Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Into the Woods

I am a sucker for a good story.  Basic story-telling should grab the listener early on, keep that person glued to the next word and then amaze and challenge to wrap it up.  In the musical Into the Woods, a mish-mosh of fairy tales come together, initially in ways we would expect, but then all of it collapses around us, such challenges are presented.  The pithy and wise-beyond measure granules of truth that come out of it are poignant, if not stunning at times.   The baker's wife sings "But if life were only moments, then you'd never know you had one."  The witch painfully sings "Children may not obey, but children will listen."  Or, my favorite, the Prince states, "I was raised to be charming, not sincere."

It's often the case that the simplest of stories can turn a head back to true north.  Our gauge can be put off from purpose and passions because of the myriad of distractions in front of us.  Our perspective has to be re-adjusted.  We need to wake up.  Sometimes, a trip to the woods is exactly what is needed.

Whether for a business or for an individual, this journey is one to be taken every so often.  What can the challenges that come with walking through a different set of scenery do for you?  Think about your company.  What if you had three people walk in, at times you didn't know, when you were not there, and then report back what they observed.  Would there be value in that?  Of course!  The meadow that you think you're lunching in may turn out to be full of thorns (or at least have some thorny patches).  

Perhaps it is wise to walk into a competitor's location and observe.  You know, shop or use their services, but really just be there to take it all in.  Sound deceptive?  Nah.  The great car makers bought cars from competitors.  Mr. Gimbel shopped in Macy's once in a while.  It's good.  It's profitable.

As individuals, the same push is there for us.  Are we walking in the woods?  Have I settled for complacency?  Another line from Into the Woods is "you're not good, you're not bad, you're just nice."  How awful!  Listen, I think I am a pretty good guy, but I would rather have someone hate me than just think I am nice...bleck!

With a new year upon us, what will you do to travel the path towards a new view, a new status, a new scene?  I could give you a hundred ideas, but the point is to start the journey.  Those doors will open.  The pathway will become clearer.  You will run into wolves, witches, princes and giants.  All of them will help you to see who you are and who you want to strive to be.  The inspiration comes not only from those feel-good moments, but also from those moments of despair and tragedy.

Businesses must be sharp and ready.  People must be challenged and pushed.  We have each other.  Walk the path with someone.  Don't fear.  Go to the woods!

Monday, December 15, 2014

Comic Book Heroes

Growing up, I was a big comic book geek. Whatever money I had I would spend at the comic book shop, buying a variety of titles. And I come by it honestly--my mother enjoyed them as well. She would tell me about how when she was young, her mother made her throw out her collection. She had great titles, such as The Hulk, Fantastic Four, and others, that are now worth loads of money. I was horrified by my grandmother's treatment of these treasures. As a result I've done my best to preserve many of the comics I've purchased over the years.

Eventually, my interest in purchasing comic books waned. There was a variety of reasons for it. For one, as I got older other interests took over. For another, I got jaded as the comic book market became more focused on driving sales over quality storytelling. Lastly, as any geek will tell you, the social pull to put aside "childish" pursuits got to be too much. But, remembering my mother's horror stories of potentially valuable art disposed of, I put my comics in storage.

Fast forward to the present and the success of Marvel and DC comics across a variety of entertainment mediums has reawakened my love of comic books. Over the past several weeks I've gone into my storage space and gathered a few titles to read, as well as share with my kids.

Having them out has done a few things for me. It's sparked curiosity and creativity, not only in my kids but within me as well. We've had great discussions on character motivation, morality in comics, as well as different ways in which artists interpret certain iconic characters. This has prompted them, along with myself, to create our own comic inspired art.

As a Human Resources Consultant, revisiting my comic book collection has helped me to draw connections between art and work.
  • HR and its perception as the villain. HR practitioners are often viewed as the "bad guys" within organizations. And some of us (unfortunately) are deserving of the label! Oftentimes, like the X-Men, we're just misunderstood.
  • Villains and ethical behavior. Continuing with villains... great heroes are defined by the enemies they face. Batman vs. Joker. Captain America vs. the Red Skull. Many of the most well known heroes faced tremendous adversity. Most of the time they've been able to outwit their opponents. The critical difference is that the hero finds a way to succeed without sacrificing their morals. While it might be easy to view a disliked colleague as your enemy it's disruptive to business if you deal with them in an unethical manner. Remember, "with great power comes great responsibility".  
  • To be successful it helps to have an ego. Think about it--why would anyone run around in tights? On a more realistic level, think about some of your career goals and what it'll take to achieve them. Whether it's to bring criminals to justice or getting promoted, achieving your objectives sometimes means ignoring what others may think of you (and your wardrobe choices). It means believing in yourself and your abilities, especially when it seems you're the only one that does.
  • Teamwork. Even singular legends, such as Superman, Batman, and the Hulk, can't always solve issues alone. All are actively part of, or have partnered with, groups through which they've tackled problems beyond their capabilities. For us normal folks, think about which organizations or groups you're a part of (or should be). Can they help get you to the next level? Will its members challenge and encourage your unique combination of abilities?
  • Persistence. Comic books were considered cheap entertainment (literally and figuratively) when they were first introduced. Now they constitute multi-billion dollar properties. Doggedly pursuing your goals even when the general public may not appreciate your work is a great characteristic to possess.
  • Diversity and the lack thereof. There are no shortage of comic book characters. Look beneath the surface and you may notice that they tend to look alike. Quick-name three superheroes of color? That are gay? And there's much to be said about its portrayal of female characters. Unfortunately, comics mirror society in this respect. While the situation is improving (for example, with the launch of the Black Panther movie, as well as the introduction of the Falcon character in Captain America: The Winter Soldier), there's still a lot of work to be done.
Comics have been more than cheap entertainment for me. It's served as a creative metaphor for my work as a Human Resources practitioner, and how to be successful as one.

