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...