Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Big Time

"I'm on my way; I'm making it."  When I finally got a job that paid me enough which allowed me to move out of my grandparents' house and be on my own, it was awesome.  I was stoked.  Honestly, I remember cooking my first meal in my new apartment - pork chops, roasted peppers and tomatoes, brown rice.  I took a picture of the plate as I presented it to myself.  So silly, but it meant so much to me to fend for myself.  I thought I was so "big time." I was on my way; I was making it.

I often think about this time in my early 20's when I am recruiting.  So many energetic, excited newly graduated to mid-20's candidates applying for an entry level position are dreaming of how much of a difference this position will make for their futures.  My heart is so excited for them.  They're vim and vigor is palatable, so much so that when someone in that bracket walks in without that vibe, it is noticeable and an absolute put-off.

What I also appreciate is that same energetic air from the candidates in their 30's, 40's, 50's and 60's.  They share the work experiences they've had and the difference it's made in their goals.  I listen to accounts of successes and failures, lessons learned and those yet to come.  I am energized by their passion for the next chapter of professional development.  But again, if someone walks in without that confident approach, it's obvious.  Age isn't the issue; it's attitude.  I think of Mary Tyler Moore throwing her beret in the air in Minneapolis knowing that she's gonna make it after all.  The attack of life is invigorating to those around.  Without being trite, it's a beginning, not an ending.

However, in a time where the recession has eliminated positions, zapped retirement plans and sent many to the unemployment line, it would be easy to have a somber and melancholy attitude settle in.  I have witnessed tears and heartbreak by those who've been committed to a company for 25 years only to watch the doors close and the pension along with it.  So now, a 58 year-old person is vying for the same job as a 23-year old recent graduate.  

Let's role play for a moment or two.  Be both in your mind for a moment.

You're 58 and you know that you probably won't be making what your last job paid you.  You're afraid you don't have the current skills needed to be seen as viable enough for the role.  You see iPads and SmartPhones as the tipping point to your qualification rather than the 25 years of experience you possess.  You see your competition and you're disheartened that you're sitting in this waiting room.  

You're 23 and you know that you need a job.  Mom and Dad have told you that the support lines are done. You are worried that you don't have the skills for this role as you look at the 58 year-old across from you in the waiting room.  You grab your iPad and Google "skills that a 58 year-old has" so that you can fake it.  You're concerned that the manager will look at you as one of those unmotivated, entitled kids that you've come up against for most of the jobs you've interviewed.  You see your competition and you're disheartened that you're sitting in this waiting room.

Got a picture of both?  Both of them have a self-fulfilling prophecy behind them.  You will be what you decide you'll be.  Attitude is a decision of the will.  I can choose to be the victim, albeit with a right, or I can choose to rise above it.  Listen, this isn't a decision to be Richard Simmons (yeah, I know some of you have "Sweatin' to the Oldies" in the back of your DVD collection).  It's a decision to be positive and confident in mindset.  Your worth as a person is not about the job you do, but rather, the position you have can be reflective of who you are as a person.  So, if you're weary and frustrated, stop.  Really, stop.

Why are you in this position?  Assess the reasons; own what you need to own.  Develop a plan of attack that's tri-purposed.  One - address the gaps that you see in what you did in previous roles/address those areas where you lack skills.  By address, I don't mean just acknowledge.  I mean, acknowledge, confront, seek out learning, develop.  It's not okay to say I don't know how to "x."  Do you know you can search You Tube for guitar playing and learn how to play on your own?  Do you know that the internet has lots of information on certain skills and ability-enhancements?  What about your community centers and libraries (they do still exist)?  Be vigilant in learning.

Two - volunteer.  Use the skills you have and the ones you're developing to give back to others.  Engage with youth, seniors, displaced workers, colleges.  Develop mastery through usage.  Offer to be a resource at whatever level you're able.  You'll grow to be more of a resource as you start somewhere in that chain.