What's inspired you to be great at what you do?

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Seasons Change

At one point in my life, I was set to get married.  I guess I should back up to explain better.  I am married and I have three kids – Amazing, Amazing 2 and Amazing 3 (and all are that way due to Queen Amazing).  What I mean to say is that at one point in my life, I was set on marrying someone else.  I started looking at rings.  I thought through how I would ask her.  I dropped hints in conversation with her father.  I had dated this young lady for two years.

And yet, it didn’t happen.  We talked.  We realized that we weren’t where we thought we were.  It was awful.  I felt a bit like Lloyd Dobler – “I gave her my heart and she gave me a pen.”  Moving on was the right call, however.  Last I heard she was married.  Me, too.  Good for her.

Moving on is a difficult decision.  As business professionals, how do we determine if it’s time to move on?  I don’t mean just for ourselves, but for those on our teams, too.  For some employees it is easy to see.  Obnoxious behavior mixed with poor work performance.  SEE YA!  It is a simple conversation.  For others, it might be a matter of observation of their buy-in, their spirit, their passion.  Has all of that waned?  Is it being forced?  Are the conversations less fun, only business?  The work might be getting done, but the heart is no longer connected?  Tough call, right?

Surely, the first measure is to have an honest conversation with that person.  Ask good questions about satisfaction, purpose, connection, environment.  Draw out perspective and emotion.  Many of our teammates want to be asked.  The first couple of minutes may be awkward but plow through it.  The fruit of such conversations can alter the fabric of the company.  And sometimes, a trip to Mood is warranted (yes, I watch Project Runway, so?).

However, let’s say that these conversations illicit none of the magic hoped for.  What then?  Go back to the job description.  Is the person doing what he/she is to do?  Does the job description accurately reflect the KSA’s needed?  If collaboration, for example, is needed to do the work and it is not on the JD, then update it.  This will allow for truer dialogue around the duties rather than just a sense of disconnect.  Be mindful, though, to not make the JD too person-specific.  If Joe usually makes the coffee for the office in the morning and he stops doing so, and you sense something is wrong, I wouldn’t change his JD to include coffee preparation (unless he is a Barista).  Look only at the core duties for the role and what is needed to perform it well.

Sometimes, people need a conversation to cause them to “wake up” and look at how off track they’ve gotten.  Sometimes, they need a more formal interaction to do that.  And sometimes, it might lead to a new season for that person and for the company.  Sometimes it’s very healthy for someone to move on, even if they’ve been a decent employee for a while.  Maybe they’ve hit a ceiling and the challenges are few and far between.  Maybe they are at the max for compensation and that takes them down a peg or two.  Maybe they’ve just grown apart from the role.  It happens.

A word to my HR peeps…this applies to you, too.  Some of you need to leave where you are working.  Rough, right?  But I am serious.  You’re too settled, too cranky, too blasé, too distant.  Do a self-check, but also ask for feedback from those who know and work with you.  Staying with a job because you make good money is not helping the company.  Our role is to encourage health and growth within the organizations we serve.  If what we’re modeling is more of a “put my time in” kind of attitude, then we shoot ourselves in the foot.  Trust that your skill sets and aptitudes will open doors elsewhere for you; they can take you to a new challenge where passion and joy return.  Love your company enough to go.

And if you're not ready to go yet, then use the self-assessment and feedback from others to put you back on track.  Raise high the boom box and fight back!

One of my great loves in business is the “fire in your belly” that can grow.  Time does not have to dampen this.  Just because an HR pro or a CEO has been with one company for ten years does not establish some milestone that it’s time to go.  There is a difference between time spent and time served.  Follow?

Seasons change.  There is no question.  I am not in the same role I was in 20 years ago.  I am not in the same role I was in 3 years ago.  And I am not married to the person I almost married 20 years ago.  As painful and scary as those seasons might be, they do change.   

