me, but hey, at least it's on beat.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Running on Ice

Efficient living.  Oxymoronic?  Yes.  Everyday I wake up to the schedule I re-tweak from the night before and try to squeeze as much stuff into the time allotted to me each day (it's still 24 hours, but I have put a request for reconsideration).  There are clients to meet, HR work that they need done, advice to give that is relied upon (which means effort in thought) and a business to be developed.  Manageable, yes, but only if I didn't also have a family to spend time with, invest in and enjoy.  There are also friends to be with, working out, eating, sleeping....well, you get it.

I can actually feel your head nodding in agreement as you read.  I am not alone and neither are you.  We are so full that it's no wonder so many of us struggle with depression and anxiety.  And to top it off, do the majority of us feel as though our time is being used well?  With many companies still working under the "doing more with less" philosophy of talent management, our employees feel this, too.

All of the ideals that used to energize us and we would pursue with passion have become chores and duties.  We've allowed our focus to be on schedules and meetings rather than conversation and passion.  Simple to say, but true nonetheless.  So we have to consider and adjust.  For instance, look at what you've done over the past two weeks of work.  How much of it was truly productive?  

I had the absolute privilege of speaking with someone recently who shared honestly that as successful as he was, he had allowed his self-esteem to be tied to his performance at work.  He was valuable and regarded as such.  This pushed him to work even harder to keep that status.  In doing so, he lost sight of him.  He began to see himself as only about this one successful role, this role that kept him swallowed.  I found myself nodding in agreement with him.  It makes sense, doesn't it?  Your company sees real, true, measurable value in what you do and how you do it.  Your company wants to encourage more of that behavior and those results (and rightly so).  Your company is where you spend a good bit, if not the majority, of your time.  It is very easy to tie who you are to what you do in this one, albeit large, area.

The cycle looks just like running on ice.  You keep putting effort into the motion of running, but it's not very pretty and it really doesn't get you as far as you think.  Perhaps there is success in what you are doing, but is it as successful as it could be?  The baseball player who is hitting .213 may not seem so great, but he does if the rest of team is batting under 200.  It's relative.  You can advance in placement when running on ice, but the return on the effort exerted is not good.  As a former runner (dang right knee!), I have experienced the thrill (is there such a thing in running?) of moving on asphalt, rubberized tracks, wooded trails and miles of roadway.  My motion is different on those surfaces and I had to make adjustments.  Efficiency in running is connected to how smooth and fluid you can make each motion.  Movement of arms and legs, head position and breathing are some of the areas to bring together in cohesion for one fluid movement.

We often don't get to react fluidly.  We get to react.  Our lives move from being planned by us to being dictated by a thousand other things.  Control is needed.  Think about your movement.  

I know that there are happenings in life that you cannot plan for - death, injury, care for a parent, etc. - but that's not what I mean by control.  Ask some pointed questions of yourself.  Can I not participate in this meeting and trust that those involved can handle it without me?  Can I delegate more effectively?  Do I know the skill sets and aptitudes of my team?  How I can free burden from another worker, too?  How can we leverage each other better?  Examine your environment.

The staff you are with is dealing with the same.  Perhaps working through efficient use of time with managers would be helpful.  They, then, can take that training back to their departments and teams.  Leveraging time well will lead to an increase in productivity.  But bear in mind that if most of us deal with a difficulty in managing our own time, then how would a manager feel equipped to help others.  Let's provide some tools!  Not everything "urgent" is important.  We should teach others that truth.

Start with you.  Sometimes, the summer months allow for a vacation or perhaps a couple of days off.  Might I challenge you to use a hour or two of it to work through this perspective?  Have you been running on ice?  Have you seen a loss of passion?  Why?  What can you do to approach it differently?  Are you moving so much but feeling like your not getting very far or making a lasting difference?  Have you allowed yourself to be defined by what you do?  The way you view your schedule might shed some light on this.