Three - network with attitude.  Sending out LinkedIn invites is not networking.  Finding communities where you can learn and offer answers at the same time will be more profitable.  Be online with purpose.  If you're spending a portion of your days playing "Candy Crush" or commenting to Ashton Kutchner on Twitter, you're wasting time.  Those internet communities matter whether you're 23 or 58.  Listen, my aunt is 72 and she smokes me on Facebook know-how and usage.  She engages with others, meets people and drives interest in what she brings to the table.  She works 3/4 time for a major grocery chain visiting their multi-site operations where she uses her iPhone to tabulate data...hello?  She rocks.

I have often said that if this HR-thing doesn't work out for me (well, it's been 23 years so far, but you never know), I would be happy to pour coffee at Wawa (I'm sorry for those of you who don't know what this is - Google it!).  It's not about what I am doing, but how I am doing it.  Bills can be paid, yes, but my passions can find a way out even in pouring coffee.

Let me encourage those of you seeking employment.  Change your mindset.  There is no reason to be still; there is no reason to be dejected; there is no reason to stop learning.  You can use your time wisely and have great impact.  Share who you are and what you know how to do.  Be open to learning new skills and sharpening others.  Walk into interviews with passionate purpose.  See your time in life, right now, as an opportunity.  Honestly, everyday is a day where we can be on our way.  We're all making it.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

I'll Tumble 4 Ya!

When the alarm goes off at 5AM, it's early.  Not that 5AM for me is earlier than it would be for you, but just the simple fact that it's early.  In fact, during winter, it's also so dark.  I rise with the sun naturally, which is early enough, but to rise in the dark...ugh.  So why does my alarm go off at 5AM?  To workout.  Up and at it, I dress and head over to join the other crazies pumping iron at the gym.  I often think, "What are we doing up? Do we know that lots of other people are sleeping right now?"  But that's the beauty of it.  We work out at a less crowded gym and can get all of the facets of our workout done rather easily without waiting for equipment.  So, is that motivation enough to get up and do this?

Not really.  The decision to do this, for me, is based upon what working out does for me.  I am healthier; I have clearer thoughts; I feel better; I have more energy for the day.  The effects of working out are really good.  But I only get to experience this because I made a decision...a decision that costs me something.

In HR, we have the ability to be the heartbeat of our companies.  We can be that culture-designer.  We can set a tone for our teams, our departments.  And that starts with the decision to "set the alarm."  Leadership costs.  All great movements cost people something, especially the leaders.  Whether it was Jesus, Gandhi, Martin Luther, Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr..costs were counted and accepted.  If you study great leadership, you'll see this theme running throughout the lives of those examples.

Now, I know in HR, we may not have the national or global platform that the persons mentioned did.  That's okay.  It's not about recognition, but rather, it's about an inspiring influence.  We have the privilege of engaging with lots of people that work at our companies.  It's no accident that you are in the role you're in.  So use that position to breathe new life into the work that needs to be done by changing perspectives.  Help your teams have the eyes to see the bigger picture, to see how much the one part of the puzzle he/she does matters, to understand how each part is dependent on the other.  Lead people to efficiency, to greatness.

Many moons ago, I was working for a major retailer.  One of the jobs often overlooked was janitorial.  Most employees hardly acknowledged the work done to keep the stores clean.  I observed a sad janitor emptying trash while two associates were speaking; neither associate even said hello, but neither did the janitor look up to be open to any conversation.  I wanted our employees to appreciate this player on the team.  I chatted with this janitor about how grateful I was that he was doing what he was doing.  I made sure to find him a couple of times a week in whatever department he was in and chatted for a moment with him (so that other employees would see my example).  I had a name tag ordered for him.  His demeanor began to change and his interaction with other employees occurred.  I am not saying that he became "besties" with anyone, but I am saying that he was now seen by other employees as a person and not just a function.