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

You Make Me Wanna

I had the opportunity to attend a RYLA (Rotary Youth Leadership Association) summer program during high school.  It was hosted on a college campus where about 75 local students were exposed to leadership development skill building, team dynamics and effective organizational tools; it was not exactly Meatballs with Bill Murray, but it was a good time.  The chaperones were non-existent and a bunch of juniors in high school were left to run the “social” programs for the week.  Ah, youth.

What stands out to me is that I was not invited by my high school to be considered for RYLA.  For whatever reasons, the Guidance Department did not initially invite me to interview with local Rotary members for the opportunity to attend.  There were to be only four students selected for consideration – two guys and two ladies.  When I saw my friends get invites to miss a class in order to interview, I walked out of class and went to the guidance office.  A couple of my friends ran out after me and told me not to worry about it.  They asked me what the big deal was.  The rejection, the lack of ask, made me want to do something to change the perception that was obviously there.

As you might imagine, I was mad.  So, I shared with the Director of Guidance my feelings about the circumstances.  She apologized and said they had decided to exclude me because they thought I wouldn’t be interested.  What?  A free vacation without my parents and you thought I wouldn’t be interested?  What about me says “not interested”?  That conversation took longer, but needless to say, I secured an interview slot and kicked butt in the interview.

Assumption is an interesting reality for management.  I have heard on many occasions, “Oh, Joe (insert your own name of choice) would never agree to that.  He won’t do that work.  He isn’t interested in projects.  He doesn’t like the company so he wouldn’t do it.”  The reasons might be one or many, but managers use their observations to determine a response from a staff member without ever asking the employee.  Not only was the Guidance Department sure I wouldn’t be interested, but they about fell over when the Selection Committee chose me as one of the finalists.

Those with authority in your organization might only see glimmers of a person’s responsiveness or work output.  From a distance, it might seem to say something to them.  Those who are on the ground more might have a different perspective.  To be sure, there is something quite rich about opening a door for consideration with the individual employee directly.

Simply asking the employee whether he/she is interested in working on this extra project or handling a particular situation has great merit.  The response from the employee might surprise you.  The employee himself/herself might be surprised that you would think to ask.  As a result, work performance could increase or mature.  Understanding that the “company” is watching him/her should motivate, or at least, shock him/her back into right work habits.  The value comes in the results of asking.

If I had not been selected for the RYLA opportunity, I would have been disappointed; however, my disappointment in my high school leadership was greater.  Winning allowed me to shove it in their faces, but it did not remove the fact that they didn’t think it was for me.  What was I showing them?  What about me categorized me as a “just get by” kind of kid?  I had excelled in so much, well, at least in my mind.  The lack of the “ask” opened my eyes to see that my perspective on others’ view of me was flawed.   

Ask your team to step up.  Ask them to engage in special projects.  Ask them to lead a team to accomplish a certain production goal.  Ask them to train others.  Do it clearly and consistently.  Avoid assumptions.  When someone turns you down, then your view is based on fact rather than an assumption.  Allow an employee to own his/her future.  Declining opportunities to lead, to grow, to engage by an employee allows you to determine long-term involvement by that employee.  You can then move on to cultivate those that really want to immerse themselves in service to the organization. 

The “ask” has great value.  Be willing to ask people to engage.  There is nothing wrong with doing so.  Just do not assume the answer first.  Let the adult employee answer for himself/herself.  Actions taken as a result of the answer then have context.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

