Thursday, October 31, 2013

Freaks Come Out at Night

Multiple shifts often mean multiple sub-cultures.  The way things are done during the day shift, for example, can vary (sometimes greatly) from how they are done during the night shift.  An us/them effect can take over and the disparity in attitude can cost an organization in lost productivity and higher payroll due to paying more for the extra time it takes to get things done.  

In one organization I got to be a part of some years ago, the day shift thought the night shift was a bunch of freaks.  They would spend part of their work day and break time discussing how dumb, crazy, stupid, bizarre and idiotic the night crew was.  Sounds productive and helpful to the culture, right?

Management has one choice in this type of situation - Get up.  Get out of your ergonomic chair and get on the floor.  Engage with the sales teams, line workers and administrative staff.  OK, how?

  • Change the tone and type of conversation by being an example of healthy communication and encouragement towards goals.  Make the decision to not participate in smearing an entire team's or group's reputation.  If an employee thinks the night shift is filled with freaks, ask why?  Challenge the basis, not argumentatively, but directly. 
  • Consistently be seen.  This effort cannot be a "one and done" deal.  It cannot be a once per month which happens to fall during the same time each month.  It cannot be done daily at the same time.  Mix it up.  Catch people outside of habit or comfort.  Allow them to be affected by your presence.  Your mere presence should give cause for employees to pause and think about what they are about to say to someone else.
  • Don't allow comfort to get in the way.  You're going to have to do these things on all shifts.  Only engaging with the shift that is most convenient to your schedule will fall short.  Those workers on the shift you hardly come to see will know it.  It's not hard to amplify an us/them feeling when you're dealing with multiple shifts and teams.  The likely winners are usually the Monday through Friday day shift.  They are able to work with the bulk of senior management and administrators during the "normal week" schedule.  You cannot allow that to be the perspective; it will foster the feeling that any other shift is less than desirable.  Get up on a Saturday.  Go into work at 3AM for the overnight crew (just leave early from work the next day).  It's a little inconvenient but it's an appropriate message to those employees.

Simply, be present and persistent.  Set a tone that you would want others to follow.  Don't wait for someone else to start it (scary, I know).  You set the bar and start the momentum.  Don't look to the right or to the left for someone else to champion the cause.

The only freaks that ought to be named should be those who do not extend themselves for the betterment of the company.  What would it mean to your company if this were true?  The anomalies of the company are those who are not present fully and persistent in protecting culture.  Nothing scary about that!

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Holding Out for a Hero

It is easy to look to someone else to fulfill our needs or desires.  Talk shows are full of people who've chosen a mate to be someone's "all in all" and, for whatever reason, it doesn't work out.  People tend to want to find that magic in someone that will rescue them from their current situation.  We do it with people, but we also do it with stuff.  We want that lottery win so bad.  We think that will rescue us from our current situation.  Then how is it that 70% of lottery winners are bankrupt?  We don't find our hero to be what we expect it to be.

For those of us old enough to remember School House Rock, there was a song called "My Hero, Zero."  The point of the lesson is that by itself a zero is nothing but put it behind a "1" and you've got "10," an increase numerically.  The Zero finds itself to be heroic in that it's nothingness turns into value when used in conjunction with another number.

As "People People," we get so many chances to bring zeroes to heroic levels.  I am not talking about budgets (I've tried that before and some accountant always catches my "accidental" additional zero at the end of the HR budget), but rather finding value in all of those who work with and for us.  The quietness of a worker should not be allowed to signify his/her minor contribution to the whole while the boisterous worker seems to get credit for things he/she had nothing to do with just because of loudness.  Cultivating those "zeroes" into heroes is part of our strategic responsibility.