Leadership costs.  It takes time.  I did not have to use my time to find that janitor.  I could have just been willing to chat when it was convenient to me, when I happened upon him.  Lasting effects don't work that way.  If I only workout when it's, hello! No workouts for Johnny!  I have to get up early to do it or my day will swallow me, and it won't happen.  When you are at work, be deliberate about your schedule but put time in for those relational interactions that help to lead the culture of the organization.  

It's best to start small.  Take your time and decide on those initiatives that need leadership.  Figure out ways to make it happen for you in the course of your day or week.  Just as you might not have much effect if you do something like this once every six weeks, you won't have as much effect if you're trying to change a large component of the company on your first shot at directed leadership.  It might not be received well because there's not much, if any, history of your leadership to rely on.

Let me interject here to say that there is a HUGE difference between managing and leading.  You cannot accomplish great change by just managing.  Leading is setting a new course, traveling a new road towards a goal, and calling those around you to greatness.  Managing, while needed, is not the same thing.  Perhaps you've been great at managing the administration of talent or the organization of function...good for you!  That has to be done, but that's really just managing well what's already there.  Your value as an HR professional in your company is about doing your job well; leadership, I believe, is part of your job.
And lastly, though there are other components, it needs direction.  Empty leadership is silly.  If you are able to truly garner the attention and the buy-in of employees who are willing to go where you lead, and you have no where planned to take them, major fail.  Develop a plan, review the goals of it with your CEO or whomever you answer to, work with managers in brainstorming engagement of the plan (get them on board) and make a decision to remain energized and enthusiastic even when it gets a little difficult.

Again, leadership costs.  Everything mentioned here is sacrifice-related.  Often, I tell people, "it's not about you."  So much has been written on servant leadership and the various perspectives on it, so all I will say is that if you are in HR and think that your comfort is why you are in that role, then I would encourage you to find another field.  Human capital management is sacrificial in nature.  Dealing with, serving and encouraging talent means laying aside, at times, rights that you think you might have.  It's not always convenient or pretty, but it's what we get to do.

What are you willing to do today to get started leading?  What do your teams need?  How can you bring solution?  I know that when I workout, I may not look the prettiest.  Old t-shirt, basketball shorts for a guy who can't play basketball, clenched teeth during bench press, a few grunts escape during curls...not pretty.  But I am not worried about looking good while doing it; I don't have to.  My focus is on the results it gives me.  What you can do now might not be the prettiest job to get done, but see that it gets done. Think about how the results will benefit your company.

Can you lead this initiative?  Can you lead it by setting other managers up for success?  What might you have to sacrifice?  Listen, if Boy George is willing to tumble for you, and he doesn't even know you, then I am sure you can figure out ways to lead those around you in spite of the sacrifices it may mean.  

Count the costs and make a decision for effectiveness in your organizations.  Truly, I know that there is greatness among you; act upon it!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The Boy is Mine

Fight for your love, right?  It's Valentine's season.  It's all about love.  Actually, it's been all about merchandising since January 2.  Hearts everywhere.  Love, love, love.  Sick of it, aren't you?  I mean, listen, I like to be in love like the next person.  All those jittery butterflies in your stomach.  Dry mouth, sweaty palms, empty wallet...

I have been giving great thought to what we in the HR world fight for in our companies.  What we spend our energies on is typically a sign of our passion, of our love, if you will.  What we often say we love is strategy.  We are HRBP's (you know, business partners); we have a seat at the table (I might lose it if someone uses that phrase at the National SHRM conference this year); we have employee engagement surveys.  See how strategic we are!

Roll your sleeves up.  Let's look at our organization as our "boy" or "girl."  We love it.  We live for it.  We can't bear to be apart from it.  Now think strategically.  How do we keep it?  How do we protect it?  How do we fight for it so no one else takes it?  That's the driver of strategic business thought.  So let's start with one aspect for fun - strategic cost management.