All Together Now

(by +Victorio Milian

A few months ago I went out and invested in myself--I bought a Digital Single Lens Reflex (DSLR) camera. It had been something that I wanted for a while, and I was finally in a position to take the plunge, so to speak.
Picture of a Nikon D3200 DSLR camera
My new camera.
I'm enjoying it. This camera is a big leap forward from snapping pictures using my phone. It's also more sophisticated than any camera I ever had. While fairly simple to use, the options available (to control and manipulate various settings, for example), make it an item that will test my abilities, in addition to my patience. It makes me excited and nervous to own. My wife points out that I need to "grow into it." How do I do that? Learning how to use this camera reminds me of a number of job roles I've taken on throughout my career as a Human Resources professional. Some were newly created, others were such where I replaced a previous HR practitioner with the understanding that I revamp or enhance the function. In all cases I started as someone who needed to "grow into" the role. I had to quickly assess the function's strengths and weaknesses, as well as its allies and resources. I was important to gain a clear understanding of priorities--what institutional "fires" that needed to be put out, what goals needed to be met, and when--so that I could organize my time and energy as effectively as possible. At its core, to fully embrace the challenge of being in a new and unfamiliar position I had to be willing to commit to doing the work necessary, to literally and figuratively rolling up my sleeves. Without that it would have been easy to become overwhelmed. Here are a few more tips on how a person can grow into a job role:
  • Humble yourself. Be realistic about your capabilities, commitment levels, and your goals. Come to terms with the idea that you will fall on your ass. Going back to my recently purchased camera, I'm doing my best not to get flustered when I take a bad shot (and I've been taking plenty of them!). I use them as examples of what's not working, and I adjust.
A photo that is not well shot. The subject is blurry.
An example of an awful picture taken with my camera.
  • Take note of your successes and failures. With my camera, I've been taking notes of the different settings I've tried, paying attention to which ones are resulting in good photos. In my professional work, I purchase a notebook whenever I start a new role or work with a client. I write everything in it, allowing me a place to store (in one place) all relevant information and thoughts. Not only does this method help me to stay organized, it allows me to note progress over time. This is important, because it helps to provide perspective, particularly when you (or clients) may believe that adequate progress isn't being made.
  • Pace yourself. The temptation to work long hours in order to get acclimated to your new role is not uncommon. Be careful; something that was expected to be a temporary solution (working extra hours, taking work home, etc.) can turn into the norm if you're not mindful. My advice--create an action plan, one that factors in when and how long you may need to put in extra time and effort in order to accomplish a particular goal.
  • Use your resources--digital, human, and other--to figure out how to get the most out of the role. To better learn how to use my DSLR camera, I'm turning to a variety of resources, which includes:
    • YouTube
    • Friends
    • Family
    • Classes (e.g., YMCA)
    • Pinterest
    • Discussion forums
    • the camera's User's Manual
    This can be applied to learning a new job role, also. From a workplace point of view, you have colleagues, subject matter experts (SMEs), and groups (such as professional associations) which represent sources of information and support. Use them--that's what they're there for!
  • Celebrate your successes. In spite your best efforts, it may seem as if progress isn't being made. Perhaps you're not making headway on a particular project. Or colleagues are frustrating. Whatever the case, when something does go right, acknowledge it! Sometimes it's the small wins that help to highlight progress, or that your work is having an impact. When it comes to my new camera, when I take a decent picture utilizing the manual settings, I get very excited!
A photo of a cup and a figurine.
A photo I'm proud of.
At one point or another, a person is faced with a job that they will seem new, unfamiliar, or bigger than they've previously encountered. Understanding the challenges and opportunities in that scenario will help increase the odds of success in that role. Humble yourself, be organized, pace yourself, use your resources, and celebrate success--these are some ways in which to grow into a job role.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Got 'til It's Gone

“Noooooooooooooo!”  That shout when one of your key employees gives his/her resignation.  Two weeks, of course.  Confusion, fear, frustration and panic set in.  What will we do?  Why is he/she leaving us?  Who is responsible for making this person quit?  Let’s find that person so that we may substitute one separation from the company with another!

It’s no fun, but it happens.  Besides the knee-jerk reaction, there are important questions that should be asked:

1 – What led up to this person’s departure? – There were warning signs, even subtle ones.  Longer lunches to perhaps squeeze in an interview?  Wearing nicer ensembles to work? A definite change to communication patterns?  Less willingness to do that little bit extra?  Think back.

While reflection may not change the outcome, it is important to become better at identifying the signs for the future.  Being oblivious is not okay when it comes to talent management.  In the full picture, it’s critical to manage your talent effectively, which includes observation and action.  Asking yourself, “What should I have done?” is fine, but asking, “What can I do now?” is better. 

2 – How effective has support and accountability been? – Odd question, perhaps.  Truthfully, it’s often the case that someone leaves because he/she feels like so much work and effort has been done by him/her without reciprocity from other team members.  Accountability keeps everyone honest.  It also keeps dialogue going regarding areas of drop-off.  Support and re-structure can be offered once those details are known.

3 – How will we get the knowledge about processes, systems, compliance, etc. out of his/her head and into someone else’s in the organization? – I often joke with a new employee when introducing him/her to a seasoned veteran of the company that the veteran has probably forgotten more than the new employee will ever know.  There is truth to this, though.  If someone has been with the organization for years and is truly a key employee (not just dead weight that has been allowed to fester for decades because no one is brave enough to do something about it…ouch!), then the knowledge along with the nuances of history are hard to replace.

Effort needs to be put into mentoring and coaching opportunities regularly.  To try to get all of the knowledge out of someone’s head who just gave his/her two weeks’ notice is silly.  It won’t happen.  By establishing it as a normal business practice avoids panic and an unreasonable  burden of “data dump” between the leaving and the staying employees.

4 – Is the position needed? – Nothing says “Don’t let the door hit you….” then when you realize you haven’t needed that role for some time and have no intentions of filling that role.  But it’s true!  Out of our busyness or sheer laziness, we haven’t looked at role effectiveness.  Perhaps a resignation is a gift (for a variety of reasons, I know) in this vein because we can be forced to look at structure and process.  Does this role push the mission for the organization?  Is there overkill in the management level of the org chart?  Or, the real kicker, measure the results of that position.  If it’s not acceptable, was that because of the person in the role? Or because you don’t need the role?

5 – What will the ripple effect be, if any? – “Who’s with me?” For those of you who’ve not seen the movie “Gung Ho,” watch it.  Besides the datedness and the stereotypes, it deals with productivity and cultural issues.  A rallying of the troops as a result of someone leaving can be crushing, of course.  Walk outs or just a couple more resignations can affect morale deeply.  Repair won’t be overnight.