As I get ready for another day of 90+ degrees as part of the East Coast heatwave, I kinda like thinking about running on ice.  It's a heck of a lot cooler than running on the black top of the roadways around Philadelphia.  However, those runs really allow me to think clearer about my goals and whether the life I live daily are moving me towards them.  If that breakaway would be helpful for you, then grab an ice cube and some water and get moving!

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Get Lucky

The field of Human Resources was given a gift about a week and a half ago.  Paula Deen made headlines for using the N-word in her past and the world wanted to know all about it.

As a kid growing up in the 1970's in Philadelphia, I had heard the word used often.  I also heard lots of other words used - the F-word for a homosexual male, the C-word for a person from Asian descent, the S-word for a person of Hispanic descent, and more.  And if you don't know what words I am referring to, good for you!  The culture of the city at that time was very segregated with Italians living in one area of the city, the Irish in another, the Germans in another, etc.  While it was great for heritage-related pride, it was devastating for human respect and appreciation.

So, am I scarred from it?  I don't think so (I'll check with my counselor).  But, the memories of it came back while listening to the countless "experts" banter on about Paula Deen.  Now while I don't know all of the details of the deposition, I am to understand that she was questioned regarding if she had ever used a derogatory term to refer to someone of color.  She answered honestly and said yes.

My first thoughts were, "Man, I would be guilty, too."  Not about using the epithet that she used, but of using other derogatory and hurtful language towards someone that looked different than me or acted differently than I did.  You see, I was immature.  I thought that my words could fight for me and win.  Being a teenager is not an excuse.  I did know better.

The second thoughts I had were surrounding us in HR.  What if someone who struggled with race or ethnic relations observed how the masses reacted to Paula Deen.  Would it be likely for that person to now walk into work and seek forgiveness and help?  Not likely.  The honest dialogue that we so desperately try to nurture is in danger of being cut off at the knees.  Here is a woman of notoriety who answered honestly in regards to a race-related question.  She has apologized for her wrong from years back and has sought forgiveness.  She has lost her show, sponsorships and endorsements, and the respect of many people.  Not exactly the way to get honest dialogue and healing to happen.

Please understand that this is not about defending Paula Deen.  I don't know her; I've never met her.  I don't own any cookware or even a cookbook from her.  This is about what kind of dialogue we get to influence at work.  Do we honestly think that our workplace doesn't contain people who still use derogatory language?  Do we truly believe that our teams are full of people who think well of each other and are not influenced by someone's color, sex or sexual preference?  We know better.

We cannot believe that we'll get lucky like this current situation presents again.  We have to use this to open up about stereotypes and bigotry.  I have worked for companies where both subtle innuendos and glaring language concerning who is and who is not "like us" was used.  We cannot allow it.  We get to set the stage and encourage the dialogue of the performance to be real so that healing and growth can occur.

Here's a few scabs to pick at: Are managers passing over resumes with names that are too hard to pronounce (code for "they probably don't speak English")?  Are there executive teams that operate as a boys-only club with women holding superficial executive titles but no real power?  Are there manufacturing lines that "happen" to allow people of a similar ethnicity to work side by side while keeping them from different pockets of heritage?  Too close to home for you?  I could go on.

I worked for a national retailer once where a manager told me that on the distribution floor it was important to keep the "Koreans from the Chinese. They don't like each other much."  After I picked my jaw up off the floor, I asked if he also did that with the Blacks and Whites.  He looked at me in shock and said, "John, that's racist."  Really?  Are you kidding me?

The dialogue that we must encourage is far-reaching and cannot be allowed to be shut off.  The response to Ms. Deen might scare people from opening up and addressing those issues that it must address.  Our companies need to be invested in regarding true human relational understanding.  We have made strides over the years (no doubt), but this recent incident shows that it is still tender.

As someone who has experienced first hand the damage that racial stereotyping can do, it is crucial that the dialogue not be stifled by a fear of losing sponsors, or more frightening, a career.  We wind up encouraging people to stay silent and not move towards healing and restoration.  In HR, we can be advocates for open dialogue and engagement towards healing.  Let's talk to people about how things really are.  We ought not to hope to just get lucky with our people; we've got to lead our people.