Strategic cost management is all about analyzing and managing costs so your company can have a competitive advantage.  So how do you do that?  First off, it takes time.  "Date" the CFO for a while (scary to some, I know).  Find out all you can about profit margins and what the break-even point is for the company; better yet, if you don't even know what a break-even analysis is, then ask him/her, or Google it!  Find out where the company ranks in terms of efficiency and production standards.

Another component to start asking yourself has to do with what kind of business you are in the marketplace. Are you a low-cost product distributor?  Are you a high-quality, highly individualized customer service kind of experience?  These answers are not only part of what will help you develop a strategic cost management plan, but it will influence how you hire, retain and promote.  The talent in the company from the entry-level clerk to the CEO has to know what the value proposition is for the company as it competes in the marketplace.

Think of it this way.  If WalMart decided tomorrow it was going to be like Neiman Marcus in its customer experience, it would have to forego its position as a low-cost value giver.  It would be near impossible to offer that level of customer engagement and product level and still keep costs as low as we know them to be.  If WalMart did that, it would change its business strategy and would have to re-create a cost management structure.

This "boyfriend/girlfriend" of yours can be finicky at times.  Fluctuations in the economy, in raw material prices, in the political landscape, etc. all influence the relationship.  You might wake up one morning and realize that your love is not what you once knew it to be.  Fight to get her/him back.  Don't let someone else take the place that your company has.  Look at processes and procedures.  Are they efficient and effective? Can you develop plans for sustainable advantage?  What have been the constants in the relationship?  How can they be better leveraged for growth and for stability against competition?

Let me add a dash of perspective to the mix.  I know that you may not be a financial wizard.  Some of you reading this might think, "Listen, I got into HR because I stink at math.  I like people and that's it."  I understand that and respect it.  So let me meet you in it.  If you've ever been passionate about someone, then you know the time you spend with that person is precious to you.  You will choose to do things that the object of your affection enjoys just because you want to be with him/her.  You learn new things, you think differently, you open your eyes to new views because that's where the other person is.  Why can't you put that energy into your role at your company?  You love people, okay, but love them by setting them up for success.  Love them by putting effort into developing a healthy, long-term environment.  Love them by ensuring that the company stays open.

But remember, love isn't always hearts and flowers as the next day or two might show.  Sometimes it means saying no.  Sometimes it means compromise.  Sometimes it means pruning relationships so that they can grow fuller.  When you look at processes as part of the strategic cost management plan, you might realize that money is being wasted in one area.  Profits have not been seen in quite some time and the other business units have been covering for it.  It might be time to cut it off.  Work with your CEO around these issues; it's not a bad thing to promote growth and stability, but it can be painful.  A value in strategic cost management has to do with controlling costs and their drivers.  If inefficiency or lack of profit potential is found, then it might have to go.

I understand that this might be tough to take, but that's what passion is about.  Running hard after something to attain it and cherish it.  Your company needs you to be passionate about its health, its success and its future.  Learning the process of cost management and using it to really be strategic for your company is one of the best ways you can show love.  Your role within your organization is meant to be people-focused, but that is not to the exclusion of business acumen.  That is quite needed for your role!  Fight for what you have.  Fight to beat out the competition.  Fight to keep what your company has achieved.  Fight for the future of the company's success.  We love a fighter.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Leave A Tender Moment Alone

If you want to learn something about me that is vital to understanding me, it's this: I am obsessed with Billy Joel.  Awkward, yes, but it's mostly because of his music.  As a kid from South Philly (for those of you unfamiliar, this is the area where Rocky was filmed and takes place), I connect with his blue collar songs of pride, hard work and a good time.  However, this particular song throws me for a loop.  It's gentle in musical effort, confidently humble in lyric and sung with hubris (I bet you didn't think I was smart enough to write with such vocabulary).  Few words and understanding of the moment are valued.