Proactively engaging a couple of layers of managers and directors will thwart one person from having such power.  Even if a key employee leaves, the communication channels would have been open to more than merely that supervisor.  If I can approach my manager, my director, my CEO as well as my team, then the departure of that manager won’t seem as “end of the world” as if he/she was the only superior who knew I existed.  Be visible, be communicative, be real.

Overall, it’s wise to care for all employees.  It’s very wise to care for those key employees.  Know what they need.  Know why they need it.  Know how support can be given.  BUT, measure effectiveness, too.  We’re not prisoners.  We don’t have to be held hostage by a key employee.  Figure out why and how to get the information out of his/her head and into others’ heads.

And to be truthful, a healthy resignation can do wonders for a company, too.  Jus’ sayin’.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

You Gotta Be

Success.  Love that word.  Fraught with meaning.  Many a dream has been realized or demolished against the measure of success.  It’s what everyone CEO wants to deliver to his/her board of directors.  It’s what every publicly traded company wants to deliver to its stockholders.  Success.

We spend millions trying to find it or create it.  We reinvent wheels.  We look to find secrets  that will help to shorten the time it takes to achieve it.  We look for quick results.  We want to have an impact that will generate revenue. 

Having been able to sit with many CEO’s over my years, I have heard variations on the pursuit of success, but all of it basically boiling down to these points.  And what I have often considered is that success is like dieting or getting into shape.

We buy the latest series for weight loss.  We join gyms.  We get up before the crack of dawn to do boot camp in the park.  We bike, hike, take pills and drink shakes.  We’ve worn leg warmers with Jane Fonda, sweat to the oldies with Richard Simmons, Tae Bo’d with Billy Blanks, Pilate’d, P90X’d, Insanity’d.  We cleanse, eat organic, say no to carbs, say no to fats, say no to dairy, say no to red meat.  The exercise, fitness and diet industries are multi-billion dollar industries. 

And yet, in the US, we are the most obese population ever.  Curious.

Success seems to be the same.  We commit to so much to make our companies excel.  We hire consultants, fire consultants, post new mission statements, develop incentive-based compensation plans.  I am not saying this is all for naught.  I will be the first one to tout the values of knowing where you want to get to and leading that team with conviction.

What we ought not to do is join the fitness program at Exhale Spa, buy a new outfit from LuluLemon, workout for a week or two, get tired of it, make excuses, grow fat, be disappointed in our efforts (or lack thereof) and then look for the next quick fix.  Success is built on the pain of consistency and failure. 

Our capabilities are real.  We should encourage the greatness that lies within each of us; the full effect of that will be realized within an organization.  These are not mere words, but rather a call to action.  As leaders we must engage a concept of success that is realistic.  Set the foundation with mission and vision, lay framework with expectations and accountability, add components of structure with trial, collaboration, skills and communication.  These components are refined over time.

Success is rarely overnight.  Success is not a destination but a journey.  Once success is “achieved,” you have to start at it again tomorrow.  Every day, you gotta be ready for what the call to success asks for – consistency, excellence, commitment and sweat!

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Time After Time

For a brief stint, I worked as a middle school teacher.  Teaching is a wonderful gift and I was delighted to do so.  I found that the most time spent, however, was directed towards items and issues that were not germane to the work I was asked to do.  Over and over again, forms had to be completed, state requirements proven and validated, interviewing with academia, etc.  Please understand that I believe in compliance and in accountability…definitely.  What I struggled with was the amount of time it took and how much time it took away from the students.

In human resources, I have experienced and witnessed a similar phenomenon.  While the distractions may differ, the results are the same.  For example, think about how much time you spend at your desk.  Can’t do it?  How about for the next 7 days, you keep a log (seriously!) as to how much time you are sitting at your desk.  Now, while sitting at your desk is not the enemy, per se, it may show you how much less you’re actually amongst the people you serve. 

And it isn’t just about paperwork either.  I bet it would be amazing for you to log how long you actually spend with a particular person or two each week.  Perhaps it’s all good stuff, but likely, you may have your time taxed by someone that should not have as much time as he/she has been allowed to have.  Think about that employee who “just needs 5 minutes” each day.  We know that 5 becomes 20 in seconds.  If it’s every day, what could you do with an extra hour and 40 minutes each week? 

There are still those time-suckers who want to review something again, complain about something again, have software explained to them again…it’s the same stuff time after time.  Am I insane?  Do I expect a different outcome?  Why do I allow this distraction to take me away from serving the larger population?  Stop the madness…you cannot get that time back.  Make decisions about the wasting of time.  If someone cannot handle the work they’ve been given, then get them out of that role.  If the same process isn’t getting the results needed, then put the effort in to change the process so you can be free from the hamster wheel.  Make the change.