A hero is one who is admired for performing great and/or brave acts and has fine qualities, according to Webster's Dictionary.  Aren't there some people in our workplaces that have those qualities and others simply do not know or notice, including the hero himself/herself?  Give consideration as to how to cultivate heroes.
  1. Look for those who do exceptional work.  I'm not talking about the person who answers twenty calls a day whose job it is to answer phones; that is not a hero.  We cannot reward basic job responsibilities by calling that person a hero.  It has to be great or brave.  How about the worker who stays late to finish a project for three weeks without most people knowing?  How about the person who looks for ways to improve processes or technology for the good of the company even when it's not in his/her direct job description?
  2. Listen to others tell stories.  Set the tone for this, though.  Someone coming to tell you that Joe is a great guy because Mike, who sits next to him, is tough to deal with and Joe doesn't complain about him.  Really?  I mean, I appreciate that, but Joe is no hero.  What about those of us who have relatives who are annoying to deal with?  Where's my hero trophy (just kidding, Family, there's no one annoying in our family besides me)?  Cultivate a forum for people to cheer others on by noticing the great or brave work someone is doing.  We should encourage our employees to notice great acts from great people.
  3. Don't make this about gift cards.  I get that we want to reward people and I can appreciate the gesture, but the gesture can become the goal rather than things being done for true heroic reasons - rescue, encouragement, betterment, bravery, etc.  A $5 gift card to Starbucks is not equal to someone truly doing something marvelous.  And on this note, don't make each month a "have to" in finding someone.  Haven't you worked for those companies who have an Employee of the Month and wind up picking someone "who hasn't had it yet this year"?  Wow, that's stellar criteria.
Heroes are not those in front, per se, seeking the accolades.  We've got to look for them.  The humility coupled with the great or brave act is admirable and sets a tone for others.  The culture becomes attuned to the qualities in those being recognized.  It sets a pattern that we want repeated.

I am holding out for a hero in each of your companies.  You need one.  And lest I forget to say, you may actually be that hero for your company.  And if your company hasn't recognized it yet, keep doing what you're doing.  It's not for you to determine what management ought to do for you.  You just keep doing what you're doing because it's the right thing to do.  We are still allowed to do that; no federal or state law requires us to change that practice (yet)!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

This Used to be My Playground

For 10 years, I have to admit, I have loved What Not to Wear.  I didn't really love Season 1, actually.  There was a different male host and the show was a little predictable.  But Season 2 turned the corner.  Men and women (okay, it's been all women for the last six seasons) with varying fashion dilemmas are nominated by friends and family for a makeover.  Seems classic, right?  In many ways, you would be correct.  So why with all of the other makeover shows that have come and gone, did #WNTW (oh yeah, I'm down with the hashtag) last for ten years?

In part, the hosts are hilarious.  Stacy and Clinton, bravo.  In part, too, it's because there is the understanding that the clothes don't make you feel something, but rather, who you are is highlighted by the clothes you wear.  Personality, professionalism and passion all pour through your outfit.  Silly?  What does it say to you when someone highly qualified shows up to an interview with ripped jeans and a graphic T?  Unless it's Urban Outfitters or a company in your mom's basement, you might be disappointed that this person did not think it worthwhile to dress accordingly.  Clothes do make the man (or woman, as it may be), but the tactic of #WNTW is to do so as an output of who the person is.

The hosts spend time talking to family and friends.  They ask the contributor what life has been like, where they want to go in the future personally, professionally, and how those around him/her can know those desires just by the contributor walking into the room.  It's not a clean shirt, trendy haircut and new lipstick kind of engagement.

We can do the same thing...not the wardrobe makeover part (I've seen what some of you wear and you're lucky there won't be an 11th year of What Not to Wear!), but a talent makeover.  Some of the issues for our long-term employees are that they've done work a certain way for years and it's tough to get them to try new ideas or new processes.  Perhaps they used to try and it didn't work out or the plans were too all over the place, so they don't "waste their time."  They have gotten used to playing on the same swing set and don't want to hear about the latest and greatest stuff.  It's very much like some of the contributors on the show.  They are still wearing clothes from the 80's and don't know why they can't get a date or that the dates they do get are psycho.  They're comfortable in what they know; "it's worked for me" is a common phrase.  