Timing in employee engagement can operate in a similar manner.  Sometimes, it's quite nice when few words need to be said.  Obviously, I don't mean this romantically; it's a matter of impact.  Growing up, my dad would just have to give me the "look."  Do you know what I mean?  If we were somewhere and I was misbehaving, he just shot me the "look" with no words or other movement.  This look meant "I will hunt you down once we leave this place.  You won't be able to hide.  Run, if you dare, but I will catch you and destroy you" (if you can say that in Liam Neeson's voice, then you've got the idea and the shivers, right?).  There are times that no words are needed.

In Human Resources, we may have grown accustomed to talking.  Some of us may have grown accustomed to talking lots.  Some of us are unable to shut up long enough to read this post.  Listen, I'm serious.  Some of us take the constant message-giving role and can't stop it.  We don't know how to listen and feel out a situation anymore.  To go deeper, some of us have lost jobs because of our know-it-all, share-it-all, disapproving demeanor.  Some of my HR colleagues have had their marriages dissolve because they couldn't shut down the policy-laden diatribe; a spouse can only deal with that for so long.

To be present in the conversation or the engagement means a bit of tenderness sometimes.  So what does tenderness mean?  Am I to be some sort of mamby-pamby HR cry baby?  Tenderness is an art and a skill.  It has to be practiced.  It does not only exist in a romantic context, but is applicable to the larger relational context.  Engagement is tied to being heard and respected; Jim Whitehurst of Red Hat talks about this being a necessary tenant to retention.  When employees can exist in a space where mutual communication is encouraged, but there is also an example of that communication being set by management, then the culture is impacted appropriately.

Sometimes, just because something can be said doesn't mean it should.  As an HR professional, I have taken the time to develop managers' ability to read situations.  You know, it's like the post-Olympic race interview to the US athlete who's just taken fourth when he/she was expected to win.  The interviewer eventually asks those dumb questions: "Are you disappointed?  How are you feeling?"  Seriously, Costas?  What do you want the athlete to say?  "No, I'm thrilled that I just blew it for our country.  I mean, after four years of training constantly, my hope was to pull a fourth place finish."  Leave the tender moment alone.  Sometimes you just cry with someone.  Sometimes you just shut up and sympathize.

One of the worst times in my early career was having to deal with an employee who suddenly lost her spouse.  There were no signs of issues and he was in his early forties.  When she shared what had happened and was requesting time off to handle affairs, I offered my condolences and then launched into a filibuster of poetic nonsense and uneducated counseling.  This employee did not need that; she needed me to acknowledge what she was asking for and to just be present for her.  Showing silent support can sometimes be the loudest, deepest message.

But let me also bring this to a less emotional level.  If you find that, in any meeting, you are normally the one with the most to say, you are doing something wrong.  Your words are ineffective and they leave you seeming foolish to your co-workers.  C'mon, you have to know that you are the person that everyone else is rolling their eyes about when you're not looking.  You are the one that post-meeting emails are being sent about.  You are the one who is diminishing your brilliance by your verbosity.  Pay attention to your environment and know when to just let one simple sentence simmer in the room.  That can be exceedingly impactful.

Understand that I share these things to encourage us as HR professionals.  I can use where I have failed in my past to point to a better road.  I know how hard it is to refrain from sharing everything you know.  I know that there is fear that you may never have the chance again if you don't say something now.  Seek to be more present by allowing your words to be influential rather than inconsequential due to their overuse.  When you engage with employees, listen first and more often than you speak.  You work for the company and your responsibility is to your employer, but your finesse in understanding situations and engaging employees is needed for the good of the company.

Listen, Billy said it best: "Just when I ought to relax, I put my foot in my mouth."  I have tasted every area of my feet for as much as they've been in my mouth.  It's a terrible taste and an even worse consequence to the relationships for which I have been entrusted.  You don't need to keep training, advising, correcting, or coaching with words all the time.  Understand the moments as they come and breathe.  You may find that breathing through them influences a right reaction rather than using all your breath to talk through them.