I am not making light of responsibilities.  I know that form completion matters.  I know that one-on-one chats have to happen.  I know that your CEO will walk into your office and eat an hour of time.  I know.  Is that every day?  Is it keeping you from the objectives you’ve set?

Time will keep moving on.  Those goals you have for 2014 have a smaller window for completion.  We’re about 9.5 months into the year.  Can you accomplish those goals you set for the people of your organization in these last couple of months?  If so, maybe those goals weren’t so stretching after all?

Are you allowing busyness and distraction to keep you from what you’re to do?  My words are easy to type.  The action of leaving your office for a time and closing the door behind you might be a discipline that you have to employ.  Be with the people.  Learn processes.  Watch cultural interaction.  Those components will make you a better HR person, a better business partner, a better worker.  You will be energized, enlightened…more alive!  Take back your time.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Freeze Frame

(by +Victorio Milian)

I've worked many jobs in my career. Some I've enjoyed, others I've hated. I'm fortunate at this stage of my life to be involved in a few professional ventures that I really enjoy.

Part of why I'm in a good place these days is that I've found a way to incorporate my creative talents into my work. For example, I've been writing for over five years for various blogs and other outlets. This has provided me with opportunities for my work to appear in magazines, to travel, as well as connect with other great professionals. My emerging interest in photography and graphic design is helping me with my clients and their respective needs. My hobbies and interests have a home in my places of work.

My creative activities also serve as a diary of sorts. It gives me an opportunity to reflect on my growth and development, both as a HR practitioner as well as a person.

I say all this because I recently read a NPR article entitled, 'Got A Hobby? Might Be A Smart Professional Move.' In it, the author, Maanvi Singh, discusses research which reveals that employees who have creative endeavors outside of work tend to perform better at work.

According to the researchers abstract:
We conducted two studies that examined the relationships between non-work creative activity, recovery experiences, and performance-related behaviours at work. Creative activity was positively associated with recovery experiences (i.e., mastery, control, and relaxation) and performance-related outcomes (i.e., job creativity and extra-role behaviours).
A word of caution--it was a study done on a small group of professionals. Also, more research needs to be done on the connection between a person's creative outlet and work performance. Therefore, I wouldn't point to it as definitive proof of a relationship.

For me, however, it does make sense. Particularly as a consultant, I'm more engaged with clients when I can bring my full array of talents to work, even if they're not needed or utilized. And I've learned plenty of things at work that I've applied at home. Also, having a creative outlet helps me to relieve stress and to regain balance.

How can employees figure out how to be more creative at work, so that they can be more satisfied? Here are a few suggestions:
  • Look at yourself. Take stock of the things you like to do, particularly those activities that you may not be able to engage in during work hours. Perhaps you like art, or exercising. Whatever it is, take stock of those things.
  • Look at your job. What type of organization do you work for? Specifically, what are the values and expectations within it? Understanding the type of environment you work within can help you identify whether or not there's an opportunity to explore incorporating creative activities at work. For example, I've worked in environments where my social media activities were encouraged. In others, it was a big no-no.
  • Look at your supervisor. You will have no bigger advocate or obstacle than your immediate supervisor. And that goes for any organizational initiative you may want to implement or adjust.
Finding that professional/personal sweet spot is tough, whether you're a CEO or the janitor. When people are able to clearly articulate and exist within that sweet spot between the two, they (in my opinion) tend to do better at work.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Everyday I Write the Book

Executives are pressured to be budget-minded while increasing sales and productivity.  “Do more with less” is the banner many are forced to hold high while walking across the customer service area or the down the manufacturing line.  The pressure of expanding territory, managing the brand(s), and keeping talent in the building require complicated maneuvering.  While begging, pleading and groveling tend to be our default posture, we can really choose differently and with a better chance for lasting effect.

A detailed, passionate plan is necessary for a Human Resources professional to be engaged in the business process.  We have to sit down and create an action plan with both pre- and post-process details.  This may very well be a daily process.  There are moving parts and market fluctuations that cannot be depended on to remain static.  The dynamic nature of our commerce requires us to be nimble and adaptable.  Write and review processes everyday.  Grab your coffee (or latte or Oprah Chai Tea or whatever it is you like today).

  • Where are the pain points of the company?
  • How did it get this way?  What has to change?
  • What are the expectations for the company as described by the Executive team?
  • Who should be handling certain components of the process?  When can I sit with them to review?

  • What elements were accomplished?  What’s working well?
  • Where are there still missing pieces? Who is addressing those needs?  How?
  • Who is/was unable to handle the responsibilities given?  Time for change?

These questions can be drilled down more, but the general idea is to challenge yourself to answer them.  Sit down ahead of time with the pre-process list of questions and write down answers.  When we answer them in our heads only, it’s often the case that’s where they’ll stay.  Write the answers; from these answers, an action plan is created.  This is not an exercise in accountability only, but also in planning with purpose. 

Our companies are in need of dynamic resources to handle the mandate of “more with less.”  I don’t see this trend changing anytime soon.  The fear of finances around tax increases, ACA compliance and global military activity is real and impacts markets.