Let's show them how valuable their experience can be in light of new understandings of production, marketing and technology.  Let's get them into a new "outfit" not because we want to make them look hip, but because it will allow people to engage with them quicker and find out what they know.  Take the time to look at how things work in your place of employment.  Do the seasoned employees hang out with each other exclusively?  How will the younger ones feel okay to engage?  What about knowledge management?  What if some of those seasoned employees retire...where will that know-how go?

Assess the environment.  Not just the physical attributes, but the cultural attributes.  What is it the company values and how is that upheld?  Just like the contributor is encouraged to let his/her inner passions and interests shine through the deliberately chosen wardrobe, so too should our companies shine the mission and values through it's outer markings.  And that is largely seen in our employees.

We ought to be the experts at recognizing competencies in our people.  We should look for ways to accent and highlight those KSAs in ways that others in the organization will take notice and want to engage.  Think of it like dressing someone up for a date.  He/She may look good when they walk in the door and cause the date to be thrilled at the sight, but the conversation throughout the date will determine how likely this relationship is to continue.  So many companies have thrown thousands at image and surface tactics only to come right back to square one once the hoopla is over.  We know better than to fall for that (I hope).

The territory we're in charge of is our organization.  Allow talent to speak through our talent.  How can we facilitate the recognition of such talent?  How can we get our talent to go deeper and express more?  It's our primary job in human resources to manage talent fully (that's a lot of "talent" usage, isn't it?).  We don't get a $5000 gift card per employee to get it done, but we do get to use the resources at our disposal, which includes our smarts, to make it happen.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013


I am a sucker for a good come-back movie.  I love seeing the underdog win over the well-funded or obnoxious favorite.  The storyline of hard work, honesty, faith and little bit of luck stir something real deep inside of us.  Sports-related plot lines especially seem to captivate.  Think about movies like Rudy, Hoosiers, Remember the Titans, Rocky and Invincible.  Are you feeling good?  Smile on your face?

These movies show us that skills, bravery, teamwork and willpower can come together around a common goal.  Even for those superstar athletes depicted, the concept of team is learned and he/she realizes that winning cannot be done alone.  Years ago, I worked for an organization that would show a movie on Fridays for the sales department.  The movie would play on all of the televisions in the sales area, which normally showed CNBC, for about 2-3 hours in the afternoon.  The idea was to play movies like this to inspire teams of people.  I loved walking through the department during the last 10 minutes of the movie.  As much as people were working during the majority of the movie, they could not help but stop cold for those last 10 minutes.  Eyes fixed, slight smiles on their faces and the occasional fist of victory lifted (of course, Boiler Room was shown often, too, and that doesn't quite have the same effect).

People want to be inspired.  They want to know that their efforts matter.  They want to be valued and encouraged in those success areas.  They want to see how they fit into the whole.  They want to know that they can win.  

Since we all are people-people, what is our role in building upon this natural inclination?  We know that those employees we serve seek success in effort.  How can they see how what they do matters for the team?  Can this be deepened or better defined?  How can you make the pathway clearer?  This is not existential in questioning (some would say I am not that deep to go there anyway), but rather practical in nature.  I would submit a couple of ideas.

First, train directors, managers and supervisors to assess talent.  We have to show these managers what to look for and how to determine the skills and abilities on their teams.  Often, we just let them figure it out, but most times, they don't.  Who taught you how to know what you truly have to work with?  No one?  Well, then, learn first.  Seek a mentor or coach of your own and then pass along what you are learning to a director.  Inspiration for your teams will settle in deeply if those team members know that you know them.  You will be thinking of ways to set them up for success.  They will rise to the occasion because you knew, sometimes even better than they did, where to put them and how to use their competencies.  

Management will be proactive in this posture, which may also be a complete departure from how it's worked to date.  So what?  Show flexibility and effort.  If we seek this in our staff, we should represent that.  We can share with the executive team what it means to inspire based upon lasting criteria rather than a flash in the pan.

Secondly, celebrate.  The successes, the wins, the records set...all of it.  Pizza on Fridays is not celebrating anything proactive.  That is a reactive gesture.  "Aren't you glad the week is over?"  "Thank God we only have two more hours of work after this pizza."  "Pizza, again?!"  Is this what we really hope to send as messaging or hear in return?  I doubt it.