Listen, for those of you still holding onto hope that you’ll be allowed to fill that job requisition for additional help in your department…let it go.  Don’t depend on it.  It’s been two years.  The company is not bringing on another HR Generalist for you.  Be creative, be industrious, but don’t be stupid.  If the answer is that next quarter might look better and we’ll see then, give it up.  Work with what you have; just work it stronger and with real expectations.  I have had the opportunity to sit with HR departments who regale me with the plans they have for an additional person they’ll eventually be allowed to have.  In the meantime, though, that list of work and plans sits dormant waiting for that person.  Why?

Meet with the executive team to determine the fiscal expectations of the company for the next 6 months.  Then take that understanding and create the process list for pre-, during and post-.  Assign roles, speak to the cultural leadership needed and provide timelines.  Yes, hold people accountable, including yourself, but do it based upon a clearer understanding of the expectations of the company’s financial strategy. 

Oh yea, for those of you reading this who are saying, “no one on the executive team shares this with HR,” then figure out how to make them.  Give them the business case for HR’s involvement.  Show them what you know how to do.  Let them see the resources you have ready to go once you know where you’re going.  Of all people, HR seems to know how to do more with less.  We’ve done it for decades. 

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Broken Wings

Sweet words can heal.  I can recall so many times as a dad where a “boo boo” was healed more by my words than any bandage or ointment.  My kids were more appreciative and comforted by sweetness in tone and message (coupled with a hug).

Think for a minute about how we would do that in a Human Resources function.  Are we to be the “boo boo” office?  Regardless of how many HR departments that I’ve known that were (some still “are”) exclusively like this, I recognize that there really is no other place employees would think of going to than HR for such a need.  So what do you do?

To start, I think it would be kind of awkward to hug and kiss the forehead of an employee whose feelings were hurt by a rough manager.  Aside from the lawsuit that might accompany it (think I’m kidding?), I would submit that there is a diminishing of HR when this is done.  Employees might see our office as we did the Nurse’s Office in school – it was a way to get out of class for a bit and you could rest there.  There was a guy I knew in school who went to the nurse’s office 3 days a week after lunch for a nap.  He didn’t have a doctor’s note or a parent’s permission.  There was just a sweet nurse who liked him and let him sleep.  Are we merely a “nice nurse?”  The nurse in school had her nursing degree and a skill set in it, but she relegated herself as being nice.  Her competencies were not appreciated by those she served.

Comforting a person in a tough situation or who is experiencing difficulty should have a human aspect to it.  I am not advocating a cold HR office (far from it!).  I believe that there is a deep reason to have an HR professional who can connect to the talent within an organization.  As cultural ambassadors for our companies, we have to engage with our staff to win the right to be heard.  We offer a productive viewpoint and a desire to affect change that is most readily received by an audience who knows us. 

When M'Lynn (Sally Field in "Steel Magnolias") loses her daughter Shelby (Julia Roberts), she is rallied to by all of the people in her life who really know her.  And while I know that the gut-wrenching scene at the cemetery is not what most HR folks will deal with each day, I do know that the aspect of putting yourself out there has to be practiced in order to engage with others in an impactful way.   

By being real, we open a door.  Are you hiding behind your door?  Open it.  Get up from your desk, open the door and head out to the assembly line, the sales floor or the customer service department.  Your words will bring healing when they are heard in the context of your relational deposits and cultural encouragement.  Believe that your skill set will shine as you embrace (figuratively) the staff you serve.

And consider that as people grow and mature (well, most people do…I see your head shaking…I know some exceptions myself!), the way in which comfort and connection happen might have to evolve, too.  I don’t speak to the entry-level folks exactly the way I do to those I’ve known for 20 years in the workforce.  There is history between us that I draw upon and allow my conversation to reflect that depth.  I won’t be able to just “kiss it and make it better” with them any longer.

Today, as my kids get older, I think about how one day they will be comforting me as I age.  When my ability to do things as I’ve always done becomes impaired, my children will have to use some of the skills in comforting that I’ve shown them.  I trust that those deposits of family culture and engagement will blossom into confidence and leadership as they take ownership of the family.  We need to build people up to handle such difficulties.  Whether our kids or our employees, we can bring comfort.  Think about the cultural deposits you’re making towards it.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Stir It Up

What can you learn from the Muppets?  Lots.  For those of us in a certain age group, we can recall those fantastic Muppet Show episodes with Julie Andrews, Paul Simon, Diana Ross and a host of other celebrities.  The Muppets would get these respected actors (and Mark Hamill), singers, performers, etc. to don a chicken costume or wrestle with a giant puppet all for the sake of a laugh.

In what ways do we become what we need to in order for the message we need to share to propagate?  I think about the tons of training I’ve done through the years and the ways in which I have had to grow the delivery and the content structure to meet the audiences in need of the knowledge.  Wow.  So many “performances.” 

Please know that I don’t use that word – performance – lightly or with frivolity.  I mean, performance.  The delivery of our information is as important as the information itself.  If we are unaware of the learning styles, the history of training in the company or the expectation of knowledge applied in the company, then we’re likely to see training fail.  That time will be little more than time off from the line for the average worker.

Ultimately, we know that this is not the desire of training.  The goal is usually wanting to expand upon some knowledge already in use and add to its functionality, or use it to build a bridge to another knowledge base.  So many times, I have watched the connection light bulbs go off.  These men and women, who have honed a craft, see the value in the information presented and desire to add it to the repertoire of duties they have.  It’s humbling.

And yet, I have also seen just the opposite.  I don’t always hit it out of the park.  I watch eyes that seem to say, “OK, how much longer do I have to sit here?”  Ugh.  That’s not such a great feeling.  Our duty as trainers is to give connectivity and relevance which comes from knowing your audience and the material well.  It then requires delivery in such a way as to hold attention, show appreciation and encourage participation.

Even in matters of compliance information, how much thought do we put into delivery?  With the Affordable Care Act, there is much to share, for example.  The material itself can be confusing or overwhelming, so consideration should be given as to how to deliver it.  For me, as I've shared with many on this topic, I have begun an information session by asking how the audience would have handled health insurance reform.  Obviously, you've got to keep a tight reign on conversation, but it has allowed the hearers to understand some parallels to the ACA.  Building blocks.  

Listen, constantly doing role play won’t work.  Always doing a video isn’t going to do it.  Arts and crafts at every training session is weird.  Think about variety.  Think about holding interest.  Think about the goal of the information.  Allow that to drive preparation for delivery.  Study the material to know it inside and out, yes, but also figure out what the best delivery method would be.

Think about how weird it might have been to sit in the creative arts and development office for a major television network and offer the Muppets as an adult solution to a primetime slot.  Crazy!  And yet, it worked because the delivery of material (the performance) was mindful of its audience.  We stepped outside of ourselves and entered this world.  That's what training should afford - setting the stage for dynamic engagement where effectual change occurs.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Make It Like It Was

I spoke with a business owner recently (normal, I know).  He’s pretty successful in his field.  He works hard, really hard.  Long hours, tough working conditions, great product.  He was commenting to me that it seems to be harder to be an employer these days.  He’s been at this for quite some years and has enough history to make a comment like that.  He was basing this on his more recent experience.  He has observed that people don’t want to work hard anymore and that people find it too easy to complain (or sue) about things they just don’t like, rather than what’s truly illegal.

I like this guy.  I do.  It’s not just because he feels the pain of some of the HR situations I find myself in.  It’s not because I think all people suck (I don’t, really…no, really).  I find him to be honest.  His frustrations represent a belief that some of the systems put in place to protect people have now become crutches for some.  I concur.  He isn’t lying.

What I have often said is that it’s about people not programs.  It’s wonderfully smart to have sexual harassment seminars for your staff, but does it stop people from claiming that harassment has occurred?  No.  And why is that?  Maybe it’s because it’s too easy to get a payout.  Why go through all of the drama of court?  Why spend all of that money and waste time when the results will probably be the same settlement anyway?  It’s been the pattern for quite some time.

I’d like to submit a thought.  Culture.  I recognize compliance.  I recognize culpability.  Culture, done well, trumps much.  Fit matters more than need.  Filling a need with the first available often does not work out.  Waiting for someone who fits the culture is worth it in the long run.  Too many times we fill to fill, to check it off the list.  We did it…yay, us!  Woo Hoo, Recruiting Team!  (OK, too sarcastically HR…sorry).

Patience, people.  Let’s find us some good peeps!  When people are set up for success in a culture that fits, then a multitude of problems never happen.  I am not saying that harassment training is a waste.  I am not saying that at all.  What I am saying is that if you think annual sexual harassment training is going to keep it from happening or at least the complaint of it happening, then you’re out of your tree.  Train to the positives daily.  Handle the negatives as they come up.

By creating a culture of health through challenging opportunities and open communication, then you’re more likely to see people flourish and not take the time to be entitled.  We can’t fear the impact of the claim that might come up (anyone can sue for anything…welcome to America).  Instead of being overwhelmed in frustration by it, we should use that energy to positively promote healthy dialogue and right thinking in relationships. 

Management should be encouraged greatly.  As HR, we have a big responsibility with managers and ought to regularly seek to impact them.

Do I think that things are better today in the working environment?  Sure, but when compared to specific places in time.  Do I think we operate in fear rather than proactivity?  Yup.  Our companies might see fear in their own eyes, but that view doesn't have to be true.  Point out a clearer picture.  Practice painting it yourself.  Create buy-in.  Invest in people and impact overall culture.  

The good old days are seen through rose-colored glasses.  It's like any form of nostalgia.  It always looks better from behind.  Just imagine how good today will look in 20 years when we make it as awesome as possible (yeah, I said "awesome").