Celebration is not just about the past.  When we celebrate a birthday, we appreciate all that a person is and has done over the past year and further back.  But also, the fact that he/she is with us today and what we wish for and know this person will be about as the next year progresses.  Wouldn't it be sad to say, "Happy Birthday! We know that this past year was okay and we really don't expect more from you, but we're celebrating your mediocre life" (that has a bit of a greeting card flow to it, doesn't it?).  We choose to celebrate to reflect on success and to establish a future plan of building upon it.  It sets a tone and creates a vision of what success should look like.

People want to have impact.  The movies mentioned early on resonate because of that basic premise within people.  It's why a song like, "Roar" by Katy Perry means something.  We want to be recognized for our strength, for our contribution, for our relationship-impact, for our value.  It is something we can do for our teams.

Get in the frame of mind.  Close your door.  Stand on your desk.  Play this video at a loud volume.  Get inspired and roar.  Really.  Out loud.  Roar like a lion.  Okay, I can't swear that this is exactly what you should do to get started, but I am loving the visual...

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

For the Love of Money

Is money the only reward we push?  I have had the consistent message of money in my face all week.  Money is all over the place and is a constant source of stress for individuals, couples, families and businesses.  Just look at the US Government; the shut down is all about money.  Who has it and who does not.

Everyone wants to make more and spend more.  Powerball and MegaMillions are national stories every week.  We want so much to make "bank." We regard success as based upon how much you make and what that gets you.  As I sit in Miami today, I see tons of Maseratis, Porsches and beyond.  The status behind the stuff has value here and elsewhere.  

Remember the first season of The Apprentice?  A bunch of people gathered together to learn from Donald Trump as to how to be successful (dysfunctional) business people.  It was a hit and we were glued.  And the main push for each "employee"?  Money.

And the rub is that most surveys show that compensation is not the primary driver for employees.  How can this be?  If we all want stuff and need cash-money to make it happen, then that should be tops, right?  Instead, we see recognition, efficiency, loyalty, purpose and effectiveness as tops on various reports and surveys.  Money cannot buy these things (the Mob tried to do this and it didn't work for do we expect it to work for us?).

So, why the intense efforts around compensation as opposed to these other higher scoring characteristics?  Two realities seem to jump out to me.

First, putting the time into efficiency and effectiveness, for example, takes more time.  We seem to be okay to throw money at a problem or situation, sometimes even without a plan.  But, the thought of putting efforts into strategizing and being deliberate about enacting change is exhausting.  Here's the deal, though, if we don't start doing it, these same people will continue to leave our companies and take the knowledge, skills and aptitudes that we need.  As much as the effort costs, in terms of time and prioritization, we need to do it.

Set aside time to sketch out the framework of strategy around talent management.  Consider opportunities to influence recognition and purpose.  How can employees have some input in these areas?  Generate buy-in through inclusion.  Ask for ideas around efficiency and then recognize those great ideas.

But the second issue could be the executive team.  You may be on point with the planning component  and put together a framework, but when you presented it to senior leadership, they said "oh, thank you."  And after that, it went to the bottom of a pile never to be shown the light of day again.  So, what to do?  Build a business case.  Use real numbers around engaged employees versus non-engaged.  Use benchmark data to show stats behind your perspective.  Make it real to the bottom line.

Measure what productivity has been like over the past five years.  Is it down?  Up?  Why?  Just lucky?  More demand?  Great talent?  How do you know?  Answer those questions and you can start to lay a foundation for the business case.

Let's be deliberate in our business partnership in this arena.  We know what is ultimately driving employees and money is not the top answer.  By the way, I am not saying it doesn't matter because it does (it kinda helps to be able to pay your mortgage, you know?).  However, from a percentage standpoint, we spend more time on comp analysis and related issues than we do running after the real top answers.  Money is important, but it is not the primary motivator. We know it so let's act on what we know.